The Witch and the Queen

by Ava Fischer

Not-so-long ago, in a not-so-distant land, there was a small village nestled on the edge of a forest called Silverwood. For many years, laughter filled the village as the children ran after marbles and play-acted fantastical stories. Little princes with uncombed hair and boyish grins would slay the dragons, saving the little princesses who gathered berries in their skirts and hid at the first sight of danger. Erica, a wide-eyed girl of ten was content just as she was, playing princess. Meg, a girl equal in age, though seemingly unable to temper her wild demeanor, quickly grew tired of the same old stories.

“I do not wish to be a princess,” she said one day. “I want to be a witch.”

The younger children froze, eyes wide, but the older children only sneered.

“There are no witches in this world,” a child of twelve said.

“Though,” another added, looking Meg up and down. “You are certainly as ugly as they come, with your rumpled skirt and your stilted gait.”

At this, Meg stomped away. Erica ran after her, ignoring the mocking whispers of the other children. Further down the hill, Meg slouched, sitting in the tall grass with her dirty skirts and her spindly legs folded up under her. Erica followed suit, grabbing her friend’s hand and squeezing once.

“I think witches are much more interesting than princes and princesses,” said Erica thoughtfully.

Meg looked at her, leaning in so that they bumped shoulder to shoulder.

“You are frightened of witches,” Meg teased, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “They live in the forest and eat little golden-headed girls like you.”

Erica wanted to protest but couldn’t help herself from giggling.

“Isn’t everyone afraid of witches? Isn’t everyone afraid of at least, something?” Erica asked.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Meg replied stubbornly. “Besides, if I were a witch, I could do whatever I wanted, no matter if my skirts were rumpled and dirty.”

“And what would you do if you were a witch?” Erica pressed.

Meg thought for a moment. The breeze ruffled her dark hair and the sunset lit up behind her, casting a warm glow.

“I would spin straw into gold,” she replied. “We would be rich, and you would no longer have to be a miller’s daughter. We could live together without a care in the world.”

“My parents say we must always care,” offered Erica gently. “They say that the prince will be looking for a bride in a few years’ time and someone rich must come along because taxes on lumber and straw are much too high. But even so, the realm will soon be in debt.”

Erica didn’t quite understand the word “tax.” Though, “debt” was becoming increasingly familiar in her vocabulary.

“Well, I suppose if the prince needs a wife-” Meg jested.

“Did you not hear a word I just said?” Erica complained. “He will host a ball and look for a match who boasts money and power-”

“And beauty and grace,” Meg teased, wrapping her arms around her friend. “Perhaps he will fall for you. The fairest of them all.”

Erica rolled her eyes, though she leaned into the embrace. “He will not. Besides, I could never leave. I would much rather stay unmarried than leave the Silverwood.”

“Then you shall live your days as a spinster,” Meg countered, her mouth quirking up into a smile.

“I suppose we shall have to spin together.”

Meg smiled at that. Erica thought she was the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen.


It did not take a ball for Prince Philip to find his bride. Many years passed, and one day as he returned from a hunt on the edge of the Silverwood, he spied the beautiful blonde maiden. She was fetching grain from the fields, accompanied by a nondescript companion. Immediately taken by the lady, he received the blessing for her hand in marriage. Within three days, the miller’s daughter was whisked to the palace and crowned Princess of the Realm. In time, she became Queen.

The King, however, had done the Realm no fiscal service by taking a poor miller’s daughter to be his Queen, no matter how beautiful and kind. The years rolled by, and the Realm’s coffers dwindled. The poorest of the lowborn faced starvation. When the most secure of the highborn worried about losing their pristine estates, Philip began to hold council meetings behind closed doors.

It was no secret that the Realm required gold, so it was no surprise when rumors began to crop up of a terrifying monster on the edge of the Silverwood. This monster they say, spun straw into gold, offering it to the highborn of the Realm, but only for a steep price.

Both King Philip and Queen Erica ignored the rumors. Philip because he simply did not believe in magic, Erica because she didn’t dare to hope.

One night, after a particularly terrible visit to the poor surrounding villages, Erica locked herself in her chambers and wept, for there seemed to be no hope for her soon-destitute kingdom. She awoke to a glimmering strand of gold spooled on her pillow, right next to her cheek. It was as if someone had taken a thread of yarn and turned it, well, into gold. The next day, after a night of whispered prayers to whoever had sent the gold, another thread, longer and thicker appeared in her wardrobe. On the third day, after a night of the same, yet another thread appeared on her windowsill, the longest, most golden strand of them all.

This time, a note accompanied the gold. Written on the wrinkled parchment was but one name, accompanied by two words.

Come home.

Erica began to hope.


The years had been kind to the Silverwood, still wrapping around the glen, bending their branches as if embracing the little cottage that now stood at the forest’s edge. The years had been equally as kind to the woman standing in the cottage door, clad in simple flowing robes, her dark hair unbound and free.

Meg’s face was inscrutable. Erica tried to ignore the feeling that her heart might burst out of her chest at any moment.

“You came,” Meg said, by way of greeting.

“You called,” Erica replied, holding up the three golden threads. The gold shimmered in the afternoon light. “How could I ignore the word of the most feared witch in the land?”

Meg pursed her lips, turning on her heel. “Come inside.”

The cottage was small, though hospitable. On the far wall, a fire crackled warmly, across from which sat cozy armchairs atop thick rugs. Meg made no move to sit in the armchairs, instead pausing in the center of the room to turn. Erica’s gaze snagged, for in the corner of the room sat a spinning wheel and a simple basket of straw.

Erica looked at her old friend. “They say it is a monster who spins straw into gold.”

Meg nodded. “That is what they call me. Monster.”

“My citizens call you a monster out of fear,” Erica said after a moment. “They fear your name.”

Meg only raised a bemused eyebrow. “My name?”

“You call yourself Rumpelstiltskin.” Erica chuckled. “A clever play on childhood words.”

Meg only shrugged. “Many monsters come from childhood. I suppose you think ill of me for it.”

“And what do you think of me?” Erica asked, approaching softly. “I suppose you think I am nothing. Running off to wed the prince, just as you always predicted.”

Surprisingly, Meg shook her head. “You had no choice but to leave, I see that now.”

The fire crackled warmly, though Erica made no move to unbutton her traveling cloak, as if her old friend might disappear at any sudden movement.

“Are you lonely?” Meg asked suddenly.


“Up in that cold palace?” Meg pressed. “Are you lonely being Queen?”

At that, Erica had no response.

“I perform my duty to the kingdom,” Erica replied carefully. “For the good of my people.”

“And you are happy?”

Erica frowned. “You are aware that I came here seeking aid. This is diplomacy.”

“Is it?” Meg mused. She seemed to be enjoying this.

Erica shook herself. “What must I do to acquire some of your spun gold?”

“Any manner of things,” Meg said.

Erica only raised her eyebrows. “Such as?”

Meg moved closer to the fire. Erica followed, keeping a distance from the other girl. This was diplomacy. And yet, in the ache of a childhood lost, why did Erica want to wrap her arms around the other girl and never let go?

“For a highborn in need of my services, I might raise a monstrous price.” Meg mused, gazing into the fire. “A firstborn child, perhaps?”

Erica froze in her tracks, only relaxing when Meg laughed lowly: it was but a simple jest.

“But you are a miller’s daughter…” Meg tilted her head, considering. “You are an old friend.”

“And what is your price?” Erica swallowed. “For an old friend?”

Meg hesitated before responding softly.

“A kiss.”

Erica stilled. Meg was no longer smiling, instead looking curiously at Erica, gauging her reaction.

Erica’s stomach flipped, but she found her voice, nodding once. “If a kiss is what the witch requires.”

“Is it what the Queen wishes?” Meg’s voice was quiet. “I do not wish to force your hand.”

In the golden firelight, Meg was the most beautiful girl Erica had ever seen.

Her heart answered before her mind. “It is what the Queen wishes.”

The first kiss sealed the deal.

As quick as it happened – a ghost of soft lips meeting oh-so briefly, Meg’s hands clasped in Erica’s – Meg pulled back. Erica suddenly felt cold. Was that it? Was the deal struck? Meg searched her face as if she was wondering the same thing.

Meg whispered, “I asked you to come back. And you did.”

“You asked me to come home,” Erica replied. “And I missed you.”

The second kiss was worth more than all the gold in the kingdom. Meg’s lips were warm, and Erica blindly shucked off her traveling cloak, allowing it to land in a puddle on the velvet carpet. She pulled Meg closer, and they held each other so that the space and time and history between them no longer mattered.

Coming back to the Silverwood was like following a thread of fate that had intertwined, tangled, and snapped all when she became a princess. Now, that golden thread knit itself back together, little by little.

After what seemed like either hours or seconds, the queen pulled back, examining the witch’s face.

“Perhaps you should have named a different price,” Erica whispered, her voice hoarse.

Meg looked at her, questioning. “And what would that be?”

“A true monster would take the King’s wife for her own,” Erica said.

Meg stared, not quite daring to believe. “Is this what the Queen wishes?”

Erica smiled against her lover’s lips. “Yes.”

Meg chuckled. “A deal is a deal.”

The third kiss was a burning blaze so that Meg and Erica felt they had never known the bite of cold or the sting of loneliness. Their intertwining thread of fate glowed golden, stronger than ever before.


No one ever saw Queen Erica again. At least, no one who would admit it. Satisfied with the gold, the King had taken a new wife within the fortnight. Erica was known simply as the Queen Lost.

Though, on the edge of the Silverwood, it was known that in a small cottage there lived two witches. Villagers still warned their children against the vices of witches old. But, for the children of millers and farmers, blacksmiths and beggars, within this cottage there could be found a warm fire, a hot meal, and a place to rest, for those brave enough to seek the comfort of companionship.

The Old Gods

by Elyse Yost

This city is ruled by statues; ancient things that wander the streets and narrow avenues, lingering in the city squares at night. The sound of scraping stone can be heard echoing around corners even without their gray, glazed eyes within sight. They work alongside the looming cathedrals and form councils amongst themselves. When peaceful, their voices exist in a range too low to be heard by the modern human. When angered, their voices are the rare thunder that comes quickly in autumn. The unlucky ones, lost in battle, holy war, or oblivion, lie below the street. They reach their fingers up to the pavement, perhaps to be found and worshiped once more. On a cloudless summer day, the lucky may find themselves surrounded by thousands, gathered to grant their offerings. Travelers know these gods and cross land and water to see them. Meanwhile, the residents take on a silent form of worship. They construct their railways and roadways carefully, so as not to interfere with the statues and their homes. They share lunch with them and go about their day loving what is ancient.

Just over a month after I arrived in the city, I was on my way across town to catch dinner with friends. I had just gotten off the tram and decided to walk the rest of my way. Dusk was starting to fall over the bustling bodies and orange buildings, and this site was meant to be viewed from the street. In the center of the plaza, there was a pair of statues caught in battle. A pair of military men stood to the side, guns hung on straps on their shoulders. I was not quite sure whether they were trained to protect the gods from the people or the people from the gods. The passersby moved through the plaza, circling the pedestal in which the statues stood. As I looked closer, I saw the path altered by an old couple on the sidewalk. Below the statues, the two softly slow-danced to music coming from a nearby restaurant. The woman rested her aged hand on her husband’s shoulder and they swayed in the midst of the bustling pedestrians, seemingly moving in slow motion. I couldn’t help but slow my pace and stretch my head to watch them as I passed. I could imagine how the scene would have looked decades ago, even centuries. The lovers were painted so young in the shadow of the old gods.

The Man Who Couldn’t Fly

by Annie Johnson

I saw a man jump off a bridge today. I was just walking home from the office, and there he was, arms spread wide as if he would sprout wings. And when he fell, for a moment, I really thought he would. Holding my breath, I waited for his body to stop its rapid descent and propel up, far, far away.

But he didn’t, and soon enough, I could hear the splash, a boulder in a lake. I waited until the sirens came to leave. I didn’t want to see his bloated, purple body when they pulled him out of the water.

I’ve seen dead bodies before. They made us cut open fetuses in Anatomy lab once, taking out the tiny pink heart with our tweezers. There was a pregnant girl in the class who cried the whole time as her little scalpel broke through the wrinkled skin, clutching her own belly with her other hand.

But this was different. I never saw the fetuses die, never saw their little hearts slow down or lungs freeze mid-pump. I didn’t watch them plummet off a granite bridge.

My husband, Nick, and I eat microwave burritos for dinner. We make small talk about the consistency of the beef and our downstairs neighbors who won’t stop fighting and definitely not about the man I watched die today.

I’ll save that conversation for the bedroom when he lies panting and blissed out next to me, or for never.

Maybe I’ll tell my sister when I see her over Thanksgiving. We’ll stand in the kitchen, washing dishes while our husbands watch football, and I’ll say, “I saw a man kill himself.” She’ll want details. It’s the true crime fanatic in her, the part that craves other people’s tragedies to make her feel better about her own.

“I thought he was going to fly, Lisa. I really did,” is what I say in my imagination, and she stares at me with wide eyes and a kind of sadistic enjoyment.

Later that night, I scour the local news for headlines. Man Jumps from Bridge. Tragic Suicide of Community College Professor. There’s nothing of the sort. Instead, I spend the next hour reading about the elementary school having a gas leak and a gang leader dying of cancer. It’s riveting and momentarily makes me forget about the man who never sprouted wings.

Nick comes up behind me and kisses my neck.

“Come to bed, Joanna,” he says. “You’re tired.”

But when he’s on top of me, his face flushed, I can’t stop seeing the man. I bury my fingernails into Nick’s back, the place where his wings should be, and I tell him to stop.

“I have a headache.”

I watched a man die today.

“Oh, okay.”

His rhythmic snoring keeps me awake. I breathe in time with it, like it’s a metronome because I fear that if I don’t, my heart will stop.

Just like his.

The next day, I end up on the bridge. I don’t know why or even how I get there. But suddenly, there I am, looking down at the water. It’s more green than blue, polluted with smoke from the General Motors down the street. It makes me wonder if it stung his eyes when he fell. What it tasted like.

I wonder if it tasted like regret, a mistake. Maybe it tasted like freedom.

My feet dangle off the edge. It really is so easy to fall, I realize. It could happen in an instant, in the blink of an eye.


I whirl so quickly that I nearly lose my balance, my fingernails scrambling for purchase in the granite. A girl, her hair in two blonde braids, stares at me, wide-eyed.

“Are you okay?”

She’s little. Too young to watch someone jump.

I slide off the bridge.

“Yeah. I’m okay.”

She doesn’t need to learn that people can’t fly today.

That’s a lesson for another life.

Meet You at the Mailbox

by V. Amador

It was unreasonably cold outside, and since fate seemed to favor me so, I obviously had to be wearing the least appropriate clothes for the weather the first time I met you. You’ll have to excuse me for that, I didn’t think I would be out for so long, you understand? No matter, what’s done is done. You’ve already seen me in my tie-dye too-short shorts and my two sizes too small acrostic shirt that spells “FATHER” that my aunt got me for my birthday, not realizing it was a Father’s Day shirt. I would say that’s about as bad as first impressions can go, but these higher powers never cease to surprise and embarrass me in equal measure.

I waddled as quickly as I could to the mailboxes and fished out the key to open my box, fumbling a bit from freezing fingers, thinking the faster I went maybe the faster I would get back inside. I try the key and it doesn’t work. Why wouldn’t the damned key work? And then I saw you, just a house over, walking down your driveway and going down the sidewalk straight towards me. I mean, you were definitely going for your mail, which is the box just above mine, really. But for a quick instant, I couldn’t believe that oh God someone has come to laugh at me.

Any reasonable person would have just swallowed their pride and gone back inside, changed clothes, and double check that they have the right key. Whether it’s because I’m an unreasonable person or I’m incredibly lacking in pride, I instead went through every key on my key ring just before you arrived and none of them worked.

I stepped aside so you can get to your mailbox, and thankfully—which in hindsight maybe I should feel a little offended at—you didn’t spare me a second glance. You opened your box, grabbed your mail, and you were going to leave me in the cold so I can figure out what was wrong with this stupid mailbox on my own. But you didn’t leave. You heard me sigh while I looked frustratingly between the few keys in my left hand and the supposedly correct key in my right hand. And you, blessedly patient you, asked me:

“Do you need help?”

Part of me wanted to say No! I can do this on my own! I am an independent human being! The trials and tribulations of a mailbox will not best me! Leave me alone! I’m not weird! but what I really said was:

“Yes, please. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

If I was implying anything else with that answer, it either flew over your head or you just really wanted to help me with my mailbox.

“What’s your number?”

I pointed at the box and handed you the key. Like the fool the universe has made me out to be, you turned the key and opened it on your first try. I peeked inside and there was nothing. Not even a letter about student loans, which as awful as it is to be reminded of, at least there being something would have made the biting cold worth it. Now I’m flushed hot with embarrassment, and I tried to walk away empty-handed.

“Why don’t you try again?”

I barely registered your words and you putting the key back in my hand, moving to the side so I can try. I slotted the key in and turned it, but it wouldn’t budge. Why won’t this stupid key turn and why won’t my stupid mailbox open and why are you so nice and still here??? I wanted to give up, but you were still there. So I tried again with a little more force, and at this point, I thought I was going to break that stupid key because I know I’m not turning it in the wrong direction I just saw you do it and-

You grabbed my hand that was tightly clenched over the silly little key and it stops my grumbling. My hand just barely loosens, and in your surprisingly soft hold, you turned my hand which turns the key and the mailbox clicked open and I felt ridiculous.

“What,” is all that came out instead of any sort of “thank you.”

“Huh, that’s weird.” At least you didn’t sound upset about not being thanked.

It was only then that I finally got a good look at you. I had already dug my own grave with what you had already seen of me just in those five minutes, so I was almost over all of my embarrassment when I blurted out:

“I guess I’ll just have to ask you for help more often.”

And you, amazing you that endlessly puts up with me and my stupid mailbox and every dumb thing I say to you every morning just smiles and says:

“Okay, I’ll see you around.”

Grape Jolly Ranchers

by Annie Johnson

My father has always resented me. Just a little bit. Not the kind of resentment that sets a fire in your stomach, just the kind of casual disdain fathers have for their daughters.

I remember asking my mother, back when I was very young, why my father hated me.

“Oh baby,” she said, kissing my head. “Daddy doesn’t hate you. He just likes football.” Then she went back to the kitchen and left me to play with my dolls alone.

I tried to like football; I really did. I checked out books from the public library all about Walter Payton and the ‘34 Bears and read them in bed late at night with a flashlight. But I could never get more than halfway through. Flags and sacks and touchdowns were white noise to me—I wanted stories about princesses, where no one ever got tackled.

So, my father took my brother, Jack, to football games. He bought him a baseball glove and drove him to all his soccer tournaments. He gave me fake pleasantries at the breakfast table and forgot if I was turning eight or nine.

Once, when I was ten, we went on a family road trip. I sat next to Jack in the backseat of the minivan as we sped down the highway. He wouldn’t stop blowing in my ear. When I yelled at him to stop, my father whirled around, red-faced.

“Be quiet, Sarah!” he snapped. “Do you want me to crash the car?”

I could feel my face flush. “No,” I said in a very small voice. Jack wore a self-satisfied grin. I kicked him.

“Sarah kicked me!” Jack tattled, pretending to be hurt.

“He won’t stop blowing in my ear!”

“Jesus Christ,” my father groaned. Swerving sharply, he pulled off on the closest exit and into a gas station parking lot.

“You deal with this,” he told my mother, before stalking inside.

I started to cry, shame bubbling in my stomach.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I whimpered.

“It’s okay, baby,” she said. And then she followed my father into the gas station. She came back ten minutes with my slightly mollified father and a bag of Jolly Ranchers.

“For you.” She handed the bag to me and wiped away tears.

I rustled through the bag very quietly. “Does anyone want one,” I asked.

“I’ll have one,” my father said, reaching a cupped hand behind his seat. “Do you have any grape?”

“Grape is my favorite,” I told him, and he gave a noncommittal grunt of thanks when I pressed it into his hand.

When I was eleven, I asked my father if he could come to my dance recital. He said that he would try to make it. When I stepped on stage in my leotard, I scoured the crowd for his face. I found my mother, smiling widely, next to my brother, who’d fallen asleep.

“Daddy had a meeting, honey,” she told me afterward, rubbing my back as tear tracks streaked through my blush.

I never told him about another recital. I quit ballet the next year.

I’m thirteen now. It’s Christmas morning. I’m sitting, cross-legged, on the ground next to Jack. Shreds of wrapping paper are scattered around the room. But there’s still one more present under the tree. Jack buzzes with barely suppressed exhilaration. We both think it’s his—probably a new baseball glove from our father. When my father picks it up, I see Jack’s eyes light up. He’s sizing it up, trying to rule out what could be inside.

“This is for you, Sarah.” He doesn’t really meet my eyes, just kind of tosses the package in my direction from a few inches away.

I gape at him. He’s never gotten me a present before, not for real. My mother writes “from mom and dad” on all our gifts but I know that he’s just as surprised as I am when I open them up.

Jack watches me with poorly concealed jealousy as I tear the paper.

It’s a large plastic bag, and for a moment, I think it’s a bad joke. But then I look inside.

It’s full of Jolly Ranchers, only the grape flavor.

I stare at my father. “Grape is my favorite,” I tell him.

“I know,” he says.