Beth Sherman: Medieval Times
Ella couldn’t fall asleep and demanded a story. Although I was out of practice, I felt obligated to come up with something. In our new custody arrangement, I only get to see her once a month.
There’s a water stain on the ceiling of her bedroom in my rental apartment. The roof leaks and the stain reminds me of a dragon’s wings. That got me thinking about medieval times. I told her about an ogre who searched for stolen bones. He wore a leather vest and had a pet bat which sat on his shoulder. People heard him prowling around their orchards at night and hid under their beds. They believed he was the devil. But he was just misunderstood.
What does he want old bones for? Ella asked. She’s a logical child. When we told her about the divorce, instead of asking why it was happening she wanted to know if we would be poor and whether she would have to attend a different school.
He takes the bones and grinds them into magic powder. If you inhale the powder your wishes will come true.
I glanced at her expectantly, waiting for her to say she wished we’d get back together but she was silent.
One day, the ogre found a suit of armor lying beneath an apple tree. Above the breast plate was a family crest showing a serpent coiled around three roses. The ogre put on the armor and discovered that no one recognized him. People invited him into their huts and served him porridge and honey cakes. They let him dig holes in their fields and smiled when he passed.
Wasn’t the armor heavy? How could he tell which bones were stolen?
I didn’t know. It was a throw-away line and I was riffing, as usual. I was a poor excuse for a father, my ex-wife insisted to anyone who would listen. The one time I took Ella to the park, she’d wandered away and I’d come home without her. We had to call the cops, who found her hours later wandering down Rt. 39.
He couldn’t be sure about the bones. That’s why he had to search so long.
The bucket was nearly overflowing but Ella refused to let me empty it. She was conducting some sort of science experiment, which was just as well since the superintendant was nowhere to be found.
The ogre took off his helmet, stuck out his tongue and tasted the magic powder.
It was cold in the bedroom. Ella wrapped her arms around herself.
Then what happened?
He turned pale green. Everything began to get soft and blurry but in a weird way he kind of liked it. It felt like he was disconnected from his body, from everything on earth. Like instead of bones, he’d stolen a big squishy dream.
Ella nodded and I waited for her to fall asleep. The only sound was rain falling into the room.
Beth Sherman received an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her fiction has been published in The Portland Review, KYSO, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Sandy River Review, Blue Lyra Review, Gloom Cupboard and Panoplyzine, and Delmarva Review and is forthcoming in Rappahannock Review and Sou’wester. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem, “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize this year. She’s also written five mystery novels.