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Hair's Breadth

Hair’s Breadth
by Erin M. Kinch

Hair's Breadth

“It will work for the boy, this Elg swears.”

“What do you swear on?” Davin flicked a moldering leaf from his cloak. “The flesh you eat? The worms in your hovel?”

The hag scowled through matted strings of gray hair, her hunched back silhouetted in the hearth’s greenish glow. “Boy came to Elg. Elg did not come to boy. If boy does not want Elg’s spell, why did boy come?”

Davin inhaled and air thick with a sickly sweet odor clogged his lungs, not quite masking the foul stench that lurked beneath. A stained drawstring bag dangled from the hag’s gnarled fingers. He flipped a coin into her outstretched claw and took the bag. A pleased chortle rattled deep in her throat as she bit into the gold.

Davin had reached his horse when the hag called, “Elg’s spell is strong. Only death will break.” Instead of responding, Davin spurred his horse into a quick retreat.

Hooves pounded against the dirt path as they flew though the forest. Wind blasted the stench from his hair and cloak. Once they reached the village wall, Davin dismounted. The well-trained animal grazed as Davin gathered sticks. One flick of his spark stones set the kindling aflame. He read the awkward scrawl on the dirty slip of paper, then burned it.

The noon bell pealed, and the sleepy village came to life. Workers congregated at the touchstone to share lunches wrapped in cheesecloth and recount the day’s gossip. Davin peered through a chink in the wall, waiting until he saw the girl with the vibrant auburn hair. The doctor’s son offered her an apple. Davin turned his back on them.

Fine white powder trickled from the bag into the fire. A burst of hot, red flames, scorched Davin’s unkempt hair, then settled into an orangey-pink burn.

“Show me her face to bind her heart.” His harsh whisper resonated with the cadence of the blaze.

A white splotch spread through the flames, assuming the familiar curves of her face. Animated green eyes crinkled with amusement at a joke he couldn’t hear; pink lips moved, responding to someone who wasn’t him. It was never him. Flames framed her face more brightly than her own tresses. A strand of red hair dangled from his gloved fingers. He kissed it and dropped it into the fire.

With a sputter, the flames flickered yellow then green around her image. Animation faded from her expression, leaving only a vacant stare from a hollow face. Dread formed a lump in Davin’s chest. He spun and pressed his eye to the chink to see the apple fall from her fingers.

Doubt burrowed into his heart. Without her laughter, her heart, her spirit, who was she? Davin clenched his fist, pulling water from the air to douse the fire before the powder burned off.

A lingering tendril of smoke writhed around his neck, tousled his hair, and dissipated. He peeked at the touchstone again and saw her nestled in the arms of her beau. Relief smothered his fear; he’d stopped it in time. Quickly, he rode home, muttering curses against the hag and all she had not said.

Davin was rubbing down his patient horse when the hovel’s sickly sweet smell tickled his nostrils. She stood inside the barn, her gaze consuming him like he’d once seen her devour a honey cake.

“I need you.” Sensuous warmth oozed from her voice, tempting and terrifying as she walked toward him, hips swaying with each step, fingers toying with the buttons at her neck. A tendril of smoke wafted up from her footprint.

“I stopped it!” Davin backed up until his boot heels hit the wall. “Go back where you belong—with him.”

“I don’t need him. I need you!” She glided closer, past the stall, a tiny flame sputtering in her wake. The horse bolted, but she blocked Davin’s exit. Icy lips brushed his cheek. “I love you, Davin; this I swear.” It was the first time she’d ever used his given name.

Davin choked on the cloying stink scent. It seeped in through his mouth, his ears, his very pores. “No,” he begged, smoke burning his eyes, tears sliding down his cheeks.

Her beautiful face twisted. “I need you.” It was more a whimper than a promise this time, nearly drowned out by the roar of the flames, green and yellow, writhing in the hay. The stink deepened, foul overriding the sweet.

“Please, no,” he whispered.

She reached for him again, her dress smoldering. “Don’t you love me anymore?” Flames licked his boots as Davin surrendered to her embrace. Her kiss tasted like worms.

* * *

Erin M. Kinch lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas, where she's a member of Writer's Ink, Panther City's finest writing group. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including "Allegory," "Electric Spec," "Every Day Fiction," "A Thousand Faces," "Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic," and "AlienSkin." For more information, visit her website,

Where do you get the ideas for your stories/poems?

Ideas can come from the most surprising places. The best ones are the ones with just a kernel of truth to them.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

Once a character pulls me into a story, I have to keep writing. If I don't finish their story, who will?

What do you think is the most important part of a fantasy story/poem?

The most important part of a story is the characters. Plot and setting are essential, but if I don't care about the characters, I can't get into the story.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?

The best thing about fantasy is experiencing completely different world and seeing how the characters react to it. I also love how the fantastic elements in a story can become larger-than-life metaphors for elements of the human condition.

What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?

World building is paramount. You have to know every aspect of your fantasy world, even though all of it won't appear on the page. If you're comfortable in your universe, then you can make it feel real to your readers.


Unknown said...

I really like your story, Erin! The imagery in it is vivid enough that I can really picture her. She came alive for me, and I could see why Davin was so infatuated with her. Also, the last part was both moving and creepy. The worms...*shudders* :P