The universe seems small. Lear grasps it between fingers, plucking the strand of hair from Lina’s head. She sleeps on, not knowing the guilt Lear carries in knots between his shoulder blades.
Taking the first piece of hair had been an accident. And he promises, “This will be the last.” Lear leaves no other confessions between them in bed. Lina shifts beside him, scented with sweet Grecian laurel lined under her pillow for dreams.
Nothingness weighs Lear to the spot. Too many months passed since Lina felt endless, womanhood waning with each strand he took.
Now he twists the hair around his finger, pulse thrumming hard and fast and sure. He focuses his breathing to summon endless properties, willing magic beyond future and past and this moment to feather from his skin.
“No one cares unless it kills you.” He mouths the words, desperate for Lina to stay still in sleep. The warning of such a feat burns through his back, and he leaves thoughts of ruination behind.
Lear always knew he was different, even before his father spoke of magic that might find you, if only you tasted the right tea, or picked up the perfect coin. Lear waited then, patient the first few years. He clung to belief; a tangible thing, for no foundling chose the same person twice. Magic, Lear supposed, was fickle that way. Without reason or time or prayer, the magic might be gone, or never there at all.
He holds his own magic inside now, different than the miraculous manifestation of the universe in Lina’s hair.
Beyond the bedroom, Lear lights a small candle. The rest of the flat remains quiet, revealing the absence of the other
Lear pulls the top drawer open with careful fingers, not wanting to disturb the raven skull knob his father installed years before. Another protrudes from the right; its brother. Perhaps these birds more than anything else brought the fine feathers from his skin, though he admits to them now, “It’s not the same.”
And he can’t explain to anyone else, because Lina never touches his desk, too terrified to feel the echo of words within. It’s the same reason she refuses to find his hands in the dark. She fears
Such is knowing.
Such is fate.
“I didn’t want to believe it.” Lina’s voice slips thin from behind him. Her fingers feel small against his. She pulls his hand into the candlelight.
Lear reveals nothing, keeping fingers clasped tight so as not to unveil the final strand. “Don’t you find it strange, Lina? Paths divulge. Lives evolve. And then one day you can’t speak, and too much has changed.” He turns, searching for a flash of her foundling. But Lina’s hair hides beneath a scarf, pinned at each ear to conceal the cosmos within.
When Lear stands, the rush of proximity pulses against his face. But it no longer startles him. He drapes his arms around her shoulders, needing to feel her realness. The sweet scent of honey and compass weed envelops him before her embrace. When he unties the silk ribbon at her waist, he lets it slip from his fingers to the floor. He feels for the place where life might bloom inside. Desperation to explain their possibility tastes like thyme on the back of his tongue. This is what she needs to hear. The feathers at his back prickle with belief. He explains, “We don’t have to grow a whole garden at once, but in months we’d have something true.”
Lina pulls her dressing gown closer to her chest before backing into the bedroom. Her dark skin sinks her into shadows. “You pretend I don’t know, Lear. And would you wear the bones of birds if it gave you more power?” Lina’s voice echoes from the hall. “You are not the first man to fear death, my darling.”
Lear doesn’t need to wrap the piece of her hair tighter to feel their lives entwined in an infinitesimal way. “Such disdain from someone who will not die.” The truth never tasted so bitter. Or maybe it’s the smell of sage smoke choking Lear now.
“They call you the man of the ravens. And you are of the ram, so say the stars. The sky tells me things I don’t want to know. Dark things.”
Lear wills himself to stay still, knowing he’s already too far betwixt having it all and losing everything. Instead, he returns to the desk. There’s a small compartment to the back where he keeps the important things. He adds this last piece of hair to his collection; twenty-two strands of the universe culled from his lover’s skull.
He knows if he asks, Lina might tell their time together in a different way, something kinder than the loveless deceit he feels in fingertips whenever he traces down her spine.
Lina’s hand reaches from the shadows, moving up and down his back bone; a memory conjured. “And with each strand you have lent, something wicked this way went. Double and double; dying scent. You’ll watch them burn. Your time is spent.” Her hands return to Lear’s shoulders, keeping him from kissing down her neck.
“You try to stop me with a spell? They’re just sentences, Lina. And I always wondered what it would be like to hold the universe, but there is no word for it now.” Lear unties the scarf from around Lina’s head, revealing the glow of sky and stars in strands of hair. This view still ensnares him, binding him to the brutality of taking magic for his own; unsuited for a life of mundanity, just like the others.
Without hesitation, Lina rips at the front of Lear’s shirt, buttons breaking free from the fabric. She pulls the tattered clothing away, revealing his foundling beneath. Feathers of fate remain gilded. Lina traces them now, like petals.
Lear doesn’t speak, mind lingering to a memory found between pages like pressed flowers. There was a thing Lina’s mouth did when she read words out loud, too floral in the pucker of lips and tongue against teeth. Lear always thought it like the language of poets, so of
“Creationary, yes, Lear. You created this. But I fear no future.”
Lear laughs. They never teach this kind of real
When the candle beside him snuffs out, there is nothing left but the darkness of the flat. Lear sits back in the desk chair, tracing the eye sockets of the dead birds, searching for their sight.
“Ravens are but an unkindness, and I don’t think you much different now, darling.” Lina exhales, and candles illuminate the room.
“Time shall bathe me in gold, my love. Won’t you join me?” He offers Lina his hand.
She traces a feather. “You act surprised, but you knew this is where your life would end. It’s why you called yourself that name. Emperor. You knew there needed to be a reason for people to praise a myth.” Lina produces a single card from the pocket of her dressing gown. “I had Pixie ink the name. And say what you want of her, but know we all have our burdens.” Her breath shakes with each
Lear searches the space, trying to distinguish the precise number of candles, as Lina paces the room clockwise. Always clockwise. He can’t remember losing the chance to escape this spell, feeling it press around him now.
“Don’t bother counting, love. There’s twenty-two. The same number you took from me. Now I shall take from you.” Lina’s words harden her. “You always acted as if I’d chosen to be the one connected to the universe. To fate. But I never wanted this foundling.” Lina’s tears brighten into the look of liquid gold. She swipes beneath her chin, touching the drops to his forehead.
“And you pretend I haven’t made my choice.” He whispers the words, truth too heavy to speak any louder.
“We’re all choices.” Lina’s voice is too much for this moment. “All of us. I call forth the sisters of
Guilt breaks into
Lina plucks the first feather. “One for memory.” Her lips move slow over the words. “Two for a threat. Three to see. Four is regret. Five for fate. Six for a song. Seven for hate. Eight will be wrong. Nine for lying. Ten will portend. Eleven for dying. Twelve to mend.”
Lear’s scream is shrill, and he can’t take it back. He reaches for the feathers, knowing less than half remain. The thought can’t reassure him; it’s not his time to die.
“Thirteen for a promise. Fourteen to grow. Fifteen for a kiss. Sixteen will know. Seventeen for truth. Eighteen to fight. Nineteen for youth. Twenty for light.”
At the last word, Lear conjures a small shred of strength. He grabs Lina at the elbow before she pulls another feather. He hopes she feels the echo of their
But maybe this had been his fate all along. To steal and lose and lie. His foundling dulls now. Feathers turn the color of dust. “I never meant for any of this.” The admission rattles in his chest, and he coughs to set it free.
Someone must remember him, maybe mythologize his ending, just the way he’d always hoped. It’s a wicked thought, so close to death, but he clings to the belief.
Lina plucks once more, but this is a gleaming strand of
“You’re right to blame me.” His words sound unreal, too distant from his lips now.
Lina sucks in a breath. Another. “No one ever explains you must try to recall the paradox of breaking before being broken.” Lina sinks to the floor before him, offering her heartbreak as a sacrifice to the spell. “But you’d always prefer to be the one to ruin, instead of being the one destroyed.” She tosses the card into the bowl before stealing the last two of his feathers. Together, they burn.
Lear searches for
* * *
Lina didn’t move in the after. The floorboards were rough beneath her back, shaking with sounds of the storm outside. Her sister would hear heartbreak on the wind, and the Weywards would reunite. But for now, there was only this: waiting for candles to burn out, to seal the spell, and settle the dead.
She reached out to his shape, but could not cross the candles. She dipped a pinky in the pool of wax, expecting him to meet her finger to finger. It was how they made promises in the
Tears welled in
* * *
When the flames flickered, Lina’s heart heaved. She twisted her hair around and around her finger until the thrumming thrashed down through her wrist.
“Is she—” Panic draped the room in moss with Layne’s words.
“Somewhere soft to land?” Lina sat up, fingers finding the deep earthen green beneath her.“Would my death bring you to your knees, sister?” She sighed, the sight of the pair of them gift she didn’t deserve.
Nora bent beside her, gaze never leaving Lina. “You needn’t have done this alone.” She pulled Lina to her then, tucking her head beneath her chin like their mother used to do. Though Lina was the eldest, it didn’t much matter.
“I’ll brew the tea.” Layne’s steps to the kitchen were silent on the soft earth. Her foundling often flared with her emotions, and the moss-covered room was no exception now. Layne returned mere minutes later. “Willow bark. For pain.” She handed the cup of steaming liquid to Lina.
Though her hands shook, Lina reached out to her sister, grateful to have anything to fill her now.
“Was it because of the full moon tonight?” Nora took a deep breath, scrunching her nose.
Lina sipped at the tea, trying to ignore the bitter taste. “April 5, 1909. 09:28:06 on this night. Record it, please. In the pages of passing. It’s when.” Lina set the tea down beside her, not ready to part with the weight in her chest. It reminded her something cataclysmic had ripped through her being. It wasn’t enough to numb the catastrophe with foundlings and magic muddled clockwise in the cup. “He’ll need to be buried. I’ll find the place, and finish what I’ve only just begun. There is more to be done, and I beg you not to be parted from me for my misery.”
She knotted the truth of such sentiments into her hair. The sun was sure to rise in too many hours time, but she would not leave Lear until then.
“I’ll see you at first light.” Lina turned back to the body before silence settled back where it was meant to stay until morning.
* * *
The Weyward sisters wore black to bury the body.
Lina dug the hole in the space between three birch trees, hoping it would be enough to hold the darkness at bay.
Dawn crested over the green of spring leaves. Rain would fall in two hours time, and Lina wasn’t sure if she could blame it on the weather or the universe grieving. It might rain for many months to come.
They lowered Lear’s body into the earth before covering the grave with salt. They tossed a pinch over
Overhead, a raven screamed, and Lina knew it was the song of love sung at dawn. She didn’t tell her sisters this, because there would always be too much to explain. She said only, “One for memory.”
Kayla King is a graduate of the Mountainview MFA. She is the author of These Are the Women We Write About, a micro-collection of poetry published by The Poetry Annals. Kayla’s fiction and poetry has been published by or is forthcoming from Firewords Magazine, Sobotka Literary Magazine, Fearsome Critters, Barren Magazine, and Dear Movies Zine among others. You can follow Kayla’s writing journey over at her website: kaylakingbooks.com or her twitterings @KaylaMKing.