When the Girl leaves the womb she is all red. Red and
sticky with oozing milk coating her tiny body. Her
mother, surprisingly alive, tilts her head back and
drinks her own labor sweat. Too salty to quench, the
father pours a whole pitcher of water onto mother and
child, the pasty white sick washes off in a moment.
The baby wails; upset, concerned when the air shows
no face, gives no announcement of its presence, just
enters and exits the lungs, fast and cyclical.
The village Hag waits outside the cottage window,
pacing and banging sticks together in the dusk. When
she hears the child’s first wail, the curl of her upper lip
rises like a sun; a girl, what a stupid mistake.
The cottage reeks of blood and metal, stains on the
walls and the sheets, the Hag rushes forward and
grabs for the Girl’s tiny hand, a hand so small it could
be taken in one bite; the bone easy to crunch through,
the veins slurped up like noodles. The Hag takes the
flailing arm of the new child, not more than ten
minutes old, forces the baby quiet and traces the
freshly formed lines of her palm.
“Sick, wasted thing,” the Hag hums. Mother’s eyes
bulge in fear, father snorts and grabs the Girl, but the
Hag has seen enough, “sick, wasted thing will be a
Hail Mary Girl, stacked like bales of hay, just like the
others.” The father confused, the mother exhausted,
they shake their heads and the man pushes the Hag
from the house. The baby wails and wails.
The man was a farmer; radishes, carrots, large leafy
greens the rabbits would get to. He’d chase them off
with a wooden bat, too slow, but still saving his
produce goods. The Girl was sixteen by now with
sisters listed three behind her. She kept her mousy
brown hair long in one simple braid. A field of freckles
atop her nose and across her cheeks, crooked, big
teeth that made her look like the rabbits her father so
diligently chased. By now the Girl had suitors, she was
of age at this time; pages and peasants. Her
father, hoping to see her wed before his death,
counted them off one by one, insistent on finding the
perfect husband for his eldest daughter.
A market bears fruit and fish and simple greens;
the townspeople trade coins for delicate meats
wrapped in tawny paper. The Father sells his goods,
copper clinking in small bags dumped into dirty
hands fresh from the earth.
The Girl walks in line with her sisters, little ducklings
following their mother. She gathers the thigh of a pig,
fatty tallow, and bread. They make the butter
themselves. The girls do not wander out of line; the
villagers whisper about old men, maybe hermits or
knights that suck on their riches, spitting out metallic
dust. The girls do not wander out of line; large cliffs
surround the village, white foam waves along the
If only God would touch the town with one graceful
finger, with a cloak of gold, with a whisper to women.
How the sky turns red in the darkest part of night,
eyes like vessels carrying curdled milks. The Girl has
seen many men lick their lips, question her as she and
the other ducklings swerve from the market.
A body is only the flesh it breathes; Christ on the cross
with the fresh birth of this sanctity. His flesh ripped to
shreds, real blood and salty liquor. If a good girl
follows the good God then she shall be a good wife.
The village square fancies gallows, fancies weddings,
fancies young women to the trust of old men. How
funny, the way the sun rises over the east wind, brings
with it dusted tales to waxed ears. What is sacrifice,
but a family heirloom?
Now, the man, Blue, named after the shade growing
from his chin, had been storing glass beads in his
beard, the hairs a deep blue and more course than the
Girl’s thighs. He had been stroking his beard until it
was able to lick the floor. He was 40 tree rings old
with polished jewels on each milky finger, he popped
the dazzlers into his mouth like sweet cherries. This is
where the Girl saw the decay, how a tooth can lose its
will to attach to gums.
And then there was the castle.
The villagers had known about the depth of the castle,
high above the village center. Strapped into rocks and
eagles’ nests, corridors running like small rivers under
ice blocks of marble. The village people knew of the
deep lake running through his beard, the village had
always been in awe of the grey stone, the turrets and
rumored dungeons. The structure itself an omen, the
man himself a wolverine.
If the Girl had picked at the secrets like skin around
her thumb maybe she would have opened slow
instead of split like a small citrus. Her being so glossy
under scabs of dirt reached for stones tucked into her
gums; one tooth, two teeth, let the pink meat of her
smile dry out in the afternoon sun. If the Girl had only
remembered that she was just a young girl with soft
hair between her thighs and a belly like a soggy melon
— ripened before collapse. If she had known that she
was the tenth or eleventh or fortieth Hail Mary, would
she have entered?
Bluebeard gave the girl an amber ring set in a silver
band, a small spider frozen in the crystallized sap;
then he brought her to the castle. He gave her fabrics
made of human hair, silk with worms still alive and
glowing, he made the yard into an ocean so she would
wake to the sound of crashing waves. There was an
armoire carved from thick oak, an owl tucked into its
cabinet. In the hall there were many feasts, in the
garden were voles and peat to make the plants grow,
there were silver crowns and taxidermy boars,
swirled marble and acrylic paint.
Bluebeard was one day called to travel; something
about fabrics or spices and the Girl paid no mind. On
the day he left, he readied his horse and gave the Girl
the keys to the castle. He said, here, take these rusted
skeletons and use them for any room.
There were over fifty rooms in the castle, some filled
with spinning wheels, some with dolls, others had
musical instruments carved out of bone. His favorite
was the room dressed in wind chimes, like sitting
inside a bell, he said.
When he slid the keys onto the Girl’s boney wrist he
said, there are dreams upon dreams filling this
castle. Any room is yours, except the one with the
Oak door and iron casing. Bluebeard left a promise in
her hands, an X on the door, should the Girl enter, he
The Girl and her sisters danced through the castle
until their spines began to rust. They lapped ice cream
from the dining tables and set off fireworks through
the halls. The Girl was a spinning top without nightly
visits from the coarse bearded tide; she walked with
shoes made from dust of Andromeda and swished her
dress celebrating every room of the castle.
The Girl and the three ducklings decided to give up on
their party when the last of the confetti had fallen,
when the wood floors became warped under spilled
There is the idea of curiosity. Women condemned
for their prying interests. How whenever a girl becomes
inquisitive, she will be left bruised.
It was then that the Girl crept down the last creaking
hallway, down the dim lit staircase, her carrying a
single torch and the ring of keys. There, there she
would find the door. Old oak in three slats, iron
plating curling around the top, a cold knob, and a
perfect glowing keyhole.
It was no surprise that when the Girl opened the door
she found the bodies of her predecessors. The man
had stacks of women, all curious about what lay
behind the door, their bodies piled, some still with
soggy flesh and some with jeweled rings spilling off
their bones. Skulls stacked in neat rows with gaping
mouths, missing teeth, severed necks. The Girl
covered her mouth from the stench and the key, to the
one forbidden room broke off the ring and dropped in
a pool of blood.
In a panic, the Girl fled. Begged her sisters to wash the
blood of the key after her arduous attempts had failed,
but the key was stained. Once silver, now a dull red.
The man would return and just like all the other wives
he would behead the Girl. How he would blame her
for being a curious child. For being a curious girl. For
being a girl.
In the end, it was that she was all nerve endings and
salty meat, her mouth stayed watering for savory
juices and thick gulps of wine. She would not ask for
anyone to save her, she would not accept a grand
escape. All those Hail Mary’s that must be prayed, her
thumb locked in her mouth sucking on a Hag’s omen.
Sometimes we save ourselves until we cannot any
longer. That is how the girl fell. Without assistance
but still with strength like an angel welcoming a
hungry beast. The villagers eventually ran the blue
bearded man out of the castle. They dug many graves,
each body a bit of earth, each bone a place to rest. The
town gave white roses to plots, streaks of bright red
down the petals; they called out Hail Mary, blessed
are thou among women, the roses bled into the stone,
red pooled around the edges.
Nic Alea holds a fellowship from the Lambda Literary Foundation and was voted one of SF Weekly’s “Best Writers without a Book.” Nic has work featured in journals such as Muzzle Magazine, the Paris American, decomP, and others. They also read tarot, with special readings for poets and writers. Find more at nicaleawrites.com.