Category Archives: Issue 46

The Witch in the Woods Falls in Love a Third Time, by Kate Lechler


Here’s what nobody told you yet: I loved both those girls.

The story as you probably heard it goes, once upon a time, a witch met your great-great-grands in the woods, blessed the good sister, cursed the bad. The sweet one went on to marry some jumped-up slick-faced city boy, while the sorry one lost herself in the woods and was probably eaten by a cougar.

That’s true as far as it goes, but the truer truth is that I intended neither boon nor bane. Since I split from my mother like a sprout from a seed, I had never laid eyes on another human ’til they came. When they did, the only words I said were words of love, declarations of devotion. How they twisted when they passed my lips, I couldn’t say.

The first sister came by my hollow on a fool’s errand, looking for water from a dried-up spring. I should’ve stayed hidden but when I saw her—petal-soft, virtue-bright—I filled like a cup with longing for something I never knew. I told her so.

Shaking like a spooked rabbit, she tried to talk. Instead she choked up garnets and emeralds, spat spring beauties and azaleas. Her quartz-cracked lips brushed, bleeding, against bearded iris the way I wished she’d brush against me.

She didn’t brush against me, not even as she scrambled towards the road heading to town. And I never got her name to call it after her.

A while later the next one showed up, champing at the bit for the same blessing. Alive with greed and cunning—for fame, for riches, for a better-looking fellow than her sister’s—but mostly just alive, a smile coiled in the corner of her mouth. I knew I should stay quiet but I burned like foxfire, cold-hot all at once at the look of her. My words this time laid eggs in her belly, slithered up her throat.

Last I saw of her, the blunt head of a kingsnake was slipping past the muscle of her mouth, making its way into the open air.

I loved them so much, they choked on it.

Believe it or not, I own a Bible. I know what the Good Book says. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” But I learned that, god or not, the word infects. Say the words too hasty—”I like you,” “you’re beautiful,” “stay”—and the knowledge bleeds through the back of time, altering anything that came before. Like gunpowder in a mine, it detonates in the brain and body, a tingling at the base of the spine, the soft hairs of the arm raised up in surprise.

Love lays its eggs in the lover, too. Like a worm no thicker than a hair can crawl inside the brain of a cricket, take a creature made for jumping and singing and make him head for water and drown himself. Love takes hold of the mind and sets a new course, steering from a cabin of meat and hormones, locked in on the object of desire. I could no more stay away from those girls than an ant could leave the scent trail leading to its nest.

Is there anyone who can remain unchanged in the face of love?

After those girls left me, love turned inward, cancer-like, became hard, slick, spongy. I waited in the hollow like a seed in an airless cave, while love bubbled up, bloomed out, snaked through my guts, squatted in my throat.

My body betrayed me. The only use for my eyes was looking at theirs. The only use for my nose, smelling them. My fingers itched to touch their arms, their cheeks, their perfect thighs. Love tore at me until I fell apart, a clatter and mess of bits that didn’t match any more.

Now you.

I don’t know how long it’s been. You’re the third to arrive—great-great-grand-niece-or-other of the two before—when you park your blue hatchback up the road and stalk through the undergrowth towards that spring. At dusk, you set up camp in the hollow, and I watch the neat bones of your wrists as you tie down the rainfly, read the murmur on your lips as you hum along with the battery-powered contraption you brought.

I do not come out.

Love presses words under my tongue, into the soft roof of my mouth. I wake with them tangled in my hair, pressed to my cheek like crystallized tears. I crouch like a waxcap mushroom, gilled with love, breathing clouds of spores, hoping for one of them to root down into the thin skin on the back of your hand, to come up spelling desire.

If I knew writing was safe, I might chance it. Drop verses through your day like maple keys. A sonnet folded like a flower peeping from under the edge of your tent. Haikus rain-slicked to your windshield.

But I learned the price of speaking long ago.

Kate Lechler’s work has appeared in Fireside Fiction, Podcastle, and Kaleidotrope, among other places. She teaches British literature at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., where she lives with her husband, a cat, a ghost-dog, and seven fish. When she’s not at school, you can find her sitting on a lawn chair in her carport, writing about genetically-engineered unicorns and dragons.

850 words, published November 2018, Shimmer #46

Which Witch:

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee

In the Pines, by K.M. Carmien

Hic Sunt Leones, by L.M. Davenport

Rotkäppchen, by Emily McCosh

artwork by Emily McCosh
artwork by Emily McCosh


The wolf arrives the same day Adeline buries Hugo on the edge of the woods, her boy’s grave forming a raft of upturned earth between two trees, just far enough from the fens that he won’t be drowning. She watches two young village men blanket him in icy soil. His shotgun leans against a nearby tree. His hunting knife is tucked under her shirt, against her back. Bone handle followed by colder steel. A second spine to hold her upright.

Behind her, the villagers’ thoughts cover her like a summer heat, so oppressive and consistent she drowns in it. Bears, bears, bears. In winter. Bears.

Her daughter-in-law, Irene, seems to wither under the unspoken worry, all the eyes on her and Adeline’s granddaughter. Adeline touches the other woman’s hand but doesn’t speak—they’ve never been close—and thinks vaguely of wolves. The pressure of their paws on the undergrowth. The heat of their breath. She hums Hugo’s name silently in the back of her throat and holds her granddaughter like a shield before her.

There is a wisp of fur in the long shadows of evening that follows her home.

Her house is not much like her own grandmother’s, but there are several oaks hemming it like old giants. She cracks the window to her bedroom, letting leaves and the occasional leftover acorns find their way onto her floor. Winter air creeps in. She doesn’t sleep. Her body is cold stone under the covers, her face feeling liable to crack.

Some of Hugo’s things are packed between the night-table and bedpost, smelling of pine, sharp and sure. His coat, she has laid across her chest. Like cracked mud or dying bark, a shield of brown fabric against the night. Adeline concentrates on crying and can’t manage it.

When she smells the creature outside, she turns her face into her pillow and refuses to acknowledge the fact that there are paws and teeth and the heady scent of the woods on the other end of the door. Her granddaughter is a mile out of the trees, nearer to town. She hardly knows the girl, and her mother even less. Hugo left these woods for a time, returning with a woman foreign but kind, a daughter in his arms. Adeline loves the child, but hardly knows her granddaughter’s eyes.

Her husband is in the dirt, as her son is now. The house feels quiet, though it’s sheltered only her for years.

Does her granddaughter sleep? There must be many village men awake and on guard against the winter bear that took Hugo. Rifles across their knees, coffee warming their bellies. She must be safe for now. Adeline wonders if the little girl feels the other, not-quite-here things in the woods.

There are paws on her doorstep. This she knows rather than hears, and knows it until she peels back the blankets and puts her bare feet on the wooden floor. Quiet as can be managed, she puts a match to the lantern and lifts the latch on the door. A halo of light cuts across the porch. She doesn’t wish to look long at the illuminated beast waiting for her. She is alone, but not in need of company. Words stick in her throat for too long

“Come to tell me my boy’s dead, you’re a day too late.” Her voice cracks. “Buried him in your woods.”

The wolf is quite larger than the ones that roam in packs, thinking of hunger, hunger, the trees, and sometimes the moon and her stars. They are indifferent to men and women, take only spare moments here and there to be curious of children. They are not this. This reminds her of her childhood. The hands of her grandmother. The whisper of a new cloak around her ankles. Teeth. A hunter’s ax.

Hunter. Hugo. Adeline shakes herself.

She wishes to close the door. Hugo’s shotgun is beside her own at the door. Her limbs protest sudden movements and long walks these days, her eyes don’t like the dark, but her hands know the work of the weapon. Deep down, she knows the shotgun isn’t needed. This is not that wolf. This one whines at her words, for however much wolves understand grief. This is an old friend, but Adeline’s son is dead, and she has no time for the worries of wolves and bears, for the quarrels that foxes start with badgers. The world doesn’t have much time for these kinds of fairy tales any more.

But the whine starts an ache in her chest. You don’t send someone away into the winter woods. Shame over the thought of casting the wolf out mixes with the guilt of ever letting her son set foot between the trees. She lets the door fall open.

He finds the woodstove humming with coals and settles. Mud and bits of leaves are left where his paws fall. His winter coat is matted, and Adeline wants to pick the twigs from it. She approaches slowly, taking a wide loop to the side so he sees her before sidling closer and putting water on the stove to boil. Kicking a pillow closer, she sets herself down. The flame from her lamp and glow of the coals through the cracks of the stove’s door fills the house with ghosts.

“I watched you bury him,” the wolf says, and Adeline finds that a strange comfort.

“Thank you,” she says. Wolves don’t much bother to care for human problems. Not even the one warming himself by her fire.

She leans close enough to stoke the fire back to life. Bitter copper fills her nose, strong enough she can taste it on the back of her tongue. Too much blood today. First, her son’s. Now something she can’t make out in the darkness. She leaves his side long enough to splash her face with water and return with the lamp and clean cloths.

“What happened?”

“I knew a lark that befriended a hawk once. A storm came in spring so bitter and sudden the lark’s eggs froze in her nest—”

“Must it be a grieving story tonight, wolf?”

She has no name for him she can speak. She knows him like a familiar smell or an ache of recognition, the same way she knows when winter has started. Any time she’s asked him for a name, he tells her a story. Sometimes she can peel them apart, find some meaning at the core. Many times, they’re gibberish.

“You are a grieving story tonight, Adeline.”

Her throat burns for a moment so brief she isn’t sure it’s real pain. So carefully it’s hardly even a touch, she brushes her fingers against the edge of his hind leg. The fur is coarse. Heat from his skin makes her cold fingers tingle back to life. The growl in his chest seems automatic, for he lays his head down and keeps his peace the next time she tries. Something has gouged the flesh around his ribs. The shape of the wound is suspiciously tooth-like. Large-jawed.

Bear, she thinks again, suddenly certain of her diagnosis.

It’s been too long since she’s been to the village—she cuts away fur and does her best with what her garden provides. The whole place smells of herbs and oils.

“Once the bear king came out of his winter sleep still tired,” the wolf says; Adeline starts when she hears the word out loud. “He could not hunt nor scavenge and grew more and more ill over the hot days of summer. He slept early in autumn and never woke. Miles away, a new cub was born to take his place. But she was a tiny little thing in her mother’s paws. When one of her kind went mad in the snows, she was not yet old and strong enough to protect her woods.”

They are quiet for longer than Adeline can count. “I think that was the most straightforward thing you’ve ever spoken.”

“The bear…”

“It will be killed.”

“You’re sure of that?”

She isn’t, and her silence speaks to her doubt.

“I am too old for a mad bear, Little Red.”

Adeline puts her hand under his armpit, against his chest bone where his heartbeat taps against her palm like a mothwing. She knows enough of wolves and their panting breaths and hot quick blood to feel dull worry at the slowness of it. Today’s loss has left her nerves splintered, and she feels the weight of the late night. Though the wound is large, it is not deep. This is a sickening Adeline does not understand. Has the entire world fallen to it? She thinks it must have, in this winter where her village is afraid, her son is dead, and her friend…

“That’s not my name,” she says, an old argument. “And I’m too old for you to be dying on my floor, wolf.”

He blinks lazily at the light of the stove, and Adeline throws a blanket over him despite the trouble he’s brought her way.

“There was once what you humans would call a king in his castle—”

Adeline bolts the door for the first time since she was a child, draws every curtain, and curls before the fire like a wolf pup against her old friend.

A thing for certain Adeline knows about wolves: They are mostly not dishonest.

People are quite the opposite, she’s found. Most lie. Sometimes, you’ll find one so honest it hurts. It’s almost laughable that the first wolf she met was intent on deception. He was friendly. Liked the red of the cloak her grandmother made her and wanted to meet the woman. Adeline had been dreaming of wolves since she toddled about on baby legs trying to make friends with the moths and scarecrows. She dreamed of the wolves’ hunting and their eyes. The sharpness of their noses and slopes of their tails. This wolf walked beside her, and she could listen to the otherworldly rasp of his voice as he told her how much he favored the cakes she was bringing to her grandmother.

Later, she figured he liked the cloak not at all, or because it was the color of blood. She knew afterward why he wanted to meet her grandmother.

She saw the other wolf—not the silver-tongued one back in her grandmother’s cottage split down the belly like a fish—while she was behind the outhouse, retching up everything she’d ever eaten. He had the strangest expression. Eyes far too large. Human. She was ready to scream when he ducked his head and stepped away non-threateningly.

“I am sorry.” His voice sounded like he wasn’t used to speaking. He trotted to the side of the house, his nose touching the window frame, before slinking back into the trees.

She saw the hunter hauling the carcass of the creature that had almost eaten her whole.

Her mother forbade her from venturing into the trees after that, and her grandmother came to stay with them for a time. That very night she’d slipped out the window in her nightgown. The village sat in an opening in the woods, miles and miles of trees beginning a dozen yards from her parents’ house. It was spring. Heavy dew hung from the grass, wetting her toes and the hems of her gown. The moon was full, and she wanted to howl at it. When she found the wolf lying at the edge of the trees, she sat on a fallen trunk nearby.

“Are you a fairy tale?” she asked. A dream?


“Why did you apologize to me?”

“Because I protect my kind. And I take care that they do no wrong,” he said, and told her a story about the animals he watches over, and the way the trees arrange themselves.

When she was much older, Adeline taught her son to always beware wolves, but never to hunt them.

A rattling on the door wakes her. The fire has died. The kettle atop the stove is stone cold. Warmth seeps into her skin from the wolf’s snout resting on the side of her waist, but she’s cold down to the bone. She puts a hand on the floor. Her hips, knees, shoulder, neck, even her ankles ache from sleeping on wood. Age does not suit her.

A knock follows the rattling. “Grandma? It’s Fern. Are you there?”

The little girl’s voice is solemn, and Adeline is half awake but vaguely angry. Surely Irene is here as well, but they should not be here, walking through the woods in the morning light, with a starving, rabid bear hunting for all the food it can get.

She glances at the creature beside her, his dark eyes staring unblinking. People are not so ready to believe in magic as they once were. There aren’t many around who will remember a time when you could strike a friendship with a wolf.

“Go into my bedroom,” she says. “In the closet in the back.”

She rises with some difficulty and unbolts the door. The air outside is an icy wave, slithering through her thin nightgown and the blanket over her shoulders. Snow floats on the breezes like scraps of tissue paper, taking their time to disappear onto the ground. The beginnings of an approaching storm. Six-year-old Fern chews on her littlest gloved finger and blinks up at her. Irene stands down off the porch with Albert, one of the bigger young men in the village. A shotgun is slung across his shoulder, and Adeline nods at him approvingly. Irene is not as foolish as Adeline’s sleeping mind imagined. She pulls Fern against her, covering her shoulders in the blanket she wears. The girl wriggles a bit but doesn’t pull free.

“Everything well, Irene?”

Her daughter-in-law looks like she hasn’t slept an hour this last night. Her eyes are dim, skin dull, shoulders bent. She wrings her hands around the handle of the basket of food she’s brought. Adeline figures her own face probably looks just as drawn.

“We think you should come stay with us a while, Mama. At least until that…” —the word catches in her throat, and she visibly glances into the trees— “monster creature is caught.”

Adeline used to bristle against the girl saying the motherly name, but it made Hugo smile, and she’s lost any will to keep up those thoughts. Irene isn’t quite ready to live amongst the trees, but she’s a good girl. She loved Hugo. Instead, Adeline imagines Hugo’s grin whenever it happened, the one tooth on the top row of teeth a hair shorter than the rest.

When Adeline’s grandmother came to live with them, leaving her little cottage in the woods, she never went back. She spent every day with them, and although Adeline cherished having the woman closer, she didn’t fail to notice the way she stared into the trees, how the animals of her mother’s garden came to her, but she never really went back home. Adeline might be able to stand it—never walking these paths again, never sleeping with the eyes of the forest just outside her wall—but this is where Hugo grew up. And she has a friend to care for.

“I’m all right, girl. I don’t go out much in this weather anyhow.”

Irene sucks her top lip in between her teeth, eyes trailing after Fern as she wanders Adeline’s porch. “You’re sure nothing’ll happen to you? You won’t go outside if you think anything’s out there?”

Adeline smiles a little. The movement cracks her face as if she hasn’t done it in ages. “I can keep myself to myself. I promise.”

Irene nods and sets the basket on the top step of the porch. Adeline is reluctant to leave the door, but steps forward to take it, genuine gratitude curling in her chest. She doesn’t need the provisions, but the younger woman means well. For the little time they’ve spent together, it’s more than she expected.

“You should get on back before this blizzard rolls in. It gets colder than anyone’s business out here in the winter.” She looks at Albert and manages to keep her voice level. “Anyone see that bear?”

She doesn’t miss the slightest downturn of his mouth, the pull-together of his eyebrows. “Markus thought he saw something last night on the edge of the woods. Huge. Shaped like a bear. But he filled it with enough lead to kill ten bears and it disappeared. Figures it must have been a shadow. Nothing would live through that.”

Adeline swallows thickly, a strange sensation rolling her stomach. Do they truly believe it was a shadow? Albert’s jaw works, his eyes on his boots or the trees. He’s frightened, and Adeline feels she should be as well. Instead, the dull ache that started last night in her chest becomes a pounding thing with teeth and claws. She feels sick. She wants to know what fairy tale out there killed her boy and sheds bullets.

“Mama?” Fern drapes herself over the porch railing. “Did Papa hunt bears?”

Irene makes a noise like someone’s punched her, quiet and low in her throat.

“Yes,” Adeline says gently, half-hearing her own words. “And it was a foolish thing he did.”

Fern blinks up at her, her eyes drifting down through the crack in the door and widening. When Adeline glances back, she sees her wolf still slumped by the stove, his head propped up against the leg of a chair, watching them. Her mouth opens with some half-formed explanation, but Fern only stares at her in wonder, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. She lets her grandmother steer her back down the steps to Irene.

“I’ll come by when the storm has calmed. With a present for you.”

“For me?” Fern grins enough to show the gaps in her baby teeth.

“Just for you.”

Irene looks like she’s trying to smile but can’t quite manage it. She takes her daughter into her arms. Adeline touches her shoulder. A pitiful comfort.

“Albert?” she says after they’ve turned away. The young man looks over his shoulder. “If any of you see that bear, shoot it, but don’t get anywhere close to it.”

He frowns but nods, glancing from side to side all the way down the path until the woods swallow them. They know not to stray, and to walk with quick steps.

Inside, she tells her wolf, “That was a foolish thing to do. I told you to hide.”

He lays his head down, whining once, unmoving under the weight of whatever ails him. It is quite possible he cannot get up. Quiet fills the house. Adeline itches in her skin, almost ready to shuck it off and run for the mountains far from here, where men and women do not exist and the forest is a thing without shape or meaning. She imagines the toenails sprouting from her fingertips, the thinning silver hair on her head becoming thick and short, enveloping her like a coat.

Her wolf is still watching her. “Why do you think those things, Little Red?”

His voice is a touch of wind, raspy and hardly-there. Adeline takes a few creeping steps forward, brushing her fingers along the top of his snout. He can’t know her strange dreams. Not really.

“What things?” she asks without thought.

She drags on a heavy coat and brings firewood in, slowly, pieces at a time, covering the outside pile with an old tarp. The snow sticks to the ground now, throwing a layer of dirty white across the world. Her house warms slowly. She heats gruel for herself and feeds him bits of salted pork she softens in hot water.

“What gift?” he asks.

Adeline stares at him evenly. His wound is not all that severe, just as she thought, and she feels a strange bitterness at him coming here to die for a reason she can’t understand. She feels small and old. Unequal to the task. The resentment fills her with shame.

“The gift for your granddaughter,” he clarifies. “You said you’re giving her a gift.”

There is a chest under her bed filled with many things. Hugo’s baby shoes. Her husband’s wedding ring. Black and white photos so grainy only she really knows the faces on them. Adeline pulls a length of thick red wool from its depths. She unclasps the front of the cloak and puts her face against the rough fabric. It hasn’t been around her shoulders in decades, but smells of pine and soil nonetheless.

“I remember that,” he says when she’s taken a seat in the chair beside the stove. She pulls out her sewing things and begins hemming the length of the wool, bringing in the shoulders and making the hood smaller. When she’s grown, Fern can cut the threads and make it long once again.

“Tell me why you weren’t frightened that day you saw me.”

Adeline doesn’t expect the question—he doesn’t usually ask them. “I don’t know. I’d been sneaking into the forest and trying to talk to the animals my entire life. And I was frightened of you, I just wasn’t quite ready to give up on whatever magic I thought I saw. Tell me how you became who you are.”

She expects a story, but receives a very straightforward, “The same way anyone becomes the way they are: They’re born.”

“Is that all?” A disappointment she can’t understand overtakes the worry in her chest for only a moment.

“What more did you want?”

Something beautiful and believable, she supposes. Or horrible and believable.

“I was born before there were war-planes in the sky and the trees became parted by trains. There was a boy I knew once who was much like you. He talked to flowers and sought time with the animals though he was still very small.”

He pauses long enough she asks, “What happened to him?”

“He found a dying badger. She told him he could dance with them. Become one with the dirt and the worms and the heartbeat of the woods. When she died, he took her skin upon him and ran with badger feet through the world.”

“Did he ever return?”

“He would visit his family, but only his sister could see him as the little brother she held dear.”

Adeline pulls out a crooked stitch. “And you’ve come here to die on me as well? Like my husband and my son?”

Grief is a tangible thing sometimes. She can hear it in his breathing, see it in the way his face crinkles around his eyes. Maybe wolves are better at heartache than she thought. The stitches she makes in her granddaughter’s cloak begin to blur, and Adeline thinks this is not what should be making her cry, even if they aren’t real tears yet.

Her wolf lays his head on her feet and sleeps.

Hugo was four years old when Adeline first took him deep enough into the woods that the only paths were the kind made by the paws of animals. The whole place smelled of summer heat, the soil hot and baking where the sun cut through the trees, her tongue heavy with the scent of pine sap. Hugo ran ahead and jumped from every fallen log while her husband, Paul, held her hand. He was a carpenter and a good man, quiet and stable. Even without fully understanding her relationship with the trees and the creatures in them, he accepted what she knew and didn’t question the way she knew it.

He’d met her wolf years ago, and although he wouldn’t speak to the creature, Paul let him eat from his hand, and his eyes held only curiosity. When she wanted Hugo to meet the wolf, she was answered with a smile.

“Mama, where are we going?”

“To meet a friend, little bird.”

“Out here?”

“Indeed,” she said, and her husband chuckled.

They didn’t find one another in any particular way. Adeline knew that if she walked enough, he’d eventually find their path.

“Mama, a wolf!” Hugo’s voice was a whisper anyone could hear.

She took Hugo by the hand and pulled him onto a log so that he was eye to eye with the creature. Her wolf looked curious, and vaguely amused. He snuffled Hugo’s mussed hair and loped through the trees while her boy chased the matted fur of his tail. Hugo was too young to understand what he was experiencing, his giggles echoing off the canopy of the woods. Beside her, her husband laughed and laughed at their boy’s wonder.

It attacks someone else.

When the storm has blown itself out, Adeline maneuvers her wolf onto a blanket and drags him into her bedroom with more than a little difficulty. Tucking him into the corner where no one is likely to look, she leaves a pan of water and throws another quilt across him. He slept through most of the storm but licks her hand as she prepares to leave, and she kneels by his head to stroke his ears.

“Do you fear walking that path alone?” His eyes are heavy-lidded.

“No.” She doesn’t feel that’s the right answer. “Fear and I aren’t cooperating since Hu…”

She chokes on his name and her wolf does not push. “Will bullets even do us any good?”

He sighs long and slow, like the air won’t leave his lungs. “I don’t know. It has a touch of magic same as you and I. And I… I wasn’t ready to be fighting it.”

There is a despair in his voice so deep it matches the ache in her own chest. She kisses the corner of his eye and walks the path with Hugo’s shotgun under her arm, her granddaughter’s new cloak tucked into her coat.

Frigid air still rustles the trees, but no snow blinds her way, and the path is free of any life.

The village spreads before her like the forest taking a breath, but she sees a group clustered at the entrance of one of the cottages. Not Hugo’s. Not Irene’s and Fern’s, but Adeline feels something lodge in her throat. She’s known the faces of the people around her all her life, feels their concerned eyes on her as she squeezes through the throng to get to the nearest window. Albert sits at the table, his disfigured arm being cleaned by the doctor. Adeline looks away.

“Mama, Mama, Adeline.” Irene’s fingers wrap around her upper arm, leading her from the window. Her eyes are red.

“What happened?”

“It—the bear came into the village. Albert shot it right in the head but it ran off like it wasn’t nothing, good God. Did you walk here by yourself?”

Adeline nods half-heartedly, allowing the younger woman to lead her back to the house Hugo just built for them. Fern blinks at her from the kitchen table but jumps to her feet when her grandmother opens her arms. She puts her face in the girl’s hair and breathes, her scent something like Hugo’s but not quite.

“I have something for you,” she says quietly, unfolding the blood-red cloak from her coat. Fern’s mouth forms a little O as Adeline drapes it around her shoulders. “Keep it on when you go into the woods. My grandmother made it for me, and I changed it to fit you.”

“It looks like poppies,” she says, enamored of the little brass button used to clasp it in the front. Adeline likes that imagery more than anything she could come up with.

She kisses the girl and puts her lips beside her ear. “It’ll be over soon. No need to be afraid. I love you, little bird.”

She is aware of Irene watching them the way one feels the eyes of animals in the woods, curious and knowing at once. Her daughter-in-law follows her outside, where she left the shotgun leaning against the wall in the flowerbed.

“You can’t walk back alone.” She pauses like she knows her own words aren’t right and tries again. “What are you going to do?”

Her voice shakes like pine needles in the breeze, her hand at her neck, lower lip unsteady. Adeline thinks of her wolf taking his last breaths in her house, and of the little boy that danced with a badger’s skin until he became one. Wolf’s magic is old; only Adeline’s body is.

She hugs Irene, taking her skinny shoulders into her arms until the girl cries. She gives her a kiss on the forehead same as she gave to her granddaughter. Her throat begins to burn, and doesn’t stop as she takes the path back home.

It growls when she reaches her porch: the creature behind her. The bear is large, but not much more so than her wolf. It’s ragged and ghost-thin, unlike anything she’s ever seen. Pale fur blotches its skin, the roar it makes when it steps forward alien and strange. Adeline fires three shots, backing up the steps into her doorway, sobbing like a madwoman. The bear snarls and flinches from the bullets long enough for her to bolt the door behind her. She can hear its paws on the porch, claws against the door, but her house stands strong and proud as the day it was built, and Adeline lets her son’s rifle lean against the wall.

Her wolf is where she left him, breathing deep, too-slow breaths. His eyes watch her through exhausted slits.

Despite the soreness from the other night slept on the floor, she curls around him, weeping into his fur.

“This is not a story, not really,” her wolf tells her, his breath on the inside of her palm. “You are not the only friend I’ve had, but perhaps the best. I know when I’m ready to be in the earth. Your boy crossed my path as I came to find you. He saw my weakness and carried me. The bear crossed our path, and I could not help him fight it.”

The night is quiet, and Adeline’s body is unmovable, as if the weight of her tears and their shared grief is something to be felt and wrapped around her. She’s not released him from her embrace.

“I know what you’ll do,” he says, soft as the night. “For your granddaughter. I think it’s good. I did not tell you that the boy who danced in the badger’s skin heard her voice within his heart until he, too, laid down into the earth.”

Relief is a breath of air that finally reaches her lungs, a sharp knife against her sorrow. “Good.”

He whimpers softer than a breeze, kissing her fingers with a weak tongue.

“You were there with him?” she asks.

“Forgive me for my weakness.”

Adeline’s arms form a vise around him, her face in the rough fur of his neck, “Always, wolf.”

His pelt comes off like air, solid and musky in her hands. Nothing awaits under the skin but bones that dry and crumble the moment air touches them. Adeline wonders if this is what she will look like inside once the deed is done, and weeps through the task, though his heartbeat has long faded.

On the bed are Hugo’s things, and a few other treasures she doesn’t want lost to time. Irene will find them soon enough.

She sheds her clothes in the cold, cold night, opening every window, breathing out Hugo’s name and kissing goodbye the world he knew.

She wraps her new skin around her. For many minutes the wolf is nothing but a wet, warm fur around her old flesh. But she feels it like a birdsong far off, a little pinch in her chest that fails to hurt but leaves her on her knees nonetheless. Salt from her tears mixes with the bloody skin. The walls of her house become confining and narrow, and she slips out the window on four large paws that guide her through the trees, muscles crawling along her back and legs and neck, itching to be used. Her heart pounds like heavy wheels on a train track. A thousand smells fight for her attention. Her tail brushes the back of her legs.

Focus, something inside her says, and a yip of bitter joy at the familiar voice breaks apart her chest.

She smells the bear by the village, all madness and maggot-filled meat. Like a dream, a shadow under the moon, she lopes away from her human home.

In the spring, Adeline’s granddaughter finds a wolf on the edge of the trees. The girl wears her grandmother’s poppy-red cloak, and the wolf’s dark fur is veined with silver. She remembers the mad bear that took her Papa in the winter, and the wolf that came to drive it away.

She grins with half her baby teeth.

The wolf whines and licks the girl’s giggling cheek. Her mother hangs laundry a ways away, and watches with eyes that don’t see or don’t fear the creature kissing her daughter’s neck.

“Grandma,” the little girl says.

The wolf settles around her granddaughter and tells her a story of a badger that was once a boy, an old wolf that befriended a young woman, and all the animals she watches over.


Emily McCosh resides in California with her family and monster dogs, where she is a graphic designer by day and dedicated daydreamer (read: story writer) at all times. Her fiction is forthcoming/published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flash Fiction Online, Galaxy’s Edge, and elsewhere. Find her online at and on FB and Twitter @wordweaveremily.

Published Shimmer #46, November 2018, 5600 words

Other woods:

Hare’s Breath, by Maria Haskins

Trees Struck by Lightning Burning From the Inside Out, by Emily Lundgren

Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left, by Fran Wilde


Shimmer #46

Come with us, into the woods, where we’ll meet a wolf, a witch, an orchard, a rocking chair, a roller derby, a strip mall, a hungry lake, fairies, cups of tea, a feather, a bit of thistledown, a ghost. The culmination of all your hopes and dreams.

Are you ready? Really ready? It’s the final Shimmer.

Rotkäppchen by Emily McCosh 
The wolf arrives the same day Adeline buries Hugo on the edge of the woods, her boy’s grave forming a raft of upturned earth between two trees, just far enough from the fens that he won’t be drowning. She watches two young village men blanket him in icy soil. His shotgun leans against a nearby tree. His hunting knife is tucked under her shirt, against her back. Bone handle followed by colder steel. A second spine to hold her upright. (5600 words)

The Witch in the Woods Falls in Love For a Third Time, by Kate Lechler
The story as you probably heard it goes, once upon a time, a witch met your great-great-grands in the woods, blessed the good sister, cursed the bad. The sweet one went on to marry some jumped-up slick-faced city boy, while the sorry one lost herself in the woods and was probably eaten by a cougar. (850 words)

Streuobstwiese, by Steve Toase 
Kate’s been out on the roof again. She’s drawn her finger through salt the color of wood ash, the sigils barely holding together on the terracotta slope of the tiles. The gutters are clogged with yellow fat, and dead hares whose eyes are gilded in gold leaf. Across the valley a field of barley whitens with mold and blight. (3100 words)

Lake Mouth, by Casey Hannan
My mother walks up dizzy from the pier with her mouth open and her arms out and dripping. The lizards on the boardwalk drop their blue tails to get out of her way.  (2100 words)

40 Facts About the Strip Mall at the Corner of Never and Was, by Alex Acks
A permanent shadow is burned into the cracked sidewalk outside the mattress store, tall and thin, with no head and too many fingers. (1400 words)

Antumbra, by Cory Skerry 
As you enter the doors of this school for the last time, the girl who your brother slept with last night brightens for just a moment before she realizes you’re not Jesse. She deflates. (4000 words)

The Time Traveler’s Husband, by A. C. Wise
The time traveler’s husband leaves cups of tea throughout the too-empty apartment, waiting for his wife to come home. Sometimes – hours or days later – he finds the mugs drained, bearing the ghost imprint of lips, dregs staining the ceramic in dark, overlapping rings. Other times, the mugs are untouched, smelling of jasmine, bergamot, and orange pekoe gone cold. (4200 words)

Tyrannocora Regina, by Leonie Skye 
Pursuit of her conjures a centripetal force that sculpts the seething ball of superheated wrongness inside my chest. Otherwise it would shatter my honeycombed ribs and blow a hole in the side of this cherry soda-smelling derby palace. (5900 words)

Rust and Bone, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Grandmother’s rocking chair is made of iron. It is rust and death and blood. Grandmother’s rocking chair sits in the middle of the porch so that she can watch me and pet her turtle. Tortoise, really. It is as old as Grandmother and waits patiently by the chair like an end-table of shell. (3200 words)

From the Void, by Sarah Gailey 
The way I miss Esther is a slow-spreading bruise. It started in my belly, and every day, it spreads further across my solar plexus. If it had bloomed across my skin, I would sink my thumb into the center of it, press until the venous blue deepened into black. I would watch the color change with satisfaction, knowing that it would fade with time. (5000 words)

Thistledown Sky, by Stephen Case
The sky is crowded with ghosts. They pilot ships named after our rivers: Indus, Euphrates, Danube, Mississippi, Amazon, Tigris, Nile. My daughter’s is the Potomac, which she says is ironic and self-referential. It will be the eighth American ship, but only the third that has been piloted through our nation’s gate. (1900 words)

Ghosts of Bari, by Wren Wallis
Salvage is the only long-term game in the universe. No tyrant of the star-nets or titan of trade ever admired a salvage crew; we’re the crows on their trash-heaps, the rats in their walls. But I don’t think any of them’s ever considered, either, that when their names have long gone airless and their works are rust and shadow, it’s junkers who write their elegies. Every empire ever raised eventually falls. And sooner or later, the crows always come for the corpses. (4500 words)

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Shimmer Issue 46 Electronic
Shimmer Issue 46 Electronic
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