Three Tales for the Headless Child

Matthew F. Amati freely references Grimm, but then puts those timeworn tales through the postmodern/post-context wringer. The results are absurd, disturbed, gleefully unhinged, and inclined to wordplay.

I — White

Remove her heart, the Queen had said.

The Huntsman obeys. He selects his longest boning knife, the one he uses for jointing bears.

He cuts the heart from the maid’s bosom. It bleats like an infant baboon. He bears the heart home. The Queen laughs. Her Magic Mirror sings a song about a whale.

The shocked and wounded Snow White stumbles through briars. The maw in her chest sucks and sobs. Small birds flee.

Snow White comes to a hut. The hut is crude. It leans. The doorway hasn’t a door.

Small men live within, unwashed and hideous. Their beards have never been cut, their nails never trimmed. They can’t speak. They don’t bar the mutilated princess from their ranks. Are they aware of her presence? Who can tell?

Snow White sways. Her chest-hole sputters. Green drops spatter the wall.

Snow White names the men. You are Dumpo, she says. You are Fungus, and you must be Scabby. I call thee Gob, and thee Mush Mouth, thee Tormenter-Of-Shrews, thee Microcephalus, and thee Flatus. And you (eyes milky with cataracts) must be Blind John.

So begins a strange domestic arrangement. Snow White eats the small mens’ food, elbowing her way among the grunting homunculi. Every meal the same. Berries, roadkill, pinecones inexpertly scorched.

Snow White offers the small men her broken body. She lifts her skirt, gestures at her mottled skin. The men fail to comprehend. One finds a roach crawling in the dirt. He eats it. Another shits in the umbrella stand.

The hut is dark, the windows crusted over, the floor a morass of shrew-bones and filth.

In the castle, the Magic Mirror shows a wrestling match. The Queen is away and searching.

How now, magic of the winter sun? the Queen inquires. Shall I poison fruit for this helium-voiced slattern? The winter sun replies: all fruit is poison. Eat and die, eat and die, has it ever been different?

How now, magic of slow Time? Can you assist me with a disguise? A crone, bent like the thorn-tree in autumn? Yes, replies Time, the magic spell is simply this: wait.

Suns rise and suns set, winter snows pile up and melt away. Part of the dwarves’ roof falls in. A brush salesman stops by and leaves. The brawny oak by the door grows rough, stoops and withers. And then, on no afternoon in particular, a shadow darkens the doorway.

The Queen peers into the squalid recesses. Is this what she has sought so many years?

Within the hut squats a spindly wraith bent by an old wound. Half-dwarf, half-human progeny hunker in the corners, rocking on heels, emitting low moans.

The Queen flees. Later, her Magic Mirror asserts that a person’s life don’t amount to beans in this crazy world. The Queen smashes the Mirror with a curling iron and begins eating.

II — Hood

Hood is too young to go to the forest. Her mother says go. So she goes.

“Don’t linger,” her mother says. “Don’t wear your hood in a revealing way. Don’t smell like flesh. Don’t sweat, seep, waft, secrete, or stand downwind. Else you are asking for wolves.”

Hood enters the forest on the eastern side. When she exits the western side, her hood is torn. Blood runs down her calf. Her pretty braids are shredded, her face is smeared.

Weeping, she runs for her Grandmother’s house.

Grandmother scolds the child for her appearance.

Hood tells what happened in the forest.

The Grandmother’s eyes grow big.

The Grandmother’s teeth grow sharp.

The Grandmother’s carapace roughens and grows grey fur.

“Never speak of this to anyone,” the Grandmother growls. “You are a soiled specimen. You must among the broken children go.”

A Hunter comes by. He shoots the Grandmother and makes an Unwelcome mat from her pelt.

He marries the child. He keeps her on a leash by his front door.

The child grows cold when snows come. The Hunter comes home with a sack of limbs. Hood falls upon him and eats him whole.

She gives birth to a large-headed child. She gazes into eyes pitiless as a star. Limbs, steel; fists, hams; heart, a shriveled winter acorn.

The child shoulders the Hunter’s gun, sights along the smooth cold barrel.

“Going wolf-hunting, Mother,” she says.

III — Hansel und Gretel

Hansel und Gretel live with two loudspeakers in a steel shed. The loudspeakers squawk in binary code. Gretel und Hansel must relocate.

Hansel und Gretel venture through the forest. There are no trees, only identical metal poles. Skeletal birds have eaten the nails that Hansel dropped. The compass won’t work; the Earth’s magnetic field reverses, the needle spins demented through the points.

Ahead sits a wigwam fashioned of rusty oil drums.

The wigwam is inhabited by an Intelligent Designer. Gretel refuses to believe in such a chimera, but Hansel is tempted. Slowly his motor neurons lose their sheathing of myelin proteins. He wastes away, begins to twitch with St. Vitus’ Dance. The Moon assumes a square orbit, the seas turn to brake fluid. Gretel must think of something quickly.

The Intelligent Designer will soon inflate Hansel to the size of the observable universe. She commands Gretel to destroy one of Euclid’s Five Axioms, preferably the one with angles. Gretel asks the Intelligent Designer to consider the platypus, but backwards. Paley’s Watch stops ticking. The Designer vanishes in a puff of lateral thinking.

Hansel becomes a refracted consciousness, and emerges from his tomb. Gretel points and laughs, und Hansel laughs too. The Designer was nothing but a spool of tape in a forgotten cryptograph generator. I am he as you are me. Down becomes up, black becomes off-black. Hansel und Gretel become everyone and nobody, and they live happily over altered.


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Matthew F. Amati

Matthew F. Amati

Matthew F. Amati was born in Barrow, Alaska to three inebriated Pentecostal missionaries and a seal. Right now he's on the roof, and you'd best just leave him alone for a while until he puts down the Chivas Regal and stops declaiming Wallace Stevens to the exoplanets in a demonic falsetto. His fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Bewildering Stories and elsewhere, and is collected in this here neglected blog: www.mattamati.com

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