CdF

Oct 272011
 

Dressed in Black (detail) © Adam OehlersDo you want the good news first or the bad? The good news has everything to do with the image you see to your left, but I always would rather the bad news come first, so let’s get that out of the way. The 14th issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest (the one that was supposed to come out in September!) has been postponed until November. This delay is due to a number of factors that should not affect our future issues, so please bear with us until we get ourselves back on schedule. Now, the good news!

Dressed in Black © Adam Oehlers

The above image is from our forthcoming special CdF chapbook, Cinderella Jump-Rope Rhymes, and is by the remarkably talented Adam Oehlers. Adam is an illustrator, a sculptor and has several titles available including the recently released Dear Little Emmie, a “wordless story told only through illustrations”. Cinderella Jump-Rope Rhymes is a fund-raising project, and we can’t thank Adam enough for this wonderful image as well as the many more that will be found inside the book.

The rhymes themselves are by a collection of authors who responded to poet Erik Amundsen’s collection of initial rhymes, such as this one which you see illustrated above:

Cinderella dressed in black
killed all the robots
WITH HER BLAST ATTACK!

This will not only be a fund-raiser in support of CdF. While we do need funds to keep us going through the next few years, we also don’t need all that much. I decided at the very beginning of this project that half of the proceeds from the sale of this book would be donated to a charity of my choice. Contrary as I am, I have since chosen two charities, one in the US and one in the UK, both of which are concerned with the welfare of animals.

I’ll say no more about this chapbook now, but we do expect it to release within the next few months. We’ll share all of the details when it does.

The other good news is that I’ve seen the TOC for the next issue of Demeter’s Spicebox and the stories are a wonderful continuation of the experiment begun with Issue 1. Nin has done a brilliant job of choosing stories that reflect the beautiful diversity of cultures and countries in which fairy tales are found, and we salute those authors who have taken us up on the challenge of layered, hyper-textual storytelling. Where will those chappals and that teapot appear next?

See you in November!

Erzebet

 Posted by at 1:49 pm

Rapunzel’s Daughters – review

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Jul 192011
 

Rapunzel’s Daughters
Edited by Josie Brown, Rose Mambert and Bill Raciot
Pink Narcissus Press (July 1, 2011)
Reviewed by Valentina Cano

Rapunzel's DaughtersThis collection is a wonderful mixture of the magical, the bizarre, and the haunting flavor of the fairy tales we’ve all been raised on, with a healthy dose of the grown-up world. All of these stories deserve to be read and to be savored with the giddiness of childish abandon.

The stories vary from the humorous “The Froggy Prince”, which details the difficulties of finding the right enchanted prince to marry, to the frightening “Snovhit”, which describes what could have happened after Snow White rose from the dead. There are a blend of voices, all unique and all refreshing, with endlessly creative ways of retelling the known fairy tales. It is especially interesting to see the difference between authors’ takes on the same story, such as “A Wolf’s Guide to the Fairy Tale” by Dave Sellars, and “The Wolf in Standard Ration Clothing” by Michael Takeda, both takes on the Little Red Riding Hood tale. Just to see the differences in these is worth getting your hands on this book.

Two stories that stood out from the collection were “The Seven Swan Brothers” by Anne Waldron Neumann and “Come, come Blackbird” by Heather Fowler. The original tale “Seven Ravens” is dark enough, but the retelling captures that depression and enhances it. There is such hopelessness to the story that really strikes the reader and lingers even after the last word. “Come, come Blackbird” by Heather Fowler is the only original tale in the collection, and it is a beautifully told story of lost love and misunderstood magic. There’s a darkness to it that makes it a fitting conclusion to this collection.

This is a wonderful book, one that should be on the shelves of every person that still hopes to encounter a kissable frog on a lily pad somewhere.

 Posted by at 8:03 am

The Jack Daniels Sessions EP – review

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Jul 152011
 

The Jack Daniels Sessions EP
by Elwin Cotman
Six Gallery Press, 2010 (Second Printing)
Reviewed by Erzebet YellowBoy

The Jack Daniels Sessions EP by Elwin CotmanWhat does one do with a book like this? Read it, obviously, and if you could have seen me as I read it–eyes widening, jaw dropping, hair standing on end–you would probably have laughed. This is not always a comfortable book to read, but it is a magnificent one. The Jack Daniels Sessions EP: A Collection of Fantasies is comprised of short stories and vignettes that flow into one another like the Mississippi rushes over the Delta. Elwin Cotman is a writer, an activist, a performance artist and above all, an impeccable storyteller.

The books opens with a creation story: in a filthy punk club in Washington D.C., a Dominican girl named Ingrid shreds her guitar–an instrument whose strings hold the memories of the great wyrms that once ruled the human world. An instrument she stole from one of the wyrms when she found them squatting on their mountain of treasure–

“The bastards thought they had a right to all this just because they could breathe fire and shit?”

A great battle had ensued between the wyrms of sunrise and sunset, until finally only three of the beasts remained. Three wyrms of greed and anger, who did not perish in the great age of ice, took human shape and lived on as skinheads. That’s right, skinheads. And when they see Ingrid at the club with their guitar, you can almost guess what happens. Almost–but not quite. I won’t spoil it for you.

There is no such thing as a table of contents; we are thrown into story after story beginning with page 5 until, on page 148, we find ourselves at the breathtaking end. The second story, When the Law Come, takes us into the American south, the deep south, an unreal but all too real south, where we set a spell and listen to many small tales about “that ole gen’ral stow”. You know, the one that got burnt to the ground.

“The law came to Mister Cousins’ gen’ral stow like a whisper through the wheat. Most folk slept quietly in they beds as it snuck cross the cornfields and stole up to that li’l shack that sat halfway between Birmin’ham and the land o’ shadows.”

Written in Black Southern Dialect, When the Law Come is a mixture of folklore, fantasy and truth germinating from a region of the United States that is too often overlooked. If I had to choose a favorite section of the book, this would be it. Sadly, the one page given to the vignette “The Law Comes to Mister Cousins’ General Store”, quoted from above, ends mid-sentence, and I don’t think that was intentional. The following page begins with a new vignette, “The Right Way to Worship”, in which we meet Jim, an employee of the General Store who had “wukked there a hunnerd years.” Jim wasn’t born, he simply appeared there one day in a splash of fire. This is no surprise when one considers the store’s customers: harpies, the Fates, a bone-rattling witch, Beelzebub and Remus, who had just escaped from Hell for the second time.

Not all of the stories are like this. We also have “Dead Teenagers”, a modern and rather raunchy coming-of-age tale, and finally, the book closes with a short novella called “Assistant”, which begins in Bogota, Mississippi, in 1920.

With raw and sometimes shocking authenticity, Cotman turns the ordinary into the sublime. There is no pretension here, just a million-watt light shining into corners of the human condition that many people would prefer forgotten, with a large helping of fantastic creatures, classical myth, and modern mayhem. I am reminded of the early blues recordings as I read this: Bessie Smith, Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, their voices scratching out from old vinyl, mournful and deep in one moment, joyous and sharp in another, but always, always full of soul.

 Posted by at 12:22 pm

Kate Crackernuts: The Hen-Wife and her Cauldron of Wisdom

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Jul 122011
 

Kate Crackernuts: The Hen-Wife and her Cauldron of Wisdom
by Colleen Szabo

Illustration from English Fairy Tales, 1890.This tale is a wisdom tale featuring the old symbol of creativity and wisdom, the nut. We still use the term “nut” to denote the head, one location commonly assigned for wisdom; in fact, nuts are sort of like brains in a skull (shell). I suppose in the days when trees were worshipped in Europe, a great power of creativity was known to be held within the nut, an ethereal power akin to that which we think of as soul, when speaking of humans. Though trees bestow tremendous and seemingly endless gifts on humankind, their fruits are one of the more symbolic. Nuts differ from most fruits in a few ways. One is that the seed itself is eaten. The seed is a little package of mysterious creative power, containing an unmanifested being, a tree, hidden within. Just so are we; our full creative potential lies, deep and mysterious, in our souls. Though my culture and its language tend to separate wisdom and creative power, the ancestral wisdom knows they cannot be separated. That is the reason creative expression such as singing, writing, and drawing aid personal development and healing; creative expression, healing, and wisdom are all interwoven in human destinies. We are healed by wisdom. Indeed, we can envision our wounds, our need for healing, as spurs to further self-knowledge, to creating the life we were meant to inhabit.

Once upon a time, there was a king and a queen, as there would have been in many lands. The king had a daughter, Anne, and the queen had one named Kate, but Anne was far bonnier than the queen’s daughter, though they loved one another like real sisters. The queen was jealous of the king’s daughter being bonnier than her own, and cast about to spoil her beauty. So she took counsel of the hen-wife, who told her to send the lassie to her next morning fasting.

So next morning early, the queen said to Anne, “Go, my dear, to the hen-wife in the glen, and ask her for some eggs.” So Anne set out, but as she passed through the kitchen she saw a crust, and she took and munched it as she went along.

When she came to the hen-wife’s, she asked for eggs, as she had been told to do; the hen-wife said to her, “Lift the lid off that pot there and see.” The lassie did so, but nothing happened. “Go home to your minnie and tell her to keep her larder door better locked,” said the hen-wife. So she went home to the queen and told her what the hen-wife had said. The queen knew from this that the lassie had had something to eat, so she watched the next morning and sent her away fasting; but the princess saw some country-folk picking peas by the roadside, and being very kind, she spoke to them and took a handful of the peas, which she ate by the way.

When she came to the hen-wife’s, the hen-wife said, “Lift the lid off the pot and you’ll see.” So Anne lifted the lid, but nothing happened. Then the hen-wife was angry and she said to Anne, “Tell your minnie the pot won’t boil if the fire’s away.” So Anne went home and told the queen.

The third day the queen goes along with the girl herself to the hen-wife. Now, this time, when Anne lifted the lid off the pot, off falls her own pretty head, and up jumps a sheep’s head. So the queen was now quite satisfied, and went back home.

Her own daughter, Kate, however, took a fine linen cloth and wrapped it round her sister’s head and took her by the hand and they both went out to seek their fortune. They went on, and they went on, and they went on, till they came to a castle. Kate knocked at the door and asked for a night’s lodging for herself and a sick sister. They went in and found out it was the king’s castle, who had two sons, and one of them was sickening away to death and no one could find out what ailed him. And the curious thing was that whoever watched him at night was never seen any more. So the king had offered a peck of silver to anyone who would stop up with him. Now Kate was a very brave girl, so she offered to sit up with him.

Till midnight all went well. As twelve o’clock rang, however, the sick prince rose, dressed himself, and slipped downstairs. Kate followed, but he didn’t seem to notice her. The prince went to the stable, saddled his horse, called his hound, jumped into the saddle, and Kate leaped lightly up behind him. Away rode the prince and Kate through the greenwood, Kate, as they pass, plucking nuts from the trees and filling her apron with them. They rode on and on till they came to a green hill. The prince here drew bridle and spoke, “Open, open, green hill, and let the young prince in with his horse and his hound,” and Kate added, “and his lady behind him.”

Immediately the green hill opened, and they passed in. The prince entered a magnificent hall, brightly lighted up, and many beautiful fairies surrounded the prince and led him off to the dance. Meanwhile, Kate, without being noticed, hid herself behind the door. There she saw the prince dancing, and dancing, and dancing, till he could dance no longer and fell upon a couch. Then the fairies would fan him till he could rise again and go on dancing.

At last the cock crew, and the prince made all haste to get on horseback; Kate jumped up behind and home they rode. When the morning sun rose, they came in and found Kate sitting by the fire and cracking her nuts. Kate said the prince had a good night; but she would not sit up another night unless she was to get a peck of gold. The second night passed as the first had done. The prince got up at midnight and rode away to the green hill and the fairy ball, and Kate went with him, gathering nuts as they rode through the forest. This time she did not watch the prince, for she knew he would dance, and dance, and dance. But she saw a fairy baby playing with a wand, and overhead one of the fairies say: “Three strokes of that wand will make Kate’s sister as bonnie as ever she was.” So Kate rolled nuts to the fairy baby, and rolled nuts till the baby toddled after the nuts and let fall the wand, and Kate took it up and put it in her apron. And at cockcrow, they rode home as before, and the moment Kate got to her room she rushed and touched Anne three times with the wand, and the nasty sheep’s head fell off and she was her own pretty self again. The third night Kate consented to watch, only if she could marry the sick prince. All went on as on the first two nights. This time the fairy baby was playing with a birdie; Kate heard one of the fairies say, “Three bites of that birdie would make the sick prince as well as ever he was.” Kate rolled all the nuts she had to the fairy baby till the birdie was dropped, and Kate put it in her apron.

At cockcrow they set off again, but instead of cracking her nuts as she used to do, this time Kate plucked the feathers off and cooked the birdie. Soon there arose a very savory smell. “Oh!” said the sick prince, “I wish I had a bite of that birdie,” so Kate gave him a bite of the birdie, and he rose up on his elbow. By and by he cried out again: “Oh! If I had another bite of that birdie!” so Kate gave him another bite, and he sat up on his bed. Then he said again: “Oh! If I had but a third bite of that birdie!” So Kate gave him a third bite, and he rose hale and strong, dressed himself, and sat down by the fire, and when folk came in next morning they found Kate and the young prince cracking nuts together. Meanwhile his brother had seen Anne and fallen in love with her, as everybody did who saw her sweet face. So the sick son married the well sister, and the well son married the sick sister, and they all lived happy and died happy, and never drank out of a dry cappy.

My interpretation here is in the archetypal style, gleaned from Jungian theory. Therefore, all characters represent inner figures we are all prone to interacting with in the psyche, though the characters often manifest in our external lives as well. Kate and Anne represent our double-sidedness; we all have the potential to become both sheep-like, and bold seekers after healing. This wisdom tale features, as many do, wounding and illness. One prince is sick; one princess is wounded, dismembered. Indeed, the wounding (or sickness) is the setup, or spur, as above. Just as is the case for many of us, Anne’s wound is inflicted by the previous generation somehow. That is our Fate, as the ancients knew; we come to this place to overcome circumstance, to, as Kate does, find the deeper meaning , to crack the nuts of our conditioning and find that “aha!” of compassionate wisdom within. And this story begins with a common enough wound, especially in my culture; the wound of envy, result of competition. The parent, in this case the mother, transmits her competitive pride as she lives vicariously through her beautiful child, though Kate (and Anne) could just as well have been an accomplished, well-behaved, or gifted child. The parent can also represent dominant culture; were Kate/Anne an orphan, she could still pick up, with no problem whatsoever, the habit of behaving in response to competitive conditioning patterns. Like many European fairy tales, the most envy-rousing attribute for females is physical beauty, reflecting a bald fact about human experience which feminists often raise hue and cry about, that fact being: humans almost always prize physical beauty. Using beauty as a metaphor for gifts in general also has the advantage of referring to Fate, to something that was given us at birth, which we must then figure out, puzzle over, as Kate does. We are meant to take both our gifts and our wounds as grist for the mill of transformation.

The story is asking us as audience to admit, not only to our very human, innate love of beauty, but also to our competitive envy, what it does to us, and how to go beyond that, where its hold does not determine our life experience. Getting beyond it is wisdom. By the time we are of marriageable age, most of us have internalized this archetype of the competitive mother queen (who can also be expressed in one’s family by the father), and she rules some aspect of our lives. Anne, the most beautiful, takes the brunt of the queen’s envy; likewise, folks who are obviously gifted, who shine most brightly, are often set up to experience this dynamic of competition, of trying to maintain the high seat of perfection, most strongly. However, this is all good; the queen’s jealousy, once internalized, will drive us to enter initiation, will drive our transformation. In order to develop, to mature, we need something to push against, some nut-puzzle to crack.

The sacred nature of Anne’s wound (symbolized by the loss of her head) is explicated by its occurring during an alchemical process (cooking), and using the sacred number of three tries. I love the hen-wife in this tale, a combination of the old bird goddesses and the figure we now call “witch”; a crone or wise woman who knows of the inner life, of natural processes and developments, of all their alchemical magic. She is also a keeper of knowledge about a woman’s sexuality; the old tradition of a “hen’s night” is currently being revived. In that tradition, the night before a wedding, older and wiser hen-wives teach the wife-to-be about sexuality, including pregnancy, all of which falls within the overall category of creative power, of course. Whatever our creative genres might be, their products can always be symbolized by the metaphor of the child, including our creative efforts to renew and transform ourselves. The eggs which the queen sends Anne after represent the same, and are a universal symbol of creative power, birth, and renewal. Indeed, in the Jungian sense of interpretation, this hen-wife is, in a sense, one and the same with the instigating queen, just as the two sisters are collaborators.

The hen-wife asks for Anne to be sent on her errand fasting, meaning that she is to be in a state wherein she is not focused on, not fed by, the mundane, physical world, by egoic concerns. But Anne is not yet ready to follow the instruction of the queen/hen-wife. This undoubtedly is as it ought to be, for what she eats is bread, and a more thoroughly sacrilized food world-wide cannot be imagined. Bread’s rising is associated with pregnancy. The cyclical life and sacrificial death of grains was the domain of goddesses like the Greek Demeter, and her famous initiation mysteries at Eleusis. Specifically, Anne eats a crust, the outer layer of the bread; she is not ready for the inner journey that will unfold in the tale. In the hen-wife’s kitchen, Anne is told to “lift the pot and see”. The pot, or cauldron, is a ubiquitous tool of magical inner transformation. Symbolically, the fire of emotional passion (in this case, the desire to compete? Its resulting envy? Anger at serving as an extension of Mother?) is applied to Anne/Kate’s inner contents, and we will see what results. “Lifting the lid off the pot”, is a metaphor for self-examination and self-contemplation.

Since they cannot see anything happening in the pot, the hen-wife/queen orders Anne to repeat the process of searching for creative eggs while fasting. This time, Anne is distracted by “peas from the country-folk”. The pea as sexual symbol is widespread in Eastern Europe; I suppose the pea, like other seeds, and indeed hen’s eggs, is like a little zygote, a fertilized human egg. I visualize here the green pea, but in fact there are many kinds of peas. The story adds a crucial detail, though; the peas are from the country-folk. That would point to a specific poetry of peas and beans as the food of humble folk, who cannot afford to eat meat much, if at all. Anne is eating “humble-pie”, as it were, which is quite appropriate in a story that is telling us how to evolve from being tortured by the fires of competition. Eating the humble peas could represent a humbling experience, or the need for her to become more humble to get to the state where she can see truthfully into her “pot”. Certainly the coming loss of her beauty would be one such humbling experience, and one which will eventually come to every beautiful woman who lives beyond the bloom of youth.

Anne and the hen-wife look into her process again and still, nothing has changed. The hen-wife suggests more passion, more desire, more emotion is needed next; she says, “tell your minnie (momma) the pot won’t boil if the fire’s away.” That this instruction is directed to the mother implies that the emotion needed, the fire needed, is indeed supplied by the mother, and/or by the emotions instigated by relationship with the inner/outer mother. That the hen-wife is herself angry at this point emphasizes that particular emotion. Often, envy is experienced as anger. And in fact, the envious queen comes to the kitchen the next time, having accompanied Anne. As they all look into the pot of Anne’s inner process, they make a crucial discovery; in her head, in her thoughts, at least, she is like a sheep. The queen/hen-wife is satisfied; her work is done.

The next stage of the journey is up to Anne, or rather, another aspect of Anne, Kate. In alchemy, in Jungian psychology, healing, transcendence, and wisdom, is accomplished through the joining of opposites, and every human experience has its opposite. Humans are potentially whole, but, due to time and space constraints, can only manifest one side of any dualistic coin (such as competitiveness/humility) at a time; the “other side” of our experience becomes unconscious, going into shadow. Healing occurs when we can let go of always identifying with the one side (the “perfectly beautiful Anne” in this case), and embrace its opposite as well (the wiser Kate, who seeks to know herself, rather than accepting stereotypical roles). The sheep’s head clues us in to one specific way in which “beautiful Anne” is fated to manifest her wounding. She is easily led, and does not think for herself. She has lost her will power, too busy thinking about what other people think about her, perhaps, too focused on being pleasing to others, a common enough trap for women. She is the opposite of the resourceful Kate and all her brave initiative.

Kate knows what to do. She wraps a veil around Anne’s head; in olden times, this was a symbol of initiation, the gauze being like the cocoon within which the moth transforms, a kind of hiding from the world that is necessary to deep transformative processes. It is the fasting, the withdrawal from the world the hen-wife needed. Kate takes her now blinded sister’s hand, and they venture forth on their initiatory journey, as many siblings in myth and lore have done; Hansel and Gretel, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Castor and Pollux. Anne’s inner, previously unmanifested self will now take the lead.

They come to the castle of the inner Self, the archetypal world where lives their animus aspects, the inner male twin to each of their female selves. For most women, much of the various masculine animus aspects are naturally latent, or “shadow” material as Jung named it, in the psyche, and their masculine skills and love are not available in waking consciousness. Mirroring the girls, one of the animus brothers is said to be mysteriously sick. The father-animus, the king (who balances out the queen at the story’s beginning) offers silver (the precious alchemical metal of the Divine Feminine, of the moon, ruler of feeling/emotion) to anyone who can figure out what ails his son. Technically, it is for anyone who can manage to stay with him through the night, for the strange thing is that anyone who tries to stay with the prince through the night disappears. Within the psyche, the archetypally masculine ability to stay alert and judging is priceless to self-examination. Since it will turn out that Kate/Anne’s inner animus prince has a compulsion, or perhaps an addiction in modern terms, she must first figure out how to stay awake enough to observe her own behavior and its consequences. Observation is crucial, but tough, because compulsions serve to keep consciousness at bay, to keep us from feeling or knowing something about ourselves. Thus the situation in the castle when Anne and Kate arrive is one where the witness consciousness (the previous sitters/watchers) has always disappeared when the prince begins his compulsive nighttime behavior.

It turns out the king has found the right customer, for Kate stays up with the prince. Soon we find out that the prince is going to enter another world, where his other observers were lost. He leaves on the stroke of midnight, which is the “witching hour”, a time ruled by the silver moon, by the Otherworld, where it is easier to slip “beyond the veil”, where Anne, in fact, is. With the power to travel which the horse gives him, and the hound’s instinct for tracking, they take off through the forest. It may be worth noting that there is strong sexuality in this horse riding, presaging the inner, sacred marriage that almost always concludes such women’s tales.

As Kate speeds along behind, she’s observing, noticing; she plucks nuts from the trees and gathers them. She is finding kernels of truth about this prince’s dark, heretofore unknown world; what is the path to his compulsion like? They enter a magic green hill, a place, like a pregnant belly of Mother Earth or the cocooning veil which swathes Anne’s head, that can symbolize hope, freshness, renewal. Within is the prince’s “happy place”, where all is captivating beauty, as is the case in Anne/Kate’s topside world, where beauty is of utmost importance and magnificence. Kate observes, looks into this pot, seeing beautiful fairies lead the prince to a compulsive dance which goes on to the point of punishment.

This activity of the prince’s seems a clear depiction of addiction. Addiction is often described in fairy tales, such as the story of the red shoes that dances the wearer uncontrollably. This compulsion is the sad result of Anne’s lack of will power. The “sick” siblings are addicted to beauty; they are airy-fairy, escapist, superior, hurting themselves in the effort to remain “high”, lacking the grounding of the country-folk’s peas. In fact, whenever we strive to hang on desperately to any sort of ideal, we are in that fairy castle, and most of Euro-Western culture, the White culture surely, is dancing this envy-filled, perfectionistic dance of more and better, to the detriment of our health and the health of the kingdom. Eating disorders are an example.

Kate spends some time back at the castle cracking nuts, puzzling over the prince’s behavior, trying to find the truth and wisdom in it all. Next offer from the king is for gold, the masculine alchemical metal. And Kate does, indeed, earn or prove her mettle, a variation on the word “metal”. For, after another midnight, nut-gathering ride to the fairy hill, she doesn’t even watch, for she has already learned all she can about it, most importantly, that he cannot stop, and a few things about why that is, from all her nut-cracking. She has will power, another archetypally masculine power, and she’s about to get a tool that embodies that masculine will power, in the form of a wand.

Wands, in a manner like penises, are tools for making things happen in the world, for extending one’s inner will outside oneself into form, the masculine power aspect needed for creative manifestation. Kate already did lots of gathering and contemplating, going deep within, which are more archetypally feminine skills. Now she uses her feminine skill of listening to discover something from, of all things, a fairy baby. The baby represents something new in the psyche, the product of inner alchemical coniunctio, or marriage of the opposites. So the future product of this story’s inner marriage, the baby, is revealing how to effect its birth, creating a circle. The baby toddles after Kate’s nuts, releasing the wand. Here, the baby may also be a metaphor for the “Wise Fool”, the humble, non-egotistical one who has become so wise, that they reclaim the soul of innocence. The Wise Fool baby is a seeker of wisdom, preferring the nuts to the powerful wand. Also, the circle, or 0, is a symbol of the Fool.

The masculine wand and, assumedly, its quality of willpower, transforms Anne from a sheep to a woman again; her head returns and, not surprisingly, she speaks of marrying the prince when her feminine self is touched by this masculine energy. Another important masculine power is that of discrimination, a form of judgement, which can be obscured by just going along with what feels good. Certainly being praised, as Anne was for her beauty, feels good. But is it good for us in the long run to abstain from looking at the roots of such feelings, the “why” and the “how”, and the ultimate results of our behaviors and that of others? Does praise, for example, require us to follow others dumbly along, hoping for more? Or will we lift the lid of the pot, seek to find what lies beneath the grassy hill, thus developing wisdom in place of a conditioned relationship with beauty and competition, or with any other sicknesses we carry, are touched by in the world around us? The exploration of such questions informs our discrimination, our choice-making, a self-creative use for willpower.

The next night, Kate needs no reward; like the third time Anne went to see the hen-wife, she does this one without attachment to the physical, for this one’s going to be “the charm”. This time, she gives up all her nuts, for she will not need them any more. As happened the third time the pot lid was raised, the puzzle is solved, no more “tough nuts to crack”; the “goose” will soon be cooked. The bird goddess enters again, as the baby promises that a birdie, when consumed by the prince, will heal his illness.

This “birdie” is a bit perplexing. It is undoubtedly feminine, as the prince is going to have to be administered some sort of feminine “pill”, just as Anne needed to be healed by masculine acts, masculine energies, masculine knowing. Anne and the sick prince are both out of balance because they are lacking their opposites. The mere act of absorbing, as the prince does the birdie, is feminine in and of itself, taking something into the body. I wonder, was the birdie an old euphemism for female genitalia? Certainly English still carries a sexual reference in the raised middle finger gesture still called a “birdie.” Will the prince embody the egg which Anne was to fetch, once he holds a birdie within? Or is it Kate/Anne herself who is the birdie here, being stripped of her glorious feathers and transformed by the fire of initiation, while the animus prince absorbs her transformation with gusto? It is always good to leave some mystery in our interpretations, in order to welcome further experiences on the matter.

At any rate, the prince does seem to now be happily involved in the search for wisdom, as he joins his future wife, Kate, in cracking nuts by the alchemical fire, the same element which revealed Anne’s imbalance to her early on in the story. The marriages signal that this bit of transformation is over, initiated by the bird goddess/queen, and bird god/king (each return to the castle was at cockcrow) and their wisdom, symbolized by the nuts. The queen’s envy is transformed; the envious one is she who would prefer another’s fate, another’s life, to her own. The prince, who once languished in bed all day, only rising to escape his life into fairy land, is now happily engaged in the search for wisdom which his own life offers. The powers of the feminine moon and the masculine archetype of the sun have wedded in the form of the four young people, who are joined together in a new creative endeavor. When this happens within, the way in which we experience our lives is enriched; renewal brightens our path. We expand our embrace to include some new love and appreciation for self (within) and others (without) through understanding our motives, conditioning, history, ability to change and grow. And, like the prince, once we get a taste of this wisdom-weaving process, we will only want more, till we don’t cling to escapist, perfectionistic occupations, though they have their place in the balance. Instead, we want to stay close to the fire of transformation, cracking nuts of creative wisdom and consciousness with our animus- or with our anima, from a man’s perspective.


Colleen Szabo returned to school after raising kids in the boonies of northern New Mexico, finishing with an MA in transpersonal psychology. Retreating to the ancestral lands lakeside in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she is working on a manuscript for young adults, “the course I would teach at Hogwart’s”, and a book on spiritual emergency. Visit her website at colleenszabo.com


Kate Crackernuts version from The Annotated Classic Fairytales, edited by Maria Tatar.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm

The Drawing out the Dragons Project

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Jul 082011
 

Drawing Out The Dragons in printNot so long I wrote about a most important book, Drawing out the Dragons by James A. Owen. At the time of that writing, the book was only available in digital format. James is now trying to change that. In order to reach a wider audience, he is currently running a Kickstarter project to help fund the print edition. Why is it so important that we help him? Let me share with you some of James’ own words:

This book is, I feel, the most meaningful thing I’ve ever written. It’s the first in a series of three books that I hope will help change your life, and how you choose to live it.

In its pages, I talk about the things that I believe are most important in this life; about things I believe are true, and meaningful, and worth sharing.

I tell stories drawn from my own life: examples about overcoming obstacles and adversity; stories about how making choices in your life is like drawing a Dragon; vignettes about how I came to do what it is that I love most in the world for my job. But most importantly, I tell each and every reader that they can make the same kinds of choices that I did – and that I believe in them.

Sometimes, being told that is the thing that we need most in our lives. And I think it’s the most important thing that I can say to anyone: I believe in you.

The fundraising goal is $8,888.00, which seems like a lot, but stats indicate that 3000 people visit this site each month, and if every one of them supported this project with even one dollar, it would bring James much closer to his goal. And if he reaches that goal, Drawing out the Dragons will reach a wider audience, and more kids (and adults) will experience this treasure for themselves.

The project comes to a close on July 30, so please act now if you can. We at CdF thank you for whatever you can give to this worthy endeavor.

 Posted by at 7:02 am

The Lost Machine – review

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Jul 072011
 

The Lost Machine
Written and Illustrated by Richard A. Kirk
Radiolaria Studios, 2010
Reviewed by Erzebet YellowBoy

The Lost Machine by Richard A. KirkRichard A. Kirk’s The Lost Machine is a delightful yet dark tale about a man named Lumsden Moss who first appears in a prison cell, waking from a nightmare. We never learn exactly why the door to his cell is open that day; all we know is that the prison has fallen into chaos. Moss makes his escape and begins his quest to right the wrongs that put him there. With the help of an unexpected companion, Moss journeys through a world full of witches, bandits and ghosts in search of a mechanical boy — the AI who committed the murders for which Moss was convicted. It is the tension between Moss and Irridis, the mysterious character waiting for Moss outside the prison gates, that drives this story which is, at its core, one of redemption.

This is a novella, a mere 106 pages, and of those pages, five of them are illustrated with delicately drawn black and white images that highlight the strange nature of this story. Almost steampunk, certainly fantasy, and with traces of science fiction, Kirk marries his text and his art perfectly. Richard A. Kirk is firstly an artist, having illustrated works by Clive Barker, Caitlin R. Kiernan, China Mievielle and more. I suggest visiting his website, where you can see some of his work for yourself. This will give you a sense of The Lost Machine‘s aesthetic (and the opportunity to purchase the book for yourself). I highly recommend adding this one to your collection.

“Delicate” is a good word to describe this story; though there is horror, it is touched upon in such as way as to not horrify. Bad things happen to good men, unjust things are said about the just, and wrongdoers get what’s coming to them. Moss is rather an anti-hero, and Irridis remains mostly unknown. Both of them will win your favor, as will the characters they encounter as they follow the clues that lead them to the sight of the murders. The story draws to an end with a most surprising twist and a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.

I was impressed by the quiet way in which The Lost Machine drew me in–I hadn’t intended to read it in one setting, but all too quickly I was turning the last page, and feeling bereft that there wasn’t more. Fortunately, while The Lost Machine is a standalone novella, it is also part of Kirk’s “Necessary Monster Cycle”. According to his website, the second installment, The Red Lamprey, will be coming out this year. I am very much looking forward to being carried off into his fascinating wold again.

 Posted by at 11:34 am

Shamanic Initiations: A hidden Theme within the Fairy Tale of Hansel and Gretel

 Fairies and Fairy Tales  Comments Off on Shamanic Initiations: A hidden Theme within the Fairy Tale of Hansel and Gretel
Jul 052011
 

Shamanic Initiations: A hidden Theme within the Fairy Tale of Hansel and Gretel
by Franco Bejarano

Hansel and Gretel by Kay Nielsen

Hansel and Gretel by Kay Nielsen, 1924.

The fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” was first recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 around the southwestern corner of Germany. The tale features a brother and sister who, while lost in the forest, encounter a cannibalistic witch. At the end, Hansel and Gretel rise victorious. The tale actually belongs to a group of European tales popular in the Baltic regions about children outwitting ogres after they have fallen into their hands.[1] While the story is often regarded as symbolizing a rite of passage,[2] there are underlying elements that mimic the universal concept of shamanic initiations. To say that by defeating the witch one becomes a witch would be a paradox, especially in the genre of fairy tales that often demonizes witches. However, given the ambiguity attributed to folk tales and their controversial pagan origins (often suppressed by the Abrahamic religions), it is no surprise such elements are present.

The story tells that Hansel and Gretel were the children of a very poor woodcutter who could not afford much to eat. After an immense famine settles over the land, the woodcutter’s second wife, a cruel woman, convinces his husband to abandon the children in the middle of the woods in order to have fewer mouths to feed. Hansel and Gretel overhear their plans, and say God will help them. Next morning, they start collecting small white pebbles in order to form a trail that will lead them back home after they are abandoned in the forest. The siblings follow through with the plan and return home after being deserted. The stepmother orders her husband to desert his children in the middle of the forest once more so they will die. This time, the siblings form a trail out of bread crumbs, but when they decide to follow the trail back they find out the crumbs have been eaten by birds. After days of traveling, they follow a beautiful snow white bird and discover a cottage built of gingerbread and cakes with window panes of clear sugar. As they start eating the rooftop, the witch comes out and lures them inside. The next morning, Hansel is locked inside an iron cage and is fed regularly so he can become fat and be ready to be eaten. Meanwhile, Gretel is made a slave. This goes on for weeks, until the witch decides to eat both of them. As the witch demonstrates to Gretel how to check if the oven fire is hot enough to cook them in, Gretel pushes her in, burning her to death. Hansel and Gretel later return home to their father with the witch’s precious jewels, and find out their stepmother has died of an unknown illness. [3]

A shaman is an anthropological term for a trained and very often spiritually selected individual that is in touch with the spiritual and magical world, thus witches fall within the shamanic realm. In most shamanism-practicing cultures, before a person becomes a shaman he/she must be initiated, such as the Native American practice of vision quest, or the Aboriginal walkabout, where the adolescent must venture into the wild and into a spiritual journey. Joan Halifax, an American anthropologist who has researched spiritual experiences, describes these elements:

“In collecting and analyzing first-person narratives of shamans’ initiatory experiences, I have delineated some broad stages of the archetypal journey: (1) an experience of separation or isolation from society and culture; (2) an encounter with extreme mental and physical suffering, including experiences of being eaten or dismembered by local wildlife, or being burned, cooked, or afflicted with disease; (3) an encounter with death; (4) an experience of nature-transmission with creature, ancestor, spirit, god, or element; (5) a return to life, sometimes by way of the celestial realm with the World Tree or bird flight being featured; and (6) a return to society as healer.”[4]

Note should be taken that some of these aspects take place on the astral level – a subconscious and spiritual plane of existence.

The experience of isolation happens when the shaman-to-be “reaches a specific age, usually seven or older, and an older member of the shamanic society appears and begins their training;”[5] this is clearly illustrated in Hansel and Gretel’s abandonment in the forest, the place where wicked witches lurk. Their returning home by following the white pebbles after the first night might represent their desire to not continue with their initiation. It is only after the birds eat the second trail that they are forced to continue. It is said that a person destined to be a shaman does not need to seek to be initiated; the initiator will find them and they will be called.[6] This is depicted in the beautiful snow white bird that the children follow after wandering the woods, because “following an animal in a forest and being led to a confrontation with an evil being occurs in other tales. [Since] the bird represents salvation, joy, and peace through its color, […] the children are supposed to meet the witch with positive results. The encounter is for their good.”[7]

Then the psychic battle begins. With hallucinations created by exhaustion, a deep sense of enlightenment, or in the case of Peruvian Amazonian Shamans, the psychoactive effects of the Ayahuasca plant,[8] the initiate must fight another shaman or psychic entity.[9] As stated earlier, Joan Halifax described one of the stages of shamanic initiation as experiencing physical pain, often being chopped and cooked up. In the fairy tale, the witch fattens Hansel in order to eat him, while Gretel is made a slave, but then the witch decides to eat them both. Psychic experiences of initiates being cooked up by magical entities have been reported worldwide, from the Australian Aboriginals, to the Inuit people of the North Pole, and Siberia.[10] Documentation of such experiences in Europe appears among the Sicilian shamanic healers known as Ciarauli, the tales of the Hungarian Táltos, and the Kresnik of Istria and Slavonia, and in Inquisition records made during 1575 to 1647 about the Benandanti, a shamanic society in northern Italy.[11] This traumatizing experience allegedly occurs in order “to teach [the initiate] the art of shamanism”.[12]

In the fairy tale, the witch is simply trying to cook and eat the children. She is a cannibal, and probably depicted as so in order to demonize witches, but one must look at the underlying references. The witch’s attempt to cook the children is her attempt to initiate them into the craft, just like in shamanic initiation narratives, where one emerges as a shaman after being killed and cooked. Additionally, Gretel is fed nothing but crawfish and crab shells. Originating in ancient Mesopotamia, and working its way through Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the image of the shellfish has always been associated with the Moon, which is why the astrological sign of Caner is ruled by it.[13] Given the natural association of the Moon with witchcraft, Gretel’s shellfish diet is preparing her to fulfill the initiation. However, the siblings refuse. They refused first when they found their way back home the first night they were abandoned, when they refused to be eaten, and when Gretel pushed the witch into the fire; they refuse to be initiated, and become a witch just like her. They kill the witch, and she is the one that experiences death, not them. Note that an experience with death is another stage of the shamanic initiatory practices mentioned earlier.

The wicked witch of “Hansel and Gretel” is in many ways similar to the Russian fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Being featured in countless folk stories, she is perhaps the most famous figure in Slavic folklore; she’s a hag/witch who just like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel”, lives in the middle of the forests in a very strange house, this time described as standing on chicken legs, having a fence made of human skulls, and containing all sort of witchy items. Many of her stories, in fact, resemble that of the Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel”:

“The lovely maiden looked at the witch and her heart failed her. Before her stood Bába Yagá the Bony-Legged, her nose hitting the ceiling . . . . Then the witch brought wood, oak and maple, and made a fire; the flame blazed forth from the stove. Bába Yagá took a broad shovel and began to urge her guest: ‘Now, my beauty, sit on the shovel.’ The beauty sat on it. Bába Yagá shoved her toward the mouth of the stove, but the maiden put one leg into the stove and the other on top of it. ‘You do not know how to sit, maiden. Now sit the right way.’ The maiden changed her posture, sat the right way; the witch tried to shove her in, but she put one leg into the stove and the other under it.

Bába Yagá grew angry and pulled her out again. ‘You are playing tricks, young woman!’ she cried. ‘Sit quietly, this way-just see how I do it.’ She plumped herself on the shovel and stretched out her legs. The maiden quickly shoved her into the stove, slammed the door, plastered and tarred the opening and ran away.”[14]

The witch in the Grimm’s tale is just a subtle version of Baba Yaga, who has achieved goddess status as the ruler of the underworld in Slavic folklore. Baba Yaga is burned alive just like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel”, however, no matter how many times she dies in these tales, Baba Yaga reappears in countless others as the same wicked witch, or sometimes as a benevolent wise woman, giving life-saving advice to heroines. Her death is transformation, just as shamanic initiates rise from the dead being able to call themselves wise, shamans, or healers.

Gretel, in particular, seems to be the witch’s main apprentice; this is observed in the fact that she isn’t locked up like her brother, but she’s made a slave. In the epic saga of “Vasilisa the Wise” (also known as “the Beautiful” or “Brave”), Vasilisa, a beautiful maiden, is purposely sent by her evil stepmother to Baba Yaga’s house to get a lantern. Once inside, she must perform the witches’ impossible tasks in order to come back home. Although she accomplishes the tasks with the help of a magical doll, Vasilisa passes the witch’s test and completes her initiation.[15] Just like Vasilisa, Gretel must perform every command the witch asks her to do. Additionally, in the Russian story, Vasilisa asks Baba Yaga about the three dark riders outside her house, and she responds by saying they are the day, the Sun, and the night. But we are missing another being – the Moon. Baba Yaga is obviously the Moon, after all, she’s a witch/folk-goddess, and this is connected to Gretel being fed shellfish – lunar food.

When Vasilisa comes back home, the lantern she brings back from Baba Yaga burns the evil stepmother and stepsisters to ashes, which frees Vasilisa from their torture. It seems that whether the witch dies or not, the protagonist always emerges victorious. As Dr. Laura Strong, a mythology scholar, writes, the Baba Yaga archetype represents the shamanic journey that Vasilisa and Hansel and Gretel go through:

“[Baba Yaga] dwells in a magical hut that is surrounded by a fence made from the leftover bleached-white bones of her victims […][,which] is a clear signal to anyone who would dare to pass through its gate that they must be prepared for an initiatory underworld experience.[…] ‘Baba Yaga’s hut is the place where transmutation occurs; it is the dark heart of the Underworld, the dwelling place of the dead ancestors who are symbolized by the grinning skulls around her house’. From such bones, she also brews new life and her home is a great source of abundance.”[16]

Coincidentally enough, Baba Yaga is also depicted as the guardian of the Waters of Life and Death. The Water of Death kills, but is also often part of a healing process. In many Slavic folktales, the “Water of death heals the wounds of a corpse or knots together a body that has been chopped up. The second, the Water of Life, restores life”.[17] Because the witch of “Hansel and Gretel” steams out of Baba Yaga’s figure, just like her, she is also a figure of enlightening resurrections, a part of shamanic initiatory rituals, but in a more subtle version.

In “Hansel and Gretel”, notice how the snow white bird that the children trusted to follow, is the same type of animal that ate their bread crumb trail, making them lost and thus sealing the initiation. It’s obvious the birds wanted them to go into the house, and be initiated; the birds in the story have done nothing but to seal the children’s fate towards the wicked witch. Nevertheless, after the children kill the witch, they take her precious stones and talk to a big white swan that helps them cross an enormous lake. The white swan, although it has another from, it’s the just a reappearance of the snow white bird that they followed earlier. Also notice how traveling by bird when returning home is a stage in the narratives of shamanic initiations mentioned earlier. They were meant to kill the witch, it was destiny, just like one is destined to be a shaman, and by killing her, they assume the witch’s role. At the end, the children come home and are victorious. They find out their stepmother has died, and so they end the last stage of the shamanic initiation; they emerge from the wild, and into society with an amazing experience. They completed all the stages, and Hansel and Gretel are now witches, not literally, but symbolically. Notice should given that the siblings were not depicted as being able to talk to animals before killing the witch, yet Gretel is able to talk to a swan, and both of them were able to miraculously – considering how lost they were before – find their way home. These are the results of completing the magic journey. Additionally, since the siblings do mention trusting in God in the tale, it can also be said that the story is a Christian version of pagan shamanic initiations, with Hansel and Gretel being able to achieve the same results of magical enlightenment (without having to give in to the thought-to-be evil pagan practices of the past) by actually destroying it (killing the witch), and that’s the twist of the story.

The tales of Baba Yaga, the more detailed version of the witch in the Grimm’s story, expresses the deep shamanic roots within the story. Hansel and Gretel’s theme of shamanic initiatory rituals had to be deeply hidden within the story in order to sneak through the serious religious laws of pre-modern times. Yes, the story is about a rite of passage – not just of physical maturity, but a spiritual one as well, a ritual that is unquestionably of pagan origins. With the oven (or cauldron) being a symbol for death, birth and renewal, it does not matter if the shaman initiate gets cooked by a psychic monster, because he/she will emerge a shaman. And just like Baba Yaga’s many reappearances in folk tales despite her many deaths in the oven, it can be assumed that the witch of “Hansel and Gretel” still lives as well.


[1] Iona Archibald, Classic Fairy Tales, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) p119.

[2] Katherine M. Faull, Anthropology and the German enlightenment: Perspective on Humanity, (Bucknell: Bucknell University Press, 1995) p82.

[3] Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993) p101-107.

[4] Joan Halifax, “The Shaman’s Initiation”, ReVision 13 (1990): p53.

[5] Judical Illes, The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, (London: Harpers Element, 2005) p 466.

[6] —. The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. p466.

[7] “Annotations for Hansel and Gretel”, SurLaLune.com, accessed May 28, 2011, http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/hanselgretel/notes.html

[8] Luis Eduardo Luna, Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1991) p30.

[9] Judical Illes, The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. p466.

[10] Mariko Namba Walter, Eva Jane Neumann Fridman, Shamanism: an Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture, Vol 2 (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004). p154.

[11] Judical Illes, The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. p466.

[12] Mariko Namba Walter, Eva Jane Neumann Fridman, Shamanism: an Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture, Vol 2 (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004).

[13] Jules Cashford, The Moon: myth and image, (London: Cassel Illustrated, 2002), p112.

[14] Aleksandr Afanasiev, Russian Fairy Tales. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1945) p 432.

[15] Marina Balina et al. Politicizing Magic: an Anthology of Russian and Soviet Fairy Tales ( Evanton: Northwestern University Press, 2005) p 34-41.

[16] Laura Strong, “Baba Yaga’s Hut: Initiatory Entrance to the Underworld”, Mythicarts.com, accessed May 29, 2011.

[17] —. “Baba Yaga’s Hut: Initiatory Entrance to the Underworld”.


Bibliography

Afanasiev, Aleksandr. Russian Fairy Tales. New York: Pantheon Books, 1945.

Archibald, Iona. Classic Fairy Tales. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Balina, Marina et al. Politicizing Magic: an Anthology of Russian and Soviet Fairy Tales. Evanton: Northwestern University Press, 2005.

Cashford, Jules. The Moon: Myth and Image. London: Cassel Illustrated, 2002.

Faull, Katherine M.. Anthropology and the German Enlightenment: Perspective on Humanity. Bucknell: Bucknell University Press, 1995.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.

Halifax, Joan. “The Shaman’s Initiation”. ReVision 13 (1990): p53.

Illes, Judical. The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. London: Harpers Element, 2005.

Luna, Luis Eduardo. Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1991.

Strong, Laura. “Baba Yaga’s Hut: Initiatory Entrance the Underworld”. Mythicarts.com. Accessed May 29, 2011. http://www.mythicarts.com/writing/Baba_Yaga.html

SurLaLune.com. “Annotations for Hansel and Gretel”. Last accessed May 28, 2011. http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/hanselgretel/notes.html

Walter, Mariko Namba, and Eva Jane Neumann Fridman. Shamanism: an encyclopedia of world beliefs, practices, and culture. Vol 2. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004.


Franco Bejarano was raised in Peru, but has been living in Georgia since the age of 13. He’s currently a 21 year old college student who studies folklore as a hobby (www.culturepotion.blogspot.com). He is deeply involved with the online academic community, and his goal is to one day become an independent scholar on the field of folklore. He is also an artist.

 Posted by at 11:22 am

Issue 13 – A Tricky Number

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May 302011
 

This issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest, with its companion updates from Cabinet des Fées, is being brought to you live from Deux-Sevrés, a place saturated in folklore and fairy tales. Situated in the Poitou-Charentes region of France, where the landscape alternates between agricultural patchworks and forested hills, Deux-Sevrés is home to the the 16th-century château d’Oiron (pictured below), where Charles Perrault based his story “Le Chat Botte” (Puss in Boots). Mêlusine, a European spirit of springs and rivers, created the city of Parthenay (located in the center of Deux-Sèvres) with a wave of her fairy wand. From the looks of this place, I’d say there are quite a lot of spirits still hard at work around here. The region also hosts the Angoulême Folklore Festival, where performers from all over the world gather to celebrate the traditions of their homelands amidst a bounty of wine and cheese.

Château d'Oiron

It is with a celebratory spirit that we bring you this issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest — it is our 13th issue after all, and thirteen is a number of some import to fairy tales. In the Grimm’s version of Sleeping Beauty, it is the thirteenth fairy who curses the child Beauty after failing to receive an invitation to her christening. In another of the Grimm’s tales, The Twelve Brothers, it is the thirteenth child, the princess, who both seals her brothers’ fates and saves them from it. In the thirteenth issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest, trickster fairies come out in force. Mêlusine herself could be considered a trickster of sorts — you just know that when you tell someone not to do something, that’s the first thing they’re going to do. That’s trickery at its finest. The cover art we’ve chosen for this issue is called “Fighting Fairies II”, and we think it perfectly exemplifies the tricksy-ness of number 13, which contains 13 poems and stories we know will delight you.

In this issue you’ll find work by Megan Arkenberg, Julia August, C.S.E. Cooney, Caroline C. Duda, Caspian Gray, Shweta Narayan, Helen Ogden, Caitlyn Paxson, Marta Pelrine-Bacon (whose story includes original art and an artist statement by the author), S. Brackett Robertson, Alexandra Seidel, Robert E. Stutts and Bruce Woods. The table of contents is in its usual place in the sidebar; read and enjoy the fiction and poetry at your convenience.

The cover of number 13, “Fighting Fairies II”, is by Kirsty Greenwood, an artist whose passion for Guns & Roses is only rivaled by her love of fairy tales and folklore. Kirsty has this to say about this piece:

The image is made up of several elements layered, one being a drawing of a group of armed Faeries (titled ‘Jealousy’) wielding weapons, ready for a fight, the next a portrait of myself hiding amongst ivy clad trees next to a river I frequent and the next more drawing over the top of the combined previous layers, as a black and white photograph on vintage silver photograph paper. It was then tweaked in Photoshop to change the colour to more sepia tones.

For me this picture is about fighting your inner daemons, being lost amongst one’s own obsessions and ensuing madness; a basis for many Folk and Fairy tales. With a feeling of the macabre, it conveys my need to seek the multi-layered realities of Myths and Legends.

We’ll be hearing more from Kirsty about her art in the near future, but right now we at CdF would like to offer congratulations to three of our authors whose fiction and poetry received honorable mentions in the Best Horror of the Year, Volume 3, edited by Ellen Datlow: Helen Ogden, for her poem “Blackberries”; Catherine Knutsson, for her story “Lily”; Kim Kofmel, for her story “Crossroads”; and Rebecca W. Day, for her story “Bricks”. All of these works appeared in Cabinet des Fées Volume 1, No. 3, our third and final print issue released by Prime Books.

On the CdF side, we’ve got plenty of updates — enough to keep you busy for days to come. John Patrick Pazdziora, whose fiction has previously appeared in Scheherezade’s Bequest (and will again), answers my questions about anti-tales in Discovering the Anti-tale. I’d been following discussions about this new way of looking at story and thought it was about time I shared what I’ve learned with the readers of Cabinet des Fées. Fortunately, John was willing to share what he knows about it, too, and his answers to my questions are both humorous and insightful.

Carolyn Turgeon, author of the recently released Mermaid, has been kind enough to share her Hans Christian Andersen Pilgrimage with the readers of CdF. Full of photos and a video of her travels in HCA’s world, we can almost imagine we were there, walking down Odense’s streets with her. This is a fascinating glimpse into the world in which HCA wrote his famous story, “The Little Mermaid”, and even includes a photo of the original manuscript itself. Lory Widmer Hess takes on the trickster in Spinning a Tale. This craftily woven essay discusses the mythology and history of spinning and ponders how such a sublime task fell into the hands of a creature such as Rumplestiltskin.

Valentina Cano is the newest addition to the CdF team. She’s been reviewing some fine fiction, and has even more fantastic titles lined up for us. Valentina is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading or writing. She also takes care of a multitude of animals, including her seven fierce snakes. Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Theory Train, Magnolia’s Press, Cartier Street Press, Berg Gasse 19, A Handful of Dust, The Scarlet Sound and The Adroit Journal.

We very much appreciate Valentina’s help in keeping content flowing on the site — for this update she’s provided two new reviews. Heather Tomlinson’s Toads and Diamonds has been in our hands for too long, waiting patiently for its turn on CdF. As an added bonus, Valentina has also given us a review of Russian Fairy Tales. We have yet more reviews in progress, so look for those to appear on the site in the weeks to come.

On a more serious note, Tanya B. Avakian and I have provided our readers with an Introduction to Middle Eastern Literature — our most political piece to date (and probably the only political writing you will ever see on CdF). Tanya goes to on to give us three reviews of works by authors whose names may not be as familiar to readers as they should be for their important contributions to the folklore of family and culture. One review combines Emile Habiby’s The Secret Life of Saaed the Pessoptimist and Saraya, the Ogre’s Daughter: A Palestinian Fairy Tale. Another takes on the difficult Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, and the third looks at Food for our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists, edited by Joanna Kadi.

And finally, Elizabeth Hopkinson writes about an important collection of fairy tales in East Meets West: Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales. Yei Theodora Ozaki was a bi-cultural author who worked to bridge the gap between the West’s perceptions of Japan and the Japan that she knew and loved. This piece is especially poignant considering the incredible disaster that struck Japan in March of this year. Elizabeth notes how Ozaki’s story “The Mirror of Matsuyama” reveals “a common theme of cultivating a pure and cheerful heart under adversity”, something many Westerners commented upon as the images of Japan’s reaction to the earthquake and tsunami filtered across our screens.

If this issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest and its companion updates doesn’t sate your need for fairy tales, then we don’t know what will. We hope you enjoy the things we’ve gathered together for you, and as always, we thank you for your support of Cabinet des Fées.

With love,

Erzebet

 Posted by at 6:32 am

Ribbon, bell by Helen Ogden

 Issue 13 (May 2011)  Comments Off on Ribbon, bell by Helen Ogden
May 292011
 

Ribbon, bell
by Helen Ogden

all my strength,
to cut it out; fused bone, jutted
that pretty sound. It isn’t.
It wasn’t,
when they tied the thing to

me. Ribbon, bell, Ribbon,
bell, neat little bow around the vein,
enough to pulse. Frayed.
Ribbon, bell,
that solitary chink.

all my strength
to call you out, loop upon
loop, this
metal wreath in skin
cannot be cut, for anyone
I have almost done
the deed.

Double trinket lock,
it is an end. I am
bait. Come forward, look into
my face. Freeze as my fingers
flatten to your bone.


Helen Ogden is a 30 year-old writer currently living in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. She loves stories and talking, and has been published in Cabinet Des Fées V1:3, Goblin Fruit, and the In The Telling anthology by Cinnamon Press. By the end of this year she hopes to have sent her first book out to an agent and learnt how to dance Flamenco.

 Posted by at 3:24 pm

The Robber King’s Wife by Caspian Gray

 Issue 13 (May 2011)  Comments Off on The Robber King’s Wife by Caspian Gray
May 292011
 

The Robber King’s Wife
by Caspian Gray

In the dark woods there once lived a masked robber king. He was tall and thin as spindles, with black hair and black eyes, and he worked alone. He lived in the back of a long, bleak cave, past the dripping water and the hanging roots and the cold stone walls, in a round chamber in the middle of a hill. Thick rugs covered the floor, and the walls were hung with velvets and rich tapestries, and strewn all about were ladies’ rings and ornate daggers and coins from every nation. The robber king had robbed farmers and merchants and knights and bandits, but he knew that something was missing. He looked at his silks and ivory and chests of mysterious treasure, and he knew that he would be willing to give it all up, but he did not know for what.

To quell this strangeness, the robber king left his dark forest and went maskless to the city, where everyone knew him as a rich merchant and not as the king of anything. He looked at cages full of kittens with tiny hunter’s claws and dogs with mouths full of teeth, but he knew that no one of them would keep him company. He looked at stalls full of exotic fruits, but he knew that none of it would fill him up. Then he looked at all the maids, with plump faces and plumper bosoms and long braided plaits, but he knew that they would not keep him warm. Still, all of these things had their uses, so he bought chickens and snakes and fat juicy berries and gorged himself, and he bought a necklace of long, thin jewels and gave it to one of the loveliest whores and then took her to bed.

It was in this city, not so far from where the robber king had bedded his strumpets, that there lived a girl. Her mother was one of those whores, and the girl grew up among them but had none of their charm. She was thin and wild-haired and wild-eyed, and smelled like dirt and bruises and sticky fingers.

Other girls worked with the whores, or usurped their territory and clientele, but this girl made only trouble. She burst in on the women at work and laughed at their sagging tits and bored expressions, almost as hard as she laughed at the shape of the naked men and the way they were built all wrong between the legs. She herself had no breasts to sag, and no secret hair in need of shaving, and that was how she knew that she could never be one of them. She stole food when she was hungry, and coins when she could get away with it, and her happiness was so fierce she thought that no one could ever take it away.

Such a girl could not possibly continue to get what she wanted, for it is not the way of girls to get what they want, or at least not the way of girls whose mothers are whores and whose fathers have never seen their faces.

There came a day when she burst into a room where the whore did not just laugh her away, and where the man was too angry to try to hit her only once and then watch her scamper off. On this day, the whore was drunk or cruel, and the man was drunker or crueler, and they beat her until she could barely breathe, and then the man finished in her instead of in the whore, and when they were done the girl could not drag herself away. The man, who had never been a murderer before, hid her body in his cloak and dragged her out to the deep, deep woods, and there he left her so that no one would know to accuse him of such a crime.

On this same day, the robber king left the city and its whores before the sun was up. On his way home to his round cave he heard a creeping something in the forest and came to a stop. The noises were too loud to be a fox, but too few to be wolves, and the robber king stepped off the path to find what made them.

Swathed in mosquitoes and covered in crusted blood was the terribly broken body of a girl. The robber king tried to brush the insects from her face, but they only settled on his hands and arms as well. Her eyelids fluttered open and closed, but she had no words to offer him. He dropped his things and tried to pick her up and carry her to his home in the way that would hurt her least.

She was bleeding, red over brown, so the robber king disguised himself and returned to the city, and there he found a chirurgeon and brought the man to his lair. The chirurgeon clucked his tongue and pulled out bandages and pouches of herbs and a long needle with catgut thread. He spent a long time sewing the girl up, and when she woke he brewed her teas and tried to make her drink them, though she batted them from his hands and spat at his face as often as she submitted.

It was days before the chirurgeon declared that she would live, and the robber king paid him handsomely for his help. The poor foolish chirurgeon stopped not far from the cave to admire his new riches, and as he was bent over on the path the robber came up behind him and slit his throat. Then he took back his wealth and threw the body to the side of the path for the wolves and the foxes and the maggots to take.

When he went back to his cave, he found the girl sitting up, curled in the middle of one of his fine rugs like a flower from the woods.

“Who are you?” he asked.

She shrugged.

“Who hurt you so badly?”

“Everyone.” She shrugged again, then tilted her head. “Who are you?”

“The man who saved your life,” he replied.

“I think that the other man saved my life,” said the girl.

“But it was I who found you, and I who brought him here.”

“And you who killed him.”

The robber looked down at his hands and the front of his shirt, but there was no bloodstain to mar him. “I have not killed anyone,” he said.

“You killed him,” said the girl. “And I would have killed him, too. I hope you’ll kill me next.”

“But I have just saved your life,” said the robber king, reaching out to stroke her hair, which was still embedded with leaves and twigs. “And no one would save a life only to take it away again.”

“I would,” said the girl, and she bit the hand with which the robber king stroked her.

So it was that suddenly the robber king was neither lonely nor empty nor cold, but busy caring for a girl he could not hope to understand. When he tried to feed her she threw the food against the walls, and only when he left would she scrape it off and lick it from her fingers. When he gave her presents she tossed them away, and whenever he left her alone in his cave of riches he would return to find her inside his chests, eating gems and pieces of silver.

“Why do you do these things?” he asked her. “You must eat the food I give you, and you must keep the presents, and you must stop wasting my precious treasure, for if we have no money than we have nothing.”

“I hate it,” she said, with breath that still smelled like gold. “My body will turn it into shit, and then no one will have anything.”

And yet the robber king loved her, for he had never had anyone to love before, and he did not know that perhaps love was supposed to go a different way.

When the girl was well enough to walk, she made him promise to take her with him on a robbery, for she knew without being told what he was.

“What I do has no place for children,” he said. “And there is no place at all for a little girl.”

“I will be bold,” she promised. “What if someone comes behind you with a sword or a pistol? I will be there to save you.”

“I have never needed saving,” said the robber king, though this was a lie — his body bore many scars that perhaps having fellows would have prevented.

“What if someone runs away?” she asked. “I will chase them through the woods and kill them, so that they cannot summon help.”

“The woods would swallow up anyone who got away. They would never find what help they sought.”

“What if –” the girl began, but the robber king held up a hand to silence her.

“I have been doing this alone for many years,” he said. “And I do not need help. But perhaps, if you wish to come, you should ask.”

“I do want to come,” she said, which was not asking at all.

“Then you may, but do not interfere.”

“I won’t,” she promised, but even then the robber king knew that this little girl would never keep a promise.

So the robber king went into the city and waited there for news of rich travelers who, for bravery or necessity, would have to travel the paths in his wood. Then he returned home and put on his red and gold robber’s mask and collected the little girl, and he stowed her safely in a tree so that she could see how he made his riches, and so that she would see why they still called him a king.

The robbery itself gave him no trouble, for once anyone saw his mask the fight went out of them. He collected jewels from the women and gold rings and pocket watches and coins from the men, and when he was finished he flourished his hat and bowed low before them, that they could see he was a gallant thief and not just any highwayman. Then he straightened to blow the women masked kisses, and usually their faces were amused or surprised or even flattered, but this time the mouth of one of the women formed a small “o,” and then she screamed. The woman crumpled and her dress ripped, for the little girl was behind her, standing on the hem. She had a pen knife and a terrible grin, and as the robber king and everyone else watched, she bent down to stab the woman again. The robber dropped his bag of spoils and dove for her, dragging the little girl away from the woman and up into the woods, sprinting through the leaves with no mind to his secret pathways, conscious only of the need to get away and a growing feeling of shame, an emotion which was entirely new to him.

“You are a monster,” said the robber when they were back in his cave. Then, with something like awe, he added, “And yet I love you.”

“I am a monster,” said the girl, quieter than breathing, “and I will burn you up and eat your insides.”

But who can say if the robber king heard her reply?

The robber king tried not to bring her along on any more of his robberies, but even when he waited until she was asleep and crept in the dark out of his own home, somehow she knew to wake and follow him. Quickly his robberies became murders, and always when it was over he brought the little girl back to his home, though she wore blood up to her elbows.

Worse were the days when she waited until the robber king slept and then struck out on her own, into the city or into the woods. The robber would wake and go to his treasure chests, but where there had once been gold and silver there would be only bones and fragments of fur and hair. The little girl guarded these, for they were her greatest treasures, just as gold was his.

And still, when he left, she found time to eat pieces of his gold. Though he searched and searched, there was never so much as the glimmer of a single jewel in their latrine.

The little girl grew up, and her face was covered in dark freckles and her hair was long and always tangled, and she wore blood beneath her fingernails to color them. She was beautiful, and the robber loved her; when it suited her she went to him in the night. They made love as painful as hate, and the robber king woke in the morning as sore as if he had spent the night fighting for his life, but still he wanted more.

Then one day the woman he loved left and did not return. The robber king sat all night in his cave, waiting to see what horror she would carry home over her shoulder, but daylight broke and she did not return. The robber counted a few coins into his hands — and one finger bone, for luck — and then left his cave to look for her. He searched the woods first, but there was no sign.

With his throat tight, the robber went into the city. Perhaps his arrival should have caused a stir, and usually all the merchants put out their best wares and all the whores put on their best rouge when they knew that he was coming. Yet on his day no one noticed him, for everyone was gathered in the city square. There were five bodies laid out there, one man and one woman and three children, all of them mangled and bleeding from the throat. The robber king had to close his eyes and turn his face away, for he recognized the handiwork of the woman he loved.

She was there, tied to a stake in the middle of the square, with blood staining even her teeth. The crowd jeered at her and threw things, and she watched them with a wild stare and eyes full of hunger and hate. A small man stood next to her, trying desperately to restore order. Slowly he succeeded.

“Who are you?” he asked her.

“I am the robber king’s wife,” she called, loudly enough for the whole crowd to hear, though she was no such thing.

The robber king?” the man asked. “He who wears the gold and scarlet mask?”

“None other,” said the woman, threading out her lie. “And I am she who paints his mask red with blood.”

The man gestured at the bodies laid out before her. “Did you kill these people?”

“I did, and if they still lived I would kill them again.”

The little man looked stunned, and for a moment the crowd was quiet before it erupted into angry shouting and the throwing of stones.

“Stop!” yelled the little executioner. “Stop! There must be justice!”

“Burn her!” screamed the crowd, full of people wiser than the robber king, who knew that such a woman could never live among them.

The little man spoke to her quietly beneath the crowd’s war of noise. “We could make a bargain,” he murmured. “If you were to tell me where the robber king keeps his treasure, perhaps I could save your life.”

The woman looked out into the crowd with her hungry eyes, but no one in it mattered to her; no one in it was enough. Finally she found the face of the robber king, and he stared at her with eyes full of love, but she turned away.

Yet, perhaps at least once in her life, she had loved him.

“He has no treasure,” she hissed. “He spent it all on whores and drink and worthless things, and now he lives in a cave in the woods with nothing.”

“Then perhaps you could lead me to the cave,” said the man. “For there is a price on his head, and if I were to collect it I could save your life yet.”

The woman cackled, so loud and so vile that for a moment all the crowd fell silent again.

“He has no head,” she laughed. “I buried it in the dirt, and cut off his limbs and hung them from trees. There is no reward left to collect for one such as him.”

The executioner could make no reply.

As the priest fought his way to the front of the crowd, the robber king kept his gaze on the face of the woman he loved. She would not meet his eyes. He tried to speak, and then he tried again, and again, but he had no voice.

With a terrible waver of his heart, the robber king realized that fear was stronger than love.

The priest murmured words the robber king could not hear. The wild woman he had loved — but not loved enough — screamed curses and obscenities over the priest and the crowd both.

“Send me to the devil!” she shouted at them, but the robber king wondered if even the devil would keep her attention.

Finally they brought a torch to the kindling at her feet and she laughed, and kept laughing, until her laughter became screams and the screams were too horrible to hear.

The robber king stood amidst the crowd of people and waited, though most of them drifted away when the screaming stopped and the tortured body finally ceased to dance against the flame. He stood his ground, breathing in deeply the smell of burning hair and burning flesh and black meat, to take the smoke of her death into his own body, that he might harbor it there.

“I love you,” he whispered, under his breath. “I love you, I love you, I’m so sorry, I love you.”

And when there was only ash and fragments of bone he left the square and walked the long way to his round cave in the black woods. The forest was silent around him: no birds, no animals, no leaves and twigs in the wind, and worst of all no unidentifiable sound that was bigger than a fox and smaller than a wolf.

The robber king sat in his treasure room, on a chest that contained either gold or withered strips of skin, and he looked at what gems and silver coins and beautiful things remained. There was nothing inside of him: no loneliness and no hate, no sadness and no anger, no guilt and no regret. Finally he picked up a piece of gold and put it in his mouth and slowly, slowly, he swallowed.


Caspian Gray currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with two men and a dachshund. Her work has previously appeared in ChiZine, Sybil’s Garage, Odyssey‏‏, and Random House’s anthology The Full Spectrum, which won the 2006 Lambda Literary Award in the YA category.

 Posted by at 3:19 pm
May 292011
 

A Fairy Tale Princess
by Shweta Narayan

There once lived a king whose only daughter was a fairy tale. The king had three strong handsome sons and he found them well enough, but not entirely satisfactory. They fought, and yelled, and tore their clothes, as he was sure he never had; they never seemed to exist but in imperfection. Here a smudge on one’s nose; there a purpling black eye, and all through the palace, a wearying unceasing noise of energetic boy.

“If only we had a daughter,” the king said to his queen one day, with the smile that had heated her blood after the first gruelling pregnancy was over, warmed it to a sense of Oh why not after the second, and now after the third sent entirely the wrong shivers down her spine. “She would never trouble you with all this yowling and yelling and lace soaked right through with mud. No, she would sit prettily at your feet in a dress of whitest silk, and let you brush her golden hair, with a smile in her sky-blue eyes as she told you in the prettiest little lisp about her lessons.”

The queen, who was fond of yowling and yelling and gap-toothed grins from dirty faces, and moreover remembered being expected to sit still and be angelic while her hair was pulled and tweaked and tortured into place, smiled and kissed him and murmured something vague. But from that moment, the King seemed never able to find her without a wretched maiden aunt or two ensconced in the room, and the old women grew distressingly deaf and bawdy when he tried to let them know they were not welcome.

So the years passed, and mud pies were set aside for swordfights, and bites from pestering the dogs replaced with broken arms from sneaking out the window away from tutors, and the king spoke plaintively, lovingly, of the daughter he would have had. In his mind she grew, as quickly his boys did — though without any of the mud and broken glass — into a lithe and lovely young woman. He would tell the court of her blond hair, rippling like beaten gold down to her ankles, and when the ladies winced he took it for jealousy. She had a mouth like a rosebud, he said, and the most beautiful sea-green eyes. More wistfully he would sometimes add, “Like her mother.”

He decided one day that his daughter had come of age, and ordered a celebration greater than any his sons had been given. And in the drunken warmth of that celebration he confided to the whole gathering that his daughter, though lovely, felt often unnoticed and alone; and he offered her hand in marriage to the worthiest prince present.

The king of the land to the south, who was an old friend of his, said gently, “You realize she doesn’t actually exist.”

But it could not have been said gently enough, and perhaps should not have been said at all; the ensuing argument grew ever louder and more bitter, till, the next day, both kingdoms woke to find themselves at war.

It was a desultory war, little more than a synchronized march through sticky mud, with both armies doing their best not to be there for skirmishes. Only the king’s eldest son really gave it all his heart, and that because he liked military strategy.

In fact, the armies were so busy avoiding each other that one morning a lone minstrel walked calmly over the border and camped unnoticed till the first stars were speckling the sunset sky, when a general tripped over him. He came fleeing the southern kingdom, he told them while he packed away his picnic, with only a broken lute to his name and a grand and terrible tale to tell. And that was all it took for the court to welcome him.

At first they did so with a sort of smug wariness; but the minstrel was a slender youth with wide artless eyes, dressed all in muddy green; and his fine fair hair, hacked unevenly short, floated about his head to make him look like nothing more worrisome than an overgrown dandelion. The court thawed as fast as summer snowfall, and very soon the king granted him audience.

“Your terrible tale,” said the eldest prince. “Is it of the enemy’s troop movements?” He had this at least in common with his father: they both could say ’enemy’ without the slightest twitch of a smile.

“It is not,” said the minstrel. “It is a tale of a lovely princess caught out of reality, though not out of love.”

The prince sighed. “Then,” he said, “My father will indeed want to hear it.”

The minstrel smiled, and approached the king to bow. “Once upon a time,” he began then, as storytellers are meant to, “there was a King whose only daughter was a fairy tale.”

“This king’s precious daughter,” continued the minstrel, “this child of dreams and wishful memory, was under a dread curse which let her live only in the shape of things that barely were. Dust motes dancing in the sun, the tug of memory in other people’s smiles, the knowledge of what was not, ever, there…”

The king leaned forward, excitement brightening his eyes, while around him the court tried to hide its grimaces. The eldest prince groaned aloud; the middle looked at their mother and rolled his eyes. The youngest smiled, just a little, but only the storyteller noticed — for why would anyone look at the youngest and most ordinary prince?

The minstrel’s rolling sentences ended; he paused, with a slight, regretful smile. “And there the story ends unfinished,” he said, “for this princess of the fantastic cannot attain glorious reality until her true tale is told.”

“Ah,” said the king. He sat back. The court started to sigh relief — but then he stood, suddenly, and announced, “Our heir shall be the son who finds this true tale, and brings his beloved little sister to life.”

The king’s pronouncement threw the court into such an uproar that it was a day before they calmed down enough for the princes to say anything at all. But on the evening after the minstrel came to the court, the eldest prince stepped forward with an uncomfortable cough. “I will tell you the story of the sister I love, father,” he said. “May it be true.”

“There once was a princess of this land,” he continued, “fast and brave as any boy. She never was scared to climb trees or sneak out of windows with her older brothers, and she never cried at a skinned knee.” He paused, beaming, his eyes on something altogether wonderful. “And honest, and honorable. Why, when the land went to war over an insult to her name, she was not a shrinking princess in a tower. No, she disguised herself as a soldier boy and climbed out of a window and down a tree and ran away to join the army and defend her own honor. There could be no better sister in the world.”

The king snorted. The prince glanced over to see his father’s lip curled in disgust, and flushed as though he had been painted in beetroot juice. “I’m sorry, father,” he said. “It seems my story isn’t true.”

“Thank every god for that,” said the king.

The prince stared at him in bemusement for a moment, but his good nature won. “Ah well,” he said. “It would have been nice to have such a sister, but as to being heir — I’d rather be a general anyway.” And off he went, the very next day, to ride in gleaming gold-inlaid armor at the head of the army.

The evening after the eldest prince rode off, his next brother stepped up to speak. “I will tell you the story of the daughter you love, father,” he said with a thin smile. “May it bring you joy.”

The king smiled.

His middle son said, “There once was a princess, in this land, who was gentler and prettier and cleaner than any boy could ever be. Or any girl, at that, save this princess.” He glanced at his mother. “She did nothing all day, save sit with perfect posture while she was dressed and groomed and petted, and say pretty things to indulgent adults, for nobody who walked around in the world could stay as clean as she was.”

The prince raised eyebrows at his father, then. “Of course, this meant she wasn’t in the world, and none of the other children ever saw her. Over time, they came to wonder whether she was in fact merely a tale. And–”

“Enough!”

“Would you have my tale ended before we know if it is true, father?”

The king drew breath; but he knew, as they all knew, that the tale was not true, and he let it out in a sigh.

“Ah, well,” said the prince, with a wry smile for his mother, “as to being heir, I would rather be anything at all than have a sister like that.”

The third prince (who was, as third princes always are, a hero of this tale) heard every story with a small, barely noticed smile. And when it came to be his turn to speak, he said, “Father, I shall tell you the true story. The story of my fairy tale sister. Or rather–” and here he turned to smile full-on at the minstrel– “I shall continue it, for the storyteller told us its beginning, correctly as storytellers do.”

The king looked less than pleased, but his youngest son smiled and continued, with a flourish. “She was conceived in her father’s mind, and born quietly, tentatively, into the land of what-if. Nourished by wistful adjectives white as milk, she grew from a sturdy baby to a girl graceful enough to slip through the smallest pause. But she was cursed, as is everyone and everything in the land of what-if, to live always apart from the rest of us.

“Her fragmented, lonely existence continued, in phrases half-believed and seldom spoken, until the third son of a neighbouring king heard the tales and fell in love. The princess’ coming of age celebration was a happy dream for him, his tongue bubbling over with joyous words he hoped soon to speak — until his father made an unfortunate comment and their lands ended up at war. Torn with grief, this prince hacked his fair hair short, dressed up as a minstrel, and left his land to come north and save his love. And in the land he had visited so often, nobody knew him but his old playmate.”

The king stared now at the minstrel, who was hanging on the prince’s every word, eyes lit with wistful love. The prince continued, “As these two dear friends had come to understand, a fairy tale princess lives in words; tales are her home, her food, the air she breathes. We have let her tales fall into shadows, withering away in an ever-thickening blanket of dust. It is past time to free my sister, father, and give her rich tales befitting a princess.”

“And you will tell me that is all she can be?” his father demanded. “You give up on her, like your worthless brothers, like –” But the words caught in his throat, because the face turned to him held such desolation that it might turn back the spring.

“How could you deny her?” his son asked in a shaking voice. “Just because she is not precisely what you wanted her to be? I thought you loved her more than that.”

The queen murmured, “Children never are quite what we expect, are they?”

“Well,” said the king, “I mean to say–” He turned on the minstrel. “You. What are your intentions?”

The minstrel bowed, deep and graceful and perhaps a trifle apologetic. “I would court your lovely daughter, majesty,” he said earnestly. “I would weave her tales and magic and cloaks of interlocking adjectives, violet as her effervescent eyes. And though it may be hard for a mortal man to love a tale, I shall not give up, no matter how long it takes to win her esteem.”

The king sighed. “Oh, very well.”

“But her answer must be her own, and not put into her mouth in a tale. I would not win her unfairly.”

“And I suppose,” said the king, “that I shall have to stop fighting your father.”

Within days a dozen new tales about the pair were flying around the palace and spreading across the land. The king, greeted each day by tales that he had not made up, came to delight in the daughter who was not quite what he had expected. He found himself more charmed by her surprises than dismayed.

The two youngest princes were almost never apart, and every morning the one who asked the other, “Has my sister told you yes?”

And the other would say, “Alas; but she gazed on me with her eyes silver as moonlight on the lake, and smiled when I offered her a sonnet. So I yet have hope.” Or he might say, “Alas; I think she may have said yes this time, but an ogre snatched her up at just that moment, and I saw only the sunlight reflected in her tawny eyes. I must away to find her.”

And his friend might say, “Shall I come with you?” and they would smile.

The middle prince had little interest in these tales, but he traveled south to broker peace. And he did such a splendid job of this that he was sent immediately off on another diplomatic mission, and then another. His mother read parts of his long, droll letters out loud to her husband; but other parts she fell silent over, with a dimple and a hand over her mouth.

The eldest prince grumbled about his war being over and his sister getting to have all the fun now, then took off to have his own adventures. He returned a year and a day later with grand tales and a tomboy bride, and settled happily to training soldiers even younger than himself. In the muddle, the king never had named an heir, and when the eldest and his bride started filling the palace with noisy grandchildren, the topic was quietly dropped.

And so all was well, in some ways. But as the king had commanded, no tale of his daughter ever revealed her answer; every time her swain went down on bent knee, a spurned fairy or a wicked wizard or a spindle would swoop in to disturb the moment. But he never gave up, and nor did the king’s third son.

And so they all muddled along well enough until they died — except for the princess, who lived, as fairy tales must, happily ever after.


Shweta Narayan‘s stories have recently appeared in publications such as Realms of Fantasy and the anthologies Clockwork Phoenix 3 and The Beastly Bride, and her poetry in Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, and Stone Telling.  She attended Clarion 2007, for which she received the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.

 Posted by at 2:50 pm
May 292011
 

Apple Cake & Princess Charming
by Julia August

I was twenty-three before it occurred to me that women were attractive. I guess that makes me a late bloomer. Summer was just getting underway, bright and brisk and breezy, when a little voice in my head said: what a pleasant season, it brings out all the short skirts and skimpy tops, and isn’t it nice to have something nice to look at when you’re walking down the street? And it must have said it several times before I realised what it meant.

This isn’t the point of the story, incidentally. It’s just to explain how I reacted when the girl turned up. I was still seeing all the world from new and unsettling angles, and wondering what, if anything, I was meant to do about it, so when she stumbled out of a dripping autumn evening while I was taking down my washing, I was hardly thrown at all.

I’d left the back door open, mostly for the light, and enough of it spilt over the yard to gloss her yellow hair to gold. She was panting and her blouse had slipped down from her shoulder and her feet were bare, which wasn’t a good idea at all, and she caught my arm just as I was reaching for a sock. “Oh please,” she said, “please, you have to help me…”

Her bosom, I couldn’t help but notice, was heaving. And there was a lot of it.

“All right,” I said, and blinked. “Uh. Come in?”

She came in. I got her a cup of tea and sat her down on the sofa while I brought in the rest of my washing. It was wet right through and I was annoyed I’d ever gambled on a sunny morning turning into a sunny day.

I dumped my socks on the table and went to get a drying rack. “So,” I said, “you needed help…”

And then the whole story came out, although not very clearly, because she was still calming down and I was trying to work out how to fit a bath towel, a hand towel, two tea towels and a week’s worth of clothes onto one small rack. It involved a mirror and and her mother, or possibly her stepmother, or it might even have been her godmother; I never did get that straight. Whichever one it was was jealous and they’d had a massive fight and her father wasn’t any use because he’d never stand up for her and he didn’t understand her anyway. So she’d had to run away, unless her mother (or stepmother, or godmother) had thrown her out, which might have been what really happened. She wasn’t very clear. Then she’d met something or someone that scared her badly underneath a bridge outside town. There was a hunter involved, or maybe it was a woodcutter, and she’d run crying through the trees while dead leaves fluttered all around like yellow butterflies and somewhere along the way she’d lost her slippers, which had been made by midgets for her birthday.

I didn’t think ‘midget’ was a word people were meant to use these days. I didn’t say anything. She still seemed pretty shaken up. I got her another cup of tea and stood there wondering whether I’d left enough space on the rack for everything to dry.

“Will you help me?” she said. “I’m looking for a prince.”

I’d just about decided to move the towels to a radiator, so that took a moment to register. She was staring up at me with her drowned violet eyes, long lashes quivering. Her hands were white around the cup.

She was serious. I caught myself feeling sorry I didn’t know any princes.

I asked her why. She said so he could defeat the problematic maternal element and they could get married and live happily ever after. I said I was sorry I didn’t have any alcohol in the house.

“Will you help me?” she said again. “I don’t have anywhere else to go…”

“Um,” I said, and sighed, and went to get the apple cake I’d baked at the weekend. She looked like the sugar would do her good.

I wasn’t going to say I wouldn’t help her. But — a prince?

Even if I’d known where to find one, which I didn’t, I couldn’t see how a prince was meant to sort out the girl’s domestic problems. And even if she found one and he did, I couldn’t see where marriage came into it. She needed a counsellor, not a husband. By the sound of it, so did the rest of the family.

I’d never been very good at saying delicate things diplomatically. I sat and watched her eating cake and wondered where to start.

“You can sleep on the sofa,” I said at last. “Uh. About your mother…”

Her mother was dead. Or she was wicked. I guessed tough love, but the girl wanted to talk about her three brothers, who had run away from home one by one and never come back. They didn’t even write, she said, tearfully. I got a box of tissues and patted her creamy shoulder and wished I was any good at comforting people.

She blew her nose. Then she said I was the nicest person she’d ever met, and how long would it take to find a prince? I said, well, we could probably check Yellow Pages, but she shouldn’t get her hopes up and had she thought about trying something less drastic first? Like what? she said, pouting slightly. Um, I said, maybe she could sit down with her parents and talk about everything that was bothering her. I tried to suggest counselling, but the pout was getting more pronounced, so I asked if she’d considered university instead.

We talked about university for a bit. She didn’t seem enthusiastic. Apparently she’d been home educated and hadn’t taken any exams. I started to think she might not be exaggerating about her parents after all.

“My mother always said I only needed to dance and be witty,” she said, “and I was pretty enough that wittiness was optional…”

I said that was very old-fashioned of her mother.

I would have said a couple of other things, but she widened her eyes and said innocently, “Is that bad?” and she liked how I did my hair. I said I’d been thinking about cutting it and she said no, I shouldn’t do that, the ringlets suited me and what beautiful earrings, where had I got them?

I couldn’t remember. I admired her blouse, which was thin for October, and said I probably had something warmer that would fit. Also socks. So she sat on my bed while I emptied out my drawers and we talked about big woolly jumpers and difficult relatives and why marriage didn’t necessarily mean happiness and how no one could ever have enough pearl necklaces. She did agree with that. And then I got out the spare duvet and made her promise to think about trying to work things out with her family by herself. Or, failing that, getting some qualifications and a job.

Honestly, I was surprised to find her in the kitchen in the morning.

It’s not that I expected her to take off in the night. I suppose I’d decided it was all too strange to have really happened. But no: the floor was swept and the table wiped down and there she was wreathed in white ghost’s breath curling wispily up from her cup of tea. When she saw me in the doorway, she gave me the brightest smile I’d ever seen and asked if she could make me one too.

“Uh,” I said, “thanks. I’ve got a hairbrush you can borrow…”

I was remembering that other people eat breakfast and wondering if I had anything in the house. She nibbled toast and told me it was lovely. Then she said she’d been thinking about what I’d said last night.

“Oh,” I said, “good. And?”

She glowed.

I’d helped so much, she said. I’d shown her she should deal with her own problems, or at least escape them in a more proactive way. She was going to find her slippers and brave the woods and cross the bridge and go home to her family. Alone.

I was surprised again. I hadn’t realised she’d taken any of it so much to heart.

I hoped she wouldn’t regret it.

It was a sunny morning. I gave her my umbrella anyway. We’d exchanged numbers, just in case I did find a prince, but she stood looking like a china doll in my biggest and woolliest jumper, and smiled, and hugged me so tightly my ribs bulged. If I found one, I was welcome to him, she said, and she wished me well.

“Well,” I said, “actually,” and then I didn’t say it, but only waved as she went out of the gate in my old red shoes and disappeared down the street towards the woods.

Maybe next time.


Julia August is a student in the UK with an interest in crumbling civilisations and ancient political rhetoric. She consequently has a very complicated relationship with Marcus Tullius Cicero. In her spare time, she is a harmless internet denizen and aspiring writer.

 Posted by at 2:35 pm

How to Flirt in Faerieland by C.S.E. Cooney

 Issue 13 (May 2011)  Comments Off on How to Flirt in Faerieland by C.S.E. Cooney
May 292011
 

How to Flirt in Faerieland
by C.S.E. Cooney

(For Sahira)

Gentle mistress, come my way
Into vine and brier stray
Thou art sad and soft and sweet
I have berries black to eat
Gifts to give and spells to offer
Poems and prophecies to proffer
Welcome to my hut of thorns
Watch thy head–don’t mind the horns
Sit and have a cuppa tea
I’ll see what I may scrounge for thee

Hast thou sisters who displease thee?
Rend thy clothes and taunt and tease thee?
What of brothers, foul and odious–
Making life most discommodious?
I’ve a shackle for her wrists
Seals to press upon his lips
Chains to bend the proudest head
Proclaiming thee a queen most dread
An oubliette to keep them in
A soup tureen to steep them in…

No?

Is there one thou failed to charm,
Who does thy heart some hurt or harm?
I’ve a jar just for his eyes
Stopped with wax and dragon sighs
Only beauty will he see
Gazing day by day at thee
Never think he’ll find it hateful!
Clever men would be most grateful!
And if he be not clever, then
Is he worth thy tears, my friend?

Still thou sighest woebegonely
Like a will-o’-wisp so wanly
If thou hast a quest or tasking
I’ll perform it for the asking!
Lecher’s wart or virgin’s hymen?
The piebald hide of Simple Simon?
A pimple off the great Cham’s nose?
Another verse, this time in prose?
A key of bone to fit all doors?
Name it and the thing is yours.

Do not leave so soon, dear maid
What else have I that thou must crave?
Wherefore seekest thou my brambles
Arms a-welt and hair a-shambles
Skin burnt brown as cinnamon
Garbed in barest minimum
Need’st thou fruits to stew thy jam
Famed throughout all Faerieland?
Have a bushel, have a basket
Any item–only ask it!

Sweep my larder, snitch my wine
Lay me down and make me thine
In thy rapture, shout my name
Three times three and thrice again
Wrap thy thighs close up around me
Draw me deeply thus and drown me
I’m thy pet, thy goblin slave
Bound to thee unto the grave
And when the gods at last reject thee
Thou shalt be subject to me.

Forgive me, Mistress Rare, my wiles
Tis but my nature–
Ah! She smiles.


C.S.E. Cooney‘s fiction and poetry can be found in Clockwork Phoenix 3, Subterranean Press, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Ideomancer, Goblin Fruit, and Mythic Delirium. She edits the blog for Black Gate Magazine, and her e-novellas Jack o’ the Hills and The Big Bah-Ha are available to download on Amazon.com.

 Posted by at 2:21 pm

Instructions for the Successful Maintenance of Foxglove Bakery by Caroline C. Duda

 Issue 13 (May 2011)  Comments Off on Instructions for the Successful Maintenance of Foxglove Bakery by Caroline C. Duda
May 292011
 

Instructions for the Successful Maintenance of Foxglove Bakery
by Caroline C. Duda

When the last of the March snows melt, scrub street salt from the shop windows, until the painted script of FOXGLOVE BAKERY gleams once more.

Wash the winter’s grit from the floors. Mix a weak solution of vinegar and water; it is a new account Callahan & Sons desires—not the health of our hardwood.

Heat the oven as the rising sun gilds the thatched roofs of village cottages. Line two cake pans with parchment while its carbon coils gather their orange glow.

Push a damp rag between the register’s keys. Clean the pastel streaks of frosting from their embossed faces and tapered bronze legs. While you may call the machine old, it is serviceable and too precious to part with.

Polish icing fingerprints and spots of jellied filling from the glass-topped café tables. Buff the curls of wrought iron, the graceful arches and blooms of ivy.

Slide the smooth edge of a paring knife beneath the stamped seal of a bag of cocoa. Dust each pan with just a pinch—the chocolatier grinds these beans but once a month.

During the first weeks of spring, till the strip of arable land to the bakery’s south. Scatter cupped palmfuls of flax seed along its narrow length.

Purchase only those Friesian calves born of a broad black bull.

Sift flour gathered from a western field until it is light and free of lumps. Sweeten it with sugar. Measure teaspoons of baking powder, baking soda, coarse salt. Dip a whisk in linseed oil. Mix well.

Allow Mr. Pearsal no more than two Affection petit fours. Should he choose to eat them in the shop—and he will, if the ladies from the home are present—watch his hands.

Identify those who seek Courage by the pink tongues that wet bitten lips, the restless fingers that dance along the worn marble counters. Offer a lemon tart, for they will not request it themselves.

To this mixture, add the milk while it is still warm and froths in the pail.

Do not chase the village children from the tall fields of ripening flax. Their laughter, if they dash between the plants’ blue, bobbing heads, will leaven your cakes.

Fill the water troughs with the unsettled, open sea. Its bitterness will curdle the cows’ milk, release stifled tears.

Then draw hot water from the groaning tap.

Bake double the Delight meringues you expect to sell. Housewives, school children, whole villages will clamor for the burst of ripe strawberry, the frenzy of sweetness upon their dulled palate.

Refrain from serving Serenity to customers who sit in the café. They will savor each morsel with loose limbs and remain long after evening approaches.

Crack three large eggs. Tip their quivering orange yolks into a shallow dish, then pick free the shards of speckled shell you so often overlook.

When the star-shaped flax pods sit brown and split upon their stalks, pluck them free. Pry the seeds from their tough casings.

Milk our little coterie of cows by hand. Saracen’s Dairy Parlor will swindle you and sour the milk to boot.

Fling the shop’s glazed windows wide. Do not shut them while the batter bakes—the mingling scents of vanilla and ground cocoa, salt tossed high by late-autumn sea storms, will draw those most in need.

Press those flax seeds with creamy, unbroken husks upon a stone round. Store in a cool pantry, safe from the sunlight that turns their delicate, yellow oils.

When you put the cows to pasture, lead dear old Mercy along the clover-cushioned back path. Think of her tender hooves, not the boy you must hurry to meet.

Finally, pack Comfort tight in a plain white pastry box. Pray you never pick at its clear, circular sticker with trembling fingers, nor lift its top free.


Caroline C. Duda is a Chicago resident and a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has previously been published in The Abacot Journal.

 Posted by at 2:14 pm
May 292011
 

A Water Sine by Bruce Woods

A river runs through her. When she wishes to (much as you would indulge in a languorous stretch), she takes the shape of a net bowed by the current. Detritus carried by the flow (leaves, bits of stick, the scraps of things that have died upstream) catch against her and linger, as do the small fishes (stickleback, immature trout, and salmon fry), that spend their days alternately daring against and surrendering to the strength of the river. She keeps none of this when she returns to a more compact form. The brief capture is akin to a spinster brushing her fingers over collected figurines; a tallying, a remembering.

Her river is a strong and narrow thing, born of high mountain springs but fed to a mighty rush each year by snowmelt and the grudging surrender of glaciers. No lazy, grassy meanders for it; just rough tumbles and the surge of deep channels, and sharp whirlpools of eddy where it beats its way around protruding rocks. Because she is within it, it is a lucky river. When the salmon runs of its sisters falter and fail, it is reliably full of these creatures that fight their way upstream to spawn and die. Many anglers come to pursue them each year, and though the current is strong and the footing both rocky and uncertain, few of those that stumble beneath it actually drown.

Few, but some; it is a lucky river, not an unnatural one.

Each species of salmon, from the smaller sockeyes that are legion to the Chinooks, big as tuna, has its own set span of years between birth and return. The sea-time that separates these is solely spent in eating and growing, building fat and muscle for the eventual suicidal return to the river’s currents, which they must batter against without pausing to feed before earning the brief ecstasy of mating and the slow dissolution of their bodies that follows. They leave the shore paved with corpses, food for gulls and ravens and bears.

Her cycle is on a far slower schedule. Human generations have tolled their passing since man or woman last saw her form. Her time has, however, come around. Early in the summer, before the annual migrations fight their way upstream, she feels an old impatience. Beneath the ripple-blinded waters of a long pool, she draws her body into a shape almost forgotten.

There is only one fisherman upon this stretch of her river. Too eager to wait for the crowds of salmon, he plies the waters for lesser prey; casting tiny nymph flies, each no larger than a grain of corn, upstream and across, to bounce and stutter across the hidden rocks in search of a hungry trout.

She teases him at first, with quick plucks at his thread-and-feather creations as they drift by; and time and again he lifts the rod tip to set the hook only to find nothing, as his line jerks free of the tug of water and tumbles around him like tossed string. These failures only convince him that he is close to success, however, and he works the pool with eager determination. When the next cast drifts close she nimbly wraps the leader around the jut of a waterlogged root.

He strikes again, momentarily thrilled by the resistance he feels, but quickly identifies the snag for what it is. Jerking the fly rod up and down, tight line hissing and slashing free of the water with each attempt, he tries to work the hook free of its hidden capture. Finally, despairing of saving his tackle, he points the rod-tip at the water and pulls to break the leader free, his face turned to one side to protect his eyes from the returning whipsnap of the parted line.

This is her moment. While his head is away she rises from the water and composes herself upon a riverbank rock. She is there, water still streaming off of her, when, line snapped free, he turns to face upriver again.

Startled, he takes an involuntary step backward. A rock rolls beneath his feet, and the current conspires with it to try to take him down. The result is a brief, splashing, whooping dance, his long fly rod flailing as he struggles for balance. She is watching as he rights himself.

“Don’t fall in,” she says. “I did. It’s cold.” She shapes each syllable carefully, like a child handling a knife. Her voice is soft and new and seems to surprise her mouth.

Struggling heavy-legged against the current in his baggy waders, her makes his way to her. At first glance he had thought her skin green, but surely that was a trick of the water flowing from her and the leaf-dappled light. As he gets closer the illusion disappears, and he sees that she is pale and lithe and lovely, and without a scrap of clothes.

“My God,” he says, averting his eyes from her nakedness. “Here, let me help you.” He offers her his many-pocketed fishing vest, heavy with the tools of his sport. She is small enough that it covers her from shoulders to mid-thigh. “Who are you? Is there someone looking for you” Somewhere I should take you?”

“My name is Neckan,” she says, wrapping the khaki vest tight around herself, dark spots spreading as it soaks the wet from her skin. “There is no one. But could you take me someplace warm, and dry?”

She is beautiful enough to derail his reason, to hold his rush of questions at bay. He takes her home and finds among his clothing a shirt that serves as a dress for her, leaving her looking at once lost in its folds and lush beneath. He feeds her (broth is what she seems to crave, hot and thin). He gives her his bed, and lies all night unsleeping on his chivalric couch.

In the days to come she provides him with answers enough to allow him to let her stay; vague little things that shy away from further questions like a wild creature in a cage. “I’m alone,” “I didn’t fall, I jumped,” and “The river didn’t want me so it gave me back. To you.”

So he buys her clothing, accepts her into his life with wonder at his luck. And one night soon thereafter she leads him to his own bed. Beneath him, she is a wild and rolling and hungry thing. Her passion both frightens and thrills him, but the latter grows and the former recedes with time.

He introduces her as his lover, and his friends, casual by nature, accept her without question. A couple now, they fall into a life together; one of fierce sex and rare, oblique conversation. He has never been happier.

As the summer progresses, he is content to give her the time he would once have spent fishing. His friends, though, eager anglers, return from their trips unsatisfied. The salmon runs are poor things this year, they say. The river, flush with runoff from an unusual summer’s heat, is fierce and unforgiving. There are drownings; four fishermen first, and then a child who strayed too close to a crumbling bank.

Not knowing why, he tries to keep these things from her, but she hears snippets of the conversations around her. She grows morose, and their loving loses its fervor. Then one night he finds himself atop her, thrusting toward his own pleasure, only to realize that she is limp beneath him, and crying.

He rolls away, guilty, his own passion instantly gone, and she turns to him, strands of hair pasted to her face with tears.

“You have to take me back,” she says.

It is almost autumn by the time she convinces him, and the salmon runs, such as they were, are only a trickle. There are few anglers still trying the waters, and none within sight as they walk to the pool where he found her. Wordless, and with a faint smile (from a mouth that has been bereft of smiles for some time now), she slips into the cold current and, asking the question with only her eyes, reaches up to him.

Some say drowning is the most painful of deaths, though firsthand testimony is clearly lacking. It is not so for him, as her arms, clearly green now, draw him close to her beneath the battering of the current. Against all reason, he believes in his own immortality as he opens his mouth to choke the river’s hard coldness into his lungs, as his heart races and then surrenders to the fate of the few salmon scattered around him, as blackness blooms its rose-petals behind his eyes. He believes, and he believes.

And then, for a mercifully brief time, he doesn’t.


Bruce Woods is a professional writer/editor with more than 30 years in magazine publishing, having worked as editor of Mother Earth News and Alaska Magazine, among others, and having published both nonfiction and poetry books. Prairie Schooner magazine featured his work in its “Writing from Alaska” issue. His Birdhouse Book, brought out by Sterling/Lark, is still in print and has sold more than 100,000 copies.

 Posted by at 1:59 pm