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A Change of Image
The enormous ballroom was alive with golds and blues, illumined by four extravagant chandeliers. The hum of violins was scarcely loud enough to outdo the hum of conversation as all the best-dressed bachelors and bachelorettes of the kingdom mingled on the marble floor. Bellis Beryla watched the commotion by the Royal Staircase, disguised as maid, waiting for her charge.
The music picked up and couples began to move towards the body of the dance floor. Oh, toadspells, she might as well enjoy herself. While no one was looking, Bellis muttered a few magic words and ran her wand over her person. The maid’s attire morphed into a lady’s gown in a shower of sparkles.
Cindy should be here any minute. Bellis smiled as her mind wandered back an hour. The girl had looked so lovely, so happy; oh, to see those rags transformed into such a stunning white gown! Her golden hair waving clean and soft down her back, her blue eyes gleaming . . .
By the palace doors, the announcer called out more names. At this time of night, though, no one but Bellis cared to listen. “Widow Crest of Fickles and daughters, Agatha and Edith.” In walked Miss Crest herself, gray head held high, pinch-faced spawn leering up and down the hall as they followed.
Bellis frowned. If they were here already, her goddaughter couldn’t be far behind! She was sure the coach she’d outfitted was faster than that raggedy thing the Crests had come in. Just as she thought she’d have to go out and look for her—
“Miss—Ella—of . . . Deadwood.”
Her heart rose and she made her way towards the door. Strange how the announcer had stuttered . . . and why hadn’t Cindy said “Greenwood”, like they’d agreed? Perhaps she’d forgotten?
She ran towards the door, then stopped dead in her tracks. It wasn’t Cindy.
This . . . girl? . . . was four inches too tall, for one thing. And dressed in black. Lots . . . and lots . . . of black. Her hair was black and glossy, pulled tight behind her head into a bun skewered by two black rods; a small veil fell across the upper portion of her face. Her eyes were swallowed in black paint that spread out and down into sharp points. Aside from her pitch-black lips, the rest of her face was unusually pale.
She wore a black dress, basically Victorian but for a few . . . alterations. The skirt had been raised just enough to reveal a pair of high-heeled boots (black, of course), and black netting in the style a spider’s web hung from the hem. The bodice was cut off just below the collar bone, so that her shoulders remained bare and strapless, lined with the same spider’s-web netting. A thick choker encircled her throat; from its back hung two spider’s-web shrouds, each connected to either hand by the finger-loops of her long gloves. Black gems glittered about her waist.
Bellis shuddered. Was she supposed to be in mourning? It seemed a rather . . . ostentatious form of grief.
The girl turned to the announcer, who seemed to be cowering from her where he stood, and asked him to direct her to the refreshments table.
Bellis’ jaw dropped. The voice was, unmistakably, Cindy’s. But the tone was all wrong: flat, grim, nearly monotone. Not nearly so sweet and timid as it had been. What had gone wrong?!
The girl turned her head and saw her. No surprise, no concern, no emotion appeared in her level gray eyes. She tilted her head.
What was that supposed to mean?! Was she merely acknowledging her? Telling her to go away? Or inviting her to approach? Whatever it meant, Bellis opted for the latter and hurried over.
“Cindy!” she hissed. “What happened?!”
Cindy shrugged. “You left an extra wand on the seat.”
“I knew you would find it difficult to accept. Art meets its greatest challenge before idealism.”
“If you cannot come to understand it, I shall mourn all the deeper in pity for your lack of vision.”
Bellis sensed a drop in the general ambience of the room. Turning, she saw a portion of the crowd moving steadily away from where they stood, eying Cindy warily. She didn’t blame them. She guided her charge towards a corner and resumed the conversation.
“Why?” She cocked an eyebrow. “Why?” She lifted her chin, raised her hand towards the ceiling, and let her eyes go distant. “Why does man mask his darkest sorrows behind a cloak of merriment and sentimentality? Is he not in truth weighed and wearied with his lot, that he must die and his friends with him? Is he not hypocritical in his enthusiasm for such a brief term on this earth? Better to rise from the oppressive veil and find one’s joys in the inevitable. To glory in one’s lot, if one cannot change it. For death, after all, lasts longer than life!”
She paused, eyes shut. Her hand, still raised towards the ceiling, closed into a fist. Bellis waited for her to continue. When she did not, the fairy coughed.
“Ella,” she corrected.
“I thought you told me to call you Cindy.”
“‘Cindy’ is the nickname of a cruelly given label. I was born and shall die Ella.”
“Fine.” Bellis took a deep breath. “Ella, are you out of your mind?!”
She was not fazed. “Explain.”
“Ella, look at you! You look like a . . . a . . .”
“Ella, how could you go and ruin your beautiful face like this?” she bawled. “Now how is the prince going to notice you?” She thought about what she’d said, then started over. “How is he going to fall in love with you?”
Ella set her hand on her hip and gazed off towards the chandelier. “Should he not find the shroud admissible in court, I cannot bring myself to spend my days at his side.”
Ella and Bellis turned. A young girl had approached and was looking over Ella timidly. “I don’t mean to pry . . . I just want to know if there’s anything I can do. Are you . . . in mourning?”
“Yes,” said Ella. “I mourn the world. I mourn the oppression and the hypocrisy and the narrow view thereof. I mourn fate and I mourn those who deny it. No, you cannot do anything—Unless you can share in the grief and appreciate with me with dark truth denied by the norm.”
The girl nodded and backed away slowly before running back towards the crowd.
Bellis stared. What on earth had come over her goddaughter?! She didn’t smell any enchantments on her mind, and her fairy insight told her this wasn’t an impostor. Regardless, though . . . “That’s it,” she said, pulling out her wand. “I’m ending this lunacy here and now.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible. I had a feeling you might not be able to cope with the change, so I ensured that the spell would last at least until midnight.”
“Midnight?! But that’s when my spell falls apart!!”
“It is a most convenient hour, is it not?”
“Ella, why are you doing this to me?”
“As a creature whose fate is not tainted with the promise of death or haunted with the sorrows of the past, you could not possibly understand. Yours is not the tale of trial and toil.”
Bellis buried her face in her hands. “O-o-oh, this is a disaster.”
“My whole life is a disaster,” said Ella. “One, long, hard disaster.”
“Oh, shut up!”
“That’s right, deny the truth.”
“Look, I just want to know what’s going on! Can’t you just give me a straight answer?”
Ella frowned. “Straight answers cramp my style.”
“I don’t care. What made you decide to change? Just an hour ago you were the sweetest, nicest girl anyone could meet!”
Ella pursed her lips thoughtfully. “How shall I say it? . . . It was always coming.”
“You mean this—THIS—is your dream?”
“I’d not even thought of changing until I found that wand on the seat. But all the previous changes—the white dress, the horses, the carriage—all stirred something in me. When I first realized you’d left the wand, my thoughts went to my feet. You see, gorgeous as they were, those glass slippers were bunions waiting to happen. So I picked up the wand and poof! problem solved. But then I started thinking: I’ve already changed so much, what else could I do? So I stopped the carriage, took stock of the situation, and got to work. A little wardrobe change, some remodeling, and—”
“Wait a minute. ‘Remodeling’?”
“Well, I couldn’t just stop with my person. The carriage deserved sprucing up, too.”
Without another word Bellis ran for the doors. Ella watched as she disappeared. Two seconds later a blood-curdling shriek was heard.
Bellis poked her head back in the door. “WHAT in the blessed name of fairy magic have you DONE with the carriage I gave you?!”
“I turned it back into a pumpkin,” sighed Ella, resuming her tepid air.
“Well, I can see that! But what have you done with it?”
Bellis turned back to the street and gazed woefully at the sight. Yes, the carriage was a pumpkin again, but not the same one. It was gargantuan, and hollowed out. An orange glow emanated from its black silhouette.
But that wasn’t the worst part. The glow came from carved-out portions of its side, shaped to form a hideous face! A gaping, toothy mouth served as the doorway. Two garish, scowling eyes and a triangular nose served as windows—or skylights, however you looked at them.
Bellis felt the energy sap from her limbs. She began to tremble. Her chest heaved. She fell to her knees and began to sob.
“Face it, Bellis,” said Ella. “Grimm is in.”