by Selah Janel
Along with everything else, I have more than a passing fancy for dark fantasy. It’s probably one of the subgenres I’m most comfortable in. I love the thought of faerie rules that only make sense to non-mortals, I love the chaotic rules that form a lot of fairy and folk tales. I also feel like there is such phenomenal possibility in the genre, especially in exploring characters. A few years ago a friend and I took a lot of little, odd shorts that we had and put them into a collection. Our idea was to get people used to exploring all areas of their imagination. Not all of the stories are one genre or another, not all of them are a genre the way you’re used to seeing. Not all the stories are even full stories. We want readers to take part in the book, to think and feel, and see where these tales take you. This is a piece I’m particularly proud of. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of Snow White, because it’s fairly narrative and fairly boring in the typical form we’re used to seeing it in. I became fixated one day, however, on the moment after the happily ever after, a moment that’s edited out of a lot of versions: the wicked queen being forced to dance at Snow White’s wedding in a pair of heated iron shoes. It got me thinking about how different the two women were, and then got me thinking about what would happen if they weren’t so different, after all…
Like so many of my other short work, this tale can be found in Lost in the Shadows
She’d already been dragged across the floor of the great hall, garbed in her finest gown and draped with her largest jewels. Derisive faces swarmed around her as she struggled and clawed at the soldiers who struggled to hang onto her thrashing limbs. Weaklings. They could only hold her because the scales had tipped out of her favor. In another time and place, in any other battle, she would have been able to raise a finger and break the bones of every gathered dignitary in a hundred places.
“She went too far! She had to have known she’d be punished.” The whispers around her turned her stomach. How stupid. She’d never once entertained a thought of failure: not when she stood naked in front of her mirror demanding its opinion on her beauty, not when she sent her faithful servant into the woods to butcher The Girl (she would not think of her as anything but The Girl), not when she sold her soul for a spell that would turn the apple of life into the fruit of demise.
She was tossed to the unforgiving stone floor in front of the wedding party, her long hair and skirts pooling around her as the entire court jeered. How fast their minds changed. How many times had they cowered in fear when she threatened to slaughter their children in front of them? How many times did they give her all their earnings for fear she’d slide into their houses as a fog during the night? The Queen had her ways. Everyone knew it and everyone had cowered until The Girl.
She stared up at her adversary, her dry and cracked lips turned down in disgust. The Girl was made up like a royal and like a saint. Her father would have been so proud, the silly fool. For a split second the former queen remembered how he had swayed when she’d hung him in the tower after removing his blood for a particularly complicated potion. He’d long since outlived his purpose and his love had grown boring and tiresome. His blood, however, had been his exquisite, final gift to her. It had dribbled down in rivulets and gathered in her pale, smooth hands. Drop by drop, it had flowed over her fingers: slick, hot life that was as red as the berries that peaked through the snow in the woods at wintertime.
Her exhaustion grabbed onto the meaty color as she fondly recalled the heart the traitor of a huntsman had brought back to her. He’d slaughtered so many on her behalf before. Why should The Girl be any different? Why? That moment when she’d thought she’d held the princess’s gushing heart in her own two hands had been glorious, a release far better than any lover she’d taken or any spell she’d performed. The crimson residue had quickly turned brown and sticky on her arms as she’d clutched it to her bosom. Its sweet, metallic tang had crept into her nostrils and had lingered in her robes until her lady’s maid had insisted that the gown needed to be washed.
And then she’d found out the truth. And then she’d had to dispatch her huntsman. He was probably still at the bottom of the dry well she’d sent him to. She hoped he was still half-alive or had gone mad enough to do himself in. It served him right for being weak.
She supposed it served her right for being arrogant, as well.
The heart in her mind’s hands contracted and rearranged itself until the gorgeous sheen of an apple skin was all she saw reflected in the polished hall floor. So close. She’d been so close! It had been so innocent looking: its shiny ruby peel covering virginal white fruit. Who would have guessed the secret it held? How many demons had she had to beguile to get that “unbreakable” spell? And for nothing!
Fury built in the broken, weary queen as she glared up at The Girl. How did she beat the spell? How? She stood there, adoring and clueless as she clung to her new husband, her hero and savior. She’d learn soon enough that men would promise the world and then quickly take it back. The brat didn’t deserve to live if she was that stupid and naïve. And the way everyone fawned on her so was disgusting! They’d be plotting her downfall as soon as she ceased to be the good little princess they could idolize. Fear was the only way to keep a kingdom in line. Fear and cunning. A little imagination didn’t hurt, either.
“I’m glad you could come to my wedding feast, Stepmother.” The Girl’s voice scratched down the older woman’s spine. She was still tired from taking on the form of the hag and the dutiful prince had had her sequestered in the dungeon for over a week without proper nourishment or sleep. Everyone had wanted to tromp through and jab at her with swords or beat the face that had inspired so much awe and dread while she was manacled. Did The Girl know how her husband had allowed anyone who had a grievance with her down to the dungeon? Probably not. The little slut was so oblivious to the ways of the world.
Goodness. That’s all it came down to. That’s why The Girl had won. Never mind that she was locked in a daydream. Never mind that life would run her over and she’d never see it coming. No, she had fallen into a happy ending and that was all she cared about, just like she’d fallen into safety with the dwarves and never once feared that they might have had other motives. The Girl had gotten lucky that they weren’t members of one of the old families.
It seemed luck, like goodness, followed The Girl like a dog. She was pure and the old queen was vile. The Girl was innocence and the queen was cynicism and malice. Light and dark. White and red. Untouched snow and savagely spilt blood. Of course they were destined to be enemies: qualities like that could never be friends.
“Thank you for coming, Stepmother,” The Girl repeated and knelt to make sure that the queen understood. She was dressed head to toe in white lace, her dark hair braided and piled on her head among pearls and jewels. Her wide eyes sparkled like clear pools in her cherubic face and her little mouth that had only been touched twice smiled tentatively.
The queen had never hated her more and if she’d had any strength left she would have reached out a hand to strangle her. “I hope you’ll join us in the festivities. You’ve missed the best food, but you shan’t miss the dancing.”
The queen raised eyes that were darker than the night. Trembling, she managed to work up enough saliva in her dry mouth to spit upon the stupid young royal. The glob of spit dribbled down The Girl’s train, clear wetness tinged pink with the blood from her cracked lips. Was she clueless? An idiot? A halfwit? Why did she think they could be friends? Was she that desperate for a mother at her wedding that she’d resort to the one who’d tried to murder her time and again?
“I detest you with my blood,” the queen rasped, barely able to speak. “I shall never dance for joy for a stupid, naïve cow like you. You know nothing.” If she couldn’t hurt her with spells or knives, she craved to hurt The Girl with words. Unfortunately, her flesh wasn’t up to the challenge.
The Girl straightened as the chuckling crowds pulled back and two servants flanked by the royal guard entered the long hall. “Oh, but I want you to dance for me,” The Girl insisted. Maybe it was delirium or a sick sense of hope, but the former queen swore The Girl’s eyes changed. The twinkle was tinged by smugness, the innocence by a certain knowing. Somehow, some way…
Fear and admiration jolted the queen to her knees as the procession appeared at the prince and princess’s side. She’d seen it. She knew she had. She hadn’t been beaten by goodness or stupidity or dumb luck. She’d been beaten by someone who had known how to play the game all along and had played to win, even from birth! Deep, deep in the girl’s eyes was the spark of life. The queen had learned to look for it long ago in her victims. In the innocent it always burned as a bright white flame. The Girl’s burned bright, but it was tinged with crimson and sullied with dark shadows.
So shocked was the queen that she almost missed what was being said. “If you’re too tired to dance, perhaps we can convince you,” The Girl cooed, and her dimples were sly now. Oh, she was a clever one! She’d let her mask slip just enough for the queen to see, knowing full well that no one else would ever, ever believe! Even her strong young buck of a new husband didn’t have a clue! Her subjects didn’t have any idea that this child, this lovely and good little girl was far more sadistic than she! The Girl had simply bided her time from infancy, holding in her true nature until she could have her way. How gullible she’d been to not see it before! How perfect!
The servants parted to reveal two iron contraptions that were so hot they glowed. The lines of the metal were red-hot and smoldered like the metal gates to hell, the gates that were surely waiting to open for her. The queen shuddered, though it was half in fear and half in admiration.
“I had new shoes crafted for you to help you dance, Stepmother. It would please me very much to see you dance for my wedding.”
The crowd nodded and chuckled with The Girl, sure that it was probably the prince’s idea. They jeered down at her, so sure it was acceptable because the queen had been so despicable. They assumed the poor princess was probably forced into dishing out the punishment because she was so traumatized. If they only realized the monster that was hidden right under their noses!
Only the queen knew that those hideous instruments of torture, those beautifully constructed shoes of mutilation had been made simply because The Girl felt like it. It was all in her eyes, in the spark, as was the revelation that all her vengeful visitors had been invited by the new bride and not her husband. Oh, there was blood and darkness there, hidden behind the snow, just waiting for that pure innocence to melt away.
“So the snow is white no longer,” the queen rasped with a dry chuckle. Then the guards were on her and her mind was gone in a bright explosion of searing agony and humiliation. Her last coherent thought was that if she had to give up her kingdom, at least it was going to a worthy successor.
Lost in the Shadows
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Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others
Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.
In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.
Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.
Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.