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Once upon a time I found a monster in the woods.

In the manner of most witches, I had a knack for discovering lost things. He was crawling with vermin, so wasted he barely flinched when I tested his nose and tongue, checking texture, temperature, moisture. 

He was half an inch and kissing close to dying.

“Beast,” said I, in the language all beasts knew. “Look at me. Do you wish to die like this?”

He understood. Opening his eyes, he looked at me. I felt his answer thrum in my bones, barely vocalized, a rattling sigh that was a clearer cry for help than if he had spoken the words in a human tongue.

“Come with me then,” I said, laying a compulsion on him to rise, since he could not do it for himself. “I suppose you can be my familiar.”


I put him in the cellar and fed him up until he was able to move about on his own. Then I began the arduous task of coaxing him outside to the wishing well and washing him, which took many days and a great deal of patience. Already the potatoes and last year’s apples and the onions greening in their barrels had begun to take on his dank and desolate stench. And really, he was so grateful for the attention.

Like many beasts, he found the sound of my voice soothing. So I told him the story of how he came to be.

“This cottage passes from witch to witch,” I said. “My predecessor was ancient by the time she mistook an oak tree for an open passage and drove her mortar and pestle right into it. They say mortar and pestles are safer than brooms. I don’t know about that. I prefer to walk everywhere, or maybe hitch a ride on a wagon. You have nice broad shoulders. Perhaps I’ll teach you to piggyback me, by and by. There’s a bit of a pig in you. Well, boar. It’s the tusks. Your nose is more stag. Soft and broad from bridge to tip. Those gently flaring nostrils.  But your horns are definitely bull. Anyway. What was I saying?”

The monster made a gesture like a pestle grinding something in a mortar.

“Right!” I cried. “My predecessor. Apparently in the last few decades before her terminal flying accident, she’d developed this habit of turning local boys to beasts every time they slighted her—or she imagined they did. The most famous case was that of our sovereign prince himself. He lives in a castle, in a stretch of forest not far from here. Don’t worry though. He found a local hedge-witch—much like myself—to break the spell. They say she was so beautiful she could shatter strong sorceries with a kiss.”

I shrugged. My hands were wrist-deep in his sudsy fur, the soap black with his murk.

“Could be. Or she might have been a scholar—much like myself—who knew the right incantations, under which phase of moon to utter them, how to transfer all that moonlight and magic words from her lips to his. It looks much like a kiss. All very standard, unless you slip in some tongue. Fact is she was probably tired of trading chicken eggs and goat milk for her minor miracles. Thought to have a go at the princessing business instead. Never have to pick nettles in a midnight graveyard ever again—unless she wanted to. And once a witch, we like to say, always a witch. Princess or no.” 

Pausing, I regarded the monster, wondering what it would be to kiss him. The juncture at my thighs prickled, swelled, pulsed, grew moist. Then he exhaled and I stepped back.

His fangs needed brushing. Badly. Too, I wasn’t sure he was used to me yet. That he wouldn’t startle back in panic, catching my lip on one of his pointy bits and taking half my face with him. 

His eyelashes were very long, coarse and curly. He would not yet meet my gaze. But when I stopped scrubbing, he knocked his large skull against the palm of my hand, urging me on.

“Beast, be still!” I commanded, and he was. Except for his tail, which swept around to brush my hip in shy apology. I ran my hand along it, muttering as I scrubbed, “Why I didn’t just shave you bare-ass naked so we could start afresh, I don’t know. Probably because my garden shears aren’t big enough.”


I could’ve changed him back. The transformation spell would take research, focus, a not inconsiderable outpouring of stored magic, but in the end, it was entirely doable.

Thing was, I rather liked my monster as a monster. Doubtless he’d been less impressive as a man. A rough and unlettered peasant with a rude habit of overlooking the courtesies owed his elder, maybe. Or a rowdy, ruddy-cheeked boy who bit his thumb at the wrong old woman on the wrong day.

But he was a strong, silent companion with rather more intelligence, having once been human, than your average woodland critter. He hunted for me, and the wolves ran with him, which was something to see. (There was something of the wolf in his tail, his teeth.) He brought me back deer and rabbit the way my sister-witches’ cats brought them mice and crickets, and he positively purred—or rumbled, anyway—once I deemed him clean enough to pet.

Washing day by the wishing well became a weekly ritual. Between hunting in the woods and sleeping on the dirt floor of the cellar, chained (for no witch leaves a monster to wander unprotected through her house at night) he was never pristine for long.

© 2014, Rebecca Huston, "Grooming"

Unlike cats, he enjoyed being washed. Once he learned I would not tolerate otherwise, he always held very still for me. I trimmed his black talons and brushed his curving fangs and polished those great ivory tusks that jutted up from his mandibles until they gleamed. His ears were the prettiest part of him, russet velvet triangles with black streaks, and white tufts sprouting from the delicate hollows. The first time I stroked them, his sex organ rose up from the shag of his thighs, thick and purple-veined, with a glistening pink tip.

“Oh, do you want this washed too?” I laughed. “You nasty thing.”

I would’ve left it there, but he took my soapy hand in his paw and pulled me closer. Otherwise he did not touch me, but waited, rubbing the residue off my hand. The pad of his foreclaw made slow circles on my calloused palm. He watched me mutely, eyes wide on my face. Moss green eyes, with flecks of yellow glowing in them, like little lamps. I had never seen their like before. My breath quickened. I stepped in and took him in hand. His eyes rolled back in his head. His tongue lolled out between his fangs. His breath was hot, but smelled now of sharp green mint and old apples.

I admit I was lonely. I sometimes traded my neighboring foresters and husbandmen little magic tricks for a quick fuck. Not a lot of options in this part of the woods. They were always wildly excited and ashamed; they all had wives at home, and often grunted or screamed their women’s names as they buried themselves inside me, or sprayed their unfaithful seed over my belly.

But my monster had no human vocabulary to speak of, thank the Dark Queen of the Crossroads.

As I pulled and kneaded him, the backs of my knees softened like warm wax. The afternoon slant of light took on a wine-red cast. The soap slicked him right out of my hands.

He made no sound at this, but sank to a crouch before me, tail curled around his ankles, balancing on one fist, like an ape. The other slid beneath my skirt and clutched my hip, urging me toward his mouth. He nudged my thighs apart, pressing me back against the wishing well. Ducking his head beneath my skirt, he began to lave me. His tongue was long, with a nap to it like wet velvet stretched over the finest sandpaper. It made my bud stand hard as a pearl. And then his tongue slipped deeper. Wrapping my fists around his tusks, I rode his massive, twisted face until my knees gave out and I collapsed upon him.

Whereupon he withdrew his terrible tongue and turned me to face the wishing well, bending me over the stones. I widened my stance and braced against the rough stones of the well. He entered me from behind, so slowly it was like being bludgeoned by a bolt of silk through the medium of molasses.

“Harder, you monster!” I grunted. “Or I’ll put you in a spiked choke chain. I’ll beat you with nettles. I’ll let the forest children come and throw stones. I’ll invite the goodwives to smear your feet with pitch and set fire to them with torches. I’ll—yes. Yes! Like that! Yes!”

I must have blacked out from the incredible crush and pull of those tides, startling awake only when his hot seed sprayed my back.

“Beast,” I murmured, turning in his arms, “My monstrous one. My pet fiend.”

He made small noises at these endearments, his breath a fever on my neck. His sinewy arms wrapped around me, lifting me, carrying me into my cottage. His heated body did not stink, but gave off an odor like lightning-struck glass, like peat smoke, like wet stone.

His pants and sighs I could interpret with ease, for I had the language of beasts from my mother, who had known all the birdsong of the wood—though my specialty was with mammals, and predators in particular.

He was telling me, “My love, my mistress, my lonely queen. Only you. Always you. You forever. I will devour those who part us.”



Later that year, when autumn began to bleed the leaves of the forest to russet gold and vixen red, a day came when neither my monster nor I could prevent our sundering.


He had probably started out as a wandering warlock, or sorcerer. Whatever he’d been doing on his journeys had catapulted him willy-nilly to sainthood. A blue-white nimbus sprouted out the top of his head, the very place a baby’s soft spot would be. The residual radiance trailed after him like the tail of a comet.

I wished, later, that he had been soft too, infantile with holiness, damaged from do-gooding. But he was sharp as any conman or two-trick magician, with a kindness in his eyes that cut like a knife’s edge. I liked him instantly, and also was afraid.

“Greetings, sister-witch,” said the saint, from behind the gates of my garden.

He knew better than to enter a witch’s garden uninvited, and for that I respected him.

“Good even, brother-warlock,” I said. “You’ve got a bit of something rising from your head.”

He brushed the blue flame crowning his coppery hair with impatient fingers. “No spell I perform seems able to banish it. A necromancer of my acquaintance advised me that only the tarnish of evil will diminish it, and I should straightway murder a few virgins in their sleep. But I hardly found the thought appealing.”

I grinned. “Easy targets.”

He grinned back. “Exactly.”

A saint’s grin, let me just say, ignites a blue flame in places that never saw the light of day.

“Also,” he brushed at the nimbus again, “it does come in handy when I’m alone in the woods at night and all the tinder is too wet to take to the spark of my flint.”

“Does it also warm you?” I asked curiously. I had naught to do with saint-fire before. It had never come my way.

“Aye, it does—at need. And if I am hungry and unlikely to be in the way of a stray meal, it fills my belly with fire, and I do not need to eat nor drink.”

“Fascinating,” I murmured. We stared at each other over the gates.

“And what of your other hungers?” I asked, suddenly breathless.

It is the sort of question a witch must ask. Or at least, I must. I’m just that kind of witch.

The saint froze, and I swear by the Iron Nipple, I never saw such a delicate stained glass hue as the rosy blush that flushed the white quartz of his skin. Covered in fur as he was, my monster could not blush, and my own skin was a rich brown that never betrayed embarrassment. He was much too pale, I thought, for a traveling man. Perhaps he had been eating saint-fire for too long.

“Sister-witch,” said he slowly, “I abstain.”

“Vow or necessity?”

“Mostly lack of opportunity,” he confessed. “And a fastidiousness of taste which compels me never to fuck where I do not love.”

I liked him more for his candor. Also, his obvious state of starvation touched my heart. I invited him inside the garden gates, and into my cottage to be fed.

“Something rather heartier than gingerbread, I think,” I told him, laughing. “Though I have plenty of that. Mostly it’s for children wandering the woods in winter. They are often too shy to knock on my door, but they’ll nibble at it!”

He sat down as if the relief of it might just well kill him, and I invited him to remove his boots and soak his feet in a basin of warm water and mineral salts. He glanced down at me as I knelt before him, unlacing his boots.

“You’re very young to live out here alone,” he observed.

I looked up, surprised. “A witch is never young. Or not for long.”

“You can’t be more than twenty five?”

I shook my head. “Guess again.”

“Twenty . . . two?”

“Lad,” I said, patting his ankle affectionately, “I’ll never see thirty again, though I’m not yet on its shady side. I’m older than you, I’ll wager.”

“Not by much!” he assured me quickly, blushing again but not looking away.

This was very promising.

I’d’ve straddled him right then and there, but my monster was out hunting, and I didn’t want him to walk in on something tawdry. Best he be introduced to the saint first, then chained down and made to watch.

We feasted on fresh goat cheese and honey slathered over new bread. As he ate, his lips reddened like raspberries, his weary gray eyes grew light and luminous. He laughed more readily and spoke of his vocation.

“I was born on the prince’s wedding day, you know. The Beast to his Beauty. I would see her in chapel on Sundays, how the sunlight seemed to seek her face, and I knew she had done holy work, love’s work, transforming our master to his true form with a kiss.”

I guffawed into my water glass.

“If you go in for spectacle, I suppose. You’ll notice she didn’t bother with any monster not possessed of a title.”

“Ah, but I did!” exclaimed the saint, then added more wryly, “Eventually. When I was old enough, I requested audience of the princess. I asked her why—why did she stay behind her stone walls, when the forest yet teemed with sorry beasts who longed to be human again?”

“What did she say?”

“She had this way of not smiling that trembled on her lips—more joyous than laughter. Her eyes . . . her eyes were like yours. Black, with no whites. Glittering.”

“It’s a witch thing.”

“Yes,” he breathed. “She told me she had decided to give up magic when she married, and now was out of practice. Then she touched my face, and I. . . ."

He looked down, ashamed. I was amused.

“A witch’s touch can be fairly potent,” I observed.

“Yes,” he said again, with a strange intensity. “I—I rose for her. And she said I was obviously a lad of vigorous energy, and that perhaps it would be my own calling to turn monsters back into men. She said . . . do you mind if I tell you?” he asked me suddenly. “Only—it will sound like a boast.”

“I generally don’t mind much,” I replied. “Until I need to. Saves energy.”

“She said I was beautiful enough to kiss all the wild things of the wood tame, if I but learned to use my mouth correctly.”

I laughed, leaning back in my chair. I had never met this witch, this beauty, this princess, but I could tell we would’ve been friends.

“And did you?” I asked.

“I did.” He nodded. “I apprenticed myself to a sorcerer, and when I knew enough of magic, I began my journeyman’s work. I packed a bag and set off into the woods, seeking out enchanted beasts and kissing them back to their original forms. Soon they knew to come and find me. I have been doing this work ever since. I kiss them, and they change, and I hold them all night in my arms as they tremble in their new nakedness. But by morning they are always gone.”

Frowning, I refilled his glass with water from the wishing well.

“That sounds mighty ungrateful to me. Did they leave you nothing? No gifts? Food? Treasures they found while prowling the forests?”

“I am not a witch,” said the saint. “The work I do is not for gain.”

I indicated his halo. “Yet you have gained something.”

He pounded my scarred kitchen table with his fist. His knuckles were white, almost transparent.

“I do not want it,” he whispered.

I bent forward, setting my elbows on my knees and clasping my hands.

“What do you want?” I asked him. “Why are you here?”

“I come for the beast who stands behind you.”

I looked over my shoulder.  My monster stood in the doorway, paws loose at his sides, colossal fangs agape, tail hanging, held fast in the saint’s thrall. His eyes were filled with saint-fire, no longer mossy green with golden lamps inside.

The saint stood as if drawn up by strings. A marionette played by some god or greater magic than I could currently combat. I watched them move toward each other, one so loathsome and unkempt and lovely to my eyes, the other so slender and starving, his red-gold hair crowned in a coronet of blue flame.

The kiss was brief but urgent. The saint’s face could have fit inside my monster’s mouth. I wanted my monster to break the kiss. To rip the saint’s sweet face right off.

He did not.

Instead, he began his hideous transformation.

He shrank. He shed. He diminished.

Gone his fangs, his tusks, his talons. Gone his curving black horns. Gone his plumy tail, his long red tongue. Gone his brawn. His might. His wildness. He shivered, drenched, naked as a newborn, with panicked green eyes.

“Come,” said the saint in a tender voice. “Come with me into the woods, my friend. I will teach you how to talk again. How to walk upright again. How to be free. I will take care of you, as Mankind cares for its fellow men.”

My throat was dry. I tried to call out, “Stay!” from my place at the table. The saint seemed to hear my thought unvoiced and turned to me, though he could not meet my eyes.

“I am sorry,” he said. Then, more softly, “Thank you for your kindness.”

Saint and man passed away from me, into the night woods.


I was sad and angry for weeks. I couldn’t bake. My candy house grew stale. The crows ate my shingles. Weeds overtook my garden. I slept at the foot of my bed, where my monster had used to curl ever since I brought him up from the cellar. He had made a nest of old blankets and my cast-off rags. I rolled in his musk and slipped my hands through his tremendous manacles, wishing I could lock myself up and swallow the key and wither there.

I suppose I had not been aware of the nature of my attachment to the monster. Or, at least—the extent of it.

Certainly I pined, and turned those from my garden gates who came to me for help. After all, even a witch needs time and space to grieve. They would return if their situations grew desperate enough, and I would be better by and by. In the meantime, gifts began to appear on my doorstep: jams and honeys and cheeses and chickens, new red shoes of the supplest leather, bangles and baubles and ceramic mugs with delicate blue glazes the color of saint-fire.

No barter or bribes these, but offerings of friendship and support from my woodcutters, my weaver-wives, my fisher-folk, my huntsman and huntresses, my tanners and trappers. My heart grew less sore under the balm of their love, and my hands grew quick and clever again, well able to comfort myself in ways I had grown accustomed to the monster comforting me.

It was not the same, but it was something. It was better than wallowing.

A witch ought not to let herself wallow more than three or four weeks at most.

She has work to do.


And then, one night, he returned.

He wore clothes, charity scraps, a shirt that hung on him, trousers that barely covered his knees. But he was barefoot and bareheaded, his hair a curly brown thicket. A beard had grown in during the weeks he had been wandering with the saint, and this was dark and curly too. I saw no flecks of yellow in his moss-green eyes when I opened my door and found myself staring into his face, only pupils as black as the bottom of my wishing well.

What long lashes he had. What a helpless pink mouth. Tender as a rosebud.

“Mistress,” said the man who had once been a beast. He fell at my feet. Fevered tears splattered my toes.

“Mistress! Change me back! Change me back!”

I kicked him away and went back inside.

But I left the door open.


For three days I ignored him as he crouched by my hearth. He ate the fragments I let fall from my table. They weren’t much, for I ate now with gusto, my appetite returning to me. He did not dare touch me, or even glance into my eyes when I might see him looking, but I felt his gaze following me whatever I did, wherever I went.

When a local girl came to me to give birth on my kitchen table, he was a presence behind me with steady hands, obeying whatever order I snapped out. Together, we saved her.

Afterward, as girl and newborn slept in my own bed, I went to him where he lay upon the hearth, and knelt at his side. His black lashes swept his cheekbones. He was asleep, curled with his back to the fire.

I unfastened his breeches and took him into my mouth, hearing his gasp as he awoke and hardened. I hummed lightly against his flesh, and he moaned. His hand gripped my shoulders. Then my hair.

I stopped and looked up at him.

“I should leave you like this, you monster. Like you left me.”

“Yes, Mistress,” he rasped in raggedness and ecstasy. “I am nothing. I deserve nothing. Have no mercy.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” I raked the flesh of his stomach with my fingernails. “You’d like if I left you like this all night, your cock stiff as a winter corpse and your balls as blue as Neptune.”

He had not studied astronomy, as I had, but in his state he would have agreed to anything I said. I sighed for the saint, who would have traded quip for quip. Possibly taken me by my snaky braids and forced my lips over him again, pumping my head up and down with his pale, holy hand.

I thought about the saint more often than I should.

“I hope my mercy kills you,” I said softly, letting my breath puff upon his erection. I sat up. He quivered as I scooted back from him.

“Change me back,” he begged again.

“I might,” I considered. “But for my pleasure. Not yours.”

“Yes,” he whispered. “Your pleasure. All yours. Only yours.”

“You say that now. But at first sight of him, you betrayed me for a holy vagabond who didn’t have wit enough to feed himself!”

“His lips were so warm!”

His body jerked. He flung his head back, moaning, exposing his flushed throat. His seed jetted out of his cock and pumped down his thigh, though I had not so much as touched him.

I stared at him in surprise. The fire crackled. A log collapsed to embers just the color of the saint’s hair.

Clearing my throat, I observed, “You lasted longer as a beast.”

“Make me yours again.” His fists clutched my skirts in supplication. “Take me back. Change me. Mangle me. Any shape you desire. Please, Mistress. Please.”

“Convince me,” I said.

For the rest of the night, and much of the next morning, he did.


The ceremony to invoke the beast is complicated. I do not know how my predecessor did it. Perhaps it had been her gift, as mine was for speaking to beasts, as my mother’s was for birds, or the beauty’s was for transformation via kiss. Perhaps all that my predecessor had to do was wave her willow wand, or drum her iron stave against the forest floor, and wham! White light. Man into monster. Boy into beast.

I had to do it the old-fashioned way.

That is, dancing naked in the woods at midnight, wearing nothing but a silver mask and the silver crescent moon bound at my brow, with silver on my upper arms, my wrists, my ankles to ward away the demons and ghosts who might try to take advantage of my vulnerability during this great outpouring of power.

I stood in a glen as mossy and green as my monster’s eyes, and I called the boar, the bear, the bull, the wolf, the weasel, the black crow, the black goat. I called the falcon and the fisher-cat, the slinking mink, the brown otter, the proud stag, the wild stallion, the mountain lion. They came to me and to the man at my side, who stood as naked as I, but wearing no silver.

The beasts of the forest answered my call, and one by one I summoned them nearer, shy as they were and wary of each other. They trotted, pranced, pounced, minced, scurried and flew forward to lick the naked man, to peck at him and nip at him, to rake him with their claws and talons, to worry him with their jaws. And then they left him, one by one, as he, covered in their saliva, in abrasions and in blood, bent to his breast and began to change.

The monster I made was more beautiful by far than the monster he had been, or the man he’d so briefly become. He was truly mine. My beast. My familiar. My handiwork. Mine, as I wanted him, as he had begged to be.

And no saint, be he ever so pious or so pretty, could now sunder him from my side.

I would like to see him try.


I woke one morning, sweating lightly and all over from being wrapped so soundly in the mink-soft fur, the crow-black feathers, the horse-rough mane of my monster. I detangled my limbs from his, sliding the wolf plumes of his tail from between my legs, shuddering deliciously, and slipped from the bed, pulling on a thin shift to go into my garden.

The saint was there, sleeping in my rosemary bed.

His halo scorched the nearby herbs. I squatted near him.

“Do you think,” I asked, “that because I once invited you into my home out of my own good will, you could waltz right back in again without permission and ruin my garden?”

The saint opened his morning dawn gray eyes and looked at me.

A saint’s eyes, let me just say, are profound as a thunderstorm roaring between the ribs, conveying branches of lightning through all the nerves of the limbs. Full as strong a force as a sea wind. Gale-gray, that saint’s eyes.

“Sister-witch,” said he, “I greet thee.”

He was thinner than before, but how his blue-white nimbus burned. It has spread from his head to encompass his entire body. Blue flames writhed and crackled around him.

“You’re looking terribly sanctified,” I told him. “Does it hurt?”

“Like I’m being eaten by some tigerish fever,” he confessed. “Like I’m being driven by fiery whips to the four corners of the Earth. And serenaded by seraphim at all hours, a host of a hundred thousand voices raised up in song, right here inside my skull, and. . . .”

“The Earth is round,” I informed him.

“It was a simile,” he shot back irritably.

“Aren’t we high and mighty for someone who’s just spent the night among worms?”

He let his head fall back to the soil. “I liked it better when I was just a sorcerer’s apprentice, hoping to do some good in the woods.”

“Thus do our vocations pauper us,” I replied lightly. “Perhaps if you let your protégés pay you, you wouldn’t find yourself at such an impasse.”

The saint crossed his arms over his chest.

“Why have you come back here?” I asked him, trying not to admire his stubbornness, or pity his torment. “You cannot transform my beast again. I made sure of that. Though it might martyr you to try.” I shrugged. “Who knows? You might be into that sort of thing.”

“I’m not,” the saint snapped.

I did not tell him that I sometimes caught my monster staring out of the window, down the garden path and off into the woods with something like longing. Or that I sometimes did the same.

But the saint, in his way, seemed to catch my thought nonetheless. One corner of his pale lips twitched up in a smile that, had it not been so triumphantly grateful, I might have called smug.

His lips were too white, too translucent. He needed to eat.

“I miss him,” said the saint, breaking into my thoughts. “With him, all the angel voices went blessedly quiet. He would wake me, sometimes, at night. Crawl under my blanket. Do things to me—strange things. Take my toes into his mouth. My—other things.”

I nodded. My interest, and my appetite, sharpened.

“Sometimes . . . sometimes he would . . . turn me over. Fill me from behind. He always apologized afterward,” the saint continued, his words quickening with his breath. “Begged me punish him for his trespass. I tried to be gentle. I tried every kindness. I said I forgave him. That there was nothing to forgive. Indeed, how very happy he made me. How safe I felt. How full satisfied. And—at last—not so alone. But he only wept. And I didn’t know how to comfort him.”

“Oh, lad,” I said. “Have you got a lot to learn!”

“I know!” The saint propped himself once more upon his elbows. “Almost as soon as he could speak in full sentences, he began to tell me of you. His witch. He lay in my arms and whispered stories of your hands, your mouth, your whip, your cunt, your strength, your solitude. These tales would make me hard as iron, so hard it took him hours to soften me again, and though I spent myself in his mouth, in his palm, in his ass, I was never content again—as I had been in the beginning—for the thought of you haunted me.”

“What did you think?” I whispered, mesmerized. I’d never heard of a saint saying such things. Unless you count Augustine, but never after he went holy.

“I wanted,” he said, “to see if I could bring you down.”

He reached out and pulled me onto him so that I lay stretched across his chest. His hand cradled my head against his throat. He smelled of burnt rosemary and sea salt.

“I wanted,” he said again, “to see you in chains before me, blindfolded, senseless and speechless with pleasure from all I did to you. I wanted you naked on your kitchen table with a bowl of strawberries, that I might draw arcane figures on your flesh and take those runes back onto my tongue while you cried out beneath me. I wanted to touch you with these fingers,” his fiery fingers moved under my skirt, “until you screamed for mercy as he said he screamed for you. I wanted to gag your groans and gurgles with silk that would grow wet in your drooling mouth. To torment you with inventions I have not yet dared to dream. And after days and weeks and seasons of this, I wanted you to turn—and do the same to me.”

“Gladly,” I said, moved very deeply, and very slickly, almost to the point of hyperventilation.

I ground my hips hard against his flicking fingers. He took them away from me, laughing as I cursed him. I clawed at the buttons of his trousers, hoping to free the part of him that was blunter and less controlled, but he rolled me over into the lavender and pinned my arms down, nails biting into the flesh of my wrists. He entered me too deliberately, too smoothly for my liking, holding me in place the entire time. I bided. And when his arms began to tremble with the effort of his control, I thrashed and bucked until he fell back, then straddled him as he grappled with my breasts.

I was so close, so close to climax when he flung me into the mint and mounted me, changing the rhythm again, bringing me back down, only to spike me higher, sharper, with his gradually rougher thrusts.

My sweat ran like sapphires, reflecting his blue fire.

I cried out. He stopped my mouth with a kiss. Living coal upon my tongue.

I screamed my bursting eruption into his skull. He wound my braids in his fist and yanked my mouth from his, burying his face in my neck as his holy seed pulsed into me.

Quickly, we both spoke the spell against conception.

His sounded more like a prayer. Mine was barely coherent for gasping.

Then we helped each other out of the destroyed herb beds, redolent of the rosemary and lavender and mint that we had crushed. He took my offered hand, and I brushed him clean of small insects and shattered leaves. We walked to the door of my cottage together, leaning on one another.

“Can you make peanut brittle?” I asked when I could talk again.

“I can,” he said solemnly. “My parents were bakers for the prince and princess.”

“Good. I need new shingles.”

He glanced with keen eyes at my candy house, taking it all in, the gingerbread siding, the spun sugar windows, the white icing trim.

“Very well,” he agreed. “I shall be your handyman in this. But I would like to help you with your other work too – the good work you do for the people of these woods.”

I poked his ribs. “There’s always work for a saint,” I teased him, “when a witch’s hands are full.”

“What if the saint’s hands are full of witch?”

“Then let the work wait.”

In the doorway, our monster awaited our return. At the sight of his mistress and master together, yellow lamps began to dance in his moss-green eyes.

He stood, clean and smiling and erect, all his many teeth gleaming in the morning light.


For Caitlyn Paxson, who egged me on.

C. S. E. Cooney won the World Fantasy Award for Bone Swans in 2016 and the Rhysling Award for her poem "The Sea King's Second Bride" in 2011. Her collection Dark Breakers comes out from Mythic Delirium in February 2022, and her novel Saint Death’s Daughter two months later from Solaris.
Rebecca (Bek) Huston lives near Chicago and is slowly but surely learning all the things. She studied art at the University of Missouri and inflicts her art on skin for a living at Heathen Ink in Summit, Illinois. You can see her work at
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