Category: Free reads



Color close-up photograph of tree roots.

September 2020 flash fiction (fantasy). For the Patreon post, click here.

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Right where the river bends around the mountain, in between sharp rocks and the stretch of green, wavy hills, a tree stands. Its trunk is thick with age, branches stretching over to one side, as if it grew trying to shelter the patch of ground beneath from the scorching sun.

Mel knows when they’re close, even from underneath the scarf wrapped tight around her furless witchmother’s neck. Mel can hear her quickening heartbeat where she’s nestled against her chest, safely hidden from the world. Soon, though, they stop and sunlight shines over her eyes as Mother pulls the fabric apart.

“Here you go,” she says and Mel jumps to the ground.

The tree is… well, old, obviously. Mel rounds it, searching for the spark of life still residing inside the wood. It’s difficult, but she finds it, a barely-there whisper.

Almost gone, but holding onto the world with all its might. It wants to survive.

They must hurry, then. Mel flicks her tail, rushing to Mother, and meows her consent. This is it, this is the place.

“Are you sure?”

Mel hisses, impatience crawling in her bones, only adding to the trembling of her muscles. She can’t hold on for much longer, either. If Mother doesn’t agree, they’d need to find something else, and by then it might be too late.

Mel’s power would take Mother instead. She found Mel as a tiny kitten, fed her, kept her warm, told her stories. Mel doesn’t want her to suffer for helping.

She bats a paw at Mother’s leg.

“Fine, fine, I get it. Hold on.”

The candles come out, the herbs and the tiny bowl in which they’ll be crushed.

Not long after, Mother chants, sprinkling the powder over the flames. The tension in Mel’s limbs fades little by little, until she can curl up between the roots sticking out of the ground like tendrils of another universe.

In a way, it is. A different world. Will be, a different life.

She lets out a long breath, the last for a while, and closes her eyes.


Moonlight shines gray over the land, cast down from between branches. The wind carries shuffling sounds of green leaves swaying, and Mel’s ears twitch. The gentle fingers smoothing the fur on her head and back stop as she yawns. Mel growls a bit, showing displeasure, but Mother laughs. She’s petting Mel again, so it doesn’t matter.

The bark of the tree creaks with another yawn.

“Well, hello there,” Mother says. “I hope you don’t mind we barged in on you.”

The wooden face leaning out from the tree looks a lot like Mother’s, and Mel blinks with satisfaction.

The lady of the tree stretches her arms, her back, and her legs as she steps fully out. With awe, she inspects her limbs one by one. Then she looks up, at the new life blooming in the tree.

“I thought my days were counted,” she whispers, gravelly and gritty, like branches against each other. “Thank you.”

Mel tucks her front paws under herself better, and rests her head down. She could use another nap. Mother’s voice drifts in the air above, talking to their new friend about names, and magic, and how to protect against dangers. What it means to be born in this world.

With a sigh, Mel closes her eyes. The power inside her has quieted, even though another spark has already started swirling behind her ribs. When she’s older, she’ll be able to take Mother with her to visit the worlds growing within herself, hold on to more than one at a time. For now, though, all she can do is gift them and wait. They’re safe.

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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?”


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.


“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.

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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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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.

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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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Pencil drawing of buildings forming a cityscape flowing out of a quill.

January 2020 flash fiction (urban fantasy, death). For the Patreon post, click here.

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My name is Amara and I was lost once.

When I was six, I learned the universal truth, just like everyone else. Whatever you’re skilled at is the one thing you cannot have. Like a shoemaker walking with blistered feet on cobblestone, or a seamstress dressed in tattered rags.

Across from Nana’s shop was the house of a muse, her hair streaked with purple and white, lips always quirked into a smile. She came to the Valley of the Forgotten after her eyesight had faltered. Back in the City, where the streets were filled with the creations she’d inspired—where her architect had thrived—she’d been driven to a blindness that the Valley had kept at bay. One day, Nana gifted her a painting of the prettiest building in the City, and I was surprised when she thought the canvas was blank.

That was when I started asking my own questions, curious about the magic of the Valley.


When I was twelve, I learned that Nana wasn’t my grandmother, not by blood. She didn’t tell me why she’d been caring for me, or who my parents were, or where I’d come from.

There, in the Valley, we wore ill-fitting clothes made by blacksmiths and lived in houses built by cooks. Everything was always on the verge of falling apart, nothing ever worked quite right, but it was a place of safety from the clutches of fate. The Valley was where the tired ran to. Some remained for the rest of their lives, others only sought refuge for short reprieves. All resisted their calling, their own skill. So did I, after figuring I would’ve been a storyteller, if I’d lived outside, in the other world. But I left it be. Reading tales was enough, and Nana provided as many as I wanted.


When I was twenty-four, I found the piece of paper that had condemned me to the Valley. There, in blue ink on yellowing paper, sat the words forbidden and mandatory isolation and punishable by incarceration. So if Nana took me to the City, she’d be held responsible for whatever effect my special talent would create. Upon myself, not upon others. I had been chained against my nature for reasons nobody deemed I should know.

I raged, simmering quietly. My anger had to go somewhere, and it turned to everyone around me. To our muse neighbor, first, who did nothing but ensure greatness in the City I wasn’t allowed to visit. So I wrote about her, mingling my misery with her own. In my tale, though, she’d remained by the architect’s side, growing more and more obsessed with the creations she could not see. In my story, she’d fallen off the highest clocktower, betrayed by her gift as I had been by mine.

Many acclaimed my writings, after I’d secretly sent them outside the valley. Many mourned and roared with me, the spawns of my imagination spreading wide, beyond the City and the borders of our lands.


When I was thirty-six, I wrote my final piece.

I hadn’t realized it, not in the beginning, what I was actually good at.

Not storytelling itself, because the tales of adventurous kittens and brave knights befriending dragons had been dismissed, one by one. No, what I had a skill for was death. Dished out in violent bursts or served in increments, whenever my protagonists suffered, the world rejoiced.

When I was thirty-six, I lay on the pavement, staring up at the Valley’s only clocktower, my assumptions confirmed. The world thought of me as an abomination. They feared and shunned. Abandoned.

They came for me, then, men in military uniforms, to escort me to the border. Nana told me, whispery and fragile against my ear, to wait for her. To be patient.

That rage, it boiled over, and I ran.


When I was thirty-eight, I found them. Hidden away high on a mountain slope, a small village of lost souls. Nurses of old battlefields, caretakers for the incurable, masters of funeral rites, executioners. Among them, arms spread wide, was Nana.

“Welcome home, child,” she said, face unweathered, smile unchanged.

She explained, then, how my skill had been discovered as a small child. How I’d been marked for isolation. We could’ve fled long ago, but she wanted me to grow outside the village, without the weight of our final resting place upon my shoulders. It wasn’t difficult to understand why she’d done it, why she’d kept it from me. Why I had to discover my fate on my own.


When I was forty-four, I wrote my second first-story. It was about a muse who sacrificed herself to inspire the creation of new medicine, but instead of her life, she paid with her gift.

Because, I realized, death is what we make it—an ending, a journey, passage to another existence, the tearing of a soul to shape it into something new.

My name is Amara and I am Deathless.

This is where my life begins.

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The Firevault

The Firevault

Flash story: Fantasy.

Release date: 15 August 2018

This flash fiction piece is part of Paranatellonta‘s 5th anniversary. Twice a month, Paranatellonta publishes one piece of flash fiction (of exactly ten sentences) inspired by a piece of visual artwork.

The Firevault‘s inspiration artwork is provided by Fie, while Guidance by Minerva Cerridwen is the other half of this event (art by Ava).

Out now! Read it here.