A cherry-wood wardrobe, wet and rotting. A silver-rimmed mirror with a single crack, jagged as a lightning strike. A ruby-encrusted jewelry box, a moldy velvet pillow, a porcelain figurine of a horse half-submerged in mud. All gifts to placate the beast of the swamp, the ravenous Goyle.
Sylvia reminded herself that the beast had not risen from its abode since the town started leaving their expensive offerings, but it still seemed like insanity to willingly wander into its home, bringing all her tasty flesh with her. She was never convinced that the Goyle enjoyed the gifts. She thought it had just grown too lazy to leave its cozy home to hunt. In her experience, age did that to most creatures. Her father rarely left his comfy lounge chair, entrusting the care of his apple orchard to Sylvia.
“They’ll see our footprints leading here and assume we died,” Marcus explained, in a voice that made him sound so reasonable as they lay together in the orchard’s shade. “We leave an offering, we get away, and no one will come looking for us.”
Sylvia could see the moonlight glinting off her late mother’s vase, gripped so tightly in Marcus’ grasp as he tested his weight on a fairly solid patch of mud. She wished she could hold one of those hands, but they were busy, holding onto their salvation, their sole distraction. When they saw the monster, he would toss the vase, and they would run while the Goyle was distracted. It seemed like such an adventure when she was warm in his embrace under the apple trees, and she felt so rebellious sneaking into her father’s study mere hours ago, taking the last solid memory of her mother with her. Her father had called Marcus a “rogue,” but it was his refusal to let them marry that turned Sylvia into one herself.
But they could be whoever they wanted to be once they emerged from the swamp and escaped to the city, without his roguish reputation and her romantic one limiting their prospects. Her father would not have described her as romantic. He would have described her as—
“Loose,” warned Marcus, and she hopped away from the trembling stepping-stone to solid ground. “Be careful. Let me know if you see…”
They saw it. The Goyle.
It looked like a pile of sludge turned sentient, its big round eyes as white and bright as the moon, the slit of its mouth blacker than the deepest cave, with teeth as thin and pointed as sewing needles. It was standing on squat haunches just a few feet in front of them, and it must have been watching them, waiting, hoping they would not look up from their careful steps as they wandered right into its clutches. It did not look like it would be satisfied with a pretty vase, but the vase was their only hope.
“Throw it, Marcus” hissed Sylvia.
The pain was immediate and terrible as the vase struck back of her head, hard enough to force her forward, but not enough to knock her out. No, she was conscious, and more aware than she had been in weeks, as Marcus let out a short laugh of triumph. Of course, a vase would not be enough to placate the Goyle. But it would be enough to give Marcus a new start in the city, sold for the cash he needed to appear respectable to future lovers as naïve as Sylvia. She let out a string of curses as she prepared herself to be wrapped in a different monster’s embrace.
But the Goyle did not grab her. She crashed into something hard, something that shattered into little pieces all around her, most sinking into the swamp, a few remaining at her feet. She heard Marcus gasp as she lifted one of the shards, and saw her own night-shadowed face staring back at her.
A mirror. One of the many offerings left to the Goyle. But it did not want mirrors, vases, or other pretty things.
Marcus screamed as the Goyle rushed from its tricky hunting spot behind them and sunk its teeth into the back of his neck. Sylvia ran, though she was sure that the Goyle was placated. She reached down as she sprinted across the wet earth that grew firmer and firmer to grab the sparkling objects that caught her eye: a golden broach, a diamond tiara, a small ivory monkey. She could already imagine the beaus lining up when she sold the gifts, using the money to become a respectable lady, leaving the blemishes of her past left behind her.
And if any of those beaus turned out to be rogues, she knew the perfect romantic spot to take them, where they would discover that Sylvia could be equally roguish.
Alexandra Grunberg is a Glasgow based author, poet, and screenwriter. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Flash Fiction Online, and more. She is the resident screenwriter for Magic Dog Productions. She enjoys hillwalking, Stephen King novels, and disappearing into the Faerie Realm never to be seen again (someday). She is currently pursuing a DFA in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow.
Check out Liam’s work at http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk