March 2024

Daughter of the Stones

Sandy Parsons

Play Audio
read by Marie Hoffman

art by Nora Kelly

My husband Otto collected steinzauber, the stone spells which protected our village from the descending demons and rising beasts. I translated their messages, written in fissures and textures, size and shape, into songs and incantations. Sometimes I accompanied Otto while he searched and one day, curled beside an iridescent lode, we found an albino fawn, which on closer inspection turned out to be an infant girl. We took her home and fed her elk fat soaked in milk. She screamed when I bathed her and when her teeth came in sharp, I was glad I had no milk of my own to feed her. Otto lamented her unnatural cry and yellow goat’s gaze, but I loved her. Kaferheim’s been visited by demons and spirits for centuries, so fear was merely another neighbor.

Otto’s searching took him far, so I carried Hixi with me to the sanctuary and let her play in the jeweled crates while I translated the incantations embedded in the steinzauber. I wore thin elk bladder gloves over my arthritic knuckles to protect the papers I wrote on. Only when I was wearing these would Hixi let me touch the misshapen bones behind her shoulder blades. Like a teething baby, the only relief seemed to come from pressing the ridges. I sang to her as I rubbed. I knew no lullabies, only incantations against evil, but they worked well enough to soothe the child I’d long been denied.

“Beata.” It was Otto calling me, home after three years, his voice measured but full of concern. I dropped the onions I’d been chopping and hobbled to the front of the house. Otto put his fingers to his lips and pointed. Hixi, her back to us, was holding the old one-eyed tomcat clutched to her chest. I jumped, ready to rescue the cat, but Otto bade me wait. Hixi rocked, warbling the enchantment to soothe rivenbeasts, while the cat’s tail twitched in time. “How does she know that song?” Otto asked, but I had no answer. She was not speaking the dialect of Kaferheim. She was reciting a steinzauber cadence.

Like children everywhere she grew tired of being mothered, so I sent her to school.  One day she cried and said a boy kissed her then pulled her wings, like stripping a butterfly. Otto wanted to find him, hurt him, but now I was staying his hand. Otto looked at me oddly, as I’d always been protective of the girl, but he deferred to my judgment.

Nothing came of it, but Hixi ate more, soft pigeon’s eggs, honeyed pretzels.  Her wings expanded into iridescent leather and grew claws at peak and nadir. When she was angry, a rare thing, her claws plucked air.

We sang together as we worked, and nuts fell into baskets, branches laden with fruit dragged the ground. We softened winter when we sang. Whispered madness and mutilations became rare. The folk from the city demanded less totems from the sanctuary. I began to think of Hixi as my replacement. I’m a sentimental crone.

The boy who had harmed her turned up dead. It could have been accidental. Broken neck, no bruises. No claw marks. Some villagers, come to bring offerings, were discussing it below the window I’d been about to use to dump the inky water from my brushes. I went to the cellar where Hixi helped me. I would translate fast, in my shaky hand, and Hixi would copy my words slowly into perfect lettering, using onyx, lapis lazuli and blood ink. These would then be folded into talismans or sewn into hems to guard the holder. “Hixi?” A question. I couldn’t produce enough spit to ask. She flattened her wings against her back. A tear slid from her cheek and plinked onto the text, dissolving the word of the spell. I was afraid for her then, more than of her. Kaferheim did not trust easily, and Hixi’s appearance engendered fear.

At dusk they came, over the hills to the sanctuary door. I wished that Otto was among them if nothing else than for his kindness. But he had been called to the far north, on a rumor that a rich steinzauber cache had been unearthed.

“Open the door, Beata. You’re harboring a demon.” It was the burgermeister. He lived in the village center and had never entered the sanctuary in all the years I could remember.

“So?” I steadied my voice as I’d steadied my hand all those years, keeping the beasts which rose from the ground at bay. “You’ve known that.” I climbed on a crate and peeked through the barred window in the door. The whole village was there.

“Ya,” said the burgermeister. I sensed the heat of the torches as the villagers pressed closer. Hungry shadows danced on the stone. “But you have taught her to read.”

“I have.” I was confused by this accusation. All intelligent beings sought knowledge. I had done nothing that any mother wouldn’t do. I offered a resolution. “She can protect you when I’m gone.”

The flames licked like a demon’s tongue.

The steinzauber offered more than spells against demons. Hixi and I sang a song which called the wind. The torches flattened and pressed the fire back onto the crowd. I only meant to turn the fire from burning us. But Hixi split the refrain in two and the wind split with it. The force of the gale lifted her wings, which were now spread, and she plucked me up and carried me through a hole the fire had burned in the roof of the sanctuary, too fast and far to hear the screams of the villagers.

About the Author

Sandy Parsons is a Pushcart-nominated author and the winner of the 2022 ServiceScape Fiction contest. Her fiction can be found in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Escape Pod, and Reckoning, among others. In addition to writing fiction, Sandy narrates audio fiction. You can learn more about her and her work here.

About the Reader

Marie Hoffman is a professional voice actor specializing in commercials, audiobooks, eLearning, telephony and corporate narration. She works from her home studio in NJ. Marie supports and volunteers at the JBI Library (established in 1931 as the Jewish Braille Institute), and Learning Ally in NYC. She sets time aside to record books so that those who are visually impaired and educationally challenged can also enjoy published works of art. She also participates as a member of The Online Stage, a volunteer collective of narrators and actors who create high quality productions of classic dramatic works in audio format. You can learn more about her work here.

About the Artist

Nora Kelly is a muralist, painter, illustrator, and musician based out of Montreal, Canada. View more of her work at