- A #2 pencil.
- A graphing calculator.
- An ally, preferably fearless.
You will need an ally because princesses are notoriously difficult to rescue alone. Your ally should be a family member, a mother or sister who fed you and tied your shoes when the ambit of your life whisked you through blown dandelions and video games. The tying of shoes isn’t important; the feeding is. Bread, water, and the quiet feast of stories, bedtime or otherwise, without which you would not exist. If you lack such an ally, stop reading now and go find one. To rescue a princess you must be absolutely chock full of stories. You must gorge yourself on them.
For the calculator, the only acceptable models are Ti-83 through Ti-103, from Texas Instruments. Your Sharps and your Casios will not be recognized here. Not the SL-9140 you bought from the big air-conditioned Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku-shi, your starched school collar cutting into your Adam’s Apple that summer day like a sweaty torc. Not the E-1000 from the Indian mama at the copy shop next to the refectory. Ti-83 through Ti-103.
The pencil can be any pencil, as long as it is #2 and will shade.
You will identify your princess in one of several ways:
- The swish of hair against her neck.
- The smell, clean and royal, of her deodorant.
- The way she infiltrates your thoughts, masked and silent, like a wide-eyed ninja.
Remember that princesses are elusive and brilliant, but also quite deadly. You should know this from the stories fed to you by your ally. Be cognizant of the knife-wielding Rapunzel, the needle-flinging Scheherazade.
Do not trust first impressions in this matter. Someday you may be wise and dependable and discerning enough to know a princess by sight. Not now. You are too fresh, too fearful. You are too easily swayed by suggestion, and your new friends in this land are nothing like the old.
There is only one way to accurately identify your princess, and that is to sacrifice your ally. Surprised? Try not to show it. Lead her to the stone altar–don’t worry, she will trust you–and carefully insert a blade in her throat.
Repeat as necessary. Sacrifices are not clean affairs. Lean your full weight against your bedroom door when your mother comes tiptoeing near midnight, bearing cantaloupe. Pretend not to hear when your sister calls across the house, frantic, in Korean or Farsi. Hurt them. Insult them. Wear headphones. Leave without explanation. Remember, your goal is to inflict death.
Don’t worry too much about her well-being. If you have chosen your ally well, the magic will work to revive her in the end. You should understand this instinctively, from your knowledge of stories. Sacrifices are guaranteed to have value.
Don’t lose focus. At this stage, the work of finding a princess is yours alone. You must navigate this kingdom without a map, scuff your toes on endless highways, and find somewhere in the deadly throng a princess in genuine need of aid.
You may use a calculator for this portion.
When you have finally found your princess, make note of these things:
- Whether or not her castle has a moat.
- Whether or not her castle has a high tower.
- Her name.
The name she gives you is almost certainly false. Still, certainty of falsehood is more useful than you might think.
If there is a moat, you will need to find yourself a thin, hollow reed, suitable for breathing. Look to the side of the pavement the next time you go to the lake to clear your thoughts. You may be smoking a painful cigarette, or just fogging the winter air with your breath, Russian scarf around your neck. Crouch down and poke through the soil to cleave the reed from its roots.
If there are spires or towers, prepare yourself for a climb. Don’t think about the fall right now. In fact, never think about the fall.
There is no need to discover if her castle has guard dogs. Princesses always have guard dogs.
Go to the outer gate at the stroke of midnight, alone but armed with all the tools and knowledge you have prepared. Feel the moonlight mottle your face and neck. Smell the woody gravity in the air. Remember the stories you read, the games you mastered, the friends you lost and left behind in your home country. Remember who you are, for once you are inside, it is very easy to forget.
With your pencil and a piece of paper, very carefully sketch out a map of your surroundings. Like Hansel and Gretel, you’ll need to be able to find your way back again in the end. Make it crystal clear: remember that when you return you may be dizzy from blood loss, intoxication, or starvation. Fold the paper into a neat square, and bury it somewhere safe.
This is the difficult part, the part for which there is no guide. To succeed, you will have to draw upon the secret powers that your ally imparted to you in your youth. If you can spare a breath in the battle ahead, mutter to your ally a thanks, or an apology.
You will become wounded. You will run out of breath in the poisoned labyrinth beneath the battlements. You will fight with every ounce of strength, drink from every magicked goblet, and sneak, shivering, through the palisade of nightmares. You will need to solve the puzzle to every room, know the trick to every mechanism.
And when you reach the end of the gauntlet, scale the tower with the moon shining on your face, you must be aware that here, in America, in the real world, sometimes your princess is in another castle.
Then re-sharpen your pencil, re-sheath your calculator, and vault that wall.
Jeremy Sim was recently stuffed in a box and mailed to Germany, where he lives with his girlfriend Celine and their incredibly cute dog Rico. In 2011, he received the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship and attended Clarion West Writers Workshop. His short stories have appeared in places like Cicada, Crossed Genres, and Waylines. When not writing, he spends his time playing video games, experimenting in the kitchen and perfecting the thrilling technique of arriving at the platform just as the train pulls away. Visit his author website at www.jeremysim.com.
© 2013 Jeremy Sim