The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Sparks Like Stars
by Scarlett R. Algee
When you were a girl, your mother always told you stories. Fantasies, fairy tales: the sorts of things that involved unicorns and fairies and fine high castles with clouds crowning their tops, that kept you captivated by all things pink and frilly and princess-y.
But mostly, she talked about your great-grandmother. How she’d married your great-grandfather and brought magic into the bloodline; how the last child she’d borne him had come out feathered and bloody, spreading harpy’s wings, and had escaped into the night through a carelessly opened window.
How, after that, her husband had helped burn her at the stake.
You’d scoffed at the story as you’d gotten older. That had been the early twentieth century; nobody got burned at the stake anymore, and anyway, by then people had figured out that magic wasn’t real.
And your mother had just looked you in the eyes every time and said, Everything burns.
But you’d scoffed right up until yesterday, when you’d coughed while sharing gossip across the fence with your nearest neighbor, and what had come out was a feather: pumpkin orange and copper red, fluffy and curling and wreathed at the edges in wisps of grey smoke.
As it turns out, memories are long.
They must be, because tonight you were forcibly bundled out of your apartment—coughing out bits of smoking fluff all the way—and now you’re chained to a lamppost, with an impressive stack of sticks and split logs and broken pallets under your feet.
Someone pours gasoline onto the wood. The liquid splashes up your legs, the odor tunneling into your nostrils. Then a piece of kindling is lit, a safe distance away, and tossed onto the pile underneath you.
The whoosh of roaring flame is accompanied by the sickening smell of your clothes and hair crisping and burning away. But greater than that is the sudden pressure in your chest, pressure that has a shape of fluttering wings, of a long beak sliding up into your throat. The climbing claw-hook agony of it keeps your eyes open, keeps you staring into the shivering wall of heat as your jaw pops and unhinges and stretches, and you realize that you, too, are releasing something monstrous into the world.
With a final shove at your insides, the creature working its way out of you pops free and shrieks, spreading great red-tipped wings that trail smoke, and whose beats fan the flames out and away in huge rippling waves.
Your—child?—flaps overhead, trailing sparks like stars, and dives into the crowd. The char you smell doesn’t come from your skin; the screams you hear don’t rise from your throat.
Your mother was right.
Fiction © Copyright Scarlett R. Algee
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Scarlett R. Algee:
The Lift: Nine Stories of Transformation, Volume One
The hall is dark and the overhead light flickers. Sounds echo, and there’s a creaking and clanging that gets louder as you stand in the semi-dark. The elevator opens and you’re offered a ride. Step inside and ride it to the story chosen for your transformation. Don’t be afraid, for Victoria, the mysterious girl who operates The Lift, waits to guide you. Set in the same world as the award nominated audio drama, The Lift’s first written anthology features nine all new stories by fan favorite writers and special bonus content by creators Daniel Foytik and Cynthia Lowman. The collection is brought to life with beautiful illustrations by Jeanette Andromeda for each story.