Excerpt from The Next Full Moon
Suddenly a bird swooped in from overhead and landed in the clearing.
Ava pointed, almost crying out. “That swan!” she said, turning to Helen, whom, to Ava’s surprise, didn’t seem at all taken aback. “I saw it before.”
And then another swan swooped down, and another and another, and Ava realized they all looked the same. They kept arriving from the air, and then they emerged from the forest, too, like weird white shadows, until the clearing was filled with them, appearing from every direction, from the woods and the air.
Ava’s heart hammered in her chest. Part of her wanted to run; the other part wanted to stay and see everything, no matter the cost.
She didn’t understand how Helen could be so calm.
Helen just stood watching them, as if she’d been expecting this to happen, as if she saw something this miraculous happen every day.
The swans were strangely still, the mass of their white feathers gleaming like ice, like freshly fallen snow, over the clearing.
“They have all come,” Helen said finally, “to meet you.”
“What do you mean?” Ava asked.
And just as she said the word, something happened. The birds . . . transformed. In a movement so quick and surprising Ava could barely register it, the birds had arms and hands and their feathers became feathered robes and suddenly the clearing was filled with beautiful women, each of them holding a feathered robe in her hand.
“I have . . . ” She pointed, unable to finish her thought.
They were all holding feathered robes, like the one Ava had, shoved under the bed.
And they were naked, their hair streaming down and covering their breasts, their legs pressed together. All pale and blond in the moonlight. Beautiful, smiling, watching her with jewel eyes.
Ava could feel her eyes filling with tears. Was one of them her mother? She had never, in her life, seen anything more astonishing or beautiful than this. And she felt herself fill with light. It was the only way to explain it: the happiness that comes from feeling, even if you don’t know why or how, that you’ve come home. But she was far from home, wasn’t she? She had never seen this clearing before and yet she knew these woods, knew every bit of them.
She turned, once again, to Helen.
“We are swan maidens,” Helen said, before Ava could ask. “We change in the full moon.”
“Swan maidens,” Ava repeated. It seemed to her, all of a sudden, the most wonderful thing to be.