Tale #27: The Three Sorrowful Sisters

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Notes:

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

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The Elixir Of The Gods

Elrond told Sam to get in the barrel.

“But its full of piss, Sir Elrond.”

“IT IS THE ELIXIR OF THE GODS.”

Sam looked terrified by the shouting elf, and apprehensively climbed into the barrel. The elixir of the gods soaked through Sam’s rubbish hobbit clothes. It was horribly warm. Suddenly Gandalf popped up from behind the barrel, and dunked Sam’s head under. Gandalf and Elrond started to laugh.

“Hobbits really are amazing creatures,” chuckled Gandalf. “You can learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years you can dunk them in a barrel of piss and you will laugh and luagh and laugh.”

Sam started to cry. “Oh, Sam” Frodo said indulgently, laughing. Boromir looked on from the doorway, scowling. Gimli started to sing about gold.

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Notes:

1. Written on February 9th, 2009

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Flood

I was returning to my house after the flood. I’d been warned about the possibility of wild animals having taken up refuge in the building, scared and lost and possibly slightly mad with hunger and terror and post traumatic stress and all the other things animals feel I suppose. Badgers, especially, we were warned about, washed out from their setts and forced up into our homes here halfway up the hills.

On the bus I dreamt a bit about rabid pine martens trapped in the pipes, about bedraggled cats clawing at my hands as I reached under the bed. Rats in the bathroom, crows in the loft. The garden a writhing marsh of eels, the patio a croaking pond of frogs.

None of my dreams involved badgers because I’d never seen a badger and didn’t really believe they existed round here.

I approached from the back, stepping through a gap in the trees that lined the garden. The shed was a write-off, half sunk down into the mud, the lawnmower sodden in a puddle of filth that I didn’t have the heart to try and rescue it from.

I never really used it anyway.

At this point I feared the worst. I could see that a side window on the garage had been smashed, and one on the back porch, too, and I had a quick vision of the house being knee deep in sludge, slugs and snails spread thick across the walls, everything rotting beyond the hope of salvage or repair.

But inside the house everything was largely okay. There wasn’t even that much damage really. The lino in the kitchen was a bit damp and stained, but the sandbags had mostly done their job. And the carpet in the hall was miraculously unharmed. The house must tilt upwards from the back to the front, I thought. I never knew that before.

In the living room there was an alligator on the settee, watching tv. He seemed to be wearing one of my shirts, all neatly buttoned up down the front as far as I could see, which wasn’t far, because he was lying down, his head hanging lazily over the armrest.

He was also wearing a pair of my jeans, his back legs poking out through the pockets, his tail stretching one of the legs near to breaking point. The other trouser leg hung down onto the floor like a half-discarded skin.

“What are doing in my house?” the alligator said.

“This is my house,” I said. “I live here.”

I was talking to an alligator.

“No you don’t.”

How could you argue with that, I wondered.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” I tried. “And one of my shoes.”

“I’m wearing my shirt,” he said. “And my shoe.”

His voice had that quality whereby everything he said made you want to punch him in the face, but you knew you never would and also knew that if any punching occurred he’d be the one to instigate it and there’d be nothing you could do about it, because you’re a fucking coward and he hates you and everything about you.

And also he was an alligator. Alligators bloody love punching people.

“I’ve lived here 12 years,” I said.

“Yeah well you weren’t here when I came in.”

“I don’t have to be all the time. It’s still mine.”

“Nah,” he said.

I started to say something I think but he turned the sound up on the tv really loud and I couldn’t make myself heard over the sound of Jeremy Clarkson sarcastically crashing a car.

I noticed he had a shoe on the end of his tail. No sock though.

I’ve never really trusted men who wear shoes with no socks.

I’ve never really trusted alligators that much either.

Another alligator bustled into the room through the hatch that leads to the kitchen that you can pass food through if you want but which I never had because I lived on my own and If I wanted to eat in here I walked round from the kitchen holding my plate in my hands because it was only about 5 metres away.

She was the most beautiful alligator I’ve ever seen.

She was 100% nude.

I blushed and looked at the floor before I knew what I was doing and then I realised what I was doing and I thought what am I doing of course she’s not wearing any clothes she’s an alligator.

But then why was the other alligator wearing clothes.

It was a confusing situation.

“How come you aren’t wearing any clothes,” I shouted to the naked lady alligator over the sound of Richard Hammond’s xenophobic laughter burbling out of the tv.

“She’s a fucking crocodile,” said the beclothed male alligator. “Of course she’s not wearing any
clothes.”

He switched off the tv and glared at me.

“Well, you’re wearing clothes,” I said.

“I’m an alligator,” he said. “Are you fucking stupid, or something?”

The sexy crocodile giggled and I could feel my face go all red with shame and my heart ache with unrequited love for a crocodile I never even knew existed 33 seconds ago.

She flopped down from the hatch she was hanging half out of and flapped across the floor towards what I hoped now was her father or maybe her brother and not her husband or boyfriend or whatever the correct alligator/crocodile relationship term would be and she rose up on her hind legs and awkwardly kissed him on his huge lizardine lips and my heart nearly broke in two.

I’m sure the alligator turned to look at me smugly at this point but I might well have been imagining it.

“How did you get that shirt buttoned up, anyway?” I said.

“Clara did it up for me. She’s surprisingly dextrous,” he leered, as Clara held up her arm and wiggled her fingers at me.

“This really is my house, you know,” I sighed. “You can’t just barge in here and claim it as your own. It’s not right.”

I stopped then because I was afraid I might cry and I didn’t want to cry, not in front of Clara, even though she was a crocodile and wouldn’t even know what tears were let alone what they meant.

I was pretty sure crocodiles cannot cry.

“What’s this guy talking about, honey?” Clara said to the alligator. “You told me you bought this place with your insurance payout.”

“I never said I bought it,” said the alligator, the smug confidence drained from his voice.

Somehow this made me want to punch him even more. “I just sort of implied it, I suppose. I thought they’d all gone for good this time.”

“You nothing but a goddamn liar and you always will be,” Clara screamed. “Mother was right about you.”

At the end of this outburst she burst into tears and I realised I knew much less about crocodiles than I thought.

“Are you okay?” I said

I crouched down so as to be nearer to her face while I spoke, as I thought it seemed a bit threatening looming over her really. But now I was all the way down there at ground level I felt slightly absurd, like I was infantilising her in some way. So I stood back up sharply and took a few steps back and, basically, knowing what to do with your body while you’re talking to a crocodile is all a bit confusing. It’s a whole new fucking ball game really.

Body language has a long way to go before it’s universal.

She probably thought I was acting weird just by standing up on two legs anyway. She could probably see my socks and was busy wondering what the hell they were.

“Im fine,” she sniffled. And then she started wailing, “Oh my god it’s so unfair I can’t believe you could treat us all like this!” and thrashing her tail back and forth and it was heartbreaking to see.

“I’ll, er, get you a drink from the kitchen,” I said. “Is tea okay?”

She nodded her big teary-eyed face up at me and I resolved to make her the best cup of tea the world has ever known.

I got a couple of mugs out from the cupboard and went over to give them a quick rinse in the sink. Then I’m ashamed to say I screamed and dropped the mugs and they smashed all over the floor.

“What the fuck is going on in here?” the alligator bellowed, his head poking through the hatch and looking right at me with its cold dead eyes and its fixed unnerving grin.

“The sink’s full of crocodiles,” I said, feebly, realising as I said it that that’s probably not actually particularly scary at all for a crocodile.

“They’re alligators,” he said.

“But they aren’t wearing any clothes,” I said.

He rolled his eyes at me. “They’re babies.”

“And you said Clara’s a crocodile.”

“Are you suggesting I’m not the father?”

He lunged forward aggressively but luckily he was too wide to get much further through the hole and into the kitchen.

“I thought maybe, I dunno, parthenogenesis, or something…”

“That’s snakes, you cretin.”

“And komodo dragons,” I said. “I saw it on a David Attenborough programme once.”

“Do I look like a komodo dragon?”

I shrugged.

“Make mine a coffee will you.”

And with that he slithered back into the living room.

When I brought the drinks in the two of them were all coiled up together on the settee, smiling, laughing. Kissing, too, I think. I slammed the tray down as hard as I could on the coffee table without spilling a drop. The spoons rattled deafeningly against the saucers.

The kissing went on and it went on and I’d almost finished my tea and still it went on.

“Your tea’s getting cold,” I said finally.

There was one more kiss and then they turned towards me and their cups of tea. It was a mess of tongues and broken china and spilt milk and sodden biscuits but they looked happy enough with the result. Probably a bit sweet for my liking but there’s no accounting for taste.

“We’ve been talking…” Clara said.

“Maybe we can come to some arrangement,” the alligator finished.

“What sort of arrangement?”

“About the house,” said Clara.

“We could have the living room,” said the alligator.

“You can’t sleep in here,” I said.

“Yes I could.” That was the alligator again.

“There’s no bed,” I said.

“We don’t need a bed!” Clara said. “We could sleep under the coffee table. You wouldn’t even know we’re here”

“But it’s glass,” I said. “Wouldn’t you rather something more private?”

They shrugged their shoulders, which was quite frightening in the alligator and incredibly charming in Clara.

“And what about your children? They aren’t living in the kitchen sink.”

“The bath?”

“No!”

“We could keep them in here,” said Clara. “In a big bucket.”

“I… actually that might work,” I said. “I think I’ve got a paddling pool in the garage.”

“What’s a paddling pool?” Clara asked and I tried explaining it but they didn’t know what rubber was and they definitely didn’t understand what I meant about inflating something and in the end I gave up trying to explain and just said I’d get it out from the garage and show them the stupid bloody thing and they could make up their minds about whether it would be suitable or not for their children to live in.

I went out the front door and walked across the front garden, which was slightly overgrown but otherwise perfectly okay.

I was just opening the garage door when I thought to myself that maybe I’d been tricked and this whole thing was a scam. The tears, the children, the coquettish smile, everything. Why was I coming to an arrangement with them. This was my house. I didn’t have to let them stay just because they’d broken in and spun some ridiculous story up out of nothing.

They’d probably stolen those children like they’d stolen my clothes.

What even was their story?

Fuck it, I’m going to go back in there and tell them to get the fuck out of my house. I’m going to yank that shoe off that fucking fuck’s fucking tail and smash his fucking brains out. Watch top gear on my fucking tv would you? Put your feet up on my fucking couch? You fucking cunt. I’m not fucking having it. I’m not fucking having any of it.

The garage door swung up. A badger exploded out of the darkness and bit out my throat and I bled to death right there on the drive.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 6th and 7th, 2017

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