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 cafés, 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.


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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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We’ve got two wonderful events coming up for supporters. Please consider becoming a patron.



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

September 8, 2021

Second Fairy Tale Meditation


Hello Enchanted Friends:

Updated: Sept. 23 at 7 p.m., we’re doing another Zoom meditation session, and this time, it’s open to all people who have helped EC financially this year—not just the $5 and $7 per month donors. (Note: I misread my calendar. It’s actually the 23rd. I’m sorry. 😕)


We are having it at 7 p.m., because that is an open time for most people, but the focus is on waking up in the morning! Yep, it’ll be a short meditation to charge up the day, but it won’t charge you up so much that you can’t fall asleep later. The meditation will feature a fairy tale character. You’ll have to wait and see which one it will be.


If you’re a financial supporter at any level, and through any means, you’re in this month, like I said above, but if you haven’t been, just contact me and I’ll work out a payment of $3 for the single session. Also, please let me know if you are attending. You can do both or either by emailing me at katewolford1@gmail.com.


I’ll be there to chat at 6:45 p.m. This is just about saying hi and discussing this and that. It’s not an EC focused chat. Just fun. The meditation will start promptly at 7 p.m., when the recording will start as well. It will last 20 minutes at the absolutely most, but probably more like 10-15. The session ends when the meditation does. A Zoom recording will, of course, be available after. 


I hope you’ll be there. It’s fun to do these, and having people actually listening live really makes a difference. Also, if you’d like to become a patron through Patreon, here you go.


Stay Enchanted,

Kate Wolford 


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Image by Amanda Bergloff.



September 7, 2021

The Sleeper Awakened, By Jeana Jorgensen


Editor’s note: This poem swept me away, and fired my imagination. Rich in detail, I found myself unable to resist the storytelling in this poem. Enjoy! (Kate)

You must remember that I smiled daily

through sleep-stained eyes,

accepted jewels from your hand,

each gem a weight on my neck,

a cruel pressure that stopped up my throat

and caged my voice

but nonetheless let it rest.

 

When one night of marriage flipped

into two, then three, then four,

it was as though the whole palace

seized and sighed, and servants

began to look me in the eye

and heed my requests.


My sister commanded an army of couriers:

sent them to the Maghreb, to the Mamluks,

to el-Andalus, to the Chola dynasty,

to warring Seljuqs and Jalayirids,

and oh the stories they brought back:

calligraphy on lamb-skin parchment,

papyrus, even paper from farther east.


Before, I had enough stories in me –

some from books, some from mouths –

to number as many as ants drawn to honey.

Within weeks, I had enough stories

to compete with stars in the sky,

enough to keep me alive,

but still one was missing:

the story to buy my freedom.


An emissary from the clever Kabyles

laid one manuscript at my feet:

spooling threads of Maghrebi calligraphy

almost overflowing and spilling onto the rugs,

threatening to dye tassels with its rich blue ink

written in lilting Tifinagh script:

twenty tales, and one a key.


The peasant man switches places with a caliph

(my mind catalogues the motif,

coming up with 31 similar tales immediately)

who enjoys his loquacious inebriation

and dresses up the peasant in his clothes,

making him caliph for a day.

The peasant thinks himself caliph,

makes advances to the slave girls,

caresses them with words and callused hands

until one agrees to come to his bed:

but first, a meal, one she peppers with banj,

and the sleep that comes for him is swift,

his memories muddled.


Swallowed by sleep, the peasant

wakes in his own bed:

was he a caliph dreaming of being a peasant,

or a peasant dreaming of being caliph?

Two more nights the caliph tricks him;

two more nights the slave girl drugs him.


Eventually

the caliph reveals the ruse,

rewarding the peasant with wealth for life.


No more is written of the slave girl.

She disappears from the story.


The court chemist finds me banj,

laces it with poppy milk and other gifts

from loyal diplomats.

Loyal to me, I should specify.


I know how much you love your tea

before story-time. You’ve loved it for months now

…how many months? Ah. Good question, but

the main question now is:


Should you disappear?


Or should I?


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Jeana Jorgensen earned her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy tales and fairy-tale retellings, folk narrative more generally, body art, dance, and feminist/queer theory. Her poetry has appeared at Strange Horizons, Quatrain. Fish, Liminality, Glittership, and other venues.


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This poem was brought to you by Steve Aultman, a Patreon patron. We need your help to keep publishing wonderful works like this one, so please consider becoming a donor. Learn more here.


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Image of Scheherazade by Virginia Sterett.

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