The Rotting and the Divine–a short story

Hey, I’m finally writing short stories again! The last time I posted one was in January of last year. Let’s just say it’s been a while.

Anyway, I wrote this one for Jem’s prompt linkup, One Quirk Later. The prompt got my gears turning, and then I churned out something with a Victorian mansion that just might be an eldritch abomination, a genderfluid child who is possibly a fairy, and a (mostly) normal guy who is honestly so tired.

One last thing to clear up any possible confusion: the child getting referred to by both he and she pronouns throughout the story is 100% intentional.

Nothing was ever the same twice in the House.

Things shifted and changed, sometimes from moment to moment. Edward was never lucky enough to see it with his own eyes, but sometimes he would look up and find that the walls were now a peaceful sage green instead of the white that they had been a second ago, or he would look down and see hemlock springing up through the floor, as though his floor were a garden instead of part of a house. But it was not his house, though he may live here, and he did not even pay any rent, so he put up with it and did not say anything whenever anything moderately objectionable happened.

He had wandered into this place once, many years ago, and he had never been able to find his way out of the grounds again, for the grounds grew twisted and tangled each time he tried. Edward had been on vacation from Oxford, and quite drunk, and his friends had been very curious about the old ruins of a mansion on the hill. They were much too afraid to come with him, though they had teased him for a coward when he expressed hesitation. Edward supposed they had all gone on to be successful members of parliament, and likely they were all very happy as well.

He was not alone in here, at least. A child followed him around the place, haunting his every step. The child appeared as a boy one moment, and a girl the next, but he knew it was impossible for them to be two different people. Those blank, endless eyes could only belong to one person. The probability of eyes that strange belonging to two children were ridiculously low.

The child had terrified Edward at first. He had been sure that the child was a demon. Perhaps a vampire like in those penny dreadfuls his mother always complained about him reading. But it never did anything, just stared at him with those big blank eyes, and he had been reminded of his old nursemaid’s tales of changelings. A changeling ought to have scared him also, he supposed, but anything was a relief after suspecting himself of having been haunted by a demon.

Ivy covered the library shelves, intertwining too tightly with the books to ever hope to extract them. He doubted it would be much use, even if he had managed it. The books the House tried to create—at least, the only ones he had ever found—had always been fractured in some way, when he tried to look inside. Sometimes literally so, the pages crumbling to pieces and reforming again. Sometimes they were filled with nonsensical hieroglyphs, not Egyptian or any language he would recognize. The only books he had were the ones he had had in his pack he had carried in.

“All I want is to reread Carmilla,” Edward complained to the child, who was currently, incomprehensibly, reading a picture book. He looked over her shoulder. The pictures blurred and reformed into increasingly unfamiliar shapes and colors until he was sure that they must be attempting to depict God. (Not God from the church. That was a watered-down God, made more human so as to be understandable to his followers. This was attempting to depict the God that could leave Edward locked up in a fracturing, unhinging house and still love him.)

The child did not answer. He never did.

“I think I’ll call you Carmilla,” Edward decided. The child looked up at him, narrowing her eyes, which was more of a reaction than he had had all week. Edward responded with a shaky smile. He always thought they were friends, but it was hard to tell with children, especially with fairy children.

The House tried to provide for him, even though it did not know how. The next week, he found a book on the table beside his bed with Carmilla written on the spine in shaky lettering. The words inside were nonsense, of course, written in Latin all jumbled up.

Edward found a piano in the dining room, one day. He looked over it, expecting to find an apple tree bursting out of the body of the piano, or for it to only create sounds that sounded like they might have been produced by one of the odder angels, the ones that were simply concentric rings with eyes. But it sounded the same as any other piano.

“Come here,” he said to Carmilla. The child cocked his head and walked over. “Do you like Mozart?”

She waited, presumably for Edward to say something important.

“I never liked Mozart when I was a child,” Edward continued, “but my mother did, and she taught me to play. I never appreciated it when I was young.” His laugh sounded breathless. “I don’t think I appreciated the things she did for me half as much as I ought.” He sat down, hammering out Mozart’s minuet in G major. His playing was clumsy and graceless, and he often struck the wrong notes, but he had not been able to practice for many years, and he thought he did quite well, considering.

The child listened, fingers twitching, and when Edward had finished, the child played the melody back to him, with perfect intonation and without a single mistake. Edward sighed. “That…that was very good,” Edward said. “If you ever decide to leave the business of haunting places, you ought to become a musician.” Fairy children were supposed to be good with music, Edward remembered from the stories. It wasn’t his fault that the child was better than him, despite the fact that he didn’t think she’d ever touched a piano before.

He played piano the rest of the afternoon, though eventually he ran out of pieces he had memorized, and he had to repeat some, or struggle through the half-remembered ones. The child seemed to enjoy it, all the same.

Edward, while he played, thought that he might remember how to be human like this. He would later think that it was this moment that caused the House’s power over him to weaken, but he would never be sure.

Spring was a time of renewal. The grounds did not always remember to match the seasons—sometimes he would wake up to find a light frost on the ground outside, and the trees orange and gold in the summer—but it tried its best. Edward lay in the orchard, letting the cool sun shine on him, as he reread his Latin textbook for the fifteenth time. He had learned Latin well enough by now to make his old professor weep with joy. Full, red apples weighed down the branches of the trees, alongside white flowers just beginning to unfurl their petals. He picked up an apple that had fallen, turning it over into his hand and wondering if it was worth trying. He shrugged his shoulders and bit into it. It was juicy and sweet, like the apples he had eaten as a young boy stealing from his neighbor’s orchard. There were no apples better than stolen apples, at least not to a child. He laughed to himself, taking another bite.

He looked to the side, wondering if there would be anything at all beyond the orchard or if there would just be a blank nothingness. Sometimes that happened, when he opened doors to rooms that the House had forgotten to fill. His eyes chanced to fall upon a toad in a watering can. He stilled, the apple falling from his hand. He had never seen another living creature in the House before, aside from the child. The toad waited, meeting his eyes, and then it hopped away down a path that had not been there before.

Edward scrunched up his eyebrows, then decided that the toad meant for him to follow. He took another second to decide that he would not be wasting his time. A living creature in this place was a novel enough thing.

The path led down a hill and by a fishpond—stocked with actual koi fish, he would have wept for joy and then talked to them for hours just for the feeling of someone listening if not for the fact that he thought the toad would be very unimpressed—and finally, to a twisted, crumpled silver gate that would not shut all the way, and beyond that was a wood.

“Oh,” he said. “Oh.” This wood was not the hill in Yorkshire that he had walked up to enter the house. In fact, he suspected that the wood was not any place on earth at all, but it was certainly a real, living place, and not something pretending to be that like the House. Or perhaps attempting was the better word; it wanted to be real and living, but it couldn’t quite manage.

Five years of living here, and he still wasn’t sure if it was malevolent or if it simply did not understand.

“Is this place fairyland?” he asked the toad. It did not respond, not particularly having a voice box suited for creating sounds in human languages. Edward looked back uncertainly. The house stood high and proud, in ruins and in the prime of its existence. “What about Carmilla? The child, not the vampire,” he added hastily. He wished, with a keen sense of embarrassment, that he had named the child anything more normal. Jane was a perfectly nice, respectable name.

Edward had never known toads to have expressions, but this one managed to look at him as though he were a blithering idiot. “He can make it out of the house any time she wants to, can’t he?” he said. Edward had always known she was not trapped in the House like he was, but he hated to leave her, all the same. Perhaps Edward would miss him, in a strange way. Perhaps he would miss him quite a bit.

Edward had not the slightest idea what awaited him in the world outside. It might be worse than the House. But he could never go back, any more than he could will himself to jump into a freezing lake with no cause. “Well,” he said. “With my Latin textbook at my side, I feel quite ready to take on anything.” He smiled awkwardly.

He looked ahead, taking a deep breath, and stepped outside the grounds for the first time in what felt like a century. He would survive. Somehow or another, he always did.

Short stories, how I have missed thee. It feels really good to just sink my teeth into a project for two or three hours and then be done with it, lmao. It also feels like it’s been a little while since I’ve written historical fiction, though that may just be because I’ve spent the last two months in fanfic purgatory. It still feels good to get back to the genre even though I haven’t been gone that long, though! Anyway, tell me what you think!

A Kiss and a Candle–a Snow Queen short story

So, I love The Snow Queen. I love it I love it. The only reason why I haven’t covered the fairy tale here on this blog yet is because the story is looong (seriously, I’m pretty sure it’s told in five parts), but it’s a wonderful fairy tale and you should read it if you haven’t already.

So, what’s this all about? Well, the blog Fairy Tale Central is recapping the fairy tale this month, and so Arielle has posted a Snow Queen-related prompt on her personal blog.

Isn’t the prompt wonderful? Of course I had to write something for it. I love the characters in The Snow Queen so much, from lonely, bitter Kay to bright and resourceful Gerda to the mysterious and enigmatic Snow Queen. (and the Snow Queen is not necessarily evil I will fight you on this. You may ask me more on this point, but be prepared for a fifty page essay if you do). (Kidding I can’t even write a fifty page story without collapsing. It’ll probably be like three sentences that barely explain my point.)

Anyway. I wrote a story and will proceed to unleash the monster I created onto the world, along with the pinterest board

I made Kay, the main character, non-binary, which is why I refer to them with the singular ‘they’. The character didn’t really come into my head with a specific gender, so then I decided that I might as well keep them that way? I also got to make Kay Orthodox Christian, since the setting is vaguely Russian-inspired! Orthodoxy, if you don’t know, is the denomination of Christianity that I belong to. This may be the very first time I’ve had an Orthodox character?

Btw, the story is kind of a metaphor for death and depression and suicidal ideation. It’s not a direct metaphor, obviously, but it’s still very much there, and while I don’t know if reading the story would trigger anyone, I feel like I should mention it just in case.

A million stars speckled the night sky. Kay sunk to the ground, their knees hitting the freezing stone of the palace courtyard. It was Nativity, and surely Grandmother must be praying in the small stone church at home, the oil lamps lit in front of the icons. Kay would never pray there anymore. Kay had left their home long ago to follow some elusive woman from the forest with hair white as snow and a crown made of bone, and they would never see the old church again.

Kay did not weep. They did not even feel anything particularly heartwrenching. They never had, since the Snow Queen had taken them away.

Kay’s umber brown hand clenched in their lap. They could barely remember the past. Those memories had faded, along with everything else, as soon as they kissed the cold lips of the Queen that one night long ago. But they had not forgotten everything. Kay did not know who, exactly, the clear brown eyes and sharp-lined face in their memory belonged to, but they remembered the sense of place and steadiness the person brought. They had not forgotten their grandmother’s soft voice singing the prayers, nor the smell of the candles in church. The ice could not quite take everything from them.

The words tumbled out of Kay’s mouth without them being quite aware what they were singing. “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable…The Unapproachable One…” Kay’s voice faltered, and the rest of the tune slipped from their memory. They stared at the snow as the sheer overwhelming futility of it all overcame them.

“Kay,” a clear voice said. Kay nearly jumped out of their skin.

They stood and turned to see a woman in a tattered white robe and a crown made of bone and antler. A soft smile hung on her lips, but it did not reach her eyes. There was not a trace of humanity in her eyes, and though Kay had searched for it over the many years they had been here, they had never found anything in her eyes except the cold echoey expanses of a snow-capped mountain.

Her eyes were such a soft shade of green, though.

“You are frightened of me,” she said. “You did not used to be.”

Kay let out a breath, the mist trailing upwards to the sky. “Only a fool would not be frightened of you, my lady,” they said. “I was a fool when I first met you, and I am still a fool now.” Kay’s hand slipped into hers.

The queen took their hand with a satisfied smile and pulled Kay closer. “If you are a fool,” the Snow Queen asked, “then will you kiss me?”

Kay nearly jerked their hand out of her grip.

The queen’s eyes were horribly earnest. “I cannot and will not make you,” she said. She paused, waiting for an answer. “Well? Will you kiss me, or will you not?”

Kay might have agreed, when they first met her that night on their eighteenth birthday. “Your Majesty,” they said. “You said that kissing me would kill me.” They swallowed. “I happen to value my life right now.” That was a lie. They did not value anything much, anymore.

But something bitter and stubborn inside them would not agree to it. Kay had lost so much with the first kiss they had given her. They’d lost half of themself. Why should they lose the rest?

The queen breathed out. “It would not be truly dying,” she whispered. “You would simply become like me. Am I alive?”

Kay looked down. A dust of snow began to coat the courtyard. “You say you used to be human,” they said. They could never bring themself to believe it.

“I was once as you are,” she agreed. “Though no one ever had to convince me to make any rash decisions. I have always been very good at doing that by myself.” She laughed a little. “The people of my village were never kind to me, to say the least. So I went on a journey to meet the fabled queen in the north, and I kissed her on the agreement that I would never hurt again.” A twisted smile made its way across her face, and something almost like sorrow shone in her eyes. It was not quite sorrow. “She told me the truth. I do not hurt anymore. I am not quite sure it was worth it.”

The queen had never told them before why she had chosen this. Kay very easily could have done the same as she did at several points in their life, and that knowledge felt a little strange.

“What will happen to you?” Kay asked. “If I should take your place?” That was what stopped them, always. Sometimes Kay forgot themself. Sometimes the thought of kissing her ice-cold lips and losing everything was the most tempting prospect imaginable. But what would truly happen?

“Me?” A laugh tumbled from her lips. “You would think about me. I will pass on, into the wind and snow. But when have I truly been here?”

The resolution came back into Kay’s voice. “Then I will not. I will never kiss you.”

The laugh shook her slight frame, and her eyes shone with something like admiration. “You are truly a fool,” she said, her voice hoarse. “I have not loved anyone in a thousand years, but I half love you.”

“But I feel the same,” Kay whispered, as if they could ever have had the same experiences. “I will not let you go away from me.” So they did not quite feel the same.

The queen pulled them into a hug. “You are truly a delight, Kay,” she said. “But you cannot save the both of us from ourselves. We were not the sort of people destined to live.”

Kay had often found themself thinking the same. But it was not true. Who knew how they were both destined to die? “I will make you live,” they said. “As much as I am able.”

She sighed and leaned her head into their shoulder. “Kay,” she said. They thought she would say more. She did not. She just said their name.

Kay had been walking the cliff’s edge for a very long time, and they got closer and closer to falling over the edge each day. But they had not fallen yet. They would not. They made a conscious choice to keep living each day, even when living felt futile. They would not kiss the queen, they would not give themself over to the snow, and they would not let her die.

Kay was not sure if they would hold out forever. But right now, they felt a burning determination course through their bones, something that they had not felt for a very long time. They could almost feel…hopeful. Kay would not kiss her. Neither of them were destined to die that way.

I feel like the story wasn’t very good, but I’ll still post it. I honestly might do something more with this story, or else I’ll just let it rot in the vaults of my memory for eternity. We’ll see. 😉

Bran and the Bear–a Snow White and Rose Red short story

Once again, Arielle from Fairy Tale Central came through this month with another awesome prompt! I’ve been really enjoying doing them!

The prompt can be found here if you want to come up with a story for it! I tweaked the prompt a little, as I usually do. And the fairy tale (along with truly amazing commentary) can be found here.

I have no idea where this is set and if it’s a fantasy world or if it’s historical fantasy, but you know what? Let’s just call this historical UK. Now, where is it in the UK? Is it in Scotland? England? What time period is it? I don’t know! I’m professional!

I tried to give Snow selective mutism, and I hope everything was accurate. *fingers crossed*

And I made a Pinterest board, of course. I also found this board that I did not make, but that inspired me while coming up with this story.

And as always: No plagiarism, do not steal. I’m sure that I don’t have to say this and that everyone who reads this is a lovely person, but it can happen occasionally, so. 😀

Snow rested atop the boulder, her tattered red cloak covered in snowflakes. She sat very still, as usual. She sat so still that she looked as if she were waiting for someone or something, and she stared intently out into the distance past the cliff’s edge where the thick, roiling grey clouds coated the earth beneath, and if Rose hadn’t known her, she would have thought she were doing something very important. But she was not. She was simply thinking about something, and Rose didn’t know what. Rose was never privy to those particular thoughts.

Rose snuck up behind her, the snow crunching loudly under her feet, and she ruffled Snow’s white-blond hair, accidentally tugging some of it out of her braid. It wouldn’t have worked on anyone but Snow. Rose was horrible at sneaking.

Snow jumped and turned around to see her. Her eyes narrowed, and she turned away. “Don’t do that,” she said, placing a hand to her hair.

“Sorry,” Rose said with a grin, brushing Snow’s cloak off, because she’d never do it herself. She sat down on the boulder with her back to Snow. She bit her lip, a million things she wanted to say and the words for none of them. But she had to tell someone, because the words tightened in her chest until they wanted to burst, and she should have said these things to her family by now anyway. “We’ve been growing older, haven’t we?” Her voice was soft and a bit hollow, but Snow didn’t notice.

“Obviously,” Snow said dryly. “Did you think we would be sixteen forever?” Rose shut her eyes. That hadn’t come out right at all.

“What I meant was…” She licked her lips. “Not physically. But I feel older.” She thought for a moment about leaving the subject there and saying something else. “You’ve made a friend, and I’ve…” And Rose didn’t fit in with her old friends anymore, and she looked at them now and she felt ancient and apart. “And I’ve been feeling positively antiquated,” she said frankly. Snow didn’t say anything.

Snow’s friend was—he was a man enchanted to be a bear, and Rose was never quite certain about the details, or if Snow had ever remembered to tell their mother about him. He’d come in late one winter’s night when their mother was away, covered in snow and soft whispers, and Rose had fled under the table, her hands over her head and waiting for the sharp teeth to pull her out. But Snow stood there in the doorway for a moment, watching him with her serious eyes, and then she stepped aside and let him in. Rose hadn’t been able to believe her eyes for a moment. Snow would probably have shut the door to a person. Rose thought that she must have gone mad.

But the bear hadn’t eaten them, and he began to talk to Snow, softly. Rose could not hear what he said, and she was too out of it to try to listen. Snow said nothing—she never said anything to strangers—but she nodded, shut the door, and began to stoke the fireplace, gesturing at Rose to come out. And he had stayed there for the night, and Snow rested her head against his back and went to sleep.

He’d come to their house a few more times, never when anyone besides them were there, and Snow had even begun to talk to him sometimes. Rose couldn’t begin to say how much of a relief that was to her, despite the fact that he was—well, enchanted to be a bear. Snow never talked to anyone who could talk back, besides her family. Rose had no idea what their prior relationship was, or how he had been enchanted, and sometimes the fact that she was left out of so much in this family rubbed in her throat, but she never said that.

“Antiquated how?” Snow asked. Rose jumped. She’d been silent for so long Rose hadn’t expected her to answer.

“I—” She waved her hand. “I…” Because the woods had gotten a little too deep into her and sung her their wild uncanny ways and– “I fell in love,” she said, changing the subject. “I think.”

She did not turn to see Snow roll her eyes, but Rose was fairly certain she was. Or maybe Rose was being paranoid. “With whom?” Snow asked, and her voice was not sarcastic.

“With…With…I met him during a dance.” She felt Snow nod her head against hers. “And I danced with him a lot, and he…” She swallowed. Her voice was a little higher-pitched than usual. “He wanted me to stay there forever with him,” she said slowly. “But I would not, because I still loved this place, and I loved my friends, and I love you and Mother.” Her hands trembled. She had never, ever said this aloud, not to him nor to anyone else. She had never even whispered it, but the thought kept coming to her in the dark of night until she felt certain that it would eat her. “But I don’t want this anymore.” She was whispering. “I want to be there with him—”

“Who—” There was a dangerous edge to Snow’s voice—“Is him?”

“His—his name is Bran,” she said. “You wouldn’t have met him.” Her hands twisted in her lap. They felt frozen, even with gloves on.

“What is he, then.” It was not a question. Rose thought of trying to lie, but there wasn’t much point.

“He’s fey,” she whispered even softer, “and I’ve never seen his true form, but he always appears to me as either a beautiful man or a wild antlered thing from the woods. But he is…” She swallowed. Holy. Sublime. She could not say that without sounding utterly ridiculous.

“Oh, good heavens,” Snow said, and her voice could not have been more dry. Trust Snow to react that way. “Why couldn’t you have fallen in love with a human like an ordinary girl, Sister?”

That stung a bit. “Says the girl who is falling in love with a bear,” she snapped back. Snow did not say anything for a moment, and Rose was not sure if she were hurt or surprised; but when she turned to apologize, Snow was only looking thoughtfully past the cliff’s edge, her lips parted slightly. Rose found she did not know what to say.

Snow shook her head sharply, breaking out of the reverie. “Don’t make our relationship sound stranger than it is,” she said, her voice gentle. “Have you told Mother?”

Rose bit her lip. “No. Have you ever told her about the bear?” It was a question she’d wanted to ask for a while.

Snow paused. “No.” Her voice was a little different. “We had probably…better do that soon, shouldn’t we?”

Rose sighed, her breath turning to mist in the cold air. “Yes, we probably should. So let’s go and do it, because we’ve waited an embarrassingly long time. Poor Mother.” She got up, dusting the snow off her dress, and held her hand out to Snow.

Snow looked at it for a moment and took it with a wry smile. “Poor Mother,” she agreed. “Yes, let’s.” And they walked off together, Rose not entirely sure what she was going to say when she got home.

I like the idea of Bran a lot, and I might reuse that idea for another story, honestly. The same goes for Snow. I’m probably not going to do anything more with this story in particular–at least probably not, though there’s always a possibility with me–but my little sister did give me the idea of doing a Snow White and Rose Red retelling set in Alaska, and just…Excuse me, let me go add that to my queue of stories I want to write. (Has anyone else done Snow White and Rose Red with Eskimo characters yet? And can you rec it to me if they have?) [Edit: I did NOT know back when I wrote this that ‘eskimo’ was very much not the right word to use, I am so sorry. (◞‸ლ) ]

This story’s working title was ‘Awkward boyfriends’ and if that doesn’t sum up this story I don’t know what does. My mom helped me come up with the actual title, and can I just say…Thank you?? That title is perfect??

Also, in case you’re wondering…I most certainly named Bran after the character from one of my very favorite Irish poems.