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A Royal Pain
“No! You can’t have it.”
By now the angelic face of the toddler had transformed into that of a demon. Her plump cheeks, known for being adorably oversized, had turned a deep shade of purple. Hurricanes filled her sky blue eyes.
“Come on! We have to meet up with Mom in thirty minutes,” I said forcefully.
Nothing. Beth stood motionless in front of the bin of stuffed animals, clutching a sparkly giraffe.
Time for a new strategy.
“Fine then, I guess I’ll get our school supplies all by myself. You can stay here. Alone.”
I slowly turned away and strolled down the aisle, convinced that I’d hear her little feet running after me. Five seconds passed… Six… Seven… Eight… Nine… Ten. I had reached the end of the aisle.
“Beth?” I shouted as I turned back to face her.
But only the stuffed animals stared back.
The princess walked through her kingdom with her nose in the air and her shoulders pulled back. She was victorious! She had successfully battled the evil witch and rescued Gregory, her favorite person ever. Or, maybe person wasn’t the right word. He was actually a giraffe. A big, sparkly giraffe.
The princess’ kingdom was home mostly to giants. Giants who were pushing large metal carts and talking angrily into little rectangles. Giants who were starting to look at her funny. The princess’ c***iness faded as she realized even Gregory could not protect her from these beasts.
Then, just as a giant with a big, scary smile began walking towards her, the princess saw her castle up ahead. She was saved!
“Everything is ok,” I reassured myself, “don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic. DON’T PANIC.”
Then, I panicked.
I rushed down to where I last saw Beth, hoping, praying that she would be hiding behind the box of stuffed animals. Maybe she would come running around the corner, laughing at how scared I looked. Even the cries of a trademark Beth Temper Tantrum ™ would be welcome.
I stood staring at the glassy eyes of the plush animals until my vision blurred.
I jumped, convinced it was the fuzzy kangaroo that had asked.
Instead, a cold, human hand tapped my shoulder. I turned and found a middle aged woman wearing a light blue polo and name tag. Her mouth was drawn back into a plastic smile.
“Can I help you, sweetie? You know, those toys are buy one get one fifty percent off, an amazing deal if you ask me!” she exclaimed. She somehow managed to keep her grin plastered on her face, even while speaking.
“Oh, ok… great. Have you seen a little girl about five years old in a green sweater and orange shoes?” I asked.
“Hmm… actually, yes I have! I just saw her headed towards the Lawn Accessories section a few minutes ago,” she responded, pointing towards the back of the store. “You know, she’s much too young to be walking around on her own. I actually tried to go up and ask if she was lost but--”
I sprinted towards the Lawn Accessories.
The princess sat on her throne, surveying her kingdom through the window. Although she could see giants just outside, she knew she was safe. None of them could even fit in the castle, which, by the way, was truly magnificent. Although some might have thought it was tiny and made of plastic, the princess saw it differently. Only she noticed the high ceiling and the pretty paintings on the walls. Oh! And the table covered in every dessert imaginable and the dragons circling above it and--
The evil witch had appeared in the distance. Her green, bumpy face was hidden under a pointy hat, and her hair was tied back in a messy ponytail. She stopped and looked around, her eyes slowly scanning the kingdom.
The castle was no longer safe.
The Lawn Accessories section, as described by Ms. Plastic, looked like a strange miniature city. On a patch of bright green artificial grass stood about ten plastic playhouses, each one resembling a different structure. Screaming children rushed between them, desperate to test out the slides and climb through the little doors.
As I scanned the area, a flicker of green caught my eye.
It had come from a playhouse towards the back, one shaped like a castle. Huh. Beth’s whole room was fairytale themed. Plastic tiaras littered the floor and a model gingerbread house, complete with Hansel and Gretel figurines, took up a whole corner.
I quickly wound my way between the structures, positive that Beth would be sitting inside the castle.
But when I finally reached it and peered through the window, all I saw was a little freckled boy scratching his nose.
The princess was scared. Her green ball gown rustled around her as she rushed away from the evil witch. Where could she go? Her castle had been invaded, she didn’t have a fairy godmother, and she was much too young for a prince to come and save her. Only Gregory was with her, and as amazing as he was, he could do little to help her now.
My phone buzzed.
ON MY WAY. BE THERE IN 15.
Fifteen minutes. My mom would be at the store in fifteen minutes. I stared solemnly at my phone as I sat with my back pressed against the fake stone wall of the castle.
How the hell am I going to find Beth? I wondered.
And then an even worse thought: What if she’s not even in the store anymore?
My mind jumped instantly to the episodes of Criminal Minds and the nightly news stories about children getting kidnapped at the mall.
A piercing screech interrupted my thoughts as the store’s loudspeaker crackled to life.
“Peggy, please come to the check out lines… Peggy, to the front register please,” droned a tired voice.
I raised my head at the sound of the speaker echoing throughout the store. Of course! I jumped up and raced towards the check out lines.
“Beth! Beth, if you can hear me, please come to the front desk. And everyone else, if you see a little girl in a green sweater and orange shoes, please bring her here, she’s my little... “
The princess stood still, listening. Jessie? No! No… that was the evil witch. It was a trap, it had to be a trap. Somehow the witch was using her dark magic to project her voice across the whole kingdom. She didn’t care about the princess at all. She was just angry and mean and wanted to steal Gregory away.
The princess tightened her grip on her companion and continued on her journey.
I sat anxiously waiting at the store’s front desk. My foot bounced up and down restlessly. Up, down… Up, down… Up, down.
I could feel the minutes sliding by, one by one.
I couldn’t take it anymore.
Leaving a security guard in my place, I trotted towards the nearest aisle to continue my desperate search.
“Hi there sweetie, are you Beth?”
The princess shook her head. The giants had been fooled! The witch had tricked them into working for her!
“Really? Because I think your sister’s looking for you. Why don’t you come with me and we can get you back to her.”
Then, the giant smiled a big creepy smile.
The princess had never moved faster. She blew past the monster, her little arms pumping back and forth, back and forth. The giant was shouting in a booming voice, but it was too slow to chase her. The princess turned one corner, then another and another, and didn’t stop until the voice faded into the distance.
She found herself in a quiet section of her kingdom where she and Gregory--
Gregory was gone. The giant must have trapped him.
Suddenly, the princess felt tears welling up in her eyes, ready to rush down her cheeks. First the witch raided her castle and now… now she was truly alone.
But no! She couldn’t cry now! She had to go back and save Gregory. After all, he was her only friend in this terrible kingdom. She couldn’t let anything happen to him. With a newfound determination, the princess took in her surroundings.
Perfect! A horse was grazing nearby. She ran over to it and leapt on its back. As an expert horseback rider, she was able to quickly gain control of the animal. She raced around one corner, then another and another until finally, the same, terrible giant came into view. To the princess’ horror, she spotted a sparkly leg dangling from its humongous hands.
She willed the horse to go faster. And faster. Now they were racing towards the monster at top speed.
“PUT HIM DOWN!” she cried at the top of her lungs, in the most terrifying voice she could muster. At the sound of her battle cry, the giant turned. At first its face conveyed only confusion, but then terror took over as it registered the princess barrelling towards it.
She was so close. She could see her dear Gregory’s neck squeezed in the giant’s fist. She narrowed her eyes and braced for impact.
“THIS IS FOR GREGORY!”
“WHAT THE HELL?! BETH?! STOP!” I screamed as my little sister flew by on a purple tricycle. Beth whirled her head to look at me, turning the handlebars as she did. She narrowly avoided the store employee… And instead ran straight into a display of paper towels.
Thank god it was only paper towels.
The display exploded, rolls of Bounty flying everywhere. Beth was momentarily buried in a sea of pillowy white paper. Then her stupid little head popped up, shortly followed by the rest of her.
I looked at her. She looked at me.
I crossed my arms over my chest, my hands shaking with anger. Opening my mouth, I prepared to unleash one hell of a lecture.
But then Ms. Plastic beat me to it.
“Just who do you think you are, young lady!? It took me three hours to build that display yet you managed to destroy it in a matter of seconds!” she shouted, waving her hands to convey her fury. Her cold smile had melted and the corners of her mouth dripped down her cheeks. Beth froze and gaped up at her assailant.
“I cannot stand little brats like you who treat this store like a playground!” continued Ms. Plastic. Then her eyes drifted to the purple tricycle that was laying in the rubble, its wheels bent at odd angles.
Seeing this, she erupted.
The giant’s spit rained down on the princess as it shouted at her. To her dismay, Gregory was still trapped in its hands. Tears began to tumble out of the princess’ eyes, at first slowly, then all at once. The princess slumped to the ground, utterly defeated.
Someone else was shouting now!
The princess lifted her eyes, only to find the evil witch towering over her. The witch’s hair, which was still tied in a loose ponytail, fell elegantly down her back as she faced the giant. She was so poised, so strong! And, most amazing of all, she was defending the princess.
“She’s only five years old so yeah, of course she’s going to want to play! And you have toys all over this freaking store, obviously little kids are going to use them! Isn’t that the whole point!?” she shouted into the terrible giant’s face. The beast had no response, its jaw hanging open in disbelief.
As the witch spoke, her green, warty skin became soft and golden. Her pointy hat seemed to melt and then reform in the shape of a silver crown.
“And then you had the nerve to yell at my little sister?! That’s my job!” she continued.
In a matter of seconds, the witch had vanished. In her place was a beautiful queen standing protectively in front of the princess.
The giant suddenly broke its silence. “Get out! Both of you get OUT OF MY STORE!” it bellowed.
The queen didn’t hesitate. “FINE! We were on our way out anyways! And believe me, we’re not coming back to this dump ever again.”
With this final blow, the queen turned towards the princess, lifted her up, and stormed away. From the arms of the queen, the princess watched the giant fade into the distance.
Maybe it wasn’t so scary after all.