by Stephanie Burgis
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.
I'd kept my heart, I would be in trouble now. This princess is too beautiful.
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
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?"
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."
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.
lets out a sigh, and starts stroking my cheek again. "The bird doesn't
matter," she murmurs. "You do. You were late coming home
noticed?" I turn my head to look at her.
course I noticed. I was frantic." She looks down, bites her lip. "What
if you had been killed?"
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?
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."
that's impossible. You must have some weakness!"
shrug. "Only one, and nobody but me knows about it."
father taught me that part, too.
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."
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?
loved my mother.
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
didn't answer. But the look on her face was the most frightening thing I'd ever
night was the night that she stopped eating.
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.
says my princess, breathing into my ear.
tiny fingers knead into my tight shoulder muscles. I feel a cool, dry kiss brush
against my neck. I shiver.
mother never kissed my father. Did she?
strange smell seems to be getting stronger. Can it really just be floating in
from the chimney?
princess's lips move up my neck. They skirt my lips, tantalizingly close.
hear a clinking sound, like metal, somewhere nearby. I ignore it, mesmerized by
the warmth of my princessís breath against my mouth.
my mother ever kiss me, once I grew as big as her?
she whispers against my lips. "Can't you trust me?"
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.
wait until the morning, after I wake up from the best night of my life.
take a deep breath, and look up into my princess's face, so much like my
"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