Freebie Mondays: If the Shoe Fits

Freebie Mondays: If the Shoe Fits

This is an indirect follow up to Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, which tells the story of what happened to the evil queen’s magic mirror after the events of Snow White and The Spindle of a Spinning Wheel, which features a follow up to the item post Sleeping Beauty. The enchanted item this time? Cinderella’s glass slipper!
. . .

“Lock the door.” The terse whisper seemed to echo in the vast silence that filled the small house. The sound of the deadbolt sliding home was like the clanging of a church bell in comparison.

Hands shaking, heart lodged in her throat, Marisa backed three steps away from her front door and craned her neck to peer out the picture window that adorned the front portion of their living room. Already her wife, Abigail, had pulled the gauzy inner curtains closed to obscure the view of any outside observers. Marisa caught a glimpse of a man running down the street, frantically waving his hands above his head before Abigail pulled the second, heavier set of curtains closed, shrouding the room in shadow.

“If we go down into the basement, we might be able to pretend we’re not home,” Abigail suggested breathlessly, the words tumbling from her mouth in a rush.

“If we don’t answer the door, they might break it down,” Marisa protested, her voice tight and strained since every word had to be forced past the lump forming in her throat. “There are stories out of Dallenglen. And what do you think they’ll do if they catch us trying to hide?”

A sharp clap sounded outside the house, causing them both to jump. For one, terrible moment, Marisa was certain the sound had been a gunshot. But then a distant rumble reached her ears and cut through the panicked thumping of her heart in her ears.

Not a gunshot, she chided herself gently, a car engine backfiring.

But whether this indicated the royal convoy coming around the corner onto her street, or some neighbor’s desperate attempt to flee town before the barricades were fully erected, Marisa couldn’t say. She didn’t feel she dared glance out the window for fear she’d draw the prince’s attention to her otherwise unnoticeable home.

“Well, we have to do something,” Abigail insisted, wringing her hands as she began to pace the length of the shared living, dining space. “We can’t just stand around and wait while they burst in and-“

“Mira knows what to do,” Marisa interrupted, mostly because the anxiety in Abigail’s voice was starting to make her tremble and she didn’t think she could afford to fall off her feet. “She’s already been told.”

Someone shouted outside. The words didn’t penetrate the walls or windows of their sturdy house, but they didn’t need to in order to make their warning clear.

The moment had come. The royal family was here.

As if to confirm the sense of dread that ignited in Marisa’s stomach, the sharp slam of a car door closing made her jump. She dove for the window, peeled the curtains back a hair, and pressed her eye to the small gap.

The car the royal family used for this tour was disappointingly plain. Its skin was pure white, kept clean and gleaming even during the muddiest, dreariest days, the only symbol of the status it carried within. Aside from that it was marked only by a small silver statue of the crown’s crest perched as an ornament on the lip of the car’s hood.

The man that stepped from the car, however, was dressed in clothing so intricately decorated, Marisa could barely stand to look at him for more than a few seconds. His shirt was as white as the car he had come from but decorated with red, blue and silver thread. Marisa couldn’t entirely trace the patterns because the bright crimson cloak he wore over top of it obscured pieces of his other finery. That was decorated with a darker red thread that formed a series of patterns that clashed with the first. Only his dark slacks were plain, and Marisa noted as she glanced down at them that the legs which bore them were moving to the house across the street.

So they had a few more precious moments to prepare. She stepped back, pushed the curtains firmly into their former position and motioned silently to her wife.

Abigail nodded and spun, her eyes scanning the kitchen and dining area while Marisa’s traced over the living room and stairway that led to the rooms upstairs. The walls were almost barren aside from a few pieces of art the two of them managed to gather over the years to accent a few of their decorating choices. All the family photos that usually adorned the space beside them had been stripped from the walls, packed into boxes which had then been packed into more boxes and hidden in secret niches that hopefully weren’t worth looking for. Along with the framed photos and photo albums they had tucked every picture their children made for them that had ever adorned the fridge pinned in place by colorful magnets.

After removing every indication that a happy family inhabited this house from the walls, Marisa and Abigail had scrubbed the surfaces clear of dirt and dust streaks that might indicate spaces where pictures once hung. She had been tempted to repaint, but Abigail stopped her, reminding her that if things looked too perfect, that too would be suspicious.

It had been twenty years since the royal family left their high palace to perform this kind of search, and Marisa had spent the last year praying they would wait just three more before the time arrived. Three more years and their darling Mira would have aged beyond the interest of the searchers, just as Marisa had when she was Mira’s age, just two months before the search became necessary.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the princes only wanted on suitor or if they chose from the eager young women who lined up outside the palace gates from all across the kingdom in hopes of shoving their foot into the shoe and proving their worth. But no. For the last century or so, the princes had demanded all of the young women whose feet fit the slipper. So that they could be certain they found the right one.

“Damn those old stories,” Marisa muttered as she flew up the stairs, her fingers barely brushing the railing. If it weren’t for the silly belief that the magical princess who first wore the slipper might be reborn, none of them would have to worry about these searches and seizures.

Because even if that princess had been reborn a time or two, there was no way she could inhabit every generation. The Queen Mother was still alive, frail though she seemed. Hellfire, she wasn’t even Marisa’s age!

Yet the new prince’s fiancé would be hailed as the magical queen’s reincarnation, just as every suitor before her had been, whether she wanted the title or not.

More distant sounds of slamming occupied the back of Marisa’s head like the buzzing of bees in a garden. Then a sharp knock pounded against her door, causing her to jump and freeze. Her first terrible thought was that they heard her cursing about them – but they couldn’t possibly!

By the time she flew back down the stairs – she nearly tripped three times in the process – Abigail was standing in front of the small block of wood, pulling back the deadbolt as slowly and numbly as she dared. She opened the door but a crack, shaking as she leaned forward to peer through the gap.

Then suddenly the door flew open. Abigail stepped back to avoid it, and there was the prince in all his youthful glory, clothed in the eye-piercing finery, a grim and regal look on his face.

As one, Abigail and Marisa dropped to their knees, their heads tucked against their chins. Marisa held her breath to keep from quaking like a leaf in a windstorm.

“You may rise,” the nasally voice of one of the tall, twig-thin attendants announced.

Abigail and Marisa shot back to their feet. Both of them almost tripped, but they leaned into each other for support. They ended up grasping each other’s hands and holding them tightly as they looked wide and wild-eyed at the attendant and waited for their next instruction.

This had to be a fairly normal reaction to a member of the royal family showing up at a person’s door step, right? When Marisa was a child, neither the prince nor the queen had accompanied the searchers. A group of people in dark suits had merely carried between them a padded wooden box with the slipper tucked inside.

It was all Marisa could do to keep her gaze averted when she really just wanted to glare daggers at the royal heir. How dare he come here and threaten to take away one of her children!

“Any children in the house?” the nasal voice demanded in a tone that suggested its owner was bored and ready to be finished with their task.

“No,” Abigail said before Marisa could wrestle with her tongue enough to speak.

“Really?” A different voice interjected, this one low and rumbly, like distant thunder snaking over a nearby hill. “According to the recent census, this should be the Treverton household, correct?”

Both women nodded.

The second attendant, a short, plump man with waggling jowls, glanced at the clipboard clutched between his meaty fingers, then shot the two women a piercing gaze. “According to this you have two children.”

“Oh yes, we have two children,” Marisa agreed without hesitation. “They just aren’t in the house at the moment, you see.”

“Oh yes,” Abigail agreed, laughing nervously. “We’ve shipped them off to visit their grandparents for a few weeks. Parents need alone time every now and then, as I’m sure you’re aware.” Another nervous giggle.

But neither women’s words nor their awkward laughter seemed to have an effect on the grim, no-nonsense figures standing in front of them.

The figure with the flabby jowls glanced at the twig who stood just barely within the door frame, and the twig began punching one spindly finger against the screen of their tablet computer. Moments later the twig made a soft, dismissive sound. “The Trevorton children haven’t been checked by a search in another city.”

Three pairs of eyes suddenly bore into the two women.

“We’ll have to check the house,” Flabby Jowls announced. “Many parents try to hide their children with such excuses.”

Marisa exchanged a frantic glance with her wife, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. They had known from the start that their excuse was a thin one and that the guards would likely force their way into the house, but they hadn’t spoken of how they would handle it when the moment arrived.

Abigail seemed equally frozen with fear and indecision. As both women tried to force some kind of word past their lips, they found themselves swept aside. Suddenly, half a dozen broad figures in dark uniforms filled their house. Two surged up the stairs, two searched the main portion of the house, and the last two headed directly for the basement – exactly where the woman hoped they wouldn’t go.

“This door is locked,” one of the guards called.

Without asking if one of the owners could – or would – unlock it, the other guard took a running charge and drove their shoulder into the door. It buckled on its frame, but held.

Both Abigail and Marisa protested. Marisa even darted toward the basket on the kitchen counter where they kept their keys but, by the time she reached it, the door had splintered off its hinges.

The guards charged down the stairs. Two small, startled cries flowed up from below and Marisa felt all the color drain from her skin. White and shaking, she rejoined her wife. They clung together again, this time in unbridled fear as the two burly figures reappeared with two smaller frames in tow.

A small burst of relief broke through Marisa’s terror when she saw that her children had followed the instructions that had been drilled into them for weeks now. Upon arrival in the basement, Mira had cut her beautiful, flowing hair until it was an exact match for her brother’s. Mira was thin-framed and wiry. With short hair and loose clothing, she could easily pass for a boy.

Her brother’s instructions had been to help her destroy the hair and to provide her with some of his clothing to make the lie look convincing. There was a distinct possibility that the guards upstairs would dig through the clothing stashed in Mira’s drawers, but Marisa and her wife prayed that no one wanted to invest that much time in searching a single house.

Like their parents, the children clung together, mirror images of terror. Mira’s eyes were particularly wide, but who could blame a seventeen year old for fearing a nightmare scenario such as this?

“Your names?” the twig man demanded, holding up his digital list, one finger poised to make the proper mark.

“Benjamin,” Marisa’s sun replied, putting on a brave face. His face only trembled slightly and Marisa could tell he was proud of himself. She was proud of him too.

“Max,” Mira managed, her voice cracking.

The twig man glared at her over the screen of his tablet. “That isn’t the name I have recorded for your house,” he declared icily.

Mira looked at Marisa frantically.

“There was a mix up,” Abigail asserted quickly. She was always the faster thinker. “As you can clearly see, our boys are identical twins. We’ve tried numerous times to correct the mistake, but the forms never seem to make it to the right places.”

The twig man’s frown deepened, but he seemed at a loss as to how to counter this. He glanced at the prince, who was lounging on an armchair in the living room with a prime view of the entire family.

“If he’s on the list, he’ll have to wear the shoe,” the prince announced, as bored as the rest of his fellows. “If it doesn’t fit, it won’t matter anyway.”

Marisa’s heart took off at full speed. She gripped her wife’s hand tightly and turned frantic eyes in her direction, but there seemed to be nothing they could do. Boys had never worn the shoe, as far as Marisa’s tortured brain could recall. Only girls between the ages of sixteen and nineteen were supposed to see if it fit their feet.

But more people had already barged into her house. Then there it was, the dark, polished wooden box she remembered seeing pass down her street. The box she had just narrowly been able to avoid having to stand in front of. It was placed gently onto a side table and the lid was pulled open.

Within the solid wooden frame, nestled on a bed of soft velvet padding, was a slipper made entirely of glass. Its clear surface shimmered in the light, causing Marisa’s breath to catch in her throat.

One of the guards carefully pulled the slipper from its mooring and Marisa held her breath, afraid that a single shimmy of unanticipated movement might shatter the thing. It might be easy to knock it from the guard’s hands, to prevent any other teenaged girl from ever having to attempt to wear the thing. But that glass was spelled with powerful magic, was made almost entirely of the magic that gave it form. And besides, if someone ever did manage to break it, Marisa imagined they would be publicly executed for treason of some kind.

The guard knelt in front of Mira, presenting the small glass form to her legs. Mira lifted one hand to her lips. Her eyes were glossy with tears, and she still clung to her brother with her other hand.

Marisa found herself wishing that the prince would evaluate her children during the moment Mira lifted her foot and inched it toward the petite glass frame. For the first time, Marisa wished someone would say something unflattering about one of her children, notice that they weren’t the most fit, or perhaps be displeased by the awkward and ungainly nature of teenagers.

But the prince’s eyes were riveted on the glass slipper, and Marisa was consumed with guilt that she would ever think of her children in such a negative fashion.

Mira’s toes hesitated on the edge of the glass rim, as if she were afraid to touch it. Then she drew a deep breath, closed her eyes and slid her foot forward.

A scream stuck in Marisa’s throat as her daughter’s foot filled the small frame of the slipper. In moments the rear lip would slide over her ankle and the guards would drag her from the house without even giving them a chance to say goodbye.

The girls chosen on these searches were taken to royal compounds all over the kingdom where they underwent some kind of training regimen and rigorous tests before the prince’s final suitor would be chosen. Most of those taken by the search, usually some three dozen young ladies, didn’t survive the second half of the process. They died under mysterious, unexplained circumstances. And those that did emerged never spoke of their experience again, though it was hard to say if it was due to trauma or threats.

This was the very last future Marisa wanted for her daughter. She found herself wishing that they had waited just a few more years before they started trying. Or, perhaps, if they hadn’t hesitated as long as they had, they would have been one of the families able to answer their door with confidence because they knew their children would be skipped.

Tears prickled Marisa’s eyes as the endless moment came to an end. Mira’s foot seemed to jolt as it came to a stop. Her ankle still hung over the lip of the slipper. She shoved her foot forward, but her ankle didn’t budge. Her face transformed from horror to confusion, then suffused with relief.

“It doesn’t fit,” she breathed, and both of her mothers exhaled.

Marisa still wanted to scream, but for a different reason. Mira’s foot was too big. She didn’t fit the criteria.

She gently extracted her foot from the slipper and stepped back.

That should have been the end of it. They should have lifted the slipper back into its padded casing and left Marisa’s family alone forever.

But as the guard moved to stand, the prince cleared his throat. “Now the boy,” he said, motioning to Benjamin.

Marisa’s jaw fell open.

“But…” Abigail protested, “I thought only girls-“

“I’m not picky,” the prince retorted. “See if the boy’s foot fits the slipper.”

Now Benjamin glanced with terror in his mothers’ direction and, again, Marisa found herself at a loss. How could they do this? She wasn’t supposed to have to worry about both of her children being carted off! Sexist as it was that only the girls lived in perpetual danger of choosing, Marisa didn’t think future parents’ hearts would be able to handle the alternative. It almost made her wish that she hadn’t decided to have children after all.

Almost.

Shaking and clinging to his sister just as she had to him, Benjamin lifted his foot as the slipper was pushed in his direction.

Ben and Mira were twins. Not identical twins. Their genes weren’t exactly the same. But Marisa hoped they would be close enough. If Mira’s foot didn’t fit, Ben’s certainly shouldn’t.

But try as she did to dismiss the memories from her mind, Marisa knew plenty of men who wore women’s shoes in women’s sizes. And there wasn’t that big a difference between Ben and Marisa’s sizes.

Her son’s toes dipped over the glass slipper’s lip and continued to slide into the shoe. Marisa waited with growing horror for the small jolt that would indicate his foot had also hit the far end of the shoe’s toe, but it never came.

Eyes wide with horror, Marisa watched as her son’s foot came in line with the edge of the slipper. It wasn’t until he tried to press down, to settle the slipper into its final place, that he hesitated. “It hurts,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. “I’m afraid it will cut me if I push my foot any farther.”

The guard glanced over his shoulder at his prince, but the prince only narrowed his eyes.

The guard turned back to the slipper, then savagely jerked it upward.

Benjamin cried out in pain and alarm, but the guard quickly jerked his arm in the other direction. The slipper came away, glistening with a hint of blood on its lip.

Ben bounced on one foot, cradling the other in both hands while Mira quickly grabbed and steadied him.

The guards wiped the blood from the slipper’s lip as if it were the most detestable thing they had ever seen, then cradled the thing with tender care as they slipped it back into its mooring.

Marisa was so numb with shock and relief, that she wasn’t really aware of anything else until the entire party had departed the house and closed her door in their wake. Both of her children sank to the floor and cried softly. Abigail brought a damp towel from the kitchen to clean Ben’s foot, and Marisa cradled the twins in her arms while her wife worked to stem the flow of blood.

She wasn’t sure how long they stayed that way before screams from the street drew their attention. The twins cringed and cuddled closer together. Abigail and Marisa exchanged glances, then Marisa rose and went to the window.

Even though their search was over and the danger was passed, she still didn’t want to open the curtains more than a crack. She still felt she would be exposing her family to further danger if she did so. But she peeled the dark fabric back enough to peer into the crack of light it revealed.

Across the street, one house down from hers, a group of figures in dark suits emerged from the door, holding between them the pale, squirming frame of a young woman who was screaming at the top of her lungs as she reached for figures still inside the house.

As she was drawn inevitably down the stairs, her parents appeared in the doorway, reaching for her, tears standing out on her mother’s face.

Marisa shuddered and forced the curtains closed. She returned to her children and hustled her small family down the stairs into the basement. It seemed all together safer to remain down there until the prince and his slipper left town.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.