2022 Flash Fiction Contest Winner: “Mara of Mabon” by Lee Duffett

My movements ceased, I attempted to take in the new scenery around me. It is not where I was ten footsteps before. I don’t believe it is somewhere I will ever reach again.


Kayli DePriest, Contest Coordinator

I am a basset hound in these woods. Taking my time, with lethargy and a comfortable ease. There isn’t a predator that I would walk in fear of, for hidden behind my jowls are teeth polished pearl white.

Unsuspecting independence and self preservation from such a bumbling dog.

I have usual paths, letting my boots nestle into the tracks of all yesterday’s past. The brush have learned to move their arms back to allow my proceedings. The nests that are burrowed in the crooks of every tree have inhabitants that watch my ventures in birds eye. There are surely burrows out of my sight that hide more eyes that know my paths just as well as I.

The ochre season has fallen upon everything. My visibility has expanded since summer, when all the trees still had their leaves to sway. The skeletons of the past season lay on the floor and under my black boot they are turned to shards. These pieces of shrapnel, of seasonal decay, will be of use to the amanita and the milkcap.

As we usually are, I am an invasive species. I am hardly displacing a thing to hopefully be unaffecting. I know my very existence here is a disturbance, so naturally I will work towards assimilation to the natural habits. My movements between these boughs resemble the careful tracing of fingers between freckles, in that pale blank space. Sure steps lead me down surer and similar paths. Familiarity whispers on the breezes through my hair and mingles with the breaths beyond my lips. My hands move independently of my torso, they reach out to trunks that they never grasp, as my body’s march is already so stable. Fingertips have the knowledge and the comfort in knowing there are limbs outstretched, if they can ever be of use.

As I come up a hill near halfway on the route, there is a cry for help ahead of me. The voice and it’s timbre turned the trees amorphic, melding into something unknown. I noticed then that the bark on the familiar oaks had fallen away in big shingles, the lichen on the trees faced the wrong direction, everything surrounded me and moved farther from me simultaneously. Another scream bellowed and I noticed how quickly the clouds were breezing beyond my horizon, as though a threat flew in from above; a threat I was not aware of, only obvious to this woman and the whole of the wood.

My movements ceased, I attempted to take in the new scenery around me. It is not where I was ten footsteps before. I don’t believe it is somewhere I will ever reach again.

I steadied myself and pushed on. As I reached the top, my wide pupils witnessed the body of a woman; they constricted with the amount of light that seemingly bounced off of her, if it were not emitting from. We inhabited a clearing then. She did not notice me for her eyes were blissfully closed. She had fallen to the forest floor with her back braced against a barkless oak. She was wounded at her abdomen, but she spilled no blood. Her hand applied pressure while orange peels and cardamom husks spilled from between her fingers. There was no worry, at least from me, that she was deceased. If anything, she was only serenely sleeping with harvest in her hands. I watched the golden hair that poured from her head and onto her shoulders glimmer gently as her chest heaved. She was steadily breathing.

A branch snapped under my dumb feet, they moved unconsciously and without me. Eyelashes fluttered and pupils opened equally as wide as mine. The woman shifted with obvious pain as cinnamon sticks fell from her wound.

“Are you hurt, Miss?,” I shouted, “Is it alright if I come over there?” “I would appreciate some help, yes.” A quaint smile gleamed.

I could hardly hear her from the sound of a sudden breeze. Approaching her I noticed the smell of bitter spices, most likely from the place on her gut. She saw my eyes locked on her there.

“It’s nothing major, this isn’t the first time this has gotten to this point.” Her sheer muslin dress was torn and dyed umber in certain places.

She continued, “I don’t know how it happens, honestly.” Nodding along I knelt beside her.

“Have you got a name? I know you’ve one.” I said.

“Mara,” The skin on her forehead glowed with a trace of sweat, her cheeks blossomed a carnation color, “Could I have yours?”

I obliged as I wincingly lifted her hand from her stomach, with her permission. Through the hole in her muslin dress I could see what only looked like a gash like a hole in citrus skin. The edges of the wound caved in and looked brittle in comparison to the rest of her dewyness. The skin, or “skin”, around the opening was dried like a rind in sunlight. Within the breach was the flesh of a fruit and an amalgamation of spice. No blood, no organs.

She anticipated my perplexed affect.

“I didn’t think you would have seen anything like me. I was right about my assumptions around you, then. Your gait is unsteady and your eyes are not speckled. I knew.”

Our eyes met then. Hers were hazel, speckled with pyrite that shone gold.

The oaks began their nebulous dance again in the corners of my eyes. She maintained her gaze with me. I couldn’t discern if she didn’t see the trees beyond and and around us or if she didn’t wish to distract from me. I didn’t want to know.

“Will you be alright, though?-” I looked down again and saw then that the gash was gone, behind that hole in her dress was only tan skin.

“I always am.” The smell of all-spice reached me from her lips, it rode on her breath beside the words: “Your compassion will be repaid. You will have a warm winter, you yourself are as warm as they come.”

She took a cupped hand to the right side of my face and smiled that simple smile again. It was full of grateful light. The wind swept up pieces of broken leaves. My eyes closed in reflex and not a moment after the wind passed, I opened them again.

I was greeted with the familiar scenery of the trailhead. The beginning of the forest welcomed me as it always did, and along with the taste of the familiar air on my tongue, there was a gentle teasing of nutmeg and clove.


The first snowfall of December came the next day. I didn’t walk about the forest until spring. I have never stumbled about it since.

The air in my home was autumnally warm without end, brought to that temperature with scents of cardamom and cinnamon. The bitter taste of orange zest on my tongue always worked to reinvigorate my body and my hearth with life.

A speckle in my eyes has returned, one I never realized I had lost.