Red As Blood - A Short Story (Part 2)

'I need you to do something for me,' she declared. The hunter nodded, but made no sound. 'I need you to take the princess into the woods, and kill her.'

It sounded simple when she said it out loud, but Eleanor knew that those few words had just destroyed the last promise she had made to her husband into a thousand pieces. I have done enough for that child, she thought. I cannot let her kill any more people. What if she got out and started pillaging the country, leaving a trail of dead bodies in her wake?

            The hunter's blue eyes were the size of saucers when he heard what she wanted. 'But your majesty,' he whispered, his protests dying on his lips when he saw the look Eleanor gave him.

            'Bring me her heart,' she ordered. She did not know what kind of creature Snow was. She did not know whether the girl could be killed like a normal human, but she remembered the stories her governess had told her about those who haunted the night, feeding on the life of others. The only way to kill them was to carve out their heart and burn it.

            The hunter nodded and scurried out of the room, not looking back to see Eleanor collapse in her throne. Her heart was beating quickly, her breath coming in short gasps.

            'It is for the best,' she mumbled to herself. 'It is for the best.'

            The hunter returned with Snow's heart two days later, and Eleanor burned it herself, watching the flesh perish in the flames. She hired three new servants, two men and a girl, and when they remained alive, more followed. She pushed away all thoughts, all memories of Snow, whose body would now be lying somewhere in the forest, half-eaten by wolves, crows picking at her decaying flesh.

            Two months after Snow's death, a traveller came to the castle, bearing dark news. He sat next to the fire and told seven of the servants about the Jewel Cottage. This cottage stood deep in the woods and was inhabited by seven men, who worked in the mines. Eleanor knew about the cottage, and absent-mindedly touched the large ruby that hung around her neck. It had been a present from her late husband, made just for her by the men of the Jewel Cottage. However, when the traveller had passed by the cottage, he had discovered that, of the seven men, only two were still alive. They lived in their almost deserted house, accompanied by a beautiful girl. The two had told the traveller that their friends had died one by one over the past couple of weeks. As the story spread through the city, Eleanor could feel the cloud of fear returning. She knew what had happened. And she knew that she was the only person who could stop this forever.

It took Eleanor a week to find what she was looking for in the humid, cramped library that occupied the cellars of the castle. The book she had discovered described a poison, designed specifically for creatures like Snow, in order to put them down. It would make it appear like Snow was dead, and she would be buried deep under the ground, where she could harm no one. The only thing that would wake her up, was the taste of human blood.

            Eleanor had always resented her bad memory, but this time, she was grateful for it. Later, Eleanor could not recall how exactly she had persuaded her step daughter to eat the poisoned apple she offered her, when disguised as an ugly old wretch. All that stayed with her was the sound of the girl's body hitting the floor and the realization that this would all be over now. She returned to the castle, whispering apologies to her late husband and his daughter, with a strong determination to unite her country now that the cause of the fear had finally been exterminated forever.

Twigs snap and leaves rustle as Nicholas makes his way through the dense forest, determined to get as far away from his father's castle as possible before sunset. The sun descending slowly through the trees marks the approaching deadline that his father set for him. Find a wife before the ending of the sixtieth day, and Nicholas would become king, as he was supposed to. Fail, and the crown went to Lucas. Stupid, perfect Lucas, with his perfect face and his perfect wife. Nicholas bites his lip until he draws blood. He cannot believe it took him until this morning to realize he was going to fail, that what his brother had always told him was true: who would ever want to marry him.

            He is about to lick the blood of his lips when he sees something unusual between the trees: a coffin made of glass, surrounded by flowers. Two dwarfs, or, vertically challenged people, as his mother would call them, are kneeling next to it, tears streaming down their faces. Nicholas approaches the scene, careful not to startle the men. The coffin is occupied by the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Her black hair stands in drastic contrast with her pale face, and her lips are so red he feels the need to kiss them, immediately. When he asks the men, they agree to let him do it.

            'Maybe you'll be the prince she was always saying would come and save her,' one of them mumbles. Nicholas does not have the heart to tell this mourning man how incredibly wrong he is, and instead he carefully removes the lid of the coffin.

            He leans in, and slowly presses his mouth to the girl's. His eyes fly open the moment he feels her move. Her tongue caresses his bottom lip, licking the blood that was still there. When he pulls back, she smiles at him, showing two rows of shiny, razor sharp teeth. His scream is the last thing that echoes through the forest before it becomes completely silent.

photo credit: Vakkerblack