11:59

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 18, 2018

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Submitted: May 18, 2018

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She lies in a bed of crisp white. The blankets are pressed around her tightly, the pillows fluffed to her contentment, everything so perfectly aligned that if you try hard enough, you might be able to ignore the IVs and tubes that spring from her skin like flowers in fresh soil.

 

Her mother’s hair is streaked with gray, hands gnarled from wringing nervously in waiting room after waiting room. Her father’s face is rough with stubble, and he always smells of whiskey, a detail she tries her hardest to ignore but hardly ever does.

 

The three of them sit in silence now, her mother’s hands thrumming out a nervous taptaptap against the blank space of her phone screen, her father breathing slowly—a rhythmic, soothing sound.

 

She tries to focus on that. The breathing. She tries to remember what it feels like to fill your chest with air and release it through your nose, rather than letting a machine do the work for you.

 

A pang of hurt resonates within her chest when she realizes that she can’t remember.

 

Tears spring to her eyes and the doctor, a kind-faced man who wears the tired expression of someone who has lost hope, says something about a vaccine to numb the pain. He asks her if she’s okay with it.

 

She is used to being injected with poison. She nods.

 

He inserts the needle, and she closes her eyes.

 

His words are broken after that, as if he is speaking underwater.

 

Hallucinations…may…happen…don’t…be…scared.

 

That is the last thing she remembers before she dissolves into a world of dizzying color.

 

. . .

 

The first thing she notices is the ball gown.

 

It is soft and made of tulle, the fabric running through the gaps between her curious fingers, short bursts of breath escaping her lips in sporadic intervals. Her eyes find a mirror, solitary in an otherwise bare room, and she can hardly believe what she sees.

 

Blonde hair. Her own blonde hair, the hair that used to exist, rather than the peach fuzz she has developed of late. Her long, beautiful hair, all done up in an intricate braid. Her lashes, thick and lush, framing unfathomably blue eyes drawn out by the deep cerulean of the dress.

 

She is beautiful. No, not beautiful. She is radiant.

 

Her cheeks are dusted with a rosy blush, so drastically different from her familiar sunken, hollowed face. Her body, normally all knees and elbows and edges, is now round and full. She smiles, and it does not cause her pain.

 

Her fingers trace her face as if she is blind and it is a story written in braille; her heart stutters in her chest like it has a speech impediment.

 

There is no way, she thinks, that she can possibly look like this.

 

And yet she does. Because the mirror mimics her every movement, follows her every lead.

 

Her heart beats a thousand times faster in her chest, and she thinks back to when her parents would call her Princess. Today, it is no longer just a silly nickname.

 

Today, she is Cinderella, and who the hell cares if the spell wears off at midnight—this is her paradise.

 

. . .

 

 

11:00.

 

She is standing in a ballroom full of people, masquerading their way around each other, adorned in feathers and beads and jewelry. She watches as the world around her spins, whirling into a kaleidoscopic piece of artwork, colors swirling and merging together in a beautiful rainbow of dancing couples.

 

Air fills her lungs and it feels like heaven.

 

As she moves, the dress moves with her, its length swishing around her legs as if the fabric itself is celebrating.

 

Her hands find someone else’s suddenly, a fumble of fingers that lead her into the arms of a man, a warm being who smiles down at her, a nice face and green eyes and bright teeth.

 

He asks her to dance, and she accepts; her heart is a balloon and his words are helium.

 

They dance for eternity, spinning and dipping and diving through seconds, minutes, ages. She feels as if her head might explode; it has been so long since her body has moved and tonight she is lithe, majestic, nothing but happiness in human form.

 

11:15.

 

He tells her how beautiful she looks, and she fears she might pass out on the spot. She feels light, giggly, carefree. She has finally been unchained from her hospital bed, finally freed from the shackles of her sickness, finally breathing, finally living.

 

When she stares into his eyes, into seas of emerald, she forgets that he is a stranger and forgets that she was ever sick at all.

 

11:30.

 

Her mind is an empty canvas and he is a paintbrush, fathoming worlds into her head, promising her riches and dances and gowns and frivolity. He promises gifts and chocolates and luxury, he swears upon bedspreads softer than clouds, upon necklaces dipped in twenty-four karat gold, upon a wondrous life full of wondrous things.

 

He promises all of these things, but he does not promise love.

 

11:45.

 

She feels dizzy, nauseated, and is instantly reminded of the painkillers that she is given at the hospital to help settle her stomach.

 

But there are no such painkillers to be found here, here in this perfect, ornate ballroom full of spinning, whirling faces and laughter ricocheting off the walls in an eerie echo. She looks to the prince for help, but something about his features is becoming indistinct, blurry, unrecognizable.

 

He asks her if she’s alright, and she so desperately wants to be.

 

She needs to sit down, she needs to calm down, she needs to breathe.

 

But she is breathing. She is breathing and healthy and perfectly fine, and that is the problem.

 

11:50

 

The music is too loud. Too loud, too loud, so loud oh God make it stop

 

It fades in and out, bursts of staccato piercing her eardrums like shards of glass. Her eyes roam frantically for the prince, but he is nowhere to be found, swallowed up in the sudden darkness that has fallen upon the room.

 

She is standing in a single spotlight. The couples have slowed their dancing, shuffling in tight, uncomfortable circles.

 

Her breaths rise and fall in short, sudden bursts, matching the music that is growing louder, louder, louder.

 

11:51.

 

The music has stopped.

 

A slight buzzing has fallen upon the room, the kind of noise that you block out after hearing it for long enough, but always lingers.

 

She feels strangled, as if the darkness has wrapped its cold hands around her throat and is forcing the life from her body. She begins to panic, because she cannot go back to the way she was; she refuses to become the fragile girl with nothing to identify herself with but sickness.

 

She cannot go back to before, because after has already happened and it is so, so sweet.

 

11:52.

 

She is running from the ballroom, her hands pulling at large, oak doors that won’t budge, towering over her, taunting her with their strength and solidity.

 

She is a princess. This does not happen to a princess.

 

She screams at the doors, but her voice gets stuck somewhere along the way and she chokes on her own curses. Her fists pound at the door, rip at her dress, tearing away frantically at the once-beautiful fabric that is now a reminder that this isn’t happening, that this cannot be real.

 

11:53.

 

The doors open to reveal a stormy sky alight with electricity and lightning. Rain pours from the heavens as she breaks into a run, descending the steps into a courtyard full of brittle trees whose branches rattle in the wind. The rain soaks her body, causing the dress to stick to her skin, but she does not care.

 

11:54.

 

It is getting harder and harder to breathe. Her lungs begin to fold in on themselves, like someone is crafting them into an origami swan, smaller and smaller to the point of nonexistence.

 

Her chest hurts. The world spins and lightning crackles and she feels it resonate within her entire body like a literal shock.

 

11:55.

 

She sinks to her knees and watches the sky as it flashes, illuminating the world for a split second before delving back into murky darkness.

 

11:56.

 

She tries to remember how it felt to be held by the prince, to look into his eyes and imagine a future.

 

11:57.

 

She wonders, stupidly, what it would feel like to kiss him.

 

11:58.

 

Her hands scramble against wet pavement, and it feels as if the sky has been torn open by a knife; this is what it must feel like to be on the brink.

 

11:59.

 

She catches a glimpse of herself in the water, her reflection staring back at her, and she is shocked. She does not see herself in the tattered dress and smeared makeup. She does not see herself as the bald-headed cancer patient in a hospital bed.

 

Instead, she sees the girl she was before.

 

She sees the young girl with freckles and blonde braids and a wide smile, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, nose crinkled in what seems like laughter; how good it must have felt to laugh in that moment, before everything happened so quickly, so traumatically.

 

Her heartstrings are being played like a harp; she cries out.

 

She is not a princess.

 

But, in turn, she is not a patient.

 

She is this girl—this carefree, beautiful girl who just so happened to be dealt a shitty hand and was left to deal with everything it came with.

 

This is who she is.

 

She is not Cinderella, and that is okay.

Slowly, painfully, she rises to her feet. She can do this. She can do this.

 

She walks into the darkness that has begun to swallow her world, and it welcomes her with open arms, but not before a single shoe slips from her foot.

 

Midnight.

 

Her mother sobs into her father’s limp shoulder as they watch the flatline streak across the monitor, an empty beep screaming throughout the hospital room, tearing through their hearts. The doctor does nothing to console them, because there is not much that can be done for those who have lost so much in such a short amount of time.

 

Their Princess is gone, but the worst part is that a small, tucked-away part of them is relieved.

 

Outside, thunder rumbles in a mournful, overwhelming roar, and the sky weeps for her, for the Cinderella that never was.


© Copyright 2018 Sophie Abbott. All rights reserved.

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