July 18, 2016

Pourquoi Tales: Answers to 'Why?', By Susan Caroff

Pourquoi tales have been around since humans began to speak.  A popular genre of folk-literature, they are a staple of many classrooms and storytelling events.

There are pourquoi tales to explain almost all elements of the natural world, e.g., why the possum’s tale is bare and how the Grand Canyon was madePourquoi tales are sometimes called creation stories or how and why stories.  The how portion lies in the telling of the tale itself.  How did the tiger come to have his beautiful stripes?   The porcupine her quills?

Introductions to pourquoi tales begin, like many narratives, ” A long, long time ago..." and conclude with a statement about why something is the way it is now.

Animals and other creatures can talk and main characters often get their comeuppance.  Other tales have no moral and are told purely for entertainment. Example: The American tall tale character Pecos Bill lassoed a tornado and went for a wild ride that included the carving out of the Grand Canyon.  Tales from a variety of different genres, tall tales, myths, legends and fables can also be pourquoi stories.

Pourquoi stories come from oral traditions across many cultures.  Explanations of how animals came to look and behave the way they do proliferate.  For example, in the West African folktale, Why Turtles Live in Watera turtle, who at that time lived on land, was caught by some hunters and brought to their chief.  The chief decided to cook turtle, but clever turtle convinced him to throw him in the river and drown him before cooking him.  When turtle got in the water he swam away, and from that day forward turtles have lived in the water.

How the Birds Got Their Colors, an Aboriginal tale from Australian literature, says that in the Dreamtime, the time before the world was made, all birds were black.  One day Dove injured his foot and other birds, hearing his painful cries, rushed to help him care for his wound.  All birds came to Dove’s aid except one, Crow.  Jealous Crow flew about and shouted to the other birds to leave Dove alone.  Suddenly, one of the birds, looking to relieve Dove’s pain, took her beak and opened Dove’s infected foot.  The colors of nature poured out from the wound and onto the birds.  This is how birds got the lovely colors we see on them today.

This tale, like pourquoi stories from other cultures, reflects the values of the community.  In this case, helping and caring for others is prized over cruel indifference to suffering.

Any discussion of pourquoi tales brings to mind Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (1902).  One of these tales, The Elephant’s Child, explains why elephants have such long noses.  The prose is old-fashioned, as are the other animals’ reactions to the little elephant, but the tale is very humorous.  And not all of the story is fantastical, as crocodiles really do eat young elephants.

Pourquoi stories are a good place to begin building skills as a storyteller.  Most have simple plots and a range of characters that are easily portrayed.  You can write your own pourquoi story to reenact in storytelling.

For some advice on how to write a pourquoi tale, look to the education world where advice for doing such abounds.  Keep in mind that while much of the educational advice on composing stories is geared for teachers and students, these resources still contain useful information on writing in all kinds of narrative genres, including fairy tales.

Susan Caroff teaches at West Chester University.

July 1, 2016

Midsummer Issue Table of Contents

Welcome to the Midsummer Issue! It's a bit late, but I believe you'll judge it well worth the wait. We've got sunshine, sadness, nature, joy, fairies, magic, and everything else you'd expect from an issue about the summer and fae. Without further ado, the works:

"A Burning Tale," Lissa Sloan

"The Changelings," Aliza Faber

"Dawn Thread," Judy Darley

"A Body at Rest," Alison McBain

"A Rose Like No Other," Shari L Klase

"Phoenix Rising," Adina Newman

"By the Light of the Kumquat Tree," Melissa Yuan-Innes

"The Scattering and the Gathering," Gerri Leen
"The Summer Fairy," Lorraine Schein

"Lucy in the Sky," Elise Forier Edie

Image by John Anster Fitzgerald.

A Burning Tale, By Lissa Sloan

They say you should not speak my name. They say if you so much as whisper it, I might appear. But on nights like tonight, some folk cannot quite resist. How beastly she is, they say, with her jagged teeth, gobbling up small children who stray off the path. How terrifying is her hut that turns on chicken legs, with its fence made of thigh bones and burning-eyed skulls. How fearsome are the three horsemen she commands, the first black as the night, the next white as the dawn, the last red as the sun.

And just between us, say stepmothers to stepsisters, she would be just the thing to rid us of this tiresome bit of baggage, this motherless, worthless servant girl.

They say I am only a story. Too wild, too ancient, too ravenous to be true. But some nights they do still think of me, if by chance their flames go out. For on this shortest night, when my Dark Midnight is at his weakest, all good folk make their fires the brightest. They make them burn high and hot, all the brief night long, feeding flames to my Red Sun that will last him all the year. If by chance, on this night of all nights, if the fire has gone out, if the last candle flame is guttering and sputtering, then stepmothers and stepsisters could almost believe I am real after all.

For they know one more thing about me, besides my crooked nose, so long it touches the ceiling of my hut when I lie down to snore my rattling snores, besides my red eyes and my iron teeth and my hideous claws. They know I keep the light burning.

Off with you, they shriek at the child, and don't come back without a light. They believe in me just enough to think we will do their neglected work, this little slip of a girl and me. Or they send me their unwanted rubbish, this leftover girl, in hopes that I will finish her off. I don't suppose they care which. They believe I will do their bidding.

And so they send her, a hungry little waif with nothing to guide her but the shine in her eyes and the doll in her pocket. She does look good enough to eat. But fair is fair, and I always give my visitors a chance.

Oh yes, I know the girl's secret. That little bundle of rags she keeps in her pocket. Her mother-doll. It led her through the blackness, right to my door. Turn left at the path. Now right. Now straight ahead. Tell the hut, 'turn your back to the forest, your front to me,' and it will show you the door. I know the child feeds her doll scraps of meat and crumbs of cake and thimbles full of tea. I know that in return, it does the impossible tasks I set. We understand each other, this doll and I. It nods to me as the girl comes through my door. And I nod back. Fair is fair.

And when my hut is neat as a pin, grain sorted and seeds cleaned, I send the child on her way, before my shortest Dark Midnight is over. She must be home before he gallops past her, making way for my earliest Bright Dawn. I give her the favor she requests, for fair is fair and I have my reasons. This red-eyed skull will light her way, speeding her home, task completed.

And yet I gave her more, more than she asked for. My blazing skull will light not only the candle and the fire, but the whole house and more. For I have not forgotten stepmother and stepsisters waiting idly inside, thinking I will do their bidding. I do no one's bidding. And yet my Red Sun will be fed. When he follows my Bright Dawn, his mount's hooves leaping into the air to take his place in the sky, he will never be so long or so strong as he is this day. By their burning, the stepmother and stepsisters will feed him so well that he will warm the land and ripen the crops like never before. He will bring plenty and health, full bellies and strong beasts. At least until next year. My Red Sun and I, we make no guarantees.

And that blessed, tasty little morsel? The doll in her pocket will whisper to her all she needs to know. Don't go in the house. Hand the light through the door. Run for your life. And she will be wise enough to listen, and brave enough to carry on. That suits me well, for someone must live to tell the tale. And fair is fair.

They say I am only a story. But I keep the light burning.

Lissa Sloan's poems and short stories are published in Enchanted Conversation, Niteblade Magazine, Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus, and Frozen Fairy Tales.  “Death in Winter,” Lissa's contribution to Frozen Fairy Tales, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Visit her online at her website, lissasloan.com, or on twitter: @LissaSloan. 

Image by Ivan Bilibin.

The Changelings, By Aliza Faber

There once was a child with golden hair,
Who grew up strange and wild and free,
In the hands of the fairy queen's tender care,
Where reeds play tunes and secrets be.
She drank dew straight from petal's lips,
And spun and danced in the moon's bright beam,
flowers adorned her hair and hips,
Though she was troubled by a single dream.
On midsummer's day of her sixteenth year,
As the fires rose high in bundles of twine,
While the fay reveled with zest and cheer,
She turned and said; "mother of mine.
How can it be my ears are round,
My feet a pointed shape do lack,
Instead of green, my eyes are browned,
And wings don't lie upon my back."
The fairy queen then stroked her hair,
And told her; "child, let it bother you not,
After all I've done it would only be fair,
For you to abandon this train of thought.
I saved you from the clutches of,
A plain and dull and mundane life,
If still you do not believe me, love,
Tomorrow I'll show you the cause of this strife."
True to her word the vain queen took her,
To the land hidden behind the rift,
As midnight struck, humans she showed her,
Living their lives mundane and swift.
"If not for me you would share their fate,"
The queen explained to the changeling girl,
And she led her back through fairy's gate,
To dance and sing and laugh and twirl.
The queen thought she could now forget,
But the changeling girl would not be sated,
She dreamed of humans to be met,
Every day for midnight to come she waited.
Then she'd creep to where the lands did meet,
To search far and wide until she found,
A human with pointed ears and feet,
The one to which her fate was bound.
For near a year at midnight she rose,
To watch the changed one in plain clothes clad,
Hidden deep in mooncast shadows,
She gazed at the life she should have had.
After some time she decided she'd rather,
Stay where the fay played their merry tune,
Still she returned to watch other,
Who in a life not hers was strewn.
Midsummer came again with all its might,
And the girl once more crept through the veil,
But the midsummer midnight sun shone bright,
With no moon to hide her, her face turned pale.
For the changed one stood there and started at her other,
"You've been watching me," she said, her green eyes bright,
"You suffer," said the one raised by the fairy mother,
and told her the tale of their birth night.
The fairy told the girl to take her place,
To be accepted by the humans as she never was,
So she could live with the fairy race,
That had given her up without good cause.
But the human girl shook her head,
A sly fairy glint played in her eyes,
As she said; "Why should I go in your stead,
When we both can enjoy the faerie's cries?"
So changelings returned to the land of fey,
To dance around the fairy glen,
And there they live to this very day,
Never to return to the land of men. 

Aliza loves reading, writing and anything to do with fairy tales. She hopes one day she will have enough time to continue introducing less well known fairy tales on her blog taleaday.blogspot.com.

Image by John Anster Fitzgerald.

Dawn Thread, By Judy Darley

Her room is full of feathers, dyed crimson,
scarlet, burgundy, blood.
Each hollow shaft sliced to a needlepoint.
She kneels among their flaming shards
at the foot of her naked toile, weaves
them in place, fastened with filaments.
Eyes closed, she sees eighteen shades
of red, one to denote each month in this cell.
From solstice moon to solstice sun
twice over, she’s stitched,
hands raw with the snip, shove, sew.
Lungs gasping against barbs inhaled;
eyes clogged with fragments of quill.
The tower walls are ablush with innocent dust.
The midsummer day cracks open,
and her plumage is complete.
On the furthest edge of the sky,
she hears her brothers’ thunderous wings.

Judy Darley is a UK-based fiction writer, poet and journalist. Her words have been published by literary magazines and anthologies, and performed on BBC radio, in caf├ęs, in caves, in artist’s studios and in a disused church. She blogs about art and other things at www.SkyLightRain.com.

Image by Kay Nielsen

The Scattering and the Gathering, By Gerri Leen

From afar, the castle glows
Nearly as brightly
As the bonfires littering the hillsides
You sit, verdant cloak pulled around you
Chilled despite the warmth
Of this midsummer night
"You are so thin, Sister," I say as I sit
The river rushes by and I dangle
Bony feet in the coolness
I am too warm and you are cold
Even if now we are the same size
Skin hanging loose over brittle bones
But in six months we will be fat and happy
And you will roast while I freeze

I left you swollen at the last Winter Solstice
Filled with joy to see you after
Your long absence in the between time
You had been a shadow
Following me, growing along with me
Until the moment we traded
When the sun returned and you were
Left with what I harvested
Grains and fruits and creatures
But also things not so tangible
Dreams and plans and love, born under the fading sun

What did you think of my treasure?
I have never known, and you send it back out
With so little emotion
Six months is plenty of time to disperse
To scatter, to sow, to seed
All the things I pulled back into me
Until you are nothing--or nearly so
You bring us to this moment
When the waxing ends and the waning begins
And we trade places yet again
Fairy godmothers, plural
But none seem to realize
There are two of us
We are identical even to our
Propensity to wither during your time
And swell during mine

"It was a good harvest you gave me," you say
"I sent it all out.  You will be hard pressed
To bring it all back." You lean against me
We are so seldom together that I relish the closeness
And ignore the implied competition
Just once I would like you to linger
To stay by my side as I retrieve all the things you've scattered
To see if you're right that you will outdo me
To have you witness your triumph or failure
from more than some shadowy perch
But you can't stay
We have both tried to defy the force
That separates us
We have both failed

"How is the princess?" I ask, forcing my mind
Along less dangerous paths
"Mourning the loss of her freedom," you say
The princess found her prince during my time
And she will be happy with him again as midsummer
Ushers in the cold, as leaves fall and the colors change
From green to gold and orange and red
And then to nothing, to bare branches and
The frigid winds of early winter
I bring things back, I hold fast
It is you who bestows the thirst for the new
Not for nothing is Spring Fever part of your domain

"She is pregnant," you whisper
"I thought she might bring
The child forth during my time"
You sigh and your breath leaves a frosty residue
As if it was deepest winter and not this gentle night
I am glad the princess will not deliver under your dominion
She needs grounding
You only serve to fan her restlessness
A child of the waning times will clutch
And cling and be the trunk of a tree that
Holds the leaves on, free to rustle but never fly
A beautiful jailor, one the princess will never think to resent

From the river, I hear music
It is time
In the winter, we skate across it
But now we stand and throw off
Cloaks and gowns that shimmer with magic
I touch your side, press in and feel the contour of your bones
So little of you left
Will there ever come a time
That you give too much away?
I suppose you have wondered if I
Will ever pull so much back that I burst
"What are you thinking of?" You draw me into the water
It is not warm and you shiver as you pull me close, as we sink to the
"Only that I love you," I say as I surface alone

"I love you, too," you answer
Your voice more a rustling of the wind
Than actual words
I close my eyes and try not to think
Of you as a prisoner
Half shadow, your skeletal frame growing
As I fulfill my duty
It is futile because I am your shadow
When you take power
Free of my duty but not of you--of us

We never asked for this
Perhaps someday we'll be free
In the meantime, I stand and begin
To reverse the direction of the magic
You have woven
What goes out must come back
And I feel the flow change and
Across the hillsides, bonfires flare up
I hear the sound of swimmers in the river
Soft laughter and the sound of flesh pressing to flesh
The murmurs of old love renewed

It is not so bad, this prison
There are many that would be worse
I pull magic around me
Add extra shimmer and conjure
A wand of starlight to make a show
For my princess--I have missed her
Even if she has no idea
She should have missed me

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from
Seattle.  She has stories and poems published by: Daily Science Fiction,
Escape Pod, Grimdark, Enchanted Conversation
, and others.  Her first

solo editing gig, the A Quiet Shelter There anthology published by
Hadley Rille Books, was released in Fall 2015 and benefits homeless
animals.  See more at http://www.gerrileen.com.

The Summer Fairy, By Lorraine Schein

The Summer Fairy wears a sea-green bikini
under a diaphanous yellow tunic
and shiny flit-flops on her feet.
Her wings look like bright, intricately patterned Japanese paper lanterns.
She has a small fan at the back of her neck that magically whirs to life when it gets very hot.
The Summer Fairy’s eyes are the blue of a chlorinated swimming pool in August;
her voice sounds like the boom and rushing spatter of a July thunder storm.

The Summer Fairy can sometimes be glimpsed in the floating dark spots
you see after staring at the sun too long.
Because she is the best swimmer of all the fairies,
you might also catch sight of her through the glaze of sunlit water on your face
as you break the surface from diving.

The Summer Fairy enchants adults into taking extra vacation days
and makes children forget everything they learned in school that year.
In the city, she goes to picnics in parks and parties on apartment rooftops
where she clings to swizzle sticks and the little paper umbrellas in drinks
and snacks on dips with baby carrots,
buzzing over them like a firefly.
Afterward, the hostess will wonder why she ran out of appetizers
when she made sure to buy extra.

Often the Summer Fairy is drawn by the scents from street fair booths
that sell magical oils and incense.
Then she’ll help the Tarot card readers
by whispering secrets to them about their clients.
She’ll make vegans want to eat greasy sausage and peppers and corn dogs. 
Her hair becomes woven with blue and pink wisps of spun sugar
as she whirls around for a fun ride in the cotton candy machine.

If you win at the street fair toss games or wheels of fortune,
it’s because she likes you,
and wants you to have a large sparkly stuffed unicorn.
If you always lose,
try leaving her some funnel cake and a vanilla milkshake
on your kitchen floor by moonlight.

The Summer Fairy answers those anonymous ads on Craigslist
posted by people who have fallen in love
with an attractive stranger                                                                                          
glimpsed once while commuting.

Usually, it's her they’ve seen, and when they meet again,
she whisks the unsuspecting, besotted humans off to Fairyland,
never to be seen till many seasons later.
She’ll deposit them, spent but happy,
like empty soda cans on the nearest cold beach in the fall. 

Lorraine Schein is a New York writer. Her work has appeared in Strange HorizonsMad Scientist JournalGigantic WorldsAphrodite Terra, and the anthologies Drawn to MarvelPhantom Drift, and Alice Redux. 

Detail from Alphonse Mucha painting.

A Body at Rest, By Alison McBain

The man was staring at her again. Riva stood at the sink washing dishes and saw him standing in the shade of the trees outside the kitchen window.

“Mum,” she said.

“What now?” asked her mother, chopping vegetables for stew.

“Nothing,” Riva said after a pause. Her mother came up behind her and peered over her shoulder. The man was standing there and staring at Riva, but her mother’s eyes scanned the scene without pausing. After a moment, her mother went back to her chopping.

“Don’t bother me over nothing,” she said.

“Yes, Mum.”

On laundry day at the end of the week, the two of them were outside scrubbing linens with water hauled up from the stream, heated in a pot over the fire and poured into the wash basins. Her mother had gone inside, and Riva was just hanging up the last wet sheet when she lost her grip and the end whipped past her face. Looking beyond it, she saw the man standing not ten feet from her.

She froze, her hands outstretched still to tangle with the unwieldy sheet. He smiled; his teeth were glaring white.

Her mouth was open to say something, but the sheet whipped back around in the breeze and slapped her across the face. As she grabbed ahold of it, she knew before she lowered it that he would have disappeared.

She left her empty basket where it lay and walked towards the woods. Although she knew enough about husbandry to distinguish a poisonous plant from a useful one, she didn’t recognize the flower she found in the place where the man had been standing. She knelt down by the plant, hesitating at the thorns twined about its stem. The scent of the bloom was strange and intoxicating, and she found herself grabbing the flower and ripping it from its nest of leaves. As she did so, one of the thorns pricked her, so that a single drop of blood fell to the earth. She put the wound to her mouth and sucked on it. The taste was bitter on her tongue, leaving an uneasy feeling behind.

Still, she carried the flower inside the house with her. That night, she placed it under her pillow and slept with its sweet fragrance drifting around her. Her dreams were vivid and troubling, but forgotten upon waking.

In the morning, the temperature dropped dramatically as it sometimes did in the middle of spring. She wore her petticoats doubled and her thickest woolen cloak when she went to fetch water from the stream. After the chores were done, her mother declared she was setting off for town.

“I won’t be long,” she warned her daughter.

Riva knew she should complete the list of chores her mother had given her, but instead she retrieved the flower from under her pillow. Holding it in one hand, she walked into the woods where she had last seen the man.

Her bare feet seemed guided by Providence, and she avoided rocks and sharp twigs with ease. She pulled her cloak tightly around her and her breath frosted the air around her.

When she broke through into a small clearing, the sudden touch of sunlight on her head woke her up. She turned to look behind her, but the trees crowded at her back and their intertwined branches seemed impenetrable. Fear shivered through her.

“Riva,” said a voice. It was lilting, reminding her of the folk songs patterned after the staccato of falling rain. She turned her head and there he was in the bright sun with her, a million jewels of light glinting in his midnight hair. He held a hand out to her and she reached out her own fingers, noticing only at the last moment that she had extended her arm with the hand holding the flower. He smiled and grasped her hand, flower and all, and the petals were crushed between their two palms.

She felt a flicker of pain--thorns, piercing her skin. It failed to wake her from the trance of the man’s touch. Something on the edge of her thoughts hinted about the dreams of the night before, but the memory did not come fully forward. She closed her eyes against the brilliance of the day.

With his hand, he drew her closer. The light flickered against her eyelids.

There was movement and sensation, both overwhelming. Then the night descended, a darkness covering everything with its touch.

Riva opened her eyes, and the world was soft-edged and overlapped by shadows. She pushed against the ground, and her bones snicked and clacked in a painful manner. Although she managed to draw herself upwards, tendon and sinew protested every action. As her head lifted from the ground, there was a slithering sound like a hundred snakes, and she looked at the grass and saw a rushing towards her of… something. A weight pulled against her head and she realized the endless coils were attached to her, a nest of hair entwined in the groundcover of the clearing. Her hair, endless loops and curls, tight and painful on her scalp. Her neck strained, but she managed to pull herself up eventually and found herself sitting upright in the center of a sea of tarnished yellow.

Even so simple a move exhausted her. She sat still for a while, noting the trees ringing the space where she was. The clearing was much as she remembered it, but the day was warm now and her rucked-up petticoats too hot.

A voice interrupted her wandering thoughts. Just her name. She turned her head and the dark-haired man appeared in her line of vision.

Her mouth was dry and her tongue fumbled as she tried to make sounds. “Hush,” said the man and she found herself closing her mouth.

A youth stepped out from the trees and stopped next to the man. He was in that awkward stage consisting of doorknob-shaped elbows and knees, limbs stretched thinly between the knobby joints. There was something strange about the boy, but the light was poor and she couldn’t see him well in the growing darkness.

The man bowed once, a courtly gesture that seemed oddly natural in the clearing. Then he faded backwards. She blinked and there was only a hollow space where he had been. The boy remained behind, staring at her.

“H-help,” she croaked. The boy’s eyes darted up to the crown of her head and he drew a knife from his pocket, frightening her for just one moment--until he knelt beside her and sawed at the strands trapping her to the ground. By the time he was finished, it was full dark and the moon had not yet appeared.

Too dark to go anywhere, she thought. The boy watched her--she could see his eyes gleaming in the dark, like a cat’s eyes reflecting and amplifying the dim light of the stars.

She tried to say, “Sit,” but her voice failed her. Still, he seemed to understand, for he sank to the ground next to her.

Although she had done nothing so far, weariness filled her. She didn’t try to speak again, simply lay back into the hollow where she had woken, a curious bare patch of earth sunken slightly into the ground. Curling up, she pillowed her head on her crossed hands and fell asleep.

Light woke her, or perhaps the sound of birds trilling softly nearby. She turned her head and saw the boy. He was upright and watching her, as if he hadn’t moved all night. His gaze felt like ants creeping on her skin, and she shivered in the warm light of the dawn. The sun was behind him, but she could see enough to notice there was something wrong with his eyes--one was pale as cheese, the other a dark black. Instead of giving him a quizzical look as one might expect, it made him seem dangerous, as if he were a wild beast come to stare at her, considering whether or not to take her for a meal.

Her mouth was still dry, but she found that she could speak. “Let’s go home.”

The boy said nothing, but he stood when she stood and followed her out of the clearing. She headed south, the woods familiar to her, the trees like old friends who nodded gently as she passed them. Eventually, she noticed a large tumble of boulders she knew was near to her house. With a glad cry, she turned slightly to orient herself and began to walk more quickly. When she came to the stream, she knelt to drink. Hunger was nothing new to her, so she ignored the grumbling in her stomach that accompanied the weight of the liquid in it. Instead, she turned her head and saw the boy kneeling beside her and scooping up the water to drink.

The action was so normal that she relaxed. She wondered why he was with her, why the man had led him to her. But more than her curiosity about him was a homesickness that clogged her throat and stopped her from asking. He followed her without protest as she stood and moved off along the bank of the stream.

She’d been thinking her own thoughts, letting her feet choose their way for a while before she realized they should’ve already broken free from the trees and into the clearing where she lived with her mother. Perhaps she’d been so caught up in her thoughts that she hadn’t seen it? However, if they continued on, they would eventually reach the village. She often made toys for the children there, carved out of bits of deadfall from the forest. The mothers were fond of her; perhaps they would give the two of them something to eat and find a place for the strange boy.

They walked on, the stream gurgling beside them. Each moment, she kept thinking they would come out of the trees and see the village. Her legs were tired, her stomach clenching with hunger. Perhaps now, she thought, again and again.

Her heart thudded in her chest when she realized the light was fading. They had been walking for hours. She sank down to her knees and was suddenly angry when the boy squatted beside her. What could he know about disappearing houses, vanishing towns? The stream was the same, she was sure of it. But her home was gone, and the village also.

Pain lanced through her middle. “I’m so hungry,” she whispered.

The boy stood up and walked away. She watched dully as he disappeared between one tree and the next. The comfort she had found in the forest at the beginning of the day disappeared beneath a sharp stab of fear. A night bird screamed in the distance and her breath hitched.

She waited as the shadows deepened. The texture of the night was muffled under the trees, the darkness closing down over her head and pressing against her sodden heart. Perhaps she would have cried, but she felt too exhausted to try. Instead, she sat on the cool ground, numb and unsleeping.

Movement in the woods, and her heart knocked against her throat. She didn’t recognize the boy until he stood right before her, for he was a shapeless figure in the deeper shadow of the trees. He held something out to her, but she couldn’t tell what it was until her hands dropped beneath the weight of his offering. It was a hare, neck flopping against her hands.

She placed the offering on the ground beside her--nothing to be done with it in the dark. “Thank you,” she said softly. The boy sat down beside her. Eventually, between one breath and the next, her head fell forward and she slept.

 She woke with a sharp pain in her neck when she moved it. “A bed,” she murmured. “A quilt. Food…” And then she remembered the hare.

They had nothing to make a fire. She skinned the creature with the boy’s knife and they ate what she could scrape off its lean bones. Afterwards, she washed the blood off her hands in the stream and took a long drink before they continued on their way.

She no longer knew where to go. But there was no reason to stop. So she walked on, and the boy followed.

On the third day, it rained. Her dress was filthy from travel and ragged from scraping against tree branches. The cloth stuck to her skin and she felt even dirtier than before because of the heat and wet. “Ugh,” Riva said to the boy. “I wish we could--”

A crack of thunder interrupted her words, and she couldn’t breathe. She tried to say something, anything, but found the world had frozen around her. The ground reached out and smacked her in the back of the head, which made the pain in her chest even worse. If she had any breath, she would have cried out. But it seemed she could not speak.

The boy bent over her. His hands were on her face and she saw he was moving his mouth. She wanted to laugh--here she was, speechless, and him trying to say something. A reversal.

“Mother,” she heard him say in a voice like a lilting song. His fingers caressed her face and the look in those strange eyes made her heart pause. Weary, she closed her eyes.

The hunter came out of the woods and his gun dropped from his fingers. He covered his mouth with one hand. There, a teenage boy bent over an old woman on the ground. Her chest was red and wet, like a gaping mouth.

The boy turned his head toward the intruder on the scene, and the hunter stopped with his phone halfway out of his pocket. He had been about to call 9-1-1, but there was something off about the boy, something that gave him pause. The boy’s great eyes blinked at the hunter and the man heard, unbelievably, an animal growl rising from that thin chest. He half-turned back to reach for his gun.

He never made it. Many years later, the gun was found by a child playing by the water, who stared at it curiously. Grown round by vines and carried up the trunk of a tree, the ancient rifle pointed straight upwards, mute testament to an outmoded practice. Guns were now irrelevant, a strange thing of the past. But the rifle stood sentinel still, as if to shoot at the blue, blue sky of heaven.

Alison has over 40 publications in magazines and anthologies, including Flash Fiction OnlineAbyss & Apex, Bards and Sages Quarterly and Frozen Fairy Tales.