Before the Fairytale by Carly Holmes is the next piece of flash fiction in Wales Arts Reviews’ week-long celebration of the genre.
I found her down one of the twisted paths that slice the cemetery’s green heart. Ivy, thick as bone and tangled as witches hair, had loved a gravestone too fiercely; dragging it to the side, creating a narrow den of shadows and secrets. I knelt to read the inscription.
She was crouched under there, swollen belly buried deep in leaf mould. I only saw her when she lunged past me. She wanted to run then, I saw her sway and lean away, eyes leaping everywhere, but my rucksack was temptation and she stayed, nipping at it in short, dancing thrusts. Her scalp was bare in patches, her legs shook with the effort to prop up that writhing stomach.
I loosened the bag’s catch. Here, let me help, I said.
She let me see her snarl, putting all her effort into it. Her bottom lip trembled.
I laid my lunch on the ground and watched her eat. I could have touched her then, stroked the scabbed stem of her neck, but didn’t want to scare her.
I poured tea from my flask and she sipped, staring over the rim of blue, then held it out. I thought she wanted more but she shook her head. She wanted to share. I drank, fighting an urge to wipe or grimace.
What am I? She asked. She laid her hands across her sharp cheeks and then her stomach, where they rode the tumbling flesh.
I thought you were a fox, at first, I said. It’s strange. But now I can see you’re… human?
She peered out through straggles of auburn hair, scratching at her raw pink skin.
Yes, fox. And human too. Here I’m a fox ready to drop a litter of cubs. Vermin. But there, back home, I’m a dwarf. Part of the Royal line. Part of history.
Chatter shrilled behind us. She flattened herself against the earth. I shuffled closer to cover her with my thin shadow as somebody paused and exclaimed. A fox!
I didn’t turn my head. It’s dying, I said.
I couldn’t look away from her orange stare for fear of severing the connection between us.
When we were alone, she stood. I’ll birth seven of them, she said. They’ll be important, there. They must be or I wouldn’t have been magicked away. I need to tunnel a way back but I don’t have the strength, or the tools. With every passing day I remember less about walking on two legs.
She was becoming more fox than dwarf in her distress. I pressed a finger to my eye and squinted until her muzzle turned back to mouth, her paws to hands.
Let me help you, I said. Let me dig a way back for you. Show me how.
You see me, she said. You’ve made the first mark on the earth. Just keep believing and your mind will be the spade. The rest can be history.
I wrapped my hands around the frozen air and began to dig.
Before the Fairytale by Carly Holmes is part of a Wales Arts Review series publishing original flash fiction pieces by some of Wales’ top authors in a celebration of the unique literary genre and National Flash Fiction Day.