by Mari Ness
1 The dark blood glittering on the grey snow — 2 and the memories, swarming like thin crows over fresh corpses. Your throat burns. No. Those 3 cold secrets stay dying within your mind, never quite willing to remain confined. You know better to think of life as kind. 4 Drop, drop. Fly to the woods, oh wicked crow a delicate heart beats upon the snow. 5 The mirror croons an unending song. Black feathers gather upon the grey snow. I know what does and does not belong. Black feathers gather upon the grey snow. The mirror croons an unending song. 6 And inevitable — oh yes, oh yes — that you should seize that apple from her hand, its taste on your tongue almost a caress. Inevitable that her sweet command sucked away, for a moment, all distress. Crows sing sadder songs in this haunted land. 7 Mother, mother. A soft cry breaking the night. Mother, mother. No reply. The walls gleam a cold, calm white. You never knew her name, nor why the walls seemed so suddenly tight, and the water you sipped seemed dry. 8 She came to you both in the cool moonlight: hair white as snow, lips bloodied as a rose. Oh, those lips, promising such rich delight! She came to you both in the cool moonlight. He imprisoned her hands, and crooned. Sparrows huddled on the soft earth, afraid of flight. She came to you both in the cool moonlight, hair white as snow, lips bloodied as a rose. 9 And you will have time to remember all the little men, the ebony and glass, the frightened huntsman with his golden call, the taste of thin gold shielding cold brass. The blood sinks so swiftly into the snow. And you will have to examine each, to twist it into some innocent tale, a mirrored truth, a grim lesson to teach, your cold secrets wrapped in a storied veil. 10 Sing the songs your mother knew: of women and dragons, of princes and wagons, of the way that the cuckoo flew to the only nest she ever knew Sing, crow, sing. Sing until you make it true: of a bubbling witches' brew of poison kept in crystal flagons Sing, crow. Sing. 11 You tiptoe, so gently, to the dark woods, to the secret places tangled in roots. So easily we cling to our falsehoods of warmth, of safety, of a mother's bliss in a daughter. A needle pricks your skin. You tuck leaves into a tattered bodice, wrap yourself warmly in bloodied deerskin. You were never woken with a soft kiss, tangled as you were with other pursuits. So easily we lose our childhoods. The spring snows, melting, pierce your slender boots. 12 And you will remember the red hot shoes So lovingly made with iron fire. And you will remember that delightful ruse: None of these tales were about desire, so lovingly made with iron fire. (Fingers tap at your arm, touching that bruise.) None of those tales were about desire. You will not use that timeworn word, abuse. Fingers tap at your arm, touching that bruise. And you will remember the red hot shoes. You will not use that timeworn word, abuse. And you will remember that delightful ruse. 13 The crystal coffin shaking in the snow, the mirror crooning to a lonely crow, the prince smiling at an unmoving bride, the huntsman knowing of uneaten pride. These are not stories you have wished to know. You remember waiting at the window. The falling snow, the heat rising inside. You remember the stinging of your thumbs. Crows peck at the bloody snow. The silver needles flashing to and fro. The delicate shrouds for those who had died. You remember hearing she comes, she comes Crows peck at the bloody snow. 14 The crows arrive, spiralling, one by one, attacking the first green shoots on the trees, calling for their kin in the cold grey sun. You gather large handfuls of moist, dead leaves. You bury them all, in the half frozen earth: the comb, the ribbon, the old apple core, the ebony panel. Nothing of worth. The cold dying secrets that you once bore. And the crows flying in circles above, the air filling with the weight of their cries, the woods filling with the weight of true love, the glass coffin cracking before your eyes. And it is time, past time, for you to go. The blood sinks so swiftly in the spring snow.
Mari Ness is only slightly less obsessed with fairy tales than her work might suggest. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous places, including Fantasy Magazine, and Ideomancer. You can follow her on Twitter at mari_ness, read her rather disorganized blog, or catch her posts on Oz and other children's fantasy literature on Tor.com.
She is rather creeped out by the thought of sentient masks able to choose people, but, after some thought, suddenly hoped that any mask that chose her would be made from rich dark chocolate.
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