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Fairy Tale Blogfest: The Six Swans

OK, here is an entry for the Fairy Tale Blogfest that I didn't quite manage to keep within the rules. It is a version of "The Six Swans" written sort of like a crime thriller, but it is about three times too long (3,000 words). So thank you if you choose to read or scan through this story anyway! I decided to join in this 'fest late, so I didn't give myself time to edit for length.

One more warning: This is a dark and disturbing fairy tale, and there is very little sugar coating of it in this version. I have transformed some of the violence into less physical forms of punishment, abuse, or injustice, but not all. I have also moved the tale a little bit back to its "roots" as far as the roles of parental figures by gender. The Grimm Brothers' accounts of the German tales (edited for sale to wealthy males) shifted much of the blame for child neglect or abuse from father figures to mother figures (stepmothers in particular), and victimization was shifted from the mother figures to the father figures. I have reversed that to a small degree here. Many German fairy tales, like this one, are wretched stories of child abuse. That theme is a bit unpalatable, but I have always been enchanted by the imagery of the climactic scene in this one. I think it's even more dramatic in its original form (cannibalism, witch burning pyres, salvation by winged avengers), but here I have tried to give it a modern treatment with a different sort of drama. What do you think?

ASTERVILLE, Fla. - Police have found six children living in a hunting blind and tent in Aster State Park.

According to officials within the Asterville Police Department, no arrest has been made. The identities of the children are not known.

Police say the children range in age from about 9-14.

The owner of the hunting blind and tent has not been identified.

Once there was a lonely hunter who brought a beautiful maiden to live with him after his beloved wife died. His wife had left him seven children, six boys and one girl, who had grown up wild in the glades around their hut while their father hunted and their mother was sick. Fearing that mischief would befall his family, the hunter hid the children away on a rise of high ground in the marshes some distance from any house or road.

The hunter went often to see his children and brought them meat, so that his young mistress was displeased at his long absences and the many evenings when he came home empty-handed. One morning, after the hunter had gone out, she seduced a skilled tracker and sent him to follow the hunter into the wilderness to discover where he went and what he did. The tracker followed the hunter and saw him kill several animals and bring them to his children's encampment, but from his hiding place he could not be sure of the number of children or whether there were any girls among the rowdy boys.

After learning that the hunter kept children hidden in the wilderness, the beautiful mistress was jealous of them and told the tracker, "Tomorrow I will keep the hunter at home all day. You must go to the police and show them where the children are hidden, but tell them you do not know whose children they are." The tracker promised to fulfill these wishes and left. In the evening, the mistress greeted the hunter with warmth and affection. The next day, she enticed him to remain at home with her for the whole day while the tracker went to the authorities and led them to the children.

The tracker came upon the place where the children lived at the same time of day that their father often came to visit, so all of them were gathered together, waiting. The little girl had climbed to the very top of a tall tree, but her brothers were on the ground. When they saw the tracker, at first they mistook him for their father and ran forward to greet him. Two police officers came upon the scene a moment later and urged the boys to come with them, promising new clothing and all the food and drink they wanted.

The eldest brother looked up into the tree and saw his sister hiding there. Her dull brown hair and dirty clothes and skin made her difficult to see as she clung to the trunk. He motioned for her to come down, but she shook her head and pressed a finger to her lips. When a police officer asked the boys, "Is there anyone else living here with you?" the eldest son answered, "No, we are all here." Because he was a leader to his younger brothers, all agreed, and they went away together without their sister.

The next day, the hunter went to see his children and found only his young daughter. "Where are your brothers?" he asked, and she said, "Ah, dear father, they have gone away with the police and left me behind," and then she told him all that she had seen. When she described the tracker, the hunter was sorely grieved, for he had long suspected that his mistress loved the tracker, and he fell upon the ground dead of a broken heart.

The child knelt by her father and tried to wake him, but when she could not, she knew he was dead. She wept, thinking that she had killed him with her words, but she said, "I must stay here no longer but go and seek for my brothers." And when the night came, she walked for many miles until the wilderness broke at a highway lit with streetlamps. She walked along the road all that night until she came to a town. On a street corner she found a newspaper stand, and on the front page was a picture of the hunting blind and tent where she had lived with her brothers. Their father had taught them their letters, and so she could read:


Yesterday, six children thought to be brothers were rescued from an encampment within Aster State Park consisting of a hunting blind and a tent. The next morning, a man believed to be their father was found dead at the site, ostensibly from natural causes. No other relatives of the family have been identified.

The children are now residing at the Bethany Swan Home for Boys.

The little girl wandered the streets of the small town until the sun had risen and she found a large brick building with a sign that read BETHANY SWAN HOME FOR BOYS. Behind the house was a large playground within a high iron fence. She crept close to the bars, hearing shouts and laughter. Many young boys were playing games and running about. One boy paced along the fence, and the girl recognized her eldest brother. He looked different in new, well fitted clothes, with clean, bright skin and cropped hair. She reached through the bars and called out, "Brother! Brother! I have found you. Let me in."

The boy was overjoyed to see his sister and told her that the rest of their brothers were inside and would come out to play at different times for a quarter of an hour each day. "But you must leave, Sister. You cannot stay here," he said. "Only boys may live here. You may not come in, and we will not be let out."

The sister wept at hearing this and said, "Can nothing be done to set you free?"

"Oh no," he answered, "unless we are adopted, we are imprisoned here for six years, until I am eighteen years old. But you must find a place to live nearby, and find paper to write letters to us so we will never lose each other."

And just as her brother had finished telling her this, the playtime came to an end, a whistle blew, and the boys were called inside.

The girl left the playground fence and, not knowing where to go, ate some food that was thrown away behind a restaurant, collected some scraps of paper from the rubbish, and climbed into a tree along a road where she sat twisting and folding the scraps of paper into little flower shapes.

It happened that the mayor of the town went walking along that road, and some men with him came up to the tree in which the girl sat. They called out to her, saying, "Where are your parents?" and "How did you climb up there?" But she gave no answer. "Come down," they cried; "we will help you find your mother." But she only shook her head. She thought that perhaps they wanted to steal from her. Her father had warned her about men who might try to steal her away or take her clothes. And so she thought that they wanted her clothes, and she took off her shirt and her pants and each garment one by one and threw them down at the men, but still they did not leave.

They summoned a great red truck, and big men in helmets and bright uniforms came out of it. One of them climbed the tree, carried the naked girl down, and brought her to the mayor, who asked, "Who are you? Where do you come from?" But she answered nothing. In her fists she clutched handfuls of tiny paper flowers, which she would not allow anyone to take away. The mayor took off his suit jacket and wrapped it around her, and with this act he felt an affection like none he had ever felt before. He brought her to see some police officers, like the ones who had taken her brothers away.

ASTERVILLE, Fla. - Mayor Buck Castleberry of Asterville County and his wife have adopted an abandoned girl about eight years old, whom they have named Angela.

The mayor himself found the child hiding in a tree on Walnut Street on April 30.

No relatives have come forward to claim the child, and her origins are unknown. Police have no information at this time about whether the child has any connection to the six boys found abandoned in Aster State Park earlier this week.

The little girl, now called Angela Castleberry, was given a room of her own at the mayor's house with a comfortable bed, beautiful new toys, and a closet full of fine clothing. She was a plain girl, but when she was properly washed and dressed, she looked sweet as the morning. Not a word would she utter to anyone, not to police, who would lock her away if they discovered that she had killed her father, nor to doctors nor to Mayor Castleberry nor his wife nor his teenage children. But each day she sat at the table with her new family, and her modesty and gentle manners were pleasing to almost everyone.

Only the mayor's wife was uneasy. "Who knows where the child can have come from?" she asked. "And why can't she speak a word? The doctors say there is nothing wrong with her mouth or her throat. She can understand what we say to her perfectly well. She can read, but she will not write either. I think she is an ungrateful thing."

But the mayor's campaign for reelection was beginning, and his family had to put on a show of love and happiness for reporters and cameras. Little Angela was a subject of admiration and pity; the mayor and his wife were lauded as saints for raising the simple foundling as their own. Angela grew and behaved very well, except that she refused to speak and spent hours fashioning little paper flowers that she guarded so fiercely that the family learned never to touch them. The mayor said to his wife and children, "Let her have her peculiarities. They do no harm."

Angela was allowed to walk to school, escorted by a kind young woman who worked for the mayor. On the way to school each day, Angela passed by the School for Boys where her brothers lived, and she scattered her paper flowers along the iron fence. Each time, inside one of the flowers was a hidden note. When her brothers came out to play, they would find the flowers and read the note. They would write responses to their sister and fold them back into flowers and leave them along the fence again. And each afternoon as she walked back home, their sister would gather the flowers again. No one suspected this secret correspondence, for Angela's adopted family and staff saw the scattering and gathering as one of her harmless nonsense habits, and the boys inside the Swan Home, as it was called in town, were not watched closely while they played outside.

Angela, too, learned to accept the strange ways of her adopted family without complaint so that she would not be sent away and separated from her brothers. As the years passed, the mayor's children went away to live at college. Often the mayor spoke words of love and praise for his good, silent daughter. And Angela obeyed and was silent.

When Angela was eleven, she fell ill with a terrible malady. Her belly swelled, and the mayor's wife forbade her to go to school and shouted loathsome names at her. But the mayor calmed his wife, saying, "We will tell the town that she is sick and keep her hidden away until it passes. There is no way of knowing how this has happened. Our poor sweet child cannot tell a soul."

Angela wept bitterly because she could not walk past her brothers' school and exchange letters with them, but soon her eldest brother turned eighteen and was released from the Swan House. He came to the mayor's house, where he knew Angela lived, and crept to her bedroom window at night and slipped a paper flower through the window, whispering, "A kind man in town has given me employment at his store and a room to sleep in, and one day soon, I will earn enough money to rent a house, and you and all of our brothers will come to live with me."

Angela's heart swelled with joy, and she began dropping paper flowers into the bushes outside for her eldest brother to find. When he came, he would leave letters inside paper flowers for her on her windowsill.

Angela was kept inside the house for many months. She grew bigger and bigger, and one day she bore a baby girl. She was filled with awe at what had happened, and she loved her daughter with all her heart. But she knew that the mayor and his wife would have the child taken away, and so in the middle of the first night, she swaddled the baby tightly and passed him through the window to her brother outside.

Early the next morning, when the mayor's wife found that the child was gone and could not be found anywhere in the house, she went to the kitchen, drained the blood from a cut of meat, and took it to Angela's room to paint her hands and face with it.

The mayor demanded to know what had happened, but Angela would say nothing, and his wife said, "We can only guess what this wild girl is capable of doing. We should call the police." But the mayor told her, "No, we will say nothing, and no one will know that there was ever a child."

The mayor's term of office ended, and he and his wife withdrew from society. They kept Angela locked in her room and told everyone they knew that she had been sent away to a hospital. And the very next year, Angela came to be with child again.

ASTERVILLE, Fla. - The adopted 14-year-old daughter of former mayor Buck Castleberry of Asterville has been accused of giving birth to and then murdering three babies over the past three years.

Lawyer Brian King told reporters Friday the girl, Angela Castleberry, was "mentally challenged and very distressed. She is unable to speak or write and has given no sign of understanding the situation."

Former mayor Buck Castleberry and his wife are also under investigation. A lawyer for the couple maintains that they thought their daughter had miscarried and hidden or destroyed the fetuses, and that they kept the incidents secret to protect their disabled daughter. They say they do not know who might have fathered the children.

A staff member for the couple came forward after the disappearance of the last child, confessing that she had helped deliver three full-term, live babies, two girls and one boy. Since then, other staff members have testified against the Castleberries.

No evidence of infanticide was found by investigators, but within months Mr. and Mrs. Castleberry were charged with many unconscionable crimes and locked away in prison.

Meanwhile, Angela was kept in a hospital, where she was examined, questioned, and given strange treatments, but she did not speak a word. Documents were filed, and hearings were held, which Angela little understood.

The day on which Angela was to be transferred to a state hospital far away was the last day of six full years during which she had neither spoken nor laughed, for fear that she would incriminate herself in some way and be separated forever from her six brothers.

Her eldest brother was a clever young man. He had worked diligently since his release from the Home for Boys, working at the kind man's store and doing odd work and recycling bottles and cans in every spare hour. He enlisted the help of friends to care for Angela's children and earned a great deal of money, with which he rented a comfortable house at the edge of the town. One by one, he took his brothers out of the Swan Home and brought them to live in his house. When all but the youngest brother had come to live with him, they decided to seek out their sister and find out if they could take her home too.

Meanwhile, Angela spent many lonely hours in the hospital, writing out her story in secret, from the day her brothers left her in the wilderness six years ago until the present time, everything she could remember.

And when she was led out of the hospital to be transferred far away where her brothers might never find her, she took the stack of paper from its hiding place and held it against her breast like a child. And when she came out into the spring sunshine and the nurses led her toward the street, all at once she cried out loud, "Brothers!" so that the nurses were stunned at the sound of her voice. There were five boys coming toward the gate together; and Angela saw that they were her beloved brothers, and the three eldest carried in their arms her two daughters and her son, and her heart beat for joy. The boys rushed up to her with open arms; and as she embraced them the pages of her history flew into the wind like feathers; and the nurses tried to grasp at her, but her brothers and chldren circled her body and kept her safe and sound; and she wept for joy and counted their heads and asked where the youngest brother was, and the eldest told her he was still in the Swan Home.

They embraced and kissed each other, and the nurses looked on in full astonishment, and Angela turned to them and spoke in a voice clear as birdsong, "Now I may dare to speak and tell you that I am innocent, and I am not mad, and I have been falsely accused." The brothers all set to work helping Angela gather the scattered pages of her history, and she was given a chance to come to the doctors inside the hospital and relate to them the treachery of the mayor and his wife, and to explain why she had sent away the three children to hide. And she was redeemed with great joy, and arrangements were made for her to go and live with her brothers and her children, and new charges came down upon the Castleberries, who remained imprisoned all their days until their hearts failed.

Angela's youngest brother was adopted from the Swan Home by a kind man and woman, but the good couple allowed him to see his brothers and sister and nieces and nephew as often as he liked.

And Angela lived many years with her brothers and her children in peace and joy.


  1. indeed very long, but worth every word! =)Great job!

  2. Nicely written story. It's hard to imagine an eleven-year-old pregnant, but you kept the mystery going so that it didn't creep me out. The love she has for her brothers and babies came off great. Now I have to go find the Seven Swan story since I can't remember ever reading it. Great job! :D

  3. This is fabulous! It's style and tone reminds me a lot of a classic Grimm tale. I hadn't ever read the original Six Swans but I just sought it out and enjoyed it as well. While I can see the influence, your story is definitely different enough to be considered more than just an adaptation or update.

    Bravo on a wonderfully engaging tale.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  4. I loved the way you worked in the news reports. The story was compelling and didn't feel long. Great job!

  5. Update: I'm posting finalists tomorrow. Not Wednesday. See you there! :D

  6. Thanks for sticking with it, intrepid readers! I feel a bit like a cheater not sticking to the rules. Thanks for reading anyway.

    Emily: I look forward to reading the winning stories! This was a fun blogfest. :)

  7. Definitely worth every word. I enjoyed it. It was a complete story and I can tell that you spent time on it. Sometimes in the writing world you have to break the rules to tell the story you want to tell. Fortunately, blogfests are all about having fun, and this was very fun!

    Scribbler to Scribe

  8. Excellent stories!!! I love that you didn't stick to the rules because it was still worth every word! I loved it!!! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  9. Good job! I love that you intertwined the news articles, they gave it a very realistic air.

  10. I liked this :) It didn't feel too long. I enjoyed reading it. It's one of those stories that's haunting enough to stay with you. Thanks for sharing :)

  11. Like Swartzenneger: I'll be back, to complete the read. Wonderful start.


  12. Thanks for sharing....I like the style, and it does justice to the original tale.

  13. WOW! I really enjoyed this. You are such an amazing writer, truly. I loved the twists and turns in here, and I loved the introduction you put about the fairy tales and how they were written for the wealthy male class. It sure explains a lot! I think my favorite image is this: she embraced them the pages of her history flew into the wind like feathers...

  14. I got sucked in and finished it before I realized it. What a fantastic update to the tale. I really enjoyed it :D

  15. Wow! That was great, a smooth, mezmerizing story from start to finish. I love how you wrote it in true fairy-tale style!

    There's also an award for you on my blog...


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