Many a child has turned to the door
banging open on a storm-drenched night
perhaps they peek and see a white-
ashen face, but they always hear
the dreaded taboo—
I went to get a rose—
I went off the straight path—
I’ve been gambling—
—there was a beast
—there was a creature
—gambling with the devil
The dreaded words that tomorrow
some monster will take the gambled
child away—nothing to be done.
Let them hide with me. Though I look
a creature still. There remains beautiful
music, there are candy houses, there are
pretty ponds with castles reflected.
In times of desperation, you trade.
In times of anxious need, you trust.
Is the old lady an enchantress or a witch?
The piper, a trickster or a savior?
Do you let them inside?
What else can be done?
Ellen Huang (she/her) is an ace writer of fairy tales with a BA in Writing + Theatre minor from Point Loma Nazarene University, a school by the sea. She is published/forthcoming in Wretched Creations, Sword & Kettle Press, White Stag, Grimoire, Vamp Cat, Serendipity Lit, Horse Egg, and Prismatica, among other places. She reads for Whale Road Review and runs a fantasy-inspired blog exploring her spirituality through cinema and folklore: worrydollsandfloatinglights.wordpress.com. Occasionally, she and her pan roommate improvise dramatic scenes at home and feel like gods.
Author of “Bought and Sold // Trader”
What inspired you to write this poem?
I was thinking about how in folklore & fairy tales, there are a lot of relationships between strangers, a lot of split-second decisions on whether you’re going to rob someone, love someone, rescue someone, show a kindness, give your trust. As a child, you’re given the simple rule: don’t talk to strangers. (I mean, look at what happened to the seven little goat kids or Red Riding Hood!) But then as an adult, you realize there’s no avoiding talking to strangers. It’s up to your discernment who to trust, and that’s just such a tricky part of life. What do you do then? How do you judge? (Snow White helped an old lady and look what happened to her; but the Beast turned away an old lady, and look what happened to him!)
What do you hope readers take from this poem?
So much of how we build bridges and relationships are based on chance and choice, and while that can be a daunting thing, I hope readers will at least not feel alone knowing fairy tale characters experienced some gambles and catch-22s in their day, too!
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this poem has been through?
This was actually something I just jotted and hid away in my notebook for a long time. Then I came across it again, forgotten but not for long. This is actually the first time I submitted it because it felt like for a specific venue that’d be familiar with the fairy tale. But when I saw the theme on Apparition Lit of chance, what can I say? I took a chance–and got lucky! I understand holding back on some magical pieces–you’re on the lookout for an audience that will totally get it, enthusiastically. And they’re out there. Also, you have more story/poetry than you realize–flip through an old notebook and see what you’ve forgotten.
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
From the Farther Trees is an awesome, diverse, and inclusive new print magazine of fantasy that pays! Check out Issue 1 for one of my proudest short stories, “Prince Donkey Skin,” a queer/genderbent fairytale reimagined with a magical Asian setting!
The creator of the magazine is super supportive and also runs projects seeking queer sword & sorcery fantasy, and speculative dinosaur stories!