A retelling of a classic fairy tale written for The Cramp. :)
|There’s a fine line between love and hate just like there is a fine line between hope and madness. How long can you fight for the impossible before you have to give in? How long before dream becomes nightmare?
I met him while walking through twisting forest paths. I was thinking of adventure and fairies when I turned the corner and there he was. I thought he was one of the fey at first. His hair was of the darkest brown, nearly black, but his beard shone like a star, violent blue.
He smiled and asked if he could walk with me a while. He must have known I’d say yes, that I wouldn’t care about the lack of a chaperon. He asked me what I’d been thinking of and I believe that was the first time that anyone outside my family had shown an interest in what was happening inside my head. We talked for hours of our favorite tales and the yearning that pulls each of us in different directions. He walked me to my door and asked if he could see me again. He spent months listening and answering and talking of all of the beautiful parts of the world that he wanted to show me before he asked me to marry him. I had never been so happy.
At first, things were good. We stayed together in his home but looking back it didn’t take long for his pretenses to fade, for cracks to bleed into his mask. He was quick to anger and in turns morose and standoffish. A black mood hung over him like a cloud for weeks on end. I accepted it at first, thinking no one is perfect and anyway, I loved him. That didn’t mean only loving him when he was happy.
He went away often, on business, always promising to take me with him next time. Over time all of his promises of adventure and freedom and seeing the world all slipped into darkness. I became restless. Nearly a year of this and the distance between us grew. I no longer believed him when he said he’d take me with him. I no longer believed any of the things he said. They were all just words. To pass the time, I explored everywhere that was open to me. All the doors here were unbarred. All but one.
At the end of a long corridor at the furthest end of the second floor stood a door of heavy oak. More ornate than any other here. Carved ivy twisted up the framework, knotted across the door itself, hiding whatever was behind it. Below the door handle was a lock in need of a key. I tried every key on my ring. None worked.
I became obsessed with finding out what was behind that door. I nearly bent a skeleton key trying to force the lock. I barely slept. I forgot to eat. I paced endlessly.
When he came home he must have seen the change in me, or otherwise somehow knew that that door had been tampered with. Before he left he added a key to the ring. To test me, he said. A way for me to prove my love, as if leaving my family and joining him here, as if marrying him and staying, were not proof enough.
The wrought iron shaping of the key matched the ornate door. Twisting ivy ran downward to the blade. It’s always struck me as odd that the part of a key that turns the lock is called the blade and the rest the bow. Blade fit this key, though. It was both dangerous and sharp.
He told me that if I could stay out of that room then he would reward me. He didn’t say how. Perhaps he didn’t know. I’m sure it hadn’t come up before.
But if I couldn’t control myself, he said . . . That didn’t bear thinking about.
I went to the room the moment that he was gone. The tumbler turned and the door swung open of it’s own volition, as if what was inside wanted to be seen. What I saw there was shocking, but I didn’t feel shocked. Perhaps a part of me had known. Maybe they had all been whispering to me as I slept. They still had their mouths after all.
Settled neatly in a row were the heads of his previous wives. Perfectly preserved. Set before each of them was a golden ring.
Some people think that all of his wives were willing. I don’t think that’s true. He would have done anything to get me to come here. If his slow and careful seduction, his promises of freedom, his easy grin and manner, had all failed, I believe he would have taken me anyway.
Each of these faces, all of them, looked like me. Dark hair and fine features. Their eyes were all closed but I didn’t need to see them to know that they were all brown, with a streak of gold marring one iris.
I didn’t need to meet them to know that they had all been curious, otherwise this honey trap would never have worked.
I looked at each of them, seeing them truly. How hard had they fought to stay alive? However hard, I resolved, I would fight harder.
For them and for myself.
At the end of the room, leaning against the wall was the ax, sharpened until it gleamed. I picked it up and with my back to the wall by the door where I wouldn’t be seen, I waited.
He never saw it coming. He must have assumed that I’d run, couldn’t imagine that I could stay in here with those women and wait.
When it was done, I placed his head on the shelf next to theirs. I set my wedding ring before him.
I left that room and locked it quietly behind me.
I left the house and went back through the woods, towards home.