They should have known better than to entrust her with something so frail and so precious. Yet the lords had seemed keen on gifting her with the duty of caring for the abandoned spawling. She clutched the hatchling in her hands, careful not to damage its soft scales, yet mindful of its talons. Surely no good could come from this bestowment. Spawlings were odd creatures, with ears like horses, scales like dragons, and bodies like sugar gliders with a long strip of black fur racing down their back and ending at the tip of their tail in a tuff.
The spawling she held now couldn’t have been more than a week old. It had been abandoned by its parents. She hardly knew where to begin with feeding or what schedule the beast would require. It had fallen from the nest they said. It would die without her nurturing they said. Yet, Mira knew in her heart that she was too vile to care for anything. Even the gardens in her courtyard stayed blackened all year round.
Still, she carried the spawling home in a blanket-lined satchel, careful to ensure the baby stayed warm. Once secured safely in the castle’s iron gates, she dared to sneak a peep inside at the sleeping body. The spawling was curled up tightly in a ball, its tiny feet kicking as it dreamed. Mira smiled to herself. Maybe they would do just fine and become good friends. Sparse hairs that had only just started to grow lined its back and stirred from her breath.
Dare she feel hope? She wondered as she closed the bag and headed for the kitchen to prepare warm some goat milk. I can’t ruin everything, she thought to herself. There has to be something I can keep well.
And, much to her surprise, the first feeding went well, and the second and the third. The tiny beast ate with quite the appetite, demanding food every couple of hours with shrill chirps. She would clutch the tiny babe, why it was no bigger than an apple slice, in her hands after warming them at the furnace and feed it from the tiniest of bottles. The spawling happily suckled, its eyes still squeezed tightly shut and its tiny claws pressed happily into her index finger as it held on.
The first three feedings turned into the first three days, and on the morning of the third, Mira felt confident that she could succeed. She sat on her balcony at early dawn, looking out over the dead trees and humming to the spawling as it nuzzled her hand before finding the bottle. The fur on its back was already starting to thicken and it crooned quite happily at her once it was full. She glanced down as the spawling let out a gentle sigh and burrowed its head into her palm to sleep. She cradled it close and felt a wave of sadness wash over her as she felt its tiny heart thud away.
Can I really do this? It’s still too soon, is it not? But, the baby was aglow with health and so she felt certain she could. The spawling was eating well and even growing. She could indeed care for this frail creature.
Cursed child, cursed child, voices, those of the many town children, chimed in the back of her mind. A chilly gust of air tickled her spine and she felt the spawling shiver.
“Oh dear, let me get you inside where it’s warm,” she crooned, standing and quickly tucking the hatchling back into its nest of blankets. She took the bundle inside and placed it in a basket near the furnace, but not too close least the baby get too warm.
It was at noon when the bad things begin. She was slightly behind on the feeding, but that should have been of little concern. Mothers were often times late on such things. Later, Mira would feel it was the cause for everything that followed. And, when she would out reason such, her brain would simply wander to another dreadful thought.
She went over to the basket, and stirred the sleeping spawling. It let out a drowsy chirp and was slower to wake than normal. When she cradled it close and offered it warm milk, it turned its head away, groaning. Worry began to seep into Mira’s gut like vile seeds sprouting to fast growing weeds.
“Wake now little one, it’s time to eat,” she encouraged, pressing a few drops of liquid against its lips. The spawling was still for a moment then tasted the milk. It chirped again, the sound muffled and dull. Then the hatchling buried its face into her palm, insisting on sleep.
Maybe she just isn’t hungry, Mira told herself. But the seed of worry had already taken root. Mira tucked the spawling back away to sleep and collected a book to pass the next hour.
She returned within the hour, feeling more anxious than she had when she’d been asked to originally take care of the hatching. Far she had already grown to feel quite fiercely for the creature. She knew better though. She should have known better. Done better. Everything collapsed at her touch. Everything.
With a shaky hand, she pulled back the blanket and watched the spawling sleep for a moment, smiling at the steady rise and fall of its tiny chest. She slid her hand under it, pleased to find its scales nice and warm. As she settled it in her grasp, the spawling lifted its tiny head and shook away sleep. Almost instantly, she started to nuzzle Mira’s fingers in a hunt for food. Once the bottled was found, the creature let out a delighted chirp and began to eat ravishingly.
Mira felt her unease slip away. She told herself she wasn’t cursed and sang softly as the spawling fed. Hope and confidence returned both burning furiously within her.
She will live. She will grow and grow and open her eyes and leap from the furnishings of the house in games of play. And, once she’s grown I’ll free her into the garden and the trees and flowers there will grow and bloom for once. I can do this.
Mira promised herself this and many other things as she wiped the milk from the spawlings chin and tucked her back into the warmth of the blankets. Then the next feeding approached and everything collapsed.
Despite the warmth of the fire and many blankets, the spawling’s scales had grown cold and its breathing labored. When prompted to eat, the hatching suckled a few drops before turning its head away. Mira felt her heart crumble.
Cursed! A voice within her screamed. Everything you touch shall always die.
She wrapped her hands around the spawling and cried; feverishly hoping the hatching would recover. Wishing for it dearly, she stroked its head and thought of the past nights spent waking constantly for feedings. She thought of the many kisses placed on its tiny snout and the way its ears would twitch as she sang to it.
You will live, she willed silently.
“You must eat,” she told it aloud. “You must grow strong and clever and do well. We shall get through today. I’ll pull you free from the dark woods of death. Stay close to me little one.”
But, the following feeding was just as morbid. When she lifted the blankets, she found the smell of death had settled around the creature. Death had the most peculiar of smells yet a scent that was so distinct and familiar to the girl, that she knew it instantly. It clung to the hatching like the smell of roses polluting a garden, just as bitter as they were sweet. With each feeding, the spawling drank less and less and its stomach, once round and warm, shrank bit by bit. As if on cue, dark slowly settled.
That night pressed on like one foul dream with her waking every two hours, drenched in sweet and exhausted with grief. The grief crawled underneath her skin and gnawed away at any hope she could summon. Yet, still she continued to call more forth, drawing it from some well she’d kept hidden away for moments like these.
It was the same hopes that lead her to replant the gardens every year, even when everything withered away within the first month and the grass fell withered to hard soil. She dipped into the well at each feeding, and used it to force back the tears in her eyes and to hush the fear in her heart. But, as the tendrils of dawn approached the spawling ate less and less. The fear stopped being quiet.
Outside the castle a heavy rain started to fall, washing the morning in thunder and flashes of light. It gave expression to how Mira felt and encouraged the cold to seep deep into Mira’s own flesh. Feeling desperate, she pulled the spawling’s frail body from its tangles of blankets and stole it away to her chambers. Decisively, she tucked the hatchling under her shirt and crawled into her bed with it. She burrowed under the heaps of covers she kept there and pressed the spawling into the warmth of her stomach.
They slept like that, the pair of them for the next three hours until the spawling stirred to search for food. It rooted against her belly, snorting and licking and tickling away. Despite the situation, Mira found herself giggling, feeling encouraged by the behavior. But, when she retrieved the babe from beneath her shirt to feed, the despair was quick to return. Still, she would not eat more than a few drops before turning her head away. Clearly she was hungry, yet she wouldn’t accept the milk. Mira kissed the top of her head, then paused and inhaled. The smell of death was gone.
Mira sat back up and squeezed a few drops onto the babe’s lips and felt her gut knot with hope as the spawling swallowed. This game continued throughout the morning. Mira got comfortable with a good book and prepared to hunker away the day. The morning turned into the evening, and though the spawling hardly ate, she accepted a few drops here and there and continued to pass waste.
Every couple of hours she would stir and search for food in hunger. And, at each feeding, Mira’s heart would clamp up when the babe wanted food but could not quite accept it. Just drink it, Mira thought. I know you’re hungry. Please just drink some.
But, the spawling would not. It was as if it could not. The spawling moved and chirped against her stomach, crying out and searching, before settling back into the warmth and sleeping. Mira lifted the neck of her shirt and peered down past her breasts at the sleeping creature smiling sadly at its nestled body. Its tiny feet twitched in a dream and it curled up tighter.
“I have hope,” she whispered, but by now the well was yielding only mud. The day crept away into dusk and as the shadows approached, the spawling grew weaker. So weak that she completely refused to accept more drops of food. By then her body had grown so frail and thin that Mira could count her tiny rips and see where her stomach had sunken in. Mira fought back tears at her last attempt to get food into the hatching and kissed the top of her head.
The smell of death had returned. By now, Mira was coated in it herself and the smell of sweat and milk. She stirred from her blankets, knowing she needed a bath to rinse off the grime of the day. She’d return and hold the babe close and continue to hope.
The bath was brief and helped refill the well Mira was drawing from. I’ll go back in there and hold her. I’ll hold her till she gently passes or till she recovers. I bet she’ll recover. She’ll make it through this storm and be even stronger. She wants to live. She’s been fighting so hard all day.
But, when Mira approached her covers, she knew better. She felt fowl tendrils wrap around her mind and whisper to her.
She’ll be dead when you lift the covers, a voice taunted. Dead. You’re cursed.
The smell of death was stronger. She lifted the covers and sure enough, the spawling was curled up, its chest not moving. Tears sprang into Mira’s eyes and disbelief leapt into her heart.
No, surely she’s not. She slid her hands under the still body and cradled it. The tiny form was stiff but still warm. The mouth was parted open almost as if in a scream.
Mira clutched it to her chest and cried. She kissed the top of its soft head and whispered to it to wake up. She could feel the warmth lingering in the corpse. Breathe, she thought. Just breathe. You can live. You can make it.
But, the spawling didn’t breathe. She didn’t wake. She didn’t return to life and snuggle close. She stayed listless in the girl’s hands. The rain outside rushed in, sounding much too loud. Crying and still petting the spawling’s snout, Mira dashed outside into the rain, running across the courtyard and into the garden beyond.
She paused at the shed, and retrieved a trowel, leaving the door open in her wake. Then, she went to her favorite tree in the garden-a tree the babe would never climb or any other-, though it too was dead, and knelt to dig. She thought to set the spawling in the grass while she dug, but as her hands lowered to do so, her heart seized up. She couldn’t place the babe on the frigid ground. No. That was too cruel, too cold. She slid the hatchling back into her shirt once more and set about digging.
The wet earth gave way easily and within minutes an appropriate sized hole was formed, black and empty. Mira pulled the still warm form from her shirt and starred for a moment. She couldn’t believe she was dead. Surely she would move and stir and wake. Surely the warmth of Mira’s body had rekindled the life there.
Mira knew this to be a lie. She knew the spawling had died like everything else she touched. Like the dogs she’d owned. Like the colt she’d reared. Like the barn cats and rats that had first lived here. Like the garden she foolishly replanted every year. And like the stupid tree she now knelt at as the rain and mud soaked into her clothes.
She planted one final kiss on the top of the spawling’s head and gently placed its curled up body into the hole. The babe lay there, curled up in the cold earth. The dirt would press in around her, suffocating her, freezing her. Maggots would find her and pick apart her flesh. She would dissolve into decay and vanish forever. It felt wrong to leave her like that.
Mira filled the dirt back in, packing it down and feeling her heart squeeze with pain and crack open.
No. Don’t do this. You’re smothering her. You’re choking her. You’re crushing her with the dirt! The thoughts were unreasonable but they rushed in regardless.
Mira climbed to her feet and looked down at her muddy hands. Death clung to her hands. Death clung to all she touched. Like rot. Like mud. Like the smell she had learned to recognize. She left the garden along with the spade and the hatchling. A trail of wet footprints was left behind in the house. They led up the stairs and to her bed where the covers still smelled like milk and the spawling. She burrowed under them, crying.
If she had stayed with the babe, perhaps it would have lived. Yet, she’d needed a bath. Why had she been so selfish? She could have at least held the hatchling until it took its last breath. Had that not been her plan? Why had she run away to the bath? She had left the spawling to die cold and alone. She’d killed it. Surely she had done something wrong.
I’m evil. Cursed. Vile. How could I be so selfish? I ran away. That’s what I did. I didn’t really care, not truly or I would not have lingered so long getting dressed. I would have quickly returned. I let her die alone. I’m a monster.
As she grew more and more upset, the lines repeated themselves over and over and ‘I’ became ‘you’. Tears didn’t fall and for this too she felt guilt.
Look, you’re not even crying. How can you care so little? You’re such a monster. Such a fowl creature. You kill everything you touch. You neglect all you say you care for and love. The gardens wither and die because you don’t truly love them. You love nothing. You just pretend. Halfling. Monster. You’re not even really a human. It’s your fault the hatching is dead. Your fault. You killed her. You’re awful. Everything rots at your touch. Your vile touch.
Mira curled up into a tight ball and listened to the voice in her head all afternoon. She listened long into the night and until midnight struck. As the clock gonged in the hallway, she sat up, alert and focused. Her eyes were puffy but not from tears far she had shed none. She slid from the covers, her feet clacking against the cold floor as she crossed the room. Her hair was still wet and her clothing quite damp. The smell of death clung to her tightly.
She walked down the stairs, out the door, out the gates and into the town. A slow smile crept onto her face and she hummed as she went, reaching out her hands and touching trees as she passed. Their bark withered from her caress and the grass at their edges blackened as well.
Half human, half something else. The lords should have known not to entrust her with something living. She could do no good. She could accept this now.
Cursed child. Cursed child.
She practically danced into the town, touching the houses as she went and rousing screams from each in passing. Sometimes she paused to kiss the windows, relishing in the feeling of the cold glass and delighting more in the freezing air that slipped into the dwellings she greeted. The smell of death grew stronger around her.
Her steps carried her well into the center of town, to the house of the first lord. The iron gates gave way to rust beneath her hands and collapsed with a gentle kick. She headed for the stables. The horses grew uneasy as she approached and nickered in protest. She visited the gardens next, washing away the life there with her breath. She saved the lord for last, finding no joy in the way horror twisted up his features as death claimed him.
Mira visited all of the other lords in turn and claimed their gardens, equines, barnyard cats and children. And each visit made her feel worse. Despite the misery she felt, she stayed busy until dawn was creeping up and sending her back to bed. Back to home. She had done all she could. Accomplished all she was good for. That at least felt complete.
On her way back to her castle on the hill, she passed a beggar on the road. The man was old and crippled with age. She hesitated before him, unsure of if she should pass. His gray eyes accepted her calmly.
“You smell of milk and death,” he remarked. “Will you give back life as you have taken it?” Mira looked down at her hands and the dirt under her nails. She thought of the spawling buried in the cold earth. Cursed.
“I may only take it old man. Should I smell of milk, it is merely the scent by which to attract death so that I may bestow it unto others.” And with this, she passed, watching him collapse from the corner of her eye.
You’re evil and wretched and no good. You ruin everything you touch. Everything you pass.
She believed these thoughts. She returned to the castle and headed upstairs to the hearth. The basket she had kept the spawling in was still there, the blankets still warming near the fire. A mirror across the room caught her stare and she approached it, stopping before it to behold what she’d become.
Dark wings had sprouted from her back. Her black hair had slipped free from all of her braids. The breeches she’d worn were covered in damp earth. Her eyes had turned red and wild. She stared at the monster in the mirror and watched as it grinned wickedly at her. She took a deep breath and could smell the soil of the garden still clinging to her skin.
Cursed, she thought.
Calmly, she pressed her palm against the glass, touching the girl she saw there. Suddenly, shivers seized up her spine and she was cold. Freezing and shivering, she crawled from the room; suddenly her legs were too weak to stand. She dragged herself down the hallway and into her chamber. With shaky arms, she hauled herself up into the bed and curled up where the spawling and her had lain all day. She pushed the book she’d been reading onto the floor, uncaring when it’s pages bent.
She pulled the covers over her head and took in a deep breath. Milk invaded her nostrils. Milk and death. She curled up tighter and tighter, till darkness crept in like the heavy blanket and stole the last warmth she felt. Fleetingly she thought, I wish I could be held. I wish I wasn’t alone. And she chuckled before croaking aloud to herself.
“You deserve this. Wretched creature. You are cursed.” And, death stole her just as it had stolen others.
About the Creator
I am an author from deep East Texas with a passion for horror and fantasy, often heavily mixed together. In my spare time, when I am not writing, I draw and paint landscape and fantasy pieces. I now reside in Alaska where adventures await.