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The Seven

Indiana writer James Dorr's The Tears of Isis was a 2013 Bram Stoker Award(r) finalist for Fiction Collection, with his latest, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, a novel-in-stories from Elder Signs Press. He has previously worked as a technical writer, an editor on a regional magazine, a full time non-fiction freelancer, and a semi-professional musician, and currently harbors a Goth cat named Triana. Readers may also visit Dorr's blog at jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com.

Happy was happy, Grumpy was grumpy, and so on and on. These weren't their actual names, of course, but nicknames they gave to themselves depending on mood. More and more often now, for instance, the one once named Happy was known as Sadsack. And Grumpy, more and more often, Enraged.
It was a mystery how the seven had gotten here in the first place. The hut in the forest. Their work in the mines. Sometimes it was jewels they would dig for there, at other times coal, but the coal had become rare. It seemed to follow the needs of the world, but perhaps not.
A bit shorter than average, at least they were fitted for stooping in tunnels.
By now, more and more often, they were mining salt. The one once called Doc--he claimed to have a PhD--said he'd come up with a theory. "Why would people need so much salt?" he would ask. But theory or not, he never seemed to come up with an answer.
By now, what he was known as was Dropout--it turned out he'd never finished his dissertation either.
But more and more often their main occupation came after work hours, answering questions from anthropology students and folklore collectors concerning their previous adventures.
"Adventures" indeed! They would try to explain--they worked in the mines. All they did was dig stuff, their biggest "adventure" being, perhaps, figuring out exactly what they were mining on any particular day. And that, as said, was mostly salt these days.
That is, sure they might sometimes be buried alive--mines did collapse sometimes--but they always managed to burrow their way out. After all, if they hadn't, they'd hardly be able to answer people's questions. The same with occasional methane poisoning, or black lung disease. It wasn't nice work.
But their questioners' interest was not in their work, but in afterhours happenings. Like--in fact, almost always these days--the one with "Snow White."
Well, the first thing was the girl's real name was Mary. A Girl Scout or something, she'd managed to get herself lost in the woods. She'd most likely been high on something, to boot. She'd babbled some story about evil queens, and that she was a stepdaughter they'd tried to murder. The evil queens, that is, the ones trying to kill her, or at least their huntsmen--or maybe an older woman Sadsack later claimed he'd seen lurking around in the forest at about that time.
Details by now had become a bit fuzzy.
In any event the miners, in charity, took her in--it was starting to rain too. They let her do some work in the kitchen, and make the beds, other things like that, light housework type things, but for some reason they'd never been able to figure out, a week later she died.
And that was pretty much that, they left her outside and after a few days the corpse disappeared. Sure, for the questioners they embellished some of the details a little, like that she was so pretty they couldn't bring themselves to hide her away in a grave, so they placed her in a transparent glass coffin.
The fact, of course, was that as miners they'd been excavating all day and the last thing they needed to do, in their few leisure hours, was to dig another hole.
And so, while her remains were most likely then eaten by wolves or bears, they invented a prince. But then princes were common back in those days--as, indeed, were evil stepmothers. A real adventure of sorts that they had had, or at least a sort of connection to one, was with Cinderella--which in her case was her actual name. At least to the extent that names like theirs were real as well, it was what people called her.
But the thing was, with her, the fairy godmother had sewn her a ball gown made of actual gold thread--and guess who'd been called on to mine the gold. That was the thing. Somewhere, somehow, another magical being nowadays must need lots of salt, considering what they'd been mining this past month and more--Dropout had wondered if maybe the mermaids were up to some caper.
But back to the point, after the gold they'd gone through a phase of mining copper, and with that, too, eventually they had found out why. That Cindy had actually married a prince, and on the way to becoming an evil queen in her own right, she'd decided to redecorate the palace. This included a redesign of the uniforms worn by the Royal Guard--with lots of brass buttons.
She liked brass buttons.
And while she was at it, she had more Guardsmen hired. Lots more Guardsmen.
Somewhere, the seven miners figured, there must be another crew mining zinc.
But salt was the worst. Salt, salt, salt, by day's end you tasted it. Like it or not. It stung on your skin when you'd suffered even the tiniest abrasion. It dehydrated you. Got in your eyes.
It was like a disease--it destroyed your sense of smell.
"It's a cruel world," one of their company said, the self-effacing one once called Bashful, but, having since taken lessons on how to express his feelings, was now named Sadistic.
"It's getting crueler."
But mostly, even with the anthropologists, by the time they'd gone off shift they were usually too tired to talk. One can always answer questions in writing, of course, though that's tiring as well. Or by signs, like shrugs. Winks, things like that.
They shrugged a lot, these days. They likened themselves to flies caught in a web. Engulfing and vast. A huge, all-powerful spider there somewhere, to choose for instance what they would mine this time. Their part in this being to ask no questions.
The one who kept falling asleep on the job when the bosses weren't looking woke up for a moment. "I had a dream," he said, he having more recently gained the name Prophet. Then he added: "I dreamed this time that we were in Hell."
Sadistic smiled.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 11th, 2022

Author Comments

I've often used things like myths and fairy tales for ideas, and as fairy tales go, "Snow White" brings together a lot of neat concepts: an evil queen, poisoned snacks and beauty aids, a magic mirror.... But other than their singing happy songs in the Disney version, whoever gives that much thought to the dwarfs? Then suppose the whole thing was a scam in the first place.

- James Dorr
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