How to Live in the Sunshine, and Other Advice

Evil vampire with scary eyes eating garlic stock photoGarlic: Friend or Foe?
Many of us find garlic hard to tolerate, but did you know it contains many healthy chemicals such as the antimicrobial, allicin? After all, once you’re dead, you could use the extra help! Garlic may reduce blood pressure, too, which might be something of a relief after a heavy night. If you really can’t stomach the smell and taste, why not try odourless garlic capsules?

One Small Step
Crossing thresholds is hard, isn’t it? We get it. But sometimes you have to make that leap, invitation or not – it’s literally the only way to move forward. Try it!

Cutting Back on Blood
We all love blood of course, who doesn’t? But moderation is key to everything. Have you considered the Eat-Stop-Eat diet, which involves fasting for one or two days a week? Many that try this find it’s challenging at first, but once they get used to the routine they have more energy than ever before. Why not give it a go? It might be easier than you think.

Getting Across Crosses
Do we really need to live in fear of religious symbols? Could you overcome your iconophobia? After all, how rational is it, really? When you think about it, there are crosses everywhere. Why not start by looking for these sorts of shapes in furniture – window frames don’t burn, do they? Type some † symbols into your word processor, or get a piece of paper and doodle them. Lay one pen across another pen. Start slowly, and you’ll be handling crucifixes in no time.

It’s All Sun and Games!
We’re traditionally told to stay out of the sun, but is old advice truly good advice? Some have suggested that vampires need vitamin D, too – strong teeth and bones are important for everyone! But if you do decide you’d like to try a smidge of sun exposure, build up slowly. Glass filters a lot of ultraviolet light, so you can begin safely by standing near a window in daylight hours. Once you’re okay with that, you can try a few seconds outside, but make sure you stay close to home and in the shade – at least at first. Experiment with sunblock (remember, even the highest factor formulations don’t block everything). Once you’re used to daylight you can venture further, but do be sure to take a dark-coloured umbrella, just in case. Give it a go – a little sun might just do you the world of good!


Author’s notes
A lot of similar advice for humans is nonsense, too. Biscuit?

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© Kat Day 2022

The Two Teenagers Truculent, or Why You Shouldn’t Throw Stones Under Bridges

Free photos of BridgeMisty had had many jobs in her life, including several years as a secondary school teacher in a school in central Oxford that was, in official paperwork, described as ‘challenging’. As a consequence, she had developed the knack for that particular clear, penetrating kind of voice that is definitely not shouting, but which nevertheless causes everyone within earshot to freeze.

So when she called out to two teenagers apparently caught in an altercation with a bridge troll, everyone involved did, indeed, stop.

‘What’s going on?’ she asked, walking along the path and closer to the group. She felt a moment of nervousness – she wasn’t going to be able to take on two teenagers and a troll if they decided to join forces. Come to that, she really wasn’t dressed even to run away from two teenagers and a troll.

Oh well, in for a penny.

The bridge they were standing on was humpbacked, made of old, water-stained stone. The well-established trees on either side of the path that led to and from it threw everything into dappled, cool shade. In the sudden silence, the repetitive, shrill call of a woodpecker could be heard.

The troll, despite being only slightly larger than the average human, was looming over the teenagers and did not look happy. Their – Misty never liked to assume gender – skin was mottled in dark blues and greens, and matched the water of the small river so that, Misty imagined, in the pool of black shadow under the bridge they’d be very nearly invisible. The two teenagers were fairly young, she thought, perhaps fourteen or so, and wearing jeans and hoodies and far too much attitude. The one closest to the troll, and thus being loomed at the most fiercely, had long, dark hair tied in a ponytail. The hair of the other was short, spiky, and dyed a caustic shade of pink.

The troll looked up at Misty. ‘I was minding my own business,’ they said sharply, ‘when these two started throwing stones at me.’

‘We were just throwing stones in the water!’ protested pink hair. ‘We didn’t know it was down there!’

‘My name,’ said the troll, eyes glinting in the uneven light ‘is Imenta.’

‘It’s a bloody troll!’ said ponytail.

‘I’ll thank you to be polite,’ snapped Misty, her voice belying the fact that the grumpy, but nonetheless reasonably articulate, responses were reassuring.

Ponytail looked at her defiantly. ‘A troll! They hide under bridges and stop people crossing and scare people on purpose. Why’d we have to be polite to trolls? They ain’t people! This is stupid!’

‘I live under the bridge,’ said Imenta, a trace of weariness now audible in their voice. ‘I’m not hiding, I’m minding my own business. And I don’t scare anyone on purpose. You startled me, that’s all.’

Pink hair looked guilty.

‘It’s stupid,’ muttered ponytail sullenly.

Misty carefully adopted the most neutral expression she could manage. ‘Imenta may not be human,’ she said calmly, ‘but as you can see – I’m sorry,’ she turned to the troll, ‘do you prefer particular pronouns?’

‘Oh ffs,’ muttered ponytail, actually pronouncing the letters. ‘What next?’

‘It’s polite to ask,’ said Misty, not looking at the teenager, ‘no one likes it when someone gets that wrong, including you, I’m sure.’

‘She,’ said Imenta, ‘and thank you. Most humans assume trolls are male. It’s refreshing to be asked.’

‘You see,’ said Misty, turning back to ponytail. ‘As you can see, she may not be human, but she is a thinking, talking person. You’ve trespassed on her home, caused a disturbance, possibly even injured her, and somehow,’ Ponytail’s mouth opened, and Misty’s voice developed a tone with distinct harmonics of: you’ve lost this one. Don’t even think about arguing with the ref, ‘Inexplicably, rather than apologise, you’re apparently trying to find reasons that you’re entitled to be annoyed by the situation.’

Misty looked at the teenager, and silently sighed. She’d been young and stupid once, too. ‘What’s your name?’

‘I ain’t telling you my name!’

The youngster with pink hair, who’d been studying the floor with the intensity of a detective hunting for clues, finally looked up and said, quietly, ‘It’s Charlie. And I’m Bri. And we’re both he, just so you know.’ He glared defiantly at Charlie, who glared back. ‘Oh, come on, mate, get over it. She—’ he paused and looked at Misty, who nodded. ‘She’s right. We were chucking stones. I’d yell and get annoyed if someone lobbed a bit of granite at my head, too. And you do freaking hate it when people call you she ’cause of your long hair, so just shut it.’

‘Yeah but—’

‘Mate. Seriously.’ Bri turned to Imenta. ‘We’re sorry. We didn’t know you were down there, and we weren’t thinking. Next time we’ll be more careful.’

Misty considered saying that merely throwing stones carefully might be missing the point, but decided against it. If she’d learned anything in her life, it was that when you sense an oil tanker of an argument shifting in the right direction, it’s often better to let it get there slowly than to risk oversteering.

‘Thank you,’ said Imenta, graciously. ‘Perhaps I won’t eat you, this time.’

‘What? See! See! I told y—’ Charlie started.

‘Oh jeez. She’s joking. Honestly, you’re an idiot,’ said Bri. ‘Uh, you are joking, right?’

Imenta made a sound like water running over pebbles.

‘Lads,’ said Misty, pointedly, ‘I think it would be a very good idea if you were on your way now, don’t you?’

Bri nodded and, looking somewhat relieved, grabbed Charlie’s arm and dragged him past Imenta and onto the path on the other side of the bridge.

The human and the troll watched the teenagers as they disappeared around the bend. ‘Thank you for that,’ said Imenta, after a few moments.

‘You’re very welcome.’

‘Obviously I can defend myself, but, well.’

‘You’d rather it didn’t come to that.’

‘Quite so. I really should have ignored them, but the little monsters caught me right in the ear.’ She rubbed the side of her head. ‘I’m afraid I rather lost my temper.’

‘And without a witness…’

‘Precisely. We have a bad reputation as it is. Two teenagers crying wolf, so to speak. Well, you can imagine. I like this bridge. I’d hate to have to move.’

Misty nodded.

‘We didn’t ask your name,’ added the troll.

‘Misty. Misty Fied.’

Imenta’s face quite literally cracked into a smile. ‘How wonderful. It’s lovely to meet you, Misty. I have tea, under the bridge. Would you care to join me?’

‘Oh, thank you, really, but if I get under there in these heels, I’ll never get out again. Perhaps another time, when I’ve got my jeans and wellies on?’

‘I shall look forward to it,’ said Imenta, extending a hand.

Misty took it. It was cool, and surprisingly dry. ‘Me, too,’ she said.


Author’s notes
A gentle little low-stakes story that reminds us, I hope, to be kind.

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© Kat Day 2022

But They All Have Stings

Fields under thundery skies...‘I’m glad you’re going,’ I said. ‘You’re so damn inconsistent. Warm and requiescent one day, chilly the next. You can’t stop creating new things, but they all have stings. And, know what? We need dark. We need rest – nineteen hours of light a day is exhausting. Plus you… remind me of things I’ve lost. Things I had to let go of when I didn’t want to. Before I was ready. It’s not your fault, but I hate it. So, go. Good riddance.’

With that, I scowled one final time at the page for June, and turned the calendar to July.


Author’s notes
A drabble that sums up my general feelings about the month of June (and by the way, Flaming June by A. P. Herbert is one of my favourite poems; I urge you to read it if you never have).

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© Kat Day 2022

Finding Friends Through Fiends 

A Wordle solution grid, made up of green, yellow and black squaresMonday’s demon…

The answer to Monday’s Wordle was DEMON, and I decided to take it as a sign.

After work I picked up a bucket of petroleum jelly, extra salt, and candles. I mixed the salt with the petroleum jelly because, you see, that way it sticks to the floor and makes the line much harder to break. Basic sigil health and safely.

The demon that arrived was terribly attractive. Long, glossy hair, perfect cheekbones and musculature to make Schwarzenegger weep for his lost youth.

He spent the whole time staring into the lenses of his mirrored sunglasses and talking about how hard it was to find stylish clothes that would accommodate a tail.

I managed less than half an hour.

Tuesday’s demon…

I tried again on Tuesday. For a moment, I thought it hadn’t worked, but then the demon popped into existence three feet above the ground and did a graceful somersault before executing a perfect superhero landing. She was more interesting than Monday, in fact, she was rather charming. Too charming, I thought, after she’d gushed for a full five minutes about how clever my summoning circle was and how much she liked my old Queen t-shirt. I remembered a podcast I’d listened to featuring a psychologist – she said she advocated throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it came to charming people.

I reckoned that probably went double for demons.

Wednesday’s demon…

All right, look, I’m a supportive person. I am. But also I am not Therapy for Demons™. Good grief. He had to go.

Thursday’s demon…

Thursday arrived in a reddish swirl and then sat cross-legged in the summoning circle, wearing jeans and wire-rimmed glasses. They seemed quite normal, actually. We chatted about the news for a while, and it was all rather pleasant. Well, as pleasant as chatting about the news can be, these days. We even shared a sandwich. Apparently, it’s next to impossible to get good cheese in Hell.

But then I realised they’d almost certainly had a hand in the current political situation, and just… no. I might be summoning demons in my basement, but I do have some standards.

Friday’s demon…

It had been a long week at work, and Friday was especially trying. No, Susan, I cannot do a three-hour job by ‘close of play’ if you send it to me at four-thirty. Especially when I know perfectly well you were only late handing it off because you were enjoying a long ‘lunch’ with Mark from Procurement.

Anyway. I almost abandoned the summoning session in favour of pizza and a few hours of Netflix, but I thought I’d better not break my streak. So when Friday’s demon arrived with a good bottle of Scotch, I have to admit, I was nearly won over on the spot. He was attractive, too, in a demonic sort of way. The horns peeking through the choppy haircut were rather cute. He had nice eyes, told silly jokes that made me laugh, and listened patiently to my complaints about Susan.

But I drank a bit too much Scotch and, after the long work day, well, I dozed off. And when I woke up, Friday was gone.

Saturday’s demon…

After the night before I was hopeful, really, but then Saturday turned up with a scorched smell and a laptop, from which they barely moved their gaze. I can get that in Starbucks, thanks.

Sunday’s demon… 

I think something went wrong. I did the usual routine, and by this point I was pretty practised, so I really don’t understand it. Perhaps the candles had burnt a bit too low? Maybe I fumbled over the middle bit of the chant? Who knows. Anyway, what arrived wasn’t a demon. I don’t think.

Although some do say they’re all from the same stock.

All those eyes. Sheesh.

Anyway, I’m allergic to feathers.

After the spots had cleared from my vision, I looked at the mess and considered clearing up, but… after all that I couldn’t face the rubbing alcohol fumes, so I left the petroleum jelly-salt sigil, trudged upstairs and went to bed.

I meant to turn the light out and sleep, I really did, but you know how it is. Twitter argument, update the online supermarket order, catch up with some podcasts, play a few games…

Before I knew it, it was twelve-o-one.

Time for a new Wordle.

And what do you know, the answer was FIFTH. I almost missed it, because come on, two Fs?

And, I realised, I’d almost missed something else, too. But never mind, my streak isn’t quite broken yet.

It’ll be Friday again in five days.


Author’s notes
I wrote this a few months ago, when the Wordle craze was at its height, and I thought I’d better put it up somewhere before everyone’s forgotten what Wordle even is… 

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© Kat Day 2022

8 Things I Learned From the Discworld

April 28th is Terry Pratchett Day – in honour of the late author’s birthday – and on the day itself I wrote a little thread on Twitter.

Now, of course, it’s May, and the lilacs are blooming. Remember the smell of lilac? You thought about those who died.

So, here’s that thread, reproduced for posterity…

~~~
For #TerryPratchettDay, here are some writer things, and life things, that I learned from Discworld books. There are 8. It was my favourite number before I ever found Discworld. 7? Yuck. It’s all… prime and sticky. 8 is all factorable and curvy. Octarine? I love it.

Let’s go…

~~~
Learn the bloody rules. AND THEN break them, if you must. Break rules deliberately, knowingly, because you want to. Not, if you can possibly avoid it, by accident. This applies to spelling, grammar, story structure and, most importantly, life in general.
1
~~~
There are few things more delightful to read than a sharp left turn. Why not write a beautiful, literary description of, oh, say, dragons, and then segue to sardines? And finish with a gently implied threat? It’s jolting, and it’s wonderful.
2
~~~
People are never one thing. No one is all bad or all good. Everyone is a complicated, messy mixture. Everyone is capable of causing pain, and of doing amazing good, and they might not always choose the course of action you’d like. But that’s people for you.

Dripping in Lies

Beads, lilac jewelry, green backgroundShe is dripping in lies.

There are so many that sometimes I wonder at the weight of them all. Lilac and turquoise beads decorate her wrists, amber at her throat, tiny diamonds pricking the corners of her eyes. Those last she has worn so long that I wonder if she, herself, even recognises them for what they truly are. Could she remove them? Have they become so deeply embedded in her skin that to do so would leave an angry scar?

They have different purposes. The bracelets whisper of competence and surety. Trust these hands, they say, they’ll hold you safe. There’s an emerald on one finger which murmurs, yes, yes, she can be trusted. Sometimes, when she raises her hand to her face, the green is reflected in her eyes.

Her footwear, she changes. There are some shoes that speak of elegance, and boots that shout of strength. Jewelled slippers that sigh with contentment, and simple, plain shoes that say, this story that I’m about to tell you? You’re going to love it.

Me? I have just one lie. My mother gave it to me before I left. We had not always seen eye to eye, but nevertheless, she wanted to protect her daughter. At least, I choose to believe that was her reason.

So this lie, she gave to me. Her eyes were too bright as it passed from her hand to mine. They might have been tears of relief.

It’s a flat, black disc which fits in the palm of my hand, long worn smooth from the touch of skin. I could have had it set into a necklace but… I prefer to hold it, and when I can’t hold it, I keep it in a pocket next to my body. I want to know where it is. I never want to forget it.

And I went to her, the one dripping in lies, and we’ve lived and worked and loved. Her lies are what she is and, in truth, I like what she is. She doesn’t know about my lie and… I decided long ago that it was for the best.

So I hold it, and I feel its rounded lines, and I hear its words.

I believe you.    


Author’s notes
Just an idea I’ve been playing with. By the way, did you catch my story at PseudoPod, Never Enough Pockets? I’ve also been narrating: why not listen to Food Man, by Lisa Tuttle?

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© Kat Day 2022

Thank you for your enquiry re: Management of the Adoption of Gifted and Ingenious Cats

Hello!

Thank you very much for your enquiry! We do have a number of cats available for adoption, and it is extremely important that we find good homes for them as soon as we possibly can.

Owning a cat can be very good for you. Some studies have even suggested that just watching cat videos is enough to boost your energy, but physically interacting with a cat is even better. MAGI furry friends tend to be particularly irresistible (but really, there’s no danger there – their magnetic personalities are for your own good, honestly).

With that in mind, I thought you might find this list – which we compiled a little while ago with the help of our customers and partners – useful as you consider your options.

1) There’s evidence that playing with a cat can lower blood pressure. In addition, cats, especially ours, are pretty low maintenance. Provide them with fresh food and water and they’ll largely take care of themselves. Don’t worry if you lose sight of them for a while – they have things to see and places to do. They’ll be back.

2) Playing with a cat releases soothing chemicals in the brain: they lower stress levels, and can actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease! And of course, there are other risks to the heart beyond disease. They can help there, too.

3) They help to build healthy habits. You have to get up to feed the cat, and, and the same time, you’ll be prompted to feed yourself. Just don’t be tempted to eat anything you find in the house that you don’t remember buying.

4) Cats improve sleep quality. A cat that sleeps in the bed with you provides a sense of comfort. Also, if they spot a hag creature sitting on your chest in the night, they will attack it and chase it off. Unless you have bad allergies: you’ll actually breathe more easily with a cat in your room.

5) Speaking of allergies, exposure to potential allergens when young has actually been shown to have a preventative effect. So don’t believe those stories about cats jumping into cots and suffocating babies. We suspect those were started by the fae – cats are excellent hunters and will chase and catch fairies (which, admittedly, doesn’t tend to end well for the fae). You many want to bear this in mind when it’s time for the tooth fairy to visit. Or not. We’ve never trusted that little hammer.

6) Generally, cats are fantastic predators and keep vermin, such as mice, rats and boggarts, under control.

7) Research has shown that cat owners tend to be trustworthy, modest and kind-hearted. This is because cats actively consume negative attributes. They lap up guilt, grandeur and selfishness. This can result in a bit of excess weight gain for the cat, which may cause your vet some consternation. But the good thing is, you won’t feel bad – you’ll trust that your vet knows what they’re doing, that they’re a lovely person and you’ll pay for the special feeding regime and feel perfectly happy about it.

8) Owning a cat can actually help with your relationship skills! It’s been demonstrated that people with pets find socialising less stressful. Plus, cats are really good at identifying vampires and other undesirables that look, well, human. Remember to take your cat to the door with you before issuing any invitations. Although, actually, if someone, or indeed something, like that comes to the door, you’ll usually find your cat is already there.

9) Cats save lives! Literally – in much the same way as humans save money. This is where the “nine lives” thing comes from, and explains why different myths state different numbers – some are more fastidious investors than others. Look after your cat, and they’ll look after you: cats have been known to negotiate with the Grim Reaper for an owner they’re particularly fond of.

I hope you’ve found this useful! As I said, it’s extremely important we find good homes as we possibly can. They start to reach critical mass if we have too many in once place for too long – we almost had a Portal Incident the other day. We have to do something; we cannot just allow creatures from the screaming, endless void to just wander in. So if you could take one, or even two, it would really help! If you’d like to arrange a visit, please give me a call!


Author’s notes
Some of this is true. Really.

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© Kat Day 2022

When the Dragon Visited the Knight

It had been a long and tiring week, so I ordered a Chinese takeaway.

The dragon brought it to my door. He didn’t look like a dragon, not today. But then, I found myself thinking, he often doesn’t. Not these days.

He wore jeans and a hoody, dark hair streaked silver at the temples, more creases in his skin than before. The amber eyes behind his round, wire-rimmed glasses were still clear, though. They’ve never changed.

He held up a white plastic bag that smelled deliciously of oil, salt and sweet tartness. ‘Hello, Sir William. May I come in?’ he asked, pointedly not looking at the suit of armour in the hallway.

‘Don’t you have other deliveries to make?’ I replied, archly.

‘I don’t. This isn’t a career change. Funny thing. I was passing and I found a delivery woman looking rather lost. She asked if I knew this place, because she simply couldn’t find it. And I said, why yes, let me take that for you. And here I am.’

‘I see. She just agreed to that, did she?’

The dragon grinned. ‘Well, you know, I’ve always been very persuasive.’

That grin has never changed either. Damn him. ‘Oh very well,’ I said eventually, stepping aside.

In the kitchen, I got out two plates. There was more than enough food for two.

The dragon speared a satay mushroom. ‘I helped a farmer burn a couple of fields the other day. It made me think of you.’

‘I’m so glad flame and smoke and destruction puts me in your thoughts,’ I said, picking up a dumpling.

He chewed thoughtfully. ‘It had to be done. Clearing away old, broken stubble and weeds to make space for new growth. You know.’

My eyes drifted to the door. From where we sat at the table, I could just see the slightly dusty suit of armour. And the sword. ‘Did everyone get out alive?’

‘I made sure it was safe.’

I looked at him then, to make sure myself. There was nothing in his face but gentleness. ‘I’m pleased to hear it.’

I scooped chicken fried rice onto my plate, and added sticky, red sweet and sour sauce. As inauthentic as it was possible to be, and as delicious. Sometimes you have to enjoy things for what they are.

The dragon ate a few bites himself and pretended not to watch me over the edge of his glasses. The smile at the corner of his mouth gave him away.

‘I appreciate…’ I started, and stumbled. Gave up. Started again. ‘I realise you knew I’d probably see the smoke. That…” I sighed. ‘Do you really care what I think?’

‘I do. Very much.’

‘Well, thank you.’ It was my turn for the corner of my mouth to twitch. And it did.

He looked away then. ‘I never, ever meant to hurt you,’ he said, quietly.

I swallowed, and in that moment, more than just food. I reached across and touched his hand, which was large, but very, very human.

His thumb stroked the back of my hand, pressing skin which was looser than it had been, once, but which still had all the same nerve endings.

Those eyes will be the death of me.

If I’m lucky.

‘I know.’ I said after a little while. ‘I know you didn’t. I mistook youthful over-enthusiasm and foolishness for malice. Because… I wanted to see enemies everywhere. It seemed easier that way, then. I’m sorry.’

‘I was foolish. I did do a lot of damage. You had every right to be angry.’

For a moment, the house felt very quiet, and the world seemed a great deal simpler.

‘Would you like to stay?’ I asked.

‘Really?’

‘I think I have some old treasure knocking about. You could probably scrape together a hoard to sleep on.’

The smile was back. ‘You know… as I get older, I’m starting to appreciate something a little softer.’

‘I might be able to manage that, if you’d prefer.’

‘If you’re sure, I think I would,’ he said, pushing the shiny fortune cookie packet towards me. There was only one. I pulled it apart.

We ended up leaving the takeaway things on the table because, after all, they could wait until tomorrow. In amongst the mess was a tiny slip of white paper, printed with purplish-blue words.

Someone you’ve been missing will knock at your door.


Author’s notes
Happy Valentine’s Day x

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© Kat Day 2022

The Wilde Jagd

Don’t look up.

Yes, the sky twists with cerise and silver. Yes, it is pretty, but eyes forward, child.

Can you not simply observe a warning?

Very well! Because, on winter evenings such as these, when the air is cold and the moon is new, that is when the Wilde Jagd rides. Perhaps, if you listen, you will hear the ice-shod hooves, the flutter of blood-black wings, the demonic howls. They come from where the sky is bright, drip their hellish colours across the clouds, and they follow her.

And if you look up, they may decide to follow you.


Author’s notes
A drabble for the end of January. There’s more about the Wilde Jagd here. I promise something longer next month, and, in the meantime, Happy Lunar New Year!

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© Kat Day 2022

The Terribly Pretty Glass Shoes

‘Come with me, come with me!’ said the prince after one of his footmen had helped Cinderella out of the carriage. The footman was tall and gangly, but he had kind eyes and a reassuring smile. She would have liked to talk to him, but there was no time as the prince strode into the castle, apparently expecting her to follow.

She suddenly found herself grateful for her old leather slippers. The glass shoes she’d worn during her last visit had been terribly pretty – with emphasis on the terrible. She was unused to any sort of heel and dancing in them for hours had pushed all her weight onto her toes, which had been crushed against the slippery, unforgiving surface.

And as if that weren’t enough, she’d ended the night running over rough ground with just the one shoe.

Her feet were complaining a little still, even in more comfortable footwear, but she managed to keep up. Which was all for the good, because the prince was clearly not in the mood to match pace with a sedate female companion.

Eventually they arrived at the ballroom. It seemed somehow smaller with its chandeliers unlit and without the noise and vibrations of hundreds of people talking and dancing. Cinderella looked up at the high windows and noticed, in the crisp daylight, that they were immaculately clean. She was just wondering how someone, or possibly several someones, got up there to carry out what must surely be a weekly task, at the very least, when the prince interrupted her train of thought.

‘Just look at this floor!’

Her gaze snapped down. The floor was made up of pieces of different coloured wood – pale hexagons tessellated in a regular pattern with darker, six-pointed stars. Each piece perfectly cut, the gaps between so slight that you couldn’t fit a hair between them. It was absolutely beautiful. Except…

‘Oh,’ she said, crouching and running her fingers over what should have been an smooth surface, but which was speckled with small, round dents.

Dents about the size of the heel of a lady’s shoe.

‘I told everyone,’ said the prince, ‘I was absolutely explicit. Flat slippers only. No heels. They ruin the floors! It’s really not that much to ask, is it?’

‘I didn’t know…’ said Cinderella, softly, straightening up.

‘One cannot easily tell,’ said the prince, apparently not listening, ‘under those ludicrous long ballgowns. If I’d noticed before you lost your damn shoe on the stairs I’d have had you change!’

‘I’m so very sorry, your highness, I—’

‘Who is going to pay for the repairs, that’s what I want to know? When I started looking I assumed this would be the work of someone from one of the most wealthy families. None of them would willingly admit to anything – they lie about what they eat for breakfast – but they’re so vain and gossipy I knew they’d love the idea of the prince seeking a mysterious lost dance partner. I thought once I had the right woman I’d seek reparations. Oh, honestly, who wears glass slippers, of all things? Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.’

‘I’m afraid I have no money, sire. Really, it was a misunderstanding. If there is anything I can—’

‘Yes, yes, I know, I know. I knew your father. He was a good man. And your stepmother is thoroughly obnoxious. Goodness knows what he was thinking there. If this had turned out to be her work I might’ve taken the opportunity to throw her, and her vile daughters, in the dungeon. But it wasn’t, was it? I have no idea how you managed to rustle up a gown and shoes, never mind a hairdresser, but given she had you locked in the attic, it wasn’t with her help. Was it?’

‘Ah, no, sire.’

‘You’re not going to tell me, are you?’

‘I… don’t think I can.’

‘Oh, very well!’ The prince pushed his hand through his fair hair. ‘As I say, I liked your father, and you seem decent. I don’t have the heart to punish you for what seems to be an innocent mistake. I suppose there’s nothing more to be done.’ He paused, giving Cinderella an appraising look. ‘Although… she had you cleaning for her, did she?’

‘My stepmother? Yes, sire.’

‘Hm. It will annoy her no end if she has to actually pay someone to wash her laundry and sweep out her fireplaces. Her spoiled daughters certainly aren’t going to do it…’ He looked thoughtful. ‘Would you like to work here instead? You’ll find I feed my staff well, and you get half a day off a week. What do you say?’

It wasn’t exactly the proposal Cinderella had been expecting, but, she’d think some years later, it actually turned out to be rather better.

Especially since she did, in the end, find time to talk to the kind-eyed footman.


Author’s notes
This story is especially for my friend Krystyna, who has had more reason than most to want to throw 2021 into the bin. Let’s hope 2022 is a little brighter!

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© Kat Day 2021