Superhero Plus Fairy Tales
Oh, how people love to whisper. The rumors of my husband were rampant as gnats in summer. They speak loathingly of his ugly blue-black beard and how he towers over everyone in a room, thick and tall as an evergreen tree. They say he goes through wives the way wolves tear through rabbits, one after the other. No one knows what becomes of these fine young, innocent ladies, they say. And they wonder at what great wealth he must possess to draw so many new brides into his home.
I married not for his money, but for the rumors.
“I give you these keys,” he says and smiles. I hold the ring of brass keys in my hand, turning them over one by one. He explains the purpose of each, opening wardrobes, caskets of jewels, strongboxes of money, gold, and silver — keys to every door and lock in the entire house, including the small closet at the end of the great hall. “I invite you to open every box, wardrobe, and door. Go into all of them, every one. But I forbid you to enter the little closet, or you will see my wrath and can expect a just punishment.”
“I will do all that you ask,” I answer, meek as a mouse.
“Good girl. I trust you completely.”
I bring myself to blush and lower my eyes.
When he’s disappeared down the lane in his great back carriage, I look at the ring of keys in my hand as though they were poisonous centipedes. My brothers in arms gave me this task, devising a way for that blue bearded man to take an interest in me and make me his wife. It is my duty to search this house, every chest, wardrobe, casket, closet, in order to seek out the truth behind the rumors. But I find myself reluctant.
I did not expect to grow fond of my husband in this sham of a marriage. I did not expect him to be generous, courteous, or kind. He never touched me these few weeks, waiting patiently for me to give him my leave to do so.
As my husband advised, I open every box, wardrobe, and door, looking upon the riches held within each one. Each room, nook, cranny provides evidence of his wealth — plates and cutlery of gold and silver, intricately carved and embroidered furniture, fine silks, ivory carvings, a large library of hand-bound books, gilded clocks. Such wealth as would make jealous great kings revealed behind every door.
When I come at last to the small closet at the end of the great hall, I hesitate, knowing this is what I have been looking for and not wanting to learn what is within. But I put the little key in the lock and turn it with a click.
The room within is dark and I light a candle to enter. It is still quiet and smells heavy of lavender, basil, and mint hanging thickly around the door frame. A fly brushes my cheek, one of multitudes swarming around the four ladies handing from the rafters. Only four — not near so many as the villagers supposed. Dropping the keys, I reach out and touch the foot of one of the lost ladies, bowing my head in sorrow.
Hearing the clatter of hooves in the distance outside the house, I bend and retrieve the keys from the muck on the floor and go out.
My husband stands upon the stair, big and hulking, more than three times my size.
“What?” I say. “Returned so soon?”
“What blood is this?” he answers, cheeks turning red over his blue beard.
I glance down at my soiled dress, my tainted hands. “I do not know.”
“You do not know!” replied Bluebeard. “I very well know. You went into the closet, didn’t you? Madam, since you were so resolved to go in, I shall put you in, among the rest of the ladies.” He drew a great sword from his belt and charged.
I stood my ground, willing the candle flame to pulse and grow, blooming large and hot, the rest of the wax instantly melting and flowing over my hand. Ever since I was a girl I could control the flames. I took them in my hands now and tossed them at my husband.
He roared backward as his hair and clothing caught fire, his blue beard vanishing with the smell of burned hair. I took up the flames again and again, continuing to toss them, continuing to burn him.
But he did not go down. In hurt and rage, he flung himself at me, clothes burning, skin bubbling. I swung the heavy brass candle stick and parried his sword, but he drove into me, knocking me to the ground and the air from my lungs.
“At least we shall burn together,” he wheezed.
“No,” I said. “Just you.” I called all the flames down upon us until we were in a halo of blue fire. My husband screamed until he could scream no more.
My clothing burned away from me and I stumbled out naked out of the burning house. My brothers in arms rode up shortly thereafter.
One wrapped me in his cloak. “You’ll inherit, you know. As his widow, you’ll have it all,” he said. “The Order could use the funds.” He looked up at the burning house. “But you’d have to stop the flames.”
I hugged the cloak around my body, feeling vulnerable and small. “Just let it burn.”
My brother shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
* * *
This post is brought to you by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Superhero Plus.