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The duckpond was a mysterious abyss of darkness, hidden threat, and pondweed.

I’d been monitoring its ominous surface for an hour, from my vantage point knee-deep in waders off the farthest bank from the village, and my toes were going numb.

I hated fishing! How I hated it! But since my father had been unfairly ousted from his position as Chief Privy-Secretary of the Royal Marmalade Spoon, our family’s fortunes had fallen so low that the trout I poached from the local duckpond under cover of twilight were our only sustenance. The little hovel shared by the four of us – Father, myself, and my two lazy, selfish sisters Belladonna and Aconita – reeked of smoked fish, and my mother would have died of shame had she not already turned up her toes in a deadly combination of shock at my father’s fall from grace, and the Purple Flux.

My mouth twitched downward in a grimace at the unfairness of it all. I was the youngest child at barely seventeen (and therefore borderline legal for the inevitable smut in later chapters) but while some girls got to work in nice warm factories for twelve hours a day, at least until their eyesight gave out or they were too badly maimed in industrial misfortunes to stand, and other lucky minxes lounged around in bed in the many brothels that had sprung up over our country, Bucolia, since the war decimated the economy, untroubled save for the intermittent panting and groping of the many demobbed soldiers aimlessly roaming the place, I was stuck calf deep in muddy water, the single breadwinner, or fish-winner if you will, for my indolent, ungrateful kin.

The light was fading, and I was about to give up for the day and return to the accusing stares of my sisters empty-handed, when my fishing line gave a dip. I blinked at the dark water. Had my numbed fingers imagined it? No! There it was again, this time a real tug that had me bracing as my home-made fishing line bowed sharply. What a big one it must be! A real monster!

The thought sent shivers running through me. A monster. I peered into the gathering gloom as if my eyes could penetrate the dark waters before me.

All monsters had been banished from Bucolia, by order of the King. That, at least, was the official line, the glorious victory for which we had fought and lost so much in the Great War. And yet stories persisted. Sometimes more than stories. It was treason to mutter that monsters still roamed freely through our beleaguered country, but few doubted the truth of it. Not when you could buy monster-pelt rugs in most markets for a few groats and a wink, and if you were a gifted haggler, get a suspiciously tail-like draught-excluder thrown in for free.

My fishing line yanked downward again, and I gritted my teeth as I pulled against it, scanning the water for a sign of whatever I was fighting. The dark surface lay like a pewter mirror that would be useless as a mirror because it was too damn dark to see anything in. I huffed, and squinted my eyes tighter. I was known through the village for my ability to spot a gnat’s willy from a distance of three donkey-carts away. If anyone could discern what was on the other end of my fishing line, it was me. I screwed my eyes tighter still.


Still nothing.

The line bobbed. There! About ten feet away from me, a streak of bubbles on the dark water, then a swell and a scatter of droplets and – oh gods!

A great, shiny head leered from the water, slick and majestic despite the duckweed snagged around its glistening horns. I gasped, my breath sucked from me in a mixture of fear and wonder at the terrible yet gorgeous creature now louring up from the depths before me.

A sorobim! I’d heard whispers of such creatures at the town market, but never thought to find one in our very own duckpond! Massive, deadly beasts that could grow up to twenty-five feet long, with metallic scales that gleamed rainbow colours, and viciously curved teeth that shone like diamonds. I didn’t stop to ask myself why the hell such a creature might have chosen to hang about in a muddy puddle barely big enough for a few moorhens and an abandoned wheelbarrow.

I would come to regret this lack of curiosity later.

The beast regarded me with golden eyes that seemed at once cruel and knowing, and I remembered another part of the tale – that sorobim were a subtype of fairy that could transform at will into human form, undetectable save for their slightly fishy whiff. Here, then, was a monster with an intelligence to match my own. Even from this distance I could feel its nobility, its silent challenge to me to gaze beyond appearances to the soul beneath the transformed shape and meet it as an equal. Perhaps here, at last, was a creature who could understand my isolation and loneliness.

But sod that. There must be enough meat on it for at least fifty fish suppers. Patting my pocket to feel the comforting weight of my gutting knife, I braced my wrists and proceeded to reel the bugger in.


* To be continued if I remain in a silly enough mood…


a blue ship's door with the sign "F.K. BELLE MARLOWE"

F.K. Marlowe is a Shropshire lass who lived in London and Beijing before settling down with her husband, three daughters and rescue pup in Vancouver. She writes horror stories with a tendency to the paranormal, and Young Adult fiction with fangs and sass.

Marlowe doesn’t worry overly much about the placement of semi-colons and the like, having spent far too long pootling about in academia to take them seriously. (She has an Oxford first in English Lit, plus a Master’s and PhD from Leeds). She has, however, discovered that life is the best education for a writer, and plans to continue her studies there as long as possible.


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