WIFE. DAUGHTER. DESSERT.
© Hungry Lizard Press, 2017
Since Anya was a little girl, her mother had urged her to marry a rich, older man. “Don’t fall in love with a bum like I did,” her mother scolded, tucking stray curls into her messy bun.
Over the years, Anya watched her mother scurry from the field to the barn to the kitchen, sweating for copper while her father prayed for gold. The family’s meals grew smaller and smaller. Her father became thin and soft, like an overcooked noodle. Her mother became thin and hard, like a shard of bone.
When an extremely rich, much older man asked to marry her, Anya did not object. Not even when he kissed her with wet, over-spiced lips. Not even when he spit tobacco juice into a sticky, stained cup. Not even when he pulled her into his lap and roughly explored her body, probing for flaws as if she were a secretly bruised fruit.
On Anya’s wedding night, her mother explained the facts of life in grim, clinical detail. “Remember to smile,” she said, taking her daughter’s smooth hand in her cracked one. “You’ll be a wealthy widow soon enough.”
As her mother advised, Anya smiled. And endured. But it was hard. Her new husband was playfully cruel. He loved to humiliate people, reveling in their bulging eyes and softening jaws. And he was stingy with everyone but his adult daughters. Anya wore their castoffs and ate leftovers from their plates.
One night at dinner, Anya’s husband told his wife and daughters a rambling story about a servant who had turned out to be a thief. He described the man’s torture in obsessive detail. The questioning. The insolent retorts. The beatings. The flayings. The screams. Anya’s stomach rolled and churned.
Mala, the older daughter whose lean, shimmery beauty reminded Anya of a poisonous snake, gently swayed over each word. But Sela, the younger daughter who was just one year older than Anya, rolled her eyes. And winked.
“And what finally became of that dirty thief?” asked Anya’s husband, regarding his young wife with amused contempt.
Anya gulped and stammered. “W-w-whatever you thought best, of c-c-course.”
Her husband snorted. “I hear the echo of your mother in that cautious, prissy answer. But what do [_you _]think? What’s your real opinion? Don’t be such a cowardly little mouse.”
Anya began to tremble. She was hungry all the time, and her nerves were frayed wires, alive with sparks. She was sure she would guess wrong. She opened and closed her mouth like a dying fish.
Her husband sighed with mock exasperation. His mouth curved into a jocular leer. “You look hungry. Have some food. It will help you think.”
Unlike most nights, Anya’s gilded bowl was full of fragrant stew. She spooned up a morsel and brought it to her lips. She chewed carefully, savoring the delicate quality of the meat.
After she swallowed, her husband grinned, clapping his hands together. “So, dear wife, tell me. What happened to that terrible thief?”
Anya looked at Mala and Sela for help. Mala tittered. Sela’s eyes filled with shame.
“I’m disappointed, wife. Daughters, can you answer my question? What happened to the thief?”
“He’s our dinner tonight, isn’t he?” blurted Mala.
Anya vomited up a frothy mix of stew and bile. She knew she couldn’t endure any more. She needed to leave — or become a widow — very soon.
Anya watched Sela sleeping in a solid gold, four-poster bed. Under the moonlight, her husband’s daughter was a luminous pearl, beautiful and mysterious. She seemed like a brave, kindly girl, thought Anya, but would she really help me?
Anya silently shook her head, answering her own question. As she moved cautiously towards the door, she heard a harsh, whispery sound like a soul tearing in two. She whirled around. Sela was watching her through glittering eyes.
“What do you want, little mother?”
The banquet hall was full of merchants and dignitaries, all seeking favor from Anya’s husband. He sat at the head of the biggest table on the dais, patting his gold-clothed belly. Anya, Mala, and Sela stood beside him like serving girls, each holding a golden platter.
“Now, what have we here?” he asked, avidly inspecting his wife, his daughters, and their trays.
Anya’s heart fluttered. Her words stuck in her throat like a dry piece of toast. Sela elbowed her hard in the side.
“We each made a d-d-essert for you,” said Anya. “We want you to try them all and tell us which one is the b-b-best.”
Her husband chuckled and reached for the gold-and-white frosted chocolate nut cake Anya had painstakingly prepared. She held her breath. She told herself that this time, she would please him. This time, she would win. She had to.
But instead of taking a bite, he smashed her tray so the cake fell to the dirty floor and spattered her golden shoes. She swallowed a sob. She had studied her husband’s tastes. She had bribed the chief chef. Her cake had been perfection. What else could she do?
She barely heard when her husband said, “I certainly didn’t marry you for your cooking. I’m going to taste what my beautiful and talented[_ daughters _]have made for me.”
Anya took small, hopeless sips of air as her husband took mouthfuls of Mala’s angel wing cake and Sela’s pinkberry macaroons. Despair nestled in her heart. She would always be his wife. She would never leave this place. She blinked away bitter tears.
Sela elbowed her again. “Don’t cry, little mother,” she whispered. “They’re all poisoned.”
In the shadows of our world, there is another. A dark world laced with magic and menace. And its fate is twined with our own.
Kora, a maidservant with a hidden magical past, commits a terrible act, putting her family at risk and ultimately sparking a violent revolution. As she tries to protect her family, she finds herself drawn into a sinister romance and wondering if her idea of ‘good’ is as flawed as she is.
Cora, Kora’s modern-day counterpart, unwittingly travels Kora’s dark path. Her secret sin unleashes a political crisis that threatens millions of lives. As she struggles to help her family and her country, she has the strangest feeling that she’s doing something wrong.
Will Kora and Cora destroy their worlds—or save them? And can both worlds survive?
This is the first chapter in a serial novel. It will be released on July 21. A new chapter will be released every two weeks. Learn more.
If you like your fairy tales with a dash of menace, read on for an excerpt from Milk Teeth, a collection of twelve stories that Disney would certainly not approve of.]
The evil sorceress retired upon her marriage, devoting herself to her husband and his land in the Valley. After their first year together, she quickened with a son. As she swelled and curved, her husband forgot she had once ruled a land of darkness and ravening monsters. When their boy came roaring into the world with a mouthful of precocious teeth, the sorceress forgot as well.
The boy spent his milk years in the garden with his mother. He toddled behind her as she cut herbs, healed bug-battered bushes, and collected precious seeds. He pulled on tender tomato plants and stuffed himself with strawberries. He grew tall, strong, and even somewhat useful.
When his baby teeth fell out, the sorceress planted them in a row in front of their cabin.
“Why are you planting my teeth?” he asked through a gummy, bloody grin.
The sorceress replied, but the boy didn’t hear her answer. He was running to greet his
father, who had a doe over one shoulder and a bow over the other.
The boy began spending his days in the woods with his father, learning to stalk and kill. The sorceress passed her days alone, tending the garden and storing vegetables for winter. She dreamed of a time when her life had been rougher and more vital. When kingdoms rose and fell at her command. When monsters roared and picked men from their teeth.
She began working a little magic here and there to amuse herself. Nothing fancy, just simple, homey spells to make their cabin cleaner and more comfortable. Her husband praised her industry and advised their son to marry a hard-working woman like his mother. Her son inhaled his venison stew, wiped his mouth, and asked for more.
One day, out of pure boredom, she turned their cabin into an old Castilian castle. When her husband emerged from the woods with a wild boar, he took one look at the dragon-filled moat and serpentine turrets, and fled into the forest with their son. The sorceress sighed. She turned the castle back into a cabin and skinned the boar her husband had dropped. Her husband and son returned for a sullen dinner. No one said anything about what had happened.
After the boy had gone to bed, her husband grabbed her arm. “Don’t turn his head with your foolishness. I’m teaching him to hunt and fight like a real, human man.”
The sorceress vaguely recalled killing insolent wretches. Her husband released her arm, yelping in pain.
War came to the Valley. The sorceress remembered war. It smelled like pine pitch and vomit and burning shit. She wanted to flee, but her husband vowed to defend his land. “We are not leaving. These woods have been in my family for fifty generations. Our blood has nourished the soil. I can protect us from any stray marauders.”
Her son, now sixteen, glowed with anticipation. “And I can help you! I’m old enough to wield a staff.”
Her husband smiled with fatherly pride. “Yes, you are.”
That very night, a band of deserters found their cabin and began tearing up the garden like a litter of piglets. The sorceress cursed softly. Her husband and son leaped from their beds and gathered their weapons. While they strapped on big sticks and small knives, she slipped outside and whispered a single word to her son’s milk teeth still nestled in the earth.
Huge, ivory monsters with red eyes, wet, gaping mouths, and pink, prehensile tails exploded from the earth. After rubbing dirt from their faces with giant, crablike claws, they plucked the deserters like dandelions. They popped off their heads, drank their blood, and crushed their bones into the ground. Once sated, the monsters shrank back into teeth and slowly melted away.
The sorceress turned to see her husband and son standing behind her, one frowning and the other wild-eyed and alert. She put her arm around her husband and hissed in his ear.
“He’s my son, too.”
Other work by Lizella Prescott
The Girl with a Hole in Her Heart
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