She stumbled again and the world flashed past her. She flung her arms out to stop herself and froze, panting, not daring to move her feet.
“Seven League Boots! She could have warned me!” Lizzie pushed herself back onto her haunches, expecting every moment to be flung into the unknown once again.
Everything was dark. “Well of course it is! It’s the middle of the night!” But then she saw that it wasn’t— there was light, pale as a new moon, splaying between the fingers of her right hand: the mirror!
She opened her hand and held it out. It was a circle surrounded by curlicues of tarnished flowers; the once-long handle was snapped short and now only a rough extension at the base of the glass.
But it glowed. It cast its own light, and she wondered at how many true natures a thing could have, how many secrets she would never discover. She turned the mirror downward and peeked at her feet: sheepskin had turned to iron, at least in appearance. The boots felt soft and supple as leather, but looked gray and harsh and indestructible. They reached halfway up her shins and locked in place with seven folding buckles each. She wiggled her toes experimentally and stood up.
The silvery light stretched out before her. She was in a strange land. It was like nothing she had seen before, though that didn’t mean much: she had never been further than her little village until Bluebeard had carried her off.
The ground was flat and rocky. But it was made of rock, not dotted with them: moss and lichen hunched close to the harsh gray ground. Tiny bushes twisted themselves up with great effort but didn’t even reach to her knees. She turned carefully and looked around.
“Seems like ‘seven leagues’ is a figure of speech…”
It was hard not to move, to stand so still, to not wriggle so much as a toe. She clenched her fists— then gave a cry of surprise and opened her left hand. The needle had jabbed the soft pad of her hand, and now a blossom of red was soaking into the scrap of lace.
“My poor hand,” she mumbled, flexing her green-black fingers. Then her eyes widened. The blood wasn’t just being absorbed, it wasn’t an amorphous blot: it traced patterns and ran a course. It was going somewhere.
“The map!” she angled the mirror so she could see the reflection of the lace: the map was riddled with red paths, three of them, that stretched out from the near the center and wound, one way or another, toward the lower right corner.
Toward a mountain.
Lizzie looked closer. The mountain had a black spot, like an ink stain. Her heart gave a thrill: a cave!
In between Lizzie and the beating, fluttering bit of red that had to be Bluebeard’s heart lay a miniaturized expanse of hills, marsh, rivers, sea, and dense geometric clusters that Lizzie saw in a flash as villages and cities.
“So far?” she breathed— and then she laughed. “I have Baba Yaga’s Seven League Boots!” And she took step.
The world of gray rock slid by her. She couldn’t say in that inexorably long foot fall if the world was slow or if she was, but she saw everything in the mirror’s light as it roared past. Then it crashed to a stop and she was in a new place entirely: a copse at the edge of a field under barely-bluing sky. She lifted her foot and stepped again: an ice blue lake surrounded by white-capped mountains reflecting the first light of dawn. Step: cobbled streets and terra cotta rooftops just about to glow orange. Step: the shocking slosh of water and the smell of salt that made her dash forward three more steps lest she stop in the middle of an ocean and sink to the bottom.
She glanced at the map: two of the tracks of red had turned dull brown, and only one stretched all the way to the heart in the cave. She squinted ahead: red rocks and bristly bushes; she leaped.
There was a rhythm to it. At first she feared landing on something, on someone, but then the world became a distant thing. The map and the reach of her boots was more real with every jump, every twisting spin. She glanced at the map, hopped, stepped, checked her progress again. Once she veered off-course and slid deep into tan-gold sand and had to back track, had a heart-pounding moment of fear when the final line of blood began to go rusty red. But she found her footing, found her place on the map and sprinted on. She was a giant. She was a goddess. She was a witch, and the world was a tiny thing to her. She gripped the lace in her left hand and felt the mountain calling her, pulling at her feet, leading the boots.
And then she was there.
The mountain was a black wall, a pure stone set into the bare earth. Lizzie stopped and stared. The world spun around her, all those lands passing in a delayed flash across her eyelids. She felt woozy, light headed, but her feet were soldered in place, fused to the ground beneath them, and gradually her focus pulled back into the singular moment.
It was late in the day, that was the first thing she noticed. Her travels, wherever they had taken her, had not given her an advantage; she had burned daylight even faster with the Seven League Boots. But she had made it. She was here.
Still, something was missing. She looked at the map again, and realized it with a horrible sinking in her stomach: there was no cave. The black of the mountain was solid. It jagged and cut in and out, but there was no gaping cavern, no beckoning doorway. Lizzie’s heart hammered. She reached down and flipped the clasps of her boots, a lonely clicking that did not echo and seemed far too loud. She stepped out of them and immediately they became an old woman’s slippers. She put them into her bag and walked forward barefoot.
She ran her hands on the rock, searched it from every angle in the vain hope of finding a hidden entryway. Nothing. Then she smacked her hand to her forehead. “Of course!”
She held up the mirror, angling it this way and that— and there it was: a door hewn in the rock. Lizzie rushed over to it and pushed. Nothing happened. She searched for a knob, a knocker, but there was none.
It seemed to her that the sky was fading, the sun sliding lower and lower every second. She smacked her hand against the rock. “Let me in!” Then she snatched her hand back. Her gangrenous fingers throbbed and Lizzie clutched them in pain. Tears squeezed from her eyes. “How do I get in?” she whispered.
She looked up, looked around. There was no one there. “I have nothing else to give. I have no food, no—“ She stopped. The needle quivered in her palm, trembled and jumped as if pulled by a magnet.
She thought of Bluebeard. Of the nights. The sex. The blood.
“I carried his child…”
Lizzie pricked her finger with the needle and pressed the ruby bead against the black rock. The mountain rumbled, a fissure cracked, and before she could draw a breath, the slab before her dissolved into dust.
The cave was open.
READER RESPONSE: Leave a comment and tell me what you like, what images stand out, or your curious questions. (No suggestions/grammar critiques, please). Thanks for supporting my work-in-progress! -Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux