So, this month’s prompt, if you’ll recall, was a fairy tale, set in a studio apartment in a big city, including a potted plant. I’m going to skip any preamble except to say that, as usual, I bent the rules. But! I did manage to clock in under a thousand words, and for me that’s saying something.
It’s saying less, is what I guess I’m saying.
Right, on with the show. Check back later when I’ll have a roundup of all the other folks who wrote stories based on the prompt.
Once upon a time, there lived a prince in a studio apartment high over downtown Vancouver.
You were expecting a princess, weren’t you? And a castle, where maybe she would be locked in a high tower? Sorry to disappoint you.
(I’m not sorry, by the way.)
There aren’t that many castles or princesses in the world, anyway, and not even that many princes. (Although there are plenty who will try to make you believe they are at least princely. Don’t fall for it, is all I’m saying.) And while we’re being honest here, he wasn’t a real prince, although he was a nice guy. He’d also been burned one too many times by those princes-who-are-not, which was how he found his way from the heartbreak of the prairies to this city of glass towers on the edge of the western sea.
He lived in one of those towers; high-priced, high-rise apartment buildings that are on every corner in downtown Vancouver. He’d moved in with little more than a couple suitcases and a potted plant that was one of the few things not smashed by the last prince-who-was-not. Now that he was safely away, he thought of getting a cat, but decided to see first if he could keep the plant alive for at least one season. He placed it near the balcony door so that he could take it outside on nice days, although mostly it had been gray and rainy since he’d arrived.
Those gray days, it felt as if the city were closing in around him. That was especially true on the day an almost preternatural fog rolled in through the Georgia Strait, snaking its way along the Burrard Inlet and blanketing English Bay and the city in a cloud of white. When he stood on the balcony and peered over the railing, he couldn’t see the street below. It was as if the building had risen into the sky and was now hovering above the clouds.
That was when he noticed, across the street, someone waving at him.
It was another tower, partially constructed, just the skeleton of I-beams and concrete taking shape before being dressed in its glass skin. Standing at the end of one of those beams was a man in a yellow hard hat. The street was narrow enough and the buildings close enough that he could make out the creases in the construction worker’s leather gloves, and the creases around his smiling mouth.
When he realized he had his attention, the construction work pointed toward his feet. Along the side of the beam was written a number in yellow paint: 604-446-1… as soon as he realized it was a phone number, he picked up his mobile and started tapping.
“You stand in your window a lot,” the voice on the other end of the line said.
“You should probably be paying more attention to where you’re stepping than looking at me,” he said.
The voice on the other end laughed. “You’re probably not wrong.” A pause, during which the sound of the breeze filled the line. It must have been cold up there. “My name’s Eric.”
He hesitated, maybe just for a moment or two too long, so that Eric followed up with, “You don’t have to tell me your name just yet. But… look, I’m due for a coffee break. You want to meet me on the ground and go with me?”
Again, he paused and looked over the balcony railing. He was sixteen floors up—well, fifteen, since there was no thirteenth floor; he always wondered what the people who lived on the fourteenth floor thought about that—but from his point of view over the fog, he could have been miles away from the ground. And he knew Eric across the street could see him looking down there, as if something menacing might be lurking below the haze. Here be dragons.
“It’s weird, huh?” Eric said. He looked up to see Eric now staring down at his feet. “How the world just seems to end before you get to the ground. Have you ever been up to Squamish?”
“It’s like that up there sometimes. You can climb to the top of the Chief and on some days it’s like there’s nothing but clouds below you.” Eric’s voice took on a dreamy quality when he said that.
He looked up, and Eric looked up just a second after that, their eyes meeting.
“Okay?” Eric asked.
“Yeah. Let’s go get coffee.”
He felt the smile on his own face after he saw the flash of teeth from Eric’s smile across the street. “Meet you downstairs in ten minutes?”
He nodded. “Ten minutes.”
He felt breathless stepping into the elevator at the end of the hall. Once the doors closed, he put a hand on his chest, taking measure of his frantic heartbeat. He hadn’t pressed the button for the lobby yet, and he knew that if he didn’t soon, the elevator might whisk him up or down to a different floor. He felt, if only in his imagination, that he was suspended above the clouds, and he could choose whether to fall or fly.
Did he live happily ever after? Who could say. But right then, on his way down to meet a boy, he was happy, and for the moment, that was enough.