Sarah Kain Gutowski: Chapter VIII: She Removes the Stitches

The fire in the hearth sparked and fumed. The clocks struck 
 the hour in one long reprimand, their faces closed 
 to further discussion. They ticked the seconds begrudgingly. 
 The whole room seemed angry, as if each object mourned 
 her loss of the little bird, its potential friendly noise 
 and chaos, its brief disruption of stasis and constant gloom. 
 Inside her mouth the frog tongue protested too, and pushed 
 against her teeth and lips as it never had before, 
attempting to stretch and unfold beyond her aching jaw. 

She gave in. Her will collapsed like the tunnels dug by voles 
 through her sad, neglected garden, and shadows jumped 
 all around her, as if they knew her thoughts. She fumbled, 
 searching between the clocks for the silver-handled knife, 
 blind and out of breath with fear at her decision. 
 She found it glinting on the floor, hot from the fire. 
 It burned her fingertips and palm as she lifted the blade 
 up to her mouth and nicked the weakest center stitch. 
She pulled it slowly, thread through flesh, and her stomach turned and kicked. 

The other stitches fell more easily, and soon 
 her mouth was bare but for the holes the needle had made.   
 Her bottom lip sank slowly and then her tongue unfurled. 
 Instead of falling, loose and heavy as it had 
 before in the goblin’s shop, it uncurled and whipped the air. 
 The line of clocks along the mantle smashed and hurtled 
 against each other and then the floor, glass faces shattered. 
 Each fragment sparkled with the fire’s refracted light. 
Her tongue recoiled, the muscle contracting and snapping back inside. 

Suddenly she felt the need to be away 
 from the fire’s heat and searing light, the glittering, 
 fractured clocks, their mangled arms and splintered faces. 
 Down the stairs she fled and tripped, almost tumbling. 
 A need had spread through her bones and skin, an impulse borne 
 with her unstitched mouth and muscular tongue, the power she felt 
 from letting her body do what a body will always do 
 without restraint. Then into the forest’s shadows she reeled, 
through trees and patches of filmy moonlight, until she reached the field. 

The full moon lit the long grass with a stark gray sheen. 
 Above those slender stalks a constellation of moths 
 and lightning bugs hovered, minute stars changing their shape 
 and story every minute, myth after myth 
 reborn and retold. The woman watched them, glad to breathe 
 the sharp, chill air so cold it burned her lungs and nose, 
 far from the tower and all its trappings, clutter and theft. 
 Then her tongue shot out. It caught and gathered what it found, 
a writhing mass of wings and spindle antennae, into her mouth. 

She almost choked when she realized the crackling, folded bodies – 
 these living things – were bottled now inside her throat. 
 The powdered fabric of their wings clung to its sides, 
 adhered, like cut wet grass patterns the sides of a blade 
 that strikes it down. And still their thin legs whirred until 
 they shook loose and detached, abandoning one fight 
 and plunging into another. She mourned their deaths, ashamed. 
 Yet even as she knelt in the dirt, overcome with guilt, 
her mouth unleashed her tongue again. It returned with mites and ticks. 
A bat veered through the swath of sky above, and her tongue 
 extended its sticky length to catch those wings and not 
 the large white moth the bat pursued. Before she could fight 
 this weird muscle and its strange new appetite, 
 her tongue shot back between her teeth with the vermin tucked 
 inside its fleshy rolls; then tossed it, small as a mouse 
 and torn from light and sound, into the cavernous space 
 beyond her mouth.  And there for a moment it hung, suspended 
by shock and disgust, until her throat convulsed, and the bat descended. 
The woman with the frog tongue began to wail, 
 a sound more fierce than any she’d made for months, or years. 
 She meant to release a long, loud scream, or something like 
 the shrill caw from a bird of prey before its kill, or 
 the fierce, foreboding drone of a locust swarm – yet instead 
 there came a deep rumbling, a sound that shook her frame. 
 The call was ugly; like nothing she’d heard from any beast 
 she’d come upon before. The grass shook. Animals fled. 
Exhausted, she slumped across the field to the children’s fort, and slept.

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