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The River Is Alive, Even Under Thick Winter Ice

The River Is Alive, Even Under Thick Winter Ice

Color image of ivy leaves and stone.

May 2020 flash fiction (fantasy, transgender character). For the Patreon post, click here.

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On the steps of the temple, between peeling columns, the visitor stands. Above, clouds rumble with lingering thunder. She watches for a while, speaking silently to the fading fury, surrounded by petrichor. The forest is never quiet after rain, droplets sliding off leaves, moss sighing softly in the breeze, trees stretching their roots.

Long ago, the roof of the temple crumbled. Long ago, the stone walls eroded under the song of patient winds. Long ago, ivy wound its way inside, blanketing the space.

The altar, though, remains untouched, a shine to it akin to the one it held on the day of its creation.

Upon it, a tired body rests. Curled, shivering, limbs weak and breaths wheezing.

She nears, carefully. Gentles a hand through the messy hair, soothing.

“We heard the call,” she whispers, mindful of causing fear. “But this shouldn’t happen. Your world gave up worshipping sacrifices.”

The youth’s teeth are chattering, and the words come out stilted. “Father thinks otherwise. ”

“Hmm. I see. And why would he offer his child?”

“Useless. Not a—not a son.”

“A daughter?”

The nod is shaky, but undoubtedly an affirmation.

“And what would you like for your sacrifice?”

The girl laughs. It sounds hollow, as it echoes in the temple. “I don’t know, what am I worth to you?”

“A future,” the visitor says. “Come with me and explore your choices, or withdraw your offering and I’ll return you to your world.”

“I don’t understand, what do you get out of it?”

“Why do I have to be rewarded? You have worth to yourself.”

“Even if I… let’s say I want to read books all day?”

“Yes. There’s this old house that gets lonely, down in the city. It could use a companion that doesn’t talk too much. Sensitive hearing, you see.”

The laughter, this time, blooms with genuine mirth. The choice is made, the visitor can feel it, but she waits for confirmation all the same.

“I’ll go with you,” the girl says, “if you tell me your name.”

“Ah. I have many, which you’ll know in time. But one of them translates to: the river is alive, even under thick winter ice.

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The Implant Merchant

The Implant Merchant

Digital color drawing of a cybernetic eye ball with a mechanical iris and extending cords for nerves.

April 2020 flash fiction (science fiction, fantasy, transgender character). For the Patreon post, click here.

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“Get your implant, today! Half price! Offer expires in a jiffy!” Barely audible over the ruckus of the marketplace, Ronnie waves a cybernetic eye, dangling it from its connectors. “Best manufacture on the station. Come on, how about an extra ear?”

None of the hurried denizens stop or even glance Ronnie’s way. Her booth sits at the edge of the cluster of less savoury merchants, where shame runs rampant and people cover their faces. She sighs.

“No customers today, either,” she tells the mechanical critter that serves as a mascot.

It beeps, almost as if it could understand, but it’s nothing more than a toy. Ronnie pats its round body anyway.

“If we sold all the cyberlivers,” Ronnie muses over the angry rumbling of her stomach, “we’d have food for months. Imagine that.”

“Um, excuse me?”

Ronnie’s twirl puts her almost nose to nose with—hng. “You smell wrong,” she says without thinking, and quickly smacks a hand over her mouth.

The cloaked figure before her nods, twice, a sad little movement.

“That’s why I came,” they say. “I heard you… accept alternative payment?”

Ronnie raises an eyebrow. People usually have to be convinced to go the alternate routes, even though it costs them nothing. But hey, money is good, too, and Ronnie knows just where to spend it, hassle as it is. To be sought after specifically, though, that’s new.

“I might,” she admits. “Depends on what you have to trade.”

The customer unzips their coat and gestures to their breasts. “These.”

Ronnie licks her lips. “To be replaced with?”

“Nothing.”

And that one word is like being doused in ice water. Ronnie steps back. “Look here, I don’t know what you think, but I’m not—”

“I know what you are. Don’t bother denying, you smelled I was unhappy.” They pull their coat closed, shoulders hunched, and when they speak again, it’s in a whisper. “I can’t afford a surgeon and you have the skills. I don’t want anything in return. Won’t tell anyone, either.”

It’s really tempting. Judging by the size of the offer, she could save enough to build at least a set of smaller bio-implants for those who want them.

“My client, my master,” Ronnie says with a mock-salute. “But to be a client, you have to buy something.”

They freeze, because that wasn’t a no, and then quickly snatch the eye still hanging from Ronnie’s lifted hand.

“This.”

“Very well. Would you like that installed… sir? Ser? Zix?”

“Leo,” they offer with a grin. “And no, thank you.”

Ronnie bares all her pointed teeth in response. “What method of payment would you prefer?”

“The alternate.”

“This way, then.”

As Leo makes their way through the door leading to the back of the shop, Ronnie stops to make a note in her sales register.

One cybernetic eye. Payment by barter: organic materials; meal ingredients.

She winks at her critter. “Looks like dinner will be special tonight.”

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The Forgotten Stormrider

The Forgotten Stormrider

Color photograph of spring blossoms on a tree branch with drops of rain clinging to them.

March 2020 flash fiction (fantasy, found family, nonbinary character). For the Patreon post, click here.

Author’s note: Zbu’s name comes from the word zbucium which means agitation and is used to describe storms. The folklore that inspired this piece is connected to the drought song, Paparuda, a ritualistic calling for rain. A modern version of the song by Via Dacă is here.

*** *** ***

The morning stretches wet and crisp over the garden. Up above, clouds still hang in layers of gray, trailing toward the dark horizon. The storm moves farther with every blink, with every hitching inhale. Zbu tears eir eyes away from it with difficulty, chest heaving in the stillness, ground solid beneath eir feet.

The new sensations are incongruous with what Zbu is used to feeling. The earth chains em, drags em down with pressure on eir shoulders. Only—it’s not pushing from the outside, but from within Zbu’s own body, clawing at eir bones as if it wants to swallow em whole. Somewhere, home surges away. Rushes on without em. The clatter of hooves still echoes in eir ears, although the ethereal horses have long left the land. Already too far away to reach.

The day’s ride had started slow, as it always does, catching speed and collecting more and more riders along the way, until they were all a mass of thunder and lightning. Until they rained their thrill and their joy over the lands.

Now, though, Zbu’s essence has fallen from the sky for the last time.

Something clenches painfully in eir chest.

But Zbu has a mission, a purpose for letting go of the reins—down here, in the garden, a soft song croons amidst the spring blossoms. Zbu pushes aside low-hanging branches, making eir way over slabs of stone toward its source.

Whoever it is startles before Zbu can emerge fully from between the trees, and the sound stops.

“Who’s there?”

“Zbu,” e says.

“What do you want?”

“Your song.”

The human—at least it looks like one—turns around on the bench, blinking wide eyes. E rubs at eir cheeks with eir sleeves, perhaps in greeting, so Zbu rubs at eirs in turn. A gurgle leaves the human’s mouth, but before Zbu can try to make sense of it, e stands. Folds of fabric flow around em with the motion, in a hush akin to heavy rainfall when observed from a distance.

“I wasn’t singing.”

“You made a song,” Zbu insists.

A song that called to em so direly and fiercely that Zbu had to come. Had to see it up close, had to taste and smell and touch.

“That wasn’t— What are you?”

“Zbu,” e repeats, confused. “I am Zbu. What are you?”

“Mirabella,” e says and it sounds like fat raindrops touching water.

“Mirabella. Songmaker.” Zbu places a hand on eir chest. “Zbu. Stormrider.”

At that, Mirabella steps closer, and Zbu thrums with anticipation. Humans always sing to the riders, calling them to their crops, beckoning for the rain.

“A stormrider,” Mirabella says instead of singing, and the thing that hurts in Zbu’s chest flutters. “From the legends?”

Perhaps—and Zbu should’ve considered this before—humans don’t remember. It has been so long since one left the ride. “Yes?” Zbu answers, unsure.

Mirabella waves a hand. “Well, that explains the nakedness and the lightning marks.”

The fabric around Mirabella whispers again as e pulls it away, only to wrap it around Zbu. It’s warm and it smells like the song.

“I’m sorry to disappoint, but you’ve stopped by for nothing. I can’t sing.”

“But— You were.”

Mirabella rubs eir cheek again, with eir fingertips this time. E backs to the bench and Zbu follows, sits when e sits. Mirabella blows a gust of air from eir mouth, too short to become proper wind. Zbu adds to it, until it meanders through the trees, shaking raindrops from the flowers.

“Wow,” Mirabella says, “you really… Okay. Listen. I wasn’t singing. I can’t give you what you want.”

Bitterness pushes up Zbu’s throat, only to settle behind eir eyes.

“Can you go back?”

Zbu turns eir head to where the storm is a mere strip of darker clouds over the hills. “No. I’m already forgotten.”

Nothing follows but silence. Zbu’s hands start to shake where e’s holding them in eir lap. The few blades of grass pushing from between the stone under eir soles are peppered with round, clear spheres of a rain Zbu’s never going to—

Zbu is never—

The song lifts in the air. Beside em, Mirabella’s frame trembles with the shuffling sound, whooshing and quivering, both gentle and harsh, both nourishing patter and howling tempest.

“I’m sorry,” e murmurs in between the notes. “I just… I always lose those I care about and now you’re lost because of me.”

Whatever it is that drives Mirabella’s song gathers in a swirl in Zbu, pressing and pressing.

A raindrop falls from Maribella’s eyes.

Zbu catches it on eir finger.

Tastes it.

There’s hurt there, in Mirabella’s rain. Loss of home and riders, aching like Zbu does. Mirabella sings and Zbu touches the rain on eir face, leaning near enough that it becomes all-encompassing. And when Mirabella pulls em closer, Zbu knows how to repay em for the song.

“If you want, we ride together.”

The sound changes, rhythm stuttering with an infusion of sunshine. “I’d like that,” Mirabella says.

Everything overflows.

Zbu’s eyes make rain, just like Mirabella’s. With Mirabella.

And it’s soothing, unwinding the tension in Zbu until it is replaced by belonging.

***

Zbu’s human is named Mirabella. E—she, Zbu has learned—is kind and gentle and sometimes stubborn. Always spirited. She sings like humans sing, most of the time, in low noises rumbling from her throat. But when Zbu wraps emself around her, she sings for Zbu alone, with delight and joy and happiness, so much of it that Zbu joins in each and every time.

They rain for each other. Together, they ride.

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The Confessionist

The Confessionist

Short Story: Science Fiction, Transgender, Mythology, POC MC.

Release date:  4 May 2020

Vemund’s life is about to change as he visits his latest customer.

Anthology: Community of Magic Pens

Editor: E.D.E. Bell

Publisher: Atthis Arts

Out now! | Atthis Arts | Goodreads |

Download the poster here. This poster, made by Romanian designer Ava Kelly, shows the book’s title in the languages spoken by the book’s authors. We hope that you will enjoy it!  The poster is printable at maximum A3 size, 300 dpi, RGB color profile.”

Release Day: Vast

Release Day: Vast

Release day!

Vast: Stories of Mind, Soul and Consciousness in a Technological Age is the first anthology from Orchid’s Lantern edited by C.R. Dudley. Ten stories exploring the boundaries between the physical world and the mind, on the backdrop of technological progress.

My short Luz Beyond the Glass looks at what it takes to achieve symbiosis with the planet that sustains us.

Details here and here.

On social media: Twitter | Tumblr | Pillowfort | FB | Patreon

Red Quartergiant

Red Quartergiant

Image in dark red and black of concentric circles with a brighter spot in the middle.

February 2020 flash fiction (science fiction, space). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

We knew from the moment it appeared that something was wrong—fundamentally, intrinsically incorrect about the giant star.

Our expedition ship entered observable distance during what counted as morning in the void of space. The rendering software spat out sensor-captured shot after shot, but nothing could replace our own eyes. Permanently shadowed by the other planets, we could only ever see about a quarter of its body. Around it, matter—red, plasmatic in essence—spiraled inward, seemingly static.

“Debris must be caught in its gravitational field, probably traveling at impossible velocities,” our science officer said. “But from this far away, we perceive it as motionless.”

A lot of us thought she meant to say dead.

We flew as close as we dared, hovering on the boundary of justifiable risk. We studied it, talked to it, trying not to get overwhelmed by exposure to radiation and loneliness and the crackle of feedback static whenever we attempted to contact base. We shared our stories, our science. Our deepest, most hidden thoughts.

It was morning again, a prime number of days-years-minutes after our first sighting, when an anomaly became evident, glinting along its inner edge. Around and around, and then—

Then it blinked.

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