By Abby Coffey

Once upon a time, on the edge of a forest, a girl by the name of Dersuave was born. A happy child, she grew up with her father and mother in a modest cottage. Dersuave yearned for nothing in those early years- the forest providing more than enough adventure with its limber trees, graceful deers, and exquisite birds. Dersuave’s mother, noticing Dersuave’s love for the wild creatures and sun-bathed woods, appraised her but warned her daughter of the danger that lurks in the forest.

“Promise me,” Dersuave’s mother said looking into her daughter’s wide, innocent eyes,  she continued,  “You will never go past the big tree with its branches curled into the shape of a hand in the forest.” Dersuave, a happy child of only seven, eagerly agreed. She wanted to go back to playing with the birds. The birds were her favorite, Dersuave decided that day, with their black as night eyes, long beaks, and ever-changing colors. 

Just as quickly as summer ended, the brisk winter came. Dersuave’s mother fell ill. She began to spend all her time in the cottage, shivering on her bed. Dersuave would bring her soup, yearning for the day where her mother could run through the woods with her again. That day never came. Dersuave and her father wept silently as they buried her mother, with her blue-tinted lips and empty eyes, right on the edge of the forest. The birds cried that day too, their feathers as deep as the dark sea. 

The seasons came and went, and Dersuave’s father eventually married a beautiful woman. The step-mother, hating that they lived so close to the dirty woods, moved them to the center of the bustling city in the largest castle they could find. Dersuave missed their old cottage dearly as it was a far cry from the quiet, serene cottage. But seeing how happy her step-mother made her father, she said nothing. The step-mother prized wealth above all else, always buying the most expensive jewelry and clothes. Dersuave’s father was happy to oblige, only wanting the step-mother to be happy even if it meant having to pay off her debts. He began to work long hours and Dersuave rarely ever saw him. 

Soon after moving to the city, the step-mother gave birth to two daughters whom she prized above all else. Years went by and Dersuave slowly began to look like a mirror image of her beautiful mother. With her full lips, and luminous dark hair, her father, with his wrinkled hands and tired eyes, would smile and exclaim, “Oh, how you look like your mother!” 

Dersuave would only smile in return. The step-mother soon became jealous, wanting her daughters to be the most beautiful of all. She gave her daughters the most luscious and elegant clothes, leaving the servant clothing for Dersuave. The cheap and scratchy dresses would chafe and irritate Dersuave’s skin, making her bleed. But Dersuave would only smile with gratitude at the step-mother knowing how much she made her father happy.

After years of working hard, it began to take a toll on Dersuave’s father. He became very ill but refused to stop working knowing how much the step-mother prized all her pretty possessions. One day, he became so ill he couldn’t even leave his bed. Dersuave, full of concern, sat by him day and night only wanting him to get better. The next day the physician came and taking one look at Dersuave’s fathers’ wrinkled hands and his jaded eyes, he confirmed Dersuave’s worst fears. Her father had worked himself to death and only had one more day to live. Dersuave crumpled onto the floor by her father’s bed and burst into tears, heartbroken by this news. The witch deep in the dark forest heard her cries and sent her wolves to fetch the poor girl. Dersuave was still weeping when the wolves came, and hearing their howls, she knew they had come for her. Quickly, she left her family’s castle and followed the wolves into her beloved forest. The wolf’s sleek, strong bodies moved fast, and Dersuave’s scratchy dress tore as it got snagged on the roots of the trees. The deeper they ran into the woods, the more menacing the trees looked. The colder it got until Dersuave could see her breath in front of her, and they saw the tallest tree in the forest.  The tree’s limbs were extended in the shape of a hand giving the illusion that it was ready to snatch Dersuave up at any moment. Seeing the tree, she almost turned around remembering what her mother told her. But remembering her father’s tired eyes, wrinkled face, and fatigued legs, she kept on going, making sure to keep the wolves in her eyesight. The wolves stopped before a dark doorway made out of dead trees and decaying flesh. Dersuave gagged at the odor of dying flesh, resisting the urge to turn around. But she had come this far, she had to continue. Dersuave slowly entered, making sure to step around the headless deers and eyeless birds. Upon entering she saw the revolting witch with her three eyes, grey hair, and skeleton hands. The witch only looked and smiled, exposing her toothless mouth. Dersuave gulped, suddenly very afraid. 

“Come here young child, and tell me what you want.” The witch said, curling one of her skeleton fingers towards herself in a motion telling Dersuave to come forward. Dersuave slowly shuffled forward, until she was right in front of the witch. “I want my father to be strong and healthy again like he once was,” Dersuave requested. 

“If that is so, I can give you an elixir that will give your father back his youth but strip you of yours. He will have to drink it every night, and it will only work for one person each day. You will prick your finger on the edge of the elixir, and it will fill itself up again. If you agree, you will lose all your hair, your teeth will begin to fall out, and your skin will remain wrinkled. The only way to regain your beauty is with a true love’s kiss,” The witch explained. 

Dersuave quickly shook her head in agreement knowing her beauty was a small price to pay for her father’s health. 

The witch took a small bottle and pricked Dersuave’s finger on the edge of it. In Dersuave’s amazement, the bottle then quickly filled up with an elixir that smelled of gold. Once it was filled Dersuave took the elixir and ran home. 

Upon entering her castle Dersuave immediately gave the elixir to her father. Her father obediently drank it and instantly felt its effects. His cheeks regained color, his wrinkles receded, and he felt like a young boy again. But as he grew more vibrant and strong, Dersuave’s hair and teeth began to fall out; her skin now wrinkled like an old woman’s. If Dersuave cared about her change in appearance, she did not show it, only hugging and rejoicing that her father was healthy. 

And so every night, she would have her father drink the elixir, and then prick her finger to fill it again. And every night she became a little uglier. The step-mother, seeing how youthful Dersuave’s father began to look, became jealous and insecure of her wrinkles. One night she saw Dersuave do this, and knowing that the elixir was the secret of Dersuave’s father’s youth, she set out to drink it for herself the next night. And so she did; her skin began to glow and she looked like she was ten years younger. Later that night Dersuave found the elixir empty. She was confused but thought nothing of it. She simply refilled it with a prick of her finger and had her father drink it. However, because the elixir only works once a night her father began to feel weak again and was unable to get up from his bed. 

Dersuave ran back to the witch claiming that she had lied to her. When the witch simply responded,  “All I have told you is true, and I can do nothing more to help you.” 

Dersuave wept as she ran home, knowing there was nothing she could do to help her father. Upon returning home, she went to check on her father only to find out that he had passed away while she was visiting the witch. 

Without the income of Dersuave’s father, the family quickly became poor. The step-mother took in Dersuave’s appearance with her wrinkled skin and balding head. Disgusted, she set out to sell Dersuave as a servant to the wealthiest prince in the city in hopes of winning his favor. She wanted one of her daughters to marry him. The prince, seeing Dersuave’s poor state and how her step-mother and half-sisters were treating her, decided to take her in as a servant. 

Every morning, Dersuave would take her walks along the edge of the forest, pieces of her hair, and teeth trailing behind her. The prince noticed her walking every morning as he walked towards the forest to hunt. He began to accompany her. Seeing past her decaying appearance, the prince saw the goodness in her heart. And so, a flower of love began to bloom inside Dersuave, reaching out to the prince. 

Back in Dersuave’s family castle, the step-mother began to regain her wrinkles and lose her newfound youth without drinking the elixir every night. Distraught, she visited the witch deep in the woods. The witch, taking in the step-mother’s appearance, offered her a knife, “If you pierce Dersuave’s heart with this knife and drink her blood you will remain youthful forever.” 

Greedily the step-mother took the knife and proceeded to go to the prince’s castle to kill Dersuave. Remembering how Dersuave walked every morning along the edge of the woods, the step-mother hid behind a strong, thick tree and waited patiently. Spying Dersuave’s balding head, the step-mother threw the knife and heard the loud squishing thunk of success. 

The prince, walking next to Dersuave, saw the knife hit her in the chest. Dersuave crumpled onto the ground, her bright red blood escaping out of her. The prince saw the step-mother step out around the tree and eagerly come closer to drink Desuave’s blood. Without hesitating, the prince pulled out his bow and arrow and shot her in the chest. The step-mother, her eyes frozen in shock, crumpled onto the ground dead, and the prince immediately came over to Dersuave to pull the knife out of her chest. Tears escaping from his eyes, he held her as her breaths slowly died out. Right as she was taking her last breath, the prince kissed her. Her black, luscious hair came back, her wrinkles fell away to clear, smooth skin, and the hole in her chest closed. The prince began to rejoice at Dersuave’s renewed health and asked her to marry him. Dersuave’s answer was a breathless yes. 

The very next day the prince and Dersuave had their wedding as the step-mother was chopped up and fed to the dogs. Dersuave’s half-sisters came, disbelief coloring their eyes when they saw Dersuave, her beauty restored, dancing with the prince. As a punishment for the half-sisters’ greed, every time the half-sisters touched a rich man, their beauty was taken away until their skin was sagging, their eyes were drooping, and no man would dare to go near them. At the end of the wedding, the half-sisters saw their new reflection in a mirror and screamed themselves to death.