Cinderella Is Dead Page 1

Author: Kalynn Bayron

Genres: Fantasy , Young Adult


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.

I think of Erin. I hope she’ll run. I hope she’ll make it back. This is all my fault. I only wanted to see her, to try to convince her one last time that we should leave Lille once and for all. Now I’ll never see her face again.

I glance toward the tree line. I can make a run for it, draw the attention of the guards away from her. I might be able to lose them in the woods, but even if I can’t, Erin can get away. My body tenses, and I pull my skirt between my legs, tucking it into my waistband and slipping off my shoes.

“There’s something in there,” a guard says, now only an arm’s length from me.

The guards move closer, so close I can hear them breathing. I glance past them. There’s a flash of baby blue between the trees. Erin’s made a run for it. A clanking sound cuts through the air, metal on metal—a sword drawn from its scabbard. Over the rush of blood in my ears and the pounding of my own heart, a horn blasts three blaring notes.

“We’ve got a runner,” a gruff voice says.

I freeze. If I’m caught this far into the woods, the guards will make an example of me. I picture myself being paraded through the streets in shackles, maybe even stuffed into a cage in the center of town where Lille’s people are so often made to endure public humiliation as penance for stepping off the beaten path.

The men’s voices and footsteps move away from me.

I’m not the runner they are talking about. I haven’t even started running yet. My heart crashes in my chest. I hope they can’t gain on Erin quickly enough.

The guards’ voices trail off, and when they’re far away from me, I tuck my shoes under my arm and run into the shadowy cover of the forest. Ducking behind a tree, I peer around the trunk as several more guards gather. They’ve got an older woman with them, already bound at the wrists. I breathe a sigh of relief and immediately feel a searing stab of guilt. This woman is now at the mercy of the king’s men.

I turn and make a break for it. With my legs pumping and lungs burning, I think I hear the snap and snarl of hounds, though I can’t be sure. I don’t dare look back. I trip and smash my knee on a rock, tearing the flesh. The pain is blinding, but I pull myself up and keep going until the trees start to thin.

At the path that leads back to the heart of town, I pause to catch my breath. Erin is nowhere to be found. She’s safe.

But this is Lille.

No one is ever really safe.


As I trek home all I can think of is Erin. The forest is deep and dangerous and, most important, off-limits. I know she won’t stay hidden. She’ll make her way home, but I need to know she’s safe.

The bell tower in the town square rings out the hour. Five loud clangs. I’m supposed to meet my mother at the seamstress’s shop for a fitting, and she specifically told me to come there bathed, with my hair washed and a fresh face. I look down at myself. My dress is smudged with dirt and blood, and my bare feet are caked with mud. I escaped the king’s men, but when my mother sees me, she’ll probably end me herself. Guards patrol the streets. Many more than usual now that the ball is so close. I keep my head down as I pass by. They aren’t too concerned with me. They’re on high alert because of what people in Lille are calling the incident.