In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, and with her lived three daughters. And she raised them as her own.
These sisters loved each other very much, which was just as well, for they had no-one else. They were forbidden from leaving the house, for, as their mother told them every night before she put them to bed, there was a beast outside that roamed the peaks and which fed on the flesh of women.
And so the sisters sat together by the window every day and looked out over the hills below and the lands beyond and told each other stories about what the world outside was like, and the people who lived there, and the strange and wondrous lives they lived.
On the day of the eldest sister’s 18th birthday, there came a knock at the door, and their mother opened it up and in stepped a man, tall and handsome, or so their mother said, with hair as black as his suit and skin as white as his teeth. He told the sisters he was a Lord, and that he was looking for a wife. And as the sisters were the most beautiful women in the lands, one of them would have to do.
The eldest sister said it should be her, for it was her birthday, and indeed had she not always dreamed of this day, told variants of it to her siblings as she gazed out through the windows, waiting, patiently, for a prince to arrive and sweep her away to happiness and to love, whatever it was that happiness could be. Whatever it was love might entail.
And so she stepped outside with the man, and he took her into his carriage and closed the door behind her and together they went to his castle high up in the mountains, higher even than the hut in which she had lived all her life, so high not even the birds flew above, so high the clouds passed below.
She was allowed to roam freely around the castle, but was forbidden from leaving, for her husband told her that in the mountains there lived a beast which fed on the flesh of women, and it roamed where it pleased and could not be caught, and as such it was not safe for her beyond the castle’s walls.
And so she sat on her own by the windows of the castle, a different window each day, and always alone, for her husband was rarely there, and when he was he kept himself to his private rooms and his secret chambers, preparing, he said, but for what he never explained. From the windows she could see nothing but rock and clouds below and the pale sky forever unchanging above. So she told herself stories about the house that she had left, and her sisters that lived there, and the stories they were telling each other, stories which were always, somehow, about her and the life she now lived.
In time she came to be pregnant and for a while this brought her happiness, yet as the day approached she grew sadder again and sadder still. For what would life be like for a child in this empty castle, this mausoleum above the clouds. Her husband she saw so rarely she began to think he had been a dream, or a ghost.
She gave birth alone, and through the night she lay there in her bed, blood-soaked and bloodstained and as cold as wet rags, her tiny daughter screaming in her arms. In the shadows in the corners of her room from time to time she caught glimpses of her husband’s face, but when she turned to look, turned to speak, turned to show to him his newborn child, each time these apparitions turned out to be the moon at the window, or reflections of herself in the dressing table mirror, pale portraits upon the wall, memories, echoes, hopes, fears.
When she woke in the morning she was alone. Utterly, hopelessly alone. She walked the halls of the castle, ran along the corridors, screaming and shouting out her daughter’s name into the emptiness, the dusty stillness. The name only she knew, that only she would ever know. There was no reply.
In her despair she opened the front gate and started out down the mountain path. There were many paths but they were all the same.
The beast came up ahead of her and knocked her down and ate first her heart and second her flesh and lastly whatever was left until there was nothing of her but bones. And the beast piled them up and made its domain ever higher.
In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice, and with her lived two daughters. And she raised them as her own.
They were forbidden from leaving the house, for outside, their mother said, roamed a beast that preyed upon women, that ate them up until they were gone.
And so they sat in their room, and held each other quietly, and whispered stories of their older sister to each other, and dreamt, each night, that she was safe.
On the day of the middle sister’s 18th birthday there came a man to the door. He knocked on the door and stepped inside and said he was a Lord who had recently been widowed, and that now that his mourning was over he would have himself a wife. And the second sister said let it be her, so that it would not have to be any other. For she loved her younger sister with all her heart, and hoped this would protect her from whatever fate had befallen their elder sibling.
And so the middle sister climbed into the Lord’s carriage and went with him to his castle in the clouds. He said to her that she was forbidden to leave the castle, for there was a beast that fed on the flesh of women who were foolish enough to roam the hillsides. And she believed him, for where else could her sister be.
In time, she gave birth, just like her sister had. And she too, just like her sister, stepped outside the castle’s walls the next morning in search of her newly-stolen daughter.
And she too was eaten, from the heart out, piece by piece, mouthful by carefully chewed mouthful, by the beast.
In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice and her heart as hard as stone, and with her lived a daughter. And she raised her as her own.
The girl was forbidden from leaving the house. Forbidden too, from talking about her sisters. But she remembered them each night, listened to their stories in her dreams, and each morning she woke with tears in her eyes.
She told no stories herself. And she told them to no-one.
On the day of her 18th birthday there came a man to the house and he took her away and did to her what it was his intention to do.
And at the end, like all the others, she fled the castle in search of her child, and came face to face with the beast on the path. And there was no way past.
In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice, her heart as hard of stone, and her lips as red as a late summer rose. A man came to the door, and brought with him three little girls, sisters in their way. She thanked him for his work and took the children crying from his arms.
And she raised them as her own.
1. Written on June 29th, 2016
2. The title is a sort-of reference to The Three Incestuous Sisters, by Audrey Niffenegger, which I liked a lot when I read it
3. Although this story has nothing to do with that story at all, beyond having a similar title, and containing some sisters