Horror & Dark Fantasy

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Fiction

And Lucy Fell

This is actually the second time I wrote this—I threw away the first, unsatisfactory version years ago. But this is one of those ideas that doesn’t give up easily, and the final lines haunted me until I wrote it again.

—ER

If I am mad, it is because I cannot taste your mouth.

These nights end too soon, each dawn coming without your touch. You are so close. I hear your nails scratch against the walls, I hear you breathing, out there. I open my mouth in hope, press it to the walls that separate us, kiss the cold wet stone. No matter my imaginings, it does not taste of you.

If I am mad, it is because I cannot reach past the bars to touch you.

Cold iron holds you back, sealing your hot sharp mouth away from me. Your bandy arms. Your grasping hands.

Every night I know you are there, just beyond the damned iron bars. Waiting.

But the smell of iron cannot bury the smell of you. Your reek is like a smoky weight in my lungs. Your breath is vapor on the black air, rich as old roses, heavy as peonies. I am drunk with you. You are heady enough to sustain me through any madness, with your rough, red sighs and your hard, white teeth.

I cannot touch you. But I have not been idle while I wait. Pining is for the weak.

Every night I scrape away at the stone where the bars are socketed, wearing away my fingerprints, turning the stone to mud with my thin blood.

And my blood is thin, wasted and dilute with waiting. How many times have I ripped my own veins wide with my own imperfect teeth, to wash the stone sill for you, to give you my strength to lap up?

And all that has come of it is a black tar on the windowsill where it dried untasted, and my teeth pulled out to save me from myself.

They tied me to my bed, but even without teeth I could chew through their ties. When they chained me I twisted like a worm on a hook, wearing holes in my skin, straining the metal until it snapped. They did not try to bind me again. They locked the door, and they did not come back. I think they hoped that these walls and these bars would hold me. But enough time will crumble anything they can devise. Even this cage.

Last night, near dawn, the left-hand bar turned loose in its socket. I spent the day awake, worrying it, greasing the stone with what seeps from me. Now the bar is free.

I would fly to you, but before they left me alone for good, they cut my wings away. No amount of persistence will grow them back. I have tried.

So now when night comes down again, I will remove the bar, and wait for you one last time. And when I finally taste you in the air outside, I will sing out, Come in, love, come in, and show me what you have done with the gifts I gave you. Wrap me in your arms and claws and tattered wings. Let me see your teeth.

Erica Ruppert

Erica Ruppert lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and several spoiled cats. Her work has appeared in magazines including Unnerving and Weirdbook, on PodCastle, and in multiple anthologies. Her novella, Sisters in Arms, will be published by Trepidatio Publishing in 2021. She is currently working on an unplanned yet persistent novel. When not writing weird fiction and occasional poetry, she reads a great deal of nonfiction and gardens with more enthusiasm than skill. Her book reviews and other musings can be found at Erica Ruppert’s NerdGoblin.