KJ Hannah Greenberg
Sophie and Finn’s wedding will provide a
distraction to my ongoing malaise, even if they remain unaware of the service
their celebration will provide. My melancholy has increased so much that most
nights I can’t fall asleep unless I first wander through our community.
When I roam, I neither look into shop
windows nor admire the purple of closed mallows. Rather, I count shadows and
wonder about their sources. Usually, after I’d tallied one or two hundred
shades, I am sufficiently fatigued to attempt bed.
It’s the evening before the wedding. In
a fairly main thoroughfare, my drifting is interrupted; I’ve walked into
Callen. My childhood friend is carrying two white chickens by their feet. Those
birds, albeit still alive, are quiet. I suppose that their blood rushing to
their heads has silenced them.
“For the festivities.”
“You mistook them for sacrifices? When
did you last consort? The Masters are no longer interested in beasts.”
“Surely, you haven’t forgotten.”
“They came to me in a dream less than a
“I’m afraid. They’ve changed.”
“Did they harm you as a child?”
“Did they harm me?”
Callen’s eyes widen and he turns away.
Saying nothing more, he continues toward his father’s inn, where the birds will
Shrugging, I resume my sauntering until
I hear his screams.
Up ahead, I see the two barnyard birds
I catch up with Callen. Something,
possibly one of the hens, has raked his face. If those claws had touched his
flesh any closer to his eyes, he would have been blinded.
I offer him my handkerchief. “Tell your
father that a ferret attacked you and stole the chickens.”
He presses my linen against his face.
“That’s a lie.”
“What would you say?”
Callen looks at me, shakes his head,
throws my fabric square groundward and then presses his sleeve against his
cheek. Quickly, that material becomes saturated.
“Then blame a robber.”
Callen begins to shake. “I’ll have to
pay him for the hens.” Noticing his drenched sleeve, he applies his other arm
to his cheeks.
“So what? He loves you.”
I walk away. Some creatures, which I
wished were squirrels or cats, trail me, skulking from tree branch to tree
branch. The wind intensifies. Dust blows everywhere. I am filthy by the time
that I returned home.
My wife scolds me and refuses to serve
me supper. I rinse off in our barnyard’s trough and then help myself to hard
bread and cheese from our root cellar.
The night becomes day becomes night. I
join the townsfolks gathered to celebrate Sophie and Finn. As I had forecasted,
Callen had not only been forgiven, but had additionally been nursed, by his
father. Clean bandages wrap his face.
In his absence, Callen’s brother was
dispatched to obtain more birds. No odd wayfarers had frightened those hens out
of that sibling’s hands. In turn, those chickens were butchered and roasted.
Sophie is radiant in her pale blue gown
and wreath of violets and cornflowers. Finn, too, glows as he stands beside his
bride. Only Callen and I notice that beneath the tables something dreadful
After the guests toss rice at the
newlyweds, Sophie and Finn take their leave in a covered wagon festooned with
yards of pastel-colored cloth and meadow flowers. The sound of hooves on the
cobblestones is falsely reassuring.
Inside of the inn, the rest of us
commence with merriments. The stew is delicious. The ale is plentiful. On the
woman’s side of the room, many celebrants cry from happiness since Sophie was
thirty. On the men’s side, only Callen and I drip tears; we had noticed that
the sinister beings had following the farm cart.
Both Callen and I steal glance from the inn’s
main door. The sky is star-speckled. The air is warm, but not hot. Too soon, a
distant shriek repeatedly sounds although it’s hours before cock’s crow.
Around dawn, the few of us left tippling
depart the inn. Callen disappears into the mists. I stumble and then fall,
hitting my head on the setts.
The town’s streets transform. I find
myself at a dry ditch surrounding a castle. Far away, someone at the
stronghold’s gate lowers a bridge. I right myself and cross it.
“Welcome, was the bride not beautiful,”
asks the gatekeeper as he walks away.
I follow. Gold ornaments and exotic
tapestries adorn the château’s halls. What’s more, sconces illuminate every
corner. The place is vibrant with finery and light.
A lord appears and gestures at one of
the arrases. “As perfect as humanity,” he mutters.
“Blasphemy!” grunts a second regal, who
has suddenly appeared.
The first man’s eyes assume a reddish
hue. His shadow lengthens.
In response, the second noble begins
waving and muttering.
first scrutinizes the second and somehow reduces him in actual stature. He
seizes the second and then smashes him in his palm. “Insects, this time of
year,” he shrugs while studying me.
Unexpectedly, two snowy chickens, akin
to the ones Callen lost, fly to his feet. The man regards them, gestures them
silent, and then presents them to me. “They’re burdensome.”
I become lightheaded.
Curiously. I awake across the street
from the husk that had been the inn. Half-burned bodies lay where the hall had
Determined to return home, I get up and
then walk. Once more, creatures cloaked
by high, green boughs follow me.
A few streets away from the ruined guesthouse,
I find Callen. Fresh blood drips from his wounds. Upon seeing me, he covers
himself with gesticulations.
“Did the bride have to die, too?”
Callen unsheathes his dagger, but falls
backwards, as though pushed.
“There’s plague enough to keep the
uncommon agents busy. Don’t offer yourself.”
He rises with his blade pointed toward
Menacing hatchlings, watching from the
branches, fall upon him. At least, his unease was momentary.
Shrugging, I continue walking