The Power We Give

Reading Time: 4 minutes
(Image created by Anais Aguilera using Firefly.)

A full moon stretched one arm through Azabelle’s bedroom window. The silver mirror atop her vanity gobbled up the light and fed it into seven silvery globes lining its top. Each globe sat within a socket attached to a handle that, when pulled, adjusted the direction their light would cast. Azabelle’s guardians had given her the vanity and mirror five years before, when they were still trying to convince the monastery to pay them to be her permanent custodians. The monks had agreed on condition that the moon mirror could never be sold. Her guardians had received five thousand gold pieces per year, and Azabelle had received no gift and little attention since.

Tonight, Azabelle stared into the mirror, tear stains glimmering every bit as brightly as the sequins on the blue ball gown she’d swept the tailor’s shop seventy-seven times for. A cherry-sized diamond secured by a black choker, the only item left with her in the bassinet on the doorstep of the monastery, sparkled at the base of her throat. Azabelle knew the diamond was fake. Her custodians had tried to sell it three years before. They’d made her wear it every day since.

Azabelle’s Shadow, her only constant companion, looked over her shoulder and into the mirror.

Shadow wavered now and again when the leafy branches of the honey locust tree outside shifted in the summer breeze, scratching softly at the window. Shadow did not like coming and going at the whim of Light. Light wasn’t even a living thing, after all.

Azabelle pulled the pins that held up her hair. Dark curls tumbled around her face. She felt Shadow’s presence, of course, but she’d felt it so long she barely registered the danger.

“The night started out fine,” she said to herself. “But then, after six months of courting, he left me standing on the ballroom floor and danced with her instead. What’s wrong with me?”

Shadow whispered, “Her red hair is prettier than yours.”

Azabelle believed. Why wouldn’t she? She could see darkness creeping over strands that curled like wilted leaves.

The moon moved behind the trunk of the tree. Shadow grew darker.

Escaping the gloom, Azabelle went to the washstand under the window, raised the cool, copper pitcher, and poured water into a bowl. She slipped the curtain sideways to let in more light.

Shadow shrank.

Returning to the moon mirror, Azabelle dipped the edge of a cloth in the bowl and wiped eyeshadow from her lids. The smell of rose hips she’d used to perfume the water tugged at some piece of her that could still recognize beauty. But when the eyeshadow was gone, she saw only how her dark irises filled eyes sitting slightly asymmetrical on either side of her long, thin nose.

“Plain brown,” Shadow said in her ear. “Not even hazel or amber. Her eyes are prettier.”

Azabelle didn’t need to hear the words to believe them. Shadow said nothing she hadn’t said to herself.

She dipped the rag again and smeared it across her lips.

“Her lips are fuller and redder,” Shadow told Azabelle, who looked at the dull, pink stain on the cloth and knew that was true, too. Azabelle watched in the mirror as darkness swept over her eyes, her nose, her lips until Shadow had surrounded her.

Sliding the chair back with a scrape against the wood floor, Azabelle stood and adjusted the lever so the globes atop the mirror cast downward and gave her more light to see by. She traced the sequins on the bodice of her slightly-used dress and noted it fit too snugly. She reached behind her and unclasped the back. The dress dangled from thin straps.

Shadow waited for Light to slip sideways, and then ducked close to Azabelle. “Her skin is smoother. She’s thinner.”

Azabelle nodded without knowing why and watched as murky hues swept over her shoulders and down her arms. Moment by moment, her hips appeared to stretch against the flared skirt of the dress. Tears spilled down her cheeks anew. “I want him to love me,” she said.

She touched the diamond choker. Who could love someone whose own parents didn’t want them—whose custodians had to be paid to provide her basic needs? Azabelle was a job, not a daughter. Not a companion. She whispered, “I want someone to love me.”

The full moon slipped slowly around the locust branches and into view through the window. Azabelle positioned the lever on the mirror until the globes brightened sharply. Wanting to hold onto the light, she anchored the lever in place by tucking her makeup rag between it and the mirror’s frame.

One globe flickered and went out.

Shadow latched onto Azabelle’s secret suspicion that she existed in the space where Light could not go. She used the power Azabelle had already given to press past the edges of the light and slip inside. “You are not enough,” Shadow said from within Azabelle.

Azabelle, still reeling from the suddenness of the globe going out, repeated, “I’m not enough.”

Then moonbeams touched the diamond pendant and cast a halo around her. Her tears glistened like tiny diamonds on her cheeks. Her hair, long and dark, framed her fair face in a cascade of spiral curls. Light caught on her eyes, and earthy irises sparkled every bit as brightly as the sequins on her dress.

Moment by moment, Light stretched across the room and embraced Azabelle. “I want you to love yourself,” it whispered.

A thought that had never occurred to her sparked in Azabelle’s mind. “I can love myself,” she said. Azabelle reclasped her dress and spun. Her skirt flared out, and the sequins shimmered in the mirror.

As Azabelle spun, Shadow retreated to dark corners until it could do nothing but flee the room entirely.

Azabelle stopped spinning, breathless. She reached behind her neck, unclasped the choker, and let it fall to the floor. Light would not allow Shadow to take Azabelle. After all, Shadow wasn’t even a living thing.


Edited by a Fallon Clark and Sophie Gorjance.

A one-time teen mother and high school dropout, Dr. Larina Warnock is an educator in Southern Oregon where she lives with her husband, three dogs, and a turtle older than she is. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Dread Machine, Stories We Tell After Midnight Vol 2, All Worlds Wayfarer, Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, and others. Find out more at her website here: