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There was a cottage near icy waters and in that cottage a family fair with father, mother, and seven daughters whose upstairs bedchamber was theirs to share. The eldest daughter was of such an age that she looked upon the neighbor lad’s heart with the favor due, both proper and sage, of a Christian virtue and reserved art. All the town spoke of their marriage as though it had been a prophecy long foretold, and her preacher father deemed it just-so: as right and goodly as if writ in gold. All said the eldest was pureborn as Eve before she had partaken from the fruit, and said she was of nature as would leave all others impoverished, stem to root. But the eldest daughter dreamt otherwise, seeing a face midst trees not far from there and, at night, she flew across starry skies to meet the man who beckoned her elsewhere.
So, one night, when all had fallen asleep the eldest lay with her shift set aside, she opened the window, without a peep, and looked out upon the auroral tide. Airclad in night clouds, and boldly leaping from out of her cottage bedside window, while nearby her young sisters were sleeping, shoulder to shoulder, in a restful row, the witch bore herself up, beyond the home where her father had sought to teach her fear so her soul would nest at night, never roam, admonishing the lass year after year. Yet, her preacher father could not forbid the eddies of her heart that rose in gusts, and she flew free as a soul gone morbid, yet alive, burning pale and hot with lusts. Over glen and vale, veiled in stars and shade, she escaped the lectern’s brimstone bluster, coming to a man camping in a glade whose dark eyes gleamed with a goatish luster. “Where fare you, my fair lithesome lass of night? Where do you go, lass, mantled in the moon?” She said, “To swim in the milk of moonlight,” and into his arms she swept in a swoon. As a hart in Winter’s rut he set to and she welcomed the rhythm full and fine while the winds rose up, the smoke black and blue, and lips ripened sweet as grapes on the vine. And, indeed, there was pain in their union, and there was pleasure to be had betwixt, much as grapes with stones ate in communion, and a sweet wine can sicken if not mixed. Yet, she had chosen him all on her own and knew her preference better than most, nor did she flinch, skin to skin, bone to bone, nor from the coiled horns of her woodland host. When their congress had swelled unto its end they laid aside, the one near the other, cooing like doves in a curious wind; she said, “I am nothing like my mother.” Her new lover laughed in sardonic glee and stood up, stroking his grey satyr’s beard. He said, “Your mother could oft leap a tree to enjoin in my company.” He leered. He then disappeared from the glowing glade and the fire went with him, nought but embers, but he whispered low to her like a shade, “It is not love, but it warms Decembers.”
Returning home, barefooted in the snow, the young witch had much too much to regret, and was surprised by the hearth’s sullen glow through the pane—her father’s hard features set. “Jezebel!” he shouted. “Harlot! You whore!” He yanked her indoors, his fist lifted high and struck her once, twice, many times the more until black and blue—she thought she would die. Crumbled on the floor, the witch could but weep as her father read to her Bible verse, meanwhile her sisters pretended to sleep and her mother lamented her own curse. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest,” the patriarch quoted, his voice afire like the hellmouth hearth as he beat his chest and denounced daughter to a phantom choir. “Think you well on your blackened heart,” he said, “and recall the bruises I have dealt you when next you dare wickedness out of bed, for the next sin shall be your last to rue!”
He left his witch-daughter slumped on the floor and returned to bed a beast beneath yoke, and though his wife sighed, he would hear no more, saying, “Speak not. My fists never misspoke.” And thereby the grapes of his daughter’s lips bled out to sour as vinegar in haste, the wine spilling, aging, the bitter pips expelled like her Bible lessons…a waste. She rose up, at length, from the floor to stand and tottered by the hearth, much like the flame that swayed weakly in the hellmouth hearth, fanned by the cold wind through the open door’s frame. “Let only the sinless cast the first stone,” she muttered to the shadows twisting round, and then, listening to the cold wind moan, she read her own blood, trickling on the ground, and she saw a tooth within that puddle and she knew it the pip from her own maw, and she bethought how utter a muddle her life was to follow any man’s law.
Down by the frothy-fingered reach of the greedy tides on the beach lingering, lounging on the sand— slimy, salty, seeking with hand for what the sea has yet to take with each moon-glossed, waking wave’s break…
Down, down, down where the waves all crash, and beneath stars that glint and flash, a shell breaches the sudsy surf, dragged by a long arm on the turf, an arm black like a seasnail’s skin and slimy as a salesman’s grin.
The voice within the shell beckons soft as the shoreline that reckons the flotsam of the ships aground on the reef and its heartbeat sound— the desires that have been denied by Life, by Love, by tempting tide.
And the voice laps oft at the edge of the Otherworld, at that ledge between the waking and the dream, between daylight and how things seem to the eye that sleeps otherwise below the waves and moonlit skies.
The local pastor passes by and gemstones ensorcel his eye… The mayor glimpses shiny gold and nascent greed grows overbold… The wanton sees a dress to wear like a jellyfish floating fair… The widow hears the long-lost tune of her husband who drowned last June…
Hear you that voice that calls to thee? Hear you that sweet-tongued usury? It is his claim he offers much if you do not shrink from his touch and give what he asks by his whim— toe or tongue or a lithesome limb. The cost is sunk, gone, like a hook and the bait gone, too, oft mistook as a thing fishermen can lose without seeing the gain they choose.
“Tell me your wish, O friend of mine, and I’ll retrieve from bitter brine, whether gold bauble or glinting jewel I shall bring up a gift of Yule. All I ask, dearest friend of mine, is a bit o’ this…bit o’ thine, and that you see how fine a friend I am to you unto the end.”
Refrain Come! Follow my nautilus shell, spiraling round and down and down, and forfeit all you have to sell for riches, rank, revenge, renown! Come! Do not waste the tidal hour, but bring forth what things you may trade to sweeten a life grown so sour within wreckage the tides have made!