I cut off one hand before I drew the circle around the apple tree and one hand after. Then I needed help. The chalk fell on the ground outside the circle. I was inside the circle and I needed that chalk. I had no hands to pick it up anyway and I was screwed.
But a bird from the apple tree hopped off a limb and picked up the chalk and put it inside the circle. Then the bird picked up my hands from the ground and hung them in the tree.
I did all of this to be safe from the devil who was coming to take me because my deadbeat of a father had made a bad deal.
I thanked the bird for the two favors and asked for a third. Would he pick me an apple? They were too high to reach and I could not climb with my hands gone.
The bird said no, which was a surprise to me, but I didn’t complain. I understood it had something to do with laws of contracts and magic and I better not question.
So I ate the chalk instead. You see, I was extremely hungry. Then I curled up between the roots of the tree, careful to stay inside the circle of chalk I had drawn. I soon fell asleep.
I dreamed of the devil and in the dream he didn’t seem so bad, but when I woke I remembered he was evil.
My hands were still hanging above my head and the chalk line was still there, though thinning due to a colony of ants that marched over it between a rotting apple and their hill.
I wished I had saved the chalk to reinforce the circle, but I hadn’t. I wished the bird had hung my hands higher in the tree, for they were starting to rot and the smell overwhelmed me.
I wondered if I could ask a favor of the ants or what that favor could be. I couldn’t think they’d bring me an apple to eat or chalk to fortify the line about my tree. Instead, I wondered if they could listen to my story.
And so I asked. And so they did.
But you know how ants are. How they can carry such weight. You know how ants can bear a load larger than each of them, yet with each so small, it needs all of them to carry it.
The ants listened to my story and carried it away, out of the circle where I was safe—the only place I was safe—and into the world. Each ant carried a broken fragment of my story and carried it into the world for the storytellers to piece together again. A sliver of my thumb, a tatter of my dress, a pulsing chunk of my heart.
Allison Wyss is the author of the short story collection Splendid Anatomies (Veliz Books), which was a finalist for the 2022 Shirley Jackson Award. Her stories and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, Water~Stone Review, Atticus Review, Lit Hub, and elsewhere. Find her at https://allisonwyss.com and various social media hellscapes.