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We knew she was trouble, my sister and I, when our widowed mother married her widowed father. Our new father was a nice enough man, very kind to us. His daughter, Ella, was his pride and joy, the most beautiful creature either of us had ever seen, and sweet to us in the presence of adults. Alone, she was a demon, a spiteful, horrible creature who swore she would make our lives miserable. “Just you wait until I'm a princess,” she used to say. “I'll cut your heads off.”

She promised to make us miserable and she kept her word. As long as there were no adults about and she had no audience, she ignored us. It was when she had an audience that she began to perform, acting as if we mistreated her. It was worse after her father died mysteriously — before he could change his will to include us. She started going about town in rags and telling everyone we had made her a servant in her own house. People started to say my mother was an evil stepmother, and my sister and I were ugly. No matter how we protested our innocence, no one believed us. They never saw her lord it over the house, dressed in the finest silks and pearls. She was very clever. The moment anyone came near the house, she changed into her rags and sat near the fire, looking pathetic.

Then the invitation to the prince's ball came, inviting all the eligible maidens to attend. Neither my sister nor I wanted to go, but Mother insisted. “You may find rich husbands,” she said. Ella laughed in our faces. “Find rich husbands if you think you can,” she scoffed. “I shall marry the prince, and when I'm a princess I'll cut your heads off.” I suggested that my sister and I visit our aunt in a distant kingdom. Mother would hear nothing of it. The night of the ball we put on our new gowns, the best Mother could afford out of our real father's small legacy, and hired a coach. Where Ella was that day remained a mystery. She vanished that very morning, hopefully forever. When the coach came to carry us to the castle, she was still not there. Our relief was profound; perhaps we would have a pleasant evening after all.

It was a pleasant evening, until ten. Ella appeared, riding in a coach shaped like a pumpkin. She was the most beautiful maiden there, and of course the prince spent all his time with her. They danced, and we saw she was wearing glass slippers. How does one dance in glass slippers? I wondered. Then the strangest thing happened. At the stroke of twelve, she ran out, away from the prince, leaving one of the glass slippers behind. The prince was distraught and retired to his rooms, and the ball ended shortly thereafter.

The next morning came bright and clear. One of the royal heralds galloped through town, announcing that the prince had fallen in love with the mysterious girl who danced with him the night before and would marry her if he could find her. The only thing she left behind was that silly glass slipper, and whoever's foot fitted it would be his bride. Everyone was to try on the slipper on pain of death. My sister and I were distressed by the news. We knew whose foot it fit. Ella was overjoyed. “You must try on my shoe,” she crowed. “If it does not fit, you can always cut off your heel or toe.” Then she went off to change into her rags.

The Grand Duke himself came with the shoe. He was hot and tired, having tried that slipper on hundreds of feet with not one able to fit. Neither my sister nor I wanted to try it on, but we had to. Of course it did not fit, but we kept our heels and toes attached despite what was said later. We waited for Ella's dramatic appearance and were not disappointed. She played pathetic and timid so well even we felt sorry for her. Oh, how pretty she looked under the grime and soot when her foot slid into the glass slipper, and how the Grand Duke sighed when she produced the other slipper from her pocket! She was escorted to the royal coach and whisked off to the castle, saved from a life of drudgery by true love.

“Mother,” I said when Ella was gone. “I believe now is a good time to visit our aunt.”

“Yes,” Mother agreed. “We shall all go. I rather like keeping my head.”
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