Issue 98 Sep 2021
Lake Bodom is a mirror, the trees trapped on its surface like a Polaroid snapshot of a forest in repose. It’s so peaceful it’s almost impossible to believe we’re on the brink of war—or that, tonight, I’m here to meet the enemy.
Niko and Samu set up the tent, Niko stealing furtive glances at me he thinks I won’t notice. There’s a puckered v between his brows—a mark of worry, and mild disapproval he knows better than to voice out loud.
I should be more gracious, more grateful for every time he holds my hand or kisses my cheek when he knows others are watching, for every time he buys me flowers making other girls swoon. It’s a lie, a pretense, a deceitful dance we’ve perfected the steps to these past eighteen months, a careful choreography facilitating my true love life and more.
But this is different. This isn’t just meeting up with girls where my parents won’t see. This isn’t Niko planning date nights so I can spend the evening at a Youth for Peace meeting or making out with a girl everyone else thinks is just a friend.
This is dangerous. This time the girl I’m waiting for isn’t even entirely human.
I spoke before I could walk, with a voice as pure and clear as running water.
Is this truth? I do not know, but it was the story given to me as a child.
Each night my mother read aloud from the Book of Tales, praising when I mimicked her. “Katya, you will become a Teller of Tales,” she said, “one chosen by the Crown to perform across the land.” And I, obedient child, snuggled in my bed and tried to dream my mother’s dream.
My younger sister was given the noisy tasks on our farm. Jaylah was free to yell and shout as she chased crows from the corn and called home the milk cows. When I fretted, Mother gently chided me. “We must protect your voice,” she insisted, “like a treasure.” And so I spent my days helping in her pottery shed, where she turned lifeless lumps of clay into useful vessels.
Once a month a Teller of Tales visited the market town in the valley below us; once a month we walked miles along a rutted road to see her. This story, the one I now give to you, begins on that road in the spring of my seventeenth year.