Miriam remembered how the sweat had pooled over her palms, how her fingertips had tingled with numbness. The air had smelled of musky summer sweat, and she had just barely recognized the muted voices of her family. Yet she had been unable to distinguish their words. Her heart had pounded with a painful furiosity, aching from within her ribcage. Her eyes had frozen on the sparkling diamond which Tobiah had presented to her. He had been promising her something, his ears had been red. She was vaguely aware of Tobiah’s smile, plastered over his lips, as he had stared at her. Unblinking. Her stomach had burned, had churned with bile which had erupted through her insides and burned her throat. Her lips had parted, the skin there had clung together momentarily.
“Yes,” she had heard, her own voice breaking from her newly-opened mouth. “Yes.”
The room had erupted into thunderous applause and cheers, her mother’s nails had sliced into the soft flesh of her right shoulder. Tobiah had lifted from his position on one knee to embrace her around the torso and back. Her arms had fallen loosely to her sides before rising to secure themselves across Tobiah’s middle. She remembered that he had smelled sharply of rusted cigarette smoke; his button-down shirt had reeked of it.
Her nostrils still burned with the scent of his cigarettes, forever burned into Tobiah’s clothes and her nose. No matter how perfume bottles she purchased, his scent lurked in an invisible cloud, always. Always around her. The diamond ring which he had offered her, a cushion cut, sat perched on the other side of the vanity. The sparkle was diminished in the fading summer sunlight. For eleven months the ring had laid heavy on her left hand, weighing it down. Eleven months in limbo. For the past twenty hour hours, Miriam had been free of the ring. Her finger was unburdened for the first time in nearly a year.
“Mama, I need you to hand me one of bottles from the medicine cabinet.”
“Well, which one?” her mother replied, already exasperated.
“The pills for – Nexium, that’s what they’re called.”
Miriam did not turn to face her mother, she only stared ahead at her reflection. She gazed at her heart-shaped face, at her tawny brown hair. She gazed at her large, circular eyes, so dark they were nearly ebony. She had never considered herself to be any great beauty, with her oddly pale skin and her sharpened nose, angled downward. ‘An acquired taste,’ was how her mother had once described her features.
“Here,” her mother said as she slammed the pill bottle in front of her. “I still can hardly believe you allow that poison to enter your body. Time and time again, I’ve warned you against those unnecessary medicines. Until I go to my grave, I’ll always say that your uncle’s deminica was caused by all that Benadryl.”
Miram continued to stare into the mirror, her eyes fixed on her mother’s lean face. Her mother had always seemed a tired woman, well-rested or exhausted; eternally tired. Her mother’s excitement at the engagement of herself and Tobiah Valance had elicited, perhaps, the most joy which Miriam had ever seen from her mother. It had awakened her, if only for a moment.
“I don’t take them very often,” Miriam lied, keeping their eye contact unbroken.
Her mother moved to stroke her hair down. “You’d better start getting some makeup on. Sherry ought to be here soon, she can help with that hair. I just can’t understand why it’s still so frizzy, even after we used the conditioner I bought.”
Miriam dug her acrylic nail, polished into French manicure, within the white flesh on her lower arm.
“Sherry will straighten it, then it won’t matter.”
She mother sighed, deeply and with purpose. “I’ll go check on the flowers, I can only pray to God they haven’t started to wilt yet.”
Miriam pressed her nail further into the soft portion of her skin as she nodded in response. Her mother’s stiletto heels clicked out of the room and into the hall. Miriam listened as they made their way across the old wooden flooring. She did not break her gaze on the mirror, she held it. She forced herself to stare, forced herself to see. Despite the eleven months of preparation, her vision always ended with her image in the vanity mirror. She was unable to fathom an existence beyond her reflection. She could not comprehend it. Acid reflux burned her throat at the thought that, in a short time, her name would alter from that of Miriam Parker to Miriam Valance – wife to Tobiah Valance. Mrs. Valance, Mrs. Tobiah Valance. With a gesture of Tobiah’s lips and a echo of words spoken by an ordained minister, Miriam Parker would be carved open. She would be destroyed, and from the bloody depths of her exposed innards, another Miriam would rise, one endlessly tied to a young man who worked at the local insurance agency.
Miriam had never been sure what such a death would mean. The killing itself was inevitable, it had been forever racing toward her since Tobiah Valance had escorted her to their first Homecoming dance. She had been dressed in a white gown with orange flowers on the chest and bodice. The lower half had been fluffed up with tulle hidden beneath the outer fabric. Tobiah had slipped two fingers under her black tights and passed her underwear while they sat in the back of her father’s car. Initially, she had been dazzled by his affection for her and stunned by her introduction to sex. Her skin would tingle as he skimmed his hand across it. Her heart would palpitate at the sight of him, at the sensation of his lips as they pressed against her forehead. The years had passed, and the astonishment at his very being had blurred into something else. She tilted her head as she continued to gaze into the mirror on her vanity; she had become a new creature since those days. She now saw her life stretching out endlessly before her, organized and packed tightly into the schedule of Miriam Valance.
“Hey, honey, can I come in?” a voice called, which Miriam immediately recognized as belonging to that of Sherry.
Miriam blinked rapidly, her ears suddenly twinging from the force of the sound. “Yeah, yeah. Sorry.”
When Sherry entered, Miriam all at once perceived even the most delicate noise which signaled her arrival. The squeaking of the door impaired her senses, the clacking of her heels slammed into her brain with force. Miriam winced, unnerved. There had never been an indication that her hearing was gentle previously. It was as though her eardrums had been stabbed through, the motion quick and occurring without warning.
“How’s the blushing bride feeling?” Sherry questioned, her voice risen an octave from it’s usual pitch.
Miriam curled her lips upward, doing the utmost to disguise the pain in her ears. “My stomach is a little upset.”
Sherry laughed then, too powerful for Miriam’s newly hypersensitive hearing. “I’d be shocked if you weren’t. This is a huge day, the biggest. The most important in your life. You remember the day I married Allan; I really thought I might just vomit all over my bouquet.”
Miriam’s smile began to spasm with soreness as Sherry walked toward her. “Have you seen Toby at all today?”
Sherry’s hands moved to rest on Miriam’s shoulders, gripping them tightly. “Allan did. You’re a lucky woman, my friend. That man adores you.”
Miram finally allowed her smile to relax, loosening at the edges. “Mom says my hair is frizzy. Can you fix it?”
Sherry rolled her wide eyes. “She always exaggerates, it’s isn’t that bad. We can put some heat on it and it’ll flatten out beautifully. Are you still thinking of doing that high bun I showed you?”
Miriam nodded. “Sure, that sounds fine.”
“Alright, well, I’ll grab the straightener and we’ll get started. You can start laying some foundation if you feel like it.”
“I’m already wearing foundation.”
“I can still see that pimple on your forehead, honey, so you didn’t put on enough.”
Heat rose to Miriam’s cheeks and her eyes darted downward. Sherry continued in her dialogue, her voice quieted from it’s tone moments prior. Miriam kept her head still while a scalding hot straightener was abruptly dragged over her thick hair. She busied herself with reapplying foundation, and Sherry’s voice was lost to her overactive ears.
Her mother had followed the path of her grandmother as a married woman with children and a job that did not distract from those duties. Her grandmother had lived until she was an elderly widow with a dozen grandchild. In the final years of her life, her grandmother’s memory was all but lost to her. She did not recognize the children to whom she had given her life, the home in which she had birthed those children, the friends who had visited each Sunday after church. As Miriam was the eldest granddaughter, she had been charged with caring for her mother’s dying mother. Despite the reality of her grandmother’s situation, despite her inability to toilet herself or shower on her own, despite the hallucinations and panic at the coming of sundown, the only aspect of her grandmother’s wanying existence which the townspeople had focused on was her sagging breasts, her heavily wrinkled face, that fat that had gathered on her stomach and hips.
“She used to be so pretty,” one of her mother’s friends had told her. “She really let herself go the last few years.”
She wondered what her grandmother would say if she could see her now, frizzy haired with a pimple she could not quite cover with foundation.
“What are you thinking about, honey?” Sherry voice suddenly asked, breaking Miriam from her trance.
Miriam blinked, swallowing too loudly. “My grandma.”
“It feels weird, her not being here. I just always thought…”
Silence fell over them in a weighty flush, and Miriam’s ears were grateful for it. Her eyes broke over Sherry as she continued in her pursuit to flatten her hair. Sherry was far prettier than she ever would be, her makeup was invariably blended and her eyelashes long. Sherry always outshined her when they were seen together, Miriam had always tried not to mind. Illness bubbled within her stomach again, and her eyelids fluttered shut.
“Feeling ok? What’s going on, talk to me,” Sherry said softly from the darkness beyond her closed eyes.
Miriam inhaled slowly through her nostrils. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
“Do you want me to get Toby?”
Miriam’s eyes pried apart to open. “We’re not supposed to see each other before the ceremony.”
Sherry clicked her tongue and scoffed. “That’s a silly old wives tale.”
“I’m almost a wife, and pretty soon I’ll be old.”
Sherry chuckled. “You’re a silly little girl. That’s enough foundation, start on the concealer and then work on the eyeshadow.”
Miriam released the tension in she shoulders, which she was unaware she had been holding. “Ok.”
The quiet between them was all at once uncomfortable, forced. Miriam appreciated the distraction of applying her makeup, despite the heavy humidity which seeped into the room and threatened to sweat away her work. The sun was only beginning to settle down beneath the horizon as the furious singing of the crickets nibbled away at her brain.
“Do you ever think about the things people say about the Shiloh Forest?”
Sherry hummed underneath her breath. “That’s a strange thing to ask. About the witch, you mean? The ghost, or whatever? The last time I remember anyone talking about that was at a bonfire in high school.”
“Hmm,” was all that Miriam offered in response.
“Why are you thinking about that now?”
She shrugged gingerly. “I don’t know.”
The Shiloh Forest had been the subject of myth and legend for as long as Miriam could recall; an unsettling subject to children, a joke to drunken teenagers. Yet, she had never recognized the joke. The Shiloh Witch, the Crone, the Harpy, the Old Woman of the Forest. The creature had many names, a plethora of lore associated with her. Once or twice, people armed with cameras and styled hair had visited her town to interview the population about the Ghost’s Wood, the ominous Shiloh Forest. It was their only source of tourism in the summer. Despite all of the depictions which had been attributed to the Witch, Miriam had never been able to imagine what she might look like. It was not until her grandmother had been in her final stages of decline that she realized what the Harpy’s appearance might have been, the being which terrified. The Harpy had sagging breasts, a heavily wrinkled face, and fat gathered on her stomach and hips.
“Have you ever gone into Shiloh Forest at night?” Miriam asked.
Sherry was silent for a moment. “I think so, once. It’s been a long time. Yeah, I did, with Mike Cook. Oh my Lord, that feels like a thousand years ago. What about you?”
“No,” she snapped, surprised by her tone. “No, I would never.”
Sherry tugged at a clump of Miriam’s hair which she gathered in her fist. “You brought it up. That’s enough eyeshadow, start doing your bronzer now. Then I think we should do blush, and you really have to careful; you’ll look like a hothouse whore if you use too much.”
“I shouldn’t have had you put the eyeshadow on first, I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ll just have to work with it.”
Miriam’s grandmother had never believed in the Crone of Shiloh Forest, she had called it a silly story which parents invented to scare their children away from the woods. And Miriam had been comforted by her grandmother’s doubt. It had soothed her. It was only after her grandmother had been buried beneath a mound of dirt that the Harpy produced nightmares which stole Miriam’s sleep. Prior, she had been merely unnerved. Only after her grandmother’s demise had the Harpy seared into the place beyond her gaze, forever imprinted. At the funeral, many people had told her that she boasted her grandmother’s cheekbones and jawline, her dark eyes, her murky pale skin. She worked to more furiously apply her makeup.
She knew that her grandmother would have approved of her rebirth into Miriam Valance, she would have told her to give him a son and laugh when he made jokes. Miriam’s town was small, Miriam’s town was little and her grandmother had never lived outside of it.
Miriam would go to Lake Tahoe with Tobiah once the wedding was finished and she would then be referred to as Mrs. Valance, and her husband would enter her without a condom for the first time. She would return from Lake Tahoe and her belly would fill with a baby and she would not leave the town again until the child was ready for her to leave. She wondered if the Witch would follow her to Lake Tahoe, if her dead grandmother would follow her there.
“Lord, honey, I told you not to put on too much blush. Wipe a little bit off with your finger, don’t press down too hard. Don’t smudge it. Ok, I think we need to start putting this hair up. Hand me those bobby pins.”
She obeyed. “Should I do the eyeliner now?”
“No, no. We need highlighter first.”
“I don’t really…I don’t know how to do highlighter.”
“Just swipe a little across your cheeks, you don’t need much.”
Miriam blinked, breathing in deeply through her nostrils as she pulled the shining makeup over her skin. The room smelled of cheap perfume and evening summer air. Her head swiveled to the side in a minute movement, fixing on her grandmother’s wedding dress as it laid draped over the end of her bed. It was accented with old lace and encrusted with false pearls which shimmered in the light of the overhead lamp.
“Stay still, honey. I know you’re antsy, but I’m so close to being done with your hair.”
“Is the highlighter right?”
“Sure, it’s fine. Lord, I can’t believe how late it’s getting. Do the eyeliner and mascara quickly, and then go ahead and put that pink lipstick on. By the time I’m done with your hair, you should be ready to set your face.”
“Am I late?”
“I sure hope not, you aren’t even married yet,” Sherry replied, giggling.
“My mom will want to see me before I leave.”
“Trust me, honey, I know.”
Miriam forced pure concentration while she finished with the final stages of her makeup. thick and heavy. It felt as though a paste had been painted over her skin, as though she had placed a mask over her features. All at once, an ache resonated through her arms and the sides of her damp body. She paused momentarily, her eyeliner brush frozen between her fingers. Her body began to shiver as the ache converted abruptly into throbbing pain. She drew in air and pushed it out through her lips slowly. It burned, it blistered beneath it skin. She clenched her teeth and angeled her head. Her arms did not appear to alter. Her eyes cut up to Sherry, yet the other woman was too deeply focused on finalizing her hair to notice. Miriam sucked a wad of saliva down her throat, her toes curling inward. It was only then that she noticed a stretching occurring over the skin on her upper limbs. A frigid terror travelled within her veins and raced toward her heart as she watched her arms grow, almost imperceptibly. The change was meer inches, yet those inches singed her. It felt as though eons passed in horror, and she could not find the courage to ask Sherry for assistance.
“Why did you stop? You need to finish putting on that eyeliner.”
“I -” her voice eked out, unable to continue.
Her eyes remained on her slowly extending arms until, as suddenly as the phenomenon began, it ended. She hand quaked as she continued to bear the weight of her eyeliner brush.
“What happened?” she whispered, unsure to whom the question was directed.
“Honey, we don’t have any time to mess around. Finish the eyeliner and then put on some mascara as fast as you can. We’ve got to get you in that dress.”
She continued to tremble, her lips parted and dry. She bit down on the inside of her cheek and lifted the brush to continue in her work. She gripped her wrist with her free hand to steady it.
“Are you shaking? Honey, marriage isn’t that scary.”
She attempted to nod. “Sorry.”
Her arms and back felt worn and sore, though the mind-numbing pain had subsided.
“Your hair looks so pretty like this. You should straighten it every day, it wouldn’t be that hard. And I’ve never understood why you don’t wear more makeup, it really helps soften your face.”
She replied with a gentle hum from her throat.
“Ok, stop with the eyeliner. Do the masuara now.”
Her heart pulsated as the brush fell from her fingers, and she frantically replaced it with the black eyelash wand. She scrambled to sweep the ebony liquid over her lashes.
“I feel lightheaded,” Miriam’s voice finally squeaked out. “I feel like I’m going to pass out.”
“I’m almost done with your hair, wait a minute. After we’ve got you in that dress, I’ll get you some water.”
“For the love of God, don’t pass out on your way down the aisle.”
She had never wished to visit Lake Tahoe, Tobiah had selected it as their honeymoon destination. That was the way; that would be the way for the rest of her existence as Mirmam Valance. She stared at her reflection fiercely as she pressed the rose-toned paint over her lips. She had a face which would not age well, just as her grandmother had a face which did not age well. The birthing of children would destroy her body, her hips would extend outwards, the skin on her stomach would gather and sag, her breasts would droop.
“After your mother was born, she really lost that hourglass figure of her’s,” Miriam’s friend had once told her. “Your grandma, I mean.”
Her mouth parted haltingly. “Does that look ok?”
“Sure, sure. It’s fine. I still think it’s a bit too much blush, but we can’t bother with that now. Go ahead and set it, we need to get you dressed.”
Sherry stepped away from the mirror, muttering softly to herself. She finished with the final stages of painting her face, and it seemed as though a thin layer of chalk rested against her flesh. Chalk and clay. Chalk and clay and plastic. She wondered what would happen if she stuck her fingers within the skin on her cheeks; would they simply sink in, further and further, until they broke through on the other side? Like thin wax figurine.
“Sherry?” She began, unsure what else she planned to say.
“Go ahead and stand up, honey. Take off your robe.”
She rose, her head turning in the other woman’s direction. “I’ve got to put on the girdle first.”
“Take off your robe.”
Miriam did, untying the knotted fabric belt and allowing the terry-cloth garment to slip away from her shoulders and onto the ground. She was left exposed. Open. Her bare flesh beaded with sweat, dripping down her back in gentle rivers.
“Where’s the girdle?” she asked. “I can’t fit in the dress without it.”
Sherry’s eyebrow cocked as she gazed over her nude body. “No, you can’t. Those midnight snacking sessions have got to stop, honey. No man wants to see a beached whale washed up on his bed at night.”
“You think I look like a beached whale?”
“I think I saw the girdle in the second drawer the other day. Check there.”
Miriam laced her arms over her belly, her skin suddenly chilled. She moved toward her warebroab and quickly discovered the girdle. She paused before plucking it from it’s shadowy place among her underwear. Her fingers hovered over it, curling inward.
“Miri, seriously, we’re going to be late.”
She blinked, grasping the girdle tightly in one hand. Her grip clenched until her knuckles grew white. She stepped away from the dresser, flattening out the garment and stepping through it with one foot, and then the other, until she pulled it up around her waist and over her stomach. Her body was contained. Her mother had loaned her the girdle, a relic from her postpartum days. It was too tight on Miriam, unforgivingly restricted.
“Go ahead and slip the dress on, honey.” Sherry commanded, gesturing to the garment with a tick of her head.
Miriam did so, without pause or hesitation. In a swift, fluid movement, she placed the gown over her contained body. Her arms wriggled through the taut sleeves without her consent or control. It was instinct. She cleared her throat, her eyes rolling upward.
“It’s so tight,” she gasped.
“Where did you mother put your veil? She’s always hiding – ah, here it is. Just pin this in, honey.”
She nodded. “What time is it?”
“Lord, we forgot your damn tights. Put them on, quick. I can’t believe how late it’s gotten.”
She turned and fumbled back toward the dresser, pulling out a pair of nude tights and rolling them up. She watched as Sherry rushed around the room, her left index and middle fingers pressed lightly over her lips. She inserted her feet into the tights, separately drawing them up over her legs.
“Can you hand me my garter?” she asked. “It’s on the nightstand.”
“I don’t see it, honey.”
“It’s on the nightstand.”
“That’s where I left it,” Miriam’s voice squealed out, far more high-pitched than she thought possible.
“Would your mother have any idea where to find it?”
Miriam’s eyes watered furiously. “I left it on the nightstand.”
“Just wait here – I’m going to get her.”
And, within a moment, Sherry had exited. Miriam was left alone. Her wet, heavy breath filled the silent room. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the edge of her reflection gaze back to her. Her gaze ticked harshly to the side and her eyes connected to those in the mirror. Slowly, the tawny hue of her hair began to dissipate as wiry grey crept through her roots. A low moan crawled from her throat, and her hands hovered just above the surface of her vanity. The silver color inched across the back of her head and down the underside. She clenched her teeth and fists simultaneously, lurching forward from her seat and aiming herself in the direction of her bed. She reached for her veil, attached to her twinkling tiara. She angled herself haphazardly in the mirror, securing the accessory to her rapidly graying hair. Her hands frantically fluffed the veil around her shoulders. It laid thick over her, disguising the phenomenon which occured underneath. She had only just finished adjusting the white fabric when her mother and Sherry entered without knocking.
“Do you realize that you were supposed to be walking down that aisle about five minute ago?”
Miriam’s eyelids fluttered. “I can’t find my garder.”
“You’ll have to go without it, we need to leave – and we need to leave right now,” Sherry told her, snapping her fingers.
Miriam’s eyes blurred over with mist, her shoulders hunched. She felt her mother’s frigid fingers clasp over her wrist as she was dragged from the room and out into the hall. Sherry spoke at a rapid-pace behind her, her words tripping against each other. Miriam was unsure what she had attempted to say.
“I don’t understand how it got so late,” her mother’s voice broke against her sensitive eardrum.
“There’s something wrong with me,” Miriam gasped. “Something’s happening to me.”
“It’s only natural to be a little nervous.”
Miriam’s obscured gaze turned down to her fingernails. In a moment, her French manicure stretched outward. Her nails curled in once they had grown too long, the entire process lasting only a few moments. Her polished nails had transformed into thick talons, sharp. Ready to pierce its prey. She tucked her hands into her armpits, her hooks pressing into her flesh and nearly creating a gash in her gown.
“What’s the matter now?”
She gaze turned to her mother. “What’s my name?”
“What?” her mother snapped in reply. “Stop joking, this isn’t the time.”
“Tell me my name, what’s my name?”
“Sherry, smooth out her train,” her mother said.
Her brows furrowed, her confusion penetrating deeply within the crevices of her brain. “Everything feels wrong.”
“Rick,” her mother called. “Come here, quickly. She’s acting odd, just ignore it.”
“Well, what’s wrong?” her father’s voice responded.
“Miriam?” her father questioned. “What’s the matter with you?”
Miriam, Miriam, Miriam, Miriam. Her name was Miriam. Yet, despite the revelation, despite the expectation of memory, the feeling of bewilderment persisted.
“Miriam.” the word crawled out from her mouth and scurried onto the air.
“What did you say? I can never understand you when you mumble,” he said to her.
Before she could respond, before she could imagine a way in which to respond, a searing pain travelled down her shoulder blades. It radiated through her arms, as though she had been struck by lightning. Her lips parted soundlessly, her eyes widened. Any source of pain which she had experienced prior to that moment was absolutely diminished in comparison.
She was aware only of the ‘Bridal Chorus’ as it blared merccissley through the walls, echoing with her brain. She could not move, the sudden agony prevented it. Yet, as her father’s hand grasped her forearm and jolted her in the direction of the music, she did not resist. She could focus on nothing, save for the burning in her arms and back which continued to grow in intensity. Her feet moved, her body followed. Her father drug her down the aisle as the melody radiated more furiously. There were people, multitudes of people. Their eyes were on her. They smiled, they showed their teeth. Her head twisted over her shoulder. Behind her veil, the flesh around her back and arms had webbed together. The skin stretched and extended, bending out like bat’s wings. She glanced down. Her transformation was still hidden away from the audience, they could not see what she was becoming. She felt her spine curve inward, though she grew only slightly hunched. The skin on her face grew taut, her lips drawing back.
Miriam. Miriam Parker, Miriam Valance, Mrs. Valance. She no longer recognized those titles, those words. They had become as foreign to her as the faces to which she had fixed her gaze, as the man’s hand clasping her flesh.
Miriam’s grandmother had died in a puddle of her own feces and urine. Miriam’s grandmother’s breasts had sagged, her face had wrinkled, fat had gathered on her stomach and hips. Miriam’s grandmother had never believed in the Harpy who resided in Shiloh Forest.
She was levitated from the ground of white smiles and pastel dresses and black suits. She saw through the failing youth and the old wooden floor. Fear was suddenly stripped from her, sucked out like the deadly venom of a snake. She looked ahead and fixated her gaze on Tobiah, the boy, as he laced his fingers over his front.
Tobiah Valance was waiting for her, awaiting the arrival of his wife; delivered by her father. Yet, she no longer recognized Tobiah Valance as her mate. She no longer knew him, she no longer left anything resembling affection for him. He was a stranger, a mortal. He was no zephyr, and he stirred nothing from within her. He grinned when he saw her approach. What gave him the right to gaze upon her? To see her? To smile? Why should he smile?
She clenched her exposed teeth, humming. Miriam Parker’s father shushed her, she did not obey. She wondered if the tawny color of Miriam Parker’s hair had been wiped away by the silver completely, she had no way of knowing. Her gaze moved back to observe the wings which had fully transformed beneath her veil, flesh and raw. She allowed her arms to fall at her sides. Her fingers were curled inwards, but she allowed them to unclench. Her talons exposed themselves, and a surge of bliss moved through her. Miriam Parker had never known any such joy. Miriam Parker would not have been able to comprehend it. It would have eaten through her and devoured her.
Moments passed, and she reached Tobiah Valance; her lips still drawn back. His face was frozen as he stared at her, his eyes quiet and solid. No light, no darkness. She pierced her gaze through and into his thoughts; his thoughts of her dewy, soft breasts; not yet sagged from age and children. He imagined her unwrinkled legs and taunt vagina. He did not see the Goddess, the mighty and terrible being which was breaking free from her cocoon. He still saw his wife, he still saw Miriam. And she pitied the child. The pastor began to speak, though she could not understand his language, his tongue. She did not listen and her gaze did not move toward any of the watchers. She kept her eyes on him. She forced him to see her, truly see her. She knew that he had, or that he had at least caught a glimpse of her, as his smile waned. He blinked rapidly, his brows lifting.
“Miri?” He whispered.
Her head jolted to the side, her veil slipped away to expose her left wing and her silver hair. It was only then that he offered her a true reaction. It was only then that she felt a twinge of satisfaction.
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” he gasped. “Miriam.”
“I am not,” she replied in a bellow. Her voice tasted of salt and smoke, a broken pane from a stained glass window.
The pastor’s voice paused, the Bridal Chorus halted.
“Who are you?” Tobiah Valance cried, stumbling to the ground. “Where’s my wife?”
Her neck bent backward, her eyes flashed to the ceiling. Her hand reached to tear the veil and tiara from their place in her hair. The action was met by a concert of screams.
“I am Aello,” she screeched. “I am Aellopus.”
The man scrambled to his knees, crawling away from her. “Miriam!”
“I am Podarge.” She beat her wings as her words thundered.
The pounding of her wings brought forth a violent rush of wind, a blast of air which transformed into a cyclone. She rose upward, crawling through the space and nearer to the ceiling. Her gaze twisted to the man, huddled on the floor beneath her, then to the screamers.
“I am Celaeno.”
Her body hung in the air as the humans scrambled for the exit, as they trambled each other. They twisted around one another, their limbs entangeling. She screamed, screeched, shrieked. The sound soothed her. The mortals clasped their hands over their ears, their mouths pried open in cries. Her head cocked, ticking from one side to another. Her wings flushed against the humid air as the water molecules dampened her flesh. She had grown bored of the humans and their bodies. She burst upright and broke effortlessly through the roofing. Pieces of the building scrapped over her, and it was only then that she realized that the lace gown was still clinging to her body. She growled, dragging her talons over the dress. Her wrinkled, sagging breasts fell from the fabric enclosure. Her wings beat with an intense fervour as she flew away from the building which she had shattered, shattered without remorse. And the boy was forgotten.
Miriam Parker had always been terrified of the Witch, the Ghost, the Harpy of Shiloh Forest. Miriam Parker’s grandmother had never believed in Aellopus, in Podarge, in Celaeno. But she had rescued Miriam Parker, rescued her from dying as Miriam Valance. She had feasted on her youth, on her terror; the bitter aftertaste still ripe on her tongue. Miriam Parker was at peace, she was safe.
She smiled, and the remainder of the torn dress slipped away from her skin and fluttered to the ground. She had did watch as it fell, she did not look over her shoulder to the building with the broken roof. Zephyrs rolled through her hair as sweat dripped down her naked body. Her talons shredded the air as she travelled, as she flew. Her wrinkled skin was packed over with bundles of fat which protected her from the chilled wind. She did not have a destination, though she knew she would never travel to Lake Tahoe. Perhaps she would land in Shiloh Forest, perhaps she would wait for night to fall and then travel to the sky again until she could taste the hollow, sweet flavor of moonbeams. Perhaps she would hunt and swallow barn owls whole.
Taylor Denton is a student living in Boulder, currently working to complete a degree in English. Taylor now writes in college for SOS Music Media, and Taylor’s novella, The Mountain, will appear in the most recent edition of the Running Wild Press novella anthology.