Have you ever seen one of those cartoons where the hero – usually some hapless chump who has the same thing happen to him to every episode – suddenly realises he’s three hundred feet up in the air? When he gives a look, makes a gulp, maybe pumps his legs a bit, then plummets to earth, making a hapless chump-shaped hole in the ground?
That’s me, right now. That senile old godmother’s glamour is only covering my head and shoulders. Not enough to keep me afloat. The rest of my body’s dragging me down, even with my hollow legs.
‘It could be worse, sister.’ I look at Goldie, trying to sound brave even though I’m already resigned to the fact that I’m likely going to be a pile of sawdust in a few seconds’ time. ‘Maybe you can use what’s left of me to stuff a cushion.’
We hang there, just for a moment. She kicks her legs, gliding towards me on a sparkling cloud of pungent green magic.
She stretches out her hand. Clutches for me. She gets close.
But not close enough.
If Jiminy had still been around, he’d be clinging onto my shoulder now, chirruping away in that annoying high-pitched voice of his, telling me how this is what I deserve, how it would all have turned out different if only I’d been a good boy. Selling the little gimp to the circus was one of my better decisions.
That said, I have made some bad life choices. Not least agreeing to work for SB in the first place. If I’d stayed in Story Land, I’m pretty sure I’d still be having a blast. Even though I’d be living out the same story again and again, at least it was one with a guaranteed happy ending. But I’d got bored, and it had seemed like an exciting offer at the time: to step out the pages, fight back against the Wickeds, help the Norms.
It’s not like they even know we’re here. The Norms can’t see us, don’t realise that without us their world would have turned into a living nightmare years ago. It happened once, somewhere in the midwest in the nineties. It was the Three Little Pigs’ fault. That useless streak of bacon Porky McQuiff, promoted to squad leader, the power gone to his big fat swollen head. He forgot to seal the portal after banishing the Wickeds. Turned his back and a whole world of madness came pouring through. All that was left of Porky was his tail, quivering on the scorched earth like a curly pink worm. If it hadn’t been for Rumpelstiltskin’s selfless sacrifice, all hell would have broken loose. Literally.
But I digress.
And I’m about three seconds away from being kindling.
I close my eyes. Try calling Blue. No answer. She’s likely out on another date with Peter, swooping above Neverland and doing the sort of mid-air moves that never make it into the stories.
The ground rushes up, preparing to smack me right in the face.
I brace myself.
Then feel a yank at my ankles, nearly popping my joists.
I open one eye. The ground, a splinter away.
I twist my head, looking up.
My heart sinks.
The wind ruffles his elaborately-styled quiff. His perfect teeth gleam. Goldie clings to his chest, staring up into his sparkling blue eyes. He glides down to earth, laying me gently on the ground and bowing.
‘Pinocchio, old chap!’ says Prince Charming. ‘It really has been far too long.’