A flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. Two subgenres mashed up. Mine? Fairytale and parallel words. Sort of the princess and the pea across the worlds. Sometimes you really, really just want a good night’s rest.
I’ve been working on the studio so I did a quick round of audio for this story to test it out. (Check out the podcast for lots more audio!)
The Perfect Mattress
I woke up from another rotten night’s sleep and peeled apart the layers of reality. None of them looked all that different. They usually didn’t. The ones that changed everything slipped away from me pretty quick. I found one where it seemed like I’d gotten an extra few minutes of sleep and slipped into that reality.
I let the layers slip back into place and stretched. The mattress was fine, it was my fourth in the last year. I’d gotten really good at making sure the mattresses I selected had trial periods and good return policies.
In fact, I was pretty sure today was a day for returns. My phone reminder popped up. Sure enough. I could return this mattress today and go mattress shopping this afternoon. A new place, The King Of Mattresses had opened up, I figured I’d check it out.
One of the other versions of me might use the ability to jump to parallel worlds to win the lottery or grab power or become a celebrity. I just wanted a good night’s rest.
The King Of Mattresses went all out on their theme. The cement on the walk up to the door of the store was painted red and textured to look like a carpet. The pillars outside the standard strip mall were painted up to look like round towers.
Inside the store, I glanced around and peered through the options. An old man with a crown walked toward me, a girl and her mom bounced on a bed, an empty store, I picked the reality with the cute guy and a crown.
“I am the Prince of Mattresses, welcome to my castle.” He bowed in an obviously preplanned maneuver to keep the crown on his head. He winked and waved his arm around. “How can I assist you fair lady?”
“Nice speech.” I grinned. At least looking for mattresses here could be fun. “I need a mattress. One with a good return policy and a guaranteed good nights sleep.” Some places got suspicious when I said that, I was much better off just saying it up front. Good stores took it as a challenge. I hoped the prince would take it as a challenge.
“We can find you a mattress, have a guarantee and a return policy. What have you already tried?” He took and took a step toward me. He even smelled sexy. I definitely picked the right reality.
“Everything up to and including hammocks. Not good. Only room for one.”
He waved to a nearby bed. “Start here and tell me what you think.”
I flopped on the bed. It felt like I flopped onto the cement red carpet out front. “Too hard.” He offered me a hand up and I stood. He raised his eyebrows at me and then stepped away and pointed to another. I might as well have flopped through a bag of cotton candy. “No. Ugh. Way too soft.”
After eight flops I was tired. The prince had shown me the priciest model, the high-techiest model, the model absolutely everyone loved.
“I’m usually better at this. Usually, I can get it right in three tries.” He frowned and walked over to one near the back. He sat on the edge of it and I sat next to him.
“Don’t worry. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve never really gotten a good night’s rest.” I shrugged and flopped back. “This one feels like it has a boulder under it.” I shifted uncomfortably.
He seemed frustrated and got up and came over, waving me to stand. He hoisted the mattress up, clearly determined to prove I was a crazy person. I sighed. And then something golden glinted under the bed. I reached past him and grabbed it. “Not a boulder, but I doubt it belongs there.” It was an old-fashioned pocket watch.
He grabbed it from me. “Wait…please, wait here, this…” He nearly ran to the backroom, not even stopping when his crown flew off. I picked up the crown and set it on the bed next to me and flopped back down on it.
It wasn’t nearly so bad without the watch underneath it. It was actually quite nice. I glanced through my options. Most of them seemed about the same. I closed my eyes for just a moment.
I woke to a hand shaking my shoulder. An old man with glistening eyes. I sat up confused. Out of habit, I looked through the options of reality. In some, I was still asleep. I considered slipping into one of those. In one the prince was smugly asking me out. I decided to find out what the old man wanted.
“You found the pocket watch.” His voice was shakey. I sat up on the bed and he sat beside me. “It was my grandfather’s and I thought I’d lost it. I had lost it. It means everything to me.” He took my hands in his. I noticed the prince, hands shoved into his pockets and with a sort of sad smile on his face watching us.
“We have had so many people come through here, looking at mattresses, buying them, cleaning them. No one until you. You are truly a princess to have felt the watch, this I will never forget this moment. Anything. You can have anything, any mattress, anything. You’ve done an amazing thing today.” A couple tears fell down his face and he turned the pocket watch over and over. He finally stood and walked away, stopping to pat the younger man on the shoulder.
“My grandfather’s been looking for it since we opened. I swear I looked under every single mattress. That was really a miracle.” The young prince sat down close.
“This one. I think I take this one.” I laid back and he laid next to me. “I still get a guarantee though right?”