Giant

by Stephanie Burgis

 

 

I've hidden my heart in an egg, in a box, in a well at the end of the world. My father taught me that trick a long time ago.

If I'd kept my heart, I would be in trouble now. This princess is too beautiful.

"Darling," she sighs into my ear. Her breath is warm and smells like lilacs; her tiny hands are feather-light as they stroke my cheek. "I worried about you today."

"Today? Why?" I shift position on the bed. I can't let myself enjoy her touch too much--after all, it was only a week ago that she stopped screaming whenever I stepped close to her. I hate it when they scream.

As I shift, again that terrible smell flits through my nostrils, the smell that's been bothering me since I got home. It smells like fear; it smells like dried sweat. "Are you sure that's just a dead bird in the chimney?"

"Of course it is. I heard it fluttering around in there for hours." Her voice tightens, and her fingers still for a moment on my cheek. "It couldn't get out. It was trapped."

"That's too bad."

It doesnít smell like a bird. It smells human, but I donít say so. I don't like the sound of her voice. It reminds me too much of the way she talked the first month after I took her from her parents' castle. The things she whispered as I pretended to sleep. She seems to have gotten over that by now. I hope so. She's my fourth princess, and my favorite so far. Something about her face reminds me of my mother, before my mother gave up and stopped eating and died.

She lets out a sigh, and starts stroking my cheek again. "The bird doesn't matter," she murmurs. "You do. You were late coming home tonight."

"You noticed?" I turn my head to look at her.

"Of course I noticed. I was frantic." She looks down, bites her lip. "What if you had been killed?"

If I had a heart, I would be in serious trouble. I feel my lips crack into a smile for the first time in--how long? Months?

"You don't have to worry about that." I reach out to stroke her soft brown hair, and for once, she doesn't flinch away. "I can't be killed in combat."

"But that's impossible. You must have some weakness!"

I shrug. "Only one, and nobody but me knows about it."

My father taught me that part, too.

"You can't trust anyone," he said. "They all lie, even the princesses so pure you'd swear they wouldn't know how to. Trust them and youíre dead. You think your mother wouldn't kill me in an instant if she could?" He pointed to her across the room, and let out a shout of laughter. "She'd be telling my secret to the first idiot knight she came across."

I couldn't keep myself from looking at my mother to see her reaction. She'd stopped her work, and was staring at him. What was she thinking?

I loved my mother.

My father caught me looking. He laughed again. "Trust me, son. I know princesses. Isn't that right, sweetheart? Wouldn't you just love to know my weakness?"

She didn't answer. But the look on her face was the most frightening thing I'd ever seen.

That night was the night that she stopped eating.

Now, I shake my head, breathing hard. I have to get rid of those images. I can't let myself think about my mother. The way she looked at my father that day. The way she faded into a skeleton. The way I felt as I watched it all happen.

"Please," says my princess, breathing into my ear.

Her tiny fingers knead into my tight shoulder muscles. I feel a cool, dry kiss brush against my neck. I shiver.

My mother never kissed my father. Did she?

That strange smell seems to be getting stronger. Can it really just be floating in from the chimney?

My princess's lips move up my neck. They skirt my lips, tantalizingly close.

I hear a clinking sound, like metal, somewhere nearby. I ignore it, mesmerized by the warmth of my princessís breath against my mouth.

Did my mother ever kiss me, once I grew as big as her?

"Please," she whispers against my lips. "Can't you trust me?"

The smell is definitely stronger now. It's probably coming from underneath the bed, but I don't want to investigate it now. Thatís what my father would have done, but Iím not my father.

I'll wait until the morning, after I wake up from the best night of my life.

I take a deep breath, and look up into my princess's face, so much like my mother's.

"I trust you," I say. And I mean it.

 

"Giant" copyright © Stephanie Burgis 2004

Photo copyright © Eric Marin 2004

 

About the Author:

Stephanie Burgis is an American writer and Clarion West graduate who lives in Yorkshire, England, with her husband, Patrick Samphire, and their border collie, Nika. Her short fiction has previously been published in Strange Horizons and Flytrap. For more information, please see her website.  

 

Lone Star Stories * Speculative Fiction and Poetry * Copyright © 2003-2004

 

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