I gave this assignment to my 5000 Words students.
Take a fairy tale and either:
- Re-tell the whole thing in a modern adaptation or
- Choose a scene from the middle and use it to begin a story of your own that diverges from the original.
Sometimes as my students write, I do too. Here’s my twisted Cinderella story:
Cinderella lived with her father, stepmother, and step-sisters in a beautiful, flat country. One day a tornado touched down. As Cinderella’s father ushered the panicked horses into the barn, Cinderella waited dutifully in the storm cellar.
From outside came a terrible crash and a scream. Cinderella knew something happened to her father.
Against his command, she cracked open the storm door. Instantly a gale wind whipped it from her hands, slammed the oak door to the earth and snapped off the hinges, throwing the iron hardware into her face. She was knocked unconscious and slumped down the cement stairs.
For the duration of the storm Cinderella lay, the rainwater soaking her socks, her petticoat, her dress. Only her face was dry, still under the basement ceiling where the rain couldn’t reach. Blood flowed from the spade-shaped gash on her face.
Once Cinderella was beautiful, but the storm changed all that. It took her father too. The cry she heard was his last, as the barn supports fell on him. Cinderella’s stepmother and her two step-sisters were away at the market when the tornado hit. Upon their return they made the gruesome discoveries. Carelessly, Cinderella’s stepmother sewed the stitches on Cinderella’s face, and the resulting scar was grotesquely jagged. It pulled her lip on one side into a perpetual frown, and though her eyes remained beautiful, no man would look past the scarred lips to her kind and lonely eyes.
Worse, Cinderella’s step-sisters made fun of her, taunted her, called her Cinder-hella. Because she was so ugly, Cinderella kept to herself. The small farm animals were the only ones who saw past her damaged form. Especially the mice; they were dear friends. It was the mice who helped her with her chores and made beautiful music with her. Dancing and singing with her animal friends, Cinderella almost forgot her ugliness.
A ball was to be held, a masquerade ball. There would be music and dancing, and most wonderful: there would be masks. Cinderella could feel gloriously beautiful for one enchanted evening. All she needed was a dress and a mask. The mice heard her muttering about it as she scraped the dinner plates.
The step-sisters, already gangly and towering, seemed to be going through a growth spurt. Several of their best silk dresses were obscenely above their ankles and had to be thrown out.
“Oh, may I have them?” Cinderella asked.
“Are you kidding?” They answered, “What on earth could you possibly do with such beautiful cloth? Burn them. And burn yourself while you’re at it, Cinder-hella.” They were off to town for new dresses.
Cinderella couldn’t bring herself to immediately burn the sparkling silk. She put it to her face and luxuriated in the kind fabric. She wore the gowns, danced with imaginary partners, and pretended to be at the ball. The mice knew her well. They waited in their holes until she was done. As Cinderella gathered sticks for the fire, the mice stole pieces of the gowns, working in pairs with scissors, enlisting the help of the cat, the dog (his canine teeth), and even the crows. It was a miracle of animal cooperation and all unknown to Cinderella, who gathered wood as slowly as she could because she hated to see the gorgeous gowns wasted.
Tears blurred Cinderella’s vision as she picked up the bundles. She didn’t even know the dresses had been ransacked. This cheered the mice, because they knew a surprise would be the best present.
On the day of the great ball, Cinderella felt as if her heart would break, watching her step-sisters and her stepmother pile into the carriage in their finery and sweet-smelling perfumes. Their faces were painted to perfection; jewels glittered from every appendage. With masks, the sisters were almost glamorous. How Cinderella wished she could wear one, always.
As the carriage dust settled and they were alone, the mice emerged from the basement, the same basement in which Cinderella had lain and bled, the one place she refused to go. In their little mouths and draped over the dog’s back, the mice carried a silk gown more beautiful than any other. Behind them trotted the cat holding a magnificent mask, carefully clenched in his teeth. It was iridescent; the mice had used duck neck as their base color and copied it perfectly onto the stolen cloth. They’d unraveled the threads, one by one, and re-sewed them together into green and purple perfection.
“Oh!” Cinderella fell back a few steps. Her hands fluttered to her mouth.
One of the great horses took her to the ball on his strong back. She arrived just as they were beginning her favorite dance. Vibrantly clad figures flitted and flirted and clanged their golden goblets together, sloshing punch as they twirled.
Cinderella had one night to live a whole life of wonders. To be thought beautiful, to engage in conversation like anyone else. To dance and sing and be carefree and merry. To feel real, strong hands hold hers and lead her around the dance floor. For one night Cinderella’s dream could come true.