“Which path are you going to take,” asked the wolf,
“the path of needles or the path of pins?”
No. 8: Katie Wudel
What role do apocalypses play in fairy-tale writing?
I doubt many people would naturally connect the two (apocalypses seem more in the realm of sci-fi), but fairy tales are often set during dramatically hard times, which is why characters are in such desperate need of quick fixes from kings or witches. And who could forget that explosive ending to “The Juniper Tree”? The great thing about fabulism is that it allows you to examine heavy political or emotional issues without getting preachy or melodramatic. Though the circumstances in “Halves and Wholes” are undoubtedly post-apocalyptic, we currently live in a world where two guys can put a pressure cooker in a backpack. We could blow up any time. I also enjoyed thinking about being environmentally green, or not green, for this issue. Once-in-a-century storms hit multiple times a year now. We keep living the way we do, an apocalypse won’t be far off.
Hunchback babies. Respond.
Look, but don’t touch!
I was reading a lot of old fairy tales while writing the story, and it’s hilarious how casually old women are described as monsters, or how ugliness is equated to stupidity/evilness. In Calvino’s Italian tales, I stumbled upon a “humpback.” At that early stage in the draft, Gerald was, alternately, a giant or a Munchkin. But a hunchback—with a real malady, often caused by extreme arthritis—felt right. It seemed true to the spirit of fairy tales to take a really heartbreaking affliction and assign to it all kinds of horrific, un-P.C. qualities.
So we have Gerald—a monster, sure, but overall a decent guy—and Claire, who is so selfish and takes so much for granted. What kind of child would two such flawed people, living in a violent and cynical world, produce? Think about teenagers now, who’ve grown up with the Internet, in the wake of 9/11 and a recession, and how they Instagram “funeral selfies.” Claire’s baby is a logical extension of that.
What are your thoughts on “witch-magic” and “witch-deceit”?
You go back to the old tales, and those witches are just total jerks. (And, it might be worth noting, old and unattractive women.) They make promises, but there are always loopholes, you know? I liked thinking about what’s true and not true about the characters’ assumptions (and, of course, the reader’s). You don’t assume that other people are liars unless you’re a liar yourself, you know? I think we tend to project on The Other our own weaknesses (or our strengths, if we’re healthy and kind people). Witches are so often making magic out of snails or newt eyes—earthy stuff. Innocuous stuff. But the characters who encounter witches in stories always seem to think they deserve a swift, unethical solution to their problems with little effort on their part. Who do you think is the real jerk in that situation?
Katie Wudel’s story “Halves and Wholes” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
Halves and Wholes
Despite all they’d hears about witch houses–their gumdrop singles, their habit of crash-landing on deserving passersby–the witches made their homes in humble mounds of dirt. They spent their days crouched over dirt. Gardening, mostly. They lilked the feel of their hands in dirt, pulling up without trying the beasts they needed to do their magic: worms, snails, spiders, rats, opossums, dung beetles, moles, voles, serpents, millipedes, fire ants, slugs.
The girls were given their own dirt rooms in their own dirt house. When next Claire woke, she found her wounds had been cleaned and dressed. “How long have I been sleeping?” she asked herself, staring up at the dirt ceiling.
There was a witch in a chair by the nightstand. Had they met before? Claire found it difficult to tell the witches apart, though this one had a goiter near her left frown line.
“Three days,” she said, her goiter all aflutter. “And you’ll be here for many more. It takes us nearly as long to grow body parts as it does you.”
The witch glanced then at Claire’s belly. Claire understood that though she’d tried to escape her future, it had overtaken her already.
“But I’m here,” she said, hands on her middle, “to get this thing replaced.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that, dear.”
Three days gone was already a death sentence. Whether by Gerald’s hand or in her childbirth, Claire’s mortal end seemed imminent. She made the shape of a tin can with her hands and said, “I cleaned out the black market on both coasts. There must be something you can do.”
“Well, we’ll need one tin can per body part. Sounds like you’ve plenty to spare.” The witch laid out a course of action: Tin was so pretty! Much easier to clean than human flesh. Stronger, too. Why not get the works done? Head to toe? Even a hunchback could not wring a metal neck.