September 30, 2011

Welcome To The Cinderella Issue


At last! We have a collection of stories and poems exploring the story of the girl with the glass slippers from the mother's, the father's, the rat's -- nearly any character's point of view in the "Cinderella" canon.
As always, EC is proud to bring a diverse group of stories and poems from writers in the US as well as other countries.

We have 11 works this issue, all of which are posted below, on this page. Enjoy!

Kate Wolford, Editor

Image by Eleanor Abbott

Contents

Royal Ball

Glass That Shaped the World

Ethereal

Gingerella and the Ghastly Slipper

The Fairy Godmother's Trial

Her Dark Materials

M'Lady

The Other Daughter

Cinderella: A Rat to Riches Story

Advice From the Fairy Godmother's Glassblower

Glass That Shaped The World, By Jazz Sexton

Editor's Note: Jazz Sexton holds a BA in Fiction and a Certificate in Children's Literature from the University of Pittsburgh. She gobbles up fairy tales like a wicked witch gobbles up children, and in the meantime she blogs at http://jazzsexton.blogspot.com/.


To My Daughter Who is Lost to Me,

Though you are born to your father’s wealth, you are also born to my spirit. In the farthest days when the world had no light and fae walked among humans, a woman of my clan inhaled the east wind. When she released the breath, the heat in her cheeks went with it to the east, and so great was her passion for light that her breath formed the sun. From the sun’s heat, she made the liquid glass of the ocean, and from that glass she made a pair of shoes. Long and slender, the glass wrapped around her feet as though it were her skin, but so coveted were they that she gave them to a fae woman whom promised to keep the shoes safe until a woman of the glassmaker clan needed them again.

And so this fae visits me in my dreams, cloaked in robes like flames, telling me what will become of you after I die in this bed. Yours is not a happy adolescence—you will weep while rats huddle at the backs of your knees—but you will learn, and you will be wise. Those who torment and force you beside the fireplace while spitting names and curses upon you, do not know your worth or the worth of any woman

A woman’s worth is not how many times she may fall in love. A woman’s worth is not how many times she may birth sons. Her worth is in the weight and shaking of her elbow joints she throws on top of the dough she beats at dawn while her household still sleeps. It is the beads of sweat on her upper lip while she cuts heads of lettuce from her garden. Her worth is in her muscles, strong and strained from her long days at the plow. You are a provider, a cultivator of the earth. Your worth is not only in beauty. It is also in your ability to survive, and sustain even those whom hate you.

My girl of ash and cinders, they treat you this way because they fear your power. You are fire they cannot extinguish, glass they cannot shatter. Wear the glass that shaped the world, and mold your life into your own.

Love,

Mother

Image by Arild Rosencrantz.

Royal Ball? Get Home Before Midnight or Magic Happens, By John Patrick Pazdziora


Editor's Note: John Patrick Pazdziora (PGDip, Belfast Bible College) is a freelance writer and a doctoral candidate at the University of St Andrews, studying children's literature and fairy tale. He occasionally lives online at The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, but usually lives in Scotland, with his wife and daughter.

I like to think I enjoy these falderal and frippery affairs as much as the next chap, but I’m dashed if I ever throw a Royal Ball again! I mean to say, well, dash it, I say! Can’t a fellow keep his own head together, what?

Sorry to seem flustered, you know, but it was the most extraordinary thing. The king my father, and the queen my mother as well, they told me this was the sort of thing that might happen. I suppose I ought to have listened but they didn’t come right out and say it. I mean, they didn’t say, 'Percy, my royal boy, you’ll only get yourself in a dash of bother!'

What they did say wasn’t too helpful. I went to the king, you know, with this spiffy idea for a Royal Ball. ‘I say, old bean,’ I said. ‘Royal Ball, eh what?’


‘Royal Ball,’ said my father. ‘Like the time your mother and I roasted your dear grandmother alive, you mean?’

‘Not like that really,’ I said. ‘Nothing half so old-fashioned. I mean a gala to-do with lights and paper lanterns and punch and paper lanterns and lights, you know. And the band can play toodle oodle and rumpty pom, and I can jolly well dance all night and still dance some more, with half the gals of the kingdom. If music be the food of love, well, might as well have a jolly lot of the toodle oodles, what?”

My father was writing death warrants in the Green Room. He set down his black pen and stared at me in that way he has, over his glasses, like he’s measuring you for a coffin, trying to see if he can cram you all in at one go or needs to chop you up a bit.

‘More cold showers, that’s what the boy needs,’ he barked. ‘Percy! Three brisk runs round the castle! Lively now!’

After I ran round the castle I went to see the queen my mother. She was in the Mirror Room, eating chocolates and listening to the troubadour sing ‘The Ballad of Her Passionate Heart’, I think it was.

‘I say, mum,’ I said. ‘Music being the food of love, I think we should cry haldo and let slip the dogs of it, what? Toodle oodle and rompedy pum and all that, you know.’

The thing about the Mirror Room is that you’re always looking over your own shoulder. And what isn’t looking over your shoulder is either a violently fluffy cushion or a small, cruel dog inclined to bite. It’s hard to tell which is which, at first.

Mother popped a chocolate in her mouth and giggled. ‘Percy! You’re not in love, are you?’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘not yet. That’s why I thought we’d have some music to feed the jolly dogs of it, you know.’

‘Oh you silly boy, why don’t you go on a quest?’ said Mum, looking at herself looking at herself looking at me looking at her looking at her looking at me. ‘That’s what your father did, you know, and look what it got him.’

‘Yes, but it’s the wrong weather for quests.’

Mother sighed, and looked at her looking at her at me at her. ‘You really are very silly, Percy. You know what your father will say when he hears about this? More cold showers, my boy, harrumph! That’s what he’ll say. Three times round the castle!’

‘Well, yes,’ I said. ‘I know.’

‘You ought to go on a quest,’ said my mother, smiling from every corner of the room at once. ‘Magic’s more manageable on a quest. You try to bring it in here and heaven knows what will happen! Bell tolls one and poof! You turn into a pumpkin!’

Well. They said all that, and I may have had to run around the castle a few times more, but the thing is when you’re an only prince they can’t just go lopping off your head if they don’t like you. It’s a dynasty thing. So I said, why not have a ball, and I said it until they said, oh anything to make him shut up, and so that’s what happened.

It was a simply spiffy affair. We had the whole Great Hall decked out in paper lanterns. And crepe, or taupe, or that crinkly papery stuff, over the tapestries of Great Uncle Rupert dismembering those Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace died pretty awfully. We put the band up in the balcony, and they played rumpty pom and toodle oodle, and there really were a lot of paper lanterns.

I wore this gold thing, you know, with silk round the collars, since it matched my hair and looked smart. Had a time of it, too, walking around and looking at all the ladies looking at me. I danced with one girl for a toodle, and another for an oodle, and then sat out for the rompty poms since I was getting pretty bored by then.

That’s when she came in.

Enchanting creature in a blue gown that made me knock the Prosecco into the punch. Simply spiffy girl, walking in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and an awful lot of stars and sequins.

‘The Princess Nobody from Nowhere!’ shouted the herald.

‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Gosh awfully,’ I said. ‘I mean to say. Er.’ That didn’t sound quite right, hardly the stuff of thoughts supremely sweet expressing how topping their dwelling place was, especially by comparison. So I tried again. ‘I say, I mean. Aren’t you a super girl!’

‘I don’t know,’ said Princess Nobody. ‘I guess so.’

We danced. Did I mention she had marmalade coloured hair? Like some really amazing cat. And very green eyes. The band played toodle pom and romptey oodle, and I even got a chance to tell her that marvellous story about old Biffy and the man from Harrogate before she said she had to go.

‘Go?’ I said. ‘But you can’t go yet! It’s only half-eleven,! Hardly touched the punch, what?’

‘I’m so sorry,’ said Princess Nobody, ‘but I must go soon.’ She smiled, and she could have sent me running through seven miles of steel thistles with that smile. ‘I don’t want to turn into a pumpkin, you know?’

‘Hang on, that’s me,’ I said, following her out the hall and down the stairs. ‘I’m supposed to turn into a pumpkin if there’s some magic gone wrong, right? I say—I say, do you think we could meet up for tea? I mean, dash it I say!’

She got into the coach and swirled away, and there I was holding her programme and not knowing a thing about this marvellous girl.

I moped for a week before father gave in.

‘In my day we didn’t shilly-shally about,’ he barked. ‘Went out questin’. Found a fellbeast and gave it a good whack, took his dinner of maiden for ourselves. That’s the ticket, young pup me lad!’ He tucked his hands under his coattails the way he does, gave me that look and puffed through his whiskers. ‘You see this mysterious damozel at this hullaballoo tonight,’ he said, ‘you tell her to set you a quest. Tear some fool in half, or burn an old witch, or roll a judge down a hill covered in sharp stones in a barrel full of nails and poisonous snakes into a pool of boiling lead. Something sensible and princely like that.’

The band wasn’t quite as good that night. They oodled when they should have pommed and toodled when a rumptedy would have done, but I didn’t mind that a bit when that spiffy Princess Nobody breezed through the door. I’d been trying to think of a quest, and I’d thought up a pretty good one, but it went clean out of my head when she came in and smiled at me, her silver dress out-braving all the pride of the fields sort of thing.

‘Look here,’ I said, as we swirled round as best we could to the romptey oodle and the toodle pom. ‘How about a quest?’

‘Why, Percy,’ she said, ‘what are you suggesting?’

‘Well, dash it, you know,’ I said. ‘Quests. Dragons, giants, old men in barrels of snakes, what. Should we have one?’

The clock struck quarter to twelve and she disentangled herself with another smile. I would have run up a mountain of glass for that smile. ‘I must be away,’ she said, ‘or there’ll be one too many pumpkins in the world.’

‘I’ll find a pumpkin for you,’ I said. ‘We’ll hire pumpkin eaters to entertain you at court. I’ll got on a quest to find the biggest, orangiest, superest pumpkin you could—Princess Nobody! What’s your name where do you live can I call you sometime—?’

Away goes the carriage again. I sat on the steps and didn’t say another word for anybody.

Two weeks this time and mother finds me sulking in the Royal Botanical Gardens.

‘I’ve got it all figured out, Percy dah-ling,’ she says. ‘Oh, it’s just the sort of thing that happened in the “Lay of His Mysterious Madame”! She’s not really a princess at all! I’ll bet she’s just one of these horrid common girls with a fairy godmother! And if she stays till midnight her carriage turns back into a pumpkin and her dress turns into rags and tatters and the horrible truth comes out at last and she bursts into tears and swoons fainting onto your noble bosom and when she wakes up you—Percy? What are you doing?’

‘I’m sketching,’ I said.

‘Yes dear,’ said my mother. ‘So what you do is, keep her at the palace until the clock strikes twelve, and then what’s pumpkins is pumpkins, what’s rags is rags, and what’s a beautiful girl really will still be a beautiful girl then, and then you—what are you sketching, dear?’

‘A gladiola,’ I said. ‘There are forty-seven different varieties of gladioli in the habitable hemispheres, and I think I’ll start a collection.’

‘But Percy,’ said my mother, ‘whatever for?’

She had me there. I packed up my sketchbook and crept out of the Gardens. It wouldn’t have been much of a quest, anyway.

The next night we did away with paper lanterns and put up chandeliers. The band played tirra tirra tum de dum something dum da te deedle tum thingy—you know the one I mean. And in swept the Princess Nobody from Nowhere in a dress of pure spun gold, and a radiant smile, as if all the world and love were young and hadn’t a thing to bother about.

‘I say, see here,’ I said, as we whirled around to the tooraloo, ‘I’m not, you know, class conscious sort of thing. So it doesn’t really matter, you know. About us.’

‘About us?’ she said. ‘That I’m a princess and you’re a prince?’

‘Well, you know, dash it,’ I said. ‘If the shoe fits, you know, you jolly well ought to wear it!’

‘Really, I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said the Princess, smiling a smile that would have made me sing songs in hell for her, despite avalanche or roadblock. ‘Now I really must go or I shall turn into a pumpkin.’

‘Stop a bit!’ I said. ‘I mean, dash it. It’s a deuced thing, but I can’t remember your name. I mean—look here!’ I shoved my sketchbook at her. She hesitated, took it. ‘There are forty-seven kinds of gladioli, you know. We could collect them together, what?’

‘Well,’ she said, ‘I do like gardens, but really—’

‘I’m an only prince, you know,’ I said. ‘I can marry who I want, whether they’re a Princess or—or—or not. I mean to say, well, dash it, I say!’

‘Well,’ said the Princess, ‘It’s been lovely, but I—’

The clock struck twelve. The band blared toodely pow. I caught the princess in my arms and—

And I’m dashed if she didn’t turn into a pumpkin!

Image by Frank C. Cowper.

Ethereal, By Melinda Brasher

Editor's Note: Melinda Brasher is currently battling the sun in Arizona, though she much prefers finding literary inspiration hiking in cool European mountains or watching perfect snowflakes melt on her gloves.  Explore www.melindabrasher.com, her blog for people who like to escape the mundane though travel, reading, and writing. 


I never thought too much about death when I was alive.  After my beautiful wife died, I imagined her in a garden somewhere, surrounded by fiery blood roses.  That's what I told little Cynthia:  Mama's among the flowers now.  Maybe that's why she never cared for them.

I didn't think much about death because a trade empire gives a man no time for frivolities.  Besides, I never fell sick a day in my life.  Not until I died, of course.

I remember those first disbelieving days in dream-like snatches:  a goose my graceful new wife, Violet, reprimanded the cook for over-cooking, her words sharpened by grief; little Cynthia crying in the garden, fingers red with the pricks of roses she'd gathered; Violet's daughters laughing in their room over piles of silk and satin.

"Violet, love," I pleaded into my wife's thick hair, as she sat at her dressing table painting her lips.  I tried to touch her pale skin, but my fingers felt nothing, as if she were made of moonlight.      

#

Time passes strangely when you're dead.  It seemed so short a time they wore black.  Then one day I came upon Cynthia.  When had she turned into a woman?  Her hair fell in tangles down her back, almost to the strings of the apron tied around her waist.  Why would my Cynthi wear an apron? 

Astonished, I watched her clean the fireplace.  Ash poofed into the room and she coughed.

"You've dirtied the floor, cinder-face," one of Violet's daughters laughed from the doorway.  She'd grown too, but not into the beauty my Cynthi had.  "Clean it up."
    
"Yes, Philippa."  Cynthia picked up the broom without even a sigh and swept up the ash.

"When you're done there, I have a ruff that needs mending," Clarisse demanded, before they flounced off. 

"Cynthia, what are you doing?" I asked.  "Where are the servants?"

She only began to hum, a lullaby her mother used to sing her to sleep with.

#

I needed answers.  When I finally found Violet, elegant as always, she was speaking with the cook.  "Tell that ungrateful girl she shall have no supper until she's finished her chores."

"But My Lady, she works all day.  'Twasn't her fault the laundry piled so high today.  Surely the master wouldn't have wanted his daughter to go hungry."

"You dare presume to know the thoughts of my useless dead husband?"  Violet demanded, in a voice that made the cook tremble.  "Do you value your position here?"

"Of course, My Lady."

"Then keep your uneducated notions to yourself.  That girl needs to learn the benefit of hard work.  Her father spoiled her.  Now she'll earn her keep like anyone else."

#

Betrayal hurts, even when you're dead.  For long black moments—or days maybe—I knew nothing but the echoes of her words.  How could I have loved her? 

Never had I washed a garment, or scrubbed a floor, but I was no stranger to hard work.  Since my death I had done nothing but wander aimlessly, unable to speak to the living, rarely even able to touch the fine carved furniture and marble statues my wealth had bought.  I'd banged into a new table once, however, a ghastly thing Violet must have acquired after my death, so I knew I could manipulate the world I was no longer part of.

Now I practiced, while I watched Cynthi work her stoic way through each day.  I eventually learned to focus my concentration until I could touch the objects around me.  If I exerted too much pressure, I lost my grip.  Clothespins proved a fiendish obstacle, but once the linen came off the line, I could fold it, every day with more precision.  I learned to lay fires and wash pots.  Tedious, all of it, but the first time Cynthi discovered one of her endless tasks done for her, the happy surprise on her face paid me back hundredfold.  She began to speak of me as her fairy godmother.  I only wished I could do more. 

The prince's ball was the answer.  I knew it the moment I heard the cook gossiping about it with the gardener.  Some young man would fall in love with my gentle, lovely daughter, and take her away.

"Mark my words," the cook said, "Mistress Philippa and Mistress Clarisse will try to outshine each other, and Lady Violet will pretend she's seventeen and try to catch the prince's eye herself."
        
"Aye," said the gardener.  "And they'll use the master's gold to do it."

"Lady Violet's gold now," scowled the cook.  "And will she buy Mistress Cynthia so much as a clean petticoat?  No." 

#

"The invitation says 'all eligible young ladies,'" Cynthi said sweetly, but I heard the steel in her voice and loved her all the more. 

"'Eligible' hardly includes cinder girls," Clarisse said, with a disdainful survey of Cynthi's patched gown.

"Father was well-respected.  I—"

"You're father's dead," Violet said, "and with him his business, his income, his status.  Royal ball?  Not for you."

But Cynthi began sewing herself a gown, pieced together from silken scraps discarded by her step-sisters, and bits of old sheets from the storeroom.  Late into the nights she toiled, pouring her heart into that gown.  I worked to exhaustion, just to give her time for her one labor of joy.

The night of the ball she looked as beautiful as her mother once had. 

"Foolish child," Violet exclaimed, the moment Cynthi went downstairs.  "You look like a street urchin.  You can't wear rags to a ball."  She grabbed at the frilled neckline and ripped, so hard Cynthi stumbled.  The gown's ancient cloth tore, forking like lightening past her waist.  Violet grabbed her wrist and flung her into the cloakroom, then with the help of her giggling daughters, pushed a moaning, scraping cabinet in front of the door.  "Come girls, let's find us a prince."   

Cynthi pounded on the wood while I shoved in vain at the cabinet, falling through each time I strained too hard. 

"Hold on," I called, but she couldn't hear.

I darted to the kitchens, where the cook was still cleaning. 

I grabbed at her sleeve, but couldn't catch it.  Clutched ineffectually at her hair.  I scanned the room.  A kettle.  Carefully I took hold of it and waved it in front of her face. 

She screamed. 

I poured the hot water in a thin stream onto the floor, drawing one letter, then another.  "H-E-L-P." 

Her eyes popped open wide.  "Who's there?"

Things went fuzzy.  Such precision, so close to a living being, took too much concentration.  The kettle dropped from my hands and burst open on the floor. 

She screamed again and shot out the door and up the stairs. 

I dragged myself after her.  She'd heard Cynthi's screams, and was straining to push aside the cabinet.  I took hold of the other end and pulled.  Together, we managed it.  The cook wrapped Cynthi in her arms. "Hush, dear."

"The ball," Cynthi wept.  "I only wanted this one beautiful thing.  Fairy Godmother?  Please help me."

I hurried to the basement.  There, in a long-forgotten crate, I found it:  the ball gown Cynthi's sweet mother had worn the day we met.  I carried it upstairs and lay it carefully on the bench, then retreated into the darkness.

#

Cynthi's laughter brought me back to her world.  "Candles and crystal and fountains of wine," she sang to the cat, as she whirled with him in her arms. "I danced and danced."  Her face glowed in the firelight.  I'd made her happy.  If just for a moment.

Her joy crumbled as the door slammed.  "Wicked girl," her step-mother shrilled.  "The prince was smitten with my Clarisse until you ensnared him with your outdated rags and your artful ways and your tiny slippered feet."

"But—"

"Enough!"  Violet's hands closed around Cynthi's neck.  "You will learn your place."  Cynthi struggled, her hands ripping at the vice on her throat, but Violet's rage knew no weakness, and Cynthi, despite her work-hardened muscles, couldn't loose the deadly grip.  I flung myself at the monster I'd married, but my hands slid right through her.  The living stir up too much energy.  I couldn't take hold of anything, not even the heavy silver candlestick I'd once paid so much for.  I moved as far as I could from their struggle and finally caught hold of a chair.  I flung it across the room, to crash at Violet's feet.  She startled.  Cynthi wrested herself free and shoved her step-mother away.  

"I tasted life out there tonight," Cynthi said, her voice raw but exultant.  "That is my place."  Then she ran out into the world.

#

I emerge so rarely anymore from the mists of death.  Cynthi's bright-eyed little boy smiles at me as if he can see me, and today, as she told him the story of her fairy godmother, I put my lips to her ethereal forehead and murmured my goodbyes.

Image by Edward Burne-Jones.

Gingerella and the Ghastly Slipper, By Kurt Newton

Editor's Note: Kurt Newton writes, "My fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Space & Time, Dark Discoveries and Shroud.  I live in Connecticut."

Gingerella was born the child of Gypsies.  Her mother and father were always away in town, helping the locals part with their money, leaving little Gingerella in the leathery hands and beetly eyes of Grandma Vaida.  As a child, Gingerella spent many a day playing alone among the weeping willow trees that tended to crowd around the riverbanks like her people.  The other children didn't like to play with her, for Gingerella was born with a club foot and was forced to wear a boot made of deer hide, which made running difficult, and swimming impossible.  When Gingerella wasn't playing by the river, she clambered close to Grandma Vaida and watched her mix her potions and practice her spells.

Grandma Vaida didn't have much use for Gingerella when she was a child, and had even less use for her when she grew into a young woman.  Chores were a chore for Gingerella with the constant scrape and drag of her club foot.  She spilled things and dropped things and sometimes fell altogether, her face hitting the dirt.  Grandma Vaida would merely tsk, her eyes to the heavens, her head shaking, as if God was trying her patience.  "Poor Gingerella," Grandma Vaida would say, "with your looks and that foot, you better hope you find a blind man to marry you."  Then she would cackle.  After all, it was commonly known that if a Gypsy girl was ugly she better know how to cook or sing or dance to attract a man.  But Gingerella had none of these qualities.  And her two cousins, Harlotta and Petrushka, made sure to remind her of that every chance they got.

One day, while her cousins were primping and prettying, trying on skirts and scarves and high-heeled dancing shoes, and applying makeup and jewelry in preparation for a night on the town, Gingerella went down and sat by the riverbank and daydreamed.  She took off her deerskin boot and soaked her feet in the cool water.  Fish came and nibbled on her toes.  She didn't mind.  "Take it," she told the fish, referring to her club foot.  "Take as much as you want."  She kicked at the fish when they refused to eat her foot.  She started to cry then, her tears falling like tiny raindrops into the water.  "I wish I were dead," she said, an ache in heart as big as her foot.   Suddenly, the river water nearby began to bubble, as if something were surfacing to take a breath.  Gingerella had only time enough to pull her knees up to her chest before a creature that looked a giant ugly frog rose up out of the muck.

"I heard what you said," the giant ugly frog croaked.

"Who are you?" asked Gingerella.

"I'm Phibs, your wishing toad."  The toad winked.  "You name it and it will be done.  But three wishes only."

Gingerella looked over her shoulder, at the collection of tents and wagons that made up the Gypsy camp.  Her cousins Harlotta and Petrushka were getting ready to leave, taking practice twirls in their red skirts and high-heeled boots.

"I wish my cousins could know what is to be like me."

Phibs eyed the two young women in the distance.  "Which one?  It can only be one."

Gingerella thought long and hard about which cousin was meaner, though both were pretty mean.  "Petrushka," she said at last, for no other reason than Petrushka had once called her a "useless freak."

Phibs blinked twice.  "It is done!"

Gingerella stared after her cousins, who stepped up onto a horse drawn wagon laughing.  They were then swept away toward town.  "But she's laughing."

Phibs smiled.  "Midnight, my dear.  Well, gotta go..."

"But wait!  How will I know?" said Gingerella, her face wearing the worry of someone who had just put something into motion that perhaps she shouldn't have.

"Oh, you'll know," said Phibs before sinking out of sight.

That night Gingerella lay in bed wondering what was going to happen to Petrushka.  She wanted to stay awake until Petrushka returned but soon fell off to sleep.  Later that night, in the middle of a dream a strange sensation occurred down by her feet, but Gingerella didn't wake until morning when her Grandma Vaida roused her with her bony fingers.

"Wake up, you!  What have you done?"

Grandma Vaida's eyes were especially beetly this morning, but her fingers shook.  She appeared afraid.

"I don't know what you mean," said Gingerella.  "What is it that has happened?"

Grandma Vaida eyed her.  Then she pulled off the covers on Gingerella's bed revealing her feet.  Grandma Vaida appeared disappointed.

"Do you always sleep with your boot on?"

Gingerella looked down.  The boot was there on her club foot.  She must have forgotten to take it off before bed.

"I guess I forgot."  It was then Gingerella heard crying outside the tent.

"Your cousin Petrushka is dead.  Harlotta says she was dancing on the balcony of a rich man's home when the clock struck twelve and she fell.  She screamed something about her foot, right before she stumbled backward over the railing onto the cobblestones below."  Grandma Vaida shed a tear.  "Such a beautiful girl."  She got up then and left Gingerella's bedside.

Gingerella didn't know what to think.  She stared at her boot and noticed that it looked as if someone else had tied the laces.

Later that day she went down by the river and called for Phibs to appear.  The wishing toad surfaced as before.

"What is it now?" the ugly frog croaked.

"She's dead.  You didn't say the boot was going to hurt her."

"Accidents will happen."

"I wanted her to feel what it was like to be me."

"And, if I recall, you said 'I wish I was dead.'"

"But that was before."

Phibs shrugged, his tiny shoulders jumping slightly beneath his thin ugly skin.

"Now what do I do?"

"You can wish again."  The words left Phibs' mouth more like a question than an answer.


Gingerella thought for a moment.  The wishing toad's offer was tempting.  At last, Gingerella thought she had the answer.  She said, "I wish Petrushka was still alive."

Phibs shook his head.  "In order for one person to come back from the dead, another person has to die.  I'm sorry."

Gingerella thought about all the bad things Grandma Vaida had said to her over the years, mocking her, making her the butt of many a joke for her cousins to laugh at and imitate.  Gingerella hurried to speak what was on her mind before she changed it.

"I wish Grandma Vaida were dead instead of Petrushka."

Phibs blinked twice.  "It is done!"

Gingerella was stunned at what she had just wished for.  She watched Phibs sink back into the river.

"Midnight," the ugly frog gurgled, leaving a circle of bubbles behind.

That night, Gingerella was able to stay awake.  She left her boot on where she could see it.  Moments before midnight she felt her boot begin to squirm.  She pulled back the covers and watched, under the moonlight, as the laces unlaced and the boot slipped off her club foot and dropped to the floor.  She heard it thump off into the night until it was quiet once again.  At one point she thought she had dreamed what had just happened, but that thought was suddenly made real when an ungodly shriek shattered the midnight silence.  Gingerella stayed in her tent, unable to move.  She heard the voices of her aunts and uncles.  Then more screams filled the night.  She waited, watching the dark at the foot of her tent.  She heard a soft rustle and lay there shaking as the boot climbed back up onto the bed and slipped onto her foot.

She hobbled out of bed and joined the crowd that had gathered around Grandma Vaida's tent.  She pushed through to see what had happened.  In the kerosene light, Grandma Vaida sat in her chair.  She sat as rigid as the chair itself, her eyes wide open, her mouth yawning as if unable to take a breath.  Her eyes was no longer beetly but dull, her stare endless.  Gingerella's aunts and uncles crossed themselves and mumbled Gypsy prayers.

"First Petrushka and now Grandma.  What curse has found its way to us?" Gingerella's Aunt Sophie bellowed.

As the crowd of Gypsies disbanded, and another funeral was planned, there came a shout.  "Look! Isn't that our little Petrushka?"

Out of the dark woods came Petrushka, still covered in dirt from the grave she was buried in.  Her walk was not the graceful gate everyone was used to.  It was as if her entire body was jointed and those joints had rusted.

Screams issued from the women as hexes were drawn in the air.  Uncle Karloff, Petrushka's father, tears wetting his bearded face, took an ax and cut the walking corpse of his daughter down before more of this heresy was witnessed.

Gingerella ran to the edge of the river as fast as her club foot could carry her.  She called for the wishing toad but the river remained undisturbed.  That night she slept on the riverbank, hoping Phibs would appear, afraid of what tomorrow would bring.  She dreamed of Grandma Vaida pointing her bony finger at her and asking, "What have you done?"  At the first light of dawn Gingerella was awakened by gurgling sounds.  She opened her eyes and there was Phibs.

"So, did everything work out as planned?"  The toad's mouth was the same thin line as it always was, but to Gingerella it now appeared to be grinning.

"What are you?" asked Gingerella.

"I'm your wishing toad," said Phibs.

Gingerella felt the anger in her surge.  The smug expression on the creature before her was created by years of tricking people into wishing for things they didn't want.  It fed off the dreams of the weak, and the good nature of the innocent.  Well, it was too late for what she had wished for, but she could perhaps keep the wishing toad from doing this to someone else.

"I wish..."

"Be careful," Phibs said.  Now the grin was apparent.  It was just that Gingerella was too naīve to have noticed it before.

Gingerella spoke fast.  "I wish you had club feet like me!"

Phibs stared at her.  "Oh, you selfish little witch!  You shouldn't have done that!"

But the wishing toad was already backing itself into the water, the grin gone from its face.  If Gingerella wasn't mistaken, its skin appeared to turn a slight shade of red before it dropped beneath the surface of the water.

After a long day of two burials and hexes being drawn on every tent and carriage, night at last fell and a solemn quiet settled into the Gypsy camp.  Some of the Gypsies drank in silence to try to forget the past two day's events.  Others turned in early to go to find refuge in dreams.  Gingerella stayed awake like the night before until midnight approached.  With it came the strange occurrence of her boot adopting a life of its own, unlacing itself and disappearing into the night.  She could hear the gentle flow of the nearby river.  When she heard the first splash, she knew it was Phibs.  A series of splashes followed, then a gurgling sound, thick and fluid, like the sound of water being pulled into giant ugly frog lungs...splashes by a creature whose webbed feet suddenly became deformed and unable to keep its host afloat.  Gingerella fell asleep waiting for her boot to return.

In the morning the boot was still missing, her foot now naked.  But Gingerella didn't mind, inspecting her feet as if they were newly born.  She spread here toes and played with the webbing there.  There was a balance to everything, she realized.

She couldn't wait to go swimming for the first time in her life.

The Fairy Godmother's Trial, By Judy DaPolito

Editor's Note: Judy DaPolito writes fiction for children and adults and reviews children's books for childrens.lit.com.  She's also on the board of the Antioch Writers' Workshop and a member of a writing group that's lasted for twenty years.

stepped onto the white-railed platform at the front of the pavilion and turned to face the chief fairy godmother.  Azalea sat at a table draped in creamy silk and bordered with purple orchids. Her usual friendly smile had disappeared.

“Abra,” she began, “you are accused of making a laughing-stock of fairy godmothers everywhere.”

I lowered my eyes, but I couldn’t shut out her voice. 

“You made Cinderella’s coach from a pumpkin.”  At her words, the clatter of teacups in the audience receded.

“You made her horses from mice and her footmen from lizards.”  Subdued whispers began to rise.

“Then you stooped so low as to make her coachman from a rat.”  When Azalea stressed that last word, the clatter of teacups began again and louder whispers skittered from godmother to godmother.

But they worked, I thought.  Her coach was magnificent.

“Worst of all,” Azalea continued, “you let the whole spell dissolve at midnight, ensuring its being gossiped about all through fairyland.”

And that was why I was here.  All that laughter was about to get me banished.

I stood straight and lifted my chin, pressing my hands against the sides of my gown to hide their trembling.  I knew what she would ask.  And I knew what I would have to answer.

“Do you deny having done these things, Abra?”

“No,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.  “I cannot deny it.”  I literally dared not.  Azalea had cast a spell over the pavilion that would turn any liar’s skin purple as the orchids for a month.

I looked out at the hundred faces before me.  Sunlight streamed through the trees above and glittered off gold and silver wands.  My whole future was at stake, and there they sat in their white wicker chairs, sipping tea and nibbling on frosted cakes.  Only my mother, seated at the back of the crowd, looked as worried as I felt.

Azalea raised her wand and Regula, the examiner, rose from her seat. 

She came forward to stand directly in front of me.  “Abra,” she said in the unyielding voice I knew only too well from my schooldays, “three of your fellow godmothers will tell us what they know of your past behavior.  Then, before Azalea and I determine your punishment, you may speak briefly in your own defense.”

I looked at the godmothers in the closest chairs.  The three Regula would call on would surely be among them.  Some had been my teachers.  Two or three had been fellow students.  Some were friends and some were not.  I tried to smile at them all, but the curve of my lips felt as counterfeit as it truly was.

Marigold came forward first, her yellow gown brushing against the white floor.  I gave a real smile this time.  She had been one of my favorite teachers.

“Marigold,” Regula said, “please tell us what Abra was like as a student.”

“She was always polite,” she said.  “She got along well with the others as far as I could see.  And she made very insightful comments in class.”  She smiled kindly at me and started to return to her seat.

I could have hugged her.  "Insightful comments" had to count for something.  But of course Regula called her back.

“She had no faults?”

“I’m afraid her assignments were often late or unfinished.  And she did appear to daydream quite a bit.”

I hated knowing I’d disappointed her.  But I wasn’t exactly daydreaming.  I was making up stories that I’d write down as soon as I got back to my room.

“And in the lab?”

“Abra was very good in the lab when she had studied the spells she needed to perform.”

“Had she always studied them?”

Marigold sighed. “No.  She was often unprepared.”

She was right, of course.  The textbooks didn’t usually interest me.  I was in trouble.  I could see it in my mother’s face.

“Thank you,” Regula said.  “Zephyr, come forward, please.”

I relaxed a little. Zephyr was one of my dearest friends.

“What were Abra’s strengths as a student?” Regula began.

“She had a wonderful imagination.  She wrote papers that made me see everything around me with new eyes.  And she was completely loyal and kind to her friends.”

“Loyalty and kindness are laudatory traits,” Regula said.

But.  I could hear the word coming before she spoke it.

“But I also want to hear about her weaknesses.”

“I guess she was distracted sometimes.  She didn’t always read her assignments if she was spinning a tale.”  She clasped her hands against her silvery gown and took a deep breath.  “She cared more for tale-spinning than casting spells.”

She wouldn’t look at me, just turned and hurried back to her chair.  I wanted to tell her it was all right, that it was my own fault the evidence was going against me.  But I wasn’t permitted to speak yet.  Regula would have silenced me in a heartbeat.

And she had cleverly saved the worst witness for last.  Bluebell stood in front of me now, a smirk on her face.  I knew I was sunk. 

“What can you tell us about Abra’s time as a student?”

“She should never have been awarded her wand.  She read story books instead of spell books, and she told her own tales in the dormitory instead of working on her assignments.”  She smiled sweetly at me.  “They weren’t even interesting tales.  I couldn’t bear to listen to them.”

Bluebell’s skin began turning a sickly shade of lavender.  I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t hold it in.

“Silence, Abra,” Azalea broke in.  “Bluebell, would you like to modify your last answer?”

She shook her head. “Why?”

“You might just glance at your hands.”

The look of horror on her face was gratifying.  I knew she’d listened to my tales even though she always swore she didn’t.

“If you tell the truth now, I’m willing to leave your skin lavender for two months instead of deep purple for one,” Azalea said.  “But hurry.  The shade is darkening as we speak.”

“I loved her stories,” Bluebell said as fast as she could.  The color stayed where it was.

“You may sit down, Bluebell,” Regula said.  “I think we have enough evidence.”

“Abra” she said, “I have a few questions.”

I waited.

“Of all the professions open to you, why did you choose to become a fairy godmother?”

I hadn’t seen that one coming, and I’d have given anything not to have to answer it with my mother in the room.  “Because of my mother,” I finally said.

“Your mother is a dream-gatherer, isn’t she?”

“Yes.”  But Regula was waiting for more.

“She always admired fairy godmother, loved their power to make things happen,” I said.  “And from the time I was the tiniest of sprites, she urged me in that direction.  I just couldn’t disappoint her.”  I broke off, half sick inside.  “And now I’ve disappointed her beyond all measure.”

The full force of my failure hit me then, and I felt my tears coming.  I concentrated every ounce of energy on holding them back, but I knew I would dissolve if Regula forced me to say any more.  And there was no way I could look at my mother’s face.

“So,” she said, “on the night of the prince’s ball, when Cinderella wept in the ashes, you came to her aid.”

I nodded, relieved that the questioning had moved away from my mother.   

“And, fine as your intentions may have been, you botched your task from start to finish”

I nodded again.

As she spoke those last words, I heard what sounded like booted feet at the back of the pavilion and everyone began to talk at the same time.  I looked up and saw Cinderella herself, hand in hand with the prince.

 He spoke first. “Lady Regula, I expected a misdirection spell, but I didn’t expect you to use it on our horses.  We could see the pavilion, but they kept trying to go east instead of south.”

Regula actually laughed.  “I wanted to make sure you were serious about giving us your thoughts.”

Cinderella smiled at me as they came forward.  “We are very serious,” she said.  “Abra gave us a gift no other could have given.”

That confused me. Any fairy godmother worth her keep could have done what I did much more elegantly.  I was the one who wasn’t worth her keep.

“If the whole spell hadn’t come undone at midnight,” the prince said, “I might have thought of Ella as only one more lovely lady.  But when she vanished, I had to find her.”  He looked a little embarrassed.  “Being a prince,” he said, “I’m hardly ever thwarted. Having to search for her made me value her as I should.”

Now Cinderella blushed.  “Letting the glass slipper remain was a stroke of genius,”she said.  “I was the only one it could fit.”

I beamed at them both. ‘Stroke of genius,’ I thought. Who would ever have guessed? Certainly not me. 

I finally dared to look at my mother.  She was smiling.

“And we’ve had such good laughs over the rat and the lizards,” the prince went on.  “Considering her penchant for creativity, we were hoping Abra could become the palace tale-spinner.  She’d keep us enthralled forever.”

“And our children, too, when they come,” Cinderella said.

Regula looked at me and then at Azalea.  “It would solve our problem, I suppose.”  She looked at me again.“Though you certainly don’t deserve it.”

I looked as meek as I could.  Behind Regula’s back, Cinderella winked at me.

My fingers itched for my pen and my vellum.  What a great tale this was going to make!

Her Dark Materials, By Amanda C. Davis


Editor's Note: Amanda C. Davis loves making a mess. Learn more about her and her work at http://www.amandacdavis.com.

First you hoist a girl from the ashes,
Brush sooty tears from her face,
Tell her she's worthwhile.
Squelch through the garden.
Heave a pumpkin out of the mud,
Hack into it a door,
Grab its orange guts
Until it vomits seeds and strings.
Twist those prickly vines around your elbow
Into axles, hitches, wheels.
Catch mice barefisted.
Pluck a lizard from the wall.
For a coachman,
Lure out a mean, matted rat
And seize it by the tail
And shake free the fleas.
In the stories they'll sum it up with
Wands and incantations,
But real fairies know:
You have to get your hands dirty
To make real magic.
Image by VC Prinsep.

M'Lady, By Tahlia Merrill

Editor's Note: Tahlia has frequently written stories for EC since it began in 2008 and started this summer as the webzine's social media intern. She recently graduated from Westmont College and is currently in Sacramento trying to find an agent for her young adult science fiction novel. For more of her writing, check out her ongoing Victorian fantasy story at www.GuardianGhost.wordpress.com 

10 pm:

The hall clock has struck ten, which gives my pen a time to affix to this page, but I have melted half a candle rummaging through the corners of my mind for a date to enter beside it.  However, I seem to have misplaced it. A few minutes ago, I awoke out of a heavy sleep, clearly hearing Robert’s voice calling for me. Even as I sat up in bed and touched a hand to the empty pillow beside me, I heard one final time: “Dearest Margaret…” Then the frenzied sounds of a tempest crashed into my consciousness. The thunder shake the house’s foundation and the scent from my shattered perfume bottles hangs thick in the air. Perhaps I ought to check on the girls. Callista and Maeve don’t scare easily, for they are twelve, but little Angela is often haunted by nightmares.

11 pm:

When I shone the candle into my daughters’ room, I almost dropped it in astonishment. Two women slept in the beds and it was only when I saw their faces that I recognized them as eighteen year old versions of my girls and no sign of little Angela anywhere.  I staggered back a few steps, tears springing into my eyes. Had Robert’s death truly broken my mind so irreparably that I had missed years of life? I had wanted to be strong for them all—how had I failed? And where was Angel?

Amidst the sound of trees raking their branches across the house’s exoskeleton, I hurried downstairs to my study, only to find the door locked. All my spell books and ingredients were inside and hopefully my wand. When I first moved into the house, spare keys had been kept in the kitchen, so I made my way there. When I pushed open the door, I found the stove burning and a servant girl crouched in front of it faint glow. She winced every time the thunder growled. At the sound of the door opening, her eyes widened with fear.

“The storm, M’lady,” she explained in a rush, keeping her head lowered. “I couldn’t hear you call.”

Her voice was the only clue to her identity. Still breathy and childlike, even though she was now around sixteen.

“Angela?”

Her eyes flickered up for an instant, but snapped away before they could meet my own. When I stepped forward, she reflexively brought an arm up to shield her face. I faltered. Where was Robert’s dainty child who tied ribbons in her terrier’s hair and practiced piano while I experimented in my study? Why was she now sleeping in the kitchen, a faded servant’s dress slipping off bony shoulders? In the darkness, I couldn’t tell if the shaded patches covering her skin were large smudges of ash or bruises.          

“Angel?” I asked, using Robert’s pet name, hoping to reassure her. “Who did this to you?”

She clasped her hands behind her back and all vulnerability vanished with the movement, replaced with a dull, automatic politeness.

“M’lady?”

Not “Mama," not “Mother,” not even“Stepmother." My heart had stung when she cowered from me, but this unreachable blankness cut deeper. Deeper because her “m’lady” betrayed the truth:

Somehow, I had done it all.

Now, I am back in my bedroom, the storm outside a reflection of my inner torment. I barely had the presence of mind to ask Angel for the study’s key, but she said that “Lady Callista” kept all keys in her room. Sleep seems menacing for I cannot know how much time will pass the next time I succumb. If only I could glance at my spell books, I might attempt a potion to clear this madness from my mind. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to greet them tomorrow morning, a restored woman?  It is worth a quick search of their room…

2 am:

My heart is full of dread. I successfully retrieved the key to my study, but as I headed for the door, my feet tangled in a voluminous petticoat lying across the floor. The storm had quieted enough that the disturbance woke Maeve. Groggily, she craned her neck up.

“Mama? What—?”

Until my instincts urged me to lie, I had not consciously acknowledged that I distrusted my daughters. My feet froze like a naughty child caught awake past her bedtime. Behind my back, I rolled the key into the sleeve of my nightdress.

“I was just…Maeve, where is Angela?”

Maeve opened her mouth, but seemed at a loss for what to say. She glanced over at her sister and squeaked, “Callista?”

Always a light sleeper, Callista immediately rolled over and propped herself up on an elbow. “Callista,” Maeve explained nervously. “Mama wants to know where Angela is.”

“Mama,” Callista murmured, pursing her lips. “You should be in bed. Don’t fret yourself over Angela, she’s fine.” When I said nothing, she came over to me. “In fact, she’s spending some time with her aunt. You suggested it would be the best thing for her.”

Callista took my candle from my hand and led me away. I allowed my feet to obey her. We returned to my room. “The doctor said you must rest. Let me fetch you some tea.”

“Oh, no,” I said, trying to sound as tired as possible. “I feel so weak, I’ll just go back to sleep.” I sunk onto my bed to further my case.

She studied me carefully before nodding, pulling the door shut behind her.

I pulled the covers over me, but pinched myself to stay awake. Fifteen minutes later, I heard the door open.

I heard Callista whisper, “Alright, I think she’s asleep.”

Maeve whispered back, “Will she be all right at the ball?”

“I won’t risk it. We’ll tell everyone she’s sick. Let her stay here and keep an eye on the wretch.”

Then they left. After another twenty minutes, I sat up to keep myself from dozing. I intend to continue writing once I reach my study.

4 am:

The familiar lemony-mint scent of magic in my study still comforts and stimulates me simultaneously. All is not how I left it, though. My wand proved easy enough to find, despite its confusing placement atop my supply cupboard. More troubling, though, are the massive quantities of green walnuts and ash piled in untidy heaps across every countertop. Identical bottles of some pale blue liquid crowd every shelf. My open spell book lies on the floor, the outline of a torn page clearly marking where the simplest answer to this mystery once lived. Someone’s been busy in my absence, but neither Maeve nor Callista inherited my faerie blood, so unless Angela—no, I remember distinctly Robert telling me that her mother was full human.

I paced, trying to keep my mind moving, but when I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth, I felt a dull throb where my hand pressed. Rolling up my sleeve revealed a rather sickening sight: perfectly straight rows of scars running the length of my arm, starting above my elbow. Each was about a half an inch long at most and became fresher as they climbed to my shoulder. This is not the work of a physician’s bloodletting. He would have concentrated his efforts nearer to my wrists. Someone was trying to hide her work. Is using my blood to compensate for her own lack of magic? I’ve only heard of such things!

On the work table, I found a thick piece of paper. In fancy calligraphy, it invited every eligible lady of our household to a ball at the palace—the same ball my daughters were talking about. I finger the edges now, imagining how Callista will revel in attracting the prince’sattention. In fact, the walnuts and ash are probably part of some scheme to charm her way into his favor.  Imagine,my Callista a crown princess! Yes, my deceptively enchanting daughter whose jealousy has rusted her sparkle. And Maeve, as always, following in every game. And what will happen to Angela? Out of us all, shouldn’t she be the one to marry a prince?

And, why not? It’s the least I could give her after all the suffering we’ve put her through. She’s always had natural beauty—she’d only need a dress and a carriage. Oh dear, and a driver, and footmen, and a talisman to protect her from Callista. I’m not sure I could sustain all of those spells at the same time. And if I could, would Angela even accept help from the woman who has been nothing but a tyrant to her for over five years? I must try. It will require the entire day to prepare. I will carry everything to the tool shed on the edge of the estate so no one can find me.They will wonder where I have gone, but hopefully, they will be too preoccupied to search.

15 hours later (7pm)

Till midnight, I told her, but already I feel my energy stretched so tight I can barely walk. It will only get harder, though. Concentration is imperative, so after I’ve recorded these details, I will curl up and focus on preventing the pressure from squeezing me to death.

I came to her disguised by a glamour spell, looking dazzling and exotic. I told her I was her fairy godmother and she believed me. I had no time to gather extra materials from the house, so everything was created from objects surrounding me in the shed. I only had a raccoon to use for the footman, so he appeared a rather shady character, but her carriage, made from a large metal washbasin, looked quite respectable. The gown was woven from any golden leaves and flowers I could find along with handfuls of my own blond hair. With a sweep of my wand, I cleaned her curls and erased her bruises. I wove the protective spell into her shoes—which look like diamonds because they were forged from the shed’s windows.

11:45  pm:

My head pounds out the seconds. I clench my fists, concentrated on breathing. I must stay conscious until midnight.Angel must have her chance even if it means that I will not survive. Oh, Robert, I am watching over your child as best I can. If her happiness is secured, then I am happy to die for her. Spare me only if our fight must continue.Otherwise, I am ready.

Image by Simeon Solomon.

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.

It Must 'A Been A Full Moon, By Sally Clark


Editor's Note: Sally Clark's stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and books published by Tyndale House, Thomas Nelson, Howard Books, New World Library, Center Street, Adams Media, and Chronicle Books. Find her at www.sallyclark.info.

                      A frog and a toad hop into a tavern
                        where the evening fun has just begun
                        and the humans have all gone home leaving
                        jostles of beer and puddles of ale on the floor
 
                        and one talkative rat, deep in his cups,
                        with an outrageous story to boast
                        about how he drove a coach and six horses
                        to the King's great castle and delivered a beauty
 
                        most rare; how his long tail cracked over
                        the heads of horses that leapt at his commands;
                        how his four-fingered paws grew another and held
                        the reins and himself sporting velvet and silver-trimmed
 
                        silks, high, high, high above, as he bounced
                        and jolted along; he swears, yes, swears,
                        that the tale is true to the intoxicated swarm of      
                        insects, rodents, lizards, and toads,    
 
                        his voice rising above their laughter and slaps
                        on the back and shouts of that's a good one,
                        that is, you old sot. The rat retires his story,
                        whiskers quivering as he downs another pint.
 
                        C’mon on along, the frog croaks to the toad. I've
                        heard that down the road there's a bloke,
                        a mouse this time, claims he's run with a mane
                        and tail in harness, no less, now this’ll be a good one...

Image by John A. Grimshaw.
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