Image by Lauramei
There was once a rich family that was admired by all in the land. They seemed to lead perfect lives, but sadly their happiness was not meant to last. One day, the mother was struck with a deadly illness, and before she passed she made one last request of her daughter.
“My dear Ella, I beg of you to always trust in yourself and follow your heart.”
“I promise mama,” the little girl cooed, “I will do just as you ask.”
She left her daughter a small book and made her also promise that she would never allow anyone but her own daughter to read it. Ella, again, agreed and every day she studied the pages of her mother’s book which turned out to be filled with spells and potions. Days later, the woman passed, and poor little Ella remained with her father who began to drink himself away. It started gradually at first but, eventually, he would spend his days in a stupor. When he was in a good mood he was affectionate and paid little Ella a lot of attention, but when he was in a bad mood she would meet the back of his hand for the simplest of mistakes. This went on for years, and as young Ella reached the dawn of womanhood her father decided it was time she paid him back for all of his generosity with her body. After he had finished having his way with her he made sure to tear away what little pride she had left and make sure she knew how low he saw her. He took away the one thing she had to hold onto: her name.
“Such whining. I could hardly enjoy myself with all the sniveling you did. You are pathetic and as worthless as the cinders from the fireplace,” he would often yell at her.
Before long, he stopped calling her Ella and began referring to her as Cinderella. The constant abuse and degradation threatened to turn Cinderella’s once pure heart into one of spite and bitterness. Still, she promised herself that she would not allow him to break her spirit.
Eventually, her father married a woman from a noble family named Edith. He brought her, along with her two daughters Alessa and Cassandra, to live with him. At first, the woman feigned motherly interest in Cinderella, but this quickly changed when her new husband made it clear that she was of no worth to him. The two of them would make sport of mistreating Cinderella while he doted on his new step-daughters. On his trips across the land, he would bring them back jewelry and clothing while he completely ignored Cinderella. On her birthday, he decided to be especially cruel.
“My dear Cinderella,” he burped out. “I have brought you back something special.”
She stopped her cleaning duties and perked up at the thought that her father had finally atoned. She wiped her hands eagerly on her apron before running over to him.
“Oh, thank you, father!” She said, with tears swelling in her eyes.
He sneered at her. “Think nothing of it, my child.”
He let out a roaring laugh as he threw a twig down at her feet before stumbling out of the room. Cinderella slowly lifted the small twig off the ground and made her way outside. She spent the day searching the forest for ingredients. In her mother’s book, there was a spell which would allow her to contact the dead, and right now she desperately needed her mother’s guidance. Once she found what she was searching for, she took all of it to the garden and planted the twig in her mother’s grave. She then crumbled a few toadstools into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle, as well as the rest of the ingredients. She took the knife she used to peel potatoes and pricked the end of her finger before dropping a few specks of her blood onto the twig. Hesitantly, she sprinkled the rest of the contents over it and spoke the words that were in the book.
“Where my heart lies, so too shall my spirit. Return to me and show me the way.”
Although she willed it to work, her efforts seemed to have been in vain. She tried to remain strong, just as her mother had asked, but her sorrow overcame her. She wept and wept until she had no more tears left in her. This went on for months, and every day after her chores she would go out to the garden and weep over her mother’s grave. Eventually, a tree grew from all of her tears, and it stood strong before her. For the first time in her life, she had no more tears to spare, and she decided to stand just as strong and tall as the tree that stood before her. She continued to visit her mother’s tree every morning before she started her chores and would whisper a silent prayer. A little white bird, that had made a nest in the tree, would leave her the things she would ask for. They were small wishes, for instance, she would wish for an apple on the days when she would fall ill and her father would punish her by taking away her meals for the day. The white bird would drop an apple on her lap, and she took it as a sign that her mother was indeed watching over her.
One summer, the king announced a grand festival to celebrate his son’s entrance into adulthood which meant it was time for the prince to find a bride. He sent out notices to all noble families with daughters. This meant that Cinderella’s father also received an invitation. He and his wife were thrilled, and her step-sisters excitedly clucked away about what they were to wear.
“It does say all maidens in the household, does it not?” Cinderella managed to say.
“Yes, well I hardly think the prince would be interested in a soiled house maid.” Her father scoffed. “Still, it makes no difference to me. I’ll leave the decision to your mother.” He hiccupped before stammering out the room. Cinderella slowly turned Edith and prayed against all hope that for once the woman would show her some compassion.
“Mother, may I please attend the festival?” The words left a bad taste in her mouth.
Edith looked her over intently, and it seemed as though ages had gone by before she finally decided to answer her.
“Very well, Cinderella, but only if you finish all your chores and help your sisters get prepared. Then, and only then can you go.” She coldly said before quickly exiting the room.
Cinderella was overjoyed, and she spent the rest of the day mending her step-sister’s outfits, cleaning as if her life depended on it, and even had supper ready early. As usual, she was not permitted to eat with the rest of the family. She took her meager dinner roll and cup of milk to the barn in order to eat without disturbing her family. Once she heard the maid bell ring she hurried inside and cleared the table. This took especially long as her step-sisters enjoyed pelting her with food as she attempted to clear away the table, which just created more work for her. Soon they grew bored and left her to finally finish, and as she did Edith entered the kitchen.
“I did as you said mother, everything is done for the day!” She exclaimed excitedly.
Edith looked around and inspected the room before settling on a jar of lentils that sat on the shelf. She walked over to the fireplace and tossed the lentils in before she turned back to face Cinderella.
“You have two hours to collect all of the lentils back into the jar. Then, and only then can you go.” She smirked at Cinderella before turning to leave. “I would hurry if I were you.”
Rage swelled up in Cinderella, but she knew any opposition would be fruitless. She ran out to her mother’s tree and wept.
“Oh mother, I wish I too could go to the festival, but they deny me my right by asking impossible tasks!” She buried her face into the bark of the tree but stopped when she felt it tremble.
A soft voice filled Cinderella’s head. “Where my heart lies, so too shall my spirit.”
Startled, Cinderella whimpered, “Who’s there?” When there was no response she decided to try something that came to her. “Return to me and show me the way.”
Once again, the voice spoke, “Your wish has been heard, but a tribute is needed.”
“I’m not sure what you are asking me.” Cinderella sighed.
“Talking to yourself, are you?” Someone behind her taunted.
Cinderella turned around quickly to face her father who had been watching her. Her face felt flush, as she was embarrassed having been caught speaking to the tree.
“What do you want?” Cinderella scowled.
“Don’t speak to me with such a tone, harlot.” He picked up a nearby shovel. “Maybe I should teach you a lesson in manners?”
Cinderella eyed him before she relented and bowed before him. “No, please… I’m sorry father. I should not have spoken rudely to you.”
She looked back up just in time to see him stumbling towards her with the shovel. Cinderella ducked just in time for the shovel missing her head and striking the tree instead. He struggled to remove the shovel, which had lodged itself into the trunk.
“Tribute accepted.” The mysterious voice hissed.
Suddenly, snake-like vines slithered across the handle and wrapped around her father’s hands, and then his body. He tried to yell, but the vines violently thrust themselves into his mouth causing his source of oxygen to be cut off. Blood trickled out the corners as the vines stretched his mouth. Cinderella stared in shock as they wriggled their way through her father. She could see them slithering underneath the surface of his skin. Before long, his body began folding backward. His spine caused resistance, but soon it gave way with a sickening snap. The cavity at the base of the tree opened and the vines lowered his body into it. As quickly as it had all started, it was over.
Cinderella was filled with fear, but a sense of calm rushed over her as a realization came to her. Her father had abused her in every possible way and, finally, he had seen justice. Suddenly, a fluttering sound was heard above. She looked upwards to see a flock of white birds circling above her. They made their way into the kitchen and collected all of the lentils for her. Once their job was complete, they disappeared back from where they had come. Excitedly, Cinderella rushed to find her step-mother and presented the jar of lentils to her.
“I have done as you have asked!” She exclaimed triumphantly.
“Yes, so you have.” Edith scowled. “Regardless, you will not be joining us. You’re filthy, you don’t have anything nice to wear, and you will only serve to embarrass your father and me. Where is he, anyway? Probably passed out somewhere, the drunken fool. Let him sleep it off, we’ll go without him.”
The death of her father had empowered her, and she felt the helplessness slipping away from her. Her rage bubbled inside of her, and overcome with hatred, she felt compelled in her actions by an outside force. She stepped towards her step-mother and pointed a finger in her face.
“Now you listen to me… I have done everything you asked. Everything you have asked of me! I absolutely will be going, and I couldn’t be any more of an embarrassment than those two ugly little tramps that clawed their way out of your dusty old loins.”
Cinderella regretted saying it the moment the words left her mouth, but as she started to regain her composure Edith was already on her. Just like she had done many times before, she threw her to the ground and began to ruthlessly beat her with her walking cane.
“You nasty little trollop! I will make you eat those words along with your teeth!”
She did her best to guard her face, but her step-sisters joined in by stomping at her while laughing. They enjoyed and even made sport over her abuse. When Edith had initially started her beatings, she would pretend to not see them getting in their hits before shooing them away but, after a while, she didn’t even bother pretending. She was certain that this would be the time she was beaten to death, but as luck would have it the chiming of the clock alerted Edith that they were late.
“Come along girls! I think she’s learned her lesson.”
Cinderella watched them leave through seething tears. Although she was in an immense amount of pain, she couldn’t help but smile. It was an unnatural smile, and it scared her to think that the pain from her wounds was dulling. She didn’t care what Edith had said, she was going to the festival. She carefully stood herself up and made her way out to the tree once again. She kneeled before it and heard the voice speak again.
“Where my heart lies, so too shall my spirit.”
“Return to me and show me the way,” Cinderella responded.
A swarm of fluttering white birds poured out of the tree’s cavity and surrounded Cinderella. The wind from the beating of their wings soothed her wounds, and before long the pain subsided completely. After a few moments, they once again disappeared from where they had come, and she was amazed at what saw in reflected in the pool in front of her. Her dress was the color of pearl with golden trimming. On her feet were shoes made from pure gold that sparkled in the moonlight.
As she arrived at the festival, she was astounded by all of the beautiful gowns worn by even more beautiful women. Despite this, Prince Ivan took a liking to Cinderella, and he would dance with nobody else but her. When the night grew to a close, Ivan wanted to escort her back to her home. Fearing that he would be disgusted with her for being a house maid, she eluded him and escaped back to her home. In her hurry, she left behind one of her golden shoes, which Prince Ivan intended to use in order to find the woman he sought to make his wife. When she had returned home, she quickly changed back to her ash ridden clothing and returned her gown back to the tree’s cavity just in time to feign sleep when Edith and her daughters returned.
The days went on without any news but, soon after, a royal proclamation was sent out stating that a royal messenger would visit each home and have every woman try on the golden shoe in order to find the mysterious woman Prince Ivan had fallen in love with. When the Messenger finally made his way to their house, Edith locked Cinderella in the garden shed to keep her from trying on the shoe.
First, the eldest daughter Alessa tried on the shoe in her chambers. When she could not get it to fit, Edith had the idea to cut off her toes. Alessa attempted to protest, but Edith argued, “What will you need with toes when as a queen you can be carried everywhere?” She shoved a metal pipe into her mouth and placed the blade along all of Alessa’s toes.
“The fewer times I have to cut through, the better!” Edith exclaimed.
She forcefully yanked the blade upwards, causing all of them to slice off like kernels of corn. Alessa bit so hard onto the metal pipe that her teeth cracked. They placed the shoe on her foot, but when the messenger spotted blood pooling from it, he knew what had happened.
Meanwhile, Cinderella had summoned the birds to peck away at the door. When she was able to free herself, she rushed inside in time to catch Cassandra trying to fit her foot into the shoe, with minimal success. Cinderella quietly made her way past Alessa’s room, but before she could make it to the study Alessa pulled her into her room and slammed the door behind her. Cinderella fell back onto Alessa’s bed but quickly caught herself before she fell off the other side. Alessa was breathing heavily, sweat formed on her forehead, and she looked to be struggling to keep herself standing.
“So, the pile of garbage thinks it’s Queen material?” Alessa Sneered.
“You will not ruin this for me,” Cinderella snarled.
Alessa grabbed a pair of scissors from her vanity and limped towards Cinderella while dragging a trail of blood behind her. She laughed hysterically and lunged towards Cinderella who dodged at the last moment causing Alessa to stumble against the wall. In the struggle, she accidentally impaled herself in the abdomen with the scissors and stared down in shock. Blood trickled down, staining her gown, and she let out a few whimpers before passing out. Cinderella threw open the bedroom window in a panic, but before she could call to the birds for help, Cassandra gasped in horror.
“What in the hell have you done to my sister,” she cried out.
Knowing she had no choice, Cinderella pulled the scissors from Alessa’s body and lunged across the room at Cassandra. The two of them wrestled on the floor until Cinderella pulled back the scissors and thrust them into Cassandra’s throat. Cassandra gasped heavily as she choked on her own blood. She violently convulsed on the floor while she clawed at her neck like a wild animal trying to free itself from a snare. Within moments she stopped moving and breathing entirely. Cinderella called on the birds to move the bodies of her step-sisters and she hurried to her own room. She took off her smock, cleaned her hands in the washing bowl nearby, and entered the next room just in time to catch the messenger on his way out.
“Your grace, I believe that shoe belongs to me!” She chimed in.
Edith scowled at her, yet there was nothing she could do but watch as the shoe gracefully slid onto her foot. The messenger and his party cheered with joy at finding the woman Prince Ivan had been searching for. Edith stormed out of the room, and Cinderella was told to gather her things so she could go to the palace. She quickly made her way into the kitchen where a freshly baked pie sat on the counter. She smiled fiendishly before reaching over for some parchment and a quill. She jotted something quickly down and left the folded note on the pie before rushing out to see her prince.
That night, Edith was distraught of there being no sign of her husband or daughters. She was so beside herself that she spent the night eating everything she could find in the kitchen. She picked the whole chicken Ella had prepared down to the bone, and all of the bread in the cupboard was greedily scarfed down. All that was left was the pie sitting on the counter. She saw the note and opened it up.
May this pie be a symbol of my deep admiration for you.
She scoffed, but the emptiness she felt would not waver, and she wanted nothing more than to fill it. She grabbed a fork and piled chunks of the pie in her mouth. She expected it to be a sweet confection, but she was pleasantly surprised to find it was a meat pie. Every morsel was succulent and savory. The meat was hard to place, but the taste was very familiar to her. Something similar to pork, which was her favorite. She couldn’t help but gorge herself on it until she bit into a hard piece of carrot. She promptly spat it out into her hand and screamed as she realized she was holding a human toe.
Cinderella’s voice rang throughout the room, “Return to me and show me the way.”
The air vibrated with the sound of wings fluttering as a cloud of birds crashed through the window. They pecked away at Edith’s eyes, causing them to burst like grapes. She screamed but the birds clawed and yanked at her tongue as well. She fell and collapsed to the ground as the birds pulled away at the veins and tendons. Before long, she passed out from shock and the birds dispersed. Vines slithered across the floor and wrapped around Edith. They slowly pulled her out the door, through the garden, and finally into the tree’s crevice.
Cinderella kneeled before the tree and whispered, “Thank you mother.”