"TORN" (Short Story)

(inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's “The Marsh King’s Daughter” )

In the growing shadows of a nearly empty room a man sat motionless, holding his head in his hands. He’d placed the one chair opposite a thin mat on the floor where he could see the one upon it, yet not once had he been able to glance in its direction. It was always worse when the moon was new.

Sensing a stirring for the first time in many hours his head jerked upward, bloodshot eyes snapping into focus as they took in the subtle signs he’d been waiting for.

It won’t be long now, he thought.

The figure, lovely as ever, huddled further down on the mat and shivered slightly as a draft blew in under the door and around the room. The man shivered too but for a different reason. It had begun.

The slender arms twitched and re-wrapped themselves around the perfect, porcelain-pale form, classical fingers curling into claws so the nails dug mercilessly into its flesh. The head came up slowly. Beautiful green eyes stared hard and unblinking at the man through a curtain of soft wheaten hair and one word formed on the blood red lips: “You.”

Without warning the lily-white hands flew to it’s own throat and a choked gargle forced itself out as the contortions began. The man squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists. It was taking longer than usual. Much longer.

Finally, the sporadic movements from the figure ceased and an eerie stillness settled over the room. Tears stung the back of the man’s eyes as he willed them to open and see what he already knew was there.

It was as if the figure had been completely replaced by some punishment of nature. From the badly deformed feet to the twisted spine, not one elegant line was left. Only the eyes were the same – beautiful, green - yet the fury in them was gone.

The doubled-over creature slowly shifted its body across the room until it stood before the man then gently stroked his head with a twisted hand. Reluctantly, he looked into the eyes. Instead of hatred he saw understanding, even love, shining from the depths of the creature’s soul. It made it worse. The stinging tears finally slipped free and spilled down the man’s face. With infinite tenderness, the creature soothingly rocked him back and forward as he wept his apologies, the gulping sobs shaking his frame.

When the man’s weeping ceased and the tears had begun to dry, the twisted figure gently bent its head to ask its question the only way it could – with its eyes. Having expected this, he nodded and watched with leaden arms and legs as it painfully shuffled its way across the room to struggle determinedly with the weight of the door. Cold air brushed his face when the barrier finally opened and the man turned his head away so he couldn’t see the creature step out into the gray evening beyond.

Hearing the door click back into place he looked down at his hands. They were strong hands; willing to work, to create… and more than able to destroy. His gaze shifted to the stained worktable at the center of the room. Guilt, frustration and self-pity warred inside and, needing an outlet for the tightening circles in his mind, he snatched a discarded shoe, throwing it forcefully at the table that had supported his madness. His aim was bad. Yet another mark on the grimy wall was all that showed for his effort.

A shadow scuttled under his chair and he flinched, biting his hand to stifle further reaction. Even a spider was more beautiful than that… than his creation.

Abandoning the support of the chair before he could change his mind, he forced himself to approach the window. Clutching the ledge, he turned his glazed eyes to look out. It took him a moment to realize rain was drizzling down steadily outside the warped pane, so any moving image took on distorted shapes. Despite the gloom, it didn’t take him long to discern where the creature was and that something was very wrong.

Knuckles whitening, his gaze sharpened and riveted to the figure holding onto the rusty iron fence that kept the world away. The creature, his creature, was writhing spasmodically, the limbs twisting and clawing frantically as it appeared to fight for its life. Its back arched and whatever control the creature had, slipped away.

The features began to change, then change again. Faster and faster they shifted, till all that could be seen was a blur. An unearthly scream escaped into the night air and the man, unable to stay motionless any longer, tore himself away from the window and out the door.

Blood pounded in his ears with every heartbeat, nearly deafening him as he half-slid his way down through the wet grass to the writhing body. Unable to stop, he collided with the creature and sent them both crashing into the iron railing in a tangle of limbs. A hand shot out to trap his own against the unforgiving bars and he felt the creature’s savage emotions surge through him. Darkness blinded his thoughts, crowding his mind until dimly he heard his own screams. Desperately, he found the creature’s neck with both hands and, shaking, stared into the horrifying face before he let the surging hate take him. Fingers tightening, his grip grew steady with purpose and his lips pulled back to bare his teeth in a madman’s grin.

It was then they both turned on him.

United in purpose for the first time since it had taken breath, the creature fought back with horrifying strength. Almost instantly, the man found himself giving ground, his strength fading rapidly. Before long he was forced to his knees. What was left of his sanity told him he had lost and, shivering uncontrollably, he closed his eyes. He knew death would be a kindness. As he felt the monster close in, his last measure of hope died and somewhere deep inside he thought he heard his soul scream for mercy.

The shred of good remaining in the monster responded. It was enough. Crying out against the injustice, it fought the completion and froze its limbs in mid-strike.

The man’s eyes opened to meet those of the creature and, briefly, creator and creation were equal. The moment passed. Confusion clouded the creature’s visage and it dropped its arms, twisting away out of his reach. The man struggled back onto his legs, leaning on the fence as he mumbled a prayer of thanks and shuddered with relief. Sensing the change, the creature reared its head and, hands curling like talons, threw itself back at the man. He braced himself for the impact but found instead the figure he had last seen on the mat in his room, sobbing in the muddy ground at his feet.

Limbs shaking, he gathered his creation into his arms and felt a chill breath steal away across his skin into the night.

Down the road, a dog leapt to its feet and ran straight for the river, letting out a howl that ricocheted off the back hills. As it was swept out of sight by the icy current, the figure went limp in the man’s arms and he bowed his head. Raindrops mingled with tears in a final blessing on the beautiful, pale cheeks as the first - and last - true smile settled on the blood-red lips.

© Gypsy Thornton
Originally published at Supernatural Fairy Tales

Image credits:
Title header by Tom Mazzocco
Shadow sculpture by Skeith De Wine 
Shadow block girl sculpture by Unknown Artist (found HERE