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Sarah’s daughter Sydnee with her grandpa.

(For Sarah 1980–2010)

Just beyond where the paved road ends, in a rut of dead black mud, we find her shoe, the other glass slipper, the one she didn’t lose on her hasty exit from the ball. A few paces further, partially hidden in high grass, we discover her gown, or rather the heap of soot stained rags her gown had been fashioned from. No sign of the Fairy Godmother, that delusional old hag, who vowed to assist Cinderella every step of the way but never once promised the child that anything good would become of the adventure.

Also missing is the pumpkin that had been transformed into a coach, and the mice that served as a team of galloping horses. Beneath the rags is the lifeless body of the brown rat that had acted as coachman. His head is at an awkward angle, obviously broken, and his unmoving eye shines beneath the buttery sun.

One of us picks the thing up by its long tail. The carcass is stiff as stone. After a few sweeping arm swings the rat is catapulting toward the trees that mark the southern border of these hallowed woods where none of us is brave enough to venture. Not for the measly wages the king is paying us. Not for the prince’s puppy-love infatuation for a simple country wench. No. The investigation ends here. Now.

Even the king himself, who has fought a thousand battles and won a dozen wars, dares not enter these woods where witches live and monsters roam, where night wind moves through the branches like the voices of children whispering in frosty undertones, lost children telling secrets so bitterly cold any man’s heart would freeze and shatter in an instant.

–Bob Thurber is the author of Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel (Casperian Books, 2011) and the recipient of numerous literary awards, includingThe Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. He lives in Massachusetts. Visit his website at www.BobThurber.net

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