Eve was a surprise child.
Before her there were two sisters. Eve’s mother spent a year under a dark cloud after the second was born—eating little; feeling paralyzed when she fell asleep and woke up. Those moments terrified her so, and she could not breathe. She knew she was not too old—she could have another child—but she was afraid.
“You can’t let fear steal your joy,” Eve’s father said. “You love children. You were born to be a mother.”
“I’m already a mother,” said his wife.
“Please,” he said.
After much discussion—and many tears—they had Eve. But a few months after her birth, a wildfire raged through the woods surrounding their town. As they fled towards the safety of the nearby city, Eve’s mother insisted on going back for the box of family photographs. When her husband and daughters returned to the house months later, after the police had asked their questions and the rescue workers had said, We’re sorry, we’ve done all we can, the box of photographs was still in its place at the top of the hall closet.
Perhaps this was why Eve’s father loved her more than his other children, although he would never admit it to himself. But his older daughters knew from the way he looked at Eve, how when she cried he came faster to her than either of them, how he could not go to bed without checking on her at least three times. They could feel it in their bones the way an amputee might feel a severed limb, a dull electric burn that never seemed to leave. Didn’t they lose a mother, too? Weren’t they his flesh and blood just like Eve? Is it any wonder, then, that they could not love her?
Eve felt the sharp edges of her sisters’ silences, but she got used to it as she grew up. Besides, she had her father’s love and the treehouse he built for her in their backyard, complete with a rope hammock and an octagonal window where she could reach out and grab fresh peaches in the summer. Sometimes she spent whole days in the branches eating peaches and reading books about spunky, scabby-kneed girls who discovered worlds behind doors and under the earth. Once she snuck a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the school library, but felt too guilty to read it—her father had told her witches and wizards did the work of the Devil, and Eve knew how much her father loved her, how it would hurt him to know she had disobeyed.
Eve loved her father, always in denim work clothes smelling faintly of car oil, whose stained hands had comforted and protected her since she was born, but she knew that she could not stay with him forever. Someday she would leave the brown double-wide with the peach tree house, itchy cotton Sunday dresses, jealous sisters. But for now, she was content.
Until the autumn she was nineteen, when her father left for the hunting trip.
Friends from church had invited him on a weekend deer hunt a few hours away, deep in the hill country. On his way home he would pass through the city, and did his girls want anything? His older daughters asked for gourmet chocolate, lavender hand cream, rose scented beeswax candles. Eve had her father’s love and her books and peach tree and so didn’t feel the need for much else. But he told her to pick something, anything—he didn’t feel right returning without a gift for her.
“If you have time, Daddy, could you bring me a pomegranate or two from the market? It’s the season for them now, and they’re cheaper in the city.”
Her hadn’t thought their requests were extravagant—they knew there wasn’t much money. But there was no competing with Eve. She always made them look spoiled and selfish. They rolled their eyes. At least they would have their nice gifts.
Eve’s father drove west into the hills in the morning when the bright autumn sun turned the landscape a clear, crisp gold, but by evening all the roads began to look the same and seemed to loop back on one another like a labyrinth. He did not have a map, and his cell phone was dead. He tried not to panic—he was a grown man, after all—but he had heard stories of strange creatures living in the remote hills, creatures with dark feathers and eyes like crimson embers. And there were bobcats and coyotes and the occasional puma —he took comfort in his shotgun packed in the trunk. He considered bringing it into the backseat and spending the night in his car, when, on a back road, he saw a light shine through the trees.
Maybe they’ll have a phone, he thought, turning down a narrow path towards the rainbow-colored light, which he saw came from the stained-glass windows of a great limestone mansion. An iron gate opened as he approached. He parked at the end of the drive and walked quietly up the steps. He had hardly raised his hand to knock when the door creaked open softly on its own.
The hallway was lit with torches in sconces that gave off a sweet, almost spicy odor that reminded him of chili flowers. Eve’s father was not sure what to think. He had never been in a house like this. He wondered if he should have brought the shotgun in case he needed to defend himself, but remembered what his own father had taught him as a boy—never carry your weapon through another man’s door once an invitation has been issued. Besides, it seemed that no one here meant him any harm.
He came to a dining room lit with purple candlesticks. An antique crystal chandelier strung with blue pearls hung from the ceiling. A fire crackled cheerfully in the fireplace. The mantel was decorated with bird feathers, chunks of citrine and amethyst and lapis lazuli, the skulls of small animals.
On the table were steaming plates of roasted chicken with butter and herbs, creamy mashed potatoes, cranberry cornbread, fresh iced oysters, fried cactus, deviled eggs, deep dark purple grapes. For dessert, there was prickly pear custard, blackberry pie, fresh blood oranges—he almost swooned at their scent. In the decanter, a rich, blood red wine. A small card read PLEASE EAT.
Eve’s father had not realized how hungry he was, but could now feel himself salivate like an animal. Lacking utensils, he dug in with his hands, shoveling in as much food as he could. When he had eaten so much that he felt his stomach might burst, and his eyes drooped with sleepiness, a small white bell appeared on the table. He rang it, and found himself in a large comfortable bed washed with moonlight in a room painted red.
Eve’s father was amazed by all this, but did not want to be an ungrateful guest. Before
falling asleep, he said aloud to the empty house, “Thank you for your hospitality.”
In the morning, he helped himself to sumptuous breakfast of biscuits, eggs, bacon, coffee and a bowl of strawberries. As he prepared to leave, he noticed a garden he had not seen the night before. It was filled with overblown marigolds, esperanza, lantana, larkspur, pointy flowering cacti, and a tangled bed of lavender and orange roses. There was a waxy-looking magnolia, avocado and banana trees, and jimsonweed with withered night blooms hanging like spent trumpets. And in the far corner of the garden, he saw it.
The tree was full of round pink husks, fat with ruby seeds. The fruit reminded him of Eve—fresh and full of promise. And he had made a promise—he would take some to her.
But as the first fruit snapped off the tree, firm and whole in his hand, the Beast came.
She roared and for a moment he feared a puma had come from the woods. But he froze as he saw the Beast lumber towards him from the shadows of the garden. She circled him, a growl rumbling like bubbling lava deep in her chest. Pendulous breasts hung like a queen’s jewels. Her black fur stood on end, tail thumped the ground, claws scraped the earth like sharp silver crescent moons. Eve’s father shook so hard with fear he fell to his knees. He felt like vomiting. He dared not meet the Beast’s gaze. If he did, he would have seen the ethereal, loving, violent eyes of a goddess.
“I give you food,” the Beast growled. “I take you into my home and ask nothing in return. And your greed is so that you take the one thing you’re not permitted to touch?”
Eve’s father apologized. I’m sorry, I was lost, my daughter, her wish.
The Beast circled and growled, circled and growled, around the trembling hunter. He could go—on one condition.
“No,” he said. “I’ll give you anything else. Anything at all.”
The Beast said there was no other way. If Eve did not come in seven days, her father would sicken and die.
Eve’s father ran from the garden, its heavy floral scent now suffocating—in a flash of adrenaline, it occurred to him that many of the flowers were deadly poisonous. Down the limestone steps, away from the stone house that in the daylight seemed dark and haunted.
He jumped in his car and sped so quickly down the drive he almost veered off into the trees. When he reached the main road, he lay his forehead against the steering wheel and tried to catch his breath. Surely, it had all been some sort of bad dream.
But on the seat beside him was the pomegranate.
“I’ll go, Daddy,” Eve said when he told his children what had happened. “I’m the one who
got us into this mess. It’s only fair that I fix it.”
Her father wouldn’t hear of it. Her sisters rolled their eyes, muttered that he should just go back and shoot the Beast with his shotgun.
“She’s far too powerful,” their father said. “And I don’t know the way.”
“I will go, Daddy,” Eve said again. She hugged her father. In her heart, she knew that she
had been waiting for a chance to leave.
Her father kissed her and told her not worry, he would figure something out. But that night Eve lay awake and wondered how one found a magical mansion hidden in the hills occupied by a she-beast. Near daybreak, she heard a whinny from the front yard. From her bedroom window, she saw a black horse. He wore no saddle or bridle but she knew, somehow, that he had come for her. She dressed and quietly stepped outside. The horse kneeled before her, as if it was an honor to carry her away.
They rode off the highway, through the scorched bit of woods that were still recovering from the fire, eventually blending into thickets of mesquite and cedar. As a child Eve had often wondered what it would be like to travel through the landscape instead of driving down the road in a deadly machine—cars had always made her anxious. She felt the horse’s powerful muscles move between her thighs, the autumn sun warm her skin, the breeze tangle her long strawberry hair. She saw a red and a white fox run through the brush together and a flock of wild green parrots glide over the trees. Eve had never felt so free, even though she was afraid—not so much of the Beast, for she had read enough stories to feel fairly confident in dealing with one, but the thought of leaving one sort of cage for another. Still, she knew it was her own choice, and that had to count for something.
When they reached the Beast’s mansion, the twilight had settled in and turned the hills purple. The rainbow light filled the courtyard from the stained-glass windows. It made Eve feel less afraid. The front hallway was lit with torches and full of chittering bats hanging from the ceiling and flitting about in the firelight, as if to greet her. In the dining room, a two-headed snake twined around the chandelier and gazed benevolently at her with four eyes like crushed onyx. Tiny green chrysali hung from the stained-glass windows. A bobcat and coyote lay curled up together by the fireplace—Eve started when she saw them, but the coyote just tweaked an ear and the bobcat looked at her with sleepy eyes before stretching its bright pink mouth open in a yawn.
The table was covered with big thick purple carrots and roasted sweet potatoes, smoked cheeses rolled in herbs and fresh baked bread, pasta in creamy white sauce topped with fresh mushrooms, a pitcher of blood-red sangria. When Eve had eaten her fill, a bowl of pomegranates appeared, their bright pink seeds glistening like jewels in the candlelight.
As she swallowed her first seed, she heard footsteps. She took a deep breath and turned, prepared to meet the Beast.
Instead, she saw a woman with olive skin, hair like midnight, amethyst eyes. She was dressed in a black silk slip covered with silver stars. Eve felt a pang in her stomach, like something died inside her, only to be resurrected a moment later.
“Your father said you were fond of them,” the woman said, in a voice that reminded Eve of wind chimes in a summer storm.
“You’re the Beast,” Eve said.
The woman shrugged. “It takes a beast to know a beast.”
“I’m a beast, too?”
“Every woman is, whether she knows it or not.”
“Do you have a name?”
“Are you afraid, Eve?”
Lilith and Eve spent their days running through the hills, swimming in turquoise sinkholes, painting each other’s bodies to look like opals, garnets, diamonds, dancing in the moonlight garden with the bobcat and coyote howling around their heels, the snake twining around their arms, bats swooping overhead. They wandered the woods freeing animals from hunter’s traps. They ate wild berries and mushrooms—Lilith taught Eve which were safe and which could kill—and flowers and fruit from the garden. Eve’s hands and feet grew hard thick calluses, and she learned to love the feel of dirt under her fingernails. She bathed less often and her hair grew tangled and full of leaves and twigs. When winter came, they stayed curled up together in Lilith’s bed with the leopard and black lace sheets in a room that smelled of Egyptian musk, old Souixsie and the Banshees cassettes playing in the stereo, and read from yellowed books of poetry and myth. They rarely found it necessary to speak.
But every day, Lilith asked the same question.
“Do you love me, Eve?”
“Of course I love you, Bat-Girl.”
“I mean, me—not the kind of love you feel for an animal.”
“But you are an animal. And so am I.”
In the spring, the chrysali opened. Forty white, red, and black butterflies dripped out like pearls, rubies, obsidian. The garden was heavy with fruit.
Although Eve had never been happier than she was with Lilith, she didn’t forget her father. Somehow she sensed when he took ill. The turn of the year brought more than shorter days and cooler evenings—the air tasted different, heavier.
“I have to see him,” she told Lilith. “I couldn’t forgive myself if he died and I wasn’t there to say goodbye.”
Lilith nodded, but her face was grave.
“Promise you’ll remember me when you go.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You still belong to the world. I was foolish not to see it.”
Eve took Lilith’s hands and kissed them. “This is my home now. With you.”
Lilith smiled with her mouth, but not her eyes.
“At sunset, go to the top of the hill. You will find what you need.”
Eve threw her arms around Lilith’s shoulders.
“You’ll see me again.”
“I know. But I won’t.”
When the hills turned violet as the sun sank, Eve ran to the top of the hills above the garden. Lying on a granite boulder was a pair of great white owl wings. She slipped them on, and without thinking about it, she flew. Her stomach dropped, but once she caught the wind she forgot to be afraid. The cool blue air felt sweet in her lungs. She laughed with pleasure as she glided and tumbled in the sky. This must be how a bird feels, she thought, so far removed but still connected, parallel, to the world below, the stars above. She glided over the blankets of trees, the city that glittered like a silver charm, green snake of the river that wound past the blackened woods and there, on the edge of the destruction, her father’s house with the rusty swing set and peach tree in the backyard. Eve felt her heart deflate as she ascended downwards—she wanted more sky and stars and dizzy thin air. Still, the soft grass of the kempt lawn felt good under her feet after so many months of running barefoot through the woods. She hid the owl wings in her old treehouse, now home to spider webs and a family of squirrels.
Eve’s father was overjoyed at her homecoming, but her sisters could only stare in shock and fear at her matted hair, dirty fingernails, the soft hair that had grown over her arms and legs and her musky, woodsy odor. But her father’s health improved within hours of her visit. After a few days of making him healing soups and teas and reading to him from his favorite books, he felt strong enough to sit outside in the sun.
Eve told her father about Lilith, their moonlight dances and swims and the animals and twilight runs, but he shook his head.
“I don’t want you going back there,” he said.
“It’s alright, Daddy,” Eve said. “I’m very well cared for and happy with Lilith. She’s a fierce one, but she has a kind heart.”
“That’s not how I remember her,” her father said. “Don’t be confused, sweetheart. You might just feel pity for an animal.”
Eve smiled and dug her bare toes into the grass.
“But I am an animal. We all are.”
“God made us separate,” her father said. “Gave us dominion. It’s just the way it is.”
“Maybe,” Eve said. “Or maybe we just forgot who we are.”
Although Eve’s father couldn’t remember the last time his heart had felt so happy, the disease still ate away at his body. Eve stayed with her family through the winter, helping to feed and bathe him and take him to the hospital for radiation treatments. Although her sisters were frightened when she first arrived home, they bonded taking care of their father in a way they never could when they were children. After they had helped him to bed they would stay up late into the night baking banana bread and playing card games.
Eve told them about her life with Lilith and they told Eve all the things they had done in the year she’d been away—one working as a nanny, the other completing a nursing degree, how they tried to take their father out two-stepping whenever they could because they knew he loved it, so that he would not forget the joy in the world.
“We were afraid when you first came home,” the elder told her. “Dad has always favored you and we’re still learning how to forgive him for it. But you’ve made him happy, which is what he needs more than anything now. And maybe we needed to see you, too. To forgive ourselves.”
Eve showered more frequently and wore shoes again. She brushed the tangles out of her hair, although she didn’t mind when leaves and twigs still got caught in it. But every night as she lay in her bed with the pink blankets she had loved as a child but that now felt smothering, she thought of her Lilith. Was she lonely? Sad? And why could Eve not sense her thoughts the way she always had before?
She’s fine, Eve told herself. She’s far too powerful. Isn’t she?
When their father died, just as the first flowers were beginning to poke their heads out of the ground, Eve mourned with her sisters but knew it was time to leave. She promised to see them again in the winter. Again she flew, but faster this time, beating the wings frantically over the highway with its cars like hard candy, the scorched dragon woods where new green saplings were just beginning to emerge, the silver city that glowed gold in the sunset and the violet hills. She feared that she may not remember the way to the mansion, but somehow, the way a bird knows north from south in its blood and bones, she did.
She landed in the garden, and gasped.
The flowers were dead. The fruit trees barren. She ran through the wilted brambles and thorns until she found Lilith, curled up under the pomegranate tree, surrounded by the dried husks of spoiled fruit. Only it wasn’t Lilith—it was the ugly, beautiful Beast, her black fur picked away in places to reveal raw flesh beneath, her silver claws like sharp curved moons. Her bones jutted out, threatening to rip through the seams of her skin like a worn and neglected stuffed animal. Her breath rattled like an empty gourd. She did not look like a hungry demon—she looked small and lost.
Eve threw her arms around Lilith. I’m sorry—I’m sorry—I love you Lili—please I can’t lose you too—I love you baby.
Lilith’s eyes fluttered open. They were murky and runny, like lavender milk, but she whined and licked Eve’s cheek.
Lilith got better, but she remained in her beastly form. That was alright with Eve—she loved her beast-girl regardless of what she looked like. What saddened her was that they now had to speak more often, although they still walked in the woods and swam in the river and ate together with the bats and snake and bobcat and coyote and shared a bed. They danced less often and no longer painted one another’s bodies, so Eve painted the walls of the rooms with forests and oceans and planets.
Sometimes, if they argued, Lilith would go off roaming the woods for several days at a time. When that happened, Eve would bathe and take the owl wings to visit her sisters. Those times she was in the air were when she felt most like herself—beast girl, animal girl, girl, belonging to the night and day, confusing and astounding those whose eyes were too closed to understand.
Nori Rose earned her Associate of Arts in Creative Writing with Honors from Austin Community College and her BA in English/Creative Writing with Honors from the University of Texas. Her work has been published in The Rio Review, Feminine Inquiry, Musings of a #LonelyFeminist, Hothouse, and online in Gingerbread House. She is a former staff writer for Jupiter Index Web Magazine, and has taught creative writing workshops on professional writing and dark fantasy to Austin-area youth. She is currently finishing her first novel, with plans to pursue an MFA in Fiction within the next few years. She is an eighth-generation Texan and lives in Austin with her husband, two rescue cats, a rescue dog, and a blue tongue skink.
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