There were still stitches on her chest, black thorns twisting over her heart. She ran a finger over the crude threads as she looked at the thin, snowy dress waiting for her and hoped that the stitches wouldn’t show beneath it.
Bring me her heart, her stepmother had said.
And so they had.
Whatever beat in her chest now was different. She could feel it, hear it, all the time; each thump and pulse, the constant thud.
She slipped into the dress and swept her hair over her shoulder, falling like an ink-spill down her chest.
Bring me her heart.
She wondered what her stepmother had done with it. Was it now entombed in a trinket box, drained and dried and dead? Had she tossed it straight into the fire and scattered the ashes in the snow? She couldn’t shake the image of her stepmother sitting at the table, red hands and bloodied chin, sinking her lovely white teeth into her heart.
The doctor opened the door with a single sharp knock. He held out a length of red chiffon and a cream lace mask. She took them without a word and turned to the cracked, rusted mirror in the corner. She tied the silk ribbons of the mask, adjusting it around her dark eyes and draped the veil over her head, turning the world crimson.
The masquerade had been going on for hours by the time she arrived. Snow kissed her skin, the flakes clinging to her bare arms. She wore slippers of ice, clear as glass, and her veil brushed against her bottom lip.
She twirled through the crowds and squinted at the masked faces. Hands grabbed at her, eager to touch her impossibly milk-white skin, or kiss her rose-petal lips. She allowed strangers to carry her partner-to-partner across the ballroom floor.
When the music died, all heads turned the same way.
He paused in the doorway, surveying the room. He wore no mask but his head was adorned with a silver-haired headdress. The black eyes of the wolf flashed in the candlelight, its intimidating stare no match for the prince in its gaping jaw.
She was the last to bow, pushing back her veil and looking into his eyes before lowering her head.
The musicians picked up their instruments and the dancers reached for each other.
They parted for the prince as he stalked across the room. She was still, waiting. She took his hand with a smile as he pulled her into the dance.
He is called the Wolf for a reason, they had told her, Make him want you. Make it exciting. Make it a hunt.
So they danced, and danced, and danced, until he raised a hand to her mask and she spun out of his arms. She ran, her head dizzy but her steps graceful.
Outside, the moon was a thin sliver and the stars were sparse.
She paused on the stairs and stamped her foot. The ice slipper shattered and she hissed as splinters sliced her skin. Blood trickled onto the steps and she limped on, leaving a trail of bloodied footsteps in the snow.
The Wolf underestimated her. She was fast and had led him into the shadows. He could taste her blood in the air, sharp and sweet. He could hear her heart, beating without fear.
He forgot everything but her.
Bring me her heart, she had said.
She couldn’t help but lick her lips when it had been brought to her, wrapped in reddened leaves and still dripping blood.
Her stepdaughter’s heart was far more delicious than any before.
She didn’t know that they had a plan. She didn’t know that her stepdaughter had been saved and remade. When the prince came to her home, she didn’t notice the weapon he brought.
She watched the blood pulse in his veins over dinner.
She slipped into his room at the first chime of midnight.
The Wolf lay under the sheets, the eyes and ears of the headdress resting on the pillow.
She leaned in, fingernails sharpened and hunger in her eyes.
A hand gripped her throat and pulled her back.
She writhed and scratched and licked the blood from her fingernails.
She stilled, the taste of the prince’s blood on her tongue.
If she was in the prince’s arms…
The wolf in the sheets moved and stood before her.
The last chime of midnight echoed and her stepdaughter blinked at her from beneath the headdress, moonlight glinting in the dagger in her hand.
A short-story written by H.E.E. Garrow
(featured image found on https://uk.pinterest.com/photogrist)