Alden Sunstrom, Class of 2023

Once Upon A Time

short story

open book icon, isolated on white background, vector Illustration

“Once upon a time…”

The familiar voice whispered the simple start to every little adventure. Her southern drawl slowed them down into a sweet, lazy sound. The effect left them as soft and gentle as the reader.

I brought myself onto my side to face the images decorating the story’s pages, simple and resembling a bright stained glass window. The picture of a girl in a blue crown waved out to me from the pages. My eyes shifted from the girl to the reader.

She sat on her big, cozy chair in the corner of the room. It rocked back and forth in a slow pattern that made the floorboards beneath her creak with each movement.

The youngest of us children was perched on Gran’s knee, head lolling against her shoulder, eyes only open wide enough to see the pictures when they came.

“In a magical land there lived a princess…” Lamplight shined on Gran’s face deepening the wrinkles carved throughout. Her white hair curled around her ears in a tight never changing bob.

“Awww, Princesses are boring.

Carrie popped up across the mattress. She was quick to protest close to everything. Even the merriest tales seemed to offend her in some form.

Once again, I found myself the opposite. I adored the fairy tales and adventures.  Maybe there was something in the way Gran told them, gripping onto every small word to drive the other three would all be drifting to sleep by the time Gran put Lola next to us and went to bed herself. I just didn’t have sleep in me after being taken on such an adventure. I’d replay the tale over and over again in my head until I drifted off into the morning.

Gran raised her voice, pitching it to add extra emphasis “But this Princess had her wits about her and trained each day so she could wield a sword better than any knight.”

“Okay, fine, that’s a bit better.” Carrie slouched back against the bedpost in front of me. The girl wasn’t what I would call bright but she knew when not to pick a fight.

Gran lifted a hand to stroke Lola’s sunny curls before she continuing on with the story. 

“One day she decided to leave her kingdom to visit the neighboring one…”

More often than not Gran came up with her own stories, writing them down in her own little books with beautifully drawn pictures. She changed the stories a bit as she read them but that made it feel like a new adventure each and every time.

“But she found the kingdom in possession of the evil sorceress who lived hidden in the mountain. Her friends lived there and she decided to help save the day.”

I studied Gran’s face as she talked. Sometimes it seemed as though if you stared

at her copper eyes long enough you could see the story playing out in her imagination before the words were even spoken.

This was where the story kicked up. I near ignored the words being spoken and allowed the story to play out in front of my eyelids.

The princess found her friends trapped in the sorceresses’ jail cell. She found a village girl to distract them while she helped them free. They were quick to restore magic to the land but just as soon they were found by one of the sorceress’ minions. They fought but with magic on their side the princess won and they returned to the kingdom.

Gran’s stories never took long. She kept them short and sweet so that we could quickly rest. I held onto every minor word and detail of the ending.

“And just like that, the evil forces had been defeated. The princess and her friends returned to her kingdom where she soon became queen and was awarded  for her brave efforts.” Gran set a sleeping Lola on top of the quilt with the rest of us. She pressed a kiss to all four little foreheads. The beam of light shrunk into nothing as Gran slipped out of the room. She whispered the ending, letting them sit. “And they all lived happily ever after.”

The happy ending was always the best part.

Alden Sunstrom, Class of 2023