“It is 100 years since our children left.” Hamelin town chronicles, 1384

Photo by Mika Ruusunen

“Where did the children go? Where did he take them?” my great-grandmother asked. She was in one of her fretful moods, and we would try to calm her, but she would work herself up into a state for the lost children. Why did no one go to find them? Where were they taken?

We were all familiar with her queries and the best that could be done was to try to keep her in bed and stroke her hand until she eventually cried herself to sleep. Sometimes she would get up and start for the door, or we’d find her in the kitchen, packing food into a sack already stuffed with a change of clothes, a thin and faded old nightgown, a sharp letter opener. “Gran,” we’d say, “where are you going?” She would start on about the children again, always the children. Why had no one gone to find them? Where had they been taken? An entire village of children did not simply disappear.

Gran’s young brother had been among the lost ones. There were two brothers and a sister who were lost as well, as I recalled, but this brother had been her favorite. She had cared for him as a baby, her mother never fully recovering from his, the last and most difficult of nine births. Or was it seven? It was hard to say, as so many records of that time had been lost, or destroyed. Records of the lives of the lost ones. Gran was young at the time, fourteen or fifteen, and she had a sister just a few years younger, and an older brother who also survived. Had there been another sister? Nobody knew anymore.

They came from a small milling town up in the mountains. The man had come. There was a famine, and the goats were dying. Or maybe it was a drought? They were hungry, she said, when the man came. The village stores were low, and illness was high. The rats were everywhere, in the grain, crawling over the sick, sometimes attacking the very ill before they expired.

“I woke in the night, I couldn’t breathe. There was a heavy weight on my chest, pressing the life out of me, and when I opened my eyes, there was the beast. A rat,” here she would spread her hands wide to the size of a house cat, “standing on my chest, pressing my breath out, staring into my eyes! With no fear! It tried to smother me, that animal. My sister knocked it off of me with a skillet.”

Straw mattresses were dragged outside and burned. Thatching was replaced on roofs. Holes were patched in walls and floorboards. Still the rats came. Still they remained.

“People were dying. People were dying,” she would murmur, almost consoling herself.

The man came to town. He was older than Gran at the time, though not as old as her father. He wore a patchwork cape, and carried a flute; all the accounts agree on these points. “We were desperate,” she’d say, her voice pleading. The man came. He would get rid of the rats. His price was high. More gold than the whole village had. There was the gold in the church, the candlesticks and chalice and plates and censers, the gold flake on the saints, but that was not to be considered.

Where did the man come from? Gran would wave her hand and give no other answer.

He set right to his work. The elders told him to get rid of the rats, and he set right to his work. Before long he was strolling down the street with a staff strung with rats, and whatever plague had summoned them seemed to pass; they stopped coming. He sat in the middle of the square, where he made camp each night, refusing the hospitality of any of the villagers, and would flay and spit and roast the rats, and tear the flesh from tiny bones with fingers and teeth. Then he would sit and play his flute into the night, beautiful lilting melodies.

Was he a stranger? Had he come from a far off land? Again, the dismissive wave. As though it hardly mattered.

There was something disturbing and almost sensual in the way he ate the vermin, savoring every bite, and licking his fingers when he was through. And, just as terrible, young Gran sometimes felt her stomach rumbling at the scent of the roasting meat. She never ate it! No, she never ate it!

When the rats were gone, eaten or chased off, it came time to render payment. The man, as he told them, was ready to continue on his way, and would have what was owed. The villagers gave him what they had, every scrap of gold, save a wedding band secreted here, or a chain passed down through the family, or perhaps just a few coins pocketed against future calamity. The rats were gone, and the village would give all they could, and that would have to be enough. But it was not the price demanded, nor what was agreed.

“He would give us a week,” Gran whispered, her voice trembling.

The man seemed to disappear then, though no one saw him leave town. Instead, he would be spotted, just in the corner of one’s eye, staring out of the shadows when daily chores were done, or following along on the lane, close enough to hear his steps, too far for any proper greeting.

When the week had passed, he went again to the elders. Again they offered him all the collected wealth of the village, though not the full price set for his services.

“His face went strange like a demon,” she said, “that’s what my father said. A face like a demon. And when he left, the church bell rang once, though there was no one to pull the cord.”

The next day, when the villagers had finished their church services, the children were gone. All of them had disappeared, all of those weaned and walking, and so had the man. There were no signs of struggle, no tiny footprints in the dirt, no dropped toy or scrap of cloth. The village was in the mountains, yet no one saw that lone man leading an army of children down to the valley. None of the children was ever seen again — one hundred and thirty children — nor was the man.


A version of this story was originally published at medium.com/@kiyomi.a.gaines on November 8, 2016

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Talia’s Queen

Talias Queen_Artemisia_Gentileschi,_Dame_assise_de_trois-quarts
Artemisia Gentileschi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My lord, king and husband,

Though you have put me aside and confined me to these estates, know that I humbly accept your wisdom and obey your decrees in these, as in all matters. I pray only for your Majesty’s health and happiness, and hope that you may yet remember the happiness we shared together so recently. The love I bear you has never waned nor shall. In my clumsy seeking to know more of the young woman brought so recently to court, I wished only to please you, that I might love as you do and extend every warmth and welcome of the good charity that your Highness and your kingdom have always been known for, and in my meager ability, to extend that hospitality of your Grace’s court to all your favored guests.

I see that in your wisdom you have separated me now for this time, though in my smallness of mind I am unable to comprehend your noble thoughts. I mean neither to rebuke nor question your rights, and accept humbly your Grace’s command, but I beg you to educate me in where I have erred. I await your letter with eagerness and affection, and remain your most loyal and loving servant.

The Queen


Most noble lord, my beloved husband and king,

I have heard strange reports of the young woman who so recently has joined the court. I do not say that I believe them nor wish to repeat any slander, but only to faithfully report to you and seek your good counsel in the matter.

It has been told to me that in your most recent and successful campaign your company came upon an abandoned tower, and in that tower found an entire court of lords and ladies at table, all in the deepest sleep, covered in dust, and cobwebbed. It has been said, that upon climbing to the top of that tower, one among your number did chance to find a little room, locked, and on opening the door, found a most beautiful young woman, also asleep. This man – it was said, and I seek your instruction on what I must make of these matters – this man was taken by the woman’s beauty and immediately fell upon her in the raptures of his great affection. He was as a man bewitched. No, I forget myself, my dear husband, and know that you will forgive me my feminine weakness. There was no witchcraft nor any mention of it. No, it was told me, though, that the man seemed not himself, and in a daze, and as if he too might slip into that deep slumber if allowed to remain in that tower, and so his companions withdrew and brought him out again.

It was said these occurrences were a year and more ago, as I said, in your last campaign. I humbly beg your advice and guidance in this matter. I ask also that you would have my furs and heavy cloak sent, as the cold is beginning to set in here, though I am ready at your soonest pleasure to return to court, and to your side, where it remains my fondest wish to be. Until then, I remain your most obedient servant.

The Queen


My dearest lord and king,

I beg you to remember the friendship of our earlier days, and to recall the love you once bore me, that I continue unceasingly to have for you. You raised me from such lowly estate and laid upon me such great honors as to grant me titles and lands of my own – unsought and unrequested – and to call me lady and to name me queen, and most precious to me, give me the title of your most beloved wife. If ever you have loved the name of your forlorn and sorrowful wife, if ever any humble word or deed of mine has brought you any joy or bestowed any mirth to your noble personage, I beg you now to consider these ugly and vicious rumors in light of that friendship we so recently shared.

Any child of your Grace, even though it be not my own, is precious to me for that noble and beloved parentage. Yet I have not seen the young woman at all these long months of my seclusion, and certainly never have sought any harm or injury to her children. It pains me, I will not lie, to know that her children are also yours. Yet I love them for it, as I love you, and will welcome them at court with all the warmth and affection they are owed as your own when you will have me return, which it is my fondest wish to do.

I know that the tower happened upon by your company had a strangeness about it and I bare you no resentment nor reproach for any happenings on the occasion of battle. But what strangeness has there been here in our own country estates, where we have long walked side by side among our own beloved hills? What strangeness to compel any woman to order a child cooked as meat, as it is so cruelly rumored of me? In your recent absence, may I be judged if I write untruthfully, I never have set foot at court. And though I may have yet some few friends in your company, and though I pray they may remind you of our happier days, they do not write to me. Which I would never desire them to do if it might bring you the least displeasure, as surely their greater duty and friendship are owed to your Grace, whose love and generosity make all our joys complete.

I swear to you that I do not know what has become of the child. I pray for its safe and healthy return to you and to its mother. I pray you remember your faithful and loyal and loving wife, and allow me to return that I may defend myself against the slanderers who have sought to make me odious in your eyes. I pray you put aside the simple desires of the flesh and remember your true companion and friend.

I am ever your most loyal and obedient servant, and your most devoted and loving subject.

The Queen


Most noble king and husband, dearest to me of all mankind, my good lord,

You know these things said of me to be despicable lies. You must know the impossibility of such cruelty to be in the nature of one you once held in such affection. Further, you must know the impossibility of my travel from my place here to court and back again, and to undertake such journey unnoticed, and to steal away and murder your young children in secret, and further to conspire to have them served at your table. Your Grace will know the utter impossibility of such an undertaking, even were such not abhorrent to me, and sickening even to write of.

Yet still if I am indeed guilty of such heinous crimes as I have been accused of, let me be brought before the open court and have my guilt laid plain before all. Let the evidence against me be made clear, and my guilt be made known, or let my innocence be proven! Your Majesty will show yourself a just and evenhanded ruler, as I have always known you to be, and either you will see my innocence, and expose those who have slandered the name you have raised up, or my guilt will be established for all to see. I will accept any lawful ruling, only let me stand trial as any faithful and loyal subject might expect. If ever my name has brought you joy, or if you have gained a moment’s comfort from my company, I ask you to grant my humble request.

Only if your heart has been so turned and hardened against me in these long – few though they have been, to me they have been long – months, I pray only that you will not be held to full account for the grievous sin you commit in such cruel usage of your pitiable wife. I am told the young woman seeks my death at the stake. I will not curse the name of Talia even now, for your sake and for the sake of the love we have shared. Only let an archer be brought that my suffering may not be prolonged. On behalf of my household, I seek their wages, and release or good references, as they may prefer.

I await your word, and remain your most faithful, loyal, and obedient wife.

The Queen


Read Sun, Moon, and Talia

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Happy Women’s Day!

Photo: Daria Głodowska

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day. This month we will #readmorewomen!

Right now, I’m alternating between Julie Dao’s darkly sparkling fairy tale Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls, inspired by true stories of the horrors of Ravensbruck. Both are tales of strong women learning and navigating that strength, and finding their way in a world that seeks to overpower them.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, these are some of my favorite short stories that I’ve discovered in the last few months, all by women!
You can find more great reads at Enchanted Conversation!
Happy reading!
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Reading · Writing

Happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day!


Happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day? While the origins of this holiday are not very clear, any reason to reconnect with our favorite stories and share them with others, is good in my book!

Today is also my birthday! In honor of both, I’m asking you to share one of my stories with one other person.

Find a complete list of my published stories on the blog here. But if you’re not sure where to begin, I’ve got some suggestions for you!

Like the tale of The Pied Piper? Read Hamelintown.

Here’s Snow Fell, my version of Snow White.

In more of an Anderson than a Grimm mood?

Check out my tale inspired by The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Frankenstein, John Soldier; or if you’re more in a listening than reading mood, you can play the audio version here.

Or my take on The Emperor’s New Clothes, Re-covered.

For stories from the perspective of the princess try:

How He Found a Wife, which tells the story of Godfather Death,

Or Moon Rising, a new story of Aladdin.

For a thoroughly American tale, read my take on The Prince and the Pauper, The Complications of Rule.

The Tale of Anchin comes from Japanese fairy tales, and Like a Preyer was inspired by the Mr. Fox story.

Check here for other ways to celebrate!

And be sure to check out Enchanted Conversation for many more stories, interesting articles, and to watch for my forthcoming tale, Travelers’ Sickness, inspired by the Thai myth of the krasue.

Thanks for reading!



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Epiphany of a Swan Wife

Epiphany of a Swan Wife Part II

Photo: Peter Lewicki

The next segment of Epiphany of a Swan Wife is now live!

Read Part II: Challenges here!

Read Part I: The Owl here!

Epiphany of a Swan Wife · Writing

New Serial – Epiphany of a Swan Wife

swan wife cover
Photo: Rene Bernal

You might notice a new heading across the top of the page!


For the next few weeks, I’ll be serializing Epiphany of a Swan Wife. I’ll published the next segment of the story every Wednesday and Saturday between now and Twelfth Night (Epiphany, January 6th) so check back!

Part I: The Owl, is live now!

Thanks for reading!


I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.


The Tale of Anchin


Photo: Christian Joudrey

The girl was a fool, they said. She’d gone out alone. She was pregnant, or eaten, or killed. She’d brought it on herself, they said. How, I wondered, could she be responsible for her own murder? But that brought me a stern look, the one that said they were certain I meant trouble. I got few answers after that.

The priest came to town, and then he left. It was the same in every case. And the girl was a fool. The old merchant’s daughter. The farmer’s sister. The miller’s new young wife. And in every case, she was simply gone.

I had heard the prayer in the temple, the double clap of the petitioner drawing my attention. It was the local lord. “Please find my daughter,” he said, bowing before the altar. He came day after day with the same simple plea. “Please find my daughter,” again and again.

Finally I left my post. I asked in at the lord’s house. I asked in the village. Anchin, they said. The priest was called Anchin.

I followed the river to the next village and found him easily enough. I went to his rooms and disguised myself as the lord’s daughter.

“Anchin,” I said, when he came in. He was young and handsome, but everyone had said as much.

He held up his lamp to see my face, and recoiled. “You – how?” He paled before me as I advanced on him.

“What did you do, Anchin?” I asked through the missing girl’s lips, in her voice. “Where did you leave me?”

He fled back through the door he had entered, and dropped his lamp. The tatami caught and flames started to bloom. I started after the priest, but stopped. “Fire!” I yelled, to alert the villagers. The cry was taken up, and bells began to ring. I dove over the flames, and returned to the river as the villagers began to collect there, forming themselves into a bucket line. The fire spread through the building quickly. I sucked in gulps of river water, returned to the burning building, and released a drenching spray over it. With the villagers bucket line, we managed to douse the flames before they spread to the surrounding buildings. They cheered and sang my name.

In the morning I returned as myself, not disguised as the missing girl. I asked about Anchin. I asked about the girl. They knew him here, they knew him well. He was a traveling priest. They knew nothing about the girl I described, but there had been another, one of their own, a few years back. They told me what direction he would usually head in on his route each year, and I returned to the river.

I found him again in the next village. I asked around on my arrival. The people here were wary. They housed the priest because he was a priest, yet they kept their daughters safely away. He seduced young women, I learned from the men in a tea house, he dishonored them and left them to their fate.

The mothers told me something different; it wasn’t seduction, it was force. He was vile. No, they knew nothing of the two missing girls.

I thanked them. As I turned to leave, a woman grabbed my arm. “Don’t be alone with him,” she said urgently. “Don’t ever be alone with him.”

They told me where to find him.

“Anchin,” I walked into the noodle shop where he was eating. “Anchin, you left me.”

He glanced up, and then looked back at his bowl. “You got the wrong guy.”

“Anchin, I know you. Anchin, you promised marriage. What else did you promise?” I showed him the face of the girl from the last village.

He looked at me, annoyed. “I never promised you anything. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

I sat across from him. “Look closer.”

He smirked, betraying his lie, “Look, sweetheart, it’s done. Your honor is your problem.” He chuckled. “I guess you shouldn’t go out alone at night.”

“I wasn’t alone though. You were there.”

He shrugged, “I shouldn’t get rewarded for escorting you home?”

I displayed the faces of the three young women in turn.

He yelped like a dog, and drew the attention of the other customers, but they paid me no mind.

“Anchin, you carry the weight of three lives. You have no honor. And that is your problem.”

“Get away from me!” he cried, lurching back. “What are you?”

The shop owner came out and waved a towel at him, as one would shoo a cat, “What’s wrong with you? Keep it down!”

Anchin fled.

I pulled his bowl to me and ordered more noodles for the broth he’d left behind. The proprietor served me and apologized for the scene.

I asked around about where he would go from here. The villagers didn’t know, but there were a few other hamlets further along the road.

After I’d eaten, I continued my pursuit. It was days, maybe a week. I collected more faces in the hamlets. Another one at a village at the crossroads. There was a town at the headwaters of the river, and I looked for him there.

He saw me when I arrived. I’m not sure how he recognized me, but he tried to run. The faces of the girls played through my mind, and the stories of what he’d done to them.

“Anchin, you cannot flee your guilt.”

He ran to the water’s edge and I heard him shouting at a group of fishermen. He grabbed one by the shirt and shook the man. The fishermen looked at me, bowed slightly, perhaps in some recognition. I nodded, and they placated the frantic priest. They watched me as they loaded him into one of the boats, and watched me as they shoved off the bank, and watched me as they rowed out into the river.

I ran, shifting shape as I did, and dove into my cool, clear waters in my true form. My scales were feeling tight even then, but the river soothed me. I followed the little boat from below, and launched onto the bank as the boat came to rest.

Anchin looked at me, wild-eyed, and began to run.

He ran to the temple at the river’s edge, and I followed behind on four legs. The local priests bowed at our approach, and Anchin disappeared inside. I climbed the steps.

“This way, my lady,” the good priests said, and led me inside to the giant bell. I could smell his sweat, and his fear, and his sin. I coiled my long body and tail around the bell. “It is time, Anchin,” I said, and blew flame over the bell.

It melted down into a medallion that the temple now uses as a sacred gong.

I returned to the water and swam down river, still carrying the faces and stories of the girls with me.

I climbed out of the water at my old temple, and my skin was rough and tight and itchy. I clawed at it as I went, leaving behind long, stinging stripes along my
limbs and sides. I flexed, cracking the surface of the taut, grey leather, and clawed at the gap.

I sloughed it off, tearing at it with my claws, and with each step felt the memory of each lost soul bid me farewell, as she could now go in peace.

I stepped into my human form, exhausted, but feeling strengthened by the prayers of the villagers for the memories of their lost daughters. I left my old skin behind at my river’s edge, where my rising waters would carry it away, and climbed the steps to my temple to await the next supplicant.

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.

A Consideration of Fairy Tales in Context of Memento Mori

A new article I wrote for the Thanksgiving 2017 Special Edition of Enchanted Conversation, looking at fairy tales in light of memento mori in the early modern era.

FairyTalesInContextOfMementoMori-GAINES-ArtByAmandaBergloff copy
Art by Amanda Bergloff
 Memento mori were objects common in Medieval Europe, through the Victorian era, designed to remind one of death, and perhaps, relieve anxiety or guilt over good fortune, since many were luxury items. Although we now talk about stories being sweetened with bloodless conflict and happily-ever-afters, in the early-modern era virtue might be added to otherwise frivolous entertainment by invoking Death.

Find my version of the Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type 709 here.

Be sure to check out Beloved, too!  It’s a lovely flash fiction piece by Amanda Bergloff, with a character named after me! Read Here
Beloved by Amanda Bergloff



Moon Rising


Hallwyl Museum / Helena Bonnevier, via Wikimedia Commons

The room she found herself in was dark and cool. Moon had been in her bedroom a moment before, preparing to receive her new husband. They had been married that day, an arrangement made between their fathers. Her robes were folded away into the chest and she had put on her new silk pajamas and slid beneath the blankets, closed her eyes to wait, and then opened them again to find herself here. As her eyes adjusted, she found she was on a sort of bed, a raised dais or platform with blankets piled on it. The floor and walls and ceiling were all carved of stone and unadorned. There was a lake all around the platform, and a narrow walkway that led to another chamber. There were candles, which cast a weak light, but allowed her to see. A shadow moved in the doorway and then filled it.

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Blog · Writing

Three Tales in Celebration

2005-05-01 - Ireland - Dublin - St Stephen's Green - The Three Fates
Photo: http://www.cgpgrey.com, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m so glad to say that Enchanted Conversation made its fundraising goal!  As I’ve said before, it’s a publication that I love, filled with all the magic of fairy tales, and offering short story writers a place to share our work! – which is a kind of fairy tale in itself! (Really! Remember to support your local, and not-local, artists!)

In celebration, I’m sharing the three stories I’ve had published there!  I hope you’ll read the other wonderful stories and poems in each theme as well.  It’s a real delight to see how different each tale, written after the same original, ends up!


John Soldier was inspired by The Steadfast Tin Soldier, which is a story I didn’t like in the least!  It’s a story where everybody dies, and not even a feel-good story where everybody dies like In Bruges.  I tried several different approaches to writing that one, it was a real challenge to get inside of and reimagine, and I’m happy with where it finally ended up.


John Soldier

The following contains a personal record relating to experiments performed by an unnamed scientist believed to have been in the employ of the British army at the time of the Crimean War.  This journal was discovered among records of the 18– theater disaster in a private collection and was donated to the university library on condition of anonymity.  The other documents mentioned in this text have not been located.  Attempts made to discover the historic location of the Godwin or Goodwin Street Laboratory have thusfar been unsuccessful.

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I had an easier time with Re-Covered, built around the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  It’s one I’ve thought a lot about, in terms of power and fashion, and that everything in a culture – in our society – only is because we all agree on it. I’ve often thought about what would happen if society changed its mind about what it agrees to see and to allow.

Re-Covered-GAINES-Art by Amanda Bergloff


The king had stood naked and vulnerable before his people. The only person who acknowledged the exposure was a small child, and he was quickly hushed. There were rumors that to directly look upon a member of the noble family would render one a fool, or blind, or unfit for service; it would cause one’s deepest shame to be revealed, would cost one’s inheritance, or render one sterile and heirless. He exposed himself to them all.

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Most recently I’ve been so pleased to share How He Found a Wife, about Godfather Death, who has long been one of my favorite figures in story.  I wrote all about it here, so I won’t belabor the point.  Suffice it to say, I’m glad to be adding my own shades to the psychopomp, and he also appears in Snow Fell.

HowHeFound-GAINES-Amanda Bergloff

How He Found a Wife
There was heat and pain. There was nothing else. There had never been anything else.
The cool rag over her eyes, the drops of water spooned into her mouth were of Paradise. When it withdrew, she tried to call back that gift of mercy, but no sound came through the fires that baked her mortal coil.
Her vision was blurred, but she saw there, at the end of her bed, an old man, gaunt, gray-skinned, his eyes sunken so deep she could not see them, in a Benedictine robe. Last rites, she thought. She must be dying. She felt relief and sank into it.
I hope to have more to share with you soon!  I love to hear from people, so please feel free to share comments below.  And thank you for reading!
I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.