“Ah, yeh, poor boy, that was Koschei what took yer bride. Nothin’ for it now, but find another,” the toothless old woman says, adding a log to the fire. “I’ve had to.” She turns the spitted rabbit for even cooking.
“I can’t simply give up! I will find a horse and slay him with my sword!” I swear, vengeance swelling within me.
“Can’t do that, then, ken, ye? Immortal, innit… Unless…” So the woman tells me an outrageous tale, and here I stand on the deck of the Hesperiad, bound for a lump of land in the middle of the sea.
“Land ho!” I cry. I dig and I dig beneath a great oak tree, my spade finally kissing metal. I excavate an iron chest, smashing the lock with the blade. From it pops a brown rabbit, quick as lightning, but I fire my bow. It falls to the ground, only to vomit forth a duck which takes to the sky. I fire again. The duck drops to the sea. I leap in and encounter a great fish that swallows my duck whole. I try to grapple the beast, but it slips and slides and is so large, finally, it turns and swallows me as well.
My air running out, stars appearing before my eyes, I throttle the duck and it drops and egg. I smash the egg as the witch told me, and of a sudden I’m standing in a room with no windows or doors, but a lantern hanging high, showing me every bone from which the wall is made, and a man in black, thin as a rail, standing over my Alice.
“Mother, how could you betray me?” the man asks. I turn to see the old woman from the tavern who told me what to do.
“Mother?” I ask. The woman shrugs.
“I don’t care whose wives you steal, but you should have stayed away from my dinner!”
I flick the needle across the room and watch as the man flies with it. Alice rises and I take her hand as the old woman knocks on the floor, opening a trap door. We jump together and watch as the house runs off, the hag cackling like it was All Hallow’s Eve.
John A. McColley has explored various avenues of science fiction and fantasy in such publications as Crossed Genres Magazine and the Capes and Clockwork anthologies. He lives in New England with his wife and son, bird, cat, and the occasional trespassing raccoon. Find him on Facebook here.