She waited from him to arrive, knowing his eyes would be on her as he crawled along the far edges of her room; his hair, as long as a horse's tail, dragging in a whisper.
She hummed to him as he crawled under the shadows of her bed to safety. Through the vibrating springs of the mattress she could hear him pulling his crippled feet behind him.
He blew dust bunnies from under her bed and his beautiful hair pooled into the light. She dangled an arm over the side to touch his dark locks, and was startled as he rested his damp forehead against the palm of her hand.
He called to her, and she half fell from her bed with her legs tangled in sheets, onto the square of moonlight on the cold floor. The little light under the bed only offered a dim outline of his shape. He held tight to one of her discarded leather boots, tracing the stars she had sketched on the toes with his long fingers.
They were her boots. Her stars. Her special stars that made her feel like she was walking on bits of sky, and she felt as violated from him touching her things as if he were touching her.
And he knew it.
But she was distracted as he leaned towards her, with his forearm so close to her hand, she carefully curled her fingers into her palm, least she accidentally touch him, as she was suddenly shy.
His face didn't have any true shape, as his long hair concealed it, and his head was dark, darker than any shadow in her room, that when he shifted so only his head was in her view, she thought she had gone blind, if only for a small ridiculous moment. She squeezed her eyes shut, the small buzzing of lights behind her eyelids offering her the littlest of comforts. But she knew he wouldn't come any closer while she was safe in the moonlight, for the light burned his skin.
He started to speak, as the rumbling started his stomach and slowly traveled through his throat and out his mouth. He never spoke in the sense of true words, but with feelings and pictures passed through his rumbling into her, rattling her bones, and giving some sort of vibrating life to her flesh.
It wasn't comfortable. Often she had to be careful of her tongue and lips in case she was shaken to the point of biting them.
Through the rumblings, he told her he came from another world, a small world in the crack of a river rock, where he could make them as tiny as ants to live in. If she married him, he could make her Queen of goblins, gremlins and the ghosts that lived there.
She wasn't sure she wanted to marry him. And she wasn't fond of goblins, gremlins and ghosts. But he gave her a small ivory music box from the pocket of his worn trousers, and he told her to play the box while counting the stars, and when she counted the last one, she would know her answer.
When she opened his eyes, he was gone, swallowed up by the shadows.
She wound the little egg shaped music box, and the tings of a lullaby made her eye lids droop. From her little window, she counted thirty one stars until she was so tired, she fell asleep right on the cold floor.
The next night he called to her from the shadows of the cottage rafters. His long hair dangled from the ceiling, touching her pillow and tickling her nose. She brushed it away with her pinky. He wore no shirt.
"Why were you crying?" she asked with a dreamy sort of voice. His hair was matted and damp around his face. She twirled a strand of his hair between her fingers, and he told her it was not tears, but river water.
With a rumble that creaked her bones; he told her he would grant her a wish, just one wish, she must choose very, very carefully as wishes were dangerous things.
"Oh! But how can I choose?" She thought of thought of gold and power and beauty. "Oh how I have wanted so many things, and yet-and yet-" and yet nothing. She watched his bangs move in waves with his breath, and she wondered what his lips looked like.
Gently pulling his hair from her grasp, he told her play her little music box, and after she counted all the stars, she would know her wish.
He disappeared into the shadows of the rafters, his long hair trailing behind him. She turned to the window and counted one hundred and seventy four stars until she fell asleep with the music box finishing its last notes in her palm.
The third night, he called to her from a tree outside her window. The moon was smaller now, and the shade from the branches grew longer and thicker, and his hair tangled in the leaves. She saw his fingers, long like bird talons, gripping the bark.
He had brought a tea kettle and fruit with him. He climbed down from his perch, and they sat on his long hair as if it was a picnic blanket with his crippled feet tucked under him.
The tea was a different flavor every time it was poured, and the fruit was old with wrinkled skin.
Before he could leave, she grabbed onto his hair and told him of her desire to see his face.
He rumbled and made a eerie wailing sound like a whale, but at last, he told her his face was that of a monster, and if she saw it, she would never want to marry him. When she insisted, he told her to wait. To listen to her little ivory music box and count all of her stars. He told her to keep the kettle that worked only with water from his own river, and disappeared into the branches.
Determined to finish counting the stars, she sat on a hill outside, the cold air keeping her awake. With great effort, holding her eyes open, pinching her cheeks, and with her knees kept warm around the kettle, she finished counting all six hundred and eleven stars in the stretch of sky about her little house before she fell asleep.
The fourth night, when the moon was barely visible, he called to her, his rumblings seeming to come from every tree around her cottage. She gave the music box a home in her pocket and carried the kettle by its thin silver handle.
The trees parted out of her way and the roots slithered from her feet. The sky patches slipped through the trees branches bringing wind from the stars that whispered secrets to the earth. And at last, deep within the woods, she found his river. The water shimmered silver in the night, the same color as her tea kettle.
The first thing he did when he saw her was refill her kettle in his river. His crippled legs were at home in the water. His hair drifted around him looking alive. Then he reached for her with his free hand, his skin stretched taunt across his knuckles, and his nails cracked and splitting.
She did not reach back. "Your face", she reminded him, "I wish to see your face".
He shivered. With the same hand that was meant for her, he pulled back the dark hair from his forehead.
Dry lips, never healing, cracked, bleeding, bleeding, bleeding down his chin and neck.
"Oh-oh..." she gasped kneeling before him and reached out to touch his lips. She touched the skin on his face that was no longer skin, but tiny fish scales.
Fish scales all over his body. Smooth, slick, the color of gray, the white of pearls, the shine of stars. The same color as her music box. Perhaps made from his own flesh?
She felt for where his eyebrows and nose should have been, and touched the one robins egg blue scale that stood out on his neck, and moved back to his lips. He shuddered as if he wished to speak under her finger tips, but held back, waiting for her.
"I cannot live with you. I would drown." He never closed his pale eyes as she slowly leaned over the stretch of running water between them and kissed his chilled lips. But you can stay with me.
She untied her boots with the drawn stars and the bits of sky on them. He pulled himself from his river, his hair dragged behind him like a rug, clutching the kettle as if he was as nervous as she was.
She pulled his crippled feet into her lap and laced her leather boots on them. Standing, she faced the direction of her cottage. From the corner of her eye, she saw him stand, back stooped, his arms thin and his hands large. He remained sturdy in her boots.
"Come with me", she told him, at last offering him her hand.