A note to the readers:
This fairy tale was originally written for a Creative Writing class at Rowan University in 2001. It sat on my hard drive for the last eleven years, mostly forgotten. I transferred it from one computer to another, along with all of my other work. After more than a decade, I decided to dust it off and give it a fresh revision. Enjoy.
The Tale of John the Accountant
Once upon a time, there was a man. He was a perfectly normal, boring, ordinary man, who had nothing particularly special about him. He lived a normal, boring life, in a normal, boring town, nestled away in a perfectly normal, boring little part of the world. And nothing interesting ever happened in his life.
Until one day, he became a Prince. Then his life was grand, filled with beautiful ladies, illustrious balls, and all the fun and excitement one man could ask for. From that day forward, life truly was great.
Hmm? What’s that? You want to hear more? Oh, well I suppose we’ve got time to tell the whole story. If you’d like to hear it? Are you sure? It is a rather boring little tale. Nothing exciting or adventurous happens in it. You’re still here? Very well then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Sit back, relax, and let me tell you the tale about an ordinary man who became an extraordinary prince.
It all started, as I said, in a perfectly ordinary, perfectly normal, perfectly boring little town called Wellington. And in this town lived a perfectly ordinary, perfectly normal, perfectly boring man named John. See, even his name is ordinary. It couldn’t even be a more exotic spelling of the name, like Jon or Juan. No, just John. And John had the most boring and ordinary job you could possibly imagine. He was an accountant. Now, this was back in a time when accountancy was an even more boring job than it is today. Today we have complicated Income Tax, deductibles, audits, and the IRS. There are tax loopholes and reforms and economic stimulus packages. But back in Wellington, centuries ago, there was a simple, easy way of handling taxes. Everyone paid the same amount, ten shillings per month, and if you failed to pay you were sent to prison. No complicated deductibles, no late-payment fees, and no exceptions to the rules. Needless to say, everyone made sure to pay their taxes every month.
Because of his job as the town’s accountant, John could have become a very unpopular person. People don’t tend to like the man who takes their money or throws them in jail if they don’t pay. Not that John himself would ever throw someone in jail; no, he simply filled out a form and sent it to the town sheriff, who then had a far more interesting job to do. Yet John could still have been hated for filling out the forms that let the sheriff arrest people, except that being hated and shunned by townsfolk would be a very interesting thing, and I assure you that our friend John was anything but interesting. No, it was Duke Harold Paddington Thomas Winchester III (how’s THAT for an interesting name, hmm?) who was despised by the people, sneered at as he passed down the street, and cursed at under people’s breaths. Not just because of the taxes, of course. He also confiscated the crops for his army, took the iron and tools for his palace, and persistently hit on all the cute girls in town, whether they liked him or not (and I assure you, they did not).
All of these things made the Duke a very un-liked yet much-talked-about man, while John the Accountant was simply ignored. He wasn’t important enough for anyone to take notice of him. He simply sat in his small office, exactly eight hours every day (with one half hour for lunch), counting the money he’d collected before it was sent off to the Duke’s palace. Now it usually only took a few hours on Tax Day for John to finish counting all the money, and this left the other twenty-nine days in the month for paperwork. Not that there was much paperwork to do, mind you. There were no W-4’s or tax returns or anything else like that. John simply had a ledger in which he recorded who had paid their taxes and who hadn’t. The ledger was a perfectly boring green-bound book that he purchased, on the 10th of each month, at the local general store. Sometimes he bought a blue-bound book instead, just to make things interesting. But usually he bought the green one. He liked green.
In this green (or sometimes blue) ledger John recorded the names of everyone in town, and whether or not they had paid their taxes. He then added up the sum of everyone who had paid their taxes in a column he marked ‘Total.’ He spent 29 days out of the month doing this, mostly because he had little else to do. So he very carefully, very meticulously, and very boringly recorded every bit of information, being sure that each name lined up perfectly straight under the name above it, and very carefully counting and re-counting the numbers he had already counted before.
And now, in an attempt to show you just how boring this was, I shall show you an example from one of John’s ledgers (this example came out of an ultra-rare red-bound ledger I was lucky enough to find, what an exciting day that must have been for John!)
15th July Year xxxx
Adam Atkinson paid 10 shillings
Franklin Barnes paid 10 shillings
Geoffrey Bently paid 10 shillings
George Calloway paid 10 shillings
Etc, etc, etc. It was very boring. Then at the bottom of the last page of the book was a line that read “Total: 5620 shillings.” It was 5620 shillings because there were 562 families in the town of Wellington. Every few months or years when a new couple got married, or an old couple died, the number would change slightly. It would be a very exciting day for John when, sometime soon, James Finch and Mary Ottoway would be married, and he could write a new line: “Total: 5630 schillings.” He wasn’t particularly excited about the wedding itself, since no one had remembered to invite him.
By now you’re probably wondering when I shall get to the interesting part? Well it will be very soon. One must build the suspense in these things, you know. What kind of story would it be if I didn’t have you on the edge of your seat, wondering, “But what if Adam Atkinson didn’t pay his taxes. Oh, what an exciting day our hero John would have writing ‘Adam Atkinson paid 0 shillings.’ Then he would even get the excitement of reporting it to the Duke, calling the sheriff, and having Adam Atkinson thrown in shackles and imprisoned for tax evasion!” Have I gotten you that excited yet? I certainly hope not. This isn’t meant to be an exciting story. I told you, this is a perfectly ordinary, perfectly normal, perfectly boring story, and I won’t have any exciting adventures or dramatic plot twists spoiling it for me!
What’s that? I promised an interesting part about a prince? Oh very well, if you insist.
The exciting part did indeed happen one day while John the Accountant was in his office, recording in his green-bound ledger. He had just finished writing the line, “James Patterson paid 10 shillings,” when he looked up and noticed something outside his office window. At first it didn’t even matter what it was that was outside his window; simply the fact that there was something, anything besides the normal, ordinary, boring town he saw every day was reason for excitement. So John jumped up from his desk, knocking his ledger and pencils onto the floor dramatically (this was something he had practiced in case of just such an occasion, in the hopes that one day, something exciting would happen that would make him have to jump out from behind his desk, and he had wanted to make sure he would get it right). He then ran out the door (something he wasn’t used to doing, since his practice sessions never got that far) to see what all the commotion was about.
Outside, John saw what he took to be a Royal Carriage. It was very elaborately decorated in gold and silver, with silk curtains hanging in the windows, and some sort of royal insignia printed on the carriage doors. The driver wore expensive silk clothing, more stylish and fancy than the townsfolks’ best holiday clothes. John had never seen anyone, even the Duke, wearing such fancy clothing, and this was just the driver. Though it was nothing compared to what the lady inside the carriage was wearing, which was to say nothing of the lady herself. When she emerged, the townsfolk, who had gathered around with John to see the excitement unfold, all gasped and gaped in awe. Before them stood a beautiful Princess, dressed in a gorgeous silk gown, brocaded with silver and gemstones, and embroidered with golden roses on the sleeves and bodice. She wore a wealth of jewelry: gold rings and bracelets, bejeweled necklaces, and a diamond-studded tiara atop her strawberry blonde hair. She was a vision of wealth and beauty, and she had the people of the town enraptured by her loveliness.
The Princess looked around the gathered townsfolk with a critical eye, sizing them up, each and every one. When her gaze fell on John, he blushed, expecting her to simply move on to another. He knew there was nothing interesting about him for a Princess to want to look at. But, despite his ordinariness, the Princess’s gaze lingered. After a moment, John looked up and met her eyes, and was surprised to find her smiling. Smiling! What could it be, he pondered, that could make a Princess smile at him. He was nothing, nobody, just a boring accountant from Wellington. And yet she was still watching him, her eyes going over every boring part of him, her gaze drinking up his ordinariness as if she gained sustenance from his plainness. And now she was stepping towards him! The townsfolk were parting, making way for her as she walked, nay glided across the road to where John stood, dumbfounded. He was in shock; he didn’t know what to do. What if she talked to him? What would he say? What could he do?
A moment later the decision was taken from him, as the Princess took his hand and said, simply, “Come with me.” John the accountant nodded, but could find no words. The princess led him to her carriage and told him to get inside. He sat down on the cushioned seat, shaking nervously, his life flashing before his eyes. It only took a moment to flash, since nothing had really ever happened to him, until now, that is. Just as his mind was beginning to get a grasp on what was happening, the princess spoke again.
“What is your name?” she asked. He opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off, “It doesn’t matter. Probably something boring anyway. Like John. I always hated that name. Well whatever it is, I’m sure it simply won’t do. From now on I shall call you…. Ziegfried.” She pursed her lips, pondering the name for a moment. “Yes Ziegfried shall do quite nicely. A perfect name for a prince.”
“P-p-p-p…” John, or shall we say Ziegfried, stammered.
“Yes a prince,” the princess replied. “You are to be my husband. You see, my parents want me to marry some noble, like Duke Winchester.” She made an exasperated sound, showing her distaste for the very much un-liked Duke. “Such a boar of a man. Like all other nobles. No no, I decided that I would choose my own husband. Someone normal. Someone ordinary. Someone boring. Someone who would make my parents absolutely sick,” she giggled with a mischievous glee. “Just wait until they meet you! I couldn’t have found someone who would disappoint them more if I tried.”
John was feeling more than a bit uncomfortable now, and it showed. He was fidgeting, slumping back in his seat, and desperately trying to interpret everything that was going on. The princess, sensing his nervousness, reached forward to pat his knee reassuringly.
“Oh don’t worry, my dear Ziegfried,” she said. “It will be a wonderful life for you. No more boring little town. No more pointless mundane life. You’ll so enjoy being a prince. Trust me.” She grinned, a very pretty, very princess-like grin. John (or Ziegfried) tried to smile back, but instead he fainted.
And that is where our story comes to a close. The new Prince Ziegfried married the Princess, and began a new, exciting, wonderful life. He had money, glory, adventure, excitement, a beautiful wife, and a huge palace to live in. It was everything a man could ever ask for. And he loved it (once he got used to the name Ziegfried, that is).
As for the tales of his new life, stories of his adventures and royal escapades, tales of love and life and all kinds of exciting, interesting things like that… you won’t find those here. If you want excitement, go and read “Prince Ziegfried the Adventurer.” You won’t find that kind of excitement in this fairy tale, and no ‘Happily Ever After,’ either. As I told you, this is a perfectly normal, ordinary, boring story about an accountant named John. And I won’t have it bogged up with any excitement or adventure!