Antlers dangled from the sides of the hood he wore and dried out hooves clanged together with hollow whispers at his elbows. Rabbits with broken necks hung from his belt alongside birds with broken wings. Broken spirits filled his pockets.
At least that day we would only be hunting animals. He wore something entirely different when he hunted man.
Sometimes she missed the girl she used to be. Back when the years stretched so far in front of her she could not see their end. Before she wounded and before scars altered her vision.
She had a small bottle of scented water she kept in her dresser drawer, one she used to wear a long time ago. She would take it out, hold it to her face and remember the books she used to read, the the jokes she laughed at, her dreams in their unaffected state.
She wondered if she me that girl now, would they be friends? Would she despise her for her enthusiasm or admire her for the same?
Would she recognize her as a part of her very being or would she greet her as a stranger?
For all of us, we used to be someone else.
Once there was a girl named Constance who was almost completely good. She said please and thank you, dressed as she ought, and associated with only the best people.
There was a twitch that lived at the very corner of her mouth, there on the left side. It liked to turn up into a grin at the most wicked things.
I miss the rain the same as I’d miss an old friend. Do you ever ache for things like this? Perhaps hearing the sound of a violin or your mother’s voice? The taste of the ocean? Feeling the wind blast against your face and ripple through your clothes? It’s one of those days for me.
It was his freckles that convinced her he was worth the extra effort. They stood there boldly across his nose, just below eyes that tended to brood. They were friendly, even if he wasn’t always so. Evidence of sunshine when he said he preferred the rain.
The book had been waiting for her as many years as she’d been alive. It had come to the shop by way of the elder Mr. Billing’s estate when he passed. It came with its own history and stories beyond those written upon its paper.
It had been moved from shelf to shelf on occasion and been dusted from time to time. Its pages had been flipped through by sticky-fingered children, distracted mothers, and students in search of more serious literature. But it had never left the room that overlooked Plum Avenue, not since the day she’d been born.
She found it on a brilliantly sunny, decidedly sweltering August day where it had lived for so long in the store’s attic. There weren’t many who ventured upstairs on late summer days, not many who were willing to bear the heat. But she knew the best things were always found where others were reluctant to go.
She found it under a towering stack of baseball caps and a pile of old magazines on the very bottom and dustiest shelf of the bookcase. She picked it up and knew it was meant for her. She ran her fingers over the green fabric cover, embossed with flowers in gold. She opened it and read a few pages, thinking about who else must have read the same words a very long time ago, wondering what color eyes read the same passages as she did now. It smelled of dust and rain, much like the fields did after dark when it was cool and the moon cast hazy blue shadows.
It fit just so into the crook of her arm, protected and close to her heart. Precisely as the book knew it would when it came all those years ago to the room that overlooked Plum Avenue.
The house she and her mother shared was small, so small it begged pardon for being there at all. Grayed siding held thin walls together and the windows held their breath, the cracked sidewalk below begging for their glass with a wrinkle and a wink.
But it was theirs.
And they filled it full.
Full of ghost stories they told each other on the longest nights of winter. Full of marmalade and toast, movie marathons, peppermint tea, and secrets. Full of music that hit the walls and ran down in sloppy, rich tones of gold. Full of tears and laughter that stitched their souls together.
“If you thought leaves in your shoes and lumpy milk was bad,” the small girl said, “just you wait.”
“Wait?” she whispered.
“Wait until your tongue turns black, until spiders make nests in your ears, until-”
“Stop it,” she said. “What do you want?”
The crown. But she wanted so to keep it, more every day. She wanted to hold it, to wear it loosely on her fingers, to kiss it.
“It’ll only get worse.”
“The need for it. It’ll consume you. It’ll be the most important thing in the world to you. More important than food or shelter or any living creature.”
“I don’t believe you.”
She sat on the box. “Smart move, that.” She knocked on the lid. “Brass latch and hinges.”
“My mother gave that box to me.”
“My mother gave me the crown.” The girl looked so sad that all the heat in her cheeks turned blue.
“What if we share it?”
She looked at her with impatience. “Pixies keep what’s theirs.”
She started to cry. “I’ll miss it too much.”
“You’d miss your pinkie toes more.”
She hiccuped again. “Huh?”
“Oh.” She put her arm on the dresser, laid her head on it and wailed.
“I’ll give you something for it,” the pixie said.
“There’s nothing else I want!” She hiccuped and cried.
The pixie hopped off the box and whispered in her ear, “My name’s Anemone.”
She kept crying but flipped the latch and opened the box. She couldn’t bear to look.
When her tears were all used up, she wondered why she’d been crying at all. She wondered why, too, her jewelry box was open. She wondered at the leaves in her shoes, the knots in her hair and the smell of burnt toast coming from the kitchen.
From that day on, wherever she breathed, anemones grew. They sprang up in country gardens, in concrete city blocks, in window boxes and flowerpots. They grew in sun and rain and snow and ice.
They were gold and ruby and sapphire blue, emerald and onyx and pearl veined with light.
All the colors of a tiny crown she could never again quite recall.
She turned around but could see no one. “Who’s there?” “You dumb girl,” the voice said. “You dropped it back inside.” Her ears burned where the sound touched them, her face flushed warm where the color ran. “I’m going crazy. I’m going crazy. I’m going crazy. I’m going crazy.” She sat back down on the bed and started to weep. “What are you crying for? I’m the one who’s without what’s hers.” She peeked between her fingers, afraid to see something, afraid to see nothing. A very small girl stood on top of her dresser, knocking on the jewelry box as if she expected an answer. She was no bigger than a ruler and wore a dress made of ranunculus petals embellished with what was sure to be the threads missing from our heroine’s favorite shirt. The small girl began pacing, fading in and out as she walked, like a mirage shimmering in the heat. And hot she was, too. Face red, hands balled into fists that she pounded against her thighs, heat came off her like a stove. “Are you real?” she asked her, blinking furiously. “You astonish me.” She started hiccuping. A ridiculous reaction to fear that had plagued her since she was a child. The tiny girl clamped her hands to her ears. “Oh for the love of Pete, stop that racket.” She held her breath. She hiccuped deep in her throat. The girl pulled her hands away from her head and squinted at her. “I said, give it to me.” She blinked some more. “You’re not real. You’re a—” she was interrupted by a violent hiccup “—a hallucination.” “I am not.” “You are. I can see right through you.” “You’re such a dummy.” She walked away and looked back over her shoulder. “You can’t see all of me because I’m too beautiful.” “That doesn’t make sense.” “If you saw all of me at once, your mind would just…” She spun around. “Explode!” She put her fists to the side of her head and fanned her fingers out to demonstrate. She put out a finger to touch her but the creature was instantly at the other side of the dresser. “I haven’t cursed you yet but don’t think I won’t.” “Curses aren’t real.” She said it more to herself than the girl.