GlitterShip
Episode #66: “Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit” by Cynthia So

Episode #66: “Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit” by Cynthia So

March 5, 2019

Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit

by Cynthia So

 

On the day Sunae turned nine years old, there was no joyful feast. A monster burst from the sea that night and ate five people. The Mirayans gathered upon the shore to watch this, as they did every Appeasement. Sunae’s mother covered Sunae’s eyes, but Sunae still heard the screams. The crunch of brittle bone between teeth. The wet gulp of gluttonous throats.

Sunae prayed to the Goddess that the warrior Yomue might rise from the dead and defeat the monster yet again. No warrior came, but a hand grasped Sunae’s and squeezed. A hand as small as her own.

When it was over, Sunae’s mother murmured, “Now we will be safe for another ten years.” She removed her hands from Sunae’s eyes, and Sunae flinched from the gore before her. The older children always said that this was why Miraya’s beaches were pink, but she hadn’t been convinced until she saw the sands now drenched with fresh blood. Dark red on dusk pink.

Full transcript after the cut:

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 66 for March 5, 2019. This is your host Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a GlitterShip original, "Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit" by Cynthia So and a poem by Chanter, "The Lamentations of Old Money."

This episode is part of the newest GlitterShip issue, which was just released and... is very late. The "Summer 2018" issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and now Gumroad! If you're one of our Patreon supporters, you should have access to the new issue waiting for you when you log in. For everyone else, it's $2.99, and all of our back issues are $1.49.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible and a free audiobook to keep. If you'er looking for an excellent book of short queer stories to listen to, you should check out Bitter Waters by Chaz Brenchley. This book is full of speculative fiction featuring gay men and was awarded the Lambda Award for best LGBT speculative fiction.

To download Bitter Waters for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership -- or choose another book if you're in the mood for something else.

Up first, our poem:

 


Chanter is a proud Wisconsinite who took flight (alas, not literally) from her originating small town, headed for the big city’s more accepting climes and never looked back.  She’s proudly asexual, demisensual, and some flavor of bi- or panromantic that’s as yet proving difficult to define.  She’s also brand squeaky new (emphasis, occasionally, on squeaky) to official publication.  Besides holding down a day job, she’s an active shortwave radio DXer and ham operator, as well as a crowdfunded author currently based mainly on Dreamwidth.

 


 

 

The Lamentations of Old Money

by Chanter

 

Jennifer doesn’t want a white dress.

She doesn’t want a church,
an altar, a tangle of coast-grown flowers,
sisters in matching silk, trained doves, stained glass,
twenty overlaid colognes and splintering sunlight,
rehearsed organ music and
recorded pop shorthand warbling through weak speakers,
biting April breezes, overthought hair and makeup,
snow in hardwood aisles.

Jennifer doesn’t want a wild time.

She doesn’t want hips around shoulders, tools and toys,
filthy supplications and hot breath ideas,
hours between bedsheets, sticky aftermaths,
bruises as tawdry mementos in hard to reach places,
hands and mouths, teeth and tongues and fluids,
too many entrances,
the junctions of legs and legs and legs.

Jennifer doesn’t want hard edges.

Not for her, leashes, spike heels and bad girl pretense.
not for her, the bite of too-demanding fingertips
grinding at her biceps,
cold and bruising at her cheeks,
clamped into the flesh of her wrists.
Not for her, orders with teeth both behind and in them,
whipcracks in voice and deed.
Not for her, daddy’s little anything, mommy’s little anything,
a schoolgirl’s life, a paddle’s life,
princess, flower, whore.
Not for her, latex and custom-made chains,
iron protocol and a child’s tear-stung punishments,
revoked names and Halloween’s expected trappings.

Not for her, anonymity.
Not for her, all of the spice
and none of the wine to mull with it.

What Jennifer wants?

Fits on a two-sided coin.

One side:

Jennifer wants nights asleep in a hayloft, clothes on,
with siblings in arms—and black coffee,
and cotton-coarse humor, and blood—
to her left and right.

Jennifer wants a uniform,
wants honest lamplight with a wick beneath it,
wants a hundred songs and a hand-tuned fiddle,
a guitar played at a campfire,
laces and burlap, branches and homespun wool,
antique language, tactile camaraderie,
respected rank and unresented ceremony,
world-spanning care so personal it can’t be feigned,
so simultaneously subtle and frank that it confuses,
so elegant it’s genuine,
so casual it’s ancient.
“To be fair, that one does drive me utterly mad of an afternoon but
God be good, dear fellow, why wouldn’t I?”

Jennifer wants a certain amount of ignored anachronism,
wants a world where ‘dear fellow’
as affectionate genderless address is just fine,
where ‘she’s a good man to have beside you in a fight’
is perfectly acceptable wording,
but where the phrase ‘man up’ is both soundly off limits
and considered decades or centuries distant, depending;
a world where, at the end of the day,
it’s quietly acknowledged and otherwise near-forgotten
that oh yes, that one there, she’s a girl.
As in woman.
As in, see also, dame. Noun.
Example I: To go to work for the war effort
on the road under cover of darkness,
on the air for the BBC,
or on the battlefield firing decisive cannon blast volleys
like a real dame.

Example II:
I’m a girl, and mostly,
I prefer other dames to fellas. Mostly.
But when I don’t, I kinda have a type? Ahem!”

Somewhere, a coin is balancing on its edge.

And the flip side:

Jennifer wants to write a hundred stories and bind them in hard covers,
wants modern skirts to her ankles,
comfortable jeans and blue corduroy coat sleeves,
wants city streets, steel toes and long hair,
near-distant clocktower bells,
silver jewelry bought by her own hand, in her own name,
a rocking chair made to last for decades,
a damn fine radio setup,
the solid strength of a wooden door at her back
after she and she - he and she - they and she
after they’ve crashed through it
and, fully clothed, battered it closed behind them.

Both sides:

Jennifer wants her wrists pressed flat against that wooden door,
all benevolent force, all warmth,
all welcome gravity, all burgeoning life in orbit,
all the steady strength of a star
in symbiosis with a planet.
Jennifer wants voices and voices and voices,
innocent details and muscle-melting,
breath-stealing turns of phrase,
sound serving as light serving as
lodestone to the iron in every millimeter of her
except, except, for a bare and unbared few.

One side:

Jennifer wants the wind at her back,
a message, a mission, a reason and a warning,
miles and miles and miles rolled out
under a sky filled with leaden stars,
a purpose and a signal, a gesture,
an anticipation of command
that tenses her like a bowstring
before—wait, wait, wait for it—rush for it— “Fire!”

Both sides:

Jennifer wants to be eager,
to be teeming under her skin with silver,
wants a reason and a cause and a leader who’s
fallible by self-description, near-matchless by others’ accounts,
wants to thrill to rank, surname, simple designation,
wants to know at exactly what she’s aimed,
near-precisely what will happen when she hits
and that yes, the trusted, entirely human hands
of gravity to a planet
are the only hands pulling or perhaps, perhaps,
the only hands directing those pulling her string,
wants to be entirely, mindfully, consensually willing
to be fired like a longbow.

And the flip side:

Jennifer wants to bring
a girlfriend home to her parents,
wants to curl into accented words
like they’re warm compresses and quilts,
wants to make promises and keep them,
find each others’ keys,
play each others’ record collections,
brush cat hair off each others’ sweaters,
adore and be adored forever,
not live together.
Jennifer wants to never grow tired of hearing herself say
“This is Elaine.” Or “This is Kim.” Or “This is...”
“This is my better half.”

Both sides:

Jennifer wants orders that both delight her
and fill her with clean purpose,
stoking a fire that consumes every inch of her
except, except, for the space between her thighs.
Jennifer wants the intersection
where bravery meets well-placed loyalty.
Jennifer wants to know exactly what she’s doing,
wants to be utterly sure of her cause,
to make up her entire mind, on her own,
and then raise her voice
and throw herself into the thing with abandon
because yes, this is right, this is reason, this is exuberance
and happiness and righteous fury blazing, this is
bright history, this is justice, this is--

One coin. With two sides.

Jennifer wants
the rarity that is liking of, love for,
acceptance and welcome of
both the existence and the admission
of her two sides.

Even when she’s difficult.
Even when she’s horrible.
Even when she’s irrational.
Even when she’s just, so most people would say,
plain off baseline weird.

Especially when she’s weird.

All of the wine to mull with
all of the spice
ground by capable hands.
Hands ringed in silver.

Hands at the ends of corduroy sleeves.

The sleeves of a coat that may have,
once or twice,
been a makeshift pillow in a hayloft.

After a night’s ride.

After a night’s mission.

 

 


 
Cynthia So is a queer Chinese writer from Hong Kong, living in London. She spent her undergrad crying over poets that have been dead for 2,000 years, give or take. (She’s graduated now, but still crying.) Her short fiction has appeared in Anathema, Arsenika, and Cast of Wonders. She can be found on Twitter @cynaesthete.

Zora Mai Quỳnh is a genderqueer Vietnamese writer whose short stories, poems, and essays can be found in The SEA Is Ours, Genius Loci: The Spirit of Place, POC Destroy Science Fiction, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler, Strange Horizons, and Terraform. Visit her: zmquynh.com. Rivia is a Black and Vietnamese Pansexual Teen who has a passion for reading, video games and music. She says “I’m gender questioning but also questioning whether or not I’m questioning...Isn’t gender just a concept?” You can hear her vocals on Strange Horizon’s podcast for “When she sings…”

 


Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit

by Cynthia So

 

 

 

On the day Sunae turned nine years old, there was no joyful feast. A monster burst from the sea that night and ate five people. The Mirayans gathered upon the shore to watch this, as they did every Appeasement. Sunae’s mother covered Sunae’s eyes, but Sunae still heard the screams. The crunch of brittle bone between teeth. The wet gulp of gluttonous throats.

Sunae prayed to the Goddess that the warrior Yomue might rise from the dead and defeat the monster yet again. No warrior came, but a hand grasped Sunae’s and squeezed. A hand as small as her own.

When it was over, Sunae’s mother murmured, “Now we will be safe for another ten years.” She removed her hands from Sunae’s eyes, and Sunae flinched from the gore before her. The older children always said that this was why Miraya’s beaches were pink, but she hadn’t been convinced until she saw the sands now drenched with fresh blood. Dark red on dusk pink.

She looked at the girl next to her, the girl who was holding her hand, and she saw a determination in those eyes as bright as the moon, as bright as her own. A determination to make sure that this would never happen again.

“I’m Oaru,” the girl said. “What’s your name?”

Sunae looked down at their clasped hands and told Oaru her name.

 

The Temple of the Moon Goddess is the most beautiful place on the island. There are no straight lines and sharp angles within, but everything is curved and gentle and swooping. Shades of blue deepen as one enters through the front, the colors of twilight intensifying into midnight, accented by silver and broken up by patches of brilliant white that gleam through the dark. A pool of water from the Moon Lake shimmers in the atrium. Frosty glass cut into lunar shapes hang from the ceiling in long, glittering threads.

All of it is flawless craftsmanship, except for the wall of the prayer hall.

The hall is perfectly circular. Spanning a semicircle on the wall is a painting of Yomue, splendid in lustrous armor, wielding a sword as black as her hair and an expression as fierce as the sea. The sand of the Mirayan beach is pink beneath her feet, and she glares at the monster that towers over her. Its writhing, many-headed form is etched into the blackness of the night. The moon hangs above them, solemn and full.

The other half of the wall is blank, its contents effaced and forgotten.

Warrior confronts monster. What’s the rest of the story? Monster leaves island alone for a hundred years. Warrior dies, and monster comes back. It is starved and salivating, with too many teeth. Every ten years, it must be fed.

Is that what was on the other half of the wall?

Sunae’s mother buys her Carrucean books to read, because Carrucean is an important language to learn well. In Carrucean tales, monsters are always slain. Heroes sometimes journey into foreign lands and kill other people’s monsters for them, and they are rewarded with riches and brides and thrones.

Sunae is ten years old, but she knows this: there are Carruceans living in Miraya. Miraya was owned by Carrucea for hundreds of years, and then there was a treaty of some sort not long before Sunae was born, and now Miraya belongs to the Mirayans again.

The Carruceans came here to their island. They governed the island and lived here for centuries, but no Carrucean ever killed the monster for them. Yet here they are on the island still, with their wealth, their power. Their Mirayan wives.

“Mother, have any Carruceans ever been fed to the monster?” Sunae asks.

Her mother frowns. “Can’t we talk about something more cheerful?”

Sunae just wants to know how to defeat the monster. If no Carruceans will come to their aid, then who will?

 

The old Library of Miraya is a burnt husk with a blackened facade, secluded from the town and set into the side of a hill, a little way from the Moon Lake. Sunae doesn’t understand why it hasn’t been torn down to make way for something new when fire ravaged it long ago, but perhaps its remote location preserved it. Evidently the Mirayans of yore prized a peaceful reading environment. Sunae can hear nothing of the bustling town here, only a chorus of birds.

She also doesn’t understand why she is letting Oaru drag her into the grim ruins. Inside, the half-collapsed roof lets in some lemony sunlight, but there is an unpleasant smell like overripe tortoise fruit, and rows of charred shelves loom and menace. “It went this way,” Oaru says, and drops to her hands and knees to crawl through a tiny hole in the wall.

Sunae sighs and follows. She gets stuck, her shoulders being broader than Oaru’s, but Oaru wrenches her free with a painful yank. She emerges into a cramped and airless space, illuminated only by the glow of the phoenix fox, which is swishing its enormous tail back and forth, sweeping away layers of ash and dust from the wall behind it.

Sunae coughs, but Oaru grabs her arm excitedly. “There’s something on the wall!”

Oaru leans over the fox and scrubs at the wall with her sleeve, gradually revealing the faded colors of a painting: a woman in an ethereal blue gown, sitting with a brush in her hand. A long scroll of paper unfurls before her, inked in an illegible, swirling script.

“Doesn’t that look a bit like Yomue?” Oaru asks.

It seems impossible that this serene woman should resemble the powerful warrior in the temple, but she does. It’s in the proud tilt of her jaw, maybe. Sunae reaches out and traces the woman’s chin. She has never been permitted to touch the temple mural, though she has longed to.

“What is she doing?” Oaru wonders.

“Writing poetry?” Sunae ventures.

The phoenix fox smirks at her and stretches lazily before slipping out through the hole in the wall, leaving them in absolute darkness. Oaru yelps, “I’ve got to catch that fox!” She tugs at Sunae’s elbow and Sunae reluctantly goes with her. It’s as much a struggle to get out as it was to get in, and the fox is nowhere to be seen by the time Sunae has wriggled through.

 

The new Library of Miraya is a clean and functional building, centrally located, right next to the Town Hall. Most of the space is dedicated to Carrucean books, with the Mirayan literature section tucked into a dismal corner. Sunae asks a librarian to help her find Yomue’s poems.

“Yomue wasn’t a poet,” the librarian says, puzzled. “But I can recommend poetry from the same time period. Not much of it survived, what with the old Library burning down... But there is some, and it’s very beautiful. Do you know how to read Classical Mirayan, though?”

In the end, Sunae walks away from the Library with a few books and a leaflet for free Classical Mirayan lessons.

By the time she turns twelve, she has read all the Classical Mirayan poetry that the Library has to offer—and all the modern Mirayan poetry, too.

She tries her hand at writing her own poem. She writes about Yomue and the monster. Yomue’s husband, wrongfully convicted of murdering a man, chained to a pillar on the shore, awaiting his execution. Yomue weeping at his feet. The moon trembling in the sky, the Goddess watching. Yomue dressing herself in armor, carefully lacing her breastplate, looping her belt through the buckle. Whetting her sword and sheathing it. Her hair, tied back with a ribbon given to her by her husband. Her boots hitting the ground, her armor jangling. The monster howling, crashing back into the sea where it nurses its wounds for a hundred years.

Sunae wins a competition at school with this poem, and gets a shiny badge that she pins to her satchel.

She is fourteen, and she writes about nature: trees touching, sands blushing. The ocean embracing the coast. Leaves tender for one another. Mountains asleep next to each other. The moon observing everything.

She is sixteen, and Oaru bets a boy she can beat him in a swordfight. Sunae has watched Oaru practise in her garden every week for five years, first with a toy sword, then with a real one; Oaru is graceful and deft with it where Sunae has always fumbled and flailed.

Oaru and the boy are wearing white clothes and using wooden swords dipped in red paint; the boy soon looks like a bloody mess and yields, while Oaru is still pristine.

“You were amazing,” Sunae says afterwards, as Oaru is cutting into a celebratory tortoise fruit. Oaru waves a slice of it in her face, and Sunae grimaces at its distinct mustiness. “Ew, no thank you.”

“How can you not like tortoise fruit?” Oaru says, shaking her head. “Are you even Mirayan?”

Sunae sticks her tongue out. “It smells like a sweaty armpit and it tastes even worse.”

Oaru eagerly bites into the purple flesh of the fruit. “You should know though, you kind of looked like a tortoise fruit just then, when I wafted it under your nose.”

Sunae blinks at the wrinkled skin of the tortoise fruit in horror. “I looked like that? Don’t be so mean!”

Oaru laughs and nudges her side. “All right, I’m sorry—but hey, do you think I’ll be good enough to defeat the monster someday?”

No. Don’t you dare try. Sunae swallows. Oaru must be the best fighter Miraya has seen in generations. Surely if anyone has a chance to ward off the monster and stop more Appeasements from happening, it’s her. How can Sunae be so selfish as to hold Oaru back for fear of losing her?

She says, “You look so much like Yomue in the temple mural when you’re moving with that sword.”

Oaru’s breath catches, and Sunae suddenly understands what it is she has really been trying to write poetry about all this time. They are alone in Sunae’s bedroom, and Sunae kisses Oaru. There is tortoise fruit on Oaru’s tongue, cloying and bitter, but Sunae doesn’t scrunch up her nose. She doesn’t mind at all.

“That has to be the boldest thing you’ve ever done,” Oaru whispers, her lips soft and purpled, her hair mussed by Sunae’s hands.

“I guess you inspired me,” Sunae says, and Oaru grins and grips Sunae’s arms.

“Remember that time I tried to catch the phoenix fox?”

Sunae nods. Every day she thinks of the painted woman lit by the phoenix-fox fire. The nameless poet buried in the rubble, her face so strangely like Yomue’s. Sunae returned to the shadowy wreckage of the old Library once, but she has grown and can no longer contort herself to fit through that hole in the wall.

“I wanted to give the fox to you,” Oaru says.

Oh.

It is a Mirayan custom for young men to present phoenix foxes to girls they wish to marry. This fact had utterly escaped ten-year-old Sunae, who merely assumed that Oaru wanted the fox as a pretty pet.

Sunae raises her eyebrows, stroking Oaru’s cheek with her thumb. “You already wanted to marry me when you were ten?”

Oaru shrugs. “I didn’t know then, what it meant. I only knew I wanted to be your friend forever. But now I know what it actually means, for me to want to marry you.” Her eyes are serious, like a cloud veiling the moon.

It means we could both be a part of the next Appeasement if anyone finds out. Sunae closes her eyes against the thought and kisses Oaru again.

Sunae is eighteen and she is awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Wimmore, one of Carrucea’s world-famous institutions. If she takes the scholarship, she will be absent from Miraya for a year. She will be absent from Miraya on the day of the next Appeasement.

Tell me what else there is, she pleads with the impassive image of Yomue on the wall, as everyone else in the prayer hall lifts their cupped hands repeatedly to their faces in the traditional gesture of worship. Tell me.

Because if there is more to the story than a swordfight, then maybe she can convince Oaru not to risk her life. And if she has to go to Carrucea to find the answers, she will.

At the end of the prayer session, when people are either shuffling off or lingering to socialize, Sunae tells Oaru about the scholarship.

“It’s stupid that you have to go to Carrucea to learn more about this island, our island that we’ve been living on our whole lives.” Oaru spits the words, and her frustration echoes in the chambers of Sunae’s heart.

“I know.” Sunae wants to run her hands through Oaru’s hair to comfort her, but it would be foolish to show such affection in public. She wants to hold Oaru’s hand, but they are not children anymore. They will not get away with it, not here where everyone can see. “Just promise me that you won’t try and take on the monster when the Appeasement comes. Please. You’re not ready.” I’m not ready.

“I promise.” Oaru’s voice sounds fervent with honesty.

Sunae hopes she has known Oaru for long enough to tell when she is lying.

 

The Moon Lake is luminous as a heart that brims full with emotion, and Sunae stands at the edge and dips her toes in.

Oaru is naked in the water, moonlight dripping from her hair. Oaru wears a smile like a phoenix fox’s, sly and burning through Sunae. Oaru’s arms are muscled and impatient and open wide.

“Come on, Sunae.”

Sunae’s fingers hover over the knot that ties the sash around her waist. “You’re breaking the law,” she whispers.

Oaru wades closer to Sunae. She lifts the hem of Sunae’s gown and kisses Sunae’s ankles. “We’ve been breaking the law for a long time, tortoise fruit,” she says, her dark eyes looking up into Sunae’s. “When has that ever stopped you?” She leaves wet handprints on the skirt of Sunae’s gown, droplets trickling down the backs of Sunae’s calves. “Who knows when we’ll get to do this again?”

I’ll only be away for a year, Sunae thinks, but Oaru’s eyes are darker than fire-scorched walls, and Sunae knows it will be the longest year of their lives.

She loosens the knot. Her gown joins Oaru’s in a careless heap on the sandy bank, and soon her body twines with Oaru’s in the water. Mist forms around them, as though the Goddess herself wishes to hide them away from the world.

 

Let’s skip ahead for a moment. It is Sunae’s nineteenth birthday, and she is chained to a pillar on the pink shore of Miraya. Her lover Oaru is shackled to a different pillar. They cannot touch or kiss each other. The monster is about to rear its ugly heads from the sea, and Sunae is crying, but she is speaking. She is reciting a poem she wrote, and I am watching, as I always have. I am listening.

So how did they get here?

 

Sunae sits on the steps of a lofty sandstone building, shivering in the wind and eating a whole tortoise fruit by herself.

She has been studying in Wimmore for four months, and she hasn’t made a single friend. The light in Wimmore is muted and cold, the streets narrow and grey, the houses foreboding and tall. People laugh at her accent. The dresses fashionable here are too tight, and she can never get enough air into her lungs.

The air tastes nothing of salt, anyway. She misses the sea.

She runs her fingers over the tough, knobbly green rind of the fruit. Her professor had bought it for the class to try—an expensive import from Miraya, not easily purchased. The others in her class had squealed over how disgusting the fruit looked and smelled as Dr. Janner was dissecting it like a corpse, and Sunae thought of Oaru’s teeth tearing into a wedge of tortoise fruit. Oaru’s tongue stained purple by its juice.

Sunae had stood up, gathered the massive fruit in her arms as though it were a baby and marched out of the classroom. And now she is sitting on rain-wet stone and chewing miserably.

How Oaru would tease her, if Oaru were here.

A girl sits down next to her. Talia from her class, with wheat-colored curls flattened in the drizzle. “You really like tortoise fruit, huh?” Talia says.

“I hate it,” Sunae says.

“Let me try a bit, will you?”

Sunae gives her a small slice and she takes a tentative bite. “Hmm, it tastes a lot better than it smells. Definitely not the texture I was expecting, though. It’s... squidgy?” She finishes the slice, throws the rind over her shoulder, and grabs another immediately.

Sunae smiles. She thinks it must be the first time she has smiled since she set foot in Wimmore. “You like it more than I do, then.”

“So what are you doing out here eating something you hate and crying?” Talia asks, squinting. “Don’t tell me that’s just the rain.”

“It’s not just the rain,” Sunae says, rubbing a hand over her face. “It’s just... It’s what a friend calls me. Tortoise fruit.”

“An affectionate nickname?” Talia turns the piece of wrinkly rind over in her hand. “Is it a cute boy who’s waiting for you at home?”

Sunae hesitates. “Um. Not a boy.” And then, to distract Talia from fixating on that, she launches into an account of everything that’s been overwhelming her. She explains that the next Appeasement is happening soon, and that she has been trying to conduct research into the history and literature of Miraya to see if she can find any clues as to how Yomue defeated the monster last time and why the monster came back, but she still hasn’t found anything useful.

“I just want to find another way,” Sunae says. “I don’t want my friend to do anything rash. I don’t want to lose her.”

Talia presses her shoulder gently against Sunae’s. “One of my ancestors was part of the first expedition to Miraya. We have an attic full of things left behind by various family members. We’ve never managed to go through all of it properly, but you’re welcome to come and have a look.”

This is how Sunae finds herself cross-legged on the dusty floor of Talia’s ridiculously big attic, cross-eyed after three continuous days of rifling through boxes of miscellanea in dim light, unable to believe what she’s looking at.

It’s a roughly colored sketch of Yomue the warrior, copied from the temple wall. Sword and monster and moon. And beneath that, a sketch of Yomue again—a woman dressed in the same armor, holding not a sword but a scroll open in her hands. Next to her is something a little like a mirror, or a full moon: a vast circle, shaded in silver. Within it coils a spiral shadow.

Sunae isn’t sure how to interpret this, but she knows that this Yomue and the painted poet in the old Library are one and the same.

She rummages through the rest of the box which contained the sketches, and her hand touches worn leather. She pulls it out of the box and it falls open on her lap, yellowed pages crammed with neat handwriting.

It’s a diary.

 

Why do all you rich Carruceans have stuff just lying around in your attic that I’ve only been searching for my entire life?” Sunae mutters under her breath to Talia, who is sitting next to her at this dinner. She clenches her fist around her fork.

“Well, at least now you can read Yomue’s poetry!” Talia whispers back.

Dr. Sotkin, a dear friend of Dr. Janner, carries on explaining to everyone how he recovered the lost manuscript of Yomue’s poems when he was cleaning out his grandfather’s house after his grandfather recently passed away. Sunae saws away at her chunk of boiled beef.

“I’ll be publishing a translation later this year,” Dr. Sotkin announces.

Sunae takes a sip of water and a deep breath. “What kind of poetry is it?” she asks, proud of how calm and polite she sounds.

“Sadly, it only survives in fragments, but I’ve brought a copy of some of them to share with all of you as a preview.” Dr. Sotkin digs in his bag and retrieves a sheaf of papers. “I believe Dr. Janner told me you can all read Classical Mirayan?”

“Some of us better than others,” Talia murmurs to Sunae, and Sunae hides a smile behind her napkin. Some of the boys in their class seem to be getting by with barely any knowledge of Mirayan. Sunae assumes it must be their wealth that passes their exams for them.

She takes the sheet that Dr. Sotkin offers to her and scans it quickly. Her mind whirls dizzily and she pushes away her plate and reads the fragment again, more slowly this time. And again.

She closes her eyes and envisions the inscrutable moon in the night sky to steady herself. Dr. Sotkin is saying something about a man that Yomue is drinking with. “She compares her love for this man to the Moon Lake—a blessing that glimmers on and on.”

Sunae hands the sheet to Talia and holds onto the edge of the table. “Dr. Sotkin,” she says, and she isn’t able to sound calm anymore. Her voice quavers. “I don’t believe Yomue is talking about a man. I know it’s only a fragment, but it’s clear from the grammar that she’s writing about a woman.”

Dr. Sotkin frowns. “Did you not hear when I said that this is a love poem?”

“Yes, I know, and I believe that Yomue’s beloved is a woman.”

“That’s preposterous. It’s simply impossible.”

“You think it’s impossible that Yomue loved another woman?”

“What you are speaking of is highly illegal and punishable by death, young lady,” Dr. Sotkin sniffs. In both Miraya and Carrucea, yes—Sunae is extremely aware. “Are we to believe that Yomue shared these poems with the public and was not executed for her sins?”

“Well, she warded off the monster, so there were no Appeasements—”

Dr. Sotkin tugs haughtily at his cravat. “You do realize that it is possible to execute people without feeding them to a monster as you barbarians love to do?”

Love?” Sunae’s voice is shrill to her own ears; drums thunder in her ribcage. “You think we love having to feed people to a monster every ten years to keep it from destroying our whole island?”

Dr. Sotkin’s face is pink as the sand on Miraya’s beaches. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Yes,” Dr. Janner joins in. “Sunae, your behavior of late has been extremely rude and disruptive and I’m afraid we cannot tolerate this. Dr. Sotkin is the foremost expert on Classical Mirayan and he will not be insulted by your bumbling reading of this poem.”

“But she’s right!” Talia protests, jabbing at the sheet of paper. “Dr. Janner, Sunae’s right. Look at this line here.”

“It’s all right,” Sunae says, putting her hand on Talia’s arm. “I’m leaving.”

 

Sunae’s head is still spinning from the fragment of Yomue’s poetry. It was so much like the poems that she has been writing about Oaru, folded into envelopes and sent across the ocean to her lover. One was about the glow of sweat and moon-water on Oaru’s skin, the night they drifted together in the Moon Lake, the last night they spent together.

And now, this letter from her mother. She sinks to the floor of the post room and clutches her knees. She is going to be sick.

The door creaks open. She looks up and Talia is there. “I’m so sorry,” Talia says. “You were such a fearsome warrior back there, speaking up to Sotkin like that. He’s utterly dreadful. Janner, too. I want to lock them both up in my attic and never let them out. Janner revoked your scholarship but he hasn’t even tried to suspend me.”

Sunae stares at Talia and cannot speak. Talia doesn’t know about the letter yet. She thinks Sunae is just upset about what happened at the dinner, but the world is crumbling at Sunae’s feet and Talia has no idea.

A smile stretches across Talia’s face. “Can you believe your legendary Yomue’s one of us?”

Sunae’s shoulders loosen a little. “One of us?”

“One of us,” Talia repeats and holds her hand out to Sunae, and Sunae understands. Instead of taking Talia’s hand, she lifts up the letter and gives it to Talia.

Talia reads it and is speechless, too. She sits down next to Sunae and together they watch the flickering light bulb. It is no moon, but it soothes, somehow.

Eventually, Talia asks, “When is the next Appeasement? Will you make it back in time?”

“If I leave at dawn, I might,” Sunae says, hoarsely.

“You’ll be arrested too if you go back, won’t you?”

Sunae nods.

“But you’re definitely going.”

Sunae nods again.

“Good luck,” Talia whispers. “If you don’t die, write me a poem. You have my address.”

She kisses Sunae’s forehead.

 

Sunae crosses the ocean home. She prays to the Goddess. She prays to Yomue.

She writes.

 

Which is what brings us here, to Sunae’s nineteenth birthday, and Sunae and Oaru on the beach where they first met ten years ago. “I love you,” Sunae says to Oaru. There is white sea-spray in Oaru’s windblown hair, and if Sunae’s plan doesn’t succeed, she wants this to be the last thing she ever sees.

She closes her eyes. The waves lap the shore. Her lungs are full of salt air. The moon caresses her face with its white light.

She opens her mouth.

The truth comes out.

Sunae wrote that silly poem when she was twelve, where I saved my husband from the monster. I laughed when I heard her read it to her classmates. Now she is a much better poet, and she has learnt so much—from sketches and diaries and mistranslated fragments—and this is what she tells the Mirayans.

Four hundred years ago, Yomue loved another woman, and they had flowers and wine and stars; they chased phoenix foxes together in the valleys. They ate tortoise fruit and kissed each other’s mouths purple. They wrapped themselves in moonlight.

Yomue was skilled with the sword, but even more skilled with words, and she was the Goddess’ favorite. She could not stand by and watch a monster kill more people in her town. She wove a spell out of poetry and enchanted the monster, led it to the Moon Lake where it slumbered for as long as she lived, and longer, because she taught others the poem.

But the Carruceans came; they brought their laws with them, and they knew how powerful fear was. How to control a people with it. Fire bloomed in the Library; in the temple, fresh paint dried on the wall. Yomue the poet was erased from history. The monster was awoken, and anyone who caused trouble could be thrown into its devouring jaws.

“Now you tell me I cannot love Oaru.

 

We chase a phoenix fox that Yomue tamed once,

Reborn from the ashes of the Library.

It hides poems in its fur.

Tell the phoenix fox I cannot love Oaru.

 

We eat tortoise fruit grown from centuries-old trees,

Roots as deep as our island.

It hides poems in its rind.

Tell the tortoise fruit I cannot love Oaru.

 

We bathe in the Moon Lake Yomue drank from,

Water sacred to the Goddess.

It hides poems in its bed.

Tell the Moon Lake I cannot love Oaru.

 

Tell the Goddess I cannot love Oaru.

Tell Yomue. Tell her and the woman she loved.

Go back in time and bind her to this pillar and

Tell her she was wrong.”

 

The monster rises out of the sea, torrents of water cascading from its back.

Oaru was arrested because of Sunae’s poetry. Because Oaru’s father found the incriminating poems, because Sunae had sent so many and they overflowed, spilled, flooded Oaru’s room. Poems alight with the memories of all that Oaru and Sunae did together, all the times they were wide-eyed travelers in the landscape of each other’s bodies, all the smoldering hearths they built in the secret corners of each other’s hearts.

The monster bellows and the earth quakes and Sunae is not afraid. She knows she is not the first who has been here. She is not the first who has done this.

 

“Let her tell you she is me.

Let her open her mouth and

Sing the monster to sleep

Again.”

 

Sunae’s pores still have the magic blessing of moon-water in them, and I am with her. Through her, I sing. I was here, like her. I loved, like her. I fought the monster and won, and she will, too.

 

If you visit the Temple of Moon Goddess today, you will see this scene painted alongside my mural in the prayer hall:

The monster walks spellbound across the island, and the Mirayans walk with it, every one of their faces slack with awe. Sunae leads them, freed from her shackles.

She holds Oaru’s hand.

 

END

 


“The Lamentations of Old Money" is copyright Chanter 2019.

“Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit” is copyright Cynthia So 2019.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also pick up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buying your own copy of the Summer 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of “Instar" by Carrow Narby.

Episode #65: “A Memory of Wind” by Susan Jane Bigelow

Episode #65: “A Memory of Wind” by Susan Jane Bigelow

January 1, 2019

Episode 65 is part of the Spring 2018 issue!

Support GlitterShip by picking up your copy here: http://www.glittership.com/buy/

 

A Memory of Wind

Susan Jane Bigelow

 

Yeni looked up at the right time, just for a single moment, and she saw a girl fly past far overhead.

No one else in the wide dome of Center Garden, the bustling, cavernous heart of the greatship, noticed. Yeni had to run to catch up with her mother, who walked a few steps ahead.

“Did you see?” she demanded. “A flying girl!”

“Don’t lie,” her mother said tiredly.

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 65. Today we have a reprint of "A Memory of Wind" by Susan Jane Bigelow to finish off the episodes from the Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip.

Susan Jane Bigelow is the author of the Extrahumans series, the LGBT YA novel The Demon Girl’s Song and numerous short stories. Her Grayline Sisters trilogy will be released by Book Smugglers Publishing in 2018. She lives in Connecticut, where she is a librarian and political columnist/commentator, with her wife and too many cats.

"A Memory of Wind" was narrated by A.J. Fitzwater.

A.J. Fitzwater is a dragon wearing a human meat suit from Christchurch, New Zealand. A graduate of Clarion 2014, she’s had stories published in Shimmer Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and in Paper Road Press’s At The Edge anthology. She also has stories coming soon at Kaleidotrope and PodCastle. As a narrator, her voice has been heard across the Escape Artists Network, on Redstone SF, and Interzone. She tweets under her penname as @AJFitzwater.

 


 

A Memory of Wind

Susan Jane Bigelow

 

Yeni looked up at the right time, just for a single moment, and she saw a girl fly past far overhead.

No one else in the wide dome of Center Garden, the bustling, cavernous heart of the greatship, noticed. Yeni had to run to catch up with her mother, who walked a few steps ahead.

“Did you see?” she demanded. “A flying girl!”

“Don’t lie,” her mother said tiredly.

Long after, her mother claimed she’d never even heard her say this, much less that she’d seen anything.

But Yeni had seen, and she remembered.

 

Yeni pulled the handle with all the strength of her twenty-two years. Sweat trickled into her eyes, and her muscles cried out in pain.

“Just a little more!” grunted Shan, and then the door gave way at last, opening out into the deserted corridor. They fell back, astonished.

“See?” Yeni said, puffing and wiping the smooth top of her head with the sleeve of her tunic. “It’s here. Just like the story said.”

A ladder.

Shan looked worried. “I don’t know. This is a bad idea. We’re going to get caught.”

“Don’t get scared on me now,” snapped Yeni. “Who’s gonna catch us? There’s nobody in this section.”

He looked up into the darkness, then back at her.

“This is our chance,” she insisted. “Go ahead. I’ll be right behind.”

 

She followed Shan up, keeping a close ear out for anything or anyone coming up behind them. They’d both turned their implants down to the lowest level, so they only did things like regulate heartbeats, monitor vital signs, and give them better night vision. The parts that told the ship where they were and what they were doing were off, now; disabled through an old trick Shan had dug up. Anyone looking for them would think they were back in their shared quarters in Supardy Forward.

“I think we’re three decks up,” said Shan. He’d reached a ledge with a door, and was sitting on it. She climbed up next to him. “So this must be it.”

“The door has dents in it,” she said wonderingly. “And… are those scorch marks?”

Shan pointed at the shaft around them. It was riddled with holes and burn marks.

“We’re here,” she said, standing. “Bunda Forward.”

 

They walked slowly, reverently, into the destroyed section. Numbers fed into Yeni’s vision: sensor scans and her own vital signs.

“Fifty years,” whispered Shan into the heavy darkness. “I’m not getting any radiation.”

“No,” murmured Yeni. “Because it was all a lie. Look around.”

The Bunda Incident had happened when their parents were young, and the only stories they told were of some kind of terrible accident that had resulted in the section being sealed, the Lord Captain taking tighter control of the greatship, and the end of a thousand years of civilian rule.

Some people had written down different stories, though, and Yeni had hunted those stories down one after another. Those stories spoke of riots and rebellion, and ShipOps sweeping in to purge the greatship of the last of the Select Board and their supporters, sealing the section behind them.

But when they made subtle, discreet inquiries of the people who had written the stories, they blinked at them and shook their heads. It was an accident, they said with perfect sincerity. Why would you think otherwise?

Memory was a funny thing. Humans were so fallible and breakable, brains leaked information like sieves. Even Shan seemed to forget important things from time to time, and she had to remind him.

It was like that with the access door. She and Shan had found a story written on a singed sheet of plastic detailing where the access ladder from Supardy up to Bunda Forward that ShipOps had used was. He hadn’t wanted to come, he didn’t see the point. He didn’t even remember the door, or what was so important about Bunda Forward to begin with. She reminded him, patient as always.

Yeni was used to people forgetting.

She held fast to her own memories, sure that someday she, too, would forget. She left notes for herself everywhere, written down in plastic so they couldn’t be changed. She had yet to need them, but someday she knew she would.

She recorded everything with her implant, filing it all away to use later.

“See here,” she murmured. “Symbols of the old government. And this name? I think she was on the Select Board. It was true, Shan! The stories were true.” She pointed to the scorch marks on the wall, and the brown stains on the floor. “There was a battle here. It wasn’t an accident.”

She felt a little tickle at the back of her mind, an odd sense that she sometimes got. It usually didn’t mean anything, but here… it felt dangerous, somehow. She stood and looked around.

“Shan?”

He was a few meters away, looking blankly at a wall.

“Shan!” She snapped her fingers in front of his eyes.

He blinked. “Yeni? We should go home.”

“Not now,” she insisted. “You can’t do this now. We’re in Bunda Forward. We came here just now. Remember!”

He frowned. “I don’t know what you mean. I have to go home.”

He got up and started to run towards the end of the hall.

“Wait!” she cried, and sprinted after him.

There was an open door. A lift tube, filled with an anti-gravity field that would gently bring you up or down, depending on where you wanted to go.

But this section was sealed off. There was no power, and no field. And if Shan didn’t remember that—

Yeni shrieked in horror as he plunged over the edge.

And then she scrambled back as a woman rose smoothly up the tube, carrying a limp Shan in her arms.

She said nothing, but smiled at Yeni. The words hello again formed distinctly in her mind.

 

The woman had already carried Shan down, and now she waited for Yeni, her arms wide. She was beautiful, Yeni thought longingly. Her body was rounded but muscular, her cheeks were high-set, and her eyes deep and expressive. Yeni thought she had a tattoo of some kind on her head until she realized with a shock that the woman had grown hair.

She watched Yeni with a touch of bemusement.

“How can I trust you?” Yeni whispered into the pregnant stillness of Bunda Forward.

The woman made no sound in reply. She only waited, her arms spread, for Yeni to come to her. A sense of welcome and safe drifted across the empty space.

Hesitantly, Yeni stepped out to her, her arms grabbing hold of the flying woman’s narrow waist and shoulders. She felt her arms twine around her back.

They began to slowly descend.

Her skin smelled like the plants in Center Garden. Yeni lay her head against the woman’s shoulder as they drifted down into darkness.

“Who are you?” she wondered. “What’s your name?”

In response there was a wild, almost chaotic sense of brightness, greenness, and of a stiff, constant breeze—the kind Yeni had rarely ever felt here on the greatship.

There was a word for that, she thought, from long ago when the greatship had still docked at planets to trade.

Wind.

 

When they reached the bottom of the tube, Wind gently released Yeni.

“I saw you,” she said, voice trembling. “Years ago. Everyone forgot. I didn’t, though. It was you, wasn’t it?”

In response, Wind’s serene face lit up into a grin.

“It was you! You… you taught me to look for things everyone else was ignoring,” said Yeni, the words pouring out of her. “That things aren’t what they seem to be. I remembered you.”

Wind clapped her hands, then leaned in to give Yeni a quick, electric kiss before rocketing back up into the darkness of the lift shaft.

Yeni watched her go, heart pounding. She could still feel Wind’s lips on hers long after.

 

Shan fell away from Yeni after that. He denied ever being anywhere near Bunda Forward, he didn’t remember Wind at all, and even started to forget who Yeni was.

He drifted back to classes and his old friends, leaving Yeni on her own. She felt more and more like a guest in their shared rooms.

One day she came back from her job as a vent cleaner to find their quarters blocked off by ShipOps. Shan was talking to them, and she caught her name.

She caught her breath, heart shattering. Then, not knowing what else to do, she sprinted in the other direction.

 

She found someone in a nearby section who could input new codes into her implant, so that anyone looking would think she was someone else. She also acquired the ability to turn the beacon on and off whenever she pleased. It was just a start—the implants couldn’t be completely removed because of danger to the nervous system—but it was better than nothing.

Yeni began to wander the emptiness of the greatship alone. She needed little food or water; her body had been bioengineered to survive. She needed only herself.

And, she told herself, the solitude suited her. She didn’t mind being the woman everyone forgot. She didn’t mind being nobody.

But during the night cycles she found herself curled in a far corner of the greatship, feeling as empty as the corridors.

 

She broke into places left empty for long decades, using the tubes and tunnels reserved for ShipOps. Her mother had been ShipOps, and she’d shown her daughter some of the ways around the greatship only they knew. That had been before a tunnel had swallowed her up, one day. Another accident, they said.

So many accidents.

Yeni found levels below the ones she knew, below the ones anyone had even suspected. She found what looked like massive landing gear at the very bottom of the ship, and a marvelous, grimy window that looked out onto the cold vastness of space.

She thought she would find ShipOps around every corner, waiting for her, but she didn’t. They were nowhere in sight. They never came after her.

The only place she couldn’t go was the Red Pearl, the heavily guarded plaza in Center Garden where the Lord Captain and the commanders of ShipOps sat. This was where they made the decisions that determined where the greatship went on its endless journey through space, and where they ruled its population of five hundred million humans. It was the heart of everything.

But Yeni had no desire to go there. Whoever went to Red Pearl never came back.

 

A few conclusions began to penetrate the fog of loneliness and heartbreak that surrounded Yeni. There were not five hundred million people living aboard the greatship. There couldn’t be; where would they all be? Yeni knew how to calculate, and she knew that her own home section of Supardy, one of the more full sections, had only about five thousand. Many sections were simply empty.

Every official account said there were five hundred million, though. Those numbers never changed, and no one else seemed to think they were wrong.

But as she wandered long, empty corridors that wound through section after section, she knew they had to be. The greatship was full of nothing but ghosts and ruins.

She found the remains of sections long since abandoned. She traced her fingers over the mosaics on the walls, sat by the dormant fountains, and picked through the remains of gardens, all while that little sense of danger-change-danger constantly tickled the back of her mind.

But she could tell that many of these sections had been inhabited once, maybe a century ago. She found dates on some of the mosaics and in names scrawled on the floors. Sometimes she found other things, too. Like ancient scorch marks, or pieces of plastic with strange symbols on them. We fight, they said. And we will die for what we believe.

Where had everyone gone? What had happened?

She kept walking. She looked everywhere, poking her nose in and out of every corner.

Yeni told herself she was trying to find the truth, to piece together what had become of everyone, but it was more than that. At night she dreamed of warm skin that smelled like gardens, and arms tight around her as they flew together through the air.

 

And then one day she was walking through yet another massive, empty open square, picking through garbage and absorbing the beautiful, solemn silence, when there was a gust of wind and the sound of feet hitting the ground.

Yeni turned, and there she was. She wore a bodysuit several shades darker than her deep brown skin, and her hair had grown. It was straight, and neared her shoulders. Yeni fought the urge to touch it, to smell it.

“You,” she whispered, her heart leaping.

Wind smiled, and held out a hand. Yeni felt her welcome before the words formed in her mind.

Hello again.

“I’ve been looking for you,” said Yeni.

Joy. Anticipation.

And I for you.

Yeni stepped forward, trembling, aware of her own heartbeat, her own breathing.

“You remember me?”

Wind took her hand. Then her strong arms were around her again, and they were in the air.

 

They shot through vacant corridors and access tubes at dizzying speed. Yeni tightened her grip on Wind, pressing her head against the softness of her chest. In response, the woman gave her a quick, reassuring squeeze.

They flew up and up, then through an open space, then up again and into another dark access tunnel.

At last they alighted atop a promontory high above a circle of lights. Yeni looked down, dizzy, and clawed away from the edge. Center Garden, she realized once her heart stopped pounding. It was the night cycle, and and she could see the lights of the open plazas at the heart of the greatship below.

“You… why? Why did you come for me?”

But Wind only smiled.

“You don’t talk at all?”

Wind slowly shook her head no.

But then a thought slowly congealed in Yeni’s mind.

You saw me, long ago. You remembered.

“Yes,” said Yeni. “I know. You… you remember too? I don’t meet many people who remember. I…”

Yeni felt other things from Wind then. Loneliness. Longing. Hope.

And more.

Yeni didn’t hesitate. She leaned into the woman, inhaled that rich garden scent, and kissed her.

 

They sat high above the gleaming lights of Center Garden for hours, curled together, until the night ebbed and the day cycle began. Then Wind gathered Yeni into her arms again and leapt from the promontory. Yeni shrieked in alarm, but of course they didn’t fall. Instead, they sailed out high above the great open area below. Yeni could see the ceiling above, so close now, and the buildings and gardens below. She could even see Red Pearl at the core of everything.

She feared Wind might bring her back to where she’d found her, or even back to Supardy or even Bunda Forward. But instead she dove into a narrow access tube, and then there was darkness and the rush of air until they were somewhere new.

She alighted outside an ancient door, painted with symbols Yeni couldn’t even begin to decipher.

Wind pointed. “In there?” asked Yeni. The woman nodded. Yeni could sense something like urgency coming from her.

“Why?”

Because you remembered me.

She gathered her courage and opened the door.

There was a small room inside, filled with old equipment. At the center was a tank of some kind of solution, illuminated by a ghostly green light. Suspended within was the naked body of a woman.

She was small, and her hair formed a halo around her head. Yeni touched her own bald scalp, and thought of Wind. Most humans had stopped growing hair a long time ago.

The woman opened her eyes.

“Hello,” said a loudspeaker. “I am the greatship.”

 

Yeni sat on the floor, battling confusion. “But you can’t be.”

“At the heart of every greatship is someone like me,” the greatship said through the loudspeakers. Her lips didn’t move, and her eyes seemed like they were looking somewhere else. But her attention was riveted to Yeni, nonetheless. “Someone to be a guide, a living mind to contain the will of the ship.”

“So… you’re a computer?”

“Nothing so crude,” the woman—the greatship— said. “A vessel so vast can hardly help but become aware. My purpose is to be its consciousness. This is the bargain we struck with the Intres, long ago. This is the gift of Great Yea, long lost to the universe.”

Yeni didn’t understand any of what she was saying. None of it made sense to her. “What do you mean ‘every’ greatship?” she asked, plucking one fact out that made sense. “There are others?”

“Oh, yes. There were hundreds of us, once. My poor child,” said the greatship. “You’ve forgotten so much.”

“No!” said Yeni fiercely. “I don’t forget anything! I’m the only one who doesn’t forget.”

“Ah,” said the greatship. “Yes. I know. That’s why I asked Wind to bring you here.”

“Me? Why?”

“We need your help, Yeni.”

“What?” asked Yeni. “You must be joking. My help?”

“Yes.”

“Why me? I’m nobody! I’m just a hallway rat. A creeper. I don’t have a job anymore, I have no function. I’m dead weight.”

“You are no such thing. We need you because you’re like us,” said the greatship. “You’re like Wind, and you’re like me.”

Yeni turned to Wind, who stood watching them intently in the door. “But… you fly,” she said helplessly. “And you speak with your mind. How am I anything like you?”

Wind put a hand on her forehead, and Yeni heard words in her mind again.

Because you remember.

Foreign images flickered through her mind. Implants… men in a room… war… decisions. Forgetting.

Implants; everyone had them. But when someone decided that they should forget something, all it took was a simple, silent command sent from Red Pearl.

“People let things slip away from their memories,” said the greatship. “But you don’t. Your mind is different.”

Yeni stood silent, not daring to admit to anything.

“Long ago,” said the greatship. “There were people who could do things you’d think of as amazing, now. We could fly. We could heal ourselves in an instant. We were faster and stronger than humans. But there were so few of us. Eventually, there were only a handful, and even those died out. I was the last born; there were no more after me. But I always believed that someday, if we were careful, that these abilities would return to some of us again. Wind is the first of the new ones born. You were the second.”

“But… I can’t fly or any of that,” protested Yeni. “I’m nobody!”

She was Yeni, the woman who slipped through the cracks. The woman her own lover had stopped remembering.

“I’m nobody,” she insisted.

The greatship’s human body stirred. Her eyes focused on Yeni.

“You’re anything but. You remember. They can’t touch you. That’s why I need you,” she said.

“Why?”

“I’m dying. I must be repaired. We must try to save everyone before it’s too late.”

 

Wind walked on her own two feet, hand-in-hand with Yeni though the wide plazas and gardens near Red Pearl. All around, the people of Center Garden came and went, oblivious. There had to be thousands of people packed into this place. It was possible to believe, here at the heart of everything, that the greatship was still full.

The greatship herself had said otherwise. Yeni had been right; there were once hundreds of millions more here. But then there had been a terrible civil war aboard the greatship, and a full tenth of the population had been killed.

After that, most of the survivors had left the greatship’s smothering embrace to seek new lives on new worlds. Millions and millions had left, until at last the Lord Captain forbade them to dock at planets altogether.

And so, section by section, systems had been shut down to save energy. The remaining people had been consolidated into a dwindling number of places. The greatship herself calculated that there were fewer than a hundred thousand aboard, now. When the Select Board had objected to more shutdowns, the Lord Captain and ShipOps had eliminated them at Bunda Forward.

Yeni and Wind approached the forbidding, heavily guarded gates of Red Pearl. The greatship had told them that she could help somewhat, that she could from time to time subvert ShipOps’s protocols, but that over the centuries the Lords Captain had ensured that she could do very little on her own.

She could, however, open a certain door for a certain period of time.

They walked around the curving perimeter of Red Pearl until they found it; an almost seamless door set into the red wall.

They waited. Yeni’s hand felt small and warm in Wind’s. She thought of the stunner in one pocket, and the small data crystal with navigation orders on it in the other.

“I’m glad you found me,” said Yeni softly. “I’m glad you remember.”

Wind smiled at her, and squeezed her hand. Yeni could see no fear or nervousness in her eyes.

And then the door made a small beeping sound, and slid open. Wind dashed through, dragging Yeni behind.

 

Red Pearl was a labyrinth of connecting corridors, all of them full. ShipOps was all around them.

At first no one took notice of them as they navigated the outer layers. Their implants had been tuned to broadcast an “It’s okay for us to be here” signal to ShipOps.  But as they moved farther in towards the heart of Red Pearl, they were stopped and questioned more and more. At last, their cover story about delivering certain documents to an office somewhere in the complex failed them, and they were surrounded.

Yeni fingered the stunner she had hidden in her pocket. She could set it off, and everyone around her would collapse—including Wind. Then she’d have to run alone to the center of the complex to find a place where they could connect the data crystal to the greatship’s navigation systems. When that happened, the greatship could take control, and guide them to a planet where they could be repaired.

She tensed, readying the stunner.

But Wind put a hand on Yeni’s arm. Not yet.

And she rose into the air.

The ShipOps people gaped at her, then all looked off into the distance. Yeni felt that same little tickle at the back of her mind.

Confused, the ShipOps people wandered away. Wind gave Yeni a triumphant grin, then rocketed off down a now-empty corridor.

Understanding dawned, and Yeni laughed. Wind was the kind of thing that merited an automatic memory purge. It had happened to her mother, once, long ago, and then to Shan.

She might be that herself, now, she thought as she hurried after Wind.

 

They encountered no additional resistance. The corridors leading to the navigation center were entirely empty. Yeni began to panic as they traversed one empty hall after another. It shouldn’t be like this, not here in the heart of the greatship!

At last a set of doors opened in front of them, and they were suddenly drawn into a bright room by a strong gust. The doors slammed shut behind them.

A lone figure sat at the center of the room, surrounded by monitors, input devices, and complex equipment. She recognized him at once; he was the one person aboard who would never, ever be forgotten,

“So you’ve arrived,” the Lord Captain said. He was ancient and wizened, his skin dry and sagging. “I knew it as soon as she opened her door in the wall.”

Yeni gathered herself and stepped forward, anger spiking. “You—you’re the one who changed everyone’s memory. You’re why they forgot so much!”

He shook his head. “It was necessary.”

“How could it possibly have been necessary!” Yeni exclaimed.

“You don’t understand,” he said scornfully. “You’re just children. You can’t comprehend how it was, during the wars. Millions died in the last civil war; the greatship was nearly destroyed. And then when I acted to preserve what little was left after war and exile, they fought me again! More war and death. So I did what I had to do. I made them forget.”

“Not me,” said Yeni defiantly, feeling brave. Wind’s hand tensed around hers; she ignored it. “I remember. You can’t make me forget.”

“There are other ways of forgetting,” said the Lord Captain. “But tell me, young ones, what’s worse? Another war, filled with suffering and death, or a whole greatship full of happy people who forget things from time to time? Which is the greater evil?”

“She’s dying,” said Yeni. “The greatship. You have to find a planet where we can be fixed. There are repairs she has to have!”

He shook his head, a hollow look in his eyes. “I can’t do that. People would leave. Others would come aboard. The wars would start again. So many would die… so many.” He looked at them with his sad, heavy eyes. “The Select Board thought I was evil, as well. A monster.” He tapped his head. “But I remembered the wars. I remembered the bitterness, the thirst for blood and vengeance. It fed off itself, until it would explode in fire and death. There was no way to ever stop it… until I had an idea. I thought—what if we simply forgot what divides us?” He banged his fist on the arm of his chair. “I have saved us.”

“But she’s dying!” insisted Yeni.

She told you that,” said the Lord Captain, his eyes narrowing. “But she lies. She would do anything to undermine me. She despises me, and all of the Lords Captain who have dared try and exert their will against her. I’ve had to act to neutralize her. It’s my job to protect this ship. I was born to protect this ship!”

He stood, wobbling, and then he spread his arms and lifted off the ground.

Yeni gasped.

“I will protect us!” he bellowed. The room seemed to hum with the buildup of electricity. A bolt of lightning singed the ground near Yeni. She screamed and dove for cover.

Then there was a terrible scream unlike anything Yeni had never heard before.

Wind!

She streaked through the air, smashing square into the Lord Captain’s chest,and carrying him across the room. They crashed into the wall, and then he was above her.

Lightning struck Wind over and over again.

“No!” cried Yeni, thumbing the stunner’s trigger.

 

Wind and the Lord Captain both lay inert on the ground. Wind’s breathing was shallow and ragged, but she was alive. The Lord Captain had landed hard, and his own breathing was far more labored. His legs were splayed at a funny angle, and his ancient head was covered in bruises.

Somewhere she heard a distant alarm sound.

“Greatship,” whispered Yeni. She withdrew the data crystal. “Did you lie to me?”

There was no response. The greatship couldn’t talk to her here. She might not even be able to see her, here in the middle of Red Pearl.

The Lord Captain had been right about the war. It had really happened. Did she really want to bring back war and strife? Did she dare?

Her hand hovered by the interface. All she had to do was insert the crystal, and the greatship would have control. They’d make for the nearest planet with facilities to fix the many things that had gone wrong. The greatship’s engines were magnificent and powerful; they’d be there in only a few weeks.

“You said Wind was the first,” she said. “And I was the second. But that can’t be true. Did you not know about the Lord Captain? Or did you keep it from me?”

She called up the navigation system. It was all open to her, here in the room.

There was a star system with a habitable planet nearby. They had drifted towards the edge of the galaxy, where few  of the galaxy’s hundreds of sentient races lived. There was a small colony of humans on one side of it, and no repair facilities in orbit.

The other side was empty. They could be there in less than a day.

Wind groaned from nearby. Yeni looked over at her. Soon the Lord Captain would rise, as well. She had to act quickly.

“I’m sorry,” she said, not sure who she was addressing. Wind? The greatship? The Lord Captain? Herself? “This can’t continue. We can’t live as a people who always forget. We can’t go back to fighting in the corridors. We… we must start again.”

She input the command. The greatship seemed to shudder and moan as it changed course.

Yeni sat next to Wind, stroking her hair as she stirred into wakefulness, and waited.

 

Brilliant sunlight fell on her shoulders and head, and her skin pimpled as a cold breeze buffeted her. The sky was so empty, no ceiling above! Some people screamed and cried as they made their way from the dead hulk of the greatship, but some wept with joy.High above, Wind flew in great looping circles. Yeni could hear her joyous laughter, and smiled to herself.

They would remember her now, thought Yeni. They would remember both of them.

She guided a slight woman dressed in a simple robe over the uneven ground. She walked unsteadily and hesitantly, as if her limbs hadn’t seen use in thousands of years.

“How do you feel?” asked Yeni.

The woman looked back at the massive ruin of the greatship. The wind stirred her long dark hair, and she swayed back and forth in the breeze.

“Smaller,” she said at last.

 

END

 

Episode #64: “Sabuyashi Flies” by Sebastian Strange

Episode #64: “Sabuyashi Flies” by Sebastian Strange

January 1, 2019

 

 

Episode 64 is a GLITTERSHIP ORIGINAL and is part of the Spring 2018 issue!

Support GlitterShip by picking up your copy here: http://www.glittership.com/buy/

 
 
Sabuyashi Flies
by Sebastian Strange
 

Sofie Faucher advertised her solution to the age-old magic problem well. I can still remember the first night I stepped out of Ellen’s dorm building, late, and looked up to see one of Faucher’s billboards; a crisp square of white and silver against the darkest, featuring Faucher’s trim torso and winning smile. Her large dark eyes were fixed on the future, somewhere behind me and much higher up, and her hands clasped a glass pitcher full of shimmering silver.

NOBODY HAS TO DIE was written across the bottom. FAUCHER’S SPARK.

[Full story after the cut.]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 64. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a piece of original fiction, "Sabuyashi Flies" by Sebastian Strange, and a poem, "how to exist in between" by Danny McLaren.


Danny McLaren is a queer and non binary writer who uses they/them pronouns. They have been writing short fiction and poetry for as long as they can remember, but only entered the world of publishing this year. They are currently an undergraduate student majoring in gender studies. They often explore themes associated with mental health, gender, identity, and social justice in their work. They are an editor and co-founder of Alien Pub, an arts and culture magazine.

 


 

How to exist in between

 

find a crack in the floorboards where you can hide.
this will be your home.
don’t worry if you can’t fit now; their words will make you feel small enough to fall through the slats eventually.
listen to the footsteps and laughter above,
hear how they stomp around with violent intent.
know they’d crush you if they knew you were here.

teach yourself to be quiet enough that no one pays you any attention.
it’s better to go unseen than draw the eye of someone unkind,
someone with a word or two for people like you.
feel their eyes on you either way,
and know that the questions about your hair, your clothes, your voice, are already on their lips.
walk faster, so that you’re gone before they can speak.

take note of what they say when they think you can’t hear.
scribble them all down in the back of your notebook,
everything overheard in the back of a lecture hall,
or on the bus,
or to your mother,
save them for a time when you will need to be reminded why you exist,
why you continue to exist.

ask them to call you by your name.
when they don’t, hold your tongue.
when they ask if you are a boy or a girl, say no.
you do not owe them an answer, least of all to a question for which you have none.
remember how they seem to take offence to your pronouns, as if your existence has anything to do with them.
know that these people are not worth your time.
know that one day you will find ones who are.

 


 

Sebastian Strange writes from Ohio but still feels like a New Englander. His fiction has been published in Mythic Delirium and Crossed Genres. Find him trying to figure out Twitter at @MonstrousMor.

"Sabuyashi Flies" was narrated by Maria Rose.

Maria Rose is a graphic designer, writer, astrologer, classicist. Sometimes saturnine, mostly eccentric. You can hear her audiobook narration work in “Messengers of the Right” from University of Press Audiobooks or at Gallery of Curiosities Podcast.

 


 
Sabuyashi Flies
by Sebastian Strange
 

Sofie Faucher advertised her solution to the age-old magic problem well. I can still remember the first night I stepped out of Ellen’s dorm building, late, and looked up to see one of Faucher’s billboards; a crisp square of white and silver against the darkest, featuring Faucher’s trim torso and winning smile. Her large dark eyes were fixed on the future, somewhere behind me and much higher up, and her hands clasped a glass pitcher full of shimmering silver.

NOBODY HAS TO DIE was written across the bottom. FAUCHER’S SPARK.

Some of the early adverts, I heard, had the outline of a raven by the product name, or sketched on the glass container. The papers went briefly wild over it—she was said to be catering to Galenites, who were a fringe element and shouldn’t be catered to; then everyone printed letters from Galenites who supported Faucher and thought she was bringing in the future, and Galenites who thought she was perverting everything Galen Guntram had stood for and ought to be stopped. How, they didn’t specify; there was no law against taking Galen Guntram’s name in vain.

I just thought if you were really a Galenite, you would have to be pretty stupid to write in to a paper, because your letters would probably get seized by the police and used to track you. It wasn’t against the law to be a Galenite (yet) but it was considered unpatriotic and in bad taste. And in these days, those things could get you shot. L’Amérique la belle—that’s what my mother always muttered when she saw another death on the news.

She was Japanese, not French, but she learned a little French from my father; said she liked the sarcastic, slippery sound of it. My father came from France, but was Roma by birth; I don’t mention that part to most people; I’m tired of being asked about ‘living on the road’. I don’t know much about how my father lived, but I was born in America, in a slender apartment; number five in building number four in the housing for the magicians America had imported from other countries. Mama told me the walls were so thin everyone heard me crying, and before long the doctor opened the door to a handful of women bearing gifts. They were all from different countries, and only one of them spoke broken French and another knew a few textbook phrases in Japanese, but Mama said they managed to understand each other. Food and smiles and helping hand when it was needed—that was the language of people far from home. The crying child says, there is need, and in return you silently say I will help you, and an equally silent promise is made in return. Mama told me what all the women looked like, so if I ever met them again I could pay them back.

I never quite knew what she expected me to do. These days, I could offer them a spell, but back then I had my chubby fingers dipped in ink and four-fifths of my soul signed over to the Massachusetts Department of Magicians before I could write my name. The price for the housing, and the monthly allowance; my father had already used two of his spells when he’d heard about the program, and they’d wanted magicians with more to spare. So he’d thrown in his firstborn child and, amazingly, America shrugged and accepted.

L’Amérique la belle!

 

Faucher’s Spark appeared in my first year of college, and I tried it at the end of my second. My father was dying, of a sickness nobody could quite explain or pinpoint, so I’d started drinking a little to see if it dulled the pain. It didn’t do much, but at the third party I got into, the boy presiding over it all (Jack, English, stupidly rich) produced a bottle of Faucher’s and announced he’d be mixing drinks with it for anyone brave enough to try. Ellen, ignoring my horrified whispers, was the first to swagger forward and offer herself as a test subject. I watched as she swirled the silver liquid into her half-depleted drink, swigged the rest, and grimaced.

“It tastes nasty,” she declared, then shuddered. Put her hand out in the air with a look of wonder, more as if she were high than drunk, and snapped her fingers. Feathers materialized, tiny and glittery and perfect. Snap, and they became bubbles before they touched the floor.

She snapped again, but nothing happened. Turning around, she thrust her glass out at Jack. “I don’t care how horrible it tastes,” she said. “Fill it up.”

I went up somewhere in the second wave, the people who weren’t brave enough to leap forward immediately but didn’t want to feel left out. Jack dripped a tiny amount into my glance, giving me a half-smile. I couldn’t tell if it was cruel or flirtatious; either was equally unwelcome.

Faucher’s goes down smooth but sick-tasting, like meat and polluted earth. But in your belly, it sings. It warms you from the inside out, and makes you feel invincible. And when I held out my hands, a rain of jewel-like beetles pattered down into them. They clung tight to me, friendly but not invasive, crawling over my shoulders and tickling inside my shirt collar. They scared away a boy or two who got too near, and I whispered thanks to them.

I got drunk enough in the early morning to walk home, wanting to show my father, but by the time I got there they’d dissolved into nothing; leaving a thin, dry layer on my skin, like the aftermath of a soap bubble. My father believed me anyway, listened to my babbled descriptions of their beauty with his hand on my hand. “They sound wonderful, Sabuyashi,” he told me. “I’m sure your mother would have been proud.”

 

My mother was a beetle enthusiast. Her great-great-grandmother had discovered the sabuyashi beetle, and my mother lived joyously in the shadow of that glory. She died when I was twelve, but almost died before I was born; she stowed away on a ship out of Japan when she was eighteen (having presumably exhausted the store of interesting beetles in Japan) and was found mid-voyage. It was between wars but women have rarely been treated kindly on the sea, especially when they don’t speak the language the sailors know. My mother spoke only a few words of English, the language they tried to address her in, and lost them all in her fright. She only survived because one of the men spoke up for her, pointed out to his fellows that she seemed harmless enough.

She never told me that man’s name or what he looked like, and she told me why shortly before she died. “He wanted something from me, Sabuyashi,” she said. “Something I didn’t want to give. It’s not important whether he got it or not; what’s important is that you recognize there are people who will offer help, and not truly mean it. Learn to recognize those who mean it and those who don’t.”

I don’t know if I’ve learned to tell the difference yet, but my mother escaped from the man’s clutches when they stopped at their next port. She dove into the winding streets of a city she didn’t know with nothing but her case full of beetle specimens, and somehow survived. That’s always how she put it—somehow, with a little shrug.

“How?” I’d ask. I was practical and stubborn as a child; uncertainties bothered me.

“Oh, you know—by the grace of God. With magic.”

“But you’re not a magician.”

She’d always shrug and start humming. After ten minutes of humming and fruitless questions on my part, she’d pick up the story again as if she’d never left it, telling how a sabuyashi beetle had led her to my father. He had met her when he took his mother to the local doctor, and found a strange woman hovering around the doctor’s doorstep, examining beetle nests through a magnifying glass. “And he fell in love,” she proclaimed, “the first moment he saw me.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said. I was a rude kid. “Nobody does that.”

“He did! He fell in love the moment he saw me. I could see it in his eyes. All because sabuyashi beetles had brought us together. And magic.”

Even at nine, I knew how magic worked. “Magic comes from the soul,” I told her, with the patronizing tone only available to ninety-year-old professors and nine-year-old children. “It can’t be produced without sacrifice, and you can only do five spells before you die. Magic doesn’t make people meet.”

“It did with us,” she’d say, and start humming again. I thought she was mean, at nine years old. I’d just begun to comprehend that I’d had a chunk of my life signed away before I could hold a pen, and it seemed incredibly unfair. I hated magic and resented my father, and it seemed callous to love them both so obviously in my presence.

Now it just seems callous of the world to take her before I could comprehend how brave she was. I used to blame God, but I’m old enough to put two and two together now, and know that God didn’t make her vanish into thin air. I don’t know whether it was some idiot’s grudge held from the second war against anyone with a Japanese face, or a killer who targeted any kind of woman, or a goddamn accident someone decided to cover up in a shallow grave. I only know she’s gone, and magic can’t bring back the dead. Not even Faucher’s can manage that.

 

“But we’re working on it,” Sofie Faucher told me, during my interview at the Spark store. “I don’t believe in ‘impossible’.”

I nodded, awe-stricken. I hadn’t been prepared to meet her; I’d been assigned an interview with the store manager, a thin man called Martin with a Galenite tattoo on his upper arm that had been awkwardly converted from a raven into a constellation in the night sky. But Sofie had slid through the door five minutes past the assigned time, announced brightly that she liked to drop by stores and interview various candidates herself, and taken my resume from my surprised hand.

“Nobody has to die,” I quoted, finding my voice. Sofie smiled brilliantly, and my heart flopped from side to side.

“You got it! Of course that referred to the old way of doing magic, the…” she gestured, frowning, “…ripping your soul into pieces thing… Honestly, how did that get off the ground? What fifteenth century geniuses discovered you could rip your soul, your God-given life, out of your body and decided it was a good idea?”

I shrugged helplessly. My father had called it the most beautiful sacrifice possible. He’d never been a Galenite, but he’d died in a way they all dreamed of; using his last spell in a selfless gesture. “I’m already dying,” he’d said to me, gently, as I screamed. “Don’t get excited.”

He somehow made me love and hate him with everything he did. Sofie brought me back to the real world by exclaiming over the front page of my resume, which she’d finally gotten around to reading.

“Sabuyashi, like the beetle?”

“Yes.” My hands clenched tight on my knees. I’d asked the Department for permission to use a less strange name on job applications, but they’d denied me. I don’t doubt they’d rather see me jobless, surviving only on the magician’s allowance. “I’m descended from the woman who discovered it.”

“Never heard of who found it, but that is a wonderful coincidence. What do you think we use to give Faucher’s its silver color?”

“The exoskeletons?”

“Exactly! Sabuyashi, I do believe this is a coincidence ordained by God.” Sofie held out her hand and I took it, not sure of what she was doing, not sure what to do when she clasped it with both of her own. She looked into my eyes. “You’re not getting the counter job,” she announced. Before my face had time to fall, she continued. “You’re coming with me to where we make Faucher’s. You’re going to help me bring our magic to the whole wide world.”

I didn’t believe my mother when she said you could fall in love in a moment. I wasn’t sure I believed my own lips when they said, “That sounds wonderful, Miss Faucher.” The whole meeting with Sofie felt like a dream.

But it became easier to believe when I went to the MDM the next day and filed my right-to-move paperwork, and easier yet a week later when I demonstrated, in front of a very annoyed committee, that I could down a bottle of Faucher’s and produce magic without harming my precious soul. “Therefore,” Ellen announced, tapping my paperwork and leveling her best negotiator gaze at the men, “there is no reason for my client to undergo surveillance and live in state-mandated housing. She will be able to produce the two spells she still owes you at any time, with no danger that she’ll use her magic up before then.”

They’d argued. Primarily that the formula to Faucher’s Spark was still a company secret, locked down tighter than the Coca-Cola recipe, and it was sure to be discovered to be made out of some unpatriotic material soon, and then where would I be? I finally signed an agreement stating I’d return to them in a hot second when Faucher’s folded, or risk jail time. Then we skipped town before they could figure out I wouldn’t come back if there was a gun to my head, and that Ellen wasn’t formally a lawyer yet. Sofie had already gone ahead, but when Ellen left me at the train station with a kiss to the cheek that made my heart jump, I found myself in the company of three other women on the way to Faucher’s headquarters. They all looked whiter than me, but they were polite enough; one told me stories about her great-grandmother, who was Chinese, and I was forgiving of her ignorance. We pooled our money for a bottle of wine and drank to our beautiful futures in the dining car, too full with thoughts of magic to be hurt by mundane things.

 

I discovered that while I’d assumed my role would be in managing things behind the scenes, Sofie had something different in mind for me. “You’re going to be one of the faces of Spark,” she told me, positioning me in front of a mirror. “We’ll have you photographed, perhaps painted as well. You’ll do demonstrations at parties. The girl who escaped the old way of magic and embraces the new. You’re perfect for this, Sabuyashi.”

Looking at her brilliant eyes in the mirror, I couldn’t tell her no.

She lingered even after she’d passed me into the hands of dresses and makeup artists, and I didn’t know whether to be pleased or terrified. She was more than a decade my senior, and looked like a woman accustomed to getting what she wanted, and I doubted what she and I wanted would quite match—women made my heart sing, but nobody ever roused my body. I could understand the appeal of sex in theory, but shied from it in practice. But for the moment I couldn’t help but enjoy her admiring glances, the compliments she offered on every potential dress.

I had always dressed plainly, especially during the years in college that I felt lower than I ever had before, but I didn’t dislike pretty things; just couldn’t quite figure out how they worked. It was a strange, disquiet joy to watch myself transform in the mirror from a recognizable slip of a woman to a glittering stranger. They swathed me in silver and white, painted my eyelids with silver dust. “This is made with sabuyashi beetles as well,” the girl on makeup told me; meant kindly, I knew, but it made my stomach churn for a moment. I wasn’t sure why; my mother loved beetles, but nature was far more vicious than man to them. You couldn’t get sad about them dying without being sad every three seconds, and I didn’t want to be sad. I never wanted to be sad again.

And finally, they put a glass jug in my hands. I felt myself slip into a dreamlike state again as I was photographed; I felt as if I were looking at myself from the outside, from below that billboard years ago. “We’re working on new slogans now,” I hear Sofie saying distantly, as if I’m underwater. “Something to work with how angelic you look, how you don’t have to be trapped as a state magician anymore. Whole and Free.”

“The Sabuyashi flies,” a woman pinning my skirt suggested.

“Clever, but I’m not sure if enough people will get it.”

“The sabuyashi beetle doesn’t fly when it’s silver,” I heard myself saying. “It’s only after it sheds the silver coat that it flies. It’s brown then, and has three markings—”

“That’s nice, sweetheart,” the woman pinning my dress said. “Nobody will know that.”

The camera flashed again and again, people cooed and argued, and I swam around the space above myself. I only drifted back down when someone took the jug out of my hands and Sofie put a hand on my shoulder. “I must run now,” she said, “but we’ll see each other soon enough. Get some rest, say some prayers. You look dazed, darling.”

Someone else was holding my hand. I turned my head groggily to find a woman wiping off some silver glitter that had stuck to my wrist; she had paused, and was frowning at the paper-thin scar that ran up the inside of it. I pulled my hand away, and said to Sofie, “I’m just tired. Too much of a good thing.”

Perhaps that was right. Perhaps that was why alarm bells kept ringing inside my head; I wasn’t used to good things happening, much less so many of them at once. I already knew my brain was slightly broken, had been since I was a child. That shouldn’t stop me from enjoying life.

 

There’s no way I can say that my sadness broke after my father died without seeming heartless. But it did; it broke like a storm, or a sudden overflowing of tears after several hard weeks—transforming from a continual, dull ache of depression into the rich depths of grief. I wept more than I ever had before, and after a while my tears dried. I could get out of bed again. I felt hungry, I could picture tomorrow in my head. Not next week or next month, but tomorrow was a victory in itself.

My greatest fear was that I hadn’t really escaped the cloud that had hung over me for so long; that this was only a temporary lift, a hill rising out of the darkness, and before long I’d be going down again. I’d barely survived it last time. My greatest hope was that I could keep it at bay, because I had a theory and so far it had worked.

When I was a teenager, just before I’d entered college, the Department had demanded one of the spells I owed them. I’d been transported from my front door to a helicopter to a slimy bank over a rapidly flooding town, pointed at a broken dam and told to fix it. I didn’t remember the next few hours; my father told me, later when he was bringing me tea in bed, that I’d mended the dam and replaced all the water where it had come from, then screamed and collapsed.

I still don’t remember how I’d ripped a piece of my own soul out. Nobody could explain how it happened; some could do it and some couldn’t, like the ability to raise a single eyebrow or curl your tongue a certain way. But afterward I’d gone to college, and started to barely make it to my classes, and started to stay in bed longer each day and find it harder to eat and wash my hair and do all the little things that make up staying alive.

I needed the spell to be the reason that it had happened. Because if that was true, I’d be OK. With Faucher’s Spark, I’d never have to damage my soul again. And even if I had only dubious faith in God, I did value whatever intangible thing lived inside me; if I had to sell Spark to keep it whole, I’d do it gladly.

I tried to make myself stop wondering what it was made of, other than sabuyashi wings.

 

Drinking had never quite worked for me; I didn’t have the tolerance for alcoholism. But magic—that I could get drunk on.

I went to parties and met polite, shriveled old men who I’d later learn held some government office I had never heard of. Occasionally I’d get something familiar, like a mayor, which was refreshing. Once the government personage was a stunning red-haired woman, her eyes bruised with lack of sleep. I poured her and I small glasses of Faucher’s and showed her how to make little butterflies appear from her cupped hands. Her smile stayed imprinted on my mind for weeks, shadowing me at other parties, making me smile when there was nothing to smile about.

Most people didn’t want to touch Faucher’s themselves, not yet, despite its popularity among the richer parts of the new generation. So I’d swig a bottle in as genteel a manner as possible, trying not to grimace over its taste, and do requests. After Sofie put a blanket ban on anyone asking for ‘adult material’, things got more fun. I’d pull coins out of people’s ears, produce tame snakes out of lady’s hats. I’d move on to bigger things, folding napkins between my hands and shaking birds out of the folds; making a rainstorm briefly appear around the house, when the weather was favorable. When the weather wasn’t, I spent fifteen minutes explaining clouds to belligerent guests, internally bemused over how much they wanted rain.

It had rained at my father’s funeral.

I made myself a living cloak of sabuyashi beetles, and enjoyed the way people cringed away or looked at me with fascinated eyes. I spent half an evening showing an adventurous girl how to make sparks appear when she snapped her fingers, and left the party dizzy, with the taste of the wine she’d been drinking on my lips. I made a barren rosebush bloom in three different colors.

I discovered the first small, caustic burns around my lips and eyes three weeks in. Sofie spaced my performances out after that, murmured something reassuring about Spark being mildly irritating to the body in excess, but not truly dangerous at all. The burns faded, but I began to dream; not nightmares, but strange dreams. That I was going to a corner store in a part of town that I’d never been to, that I was hurrying home through a side street where all the signs were in Spanish but I could read them easily. That I was standing over a man with a gun in my hands, and I was trying to remember something I’d read in a book about disposing of bodies.

“What is Faucher’s Spark made of?” I asked Sofie, once.

She gave me an odd, gentle look. “Honey, ask when you really want to know.”

I didn’t ask again.

 

Blood was the one thing I couldn’t forget.

My father had never been a Galenite, but he’d admired their spirit. I understood that better after he’d died; and that answered another question, why he’d chosen the path of a magician for me before I could choose for myself. He was confident that I’d find the same beauty in it, no matter how I was restricted. Galen Guntram had been a state magician, after all; but he’d used his magic impulsively, for love and healing and and other selfish things, until they cast him aside in disgust. Then he’d died young, saving some other lives with his last spell, and so got martyred when he might have only been a failure.

I’d never been a Galenite, and when I was younger I couldn’t imagine tomorrow, much less finding beauty in a life that had already been signed away. Still, I can’t remember exactly what prompted the night I’d called a nurse to come see my father in the morning, locked myself in the bathroom, and opened a medical textbook to the section on veins. I still can’t remember the pain, or my father’s voice; just the slow, mesmerizing drip of blood from my body, and how it had finally stopped when my father closed his hands over my wrists.

 

Blood was, clearly, what Faucher’s was made of.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Sofie said. We were sitting in her office; I’d pulled myself away from party preparation, already dripping silver and white, to sit in the chair across from her and point out the obvious. “It’s the essence, the soul it carries—and people donate it freely, you know.”

“What people?” I could already guess; like I’d known about the blood for a long time, while turning my eyes away from it.

“Criminals, darling.”

“Prisoners.”

Sofie smiled. “Same thing, isn’t it? They’re even compensated for it—not much, but more than they deserve. But it might cause upset, you know? People wouldn’t like to think of themselves—”

“Drinking blood.”

L’Amérique la belle.

“Exactly. But it’s not like some people don’t know. I tell the people I do business with; they come around to it all right.”

I looked down at my hands. “So instead of damaging your own soul, it’s outsourced to dozens of other people. That doesn’t seem right.”

“Sabuyashi,” Sofie said, putting down her pen. “These are people with previously damaged souls—thieves and liars and killers. Not people like us.”

“Good people.”

“That’s right, honey.” She paused, and a note of regret entered her voice. “But if it’s too much of a problem for you, we could let you go. You’re perfect for this, but we can always find another girl who’s perfect for it, if you don’t want—”

“I do want,” I said, and I knew she could hear the truth in my voice. “I want to keep doing this. I want the magic.”

She touched my chin, smiled at me. “Then I’ll see you tonight.”

 

I did want the magic.

Faucher’s Spark was how magic should work, I felt. A potion you could drink, that anyone could drink. Snap and you can make a little rainstorm. Snap and you can make a beetle that sang like a lark. Snap and you could kiss a girl without feeling quite so terrified. Good little magics, not the complex set-pieces and dramatic gestures of soul spells. No pain, just the unquiet dreams left behind in the blood, in the silver threads of soul woven through it.

I stood at the heart of the group, my lips sticky with glowing paint and my eyes dusted with sabuyashi silver, and smiled at a man I vaguely recalled worked with the President. I held the bottle of Faucher’s before me and I asked, as I had asked a dozen times before: “Do you want to see some magic?”

My mother had spoken of magic like a force beyond our control, and I had called it sacrifice. Maybe we were both right; I felt like I was watching from outside of my own body as I opened my hand and let the bottle fall to the floor, to shatter in wet pieces on the hardwood.

But I was inside myself, fully and painfully, when I met Sofie’s betrayed eyes across the room and called on my own soul.

Nobody would recognize the beetles as sabuyashi beetles, I knew, because they were brown instead of silver. I saw a camera flash as I scattered into a million pieces, and I wondered if I’d make the front page. I had to laugh at myself for my own self-absorption. Then I was lost, whirling in a million directions. I was on the doorframe and crawling over a senator’s shoes and buzzing in Sofie’s snarling face, and a hundred or so of me were escaping out the window. Twelve or so of me started wondering if beetles had souls, and a dozen others were crushed and killed, but that left more than enough to get the job done.

Sofie didn’t fear me because no matter what I did, I was one girl. And she might not know whether to fear me as a thousand or so beetles. She should. A thousand or so beetles can whisper a secret to a thousand or so people, and they’ll pass it on to more, and yet more—

In my wanderings, maybe I’ll meet the women who greeted my birth with gifts. I think, in return for their kindness, I’ll give them a story. It’s about how I lived because of my mother and my father and the grace of God, and magic. It’s about how I’m trying to change the world by the smallest fraction, so others can change it further. It’s about how the sabuyashi beetle gathers small particles of silver and plasters them into its exoskeleton, and nobody yet knows why. Some of them are crushed under the weight, and some of them shed that layer and fly.

END

 

 

“how to exist in between” is copyright Danny McLaren 2018.

“Sabuyashi Flies” is copyright Sebastian Strange 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also pick up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buying your own copy of the Spring 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of “A Memory of Wind” by Susan Jane Bigelow.

 

 

Episode #63: “Gravedigging” by Sarah Goldman

Episode #63: “Gravedigging” by Sarah Goldman

January 1, 2019

GRAVEDIGGING

by Sarah Goldman

 

When I woke up, I noticed first that Clarissa was there, because she was always the first thing I noticed.

I noticed three things immediately after that: it was dark, I could feel dirt under my fingers, and my mouth tasted disgusting, like charcoal and rubbing alcohol and cotton.

"What the fuck?" is what I tried to say, except I don't think the words came out quite right. I started coughing and I couldn't stop.

"Just give it a second," Clarissa said, rubbing my back. I got a good look at her once the coughing subsided and my eyes stopped watering, and she looked like she'd been run over by a truck a few times: dark circles, greasy hair, unwashed skin. Clarissa always tried to look as put together as people expected her to be. I'd seen her look this messed up once or twice before, and it never meant anything good.

 

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 63! This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a reprint of “Gravedigging" by Sarah Goldman.

This story is part of the (late) Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. If you’re a Patreon supporter, you should have access to this issue waiting for you when you log in. We also have GlitterShip Year Two available in both ebook and paperback formats to add to your queer science fiction collection.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep.

If you’re looking for an excellent queer book to listen to, check out Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. This book has a ton of cool concepts and really intriguing characters. If you're a fan of patent-fighting drug pirates or AI characters working out their identities, this is the book for you.

To download Autonomous for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership — or choose another book if you’re in the mood for something else.

 


 

Sarah Goldman grew up near Kansas City and studied sociology at Bryn Mawr College. She is a First Reader at Strange Horizons, and her short fiction has appeared in Cicada and Escape Pod. You can find her online at sarahmgoldman.com, or on Twitter @sarahwhowrites.

"Gravedigging" is narrated by A.J. Fitzwater.

A.J. Fitzwater is a dragon wearing a human meat suit from Christchurch, New Zealand. A graduate of Clarion 2014, she’s had stories published in Shimmer Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and in Paper Road Press’s At The Edge anthology. She also has stories coming soon at Kaleidotrope and PodCastle. As a narrator, her voice has been heard across the Escape Artists Network, on Redstone SF, and Interzone. She tweets under her penname as @AJFitzwater.

 


 

 

GRAVEDIGGING

by Sarah Goldman

 

When I woke up, I noticed first that Clarissa was there, because she was always the first thing I noticed.

I noticed three things immediately after that: it was dark, I could feel dirt under my fingers, and my mouth tasted disgusting, like charcoal and rubbing alcohol and cotton.

"What the fuck?" is what I tried to say, except I don't think the words came out quite right. I started coughing and I couldn't stop.

"Just give it a second," Clarissa said, rubbing my back. I got a good look at her once the coughing subsided and my eyes stopped watering, and she looked like she'd been run over by a truck a few times: dark circles, greasy hair, unwashed skin. Clarissa always tried to look as put together as people expected her to be. I'd seen her look this messed up once or twice before, and it never meant anything good.

"Are you okay?" I asked. I had a little more luck with pronunciation this time. "You look kind of like death warmed over. No offense."

Clarissa started to laugh, loud and wild enough that it was more scary than comforting. When she stopped, I only had time to open my mouth to ask a question before her eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped over next to me in the dirt.

We were lying on dirt. It was dark. I looked up, and up, and up, and when I saw the edges of the hole we were in, I understood what Clarissa had done.

I clambered up the sides of the grave to get a good look at the headstone. I knew what it would say, but I had to see it.

It told me that May Tenenbaum had died at nineteen years old. If I'd lived another three weeks, I would have been twenty.

I sat back down next to Clarissa, passed out in my grave in the wedge of space she'd carved out next to my coffin. A crowbar lay beside us, where she'd used it to pry off the lid, next to the pile of small stones she'd brought for the spell.

I looked down at my fingernails, which were neat and manicured like they'd never been while I was alive, and I wondered if I should try to wake Clarissa up.

I'd seen her do this before, after she overexerted herself on a spell, and she'd always been all right afterwards. Her pulse, when I checked, was steady, so I stole her phone out of her pocket instead. The last day I remembered had been the fifth of June. My tombstone told me I'd died on the sixth. Today was the seventeenth. I must have been buried for at least a week or so, then. I know my father would've wanted me buried quickly, a Jewish funeral.

A good thing, too. No embalming fluid for Clarissa to deal with.

Performing necromancy on humans was a felony, and it was horrendously, skin-crawlingly terrifying besides. The idea had made me queasy when it happened in books or movies, when TV pundits went on rants. But from this side of things, it wasn't so bad. My hands were distressingly pale when I looked at them, and my head was in bad shape, but when I checked my face in Clarissa's phone camera, I honestly looked okay. Like I'd been at a fancy party, had too much champagne, fell down in the dirt outside. Messed up, but not a zombie.

I didn't feel dead at all.

What I should feel was furious. I should be demanding that Clarissa take it back. But I wasn't betrayed that someone I loved would do such an awful thing, like the girl in that modern day Frankenstein blockbuster we'd seen last month. I wasn't thinking about the greater good. I was selfishly and vainly glad, because the girl I would do anything for had done this for me. I'd seen the faces Clarissa made during that stupid movie, and yet: here we both were. Her passed out in a grave she must have spent all night digging up, and me alive when I should be dead.

I ran my fingers through her hair, and after fourteen minutes by the clock on her phone, Clarissa woke up.

She stared at me, and then she sat up too fast and almost fell right back down afterwards. I grabbed her shoulders to steady her.

"It worked," she said, watching me with wide eyes.

"It did," I said. "You still look terrible."

"Shut up," she said automatically, with no heat behind it. She put her hands against the sides of my face. I wondered, distantly, if my cheeks felt cold, or if my blood had already started to warm them up again.

Very suddenly, Clarissa yanked me into a hug, almost overbalancing the both of us. I hugged her back, and politely ignored the fact that she was crying into the shoulder of my nice dress.

"I'm okay," I said, because Clarissa probably needed to hear it. "If anyone isn't okay, I think it's probably you. Were you supposed to pass out?"

Clarissa snorted, and then shrugged without removing her face from the crook of my neck. "Occupational hazard," she said, muffled into my shoulder. After a moment, she raised her face, eyes puffy and red. "It happens sometimes, with larger—with anything more substantial." She'd probably been about to say ‘animals.’ I guess she didn't think I'd find the comparison flattering. I felt a little sick.

Clarissa wiped her face on her sleeve and shook out her hair, visibly trying to pull herself together. "We need to get out of here. The sun is supposed to rise in—" she fumbled for her phone before I handed it back to her, "—about ten minutes."

I immediately felt better. Following Clarissa's plans was something I was used to. Together, we gathered up her things and climbed out of my grave, using her shovel to push the soil back as best we could, and we walked out of the cemetery together, the sun rising at our backs.

 

Clarissa had always known how to make loud and spectacular mistakes.

Even as a kid, she made spellwork look easy. When we were ten, I watched her bring back our class's pet guinea pig. We all huddled around Clarissa, crouched in the dirt. She held a chunk of gravel in her hands and closed her eyes for a moment, and we were all sure that she was faking, that nothing would happen.

Then the guinea pig got up, and we had to race to catch it.

Afterwards, the other kids ran to show our teacher. I stayed behind with Clarissa. She was on her back, staring up at the sky, tossing the piece of playground gravel that tethered the guinea pig's life up and down in her hand.

"That was amazing," I told her.

She shrugged, and coughed. "I missed him. What else was I supposed to do?" Then she looked at me and grinned, smile so bright I could feel it in my own stomach. "It was cool, wasn't it?"

Clarissa wore that little piece of playground gravel she'd used for the spell on a chain around her wrist, humming with warmth for as long as that guinea pig was still alive. She kept adding to the chain, too, doing stupid things like bringing back songbirds in the park, using chunks of gemstones she kept in her pockets to store their life. They all went out, eventually—necromancy wasn't a ticket to eternal life—but she did it often enough that there was always something warm on her bracelet, always a little piece of life hanging around her wrist.

When we were nineteen, nine years after she brought that guinea pig back to life and two weeks before I woke up with her in my grave, Clarissa asked me to go with her to a protest.

Necromancy unsettled people, but it wasn't really as uncommon as everyone thought it was. Clarissa had explained it to me once. It was just healing, in the end, and there were plenty of people who could do that. Except putting enough force behind the spell to draw someone back from death required more ability than almost anyone had.

Back when she was ten, people laughed, and told her that soon, she would know better than to do frivolous things like resurrect dead class pets. Telling Clarissa she couldn’t do something was never a good idea; I could have told them that. When we got older, no one thought it was cute anymore. She scared people. Historically, necromancers didn't turn out well, if you looked at Rasputin or van Hohenheim or Countess Bathory. Healers were dicey enough, if you asked the kind of people who campaigned against them working in hospitals or making vaccines.

The day I died, I was with Clarissa at a protest against a local bill that would prevent the teaching of magic in schools. I wasn't really into politics, honestly, but Clarissa was spitting mad.

"What do they think is going to happen?" she'd said, pacing back in forth in my apartment kitchen. "Magic is so dangerous, right? Well, if they don't teach kids anything then of course they're going to screw up, of course there's going to be accidents—you know my cousin, the one who can light fires? Can you imagine if he had no formal training?"

I sat at the kitchen table and nodded.

"There's a protest on 39th and Blackwood tomorrow night. Think of it as an early birthday present for me?" She didn't have to ask me if I would go with her, and I didn't have to tell her that I was coming. It was understood. That was who I was: I did what Clarissa asked.

My dad didn't want me to go, but I was nineteen, so I didn't have to sneak out my window, the way I always used to whenever Clarissa had a bad idea.

"Be careful, May," was all my father said as I left, right after I gave him instructions on reheating his dinner.

And once we got there, I was careful, up until some asshole from the other side of the picket pushed Clarissa, and she pushed him back, teeth bared. Then, suddenly I wasn't anymore.

Clarissa was dangerous when she got mad, and she shrugged me off when I tried to drag her back. She started yelling at the man who'd pushed her, and there were people all around us, and Clarissa wasn't listening to anything that I was saying in her ear.

"I know you," the man said to Clarissa. That wasn't very surprising; most people around here knew about Clarissa. He pushed her a second time, harder, and she would have fallen if I wasn't in her way.

"Clarissa, leave it." I steadied the both of us and rubbed at the bruises forming on my arm where she'd run into me.

She ignored me. "You got something to say?" she asked the man.

He didn't. What he did have was a mean right hook but terrible aim, and what I had was no self-preservation: I shoved my way in front of Clarissa, and I went down hard.

He was a bit like Clarissa, I think—he didn't know when to stop. The last thing I remember was his boot in my face, and a sudden, terrible fear that he was going to break my nose.

Touching it now, I didn't think he did. I could feel the place in the back of my skull, under my hair, where he'd got me instead.

 

We got some odd looks at the diner Clarissa took us to. That made sense—we both had dirt in our hair and smudged on our faces, and beyond that we didn't look much like we belonged together. I was wearing what I thought of as my synagogue dress, complete with pearls around my neck, but also a beanie I'd pulled from Clarissa's bag. Clarissa was dressed like she expected to be going grave-digging, in baggy jeans and boots, her hair pulled back into a bun. She still looked like she might pass out at any moment. It was obvious she'd been crying.

It was six in the morning at a twenty-four hour diner, though, so mostly everyone just ignored us.

Clarissa ordered coffee and eggs. I ordered tea, matzah ball soup, and a slice of banana cream pie. Even exhausted, Clarissa raised an eyebrow at me. I ignored her. We had more important things to worry about.

"Clarissa, what the hell are we going to do? I can't exactly go home." If my dad had any sense, which I happened to know that he did, he would call the cops in two seconds. Clarissa's family would certainly do the same. We didn't have anywhere to go.

An awful feeling crept into my stomach. There was no way this was going to work.

When my food came, the soup gave me pause: matzah ball soup was my dad's favorite. But I couldn't go home. I would never make it for him again.

When I looked up, Clarissa was watching me. "It's better when you make it, right?" she asked.

I laughed and went back to eating. Clarissa picked at her eggs, and I ended up finishing half of them for her.

"Do we have somewhere to sleep, at least?" I asked. Clarissa looked like she was about to fall over again.

"I'm fine," she said, swaying a bit, which was so very her that I couldn't help but smile.

"Of course you are. I could use a nap, though."

She sighed. "Alright. There's a motel nearby. We can rest there and then we can do whatever you want."

"Me?" I'm not exactly the planning type.

"What, there's nothing you want to do? No last requests?"

I stared at my hands, clutched tight around my tea. I didn't want to get caught, or for Clarissa to go to jail, or to never see my father again.

I wanted things to go back to the way they had always been. I wanted to be alive again, and what Clarissa had done was close to that. But not quite.

"I just want to spend time with you," was what I settled on.

She put her hands over mine, and tilted her head until I had to look her in the eyes. "Okay," she said, reassuring, like she'd heard all the things I hadn't said. "It's gonna be fine, May." Her voice was certain and steady like the stones wrapped around her wrist, and just then, I believed her.

 

Clarissa took the first shower, and was out like a light the minute her head hit the pillow. I grinned, and wasn't even bothered when I discovered that she'd used up all the hot water. At least that was normal.

After I dried my hair, I lay back on the other bed, not particularly tired. I couldn't help but think that if I fell asleep, the spell would snap, like a wire drawn too taut, and I'd never wake up again. That wasn't how this worked: anything Clarissa brought back would live out its natural lifespan. That guinea pig had lived to a very respectable age. I still couldn't bring myself to close my eyes.

So I sat cross-legged on the scratchy motel comforter and turned on the news, volume off and closed captioning on. Clarissa slept like a log once she was out, but if she woke up she'd probably refuse to sleep again.

I knew what I was going to see on the TV screen, but I still couldn't help but wince, seeing my grainy prom photo on display.

Somebody had noticed that the dirt on my grave wasn't quite how they'd left it, or that Clarissa had broken the lock on the gate, or maybe they'd just checked the damn CCTV, and so of course it was all over the news. Necromancy scandals were rare, because most necromancers didn't have enough power to do what Clarissa had done, and all the ones that did had enough sense not to.

I flipped through the channels for a while. There was coverage about the protest where I'd died, suddenly relevant again two weeks later. The police were looking for us, of course. There wasn't any doubt in anybody's mind what had happened—Clarissa was locally well known.

We were on the national news, too. I watched Megyn Kelly's mouth move silently as the subtitles talked about how this was just another example of the need for greater laws monitoring necromancers—scratch that, all magic. I turned the TV off before she could start talking about Jesus and I put my head in my hands.

After a while, Clarissa sat down beside me on the bed and put her hand on my back. She was very warm. Her hand was shaking a little, and I wondered if she was crying. I wanted to turn and hug her, bury my face in her neck, tell her what a goddamn idiot she was being.

Still, I couldn't help but treasure the thought that she was doing all these stupid, ridiculous things for me, just like I'd always wanted her to.

"May?" she asked, hesitantly, when I didn't move. "Is everything okay?"

I looked up at her and smiled as brightly as I could. "Of course," I said, as if the answer was obvious. She wasn't crying like I'd thought. Her hands just weren’t very steady. "Let's go. We really shouldn't stay here, Clarissa."

Clarissa stood. I helped her pack up our stuff. Her stuff, mostly. Everything fit into a single backpack, which I shouldered, glaring at Clarissa when she tried to take it. I followed her out the door.

 

We checked out of the motel, but we didn't make it to the train station, although it was only a few blocks away. There were two problems: people kept looking at us, speculatively, as if they were sure they'd seen our faces somewhere, and after about five minutes of walking Clarissa nearly collapsed, because between one step and the next it seemed that her legs couldn't hold her.

I grabbed her just before she went down, so we both stumbled but didn't quite fall.

"Clarissa?" I tried to get my arm under hers so that I could hold her up.

"I'm fine," she said, and it was less endearing this time around.

"No, you're not." I dragged her into the nearest store, an ice cream shop. I dumped Clarissa in a booth in the corner, grabbed her wallet out of her pocket, and went to buy something, both because it would look suspicious not to, and also because we could probably use it.

When the girl at the counter handed me my cup of ice cream, she also handed me a wad of napkins. "For your friend," she said, sympathetic.

I looked back at Clarissa, confused. She had her fingers pressed above her mouth, and her nose was bleeding. I winced.

"There's a free clinic a couple blocks over," the girl at the counter offered. "I think they have a few healers around at this time of day."

I thanked her, and took the ice cream and napkins back to the table. I handed Clarissa the napkins and sat down across from her as she pressed them to her face where her fingers had been.

"Thanks," she said, a little bit muffled.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on now?"

She closed her eyes and tipped her head back against the vinyl seat, napkins still pressed to her nose. "It's just a reaction to the spell," she said. "I'll be okay in a little while."

"A reaction is you sick with a cold for a week," I said, a little harsher than I intended. Clarissa opened her eyes. "This is different. I'm not stupid. It's never been this bad before."

"Well, why do you think that is, May?" Clarissa snapped. "I've never done something like this before. I knew this might happen, so don't worry about it, okay? I have it under control."

A thin stream of blood was leaking out from under the napkins. I grabbed another one off the table and leaned in to wipe it off for her. "Clearly," I said, and she glared at me.

"You're going back to bed," I decided, and Clarissa sat forward so fast she probably made her nosebleed worse.

"Absolutely not," she said. "You were right. We have to leave."

I looked at her, sitting across the table and trembling. I didn't think she noticed she was doing it. I wanted to reach out to her and hold her. "We can stay for another night," I said. "There's something I need to get before we go, anyway. I can sneak into my apartment and grab it tonight, and you can rest, and we can leave in the morning. Okay?"

She nodded, and didn't even ask what it was I needed so badly. It felt like there was a stone sinking in my gut. Clarissa was always asking questions, demanding answers.

I wasn't used to being the one who had to protect her and I wasn't sure I liked it. I took her arm and led her out of the shop, so we could find another place to stay for the night, and Clarissa let herself be led.

 

I left Clarissa at the new motel and I walked home. The apartment wasn't far, but it was hot, and I was still wearing Clarissa's beanie and my velvet dress.

When I got there, I went up the fire escape and climbed in my window, like I'd done so many times when I was younger. I hadn't seen my dad's car in the lot, and it was the middle of the day, so I had to hope that he wasn't home.

My bedroom hadn't been touched. I grabbed some clothes and some money, shoving them into my backpack, and I didn't let myself spend too much time looking around.

I'd left the book that I'd come for on the bookcase in the living room, although I had no way of knowing if it was still there. It was supposed to be my birthday present for Clarissa. She was always complaining about the lack of materials on necromancy, because almost all of them were rare or illegal or both, so I'd stalked eBay for a few months to get an old book for her. I didn't understand half of the information in it, but surely there was something in there that could help her. I had to at least look.

When I walked into the living room, I heard a crash from the kitchen before I'd taken two steps. For a moment I thought my heart had stopped again, but it kept beating, much faster and louder than I liked. I pressed back against the wall the living room shared with the kitchen and prayed that whoever was home didn't walk in here.

God, I shouldn't have come. Of all the stupid things I'd ever done for Clarissa, the one she didn't even ask for was what was finally going to screw us over.

There was another clang from the kitchen. This one was the telltale sound of my father knocking over a pan while he was cooking. By reflex, I almost offered to help him, but I clamped my hand over my mouth and kept quiet. I shouldn't have bothered. I knew exactly what was going to happen next: my dad would curse, and throw the pan in the sink, and go to find a hand towel from the linen closet. Which was in the living room, of course, where I stood.

I tried to step back into my bedroom before my father walked in, but there wasn't any time. I dropped my hand and bit my lip and desperately tried to think of what in the world I was going to tell him.

The moment my father caught sight of me, I knew. The change in his face was immediate.

I wanted to speak first, head off whatever he was going to say, but the words stuck in my throat like dirt. I choked and I said nothing.

It felt like I'd been here before, and it took me a moment to realize why. My frozen feet and the sick feeling in my stomach and the words trapped in my throat, the thought that if I moved or spoke or did anything that he would hate me—I had done this before. I'd been thirteen when I'd come out. But back then, I'd known, deep down, that he wouldn't care. This time I knew that he would.

"So it's true," he said. He folded and unfolded his arms, uncomfortable as I'd ever seen him.

I wondered if he would stop me if I tried to leave. I couldn't make my legs move. "Dad."

He took off his glasses and rubbed at his nose, and I closed my eyes against the tears fighting to escape.

I didn't think I'd ever see him do that again.

When I was thirteen, my father had opened his arms wide and hugged me, letting me hide my face in his chest. Now we stood apart, the few feet between us impassable.

There was nothing stopping me from stepping forward and closing the gap.

But I couldn't do it. If I did, he might step back.

"I knew that girl was trouble," he said, looking not quite at me but at the space above my left shoulder. It was a trick he'd taught me for public speaking, a long time ago.

I looked him in the eyes. "She's not," I said, and at least this conversation was familiar. We'd spoken this way about Clarissa hundreds of times.

It’s awful, to have to admit that your parents were right. It didn't matter that Clarissa was trouble. It didn't matter that she'd made a mistake, was always making mistakes. She was still my friend.

"I miss you," he said, and on the last word his voice broke.

I wondered what it was like to have something you loved in front of you, wanting it with all your heart, and still knowing that you couldn't keep it.

Then again, maybe I didn't have to wonder.

"I'm right here, Dad," I said. "I'm the same as I was two weeks ago."

He shook his head. "You're not. If you are, I'm going to have to bury you twice."

I couldn't help it. I was stung. Who was I, if I wasn't me? I turned my face away, looking at the book sitting where I had left it on the mantle, and I said, "I miss you too."

Dad looked at the book when I picked it up. "For Clarissa," he said, barely a question. I nodded.

"Please don't call anyone," I said. "Clarissa was just—she's my friend. They'll never let her go."

His jaw worked. "And you?"

I did my best to smile. "I'll be fine. She'll take care of me."

In the end, he nodded, and the last thing my father said to me was, "Goodbye."

And I suppose that's more than most people get.

I left the way I'd come, book clutched close to my chest.

 

I went back to the motel and settled on the rickety chair in the corner. Clarissa was still asleep, and I looked down at her present, sitting in my lap. The book was old and faded, pages falling out of its leather cover.

I flipped through it. I'd spent a lot of time imagining the face Clarissa would make when I gave it to her.

I tried to imagine Clarissa's expression if I told her that I'd gone home just to get a book on the off-chance that it might be able to help her, and I had to stop myself from laughing.

I wished I hadn't seen my father. I'd known that I couldn't go back, but seeing him threw everything into sharp relief: my father would never hug me again, never smile at me, never tell me that everything would be all right. Clarissa had brought me back, and I meant what I'd said to him. I was still me. But except for her, my life was gone.

Once, I would have thought that Clarissa would be enough. But now, I couldn't stop thinking of my father's face, of all the things he'd never say again.

I looked down the book, opened it to the first page, and started to read.

 

Clarissa was still asleep when I finished. I curled up next to her on the blanket and closed my eyes and listened to her breathe.

Her breathing wasn't very steady. She was shaking a little, even in her sleep, and her skin was so pale you'd think that she was the dead one.

I was so stupid, thinking for even a minute that this could work, and so was Clarissa.

I lay there for hours, fighting off sleep and watching her shake, until her eyes fluttered open and she looked straight at me.

"Hey," she said, a little muzzily.

I couldn't decide if I wanted to kiss her or hit her, so I asked her how she was feeling instead.

"Fine," Clarissa said, struggling to sit up. I sat up too and put my face in my hands. "Did you find what you wanted?" she asked, sliding an arm around my shoulders, like I was the one who needed comforting. But she was warm, and I couldn't bring myself to shake her off.

"Not really," I said, thinking of what I'd found in that book of hers. "Clarissa, what exactly are you hoping to get out of this, really?" We hadn't spoken about it, exactly, but it hung suspended between us: my existence was an abomination and a disgrace, and Clarissa was the same for making it happen. There was no place for us anywhere anymore.

And there was another thing we hadn't talked about. I took a deep breath, and forced the words out: "Clarissa, this is killing you."

She didn't seem surprised, which was the worst part of it, really. She'd known all along what she was doing to herself, and she did it anyway. It was just the stupid sort of thing Clarissa would do, knowing the consequences and not caring. Clarissa never knew when to stop. I loved her so much.

She didn't say anything. I tipped my head back to stare at the ceiling. "I can't believe you," I said thickly. "I don't want you to die for me."

"Well, I didn't want you to die," Clarissa said. "And you did anyway, and it was because of me. You can't expect me to just let that happen, not when I could—what's the point of all this, of all this shit I can do, if I couldn't help you? What was I supposed to do?" Her eyes were bloodshot and watery and she was trembling still, her hair falling in her face, and she was so, so beautiful.

"Clarissa," I said. "Look. I just don't see how you think this is going to end."

She looked at me, brow furrowed. "We'll figure something out," she said. "We'll catch a train tomorrow, and we'll keep running, and they'll have to stop looking eventually, and as long as we stay together, we'll be fine."

She believed it, too. She wouldn't have said it if she didn't.

We wouldn't be fine. Even if we never got caught, Clarissa's hands wouldn't stop shaking, her nose wouldn't stop bleeding, her teeth wouldn't stop chattering. I was killing her every minute I was alive.

And no matter what, neither of us could ever go home.

Clarissa hated being told she couldn't do something--the fact that I was here at all was proof of that. Sometimes, she just needed someone to stop her, if she wouldn't stop herself.

I took her face in both my hands and I kissed her.

It was funny. Since I'd met her, I could never remember a time when I didn't love Clarissa. I don't know why it never occurred to me, before all this, that she might be as hopeless for me as I was for her.

She kissed me back. Of course she did. She kissed me back, because she'd broken every law of magic, was working herself literally to death, just to keep me with her. I sat beside her on the crappy motel bed, her hands in my hair, and felt her breath against my cheek. I closed my eyes against it and willed myself not to cry.

She settled back on the bed, and I curled up beside her, so we were lying face to face. Clarissa breathed in deep, tucked her nose against the crook of my neck. "I thought I lost you," she said quietly. "I couldn't do nothing, May, you know I couldn't." I pushed her hair out of her face and kissed her forehead and held her hand, the one that had her bracelet, and I didn't say anything at all.

Maybe it had all been worth it, for the chance to have this with Clarissa. Even for just a moment.

She fell asleep with my hand running through hair, and I stole her bracelet.

Some of the stones on it were cool, inert, and some were faintly warm, and the uneven chunk of amethyst that I knew had to be me was hot to the touch. The stone was rough; I could see the places on her wrist where it had cut into her skin. I untied the knot on the cord and pulled the amethyst off.

I rummaged through the pile of our things in the corner until I found the crowbar from my grave. At the rickety table, I took out the book and opened it to the right section. I tucked the train ticket I'd bought for Clarissa between the pages and I left the other things I'd taken from my home for her: hair dye, a hat, baggy clothes, sunglasses, five hundred dollars from the emergency fund in my closet. Not much, but it might be enough to keep her free. And maybe Clarissa could have what I couldn't.

I looked at the book again. I guess I should have known that reversing the spell would be so simple. All I had to do was break the stone, and the connection would sever. Clarissa would be fine.

The crowbar was heavy in my hands. I turned it over a few times before I raised it over my head.

I thought about my father, about all the years of kissing Clarissa I'd missed out on, about how angry and hurt she would be when she woke up.

I thought of how Clarissa wanted so badly to protect everyone else, how desperately I wanted to be the one to save her, how she refused to let me, even when I'd died. Clarissa wanted me to live badly enough to destroy her entire life, and I was so used to wanting what Clarissa wanted. I'd tried to want what she wanted this time.

I couldn't. I didn't want this.

Mostly, though, I thought of the scratches the stone that tethered my soul had made on Clarissa's wrist, of her dying to keep me here.

I looked at the amethyst and smiled, and I brought the crowbar down.

END

 


“Gravedigging” was originally published in Cicada and is © Copyright Sarah Goldman 2017.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also pick up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buy your own copy of the Spring 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a GlitterShip original, “Sabuyashi Flies" by Sebastian Strange.

Episode #62: “Stories My Body Can Tell” by Alina Sichevaya

Episode #62: “Stories My Body Can Tell” by Alina Sichevaya

November 26, 2018

Stories My Body Can Tell

by Alina Sichevaya

 

My mama used to tell me I was born screaming, sticky, and uglier than every sin she’d ever known, which was all of them. I still like to remember that. Gives me a warm feeling in my stomach. Especially when it looks like I’m about to die the same way.

I’m remembering it now. My throat feels skinned, but on the inside, and my lips stick to each other, the blood from my nose drying over them. It’s definitely broken, and one of my lips might be split. One of my eyes is swelling shut. I’ve had worse—I’m not exactly dying—but it hurts to breathe, and my ribs feel like they’re falling to pieces inside of me. They probably are.

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 62! This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a GlitterShip original, "Stories My Body Can Tell" by Alina Sichevaya and a poem, "Daddy Death" by Jeana Jorgensen.

This episode is part of the newest GlitterShip issue that is now available. The Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. If you're a Patreon supporter, you should have access to the new issue waiting for you when you log in. The new issue is only $2.99 and all of our back issues are now $1.49.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep.

If you're looking for an excellent book to listen to, check out Hild by Nicola Griffith which is a historical fantasy about the youth of St. Hilda in 7th century Britain. The book is full of lush historical descriptions and the sometimes brutal life of a young woman with extraordinary gifts.

To download Hild for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership — or choose another book if you're in the mood for something else.

 


 

Jeana Jorgensen is a folklorist, writer, dance, and sex educator. Her poetry has appeared at Strange Horizons, Liminality, Stone Telling, Enchanted Conversation, and Mirror Dance. She blogs at Patheos (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/foxyfolklorist/) and is constantly on Twitter (@foxyfolklorist).

 


 

Daddy Death

by Jeana Jorgensen

 

Death is just.
Death is fair.
Death was ours first
and still he loves us best.

I only had one father that mattered:
Daddy Death, godfather to lost boys like me
who arrived alone and quaking, newborns at the gates
of the club, too new to know our language, our customs.

I was Daddy Death’s favorite, strong and young,
a pup lapping up rules and adoration and learning so quickly
to spot our kind in the waking world:
the closeted businessman, father of four;
the baker, the lawyer, the burly school bus driver;
and more politicians than I could count.
I eyed them all, a specter of Daddy Death in my vision
nodding, as if to say, he is one of ours,
he belongs to our underworld,
if only he’d let himself.

Daddy Death is fair and even-handed with all
(even me; especially me)
bears and pups and dykes and more
meting out punishment when deserved
but oh so tender, so gentle with aftercare.

That was before the rumors,
the slow illness preying on us;
whispering grid, gay, go away
and the clubs closed as the body count rose.

Aging monarch on shadowy throne:
Daddy Death lasted longest
but stopped going out
(except for the appointments)
and I was his messenger boy.
I, who passed well enough in the straight world;
I, who charmed all the pharmacists;
I, who could still see unerringly
when I meet a man that
he is one of ours; he may yet escape the plague
though Daddy Death looms over his bed
each night, an invitation, a warning,
a man whose heart can hold us all.

Love is a door, love is a dungeon
where a tender man presses pain
into your skin and shows you to yourself.

Daddy Death waits for me in the next world
while I do his work in this one, shepherding boys
so young to be in so much pain, but so was I at that age
and now we know so much more,
and the medicine takes root in our bodies
and though decimated, we grow strong again.

 


 

Alina Sichevaya is a writer and student based in North Carolina. She is a graduate of the Alpha Workshop, was a finalist for the 2017 Dell Magazines Award, and her work has previously appeared in Strange Horizons. In her spare time, Alina plays a lot of Overwatch and waves a string around for her very large orange cat. She can be found on Twitter at @alina_sichevaya and you can visit her website at https://sichevaya.wordpress.com.

Our narrator is Kirby Marshall-Collins. Kirby is a Los Angeles-based writer and director with a hunger for authentic, hopeful storytelling. She got her start writing Disney spec scripts as a child before going on to gain a BA in Theater, Film, and Digital Production. She'd like to thank her high school English teacher for always volunteering her to read in class--if she can do "The Odyssey" solo, she can do anything.


 

Stories My Body Can Tell

by Alina Sichevaya

 

My mama used to tell me I was born screaming, sticky, and uglier than every sin she’d ever known, which was all of them. I still like to remember that. Gives me a warm feeling in my stomach. Especially when it looks like I’m about to die the same way.

I’m remembering it now. My throat feels skinned, but on the inside, and my lips stick to each other, the blood from my nose drying over them. It’s definitely broken, and one of my lips might be split. One of my eyes is swelling shut. I’ve had worse—I’m not exactly dying—but it hurts to breathe, and my ribs feel like they’re falling to pieces inside of me. They probably are.

The girl doesn’t punch me again. She doesn’t have to. I feel like my insides are turning into soup as she hauls me upright by my hair. Somewhere in the parts of my head that aren’t full of feeling-like-shit, I think that I need a haircut. “Tell Craiden where she can shove her cheap fists next time,” she hisses in my ear. Then, she bites it. Just for good measure. It could be hot, if she doesn’t then pull away and take part of it with her. I don’t scream. Or, I do, but I don’t have the air in me to do it right and it comes out in a low, embarrassing wail.

“I don’t think she can fit an entire grown woman up her ass, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate the message,” I hiss. Flecks of pink spittle land on the carpet in front of me. It’s satisfying to watch them soak into the plush surface, especially when they’re next to the bright red stains that got there when the kid shoved my face into the floor and held it there.

“She can leave now,” says the man at the window, some official from bumfuck-nowhere with six lifetimes’ worth of gambling debts. How he can afford this kind of muscle is beyond me. How he can stand there, not even glancing over as I get the shit beaten out of me—that, I can understand.

The kid hauls me back to my feet, meaty hand still fisted in my hair. Some of it comes out in her fingers as she pulls me out of the study, and she readjusts her grip.

“Y’know, s’not,” I start, but forget my words. “S’not polite,” I say. “Beating your elders to a pulp, ‘s a dick move.”

“I’ll remember that the next time a crusty hag like you shows up at the door,” she says before letting go of my hair. I turn around, raising my fist for a last punch. Before I can even get close, she plants a hand squarely between my tits and shoves me backwards out the door.

I skip all three of the steps leading down to street and land on my ass, hard.

I get up. I rub at the ache in my assbone. That makes it worse, so I stop. I want to fall down again, on something else, maybe something that doesn’t already hurt, but I walk. If I don’t tell Craiden that she’s not getting her money back anytime soon, I never will, and that will end badly for me. Even worse than it’s already turning out.

All the way to Craiden’s building, the skin on my back aches, the same way it always does when I miss the woman who used to drag her nails down the name burned into it and curl up against me after. It’s a nagging, touch-hungry kind of ache, the kind that wants comforting. I do my best to ignore it.

My best is pretty shit.

Craiden runs a hand over her stubbly scalp, scowling down at me like I’m a stray dog she can’t afford to feed. “Give me one good reason to keep you, Jansse.”

I don’t have one. I can’t tell if that’s because there isn’t one, or because my head has stopped working.

“Well?”

I shrug. “Can I…” I have to think for a minute or two. “Can I get back to you after I get my face fixed?”

Craiden laughs. The stamps burned into her face, scars from her own extremely brief career as a fist-for-hire, wrinkle with it. “Honey, if you want your face fixed, you gotta go back to whenever it was you were young and decide to do something else with your life.”

“Know it didn’ go well,” I say, breathing in that shallow way I know helps get air past my ribs. I shift from foot to foot in the alley. Her doorway opens onto the hidden refuse of the city, piled up in stinking heaps of wasted food and waste itself against the walls of buildings. I wonder if I’m more like the wasted food or the waste.

“That’s not what I asked you for. One reason, Jansse.”

“I don’ know righ’ now, a’right?” I say, letting myself sag against the frame. “I’ll do better. Next time.”

Craiden sucks at the insides of her lips, drags her teeth over the top and bottom ones in succession. “Jansse, there’s not going to be a next time.”

“Wha’ you mean?” The split lip and broken nose are making talking harder and harder.

“You have to understand, at this point, I’m about to start sinking more money into keeping you alive than you’re bringing back to me,” said Craiden. “You get that, right?”

“Wai’—“I lean forward, shaking my head quickly before getting dizzy and stopping. “No, you can’—”

“I’m sorry, Jansse, I’d keep you if I could,” she says. It’s almost like she means it, her face folds in all the right ways, but I know better. What she says next hurts worse than the letting me go. “It’s just business,” she says. “You’ll still be a friend—”

My breath comes faster, the spaces between my ribs filling with the ache of panic to complete all of me. “You can’t,” I say, forcing the consonant out as good as I can. “I got nowhere else to work, nobody else—” I try to breathe enough to keep talking. It takes me a good few moments. “You’re the only one hirin’ at my age,” I say. “’M only fifty, please—”

“That’s the problem,” says Craiden, and she’s already closing the door. “You’re fifty, Jansse. You can’t do this forever. The fact that you’ve made it this long is impressive.”

“Wai’,” I say, and it sounds like I’m yelling from really far away. “Lemme try agai—”

The door clicks closed. The little sound it makes is louder than anything I can produce in response.

Fuck, but everything hurts, and the marriage burned across my back hurts the most, maybe because there’s nothing like getting your ass handed to you by a someone at least two decades younger than you and losing your job for it to make you want pity from someone who’s been done with you for years. Even my bones hurt, the whole ones, with the shame of it—this is what I do, and besides, it’s not right, losing to someone when you’ve got thirty years of experience on them.

I shouldn’t go, but focusing on where my feet take me and on staying conscious is too much work, so I choose consciousness and let my legs follow a familiar path of back alleys to a home that isn’t mine anymore.

It’s a little unfair of me, but I never claimed to be a good person, and besides, we’re both used to it by now. Avne’s a better person than I am. She has to let me in if I’m hurt, and she does, though her graceful dark face is pinched with disapproval. My insides do the same warm thing they did when I met her, even though she’s not smiling this time.

“There’s nobody following you, is there?” she asks as she pulls me through the door and settles me, oozing fleshy lump that I am, into a chair at her kitchen table. The faint light of her fire is more than I could see by outside. I don’t know how long it’s been since the last time, but there’s definitely more gray in her hair.

What a pair of old crones, we are.

“Well, Jansse? Is there?” she disappears behind me, and I can hear her pouring water.

It takes me a moment to find my tongue. “Nah,” I say. My mouth feels thick, the words distant. “Craiden don’ need me anymore.”

“She paid you like shit,” says Avne, and I almost smile, but my sticky mouth protests. Then I remember that she’s not paying me at all anymore, and I don’t want to smile after that.

“Thought you didn’ care what I was makin’,”I say. This is old talk, warm talk. My insides do the thing again.

“Arms up.”

I obey, as much I can, and she pulls my shirt and wraps off. The weight of my tits falling free makes my ribs hurt, and I breathe in sharp and fast before I can remember not to. My middle is a bruising, swelling, scarred wreck.

The only good stories my body has to tell are in the marks she’s left on me, the rounded twists of her name-letters burned into my back by the priest at our wedding, two decades ago, and in the stamps she sears into me every time I come crawling back to her for fixing-up.

“I do care what you make,” says Avne, stiff, dabbing at my face with a warm, wet cloth. It comes away red when she stops to rinse it off. “Especially when you come back thinner than when you left.”

I’ve got nothing to say to that, so I don’t answer, but after she puts the cloth down in the bowl of bloody water, she goes for my nose and I flinch away.

“Don’t be a child,” she waves her hand for me to come closer, and I force myself to lean forward. “I can’t repair it without setting it first.” When she does push the bone back where it belongs, I let out a groan that squeezes my ribs. I’m too proud to scream.

She keeps me talking, just about random bullshit, as she finds the right stamp and pulls it from the fireplace. It doesn’t hurt, even though the metal’s glowing bright orange when she presses it to a convenient clear spot on my cheek. My nose has been broken enough times that it’s hard to find good places on my face to stamp fixes onto, but she always manages to get to one.

Stamp healing always leave me feeling softer, warmer. I don’t understand how it works, but all I need to know is that after the little circle with the right character inside gets burned into me I start feeling like life’s way easier than it really is.

Names are different. They hurt going on and feel all kinds of ways after.

She goes to work on my ribs next, and my split lip. My ear, she can’t do much about—“I can’t grow your flesh back,” she says, but the rest she patches up until I’m warm all over. It’s like sleep, but better. She lets me just sit there like that for a little while, come off that flood of calm nice and slow, and when my eyelids are light enough to lift she asks, “What went wrong this time?”

I whisper it first, then say it louder when she asks me again. “I got beat by some kid bodyguard over money someone owed Craiden.” My body doesn’t hurt anymore, but I still have to look at the ceiling to keep my eyes dry. “She thought I was too expensive to keep fixing. And paying. I’m not useful anymore, not the way you are,” I whisper. I can barely hear myself say it. I clear my throat. “You got anything to drink?”

Avne pulls a bottle of something clear and colorless off the shelf above the fireplace and opens it.

I take a long pull that burns my throat in a way some would consider less than pleasant. I put it down on the table maybe a bit harder than I should, and it sloshes up the sides not unlike my innards probably did earlier. “You know how we’d used to talk about it sometimes, when we were still...” I try again. “You know how we’d talk about it when we were younger? Which one of us would still be working?”

“That’s not really what was happening, and you know it,” says Avne, looking at the bottle for a second before deciding against it, instead shoving the cork back inside. “I told you you couldn’t keep it up for long. That’s what I meant.”

This is an old argument, a well-worn one that fits between us nice and snug, but it’s deeper this time.

“It was fine, back then,” I say, more to my hands in my lap to her. “She couldn’t have been more than twenty, that’s what really fucks with me, and she’s got nothing of the art of it in her. Just muscle, y’know?”

Avne gives me a sad smile. She opens her mouth to say something, closes it again, and answers, “There’s an art to being a mercenary?”

“There’s efficiency, and then there’s just throwing your weight around hoping it lands somewhere.” I’m not crying, I swear I’m not crying, but my voice catches like I might and it disgusts me.

“So what are you going to do about it?” She sounds completely calm, collected, nothing like I’ve ever been.

“Can I—”

Avne stands so quickly it makes my head spin. “Don’t ask.”

That’s when I start crying. “Why not?”

“What do you think it’s like for me, when you ask to come back?” she returns, folding her arms around herself like she’s holding herself together by the force of it. “You say every time that it’s the last, that you’ll either stop breaking yourself for money or just stop coming back, and then you just leave in the mornings like nothing happened, and what am I supposed to do with that?”

There’s no point defending yourself when you know it’s only going to get you hurt worse. I learned that today, if nothing else, so I say nothing. We sit like that, and I drink, not enough. She only looks at me like she wants a response that I don’t know how to give.

“I get it,” I finally say, “but I’m outta work now. Craiden was the only one paying for someone my age.”

“There’s a difference between understanding and not having a choice.”

“That’s fair,” I say, because it is.

“I won’t get very far with you tonight, will I?”

I would agree, but that implies too much of a future for me to want to risk it by responding.

Avne replaces the bottle on top of the mantlepiece. “I’m not letting you back out there until you’ve slept,” she says, glancing at the door. “Leave at dawn, or don’t, but do it when you’re not on your last legs. I don’t need to put you back together twice in as many nights. Take the bed.”

“But—”

“Jansse. Take the bed. You’re a terrible liar, and even worse when you try to fake humility.”

This, too, is old territory, streets we’ve packed dustless with our footsteps. “Thanks,” I say.

“If you stay, we’re talking,” she calls after me as I make my way to her bedroom. “In the morning, when you’re functional, we’re talking.”

I drop myself on top of her covers and regret it—my insides were always slower to pull themselves back together than the rest of me—and watch her through the open door. She’s gone up in the world—the last time I was here, it was a curtain.

Outside, things creak and slosh and rustle as she gets rid of the evidence that I was ever any less than whole. I just lie on my side and blink. She moves, sometimes, into the narrow field of vision afforded me by the door. She lets her hair down. The gray makes it even more beautiful, I decide. It means she’s been around long enough to get it in the first place.

“Avne,” I ask, but it doesn’t feel like a question. “Y’know what?” My jaw feels heavier the more I try to talk, the comfortable exhaustion of the freshly stamped.

“What?” she returns, tone neutral in that careful way of hers that she uses when she doesn’t want to take any more of my shit. The light of the fire dims, is squeezed out to a sliver as she closes the curtain most of the way. All that’s left is the faint light cast by the better parts of town, but that’s far away too, so the room looks like dusk. I keep myself awake with little pinches to the back of my thigh, where she won’t see. I never manage to stay awake this long, and I want this time to be different.

“I never got you burned off of me,” I say. It slurs out of me. I let it.

Avne pauses. Something rustles, and her dim outline moves like she’s pulling her clothes off. “I know,” she says. “I’ve seen you shirtless more times than I can count.”

She doesn’t face me when she lays down on the spare folding cot set up against the wall.

There’s something on her back, something whole and beautiful and not quite discernible in the barely-light on her skin. I pinch myself again, I want to see it right before I can sleep it out of my memory.

It’s the curves of my name-letters, less intricate than hers, but still dark, the scar still raised against her skin, uninterrupted by the char of removal.

When the light works its way through my eyes, she’s not there—she’s already awake, from the sound and smell of it. Her cooking’s always been good, and at the scent of it my stomach pulls me upright and commands my legs to swing over the side of the bed.

The memory of last night almost forces me back down for a moment before deciding that out the window would be better, and I have the shutters open before I can even think about it.

I pull my hand back.

Names hurt going on and feel all kinds of ways after, but in the few seconds after the rod leaves your skin, it’s better than anything, even that soft wholeness you get after your insides have been stamped back together by someone who knows what they’re doing. That’s what makes me go to the door instead, and open it.

“Good morning,” I say.

Avne looks over her shoulder, her hair catching the light. Her smile is small, but it’s there. I want to keep it there forever.

 

END


 

“Daddy Death” is © Copyright Jeana Jorgensen 2018.

“Stories My Body Can Tell” is © Copyright Alina Sichevaya 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also support us by picking up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buying your own copy of the Spring 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of "Gravedigging" by Sarah Goldman.

GlitterShip Episode #61: “To Touch the Sun Before it Fades” by Aimee Ogden

GlitterShip Episode #61: “To Touch the Sun Before it Fades” by Aimee Ogden

November 13, 2018

To Touch the Sun Before it Fades

by Aimee Ogden

Mariam watches a week of night roll toward her.

On Pluto, the Sun is only a spectacularly bright star. It’s easy to pick out, hanging low in the sky—only just visible in the domed window in the hub of Sagacity Station. If Mariam could reach up and hold back the Sun, if she could slow its progress down the sky, she would. She can’t, of course. Just another bead to add to the strand of impossibilities hung around her neck.

A scuff on the floor behind her breaks her gaze from the starfield overhead. Captain Valencia stands there, waiting. The pale fluorescent light from the station walls disappears into the hard, dark planes of his face. His forehead is Tombaugh Regio, the deep valleys of his cheeks are the shadows at the foot of Wright Mons. All the contrast of Pluto’s surface, but not nearly so cold. His eyes are molten puddles in the shadow of his brow and Mariam realizes he’s talking to her: “You don’t have to go out today. You can stay by the radio, if you like.”

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 61! This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a reprint of "To Touch the Sun Before it Fades" by Aimee Ogden

This story is part of the new GlitterShip issue that is now available. The Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. If you're a Patreon supporter, you should have access to the new issue waiting for you when you log in. The new issue is only $2.99 and all of our back issues are now $1.49.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep.

If you're looking for an excellent queer book to listen to, check out Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, which is a YA novel about Oakland teens who decide to fight back against the oppressive system forced on them both in school and out.

To download Anger is a Gift for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership — or choose another book if you're in the mood for something else.

 


 

Aimee Ogden is a former science teacher and software tester; now she writes stories about sad astronauts and angry princesses. Her work can also be found in Shimmer, Apex, and Escape Pod.

"To Touch the Sun Before it Fades" is narrated by Rae White.

Rae White is a non-binary poet, writer, and zinester living in Brisbane. Their poetry collection Milk Teeth won the 2017 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and is published by the University of Queensland Press. Rae’s poem ‘what even r u?’ placed second in the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize. Rae’s poetry has been published in Meanjin Quarterly, Cordite Poetry Review, Overland, Rabbit, and others.

 


 

To Touch the Sun Before it Fades

by Aimee Ogden

Mariam watches a week of night roll toward her.

On Pluto, the Sun is only a spectacularly bright star. It’s easy to pick out, hanging low in the sky—only just visible in the domed window in the hub of Sagacity Station. If Mariam could reach up and hold back the Sun, if she could slow its progress down the sky, she would. She can’t, of course. Just another bead to add to the strand of impossibilities hung around her neck.

A scuff on the floor behind her breaks her gaze from the starfield overhead. Captain Valencia stands there, waiting. The pale fluorescent light from the station walls disappears into the hard, dark planes of his face. His forehead is Tombaugh Regio, the deep valleys of his cheeks are the shadows at the foot of Wright Mons. All the contrast of Pluto’s surface, but not nearly so cold. His eyes are molten puddles in the shadow of his brow and Mariam realizes he’s talking to her: “You don’t have to go out today. You can stay by the radio, if you like.”

She could. But she’s not sure what would be worse: to miss the call, out on the ice. Or to sit there with folded hands while the hours unwind, waiting for a message that never comes.

She’s not sure either that she even wants them to call right now. What could she possibly say to Jef and Baily? Her own husband and wife are very nearly strangers to her now. And what could she tell Annika: to buck up, be strong, stiff upper lip? Mariam doesn’t know how to talk to two-year-olds at all, let alone under such circumstances. There are no words that would help them right now anyway. Four billion miles between her and earth mean that she’s useless to them no matter what she does, no matter where she goes. They have each other, and that will have to be enough. Isn’t it? Sometimes Mariam thinks it’s too easy out here to let the distance and the silence speak for her. She is no better of a wife out here than she was back home.

But at least Mariam can help the rest of her crew today. That would be something of worth. “I’ll go out,” she says. Her voice is steady, and her gaze too. Valencia’s head jerks, a quick nod. For a moment she thinks he’s going to say something else, and she braces for impact. But then he turns his head and walks away, and air hisses from the seals in his helmet hisses as he snaps it into place.

Today is Char’s turn to stay behind at Sagacity, and they promise to patch any calls through if they do come in. Inside her helmet, Mariam nods, then realizes the gesture is invisible to Char. She thanks them for the gesture, but Char only shrugs her off. “It’s nothing,” they say, but that’s not true. Char’s good at knowing the right words, and reaches out to others when Mariam would stay quiet. Mariam has poured out enough silence over the years. She wonders how Char always just knows, but she has never found the words to ask.

Cool starlight rains down on the crew as they drift through the airlock and out into a Plutonian twilight. Cool starlight, and one frozen chip of sunlight mixed in with the rest as it slides down toward Pluto. Six days of day, then six of night; not that there’s much difference between night and day out here. The crew keeps Sagacity’s clocks set to the same time as what they left behind in Cape Canaveral, where it should currently be a hazy eighty-five degrees. Here, it’s two hundred and seventy-five below. Sometimes Mariam imagines what would happen if her suit ruptured. She pictures herself as a pillar of ice, tipping forward. When she shatters inside her suit, Pluto’s empty atmosphere does not carry the sound.

Mariam helps Captain Valencia and Yance pack the Pilgrim’s engines with frozen methane, and then buckles in for the rough ride over the frozen surface of Sputnik Planum. Where are Baily and Jef right now? What are they feeling? What were they doing four and a half hours ago? Mariam can’t imagine they would take the time to sit down by a microphone on the Cape. Not right now. She stares into the bright diamond of sunlight that hovers over the horizon and wonders if they’re thinking of her at all in those interstitial moments. She knows she’s thinking of them. But do they know that?

Captain Valencia and Yance want to check the cameras while they’re way out here on the plain anyway; Camera 7 has begun to tilt on its axis and needs to be stabilized if they’re going to capture the glacier flow that Mission Command is so keen on. They find the entire apparatus listing pitifully. One of the joints in a tripod leg refuses to latch. Yance blames the cold, the shoddy manufacturing, the quality of the materials, the long transit from Earth. Anything could have caused it—a simple accident, a stupid trick of fate. But Yance fixes it ably enough. Mariam stands off to the side and looks up at the stars while Valencia helps Yance align the camera to get the desired view across the face of the glacier. The ice flows too slowly for Mariam’s eyes too see, but the camera’s patience is infinite.

They climb back into the Pilgrim and set off. Mariam’s teeth rattle together with the motion. The teeth lining the Pilgrim’s treads dig into the ice beneath, grinding away with the forward movement. The treads cling to Pluto’s implacable face, lest a bad bounce send the rover and its cargo flying astray in the microgravity. Mariam focuses on the off-kilter rhythm of the Pilgrim beneath her, and not on the pervasive cold.

And not on Baily and Jef, their soft warm arms, the press of hot bodies in a bed only just big enough for the three of them. The too-small Orlando apartment that was never in all their time together too cold. Far too small a world to bring a child into, she thinks, then flinches away from that thought before it has a chance to burn. It takes four and a half hours for radio signals to travel all the way from Earth, but pain jolts along those billions of miles in half a second.

Unloading the equipment at the designated drill site on the plain relieves the ache in Mariam’s belly. Distracts her from it, at least. Mariam sucks water out of the straw inside her helmet once the drill is in place; her stomach refuses an attempt to suck down the apricot-flavored paste from the food tube. She checks the sun’s position before turning on the drill to take her first sample. Then the vibration of the drill, buzzing through the ice under Mariam’s feet and up into the hollow space under her ribcage, drums out the thoughts in her head.

The drill yields an ice core sample two meters long and eight centimeters in diameter. Old ice, laid deep. Mariam will figure out just how old it might be based on what kinds of deposits it contains, based on the secret folds and faults that lie hidden inside. A message from Pluto’s past, and a heavy one at that. It takes her, Valencia, and Yance all working together to maneuver it onto the back of the sledge. They take three more samples altogether. Mariam straightens her back after the last one is secured onto the Pilgrim, and scans the horizon.

The sun is gone.

Mariam’s knees tremble. She locks them in place and checks the display inside her helmet in case she missed a call from Char. Nothing.

Six days of Pluto’s slow-turning bulk with its back turned to home, to sunlight, to Jef and Baily. Six days of radio silence. Six days is forever, because in six days it will be too late to say goodbye.

Not the first thing Mariam has missed on the five-year-long mission, won’t be the last, but it will be the worst. Five years out and back: a lifetime. Not Mariam’s lifetime, not Jef’s or Baily’s. Annika’s lifetime.

Mariam follow Valencia and Yance up into the Pilgrim, checks that the samples are properly secured. Inside her helmet, tears carve lines down her face. They feel cold enough to freeze, but of course they won’t, and she can’t wipe them away. They evaporate slowly into the dry air in her helmet and leave salt tracks on her face as the Pilgrim shudders to life beneath her feet.

“Lieutenant,” says Valencia. His voice snaps across the radio in her helmet. “Buckle in.” Mariam complies.

“Maybe there’ll be a message waiting for you on the other side,” says Yance, over the open channel between the three of them. Mariam looks at the back of her helmet. That’s all she can see of Yance; the rest is hidden behind the driver’s seat. “I’m sure they’ll get something queued up for once we cutover again.”

Valencia tells Yance to focus on driving.

Mariam stares out at the twin beams streaming from the Pilgrim’s headlamps. She searches for answers, and when there are none to be had, she searches for questions. But there is nothing out there but the white gleam of light on the empty plains, punctuated by the odd long dark streak. Pluto’s bones.

The ride back to Sagacity is silent. Once the airlock cycles them through, Captain Valencia pulls off his helmet and waits for her to take off hers before he says, “I’m sorry, lieutenant. I know what she meant to you.” Does he? Mariam isn’t sure she does.

She puts away her spacesuit and retreats to her pod, where pictures flicker on the wall. Some are old, and some are newer, beamed along a radio wave to Mariam during her journey out into the universe. Here is her and Baily and Jef at city hall, signing the paperwork; Baily and Mariam have ribbons in their hair, and Jef’s only ornamentation is one of his rare smiles. Here is the party they threw when Mariam finished her PhD, all empty wine-boxes and streamers. And here is a newer picture, grainy from its flight across the solar system, of Baily’s big round belly and her big warm smile. And here is that baby, now an infant, now a toddler. Annika.

Annika is: two years old. Annika is: dark-haired like Mariam and tall like Jef and full of Baily’s smiles. Annika is: Mariam’s daughter, and she isn’t. Wasn’t. She’s Jef’s sperm, Baily’s womb, a host of chemicals and a small army of doctors. And of course Mariam’s egg, carefully collected and left behind in a lonely freezer.

But all that’s just the recipe, not the reality. To Annika, Jef and Baily are dad and mom. To Annika, Mariam is a crackle of sound, a glossy smile in the pictures taped to the apartment fridge.

And what is she to Jef and Baily now, frozen and far away?

They waited less than a year after Mariam left. Annika would have been four by the time she returned. Should have been. She couldn’t have turned down the trip, though. That would have meant kissing her career goodbye. Her work would not wait for her, but somehow she had thought her family could. Would hold still like a photograph, or the contents of a silent freezer. “Not much longer now,” was the last thing she’d heard from Baily. “A week, maybe less.” That was six days ago now, when Pluto had first rolled over to tentative daylight.

And now, six days of silence.

Was it Mariam who contributed the fatal flaw, or Jef? It shouldn’t matter, but of course it does. To Mariam, if not to the others. She could find the words to apologize for a crooked strand of DNA. The rest is so tangled, the threads of Jef and Baily and Annika’s lives twisted together and frozen in a core sample that goes all the way through Mariam. She doesn’t know what to say, and she needs someone else to say it first.

Why didn’t they call?

Mariam knows why. She knows that she’s a flickering candle in the incandescence of their grief. She knows that it’s wrong to resent the distance that she’s imposed, that she’s created. She resents it anyway.

The sky is dark through the little viewport in the curve of Mariam’s wall. Her fingers spread on the thick glass, cool despite the many layers of insulating gas between her and the vacuum outside. If she could have reached high enough to touch the sun before it faded—what then? From Pluto, the sun is scarcely a speck, but the Earth is missing entirely. And no one on that hot green-blue world can look up into the night sky and see Pluto’s frozen face, either.

Mariam reaches for her tablet, puts it on the desk in front of her. She wraps her arms around herself and closes her eyes. Words drag out of her slowly, chipped from the ice. Maybe the ice will melt one day, and maybe it won’t, but for now it’s enough to excavate what she needs. The words come out wrong, all wrong, but they come, and that’s all that matters. Mariam has six days to get them right.

 

END


"To Touch the Sun Before it Fades" was originally published in PerVisions and is © Copyright Aimee Ogden 2016.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also pick up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buy your own copy of the Spring 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a GlitterShip original, "Stories My Body Can Tell" by Alina Sichevaya.

Episode #60: “Unstrap Your Feet” by Emma Osborne

Episode #60: “Unstrap Your Feet” by Emma Osborne

November 9, 2018

Unstrap Your Feet

by Emma Osborne

 

 

The mud on your legs covers you from knees to toes so I can’t quite tell where the soft leather of your boots meets your flesh until blood blooms from your ankles.

I offer you wine. You take a long sip and hand me back the glass as you unstrap your feet. Your hooves shine as you toss your humanity into a pile by the door.

You sniff the air. You take in the saffron, the lemon, the scorch of sage.

“Darling,” you say. “I thought I told you I was sick of fish?”

You did, but that was a year ago and I thought we’d come around to it again. My eyes linger on your slim patterns. They’re thin like a doe’s legs; one good crack with a cricket bat would bring you down.

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 60! This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a GlitterShip original, "Unstrap Your Feet" by Emma Osborne and a poem, "The Librarian" by Rae White.

Both pieces are part of the new GlitterShip issue that is now available. The Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. If you're a Patreon supporter, you should have access to the new issue waiting for you when you log in. The new issue is only $2.99 and all of our back issues are now $1.49.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep.

If you're looking for an excellent book with queer characters, Rivers Solomon's An Unkindness of Ghosts is an amazing listen. The story features a colony ship having power problems and some internal unrest. Our protagonist, Aster, is a brilliant scientist and doctor trapped in an extremely socially and racially segregated society. The book also deals with non-neurotypicality, intersex, and fluid/questioning gender identity. An Unkindness of Ghosts is part mystery, part colony ship drama, and part coming of age story (though it is not YA). Rivers has amazing prose, and the narration in this audio book sets it off wonderfully.

To download An Unkindness of Ghosts for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership — or choose another book if you're in the mood for something else.

There are content warnings on this episode for a very, very sexy poem and descriptions of domestic emotional abuse in "Unstrap Your Feet."

 


 

Rae White is a non-binary poet, writer, and zinester living in Brisbane. Their poetry collection Milk Teeth won the 2017 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and is published by the University of Queensland Press. Rae’s poem ‘what even r u?’ placed second in the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize. Rae’s poetry has been published in Meanjin Quarterly, Cordite Poetry Review, Overland, Rabbit, and others.

 


 

The Librarian

by Rae White

 

 

locked in ∞ nostalgia after dark ∞ thumb through
favourites: nin-like erotica ∞ with storms simulating
hunger, flirting & fireworks, cruise ship
kisses ∞ here, every heel

click is echo-church, like the ruckus I make at
funerals ∞ every movement casts my shadow: spells
spilling over bookshelves ∞ I’m not trapped, I have
a key ∞ but I stay curled in the wicker
chair ∞ waiting

for echo-click of ribs and what remains ∞ the flossed
fragments of my midnight ghost with her yawn-wide
kiss & skinless skull ∞ her cartilage grip & gasp & pelvic
bone clasped tight to my thigh ∞ her shiver-glitches, each
more grating & copper-tasting than the last ∞ her brittle
pushes as she groans ∞ against my knuckled hand ∞ I taste
soot & swordfish

later ∞ I press her
between folds of wildflower books & sing
timidly of the moon as she sleeps

 

 


 

Emma Osborne is a queer fiction writer and poet from Melbourne, Australia. Emma’s writing has appeared in Shock Totem, Apex Magazine, Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Pseudopod, the Review of Australian Fiction and the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, and has fiction forthcoming at Nightmare Magazine.

A proud member of Team Arsenic, Emma is a graduate of the 2016 Clarion West Writers Workshop. Emma is a former first reader at Clarkesworld Magazine, and current first reader at Arsenika.

Emma currently lives in Melbourne, drinking all of the coffee and eating all of the food, but has a giant crush on Seattle and turns up under the shadow of the mountain at every opportunity. You can find Emma on Twitter at @redscribe.

 


 

Unstrap Your Feet

by Emma Osborne

 

 

The mud on your legs covers you from knees to toes so I can’t quite tell where the soft leather of your boots meets your flesh until blood blooms from your ankles.

I offer you wine. You take a long sip and hand me back the glass as you unstrap your feet. Your hooves shine as you toss your humanity into a pile by the door.

You sniff the air. You take in the saffron, the lemon, the scorch of sage.

“Darling,” you say. “I thought I told you I was sick of fish?”

You did, but that was a year ago and I thought we’d come around to it again. My eyes linger on your slim patterns. They’re thin like a doe’s legs; one good crack with a cricket bat would bring you down.

“I want to eat something warm-blooded,” you say, as you divest yourself of your coat, your scarf. “Ribs. A steak. Liver.”

You smell of honey and rosemary; honey for sweetness and rosemary for fidelity, remembrance and luck. I wonder how long it’ll take to re-make dinner.

Too long.

My fingers tangle in my pocket, deep down where you shouldn’t be able to see. Maybe I can talk you around. Your eyes sketch over my shoulder, my elbow. You can see the tension in my muscles, can map my posture and my heart rate and you know that my nails are digging into my palms nearly before I feel the skin split.

“We’ll order something,” I say, but it’s risky to have something delivered to the door when you’ve taken off your feet. Once, somebody saw, and then they didn’t ever see anything again. There’s still a stain in the laundry that I can’t scrub away. 

You pause for a moment, just for the pulse of a few seconds, but it’s enough for my stomach to plunge and my mind to spin out infinite possibilities. The end of each thread is a broken finger or a pair of shattered wine glasses or just a cool, detached look that I’ll turn over and over in my head at night, knowing that despite our vows, sealed with blood and smoke and iron, you’ve decided that you’re going to have to kill me after all.

“Fine,” you say, “anything but pizza.”

These are the kinds of conversations that normal people have, every night, every month, with wrinkled brows and hunched shoulders and with a creased blazer hung up for another weary tomorrow.

You take your time in the shower while I call for dinner. With any luck you’ll stay there, or in the bedroom, until the delivery comes.

I’ve decided on BBQ from the place three streets away. They don’t ask questions if we order mostly meat, although I add a couple of sides—mac and cheese and some fries—for show. When the food arrives, I take care to open the door only a few inches, to take the bags and construct a “Thanks!” and to give a reassuring smile. I can hear you clattering around in the kitchen. I can nearly hear you scowling at the unwanted fish, scraped into a bowl for me to eat tomorrow.

I plate up dinner and you join me at the table with your canines glinting. I would have thought you’d have dull herbivore teeth, what with the hooves, but you have your father’s jawline, his bite. Sometimes I run my tongue over my own teeth, fearful that they’re sharpening and wondering what it would mean if they did. The food smells glorious, though I’m the only one who eats the sides. The mac and cheese is chewy and rich and creamy and I savor every bite after a diet so heavy in meat.

“Tell me about your day,” I say, nibbling on a forkful of pulled pork. I don’t care, not really, but it’s one of the only ways I can get news of the outside world on an ordinary, everyday level. The news is good for broad strokes, but I don’t get to hear about the lavender blooming in Mrs. Dancy’s yard or the color of the sky in midwinter dusk.

You’re in a good mood from the food so you appease me with small stories whilst you tear rich, fatty meat from a rib-bone. You’ve got a smear of sauce on your chin. The scent of hickory smoke has soaked into your skin. When I remember the days I had dared to drag my fingers through your hair, I tamp down a shudder and wonder if your budding horns rasp more like bones or fingernails.

Our wedding feast was nothing like this, but I suppose I’d always known you had secrets. Still, the feast was glorious and fine, a celebration for the ages. Oh, that night. We’d hoisted my mother’s crystal and downed the finest champagne after the ceremony under the oak tree.

My father was in charge of speeches and keeping cups full. Your mother roasted us a pair of swans. We ate them with silver forks and our fingers. There were charred potatoes and glass jars full of honey and red apples baked into pies. Bowls of cherries as bright as blood dotted the groaning tables and the air was heavy with the scent of roasted figs.

I hadn’t known then that your feet came off. I’d only known that your smile made my heart bloom like a blushing rose and that your kisses tasted of jasmine.

Your father was in charge of the music, and soon enough everyone was spinning, dancing, stamping to his wild fiddle, all red-faced and heaving, their legs shaking as they gasped for breath.

I was happy that night. Sometimes I think I can still smell it, as if happiness is a hint of perfume saved in a handkerchief that I’ve tucked into the pocket of an old coat.

You’re finished with your food so I load the dishwasher. I used to like washing the dishes by hand and carefully wiping them clean with my favorite faded red dishtowel, but we both agreed that the dishwasher is better for the environment.

It’s curious, the things you care about.

I try not to make any unnecessary noise as we wind down the hours before bed. Sometimes I can get away with reading on the couch for a few hours. If I’m almost entirely still, your eyes skip over me when you’re restlessly roaming the house, your hooves clacking on the floorboards.

I tried to get out once.

I still have the scars on my ribs from your teeth.

I try not to care what you are doing, but tonight in the basement it involves knives and the squeal of metal on metal. I can’t help but look up when you walk past the lounge room, your muscled arms popping with excited veins, your face flushed, your hair a mess.

Our eyes meet. I’m usually more careful than that, and look away, but this time I smile in my panic.

You smile back, delighted.

All I can see is your teeth.

I used to be so much bigger, so much more. I had dreams and loves and fancies; my heart was spun sugar and grace. That me is dead now, my delicate heart crushed. You have eroded me like a hard rain erodes a mountain: bit by bit; thousands of tiny strikes.

You’re cooking something in the kitchen that smells like apples and roasted flesh. It’s rare enough for you to do so, and anxiety tightens my chest as I wonder what it means. I try to tune it out, to hold my breath, but the house is full of the smell.

When you finally call me to bed, I slide a marker into my book. The pages are sharp on my fingertips.

“Goodnight, darling,” you breathe into my ear after you’ve kissed me.

“Goodnight,” I say, my eyes squeezed shut in the dark.

You know the catch of my breath when it hitches; you know the sound of my tears as they track down my cheeks. I’ve learned to lie flat and still under the smoke-gray blankets, to move only when necessary, to not roll. When I was young, I’d sleep carelessly, roaming about the bed like a slumbering explorer, one leg out at an angle and with an open palm up to the sky. These days it’s all straight lines and aching bones from a lack of shift.

Most nights, I don’t sleep. Not until you’ve gotten up and strapped your feet back on and gone into the world. When the sun peeps through the curtains and I’m sure you’ve gotten clear of the house I collapse onto the couch, tuck a blanket around me. The bed reminds me of nothing but cold misery.

Soon you’ll be home again, and we’ll feast again, smile carefully at each other over bone-white plates and French cutlery with scarlet handles.

I spend the rest of the day cleaning with vinegar and lemons. I square your sharpened tools away, grant symmetry to the house. I listen to news radio as I tidy, desperate for the sound of another human voice.

Sometimes I write on scraps of paper, on anything that will take my mark. I write about me and you, and I am sure that it reads like a fairy tale, or a biblical nightmare, or perhaps something stitched together from their forgotten parts. I can’t risk you finding my words. When I have covered every scrap of surface with truths I place the paper on my tongue, pulp it with my dull human teeth, and devour us.

I check my body over in the shower when I make it under the hot water in the sun-bright afternoon. My scars are days old, weeks old, a hundred years old. There’s nothing poking through my scalp yet, and my feet are just feet. You are the one who changed.

This evening when you come home you’re carrying something in a leather satchel that smells of blood and beeswax. You hold my eye with a wild smile as you snap it open.

Inside is a new pair of feet.

I know them because they’re my feet, right down to the cracked heels and the crooked little toes.

“These are for you,” you say, measuring my calves with your eyes and squinting at my shoes. “Now that you’re ready.”

Your eyes are sharp, loving, sparking like struck flint.

What did I do to make you think that this is what I wanted? My face twists into a grimace that you mistake for a smile.

I take the feet.

You grin like the sun coming up and slip past me into the kitchen. I merely stand, horrified but absently holding the feet that I could use to walk outside.

When you return, you’re holding a small plate heavy with warmed-up dark meat and pale apple flesh.

“Baked apples, lungs, and liver, with plenty of butter,” you say. The fruit of temptation. Organs of the breath and soul. Milk and meat.

So that’s what you were cooking.

I know my legends well enough to know that eating from this plate will change me forever. I gently place my new feet near the door next to yours and take up the silver fork.

“Let me,” you say. The last time I saw your face this bright was under the light of a thousand fireflies on our wedding day.

Refusing you has always been an impossibility.

You ease a slice of liver into my mouth. As I chew I feel my calves split like an inseam. I thought it would hurt when my old feet slid off, but you kneel before me and tug my ankles and look, they’re free and loose and bloody. It smells like a slaughterhouse in here. Blood and sharpness.

You must hold me upright as I kick out of my old feet. My new hooves haven’t hardened yet; they’re still feathery and glistening from their birth. There’s bile in my throat and I can only hope you put my wild pulse down to excitement.

You ease me onto the couch with your strong arms and kiss my forehead. I’m panicking, but I hold myself as still as I can. What have I become? What will I become?

I am nauseous but suddenly terribly hungry, for meat and flowers and fresh air. I scuff my hooves on the floor. You trace the rubbery feathers with a loving fingertip. In an hour, maybe two, my hooves will be firm and ready to encase in their disguise of flesh, and the two of us will leave the house, together.

“Darling,” you say, “What do you feel like eating?” You clasp my fingers, too tight.

“Whatever you want,” I whisper, trying desperately to keep my voice steady. You look so happy.

I’ve gotten everything wrong, everything. Yes, I will walk outside, and yes I will lift a neighbor’s rose to my eager inhale, but you will be there beside me every single second.

I laugh, unable to contain my tears.

Now it’s the whole world.

The whole world is my cage.

We go.

 

END


 

“The Librarian” is copyright Rae White 2018.

“Unstrap Your Feet” is copyright Emma Osborne 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also pick up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buying your own copy of the Spring 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of "To Touch the Sun Before it Fades" by Aimee Ogden.

Episode #59: “Never Alone, Never Unarmed” by Bobby Sun

Episode #59: “Never Alone, Never Unarmed” by Bobby Sun

October 30, 2018

Never Alone, Never Unarmed

by Bobby Sun

 

The fighting spider sat heavily in Kian Boon’s left palm, where he’d knocked it from its leafy abode. It was maybe a centimeter and a half from the tip of its pedipalps to the silky spinnerets of its abdomen, black and silver like one of the sleek Chinese centipedals that increasingly frequented the roads below his building. He could feel the weight of the thing as he cupped his hand around it and it jumped, smacking against the roof of his fingers.

 

 

Oh hi, Rey. Hi. What are you doing? Oh, are you coming over here to smell. I know, Rey. I know. You're a good dog. But, I gotta do this recording. Yeah.

[Intro music plays]

Hello, welcome to GlitterShip Episode 59 for August 27th, 2018. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you. Today, we have a GlitterShip original, "Never Alone, Never Unarmed" by Bobby Sun, and a poem, "Feminine Endlings" by Alison Rumfitt.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that GlitterShip is part of of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep. One book that I listened to recently is They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. I will warn you, this young adult book is full of feelings. That said, I thought it was a great example of queer tragedy rather than tragic queers. In a near future world, everyone gets a phone call between midnight and 3am of the day that they're going to die. They Both Die at the End follows two teen boys who got that call on the same day. I loved how tender the book was, but here's your warning: have tissues on hand.

To download a free audiobook today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership and choose an excellent book to listen to. Whether that's They Both Die at the End or maybe even something that's a little less emotionally strenuous.

 


 

Alison Rumfitt is a transgender writer who studies in Brighton, UK. She loves, amongst other things: forest, folklore, gothic romance, and wild theories about her favorite authors being trans. Her poetry has previously been published in Liminality, Strange Horizons, and Eternal Haunted Summer. Two of her poems were nominated for the Rhysling award in 2018. You can find her on Twitter @gothicgarfield.

 


 

Feminine Endlings

by Alison Rumfitt

 

I’m the last one with a mouth I think the last one
who still has a tongue that can dance the last
to dance or move the last to use her lungs like
lungs were used like they used to be like
a soft ball of feathers being blown by a gale
I am the full stop I think the forest is different for me
now, I can’t see the others, and I cannot think of them,
all the trees have changed shape
they now carry new sub-meanings
deep in their bark new grubs are born
screaming from pods
to chew at my place
this city
which I knew so well
which I knew automatically could navigate as an automaton
turning left and right the moment I sensed it
it’s gone, somewhere, when I had my back turned
drinking away in a clearing
now the people have different colored eyes
it’s far less bursting and different than my old days tell me
the sun left along with
all of the people I was in love with the city the forest
the cave-system the desert the habitat adapts to the
things that dwell in it the things inside it
evolve to be more like their future selves
and I hate the way it makes me feel
because I like knowing where I am—

the last Tasmanian Tiger died in a zoo from neglect
as a storm ripped at her cage she lay in the corner
head tucked under her arm the last
Stephens Island wren was clawed to death
by the first cat she fell to the grass feeling the
teeth around her shallow head
the last Passenger Pigeon was stuffed
she sits in a glass box
telling everyone who visits that everything will change
and you will die eventually
and nothing really matters if you don’t want it to
and there’s so many of us
who died somewhere alone the last of a kind
without a name or a grave-marker or ashes
to be put upon a fireplace or mantel
and I hate that I could end up the same
forgotten under piles of new babies with new ways
of thinking new streets built over my house
as a lightning strike burns down the tree I hid in
the end of a line marks the place where you know what the line
is the end of a species or a group or a life marks the
definition of said species or group or life
so the end of me matters and the end of me
will live on past the rest of me so if I end
the same way all the others do I become
the same as all the others I am not
me I am them but I am me if I end never
or if I end when it becomes thematically
meaningful which is why nothing matters now
but then it will it will really matter everything will matter
the last trans woman on earth
standing on a pile of trans women
the only thing that tells you she is ‘she’ is
she rhymes unstressed which is arbitrary
maybe we won then if the last woman is her
if the last trans woman in a new world
where everyone is nothing
she is this wonderful
thing happy in a house built
on the dead made of the dead maybe eating the dead
on her own making her own fun reading
coding tattooing herself with notes and appendixes
if it's her then perhaps the perfect final note of Us is—

This, old Death slowly walking opening the door to meet her
and he nods and she nods and the world becomes a little darker.

 


 

Bobby Sun is a Chinese-Malaysian author and spoken-word poet who grew up in Singapore and is studying in London. His work has previously been published on Tor.com as well as in the inaugural Singapore Poetry Writing Month ("SingPoWriMo") anthology (as Robert Bivouac), and in Rosarium Publishing's anthology of Southeast Asian steampunk, The SEA is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia as Robert Liow.

 


 

Never Alone, Never Unarmed

by Bobby Sun

 

The fighting spider sat heavily in Kian Boon’s left palm, where he’d knocked it from its leafy abode. It was maybe a centimeter and a half from the tip of its pedipalps to the silky spinnerets of its abdomen, black and silver like one of the sleek Chinese centipedals that increasingly frequented the roads below his building. He could feel the weight of the thing as he cupped his hand around it and it jumped, smacking against the roof of his fingers.

He kept his left hand closed and extracted a jar from a raggedy, home-made satchel. The jar was double-layered; between the inner and outer layers of chitinous plastic shrilk was water, kept reasonably below the ambient temperature with a simple synthorg heat sink he’d Shaped himself. The spring-sealed jar flicked open as Kian Boon visualized and nudged a couple of its Shape-threads. He dropped the spider in, snapped the jar shut and let the cooling take effect. This little thing, all of approximately two grams, was worth about a dollar; iced Coklat for two at the kopitiam near his school. The jar, of course, wasn’t part of the deal. His buyers would need a container of their own.

Kian Boon swatted at a mosquito, then pushed his way deeper into the vegetation. He winced as a twig scratched his cheek. There were still four jars left to fill, though, and it was only nine on a Saturday morning.

The air was thick with mist, and the leaves still hung with dew. White-headed birds hopped through the trees, leaping from branch to branch and snatching red berries off their stems. Somewhere above him a male koel sounded off. The sun filtered through the canopy, dappling the ground in pixel-patterns; Kian Boon made a game of dancing through them. This area was new to him. He’d heard of it only because Aidil, a rival spider-hunter from the neighbouring class, had let it slip to his sister. She’d told her best friend, and it had eventually ended up with Ravi Pillai (who’d, naturally, told Kian Boon).

Ravi was the bright-eyed Indian boy in his class he’d noticed during orientation, on their first day of Form One. He’d been assigned to Kian Boon’s group, and was the very first to get picked for “Whacko”. Kian Boon hadn’t recalled his classmates’ names in time, so Ravi had hit him hard enough with the rolled-up newspaper that he’d sustained a paper cut on his forehead. The horrified facilitator had excluded Ravi from the rest of that game, though Kian Boon hadn’t really minded. The only name Ravi really remembered at the end of that day was his.

It was, well, best friends at first sight. They hung out at recess almost every day, sometimes joined in a game of soccer and occasionally went to the kopitiam or spider-fighting rings after school with their friends. Not alone, though, he thought. Not yet. He’d get there later. There was a plan, and he needed the spiders for it.

Kian Boon exhaled. He picked through the thickest bush he could find, searching for the tell-tale bivouac of a fighting spider. They preferred the densest vegetation, making their home in glued-together leaves. Finding a nest, he gently unzipped it, dissolving the silk into its constituent proteins. The spider hung onto the upper leaf, but with a quick motion of the wrist it was resting in his cupped left palm. He felt its silken trail as it darted about, and he closed his hands to gauge its weight.

A good spider, if a little sluggish. It was well-fed. He peeked through a gap in his fingers. Its silver-banded abdomen iridesced a bottle-green; a rare and valuable variety. Kian Boon slipped it into another jar, watching as the critter paced, then slowed, then eventually fell asleep.

There was a swift rustling. Kian Boon turned around and there, maybe ten meters away from him, was a tiger about three meters in length. Perhaps he could make it turn away? He pulled its Shape-threads up, but they were greyed-out; it was too strong for him to Shape. Kian Boon hissed in frustration. He backed further into the vegetation, praying he hadn’t been spotted.

He hadn’t expected a tiger. Singaporean tigers were rare. The British had set bounties on each head for the century they’d colonized the island, and their subjects had been happy to deliver. The Great War, just under a decade ago, had taken its toll on them too; fierce fighting between the British Malayan Army and the Nanyang Republic’s coalition had driven them across the Straits, setting large tracts of its old growth ablaze. This place, though, had been almost completely untouched. Some of the trees were massive, and looked decades, if not centuries, old.

Of course there’d be tigers here.

What had his mother told him about tigers? They were fast, strong and intelligent. They could climb trees, and there was no point playing dead.

Think, Kian Boon thought to himself. You are never alone, and never unarmed. He’d heard the Combat Shaper Corps’ motto on the thinscreen dozens of times in recruitment advertisements, and his parents had served with them in the war. Anything alive, or once alive, could be useful. Think.

Dead leaves on the ground. Live leaves everywhere else. Wood, if he could tear it away. Several blade-like mushrooms sprouting from a lightning-blackened stump. Bugs of all kinds; swarming midges in the air, nests of kerengga ants streaming down the taller trees, large crickets, caterpillars and butterflies.

Think.

The tiger snuffled. It knew Kian Boon was there, but didn’t want to advance just yet. It would wait for the boy to let his guard down and then strike. Kian Boon could see it pacing, its stripes slipping through gaps in the vegetation. He kept it in front of him. His gaze leapt from tree to tree as he wracked his brain for solutions; his guard was up, and multi-coloured Shape-threads popped in and out of his vision. He blinked sweat out of his eyes, though it was a relatively cool morning, and then he attacked.

Kian Boon realigned the threads near the bottom of two of the nearest trees with a slash of his fingers, loosening their cells, and thrust his hand forward, dislodging them. The trees splintered at the breaks, but didn’t fall; he only wanted to scare the tiger, not hurt it. The tiger leapt back, wary, then stepped around the obstruction. Kian Boon locked eyes with it, just a leap away from him. The sun turned it a dappled gold, its stripes shifting as it padded towards him. It licked its muzzle. Trembling, Kian Boon reached into his satchel for his pocketknife, but instead felt one of his empty spider jars. He pulled back, then looked again.

The synthorg heat sink was a simple construct. Kian Boon could put one together in an hour from kitchen scraps. Powered by a small reservoir of ethanol, it dispersed heat from the water insulating the jar into the external environment, keeping the inside cool. Kian Boon snapped the empty jar open, snatched up a handful of dead leaves and stuffed them in. He Shaped them into a slurry, then sealed the jar. He tore at its Shape-threads roughly, until the outer layer cracked and the water drained out. The heat sink began to glow, and Kian Boon hurled the jar as hard as he could at the tiger’s face. It smashed, the slurry spilled out, and the red-hot heat sink set it ablaze. It was merely a fistful of fire, but the tiger roared and swiped at its face, singed by the improvised weapon.

Kian Boon made a run for it. He sprinted past the temporarily blinded creature, no longer caring to dance through the sunlight. He burst through shrubs, trod on ant trails, snapped every twig in his path as he rushed to the safety of the small capillary road he’d entered by. The spiders he’d caught slept on.

 

The Transit Authority centibus stop was deserted. The factory beside it had closed for the weekend, and only three buses served this stop. Kian Boon flipped through his bus guide and figured out a route. It would cost him a flat ten cents, out of his weekly state school allowance of seven dollars and fifty cents. He sat on one of the fan-shaped seats, which had been painted a bright shade of orange, and kicked the gravelled ground absent-mindedly.

It finally hit him. That was the first tiger he’d seen in the flesh. The captive ones in the Zoo, behind panes of mesh and hardened shrilk, didn’t count. He recalled its eyes, staring into his as he’d reached in panic for his pocket knife, for all the good that would’ve done. The smell of the tiger’s burning fur, acrid like the time he’d accidentally let his hair catch on his elder cousin’s sparkler two New Years ago. He’d panicked and run headlong into her, putting out the fire but also burning a hole in her pretty red qipao. She’d been able to fix the damage, but the fabric had been stretched thin and eventually fell apart in the wash.

He looked into his satchel again. Four remaining jars, half of them empty. He slapped the seat in frustration. The trees could have been knocked down, instead of snapped. He’d been too soft to risk hurting a fucking tiger that was about to eat him alive. He could’ve used the insects to his advantage, sending ants and flies to blind the predator while he fled. He could’ve crumbled the humus beneath his enemy’s feet, trapping it in place, but no. He’d overloaded the fuel cell on the heat sink, instead, because he’d had it in his hand and stopped thinking.

He sighed. Getting the materials for another jar hadn’t been in the plan, and it would set him back a couple of weeks in savings. The state school allowance was alright, but it was hard to save much of it when the Ministry-mandated lunch service deducted a dollar each weekday. That left him with two-fifty a week, of which one dollar went to transport to and from school. Most kids ran errands for extra money or joined a semi-legal enterprise, like the spider-fighting rings. Some, like the ahbengs and ahlians at school, joined up with the secret societies that the Nanyang administration hadn’t managed to stamp out. He mostly stayed away from those, though he did sell spiders and tech to the few he trusted. Ravi didn’t like them at all, but it was business. Perhaps he’d scavenge something, repair some junk, and maybe that’d pay for a few more dates at the kopitiam. The plan would go on; he only had enough for a first date, now, but Ravi would probably forgive iced Coklat.

Kian Boon leaned back, staring at the ceiling of the bus stop. A nest of communal spiders had made their webs between two of the scaffolds. The dense, grey mesh surrounded the lone tube light, a fatal attraction for moths; he presumed this stop was so out of the way that the Transit Authority’s street cleaners didn’t come here. He focused on their Shape-threads and sliced a bit of the web off with a pinch of his fingers. Several spiders emerged, startled. He let go, and they drifted lazily until a gust of wind sent them, and the chunk of web they clung to, into the distance. He knew this species; that bit he’d just cut off would eventually establish its own colony somewhere else, if it found a safe home. The rest of the web would adjust, rebuilding what he’d torn off.

He wondered if it would be the same for him, if he pinched a little bit off himself and someone else let it go.

Would it grow back?

His centibus arrived. The thumping undulations of its rubberised legs slowed as it pulled up to the stop. Kian Boon shrugged his satchel on, hoisted himself off the orange seat and climbed aboard.

 

Kian Boon reached home at eleven, just as his Ma began preparing lunch. She was washing rice while little Siew Gim, all of sixteen months old, played with their Ba in the living room. Ma scowled at him through the kitchen doorway; he shouted, “sorry, Ma,” and hurried to his room.

He looked at himself, covered in scratches and forest grime, and sighed. If Ma had started to cook, she’d have washed up beforehand. The water would be cold for a while before the solar heater managed to warm it up. He exhaled and slumped to the cold, green-grey floor, letting the heat drain out of him.

Rolling onto his stomach, he crawled over to his satchel and removed the spiders he’d caught. They slumbered peacefully in their jars, legs tucked beneath their bellies. He looked into their tiny black eyes, open but unaware, and the streaks upon their shiny bodies. He picked himself up and set them down on his homework-cluttered desk. His cheek stung; the cut he’d sustained had reopened, slightly, and blood began to well in the laceration. Kian Boon sighed, brushed his hair back and opened the door.

Siew Gim was waiting for him, babbling “Gor-gor” excitedly in Ba’s arms. She’d been born with nubby stumps instead of legs. Ba’s transport had been hit by a fungal mine the Brits had left behind during their final retreat. He’d been evacuated back to Pontianak and put out of action for the rest of the war. Kian Boon recalled sitting by Ba’s bed in the base hospital while the doctors purged the disease from his father’s body. They hadn’t discovered the mutations until they’d had Siew Gim.

Kian Boon reached for his little sister, but Ba pulled her back at the last moment, laughing. Siew Gim squealed and shook her head to get her fringe out of her face. She pouted at Ba, and he rubbed her nose with his finger. He gently chided Kian Boon in Hokkien.

“Boon, go shower, then can play with Gim. Water warm already.”

Kian Boon nodded and headed for the master bedroom, where their shared bathroom was. He stripped his dirt-covered clothes off and shook them to make sure nothing had come back home with him. He spotted and ripped the legs off a biting bug that had attached itself to his collar; his spiders would need the food, but he couldn’t afford to have the thing loose in the house. Thankfully, nothing else had hitched a ride out of the forest. He stepped into the bathroom and hit the showers, relaxing as the sun-warmed water rolled over his body.

 

The smell of fried fish filled the house as Kian Boon sat on the living room floor. Siew Gim bounced on his lap, giggling as she tried to headbutt him on the chin. He threw her favourite toy, a synthorg turtle plushie named “Turtle”, across the room, where it landed on its back and started to scrabble in the air. Siew Gim took off after it, crawling on her rubberized elbow and wrist pads. Kian Boon watched her; she wiggled her butt and stumps in sync with the movements of her arms. It looked as if she was swimming on the ground, almost effortlessly; they’d put her in a pool once, and she’d taken off like a fish.

He wondered, not for the first time, what he’d looked like at that age.

Ma and Ba hadn’t seen Kian Boon often. Ma had fallen pregnant just before the war, given birth and been called back to duty once he’d turned three months old, leaving him in a military childcare facility on the outskirts of Pontianak. Ma was a combat-Shaping instructor, and Ba was a maintenance specialist with a mechanized infantry company; they’d been assigned to separate units as a result. Kian Boon had one official picture of himself for each of the four years he’d been a ward of the state. Still, he knew he’d had it good. At least they were alive, and they treated him well.

Ba sat at the workbench in the living room, tinkering with one of his latest creations. Ba had service injury compensation in addition to the social dividend which the Nanyang government had implemented several years ago. It was more than enough to live on, but he insisted on working full-time with the Reconstruction Trust. He maintained residential buildings with his team, and built things in his spare time.

Ba was currently working on a lifelike in the shape of a pigeon. There were scraps of gore wedged under his fingernails as he carved up a pig brain with a scalpel and threaded the grey matter into the pigeonlike’s soft, shrilk body, weaving neural circuits that would link his creation’s brain to the rest of its body and allow it to move and respond to stimuli once he’d given it a circulatory system, sensory organs and muscles. A pile of animal hair and feathers, bought from the local butcher, remained by the side of the table as raw material for its feathers and beak.

Kian Boon picked Siew Gim up and walked over. She loved to see her father working on things, even though she was years away from getting her Shaping, and often crudely mimicked his hand movements as he flicked at threads, waving her hands as if to help him in his work. Upon seeing the greyish pig brain she squealed with delight, babbling “hooi, foo!” when she recognized  the colour. Ba smiled at her, then motioned to Kian Boon.

“Boon, put Gim down. Come sit here.” Kian Boon lowered Siew Gim to the floor. She scooted off to the middle of the living room to play with Turtle. He sat down next to Ba, as Ba resumed weaving the pigeonlike’s neural circuits. The fingers of Ba’s right hand traced the grooves he’d etched into its body, pulling the grey matter along with it. Kian Boon watched as he guided them along their paths. He studied the threads, observing how Ba shifted the different, intersecting colours as he bound the circuits to their shrilk housing. Ba hummed a tune while he worked. It was an old marching song based on the Chinese classic, “Man Jiang Hong”. He’d taught Kian Boon that song on one of their weekend outings earlier that year, while they searched the hills of Bukit Timah for rare wildlife. Kian Boon had thought the guy who’d played the Chinese hero Yue Fei on thinscreen a couple of years back had looked good, and Ba had teased him about his “heroic boyfriend” all the way home. Ma had laughed when Kian Boon complained, and told him not to let other boys distract him from his schoolwork.

Ba tapped Kian Boon on the hand with a gory finger.

“Boon, can see the threads on the grey matter?”

“Can see, Ba, can see.”

“Good. You try to move them a bit. Fill in the gap.”

Ba passed the grey matter to Kian Boon. Kian Boon summoned and seized hold of just one strand, manipulating it with his index finger. He could see the etching, and he let the material stretch and fill it up. Where it branched, he picked a path and continued on it, only returning to the original when it ended. He traced the circuits of the pigeonlike precisely, looking back to Ba every now and then for approval. Ba simply nodded and smiled at his son. Kian Boon, for his part, was happy to be working on one of Ba’s projects.

“Ba, this one use for what?”

“This one for singing. See the circuits at the neck, there? For vocal chords.”

“Go market show?”

“Yeah. Let neighbour they all see.”

This was to be a showbird, the kind old folks hung up in cages and let sing to each other in the mornings. On the days the family went out for breakfast, Kian Boon would often sit in the market’s sheltered concourse with Siew Gim, listening to their melodious tweeting. Each showbird was controlled by a single brain, Shaped into accepting musical instructions; the quality of the song then depended on how the Shaper constructed its inner workings.

He wondered if Ravi would like the showbirds. There were orioles living in their school. Their feathers were a brilliant yellow, and their eyes and wings were ringed in black. He’d pointed one out to Ravi, who’d immediately picked a brilliant feather off to use as a bookmark. Ravi loved their calls, which reminded him of mornings, waking up and walking to school in the cool half-light. The sweet, clear chirps even evoked the smell, he’d said, of damp leaves and dewy air.

Kian Boon had asked him then, “I smell like what?”

Ravi had thought for a bit before shrugging. “School, I guess. Just like school.”

Ba gently tapped Kian Boon’s hand.

Kian Boon’s finger had gone off course. Grey matter had now forced itself into a crevice it had no right to be in, awkwardly bulging the shrilk surface of a wing. Kian Boon grimaced. It was a minor accident, but if not corrected, it would affect the pigeonlike’s function. Ba was still smiling, though.

“Can fix one, Boon. Don’t worry. Just think.”

Kian Boon focused. He pulled the grey matter back, slowly; it grudgingly slid back out of the crevice, leaving a crack behind. He summoned the Shape-threads around the crack and the bulge on the pigeonlike’s wing and obligingly, they rose. A firm prodding applied directly to the bulge shifted the material inwards, and a pinch closed the crack entirely. He gave the thing a once-over. It looked fine now, like it had before, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Ba patted him on the shoulder and took the unfinished pigeonlike from him.

The sound of plates caused them to turn their heads. Ma was setting the table for lunch, with fried fish, a pot of rice and some bok choy. Ba and Kian Boon got up, then headed to the toilet to wash their hands.

 

It was four in the afternoon, and Kian Boon lay on his bed. A completed sheaf of Math worksheets lay on his desk. Kian Boon was more interested in science and Shaping than totting up numbers and letters, and often found himself asking Ravi for help with the tougher questions. The other boy had a knack for logic and rhetoric and dreamt of being an architect. His mother had been one before the war, he’d told Kian Boon, and now worked in the Reconstruction Trust as a restoration engineer, supervising the restoration of historic buildings. Kian Boon had asked Ba if he knew her, but Ba didn’t know much about her except that she had her own team and a reputation for efficiency.

As he turned the cordless phone over in his hands, Kian Boon wondered what meeting Ms Pillai would be like. It would have to happen someday, he reasoned. She sometimes picked up when he called Ravi over the weekend, and her voice had a sunny warmth that Ravi had inherited. He turned the dial three times, and then stopped.

This was part of the plan, he reminded himself. He’d prepared something for this, folded it up in an old exercise book and kept it away just for this moment. It was a love letter, at first, until he realized he couldn’t do it in person; it then became a script, memorized over the past week so he wouldn’t sound like he was reading off it. He’d thoroughly grilled Ravi on his plans for the weekend. Ravi had said he’d be back from soccer practice and lunch at three, and Kian Boon had done his homework in double-time so he’d be free to call at four. This was all part of the plan.

He redialled the eight digits of Ravi’s phone number, forcing himself to drag his finger clockwise. He could already feel the resistance building up. His heart rate rose each time he released the dial, and the muscles in his neck and jaw tensed up. He exhaled slowly as the dial returned to its original position for the eighth time, and somewhere in Singapore, a phone began to ring.

 

On the fourth ring, Ravi picked up. Kian Boon’s mouth went dry at the lilt of his voice. Everything seemed to snap into focus, and Shape-threads began to encroach on his vision. He forced them away, breathing deeply. He struggled to get the words out.

“Hi, Ravi, Kian Boon here. You free?”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Uh, I actually been thinking. You know we been friends for a while now, right? We, uh, got to know each other quite well over the past few months. We become kind of close.”

“Yeah, got that. What’s this about?”

Think.

“Um, actually, I want ask you something. You’re, uh, not like other guys. Like, more mature, more smart, more handsome. Uh. Um. Uh. You want to go out? With me. Like. Date.”

Ravi was quiet for a while. Kian Boon could hear him breathing through clenched teeth, the slightly wet sound of air coming up against wet enamel, before he finally said something.

“Boon, you’re a good friend, but that’s it. I’m really flattered, but I don’t think I like you like that.”

Kian Boon felt his stomach giving way and a pressure in his nose. He lowered the phone, so if he began to cry Ravi wouldn’t hear it. The Shape-threads returned, and this time he couldn’t force them down. He wanted to scream at Ravi, hang up on the insensitive, undeserving boy, but he stopped himself.

Think.

There were other people out there. Plus, Ravi hadn’t sounded weird, or creeped out. It wasn’t like this was the end.

Can fix one. Don’t worry, Boon. Just think.

Kian Boon exhaled through his nose and brought the phone back up.

“Hey Ravi, you there or not?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“It’s alright. I, uh, don’t mind. Heh. You still want hang out, though? Like, not in that way. Friend friend only. I got two good spiders today, we can get iced Coklat after school tomorrow.”

Ravi laughed and said, “Yeah, sure.”

The pressure dissipated. Kian Boon sighed, smiled, and responded.

“Alright, set.”

He chuckled.

“Eh, Ravi, by the way. You seen a tiger before?”

END

 


 

“Feminine Endlings” is copyright Alison Rumfitt 2018.

“Never Alone, Never Unarmed” is copyright Bobby Sun 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with another GlitterShip original.

 

Episode #58: “The City of Kites and Crows” by Megan Arkenberg

Episode #58: “The City of Kites and Crows” by Megan Arkenberg

September 3, 2018

In the City of Kites and Crows

By Megan Arkenberg

 

1.

When you breathe deeply, really push the air from your lungs and let the cold valley wind fill you again, you can smell the city’s ghosts. They smell like burning. Not like fire but like everything that comes with it: smoke, scorched hair, wet carbon, ash. This is a city that burns spasmodically, a city of gas lines and rail cars, coal dust and arson, a city with wooden roofs and narrow alleys. A city that is always shivering.

Forty or fifty years ago, this apartment building was the hotel where Senators kept their mistresses and boy-toys, all blue velvet and gilt. Then a fire gutted it.

 

 

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 58 for August 25, 2018. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you.

Our episode today is a reprint "In the City of Kites and Crows" by Megan Arkenberg, read by A.J. Fitzwater.

Megan Arkenberg’s work has appeared in over fifty magazines and anthologies, including Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Shimmer, and Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. She has edited the fantasy e-zine Mirror Dance since 2008 and was recently the nonfiction editor for Queers Destroy Horror!, a special issue of Nightmare Magazine. She currently lives in Northern California, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in English literature. Visit her online at http://www.meganarkenberg.com.

A.J. Fitzwater is a dragon wearing a human meat suit from Christchurch, New Zealand. A graduate of Clarion 2014, she’s had stories published in Shimmer Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and in Paper Road Press’s At The Edge anthology. She also has stories coming soon at Kaleidotrope and PodCastle. As a narrator, her voice has been heard across the Escape Artists Network, on Redstone SF, and Interzone. She tweets under her penname as @AJFitzwater

Content warning for descriptions of police violence and suicide.

 

In the City of Kites and Crows

By Megan Arkenberg

 

1.

When you breathe deeply, really push the air from your lungs and let the cold valley wind fill you again, you can smell the city’s ghosts. They smell like burning. Not like fire but like everything that comes with it: smoke, scorched hair, wet carbon, ash. This is a city that burns spasmodically, a city of gas lines and rail cars, coal dust and arson, a city with wooden roofs and narrow alleys. A city that is always shivering.

Forty or fifty years ago, this apartment building was the hotel where Senators kept their mistresses and boy-toys, all blue velvet and gilt. Then a fire gutted it.

I tell this to Lisse, and she rubs at the burn scar on the back of her knee, at the tattoo that crawls up her thigh in a hatch of green and golden lines, like a map of a city, or a circuit board in fragments. Lisse just got out of Federal prison for smashing the rearview mirrors off a police car. She has new scars now, the white tracks of some riot officer’s baton, one of which slices across her left nipple and makes her breast look punctured, deflated. She sits in her flannel bathrobe at the table in her living room, in the apartment that was a hotel room and still smells like the arsonist’s match, and she shakes her head with a slow, sad smile. “Hythloday,” she says, as though my name were a dirge. “How can you, of all people, believe in ghosts?”

Outside the bay window behind her, three stories below us, a crush of posterboard and sweatshirted bodies is churning and chanting its way up 9th street, towards the West Gate of the Senate. Lisse snaps photos on her phone. She edits an antigovernment webzine, contributes information to two antisenatorial projects that I know of—both documenting police brutality and violations of prisoners’ rights—and surely several others that I don’t. Her thick hair is unoiled and still damp from the shower, smelling of grass and wood dust, smelling of her.

“Everyone I’m fucking is trying to overthrow the government,” I tell her. I’m spread out on her couch like the jammy sediment in the bottom of a wine glass, and I know that this observation, this trenchant précis of the last thirty-six months, is the closest that I will ever come to political analysis. Or to self-reflection. Lisse, who will not let me back into her bed until I’m sober, who still fucks me on the couch, does not look up from the photos of the protestors on her phone.

“Well, Hythloday,” she says, half word and half sigh. “Why do you think that is?”

 

2.

Some evenings, when I’m sober enough to pull on a pair of trousers and an old suit coat, tie my hair back and wash the traces of eyeliner from my cheeks, I take the train down to the university. It’s quiet and damp so close to the river, the trees whispering to themselves in the fog, and all the public spaces roped off with yellow lines of caution tape. If anyone were to ask me what I’m doing here tonight—anyone except for Lisse, who won’t ask me, who never asks—I’d say I came for the lecture on the Mnemosyne project, an answer both innocuous and vaguely suspect. Really, I’m here to see Jesse.

They check IDs at the door of the auditorium. I don’t know if “they” are the Mnemosyne developers looking for allies or a Senatorial commission tallying enemies, or just the university, looking to cover its ass either way. Inside, the dim room flickers with tablet and laptop screens as people pull up the app. Mnemosyne, Jesse explained to me once as we lay on the floor of his bedroom, sipping coffee from wine glasses, is an augmented reality application. It checks your location with your device’s GPS and overlays your screen with location-sensitive news. Censored news, he meant, censored images, photographs you shouldn’t see, stories no one should be reporting. I know Lisse is providing data for the project, and Jesse helped with the programming.

Everyone I’m fucking wants to overthrow the government.

(Well, Hythloday, why do you think that is?)

A small gray woman in a gray suit reads off her PowerPoint slides at the front of the room, and I lean against the wall in back, scanning the crowd for Jesse. He’s sitting in the second-to-last row, the strands of silver in his dark brown hair showing dramatically in the liquid-crystal glow of his laptop. His face and lips look as blue as a drowning man’s. I like to watch him like this, when he doesn’t know I’m looking. When he knows he’s being watched, when he’s teaching or lecturing, he becomes brilliant, sparkling, animated. His dark eyes and his smile widen, light up, his gentle laugh drags parentheses around the corners of his mouth. But when he’s alone, when he thinks no one is watching, he shrinks into himself. The laugh lines settle. He looks lost, like a book that someone has misplaced.

At the end of the lecture, he snaps his laptop shut, slings his bag over his shoulder. He catches sight of me on his way to the exit. He smiles too widely, looking exhausted.

“You weren’t expecting me,” I say. “I know.”

“No, it’s fine.” He licks his lips, which still look dry and blue. “Did you like the talk?”

“Sure,” I lie.

He turns abruptly and strides out of the lecture hall. I follow down the glossy corridor, out into the parking lot, where the mist rolls in from the river, smelling of rot. Jesse stops, leans against the wall of the auditorium, and his hair catches on the rough brick. He grabs me around the waist and drags me in for a kiss.

(Nine people contributed material to the Mnemosyne project, he told me, leaning against the pillows. The marks of my teeth were pale and raised along his shoulders. Four of them are anonymous. Five of them are missing.)

He clings to me like a drowning man, fingers digging into my back, bruising, his mouth opening beneath mine as though I could give him breath. He tastes like mint chewing gum and cigarette smoke. He winces when my tongue brushes against his teeth, but when I start to pull back, he whispers, “Don’t.”

(He kicked a stack of books off the side of the bed, yanking off his jacket and tie, and he told me to fuck him. I took the harness and the strap-on from the nightstand. He spread out on the bed, watching impatiently over his shoulder as I adjusted the buckles and straps around my thighs. The headlights from a car across the street slipped through the slats in the window blinds, caught his eyes, flattened them to smooth disks of gold.)

I weave my fingers through his, and he grunts in pain.

“Jesse.” I pull back. His sleeve cuffs gap above the buttons, and I can see the shining red marks on his wrists, marks my hands could never have left. The neck of his undershirt has slipped down, damp with mist and sweat, and bruises show under his skin, black and yellow and blue.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Please. Just stay with me.”

(We fucked, and even though I was sober, it was the disjointed, disappointing sex of people who are drunk, and angry, and afraid.)

We take the train to his townhouse on the east side of the city. The streetlights around us glare like a hangover. Alone in the second-to-last compartment, he leans against my back, his cheek against my shoulder blade, his arms tight around my waist. “The dean wants to see me tomorrow,” he murmurs. I turn my head, looking for our reflection in the train window, but it’s too dark inside, too bright out.

(Afterward, he asked me to hold him. He curled around me, his head resting in the crook between my bicep and my breast, his arms around my hips. He didn’t say my name again. After a few minutes, his breathing settled. I kissed his cheek and tasted salt.)

 

3.

This city burns so often that every fire has a name. Ships burning, churches burning, schools and factories and luxury hotels. The S. S. Virgil fire, the St. John’s fire. On a windy day, you can still smell the smoke rising from St. John’s preparatory.

And when you aim the camera of your phone down at the sidewalk in front of the West Gate, down at the cracked cement with its tarry traces of chewing gum and bird shit, you can still see the outline of Mark Labelle’s blood, the smooth puddle that it left as he died on a cold Sunday afternoon in April, beaten to death by riot officers. The stain that was still there the next morning, when the body was packed away in a city morgue and the police surveillance video had disappeared. Gone, as they say, without a trace—except for this palimpsested slab of sidewalk, which someone snapped on their phone, which someone else uploaded to the Mnemosyne project, which now trickles through this elegant little app to the eyes of anyone who stands here beneath the wrought iron gate. Your own private haunting, in the palms of your hands.

There are dozens of places like this throughout the city, thanks to Lisse and Jesse and all the rest of them. Haunted places. Revolutions are made out of hauntings, out of missing bodies and ghosts.

Did you know that? I can assure you that the government does.

 

4.

Remedios and Gavin live above their gallery on Elliot Street, which has burned so many times that the new houses are all built out of concrete. Every surface north of 23rd is brightly painted: flag murals, forest scenes, mountain silhouettes, massive bare-breasted women with galaxies in their eyes. Walking up the sidewalks, listening to the cold reverberating echo of your footsteps, you get the feeling that this part of the city has transcended the organic. At least until you see the fast food wrappers caught in the grates of the pristine concrete sewers. Everything, even the wrappers, smells like stone and diesel.

Gavin is a sculptor, and he doesn’t mind this sort of thing. Remedios, though, rebels. Their back yard is full of tomatoes and bright yellow-flowered squash, and two fat hens cluck in the chicken coop beside the rusted bike rack.

The back stairs take you either into the gallery, through the second floor, or up to their apartment on the third. The gallery is always unlocked. I glance inside just long enough to see that Remedios’s Brutal exhibition is still on display, wall after wall of bare torsos with unspeakable scars. The gray, wine-stained carpet smells like dust, and there are fat black flies on the windowsills. A stray exhibition program flutters in the box by the fire escape, the title in red lower-case sans-serif: These are not the bodies we were born in. I let the door swing shut.

Upstairs, in the kitchen, Remedios is standing barefoot at the sink, washing cherry tomatoes and crying.

(You weren’t expecting to see me, I’d said, because none of them ever are.

No, he said, it’s fine.)

“Hythloday.” She drops the bowl into the sink, where it spins, clattering, spilling mottled red-and-yellow tomatoes across the gray ceramic. She flings her arms around my neck, stands on tiptoe, presses her flat chest against mine. Her hair is dark blue and shaved close to her head, and it smells like the gallery, like dry skin and abandonment.

(Please, just stay with me.)

She pulls me towards her on the bed, which is a low double-mattress in the front room, covered in shawls and old saris and stuffed animals. Her fingers are already undoing the buttons on my shirt. “Shouldn’t we wait for Gavin?” I ask, but she makes a sick squeaking sound.

“He isn’t here,” she says.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s gone, Hythloday.”

She tugs at my sleeves, and I ease myself down beside her on the mattress. “What do you mean?”

She shakes her head, falls silent. I kiss her forehead, and she rolls me over, pushes me back against the pillows with the dead weight of her body.

(Four of them were anonymous, Jesse had told me. Five of them are missing.)

Afterward, she curls up with her back against my stomach, a little spoon, or a snail in its shell. It feels strange not to have Gavin’s arms crossing mine above her small body, Gavin’s heady juniper smell in my nostrils. Remedios’s breathing slows, hitches, then steadies, like a ship breaking into deep water.

“We were marching up Tribunal,” she says. “There was a gathering at the West Gate. He thought we should be there, say a few words. The police arrived and we were separated.”

Somewhere in the neighborhood, a siren begins to wail. I kiss the back of her neck, and she looks over her shoulder.

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”

(Everyone I’m fucking is trying to overthrow the government.

Well, Hythloday, why do you think that is?)

I kiss her nose, her eyelids. “I don’t know,” I lie.

 

5.

“Hythloday?” Lisse crouches over me. Her fingers wind around the back of my neck, giving my hair a sharp tug. “In all seriousness. Why do all your lovers want to overthrow the government?”

“Guess I have a thing for rebels.”

“Seriously.”

“Mm-hm,” I say. Her face is unreadable. I close my eyes, lean back into her grip. “You’re all so electric, and so secretive. Meetings in dark alleys and warehouses, throwing bricks through Senate windows. It’s so sexy. And don’t get me started on the posters and the pamphlets and those long, lonely nights with a busted stapler in the back of the copy shop—”

She cuts me off with a kiss, dragging my head up to hers. Her mouth tastes like orange juice and almond chapstick, her lips bruisingly firm, her teeth sharp.

“Just for once,” she whispers, “I wish you would think.”

Think. As though I weren’t always thinking, too much for my own good. Thinking of her body, the scars I can see and the ones I can’t, the hipbones that jut prominently against my hands where they were once buried in flesh. Thinking of the marks shining on Jesse’s wrists and chest, of Remedios crying at her kitchen sink. Thinking about protestors and fire hoses, pepper spray, gunshots. Thinking of the history of this city, this apartment building and the fire that gutted it.

Thinking of being gutted. Being burned.

“All right, Lisse.” I rub my eyelids, smudging what’s left of yesterday’s liner. “Everyone I’m fucking realizes that this country is going to shit, and unlike me, they have the courage and integrity to do something about it. Fair?”

She doesn’t answer. I open my eyes. A flood of sunlight pours through the windows, sharp with afternoon. The living room is empty. When I look towards 9th and Tribunal, I see that the crowd of protestors has dispersed, leaving a single piece of wet posterboard in their wake.

 

6.

Hythloday. I suppose you caught the reference. A traveler in no-place, a stranger in Nowhere. My mother kicked me out when I was fifteen, and ever since, my only reliable roof has been the sky. The city of kites and crows. It doesn’t burn as easily as the city of flesh and blood, I’ll give it that. And there have been friends’ couches, lovers’ bedrooms: roosts for a night, or for a season. I have this image of myself flying across the city, from nest to nest, like something from a children’s story.

Where do the birds go during a revolution? I read somewhere that every pigeon in Paris flew away during the summer of 1793. It was so hot, and every street in the city stank of blood. I have no idea if any of that is true. I have this recurring dream of a guillotine blade falling, the thud of it scattering crows, like a spray of embers from a collapsing roof. They don’t settle again. Whatever died wasn’t to their taste.

The fire at St. John’s preparatory school began because a little girl stuck a match into a bird’s nest outside her dormitory window. Little girls are cruel, crueler far than ravens or guillotine blades, and flames in a wooden building travel faster than cruelty. Within seven minutes, everyone who was going to make it out alive had already left the building. They stood on 23rd street clutching their books, their dolls. Everyone else died. And some who got out died, too, later on, from the smoke.

I tell this story to Lisse, and she frowns. It is a story about all the things she loves: a story about home, about violence and brutality and revenge, about innocent bystanders.

But it is not a story about justice.

“Only ghost stories are about justice,” I say, and she shakes her head.

(How can you, of all people, believe in ghosts?)

 

7.

When I return to the gallery, there are flies everywhere.

(Where did the bruises come from? I asked Jesse. But they weren’t just bruises, not merely bruises, although the purple stain on his chest showed the treads of a military boot. The white and red marks on his arms, the stiffness in his fingers came from being cuffed, being tied, and tightly. I knew the signs.)

Remedios and I go into the bedroom and fuck and don’t say word about Gavin. She moves so stiffly that I’m afraid I’ve hurt her, but when I slow down, she twines her legs around me and hisses in my ear: “Don’t stop.” We fall asleep afterward, sore and exhausted.

Later still, I wake alone to the buzzing of the flies.

(The dean wants to see me tomorrow, he’d said, resting his cheek against my shoulder blade. And I couldn’t see our reflection in the window.)

And although it’s the last thing on earth that I want to do, although I can already smell the sour stink in the dusty carpet, I go down to the gallery. Down to the first floor, where the flies are thickest. Down to the back room.

(Jesse’s things are scattered across the bedroom floor. His books, cracked along the spine. His ties and jackets and dress shirts, torn from their hangers and crumpled, dirtied with the muddy prints of boots. The contents of the nightstand, small and obscene in the light of day.)

I see the folding chair first, collapsed in the center of the room beneath the light fixture. And she sways at the end of something that shows bright orange against her blue hair: an electric cord. She’s been here for a while now. Her limbs have gone stiff, her tongue black against her pale chin.

I stand on the chair to cut her down. When she lands in my arms, I lose my balance, fall to the floor with a solid, bruising thud.

 

8.

On the train back to 9th street, the woman in the seat across from me is reading something on her tablet. She looks up at me, suddenly. Without saying a word, she cries, and cries, and cries.

 

9.

None of us has the body we were born in. Life leaves its traces, its teeth marks on our throats, its maps across our thighs and in our fingertips, its footprints on our chests. The body that I was born in didn’t have breasts, didn’t have hips, and I didn’t know it had a cunt until I was nine years old. Love leaves its traces on us, and hate.

I fill the antique tub in Lisse’s bathroom until the frigid water flows over the edge, splashing across the dark green tile floor. I close my eyes, plug my nose, plunge to the bottom. Even under water, I smell burning.

I’ve stopped binding recently, stood in front of the mirror on the back of the bathroom door and cupped my breasts the way I used to cup Lisse’s. It felt alien. Not wrong, just not mine. I think of Lisse’s tattoo, the marks on Jesse’s wrists and neck and chest. I think of the slight weight of Remedios, dangling from an electric cord noose. And I think damage is what teaches us to inhabit our bodies, and everyone I love has learned that long before me.

At last, I come up for air, and Lisse is waiting for me, sitting on the edge of the tub in her flannel robe. “What’s wrong, Hythloday?” she asks.

But nothing’s wrong. I’m unscathed.

“It’s my gift,” I say softly. “My own special talent. I don’t follow the crowd, and I never have. I don’t get caught up in things. The world is on fire and I don’t even feel the heat.”

I reach for her, and she isn’t there.

I get out of the tub, wrap a fraying towel around my waist, go into the hallway. The door to her room is on my right. I put my fingertips on the handle, hoping it will be locked, but it isn’t, it swings soundlessly open.

The smell of smoke and scorched hair and wet carbon rushes out. Inside, everything is covered in a layer of dust.

END

 

"The City of Kites and Crows" is copyright Megan Arkenberg, 2016, and was originally published in Kaleidotrope.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, and we'll be back soon with "Never Alone, Never Unarmed," an original story by Bobby Sun.

 

Episode #57: “You Inside Me” by Tori Curtis

Episode #57: “You Inside Me” by Tori Curtis

July 4, 2018

You Inside Me

by Tori Curtis

 

It'll be fun, he'd said. Everyone's doing it. You don't have to be looking for romance, it's just a good way to meet people.

"I don't think it's about romance at all," Sabella said. She wove her flower crown into her braids so that the wire skeleton was hidden beneath strands of hair. "I think if you caught a congressman doing this, he'd have to resign."

"That's 'cause we've never had a vampire congressman," Dedrick said. He rearranged her so that her shoulders fell from their habitual place at her ears, her chin pointed up, and snapped photos of her. "Step forward a little—there, you look more like yourself in that light."

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 57 for May 21st, 2018. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you.

GlitterShip is now part of the Audible afflilate program. What this means is that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible to get a free audio book and 30 day trial at Audible to check out the service.

If you're looking for more queer science fiction to listen to, there's a full audio book available of the Lightspeed Magazine "Queers Destroy Science Fiction" special issue, featuring stories by a large number of queer authors, including  John Chu, Chaz Brenchley, Rose Lemberg, and many others.

To download a free audiobook today, go to http://www.audibletrial.com/GlitterShip and choose an excellent book to listen to, whether that’s "Queers Destroy Science Fiction" or something else entirely.

Today I have a story and a poem for you. The poem is "Dionysus in London" by Tristan Beiter.

Tristan Beiter is a student at Swarthmore College studying English Literature and Gender and Sexuality Studies. He loves reading poetry and speculative fiction, some of his favorite books being The Waste Land, HD’s Trilogy, Mark Doty’s Atlantis, Frances Hardinge’s Gullstruck Island, and Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. When not reading or writing, he can usually be found crafting absurdities with his boyfriend or yelling about literary theory.

 

Dionysus in London

by Tristan Beiter

 

The day exploded, you know.

Last night a woman
with big bouffant hair told
me, “Show me a story
where the daughter runs into a stop
sign and it literally turns into a white flower.”

I fail to describe
a total eclipse and the throne
of petrified wood sank
into the lakebed.

James made love to Buckingham
while I pulled the honeysuckle
to me, made a flower crown for
the leopards flanking me
while I watched red
and white invert themselves, white
petals pushing from the center of the sign
as the post wilted until all
that remained was a giant lotus
on the storm grate waiting
to rot or wash away.

I let it stay there while the Scottish
king hid behind the Scottish play
and walked behind me, one eye out
for the mark left when locked in.
You go witchy in there—or at least
you—or he, or I—learn to be afraid
of the big coats and brass
buttons, like the ones in every hall
closet; you never know if they will turn,
like yours, into bats and bugs and giant
tarantulas made from wire hangers.

The woman showed me
our reflections in the shop window
while one or the other
man in the palace polished
the silver for his lover’s table
and asked me who
I loved; I decided
on the cream
linen, since the wool
was too close to the pea coat
that hung

by your door.
I suppose that the cat
is under the car; that’s probably where it fled to
as we walked, knowing
we already found that
the ivy in your hair was artificial
as the bacchanal, or your
evasion, Sire, of the question
(and of the serpents who are well
worth the well
offered to them with the wet wax
on my crown). I

suppose the car is under the cat,
in which case it must be a very large
cat, or else a very small car.
I eat your teeth. I see brilliantine teeth floating
in her thick red lipstick. James
tears apart the rhododendron
chattering (about) his incisors
and remembering the flesh
and—nothing so exotic
as a Sphinx, maybe a dust
mote or lip-marks
left on the large leather chaise.
Teeth gleam from the shadows
where I wait, thyrsus
raised with the cone
almost touching the roof
of the forest, to drown

in a peacock
as it swallows (chimney
swifts?) the sun—or
was it son—or maybe it was
just a grape I fed it so
it would eat the spiders
crawling from the closet.
It struts across the palace green
like it owns the place, like
it will replace the hunting-
grounds with fields of straggling
mint that the king
would never ask for.

The woman teases
up her hair before the mirror, filling
the restroom with hairspray
and big laughs before walking back
into the restaurant, where we
wait to make ourselves
over—the way the throne did
when the wood crumbled under the
pressure of an untold story,
leaving nothing but crystals and dust.

We argued for an hour over
whether to mix leaves and
flowers, plants and gems,
before settling on four
crowns, one for each of us.

Her hair mostly covers hers.
The cats will love it though,
playing with teeth
that were knocked into your wine
in the barfight (why did you
order wine in a place
like that, Buck?) and you
got replaced with gold, like I
wear woven in my braids
as the sun sets on the daughter
that, unsurprisingly, none
of us have. But

if we did, she would turn yield
signs into dahlias and
that would be the sign
to move on with the leopards
and their flashing teeth and
brass eyes and listen.
To the walls and rivers,
to the sculpture that is far
whiter than me falling. And
to the peacock which has just
eaten another bug so you don’t have to
kill it. Get yourself a dresser
and cover it with white enamel
it’ll hold up, and no insects
live in dressers. Keep

the ivy and the pinecone
in a mother-of-pearl trinket box
with your plastic volumizing hair
inserts and jeweled combs.
And put a cat and dolphin
on it, to remember.

 

 

Next, our short story this episode is "You Inside Me" by Tori Curtis

Tori Curtis writes speculative fiction with a focus on LGBT and disability issues. She is the author of one novel, Eelgrass, and a handful of short stories. You can find her at toricurtiswrites.com and on Twitter at @tcurtfish, where she primarily tweets about how perfect her wife is.

CW: For descriptions of traumatic surgery.

 

 

 

You Inside Me

by Tori Curtis

 

It'll be fun, he'd said. Everyone's doing it. You don't have to be looking for romance, it's just a good way to meet people.

"I don't think it's about romance at all," Sabella said. She wove her flower crown into her braids so that the wire skeleton was hidden beneath strands of hair. "I think if you caught a congressman doing this, he'd have to resign."

"That's 'cause we've never had a vampire congressman," Dedrick said. He rearranged her so that her shoulders fell from their habitual place at her ears, her chin pointed up, and snapped photos of her. "Step forward a little—there, you look more like yourself in that light."

He took fifteen minutes to edit her photos ("they'll expect you to use a filter, so you might as well,") and pop the best ones on her profile.

Suckr: the premier dating app for vampires and their fanciers.

"It's like we're cats," she said.

"I heard you like cats," he agreed, and she sighed.

 

 

Hi, I'm Sabella. I've been a vampire since I was six years old, and I do not want to see or be seen by humans. I'm excited to meet men and women between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five.

"That's way too big of an age range," Dedrick said. "You want to be compatible with these people."

"Yeah, compatible. Like my tissue type."

"You don't want to end up flirting with a grandpa."

I'm excited to meet men and women between the ages of twenty and thirty-five.

I'm most proud of my master's degree.

You should message me if you're brave and crazy.

 

 

It took days, not to mention Dedrick’s exasperated return, before she went back on Suckr. She paced up the beautiful wood floors of her apartment, turning on heel at the sole window on the long end and the painted-over cast-iron radiator on the short. When she felt too sick to take care of herself, her mom came over and put Rumors on, wrapped her in scarves that were more pretty than functional, warmed some blood and gave it to her in a sippy cup. Sabella remembered nothing so much as the big Slurpees her mom had bought her, just this bright red, when she’d had strep the last year she was human.

She wore the necklace Dedrick had given her every day. It was a gold slice of pepperoni pizza with “best” emblazoned on the back (his matched, but read “friends,”), and she fondled it like a hangnail. She rubbed the bruises on her arms, where the skin had once been clear and she'd once thought herself pretty in a plain way, like Elinor Dashwood, as though she might be able to brush off the dirt.

She called her daysleeper friends, texted acquaintances, and slowly stopped responding to their messages as she realized how bored she was of presenting hope day after day.

 

 

2:19:08 bkissedrose: I'm so sorry.

2:19:21 bkissedrose: I feel like such a douche

2:19:24 sabellasay: ???

2:20:04 sabellasay: what r u talkin about

2:25:56 bkissedrose: u talked me down all those times I would've just died

2:26:08 sabellasay: it was rly nbd

2:26:27 bkissedrose: I've never been half as good as you are

2:26:48 bkissedrose: and now you're so sick

2:29:12 sabellasay: dude stop acting like i'm dying

2:29:45 sabellasay: I can't stand it

2:30:13 bkissedrose: god you're so brave

 

(sabellasay has become inactive)

 

 

"Everyone keeps calling me saying you stopped talking to them," Dedrick said when he made it back to her place, shoes up on the couch now that he'd finally wiped them of mud. "Should I feel lucky you let me in?"

"I'm tired," she said. "It's supposed to be a symptom. I like this one, I think she has potential."

He took her phone and considered it with the weight of a father researching a car seat. "A perfect date: I take you for a ride around the lake on my bike, then we stop home for an evening snack."

"She means her motorcycle," Sabella clarified.

He rolled his eyes and continued reading. "My worst fear: commitment."

"At least she's honest."

"That's not really a good thing. You're not looking for someone to skip out halfway through the movie."

"No, I'm looking for someone who's not going to be heartbroken when I die anyway."

Dedrick sighed, all the air going out of his chest as it might escape from dough kneaded too firmly, and held her close to him. "You're stupid," he told her, "but so sweet."

"I think I'm going to send her a nip."

 

 

The girl was named Ash but she spelled it A-I-S-L-I-N-G, and she seemed pleased that Sabella knew enough not to ask lots of stupid questions. They met in a park by the lakeside, far enough from the playground that none of the parents would notice the fanged flirtation going on below.

If Aisling had been a boy, she would have been a teen heartthrob. She wore her hair long where it was slicked back and short (touchable, but hard to grab in a fight) everywhere else. She wore a leather jacket that spoke of a once-in-a-lifetime thrift store find, and over the warmth of her blood and her breath she smelled like bag balm. Sabella wanted to hide in her arms from a fire. She wanted to watch her drown trying to save her.

Aisling parked her motorcycle and stowed her helmet before coming over to say hi—gentlemanly, Sabella thought, to give her a chance to prepare herself.

“What kind of scoundrel left you to wait all alone?” Aisling asked, with the sort of effortlessly cool smile that might have broken a lesser woman’s heart.

“I don’t know,” Sabella said, “but I’m glad you’re here now.”

Aisling stepped just inside her personal space and frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” she said, “but are you—"

“I’m trans, yes,” Sabella interrupted, and smiled so wide she could feel the tension at her temples. Like doing sit-ups the wrong way for years, having this conversation so many times hadn’t made it comfortable, only routine. “We don’t need to be awkward about it.”

“Okay,” Aisling agreed, and sat on the bench, helping Sabella down with a hand on her elbow. “I meant that you seem sick.”

She looked uneasy, and Sabella sensed that she had never been human. Vampires didn’t get sick—she had probably never had more than a headache, and that only from hunger.

“Yes,” Sabella said. “I am sick. I’m not actually—I mentioned this on my profile—I’m not actually looking for love.”

“I hope you won’t be too disappointed when it finds you,” Aisling said, and Sabella blushed, reoriented herself with a force like setting a bone, like if she tried hard enough to move in one direction she’d stop feeling like a spinning top.

“I’m looking for a donor,” she said.

“Yeah, all right,” Aisling said. She threw her arm over the back of the bench so that Sabella felt folded into her embrace. “I’m always willing to help a pretty girl out.”

“I don’t just mean your blood,” she said, and felt herself dizzy.

 

 

It was easier for Sabella to convince someone to do something than it was for her to ask for it. Her therapist had told her that, and even said it was common, but he hadn’t said how to fix it. “Please, may I have your liver” was too much to ask, and “Please, I don’t want to die” was a poor argument.

“So, you would take my liver—"

“It would actually only be part of your liver,” Sabella said, stopping to catch her breath. She hadn’t been able to go hiking since she’d gotten so sick—she needed company, and easy trails, and her friends either didn’t want to go or, like her mom, thought it was depressing to watch her climb a hill and have to stop to spit up bile.

“So we would each have half my liver, in the end.”

Sabella shrugged and looked into the dark underbrush. If she couldn’t be ethical about this, she wouldn’t deserve a liver. She wouldn’t try to convince Aisling until she understood the facts. “In humans, livers will regenerate once you cut them in half and transplant them. Like how kids think if you cut an earthworm in half, you get two. Or like bulbs. Ideally, it would go like that.”

“And if it didn’t go ideally?”

(“Turn me,” Dedrick said one day, impulsively, when she’d been up all night with a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop, holding her in his lap with his shirt growing polka-dotted. “I’ll be a vampire in a few days, we can have the surgery—you’ll be cured in a week.”)

“If it doesn’t go ideally,” Sabella said, “one or both of us dies. If it goes poorly, I don’t even know what happens.”

She stepped off the tree and set her next target, a curve in the trail where a tree had fallen and the light shone down on the path. Normally these days she didn’t wear shoes but flip-flops, but this was a date, and she’d pulled her old rainbow chucks out of the closet. Aisling walked with her silently, keeping pace, and put an arm around her waist.

Sabella looked up and down the trail. Green Lake was normally populated enough that people kept to their own business, and these days she felt pretty safe going about, even with a girl. But she checked anyway before she leaned into Ais’s strength, letting her guide them so that she could use all her energy to keep moving.

“But if it doesn’t happen at all, you die no matter what?”

Sabella took a breath. “If you don’t want to, I look for someone else.”

 

 

Her mom was waiting for her when Sabella got home the next morning.

Sabella’s mother was naturally blonde, tough when she needed to be, the sort of woman who could get into hours-long conversations with state fair tchotchke vendors. She’d gotten Sabella through high school and into college through a careful application of stamping and yelling. When Sabella had started calling herself Ravynn, she’d brought a stack of baby name books home and said, “All right, let’s find you something you can put on a resume.”

“Mom,” she said, but smiling, “I gave you a key in case I couldn’t get out of bed, not so you could check if I spent the night with a date.”

“How’d it go? Was this the girl Dedrick helped you find?”

“Aisling, yeah,” Sabella said. She sat on the recliner, a mountain of accent pillows cushioning her tender body. “It was good. I like her a lot.”

“Did she decide to get the surgery?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask her to choose.”

“Then what did you two do all night?”

Sabella frowned. “I like her a lot. We had a good time.”

Her mom stood and put the kettle on, and Sabella couldn’t help thinking what an inconvenience she was, that her mother couldn’t fret over her by making toast and a cup of tea. “Christ, what decent person would want to do that with you?”

“We have chemistry! She’s very charming!”

She examined Sabella with the dissatisfied air of an artist. “You’re a mess, honey. You’re so orange you could be a jack-o-lantern, and swollen all over. You look like you barely survived a dogfight. I don’t even see my daughter when I look at you anymore.”

Sabella tried to pull herself together, to look more dignified, but instead she slouched further into the recliner and crossed her arms over her chest. “Maybe she thinks I’m funny, or smart.”

“Maybe she’s taking advantage. Anyone who really cared about you wouldn’t be turned on, they’d be worried about your health.”

Sabella remembered the look on Aisling’s face when she’d first come close enough to smell her, and shuddered. “I’m not going to ask her to cut out part of her body for me without thinking about it first,” she said.

“Without giving her something in return?" her mom asked. "It's less than two pounds."

“But it’s still her choice,” Sabella said.

“I’m starting to wonder if you even want to live,” her mom said, and left.

Sabella found the energy to go turn off the stovetop before she fell asleep. (Her mother had raised her responsible.)

 

 

12:48:51 bkissedrose: what happens to a dream bestowed

12:49:03 bkissedrose: upon a girl too weak to fight for it?

12:53:15 sabellasay: haha you can’t sleep either?

12:53:38 sabellasay: babe idk

12:55:43 sabellasay: is it better to have loved and lost

12:56:29 sabellasay: than to die a virgin?

1:00:18 bkissedrose: I guess I don’t know

1:01:24 bkissedrose: maybe it depends if they're good

 

 

“It’s nice here,” Aisling confessed the third time they visited the lake. Sabella and her mom weren’t talking, but she couldn’t imagine it would last more than a few days longer, so she wasn’t worried. “I’d never even heard of it.”

“I grew up around here,” Sabella said, “and I used to take my students a few times a year."

“You teach?”

“I used to teach,” she said, and stepped off the trail—the shores were made up of a gritty white sand like broken shells—to watch the sinking sun glint off the water. “Seventh grade science.”

Aisling laughed. “That sounds like a nightmare.”

“I like that they’re old enough you can do real projects with them, but before it breaks off into—you know, are we doing geology or biology or physics. When you’re in seventh grade, everything is science.” She smiled and closed her eyes so that she could feel the wind and the sand under her shoes. She could hear birds settling and starting to wake, but she couldn’t place them. “They’ve got a long-term sub now. Theoretically, if I manage to not die, I get my job back.”

Aisling came up behind her and put her arms around her. Sabella knew she hadn’t really been weaving—she knew her limits well enough now, she hoped—but she felt steadier that way. “You don’t sound convinced.”

“I don’t think they expect to have to follow through,” Sabella admitted. “Sometimes I think I’m the only one who ever thinks I’m going to survive this. My mom’s so scared all the time, I know she doesn’t.”

Aisling held her not tight but close, like being tucked into a bright clean comforter on a cool summer afternoon. “Can I ask you a personal question?” she said, her face up against Sabella’s neck so that every part of Sabella wanted her to bite.

“Maybe,” she said, then thought better of it. “Yes.”

“How’d you get sick? I didn’t think we could catch things like that. Or was it while you were human?”

“Um, no, but I’m not contagious, just nasty.” Aisling laughed, and she continued, encouraged. “Mom would, you know, once I came out I could do pretty much whatever I wanted, but she wouldn’t let me get any kind of reconstructive surgery until I was eighteen. She thought it was creepy, some doc getting his hands all over her teenage kid.”

“Probably fair.”

“So I’m eighteen, and she says okay, you’re right, you got good grades in school and you’re going to college like I asked, I'll pay for whatever surgery you want. And you have to imagine, I just scheduled my freshman orientation, I have priorities."

"Which are?"

"Getting laid, mostly."

“Yeah, I remember that.”

“So I’m eighteen and hardly ever been kissed, I’m not worried about the details. I don’t let my mom come with me, it doesn’t even occur to me to see a doctor who’s worked with vampires before, I just want to look like Audrey Hepburn's voluptuous sister.”

“Oh no,” Ash said. It hung there for a moment, the dread and Sabella’s not being able to regret that she’d been so stupid. “It must have come up.”

“Sure. He said he was pretty sure it would be possible to do the surgery on a vampire, he knew other surgeries had been done. I was just so excited he didn’t say no.”

Ash held her tight then, like she might be dragged away otherwise, and Sabella knew that it had nothing to do with her in particular, that it was only the protective instinct of one person watching another live out her most plausible nightmare. “What did he do to you?”

“It wasn’t his fault,” she said, and then—grimacing, she knew her mother would have been so angry with her—“at least, he didn’t mean anything by it. He never read anything about how to adapt the procedure to meet my needs.” She sounded so clinical, like she’d imbibed so many doctors’ explanations of what had happened that she was drunk on it. “But neither did I. We both found out you can’t give vampires a blood transfusion.”

"Why would you need to?"

She shrugged. "You don't, usually, in plastic surgery."

"No," Aisling interrupted, "I mean, why wouldn't you drink it?"

Sabella tried to remember, or tried not to be able to, and tucked her cold hands into her pockets. "You're human, I guess. Anyway, I puked all over him and the incision sites, had to be hospitalized. My doctor says I'm lucky I'm such a good healer, or I'd need new boobs and a new liver."

They were both quiet, and Sabella thought, this is it. You either decide it's too much or you kiss me again.

She thought, I miss getting stoned with friends and telling shitty surgery stories and listening to them laugh. I hate that when I meet girls their getting-to-know-you involves their Youtube make-up tutorials and mine involves "and then, after they took the catheter out..."

"Did you sue for malpractice, at least?" Ash asked, and Sabella couldn't tell without looking if her tone was teasing or wistful.

"My mom did, yeah. When they still wanted her to pay for the damn surgery."

 

 

Aisling pulled up to the front of Sabella's building and stopped just in front of her driveway. She kicked her bike into park and stepped onto the sidewalk, helping Sabella off and over the curbside puddle. Sabella couldn't find words for what she was thinking, she was so afraid that her feelings would shatter as they crystallized. She wanted Ais to brush her hair back from her face and comb out the knots with her fingers. She wanted Ais to stop by to shovel the drive when there was lake effect snow. She wanted to find 'how to minimize jaundice' in the search history of Aisling's phone.

“You’re beautiful in the sunlight,” Ais said, breaking her thoughts, maybe on purpose. “Like you were made to be outside.”

Sabella ducked her head and leaned up against her. The date was supposed to be over, go inside and let this poor woman get on with her life, but she didn’t want to leave. “It’s nice to have someone to go with me,” she said. “Especially with a frost in the air. Sometimes people act like I’m so fragile.”

“Ridiculous. You’re a vampire.”

Her ears were cold, and she pressed them against Aisling’s jawbone. She wondered what the people driving past thought when they saw them. She thought that maybe the only thing better than surviving would be to die a tragic death, loved and loyally attended. “I was born human.”

“Even God makes mistakes.”

Sabella smiled. “Is that what I am? A mistake?”

“Nah,” she said. “Just a happy accident.”

Sabella laughed, thought you're such a stoner and I feel so safe when you look at me like that.

"I'll do it," Ais said.  "What do I have to do to set up the surgery?"

Sabella hugged her tight, hid against her and counted the seconds—one, two, three, four, five—while Ais didn't change her mind and Sabella wondered if she would.

 

 

"I have to stress how potentially dangerous this is," Dr. Young said. "I can't guarantee that it will work, that either of you will survive the procedure or the recovery, or that you won't ultimately regret it."

Aisling was holding it together remarkably well, Sabella thought, but she still felt like she could catch her avoiding eye contact. Sabella had taken the seat in the doctor's office between her mother and girlfriend, and felt uncomfortable and strange no matter which of their hands she held.

"Um," Ais said, and Sabella could feel her mother's judgment at her incoherence, "you said you wouldn't be able to do anything for the pain?"

To her credit, the doctor didn't fidget or look away. Sabella, having been on the verge of death long enough to become something of a content expert, believed that it was important to have a doctor who was upfront about how terrible her life was. "I wouldn't describe it as 'nothing,' exactly," she said. "There aren't any anesthetics known to work on vampires, but we'll make you as comfortable as possible. You can feed immediately before and as soon as you're done, and that will probably help snow you over."

"Being a little blood high," Ais clarified. "While you cut out my liver."

"Yes."

Sabella wanted to apologize. She couldn't find the words.

Aisling said, "Well, while we're trying to make me comfortable, can I smoke up, too?"

Dr. Young laughed. It wasn't cruel, but it wasn't promising, either. "That's not a terrible idea," she said, "but marijuana increases bleeding, and there are so many unknown variables here that I'd like to stick to best practices if we can."

"I can just—" Sabella said, and choked. She wasn't sure when she'd started crying. "Find someone else. Dedrick will do it, I know."

Aisling considered this. The room was quiet, soft echoes on the peeling tile floor. Sabella's mother put an arm around her, and she felt tiny, but in the way that made her feel ashamed and not protected. Aisling said, "Why are you asking me? Is there something you know that I don't?"

Dr. Young shook her head. "I promise we're not misrepresenting the procedure," she said. "And theoretically, it might be possible with any vampire. But there aren't a lot of organ transplants in the literature—harvesting, sure, but not living transplants—and I want to get it right the first time. If we have a choice, I told Sabella I'd rather use a liver from a donor who was born a vampire. I think it'll increase our chance of success."

"A baby'd be too weak," Aisling agreed. Her voice was going hard and theoretical. "Well, tell me something encouraging."

"One of the first things we'll do is to cut through almost all of your abdominal nerves, so that will help. And there's a possibility that the experience will be so intense that you don't remember it clearly, or at all."

Sabella's mother took a shaky breath, and Sabella wished, hating herself for it, that she hadn't come.

Ais said, "Painful. You mean, the experience will be so painful."

"If you choose to go forward with it," Dr. Young said, "we'll do everything we can to mitigate that."

 

 

Sabella had expected that Aisling would want space and patience while she decided not to die a horrible, painful death to save her. It was hard to tell how instead they ended up in her bed with the lights out, their legs wound together and their faces swollen with sleep. Sabella was shaking, and couldn’t have said why. Ais grabbed her by her seat and pulled her up close.

“You said you couldn’t get me sick?” she asked.

“No,” Sabella agreed. “Although my blood is probably pretty toxic.”

Ais kissed her, the smell of car exhaust still stuck in her hair. “What a metaphor,” she murmured, and lifted her chin. “You look exhausted.”

Sabella thought, Are you saying what I think you’re saying? and, That’s a terrible idea, and said, “God, I want to taste you.”

“Well, baby,” Ais said, and her hands were on Sabella so she curled her lips and blew her hair out of her eyes, “that’s what I’m here for.”

Sabella had been human once, and she remembered what food was like. The standard lie, that drinking blood was like eating a well-cooked steak, was wrong but close enough to staunch the flow of an interrogation. (She’d had friends and exes, turned as adults, who said it was like a good stout on tap, hefty and refreshing, but she thought they might just be trying to scandalize her.)

Ais could have been a stalk of rhubarb or August raspberries. She moved under Sabella and held her so that their knees pressed together. She could have been the thrill of catching a fat thorny toad in among the lettuce at dusk, or a paper wasp in a butterfly net. She felt like getting tossed in the lake in January; she tasted like being wrapped in fleece and gently dried before the fire; her scent was what Sabella remembered of collapsing, limbs aquiver, on the exposed bedrock of a mountaintop, nothing but crushed pine and the warmth of a moss-bed.

She woke on top of Ais, licking her wounds lazily—she wanted more, but she was too tired to do anything about it.

“That’s better,” Ais whispered, and if she was disappointed that this wasn’t turning into a frenzy, she didn’t show it. They were quiet for long enough that the haze started to fade, and then Aisling said, “I couldn’t ask in front of your mother, but was it like that with your surgery? They couldn’t do anything for the pain?”

Sabella shifted uncomfortably, rolled over next to Ais. “I was conscious, yes.”

“Do you remember it?”

It was a hard question. She wanted to say it wasn’t her place to ask. She tried to remember, and got caught up in the layers of exhaustion, the spaces between the body she’d had, the body she’d wanted, and what they had been doing to her. “Sounds and sensations and thoughts, mostly,” she said.

Ais choked, and said, “So, everything,” and Sabella realized—she didn’t know how she hadn’t—how scared she must be.

“No, it’s blurry,” she said instead. “I remember, um, the tugging at my chest. I kept thinking there was no way my skin wasn’t just going to split open. And the scraping sounds. They’ve got all these tools, and they’re touching you on the inside and the outside at the same time, and that’s very unsettling. And this man, I think he was the PA, standing over me saying, ‘You’ve got to calm down, honey.’”

“Were you completely freaking out?” Ais asked.

Sabella shook her head. Her throat hurt. “No. I mean—I cried a little. Not as much as you’d think. They said if I wasn’t careful, you know, with swallowing at the right times and breathing steady, they might mess up reshaping my larynx and I could lose my voice.”

Ais swore, and Sabella wondered if she would feel angry. (Sometimes she would scream and cry, say, can you imagine doing that to an eighteen-year-old?) Right now she was just tired. “How did you manage?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think just, it was worth more to me to have it done than anything else. So I didn’t ever tell them to stop.”

 

 

“Please don’t go around telling people I think this is an acceptable surgical set-up,” Dr. Young said, looking around the exam room.

It reminded Sabella of a public hearing, the way the stakeholders sat at opposing angles and frowned at each other. Dr. Young sat next to Dr. Park, who would be the second doctor performing the procedure. Sabella had never met Dr. Park before, and her appearance—young, mostly—didn’t inspire confidence. Sabella sat next to her mother, who held her hand and a clipboard full of potential complications. Ais crossed her fingers in her lap, sat with a nervous child’s version of polite interest. Time seemed not to blur, but to stutter, everything happening whenever.

“Dr. Park,” Sabella’s mother said, “do you have any experience operating on vampires?”

Dr. Park grinned and her whole mouth seemed to open up in her face, her gums pale pink as a Jolly Rancher and her left fang chipped. “Usually trauma or obstetrics,” she admitted. “Although this is nearly the same thing.”

“I’m serious,” Sabella’s mom said, and Sabella interrupted.

“I like her,” she said. And then—it wasn’t really a question except in the sense that there was no way anyone could be sure—“You’re not going to realize halfway through the surgery that it’s too much for you?”

Dr. Park laughed. “I turned my husband when we were both eighteen,” she said as testament to her cruelty.

Sabella’s mom jumped. “Jesus Christ, why?”

She shrugged, languid. Ais and Dr. Young were completely calm; Ais might have had no frame of reference for what it was like to watch someone turn, and Dr. Young had probably heard this story before. “His parents didn’t like that he was dating a vampire. You’ll do crazy things for love.”

Sabella could see her mother blanch even as she steadied. It wasn’t unheard of for a vampire to turn their spouse—less common now that it was easier to live as a vampire, and humans were able to date freely but not really commit. But she could remember being turned, young as she had been: the gnawing ache, the hallucinations, the thirst that had only sometimes eclipsed the pain. It was still the worst thing that she’d ever experienced, and she was sure her mother couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to do it to someone they loved.

“Good,” she said. “You won’t turn back if we scream.”

Dr. Young frowned. “I want you to know you have a choice,” she said. She was speaking to Ais; Sabella had a choice, too, but it was only between one death and another. “There will be a point when you can’t change your mind, but by then it’ll be almost over.”

Ais swore. It made Dr. Park smile and Sabella’s mom frown. Sabella wondered if she was in love with her, or if it was impossible to be in love with someone who was growing a body for them to share. “Don’t say that,” Ais said. “I don’t want to have that choice.”

 

 

The morning of the surgery, Aisling gave Sabella a rosary to wear with her pizza necklace, and when they kicked Sabella’s mom out to the waiting room, she kissed them both as she went. “I like your mom,” Ais said shyly. They lay in cots beside each other, just close enough that they could reach out and hold hands across the gap. “I bet she’d get along with mine.”

Sabella laughed, her eyes stinging, threw herself across the space between them and kissed each of Ais’s knuckles while Ais said, “Aw, c’mon, save it ‘til we get home.”

“Isn’t that a lot of commitment for you?” Sabella asked.

“Yeah, well,” Ais said, caught, and gave her a cheesy smile. “You’re already taking my liver, at least my heart won’t hurt so much.”

They drank themselves to gorging while nurses wrapped and padded them in warm blankets. Ais was first, for whatever measure of mercy that was, and while they were wheeled down the dizzying white hallway, she grinned at Sabella, wild, some stranger’s blood staining her throat to her nose. “You’re a real looker,” she said, and Sabella laughed over her tears.

“Thank you,” Sabella said. “I mean, really, for everything.”

Ais winked at her; Sabella wanted to run away from all of this and drink her in until they died. “It’s all in a day’s work, ma’am,” she said.

It wasn’t, it couldn’t have been, and Sabella loved her for pretending. Ais hissed, she cried, she asked intervention of every saint learned in K-12 at a Catholic school. A horrible gelatinous noise came as Dr. Young’s gloves touched her innards, and Ais moaned and Sabella said, “You have to stop, this is awful,” and the woman assigned to supervise her held her down and said hush, honey, you need to be quiet. And the doctors’ voices, neither gentle nor unkind: We’re almost done now, Aisling, you’re being so brave. And: It’s a pity she’s too strong to pass out.

Sabella went easier, hands she couldn’t see wiping her down and slicing her open while Dr. Park pulled Ais’s insides back together. She’d been scared for so long that the pain didn’t frighten her; she kept asking “Is she okay? What’s happening?” until the woman at her head brushed back her hair and said shh, she’s in the recovery room, you can worry about yourself now.

It felt right, fixing her missteps with pieces of Ais, and when Dr. Young said, “There we go, just another minute and you can go take care of her yourself,” Sabella thought about meromictic lakes, about stepping into a body so deep its past never touched its present.

END

 

 

"Dionysus in London" is copyright Tristan Beiter 2018.

"You Inside Me" is copyright Tori Curtis 2018.

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Thanks for listening, and we'll be back soon with a reprint of "The City of Kites and Crows" by Megan Arkenberg.