Never After

By Amy Marques

Once upon a time, they say. But it’s not once upon a time. That’s the part nobody tells you about until it’s too late. It’s never once. It’s over and over and over, time and time again. And even happily ever afters (if you get one) are ruined every time a child says, “Read it again!”

Roland Wolf rebelled. He was tired of burning his tail off. So he got sent where all the nay-sayers and fractured fairies and truants go: the Juvenile School for Disruptive Characters. 

He hated it here. 

Every once upon a time, three of the little pigs would set off from Swine Hamlet to be Pig 1, Pig 2, and Pig 3. Now that most of the fairy world had gone vegan, the pig population had exploded, so it was easy for them to take turns. Sometimes they used names. Most often they’d just go by First Little Pig, Second Little Pig, and Third Little Pig. They’d even taken to using pre-molded walls to make the building faster. Easy job. Good pay, even if they did have to share with too many siblings.

But wolves are loners and Roland was an only child. He couldn’t take it anymore. He begged them to get the lions to share the role. But the Cowardly Lion could barely get his voice pitched loud enough to be heard inside the pig’s houses and the wild lion had hired the net-gnawing mouse as an agent and now nobody could afford him. And when they tried to get a golden retriever to wear a mane to do his stunts, instead of climbing down the chimney of the third little pig’s house, he just played fetch with the sticks blown away from the second house and lost the mane in the swan’s lake. It was embarrassing, even. So unprofessional.

Roland hated the obedience school. Everything was by the book. Why, the other day, the new Ella was sweeping ashes and the Tin Soldier hid in the chimney, slipped into the fireplace when she fake-cried and popped out, half burnt and heart aflame, declaring himself her prince. Everyone thought it was a hysterical solution, but the headmaster was not amused. 

Oh well, the joke was on them. 

Roland Woolf joined the fractured club. They met on the second cloud every third rain and Mother Goose was club faculty leader. She didn’t believe in micromanaging and mostly let her pupils run with their ideas as long as they were plausible and entertaining and they filled out the three page form to justify their proposed story changes. She was a stickler for thorough paperwork. The fox was their most valuable group member. He could argue his way out of anything. 

So it was that once upon the next time the headmaster of the Juvenile School for Disruptive Characters pulled out a book from the shelf to test his charges, Roland was called to the stage with three swine. There were only two swine in the school, so one offered to be both first and third pig. He could just slip on a flannel shirt to work on the brick house and most readers would never know the difference. 

Roland’s heart pounded as he watched Fairy Set Creator poof the chimney onto the stage. Third Little Pig would build around it. He hoped Fractured Fairy could work her magic in time. 

And it began.

The pigs left their hamlet in search of adventure. The first little pig made a sloppy home of hay. Roland huffed and puffed and the pig pulled the flannel on as he ran to the chimney to become the third pig. The second pig made a house of wooden panels. After the golden retriever played fetch with the sticks he stuck to panels and electric power drills. Roland huffed and puffed and the second pig went to join his sibling. 

The third house was always charming. Roland wished he could just live in it, by himself, tend to a garden, raise tomatoes, maybe keep a chicken or two in the yard. But he could play his part, so he called and taunted to the pigs and threatened to blow the house down. They chanted back and he huffed and puffed and half-heartedly blew so the bougainvillea growing on the side of the brick wall lost a few flowers that flew into Fractured Fairy’s hair and made her glare at him.

“Is it done?” Roland mouthed the words quickly before huffing and puffing once more for good measure.

She gave him a look of pure disdain under her heavily lidded eye shadow. She always was feistier than the rest. Roland blew the hair away from her face and smiled when, for a minute, she lost her sulk.

Roland climbed up the trellis and over the roof and into the chimney. It was all there: a net, a bag of prime slosh feed, a fake tail, and a fire extinguisher. Just as he’d requested. Oh, he’d scream and wave the fake tail a little for good measure. But nobody was getting burnt or eaten between the lines tonight. 

*   *   *

Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. Her work was nominated for Best of the Net 2023 by Streetcake Magazine and published or forthcoming in journals including Jellyfish Review, Gone Lawn, Star82 Review, Bright Flash Literary Review and Sky Island Journal. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1 and read more of her words at