Cinderella Is Dead Page 2

It happened two weeks ago in the northern city of Chione. There were rumors that an explosion damaged the Colossus, a twenty-foot likeness of Mersailles’s savior, Prince Charming, and that the people responsible were ferried into Lille under cover of night and taken into the palace to be questioned by the king himself. Whatever happened, the details he was able to pry from them sent him into a state of panic. For the first week after the incident, he ordered the mail stopped, our curfew was moved up two hours, and pamphlets were distributed that assured us the incident was nothing more than an attempt by a rogue band of marauders to vandalize the famous statue. It also stated that the perpetrators were put to death.

When I get home, the house is empty and silent. My father is still at work, and my mother is waiting for me at the seamstress’s shop. For a moment, I stand in the center of the floor, looking up at the wall hangings over the door.

One is a portrait of King Stephan, haggard and gray; it shows him as he was before his death only a few years ago. Another is of King Manford, the current king of Mersailles, who wasted no time in pushing out his official royal portrait and requiring that it be hung in every house and public space in town. Our new king is young, only a few years older than I am, but his capacity for cruelty and his lust for absolute control rivals his predecessor, and it is on full display in the third frame hanging over our door. The Lille Decrees.

A minimum of one pristine copy of Cinderella will be kept in every household.

The annual ball is a mandatory event. Three trips are permitted, after which attendees are considered forfeit.

Participants in unlawful, unsanctioned unions will be considered forfeit.

All members of households in Mersailles are required to designate one male, of legal age, to be head of household, and his name will be registered with the palace. All activities undertaken by any member of the household must be sanctioned by head of household.

For their protection, women and children must be in their permanent place of residence by the stroke of eight each night.

A copy of all applicable laws and decrees along with an approved portrait of His Majesty will be displayed in every household, at all times.


These are the hard and steadfast rules set forth by our king, and I know them by heart.

I go to my room and light a fire in the small hearth in the corner. I consider staying until my mother comes looking for me, but I’m worried that she already thinks something terrible has happened. I’m not where I should be. I bandage my knee with a clean strip of cloth and wash my face in the basin.

My copy of Cinderella’s tale, a beautifully illustrated version my grandmother gave me, sits on a small wooden pedestal in the corner. My mother has opened it to the page where Cinderella is preparing for the ball, the fairy godmother providing her with everything her heart desired. The beautiful gown, the horse and carriage, and the fabled glass slippers. Those attending the ball will reread this passage to remind themselves what is expected of them.

When I was small, I used to read it over and over again, hoping that a fairy godmother would bring me everything I needed when it was my turn to go to the ball. But as I got older, as the rumors of people being visited by a fairy godmother became fewer and farther between, I began to think the tale was nothing more than that. A story. I told my mother this exact thing once and she became distraught, telling me that now I certainly wouldn’t be visited if I voiced so much doubt. I never said anything about it again. I haven’t looked at the book in years, haven’t read it aloud like my parents want me to.

But I still know every line.

An ivory-colored envelope sits on the mantel, my name scrawled across the front in billowing black script. I take it down and pull out the folded letter from inside. The paper is thick, dyed the deepest onyx. I read the letter inside as I have done a million times since it arrived the morning of my sixteenth birthday.

Sophia Grimmins

King Manford requests the honor of your presence at the annual ball.

• • •

This year marks the bicentennial of the first ball, where our beloved Cinderella was chosen by Prince Charming. The festivities will be grand, and made all the more special by your attendance.

• • •

The ball begins promptly at eight o’clock on the third of October.

• • •

The choosing ceremony will begin at the stroke of midnight.

• • •

Please arrive on time.

We eagerly await your arrival.


His Royal Highness King Manford

On its face, the invitation is beautiful. I know girls who dream of the day their invitation arrives, who think of little else. But as I turn it over in my hand, I read the part of the letter that so many of those eager young women miss. Along its outer edge, in a pattern that reminds me of ivy snaking its way up latticework, are words in white script that give a dire warning.


It is the first of October. In two days, my fate will be decided for me. As terrible as the consequences will be if I’m not chosen, the danger in being selected might be worse. I push those thoughts away and shove the letter back in the envelope.

I leave the house and make my way to the dressmaker’s shop, taking the long route and hoping I’ll run into Erin. I’m worried to death about her, but I know my mother is worried about me too.

The shops along Market Street are lit up and bustling with people making last-minute preparations for the ball. A line winds out of the wigmaker’s. I peer into his shop window. He’s really outdone himself this year. Elaborately styled wigs crowd his shelves. They remind me of wedding cakes, tiers upon tiers of hair in every shade, the ones on the top shelf featuring things like birds’ nests with replicas of eggs tucked inside.

A young girl sits in the wigmaker’s chair as he places a four-tiered piece atop her head. It’s layered in fresh pink peonies, topped with a small model of Cinderella’s enchanted carriage. It teeters precariously as her mother beams.

I hurry past, cutting through the throngs of people and ducking down a side street. The shops here aren’t ones that my family and I have ever set foot in. They’re for people with enough money to buy the most outrageous and unnecessary baubles. I’m not really in the mood to feel bad about what I can and can’t afford, but this is the quickest way to the town square, where I can cut across and find Erin before I meet my mother.

In the window of one shoe store, Cinderella’s glass slippers sit on a red velvet cushion, illuminated by candlelight. The little placard next to it reads, Palace-Approved Replica. I know if my father had the money, he’d snatch them up immediately, hoping they’d set me apart. But if they’re not enchanted by the fairy godmother herself, I don’t see the point. Shoes made of glass are an accident waiting to happen.

Farther down there is another line snaking out of a small shop with shuttered windows. The sign above the door reads Helen’s Wonderments. Another sign lists the names of tinctures and potions Helen can brew up: Find a Suitor, Banish an Enemy, Love Everlasting. My grandmother told me Helen was just some wannabe fairy godmother and that her potions were probably watered-down barley wine. But that didn’t stop people from putting their trust in her.

As I pass by, a woman and her daughter—who looks about my age—hurry out of the shop. The woman has a heart-shaped glass vial in her hand. She pops the cork and pushes it to the girl’s lips. She drinks the whole thing in one long gulp, tilting her head back and looking up at the evening sky. I hope the things my grandmother said weren’t true, for that poor girl’s sake.

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