As the clock on the Palace wall neared midnight, I was beginning to wish I’d never grown my prize pumpkin. If I hadn’t been hauling it to the fair when that fairy went flying by, I’d never be in this position.
I fiddled with my bowtie and shifted my weight on the rigid driver’s seat. The night was foggy and beginning to chill. Harness bells jangled as another coach rattled past in search of a parking spot. I narrowed my eyes at the six steeds hitched to my coach. The fairy had done well, all things considered, but the two closest to me definitely still had mouse ears.
I had just slumped into a yawn, hands over my face, when a shout from the Palace made me sit up.
The girl, for whom I’d been bewitched into a coach driver, was flying down the Palace steps. A tall man in black pounded after her, his scowl blacker than his coat. As the girl reached the driveway, she stumbled and lost a slipper.
Disgruntled as I might be by my circumstances, this damsel was in some major distress. I jumped down, whisked open the door, and lifted her into the coach, stuffing her dress after her. The mice/horses were champing to run, and I gave them their heads.
As we passed the Palace gates, which, thankfully, had not yet been closed, the clock began to chime twelve.
“Hurry, driver!” the girl called from within. “The enchantment will end at midnight.”
I rattled the reins, and the horses began to gallop. “Not to worry, miss.”
The road behind us disappeared into fog, but I could hear the shouts of pursuing men. The final peal from the clock echoed and the coach began to shake.
The horses neighed, shaking their heads and galloping faster. We rounded a corner and I spotted what I needed—a farm lane barely visible in the fog. I pulled hard on the reins and we careened off the main road and onto the dirt path. The coach wobbled, the horses began to shrink and slow, and suddenly, we were sitting on the hard ground.
“Oof,” said the girl.
The six mice ran off into the fields, squeaking. Now that our coach was quiet, the sound of pursuing horses was deafening. I lurched to my feet and pulled the girl up with an arm around her waist, ignoring the fact that she was now wearing some kind of torn ensemble. Certainly easier to deal with than that poufy blue dress.
I dragged her into the trees that lined one side of the path. We had just dropped into hiding when a horde of guardsmen rode by. The man in black led the group.
“I saw them go this way,” the leader shouted back to the others.
His horse was the first to crush my pumpkin, now abandoned in the middle of the path. Only orange pulp was left after they all passed.
“I’m sorry about your pumpkin,” the girl whispered.
I looked at her, my angry eyes softening without my permission. “It’s not your fault.”
“But it is. I’m sorry the Godmother used you and your pumpkin in the first place.” She sighed and picked at the torn seam on her left sleeve. “She meant well. But how could she know the Prince would turn out to be insane?”
“Really? I mean, I know Princes can be stuck up, but insane?” I pulled off my jacket and draped it over her shoulders. Did she just scoot closer to me?
She nodded. “I know, that’s what I thought too. He ordered me to sing a mermaid’s song, and when I couldn’t, he tried to lock me up. I only got away because he slipped on a puddle of cider.”
By the time she was finished, I could definitely feel her shoulder against mine. She was shivering. Feeling bold, I put my arm around her. “I’m sorry. That sounds awful.”
She looked up at me and smiled. “It hasn’t been all bad.
I couldn’t help but smile back. “Want to help me gather seeds from the mess on the lane? This was my best pumpkin yet.”
She giggled. “Let’s try again next year.”