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I. Marakatam, or the End of Her Beginning

Once there lived a princess who was a girl, a corpse, a slippery amphibial nymph. She was tucked within several lives, each life pleating and creasing into silken layers of woe. But for our purposes, we will restrain ourselves to one of those lives. Maybe even two. Her name was Marakatam, but it was not the name she was born with. It was a name she was bequeathed, and this was how it happened.

Marakatam’s kingdom was a hillock whose slopes were washed with blooms that shone spider-vein purple, the color of a ripening wound. Her parents were fair monarchs, but in the absence of a child, their rule marbled into grasping nobles and subjects. As the years peeled away, a desolation heaved into their lungs until they struggled to breathe, until the king and queen wore their sorrow as shrouds, forcing asceticism upon themselves.

Thus began the prayers and the supplications. The sacrifices that turned the royal compound into an undulating sea of rotting fruit, buffalo carcasses, milk frothing over clay pots hammered with meteoric iron. The gods remained indifferent, their countenances remote.

Perhaps, these tangled penances snagged on a thread of luck, yanking it through the eyelet of fate.

In due time, the queen gave birth to a squalling, ordinary baby girl. They named her Irunkōvēl—the first name of the king, before he earned a finer name befitting his stature. In this land, fathers always named their children after forgotten versions of themselves, and its monarch was no different.

Tragedy soon padded into Irunkōvēl’s life, sure-footed and precise.

Irunkōvēl caught a fever that burned at a low ebb. It swiftly flowered into rosy lesions across her shoulder blades. Then followed the tinctures of black galangal and yellow-bellied nightshade, shamanic baths in neem-infused water. It was of no avail. Doctors and sages and mantravaadis skittered over distant lands to find a cure.

One suggestion persistently buoyed afloat, gliding above all the rest. Whispers of a well set deep into the hillock ricocheted off the palace walls and grazed the ears of the queen. Ragged with desperation, the monarchs carried Irunkōvēl into the forest that very night. The air pulsed with liquid heat against the darkness as they arrived at the clearing.

It was said that the well glistened like an open mouth on the forest floor. That its walls were furred with the palest lichen. That the well’s steps crisscrossed the bowl of its entrance in inexplicable patterns, leading everywhere and nowhere at once.

In our tale—for you must know by now that there are many others—the princess sank through the deep as soon as she touched the water, the well siphoning her into itself. As the monarchs thumped their chests and rent the air with howls of aiyoh aiyoh aiyoh, Irunkōvēl cleaved the mirror of the well’s surface, snoozing quietly on a lotus pad.

Relief may have clouded over the heavyset brow of the king and queen’s judgment. But we could not help but notice that where the princess’s eyes had once danced with the warmth of the late-evening sun, they were now a glassy, piercing green. And this was how Irunkōvēl became Marakatam—the emerald-hued one.

II. According to the Captain Who Was Gold

She was my wife. It was a pity my love could not hold us, or her, together. But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I first beheld Eleanor—as I’d named her once we were betrothed—hers was a beauty threaded with the utmost refinement. Her skin and hair were nightfall against eyes that glistened with the greenish, scaled hue of a tree boa. My blood seethed in her presence. I had to make her mine, because I knew that such love only brought ruin if left unrequited.

I struggled to teach Eleanor my genteel tongue while passing the time, given that her language was full of consonants that jostled for space inside a throat, raking my ears with metal when spoken. Worse, her people only fastened a single piece of cloth around their hips. It was altogether too distasteful. I may have let my palms unintentionally brush against her breasts on occasion, as it was a feat to anchor my composure in the presence of bare skin. But of course, I invoked supernal reserves of mastery over my senses. I was not a gibbering lout.

I spent many months wooing her parents with men and muskets, but they rebuffed all my advances. After all, it was not easy conferring with people who were of a sullen disposition, but I stayed put, wagering the last dregs of my composure, my time.

At last, good fortune thundered in the sky and broke over our heads in sheets of rainfall. The hillock slushed into runnels of mud, and this was my chance. I plied the monarchs with hot-buttered visions of enterprise—tarred roads, spinning winches, embankments cemented against the flood in an unyielding precipice.

In return, I claimed Eleanor’s hand. But on the eve of our wedding, she vanished.

I waved her indiscretion away as bashfulness, the reserve that clutched at a woman’s throat at inopportune moments. Besides, Eleanor’s parents were dotards who clung to their daughter in uncouth displays of sentimentality, so I had presumed that she was with them. But when she returned, gone was the supple-skinned minnow that I had once coveted. In her stead stood a pale wraith, reeking of death and other infernal confections.

Still, I married this creature, as I was a man of my word.

And I kept my word even as she disgorged her entrails in a steaming, putrescine gush over our shared bed. Even as her jaw unhinged and clattered to the floor. I had only requested Eleanor to perform an amended version of her conjugal duties with her mouth, her tongue. Even this was beyond her.

I was promised a woman and was offered a carcass. Was that not a betrayal?

III. According to the Princess Who Was Not

You never were a princess. For you see, now and forevermore, you were only a frog. As the real Irunkōvēl’s stomach bloated with the translucent pallor of the newly drowned, you pulled on her hair, wore her flesh as yours.

You only intended for this to be a passing fancy, but new names birthed newer responsibilities, an exposed nerve of debt. You settled into the folds of Irunkōvēl’s body, filling its rounded edges until she, now you, became Marakatam. Ever so quietly, you had cast away the vellum of your old skin, no longer a croaking unknown from a funnel in the ground. And quieter still, you whiled away the years cupped within the palm of this unfamiliar happiness, within the ring-shaped atoll of the monarchs’ parental love.

But one fateful year, a suitor appeared in a river of sunbeams with his golden hair and eyes and his stiff-collared uniform mapped with regalia. His smile was self-assured, feral.

A slippage into ruin, a newness roiling under tissue, the quickening of another skin under yours. Rip currents of misfortune tugged your neck, splicing your bone from cartilage and sinew. You knew that your suitor was ravenous, in the way that his fingers darted over your limbs when he believed you were alone.

Soon, your ears rung with the anguish of marriage, of familial obligation. As Marakatam, you learned that girls and women only possessed errant scraps of themselves. Royal titles vested a higher price on their belonging, faceted an illusion of freedom, bright and transient. But with every passing year, the scraps gritted into sand between their fingers, softening into the ground, the waters, the people and the upsetting anvil of their hope. You finally understood that in matrimony, you would be splayed open to a trooping parade of endless deaths, some worse than others. So, you attempted to take Eleanor’s life by swilling a brew laced with crown-flower venom. All it did was kill Marakatam, kill the human length of her.

In the aftermath of her passing, your golden husband believed that he was caught in the throes of a nefarious plan, a decoction of lies swirled by your parents to entrap him with the wasting idea of a princess instead of the girl he had once sought. Entombed within the vise grip of his resentment, you were bound and cosseted in laces and girdles and dresses so full, you could scarcely move. Gone were the uncut silks, your unadorned body. You did not have to concern yourself with your innards spilling.

And at his behest, only the slick nether parts of you were left exposed, save a flap of linen. And every night, after he heaved off you, your sleep webbed into dreams of a well thrumming like a blood valve within the earth.

What else could you have done but flee?

You ran and ran until you loosed out of your bodice, out of the frilled tiers of your skirts, the dovecote of your corset, and then your chalk-white sternum flashing into view. His men and hounds were not far behind but were briefly confounded by the viscera accordioning from your torso in wet ribbons.

You ran until you reached the well at last, a flue to the underside of the world. As you scissored through the water, your eyes bulged into a gleaming iridescence, spooling light. Your tongue flicked out between vomerine teeth, the salt-tang of your old lives still softening on the dappled moss of your new skin.

Editor: Aigner Loren Wilson

First Reader: Hebe Stanton

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department

Accessibility: Accessibility Editors

M. L. Krishnan originally hails from the coastal shores of Tamil Nadu, India. She is a 2019 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, a 2022 recipient of the Millay Arts Fellowship, and a 2022-2023 MacDowell Fellow. Her stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Diabolical Plots, Baffling Magazine, and elsewhere. Her work has been anthologized in Wigleaf Top 50, Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and more. You can find her at:
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