FTM is pleased to present the winners
of our first Flash Fiction Fundraising Contest below. Enjoy!
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
"MEDICINE or POISON"
by Ella Arrow
The wise woman knows when she's called a witch.
They called my mother “a cunning woman,” gladly buying her elixirs and simples on market day. But the village has changed since I took her place. Now more whisperers than customers pass my cart. A woman who lives alone has become a specimen strange and not always good.
Simple people see what they want, the best or worst they can imagine. Salt is essential to the life of a man but kills the poor slug that eats the same cabbages. Poison or medicine. Witch or wisdom.
Perhaps apple tarts with elderberry and feverfew will sell as a remedy for the chills. Slip medicine in with the mead.
I lean deep into my bread oven and ash catches in the back of my throat, clings like a bat to the sore folds there. I hold my breath until the tarts are out and I can finally cough.
The windowsill is already brimming with market day pastries, but as I set down the tarts, I noticed a gap in my pile of scones. "Nibble, nibble, little mouse. Who's been nibbling at my house?"
"Never mind. It is the wind."
I'm so shocked at the tiny voice that answers, I have to gather my wits along with my shawl over my head before rushing out the door.
Two children stand outside my window, mouths agape, cheeks hollow, twigs in their hair.
I'm not used to visitors, much less youngsters. The best thing about living alone in the woods is solitude. It’s also the worst thing.
The little girl steps back as if I were the one who frightened her. The boy's fist clutches a green sponge. Are they so starved they would eat gutter growth? "What is that? Don't eat that!" My throat is dry; I creak like a crow.
"You must be a witch," he whispers, "to have such a magical house."
Medicine or poison, witch or wisdom.
"Come inside," I say. "Eat and rest, whatever sweets you want."
They sidle past me, too exhausted to argue, eyes wide and glassy.
They fall on my food like wild things. I imagine them biting my fingers as I deliver extra pumpkin muffins. I’ve only one bed but I tuck them in, mother's quilt up to their chins. They seem nervous, thin arms around each other. Unsure how to talk to children, to help them feel safe, I stroke the girl's cheek and say, "Such sweet faces. I could eat you up."
In the dark of night, a crash awakens me from my chair. The boy’s out of bed and has stumbled over the garden tools. He wrestles a rake, raining down crumbles of fragrant sage and henbane from their perch in the rafters.
I cry out and grab him. He raves and shouts, slapping me. His eyes are still unfocused, seeing nightmares or gingerbread houses. I wrap him in a bear hug and drag him toward the back of the house where the chicken coop opens by a little grate.
“Wolves will devour us!” he shouts. “In the woods, wolves and witches will devour us.” He looks straight through me, naming me as wicked. I shove him in with the chickens and slam the grate shut. Call and scream as he might, I do not let him out.
I search my books for what fruit of the forest could give them visions of sugar plums and baby-boiling witches. Finally, near dawn, I find the concoction. Purge and purify, thyme and burdock. Then restore: red clover, prunella, lady’s mantle.
I know the girl heard the ruckus last night. She only comes out for porridge, hunger overwhelming fear. I get her to tell me through tears how they heard their stepmother’s plan to abandon them in the woods. No wonder they’re mistrustful. On the second day starving, they ate white berries that looked like dolls’ eyes. They stumbled onto my little house, mistaking sweet smells and a window bakery for a candy cottage conjured from a starving child’s dreams.
They purge. I clean. If this is what having children entails, I'm glad my mothering is temporary. My magic can heal the body and salve the spirit, but it doesn’t mend their tiny broken hearts. Market day comes and goes. They've eaten my stores anyway. I try to think what to do with them; they clearly cannot go home. I try to put meat back on their bones, but my throat has gotten worse, my eyes are red and runny. I don’t speak much, but when I do, my temper is as brittle as a dried stalk.
The girl weeps on the little pallet I've made for her bed. The boy screams whenever I come near. I fear for my safety if I let him out. It doesn't matter that the visions have passed, the toxins purged. The poison ideas have left a scar.
I've decided I'll take them to the village. Someone there will help, take them in, someone who isn’t me. I haven’t told them, because I plan to give them a sleeping tea and put them on the cart. That way is safest, so they don’t run away and get lost in the woods again.
While I still have the extra hands, I ask the girl to help me clean my oven. I show her the brush and how to lean far in. I promise her a cookie if she helps me, but she knows I've got a secret. These children have no trust left to give. She pushes me with tiny might and mountainous fury. My head thumps the oven and I roll behind the door, moaning, out of sight.
She opens her brother's cage and cries, “We're free! The old witch is dead!”
“I’m not old,” I mumble, holding my head. “I’m 37.”
Knowledge is a knife that cuts both ways. People see what they want. You can’t feed them medicine if they believe it’s poison.
So says a wise woman.
Ella Arrow believes in magic, especially the kind we make for ourselves. Her book, The Flight of the Starling, A Fairy Tale, is available on Amazon and in bookshops. She writes stories and makes art in her home near Madison, Wisconsin. Join her quest for a magical life on www.ella-arrow.com.
Image: Jessie M. King
by Tish Black
You know, the people who write “they lived happily ever after” aren’t the people living the ever after. They don’t know. They just stop the story after the wedding and assume that marriage makes everyone happy and that happiness sticks around forever.
My father had promised my hand in marriage to whoever could rescue me from the ogre. A sensible transaction; without a daughter, his family line could not continue, and a man strong, brave, and clever enough to defeat an ogre is the kind of blood you want in your family line. Of course, I didn’t know I was being sold to the highest bidder, I had more pressing concerns at that moment. I wasn’t the only girl the ogre had stolen. Five of us huddled together for warmth at the back of the ogre’s cave, devising a plan of escape.
If anything, this guy ruined our plan. It’s amazing that we all still managed to escape. And rescue him from the ogre on the way out. This guy was a better storyteller than a rescuer. His recounting of the events didn’t sound familiar to me, but my father bought it, so the wedding was planned.
My fellow captives became my bridesmaids. We all agreed that the flowers were lovely, the dress was lovely, the groom was lovely, the castle was lovely. Yes, it was a much lovelier place to be held captive than an ogre’s cave. So, we huddled together and devised a lovely plan of escape.
And so, there was a wedding and the bride did live happily ever after. Just not with the groom.
Tish Black is a writer, content creator, and film programmer. She creates fairy tale & folklore content as Tales with Tish, including video essays exploring fairy tale films. Her first book of short stories inspired by fairy tales will be published in late 2023. Find her online at TishBlack.com.
Image:The Public Domain Review
Both these tales are featured in
our September issue,
TALES FROM THE
NIGHT QUEEN'S REALM
...packed with original fairy tale
stories, poems, art, articles,
and an interview with author, Alice Hoffman!
FEATURING WORKS BY
Ella Arrow - Amanda Bergloff - Cecilia Betsill - Tish Black
Sarah Cannavo - Jayne Cohen - Sara Cleto - A.J. Cunder
Sofia Ezdina - Alyson Faye - Hannah Grace Greer
Kelly Jarvis - Rosanne E. Lortz - Leila Murton Poole
Deborah Sage - Marcia Sherman - Margaret Fisher Squires
Laren Stover - Brittany Warman
You can find
TALES FROM THE
NIGHT QUEEN'S REALM
single issue HERE
check out other past issues HERE