Cinderella Is DeadBy: Kalynn Bayron
Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years.
I’ve been in love with Erin for the better part of three years.
And I am about two minutes away from certain death.
When the palace guards find me, and they will, I am going to die in the forest on Lille’s eastern border. But I don’t care. The only thing I’m focused on is Erin, who is pressed up against a tree directly across from me. The palace guards don’t see her yet, but they are headed her way. They stop a few feet from where she’s hiding. Her eyes grow wide in the shadowy confines of the forest. I meet her gaze across the wide swath of carriage pathway that separates us.
Don’t move, Erin. Don’t make a sound.
“I fell asleep in the tower last night,” one of them says. “Someone woke me, but still. I was lucky. If the king found out, it’d be my head on a pike.”
“You going to the ball?” one man asks.
“No,” says another. “All work and no fun for me, I’m afraid.”
“That’s a shame. I’m hearing the girls in this year’s group are the prettiest lot in a generation.”
“In that case, is your wife going to have an accident? It’d be a shame if that first step down to your cellar suddenly came loose.”
They laugh from the gut, hissing and sputtering, and from the sound of it, they are falling all over themselves. Their voices move away from us until I can’t hear them anymore. I pull myself up and run to Erin, who is still cowering behind the tree.
“They’re gone,” I say. I take hold of her hand and try to calm her.
She peers around the tree, her face tight with anger, and jerks away from me. “Of all the impossible things you’ve ever convinced me to do, coming out here has to be the worst one. The guards almost spotted us.”
“But they didn’t,” I remind her.
“You asked me to meet you here,” she says, her eyes narrow and suspicious. “Why? What is so important?”
I’ve rehearsed what I’m going to say to her, practiced it over and over in my head, but as I stand in front of her I’m lost. She’s angry with me. That’s not what I want. “I care about you more than anything. I want you to be happy. I want us to be happy.”
She stays quiet as I stumble over my words, her hands clenched at her sides.
“Things feel hopeless so much of the time, but when I’m with you—”
“Stop,” she says, her expression a mask of anger. “Is this what you brought me out here for? To tell me the same thing you’ve been telling me since forever?”
“It’s not the same thing. The ball is so close now. This may be our last chance to leave.”
Erin’s brow shoots up in surprise. “Leave?” She comes closer, looking me dead in the eye. “There is no leaving, Sophia. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone. We are going to the ball because it is the law. It is our only hope for making some kind of life.”
“Without each other,” I say. The thought makes my chest ache.
Erin straightens up but casts her gaze to the ground. “It can be no other way.”
I shake my head. “You don’t mean that. If we run, if we try—”
Laughter in the distance cuts my plea short. The guards are circling back. Erin ducks behind the tree, and I dive into the brush.
“You don’t get to work in the palace if you don’t know how to say yes and shut your mouth,” says one of the guards as he comes to a stop directly in front of my hiding spot. “If you don’t have the stomach to do some of the things he’s asking for, you’re better off here with us.”
“You’re probably right,” says another man.
Through the branches, I see the tree Erin is hiding behind. The hem of her dress has caught on a rough patch of bark and is poking out. The guard looks in her direction.
“What’s that?” he asks. He takes a step toward her, his hand on the hilt of his weapon.
I kick against the bush. The entire thing shakes, causing a cascade of rust-colored leaves to rain down on me.
“What was that?” one of the men asks.
They turn their attention back to me. I shut my eyes tight. I’m dead.