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Petrosinella

Rich Larson was born in Galmi, Niger, has lived in Canada, USA, and Spain, and is now based in Prague, Czech Republic. He is the author of the novel Annex and the collection Tomorrow Factory, which contains some of the best of his +150 published stories. His work has been translated into Polish, Czech, French, Italian, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Find free fiction and support his work via patreon.com/RichLarson.
"You did this, you know," the ogress said.
She hefted the boy's head so Petrosinella could see the ragged scarlet hole in his throat. The boy, who had climbed so quickly and so cleverly, light as a cat, whose beautiful brown hands had caressed every part of her. He'd said he was a prince; she'd never believed it.
"You were meant to be mine, all mine, only mine," the ogress continued, mumbling through gray-green teeth, eyes shining from crumpled skin. "You let him up. You let him in. You planned to leave me. And this is the consequence, as naturally as dusk follows the day."
Petrosinella still couldn't speak. She could only stare at the boy's corpse, sitting waist-deep in the once-golden hair that the ogress, in a wild rage, had shorn from her head. It was dull and brittle now, globbed here and there with coagulating blood.
"You will die in this tower," the ogress said. "That was the deal your mother struck. Did you forget?"
Petrosinella shook her head, so light and so small without the coiled weight of her hair.
"Good," the ogress said. "I am leaving now. I have no love left for you."
She dropped her shears and disappeared, melting into the dark like a word erased. Even when she was gone, Petrosinella could not weep. She had wept for too many nights and now her eyes were sawdust dry. She dragged them away from the boy's stiffening face. The bloody shears were cruciform on the floor, cushioned by the carpet of hair.
The ogress had left the shears for her, she was certain. She would never forget them by accident. They were the shears she used in her orchard, the shears that pruned and cut and precised, and now they were the shears that had driven underneath the boy's beautiful jaw and left him blood-drowned, burbling. Petrosinella traced her own throat, finding the beat of her vein.
The boy was dead and she had the sudden fear that his stories of the world outside were dead as well, that she wouldn't be able to recall them without him. She squeezed her eyes shut and imagined the market, the place where you could find anything if you had enough bits of copper, where the horse had thrown its shoe, but not the sort of shoe people wore, and nearly hit the boat-builder, who was blind in one eye already, where he'd been arguing with the butcher about the price of tripes.
She had been planning to come back to the tower someday, after she'd seen all the sights and smelled all the smells, but it was too late to tell the ogress that or anything else. She crawled forward now and picked up the shears. The metal squawked like a crow when she opened and closed them.
The boy had described the butcher shop well, in far more detail than any prince could have. He'd described the games the butcher boys sometimes played.
She brushed his eyes shut and peeled off his shirt and tenderly began to cut. Her stomach revolted with every squelch, every yielding, every moment of flesh becoming not. When she plunged her hands inside his belly, it felt like she was plunging them into her own.
"I'm sorry," she said, to no reply.
Petrosinella began to work with the very edge of the shears, severing the tissue that held the organs in place. She snipped the coils of his innards free with steady hands. She'd spent her whole life braiding and unbraiding, weaving and unweaving. Slowly, she unspooled the whole length of gut.
She bound one end of it to the carved bed, where she and the boy had first whispered of escape, and she fed the other through the window. She followed it out into the night. Cold clean air licked at her shorn skull, and she climbed down the tower quickly, cleverly, light as a cat.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020
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