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Sep 15, 2006



Sep 15, 2006

I honestly have no idea where this story came from. It's not the sort of thing I've ever written before.

The Stag Lord's Wife (767 words)

It began in a small town library. There was a storyteller, with lined and tired face, in a rocking chair, and boys and girls of various ages sprawled around her on the colorful carpet.

She coughed, set the chair to rocking, and told them a story. The children listened, fascinated, and their parents browsed the stacks and flipped through magazines or had a smoke break.

There was a vast wood, silent, ancient, and a castle in a grove at the center of the woods. Its stones mingled with vines and moss, and on each tower there hung animal skulls, the black emptiness of their eye sockets watching the forest. Inside the castle lived a man who wore the skull of a stag, and his eyes, through the dark slits of the skull, shone emerald and dark as holly leaves.

A woman came through the forest, dressed in a gown of green, its hem wet with dirt.

The children went home. They built forests out of hedges and thickets, and castles out of cardboard boxes. For stag skulls the boys wore baseball caps festooned with pipe cleaners. The girls dressed in princess gowns they colored green with Crayola marker, or if they were lucky, they had a green dress they could wear.

They would play nothing else.

'Here,' said the woman who had come through the forest, and she offered the stag lord a piece of fruit. 'My gift, with which I hope to earn your love.' The fruit, dark red as a ripe berry, swollen, filled her cupped hands. The stag lord took the fruit from her, and beneath the skull his eyes glittered with triumph.

The girls gave the boys apples, strawberries, pomegranates.

The boys ate.

The story spread.

He lifted the fruit to his mouth beneath the skull, and the sound of his teeth cleaving the fruit's flesh tore into the air. His fingers split its skin, dug into its yielding contents, tore it wide. Its juice ran blood-crimson over his chin, dripped onto his bare chest.

The children told their parents the story. The parents told it to each other, surprised at its darkness, the strange hold it had on their children. Then, confused, wondering at themselves, laughing it off as trying to understand their children, they walled off their studies, their bedrooms. Placed print-outs of stag skulls on the doors.

Some men went to the local taxidermist and bought stag antlers. Ripped them from their mountings, and remounted them on metal bands shaped to fit their own heads.

Women went into their closets. Dug out old prom, bridesmaid, wedding dresses in shades of green, fought themselves back into the too-tight clothes of youth.

Told the story to their children at bedtime, ignoring the dog-eared 'Where the Wild Things Are' and 'Love You Forever' resting, forgotten, on night tables.

Concerned parents posted the story to forums, asked others if they had heard of this story, of the stag lord and his wife.

The story thrived.

The woman watched him eat the fruit in silence. Her eyes were dark and knowing. 'Is it good, my lord?'

'The best I have ever tasted.'

Knives disappeared from kitchen drawers. Bolt cutters from garages and workshops.

Everywhere, the shadow of stag's antlers moved across walls, brick exteriors, the sidewalks.

'Would you know from what tree it came?'

The stag lord sucked the red from his clawed fingers. 'Yes.'

Castles of cardboard boxes smeared with blood.

Suburban houses with animal skulls mounted on every corner.

One story supplanting all else.

The woman smiled. The thorned twist of her smile pierced the stag lord's heart through. She curled her fingers in the emerald cloth of her gown and tore it in two, baring her chest, and the great bloody hole there, where her heart was missing. 'To earn your heart, I have given my own, all its dreams and desires,' she said, and went with open eyes into the blood-streaked hands that reached for her.

The first murders came a week after the storyteller spoke at the library. Rib cages forced open with bolt cutters, the skin peeled back with butcher's knives, the hearts gone, lifted high in trembling hands.

The second string of three hundred deaths lit up the entire eastern seaboard.

It consumed. Leaped the oceans.

In the forest, in a castle eaten through by vines, live the stag lord and his wife, one heart beating alone in the dark.

In every city, you will find them: women and girls with their chests cracked open to the sky, and men, crowned in stag's horns, eating their hearts.

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