The frying pan connected with a sickening crunch, bone fracturing under the power of its cast-iron weight. Mother Gothel landed on the floor with a heavy thud. A thin trickle of blood ran down her face and pooled at the bottom of a sunken eye. When the older woman looked up, she was finally - for the first time in her life - afraid.
Rapunzel liked it.
Blood oozed between her toes as she stepped forward. She yanked irritably at her hair, pulling it free of the disembodied arm it had caught on.
“D-Darling, please!” Mother Gothel pleaded. “You’re overreacting!”
“Overreacting?” Rapunzel gathered a length of blood-soaked hair and used it to lasso Eugene’s head. She hurled it at the other woman and it rolled, turning and turning until sightless eyes stared at Gothel from a mere foot away.
“You killed him,” the young woman hissed. “You killed him, and you made me watch as you hacked him apart piece. by. piece. Just so I couldn’t heal him. No, Mother. On the whole, I think I’m being incredibly reasonable.”
Mother Gothel inched backwards, away from Eugene’s unmoving stare.
“You knew him for three days!” she said.
Rapunzel stared at this woman, who had pretended to be her mother, and a detached sense of pity washed over her. What kind of warped mind thought that mattered?
“I could have known him an hour,” she said. “I could have never seen him in my life. That’s not the point.”
Mother Gothel slowly pushed herself to her feet, using the wall for support. Rapunzel didn’t try to stop her. This sad, twisted woman couldn’t hurt her anymore.
“You’re too soft, Rapunzel.” If she could have, the teenager would have laughed. There was nothing soft about the iron shield of numbness encasing her heart.
“Sloppy. Underdressed. Immature. Clumsy. Gullible. Naive. Ditzy. Vague. You said it all before.”
“If you had just listened, we wouldn’t be in this situation!” Mother Gothel said. “And that young man would still be alive.”
Her words were like ropes. They tried to tie her down, to immobilize her with guilt. But her numb heart burned, rendering them into ashes.
A slip of paper caught Rapunzel’s eye. It was a wanted poster - the same one that had been in the Snuggly Duckling. She tilted her head as she looked at it, and almost felt something like curiosity. Unconsciously, she hummed.
Mother Gothel had not seen her ropes burn. “Rapunzel, what have I told you about mumbling?” she snapped.
Rapunzel whipped her hair around Mother Gothel’s neck and pulled, not quite hard enough to choke. But she wasn’t angry.
“Have you ever had a dream?” she asked.
Mother Gothel tugged the hair, managing to loosen it just enough to speak. “What?” she coughed.
“A dream,” Rapunzel repeated. “All these extra years of life…what did you want to do with them?”
“I wanted to spend them with you!” Mother Gothel said.
“Liar!” Rapunzel grabbed Gothel’s knife, the one she had used to butcher Eugene, and held it to her neck. “Tell me the truth or the hair gets it.”
Mother Gothel gulped.
“Well?” Rapunzel pressed the knife against her hair, cutting a few strands. Mother Gothel watched the now-brown strands drift to the floor.
“I didn’t want to die,” she whispered.
“Don’t mumble, Mother,” Rapunzel said. “You know how I feel about mumbling.”
“I don’t want to die!”
Rapunzel stared at her. “That’s it?”
Tears poured down the older woman’s face, turning red with blood.
Rapunzel shook her head. “Your dream sucks.”
And she sliced off her hair.
Mother Gothel screamed. She fell to her knees and tried to gather the golden hair, as though her embrace could keep it from turning brown. Rapunzel watched her dispassionately. She had thought maybe the woman would turn to ash, now that the magic that had kept her alive was gone, but it wasn’t to be. She was glad.
Rapunzel cut the long brown locks and braided them into heavy ropes. Mother Gothel, sobbing on the floor, didn’t resist when Rapunzel tied her to the staircase.
“I suppose you’re going to kill me now,” she said dully. “Daughters are always the death of their mothers.”
“I’m not your daughter.” There was no malice in Rapunzel’s voice.
She walked around the tower, gathering together the bloody pieces of Eugene’s body. Her heart throbbed, pressing hard against the burning iron shield around it, but still she felt nothing.
“What are you doing?” Mother Gothel asked. “You can’t bring him back.”
“No, I can’t,” Rapunzel agreed.
Mother Gothel’s eyes followed her as she went to find her sewing box. She pulled out her strongest needle, and knelt by the pile of body parts. Stringing together some strands of her hair, she began sewing him back together.
“He’s a human being, Rapunzel,” Mother Gothel said. “He’s not a doll.”
“I’m not a puppet, but for eighteen years you treated me like one,” Rapunzel retorted lightly.
Legs to hips, arms to shoulders. Bit by bit, Rapunzel constructed a grotesque parody of what Eugene had been.
“What’s the point?” Mother Gothel asked.
Rapunzel carefully finished reattaching Eugene’s head. Because he had no muscle power to hold it up, she had to thread some hair through the back of his head and connect it to the flesh of his back. She pressed a soft kiss to his cold lips before standing.
“Answer me, Rapunzel!” Mother Gothel glared at the teenager, her voice and posture much like the imposing woman she had been Rapunzel’s entire life, despite the hair that bound her.
“If you think a silly stunt like this is going to guilt me, you’re mistaken,” she hissed. “I did what I had to do. Go ahead and kill me. I regret nothing.”
Rapunzel smiled, its sweetness sickening against her bruised and bloody face. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “I’m not going to kill you.”
There wasn’t quite enough hair left to make an adequate rope, so she twisted it together with her bedsheets to give it added strength.
“Where are you going?” Mother Gothel asked.
“Out,” Rapunzel told her.
“Don’t think they’ll make you a princess,” the older woman snapped. “They’ll never believe you.”
“I think I’ve had my fill of towers,” Rapunzel said. She carefully tied her makeshift rope around the hook she had always used to carry her mother. She threw the other end out the window and watched how far it fell. It ended a few hundred feet short of the ground. The fall would hurt, but she’d survive it.
“You’re not leaving me alone here!” Mother Gothel gasped.
“Of course not,” Rapunzel said. “You have Eugene. Sure, he’s not alive, but most of my best friends growing up weren’t living.” She smiled. “I learned a lot about myself because of him. Hopefully you will too.”
She climbed onto the windowsill and grabbed hold of the rope. “Wait, Rapunzel!” She leapt. “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Her mother’s screams dimmed as Rapunzel climbed down the tower. By the time she reached the bottom, they were muffled like the memory of a dream.
She landed on the ground with a heavy thud, and just lay there, allowing her screaming muscles to rest. She could feel every single blade of grass as it pricked her skin, trying to reach through her to the sun. She breathed deeply until the fresh air washed away the last traces of blood. The sun’s rays held her close, warming skin she hadn’t noticed grow cold.
It wasn’t the best day ever. That would forever be saved with Eugene.
But all things considered... it was close.