A castle, as if in a fairy tale setting.

Short Story Challenge Week 23: Once Upon What Time?

Don’t all the classic short stories start with “Once upon a time”?

Nearly half a year ago — minus three weeks — I challenged myself to write a short story for 52 weeks straight. Not because I was being paid to, just to flex out my creative muscles a touch.

If you want to check out the other 22 stories to date, click here to see everything I’ve tagged that way.

I’ve done this sort of challenge before, which led to a collection of short stories called Fifty Two, which you can buy for most popular eBook readers and formats:


Buy Fifty Two through Amazon for your Kindle e-reader here.

Buy Fifty Two through Apple for your iPad or iOS devices/Macs here.

Buy Fifty Two through Smashwords for any other e-reader format here.


And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:

Buy Sharksplosion for Amazon Kindle

Buy Sharksplosion for iBooks (iPhone, iPad, etc)

Buy Sharksplosion for all other e-readers through Smashwords


And now, on with this week’s short story!

The concept for this one dropped into my head earlier in the week, and to be honest it worried me.

Not for conceptual reasons, or content reasons or my ability to write it. Simply because I felt sure that somebody else has probably written something fairly similar before, and I didn’t want to appear to be ripping anyone off.

Then I thought “Well, maybe so, but the idea is new to me, I’m sure I’ve not personally read a similar story, so why not go for it?”

So I did. Any similarity to other stories of this type is genuinely coincidental, except for the very small tip of the hat to the Brothers Grimm — but that’s quite deliberate anyway.

It was fun to write, too, which is 100% part of the idea.


Once Upon What Time?

A castle, as if in a fairy tale setting.
“Once upon a time, there was a…”
“What time, Daddy?”
“What’s that, sweetheart?”
“What time, Daddy?”
“What do you mean, sweetie?”
“What time was it? You said once upon a time. Was it last week, when I had that fish that made me feel all yucky in my tummy?”
“No, sweetie, it wasn’t.”
“Was it last month, when you had that business trip and Mummy and I went to stay with Grandma and Grandpa?”
“No, sweetie, it was longer ago than that. I think it was a long time ago.”
“A long time ago… so, last year, before I started at kindy?”
“Much, much longer than that. Before you were born, sweetie.”
“Wow. That is a long time ago. A very long time ago.”
“Yes, indeed. Anyway, as I was saying, once upon a time…”
“Daddy?”
“Yes sweetie?”
“Was this before you were born?”
“Oh, I think so, sweetie.”
“You think so? I thought daddies knew everything. That’s what mummy always says, that you think you know everything about everything.”
“Ah… well… I think mummy means something different by that.”
“What does mummy mean?”
“Erm… well, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, once upon a time…”
“So this was before you were born, too? And grandma and grandpa?”
“Yes, I’m sure of it.”
“You’re sure of it?”
“Yes”
“Why?”
“Because this story has princesses in it. You still like princesses, don’t you sweetie?”
“Oh yes, Daddy. I love princesses. But aren’t there princesses now?”
“Well, I suppose there are…”
“So is this a story that takes place now, then?”
“I don’t think so”
“You keep saying that.”
“Well… look, sweetie, this story has a dragon in it too. There aren’t any dragons any more.”
“A scary dragon?”
“It might be. Maybe just a bit. Is that a problem?”
“Hmm. Can I go get Mr Snuffles to cuddle, just in case it’s too scary?”
“Of course you can”

“OK, Daddy, I’ve got Mr Snuffles. You can start again.”
“Once upon a time, there was”
“Daddy…?”
“Yes, sweetie?”
‘Can I ask a question?”
“Of course, sweetie. What is it?”
“You said ‘once upon a time’. Does that mean this story only happened once, to one princess?”
“I suppose it does mean that, yes.”
“Wow”
“Wow? Why wow?”
“Daddy, you said this happened even before Grandma or Grandpa were born. That’s a very long time ago. But it only happened the once, and somebody wrote it down in that book?”
“Yes”
“So that book must be very very old. It doesn’t look like other very old things.”
“What do you mean?”
“It doesn’t have any wrinkles, and the pages are all really nice and bright. Not like my colouring in books from last year, where the pages are all going green.”
“Sweetie, you did pour green paint all over them, remember? Back when you decided you loved beans, and everything had to be a bean, or bean coloured, including your books.”
“DId I do that?”
“You did. It took me and mummy ages to get the green paint out of the carpet.”
“Oh yes. I remember. You said a bad word when you first saw it Daddy! It was so funny!”
“Ahem. Anyway, that’s why your colouring books are all green.”
“Yes, Daddy, but other old things get all worned out, like Grandpa’s knees. This book… is it magical?”
“Magical?”
“Yes, Daddy, Magical. It looks so… new. And yet you said its story is older than anyone I know. Must be many years old…mabye as many as twenty!”
“It’s not magical sweetie. But what happens with stories, especially really good stories is that they get written down more than once. Once a story is written down, somebody else can come along and make a copy of that story and…”
“That’s bad, Daddy!”
“What?”
“That’s really really bad! Mr Craske said so in class when Jimmy wrote down the answers that Janie was working out in the maths test. Copying is cheating, he said, and we mustn’t copy anyone else’s work or we’ll have to go to the principal’s office!”
“Mr Craske is right. You shouldn’t copy other people’s work.”
“But the story people did! You said that they did.”
“That’s different, sweetie.”
“How?”
“Hmm… it’s like this. The story got written down, and then the person who wrote it down gave their permission for somebody else to write it down as well. And then it gets printed out on big machines that make books, and lots of copies get made. It’s allowed, and it means that we can read stories from long, long ago even if they’re in new books. Shall I get on with the story?”
“Yes please Daddy. I love it when you read to me.”
“So… once upon a time, there was a lovely princess called Rapunzel.”
“Daddy!”
“What is it now, sweetie?”
“You told me that story last night – and it doesn’t have a dragon in it!”
“Did I?”
“Yes, you did, it was all about that girl with the really long hair, ‘cept I don’t think it could have been that long, ‘cause her mummy would have made her cut it, and anyway it would have hurt a LOT to have all those people climbing up it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie. Daddy must have made a mistake. Shall I find another story in the book to read to you?”
“Please, Daddy.”
“OK, so, once upon a time”
“DADDY!”
“What is it now, sweetie?”
“You just said that the other story, the Rapunzel story only happened the once.”
“Yes”
“But now this one only happened the once as well?”
“Yes, that’s right, sweetie.”
“And somebody else just happened to write it down, even though it only happened once?”
“I suppose so…”
“Were there lots of people going about writing things down in olden times, Daddy?”
“I’m not sure, sweetie. Why?”
“Seems to me like that would be really dangerous.”
“Dangerous? Writing words down?”
“I think so. It takes me ages to just write down a few words, and those stories have lots and lots and lots and LOTS of them! Plus, all the things happen really fast, like when Snow White eats that apple, or Cinderella rushes out of the ballroom, or Aladdin finds that lamp. Must be really hard to write all that down while it’s happening. And dangerous, too.”
“Dangerous?”
“If you’re busy writing in that cave when it comes crashing down, how do you get out? If there’s a big scary dragon, you’ve got to keep on writing even when it’s breathing fire at you. I would run, Daddy. But these writer just keep writing?”
“I guess they do, sweetie.”
“And then there’s the way they write up what the bad people are doing. The bad people are bad, Daddy.”
“That’s why they’re the bad people, sweetie”
“Yes, I just said that Daddy. You are terrible at listening to me sometimes. Mummy says that a lot too.”
“Does she?”
“Yes, often after you’ve gone to work. Anyways, if I was the evil king, or the sneaky brother of the king, or the mean old lion or whatever, I wouldn’t be too keen on having this person just standing around writing down what I was doing. I’d throw them into the deepest darkest dungeon, or have them executed, or just bite off their heads. Chomp chomp chomp I’d go, and then they wouldn’t be able to write down what I was doing any more.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works, sweetie.”
“How does it work, Daddy?”
“I think the story gets told to people after it’s happened. So Rapunzel tells someone about what happened to her, and then they can go and sit at a desk and write it all down. No dragons, no lions, and no biting off of heads.”
“Oh.”
“Is that OK?”
“Yes. Daddy?”
“What is it now?”
“Can you still read me the story?”
“Of course, sweetie. Let me just choose one. Ah, yes… There was once a queen who had a little daughter, still too young to run alone.”
“Daddy?”
“Yes, sweetie?”
“How old is old enough to run alone?”
“Older than her daughter was. I’m not really sure…”
“Because I can run and run and run, and you let me run down to the park on Saturday mornings and back while you and Mummy have a lie in bed and then a shower. So… younger than me, then?”
“I guess she must be.”
“So, anyway, one day the child was very troublesome, and the mother could not quiet it, do what she would.”
“What child, Daddy?”
“The child in the story, sweetie. The queen’s daughter, remember?”
“So… a princess, then?”
“Yes”
“Good. I like princesses. Although she seems like a naughty princess.”
“She does. Reminds me of someone. Shall I continue?”
“Yes please!”
“There was once a queen who had a little daughter, still too young to run alone.”
“DADDY!”
“What is it now sweetie?”
“You already read that bit! The princess is small, can’t run by herself yet. Though… Daddy?”
“Yes sweetie?”
“Why do princesses need to run? Don’t they have servants and castles and big shiny ballgowns and magic unicorns and fairy godmothers and secret staircases and… what do they need to run for?”
“I think they just mean that the little girl was very little and should not be left alone.”
“Oh. But they said too young to run alone. Did people used to race princesses, like horses?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Daddy?”
“… yes, sweetie?”
“Can I go to sleep now? I’m really tired…”


About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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