belle, reimagined

“Musings” is the result of a creative metamorphosis. This is my capsule portfolio of all things that inspire, perplex, and linger. Unrestricted.

“Archaic Malady” is the result of a creative metamorphosis. This is my capsule portfolio of all things that inspire, perplex, and linger. Unrestricted.

photo by Nia Garza

I first tried out the alter-ego of “Belle” on social media in 2013, becoming known as “belle athena” on most platforms. The name stuck, but the intent of the blog shifted as I began to take myself, and my work, more seriously. After much planning and consideration, I revamped the site in May 2017.
This site is dedicated to the authentic, to the dangerous and sticky parts of humanhood; all the things I’d striven to keep buried. The intention now is to tell the truth to my readers–it is likely to shock some of the loyal followers–and hopefully, with some time and consistency, crack open what it means to be Belle.
Follow, share, and enjoy; start conversations, question and comment, but please, remain kind. Content is all original and must be respected as such. Send all requests, collaboration or otherwise, to ArchaicMalady@gmail.com. Social platforms are also a preferred form of contact.

Thank you,

Fairy Queen Out

sightless passion

a creature calls to us from a chamber inside our heads.

the deadly masquerade. movement of eyes under shields over crowds of the wanton. i see you, forgetfully spiteful, intently unaffected. i’ll remain anonymous until you remove your ego from your gut and your eyes clear of sightless passion.
i lost it in the fold, the cold ground sunken. from a time i’m not a part of, i imagine what it meant to love him. i knew you, your name etched beside me. lingering voices, i hear them; judging with envy. we can fall in love, often with what we do not see; why not, for our own fear, with what does not breathe? only now, i groan for the end of my days, as i catch you in a glimpse, and you spin in your grave.
emergence from the quiet; pangs of a survivalist’s world, echoing in the light that comes fogged with more questions. how is it I am guised under artificial beauty when this is where I came from? a place where beauty was first defined.
i can’t forget the way you touch me. when you’re faceless and the walls fall down like cardboard. the closed room opens to leaves beneath my back and branches that tear through the ceiling. your hair is long enough to touch my lips, but it changes, slowly shortens, ages, until i can see your eyes. and i wake, wanting you.
these transformations of once-imagined things. a creature calls to us from a chamber inside our heads. captive, until it speaks and convinces us to let it roam.
a ruthless spirit in an unforgiving world.





the model     //      @peeksters       //       orlando, fl
art/photography account    //    @archaicmalady
personal account      //      @belleathena
bring me to the archives


woodland whimsy

life bellows from the bones // portrait session with courtnie









the model     //      @courtnie_shea       //       orlando, fl
mua     //     @beautyby_mackenzie    //    palm harbour, fl
art/photography account    //    @archaicmalady
personal account      //      @belleathena
bring me to the archives


an introduction to the creation of OTHER. Magazine


I found myself wanting to bring a little woodland whimsy into the reptilian bog. I am not the first, nor the last, to try.

I vocalized silent musings to friends, colleagues, my community; few I hardly knew much about at that time. In expression, I found kindred spirits; the rebellious kind, and we made something happen: OTHER.

My skull split and out poured the initial concept for an art and literature magazine, one that would highlight the anti, counter, antagonist; the Other in all people. Initiating this conversation with Orlando creatives brought forth incredible talent and vision, which all amounted to an unforgettable launch and motions of support from hundreds of people. It has become one of the most humbling and motivational experiences of my life, teaching me to be willing and dedicated to creation.

I wanted to challenge the identity of the evolving artist. Everything remains so close to me, every movement and unanswered question, the acceptance of those things and improving my methods. Along the way I asked, “Why not? Why are you afraid?” And by satisfying the questions, from which the answers were within myself, I found piece and little left to argue: I had to cultivate an environment for other artists and creatives to thrive; a platform for us to show our work, collaborate and escape our hermit shells.

The rest speaks for itself.

Submit and join the rebel cult      //     @other.mag    //     @contactothers     //     @othermagco


A tale of the Iswa, “the people of the river,” narrated by a young boy whose family takes solace in visions and faith to bring their father home from war.

a short story | historical fiction, native american, literary
This tale explores the role of nature and fantastical elements in Native American story-telling. Set along the Catawba River in 18th-century North America, the narrator is a small boy whose father has gone to war. His village; the Iswa tribe, has been in a continuous state of unrest with the Iroquois Nation of the North. After countless raids and many dead, his family is fearful that Noshi–his father and possibly the last hope for the Kawahcatawbas to survive–will not return, taking solace in visions and faith to bring him home.

photograph by Vijay Somalinga


The Seneca have been raiding our villages for decades.

They come in the silent night when children sleep to cricket symphonies. They wake to their mothers’ screams and their fathers howling into battle.

They come in the absence of our warriors, which dwindle in numbers from the white man’s fever. I am not old enough to fight, but I am wise enough to see that the Kawahcatawbas, the people of the river, will not defeat the Iroquois Nation of the North. The Iswa promised the settlers we would stay in our territories along the Catawba River, the Iroquois to remain beyond the Potomac, but they come through the trees, emerging like the otter to the bank from the gleaming river.

Noshi has been missing for months; one of our village’s strongest fighters and my mother’s life mate. Viho, my older brother, looks after her, washing her hair in the Catawba. He stares wide-eyed like the owl through the night.

My mother is Muna, an overflowing spring. She sees visions of our father: he is dragged through the dry, frigid dirt of the northern coast, neither dead nor living. She rocks back and forth by the fire, farming the flames, holding the infant Shilah as she sings.

Our sister, Nova, hums beside her. She believes father lives, and she has dreamt of Noshi: he overpowers the Seneca warriors and dives into the Potomac under a veil of the first rainfall, dodging a net of bullets and arrows as they curve behind him.


Muna begged him not to go; to protect the widowed mothers and fatherless children of the village. He refused, holding her at dawn in his ruby-scarred arms. “We are Iswa,” he said. “We will fight to keep blood from the river. Theirs will taste like our dead, and they will drown in the tears of our widows.”

I had sat upon the skins and furs laid out along the dirt, scratching at a stain of blood not left by animal, and cried. Mother picked me up, and my legs fell below her tot belly, Shilah just a promise then. Viho stood beside her with broad shoulders; without emotion. Nova wrapped her arms around our father’s waist, her coo low. Noshi kissed each of us that day, twice for mother, one for her lips and another for her belly. He left, his eyes kept to the land. Nineteen other men followed him, some older than he, and a few even younger than Viho.

Our father’s shadow flickered through the trees until he disappeared into the blinding daylight. We resumed our strength; we chanted nightly to Manatou and His Son to bring Noshi back to us. If he did not return, Viho would become the village leader, and I would become our family’s protector. Without a warrior to teach us how to fight, the Seneca might come to butcher our mother, our sister, and our baby brother before our eyes. Then, the Kawahcatawbas would be forever lost; returned to the soil like the harvest.


The images haunt me, and I disguise my fear, playing with mother’s hands as she rests from skinning rabbits. She loves us, but she is losing herself with the eastern wind. And it carries pieces of her far from the Catawba.

Once she finally sleeps, Viho comes to me with roasted meat, a rabbit leg coated in spices given to us by the white men. It is charred by the fire. He tells me he has seen father.

My heart races and I stand: “Where is he, brother? Where have you seen him?”

Viho takes my arm, bringing me back to the ground, and lifts the leg toward my mouth. “Eat,” he orders. “You will need your strength.”

I do as I am told, taking large bites of the stringy texture, swallowing and gulping so that I can receive my reward. Where is our father? Where is Noshi?

“I have had a vision,” Viho begins.

I shake my head. Both Nova and our mother have had countless dreams of father, none have come to pass.

“No,” he grabs my arm, squeezing me tightly. “I have seen father, like the elders do in the smoke. I have seen Noshi in my mind. He killed seven of the Seneca. They were accompanied by a white man with spectacles. He wore shoes. The white man fell to his knees and bowed to father. Father let him live.

“But then, he was surprised by more Seneca warriors and made to surrender, his comrades dead along the forest floor. He was bound and starved, walking hundreds of miles from the colony of Carolina to the front of Iroquois. They were going to burn him, maybe feast on his flesh!”

I coughed, gagging at the thought of that horrible ritual: a champion’s trophy in warfare.

Viho patted my back and resumed, “Do not fear, Muraco. Father unties himself as he is brought to the altar! And darts faster than any stag. He dives into the river, like Nova said, unscathed by the bullets and the arrows. He reaches the other side and looks to his captors. He howls vengeance to the stars.” Viho mimicked the howl, clenching his fists and smiling, skin caught in his teeth.

“He is coming home?” I ask, shaking Viho’s forearms, tears filling my eyes with both pride and want for my warrior-father.

“First, he must strip the scalps of every Seneca he sees from there to the Catawba, clothing himself and taking provisions. Then, he will not sleep. He will move on, taken over by the spirit of war and find the bodies of the men he first devoured in fair pitched battle. Then, he will dig them up, take their scalps, and burn their remains so that their awful flesh cannot become one with the earth. Only then will he come home.”

Viho and I sat in silence. I imagined father’s journey, the blood on his hands, and the fire in his heart. Viho smiled to himself, certain that what he had seen was real.

We could not sleep, not now, not after this prophecy had ignited the air, its images dancing in the smoke. We would not tell anyone, not even Nova, in fear that we might wait for a deadman. His ashes could scatter the grounds of the north, unable to speak true tales of his passing; unable to reunite with mother in the afterlife, and we would die counting the suns.


As the light broke over the river, mother awoke, disappearing from our beds. She walked toward the water without speaking. I watched her, my eyes heavy and stale.

Her stare was drawing a figure in front of her, a man she longed for. She plucked him from the smoke; she made him real. She stepped into the cool rushing water, the pressure of its life carrying her forward.

And then, dark hair emerged from the surface. She knelt into the river and let out a cry of disbelief. Our father rose to her lips like a great spirit of the river. He embraced her, lifting her up and leaning back into the water. They both submerged, wrapping around each other as the river carried them off–two fish following each other’s tails.

My brother and I ran to the water’s edge, scouting downriver for the bobbing heads of our mother and father.

But they were gone, and the Seneca would come again.


Learn More Links:

The Catawba River

The Catawba People

photo diary | europe

A compilation of journals and photographs from England, Germany, and Denmark.

Below are journals written in England, Germany, and Denmark.



Processed with VSCO with g2 preset

some places are just easier to digest–London feels like home–and when a city puts forth effort to plant, display art, and insert charm in every possible corner, visitors are able to enjoy the in-between experiences. i’ve always been very much an “in-betweener,” an old soul in a young body, a fierce thinker with a gentle heart, undeniably intolerant of impoliteness yet quick to fight for what i believe in. it’s a daring and special adventure to see your own subjective reality for what it is: fragile and microscopic, as it is represented in the things and places around you; contained in a moment, like the five attempts made at picking up a pesky penny, or the time you left that perfectly blended coffee on top of your car before driving off to work: we have just enough time to stop and breathe. it takes five to ten seconds to choose to collect your being as it attempts to escape into negativity and stress. there’s moments to push–to the monument or the show–and then there are moments to throw out a line into the water, and find the calm just before you’re pulled back into movement by an invisible fish.


i’ve never commented about this on social media before, but recently i updated my bio on Instagram (sort of jokingly), so here it is: i’ve been called a witch most of my life; told i resemble some television character–give you three guesses on the common comparisons–but there’s never been a photo that has captured that for me as this one does. i was a very unusual child and now i’m an unusual woman; i have unconventional beliefs and weird practices; i rightly believe in some things and superstitiously believe in others, and i’m just fine with my reputation. in fact, i wouldn’t want to be any other way. oddities give us power.

London Steps
storybook living is two-dimensional–there’s value in sorrow, and pain, and suffering–i want a flight-delayed, burnt-chips, no-ice, wet-kisses kind-of-life. that way, i might remember you better: your joy in a thunderstorm; that time you dropped a bouquet of roses on tile because you couldn’t heal me; your jumbled words and your impossibly brilliant mind. if i take a broken bone for ten years with you, or if i never publish another novel for a lifetime of crumbled up paper piled in the bin, with you telling me “it’s all divine” but i don’t agree, i will have it all. there will always be a price for magic in our lives.



Munich Studio
smitten with this human and this space. my heart is so happy.


incredibly sad prose was inspired by this flawless dried bouquet. it hangs by the entrance of our studio in Munich. what something is this?



space can often feel limited; i find myself with this ache for a proper place to do my projects. it’s a distraction that i intend to remedy very soon. until then, here’s a reflective shot of the Albrecht Durer house where they imagined a space for him to have worked. we don’t actually know if he painted in his home, or if he had someplace to retreat to, but there’s something romantic in this corner. artists employed by museum still use this space to make prints of his work for purchase.

Photo Apr 21, 16 47 37
Nuremberg was an adventure. we took a bus from Munich without much of any idea what we were in for. it managed to hail, snow, rain + be consumed in sunshine moment to moment for the eight hours we explored the old city. there is much history to be discovered here, with the Albrecht Durer house tucked away beyond a tavern appropriately named ” The Wanderer”–such a thing to be–but fatefully, we had been much too lucky. our bus out was delayed with no notice, so we waited, frigidly, for about an hour and a half before arriving back to our studio after midnight. considering we are Americans with little-to-no experience on public transit, (the US really needs to get on a better and safer system), we have made out seamlessly. a joke formed that we “live here,” in each country we’ve only had but a slice of, all except for my graceful wipeout on my bike today. there will always be bumps in the road, but i don’t mind a few bumps + bruises when the streets are made of cobblestone and filled with charms older than our borders.



Copenhagen Flat
we arrived in Copenhagen at midnight, managing to stumble heavy-eyed and hopeful through the city to reach our last stop. there are so many beautiful places we have yet to see in this city.

i’ve been living in such carefully curated spaces, some more eclectic than others, and i’m beginning to see my vision for a space for us come into being. i’m collecting inspiration through European way of life–even the wall sockets in Denmark are happy–and i love to see the numerous plants + cacti sitting in the windows of the buildings here. i wish i could take this one home with me, a true souvenir of how much this trip has helped me–us–grow. i hope to continue to learn more while we explore these next few days before departing home. i promise this is not the end, but only the beginning; this adventure has propagated new limbs of curiosity in my spirit, and i will continue to gather pieces of this wonderful life to share.


Stilleben i
Copenhagen style speaks to my minimal yet colorful taste. i love a monochromatic outfit (@kylemkoppe believes “navy is a neutral color”), but a space needs to be simple & a bit daring to feel cozy to me. @stilleben_dk uses light and playful shapes to represent an array of goods. (Yes, they have international shipping). for now, a focus on the subjective views; you’ll notice all of my photos have an eye for the corners of the world with commentary on the larger picture. i tend to fixate on the beauty marks of the body rather than how each piece fits together, for fear of the disjointed or the absence of flow, but maybe more for the unfortunate fleeting nature of joy–once i am reminded that not all places pick up their litter and that the scars of war are evident, on every scale; the psyche and the earth. but here, in the making of a home and a future for generations keen on preservation, sustainability, and life, this may be heaven.


foolish to believe we have it all worked out. harmless as it may seem, we become fastened; turned tight to the hinges, and when we swing, we creak and moan and claim ourselves unmovable. it is all because we are taught that to be stable is to be settled; tightening bibs when we’ve yet to cease spilling milk on our own chests; pouring wine to the brim when we’re drunk enough; kissing a brand new lover because the old one saw us for the imperfect animal within. ‘why not be renewed and spiritual and inviting?’ we think, like oil paint on wood. peeling, intoxicating visions of what we aren’t; tears cried for the extra inch, the ungrateful friend, the absent minds about us, that is a sadness i refuse to indulge. i have nothing sorted for the first time in my life, and not because i don’t have plans or hopes. but because i do.

Photo Apr 23, 05 10 25
traveling, for me, has had curative powers. it’s as if many of my ailments have completely dissipated; i felt held back from seeing the world–not just seeing, but experiencing it–and it seemed that at every turn there was an excuse or a justifiable “adult” reason to say ‘no, not yet.’ we all do this, have set levels we must reach; thresholds that we have no real foresight to predict will come to pass when we want them. it is privileged to think that we can all just pack our luggage and hop on a plane to paradise. but we can afford ourselves a small view or treat to calm our bodies from the strain we put them through, the tense muscles and the stress fractures of wanting to be as we dreamed ourselves up. so, have a cup of hot chocolate or tea or coffee while we try to attain the ‘right time’ we so often employ just to say that it isn’t. after all, we aren’t there yet.

fantasy worlds are fragile; as soon as we cross through the veil, ever so thin, back into reality, all perceived and subjective, it can feel quite overwhelming. life happens and things mount. it can seem as though the universe throttles us for the sake of random reactions to even the scale and satisfy the gods that govern it. my younger self would find it dark and comical to feel so thankful. i’d probably say something condescending, sprinkled with my favorite bloodshot profanities and refer to myself as a wannabe-angel. but now that i’m older, and still so young that this too may change, i see that the list to be accounted for is the accomplishments, the positives, the parts to feel blessed for. there’s no reason to dwell; just chin up and take it one step at a time.

dreams, with eyes bent, up and over the sightline of All; of you, in your fragile way, strong and bendable, but the hold you have here, insignificant. because you’re up there, with the infinite, your feet lifting from the ground to spin you in blue light; until you’re gone and i remember that i never knew you.

@kylemkoppe sporting @rainsjournal and @jcrew while we explored Rosenberg Slot –we hopped on our bikes without any plans nor sense of direction. i saw the green rooftops in the distance beyond our flat and knew we were in for something beautiful



i’ve never had much of a sweet tooth; it’s not that i rarely afford myself treats–i don’t deny myself of something that will make me happy–but i was not the child to take a second slice of cake, or finish my first slice, for that matter. but hot coco in Copenhagen felt different. i could savor it, seeing the chocolate swirl and be soaked up by the milk. there was this habitual feeling, like it was reinvented as an experience to be repeated; shown to children, maybe. there will always be this nostalgia–swiss miss after rolling back inside with snow stuck to me and my cheeks rosy & numb; my cold nose met by the hot and inviting comfort–a brick fireplace with fresh wood & long matches to light up the obituaries/crime section of our high stack of unread newspapers. but this, this cup tasted like a new life, one where i could feel the child-like joy rise from the grave of adulthood. i invite you to experience something old as if it were brand new.


Photo Apr 24, 08 34 45
last night was one of the best of my life. we were limitless and honest and daring. i was complicated, but the thoughts were simple: i was afraid. of what? it didn’t matter much; i became lost in it. it wasn’t confusing or messy, it was raw and unapologetically human. often the times we remember most fondly are the ones where we realized it was all going to work out. it will all work out just fine.

more travel articles here

keeper of the park

a short story of loss, loneliness, and a young woman who enters a haunted wood.

a short story | fiction, victorian era, fantasy, romance, literary
Set in the countryside of Victorian England, this tale follows Miss Moira Parker. Unmarried, her parents are dead, and her estate is under the control of her uncle, Lord Chester Parker. As Moira grapples with the loss of both her parents, she is pursued by an old banker for her hand in marriage. Disenchanted with marriage and relationships, her only solace is the forest beyond her estate. Rumored to be haunted by evil spirits, Moira ignores these warnings to take a walk in the wood with her faithful canine companion. Destiny, nature, and the mysterious creatures within collide with her, redefining what she thought it meant to be alone.


A dirty hog, the limbs amputated, the life butchered, gutted, the meat frozen in bags, then thawed, cut, and thrown into a pot; but Jane cooked it too dry. I looked to her as the powdered sponge of flesh ground between my molars.

“Is it not satisfactory, Miss Moira?” she asked. I noticed she feared her own mouth as she produced saliva. She hesitated to swallow, as if it was an indecent function in the silence.

I waited until she gave in. She gulped, turning white; the awkward block of phlegm in her throat began to suffocate her. She forced an inhale.

“It is decent, Jane,” I soothed her.

She curtsied and left to the kitchen; the door swung behind her. I stabbed down into the meat and turned the patty up from my china, puckering my lips as I kissed the air, letting the sliver fall. Before the fat could stain the carpet, Polly caught it into her jaw, jerking her head backward as she guzzled it down in flapping chews. Once her gnawing of canine etiquette ended, I patted her apple head, her red sheen soft and reflective.

“Time for a walk?” I rewarded her with the remainder of my plate. Only a beautiful beast living on grain and lard could appreciate that pork. The short-haired pointer sat onto her behind and lifted both of her paws, leaning into a posture most ladies cannot manage. I offered her my hand and she cried, released her position, and freed herself from the dining room to the foyer.

“Jane! Take the leftovers to Mr. Grove so that he can feed his family tonight. I have little appetite. I will have chicken tomorrow. Let us only use pork for sausage from now on!”

I heard her voice repeating, ‘yes, Miss,’ as she rustled around the pantry beyond the wall.

“Oh, and Jane?” Her figure managed to emerge from the bustle, and she brushed off her apron, a part of her face stamped with flour. “I am taking the dog to the woods. If she catches something, will you call for Florin? I would like to serve him quail when he calls this week.”

“Yes, Miss Moira,” she curtsied. “Should I send for Tucker to accompany you? It will be dark soon.” She began to turn back to the kitchen, assuming I would like an escort.

“No, your brother should attend to the cellar. It is so dreary. Perhaps he can use his talents to liven it up.” I left Jane standing in her regret, the regret of a maid who cannot say more, but wishes she might without being whipped or let go. I would never whip her, but my mother did before she died, and my father whipped Tucker once when a horse escaped from its stall. It simply wanted to return to an apple tree that I had fed it from, but father did not believe the horse could think that deeply for the delight of a fruit.

Mother died after father, like an indoor purebred who played in the mud once with a hound. The hound does not come home, and the purebred does not like the mud anymore. Mother did not like life much anymore, and even her time in the French countryside gave her no peace. She lasted three months.

A year from her passing Uncle Chester held power over the estate. He rarely visited, and wrote to me himself only once:

Dear Miss Moira Parker,

My niece, please forgive the formality of this letter, but your lawyers have informed me of your contest to my rightful inheritance to the Essex Parker estate. Your sex is a lovely one, Moira, but not fit for more than the maintaining of the home, not ownership. I have considered your talents and intellect in this matter and I will compromise. This will be my only offer: You may look after the estate, live off its splendor, manage its workers, and receive twenty-five percent of the income provided by your fathers trust. In addition, once you marry, and only if you marry, I will sign over all rights to your husband and the eldest son fruited from your union. 


Lord Chester Parker 

I had sewn the letter into my pillowcase. My head slept upon the words every night in hopes that I would dream up a way to resolve it. His offer, to many women, would have been generous, but not to me. I wanted to control the estate without a filter; an authority; a ghostly voice intangible and inaccessible, ignorant to the evidence attesting to my capabilities.

Uncle Chester had asked if I would marry his son, my cousin Vernon. I spat at his feet, turning to my mother’s casket, her corpse the only witness to his arrogance.

“There is no one else,” he had urged me, reaching for my arm as I placed my hands onto the edge of the yellow velvet, the color I will always remember as lining my mother’s coffin.

“Keep speaking, Uncle. Perhaps then I’ll give myself to God like mother did.”

“Do not threaten things that would please no one but the Devil. You are too proud, Moira. What man would tolerate you, at your age, with that scowl? You press your skin too hard and it is wrinkling, like mine waiting for you to marry.”

I struck him.

My action was a cause for great concern among the on-looking relatives who had traveled days to pay their respects. They saw the wild girl become a wild woman, and their prayers that some lesson, instrument, bible or man would tame me had been for nothing. I was lost to them and none would visit Essex Parker again.


“You should cut down the trees beyond the pond. Evil is too close to you, Moira. It is infecting your sweetness,” Florin told me this during his first call to my estate. He was a wealthy banker with little family, only an old mother who lived far north from Oxfordshire, in the cold air of Scotland.

“And what if the thing that infected me lived inside a person? Should I destroy them too?” I had struck coal in his philosophy. I saw no good in destroying the one place that brought me peace and protection from the outside world.

“Take care, Moira,” he had parted with me. From then, he would insist on visiting every week to keep me company. He knew the fears of the town, about what had infected my family with strange belief, but he still gave me trinkets of his affection. My favorite was a ring that I ignored as a gesture of engagement, which for two months has sat on my finger.


I twisted my gem up toward my knuckle as I walked the mile from the manor to the trees. I wondered, everyone wondered, what dwelled within the woods. The only creatures I saw were God’s, none spawned by hell. But, I had heard things, felt things in the air. When I did, they lifted my feet into a sprint, and the only cure was realizing what chased me was Polly, having taken my speed as an invitation for play. Even the bats that I mistook for birds as a young child while riding the trails had their divine purpose, and once I knew their shape, I invited them to fly freely above me. My father would only take me there until dusk, then we would return home. On trips into the town, or further out to the city, we would ride around the barrier of the pines, keeping close to clear farmland where light touched everything. In the woods, light did not touch all things.

I knew that all of the predators that watched a rabbit in the dark must kill to feed themselves. Nothing had penetrated my goodness, and no evil spirits had risen from it to haunt me. The only spirits that walked with me now were my parents, and they were only silent once I stepped into the overgrown wood with Polly. I had walked the grounds, gone beyond the pond, and reached the forest—the mystery market of fowls and fawns.

The sun was falling below the treetops when we reached the trails. It was customary to wear thick boots in the muck and sludge, but my dresses caught under my heels and clung to the mud of my soles.

I let Polly run in pursuit of a twitch in the brush while I pursued the pathways, matted down by the horses I would bring through before my uncle took most of them. She kept on deeper into the trees until I could no longer differentiate the stir of her paws and the scurrying of what she chased. Eventually she came to a halt, and I could see her tail erect, one paw lifted in preparation. I followed behind her cautiously, not to interfere with her stalking, and as I watched her intently, I stepped forward onto the unmarked brush. A spring trap snapped.

Sharp sparks of pain dulled my sight and I dropped forward onto my palms. The gravel and wet foliage stuck to my hands as I wailed, jerking my torso upward to inspect my ankle. The jagged metal trap had its teeth, a jaw like a piranha, in bloody pockets around both sides of where my ankle met my calf muscle. The farthest tooth dug into my skin only an inch from the curve of my Achilles tendon. The boot had been punctured through from the force meant for an animal four times my weight, and the sheer pressure of the points, some deeper than others, made me numb and nauseated. The bone was split, but I prayed that I could somehow find the release in the panic that consumed me. I could not loosen the grip, my thin fingers too weak, and each moment I attempted an inspection of the trap with a removed strength, I fell back hissing in strain and anxiety.

Polly heard the trap, assumed it to be game, but when she came to inspect the scene, abandoning her smaller prey, she found me with tears streaming down my face. She had listened to my cry many times, just her and I. She knew that now I was losing strength and that we were alone.

“Go, Polly,” I screamed at her, pointing to the direction from where we came. “Get help, girl!” She tucked her tail between her legs and bowed her head to me, curling into me, sniffing the trap and looking up with large questioning eyes.

“Please!” The tears came harder. I did not want her to leave me and to be alone, but I did not want us both to stay and for my wound to become septic, or worse, for Polly to have to defend me against the wolves.

I pushed her, urging her to go, but she froze, leaning into me harder. Everyone told my father she was a bad hunting dog, so he gave her to me as a companion. The other girls had smaller terriers or over-sized breeds intended to lounge sweetly. Polly had the energy for the hunt, but lacked the discipline. I brought her out for years—we became women together—but she was not made to choose the better thing; Polly was made to choose me.

I gave in to lying helpless. We stayed on the cold ground as the night fell, gold eyes watched us, and the sounds of day were traded for the creaking timber of the dark forest.  She would not send for help. I moved over my regret for not having brought someone along and for not teaching Polly to part from me. I don’t remember when my eyes shut, forcing away fear. I was too occupied with the pain, with forgetting the pain, with waiting for the daylight.


A warm tongue woke me to a black nothingness, where no shape could be outlined with the aid of starlight. An animal had nuzzled my skirt away from the concealed wound and was pushing its slime inside my boot. It was large, standing over me, and I was paralyzed by the trap fastened inside my flesh. The fear of the huffing beast grew as I heard others, waiting, whimpering, hoping for their leader to take his fill and leave my scraps. I played dead as I prayed to God, to whoever watched Polly and I lie on the forest floor, that the animals would lose interest. I wanted to squeeze Polly to wake her, have her chase the curious animals off, maybe even out of the woods; cause a commotion and lead the search party to my rescue.

The creature began to snarl and grab onto something. It lifted a limb in its mouth and began to thrash, dragging Polly from her slumber. She did not move or squeal; Polly was stiller than I, and I realized that my dog had been dead. I remembered the pork and I felt my stomach churn. I had not eaten enough of the spoiled meat to feel the effects, but she had my entire serving, guzzled it down without concern. I put my hand out to where she had lain on my coat, and it was cold.

As I tried to keep myself calm I felt my stuttering breaths turn to hyperventilated inhales. The pack of scavengers were now feasting on Polly’s corpse and I could hear the tearing as their teeth tore pieces of meat from her bones. I began to gag, wanting to purge the thought I had now visualized in my mind, the sight that the darkness was shielding me from.

A wisp shot through the air, the sound lodged itself into one of the beasts and it moaned. It dropped, whimpered, inhaled, and then died. The others ran off as something beyond approached from within the forest. Light would not find its way to me no matter how I longed for it— I felt regret for how I had once abused my sight.

What saved me was the size of a man. I could sense by the faint passing of a silhouette through the trees that two legs approached the death I laid among within the wood. Weightlessly it knelt before the lifeless leader and shook it, and then it brought down a blade that cut into its neck. It turned to me and began to hum calmly, its hand reaching for the trap.

“Wait,” I bursted. “Please. If you release it, I could bleed out.”

The man waited for a moment, and I inhaled, gritting my teeth in anticipation. Like a root dislodged from the soil, the metal jags plucked from my flesh, popped out of the leather, and my sole filled with blood. My senses inflamed and before I could pause my hissing to scream he had tugged my boot straight from my injury and the hot blood met the chill. I faded away as his hands slid beneath me and my body swung to a nauseating altitude.


Candlelight broke me from death and I awoke to a ceiling of tree roots. A flickering light trailed through the room lined with stone slabs. I was following a shadow when he came to see me, his figure under an arch lined with tangled wooden limbs; not close enough to the burning flame on a table beside me. Whatever he was, he lived alone and underground.

“Sir?” I peered through the space between us. He kept silent, and I considered that he might be afraid to speak, or couldn’t. If he was out here hunting in my land, I knew nothing of him, nor did anyone else, and he would have known my reputation in the town.

“I am frightened,” I admitted, choosing to show my vulnerability, which had before moved him to save my life. My ankle had been wrapped tightly and he had rested me on skins that only a skilled hunter could harvest. The furs draped over the side of the platform I had woken on, which elevated only a foot from the floor, which itself was dirt, leveled and littered with dried flowers along the circumference of the room.

“They will be looking for me.”

“They?” He stepped his lower half into the light.

A man the height of the door stood before me in a thinned stance. He moved and then froze, like he was removed from time. Not even the flicker of light that confused the immobility of inanimate objects could disturb his stillness. And his voice, mounted in the sound of an imagined whisper, had an accent unlike any I had heard.

“Yes, the workers, they will wonder where I am. How long have I been asleep?”

The deep cord strung again as he moved fully into the light, the top of his head still covered in darkness, “Daybreak is coming.”

I saw his face, the muscles that moved in a slow, steady smoothness. His sharp jaw met the angle at his cheekbones, unnaturally high, and his arched brows protruded over long black eyelashes and mossy irises. He was strangely elongated, the bridge of his nose thin, like a bow that met the dimple of his heart-pout upper lip. The hair that rose from the cuticles and dipped down into mahogany locks, longer than my own, shaped the cranium. His ears curved and pointed, they peered through his hair, paler in color than the rest of his skin, which gave off a clay-like glow. I hadn’t seen a creature so curious even in the old fairytale sketches of medieval anthologies of the Others. I was enamored by him, and I studied his face, rudely, forgetting my wound and the tension that was rising within him as my eyes wandered around his angular anatomy.

“Thank you for saving me.”

He bowed his head, gesturing strangely to me. His hands looked like bark. I was so tempted to reach for one. But when I touched his palm, his skin was soft, and he responded by wrapping his fingers around mine. He sat beside me, slid my sleeve up, and began to study my wrist, my forearm, my fingernails and the ring on my right hand.

“Emerald?” He caressed the stone in circles, and I admired his expression as he smiled at it. His teeth were straight, his canines slightly pointed and longer than the others, but he was not animal—he was divine.

“Have it,” I pinched the ring. I slid it off and placed the golden charm into his hand. He closed his hand and lifted his fist to his chest, then to his lips. He kissed it and took my other hand, carefully lining the opening to the trinket with my left ring finger. My heart fluttered violently while I wondered what the gesture meant to him.

“You must go,” he rose and I tore myself away from admiring him. I had forgotten where I was; that I did not know where I was; that Jane would be waking to find that I had never come home. If they had come to look for me at all and given up, she would come looking for me herself. Perhaps, she had poisoned my meat and was prepared for me to disappear into the woods, or come back home to die alone in my bed. I shouldn’t not have thought so horribly, but the creature had healed me, Jane had given me bad meat, and I wanted a reason to stay with him. I would rather continue on with a stranger than return without Polly. I had nowhere else to go, and neither did this spirit it seemed.

“Will you take me?”

“The woods are where I stay,” he turned from me. Sadness hung like a broken ornament in my heart—I wanted to know this loneliness I saw within him. Perhaps he saw it within me too.

“Do you have a name?”

“No,” he bent down to lift me up, and I wrapped my arms around his neck, an excuse to smell him. Autumn acorns and soaked wool filled my nostrils.

He walked me through to a staircase that had been dug through a wide tree, the rot scraped from it. The door was hidden from eyes unfamiliar with the wooden pattern, and opened by a latch—how creative my creature was.

I was weak, and I struggled to follow the route. I doubted, even then, that I would recall it. And when he set me down, we were feet from the forest edge. I looked to his face, illuminated by the morning light, and lifted my cheek to his ear. He allowed me to embrace him, as if he knew that my human heart would somehow find a strange attachment to him, but too soon he released me from his cradle.

“How will I call for you once I am healed?” I urged my soul toward him, wanting him to stay; wanting to know him.

“I will know when you come,” he looked back toward me, his eyes lightened. He knew he could not keep me.

Voices were calling for me—Florin headed the search party. Jane had sent for him, my servants too fearful of the forest to venture in. He approached on horseback, and I called out to him. I saw the towering steed huffing above me, the banker’s silver hair falling into his face, and I remembered the trap snapping, my bone breaking, my skin piercing in agony.

“Where is Polly?” He asked me after lifting me onto his horse. He was keeping his emotion secure, but there was a chill in his eyes as he looked at my right leg.

“She ran off,” I returned blankly, staring back at the shrinking wall of trees.

“I am sure she will find her way back,” he placed his hand gently onto mine, noticing my ring missing from my hand, neglecting to see it upon the other, and bent his stare to his feet.

“She will,” I spun the emerald into orbit around my finger.

The End

the unfinished masterpiece

this is existential fodder–when do artists decide their work has reached its potential? I’m resolving that they don’t; I’m absolutely certain that the feeling must be complete, not the work itself.

finish me | nicely put, it is a work-in-progress

photograph by Nia Garza

I used to think it was out of habit to leave things unfinished. Lately, however, I’ve been considering that maybe I do this because I like it. I’m not sure if it pleases me, but there is some kind of beauty; a forbidden excitement, of sorts. We are told as children to finish our plate, our homework; to pursue and eventually desire completion. Isn’t that counterintuitive? We are made to feel guilty of the unfinished—our lover, on the bed, starving, and therefore, unsatisfied. No, dissatisfied with us—When did Incomplete begin to equate lack of skill, interest, or care?

I sat down to write this thinking it would only apply to my paintings. Then I felt my nails scratching the keys and realized, no, it is not confined to one medium. Everything I do is incomplete: relationships end too soon; some, gone on too long, made to feel overworked and therefore unfinished in an entirely different sense. To be finished is to be terminated, made to feel some kind of closure with the project or the person. To be incomplete is to be partial, aware that there is something missing. I am unfinished and incomplete in so many ways.

You commented on my eating habits: “It seems you never finish your plate, and not because you don’t like the food.” I hadn’t thought of this ever before. Perhaps, you are responsible for me realizing this practice–(I’m eliminating the word “habit” altogether)–and I should thank you for revealing a part of myself that was hidden and always present, like my own nose.

It is my writing, too. I have so many ideas which I’ve become so accustomed to spawning, I don’t even bother to jot them all down anymore. If the itch becomes constant or repetitive, then I address it, but otherwise I know my curse will consume anything I set out to do. And my novel, what a feat it has been—I’m determined to finish it–but that is such a relative term! If I finish it, it will remain a part of a conversation: explaining what I do, that it is alive in the mind of the reader, future edits, always wondering if words should be changed or if the message was naïve. “Charlotte” was like that. It came to a point where I just wanted it off my mind and out of my hands. Those things all feel unfinished, as if the inkwell and the drying is just another step to an endless list.

I don’t take on too much. I don’t think I take on enough. And as I’m sitting here, enjoying the day, dreading the continuation of this chapter, trying to remain positive in the confusion and divinity of humanhood, I come to love the painting unfinished; I come to find a breathy excitement in the things that cannot be totally complete. Because–this is existential fodder–when do artists decide their work has reached its potential? I’m resolving that they don’t; I’m absolutely certain that the feeling must be complete, not the work itself. The strife and pursuit of art and expression is completely insatiable, and humans—we are like our art—there’s never enough time before we die,  never enough love from our spouses, nor enough peace and goodness in the world: we want it all. We want to represent all, keep all in the conversation; never leave a man or concept behind. And in the end, we do; we will; there’s just no stopping it.

So, we might as well enjoy the unfinished, the incomplete, in these moments of water and pigment on a page not fit for these elements. Are any of us fit for our own humanity?