This story is by Marissa Tracy and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“Good morning your Highness.”
“Frank, remember what I told you?” I scolded.
“I apologize Ms. Maryann.” Frank sank into a low bow. I rolled my eyes.
“You don’t need to bow. I’m not my mother,” I said.
Frank smiled apologetically. He had always reminded me a bit of a basset hound with watery eyes and a face that sagged and rippled whenever he moved. I was grateful that he maintained the same appearance every time I came to visit. It’d be a bit disconcerting if I were to walk in and see Frank had shifted into a woman.
Frank reached behind him and opened the heavy wooden door for me.
“Am I still allowed to open doors for you?” He asked in a serious tone. The corners of his mouth twitched.
Rolling my eyes again, I entered the familiar stone room. The mirror was propped against the wall opposite me like always. It was trimmed with golden vines that wrapped themselves tightly around the mirror like a snake around its prey. It had been a full week since I’d been here.
“So where am I going today?” I asked.
“I have chosen somewhere quite hot. They wear almost no clothing. I shudder to think what the Queen would say if she saw you dressed so scantily,” Frank said, his beady eyes widening into saucers.
I actually did shudder at the thought of my mother finding out about any of this. Frank and the few other Shifters I’d met had graciously kept my secret safe. I didn’t understand why mother and father thought that they were sly and untrustworthy creatures.
“Be safe Maryann,” Frank said, closing the door behind him.
I began to change into the clothes Frank had left me. Mother had insisted I wear a new dress with four petticoats and bows everywhere. All because some fancy lord-prince or something was visiting later today. Mother insisted that it was a cordial visit but I wasn’t an idiot. He was coming to seek my hand in marriage. I wouldn’t have been able to handle his arrival if I hadn’t come here first.
I managed to shimmy out of my dress and tugged on a pair of jean shorts, a plain blue t-shirt and a pair of flip flops they’d left me. I’d never be able to lace my corset back up without help so I left it on.
Only the stone room around me was reflected in the mirror. I wished that I could check my reflection. Having descended from humans, I still looked like them. But it was my greatest fear that somehow one of them would know I wasn’t quite like them.
Reaching between my breasts, I pulled out a small vial with a swirling amber liquid in it. There was hardly any left and I knew I’d have to visit the witch again soon to restock. I took a tiny sip from it before putting it back into my corset. The liquid felt like slime as it slithered down my throat, making goosebumps erupt down my arms.
Once I was sure that all the liquid had made its way down my throat, I reached a hand to the mirror and lightly touched it. A little ripple, like a raindrop on a pond, fanned out from the point of impact. As I stepped through the mirror, it felt as though I was stepping through a waterfall except I didn’t get wet.
As my face went through the mirror, my surroundings changed. Instead of the stone room, I was instead in a bathroom. A smell of rotting fish washed over me and I clamped a hand to my nose. Gingerly, I placed one foot in the sink directly below me before stepping down onto the grimy tiled floor. I wished that I wasn’t in flip flops. The floor was covered with a slick layer of water and slowly I made my way towards the door.
When I was a few feet away from it, the door opened. Blinding sunlight shone through framing the person, and I shielded my eyes. It was no matter, I’d talked to humans before. It always made my hands tremble with nerves, though.
But as the door closed again and I regained my vision, I found that I was face to face with a gangly looking boy. He had only swim trunks on with sand coating most of his body. He was staring at me with wide eyes, his head cocked to the side.
“This is the girl’s bathroom,” I said in my dignified ‘queen voice’ as my mother liked to call it.
The boy raised his eyebrows and a sprinkling of sand fell from where his forehead crinkled.
“No, it isn’t,” he said, pointing at something behind me.
I spun around, slipping a little on the wet tile, and saw an oval porcelain toilet mounted on the wall. I remembered seeing it in one of the books I’d read about this world. Its name escaped me but its purpose didn’t. Heat crept up my neck but I tried my best to ignore it as I turned back to the boy.
“Well, I can go to the bathroom wherever I like. I am the pri…I mean I’m human after all. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I said, lifting my chin into the air, trying to look as dignified as possible. I’d almost let slip I was a princess. I was always so careful in this world. It must be the smell that was distracting me.
He moved aside as I walked past him, my head still held high. I stepped through the door into the burning sunlight.
The boy’s laughter echoed against the tiled walls as soon as the door closed. I did my best to ignore it and the heat in my cheeks as I walked onto the sand.
My eyes adjusted slowly to the brightness. I wished that Frank had given me a pair of sunglasses. I took my flip flops off and relished the squishy sand between my toes.
Frank had been right. It was quite hot here and I was not sorry for my attire. I turned the corner around the bathrooms and saw sparkling waves crashing against the shoreline of a beach. Which beach, though, I wasn’t sure. I found that I didn’t care. It felt like months since I’d been beyond the walls of the castle. And despite my constricting corset, I felt like I could finally breathe properly.
I walked just close enough to the water that the seafoam tickled my toes and sat down on the hot sand. Seagulls squawked overhead, circling for food while a toddler next to me let out a ferocious giggle as she poured a bucket of seawater on her father’s head. Closing my eyes, I turned my face towards the sun, relishing the heat.
The sea roared especially loud and I opened my eyes again but it was too late. A bold wave crashed over me, soaking my entire body in icy, salty water. My corset had expanded a little, for which I was grateful. I pushed myself up from the ground, spitting seawater out while trying to wipe the sand from my eyes. I’d kept a hold on my flip flops thankfully, I didn’t fancy walking on that tile barefoot.
There was a tap on my shoulder and turned around. It was the same boy from the bathroom again. He was smiling lopsidedly, his eyes laughing at me.
“You need a towel?” He said, holding one out to me.
I took it, embarrassed yet again, but gave him a grateful smile.
“Apparently today is not my day,” I said as I rung out my sandy hair.
The boy chuckled.
“I’m John by the way,” the boy said, sticking out his hand. I shook it.
“Would you like to come join us?” he said, jerking his head at a group of people playing volleyball in the sand.
“I can’t I need to get back,” I said, trying to scrape sand off my body. My trip was cut short now as I would need to bathe before the prince-lord thing arrived.
John’s face fell a little.
“When will you be here again?”
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back,” I said, wiping my hair down one last time.
“Well, I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for you then. Especially if I need to use the restroom,” he said.
I laughed, watching as his cheeks turned pink.
“It was good meeting you John,” I said, chuckling while handing the towel back to him.
“And you, Maryann. I hope to see you soon.” He was smiling cheekily at me again despite his pink cheeks.
“I’m sure I will,” I said, smiling back.
As I walked back towards the men’s restroom, I made sure I was out of John’s line of vision. I made a mental note to let Frank know that the beach wasn’t so bad.