Faery Tales & NightmaresMelissa Marr
To the Rathers
(aka the wonderful readers
on the WickedLovely.com fan site),
who’ve been such a joy to me
these past several years.
Thank you for conversations,
teas, and fab art.
WHERE NIGHTMARES WALK
THE ART OF WAITING
FLESH FOR COMFORT
THE SLEEPING GIRL AND THE SUMMER KING
COTTON CANDY SKIES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER
IT’S NOT ALWAYS AS EASY TO SEE THE PATH when you’re on it, but looking back is often much clearer. In 2004, I wrote a short story, “The Sleeping Girl,” that turned into a novel (Wicked Lovely) that evolved into a series. At the time, I was homeschooling my kids, reading adventure with my son and YA books with my daughter, and still teaching university. A few years before that, I’d taught two defining courses. One was called “Girlhood Narratives.” It started with fairy tales and worked forward into novels. The second was simply called “The Short Story.” In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to see that my children and my teaching were influential in writing the fairy tale that started my career.
Since then, I’ve continued to mix fairy tales and folklore together in novels and short stories. They’re scattered in anthologies, ebook-only editions, and special editions of my novels, so I figured it might be nice to have some of them together in one book.
Well over half of these pages are taken up by Wicked Lovely world stories; the rest of the pages are reserved for other worlds. These are stories pulled from lore and nightmares, set in places I’ve visited and places I’ve imagined. In the tales, you’ll find a selchie story influenced by Solana Beach, CA; a tale of vampires inspired by parties I once went to in a dead-end town I won’t name; a goblin encounter set in the woods where I once picked berries; and a tale of dark contentment in a mountain town that owes a debt of gratitude to a Violent Femmes song I love. Of course, you’ll also spend time with the Wicked Lovely faeries who have lived in my head and my novels since 2004. I hope you enjoy them.
THE GREEN GLOW OF EYES AND SULFUROUS breath shimmer in the fog as the Nightmares come into range. The horses’ steel-sharp hooves rip furrows in the field, trampling everything in their path.
“Over here!” my companion dog calls out to them, exposing me.
I didn’t know he could speak, but there is no mistaking the source of the sound—or the fact that I am trapped in a field with Nightmares bearing down upon me.
The dog shakes, and his glamour falls away like water flung from his fur. Under his disguise, my helpmate is a skeletal beast with holes where its eyes should be.
“Run,” it growls, “so we can chase.”
I want to, but much like the rest of the things I want my legs to do, running is no longer an option. If I could still run, I wouldn’t be alone on the night when Nightmares walk free. If I could still run, I’d be out in costume trick-or-treating with my friends.
“I can’t run.”
I hobble toward an oak that stands like a shadow in the fog.
The monstrous dog doesn’t stop me as I drop my crutches and pull myself onto the lowest branch. It doesn’t stop me as I try to heave myself higher.
“Faster!” it calls out to the Nightmares, which are almost upon me.
The only question left to answer is whether their running or my climbing is quicker.
ONCE—A LONG TIME AGO BEFORE CHANGE had come—there was a girl whose father was a king. Now, this was when there were a great many kings, so Nesha did not think it strange to be the daughter of a king. And though she had no brothers or sisters, Princess Nesha was happy—but for one thing. Nesha had within her the kiss of winter. When she sighed, her breath rolled out in an icy chill. When she blew a kiss to her father across their great hall, frost flowers formed on every dish.
In winter, Nesha could drape snows over every hill without fear, but in the summer, if she forgot herself and blew the white tops of dandelions gone to seed, if she laughed too freely and her cold breath spilled out, she would wither whole fields, blighting the crops her people needed to survive.
Her father built her a great tower with no windows through which her cold breath could escape, but Nesha wept at being alone and enclosed.
So Nesha left her tower and sought out her father in the great hall. Gazing at the fields she could see through the tall window before her, she said, “I do not belong in this place with its long months of warmth and sun.”
Though he knew she was right, the king wept, for he loved his daughter. “Nesha, stay. We can find a way.”
She turned and rested her head against her father’s shoulder, thinking of the windowless room and months indoors, of trying not to laugh for fear of the cold air that slipped through her lips. “No. I must go.”
The king’s warm tears fell onto her cheek, but he said nothing.
Nesha did not sigh or weep; she gazed out the window at the new plants in the fields, wondering why she had been cursed so cruelly.
The next morning the king walked his daughter to the edge of the wood. He held her only briefly. “Be safe.”
After a few silent tears, Nesha clutched her staff and strode off into the dark wood.
She traveled for many days. One evening as she sat on a felled tree, she let her eyes drift closed. She imagined the icy rim that encircled the northernmost edge of the land, hoping she would soon reach it, and worrying she would not find welcome once she did.
When she opened her eyes, a great ice-bear stood before her. The bear lay down at her feet, his fur glistening as if he had been bathed in precious oils.
“What are you doing here?” she murmured, her voice trembling only a bit.
As Nesha looked into his eyes, she saw her own nervousness reflected there, and her fear disappeared like frost under a spring sun. “Are you lonely too?”
So she closed her eyes and exhaled gently—giving the bear thick snow upon which to rest.
The ice-bear stretched out in the snow and stared up at her until she climbed from the log and sat next to him.
She opened her pack and drew out a piece of thick meat. She broke off a small piece for herself, then offered the rest of the meat to the bear.
The ice-bear gently accepted the meat from her hand.
“Perhaps we can be lonely together.” Nesha lay down to rest alongside the bear in their pile of snow.
When Nesha awoke the next morn, she found that the bear had curled around her, holding her body close to his furred limbs.
After a small meal, Nesha readied herself to travel.
The ice-bear lay flat in front of Nesha and glanced at her. He tossed his head toward his back.
Nesha ran her hand over his thick pelt. Then, she stepped past him. “Come. If you’re to travel with me, we must be off.”
The ice-bear bounded past Nesha, and once again lay prostrate before her.
She laughed and stepped past him once more. “We’ll not get far if we stop to play.”
For the third
time the ice-bear leaped before her—this time, though, when he stretched his great length across the path, his body spanned the space between two boulders. She could not walk around him.
Grumbling, Nesha began to climb over him, but once she was atop his back, he stood.
“Oh,” she murmured, awed that such a great beast would carry her. She was still tired from her days of walking, so she said, “For a short while, I suppose there’s no harm in it.”
So, atop the ice-bear, Nesha journeyed through the forest. The only sounds were the rippling of waters and the cries of creatures in the dense canopy overhead. A solitary owl called out from a hidden perch; squirrels chattered in their secret language. And despite her worries, Nesha felt joy as the bear ambled under pine boughs and outstretched branches.
Eventually, though, the ice-bear paused and lay flat.
Nesha slid to the ground. Beside her were thick berry brambles, heavy with fruit. With his muzzle, the ice-bear gently nudged her toward the fruit.
“I see.” She smiled and began to pick the berries.
As she did so, the ice-bear clambered down the embankment to the swirling river. With his massive paws he pulled fish from the current.
Nesha glanced at the bear standing in the cold water, gathering food. “What a wise beast you are!”
After a while, the ice-bear had not returned up the hill, so Nesha put away the fruit she had collected and went to the top of the muddy embankment. Below her, she saw the bear looking first at the fish he’d caught and then gazing up the hill.
He has no way to carry them, she realized. Gingerly, she climbed down the slope, gripping tiny saplings for balance as she went.
“Let me,” she said, peering into the bear’s eyes. Then she blew softly on the fish, freezing them so they were easier to grasp, and wrapped them into a cloth from her pack.
The ice-bear brushed her shoulder with his muzzle in what she now knew as a friendly gesture. Then, unable to stretch out on the briar-heavy riverside, the ice-bear bent so Nesha could scramble up again.
Once she was seated, the bear rapidly climbed up the hill and resumed their path, and Nesha absently stroked her fingers through his soft fur—thankful to have a companion on her journey.
And thus Nesha forgot the sorrow of carrying a curse. Together, she and the ice-bear found a rhythm to their travels, stopping to gather food when the chance presented itself and continuing on through the still forest.
Though she thought often of her home and her father, after traveling together for a full moon’s passing, Nesha could scarcely imagine life without her ice-bear. In the evenings, they curled in a snowy nest she made for them. During the day, she traveled upon his soft fur and gazed at the increasingly cold land. Tall trees dotted the ground, and the river had a growing crust of ice upon it.
“I’ve never seen anything so lovely,” she whispered.
The ice-bear glanced back at her, with a soft almost-growl, and continued on his way.
Nesha knew the ice-bear was unusual, but as they traveled onward she realized that the ice-bear followed a definite path. When Nesha thought to suggest another way, the ice-bear plopped down and refused to move.
One night after they neared the colder lands, the bear led her to a cave. Inside the cave, spires hung like ice from above; water trickled in rivulets down those stalactites. Nesha whispered, “Where do we go? Do you take me to your home?”
The bear simply gazed at her.
“Will there be others there? What if they aren’t as kind as you?” She leaned against the ice-bear.
The bear moved closer; his muzzle pressed against her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured as she stroked his head. She closed her eyes. “You’ve been truly wonderful, but I miss human voices. I miss…”
Nesha paused. The thick pelt under her hand no longer felt right. Instead of coarse fur, her hand rested on silk-soft hair. She jerked her hand away and opened her eyes.
A boy stood beside her. His hair was as dark as the night sky; it was so long that it fell like a heavy blanket touching the earth, hiding a human form.
“Where? Who?” Nesha stepped backward, her words tangled as she stared at the boy. Frantically, she looked for her ice-bear.
“I knew no other way to show you,” the boy was saying. He had not made any movement toward her. “Now that we’ve reached my village—”
“Village?” Nesha looked around her.
From the tunnels other ice-bears, including several cubs, approached.
The boy nodded. “My home…”
“Where is my ice-bear?” Nesha knew the answer, but she needed to hear him say the words.
“I’m here.” The boy took a step toward her, hands outstretched. He was clad in clothes made of a heavy brown cloth, decorated with ivory beads. Over this he wore a fur cloak. “I caught the fish we eat.” He gestured toward the still-glowing embers on the cave floor where she had cooked their meal. “I carried you through the rains and over the gorge.”
“You are a boy.”
“I am.” He smiled tentatively. “And I am the beast who slept in the nests of ice and snow that you made. My people are not bound to one form…. I am called Bjarn.”
Nesha sat down. What he said was stranger than anything she’d ever heard, but as he moved, she knew it to be true. The boy-who-was-a-bear tilted his head a bit when she spoke to him, just as the ice-bear had. The startling black eyes that stared from the boy’s face were the same eyes that had peered at her each morning when she woke. Bjarn spoke the truth.
Nesha wasn’t sure what question to ask first. “Why travel with me? Why bring me here?”
For a moment, Bjarn stood silently. When he spoke, his voice was rough. “The lands grow warmer. My people struggle with the heat; the months when the cold seems to grow less cause such sickness.” Bjarn sat down in front of her and took her hands. “Your gift … it would bring such peace to my people. The eldest suffer when the warmth grows too much. I am not skilled with words. I thought if I could bring you to my father, he would know what to say.” Bjarn looked at the other bears and then back at her. “Will you stay awhile with us?”
Nesha imagined people cherishing her cursed breath, a life where she was not feared. “And if I wanted to return home in the coldest months?”
Bjarn looked solemn as he said, “I would carry you there if you wished. Or if you’d rather, there are others who could carry you.”
As she considered what Bjarn had said, Nesha gazed at the waiting group of bears. Most sat nestled in the rocky crevices, but a couple wrestled with the cubs. She looked back at Bjarn. Though his form was different, Bjarn was the same kind creature he’d been as an ice-bear. “I would have you travel with me.”
“I would like that very much.” Smiling, Bjarn pulled her to her feet.
Clutching his hand in hers, she turned toward the mouth of the tunnels. “Can I meet them?”
He grinned and waved at the ice-bears. One of the largest ambled forward first.
“My grandmother stays in this form almost always since the snows are so brief.” Bjarn rested his face on the great bear’s head in a hug of sorts. “She had heard the stories whispered of you, of your gift, and so I traveled to find you….”
“Thank you,” Nesha murmured to the bear, joyous at hearing her icy breath called a gift, at finding a home where she would be welcome in the months away from her father’s lands.
The bear rubbed her muzzle against Nesha’s arm.
Bjarn pointed at several cubs who were rolling perilously close to a cluster of stalagmites. “The youngest, my sisters, stay furred as much as they can. They race through the cave tunnels”—he paused and shook his head as one of the cubs hurtled toward another, larger bear—“until my father takes them out to explore the ice dunes and give the elders a bit of quiet….”
And so long into the night they sat and talked, the girl who carried winter’s kiss and the boy who was a bear.
Thus began their n
ew life. Bjarn still carried Nesha when they went out during the day, but now they were joined by Bjarn’s family. Now, for the first time in her life, Nesha could laughed freely, setting snow squalls to dance over the ledges. Her new familywho-were-bears did not fear her; instead, they spun and laughed in the cold air. And when they returned to the caves, Bjarn walked hand in hand with her—listening as she told him of her life and dreams, and telling her of his life and dreams.
This was the way of their lives for many months.
Then, one winter afternoon, the sky heavy with snow, Nesha said to Bjarn, “Come with me to see my father.”
Bjarn asked, “To stay?”
“No. This is my home.” She motioned toward the great white plain where the cubs were sliding in circles. “With them, with you. Now and always.”
“Always,” Bjarn repeated softly.
And so it was that Nesha shared the first of many kisses with Bjarn, the boy-who-had-become-herbeloved.
SEBASTIAN LOWERED THE BODY TO THE ground in the middle of a dirt-and-gravel road in the far back of a graveyard. “Crossroads matter, Eliana.”
He pulled a long, thin blade and slit open the stomach. He reached his whole forearm inside the body. His other hand, the one holding the knife, pressed down on her chest. “Until this moment, she could recover.”
Eliana said nothing, did nothing.
“But hearts matter.” He pulled his arm out, a red slippery thing in his grasp.
He tossed it to Eliana.
“That needs buried in sanctified ground, and she”—he stood, pulled off his shirt, and wiped the blood from his arm and hand—“needs to be left at crossroad.”