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The Surviving Twins

Anastasia Kharlamova lives in Saint-Petersburg, Russia with her parents and grandmother. She is writing her PhD thesis in linguistics, which is focused on the language situation in the town of Selenica in Southern Albania. Apart from her studies, she enjoys books, music and cooking, and she has been writing poems and stories since her early childhood.
"They won't survive for long," the midwife said quietly after closing the door. Helmuth grew chalk-white:
"Are... are you sure, good mother? I was certain they were such fine children...
The eldest was so healthy-looking, plump and with red cheeks."
"That's exactly what I'm talking of," the midwife shook her head. "The eldest is plump and red and the youngest is pale and thin. Somehow, one of them got a lot of blood and the other but little--I have seen such pairs of twins before, and none of them lasted long."
Bertha vaguely knew she was being too brisk and harsh, considering how Helmuth and his wife had longed for a child. But she always preferred to give her patients the full truth, however tragic: delayed pain, she believed, merely became stronger.
"I... I shall go and see the undertaker, then," Helmuth whispered. He straightened his shoulders and walked to the door decisively. Bertha thought he was taking it remarkably well. Now she only had to wait until the poor mother was rested--it would be, of course, much harder for her to bear.
Old Griselda stared blankly at Helmuth, hiding her surprise. People usually avoided her house--with good reason.
"Please, I beg you, save my little girls!" he cried again and again. "Take anything from me, but make sure my wife and my girls live--for my darling Lotte won't survive losing them, either!"
"Well," she said, thinking it over, "you wish for the babies to grow up--I shall take your own height for that. They will be healthy and beautiful, you won't. Their little heads will have perfect memory, but your memory will be lost."
"Anything--anything," Helmuth nodded eagerly.
"And you shall serve me. I've never had a servant before. It's tiring to do everything by oneself."
"Yes, yes... if you promise to let me see my girls once in a while."
"Fine," she grinned. She could hardly believe her luck. With this man under her control, it would be easy to lure his whole family to her domain as well. Mother and twin daughters, all training in witching arts! Nobody of her sisters had ever had such good fortune! Twins were rumored to be especially gifted with latent magic--why, with such pupils she might gain the throne...
"Track the two girls who live in the forest hut," Griselda told the dwarf.
"Girls?" he asked dully.
"Yes. Twins Snow-White and Rose-Red," she said and instantly regretted it as something glimmered in her apprentice's eyes.
"White... red... twins..." he murmured. How could he even recall it? She had long taken all his memory and distilled it for her spells!
"Yes," she said more firmly. "Lure them here."
The dwarf felt something odd stir in his brain. Snow-White and Rose-Red... Snow-White and Rose-Red.... They weren't supposed to become like Griselda. He didn't know why. They weren't. They needed to live good and happy lives, away from witching arts.
"Have you done it?" Griselda asked him the following day.
He shook his head.
"Fine," she said icily. "I will bring them here myself. They won't refuse to help an old beggar woman carry her bags home."
It was one of those mad moments that would never have taken place, had the dwarf paused to think rationally. Like the wind, he ran to the door where the axe was kept, grabbed the axe and swung before Griselda could realize what was happening.
Several years had passed since he killed Griselda and moved to live in the woods. The dwarf was mistakenly shot in the arm by the crown prince when the latter was hunting and took him for an animal, and in retaliation he turned the audacious man into a bear.
The two girls who lived in the forest, one pale and one red-cheeked, irritated him to no end. Yet, somehow, the dwarf could never bring himself to do anything to them beyond showering them with insults.
When the claws of the prince-turned-bear tore into his head, Helmuth's memories came back in a horrifying torrent. His old quick thinking returned as well, which was a blessing.
Gathering all the willpower he had, he made sure he would die in his dwarf form. The girls and Lotte mustn't know what he had become. Let them think their beloved father and husband got lost in the woods and died.
Hardly feeling the pain, he took a last look at his daughters. How they had grown! Rose-Red, so vivacious and cheerful, and Snow-White, so gentle and dreamy. If only he could see dear Lotte too.
Darkness flooded his eyes.
"He looks so much more peaceful now," Snow-White wondered as they buried the dwarf's body--the sisters insisted on it.
"One can hardly believe it's the same dwarf that insulted us so often," Rose-Red nodded thoughtfully. They couldn't help feeling a little sorry: they didn't like killings, even of such hateful creatures.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 11th, 2021
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