A thirteenth fairy emerges, adding an unknown quantity to the established fairies such as Spring and Summer, Winter and Fall. The others arrived in pairs. She is alone. She doesn’t know her purpose, but this is not a significant impediment. Dawn (who’d been up the longest and wanted a nap) pointed to the nearest object. She decides to call the newcomer Apple. The others agree.
The twelve set Apple up with a cottage in the woods and show her how to wash, dress, and feed herself. They teach her the secrets of fire. Without an explanation, Crone, who is “wiser than you,” gives her a spindle.
Having established Apple in her new home, the twelve other fairies promise to visit often and take their leave.
Apple tends to her woods by suggestion. She cannot demand, for example, that trees blossom in the spring. Her area of the woods prospers. Her sisters might ask her purpose, but she doesn’t know. Isn’t it enough that she simply is?
One day, she hears the sound of the plodding of hooves in the woods. This differs from the sound of the usual purposeful riders. When she looks, she sees the rider is barely hanging on. She brings the horse to her cottage and suggests it graze outside while she brings the rider inside. She deduces from his foul smell that this is sickness, a condition her sisters have told her about. She relieves the man of his armor and lets him rest in her bed.
After he has drunk some water, he grabs her wrist. She will never remember much of what happens afterward, but the bruises on her wrist remain.
If your ears perked up at the intersection of fairies and spindles, you were paying attention. The story appears to be based, in part, on the Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose fairy tales. It is not a kiddie story, however. Podcastle offers a content warning for sexual assault and gender-based slurs. I will add that while there are no graphic sexual scenes, there is one instance of abusive language, which is appropriate in the context. Still, this is not a story for the kiddies.
I liked that this is told from the point of view of the fairy, who, in the most familiar telling of the story, cursed an innocent child to die when she pricked her finger on the needle of a spindle. What was all that about? This story provides an answer. It also takes Apple on a journey of discovery she doesn’t even realize she’s set out on. This is finely crafted writing, engaging the reader (or listener) from beginning to end.
The choice of “Apple” for the fairy’s first name echoes back to the stories of Eden. When she is Apple, she is innocent and cares for a forest. When things go wrong, and she is not Apple, the forest suffers.
The narrator, Tatiana Grey, tells the story clearly. She’s easy to understand. One distraction is her depiction of male voices. Her readings of the male characters sound like parody, as if she’s holding the character up to ridicule. Granted, there are no sympathetic men in the story, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthy of belittlement.
This is a minor point in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable story.
According to her blurb, author L.S. Johnson lives in Northern California, where she feeds her cats by working in a library. She is the author of the Chase & Daniels series of gothic novellas. Her first collection, Vacui Magia, won the North Street Book Prize and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her second collection, Rare Birds, is now available. Find her online and sign up for her newsletter at http://www.traversingz.com.
“Apple” can be listened to and read here.
Author: L. S. Johnson
Narrator: Tatiana Grey
Host: Setsu Uzume
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 1 hour, 8 minutes
First published: F Is for Fairy, from Poise and Pen Press
November 11, 2020