THE OTTER • by Mari Ness

He was an otter. Lissome, silky, cute. Even in the day she liked him. At night —

At night it was another story.

“What if I had been a bear?” he whispered in her ear, as the sun fell and the blue lights of his caves began to dance.

“I could not have escaped from your large rough paws,” she answered, then twisted away and ran through the glittering gardens.

But he was an otter, and swift, even out of water. He placed his paws about her neck. “You can hardly escape now,” he whispered.

“Perhaps I let you,” she said, twisting again.

He spent his days near or in the water, in the stream that flowed by the caves, or in the small pool he had dammed in the extensive gardens, lined with smooth slippery rocks that gleamed in the sun. She spent her days reading, or dreaming, or plucking at a lute that seemed to not have a tune.

“Your parents might have taught you music,” he said once, splashing up from the water.

“They taught me other things,” she said.

“So they did,” he said, looking meaningfully at her breasts.

She flushed.

Sometimes he rose to nestle in her arms and breasts, and she busied herself stroking his fur. They rarely spoke then. And sometimes she followed him into the pool, splashing and diving, laughing as the sun sparkled in the water and her hair.

Each evening they dined in a great hall in the caves, shining with blue dancing lights and silver. She never knew how the food arrived; one moment not there, the next moment there. Exquisitely fine. The otter, too, dined, upon urchins and fudge. They chatted about this and that. She sampled desserts. And then the lights dimmed.

“Will you marry me?”

“No,” she whispered.

“A pity,” he said, before scampering off.

Her parents had tried to save her. They had, sending the otter two false brides bedecked in jewels and silks, their skins polished with oils and creams, their hands covered in silken gloves to hide their calluses, their families well paid with bags of gold. He had bitten both brides, leaving blood pouring down their legs. She had come to him, trembling, expecting to bleed. His teeth had done no more than graze her. He was only an otter. Supple. Cute. He had placed a necklace of diamond stars on her neck.

She reached her chamber door, trembling.

It was not a chamber, exactly, not truly, but another cave, with a low lying ceiling and a small tinkling pool, lined with dancing silver lights that showed the walls streaks of gold and green. She had no real bed, only a pile of furs, soft light and warm, and a pile of books and other things. She removed her dress and knelt by the pool, then placed herself down on the furs and trembled.

Slowly the silver lights dimmed and vanished, and she felt another hand take her own. Then a second hand moved beneath her chin, drawing her closer. She felt a pair of hard lips upon hers, felt his hands begin playing over her skin.

“We are not wed,” she said, not struggling. “And I do not love you.”

“This I can accept,” he said, still playing with her.

He had the otter’s fine tongue, that she knew. And his hair was almost as soft, almost as warm, and sometimes even seemed a little damp. She knew her tales. Confess her love, and all this would end: the caves, the fountains, the bubbling streams, the enchanted gardens buzzing with sprites, even his urchins and fudge. They would instead have a palace, royal duties and cares. Visits with her sisters; dresses of fine wool. And sunlight and candles of clear yellow light.

She pictured the caves wrenched into the earth, the dancing silver blue lights crushed under rock.

She stretched out beneath him, kissing his sleek human skin. She could not sacrifice those silver blue lights. Even to glimpse the otter’s true form.


Mari Ness‘ work has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Dog Vs. Sandwich, and numerous print and online markets. She keeps a disorganized blog at mariness.livejournal.com.

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