Preview the beginning here:
was sacrificed to the Jackal that Christmas. Her parents gave her up
willingly when the black cab came. They had been blessed with eleven
children, all in fine health; one was no great loss, they solemnly
agreed. Moreover, they had not been especially fond of Cebina. She
had always been a queer child. She suffered from an assortment of
nervous gestures―nail-biting, tremors of the hands and feet―she
was unable or unwilling to curtail, and she had a habit of muttering
to herself just below the threshold of hearing, so that she might
have been speaking in tongues, for all anyone knew. She sat with her
shoulders hunched; her siblings, snickering, called her Vulture.
Sometimes, while the other children frolicked raucously about the
house, she would clamp her hands over her ears, curl into a lump of
lace and muslin, and lay for hours, hardly moving, on the floor of
the pantry, like a bomb threatening to detonate.
So when the
black cab came for Cebina on a frigid night in late December, some
days before the holiday, there were no tears, though her parents did
attempt to conceal their relief that she would not be in
when her fuse was finally spent.
afraid this is goodbye, my dear girl,” said Father, giving Cebina a
squeeze on the shoulder. His reflex had been to reach out for a
handshake, but partway through the gesture he had thought better of
it, and for a perilous moment his hand had wavered in the space
between himself and his daughter. He hoped the cab driver, whose
silhouette loomed in the doorway, had not noticed his hesitation.
had noticed, glared. Her husband was always humiliating her in front
of company. He understood numbers and nothing else; numbers clung
like tobacco fumes to his clothes. If she were to cut off the top of
his head (as she had been tempted on more than one occasion to do),
out would pour numbers―suspended, she imagined, in a kind of aspic
jelly. They were hardly sending the girl off to boarding
were they? No, circumstances called for a far grander demonstration
over and gave her daughter a peck on the cheek, a display which
succeeded, at least, in being wetter than her husband’s.
little Cebina,” she said, approximating a beam of pride, “marrying
at fifteen. Who would have thought?”
Cebina’s mother had never dreamed she would be rid
of her daughter so soon. For not only did Cebina exude a peculiar air
of menace, she was also unbeautiful. She did not have the china
of her sister Rigmor, or the coppery
of Karina, or lips red as peppermint candy, like her sister
Christine. Her features were chaotic and crooked, as though God,
grown bored with the classical mode in which he had chiseled her
sisters, had begun to dabble in the avant-garde as he fashioned her.
Cebina’s mother had often lain awake at night hatching plans, plans
she knew all too well were thoroughly deranged, to convince some
hapless fellow he had found the ideal bride in her daughter.
father had never deeply considered the problem of his daughter’s
charmlessness. He had scarcely considered her at all. Like other
equations he could not solve, he had relegated her to a dusty trunk
at the back of his brain where he would not have to be reminded too
frequently of her existence. In fact he had directly addressed his
daughter no more than nine times in her fifteen years of life, and
only one of those times, when inquiring into the whereabouts of his
newspaper, had he called her by the correct name. Faced with the loss
of the girl, imminent and irrevocable, he felt only the faint
consolation that she would not be around to bewilder
farewells in silence. She stared sullenly at things. Occasionally,
she yawned. Mother cringed at the sight of her daughter’s open
mouth, uncovered and cavernous. The girl yawned as conspicuously as a
jungle animal, and with a similar perverse satisfaction. So she would
show no emotion: no fear or love, not even anger in the face of―well,
there was no avoiding the truth of
the face of her
So she would refuse to behave like a normal girl to the bitter end.
So be it.
coughed. This was the first sound he had made since rousing Mother
and Father in the middle of the night with his knock on the door.
Father had gone to answer, knowing beyond doubt that the black cab
had come; still he had shrunk back in fear from the figure towering
in their doorway. Without waiting for the driver to announce himself,
he had stammered that he would fetch his daughter right away and
up the staircase.
Now he and
his wife waited. They longed for their visitor to say something, to
fill the spangled sprawl of the winter night with the warmth of
meaningless chatter. The cough must surely be a
signal to them―the
overture to some announcement.
Out of the
darkness a snowflake the size of a swan’s feather tumbled down,
settled on the black brim of the driver’s hat, and remained there
with all the assurance of a white
or ribbon, as if it had always been there, as if he had fixed it
there himself with a pin. He said nothing.
At the same
time words bubbled forth from both of Cebina’s parents.
not inviting the man indoors (and on such an inhospitable night!);
Father extended a belated invitation; Mother offered
coffee and peppernuts; then, so as not to appear excessively proud,
they half-retracted these gestures of welcome,
deprecating the decrepitude of their home, its porous walls and
comfortless furniture, the ceaseless creaking of the murderous
stairs, stopping just short of implying that a homeless waif
be better off sleeping in a roadside ditch, with a pillow of powder
snow, than in one of their meager beds―
blare of a freight train lopped off their voices. Across the street
the cabman’s horse stamped and issued billows of steam from its
nostrils. Somewhere a bevy of prairie wolves bayed.
chose this moment to speak.
is not clothed for the cold,” he
Father, turning to look at their daughter, saw that what the driver
said was true. Cebina wore nothing but a nightgown and a pair of
slippers. They had not even thought to pack her a bag. Why lavish
clothes on a corpse?
Cebina said dully, after several seconds had passed, “aren’t you
going to give me something
won’t require much,” said the cabman in a voice like cracking
ice. “A winter coat and a pair of shoes should be
Mittens, if you have them. My master will, of course, provide for her
wardrobe and necessaries.”
Father were frozen stiff with mortification and required further
The shadowy head bobbed. “Mrs. Beckstrand. If you would be so
Mrs. Beckstrand began to thaw. They blinked profusely. When they
could again control their limbs, Father went to the closet to
retrieve the requested items, while Mother, unbidden, climbed the
stairs to fill a hat box with Cebina’s clothes, though she knew
their sin would not be forgiven
could never be. They moved with the subaqueous slowness of
sleepwalkers, or those who have been hypnotized, in awe of the
cruelty they had found within themselves. Sending their daughter off
to her death without a scrap of protection against the cold! And
still they did not mourn for her. What strange and marvelous
contraptions, their hearts.
the relief of her parents, did not say goodbye. She stepped into the
fur-trimmed boots Father brought her, wrapped the oversized coat
around her shoulders, and, with hands gloved in deerskin, took hold
of Mother’s proffered hat box. Father awkwardly tugged the flaps of
a wool cap over her ears. She told the driver she was ready.
be going, then,” he said.
came the longest silence of all.
Prince and Beast painty doodles! These two are from an anthology project I’m working on >:) I do these doodles in between school work and this project as a means of loosening up.
Kind of a Beauty and the Beast genderbent, but also something completely new!
“When she came to the gate in the Wall she knocked upon it three times…”
Illustration by Jennie Harbour for Beauty and the Beast. From “My book of Favourite Fairy Tales.”1921
The inimitable Terri Windling explores the history of salon tales (including Beauty and the Beast) and history’s erasure of the women who wrote them
Classic Fairy Tales (2000) l “Beauty and the Beast”
told by Berlie Doherty and illustrated by Jane Ray