When he put the slipper on my foot, beaming up at me from the crimson cushion on which his knee was resting, the thought did pass through my mind: where did he get that other matching shoe from? For I’d left him only the one on the palace steps, that momentous midnight; yet, here he was, on the eve of our wedding, slipping a second identical one onto the foot he claimed had won his heart.
“Don’t say anything Cindy, my love,” he said, putting a finger to my lips, “this is my little gift; to say thank you for dancing into my life, and for not getting away!”
I bit my lip when he turned at the door, swallowing down the question and he smiled, flashing rows of perfect teeth.
“Rest now my love, it has been quite a whirlwind these last couple of days; first finding you, then bringing you here. Your new maidservants will attend to all your needs. Enjoy your ablutions, and tomorrow I will make you my blushing bride.”
The bedroom door shut and, in the moment when I was briefly alone, I did blush- not with maidenly innocence, but mortification; for where was the pang of love, or the tremble of desire I should surely feel? I felt neither for my prince, my husband-to-be; instead, I felt as cold as the glass slippers he’d placed firmly upon my feet.
I stared at the shoes, glinting icily in the light of the chandelier. I had danced in these slippers, as he had reminded me, at his ball. I hadn’t expected to, but I had whirled in his arms and they had seemed light, like the air he lifted me up into. So why did they feel so heavy now? Blocks of ice I couldn’t waltz in if I tried.
My worries were interrupted by the quiet hemming of three maidservants, stepping from the shadows clustered at the room’s edge. The soft noises were hardly alarming, but I still started in my chair like a guilty thing.
“It’s all right Your Majesty, don’t take fright now,” said a kindly faced girl in a white servant’s cap, who looked barely older than me. “We didn’t mean to startle you, but we’ve been sent to see to your toilette.”
I must have looked absolutely blank as another older, matronly sort of a woman, stepped in front of her, almost pushing the younger girl out of her way, tutting loudly.
“Shush now Greta, you’re not to speak till you’re spoken to. How many times do I need to tell you!”
I was about to open my mouth, asking for Greta not to be reprimanded; that I was so thankful for a kind word in this strange new palace, but the matronly figure continued.
“And it’s not Your Majesty till tomorrow,” she said pointedly, ignoring my confused gaze as she went to collect a porcelain jug from the sideboard, pointing for the third servant to carry over a large oval bowl.
“Put it there Lucie,” she pointed to the coffee table at my side where she had also placed her jug; “and toilette, Madam, means you need a wash before you become a majesty tomorrow. Can’t have you walking down the aisle smelling like you’ve just stepped from a pigsty!”
Lucie snorted like she was the pig and the blush rose this time, sure enough: a flush of shame; they knew about my family home, the cinders, the sweeping, the rags. My hands squirmed in my lap and all I could see were the cuts and nicks; nails jagged and skin dry from years of scrubbing the flagstones; plunging my hands into the scalding water to scour the pots.
While Lucie and the matron were busy carrying more necessaries from the sideboard, Greta quickly placed her blemished hands into my matching ones.
“Don’t fret now Cinders,” she said in a whisper, “I’ll look after you.” And then louder, with a brisker tone for matron and Lucie’s ears: “Now it’s just a little freshen up. Lift up your arms Miss, so I can help you out of your dress and underclothes.”
I was about to rise, removing a dress is hardly easy when it’s tucked beneath you, when the matron returned, throwing a bar of soap into the oval bowl where it spun, as directionless as me, clamping the other meaty hand onto my shoulder to stay my attempted rise.
“No young Madam,” she said sternly, “you’re to do as I say, Prince’s instructions; and no exertions on the night before your wedding. “We will manage your dress between us, Greta.” Reprimanded once more, Greta’s kind face disappeared behind the curve of her servant’s cap as she dipped her head in a meek nod.
“Now, Lucie, ease Madam’s dress from under her and Greta, you are to take one sleeve and I the other. Steady, slow insistent pressure is what we require.”
What an embarrassment, what a kerfuffle it was: gentle but persistent tugs; the fabric caught about my hips. I tried to half-rise, attempting to release the stuck folds, before the familiar stern hand weighed down on my shoulder once more. At last I was divested of my garments and sat shivering in the chair, less ashamed of my nudity than of the struggle.
Wordlessly the matron set to work, tipping the water into the bowl. I’ve pumped water at the well and warmed it at the hearth to wash my stepsisters countless times, and I knew the lack of rising steam meant one thing: a freezing bath I would much rather forego. Let me stink rather than slink down the aisle, I thought, but of course it was not to be. The soap was scooped up by the large hand, then it was slathered on my body; the pressure of matron’s fists pushing it into my flesh. I tried not to gasp as Lucie picked up a coarse cloth and scrubbed my back, my arms, seeming to rub the suds away with even greater force at any point on my body that was softer or more sensitive. I clamped my fingers tight onto the arm rests like I’d seen my stepsister do when they cut off her big toe, trying to squeeze her foot into the slipper which now gripped me fast.
Only Greta seemed put out by this torture of a toilette, hurriedly draping a towel about my shivering shoulders as soon as the others had finished pounding and pummelling with soap and cloth. I was allowed to dry myself while the three of them tidied away. I wondered if they would all return with creams and scents, ready to commence the great beautification of the bride, but thankfully only Greta came, carrying a simple white nightdress which she handed to me. Quickly she looked about and then nodded. I chanced a shaky rise from the chair and slipped the shift over my head.
I had to sit down. My legs felt like I hadn’t used them for weeks; like I was recovering from a terrible bout of flu and days of enforced bedrest. Had it really only been two nights ago that I had been whirling about the ballroom? But if the wobbliness of my legs was unsettling, it was nothing to the strange lack of feeling in my feet. Encased in the pretty glass slippers, I had lost all sense of them: the arch, the heel, the toes, all were insensible- like they’d been drugged and put to sleep.
My feet! What they used to do for me: steadying me while I swept the grates; standing on tiptoe to reach for the highest cobwebs with the feather duster; standing for long hours, sifting buckets of lentils and peas, an eye on the ticking clock, in the hope of a chance to come here, the palace: to hang up my apron and dance myself out of the dirt and drudgery for just one night. I had never thought while scrubbing, scouring, sweeping and wishing, day in and day out for change, that it would bring me to this: numb, unable to stand on my own two feet.
I reached down to see if I could surreptitiously ease the shoes off. Perhaps if I could massage my feet, the sensation might return? But as I eased a hand down, I was horrified to see that the buckle had disappeared, in its place a solid band of glass snared my ankle like a manacle. Desperately I grabbed one slipper with both hands, grasping the blade of the heel, pulling with all my strength; but it only sliced my palm, and the bloodied shoe, foot still trapped inside, slid from my grasp.
Greta was at my side in a flash, hushing the scream that was about to fly from my lips.
“Cinders no, they mustn’t hear!” she said urgently; the determination in her voice took me by surprise, belying her mousy little form.
“You must trust me, all will be well. Now I must help you to bed before they return, and to hide that hand.”
Her calm force somehow stilled the panic which wanted to burst from me, and I watched silently as she reached into her skirts and ripped a piece of her white petticoat, using the strip to bandage my injured hand.
“There Cinders, we’re not the likes to take offence at a rag, are we?”
I kissed her hand, thankful beyond words for her kindness in this terrible place.
“And now, I need to get you to the bed. Put your arm across my shoulders,” she stooped down so I could do so, “and lean your full weight on me when I stand; I’ll support you.”
“But I’m so tall! Will you manage?”
“Trust me. Now we need to go before those bloodhounds are back.”
Slowly she straightened, taking me with her. And oh, was I thankful for her small body bracing my own as immediately the terrible numbness caused me to sway and I thought my knees would buckle.
“That’s great Cinders,” encouraged Greta, “and now we’re going to take small steps, like this, ok?” She moved her foot a small space forward.
“Ok Greta,” I managed, struggling to match her resolution; my body threatening to tip me back into the chair.
Each step was a torture. I limped and hobbled on my fuzzy feet, but leaning hard on Greta’s solid form, I made it, breathless, to the bed. It was the work of a second for her to swing my legs under the beautiful embroidered coverlet, tucking my injured hand out of sight.
We were just in time as the matron and Lucie reappeared.
“Already in bed I see,” barked the former, “very wise given all that awaits you tomorrow.”
She lit the small nightlight on my bedside table and then motioned to Lucie to draw the heavy navy-blue curtains. The room was immediately transformed into a shadow show with strange shapes seeming to grow up the walls like twisted plants. I grabbed at Greta’s hand with my uninjured one. I desperately wanted to ask her not to go, but she spoke first in a whisper.
“All will be well Cinders. You must trust me.”
I stared wildly into her eyes and her resolve quietened me once more and I nodded.
“Well, good night Madam,” matron said, turning at the door, “and try to sleep- you don’t want to disappoint tomorrow.”
Lucie humphed as if my disappointing the prince was very probable, then all of them went and I was left with the creeping shadows, my rising fears and nagging regrets.
Why had I wished for a change? Why hadn’t I been more careful, considering what I wished for? As I endured my imposed bedrest, glass slippers heavy on my feet, I cried at the recollection of how I used to run to my mother’s tree. Every summer when my day’s work was done, I’d race through the woods, making my way to her hazel tree. I’d lean against her trunk, picking the soil from out of my toes, and feel alive and loved. In autumn, I’d take a leisurely stroll, feet kicking up the leaves, balancing on tiptoe to pick and then eat the ripe nuts she offered, my beautiful mother. Why had I forgotten her? Why had I wished for an exciting flight into the unknown, when she had always been there for me, even in my darkest hour?
I wept for many hours, wishing that help would come; but at some point, I must have tumbled into a spent sleep, for I woke with a start and a shriek I couldn’t stifle, disturbed by the noise of the bedroom door opening. The first thought that raced like the blood in my veins was that he was not going to wait for the wedding night. He was coming to enjoy me now and I would be powerless to do a thing, immobile as a doll. With both hands I fumbled for the bedside light, the heavy base would do well enough as a weapon if his thoughts were as I feared. I ignored the stab of the wound through my bandages and readied myself to deliver the blow.
“Cinders,” came the only voice I would have wanted to hear in this prison of a palace, and Greta stepped forward, “don’t cry out again dear, it’s me- Greta. I need to show you something and then I’m going to help you to get away.”
In a second, I was sat up in bed, throwing the covers to one side. Wonderful Greta: help had come in her darling form!
“Now, same procedure as yesterday.” I put my arm around her capable shoulders and she heaved me from the bed. Urgency powered my glass feet and we shuffled as fast as we could. Out in the corridor, Greta bearing my weight, she never badgered me to go faster or try harder; understanding how each step was agony for me. She pushed the weight of our combined bodies against the heavy double doors of the ballroom and we slipped inside. The polished floor I had spun over, two nights ago, was as slippery as ice and my glass shoes slid awkwardly in all directions. Greta took hold of me under my arms and pulled me backwards, clean across the perilous surface; my useless legs and feet trailed behind me like a bride’s train.
We paused at a treacherous looking flight of stairs, spiralling into the darkness below.
“I know you don’t want to Cinders,” she said, looking at my petrified face, “but we need to go down there. You must see what is kept in the vaults.”
I only whimpered, terrified of the plunge and how my body might fail me on any one of those steps.
“I will go first, ok? I would break your fall, if you tripped.” She looked deep into my eyes and squeezed my hand. “Trust me.” And I did.
“You mustn’t try to walk. Sit down on that first step and ease yourself down on your bum; use the handrail to help pull you along.”
I followed her instructions and I was much faster than when walking, bumping down the stairs one after another, ignoring the jolts up my spine, only keen to do what I must and then leave. At the bottom, she took me by the waist with one hand, lifting the oil lamp from the wall to guide us into the impenetrable black. We reached the vault’s only door in three short steps and Greta held my hand as she pushed it open and the light from the lamp leapt inside.
The room was made entirely of glass, light refracting from floor to ceiling and off the shelves which encircled the space. But it wasn’t this leaping of light that sucked all the air from my lungs and made me feel faint once more; it was the sight of the glass slippers, identical to those clamped to my feet, all neatly paired upon the shelves with names underneath: Briar Rose, Rapunzel, Gretel…
“You were to be the first in his collection,” said Greta. “He sent me down here everyday to dust them; he must have trusted me to keep his secret, the idiot. Come, now it’s time for you to take flight for a second time.” She pulled me gently towards the stairs, but I held back.
“But the others Greta, what if he comes for them with his winning ways and they’re fooled just like I was? I can’t let that happen.”
I grabbed the oil lamp from her hands, ignoring the spluttering flames and smashed the heavy base down onto my feet; we were immediately plunged into total darkness, but a beautiful sound rang out like dawn birdsong: breaking glass. I raced over the shards; yes, they cut my feet, but I didn’t care. I could feel. I could stand. And I knew just what I had to do. Like a fury I swung the lamp, again and again, smashing all the blasted slippers into tiny smithereens. When I was certain not a pair remained, I grabbed Greta’s hand and we raced back up the spiral stairs, skidded across the ballroom floor and flew down the stone steps which took us out of that palace-prison and into the free night. I wouldn’t have cared if he had come, following the trail of blood and glass that I left in my wake; the oil lamp still swung in my hands, I could use it again.
On the edge of the wood we paused, still holding hands, sides heaving and Greta’s eyes danced as she asked, “what next?”
A smile broke on my face. “There’s a place I need to show you too.”
And on my own two feet again at last, I led her into the woods, to my mother’s hazel tree.
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Ooo love a good fairy tale twist! This one has “sinister” vibes from the very get go, with the unexplained appearance of the second slipper, to these lines here: “Don’t say anything Cindy, my love,” he said, putting a finger to my lips, “this is my little gift; to say thank you for dancing into my life, and for not getting away!” The rest of the story was gripping and engaging, with such a cohesive theme and consistent visuals of mystery, looming darkness, glass, harm, etc. For some reason, one of my favorite lines was where you mention the...
Thanks Aeris, there is so much dark matter in the fairytales it's easy to tease it out and twist it into something related but new; I really enjoy this intertextuality and an added bonus is it doesn't take me nearly so long to write! I'm half thinking of trying to write a few more twisted tales to see if an agent is interested in an anthology alongside my Ludwig book but I'm not sure how I'm going to squeeze it in with teaching and family commitments! Thanks as always for coming by; are we to expect the pleasure of an Aeris story soon?
A twisted fairytale anthology is a great idea!! I would read that 😉 Yes, working on something simple for this week—if anything just to get back in the habit!
Rebecca, congratulations! I'm not a bit surprised and thrilled you received recognition for this piece and just on the overall - well earned! :)
Yes, go sister scribbler!! 🎉🎉🎉 I'm so happy this is on the board this morning - the world needs to read this!! Congratulations my dear! I'm toasting to you from across the pond! 🥂
Ah bless you my dear. Things are in full swing here as it's my birthday; all the more reason to pop the corks!
OMG HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!! 🎉🎉🎉🎉 What a wonderful birthday surprise!!
Thank you my dear. No Miles sister story to enjoy this week?☹
I tried! I was editing up til the last minute and missed the clock. Probably for the best, it wasn't a very good story and probably would have been tough to come back from 😂 work started back up this week so it's been busy over here! Hope I can get one in this week 🤞 and catching up on everyone's stories from this week!
I'll look forward to reading the latest all the more after a week off. Mountains: that's not hard for me with the Alps nearby!
Yes!! I was hoping I’d see this one on the list today!! Congrats on the very well deserved shortlist!!
Thanks so much. It's my birthday so it's the cherry on the cake!
Hey hey!! Happy birthday!!!🎂
As a lover of horror and the macabre, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I echo all of the praise in the comments below, and add that I really appreciate how you create suspense and that sense of dread early in the story. I started questioning everybody; I wasn't even sure that Greta was on the up-and-up until the end of the story. I love when I get the cold shudders from a line, and I definitely got that with "You must see what is kept in the vaults." Fantastic!
Whoa, Rebecca - Disney turned Shudder - well done and cautionary to a degree people should see. Wonderful retelling and updating. I appreciate the way your mind operates. And writes.
Loved this alternative take on the Cinderella story. Kept me in suspense right to the end. A powerful and realistic version for modern times. Also a meaningful ending offering hope. Made me want to look at fairy tales in a different way.
I've seen fairy tales retold so many times, but very rarely as well as these. I love the idea that all the different Prince Charming's are, in fact, the same twisted guy. Excellent work!
Thanks Daniel. This was my first go at the horror tag and I thought fairy tale was the ideal place to start🤣I'm glad this story stood out. I can't stand dull retellings.
A much more sensible sequel to the patronising original. Makes one wonder, how many women would scream to rewrite the story post marriage, once they understood that a fairy tale is just that; a fairy tale. Well done, beautifully written.
I'm so glad she didn't marry him; that would have been a real horror story! Thanks for your warm words.
As the owner of a complete book of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, I first have to thank you, Rebecca, for not giving us the Disneyfied version of this narrative. Those original stories were very dark and gritty, so I was glad to see this was written in the same vein. Reading this felt like if the Brothers Grimm updated their canon for adult readers instead. I like that. What I love most about a Rebecca Miles story is the precision of language. Your vocabulary is so rich, and you're fantastic at finding the best words for your sentences, even w...
Thanks so much Zack. Yes I'm a very meticulous writer ( and reader; my students don't always appreciate that quality in me!) but most of the polishing goes on mentally; I've often not got the time for extensive edits! Our language is so rich; I'm always very happy to mine the seams! By the way, I read on one of your comments that you buy a lot of short story collections so I thought you might like a recommendation. I've recently enjoyed the festive collection The Haunting Season. It's an anthology with different well-known authors' contribut...
Keep mining away at those seams - it seems to be working for you! And thank you very much for the book recommendation. I'm always on the lookout for new titles. I really enjoyed The Summoning Bell, as you know, so I'll be sure to look into that anthology.
Yes it was sinister. A good take on one of my favourite fairy-tales. I loved your imagination to completely re-tell and twist it around. Many thanks.
Thanks Stevie. It was good fun twisting and tangling it all up.
I love how the story took a sinister turn and Cinders realised she wasn't swept off her feet (😉) by the riches. But of course my favourite character is Greta! Her courage, moral stance and perception are well-developed and impressive!
It doesn't surprise me that you like Greta as I know Jane Eyre is your favourite book! Thanks for taking the time dear!
No problem Rebecca! You have great talent and great writing skills that are hard to come by!