Title Sleeping Beauty & The Cursed Code
Author Emma Jean
Genre Middle-Grade Sci-Fi Fairytale Retelling
Sleeping Beauty’s 13th birthday looms on the horizon as she and her friends hole up in The Cursed Princess Lab, determined to use science and technology to defeat dark magic and save the Kingdom from 100 years of cursed sleep.
I’m calling this book a STEM fantasy and sometimes I call it a STEMinist fairy tale. It’s deliberately written for girls under the age of 13 to give them childhood role models in STEM fields to combat the “opting out” phenomenon and the lack of women present and represented in these fields.
I heard a delicate knocking at my window, and opened my eyes to the pitch black of the darkest moments of the night. My heart jumped, perhaps it was June returned to see me. Merrily, I leapt from my bed as if I’d never truly been asleep.
I took my first steps towards the window, when I remembered June could never have climbed to the height of my window.
Only a fairy could get that high. I stumbled backwards towards my bed.
I heard the squeaking noise of my window opening from the outside.
“My Dear Girl,” the raspy voice spoke.
It was without a doubt the same voice I’d heard in the 3D videos. The one that was torturing that helpless wolf pup and his momma. The one that cursed Lucy and April. Her evil deeds flashed before my eyes. I had never been so afraid. Why hadn’t the castle defenses stopped her?
There was silence as Anathema inched closer to me.
I didn’t back further away, I didn’t run and I didn’t scream.
My own fear cast a paralyzing spell on me that I couldn’t break.
A cold hand reached up and brushed my hair behind my ear. Its skin was thick and scarred as if it had been scorched just like the wood of her wand.
A shiver traveled down my spine, but still I didn’t pull away. Now that she was so close to me I noticed her face was bird-like. She seemed much less human than Woz, more avian.
“Don’t fear, My Pet, it was you who invited me here, I never hurt those who invite me in,” she said.
As she spoke I noticed a chirp to her voice, again so birdlike. I’d never noticed it in the videos.
“I invited you?”
“That’s right My Dear, the darkness of your heart pulled me to you like a magnet. Your heart shone darker than any other on this eve.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
My darkened heart now heavy with shame.
Her charred hands lifted my chin, almost lovingly.
“My Dear Girl, the dark is my home, and on this night you are my child, I shall not harm you.”
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I want to make a deal.”
From the folds of her robes she produced a thick splinter sharpened to a needles point. It glistened in the dark. I could see clearly what it was, and I recoiled in fear.
“This splinter is unlike any other. If you use it to pierce your own skin, then you will be free of your curse, one hundred years of sleep will no longer be your destiny.”
She held the splinter up to me.
“Go ahead, take it,” she urged.
As if I were under her spell, I held out my hand and she placed the needle on my palm.
“Wait, if I do this what will it mean for everyone else?”
“Who cares, My Dear? Your own mother has betrayed you, your friends are gone, and Woz has been untrue. All that you care about is behind you. Your future lies with one simple prick. Go ahead, My Girl.”
I stared at the splinter, it was all I could see. Its sharp edge shone brighter and brighter. I examined it ever closer.
Beside me I could feel Anathema’s breath slow with anticipation, until finally she was holding it all together.
“May I sleep on it?” I asked.
Delighted, she said, “Of course” and drew her wand. Instantly I was asleep, the splinter still in my hand, one wayward turn and I would be pricked.
Twenty-four hours passed and still I did not wake up.
I was surrounded by voices when I started to stir.
My mother’s voice rang out, as she said, “Sleeping Beauty, you will be still.”
I heard her command and did not move.
Only my eyes opened. I saw my father, Prince Alex and Prince Leo were standing next to him. They all looked worried. Two guards stood beside my mother who was pressed against my bedside. She was delicately examining the sleeve of my dress, when I saw it.
The needle-like splinter was lodged into the frill of my night gown pressing ever so lightly into the skin of my wrist.
Any sudden movement and it would make the incision necessary to complete Anathema’s curse. Whether or not I would sleep was now unknown, but surely all of my kingdom would fall. I might even now be cursed to be the only person awake watching the whole kingdom succumb to a cursed slumber.
I felt a lump rise in my throat, I was ready to sob.
“Don’t you dare,” my mother ordered.
She was right, one heavy sigh and we were all doomed, so I swallowed my emotions. I had to be strong if I wanted to protect my kingdom.
“Harold, come forward,” she ordered.
My father stepped to her side.
“Remove my necklace.”
Father fumbled with the heavy gold chain around her neck. She always wore it tucked beneath the collar of her dresses, so I had no idea what it concealed.
Attached to the chain were an ornate pair of golden tweezers, perfectly made to remove a splinter.
My father’s thick fingers fumbled with the delicate clasp.
Prince Leo stepped forward, “Sir, if I may.”
Leo being the youngest person in the room had the smallest fingers. He unclasped the necklace with ease then handed my mother the tweezers.
She steadied herself as she approached my sleeve holding the tweezers with hands as steady as those of a surgeon. She encircled the splinter without actually touching it. The slightest pressure in the wrong direction and my skin would be pierced with the perfectly designed point.
My mother took one more steadying breath before she grabbed the splinter. No longer breathing, she made a swift motion and dislodged it from my sleeve.
Alex stepped forward and she handed him the splinter.
“Burn it,” she ordered.
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While in college, studying Creative Writing, Ms. Jean was taught that the value of an education was not how well it could serve the individual student but how the education could help that student better serve others. She went on to earn an M.A. in counseling.
Ms. Jean worked long term in childhood mental health, both in schools and in therapeutic settings. Her volunteer work allowed her to mentor young children in both the US and abroad. Now she writes children’s books hoping her STEM positive, female empowerment message will inspire a larger group of children than she could reach in her counseling work.
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