Last week, I started a modern retelling of a classic Grimm’s Fairytale, “The White Snake.” Be sure to read Part 1 of the tale here. Tonight, I’m sharing the second part of that same tale where we learn just how far our protagonist is willing to go to save herself and others. Be forewarned, it’s gruesome in true Grimm fashion. Happy Halloween!
The scullery maid heard the Baron’s complaint from inside the manor house doors. She was too frightened to return to her chamber, so she found her way to the neighboring pasture to lay in the fluffy grass and listen to what she hoped would be more friendly barnyard chatter. With a pillow of plump pasture below her, Mayra closed her eyes, determined to rest. The Baron said this was a curse, but Mayra could think of nothing so wonderful as finally understanding the feelings of her furry and feathered friends.
“My digestion’s terrible.” The cow closest to her complained amid backfires.
Mayra wondered, but then her companion replied, “That’s what you get, Bessie. If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, pretty things are painful.”
“Hmph, well, I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”
Mayra sat upright. The clouds covered the night sky like a thick wool sock leaving little light, but she found the cow’s bell with her fingers and gave it a ring. They were too far out to pasture for her to drag the heifer back towards the barn.
“What’s the meaning of this? Disturbing an old lady’s rest.” Bessie stood firm. She was in no mood to be herded through the pasture at this hour of the night, not with her stomach in knots.
Mayra spoke softly into the dairy cow’s ear. Rubbing on her forehead. “I know what ails you, Bessie. Let me help. I promise I can help.”
The stunned cow quickened her steps through the golden fall grass. She would do anything to stop the ripping feelings that filled her abdomen. The barn door swung closed behind them. Mayra lit the lamps as Bessie entered her pen to lie down, the long walk having taken more out of her than she had imagined. Now, it was necessary for her to rest. Mayra scanned the barn for the tools she would need. Even now, with Bessie cornered, she was not sure if she had the courage to do what had to be done.
“Oh, how I ache. Hurry.” The cow fidgeted rolling her sore belly over the straw-lined stall.
“It’ll all be over soon, Bessie.” Mayra finally spotted what she needed leaning against the barn door. She hid the tool behind her back thinking of giggly Minnie, the Baron’s young mistress, how her head must have dangled over the side of the window for her precious earing to drop off into the grass. Minnie’s bold blue trinket was buried somewhere deep inside this bovine. Mayra had but one choice if she wanted to survive.
“Sorry, Bessie. Mayra raised the sledgehammer to its full height. “It’s you or me,” and the hammer hit hard on Bessie’s nose. But cows are creatures of courage and Bessie’s face swiveled left to right.
“Demon, you let me be!” Bessie was maneuvering out of the way as best she could, but she was disoriented from this first blow and already lying down in the stall.
“I’ve no choice, Bessie. Sorry.” Mayra repeated her apology after each blow. Only after seven swings did Bessie’s body lay sideways on the straw ground.
Mayra took a barn blade and cut Bessie’s throat letting her crimson liquid drain onto the golden straw. Bessie’s hooves continued to move, reflexes the stable workers had told her, but perhaps Bessie was making her way to that final pasture in the sky.
Hours later, Mayra emerged from her search of the bovine’s entrails with her prize. Blood coated every surface of her scullery apron. She pinched the earring between her fingertips, the blazing blue sapphire caught the first rays of the morning sun and twinkled.
She’d slaughtered a cow for a stone. No, she put that thought aside, that wasn’t true. She’d slaughtered Bessie to save herself.
At breakfast, the scullery maid filled the master’s tea and placed beside his earthenware mug a dark blue stone, still crusted red around the rim.
The Baron wiped pastry crumbs from his beard nonplussed. “Yes, I heard. You have stolen a gem but given me a jewel.” He patted Mayra’s backside with a hearty laugh as if they were old chums. “And for that, I grant you your freedom.”
The Baron reached into his pocket and sprinkled a few coins onto the ground. Mayra watched as they settled amongst the patio’s stones. “You’ve escaped my wrath, but you will never escape these violent voices. Those, my dear, are yours forever.” With his napkin, the Baron shooed Mayra again, picking up his tea and blowing hard against the surface enjoying the ripple of waves. “Be gone from here.”
Mayra bowed, picking up the coins as she parted, but never turning her back to the Baron. She exited the veranda walking backward, having learned from Bessie the price of letting down your guard.
Packing up her few belongings, she ventured out on the grounds by foot, determined to follow the river downstream where she hoped to discover some small settlement to explore. With her new talents, perhaps she could set up a school to train animals. For a few minutes, she let her mind flow playfully like a winding stream.
Unsure of how far she would have to go to reach more of her own kind, she conversed with warblers along the way. “How far to the next port?”
“A few days.” They repeated the phrase circling around her. “Just a few days. Just a few days.”
The birds chatted with their new friend cautiously. In exchange for crumbs, they gave her knowledge of the river’s flow. When she stopped on the warm white rocks to rest, they warned her of the poisonous coral snakes that blended in with stones of this color along the riverbanks. She had been hiking for just under an hour when she heard in the distance the high-pitched cries of several creatures, their voices breathy and shrill above the river’s hush.
“We. Can’t. Breathe. Suffocating.”
At the lake’s edge, a fisherman stood in the reeds, three strong tiger fish netted over the water’s edge. Their bodies twisted in the ropes, bruising each other’s fins with each careless flick. A trio of striped fish convulsing together in the un-swimmable air.
“Sir, let them be. Can you not see how they suffer?” Mayra waded out into the reeds determined to stop the man.
But the fishermen laughed, gripping his net firmly. “What and ruin the Baron’s supper? Get back to the kitchen, or better yet, take this catch in with you when you go.”
Mayra pulled on the man’s arm, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Woah, watch yourself, Lassie. This is a prize catch.”
Meanwhile, the fishes’ movements became more erratic. “Out. Of. Time. Help now!” The bodies of the fish flicked hard one last time against the net. Without thinking, Mayra seized the man’s fishing pole. She wanted to make up for her treatment of Bessie. She needed to use her powers for good. Seizing the end of the pole, she found the string and wrapped it around the man’s neck.
“You let them go, now.” The net hung still. “See, they’re dying.”
The man grabbed at the line with one hand, weakening his grip on the net, which sagged towards the river’s edge, but did not drop.
The fisherman was unable to separate the taut fishing line from his flesh. Even still, he refused to lower the net back into the water.
“Now!” Mayra pulled the two sides of the fishing line with all her might, not realizing how deep the line could cut. The fisherman was soon on his knees, three fish hobbling head over tail from out of his net back into the stream.
Mayra released her grip the instant the net hit the ground, but the line was already all the way to the bone, bloody rivulets escaping down the man’s fishing vest.
Mayra sprinted from the sight of him but found herself running head-first into a mist net set to catch small birds by the water’s edge.
To Be Continued…