A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
He Surprised Me
Elsie gathered all the ashes on her fire-shovel and dumped it in the tin bucket. Then she used the shovel to move the ambers around, so that they could breathe and glow and when she was happy with it, added some more logs from the other tin bucket.
She liked building fires. Tending the grates was one of her favourite chores, and even at Hilde’s, she was the one who usually went about it. Hilde had left that task to her as soon as she had realised how much Elsie enjoyed it. Feuer enjoyed it too. Now she was rolling happily in the centre of Elsie’s chest, playing with the warmth coming from the grate as if it were a thread she would weave with her hands into awesome shapes. Elsie could barely glimpse those shapes, but she sensed the movements and the skilful handling of the fire. Besides, it wasn’t the game that Elsie enjoyed and shared. It was rather Feuer’s sense of contentment.
She was gathering her tools when she heard the door click, and Frau Weiss entered with another woman, chatting and laughing.
Elsie stood and went still. The woman who had entered with Frau Weiss couldn’t possibly be a human being. She was as white as an angel, wrapped in a fur-lined white cape that shimmered as she moved. Her bobbed, wavy hair was so blond it was almost silvery. Only her eyes were dark, of such deep darkness that they stood out on her pale face like pools of night.
Realising she was gapping, Elsie closed her mouth before the two women saw she was there. And then she sensed Feuer was unusually quiet and still.
But before she could wonder, Frau Weiss turned to her.
“Elsie. You’ve done such a good job with this room.”
Elsie blushed with pleasure.
“This is my friend Fräulein Lotte Stern,” she went on. “Anything she needs, provide it straight away.”
Fräulein Stern smiled. Not to Elsie, but to Frau Weiss. “Grete, you’re spoiling me,” she purred.
Feuer didn’t stir.
Frau Weiss swatted her hand in such an elegant way. “No worries, Lotte. Just make yourself at home.”
Fräulein Stern took a few steps into the room, coming at the foot of the big, four-poster bed and very closed to Elsie. As she stepped in, Elsie stepped off, towards the door, almost sliding along the wall. Not because she wanted to, but because Feuer wanted it.
What was this all about?
If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought Feuer disliked the woman at first sight.
She snapped her head up when Frau Weiss said, “Lotte is here with a friend, Herr Florian Grunwald. Is there a room ready for him?”
Elsie nodded, bowing her head slightly, as Herr Müller had couched her to do. “The one next to this. I’ve already built a fire there too. Fräulein Dagmar sent for two rooms.”
Frau Weiss nodded. “She wasn’t idle as I showed Lotte the ground floor.”
She nodded slightly to Elsie, who took it as a dismission and grabbed the buckets, each in one hand.
As she reached the room, she heard Fräulein Stern saying, “I’m very impressed, Grete. I’ve spent too much time in the city, possibly.” She sounded as if speaking to herself. “It’s been a long time since last I’ve seen such a beautiful mansion.”
Elsie went out, set the bucket of the logs down and closed the door as softly as she could, as Herr Müller had directed her to do. She grabbed the bucket back up, turned – and stopped dead.
Fräulein Inge was climbing up the stairs together with the most handsome man she had seen outside a film. Dark he was, as Fräulein Stern was white.
He stepped on the landing heaving up two valises – and he too stopped dead, locking gazes with Elsie. Feuer went so still that for a horrible moment Elsie thought she had vanished.
At that moment, the door opened behind her. Frau Weiss said, “Lunch is at noon.” And almost stumbled into Elsie.
“Elsie, child,” she started, with the faintest annoyance in her voice. But soon she said, “Ah, good, you two are here. Florian’s room is the one next to this, if you want to show him in, Inge.”
The man had not moved her gaze away from Elsie, though Elsie had the strange, unsettling feeling that he could see through her. Inside her.
“Will you come this way?” Fräulein Inge said. And only at that moment the man dragged his eyes away from Elsie. He smiled a surprisingly shy smile and said, “Yes, thank you.” He moved toward the room that was showed to him, but as he passed by Elsie, his gaze fell on her again, and Elsie could not move as long as she was inside his gaze.
Fräulein Inge let Herr Grunwald head to the door next to Fräulein Stern’s room, and cast a strange glance at Elsie, then followed him.
As soon as she was free of the man’s gaze, Elsie dashed to Fräulein Inge’s door, the very first on the landing, entered quickly and leaned to the door. Her breath had quickened.
What’s happening? she wondered.
Feuer didn’t answer. She didn’t move.
What’s wrong? What is this all about?THE FROZEN MAZE – Episode 15 – He Surprised Me – The man had not moved her gaze away from Elsie, though Elsie had the strange, unsettling feeling that he could see through her. Inside her #Fairytaleretelling Click To Tweet
Feuer still didn’t answer. For a panicky moment, Elsie thought once more that she was not there anymore, but then she felt her coil slowly and settle in a deep corner of her chest and never move or say anything.
Why wouldn’t she speak to her? This was too strange. Feuer had never refused to speak to her before.
Reluctantly, Elsie dragged herself from the door and to the grate. She knelt down. She looked at the embers shimmering in the grate, among the ashes and for a moment she wondered what was she supposed to do. Feuer didn’t reach out, and Elsie watched the embers as if she had never built a fire before.
Move, you stupid girl, she kicked herself into motion. She started by removing the ashes with the fire-shovel, but every movement felt strange and alien. Feuer never moved. Slowly, as she awkwardly went about building the fire, Elsie realised that she was stunned, that it was surprise what had robbed her of her words.
She was so absorbed in her thought, that when the door clicked opened, Elsie sprang up, whirling on herself with a little yelp.
Fräulein Inge stood in the doorway, a hand on the knob, looking at her.
Elsie clasped the hands in front of herself and dropped her gaze. Maybe Fräulein Inge would take that as Elsie being appropriate.
“The fire’s all set, Fräulein,” she said in a small voice. “Will that be all?”
When the silence stretched, Elsie lifted her eyes, her head still bowed.
Fräulein Inge still stood unmoving on the threshold, observing her. Just then she walked in, closing the door behind her.
“Thanks, Elsie,” she said in a smooth voice. “Actually, I wonder whether you’d get a bath ready for me?”
Elsie curtsied. She still didn’t raise her head.
“Then please, ask our two guests whether they would have a bath too.”
Elsie’s head snapped up. She blushed as soon as she met Fräulein Inge’s scrutinising eyes. Feuer finally stirred, and her movement nearly gave Elsie nausea.
“Yes?” Fräulein Inge said. “It’s something the matter?”
“No, no, Fräulein,” Elsie said hastily. “It’s just—“
She was doing a mess of it. There was no reason why she should hesitate to carry out a request from a member of the family. And the fact that she was acting so stupidly was clearly making Fräulein Inge suspicious. And Elsie could not afford to make anyone suspicious of her.
She opened her mouth to say, Right away, Fräulein, but for some reason, what came out was, “That gentleman.”
It was the wrong thing to say, so Elsie stopped.
“Yes?” Fräulein Inge invited, gently. “What of him?”
Feuer stirred, then curled up again.
Elsie pursed her lips. “He surprised me.”
Fräulein Inge straightened her back and looked straight down at Elsie.
“Indeed, he did,” she said, and it sounded as if she was talking to herself. Then she smiled. “Don’t worry, Elsie. I’ll ask Müller to find someone else to look after the guest. But please, will you prepare my bath?”
Feuer uncoiled, wavered, curled up again.
Elsie nodded. “Right away, Fräulein.” She curtsied, collected the two buckets and ran downstairs to prepare the hot water.