Ella braced herself for the slap she knew was coming. Her stepmother’s hand landed on her cheek like lightning. It left a ringing in her ear. A solitary tear threatened to leave her eye but she was determined not to cry. Not this time.
“When I tell you to clean the house, I expect the house to be clean!” She hissed.
Ella stared at the ground at her feet. Determined not to make eye contact. “Yes, ma’am,” she whispered.
“What was that?”
Ella lifted her face and repeated, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good.” Her stepmother put on the glove she had removed to orchestrate the slap. “Now, make your sister’s and me some tea. We will be in the garden. After that, I expect you to continue cleaning.”
Ella watched them walk away. Her stepmother, the Lady Ariana, in the lead, her two stepsisters in tow like baby geese. The two of them were the spawn of Satan, Satan being the witch she had to call “Ma’am.”
Ana was the oldest. She had beautiful alabaster skin, hair as red as if it were an amber blaze, long and flowing down her back in waves. She was tall and dignified but her eyes were lifeless. Serpentine. She was the most wicked creature Ella had ever had the misfortune to meet. Her sister, Meera, had similar features although her hair was jet black and cropped short. Her skin had a bronze glow and she seemed to glide when she walked. She had a different kind of cruelty. She was indifferent to Ella. It was like she did not even exist.
They had always mistreated her. Made her their personal servant. They piled insults upon insults on her and they were misusing her late father’s money – that was Ella’s by right. She was getting tired of her life.
She was getting tired of them.
Still, she made them their tea and served them in the gazebo then she went back into the house.
Singing, Ella cleaned. She polished the bannisters and polished the door knobs, dusted the picture frame of her late father’s portrait above the mantle of the chimney. Staring at it for a while as she wondered what kind of spell Lady Ariana had cast on him. What manner of witchcraft possessed him to love her more than his own daughter, that he would bequeath his entire estate to that mistress of darkness.
What were you thinking, father, she thought.
Next, she went into the kitchen, polished the silverware and mopped the floors. After that, she went into the study. She organized the multiple volumes therein. Books on history and law. Books on magic and the occult. Recipe books that were strewn about the large desk, under which she found something new. A letter with the seal of the royal family.
Hear ye! Hear ye! The King seeks a maiden for his son to betroth. All the maidens in your house are cordially invited to the King’s ball where the prince will choose one to be his bride. The ball will commence at sunset.
“What are you doing?” Ana screeched from the doorway. Ella looked up, startled. As she caught her breath she studied Ana’s features. They were distorted in anger. Or was it scorn?
Showing her a broom and the feather duster in her hand, she said, “Cleaning.”
Ana squinted her snake eyes. “I meant, what are you doing with that?” She pointed at the letter in Ella’s hand. “That’s not for you.”
“This?” She waved it, her voice getting higher. More assertive. “This is an invite to the King’s ball. For all the maidens in this house. Were you hiding it from me?”
Ana took two large steps and snatched the letter from her. “This is none of your concern. You are not going anywhere!”
“What’s all this?” Ana’s mother appeared in the room. There was a brief moment of silence as a chill filled the room.
Ana pointed. “She thinks she’s invited to the ball.”
Lady Ariana laughed. “That’s nonsense, dear,” she said to Ella. “You can’t go. The house isn’t clean yet. Besides, you have nothing to wear.”
“I could borrow a dress from Ana or Meera?”
“Over my dead body!” Ana hissed.
Lady Ariana smiled, “I will hear no more of this Ella. Finish your chores.” To Ana, she said, “Fetch your sister. We have to get ready to leave after supper. Which reminds me… Ella, we would like pheasant stew for supper.”
Ella stared at the pair. Warm tears flowed down her cheeks. There was a ball, she was invited, she could not go. She hated them. She hated them with everything she had. Something broke inside of her just then. Her soul was filled with blackness. She knew what she had to do. “Yes, ma’am,” Ella said. “Pheasant stew it is.”
Ella puffed and muttered some words under her breath as she kneaded the dough for the bread. Bread she would not get to eat. Bread she did not want to eat. Special bread. Dinner for three.
The house had recently been plagued with rats so Ella had been forced to go out and buy rat poison. Now, they no longer had a rat problem. The apothecary had instructed her that only a few drops were needed for the poison to work. She had put in more than a few drops in the dough and she hoped the spell she had cast would mask any unpleasant taste.
As the bread baked, she made the pheasant stew. She prepared it as she always did making sure she brought out the flavour of the fowl.
She then set the table with the fine crockery and the polished silver she had shined from before. Lady Ariana and her daughters walked in soon after and took their places at the table. Supper was ready and she plated it and served. Ella took her own place, standing behind Lady Ariana like she always did when they ate. She had a small knife in her apron. Just in case.
Meera started eating first. Ella wondered if she thought the food had magically appeared or if it was prepared by elves. Ana joined her. They each took a large piece of bread from the platter. Ella held her breath, almost waiting for them to find her out. They did not. They ate their fill.
Lady Ariana said, “Eat up, girls. We don’t want to eat the food at the ball. God knows I don’t want you two to seem greedy.” She took a piece herself and ate.
After the meal, she cleared the table. Everyone seemed normal still. She cursed under her breath in the kitchen. You can’t kill demons with poison, she thought. Then she heard a loud thud and two others quickly followed. She bounded into the dining room to find the bodies of her stepsisters and stepmother on the floor, convulsing, foam around their mouths.
Lady Ariana looked at Ella and pointed a shaky hand at her before she lost consciousness.
Ella stood still. The sun had set outside and dusk was coming in. She waited for the darkness.
She was downstairs by the furnace. She had dragged the three bodies behind her and had worked up a sweat. There they lay by the fire, naked save for their knickers. She did not want to destroy their clothes. She also did not think their clothes would burn.
Ella rushed up to the kitchen and grabbed the meat cleaver. Running downstairs before she lost her nerve, she chopped off her stepmother’s head. Her blood pooled on the floor, thick and slow. Ella did not care. She knew how to clean. Next, she chopped off her limbs and chopped her limbs into smaller pieces. And then she butchered her torso.
Ana was next. She repeated the procedure on her body.
Meera was last. Her body stirred and her eyes opened suddenly.
“What’s going on?” She asked. Her hand was on her throat. Her hoarse voice barely a whisper.
Ella, covered in blood, still hacking at Ana’s knee stopped and stood. “Hello, Meera.”
Meera’s eyes went wide. she saw her mother’s head by her feet and tried to scream. But Ella was swift and covered Meera’s mouth with her free hand. “Sssh. It’ll all be over soon.” She slammed Meera’s head on the floor twice then brought the cleaver down hard on her neck. Bright red blood sputtered from her throat.
When she was done, she looked into the fire, added more coals, and started throwing in the body parts. Bit by bit. She loved how their hair melted in the heat. She revelled in the sound the burning flesh made. And the smell! She could not get enough of the smell. It smelled so good. Ella reached into the fire with a stoker and brought out a hand. She did not know whose hand it was and she did not care. She took a bite and relished the taste.
Ella heaped more coals into the fire and began to clean. The work went by amazingly quick. Almost as if there was some unseen force helping her. The fire blazed hot and bright, the bones and flesh and the bloody rags she had thrown in melted away. She tossed in her own clothes into the pyre and stood by, naked, letting the heat fill her body. Once she was satisfied that the essence of Lady Ariana and her children was nothing but cinders, she went upstairs to get ready for the ball.
It was a grand ballroom. The colours, the pomp, the dancing were fascinating to her. Ella arrived just before midnight, dressed in the black and gold dress Ana was wearing when she died. She thought it was spectacular and the stares from the court suggested the same. Her golden hair was draped down her shoulder, her lips were dipped in scarlet. Her skin was alive, almost dancing as if it were on fire. When she smiled, she glowed.
A handsome young man, dressed in white approached her. The prince! He asked for a dance and smiling, she obliged. At the end of their dance, he said he was going to dance with someone else.
Ella’s smile faded but just for a moment. “I understand,” she said. Standing up, their hands still holding, she put a chaste kiss on his cheek but before she left his embrace, she whispered a word into his ear. A word she had picked from one of Lady Ariana’s books in the study.
The prince froze and took a deep breath. His eyes glazed over then went back to normal. “I choose you,” he said.
“You choose me for what?” Ella asked.
“To be my bride.”
“Every maiden in the realm is here. Perhaps one of them would be a better wife for you.”
“No. I want you.”
His smile seemed so genuine that for a moment Ella thought the enchantment hadn’t worked. That this was all real. He really did love her and wanted to marry her. She would work on that when they were wed. She would work on getting him to love her for real. Removing the enchantment bit by bit.
So now you probably know that I don’t like the original Cinderella (or the widely popular Disney version). It’s too meeh. Kwa hivyo…
Also, thank you all of you who take the time to read every week. I appreciate your support.
Thank you for voting for the blog ( I hope you voted). I hope we win.
Here’s the picture of Evil Cinderella that inspired this post.
Have a great week.