So, as far as flash fiction goes, this story is a complete failure. Coming in at around 1800 words, it counts as a regular short story and not flash fiction. But, I didn’t want to scrap it and start over. I liked the main character and I liked the beginning, and I wanted to see how it would end. And I’m glad I did. All things considered, I like the story, even if it is too long. Hopefully you will also enjoy it, and can forgive the extra verbiage.
Senna sucked the marrow from a chicken bone and tossed it aside. She returned to the raw carcass and broke off a portion of its back. She put the cold meat to her lips and took a bite.
Whispers resonated in her mind, soft and sibilant like rushing water. She clenched her eyes shut as she broke the backbones of the carcass in her grip. She would not obey. Her life was her own; her thoughts were her own. She would not come running whenever he called; she would not be a dog tethered to his leash.
The whispers grew louder, and Senna gritted her teeth as she put her grease-slickened hands to her head. It was like the whispers bored into her skull, worming their way into her mind, eating and eating until only rot remained.
She cried out and threw the carcass against the wall. The hollow, crunching sound of the chicken bones breaking offered a modicum of satisfaction, but it was short-lived. The whispers kept growing, kept feeding, and Senna had no choice but to obey lest they drive her mad.
She left her hovel and made her way across the village. Men cast her lecherous glances as their gazes roved over her half-clad body. Women glared as they whispered to each other behind their hands. Senna met each of their gazes, staring them down until the men cleared their throats and looked away, and the women grabbed their children and moved on.
She came to the edge of town and to a decrepit clapboard house. She pushed open the door and stepped inside. She gagged as she breathed the stifling air—it smelled of sweat and ashes, overripe fruit and decay. It smelled like him, and it was all Senna could do to keep herself breathing as she choked down the fetid scent.
Bird bones and fox skulls hung from the rafters. In a corner hung a thick tail of bushy, auburn fur that turned black at the tip. Senna stared at it, her heart quickening. She took a step towards it.
A door opened and Morvan stepped inside. “You’re late. You know I don’t like it when you’re late.”
Senna closed her eyes and clenched her hands. “I’m here now. What do you want?”
He walked towards her, and Senna tensed. His cloying, putrid scent grew stronger, and she could feel the hot stickiness of his breath on her neck.
“A minor problem,” he said. “ But one that must be dealt with, regardless. I had arranged for a delivery of young ravens, but I’m told they’ve all fallen prey to some sort of pestilence. I need you to go out and fetch new ones for me.”
“If I’m to go hunting, then I’ll need my tail.”
Morvan laughed, guttural and mirthless. “Do not take me for a fool. You will have to make do without it.” He touched her arm with a hot, dry hand.
Despite her urge to rip out his throat, Senna’s hands remained clenched at her sides. “As you wish,” she said and then left.
She kept a quick pace until she reached the woods. The sun shone in a clear blue sky while birds chirped in harmonious unity. Yet Senna found no beauty or pleasure in it. She ached to run through the bramble and ferns upon padded paws, not the ungainly two legs of the form she was now compelled to keep.
She walked until she came to a dead tree. Up in the barren, skeletal branches a fat raven sat. Senna narrowed her eyes and it cawed at her.
“Come down, Raven,” she said.
“I think not, Mistress Fox,” the raven replied. “I see you for what you are. You do not fool me.”
“I have no intention of fooling you or of eating you. You have nothing to fear from me.”
The raven cawed and flapped his wings, but he did not take flight.
“You’re quite fat for a raven,” Senna said.
“Sizing me up are you? Not interested in eating me, indeed. You’ve all but gobbled me up in your mind.”
“Foxes do not ‘gobble,’ I’ll have you know.” She peered at him. “Though I wonder if ravens do. What did you eat that made you so fat?”
The raven ruffled his feathers. “I was tricked. A mean old witch spirited a bunch of stones to look like berries and then set them out in a bowl. I was quite hungry and ate the whole lot before I realized my mistake. It was all I could do to fly up to this tree, I doubt I’ll ever leave it again.”
“That was cruel,” Senna said.
“Quite,” said the raven. “Not much I can do about it now, though.”
“Well I can. Where is this witch?”
The raven flapped his wings again. “Ho! Ho! If you’d like to teach her a lesson, I’d certainly not stop you. I don’t know why you’d care, though.”
“I do not like cruel people.”
“Nor I, Mistress Fox. Nor I. The witch headed off to the west, towards the lake. If you find her, give her my insincere regards.”
Senna headed west until she reached the lake. On the far shore lay a house, with a thin stream of smoke twining from the chimney. Senna made her way around the water and, when she reached the house, knocked upon the door.
It opened a crack and an old woman peered out, looking Senna up and down. “Yes? What do you want?”
“I am told a remarkably clever woman lives here,” Senna said. “Is that true?”
“Perhaps. Who told you such a thing?”
“Many people,” Senna said. “They are all talking about how a woman disguised a bowl of rocks and tricked a raven into eating the whole lot. Very clever, indeed.”
The witch drew herself up tall. “Yes, that was I, though not my greatest accomplishment.”
The witch snorted. “Hardly. It was a diversion to pass the time. There is little here in these woods to truly challenge me.”
“Is that so? Well, I might have a challenge worthy of your skills.”
“I doubt it, but give me your challenge and we shall see.”
“On the other end of the forest is a village, and in that village lives a man in an old clapboard house. That house holds many treasures, the most valuable of which is a foxtail.”
The witch wrinkled her nose. “A foxtail?”
“Oh yes,” Senna said. “But not just any foxtail. It is said this tail is enchanted, and that whoever owns it will hold command over a mighty and powerful creature.”
The witch sniffed. “I don’t see what’s so mighty about foxes.”
Senna smiled. “This one is special.”
“That’s it? You want me to go fetch this tail? Sounds simple to me.”
Senna spread open her hands. “Perhaps. But the man will not give you the tail willingly. So the challenge is whether or not you will be able to take it from him.”
The witch snorted again. “Simple, like I said.” She rummaged around in her house, packing various items into a bag: herbs and bones, vials of unknown liquids, and powders folded within scraps of paper. Then she left and headed around the lake as she made her way to the other end of the woods.
Once she had gone, Senna made her way back to the great skeletal tree.
“I saw her,” the raven said up in the branches. “The witch. She just walked right by. My poor heart is still racing with fear of what else she might do to me.”
“She’ll be coming back this way, if all goes well.”
“If all goes well? If all goes well, I’ll never see her again. I thought you were going to give her what-for. Teach the old hag a lesson. Not use her to terrorize me.”
“This is your chance to teach her yourself. Wouldn’t you like that? You are, after all, the one with a belly full of stones, not I.”
“Well… I… I suppose,” the raven said.
Senna sat down and leaned against the tree. She waited. The day waned and the sun faded behind the trees. And then…
She clenched her eyes shut against Morvan’s whispers that bored in her mind, compelling her to return to him. She’d not return, not now, not ever.
She could feel his need, his fear, his panic. It tainted her mind, souring her thoughts and turning her tongue to acid. She spit on the ground, trying to rid herself of the taste, but it only worsened.
She screamed, writhing upon the ground as her stomach twisted and she vomited. The ground seemed to writhe with her, churning like worms in a rotten carcass, eating and eating at her until there was nothing left…
The sun rose, and Senna awoke on the ground covered in her own sick. It smelled pungent and acrid, yet somehow still an improvement from her ordeal the previous night. Trembling, she sat upright, leaning against the tree as she rested her head on her knees.
Whispers again resonated in her mind, but they were weaker now. They did not yet know her name, and so were little more than leaves rustling in the wind.
Senna looked up just as the witch came through the trees.
The witch walked up to her, holding in her hands a thick and bushy red tail. She waved it at Senna. “I commend you for the worthy challenge, I hadn’t expected it. But I was victorious. That, I did expect.”
Senna peered at her but said nothing.
“A creature of great power,” the witch said. “I should have known it was you. I don’t know why you told me about it, but I’m glad you did. We shall get along nicely, you and I. Oh, the challenges that—“
A wretched squawking pierced the air, and the fat raven flung himself from the tree and landed on the witch’s head. He struck her with a dull thump and a clanking of stones, coughing up the rocks that had been embedded in his belly. The witch fell to the ground, dropping the foxtail at Senna’s feet.
Senna picked up the tail, and as she did, she returned to the four-legged form she was always meant to have.
“Thank you, Raven,” she said.
The raven flew into the air, circling over Senna’s black-tipped ears. “Oh, Mistress Fox, thank you! I thought I’d never fly again.” He gave a final caw before flying away over the trees.
Senna breathed in the air, fresh and vibrant and tasting of pine. The wind stirred, cooling her nose, and she let the song of the birds fill her heart. Then, quiet as a whisper, she padded away into the woods.