The book I’m reading is Copper Girl by Jennifer Allis Provost from right here on Scene 13. My word is Time. My picture focuses on the portion of a clock ticking down till midnight…
The low tone of the bell vibrates through my body, interrupting the kiss I’d waited so long for. I press harder into his body, trying in vain to push away the fear awakened inside. It isn’t fair that seconds ago my entire being belonged to the moment. His sweet taste, the warmth of his hands on my neck, his finger skimming the edge of my jaw.
But now the ethereal face of the faery claims my mind and the moment of my lifetime is lost. Tears well in my eyes as her cat-like pupils stare unblinkingly at me as though accusing me in my own memory of welching on the bargain.
“Everything reverts to normal at the stroke of midnight,” she sang. It seemed like forever. And forever felt long enough. But I was wrong.
“Is something the matter?” His voice is so kind. I’m not used to be spoken to in such a fashion. The tears spill over as I pull away and the second chime sounds.
I want to tell him. I want him to rescue me from a life no one should have to live. But I promised not to reveal myself. Why did I promise? Would she not have given me the gown and the coach if I’d refused to relent? Surely he wouldn’t care about my station in life. After all, everyone in the kingdom was invited, it was merely my mistress that refused my company.
“I really must go. I didn’t realize how late it’s gotten.” Still I do not move from the wrought iron bench near the gleaming fountain, which trickles beside us.
His hand finds my own, stroking each finger and sending tremors through every inch of me. “Surely you can stay. What is so important that it cannot be excused by the prince?” He laughs a bit and I admire the way his eyes crinkle in the corners.
I shake my head when the third chime sounds. The yellow eyes and green locks of the faery queen who visited me mere hours before prick my mind like a splinter and I find myself pulling away.
The prince rises with me and I gather up my billowing, silver skirts so I can flee. Because if I waste one more delicious moment in this dream I will never have the courage to do what I must. Because she warned me. Warned me that if I do not leave by the stroke of midnight, the prince will die. What did I care for the prince when I made such a bargain?
“Please,” he begs, and I hesitate at the door to the sound of the fourth chime. Are they getting louder now? Or is it my imagination? “I must see you again. Tell me your name.”
I bite the inside of my cheek and a metallic taste fills my mouth as I rush back through the palace, past tapestries and armor, marble balustrades and throngs of people dressed in their finest.
The prince is fast. He catches my arm as I race through the front doors and down the first set of steps.
“Let go of me!” I shout, panicking as the eighth chime explodes through my head. Or is it the ninth?
He releases my arm as though I’m made of lightening. “Please. I cannot bear to live without you. I don’t care if it’s witchcraft or madness, you’ve taken my heart and I will not survive without it.”
No amount of beatings from my mistress or “sisters” can compare to the pain ripping through me right now. What cruelty has the faery brought me? I heard the stories as a child. I know better than to trust one of the little people, but I was so desperate to go. To have one night of being truly alive.
What if it isn’t true? What if she lies?
The clock does not wait for me to reason, it sounds again and I stumble backward, losing a shoe on the steps. The glass shatters, leaving a scrape on the bottom of my foot where the blood pools on the marble and the pain shocks me into motion.
Half limping, half running, I make my way down the winding path to the gates of the palace. My hysterical crying does not drown out the next chime. Nothing can. At best I have one more. But i’ve kept my end of the bargain. I cannot kill my love.
I catch sight of myself in the shining metal plates beside the gate. I remain the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Perhaps if my eyes were clear I would find them red and frightful, but all I really see is a smudge. A sparkling silver star with ebony hair and tiara. My foot aches, my stomach turns at the thought of returning to my position, but I set my jaw and turn to leave nonetheless. I cannot dwell on the hours it will take to walk home for I see the rotting gourd lying amidst the fine carriages. It’s already changed back into a pumpkin.
The final stroke of midnight sees me just outside the gate, still uncertain how to move forward. “My lady!” he calls from behind and I turn as the changes overcome me. FIrst my dress. Then my hair. It all morphs into rags and dirty tangles as I stare uncomprehending at the prince.
In his hand he holds the shards of my failed slipper, still spotted with my blood. We are frozen. He on one side of the palace gates, me on the other. The final chime ended, but still plays in my ears.
Between us the faery materializes, her eyes glowing golden slits, her twig-like arms flailing. “You failed!” she screams at me.
“No!” I shout over her inhuman cries. “I ran. I did not tell him a thing. I held up the bargain.”
“But he sees,” she hisses. “He knows it was me and my plans have failed.”
“Guards! Seize the faery!” The prince lunges forward but misses as she collapses into a puff of dust.
I sob outright at he pulls me into his arms and holds me to his chest. “My darling. It is all right. I know that faery and her tricks. She charmed me once, and I sent her away. Now she has tried to get even by bringing me my true love then taking you from me.
“You mean I do not have to go?” I speak into his jacket.
He laughs again and tilts my head up to meet his eyes. “Never leave me.”