Original Story - Ashes

A short story this week. It started as one thing before deciding it really wanted to be a retelling of ‘Cinderella’.

Ashes

They laugh at me, call me Ashey-elly because I’m always dirty. Always covered in soot, in ashes.

They think they’re better than me. They have beautiful gowns while I cover my thin body in the raggedy cast-offs they throw at me when they’re done with them. They have pretty shoes for their feet, but I go barefoot, the skin on my feet no longer soft but hardened. My hair used to be shiny like theirs; now it hangs like greasy string. Sometimes I don’t even bother to tie it up; instead, I let it hang loose, covering my face so they cannot see my contempt.

Every moment of every hour of every day… I know the litany by heart – “Ashey-elly, bring my breakfast”; “Ashey-elly, where are my shoes?”; “Ashey-elly, the stairs are filthy”; “Ashey-elly, haven’t you finished cleaning yet?” – and on and on it goes. From morning until night, no peace. Counting the hours until they are finally in bed; until silence creeps in, to blanket the house.

I am done with them. Done with being their drudge when I am the rightful daughter of this house. I suppose I can’t blame them for how can they know when Papa never told them. He hid me away as if I was a thing of shame, and I was too scared a mouse to speak for myself. He called me daughter once, but he is dead now.

I was going to leave weeks ago until I heard of the ball. The ball to celebrate the prince’s birthday; the ball where he will choose his bride. I decided then to wait until after the ball. I could endure this life a while longer.

The prince… I have no words to describe his beauty. I saw him once when he stopped by the house. I was the only one home. He’d become separated from his riding party and chose to wait and water his horse. I offered him a goblet of water. He drank. His companions rode up, and he left without even a word of thanks. He is the same as everyone else then – he sees only dirt and rags, he does not see me.

Finally, it is here, my last night in this house. Long hours are spent getting the stepmother and her twin beauties into stunning gowns, styling hair into the latest fashion, applying powder and paint which, instead of enhancing beauty, only serves to mar it.

When they leave, I stay in the shadows, watching them climb into the waiting coach to be conveyed to the distant palace, lit like a beacon against the encroaching dark.

I close the door and a cat slinks to my side. I laugh softly as I gather him in my arms. The stepmother thinks the cat is hers; how wrong she is. The cat belongs to no one. Black with eyes the colour of glowing embers, he is his own being.

In the kitchen, the cat jumps down to stretch and lie by the fireplace. Standing at the table, I break an egg into an earthen bowl, which already contains rose petals; I mix them together.

Kneeling by the fire with the bowl in front of me, I take the plain box tucked to one side and open it. I run my fingers lightly over the ashes contained inside. I don’t cry anymore when I look at all that’s left of my mother. I used to cry every night even after I learned of the power of her ashes. But now, I feel only a thrill that makes me tremble with exhilaration.

First, I sprinkle a pinch of ashes on my head. Then I cover my fingers with the mixture of raw egg and rose petals before dipping them into the ashes. I anoint my cheeks with the thickened paste. “Transform me, Mother.”

I jolt upright as what feels like a fiery spear lances through me. Sparks burst behind my eyes; I struggle to breathe; my blood freezes–no; I’m on fire. I refuse to cry out. I am strong. I am my mother’s daughter, not some mewling weakling.

Breathing hard, I open my eyes. I don’t remember standing, but I am on my feet. A gown of deep blue has replaced my rags. I slowly make my way to the great mirror in the hallway. Mother’s ashes have transformed me before but never like this.

My stringy hair now tumbles over my shoulders and down my back in glossy chestnut curls. No longer covered in grime, my honey-coloured skin seems to glow. The bodice of my gown glitters like stars in the midnight sky. But my feet remain bare.

The cat meows, drawing my attention. Next to him are a pair of sparkling slippers. My breath catches. Mother’s slippers; the ones Papa had burned with her. I slip them on and smile; they fit perfectly.

In the kitchen, I carefully pour what remains of mother’s ashes into a pouch and go outside. I sprinkle more ashes onto the ground. A small black carriage materialises along with a single black horse, but there is no driver.

Tucking the pouch into my bodice, I climb in; the cat jumps in after me and settles on my lap. The carriage flies to the palace. Surely we must be flying for I feel no jolt or bump, nor do I hear the sound of the wheels on the road.

Then we are at the palace. I climb out and turn to look at the cat. He blinks lazily but doesn’t move. Now that I’m here, I wonder if I have the courage to see it through. “I am my mother’s daughter,” I whisper, my rarely spoken battle cry.

My heart hammering against my chest, I walk up the great stairs leading into the palace. The guards incline their heads but none stop me. I stand in the entrance and stare, my apprehension forgotten. I have never having seen anything so wondrous. The vast hall is as bright as day. I never dreamt one place could hold so many candles. Music seems to fill every corner. And the colours… can there be so many colours in the world? Dancers twirl across the mirrored floor; they seem to be floating.

Then the prince is before me. He asks me to dance. I shake my head, not to be rude but because I don’t know how to dance; I tell him so.

Still, he takes me by the hand and leads me into the hall. The dancers gradually slow and stop to stare as we walk past. I see the stepmother and her daughters; they, too, stare at me. How is it that they don’t recognise me? They see me every day.

The prince leads me up wide stairs to a seating area, which overlooks the hall. As I will not dance, he sits with me and talks. He talks, I listen. He tells me how beautiful I am. He wonders why he has never seen me before; he asks where I am from.

When I say I am one of his father’s subjects, he cannot believe it. Where have I been hiding, he wants to know. I tell him we did meet once. He calls me a delightful liar. I describe the day to him; it takes him some moments to remember. He thinks I was in the house, watching him that day. He laughs when I tell him I was the one who gave him the water and begs me to stop teasing him.

Raised up from the other guests, I feel as if I am on display. This is not what I want; this is not how I want people to see me. I am aware of the stares, many of them unfriendly. My gaze keeps stealing to the great clock. I try to will time to move faster. The prince is beginning to bore me; can he not talk about anything other than my loveliness?

Finally, midnight draws near. I get to my feet and tell the prince I must leave. He grabs my hand and swears he will not let me go. Turning to the crowd, he demands silence. In that same instant, the clock strikes – the first booming chime of twelve.

I must go now. I look across the hall and see the black cat waiting at the entrance. Pulling free, I gather my skirt and run down the stairs. At the last step, I lose a slipper and almost fall. Catching myself, I hop and remove the other slipper before continuing to run; so easy in bare feet.

The prince shouts but no one stops me. I am almost at the door when I see the stepmother. I cannot resist; I stop. The cat meows loudly.

Suddenly, all is silent save for the deafening, stately chimes.

I look the stepmother in the eye and laugh. “Now you see me. I am not your dirty Ashey-elly. I am Eloise, the daughter of the house you believe is yours. Hans was my father before he was your husband.”

Her eyes widen; her fan drops from her grasp and she sways but doesn’t fall.

“My mother was his first love. But he didn’t understand her. So, he erased her and thought to erase me. And now that you have seen me, you will never see me again.”

Pulling the pouch from my bodice, I pour the ashes on my head. They swirl around me. I realise I am still holding the slipper. Soon, I will have no more need for slippers or gowns.

Agonising pain explodes inside me. I drop the slipper. A broken shard flies up to slice my cheek; I barely notice. Clutching my belly, I fall to my knees. I cannot stop the cry that escapes me. It is as if I am being squeezed into a tight ball on the inside. The pain… I want to scream; I have no breath. A million needles erupt through my skin. I want to die, to stop the pain. I am dying…

Finally, I can breathe. I swallow great mouthfuls of delicious air. I open my eyes. And blink rapidly. The world seems larger, wider, but the colours… the colours are dimmer yet some things are clearer; the people are taller, so much taller and bigger.

I turn to look straight into the eyes of the black cat. He touches his nose to mine then moves away and starts to run down the stairs, into the night. I jump out of the blue gown, lying puddled on the floor. I stare at my feet–no, my paws, my mottled, honey-chestnut paws. Then I, too, am running, running down the stairs, following the black cat into the night. Following my prince into the lively, dazzling night.

Midweek Tales: Original Poetry - Lord of the Rings II

Continuing on from last week...

Arwen:

Hair, black as night
Against luminous skin
Shining star-like
Undying as the star whose name she bears
Neither waxing nor waning
In the evening sky
As steadfast as the love she bears
Holding to the vow she made
Knowing, not caring, that one day
It will lead to the waning of her star.

Gandalf:

Always travelling
Always welcome
Where did he come from?
When did he first come?
None know the answer
None care
Only glad that he walks among them
Defending without hesitation
Even against that which he has yet to be tested
Falling…
To rise again
To walk among them as before
Once again defending without hesitation
Though victory seems nothing more than a dream.

Merry and Pippin:

Together
Joined by invisible bonds
Not brothers, but close as…
No, closer than brothers could hope to be.
Even names seem joined
Cannot say one name
Without the other springing to mind
An alien concept, being parted
But when parting becomes necessary
Bewilderment gives way to fortitude
Adding strength to an already unbreakable bond.

Frodo:

Faithful loyal friend?
No, more than mere ‘friend’
No word comes to mind
That can describe your tenacity
Your steadfast love.
Every time I look around
There you are, doggedly following
Even when I snap in anger
When I succumb to its hypnotic spell
Even when I spurn you
You’re always there to drag me back to sanity.
And even here at the fiery end
Still, by my side, you remain.

Sam:

I was told not to leave you
And I won’t
No matter what hardships we face
What nameless horrors lie before us
I won’t leave
Even when you turn on me
Turn me away, tell me to leave.
In despair, I stumble away…
Then realisation dawns
I hurry back to your side
And I know I won’t ever leave
I’ll help you see this through to the end
Through the fire and beyond
Only death will keep me from your side.
But, in the end, it is you who leaves
And I remain.

Midweek Tales: Original Poetry - Lord of the Rings

Back when the Lord of the Rings movies first came out, I was trying different styles of writing. I always assumed poetry had to rhyme. I am absolute rubbish at trying to get any sort of rhyming going in my writing, so my attempts at poetry are all the non-rhyming sort. I wrote a few pieces based on LotR characters, and have decided to share them. I'll post a few this week, and the rest next week.

For some reason, no matter how hard I tried, I could not come up with anything for Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli, that wasn't clunky or cheesy, so they don't feature in my collection.

Boromir:

Boromir.jpg

A man of honour, of valour
One who is looked to, to make things right
And you will do it
But at what price?
Will you forfeit your soul
To make everything right?
You stand on the edge
Staring into the abyss
Madness beckons
Then…
A glimmer of salvation…
As you sacrifice your life
Your soul is spared
And now you lie, at peace
For your final journey.

Theoden:

Theoden.jpg

Pride and glory lost
To poison stealing the mind
To dark dreams stealing hope…
Sudden white light
Pierces the mind
Nowhere to hide
Defeating the poison
Dispelling the darkness
Heralding freedom
To rise up and stand tall once more.
But…
The damage has been done
Too much hesitation
Guilt, self-loathing
You allow another to lead your people
To mistaken safety
To face, instead,
The long, dark night
Of blood and death…
Could this be the end?
The sun rises
Doubt shatters
Now is the moment of truth
Reborn as a god of old
To ride, to lead your men
Once more
Pride and glory restored.

Riders of Rohan:

Chainmail clad
Bearing spear and shield
Astride powerful steeds
Ever ready for battle
Riding the plains to defend and protect
To be one with the horse
To fly over the land
To fly with the wind
No care save the sheer joy of riding…
To be one with the horse
But not to relax
Not to delight in the sheer joy of riding
But to be ever vigilant
Against enemies who appear from too many fronts.

Eowyn:

Eowyn.jpg

Pale and cold as a winter morning
Living day after day as a trapped bird
He comes with a kind word, a look
Defences start to crumble
Stoic pride gives way to smiles
Gives voice to ever-present desire to fight
Ignores pride to confess true feelings
Which, alas, cannot be answered
But which sets the mind
To ride out to battle
To face the horror
That only she can fight
Thus proving herself
A true daughter of kings.

Midweek Tales: Behind The Door - An Original Story

This is a story I scribbled out last year then put away. I came across it while tidying some of my writing stuff, and decided to work through it to see where it goes…

The door stood ajar, a sliver of light cutting into the darkened hallway. Standing a few yards away, Jacob could hear sobbing and muffled words drifting through the door. He felt a sudden need to comfort the woman, for he assumed that only women made noises like that when they wept. As he approached, he hesitated, not wanting to intrude. Maybe I should get Amanda, he thought. She’ll know what to do, women always do. But he remained where he was.
      His girlfriend, Amanda, was interested in the apartment on the ground floor that was available to rent. He’d come with her to view it; everything had been going fine until they’d had a storming argument. Not wanting to wait with her for the letting agent, who'd forgotten some small key, to return, Jacob had taken himself off to the upper floors.
      He knew the building was old but only now appreciated how very old it was. The patterned wallpaper covering the walls was barely perceptible; random strips hung in tatters, reaching for the floor; the carpet was so worn, it revealed patches of floorboard. Even the light fittings looked ancient. And the upper floors seemed empty; except for a frail-looking old woman who peered out of her door as he ascended the final flight of stairs.
      The sobbing continued to rise and fall, tugging at his emotions. With a shake of his head, he put aside his own feelings of possible embarrassment and slowly pushed the door open.
      As Jacob stepped into the room, the grieving sounds seemed to fade. To his consternation, he found himself standing in an empty room; he frowned. Now the sobbing seemed to be coming from the inner room, from behind a small, closed door. “That’s funny,” he said. “I could have sworn the crying was coming from this room.” But the room was completely empty, down to the naked windows.
      The crying seemed to draw him towards the door. Marching up to it, Jacob took hold of the doorknob, and immediately snatched his hand away. It was cold. Freezing cold. Absently rubbing his hand, he stared at the door knob; it felt like the inside of a freezer. Slowly, he reached out to it, hesitated then knocked on the door instead, though not very convincingly. “Who’s there?” He was aware that his voice was shaking.
      Still, the woman continued to sob and plead as if she had not heard Jacob. “Open it, please open it. Have pity…”
      Unable to bear it any longer, Jacob braced himself, grabbed the door knob and twisted. But the door did not budge. Quickly pulling his icy hand away, he blew on it before rubbing his hands together. “Now what?” he muttered.
      “Why do you not open it?” said the woman between sobs. “I can hear there is someone there. I beg you–”
      “It’s locked,” said Jacob. “I don’t have a key.”
      “No. It cannot be, there is no lock,” she said, her words ending in a wail.
      Bending slightly to study the door, Jacob saw there was no keyhole. Which meant the door was, most likely, jammed.
      “Please, please, I will be good now. Open it, please. Before it–” Her begging sobs were abruptly cut short.
      Jacob slowly straightened up. “Hello?” he said. Silence. Not just from behind the door, but all around him. It was as if nothing else existed but Jacob, the door and the now-silent woman. The only sounds that penetrated the silence - his pounding heart, his laboured breathing. A bead of sweat crawled down the side of his face.
      His fingers brushed the door knob. Still icy cold. “Hello?” he said again, so softly, he could barely hear himself. She’s not crying now, he reasoned with himself. She should be ok to open the door herself. It’s ok for me to go now. Amanda must be wondering where I am. He turned to go. But what if the woman is hurt? He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling betrayed by his own mind. What if she needs help? Your help? Open the door, Jacob, whispered the insistent voice in his mind, the voice he had not heard in years; the voice that had always got the young Jacob into trouble.
      He shook his head, trying to deny it. “I don’t want to.”
      But I want to see what’s in the room. I want to know what’s happened to the woman. And I know you do too.
      “No. I don’t want to see…” But his hand reached for the door knob anyway as he held his breath, fervently hoping the door would be too jammed for him to open. His breath escaped in a keening moan as the door now opened easily. It swung inward on its hinges, revealing a small, empty room. There were no furnishings, no windows… And no woman. His mouth went dry.
      “Jacob? Are you up there?” Amanda’s voice floated up the stairwell. “Let’s talk. Please.”
      He glanced over his shoulder. And jumped. The old woman he’d seen earlier was stood in the doorway, staring at him with piercing grey eyes.
      “I’m sorry,” he started to say before wondering why he was apologising.
      “You should not have opened the door.” Her voice was surprisingly strong and clear for one who looked so frail. Her snow-white hair formed a gossamer halo around her head.
      “But. She was crying, she needed help–”
      “You should not have,” was all she said as she stepped back out into the corridor, her eyes mirroring the sadness in her voice.
      Amanda’s voice sounded closer. “Jacob. Are you up here? That guy hasn’t come back yet.”
      Standing just inside the inner room, Jacob was gripped by an inexplicable, child-like fear. He wanted to step out of the room. He strained to put one foot in front of the other; his limbs felt like lead. About to answer Amanda, his reply froze in his throat. An icy hand closed over his wrist.
      “You opened the door,” breathed a cold voice in his ear; it was the crying woman. “For that I am grateful. But you should have opened it sooner. Before it got hungry.”
      “No…” Jacob tried to pull away but the woman, whom he could not see, only feel, held him fast.
      “Come, cold one. Here is one that is warm, fresh.”
      The temperature around Jacob plummeted.
      “Jacob, where are – oh. Hello.” Amanda sounded so close. “Have you seen–”
      “He should not have opened the door,” said the old woman.
      “What? What door?”
      Amanda! Help me, screamed Jacob; but only in his mind. He could not find his voice. Shuffling, grunting sounds came towards Jacob. Terror returned his voice to him – “No!” With that, he lunged out of the door.
      The woman shouted. "No. I need you to stay."
      His back felt like it was on fire as something tore through his shirt, tore at his skin. He turned to fight her off. But all he could see was glimpses of her; she kept fading in and out of view. What he managed to see robbed him of strength. Protruding eye; skin stretched tight over her skull with clumps of hair missing; long, skeletal fingers…
      "It needs you. Then I can go free."
      His mind rebelled at her words, but he remained frozen where he stood.
      “Jacob!”
      Amanda’s horrified voice goaded him into action. The woman came into view again; he punched her in the face and kicked out. She staggered back, loosened her hold enough for him to pull free.
      Stumbling out of the door, he saw Amanda – gorgeously plump, fleshed-out Amanda – running towards him. He was almost out of the room when he jerked to a stop and fell forward. The woman had grabbed his legs. Despite her skeletal appearance, she was strong. Strong enough to pull him back.
      Amanda screamed, fell to her knees and grabbed Jacob by the arms. Grimacing with the effort, she pulled. He yelled. She reached over, grabbed his belt and pulled harder. He inched towards her, but his legs were still in the room.
      “God… Amanda. Don’t let go.”
      “Never,” she said through gritted teeth. A small scream leapt from her. She half-fell back then shot forward. “Let. Him go.”
      Jacob heard the sound of someone being slapped; the grip on his legs loosened. He kicked out and scrabbled free.
      A howl of denial followed him.
      Jacob knew he had to close the door but was too terrified to reach back in for it. Then Amanda, still on her knees, leant past him, grabbed the door knob and pulled it shut just as a skeletal hand snaked out of the dark. Trembling, she turned to him, eyes wide and burst into tears.
      He got to his feet, his own limbs shaking and managed to pull her up. Arms tight around her, he staggered back, unable to take his gaze from the door.
      “You. Escaped…”
      Jacob jumped; he'd forgotten about the old woman. She was staring at him in obvious surprise. But before he could say anything, she gestured urgently for him to join her in the corridor.
      Outside, his arms still around Amanda, he could not help looking back into the room. He shuddered; the small, inner door was fading from view.
      The old woman pulled the outer door shut. Shuffling behind Jacob and Amanda, she started to herd them towards the stairs.
      Glancing back, Jacob stopped. There was no door. Only bare wall. He tried to speak.
      “Come,” said the woman. “It is best to leave now. You have had a lucky escape. Do not tempt fate.” She stopped on the next floor down, by the door to her apartment.
      Jacob suspected the entire floor was empty, save for her.
      Amanda had managed to stop her tears but she still held onto Jacob. “What. Happened. What–who was–?”
      For a moment, it seemed as if the old woman was going to enter her apartment without another word, but she stopped, her back to them. “My sister. She is suffering her punishment for interfering in things best left alone.”
      “But… you…” Jacob wanted to know more but could not find the words.
      “She, we were younger than you and so happy. Then she… It was another time.” With that, she disappeared into her home.
      The couple stared at the door then made their way back down to find the agent waiting for them.
      “There you are,” he said with a nervous laugh. “I thought you’d gone. Here’s the key; sorry about that–”
      “Actually,” said Amanda, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be wanting this place.”
      Leaving the slightly annoyed man behind, they left the building.
      “Hey,” said Jacob, “I’m sorry about what I said earlier before–.”
      “No, it’s ok. I can’t even remember what we were arguing about,” she said with a slight shake of her head.
      “Thanks for coming to look for me. If you hadn’t–”
      “Don’t.” She stopped to put her arms around his waist. “Please, can we not talk of that?”
      “Sure.”
      “And… can I stay at yours tonight?”
      “Yes. Yes, please.” He hugged her tighter, glad she had suggested it for he did not want to be alone.
      As they walked towards his car, Jacob kept glancing at the people around them. Aware of the tension in his limbs, he tried to slow his breathing. What’s wrong with you? he thought. It’s done, you’re safe. That… whatever that was, is in there, not out here. Out here, everything’s normal. He nodded as if the physical act would make it true. But he knew that nothing in his world would ever be normal again.