Dec 2nd 2022
Flowers bowed to worship as she frolicked through the bright rays of summer sunshine. She rolled through the field, her hair shimmering with goldenrod pollen, and cheeks bright with the flush of roses. Her dress was hemmed in Queen Anne’s lace, and a crown of daisies adorned her head. She was the queen of flowers, the embodiment of summertime itself.
She came to rest on a blanket of Bee Balm, dreaming of the taste of honey on her lips. The warm breeze caressed her skin, bringing with it the scent of lilacs. She was all things beautiful and carefree. The swishing of tall grass in the wind sang her a lullaby, and there she slept, cradled in the care of a summer afternoon.
As she slept, a butterfly with orange and black stained-glass wings fluttered at the edge of her dream. The monarch tickled her ear, whispering promises of metamorphosis. “Soon, you’ll become a woman.”
“I don’t want to grow up,” the girl whispered into the breeze.
The butterfly placed a gentle kiss on the girl’s cheek. “We all grow up. Though some treasures you’ll lose, others will take their place.” Though the creature was lovely, the words she spoke were frightening.
The girl woke with dewdrop tears on her cheeks. Despite the monarch’s words, to her, transformation and change were ways of saying she wasn’t enough. She didn’t want to grow wide in the hips and large of breast, nor did she desire the lunar cycle that brought red with it each month.
She returned to the field the next day, trying not to dwell on the horrible words the monarch had spoken about the future. She shed those thoughts like a heavy winter coat, and instead chased a pair of dragonflies as they darted among the waterlilies at the edge of the pond. The scent of honeysuckle trailed behind her.
She fell to the ground, blowing out puffs of dandelion seed laughter. She settled onto a pillow of bachelor buttons and watched the clouds form shapes just for her as they traveled across the sprawling sky. As the clouds shifted and changed shape, she thought of herself, likewise transforming into something else.
“I’ll never change,” she whispered to the flowers.
The flowers sighed their relief.
The breeze carried a gentle humming sound, so soft she might have imagined it. Soon, the humming became buzzing, and the buzzing became a whisper.
“You need not change,” said a droning voice.
“They can’t make me!” she insisted.
“Indeed not,” the voice agreed.
The girl rolled onto her side and saw the golden-striped bee hovering over a thistle blossom. She gasped. She’d once been warned of the bee’s terrible sting.
“Why so shy?” the bee asked, moving closer, to the next blossom. “You belong among the flowers, for only they are as lovely as you.”
“Can you help me? Can you make it so I never have to leave?”
“It will cost you a kiss.”
The girl shook her head and turned away.
The days grew shorter as summer waned, but still, the girl returned to play among the flowers. She tried to forget the butterfly’s words, which now seemed an ominous warning, but she could already hear the school’s bell ringing in her mind. Her perfect summer was fading fast.
The asters were starting to bloom, and melancholy tainted her play. Soon, even the unrelenting cheer of the black-eyed Susans would vanish. She sat against the massive trunk of a willow. Her carefree expression was gone; her brow knit with a dark cloud of looming responsibilities. A butterfly – a monarch – landed on her shoulder. She swatted it away in frustration.
She thought of the bee’s offer.
Only a kiss.
She bolted upright and ran through the field from one patch to another of late season blossoms. She found the gilded prince along the border of the field. The girl doubled over, breathing heavily.
“You can make it so I don’t have to go back to school, or grow up, or get married, or have children, or…” her words ran together in a breathless jumble.
“Okay.” She knelt in the grass and closed her eyes.
With a single kiss, her throat constricted and she struggled for breath. She lay down in the field one last time. Days and weeks and months passed, and her crown of daisies withered, but she remained, forever a girl.
Author Bio: Holley Cornetto’s stories have appeared in publications such as Daily Science Fiction, Dark Recesses Press, and Flame Tree Press Newsletter as well as anthologies from Cemetery Gates Media, Eerie River Publishing, and Kandisha Press. Her debut novella, We Haunt These Woods, is available now through Bleeding Edge Books.
She is a member of the Horror Writers Association, and holds an MFA from Lindenwood University with a concentration in fiction. In 2020, she was awarded a grant from Ladies of Horror Fiction. In addition to writing The Horror Tree’s weekly newsletter, she regularly reviews for Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Ginger Nuts of Horror, and The Horror Tree. She teach creative writing in the online MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University.
Holley’s unsettling fantasy story Coal Dust and Shadows was the very first story in the very first edition of Wyldblood Magazine and will be reprinted in our upcoming Best of Wyldblood anthology.
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