“The Story of Essa” – Fiction by Alison McBain

Enchanted Beach - Boris Mago, 1938
Enchanted Beach – Boris Mago, 1938

Alison McBain‘s “The Story of Essa” is a stirring, dream-like tale of transformation from our Summer 2015 issue, which you can order online via Amazon and Createspace. Copies are also available at fine independent brick-and-mortar stores like Bluestockings and St. Mark’s Bookshop.

{ X }


BEFORE HE BROUGHT THE KEY, Essa had been chained to the basement door her whole life–locked within the confines of her own ten fingers and the ability to work small magicks when on call. Before she sunk her feet into the sand, before the rough-hued grains cascaded over her toes, she had never known how to move with any sort of rhythm.

The seagulls sang, and the wind came down to partner her, and she danced and she danced and she danced.


Words had never been required. She saw herself as a newborn, the thin loops of the basement chains cascading around chubby wrists and baby cankles, and the admonishment of angels telling her to hush. When he came before her, he didn’t ask questions–he gave her fully-formed sentences, directives for training and the execution of purpose. He taught her how to summon her will and focus it to the desires of the mind; he taught her how to name, silently, all the colors held inside.

But her words were not noticed when she tried them out. Her mouth fell idle in the absence of encouragement. Her tongue dwindled down until it became a tube and split at the end. Sometimes, she cast her tongue out like a net to scent the air, little lizard-girl pining for the day.


The scrape of waves against the sand.

Fingers of wind caressing the grains in almost unheard pings, like silicate fairy bells.

Seagulls in a metal band, screaming discordant notes in random order.

Then, intruding:

The drone of a low-flying plane, the pilot practicing for his license and daydreaming of loop-the-loops.

But the instructor is daydreaming about fucking.

He had never fucked like a porno movie. He wants to get himself a whore and pay her so he doesn’t have to touch her except with his cock. He finds going down on a woman unpalatable–some fuckers don’t like to eat mushrooms, right? So why was it so bad to admit he didn’t like to eat cunt?


She is a blank slate, wiped clean after each work of magick. She has no need of whispers, no place to store them in the smallest cabinet of her mind. Essa has never been allowed to grow larger than the confines of her skull, shrink-wrapped for preservation. The chains have grown into her flesh, into her blood and bone and brain, so that even if they were dissolved from around her, she would still feel their silken grasp, still hold onto them like an amputated limb, imagining phantoms holding her still.

Essa dances in her mind.


Her heart is pounding. There is something wrong.


The chains are back. How could she not realize that if the house was left behind, it would return to find her? It has come over the land, a gathering of darkness, the great door of the ocean in circles around her body. She crouches down in the sand (hard planks of wood, worn smooth by feet) and her wrists clank and clatter as she covers her head with her hands. The lightbulb goes on (the moon), but she does not see it. Her face is pushed down by an unseen hand.


The world has fractured. The beach stretches out, a black expanse above and below. It has grown cold and her skin has begun to crack. Before the end of her captivity, she will shed it and emerge, fresh and free. Sometimes, pieces of her are left behind–a toe, a finger, an eyelash. Sometimes, the process is perfect and done.

Essa scrabbles at her shell, not sure of her final destination.

A fisherman walking by in the morning will come across a desiccated lizard husk and pick it up for good luck—but she will be long gone by then, long gone from beneath the ceiling of the sky.

{ X }

100_0856ALISON McBAIN lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters. She has work published in Flash Fiction Online, Saturday Night ReaderFLAPPERHOUSE #4, and the anthology Blood on the Floor: How Writers Survive Rejection(Cairn Press), among others. You can read her blog at AlisonMcBain.com or follow her on Twitter@AlisonMcBain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s