This story is by Veronique Manfredini and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The park was silent. Daylight dimmed as I glided on the water making my way to the empty shore. The moon appeared, and I was engulfed in a burst of light. My bones popped and expanded, feathers shed from my now human body, and goosebumps rose on my skin. I walked from the lake on the soft grass, grabbing a towel and clothes hidden under some rocks. I dressed quickly then made my way towards work at the Dark Wood Club.
“You’re late, Odette,” Bart complained as I walked in.
I rolled my eyes. “I know.”
The glasses hanging behind the bar vibrated on tempo with the music, as the lights flashed on scantily dressed women and eager men. The air was filled with the stench of sweat and alcohol. The club was packed. The night flew by, ending in wilted men and women, scurrying about, desperately searching for their last chance for a hook up.
“What time tomorrow?” I asked my boss as we locked up.
“Same as tonight, but be on time.” He said.
“Okay. Good night, Bart.”
Music still rang in my ears as I waited for dawn, dangling my feet in the water. Deep in thought, I didn’t notice the young man behind me until he finally spoke. “Hi.”
Turning, I crossed my arms. “Are you lost?”
He studied the tattoos on my shoulder. “I saw you in the club,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Really? I work there.”
“I know. Bartender, right?”
I nodded. “Nice chat,” I said turning towards the lake and looking at the sky. Not much time left. As soon as the light hit the water, I’d be a swan again.
“What’s your name?”
I shook my head; I needed him to leave. “No time for presentations,” I sprinted away and hid behind the tool shed near the water. The sun grazed my skin, and I turned. He came running and found, but my bird self.
Looking confused, he left.
Frederick visited often after that first night, we became good friends, but one day he asked to take me out on a date. I wished I could say yes, but I had to refuse. The look on his face almost tore me apart.
“Why?” he whispered.
I squirmed, “I work every night, all month long.” I couldn’t get too attached, but maybe I already was.
“You don’t have a day off?”
“Once a month, but I like it that way. Keeps me busy,” the sun was starting to rise. “I have to go.”
He got up swiftly and grabbed my wrist, pulling me into a hug. “Don’t go.” He kissed me on the cheek.
I squirmed, in a rush, so he wouldn’t see me as I actually was. “Please, let go,” I asked. But he didn’t, so I punched him in the stomach. It was too late. The sun shone on my skin, and with a flash of light, I was once again a swan. Ashamed, I flew away.
When he hadn’t shown up the next day, I was relieved. I wouldn’t have known what to do or say. But when he didn’t come the day after, I was disappointed. My transformation had scared him away.
On the third night, I stood by the lake and waited for the sun to rise. My newfound friend hadn’t shown again. I could still feel the kiss he gave me, just a light peck on the cheek, but it had meant the world to me. It was, after all, my first kiss.
“Hi,” The word was soft, almost inaudible. Surprised, I spun around, and an array of mixed emotions filled me. “I wasn’t going to come” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “But I couldn’t sleep.”
I nodded, fighting the urge to embrace him. “I understand. I’m sorry.” Tears stung my eyes, but I swallowed them back.
“I missed you, but I don’t understand. Was I dreaming? Did I imagine it?”
I shook my head. “you weren’t dreaming… I am cursed, Swan by day and a girl by night. I’ve been like this ever since I can remember. I don’t know how to explain it.” I wrapped my arms around myself. “I know it seems impossible, but I go through it every day. Sometimes I can’t quite believe it myself.”
“Can’t you stop it?”
“No, I have no power over my transformation. To become a human, I must be in the water of this lake in the presence of moonlight. As soon as the sunlight touches me, I’m a swan again.” I remembered my parent’s countless attempts to keep me human. “My mother used to tell me that the only way to break the spell was to have somebody prove their love for me and declare it to the world, but that’s just a fairy tale.”
He was quiet for a long while and then stepped closer to me. “I know that we’ve only known each other for the last month, but I feel something for you that I’ve never felt before. It’s fast, I know, but,” he paused, before adding, “I think I’m falling in love with you.”
“Don’t you care that I turn into a bird every morning?”
He shook his head. “No, and if what your mom said is true, I’ll tell the whole world how I feel, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll stay up every night to be with you.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, “I feel the same way.”
He stepped closer to me. I fell into his arms, crying. The sun made its way through the trees and I turned into a swan.
“I’ll be here tomorrow,” he said as I waddled into the lake.
One early morning, as Frederick held me just before dawn break, he came up with a funny request, “I want you to come to my birthday party.”
“I can’t,” I said, playing with the button on his sleeve.
“It’s a dinner party, and I would love to have you there with me, as moral support.”
I caressed his cheek and then slapped it lightly. “I don’t have a dress.”
He smiled. “I can get you one. I already have one in mind. You’ll love it.”
I smiled and nodded. “Ok. But don’t expect me to be all high-end classy. That’s not me.”
He laughed and kissed me, “I know and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The night of the party arrived, yet the moon never did. At first, I thought it was because it was cloudy, but as the clouds shifted and I saw how dark it was, I realized it was not going to come. It was a New Moon.
I panicked. I had always been good at keeping track, but somehow, I had forgotten. I should have been more careful. In my dismay and desperation, I didn’t hear the footsteps behind me until the person announced himself.
“Why how beautiful a bird you have remained tonight.” I looked in to the darkness. I could only make out a silhouette, but I was sure I heard that voice before.
“Such a shame you won’t be able to wear your pretty dress tonight, huh?” He chuckled, pulling my precious bundle from its hiding spot. “Don’t worry, it won’t go to waste.” A woman took it from him. “You must be confused. Let me explain,” he flicked his wrist and a light went on in his hand. It was Bart, my boss. “You see, when you and your sister were just babies, your father treated me poorly.”
I frowned, I had never had a sister. He must have mistaken me for someone else.
He continued, “It’s his fault I went bankrupt. And eventually, homeless. But I met a woman. She was special and taught me wonderful things. When I was ready, I came back and gave your father a chance to restore my life, but he refused. So, I took something precious from him. You.” He laughed, an evil laugh I’d never heard him do. “I cursed you to become a swan by day and a human by night. Then I took your sister and raised her as my own. She’s a fast learner and I’ve taught her plenty. She’ll be a great sorceress one day.
Your father ruined my fun when he died. But here you are, falling in love. Not to play with that would be a crime.” He smirked, waving his hand, the light moved, shining on the girl. The resemblance was astonishing. We were identical. “She’s your twin, Odette dear. Her name is Odile. She’ll attend that party in your place and if that boy does what I think he’ll do, you’ll die.” He laughed and with a motion they were gone.
I froze, traumatized. I had a sister and the closest thing to a father I had, hated me to the point of wanting me dead. What could I do? I was a swan, not a human. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t explain.
But I could show myself and Frederick would know. I knew he would. So, I gathered my resolution and took flight towards his house. I would stop them from ruining our love.
I arrived at his home and spotted him in the crowd. I tried to attract his attention, flying about the windows, and pecking at them, but he only had eyes for my twin. I watched as Frederick embraced her, and presented her to his mother.
“I have an announcement,” Frederick said rising his glass that twinkled in the light of the chandeliers. Odile turned as white as a ghost; she looked like she was going to be sick. “I’ve known this beautiful, smart woman for only a month, yet I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. I am falling in love with you, Odette, in a way unknown to me until now.” Odile started to cry, and I felt an excruciating pain shoot through my chest. I staggered desperately making my way back to the lake. I slumped to the ground and in a burst of light became human again. Cold, naked, and vulnerable, I lied on the lake stones, dying.
Frederick was suddenly holding me, “Odette, it was for you, what I said was for you. I’m sorry, don’t die, Odette. I love you.” I felt a burning venom cursing through my veins.
“Such a pity.” Bart’s voice echoed, “A beautiful girl, wasted.”
“What did you do to her? Fix it!” Frederick screamed, holding my nearly limp hand in his.
“I’m afraid I can’t. Unless you are willing to pay the price.”
“Whatever you want. Just let her be.”
“You would have to become like her.”
“Yes, but by night instead of by day.”
He sighed, desperate. “Will this save her?”
“Yes, she won’t die.”
I tried to protest. It was not going to do us any good to both be prisoners of Bart’s magic, never to be together, but it was lost to Frederick with that last statement. He didn’t listen to me. “Very well then. Do it.”
Bart smiled like a kid in a candy store and casted the spell.
“That’s my sister. I won’t let you hurt her anymore.” Odile suddenly stepped in between Bart and us, bracing herself for the transformation. Bart’s spell deflected from Odile’s necklace and hit him instead. Instantly, he turned into a black swan. Odile gaped at the swan in disbelief. She kneeled by my side and begged forgiveness. She couldn’t stop him. He had put a spell on her not to talk about me until Frederick did as Bart wished.
I hugged her tightly, “you broke the spell and proved your love for me. I always thought I was alone in the world. Now I have two wonderful people in my life.” I held their hands and smiled, “You’re my sister, and I forgive you. We can be a family now.”