The Words of Men—Rachel Canwell

It was Midsummer when she came, to stand under arching, aching Fenland skies. A place where the land truly met the clouds. Where slated marsh, churning river and open fields collided, suddenly as one. A trinity of folklore. 

From nowhere she appeared and would sit alone each balmy night, as dusk cast its mothy shadow over cottage gardens and sleeping babes. They asked her what she wanted, she stroked her burnished sunset hair and simply said, “Tell me a tale or two.”

From one village to another they talked of her. Whispered about the strange elfin girl, cloaked in silvery rags. Who seemed to want nothing. Who seemed survive on spoken words. 

Each evening the village green came to life, was lit by bobbing lanterns, held by eager men. Each competing to tell a tale, a tale that would be The One. The story to make this woman laugh, and dance. To lift her eyes and bind her heart. A tale to make her theirs.

But the girl, she merely listened. Quietly receiving tales of copper eyed hares, dancing beneath a harvest moon. Of river gods and nets filled with monstrous enchanted catches. Of gold spun wheat and magic beans. 

And as she listened her fingers twisted posies of weeds and pungent herbs. Bunches that she tied with ribbon pulled from skirts and quietly laid aside. 

Just once, from the shadows a young girl tried to speak. Attempted to add her voice to the chorus of rough male voices. But the other women, touched her arm, held her back and shaking their heads, stilled her eager tongue. 

Then one morning it was over. The girl had simply gone. 

But each woman found in their beds a spray of herbs, a head of tales and a silent man beside them.

previously featured on the National Flash Fiction Flood blog

Rachel Canwell is a writer and teacher living in Cumbria. Her debut flash collection Oh I do like to be was published by Alien Buddha in July 2022. Her short fiction has been published in Sledgehammer Lit, Pigeon Review, Reflex Press, Selcouth Station and The Birdseed amongst others. She is currently working on her first novel. 

Website –
Twitter – @bookbound2019

photo by alleksana (via pexels)