Matt Bell

The Frog Prince Claims His Bride

Because we would have given anything for a daughter, we trafficked with the frogs in our well, traded them a child’s weight in smooth golden balls for a prophecy of conception, a promise of a day and date when a seed would, at last, take root. Happy years passed after the birth of our daughter, but then, before we were ready, the frog prince came to trade the golden balls for his bride, too young, unblooded, still our darling. When we tried to remove him from within her bedroom doorway, the frog prince claimed she had invited him in, his cheeks ruddied with passion, his back roiling with unburst boils.

He was so much larger than we remembered, more a toad than a frog, but still more a frog than a man. And not at all what we had hoped for our daughter.

She had invited him in, he repeated, explaining his hurry as he pushed us from the room with his enormous webbed hands, blocking the view of our daughter, glimpsed prone upon the pillows. Because she had invited him, the frog prince said again, shutting the door—and because, once she saw what he would remain despite her kisses, she had tried to take back the invitation.

And in the morning, what was left?

A bloody bed and a bowl full of our once-prized golden balls, each well-slicked, each the endless shape of our grief.




Two Alices Who Wished to be Beauties

Because the older had not been invited to the younger’s party, she walked alone across the festival grounds to pick from their mother’s orchard the last apple that read to the fairest across its skin, meaning to turn herself radiant before all the beautiful younger’s friends—but once the theft was known then what choice was there but for everyone else to fight for that chance, to at least usurp the younger’s claim to be the prettiest of them all? Soon all the ladies-in-waiting hitched up their skirts and entered the fray, the scrum of what had once been the lovely younger’s birthday, a day of croquette and tea and cake, grace before dancing.

The older had made this jealous mess, and now she intended to win it. And as the pink-ribboned younger strode across the lawn, grass-stained mallet in her perfect hand, the older stuck the apple between her teeth and unsheathed the curved knife she kept in her aprons, its blade silver and sharp, its beauty much like its owner’s, hard and bright and anything but dainty.




The Centaur Teaches His Lesson

Because their father desired that they grow up fierce in the face of the world, he abandoned the sisters with the centaurs, where they were fed the innards of wild swine, the meat of lions, the marrow of she-wolves. Behind their hooved master they ran barefoot over the mountains, and when they saw their prey they hurled their spears, then sang songs of victory whenever their aim was true. At night they retired to the caves of the horse-men, where they practiced the harp, the construction of poetic rhyme, the arts of prophecy and smeary poultice. Throughout the first year of their tutelage, the younger complained often about their teacher’s constant nudity above and below the waist, especially the frightening offense of his enormous furred member; but it was the brighter older who understood the lesson first, that dear teacher was not naked at all, only clothed in horse.




A Surety of Blood and Breath

Because the twins’ mother did not believe her husband would do as she asked, she demanded that after the task was done he should bring her the children’s hearts. Or else their lungs and livers, meant for the boiling. Or else their blood, bottled, stoppered with whatever digit would fit. Or else their intestines, cased in their bloodsoaked jerkins. Or else, or else. Anything might do. Something red, something blue, something beating, she continued, until sooner or later she asked for enough that what she was asking returned would be no less than the whole of her once-doomed children, still throbbing with life.