Goran Sedlar

The True Story of the Shark-Mouth Prince

 

The best kind of stories always begin with a truth. Except for this one.

This one begins with a lie.

In a world of lakes and mountains and kingdoms glued together with forces of imagination, picture a gloomy castle perched on a high hill.

Peak through its decorated windows and imagine a throne, and on it a boy.

Sitting.

Looking straight at us. While all the material possessions in the world are piling higher and higher behind him, ready to be at the disposal of his pinky finger’s whim.

This is the principal character of this story. That’s why he is referred to as the Prince.

But not the kind of prince that conjures images of horseback-riding and dashing young men ready to save the day at the very last moment, but the kind of prince that serves as a reminder that there are people out there living their lives without a single care in the world.

That is why the Prince was very young for his age, with hardly a wrinkle between his skin and his brain. This was a common side effect of having your stress levels so low no stress meter in the world could ever detect any traces of it.  In fact, on all the respectable stress-level charts, the Prince was at the bottom of an illustration pyramid.

Slightly under rocks and dinosaur bones.

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The Prince was an orphan, but before the eyes get all watery, it is important to stress this isn’t that kind of a story.

So put your tissues away and focus.

True, his parents were not around anymore, but the fact of the matter was they were not much around even when they had been alive, before the plague claimed their lives. The Prince was well into his teens before he even noticed they were actually dead. This doesn’t show he didn’t love them, it only shows that people who are well taken care of require a lot of time to notice changes. No matter how big they are.

He had servants to obey him, a castle to protect him, and everything he ever wanted at a whim of his desire.

Yet, for all the things in the world he owned, there was one thing he would’ve willingly given up if he could.

The one true luxury that separates paupers from kings.

The cruel curse of boredom.

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The Prince, like all people mistaken, considered the truth the cause of all his problems.

The truth always failed to do what it was told and had a sneaky way of making rulings more complicated, laws more difficult to pass, and decisions harder to keep.

The truth has no prince, and for the Prince that was treason.

At first he had tried to get rid of it. Laws were invented, the guards were trained, the servants were coached, but no matter how much the Prince had tried, the truth found a way to remain in his realm. Like a mountain unaware it was not wanted by the tiny people living in its shadow.

Instead of accepting defeat and the existence of a power greater than his own, the Prince chose a strategy only a court jester would regard with awe.

He started indulging in the sweet opulence of lies like it was candy.

He lied about the time, he lied about the weather, he lied about his lies, as long as there were people listening, there were lies inside him ready to come out. And when you are a ruling monarch, you never run out of people listening.

But the trouble with lies is that sooner or later they reach the wrong ears.

And in this particular case, these ears belonged to a scientist.

Now, it is a common knowledge that scientists are intimidating folk, always mumbling about formulas and theories and truth being the founding layer of everything and things like that. It is also a common knowledge that scientists are able to hold a grudge longer than they are able to hold their breath. Unfortunately this was a common knowledge unbeknownst to blue bloods like our Prince.

One couldn’t really blame him, really.

No upstanding member of aristocracy ever got involved with things considered to be common.

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Before we get to a part where this scientist is knocking at the castle door of our clueless Prince, let us flesh out some of the character of the Scientist. Now with a capital S. (Some people are so consumed with their jobs they have no names).

The Scientist was a man in love with the stars. And it was the kind of love that drove men crazy. No matter the price, no matter the distances involved, he always found ways to spend as much time as possible with objects of his affection.

One such way was the practice of stargazing.

It was expensive, it was patient, it involved a telescope and an imaginary line that, if crossed, turned the poetic act of observing into a creepy exploit of spying. It was the line the Scientist was well aware of and was always careful not to overstep.

One of the things that prevented such a temptation, was height.

Placing the telescope at the highest point available reduced the risk of having a noble hobby interpreted as something that is crossing imaginary lines.

The highest point our Scientist was able to find was the very hill our Prince had his castle on.

Even in the real estate, nothing but the absolute for our little monarch.

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This brings us back to the moment when a scientific knuckle collided with an aristocratic door.

And everything changed from that moment.

Details are a little fuzzy, but we know the Prince had welcomed the Scientist with wide arms and hosted him in one of his highest towers. To the Prince, the name Scientist translated into gigantic robots and powerful supercomputers that would lead to the death of boredom. To the Scientist, the title Prince spelled out unlimited supply of cash and funds.

A friendship was struck, and for some time things were peaceful. But building a house on the foundations of wrong assumptions inevitably awakens the volcano of misunderstanding.

The lie-spreading machine better known as the Prince had fibbed about the wrong thing, and the Scientist took it in the worst way imaginable.

He was furious!

Well, maybe furious doesn’t really paint it…he was enraged!

No, this doesn’t do it justice either.

He was so angry it made him lose his sanity, and for those crucial few hours of blackout, he was not just the Scientist, he was the mad Scientist.

Mad minds make mad decisions, so it wasn’t any wonder that the Scientist decided to kidnap the Prince and imprison him in his secret laboratory dungeon in a faraway forest. Now don’t try thinking too hard about how he had managed to smuggle the Prince out of his castle—under the very noses of his royal guards and subjects—let’s just say that people who are disliked tend to be easily missed.

Having chained the Prince to his dungeon walls, the Scientist started wondering what was he to do with him. He needed to invent a punishment that would serve a greater purpose than just act as a piece of frozen steak for his wounded ego.

And then it occurred to him.

He would make a warning and an example out of the young liar.

The Scientist used his deranged scientific tools to create something incomprehensibly ugly and monstrous, a thing people who undergo cosmetic surgeries always secretly shiver from. The Scientist removed the young aristocrat’s lovely royal lips and teeth (well, the teeth part is a bit of an overstatement, let us just say they were a product of a long line of closely related ancestors), and in their place installed the mouth of a shark.

No, you’re not insane.

The Prince was fitted with the mouth of a shark. The kind that lives in the ocean and feeds on meat, not the kind that carries a briefcase and takes advantage of unfortunate souls.

But that was just the beginning. The Scientist still wanted to make sure the Prince would learn to realize how wrong tampering with the truth was. Using his deep mastery of science, he infected the young sovereign with a curse. Every lie the Prince utters will initiate a horrifying transformation that will temporarily change the young Prince into a six foot tall hairy beast.

If the word “beast” is too abstract, picture the most frightening thing imaginable.

Got it?

Now hold on to that image, and recall it anytime the Beast enters the story.

Which is really, really soon.

Because as soon as the Scientist released the Prince, and the shock of mutilation wore off, our little silver-spooned fellow started lying again.

“Who did this?” was the first question his horrified subjects asked when he appeared at the castle door. “What happened?”

Behind him the lightning flashed, and instead of telling what had really transpired, the Prince concocted such a fantastical story that, before he even finished the last word of it, the terrible shaking overcame him. In front of all those people, his frightening transformation begun.

He turned into the Beast, causing his horrified servants to bar the castle door and cry for all manner of supernatural beings to save them.

When they gathered courage to reopen the door the following morning, all the Beast had left behind was a repulsive odor and a pile of something resembling a product of a great sewage clog incident.

Remembered among castle population as the so-called third incident.

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The Prince was found, unconscious, in a nearby valley. There appeared nothing to be wrong with him even though his face was covered in dried blood, and he was lying on a bed of wool remains.

His guards took no notice of those things (and they should have) for they were mesmerized with the Prince’s open shark mouth, quietly whizzing air and showcasing a row of deadly teeth.

When confronted with carnivorous teeth, people tend to develop blurry peripheral vision.

The guards covered the Prince in a royal blanket and carried his unconscious body back to the castle.

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For a time things returned to normal. If by normal we define a period of quiet dread threatening to burst out violently at any given moment.

It didn’t take the Prince long to learn to accept his shark mouth, especially when he was the one with a power to make it fashionable. In no time, all the portraits and statues of the famous people in the land were wearing crudely drawn shark jaws, courtesy of a royal decree that was punishable by death if not followed to the letter.

But this didn’t make things like before.

No.

There was still the matter of the curse.

Now the Prince was not the brightest ray of sunshine in his kingdom (although all the paintings depicted him with a golden sun-crown on his head), so it took him a while to link his thirst for lying with mutant transformations.

“A while” meaning three incidents.

Incident number 1: After a little white lie, the Beast appeared and thrashed the Prince’s bedroom into pieces. The guards arrived quickly to the scene, but the result of the conflict was: three broken arms, two unconscious guards, and a dead royal hound. Drained of blood.

Incident number 2: After a medium grey lie, the Beast happened and completely devastated the castle granary leaving only splintered wood and rubble of stone walls behind. The result: six severely beaten guards and one dead butler. Drained of blood.

Incident number 3: After a big black lie, the Beast crashed the funeral (procession for the butler) and turned it into a violent brawl resulting into four more consecutive funerals. All four victims having died of severe anaemia.

Maybe this didn’t make a whole lot of sense, on account of how could the Prince get away with all these incidents and deaths in open view of everyone in the castle, but the answer is he didn’t.

The people knew what was going on since day one, and each time an incident with the Beast happened, one of the Prince’s Death-Boys was promptly hanged the following day as punishment.

Death-Boy being a job like a Whipping-Boy, only with a shorter career span.

Executions were done quietly and discretely, with no one daring to confront the Prince about what was happening. Because no one could do anything about it.

After all princes were appointed by gods.

Just like tornadoes and fires and floods are.

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It didn’t take long before all the people living in the castle were reduced to a single one (not counting the Prince).

Many died in numerous other incidents, others moved out when they realized how dangerous their jobs had become, and even the Prince had to admit that he had a problem.

But it was too late to change things for the better. Death was introduced into the picture, and that changed the mood of the picture.

The butler was the only one who had decided to stick with the Prince until the end. Partly because, at his age, any sort of an end seemed to be very close by, and partly because his brain was useless for anything other than tying someone else’s shoelaces and ties.

But the biggest asset of the old butler was his deafness.

If there was ever a philosophical dilemma about whether or not someone can tell a lie if there is no one there to hear it, the Prince and his butler had answered it.

One can’t.

The number of beastly transformations was reduced, and for a while things were back to normal.

But normal in this story doesn’t mean everything was all right.

It means there was a short spell of time before things got much, much worse.

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Near the castle was a village.

In the historical scope of things, the village was of little importance. The Prince had his dominion over the peasants, and the peasants had the purpose of paying taxes to their lord.

In the practical scope of things, the village was the founding block of the kingdom’s economy. Because if there were to be no village, there would be no money for the Prince and his castle and his servant(s) and his lifestyle.

And the source of all this cash wasn’t the gold or buried riches; it was the backs of those lowly four-legged, grass-devouring animals we call sheep.

The riches of the world always tend to come from the vegetarians of the world.

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It would lead to a false sense of security to believe the Prince was left with no one else to lie to. Even lonely people can talk to themselves.

And as far as the curse was concerned, this sort of lying was worth a brutal transformation just like all the others.

During one of his wanderings around the castle, the Prince stumbled upon a secret room. This wasn’t so strange because castles are nothing more than hidden rooms surrounded by protective walls. But the strange thing was he couldn’t tell to whom the room had belonged in the first place, for the only thing he found in it was a book.

Left open on a leather chair behind the wooden desk.

It was obvious to the Prince there was some powerful magic at play between these mysterious walls. He could feel it as it tried to give him a migraine.

Powerful dark magic.

The title of the book was “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

The Prince opened it and started reading, and by the time he reached the end, there was a different person living inside his head.

That is what books usually do. Plant their own people in heads of readers.

The person in the Prince’s head was blatantly aware of the power that was dormant in the lies the Prince was inventing. The power to change who he was. The power to control his mutation, if only he believed in himself.

So the next time the Prince found himself in front of a mirror, he took a long hard look and said out loud: “This shark-mouth, well, it isn‘t that bad looking.”

When he awoke the next morning, he was lying on top of a pile of dead sheep, far away from the castle walls.

In his mouth was a taste similar to the taste of an accidentally bitten tongue.

He failed to believe in himself.

Apparently believing into something you know is hogwash involves more hard work than he anticipated.

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The excerpt from the village financial report (found in the daily newspaper, The Village, financial section):

Number of sheep (previous week): 324

Number of sheep (this week): 278

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The Prince was happy as he kept on working on the Power of Positive Thinking.

Sure his attempts would have him change into the Beast, but there was no one left in the castle he could really harm anymore (except for the butler, but he was too old even for the Beast’s appetite for destruction), and the only real damage done was an occasional slaughter of random livestock. Which, if one looks at it from the certain point of view, were already his property. He owns the land, the land grows the grass, animals eat the grass.

There.

The only one really being harmed here, was him.

And the Prince could live with self-harm.

Just like everyone else does.

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The excerpt from the village financial report (found in the daily newspaper, The Village, financial section):

Number of sheep (previous week): 72

Number of sheep (this week): 33

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It was too early for dawn, the Prince knew, but there was no mistake about it, he definitely could see the light shimmering through his window.

When he reached the balcony, still in his royal jammies, he was greeted by a throng of angry villagers. There were pitchforks, torches, and massive booing. It was a rock concert gone bad.

The Prince shut the windows and jumped under his bed, hoping this was still a dream. It wasn’t until his butler opened the doors of his bedroom that he realized, even if it was, it had just turned into a nightmare.

His faithful servant had led all those angry peasants straight into his royal chamber.

“I quit,” would have been a polite way to translate the hand gesture the butler had made before he stormed out of the room.

The villagers looked terrifying at this close range, and for the first time in his life, the Prince felt ordinary and not at all like a person entitled to things just because he was born to certain parents.

There is nothing like the eye of a mob to make one outspoken advocate for abolishment of classes.

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Before the Prince had a chance to lie himself out of this pickle, they had stuffed his mouth with a dirty sock and dragged him outside.

For a disorganized mob of sheep owners, they were impressively adroit at building a makeshift gallows. The structure looked stable, and the noose hanging from a wooden frame was just perfectly long enough to snap a royal neck with a pull of a lever.

They had erected the scaffold in the castle courtyard, and the Prince did his best to try and wiggle himself free as they dragged him to it.

Little did he know was that the sheep were equally restless when being dragged for shearing, so the farmers had enough practice and skill to handle one scrawny little boy, with blue veins and soft pink palms.

A priest was getting ready to say a few words as the mob gathered around the gallows in a wide circle, waiting for a show. Nobody really enjoyed lynching, but people found violent deaths of public figures to be a social glue.

Death, bringing people together.

Just as they were about to fit the hemp noose around the Prince’s neck, somebody started shouting, “The Beast! The Beast is coming!”

And the Prince felt as though someone had inserted a coin and pushed the button at the very last possible second.

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It wasn’t so much a beast as a sixty-foot metal robot, operated by none other than our old friend the Scientist.

The robot was slowly walking toward the castle walls. Every step it took made everyone’s guts jump up, so that even those who didn’t see it could feel something huge was approaching.

Pebbles, mud puddles, bricks in the wall, everything was trembling as it drew near.

The robot had accordion arms with hands shaped like giant magnets. In its transparent glass belly, the Scientist was pulling all the levers and chains that made the giant monstrosity move.

“I’ve come for my revenge!” shouted the Scientist into a funnel pipe. The pipe stole his voice and turned it into a thunderous yell everyone in a several mile radius could hear.

No one was holding the Prince anymore, so he stepped down from the little wooden chair and pulled out the sock from his mouth.

“Where are you, you little liar?”

The Prince turned around and thoughtfully regarded all those scared people.

His people.

They were looking at the sky, eyes big and round and wrinkled and sad, and praying their mouths off.

There comes a moment in everyone’s life when the need to protect yourself grows big enough to become the need to protect those around you.

For the Prince it was this moment. He turned toward the giant robot and understood immediately what needed to be done.

“Why did you say that? Why did you lie about my telescope?” The Scientist was screaming out of the belly of the robot. Giant metal hands were tearing apart the walls and the ramparts of the castle like the whole thing was made of sand.

The Prince turned again to his, once, captors. There was one tiny flaw in his otherwise brilliant plan he just concocted. He never learned to control the Beast. He never believed in himself.

But for the first time he thought he found a way make others believe.

“Do you want me to save you?” asked the Prince.

Behind him a large chunk of wall landed on the ground with a thunderous noise.

“You knew I only used it to watch the stars! You knew I meant the stars in the sky AND NO ONE ELSE!” The rage of the Scientist was as destructive as those giant robot arms punching holes in the walls.

“I can save you all,” said the Prince. “But I can’t do it without your help.”

“And still you lied TO EVERYONE! My career NOW LOOKS LIKE THE WALLS OF YOUR PATHETIC CASTLE!” thundered the Scientist. “And WHAT I DID TO YOU THE FIRST TIME IS not nearly enough to make us even!”

“Whatever I tell you, you will have to believe me,” said the Prince to the terrified mass. “This is the only way for my power to work.”

The giant robot claw closed around the Prince without him even seeing it coming. It was still the black of night, and the color of the robot’s claws blended with the surroundings perfectly, rendering ends of those metal arms almost invisible. The robot started lifting his catch up as the Prince managed enough breath to cry out “I’m flying!” to the amazed mass below him.

By the time the claw was in the position to dangle its prey in front of the face of the wronged Scientist, it wasn’t holding a scrawny little prince anymore.

No.

This was the stuff of nightmares.

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There are at least three things words can never do justice to. Music, a beautiful face, and an epic battle between an unimaginable beast and a giant metal robot operated by a mad scientist.

Yes, one can always try to describe these things, use plenty of adverbs and pleasing adjectives, and metaphors as strong as a punch in the face, but all the words in the world, no matter how perfectly arranged, depend on the power of imagination. And this is a kind of power only few can afford this day and age.

Computers, in comparison, are cheaper and stronger.

Words go for your soul to make an impression, but computers know better. Computers go for the brain. They fill it with indescribable things, clog it with gazillions of pixels and colors and shades, flash it with innumerable explosions and quakes, stuff it with adrenaline and horror and awe and glee, jam it with sounds and booms equaled only by the very first bang still echoing through the universe since the creation of time, until there is nothing else left inside your head for you to think with.

Words can never do that, words depend on too much oxygen to work.

So unfortunately, for you to find out what exactly had happened in the battle between the Beast and the giant robot you will have to wait for an adaptation. A big, loud, computer generated one.

All there is to say is that the Prince had won.

And it was spectacular.

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The Scientist was never found.

All that was left of the battle were pieces of the giant metal robot, scattered around like there was an explosion, and castle outer walls reduced to a smoking rubble.

The scene was still and quiet and beautiful, in a way something becomes beautiful only after it had been through a horrible nightmare (butterflies could tell you more about that).

The Prince was alive but sleeping, and as soon as the bewildered peasants found him naked and trapped under a giant severed robot claw, they lifted him on their shoulders and carried him back to the castle.

This was the first time he ever got anything close to a celebration. It was a pity he was unconscious, otherwise he would’ve immediately noticed the difference between spontaneous festivity and the one carried at arrow-point of his royal bowmen.

The peasants rested his body on a freshly weaved woolen mattress. In his dream he was floating on the ocean of vanilla whipped cream. Even though his grotesque shark mouth was incapable of it, one of the peasants could have sworn he saw it smile, just a little.

The villagers tiptoed out of his room and gently closed the door behind.

The dream of the whipped cream turned into a nightmare about snails moving across his face.

He awoke and immediately realized that it must’ve been days he’d lying there as he was feeling as hungry as a wolf and as thirsty as a village drunk. The Prince reached for the white glass left on his bedside table and gulped the fluid he recognized as sheep’s milk after he burped some of it back to his mouth. Next to the glass was a plate of ewe cheese and a mutton sandwich.

The Prince realized he wasn’t wearing his usual clothes (black upon black) but an itchy white woolen nightgown (soon to become stained with the grease from the sandwich). As he was munching the food and quietly wondering about what had happened, he heard some rustling behind him and slowly turned around.

A pile of rolled-up blankets left on his bed moved and fell on the floor revealing a plump, curly, sheep under it. A red bow was tied around it with a “For the Prince” card attached, but the animal was uninterested in being anyone’s present, and instead focused on chewing the royal pillow.

He had barely enough time to grasp the situation before he heard a chorus of bleating and baaing coming from the courtyard.

And as sure as dawn, when he reached the balcony, he saw the courtyard was packed with these animals.

In his whole life he had never seen this many sheep at one place. There were enough of them to feed a village.

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Tradition mandates to declare that everybody lived happily ever after, but that would be a hard thing to sell.

There were a lot of people directly affected by this story, and they didn’t all share the same definition of happiness. Some of the peasants died of sickness and starvation (which were two common causes of death in that day and age) and some of the relatives of the people killed by the Beast never got what they would have considered justice and were stuck in a loophole of guilt and bitterness that made them incurably depressed. But this would have been roughly the same number of people who would have drawn the short straw in a game of life even if there were no the Prince or the Beast at all.

Most people were content and lived to have normal and fulfilling lives. Because of the lower sheep count, they were forced to think of one more source of income and eventually decided to develop a new industry—a large foundry that soon became one of the biggest metal exporters in the region.

It seems the villagers learned that, if life hands you pieces of destroyed giant robot, you should make a metal factory.

And the Prince, what had he learned?

That lies are sometimes more powerful than truth?

That we should always be who we really are, even if we are monsters?

No.

Because that would have just turned him into one more lost cause.

No.

He had learned that, no matter how bad things may seem at a certain point, if you are the Prince, everything will turn out just fine in the end.

 

END

 

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Goran Sedlar was born and raised in a faraway land. He could be summed up as: an avid book reader, comic book devourer, movie buff(er) and a podcaster. Or better yet, if he were an inscription on a fortune cookie, he would be the one saying, “If you can do something today, leave it for tomorrow.”

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