"Belle, I have saved enough money to buy that small cottage on the edge of town. If you were to be my wife..."
"If I were to be your wife, I would be fat with six children. I want more for myself than to be married and cleaning up after a man. Even one as handsome as you Gaston."
"I will hire you a maid. Belle, I want nothing more than to make you happy."
Belle looked up in the direction of the castle that sat on the mountain. Dark and foreboding, it had hovered over the town for years with no signs of life. Looters that had attempted to steal from the fortress came back empty handed, with tales of an enchanted Prince, cursed to spend his life as a monster.
"Can you give me that castle, Gaston?"
"Belle, the castle and all that live there are cursed! Stay away from there."
"Gaston, just because I have allowed you some liberties with me in the past, does not mean that you own me. I told you, I want more than you or any other man in this town can give me. I read Gaston. I want to travel to the places I have seen in books. I want to taste a truffel. I want to wear jewels and attend grand balls. I want to be wealthy. I want to be a Queen."
"Belle, I can make you my Queen."
"Gaston, how can you say anything so mean! What would you have me be, Queen of a hovel? I am getting out of this town, before it is too late."
True to her word, Belle left the next day, despite the pleas of her father.
"Belle, I am sick and I cannot run the farm on my own."
"Ask Gaston to help you. I broke a nail yesterday trying to plow your field. If I keep working like this, I will be old looking by the time I am twenty-five."
"But Belle, if you leave, I will starve."
Putting on her coat, Belle sighed, sounding sad and pitiful. "Papa, let's be honest, we're already starving. The farm hasn't produced enough for us to live on since my brother stole those magic beans and ran off. Maybe if Jack hadn't stolen that golden goose, but now that giant keeps taking everything we grow and we're nowhere close to paying him off.
Giving her father a kiss good-bye, Belle took the last of the food and left. It was going to be a long trip and she didn't want to have to try and hunt for food. The trip proved longer than she had expected though and in the woods that covered the path up the mountain side, Belle became lost. It was also cold and the flimsy fur coat that Gaston had given her on her last birthday barely kept her warm. Pulling it over her head, Belle cried out to the lone star that she could see through the trees.
"Wow, what a strong wish!"
Startled, Belle was surprised to see a blue fairy standing in front of her. Not trusting a fairy that popps out of nowhere, Belle crossed her arms and asked, "Who are you?"
"Why the Blue Fairy, of course. It was I you cried out to." The fairy smiled and pointed towards the sky. "I am here to help you."
"Wait a minute. I know you now. You are the idiot that turned that puppet into a real boy."
"Pinocchio! How is he?"
"Poor. His 'father' was ran out of business for being a fraud. People paid money to watch a puppet show, not a boy prettending to be a puppet. Geppeto decided to try his hand at fishing instead. Last I heard, they had been swallowed by a whale."
"Oh dear! I had better go and rescue them!"
"Wait. I'm the one that called you. Help me first."
"I don't know what you need help with. You had everything you needed back in your village, a father that loves you, a man that wanted to marry you, despite your rather sour disposition and a full library of books. When you read a book, the whole world is open to you."
"There is no need to insult me. Can you at least point the way to the castle at the top of this mountain and hopefully some food along the way."
"If you follow that path over there, it will take you to the castle, but dear, I really think you would do better to head back to your father's home. The castle is enchanted and the prince is quite literally a beast."
"So I have heard." Then ignoring the fairy's warnings, Belle stepped onto the path and disappeared from sight."
"Oh dear, I forgot to warn her about Red. Oh well, I suppose she will find out for herself." Then with a shrug, the blue fairy disappeared, hoping she would get to Pinocchio and his father before they were digested.
Belle was beginning to think the fairy was playing a trick on her. The path was nothing more than a trail, barely big enough for a mouse to follow. She was about ready to turn around, when she heard something moving in the bushes.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
Belle saw a flash of red disappear around the bend.
"Hello? Please stop. I am lost."
A small girl in a red cloak stepped out onto the path, followed by a rather wolfish looking boy. "Did you say you were lost?"
Nodding her head, Belle said, "I am trying to find my way to the castle at the top of the mountain."
"It's a good thin you found us," the boy said. "You are going the wrong way."
"That is what I was afraid of. Never trust a fairy."
"I know I never do," Red said. "We're heading that way though. You can walk with us."
Belle looked the two over. They looked a little shady, but she was lost.
Red held up a basket. "I was taking a basket of food to my grandma. She doesn't live that far from the castle."
Belle's stomach rumbled at the thought of food. "I don't suppose you have extra? I ate the last of my food days ago."
"There is plenty," Red said. Pulling an apple out of the basket, she handed it to Belle.
"I have never seen an apple so red before. It must be delicious." Taking a bite, Belle barely swallowed it before feeling a sharp pang in her belly. "I'm not sure...I think something is wrong...oh dear..." The apple fell from Belle's hand, as she pitched forward and toppled into the arms of Red's companion.
"You couldn't have waited until we got to Grandama's? Now I have to carry her."
"It was either that or listen to her voice. I'm not sure how well she is going to work out. Did you see her hands? I doubt she has ever done a days work in her life."
"Where am I?" Belle looked around the room she was in. She was in a cage and Red and the boy were looking at her. The boy was wearing her coat and looked even more wolfish than he had earlier.
"Oh good, you're awake." Looking into the cage, the old woman squinted. "My eyes aren't what they used to be. I can't decide if I am going to put you to work in the diamond mines or cleaning my house. Cindy hasn't been doing that great of a job. It's beginning to smell like old shoe in here."
"Well I am so sorry, your highness. Maybe if you washed your feet every now and then."
The voice came from the cage right next to Belle's. When the young beauty looked to see who was there, she gasped in surprise. It was a friend of hers. The two girls had grown up together and had shared the same dream of escaping their village life. "Cinderella! What are you doing here? I thought you had married that foreign Prince."
"I did. Then his father lost all their money in a bad investment. When the bill collector came it was either give him my baby or send me to work in the mines."
"And you sacrificed yourself to save your baby?" Belle was shocked. She had never thought of Cindy as the mothering type.
"No, I was all set to hand the brat over, but my darling husband wouldn't hear of it. He said if it came down to me or his child, he would rather lose me. Can you believe that?"
Belle wanted to say that she was shocked, but looking at Cindy's middle, she wasn't overly surprised. Her friend had packed on a lot of weight and her husband had a reputation for liking his women gaunt.
"I should have turned you away when Rumpelstiltskin brought you to me," Grandma said, "but you looked sturdy. I thought you would work well in the mine. Boy was I wrong. This housecleaning job was your last chance. If Belle can clean better than you, then I am taking my sister up on her offer to buy you from me."
"Who is your sister," Belle asked.
"She runs a bake shop on the other side of the mountain. Perhaps you have heard of it, The Gingerbread House? No? Well, it is rather a specialty shop. She mainly caters to ogres and giants."
Belle spent the next few days cleaning the old woman's house...it really did smell like old shoe, and cooking for the miners. Bele wasn't about to give up on her dream of marrying the Prince that lived in the castle. She had seen the dwarven miners eyeing her and thought she might be able to take advantage of the situation. She didn't think the grumpy one would help her, but the dopey one looked like he could be persuaded to help. She hoped this was true, because the one called Doc kept telling her he had something to show her.
On her third day there, she took lunch to the mines. The dwarves were crying and bent over a girl, who was laying on the ground. Her skin was white as snow and Belle thought she looked very beautiful. Almost as beautiful as she did, which made Belle feel jealous.
"She has been poisoned," Doc said. "Only the kiss of a Prince will wake her.
"There is a Prince at the top of the mountain," Grumpy said. "but he is a beast and would probably eat her."
The old woman had arrived just then and stared down at the fallen girl. "Either way, she will be out of my hair. Box her up and send her up to the castle. Perhaps he will deduct some money from my rent if he is pleased with her."
They placed Snow White in a glass coffin and prepared her for the journey up the mountain. The old woman wasn't going to spare anyone to deliver her to the Prince, so she summoned the mice that lived in her clock. They were blind and since they couldn't do much of anything, she used them for deliveries.
"Take Snow White to the Prince," Grandma ordered.
"We will leave at sunset," the head mouse said. Then he and the other mice returned to the clock, to rest for the journey.
"Belle," Grandma ordered, "the mines are smelling musty. You have done a good job of removing the old shoe smell from my home, so you may clean the mines as well. Then after that, you will wash my feet."
Once everyone had gone, Belle pulled Snow White out of the coffin and hid her in the bushes. Taking her place in the glass box, Belle waited for the mice to return. After a while she fell asleep. She was still sleeping when the mice returned. If she had been awake, she would have heard their conversation and might have changed her mind about wanting to marry the prince.
"What do you think he does with them?" It was the smallest mouse that asked. He didn't like going to the Prince's castle. Every time Grandma decided someone had outlived their usefulness, she either sent them to the castle or to the Gingerbread House.
"Who cares what he does?" The older mouse shook his head, limping a little beneath the weight of the casket. "It can't be as bad as what happens to those taken to the Gingerbread house. I almost cried when we delivered Cindy to the old witch. She was so excited when she waw the gumball doorhandle. I didn't have the heart to tell her that she wasn't going to have a chance to eat any of the baked goods."
"Now that's not true," another mouse scolded. "Cindy had lost a little weight since working for Grandma. She might want to fatten her up a bit."
"Still," the smaller mouse said, "I worry about what happens to the ones we take to the prince. Snow White was always nice to us. Maybe we don't actually have to take her there. We could just take her halfway and leave her. Grandma doesn't need to know."
"What if she finds out? Then it will be no more cheese for us."
The mice argued about it for a while, but in the end they decided to leave her in the woods. The mountain was steep and the coffin heavy. They decided Grandma would probably never be the wiser and they wanted to get back to their clock and the extra cheese Grandma had promised them.
When Belle woke, she was confused. It was dark and she wasn't in the warm confines of the castle, as she had expected. Climbing out of her container, she looked around.
"Hello, mon cheri."
"Who said that?"
Belle looked down. A frog was looking up at her. "Hello," the frog said.
"Ewww. Did you just speak to me. Get away before you give me warts!"
"You are thinking about toads. Toads give warts. I am a frog."
"And slimy and gross and completely disgusting. Just point the way to the Prince's castle so I can get as far from you as possible."
"I am a prince."
"You are the prince?"
"It is true. I am under an enchantment."
"I had heard that the Prince was enchanted. But they said he was a monster, a...a great beast. No one said anything about a frog."
"RIBBIT!" Startled, Belle screamed at the sound of the croak. It echoed all around her and sounded like it could have come from a frog much bigger than the one at her feet. "Trust me, I can be a beast."
"Well then, it is you I have been looking for! I have come to break the enchantment."
"I know," the frog croaked, puckering his lips.
"What are you doing?"
"Waiting for you to kiss me."
"Why would I do that?"
"To break the enchantment. A kiss is the only way. Kiss me, mon cheri and I will be your prince and you will be my bride."
Belle looked at the frog and wrinkled her nose. "Are you sure that is the only way?"
"I think I am going to throw up a little in my mouth," Belle said. "So, I have to....kiss...you?"
"I promise to be gentle."
"I just bet. Well, if it is the only way..." Belle bent over and picked the frog up. Lifting him to her lips, she kissed him and then quickly set him back on the ground. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she tried to wipe the slime away. Spitting on the ground, she watched the frog, waiting for him to change.
"When is this supposed to happen?"
"I don't suppose you happen to be a princess?"
"No. Why? Does that matter?"
"It has to be a princess that kisses me."
"And you didn't think to tell me that, BEFORE I got slime on my lips? Well, it doesn't matter. You told me if I kissed you I would be your bride. I'm not too keen on marrying a toad..."
"Sorry...frog, but I have been through too much to start second guessing myself now. Take me to the castle and we will forget this ever happened."
"The castle? You mean the one at the top of the mountain? That's not my castle."
"But you said you were the prince."
"I said I am a prince. I didn't say which one."
"Unbelievable! Well, can you at least tell me how to get to the castle?"
"Why would you want to go there? I may be a frog, but that guy...that guy is a real beast."
"Everyone keeps saying that, but I'm not giving up now. How do I get there?"
Before the frog prince could answer, something wrap tightly around her waste and Belle felt her feet being lifted off of the ground.
"Let me go!" Belle struggled with the braided rope, but she couldn't free herself. Despite her struggles, the ground began to fade as she was pulled up into the trees and a house that was nestled among the boughs.
"Careful, you are pulling my hair out!"
"Your hair?" Belle looked at the woman that had pulled her up into the small house. It was true, she saw. The rope that had snatched her from the ground was in fact really long hair that had been twisted into a braid. "Why have you kidnapped me?"
"I'm not kidnapping you, I am saving you. There is a witch that lives around here and if she finds you, she will bake you into a pie."
"I don't need saving. Now put me back down so I can finally get to the castle at the top of this mountain."
"Don't lie to me. You just want to go back down to him."
"That short, green and handsome drink of water down there."
"The frog?" Belle was beginning to wonder at the sanity of her captor.
"Isn't he just dreamy?"
"Um, yeah. A regular nightmare. How long have you been up here?"
"I don't know. I lost track of time since the witch imprisoned me."
Belle looked around the small tree house. There was no door and the only window was the one she had been pulled through.
"Why did she put you here?"
"Because my father is a King and she wanted to marry him. Instead, he married her best friend. She put me here so that their happiness would be destroyed."
Looking back out the window, Belle asked, "Why don't you just climb out the window?"
"I can't do that," Rapunzel gasped. "He's down there."
"Who? The frog?"
"What if he thinks I am ugly?"
"You're kidding, right?" Belle scratched her head and gave the woman a puzzled look. "Wait a minute...your father is a king? Then you are a princess?"
"That's pretty much how it works."
"Put me back down there and I'll talk to him for you. I bet he would be glad to meet you."
"Oh, I don't know about that. I'm not sure." Rapunzel was biting her fingernails, a habit that Belle found disgusting.
"Trust me," Belle said, "you two are perfect for each other."
After a little persuading, Rapunzel sent Belle back to the ground, to the delight of the frog prince.
"You have returned," the frog croaked.
"You still want to kiss a princess?"
"Well, I thought we had already determined that you are not a princess, but I'm willing to give it another try, if you are."
The frog puckered up his lips and Belle gagged. "Not me, you disgusting reptile. But I know where you can find a princess. Point me towards the castle and I will point you to the princess."
"Are you sure, mon cheri? You could have all this. Trust me, I am quite a catch. No? Very well, the castle is not that far. Just around that bend and you will see a path that will take you to the door.
Belle tied Rapunzel's braid around the frog and gave it a tug. Then she ran in the direction of the castle, not caring if the frog or Rapunzel got their happily ever after; she only cared about getting her own piece of happiness.
The castle was even more tall and foreboding up close. Belle knocked on the imposing door and it opened on its own. Stepping inside, Belle looked around cautiously. "Hello?"
No one answered. Belle began to explore the castle, wondering where the prince could be.
"I am here to break your enchantment," she called out. No one answered. She passed a rose that lay dead on the ground.
Entering a library, Belle marveled at the size. From floor to ceiling, books lined every wall. In another room, she discovered walls lines with mirrors and a crystal chandier. It was a ballroom.
"I will love it here," Belle whispered.
Finding a staircase, Belle followed it up and into a windowless tower. A woman lay on a bed there, sleeping.
"Excuse me, but who are you?" Belle's voice shook. Filled with rage, she wanted to claw the woman's eyes out. No one had said anything about the prince already having a bride. The woman didn't answer, she just lay there in a deep sleep.
"It was my understanding you were supposed to be asleep already. That is the way it usually works."
"Are you the prince?" Belle was shocked, yet pleased to discover the man that had spoken was very handsome indeed.
"I am. Now who are you? You are clearly not Snow White. I was told to be expecting her."
"There have been a change of plans. I am here instead. I had heard you were a beast." Belle allowed the pleasure she felt at finding this not to be true, seep into her voice.
"You seem like a woman who likes appearances. You are beautiful on the outside, but not so much on the inside. I am not sure you will do."
"You're not sure I will do? Really? Well I am here and I do not intend to go anywhere. Now tell me, who is this?" Belle pointed to the woman sleeping on the bed.
"Her name is Rose."
"Is she your betrothed?"
The prince chuckled. "No. She is what keeps me alive. As will you be."
"I don't understand."
"You will. You had heard I was a beast, but all you see is a man. You do not see my inside, or you would be truely frightened...as well you should be. It would be better you were asleep, but soon you will be. I wish I could say your dreams will be sweet, but they won't be."
On the bed, Rose began to stir. Her eyes fluttered open briefly and then closed again. A slight whimper escaped her lips and Belle wondered what horrors she saw behind her lids."
"What have you done to her?"
"I have done nothing, except keep her in a deep sleep. It is better that way, even though it doesn't complety shield her." Then the prince pulled back his lips, revealing sharp fangs. "Trust me, I won't kill you, but you will wish I had."
Just before his mouth closed on her neck, Belle thought back to her father and Gaston. She hadn't understood how they could want her to stay trapped in their village. Now she wished she was still there.