Filibaster Haberford had kidnapped Misha Stevonia fifty-eight times since she was eight years old.
The first time, he took her from her walk from school to have tea in his house. They sipped raspberry tea from cups painted with roses (that didn’t look very much like roses at all) and ate chocolate macaroons. Filibaster asked Misha to stay in his home and marry him. She said no and left casually, ignoring his begging. She took a macaroon to go.
Filibaster took a different tactic and befriended her parents, who started inviting him to parties on their estate. The Stevonias had a large stone house surrounded by a handsome garden, and often hosted their friends in the summer time to enjoy the butterflies and various flowers.
They became very fond of Filibaster, for he was charming, told interesting stories, and wore funny clothes. He often arrived in pastel bowties, golden vests, or stylish hats, making jokes and regaling the other guests with tales of his travels. It became almost essential that he attend the congregations as he was as much a source of entertainment as the band.
But when Filibaster was done charming the adults, he would steal Misha out into the garden, somewhere private, and ask her again to marry him. She always said no, rolling her eyes and disappearing behind a hydrangea bush before he could grab her again.
Several times he simply carried her off, taking the young girl up in his arms or over his shoulder, snatching her as she walked to school in the morning, or played in the park. Misha remained indifferent to his attempts. She opened every locked door he put her behind, undid every knot he tied around her wrists, and made her way back home without so much as a wrinkle in her dress.
“Please marry me, Misha,” Filibaster begged, on his knees in front of her as she did crafts in the play room. He had been invited for afternoon tea and had arrived early so that he could talk to Misha while her parents prepared the patio. “I would take good care of you, give you anything you desired. You wouldn’t have to work a day in your life if you didn’t want to. Why won’t you marry me?”
“Because you don’t love me,” Misha answered calmly, folding her piece of paper into intricate patterns.
“But I do love you! I swear it!”
“You love me in a way a man loves a unique stamp or a purebred bitch. You want me in your collection to show me off. Your little magic girl.” She had gleamed this much from Filibaster’s character—all of the stories he told, all the magnificent things that filled his home were his collection to bring him attention, and he wanted her to be part of it. What would bring him more attention than a young, mysterious wife with the strange glint in her eye? Misha was of decent birth and decent beauty, with dark hair that rested in a long braid over her shoulder, plump cheeks, and brown eyes.
Before Filibaster could protest her observation, Misha made the paper crane she had folded fly into his face and poke him in the eye. Then her parents arrived and took him to the patio. As Filibaster drank tea and nursed his sore eye he began to formulate a new plan.
His captures became less frequent, but more in depth as he began to try new things to keep Misha in his home. He tried an enchanted lock on her room, traveled to Russia to find the magic bridle that contained the firebird, then wandered through the Middle East to locate the magic lamp.
The items he did manage to find did not work, either because they were fakes or because Misha was too powerful. Filibaster did not give up. During his travels Misha grew older and finer, spurring his desire even more. It was only partially about having Misha for his collection now, it became about winning against her. Wiping that look of indifference off her face and finally having the upper hand between them.
It was one of her parent’s parties that led him to the answer. The Stevonias had been inviting more and more gentlemen to the parties lately, and Filibaster assumed it was because they were hoping Misha would meet someone. One of the gentlemen in question was a traveler, his brown skin hardened by sun and mud, hair cut short and kept under a cap. He was tall and wide, but with a gentle demeanor. Filibaster was immediately drawn to the man, he wasn’t above stealing another’s adventure stories for himself.
The man’s name was Bithiah—or just Bith—and he did indeed have stories to tell. But he kept his words locked tight in the chest of his mind. Filibaster took his crowbar to it.
“Tell me of your latest journey,” he insisted.
“My trip here.” Bith said.
“Did anything exciting happen?”
“What do you mean by ‘exciting’?” Bith asked.
“You know—unusual, out of the ordinary, rare!”
“I saw a rainbow. It was lovely.”
“Sometimes exciting means different things to different people.”
“Oh no, don’t get me wrong, a rainbow is lovely. Where were you before you came here?”
“And what were you doing there?”
“Sat on the beach, made chocolate, drank many fruity drinks.”
“That sounds like a vacation.”
“I see. Well I was in South America myself a few years ago. I was trying to find a puzzle box that could keep something inside of it, but it was for naught.”
“What did you want to keep in the puzzle box?”
“Something very valuable—a pet. I have a rat, but the clever thing keeps escaping. I worry for it and have been trying to find a container to hold it.”
“Hm, perhaps you need the birdcage.”
“An ordinary birdcage will hardly do the trick.”
“No—Queen Bethany’s magic birdcage,” Bith explained. He selected some shrimp from the buffet table and ate it delicately, letting it sit on his tongue for a moment before biting off the tail and chewing.
“I have not heard of this,” Filibaster prompted him further.
“Saw it in a museum. Queen Bethany collected magical birds and constructed the cage so that they couldn’t escape. Phoenix fire couldn’t burn it, no beak or claw could break the bars, even the little hummingbird couldn’t slip through the gaps. It was the cunning mockingbird that tricked her into letting him out—and pecked her eyes from her face.”
“Wonderful. And you say this cage is in a museum now? Which one?”
Bith told him and gave him some advice on other sights to see while he was in the area. Filibaster ignored him. His eyes had found Misha in the party, and his attention was only on her.
Filibaster was nothing if not patient. He first did his own research on the birdcage, then took an extended trip to the museum, staying in town to stalk the building. The items inside the museum were not one’s of monetary value, but a niche interests—things of folklore and fairytales that no one really believed in. This made it easy to break in and take the birdcage for himself, after leaving a substantial donation.
When he got it back home he had a new problem to solve. The birdcage was just that—meant for birds, but Filibaster was confident that he could find a way to fit Misha inside of it.
A few more weeks passed before he made another attempt to kidnap the girl.
He found Misha in the park by herself, sitting on a blanket and sketching butterflies that had swarmed the recently bloomed honeysuckles. She sipped tea from a small cup painted in morning glories.
Filibaster approached her and tipped his hat. “A fine morning, isn’t it, miss Misha?”
“I would like for you to come with me.”
“Come now, darling, I’ll wait for you to pack up your things, or I can take you myself and leave them here.”
Misha turned to look at him, dark eyes narrowed and angry. She was almost of age and very much a woman with her long hair plaited over her shoulder and dress filled by her lovely curves.
“I am becoming very wary of you, Haberford,” she practically growled at him.
He held out his hand to her.
“Don’t touch me,” she stood up and packed her bag, slipping the blanket and art supplies inside. She tossed the rest of her tea into the grass and tucked the cup away as well. Filibaster led her to his house while she walked behind him with the rigidness of a soldier.
When they arrived he opened the door and Misha stepped inside.
Then the door shut.
Misha blinked and looked over her shoulder. The door was made of bars, and not wood. In fact, she was now completely surrounded by bars. A cage.
With a huff, Misha went to the cage door and grabbed the handle.
It didn’t open.
Misha frowned. No door had ever defied her. Every lock opened to her, no matter how elaborate. It was just something that happened.
But this door would not heed, no matter how she pulled or pushed. Instead she went to the bars and made to slide through, but they did not widen for her as past cages had. She pushed with all her might, but could only get an arm and a leg through.
For the first time in her life, she was trapped.
Laughter echoed above her, and Misha looked up into the triumphant eyes of Filibaster. He danced giddily around the birdcage, seeing his little magic girl, now the size of a bird, unable to get free.
“I did it! Finally!” Filibaster picked up the cage. Misha fell over as it swung, and her dark eyes glared at him. Her gaze was sharp enough to make him wince.
“Don’t be a spoiled sport, my dear, you’ll be well cared for.” In high spirits, he carried the cage upstairs and into his study, where he had a hook stand all prepared on his desk. He hung the cage there then sat down, smiling big. Misha grabbed the bars tightly in her tiny fists, face hard, as if trying to bend them with brute strength.
Filibaster only grinned. He turned on the radio and went to work taking care of some paperwork, every once in a while glancing up at his new charge, who continued to glare. When he finished he stood up and stretched.
“I’ll be back shortly, darling. Dinner is at six, and I’ll eat in here with you. It’s so nice to have you in my home, and I know you’ll like it here once you adjust.”
Misha didn’t answer, giving him the cold shoulder. Filibaster tapped the cage happily and practically skipped out of the room.
When he was gone, Misha collapsed, letting her composure break so that she could cry. She had never not been the one in control, and it was terrifying.
As promised, Filibaster returned at six o’clock with dinner. He ate at his desk and shared a portion with her. Misha only nibbled noncommittedly, keeping her back to her capture. When he finished eating he gestured to her.
“Come here, Misha.”
She ignored him.
In retaliation, Filibaster tilted the cage so that she had no choice but to slide across the floor until her back hit the bars. Filibaster grabbed her braid from between the bars and freed her hair. Misha tried to pull away, but he kept a firm grip and pulled her back like a dog on a leash. He took up a brush and combed her strands until they shined, then he plaited it back into a long braid that fell over her shoulder.
“Lovely,” he said. His unwavering happiness made her sick. “I’m so pleased you’re here. In fact I think we should celebrate; let’s have a party, what do you think, dear?”
“You can invite my parents and perhaps the sight of their distraught faces will find your heart,” Misha snapped.
Filibaster laughed. “No one can find my heart, dear. When my things break I throw them away.” He grabbed the cage and spun it around so that she was forced to face him. “You’d do well to remember that.”
He clapped and stood up. “We’ll start planning tomorrow! It’ll be so much fun!”
He grabbed the cage and they left the study, adjourning to his bedroom. He set her down on his nightstand and dressed in pajamas, slipping a small blanket through the bars for Misha to use. She wrapped it around herself like a cloak and pressed herself against the farthest ‘wall’ of the magical cage away from Filibaster’s bed. He looked in at her fondly, seeming relieved, like an addict finally getting a hit.
“I hope I can let you out someday, I’d love to hold you, my precious little thing.” He blew her a kiss, then the lights went out and he sank into his bed in slumber.
Misha did not sleep. She spent the entire night pressing herself against the gaps in the bars, pushing as hard as she could. She tried each one, looking for a weak point, but couldn’t even press her head through. After she made two rounds she tried the door, tugging, pushing, and playing with the lock, but it did not give into her.
In the morning her face was covered in red marks, her hands had blisters, and shadows hovered under her eyes. She stared at Filibaster like a haunted woman, but he only seemed more pleased. He brought her breakfast, and after that Misha slept. It was the only way to escape him.
He woke her throughout the day, offering her tiny dresses and cooing over the whole affair. Misha put them on because if she didn’t he shook the cage or blasted loud noises next to her. He at least gave her privacy, not seeming to care about her nudity. In the afternoon he took her into the garden and had a tea party, feeding her tea in a thimble and cutting small pieces of cake. At night they were in his study. Filibaster planned for his party, running ideas past her for which she gave no opinion.
Before bed he insisted on combing and braiding her hair.
This was how the days repeated themselves. Misha kept track in her head. She slept as much as she could during the day, and tried escaping at night, but even that soon fell through as she found herself falling asleep at random hours. She tried to eat and keep her strength up, but her stomach ached.
She had been pampered and cared for her whole life. Able to protect herself. The stress of this was unbearable. She sang to keep up her spirits. She screamed in the middle of the night to wake up Filibaster. That kept up her spirits too.
“You’re a pus-filled, rotting sore of maggots,” She growled at him one night after waking him up with a lot of noise. “A twisted, swollen testicle falling off its host from lack of blood.”
He finally grew tired of it. He took her blanket away and put her in the basement where it was cold. She didn’t care. Anything was better than his presence.
She sang and made friends with the mice and crickets that lived down there, even sneaking them some cake from tea time one night. They brought her wires so that she could try picking the lock, but that did not work either. She taught them how to avoid the mouse traps, and they wreaked havoc on the house for her, causing plenty of distress for Filibaster and his housemaid. They hid food in the walls, creating mold and terrible smells that he couldn’t locate. They chewed wires, and knocked over breakable items.
The mice sent the message to the racoons, who spoiled his yard, and the racoons told the crows, who relieved themselves in the most inconvenient places—such as his bike seat and patio swing.
As long as Misha remained in the cage, there was a curse on his life.
Filibaster retaliated, of course. He withheld meals, put her in the ice box, and turned the cage upside down so that she couldn’t rest comfortably. Misha tried to stay strong, but her spirit was breaking.
She wanted to go home. Eventually her songs stopped. Her tears stopped. She slept and let him braid her hair. He hummed to himself, a man close to victory.
“Such a good girl, I knew you’d come around,” He said cheerfully.
Something in Misha’s heart went creeeek and she bit the finger that played with her hair. Her tiny teeth sank into his flesh, and she tasted blood. Filibaster screamed and tried to shake her off, but she didn’t relent. He got himself together long enough to flick her in the head, and she was thrown off, a sizable bruise appearing on her forehead.
He glared at her, and she smiled for the first time in fifty-four days, glad to finally quell his cheerful attitude.
Her spirit braced against that which wished to destroy it, and she slept well that night.
The party came.
Filibaster dressed in a flamboyant suit that glittered in the lamplight. Misha was given a ballgown, not that she would be attending, he just wanted her to dress the part. She was left in the study, barely able to hear the affair downstairs.
It was a gorgeous party, and a large crowd was in attendance. Everyone envied an invitation to one of Filibaster Haberford’s celebrations, and he had been generous with his guest list.
Flutes of champagne were served, the ceiling was filled with glittering balloons, and everyone was dressed extravagantly in colorful, shining clothes.
All but one.
Bithiah was in plain clothes, a simple black jacket and slacks that strained against his sturdy frame. Filibaster sought him out excitedly.
“Bith! I’m so glad you made it, this party is really for you.”
“Why’s that?” The man asked, holding a tiny sandwich between two fingers.
“The advice you gave me, about the birdcage? It worked!”
“For your pet rat?”
“Oh, yes, I guess so.”
“This is a party for your pet?”
“What can I say? I’ll take any occasion for debauchery.” Filibaster grinned, and Bith decided he no longer wanted to be in the man’s presence.
“Where’s your bathroom?”
“Up the stairs, second door on the left.”
Bith didn’t retain the information. He was a terrible listener, his mind often trailing off to other things no matter how hard he tried to concentrate. He went upstairs knowing he would find the bathroom eventually.
Instead he found the study, where a tiny girl in a birdcage sat in an extravagant dress. She looked at him when he opened the door, dark eyes filled with sadness.
Bith blinked in surprise.
“Sir, would you mind opening the door of this cage, please?”
Bith stepped into the room and took the little door between his fingers, easily lifting the lock and pulling it open. Misha stood and stepped forward. Bith held out his hand to her, she took it, placing her tiny hand on the pad of his index finger and he helped her step out of the cage and onto the desk.
Then she was her normal size, sitting on top of the desk with her feet dangling, the dress shining all around her. She heaved a deep sigh and set her feet on the ground.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me. I believe I’m the cause of your imprisonment,” Bith said, looking down at his feet.
“Did you give Filibaster the cage?”
“No, but I told him of its existence. He said he needed it for a pet that kept escaping.”
“I am the pet,” Misha said, “it’s the only thing that was able to contain me.”
“I am sorry. May I escort you home?”
“Thank you, yes.”
Misha took his arm, having to reach up to grab his elbow. Bith led her out of the room and down the stairs where they accidentally made a grand entrance.
Everyone turned and stared at the lovely girl in the extraordinary dress, conversation going quiet. When Misha’s eyes landed on Filibaster all her pain came out to meet him. The food rotted on the serving trays, the music went sour as the violin strings popped. The balloons deflated, smiles fell, and the very atmosphere of the room darkened.
Filibaster looked defeated and bewildered, which made Misha’s heart swell. She smiled so coldly that a draft went through the room, making everyone shiver. Filibaster’s fingers turned blue.
She and Bith walked downstairs and the crowd parted for them. She walked right up to Filibaster, who’s hair began to stand on end, like there was static electricity in the air.
“Nice try,” she said. Then they left.
In the garden the flowers wilted and died, and back at the house they could hear the guests starting to scream. It sounded like the mice had joined the party.
Bith walked her home, and a trail of her dress accessories were left behind in the street. The sashes, glitter, bows, and straps were shed until the dress came to her liking, simple and comfortable.
“Bith,” Misha said as they reached the door of her home. “I wonder if you might be interested in going on a trip with me.”
“I don’t think that would be appropriate, ma’am.”
“I say that it is. I say that since you gave Filibaster the existence of the birdcage, then you owe me. I have not been beyond this town and I would like a guide on this trip I have in mind.”
“Where would you like to go?”
“To where broken things are thrown away.”
“And where is that?”
“I don’t know, but will find out.”
Bith bid her goodnight, promising to stay in town until he had word from her. Misha went inside, happy to be home once again. Her parents greeted her with aching hearts that could finally heal. She told them what had happened and they agreed to bring in the police to take Filibaster Haberford away. Her father took care of that while her mother doted on her and put her to bed. Misha was happy for the attention.
She spent the next few days relishing it before announcing her plans to travel. She softened the blow assuring them that it would be a short trip and that she needed the freedom after so long in captivity.
Misha paid a visit to Bith in his hotel and they made plans for their departure. Bith seemed shy about the whole affair, offering only small suggestions when she prompted.
“How will you find this place?”
“By wanting to know.”
They departed by boat, which Bith was not a fan of. He preferred to drive on his exhibitions, but the place they were going was across water, so he steeled himself for Misha’s sake.
The trip, he found gratefully, was smooth. Whenever storm clouds appeared, Misha would glare at them and they would scamper the other way. If the water became too choppy she tapped her foot and it became as still as a lake.
One day, the worst of the worst, pirates boarded their ship.
Bith was usually able to hold his own in a fight, but they were outnumbered, and he had a young lady to look after.
The young lady, however was not having it.
When they tied her wrists together she simply tossed the rope aside and started making her way across the deck. The pirates came after her. One slipped on a puddle, another tripped on an upturned nail, and the third, upon getting a glance from Misha, broke his glasses—both lenses cracking enough to disorient him.
Bith took the fourth one for himself, then attacked the others, making sure that they stayed down. In the meantime, Misha reached the railing and untied the pirate’s boat from theirs. The pirates became occupied in getting their boat back, jumping overboard and swimming for it.
Bith untied the captain and the rest of the crew, and they made a quick escape.
“How is it that these things work out for you?” Bith asked Misha. They stood on the deck, watching the horizon turn to land.
“I’m not sure,” Misha admitted, “it has always been this way.”
When they docked Misha and Bith departed, finding local transportation as far inland as they could until the roads ended and they were forced to continue on foot. They booked a room at an inn where Misha changed into comfortable clothes and thick shoes. Bith looked for information since the girl didn’t actually know where they were going. He spoke to the bartender in the inn’s restaurant about a place where things that were thrown away might go.
At first the bartender gave him directions to the local dump, but after some more pressing, began telling a story.
“People throw their secrets in the volcano,” the tender said, “it’s an old legend that started when the local mafia took over the town. Anything they threw into the volcano was never found, so others started to use it as well, throwing away the things they never wanted to see again.”
Bith passed this information on to Misha, and they hired a guide to take them to the volcano. Their guide was sure-footed and fit, and had a quick wit. She and Misha became fast friends, and Bith was happy to let them lead the way while he walked behind, handling the supplies.
The climb became steep and rough the further they went. The guide took the lead, calling to them on which rocks to use and what to avoid. The supplies were eventually abandoned as they were practically climbing a vertical wall. The rocks became warm beneath their hands, and all plant life disappeared.
They finally crested the lip of the volcano’s crater, peering down into the maw of hardened lava. To get down, Misha and the guide lowered themselves with rope held by Bith. The girls walked themselves carefully down the wall of rock. At the bottom Misha asked the guide to stay back and wait. Bith watched from his high vantage point as Misha walked to the center of the crater, ash kicked up under her boots. She looked around briefly before going to her knees and plunging her fist into the solid rock. She pushed down up to her elbow, rummaging beneath the warm crust, and came up with something clutched tightly in her fist.
She raised it above her head in victory and cast a smirk up to Bith.
In her hand was a grayed, beating heart.
Filibaster Haberford was not having a good week.
He had gone to jail, removed himself with bail, and became ostracized by the community thanks to the Stevonias. His housekeeper had quit, so his home was still in shambles when he returned to it, leaving him with the responsibility of cleaning. He attempted to wipe up spoiled cake and spilt champagne while wearing his least favorite suit (the red one with a tail coat that he had bought for a Halloween party—he had worn horns and attended as a devil) as he had no casual or work clothing.
And now Misha was at his door.
She had disappeared for the not-so-good week, and Filibaster assumed that she had finally run away, but there she stood, still in travel clothes with Bith standing behind her, so large that if anyone walked by they wouldn’t see the smaller woman he shielded.
“Mr. Haberford,” she said curtly, pulling something out from her satchel, “you’ve gone for too long without your own internal anguish, allow me to return something that belongs to you.”
She shoved the heart against his chest, and Filibaster gasped as he was filled with a harsh pain. Not the sort that could be cured with pills or heat packs, but the deep, unrelenting kind. All the guilt and self-hate that resided in his broken heart was returned, and it brought him to his knees, in a quivering, sobbing puddle.
Misha turned away, turning on her heel smartly. “Where shall we go next, Bith? The last trip was rather rushed and had the semblance of an errand. I’m craving something more.” They walked down the street back to her parent’s home.
“Asia is nice this time of year,” Bith said noncommittally.
“I wish for you to come with me, I enjoyed your company.”
“Very well,” Bith agreed. He enjoyed travel, and it was nice to have someone else pay for it.
“Do you think our volcano guide could be persuaded to join us? She was very pretty and funny.”
“I’m sure she will, if it is what you desire. It seems to work out that way.”
Misha smiled with a smug satisfaction. “Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” Grin unrelenting, she lengthened her stride and hummed a pretty tune.