"Once Upon a Time and after Happily Ever After..."

Aladdin & Jasmine and Belle & Prince Adam have lived happily ever after for quite some time. However, into their old age both royal couples have taken separate paths and have lost their innocence and compassion.

Aladdin and Jasmine have become corrupted by the riches of Agrabah and have laced their kingdom in gold.

King Adam's angry temper and horrid memories living as a beast have continued to guide him in his leadership. Belle's constant enabling of his violent behavior has brought his kingdom into war numerous times.

It was inevitable that Aladdin and Adam would clash, go to war and cost thousands of loyal soldiers their lives. But the other kingdoms of this Small World, have grown tired of war. Queen Ariel of Triton-Atlantica and the Arendelle Kingdom are tired of staying neutral in Aladdin and Adam's war, prompting Aladdin to take a different approach to conquest: an economic war.

It has succeeded in bankrupting and blacklisting Adam from trading with the other kingdoms, leading to his ultimate surrender. This is a new age of tolerance, of gold and ice currency, not of swords and spears.

The old era of "magic" and all its genies, myths, curses and enchantments is over. This is the story of their children.


IN MEDIAS RES

Each one of them had their own "Happily Ever After." Fairy tales always ended the same way: the dashing young prince vanquished the Evil Queen, got the girl and inherited the crown. The people of the land, now freed from oppression, partied for days. They sang songs, toasted to the new king and laughed in merriment as their lovable sidekicks cracked jokes. Fathers embraced sons in tears of joy and musical scores played, their chords of paradise reverberating in climax. It was a triumph of faith and living proof that Good can overpower the menacing force of Evil each and every time.

The sky is black. There is no storm approaching, it is not yet nightfall and there is not a cloud in sight. But with every passing moment, a cloak of darkness covers more of the celestial sphere. Slowly but sweeping, the heavens are blanketed in sorrow, in doom, dripping over the world like ebony blood.

For now, they are drunk with rye and rhyme. Their candles, torches and lanterns burn, providing temporary luminaries that carry on the celebration. They don't even notice that natural light is gradually dimming into nothing and in place of it rises a shadowy and collapsing mass of a faint moon. The stars have even stopped twinkling, but wishes continue to be made on the shining reflections of gold and double-edged swords.

Their royal shimmers distract them from the realization that nothing is left but black tidings. The wine of denial hides the bitter taste. The odor of party sweat whiffs away the stench of fear. They feel comforted, protected and safe under the promise of Happily Ever After, the incorruptible law that says a pure heart is always rewarded.

But today, as they are forced to look above and then to their left, they will pray. They will pray for magic. Now, even as they celebrate yet another wedding, unspeakable terror comes from beyond the sky.

There—one thin princess stumbles forward, her frame perfectly starved, her feet wedged and bloodied into those tight heels. She walks clumsily, ready to walk the entire night if need be, eager to find a certain man that she might embrace him and put her mouth upon his mighty shoulder. The princess wears blue—a satin bodice with pleated organza overlay, its trim and stretch fabric back shimmering with light, her top skirt of pleated peplum glowing like stardust. Her dazzling tiara and white cameo sparkle above her long flowing grey hair.

And her lovely face—her lovely rotted face shivers with anticipation as flesh rips apart from her skull. Decaying muscle tissue drips out of every cavity. Her neatly curled hair diverts from the unfashionable maggots that dine on her disease. Age-old black tar spatters onto the ground leaking from Madame's gaping neck. Her rib cage bursts apart along with the waist-training corset until her intestines begin to cross-stitch with her lacey frills.

Even while spilling soil and gore, she stands with grace, with elegance, as if all eyes are still on her at the ball. She holds her arms with poise, like a lady of confidence and her wedding veil—soaked in black crimson—still clings to her fractured jaw. The fabric has wilted and the colors faded, but her face still holds every twinge of dejection and dolor that she died wearing.

Her stubborn attempts to stand on what's left of her legs create a dastardly sound, a sort of scraping rattle that becomes louder by the moment. Her bone hands trembling, her eyes boiling with red savagery, she focuses on the object of her affection.

Her mouth unnaturally widens and her perfectly even teeth bite down repeatedly in anticipation of a century-long awaited meal. Her lurching head doesn't turn but seems to hang to one direction, then another and then drops forward with no resistance. But her demonic red eyes never stop staring straight ahead.

She dances dolefully towards her suitors—the beloved, the happily married and the pure of heart. Amid her sepulchral rasps of rapid gurgling, only a lone chant could be heard throughout the commotion.

Come

Come out

Come princess

I cast this spell

Come out of your tomb

Better late than never

Not so happily ever

Take back what was taken from you

Black cats, bats, rats, snakes, vultures and every other omen of bad luck scurries around in the madness, looking for a place to hide as the thickness of the overcast grows.

As the final layer of caliginous blanket falls in place, gently pushing away the last trace of an afternoon sunny sky, it seems as if two distinct worlds are placed beside each other. One quickly fading, with bright rays of hope and redemption and the other blotted over with rebellion and violence.

However, for the next few moments and as their flame-lit lights lead the way, everything seems safe and peaceable. With heavy frolicking and a few winks, they are distracted from the impending force.

A biting wintry breeze passes through, with only a sniff of excavated soil, as the festivities continue. Faith has never been stronger. Beauty has never been lovelier. Love has never felt more fervent.

They pay no attention to the whispers in the wind since their own jubilant voices mute the warnings. For now, they all feast, marry, laugh and sing. They enjoy their fleeting "happily ever after."


Chapter 1: Back When the World Made Sense

From the ghostly shades of sapphire blue that filled the room, to the ominous hum that seemed stuck inside the walls, to the creaks of unbalanced ivory furniture on spirit-stained floors, to the distinct phantom whiff of white chrysanthemums, an air of magic permeated the easternmost tower wing of Minnie Mouse Palace.

The abysmal and almost crushing shades of blue inspired three young playmates to seek out a lamp, lending the room at least a flash of gorgeous white. Rose, the youngest at seven years of age, lit the lamp and set it down in the middle of the room, allowing a clear view of each other's faces.

Rose's face was the most docile: a big and klutzy smile with tiny eyebrows and wavy blond hair, with an expression that begged for approval. She looked over to her left to take in the faces of her two friends, their angles, cheeks and noses, she figured, so much more precious than her own.

Perhaps "friend" was an insincere word. They were united only by the palace, only by royal blood and by their age group—young enough to be locked away in a tower while adults talked, or shrieked, about politics.

Melody's face danced in coquettish amusement, her thick lashes overpowering her unassuming nose and lips. At the respectable age of ten, she was the doyenne of the gathering. Her black and ferocious hair seemed perfectly controlled thanks to a chin-length bob with soft combed waves and a green ribbon tied to a bow.

Melody looked to her right, staring down nine-year-old Ella, whose chiaroscuro face had an uncomfortable amount of edges, shades and depth that provoked other pretty girls. The fact that she was a 3D princess didn't help matters, nor did her black hair, ponytail or that conspicuously circular face.

Each wore distinctive colored pajamas—Rose cloaked in blue, Melody dolled up in green and Ella in a diamond and ice combination—the three of them had only one trait in common.

Their eyes, their ginormous, soul-wrenching and hauntingly disproportionate eyes. Rose's hazy blue eyes seemed to match the color of the room, but glowed faintly. Melody's green eyes spun like seashells, her welcoming expression never ceasing to light up a room. Ella's eyes were ice white and had an unusual crescent shape that made her look smirky. That, together with her multi-textured overly rendered and multi-dimensional pupils, further alienated her from normal princess profiles.

Melody couldn't keep from staring at Ella's strange face, while Rose couldn't help but admire Melody's perfectly curving lashes.

"I brought characters," reminded Ella, grabbing her collection of dolls, dresses and dinosaurs. It was understood that the princesses always married the dinosaurs, since male prince dolls seemed so uninteresting by comparison. Besides, who wouldn't want to attend a wedding of a princess and a T-Rex?

"Oh, how funny!" Melody said, not too subtly indicating that she had already outgrew playtime. "I remember playing with these when I was a little kid."

"You don't anymore?" Rose asked sheepishly.

"No. A princess has responsibilities. I play with people now. Sometimes we pretend we're fairy tale characters. Sometimes we write poetry or sing. Sometimes we just enjoy games together. It's much more fun than playing with dead objects," she said, making sure Ella could see her gaze.

Ella, however, was oblivious to the point. She had already determined what dress the bride agreed to wear and what qualities she found most appealing about this particular dinosaur—monstrously powerful, constantly hungry and not very talkative at all.

Melody grabbed a dinosaur, looking thoughtfully at it, while engaging Rose, the only one who seemed to understand her finer points. "Everything changes, Rose. Did you know that?"

"What do you mean?"

"It means that we've been doing this for so many years…but that it's not going to last forever. Everything changes. Everything evolves."

"What is 'evolve'?"

"It's what happens when something changes in form. Like, over millions of years, we changed from one species to another species."

"Oh," Rose answered unsurely.

"And one day, we're going to grow up and be queens. Our people will change. Our kingdoms will change. There may even come a time when we don't get to see each other anymore."

"Oh," Rose replied sourly. "But I'll miss you. Both of you."

Melody half-smiled, rubbing the dinosaur against a princess doll. "So maybe we should start making each day count."

"I'll miss you too, Ella!" Rose said.

Ella nodded, keeping her eyes fixed to her characters.

"Oh, I have an idea," Melody quickly followed. "How about instead of playing with these toys, we write a play? Or a book? We can come up with characters and a story line?"

"But isn't that really hard to do?" Rose asked.

"No, it isn't," Melody assured her. "I'll explain the rules and we just go from there. Okay, first. We all create a character. But we can't force each other's characters to do anything. We can only control our own characters."

"Okay."

"Ella?" Melody asked firmly. "Put your toys down and let's think about this."

Ella glowered. "They're not toys."

"Oh? Then what are they?" Melody answered with a double blink.

Ella bit her lip in spite. "They're people."

"They're what? You're confusing me," Melody answered. "People are alive."

"It's no different if you have a toy or if you're writing a play," Ella answered bitterly. "They don't have bodies like we do. But they're still imaginary people and they're real."

"Okay, fine. So your dinosaur is one of the play's characters. But I don't want a dinosaur. I am just creating a character out of my mind."

Melody closed her eyes and chanted. "Okay, after careful meditation, I have decided to name my character Misses Neptune. What is your character's name, Rose?"

"Ummm…" Rose struggled with the thought. "R…R…Rosalyn?"

"Okay, sort of based on yourself, I guess?"

"I guess, yeah…"

"How about you, Ella?"

"It doesn't need a name," Ella said. "It's a dinosaur."

Melody stared in contempt. "If you're too immature to think like an adult, then Rose and I can play alone."

"Or maybe Rose and I can play dinosaurs and princesses and you can shut up about it," Ella replied.

Rose's stomach fluttered and reached into her throat. Any sign of conflict seemed to make the poor girl physically ill. Perhaps with two strong opposite personalities like Melody and Ella the only recourse was distraction.

"Hey! My mom told me that there's this new thing princesses are supposed to do. Want to know what it is?"

Melody stopped glaring at Ella and inquired half-heartedly, always interested in princess etiquette. "What?"

"Well, like you said, because our lives are going to change soon, we should try to make every day special. So we take a box and we each put something special that we have inside the box. Then we bury it for like, ten years."

"Ten years?"

"Yes," Rose said, "and then we open it when we're queens. And we remember this day. And no matter what's happening in ten years we can think back to this day and remember that we were all friends. We can call it The Princess Box."

"So…what do we put in the box?" Melody asked, raising her ink-thin eyebrow.

"Whatever you want."

"What are you going to put in it?"

"Umm…I guess I'll put in a lock of my hair. And also…I think I'll write a letter to myself."

"A what?"

"A letter to myself. But it's like ten years in the future. So ten years from now I'll open the letter and talk to my future self. So it's like time travel."

"Hmmm," Melody replied, gradually smiling. "Okay, I want to write a letter to myself too. And I'll put some seashells in the box too."

"You must also put something in the box, Ella. If we're doing it then you have to do it too," Melody said sternly.

Ella sighed. "Fine. I'll put one of my dinosaurs and a toy snowman in there."

"Oh, you're putting your toys in there?" Melody asked coyly.

"They're not toys," Ella said.

"Well, we both are going to write letters to ourselves. That means you have to do the same."

"Why?"

"Because we are doing it," Melody counseled.

Ella grumbled as Melody put a pen and paper to Ella's face, waiting for her cooperation. "Fine."

"Now to be fair, let's keep what we're writing a secret. That way we can be surprised."

Each of the princesses took a pen and a sheet of paper and eyed it in curiosity. Where would they be in ten years? Would they be queens? Would they still be friends or would they be separated by years of politicking and civic duties? Each one started to write, cautiously at first, then freely, as if inspiration struck all three at the same time.

Things were rapidly changing and even the magical air of Minnie Mouse Palace seemed thin to the girls, the longer they stayed in the tower and let go of the superstitions of haunted furniture. These were old Gothic walls that surrounded them in blue nightshade, the large windows and flying buttresses feeling like relics of the old world, with their outdated Gods, their archaic laws and their stories of mythic leaders.

One of these days, things would no longer be the same and they would each go their separate paths, destined to inherit a kingdom, each of them practically crafted to uphold the ideas and philosophies of their royal families.

The Magical Kingdom, as everybody once called it, was dead history and a reminder of the primitiveness of their ancestors. Only the very young and artless could ever embrace the idea that magic was no longer necessary to make the world better and that the Queen, the legendary Queen Minnie, wasn't the all important paragon of virtue worth fighting for, dying for and certainly not worth killing for. The elders, royal advisers and paranoid parents still believed in something divine, if not the myths, then the spirit of magic—magic as a uniting force, as a natural miracle, as a rallying voice of patriotism.

Their children, however, believed in nothing. Whatever tomorrow brought, would be the result of great effort, of progressive community thinking and the will of one good-hearted princess. In a post-magic world, there would be no need for miracles, faith or sorcery.

The lamp burned away light for hours until the sun shined brightly, freeing three dreamers of that ghastly shadowed blue moonlight, the color of magic.