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Fairy-Tale Ending

When the moon was full, Immer lowered her hair to the Earth, a silver net with snarls bound tight as a captain’s knot. Kneeling down, she plucked the strands of her hair like a harpist.

In the tension before dawn, Immer raised her hair, scooping birds and bugs away from the Earth. Immersed in her net, they dreamt. She ate the birds, swallowing them whole since she couldn’t bear the sound of small bones crunching. The bugs she cooked in a stew. Next came the bacteria and viruses, fungi and protozoa, which she brushed out of her hair as if they were burrs. With care, she sorted the smaller life forms.

Once done, she scattered the microorganisms above the Earth like rain, except for the most deadly and beautiful. Those, she sprinkled along the surface of the moon.

She was about to curl her hair into a bed when she felt a gentle tug. Something else was stuck in her locks.

Over the years, Immer had caught many things in her hair–slumbering bears and the bees who follow them; sticks, stones, and bones; bird nests (she was no friend to birds, although she loved their songs); smoke from wildfires, the smell lingering on her curls; yarn for a sweater, wood for a table, and other unmade things; the song of a cello (she still hears it, even though she’s combed out the melody hundreds of times); the light that comes over the mountains; half-chewed leaves; water.

Now she parted her hair to find a book submerged like an ocean chest under wispy waves, its gold-edged pages blooming with illustrations. Tales for children, but with darkness underneath. Immer read stories of girls who were barred from wolf-hungry woods, girls trapped in towers, girls running. Always running.

Where are the other stories? Immer thought, flipping through the pages with a prehensile lock. The stories of women who had no fear of the woods, who ran alongside wolves and swam in clear rivers. Older stories, and truer, of women who drank in dragon’s breath and spat out fire.

The next night, as her hair brushed against the Earth, something tugged hard. Again and again, that fierce pull. Sharpness bloomed in her scalp. Immer drew up her hair, hoping for another book.

Instead, a man in a fine vest clung to her curls.

Never before had a visitor ascended. The moon was no place for fragile bodies, with its barrenness and isolation, its subtle dust and solemn beauty.

Immer studied this human, who had come so unexpectedly. Loneliness crept over her like waves against the shore, a little at a time, until she was drenched. She wanted very much to speak to him. Perhaps she could point to the star of her birth and tell of how, when she came of age, her grandparents had wrapped her in their hair and catapulted her to this moon to hunt.

Immer curled her hair around the man so he could breathe and waited to see what he would do.

He stumbled forward and drank in her form, his mouth curving into a soft roundness. She did not like the way he looked at her, the sharpness in his eyes.

“You are beautiful,” he said. The first words from his mouth.

Her hair rushed back from him, streaming behind her, until only one lock remained curled around his head. This was not what she wanted to hear. This story, again. Her tongue was thick around human speech. “Go.”

“But–” He faltered. Pointed down to the Earth. “I have climbed so far.”

“Go,” she said, again.

This was not the fairytale settled in his bones. He was handsome, the lines of his face sharp, the shape of his shoulders firm.

“No,” she said to the unasked question, the form of this word so similar to the last. A warning.

He stepped toward her, his boots making harsh prints in the dust. The buttons on his vest sparkled like wicked stars.

The ending depends on the story you know.

In one version, she weaves a strand of hair into his eyes, releasing carefully sorted prokaryotes that immobilize him. Unlike the birds, he is too big to swallow whole.

In another version, he cuts off the lock of hair surrounding him, intending to keep it. Deprived of his oxygen source, he dies. She eats this one, too.

In another, he departs, descending her rope of hair. Perhaps her strange shaping of the word “no” is enough, or the glint in her eyes, or her hunger.

That night, she spread her hair over the moon entire, testing its crevasses. There were places she had not been, still. Her hair was growing longer.

Soon, her hair will grow long enough to reach past the sun. Long enough to slingshot her body over the universe, grabbing planets like pitons on a great climb upward. She will travel home and tell of a strange planet, one with birds and cellos, wedding rings, the terrible scent of smoke. She will tell of a book with gold-sharp pages and a hunger that woke within her like a flurry of beetle wings, alive and fragile and furious, until it came to settle, like the moon’s darkened dust, finally sated.

Beth Goder

Beth Goder works as an archivist, processing the historical papers of economists, scientists, and other interesting folks. Her fiction has appeared in venues such as Escape Pod, Fireside, and an anthology from Flame Tree Press. You can find her online at http://www.bethgoder.com.

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