My parents’ farm has shrunk, as old things tend to do. The shed, the workshop, the paddock with its doubled wire fences and chicken coop—all squat and rain-blackened, coming into focus as I step from the car as if I have put on glasses or wiped rain from a window. The house itself stands straight-spined beyond the pear tree, gray in the drizzle, more withdrawn than the last time I visited. The tree has not changed.
I never met my father, the sea monster, but my mother told me about him: eight raging tentacles that felt, when she stroked them, like finest silk, the deep calm ocean blue of him, the round eyes that revealed secrets in their reflections. The first time she looked into them, she saw an image of herself in her future, and she was kind and full of joy. They met on a dating app. There weren’t that many options. | Copyright 2020 by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.
Isabelle Winters once saw a fairy. For real. It was little, like a hummingbird, with a hummingbird’s frantic wings, and it was moving through the garden, shaking the rosebuds open for the bees. She’s just told this to Polly, though not exactly in those words. The sarcastic for real, for instance, is all Polly. If there was ever a girl primed to see fairies, Isabelle Winters is that girl.
In compiling a guidebook to the Eighth Continent, it’s been a common observation by our writers that all travel involves a painful amount of waiting. There’s the time spent waiting for a taxi to arrive, the time wasted waiting in line at the airport, and a seemingly endless amount of hours waiting in concourses and bus terminals, train stations and hotel lobbies.
Moses is not dreaming. She is remembering. She is twelve, standing drenched on the blacktop, all heaving, nervous breaths and frustrated tears blending with the rain. The air around her begins to pulse. She should have been home by now. A dozen things need doing before her mother gets home, and her little sister stands on the sidewalk, fidgeting beneath a plastic umbrella.
One day, long ago, a fierce storm scattered the royal hunting party. The prince, his best huntsman, twelve of his great lords and all their attendants, men and dogs and horses charged every which way, vanishing down one path and another until the prince and his best huntsman, whose name was Jack, were left alone, on foot, at the gates of a strange castle. “I didn’t know there was a castle here,” the prince said.
The Bone-Stag walks at midwinter, sharp-antlered, hard-hoofed. Deep white snow spreads under deep black sky. Cold air slices lungs; rivers stand as stone. Over cresting drifts comes the Bone-Stag, leaving no mark of his passing. Down in the village, they draw their curtains fast against him. They bolt tight their doors. Garlic at the lintels and holly upon the sills.
The chime above my shop door rings. It heralds a young woman wearing a head wrap boasting a network of silvery constellations on indigo, interspersed with the occasional yellow-gold moon. The wrap itself is made of silk—not the finest grade, mind you, but sufficient to conceal what she must see as a fault. None of her hair is visible, but the contorted celestial bodies show the fabric is at the end of its tether.
You don’t know about me, unless you read that fine and fancy text, the one called “A Siege of Cranes, or Reports of the Journey of the Human Peasant Marish-of-Ilmak-Dale and the Keeper Envoy Kadath-Naan, and Their Encounter with the So-Named White Witch, Agent of Unmaking and Despair, and Metaphysical and Xenobiological Observations Thereto.” But that’s all right. That text was written by the Djinni Az Yeshedurran Ra’avar Lakash, who tried to tell the truth, I guess.
Eyes half closed, I see the dark of daddy’s pants. My bedroom door swings open. Light rips into my room, then disappears. I am alone now. Daddy’s footsteps get softer and softer. I can’t relax ’til I can’t hear him no more. I turn my face to the wall. My neck is sore, but that’s better than it being broke. My breath goes from fast to slow. Then I start to notice other things. Like the moon glowing outside my window. My leg shaking so hard I can’t stop it. My fists clenched tight.