September 21, 2021

The Knot of Toads, By Jennifer A. McGowan


Editor’s note: Jennifer A. McGowan has been featured on this site about six times over the years, and this story is a perfect example of why. It mixes charming details with some
 familiar and delightful fairy tale standards. The result is thoroughly entertaining. (Kate)

The miller’s daughter had been left a ring by her mother which was slightly too big for her finger, so she often took it off and put it on; took it off and put it on.  One day she walked by the millpond and heard croaking, high and low, for all the world like a conversation.  Nearer she crept and nearer, fingers idly playing, till she saw a knot of toads: one large one surrounded by many smaller ones, for all the world like a king and his court.  She laughed, but, laughing, slipped on the soft pond edge and plop! in she went like a toad, and plip! more quietly, in went the ring. 

She flopped and floundered, floundered and flopped, and made it back to the bank, where the smaller toads with their high-pitched croaking sounded like they were laughing, till the large one, with one deep croak, silenced them.  When she sat on the bank, she noticed she had lost a shoe, and it new.  Thinking, she took the other one off and put it safe, then waded in and by luck more than judgment found the shoe.  Utterly covered in mud, only now did she notice her finger did not shine.  Knowing she had trodden the pond bottom thoroughly, she also realised she had probably trodden the ring deep into the mud.  And so she flopped and floundered to the bank where she cried and cried, till the tears cleaned her face and restored some of her looks.

 

The smaller toads had all vanished, but the larger one watched her gravely, and eventually it asked, “Whatever is the matter?”

 

“Oh,” she sobbed, “I have lost my mother’s ring that she left me, and I likely never to get it back!”


“I should laugh at you as you laughed at us,” said the toad.  The miller’s daughter, irked, snapped, “I heard you laughing.”

 

“I did not laugh,” said the toad.

 

“No,” said the miller’s daughter, slowly, “you didn’t.”

 

“If you will promise faithfully to do me a favor when I ask it of you,” said the toad, slowly, “I will find the ring.”

 

“I promise,” replied the miller’s daughter.  Plop! in went the toad.

 

For days she did not see him, then there he was in her garden, and at his feet the ring.  “Oh, thank you!” she cried, and put it on her finger at once.

 

“I like this garden,” remarked the toad.  “It is neat and pretty, with soft, damp soil.  And near the pond.  May I live here?”

 

“Of course!” cried the miller’s daughter.  “Of course!”

 

And so began the friendship between a toad and a miller’s daughter.  The would have long conversations about whatever took their fancy, and if the miller’s daughter thought he was strangely educated for a toad, she was smart enough not to press the point.  From time to time the smaller toads visited the garden, too, and then the knot of toads would form, and the croaking, high and low. Each night after this happened, deep in the dark hours, the miller’s daughter would hear long, hoarse croaks like sobs.  Eventually she went down to the garden despite the night air and the dew and found her friend.

 

“Whatever is the matter?” she asked.

 

“I have a jewel in my head, and it pains me,” replied the toad.

 

Now, the miller’s daughter knew that toads carried jewels in their head, and that alchemists and wizards would pay a pretty penny for toadstones, but she had never heard that it pained the toad before.  But then, she had never met such a well-educated toad before, so she took it in her stride.

 

“It must pain you greatly, to cry out so,” she said softly, picking him up and, she thought, noticing a shining beneath the skin on his head.

 

“It does, and it grows worse,” replied the toad.  “I need to ask you—will you take it out for me?”

 

“But that would kill you!” she said.

 

“Nevertheless,” he insisted.  “I did not cavil when it took me a week and a day to find your ring.”


“No more you did,” she said thoughtfully.  “Leave the matter with me.”

 

She consulted the witch who lived further down the river about how to remove a toadstone.  “Put it on a piece of red cloth,” remarked the witch.  “If that doesn’t work at least it will soak the blood when you smash its head.”

 

She walked a long way to consult a cunning man, pretending she was interested in the things he was interested in.  “I hear,” she said to him, “that toadstones are sovereign in the curing of fits.  Is this true?”

 

“Only if taken from the head of a living toad,” he said.  “Here, I’ll show you.”  Alas, all of his demonstrations resulted in the death of the toad, and the miller’s daughter’s spirits fell.  Still, she pretended she was interested in the cunning man’s medicines, and walked there every week pretending to study with him and reading his books, but she found no way of removing the jewel in her friend’s head without killing him.  And soon she noticed that the cunning man had more than a teacher’s interest in her, so she stopped going.

 

When she got home, she went to find the toad in her garden.  It was coming on night, and the smaller toads had gathered.  “My toad,” she said, “I have read and studied as widely as I can, and I can find no way to remove the jewel that pains you that will not result in your death.  I do not wish to kill you.  You are a good friend to me.

 

“Are you still of the same mind you were?”


The toad nodded.  “There is a way, but if you cannot find it in your heart, then it is not  to be found,” he said.

 

His words turned and turned themselves in her mind till, suddenly, she had an idea.  She picked her friend up carefully, and, hoping against hope, removed the jewel with a kiss.

 

Immediately a young man stood before her, with a ruby in his hand and a grievous head wound.  He fell to the floor.  The smaller toads, transformed into his friends, and each with rubies in their hands, rushed to surround him, and carried him off.  The miller’s daughter rushed to her room in tears, though she knew not why.

 

Some days later, bandaged but alive, he appeared again in the garden, and held out his hand to the miller’s daughter.  “My dearest friend,” he began, “many years ago I unwisely employed a dishonest man in my retinue, who stole a ruby necklace from a sorceress and planted it in my possession.  She, finding it among my things, cursed me and my true servants to be toads, with a ruby in each of our heads, until such time as someone. knowing nothing about me, would find it in her heart to remove it.

 

“You have proved not only to be wise of counsel but wise of heart, and you have learned not to act without thinking, as once you acted by the millpond.  Will you, then, come with me, and be my wife?”


“Gladly,” said the miller’s daughter, and in time they came to the young lord’s lands, where he was wonderfully received.  They married and become renowned for their kindness and wisdom—and they kept their gardens neat and pretty, with soft, damp soil, for any toads who might be passing by.


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Jennifer A. McGowan won the Prole pamphlet competition in 2020, and as a result, Prolebooks published her winning pamphlet, Still Lives with Apocalypse. She has been published in several countries, in journals such as The Rialto, Pank, The Connecticut ReviewAcumen and Agenda. She is a disabled poet who has also had Long Covid for 15 months at time of writing. She prefers the fifteenth century to the twenty-first, and would move there were it not for her fondness of indoor plumbing.


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Image is by Amanda Bergloff, using an illustration by Eugene Grasset, 1893.

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September 20, 2021

Reminders For Halloween and Thursday



Hello Enchanted Friends:

I’m reposting the original Halloween info with a quick reminder about the upcoming mediation—all the info about Thursday is here. I’m very excited about this meditation, which will be brief, for those of you who don’t love long meditations. 

There’s a clue in this post about what it fairy tale character the story/meditation will feature. I’ll leave it to you to figure it out.

Repost:

There’s a terrific story coming your way tomorrow, but today I am announcing two big Halloween events:

There’s a fairy tale writing contest for Halloween with a witches theme. I’ll pick two winners: The overall winner and an honorable mention. The first will receive a $100 prize and the second a $50 prize. Both will be published. (The submissions should be stories only, no poems for this particular contest.)


Although “Midwives, Healers, and Cunning Folk” is the theme for 2021, you do not need to include it as part of these submissions (but it is still the focal point for the rest of the year). You may if you wish to. But the stories must have a witch theme.


The stories should be between 1000-2000 words. Those are firm length requirements.

The submissions window opens at 12 a.m., EST, Oct. 20 and closes at 11:59 p.m., EST, on Oct. 23.

All other rules about submissions apply, except pay amounts. No exceptions. Find the rules HERE. Just put your last name and Halloween in the subject line.


The Halloween Zoom Social is Oct. 21 at 7 p.m., and there will be so many highlights that I can’t wait. I’m currently working on the possibility of a special guest in keeping with the witch theme. Fingers crossed. Also, there will be a witch hat decorating contest, and giveaways, and printable bookmarks. And we’ll share favorite Halloween stories, poems and more. More to come, but please mark your calendars! (As with the summer social, this event is for financial supporters of EC. To learn more about doing that, here’s a link.)


To help get us in the mood, and to create some fabulous Halloween Social swag, the super talented Amanda Bergloff created the glorious image you see below, using a vintage illustration by Emily Hand. I just love it, and know you do too.


Much more to come.


Stay Enchanted,

Kate




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Black and white image from Pixabay.

September 16, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Safe Arbor, By Judy Darley

 

My sister nods her branches
with the breeze and murmurs...

Editor's Note: The tenuous beauty of autumn, nature, and a person's life are all woven together in today's lyrical Throwback Thursday tale. Enjoy!
I hear my sister's rumblings through my own dreams and feel the fear spreading through trunk and down branches to the twigs that mimic my fingertips. I sense the shudder of light and dark rushing through her rings. Sometimes we jolt awake at the same moment and I slip out of bed, hurrying to open the window. I see her leaves trembling, reaching for me, and I lean as far as I can out into the moonlit air, murmuring, Ssh, sister, you’re okay, you’re okay.

When morning comes, I make my coffee and carry it across the lawn to the bench I got my grandson to position in my sister’s shelter.

I can hide in you, I tell my old playmate. Among your reaching branches and below your twisting trunk, I can be a shadow, or a speck of drifting dust. I can lie low and pretend to be the earth you rise from, a layer of fallen leaves, bark sloughed loose by wind and rain.

You can, my sister agrees. You can pretend all you want with every cell of your being.

I can mask my voice with the whisper of air passing through your boughs, I say. I can be the footsteps of the insects that riddle your depths. I can be the creak of you leaning with gravitational pull, or straining for the sun.

My sister nods her branches with the breeze and murmurs: Just as I can play at being you with your blood and bones, flesh and skin. We’re all just cells, aren’t we?


We flourished from the same source, my sister and I – from the same complex net of cells. Ma planted the apple tree when I was born and buried my placenta to nourish the roots. My first memories of my sister are of lying in the grass where her trunk met the ground, and watching her wave slender limbs against blue skies. And I remember her apples, small and squat and sharp.

Now she is almost as tall as the house, while I… I am shrinking. My spine compacts with decades of gravity’s pull, and the face in the bathroom mirror is that of an old, weather-beaten woman.

Somehow I never expected time to march on as it does.

Time moves differently for my sister, but only just. The average age of an apple tree is 100 years, so it could outlast me by ten, twenty, more. Some make it to 200 years. I tell my sister that in wonder, and I touch my palm to her trunk. But the idea of either of us outliving the other makes my heart contract.

In winter I pay my grandson to prune my sister and ensure light filters through her canopy, ready to search out flowers and fruit. I get my hair cut and styled on the same day, and after my grandson leaves, we compliment each other coyly on our revamped looks. What a pair of beauties, I say, teasingly. No wonder the birds and butterflies can’t stay away in spring.

Last time he came, my grandson left a brochure on the kitchen table. It shows a large house like a hotel, populated only by old people. He thinks I might like it there.

“For a holiday?” I asked.

He looked uneasy. “Or longer.”

He told me they have a garden with trees in it.

I glanced out of the window, towards my sister, and didn’t bother to respond.

I think that’s what the nightmares are about. A dread of separation. We’ve never parted for more than a few days in all these years. We’ve lived each of the seasons together, experienced summer swell and fade more than eighty times over.

Her apples aren’t what they once were. They have a woolly edge, as though deliberating softening to suit my weakening bite. But when I bake them in a pie, blanketed in pastry and custard, I taste our childhood.

My freezer is full of apples, sliced and laid out in creamy layers, stored in old ice cream tubs. I don’t get through them any more. The neighborhood kids who help to pick them are barely interested in taking a handful. I used to leave out baskets full in front of the house, with a note saying ‘Free to a good home!’ but most stayed where they were, gaining brown spots and holes where earwigs had burrowed in. Then one day someone made off with the basket, leaving the apples neatly piled up on the curb.

I told my sister to save her energy and grow fewer, but she rustled gently and whispered: Making apples is what I do.

It’s cold now. Nearly winter. Just a few last leaves remain, waving bravely in the wind. I’m tired, and I can feel that my sister is tired too. There’s something budding deep inside each of us. Honey fungus perhaps. Some strain of cancer. A few stray cells bedding in.

Season after season we’ve seen. We’re lucky, the pair of us, to have felt so much for so long.

I lean back against the bench, gazing upwards, and I know my sister is here with me. Together we watch as a single leaf quivers at the end of a branch, half-twisting on its stem, and lets go.


Judy Darley is a British fiction writer, poet and journalist whose work appears in magazines and anthologies and in her debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees. Sky Light Rain, her second collection, will be published by Valley Press in Fall 2019. Judy has shared her stories on BBC radio, as well as in caf├ęs, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

September 14, 2021

Pumpkin Revisited, By Sharmon Gazaway


Editor’s note: There is real magic, and cunning, in this poem. The magic and cunning of the fairy godmother—who is absent but hovering—but also the magic of the narrator’s thoughts. This poem reads like a spell or incantation. I knew I had to buy it as soon as I read it. (Kate)

Two little see-through heels tap

a nervous ditty on my echoing

innards—torn from my vine-friends

and homely earth, scraped

clean of gold filigree strings

and seeds, my peachy flesh

slickly cool and hollowed-out.


I just want to know

where are my seeds?


I’ve weathered frost

and hard-bitten midnight

under just such a moon.

It reflects my plump

orange glory, old friends

since I first cracked

the seedcase and burial chamber—

quite the transformation.

And now, this! Gaudy glitter

and in motion. Sure, this is great

but a dry and flighty business:

waiting by a wide staircase of stone

for a slight girl in fairy splendor

the secret in the clock

the mad dash, the magic hour

a thrown shoe

the drama, the tears

(heavens, even a horse can throw a shoe).


I just want to know

where are my seeds?

I’ll show them some real magic.


***

Bio: Sharmon writes from the deep south. Her poetry is featured in Rhonda Parrish's anthology, "Dark Waters," Sept. 14, 2021. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Forge, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, Love Letters to Poe, microverses.net: Octavos, The Society of Classical Poets Journal IX, Backchannels, and elsewhere.  


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Image from Pixabay.


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September 13, 2021

Halloween Writing Contest/Social



Hello Enchanted Friends:

There’s a terrific poem coming your way tomorrow, but today I am announcing two big Halloween events:

There’s a fairy tale writing contest for Halloween with a witches theme. I’ll pick two winners: The overall winner and an honorable mention. The first will receive a $100 prize and the second a $50 prize. Both will be published. (The submissions should be stories only, no poems for this particular contest.)


Although “Midwives, Healers, and Cunning Folk” is the theme for 2021, you do not need to include it as part of these submissions (but it is still the focal point for the rest of the year). You may if you wish to. But the stories must have a witch theme.


The stories should be between 1000-2000 words. Those are firm length requirements.

The submissions window opens at 12 a.m., EST, Oct. 20 and closes at 11:59 p.m., EST, on Oct. 23.

All other rules about submissions apply, except pay amounts. No exceptions. Find the rules HERE. Just put your last name and Halloween in the subject line.


The Halloween Zoom Social is Oct. 21 at 7 p.m., and there will be so many highlights that I can’t wait. I’m currently working on the possibility of a special guest in keeping with the witch theme. Fingers crossed. Also, there will be a witch hat decorating contest, and giveaways, and printable bookmarks. And we’ll share favorite Halloween stories, poems and more. More to come, but please mark your calendars! (As with the summer social, this event is for financial supporters of EC. To learn more about doing that, here’s a link.)


To help get us in the mood, and to create some fabulous Halloween Social swag, the super talented Amanda Bergloff created the glorious image you see today, using a vintage illustration by Emily Hand. I just love it, and know you do too.


Much more to come.


Stay Enchanted,

Kate Wolford



September 10, 2021

Chosen Authors for October 2021


Hard to believe, but October will be here before you know it! We’ve got a great group of works for that month, and here are the authors whose work we will publish.

D.J. Tryer

Gerri Leen

Ellie A. Goss

Mary Cook

We’ll also have a bonus story from our very own Kelly Jarvis!

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Image by Florence Anderson.


September 9, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Her Place, By Rob E. Boley

 

I looked back and saw braided hair,
dangling like a golden ribbon bookmark
left untucked upon a novel's spine...

Editor's Note: Certain actions cannot be undone, but perhaps they can be altered after time and regret change a person in today's bittersweet Throwback Thursday tale by author, Rob E. Boley.
I sat in that tower for endless days, bewitching bluebirds and grackles to bring me seeds to eat and tossing buckets of my own piss and shit onto the blood-stained brambles below. To pass the time, I read my adopted daughter’s diary and braided lengths of her golden tresses, her impossibly long hair that in a fit of rage I’d snipped with my scissors before abandoning her pregnant and alone in the wilderness.

In retrospect, I was perhaps too harsh with her, and no less so with the man who’d defiled her body—the foolish prince who I so easily provoked to jump out of the tower. Yes, I even charmed the thorns to rake out his eyes so that he never again could gaze upon my daughter’s beauty.

Full of jealousy masked as indignation, I split those traitorous lovers apart and rendered them blind and bald, lost and pregnant. Why? So I could brood and braid in my lonely tower, my heart festering like so much shit and piss in a bucket.

Well, I finally kicked that bucket right out the window and climbed after it down the epic braided length of her hair. I was perhaps thirteen steps from the tower when I chanced a lookback and saw that braided hair dangling like a golden ribbon bookmark left untucked upon a novel’s spine.

“Is this book finished or not yet begun?” I wondered aloud. “Or has the reader merely lost her place?”

The birds in the surrounding bushes answered with curious tweets, and I hushed them with a waggle of my fingers. I knew what I had to do, as much as I loathed what would come next.

I came upon the blind prince some nights later. He crawled along the forest floor like an overgrown bug—half-starved and half-eaten by insect bites. The poor fool could barely be considered alive. Shaking my head, I coerced the mosquitoes to return his blood, the ants to regurgitate his flesh, and the bees to nurse him patiently with honey.

From a distance, I taught a mockingbird all the notes of my daughter’s favorite song, the one she used to sing while I combed her hair—some simple foolishness about roses, rivers, and thorns. Twittering this tune, the bird led the revived yet blind prince through the forest, bumping into trees and stumbling through brooks until at last he came upon my daughter’s pitiful shack.

The sad structure leaned like a drunk and featured only one broken window. It had no chimney. I supposed she must have found this hovel abandoned and settled here to give birth. Tears welled in my eyes at the thought of her straining upon a dirt floor. I should have been here to help her instead of brooding in that cursed tower. My daughter needed me here, wiping her brow and easing the infant from her womb. Well, I was here now, at any rate.

The prince fell upon her doorstep too exhausted even to knock. Soon my daughter came to the door carrying not one but two babies in her arms. I hardly recognized this young woman with her raw eyes, milk-bloated breasts, and short golden hair like the fuzz of a honey bee.

How I yearned to call to her, to beg for her forgiveness, and to cuddle with my grandkids but I knew that was fantasy. My place in her life had fallen to oblivion. I had only one gift yet to give to this tired woman standing at her threshold and gazing down at still one more helpless mouth to feed. Her weary eyes were dry, dare I say empty.

The mockingbird landed on my shoulder and I stroked its feathers. After conjuring a bit of magic and orienting myself to my daughter, I tore my own eyes out of my skull and crushed them in my trembling fists so that each was as small as a pebble and clear as crystal.  

I threw them blindly toward her face, where I have to assume they splashed and spilled as if tears and dripped into the prince’s empty sockets. Soon they must have blossomed into fresh eyes because he said, “Rapunzel I can see! I can see, my love!”

“It’s a blessed miracle,” she said and I could hear the smile in her voice. “Children, meet your father. Father, meet your son and your daughter.”

I didn’t linger to hear the rest but instead whispered for that mockingbird to guide me further into those woods. For days, I trudged through puddles, brambles, mud, and root-infested dirt. At last, I came to a cave—a tidy space with a ceiling full of bats and cool damp walls. I have been here ever since and though I may not know exactly where I am I take great solace that I’ve finally found my place.
Rob E. Boley grew up in Enon, Ohio, a little town with a big Indian mound. He later earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He’s the author of The Scary Tales series of dark fantasy novels . His short fiction has appeared in several markets, including A cappella Zoo, Pseudopod, Clackamas Literary Review, and Best New Werewolf Tales. You can get to know him better by visiting his website at WWW.ROBBOLEY.COM.
Instagram: HTTPS://WWW.INSTAGRAM.COM/ROBBOLEYAUTHOR/

Cover Layout: Amanda Bergloff @AMANDABERGLOFF
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