Excerpt from “The Safety of Thorns”

Green was everywhere, in all hues and saturations. Emerald, chartreuse, and lime. It came muted, with silver or blue or yellow. It floated above him, in leaves or eyes, in every shape imaginable. The green oozed warmth, promised coolness, dribbled and dripped from every surface. It was dizzying, and disorienting. The smell of freshness, cut grass, or pine needles, invaded him, coating the back of his throat. It was too much…

But slowly, the green focused, gem sharp, and Israel saw the green forming into discernable shapes. He was in a clearing of some kind; surrounded by thousands of trees, or branches…it was unclear, still. Green gave rise to other colors, black and brown (but they still had green in them). A chair, a table, a fireplace. But even those were not what they seemed. The chair, for instance, was a stump, its back a still-living sheath of wood. The table was a log, petrified, with patterns whorled on it. Only the hearth looked normal. A pot of something delicious bubbled away on greenish flames.

Izzy looked up, and saw that the sky itself was green. Light, filtered through hundreds of leaves. The light was guarded by millions of fangs that sprouted from the elegant green and brown serpentine vines.

He gasped. Where am I?

Movement, out of the corner of his eye. A sleek brown and white shape streaked in the deeper part of the—forest? Whiskers, a round tail. A jackrabbit. A cough came to his left. Israel turned in that direction. Red and velvet, a fox stepped out of the thicket, into the clearing. It gave another coughing bark, and strode up to him. It sat down on its haunches, like a dog, and cocked its head, as if waiting for him to scratch between its ears.

“Don’t mind him, he spoiled.” The voice came from behind him. It was musky and sweet. He turned around and saw—a woman. She was garbed in a loose skirt that was white; therefore, it was tinged with the palest green. The color of the bottle of liquor. Her chest was bare. Her breasts jutted out, large and brown, tipped by tender buds as black as night. He tried not to stare at their hypnotic symmetry. Her hair was wild, a swamp of twisted black braids. Her face was…she had no face. She had a nose, eyes, and lips; it was a beautiful face. It was just that it wouldn’t stay still. The image would not stay fixed in his view. It rippled, and was supplanted by other, even more gorgeous facial features. She glided (or floated, he couldn’t be sure, cause he didn’t see feet) over to the cauldron on the fire before he could get a real good look. But it seemed as if she swam the clearing.

Izzy absently stroked the space between the fox’s pointed ears. The fur was soft; it felt good to rub the inverted bowl of its head. The fox’s eyes were closed in pleasure.

Izzy found his voice, “Who are you?”

She turned her disturbing face to him. He focused on her slightly less disturbing perfect breasts.

There was amusement in her reply, “My name is…” A spiral of phonetics, firm consonants and liquid vowels, slipped by him, redolent of musk, rustling leaves and sighing seas. It was impossible to grasp. “But you may call me Mrs. King.”

Ah, so he was underneath, within the briar patch. Miles below the surface of the earth, imprisoned by thorns. This made sense.

From the Journal Say…Have You Heard This One?

Honorable Mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2006)

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