This story is my contribution to Chuck Wendig’s writing challenge this week: Fairy Tales, Remixed. I chose Cinderella and random.org gave me lucky 7, Urban Fantasy. This is flash fiction, so I only had 1000 words to work with. I used 997. Hope you enjoy.
“I never wanted this,” I whisper.
“I know.” He lifts my hair and unties the crimson ribbon that he wrapped around my neck when he chose me. “That’s only going to make it sweeter.”
The invitation to the Vampire’s Ball arrived early on a Friday morning. My step-sister’s screeches filled the house, growing louder as she and her friends thundered up the stairs toward her bedroom.
“Get out!” Annabelle shrieked. I dropped the laundry and fled. They’d be swooning for hours over the prospect of being chosen as the year’s convert— the prince’s choice this year, and his first.
As for me, I would stay home the night of the ball, maybe break into my stepmother’s liquor cupboard and try to forget that I’d be old enough to go next year. Let my stepsister be excited about taking her chances. Maybe he’d choose her. She’d be turned into a vampire, and join the ruling class. Someone would be chosen, but hundreds of others would be consumed.
I didn’t like those odds, myself.
On the day of the ball, the house erupted into chaos. Annabelle’s bedroom reeked of the pheromone-inspired perfume she’d decided on as a battle plan, and I spent my day short-order cooking iron-rich meals for her. She stuffed herself into a party dress with a daring neckline designed to seduce a prince of the night. I slipped into hand-me-down yoga pants and curled her hair.
My stepmother called me to her room late that afternoon. I zipped up her skin-tight red dress, covering up the delicate fairy-wing tattoos on her shoulders that she got when she was young enough to play the game, herself.
“Where’s your dress, Ella?” she asked. “You’ll need to get ready.”
“I’m not go—”
Her red-clawed hand was around my throat before I could finish my answer. “You are going,” she whispered. “Find a dress, I don’t care what it looks like. You will attend.”
“I’m not old enough,” I gasped. “Not until next month.”
She sneered. “So switch your ID bracelet with Annabelle. She’ll be refused entry, I’ll still have a chance at having a family member consumed. If you die, she and I will be safe.” Tears shone in her hard, blue eyes. “You know how the game works as well as I do.”
Of course I knew. The vampires killed my father before he had any daughters old enough to attend. Later, my oldest stepsister’s death had bought the rest of the household our safety for a year. After that ran out, neither my stepmother nor her remaining daughter had left the house after dark.
No, the late-night errands had been left to me. What choice did I have? I could serve this family, or become a meal on the street.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, and went to Annabelle’s room to find something to wear.
I found the ash-gray dress at the bottom of her reject pile, turned down because the neckline was too high. I had no interest in catching the prince’s eye— or anyone else’s. Perhaps I’d blend in with the shadows and come out alive.
They were so beautiful, those girls gathered outside of the hall. Some bounced on their toes, excited, dazzled by the glamor of the evening. Others shuffled nervously as the realization of what we were all doing sank in. Each of us had a chance to be chosen by the prince, to become one of the undying ones, but every effort to capture his attention only increased the odds that we’d end the night dead, drained by another vampire.
Even so, Annabelle screamed as she was turned away at the gate. Her eyes blazed as the guards scanned my wrist and allowed me to enter. “Thief!” she shrieked, and reached out to grab me. She only caught the shoulder of my dress.
“What a shame,” the girl next to me said as we watched them pull Annabelle away, clutching a mass of gray fabric in one hand. “Your dress was pretty.”
I nodded and held the front together, covering as much skin as I could.
The girls flocked to the prince as soon as they entered, as though he would protect them. Not one of us knew what he looked like, but it was easy enough to pick out his golden crown. They crowded around him at the table, and he fed them morsels of food from a plate he never touched for himself.
I let my long hair shadow my face, and clung to the darkness.
“Pathetic, isn’t it?” murmured a voice behind me. I spun around. A tall vampire leaned against the wall, deadly and beautiful… and the most terrifying, fascinating creature I’d ever laid eyes on.
“Why aren’t you up there, Cinders? You’d make a gorgeous vampire.” He reached for the hand that held my dress closed and pried my fingers apart. My dress fell open, leaving the torn fabric barely hugging my breasts. “Dance with me,” he whispered.
And God help me, I did.
“Why did you disguise yourself?” I ask, and the prince pauses. He twists the red ribbon between his cold fingers before he answers.
“I wanted something real.” He runs the tip of his tongue across the sensitive spot under my ear. My body betrays me, responding to his touch. “Not the desperate social climbers. Your fear is pure, and I think rivaled only by your desire.”
He steps away, and when I look into his eyes, I know it’s true. I have never feared or wanted anything so much.
His fingers sink back into my hair and he pulls me closer, pressing his lips to mine. I groan as one of his fangs scratches my lower lip. I taste blood, and his arms tighten around me, iron bars holding me captive.
And I give myself over to him.