009. The Twelve Brothers

by crfricke

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

When you see the silent girl, approach her carefully. You will know yours when you see her, though the woods, the streets, the subways are full of them—reading their books, flipping through their phones, not speaking. Not to you.

Do not ask her what she’s seen, for it will be indescribable. If you ask her, she will imagine a human arm splintering into black feathers, mouths opening, stretching, hardening painfully into beaks. She will not be able to tell you this, and you will always wonder what it was that made her so lovely—trauma does this, prolonged contact with witches. Hold her when she dreams, for her dreams will be of flight. She will dream of her own wings wrenching themselves from her limbs, and of lift-off. Her dreams are different from yours. When you dream of flying, it’s through air as thick as soup, never getting very far. But she has brothers in the air whom she joins nightly. In her dreams, she flies swiftly, easily—until the curse is broken, and she falls. She wakes with a start, and it’s your job to not ask questions. Once you do, she becomes less and less yours, and you’ll begin to wonder whether you picked the right one—there were so many silent women in those trees, on those benches, in those bars. But here’s a secret, which I doubt you’ll understand: they all come with the same rules.

When you find your silent girl, be kind to her. Her lineage is long, and full of sorrow. Her children bear a mark, and climb the highest trees as soon as your back is turned, aching, always aching for the sky.

Cate Fricke
November 2013

illustration by Walter Crane

illustration by Walter Crane