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Evil Eventide Eve

           Queen Lucia and her small retinue had traveled one kingdom over to stay with Queen Lucia’s younger sister who was married to the king over there, King Buckley, but they had overstayed their welcome, the visit had ended on a sour note, and Queen Lucia was eager to get back to her chambers, her cooks, her pet pigs, and even her rotating cast of hapless suitors.

And she missed the smell of the sea. In King Buckley’s kingdom, there was no sea to smell. Completely landlocked. They had some rivers, true, but the rivers smelled nothing like the sea, they smelled like rivers, and perhaps even on the lower end of the spectrum of river smells. Queen Lucia had seen some of the fish that lived in those rivers and she knew they wouldn’t last a minute in the sea. She hadn’t spoken the comparison aloud, but Queen Lucia fancied herself a sea fish and her sister a river fish. Which wasn’t necessarily an insult, but she would also want to die if she honestly thought that she was the river fish and her sister was the sea fish. Thank goodness she knew that was not how things stood!

Queen Lucia and her retinue had taken the southern route to the castle where her sister lived. It was slower, but more comfortable. The road was well kept, the terrain was level, and there were more towns, villages, and inns along the way. But, driven by a desire to feel the miles piling up between herself and her sister, speed was now at the top of Queen Lucia’s priorities for the return journey, so she opted to take the less comfortable northern route, which meant a lot of camping alongside the rutted, overgrown road, not to mention colder temperatures as October wore on. The wind was rising, the leaves were falling, and Queen Lucia awoke every morning to frost and visible breath.

When, after a week of unpleasant travel, they came to a crossroad overseen by a rustic, three-story inn, Queen Lucia did not care that only two hours had passed since midday. She wanted to stop, she wanted to eat food prepared in a kitchen, she wanted to bathe, and she wanted to sleep in a room with a hearth and a real bed. A room with walls thick enough to block out the sounds of horses snorting and night watchmen chuckling at each other’s crude jokes. A room with a door, not just a flap. A room with a window with glass in it, not just a smaller flap.

The Inn was called The Picky Eater and depicted on its weathered sign was a man turning up his nose at a plate of unidentifiable food. Queen Lucia wondered what this image was meant to convey regarding the quality of the inn’s cooking, if anything. She sent Prither, her steward, to work out the details of their stay while she waited outside on her horse with her guards and attendants milling about in the road behind her.

After a short interval during which the gray day further grayed, Prither came out of the inn. The persistent blink of his bead-like eyes matched his stride. The wind ruffled the thinness of his light hair. “There are seven rooms, Your Majesty, but we’re the only ones here so they’re all ours if we want them.”

“Why wouldn’t we want them?” asked Queen Lucia. “Didn’t you already pay him?”

“The innkeeper wants to warn you about something,” said Prither.

“Are the rooms that bad?” asked Queen Lucia. “Fleas in the bedding? Not a pervasive odor, I hope.”

“Not that I know of,” said Prither. “It’s something to do with a local legend, I gather. He says that’s why there’s no one else here tonight.”

“All right, I’ll talk to him,” said Queen Lucia. “Help me down.”

Prither offered his hand, but it wasn’t helpful.


The common room of The Picky Eater was dim and chilly. Without patrons seated around them, the tables seemed too far apart. There was a small stage at one side of the room, empty but for two rickety stools. The fire in the hearth on the far wall was feeble, probably an economic decision while there were no guests to keep warm.

The innkeeper was shorter than Queen Lucia by more than a few inches. He had an admirable heady of curly, brown hair and a nose that looked to have been broken, reset, broken again, re-reset, and so on for most of what Queen Lucia estimated to be around fifty years of life. He watched Queen Lucia, the two guards she’d brought inside with her, and Prither with wary eyes, but did not speak. He seemed to be waiting for her to speak first; maybe it was local etiquette. Every region had its own ideas of propriety. Even within Queen Lucia’s own kingdom there were backwater hamlets where people lived in ways that she found nearly incomprehensible. And her own sister, back there in her new kingdom speaking favorably of river barges, eating herbs that stank like horse sweat, holding drawings to let random subjects name her children. Of course she would want to get along with her husband’s people, but did she have to surrender so much of herself to be seen as one of them? It was pathetic.

“Good afternoon,” said Queen Lucia. “What is your name, sir?”

The innkeeper seemed caught off guard by the question. “I’m known as Charp, Your Highness. But some call me Tharp, if that’s easier to remember.”

“Why would that be easier to remember?” asked Queen Lucia.

“I don’t know,” said Charp. “All I know is I’ve had occasion to meet more than one fellow – they’re usually fellows – who can’t remember ‘Charp’ to save their lives, but remember ‘Tharp’ a bit better.”

“If your name is Charp, I’ll call you Charp,” said Queen Lucia. “My steward tells me you have something you want to say to me before you allow us to take lodging for the night?”

“No, Your Highness, no, no,” said the innkeeper. “Not allow, I would never presume to allow or disallow you to do anything. I just wanted to be certain that you had all the information before you decided whether or not you wanted to stay here tonight. I didn’t want you to regret your decision and hold me responsible for failing to disclose certain facts to Your Highness.”

“Very well,” said Queen Lucia. “Disclose any facts you deem important.”

“Thank you, Your Highness, I will,” said Charp. “I suppose the main thing you should know is that tonight is Evil Eventide Eve. Mayhaps you’ve heard of it?”

“I have not,” said Queen Lucia. “Is it a holiday here?”

“The opposite,” said Charp. “More of an un-holiday.”

“All right,” said Queen Lucia. “What has that to do with our desire to stay the night in your inn?”

“Evil Eventide Eve, that being this very night, is when the back door separating this world from the surrounding wild is left accidentally unlocked,” said Charp. “And any being who tries the knob is able to enter.”

Queen Lucia tried to follow the metaphor, assuming it was meant as a metaphor. “Do you mean ghosts?” she asked.

“Well, they could come through the door,” said Charp. “But they never try the knob.”

“Demons?” asked Queen Lucia.

“They can’t work the knob with their hooves,” said Charp.

“I thought demons have hands,” said Queen Lucia.

“No, Your Highness,” said Charp. “Hooves instead of both feet and hands.”

Queen Lucia was starting to wonder if Charp did not intend this door as a metaphor after all. “So what comes through the door?” she asked.

“Only one thing has ever come through,” said Charp. “And that’s Flawed Jonas.”

“I’m not familiar with what or who that is,” said Queen Lucia.

“It’s a being from the wild surrounding this world that comes through its unlocked back door on Evil Eventide Eve,” said Charp.

“Yes,” said Queen Lucia. “But what does this Flawed Jonas do?”

“It hangs around here demonstrating its flaws,” said Charp.

“Around here?” asked Queen Lucia. “What do you mean? Here in your inn?”

“Oh no,” said Charp. “It stays outside. Unlike the world, the doors of The Picky Eater are locked on Evil Eventide Eve, especially the back door.”

Queen Lucia looked to Prither, who gave her a subtle shake of his head, then a less subtle shake of his head, then mouthed the word “no.” Queen Lucia wondered what had gotten into him. She was not used to her steward being taken in by superstition. She looked at the guards, too, trying to gauge how quickly they would circulate this foolish rumor through the rest of her retinue. She hoped word of this Flawed Jonas character wouldn’t create drama. Turning back to Charp, Queen Lucia said, “We’re quite exhausted. I believe we’ll take our chances.”

“Whatever you wish, Your Highness,” said Charp. “I just wanted to ensure that no blame would fall on my head were something unfortunate to befall you or one of your people.”

“You have warned me,” said Queen Lucia. “Now show me to your finest room, please.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” said Charp. “It’s on the third floor overlooking the crossroad. I hope Your Highness doesn’t mind stairs?”

“Not as long as there’s a comfortable bed waiting at the top of them,” said Queen Lucia.

Charp gave her a thin smile. “There’s a bed,” he said, and the dropped adjective clattered to the cold stone floor.


The Picky Eater’s best room was the worst room Queen Lucia had ever stayed in. She knew that as royalty she was usually provided with experiences superior to those of the common man, so the worst room she had ever stayed in maybe didn’t mean much, but still, she was disappointed. The walls were thin; she could hear her attendants laughing in the adjacent room. The bed was rickety and the mattress sagged in the middle. The room had a hearth, but the chimney must have been at least partially clogged because the atmosphere had become hazy ever since Charp lit the fire. Queen Lucia stood at the window, ignoring the drafts of cold air along its edges. She looked down on the crossroad from three stories up as Prither nagged her regarding his theory about the connection between Charp and Flawed Jonas.

“I tell you they’re the same person,” said Prither. He tugged at the lapels of his coat, a sign of his rising agitation. “This innkeeper, this Tharp, uses this made-up holiday as an excuse to give his bad side free reign to behave how it wills. Flawed Jonas is Tharp indulging in his flaws for a night of wickedness, I assure you I’m correct.”

“His name is ‘Charp,’” said Queen Lucia, turning to face her steward. “Did you really forget?”

“He said we could call him either one,” said Prither. “He said ‘Tharp’ is easier to remember.”

“But you do remember ‘Charp,’” said Queen Lucia. “You remember the whole conversation, apparently. So why not call him 'Charp?’”

“I’ll try to remember, Your Majesty,” said Prither. “But that’s beside my main point. I’ll call him whatever you want, but from miles away from here, miles closer to home. He’s dangerous, Your Majesty. You can tell he’s worried what he’ll do. And all his usual customers know it, too. They’re all steering clear. We’re the only ones foolish enough to take a chance with him.”

“Even if you’re right,” said Queen Lucia, “he’s one small man and I have a dozen highly trained guards staying in his inn with me, two of which will be posted outside my door in shifts from now until we leave tomorrow morning.”

“But it’s his inn,” said Prither. “There may be secret passages, secret doors, traps. If nothing else, he has a key to every room.”

“You’re paranoid,” said Queen Lucia. “Charp is a normal man who believes in a silly local superstition, just like thousands of other normal people who believe in their silly local superstitions. Please leave me alone before you give me a headache.” The truth was that Prither had already given her a headache, but Queen Lucia didn’t want to deal with his apology, which would be too long and then segue back into trying to persuade her to leave The Picky Eater.

“Please think on what I’ve said, Your Majesty,” said Prither. “And consider the fact that I may be right.”

Queen Lucia heard the door open and close. She was alone in the crummy room. There was something eerie about that crossroad, the way the trees grew so close, the way it offered alternatives, the way it threatened collision, the way it quartered the world.


Due to the collective hunger of the travelers, Charp was persuaded to serve dinner early. It was an uninspiring affair. Charp did all the cooking since The Picky Eater’s usual cook had the night off for Evil Eventide Eve. She was presumably at home cooking something nice for her family, safe in her cottage far away from Flawed Jonas’s annual stomping grounds. Queen Lucia and her retinue picked their way through thin soup and bread with a crust so hard it was more like a shell. She had asked Amis, a bard who had joined their party along the route to her sister’s, to play something to liven the mood, but a stool on the stage collapsed beneath him while he was mid-song and now his wrist was hurt and he was moaning about what that would mean for his livelihood, so Queen Lucia was probably going to feel guilty enough to be on the hook for taking care of him even though the accident was Charp’s fault for not maintaining his stools. Charp’s contribution was to emerge from the kitchen in response to the commotion just long enough to say that those stools weren’t meant for performers of adult size. Now, the only sounds in the common room were clinking spoons, unpleasant mouth noises, and murmured conversation that Queen Lucia could tell concerned Flawed Jonas. She kept hearing that name.

When Charp came to refill her wine – a bad white of local vintage – Queen Lucia thought perhaps she could allay the fears of her people by publicly conversing with him about his fanciful beliefs, exposing the depths of their silliness. She didn’t think her attendants would have as much difficulty sleeping once they heard Charp expounding upon various evil beings’ bungling attempts at getting through the unlocked back door to the world. “I must ask you, Charp,” said Queen Lucia, sipping her wine and not bothering to suppress her wince. “From the way you’ve described this ill night, tomorrow must be even worse.” She spoke loudly to draw the attention of her retinue.

“How do you mean, Your Majesty?” Charp sounded baffled, and looked it too.

“If tonight is Evil Eventide Eve, then doesn’t that make tomorrow Evil Eventide?” asked Queen Lucia. “Like how Christmas Eve is the night before Christmas, which is the actual holiday?”

“No,” said Charp. “‘Eve’ means ‘evening.’ Because during the day, everything’s fine. It’s only once evening comes that Flawed Jonas comes through the world’s back door.”

“I know what ‘eve’ means,” said Queen Lucia. “But ‘eventide’ also means ‘evening.’ So unless your name for this day is preposterously redundant, then it has to mean ‘the evening prior to Evil Eventide.’ Don’t you see? Because otherwise it’s ‘Evil Evening Evening.’” She looked around at her guards, her attendants, Prither. None seemed amused by the verbal snare in which she had caught their host.

“Ah,” said Charp. “Huh.” He didn’t seem put off by Queen Lucia’s verbal snare either. In fact, the noncommittal grunts he made came across as almost condescending, as if he knew it wasn’t worth the effort to correct Queen Lucia because she would never grasp her mistake.

Queen Lucia adjusted tactics. “So what kinds of flaws does this Flawed Jonas demonstrate, Charp? In years past, I mean, what has he actually done?”

“Ah, well, let me try to recall,” said Charp. He tapped his chin with the lip of the wine bottle. “It usually cycles through a few of them over the course of a night. There was the year it spent considerable time demonstrating its boastfulness. That was unpleasant.”

“So he wandered around the crossroad bragging,” said Queen Lucia. “Sounds terrifying.” She smirked at her retinue.

“Yes, it’s an awful bragger,” said Charp. “And then there was the year it begged for affection. That kind of neediness, that’s a big flaw in my book.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Queen Lucia. “I’m starting to wonder if perhaps some of my suitors back at my palace aren’t Flawed Jonas in disguise!” Her joke elicited a sympathy chuckle from Prither and no one else.

“And I guess my least favorite year was when it demonstrated the flaws of murderousness and cannibalism. Although I guess Flawed Jonas isn’t a person so I guess when it eats a person that might not be cannibalism. So I don’t know what you’d call that particular flaw. Maybe just ‘man-eating.’ Like when a bear eats a man, folks start calling it a man-eater, and they don’t mean it as a compliment. I figure if man-eating is a flaw in a bear, then it’s a flaw in Flawed Jonas, too.”

A tense silence followed, which Prither broke by shouting, “Guards, seize this man!”

Queen Lucia’s guards had their flaws – and doesn’t everyone? – but a lack of responsiveness was not among them. Within the span of three chaotic, clanging seconds, four guards had their hands on Charp, holding him in place while a fifth guard held the point of his sword to the stunned innkeeper’s back. They all looked to Queen Lucia for follow-up instructions.

“Don’t look at me,” said Queen Lucia. “I didn’t tell you to grab this poor man.”

“He threatened your life, Your Majesty,” said Prither. “Forgive me if I overstepped my bounds, but he threatened your life and he threatened to eat you!”

“Even if your theory is correct,” said Queen Lucia. “That’s still quite a stretch, Prither.”

“So you want him released?” asked Prither. “Is that what you’re saying, Your Majesty?”

Queen Lucia silently cursed Prither for putting her on the spot in front of everyone. Because what if he was right? What if she commanded that Charp be released and then he did adopt a Flawed Jonas persona and kill and eat someone? That would make for a very uncomfortable remainder of the journey home. “I’ll delegate this one,” she said. “To you, Prither. Do what you think is best. All I care about now is trying my best to get a good sleep before we ride out early tomorrow.” She turned to address her wide-eyed retinue. “And the rest of you should do the same.” And she did not meet Charp’s pleading look – she assumed it would be a pleading look were she to meet it – as she headed for the stairs.


Queen Lucia made a sincere attempt at sleep, but as she tossed and turned on the sad mattress, evening came on, the fire dwindled, the room darkened, and she finally acknowledged that sleep was beyond her grasp. And so she found herself back at her room’s window looking down on the crossroad. She had wrapped herself in two blankets, but the cold of the warped floorboards clawed the soles of her feet through her thick stockings. The moon’s brightness was proof that the sun, though gone, had not gone far. Curls of silvered fog seemed to herald something, Queen Lucia had to admit.

Did she expect Flawed Jonas to appear or did she not expect Flawed Jonas to appear? While Queen Lucia struggled to provide an answer that she could convince herself was honest, Flawed Jonas appeared, approaching the crossroad from the same direction Queen Lucia had come with her retinue. As if, she thought, he were a laggardly member of her retinue.

Or maybe that person down there was not Flawed Jonas. Perhaps it was just some weary traveler making his way somewhere on foot with no supplies. Or someone who lived nearby out for a stroll or looking for lost livestock or about some sneaky business. He wore a pointed cap with a long feather in it, a style choice Queen Lucia had always associated with flawed men. But was it a flaw in itself? She scrutinized the figure’s stride. Was there a limp, a hitch, a drag? She was wondering if any of Flawed Jonas’s flaws were physical. Queen Lucia wished she could address these questions to Charp without Prither discovering her interest. She wanted her steward and the rest of them to think she was above worrying about this. Then she wondered if, with Charp confined, anyone had thought to lock The Picky Eater’s doors, especially the back one. It seemed reasonable to assume that Charp had locked up earlier in the day, but maybe he hadn’t, maybe he’d been waiting for eventide or eve or evening to fall.

Flawed Jonas, or whoever it was, arrived at the center of the crossroad where a clear pocket had formed in the fog. Queen Lucia got a better look at him. It. Him. It. Him. Charp said that Flawed Jonas was not a person, that Flawed Jonas was a non-human being from outside of the world, insisted on referring to Flawed Jonas as “it,” but this person looked like a person to Queen Lucia, and had a name like a person’s name, in fact Queen Lucia had two servants back at home both named Jonas, and both with undeniable flaws. But who doesn’t have flaws, really? Even Queen Lucia herself, she knew that, she wasn’t so conceited as to think herself flawless.

Other than the hat, Flawed Jonas wore a coat that flared at his hips, tight-fitting trousers, and boots that sagged around his shins. He wore no weapon at his waist or on his back, though his clothing provided ample concealments for dirks or daggers. Though Queen Lucia still could not see him enough to note the finer points of his facial features, she saw no obvious deformities. Any physical flaws were either concealed along with the hypothetical knives or were a matter of personal taste. And as far as Queen Lucia could tell from this distance and in these conditions, for example, he seemed better suited to her taste than most of her suitors.

As Queen Lucia watched, Flawed Jonas pivoted in the middle of the crossroad, stepped toward one branch of the road, stepped back, pivoted again, pivoted back, paused, chose an entirely new direction, took a bold step, halted, stepped back.

“Indecisiveness!” cried Queen Lucia, clapping her hands.

One of the guards stationed in the hall knocked once. “Are you all right, Your Majesty?” His voice was muffled by the door, but not muffled much.

               “Yes,” Queen Lucia called back. “Send for Prither, please! Have him come here at once!”

               Prither’s room wasn’t far. Most of the few minutes it took him to obey Queen Lucia’s summons were probably spent making himself decent. Traveling with Prither had made Queen Lucia unfortunately aware of how little he liked to wear while sleeping, even in the cold.

               When he arrived, Queen Lucia motioned for him to join her at the window. “Quickly!” she said. “Look! There he is. Flawed Jonas himself. Not Charp at all, a different man entirely.”

               Prither stepped closer to the window, his hot breath clouding the glass. “Why would you think that man is Flawed Jonas, Your Majesty?”

               “Because!” said Queen Lucia. “He’s out at the crossroad on Evil Eventide Eve and he’s demonstrating a flaw. Indecisiveness! I recognized it immediately. Almost immediately.” A tendency to exaggerate her accomplishments was one of Queen Lucia’s flaws, but she was trying to improve. “You should let Charp go, Prither. This proves he isn’t Flawed Jonas.”

               “If you command me to let Tharp – I mean Charp – go, I will, Your Majesty,” said Prither. “But I don’t see how an indecisive man at the crossroad proves anything.”

               “He’s out there at the crossroad demonstrating a flaw on this particular night,” said Queen Lucia. “Exactly as Charp described. Who else would it be?”

               “So you think that man is actually a non-human otherworldly being?” asked Prither. “Because he doesn’t know which way he wants to go?”

               “No,” said Queen Lucia. “I think that man is playing the role of Flawed Jonas tonight for the sake of the local holiday. Like when you dress up as St. Nicholas for the children at court.”

               Prither remained skeptical, Queen Lucia could see the skepticism entrenched in his face. “But when I’m dressed as St. Nicholas, I give the children candy,” said Prither. “I don’t kill them and eat them.”

               Queen Lucia rolled her eyes. “Does that man look dangerous to you, Prither? I doubt he’s ever killed or eaten anyone. He’s demonstrating a flaw, yes, but in the sense that he’s performing. It’s an act. The flaws are probably chosen based on local conflicts, arguments, problems. It’s all ritual, I’m sure of it.”

               “To be fair, Your Majesty,” said Prither, “you can’t be sure of it.”

               “Fine,” said Queen Lucia. “Don’t release Charp. But keep him comfortable, at least. Don’t mistreat him.”

               “He’s fine, Your Majesty,” said Prither. “He’s under careful observation.”

               Once Prither had left, Queen Lucia crawled back into bed. Sleep was not only now within grasping range, it was beckoning her, begging for capture. Queen Lucia obliged.


               Queen Lucia awoke a short time later from within a dream where her sister was going on and on about the societal benefits of public executions. It had been a verbatim repeat of the real-life lecture Queen Lucia had mostly endured in patient silence except for a minor blow-up near the end that the dream had heightened to a disturbing degree.

               To shake the lingering images from her mind, Queen Lucia returned to the window to see how Flawed Jonas’s demonstration of indecisiveness was going. She was surprised to see that Flawed Jonas had been replaced by a different man, plump and dressed in finer clothes. Much of the fog had dissipated and the white fur collar of the man’s coat glowed in the moonlight. The man stood in the grass near the crossroad with a basket on the ground near his feet. He had a loaf of bread in his hand and he was eating. Chewing, chewing, chewing with his mouth open. With his mouth open!

               “Chewing with his mouth open!” exclaimed Queen Lucia.

               The guard knocked again.

               “I’m fine!” said Queen Lucia. “Send for Prither!”


               This time, he hadn’t bothered to get dressed, but Prither was wrapped in blankets like Queen Lucia, which made it look like the uniform required for pondering Flawed Jonas from the third story window of an inn.

               “They take turns,” said Queen Lucia. “See? They each take a turn being Flawed Jonas.”

               “Which means Tharp could still take a turn and attack someone tonight,” said Prither. “I’ll have his bonds tightened.” He scratched his double chin. “Maybe a blindfold, too?”

               “Oh, Prither,” said Queen Lucia. “You aren’t getting it. It’s almost like a confession, I think? A public acknowledgment of one’s own weaknesses? Or maybe it’s an airing of one’s pet peeves, the flaws one recognizes in others? And note how it’s all attributed to an origin outside of our world, specifically ‘the wild that surrounds our world.’ What does that say about their view regarding their own responsibility for these flaws? It’s fascinating.”

               “You go ahead and be fascinated, Your Majesty,” said Prither. “I’ll remain wary.”

               “That’s not really the role of a steward,” said Queen Lucia.

               “Nevertheless,” said Prither.

               “You’re dismissed,” said Queen Lucia.

               As Prither closed the door behind him, Queen Lucia realized she hadn’t actually commanded him to release Charp. She had intended to, but hadn’t. She also hadn’t corrected Prither when he referred to Charp as “Tharp.” Well, she wasn’t going to call him back. Her dismissal of Prither had been pretty blunt, and it never paid to have your steward nursing resentment toward you.

               Queen Lucia looked around the room and saw a rough chair she hadn’t noticed before tucked into a corner. She dragged it over to the window and sat down to watch Flawed Jonas eat. She wondered how long it would be before another Flawed Jonas appeared. She was very curious to see which flaw he would demonstrate next. Which flaw it would demonstrate next, Charp’s insistence on that word made more sense now even though both people she’d seen step into the role so far had been men. Presumably, it could be anyone, right? A woman, a child, why not? Fascinated as she was, Queen Lucia was glad of the distance between her and Flawed Jonas. She did not want a better view of the contents of his mouth. And who would? No one wants to see that.


               And how richly was Queen Lucia rewarded for her inquisitiveness and her watchfulness. After nearly another hour of open-mouthed chewing, Flawed Jonas swallowed his final bite, picked up his basket, and walked away. For a short interval, the crossroad and the area surrounding it were empty. A tendril of fog, perhaps emboldened by Flawed Jonas’s absence, came creeping back. And then, striding up the road came a teenage girl in a long, rough-spun dress, chunky mittens, and a scarf. Her hair was long, dark, and wavy like the water during a sea battle where everyone’s capsizing. She was the most compelling Flawed Jonas yet, and she hadn’t even begun to demonstrate a flaw.

               Or had she? Queen Lucia scooted her chair closer to the window and leaned forward so that her nose nearly touched the grimy glass. This flaw could be subtle, maybe even too subtle to see from this distance. And why should it not be? From what Queen Lucia had gathered, observation of the demonstrated flaws was not a key component of the Flawed Jonas phenomenon, was maybe even a discouraged component. Charp had certainly seemed not to want anyone around to observe it. Was Queen Lucia violating the event by watching so intently? The thought that she might be excited her, made her feel privileged.

               Flawed Jonas walked a few feet off the crossroad and sat on a fallen log at the edge of the tree line. She adjusted her scarf, rested her hands in her lap, and waited, it could almost be said, patiently. And patience is a virtue, not a flaw. Queen Lucia waited less patiently for the next step, for the flaw to develop, but after ten minutes, nothing had changed. This was beginning to feel like a very internal flaw. Which, fine, many flaws are internal, but wasn’t the point of this whole thing to demonstrate the flaw? To make internal flaws external? Queen Lucia had to be missing something, something she couldn’t see or hear or otherwise perceive from inside this room. She had to get down there, she had to see the demonstration up close. What if she was missing the most compelling one? What if this Flawed Jonas got replaced before Queen Lucia had figured her out?

               Queen Lucia threw her blankets back on the bed in a heap, pulled her long, heavy coat over her nightgown, and stepped into her riding boots. In the hall, she went into some detail to the guards about how the fact that dinner had been served so early meant that she was now hungry at a time uncharacteristic for her, her point being that she was headed downstairs to the kitchen to see if there was any leftover bread to snack on, and that she did not need guards to accompany her on such a trivial mission. It was more explanation than the guards needed, certainly more than she, as queen, was required to give. It probably made them more suspicious than if she had just told them not to follow her and left it at that.

               Resisting the urge to tip-toe, Queen Lucia encountered no one else as she made her way downstairs to the ground floor. She tried to remember on which side of The Picky Eater Prither’s room was located. Would he spot her from his window and come running after her, making a big deal out of nothing as he often did? Probably not. He was probably asleep. He had seemed pretty groggy the last time Queen Lucia had summoned him. Still, she thought it made sense to sneak out the back of the inn and then creep along the trees until she got to the crossroad to reduce her chances of being spotted by Prither or anyone.

               Feeling her way through the dark kitchen, Queen Lucia arrived at the back door to discover that it was both locked and bolted, although even her mild concern over its security earlier in the night now seemed silly. She unlocked the door, unbolted it, eased it open, slipped out, and eased it closed behind her. Then she scampered to the treeline, crouched, and looked back at the inn for signs of pursuit. There were none. The biting air, the rich shadows, the probing hoot of an owl, it all felt so clandestine. She felt like a girl again, flitting around the castle grounds after dark with her sister. But the thought of her sister as a child made her think of her sister as she was now, which soured Queen Lucia’s pleasure. She rose, gathered her bearings, and crept away in the direction of the crossroad and Flawed Jonas.


               Queen Lucia had intended to watch Flawed Jonas quietly from among the nearby trees so as not to disrupt the demonstration, but she didn’t know how to walk quietly among the fallen leaves, so it didn’t take long for Flawed Jonas to notice her approach.

               “Sorry,” whispered Queen Lucia. “I’m just here to watch.”

               “What?” said Flawed Jonas, shifting her weight forward so she could rise from the log if escape was required. Maybe that was her flaw? Timidity? Skittishness?

               “I’m just here to watch,” said Queen Lucia in a medium speaking voice. “I’m not trying to interrupt your demonstration. Please, proceed.”

               Flawed Jonas scanned the tree line, the crossroad, she looked over her shoulder. “Are you alone?”

               “Ah,” said Queen Lucia. “Paranoia?”

               “Why wouldn’t I be paranoid?” asked Flawed Jonas. She sounded angry. “I’m traveling alone at night and you just came sneaking up to me along the edge of the forest.” She looked over her shoulder again as if Queen Lucia’s compatriot were about to strike.

               “Hmm,” said Queen Lucia. “Sensitivity? Not that sensitivity is a flaw, but maybe over-sensitivity? Touchiness?”

               Flawed Jonas stood. She took her mittens off, stuffing them in her coat pockets, balling her hands into prickly fists. She did not take a swing at Queen Lucia, but the look in her eyes hit harder than her knuckles could have. Though her features bore little resemblance to those of Queen Lucia’s sister, her expression was identical to one of Queen Lucia’s sister’s worst, the one where all her bitterness over marrying poorly, leaving home, and embracing her life as a river fish was written across her face.

               Queen Lucia gasped. Flawed Jonas’s demonstration of this particular flaw could not have felt more relevant to her. But what was it called, this flaw so pronounced in her sister? What was the name that could encompass all of its nasty facets, its network of interconnected sub-flaws? “Please,” said Queen Lucia. “Tell me what it is.”

               “I’m irritated!” said Flawed Jonas.

               “Irritable?” said Queen Lucia. “No, that can’t be it.”

               “I’m not irritable,” said Flawed Jonas. “You are irritating!”

               “Unreasonable?” asked Queen Lucia. “Irrational?” She was speaking to Flawed Jonas’s retreating back as she stomped away, choosing a direction at the crossroad with maximum decisiveness and following it until it led her around a corner and out of sight.


               Queen Lucia, abruptly chilled, hurried back to The Picky Eater, re-locked and re-bolted the back door, and returned to her room, pausing only to tell one of the guards to send for Prither. By the time Prither arrived, Queen Lucia had shed her coat and boots and was again wrapped in blankets. But for the flush she could still feel in her cheeks, her steward had no way of guessing Queen Lucia had been outside, and she gave him little time to notice before she sent him on an errand. “Bring me Charp,” she said. “At once.”

               Prither’s grogginess, which Queen Lucia had suspected was partially an act, was replaced by worry. “I’m not sure that’s prudent, Your Majesty.”

               Queen Lucia could see that Prither’s worry was not for her, but for himself. “At once,” she said.

               Prither fled the room compliantly.

               Queen Lucia returned to her chair. The Flawed Jonas she’d spoken to had not yet been replaced. The crossroad area was vacant, an abandoned stage. She wondered if she herself was responsible for disrupting the schedule.

               Prither knocked on the door. “I’ve got him, Your Majesty.”

               “Enter.” Queen Lucia stood, wearing the blankets like royal robes, or trying to.

               Charp, with his hands bound in front of him, had a black eye, a knot on his forehead, and a fat lip. His nose had been spared another in its long line of breaks, but that it would be broken again soon was inevitable. Sparing it this time was an impotent mercy. Prither tried not to look sheepish, but whatever one might call the expression he’d gone with instead looked worse.

               “Did he give you this much trouble?” asked Queen Lucia.

               Prither cleared his throat. “You’ll have to ask the guards, Your Majesty.”

               Queen Lucia considered commanding Prither to unbind Charp’s wrists, at least, but now that he’d been beaten, maybe Charp was in the mood to attack someone, maybe even Queen Lucia herself. Maybe it was best to keep him bound until she could be sure he hadn’t been goaded toward violence by her guards’ brutality.

               “I have some questions for you, Charp,” said Queen Lucia. “About Flawed Jonas.”

               “Yes, Your Highness,” said Charp. “I’ll tell you anything I know. I wasn’t trying to threaten you earlier. This man was mistaken.” He tilted his head toward Prither.

               “I know that now,” said Queen Lucia. “I’ve figured most of it out, I believe. But I must know, is there some sort of Flawed Jonas schedule posted before Evil Eventide Eve comes around? Would I be able to look at it?”

               Charp’s brow furrowed around its purple knot. “Schedule? What do you mean?”

               “To say who’s going to be Flawed Jonas and when and which flaw they’ll be demonstrating,” said Queen Lucia. “Or if there’s no written schedule, maybe it’s discussed at a community meeting? The reason I ask is that I’d like to know which flaw that young woman was demonstrating, the one who was out there a few minutes ago. And how are the flaws chosen? Do the Flawed Jonases choose their own based on personal preference? Does that young woman have a fraught relationship with a sister, for example, perhaps because one of them envies the other or resents her for having a more satisfying life?”

               Charp was lost, that much was clear. He made it clearer. “I’m lost, Your Majesty.”

               Queen Lucia sighed. “Who are those people who are being Flawed Jonas tonight? Do you know them? Any of them? I’d like to speak to them, one of them in particular, that young woman.”

               “Flawed Jonas isn’t people,” said Charp. “It’s not a young woman. It’s not from this world. It’s from the wild that surrounds this world.”

               “Yes, yes,” said Queen Lucia. “So what does he look like, then? When he appears here at your crossroad, what does he look like? Does he take on different forms, perhaps resembling several of your neighbors over the course of the night?”

               “No, Your Majesty,” said Charp. “It doesn’t look like a person at all. Not at all.”

               “Then what does he look like, Tharp?” asked Queen Lucia.

               In the silence that followed as Charp pondered his answer, the sound of a lone voice singing came up to them from the ground floor. The voice sang terribly: loud, abrasive, off-key, arrhythmic. It was not a matter of taste.

               “Your Majesty,” said Charp. “Has anyone come or gone from this inn since dinner?”

               “Why do you ask?”

               “I must know if the back door was left unlocked,” said Charp. “Even for a single second.”

               The singing grew louder, somehow. It flowed through The Picky Eater like hot, foul tar. What could you call a singing voice like that but a flaw? And what could you call this song but a full-throated demonstration of that flaw? And who could possess a flaw this profound other than a profoundly flawed individual, an entity composed of flaws, a being of pure flaw?

               Queen Lucia took small comfort from the fact that her sister would have certainly made the same mistake. Or a worse one, even. If that were possible.      

Discussion Questions

  • Do you agree with my conclusion that the scariest number of discussion questions one can have at the end of a Bedtime Story in fall of 2022 is four? Explain your position.

  • What’s the worst kind of non-human otherworldly being that has ever slipped in through your unlocked back door?

  • Which flaw do you think you’d be best at demonstrating?

  • Do you find “Tharp” to be a less forgettable name than “Charp?”