Cinderella, the girl who loved fire
Cinderella, an inky-haired, ruddy-cheeked child, gazes into the flames. The playful orange sprites look so happy. She stares, wild-eyed, as they dance faster and faster. Spinning and twirling, crackling and whirling, they taste the air with flickering tongues.
She reaches towards the fire, and it strains to lick her hands. It’s her favorite pet ever, so much livelier than her father’s mutts.
“Don’t do that,” her mother whispers. “Never do that, or you’ll always be alone.”
“What?” asks Cinderella, her lips curling into a pout of aggrieved ignorance. But she knows.
Mother’s funeral and Father’s wedding. Both will happen today, one in the late morning and the other in the early afternoon. Cinderella’s mental state is fixed somewhere between empty pain and smoldering rage. She holds two embers, one in each palm, and coaxes them to grow.
Her father finds her in the sitting room, watching the drapes burn. She is beautiful in the manner of a fledgling predator, dangerous because of her innocence. Her raven’s wing hair and doe’s eyes reflect the movement of the flames. When tears blur his vision, she looks exactly like her mother.
He shakes his head. A part of him wants to let everything burn until it’s ash, but he can’t. He’s still a father. He has weighty obligations. He pulls her into the hallway and shouts for the servants, who know the routine.
“This is not what your mother would have wanted,” he says.
She snarls. “You’re right. She wouldn’t have wanted you to marry that bitch. Everyone knows she’s a poisoner.”
He sighs softly. The young are merciless. She probably won’t understand, but he tries anyway. “Our crops have burned for three years straight. I owe everything to our creditors. Without this marriage, they will sell you to a brothel.”
Cinderella gasps. Her eyes water, and she gives off a smoky scent like a quenched flame. “It’s all my fault.”
He strokes her soft, warm hair for the last time. “If you die or disappear before your eighteenth birthday, she’ll lose the land,” he whispers.
To be continued.