She had endured her uncle’s treatment for as long as she could recall. When he beat her as a child, she hid her face in her arms, reciting the names of all the fairy tale princesses her mother taught her. As she got older, she accepted the brush of his fingers against her waist in the tiny cottage, and even his groping hands on her breasts when he was drunk.
But when he pressed her down face first on the kitchen table, tearing her skirt and taking her until she was wet with blood, biting her shoulder and calling her a witch’s spawn, she had to escape in the only way she knew
She waited until he went to bed. Then, she slipped the knife from his belt.
She had always been afraid of the fairy tale spell—afraid that what her mother had burned for was a mere fantasy, that it would be too hard to gather the tools. But cutting the skin of her thigh was easier than she expected; the knife sank into it as if it were butter. She sliced out a rectangle; one side was fleshy and swollen and the other pale and smooth. Like a unicorn’s hide, she thought. She hung it near the fire to dry, letting the blood drip into an inkwell.
Taking the hand was the most important part, and the most difficult. She dried the bloody knife with a cloth, but then stared at it for a moment and reached for her uncle’s cleaver instead. She needed to be quick, she knew, for once she had begun there wouldn’t be much time.
She brought the cleaver down swiftly, just below the wrist. Bones cracked. Red splotches bloomed before her eyes at the sight of the severed hand, but the herbs she had taken helped keep her mind sharp. She peeled back skin and flesh and carved out a slim bone. It fit comfortably in her writing hand.
The skin flap was almost dry when she placed it before her on the table. The parchment of skin, the ink of blood, and the pen of bone—all the tools for the spell were there.
Bending over the parchment, she dipped the bone into the inkwell and began to write. She wrote of faraway lands and distant places, of silver aspens and gold-tipped mountains, of fire-breathing dragons and iron-clad knights. And she wrote of herself, a fairy princess with bound wings, waiting to be saved.
When dawn peeked in through the window, and she wrote the last crimson word of her fairy tale, the bone snapped in two. Relieved, she laid her head on the table, clasping what she had written in her hand. Her body shivered, flushing hot one minute and icing over cold the next.
The pain was unbearable, and for a moment, the fear of failure — of painful, pointless death — overwhelmed her. She knew one shout or the clatter of a kicked chair would wake her uncle in the adjacent room. Her mortal tale could be extended still.
Yet as agony seared through her limbs, she resisted the urge to make a sound. She only lay quiet. For this, her mother taught her, was how one wrote one’s own fairy tale. All she had to do now was wait for the first tingle of growing wings.
© Sylvia Hiven
Sylvia Hiven’s work has previously has appeared here at Eschatology as well as Daily Science Fiction, Bete Noir and Pseudopod.