[“Grim Stories,” Stephany Aulenback’s first set of these stories, can be found here.]
Once upon a time there lived an old man who was blind and deaf and whose hands trembled. He could hardly hold his spoon and whenever he took a mouthful of soup, some of it would run out over his chin. His son’s wife was disgusted by this, so she made the old man sit in the corner behind the woodstove. There’s no room for people to sit behind modern-day stoves. That’s what nursing homes are for.
A jealous queen commanded her huntsmen to take her beautiful stepdaughter, the princess, into the forest and kill her. The huntsmen could not bring themselves to do as the queen had ordered, so they released the gentle girl by the riverbank with a warning never to return to the castle. Fearing the queen’s wrath, the huntsmen then killed a small deer and cut out its eyes, tongue, and heart. They planned to present them to the queen as proof that they had done her bidding. By the time they got back to the castle, however, the queen had already forgotten about the incident, and the princess was in the royal chambers, trying on her stepmother’s jewelry.
Mad with love, a handsome prince threw himself from a tower because his father, the king, had forbidden him to marry a certain peasant girl. The fall didn’t kill the prince, but the brambles he fell into scratched his eyes. Now blind as well as mad, he wandered for many years throughout the land, searching for the girl his father had banished. Finally he found her, living in a simple cottage nestled in a clearing in the woods. Even though his eyes were white, his face wrinkled, and his beard had grown down to his knees, the peasant girl recognized the prince at once. She rushed to embrace him, and wept. Her tears of joy fell into his eyes and, miraculously, cleared them. He could see as well as ever. He was still crazy, though.
A miller bragged to all the townspeople that his daughter could spin straw into gold. The king heard tell of this, and came to take the girl’s hand in marriage. Upon their return to the castle, the king locked the poor girl in a room filled with straw and ordered her to spin it into gold during the night, else she would die. In despair, she threw herself upon the pile of straw and began to weep. Suddenly, a little man appeared in the room right in front of her. Drying her tears, the girl looked up at him and asked, “Who are you?” The little man said, “I’m the little man.” Perhaps the little man is here to help me spin straw into gold, the girl thought. With hope in her heart, she asked, “Can you help me?” The little man shrugged. Maybe there was a special word she needed to use. The girl asked, “Please, can you please help me?” The little man said nothing. He just stood there, looking at her, all night long.
Once there was a woodcutter whose poor wife fell ill and died. The woodcutter’s new wife didn’t want to look after his children, so she convinced him to take them into the forest and leave them there. But the children overheard their stepmother’s whisperings. So when their father took them into the forest, they left a trail of breadcrumbs behind them, to mark the way home. Unfortunately, it’s not all that unusual for children who are abused to develop learning disabilities.
A king had three sons, each as lazy as the next. He loved them all equally, but only one could become king after his death. So he called them all to his bedside and said, “Whichever one of you can prove to me that he is the laziest gets to be king when I die.” The oldest son said, “Father, I am so lazy I can’t bring myself to blink when the rain gets in my eyes.” The second son said, “Father, I am so lazy I’d rather burn my feet than pull them away from the fire.” But the third son said, “Father, I’m so lazy, I can’t be bothered to think up one of these examples.” The king picked the third son, even though he was probably the only one with half a chance of making it in the real world.