Cinderella Six Feet Under
Author:Maia Chance

Holy Moses. He looked like something that had crawled out of a nightmare.

The man stood so abruptly that his chair collapsed behind him. He lurched towards them.

Ophelia hopped down into the vegetable patch.

Prue recoiled. For a few seconds she seemed suspended, twirling her arms in the air like a graceless hummingbird. Then she pitched backwards and thumped into the garden a few steps from Ophelia.

“Hurry!” Ophelia whispered. “Get up! He’s opening the window!”

Prue didn’t get up. She screamed. The kind of long, shrill scream you’d use when, say, falling off a cliff.

The man flung open the window. He yelled down at them in French.

“Get me off of it!” Prue yelled. “Oh golly, get me off of it!”

Ophelia crouched, hooked her hands under Prue’s arms, and dragged her to her feet. They both stared, speechless, down into the dark vegetation. Raindrops smacked Ophelia’s cheeks. Prue panted and whimpered at the same time

Then—the man must’ve turned on a lamp—light flared.

A gorgeous gown of ivory tulle and silk sprawled at Ophelia’s and Prue’s feet, embroidered with gold and silver thread.

A gown. That was all. That had to be all.

But there was a foot—mercy, a foot—protruding from the hem of the gown. Bare, white, slick with rainwater. Toes bruised and blood-raw, the big toenail purple.

Ophelia’s tongue went sour.

Hair. Long, wet, curled hair, tangled with a leaf and clotted with blood. A face. Eyes stretched open. Dead as a doornail.

Ophelia stopped breathing.

The thing was, the dead girl was the spitting image of . . . Prue.





2




The goggled man’s yelling stopped, and he vanished.

He’d be summoning the law. Or maybe unleashing a pack of drooling hounds.

Ophelia managed to stagger away with Prue from that horrible . . . thing. Prue’s whimpers inched into a hysterical register.

Ophelia lowered them both to a seat on the edge of a fountain. The fountain’s black water mirrored the lights of the party still going full-steam ahead inside. Those fancy folk hadn’t heard Prue’s screams through the piano music.

“Calm yourself. It will be all right.” Ophelia stroked Prue’s hunched back. These were hypocritical words, since Ophelia was feeling about as calm as a nor’easter herself. But what else could you say to a girl who’d just laid eyes on her dead double? “We’ll leave this place, Prue, just as soon as you’re able to walk. How would that be?”

Prue panted through her teeth.

“And that girl,” Ophelia said, “well, there must be some horrible mistake, or maybe—”

“How could it be a mistake? Them holes in her. The blood. The—”

“I don’t know. But we’ll leave, even if it means sleeping on a park bench, but first you must steady your breath, and—”

“My sister.”

“Sister? Have you a sister?” In all the years Ophelia had known Prue, she’d never heard of a sister.

“Had. I had a sister. Now she’s gone, and I never had a—had a—had a—” Prue crumpled into fresh sobs.

Her sobs were so noisy that Ophelia didn’t hear the scrunching gravel behind them until it was too late.

“You two,” someone said just behind them. “Mais oui. I might have guessed.”

Ophelia twisted around.

Baldewyn the steward minced around the fountain. Even in the dim light, it was easy to see his pistol, aimed straight at Ophelia’s noggin.

“You hold that gun just as prettily as a feather duster,” Ophelia said, “but doesn’t the hammer need to be cocked?”

“Forgive me,” Baldewyn said. “I had been inclined to think I was dealing with a lady. Not”—he cocked the hammer— “a sharpshooter. I had almost forgotten that you two are not only derelicts, but Americans. Does everyone in that wilderness of yours fancy themselves a—how do you say?—cowboy? S’il vous pla?t, rise and walk.”

“Not on your nelly.”

“What a quaint expression. Does it mean no? Sadly, no is not, at this juncture, a possibility. The marquis has informed me that you have been trespassing, and that there appears to be a corpse on the premises. On occasions such as these, it is customary to take invading strangers into custody.”

“You aren’t the police,” Ophelia said.

“Oh, the Gendarmerie Royale has been summoned and the commissaire will be notified. You cannot escape. Now, I really must insist”—Baldewyn leaned around, pressed the barrel of the pistol between Ophelia’s shoulder blades, and gave it a corkscrew—“that you march.”

He prodded Ophelia with the gun across the garden to the house, Prue clinging to Ophelia’s arm all the way. They reached a short flight of steps that led down to a door. Windows on either side of the door guttered with dull orange light.

“The cellar?” Prue said. “You ain’t going to rabbit hutch us in the cellar are you, mister?”

Baldewyn’s answer was a shove that sent Ophelia and Prue slipping and stumbling down the mossy steps. Baldewyn followed. He kicked open the door, and bundled Ophelia and Prue across the threshold.

The door slammed and a latch clacked.

They were locked in.