September 30, 2011

The Other Daughter, By Elizabeth Twist




Editor's Note: Elizabeth writes, "I am a fantasy and horror writer living in Hamilton, Ontario. My work has appeared in Escape Clause: A Speculative Fiction Annual, Misfit Magazine, and One Buck Horror. My online home is elizabethtwist.blogspot.com." 
I am the sister of many brothers. We move between the world above and the world below. We make and unmake things: rocks and sand; plants and trees; rivers and seas; even the animals and the fish and the birds, and the bodies of people, although not the part on the inside, which is a mystery to us. Most people don’t see us, or when they do, it’s as long shadows running through the grass or darting between the trees at twilight.


The mother saw me, though. She called me into the yard behind her house. She stroked my back and rubbed my ears and called me her daughter. She fed me warm, foamy milk from a clay bowl. There was a girl, her other daughter, who followed her sometimes, but she couldn’t see me.


My brothers told me stories about the dangers of taking food and drink from people. I believed the mother when she said she loved me, so I didn’t listen.


One day she came to our meeting place and she was different. Her bones creaked and her limbs trembled.


She said, “Little daughter, I need to beg a promise.”


I held very still to show my consent.


“I am dying. My husband will soon marry another. I need you to look after my other daughter.”


I agreed by sipping milk from the bowl.


Her hand gripped my neck so hard I could not move. She pierced her fingertip with a knife and drew something on my back, a spiral pattern. It burned me.


“I bind you to serve the daughter of my flesh,” the mother said. “That which she asks, you shall perform.”


The voices of my brothers cried out from the woods. I squirmed and hissed.


“Now now,” she said. “There’s no use making a fuss. You will never be free. Not unless a person makes a blood sacrifice for you. And who would do a thing like that?”


#


The other daughter came crying out into the yard, carrying a hazel twig in her hand.


“Mother,” she said, although the mother was long dead and buried, “make this tree grow so I know your blessings are upon me.” She stuck the twig in the ground.
I was amazed how silly she was. Who doesn’t know that to make a hazel tree you begin with the nut?


Then my limbs twisted and writhed, and my guts twitched and squeezed. The mark on my back burned.

I tried to flee, but the hazel twig caught me and drew me in. My feet stuck in the ground. The more I moved them, the more they became roots, thrusting down toward the centre of the earth. The more I waved my hands, the higher my branches lifted up toward the sky.

That was how I became a tree.

“Mother,” the other daughter sobbed, “I am so unhappy. My stepsisters and stepmother are so cruel.”

My heart sank. This girl, I feared, would never be satisfied. My work would never end.

#

The other daughter came crying to the base of the tree. Her fingers were covered with ashes.

“Mother, I must go to the festival at the castle, but my stepmother won’t let me until I pluck all the lentils from the fireplace. I can’t do it.”

I writhed and stretched and twisted, but a tree can’t pick lentils from a fireplace. I shivered and shook and trembled, and I popped out of the tree. Out of the air I wove the body of a white dove for myself.

“Little bird,” the other daughter said, “you can eat the bad lentils, but the good you must save.”

I flew into the kitchen. Seeing me picking at the fireplace, sparrows flew down to help me. Some of them ate too much ash, and dropped dead on the packed dirt floor of the kitchen. We that were left finished the task, to the other daughter’s delight.

I returned to the hazel tree to roost and weep.

#

The other daughter came crying to the base of the tree.

“I need a dress,” she moaned. “A fancy dress, and shoes to match, or else I can’t go to the festival.”

My body shivered and shook and trembled.

Out of the precious metals of the ground and the finest fibres of plants and the most delicate feathers of birds, I wove a dress and a pair of shoes. I popped out of the body of the dove and flattened and shivered and bent until I became the dress. My hands curled and detached and popped into the shoes. I stepped forward, walking the dress and the shoes toward the other daughter.

“Magic,” she squealed. She wrapped me around herself and slid her feet into my cupped hands. She ran off down the road, crushing my hands on the gravel with each step.

When we arrived at the castle, everyone stepped back to make room for the other daughter and me. Other ladies wore dresses that hung on them, but I shimmered and shifted with a life of my own.

Then he was standing in front of us. The man. He took us in his arms and spun us around.

“At last,” he whispered to the other daughter, “a magician whose skills match my own.”

“What?” she breathed.

He held us back from him. He looked at her, then down at me. His eyes narrowed.

“Never mind,” he said. He bent low to kiss her hand, and whispered to me, “How you were caught, I don’t know, but you deserve more than this. You could be a dragon, a mighty sword, the glove to my indomitable hand of power.”
This man was like the mother: he could see me. He wanted to enslave me. But that was not all. As he spoke, I felt how much bigger, how much more terrible I could be if I joined him. He wanted me to be a monster, one that might eat the whole world.  

I had to run.

I pulled one hand up, and then the other, lifting the other daughter’s feet. She toppled and fell. With twists and pulls of the fabric of the dress, I stood her up again and made her run out of the hall, down the great staircase, and all the way back home. Once she had cried herself to sleep, I crept out of her room and back to the woods.

#

The other daughter came crying to the edge of the woods.

“I need my dress,” she said. “It’s the second day of the festival.”

Reluctantly, I shuffled my hands forward so she could slip her feet into them. Reluctantly I allowed her to wrap me around herself.

As she crunched my hands into the gravel, I thought about her words. She had the dress, as she had asked. She hadn’t asked to see the man, or to attend the party.

I threw myself into the ditch, taking her with me. We came up covered in mud.

She struggled and fought and pulled me down the road. I threw us into the ditch again, and again. By the time we arrived at the castle, she was as muddy as a pig fresh from the sty after a heavy rain.

In the courtyard beyond the gates, I caught a glimpse of the man squinting at us. I pushed and twisted and made her hold up the palms of her hands as if she were a beggar.

One of the guards gave her a small loaf of bread. “Even the poor may enjoy the festival, my dear,” he said. “But you can’t go in. Wouldn’t do to have your kind at the party.”

She ran all the way home in shame and threw me in the garbage pile at the back of the house.

#

The other daughter came crying to the edge of the woods, passing by me as I lay on rotting vegetables and scraps.

“Please,” she said. “I need a better dress, the most beautiful imaginable, and better shoes. I need to dance with the Prince again. It’s the last night of the festival.”

I tumbled out of the old dress and into the woods, where I wove a dress of the early summer flowers, set with the gems of the earth, and shoes of spun gold. In this new guise I went to her.

When we arrived at the festival, the man was waiting.

“Dance with me,” he said. “You are more beautiful than ever tonight.”

He spoke those words to me.

When the music ended, he bowed. The other daughter curtsied. My duty fulfilled, I turned and ran, taking her with me.

I stumbled on the steps. They were sticky. I raised one shoe up, drawing streams of pitch. I kept running, but one of the shoes stayed put, my hand lost to me, although I could still feel it.

I limped all the way home. When I reached the woods I tore myself from the other daughter’s body, and my brothers hurried to hide me under layers of dirt and leaves. With my hand still at the castle, I was in two places at once: safe in hiding, and sitting in the Prince’s hand far away in the castle.

“We must find the rest of you,” he said.

#

The other daughter came crying to the edge of the woods.

“I need my dress back,” she said. “The Prince is coming and he won’t recognize me if I don’t have it.”

My brothers sent birds to lead her to the place where they’d hidden me. I wrapped myself around her and stuffed my sleeve into her mouth so no one could hear her screams.

The man approached the door of the house with my missing hand.

Inside, a woman – the other mother – held me and squinted at me. Two younger women – the stepsisters – stood behind her.

“Whoever can prove she owns the shoe will be my bride,” said the man. “Of course, I would like her to produce the other shoe and the dress that matches it.”

There was whispering and shuffling, and the women took the shoe outside, into the yard by the garbage pile.

A massive foot descended on me and tried to squeeze into me. I thought my hand would rip apart. The other mother held a knife.

“Just let me take the toe,” she said. “You’ll have no need for walking when you are Queen.”

I thought she meant to cut me, but instead the shoe filled with blood, and the foot slid into me.

Sweet blood. It poured and gushed, a rich warm balm. As it touched me, I stretched and sighed. I was no longer bound. I slipped underground, into the place the blood had soaked. I took little sips of it, and little bites of earth. It was delicious.

From the woods I heard my brother’s voices. I thought they were singing to me in celebration. They were not.

The blood filled me with a rhythm of its own. That rhythm grew louder in my ears, and I found that I was stuck.

I had a heart, a tiny, beating sack of clay and blood. The beginning of a body.

Fresh blood fell on me – the blood of the second stepsister. My pulse enriched and thickened. I pulled the toe of the first stepsister and the heel of the second down into the earth with me, and began to build myself in a new way.

My brothers tell me the other daughter married the man before he discovered that her fancy dress and the other shoe were empty. He accuses her of hiding me every day.

I am flesh. At first I didn’t understand, but now I know that the stepsisters were unwilling to sacrifice their blood, and that made another kind of trap. My brothers are bringing me parts for a body. Feathers and bones, bark and stones, and four fresh human eyes. They will not tell me where they get the parts, but I can see in all directions now. 


Image by Evelyn P. DeMorgan.

12 comments

  1. oooh! I really like this one! The language is beautiful and the twists on the old tale are inventive and intriguing.

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  2. This was lovely. Taking inspiration from the original but the author made the story her own. Bravo.

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  3. This is one of the most original spin on the fairy tale I've ever read! I am in awe of the fact that the horror of it parallels and then surpasses the original. A truly excellent take!

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  4. Excellent. The fairy godmother--what a take!

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  5. This story is a wonderful perspective of another daughter. I think this is very creative. I love that you gave great detail about how she became a tree. It tyes in so well with the how Cinderella received her items for the royal ball. I could not stop reading on. I think that you gave wonderful perspectives on Cinderella, her mother, and the other daughter. It really made things interesting for me. I love reading stories that have a different way to look at things. You made this story your own and it is very unique. Since there is originally two step daughters in the story I thought that adding a secret daughter to the mix was just excellent. Simply love it! Keep up the good work!

    Hannah R.

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  6. Self-sacrifice for someone you don’t even know is very selfless. The spirit had a lot of stock in the woman, thinking that she loved her. I don’t think that I really liked this story. It was a very morbid and weird Cinderella-ish story. The spirit played part of the slave and did whatever the other daughter wanted. Much like Cinderella doing what her step-mother wanted. Knowing that the only way the spirit could be free was self-sacrifice, I find it funny that the other daughter wanted so much to get her man that she accidently cut off her own toe to fit into the outfit again. Although, I’d like to know why she needed to rebuild a body out of random things. The curse was to be lifted if blood was shed in her behalf. But why isn’t she free? Back to being another daughter. Does that make her the other daughter now?

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  7. Wow! This is dark, intriguing, and very cool! I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Molly G.
    When I first began to read the story I was quite confused. The way the characters are addressed as the other daughter and the mother talked to the girl as if she was not her own daughter. I am still unsure if the girl that died was a daughter of the deceased mother. Once the mother died and the girl turned in the hazel tree I realized that it was of a different perspective of Cinderella. I liked that the girl was the reason the daughter received help with the lentils and the beautiful clothes. This story gave the original Cinderella more clarity although this is not the actual truth. I like to think that it was another "human" helping Cinderella. It is sad that in the story the daughter/"Cinderella" and the mother are actually almost as evil as the stepdaughters and stepmother are. The story has amazing clarity and brings a new interest to the original tale.

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  9. At first, this story is somewhat confusing. Eventually it appears that the being that is talked about is a being of pure magic. I could almost imagine wisps and currents forming around me; unseen and undetected as I read this story. It is only after delving further into the story that one recognizes the elements of "Cinderella". Although the true nature of this being remains a mystery even to the very end, one cannot help but be fascinated by this new twist on an old classic. I especially loved the depiction of the prince. He goes from being a somewhat shallow figure in the original story, to someone who recognizes power no matter how it is hidden. This magical being is a slave. Tied by rules of magic we could not comprehend. The attempts that the being makes to avoid the traps of the prince heightens the overall mood of foreboding. The author does an excellent job making us feel the pain, frustration, and despair of this spirit creature. At the end, we can only attempt to envision what this creature finally becomes. What twisted abomination finally emerges?

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  10. This is a really sad twist on the Cinderella story, and it’s fresh enough to be engrossing. By the end, I had forgotten the stepsisters maiming their feet. What’s interesting and pretty horrifying is the two-facedness of the mother. The narrator believes beyond the shadow of a doubt (no pun intended?) that the mother loves her, but she dooms her to a life of slavery and pain for the sake of Cinderella. It’s almost as if the mother saw the narrator and made her believe she cared in order to do this from the beginning. No one here comes off as purely sympathetic; Cinderella is needy and heedless of the cost of her wishes (those poor sparrows!), the Prince is really creepy, entertaining Cinderella to get a hold of her dress. And in the end, the narrator is some sort of eldritch abomination in the woods, and it’s almost a relief. It’s beautifully written and full of pathos, and very somber. Well done!

    Danielle L.

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  11. This was a spin on the Cinderella tale that I wasn’t expecting. When I read the title I was thinking that maybe this was going to be from a step-daughters view. Very imaginative way of depicting the Fairy Godmother character. It isn’t the way the majority of people would think of a fairy godmother – being conditioned as we are to the Disney versions of these tales.

    The back story at the beginning fascinated me. And even though it was short and simple it brought forth images of wispy beings making and unmaking the world as Twist describes it. My imagining of the sister is one who is both beautiful and plain at the same time, mother earth herself.

    I didn’t like the ending, much as I don’t like the ending of a lot of stories and books that I read. But alas I am not the author of this tale and must accept what is given to me. I want life to be fair, but life isn’t fair and sometimes things don’t turn out the way we want them to. I gave a silent cheer when the sister was freed from her bondage by the step-mother cutting of pieces of her daughter’s feet; and then felt my face twist into a scowl as I read that the sister was not completely freed.

    Could there be a continuation to this tale? Will we see this sister again once her brothers have gathered up enough pieces for her to have a complete body?

    - Freyja of Sessrumnir

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  12. How creepy! This story has got to be about Cinderella! The evil step mother and two step sisters, the need for a dress and shoes for a festival to get the attention of a prince and leaving a shoe at the ball. It all adds up! The prince is definitely seen in a different light in this story, the reader is meant to see him having bad intentions. In some versions of Cinderella it is a tree that grants her wishes. The creature in this story was the tree for a while and had to serve her every wish. This story would explain where the magic came from and why it had to serve Cinderella. Through the story we feel bad for this magical being and can only wonder what kind of disfigured abomination the poor creature will become. We also realize how needy and dependent Cinderella is. Both versions differ from each other in some ways but overall I enjoyed this twisted Cinderella.
    Paige F.

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