From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Cherries, Sweet and Tart

On the first night of winter, I did dream

of snaking branches sprawled with waxy leaves

and bowed under the weight of fat red cherries.

From that moment

my heart knew no rest.

 

On the advice of ghosts

I devoured a bowl of ten thousand cherries

heaped blazing high

and still bleeding wet with rainwater

sucking flesh from each

as sweet and tart as vindication

until my fingers were jiggling grubs

too well-fed to make a fist.

 

I hated

these newly made limbs

their bright, twitching muscles

But I pressed foreign fingers through the snow

the dirt beneath

inserted these cherry pits

filled to the brim with poison

as small and hard as baby teeth

 

From the moment the first sprouts rose

brilliant

verdant

and hungry for what lay under the soil

they refused to be forgotten.

 

My saplings called to the monsters

who came to devour:

glowing-eyed rabbits and snaggle-fanged deer

nine-tailed foxes

and parliaments of magpies

until there was one sapling left.

I loved it, so I named it Mine.

 

Mine grew fast and always hungry

like the desperate buzz of dragonflies

until the bones deep within the earth

progenitors of this stolen land

had dissolved like frost under rain

And still, Mine’s need throbbed through its branches

begging to be slaked.

 

I am a good mother

And so I kneeled

and buried my flopping dinner—

a trout.

In the morning, I awoke to Mine’s first cherries

swelling between its limbs

And when I dug my fingers into the loam above this fresh grave

they were met by root-tendrils

that had expertly picked flesh from bone.

 

From then on, I cooked

but did not eat.

At Mine’s base, I set my meals

my pots of soup and stew and rice

my loaves of bread, my sweetmeats, my pickles

And bowl after bowl of fresh cherries.

 

After each night of digestion

Mine’s fruits grew

until they were fine, brilliant things

plump and shining like fresh blood.

 

One day, I descended from Mine’s boughs

And found myself face to face with three foxes.

They had sensed Mine’s hunger

And now they were hungry, too

For fruit or bark or flesh.

 

But I would not give up these cherries

For they were mine and Mine’s.

At the last knuckle of my pointer finger

I snipped with pruning shears.

I threw the end at their snapping jaws

sure that would be the end of it.

 

By morning, the foxes were legion

Smacking their lips

Unveiling their teeth

“We have tasted blood,” they said

“And you must share with us,” they said

And I cut for them the meat of my forearm

The backs of my knees

Segments of each of my deflated grub-fingers.

 

When the foxes were finally sated

I covered Mine’s crown with nets

To ward from bird and beast.

And before I slept

curled around Mine’s trunk like a serpent

I snapped off a branch

and sucked its moisture until it was as dry as goose down.

Like any good mother,

I grafted my own arm in its place.

 

When the foxes horded close

saying, “We have tasted blood,”

saying, “And you must share with us,”

I lit the branch and waved it ferociously.

 

The skulk backed up but did not leave.

“We have tasted blood,” they cried

and I did not answer.

“You must share with us,” they howled

and I did not answer.

They slunk away at nightfall’s first breath

as the searing flames reached my remaining hand.

 

In the morning, only one fox returned

eyes sparkling

tongue wagging

“You have tasted blood,” it said

“And I will share with you.”

 

I shook my head.

“I want nothing of what you have to give,” I said

“I am well provided for,” I said

and with a burned, crackling finger

I touched a cherry through the net

its flesh as firm and wet as gums

 

“Is that so?”

The fox sat

its russet fur gleaming gold.

“While you slept, I buried a thing in the night.”

It nosed aside the loam at Mine’s base

And there I found a fingernail.

From its jagged edge

I knew it to be mine

—now Mine’s.

“Look upon your cherries now,” said the fox

And so I did.

 

Once fat and plump and red

now shriveled like a fingerprint

They hung quietly

and yet still hungry

for now having tasted me

Mine could want nothing else

and I loved Mine more for it

would feed it all that was mine.

 

The fox grew restless.

“I will share with you,” it whined

even as I kneeled

to dig my grave with my remaining hand

even as my mouth filled with the taste

of cherries, sweet and tart.

Maria Dong

Maria Dong

A prolific writer of short fiction, articles, essays, and poetry, Maria’s work is published or forthcoming in over a dozen publications, including Apex, Apparition, Augur, Fantasy, Fusion Fragment, Kaleidotrope, Khoreo, Lightspeed, and Nightmare Magazine. Her debut novel, Liar, Dreamer, Thief, comes out from Grand Central Publishing in winter of 2023. Although she’s currently a computer programmer, in her previous lives, Maria’s held a variety of diverse careers, including property manager, English teacher, and occupational therapist. She lives with her partner and a potato-dog in southwest Michigan, in a centenarian saltbox house that is almost certainly haunted, watching K-dramas and drinking Bell’s beer. She is represented by Amy Bishop at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. She can also be reached via Twitter @mariadongwrites or on her website, MariaDong.com.