I hope everyone's having a fabulous summer so far! I'm just sitting here staring at the calendar, wondering how July could possibly be more than halfway done already...
Anyway, is anyone familiar with Deep Magic? It's an awesome e-zine of clean fantasy and science fiction, featuring many short stories and some excerpts from longer works. I was so sad to hear that their Summer, 2021 issue will be their last! *sniff* But it also makes me more grateful than ever that my steampunk Cinderella retelling, "Fairy Lights," was chosen for their Winter issue back in 2019! Definitely one of the highlights of my writing journey thus far :)
So today, I thought I'd share an excerpt of that story with you! In this scene, Raella's stepmother and stepsisters have just finished getting ready for a ball at the palace, and Raella is eager to show them her latest invention. Enjoy! (You can find the Winter, 2019 issue of Deep Magic HERE and a list of all the issues HERE.)
I led the way out the door, pressing my lips together to hide my grin.
“But where’s the horse?” Mother placed her hands on her hips. “Dagen, what is the meaning of this?”
He winked at me from his perch on the driver’s seat. “It seems we don’t need Dolly anymore.” The top of his balding head almost disappeared beneath the layer of fringe dangling from the front canopy.
Mother huffed. “Of all the idiotic—”
“It’s true.” I rushed ahead of them to Dagen’s side. “You asked me to fix the carriage and I added...well, an enhancement. The carriage drives itself now.” My grin finally escaped my attempts to subdue it. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“And a surprise it is. Quite an accomplishment, Raella.” Mother’s expression was more sour than ever.
“You mean it has an engine?” Dianthe squinted into the dim light cast by the nearest street lamp.
“Yes, precisely. Once I pull this lever, the heating element will—”
“But think of all that horrid steam.” Dianthe wrinkled her nose. “Mother, we cannot attend the ball in such a contraption. No one will want to come within miles of us.”
“Perhaps they’ll think it’s interesting.” Herra gave me a half-smile.
“It will be the only one, at least for this ball.” I placed my hand on the twisted metal of the tall front wheel. “But after everyone’s seen it, by the next event I’m sure dozens will—”
“That’s enough, Raella.” Mother had walked to the far side of the carriage, now she rounded it to face us. “Of course you’re proud of your invention, but we can’t possibly consider driving it to Prince Hendrick’s ball. What if it breaks down on the way, or starts a fire that ruins other carriages? No, Dagen will hitch up Dolly this instant, and we’ll be on our way. I presume it still functions as a horse-drawn carriage?”
I dragged the toe of my boot across the dirt. “Not exactly. I’m still trying to sort out...”
Mother’s exaggerated sigh could have emanated from a steamship. “Then we’ll go on the cart. Dagen, I want it ready in five minutes.”
“Y-yes, Ma’am.” He shot me a sympathetic glance as he scurried to the barn.
“Girls, let’s return to the house before our dresses get covered in dirt.” Mother stalked past me up the porch stairs.
Herra lifted her skirt, the buckles of her knee-high boots glinting in the moonlight. “I thought it was a neat idea.” Her voice barely reached me as she shuffled by.
Dianthe’s stiff posture mimicked Mother’s. “When will you learn your tinkering is a useless, unladylike waste of time?”
A point of pink light flickered, followed by a buzz. I swiped my sleeve across my eyes. Farther in the distance, a green twinkle of light hovered in the air. I might have guessed the fairies would be out the night of a ball, but why so far from the palace? The tiny creatures attended to the queen and other noblewomen, but no one of such rank lived this far from the center of town.
I pushed off from the porch’s splintering wood and stretched my legs. Might as well return the carriage to the barn for the night. A yellow light blinked to my right, then pale blue to my left. How many fairies were here? Maybe they weren’t allowed in the palace during events as grand as Prince Hendrick’s ball. Shaking my head, I started for the carriage.
A woman clad in shimmering white materialized before me.
I lurched back with a screech. “Who are you? And how—?”
“My apologies; I suppose that was a bit startling.” Her voice had the resonance of a bell, vibrant and commanding. “They told me you were on the porch, but, well, I guess now you’re not.”
“I was just...” Wait. I didn’t owe any explanations to this bizarre apparition. “What is your purpose here?”
“Ah, a practical girl. Well, I might as well share the good news right at the start. You’ve been chosen to attend the ball.”
More tiny lights glimmered around her shoulders, appearing and disappearing so quickly I couldn’t keep track of them all. The buzzing in the air grew to a hum. “I am Louvaine, mistress of fairies, and if you must know, I have come under a bit of criticism lately. Something about magic misuse. It’s all nonsense, of course, but I thought Prince Hendrick’s ball was the ideal opportunity to clear my name with a good deed. So, I sent out my fairies. ‘Ladies,’ I told them, ‘Find a girl who’s miserable about not going to the ball. One with the potential to be a true belle.’ And of all the crying girls in town, they chose you. We’ll get you looking like a princess, and to the ball you shall go!”
This cannot be happening. “That is very kind of you, but I have no desire to go to the ball. My crying was about something else.”
“Nonsense. You’re a young, pretty girl”—she stepped back to appraise my attire—“who only needs some assistance with her wardrobe to be presentable. The perfect recipient of our help.”
“No, I mean it. I’m sure another one of the crying girls would be much more appreciative of such an opportunity.”
She released a weary sigh. “I know your kind, dear girl. The martyrs who never want anything for themselves, who claim they don’t mind slaving their lives away without any frivolity, then cry about it in secret. You will go to the ball, and you will look spectacular. Ladies.” She snapped her fingers, and every light blinked on in a dizzying assortment of colors. “Escort Miss—”
Her brows raised expectantly.
“Escort Miss Raella inside, get her bathed, if necessary, and into one of your finest gowns.” She pointed toward the house, and the fairies swarmed like a colony of tunnel bees. “And do something about that hair!”
My feet rooted to the ground as I squinted against the roiling lights. Had I fallen asleep while sitting on the porch? Or had my loneliness since Daddy’s death finally driven me mad?
Gentle pressure on my back inched me forward. Whether dream or reality, apparently it was time for me to get dressed.