If Snow White literally had “lips red as a rose, hair black as ebony, and skin white as snow,” she’d look like a walking nightmare.
honestly this sounds like the description of a vampire. Which would also explain how she convinced seven dwarves to let her stay with them. How she could control some animals to do her bidding. How she could sleep for a long time without aging. Why the hunter betrayed the queen for her, and why the queen wanted her heart, so she could be sure she was killed properly.
the first baby is born in may, and dies in his sleep. the second does not make it to term. the third lives for a year before an unknown illness claims him. the queen pricks her finger on a needle: old magic. blood on snow on an ebony windowsill. the wind carries the the contract, and the woods accept.
blood now must be repaid with blood later, but the fourth baby is a girl, and she lives.
she grows slowly, and out of order. first her hands, long and bony; then her arms, thin, hollow-looking. she never looks quite like a child: no chubby cheeks, no skinned knees, no missing teeth. her hair is thick and so black it sometimes seems viscous. her skin is so thin you should be able to see the blood running through it.
they name her snow white, for the fairness of her skin. so fair that she cries when left in the light too long.
the queen dies when snow white is four, still small, and beloved. she is not beautiful, her mouth too painfully red, her eyes too liquid dark, her teeth too pointedly sharp. but only those who do not live in the castle think this. to know the child is to love her. to know the child is to want to please her. to know the child is to know that she is precious.
that she must be protected. that she must be obeyed.
“it is not your fault,” the king whispers to the child on his lip, petting her head. “she was not strong enough. i will make sure you never go hungry.”
the child presses her tiny hand against his cheek. “i know you will,” snow white says.
peasants begin to go missing. young boys are snatched from the fields. women are summoned to the castle and never seen again.
“gifts,” her father calls them. “eat. you are too thin.”
the girls are always silent, and the boys always scream. snow white hates it. she wishes they would stop, but she is hungry. she is so hungry. and doesn’t she have the right to survive? isn’t she a child, too?
but her mother’s blood is the only food that ever made her feel full. now she can eat and eat and eat and never feel like she has taken a single bite.
she grows thin. the sun becomes too strong for her to go outside.
“a mother’s blood,” the king muses, and sends his advisors out to find snow white a new one.
the kingdom has six queens in six years, but no more peasants go missing. it must be something in the castle, they say. some mold. some terrible illness. something that lingers, and kills you slowly.
but snow white grows healthy regardless. she can be seen, sometimes, on the parapets: in the early years she wears a heavy cloak but as she grows it gets thinner, and then disappears entirely.
she is small, and delicate. her laughter, floating down into the village, is silver and gold and painted in eighth notes. it is said that if you look into her eyes you can see your deepest desire. it is said that she will give it to you. it is said that every time a queen dies it breaks snow white’s gentle heart. she shrinks. she hides away indoors. she becomes frail and cannot leave her bed.
so many queens in so many years. eventually, somebody will notice.
eventually, somebody does.
“mirror, mirror, on the wall: who’s the fairest of them all?”
you, my queen.
“there are no others?”
there is one other. but she is young. she was made by the forrest. she doesn’t know what she is.
“another? after all this time? where?”
the kingdom of six queens.
“how strong is her heart?”
she is too young to know for certain. but she when she is hungry, she has always been fed.
snow’s new mother arrives on horseback. her lips are red as blood, her hair as black as ebony, her skin as fair as–snow’s.
she marries the king and they spend the night in his chamber. this has never happened before. snow white does not understand. she is hungry. she always gets fed, the very first night. she always gets blood on her gown.
but her father stays in his chamber and does not come out. in the morning, his eyes are hazy and he does nothing but smile. her new mother’s teeth are red.
snow white waits. she isn’t starving yet. surely her father will snap out of it and feed her.
“today?” snow white asks, and her father pats her head.
“i will find you a peasant boy,” he says. “a strong one. your favorite kind.”
“that is not my favorite,” snow white tells him. she frowns. he has never told her no before. he, and everyone else, has always done exactly what she wanted. “father, i am hungry. you promised i would never be hungry again.”
she begins to cry, and the hazy look leaves him. he falls to his knees, her face between his hands. “of course,” he murmurs, “of course, tonight, i’ll send her. i don’t know why i didn’t before. i don’t know what i was thinking. tonight.”
snow white kisses his cheek. her red lips leave a print.
her new mother does not come. in the morning, her father’s eyes are hazy once again.
“father,” snow white begs.
“i promise,” he answers, but he is weak, every night he gives in to weakness because her new mother does not come. snow white is hungry. snow white grows thin. snow white cannot go out into the sun.
at last, her new mother comes. she has a plate of food: vegetables, fruit, and a slab of meat.
“eat,” her new mother murmurs. she perches on the edge of the bed.
snow white shuffles away from the sunlight coming through the window. “i’m not hungry,” she says.
“but you must be hungry,” her mother says, smiling. she reaches out to chase the edge of snow’s jaw. “you haven’t eaten in weeks. not even a peasant boy.”
snow white looks up, startled. “they aren’t filling,” snow white says.
“no,” agrees her new mother. “i agree. i prefer kings, when i can get them.”
“i prefer mothers.”
“i am not your mother.”
“then what are you?”
her smile is slow and bitter red. “my mother made the woods a promise, and the promise was me. she did not know that promises must be paid in blood, and sustained in blood, and that the blood was also me. she got what she wanted, and i ate until i was as full as a human could make me.”
“are there others? like you? …. like me?”
“there were,” the queen says. “once, there were many of us, and all of us were starving.”
snow white does not yet understand. “then what happened? where did they go? how did you survive?”
the queen runs a finger along the fabric of snow white’s blanket. her nail rips a line through the thread. “humans are weak, snow white. a thousand of them would not be enough to fill us up. but we are strong. our hearts can sustain a body for a hundred lifetimes.”
her teeth grow long. “i have been hungry for such a long time,” she says.
snow white understands.
it hurts: her skin is so hot it is nearly on fire. her feet blister as she runs. she has never been outside of the castle grounds, but the woods are dark and shaded. the shade is like jumping into a pool of water. the red bleeds from her skin, leaving her fair and white once more.
she hides inside the hollow of a tree (the woods created her and the woods will keep her safe until her mother’s debt is paid). she sleeps while the hunting parties pass her by, all but one. he is a huntsman. he knows the woods. he knows the woods have favorites, and protect them; but the woods are old and can be tricked.
when she emerges, it is dark. her skin is so white he almost wants to drink it. she is small, her hair so black he thinks she has woven the night sky into it. as he notches his bow he thinks it seems a shame to kill something so beautiful, something so beloved by the woods. the huntsman is loved by the woods, too. he knows how its favorites suffer.
she turns to look at him. when their eyes meet he sees his deepest desires. her eyes promise to give it to him. we are the chosen, her eyes promise, as she approaches and he does not shoot. cannot shoot. cannot look away.
“i am so hungry,” she whispers, reaching out to touch his face. “my father hasn’t fed me.”
“she wants your heart,” the huntsman confesses.
snow white knows that already. snow white is beginning to understand the bargain that her mother made.
“she cannot have it,” snow white says, and her teeth get long, and she eats.
“mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
you, my queen. but not for long.