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Unchosen

Rebekah Postupak grew up among the dragon-rumbling volcanos of southeast Asia, where her heart and tastebuds still reside. Her stories have placed in or won over 70 contests and have appeared in publications such as From the Depths, Postcard Shorts, and Flash Fiction World, as well as in various anthologies. The former host of Flash! Friday, Rebekah remains grateful to the global writing community, whose dream-stuffed words change the world on a daily basis.
I knew, because she used to talk to me sometimes, how hard her life was. She wasn't making it up: I saw how thin she got after her dad remarried then died, and there was no hiding the bruises. It's totally true, like in the stories people told later, how she spent long winter nights curled up at the gaping mouth of a crumbling hearth. It's the kind of thing we all did to survive, even if our soot-covered bruises didn't make the headlines like hers did.
When the first crowd of reporters showed up, they pressed us for details. Did we know she was special right off? Did we guess anything of her coming rise to greatness?
How could anyone guess something like that?
Was she kinder, more graceful, more anything, than any of the rest of us?
No, we said. She was the same as us. Not nicer, not meaner, just regular.
Surely her great beauty enraptured us.
No, she wasn't any prettier than anyone else. Her moth-devoured clothes were cinched together just like ours. See here, the tiny threaded knots we learned how to--
What about the legendary fairy godmother? Tell us about that! Did you witness her visits?
Those visits took place at night; we were still working at the factory, or shoveling muck, or maybe, if we were lucky, catching a few precious minutes' sleep.
The reporters didn't hide their disappointment at our inability to shed light on how and why, but we shrugged and pointed them to her stepsisters, now bedecked in the satins and sparkles they'd long understood they deserved. Her stepsisters would give them all the reassurances they sought, how oh yes, they knew from the beginning, just how sweet, just how lovely, just how different she was from all the other girls. Let us tell you how birds would fly to her window and sing their beautiful songs just for her! Her hunger was starker, her dreams more tormented, and her heart purer.
Why her? the reporters asked us. Why her, and not you?
It was random, we said; it could have been anyone. Our neighborhood has enough hungry boys and girls to occupy fifty fairy godmothers.
We didn't tell the reporters that the junior fairy godmothers used to stumble through here sometimes, giggling and shouting out dares to each other, turning rocks into golden balls, or frogs into fountains. None of us knew which of them it was that one night who felt inspired to turn rags into a ballgown, but the whole neighborhood heard their shrieks of mirth and watched in silence as one who could have been any of us was dragged off in a rat-drawn pumpkin.
For weeks the newspapers quoted her fawning sisters and splashed glittering photos across their pages. They called her a natural born princess, different from all of us, the sort of person for whom magic will always find a way.
How does one become the kind of person for whom magic always finds a way? we asked ourselves a few days after her wedding, when globs of pink and gold confetti mixed with shards of once-perfect glass slipper souvenirs floated into our murky runoff ditches.
Like with all the other questions, though, nobody knew the answer.
We did see her once, months later, when she accompanied the engineering corps on a tour of our neighborhood. They thought she'd like to come along, because maybe she had some ideas about how to clean the place up, how to breathe some life into this hapless quarter of the city.
She glanced out the coach's window at us, right as a chance ray of sunlight escaped the roiling clouds and shone on her. For the tiniest piece of a moment her hair and crown burned with sun-flames.
"Well of course," she said, her expression unreadable. "I have loads of ideas."
But the storm clouds tumbled back over and the coach lurched on before we could hear any of them.
How do you feel, the reporters asked later, having had a real live princess visit you?
Lucky, said one of us; and somewhere in the distance, though perhaps it was only thunder, I thought I heard the faintest peals of laughter.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 4th, 2019
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