Happily Ever After Does Not Exist
When you are a young child, those older and wiser than you tell you all stories begin with "once upon a time" and end with "happily ever after". Those people are liars. You grow up and you belie this, despite the evidence proving otherwise. Then something comes along and rips away the gossamer curtain of a lie and you are left clutching at the glittering shreds of your innocence and a realization everything you have believed up to this point is wrong.
Maybe that's why teenagers are so screwed up. They have finally realized the world they know is one molded with plastic dreams and little white lies. I don't know if that is true. It's just a theory.
Anyway, the point I am trying to get at here is life doesn't have a happily ever after, despite what we are lead to believe as children. Sorry to break that to you, kids.
The story I am going to tell you might begin with that classic "once upon a time" but this isn't one of those faerie tales where the protagonist gets a happy ending wrapped up nice and neat in shiny wrapping paper and a little pink bow. If you want that kind of story, I suggest you look elsewhere. Sixteen is a little young to be jaded, but I have my reasons.
At any rate, I'm starting to get ahead of myself. Let's rewind, all the way back to that "once upon a time" I've been talking about.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. This girl's name…doesn't really matter. All you really need to know about her is that she existed and she is the main character of the tale I am about to tell you. And this girl, lived in a pretty little house on the rocky coast of a long forgotten country that you, my friend, don't need to know the name of.
All in all, this little girl was happy. She had a father who loved her more than life itself and an older brother whom she adored. Their tiny house had a lot of land and oftentimes, on those warm summer days you reminisce about when you are old, the little girl and her brother would explore their property, having innumerable adventures in the process. And at night, when sunny days conceded to starlit nights, her father would tuck her into bed and tell her stories that ran rampant with princesses, dragons, valiant knights, and, you guessed it, happily ever afters.
Dear reader, do you want to know the worst part of it all? She believed every word of it. She devoured those fantasies like a starving man would a steak. At night, this stupid, naïve little girl would dream of her happily ever after and would wake with the hope that one day those dreams would transform into her reality.
Eventually, summer faded into fall, which gradually subsided into one of the coldest, most bloody winters this tiny, forgotten country had ever experienced. A blanket of snow grabbed hold of the world in early December and gripped it tight, not letting it go even for a moment. The water in the well became a block of ice. No one went outside for fear of frostbite. The tiny one room schoolhouse the girl would occasionally attend shut its doors. Shops no longer sold their wares on Market Day. Food became scarce and the little family had to ration what little they had left. Yet still, the girl held onto her hope for a happily ever after. Then, the letter came.
As I stated before, this winter was not only the coldest this country had ever known; it was also the most violent. You see, my friend, this little country was at war.
It started in the night, while our protagonist slept soundly in her bed, dreaming of happily ever afters. The enemy penetrated their borders quietly and by the time the citizen of this little country awoke, they were at war.
Blood painted the snow scarlet. Men were dying left, right, and center. This little country needed every able-bodied man on the front lines, fighting for their freedom. When no more joined, the generals began drafting.
It was on January fifth of that year that little girl's father was called to war. By the sixth, he had bid his family goodbye, making her brother promise to take care of his little sister, no matter what. Although the girl begged him not to go, he hugged her and promised he would be back before the flowers were in bloom. Then he mounted his horse and rode down the snow-covered lane. The little girl watched him retreat through her tears.
It wasn't two weeks later that there was a knock on the door of that little house on the coast. The little girl answered. A uniformed guard stood on the other side. He told her that her father had been killed on the front lines. He offered his condolences and a small pension for their loss.
Her father would not be back in time for the flowers to bloom. He became another casualty, more blood spilled, during that great and bloody winter.
The shimmering, gossamer curtain of a lie was beginning to tear. Only, the little girl didn't quite realize it.
The pension covered little of their everyday needs and the little girl's brother, only fourteen, was forced to get a position as a farmhand to pay for the day-to-day expenses the two accumulated. No, the townspeople weren't heartless. They understood their situation and tried to help them as best as they could, but they too had families to feed.
There were no more days of adventure to be had with her brother. By the time he returned home from work, the stars had already come out to play and he was bone tired. It was all he could do to eat dinner and even then, he kept falling asleep at the table. Still, he told the little girl every day that it was worth it, for he was keeping his promise to their father. Food was on the table; she had clothes to keep her warm. That was all he could ask for.
At that time, winter was drawing to a close and the war effort was growing increasingly desperate. Their soldiers were dying faster than they could draft new ones. In a desperate gamble, the generals lowered the age of those who fought on the front lines. Now, boys as young as twelve were given guns and told to fight. But still, they did nothing to help. At most, they were cannon fodder.
They knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time. That didn't make the day the letter came any more painful. The girl and her brother both knew that there was no way they could just ignore the government. That was something you couldn't do, especially not in times like these. It was treason and the punishment for treason was death.
So the next day, the little girl's brother hugs her goodbye. He promises to return as soon as he can. Then, he sets off on foot, for the army never returned their horse. This has become an all too familiar scene; the little girl standing at the door, watching her loved ones leave her behind through tear blurred vision.
Although she would never admit it, she almost expected the second knock. After all, her father hadn't survived the war and he was years older and wiser than her young, inexperienced brother.
The guard who stood there was young, no older than twenty-five, but his face had been hardened by war and bloodshed. He offered her a metal for her brother's "bravery and valiance in combat". There was no pension. The country's treasury was almost dry and the country couldn't afford to waste the remnants of their money on pensions. After all, they had a war to lose. The door to the cottage slammed shut behind him and the little girl, who found that she wasn't so little anymore, was left all alone.
And, in an instant, the gossamer curtain was torn in two. But the little girl didn't realize it yet, though it hurt. She still wanted her happily ever after. At night, she dreamed of it, although those dreams had changed over time. Now, instead of dreaming of princesses and dragons and towers, she dreamed of times once lived, of a family that once lived in a house on the coast, a time where everyone was happy and war was a word in books.
The little cottage on the coast seemed so much bigger now that she was the only one left. The girl went through her daily routine on auto-pilot, not living anymore. Grief tore her soul to pieces and she was left with fragments of herself embedded in the darkest reaches of her psyche, the parts that she doesn't want to think about. Tears watered the dying remains of her daily life, emptying her further.
Eventually, the grief overcame the girl and she sought out desperate measures to alleviate the pain that was suffocating her, because she wanted to be a girl again. She wanted her family back. She was willing to sell her soul to bring them back to her. It was that train of thought that started her search for the Soul Markets.
There had always been rumors about places like this, a place where you could make your wildest dreams come true. That is, if you were willing to pay the price tag that is stamped on all magic. What is that price, you might be wondering? Anyone who is paying attention would be able to figure it out, but for those of you who have trouble thinking for yourself, that price would be your soul. They wouldn't be called Soul Markets if it were something else, now would it? The most desperate of the desperate congregated here, hoping to fix lives that had long since broken. Well, if this was a place were desperate people met, then it was the perfect fit for a "little" girl who found herself all alone in a big, bad world; a girl who was drowning in her pain.
It took her over a year to find it. She followed the rumors to many a dead end and false hope, but in the end, they took her to a cottage on the coast, so painfully familiar to the one she once called home.
It was a quaint little house, in the middle of nowhere. An evergreen forest flanked it while a well beaten path meandered past, before making its way onto bigger and better things. The waves crashed against the rocks in a steady rhythm, creating a soothing lullaby on nights when sleep was hard to come by. The sun shone brightly in the sky, obscured by fog. A cerulean sky sparkled by day. At night, thousands upon thousands of diamond stars glimmered above.
The cottage itself was a small thing, made of stone from the rock shore and painted yellow of the sun. To passersby, the place seemed peaceful and innocent. But behind that glittering façade, something far more sinister lurked. After all that searching, the girl had found the Soul Markets.
Inside, it was dark. Demons stood behind wooden booths, trying to entice those milling about to their stands with promises of happiness and love. If the girl closed her eyes, she could almost pretend it was Market Day back in her village. But now was not the time for closed eyes. The girl walked through the crowds with determination, until she reached her destination, the booth of a Rumpelstiltskin demon named Solomon, whom she had heard about throughout her travels. Apparently, he dealt in the market of the impossible. Well, impossible is exactly what she needed.
He didn't look up when she approached his stall, although he did speak. "We don't sell teddy bears here, little girl."
"I don't want a teddy bear. I want a deal. And, I'm not little. I'm nearly fourteen."
"So, you think that makes you an adult. Sorry to break it to you sweetie, but it doesn't," he said in his sweet honey voice. "And I don't make deals with children. Come back when you're a couple years older."
"No. I want to make a deal and I want to make it now. I've spent over a year trying to find this place and you are insane if you think I am going to give up now. Do you know what I have done to get here?"
Solomon looked up when he hears the determination in her voice and he saw the hardened face that, not too long ago, belonged to an innocent little girl. "I see," he drawled. "So, little girl, what price are you willing to pay?"
"Is that so? Anything? Well that is something I can work with. You have a deal. So, little girl, then what is it that your heart desires? Is it love, health, wealth, or immortality perhaps? You name your price."
"I want you to bring my family back to life. They died in the war and I want them back."
Solomon nodded, his black eyes glinting with pleasure. "I see. That is powerful magic indeed. Very nearly impossible. Do you know what you are playing with here, little girl?"
"Yes. Just do it."
"Alright." He snaps his fingers. "Done. Now it is time for end of the bargain. You know what I desire. In payment for this, I want your soul."
The girl nods. "Okay. Just do it." They shook hands.
It wasn't painful. Solomon pressed a tapered finger to where she supposed her heart would be. It felt like a jolt of electricity coursed through her body. White smoke poured out of her mouth. He captured it in a clear jar and put it on a shelf behind his booth, along with over a hundred others, all filled with the same swirling smoke, tinted various shades of gray. She felt empty inside. She knew for a fact that her soul was gone, because she didn't feel sad anymore. In fact, she didn't feel anything. An odd numbness filled her and in a way, it was worse than the grief. It was better to feel something than nothing at all.
Suddenly, Solomon took her hand. He pressed her palm to his and she hissed in pain as it burned. She pulled away with a brand on her skin. It was a strange marking, some kind of demonic rune.
"What is this?"
"There is another something else, a part of every deal I make, no matter whom I make it with. For one decade, you are indentured to me, my servant, as payment for the favor I provided for you. And believe me, I am being generous. A deal this big, I could have easily made it twenty or thirty. But I like you, little girl. You have spunk."
"What? That wasn't part of our deal!"
"You said you would do anything."
"You already took my soul. Isn't that enough?"
He shakes his head and gives her a small smile. "It will never be enough. And besides, what is ten years, in the grand scheme of things?"
He walked away and the girl was left standing alone, the brand on her palm still smarting. Feeling began to sneak up on her. Tears filled her eyes, not at all from the pain, and she found herself all alone once more. It was then she realized that no matter what she did, no matter how hard she worked, she would never get that ever distant happily ever after. Like touching the horizon, it was a goal she would never reach, simply because happily ever after doesn't exist.
And the little girl, now not little at all, is no longer innocent. She doesn't lives happily ever after. And all it adds up to is another little tragedy.
I would like to tell you that after this, the girl lived happily ever after after all, but I pride myself on the fact that I am not liar. I might be jaded, a cynic, a pessimist, a soulless traitor, and half a demon to top it all off, but I am not liar. Everybody has to have something positive about them. That just happens to be mine.
Anyway, doesn't that prove my point? If an innocent little girl can't get the happy ending she dreamed so much about, then who does? I used to believe there was some sort of higher power up there, God or something, making sure everything turned out okay in the end. Well now I know that if there is, then they are either malicious or just don't care about us little humans down here on Earth.
Sometimes, late at night, when night has settled over the land like a blanket, I find remnants of childhood that have taken up residence in the back of my shriveled, blackened heart. It's that hope we all have as children, hope for a happy ending. As hard as I try, I can't banish it. So, I guess I'll hold onto it. Maybe one day, I'll be proven wrong.
I suppose some of you are wondering what's happened to me to make me this way. Yes, I have my demons, more than you might think. But I have befriended them, made them a part of me, both the literal and figurative ones. I have come to accept that that gossamer curtain has been torn away, revealing the ugliness beneath. I know that my innocence is gone and that is not coming back. Despite all this, I think I'm nearing okay. I'll let you know.
One last thing, to clear up any confusion. You might be wondering how I know this story. For those of you who haven't figured it out yet, that little girl… That little girl is me. This is my story. Does it make a little more sense now?
I have one last request, dear reader. If you happen to find happily ever after, please let me know. I want some validation for holding onto this ridiculous shred of hope. Because maybe happily ever after exists. Maybe I just haven't found it yet. I'll have to keep that in mind.
This is where I say goodbye. Solomon has something for me to do, a soul to collect. But I wish you well and hope that you find a happy ending. Because, if there is even a shred hope for someone like me, there has to be a little out there for you too. All you have to do is find it, and remember to let me know if you do.
I hope you all find happily ever after. I truly do.