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Sleeping Problems

Ciaran Parkes lives in Galway, Ireland. His poems have appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Rialto, Poetry Ireland Review, and other places. This is his first published short story.

They're saying now it was aggravated rape and--news just in--they're throwing in first-degree murder as well.
It seems one of the palace guards, still groggy from his hundred-year sleep, tripped over the battlements on his way to rescue the screaming princess.
But how is that my fault? I ask my designated lawyer who, most of the time, still seems half asleep, just waking up long enough to grunt out replies.
Any death that occurs during a perpetrator's crime is their responsibility, he replies, a basic point of law.
His habit of referring to me as the perpetrator doesn't give me much hope of getting off.
I've long ago given up trying to insist that it was only a kiss. Not rape. That, after hacking my way through a few miles of rose thorns, it seemed, for some mysterious reason, the right thing to do. That if I hadn't stumbled along they'd all still be stretched out, snoring.
I don't say any of this. We just sit there, the walls dripping, the archetypal deepest dungeon beneath the castle moat. Me contemplating my imminent execution, or life sentence or whatever. The lawyer trying to stay awake.
His parting shot doesn't make things any better.
You do know she was underage, he tells me. Nobody likes a child molester.
It turns out she was about to turn eighteen the morning after I arrived. And eighteen, in this kingdom , is the legal age of consent.
She was only seventeen, he says, as he gets up to leave, shaking his head at me sorrowfully.
Only a hundred and seventeen you mean, I shout after him, but he's already gone, the massive oak and iron door thudding shut behind him.
And, I tell myself, it's no use going on about that hundred-year sleep stuff. No one's going to believe it. Not admissible in a court of law.
I had hardly slept at all since ending up here what must have been over a week ago, kept awake by worry and the endless noise of the princess' eighteenth birthday celebrations.
But I must have fallen asleep then, because the next thing I know is the door being flung open, a heavy manacled figure thrown inside.
Thank god for small mercies, I think, for a traditional values castle where the prisoners are lumped in together, able to swap stories, make plans of escape....
Not that escape seems a realistic option and this new guy--or new girl as it turns out, a vague family resemblance to the princess but slightly older and, in retrospect, less dumb looking--is too laden down with chains to move.
In, of all things, for possession of a spinning needle. A crime that carries a mandatory death sentence.
But she's the first person who's believed my story. And she seems strangely confident about getting us both out of here.
Though, unless she has some magic tricks up her sleeve, I can't see a fairy tale ending like that ever happening.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Author Comments

The story came quickly. Once the first line, spoken in the narrator's particular voice, popped up in my head, I wrote it in one go, just writing down what he had to say.

I had been thinking about old fairy tales and how they might play out with modern legal systems. And maybe remembering an early version of Sleeping Beauty where the princess was raped and gave birth to twins before waking up.

- Ciaran Parkes
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