January 17, 2018

Meet Angelika - The EC Team

Say "hello" to
Enchanted Conversation's
new contributing editor, 
Angelika M. Offenwanger

Editor's Note: I met Angelika through a story she wrote for Enchanted Conversation's The Elves and the Shoemaker issue. Her wonderful tale made me want to read her blog--where her photography, poems, and thoughts on writing and life in general (and her bear, Steve) led me to asking her to join EC as a contributing editor. Find out more about Angelika from her interview below, and say "hello" to her in the Comments section. 
-Amanda Bergloff

1.  What is your favorite fairy tale and why? 
What, I only get to pick one? Oh well, if you make me nail myself down...I think I'll go with Snow White and Rose Red. The reason I love this story is because it is a tale in which kindess is rewarded and wickedness gets its comeuppance. The girls take in the bear, give him shelter from the cold and make friends with him; they're kind to one another; and they even treat the nasty little dwarf with unfailing courtesy. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve -- the dwarf gets a good hard slap, the bear has his human form back, and the girls get a prince apiece, with the rose trees in front of their cozy little castle. It's a very satisfying story.

2.  Do you work from an outline or plot when you write or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you
Am I a pantser or a plotter? I'm probably a plantser, i.e. some of both. I don't make very precise outlines, but I do like having a rough framework to work in. That's why I love retelling fairy tales -- the plot is ready-made! Then within that framework, I like to see where things take me. Quite often, it's the characters' dialogue that leads me to places I didn't know I was heading, so I like to leave space open for that.

3.  Do you have other people read your work and give feedback before you submit it? If you do, has that ever dramatically changed your work?
For the most part, I do run my stories by a few people first. It tends to result in a few changes -- different wording, some additions or subtractions, chapters moved around to different locations etc, but usually nothing too drastic. I did, however, once change a significant chunk of a novel ending because one of my readers said that what I had done to the bad guys didn't fit the tone of my stories -- and he was absolutely right.
Read her story
previously published in EC
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TWITTER @AMOffenwanger

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January 15, 2018

Submissions Close Jan. 20th for February Issue

Submissions close this Saturday, January 20th at 11:59pm EST, for Enchanted Conversation's February issue. 

Only a few days left to send in your stories, poetry, art, and comics that embody Enchanted Conversation's theme: Un rĂªve d'amour (A dream of love) for the next issue.

Click HERE for all the submission details. 

EC is also accepting stories for Fairy Tale Flash: stories told between 100-500 words, which is a bi-weekly feature published on Mondays.

For more information and submission details, click HERE.

We look forward to reading what you send in!

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January 13, 2018

A Struggle in Definitions by William Gilmer

What is the difference between folklore, fairy tales, 
fables, legends, myths, and nursery rhymes?
Here's a quick reference guide by Enchanted Conversation's 
new contributing editor and submissions reader, William Gilmer.

Editor's Note: William and I worked together as submissions readers for the science fiction/fantasy magazine, Empyreome, (and also had work published in the same online and print publications,) so I'm excited that he is bringing his talents to the EC Team. Check out his first article for EC below and say "hello" to him in the Comments section.
-Amanda Bergloff

Let’s face it, words are hard. Trying to pick exactly the right one can be frustrating as you attempt to find a dividing line between similar definitions. I’m fairly sure Webster’s has muted me on Twitter for my repeated questioning about how thaw, unthaw, and dethaw can all mean the same thing.

This list was born the day I tried to find a simple description of what constitutes a fairy
tale. It turns out that this question leads you into a rabbit hole of entomology that is hard to
escape from unscathed. The explanations I’ve attached to these terms are meant to be
guideposts rather than set in stone rules. Truly, entire research papers could be written on the meaning and origins of these terms. In these cases, exceptions may prove the rule. 

Folklore is the big umbrella term used for every subdivision that is going to be listed below. Folklore encompasses everything that describes a culture, not only its stories, but its customs as well. Jokes, rituals, tradition, what you say after a person sneezes, all fall under the huge heading of folklore. Folklore is the culture of a region or people taught through oral tradition and individual example. 

A fairy tale is a short story, traditionally taking place in a medieval or feudal setting, with fantasy elements of anthroporphized animals, exotic humanoid species, and magic. It is difficult to sum up all the different ideas about what a fairy tale is in a single sentence. There are traits that are present in huge swaths of fairy tales that are absent in others. Generally, fairy tales are meant to entertain, rather than teach a lesson. The vast majority showcase happy endings and the power of Good over Evil. Fairy tales have their roots in oral tradition, so books like, The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, are simply too long and the wrong medium to be considered fairy tales. 

There is a small exception to be made for Peter Pan. Along with the oral tradition, fairy tales were also acted out in performances as a form of community storytelling. Peter Pan first appeared in J. M. Barrie's, The Little White Bird. Shortly afterward, the story that we are more familiar with today, appeared in a play by Barrie entitled, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. In the tradition of these group performances, there is a case to be made that plays are similar creative demonstrations, possibly qualifying Peter Pan as a fairy tale. 

Luckily, everything else on this list is a bit easier to define than "fairy tale." A fable is a story written in prose verse that ends with a moral teaching. Fables must anthropomorphize non-human characters. There isn't much stipulation on what can be used. There have been fables written utilizing the wind, plants, household objects and nearly every animal on the planet.

Solid examples would be, "The Tortoise and the Hare," by Aesop and Animal Farm, by Orwell. As a side note, if you were to write a fable without all the anthropomorphizing, what you would have is a parable.

Generally, fairy tales and myths are not meant to be believed. One of the hallmarks of legends is that they have a basis in fact. They deal with and offer accounts of real people, places, battles, etc. Because of the authenticity they seek to project, they only contain one specific brand of fantastical elements; those having to deal with faith. Miracles and divine intervention find a home in legends because, presumably, the cultures they originated from believed such acts to be possible. Unlike other folk tales, the legend should be thought of as more improbable than impossible, an exaggeration of true events. 
The Arthurian Legends are interesting in this regard because they seem to have evolved from true legends to myths. The original accounts of King Arthur didn't contain the wizard, Merlin, or Excalibur, and marked Arthur's greatest feat as slaying over 900 men at the Battle of Badon sometime in the 5th century. Over hundreds of years, many fantastical details, subplots, and characters have been added to the story, making it read more like high fantasy than proper legend. 
Examples of legends can be found in the stories of early Christian saints and in the accounts of Robin Hood.  
Myths and legends share a lot of common ground. Both tell stories using real world people, places, or events. Many times, myths seek to explain a phenomenon in nature (e.g. thunder, echoes, how the Grand Canyon was formed.) The main defining difference is the degree of fantasy employed. Where legends are required to stay within acceptable possibility, myths can throw convention aside and get as outlandish as they want. 
Well-known examples of myths are the stories of Hercules, Beowulf, and the more modern Paul Bunyan. 
Another branch of folklore that is interesting to examine is the nursery rhyme. A nursery rhyme is a song or poem intended for young children. While there are nursery rhymes out there that have educational value ("I'm a Little Teapot" was used to help children learn to dance and "Old McDonald had a Farm" teaches animal noises,) many are silly and focus on engaging the imagination, such as "The Cat and the Fiddle," and "Rub-a-dub-dub." Nursery rhymes that are meant to calm a child down so they can sleep are referred to as lullabies. 

So there you have it... 
a list of flavors being served at the ice cream parlor of folklore. This is certainly not exhaustive. There are many other terms that could use some clarifying, but these seem to be the most befuddling of the lot. Always remember, these words are used pretty interchangeably in modern conversation, and even the real experts disagree on exact definitions.

Will Gilmer is a writer and poet currently living in Michigan where Fall doesn't last long enough. Two dozen of his stories have been published in places like Empyreome, the Sunlight Press, and Ellipsis
Follow him on Twitter @willwritethings

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January 10, 2018

Meet Kiyomi - The EC Team

Enchanted Conversation is excited to 
introduce our new contributing editor, 
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines.
Editor's Note: I first met Kiyomi when I worked on art for two stories she wrote for EC. I then became a big fan of her blog, A Work of Heart, so I'm thrilled that she will be contributing articles to EC this year. Find out more about Kiyomi from her interview below and say "hello" to her in the Comments section. 
-Amanda Bergloff

1.  What is the first fairy tale that left a big impression on you? 
Kaguya-hime changed how I thought about stories. There were other fairy tales I loved as a kid, many introduced to me through the Disney versions, and when I was a child, I had the impression that Disney was definitive, and that those stories were locked up and final, as drawn. But Disney never had Kaguya-hime, and I remember my mom telling me, “this is one version, but it’s a very old story,” and it just opened up this whole world of possibility for me that there could be many tellings, and that no one owned these old stories – so they could be mine too. Beyond that, the themes in the story of belonging and outsider status, duty and destiny, family and home, rang true for me then in a package I could wrap my mind around as a young child, and that I continue to unpack and find relevant today.
The beautiful Kaguya-hime
2.  What do you think makes a good story? 
A good story gives you the feeling of magic, of possibility beyond what's in front of you, and has unexpected twists that make you think, "ah, of course, it couldn't be any other way," but at the same time not what you would have guessed or predicted. For me a good story, even a tragic one, is about surprise and joy, a joy of discovery and of hope for what comes next, beyond "the end." Stories, at their best, should get inside you because you’re able to recognize yourself there, and change you, because they are connected to bigger themes and different perspectives.

3.  How do you promote yourself as a writer, and what advice would you give new writers on this subject
I’ve only recently started sharing my writing publicly, so I’m learning, reading all the things other people recommend and deciding what makes sense for me along the way. I finally gave myself the title, “Writer,” so I think that helps!  I recently launched a blog, which has been fun and is keeping me writing in a different way, and I share a lot on Twitter that I find interesting, or related to themes I like to explore in my writing. I’m finding my community, and that’s what I would tell anyone else, too: Write stories you love, and share them in places where there are a lot of other stories you also love.

Read her story
previously published in EC

and follow her on
TWITTER @ThatKiyomi

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January 8, 2018

Fairy Tale Flash Monday - Matches

Love can penetrate 
the dark and the cold...
Enchanted Conversation is pleased to present the debut of Fairy Tale Flash with a story from author, Jane Dougherty. 

Fairy Tale Flash: fairy tales, folklore, and myths told in 100-500 words, is our newest bi-weekly feature, and EC is seeking submissions for stories. Read the submission guidelines to what we're looking for HERE. 

Let us know what you think of this story and our Fairy Tale Flash feature in the Comments section below. We'd love to hear from you!

Nobody bought matches from raggedy urchins. They were too afraid of having their purses stolen. The little match girl huddled in a doorway out of the wind and wondered how she was going to go back to her stepfather with almost all of her matches unsold and barely a penny in her pocket. Snow was falling thick and fast and she was so cold she couldn’t have moved from the doorstep even if she had wanted to.

She tried to remember what warm felt like and struck a match just to watch the tiny flame burn. She struck another because it took the numbness from the tip of her finger and thumb. She struck a third before she forgot the feeling of warm. She was forgetting so much, forgetting even where she was supposed to be going. The falling snow and the cold that was like feathers made her forget and feel almost happy.

She struck another match and in the bright flame she saw a face. She saw her mother, dead when she was almost too small to remember. Almost, but not quite. She smiled and struck another match, and the face loomed closer with an expression of sadness. The little match girl struck matches one after the other, afraid to lose the face that bent over her, the eyes full of love that she remembered from long ago. One after the other, the matches died and fell into the snow, and soon there were none left. She blinked. Through the falling snow and the cold and her tears, the face full of concern was still there.

“Mama?” she asked the night and the spent flames. Arms enfolded her and lifted her from the cold step, and before she drifted into a state so close to death she could touch the cold door, she felt the warmth of a real human mother.

Mama? Her lips mouthed the word, and the woman who lived in the house beyond the cold doorstep, the woman who had lost all of her babies at birth, held her tight and nodded.

“I will be.” 

Jane Dougherty is Irish, brought up in Yorkshire and now living in South-West France. She writes stories where the magical and the apocalyptic mesh, where horror and romance meet, and the real and the imaginary cohabit on the same page. Her first YA post-apocalyptic fantasy trilogy is published by Finch Books. She has self-published three collections of short stories, and has poetry and short fiction published in anthologies, literary journals and magazines. 
Check out her Amazon Author Page HERE
Blog: https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
Website: https://wildgeesebooks.com/
Cover ART by Amanda Bergloff

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January 4, 2018

Throwback Thursday Tale - Serpents and Toads

Sign here and you can have what 
you desire, but at what cost...
This week's
Throwback Thursday Tale
from the EC story vaults:
“Sign here.” Painted a lurid scarlet, the dark-haired woman’s lips spread into a thick smile. She tapped a red fingernail on the paper she pushed in front of me.

“That’s it?” Now that the promise sat in front of me, I was hesitant to take the next step. What if this was like all of the other false miracles I’d tried? But then again, what if it actually worked? What if I could be as thin as the women I envied? “That’s all I have to do? Just sign this paper?”

“Yes. Simple and efficient.” The woman grinned, white teeth flashing, teeth better suited to tearing into rare meat than nibbling at lettuce. A salad, dressing on the side, sat untouched near her elbow. Overripe strawberries beckoned in their bed of bitter greens. “At least it is at this stage in the process.”

What the hell. I took a deep breath and scrawled my name at the bottom of a contract I hadn’t bothered to read. “Now what?”

I didn’t feel any different. My pants were still too tight, my bra pinched the extra fold of skin below the band, and my fingers were still puffy around rings I hadn’t been able to remove in years.

“Now you say something particularly nasty to someone.” The woman glanced around and raised a hand to summon Danielle, my favorite waitress at the club.

The girl scurried over, a haunted look in her in her eye, a look I recognized too well.

“She should do quite nicely.”

Danielle was overweight, although she wasn’t nearly as fat as me. Even if I didn’t know her from previous visits to the restaurant, the way she hunched her shoulders as she walked and her apologetic attempts to avoid eye contact told me all I needed to know. Those few extra pounds weighed on her, which is why I knew exactly what to say.

“Are you stupid or just slow?”

The girl jerked back. She quickly regained her compose and began to clear the empty plates off our table, but she couldn’t control the tremble of her hands. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I paused, but the sharp tap of red fingernails drumming on the table top urged me to action. The contract was signed and I was on the clock. I tossed my napkin to the floor and watched the girl flinch as I kicked it under the table.

“The check, you stupid cow,” I said, the words bitter with venom directed more at myself than at her. “How difficult can it be?”

How difficult, indeed.

The waitress fled, but not before I saw tears welling up.

As soon as I’d spit the words out, something began to work its way up my throat. I choked and gagged, but the sensation persisted and I clutched at my convulsing neck convinced I was going to die. The woman in red leaned forward to watch me with eyes as sharp as black diamonds. I ended the struggle with a hacking cough, which abruptly cut off when a small muddy-colored toad jumped off my tongue. It landed with a plop on the crumbled remains of the raspberry lemon muffin I’d devoured with my tea. The woman in red frowned.

Bufo bufo. A common toad,” she said. “You’ll have to work on that.”  

The little toad stared at the muffin with unblinking eyes.

“Don’t forget to secure the payment,” she added as she folded the contract and slipped it in a red snakeskin handbag. “The bigger the better.”

I wiped a shaking hand across my mouth. “That’s it?”

“We try to keep it simple for the common folk.” She stood up and looked down at me. Her dark hair hung straight and sleek down her back. A low-cut red dress, better suited to a black-tie event than an afternoon country club luncheon, clung to her enviable figure. “I’ll see you when the moon is full once more. Do try not to disappoint.”

The woman in red left, all eyes following her. The little toad hopped off the dessert plate and onto the prim white tablecloth. Not knowing what else to do, I gingerly scooped the creature up and deposited it in the depths of my purse. I had work to do.

I perfected the edge of cutting insults in just days. I had been on the receiving end long enough to know just how to inflict the deepest of wounds. I traded my old purse for a messenger bag large enough to hold my vengeance. Sometimes my victims even deserved it.

When I ran into the man who’d broken my heart years ago, it wasn’t an accident. I found him in a nightclub, recently arrived and dressed to the nines even though it was well past midnight. I knew that Dan liked the attention that came with being late to the party. Most people assumed a man as polished as he would never have taken a fat girl home. But he had, once upon a time. He was curious like that. And it didn’t help that he’d been about as drunk as drunk gets. The next morning had not been a pretty affair.

I approached him with two drinks in hand, arms spread wide enough to show my emerging curves hugged by a green dress so dark it almost appeared black. Dan stopped talking to the girl at his side and his gaze slid up and down my body before coming to rest on my face. He tilted his head, a slight frown creasing his tan forehead.

“Hello, Dan,” I said. “Long time.”

He smiled and stepped forward. “Is one of these for me?”

“An Old-Fashioned, just the way you like it.”

“Thanks.” He took the proffered drink. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”

I sipped of the whiskey, savoring the blend of bitters and cherries on my tongue before swallowing. “My name’s Amanda.”

“Of course it is. I remember.”

I knew he didn’t. The music boomed through the floorboards, threatening to shake me apart. Overhead, lights flashed, piercing the velvety darkness with flickering white shards.

“I’ve lost some weight,” I said, trying not to grimace. “We hooked up once. Hardly memorable.”

Except it had been, for me.

His eyes lit up. “Amanda.” He let out a low whistle. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“It happens.” I shrugged, showing off the winged edge of collarbones peeking out from the scoop neckline. “Is there somewhere quiet where we can catch up?”

He chuckled.

I just smiled and let him usher me to the VIP room, which was only marginally quieter than the main floor. Couples sat in dark corners, some of which were obscured by heavy drapes. It was the type of place where the wait staff wouldn’t intrude unless summoned. Perfect.  

“I remember thinking you’d be pretty if you lost some weight,” Dan said as he slipped into a low-slung leather loveseat reserved in the far corner. “But I never expected you’d be this beautiful.”

“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

He set his drink on a black lacquer table and patted the place next to him.

I complied. 

A few minutes later, I collected a sleek grey snake from where it had curled up after striking my old flame. No one had noticed Dan’s reactions to the kiss of death. Dendroaspis polylepis. I looked at the puncture wounds on his face and watched the fluttering rise and fall of the paralyzed man’s chest.

“Well, that’s a first. How interesting.” I settled into the sofa and enjoyed the complex flavors of my drink. “Don’t think you’re off the hook.”

Dan didn’t reply. I was liking this more and more.

“I know you’re not dead yet and I have a few more things to say to you.”

The music shifted tempo. I opened my mouth and let the poison slither off my tongue.

I stood in front of my dressing room mirror that now reflected an image I once would have thought of as perfect, only now I knew I was far from it. Just a few more pounds to lose; that’s all I needed. And then I could finally be happy. I could finally be free.

But at what cost? The familiar voice in my head was just a ghost of who I used to be.

“Shut up, you lazy, worthless bitch.” I felt a serpent start the slide up my throat. “You don’t own me anymore.”

Vomiting the serpents and toads had become easier the more I did it and now it was a relief to purge the bile still swimming in my stomach. I welcomed the feeling of my throat giving way to the wedge-shaped head spearing its way toward freedom. I opened my mouth and watched in the mirror as the serpent worked its way free.

It paused for a moment and let its head rest against my tongue as it tested the air. Even in the cave of my mouth, I could see the cross-hatching diamond pattern streaking back from its glittering black eyes. Crotalus atrox. The rattles on its tail buzzed deep in the confines of my gut, but I was long past being bothered by such shows of temper. Which of my sins was this one? I wondered. What hateful thought have I given birth to this time?

I gently cradled the serpent as it slipped from my mouth, coils looping around my bare arm. The diamondback was easily six feet in length, but I wasn’t too surprised. The hatred I had for myself outweighed even the worst of insults cast at others. Being nice to others had never gotten me anywhere, betrayal after betrayal had collected like pearls on a choker. Food had become the only comfort that could fill the emptiness left behind.

Panels of mirrors followed my progress into the bathroom.

In the depths of the claw-footed, cast iron tub, my other sins boiled in a slithering mass of muscle and sinew. The susurration of 82.5 pounds of serpents and toads whispered savage secrets I could almost understand, but not. I lowered my newest purge to the collection and released it to join the others. As I watched its striped form entwine with the others, I ran my hands down hips so slender the bones jutted out. But it wasn’t enough.

When the moon was once again full, I returned to the restaurant where I’d met the woman in red just a month ago. I ordered champagne to celebrate, even as I plotted ways to extend the agreement. What if the suffocating weight returned?

I couldn’t allow that.

The champagne burned as it slid down a throat rubbed raw from curses cast, but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the pain. It meant that I had finally been able to find the strength to have my desires fulfilled. I poured another glass and then sat back to watch the response of the diners around me.
No one looked at me. Not one single person.

They were all looking at her. The woman in red approached with elegant ease, a seductive smile on her painted lips. It didn’t matter that I’d spent hours preparing for the occasion, I was small now, but not in the way I expected.

She slid into the chair opposite of me and placed that red snakeskin bag on the pressed tablecloth. “You’ve done well for yourself,” she said as she eyed my thin frame. “So well, in fact, you’ve almost disappeared.”

“I want an extension,” I blurted.

“That’s not how it works,” she replied in a voice as smooth as the mad honey they harvest in Nepal. “I will be collecting payment at midnight.”

“But I need more.”

“Of course you do,” she said. “You need a better nose, higher cheekbones, a fuller mouth, larger breasts, longer legs, and much, much more. There is so much work to be done.”
The woman pulled a fresh contract out of her purse and slid it across the table with a black pen containing ink as dark as the blood of the damned. I should know.

Better. Higher. Fuller. Larger. Longer. Idealized beauty traded for the pieces of my soul that still remained. The words repeated again and again—a whispered litany of disappointment and despair. It would never be enough. I would never be enough. But the whispers continued, rising in volume until they were the only thing I could hear.

I pushed back from the table. “Stop!”

And they did. The beautiful people stopped all conversation, stopped pushing food around on white plates, stopped pretending to be alive, and finally looked at me. They looked at me with hungry eyes.

The woman in red arched an eyebrow. “Did you notice your favorite waitress isn’t here any longer?”

I hadn’t.

“She killed herself. The poor girl couldn’t handle a few petty comments,” she continued.

Danielle. That had been her name.

“It’s not my fault.”

The woman picked up my champagne flute and took a sip. The lurid red lipstick clung in a perfect pout to the glass. “Of course it is.”

Understanding dawned and with it the implications of the price I’d truly paid.

“I’m sorry.” The words spilled from my lips along. A ruby red gem fell with it.

“Now, now,” said the woman with a frown. “None of that.”

I picked up the stone and rolled it between my fingers. Shaking, I pulled myself to my feet and hurried away from the woman and her hollow promises. Although the polished floors were as smooth as the faces of those who watched my retreat, I stumbled in my shiny new stilettos until I finally kicked them off and ran barefoot towards the door. The woman’s throaty laugh followed me. One by one, the other diners joined her revelry and not even my screams could drown them out. 

I burst through the doors and stopped. The late afternoon light cast a golden glow over the white buildings. Even the lawn looked different. I stood there in the portico, shaking with the realization that I had left my messenger bag slung on the back of the chair. I opened my hand and looked at the ruby that dug into my palm. It was a pitiful exchange for the car keys I so desperately needed, but there was no way I was going to return to that place. I needed help, but had no one to turn to.

“Miss? Miss? Are you alright?”

I wondered how long the valet had been standing there.

“Help me,” I begged. But once again, my pleas produced gems. Diamonds this time, if I wasn’t mistaken.

I scrambled to pick them off the asphalt, uncertain of these new rules. The valet’s kind eyes turned flat

“What do you have there?” He moved closer, but I stepped back.

“I’m sorry,” I said. My appeal was cut off by the sharp edges of diamonds and rubies tumbling from my mouth.

The valet’s face grew bright, hungry as those beautiful people sitting inside pretending to eat.

I turned and ran down the driveway, bare feet slapping the pavement, a handful of gemstones gripped in my fist. I looked over my shoulder, but I hadn’t been followed. Still the urge to get to the relative safety of my home kept me moving.

Was I denied forgiveness for sins committed? Had I truly moved so far from redemption?

When I finally arrived home my feet were bloody and bruised. Once I gained entry, I walked straight into the bathroom, ignoring the trail of blood I left behind. I turned on the lights. The tub was more than halfway full, scales and skin slithering together. I dropped the diamonds and rubies into the tub with the rest. To my surprise, the slow revolution of serpents and toads turned into a feeding frenzy as they fought with each other for those transformed pleas of mercy.

Out in the living room the antiquated grandfather clock began to chime. The clock had been passed down for generations. One. ­ Walk in beauty. I stood still and counted blessings even though I didn’t deserve them. Two. ­ Circle the soul. Three. Dance at midnight. Four. Hug the faithful. Five. Seed the garden. Six. Harvest the love. Seven. Share in kindness. Eight. Wear the gloves. Nine.  Gather the wood. Ten.  Practice patience.Eleven.  Embrace the good.­

I waited for the twelfth hour to toll; I waited for peace, but it didn’t come. I had an hour to repent, not a minute less. There wasn’t time to wash up or to prepare for what needed to be done, so I tucked my hair behind my ears and kneeled in front of the tub.

The gems were nowhere to be seen and my sins had once again settled into a restless lull. I reached into the tub and grabbed at a vibrant yellow frog. Phyllobates terribilis. Terrible, indeed. Just one of these golden frogs was poisonous enough to kill ten or more full-grown men. Before I could change my mind, I popped the creature into my mouth and swallowed it whole. The creature didn’t struggle, but that didn’t make it any easier. I bent my head and meditated on my breathing, waiting for nausea that never came, despite the convulsions of my throat.

For a moment, I wondered if I had gained those few ounces back. I chided myself for dawdling. The woman in red would find me here, I was sure of that. And midnight was less than an hour away. I was running out of time.

Could I ever really take those insults back? I wasn’t certain, but I had to try.

I reached back into the writhing mass, this time without looking, and locked my fingers around the lithe body of a serpent. It calmly curled around my fist as I lifted it from the tub.

I opened my mouth and swallowed.

Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of speculative fiction and interstitial art. She completed her M.Ed. at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies including the Journal of Mythic Arts, Mythic Delirium, NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, and The Horror ‘Zine. She blogs at carinabissett.com.

 Story ART by Amanda Bergloff.
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