Rounds of heavy artillery sent the bunker shuddering. The dim desk lamp flickered. The deteriorating energy shields outside crackled. The only constant was the scraping of metal on metal. Sera shivered and padded toward the light. “Daddy? Will you tell me a story?”
Daddy continued to sharpen his knife. “Not tonight, Sera. Go back to bed.”
She watched the knife’s reflection dance over the dark patch on Daddy’s uniform where his insignia once was, then over his features, softened by a weariness Sera didn’t recognize.
Then Daddy set down his knife and offered a smile. Sera climbed onto his lap and he wrapped an arm around her. “Where did we leave off?”
“He asked her to dance.”
“Ah, yes. The fairest princess of all.”
Sera snuggled closer and waited with bright eyes.
“The music started and they fell in love right on the first step. They never noticed anyone else or even how long they danced. But before the prince could announce that he’d chosen his bride –”
The lamp flickered as if on cue. Sera gasped and covered her ears to block out the sharp crack of the weakening energy shields.
“ – the dark fairy appeared. ‘I have given you your princess. Now, prince, give me what you have promised.’ The prince sent for his prized steeds, paraded his rarest treasures, even offered the kingdom itself, but she refused them all.”
Sera frowned. “But didn’t she ask for them?”
“That’s what the prince thought. ‘I have offered you all that is dearest,’ he said. ‘What more is there to give?’ The fairy said, ‘I know where your heart truly lies.’ Then the prince knew that the dark fairy had tricked him, just as the good fairies had predicted. He took the princess’ hand and ran while the guards surrounded the fairy, but she disappeared with a flash.”
The outside world held its breath, waiting as Sera did for the next part.
“They ran through the halls, but the dark fairy always appeared to head them off. They ducked into the treasure chamber and hid.”
Explosions rocked the earth, amplified thunder rent the air. Sera screamed and threw her arms around Daddy’s neck.
“There was no escape.”
The light grew for a moment, then blew out. Horrible sounds came from outside – things crashing, people screaming, alarms blaring. Sera sobbed into Daddy’s shoulder. He rubbed her back and continued in a low, husky voice.
“The prince could only imagine why the dark fairy wanted his princess. He had to save her, even if it hurt him more than anything in the world.”
Shouting, pounding on the door.
“He held his princess close – like this. He knew there was only one way he could keep his princess. The castle bell began to toll.”
A pause. Then a terrific crash against the door.
“‘She’ll never take you away. I promise.’”
She could feel the tension in his embrace, the raggedness of his breath, the drumming of his heart against hers. Two, three crashes.
“‘You’re safe with me.’”
Four. She felt one of his hands pull away and reach toward the table. Five, six.
“‘There’s just one thing I want you to know.’”
Seven. The door screeched as part of it bent in. He kissed her hair. Eight. She saw a momentary flash, a shadow on the wall. Nine. She tried to push back, to look at his face, but he held her tight. “Daddy?” Ten. Another shadow, more terrible than the last. Eleven. “What are you doing? Daddy? Daddy?” she cried.
The clock struck midnight. “I love you, princess.”
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