She waited for him in their wedding chamber, trembling, her eyes skipping from the tub of lye, to the tub of milk, to the switches. The witch’s words lingered in the back of her head: skin the beast.
Two before her had come to this chamber and met their last breaths, with no corpse nor bones to return to their families. She wondered about them, now. Had they shaken in terror? Had they thought to fight to their last breath? Had they waited, quietly, with dignity, for this certain fate?
She heard him, then, on the stairwell. A scraping, dragging noise like some thousands of dried flower petals bagged and hauled away, now coming closer. Dread settled in her chest; a tight burning knot that made breathing difficult. Her heart thudded painfully in her breast as she curled her legs beneath nine snow-white shifts, wondering if it would be enough.
What a terrible thing, to skin something alive.
His breath was upon the door. Even and steady, deep, huffing, like the animal breathing of a horse or boar. She felt the small hairs on the back of her neck rise. Her body curled tight against the bed’s headboard.
The window was open, and it cast a slice of moon across the ground, bathing the door to the wedding chamber in an eerie blue light. She stared at the crack in the door so hard and long she imagined it creaking open several times, blinking the vision away in panic. Could he hear her scattered breathing? Did he take delight in the way her terror must have filled the room like a living thing?
“Maiden…” His voice betrayed his mouth; she could see it now, stretched wide—cracked and bloody—teeth gleaming in the near-dark.
She swallowed and looked to the switches. Skin the beast.
There was a moment where she could have sworn she heard the latch of the door click, but the handle did not move, and her newlywed husband did not attempt to make it. Was she expected to cross the room and open it for him, welcome him into the room as any wife would? And what then? Lay before him, duty-bound, and wait?
“I know you are there.”
She had not known he could speak before he’d said, “I do.” She had been arrested quite totally by the sight of him; tall and serpent like, whiter than bone. His scales, dry and fluttering like thousands of moths’ wings. Eyes ruby and piercing. A creature, not a man.
“Lindworm prince,” she greeted him. Her voice did not tremble, and she sat up taller in pride of her own bravery. “If that is what I am to call you.”
“You would call me husband,” he replied. “Do you wait for me?”
Again to the lye, the milk. She imagined herself following the witch’s words. Skinning him, bathing him, holding his naked form ‘til first light. She was the daughter of a gardener. She had never known destruction, and it ate at her.
She had waited too long to reply. The creature spoke once more. “Maiden,” said he. And then, “Wife.”
“Have you come to devour me?” The floor was cold against her bare feet when she rose from the sheets. She held tightly to the polished wood of the bedpost, staring at the door. She heard the hinges creek, wood groaning in protest as the beast put his weight against it.
“That,” came his rattling voice, “Is for you to decide.”
She moved past the tubs, past the switches. She laid a hand on the latch of the door, the metal cool and slick to the touch. She pushed gently against the door and it swung open, revealing a large, blood-red eye.
One slit pupil settled upon the tools for his undoing.
She knew she would not use them. “Come,” she said and stepped away from the door. “Husband.”
So great was his size, he moved about the room to house himself within, coiling like a great snake. The claws of his arms dug shallow crescents into the floor, and the sound of his belly dragging about the chamber was dizzying loud in the still of night. Finally, he encircled her completely, feathered tail striking the door closed. His eyes appraised her with cunning and curiosity alike.
Skin the beast, the witch said. But a husband, no, she had not mentioned.
“Maiden,” he rumbled. “Shed a shift for me.”
“Lindworm prince,” she said and felt that beneath those many skins there was a man, waiting. The spell broke. “Shed your skin. For me.”
K. Anderson is a small town writer originally from Beulah, CO. Anderson enjoys a variety of homely hobbies such as baking, sewing, and other artistic avenues. Anderson is currently earning a BFA at Full Sail University and hopes to continue writing flash fiction in years to come.