Dystopiary by Kathryn Michael McMahon

They think I should marry up, but when my roommates drop me at his address, they say, “Are you sure you want to go in?” I do because he is handsome and when I met him his eyes held mine and lingered.

His house is imposingly Georgian and everything clipped; the lawn, the hedges, even his mustache when he answers the red door. He wears a tailored suit, but his collar is unbuttoned, his tie charmingly askew. In the foyer, he holds out a snifter of russet liquid. My first cognac. He leads me through the mansion’s rooms to the back. I can’t spot the neighbors’ properties through the windows on either side, though I swear I saw them from the road.

On the terrace, a breeze toys with the hem of my pink sundress. He refills my snifter, fire in the afternoon sun, and offers me his arm. We step onto a white pebble path darting between hedges.

The hedges give way to trim orbs and obelisks, to fish, to peacocks. To a lion, a centaur. Beyond them rises a gazebo. No, an enormous brass birdcage.

He opens the door. “Shall we?”

There is a wicker sofa with cream cushions and an opaque glass roof to mute the sun. I sit and gaze out at tamed foliage.

“I’ll check on dinner.” He closes the door behind him as sunset tapers off.

Dinner never comes. I rattle the door, try to lift it off its hinges. I call, but no one calls back. A perfect silhouette stands in a warm-lit window, watching. I shiver in the moonlight and something stirs.

Shapes blur. Limbs and roots shake, tear. Dark lust cracks branches. The shapes feed, regenerate. I cower on the sofa until fear exhausts me.

The snip of shears wakes me. The gardeners don’t see me or don’t want to, too busy raking up the aftermath of sex and death. New shapes adorn the path: a horse, a sphinx, born from chaos.

I call out to the men. Startled, they glance at me, but continue pruning. I stretch out to them through the bars, extending feathers and the sinew of wings. I don’t have my legs, but the stems of a flamingo.

At night, the clouds come and I only know the chaos from its sounds. The next morning, I do not reach through the cage. I do not move. My feathers have molted into pink plastic, my legs are stiff wire.

He stands before me, frowning. “Shame.”

He throws me onto the lawn clippings for the gardeners to cart away.

Leathery box leaves fold around me and I sprout my own to curl around discarded secateurs. When night comes, I will join the green mutiny. I will prowl, scratch at his door. One night, I will find a way in and he will be mine.


Kathryn Michael McMahon writes speculative and literary fiction and her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Wyvern, A cappella Zoo, Jersey Devil Press, and others. Originally from the Washington, DC area, she lives in Vietnam with her wife, dog, and a school of goldfish that stalk her from their lotus pot. You can follow her on Twitter @quantumpoid.

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