The second story for the GROTESQUE PORTRAIT Award comes from Tobias Madden. A short with a touch of Piers Anthony, and a dash of Romeo and Juliet, love worlds apart, hoof to cheek. 


Oddly Beautiful – A fantasy short story by Tobias Madden 

“Father, this is a not a matter of adolescent infatuation, I am in love with her!” Eskander argued, his cheeks now red with defiance.

Fane’s weathered face was impassive. “You will speak of her no more.”

“But -”

“I said, no more!” Fane shouted, his booming baritone echoing around the tall pine trees surrounding them.

Eskander stamped at the ground with his hooves in frustration, unable to find any words. The line of his chiseled cheek was broken as a single tear fell to the forest floor.

“Son,” said Fane, his tone now warmer, “despite the way you feel, this is a human we are discussing, and any interaction between centaur and human is, quite frankly, basely unnatural.” He took a step towards Eskander and placed a calloused hand on his shoulder. “You will forget her, in time.”

Eskander broke away from his father’s grip, whipping his tail in frustration. “No, father, I won’t,” he said honestly, turning his back on Fane to conceal his tears. “I haven’t just been gazing upon her from afar and yearning for her in secret. I go to her every day. I meet her in the safe shade of the windmill by the southern stream, where we are hidden from her cruel father’s sight. We -”

“Her father is no more cruel than I, son,” Fane interrupted. “He is trying to protect his daughter. And I must do the same for you.”

“Protect me from what?” Eskander yelled in exasperation, facing Fane once more.

“From her! From human influence. Humans are hideous, untrustworthy beings. They are innately disloyal and incapable of honesty. Their senses are dull, their bodies half formed and ungainly. They are nothing more than an evolutionary error,” Fane spat. “Just what do you see in this girl? Is it her two pitiful legs that you like? Do you enjoy watching her hobble around on them? Is it the misshapen and altogether useless hands on the end of her legs that intrigue you?”

“Father,” Eskander tried to interject.

Fane barreled on, as if he hadn’t heard his son at all. “I have seen this girl down by the windmill. Her emaciated frame disgusts me; she has not a single muscle on her body, her weak arms wouldn’t be able to string even the most supple of bows. Do you know that her bones would snap if she were to fall?” He raised his eyebrows in question. When he received no response he continued his diatribe. “It couldn’t be her strange pointed nose that you like, or her tiny, unseeing eyes that have caused you to feel this way.”

“Humans are just different to us, Father, you’re being cruel!” Eskander protested.

“And I cannot fathom why they shear their heads and faces!” Fane added, stroking his own gloriously silver beard. “Even the women sever their locks, it’s dismemberment if you ask me. And the fact that they conceal their bodies under cloth and leather proves that even they are ashamed of their own form!”

“Father, enough!” Eskander stepped in towards Fane, so that their chests almost touched. He stared down into his father’s grey eyes, challenging him to continue. Even though Fane was the patriarch of the herd, Eskander was far stronger than any of the other centaurs and the last thing Fane wanted was to to provoke physical combat.

Fane stood in silence. He took two paces back from his son and listened begrudgingly.

“I know the humans seem odd to you,” Eskander began sincerely, “but I think they are oddly beautiful. The are imperfect and unusual. You may think them ludicrous and ugly, half-formed even, but have you not considered how deformed and grotesque we must seem to them, Father? Where they have two legs, we have four, and four hooves where they have none. We are vastly different creatures. But when I am by the windmill with my human, I see beyond her strange body and all of her flaws. There is great beauty within her. Where you see tiny eyes that can’t see in the dark, I see intricately coloured constellations that sparkle like no gemstone I have ever seen. I see into her soul. And, Father, it is magical.”