The Morphology of Fortune

Abigail Mandlin

It all begins when Lucky falls down.

She stumbles, tumbles—bruises and scrapes—and eventually, inevitably lands in a manner only the pliable nature of children can accommodate for, all tangled limbs and laughter.

However, her kind are not nearly as amused.

For Lucky is not meant to fall. It goes against her preordained attribute, a testament to her namesake, to her predisposition towards fortune.

Thus, chaos descends on the human village like the fae has not seen for a millennium.

Stringent, Fair, and even Lenient cannot find it in themselves to overlook an error so egregious. Certainly, little Lucky is ill-fated indeed—God-forsaken, the cruelest among them spit, acid dribbling from their chins—if her gifted name has not manifested itself properly. She is a mistake. A lapse in divine judgment. No one knows what to do with her—a mottled, mangled child—when her affliction could so easily spread among the decent folk. 

In the end, it is decided—for all their sake’s—that she has to be rid of.

I watch her mother—the one called Caring—hug her one last time, benevolent tears staining the girl’s threadbare cloak. Her daughter’s departing pains the woman on the most fundamental level, but her own name is as much of a gift as it is a curse, as she cares for everyone—the villagers included—equally, her child taking no priority in her mind. It is a sacrifice for them all.

“For us all,” she whispers in that poor girl’s ear, even as she stands and prods Lucky towards her condemned destiny.

The gate closes soundly behind her.

There is a moment where she blinks back at the shackled lumber, willing it to open with the force of her big doe eyes, but none come to collect her and none will. She has been set free to die however she pleases—and pleases her it does, evidently, as she makes no attempt at a second glance back, charging forward with the single-minded determination of God’s simplest creation, mind full of sun-bleached chrysanthemums and not much else. 

She patters about the field before the enchanted woods on chubby legs—bare from the knees down, strangely, even as the rest of her is bundled up—walking in such a manner that she is always tripping but never quite all the way. Even the youngest of fawns could outpace her, meandering as she is, tilting this way and that. 

The woods—my realm—grows bored with her trifles and sends a ladybug to entice her, flying just out of reach, flashes of black and red beckoning her forward but not too close. She may be a babe to her own kind, but to creatures such as these, she harbors ancient wisdom that cannot be underestimated, no matter how she sways in the breeze.

It catches her interest—those mesmerizing dots drawing her in—and she toddles towards it in pursuit, reaching out with pudgy hands to ensnare it. It slips between her short fingers with minimal effort, coaxing her ever closer to the edge that magic cannot venture over.

The trail becomes easier for her the nearer she gets—sloping downwards, becoming slick and unobtrusive—and vines creep forward to loiter at her heels, prepared to steady her steps if the earth becomes too eager to have her for its own.

Before she is to meet her first taste of trees, there is a steep decline—a ravine inhabited with throngs of thorns and brush—which is meant to ward off those who are unwelcome. Lucky does not spare it a thought, flopping onto the ground, sliding forth, pitched giggles punctuating each renewed roll down the bank.

The dirt wills itself soft and supple, the foliage lying flat, allowing her passage, untempered, even as she loses her shawl along the way, snagging on a slow-witted barb halfway down.

When momentum finally runs its course on her, she is left in a sprawl at the bottom of the abyss, already well into the forest. 

She rights herself—the movement jarring, hair springing forward with an assortment of leaves adorning her crown—and shakes them out with a self-satisfied hum, watching them cascade down her shoulders even as they try to cling on, already well attached to their newest playmate. 

And then, stillness.

I see for the first time that dread has crept into her frame—perhaps some form of acknowledgment, at last, of her situation—making her appear even smaller than she already is. The pines tower over her—casting shadows, dappling on her skin—and her lower lip quivers at the unfamiliar sounds, the forest curdling in pleasure as it celebrates the arrival of its latest visitor.

It has frightened her—that much is apparent—and the woods recognizes its fault. 

The trees part to allow sunlight through, lighting a simple path deeper in. Lucky crawls into it, basking in the glow, resting in the warmth. The leaves tremble off their branches, flittering down to kiss her in gratitude.

When she has finally had her fill—having replenished her energy—she wanders along that which has been indicated for her, mushes guiding her way as natural light becomes scarcer, casting an affable glow in the place of dimmed uncertainty. 

She is merely walking at first, but on a gentle descent, she picks up speed and maintains it, throwing her arms out wide, whinnying, screeching, winding and spinning, milking the full scope of what has been made available to her, no one around to tell her it is not proper. The woods, in turn, rushes to join in her merrymaking, squirrels scurrying out of their burrows to barrel alongside her, foxes skittering back and forth between her legs, fur tickling at her ankles at each instance as they brush by.

The guiding light fades and fades until it is merely a flicker, illuminating only that which it intends to show her. She slows until she is at a halt, slurping around her fingers as she takes in what is before her.

The forest has led her to a strip of bushes weighed down with berries so ripe they are close to bursting. Hardly does Lucky need the motivation, however, as she immediately reaches out to grasp a handful, red blooming upon her cheeks as she partakes. 

She sits to make a meal of it, but before long, her head is dipping, eyes closing then reopening as she puts up a commendable struggle against the stranglehold of sleep. It is a little early for humans—golden light just beginning to wane—but the woods makes up its mind to put her to bed.

She makes little protest—rubbing at her eyes, dawdling a bit here and there—as she is led to a natural alcove at the base of a tree, already converted into a nest—its roughest edges smoothed over—by a family of rabbits. The animals merely reorganize themselves in the wake of their unexpected houseguest, settling in around, atop Lucky as she curls into the cradle, ignorant to all the moment her head is lain flat.

I do not intend to watch her all evening, but I find I cannot tear my eyes away from her either, seeing how defenseless she is, fleshy and prone to harm—to abandonment. She is marred by scars old and new, dirty and dingy, and engendered through the predictable process of human weakness, having been imparted with a name that touted expectations too great to bear.

However, in the peace of slumber, all traces of misfortune seem to fall away.

It is in the midst of admiring this tranquility that a butterfly descends upon the bridge of Lucky’s nose, foisting its wings upon her like a mask. She startles awake, the insect—no, the faerie—lifting from its perch to drift above her face. It is not one of mine—overly gaudy, mired in deceit—but just as the rest of the forest, it has heard of our guest on the wind and came to investigate for itself.

Or interfere, as it were. It shakes before Lucky, shimmering dust tumbling from its wings, which serves little more than making the child sneeze. Yet, it provides just enough interest for Lucky to follow, tripping after the butterflied creature and away from where she made her bed, bunnies twitching their noses after her in confusion.

The faerie leads her to a clearing—an outcrop, unique to the forest—that hosts a multitude of flora, wild and feral the way the fae prefer them. They blot every inch of the ground—bleeding into one another, fighting for space—except where the center pond has taken up an extended stay, watching, waiting.

The pond… No, not the pond

Nature itself shrieks in terror, a crows pringing from its nest to caw mournfully into the night; the faerie makes itself scarce, having done what it set out to do. 

Yet, Lucky totters on, undeterred, towards the gleaming basin. Living in a limited world of pretty colors and shiny trinkets—interests hardly extending upon the current moment—she spares little thought to what horrors can await her—what horrors shall await her—if she dares to cross the more jagged corners of the enchanted forest. 

The pool ripples in glee as she approaches, the frenzied splashing it is known for settling into a monotonous drip-drop. My throat tightens at the subtle low notes wafting over the water, beckoning her closer, promising her sweet nothings that fall harsh and discordant on my own ears.

Even so, they draw Lucky ever nearer.

The woods have not given up on her—having grown dewy and fecund in her stay—and clamors at her feet, the sand popping and crackling at her, clinging to her boots and weighing her down, desperate to tether her to the earth.

Lucky stops—but twilight has fallen, the pond’s spell already cast.

The moon, reflected atop the pool, blurs out of focus, just awry enough to catch a discerning human’s eye, but to a child, is a lovely form of entertainment worthy of vigorous applause, which Lucky gives as that same moon fades entirely. Below, the residents of the pond—fish, if they can even be referred to as such—have already begun their dance.

The fish swirl, slow. Languid. Indolent by nature. They follow each other in disarmingly predictable patterns, tailing swishing, scales casting blinding light at each turn, ephemeral, iridescent.

She leans over the pond, drawn to the movement, enraptured by the spiral, repeating, repeating, and yet evolving into something more, code etched into their designs, messages carved into the water. Then, all at once, the fish reverse, the steady march doubling back to cover their tracks. Their scales go stark white—then clear, transparent. They reveal their interworkings—their entrails—to the poor girl, sharp teeth set against translucent backdrop, organs pumping in a hypnotically comforting rhythm, eyes seeing straight through the soul.

Lucky stills. The smile fades from her lips; the sparkle drains from her eyes. She wavers—the fish bubbling, festering in delight—as her limbs fold inward, surrendering.

The surface of the pond goes rigid—reflective—at the moment of impact, shattering with a bone-chilling crash as her body meets it, shards of the pond separating around her to coax her in.

She sinks slow—meticulous—not one piece of her form indicating any objection to her fate, the minute twitching of her fingers the only testament to her lingering presence on this mortal plane.

The water grows denser—having gotten a proper hold on her—and drags her down, the surface sealing once more as the last of her cotton dress is drowned.

The forest holds its breath.

The first sensation I am aware of is that of my arms being sliced down the sides as I plunge my hands into that accursed pond, the water resisting me, hissing, “Thief—thief—you had your chance; do not take that which is now mine.” I steadfastly ignore it, even as the liquid solidifies around me, biting into my flesh, leaving angry trails that spell betrayal.

I feel her then, her body having been stashed away at the bottom of the pool, cold in ways humans should never be cold. I wrench her up, dislodging her from the shoal’s vice-like grip. Her whole body comes loose all at once—left in suspension, stained in shades of blue—as the pond, regrettably, gives up its coveted prize.

I drag her up and over the edge of the bank, shells snapping at us in final, futile protest.

We collapse together—her against my chest, in my arms—as I swallow a gluttonous breath of precious air.

I hasten to sit up, knowing she, too, is in desperate need of one.

She is pale as moonlight—expressionless—her eyes shielded by heavy lids. The grass gathers around my bare legs to brush their condolences into me, whispering words of remorse, of their fond memories with her, of what could have been.

Then she gasps.

She sputters—that tiny, live thing—and rids herself of the remaining malicious water that plagues her with racking coughs, normal pigment returning to her withdrawn cheeks, arms and legs wriggling with reanimated energy, eager to prove just how alive she is.

And she cries.

She cries big, pitiful tears of anguish—of loss, of grief—now that reality has finally set in. They roll down her face like pearls, milk-white and wet as morning dew.

I shush her, soft and low, and rub assurances into her back. I watch as she hiccups, swallows roughly, tracks the movements of my lips as I promise her the worst is over, that nothing else will harm her for as long as I shall live.

She settles, even as she continues to take gasping, intermittent breaths, still reacquainting herself with the function of her lungs. Her hands find strands of my fine hair, pulling me forward, keeping me close. I rest my forehead upon hers, warbling nonsense that serves to calm her rabbiting heart.

It is only when she is completely pacified that I prop her up on wobbly legs, dwarfing her little hands in the palms of my own. 

“Give me your name,” I plead of her.

I think then, perhaps, that this is too much to ask of her—of a babe so young—but she surprises me, as she always does, with a trilled “Luuuckyyy!” pinched sharp at the edges like a reprimand, like she has heard her name said so many times before. 

I shake my head. “Not anymore. You have given it to me now. I shall keep it safe—“ I rap against my breast. “—in here. No longer will you be burdened by it. And I shall grant you a new name in its stead.”

“No!” she squeals, squirming forward, grasping at my chest. “No! Mine! Lucky’s!”

Ah. In my haste, I have managed to underestimate humans once again. I smile wryly and surrender with grace. “Yes… I apologize. It is yours. It is yours to do with it what you will.”

She melts against me then, heavy with fatigue. I catch her as she falls, bringing her up the full extent of my height, and she is asleep not before I take a single step.

As I return to the friendlier parts of my domain, I think on what I would have named her had she allowed me the privilege. Hopeful, perhaps. Loved. Cherished. Adored. Even Sleepy would have been more fitting. Yet, none sit well with me.

But Lucky… 

I peer down at her, tucked under my chin, her breath warm against my skin. Even now, she is a little damp, still scratched and muddied from her ordeal. 

She is so alive. So here and alive.

Fortunate, indeed.

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