Revelers walk past my cage, taunting me with long sticks they slip through the bars. I press my bulk against the thick iron and bare my teeth. Their screams fill the night as they scuttle backward in the grass. From a safe distance, the fear melts away and laughter blooms on their faces, caught in the soft glow of hanging lanterns.

They come in droves.

They come to see the beast.

I don’t let them down.

Settling into the shadows of my cage, I wait for the crowds to disperse. Another hour and they’ll be tucked away in their beds, and I’ll be set free. It’s a full moon, after all, and I’ve waited patiently.

My claws click against the wooden floor and hay rustles beneath my massive frame. I’m starving, but tonight, I’ll dine with a fork and spoon. I’ll sip wine from a glass, and for a few hours, I’ll be human.

“You can come out now.” A young boy dressed in a pair of slacks too short for his lanky frame unlocks my cage. He averts his eyes, even though I’m cloaked in shadow, and tosses me a simple linen dress.

“Thanks, Ben.” My voice sounds scratchy and the words roll clumsily off my tongue. The change happens so quick these days it takes me a moment to adjust. I tug the dress over my head and crawl toward the opening. My legs wobble, and I brace myself before jumping into the grass. Ben steadies me with a firm hand and gives me a smile.

“What smells so good?” I ask, breathing deeply of the heavenly scent wafting from one of the tents.

“We’re having a feast! It’s a gift from the palace for entertaining the kingdom before the ball tomorrow.” Ben pulls me toward the tent, licking his lips as he runs faster. “There’s baked bread, soups, and platters of meat. I’ve never seen so much food!”

Neither have I. He pulls back the flap, and I stop in my tracks. The interior is filled with carnival workers filling their plates and pouring wine into overflowing glasses. They greet me as I pass, raising their cups in salute.

“Welcome back, Cinder!”

“Is it a full moon already?”

“You have to try the chicken.”

I wave at each one and join the line to fill my plate. Weaving through the crowd, I spot Morgana seated in the corner of the tent. She shuffles a deck of cards, and her beaded bracelets clink together as she turns them over one at a time. Her gaze meets mine as I approach, and she taps the deck with a slender finger.

“It’s in the cards. You’ll need a dress and a pair of slippers.”

“What for?” I laugh and take a hearty bite of chicken, licking the flavorful juice from my fingers.

“The prince’s ball, Cinder. Every woman in the kingdom is invited, even you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. The ball isn’t until tomorrow, and the full moon is tonight. The curse will be in effect by then. Should I go as a beast? Maybe we can wheel in my cage?”
Morgana frowns and reaches deep into the pocket of her gossamer gown. She reveals a glowing stone hanging from a silver chain and drops it into my hand.

“It’s a cursebreaker stone. As long as it glows, you won’t return to your beastly form.”

My eyes widen. “Where did you get it?”

“Your mother asked me to give it to you when the time was right. She knew one day you’d need it. Tomorrow, you’ll attend the ball, but you must leave the moment the stone’s glow begins to fade. We can’t risk spreading the curse.”

Her warning filters through my mind, but I’m transfixed by the stone, and the realization I have another night free from my curse. When I look up, she’s gone, and I’m alone at the table. I’m almost afraid to believe her. I’ve never lasted in human form until morning, but the next day, when the sun rises, the beast doesn’t rise with it.


I take his hand and we dance.

The hired carriage clatters across the cobblestones, and I hang on to a leather strap to keep from swaying into the wall. Outside, the scenery is a dark blur that rushes past the window, while inside, my heart beats as if trying to keep pace with the horses.

All day, I feared changing back into my beast, but it never happened. The cursebreaker around my neck continues to glow, keeping my secret at bay. I wonder how long it will last, and if the memories I make tonight will be enough to last a lifetime.

The only thing I know for certain is I’ll never forget the dress. Borrowed from one of the ribbon dancers, the filmy silver fabric froths around my ankles. A pair of glittering slippers adorn my feet, and my pale skin shimmers from a light dusting of metallic powder that all the performers use.

Tonight, I’m one of them, playing the part of another.

The palace comes into view and my breath catches in my throat. Carriages line the long drive, and guests in elegant finery ascend the marble staircase leading to the ballroom entrance. Music spills into the night, testing the boundaries of its existence before fading away.

I exit the carriage and accept the gloved hand of a stranger. He leads me to the staircase, then vanishes among the throng of people. On nervous legs, I climb to the top of the landing and step into line. A woman in front of me, covered in strategically placed feathers, gasps and covers her mouth with a slender hand.

She leans toward her companion and whispers, “You saw the beast last night? Was it horrid? They say it killed a hundred men before it was captured.”

Her companion nods solemnly. “Its fur was caked with blood, and its teeth were as long as your fingers. It sharpened its claws against the iron bars and waited for people to get close. It would have taken your head, if you let it.”

The woman shudders. “How terrifying. I’m glad the carnival is leaving tomorrow. What if it escaped?”

I never hear the man’s answer as they reach the front of the line and are introduced to the mass of dancing guests below. My stomach tightens, and I clutch the cursebreaker around my neck. Hundreds of guest fill the ballroom below. Fear seizes my body, and the dancers morph into bloody corpses. Moans of terror drown out the music, and I see myself, as I truly am, in the thick of it, covered in blood.

A throat clears, and the gruesome scene vanishes. “Your name, Miss?”

“Cinder,” I whisper.

“Cinder, what?”

“Just Cinder.”

The footman bellows my name and ushers me forward. I walk down the stairs, heart in my throat. A beast among lambs. But no one screams. They don’t run, and yet, the room stills and a hush falls.

At the bottom of the staircase stands the prince. His open palm hovers in the air. An invitation to dance? I look over my shoulder and try to find the beauty behind me, but there’s no one there. A tingle of awareness skitters over my skin.

The prince’s voice is smooth like molten chocolate. “Will you dance with me, Cinder?”

I take his hand and we dance.

An hour goes by, maybe two. My feet are sore, and my cheeks ache from smiling. Any lingering fear has floated away, and all that remains is awe. Awe of this moment, and awe of the charming man at my side.

He twirls me toward the glass doors leading into the courtyard. Moonlight touches the ground with silver fingers, and the orchestra fades. Even the chirping insects are loath to intrude on our private moment.

“Where do you live?” he asks, leading me to a marble bench.

I hesitate, unsure how to answer. “With my family.”

He laughs, angling his head at my vague response. “I meant, where in the kingdom do you live?”

My face flushes, and I can feel the pink stain on my cheeks. “I travel a lot.”

“So do I.” He grins, enjoying the game he thinks we’re playing. “Do you enjoy traveling?”

“I get to meet lots of different people.”

His hand cups my cheek, and I can’t help but lean into it. “And what do those people think of you, Cinder?”

The question startles me, and my mind fills with descriptions. Fearsome. Grotesque. Murderous.

My voice wobbles, “I suppose people find me entertaining.”

“I find you a lot more than entertaining. I find you captivating.” His lips meet mine, and I close my eyes from the pleasure. I feel his warm breath on my skin; his tongue as he delves deeper causing heat to spiral in my belly.

The kiss is worth the risk, worth the knowledge that it can only happen once. I wind my arms around his neck and press myself close. A growl of satisfaction rumbles from his throat, and I shiver as his thumbs skate down my neck and brush against the bare skin of my collarbone.

He whispers my name, the soft rasp an addicting contradiction to the fear I usually evoke. I may look different, but there’s a new beast inside me hungry for the way he makes me feel. No matter what form I take, I’m cursed with the desire to draw them in, make them mine. I’d take their soul if they let me.

Maybe the curse isn’t broken at all.

We kiss until the clock strikes midnight. On the last bell, the pleasure turns to pain, and agony tears through my limbs. I double over, clutching my stomach. Squinting through my tears, I reach for the cursebreaker, but the stone has gone cold and dark. The prince reaches for me, concern etched across his face. I swat him away, horrified by what’s happening to me.

“You need to leave!” I screech and stagger from the bench. My fingernails crack and long claws protrude from my thickening hands. Dark hair grows along my arms and over my body, and the fabric of my dress rips at the seams. Stunned by my transformation, the prince tries to help, gathering me in his arms. My claws rake along his skin, slicing deep, leaving trails of oozing blood. I shove him away and dart into the bushes before he can see what I’ve become. The long branches snag at the shreds of fabric still clinging to my form.

“Wait!” he shouts, but I don’t stop. I run as fast as I can, creating a trail of his blood in the fallen leaves.

Bursting into the night, the castle fades into the distance, and the urge to hunt takes over. It’s a long time before I realize what I’ve done.


The world is fuzzy and spinning, and the acrid scent of smoke lingers in the chilly air. I open my eyes and flinch against the shafts of light spilling into my cage.

“You’re awake?”

Morgana steps up to the bars. Her long hair catches in the breeze and whips around her shoulders. Behind her, tents deflate and their poles are loaded into the wagons. The carnival dismantles piece by piece. Soon, there won’t be any trace of our existence aside from the charred embers of our campfires.

I snarl. It’s a sound that usually sends small children screaming, but only makes Morgana smile.

“We had to tranquilize you. McDermott found you in the woods. You gave him a good chase, and he’s been grumbling about it all morning.” Her gaze turns to the rising sun. “We’re leaving in an hour.”

The floorboards press against my bones, and I shift my bulk to a spot with thicker hay. The thin, dry stalks cling to my matted fur. With consciousness comes the memories from last night. Terror and happiness mix to form some kind of sludge that sits like a weight in my stomach. I shouldn’t have gone to the ball. It was selfish. I’d already made peace with my curse. Wanting more was dangerous.

“The prince is searching for you.” Morgana’s features soften, and it’s as if she can read my mind, because she says, “He’s confused by what he saw, but desperate to find you. He set out at dawn, going door to door in the kingdom. The palace is in an uproar. He’s vowed to find you or he won’t marry.”

A sharp pain stabs my heart. He wouldn’t want me if he knew the truth. If I’d stayed a second longer, he would have seen the real me. This morning, he wouldn’t be searching the kingdom, he’d be hunting.

Morgana grips the bars and leans forward. “Did you injure him?”

My head falls. Regret slithers through me. I want to cry out and tell her it was an accident, but a part of me wonders if that’s a lie.

“I see.” Morgana sighs. “I’ll speak with the others. We have a decision to make.”

There’s a struggle in her eyes, and I know what it means. I have blood on my hands, and this time, it isn’t a poor farm boy, but a prince.

As evening falls, a team of horses pulls my cage along a rutted dirt road. Dust from their hooves fills the air creating a dirty cloud. Single file, the carnival pulls out of the kingdom. I watch through the bars as the castle fades. We’re headed toward our next stop, but the usual excitement that permeates the journey is dimmed by the mess we’re leaving in our wake.

“Halt, for the prince of Edenraye!” A shout echoes down the line, and my carriage pulls to the side of the road while we wait. The murmur of voices withers as a group of royal guards gallop down the path. Behind them rides the prince, his arm bandaged and wrapped in a sling, but it isn’t the only part of him that looks wounded. His bleary eyes appear vacant, face hollow, and his lips are grim.

A growl of sorrow rumbles in my throat. The group passes my cage without a second look, and then, as if pulled by a tether, the prince’s head turns. Our gazes clash. His horse slows, and a look of recognition crosses his face. My heart races painfully as he touches his bandage.

The moment is over as soon as it starts, and my cage lurches as the carnival resumes its march. The prince disappears from sight, but I wonder what he knows. More than that, I wonder how long he’ll last until my curse becomes his, and I wonder if Morgana and the others have decided his fate.

Three months have passed since that fateful night, and the kingdom of Edenraye is in mourning. We’ve heard whispers through our travels of the magnificent ball, and the heartbroken prince who met a tragic end. The mystery of the beautiful woman who vanished and drove the prince to the edge of the cliffs and beyond is told around campfires.

A reward remains for information of her whereabouts, and ships still scour the rocks for any sign of the prince.

But I know the truth.

The curse has claimed another, and the carnival gained another beast. He sits in a cage next to mine, thrilling our patrons with his horrible face.

They come in droves.

They come to see the beasts.

We don’t let them down.

And on the night of the full moon, we dance.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this bite-sized fairy tale.

My full length books are available on Amazon!

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