QSFer Warren Rochelle has a short story in a new anthology: “Once Upon A Green Rose.”
Love is in the air. Or maybe lust. Queer platonic attraction possibly?
Either way, this anthology collects stories of people and relationships that are just a little bit… queered.
From “Mirrors,” by Warren Rochelle
Sometimes I forget how to say my name.
I haven’t said it out loud in such a long time I don’t know if I could make the sounds. That was part of the witch’s curse. I am able to speak as a human but that word I cannot say. The witch who cursed me was very specific.
Douglas’ family had come to him for help. They wanted a ritual of revenge performed to extract punishment for what I had done to Douglas. They paid well for it.
I can’t forget Douglas and nor can I forget how much I hurt him.
I had no choice. Douglas wanted me to love him, for us to be a couple, to stop the lies, the sneaking around. We could go north, he said, leave Joria, go to Lothia. The new Lothi king had changed the laws. I couldn’t; I was to be married to the banker’s daughter.
I had no choice. I said that so many times. But the repetition didn’t make it true.
I couldn’t sleep the night before the wedding breakfast, the first event of a traditional three-day Jorian wedding: meals, receptions, and teas for different sets of relations and guests (all important people, my parents assured me), dances, the evening lawn party of the first night, the lanterns in the trees, glowing candles on the fences—all ending with the ball before the wedding, and the wedding the next morning. Nothing was spared for the heir of House Goriel and to put to rest the talk of just what he really was. Twenty-four and not even engaged, my mother had said. People were talking, asking questions.
I rang the after-hours bell at the door of the infirmary and apothecary for the Goriel family compound. I waited in the tiny garden in the warm of the summer night, the air heavy with the fragrance of the blooming purple vines that grew up and over and around the stone walls of the house infirmary. The house greenwitch’s apartment was in the back. I rang the bell again, feeling guilty I was waking up Donnan just for a sleep potion. But I had to be up and alert before sunrise.
A woman, her hair an orange flame, opened the door.
“Donnan had a family matter. He asked me to cover for him. We trained together, I live nearby. Come in.”
Yawning, I quickly explained why I’d come. She nodded, went back into the apothecary, and a few minutes later, she handed me a warm mug. She watched as I drank. I felt sleepy and weak even before I could give the mug back. I stared at her, shaking my head, this was happening way too fast.
“Something’s wrong,” I gasped and fell into her arms, the mug hitting the floor, breaking. It was a sound muffled, dim, far away. She helped me to a nearby patient bed and I fell again.
She looked down on me and I could see her face shift, body parts change shape, realign, her orange hair darker and shorter. He laughed at the look on my face. “Douglas Allum killed himself for the love of you, a love you denied. His parents wanted revenge and they came to me.” He touched me and my body grew heavier and I could barely move. I could only watch as he tied me to the bedposts with the thinnest of ropes, gossamer threads.
Oh, Douglas, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t worth it.
“Douglas sent you a letter, which you didn’t read. He waited for you at his father’s shop. You didn’t come and his heart, already broken, shattered. He loved you. He went home and hung himself in the family stable. His parents read his journal and they hired me. I would have come to you, if you hadn’t come here.”
She was no greenwitch. He was a shadow witch, or worse, and I had burned the letter unread. I knew there was no point. I couldn’t change what was going to happen. My parents had demanded I marry. I tried desperately to explain but what words I had blurred, stumbled, fell, and were lost.
“But you could have changed things. You could have chosen love. You could’ve chosen to be brave instead of being the good son. But House Goriel needs a male heir, never mind your little sisters. Sorry won’t bring Douglas back or ease his parents’ grief. You want to say something?” He touched my lips and I felt my words untangle. I stared, watching the witch flicker, he to she, she to he, again and again.
“I never meant to hurt him. I knew I couldn’t be with him—I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry…”
She dismissed my protests with a disdainful wave of her hand. “You don’t know how to love anyone, not even yourself. You’re a coward.”
“I am to be married,” I whispered as I struggled against the ropes. I gave up; struggling only bound me tighter. “I love Mary Catherine McCulbreth; I really do.”
“I’ve watched you. You’re not in love with the banker’s daughter. Your father needs her money.” He shook his head and sighed. “There, I have fulfilled that part of the contract: the listing of faults, the assigning of blame. But now, I am free to speak, even if there is more required of me, more the parents paid for.” She sat down on the bed next to me and very gently stroked my hair. “You did not kill Douglas. He was troubled before you were lovers, he was fragile, he was not well. And for his parents to take revenge on you is wrong. Douglas’ death is not your fault and what his parents chose to do, in their grief, in their desire to transfer blame and guilt—none of this is fair. But I was paid, I signed a contract in silver.”
“I couldn’t be with him, I couldn’t love him,” I said, my voice barely audible.
“Your parents.” The witch shook his head in disgust. “They seek power and you and your sisters are but obedient little beasts. I see these wounds in you.”
She stood. “Now, by the contract, you must be cursed. A beast, yes. Douglas accused you of being a beast, so did his parents. As for your parents, you are their beast. But I will be as fair as I can. After all, I know how your parents raised you, how they treated you. Perhaps you can be redeemed.”
Then he cursed me.
Now I am in this house, with mirrors in every room.
The witch explained it all to me as I stood there in a drawing room, filled with armchairs and love seats, a long couch, old oil lamps, polished tables, thick carpets, in deep reds and browns. Outside one window, a green sky. The opposite window, a blue sky, a flower garden, a thick forest.
I felt heavy as I listened. My feet sank into the carpet. The shadow witch showed me why. She took me to the nearest mirror and ordered me to look. I would be compelled to look every day and, if I tried to hide, the mirrors would find me.
I saw my face and screamed.