Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

A Game Against Time: I
Natalia Andrievskikh

Lilac, a five-petal star, luck hidden somewhere among the dull four-petal clones. Everything is a sign directed at me, the world speaks in wild tongues of a place to build sand castles and cover the parapets with carved stone. Where watermelon juice washes down dust of the aging day. Where I close my eyes and listen to the well telling stories in the orchard, clothed in the thick smell of wet grass and branches heavy with bloom, bunches of straw set aside for a nest. Where it all comes from. I press my warm lips to the chins of tulips, my flower breath coming back with the wonder of open eyes. Where the woodpecker startles me, drowsy and full, and makes my stomach somersault as if when driving very fast up and down a hill. The rolling roulade is swirling in the trees, stirring and beating and fluttering through the air, throbbing from inside me, from under my ribs, up into the throat and into the eyes, itching and burning and blending the four sides of the world in a watercolor swirl.


Natalia Andrievskikh is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at Binghamton University. She grew up in a little provincial town in Russia reading tons of books and writing poems and children’s stories. After teaching English and literary analysis for two years at a local university, she won a Fulbright grant to study in the US. Natalia has taught literature courses at Binghamton University, published poems and essays, and served as Managing Editor of the literary journal The Broome Review. She likes fairy-tales, art house films, dancing, hazelnut chocolate, fashion shows, and black tea with lemon served in a tall glass with a traditional brass glass-holder (they serve tea like this on Russian trains, so it has the tingling flavor of travel).

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Worn-Out Dancing Shoes
Jessica Cuello

My sister’s hair
as she walked in front,

had light metallic strands
she couldn’t see. I knew
her colors intimately,
and our silent footsteps.

At Christmas we gather,
our children run out back.
When I mention the stairway
and the boats we rode across,
middle sister leaves the room
and eldest laughs,
I remember how we played—
we knocked on the bedpost,
pretended it opened
like a door.

The shoes were proof;
I’m the only one

with memories. Each night,
last in line, I learned
by heart their shoulder blades,
part butterfly against blue
crepe and yellow silk.

It seemed to happen at once—
my sisters forgot,
were distracted if I spoke
of the boats in darkness

outside the lit dancehall.
We spun with our weight
flung back, holding tight
with sweaty hands.


Jessica Cuello is a poet and French teacher in Central NY. Her first chapbook, an autobiographic poem cycle about scientist Marie Curie, came out in 2011 from Kattywompus Press. Her poems have appeared in such journals as RHINO, Tampa Review, and Copper Nickel.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Crows
Jessica Cuello

She landed hard.
I was cushioned by water

and blood. The sky falls,
black pieces flapping.

Hundreds swoop. I react
to them as if to a man, body

bearing down. Birds drop
like striking hands. Her fear

entered me. I remember:
still, in my mother.


Jessica Cuello is a poet and French teacher in Central NY. Her first chapbook, an autobiographic poem cycle about scientist Marie Curie, came out in 2011 from Kattywompus Press. Her poems have appeared in such journals as RHINO, Tampa Review, and Copper Nickel.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

I heard you died this morning
Felix Maple

I heard on the phone
that you died this
morning.
And suddenly,
my chair was
a piece of wood
with cloth on it;
My book
a block of paper
with black ink on it;
The TV a plastic
and glass object
with filth flowing through it.
And all the food in my
fridge was cold and damp;
rotten.
Then the day lifted,
and the sun came out
and November was here.
And you:
a lamp turned off,
melted into the light.


Felix Maple is a professional geographer living in Paris, France. He was a volunteer paramedic for a while. He is British but has been living in France most of his life which is confusing to him. He teaches geography at the University of Paris 8 (Vincennes – Saint Denis) and writes poetry whenever he can. He has work forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal and Eunoia Review. His blog is at: felix-maple.blogspot.fr

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Vivaldi’s Winter Missing You
Beate Sigriddaughter

There’s a marriage in Vivaldi’s Winter
largo, two sounds, a blood pulse rhythm,
of percussion, like my daily bread,
and the gliding rapture of your elegance
above it, your dance, your cinnamon
patchouli joy.

My first harvest is my distance
and your winter silence.

Someone, for this occasion,
spilled salt on the sidewalk,
and the sun, after rain,
paints for me your colors again, stained
glass memory, a sudden
glitter miracle. Sharp fragments
of your sweetness gather down
a rainbow in the salt.


Beate Sigriddaughter, sigriddaughter.com, lives and writes in North Vancouver, Canada. Three times a Pushcart Prize nominee for her own writing, she has also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices. Currently she is working on a novel called “Tango.”

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

A Woman to God
Beate Sigriddaughter

“….and the men of her city shall stone her
with stones that she die….”
Deuteronomy, 22:21

You, who were nothing,
have entered earth like a husband
and earth has welcomed you,
she brings forth your children,
see them: solemn, and still
nothing makes them bend their knees now,
even the daughters kneel.
Especially the daughters kneel

as they were taught in ancient cities:
better a woman should kneel and hide
than risk obligatory faithfulness to one
or her political virginity,
for “if she be humbled”
—consenting or raped—”the men of her city
shall stone her with stones that she die.”
Rock of ages, how we still lie prone
to the vindictive shadow, you,
created by your sons to be in their male image
the one master–
piece, you, art in heaven,
monument of prose and poetry and music,
some of it so very beautiful.


Beate Sigriddaughter, sigriddaughter.com, lives and writes in North Vancouver, Canada. Three times a Pushcart Prize nominee for her own writing, she has also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices. Currently she is working on a novel called “Tango.”

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

The Tree of Life
Shawn Salik

Know
that it
all begins
with a meagre,
humble genesis,
the future is unknown

while a
gradual
progression shows
early signs of move-
ment, rooting vast, rosy

promises; see,
lack of wisdom is
phased temporarily
as long as professions state:
“With age alone comes none, but years,”

and as the gusts of tempests wail
away, our footing will be
tested, whether a conifer
or a birch, flexibility will

determine our survival
for unseen calamities stay
suspended out of reach (Murphy’s law);
mass flooding will drown us, choking our al-

ready toxic cataracts past
our capacities, over-filling,
sheathing mirages will pierce our flesh, crush-
ing valued foundations of life, and purpose

all hope will have promptly vanished into
remains of a former glory;
seized will be loss of life
but recall,
lack is
temporary –


Shawn Salik has poetry currently published with Haiku Journal. He is in his third year of studies at the University of Toronto majoring in History and English. He strives for innovation, particularity, and perspective throughout his work. Concerning the core, contemporary societal issues, Shawn brings an interesting, and critical outlook on people, life, and behaviours through a keen focus on voice/persona.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Midas's Daughter
Midas’s Daughter
Stella Rothe

Malleine
Miranda Lloyd

There are whispers in the town every spring about the day she came. The day she ruined me. Her name still draws gasps from the women, frightens children into obedience, fills men with both desire and horror.

Malleine.

She is never mentioned in polite conversation. The ruined castle on the hill overlooking our village, a relic from before Selene’s Rebellion where I guard Malleine, is given wide berth. Only the priestesses of Selene dare speak her name, finding safety in the protection of the moon goddess. There are other names used by those with far less courage. Lady Blue. The Fae Queen. The Witch. Old Thorny. To me, she will always be Malleine.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Why should I fear the one who made me what I am?

It was the year I turned seventeen that she came to me. The snow was still hiding in the shadow of stones and the corners of walls. I was desperate to prove myself a better man than my father. My mother died of illness the winter before, and he drowned himself in drink to forget her. Instead of drinking, I ploughed our farm for the coming spring.

I took a great deal of naïve pride in my work. The furrows were easy with the frost over, and I was finished by early afternoon. I stopped the old ox and wiped the sweat from my face on my arm. It was while I was surveying all I ruled, a king of earth and grit, that I saw the wagon coming down the road running past my farm.

It was ridiculously gaudy, painted red, purple, and bright yellow. If its owner had his way, I’m sure he would have even painted his horses the same colors. Orban the merchant was from a country far to the east. He was our only means of contact with the outside world, bearing news and things we sent what little we had to trade for. Most often he brought all sorts of “wonders”. One year he made the mistake of selling Mayor Davet’s wife, Auda, a lotion that promised to restore her lost youth and fell flat on that promise. His wagon was nearly burned before he agreed to return her money.

Orban’s oddities and wonders were the last thing I had in mind. The man always brought the most beautiful jewelry, things that were not so expensive to put us in eternal debt, but enough that any man would think twice about bartering for them. It was this reason that most of the single young men, myself included, had never turned the eye of Colette. Beautiful, yes, but just as vain. She would give a dreamy sigh in the square and wish for a beautiful necklace to wear to the spring festival, in a volume sure to catch a deaf man’s attention.

I longed for her, yet now I can barely remember her face. Her beauty has long faded and passed from this world. But back then she was still beautiful, and seeing Orban’s wagon rattle down the dirt road with its wheels firmly rooted in the deep ruts brought back the hope of being able to trade for something to offer her at the festival. As I put away the ox, the yoke, and the plough I was already imagining her face lighting up and her unflinching acceptance of my gift. Then we would be married in Selene’s shrine, and our lives would be perfect.

Orban had already set up shop in the village square. Back then it was only a large dirt patch surrounded by wooden huts, the tavern, Selene’s shrine, and the empty lot that Orban used for business during the spring and summer months. This was where seven or so of my neighbors and their families stood, smaller children sitting on the shoulders of their fathers. I cared little for news from outside and buying seeds that day. My mind kept going back to Colette and the spring festival. I caught my father’s gaze once as he leaned against the wall of the tavern and nodded to him. His eyes held mine for only a moment before he looked away.

I stole closer to the wagon while Orban traded beaver furs for new tools, woven baskets for fish hooks, bear hides for a new anvil. Orban had already laid out some of his wonders on the wagon box: new ointments and medicines in strangely shaped jars and bottles, fine dolls with brocade dresses, trinkets and jewelry of all kinds. The rest didn’t matter, but the jewelry that year was impressive. Bracelets, rings, earrings, and pendants; made with everything from polished wood, bone and horn to carnelian, colored glass, jade, and jet. My gaze caught one pendant in particular, a piece of white wood in the shape of a leaf, surrounded by smaller beads made from polished river pebbles.

I looked up to make sure that no one else was eying my prize. Then I saw the urn. Not even a proper crematory urn; it was only six inches tall, made of red clay. Its maker had painted it with strange swirling designs in black glaze, creating spirals that threatened to trap me in the urn if I stared at them too long.
I had to have it.

Orban was occupied, presenting some kind of garment to my neighbors. A new undershirt for women, designed to make their waists look smaller. “Just tighten these laces here, in the back,” he said.

Without thinking I snatched the urn from its place on the wagon box and ran. It was the first thing I had ever stolen, and my heart was pounding at the idea of being caught. But I had to have it. Something was calling to me from inside that urn, begging for my help.

I didn’t stop until I was back on the farm. The furrows that I was so proud of that morning meant nothing. The hungry protests of the ox as I took a bucket from next to his stall meant nothing. My only concern was to fill that bucket with soil from the fields, to dampen it with water, to pry the urn open and plant the golden-hulled seed contained inside it. I did all of this with my hands shaking so badly that I almost dropped the seed. Then I sat on the stamped earth floor and set the bucket where the afternoon sun came in through the window.

The next four months are blurred, one day bleeding into the next. My memory shifts and wanes, coming into focus from time to time, foggy and incomplete. I remember moving the seed around the hut with the sun, watering it carefully. I slept when I was too tired to stay awake any longer. I drank and fed myself when the thirst and hunger became too much to bear.

My father came and went during this time. I think he cared for the ox and the chickens while I sat and watched the seed put up its first green shoot. He smelled less and less of ale. He yelled at me once or twice, pleaded more often. He finally planted the cabbage and turnips himself.

The spring festival came and went. Colette married Vardon’s eldest son, Harbin. He presented her with the same necklace I saw on the day I stole the urn. I didn’t care. Nothing mattered but the seed and the plant growing from it.

As it grew, so did its power. My father could sense the magic, I think. I came back from fetching water to find him about to stuff the plant bucket and all into the fire. I shrieked and threw my entire weight into him, throwing him to the floor and punching his face over and over again. When he stopped trying to fight me off I stood up and picked up my plant. A bit of dirt had fallen out, but its roots were strong. It wasn’t injured.

My father coughed. He spat out one of his teeth. The blood from his nose mingled with the spilled water on the floor. “Ashburne, that damned thing is going to be your death! Get rid of it now, you idiot. Before it devours you.”

He was right, of course. I’ve always known that I should have let him destroy Malleine while she was still sleeping within her seed. Instead, I tucked the plant close to my body. “I’m already devoured.”

I fled into the forest with the plant. There I shielded it from the chilly nights with my own body, fed it water from the stream by twisting out my wet shirt over it. As for myself, I caught what meat I could, dug for grubs and tubers when the rabbits and birds eluded me. The days grew warmer, and the plant grew taller. The leaves grew to the size of a three year old child. Roots splintered the wooden bucket and sank deep into the earth. A bud formed at the top of a thick stalk and quickly grew to the size of a haystack. It turned blue the day before it bloomed.

That warm morning in midsummer, I awoke to my head throbbing and my arms tingling. The flower was pulsing with magic. I stood and stepped closer, fighting the urge to laugh, cry, and rage all at the same time. I couldn’t look away, nor did I want to. Even though the magic hurt like nothing I had ever felt before, I stayed and watched.

The bud quivered and unfurled into a perfect blue rose. I held my breath when the innermost heart was revealed. There, sitting and smiling at me, was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Her skin was the same pale blue of the rose that gave birth to her, her long silky hair the same dark green of its leaves. Her eyes were wolf’s eyes, bright gold, hungry, wild. She stood up, the thin fabric of her long white gown shimmering in the morning light. I decided that I loved her.

“My knight. I’m so glad to finally meet you.”

Her voice was like the tinkle of bells. It filled me with warmth from head to toe, making me shiver in delight. She was perfect. Absolutely perfect. I swallowed and tried to speak. I had almost forgotten how, living in the forest alone.

“Who are you?”

She laughed, and it made me want to scream and laugh with her at the same time. “My name is Malleine. And you are Ashburne. I heard your name so many times while I was dreaming.”

I offered her my hand. “You dreamed of me?”

She took it. Her touch was soft and light. Just like flower petals brushing my skin. “Every day, my beloved. Thank you for rescuing me from that ugly little seed.”

“Did someone do that to you? Who? Tell me! I’ll make them pay!”

“Does it matter? It’s over now.” She stepped out of the rose and embraced me, pressing her body tight against my own. “You have saved a faerie queen from her fate, and now you receive your reward. You do know what the reward is, don’t you?”

I didn’t touch her in return. It was forbidden. But that was all right. So long as she was touching me and only me, I didn’t care. “A kiss?”

She laughed. “Only a kiss? Kisses are as fleeting as flowers, Ashburne. Don’t you yearn for something more permanent? A ‘happily ever after’, where we can live together for the rest of our days?”

“I do.” No, I certainly didn’t. Not with this creature so beautiful she was terrifying. But she owned me, body and soul, and I knew it. “I love you, Malleine. I love you more than anything.”

“More than any mortal living and yet to live?”

“Yes.”

“Will you love me forever, Ashburne?”

“Forever.”

She led me deep into the forest. She never spoke, but I knew what she wanted, what she needed. I built her bower where the midday sun could reach her, near a bubbling spring of fresh water. It was the only thing I ever built with my bare hands, and I’m still not sure how I did it. Perhaps Malleine guided my hands as I worked the sapling branches, vines, soft moss, and leaves and flowers with trembling fingers. It took me three days to build it. When it was finished she sank into the bower and beckoned to me. I gladly went into the bower, and into her.

The more she touched me, the more she had me touch her, the more her magic clouded my mind. I lost weight from eating nothing but nuts and forest plants; Malleine forbade me from meat. I was dying from magic and starvation when they found us.

My father decided that no faerie queen was going to hold his son captive. He rounded up the village men and some of Selene’s knights and priestesses. I don’t know how he convinced them that a plant had enchanted me, or how they knew of Malleine’s existence. In that, I think Orban had some part. All I know for certain is that I awakened in Malleine’s bower one chilly autumn morning to a crowd of men and women with swords, pitchforks, hand threshers, any weapon they had available. All made of cold iron.

Their arrogance infuriated me. I tried to rise to chase them off, but Malleine held me tight in her lap, her soft touches fallen away in favor of a strong, merciless grip. “How dare you?” I shouted. “Where’s your gifts? A bird’s feather, a flower–anything! Then Her Majesty might deign to grant you audience. And you call yourselves knights!”

One of the knight commanders was there, her silver armor almost glowing white. She exchanged a look with the priestess on her right, then drew her sword and stepped closer to the bower.

I struggled in Malleine’s arms, thrashing to free myself. “Run, Malleine! I’ll hold them off!”

Malleine laughed. The cold bite of it made me shiver. “I can defend myself just fine, dear Ashburne.”

“Let him go.” The commander brandished her iron sword at Malleine. “In the name of the goddess Selene.”

Malleine cringed. “Invoking the name of my enemy… Aren’t you a nasty one.”

“Bitch!” my father yelled from somewhere in the crowd. “Leave my son alone! Give him back!”

“Farmer Germaine, please.” The commander never looked away from Malleine. “Release the boy or I’ll cut the heart from your soulless chest.”

Malleine just smiled. “No, you won’t.”

One of the trees that supported Malleine’s bower bent down and swatted away the knight commander like a doll. Tree roots erupted from the earth, wrapping around the crowd, entangling them and holding them tight, wresting the weapons from their hands and throwing them into the brush. I was freed from Malleine’s grasp. I took her hand and we fled from the bower, from the forest. My legs burned as we ran. I gasped for breath. But I kept running, up the hill, to the castle.

As children we were all warned away from it, with threats of ghosts and demons and worse horrors lying in wait for bad little boys and girls. Malleine filled me with so much courage that I could have faced the legions of the abyss without a shiver. The castle was mostly intact, the exterior walls half overgrown with ivy but still standing strong. The pain in my body was growing fast as we ran across the drawbridge. My back screamed as I cranked the wheel to pull it up. My hands shook as I closed the main gate. I backed away from my handiwork and turned to smile at Malleine.

“You’re safe now. They can’t hurt you.”

Malleine smiled back. “Such a loyal knight. Not even Selene’s women are a match for you, Ashburne.”

I was still hurting. The magic was pounding in my head. I sank to my knees before her, trying to catch my breath. “I’ll kill anyone that tries to hurt you. I swear it.”

“I know you will.” Malleine folded her arms across her chest as she looked around. “A castle. How fitting for a queen. I hear the garden calling to me. It will look so beautiful in spring, don’t you think?”

I rested my hands on the stone floor before me. A weight was growing in my shoulders, my flesh rippling. My bones crackled and shifted. I might have cried out from the pain. I don’t remember. I watched my fingers lengthen, turn dark blue, nails falling away. Skin and muscle pulled away from white bone turned black and grew sharp.

“Oh, Ashburne. I know it hurts. Winter is coming, and I need someone to stay here and guard me while I sleep. You’re a very brave boy, but you’re only human. I need something more lethal.”

The magic pitched me onto my stomach. My spine crackled and grated. My skin prickled as shiny blue-black quills erupted all over my body, interspersed with thick black fur. I tried to follow Malleine as she walked away; when I called out to her my voice wasn’t human. I fell to the floor, tripping over my own changing limbs. I used my new claws to drag myself in the direction of the sweet smell of blue roses. Malleine’s smell.

I found her in the courtyard garden. Malleine had put down her roots and turned herself into a thorny mass of blue roses. The blooms were faded with the cooler air in the castle. The leaves were already falling. She was asleep, just as she was when we first met. Just as all roses sleep during the winter.

The pain left me. Magic still buzzed along my new body, but that wasn’t as bad as the transformation itself. I stood on all four legs, plodding to the pool of water tucked into a corner of the garden. Through the pond scum and dead water lilies, I stared back at the dark creature I had become, and still become every winter, with eyes as gold as Malleine’s.

Over the years I’ve had little time to myself in our castle. In summer I’m the same fawning, magic-addled fool I was that first year. In winter there’s the library, with its moldy ancient books on the traits and workings of dark faeries. Creatures like Malleine.

It takes a long time to write as I am now, with a claw dipped in ink on parchment stolen from the bustling town that has sprung out of my humble village with the discovery of a new silver mine. It’s taken me three months to write this tale. Looking back on these pages I shudder at how much power Malleine has over my mind. It’s only in this time, in the dead of winter, that I am truly free from her. The state of my body is the least of my concerns. If I am able to hate her for even a second out of every year, then that is a small relief. It means that underneath the magic I am still myself.

There’s a small hope after this long century of eternal youth in summer and cold winter nights as a demon. Two days ago, I was stealing more parchment to complete my story. There was a startled gasp to my right when I left the cellar owned by Orban’s descendants. A young knight of Selene, still wearing the leather armor of an errant. We looked at each other, beast and beauty, faerie-glamored man and free woman. She looked at me with curiosity rather than fear. After a moment I broke our locked gaze and ran. She didn’t follow or sound an alarm.

Next year, when Malleine’s power weakens and I have my mind again, I will seek out that knight. Even if she still doesn’t wear the silver armor, I will lead her to the castle. I will take my story from its hiding place and show it to her. I will ask her for help. To bring fire from the town and destroy Malleine as she lies sleeping.

Malleine. How I love her.

How I wish she would burn.


Miranda Lloyd is a fantasy and horror writer whose first story was penned at the age of five. She spent two years in Alaska before finding it too cold for her tastes, and moved back to her native Arizona. She is also a watercolor painter and digital illustrator.

Stella Rothe is 26 and currently studying English and philosophy in Rochester, Michigan. Her photography and writing has most recently been published in Ceremony, Pink Panther Magazine, Nain Rouge, and BAC Street Journal.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Where the Poison Apple Fell
Where the Poison Apple Fell
Stella Rothe

Princess Gnarla
Tom Hutt

Gnarla awoke before dawn, went out the small door near the top of her oak tree, sat down on her favorite branch and looked to the east with great anticipation. It was her fifteenth birthday. When the sun rose her wings would finally appear and she would leave her tree for the first time.

“Happy birthday,” said the tree, who was also Gnarla’s mother. “How are you feeling?”

“I have been dreaming of the village all night,” said the young fairy. “What is taking the sun so long?”

“Be patient, my child. It is good we have a little more time together. I still have one more thing to teach you.”

Gnarla wondered what this could possibly be after being schooled by her mother for the past fifteen years. It seemed there was nothing left for her to learn.

“There is a valley far to the west,” said the oak mother. “A place of ancient trees and high waterfalls. It is called the Old Forest.”

“I should like to hear about it,” said Gnarla, but she was only being polite. Instead, she was watching the stars slowly fade from the eastern sky and imagining her new life in the village. She was wondering what her first fairy trick would be. Would she sweeten a mother’s milk to calm a fussy child? Or make the milk taste like garlic instead? Would she lend an invisible hand in the making of a good beer? Or let the rats find the brewer’s barley? Little charms and little bits of mischief — the work of a village fairy was never done.

Meanwhile, the oak mother was telling Gnarla about the far off place called the Old Forest.

“You may hear the other fairies speaking of it,” she said. “They love to tell stories about it, for it is not anything like our village. In the Old Forest the fairies do not bother with meddling in human affairs. They spend their days hunting, or competing in contests, or writing poetry. And at night they feast, and drink wine, and sing songs. The young ones pursue love while the old ones sit up in the trees and smoke long-stemmed pipes. And when they die there is no lamenting, for they become water and are sucked up by the roots of the great Gnarled Oak.”

“The great Gnarled Oak?” said Gnarla, suddenly paying close attention.

“Yes, my child. She stands at the center of the forest and is over one thousand years old and more than five hundred feet tall. She is Queen of the Old Forest. And . . . she is also my mother.”

“Your mother?”

“My mother. I was born from one of her acorns.”

“But that . . . that would mean you are princess.”

“Indeed. And so are you, my child. You are even named after the Gnarled Oak.”

A shiver shot though Gnarla’s body. A princess?! She had never thought of herself as anything but a provincial fairy.

“But,” continued the oak mother solemnly, “with this knowledge comes a hard truth. My child, you can never go to the Old Forest.”

A strong breeze rustled the oak mother’s leaves and Gnarla asked her what she meant by this.

“An acorn lies dormant for more than a year,” replied the tree, “and so it was with me. I was laying in the shade of the Gnarled Oak, waiting to be born, when a raven came and snatched me up. It carried me to the east and dropped me here, in the yard of this shoemaker, in the village of Ordin. I should have grown up in the hallowed ground of the Old Forest but instead I grew up here. I may be descended from royalty but I am made from the soil of Ordin. I am a common oak and you are a common fairy, and so you cannot enter the Old Forest.”

“But I am a princess!”

“It does not matter. You were borne of this village and are bound to serve it. You cannot break that bond anymore than I can leave this yard.”

Gnarla chewed a fingernail and thought for a long moment.

“Why did you tell me this now? It would have been better for me to never have known!”

“You would have discovered it eventually, my child, and it is better to have heard it from your own mother. Please do not be so discontented. You are still young and there is much to be enjoyed here in Ordin.”

But all Gnarla could think of was the glory of being a princess and of spending her days frolicking among the fairies in the Old Forest. She seethed at the injustice of her circumstance and, when the first rays of sunlight struck her body, her dark mood colored her transformation into adulthood. Her delicate and pale arms became covered in tattoos and her fingernails turned black. A nose ring appeared in her left nostril. Her long blond hair receded into a boyish cut and turned orange. Her tunic changed from lavender to drab green. A pipe, a strong tobacco, and a flask of whisky materialized inside her satchel. Only her new wings were unaffected by her anger. They unfolded outward from her scapulas, magnificent and glistening with color, strong and full of youthful vigor, more beautiful than those of any butterfly. The wings of a fairy princess.

Gnarla left her oak mother and, in the days that followed, she travelled the streets of Ordin to start her life as a village fairy. She made the necessary acquaintances with other fairies but became friends with none. She spoke little. She performed her duties, her petty charms and petty mischiefs, but derived no joy from them. It all seemed like drudgery, and in her quiet moments she dreamt of the Old Forest, and of marrying a prince, and of days filled with song and gaiety.

One day she conjured up a hopeful thought: Perhaps my mother was wrong? How can she be so sure there is no way to enter the Old Forest? I have not even tried!

Suddenly possessed by this idea, she flew up and over the rooftops of Ordin and made straightaway for the Old Forest. She flew past the fields of grain surrounding the village, and over the gentle hills of the countryside until she saw the forest set within a deep river valley amidst towering mountains. As she approached the border a headwind began to blow, and as she came closer it blew more strongly until she could fly forward no longer. I shall try on foot instead, she thought, and so she circled down to the ground.

At the edge of the forest stood giant trees whose roots had woven together over many centuries and formed a twisting wall of wood and moss. Yet, for a little fairy, there were plenty of places to slip through and so she stepped forward.

“Stop right there!” said two voices in unison.

From the shadows appeared a pair of bright yellow eyes. And then a second pair. The four eyes began to move toward her and, as they came into the daylight, she saw they belonged to an enormous, two-headed snake. One head was black and the other red. Each was the size of a watermelon, and they came within inches of Gnarla and sniffed her with their tongues.

“Have you lost your way, little fairy?” said the black head.

“Not at all,” replied Gnarla, trying her best to sound authoritative. “This is my home.”

The two heads looked at one another and burst out laughing.

“Do you take us for fools?” said the black head.

“We can smell the dirt of Ordin on you,” said the red head.

“Yes, I have passed through that village. I travel often. But this is my home. Indeed, my kingdom! I am Princess Gnarla. Now move aside and let me pass.”

The two heads looked at one another again and this time they laughed so hard their yellow eyes became wet with tears.

Indeeeed, this is her kingdom,” said the black head.

Indeeeed,” said the red head.

The snake brought its tail forward and wrapped it around the fairy.

“You are a foolish village fairy!” said both heads at once.

The tail reared high into the air and cracked like a whip, and Gnarla was flung with such force that she was soon tumbling through the fields outside of Ordin. She came to an abrupt stop against the stone wall of a well. At length she sat up, cursed her fate, and filled her pipe.

From around the corner an old frog appeared.

“You look glum,” he said in a croaky voice.

Gnarla lit her pipe and blew a large puff of smoke into his face. He blinked, and wrinkled his nose and said: “You are Princess Gnarla of the Old Forest, are you not?”

“How do you know that?”

“Frogs know a great deal. Your oak mother told you everything about the world, did she not? But she never mentioned the magic of frogs, did she?”

“No.”

“Stupid old tree! We have great power!” The frog inched closer. “Now listen to me. I know all about you. And I know about that raven who carried your mother’s acorn out of the forest. Why should you be punished for a raven’s crime? You deserve to live in the Old Forest! You are a princess, are you not?”

Gnarla lowered her pipe.

“I am.”

“You are. But the snake will never believe you. All it smells is a dirty village fairy. And I must say — you do reek of this village. But no matter. There are ways to get past a two-headed snake.”

“How?”

“Ah,” he said smugly. “I have your attention.”

His nostrils flared, his gray eyes glistened, and Gnarla didn’t know whether to trust him or not.

“Snakes,” continued the frog, “can be charmed by a song. So long as you have a large and beautiful voice.”

“But my voice is small. And I do not know how to sing.”

“Ah, but I do!”

The frog opened his hideous mouth and began to sing in the most sumptuous baritone ever heard on earth. It echoed through the hills and the melody was so joyful that all who heard it paused from their labors to listen. Songbirds of all sizes and colors came and gathered in the field near the frog, hoping to learn something. Even a woodpecker, who is ordinarily immune to such sentimentality, paused from his woodpecking to listen.

“This is wonderful!” said Gnarla, when the song was over. “Let us go at once!”

She stood up and hurriedly tapped out her pipe against the wall of the well.

“Oh, I cannot do that,” said the frog. “I have business in the village and I am already running late. And besides, the charm only works with a female voice.”

“But then . . . how . . . ?”

The old frog came up so close to Gnarla that he was almost touching her.

“I propose we make a simple exchange,” he whispered, and his breath smelled like rotting fish.

“An exchange?” replied Gnarla, backing away. “Exchange of what?”

“Your youth for my talent. A few years added to your age; a few years subtracted from mine. In return, I will give you my talent. And then you will be able to sing as beautifully as I just did. And of course, you will able to charm the snake and enter the Old Forest.”

“It is a deal,” said Gnarla, without giving the matter more than one second of thought. “Now let me see if you are as powerful as you say.”

The frog’s eyes bulged outward and a grin formed along his fat face. He opened his huge mouth and a stench tumbled forth that made Gnarla gag. In the blink of an eye, his tongue shot out and struck the fairy on her throat and returned to his mouth. In that same instant the fairy was aged eighty years and the frog was made younger by the same quantity. Gnarla’s thick orange hair became thin and gray, her cheeks sagged and deep wrinkles formed over her face, her eyes sunk into their sockets, her teeth fell out, and her once gorgeous wings turned brown and withered. Meanwhile, the frog’s bumpy skin became taught and smooth, his gray eyes turned black and handsome, and his flabby legs grew lean and strong. For a moment, he marveled at his newfound youth and then he made a mighty leap and was gone from the old fairy’s sight.

Gnarla looked at the blue veins in her age-spotted hands and wondered if perhaps she had heard the frog correctly. The price in years seemed awfully high. Did he not say only “a few” years would be exchanged?

She held her hand to her throat. What if he has swindled me completely?! She tried to sing and, to her great relief, a beautiful sound echoed forth. She sighed. At least he has kept his word, she thought.

Gnarla tried to forget about the high price she had paid and flew again to the Old Forest. The journey took much longer now that she was ninety-five years old but, in time, she arrived once again at the edge of the giant trees. Once again she was stopped by the two-headed snake with shining yellow eyes and, once again, each head sniffed her with its tongue.

“Have you lost your way, old fairy?” said the black head.

“Do you not recognize me?” cried Gnarla, brimming with confidence. “I am Princess Gnarla! Now move aside! Or I will have you butchered and roasted and served at the next feast!”

The two heads looked at one another while Gnarla opened her toothless mouth and began to sing in the most angelic soprano ever heard on earth. The sound was so lovely that gnomes and raccoons peered out from the underbrush, dryads and squirrels gathered on the branches, fairies and sparrows circled overhead, and dozens of other creatures of the Old Forest came to listen in amazement. When the song was finished, and when the applause had died down, Gnarla took a good look at the snake. It was as frozen as a statue and a dull white glaze covered its four eyes. The charm had worked!

The old fairy took a step forward.

“Stop right there!” said the two heads as their eyes turned blazing yellow.

“Do you take us for fools?” said the black head.

“We can smell the dirt of Ordin on you,” said the red head.

Gnarla’s eyes widened with terror. Her lips quivered and she stammered: “B-but the frog said you would…the frog said…the frog said…”

The two heads looked at one another and then turned back to Gnarla.

“You listened to a frog?” cried the black head.

“And you call yourself a princess?” hissed the red head.

“The only one who would trust a frog…” said the black head.

“…is a foolish village fairy!” cried the red head.

The large audience that had gathered round burst into laughter and raucous chants of “Foolish village fairy! Foolish village fairy!” Then the snake brought its tail forward, coiled it around Gnarla, lifted her high into the air, and cracked the tail like a whip. The force was even greater this time and Gnarla flew past the grain fields, tumbled through the village, and came to a stop in the yard of the shoemaker. Her elderly body was so bruised and broken she could hardly move. She closed her eyes and prayed for death. And then she heard the soothing voice of her mother say, “What has happened to you, my child? You do not look well.”

Gnarla opened her eyes and saw a canopy of leaves arching far above her head. She dragged herself toward her oak mother’s trunk and crawled into the space between two large roots. As she lay there, curled up like a babe, she wept softly and told her mother all that had happened. The tree listened patiently and then sang her to sleep with a lullaby. She didn’t wake until a gentle rain was falling in the evening.

“Did you sleep well, my child?”

“I did. I slept deeply. Without dreaming.”

“It is a good thing. Your dreams have not served you well. Will you now stay in the village for the time you have left? There is much to be enjoyed here in Ordin.”

Gnarla sat up. She felt a bit of strength return as she listened to the raindrops hitting the leaves and smelled the moist earth. She pulled the flask of whisky out of her satchel and took a large gulp. And then she took another drink and said: “No. I am not going to stay. The frog tricked me – but I learned something. There is powerful magic in this world. More powerful than I ever imagined. Perhaps not all of it is wicked.”

She stood up slowly, gave her mother’s rough bark a kiss, and walked off into the night. For many days she wandered through the kingdom, stopping in every town and village and asking everyone she met where she might find magic as powerful as the frog’s. One day she asked this question to a young peasant girl who was tending a garden. The girl pointed with her rake and said plainly: “Beyond yonder waterfall there’s a cave where a sorc’rer lives. His magic’s real strong, so I hear. But I ain’t never tried it.” Gnarla thanked her and flew off in the direction she pointed. The girl returned to her work and then thought to add: “His price is real high, though, so I hear.” But Gnrala was already out of earshot.

She found the cave partly hidden by a thicket of vines and brambles. She called into it but received no answer. Perhaps he lives deep inside, she thought. She took just one step forward when a small mouth opened in the gray rock next to her.

“Wait here,” said the mouth. “The master is coming for you.” And then the mouth disappeared without a trace.

A good sign, thought Gnarla. This sorcerer may indeed know strong magic.

A tiny blue light appeared in the deepest recesses of the cave. It grew larger and brighter and turned out to be a young fairy flying toward the entrance. His body was radiating a blue glow, but as he emerged into the daylight the glow faded. By the time he landed in front of Gnarla the only light that remained was in his blue eyes. Gnarla was momentarily entranced by his angular face, his beautiful lips, and his thick mane of black hair. He was quite handsome, and for a moment she thought of romance. But then she glanced down and saw how her tattooed arms were shriveled and looked like prunes, and she was reminded of her advanced age and felt a pang of bitterness.

“Let us talk by the waterfall,” said the fairy sorcerer.

Gnarla told him her tale while the two of them sat on wide rock surrounded by ferns. A few yards away a long, thin plume of water was plunging past them.

“Indeed, that is a sad story,” said the sorcerer when Gnarla was finished.

“Can you help me?”

“That depends. If you seek retribution against the frog, I cannot help you. His magic is much too strong. And if you want your youth back, I cannot help you either, for the same reason. I cannot undo what a frog has done. But if you are asking only to enter the Old Forest, that I can do.”

Gnarla was about to throw her arms around the blue-eyed sorcerer and kiss him but then she recalled all she had learned about the ways of the world, and that one ought to be careful in dealing with things like magic and promises. And so she drew a deep breath and said coolly: “I must have a guarantee.”

The sorcerer stroked his chin. “Here is your guarantee. You need not pay me anything until after you have entered the Old Forest.”

Gnarla turned away and thought for a moment. The waterfall was crashing into a dark pool below and a thin cloud of mist was rolling upward from it.

“But entering is not enough,” she said finally. “Suppose the snake finds me and hurls me from the forest again? No, I cannot just enter. I must be able to live there. For the rest of my life.”

The sorcerer nodded his head. “So be it.”

And then Gnarla did throw her arms around him and kissed him, and so the agreement was consummated.

“Here is how it will happen,” said the sorcerer. “You must go before the double-headed snake once more, but this time you must humble yourself. You must give up your claim as a princess. You must lie down flat, kiss the ground, and say you are a lowly village fairy who wishes to sing in the Old Forest while sunlight sparkles through the trees. Say exactly that — and I will take care of the rest.”

Yet again, Gnarla flew straightaway to the edge of the Old Forest and, when the snake appeared, she did exactly as the fairy sorcerer had said. With her face still in the dirt she awaited the snake’s reply, but she heard nothing. Slowly, she lifted her head and saw that the snake was nowhere to be found. Instead, before her was a path leading deep into the Old Forest. She stood up. By now her old wings were so decrepit they fell from her body, and so she entered the forest on foot. She walked down the path while tall trees arched overhead and sunbeams radiated through their branches, making little pools of light on the forest floor. Everything was just as the sorcerer had promised! She began to sing and a multitude of forest creatures descended from the sky, appeared among the leaves, and popped out of the ground to hear her beautiful voice once again. At last she arrived at the Gnarled Oak and her singing faded to silence as she gazed up and saw how the great tree’s canopy was like an umbrella covering the whole center of the forest. And then she looked down, down, down the trunk until she saw gigantic roots, so large and twisted that the nooks between them were like caves. Out from one of these dark places walked a wolf.

“Greetings,” said the wolf. “I am here to collect the sorcerer’s payment.”

“Oh, I will gladly pay him,” replied Gnarla, looking curiously at the wolf’s eyes, for they were blue, and glowing, and seemed oddly familiar. “Since leaving my mother I have known nothing but misery. But now! Oh, I am happy at last.”

“So am I,” said the wolf.

“What is the price?” asked Gnarla.

The wolf leapt at her and tore out her throat, and the old fairy crumpled to the ground, became water, and was sucked up by the roots of the great Gnarled Oak. Meanwhile, the wolf swallowed the lump of flesh and in a croaky voice said: “Ah, I can sing once again!” And then he turned into a raven and flew off in search of a new acorn.


Tom Hutt is a Master of Liberal Arts student at the University of Pennsylvania. His poetry has recently appeared in the Orange Room Review and his short fiction will appear in the May issue of Jersey Devil Press. He lives happily ever after in Philadelphia with his wife, two children, and Cocker Spaniel.

Stella Rothe is 26 and currently studying English and philosophy in Rochester, Michigan. Her photography and writing has most recently been published in Ceremony, Pink Panther Magazine, Nain Rouge, and BAC Street Journal.

Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Colours
Colours
Stella Rothe

The Mixed Children
Jan Stinchcomb

Elle’s mother tells her that the only worthwhile thing they ever got from Puss is the pair of magic boots she keeps locked up in a glass cabinet. They’re for when Elle is older, and they’ve been growing along with her, starting out as little baby shoes and working their way to a size 7. Her mother insists that life is better without Puss, and most of the time she won’t talk about him at all. She was once a king’s daughter, before she fell in love with a silver-tongued cat, and she prefers to think of the old days.

Elle’s mother is friends with Red. They have a lot in common, except for the fact that Elle’s mother made a bad choice, whereas Red didn’t. Puss ran off, but Red’s husband, Wolf, has always stayed with her. And he takes care of everyone. Right now, for instance, Wolf is out hunting. It’s because of him that Elle gets a steady supply of fresh meat, and sometimes he lets her eat the raw innards. He understands her. “There is nothing worse than fighting your own nature, Elle,” he says, and then he gives her a look that scares her.

As she grows older, Elle’s thoughts turn to the hunt. She gets so excited looking at birds and flying insects, and sometimes she goes out in the forest by herself to stalk birds. She hasn’t killed one yet, but she has held one in her hands. That was when Wolf found her.

“You shouldn’t act like this, Elle,” he told her. “It’s unseemly in a young girl. Let me teach you to use a bow and arrow, at least.”

She shook and wept. “You don’t understand, Wolf. I didn’t just want to kill it. I didn’t just want to eat it. I loved it–I really loved that little bird.”

“I do understand, Elle,” he said. Then he held her in his arms as she begged him not to tell her mother.

(Her mother is a problem because she does not understand Elle. She does not seem to understand mixed children at all even though she has one of her own. She does not know what life is like for her daughter: the continual seeking, the mystery presented by every mirror.)

Red and Wolf have a daughter, Roslyn, who is Elle’s best friend. Like Elle Roslyn has pointy ears, whiskers and a tail. But she also has gray hair sprouting all over her torso, and she hates it.

The girls are not alone; all of the children in their building are mixed. There’s a little girl with a frog head who lives on the ground floor with her mother, a delicate beauty who never ages. The little girl can’t even talk, and she makes Elle nervous. The mother is likewise silent and has never said a word to Elle. The father was a frog, but nobody likes to talk about him because he was crushed to death under the wheels of a carriage.

Beast Junior is a nuisance. His parents insist on calling him Prince, which makes Elle and Roslyn laugh out loud. After all, he looks just like a beast, with a prominent snout and hair all over his body. But he is very proud of his human parts, especially his boy-parts.

Elle, unlike her friends, likes being mixed. In fact, she hates the plainness of mere humanity. She wouldn’t mind being a mermaid, like Stella’s mother on the second floor. Stella herself has gills, so she can breathe underwater, which makes her a good playmate for the frog-head girl. Stella’s mother says that it’s very confining, having to stay in water most of the time, and sometimes she wishes for legs. She doesn’t like depending on the other parents to carry her up and down the stairs, but Elle and Roslyn are always glad to help her. They carried her back to her bathtub once after a party when all the parents got drunk on dandelion wine. While it was hard holding onto that slippery tail, Elle enjoyed herself, savoring the ocean smell that rose up from the mermaid’s body. I could love her the way I love the birds, Elle thought to herself, growing dizzy with the violence of her own thoughts. She tried to remind herself that the beautiful mermaid was just another lonely woman whose man ran off with someone else.

How to keep a man from running away? How to get one in the first place? Beauty is not the answer. Beauty is the problem, and Elle knows this. All of the mothers here are beautiful. Their beauty is what led to these sad couplings, these mixed children.

The other problem is freedom, or lack thereof. The children are allowed to wander only as far as the pond to the north, or, sometimes, down to the little village to the south. Wolf is very watchful. Somehow he sees everything. He is the one who calls them back home before dark.

The parents claim that the world wasn’t always so dangerous, not before the Troubles. They used to be free to wander for miles and miles, but now there are gangs of giants who roam around with knives. There used to be woodsmen who protected everybody, but they died of a disease that made them waste away. Elle’s mother says the Troubles started because the land itself became ill. She claims one can still see traces of the illness in the world around them.

“You’re better off at home, Elle,” her mother tells her when she sees her daughter’s growing restlessness. “You’re not missing anything. We have a nice, warm building. There’s the pond, and there’s the village, for when you get really bored. We’re surrounded by this lovely forest. And we have plenty of vegetables. What else do you need?”

Still, Elle lives with the feeling that her own body wants to kill her. She runs and climbs trees all day, yet she has trouble sleeping at night. She is looking for something, something that is missing and nameless.

Solstice is always good for excitement. Last year Puss came back, which he does from time to time. Now Elle hates him more than ever, but she understands why her mother fell for him. The thing about Puss, he really knows how to talk to women. He convinced Elle and her mother that he would put the three of them on a ship and take them around the world. Yes, that same world that’s supposed to be so dangerous, but when he talks about it, even her mother agrees to pack up and leave. And so they packed and made plans. Elle gave Roslyn her favorite silver locket as a token of their friendship, a spell for remembrance. And then one morning Elle heard her mother crying and knew that Puss had slipped away in the night.

Red came over to their place with a pot of tea and some butter. “He has trouble with commitment, Princess,” she said. (Her mother likes it when people use her title.) “Some cats are just that way. He always does this to you. You’re going to have to learn not to fall for it next time.”

“I’ll never speak to him again,” her mother swore. “I’ll never let him see Elle. Think about it, Red: he left his own child without saying goodbye. Again.”

And of course Red couldn’t think of anything else to say. She’s the lucky one in the building because her Wolf is so good to her. Elle sees that everyone is jealous of Red and Roslyn. The only other dad around is Beast Senior, who stays inside smoking his pipe all day, but nobody seems to like him. Even Beauty, his wife, can be heard crying when she’s outside hanging up the laundry.

Elle and Roslyn sit in the big window seat in Roslyn’s apartment and brush their long hair while they philosophize. If love is so painful, why have all of these women fallen for it?

And why does nobody learn from the mistakes of the parents?

Lately Beast Junior and Stella have started going off into the forest together. It’s not that Elle and Roslyn are jealous of them–for who could envy a hairy boy and a girl with gills?–but they do wonder how they will ever find lovers of their own.

And then they wonder, because of what happens between Roslyn’s parents on the night of the full moon, if they really want to find lovers. Maybe they should run and hide instead.

Roslyn’s parents are so loud when they’re together. They sound like they’re killing each other. It starts with screaming and howling and a lot of furniture being knocked over. Then the chase begins. One by one everybody who’s home clears out of the building because nobody can stand the noise. Elle always expects their apartment to be covered in blood and tears afterwards, but it’s just Red and Wolf having tea and looking very relaxed, surrounded by that telltale smell.

That’s their love story, repeating endlessly and publicly, until everyone has learned it.

But as for the story of her mother and Puss, that’s very hard to get to. And even though Elle only wants to hear the beginning, the happy part, her mother is reluctant to tell the story at all. Elle’s mother could have been the Marquise of Carabas, but she chose Puss instead for his charm and his wit. His words alone, his intelligence, won her heart. Love makes one do unwise things. Still, her mother claims she has no regrets. She likes her life here, with her daughter, surrounded by single mothers and mixed children.

When Elle and Roslyn can’t stand this life anymore, they tell one of the parents and then head out to the village. It’s frightening, which appeals to Elle, but Roslyn doesn’t much care for it. Still, it’s the only place there is to explore. Wolf claims it is filled with ghosts. The smells there are odd, long dead, melancholy. Every dwelling is empty. The girls can walk right into the little cottages where people used to live. And inside the big buildings with the golden, glittering domes there is nothing but darkness and dusty candles and pictures of women with babies, babies who are not mixed.

Elle likes best of all to be in one of the little cottages when the shutters and doors are closed and everything is dark. Back when they were little, she used to hide in them so well that she would fall asleep, and then Roslyn would have to find her and drag her out. These days Roslyn gets tired of the village quickly and begs to leave.

“Come on now, Elle,” she cries until her friend relents.

But it is hard for Elle to leave the comfort of a dark, hot, tiny space, a space all her own. The only thing worse than her craving for solitude is her hunger. The food that Wolf brings her isn’t enough.

She wants to kill her own food. Every little noise, every little movement in the bushes makes her jump. She thinks to herself, what if I start with a mouse? Will anybody miss a tiny mouse? She is compelled to inspect every sound, every smell. Her nose winds up in everything. She can’t let Roslyn know how she feels. Roslyn is nothing like her. Roslyn hates her animal side and lately has taken to covering her ears with her mother’s red hood. It’s like she’s hiding all the time.

But she can’t keep that hood on forever. The next solstice is coming, the hot one, and all the mixed children will take off their clothes for the ceremonial swim. Elle has high hopes for the next solstice. It has to be better than the last one, the cold one when Puss left them behind after stirring their hopes.

***

Beast Junior stops Elle on the stairwell and offers her a chance at true happiness if she will only come into the forest with him. He is confident of his prowess; he tells her that Stella will vouch for him.

“I don’t want to,” she says, lying. Her blood is boiling. She wants the knowledge, the experience, without having to go off with Beast Junior. But what can a girl do by herself in the forest?

When she walks through the door of her apartment, her mother is waiting.

“What?” Elle asks. “What’s wrong?”

“Who were you talking to on the stairs?”

“Beast Junior. Why?”

“Elle, you know that you are changing. You should be careful. Your body… don’t you feel it?”

And now she is worried that her mother is on to her. Her mother knows she is a killer, that must be it. Surely her thirst for blood hangs like a shroud over their little home. With each rejected bowl of bland soup or morsel of flat bread, Elle breaks the bond between them. It is hard to look her mother in the eye.

“Elle,” her mother continues, “soon you will begin a great change. You’ll embark on a journey, only you won’t even need to leave this building. You won’t be a girl forever.”

“You’re wrong,” Elle protests. “Wrong about everything.”

“Elle, there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Her mother is mistaken. For what she needs to do, Elle must leave the building and all the mixed children and their pretty mothers and even dear Wolf. She must go out into the forest on her own. But not to find a mate.

She feels that she is running out of time.

The next morning the birds of the forest call to her, their song reaching all the way into her bed. She spends the day aching in pain as she tends the vegetables and then takes the sheets down to the pond to wash them. She tries not to talk to anybody, even though Beast Junior wants her attention and Roslyn keeps acting like she has something important to tell her. Elle is starving. Her back aches. Her head aches. There is cramping below her waist. She wants to sleep, so she crawls up into a tree and falls into one of the black naps she is known for. The others leave her alone.

She has a dream about Stella playing with the frog-head girl under water. Or perhaps it is not a dream, perhaps they really are playing somewhere in the depths of the pond. The frog-head girl is happy in her own way but she needs water. She cannot be denied what she needs.

When Elle wakes it is finally, mercifully, dusk. She starts walking away from the pond, sticking to the well worn path, so as not to attract attention. And then, when all her senses tell her it is safe, she leaves the path.

The important thing is to be as quiet as possible, to erase herself until she becomes part of the forest, to stop every once in a while so that she can really listen. To use her nose, which becomes even more important than her eyes. Her desire grows and grows. Her whiskers have a life of their own. She is so hungry it hurts.

The bird is blue and small, young. Elle leaps without thinking and misses it. Then it is gone, up into the orange sky. The bird may be gone, but now the hunt is on. Elle knows it will not end without a kill. She moves on to another part of the forest, one with new smells, new sounds. This may take a while. It will grow pitch black and she will be in trouble with her mother.

Soon she sees a fat brown bird with a broken leg. The bird is slow, easy prey, but this is Elle’s first time and she cannot be picky. Even in flight the bird is slow, yet Elle still has to leap far off the ground to catch her. The hot flurry of feathers and the sureness of bone struggling against her hands is exquisite. Elle wants to play with her, but she must be fast. She bites off the bird’s head, tears open the belly. What is she looking for? This is more about blood than meat. It is about heat. It is life, she understands: life is what she seeks to consume. It is the joy of swallowing a beating heart.

It is over too soon.

And then she is nothing but a messy girl with pointy ears and whiskers. Death is all over her face. Elle looks up and curses her father.

She is looking for a stream, somewhere to wash, when she sees Wolf, who is busy with the guts of a deer he has just killed. Wolf usually wears clothes and walks upright, but now he is undressed, crouching like an animal, drinking blood. Elle notices that his bow and arrow, which lie forgotten in the distance, are not a part of this kill. So Wolf is just like her: he controls himself at home, inside their building, when he is with the other parents and knows that the eyes of all those mixed children are on him. But out here things are different. Elle feels sorry for Red and wonders if Red knows what Wolf is really like. He is not the gentleman he pretends to be.

It is dark by the time she comes home. Her mother must be looking for her. Soon it will be solstice, and they will spend all night outdoors, but tonight everyone is inside, safely home, except for Wolf, who is probably washing himself off somewhere. Elle splashes her bloody face with pond water.

And then, as she rises from the edge of the pond, Elle feels something warm rush between her legs. She reaches down there with her fingers and comes back up with blood. Is this a part of her first kill? Has the prey run right through her body? She doesn’t know where to turn now. Where is Wolf? She needs to talk to another hunter. She would even settle for Puss right now if she knew where he was.

It is painful to think of going back inside. She knows she looks wild, frightening, but she has nowhere else to go. She wants to sleep, to forget who she is and what she has done, but first she must go home and face her mother.

But it appears she has underestimated her mother, who comes outside to meet her. Her mother already knows everything. She knows about the blood in and the blood out. She tells Elle that she used to spy on Puss while he was hunting; she knows what happens in the forest. Puss was always too proud, too calculating, to show her his true self, and that is why things could never work out between them.

Elle doesn’t want to share anything with her mother, least of all the blood. Her mother, however, is in a sharing mood. She tells Elle that the hunt, the sacred hunt, is not the whole story. She explains to her daughter that there are two kinds of blood, one for killing and one for making life.

This is something Elle has never considered before. “When will I make life?” she asks. “Is it a hunger?”

Elle’s mother looks to the moon and sighs, and in that sigh, Elle hears all the nights of Red and Wolf. She hears Stella and Beast Junior somewhere in the forest. All her father’s empty promises come back to her. When she turns to go inside, she sees Roslyn looking down at her from her big, beautiful window. Elle waves to her friend, but Roslyn is not the one she is looking for.

At midnight, while her mother sleeps, Elle breaks open the glass cabinet and takes out her boots, which fit like a promise kept. And then she opens the door and goes outside to begin the search for her father. This time, when she finds him, things will be different because she herself is different. This time she will make him stay.


Jan Stinchcomb lives in a purple house in Austin, Texas with her husband and daughters. Her work has appeared in PANK online, Luna Station Quarterly, and The Red Penny Papers, among other places. Her novella, Find the Girl, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press. Visit her at janstinchcomb.com

Stella Rothe is 26 and currently studying English and philosophy in Rochester, Michigan. Her photography and writing has most recently been published in Ceremony, Pink Panther Magazine, Nain Rouge, and BAC Street Journal.