“Your hair,” says Teagan.
I blush, glad of the confusingly dim glow of the candle in the Thai restaurant. I’m sensitive about my wild dark curls, at once glorious and unprofessional. Teagan leans forward. “You should always leave your hair loose, Shawanna.” He’s got a charming smile, bracketed by two deep dimples. “Like a princess in a fairytale or a play.”
The tom yum soup’s gone; the green curry pork and the larb and the pad thai are finished. A small candle burns in a celadon jar on the center of the table. Teagan moves closer to me on the silk upholstered banquette of the Patra Thai restaurant, and strokes my tameless cloud of curls in a way that leaves me in no doubt.
I met Teagan at a drama workshop. He was one of the four men in a group of twelve; I was the only African-American. We partnered in an exercise, creating storybook characters. Initially, I thought him just another tall-fair-handsome stranger, but he turned out more interesting than that: he was ready to discuss Hans Andersen and Anansi and the deeper meaning of nursery rhymes.
He suggested dinner after the workshop. We ended up at this brilliant little Thai place where the décor was celadon-green and gold leaf.
After the waiter took our orders and menus, I leaned back and asked him, “What about theater appeals to you?”
“It holds a mirror up to nature…” He paused. “What about you?”
“It’s that element of wild magic in my life.”
In my satisfactory but staid life as an accountant, I didn’t say. Everyone assumes accountants are gray men with no personality. It’s not like that at all. Accounting is an art, one that I’ve mastered, and my career is going well. But this was my other life, and I did not want to talk about my work, particularly not with this gorgeous man.
We talked of fairy-tales and poetry and art. All evening, the conversation never veered back to the mundane. He created a magical, sparkling bubble that I stepped into with him. Teagan’s world: luminous, slightly magnified, a little distorted with colors shifted toward a palette of azure and cobalt, like a Monet painting.
His blue eyes seem almost to glow, like a cat’s. His eyelashes are long. His hair is caught into a pony-tail on the nape of his neck. And while I’m talking about mangoes and sticky rice, he puts his hand in my hair again, drawing it down in a sensuous way that makes me shiver.
I grab his pale hand in my dark one and hold it to my face. It smells… I can’t place the scent. It recalls something in my childhood, something from mom’s garden in a house we’ve long since sold. When I kiss it, I leave the deep red of my lipstick on his palm. He doesn’t rub it away.
Standing up, he bows with theatrical grace and recites a nursery-rhyme I haven’t heard in years. “Curlylocks, Curlylocks, wilt thou be mine? Thou shalt not wash dishes nor yet feed the swine, but sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam, and dine upon strawberries, sugar and cream.”
Enchanted, I rise in turn and curtsy deep. “I will, sir!”
I don’t expect that he means it literally.
“What the fuck? What just happened?” Instead of the dim, candle-lit Patra Thai Restaurant, we’re in a bright circular room with granite walls and a high coffered ceiling. Underfoot, it’s not slate tile, it’s a round carpet in rich shades of royal blue and purple that seem to shift as I look at it. Cool morning light pours through three tall windows. I’m totally stunned. “Just where in hell are we?”
Teagan winces at my language. Taking my hand, he leads me to a window seat cushioned in tufted silk and draws me down beside him to look out. It’s certainly not night-time here. Unfamiliar feathery trees, bright-leaved with spring, line a gravel road that runs into a picture-book blue sky piled with great rounded cumulus clouds.
“Welcome to my domain, Curlylocks!” he says. He never calls me Shawanna again.
I’m not sure whether to freak out or be charmed. “How did we get here?”
“Magic,” Teagan says. “Real magic.”
I am confused, bewildered, stupefied. Part of me is so ready to believe in magic, real magic. The other part wonders if there’s some derivative of LSD and rohypnol out there.
He kisses me deeply, running his hands through my hair, then stands, holding my eyes with his. “You’re perfect.”
I move into his arms then, leaning against him with my eyes shut. His unusual perfume evokes indistinct memories of wood smoke and wonder. His embrace envelops me. “Magic,” I murmur. It’s really magic.
A maid enters, and he moves away. “Susie will show you your rooms,” he tells me.
“We’re staying? Awesome!” Other guys whisk their girlfriends off to Los Angeles for a long weekend, or even Paris. Mine is showing me — fairyland.
Susie leads the way up a stone staircase whose risers sparkle with gemstones. At the top, we pass through an arched doorway into a library overlooking a lake, and then into a room furnished with a bed covered in furs, an old mirror in a frame carved with fruit and strangely expressive animals, and a tall rustic armoire straight from a fantasy movie. Across the library is the door to Teagan’s rooms; Susie points it out but does not take me in.
The armoire is hung with flowing ankle-length gowns. It looks like a theatrical wardrobe, though with finer fabrics and colors more subtle than for the stage.
“Would you like to change, madam?” Susie asks.
I’m still in the sexy red dress and gold necklace I slipped on after work. In this setting, it just looks wrong, inappropriate, laughably seductive.
“Lady Kirkea will be waiting for you, madam,” Susie says. Wonder who that is. I look a question at Susie. “Your mother-in-law,” she says. Mother-in-law? A giddy sense of theatrical transformation sweeps over me. Susie helps me into a green gown that brings out my eyes and makes my dark skin glow. There’s a jeweled circlet for my hair, set with some lovely translucent stones — garnets and moss agate.
Kirkea is as tall as Teagan, with the same graceful bearing; but stiffer, haughtier, all ice-queen in pale blue silk. I curtsey when introduced, an African princess meeting a fair foreign queen. My gown makes it easy to stay in character.
“Welcome, my dear,” Kirkea says. “Please make yourself at home.” She waves toward a table, and we sit down to eat.
What, again? I suppress a burp tasting of tom yum soup, but politely take a small amount of salad, and instead of sticky rice and mango, get strawberries and cream. They are ripe and sweet even without the dusting of sugar on them.
The night. The night is wonderful. What is it about Teagan that is so arousing? The scent like memory, the deep eyes, his accessible body? I couldn’t tell exactly how he brings me to an exquisite ecstasy. Perhaps it’s a glamour that he casts on me.
When I awake, in his bed on his silk sheets amid his pillows, he’s gone. My hair, which I hadn’t even tied back before falling asleep, springs about my head like an uncontrollable happy halo. I start finger-combing it as I go back to my room.
“Why, Lady Curlylocks, I’ll take care of that.” Susie’s standing behind me. She dresses my hair, gently separating the strands better than my own hair guy. Then she lays out a gown in the soft russet that looks so rich against my skin.
Kirkea is waiting in the Great Room. She’s carrying a finely crafted basket. “I must get you started on the sewing, dear,” she says, and leads the way to a couch by the north window.
Sewing? What? I suppose without TV or Internet, people have to do something. Not me, though. “I’d suck…, I mean, I’d be real bad at it. I’ve never sewed anything but a loose button.” I give her a polite smile.
“Everything will come with practice and study,” says Kirkea. She opens the basket, which is lined with blue silk and filled with sewing supplies.
“I’m only here a couple of days.” This isn’t quite what I had in mind for my Fairyland mini-vacation. “There’s no time for a new hobby.”
“A couple of days, Curlylocks? You’ll be here longer than that, dear.”
Umm, what? “I’m really glad Teagan brought me, but no way can I stay beyond the weekend. They need me at work, and my mother will wonder why I haven’t called.”
“Oh, time passes differently in this world,” Kirkea says. “No one will know you’re gone. Don’t worry your lovely head about it. Now, let me show you this.”
The woman isn’t taking no for an answer.
Well, I figure, she’s my hostess. I can think of a tactful out later. Once Teagan comes, I tell myself, he can take me to see the sights in this magical place. Then I won’t have time for this stuff. Till then, I can cooperate. I pick up the needle, hearing my mom’s voice in my head: Always mind your manners, girl. A well-mannered girl can go places. Yeah, Mom. Would you believe fairyland?
Running stitch. “It’s the simplest stitch,” Kirkea says. “In and out, in and out, always going forward. Like this. Try to keep the stitches even. That’s good.”
I’m sitting by the north window, gazing at the bucolic magical world outside, and looking forward to exploring it with Teagan. What kind of enchantments are there to see?
When Kirkea returns, she looks at what I’ve done. The uneven stitches don’t line up. Kirkea breaks the knot and tugs at the thread. The stitches pull out.
“That was quite good for a first attempt, my dear. Start again here, and do try to stay on the line.”
Where does she get off? I’m about to protest, then don’t. Manners, girl, I tell myself. Don’t piss off Teagan’s mom this early in the relationship.
Still, it is not a good start to a romantic weekend.
Back stitch. “That’s a strong stitch,” Kirkea explains. “The thread loops back. Out and back and in and forward and out and back and…” Kirkea demonstrates it as she talks. She hands me the blue cambric, and I made some tentative stitches.
When Kirkea leaves, I put the work down and go over to the west window. It looks out on a farm with fenced-in fields and cows and pigs and horses. A fat sow roots around in the mud, a squealing brood of piglets following her. Do all magical worlds look like a made-for-TV version of rural England? Annoyed that Teagan hasn’t yet shown up, I go back to work. There’s really not much else to do.
Ripping out the backstitch is much harder; it has to be picked out stitch by stitch. That’s why it’s stronger than running stitch.
The tedious work reminds me of Grandma, stubbornly darning socks though Mom always bought new ones. I’m no Grandma, and I’m ready to throw down the cloth and quit. But at what risk?
Careful, girl, I tell myself. It’s a magic world, and fairytales had nasty fates for girls who crossed magical people. I really don’t want to be covered in tar, or cursed with frogs falling from my mouth.
So I go back to work, keeping my stitches even, my mouth shut and my ears open.
Teagan appears mainly at meal times, when he’s gallant and charming and looks deep into my eyes with his striking azure ones. The rest of the time, he keeps busy with the work of the domain, or so his mother says.
“He was gone such a long time in your world,” Kirkea says, “Searching for the perfect one.”
Strawberries and cream figure daily on the menu. The food is excellent; salads and lightly-cooked greens, carrots and broccoli, peas and potatoes. Occasionally, there are eggs and always milk and yoghurt. Still, after a while I’m longing for steak or backribs. Why do they even keep pigs if they aren’t going to eat them?
One day, standing at the east window after lunch, I notice crowds and activity in a distant field. Sunlight glints off metallic trappings. Spears? Teagan puts his arms around me and pulls me onto the window seat. “My troops,” he says. “Military exercises.” And he kisses me gently on the lips and winds his fingers into my hair.
I draw closer to him. “Men with armor and spears? Let’s go look!”
“Armor and spears and magic. But I don’t think Mother would like that. She wants you here.”
“What, can’t we go out for one day? I thought this was meant to be a romantic getaway.”
He looks shocked. “Nobody displeases Mother.”
By the time I get to chain stitch, I figure out how to politely tell Kirkea this really isn’t my thing. Can’t I help with the castle accounts instead? A wave of nostalgia for numbers and spreadsheets hits me. Debits and Credits, Assets and Liabilities. It’s a language that tells its own stories. By the time I’ve cast the accounts into GAAP form, I’d find out a lot about this land.
“Oh, Wallis takes care of all that,” Kirkea says. “It’s important for you to learn the needlework. When you have mastered it all, you will sew a fine seam.”
So now I’m getting pissed off with this holiday. Where’s the magic, where the romance, and most importantly, where the fuck is Teagan?
I’m not going to wait for him to show me around. Instead of going to the Great Room, I can explore at least the farm behind the castle.
It’s charming, like something from a children’s story-book rather than the usual monoculture farm with miles of wheat or thousands of cows in feedlots. This has pens and fields, hens with darting yellow chicks, small honey-brown Jersey cattle with long eyelashes that remind me of Teagan’s, dappled horses in a pasture.
One enclosure holds a large sow with a dozen little piglets, snuffling and squeaking. The swineherd leans on the railing, tossing in potatoes from a pile by the path and big chunks of boiled meat from a bucket.
He straightens up as I approach, and introduces himself with a bow and a touch to his forehead. Unsure how to respond, I smile and say, “I’m Shawanna Clay.” Taking a potato from the pile I ask, “Can I feed them?”
Just then, I hear hurrying footsteps — Susie, skirts held up, running. She looks scared and breathless.
“Madam, madam, Lady Kirkea was searching for you. In the Great Room.”
I give her a friendly smile. “I’m going for a walk. Say I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Oh, please, no Madam! Please hurry back! Lady Kirkea mustn’t be kept waiting.”
I hesitate. She curtsies and says, “Madam, please, I mustn’t anger her. She might throw me out or turn me into a pig.”
Oh yeah, right. A pig. But the swineherd too is shaking his head frantically. It spoils my mood. Dropping the potato, I start toward the castle and wonder how in hell to get back to Philadelphia.
Kirkea’s waiting to teach me satin stitch. She doesn’t mention my absence, but is so cold and sharp that it’s clear why Susie was terrified. “Lay the stitches side by side like this. Do it neatly so it fills the space.”
“Like coloring inside the lines.” I’m all cooperation, but I’m glad when Kirkea leaves.
I take my work over to the window and look at the swine I wasn’t allowed to feed. The swineherd leans on the fence and tosses in some more potatoes. The needle pricks my finger, and I jump, swearing. A drop of blood falls on the pale blue cloth. Fuck! My “mother-in-law” will undoubtedly make me start over.
That night, sitting on Teagan’s bed in a crimson nightgown of gossamer silk, I declare it’s time I went home.
“But you agreed to come here,” he says. “When I met you, I knew you were the one. You spoke of magic and fairy-tales. You looked like a princess.”
“It was a theater workshop! A costume! I’m an accountant.”
Teagan looks like I’ve unexpectedly said a bad word. “Here, you are a princess,” he declares. “Isn’t it much better?”
“I need to go back,” I tell him. “Spring is tax season. And my mom’s birthday.”
“Don’t you remember the spell, Curlylocks?” Teagan says sadly. “ ‘Wilt thou be mine?’ And you said yes.”
“That stupid nursery rhyme was a spell?”
Teagan looks offended. “It was a spell and a contract. You agreed to be mine under certain conditions.”
“I thought you were being playful! You know, romantic.”
“It was a proposal. And here you are.”
“What d’you mean?” I’m indignant. “We’re not married!”
“Oh, that’s it,” says Teagan, sounding relieved. “Don’t worry. My mother will organize a fairy-tale wedding. You’ll look even more beautiful as a bride, Curlylocks. And you will be even more mine, if that is possible.”
Oh shit. The last thing I want is magical marriage to tie me more strongly to this land. To change the subject, I comb my fingers sensuously through my curls and look at him through lowered lashes.
He moves closer and slowly takes off his shirt, the silk gliding down his arms. The smell that is peculiarly his own, the musky smell of memory. His eyes dark blue and dreamy. When I reach for his mouth, my body’s tingling with desire.
He pauses before he kisses me. “We’ll be married next spring. That will give Mother time to plan it.”
The next evening, Susie lays out a low-cut jeweled gown in teal green; and a necklace of shimmering gold, jet, and rough emeralds; and teal and gold slippers. Wondering what’s going on, I get dressed. Teagan too, is garbed for the occasion in a deep blue silk tunic, belted with silver and sapphires; he escorts me to where Lady Kirkea, resplendent in cerulean, waits to enter a horse-drawn coach. For a crazy moment I wonder if the horses are actually white mice, then reflect that maybe it isn’t so crazy.
We stop at a hall bright with lamps, and enter with a flare of trumpets. It’s thronged with gowned women and elegantly tunic-clad men, all of whom bow or curtsy as we pass, a little wave of silence traveling with us. Inside, a hearth as tall as Teagan has a fire jumping and crackling as though it’s excited to be there. The music is live, splendid and danceable.
Teagan leads me onto the floor, and I give myself to the music and his arms. The steps come easily. Later, I dance with some men I do not know, all tall, black-haired and elegant, all bowing to Teagan first and seeking his permission.
At the feast, the array of foods seems to go on and on from one end of the long table to the other. Kirkea, who is sitting next to me, draws up a little rock-crystal bowl full of strawberries and cream, and presents them to me with a silver spoon. Then Teagan produces a ring of sapphires and aquamarine. He takes my hand in his, and tries to slip it onto my finger. It’s too small. I return it to him with a pretty, noncommittal, smile.
Stem stitch. Cross stitch. Couching. Herringbone. Outside, the leaves darken to summer green. The chicks fledge into gawky creatures, and their numbers thin. The piglets grow heavier, and stop following the sow.
My routine is inexorable. Sewing in the Great Room in the morning; willy-nilly, I am mastering the craft, understanding more about the uses of each stitch than Kirkea actually explains. There’s more going on than simple needle-craft.
After that, a lunch of salads and eggs and breads is always followed by the mandatory strawberries and cream. If I try to skip them, Teagan looks hurt and Kirkea insists in a way that is always polite but can never be denied. I am pretty sick of strawberries.
Susie is gone, replaced by Bessie, and I ask after her.
“Feeding swine, Madam, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“She’s moved out to the farm?” But Bessie refuses to say anything more.
It strikes me then, with a cold clutch to the heart, that “feeding the swine” can have more than one interpretation.
On my afternoon walks in the farm, the pigs always look at me with great interest even though I’m never allowed to feed them. The one occasion I throw in a potato, the keeper exclaims and leaps the fence to grab it away. Then he begs me never to do that again, he’ll get in the most horrible trouble with Lady Kirkea.
Sometimes far in the distance I see she the soldiers Teagan mentioned, tiny figures armed with weapons I can’t discern. He never does take me to watch.
Bessie always looks worried when I leave, and relieved on my return.
“Did you think I would run away?” I ask her.
Bessie looks surprised. “Oh no, Lady Curlylocks. Why would you run away when you have every comfort here, and only an ugly land there? It’s only… if Lady Kirkea should want to know where you are…
I’m curious. “Have you ever been to the ugly land?”
“Why, no, madam. Only Lord Teagan can do that. On account of he has some human blood. But everything will change once the spell’s done. Haven’t you seen the troops? He’s taking magic to your world. In the spring, after the wedding. Lady Kirkea said you’re perfect, not like the other ladies.”
The feather trees turn the red and purple of autumn. Bessie leaves, replaced by Flossie. One afternoon, as I’m sitting at my needlework, I hear horrible squeals from the direction of the farm. Jumping up, I run to the window. Something terrible has happened, judging by the people and activity.
“They’re slaughtering pigs, Madam,” says Flossie. “Winter’s coming. They’ll only keep the breeders.”
Flossie doesn’t know where Bessie is or why she’s gone. I’m hoping she’s just gone home, but I’m suspecting worse.
Pork is on the menu the next day, but I have no appetite for it. I only eat the nauseating strawberries, which keep coming long past their proper season.
That evening, Kirkea has the seamstress measure me for the wedding gown. The artisan has sketches of a complicated blue and gold dress with a long train and elaborate embroidery. Looking through the drawings, I get a chill in my gut. The wedding will enmesh me further in this world.
Soon after the first snow, Kirkea brings me two pieces of linen, each about a foot square: One blue, the other a soft green. She hands me a box of pencils.
“You’re ready to embroider a picture,” Kirkea says. Okay, this is different than the endless lines of various stitches. What does it mean?
Kirkea holds up the blue cloth. “Make a picture of this land,” she says. “Include yourself.” Then she indicates the green cloth. “Here, you should make your old world. Include yourself there too.”
Right. She taught me sewing, not art. “I’m no good at drawing,” I protest.
“Whatever you do will be good enough, Curlylocks.”
So I embroider the castle in stone-grey, using a doubled thread to add texture, and point the cracks in couching and cross-stitch. Green plants and the strange trees growing around the castle need stem-stitch and feather stitch. I add pigs and piglets, cattle, a hen, a clutch of chicks.
I outline myself in back-stitch, a thin girl in a long dress, and use running stitch for my shoes and French knots for my wild curls. To get the right texture, I pull a few strands of my own hair and twist them with the embroidery thread.
Teagan comes to see, and looks pleased. “On the other one,” he suggests, “embroider the Patra restaurant. And yourself. And me.” And then he tells me about the arrangements for our spring wedding, a year and a day from my arrival.
I visualize the restaurant and embroider it, cut away so the interior is visible. Celadon-green silk banquettes. Gilded wood decorations. Paintings in Thai style of kinarees, the magical women, bathing in a pond under the moon, with lotuses. The table, with the bowl of tom yum soup, the green curry pork, the larb and pad thai… and myself, wearing a sexy red dress. I make the curls in French knots with thread twisted with my own hair.
The snow melts and the world turns fresh green again while I work at my pictures. Kirkea stops coming since there’s nothing she needs to teach me; but Flossie constantly keeps me company. Teagan sometimes brings news of the wedding preparations that occupy his mother. He stops seeing me at night; it’s the custom, he says, to separate for the time before the ceremony.
The bridal gown is ready. When I try it on, I look gorgeous: tall and regal — and otherworldly. Fuck. I resist the gold coronet, set with dark sapphires, aquamarines and rough diamonds. Flossie nods. “You are right, madam. Only at the wedding. Soon!”
“It’s been nearly a year,” says Teagan, “A happy, wonderful year!”
I smile but do not nod. Careful, girl, I tell myself. Careful.
Outside the east window, the first little piglets of spring chase around after a couple of sows, rooting in the pasture behind the castle. I’m embroidering the trees and chatting with Flossie, who’s always fascinated by stories of the Ugly Land and its strange customs and foods. In the pocket of the red dress hanging forlornly in the closet, I find a square of mint chocolate, and give it to her. Chocolate, like coffee, is something Fairyland doesn’t have. I’d kill for an espresso right now.
Flossie nibbles appreciatively, then looks worried. “Please don’t tell anyone, Madam,” she begs. “I’m supposed to do for you, not take favors.”
I smile. “It’s okay, it’s nothing. But do you know where I could get more fabric like these pieces? I want a spare in case I mess up. That would upset Lady Kirkea.”
Flossie nods. “No one wants to displease Lady Kirkea. I’ll bring you some pieces from the sewing stores.”
I stay up late at night, sewing.
The embroidery is nearly done. Despite the awkward perspective and some pictures being only in outline, everything is recognizable. Kirkea comes to look.
“When you finish,” she says, “We’re ready for the last step. Embroider the name Curlylocks in chain stitch over your own image on both sides. And then, make a seam to join the two pieces together.” She shows me how on a piece of scrap fabric. “It’s important that it’s a really fine seam.”
I nod intelligently. “I understand.”
But I don’t add Teagan on the green linen. Instead, I embroider my office in the same cutaway style as the restaurant, showing the interior. A plain wooden desk. A computer with a spreadsheet on the screen. Me, with a charcoal-grey pantsuit and wild curls made with strands of my own hair. In the visitor’s chair my mom, a smiling dark woman with silvery short-clipped hair, holding a wrapped gift.
It’s getting dark. Kirkea comes in. I hold out the decoy piece I stitched at night, hoping Kirkea won’t notice the hurried work in the failing light. “Are you nearing the end?” Kirkea asks.
“Oh, I’m so mad at myself! I made some stupid mistakes and had to pull them out. But I’m going well now.”
“The wedding is in two days,” says Kirkea. “You should finish before then.” It’s a command.
Two days. And after the wedding, Teagan will extend his dominion to the Ugly Land. What happens then to those who don’t submit to the magic? Like Susie and Bessie, who I’ve never seen again after those last conversations?
I smile innocently at Kirkea, looking up from my work. “Tomorrow I’ll sew a fine seam,” I tell her. Threading my needle with green, I do some additional work on the feather trees until Kirkea, apparently satisfied, leaves.
The next day, I hurriedly use black and pink thread for the tall figure of Teagan, shackling him to the blue world with chain stitch. Then I carefully join the two pieces, making the seam exactly as Kirkea described. Fabric back to back, tiny precise backstitches along the edge. Fold it over, face to face, tiny precise backstitches enclosing the raw seam. Open it up, turn it over, hem the seam flat.
Teagan and Kirkea come to watch as I put in the last tiny hemstitch, end it, and snip the thread.
“Beautiful work,” says Kirkea. Teagan leans forward to look at it as I spread it out. He gasps.
“Shawa…!” he reads. “You were supposed to write Curlylocks!”
In that moment, I’m back on the banquette in the Thai restaurant, wearing a flowing green gown and holding the embroidery. Teagan’s not there. I pull my nail scissors from my purse and snip frantically at the blue linen. Then, gripping the top of the fabric, I rip the two pieces apart and drop them on the table. I grab my hair back into the tight pony-tail I wear at work, and hack at the gathered curls. They fall in a dark pile on the table and floor.
And then there’s a sound beside me. I turn slowly, carefully.
It’s Teagan, trailing broken shackles of black and brown at his wrist and ankles. Fuck. Chain stitch unravels easily if the last stitch comes loose. That’s the bit I’d rushed.
He takes a step toward the table. “I hope you’re happy now. Mother is furious. Flossie’s a pig.” He doesn’t call me Curlylocks.
Oh no, poor Flossie! I stand, backing away from him.
He takes another threatening step forward, reaches for me. “You broke the contract. Now you must feed the swine.”
I draw myself up haughtily like the princess I’m not, my brain working quickly. “But I already did,” I say slowly, remembering. “Before I left… I gave poor Flossie my candy.”
Teagan looks at me with an uncertain expression. Then, as though something is pulling him backward through the wall, he disappears.
The two pieces of linen lie on the table before me: the green cloth, my life recaptured; and the blue land with the picture of Teagan. With a strand of my hair, I secure the chain stitch where it’s come loose, chaining him again to the blue land of magic to which I will never return.
For a long time I sit there, staring down at the fabric, rough-edged where I’ve ripped them apart. After a while, I fold the blue piece and hold it to my face. It smells of wood-smoke and wonder.
BIO: Keyan’s work has been accepted by a number of publications, including Strange Horizons, Expanded Horizons, and Ruthless Peoples Magazine. She is a graduate of the 2007 Clarion Workshop in San Diego. One of her stories was made into a prize-winning short film. Read more about Keyan’s work at www.keyanbowes.org.
IMAGE: Original photograph by David Shankbone, 2007.