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By the Power of My Swipe

Rain battered the walls of the castle above the ancient lake, and its pointed towers shot into the night sky aiming to pierce the heavy, bulging clouds. The stronghold stood quiet and dark, except for one window, high up in the northern turret, burning with pale amber light. Inside, the room was hot with fire from the hearth and the three children played a game of tag--a willowy girl, a boy in tartan pajamas, and a toddler with a head full of tousled ginger curls. The storm raged against the weathered stones of the keep, shook the glass in the lancet windows, but the children were not afraid--the wailing of the wind only made the game so much more tantalizing.
Soon the nursery became too small for all the buzz and excitement. The gang burst out of the room and the narrow, winding staircase echoed with their laughter and the sound of small bare feet pattering down the worn steps. The squeaks and the giggles bounced off the walls, rolled around the columns, shook the tapestries, and jiggled the pendants in the crystal chandeliers. The three emerged onto the landing--breathless--and came to a halt in front of a tall, ornate door. Warm light streamed from the gap beneath it.
The oldest girl whispered, "Shhh, Grandma is reading!"
"Let's ask her to tell us a story," her brother said.
"I want story," the toddler chimed in.
Together, the children leaned on the handle and the door slowly opened inwards. Beyond it, the library held every book imaginable or, at least, that's what it looked like. Shelves of mahogany and walnut, lined with dusty tomes, disappeared into the shadows under the high ceiling and--all over the room--books arranged in precariously leaning stacks formed a vast, sprawling labyrinth. A large cat lay sleeping on the windowsill, oblivious to the storm outside.
Grandma was sitting in a plush chair half-hidden by a giant pile of books. The long locks of her white hair escaped from the bun and snaked across her shoulders; her pince-nez balanced precariously on the tip of her nose, and the stars embroidered on her blue velvet dress glittered with precious gems. The children ran towards her, pushing each other, and landed in a giggling, panting heap on the floor at Grandma's feet. "Grandma, grandma! Tell us a scary story!"
She looked down at them, her pince-nez catching the glare of the lightning.
"So, you want a story?"
"A scary one!"
Grandma smiled. "All right then. I'll tell you the scariest story I know." She closed the book with a thud and began. "Once upon a time, there lived an evil wizard who could turn women into objects with a swipe of his finger."
The toddler squeaked and clutched onto the sleeve of her older sister's dress.
"Whenever he saw a girl he didn't like, he moved his hand like so." Grandma lifted her index finger and held it as if pressed against an invisible screen, then moved it sharply to the left. "He swiped left and the girls were no longer human. They became hideous, unwanted things to mock and discard."
The oldest girl frowned. "Grandma, I don't understand. What exactly happened to them?"
"Well," said Grandma. "A girl whose hips he deemed too heavy, turned into a pair of spiral hams. A woman he considered too old became an old bag with a torn off handle. A young lady with lovely, curly hair was reduced to a disheveled mop. He thought it was hilarious."
The children stared, wide-eyed. Grandma leaned forward and whispered, "But that wasn't the limit of his evil powers. Sometimes he swiped right."
The boy in tartan pajamas whispered, "And what happened then?"
Grandma sighed. "Some girls the wizard wanted to keep for himself. Useful things that might come in handy. One girl was a beauty and, whenever he went out with her, people noticed him too. He craved their attention. Trouble was that every time he took her out to parade in front of others, a part of her turned to porcelain. First, her smile became stiff and frozen, then her back, and--little by little--she became an enamel doll, mute and cold. One day, she tripped on the hem of her dress and broke into little pieces. A minute later he forgot all about her.
Another girl had a gentle soul and took care of him even if he didn't deserve it. She tended to his whims and imaginary illnesses and for her kindness he turned her into a box of handkerchiefs. He used them all, one by one, and when the last one was soiled, he said she was dirty and worthless and threw her out with the trash.
Many more girls caught his eye. Empty bottles, torn-up wallets, and rubber toys scattered in his wake."
"Where is this evil wizard now? What if we run into him?" asked the older girl casting an anxious glance at the toddler sprawled on the carpet.
Grandma smiled. "Don't you worry. He can't hurt you no more. Along came a Princess, beautiful as a summer day and I would say fairly smart. The evil wizard had one look at her and wished, more than anything in the world, to add her to his collection of objects. He lifted his finger and was about to swipe right...."
The older children screamed, and the toddler crawled under the armchair.
"Do you want me to continue or not?" asked Grandma in a stern voice. The children nodded enthusiastically.
"He lifted his finger, but the Princess was so much faster than him. She swiped left and no one ever saw him again."
"And the Princess? What did become of her?"
Grandma smiled. "She claimed the wizard's castle for herself and has had a very happy life. Some say she still lives there with her Grandchildren and a large Siamese cat."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

Author Comments

Laila Amado is currently marooned on a small island halfway between Africa and Europe. She writes dark fantasy and science fiction stories in her second language, lives in her fourth country, and cooks decent paella. Her stories have appeared in 365 Tomorrows, 101 Fiction, Enchanted Conversation Magazine, and other publications. You can read her microfiction on Twitter at @onbonbon7

- Laila Amado
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