I was going for a creepy fairy-tale vibe with this week’s short story.
It started out with these 3 sentences: “In the year without a full moon, Sheila’s skin turned blue. It came without warning, and it didn’t even hurt. She turned blue as a bunch of hydrangeas at the stroke of midnight, and that was when the wolves came sniffing.”
And then it became THIS.
I’ve created a monster.
It was supposed to be a brief, dark, whimsical magical realism short story. Flash fiction! But then it morphed into a dark, dramatic fantasy story more than 1,000 words long.
I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until I have taken this story down the road where I originally meant for it to go. Perhaps a similar opening for next week’s story, only this time I won’t let the story run astray like a wild horse?
But for now, here’s this week’s short story.
In the year without a full moon, Sheila’s skin turned blue. It came without warning, and it didn’t even hurt. She turned blue as a bunch of periwinkle at the stroke of midnight, and that was when the wolves came sniffing.
The day her skin turned blue, Sheila woke with a twitch in her right eye, and got out of bed with a buzzing in her veins. She could hardly think, much less watch where she was going, and it was with an unsteady sort of stumble-walk that she made her way to the kitchen where he mother was making breakfast.
It had been a year of mist – girls went everywhere with wispy tendrils braided in their hair, and boys chased each other through the clouds. People walked extra slowly, and there were a lot more reports of car accidents that year.
So Sheila credited the twitching in her eye to the mist, rather than the general feeling of wrongness. It was the last Friday of December, and it they hadn’t had a full moon in a year. All they had was mist, mist, and more mist, and frankly Sheila had had quite enough of it.
At night, the moon-watchers took their usual places in the field two blocks away from her house and waited. There was a strange sort of lilting music threaded in the air, and the lilacs on the windowsill were in bloom. Sheila watched from the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother, wondering at the silver dust that eddied through the night.
At exactly midnight, the skeins of mist parted to let in a sliver of light. And then, a fraction more. A quarter. Half. A whole. One full moon, bloated and luminous like a faery fruit hanging in the sky. Sheila stared, her mouth open. Blinked. It felt like the first taste of rain after a drought, though she had no idea why. A full moon had no impact on her.
It did, however, affect those gathered in the field below. The crowd – not more than fifty of them – erupted in triumphant hoots and cheers and appreciative whistles, as though the full moon was both a victory and a masterpiece.
Sheila wondered if she should wake her mother. She was just about to slide off the windowsill when she noticed the tinge of blue creeping into her skin.
It started from her fingertips, then crept all the way up her hands, and before Sheila could rush to a mirror she had turned completely blue. But it was, strangely, rather pretty. Luminescent and undeniable, it lit up a corner of her room. Sheila stood admiring the curious hue as the moon-watchers continued in their rejoicing. It reached up to her hairline, like a sea washed up against a red sand beach.
The lilting music, like the twitching in her eye, had stopped. Apart from the celebration downstairs, everything had fallen still at last, as though a restless wind had soared off in search of drier lands.
Sheila drifted in a wondrous fog towards her mother’s room. She couldn’t have slept through the commotion downstairs, she thought.
But there she was, curled tight under the covers, her crimson hair rich and wildly in bloom around her oval, peaceful face. Sheila hadn’t seen her mother like this in a long while, not since the mist breezed in and the moon remained a thin scar in the sky.
Sheila bent over and tapped her mother’s shoulder. “Mom?”
Veronica cracked open an eyelid. “What, baby?”
“I’m blue.” As her mother roused, Sheila straightened and stretched out her hands fully.
Veronica sprung from her bed. She stared at her daughter, replete in her periwinkle glory, before leaping into action. Grabbed a swath of blankets. Wrapped Sheila in them. Got dressed. Reached for the velvet drawstring purse in her underwear drawer. Threw a sweater at Sheila. It made Sheila dizzy watching her mother move.
“We need to go,” Veronica said.
“Where are we going?” Sheila asked, when what she really wanted to know what why they were going.
Then she heard it again, the moon’s song (Sheila was convinced that was where it came from). It was a gentle flute-like melody, plunging low and sweet, and reaching high and pure. It was now making itself heard, trilling and dipping in a complicated tune. Her mother didn’t seem to notice, so busy was she trying to shuffle Sheila out through the fire escape.
They stepped out into the cool, thin night, away from the revellers and their cameras. They kept close to the shadows, and ducked behind cars parked haphazardly as people got out to admire the moon.
But people weren’t the ones they needed to hide from. The flute music snaked its way through her body – Sheila shivered, felt its caress like the gentle trail of a fingertip.
“Move, baby,” her mother murmured, her grip tight around her.
But I am moving, Sheila thought. More than moving, she was dancing. Her limbs were water and wings and colour and light, flowing to the song that only she could hear.
But when she looked down, her legs were firmly in place. Next to them was a discarded pamphlet for moon-gazing the Astronomy Society had given out. The Year of Mist and Crescent Moons, it announced.
“They will find us, Sheila,” her mother said, close to tears.
“Who will find us?”
“The wolves, baby. The wolves. We need to run.”
“Because I stole the moon,” her mother whispered. “I stole it for you.”
For an entire year, Sheila had held the moon inside her. All year she had felt it, swollen and heavy like a ripening fruit in her. All year the mist had tried to warn her, trailing her everywhere she went. And all year, she had ignored it, grumpy at her discomfort.
And now the moon was claiming her, whispering its secrets and stories in her ear.
Sheila stood listening, catching sight of her reflection in a store window. A blue creature wrapped in blankets stared back, a beacon for the wolves. She could hear them now, lamenting the absence of the full moon, lamenting over their missing queen.
Sheila took to her feet. She need only leave the music behind, and she would be safe. The blankets got in the way, so she shook free of them and let them fly off behind her. Her mother hissed her name, but Sheila only heard the music, the music, only the moon’s peculiar music.
When at last the only thing that filled her ears was her ragged breaths, Sheila slowed to a stop. Her legs gave way, and she stayed on the ground, wheezing, waiting, listening. She was far, far away from the midnight crowd now, in an empty street strewn with more Astronomy Society pamphlets.
Sheila picked herself up, turned and regarded her reflection in a darkened store front. Her eyes glowed, silver and pale like twin moons themselves. She was getting rather used to the sight of her blue skin, particularly under the moonlight.
Maybe she was the moon. Maybe she had been waiting all this while to break free, to go home. Maybe she was the queen, stolen and hidden inside that wretched witch’s offspring. The one with hair the colour of blood.
Vikaela – the Blue Sister, newly crowned Queen of the Midnight Realm, Second Daughter of the Moon but second to the throne no longer ever since she removed her sister – smiled at her reflection. She rather liked the red-haired girl with the wandering, wondering mind whom she now lived with. Her body was lithe, and her mind mouldable. Oh, the things she could do with this child!
With a flick of her hand, the Blue Sister dispelled the dogged mist that wormed its ways through the streets. A stray cat sauntered up to her, rubbed its paw against her leg. She picked it up, saw her eyes in its unblinking gaze, like moonlight on a shard of glass. It purred.
In a way, Vikaela had that runaway witch to thank for bringing her into this world. This vast, new world, drunk and potent, ready for the taking. Ready for a new queen.