Aphelion Issue 296, Volume 28
July 2024 --
Long Fiction and Serials
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by Kurt Hohmann

Above the snowy crest of this wretched mountain, the first light of day is breaking.

My body's breaking too. Intense cold burns through my flesh and stabs into bone.

The fire raging inside keeps me moving. A flame ignited one morning by the sight of a sickly, gray-skinned body in a tiny cradle.

The changeling.

The thing they left behind.

The night they stole away my pink, healthy daughter.

The doctors all drew from their science, their textbooks. So certain of their explanations.

I know better. The old stories hold the truth.

My childhood was filled with their legends. I've delved more deeply and studied the arcane scrolls. Read the ancient manuscripts. Learned their ways.

And thus I clamber across this barren slope at the edge of the world. Far from home. Awaiting that first ray of sunlight.

Doing what had to be done, locating this doorway, getting here; all have cost me dearly. And through the portal, even greater trials loom. Because they won't give her up easily.

The codex was clear. At the precise moment the first ray of morning sunlight slashes through the narrow crevice above me, I can cross the threshold.

My limbs groan even as my heart pushes me onward.

Inside my coat, I touch it. The changeling. Nothing now but a dry, wrinkled husk of Faerie. The thing that I return in exchange for my child.

Of course, no iron can pass through the doorway, but my oak staff is enough for battle. It must be.

They will be many, but they do not expect visitors. They believe this portal forever hidden.

At last sunlight pierces through and, staff clutched firmly, I step across the threshold. Through the door.

Cruel laughter echoes from walls of stone as I plummet to the jagged rocks below.

© 2022 Kurt Hohmann

Kurt Hohmann (www.kurthohmann.com ) tells stories, builds altars to pagan gods, drums 'round the bonfire, and crafts mad culinary experiments. His tales have been featured in Yellow Mama, Literally Stories, Inner Sins, Chantwood, Abstract Jam, Bookends Review, and Eternal Haunted Summer.

Find more by Kurt Hohmann in the Author Index.

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