This is a bit of a throwback to creative writing days. I chose to write a reimagined fairy tale, which was quite a task for me because I’ve noticed I can write strongly for a few solid pages, but after that I tend to get burned out. This is a piece I’m really proud of, specifically because it had me breaking the barriers I had previously been limited by, all while remaining in my voice and writing style. This is a reimagined fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, that I have titled, Arabesque.
“Ivy, this is the second time we have discovered you trying to leave campus. Another discipline incident with you will result in your immediate expulsion. The Academy does not tolerate disobedience from its students.”
“Isn’t that why we’re all sent here?” Ivy muttered under her breath.
“Is there something you wish to share with the board, Miss Blackwood?”
Ivy Blackwood scanned the faces of the disciplinary committee seated at the wide oak table before her. She fixed them all with an icy smile. “Why no, Headmaster Cross. I have made a mistake that I will not repeat again. I am truly sorry.”
The appeal and soothing lilt of lies was in her voice, and the corners of her mouth turned down in a small mockery of a frown. The only features that remained unchanged by this charade were her eyes; they were shallow pools of grey rainwater, and they silently laughed in the faces of all she met. They were the eyes of a trickster.
“Miss Blackwood, measures will be taken to ensure that the actions that have brought you before the board will not be repeated. You will be expected to be in your dorm room no later than eight o’clock every night. The doors and windows of your room will remain locked after that hour until breakfast the next morning. We will post a hall monitor in the room adjacent to yours to make sure you do not leave.” The Headmaster sighed. “This is serious, Ivy. We hope you will not force us to take more actions against you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” she replied, as the smile left her face.
Three days passed without incident. Ivy Blackwood attended all her classes, kept up her grades, and obeyed the rules set forth by the disciplinary board. On the morning of the fourth day, things changed. Ivy awoke from a deep sleep in her bed, and a thin layer of mud coated the bottoms of her bare feet. She had no recollection of the events of the previous night. Ivy seemed to recover from her initial onset of exhaustion, but as the days passed her skin took on an unearthly shade of pale. Her throat became sore and raspy. Her appetite slowly faded away like the rest of her.
Ivy’s little sister Elise was worried. “You don’t eat much anymore,” she began one day after school in the dance studio. Both sisters were skilled at ballet and it reminded them of home and their Mother, a soloist with a New York Ballet company who had passed away when they were both very young.
Ivy’s grip on the barre tightened. “It is kind of you to worry, Elise,” she answered coldly, “But I can take care of myself. Nothing’s wrong.” She lifted her arms to form a perfect arc over the leg that was extended and resting on the barre.
Elise was clever, and she knew Ivy too well to be fooled by her acting. “Sister you can trust me with anything. We’ve only had each other since Mother passed away and Father sent us to live at the Academy. Where did you go the night you found mud on your feet?”
Ivy swung her leg around and off the barre, and whipped around to face Elise. Her grey eyes were fierce and wild, but the rest of her showed an air of indifferent haughtiness. She was like a porcelain statue, devoid of feeling and yet full to the brim with rage. She was angry because she truly didn’t know where she went. She suddenly drew back, seeming to catch herself about to unleash the anger upon her sister. I’ll just say something silly, something to shut her up, thought Ivy. She feigned simple annoyance and gave a small laugh. “If you must know, I went dancing. Dancing with a prince through a forest of silver and a palace of gold. We danced up into the night sky and we swallowed the stars.” That was all she said. She turned her back on Elise and continued dancing to soundless music, softly humming in perfect rhythmic harmony to the landing of her slippered feet upon the glossy wooden floor. There was something about the answer she gave Elise, something familiar about it, like a dream you can only half remember.
Elise stood there, stunned. She thought her sister was going mad. A single tear escaped her eye and trickled down her face to rest in the corner of her mouth. It was there that a plea formed on her lips; a plea for her sister to come back to her. Elise wanted her real sister, not this strange and far away imitation. She did not give voice to the plea, but rather fled the studio, and left it hanging in the air.
Elise thought about her options when she arrived back at her dorm. She could tell the headmaster about Ivy’s possible insanity, but what would that gain? Nothing but a monthly visit to her sister in a psychiatric ward and another lost family member. No, Elise couldn’t tell anybody, she loved Ivy too dearly. She sighed. Her sister had always been the one to look out for the two of them, and now she felt very much alone. Elise looked at her watch. It was just past seven-thirty in the evening. “A short walk would be good for me,” she thought aloud, “I’ll go and see if Ivy is back in her dorm yet.”
Ivy’s dorm was on the other half of campus. The underclassman dorms were positioned in close proximity to one another, with separation between the buildings for the different sexes. The upperclassman dorms weren’t big block buildings like those for the younger students; they were large Victorian-style houses that were shared among ten to twelve students. Ivy shared her house with eleven other girls. Elise did not know the girls very well, but she didn’t approve of them. They all seemed cold and haughty, not one of them ever giving Elise the time of day. She frowned slightly as she thought about this, but pushed her thoughts aside when she reached Ivy’s dorm.
It was set back a ways from the other houses, but it was by far the most grand. It was large and sprawling, sitting on a well manicured lawn of about two acres. It was painted a pale robin’s egg blue and it had white and gold detailing around the windows and doors. Thick square columns supported the porch that wrapped around three sides of the house. Stemming from one side of the structure was an immense turret, which Elise knew to be her sister’s room. A single window was built into the side of the turret, and from that window Elise could see the faint glow of a light left on.
The evening air was cool upon her shoulders, and a faint wisp of a breeze sent chills up her neck. Elise looked about her. Behind the house was a wooded area, and beyond that was the very edge of campus and the high brick wall that enclosed the entire school. She was about to walk up to the front door and ring the doorbell when something stopped her. There was an eerie quietness about the whole place: an unnatural stillness in the air. All of a sudden hushed voices and faint laughter could be heard permeating the silence. Elise ducked behind one of the porch columns.
“Ivy dearest,” sang one of the voices, “The moon is waiting for youuu!” From behind the back of the house ran one of the girls, the one that had called for Ivy. She was beautiful, her long curly auburn hair was loose and swinging at the small of her back. She was wearing a white summer dress that shone under the wide and luminous moon. “You’ll make us late again…” she said, but her words trailed off into a hum. More laughter from inside the house. The side door opened, and out came the other eleven girls. At the very end of the line was Ivy. Elise’s breath caught in her throat. She wanted to call out to her sister, but something told her to stay hidden.
“Don’t worry, they won’t start without us,” laughed Ivy. The girls made there way behind the house, and as soon as they were out of sight Elise dashed out from her hiding place to follow them. When she snuck around the back of the house they were gone. Her only clue was a glimpse of the hem of a white dress and a bare foot disappearing through a parting in the thicket of brush that marked the beginning of the woods. She waited a moment, then pushed through the thicket in pursuit.
When she was clear of the brush, she was released into a huge circular clearing surrounded on all sides by towering trees. She stood for a few minutes in awe, then realized she was out in the open. She crouched down and made her way slowly to a tree with a low-lying branch. She began to climb, and found a notch to sit in where she could observe the happenings not far below. The leaves concealed her and they fluttered in the night breeze, flipping between one side of the leaf which was green, and the underside which was a pale silver. Elise gasped. All around her the breeze was turning over the leaves and thus transforming the trees from green to silver. The moon played upon the breeze’s trick, and cast its ghostly illumination over the leaves which bathed the whole clearing in gleaming silvery light.
Elise looked back down to where the twelve girls were standing. Ivy was sitting on the ground, holding something in the open palm of her hand. It was small, but that was all Elise could see from her hiding place. Ivy raised her hand and tipped the contents into her mouth. Elise couldn’t see the white crystals slowly melting in the heat of Ivy’s palm. She couldn’t feel the way they landed honey sweet on Iv’s tongue but burned down her throat. Elise couldn’t understand the way they ripped one’s world apart and completed it at the same time. All Elise could see was Ivy was sitting still on the forest floor. All Ivy could see was the world melt away into a Jackson Pollock painting that shuddered and threatened to split at the seams. Ivy stood up unsteadily. Elise could hear the calls of the other girls to Ivy, but she could only remain focused on what her sister would do next.
Ivy began to hum a song as she walked over to where the other girls were now standing. She seemed moved by her own singing, and to Elise’s bewilderment she began to dance. They were slow simple movements at first, but soon grew into beautiful and long phrases of flowing motions. There was something strange about Ivy’s movements; they seemed too languid and they lacked the usual grace that accompanied her dancing. Her bare feet left the ground less quickly, and her arms swept through the air instead of gently floating upon it. Other figures came out from the thicket to join the clearing. Upperclassman boys –some of whom Elise recognized– joined the throng and even began to dance with Ivy. This was too much for Elise, she scrambled down from her tree and fled the clearing. She was thinking about telling the headmaster, but she loved her sister and didn’t want to see her expelled. So, she gathered up her courage and did the one thing she thought would save her sister. She walked back into the clearing.
“Hey, Ivy check it out,” laughed one of the boys as he pointed to Elise.
“Elise? You shouldn’t be here, go home!” Slurred Ivy. Some of the iciness from earlier had melted away to reveal a scared and fragile girl, a girl who couldn’t control what was happening to her. Now that Elise was here, she had something to lose. Elise feigned not caring. It was time for her sister to see what it was like to be shut out.
Elise tried to look haughty like the rest of the girls. She phrased her next question carefully, so as to glean information without sounding interested. “Ivy you look messed up, what did you take?”
“S’nothing,” Ivy replied, but the boys weren’t having it.
“Ivy she’s already here, why don’t you give her some?” Said one boy.
“Yeah she’s already here,” agreed another. “Besides, we don’t want her to tell the headmaster about this.” The bag started to be passed to Elise.
“She’s my little sister, guys, stop,” protested Ivy weakly. The other girls said nothing, but looked uncomfortable.
“Here,” said one of the boys, as he handed the bag to Elise. “Don’t take to much your first time,” he chuckled. Elise stared at the small plastic bag of white crystals, some whole and some crushed into a fine dust.
“I’ll help you,” said one of the boys that was clearly intoxicated. He took the bag from Elise, opened it, then grabbed her hand and forced it palm-side up. He poured a small amount of the powder, no more than the size of a dime, into her palm. “Now you swallow, like this,” he made an exaggerated gesture of lifting his hand to his mouth and swallowing as he threw his head back. He was so wasted that the force of throwing his head back made him fall to the ground. The others laughed. Elise stared once more at the powder in her palm. Should she do this? She lifted her hand to her nose. The powder smelled sweet like flowers, but there was a note of burning to the smell, like something charred over a fire. She paused, then brought her hand to her mouth. She tipped her head back.
“Elise no!” screamed Ivy, and she grabbed Elise’s hand and brushed the powder onto the ground. She drew back a second, amazed at what she had done. She looked back up at Elise. “I-I’m so sorry,” she cried, and ran towards her sister and hugged her tightly. “I shouldn’t have lied to you, I won’t come here again, don’t come here again Elise, I’m sorry…”
Elise and Ivy left the clearing. Night had turned to dawn, and as they made their way out of the woods a warm sunrise greeted them. The effects of the powder were wearing off of Ivy, and she was growing sleepy.
“Come on Ivy, stay awake we’re on our way to see Headmaster Cross, but you aren’t in trouble it’s going to be okay.” Elise spoke soothingly to Ivy, but she honestly didn’t know how conscious she was.
“Mmmhm,” mumbled Ivy.
When they arrived at the the school and Ivy was taken to the nurse, Elise told the headmaster everything. She told him about why Ivy had taken ill and changed her behavior a few weeks ago; where she had been going every night and why she couldn’t remember. She told him about the clearing, and the drugs, and she gave a list of names of people that had been there when she found Ivy. After relaying all this information she finally felt exhausted by the night’s events, and she slumped back into her chair. The headmaster looked downright stunned. After making some phone calls, he told Elise everything was taken care of and she had permission to skip classes and go back to her dorm to sleep. Elise was grateful for this, but politely asked if she could instead go visit her sister in the infirmary. The headmaster agreed. Ivy was awake and lying in a hospital bed when Elise arrived.
“Ivy? How are you doing,” Elise asked. Ivy turned her head to face her sister. She smiled.
“The IV was the worst part,” she said and smiled weakly. “Listen, Elise I’m so sorry you had to see me like that back there,” Ivy began.
Elise cut her off. “It’s okay, I’m glad I was there to help you.”
A tear escaped Ivy’s eye. “You shouldn’t have had to help me,” she said softly.
The sisters sat like that for a while, talking and comforting each other. Both were exhausted but neither one wanted to sleep and leave the other behind. They stayed like that all day. When they finally fell asleep they were together, knowing that no matter what happened they would always have each other, and in that moment they realized everything was going to be okay.