Snow Maiden

Snow Maiden
By Derek Newman-Stille
Snow Maiden Title Page

December 1

She is at it again. That little old lady down the lane. She’s building them back up – her snowmen. I guess they are snow women actually. They are so realistic. They have long flowing hair and a womanish body. They look like they are ready to move. I think that’s why the kids keep knocking them down.

I don’t do it.

I wouldn’t do something like that.

But other kids aren’t like me. They find her creepy. Well, she is creepy. But they decide to treat her badly. I wouldn’t do that because she scares the heck out of me. I don’t know how they can do it.

They ask me to get into it too. They always say I’m a wimp, a fairy, a chicken just because I won’t knock over the snow women with them. Like I need to do that to show my bravery.

Plus, they really are creepy. She has created eyes for them, snow eyes that seem to look right into you. It’s like icicles through the heart.

And the lips.

The snow women have red red red lips… like the women my mom calls whores. The other kids say that they look like that because they are reddened up for a kiss, but to me they look like they have just drunk a glass full of blood and haven’t had a chance to wipe their lips.

Even though I don’t want to, I keep on walking by her house, looking at the snow women. I don’t know what makes me want to do it, but I can’t seem to stop myself.

She is always there in the window – the weird old woman – always looking out at me. I think that she thinks that I’m the one who keeps knocking down her snow women. But I don’t know if she is able to see at all. Her eyes are as pale as the snow women she builds and I would have thought she was blind except she keeps making these wonderful creations out of snow.

I guess she could still create them even if she is blind. She can still touch and she could create the snow women totally by feel… but her fingers would get so cold touching the snow all of the time without mittens.

December 3

I never see the old woman building her snow women. I always want to catch her at it, but they seem to form over night before any of us get up in the morning. I always see them as I walk to the school house to begin my lessons and I have tried going earlier and earlier and now I’m not only getting there before the other kids, I’m there before Ms. Sokolov and she is always telling us that “the early bird gets the worm”, so I know that she wakes up extra early.

I could see the old woman looking out at the other kids as they broke her snow women on the way home from school. I made sure to stand far away from them and tried shaking my head so she knew that I wasn’t one of them.

The other kids call her a witch, but if she were a witch, why would she let them destroy her snow woman and not do anything to them. If they really believed that she were a witch, they would be afraid of her spells and wouldn’t bother her. So, I don’t really believe them.

But they did tell a story about her. They said that she used to be a kind witch, but her daughter died one year – frozen to death in the snow during one of our harshest winters. She had spent all night looking for her daughter in the falling snow and when she found her dead, it was like an icicle went through her heart and it froze her blood so much that her skin turned snowy white and the colour drained out of her eyes. That’s when she became a snow witch.

That’s what they say, but if she were a snow witch, they wouldn’t tease her like this, especially not in the winter.

December 12

I know that all of the silliness about the old woman being a witch is just the kind of things that older kids tell younger kids, but when I found out that both Ivan and Yuri caught the flu last week, the nightmares started. I know it is stupid to believe anything like that. I know it’s just older kids being older kids, but I keep worrying. I keep remembering the way that she looked at us with her pale eyes.

I don’t really believe it. It’s just stories. They’re meant to scare us so that the older kids seem brave for wrecking snow women created by an old woman.

I’ve been trying to avoid her house and have taken other roads so that I don’t have to see her place, but I am worried she will think that I am avoiding her place because I am guilty.

Tomorrow, I’m going to walk past her place. I’m going to loudly say how pretty her snow women are. I’m going to make sure that she knows that I’m not like Ivan and Yuri.

December 14

I finally asked mom about the old woman. I told her everything that the older kids had said. I told her about people breaking her snow women. I feel like a snitch telling on the other kids, but I wanted her to know everything. I have been so afraid.

She told me not to worry and that all of the rumours about the old woman are silly, childish fairy stories. She told me that the old woman was just practicing the old custom. I didn’t know anything about the old custom and she told me that that was because it was no longer something we believed in and that it was something that was meant to scare people into being obedient like religion was.

She said that in the old custom, people would create maidens out of snow to honour Father Frost and Mother Spring. The two of them couldn’t have a child in the myth, so Father Frost built a body out of snow and ice and then Mother Spring cut her wrist and fed the maiden her blood. Immediately after drinking blood, she hopped up and came to life and the two of them had a daughter. They fawned on her, bringing her gifts and bestowing powers on her as she danced around the frosty winter world, learning about all of the animals of the winter and collecting branches from evergreen trees.

The only problem was that when spring came around again and the trees started sprouting new buds and the ice and snow began to melt, the Snow Maiden started to lose weight and became sickly. The two parents did everything they could to save her, bringing her medicines and asking wizards and witches to cast healing enchantments on her… and then they realized that she was melting as the snow melts. The two of them cried at her side as she became a puddle in front of them with just a drop of red at the centre where Mother Spring’s blood pooled.

Father Frost blamed Mother Spring for her death because it was the springtime that melted the frost maiden and he and Mother Spring warred.

Mother told me that it was a story that is meant to explain the seasons and that it was created because people were simple and didn’t understand the science of nature. She said that people create stories for things that they don’t understand and that the same thing was happening when people created stories about the old woman down the lane. Kids were trying to create stories to explain an old woman who they thought was strange.

She said there were no truths to their stories and that the old woman was just practicing an old, fooling belief. She said that the old woman just believed that she was re-creating the snow maiden out of snow and probably hurting herself and pressing blood on the lips of the snow creation. She said that this is what old beliefs do – they make people hurt themselves because they believe what they are doing is for a false god.

I know that it is all silly stories like mother said, but I really like these stories. I think they are beautiful even if they aren’t true. It’s why I wanted to write the story down as soon as I heard it. I don’t believe it, but I think it is beautiful.

December 15

I have a bloody nose today.

Dusan, Fyodore, Mikhail, and Olga were talking at school about the old woman and repeating their story about her lost daughter, so I told them that they were being silly and making up stories for things they didn’t understand. I tried to explain to them the old custom and got punched in the nose for it.

They told me that because she practiced the old custom, she WAS a witch and that all witches practiced the old custom.

I tried to tell them that she was just a misunderstood old woman, but they wouldn’t listen.

They went back and smashed her snow maidens.

I wish they wouldn’t treat her like this. She was just an old woman with some silly beliefs.

But I want to believe too.

Sometimes I swear I hear whispered words in the wind at night. I used to think they were monsters hunting in the snow, but now that I know the story of Father Frost and Mother Spring, I wonder if all of these years I have been hearing the voice of Father Frost in the wind. I wonder if the ice patterns on my window are his paintings. I wonder if he is the one who brings snow. I don’t know if he is any different than monsters. It’s because of him that people freeze to death in the winter and because of him that we need to chop wood for the fire and because of him that we get the flu. If he is real. But I don’t know if that makes him a monster. Snow is beautiful. It sparkles and it tickles my tongue when it falls from the sky. It is magical even though I know that it can also kill.

I think Father Frost is like that. I think he’s magical and beautiful, but also cold and deadly.

I have made up my mind. After everyone has gone to bed, I am going to the old woman’s house and I am going to make a snow maiden in her front yard. Hopefully she will understand that I am helping her. Hopefully I will see her making snow maidens. Hopefully she will tell me a story.

December 16

I didn’t see her last night, but I felt like she was watching me. My snow maiden wasn’t as good as hers. It was just a couple of snow balls placed on top of each other with snow balls for breasts and sticks for arms. I tried to pack snow in to make her look like a real person, but the snow kept falling apart. I don’t know how she keeps her snow maidens together.

The cold hurt my nostrils and made my nose bleed again, so I did what she did and I wiped blood on the mouth of the snow maiden. I wanted her to be just like the story. I wanted her to be real.

I was out late and it was so cold. My fingers were blue by the time I got home. I could barely feel the handle for my door. They still hurt today and are pretty white, but the feeling is back in them and I can at least pick things up now. Last night, I couldn’t even move my pen.

December 17

For some reason the kids left my snow maiden alone. There weren’t any others in the old woman’s yard, but mine stood there looking like it was mocking her art work. It looked so silly in comparison to the beautiful art that she had created when she built her snow maidens. Mine just looked lumpy and silly.

I hope she doesn’t think that I was making fun of her by building my own snow maiden. I don’t know how to show her that I want to believe and that I think her work is beautiful.

I tried walking past her house a few times but didn’t see her in the window. I’m scared that she thinks she is being made fun of.  I don’t want her to think that.

I’m going to practice making snow maidens tonight after bed and try to build a better one. I want to create one that she knows has been inspired by her work. I guess I also want to see if I can bring the real Snow Maiden to life too. I know magic is silly and that it comes from ignorance, but I want to believe in it.

December 19

Mother saw the snow maidens I had built in our yard. I was just practicing building them and I wanted to break them back into snow so that no one would know… but once I saw them, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t break them. It seemed too much like what the other kids were doing. And I couldn’t look at them, my snow maidens, and destroy them. They seemed to look back at me and ask me not to hurt them.

They were just blobs of snow, but I still couldn’t break them.

Mother was angry and thought that the old woman had started building the snow maidens in our yard. I think that even though she said magic was silly, she really did believe. At least, she believed a little bit. She didn’t break the snow maidens. Instead she piled snow around them, making a wall of snow so that people couldn’t see them. But I wonder if she was trying to keep people from seeing the snow maidens or trying to keep the snow maidens from seeing her.

She spent the night pacing, which she does when she is really bothered by something. She was extra cranky with me, yelling at me for eating my food too loudly and not having any manners.

I couldn’t stay still though. I kept going to the window to see the snow maidens even though I couldn’t see past the wall of snow.

I still hadn’t made them quite right. They still looked too lumpy and these ones didn’t have any blood on their lips because my nose had healed up. But I really loved them. I feel proud of what I made. I hop that the old woman at the end of the lane will be proud of the snow maidens I am going to build in her yard. I want her to know I don’t want to mock her.

December 20

I finally met her!! And she was so kind. Her name is Snegurochka. She came out into the yard when I was building my snow maidens and she was dressed in a light blue dress covered in white patterns that looked like the frost that forms on the window. Her dress seemed to reflect the moon like the snow does when it is full and it makes the snow look bluish. Her face and hair were so pale that she looked like she was the moon herself.

She thanked me for building a snow maiden on her yard and told me that it meant a lot to her because so many of the other neighbourhood kids kept destroying her snow maidens. I told her that I thought that was very cruel of them and I wanted to surprise her with some snow maidens that I had made but that they weren’t as good as hers.

It was weird. When I said it, she had tears in her eyes and told me that the snow maidens I made were perfect and that they would get better with time. She asked me if I wanted to learn about snow maidens and then offered to build them with me to help me learn how to make them the way that she did.

As we built them, she helped to guide my hands across the snow, telling me about the feel of the snow and its consistency and that our hands are like the spring, which is needed to melt the snow a little bit to help to form it into better shapes. She told me that powdery snow couldn’t work for building a snow maiden and that it needed to melt a bit like the breath of spring. I even breathed on the snow with her to melt it a bit to create the snow maiden’s hair and shape her eyes.

It felt like we were breathing life into something.

It felt a lot like magic.

She told me the old story about Father Frost and Mother Spring, but she told it differently. She said that the Snow Maiden had to melt in the spring, but that she didn’t die. Instead, like snow transforms into water, she transformed into the new Mother Spring and that she would die again in the autumn and then be built up out of the snow when it feel on the ground. She told me that the world needs the seasons to change so that it can live and grow.

The snow maidens we were creating were ways of showing that we respect the seasons and commit ourselves to growth and change.

She told me that tomorrow was the winter solstice and that it was the longest night of the year, but that it was also the time when light would start coming back to the world. She taught me that I should burn a candle on the solstice as a way to bring back the light with a little bit of magic.

It didn’t seem like stories when she told it. It didn’t seem like something made up or something silly. She didn’t seem stupid like mother said people were who believed in things like this. She seemed magical.

We built our snow maidens throughout the night until my fingers were blue and I lost feeling in them again. I asked her how she dealt with frozen fingers and she said that hers were frozen long ago by age and by years of making snow maidens.

I asked her about blood and whether we should poor blood on the lips of the snow maidens. She told me that she would give an offering of her blood and give the warmth of spring to the snow maiden, but it was up to me whether I would do the same.

I wasn’t sure about giving blood until she took a knife out of her dress and cut her finger tip and let blood fall on the lips of the snow maidens. It seemed that they smiled a little more with the blood and seemed a little bit less like snow and a little more like living things, so I wanted to share my blood too. I took her knife and cut my finger and then let it drip right alongside the drips of blood from her fingers.

They seemed to turn their heads a little toward me as I dropped blood on their lips. They seemed to look deep into me.

It could have just been the cold that made me think that the snow maidens looked at me, but it felt like magic. It felt like I had done something and created something.

When I got home, I crawled over the little wall that mother had made around the snow maidens in our yard and I breathed on them and squeezed a little bit more blood out of my fingers for each of the little snow maidens I had practiced creating. Somehow they seemed more beautiful now.

December 21

This morning, Mother noticed that my fingers were pale and thought that they might be frost bitten. She made me stay home from school today and has had me put them in hot water all day. It burns and my fingers feel like they are melting when they are in the water.

She still had to go and work at the dress shop, so she finally left me alone for the afternoon but told me that I should keep heating up water and putting my fingers in it or I would lose them to frostbite. I don’t want them to hurt any more, so I haven’t put them in any water since she left.

I keep looking at them, those white fingers and keep thinking about the pale snow maidens. I wonder if I am becoming like them. I wonder if when the blood was dripped out of my fingers that the snow might have gotten in. I keep thinking about Snegurochka and her old, pale, white hands and wonder if the snow got inside of her as well.

Mother would say I am being foolish and letting myself get hurt for belief in something silly. She would say that it is unscientific to believe that the snow was within me. She would remind me that people who are unscientific believe in things like magic and end up hurting themselves because of it. She would see my fingers as proof of my silliness and the threat that I pose to myself.

Where she would see frostbite, I was starting to see transformation and magic. The tingling of my fingers felt like change. It felt like I was becoming something new.

I don’t think it is such a bad thing.

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The Snow Queen’s Son

The Snow Queen’s Son
By Derek Newman-Stille

The Snow Queen’s son
paints frost on the windows,
ferns that speak of his love of summer,
sketching a world he can no longer belong to.

He pulls
the shard of ice from his heart,
blue with blood,
touching it to the window pane
  Pain
and tracing his art onto the window,
wanting to hide the interior of a warm home
too reminiscent of his loss
a reminder of his exile.

He blows the snow
back and forth
knowing that any of his art
is impermanent
defrosting
into nothingness.

He buries everything in snow
wanting to bury himself,
his feelings,
the grass and weeds and flowers
hidden from his own sight

He is shaped by the cold,
shaping it in turn,
building on the cold by wanting to taste the warmth
every kiss on the face of warm lives
leaves a bitter chill,
vampirically consumes the heat
but leaves nothing of it in his body.
  Impermanent.
    Always waning.

Leaving him hungry
like the wind is hungry
  like the snow is hungry
    like the ice is hungry
leaving emptiness inside of each flake.

The Snow Queen’s son
sees in mirrored gaze
  Glaze
always reflective
and never complete
refracting infinitely
so he only sees himself

Unjust Desserts

Unjust Deserts cover 2

 

Unjust Desserts

By Derek Newman-Stille

I was never particularly gifted in anything. I found most of my life in the village a struggle just to get through each day. I couldn’t relate to any of the townsfolk, couldn’t get particularly excited or interested in the tending of fields, the husbandry of sheep, or the petty gossip about which town member was the most disliked and therefore inherently suspect this week.

I didn’t participate in the gossip because I seemed to be the only one who made the connection between gossip and the arrival of the Witch Hammers, who seemed to take away the problematic, least liked person during each of their visits. I seemed to also be the only one who recognised that these rumours tended to start whenever someone had something that others wanted. I recognised early on that I had a curse. It was called “empathy” and it haunted me like a repeated visit from the dead. And I lacked the thing that the town obviously thought was the most important: “greed”.

Thankfully I had my own gift. I called it “glucomancy”, the power over sweets – to shape them to my will and desire. It took a lot out of me, but it was worth it to see the magic in people’s eyes when they came into my cake shop and ate one of my sweets for the first time.

But as I got more and more involved in the creation of wonderful desserts, I forgot what this town had taught me… that desire is dangerous, that want got people hurt. I was reminded the first time I showed someone my gift to shape the sweet, to make honey flow from the air and become flavour gold.

There was something particularly magical about the reactions of children when they saw a new dessert, so I tried, as much as possible to always vary my results, to shape desserts to match their passions and loves: creating a cake shaped like a sleeping kitten for Sally, the little girl who adopted a barn cat with a broken leg; shaping a lollypop tree for Jim, the little boy who wanted to grow up to be a lumberjack; creating an apple pie covered in the glittering diamonds of sugar crystals for Janette, the little girl whose mother remarried to the local orchardman…. My desserts were offerings to those faces full of wonder and the reward was seeing their eyes sparkle with want when they saw their treat appear before them. Each creation was a mosaic of sweet lives.

I suppose it was my belief in the essential innocence of children that caused me to eventually show the secret of my magic. I was just closing up shop for the day when two sets of shining eyes appeared at my window. I never learned the name of the boy and the girl even though later I learned the name of their father. They told me that they were the children of labourers – that their parents worked the fields for the local nobleman, Duke Richmond, and that they had heard that I would give treats to the poor children of the village.

Because I was closing shop, I hadn’t had a chance to work my particular kind of glucomancy for the day. I generally liked to create treats anew each day, so the end of the day was sort of a rest period for my power… but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring a sense of joy to their round little faces, especially if they hadn’t had the resources to try my desserts before. So, i decided to reveal my glucomantic secret, to perform the art of sweetcrafting in front of a crowd… or at least in front of these two little innocents.

“I will make treats for you, but i need you to keep the way I make them secret.”

“Why?” The boy asked, his little face scrunched up with curiosity.

“Not everyone is happy with people who are different… And the way I make my sweets is… different.”

“Why?”

“Let me… let me show you.” My heart began beating wildly, fear and excitement blended.

I raised my fingertips to the sky, feeling golden mist gather around them, honeyed dew drops touching the ends of my fingers. I pushed a little more of that something through the tips of my fingers as my heartbeat increased. Blood pulsed to my fingertips, stinging the ends of my fingers like nettle as dew became sweetness.

I could feel flowers around me pulse in ecstasy, secreting nectar and pollen into the air, letting the wind breathe it up and bring it to my fingers to mix with the sweetness exuded through my blood. Flowers breathed out nectar as fluid light, gathering as drips around my hands. I flicked my wrist, spinning sweet into strings of sticky sweet light, twisting gummy brilliance between my fingers as I wove it into shapes.

I opened my eyes gently, wanting to see that glint of excitement on the faces of the children, that sparkle of magic reflected in their eyes.

Instead I saw only horror. Their faces were frozen between screams, eyes wide, glistening not with excitement but tears. The shuddering that I had been hearing was not amazement, but disgust.

They both waved back and forth on their feet, taking confused steps backward, slowly, knees wobbling under them.

The honey collecting around my fingertips instantly froze into solidity around my hands, trapping them in place.

“Wait… I’m sorry, I -”

The sound of my voice broke the spell of horror around them, allowing them to leave, trailing out the shop door with the smell of urine following them overpowering the scent of honey and nectar. I tried to move to follow them, but the honey had formed panes of sugared glass around my hands, holding them in place.

I pulled my arms back and forth, finally shattering the glass around them, fragmenting it into pieces that bit into my skin, cutting deep into flesh and spouting blood. I couldn’t follow them now. I looked like a murderer with hands slashed in blood, like the nightmare witch of the town’s myth.

Desire and wonder carried that tainted sting of horror and pain.

I gagged.

****

The smell of soot, charred and acrid broke the smell of honey that always seemed to mist in my dreams each night, that weaving of want and need.

I coughed, but each breath sucked in more smoke, a taste of peppers and limes.

I reached to cover my mouth and tasted iron. I spat out that combination of blood and soot.

My eyes shot open to a sky painted with a smoky red hue, as though dawn’s rosy skirt was muddied by her passage. It matched the blood dripping from my torn fingers.

I had made the right decision to leave the town during the night. This is probably the first time I have actually thanked my lack of faith in my town, celebrated my distrust.

I knew I was smelling the burning of my cake shop, smelling my life rendered into smoke. Better my lifehood rather than my body itself. I had still escaped burning by the town that was obviously quick to mobilize to remove the unusual, the other in their midst.

The smell was the scent of purging.

I picked up my bag with my few belongings… mostly clothing, because what else would I want? There’s nothing to connect me to anyone else. My family had rejected me early on, so I had no mementos of them, no need to hold onto memories that were shaped by a persistent sting.

I heard a whispered buzzing sound, distant, almost an undertone to the wind. It always seemed to drift in when I remembered, when I submerged into the forgotten.

When mother slapped me, I knew that it was a manifestation of her own pain, the sting of her hand on my face mirroring the pain within her, as though she needed to share it before it consumed her entirely.

So it became a shared meal, consumed by and consuming two, and I was well-fed as a child.

“You aren’t even mine” she would yell, “You are a plague”, “You are a horror”, “Monstrosity”

These critiques became stronger as I showed how different I was, disconnected from expectations about what a child should be like.

She would stare at me for hours, eyes scanning my face, my eyes, a diagnostic gaze just to see my flaws. “Your eyes are so big… unnatural. Brown like dirt. Your entire face is lost in your giant eyes…. Which I suppose is a good thing. It helps to hide your cheekbones, so high on your face and your yellowish tone, jaundiced,… sickly. You are all bile. You don’t even look like us. I sometimes wonder if you’re even our child or if you belong to Them.”

I had always worried that Mother had been raped, that her rapists were the ‘Them’ she would allude to, the strange Other that had infected her and planted itself inside her womb. But I asked my father about it on his death bed, when I snuck back into my childhood home to see him before he died. He told me then that mother saw me as ill because she herself was ill, but her illness was one of the spirit rather than the body. “She changed, and I am not sure if it is because we made love and she became pregnant at her first sexual experience, or whether she was traumatized by what happened after. I know it is weird to hear about this… about your parents in that situation, but… I don’t know, I just need to tell you so that you know what happened. We made love outside, in the lavender field, and when we… well,… when we finished making love, she rolled over onto a bee. It stung deep, but it wasn’t just regular pain like the rest of us would feel. Her pain was… well, it made her become puffy, have difficulty breathing. It was like the bees sucked the life out of her…. and, well, she thought that it tainted her womb with its sting, that it poisoned her… and through her… that it poisoned you. You were always poison to her…. – no, I don’t mean it like that, I mean that she saw you as poison. You were sweet. You never deserved the sting of her harsh words.”

I was still jaundiced, still ugly in all of the ways she saw me to be. I have tried to cover it with kindness, but that horror still shapes me, and everyone can see it. It is a miracle that I hadn’t been targeted by the Witch Hunters before now.

My history and body have always been inscribed by horror, with the grotesque.

As the buzzing recedes and the blackness at the edges of my vision retreat, I am able to pick up my bag of belongings and throw it over my shoulder. I breathe in until the headache is gone.

Closed petals of flowers begin to stretch their dew soaked velvet out to the awakening sun, tasting the sweetness of the morning air. Like crumbs left on a path, I follow the spots of floral brilliance as I wander toward the woods.

The sweet smell of cedar fills my nostrils, air tacky with sticky sap. My fingers naturally reach out toward the pine needles and cedar leaves, so green I could taste the chlorophyll through my fingertips. The air in the village was full of sweet scents for my magic to draw from (tastes of the harvest), but the air of the forest is pure honey with layers of flavour. I could feel it feeding my glucomantic ability, surging flavour through my bloodstream.

I had become a town girl, accustomed to the presence of people and the clear layout of paths and streets. The forest was a place of meandering mystery and it seemed to wash together in a sea of green, surging with leaves, needles, ferns, grasses, and carrying the occasional dots of colour, flowers opening to pollinate, to call in lovers with kisses carried through the breeze. The forest was a place of uncertainty and in this uncertainty I saw the potential for a life that could float away from village life.

My feet eventually found an orderly path, one that human feet had carved into the forest floor and despite my better judgment, I followed these steps. My desire to be with my own kind warred with my wariness of the cruelty people are capable of. I kept walking in a daze, partially shaped by a day of wandering through wooded obscurity.

The forest opened up into a clearing whose centre was filled with hives in orderly rows, bees made to live like humanity in controlled production centres where they saw no profit of their own. The hives stood on wooden logs, were worked into pottery vessels, wooden boxes, and woven straw baskets, human technology and bee architecture interwoven without the collective power of cooperation it would suggest. This is a parasitic role, with humanity feeding off of the bees and taking the food from their young.

Smoke drifted across a few of the hives, making me freeze in place. The scent of smoke had always unsettled me, but that unsettling was heightened by the burning of my own home and business. I could see shapes moving through the smoke, men with lit sticks billowing smoke, waving it around the hives. Others carried ceramic jars, collecting the honey from the bees who were displaced from their homes. It shaded of lynching and theft – human greed and human violence intertwined.

The buzzing of displaced, smoke-drowsy bees settled around me. I could feel thousands of eyes settling on me, could feel the twitching of antennae tasting my skin, and I could smell sweet nectar on their tiny bee fuzz. The tiny hairs on my own arms lifted slightly at their touch… not out of fear of being stung – that thought hadn’t occurred to me at the time – but rather a strange connectivity, a skin-to-skin conversation that was occurring through their dancing on my skin, raising goosebumps across my flesh as limbs moved in delicate circles.

I could feel myself wavering slightly on my feet, the black spots creeping into my vision with the buzzing.

Wings fluttered and they lightly dusted my hair with pollen, then gently stroked it off of each follicle to taste it again, kneading their hands together in delicate tickles. My skin tingled with thousands of lives touching down and alighting until I smelled of bee.

One of the men with a burning, smoking branch looked with red-rimmed eyes toward the flow of bees that led to me at the edge of the forest.

He coughed several times before managing to get out “Hey, there’s a girl there. What’s she doing.”

“Hey, who are you? What are you doing there?”

I snapped back to alertness, the droning trance fading into harsh human voices.

My feet involuntarily began retreating until I felt the dance of the bees rise up as they started lifting off from me. Where their droning was meditative before, now it seemed to roar. Their gentle dance upon my skin became a war dance, angry feet pounding into my flesh. They spoke my own anger of displacement back to me, the feeling of being homeless, the honey shaped by their hard work collecting nectar, cooling it with their wings in preparation to feed their young taken from those youthful mouths.

My own rage spilled out like nectar from a closed flower, glistening and bright. The honeyed air flowed into sharp points at the tips of my cut and bleeding fingers, spines of crystalline sugar shaped unconsciously by my glucomancy. Each finger became a stinger, barbed at the tip and craving the taste of flesh.

The bees alighted, buzzing a song of violence. The smoke seemed to part at our collective movement, pulled away with the breeze of thousands of wings. Our movement formed an arrow and despite the point of that human and bee arrow flowing toward them, the men could only see a crazy woman, not a threat.

“What the hell is she doing? Is she being attacked by those bees.”

“She’s just crazy. Her hair is full of twigs and she’s covered in mud. The bees won’t be able to sting her through all that shit.”

“At least wave some smoke toward her, chase off a few of those bees. They sound enraged.”

“Do you want to get close to her? Look at her!”

“Fine, give me the branch.”

The man’s breath blew across the burning branch, lighting embers and billowing white smoke. I could see his breath catch as he looked into my eyes. An involuntary breath pulled in acrid smoke and he coughed.

The bees surrounded the men as I shoved the spires of sugar into their skin.

***

I looked down at the sharp tips of glazed honey at my fingers, the translucent amber stained with human gore. I couldn’t look at them without remembering the way human fat felt as it parted with each sting of the sugar-tipped spires, mixing sweet and horrifying.

I am normally someone who knows herself well, who is aware and conscious of her intentions. I suppose that happens when one is made insecure by a society that fears difference. But I couldn’t discern how I felt. No amount of logic or self reflection could tell me how I felt… or how I should feel.

As I looked around at the husks of the bees who had stung the beekeepers, I realised that like them, those yellow and black shells emptied of their bee venom with their stings to die on the ground now that their venom sacks had ripped from their bodies with their barbed stingers… I too was emptied of my own venomous anger, an anger I denied as I fled from the village with only survival in mind…. The passing of the venomous anger didn’t leave relief in my system, but rather a void, a missing space, a strange emptiness. My body didn’t remember what used to be there, what occupied that viral emptiness where every part of me now seemed to try to rush to fill, leaving me awash with uncertainty.

Not all of the bees had died in the attack on the beekeepers, that desperate bid for freedom, and the remaining bees settled on my skin, dancing patterns of mourning for their lost sisters, tasting me to see if I shared their pain and emptiness, their loss. They lapped at the mix of blood and sugar at my fingertips, tasting the sweetness and gore.

I felt myself swaying back and forth. Part of me knew this was probably a form of shock, by body literally rocked with the wreaking sobs that wouldn’t express themselves because they were swallowed by the horrible emptiness of the void within, an echo chamber for my sorrow… But part of me kept convincing itself that it was dancing patterns for the bees, that I mirrored their grief dances with my gangly human body, lacking the precision of their furred, winged movements.

I could feel the grasses and flowers breaking under my stomping feet as I let myself dance, releasing a sharp vegetative scent into the air, wet and dewy with spice to cover up the bitter scent of drying blood.

I picked up the ashy remains of the hives, burned by the beekeepers in their attempts to ward us off. I dropped by clothes to the meadow floor, exposing my body for the bees, not wanting a barrier between skin and fuzz. My fingers were still sharpened tips, made sharper by the bees who licked blood and honey from them. I smeared the ashes from the beehives into stripes on my skin, turning the fire of separation and ashes of the past into markers of community, my belonging with my striped sisters. I stung myself with my spired fingers, tattooing bee patterns into my human flesh, making home in community and a shared language of stripes.

***

I formed the hexagonal panes of sugar into stained glass, bees weaving them together with their own honeycombs of wax and honey. Our communal house was shaped of flavour, weaving the art of the forest into a structure of taste planes, taking on flavours of lavender, strawberries, wild cherries, producing wild scents as the sun shown through the panes of sugared glass.

Although the bees seemed to prefer the symmetry of hexagonal shapes, I added artistic flares to the panes I created, shaping the sweet into floral patterns, spires of translucent art. They tolerated my little acts of nonconformity, my little deviations. After all, my body was the greatest deviation, but the bees recognised that every bodily difference is needed for a specific task: drones for carrying semen, queens for carrying ovum, workers for collecting nectar… they determined that my body and decisions were constructed for a different specialized task and shifted patterns to incorporate this new role.

We homeless lost ones, we refugees of human greed and violence, built ourselves a sanctuary in the woods – a mixture of cathedral and home to remind ourselves that sanctuary is something ethereal, something transcendent and that home can be a collective space. I became a worker in the hive with them, making our home a place of unity.

And yet our lives were not shaped by production as humanity generally projects onto the bees. We celebrated constantly, dancing out our feelings for each other at the same time as our footsteps spoke of new flowers to harvest for nectar, singing songs of a droning buzz to keep our stories alive, and spinning scents of poetry to one another, layers of flavoured breezes to share our ideas and philosophies.

I know I would be accused of animism if I lived in the village still, told that I attributed human feeling and communication to brute insects in order to fend off loneliness… And at least part of me always thought this was true, that my loneliness had driven me mad for companionship, but I could convince at least part of myself – the part that learned to emulate the drone of wings, ventured into the forest to find meadows of new flowers, and who believed her belabored stumbling in circles was part of the dances that bees used to communicate – that I belonged. Besides, with the power to shape honey by my glucomantic will, was anything really outside of the realm of possibility?

So I surrendered to my life of collective work, to shaping the world’s nectar into flavours of sweetness that could tell stories, paint pictures, reveal the sweetness of life. I knew that delving into the sweet meant that I denied the bitter, the sour… that I edited out the taste of loss, of pain, of murder. I knew that the strongest taste in my honey was that of repression, but the more I created out of sweetness, the more I was able to drone out the voices of memory, the pained screams in my head.

So I wandered the woods in search of new flowers and fruits, new tastes to infuse in my nectar, capturing the passing of seasons only through layers of flavour variety that painted our hive, our home.

We tend to see children as creatures filled with promise, manifestations of beginnings, but children are like stories and stories always signify an ending at the same time as they point to something new. My ending was titled Hansel and Gretel, two names that signified a change, an interruption, and an erasure as well as a reminder of the human life I had escaped in my attempt to become inhuman.

Hansel and Gretel were stories of remembrance.

***

“Children are meant to be seen and not heard”

“You disgust me – parasite, living off of my womb’s blood, then my milk, and now you steal my youth with your demands for food. Parasite.”

“This is good for you. I don’t take any pleasure in this, but I need to beat the demon out of you. It’s the only way you’ll be a good, worshipful adult.”

Mother’s ranting filled my dreams before the buzzing of my yellow and black children lulled me back into a sense of safe complacency. Their fuzzy bodies nuzzled against my skin, providing me with comfort, driving away memories that stung.

I opened my eyes to sunlight filtered through the honeycombs of my home, rays of yellow filled with dancing, furred shadows suspended impossibly in the air. The light cast patterns across our house, slanting lazy rays of warmth around the room drawing us together. Everything smelled of honey and all of the fecundity it lent to the young – those precious larvae whose bodies moved with constant change and potential. The dizzying scent filled the air, lending me the feeling that I, too, was hovering with transparent wings.

I heard the agitated buzzing before I saw the things that evoked it. The change in their mood seemed to buzz up from my own stomach, turning it into thousands of stingers dripping a venom of anxiety.

The horrifying, distorted shapes filled the yellow light of the honeycomb with darkness, a horrifying spread of pollution across the yellowed light. The gnawing, grinding grunting sound filled me with disgust, but not as much as the buzzing screams of the young, torn by greedy teeth in their lust to eat a home of honey. Greasy fingers tore at the edges of my sugary stained glass, ripping it from bee wax and the incubating warmth for the young. I could see their innocent forms wiggling at the edges of the torn honeycomb, crushed by fingers probing deeper into the honey.

My lips began vibrating with a buzzing that couldn’t be held back by lips pressed in tight rage, air escaping in vibrating surges.

I wouldn’t kill these new destroyers of our home. I would invite them in and make them see the horrors that a home destroyed could bring to bear upon them.

They looked like human children, I suppose I realised later… but in the moment, they were wasps, parasitically invading our home, eating our resources, and planting their horrible, parasitic offspring into our bodies. Eating and eating and eating.

Hansel and Gretel were greedy little wasps and I began to wonder if I could feed them enough honey that they would become a hive for the tiny larvae, those tiny baby bees whose homes they had consumed.

I wouldn’t let them send us back into exile.

 

Derek Newman-Stille (Story and Art)
is a the Aurora Award-winning creator of Speculating Canada. Derek identifies as queer and disabled. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, where he researches representations of disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction at Trent University as a PhD student in Canadian Studies. Derek has created art for Lackington’s and Postscripts to Darkness.