Writing

Like Mother’s Milk in Awkward Mermaid

 

Like Mother’s Milk

 

I awoke and the children were there. My heart raced with the usual, feral fear, and then quieted itself. This was not anything unusual. The girl lifted me onto my pillows and gave me a glass of milk, and the boy stretched out across the foot of the bed, propped on his elbows to watch me drink. When I was done, it was their turn, and they each lay on either side of me, and bit into my flesh. They were careful, neat always, but the bedsheets witnessed their daily feast and the spatters had grown brown. “I’ll wash them, Mother,” the girl said, and kissed my cheek, her lips moist with my life essence.

They reminded me of Chelsea, that’s why I let them in. They were so small and helpless, and things had gotten so dangerous out there. They might have been children from the first grade class I had so recently delivered Chelsea to for her first day. She was so proud of her new outfit and backpack. I hadn’t posted the pictures. Everything happened so quickly.

I fell back into the sleep, exhausted from the feeding. They were bigger now, and were eating more. They took more out of me.

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Revisiting: How to Save a Village

“She will give you what you ask for,” they warn each other, “exactly what you ask for.””If you’re a very good girl,” Mother said, “they won’t get you.”Yet she taught me things day to day. How to grow living things, plants and insects, and how to harvest them. The ways to read a person’s face, and flesh, to…

via Story: How to Save a Village by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine

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A Stranger in Our Midst

512px-John_Everett_Millais,_The_Somnambulist
John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
They did say that it was murder. A seaborn girl and a landed lad, how could it be any different, one might ask? They found him in the surf, howling with a rage and madness, and her limp and dead away in his arms. They said that he had drowned her. She never could become apiece to his people. They were of different worlds. She ran away, the poor dear thing, and when he caught her, he drowned her. They say.

He never said anything. They took him away again, his landed people, gathered him back to his big landed house, and no one did see him again, but as a brooding shape in a window casement. That’s the way these things go.

There were ships on the sea, hunting when the season was in, and they brought in a pretty haul, seal meat and pelts and her too, pulled in from the sea and half drowned. Well, she ended as she began. Some soul took her in and nursed her well, and then she was a pretty thing, and they said she bewitched the whole village, every man laid claim to her, and since it would tear the whole place apart, they put her out of town. But she lingered like a ghost there before the crossroads, and it was a cold night, and many at that, and she begged for a coat.

The innkeeper’s wife brought her in again, and fed her and warmed her, and put her foot down that no man who would breathe a word of bewitchery and foolishness should have a sip of ale in that house. That put an end to it, and the pretty innkeeper’s daughter became such a common sight it was forgot that she was pretty, and as well that she was no native daughter.

That might have been the end of it. She could have married some young local lad, one who knew the ways of the sea, one not so high and fine. But they traveled down from their hills in the summer months, to take the air, they said. And he, that landed boy, didn’t know that she was common now, and thought her as fine and precious as he, and so he asked to take her away, and so she went.

Then the storms came, and then the hunt, and then that highborn lad came tearing through town with others like him, color high in their cheeks, like landed Gentry, riding on horseback, and pillaged our catch.

“My wife would have her coat,” it was reported he’d said, with lightning crashing behind him and fire in his eyes. In truth it wasn’t a stormy night, and the flush in their faces gave truth to another rumor that they were all right sotted and had decided on a raid for the evening’s entertainment. They took piles of seal pelts away with them, and it was supposed our girl had a fine coat out of it. What could anyone do for it? The head man applied to the house, and they say some compensation was made.

Who could blame her for running away? In time it became a common sight to see her walking among the rocks and surf, her dress sodden and heavy around her legs. One night, as snow floated across the beach, she stumbled into town half frozen, begging for a coat. Her parents took her back to their hearth and she lay abed there at the inn with a galloping fever for some days. Her landed folk collected her again.

Then they came back, without her though, the lad and the lord of the manor, and a retinue of armed men with them. Door to door they went and demanded to see all the winter clothing, though they left with none.

She could not get warm, it was said, and she was desperately ill. And little wonder, the mad thing wandering through town of a night and wading in the surf the way she did.

That fateful night, she did just that, came stumbling into town in sodden skirts, and screaming and weeping, incoherent and clutching at the fishermen. Her husband came and roughed some of the lads, and would have seen worse himself, had not cooler heads understood that it did not do to strike a landed man. So they shoved him off, and her with him.

That morning they were found together as I have said. It was murder for certain. But landed folk never could know the ways of the sea, nor the cost to such a small town when young men are drawn away by call of a siren, how tenuous our hold through a long winter. And isn’t it fair to have some tribute back? After all, a seal pelt makes a very fine and warm rug as well as a coat.

Writing

Hamelintown by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine Fairy Tales, Folklore & Myths

My short story, Hamelintown, was in Enchanted Conversation recently!

 

He wore a patchwork cape and carried a flute. He would help us, but his price was high… “It is 100 years since our children left.” Hamelin town chronicles, 1384… 1,253 more words

via SATURDAY TALE – Hamelintown by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine Fairy Tales, Folklore & Myths

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On Death – On Enchanted Conversation!

Happy Friday the 13th!

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The first story in which I remember reading about a personified Death, and one I still love, is The Appointment in Samarra (or Samarkand). It’s a very old tale, said to be from Mesopotamia, and is included in the Talmud and collections of Sufi wisdom, and is sometimes also called When Death Came to Baghdad. In it, a man sends his servant on a long journey to avoid Death, only to find that Death had expected him there, in that other place, all along. I remember feeling that there was a certain injustice in that – if only the man had stayed home! How unfair that the man’s fear of dying drove him to flee straight to the place of his death. Yet, how foolish to try to run away, only to spend his final days on a long journey to a distant land, far from all that he knew and loved. That is where Death brings us in the end anyway.

In many old stories, Death is portrayed as a neutral, or even benevolent figure. Not frightening or evil, but someone who is just doing a job. These stories represent a way for us to make peace with mortality. Not to say that we shouldn’t cling to the beauty and joy and connection presented by a life well lived, or mourn the finality of separation from our loved ones. Rather Death represents everything that is unknown, and our complete inability to return to what was before – that is to say, death, (with a little ‘d’) in a very literal sense, or any process of change or transition. Not bad, and maybe not good, but inevitable just the same.

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Where the Bones Lie

'Woman_with_a_Harp'_by_Elizabeth_Nourse,_Cincinnati_Art_Museum
by Elizabeth Nourse

My sister, God keep her, was a troubled girl. She was beautiful in every way, as you have heard, but fair doesn’t always mean fair. You look at me now, all of you, with your wide eyes and your shock and horror at the things you have heard. I’ll not tell you that they’re lies, but the truth can have a way of shifting and stretching and spreading like silt in water before it finally settles out, and you can see clearly what’s at the bottom of it.

When my sister was a little girl, she would follow me around. I was barely older, but it was enough, and with a new baby, my mother put me to work while she coddled the young one. So I did make her eat dirt, and I did run away from her. I felt she had stolen my mother’s affections, and was only little yet myself.

As we grew older there were little pranks, the things children will do, none of it intending real harm. But didn’t she take a swipe like a punch, and fold herself over, always just when my mother came near. My own scratches and bites and bruises were left untended. I brought them on myself I was told. But I learned, and so I stopped fighting back, thinking that would show my mother. But still she said I brought it on myself, if not for what I did today, then yesterday or last week, or some other time wasn’t too long ago to warrant reprisal still. And didn’t she feign faintness and tremors at the wisp of a cough, to be bundled into bed with me to wait on her, with none to nurse me on my own sickbed, for she would be too fragile, and I was decided to be the one who would stretch my illness for laziness.

Meantime, if I wasn’t married, I was to be working to keep myself, and she, my sister, would only talk herself blue in the face. Being younger and now fragile my mother didn’t press her. So it was I who sat in the yard to get the better light to finish my work, and I who lost a thimble and followed it down into the well. She did lower me down to get it, and in the waters, I did find a gift, which she demanded a share of if she would pull me back up, and so I agreed rather than be left to drown in the well.

When I came up, this young man was there with her, and there we both stood, one dry and one wet, and she made jokes to humiliate me, and then she showed him both of our work, mine nearly completed, and her few, precise stitches, which were indeed smaller and more even than mine, but which she said she had just started on. Tell me, with such an introduction, what chance would any young girl think she had, even if she wanted to steal away such a suitor?

I took my work and my thimble and the treasure and made for home, but, “Ah-ah!” my sister called after me. “I believe you have something that is mine,” she said, and put out a hand. So I handed over what she had asked for, and as I left, she related to the young man that not only was I slovenly and unindustrious, but also a thief.

My mother wanted to know how I came to be wet, and so I told her of my shame and humiliations, and she remarked that she supposed a young man could choose whichever girl he preferred. But it wasn’t about the young man. It was about the unkindness. I would do the same, my mother assured me, though I may assure you that I would not have.

So this man indeed came to call, and seeing me dry and presentable, he approached to apologize for his laughter and then inquired about my new piece of work, and saw that my sister’s few stitches had not progressed. She complained to my mother that I was ruining her chances and spreading lies to turn her suitor against her, and I was thereafter relegated to the kitchen when he called. His interests were his own, not persuaded by me, and this you may ask him yourself.

In time as you know, yes, his affection turned to me, and I found much enjoyment in his company as we walked together about town.

My sister became dissatisfied with the part I had given her of what I found in the well. She wanted me to go down again, and I would not. She threw my thimble in for spite, and I told her she would have to go after it. She would not do it, and this time our mother came to my cause and told her she should. So I lowered her into the well, and I did pull her back! And I have the thimble to prove it. There was nothing but frogs down there anyway, she told me.

After that I can’t say with any certainty what happened to her. I was planning to marry, you see, and my mother, happy enough to go to much effort on behalf of my sister, would not do so for me, as she said I had stolen my sister’s chance. So I was on my own, grateful merely to have not been put out of the house. I did not see my sister. I did wonder after her, but determined she would not be seen as she did not wish me well.

Then we did notice her missing, my mother first of course. We all searched. We were all there.

And then someone went to the well. My wedding was delayed, of course, and it is only now that we are all gathered here, and this young man still beside me.

How this bone harp was made, I cannot account for, nor how this musician came to have it, a piece of my own dead sister. Yet, some part of what was left down there, some part of what I found in the well, caused this spell, and now we know what happened to her, and her own accounting of it.

But I did not push her into the well, and I did not leave her there, nor do I have any knowledge of how such things came to be. Now, you good folk, I tremble here as I say it, yet surrounded by you, now you must judge between us.

 

The Twa Sisters

Judge between the two sisters and give your verdict

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Someone Else’s Story

My latest short story appears in Enchanted Conversation this week!

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Sometimes she woke and didn’t know where she was, stuck in that strange space between dreaming and the rest of her life. The man beside her, wrapped in the rumpled sheets, would seem a stranger, and she would try to piece together just how she had ended up here and who he was. She would either fall back asleep, or struggle to wakefulness, and the familiar would settle over her again.

Day to day passed with little change, but she found she was more or less content. Her home was modest, but clean and orderly. The garden plot was neat, and the animals well cared for. She had a good life. In the distance, on a clear day, she could sometimes see the parapets of the castle, the colored flags unfurled in the wind on their narrow stilts. Sometimes, unaccountably, the sight of them would leave her feeling melancholy, and she would sit inside at her spinning wheel, instead of outside enjoying the good weather.

Strange sensations, like memory, would sometimes come over her when she sat spinning. A room, empty, but for a wheel, and piles of flax. A door barred, walls bare, and only a narrow window, high up, so she could see nothing through it but a sliver of blue sky. The skin of her hands was dry from working the fibrous material. And she despaired of escape.

The man, her husband, knew about nature and humors and the elements that made the world. It was a point of pride for him, but she only felt disgust at the work. Confused, she called it piety. There were some things that it was not for man to know, that were not to be meddled with, she reasoned. It brought in coin, though. They were not wealthy, but they had enough. He reminded her of this, to know her place, that she was no grander than he, and that his work had saved her life.

Yes, that. She did not remember that. Or rather she did, but it was more like a story she had been told than something she truly recalled. Pricking her finger, the infection that followed, a delirious fever, the herbal remedies that cured her. It was all so long ago now. The skin opened up, there must have been blood, and she imagined the long, narrow spindle, stretching up like a stilt overhead as she collapsed to the floor, her dress rumpled beneath her. Yes, that must be what happened. Who had found her? Her father? No, he was long gone. Her mother? Her mother had sent her away… Something nagged at her. Her mother had sent her away. She felt anger at this, mingled with despair.

 

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Travelers’ Sickness

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Susannah wasn’t herself anymore. She wanted blood, and the blood soup and the raw meat dishes she’d been satisfied with until recently would no longer sustain her. She had come to this place for a change. She needed a break, to get away. She thought she would reconnect with the rituals of her childhood, and make a sort of pilgrimage to the many temples in the area.

On her journey through the country to visit temples, old and new, she encountered others who were not on any pilgrimage. They were loud and self-involved, and disrespectful of the places and traditions, and they left things a mess. She took an extra breath and a moment to extend compassion toward them, but still she was angry.

A week in, her stomach ached. The pharmacist told her it was traveler’s sickness, and gave her some tablets to take. She didn’t improve though, and it seemed to spread from her stomach to the rest of her insides. Everything felt tight and confined, and sharp stabbing pains prickled down her sides. Then her neck began to hurt. The pain was sharp and went down either side of her spine, between her shoulder blades into the very root of her neck. She took her tablets and lay in her room, unable to turn her head without pain. Traveler’s sickness, the stress of everything was just catching up to her. She would take her tablets and rest.

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Happy Short Story Month!

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Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

May is Short Story Month!

I remember the first time I discovered Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber in the stacks of my university library while I was supposed to be studying or researching for some paper. I found it both compelling and disturbing, and so much more valuable as a narrative than the sanitized childhood versions I was familiar with. I think it was about that same time that I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, the chilling turn of which still stays with me.

I recently read Norse Mythology, also by Gaiman, which is a sort of short story collection, and am now working my way through Beyond the Woods, edited by Paula Guran.

Short stories are like finding yourself in a chocolatier with a tray of samples laid out. You can try all the varieties and find your favorites, without it costing anything! Done well, short stories captivate and delight, and linger, even changing the way you think about things, without demanding too much in return. Five, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, and a world of wonder can open out in front of you, a break in routine, a respite from work stresses or unfinished housework.

Some of my favorite recent reads are:

Memories of Monsters – Mari Ness

Red as Blood and White as Bone – Theodora Goss

Them Boys – Nora Anthony

And of course you can find so many wonderful new stories on Enchanted Conversation!

Not long ago – maybe a year or three now – I found a mysterious tale about a young slave who escaped, and was captured again, and then turned over by her merciless master to a temple that he determined would do worse to her than he could. So she lived there, fearful at first, but then came to understand her fellow nuns who offered the sacrifice of their pain to their god, in physical injuries that could never heal. Eventually, she moves from acolyte to devotee, each pain bringing her clarity and insight, as each of life’s challenges and traumas may do for any of us.

I thought it was a beautiful story, well written and compelling, and I favorited the link. But somehow it was lost. So now I am searching for that story again. If you know it, please send it to me!

Happy reading!

 

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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.