The Don't Girls by Octavia Cade - Read Online
The Don't Girls
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Bluebeard’s wife is told by her husband to never go into his dungeon. When she does, she finds the mutilated corpses of his previous wives—and Pandora. With the help of Pandora’s magical box, the two travel through time and space, searching out other women who are instructed “don’t do that” and do it anyway . . . and seeking Bluebeard’s wife’s lost name.

Published: Masque Books on
ISBN: 9781607015154
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The Don't Girls - Octavia Cade

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Octavia Cade

Copyright © 2014 by Octavia Cade.

Cover art by javarman/123RF Stock Photo.

Cover design by Rana Lagupa.

Ebook design by Neil Clarke.

ISBN: 978-1-60701-515-4

Masque Books

Masque Books is an imprint of Prime Books

No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

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Every room in the house was hers—every room but one.

Mostly the rooms held wardrobes full of clothes that didn’t fit her. Too big in the chest, the hem a little long, colors that turned her complexion sallow or consumptive by turns. She tried them on anyway, and spun until she was dizzy through the house in a yellow dress that was over bright for her, clumping in too-long shoes until she stuffed the toes with tissue and could pirouette without tripping.

What did you expect, said Bluebeard’s wife to herself, trying to match half a hundred pairs of stockings. You’re not the first, you know.

Pandora was more impressed, her feet wriggling into stockings like little fish. Bluebeard’s wife watched her admire herself, watched the smooth dark thighs dry-mouthed and felt dumpy in comparison; had never wanted to run her fingers into the hollow behind her own knees. Her legs were peasant legs, short and thick, and while stockings improved them, she always felt a little ridiculous in silk.

He’s going to know I went into the dungeon, said Bluebeard’s wife, but Pandora was distracted—seated at the dressing table, rifling through the makeup drawer and trying a different perfume on the soft skin inside each wrist. And I have a horrible feeling he’ll want me to go back. Those women didn’t end up there by accident. Where’s your box?

It won’t help you, dear, said Pandora, retrieving it from the floor by her feet. There’s nothing special about it anymore. I only keep it around because it’s useful to store things in.

That’s what I’m counting on, said Bluebeard’s wife, and opened the box. Inside was a pink-tinged seashell, some dried figs, a handful of long hairpins, and half a dozen small and sparkly rocks.

Told you so, said Pandora, as Bluebeard’s wife slammed the lid shut.

This isn’t right, she said. "I know the story! You weren’t supposed to open the box, but you were no better than you ought to be—and I can’t judge, I know—but you did and you weren’t and all the evils of the world spilled out, which, thank you very much, by the way, but you got the box shut in time to save hope. And I don’t see any hope here!"

Well, no, said Pandora, sucking in her cheeks to better apply rouge. I lied. Wouldn’t you?

That’s men for you, said Pandora. "Think the world revolves around them. Just look at me: made by the gods. A dreamboat of a girl, a real peach. They gave me to Epimetheus for a wife, and the first week we were married he could barely look at me, I was so beautiful. He got over it, though. The second week he followed me about everywhere I went, bothering me. You’re so beautiful, Pandora, he’d say, when I was cutting my toenails. You’re so beautiful, Pandora, when I was on the pot. And the third week, dinner was late—I mean, do I look like a cook to you?—and being beautiful didn’t save me from a strapped bum. So I opened the box. They weren’t very pleased, I can tell you, but at least now they’ve all got bigger things to worry about and I can have a little peace."

She shook the box at Bluebeard’s wife. I keep a few things in it, so that it rattles about a bit and doesn’t sound empty. And now they’re always worried I’ll open it again.

She gave a slow grin, a shark basking in the shallows.

When Bluebeard’s wife opened the door she shouldn’t and found herself standing in an abattoir, she thought she might have been expected to scream. If she’d been a real lady she would have screeched down the rafters, but being raised on a farm had cured her of squeamishness around joints of meat.

Yes, the hacked-off limbs were disgusting, but she had cooked leg of lamb every Sunday since she was twelve. And the poor skinned creature hanging from a meat-hook was certainly pathetic, but held no terror for a girl who had scraped the hides of scalded pigs. And if anyone expected her to faint at the lengths of disemboweled intestine, well, clearly they had never stuffed a sausage in their life.

Had she been a lady, she would have screamed. But Bluebeard’s wife, sneaking into the dungeon and discovering the corpses of wives previous, had—amidst the grief and horror—another thought, one shared with her mother and grandmother and every other goodwife before them, boiling down through the ages into their descendants.

Doesn’t he ever bloody well clean up after himself? she said, poking one pretty, tissue-stuffed shoe at a puddle of dried gore.

They never do, dear, someone replied, and Bluebeard’s wife turned to see a stunningly beautiful girl carrying a box and inching past the iron maiden.

Every time I turned up in your dungeon, he kept calling me the strangest thing, said Pandora, as she helped set the table. "I tried to get him to understand that my name is Pandora, but no luck. He seemed to think I was some sort of demon called Barron, come up out of the underworld to serve him."

Perhaps that’s what he was doing, said Bluebeard’s wife, slicing cold roast pork. With the other women. Demon-summoning. She spooned pickles into a serving dish. He has trouble with his ears. All the screaming, you know? I mean, there I am, in that acre of a bed, trying to show I’m willing, because God knows maybe those sour-faced wenches before me weren’t much fun and that’s why he went off them, but I’m moaning and screaming and he’s clutching his head and telling me to cut out that infernal racket or else.

It’s one rule for them and another for us, said Pandora, licking her knife in a most distracting fashion. "Listen up, do as you’re told, when in the end they don’t listen to anything."

What’s he doing demon-summoning anyway? said Bluebeard’s wife.

And thinking I’m a demon! said Pandora. Me! I’ve never been so offended in my life.

As if he could summon a demon if he wanted to, said Bluebeard’s wife. He can barely put his own shoes on without a servant to help him.

There was a pause. Um, said Pandora. That might have been partly my fault.

I knew you’d come, said Bluebeard, folding silk petticoats into a tidy pile with blood still warm about his boots.

Another one down, then, said Pandora, perched on the block, her box upon her knee. There was contempt in her voice. Don’t you ever feel sorry for them?

What for? Silly bitches got what’s coming to them. Should’ve done what they were told, shouldn’t they?

"I’m sure I’ve told you to stop all this," said Pandora.

Aye, but I hope I don’t take orders from demons, said Bluebeard. Even demons as lovely as you. Though this is mostly your fault, it is. You turn up every time! I can’t be blamed for summoning you. What man wouldn’t?

You give me too much credit, said Pandora.

Course, if you want to reform me, you could always stay. I’m sure I could keep from killing them then, said Bluebeard. I’ve a vacancy for a wife, you know, and demon or not, you can wear silk dresses and lie on your back like the rest of them, I’m sure.

You’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you? said Pandora. Another pretty woman—the prettiest, if I do say so myself—to be shown off by you and bedded by you and tempted by you and done away with by you. Baron, sometimes I think you see me only as an extension of yourself.

Isn’t that marriage? said Bluebeard. Husband and wife made one flesh, bone of my bone and all that. If you were my wife, I’d treat you like my own right hand.

Until that hand offends you, and you cut it off, said Pandora.

Pandora roamed the aisles, gazing into random display cases. She ignored the dry squares of cardboard, pinned with dusty descriptions beneath each specimen, and breathed on the glass, tracing a heart in the misted condensation above those she liked best. The sparkly rocks, the ones with pretty colors and polished facets and glittery flecks and embedded fossil shells . . .

She settled on hematite. Less flashy than her other treasures, but she liked the slick surface, the way it bubbled like blood.

It was the work of a moment to open the case with a hairpin and replace the rock with the bloody scrap of flesh tucked into her box. Pandora was certain it would never be discovered. The museum was so vast she had never seen the end of even the geological section, and the room she was standing in displayed over half a million specimens alone. If, in the occasional case, a rock had been replaced with a finger (or an eyeball, or a gallbladder), then no one seemed to have noticed. Sometimes, Pandora wondered if she was the only visitor.

She kept the hematite safely in her box, and listened to it rattle with pleasure.

The box was a small, pretty thing, with a G carved into the lid like a little snake. What’s that stand for? asked Bluebeard’s wife, and Pandora shrugged her shoulders.

Who knows, she said. Gaia, maybe? Or geology, or gore, or gumption.

Pandora smoothed the hair of Bluebeard’s wife, wielding a brush that pulled through glossy strands like water.

I’ve always wondered, said Bluebeard’s wife, her head drawn back in gentle rhythm, what they meant about hope. Why it got classed as an evil anyway. All the evils of the world, and so forth. Hope isn’t really evil, is it?

I think it depends on who has it, said Pandora, relinquishing the brush. She sat next to Bluebeard’s wife and began to draw together a small section of hair. Splitting it for braiding, she compared the strands to her own. Look. We’re nearly the same color.

I think mine’s a little lighter, said Bluebeard’s wife, leaning close enough to feel breath on her cheek. The top layer at least. Yours is so black it’s nearly blue.

Beside her, Pandora plaited strands of their hair together: a long and sinuous rope, the strands dark on dark and each wound about the other. She tied the end with a ribbon and secured the top with one of her hairpins before cutting the plait away from them both. Standing, she brushed the heavy fall of hair from the neck of Bluebeard’s wife and used the hairpin to carefully, delicately, fasten the braid round the other’s throat.

Anyway, said Pandora, it’s out there now, along with the rest. Like disobedience, and lust, and so on.

Bluebeard’s wife leaned her head back against Pandora’s stomach. She admired