This is an original work from editor, Jacquelyn Phillips. A dark fairy tale for your enjoyment. I present to you, GABRIEL AND THE WOMAN.
There once lived a man named Gabriel who was hated by the local villagers. One night he ran away, no longer knowing how to live amongst people who continuously tried to kill him.
He stumbled to the ground, mud splattering beneath his body, rocks slicing across his cheek bone. He spat out the grime, licking the remaining dirt off of his canine teeth. His cheek stung and his muscles ached, but he knew that running was the only way to evade the villager’s silver tipped arrows. He struggled to stand upright, heavy manacles snagging on low hanging branches, and the choke-collar around his neck shredding his already raw skin. Glancing over his shoulder, he wondered how much time he had before the village men caught up with him. The darkness was disorienting but he pushed through the trees, dismissing the snapping sticks beneath his feet, the spider webs sticking to his face, the chains rattling between his wrists.
The forest air was thick and muggy, threatening to strangle Gabriel’s lungs. He slowed the pace of his running, a cramp ripping through his side, loss of blood crippling his ability to see beyond the foliage. He tripped over a tree root and collapsed onto the moss, his ankle splintering in two, something sharp piercing through his stomach.
He heard the click-clack of horse shoes, the shouts of angry men and the lock of a crossbow. He took a deep breath trying to ignore the pain. If he didn’t keep moving, those men wouldn’t hesitate to make a kill. He clenched his teeth and inched forward. Whatever had impaled him sliced through the lining of his stomach, forcing a howl from his throat. The voices grew louder and the glow of the torches advanced quickly. He shut his eyes and laid down his head, bitterly accepting defeat.
The scent of apple blossoms swirled around the hairs in his nose before the overwhelming urge to sleep consumed him.
When he opened his eyes, Gabriel found himself lying in an ill-lit room, water dripping from the wooden ceiling, vines hanging down all around him. He rested on something hard and cold, but his head was cradled on a soft, mossy pillow. The smell of apple blossoms tickled his senses, but the vile stench of moist earth made his stomach wretch. Placing a hand on his cheek, he stiffened; the massive gash was no longer there—only the remnants of a scar remained. The irons still weighed down his wrists, but the collar and his shirt had been removed. Something didn’t feel right—his heart began to thump uneasily. Glancing to the side, his body shivered; swords, shields, arrows and axes glinted from the sunlight penetrating through the cracked roof. Why hadn’t the villagers killed him already? Hypnotized by the dust floating through the streams of twilight, a low growl escaped his throat when he heard the familiar lock of a crossbow. His instincts urged him to find a means of escape immediately.
Focused on the door across the room, he blinked. Looking down at his knees, he rubbed his eyes and blinked again.
Standing before him was a beautiful maiden. Her long blonde hair was twisted into a braid adorned with apple blossoms. She was pointing the crossbow toward the only door Gabriel could locate. He began to panic, his attention focused on the shiny tip of the maiden’s arrow. He needed to distract her so he could take the weapon and run.
“Where am I? What the hell have you done to me?” He demanded, pulling the wool blanket off of his body. When a chill tickled his lower half, Gabriel realized his pants had been commandeered as well.
The maiden turned in his direction. Despite the distance between them, highlighted by the fading twilight, her bright blue eyes burned through Gabriel’s soul and her rosy cheeks whisked away all feelings of distress.
Gabriel blushed. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to remove a man’s clothing while he’s sleeping?”
The maiden shrugged and turned away, focusing on his exit. “I brought you here because you were dying. Your clothes were ripped to shreds, drenched in blood and covered in poisonous plants. I took them off so your wounds wouldn’t get infected before I could heal you.”
He looked down at his hairy stomach; it was pink and tender, but whatever had impaled him earlier had been removed. He put weight onto his ankle and rolled it from side to side. A dull throb shot through his foot, but it was nothing compared to the pain he experienced earlier when it shattered. He then stared at the maiden, desire and curiosity lessening the fear that was snapping at his heels. He stopped dwelling on the door and took a step closer to her. “What did you do to me?”
The maiden lowered the weapon and smiled at him. “Don’t you listen? I healed you.”
“Yes, I heard you, but—but how?” He moved closer.
“My tears have healing properties.”
Gabriel hesitated. “Who are you?”
The maiden stepped into the diminishing sunlight, revealing a blank blue stare and dried blood encrusted around her eye sockets. “My name is Rapunzel.”
Fear crept back into his body. Without the twilight playing tricks on his eyes, Rapunzel’s presence felt threatening. He gulped. “How did you find me?”
“I heard the men trampling through the forest and went to see what was going on. I found you soaking in blood.”
Gabriel moved closer, studying the scars scattered across her cheeks. She had helped him. She had saved him. There was no need to cower away from her. Those scars—they looked painful. He wondered what she been forced to endure and how someone who looked as fragile as her had survived. He resisted the urge to caress her cheeks. “How can you see anything?”
She chuckled. “I may be blind, but I can rely on my other senses. Sight only cripples you. I don’t need it. However, I know what you are and I need your help.”
“What are you doing hiding in here? How can I help—?”
She held her fingers up to Gabriel’s mouth and closed her eyes. “Please help me. Don’t say another word. She’s found me.” She hopped up and grabbed hold of a vine, climbing up until the darkness of the high-reaching ceiling absorbed her.
The sunlight disappeared, bringing Gabriel’s fear back to the surface. He adjusted his eyes, relying on his nocturnal nature, and located the open door—his ticket to freedom. He felt in front of him carefully, listening to the clanking of his irons bounce around the room. When his hands grazed against the wooden gateway of escape, he glanced up at the ceiling wondering if he should await Rapunzel’s return. By the looks of it, she was in as much danger as he was. He still wondered how he was supposed to help her. The breeze from the open door welcomed him, so he turned and prepared to run.
However, when he took a step forward, he stumbled on an uneven brick, barely catching himself before his face hit the floor. His nostrils flared full of the scent of fresh baked bread and aged wine. He reached out in front of him and grabbed a hold of a wicker basket covered in a velvety cloth. A soft hand covered his, startling him slightly.
“Rapunzel? Is that you?” He asked.
The hand grabbed a hold of his irons and helped him to his feet, pulling him farther away from his freedom.
Gabriel’s mind reeled as he found himself looking at a beautiful woman, her face illuminated by a small lantern held in her hand. Her eyes were yellow, her skin dark, and curly strands of black hair escaped the confines of the red hood covering her head.
“Excuse me Sir, did you just say Rapunzel? She’s my sister! We were walking through the forest to get to Grandma’s house, but she strayed off of the path and fell into a thicket of thorns. I went searching for help, but she had already disappeared when I returned. Have you seen her?”
The woman’s voice threw a lasso over his heart and her smiling red lips tugged it out of his chest. His knees grew weak. He wanted to tell her about the villagers chasing him out of town, Rapunzel’s healing powers, and the smell of apple blossoms—but the crossbow aimed at the back of the woman’s head stopped him. Gabriel spotted the silhouette, illuminated by the lantern in the beautiful woman’s hand. Rapunzel’s index finger extended over her lips, her eyes oozing with tears of dark red blood. A single drop fell from the curve of her jaw and splashed on the ground.
It echoed off of the walls.
The beautiful woman dropped the lantern, clasped her hand around Gabriel’s throat and squeezed.
“If you don’t take that bow away from me, I won’t hesitate to kill him.”
Gabriel’s naked body quivered as he struggled for air. He knew he should have felt threatened, but there was something about being killed by a beautiful woman that comforted him. He was tired of running away from the villagers. He tried to breathe but felt the woman’s long, bony fingers tighten along his windpipe—his eyes slowly began to roll into the back of his head.
“He didn’t do anything to you! Leave him out of his,” Rapunzel spat.
The woman cackled. “Come where Mommy can see you.”
Rapunzel dropped the crossbow to the ground and moved into the woman’s line of vision. Two streams of blood caked her cheeks and her long hair trailed silently behind her. Gabriel no longer smelled apple blossoms—the scent had been replaced by a nauseating combination of dirt and iron. He tried to shake his head at her—to tell her to run away and save herself —but the woman was on the verge of snapping his neck in two.
“Mother Gothel, listen to me. Don’t hurt him, please. I’ll come back home if you let him live – I promise.”
The woman released her grip and dropped Gabriel to the ground. “Oh, no my dear daughter; I warned you. You have run away from me for the last time.”
She grabbed hold of Rapunzel’s tiny neck. “I’ll find another way to harness that power of yours.” She reached into her cloak and pulled out a small vile. “Cry for me, Rapunzel.”
Gabriel tried to raise his body onto his elbows, but his head swam from lack of oxygen.
Rapunzel spat in her mother’s face. “You can’t make me.”
Mother Gothel laughed and tightened her hold on Rapunzel’s neck. Her face began to turn blue. “We’ll see about that, you filthy brat.”
Gabriel looked up through the darkness. Finding the door standing wide open, and the cold wind calling his name, he shifted stealthily and crawled toward his freedom. But Rapunzel’s gasps stunted his urge to run. He turned and looked back at the woman who had saved his life. Streams of blood were running down her cheeks and her skin was turning pale. The beautiful woman collected her tears, smiling maliciously. He stared at the scene in front of him, wondering what he should do.
“Gabriel, you sweet, dear creature.” He looked up at Mother Gothel, her beautiful black hair glowing in the fading lantern’s light. “Why are you still here? You don’t have anything to do with us anymore. Go—I have a unicorn outside that you can take. Escape from those villagers. Live the life you’ve always wanted – free to hunt sheep as you please. Stop feeding off of the town’s livestock. I know you want that true, unconditional freedom that soars through your spirit. I can give that to you. I could give you so much more.”
Gabriel looked out the door and saw a brilliant white and gold unicorn awaiting him. He could run away and pretend nothing had ever happened. He could prowl through the night without worrying about pitchforks and fire – Rapunzel wheezed, her last few breaths escaping through the beautiful woman’s hold. She was dying, and it was all Gabriel’s fault.
A ray of moonlight broke through a crack in the ceiling, burning into Gabriel’s eyes. He felt a warm sensation swell in his stomach, his legs shook with spasms, and his wolf-like hands broke through the stone floor. He had forgotten about the full moon, but embraced the newfound strength flowing through his veins. Rapunzel’s feet dangled over the floor, no longer kicking at the woman in an attempt free herself. He moved forward slowly, stopping only when he felt something soft beneath his paws. He tugged at the train of Mother Gothel’s red cloak, massaging the material with his claws, brushing the velvet against his haggard cheeks.
He slashed the material to shreds.
Rapunzel’s eyes had turned grey and her chest lay still. Gabriel concentrated his wolf-like hearing on the faint and infrequent beat of her heart. He silently asked her to keep fighting.
Slowly standing on his hind legs, he cast a shadow over Mother Gothel. His foot knocked against the wicker basket, spilling the contents onto the floor. She turned around and stared up into Gabriel’s eyes, her skin growing white. Releasing Rapunzel’s throat, she backed up slowly, and tripped on her tattered cloak. Gabriel crouched over Rapunzel, pawing at her bloody cheeks. Her eyes remained closed, her breathing shallow, her pulse nearly nonexistent.
He howled angrily.
Turning slowly, Gabriel targeted the red cloak floating past the door. She had jumped on the unicorn and sped off, her black hair blowing behind her. He lurched forward on all fours, stretching his lean muscles with every stride. Mother Gothel looked over her shoulder and rammed her heels into the unicorn’s side, urging it to move faster. Gabriel lunged and grabbed the unicorn’s hind leg, forcing Mother Gothel off of its back and into the dirt. He stepped over the unicorn and glared down at the beautiful woman, his body trembling. Horse hooves sounded in the distance, the shouts of men growing nearer. He looked around anxiously, realizing that the villagers had finally found him. This was his last chance to run; his last chance to get away.
Mother Gothel smiled. “You could have had everything you ever wanted, Gabriel. I offered you freedom. And you’re giving that up for what? You have no need for her. She would do nothing but run away from you for the rest of her life. I, on the other hand, know how to control her. After all, Rapunzel is mine.”
The fire from the men’s torches was closing in. He pictured Rapunzel’s nearly life-less body slowly regaining consciousness in that hidden cottage. If they were to find her, they would do unspeakable things to harness her power – or completely destroy it. Mother Gothel would use her until her heart ultimately gave up. He stared down at Mother Gothel’s smirking face and howled; the villagers were only seconds away from finding him. He hoped that Rapunzel would wake up and escape—it was her turn to find freedom.
“There’s nothing you can do to stop me now. These men will kill you as soon as they hear me—”
And with that, Gabriel ripped out her throat before she was given the chance to scream.