Friday, 13 June 2014

The Improbable Prince

It was hard to miss the kerfuffle over fairy tales last week. A certain eminent scientist was quoted (or misquoted) over his attitude to telling fairy tales to children, and the media ran with the story as hard as they could. At this point, a story idea popped into my head and I knew it would be perfect for a piece of flash fiction, which I'm very pleased to present for you today.

That said, this is fiction, and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental...

By Nick Cross

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved to listen to fairy stories. But her father was a rational man who lived only for truth and science. “How can I be expected to read this drivel?” he would say, tossing a beautiful picture book into the bin. “Are we really supposed to believe that a prince could turn into a frog? It’s statistically improbable.”

The girl protested, for she loved her father and could not understand why he would deny them this shared pleasure. But the hard-hearted man was having none of it. “As a parent, it would be irresponsible for me to read these blatant untruths.”

The girl bunched her nightdress in her fist. “They aren’t untruths, Daddy. They’re stories.”

“Simply lies by another name,” the father replied, tipping an armful of wonderful books into the bin. “I can see your mother has been indulging you while I was away on my lecture tour.” Mistaking the girl’s sad expression for fear, he patted her shoulder. “Worry not, my dear, normal service has been restored.” The girl lay down, and he pulled up the bedcovers. “Now sleep well, and may your dreams be full of reality and reason.” Nodding to himself, he left the room.

The girl cried then, and wished her tears could become a glistening, magical river that would carry her far away from this cruel place. But, instead, they just made a wet patch on her pillow.

The next day at bedtime, she asked her father again if he would read aloud. To her surprise, he agreed – as long as he could choose the book.

“When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America...”

The father read from On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. The book wasn’t boring, exactly, but the girl found her thoughts drifting to sea monsters and dragons. Why couldn’t Mr Darwin have discovered some of those species?

The father seemed to forget he was reading to his daughter, and kept talking long after her usual bedtime. Eventually, he looked up and realised she was sound asleep.

On the third day, the girl developed a dread of bedtime, and stayed in her evening bath until the water was quite cold. The father knocked on the door in a great temper, demanding to know why she was taking so long. “I’m missing a documentary on particle physics!” he shouted through the door. The girl sighed, reluctantly dried herself and put on her nightclothes.

When she opened the bathroom door, the father was brandishing a new book. “I’ve got something very exciting to read tonight!”

The girl narrowed her eyes, peering at the large brown hardback book with peeling plastic covers.

“This...” The father tapped the book, and a small puff of dust came from the spine. “ a landmark text of modern secular humanism. So much better than those silly fairy tales, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

The girl wished and wished there was some way she could show her father that stories had meaning and purpose. She wished he could see that the time she spent in her imagination was not time wasted. But her wishes once more failed to come true, and the girl finally had to admit that her father was not a bad man – he was just a little stubborn and narrow-minded.

“I love you, Daddy.” She kissed him on the cheek. “As long as I’m with you, it doesn’t matter what we read.”

But a most peculiar feeling had come over her father. His insides felt like they were on fire and there was a sudden POP that echoed around the small bathroom. The landmark text of modern secular humanism fell from his hands and plopped into the bathwater.

“Daddy?” The girl rubbed her eyes. “Is that you, Daddy?” A large green frog was sitting on the bathmat where her father had been.

“Ribbit,” the father replied. “This is highly improbable. Ribbit.”

The girl bent over to stroke his scaly back and hold his webbed foot. “Improbable, but not impossible?”

He sighed. “So it appears. Ribbit.” He turned, and with a huge leap and a mighty splash, jumped into the bath.

© Nick Cross 2014. All rights reserved.


  1. I loved it - really did make me chuckle, Nick.

  2. Mandy Wilson-Garner18 June 2014 at 09:11

    Also loved it. I can relate to this story:)
    Thanks Nick