May 16, 2022

Poetry Showcase: Waking Up Snow White, By Kim Malinowski


Editor's Note: Today's Poetry Showcase, originally published in EC's "Rain Issue" from 2016, is an interpretation of Snow White where there is a mutual rescue...

I smooth the wet fabric around her collar,
trace and tuck her gown.
We are both wet from rain, and I can see that she has awoken,
tears trickling down.
I taste the brine as our lips
bump.
Nothing happens, she doesn’t pretend to wake up.
I know what dead lips look like—shriveled and pale—like so many lovers.
Too many apples to count. I’ve waited and practiced
and now her lips are soft and full.
I hold her hand, trace a line and whisper—“I know you are awake.”
She takes her hand back.
“I was never asleep, just waiting.”
“Well, I’m the Prince.  I’m supposed to rescue you.”
Rain trickles down my back.  There should be fireworks or something.
Not wet.
“Maybe I’ll love you,” she smiles.
“Maybe I’d like to be dry.”
I brush her cheek with my hand, savoring the softness.
I pick her up, and we go inside.
Kim Malinowski earned her BA at West Virginia University and her M.F.A. at American University. Her work has appeared in War, Literature, and the ArtsMythic Delirium, as well as others.

Altered image by Heinrich Lefler

May 12, 2022

Throwback Thursday: The Kappa, By Kelly Evans

 

The kappa, a creature many believed
did not exist, protected the family,
and it respected the grandmother...

Editor's Note: Today's Throwback Thursday is a tale, based on Japanese folklore, that was originally published in 2018. Enjoy!
There was once an old fishing village in a remote area of Japan. The head family had lived there for hundreds of years and had fished in the nearby sea for just as long. The family had fallen on hard times, and now there was only Takahisa and his aged grandmother. Takahisa’s parents had been fishermen, but had died when he was a child. His grandmother had done her best raising the boy, teaching him about the old ways and recounting traditional tales each night at bedtime. But when Takahisa grew to be a young man, he rejected the old ways, to his grandmother’s great despair.

One day, the grandmother was cleaning fish on the shores of the sea. With her was a kappa, a creature many believed did not exist. The kappa had protected the family since an ancient ancestor had saved its life, and it had grown to respect the family and love the grandmother. The old woman and the kappa worked silently; the kappa’s clawed hands cleaning fish as ably as the grandmother’s wrinkled ones. The kappa was shaped like a monkey but it had the skin of a lizard, scaled and damp, for it was a creature of the water. The kappa always carried water from its home in an indent on the top of its head, for in this way the kappa could move about on land. Those smart enough to trick the kappa into losing this water could control the creature. This was known to the grandmother, but she respected the kappa, and it helped her willingly.

As the grandmother and the kappa were finishing for the day, Takahisa wandered by on his way home. He went to his grandmother but, instead of greeting her respectfully, he called her names, as he often did those days.

“Old woman, why are you still out here? You should be inside, serving my dinner!”

“Grandson, I am old and do not move as quickly as I once did. If you help, I will finish sooner, and you will have your dinner.”

“Help? To clean fish? Why should I help? It’s your duty to make my dinner and to make it on time!”
“And what duty do you perform, that you deserve food?” The kappa’s lips curled in a sneer.
The grandson was shocked; the kappa had never addressed him before. But the feeling was quickly replaced by anger. “I’m the head of this household. I need no other reason to demand that my dinner be served to me on time.” He turned towards his grandmother and gave her a disgusted look. “This old woman is no longer of any use, she’s too slow, the busu.”
At this the grandmother cowered, and there was great sadness in her face. But the kappa was so offended it flew into a rage. “I can no longer be attached to a household where such a man lives.” It glared at Takahisa, who now sported a look of superiority on his young face.
“Good! Be gone, we don’t need you.” The grandson stormed off, the kappa returned to his pond, and the grandmother knelt by the water’s edge and wept.
For weeks, it seemed the kappa had disappeared. But the grandmother remembered the old ways and prepared herself for what she knew would come. Then one night, an old fisherman was attacked while returning home late in the evening. He was horribly wounded, and the other villagers were terrified when they spoke to him.
“Tell us what happened, Masa.”
The old man tried to sit up in his bed, to better address the villagers who’d come to visit, but he was old and weak, and his injuries great. “I was walking home, having caught only a single fish to feed my family. The moon was full and lit my way.”
He gulped in air before continuing. “Suddenly a heavy fog descended around me, and I could no longer see the path home. I know the way so continued, my feet guiding me. Then I heard a noise, a wet slapping sound close behind me. I stopped and the sound stopped; as soon as I started again, the sound resumed. I began to run, when I felt knives in my back, sharp and fierce.” He rolled on his side and exposed his back to the visitors, who gasped when they saw it. There were five angry, ragged gouges running from his right shoulder down his entire back. The wounds were already infected, running with pus and corruption.
The fisherman continued his tale. “The force of the pain caused me to fall, and I scrambled on my hands and knees. A foul odor enveloped me, and I heard laughter behind me, deep and muffled, as if coming from beneath the water. I tried to get away but something grabbed me by the ankle and dragged me back.”
The neighbors gasped and looked at each other. “How did you get away?”
“I don’t know.” Masa shook his head. “I kicked as hard as I could, and finally I was released.”
Takahisa’s grandmother was in the crowd and saw the wounds. She alone knew what had harmed the old man and prayed this would be the end of it. She knew it wasn’t, though.
More attacks followed, and no one was safe. A young farmer was left mutilated after a particularly vicious assault, his left arm ripped from his shoulder. If not for a skilled healer, he would have died from his injuries. Men, women, and children were hurt, and the injuries grew until the villagers feared leaving their homes.
A few brave men knew they had to fish to provide food for the village and ventured out cautiously. But all the fish were rotted and inedible because the kappa had cast a spell so that anything removed from the water would be poisoned. The village soon began to starve.
Yuriko, Takahisa’s girlfriend, met with the young man in the field where they’d shared more joyous times, and begged him to apologize to both his grandmother and the kappa. Despite her pleading, Takahisa was still too proud.
“You’re just an emotional woman, don’t bother me with your tears.”
“Taka, people are being attacked, and the sea has been poisoned. The villagers are starving.”
“Bah. There is no magic here, the kappa has no power. All will be well soon enough.”
Desperate, Yuriko tried to reason with the young man one last time. “You must do something!”
Takahisa turned, his eyes flashing his anger. “Why me? As soon as I’m able I will leave this place and go to the city.”
“Your family is the head of the village, we need your help!” But Takahisa had stopped listening. Scowling, he strode away from Yuriko, leaving her standing alone.
Sighing, the young woman headed home across the field, passing close by the kappa’s pond. As she neared the water there was an enormous splash, and the kappa suddenly appeared. The creature leered wickedly at Yuriko and, when she tried to run, it grabbed her arm with its scaly hand and pulled her closer, leaving red welts on her flesh. The terrified girl screamed and struggled to get away but it was no use; the kappa would not let her go. The kappa dragged Yuriko into the water and held her captive, beating the poor young woman daily.
When Takahisa heard what had happened to Yuriko he was furious, and rushed off to fight the kappa, vowing to kill it. When he arrived at the pond, the creature was waiting for him. Its lips, cold and grey, grinned at the boy while its beady black eyes silently mocked him. In his haste Takahisa had forgotten a weapon, but was sure he could kill the kappa with his bare hands. He lunged at the creature again and again, trying to grab the thing’s neck.
The kappa sensed each move before it happened and easily avoided every one of the grandson’s attacks. It took pleasure in the young man’s efforts, and rewarded Taka with a swipe of its clawed hand each time. Takahisa grew angrier with each attempt, and was soon so frustrated, he threw his head back and screamed before rushing away, the kappa’s mocking laughter following him. When he returned home, his grandmother tried to help him with his wounds but Takahisa shrugged her off.
“Be gone, old woman, leave me be.”
“My grandson, you will not defeat the kappa in this way.”
The grandson growled. “And what do you know about it? The creature is cunning but I was unprepared. Tomorrow I’ll win the fight and rescue Yuriko.”
“But grandson…”
He interrupted. “Speak to me no longer, busu. This is none of your concern.”
The next day, armed with a ceremonial knife that was once his father’s, Takahisa returned to the pond and ordered the kappa to appear before him. When there was no response, he repeated his order more loudly. Still nothing happened. He cursed and swore oaths, yet the kappa did not appear. Takahisa returned home in tears. His honor demanded he save Yuriko, but he was failing. He was losing his love and could think of nothing to save her.
That night, he remembered the days when he had been a young boy, and his grandmother had held him and told him the old stories. He crawled from his bed and stood before his grandmother, who had stayed up late to mend Takahisa’s cloak. Bowing, he addressed the old woman.
“Grandmother, I beg your forgiveness. I’ve behaved most shamefully and have been an insolent grandson. I’ve treated you very poorly, and I apologize deeply.” When he finished, he looked up and saw tears running down his grandmother’s face. Thinking he’d hurt her further, he rushed to his grandmother’s side and threw his arms around her like he’d done when he was a child. The old woman laughed, and they talked late into the night.
The next morning Takahisa rose early, made tea for his grandmother, and snuck out of the house quietly so as not to wake the old woman. He approached the pond and stopped by the water’s edge.
“Kappa! I respectfully ask to speak with you.” Takahisa backed away from the pond. A few moments later, the kappa appeared, its scaled skin dripping. The creature stood before Takahisa and waited. The grandson took a breath.
“Kappa, I’m ashamed of my behavior, both to my grandmother and yourself. I offer my apology.” Takahisa bowed deeply to the kappa and waited. He remembered from the stories his grandmother told him that the kappa was a very old and traditional creature. Sure enough, the kappa, following the proper etiquette, bowed back to Takahisa. As it did so, the water it carried spilled from its head onto the ground. The kappa shrieked, a cold strangled sound, and froze.
Takahisa approached the kappa slowly. “Please accept my apology, I meant you no harm. I only wished to show you that I’ve changed. I humbly ask you to release Yuriko, and return to my family and help my grandmother again. I promise I’ll be respectful of the old ways. And I’ll replace the water on your head.”
The kappa, while frozen, could still talk. It thought for a moment, then agreed to let Yuriko go and return to Takahisa’s family, for it had decided to give the grandson a chance, and it missed the grandmother greatly. Takahisa kept his word and became a great man in the village, kind and helpful to all. The kappa apologized to Yuriko and helped to heal her wounds. When she was well enough, Yuriko married Takahisa and together with the grandmother they lived their lives in peace.


Kelly Evans lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband Max and two rescue cats (Bear and Wolf). Kelly worked in the financial sector as a trade technology project manager for over 25 years but retired last year to write full time. Her short stories have been published in numerous magazines and E-zines as well as a horror anthology, where her fourteenth century historic-horror story was received with enthusiasm.

Cover Art: "Carps" by Hokusai, Wikimedia Commons
Layout: Amanda Bergloff

May 10, 2022

Summer Solstice Writing Contest



We are delighted to announce that there’s a Summer Solstice writing contest again this year. We had a great story last year, and are eager to see what you can do this year.

Although “Weather” is the theme for 2022, 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.

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

The submissions window opens at 12 a.m., EST, June 10 and closes at 11:59 p.m., EST, on June 13.

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

Pay will be $100. Only one story will be chosen. If you’d like to read last year’s terrific winning story, here it is!

We’re also debuting the special image designed by our ace art director, Amanda Bergloff, today. The main image is “Midsummer Eve,” by Edward Robert Hughes, 1908. It’s a favorite image for millions for a good reason. It’s genuinely magical and Amanda has designed the whole look very well indeed. You’ll see it with the winning story and merchandise in our Zazzle store soon.

And if you’re a Patreon patron or would like to be, put June 20 on your calendar. That’s when we’ll be holding our annual Summer Solstice Social. More details to come.



May 9, 2022

Poetry Showcase: Snow White in Russia, By Ace G. Pilkington


Editor's Note: Today's Poetry Showcase, originally published in EC's "Snow White Poetry Issue" from 2011, is an interpretation of Snow White's story set within a Russian fairy tale landscape. Enjoy!

They weren’t dwarfs but heroes,
So Pushkin said, and he should know.
With horses leaping high and far, touching
Earth so seldom that even Pegasus
Would be lost in their inevitable dust.
Bogatyrs, heroes, knights without the baggage,
Of castles, jousts, and generations of inherited rage,
They were power and honor, truth in a sword’s thrust.

Now, a Queen should know better than to trust
Her face and fate to a magic mirror. What do
Mirrors know of beauty and its inexorable passage
From bud to bloom to petals blown by age
Into nothingness, to fragrant memories of lust
And love and all the flowerings gone too soon:
Like silver ripples in water, a mirror for a moon
That changes as it sweeps through night’s star fields.
Leaving only a yellowed memory of the light it yields.

That must be why she became jealous of a child.
Snow White’s face was only the promise of beauty; reality
Was still a decade away, and all the fierce and wild
Chances of growing up waited to stain and scar that lovely
Future. So, send the girl to a tsar in the thrice ninth
Kingdom, so far to the golden East that the sun shines
From the doorstep of his palace, and forget what she might
Have been in the dim mists of distance, lost in the light
Of other days and places.  Break the mirror and be free.

But the Queen was caught by green envy, by pale jealousy,
By hatred so deadly she sent her daughter to death in the wood.
And when the huntsman could not shed that childish blood,
The Queen distilled a potion from maternity, her bitter breath
Making an elixir whose slightest brush with the lip brought death,
And kept on killing, so that when the bogatyrs sought to raise
Snow White with the water of life from her unnatural grave,
She did not rise but died again. Then, she was almost alive, a slow
Struggle between poison and salvation, blow and counter blow.

Behold Snow White in a crystal coffin, placed there by the heroes,
Who grieved and watched, wept and looked on helplessly while
A battle they could not win or even join raged inside the life
They could not reach but loved—each of them—beyond his own.
Still, the little girl grew up inside that crystal.  In some strange
Universe of pain, the hated daughter grew older and more magical.
The white and red and ebony of her beauty were rearranged
Into a youth more lovely than the summer sea or first snowfall
On the golden leaves of birch trees.  Suddenly, the world changed.

The Queen with a shudder in her castle home
Said, “Mirror, mirror on my wall of stone
Say that no other’s beauty can match my own.”
The mirror, shimmering in candle light, replied,
“Oh Queen as lovely as the sun in the West
The princess has grown fairer in death
Than you are with your happiest breath.”
And the queen sank to her knees and sighed,
“I will give her life again. Then, she must truly die.”

There was a tsar’s son who granted the Queen her chance.
This tsarevich haunted the coffin, more a specter than
The half-dead girl within.  To him secretly, the Queen
Gave a silver sword to shatter crystal and a spell only
She held:  “My daughter will rise with a kiss from your lips.
But first your lips must touch mine so a mother’s wish
May bless your desire.” Thus, an antidote with the power
Of the poison moved from mouth to mouth to mouth,
And Snow White came to life and love and wedding in an hour.

See the wedding guests laughing, drinking, singing their joy,
And then the Queen appears—beautiful, terrible, a figure of hate
And love, of longings lost in childhood and fears much greater
Than the tears a monster could inspire.  The tsarevich smiles, a boy
In innocence and ignorance, he doesn’t know, but the bogatyrs
Understand why the Queen is here.  They kill women and men
Equally when necessary.  What should they use this time, spears
Or swords, bows or Christian whips, perhaps enchanted weapons
Would be best.  Then Ilya decides, “Drag her to the open steppe.”

Holding her white hands and feet, they tie her to three horses,
Wild as wind.  Then Ilya strikes to scatter them on a course
Wide and unpredictable.  There is the glimmer of a hand,
A leg, the body torn and battered, too terrible to understand
Except by looking in her face, ugly with all she had become.
The last expression of poison and defeat, the cumulative sum
That made the Queen herself is still reflected by her mirror—
The staring eyes, the twisted mouth, the inescapable inner horror.

Ace G. Pilkington is an active member of the SFWA, and co-editor and translator of Fairy Tales of the Russians and Other Slavs. His poems have appeared in five countries and sixty publications, including Asimov’sAmazingWeird TalesThe Christian Science MonitorPoetry Wales, and Poetry Australia

Image by Ivan Bilibin

May 5, 2022

Throwback Thursday: The Queen's Child Comes In, By Mae Underwood

 

Editor's Note: Today's Throwback Thursday is a humorous take on a classic fairy tale that was originally published in EC's "Rumpelstiltskin Issue" from 2011. Enjoy!
Dear Rapunzel,
My Dad says you're someone who will understand me. Your father promised you away in a bargain. It must be hard living in a tower all the time. I can't leave our property, but at least I can go outside. But I can understand why it's necessary in your case, with your parents as neighbors like they are. They could snatch you back just like that -- ! --. (That was me snapping my fingers.)
Did your mother.. do you consider her your mother? I bet you do. The witch, though, did she tell you anything about me? She may not have heard the story correctly, so maybe I should tell you from the start anyway. I hope that doesn't sound egotistical, but I can't send you a letter full of nothing but questions, can I?
There. There's one question for you anyway.
So it all started with my grandfather. He wasn't too bad. Not the stupidest or cruelest person in the story. But it did all start with him.
See, he was in a tavern. I'm sure he'd had a few by this time. And the fellows he's with, they're boasting and everything. As drunken men do, so I'm given to understand.
So one of them, he says, "My wife can bake fifty pies in one day."
And the next one, he goes, "My son can lift two oxen. One in each hand."
And around and around. Until they get to my grandfather, and he ups and says, "My daughter can spin straw into gold."
They all get a good laugh out of that one. And I like to imagine he got an extra pint bought for him in appreciation.
Well, wouldn't you know it, one of the king's men is there, and he overhears this. I think he'd had three too many. I think he half-believed it at that point. So when he goes to tell the king, he must've been convincing. Because the king believed it! Yeah, the king my father. Well, my "real" father. What an idiot.
I mean, isn't it the most obvious question in the world to ask, "If this man's daughter can spin straw into gold, then why is he a modestly well-off miller and drinking in the tavern with the common folk?" Oh yeah, I forgot to say he was a miller. It's not that important to the story. But, anyway, no, the king doesn't think this at all. Just ... believes this straw into gold thing with no proof to back it up.
Well, so then he has this brilliant idea of calling the daughter ... this is my mother we're talking about at this point ... to the castle. And he locks her in a room full of straw and says he'll kill her if it's not gold by morning.
!!!
What an a-- oh, I suppose princesses oughtn't use that word in correspondence. Well, in any case, you can see the sort of person my "real" father is.
This is the good part of the story though, as this is where my actual father comes in. He hears her crying and he comes to her rescue. The start of a romantic story, you'd think, wouldn't you? So he says, "I can spin it into gold for you. But I need something in return." He couldn't let her think he was a chump, right? You don't get nothing for something!
She hands him her necklace and he saves her a-- oh, there's that word again. Sorry, sorry.
Do you think the king is astonished and awed by this? Of course not! The next night, he locks her in a bigger room full of straw! (Who knew castles had so much straw?) My father comes to the rescue again. This time in exchange for a ring. And spin spin spin, he's done.
At least the next night, though he does lock her in a bigger room, the king tells her he'll marry her if she does it. Wow, what a prize! What a catch! You get to marry the village idiot if you do this thing!
But of course she's desperate. I don't think she actually wanted to marry him, but it's better than dying anyway. (Or is it?) So my father comes in and offers to help her out again. She's out of jewelry though. So this is where he asks for what he really wanted. Me. Her firstborn. A princess. He would've settled for a prince, I think.
She promises. You have to wonder about "real" parents who just up and promise their progeny to people they barely know. I mean, don't you?
Spin spin spin, gold, gold, gold. Man and wife. Ring the wedding bells. Ladeedeeda. And then about a year later, I pop out.
"Oh no, don't take my baby. You can have all the wealth of the kingdom." Woman, really. My father can spin straw into gold. You think he wants your lousy treasure
My father has a soft spot in his heart though, and offers her a way out. If she can guess his name, he won't take me. She's got three nights to do it. That means he has three nights to plan.
She sent this messenger off to find names for her. Can you imagine being given that task? I mean, just go to the library, woman. Castles have libraries, from what I understand. Oh, but maybe she couldn't read. Well, anyway, the messenger gives her a bunch of silly names. But there's no way they're ever going to hit on the right one.
When my father's done planning, he lets it "slip" what his name is. The messenger tells her. She guesses. She keeps her baby. All is happy in the land.
Except that he totally switched me a few hours before that. Left a random baby in my place. I'm not sure where he got her from.
So that's the story of my birth and rescue. I've lived with my father ever since. (You're wondering right now what his name is, aren't you? Heehee!) He's taught me his magic and everything a princess ought to know. Just like I'm sure your mother the witch has taught you her magic and everything a young woman of intelligence ought to know.
I turn 18 in a few years. I'm not sure what's so magic about 18. It's not a nice number like 3, or 7, or 21. But laws are laws, I guess. I'm going to go to the castle and declare who I am. We have proof, my father and I. I'm going to take my rightful place on the throne.
Of course there's a king standing in my way, but we'll take care of that. Turns out there's also a few younger brothers. It's a shame I won't be able to get to know them. But that male heir thing ... well, again, laws are laws. They need to go too.
I hope the castle isn't cold and drafty. Do you think it is? I bet it smells all musty and like mildew.
It's a shame we can't meet in person, but it's so nice to be able to write to someone my age!
Write back soon and tell me all about yourself and your life.
And maaaaybe I'll tell you what my father's name is.
Wishes and kisses,
Your new friend (I hope?)
Princess Rumpana
Mae Underwood lives in the non-wilds of New Hampshire with absolutely no cats, dogs, or brine shrimp. She probably wouldn't spin straw into gold even if she could. It seems like too much work.
Image: The Miller's Daughter by Anne Anderson

May 2, 2022

Poetry Showcase: The Little Red Tarot, By Alexandra Seidel

 

Editor's Note: Today's Poetry Showcase is a tarot-themed interpretation of a classic tale originally published in EC's "Little Red Riding Hood Issue" from 2011. Enjoy!

The Seven of Wolves
Something that awaits beyond a turn in the road,
something that you can't quite see yet and therefore
something dark.

"Where to, on this twilight road? Most souls
you will encounter here, are like dead trees
in a wood of dead trees. Why don't you come with me?"

Three of Roads
A path that takes you to your destination
in a roundabout fashion;
a road that ends.

"Come, girl, let me show you where the butterflies are. Leave the flowers
for another day."

Ace of Grapes
A thing that is full turns empty,
a thing that is ripe stains;
conquests are not always glorious.

"Sweet as wine! Sweet
as pomegranate stains!
Sweet as melting warm cake on your tongue;
I said I'd show you butterflies, and so I did.
Moths is what the butterflies of the moon are called."

The Circling Staircase
Inevitability and hidden choices, the places
in which we hide our choices
to conjure a sense of inevitability; fear.

"I am tired now, want to find sleep in your arms.
I am so tired, but at least in your arms,
I can sleep."

The Well, Reversed
Chance encounters, chances that come
like the flip of a coin;
meeting old friends and faces from the past.

"My girl, finally you're home! Your mother said
she'd sent you to me. Do not take roundabout roads
and what are you babbling, dear,
my face isn't his, my face isn't his...?"

Five of Stones
Something that is resolved
with the stitching together
of two frayed edges; a weight.

"There you are, don't leave me
asleep in the wake of twilight; all the trees
are dead in this forest, there is nothing
in this place for you to return to.
I don't know much but I believe
that the greatest love is like hunger.
Come to me, I'll starve no more."

Alexandra Seidel's writing can be found at Strange HorizonsStone TellingMythic Delirium and elsewhere. She edits poetry for Niteblade and Fantastique Unfettered. 

Cover Image: An original card from the tarot deck of Jean Dodal of Lyon, a classic "Tarot of Marseilles" deck from 1701–1715 via Wikimedia Commons.

April 28, 2022

Throwback Thursday: River Child, By Chanel Earl

 

Editor's Note: Today's Throwback Thursday is an enchanting tale that was originally published in EC's "Rain Issue" from 2016. Enjoy!
There was once a river. It was broad and steady and flowed through a great valley where it brought life to the woods and fields. In the valley, in a modest farmhouse on the river’s banks, lived a farmer and his industrious wife, who had no children.
The farmer’s wife longed for a child, and everyday as she went about the washing and the cooking, the weeding and the churning, she dreamed of the day when she would have a child to assist her.
“Come, girl,” she would say as she carried the wash out to the line, “Help me with this basket.” And she would imagine the girl assisting her.
“Son,” she would call out if she noticed the farmer had forgotten his lunch, “run this out to your father.” And then she would walk out to the fields herself, thinking of how much easier it would be if she could have a child to do the errand for her.
In the evenings, when the day was done and the dinner was ready, as she sat at her small table, she would sigh and imagine a great, noisy table with many chairs.
She did not talk to the farmer about her fantasies. They used to dream of children together, but as the years went on and the children did not come, his dreams withdrew, and eventually gave up. Now the dreams were hers alone, like the deep sadness she saw in her husband’s eyes.
One day after the farmer left for the fields, and after the farmer’s wife finished milking the cows and collecting the eggs, she set out to work in the garden. It was a gray day in early spring, and the sky drizzled rain so slowly the woman wondered if it was really rain at all. As she worked digging dirt and planting peas, she noticed the roar of the river. It was easy to ignore the ever-present sound of water flowing through the valley, but today the woman heard it with increased interest, for among the sounds of water, she heard the soft sound of the rain hitting the river, and with it indecipherable voices speaking, calling, whispering and even singing.
The woman walked to the banks of the river and called out, “Who’s there?” But although she listened intently for a response she heard only more voices. “Hello? Who are you? Are you good? Are you friends?” She asked each question in turn, but was met only with the unwavering rumble of water flowing over rocks, the steady quiet sounds of the rain, and the voices like a haze over her ears.
“I hear you,” the woman said, “and I don’t know who you are, but I know what I want. Can you send me a child?” As she finished her request, the rain started in earnest. It fell like a waterfall from the sky, drenching her through in mere moments. Still she stayed at the river, whose roar was now deafening as the rain beat against it. The river rose, and soon the farmer’s wife was standing ankle deep in water. As she looked through the rain she saw a figure approach her; a young girl wearing a simple white cotton dress came out of the river and took her hand.
“Mother?” the girl asked, and the woman, her tears falling like the rain that surrounded her, led her to the farmhouse.
The River Child was given the name Celia, and she brought joy to the farmer and his wife, who felt renewed life whenever they looked at her. She was at times sweet and helpful, and then it was as if anything were possible. She helped the farmer’s wife with the laundry and it took half the time. She helped the farmer with the planting and the plants grew twice the size expected. At other times, she was defiant and impulsive, and then it seemed there was no end to her energy, and the farmer’s wife wondered how she could ever keep up.
To the farmer and his wife, Celia was their own child, but they lived in fear that any day she would return to the river.
“Celia,” the farmer’s wife told her every morning, “I love you, and I want us to be always together, so I need you to keep one rule for me. “ At this point Celia nodded her ascent, knowing what would come next. “Never go near the river.” The farmer’s wife commanded, and Celia obeyed.
The valley grew hotter and hotter with each passing month, and on one sweltering day, when the sun itself seemed to be melting out of the sky, Celia said to her mother, “It’s so hot, Mother. We should take a short swim in the river, the cool water will revive us both.”
“No,” the farmer’s wife said. “The river is dangerous. You could be carried away or drowned. I never want to talk of this again.”
Celia listened and obeyed, but inside she carried a longing to see the river that had been forbidden to her. And the next day, after a long afternoon of working in the hot sun, she asked once more. “Mother, I am nearly boiling, it is so hot. Please let me swim in the cool river.”
Again, the farmer’s wife said no. Instead they sat in the shade of a willow and fanned each other to cool off.  “I know you want to go to the river,” the farmer’s wife said, “But I’m afraid to let you go. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Celia understood, and vowed to herself to obey her mother’s wishes, even as she felt the river pulling her at every moment.
The hot summer months were ending. Celia and her mother put up the vegetables from the garden, then Celia and her father harvested their crops and prepared them for market. The heat began to lessen as the days grew shorter, and the farmer’s wife worried less and less about the pull of the river on her daughter. The small family celebrated the harvest with music and dancing in town, with full meals of ripe berries and sweet corn, and with long picnics under the shady trees.
Celia didn’t ask again if she could go to the river, and when she felt its call, she drowned it out with extended conversations with her mother, singing and dancing and the delicious fruit of their harvest. By the time the leaves began changing and the nights became cold, the farmer and his wife had stopped worrying about Celia’s sudden departure, and only Celia knew that the pull to the river was stronger than it had ever been. At times she would wake up at night shaking and go on walks, not toward the river, but following its course at a distance. She heard voices calling, singing and whispering, but she couldn’t make them out. On these nights she returned home restless and sorrowful.
Then the rains came. The dry summer heat was gone and the autumn weather brought with it heavy rains that fell and fell and fell like they were never going to stop. The fields turned to mud.
The river began to rise. And Celia, at her parent’s request, stayed inside the farmhouse. The water reached the garden, where the last of the pumpkins began to float on the surface like lily pads. The water reached the fields, which sent the livestock to the barn, and then, when the water reached the barn, the farmer and his wife had to go together to find a new home for the cows and chickens.
“Stay here,” Celia’s mother said. “We’ll be back soon. Whatever you do, just stay inside.”
Celia nodded, determined to obey in spite of herself, but she felt it coming for her, chasing her, a chorus of voices insisting it was time to return. She hugged her parents, and whispered goodbye.
The rain increased its relentless beating, and while the farmer and his wife worked to save their chickens and goats, the water advanced toward the farmhouse. The porch was soon buried. Water seeped up through the floorboards, and began to flow into the house. As the water hit Celia’s feet, she vanished into the water from which she had come.
And with that, the rain stopped, the water receded. The farmer and his wife returned to an empty home, where they mourned their lost child, but unlike the long grief of former years, this time they mourned together. The farmer took his wife in an embrace as they remembered the joy Celia had given them.
The next spring, after milking the goats and collecting the eggs, the farmer’s wife began her work in the garden. As she sat, she noticed the roar of the river and felt a soft drizzle of rain on the back of her neck, her hair tingled, and she ran to the river, listening to the sounds of the raindrops hitting the water. There she saw the familiar face of her daughter, smiling. And holding Celia’s hand was a little boy. “Mother?” he asked as the two children reached out to hug the farmer’s wife, tears in her eyes.

Chanel Earl's short story collection, What to Say to Someone Who's Dying, is available at most online bookstores. 


Altered image by John Byam Liston Shaw

SITE DESIGNED BY PRETTYWILDTHINGS