That’s how folks describe 16-year-old Snow White, who is more interested in studying insects than her own beautiful, anemic face. When her bipolar stepmother sets a price on her heart, which she’d like served with baby potatoes and Chianti, Snow White has no choice – she must outwit every studly huntsman, assassin, city guard and robber baron sent to bring her back, preferably dead, before she reaches Lapland.
20-year-old Aein is a one-winged cripple from another planet. Passionate, ridiculed, headstrong, and considered hideous in his gossamer, aerial world, he desires nothing more than to prove to his royal family that flight and beauty are overrated. He gets his one chance when he is selected to go to Earth, disguised as a ‘Crawler’ – who appears to us as a phenomenally handsome human youth. His mission: to pave our world for colonization and, later . . . annihilation.
Snow White and Aein must choose their allegiances, and fight a forbidden, growing love for each other before their worlds explosively collide. Set in the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm, Snow White & The Alien is a Tangled-meets-The-Day-the-Earth-Stood-Still collision of opposing personalities, cultures, armies, and ideas of what constitutes beauty.
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“But, Snow White, it’s high treason, and – ouch! You just stepped on my toe.”
“Swing the torch this way.” Snow White grabbed the one torch that they carried between them and held it aloft. The frightened face of Tom Cherry reflected the red-and-gold flickering flames so that he resembled a tortured soul from the depths of hell.
“Is it this trapdoor here?” she demanded.
A solid iron trapdoor stood embedded in the wall at waist level. They were in a secret passage behind the castle walls. Cold stone blocks, musty with lichen and age, hemmed them in. Broken stone slabs littered the floor. The passages had been built for the castle-dwellers to escape a siege, and not many knew them as well as Tom Cherry, who explored them with his brothers as a boy.
Tom’s ashen face told her she had struck home.
“Sssssh.” Snow White pressed her ear to the brittle iron. She listened for voices, footsteps. “Can they hear us in there, do you think?”
“Only if you speak really loudly, as you’re wont to do most times.” Tom appeared distressed enough to gnaw at his knuckles, which he would have if she didn’t shove him the torch. “Please, please don’t do this,” he pleaded. “I can’t imagine what would happen if you’re caught. I know you’re a princess and all, but – ”
“If I’m caught, I’ll absolve you of helping me.”
Snow White wrenched the handle of the iron door. It whined open with a too-loud-for-comfort creak to reveal a solid brick wall.
Snow White stared at it, nonplussed. “What’s the point of walling up an escape route?” she complained.
“You were always too impatient.” Tom shoved the torch back at her and wisely ignored her glare. His deft fingers felt for grooves, indentations on the brick where it met the top of the door.
“I thought you said you’ve never been to the Queen’s bedchamber.”
Tom flushed in the lamplight. “I might have peeked,” he admitted.
The loud click of a clockwork gear sliding into place made them both jump. The wall gave way on its left. Brick grounded against stone in a wince-inducing shriek that must have roused the entire castle.
“Are you sure the Queen is the banqueting hall?” Tom said anxiously.
Snow White peered out into the chamber. The false wall scrunched against soot and ash in a large, dormant fireplace. Thank god for summer, she thought as she clambered out on her hands and knees. The enormous bedroom was deceptively quiet, with only the flickering wall sconces to give light.
“Wait,” Tom cautioned, “you have to take off your shoes or you’ll leave soot stains all over the carpet.”
“Oh, I knew that,” Snow White said loftily even though it never occurred to her. “Stay in there, Tom.” She strained her ears for footfalls outside the door. This way, she wouldn’t have his flogging on her conscience. “I’ll only be ten minutes or so.”
Tom’s terrified eyes followed her as she padded barefoot across the room. The magnificent four poster bed was draped with a brocaded gold and silver canopy. Its headboard held a fresco of the Enchanted Forest, where the Queen had been found by Snow White’s father fifteen years ago, wandering like a lost wraith without memory. Snow White remembered the rumors well. Isobel had held out a red-and-white apple to the King. He took one bite of it, and was smitten forever.
Snow White mimed closing the wall in the grate to Tom. “Don’t spy on me.”
“I wasn’t,” he shot back.
Snow White waited until he had dragged most of the wall back, leaving only a few inches of exposed secret passageway, and turned back to her task. She wasn’t sure what exactly she was looking for, but she’d heard of a mirror the Queen kept, one that Isobel cherished as much as Snow White loved her golden beetle. No mirrors were present in the bedchamber, but there were two doors that possibly led to antechambers.
Snow White was about to open one when she heard muffled voices outside the main door. Iron staves clomped as the guards stood to attention.
“Snow White!” Tom’s strangled whisper came from the grate.
A key clicked in the lock. Too late to do anything but wrench an antechamber door open and bolt in. Her heart pounding loudly, Snow White found herself in a cluttered room lit by moonlight wafting from the window. The walls were sheathed in tapestries, now grey in the semi-darkness. A wall mirror the height of a man occupied a corner. Snow White’s pulse quickened.
Laughter sounded in the bedchamber. Snow White heard Wolfsbane’s voice above the slamming of the main chamber door.
“Hey,” he said, “you’re still an incredibly beautiful woman. I was just horsing around with her to get a rise out of you. Can’t you take a joke?”
The Queen’s clipped reply: “You have the manners of a boor.”
“Oh, come on, Isobel. What do I have to do to make it up to you? I can – ”
Silence, followed by a sigh, then a deep moan. Snow White hoped they would be too preoccupied with each other to notice the uneven wall behind the grate. But oh, what if they decided to light a fire?
More moans, and the sound of heavy cloth collapsing onto the floor. Snow White took this opportunity to slide into a half-open closet crammed with bulky woolen garments. A fur collar dug into her nose. It was all she could do not to sneeze.
This was going to be a long, long night, she thought as she listened, unabashed, to the sounds of lovemaking. It didn’t occur to her to be frightened. What can my stepmother do to me after all? went her reasoning. Spank me? Marry me off? They have no reason to see this as anything but a harmless, childish prank.
But what if Tom Cherry got caught? Snow White pictured his eyes rounding at the frenzied creaking of bed boards. She had no qualms that he would wait for her; his sense of duty far outweighed his peasant terror. She also had no qualms that he was a virgin. Why, she thought as warmth suffused her cheeks, he’s quite a youngling. If they catch him, I will have to protect him, because he sure as marbles can’t protect himself.
When the night climaxed and her flexed knees began to resemble a pincushion, the voices – smoky, dulcet, satiated – started again.
“Where are you going, woman?” Wolfsbane’s drawl. “Don’t leave me and mine standing.”
Soft footsteps coming closer. Snow White cowered in the copious wool. This is what being in a sheep pen must feel like, she thought.
The Queen entered with a candle. Through the sliver of open closet door, Snow White could see that her stepmother wore only a silken sheet. In the sudden light, the tapestries glowed with richly embroidered scenes of the Enchanted Forest. Frightened deer fled from two-headed beasts amid woven trees of gold, copper and red. In the center, a handsome horned youth with crimson wings smiled coyly at the viewer.
The Queen kicked the antechamber door shut. The unladylike gesture – both decisive and firm – reminded Snow White of why she admired Isobel in the first place.
Isobel turned to the mirror, which Snow White saw had an ebony frame. Instead of the Queen’s reflection, the mirror’s surface was a grey cloud.
“Mirror,” Isobel said, fingering the glass, “awake.”
The cloud dissolved. Snow White wasn’t the type of girl given to gasping, but she had to clamp her mouth tightly shut. Isobel’s reflection stared back: rich mahogany hair curling at the edges, storm blue eyes, complexion like cream. It spoke in a voice that dripped honey, “Isobel, has what I have seen come to pass?”
“Imogen.” Isobel’s voice was strained. “You were right. The girl is beautiful. But surely not comparable to us.”
“Our devil pact suggests otherwise.” The reflection flashed an unpleasant smile. “Tick tock, the clock stops for no one. Is that a sliver of grey I see in your hair, sister? A wrinkle forming at the side of your eye?”
Devil pact? Snow White repeated. Who was the devil here? The horned youth in the tapestry?
Isobel stepped back, uncertain. The image in the mirror remained still.
“Do I have to be the right arm of your wrath and envy once again?” Imogen opened her arms. Her expression was beatific, loving. The white sheet slipped off the sensuous curves of her body.
Snow White held her breath as the Queen turned from the mirror in a trance-like state. Her body was ripe, lush with full womanhood. Such a contrast to Snow White’s own, which was a budding flower compared to Isobel’s radiant bloom. The mirror dissolved into its grey fog again. Isobel exited the antechamber, leaving the door ajar.
“I have a task for you, Huntsman,” Snow White heard her say.
“Oh, we’re back to calling me Huntsman now. I thought we were past that months ago, unless we’re back to playing outlaw and damsel in distress.”
The Queen said, “I want you to take Snow White into the Enchanted Forest and kill her.”
Snow White’s blood turned cold.
No, she couldn’t have heard properly. She squeezed her knees to stop herself from bolting out of the closet.
“Whoa,” Wolfsbane’s voice, backing off, “that’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”
Yes, Wolfsbane, you’re absolutely right. It is extreme in the way an ocean is a little salty. And I have done nothing! Except being responsible – in an unfathomable, roundabout way – for giving my stepmother grey hair.
“It never stopped you before, Wolfsbane,” the Queen went on. “You’ve always been quite the predator. I remember the tailor’s daughter well. Five months gone she was. Didn’t stop you from laying a blow that made her lose the child and bleed to death. I had to persuade the lynch mob to cut you down from the stake.”
“It was an accident.”
Slithering noises. A moist plop to suggest kissing. Snow White’s stomach turned.
“If you do this, Wolfsbane, I’ll make you my prince consort. Imagine – you, a lowly born huntsman becoming a royal.”
No, Wolfsbane, Snow White wanted to say out loud, royalty is overrated.
“And to assure me the deed has been done,” the Queen said, “I want you to cut out her heart and bring it to me as a token.”
The Sporadean day was balmy, meaning it would have been forty degrees centigrade on Earth if centigrade had yet been invented. But Sporadean carapaces, which were harder than shellfish, protected them from extreme heat and blistering cold – though the corpses would turn in their graves if Spora were to see a cold day.
Perhaps in the next millennium, Aein mused, when the trees came back and the soil became fertile and loamy again. Spora had not seen an abundance of trees since the days of Fytenach the Fair. Then the blight came. The trees sickened and died. Sporadeans desperately turned to other food and shelter sources. Famine raged through the land, and the Sporadeans lost more than ninety percent of their population.
The new generations grew up hungry, frugal and determined never to starve again.
Aein gazed upon the blighted desert. The golden silos shimmered in the rising heat as far as the eye could see. His home. His world.
“Spora,” he whispered, and his heart ached for its barren golden beauty. How far would he go to preserve her? Thulrika’s words thundered in his mind: We need this world, and every vote . . . your vote . . . counts.
The Blue Planet awaited his condemnation.
Her voice stirred his heart. Gnomica! He turned swiftly.
“Cousin,” he said, faltering at the sight of her at the door. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Her wings ran with purple veins, and were of the softest gossamer. Her supple red carapace gleamed in the artificial golden light. Her eyes were kind as they gazed upon him.
His spirits sank, as they always did when she gave him that look. Kindness was not a sentiment he wanted Gnomica to bestow upon him. Admiration, perhaps. Lust. Definitely love. But she would never gaze upon him with anything but kindness or pity. His very hideousness prevented that. Perhaps it would not be wise to tell her that he dreamed nightly of running his limbs down her wings, clicking his mandibles gently against her beautiful, slender neck.
“I have come,” Gnomica said, “to wish you a good journey.”
“Thank you,” he said awkwardly.
“Try not to get into too much trouble, cousin.”
“I’ll try very hard not to.”
They stared at each other, silence expanding the gap between them.
“When I come home, you’ll be married,” Aein remarked, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Gnomica sighed. “We were betrothed since birth.”
“Ah yes. The endless betrothal. I wish you a happy wedding, and try not to miss me too much when you’re lying with His Incredible and Brave Handsomeness.”
“He isn’t the monster you make him out to be, Aein. I’ll admit he hasn’t exactly been the nicest of people to you – ”
“ – but Dimynedon is a brave warrior and a true patriot. If you knew him as I know him – ”
“Gnomica,” Aein interrupted, “this is my last hour on Spora. I don’t want to spend it talking about Dimynedon.”
They eyed each other uncomfortably again, she from her perch at the doorway, and he at the window that framed the golden landscape of Spora.
“Oh cousin!” Gnomica flapped her wings twice and she was by his side. She wrapped her four upper limbs around his body, holding him tightly against her warmth. “Please, please be safe. I know how headstrong you can be, and foolhardy. Don’t plunge into any situations that will endanger yourself!”
Aein was floored. No, more than floored – he was in that realm between seventh heaven and absolute despair, because he knew that this was too fleeting and wrought out of pity, not romantic love. His limbs crept up to her wings, those very wings he longed to stroke. Her skin was almost too hot to touch, and as the pain swelled within his chest, he –
“Your royal highness.”
Aein turned, all his senses stopped like an hourglass in mid-rotation. A foot soldier stood at the doorway.
“Your highness,” she repeated, “it’s time.”
It was well into post-dawn when the Queen and Wolfsbane finally left the bedchamber. Snow White spent the entire night in the cramped closet, finally sliding into a heap when she heard snores coming from the bed. Desperation clawed at her.
She had no choice. She would run for it. She had no allies, no friends in high places. For the first time in her life, she rued her lack of people skills. Running out to the city square and declaring “Help me, I’m a princess and they want to kill me!” simply wasn’t going to cut it with most folks, especially if the Queen had the soldiers behind her.
When the bedchamber door finally clicked shut, Snow White counted to a hundred and made a dash for the secret door at the grate. Tom Cherry was waiting for her, the strain showing on his tired face. Like her, he’d spent a sleepless night.
“So what are you going to do?” He panted as they anxiously sprinted down the secret passage.
“If I tell you and they catch you, they might torture it out of you. So it’s best I don’t tell.”
“Snow White.” He grabbed her arm to stop her. “You mean you’re not going to make me come with you?”
“Of course not. Why would you think that?” She impatiently brushed the hair out of her eyes. “I don’t make people do things they don’t want to do.”
Tom’s expression suggested he thought otherwise, but relief slumped his shoulders. Snow White was chagrined and disappointed at the same time – she wasn’t that bad, was she? But there was no time to waste.
She clapped her hand on Tom’s shoulder and said solemnly, “You’ve been a good friend, Tom.”
To her surprise, he hugged her fiercely. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as she thought it would be – his warmth pressing her entire torso, his hair in his mouth and his earthy, unwashed-for-a-night scent in her nostrils. In fact, it was oddly comforting. She hesitantly put her own arms around Tom.
“No,” he said in a muffled voice. “You’ve been a good friend, but I never realized it till now.” When they came apart, tears brimmed in his eyes.
Snow White was at a loss as to how to behave next, so she just nodded awkwardly, staring down at her feet.
“I’ve got to be going,” she finally said.
Tom wiped his eyes. “I know. Don’t you want to say goodbye to my Mam?”
“I don’t think it’s safe.”
He nodded. “Is there anything you’d like me to tell her for you?”
Snow White was at a loss. Then she allowed images and memories of Hanna Cherry to flood back – the pillow-like cushions of her arms, the milk smell of her bosom, the aroma of freshly baked bread in her hair, the tuneful lullabies from the foot of a warm bed. Snow White’s eyes moistened.
“Tell her, just tell her . . . I’m sorry for being such a pain.”
“You can do better than that. She loved you. More than the rest of us put together, I think.” Tom’s voice was fierce.
Snow White shook her head. “I’m not so good at expressing myself, so . . . just tell her.”
Tom sighed. “All right. Wherever you’re going, I hope you’ll find someone to love you as much as she did.”
Snow White felt a little guilty as they made for the stables, but the words just wouldn’t come to her throat. She saddled her mare while Tom scrounged to fill a saddlebag.
“You’ll be needing food, water, a knife, a tinderbox. And what if the nights get cold?”
“Oh, Tom, it’s no different from an entomology expedition and I’ve been on plenty of those. Why, just the other month – ”
A shadow fell across the doorway.
Wolfsbane’s muscular bulk blocked the doorway. “Ah. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
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