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How to Find Yourself in a Fairy Tale

A.C. Wise's fiction has appeared in publications such as Apex, Clarkesworld, and Uncanny. Her work has won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, as well as twice being a finalist for the Sunburst, twice being a finalist for the Nebula, and being a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She has two collections published by Lethe Press, and a novella published by Broken Eye Books. Her debut novel, Wendy, Darling (an expansion of a story that originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction!) will be published by Titan Books in June 2021. A new collection, The Ghost Sequences, will be published by Undertow Books in Fall 2021. In addition to her fiction, she contributes review columns to Apex and The Book Smugglers. Find her online at accuse.net and on Twitter as @ac_wise.

Find yourself desperate for a child. Find yourself willing to do whatever it takes, including and especially, lie to your spouse. Know, in your heart, in the place where your heart will be once you hold your child in your arms for the first time, that achieving this desire will fill the aching hole inside you.
Find yourself in a place where all conventional methods have failed. Traditional medicine. Homeopathy. Wishing on falling stars. Extramarital affairs. You even contemplated kidnapping your sister's firstborn, but family members are always prime suspects and you'd only end up arrested, empty-handed, estranged.
Find your way into the woods. Find yourself a bird. For best results it should be a turtle or mourning dove. Stick to the path. This part is important: do not stray. Be bold. Be bold as you can. Pluck every feather until the bird's skin is pale and smooth as a newborn child's. Break the bird's wings--every single fragile bone one by one. Children come into this world helpless, after all. You may choose to blunt the beak, or remove it entirely. That part is up to you. Remember--this is a fairy tale, choices have consequences.
Find yourself a shovel or a small spade. Silver is best, but iron will do.
Find yourself on a clear night digging a hole at the foot of an ancient oak tree with a crown spread to hold up the sky and a trunk wider around than you can stretch your arms. Place your broken-winged, featherless bird into the hole, and bury it standing, up to its neck. Water it with your blood. Water it with your tears. Wait three days. Brush the dirt gently from its cold skin. Swaddle it in the softest blanket you can find. Pink for a boy, blue for a girl. Realize that color has no effect on sex, and gender is a construct anyway. Swaddle your child however you choose.
Find yourself the perfect spot to hide the precious treasure you smuggle home. Remember, your spouse must not know. May we suggest behind the third brick up on the left side of your chimney? Or the very back of your sock drawer? Feed your child only sweet things. Honey by the thimbleful. Drops of morning dew. Petals candied in sugar and slices of new apple. The sound of your voice singing lullabies and all your favorite pop songs.
Find clothes suitable for a fairy tale child. Stitch them from frost and leaves. Procure the skin of a donkey, or a barrel driven with rusty nails. If your child would be clothed in silver and gold, they will need to wish beneath a tree grown from your murdered bones. Plan accordingly.
Find the strength to wait. Be patient while your child grows. Find the courage to bear up under repeated questions--where in the world did you find a child, how could you do this without talking to me, why won't it speak, what's wrong with its eyes, why is its skin so cold? Am I not enough for you? The child or me? Choose.
Find yourself a good source of daycare. It's difficult raising a child alone, especially when you have to work two jobs, three, to keep food on the table. Your growing child hungry all the time.
Find a suitable spot to bury the bodies. One babysitter might be a tragic accident, but two? And the kindergarten teacher? And the nice elderly couple next door who you begged to take your child for just one hour, please, so you could get a few minutes rest? A small respite from the blackness of your child's eyes, full with the memory of stolen feathers and shattered wings. Remember, a fall down the stairs is easy enough to explain, but bitemarks less so. Particularly when the marks aren't bites at all, but left by something sharp and triangular, stabbed into the flesh over and over in neat, terrible rows. Perhaps you should have blunted the beak after all.
Find yourself at the end of your rope. It was bound to happen. We warned you not to stray from the path, but never said why. It's so much better to watch the story play out to the end, and so disappointing when parents turn back while they still can.
Find yourself re-reading the stories that led you here. Tales of magic, wishes granted, impossible children built from flower petals and drops of blood on the snow. Ask yourself where you went wrong. Was your heart not pure enough? Did you offend an old woman by refusing her a drink, or help carrying a burden? Realize that you don't fucking care; you just want it to be done.
Find yourself contemplating ways to kill such an uncanny child. An apple spiked with poison? A locked tower where they will drown under the weight of their own hair? Will you string barbed traps for every mouse and bluebird just in case they are the helpful kind good at sorting lentils and peas? Will you murder the hunters and woodcutters and banish them from your realm? Cut the tongue from every horse lest it reveal your treason, even dead? Is your child destined for the stewpot? Will you grind their bones to make your bread? Or will it be something quicker, more expedient? Perhaps a gun?
Find yourself contemplating the hollow, aching space inside your chest. Probe its edges. Are they delicate as feather-edged frost, or hard and jagged like teeth cracked beneath a fist? Instead of filling it, has your child caused that space to grow?
Find out what you are you willing to do. Will you dance in shoes of iron? Allow your eyes to be plucked out by birds?
Find yourself doing whatever it takes.
It is easy enough to find yourself in a fairy tale, but remember--you will not always find yourself its hero.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 9th, 2021
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