The Carelessness of Endless Summers

by Ann McCurdy

I kneels on the man’s chest, all uppy-downy with panting, giving me a ride, blowing out gales of breaths all stinky-rot with mortality. It’s close now! Heart all bumpity-bump, bumpity-bump, big glassy-ball eyes directed my way, but he doesn’t sees me, no, he’s done with eyeballs. Bumpity-bump, bump, bump. No bump! No more uppy-downy ride, no more stinky-rot breath. I quiet croons my song and holds out my hands, ready to catch! The soul, all moonbeam quick and silvery, elusive as butterflies, sweet as bitter pinesap. A young man’s soul. I wiggles and reaches, hands over silly human’s fleshy forehead…


Girl voice! No worries! Owl-brother hoots. Warm summer night is too dark for silly-girl-woman eyes, I’m too quiet for silly-girl-woman ears. Flop-man lies far from deadwood home, in a field of grass and sheep. Don’t lets the soul gets away! Concentrates, I sings and cups my hand to catch flop-man’s minnow soul.


Don’t understand silly-girl-woman words. Why learn human words? I lives thousands of years, but, blip-blip, humans dead. Might as well learn mayfly words. But flop-man’s soul wiggles funny, flame in a draft. Lips flabby-flutter. It knows silly-girl-woman words. Tries to go to her. But I’s ready and takes a bite…

Stones! Evil girl-woman stone thrower! Hits my arm and shoulder. Flop-man’s bit-marked soul almost darts away but I flail-snatches so I don’t goes hungry tonight! Traitor moon shows us to silly-girl-woman, who runs toward us. I shrieks and flies up, but her soul is tight inside and I can’t sings it out. I pulls on her long black braids and she bats me away. She bends over flop-man’s heart-stop body and I solid bites her on her collarbone. Bad idea! Blood tastes like iron and she clutches at my left wing. She yanks me forward and looks at me, black-iris eyeballs sees me. She flings me helter-skiddly into bushes. I shoots up over the trees and away from silly-girl-woman crying. Boo hoo! I’m glad she cries, but I don’t likes to hear it.

I rolls my shoulder. Wing membrane already heals. I shove flop-man’s soul into my mouth and gnashes my teeth. Flop-man’s soul rich and fat like a maggot, but no longer fresh. Stupid silly-woman! She can’t eats his soul, she’s too stupid. And that’s the joke! Humans eats from the Tree of Knowledge but dies before growing smart. Why gain an eternal soul if you can’t eats it and don’t lives forever? But we eats from the Tree of Life and lives forever, so we can gain all knowledge!

That’s why humans is stupid.

I flits around and searches for other souls to eat and sunshine to play in. Green forest turns cherry-flames then ugly dirt-mud brown and I flies back to home. Always dancing and flowers here! Cobweb dresses and flower crowns. We are all nobles here! I dances and sings and a shadow swoops between me and the sun.

Servant-guard hovers above me, jabbing my shoulder with a spear.

“You must goes to see the Wise One.”

I don’t likes orders, and I don’t likes the Wise One. I dances more, but servant-guard jabs more. Jab! Jab!

“I goes!” I shouts. I fly off to our palace. Servant-guard follows with spiky spear.

Silly humans brags about their palace. Pfft. Rock piles. Dung heaps. Our castles sprout and grow to the sky, melody-green, thistledown soft, rose petal carpets and lily goblets. Spiders weave our best tapestries.

I goes to the throne room. Empty! But trickster servant-guard follows the whole way and tells me to wait. I pulls at a strand in a tapestry and watches it unravel. I don’t likes waiting.

Fern-leaf doors open with silver bell tinkles, and Wise One flits to the throne and perches. Wise One is the first of us to eats from the Tree of Life and so is the oldest and so is the wisest and so we have to listen to the Wise One’s words.

“You knows why you here?”

I squirms and fidgets. I knows. Humans aren’t allowed to see us, but I bites silly-woman and so she sees me. But I thinks only I knows. I stays quiet.

“You eats the soul of a human prince.”

I sits back. Flop-man’s no prince. Stink-wool breeches, slick-leather shoes. No star-sparkly silver or gold. Silly-woman has no crown or jewels.

“Not me!” I laughs. “No prince!”

“Yes, you.” Wise One flitters translucent wings. “Important prince. On a trip to meet his bride.”

I cleans out my ear. Wise One means a different flop-man! One with a big white horse, and a small, shriveled soul. I shrugs. “So? Nobody sees, and soul tastes bitter.”

“Nobody sees, but the prince’s medicine doctor knows. Prince’s father an important emperor. He says we touches his son, he destroys us.”

“He says! Pfft! Blip blip, he’s old and dies! Maybe dead now!”

“He knows how to destroy us.”

I silent. Eating from the Tree of Life means we can’t die. Stab our heart—wound heals! Drown us—we don’t breathe! Starve us—magic feeds us! But a few ways we are destroyed. Crush us to nothing—nothing left! Holy Water—strips our magic, nothing left! I shudders.

Wise One whispers. “I can makes the human king forget.”

I claps my hands and laughs. “Yes! Yes! Forgets everything!” Stupid humans breathes one, two, three times, dies, and still forgets things! So silly.

Wise One flashes pointy teeth. “But you musts pay.”

Sly Wise One! I hugs my shoulders. What does Wise One want? I don’t wants to pay. I fiddles with my wingtips, ready to flies out the window. Perhaps I can escape paying.

“You lives as a human for one year. You know one year?”

I laughs out loud. What’s one year? I live thousands. Easy quick. “Yes! I knows! Winter, summer, fall, spring.” Wise One’s smile widens, and I thinks I have the order mixed up. But no matter—year just a blip blip and done. So short!

Wise One and two servant-guards and I flies into the mountains far far away. Jewel-snow glitters from sun smile. So pretty! Easy to lives as human here! I laughs again and Wise One laughs, too. “Turn around,” Wise One says. Ha! I gets to turn my back on the Wise One! We both laughs harder.

Then Wise One grabs my left wing and wrenches it from my body.

Pain! I screams! But Wise One only grabs my right wing and wrenches it away with a slurpy gritty suck. There’s enough magic left in me to heals the holes in my shoulder blades, but it hurts! I sinks onto the snow blanket and howls. Wise One tosses a wing to each guard, the sunshine glitter-pretty on dainty membranes. I reaches out but already magic leaks out of me and I can’t sees them well.

Wise One leaps up and hovers, and I can’t reach! “One year as human. So fast!” Wise One flitters off into a sunbeam with the servant-guards and my wings.

Anguish! I rolls on the snow. I feels the glass-shard-sharp pain clamps down and wants to stay. Magic too little. Cruel Wise One! Fire-sparks pulses across my back, white-hot, yellow, red, cooler now, fades, and then I feels it. Soft but strong.

Bumpity. Bumpity. Bumpity.

Heart beats! Foggy breaths! Time pulls me forward, blip, blip, blip. I’m older now. And now. And now. And now.

I’m dying!

I howls and writhes on the snow. And now worse! Dying body shivers, dying hands and feet numb. I moans and cries and dying eyes leaks water.

I wails and hiccups and still my heart beats. Bumpity. Bumpity. And now worse. Crunchy. Crunchy. Crunchy.

Relentless pokes to my shoulder and I opens dying eyes. And screams again! Ugly dying human squints at me and I hides my face in my hands. Hideous old woman! All wrinkled leather skin, dead-white hair, cloudy black eyes. She dies soon, and maybe me after! She says something in her stupid-human gravel voice. I shrieks some more, but she won’t goes away. She grabs my hands and pulls, but I won’t stands up. Not for her. She crunch, crunch, crunches away, leaving me to die. I sniffles. I don’t likes humans, but I don’t likes alone, either. Then crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, she comes back, puts a stinky-wool blanket on the snow, and pushes me onto it. I wails and snuffles and she pulls and pulls, panting big fog balls of human breath. She pulls me toward a small deadwood log hovel and into warm damp dimness. She leaves me on the floor, puts sticks on the fire, and sits on a deadwood stool.

The hovel is full of human stink and smoke. I gags and coughs. The woman holds out a cup of water but I dashes it away and resumes wailing. I’m dying! Bumpity. Bumpity. But no more shivers and no more no-feel hands and feet. Instead, arms and legs go all dying-heavy. Even eyelids go all dying-heavy. I closes them and I dies.

Strange not dead! I opens eyes and it’s nighttime. Fire glows dull red like dragon eyes. Old woman lies under a blanket. I lies under a blanket. Not dead. Maybe old woman dead—her eyes closed. But no, breathes in, breathes out, blip, blip. Like me. I wails, and cloudy-black eyes opens. Silly human words. But she doesn’t move, and I pushes at the door and I’m free!

Outside is sleety-rain-snow. Human body all sleek wet and shivery again! I crunches heavy on the snow, icy puddles in my footprints, and frosty toes shoots pain up my shins. Dying human eyes can’t see in the dark. I stands and shudders, and rain slogs my pretty hair across my face. I goes back inside to die.

Old woman grunts her ugly voice and points at the floor. I huddles near the fire and closes my eyes. I will keeps them closed all year until the Wise One returns my wings.

When I opens my eyes, there’s no Wise One. Old woman shuffles on old feet, spoons steamy muck into deadwood bowl from a pot hanging over the fire. Offers it to me, but I scurries back. Speaks silly-human words. I screeches back, and she shakes her head. She eats the muck!

Sun hides its head from my shame, and the gray-sad clouds cry for my pitiful predicament. I opens the door but I don’t goes outside. Awful human body! Doesn’t like cold and wet. I’m stuck with old dying woman. I wonders if a year is almost over.

I sits on the ground next to the fire. I rocks and rocks and moans until the sun gives up and the clouds cry at night. Old woman comes and goes, talks and doesn’t, eats different smelly muck mounds. Sun comes and goes. I don’t shivers anymore, but I’m still dying. Time pulls me closer to death each heartbeat. Bumpity. Bumpity A pain settles and grows in my middle, bigger and bigger, clawing like a trapped badger. I wails.

Old woman offers me words and muck, but look at what the muck has done to her! Back curved like a fiddlehead frond, hair straggly white hoarfrost, hands gnarled elm roots in rocky soil. She sits with a pile of stinky coarse sheep wool and twists it into crude strings with a clattery spinning contraption. She opens her prune mouth and croaks out a ravensong.

I jumps up as if I could still hover. She squawks and stops singing.

I wants her to sing again, but she just milky-eye stares at me. Sing! Sing! But she spins her string with no singing.

I thinks hard. Every human word I ever hears, long memories, I fills my head. Shouts and whispers I hears while hiding from crowds and soldiers and shepherds and lovers and killers. So many words I focuses on, comes together like a fancy dance.

“Sing it,” I says, and the old woman squawks again.

“You can talk after all,” she says.

“I want to after all.” My tongue gags on human words. “Sing the song.”

She little-bit straightens her curly back. “Why should I?”

“Because I wants to hear it. Because it’s our song. But you haves the words wrong.”

“If you know it, why don’t you sing it?”

Am I silly now I’m human? Of course I should sing! My voice is dull-knife human, but still prettier than raven croak. I sings, and the old woman stands and shuffle-dances, even though I sings no magic in my song.

“Listening to you makes me feel young again,” she says, and wipes her eyes. Of course! She must be sad she’s dying! Surely eating from the Tree of Knowledge would make humans know they ate from the wrong tree! I laughs but the trapped badger in my middle claws at me and I grips my stomach.

The old woman scoops muck into a bowl. “You should eat.”

I sniffs the bowl. No honeysuckle-sweet soul, or salt-sea tang of magic. I moans.

“If you don’t eat, you’ll starve to death.”

Evil Wise One knows I must eats human muck! I tries to spoon all the muck in my mouth at once and swallows it without tasting, but I retches.

“Slow down, now. You’re choking yourself.”

O unfair Wise One! I’ll dies if I eats, and dies if I don’t! But trapped badger claws for more, so I eats slow. Badger falls quiet.

Old woman takes empty bowl. “What’s your name?”

“I have no name.”

“No name? How can you have no name?”

“Because I don’t.”

“Then what should I call you?”

“Why should you call me anything?”

“Why indeed? Why did I bother rescuing you in the first place? I thought you were a hurt child when I showed you God’s mercy, but you can go out in the cold where I found you if you can’t show some decency.”

I shrieks. “Silly woman wants me to gives names I don’t have!”

“Then I bestow upon you the name of Thorn, because you are a pain in my side!”

Horrid human life! Every day closer to death, and no forgetting because bumpity bumpity heart beats running out, and each night sleepy-eyed pretend death, and each day more muck for needy human body. I asks old woman if it’s been a year since she finds me, and she laughs.

“A year? Not yet a fortnight!”

I moans. “How much longer?”

She tilts her head like an autumn sunflower. “Thirty times the days you’ve been here, and still not quite a year.”

I falls to my knees. “So long?”

“Time passes faster when you’re busy.” Old woman hands me a broom.

Tedious human life! And wily old woman! Life so short, yet fills with busy work to keep beating hearts. I don’t want busy work, but if I don’t bring in wood, the fire’s breath grows cold. If I don’t pluck a chicken, the wily woman won’t cook it, and the trapped badger in my stomach likes juicy hot chicken. One day there is no chicken, so I kills one, plucks it, and hands it to old woman.

She diving-hawk screeches. “Where did you get that?”

I laughs. “From the pen outside.” Silly human!

She picks a red feather off my front. “You just killed one of my laying chickens, you fool! We’ve eaten all the old hens and the rest are for eggs. We’re done with meat this winter, you understand?”

I puts the dead chicken on the table. “But you’ll cook this one. Yes?”

Old woman shares with me human clothes. Itchy-scritchy sweater, inside-down dead sheepskin coat. Heavy on my shoulders, and much too big. Hands disappear in sleeves, and the coat almost reaches my ankles. Gritty rough on my skin, but I can go outside without shivers, in cowskin boots that falls off my feet. I wears my cobweb slippers and tunic underneath. Too few clothes, so only one of us outside at a time. I trudges into the woods and flings myself down on the snow. I can’t fly, I can’t dance, I can’t skip on snow. Pitiful humans. Lives so short but they must wants to die.

I returns to the old woman with a dead lynx.

“Where did you get that?”

“Outside.” Silly woman! “Not your chicken,” I adds helpfully.

“You don’t eat lynx, if that’s what you’re thinking.” She baleful eyes me. “But the fur will bring in good money in town. You know how to skin it?”

She tells me what animals to hunt. Some for soft furry hides, some for meat. Whatever she suggests, I brings her, especially juicy meats. I brings her a skinned hare, and she smiles.

“I haven’t been this well fed in winter for years. At least not since my husband died. Our son wasn’t much of a hunter.” She gives me a pot to fill with water, then chops up the hare. She thunks through bone with her sharp knife. Her voice gets ragged quiet. “How do you catch all these animals?”

“I call for them and when they come I break their necks.”

She shakes her hoarfrost head. “I trust in God to guide my heart, for I have no understanding.” I grabs at a leg bone but she slaps my hand away. I’m not allowed to eat raw meat. She tosses rabbit chunks into water. “Why haven’t you asked me what my name is?”

“Why should I? Blip blip and…” I was going to say, “year is over, and blip I go and blip you die so why bother?” I stop because time is different now. It goes slow, and I feels the days before, and the days to come, like never before. Past, present, future mean something. And old woman is part of the meaning. “What is your name?”


I turns it over in my head like a bird feather. “What am I supposed to do with a name?”

She laughs at me. “Maybe nothing. But now you know it if you want it.”

Snow deepens then melts and ferns uncurl. Old woman uncurls as well, straighter, skin-bones plumped, cheeks old-apple soft and round and pink. She laughs at me a lot, like when I heat water for baths every night. “Who needs a bath every night?”

Luxurious baths! I lug in the water, heat it over the fire, then float in a tin tub until the water grows cold, feeling weightless as if I still had my wings. But getting out I’m cold and shivery, and my body feels heavier than ever. I want to wail, but old woman doesn’t like it, so I don’t. I make her a bath.

“What is this now?”

“So you know how good a bath feels.”

“I know how it feels, Thorn! I’m the one who insisted you bathe in the first place! Still, the buckets are heavy, so it is very thoughtful of you.” She kisses my cheek with raisin-soft lips.

I wipe off my cheek with my hand. I seen humans kiss before, and it always confuses me. I think about all the kisses I have spied—lovers, mothers, fathers, grandparents with babies, girls with kittens. I think it has something to do with heartbeats. I will see as many humans as blades of grass, but short-lived dying humans have one-two-three heartbeats before they die and never see another human again. Perhaps that awareness is all that stupid humans got from the Tree of Knowledge.

I don’t like these thoughts.

Old woman slips and slops to the village in melting snow, carrying some of the furs. Only one pair of boots, so I stays near the fire and watches it crackle while my heart bumpity bumps. Tedious human life! I goes to the door over and over. The sun gets bored and leaves. No old woman! Finally crunch crunch on snow and old woman slips out of nighttime with a big sack over her shoulders.

“I don’t like deadwood house alone!” I shriek. If I could fly I would pulls her hair.

She clumps her sack, sits heavy on a chair, and wheezes. “That make two of us, Thorn.”

I want her to cook me food, but she opens her sack instead. There’s food inside, and other things—small boots, small dead-sheep coat, small itchy-wool sweater, and more.

“I bought all this with the furs you caught. You have your own clothes now.”

New clothes feel strange. Old clothes are too big and feels like hiding under a blanket, but new stiff clothes trap my feet and body. Easier to fit, but deader. Did the Wise One know how this would feel? I think I live forever already, but really this year is forever.

Old woman frowns at my encased body. “It would be nice if you said thank you.”

I do not say thank you.

Flowers bloom in the valley. Next time old woman goes to town she brings me carrying heavy soft furs: lynx, fox, marten, ermine, mink, bundled on my back. I trudges down the middle of the road, and stupid-humans gawks at me. Never before could they see me so clearly, and I don’t likes it. I twitch my shoulders to fly away, but I can’t. So I looks at the sky and fly away in my head.

Three men stand in front of us. Since I can’t fly, they block our way. Irritating!

First man has blinky frog eyes, but not so nice. “Hey, Erhi, who’s that with you?”

She keeps walking. “That’s Thorn.”

“Thorn?” Frog-eye-man sucks on his leech-lips. “What the hell are you? A tiny man? Or a girl?”

I don’t likes frog-eye-man. “I doesn’t matter to you.”

“I’m just curious. You a tiny woman?”

I looks up at the sky.

“Thorn is one of God’s creatures just like you and me,” old woman says, “and as such deserves either your respect or your silence.”

Man with a beard like an undocked sheep’s tail steps alongside me. I don’t likes him either. “One of God’s creatures, eh?” He laughs. “That explains it! You’re Erhi’s pack animal!”

Third man is all lumpy mud-soft belly. He talks to old woman instead of me and opens a door in a big deadwood building. She has me follow her inside and set my fur bundle on a wooden table. She talks with lumpy mud man. Room is full of shelves, shelves is full of so many things! I grab a copper pot all glittery like moonlight on marsh water.

“I give you a good price on that.” Lumpy man’s voice is singsong funny, like he’s trying to put magic in it but can’t. I don’t like him, so I don’t feel sorry.

“Put that back.” Old woman’s voice has no magic either. Just annoyance. “I don’t need a new pot.”

I put the pot back. Then I open a glass jar of shiny colored balls. Balls smell of sugar! I pop one in my mouth.

“Stop it, Thorn! Just keep your hands to yourself.”

“My hands are always to myself!” I shrieks. “Who else would have them?”

I go outside. I have seen the town before. After all, I lives forever. Maybe I’ve seen everywhere! I clomp in my deadboots down the street and straight to the biggest building in town. Pretty buttercup yellow with shiny clean windows! I open the door and go inside.

Warm but not smoky! Floor covered in soft ripe-cherry rug. A vase of lilacs in front of a staircase, the railing carved into delicate wooden vines, only a crude imitation of our own palaces, but a welcome sight. I take off my boots and my toes sink into cherry softness. I go upstairs into a room with a large bed covered with a bluebell blanket. So inviting! I lay down. Bed is full of feathers instead of straw. Soft as a cloud! Much better than my sleeping place with the old woman. My weak-human body is tired, so I close my eyes. I’m used to sleep now. It’s no longer frightening.

Loud screams are frightening! “What are you doing in here?”

I bolt upright. The room is twilight dim. A girl with horsetail hair down her back cringes at the door.

“I like it here,” I tell her. Silly girl doesn’t understand! I lay down again. “I want to stay here.”

“But…” She gulps air. “This is my room! Get out of my room!”

Annoying girl! I can’t sleep! I turn over and cover my ears. She whines and stomps away.

Soon more stomps, heavier, and a click. “Get out of my daughter’s room right now.”

Guns are a new plaything for humans. Aim too poor and us too fast to often cause pain. Still, I don’t likes them—loud and smoky and makes sharp rips if not too careful. But now sheep-tail man stands in the doorway, long musket pointing to my heart. Which goes bumpity bump because I’m human! I could die! I have been dying already, but I could die right now! Unfair!

“I don’t want to die,” I whimper.

“Then get the hell out of my house and the hell out of this town. Now.”

I slink down the stairs and run and run until lungs hurt and legs hurt and I can’t run anymore. The trail is long and lonely and I walk while twilight purples. Finally, I see the cottage with a candle in the window. I go inside and curl up on my poky straw pallet.

“Thorn! I was wondering where you wandered off to.”

I face the wall. “I want a feather bed.”

“And I want gold plates. Here.” I hear a ladle scooping muck into a bowl. Then I hear her shuffle next to where I lay. “Thorn, are you shaking?”

My body is shaking, even though it’s not cold. It’s never done that before. Frail human body! Not only am I dying, other humans could make me die faster! Or a hungry wolf! Or a falling tree branch! Or an annoyed bull! I pull the blanket over me, head and all, and block out the horrible world.

Old woman sets the bowl down. I wait until I hear her blow out the candle, mutter her nightly God-words, and lay on her own bed before I snake my arm out and pull the bowl under my blanket.

“I want to never die,” I mutter to myself.

I think old woman is asleep, but she replies. “You have a lot of wants tonight.” She shifts in her bed. I think she’s sitting up, but I still have the blanket over my head. “If you don’t die, you’ll never see God.”

I yank the blanket off. “If I never die, I don’t need to see God!”

Old woman takes a while before she speaks, all quiet. “I’ll also see my husband again. I miss him.”

I can see her in the dark. She lies still and sleepy-like, but her eyes stay open for a long time.

Days get long and hot. Surely, it’s been a year? But no, old woman says it’s only half that! “It’ll be a year when it snows again.” So long! So long stuck in one place instead of flitting about the world! But the world’s dangerous now. I refuse to return to town but old woman gets too tired to go alone. Even if I carry everything we go slowly and rest often, and don’t return to the cabin until the long summer day is worn out. When the maples flame golden yellow I go to town alone, scurry into the store to trade for items old woman wants. I’m allowed to get sugar-balls as a reward.

Lumpy mud man in the store asks questions as he gathers old woman wants. “How’s Erhi? She was moving slow last time she came in.”

I wants the man to hurry before any guns get pointed at me. “She wants me to come here by myself, even when I don’t like it!”

“Listen.” Man hands me my lumpy-full sack, but won’t let go of it. “I don’t know where you came from or why you’re staying with Erhi. But you take care of her. After her husband died, her son stayed with her only until he was old enough to run off to the city. She deserves better. You hurt Erhi, and you will pay.”

Store-man wants to kill me! My body shakes and I snatch the sack away. “I don’t hurt her and I don’t pay!”

That night I crouch next to old woman in her bed. If I had my wings I would’ve crouched on her chest, but now I’m human heavy and she would wake. I start to sing, but there is no magic in my voice and my human eyes can’t see if her soul is stirred. But she sighs and smiles in her sleep.

Store-man is wrong. Even if I could still sing her soul out, it wouldn’t hurt at all. I think, old woman’s soul surely tastes better than roast chicken. Once I no longer have human hunger and a human heart, it will be good to eat souls again.

But maybe not old woman’s soul.

Days get colder and darker. I wear my deadsheep coat again. The sky sprinkles snow on the world and the ground slurps it up. Old woman makes me an itchy wool cap. “It’s been almost a year since I found you, Thorn,” she says.

A year! I run outside. Snow sticks to my new cap then melts. I wait, but I hear no buzzing talk, feel no secret pokes. “Is it a year?” I ask.

“I said almost a year.” Old woman is sitting next to the fire, which she does almost all day now. How boring!

Each day more cold and more snow. Still “not quite.” Then one day is so cold the pond freezes over. My favorite—dancing on ice in the moonlight! How I miss it! I can’t wait! I free myself from heavy coat and clompy boots and slide and twirl. Cold, yes, but I can almost forget I’m human. Almost!

The ice breaks.

I plunge into a cold darkness I’ve never known before. Human body needs air but can’t find any. Glass shards above my head, body ice-burns with cold. I’m going to die! Then hand grabs my shoulder and pulls! I sputter into air again and flail my limbs like an upside-down water beetle.

“Stand up, Thorn! Stand up and get inside!”

But I can’t stand up. So cold! Old woman pulls me forward until my knees squish into the muddy cream at the pond bottom. Old woman has her arm around me. I uncurl and we wade out of the water on four shaky stick legs. We stagger into her house and I moan just like the first time she saw me, collapse in front of the fire just like the first time. But now old woman collapses next to me.

Shivery shock wants to close my eyes, so I rest until shivering stops. Then I get up and take off muddy wet clothes. I’m not going to die after all! I should warm up water for a luxurious bath!

But old woman lies still in a muddy puddle.

Her hands are cold as dead hands. Breath rattles slow and gargly. Eyes closed. Is she dying now? I poke her cheek. “Hey!”

If she dies, I will be in the house alone. “Erhi!” I shout. If she dies, it’s because she saved me.

Eyes tease half-open. “Batu? Is that you?”

“No. It’s me. Thorn.” Memories crowd into my brain. Batu. I know that name. I see a dark night, an uppy-downy ride on a man’s chest, a soul almost wriggling out of reach. When I remove old woman’s sodden clothing, I see where pearly scar tissue from my bite mark mars the soft flesh on her collarbone. I wash away the mud with warm water, carry her to bed, and pile all the blankets I can find on her. Then I sit, because I don’t have anything else to do.

The fire hisses and pops and buzzes. I feel a slight tug on my hair, a hand on my cheek. Hands press hard on both temples, and suddenly my human eyes see Wise One’s face a few inches from my own.

“A year ago I left you here, and now blip blip a year is done! So fast!”

“A year is done? I can have my wings back?”

Wise One nods and laughs, and I feel my heart lift—bumpity bump—its last lift because I’m done being human! I turn around and present my bare back, my feet already dancing. Then I spy Erhi under her mountain of blankets.


Too late! Wise One stabs my left wing into its socket. Pain! I crumple to the floor, but already relief, and my vision clears. But my stomach is queasy. I shield myself with my hands.

“Stop! Not yet! I need to help her first.”

Wise One, holding my right wing, stops in mid-stab, face twisted in confusion. “Humans die. This human almost dead. Blip, dead! You can’t help.”

My heart is slowing. Even with my sharper ears I can barely hear it. “She’s dying because of me.”

“Many humans have died because of you!” Wise One laughs, then leans close enough to sniff me. Confusion displaced by smugness. “I see! Too long a human!”

“I am not!” But I sniff myself. Am I?

“And in only one year!” Wise One’s teeth are all sharp and smiley. “Head full of silly human thoughts. And, like your heartbeat, soon to be gone. Or do you not want your wings?”

Why is that a question? I want them more than anything! But I look at old woman, at Erhi. Prune-faced, a deflated sack of old bones, soon to be dirt, under stinky wool because silly humans can’t keep their bodies warm alone. Old woman, knowing this and still wading in pond ice to get me. Blip blip, she will die, and there is nothing I can do.

I turn my back towards Wise One, who with a cackle rams my right wing back into its socket. Another explosion of pain, and I vomit again and again until all the human food is out of my stomach. By the time I finish, Wise One is gone.

My body tingles. I flutter wings and my feet leave the ground. Then I stand still and listen inside myself. I don’t feel it anymore—the bumpity bump, the pull pull pull of time. I’m not dying! I crow out with joy.

I hover over old woman. I sing, and her soul is so fragile it almost breaks free at the first note. I stop and let her soul sink back into her trembling old body. She already has all the blankets, so I spread my dead sheep coat on top like a mountain snowcap. Then I build a pyramid of logs next to the fire, place a pitcher of water and bread next to her pillow. I whoop and fly into the night sky.

Moonlight shines so beautiful on my wings! The pond is refrozen, so I could dance. But I’m not the same. My wings are sluggish and unwieldy. I feel heavy but not weighty. So I fly and fly and fly to the one place I haven’t been forever. I pass the Guardians with their swords three times as big as me, and one of them nods solemnly. The Garden isn’t forbidden to us because there were no prohibitions when we ate from the Tree. But it’s beyond the world now and no reason to go. I greet the stars by name—why do they have names, but not us?—and they light my way to eternal dawn and two sister trees on a hilltop piercing the sky to reach beyond infinity. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. To reach even the lowest branches is wearying, especially with sluggish wings. But finally I perch on the Tree of Life in a nest of leaves and pink-cheeked fruit. I bite into one still dangling from its umbilical stem. It is ecstasy and confirmation and eternity, all the magic that had seeped away in a blip year of humanity. I eat another. And another! I will live twice forever! I will dance on ice in moonlight, and traverse the paths of sunbeams! I wonder again at silly humans choosing the small, dark fruits on the Tree of Knowledge. Just looking at the tree makes me shudder! Humans.

It is time to go. I pocket one last pink-cheeked fruit and fly and fly. This time, wings feel no weariness. Light and quick instead of heavy and sluggish! I dance as I fly with motes of dust and butterflies. My fingers and toes spark and my skin magic-crackles. I could fly to a mountaintop or the moon. Or a mountaintop on the moon!

I will do those later.

Sun shines winter-bright on Erhi’s cabin. No smoke curls out of the chimney. No footprints on the snow. How many days have I been gone? Without time pulling me forward, I didn’t notice. It is still winter.

I go inside. The fire is out. It is cold and smells bad. The wood and food I left for her sit untouched. She is still under her mound of blankets. I touch her cheek. Breath so soft it’s almost non-breath.

“Erhi! You can’t die! I have something for you to eat!”

I laugh and reach into my pocket for the pink-cheeked fruit. Silly humans eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but I’m wise enough to bring fruit from the Tree of Life!

My pocket is empty.

I turn it inside out and a little pink dust flutters to the ground. The fruit can’t leave the Garden! I smear the dust on Erhi’s parched lips and wail when nothing happens. No fair! I did a good thing and it didn’t work! Why do humans ever bother? Why bother with humans?

Why did Erhi bother with me?

I huddle under my wings. I don’t feel like dancing. I build a fire, all crackly-cheery, and put a pot of water on to boil. Silly humans, but silly me for dancing on ice while human. Silly Erhi for not letting me die, even though humans die. Or maybe not silly. I didn’t want to die. Life is precious when you have so little. I didn’t know that.

On the wall next to the door is a sturdy iron peg where our heavy winter coats would hang. I yank at it as hard as I can, but it won’t come out of the wall. I must move fast and not think! I hover up, hook one wing over the peg, and hurl myself to the ground. My wing hangs free on the peg! I moan with pain, jump up, and do it again. Both wings free!

Keep moving, keep not thinking! I grab my wings and bring them to Erhi’s chopping block. I take the sharp knife she used to cut up chicken and sever my wings into small bits. I dump them in the boiling water. The air smells like joy and my nose tingles with hunger and nausea. The mountain of blankets stirs.

No time! Magic is already dissipating. I ladle broth into a bowl and bring it to the old woman. “Eat, Erhi.” I dribble a spoonful into her mouth. Throat gags, chest heaves. She swallows. Second spoonful goes easier. By end of bowl I lift her snow-haired head and pour broth into her mouth.

“Is that you, Thorn?”

“It’s me, Erhi.”

Eyes still closed. “I don’t remember you saying my name before.” Unparched lips smile. “It’s nice.”

I think a moment. Perhaps I understand names now.


My wings gave me eternity, magic, flight, boundless strength, thoughtless immortality.

They give Erhi six months.

They are six happy months. She downs all my broth and is out of bed by dawn. Still old, but aches and pains are gone! Eyesight restored! We journey to town together when supplies are low. We plant peonies alongside her vegetables. She asks me to sing, and we dance on the solid bank of the pond. I tell her the true names of the stars.

One summer night we lie on blankets watching the stars. Erhi speaks. “It has been a blessing to have you here, Thorn. For a long while all I wanted was for God to take me so I could see Batu again. And I know that will happen soon. But until then, I appreciate your company.”

Inside my ribcage a trapped bird flutters. It happens every time she mentions her husband. “How do you know you’ll see Batu again?”

“Because he was a good man, and I’ve tried to be a good woman. So when I go to God, Batu’s soul should be there with Him in heaven.”

“How do you know for sure?” How can so few words make me so uneasy? “What if something ate his soul?”

She laughs. “You can’t eat a soul!”

I think I should tell her. “Maybe one of God’s creatures could.”

“A person’s soul is immortal. And immortal is immortal. It can’t be eaten!”

I used to be immortal, but I’m not now. And I ate souls. Erhi needs to know she’s wrong! “I—”

“Hush!” Her voice is angry fierce. “Why are you telling me this? Maybe you know things I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear them. And maybe I know things, too. Maybe I remember everything about the night Batu died. Maybe I remember your face. I’ve seen the marks on your shoulder blades. When you showed up howling and helpless as a child years later in the exact same place I found my husband’s body, I believed God was giving me a life to replace his death. And I never questioned it. Because God is good, Thorn, and don’t try to convince me otherwise.”

Memories fill my head. When the Wise One brought me here, I hadn’t recognized the snow-covered hillside as the very same place that I’d eaten Batu’s soul. How had the Wise One known? “Why would God give me as a gift?”

“Well, he could’ve given me a set of gold plates, but to a lonely old woman, you were more appreciated.” She laughs and rests her hand on mine, all chicken bones and wrinkled skin. “Although maybe not so much at first.”

The next morning she did not get out of bed. Stupid humans, full of emotions that choke the throat and water the eyes! I had hoped to be with her at the end to ask if she saw Batu, but I was sleeping when she died. So I don’t know if I ruined her eternity.

I decided to remain in her cabin. I know how to survive here as a human. And I, who have watched seedlings grow into towering sentinels, am content at watching the peonies outside her door blossom, and I give names to the prettiest ones. Sometimes I wake after whisper-filled dreams to find my hair snarled and braided, and one time I feel hands press against my temples and the Wise One’s face appears before mine.

“It’s true! One of us chooses to be human! Or is that still your choice?”

“My wings are gone, so I have no choice.”

Wise One laughs. “Always choices! I always have someone who needs punishing. You could have their wings!”

Stupid heart, why does it leap? But if I took the wings, I’d have no heart left. “I don’t want them.”

Wise One rears back. “Why not?”

“I want to find out what happens to the souls we eat.”

“Pfft! You want to die for that?” Wise One leans forward. “Want me to eat your soul now?”

“I have a soul?”

“You’re human, aren’t you? You have a nice, tender soul, like a child’s. Delicious!”

It’s the last time I see the Wise One. But from time to time I wake to a howling in the field and discover a small person huddled on the ground with marks on their shoulder blades. They stay with me for six months, or a year, or two, and then one morning they are gone.

My pretty hair is turning gray now. Blip blip, and soon I will be gone, although it doesn’t feel like blip blip anymore. And when I die maybe I will see God and Erhi and Batu, although I don’t know if I believe that. Why is it that humans ate from the Tree of Knowledge and still don’t know what to believe? Silly humans.

But Erhi believed it, and for me, that’s enough.

Ann McCurdy is pleased as punch to have her story accepted by Mysterion! Born and bred in the Pacific Northwest, she has degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Washington, worked at Microsoft many years ago, then left to start a family and return to the UW for a Master’s in teaching. She currently lives in Seattle with her wonderful husband—and sometimes their son, when he and his laundry return from college. She likes tutoring math, reading, writing, gardening, and the great outdoors. She is working on her first novel, The Ninth Aspect, a YA fantasy, and really hopes it someday appears in a Bookstore Near You.

Ann says her story was partly inspired by Bowerick Wowbagger, a mortal in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who is granted immortality and doesn’t know how to handle it. (To fill his endless time, he decides to insult everyone in the universe.) “I thought up possible traits that would make immortality endurable and came up with Thorn’s extreme ‘live in the now’ outlook. I like the idea that moving from immortal to mortal brought a spirituality that Thorn’s life previously lacked.”

“The Carelessness of Endless Summers” by Ann McCurdy. Copyright © 2023 by Ann McCurdy

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