by Mari Ness
1 He offers the gift with trembling hands. 2 She unwraps the silk with delicate teeth, her lips brushing against what lies beneath. 3 Hidden within the silk's slippery strands: two carefully forged, shining silver hands, precisely formed to a prince's demands. 4 Call to the skies, call, my dear. See if a savior will appear. 5 The hands shimmer against the soft red silk. A tender kiss falls on her salt laced skin. It is of the devil and all his ilk. A tender kiss falls on her salt laced skin. The hands shimmer against the soft red silk. 6 Once more, she is standing behind the mill, the devil approaching as her savior, the gold spilling out with its deathly chill. The chalk. The circle. The grey dress she wore. The air that had been so terribly still. Her father's wet hands approaching once more. 7 A stumble. A slip. A soft cry of pain. Blood beads on her lower lip. His hands tense with sudden strain. So much he cannot say, explain. So much left out of their courtship. Hidden in silk, his scars remain. 8 Not words. Not silver. Not all of her tears — Nothing — nothing — can truly keep her safe. This is a truth she has known for long years. Not words. Not silver. Not all of her tears. She knows how hard silver weapons can chafe. Even these hands, crafted against her fears. Not words, not silver, not all of her tears — Nothing. Nothing can truly keep her safe. 9 His mother, his queen. So noble, so sleek, promising to remove those heavy chains. He should reach out, hold her, stroke her soft cheek. Even broken, shattered, his love remains. I thought her an angel when we first met. Good girls say nothing. Good girls do not shriek. Her father, holding out those heavy chains. She should reach out, hold him, touch his rough cheek. Even broken, shattered, her love remains. 10 No need no need no need to fear Father, father. A cold tear. falls hot on her bleeding arms. Father, father. So, so near — The devil smiles at all her charms. Sing, girl, sing. Did you think you could make me disappear? She lifts up her handless arms. The devil giggles into her ear. Sing, girl. Sing. 11 The old axe had been blunted through hard use. It took several blows. She still bears faint scars — There, above the wrist. Where her sleeve is loose. She once spent hours studying her skin, the ragged stitches her own mouth had sewn, watching her body, so painfully thin, counting every single remaining bone, flinching at everything that could have been: a house of her own, with rough iron bars, two hands that could swiftly knot a noose. Not the distant hope of the silent stars. 12 In the garden that had been his retreat, she once speared his precious pears with her tongue, the juices on her chin so very sweet. In the grey moonlight, she looked very young. She once speared his precious pears with her tongue. Not like the girls they had brought him to meet. In the grey moonlight, she looked very young. He found himself wanting to kiss her feet. Not like the girls they had brought him to meet, in the garden that had been his retreat. He found himself wanting to kiss her feet. The juices on her chin — so very sweet. 13 She summoned her demons to kill his own. Just the demons, she said. Just them alone. So she could refuse his hungry demands. But the anger of demons — it expands. It strengthened with each severed fingerbone. They got some poison from the village crone. Nothing that would kill. They promised her that. She just wanted — needed — to make him well. To make him the father she once had known. It was hard, so hard. Her wrists had been sewn. Still, she brought it to where her father sat. It seemed so simple. Just a little spell. To make him the father she once had known. 14 Good girls don't have demons. Good girls don't kill. No matter what poisons their lives might bring. Good girls do what their parents say they will. Only good girls in stories wed the king. She looks at the pain in his haunted eyes, from a court glittering with treachery. Her skin burns. She will not add her own lies. No matter what his courtiers might see. She kicks away his gift with two strong feet. Raises the stumps of her disfigured wrists. No silver will ever make these complete. He will have to take her as she exists. She watches to see if he understands. That gift he offers with trembling hands.
Mari Ness is the author of Through Immortal Shadows Singing (Papaveria Press), an epic retelling of the story of Helen of Troy. Her poetry and fiction have also appeared in numerous publications, including Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons and right here at Goblin Fruit. She lives in central Florida, in a house with a zombie rose garden in the front yard that might, at some point, come to full life.
"Demands" is a companion piece to her poems "Snowmelt" and "Feathers, which appeared in the Winter 2011 and Summer is Dead (2014) issues of Goblin Fruit respectively.
When asked if she believed in ghosts for this bio, she could only say, "Maybe."
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