This is a piece for Anna Meade’s flash fiction contest at Yearning for Wonderland. With apologies to Tracy McCusker, who’s heard this idea somewhere before.
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They’d brought her to the country to heal. The fresh air will do you good, they’d said. As if the creaking house and smell of rotting October leaves would somehow undo the slow cellular unraveling inside her. As if she’d ever be allowed outside in the cold autumn rain.
Here was her life. A beachhead of pillows above shoals of white sheets, armies of prescription bottles standing sentry, favorite books stacked in a hopeless fortress against boredom. The distant murmurs of her parents, in some parallel universe where people were healthy.
Rest, and get well.
Then one night she saw the goblinoid shadow, rendered by moonlight, flicker across her bed. The skittering of tiny feet on the roof.
She’d hid under the covers, quivering in terror. In the morning, she’d found a tiny doll. Knots of pale yarn, raisins for eyes, a blank idiot smile stitched across its face. A dry topknot of hair. Her hair.
It liked her.
So she waited. When her parents brought her cookies, she saved one for it. When she saw its shadow in the corner, she begged it to speak. But it never did.
Not until one rain-sheeted midnight when she felt bony fingers take her hand, and woke to see pale yellow eyes glimmering in the dark.
It held her hand and beckoned her to follow. Down the stairs in her bare feet, out into the cold wet grass and cold rain and the fresh air her parents had wanted her to have. It whispered of adventures.
She was so happy she barely noticed the first rasping cough that shook her as she followed her friend into the thorny darkness of the wood.
Come home with us, it said. Wither, and live forever.
Sicken, and be healed.
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