Category Archives: Fairytale Hit Squad

Fairytale Hit Squad – 1.1 – A Lady Calls

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SHE’S A STUNNER, no word of a lie.

Slinky red dress, looks like she’s been poured into it. Heels like daggers. Blonde hair (it’s always got to be blonde hair). A cigarette in one velvet gloved hand, a letter in the other. Smoky eyes, dark and mysterious. The sort of dame you’d sell your soul to in return for just five minutes alone with her.

She’s exactly what I ordered.

‘Mister Collodi?’ Her voice is smooth like fine brandy. I drink it in.

‘That’s me.’ I feel a twinge in my nostrils, brush it off with an idle gesture. ‘What took you so long?’

‘Have you ever tried to cross the city during rush hour wearing heels like these?’ She kicks up a calf, points to her shoes. With all the grace and poise of a ballerina. She fixes me with those eyes, like a predator daring its prey to make a move. I feel my chest splintering.

‘Never mind, you’re here now. Sign this.’ I push the paper across the desk, hand her the pencil I’ve been chewing on. She looks at it with distaste, like I’ve just given her roadkill and asked her to eat it.

‘There.’ She finishes her signature with a flourish. Every move deliberate. Bewitching. I touch the pendant round my neck, make sure it’s still there. Still doing its job.

‘Now, Mister Collodi. What do you want me to do?’

‘A simple job. Should be a cakewalk for someone of your … abilities.’ I hand her the photograph. It’s been taken from a distance, but the subject’s face has been magnified by the guys in the tech team.

She glances down then back at me. Quick as a mousetrap. ‘No Prince Charming, is he? Should be easy enough.’

‘There’s a bonus if you get it done without leaving any trace.’ The guilt is an old friend. It’s used to being ignored.

‘I pride myself on my efficiency, Mister Collodi.’ Eyelids droop like blinds being drawn. ‘I’ll be back before you’re ready to lock up for the evening.’

‘I keep long hours, sister. I’ll be waiting for you.’ I think about asking her if she wants to join me for dinner. Or a drink, at least. Which, over the last few months, has taken the place of dinner anyway.

I remember SB’s orders though. About never getting too close. I cross my arms behind my head and put my feet up on the desk, ignoring the creak of protest from my limbs.

‘Until later then.’ And she’s gone, a curl of cigarette smoke curving in the air where she was standing, a moment before.

I get on with some paperwork, trying not to think about the poor chump somewhere out there, going about his business, unaware of what’s just happened here this afternoon.

Unaware that I’ve just sentenced him to death.

Fairytale Hit Squad – 1.2 – Attention All Leads

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‘ATTENTION ALL LEADS.’

The intercom above my desk wakes up with a static crack. ‘Report to the briefing room immediately.’

I grind the end of the cigar I’ve just lit into the ashtray. Another royal decree, no doubt. Maybe someone’s been careless, stepped out the boundaries. Did it myself once, told some broad in a bar who I really was. Fortunately for me, we were both seventeen sheets to the wind and she took it as a joke.

I wish the same could have been said for the Secret Police. Even though I don’t need to eat or drink, being locked up in the tower in solitary for a month wasn’t exactly up there with a trip to Pleasure Island. By the time I was let out, my joints were so stiff I had to oil them for hours.

I pull on my jacket and step out my office. The big arrows pointing to the briefing room are flashing. I nod a hello at one of the Jacks. He ignores me, in a hurry to get there and take prime position at the front, no doubt. As one-dimensional as all the rest of them.

‘How ya doin’, P?’

Baby looks like he’s just woken up, his fur sticking up at all angles. He yawns, baring baby teeth.

‘Just right,’ I say, flashing my polished teeth.

He growls. ‘Y’know, every time I hear that, it just gets funnier and funnier.’

I resist the temptation to ask him if someone’s eaten his porridge again. He’s alright, really. All grown now, almost as big as Daddy. Still acts the runt sometimes though.

The briefing room’s packed by the time we get there. Baby and me take places at the back. I can feel the eyes of the Secret Police guys near the door, like they’re drilling into the back of my head. I’m seen as a loose cannon, a risk. If it wasn’t for my special relationship with Blue, they’d likely sand me down and make a walking stick out of me.

Just my luck. Struwwelpeter’s right in front of me. It’s like sitting behind a hedge; I can’t see a goddam thing.

I can hear well enough though. SB’s voice is like cut glass.

‘Thank you all for coming. I’m glad so many of you could make it.’

‘Like we got a choice,’ Baby grumbles. I nudge him to keep quiet. He’ll end up in quarantine if he’s not careful.

‘I imagine you’re wondering why I’ve called you here today,’ says SB. She’s spinning things out a bit. Obviously going for maximum impact. ‘I know most of you are very busy.’

I’m glad of Struwwelpeter’s hedge hair now. If I wasn’t hidden by it, I’m sure SB would be looking right at me. I can picture the row of Jacks sitting at the front, nodding vigorously.

‘I’m afraid I have some rather upsetting news,’ SB continues. It goes deep dark wood silent. ‘You may have noticed that one of our number is not with us today.’

All I can notice is the back of Struwwelpeter’s mangy head. I’m sure there are things living in there.

‘Gretel Humperdink.’

I only know her vaguely. Nice-looking blonde, but a bit too serious for my tastes. I know she’s got issues, but then so do we all.

‘It upsets me greatly to have to inform you that Gretel has defected.’

A Jackful of gasps from the front row. Even I’m surprised. There hasn’t been a defection for over a hundred years.

‘Yes, I’m afraid it’s true.’ SB sounds more angry than upset. ‘Miss Humperdink has left us for the Wickeds.’

Fairytale Hit Squad – 1.3 – Oh Brother

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SOME OF THE younger leads gasp at the mention of the name. Step-kids, mostly, who spent their formative years trying to escape the clutches of a Wicked Mother or Father. A girl in pigtails and a blue check dress like a tablecloth starts crying. I can’t be sure from this distance, but I think she had a run in with one of the Wicked Witches. That explains the black furry goat legs, at least.

‘I’m looking for brave souls,’ says SB, stifling a yawn. ‘Volunteers to venture into the Dark and bring Gretel back to us.’

Every Jack in the front row shoots up his hand. SB smiles down at them, like a dog looking at a litter of eager puppies.

‘Or,’ she says, her lids almost closed, ‘to kill her.’

The Jack hands shoot down again. Baby sits forward on his haunches. ‘Now she’s talking,’ he says. A Secret shoots us a glance, tapping the barrel of his gun.

‘First,’ she says, ‘someone who knows Gretel very well would like to say a few words.’

A pair of Secrets lead in a young guy. He looks away with the fairies. Actually, he probably is.

‘Hansel?’ SB taps a gloved finger on the side of the podium. The guy slurs his head in her direction, his eyeballs taking a few seconds to follow. ‘Tell us about your sister, please.’

He looks like she’s just asked him to recite all of the thousand-and-one tales from memory. He swallows, looking out over us. I feel sorry for the schmuck. If the fairies have been at him, we probably all look like magic rainbow unicorns covered with moondust.

‘Gretel…’ His voice is far, far away. ‘She’s always been …’ His eyes wander up to the chandelier.

‘Unpredictable,’ finishes SB. ‘Disobedient.’

‘… a good girl.’ It’s like the guy didn’t hear her. A smile spreads across his face like the sun coming out. ‘She … she saved me, once.’

‘I’ve never believed their version of things,’ whispers Baby. ‘I reckon they ate that old woman’s house and made the whole story about the oven up to cover their tracks.’

The Secret has his gun pointed at us now. I nudge Baby in the ribs. He growls but takes the hint.

‘All that was a very long time ago,’ says SB. ‘Please tell us all about Gretel now, Hansel.’

His eyes are scanning left and right, like he’s reading an autocue. ‘She changed. Grew distant from me. One morning, I even found her reading one of the Forbidden Books.’

Struwwelpeter’s hair shudders like a breeze is blowing through it. He’s a living Cautionary Tale; I’ve never understood why SB lets them in. They never learn.

Not like me, of course. I learned my lesson a looooong time ago. I remember talking to Blue about it, trying to persuade her. She refused at first, telling me that’s not what my father would have wanted. And how being real wasn’t all talking teapots and cuddly woodland creatures; I had to expect the good and the bad.

I insisted though. I showed her, rolling up my sleeve. Pointed at the skin, sagging like a burst balloon. My body was making up for lost time, aging me like a dead tree. I was lucky if I had a month left, maybe two.

I pleaded with her. Told her I was sure. My nose didn’t move an inch. I wasn’t lying, she could see that.

So Blue agreed. She shifted to a deep sad navy colour, then tapped me on the head with her wand.

And turned me back.

Back into wood.

Fairytale Hit Squad 1.4 – Voluntary Service

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I snap back. One of the Jacks’ hands is still aloft. SB beams down, like a mother spider choosing which of its offspring to eat next. She nods to her left, at someone else I can’t see because of Struwwelpeter’s massive freaking mess of hair.

‘Saps,’ says Baby, his voice a rumble at the back of his throat. ‘If Gretel’s gone over to the Wickeds, it’ll be a suicide mission. No happy ever afters for those clowns.’

I elbow him to be quiet. I must have hit a nerve: he slaps down on my leg with one of his gigantic paws, the claws drilling five neat holes into my thigh like synchronised woodworm.

‘Grimm’s teeth!’ My curse is out before I can nail my jaw shut.

The room falls silent.

SB spins a glare in my direction. Baby shrinks in his seat, trying to look all cuddly. Struwwelpeter turns round, causing everyone sitting within ten feet of him to duck.

‘Mr Collodi.’ Her voice is as warm as a bathtub full of ice cubes. ‘How noble of you to volunteer.’

I feel the whorl of a knot in my gut. I’m not going to be able to sweet talk my way out of this one.

‘Excellent.’ SB claps her hands. The Secrets snap to attention, like clockwork soldiers. ‘Three brave souls, willing to risk everything to stop Gretel’s secrets falling into the wrong hands. They are an inspiration to us all.’

I glare at Baby. He grins back at me, his big Baby eyes fooling nobody.

‘If our trio of heroes could stay behind for a briefing,’ says SB, staring at herself in a gilded mirror, ‘the rest of you can return to your business.’

The leads file out, a procession of tales half-told. I watch Baby shrug and prowl off. I see he’s attached himself to Little Red. Can’t say I blame him — she’s not quite so little any more. I think about throwing some comment after him, about how the last animal she got all cozy with ended up split like a pumpkin, but I let it go.

Just the three of us are left. I get up, head towards the platform. I’m curious to see who I’ve been teamed up with. Which pair of idiots actually volunteered for this.

I should have known. The Jack is still sitting in the front row, staring ahead with a vacant expression, his hand up at his bandaged crown. He’s not been the same since Jill ran off with one of the Duke of York’s men. Apparently they’re very happy together. Got a thing about hillwalking.

The sight of my other teammate is a bit more encouraging. In every way.

Goldie’s an absolute peach. Like Little Red, she might not be a kid any more, but she certainly is a babe. Her blonde hair tumbles down onto smooth pale shoulders, her blue eyes sparkling with a tiny hint of magic, her slinky red dress fitting her just right.

Baby’s going to be so jealous.

Fairytale Hit Squad 1.5 – A Little Bit Of Magic

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THE MISSION’S A matter of life and death.

Of course, that means it’s not important enough for SB to grace us with her presence. Instead, we’ve got one of her helpers, some random fairy godmother who looks so old she probably can’t remember what day it is, let alone how to weave the tangled web of glamours we’ll need if we’re going to head out into the real world without being discovered.

‘Darlings.’ Her wings droop like dusty old curtains. ‘Remind me of your names again?’

‘Jack,’ says Jack. Blood seeps from beneath his bandage, his expression vacant. Unless we find ourselves needing some emergency pails of water fetched, he’s going to be no use whatsoever.

‘Goldliocks,’ purrs Goldie, making the grain at the back of my neck feel like it’s in need of a good sanding. ‘Goldilocks Jones.’

The fairy godmother turns to me, flashing a gummy smile. I hate giving people my real name. But if I don’t, the spell I hope she’s still got the power to cast won’t work.

‘Pinocchio,’ I say. Each syllable makes my teeth grind that little bit harder. ‘Pinocchio Collodi.’

‘Lovely!’ She claps her hands. A puff of dull green magic billows from between her palms. It smells like rotten eggs. ‘Jack, Goldilocks and Pincokeyho.’

I make to correct her, but it’s too late. The rancid cloud of magic plops down on us. I gag, watching as most of it slips off me. It’s enough to cover my head and shoulders, but I can tell the rest of me is unprotected. Jack and Goldie, on the other hand, are surrounded by a shimmering cloud of the stuff.

The godmother looks like she’s fallen asleep on her feet. Two Secrets melt from the shadows and guide her towards a door at the back of the briefing room. One comes back, wiping his hands as if he’s trying to get rid of a stain.

‘Right, you three.’ His face is hidden by his helmet, moulded into an androgynous golden mask identical to all the other Secrets. ‘Time to go.’

‘And where exactly are we going?’ My head feels like there’s a swarm of bees buzzing about inside it.

‘Darkwood.’

Goldie gasps theatrically, her hands clasped over her mouth. Jack falls down. I groan.

‘D-darkwood?’ Goldie’s voice is shaking. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Positive. Gretel was last sighted heading past the woodcutter’s cottage carring a basket. We have reason to believe it contained the Story Book.’

Even I’m stunned. If that’s true, all of us are at risk. Not only that, but the Normals will be in danger too. If the Wickeds get their hands on it and rewrite the Tales… well, let’s just say there won’t be many happy endings.

I haul Jack to his feet. Goldie’s hyperventilating.

‘How are we going to get there?’ I ask. ‘Darkwood’s behind The Wall.’

The Secret takes out a battered old lamp and starts rubbing it. I close my eyes. I hate this bit.

Travelling by genie always makes me want to puke.

Fairytale Hit Squad 1.6 – A Whole New World

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THE GENIE PUFFS himself out in a grand display of wish-fulfilment. He’s not one I’ve seen before, but he looks just as smug as all the rest. He takes off his sunglasses and brushes a hand through his smoky grey hair.

‘Where to?’ His voice is a gum-laden southern drawl. ‘Your destination is my command.’

The Secret can hardly contain his amusement. ‘They’re heading to Darkwood,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t bother arranging a return trip for them.’

The genie lights a cigar with a click of his fingers. Smoke puffs in rings out of his ears. ‘You guys got insurance?’

‘They’ve had a glamour put on them,’ says the Secret. I feel the godmother’s magic flaking off my head like bright green dandruff. ‘That should get them far enough.’

‘Sweet.’ The genie makes another click. A carpet materialises from nowhere and rolls itself out at our feet. ‘Hop aboard then.’

I’m last to get on. The thing’s so threadbare you could use it to strain prunes. Jack sits down cross-legged at the front, Goldie behind him. She’s shaking a bit.

‘First time flying?’ I say, sitting beside her.

She nods, her golden curls bouncing like a shampoo advert. ‘Is it safe?’

‘As houses,’ I say, then give her a wink. ‘Apart from ones owned by three bears, of course.’

She rolls her eyes, like she’s heard every “bear in the woods” joke ever. It’s hard to imagine her with Baby all those years ago. I don’t believe his version of events though. From what I’ve heard, the only thing likely to have been mounted that night was his head above her fireplace.

‘Fasten your seatbelts.’ The genie stands at the front of the carpet and makes a high-pitched buzzing sound, like a kid pretending to be an airplane. Our magical transport lurches a couple of feet off the ground, sagging in the middle. One of Jack’s legs pokes through the material but he’s too dazed to notice.

The carpet continues to rise. The Land shrinks, turning into a toy town version of itself. SB’s castle at the centre like a pastel pink wedding cake designed for a psychotic bride with a fetish for big thrusting turrets. We’re up in the clouds now. There’s a sign floating on one, a big arrow twinkling with fairy lights.

‘Second star on the right then straight on til morning,’ reads the genie, then promptly veers us off in the opposite direction. ‘Shame we’re not going that way though.’

It’s like being inside a jogging giant’s jockstrap. We’re tossed about, slamming into each other as the genie tries to keep us level through the stormclouds. Lightning splits the darkness, the clouds swirl and transform into monstrous faces, cackling at us as we’re blown and buffeted about. I sit tight, glad for once I’m made of wood.

Jack’s not so lucky though. The big shiny safety pin holding the bandage on his noggin works like a lightning conductor. His eyes bulge like pickled onions, his face contorted in agony. His whole body jerks like he’s been pulled on strings. That almost makes me feel sorry for him.

There’s a silver lining though. Goldie’s so frightened she slides close to me, our legs touching. I’m glad I shaved mine this morning. Splinters can kinda spoil the mood.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say, trying to sound like I mean it myself. ‘It’ll be over soon.’

‘That’s what I’m worried about,’ she says, pointing ahead of us with a trembling finger.

At the three hundred foot high ogre standing waiting for us with a baseball bat.

Fairytale Hit Squad 1.7 – The Truth Hurts

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‘DUCK!’

The genie nearly chokes on his gum as the ogre’s bat slices at us like a gigantic felled tree.

Goldie and I flatten ourselves, tasting the threadbare carpet. A whooshing sound like a million huffs and puffs, followed by a noise like someone hitting a coconut with a sledgehammer.

I glance up to see Jack’s body spiraling off through the clouds and the ogre grinning as he prepares to follow up with a backswing.

The genie yanks the tassels at the front of the carpet, sending it into a crazy swerve which makes me feel like a matchstick in a hurricane. We hurtle down, avoiding the ogre’s second swipe as we plummet towards his knees. The genie’s struggling; he’s losing control of the carpet. We’ll be lucky if we can dodge the ogre’s third strike.

I look up. I get an idea. A crazy, stupid idea. Like all my best ones.

‘Fly straight up,’ I yell, ‘between his legs!’

The genie turns round and looks at me like I’ve lost the keys to my kingdom. I reach up and tap the side of my nose, giving him a wink.

He flashes expensive teeth. ‘Gotcha, buddy.’ He pulls up at the edge of the carpet, sending it into a climb. We ascend towards the gigantic bulge hanging above us. I brace myself.

‘I never spat in Baby’s porridge,’ I yell. Goldie looks at me, puzzled, then realisation dawns on her face as she sees my nose begin to twitch.

‘I never tried to chop down the beanstalk when Jack was still up it.’ I feel a tug between my eyes as my nostrils stretch, the end of my nose spearing forward.

‘And that business with Little Miss Muffet was only a malicious rumour.’ That does it. My nose surges forward, as long as a flagpole. I lie on my back, adjusting my aim.

The carpet gains speed. ‘Red five, red five!’ cries the genie, ‘I’m going in!’

I feel a sharp jab, then a yielding pop. The ogre’s scream is like a million nails sliding down a million blackboards. I can’t help but wince, almost sorry for the guy.

The carpet swerves, avoiding the doubled-over ogre as he staggers forward. Then we’re off, swooping away to safety. My nose starts to shrink; Goldie stares at it with fascination as it returns to its normal size.

‘I thought that was just a myth,’ she says.

‘You better believe it, sister,’ I massage my throbbing septum. ‘Though it can cause some awkward situations. I try not to do it unless absolutely necessary.’

‘So you always tell the truth?’ She looks doubtful.

‘If I want to be able to get through doors without snapping my beak off, yeah.’

She smiles, sly. I know what’s coming.

‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ she says.

I’m glad it’s her asking me that. The Little Mermaid put the same question to me a couple of months ago and I nearly took her eye out. I can’t help it if I’ve got a thing about scales.

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Absolutely I do.’

My nose doesn’t even twitch. She smiles, even blushes a bit. ‘Thank you,’ she says.

The genie turns the carpet to the left, towards the twinkling night sky. A shooting star streaks past, right on cue. A river sparkles, a hundred feet below us. I shuffle a bit closer to Goldie. She doesn’t move away. If this was a movie, a cheesy song about soaring on the wings of our dreams would start playing right about now …

‘Next stop Darkwood,’ says the genie, breaking the mood. ‘Time to get your parachutes ready.’

Goldie and I exchange worried glances.

‘Para –?‘ I manage to say, just before the genie disappears in a dazzling puff of bad timing.

And so, a split second later, does the carpet.

Fairytale Hit Squad 1.8 – A Long Way Down

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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.

Chump.

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.

Never Land.

If only.

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.

‘Got you!’

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.’

Fairytale Hit Squad 1.9 – Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane?

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HE’S BEEN WATCHING far too many movies if you ask me. He always had a cape, a fur-trimmed one which marked him out as one of the regal leads. Now he’s changed the rest of his costume. A big letter C picked out in gold on his chest, shining against the royal blue skin-tight lycra. And talking of tight … let’s just say his skimpy red shorts give one big fat clue as to why Prince Charming’s such a hit with the ladies.

‘So, what are you good people up to, so far from home?’ His voice booms with the authoritative tone of a narrator. Goldie looks up at him with with moist big blue eyes.

‘We’re on a mission.’ She speaks in a sing-song voice, standing with her hands behind her back. ‘An important one.’

‘Aha!’ Prince Charming raises a gloved finger. ‘That explains why my super sense was tingling!’

The only super sense this chump has is of his own self-importance when he looks at himself in the mirror. Though I have to admit, if he hadn’t turned up when he did, I’d be getting scooped up and rammed into an empty box of matches right around now.

‘So,’ he says,’ what’s the mission and how can I be of assistance?’

‘Heard of Gretyl?’ I say. Of course he’ll have heard of her. His signed photo is on the inside of the locker of every female lead in the Kingdom.

‘Ah, the divine Miss Humperdink. Quite the little minx, if I remember correctly.’ He just out his chin, letting the breeze ruffle his hair, then takes out his phone. He points it at himself, clicks a button, then taps on the screen and smiles. ‘Fourteen likes already,’ he says. ‘A new record.’

‘She’s gone over to the other side,’ says Goldie, her voice a tiny tinkle of fear. ‘To the Wickeds.’

He puts his hands on his hips and stands with his feet so far apart his shorts are in danger or splitting. ‘In that case,’ he says, ‘this is a job for Prince Charming.’

Goldie clasps her hands together and squeals. I’m rapidly going off the girl, I must admit.

‘To the woods!’ He raises an arm and wraps the other around Goldie’s waist. She gives a yelp, probably trying to come across like a helpless little kitten but sounding more like someone’s just stepped on a gerbil.

‘Oh, wait,’ says Prince Charming, turning to me with a smug smile plastered across his face. ‘You’re not a flier, are you? I suppose we’ll have to go the long way.’

’It’s not that far.’ I point to a dark line of trees on the horizon. ‘We’ll be there in less than an hour.’

‘You’re right.’ He lowers his arm. Keeps the other round Goldie’s waist, I see. ‘At least that gives us a chance to get to know each other a little better, doesn’t it?’

After ten minutes of listening to him bang on and on about how he single-handedly defeated a legion of dragon-riding giants with one hand tied behind his back, I know all I want to about him. And that the next fifty minutes are going to seem like an eternity.

He’s in the middle of another story about rescuing a conveniently naked Queen Guinevere from the Questing Beast when it happens.

A whistling noise like a boiling kettle. It gets louder and louder. We stop, looking around us. The wood’s still some distance away; we’re in the middle of a field, nothing around for miles.

‘Up there!’ I point at the dark dot in the sky. Getting bigger and bigger as it gets closer and closer, faster than a speeding bullet. Goldie starts whimpering; Prince Charming puts his arm around her. I duck, my arms above my head.

‘Stand bac –’ Prince Charming’s knocked off his feet by the object as it slams into his head. He’s out cold.

I lower my arms, peeking through my fingers. The object staggers to its feet moaning, raising a hand to its bandaged head.

I’ve never been so glad to see Jack in all my life.

Fairytale Hit Squad 1.10 – Tears and Souvenirs

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‘WHAT HAPPENED?’ Jack has an even more dazed than usual expression on his pasty slack-jawed face.

‘You were smacked off a flying carpet by a three-hundred feet tall ogre with a baseball bat,’ I say.

‘Oh,’ he says, as if that’s some kind of everyday occurrence. ‘Where are we?’

‘On our way to Darkwood. To find Gretyl. Rememeber?’

‘My head hurts,’ he says, looking at me like he’s got no idea who I am.

‘Where did you find this one?’ Prince Charming’s back on his feet. I’m not sure what’s hurting him more: the bump on his head where Jack landed on him, or the bash his ego’s just taken. Hopefully both are equally painful for him.

‘We should count our blessings, I guess. We could have ended up with Little Jack Horner.’ I make a face and stick out my thumb, impersonating the least-feared Jack in the Kingdom. ‘Tremble before my mighty plum!’ I say. I’m pleased to hear Goldie tittering.

Prince Charming ignores me. ‘Now at least there are four of us,’ he says, hoisting his shorts up so high I’m surprised he’s not signing soprano. ‘More than a match for anything Darkwood may have in store for us.’

‘I hope you’re right,’ I say. ‘I heard the last chump who went in there came out turned into a frog.’ I’m lying, of course. I just said it to see him wince. It’s every Prince’s nightmare.

‘Worse than that,’ I say, enjoying watching him squirm. ‘It was a real ugly frog too. Stank like a troll with dysentery’s underpants. No princess in the land would think of going within a hundred feet of it, let alone puckering up and kissing it.’

That kills the conversation, which is just fine by me. We walk on, having to stop every few yards to repoint Jack in the right direction. As we get closer to the edge of the wood, I feel it: the foreboding, the dread. Despite my bravado, I’m so nervous I have to keep looking over my shoulder to check I’m not leaving a trail of sawdust behind me.

‘What’s that?’ Goldie points ahead to a small hut, sat just outside the forest. Dirty grey smoke puffs out the chimney.

‘Looks like someone lives there,’ says Prince Charming. ‘We should ask them if they’ve seen anything suspicious.’

‘Suspicious?’ I say. ‘Like someone who chooses to make their home right next to the scariest place in the Kingdom?’

He scowls at me. ‘I’m not scared of someone who lives in a hut.’

‘Perhaps you should be.’ I try to keep my voice steady, but it’s hard when I see what’s just walked out the front door.

It’s like something from a nightmare. A misshapen head, covered in weeping boils. Eyes bulging like pickled onions, a wide mouth swollen with hundreds of sharp yellowed teeth. At first I think it’s got three legs, then I realise it’s stark naked and is so well-endowed that even I feel my varnish begin to blister.

‘What in Grimm’s name is that?’ Goldie quivers behind Prince Charming, clutching the edge of his cape.

‘Wotcha, me old luvaduks!’ says the creature, in the worst Cockney accent I’ve ever heard. ‘Welcome to Darkwood. Now, can I interest you in some of me fine trinkets and baubles?’

The hideous little gimp opens the shutters on the hut’s single large window and skips to one side. The place is filled to bursting with an eyeball-searing array of garish knick-knacks. T-shirts with slogans like ‘Big And Bad’ and ‘My Friend Went To Darkwood And All I Got Was This Nagging Feeling I’d Never See Them Alive Again’. Scale models of Maleficent’s Castle and Baba Yaga’s Hut next to a mangy collection of furry trolls, all of which seem to be engaged in unnatural acts with each other . Snowglobes with what looks like drowned fairies floating lifelessly inside.

‘See anyfink you like?’ He claps his hands twice and laughs like a maniac. Goldie gasps. The chump starts growing in size, slowly at first, then so big he’s towering over us, dwarfing the hut behind him.

‘I’ve got a special offer on today.’ He stares down and licks his lips with a slimy green tongue. ‘Buy something, and I won’t bite yer bleedin’ ‘eads off.’