“Mom, stop, look, it’s The Goblin Prince!”

 

The cement was cold against his face, and the smell of piss and garbage, and he tried not to think about what else (was it traces of afterbirth?— Stop. Not worth it.) had permeated his dreams and now assaulted his nose with redoubled force. His head ached and he pulled the shreds of his coat around himself, one hand grasping a few strands of straw.

 

“What are you talking about?” a woman’s voice said, closer. “Where?”

 

“Him, there!” the little boy shouted. “The Goblin Prince!”

 

He stopped trying to tuck his knees somewhere between his solar plexus and his spine and pushed himself up on his elbow, chuckling slightly.

 

“Jacob! You know that’s not a nice thing to say,” the woman said. She glanced at him in embarrassment over her shoulder, before hissing to her son. “They’re called ‘little people.’ Like Nicholas’s aunt. You remember her, she gave you that lovely piece of—”

 

“Look how pointy his face is! I know it’s him, I know it! Look!” The child insisted. He was pointing at the man with the hand that wasn’t clutching a large stuffed dinosaur.

 

Suddenly, the man threw himself across the floor of the subway station, clutching at the child’s feet. “Is that who I am? Is that who you think I am? What’s my name then?”

 

The boy jumped back, almost dropping the dinosaur, but the man reached up and pushed it back into the boy’s arms as he went on shouting. “I’ll make it a real dinosaur, if you ask me to! Just say it, is that who you think I am? Guess! What’s The Goblin Prince’s name?”

 

The woman kicked him in the stomach with a matching blue shoe. “Get away from him!”

 

Dark hair fell over his face as he sobbed on the ground. “What’s my name? You said you knew it. You said.”

 

The woman paused, and after a second dropped a few coins on the ground beside him and hurried away, pulling her son with her. The sound of their footsteps continued away from the platform and up the stairs.

 

A low, broken laugh, full of malice and mockery, echoed through the barely used exit passage. Slowly, he looked up, still holding the straw in his sweating palm. An old woman was standing under the filthy orange lights. She resembled an insane, ancient bag lady, with trash bags on her back and a small shopping cart. The bags clinked and chimed as she shifted and readjusted the jutting and unidentifiable bones of her form beneath the lumpy and bulging black fabric of her clothes. The bags were full of spoons, all stolen.

“Not your finest moment, Stilts, is it?” She smiled. Her voice had a wheeze behind it.

 

He crawled back and slumped against the wall. “What do you want, Yaga?”

 

She closed her mouth over her ruined teeth in a thin and closed-lipped smile. “What happened to you?”

 

“You’re one of the lucky ones.” He opened his hand, showing the four strands of straw he had been grasping for months. “Everyone knows about me. I’m finished.”

 

“So, be rich.” He heard her cracked voice, like interference over a radio station. “Spin them into gold.”

 

“Can’t. Nobody will ask me to. They all know better.”

 

“Why don’t you clean yourself up, Stilts?” she croaked.

Baba Yaga shuffled out of the platform, and he heard her and her spoons going away up the stairs, edging the shopping cart up, one step at a time.

 

 

 

He pushed through the swinging doors of the skeeviest bathroom in the fastest fast-food place in the city. A woman with a bloated belly under her sequined half shirt stopped working at the chewing gum on the bottom of her massive heel and looked up through lashes like steel wool painted in tar.

“Twenty.”

 

He smiled, a sharp-toothed smile that reflected back at him in the grimy mirror across the bathroom. “Haven’t got it.”

 

As he crossed to the sink, she followed him with her eyes, sizing him up. “Fifteen?”

 

He squinted into the mirror, covered in layers of subway grime. His angular cheekbone was gashed, and he could not seem to remember how it had happened. It looked slightly infected. He stretched across the sink to reach the taps and water spluttered out.

“Ten?” She was still sitting on the floor.

 

He wiped his face with his sleeve. A streak of dark brown grime appeared on the army green. He grimaced.

 

The form of the woman stood unsteadily behind him in the murky reflection. “Six?”

 

He smashed his fist into the sink, “You can’t help me!”

 

She began to sink back into the shadows and his hand began to smart. Then, slowly, he smiled. He whipped around on his heel.

 

“Wait. Yes you can.” He grinned, broad and sharp, pulling out the coins the woman in the blue coat had thrown at him out of his pocket as he spoke. “How about a kiss for luck?”

 

She stood up again, ankles quivering in her massive heels, squinting nearsightedly at the coins.

 

“Or don’t you kiss?”

 

She blinked.

 

“Don’t you just kiss your boyfriends, not johns? That’s the story I know.”

 

She stared at him, “I don’t have a boyfriend. It’s ok.”

 

“Of course you don’t. So, how about it?”

 

She looked dully at the coins, glanced around the room as if concerned about devaluing the product, then shrugged. “Sure, what the hell, kiddo.”

 

He cracked his neck and stepped forward, reaching a hand out to stroke her face. He stopped, lips inches from hers. “Come to think of it, don’t you wish I was better looking? At least cleaner?”

 

“What is this, you want me to tell you you’re ugly or something?” She stepped back, “You’re fucked up.”

 

“No, no, just make that a part of it,” he needled, stepping forward again, “that, and the money, for the kiss.”

 

“What, that you look better?” She scratched at her hair, and the scent of cheap hairspray wafted across the room.

 

“Yes.” He leaned forward, again. “Just slip it in. Better bargain.”

 

“Okay, sure. Whatever floats your boat, kiddo.”

 

“Counts!” He stepped back triumphantly, and ran his hands over his face like someone coming up from a long dive.

 

Wherever his hands passed was left clean, the shining white of a creature that lives deep in caves, and the flesh on his cheek knitted back together. As his fingers brushed his long dark hair, it slicked neatly back. He rolled his shoulders, and his clothes repaired themselves, the fibers weaving visibly together, like little writhing worms, dust flying off of him in a cloud.

 

She coughed. He held out the coins, and after a second, she took them. He grasped her firmly around the waist and pulled her down into a kiss. His tongue probed the inside of her cheek. He pulled back. She stood up, paused, then spit.

 

“Pleasure doing business.” He smiled, a hand on the door. She leaned on the wall and lit a cigarette.

 

He turned back, “Unless, of course, you’d like to guess my name?”

 

She glanced up at him in the mirror, the light of the cigarette cupped in her hand. “Why would I do that?”

 

“There’s a happy ending if you do.” He chuckled.

 

“A happy ending?” She snorted. It was the first time he had seen her have an expression.

 

“Trust me. You get whatever you want.”

 

“And if I can’t?”

 

“I get what I want.” His lips quivered as he said it, and he ran his tongue over his teeth. “And you still get what you want.”

 

“What’ve I got to lose?” She took a drag.

 

“Nothing you’ve had yet. So what’s my name? You get three guesses.”

 

“Gee I dunno, sweetheart,” she put her head back against the wall. “Rumpelstiltskin?”

 

His mouth was dry. His fingernails were digging into his palms. He convulsed silently. After a very long moment he said, voice shaking. “Well. No need to tear myself up over it.”

But he knew he would.

 

 

 

 

Ten minutes later, a woman who was not quite beautiful but was not unattractive pushed her way through the swinging doors of the skeeviest bathroom, and walked confidently out of the fastest fast-food place in the city, wearing clothes that were not expensive but were certainly not cheap, and climbed into the driver’s seat of a car that had miraculously found a parking space at nine-thirty on a Wednesday morning. She found that she could drive, and she did, putting her foot down on the pedal, and pushed her way into the stream of traffic, which opened up and made space for her car, as it always does, despite the protestations. A necklace woven from a single gold strand hung around her neck. Her exhaust pipe puffed, and with a small cloud she was gone, never to return.

 

__________________________________________________

 

Five minutes afterwards, a small man with one less strand of straw in his pocket walked out into the alley, fury boiling under the surface of his now clean face. He walked to the curb, where a cast iron fence a few inches high had been erected around a tree and a patch of dirt. He thrust his left leg into the soft dirt, up to the ankle, grinding, like he was crushing a bug, pushing at his leg with his hands, forcing his foot deeper into the soil, anchoring himself to the ground. A lone taxi whizzed passed, but aside from that the street was empty. Then he seized the upper thigh of his free leg with one hand, his knee with the other, and wrenched hard. He let out an animal howl, half anguish and half rage. He wrenched again, his shoulders straining with exertion, and there was a terrible tearing sound as he came apart at the legs; he ripped, his stomach tearing open as he literally pulled himself in two. His spine split apart, into two equal parts, and he shrieked, doubling forward. As his chest came apart, a torrent of dark brown blood drenched him and the white sidewalk and he wailed, connected only at the shoulders. There was a sickening, impossibly loud, many-faceted splintering crack. And once again, for what felt like the thousandth time but had to be far more, Rumpelstiltskin tore himself in half.

 

 

 

 

Blinking himself awake on the sidewalk, he heard shouting above him. A man in an apron and a pair of bright purple sneakers stood there, two full trash bags in his hands, muttering, “Ohgodohgodohgodoh—”

 

He cut him off with a slight cough.

 

“Oh shit, man, you’re not dead?” The man dropped the trash bags and pulled out a phone.

 

“Don’t bother,” he spluttered, and waved a hand, or at least tried to. It probably looked like a spasm.

 

“Oh god, listen.” The man started to back away. “Just please don’t die, alright?”

 

“Those are nice shoes.” He pointed vaguely at the man’s feet. His vision was fogging.

 

“What?” the man laughed hysterically. “Well, tell you what: if I don’t have to see you die, you can have ’em.”

 

“Back to normal and I get the shoes?” He tried to cock his head to one side, but found ‘one side’ to be relative when you are in two parts.

 

“Yeah sure. Whatever, man.”

 

“Well that was easier than expected.” He felt himself knitting back together. Wincing, he dislodged his foot from the dirt and stood. He brushed the hair from his eyes. The man stood, staring at him in confusion, mouth moving, no sound coming out.

 

A minute later he was wearing a pair of brilliant purple sneakers and, whole as ever, he started off down the street.

 

Mina Elwell is a second year screenwriting major at SVA. She writes scripts on the commute to Manhattan from her home in upstate New York. Her other interests include short story writing, special FX makeup, and excessive tea drinking.