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Flowers for Lamia


Flowers for Lamia
By Noel Wallace

Rain painted the window gray and silver. The lamplight’s reflection flickered against the glass, an unreliable, dying sun. Swan held his knife under the light and dyed the steel blade gold–then back to the window, pretending to stab at the raindrops quivering on the other side of the glass.

He waited. The gray stew with chunks of browning greens and stale bread the innkeep had brought him lay cold upon his bed. He did not like to eat on the day of the kill and such slop did not tempt him. By the third hour, his quarry came; a girl in a silk dress with russet hair, her parasol like a blue rose wet with rain. She craned her long pale neck up to peer at him, but Swan left the window before their eyes could meet.

The knife went in his boot. He nearly forgot the white lilies he had bought from the old woman outside. One of the flowers had already bruised its petals. He threw this one in the soup. The rest he covered in a black silken handkerchief.

The girl stood right outside the door of the inn, her pale lips thin with worry. When Swan opened the door, fire burned high in her cheeks and down to her collar.

“I…”

“It’s cold,” said Swan, throwing his black coat over her. “Where’s your common sense?”

Obviously she had wanted him to compliment her dress; she wrapped the cloak around her with reluctance. “It’s raining. I’d say the one without an umbrella is more lacking in common sense.”

“Ah, but this…” Swan plucked the umbrella from her hand and raised it above his own head. “…is something that can be shared.” Before she could protest, he reached out and grabbed her by the waist. After a moment of playful resistance, she nestled close to his side. “Yes, Lamia?”

“Only with men who behave themselves,” she pouted, but wrapped her thin arm tight around him. They set out away from the village. Only the village dogs took notice, barking and wagging their tails.

Lamia did not press him for conversation – she cared for small talk no more than he did. It had made the work all the more easy. Normally girls of her age and upbringing turned into chattering children at the mere sight of a man from the foreign lands of Aesolith – wanted to question his exotic black hair, thin eyelids, even the full shape of his lips. Lamia, from the moment he found her, regarded him with no more reserved curiosity than she currently did the rain coating the hills around them.

It had not taken long for her to start showing him her ‘secret places.’ They were all horribly childish locations, a mossy pond, towering, abandoned windmills, and the lonely scarecrow in the western fields. For her, these were refuges, sanctuaries where she buried pieces of her heart; after a great deal of patience, he has convinced her to unearth each and every fragment for him.

They head for the dilapidated barn past the lake. Once under its roof Swan gave her the white lilies. Lamia held them out to the rain, as if they might be thirsty.

“Does it rain often in Aesolith?”

“No. Not nearly as much as here.”

“‘All tears shed in Masuralands drain to the south…’” Lamia brought the damp lilies back to her breast and embraced them. “‘…but they cry not whilst we are drowning.’”

“That second part can’t be popular with the Masura.”

“Which is why we do not say it in front of Masura,” Lamia replied with an attempt at coy sweetness, but it fell short, into a puddle of melancholy. “I wish I could go with you to Aesolith.”

“Why?”

“To be even further from Masura.” To always be with you, said the tremor in her voice. “Every year I spend here, I break a little more.”

“Your Taint is not perceptible. Masura’s inspectors pass through regularly–your whole life, you have never even been suspected of having the Taint.”

“No. My Taint is very different from those you commonly hear about: men with acid falling from their tongues and children with their fingers cut off, only to wake up with new ones grown in like lizards do tails. I’ve always collected them for reassurance, you know–while other children balked from those stories, as if afraid of contamination, I hungered for them… starved for ideas on how I might save myself and my family from Masura’s purifying flame.”

She had a habit of monologuing whenever they were alone in her secret places. As she spoke, Swan reached down and pretended to scratch his ankle. He brushed the hilt of his knife with his pointer finger. Lamia took no notice.

“I’ve broken my own promises to myself so many times… sworn I’ll never use it, but then… it’s like deciding not to ever taste fresh air again, you know, not using your Taint. I can’t. In the end, I always betray myself. With you too.”

She took out one of the lilies and held it out to him.

“I promised myself I would never let anyone know.”

Swan accepted it.

“…I’m fairly certain all Tainted make themselves that promise.”

Lamia nodded. “Do you think one day I will be free? To be myself?”

Her violet eyes locked into his. He filled them with fake sympathy.

“Swan… can you take me to Aesolith? I don’t worry about not knowing the language or being away from my family… I only want to be with you. Please.”

Her eyes filled with tears. Swan counted to three slowly inside his head and turned back towards the barn. Slowly he made his way to the beds of hay inside and hunched down in front of it. With careful fingers, he snatched pieces up and placed them aside, until he uncovered the body. A young girl. No less than two years younger than Lamia.

He stared at the girl’s slashed wrist, where Lamia had drained the blood.

“What did your visions tell you?”

“That’s… just it. I drank so much that I nearly drained her cry… but I couldn’t see… nothing but these fields and rain and black, black, black… and your face.” She laughed and sobbed in the same breath. “Swan, let me tell you something… ever since I was little, I’ve seen your face! It should be enough… to know that we’d be together… but then at night I become so afraid of being alone…”

She cried like a child. Swan gazed at the dead girl’s face. He placed the lily against her gray cheek and reached for the knife, slipped it up his sleeve. He stood and went to her, arms held out in an embrace.

“Lamia. Come here.”

* * *

When it was done, he placed her in the hay alongside the dead girl. Lamia’s blood remained warm for hours and hours after her heart had stopped beating. Until the end he had his doubts, as to whether her visions, her Taint even, were but lies or delusions; Swan was relieved.

A successful hunt. Not a single scar to show for it. He would bring her body to the Masura and receive his coin, give a full report of her Taint, her behavior, everything and anything about her. But now, he plucked the spilled lilies from the wet ground. They were unstained and he counted enough; enough for all the bodies he would find in Lamia’s secret sanctuaries, enough for all the blood drained in pursuit of her future; enough for the mossy pond, the towering, abandoned windmills, and the lonely scarecrow in the western fields.

* * *

Noel Wallace’s poetry and prose has been published in the Avalon Literary Review, Hello Horror, Quantum Fairy Tales, amongst others. You can keep updated with her works at www.noelwallace.com.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

On long aimless walks. I get lost in my own head; sometimes as I wander there, a certain image or line of dialogue will strike me… like thunder crashing, or a door swinging open. After that, I rush home to write. I also brainstorm a lot on the backs of receipts, notebooks… anything that welcomes ink.

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