The Omen of Two-Heads

by Scott Russell Duncan

Evil omen one happened ten years before the chalk-white men with beards and thunder in their hands came:  a flaming ear of corn shot in the sky and glowed like a wound in heaven. The second omen: the House of Authority burst in flames.  The third evil omen was the straw temple of the god of fire got struck by lightning.  The fourth: fire streamed through the sky on a sunny day.  The fifth: wind lashed Lake Texcoco into a flood.  The sixth evil omen was the weeping sound night after night crying, “My children, we must flee!”  The seventh: fishermen caught an odd bird, ash colored with a mirror in its head that showed the night sky. They brought the bird to emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin.  He looked in the mirror and saw a vision of the war of pale men riding deer. He looked once more and the odd bird was gone.

The eighth omen was me.

A two-headed man was seen in the streets of Tenochtitlan.  The seers said that he was deformed. That he was an oddity. They took him to emperor’s zoo of human curiosities and eventually to the Casa Denegrida–the room with no windows painted all black in which the emperor meditated in darkness on what the seers told him. When Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin came to the Black House to see him, this evil omen, Two-Heads had disappeared.

More recent scribes write that the Mexica scribes, who recorded the omen of Two-Heads decades after the conquest, must have been alluding to the formation of the new race, the mestizo. And today, when you see me with my two heads creeping around the streets of California, it is still an omen.  The pocho, the Anglo-Chicano, the coconut. The coming again of the mixed blood, mixed culture of European and Native American.

The American scribes have already foretold this through their haruspication of population science and census projections.  Aztecs called these omens evil, and likewise the American scribes portray the Anglo-Chicano with xenophobia, as a crisis to be solved, a Mexapocalypseomen of the end times of Anglo privilege. Behold the terror of the future.  Two-heads, the coming of the mestizo, the looming exotic native norm. Being led into the Casa Denegrida of your mind at night, into your dreams of who you are and what you will be.


Scott Russell Duncan, a.k.a. Scott Duncan-Fernandez, recently completed The Ramona Diary of SRD, a memoir of growing up Chicano-Anglo and a fantastical tour reclaiming the myths of Spanish California. Scott’s fiction involves the mythic, the surreal, the abstract, in other words, the weird. Scott received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California where he now lives and writes. He is an assistant editor at Somos en escrito. See more about his work and publications on Scott’s website, scottrussellduncan.com.

Images in this post are from the Florentine and Mendoza codices. 

A Shift of Sex: A Transgender Reading of An Ancient Folktale

by Psyche Z. Ready

I have always loved stories of cross-dressing heroines. It’s a familiar trope in literature, legends, and fairy tales: a woman dresses as a man to solve some problem, or to save the day. In her male guise, she is strong, brave, skillful, and clever.[1] At the end of the tale, however, when the conflict is resolved, she usually puts back on her apron and returns home. In many variants, home is a controlling father, a bullying brother, or a drunken husband. In my search for variants, I found another tale type that ends differently. In “The Shift of Sex,” or ATU 514[2] , the heroine does not go home after her adventures, but stays in her male disguise and eventually becomes a man. Most variants follow this narrative (I’ve used the gendered pronouns given in most sources):

An elderly father is asked by the king to enter military service. Because he is old and has no sons, his daughter dresses in his clothes, borrows his horse, and joins for him. With the help of her magical horse, she excels at all she does. She quickly becomes the king’s favorite soldier, and his daughter falls in love with her. When the community begins to doubt that she is a man, they set her on impossible quests that she completes easily. Her final battle is with a demon or witch, who curses her with their dying breath: “If you are a man, be now a woman! If you are a woman, be now a man.” The hero returns home to his castle where he is celebrated, his wife rejoices, and they all live happily ever after.

“The Shift of Sex” is a very old and widespread tale: it has been told for at least two, possibly three thousand years[3] , across Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. There are at least twenty-six variants in English today, and I have spent the last year researching them. In my academic work on the subject, I argue that this tale type was historically a space to express frustrations at the limitations of the female gender. Today, however, this tale has the potential to hold space for a broader expression of gender identity.

An issue that some modern readers have with this tale is that, while it begins as a queer romance between two women, it ends with what feels like a return to heteronormativity. When the protagonist changes gender, the couple becomes heterosexual. Some readers interpret the story as a narrative message that says a happy ending for two women in love is impossible. The story is read as a condemnation of queer love. I read this story, however, not as a queer romance gone hetero, but as a trans love story with a happy ending. I would not argue that audiences thousands of years ago saw the protagonist in this tale as transgender[4], but present-day audiences certainly can.

In the many variants of this tale type, there are differences in narrative structure, tone, and detail, but the one element that is present in each is the happy ending: the princess is overjoyed that her partner has changed gender, and she and the royal family accept him, and they live happily ever after. Historically, our literary and popular narratives are lousy with stories of characters who transgress gender roles or heteronormativity and suffer for it; even contemporary stories with queer and non-binary characters kill them off, or depict them as monsters. The message spoken by these narratives is clear: any transgression of traditional gender and sexuality will be punished.

While we as a culture continue the struggle to create happy endings for transgressive and transgender characters in our own popular literature, we can take heart that there is a folktale that has been told and retold for thousands of years with a transgressive, cross-dressing, sex-changing protagonist who is not punished, but rewarded for their bravery, skill, and strength with wealth, marriage, and a happy life.

Variants of “The Shift of Sex” available online:

    • A Romanian tale, collected in Andrew Lang’s 1901 The Violet Fairy Book.
    • A beautiful, literary version of the tale in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
    • A Hungarian variant is translated on the excellent blog of storyteller Csenge Virág Zalka.
    • Folklorist Robert Elsie has translated an Albanian variant on his site.


Psyche Z. Ready is a reader, writer, and an instructor of English Composition at George Mason University. She loves folk narratives, fantasy, and genderfucking.


[1] Examples: Tale type ATU 884 (“The Forsaken Fiancée”), ATU 884B (“The Girl as Soldier”), and ATU 884B* (“Girl Dressed as a Man Deceives the King”).

[2]The Aarne-Thompson-Uther index is a classification system for folktales, grouped by similar motifs. Folklorists Pauline Greenhill and Emilie Anderson-Grégoire discuss ATU 514 at length in Unsettling Assumptions: Tradition, Gender, Drag.

[3] A variant appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which dates to 8 CE; another in the Indian Mahabarata, which originates in the 7th or 8th century BCE; and also “Alimbeglanya” in the Ossetian Nart Sagas, which were compiled around 2,000 BCE.

[4] These tales were told long ago and in disparate regions with notions of sex, gender, and gender identity unquestionably different from our own; to apply a contemporary understanding of gender identity to these cultures is a form of conceptual colonialism.

Illustration by H.J. Ford.  Taken from: Lang, Andrew, ed. The Violet Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1901.

Every story begins with a story that you already know

by Brian Oliu

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Every story begins with a story that you already know: something that is entrenched in your core despite it seeming completely foreign at first—the moment when you realize that you dislike the bitter taste of almonds; the sight of your own blood as you dab at it with your thumb—the scarlet seeping into the ridges of your fingerprints before you rinse your body of itself clear in the bathroom sink.

At the edge of my bed, a bookshelf filled with hardcovers—texts that I could call “mine” in a way that children claim things; all things received as a gift; the ornate pages, the gold trim that I would scratch at with my fingernails if I hadn’t already bitten them to flatness. The stories, too, were mine: girls and boys and frogs and toads rooted to my stomach, curving their way around the bumps in my spine, as if they had always been there, just beneath the surface, leaving their marks on the inside of my skin.

The games too, were mine, in a different way: whereas the stories of my youth were found within, as if they had been stitched into my core, the games were explosive in their moments—they burst into my world from the exterior, and it was my duty to capture those days sitting on a stained carpet in an upstairs hallway trying to make this other version of myself run fast enough that the boomerang would get lost amongst the rocks.

These too, were stories that I already knew: of awakening in a land where all things are equal and the touch of a fleck of light could kill you where you stood—these stories of danger, or warning, of beware the outside, but push forward toward an unknown end and eat all of the fruit whole.

There was a time when I would have to shut the game off, but I could enter a different world through the pages at the foot of my bed, often scanning the same stories over and over before it was time to put my glasses on the nightstand and let all worlds blur. Some nights, when the room was too warm from the heat of all of the electronics, I could see the images of the parallax scrolling still engrained in the darkness, glowing a warm red, even when all of the lights were out—a constant revisiting, as if I were the vacuum tube casting images against the blackened windows.


Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games, Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015), essays on NBA Jam, and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. He is at work on a memoir about translating his grandfather’s book on long distance running and recent work appears in Denver Quarterly, The Rumpus, Passages North, and Another Chicago Magazine.

The Body Horror of Tam Lin

by Sonya Vatomsky

A note for readers: this essay mentions sexual violence.

bc0da84b13315d7d46f4457197fb0affIn folklore, the term “transformation chase” refers to the use of shapeshifting as a means of combat or escape. The wizard duel in the animated film The Sword In The Stone, for one, but more traditionally the plot of several Celtic ballads. “The Ballad of Tam-Lin” was included in a book of folktales I had as a child, translated from song to prose. I remember loving it. I remember the way the name “Tam-Lin” felt on my Russian tongue, liquid and strong. For those unfamiliar with the story, it goes like this: a girl comes upon Tam-Lin in the woods of Carterhaugh, where he is being held prisoner by the Queen of Fairies. To rescue him from the Queen and win him as a lover, the girl must hold him fast through countless transformations: a roaring lion, a terrifying snake, the painful scald of flame. To my young sensibilities, this seemed extremely romantic. I appreciated the ritual of endurance; trials and pageantry were a necessity of love stories because some outside force willed it, not because of the lovers themselves. Years later, “The Ballad of Tam-Lin” made me pissed.

Granted, what sounds romantic to a four-year-old-girl can hardly be expected to ring true to a thirty-year-old non binary queer person. All the same, I wanted to slice apart this story with my feminist lance — which is like a feminist lens, but for folktales. The basic premise of “Tam-Lin,” where a woman holds a man as he hurts her, was no longer abstract but a common narrative played out through a million books and films fetishizing a woman’s abnegation and self-sacrifice for the sake of a man’s potential. “Tam-Lin” became our culture’s unfortunate connection between pain and love, equating the latter with a willingness to suffer on behalf of another. “It’s only true if you bruise by the force of it,” as Chris Corner once said. Fuck. What had originally drawn me to such a sexist, heteronormative depiction of devotion? A poem from my poetry collection, Salt Is For Curing, tried to understand: “She holds and she hurts and / she wins. Maybe I liked it because the woman / is doing something, not waiting. It’s always / either waiting or hurting, you know, and often / one can’t tell the difference.”

Yet the more I thought about it, the more “The Ballad of Tam-Lin” seemed itself to change shape, to become something other than what I had previously seen. As I looked back on an extremely difficult period of my life when I frequently lashed out in anger and attempted to isolate myself from those around me — and as I thought about the people who remained by my side throughout this — I began to see “Tam-Lin” not as a patriarchal narrative of pain-acceptance but as one where a character holds another through change. Tam-Lin did not become a flame and slowly burn hotter; he shifted indiscriminately, the changes done to him as he assumed monstrous forms akin to those in body-horror films like The Fly or Tusk. The transformation chase in “Tam-Lin” is a battle against the Fairy Queen and not really between the two individuals. In this forest, the courage required in love is made literal.

To be forcibly changed, especially as a means of achieving freedom, is a strong metaphor that does double-duty here: the girl can leave the forest and head home any time, but enduring the transformations is the only way for Tam-Lin to escape the Fairy Queen. Someone we love can certainly assume different shapes to frighten or hurt us, but the experiences that make us shift and change are as varied as all the animals in the wood of Carterhaugh. Which is to say: is it possible that there is something beautiful in love’s tenacity? Not in the sense that it’s good or admirable to endure pain, but in the sense that a transformation chase represents the monstrous qualities people display as they pass through tragedy — the qualities we might take on during the processing of grief or trauma. This link of change with pain, especially in the context of external pain (vis-à-vis the Fairy Queen), is in some ways a very honest look at any long-term relationship, where we must each see the other’s wounds and mold each other back into, if not our perfect form, then at least something passable. A transformation chase is not discomfort for the sake of another but the choice to remain by their side in a moment of shared discomfort — because, after all, it is only in fairy tales that change can happen with something as easy as a kiss.


Sonya Vatomsky is a Russian American non-binary artist with too many feelings on the inside and too much cat hair on the outside. They were born in Moscow and currently live in Seattle with their cat, Magpie Underfoot, and a growing collection of taxidermy, wet specimens, and other oddities. Salt Is For Curing (Sator Press, 2015) is their full-length debut — a poetry collection about bones, dill, and survival. Get in touch by saying their name five times in front of a bathroom mirror or at @coolniceghost and sonyavatomsky.com.

Image by Jill Karla Schwarz.

Editor’s Note: Modern-Day Mike Finks

A note for readers: this essay mentions physical and sexual violence. 

Once I tried reading a 900-page book called A Treasury of American Folklore, by the folklorist B.A. Botkin. But I only got 60 pages in before dumping the “treasure” at a book swap.

It was the stories of Mike Fink that did it, a Mississippi River boatman of the post-American Revolution era celebrated for his outrageous boasts and pranks. His boasts were of the variety that he could “outrun, outjump, outshoot, outdrink, and lick any man in the country.” And his pranks? Well, he had a curious sense of fun, this Mike Fink, and a suspiciously specific kind of targets. Like the time he shot an African-American boy walking by in the heel just because he didn’t like its shape, and the time he shot the scalp-lock off a Cherokee man’s head for acting too proud, or the time he made his wife lie in a pile of leaves and set them on fire, letting her go just after her hair and clothes started burning, all for looking at another man.

Botkin labels Fink a “pseudo bad man” without explaining what that means. Along with many other folklorists who’ve written about Fink, he tries to assure us modern folks that Fink wasn’t real, or at least, his pranks weren’t. They couldn’t be, could they?

Though I’d never heard of Mike Fink before this, I don’t need any academic or historical investigation to know he was real. That he is real. I’ve known him. Maybe you have too. Maybe like me, you see him every day on the news, in life, in the memory of personal experience. Sometimes he wears a badge, sometimes a suit. Sometimes he’s followed me on the street or leered at me on the train. When I was young I sometimes encountered him on the playground or in the school hallway, trying to lift up my skirt or grab some part of me. More than once I’ve loved him and forgiven him. Sometimes he’s the picture of everything all good and charming. Oftentimes he’s put in charge of things, more than just riverboats, like committees, laws—and bodies, usually black, brown, and female.

I think now, this election year, he’s too close for comfort to being put in charge of the whole country.

I dumped that treasury of American folklore because I was too angry and ashamed to see what else was in the folk history of the United States, what further ugliness my country’s mythology had to reveal. The book confirmed what I’ve always known about my country, and my place as a woman in it, but don’t often like to face. I can’t afford to ignore the truth and cost of such “treasure” anymore. Mike Fink is deserving of dumping. America needs the coinage of a new, transformative folklore.


This Editor’s Note was written by Tiny Donkey Editor René Madonna Ostberg.

Thirst

by Harmony Hazard

I picture my mother at the helm of a boat somewhere in the thick of ocean. Floating behind the boat is a glacier, a compression of quiet grace. My mother has tied a thousand ancient ropes to the glacier and is pulling it through the water with the same conviction that I imagine Moses had when he parted the sea.

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For years, she has whispered her plan to us. Before they all melt, my mother wants to transport a glacier from Alaska to wherever my sister and I are living, so that we will have a secure source of water. To keep it from melting, she will coat the glacier in sawdust, as if sprinkling confectioner’s sugar on a slice of bundt cake. Then, she will chain it to a tugboat and tow it across the ocean, where it will finally be left in a dry pond or a desert’s scorched riverbed so that my sister and I will not die of thirst. We have always rolled our eyes to this idea. Impossible, we’ve said. But, recently, I’ve wondered.

On the night of her seventieth birthday, my mother told my sister and I that some scientists believe the moon was once part of the earth. This theory surmises that when the moon separated from the earth, the Pacific Ocean was formed in its void. We were eating pineapple-upside-down cake in the flicker of candlelight, she was wearing a white kimono and a halo made from fourteen carmine flowers, and my sister and I balked at the idea. But my mother insisted until my sister googled it. It’s called the fission hypothesis, my sister says. I guess I have to get a PhD, my mother responded with a tilt of her halo, for people to listen to me.

Over a decade ago, my mother had a theory that the energy from the moving bodies at gyms or playgrounds could be used for electricity. When she and I walked past fitness centers with treadmills in the windows, she pointed to the sweating bodies and said, Imagine how many light bulbs they could be powering? My eyes went from the runners’ wet, mangled hair to the ceiling, where fluorescent lights hummed incessantly above their heads, but I wasn’t convinced. Years later, my sister saw an advertisement: a company was utilizing the velocity of playing children to power electrical outlets in a playground.

Maybe I’m wrong to not believe that you can part the sea, that a body can run enough to flash on a light bulb, that the moon can slice itself from the earth and spiral out into the knitted black of the sky. Maybe I am wrong to not picture the glacier, hulking and glossy, rising over the sea like a skyscraper; to not look closely at this image until I can see my mother’s reflection in the ice, waving at the distant sight of land, her salty seaweed hair swept into the sea-wind, rough waves smacking against the sides of the boat. If I look even closer, I will discern on my mother’s face not only the knowledge that her family’s thirst will forever be quenched, but also that now, after all these years, they will maybe, finally, believe her.


Harmony Hazard hails from both Tucson and New York. She is completing her MFA in creative writing with Stony Brook University. She edits the “Participate” column in make/shift magazine, has been published in CALYX and Border Crossing and is part of a collective editing an anthology of creative writing about the Sonoran Desert borderlands.

Photograph by Timothy Neesam.

Our Kids Are Singing About Child Sacrifice

by Claire Zlotnicki

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When my sisters and I were young, my dad used to sit one of us on his lap and thump on our back and chant “Hurley-burley, thumpety whack! Pretty good fellow, pretty good back! How many fingers do I hold up?” He would pause for us to guess a number, then resume the chant. “Two, she said, and three there were. Pretty good fellow to go to the war!”

Nobody I’ve talked to knows where this rhyme comes from—maybe it’s about sending child soldiers to war, or about the arbitrary nature of death. Often, those people tried to look  at simple nursery rhymes and try to find dark or scary origins for them. But most nursery rhymes, I’ve found, weren’t even created for children—they were the jumbled together songs and poems that tired mothers brought into the nursery, searching for anything to soothe a crying child. In fact, most nursery rhymes probably don’t mean anything, although one of the few that might have dark origins is “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Archeological evidence supports the claim that “London Bridge” is about human sacrifice—specifically, the practice of burying children in the foundations of a bridge to keep it standing. Though there are no findings of human remains in the current-day London Bridge, other old bridges have been found with human remains. Many of us have played the children’s game that goes with the song—two kids form an arch with their arms which falls to catch one of the others passing underneath. Maybe that “caught” person represents the victim of superstitious bridge-builders of the past.

But does the fact that this familiar chant might be about child sacrifice mean I shouldn’t tell it to my children one day? Or that I shouldn’t pass down my father’s rhyme? No, I think it means I should. Nobody knows what my father’s untraceable chant or “London Bridge” or “Ring Around the Rosie” are really about, but the world is still as dangerous a place as it was back then. We can make up our own stories as we go along, but the origins we give them today will be no better than the ones they might really have. Human nature hasn’t improved over the centuries. Old stories about children with candles who were killed to protect an ancient bridge aren’t fooling anyone that we’re better off today—not even our kids.


Claire Zlotnicki is pursuing a Women’s and Gender Studies degree at the College of Charleston. She graduated from the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Creative Writing. She is from Florence, South Carolina.

Between Life and Death

by Bethy Wernert

I am four when she first appears to me.

Trembling and afraid, I lie in ICU, other children dying around me. My parents sob silently. A mournful priest murmurs the last rites to someone in the room next to us, separated only by a thin curtain.

My seizures have brought me here, to this place between life and death, and I feel my soul lingering in the hazy realm between worlds.

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As I lie in the hospital bed, the mattress firm and cold, a shadow dances across the curtains. I feel a hand—a caressing breeze—stroke my hair. I can’t see her, but I feel her. Ancient, like trees rooted in centuries. She smells of earth after rain, and birds outside raise their choral hymn in honor of her. She whispers, her voice, maternally soothing, “Everything is okay. This is who you are, and you always will be.” She then disappears as a brush of wind trickles through the window.

The doctors come in with the verdict. “Epilepsy,” they tell me, “a seizure disorder. Idiopathic—no one knows how it’s caused.”

My parents leave the hospital, wondering why I was “cursed to have this disorder, this—this disease.” I leave the hospital feeling blessed. As tired and scared as I was, I now feel at peace.

Over time, I discover that I’m not alone, that epilepsy has long been associated with spirituality, wiring our brains to the belief in the mystical. [1] Our brains become conduits, neurons sparking our sensations to perceive the otherworldly amidst the mundane. Believing in magic, my mother raised me on myths of fairies and ghosts, shadowy nature spirits that drift between worlds. I’ve always believed in these spirits, but epilepsy allows me to sense them.

Eventually, my seizures are controlled with heavy doses of anti-epileptic medication, pentagonal, powder-white pills labeled Lamictal. And through the passing years, the epileptic sparks in my brain cease to light.

“You no longer have seizures,” my neurologist proclaims.

I feel a loss of identity at his words, my sense of self, melting into nothingness. What am I without my seizures? Without everything I’ve experienced? Without everything I’ve seen?

Yet, my soul remembers that realm, that place between life and death, and she still visits me, wandering through the shadows when the air is damp with rain, when the creosote breathes its gentle perfume, and when the mist clings to the crevices of the mountains. She comes when the sky is darkened with magic and storms, and she whispers, “This is who you are, and you always will be.”


[1] Coles, Alasdair. “Temporal lobe epilepsy and Dostoyevsky seizures: Neuropathology and Spirituality.” Royal College of Psychiatrists (2013): 1-7. Web. 7 June 2016.


Bethy Wernert lives and works in Tucson, Arizona after graduating with a BA in English from Northern Arizona University. Her nonfiction has previously appeared in Communion. When not working and writing, she likes to sit in nature and drink tea.

The Morals of the Stories

by Carmen Maria Machado

A note for readers: the links below lead to many places, including articles describing physical and sexual violence. 

If you are a woman and you are curious, grief is not far behind. Your thirst will be quenched for a moment, yes, but then consequences will limp-lope toward you like an injured man (and isn’t that the world’s most dangerous creature, an injured man?) and you will regret all of your choices. And if you are a woman and you age, you will be invisible and no one will want you, but if you tighten, lift, tweak, cut, suck, pack, polish, paint, or conceal, then vanity is your weakness and you deserve what comes to you. And if you are a woman, your pleasure is a problem that needs solving. And if you are a woman and someone needs a bartering chip, you are that bartering chip. You can be bought and sold, taken without consequence, passed around, bound against your will. Your worth, to them, falls somewhere between organic greens and broodmare—an object to be consumed, fucked, acted upon. Do you see the pattern, now? And if you are a woman and you promise something to man or beast, that promise is eternal and binding. You might think your mind is yours to change, but you would be mistaken. And if you are a woman who walks in proximity to a monster, even if you don’t know it, even if the monster has soft fur and a kind smile and friends, even if you have been sent to the monster by another monster, then your downfall is of your own making. And if you are a woman and you do what they want, you will die, and if you are a woman and you reject what they demand of you, you will also die. And if you are a woman, they are coming for your voice. And if you are a woman, they are coming for your mind. And if you are a woman, they are coming for your body: Fire will find your flesh, the knife will find your chest, the boot will find your neck, the bullet will find your brain. Because if you are a woman, you look delicious, and the world is hungry for all the wrong lessons.


Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press. She is a fiction writer, critic, and essayist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, Best Horror of the Year, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and lives in Philadelphia with her partner.

004. Charmander

by Colette Arrand

“The flame on its tail shows the strength of its life force. If it is weak, the flame also burns weakly.” – Pokémon Gold

Say I discovered my name on an alien terrestrial planet where, stranded, I’m dying in a network of caves. In the heart of them, my name is always burning. It’s my job to inhabit cold rock and live, somehow, but I am attracted to that molten core. Into it, I disappear completely.

Or, say that my name is a witch who either helps travelers or eats them. Let’s say that I have been both travelers.

Or, say that my name is a feast.

Or, say that my name is a locked room that I’m not allowed to enter, that every other door in the mansion is open to me and thus of no interest. The man who owns the house says that my name is blood and death, but through the keyhole my name is a tongue of pale fire flickering in the dark.

Or, say that my name is in the heart of a forest where I’m lost and the wind conspires against my torch. My name lives in a house I’ve never seen and it waits for me to come for it, to rescue it from a curse. My name is frightening, but I’ll know it is mine when I’ve pressed my lips to it, when it transforms as I’ve dreamed of transforming, which is to say that it becomes me and I become my name.

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Colette Arrand lives in Athens, Georgia. She is the author of the chapbook To Denounce the Evils of Truth. Her work has appeared in The Atlas Review, CutBank, and elsewhere. She tweets @gh0stplanet and can be found online at colettearrand.com