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Daily Science Fiction :: The Girl in the Wooden Dress by Angela Rydell
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The Girl in the Wooden Dress

Angela Rydell’s flash fiction appears in various journals and anthologies, including Short, Fast and Deadly, elimae, Storyglossia, Inkwell and The Incredible Shrinking Story. Her poetry can be found in The Sun, Alaska Quarterly, The Cortland Review, Poets & Writers and other journals. She lives in Madison, WI with her husband and cat.
Emmett saw a small head hovering where darkness met sunlight filtering through leaves, caught glimpses of pale hands and feet shifting in shadow. He thought these hints of feminine body were simply light itself, figments of his own desires for a world outside of woodsheds and sanding and the lathe. But as he pushed further down the woodland path, further from his father's demands to pound more pine pegs for legs, varnish maple tabletops stretching vast as frozen lakes, a whole girl appeared in front of him, barefoot and wearing a wooden dress.
He blinked, blinked again, and, as the wind changed, saw a girl wearing a dress of the woods itself. When she moved towards him the woods moved with her, yet she was more girl than wood.
She stopped in a wide patch of sunlight, a clearing open behind her, leading out of the woods. A bird landed in the nest of her hair, and she let Emmett, too, come close to see her dress.
The girl must have smelled sawdust in his hair, finishing oils in his pores, varnish under his fingernails, to let him come so close. He had been taught politeness, not to stare, not to touch what wasn't his, yet his father's dry reprimands blew out of his mind like leaves on a gusty day.
She stood still as a tree as he walked around her, admiring the rich cherry grain that curved over her young hips and fell, impossibly smooth as cloth, down to her feet. He marveled at the golden bird's-eye maple of her corset, laced up with slenderest of willow branches, so taut and tender that, if plucked, he imagined her torso would resonate like a fine violin.
When he could hold back no longer and held out a curious finger, she let him trace the grain along her waist. The wood was impossibly supple, as if sap ran through its veins as blood surely ran through her own.
"I am a woodworker," he told her, though he sensed she knew.
"I too am a worker of wood." Her voice was whispery as wind through leaves.
"How?" he asked, "How is this possible?"
She began to speak in a small voice light and airy and slow. Once a babe who wandered often into the woods, she fashioned dolls from twigs and birch bark, acorns for heads and tassels of pine for skirts. Until one day she wandered back to find her village no longer a village but turned to ash and smelling of burnt flesh. She took refuge in the forest, and it took her in, taught her to fashion clothing for herself as she had for her dolls, schooled her in patience and the ways of the wood. Gave her all the time she needed to grieve in stillness and peace, planting her as if one of its own.
"There is more than blood flowing in my veins now," she said, and nearly disappeared again before him into the dappling of light and shadow. "But I am growing, not as trees grow." She appeared once more, looking behind her into the clearing, her voice even more hushed, as if she wanted to cast it in shadow. He came closer to hear her words. "I am changing in ways it does not understand. I cannot stay rooted here forever."
He too looked to the clearing behind them, toward the new life he had been running towards alone. "Come with me."
She breathed a deep sigh that sounded like a summer breeze, then began to unlace her corset.
"What are you doing?" He blushed, his hands grabbing hers to stop her from removing that most amazing of gowns. Yet his body wanted her naked before him.
"The wood, too, is a worker. See here." She pulled a hand away from his and tugged at the frayed cherry wood hem of her skirt. It wasn't frayed with use, as he had thought at first, but overrun with roots reaching into the ground. "It does not want me to go."
She drew his hands around her to the loosened corset. "I need your help, I cannot reach."
As their bodies closed, their mouths meet in a kiss tasting of sweet sap and autumn. But a fierce gust blew through the woods; twigs, leaves, and pine needles whipped between their bodies, wrenching them apart.
"Hurry," she warned. "The woods act slowly. But there is much they know."
Yellow leaves rained down as Emmett's nimble fingers unlaced her corset's tender willow branches.
"Faster!" she yelled against the wind. The tall elm directly above creaked and groaned. Its branches fell nearby, and he realized the dress had not shot down roots. The woods itself was stretching out roots to keep the dress--and her in it.
The elm trembled violently and, in another hard gust of wind, careened towards them. Emmett leapt backwards, and the tree crashed where he stood moments before.
"Take your arms out of the sleeves!" Emmett yelled, then jumped onto the thick trunk of the felled tree, reaching down to her.
She struggled in her dress like a woman in wooden chains until finally, released from the sleeves, she stretched her bare arms over her head, young breasts exposed but quickly covered in leaves thrashing past in a swirl of red and yellow and orange.
With the muscles from years of chopping and lathing and sanding and polishing, Emmett grabbed her arms, pulled her up, out of the dress, in one deft tug, and holding her close, ran toward the clearing only a few yards away.
Another tree cracked and lunged before them where the clearing met the woods; he cleared it, too. Then another, and three at a time at the forest's edge. Emmett leapt atop all, resisting the urge to stop and stare at the naked girl in his arms. And resisting the desire, nearly as strong, to run back for the empty dress.
More trees crashed behind them. They turned sharply as a giant oak crushed the elegant, empty shell of her body, shattered it into hundreds of dry pieces.
Emmett jumped down into the clearing and set the girl onto budding prairie grasses. She gasped is if awakening from a strange dream.
"I am free," she said, both joy and sorrow in her whispery voice. She kneeled, grabbed a fistful of earth, held it to her chest. Then dug deep and planted a stray acorn into the soft ground.
When she stood up, he draped his coat over her shoulders. Pine needles and maple seeds falling from her hair, they walked together through the fields, towards distant towns they had heard of only in tales.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, August 4th, 2011


A few years ago, my husband and I fell in love with a painting by Alla Tsank entitled “Night Lights,” in which a girl hangs lanterns in a dark woods. Her dress is the color of the woods itself, blending into the shadows. We hung the painting in our bedroom, and this story grew out of nights I’d drift off imagining who she might be. But, as can happen when writing a story inspired by a still picture, my early drafts were heavy in description, low in action. Once the woods became a more active character, things finally picked up.

- Angela Rydell

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