The violent heaving of Lizzie’s stomach stopped her from fainting in terror. Of all the things she had seen, and this included the mangled remains of her predecessors, this was the most terrible. Or maybe it wasn’t, but a demon is always frightening— a demon after a chimera and a golem and a visit to Baba Yaga’s, well, that would be nearly too much for anyone, wouldn’t it?
It was a broad as two men. Its hair might well have been fur and extended down its back in a hump of black and coppery orange. And its eye… There was only one, overlarge and yellow, set in the middle of its forehead. She stared at it, stricken with the power of its ugliness, it’s wrongness.
The demon— ogre, whatever it was, she had no word for it; she only knew it should not exist outside of scary stories told around a fire in the dead of winter— leered at her. She choked when she saw that it had not one but two sets of teeth, jagged as broken glass and pointing inward; a reminder that hope for escape was not only ridiculous but insulting. And so the creature took its time, though it clearly could have leaped the stream with little effort. It lurched forward on its over-long arms, pushing off the ground with its knuckles and then rearing up on its hind legs to show its full height.
His full height, Lizzie realized, repulsed, when the mirror light showed his oversized and greenish nakedness. But she was even more revolted when it became clear that the ogre was showing off for her. He grinned at her and shook his hips and grunted and— she couldn’t look away— grew larger.
The smallest voice, a lifeline as thin as spider’s silk, but there, real. She grabbed hold of it and pushed herself to her feet, egg clutched close, ready to run. Her mind raced. If I go on it will follow me and I don’t know what I’ll find. If I go back— she didn’t let herself think what might have happened to Gray Legs— If I go back I know what I’ll face. I could lure it over the fire. Or maybe the chimera—
The ogre charged at her! She screamed and dropped the mirror. It clattered against stone but did not cease to give light. But her relief was short-lived: she found she could not move her feet, and screamed again, but he stopped at the water’s edge. His arms were so long (and what yellow, blackened fingernails!) she felt sure he could reach across and grab her if he wanted to. Her stomach lurched with a familiar cold sense of the inevitable. He’s just like Bluebeard. Just like— She looked down at the egg, and she was filled with rage, filled with hatred. All this way, through so many trials and challenges— she would not be defeated by a stinking demon! It ogled her and rolled its eyes. Lizzie spat and it leaped back! That was a surprise. Still, she couldn’t move her feet. She tugged hard; it wasn’t just fear, the ogre was working some magic on her. Fine! She spat again, and again the creature reeled back from her. But she couldn’t stand here and spit forever, she could see that. And surely the ogre, with his long legs and arms, could not be outrun. Deep within her, she trembled. But it was only a small part, only the last little scrap of hope that she would, contrary to Baba Yaga’s prophecy, emerge from this unchanged, untouched and everything would go back to normal. She let herself weep with that strand of her soul for just a moment, and then she grabbed the egg and squeezed.
“Nooooo!” a voice roared. Lizzie nearly dropped the egg in surprise. The ogre was shocked into stillness, and she recovered first. She pressed with all her strength against the egg; it was the size of a large squash or a very small pumpkin, and its shell was proving to be as hard as a horn bowl. Though it did not crack, she felt it flex under the pressure, and again a voice howled in pain.
“Stop!” said the ogre. His voice was garbled, no doubt by those horrible teeth and, she shuddered at the flickering sight of it, that too-long and swollen tongue. “That— is— not— yours.” The words were forced and seemed to trouble him; he was not accustomed to human speech.
“It’s not yours, either! Kill me or not, I will destroy him!” She squeezed again, and again the rock around her shook from the intensity of the cry coming, she realized now, from within the egg in her hands. She stared at it. “It’s him! It’s you! Do you hear me? I will kill you!” She shook the egg, shook it and shook it, and felt the tremors of rage and pain that radiated from within.
“No—“ the ogre reached quickly, so quickly!, across the stream and grabbed her arm just above her wrist. Lizzie shrieked! His touch burned! She smell of meat grew strong— he was cooking her skin! She twisted and turned, clutched the egg in her free hand, but she could not get away.
And now, worst of all, the voice from the egg was laughing. Bluebeard was laughing at her, calling her weak, calling her— she shook her head violently so that the sound of her own blood in her ears would block it out. This could not be the way she died, the last thing she heard.
Lizzie stopped struggling. She looked the ogre in the face, and he looked back, surprised by the change. Then she spat full in his face and tossed the egg into what she hoped was the stream, ripped the needle from her slip, and cried, “Silverscales!”
The ogre shook his head and growled. He was angry. He yanked her closer, but this was what she had hoped for and she plunged the needle deep into his pustuled eye. It changed in her hand and became a dagger! She stabbed, and stabbed again. The ogre reared back and she nearly lost the dagger, slippery as it was from the blood or slime that oozed as if from a stuck blister. He let go of her wrist and clapped both hairy hands to his face, stumbled backwards and roared! The noise was so loud it was painful, but she forgot it soon enough: the ogre clawed at the rock wall behind him and tore out a chunk the size of a small boulder and hurled it at her! She dove to the ground, and realized she could move again! Her feet were free! She scrambled to find the egg, searching the banks and then plunging into the water— it was much deeper than she had expected for its narrow width— and she sank in up to her ribs.
The ogre roared again, and again there was the sound of claws clattering on the wall. The water exploded to her left and she dove sideways with a gasp that left her choking on the brackish water. She spat and spat again. The ogre stopped raking the wall— she could feel his understanding: she had drunk the water and now—
He charged blindly at her. Instinctively, she spat. It did nothing. She dove and heard the whoosh of claws far too close. She resurfaced and gasped for breath; the water was more pressing than any lake or pond in which she had ever swum as a child. Then something slipped against her leg and she let out a whoop of surprise and fear. The ogre grinned. He swung his arm out across the water. Again the slippery thing slid across her leg. Then there was a flash of silver, just visible in the darkness.
“Silverscales! Oh, Silverscales, help me!”
A fin brushed against her hand and she grabbed on. The fish pulled fast, pulled her upstream and away, away from the demon creature.
“The mirror!” But it was too late. Its small glow of moonlight radiated on the bank. She tugged on the fin, but the fish only swam faster and pulled down, down.
Lizzie sucked in a last, deep breath and disappeared below the froth into the river.
READER RESPONSE: Leave a comment and tell me what you like, what images stand out, or your curious questions. (No suggestions/grammar critiques, please). Thanks for supporting my work-in-progress! -Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux