Happy Halloween!! Here’s the flash fiction piece I read aloud for Death Rattle.
VINEHEART AND THE STOLEN DAUGHTERS
I stand at the window, look down. Far below me, is the old forest. The sky stretches in every direction like a gorgeous blue cloth, and I long to touch it, I long to grow wings. I reach out my hand. The sky ignores me. How long have I been in this citadel of stone and malice? My entire life. I write my small story on the pale gray stones, I use my finger and ink made of nightmares, so she cannot read it. I use my tears to wipe away the words that I fear remain etched deep, no matter how hard I scrub at them with my shabby homespun skirts. She brings me clothes once a year, plain and serviceable. Food appears in little brittle baskets. I empty myself into a bucket, there is water for washing my face, a cloth. At mystical times of the year, I have to take a full bath, under her eyes, to be cleansed and fresh-smelling for her rituals and rites. She brings me fresh flowers, not realizing how it cuts me to trace each petal, rub each leaf against my skin. Smell the odors of earth and life itself coming from that slowly dying thing.
Her name is Vineheart. A sorceress, a goddess, a demon, I am not sure what she actually is. She wanted a child. And here I am, almost grown. Vineheart will throw me away soon. The ghosts in this remaining bit of an ancient keep taught me to read, to make letters and words, and then swore me to silence…the ghosts of her other stolen daughters. Soon, I, too, will come visit the new daughter, stolen from some village cradle. Wearing whatever last I wore when still alive. One sits near the crumbling bit of wall, combing out her long transparent hair, over and over, with a transparent jeweled brush. Her throat sports another mouth, bloodless now. Vineheart simply butchered her with a stone knife. This ghost never speaks, just combs her long, long hair.
No. I will not wait here for that fate. My hair is long as well, Vineheart likes to play with it and tell me tales of dragons and ancient queens. She has just been here, and she was cold, distant, her pale eyes darting toward that village beyond the forest, where new babies wait for her long fingers to pluck them away in the cold expanses of the night. I watched her change into a raven and fly away, away. She used to lurk nearby, to see if I would try to escape. But lately, she seems indifferent to keeping me safe and locked away from all others. Oh can’t you just die, she sighed out, under her breath, her hair pale gold and dull. My hair is black as midnight and no matter what she does to it, it turns back into midnight and night itself. She quite hates my hair and curses it on occasion, but somehow, it refuses to bow to her wishes.
I know she has gone to look for a new baby to raise to fifteen years or so, before discarding that one and finding another…her endless cycle. She will return to this old ruin, long since fallen to armies no longer remembered, with a screaming babe in her stringy arms. And I will die by poison or her stone knife. My bones will be used to talk to her gods, as she used the bones of the other daughters she forcibly adopted. They told me. They watched her as she flayed their skin, removed their muscles and organs, scraped their bones clean. And how she sobbed, as if grieving. But still stripping the coverings of skin and flesh from their skeletons.
I fasten the end of my hair to the hook. The hook I always fasten it to pull Vineheart up. This will hurt me. It hurts when she yanks herself up my locks, though she is as small and delicate as the bones of a fish. I look down, the earth below me promising to break my body. And I ease myself over the ledge, my legs dangling, my hands gripping the stone edge, my hair coiled and roped and waiting for me to fall. My fingers let go. The fall shocks me. Freedom shocks me. I look up just as my hair yanks me about, and I scream at the pain, I scream. I lay there, on the earth. I think my ankle is broken, the bones poke at my skin. My scalp will never recover from that fall from grace. I am surrounded by the ghosts of my fellow stolen daughters for a moment, then they become clouds above my head. I need a new name. Rapunzel’s the name of every ghost here.