A young woman appears on the road in mid-step, and a silvery peal of chimes fills the air of the tower chamber.
“A special one. A strong dreamer,” Lady Felicity says.
She tries to see better and nearly falls, bracing herself against the wall until she’s steady again.
The strong dreamer teeters in cheap high heels. Her gaze jitters as she surveys her surroundings.
“Begin the Cinderella narrative, friend version,” Lady Felicity says.
Around a bend in the road, Cinderella, clad in rags, appears sitting on a boulder. The dreamer stares with wonder-widened eyes at the seamless glass slippers on her feet.
Cinderella asks, “Will you be my friend and come to the ball with me?”
A second pair of glass slippers appears beside her.
“I don’t—” the dreamer stutters. “Nobody’s ever asked—”
In the tower chamber, Lady Felicity holds her breath. Bundles of dried herbs hang noiselessly from the rafters. Books titled with runic symbols sit sedately on her bookshelves. Silence reigns.
Shadows move within the large silver mirror hung on the wall opposite the tower window. The shadows thicken into a woman’s face. Her triple chins jiggle as she chortles. “Nice one. She’s got lots of juice. Time for the test, sister.”
“No, please.” Lady Felicity stretches her arms out imploringly. “Dolores, please. Just this once, let me keep her. So few come here, and none of them stay. Sister, I’m begging you. Please.”
“You have your title. If you’re begging, you should use mine,” Dolores says. She is still smiling, but her words have a vicious bite.
“Bosslady Dolores, please give me this one.”
“You know the rules. The test decides. I will concede nothing.”
Lady Felicity lets her arms drop to her sides, her shoulders sagging in defeat, but she waits for the scene to unfold with all the focus of a thirsty man stumbling toward a mirage.
The dreamer sits beside Cinderella, lets Cinderella take her hand.
A fairy godmother steps out from behind a tree.
“My turn,” Bosslady Dolores says.
The fairy godmother’s ballgown morphs into a business suit. The wand in her hand collapses into a microphone.
“That’s enough,” she says, as she strides over to the girls. She waves her hand dismissively at the dreamer. “You can go. You really aren’t television material.”
“What’s going on?” asks the dreamer. Her hand slips out of Cinderella’s.
Abra Staffin-Wiebe loves optimistic science fiction, cheerful horror, and dark fantasy. Dozens of her short stories have appeared at publications including Tor.com, F&SF, Escape Pod, and Odyssey Magazine. She lives in Minneapolis, where she wrangles her children, pets, and the mad scientist she keeps in the attic. When not writing or wrangling, she collects folk tales and photographs whatever stands still long enough to allow it. Her most recent book, The Unkindness of Ravens, is an epic fantasy coming-of-age story about trickster gods and favors owed. Enjoy an excerpt here: http://www.aswiebe.com/moreunkindness.html