Delilah

This is a short story I wrote while I was in college. I’m posting it just because. 

 

Delilah

The gat feels good against my thigh. I stuffed it in my jeans and covered it with my over-sized, dirty wife-beater. I can feel the cold steel against my skin. This gun is like my second dick; its explosion will kill you. You’ll give birth to a bullet.

 

I need a place to stay for the night. I go home to the streets, the only lover I have ever known. She does some bad shit sometimes, but she’s the one who’s always there waiting with open arms. The concrete is hard and cold. The leaves have all left their trees like a girl cutting all her hair.

 

There’s a black plastic garbage bag beside me. It smells like somebody died.  Goddamnit. If only I had a bed to sleep in. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit. Do I really have to sleep here?

 

Like I have other options.

 

I rub my eyes and lean my head against the brick wall. This life just ain’t worth it no more. Sometimes, I just wanna take the gun in my pants and blow my fucking brains out. I mean, look at where I am! I’m thinking about sleeping next to something that probably smells worse than I do.

 

I see something out of the corner of my eye. I peer at the garbage bag and see a tiny looking thing pressing against it. It looks like a little hand. If it’s some alien shit, I’m gonna sell it for a million up front. Then I wouldn’t even have to think about being out here. I could have a million gats to protect my ass. And a big house to put them all in. Goddamn.

 

I pull apart the garbage bag. The smell hits me and I back away, trying hard not to throw up. I hear a noise. I push all the shit aside. My hands feel sticky and gross from touching people’s old food. The sound gets louder and louder.  I push my arm in until my fingers feel something soft and human. Tiny little . . .

 

Somethings. They feel like . . .

 

Toes.

And an ankle.

I grab it and pull.

 

“Oh my sweet Jesus,” I breathe as the thing comes out and squirms and screams. It’s not an alien.

 

It’s a baby.

 

It’s screaming so loud I think my ears will pop. It’s screaming, and I have no idea what the fuck I’m supposed to do. I hold it out away from me in both hands and the baby’s squirming so much it’s hard for me to try and not drop it.

 

Jesus Christ. A baby. It’s naked. It ain’t got a dick, so it’s obviously a girl.

 

She’s pretty small. And she’s blue and purple, and she smells dirty.

 

I can’t keep this thing.

 

After a few minutes of thinking of what to do, I gently place the baby on the concrete and walk away. I know that sounds fucked up, but I don’t want to be held responsible for some shit, know what I mean? I done a lot of bad things, and I don’t need this on me. I could try to be a nice person and try to sell it or give it to an orphanage, but then if nobody wants it . . .

 

Goddamnit. I’m halfway down the block. The screaming is ringing in my ears. I look back. I can see a blurry outline of a purple little something squirming under the streetlight. I sigh. Jesus, if you are up there, why the hell did you do this to me? I walk back to the baby and kneel beside it.

 

I scoop the baby up. “All right, little baby,” I say as softly as I can, “you gonna have to stop all that crying now.”

 

She doesn’t stop crying. I start to get frustrated. Her face is all scrunched up. I do the only thing I can to keep her quiet: I stick my thumb in her mouth. Oh, Jesus, it’s so nasty, feeling her gums all over my thumb. But she starts quieting down.

 

I don’t know nothing ‘bout raising no baby. But I know you shouldn’t just throw it away like an old carton of Chinese if you don’t want it.

 

“All right, little baby, I’ll stay with you tonight. But in the morning, I’m getting rid of your ass. You better not do some shit to wake me up, know what I mean?” I chuckle to myself a little bit. “Of course you don’t; you’re just a dumb baby.”

 

She’s real quiet now and the only sounds we can hear are sirens. I sit and lean against the brick wall. I hold the naked baby against my body, hoping that I can keep her warm at least for tonight. At least until I can find somebody that can take care of her.

 

I snap awake. I feel something sticky and warm on my body. It smells pretty rank. I look down and see the sleeping baby on me and then I remember what happened last night. Fuck. I slowly pull the baby away from my body, and as I do, I see something brown on my shirt.

 

Holy shit . . . No way.

 

There is shit on my shirt. There is actual baby mess on my wife-beater. “What the fuck!” I yell and the baby cries. Great. Just fanfuckingtastic.

 

All the people who are walking past stare and I know I have to do something quick before one of them starts getting in my business. I pick the shirt away from my body, and the shit smells so bad. I feel like I’m gonna puke. Meanwhile, the goddamn baby is hollering in my ear so loud I know I’m gonna go all deaf. What the fuck do you have to cry about? You’re the one that messed up my only shirt!

 

I clench my jaw and take deep breaths. I stick my thumb back in her mouth until she goes quiet. I look back down at the baby and hold off the will to beat it senseless. I realize she probably shitted on me because she’s naked.

 

“Man, now I’m gonna have to get a new shirt. And some clothes for you.” My stomach growls. “We need food. But, shit, what do you babies eat?” I don’t know why the hell I’m talking to a baby. It’s not like she can answer my question.

 

She looks up at me with these little brown balls like brown M&Ms. What the hell is she looking at?

 

I tear my eyes away from her and watch my surroundings. There’s a store on the corner of the street. I can feel my gun almost burning against me. I lick my lips and dig into the garbage. I pull my thumb out of her mouth. She starts crying again.

 

“God, is that all you ever fucking do!” I spit. I pull out an old ski hat that looks too big to fit on any normal head. I rip holes for the eyes, nose and mouth.

 

But wait.

 

The baby.

 

I think about leaving the stupid baby here. But she might be gone by the time I’d come back. Her skin is an angry red. She’s a volcano.

 

I dig in the garbage some more, cursing under my breath. I’m pissed that I have to take care of this fucking baby because some dumb slut spread her legs without thinking and didn’t want to take care of her responsibilities.

 

I tie some old cloths I find together to make a sling. Then I place the baby inside. I make sure that she can’t fall out and bump her head and end up all stupid or something.

 

I creep back into the shadows. I am hidden, but I can still see the store. The baby falls asleep after all her fussing gets her nowhere. I wait until there ain’t that many people roaming the streets, sniffing around to stick their nose in the barrel of my gat. The cops pass a couple of times. I duck down so they don’t see me.

 

There is silence in my ears. I rub my fingers together, licking the salty anticipation off my lips. After what seems like hours, I step out into the open, full of ill will. It feels like I’m walking through things. Like everything ‘s zooming past me, and I’m the only one in slow motion. I cross the street and I swear that I can see the colors of cars blurring together as I walk across.

 

I turn around before entering the store. Nobody’s watching. Nobody. I’m not surprised. Stupid uppity city people. They’re either looking down ‘cause they don’t wanna look at the ugly that’s right in front of them or they’re looking ahead at their own bullshit, stupid to what all’s going on around them. I put on my mask and walk through the door.

 

Jingles of bells greet me as I walk in. I pull the gun out of my pants and point it at the clerk. He’s tan and middle-aged. I can see the white hairs that stand out on his head. He looks like Dr. Frankenstein.

 

Somebody screams. I tell everybody to get out of the fucking store before I blow his head off.  I hear footsteps stomping frantically, like a herd of stupid buffalo scared shitless. They run too fast to get a good description of me. What’s that word? Oblivion? Yeah, they be all oblivion to me.

 

The clerk is shaking in his own brown skin. He raises his hands in surrender. I smirk beneath my mask and point it to his forehead.

 

“H-Here’s the money,” He opens the cash register. “y-you can have it—all of it. Just. Please.”

 

“I don’t want your money.” I say.

 

He’s staring at something and I know it’s not the register. It’s something underneath the counter. A button; a silent alarm for stupid criminals.

 

“I swear to God if you even try to pull some shit or think about calling the cops, I will take your ass out faster than you can blink!” I yell.

 

He looks up at me. He looks like he knows he is going to die. I feel like God, only better.

 

Then there’s a small cough coming from my chest. My eyes glance down at the baby. Shit. I forgot she’s here too.

 

The man stares at the head that’s now poking out of the sling. He squints at it. I shove the gun in his face. “What the fuck are you looking at? You got a problem?”

 

The baby starts to cry. The man wants to look down, but he can’t.

 

“Gimme all your baby shit!”

 

He looks back up at me with a dumb look on his face. “Wh-What?”

 

“Did I stutter? Gimme all your baby shit, motherfucker!”

 

“I-I don’t understand—”

 

“Don’t play dumb with me. You think I’m playing games with you? I will fuck you up and that’s not a promise. That’s a goddamn guarantee.”

 

“Ai-aisle three.” He breathes out, pointing to the left.

 

“Put everything in the bags,” I say.

 

I follow him to the aisle and watch as his trembling hands reach up and grab all the baby stuff I need. As he does this, I look behind me just to make sure nobody comes in.

 

When it’s done I have several bags full of baby things and one bag of food for myself. I make my way to the exit, thinking if I’ve missed anything. I look at the clerk, still standing there like a dog waiting for its next order. He’s wearing a bright blue shirt. It probably smells like lotion. Cigarettes. Home.

 

“Gimme your shirt,” I say in a low voice.

 

“But–”

 

“Just give me the goddamn shirt and don’t give me no lip.”

 

I’m too tired for this shit.

 

He quickly removes his shirt and tosses it to me.

 

I spit in his direction and head out the door.

 

We’re at the park because it’s safe. The sun shines nicely on all the happy people. But not me. It doesn’t warm my skin. It burns it.

 

I lay her on the grass. I disposed of the rags in a small pond on the way over here so that the cops wouldn’t find anything. Cops are fucking slow anyway. I stole probably hundreds of dollars of stuff in that store and not a siren was heard.

 

I grab a pack of diapers and some baby wipes out of a bag. I open the pack of wipes first and clean her ass. God, she smells. I try not to gag as I clean her up. She’s a little fighter, though. She’s kicking and being all fussy and crying. I pull out some more wipes and clean her arms and legs and chest. She doesn’t want me to. I get pissed off.

 

“Look, I know you don’t like this anymore than I do,” I say as I wipe some dirt off her thigh, “but you can’t go around smelling like something you should flush down the toilet. People will think you’re dumb and slow and ain’t worth anything.”

 

I examine the package of diapers. The instructions seem simple enough. I tear open the package and take one out. I slide the baby under it and spend about ten minutes trying to figure out how to get it on. After a bit of cursing and fumbling, I win. Then I fight with her to get some clothes on. It really pisses me off.

 

“You keep doing this shit and I’ll just go up and leave your ass here. Would you like that, you ungrateful little bitch?”

She looks at me like she’s pissed. I don’t give a fuck. I finish putting her clothes on and take out some food for her. They’re little jars of goo. I inspect one that says “Peaches” and unscrew the lid. It looks like throw-up. I look through the bags to try and see if I got spoons. I forgot them. Fuck.

 

I look at the food, then at the pissy baby, then back again. Shit. I make an ugly face as I dip my finger into the gooey orange mess and scoop some out. I move it toward her face and feel her mouth. It’s just as gooey as the peach shit.

 

She never takes her eyes off me. I feed her half the jar.

 

My stomach growls. I haven’t had anything to eat all day. I look at the peach mess and curiosity gets the best of me. I dip my finger, scoop some out, and taste it.

 

“Oh God!” I stick my tongue out, trying to let the air get rid of the nastiness. God, how do babies eat this shit?

 

I hear a giggle and look down at the baby.

 

She’s smiling.

 

“You like that?” I ask with one eyebrow raised. “You think it’s funny?” I glare at her, but not for long. I stick my tongue out at her again and she laughs. She laughs.

 

I can feel myself get carried away. I make more stupid faces. I know I should stop but I can’t help it. I don’t ever remember making somebody happy or laugh or anything like that. When she laughs, peach goo dribbles out of her mouth.

 

“Aww, what a cute baby,” Somebody gushes behind me.

 

I turn around. It’s a teenage blonde headed bitch. She’s carrying a stereo. She bends low to look at the baby. “What’s her name?”

 

I debate on telling this girl to fuck off and mind her own goddamn business. But something holds me back. I never thought about naming the kid. Besides, if I named it, then I wouldn’t be able to give it away. Some bitch might want to call her Jeanette or Francis or some dumb name like that and wouldn’t like the name I picked out.

 

Then the radio starts playing this song that starts out, “Hey there, Delilah/What’s it like in New York City…?” And I just blurt it out: “Delilah.” I look back down at the baby and say, “Her name is Delilah.”

 

 

I pull out a flashlight and click it on. We’re right under this house that some rich people put up for sale so they could go and move on to another rich neighborhood.  I set the bags down on the floor and sit. Delilah’s crying again. I bounce her gently and tell her to shut up in my softest voice. I lie on the ground next to her and try to get her quiet so that some nosy motherfucker that lives in the house next door won’t come around. I take out a toy and wave it in her face but it’s no good.

 

I’m losing my patience. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and turn away from her for a moment before I do something stupid. How the hell did I get into this mess? I should’ve just walked away. I want to scream. I should’ve given the baby to that stupid blonde bitch in the park.

 

After a minute, I turn around and pick her up. I rock her gently. Gently.

 

“Somebody used to play me this record when I was scared of the dark,” I tell her, even though I know she can’t understand me. “She don’t mean nothing to me anymore. But when she did she would always come into my room and put the CD on when I was hollering just like you are now. I ain’t a real good singer but I could sing it to you. It’s called ‘Hey, Jude.’ I think it’s by the Beatles. I guess you babies are used to people singing real bad to you. So, here goes . . .”

 

I clear my throat and fumble with the first few lines. Then my voice gets stronger and Delilah’s face goes soft. After a while, her eyes start to droop and she yawns. Her head leans against me. She gives one final sigh and she’s asleep.

 

I gently place her on some blankets I laid out. I don’t stop singing until the end. I look down at her, her face all soft and peaceful like.  She’s beautiful with her clean rosy skin.

 

I almost feel like a good person.

 

 

There’s a bathroom behind the gas station and I break in because I don’t want to ask for the key. It’s nasty in here. I can hear the flies buzzing around the toilet and I feel sick but there’s nothing else I can do. I lay out a blanket on the dirt-speckled floor and place a sleeping Delilah on it. I place my plastic bag of supplies beside her. I pull out a razor and some shaving cream and get to work on my scraggly, scratchy face.

 

If I’m going to play the part of salesman, I have to look the part. I can’t look like some nasty perv or some shit. Then all people’d wanna do is call the cops.

 

When I was younger, I would stand at the bathroom door and watch my father shave. He’d catch me out of the corner of his eye and ask, “Wanna learn how to be a man, son?” He’d laugh as if that was impossible. I wouldn’t say nothing. I would just watch him. His movements were gentle and I wondered why he never bothered to treat me like that. It was the only time my father was mostly quiet. Usually, he’d be busting around our little shitty apartment, swinging a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand. He said he loved that man more than my mama. Maybe even more than me. He mostly ignored me. He’d occasionally rustle my head like I was a dog and not a son.

 

My mama wore a piss-yellow robe throughout the house. She wore an expression like somebody pinched her chin between their fingers and started yanking down. She was real nice, though. When I would get upset and have nightmares, I’d bury my shameful head in her lap and she’d pat me until I was done. She’d take me to my room, take out that familiar record with all the shaggy-haired men on them and play “Hey, Jude” until I went to sleep. She’d give me a small smile and if I blinked, I would miss it until next time. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe it until I looked up again. My mama had a real pretty smile, even through all that ugly that stained her whole body. I always thought it was a pretty sight.

 

Delilah starts crying and I cut myself. Shit. I slam the razor into the sink, watching blood swirl down the drain. I grip the sink like I’m going to vomit. It doesn’t matter.

 

It’s almost over.

 

How do you go about searching for a family, let alone somebody that wants a kid? I’m wearing nice clothes and I don’t think I look like a bum. But what do I say and how do I know I chose right? I can’t be all like, “Hey, can I come to your house and make sure you don’t throw this baby in the trash right away?” That’d be dumb and they’d probably think I’d steal something anyway. The one thing I learned about disguises is that they don’t last very long.

 

We sit on a bench at the park. I bounce Delilah on my lap with my thumb in her mouth. It’s the only way I can keep her quiet for at least a little bit. I look at the people jogging or walking or chatting on their cell phones. I try to imagine what house they might live in. Then I try to imagine them with Delilah.

 

A lady with a soft pink sweater walks hand-in-hand with some business looking dude. She gives him goo-goo eyes and he just keeps talking. Probably about his own dumb ass. No, thanks.

 

There’s a nice looking normal couple playing Frisbee. But they already have a kid. They might not want another one. Jesus.

 

I look and look until Delilah starts crying/needs changing/whatever the fuck she wants. She always wants something. Christ.

 

I do this all again for several days, watching people. We go back to the underground and I barely get any sleep. She wakes up in the night and I don’t know maybe she dreams about choking in the dark. When she cries, I just sigh because I’m pissed off, but I take her in my arms and I pat her back and I tell her that everything’s gonna be OK. I won’t let nothing bad happen, I promise. My arms hurt from carrying Delilah everywhere to the point that I think they will permanently be in the shape of carrying a baby.

****

 

Goddamnit, I’m sick of this. I get up from the bench and walk up to some lady who’s chatting on her cell phone. She got curly brown hair and wide hips and I can smell her fruity perfume as I get closer. She sees me and she stares me down, her mouth open to make the next word of her sentence. I stop dead in my tracks. The lady blinks at me and I just stand there like an asshole. I hold up Delilah who’s squirming, about to throw a good hissy fit, and the words get stuck in my throat. I think if this woman’s going to know about Delilah’s nightmares or if she’s gonna get sick of her because she just doesn’t understand. I think of this woman throwing Delilah against the wall or throwing her cell phone at her or screaming at her and I hate it. I hate this lady so much I worry I’m gonna kill her. I keep walking.

 

At the underground, I sit staring at Delilah for a long time. I think about not having to carry her around anymore and finally getting some sleep and how I just threw all of that away. What is it about you, little baby, I think, that makes me ready to forgive you?

 

So I think, fuck it, I’ve done a good job taking care of her so far. She’s OK with me and I think she likes me. Besides, what the fuck do I need sleep for? It’s not like I got a real life.

 

 

One day, my mama announced that she wanted another baby. I was getting too old for “Hey, Jude” and crying in her lap. I don’t remember how old I was–ten? twelve?–but I remember how that shit stung like a bee in my heart. She said she wanted to be selfish. She said that she wanted all the love in the world. I don’t know how my mama got her way, but she did. I’d see her rubbing her flat belly over and over. She started to inflate and she’d say she’d feel kicking and did I want to feel it, too? I was scared because what if it kicked me so hard that I ended up punching it and killing it? She grabbed my wrist and made me rest my head against her soft, swollen belly. At first I thought I just heard gas. Then I felt a bump against my ear. It pressed against me bump bump like little heartbeats.

 

 

 

We come back from seeing the ice skaters. It’s real cold outside, so I stole Delilah a little pink coat. The fresh snow and the clear ice looked real pretty in the dark. Delilah watched as the people spun and twirled like they’re in the Olympics.

 

I paid attention to the couples that skated with their kids. There was this one little girl skating between her parents and she was stumbling and tripping and her parents held her up so she wouldn’t fall. The little girl looked up at her mom and dad and smiled at them.

 

Maybe when Delilah gets older, I’ll teach her how to skate. I wonder if we’ll look alike when she gets older. I wonder what she’ll call me.

 

In the underground, she falls asleep real quick, her cheeks all rosy and sweet like. I stare up at the ceiling for a long time. The dark shapes play with my eyes. I see the little girl with the parents. I close my eyes and they skate in circles behind my eyelids. They twist and turn and foam and spill on the ice. The little girl falls and I pick her right back up. Try again. She tries again and falls. I pick her right back up. Try again. She cries and says she can’t do it. I tell her stop being dumb and I didn’t raise her like that. She wipes her eyes and tries again and then she jumps and twists in the air. She starts laughing. She says I did it, Daddy, I did it! I’m real proud of her. She smiles and her mouth is pretty and bright, so bright, so bright . . .

 

“What the fuck?” I blink and there’s a light shining in my eyes. I shield them with my arm. There’s somebody standing there with my flashlight. I look around for Delilah and she’s gone.

 

I reach down into my pants to pull out my gun. It’s gone too. Shit.

 

My eyes adjust to the light. It’s a lady. She’s got frizzy blonde hair and she’s wearing some ugly khaki pants and a white blouse with the sleeves rolled up like she’s goddamn Martha Stewart.

 

I get up in the bitch’s face, “Where she at?”

 

“She’s fine,” she says.

 

“Did you hurt her?”

 

“No.”

 

“I swear to God if you hurt her–”

 

“I didn’t do anything to her. Now be quiet and follow me.”

 

I got no choice. I follow her. She lives next door. She opens the door and asks me to come inside.

 

Delilah’s fast asleep on a dark red couch. Her little pink coat is folded over one of the arms. I go to pick her up but the bitch says, “Don’t move her. She’s asleep.”

 

“Don’t talk to me like I’m dumb,” I tell her. “I know she’s asleep.”

 

“Then keep your voice down,” she hisses like a snake.

 

“Whatever.”

 

I sit down beside Delilah. I look at her. She looks O.K.

 

“You want some tea?”

 

“What?”

 

She sighs. She repeats herself.

 

She makes some and it tastes kinda nasty. I don’t drink it. She says her name is Nancy and that sometimes she thought she’d hear a baby crying. She looked out her window and she saw us going under the house. She just wanted to make sure the baby was O.K. Nancy takes up the cups and puts them in her sink. When she comes back, she has my gun and I’m thinking oh shit, oh shit. Nancy pushes a button and the clip comes out.

 

“This yours?” she asks.

 

“Yeah,” I say. I’m real nervous.

 

“It’s empty,” she says.

 

I’m quiet, quiet. I want to punch this bitch but then I don’t because even though she’s a bitch, she was nice to me and Delilah. I don’t know what to do so I just sit there like an idiot. I can feel the walls pressing all around me and it’s over, it’s over, it’s all fucking over.

 

Nancy puts the clip back in.

 

“What’s the girl’s name?” she asks.

 

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

Nancy sighs, but she doesn’t ask again.

 

“I want you and the girl to sleep here tonight,” she says. “It’s no good to be sleeping under there. If you run away, I’ll call the cops.”

 

“You didn’t call them already?” I ask.

 

“No.”

 

“Why?”

Nancy thinks for a moment, stares at the gun, then says, “The little girl seems O.K.”

 

In the morning, Nancy’s bouncing Delilah as she feeds her. She makes stupid baby noises and I want to say to cut that shit out but I’m tired. I just lay there and watch how normal it all looks.

 

“I used to want a baby,” Nancy says after all her baby babbling.

 

“Don’t get any ideas,” I say.

 

“She yours?”

 

“Yeah. She mine.”

 

Nancy nods and pokes at Delilah’s belly. Delilah laughs and drool gushes out. I watch as Nancy wipes her face, not even caring when some of the drool gets on her couch.

 

“You know where you’re going from here?” Nancy asks.

 

I stare up at the ceiling. “I don’t know.”

 

“What about the baby?”

 

“What about her?” I sit up suddenly.

 

“You can’t keep running with her forever.”

 

“The hell I can.”

 

“What about when she grows up? Sure, you may know what she needs now, but what about when she gets older? What if she doesn’t want to keep running away?”

 

“I’ll deal with it when it happens.”

 

“What about a mother figure?”

 

“She and I don’t need no stupid ass female. We got each other and that’s that.”

 

Nancy sighs like I still don’t get it. But I understand. Babies take a while to grow up. I’ll explain everything to her then.

 

It’ll be O.K.

 

“Well, what about school?” Nancy asks.

 

“Fuck school.”

 

“Now, don’t be irrational. You don’t want her growing up without an education.”

 

“I can teach her things.”

 

“How to be a criminal, maybe. Do you want to see her live the same life you do? Do you want her to end up in jail—or worse?”

 

“Gimme back Delilah,” I tell her real mean like.

 

“I’m not done with her, yet.” Nancy says in a sing-song voice to Delilah.

 

“Yes, you are.”

 

“You threatening me?”

 

“I know why you’re talking all that shit. You want to keep her or you want to give her to somebody else. All I know is you don’t want me to have her.”

 

Nancy shakes her head. “I just want you to think about the future.”

 

“Fuck the future and fuck you.”

 

Delilah starts squirming.

 

“You’re upsetting her,” Nancy says.

 

“No, I’m not. You are with your stupid future talk. Give her here, right now, before I knock you out.”

 

“Boy, you’re not going to do a damn thing to me. Now, sit down.” Nancy stands up to face me. I stand up and holler in her face.

 

“NO! Give me Delilah!”

 

I take my hand and shove Nancy’s face away. She stumbles and falls backward on the couch. I form a fist and I can’t control myself and I punch her face once, twice, three times and she screams and Delilah screams and in my head I’m bad, I’m bad and I can’t ever help myself.

 

“Bitch, I told you not to fuck with me!” I scream at Nancy’s curled up body.

 

I grab Delilah and sprint out the door. I race down the street. I run and run until my lungs explode with fire and I can’t think straight anymore.

 

My limbs feel like spaghetti and I’m scared I’m gonna drop Delilah. I tell her to be quiet. I try to rock her but my arms are fucked up.

 

I hug Delilah and then I say, “Fuck the future.”

 

I burst into tears.

 

 

It was late afternoon and I was crumpling up a note from the teacher about my stupid bad behavior. I punched some kid in the face for talking shit about my mama. I never did like people talking bad about her because I think back then I might have loved her.

 

When I entered my house, I could feel something cold run through my body, turning my veins to ice. I heard the drip, drip of the leaky faucet but everything was real quiet. I was real scared and I had to pee. I tiptoed to the bathroom and froze at the doorway.

 

There was blood in the bathtub, all dark and red and sticky. It looked like a murder scene on T.V. I wanted to scream but it was stuck in my throat and I swallowed over and over but I pictured the blood was going down, down into my body. I tasted cold metal. I ran away from the bathroom, trying to catch air in my little lungs. I found my mom and dad in my bedroom. My mom was standing at the doorway and I was real glad that they were OK. But they weren’t OK. I saw dark red on the back of my mama’s nightdress.

 

“It just doesn’t matter anymore,” my mama said.

 

“What the fuck are you talking about?” My dad looked red and wild and scared.

 

“I said it don’t matter.”

 

“Why?”

 

“It don’t matter. I already done killed it.”

 

My father burst into tears and fell to the floor, letting the screwdriver and a piece of the crib fall from his hands. I tried to imagine the little baby swirling down the bloody drain and I felt sick and I hated my mother. I thought of the little bumps against my head, beating against me. I’m here, I’m here, little baby was telling me. I felt anger and sadness and I wanted my mama dead and it scared me. She was just standing there like it was nothing. So much for wanting to give away all the love in her heart. I wondered then if she ever thought about doing that when I was in her belly and what was the difference between me and the unborn baby. What made her want me and not it?

 

I couldn’t stand all of the — anger? sadness? or is it just pain? — emotion coming from them. So, real quiet like how I found them, I turned my back on them and walk out the door. I cried for hours as I walked aimlessly through the world, thinking about that little unborn child and in what part of the sewer system was it in now or was it in heaven being looked after by somebody better than my mama?

 

After that day, I never went back home.

 

I make a house out of a cardboard box like the homeless people on TV. I get scared when I hear sirens. I picture cops coming out of the cars and ripping Delilah away from my heart.

 

I don’t have much money and I don’t have a gun and I don’t know what I’m going to do. Delilah’s diaper needs changing and she needs food. I don’t have any of that and I’m so tired that I don’t want to get up. I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore and it makes me sad because I love this little girl more than anything, but I just feel so tired. I look down at Delilah’s pretty face all red from the cold. I wrap her up in my hoodie. I don’t know what to tell her.

 

Delilah starts coughing and I pat her back gently.

 

“You O.K.?” I ask her and of course she can’t say anything. She just rolls over and whimpers and cries in her sleep. I put my hand on her back to let her know that I’m still here. I will always be here. I was just kidding about all that being tired mess. I can still do it.

 

I can still do it.

 

 

She won’t eat anything. I try and shove the peaches in her mouth, but she just spits them out, rolls over on her side and starts crying and coughing and I’m scared. I start to think, what am I gonna do if she dies? Then I tell myself that’s pussy thinking. Delilah is strong. My little girl is as strong as any grown man, as strong as that dude that holds up the planet, like it’s nothing.

How do they do it?

 

Parents, I mean. How do they keep up with this shit? What’s that word? Security, I guess. They don’t have to count the change in their pocket and realize they only have twenty-three cents. I count the change over and over as if doing this will make more money appear.

 

I stand outside the doctor’s office. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to pull the door or push it or if I’m even allowed inside. I see the sick people huddled together through the glass window. Delilah looks pale in my arms.

 

A woman opens the front door and asks, “Do you need some help?”

 

My muscles tighten. I take out the change and hold it out. It’s all I got. “Is this enough?” I ask.

 

“For what?”

 

I know it’s not enough. I think to myself maybe this was why my mama killed it.

 

I stand outside a pretty white house with the gold numbers. I imagine the pretty people inside having a meal, laughing and talking about their day and acting like they care about each other. When they go to bed at night, death and sickness and all that is like a nightmare that they can just jerk awake from. I look at my pretty baby. My Delilah. I ain’t ever loved anybody, I don’t think, not like I do her. At night I cry my eyes out because I want to be good. I want to be a good person.

 

But I don’t think I’ll ever know how.

 

Delilah, you’re probably gonna hear a lot of shit about how nobody wanted you. You’re gonna hear a lot of bad things about me probably and all the bad shit I did. I ain’t gonna deny that I did some bad things. But don’t ever let them tell you that I didn’t give a shit. Don’t ever let them tell you that I didn’t try. Don’t ever believe that nobody loved you, because that’s bullshit.

 

I love you.

 

It takes a good minute for Nancy to come to the door. Through the hallway light, I can see the fat bruise I left her on the side of her face. It pinches me.

 

Before she can say anything, I say real fast, “Her name’s Delilah and she’s a real sweet girl. Her favorite food is peaches but I don’t know why ‘cause they’re nasty as fuck. I found her in a garbage bag. I tried my damndest to do the right thing by her. I tried my damndest to take care of her, but then I got real tired and I did stupid shit and I’m real sorry. I’m sorry, I’m so fucking sorry.” I start crying again. I fucking hate crying, but I can’t help it.

 

I feel like I will never be right again.

Nancy looks at me and I almost think she feels bad for me. She reaches out for Delilah. “You’re doing the right thing,” she says real quiet.

 

“If I ever hear you treat her bad or throw her away, I’ll come back here and kill you,” I whisper.

 

“I wouldn’t ever do that,” she says.

 

I try and do it real quick so I don’t have to feel anything else. I place Delilah gently in Nancy’s waiting arms. She starts wriggling and crying real loud. Her hands reach back out for me. I have to look away. Nancy rocks her in her arms and tries to shush her but she won’t quit.

 

“Sing to her,” I say.

 

“I’m not much of a singer.”

 

“She don’t care too much about people’s singing. She likes ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles. I sing it to her all the time so she’d be quiet.”

 

“I don’t think I remember the words.” She looks back down at Delilah. “Will you sing? Just until I can remember.”

 

I don’t want to. But Delilah’s reaching out for me and I think the faster I can put her to sleep the faster I can not feel bad about leaving her. My singing starts out weak from all the crying. Nancy starts to join me after the first verse. As we sing I can see Delilah as a toddler, taking her first steps, stealing sweets before dinner.

 

I see her going to school, learning real good, being real smart.

 

I see her going to college, making something of herself.

 

I see her going to her job, walking down the street. I’m an old man then, and as we pass each other for a split second, a moment of recognition will flash in our eyes but we will keep going.

 

We will not look back.

 

 

Writing With Depression

I got diagnosed with depression when I started college. When I first started getting the symptoms, I didn’t even know I had it. Firstly, there’s a stigma in my family that if you go to a counselor, you are trying to seek attention. Or you’re crazy. Or both. Secondly, I was going to classes and eating and functioning like a normal human being. But I knew something wasn’t right. I was constantly pushing people away and I hated myself all the time. I didn’t even really want to write anything anymore, and I had been doing it semi-regularly after high school. (Aside: One of the most important things someone in class said that stuck with me, “This is something I want to do, something I want to make a career out of. If that’s the case, then I have to treat it like so. I have to write every day, even if it’s crap.”)

So I went to counseling, got diagnosed, and started medicine, stopped medicine, got back on medicine, stopped counseling, and I’m finally back on track. Whew. So anyway, back on topic. Fellow writers know about the little voice in the back of their head, the one that says, “This sucks, you suck, this is the worst thing ever written.” Imagine that little voice magnified to, like, earthquake levels. When I worked on The Beast, I had that voice screaming at my constantly. But on top of the, “You suck, this sucks,” mantra, I had things like, “You are the worst person in the world. Why does anybody like you? You’re ugly, you’re stupid, you should die.” I think that’s why it took me seven years to get this thing the way I wanted it to. I was in full judgement mode all the time. I don’t think I need to tell you how exhausting that is.

Some of the things I’d like to share with you, reader, is how I pushed past it. Depression sucks, and it would be great if there was a cure for it. One of my passions is to educate families or just people in general to learn about the real facts of depression and not the stigma stuff, or the stuff they show on TV. Maybe if I shared some things that I did, it will help you. In the comments, let me know what techniques you yourself have tried. If there are enough, I might make a page dedicated strictly to techniques. WE CAN OVERCOME THIS!

Wot I Did:

– I would watch god-awful TV or movies while I wrote. It made me laugh harder than if I watched a well-put together comedy, and somehow, with nonsense in the background, it helped me concentrate. When I’d lose steam, I’d watch bits of what I put on. If you are like me and love unintentionally hilarious bad movies and games, may I recommend: Birdemic, The Room, Food Fight, Ride to Hell: Retribution, and if you want to write for more than an hour and a half, you can stream Beauty and the Beast (the new CW show, it’s delightfully awful). In the future, I may do posts on the best worst somethings.

– I would read inspirational quotes without looking at the names. Think about it, of course Martin Luther King would say something completely awesome! He’s already awesome. Without looking at the names, they could be anyone. Hell, they could even be you!

– Rant to my husband. Sometimes you just need a good listener. Depression doesn’t make any of your feelings rational, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valid. Find somebody who can pay attention for a few minutes while you do nothing but talk. Tell this person that you don’t want them to fix it, you don’t want them to give you advice (you probably wouldn’t take it to heart anyway, not because it’s not from a sincere place, but because you’re in a high emotional state), you just want them to listen. When I would rant and complain and whine and say things are not fair, it actually calmed me down enough to focus.

-Hold onto an ice cube for as long as you can. Depression can lead to dangerously dark thoughts. I don’t want you to hurt yourself; YOU ARE AWESOME. Seriously, do this if things start to get that far and there’s no one around to talk you down or you don’t feel like talking. The cold will start to hurt your hand to the point where you can’t focus on anything else. Another thing I did to keep myself safe was have my husband lock up all the medicine in a box where only he knew the code. Will it make you feel like a child? A little, I won’t lie. But you need to keep yourself safe in those dark times. If you don’t want to have someone do that, put the medicine/dangerous objects in a place far away, where it will have to take extra effort for you to get to it. I haven’t called one of the free hotlines, so I can’t tell you about the experience. I’m actually interested in learning about it, though. So if you yourself have made the call or have volunteered to take calls, what was your experience?

-Color in a coloring book. It’s not just for kids. They sell coloring books for adults (not dirty ones, though I’m sure if you look you will find). It will relax your mind and you can let loose creatively, because who on earth judges that kind of thing, really?

-Play video games, especially open world ones where you can release your anger. GTA IV helped me get through some of the worst times in my life. I could not only relate to the character, but I could also get a rocket launcher and blow up the world if I saw fit. Saints Row is also another good series because it doesn’t take anything seriously and encourages you to be as destructive as possible. You don’t even have to be good at them. Most of them have an easy or casual mode or cheat codes where it’s impossible for you to die.

-Write poems or just random words. Writing junk releases the junk. Then I ball it up, and throw it away or burn it if I’m feeling particular.

I hope these tips help at least a little. The important thing to remember is that you are beautiful and whole and awesome just the way you are. We all get down on ourselves and punish ourselves harsher than we should. You may feel alone, but you aren’t. You are in my thoughts, always, and I want nothing but the best for you.

 

 

Introductions Are In Order

My name is A. R. Davis and I love to write. I love to share stories with people, and I love making things up. I hope you’ll at least like one of my stories, if not all of them. My first book, The Beast, is coming out soon, and I’m not going to lie, I’m scared to death. I’m not scared of the criticism I’ll face or that people will pick up the book, dismiss it and get rid of it. I’m scared of the apathy. I’m scared that I’ll fail to convince people to even give me a shot. Those are the kinds of fears that keep me up some nights.

I’m hoping that, if you’re reading this blog post, I can at least convince you to give me a shot.

So what’s the book about? Well, The Beast is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but without magic or roses. It’s also about how relationships begin and end in devastating ways. It’s in the point of view of three different characters: Valerie, a teenage girl who just wants to survive and maybe one day see the world; Young Aubrey, future Lord of Leola, who wants to be remembered for something greater than himself; and the mysterious Damien, who lives in the forest and could possibly be behind the disappearances of the townspeople. At some point, they all come together, but to say how would be to give away more than I want to. If you’re still not convinced, then you can find a sample chapter below.

You can find my contact information in the obvious place. I would love to hear from you, whether you love my book, hate my book, or haven’t even read it at all and have no wish to. I like getting messages. I’ll do my best to respond to them. I have a full-time job as well, so please understand I’m not ignoring you if I don’t get to you right away. I’m hoping to make this my full-time job one day, but until then, bills need to be paid.

Here is your sample chapter, as promised:

The Beast

Prologue: Tellervo & the Beast

A girl asked her father to tell her a story. After pondering the question for a time, her father asked, “Do you know the story of the Beast?”

From his pocket, he procured a small wooden figurine of a monster wearing an emerald green cloak. He sported twisted black horns, and he hunched over as though ready to attack. His little mouth was open, exposing his jagged, white teeth. The girl could almost hear his roar.

She shook her head slowly as she examined the figure. It had been a long time since her father told her a story she had not heard before. Her father’s stories were always special. They did not include the typical hero-rescues-princess trope that she grew tired of. They were usually about normal people doing extraordinary things for the greater good. When the girl grew up, she wanted to be one of those people.

“Would you like to?”

“Yes, Papa. Very much.”

“This story is a bit different from the ones I’ve told you,” her father said.

“Does it have a happy ending?” the girl asked quietly.

“I’ll have to leave that up to you.”

The girl wanted to ask him what that meant, but he was already clearing his throat. He took a deep breath and began.

Once upon a time, two kingdoms, the red and the white, were constantly at war. No one knew why it all began because the two sides had been fighting for so long. Death saturated the land and then drained it dry. Battle cries filled the air for days and echoed over the hills and rooftops.

On the red side was a tyrannical captain who ordered his men to plow through the white villages and burn them to the ground. He smiled at the path of destruction he created; he loved the smell of burning skin and the taste of ash in his mouth. His palate could no longer appreciate the tastes of fine food. Instead, his teeth gnawed on the gritty black powder. He once had a life beyond this destruction—a normal life—but he could not remember what that was like, or if it was worth returning to.

One day, he and his men were trying to cut down the trees in the white’s forest, but no matter how hard his men hit the trunks with their axes and no matter how many fires they lit, the trees would not come down. The captain insisted that they weren’t doing it properly, so he grabbed an axe and started chopping away at the nearest tree. The axe barely made a mark. The captain kept hitting it over and over, sweat coating his face, his muscles aching for some reprieve, but he could not cut down the tree.

He turned around to face his men, to insist that the axe simply wasn’t sharp enough, but he found that he was alone. The forest seemed to darken at this knowledge, as though the sunlight had been sucked out of the world.

“Where are you, you cowards?” the captain barked to disguise his own cowardice. He swiveled his head around in every direction in search of a flash of armor.

Suddenly, there was a light so bright that the captain had to shield his face for a moment as it came closer to him. As swift as it had come, the light faded, and from it emerged a doe. She stepped toward him as though she had nothing to fear—not the smell of death on his skin, nor the gunpowder in his pouch. Slowly, the captain reached for his rifle. His men would love to dine on fresh venison, and he might even consider letting them have it when they returned to work. He aimed the rifle at the doe’s chest. In her large black eye, the captain could see a reflection of himself slowly distorting, changing as though he was made of clay.

At that moment, the captain’s muscles burned. His stomach seemed to fill with gas until it came close to bursting, and he doubled over in pain. Sweat coated his whole body. His armor became too tight for him and he wanted nothing more than to shed it like a heavy skin. He could hear the fine bones in his hands cracking. The captain fell to his knees, gasping for air. He yanked off his helmet and tore at his armor with his long fingernails. The scraping of metal set his teeth on edge. His chest plate burst apart, followed by his leggings.

Finally, it stopped. He took in deep, rasping breaths. His undergarments lay in tatters around him. When he looked up to see the deer, he saw a woman in its place.

This was no ordinary woman. Her skin was an olive green, her hair flowed wildly around her and looked to be made of twigs. Thick vines covered her body, accentuated by lush flowers in different shapes and colors. When she stepped forward, roots pushed up from the ground and spiraled into elaborate patterns.

The captain had heard enough stories and legends to recognize this woman: she was known as the forest fairy, Tellervo. She was staring down at him with such a rage that his heart filled with fear.

“How dare you!” Tellervo said, her voice echoing with the malice of a dangerously powerful creature. “I pour my life into these trees and fill the world with beauty. I protect the creatures that nest in my home, even you pitiful humans. I have given my life to this world because I have so much to give. What about you, dear captain? What do you have to offer?”

The captain quivered. “Please, mercy, please…”

“Nothing,” Tellervo spat. “Not even the mercy you beg for now. You are a monster, captain, such a monster that you no longer recognize yourself.”

Tellervo gathered the dew drops from the grass and turned them into a mirror. She held it up for the captain to see.

“Look at yourself,” she commanded.

The captain shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Do as I say.”

The captain reluctantly raised his head. To his horror, his face was no longer that of the man he once knew. Fur covered his face, black bone horns grew out of his skull and twisted to the sky, and when he reached up to touch his cheek, his hands had black claws like thorns.

“What have you done?” The captain cried.

“I have made you what you are.”

“Change me back!”

“No.”

The captain gave a booming roar. He lunged at Tellervo and sank his claws into her flesh, tearing it apart. He bit into the top of her head and chewed on her twig-like hair. The captain let it fall from his mouth, but all that came out was dirt. He discovered he was only ravaging the ground. For the first time since he was a small boy, he burst into tears, covering his ugly face and burying his mouth back into the ground.

Tellervo’s hand rested on his hunched back and he jerked away from it; her touch burned through the muscles and seemed to infect his bones.

“Though I am still angry with you and still see no good inside you, I am willing to grant you a reprieve.”

The former captain slowly looked up. “Reprieve? Does that mean you’ll change me back?”

“I will, only if you complete a task…”

“Yes, yes, anything!” The monster folded his hands together.

“In order to change back into your original form, you must complete one thousand good deeds.”

“A thousand? But…but that is impossible! Who would want help from me? I will be like this forever.”

“Those are my conditions,” Tellervo snapped. “Perform a thousand good deeds, and I will change you back.”

With that, Tellervo dissipated into the slowly rolling fog, leaving the Beast with hopeless curdling in his belly.

For days, the Beast wandered around the forest and hid from travelers and merchants. He buried himself in the mud to sleep. How was he going to complete his deeds? The fairy was torturing him.

One afternoon, while he was trudging through the forest, he stumbled upon a man lying very still in the middle of a clearing. The Beast recognized the uniform the man was wearing; he was a soldier for the white side. The man’s breathing was shallow. Blood pooled around him. The Beast carefully stepped closer until he was standing over the man.

“Who are you?” the man asked in a raspy voice. He was too preoccupied with thoughts of death to be afraid.

“I am…” The Beast searched for a name, but he had none. “I am a monster.”

“Well, I suppose a monster at my side is better than nothing. There are things I want to say, and for my last wish I want a pair of ears to listen. You seem to have a fine pair.”

“I will listen,” said the Beast.

“I never did anything right with my life,” the man began, tears welling in his bloodshot eyes. “I became only a murderer. I watched my own people suffer, and I made other people suffer. I should have done more.” The man started sobbing. “I should have done so much more. I once saw a child holding her doll and weeping beside the body of her dead mother. I brushed her aside like she was nothing. I laughed at death, but I suppose it is death who is laughing now.”

The man was too sad to go on.

“I was once a captain,” the Beast said. “I was just like you.”

“Then there’s no real difference between us,” the man said, laughing bitterly.

“No,” the Beast lamented. “No difference at all.”

“Will you hold my hand? I don’t think I will be here much longer.”

The Beast wrapped his large fingers around the man’s small hand. The Beast was crying now because he did not want the man to die. He had forgotten what loneliness felt like until this moment.

“Maybe you are different,” the man said, his voice barely a whisper. His eyes were slowly closing. “Other people only dream of dying in the arms of someone who understands.”

The Beast closed his eyes and looked away. After a long time, the man’s shallow breathing stopped and his hand went limp, but the Beast could not let go. At night, the Beast took the time to bury the man. He wished desperately that he had learned  his name.

The Beast stayed at the gravesite for three days before moving on. He encountered a woman whose clothes hung like rags from her body. The woman had bald patches on her scalp, and what little hair she had was very thin and limp. She was scrounging around for something to eat.

When she saw the Beast, she took a hesitant step back. “Have you come to kill me, monster?” Her voice quivered.

“No,” said the Beast. “I am here to help you if you need it.”

“Why?”

“It is how I will be free from this curse. What do you need?”

The woman still looked distrustful, but the Beast was patient.

“I need food,” the woman said, rubbing her arm. “And I need something else.”

“And what is that?”

“Bring me something to eat and I will tell you.”

The Beast hunted for her and brought her back some deer meat. He waited while she cooked and ate.

“I want to feel beautiful,” the woman said, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I have never felt beautiful, even when I was a child.”

“I don’t know how to do that,” the Beast admitted.

“I just want to hear someone say it. Just once.”

The Beast looked deep into her berry blue eyes, and suddenly, she was beautiful. In his eyes, her hair seemed to be restored to its full, black beauty. Her dirty skin was smooth and clean, and her smile was like a tiny light in a dark room.

“You are beautiful,” the Beast said, and she believed him.

“Thank you, Beast. You are very kind-hearted.”

She reached up to kiss his cheek and the Beast felt warmth surge through his muscles. Then, just as she had appeared in his life, she vanished, and again he wished he had learned her name.

Days and months passed, and as they did, the Beast encountered more strangers along the way who were in desperate need of his help. Some had reservations about his appearance, but once they recovered from their initial the shock, they found they could care less what he looked like. Much like the dying white soldier, they all agreed that they were quite happy that he was there for them. Even so, the Beast found that he could not enter any of the towns. He made the forest his home, quietly tucking himself away, but did not hide himself so completely that none could find him if they needed him.

On the eve of his final deed, Tellervo came to him, glowing under the moonlight. There was a smile on her green lips.

“You have almost completed my task,” the fairy said. “Soon you will return to your old self.”

“And what will I be then?” the Beast asked.

Tellervo studied him curiously. “You will be what you were before I changed you.”

“The captain,” the Beast said. “But I don’t know him. He’s a stranger. When I looked at his image, I could not share it. I can’t be him. I have done so much. Yet, I feel it is not enough.”

“You are right. You have done so much, and you are no longer the cruel man I met many years ago. You will be a new man.”

The Beast laughed bitterly. “I doubt that very much.”

In the morning, a crowd of people were anxiously awaiting the Beast’s appearance. He was completely overwhelmed by the crowd’s cries for help. The Beast listened patiently to all of their stories. When he was done, he studied their faces over and over; nameless faces that needed so much from him. But what would happen after this? Who would they turn to then?

“I’m sorry,” the Beast said, “but I cannot choose.”

The crowd erupted into shocked whispers.

“I will conceal myself deep into this forest to await the one most deserving of my final good deed.”

With that, the Beast retreated into the gloom, away from the anguished cries.

“Who will help us now?” he heard them shout. He heard them sob and it tore at his heart.

The Beast found a lonely log to sit on. He couldn’t believe how weary he felt.

Tellervo came to him once again. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Waiting for the right deed to come.”

“Why?”

“Because when it does, then that will mean it is over.”

Tellervo could not understand these mixed emotions swirling through her, like thick clouds of pollen in the spring.

“I will sit and wait with you,” she said.

“That would be very nice,” said the Beast.

So they sat and waited. People passed them by, but the Beast insisted that it was not enough. Each time someone came, Tellervo would glance at the Beast, and her heart ached at his labored sigh. Not enough, he would insist. They sat quietly together and watched the sun as it came up and went down and then watched the moon glowing between the branches. Moss covered their legs, flies and insects crawled on their bodies. They remained unmoved.

Eventually, the people took to helping each other, lending an ear or a kind word to those in need. Soon, the Beast was all but forgotten. However, the people would sometimes still whisper about him over a meal or a good drink. They would wonder about him, wonder if he was still sitting there, waiting.

“Who was he?” they asked sporadically. “Where had he come from?”

It was as though he were a great flame in their time of darkness, lighting the way to a new era of prosperity. They never found the answer, and many years later, when they went to look for him, they could not find him.

“Is that really the end?” the girl asked.

“Indeed it is,” her father replied.

“But what happened to the Beast and Tellervo? Did he ever change back?”

Her father smiled like he was about to part a long-kept secret. “That, my dear, is entirely up to you.”