the mother Medusa

I am Gorgon. I spelled and cast all through my pregnancy to keep my daughter from my curse. This endless loneliness. The complications of her conception. She was born, whole, uncursed, her head of hair a joy.

I locked her in a spell of blindness for her childhood to keep her safe. There are those who thought me cruel. Perhaps not cruel, but selfish. For twelve years I had the daughter I always wanted, the cuddles, that precious breath of unconditional love.

When she first bled the spell unraveled. She knew it would happen. She gained her sight but lost sight of me. I hid in my shame and my snakes and she was safe. I loved her from afar. We sent each other messages and letters filled with love.

But I did not wish to miss her wedding. I had a tinker make a glass of mercury and silver, a strange alchemy of reflection. I saw her wed her love, aglow with life and promise, everything I wished for her.

I lowered the mirror, foolish and sorry for myself, and brought it up too fast, catching a glimpse of my own unfamiliar face.

And turned to stone.

I did not know my victims were still conscious, screaming from their mortared prisons. The mirror dropped, shattering on the ground, one last reflection of her smile, before it turned to screams.

Now, I sit, a decoration in her garden. The first time she’s seen me, I suppose. I watch over her and my grandchildren. One of them born with snakes of her own…

woman statue with bird bath
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fragile things and bubble wrap

“I am Sifa of the Fabled Sidhe, goddess of fragile things. I have been sent to protect you.” The woman tore a strip from a roll of bubble wrap she held in her hands.

My heart fluttered. Should I run?

“Stay still. I won’t hurt you.” Her bright eyes reassured me.

She reached into my chest and pulled out my heart.

“Whump whump,” it said. “Whump whump.”

“I know,” she said, her voice reassuring. “There, there.”

I stared. My heart was an ugly purple and smelled of uncooked meat.

“Would you mind?” Sifa asked, lifting my heart.

I held my heart for her as she wrapped it in plastic bubbles.

“Whump whump,” it apologized.

“I forgive you,” I told my heart.

“Whump whump.”

The plastic crinkled as Sifa stuffed my heart back into my chest. “There. You should be good.”

I straightened up, a tickle in my chest.

“How does it feel?” she asked me.

“Whump whump,” I said, giddy as a child.

“Good.” She draped the last of the bubble wrap round her face like a veil, winked once, and disappeared.

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talisman of flight

The phoenix flew, disappearing into the azure skies forever. The sun glistened off his human lover’s fallen tears as waves crept up to steal them. He left her a feather, a talisman of flight. Angry, hurt, and unwilling to forgive him, she left it there.

The waves knew not to touch it.

The rocks held back. The sand shivered and lay still, hoping it wouldn’t be noticed.

A child toddled along, craving seaside treasure. Seeing the feather she grasped it and up and up she flew, soaring over islands, bays, and oceans, till she landed by the phoenix’s side.

The phoenix wondered what this could mean. Why had his human love sent a child in her stead? Could it be … his? But nay, such things aren’t possible. Are they?

“Bird,” said the child. “Fire.”

The phoenix nodded and sent the child home with fire. A fool’s gift to one too young to fear it.

Her village burned, till the waves came up and doused it, gathering the child and pulling her into the sea. Fascinated by the sky it could smell on her skin.

There it kept her, safe from flames. She walked the seabed a smouldering ember, her head above water. Not sky, not sea, not earth, not flame.

Not happy.

The embers of her skin cracked as she grew, dividing into plates. Toughening with endless callouses and turning green with algae. Her eyes brightened with inner flame and her pupils lengthened into slits. Webbing grew beneath her arms as the talisman of flight twisted them to wings.

She flapped the wings and left the sea, fire roiling in her belly. The dragon soared across the sky. She left the talisman behind, free.

Frightened waves hurried the feather to shore and dared not touch it again.

The rocks held back. The sand shivered and lay still, hoping it wouldn’t be noticed.

A child toddled along, looking for seaside treasure.

tales of moth and shadow

A moth fluttered against Levi’s bedroom window. He knew it was a Polyphemus moth because he’d seen it there the night before, drinking in the moonlight. It intrigued him enough that he looked it up in one of his great-aunt’s natural history books.

Old people had books like that, Levi noticed. All of his books were digital, but he liked the feel of pages turning, the sensation of hunting for information. His dad would have looked it up on some app if he was around. Great-aunt Eliza didn’t have a smart phone. She … no, they lived without them.

They’d called her on a landline to give her the news of his family’s demise, and she’d trundled out to get him in an ancient pickup truck more rust than metal.

Levi didn’t know his life anymore. He didn’t know his house, his bedroom, his school, or even his great-aunt. He wished he’d died with his family. His grief demanded it.

The moth fluttered again, a faint tapping of wings against the glass. Worried it might hurt itself, Levi opened the window. The moth flew in.

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It settled on his desk, staring at Levi, or so he supposed. Its fuzzy, orange body loomed like a lion’s mane around the moth’s small face, from which erupted two long, feathered antennae. Tan wings stretched to ragged tips, slowly shifting up and down while owlish eyespots winked in the evening light.

“What are you doing here, Mr. Polyphemus?” Levi flicked on the desk lamp to get a better look at the moth. Light spilled off the desk onto the floor. Shadows fled into their corners, whimpering. Levi paid them little heed.

One shadow reached out across the floor from underneath the dresser. It slithered along the floorboards, defying the physics of shadows. The farthest tendril of this shadow almost touched Levi’s foot, but he sat down on the bed and drew his feet up at the last moment.

The Polyphemus moth shifted to face the shadow.

“What is it?” Levi asked.

The moth didn’t answer. Moths don’t talk.

Levi leaned forward, catching a glimpse of the shadow reaching out from beneath the dresser. He froze. Something about that shadow set his spine alive with shivers and thickened his blood to slush.

Levi leaned back, willing his eyes away from the thing. He fixed them on the moth instead, which now stood perched, wings up and ready to fly, antennae waving. It stepped forward to the edge of the desk.

The shadow moved from beneath the dresser and oozed up the wall across from Levi. The light of the desk lamp had no effect upon this shadow. He watched with fascinated horror as it convulsed and shaped itself into his mother. She beckoned to Levi before morphing into his father and finally into his little sister.

He blanched in the light of the desk lamp as their resurrected ghosts writhed before him, cold, altered, and somehow not quite them.

The shadow turned into the car that shattered them to pieces and left Levi an orphan, living with his great-aunt and a landline and weird books about moths. It played out the scene before his eyes as his fists clenched at the quilt his great-aunt said she’d sewn by hand.

Levi caught his breath as the shadow took his own shape. The shape of a boy who wished he had died with his family. The shadow had come for him, he realized, come to grant his wish for death. Come to make him a shadow ghost like them.

For the first time, Levi felt afraid of dying.

He didn’t want his body burnt up in a crematorium while his great-aunt wept over him. He wanted to live, even if he had to live a different life than the one he’d expected, the one he’d planned. He had an aunt with a heart good enough to take him in and offer him what love she had to give. He could try this life. It might not be so bad.

“I want to live,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper.

The Polyphemus moth nodded once and leapt from the desk. Its wings fluttered fast enough to blur as it flew straight into the shadow of death.

The moth tangled the shadow in its tiny, barbed feet, drawing it further into the light. It began to shred the shadow, slow and methodical, between its feet. The shadow shriveled, writhing about the moth, but did little more than flick a bit of dust from the moth’s wings.

They twisted together in the air, the shadow growing smaller as the moth tore it into trifling fragments. The fragments wafted to the floor like ash and disappeared.

Levi watched with wonder as the moth finished up the last of the shadow and fell to the floor. The eyespots on its wings winked once and grew still.

Levi cupped the moth in his hands, unsure of why it saved him, why it came to help him, or how it knew.

For two days he left the Polyphemus moth atop his desk, hoping it would move or come to life again. He didn’t know how to check a moth’s pulse.

On the third day, Great-aunt Eliza gave him an old jar to preserve it in. She confessed to him she’d kept butterflies this way when she was young.

Levi placed the moth inside with care and screwed on the lid. He kept it by his bed, and never failed to say “Goodnight, Mr. Polyphemus,” before he shut the light and returned the room to shadows.

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story’s end

“How do you know when a story is finished, mum?”

I take a deep breath. “That’s a loaded question, pumpkin. Every writer has a different way of knowing, and I can only tell you my way.”

She looks frustrated. “But how do you know?”

“I know a story is done when I can read it out loud without tripping over any lines or feeling self-conscious.”

She stares at me, a perplexed look on her face. I struggle to explain myself. “It might sound simple, but it takes a lot of work to get there. First I revise it a few times on paper, then I start reading it out loud, pen in hand to mark the spots that need work. Sometimes I’ve gotten my plot tangled in my first revisions, so I have to do undo all of that.”

She continues to stare, the furrow in her brow growing deeper.

I start to sweat. “Sometimes I’m so embarrassed I want to burn it, so I put it away for the rest of the day. By the next morning I’m ready to tackle the broken spots and sculpt my story into what I want it to be.”

I chuckle. “These days this involves pen, paper, and a clipboard resting on the baby’s bottom while she contentedly suckles. When I’m done I’ll feel happy and exhilarated.”

“Exhilarated?”

“That means happy and alive. When I wake up the next day, I might read it again and realize how much work is left. One day I’ll read it and everything will fall into place, a story that flows as smooth as the baby’s bottom it was edited on, and then, at last, I’ll know it is done. At least until my critique group tells me otherwise, but that’s another thing altogether.”

She shakes her head. “No, mum, I mean, how do you know when its finished?”

I stare, drawing a blank. “I don’t understand.”

She stamps her foot. “How do you know when to stop reading?”

“Oh.”

She waits.

“Well, it usually says ‘the end’.”

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writer at work, baby’s bottom not shown

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the story hunter

020

The story hunter hadn’t been to this area of the wood for months. The stories had flourished in the absence of their predator. If he stopped moving, and held his breath, he could hear the plot lines rumbling in the soil. Now and then a piece of dialogue slipped through, filling the forest with possibilities.

He heard dragons, and fairies, and the slumbering sounds of bedtime stories. It had been far too long since he’d heard such stories. He put his trap away and left the way he came. Best to leave this place for now, and give the stories a chance to mature.

wonders of a tattered old leaf

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She fell from her branch and faded to gold from the forgotten bits of sunshine she’d eaten once upon a tree. Insects came and chewed at her flesh, styling her into a delicate filigree for the finest of fairies to wear to their moonlit balls and midnight masquerades. The day came when she was forgotten in the grass, and a little girl found her and pressed her in a book, little suspecting the wonders the tattered old leaf had seen.