Tag Archives: Fantasy

Free Fiction Friday: The Goblin and the Pixie

It wouldn’t be February without a pair of star-crossed lovers.

Everyone knew that pixies were cruel. Those teeth. Their words.

A conversation with one was like dying from a thousand tiny cuts. You might think: one or two scornful remarks won’t matter. But they added up, faster than you could count.

That was why Renate kept her distance. That, and because she was a goblin. And not one of those flashy lime green ones, or one a delicate shade of violet. She was brown, like the bark on the trees of the forest she called home.

Practical, but dull.

But the pixie? Oh, he would dazzle you—lithe, sultry. His talent was the piccolo, as Renata soon learned, but he could sing and dance and execute all manner of acrobatics. His wings were a glittery sapphire while his skin was the icy hue of a January sky.

He was so beautiful, his features elegant and lovely, even those razor-like teeth. Renata felt a bit chagrined for her admiration. It was shallow, wasn’t it? It made her shallow, didn’t it? She didn’t even know his name. Pixies seldom confessed such things, not even to a lover.

If you knew a pixie’s name, the saying went, then you knew their entire heart.

But never, in all the annals of history, had there ever been a goblin-pixie pairing. So Renata dreamed her unattainable dreams safe in the knowledge they were only that.

Until the day the pixie fluttered down from the sky and landed on the forest floor in front of her.

His feet barely whispered against the carpet of fallen leaves. His wings hummed, and the sound was warm and soothing, like a lullaby.

“Why do you stare at me all day long,” he asked.

Renata knew she didn’t have quick wit—if this were a conversational trap, then she would walk right into it. So she saw no reason to be dishonest.

“Because you are the most beautiful being I have ever seen.”

With those words, heat burned her cheeks, her skin so hot she might set the forest aflame.

The pixie tilted his head. “Do you like how I play the piccolo?”

“I do, very much.”

He twirled, a perfect pirouette, and landed gracefully. “And my acrobatics? What do you think of them?”

“They are lovely.”

For a long moment, he scrutinized her. Then, he nodded once and took flight.

Odd things happened after that. Sweet music—that of a piccolo—accompanied her trek through the forest. The tune changed depending on what she was doing. Slow and thoughtful for rooting out mushrooms. Lively and quick for picking berries.

When she was helping a doe birth twins on a slushy spring morning, a warm buzzing sounded above her, shielding her and the doe from rain. Renata glanced up, but all she could see was the furious beating of pixie wings.

On clear nights, when she peered into the sky, her name would sparkle among the stars.

She searched for hidden cruelty and found only kindness.

The next time the pixie landed before her, stepping lightly across daisies and buttercups, Renata could do little more than clutch her hands beneath her chin.

“Why do you always brighten my day?” she asked.

“Because you brighten mine.”

“Me?” This she could not fathom. “How?”

“You know which of the forest’s bounty is edible, and which is not.”

“Don’t pixies know this?”

He flushed, a delicate pink spreading through his entire body. “It’s a good thing pixies have strong constitutions. I only know what to eat from watching you.”

“I can teach you.” Such boldness! Renata almost swallowed back the words.

But he inclined his head and continued. “You care for the forest creatures. You care for our home when the rest of us enjoy it, use it, but far too often disregard it.”

“I love the forest and everything in it.” It was as close as she dared come to confessing her feelings for him.

He took one step closer. “And you have the eyes of a doe and the skin the color of a wise oak tree. You are beautiful.”

She was about to protest or shake her head when he took another step forward.

“I am Simon.”

Oh? Oh.

“You know I’m Renata.”

“I do. May I kiss you, Renata?”

She didn’t think twice, although perhaps she should have. She knew of the teeth, of the cuts, of the pain. Kissing a pixie was something a steadfast, ordinary goblin like herself should never do.

Renata stepped forward.

She closed her eyes.

The kiss was warm, steeped in magic and honey. When the quicksilver taste filled her mouth and blood ran down her chin, Renata gasped. She felt no pain, had no cuts.

It wasn’t her blood.

It was his.

Simon had sliced through his own lips as to not injure her.

But a steadfast little goblin such as herself had a salve for that. She tended to his wounds, and by nightfall, he was healed enough to play the piccolo.

It took until winter, with the snow piled high around Renata’s little cottage, until they discovered a way to kiss without incident.

Neither one minded.

The Goblin and the Pixie was written especially for the (Love) Stories of 2020 project.

Miss a story? Check out the titles here.

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Free Fiction Friday: The Burden of So Many Roses

The road to popularity at Fremont High School is paved with rose petals.

Or, to be exact (and I usually am), petals from three-dollar roses.

This year, I have a three-part plan to conquer those roses:

1. Money (Christmas, babysitting, minimum wage from the Sub Shoppe)

2. Handwriting samples (AP World History projects, chemistry lab, Spanish class)

3. Selection of boys (valedictorian, quarterback, swim team captain)

They’re all going to send me a rose on Valentine’s Day—even if they don’t realize it.

The problem? Girls from the cheerleading squad run the rose booth. I must make sure no one sees me take more than a few notecards. But a sweater with big pockets and a little misdirection work wonders. I slip in before school and give Sienna my biggest smile.

“For my best friend,” I say, a lie, of course.

One, that rose is totally for me. Two? Maybe next year at this time, I’ll have a best friend—or any friends, for that matter. First, I must tread the rose-petal path.

“Aw,” Sienna says. “That’s so sweet. Some girls don’t get any roses.”

Not that Sienna would know. She’s never been one of those girls. The thing is, everybody knows that girls buy for each other. It doesn’t make you popular. It doesn’t make guys think you’re hot. All it does is make you look desperate. I will not be that girl. Not anymore.

That night, I neglect calculus in favor of perfecting Marcus Hanson’s blocky boy letters and Toby Preston’s lazy scrawl. In the end, I spend fifty-four dollars for eighteen roses. I can always stash a few in my locker if lugging around so many roses turns out to be too much. On Valentine’s Day, I choose a pink sweater. When I walk into school and see Sienna wearing a similar style in a similar shade, I know it’s perfect.

This day will be perfect.

All morning, roses flood the classrooms. It’s a record sale, the principal announces over the PA system, with the proceeds going to Operation Smile. We are, she tells us, a most generous group of young people. Some more than others, I think.

More roses arrive, but by the time class ends, not a single one is for me. Next class. I’ll practically drown in all the roses. But by lunch, I trudge to the cafeteria empty-handed. Sienna, at the cheerleading table, has a stack of roses—red and pink and creamy white. She plucks one from the pile and hands it to a freshman girl passing by.

Oh, to be Sienna. To have roses to spare.

During chemistry, the collar of my pink fuzzy sweater chokes me. My armpits produce massive amounts of sweat. I blow an easy pop quiz. Then, I have the best thought.

All my roses will arrive during last class! I’ll stagger to my locker under their weight. When I pass Sienna, she’ll give me a secret smile, the sort only shared by girls who struggle under the burden of so many roses.

When the last bell rings, I stay rooted in my chair, convinced there’s been a mistake. Not a single rose! Mrs. Meyer clears her throat, then asks:

“Are you okay?”

I nod, but I’m not okay. I’m out fifty-four dollars. The path to my locker is strewn with other people’s rose petals. My books make my arms ache. I dial the combination, but don’t lift the handle.

“Hey, Emily.”

I turn. Toby Preston stands to one side, pink-cheeked and adorable.

“This is crazy,” he says. “But back in sixth grade, I never gave you this.” He pushes an envelope at me. “It was stupid, because we had to give everyone a valentine, but I didn’t want anyone to know I liked you.”

I hold the valentine like it’s made of spun glass. This is better than a rose.

“Would you like to go somewhere?” he asks. “Coffee shop, maybe?”

Oh! Even better. Who needs roses anyway? I nod and open my locker for my coat. Out spills a rose. Then another. They tumble out, cover the linoleum, bury me up to my ankles.

Toby’s cheeks blaze red. His Adam’s apple bobs once, twice, so hard my throat aches in response.

“I guess coffee’s out of the question,” he says. Before I can stop him, he sprints down the hall.

A custodian helps me clear away the roses. She loans me a pair of work gloves, but the thorns find my skin. One pricks my cheek, and I can’t stop the blood tear that rolls down my face.

“Seen this before,” she says after I shove the last rose to the bottom of the dumpster.

“Really?”

“It happens. Every few years or so.”

What happens?” I want to know why and what it all means.

Her eyes are kind, but she shrugs. “I think that’s up to you.”

I leave school empty-handed.

A block from home, I spot a little girl at a bus stop. In the center of the road sits a smashed shoebox. Red construction paper hearts flutter in the wind. Tires grind Red Hots and conversation hearts into powder. Her sobs fill the air but do nothing to stop the cars from plowing through her valentines.

“They’re all gone,” she says, “I don’t have any left.”

Neither do I. Then I remember Toby’s valentine. I pull it from my backpack. The wind nearly steals it, so I hang on tightly. Then I wonder if I can let it go.

“What’s that?” the little girl asks.

“It’s yours.” I kneel at her side and hand it to her.

“Oh! It even has my name on it! Right here. It says Emily.”

“See? It was meant for you.”

She skips down the sidewalk, clutching Toby Preston’s valentine to her chest. I turn for home. Only when I reach the front porch, do I feel it.

I am one rose lighter.

The Burden of So Many Roses was first published in Kazka Press as part of their monthly contest. The theme was an undelivered Valentine. And it’s one of those Valentine’s Day stories for when you’re not feeling Valentine’s Day.

I was thrilled when Toasted Cake picked it up for the podcast. Tina’s narration is, as always, amazing.

Miss a story? Check the titles here.

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Free Fiction Friday: Moving Day

Sometimes love means saying goodbye.

She stands in the center of the apartment, waiting for the landlord and the final walkthrough. She blinks as if she’s not used to seeing the space so empty. I’m not used to it either.

She is moving out today, and I tell myself that this is for the best, that I couldn’t be prouder.

The walls feel bare and vulnerable, mottled with shadows from where she hung her art. At first, she only painted tiny pictures, full of sickly greens and mustard yellows and dank purples. They were bruises, these paintings.

I was so glad when she replaced them with her recent work—that of cupped hands, upturned faces, and hope.

I will miss the paintings.

The landlord enters with a clipboard. He is small-hearted. He loves neither his tenants nor the spaces they occupy. He only wants to cheat her out of the security deposit. I’ve seen this all before.

He wrinkles his nose, his face scrunched in a poorly disguised mask of disappointment at the scents that swirl in the air. Lemon. Pine. Murphy’s Oil Soap, which has always been my favorite. The space is pristine.

True, for the first two months, she barely unpacked. She slept in the closet, hidden beneath a pile of blankets. In the kitchenette, she boiled water for ramen and spread peanut butter over bread. This was subsistence living, and I ached for her.

But that was before.

In these last few months? The aroma of curry and chocolate filled every pocket of space. She decorated earnest, braiding rag rugs that warmed the tile in the kitchenette and the bathroom. I’m always surprised at how little it takes to turn beige walls and gray linoleum into a home.

The landlord halts, fingers exploring a depression in the drywall. He snakes his hand back and forth—always finding fault, this one.

“What happened here?” he asks. His gruff voice is tinged with a hint of triumph.

She presses her lips together and shakes her head.

“Almost looks like someone got thrown into the wall.”

He laughs.

She doesn’t.

The landlord marks something on his clipboard.

That was the beginning of after, the last time she unlocked the deadbolt.

The pounding on the door continued, of course. Daily at first. Then every other day. Then once a week. Then, all at once, the pounding stopped completely.

I think we both exhaled.

Soon after, fresh colors crept into her paintings. She started taping brochures to the bathroom mirror—of students with backpacks, lounging by fountains or gazing studiously from their seats in a lecture hall.

“I’m going to have to charge you a hundred for the wall,” the landlord says now.

She glances toward the ceiling, rolls her eyes. We both know he isn’t going to repair the wall.

I so want to hold onto a memory of her. The landlord won’t let her leave the braided rugs. This is all I have, this dent in the wall. The memory of her strength. I’m glad he won’t be fixing it.

She turns over the keys, but in the hallway, she pauses.

“I think I left something in the medicine cabinet.”

She dashes inside and stands in the center of the room, arms spread wide. She spins in a slow circle, taking in the kitchenette, the tiny balcony, the dining alcove.

On her way out, she lets her fingers linger over the deadbolt, taps it once, twice, three times.

“Thank you.”

She has never slammed my door and doesn’t now. The sound of her footsteps fades down the hall one final time. I exhale into the empty space, my ventilation system rattling as if I could tell her goodbye.

I’m so very proud of her.

I’ve always wanted to write a flash fiction story from the perspective of an inanimate object. Moving Day turned out to be that story.

Miss a story? Find the list of titles here.

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Free Fiction Friday: Dragon’s Bane

Sometimes the best friendships are the unconventional ones.

Something is different in this part of the forest. Even the ground beneath Kit’s feet feels unsubstantial to her sneakers. Like the solid earth might crumble away at any moment, and she would plunge into nothing.

Everything in her world feels like that right now—a slow and steady crumbling—all her plans, the heart that beats in her chest, even the lease on her studio apartment. Worst of all, her one bit of solace, the forest, spins around her, nothing solid and sure.

Except when she stumbles upon an old log. She’s been here before, in this part of the forest, but how is it she’s never seen this particular clearing, with this particular log?

The log is huge, reaching halfway up her thigh. The surface is rough even through her jeans, the bark baked warm by the sun.

Kit pulls out a thermos. Before her trek into the forest—ostensibly to think, but really, it was running away—she brewed hot cocoa. The real kind, in a pan on her two-burner stove. She measured out the cocoa and the sugar, adding a dash of vanilla and cinnamon.

Now she uncaps the thermos, and the aroma rides the crisp autumn air, filling it with rich chocolate and a hint of wood smoke. Kit inhales, and for that single moment, everything is okay.

Then the log beneath her rumbles. It’s a rolling, tumbling, undulating motion that makes her think of a rollercoaster—and sends her plummeting backward and onto the ground.

She lands hard, breath leaving her in a whoosh, hot cocoa sloshing in the thermos. Somehow—somehow—she holds onto it, holds it steady and upright.

It’s then she finds herself staring into a pair of huge amber eyes. They are the size of Kit’s head—at least—and they glow with intensity. Beneath those eyes, she spies a snout and a pink, forked tongue.

She follows the elegant line of a neck to the large hump she earlier took for an old-growth log.

“You,” she says now, testing her voice in the still air, “are a dragon, or I’m losing my mind.”

The creature snorts, the scent of wood smoke with a hint of brimstone infusing the space around her.

“Although, I suppose there are worse ways to lose your mind.”

The dragon snorts again as if in agreement.

“I’m Kit.” She doesn’t hold out her hand. One, she’s still clutching the thermos. Two, she’s not certain dragons shake hands.

The dragon bows its head in acknowledgment. Then, like a whisper, a word lights in Kit’s mind.

Taggledorf.

“It’s nice to meet you, Taggledorf.”

The dragon thumps its tail once, and the earth shakes.

But this time, it doesn’t feel as if the ground will crumble beneath her.

* * *

Kit visits the spot often. Taggledorf doesn’t always appear. Even when she—it’s a long and complicated bit of pantomime to determine that Taggledorf is a she—doesn’t, her presence is there. The air holds that scent of wood smoke. Sometimes there’s brimstone.

But everything in that particular clearing grows a bit lusher, smells a bit richer. Hummingbirds flit and dragonflies buzz. In the winter, there is enough warmth radiating from Taggledorf’s back that Kit can spend hours in the cold.

She brings the man she wants to make her husband to this spot. She does not expect Taggledorf to appear, but yes, it’s a test. Her heart is still tender and cautious. While this man fills her with certainty, so did the other, the one that had her fleeing to the forest in the first place.

When she returns alone a week later and finds the clearing alive with forget-me-nots and wild roses, she has Taggledorf’s answer.

She weaves a crown of roses for her friend, and when Taggledorf does appear, a bit shy, Kit places the wreath on the dragon’s head.

“We will always be friends,” she says.

* * *

She brings her children to this spot, spreading a soft, flannel blanket across the clearing. In summer, they drink lemonade, in winter, hot cocoa. Taggledorf makes her scales shimmer and shine. The children spend hours slapping the scales with their chubby hands, squealing and shrieking with delight.

One time, the warm sunshine lulls Kit into a nap. She wakes, heart pounding and terrified, only to find that Taggledorf has corralled both children with her tail.

“Thank you, my friend.” Kit sighs and leans into the old-growth that is and is not Taggledorf’s midsection. “Thank you.”

* * *

Kit discovers that Taggledorf loves stories. It’s when she reads to her children that the dragon’s scales glow and hum. Picture books and Mother Goose, eventually graduating to chapter books. Her children sit on the dragon’s back and take turns reading aloud.

When they’ve moved on—to novels and textbooks and quantum mechanics—Kit takes to reading in the clearing any time she can. The heat against her back tells her which stories are her friend’s favorites.

When her eyesight dims, and her hands no longer can hold an e-reader, never mind a paperback, she plays audiobooks for them.

In the sunshine, they rest, safe in the knowledge that nothing changes as long as the story goes on.

* * *

It has been months since Kit has visited the clearing, maybe even a year, but she doesn’t want to think hard enough to count. Today is perfect for a trek—her last trek to her clearing.

The spring air is warm, but the path is still clear of summer growth, those brambles and branches that might trip her up.

Even so, the walk is long, much longer than when she pushed a double stroller along the dips and ruts. By the time she reaches the old-growth log that isn’t a log, her legs nearly give out beneath her.

“No stories today, my friend. I only want to rest, with you.” She sinks against her friend, knowing Taggledorf will cushion her fall. “I have no wish to be found until … after.”

She snuggles against the dragon with the full knowledge that stories go on, but hers ends now.

And thanks to Taggledorf, it was a good one.

* * *

The girl smells familiar. This is the first thing Taggledorf notices. The second is the salt, so strong it has chapped the girl’s cheeks and flavors the air.

Grief is something that can fill your mouth. This is something Taggledorf knows. It is something this girl is learning.

The girl settles next to her, back against Taggledorf’s midsection, the very place where she—the other she—sat for so many years. The girl’s body shakes, and Taggledorf lets the fire that always burns in her belly flare a bit—enough warmth to comfort and soothe while she ponders this girl.

She feels right.

Not everyone does, of course. That is the dragon’s bane. So many of her kind have abandoned friendship, opting to gradually become the landscape they occupy.

But Taggledorf knows that despite the grief and goodbyes, a good friend is a story unto itself.

So she opens her large amber eyes and stares at the girl.

The gasp has more delight than fear.

The fingers are gentle against Taggledorf’s snout.

“I miss her,” the girl says.

Taggledorf nods. She does too.

“I’m Carly.” The girl doesn’t hold out her hand. She already knows that dragons don’t shake hands.

Taggledorf blows a stream of smoke into the air. In it, is the sound of her name.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Carly says.

The dragon thumps her tail once, and the earth shakes.

And for now, at least, it doesn’t feel as if the ground will crumble beneath either of them.

Dragon’s Bane was written specifically for the (Love) Stories of 2020 project.

Miss a story? Check out the titles here.

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Weekly writing check-in: starting 2020 with a sale!

Not only did I kick off the (Love) Stories for 2020 project this week, but I made a sale!

I sold a story to one of my “bucket-list” markets: a flash fiction piece to Daily Science Fiction.

So, yes, that was an excellent way to start the year. More details when I have a publication date.

I’ve been busy offline over this holiday. It’s a good thing I scheduled January’s story posts early. Otherwise, my 2020 project would not have started in 2020 (or at least not right away).

I’m looking forward to doing some new and creative things with my writing this year. Not so much goals and New Year’s resolutions–but I do have plans. I hope to talk about those in the next few weeks or so.

In the meantime, you can go check out the year’s first story: Gretel and Hansel.

 

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Free Fiction Friday: Gretel and Hansel

January’s stories will be a mix of sibling love, surprising friendships, and cautionary tales of workplace romances. I hope you enjoy them!

We kick off the (Love) Stories of 2020 project with this fairytale retelling. If you were ever curious about what happened to Hansel and Gretel after they returned home, this might answer that question.

Hansel wanted to go back.

Even after endless weeks in a cage, even after Gretel scrubbed and swept and scoured for the witch, even after she pushed the frog-skinned crone into the oven, Hansel wanted to go back.

They stood at the edge of the forest, where the grass grew wild and sharp; brambles grabbed at their skin. The trees above reached their branches toward the ground as if they might scoop the two up and carry them away.

“She’s dead,” Gretel said to him.

Hansel stared into the woods.

“I killed her.”

He shook his head, the movement so slow that at first, Gretel didn’t take its meaning.

“You didn’t kill her,” he said, his words as dead as the witch should’ve been. “She’s alive.”

Could she be? Gretel stretched her hands in front of her, palms skyward.

These hands. They’d shoved from behind. They’d murdered. The crunch of bones, the sizzle of hair and flesh. The thick smoke that had filled her mouth and throat, the plumes laced with the stench of rancid meat.

No one could live through that. No one, perhaps, except a witch.

“Why do you want to go back?” she asked.

A smile lit his face, the same sort of look she’d seen their father cast toward their stepmother, the same look Millie gathered from men in the tavern. True, some men reserved that gaze for the pint of ale they held in their grip. When Hansel licked his lips, Gretel hoped he wouldn’t answer.

He didn’t.

Every year, on the anniversary of their escape, Gretel would find Hansel at the edge of the forest. She’d stand with him while the sun dipped below the horizon, the slanting light flickering against the trees. The branches appeared to elongate as if beckoning them to step inside the wood.

Every year, she took his hand—a limp, clammy thing—and tugged him from the edge. With each step, her legs ached. Only the feel of Hansel’s hand in hers kept her steady on the path home.

But maybe she was wrong. Hansel lived as if his heart, his soul, still resided deep in the woods, in a gingerbread house. She’d catch him licking his lips, and she knew. She’d tasted the sugar too. It had left them both empty—she without her brother, he without his heart’s desire.

The year they turned sixteen, Gretel climbed the path to the woods only to find Hansel’s spot empty. Pulse fluttering in her throat, she bent low. Her fingers skimmed the dust trail. In the dim light, she barely made out a boot print. It was enough to go on.

Gretel scampered down the path, grabbed her cloak from the hook inside the cottage door, and raced back up the hill. Before she could catch her breath, before she could gather enough courage to venture into the woods, a hand gripped her wrist.

“Stay back, girl. Don’t go after him.”

The voice was lilting, filled with sorrow and knowledge. Not her father, then. Gretel turned to confront Millie from the tavern.

“I have to,” Gretel said. “He’s my brother.”

“He hasn’t been yours for a very long time.” Millie tugged on her wrist, a gentle, coaxing move that had Gretel stumbling forward. “It’s too late. Once the witch has you, she doesn’t let go.”

“Yes, she does.” She wrenched her wrist from Millie’s grip and held up her hands for the woman to see. “I did it once. I can do it again.”

Gretel pulled her cloak tightly around her and plunged into the forest.

Brambles wielded their thorns like daggers, their sharp points shredding her cloak. Branches grabbed at her hood. Eventually one plucked it from her head, the force choking her until she undid the drawstring.

On she ran until the woods opened onto a stream. The stream led to the gingerbread house. Gretel halted, letting the fringe of trees around the clearing conceal her.

The path to the house was covered with brittle, the air perfumed with spun sugar and melted chocolate. Even from this distance, desire churned in Gretel’s belly. Yes, she’d tasted the sugar. Yes, she’d thought of returning. But after that unbearable sweetness, the cream curdled in her mouth, the sugar scorched her tongue. She’d purged, not far from here, next to the stream while Hansel had continued to consume the treats as if they were the only thing that could sustain him.

The witch stood in the entryway to her house, but this was not the frog-skinned crone of Gretel’s memory. The witch glowed like spring itself, her skin the color of a pale crocus stem, her hair flowing, as white as lily of the valley and as soft as spun sugar.

Hansel lounged against the rail, a candied apple in his hands, the fruit so big and bright it glowed in the night. The witch curved a finger beneath his chin, and with no more than that, urged him inside.

Gretel threw herself forward, but the rock-sugar fence that surrounded the house barred her way, new segments sprouting across her path. She flung herself against the fence, again and again until her palms stung. She watched the blood, black in the moonlight, drip between her fingers and onto the ground.

“I’ve failed him,” she said, to the forest, for every creature to witness.

“Whoo?” came the soft call of an owl.

“Me. I have failed my brother.” Gretel studied her bloodstained hands. Certainly, this was proof of that.

“Whoo.” The call came again, a lullaby rather than an admonishment.

One by one, feathers dropped from the night sky, floating downward until they landed on Gretel’s palms. Each feather soaked up its share of blood before disintegrating. When a lone feather landed against her cheek, she sank to the forest floor and fell asleep.

The blaze woke her hours later, the gingerbread house lit with flames. The odor of burnt sugar and charred sweets filled her nose, her mouth, her throat, the stench so caustic it felt as if a noose had tightened around her neck.

“Hansel?” She called his name, again and again, her cries too thin to cut through the thick smoke that billowed from the house. “Hansel?”

Near dawn, the fire burned itself out, the rock-sugar fence a slag that oozed its way through twigs and leaves. Only the witch’s oven remained, squat and low to the ground. It was from here a figure emerged, movements tentative as a newborn calf.

Gretel leaped across the slag and ran to her brother.

Hansel took her by the shoulders, his fingers thin and tight. “I had to go back. I had to be the one to kill her.” He shook her as if that would help her understand. “Me, not you.”

His blond hair had turned ashen. If she brushed it from his eyes, Gretel thought it might crumble to dust against her fingertips. He reeked of burnt sugar and acrid smoke, but when she turned his palms skyward, they were clean and pink, like a child’s hands.

She took him by one of those hands and led him to the path that would take them home.

Gretel and Hansel first appeared in the August 2016 issue of Deep Magic.

If you enjoy fairytale retellings, you might like Straying from the Path.

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Free Fiction Friday: Portal to Fantasy December Free Books

Another pretty, pretty Portal to Fantasy graphic and a whole bunch of free books for your December reading list.

 

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