The Forsaken

About this Piece

I wrote this piece a while ago, experimenting with poetic prose. I focused on the feelings of being a millennial during the housing crash.

A spindled figure with skeletal hands and white skin stretched like elastic rubber bands.

This is what she has become.

— A withered, nervous creature teetering on the edge. On the edge of what, she isn’t certain. She hesitates in the doorway, wearing clean faux leather boots and an acrylic grey sweater, child-stitched. It tickles as she rubs the cracked skin of her lips together.

She tastes metal.

The door stands before her, solid wood, intricate iron knocker, and metal handle. The mirrored panels at the top are warped, tinted with light blue. If only they were clear— but the eyes are narrow, dismissive.

She is not meant to be here.

She thinks I must try, and grasps the handle with her bones, wincing when the knob does not turn. She lets go. Swallows. She looks for a spare like they do in the movies, under the welcome matt, in the pot of flowers, and atop the porch light.

No one has left her a key.

The lie she has heard over and over, and over rings in her ears. One day.

                                                                                                                                                    One day.

One day.

She taps a rhythm with the knocker. She is shouted at instead. The words mean nothing. They are the promise of a different age. The terms and conditions have expired and she is left flailing in the process.

She wants to scream. Scream until her throat bleeds, till the sound chokes, and she is open-mouthed and soundless. But her teeth are glued shut. Wouldn’t want to upset the neighbors, now would we? She doesn’t know they’re just cardboard cutouts set behind the windows.

Shoot for the moon, they said. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Now they say, kill your dreams.

The wooden panels of the porch turn to quicksand beneath her feet. Splinters and nails envelop her ankles and legs, pulling her away. She claws back toward the handle, straining her limbs.

Maybe if she held on long enough it would open, maybe she could pick the lock with a hair bobby, maybe, maybe, maybe

The pulp of wood drags her down, wrenching the doorknob from her fingers. It gurgles, swallows, and heaves, spitting her back onto the trimmed lawn coated in sawdust and capitalist lies.

This is what she has become.

Idiot Child

About this Piece

Original flash fiction. This is for an original character of mine named Hadrian Marlowe about the time she was an idiot child and what it cost her.

The crunch of metal, the fingernails digging into her arm, speed meeting impact and folding into concrete as pain and terror flit and then stop with an unyielding cut to black—

Enticed by words that sung a song of worship and destruction, she promised herself to a deity—or at least, that was how Mom spoke of love. Had spoken. Her mother had seemed fanciful when she reminisced on those days, the beginning. She had spun those words like a mirage, and Hadrian had enjoyed those nights—warm and safe, snuggled against her mother and siblings on the moth-eaten couch, the VCR playing Lion King, brushing off the dust that fell from the ceiling of the apartment as the train thundered by.

Why did you have to go?

Hadrian couldn’t remember why her father had left. From what she gathered from half-remembered musings of her mother, they had separated due to differences. Mom hadn’t wanted to talk about it. She always wondered if maybe one day they would find each other again. Now they would never get the chance…

The screech of rubber on pavement, where metal met concrete and folded into an unyielding cut to black—

The moment played in front of her eyes, again and again, the scent of acrid smoke and toxic fumes intertwined with a copper tinge. Crimson splattered across the blacktop and Hadrian felt the breath leave her lungs and she regretted shutting her eyes at the moment of impact. All she had left was the moment, the young memory of an idiot child who didn’t know better, as they chased the ball into the street without a sideways glance in either direction. She had the sensation of vibrations beneath her shoes, the tremor in her limbs as she looked up to see a twined sun her eyes. She had the sharp wrenching pain of fingernails sinking into her arm and tossing her like a ragdoll back to the curb, the figure of Mom standing there and the half second of a mistake colouring her mother’s beautiful face.

And then the screech of rubber on pavement, where metal met concrete and folded into an unyielding cut to black.

Was it real?

She had remained a castaway heap, a numb cold settling in her frame. Her siblings hovered, shocked, horrified, confusion in every word that filtered through one ear and out the other with uncomprehending sound. She had seen the people cluster and scatter—had seen the hands that touched her arms and pulled her, a lifeless doll, toward a cacophony of blue and red lights. She turned back, looking around the tangle of limbs—toward the once beautiful creature reduced to mincemeat, wide brown eyes, now vacant and empty.

She staggered back into the blanket wrapped around her shoulders, the surge of emotion in her throat like shards of glass. So this is what happened when you were an idiot child. She had tasted regret and she never wanted to know its flavour again. So she killed it and closed her eyes.

The screech of rubber on pavement, where metal met concrete and folded into an unyielding cut to—

How To Write: Severus Snape

About this Piece

Apparently, folks like how I write Severus Snape. This is for you.

Chris Columbus, et al. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. USA/UK, 2001.

 

I always get weird looks when I say that Severus Snape is my favorite character. I mean, let’s face it — he is kind of a terrible person. So let’s not confuse my appreciation for his character with condoning his flaws. In fact, I’d say that it’s because of those flaws that I gravitate toward reading or writing fanfiction where he is a major character. But this isn’t supposed to be a defense of Severus Snape, no — this is how to write him.

To be fair, this is how I write him in fanfiction and how I view and consider the character. And while I wouldn’t call this an “official fanfiction standard,” it’s my definition of what constitutes a well-portrayed Severus Snape.

So how to go about it? I can tell you all the descriptors I reserve for him, what kind of behaviors I observe, the adverbs and diction. But that’s not enough to produce a faithful and original portrayal. Mechanics aren’t enough. If you want beautiful original characters that have depth and meaning, they need to live. They are people. They have wants, needs, flaws, problems, histories, aspirations — they have a stake in their own existence. You are investigating their lives, revealing more of their character — not creating it.

I know that’s a strange thing to say. They are literally people we imagine. I know — I hear you, but if that were all they are, no one would care. Why should we care about Iron Man, Robin Hood, or Harry Potter? We care about them because of what they represent, the similarities we see in real life, and because we view them as more than just some imaginary person.

Why am I going into this? No one asked for a definition of what makes a good character. Well, if you’re looking for assistance on how to write Snape, it’s relevant. Bashing him is easy. He even deserves it. But if you want to capture his essence you got to care about him too. I think Orson Scott described it best in Ender’s Game:

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them… I destroy them.”

I’m going to teach you how to write him by analyzing his character. First thing first, we have to decide what school to follow: Alan Rickman Movie Snape or Book Canon Snape. For myself, I’m a Book Canon with occasional Movie elements. It’s easy to start after all the hard development it takes to change the things you dislike about his character — but I don’t believe in hiding things under the floorboards like it never happened. Also, I’m a sucker for the redemption arc, what can I say?

So let’s talk Severus Snape! Where to start? Do I start with the person we meet in the Philosopher’s (or Sorcerer’s) Stone? It’s a very good introduction.

Professor Quirrell, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.

It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes — and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.

“Ouch!” Harry clapped a hand to his head.

“What is it?” asked Percy.

“N-nothing.”

The pain had gone as quickly as it had come. Harder to shake off was the feeling Harry had gotten from the teacher’s look — a feeling that he didn’t like Harry at all.

“Who’s that teacher talking to Professor Quirrell?” he asked Percy.

“Oh, you know Quirrell already, do you? No wonder he’s looking so nervous, that’s Professor Snape. He teaches Potions, but he doesn’t want to — everyone knows he’s after Quirrell’s job. Knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts, Snape.”

Harry watched Snape for a while, but Snape didn’t look at him again.

Ah, there’s so much to unpack here! This is the very first scene where Harry’s scar hurts him, an important climatic moment and it’s shared with the introduction of Snape. It both sets him up as the Red Herring for the entire series and firmly establishes his hatred for the Boy Who Lived. But that scene is so much more complicated when you know about his feelings towards Lily, about how James bullied him in school. You don’t know all this as a reader experiencing him for the first time. But you need to know it when writing him because it informs his actions, explains his thoughts and why he might look this way or say this thing — even if the main character has no idea. J.K. Rowling informed Alan Rickman before it was ever revealed in the books so that he could better portray the character on the silver screen.

Now if you want to read Pottermore’s take on the whole thing, be my guest. However, I’m not satisfied with that. It’s a good summary but you need more if you’re going to write him.

Severus Snape grew up feeling trapped and isolated, building resentment toward muggles because of his father Tobias, an abusive drunk who, “didn’t like anything much.” The canon here becomes vague and leaves much unsaid. I’ve seen several different interpretations to fill in the gaps. As for me, it goes like this:

As a pureblood, Eileen Prince was disowned for marrying a muggle. Her husband didn’t know she was a witch when they sealed the deal and resented her for tricking him. Snape would often go to bed listening to the sound of his parents screaming at each other and in the morning spy his mother hiding her bruises behind a glamour. And shining like a beacon of goodness came Lily Evans, a girl who didn’t know she was a witch. For the first time, Snape had someone who didn’t glare at him when he came into a room. He had a best friend.

They went to Hogwarts together and she was sorted into Gryffindor House, while he went to Slytherin. It was okay — at first. She didn’t let house differences stop her, so everyone else tried to step in. A gang of Gryffindor boys bullied him mercilessly. He dropped his muggle father’s name and signed his books as the Half-Blood Prince. During the summer it was just him and Lily and though he wanted to be away from his family, he lived for those moments when it was just her and him and no one demanded anything.

But at home, things didn’t change. When he stepped in to protect his mother, he was the one to walk away with bruises. He was inclined to hate muggles and fell into the growing movement. He wanted more power — the power to stop his father, power to defeat Potter, the power to win Lily who he feared was forgetting him. And then, like an ass, he lashed out to her when pained and embarrassed. He calls her a slur he learned from his friends, and she turns around and never looks back — and knows he’ll regret it all his life.

Now sure, there are still some unanswered questions. What happened to his parents or what about the time James Potter saved his life or when exactly did he become a death eater? Most of these aren’t answered, and they’re not crucial to understanding him.

There are many different roads, but they must all lead to that day he overheard Professor Trelawney make a prophecy, in an upstairs room of the Hogs Head. He doesn’t stay to hear it in its entirety, however, and recounts the partial prophecy to the Dark Lord. It’s only when he interprets the words and decides to target the Potters that Snape realizes he’s put Lily in Lord Voldemort’s path — something he never wanted to do. Snape begs with him to spare her, using the worst excuses in the book because they’re the only ones Dark Lord will consider — but he knows they won’t be enough. So, risking everything, he ends up before Dumbledore. He warns him, swears his loyalty, and begs him to keep Lily safe — do that, and he’ll be Dumbledore’s inside man. But even that’s not enough, and when he finds out Lily is dead his world collapses. He shows up, drunk, destroyed, and berates Dumbledore for failing to protect her — and agrees to protect her only son.

TLDR; he’s basically that sad emo kid who took awkward fedora pictures and joined a racist nationalism movement because he couldn’t handle getting friend-zoned. He becomes, well, a wizard Nazi and flips sides when wizard Hitler decides to murder the girl he’s been pining over since he was twelve.

That’s the person Harry Potter meets for the first time — a bitter, resentful man who looks at Harry and sees all his failures. He failed to get the girl. He failed to save her. He doesn’t want to change but he is haunted by the past, so he lashes out at everyone around him. He displays gross favoritism, childish spite, and is intentionally unfair to teach Harry a cruel lesson. He’s a bully, selfish, and vindictive. He can’t even have his dream job even though he’s qualified — a curse is on the position and he’s too valuable to risk it. And yet, at the same time, he is an undercover spy, pretending to act the double agent for the most feared wizard in a century. He doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions, and I think it’s easier for him to project James onto Harry than for him to accept that he didn’t deserve Lily.

So that’s his background, what about his personality? What are the lines that define him? Well, let’s not mince words. He’s cruel. He once deliberately dropped Harry’s vial of potion after he turned it in and after Ron had already vanished the potion, meaning he got a failing grade for the day. He’s vindictive and looks for any reason to punish the Gryffindors, Harry, or anyone else who’s got it coming. If anything, it’s his duty to keep them humble. The man should get some kind of award for the longest grudge.

He’s got an Authoritarian style of teaching. Do not talk back to Snape. It’s either his way or the highway — and no complaining! — he’ll bulldoze right over opposing viewpoints. But he doesn’t give empty threats, he means every word he says and throws tantrums when things don’t go his way in the form of vicious words, popping eyes, and throwing chairs. There’s a reason students live in fear of his detentions — famously disemboweling horned toads or cleaning out the bedpans in the hospital wing without magic.

But he’s also a spy, and he’s damn good at it. He expertly keeps his cover. I mean, there’s a reason Harry suspected him. But Lily is his bedrock and despite everything, he’s unfailingly loyal to Dumbledore. He protects Harry best he can, though he resents his concern for the boy’s safety because of what he represents to him.

That’s Severus Snape. He walks a tight rope between two powerful figures, hoping he doesn’t lose his balance.

All of this is important because it colors his first interactions within my fanfiction. His abusive history means no matter how enraged he is, he would never beat a child himself. He resents those who have easy coddled childhoods though and believes he’s the one who needs to teach them about the unfairness of life. He thinks he deserves so much more.

If you understand who he is and where he came from, you’ll know how he would react.

But I want Snape to change! We’re writing fanfiction here after all and Canon Snape would never in a million years adopt Harry Potter. Wrong! It’s our job to convince him, and by so doing convince the reader that Snape is changing. Even if he’s perfectly in character up until he finds out about Harry’s abusive life with the Dursleys, he can’t just adopt the kid on the spot. He needs to struggle with this knowledge, deny it’s happening, and then reevaluate everything.

The trick — don’t change Snape’s personality. Just throw him in situations that force him to confront his demons, especially when he doesn’t want to. Push him to consider his behavior. Take your time. Remember the type of person he is.

So, how does one write Severus Snape? Carefully. I think of him like a shrapnel bomb. He’s sharp, hard edges, callous and furious, but he keeps it carefully contained, tries not to overextend and get himself in trouble. He’s a Slytherin after all. He knows where the line is and crosses it pointedly at times. He’s a swell of emotion, years of resentment, but he keeps it all close to the chest and buried within — shards of glass and rusty nails that threaten to impale everyone around him. He doesn’t care for vulnerability, doesn’t believe in coddling or adding sugar to make it go down easier. And if the carrot dangling in front of him is snatched away — the bomb goes off. He’s too starved for approval, the need to be acknowledged, socially congratulated — he’s living behind the scenes and he’s doomed to the shadows. So, crush his hopes and watch him explode, he’ll blame everyone around him in the fallout.

I always return back to his first speech in the books because of how well it sets his tone of voice.

“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making,” he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word. “As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses… I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”

Emulating this can seem daunting at first. There’s a poetic quality to the words here, his diction is deliberate. I find it helps to read it out loud, in that bare whisper, letting my teeth enunciate the sounds. Snape chooses his words carefully, and will always take the opportunity to ridicule. It’s the difference between:

“Put that book away! There’s no reading in my class,” he said coldly.

Versus:

“What’s this?” he said, snatching the volume from her hands. “Magical Me by Gilderoy Lockhart? Tell me, does Lockhart have any advice on the brewing of today’s potion? Perhaps if you had been paying attention, you would have known to take your potion off the fire three minutes ago. I guess you’ll have to try again in detention this evening,” he said with a snarl, dropping the book carelessly back onto the desk.

But when I write Severus Snape, I see his greasy hair and sallow skin. I see his black eyes, like cold dark tunnels and his billowing black robes. He is a predator in his classroom, an overgrown bat, looking for weakness and mocking it. He waits for you to give him a reason, he gaslights, and he sneers, and he towers over with authority. His lip curls, his eyes pop in fury, he speaks in a calculating whisper like his teeth are knives when it’s important, and spits and disregards things that aren’t. He is coursing with vicious emotion that he hides beneath his skin.

But if you carefully lay the groundwork, you can soften his edges and make him care about something again.

So, how do you write Severus Snape? Who do you want me to write next?

 

The Last Refuge

He parades her mother around like a goddamn show dog—give us a little twirl, won’t you dear? Ivory and lace floats and dances, embroidered pearls glimmer in the candlelight, and Wanda averts her gaze. Their guests are enamored, commenting on her mother’s gentle beauty, the braids threaded through a traditional Kislevian headdress. It recalls the Slavic influences of old, a stitched crown of frozen forget-me-nots and careful crochet.

She looks like she belongs.

 Wanda sees the way their eyes drift over to her, traveling across the rich sepia brown of her skin to the secret caverns of her dark eyes. It doesn’t matter whether she dons the most luxurious Kislevian fashion, or if the dialect comes native to her foreign tongue, they will not see the blood that runs through her veins.

For some, even Kislevian by blood isn’t enough.

Vallen Kysley has a wolfish grin as he guides her mother about the room, his fingers on her like strings on a marionette. He stands a regal imposing figure, wearing a high collar black coat with intricate fractals graven in silver and red along the seams. It’s almost possible to forget that he’s not quite human but then his eyes catch the light and the metallic bronze ignites like a sunlit glass of whiskey. 

Wanda wonders why her mother smiles as if holding a secret behind her jaws when all Wanda wants to do is disappear from the room. Hide from these Upyri with their feral grins and glowing eyes, just waiting for a chance to sink their teeth into flesh. The festivity moves to the dining table and Wanda forces herself to stay put—at least until after dinner.

Bosko Furlan wastes no time beating around the bush. “Where did you say you are from?” he asks, bringing stubby sausage fingers into a steeple formation, elbows on the table. “That is a Halloryn accent I hear, isn’t it Danika?”

Wanda balls her hands into fists beneath the table. She stares at her bowl of rich sauerkraut meat stew without seeing it. She hears the pop of a bottle uncorked and the glug of thick liquid poured into glasses. She wishes her mother would call Bosko out—what was this, an interrogation?

But her mother only smiles. “It is, my parents moved to Halloryn when I was very young.”

“And they were—?” Bosko prompts.

“Kislevian. My mother hailed from Czarny and my father was born and raised in Velika Noc.”

“And you returned home the moment you were able.” Vallen slips his arm around Danika’s waist and presses his lips against her neck. Wanda tries to ignore the way her mother drifts into the gesture, offering him skin. She wants to bite across the table that they returned only because Dad wanted too. He had voiced his dreams of living among the snowy mountains first.

Did he dream of dying here too, she wonders.

“You got out just in time then,” Bosko says with a dark chuckle. “Have you seen the state of things in Halloryn these days? The food shortage in Valdor has gotten worse they say, and now there’s a pilgrimage headed north that’s five thousand strong, at least! Halloryn doesn’t know where to put all of them, let alone feed them.”

His wife Fialia ignites the end of an Opera length cigarette holder and takes a long draught. “So much for Great President Ameniande,” she says as she blows ruby red smoke into the air. “It’s his fault for cutting farm subsidies. I’m not surprised to see him in the midst of another political nightmare. His family has been double-dealing under the table ever since they bribed their way into power three generations ago.”

“Humans have little to no foresight,” Vallen says as his lip curls into a sneer. “Selfish, blind creatures. It’s a miracle they haven’t extinguished themselves.”

Her mother gives a self-deprecating smile. “Not for lack of trying,” and Wanda stares at her, a fire building in her throat.

“You need never count yourself among their ranks again, my dear Danika.” Vallen takes her hand and brushes his lips across her knuckles. “It won’t be long now, my love.”

“If only all would follow such wisdom.” Bosko and Fialia both lift their wine glasses.

Vallen lifts his, and Wand tries and fails to convince herself it’s merely wine as the deep red liquid traces bloody tears down the rim. The metallic sheen in his eyes brightens. “Now, if Halloryn had a spark of intellect about them, they would throw all of them back to Valdor where they belong.”

 “Vallen,” Fialia admonishes, though there’s a tease in the gesture. “What do you expect? They’re starving, can hardly blame the poor dears. What lengths would you go to satisfy your hunger?” Her gaze ignites silver as she lifts her glass.

Vallen flashes her a sharp smile, all teeth and no warmth behind his gaze. “I specified if they had a spark of intellect, dear Fialia. What do you think these humans bring with them? Desperation, crime—they’re vagabonds who will steal everything that they can from the working class. If they wish to retain some semblance of structure, they will tell the Valdorans to solve their problems and reinforce the border.” He pauses to take a sip and draws his tongue over his lips. “Compassion is a noble act, but it does not provide longevity. The addition of all those messy variables—the stress and unrest that will follow are not so easy to predict. Hence, the status quo. We look after our own and everyone else should do the same—I hear we have strengthened our security in this time of crises.”

The others hum and Wanda entertains the possibility they just don’t want to disagree with the host until she looks up and sees the tacit understanding written on their faces. Not Danika, though. Her mother has a far away vacant look; half listening and sinking into the touch of Vallen beside her as if no one else in the room existed.

The fire erupts in her veins. Wanda drops her fork in disgust with a clink of metal on wood. As eyes swivel in her direction she wishes for a moment that she too had a glass of viscous crimson to hide behind. “I suppose that means we’re gone, din’ it?” she remarks, dropping into the heaviest Halloryn accent she can muster. “Ma, we best go pack our shit now before the Kislev officials get ’ere. Dun worry about pops though, I gotcha covered.”

“Whatever do you mean—” but Fialia trails off as she met Wanda’s eyes.

“I’m sure ya don’t want daddy-dearest clogging up that snowy cemetery. It’s just better if he were back home, ain’t it?”

In the punctured silence her mother looks at her, finally, as if she had forgotten her daughter was in attendance this night. Vallen’s lip curls and he speaks with a chortle on his breath, “Now, Wanda, I know things have been difficult for you since your father’s passing, but there’s no reason to lump him together with these miscreants. I’ll have you know, I welcome any who wish to enter through the proper channels.”

“He came to Halloryn as a child refugee,” she spits right back at him. “You know, from Valdor?” She enjoys the way they all fidget at her words. “He waited at the border for six months before they finally let him in.”

“Honey, he was fleeing political persecution, you know that,” her mother whispers across the table. “They would’ve killed him if he hadn’t left.”

Wanda does not whisper back. “I’m pretty sure starving kills people, mom.”

“Jeremy Shylock was different.” The smile had fallen from Vallen’s face entirely now. “He came into this country legally. He was nothing like these—” he gestures as if unable to find a word that quite encapsulates them. “Others who slither inside and act like they own the place.”

“You mean like you and your friends here?”

“Wanda!” Her mother gasps at her, but Wanda has come too far to let that stop her.

“Oh nah, if you wanna talk about the immigration crisis and how it’s impacting society then let’s talk about it,” Wanda snarls. She refuses to look away from those bronze eyes and goes on in defiance. “Or, are you gonna sit there with a straight face and tell me that Upyri don’t exist in Halloryn, sir Ambassador?”

“Now see here—” Bosko tries, as a flush climbs up his neck.

“Just a matter of expanding your hunting range?” Wanda interrupts with a sneer. She relishes it when Bosko fails to come up with a response and gapes back at her. So she goes on, “You’re all just hypocrites! Everyone and their uncle knows the Vampire myths in Europa are your fault, basically signed your fucking name.”

“Language!” Her mother shoots a feeble glance towards Vallen. “I’m so—so sorry about this, she’s not usually like this—Wanda! Go to your room!”

“No.”

Wanda tries not to flinch at the sound of his voice. She thinks she can feel it resonate in her chest as he continues, “So, is that what you think, dear Wanda? And what would you do instead, regarding the immigration crisis?”

She wills herself not to lose her nerve. “It’s not a crisis. It’s an opportunity.” She takes a deep breath and plunges on, “If Halloryn can’t take the refugees, Kislev should. Upyri aside, the human population has been steadily shrinking for a few years now and the agriculture sector is beginning to choke. There aren’t enough bodies to work the fields, not to mention that I’m sure your kind wouldn’t mind a few extra blood bags running around, or did I not have an entire lesson at school about blood-type shortages?”

Fialia scoffs in disgust as if the mere idea of dining on one of these newcomers was repulsive. Wanda ignores her.

“Besides immigrants don’t just take jobs. It’s employers who take advantage of their desperation and turn humans into moneymaking machines. If the regulations in place ensured equal opportunity and proper benefits, everyone would have the same chance. You’re just scared they’ll be better at the job than you and if you’re that insecure maybe it’s time to take a good look at why. Or is it because you know how you’ve oppressed them and fear what happens if the tables are turned?”

Smack—

Vallen slaps her across the face, a movement so fast and violent that Wanda tastes blood. “Mind your tongue, human,” he hushes in vicious tones. “I see you still have yet to learn how to have a polite conversation regarding difficult topics.”

Wanda spits blood onto the tablecloth. Three pairs of metallic eyes glow in the dim like predators reflecting lucidum tapetum in the twilight. She rises, kicks back her chair, finished. She wipes her lip and hisses, in a perfect Kislevian accent—all sharpness and winter frost— “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

And she leaves, swept back to her room chased by metal eyes.

About this Piece

This was commissioned by a friend who goes by Random on my Discord. They provided the following prompt: Alienation; being a foreign immigrant within an original fantasy. This is inspired by one of the novels I am working on.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

That’s Venezia St. Lucia in a nutshell. But it doesn’t do justice to the network of twisting canals and tangled alleyways, blending into each other and suggesting twenty different routes towards the same destination. It’s so much more than that.

If you’re looking for a detailed account of every street I walked, reviews for all the restaurants I tried, or a blow-by-blow account of my day, you best clear off now. You won’t find that here. On the other hand, if you like photographs and vivid imagery with interspersed poetry read on. It might even get introspective—who knows what’ll happen? Oh and just fair warning: I love expletives.

All clear? Lovely. Let’s get back to Venezia.

The banks of the canals are perfumed with salt—seawater without the emphasis of rolling waves breaking on the sand. Instead, there’s the slap of lovers fucking as water jumps against the stone barriers. Seaweed clings along the rocks—evidence of changing tides—and splaying across stairwells disappearing into the gloom. Green melted plastic growing dehydrated in the sun, musky and putrid. But at least it’s better than the occasional sewage stench that pervades some alleys, where dogs have left their urine to bask with their forgotten shit.

But to be honest, I barely noticed the smell. Okay, I noticed, but I hardly cared—I was in Venice. It felt like I’d fallen into a fairy tale or some vivid dream, one that I was sure I’d wake up from any moment. Even now, it feels surreal.

The people winded through roads too small for bicyclists, let alone cars. It created a flowing river of bodies, tourists pushing along pre-arranged paths lined with souvenir shops and vendors calling, “Selfie, selfie,” after their retreating backs. At brick bridges with canal access, gondola owners tried to procure riders at flat prices—growing disinterested the instant you mention you’re broke.

It’s a city that breathes with the tides, pulling its people in and out of doorways, holding a wineglass in one hand and a dog-leash in the other. The bricks melt into each other, sag from the weight of sea-dust and age, turning alleyway tunnels into stout mazes. Where the water is teal—that perfect mix of blue and green with emphasis on the latter. Where sea dragons glide smoothly across the water, cutting the surface with necks of gold, charcoal black against milky green, utterly silent as it passes by growling behemoths that spit jets of water.

I remember sitting at the end of the boardwalk, near Sant’Elena.

The sun cast a long line across the heaving water—a candle flickering in liquid wind, waiting until the rolling waves swallowed its golden light. Waves, which rose and fell, clashing in the middle—creating a spine of foaming white before wrenching apart and folding across the vibrant green and turning it dark. But the seaweed that splayed across the concrete boat launch beneath my dangling feet looked more like the matted hair of mermaids cast upon the shore, glistening in the receding sunlight. Cracked, splintered mussel shells like royal blue glass shards were scattered among the strands. Jewels for drowned beauty.

It was a wasteland of sea debris until you looked closer and saw it fluttering with tiny wings, flies bouncing and resting, stealing sips and breathing light back into the green, then fleeing the embrace of the sea.

I see Venus a’ shining.

I see vendors throwin’ light

I see canals a’ winding.

I see Venice at night.

 

Don’t fall in the water,

Hold that Prosecco real tight

There is Venus shining bright.

 

I hear gondolas a’ rowing.

I flee from cheap tourist tricks.

I hear seawater a’ jumping.

I hate all the selfie sticks.

 

Hope you went to all the sights.

Hope you had a real fun time.

Know you’re lucky you went twice.

But I’m already missing brine.

Author's Note

I compiled these writings from two separate trips to Venice. The first was only for a few hours, but the second was during my break on a Study Abroad creative writing program, both back in the spring of 2015.

All the photos were taken by yours truly © Sarah Gronostalski

 

The Priestess Who Became A Fox

I

She heard their words drift aimless and unfocused, echoing off bamboo screen doors to settle like knives at her throat. Marriage. It’s the one thing Hatajinko Ai never imagined for herself—her parents, on the other hand, thought differently.

Do you not see how I tend the Shrine?

She had dedicated her life to the Hatajinko Inari Shrine, an act she had never decided but always known to be true in her heart. Ai looked up into the faces of her parents. Shouhei and his wife Hitomi had never known what to do with her. Her father may have been the Head Priest of the shrine, but Ai had done his duties for the last week. She had done everyone’s duties. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t inherit the shrine, but she had tried to make the best of it.

In her hand, she clutched the acceptance letter to Kannushi like a lifeline.

“We’ve arranged a meeting with the Minamoto family later this week. Perhaps that will give you enough time to make yourself presentable,” her father said as if her unbrushed hair would be a deal-breaker.

Even if it was, she didn’t want the marriage anyway.

“I just finished my exams for Kannushi,” she stammered.

Her father went on as if she hadn’t spoken, talking of the conversation he’d had with Minamoto-san, the opportunity for her to begin her life, and how fulfilling she was sure to find marriage. It coiled in her stomach, a rippling shudder that pricked the hair along her arms. And then she was looking into Shouhei’s face and the words slipped past her lips before she could stop them.

“I can’t get married. I’m going to Kannushi and getting a degree.”

“Ai,” her mother chided, shaking her head impatiently. “You don’t need a degree. Minamoto-kun will take care of everything, he’s going to inherit his father’s shrine and—”

“No.”

The word rang imposing and unwelcome in the space as if she had uttered a disgusting swearword instead. Smack—her father backhanded her across the face. She stumbled back, hand rising to caress the stinging flesh, tears in her eyes as she looked up in fear at the figure of Shouhei.

He screamed red fury into her face, degrading disregard in every furious word. She was ungrateful. She should know her place. Her role would forever be subservient—Ai winced and pleaded, a supplication that he refused to answer. It didn’t matter what she thought. She was too young, too inexperienced, too stupid to understand. Her choices were stolen, her voice muted.

Am I not human, too?

He sent her to bed without dinner. She searched for her mother’s eyes in the distance—they remained fixed on a point just above the floor, unflinching resolution beneath weathered, tired eyes. Hatajinko Hitomi had accepted her fate in this world; she had no room in her heart for anyone except herself.

Ai curled up in bed, her ribcage vibrating as wracking sobs shook her bones. She squeezed her eyes shut, and lips trembling, asked for help. She didn’t want to marry someone picked out by her parents. She didn’t want the life they had shoved her into. All her life, they had treated her less like a daughter and instead like own property, the help, the maid. They had shoved a dustpan and a broom into her hands the moment she could stand, and Ai burned to think of her stolen childhood, her stolen happiness.

She was a fox in a trap. But what limb would she need to chew off to break herself free?

The following week she was a ghost, flitting in and out of rooms, avoiding the inevitable as much as possible. She couldn’t eat. She tossed and turned at night, sweat on her brow, and all the while, the fire burned. Like magma, it seeped through her veins until it scorched her skin.

Two days before she was supposed to meet her husband, she collapsed.

The physician found a fever raging and ordered immediate bed rest. The ceremony was postponed, and she breathed a little easier that night. At first. Drawn from sleep by the parched valley of her mouth, Ai rose and poured herself a glass in the cool night air.

“—This is just ridiculous. What a time for her to get sick.”

Her steps faltered as she passed by her parent’s bedroom.

“We shouldn’t have told her until the day of.”

“No use worrying about that now.”

“Well, the minute she’s well, we’ll hand her over to Minamoto-san, and finally we’ll have that girl out of our lives.”

She remained there a silent statue in the dark long after their breathing had stilled and snores filled the air. With a start, she stumbled back into her own bed, and pulling the covers around her neck, she buried her face in her hands and cried.

I’m sorry I’m such an inconvenience.

Why? Why was nothing she ever did good enough? She had done everything they had ever asked of her without question or complaint, the dutiful daughter as always, faithful to the family shrine, devout to Inari—and it wasn’t enough. She hadn’t earned their love. Her face shone with heat, sweat on her brow, her lips cracking in the desert of her fever. She had pushed herself to prove she was worthy. What a fool she was to think that love was earned. She should have realized—she had given to them every piece of her, sought to endear herself to them—but they had never given her any in return.

What had she done to deserve this? By what right did the world force her into weeping misery? She had nothing left to give, nothing left to bribe the fates to change her story. But she deserved more. She deserved more than the cold dismissive scoffs of her parents, the gloating smiles of her brother. The flames of injustice encircled her heart.

She could feel herself fading, feel the fire consuming away at her flesh. Her mind felt alive within the inferno. Where was the person to hold them accountable for these crimes? Didn’t she deserve a knight in shining armor to save her from the cruelty of the world? But there was no one coming, she had no freedom, and the taste was harsh and metallic in her mouth.

Maybe the fever would kill her—let nature take its course. But foxes would sooner chew off their paw then lie down and die.

What are you, child of Inari?

The heat burned behind her eyes. It was almost as if she could hear the God Inari echoing in the recesses of her mind.

What are you, devout priestess of the Inari shrine?

Pain blossomed, the clicking of bone scraping against bone, the long numbing ache of teeth shifting. Her blood burned, her fingernails sharpened and curled into claws. She buried her face into her pillow to drown her muffled cries as her body distorted. What was happening to her? Razor-sharp incisors grew past her gums and replaced her teeth; her sight took on a fevered haze.

What are you?

She took deep breaths, in and out—in and out, adjusting to the warmth still hovering just beneath her skin. She raised her hand; saw the curled clawed fingers, a growth of thick black hair traveling up her arms. A power she had never known before thrummed in her veins.

She emerged from her room, marveling at the strength in her limbs. She felt like if she were to strike out with her hand she could blot the stars from the night sky. She could kick the mountains into the sea. In the darkened hallway came another sound of a door opening, and her brother stepped out.

“I thought I heard you. Feeling better then? Good, we can get rid of you tomorrow.”

He came to stand beside her, his eyes glazing over her in the dim, missing the sharpness of her teeth. He bent his head to whisper in her ear, “Just don’t cry on your wedding night. No one likes a weepy bride.”

She looked up at him, and he caught a glimpse of bloody red eyes where brown should have been. She didn’t give him a moment to wonder what it meant. In a second, she had knocked him off balance, stepping around behind him and kicking his leg out from under him. She bodily threw him down the stairs, and into the kitchen. He groaned, curling into a crumpled heap on the floor. She would come back for him later.

She pushed open the door to her parent’s bedroom.

“What’s happened?”

The noise had roused them. Shouhei turned on the lamp, and her mother screamed as she caught sight of the creature standing in the doorway. Ai saw the fear and panic in their faces and she feasted on it. She took a step toward them and relished the flinch her father gave as he stepped back.

Why don’t you love me? 

She wanted to scream at them, scream until the effort tore apart her throat and left her gurgling blood upon the floor. She wanted them to understand. “Why was it so hard to love me?” she cried instead, hot tears trailing down her muzzle. “Why must you control me? Why can’t you just leave me be?”

But they had no answers for her. Hitomi stared at her in unrecognizing terror. She could see her father trying to find a weapon without her notice. “You will never let me be,” she growled at them, teeth bared. “You poison everyone around you. You are dictators and fascist monsters. You want to play God. Then I guess I’ll have to play the devil.”

Her father’s warm blood drenched her fingers as she ripped out his throat. He gaped and floundered like a fish. Hitomi mumbled incoherently, frozen in fear. Ai caressed her face, leaving a stream of crimson in her wake.

“Please, Ai,” her mother begged, tears in her eyes.

“You let it happen.”

“I know—I didn’t mean to, I was just—” she trailed off as Ai hushed her softly, pressing her bloodied finger against her lips.

“You care only for your own life.”

“Please—”

“I decided to care about mine.”

Ai held onto her until the light faded from mother’s eyes. She rose from the bed and surveyed the lake of blood and body parts, breathing in the smell of death. She didn’t look back as she stepped back into the hallway, blood dripping from her claws. Black ears angled as she heard heavy breathing and straining pants—and she found her brother attempting to drag himself up the stairs. She watched his struggle for a moment, and then swooped down in a mass of black fur and crimson rain.

“Ai—” he choked as she grabbed his hair, pulling him up, a feat of strength impossible for a woman of her small stature. She slammed him back into the wall, cracking wood.

“Hello, little brother.” She stood on her tiptoes to reach his ear. “Beg me to spare your life.”

“Dad! Mom!”

“They can’t hear you anymore.”

He tried to pry off her hands, but though his nails dug into her skin until he drew blood, she didn’t let go. Instead, she slammed him against the wall again, knocking the air from his lungs.

“All you had to do was think for yourself,” she growled into his ear.

He began to scream, incoherent cries for help. It made her chuckle instead.

“I’m saving the woman you would marry,” she said with viciousness and spite in her colored tone. And then she smashed him a third time against the wall, throwing back his head until a sickening crack reverberated from him and up her arms. He slumped to the ground, vibrant crimson blossoming across his head.

Drenched in blood, the Inari Shrine glowed in ruby fever. She had dragged the bloodied forms of her family, laid as offerings before it. She stared at their lifeless faces for a moment, at the river of red staining the stones before her. She looked up into the face of Inari, the eyes of the stone fox glowing crimson in the night.

Who are you?

She turned to look out the city lights of Kyoto, at the tall concrete buildings hiding other stories like her own. And as she descended the staircase, she decided she would paint this whole town red if she had to.

I am free.

About this Piece

This was commissioned by my good friend, who goes by Mother of Monsters on Tumblr. They designed the project concept, characters, and all major details. It was adapted and written by myself.