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The Sistren is a collection of stories about seventy-two singular sisters. Every week a new sister’s story is told, accompanied by an original illustration. 

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Rose

Rose

No one remembers her alive. Or conscious. The first recorded encounter comes from a privateer somewhere in the Atlantic who saw her body leap out of the ocean against the sunrise, carried by a flock of doves, each with a strand of her hair in their beaks. The birds seemed to have emerged from the ocean as well, lifting her over the waves. In his account she was dead, borne over the waters to heaven, he assumed, or else reborn. He watched her pale, naked body soar against the two shades of blue, and never sailed again.

In the next account she reigned as a somnolent queen. Her arrival by doves to the monarch’s kingdom marked her as royalty, if not a goddess, and he married her at once. (There is no account of the wedding.) She slept in the royal bed, and while the king swore up and down that she awoke at night and the two spent the late hours deep in conversation, no one else bore witness to this. She reigned for a long time, and gave birth to a son – though many swear that her chambermaid bore the bastard to give the king an heir. The king lived long and died and had her buried with him.

The myth of the dead queen lingered long before she re-entered our world. Grave robbers many generations later broke into the royal cemetery plot, and were shocked to find the king’s bejeweled skeleton lying side-by-side in the coffin with what appeared to be a woman sleeping peacefully. Afraid the demon angel would awaken, they fled, leaving her discovery to a young man visiting his late mother’s grave the next morning.

Having died in childbirth, the young wanderer never met his mother. The beautiful woman lying in a coffin looked so similar to how his father had described her, he was sure that she had been partially resurrected. Overcome with joy, he vowed to find someone who would awaken her. He spent the next fifteen years carrying her on his back as he traversed the world, seeking wise men and gods to bring her back. On a particularly treacherous mountain path one winter an avalanche sent him to his death. The coroner cremated him, but sent her to a lab, confused as to her state.

The next lifetime she spent on display in a natural history museum. For a time she was fastened to a wall display, but eventually was allowed to lie in a floor display lining the entrance hall. In the name of science or otherwise, she was never clothed. Millions gaped or lingered over the sight of her naked body, studying her curves or else tracing her hair, until an aristocrat protested. Rather than clothe her, the museum had her removed. 

Here she drops out of public record for at least a century. When she re-emerges she is the living embodiment of a growing religion’s god, extinguished by evil and awaiting the purification of the world to reawaken. Her sleep is the cause of many long, bloody wars in a once-peaceful country. To halt the continuing genocide, a young girl sneaks her out of the enormous church that is her home and has her shipped across the ocean.  Halfway across, a leviathan pulls the ship under, leaving no survivors. There is silence once more for a century at least.

Drifting alone in the deep parts of the ocean, I awoke one morning to see a body rise up from the waves carried by a cloud of birds. Pale and glistening, I watched in silence as she seemed to float across the waters. The birds flew her towards me before lifting her high into the sky. The image that stayed with me wasn’t of her flowing mane, the mass of birds or the newborn quality of her skin, but the small beginnings of a calm smile that tugged at the corners of her lips. There was a warmth to her that icy dawn, and something changed as the queen, specimen, goddess passed over me and disappeared into the horizon, or the clouds above.

 

Illustration by Daria Golab

Nepenthe

Nepenthe

Eve

Eve