The princess dropped the box-cutter. She had just cut herself—shallow slashes that cried tiny, scarlet pearls. Her blood smelled as sweet as cotton candy, but it was the scent of her destiny that had led me to her. Spicy and cloying, the princess’s destiny made my mouth water, set an itch and tingle in my skin. I inhaled it and let the city, with its bloated trash bags and filthy humans and miles of steaming asphalt, fade, fade, fade into the darkness. The princess’s destiny was like Christmas morning: cloves and oranges, nutmeg explosions and cinnamon arias. All bright; all clean. A song in my sinuses, on the back of my throat, as pure as a child’s kiss, as sweet cream.
I bumped my nose against the window. The twinge of pain brought me back to reality. The city, the humans, the asphalt, all that. And more, now: the stench of the princess’s mother downstairs, sucking on vodka and painkillers, stinking of booze and vomit.
The window wasn’t locked; I rubbed my nose with one hand and opened it with the other. “Hello, princess,” I said.
Rated R: Contains violence and some drug references.
Perhaps the greatest warrior the world had ever known was entombed in a brown cardboard box in the attic. The box was scrawled “Kenny’s Room” in bright red Sharpie pen and stuffed into a dust-covered corner one Spring-cleaning with several others. Some contained toys the children had outgrown, others contained electronics that were working but hopelessly out-of-date. All of them were quickly forgotten about.
Inside the cardboard box filled with other unwanted toys, Sundae lay in his miniature steamer trunk. The trunk’s once-fine leather was cracked and peeling all over, its many stamps painted with their images of post card lands dulled and faded by age. Sundae himself had not faired much better through the years (it had been almost a century since he was created in Magda’s workshop).
One of his eyes was missing, and the tear left by its departure had been sewn shut to keep the fluff from leaking out. A large patch of fur covering his right breast and shoulder was dark and brittle. He’d taken a tumble into a roaring fireplace while grappling with a particularly nasty beast back in the 70’s. The cover he’d fashioned from leather scraps for his left ear, to protect the pressed metal button that was the source of all Stenz bears’ power, looked worn and awkwardly stapled on.
There were other punctures and tears and rips. Some had been sewn like his eye, some closed hastily with masking tape that was now brown and furling at the corners.
Rated R: Contains violent Teddy Bears. Been a while since we did that!
So here I am again, sitting at a twelve-person steel table, going through the motions. The Society of Supercriminals’ new headquarters is impressive but not comfortable. You’d think that Overlord, with his ill-gotten dictator-industrialist billions, could afford some padding for these damn chairs. But as my Tío Cesar would say, assholes never shit flowers.
They said the Marielitas were escoria – scum. The abuelitas muttered it to each other, and the young girls coming home from school clustered together like butterflies, looking thrilled and worried whenever the wind whistled at them. The newspapers said Miami was under siege, that Castro had loosed the worst from the Cuban prisons and madhouses.
The respectable Cubans already in Miami – the ones who weren’t driving the boats to bring over their cousins and brothers and grandparents who’d managed to flee to the port of Mariel – were quick to repudiate the incoming. Some of them put bumper stickers on their ten-year-old town cars: No me digas Marielito.
The crease-browed TV news anchors said the Marielitas “contained a disproportionate amount” of drug addicts and the criminally insane. They predicted crimes, rapes, murders. In the evenings, they showed us it was already starting: a kid kicked to death over a pair of sneakers, a bosomy young woman with her tongue cut out. The baby that…
Some things are too hard to dwell on.
But I wasn’t too worried about the Marielitas. Petty criminals, drug runners, the occasional voodoo priest.
I am never the first to know the demons have returned.
This time, I am at Ukaya’s house, trimming the hooves of her goats, because her joints are too swollen and stiff to wield a knife. The morning sun prickles my back and rough goat hair prickles my belly as I whittle off thin curls of hoof.
Ukaya tells me stories about my late father, who climbed a mountain at fifteen, and went on to sail foreign ships, dive for pearls, slay monsters, and rout a nest of bandits just to bring my mother back her wedding jewelry, all before I was born. At least, I think to myself, someone in our family made himself remarkable before he died.
A girl sits cross-legged in the dirt before the unlit pyre, her face dotted with yellow clay and her dark hair unbound. The girl has just seen her ninth summer. The man on the pyre is her father. The old woman at her side, bent and gray, is no relation.
The girl does not cry. She looks at the pyre with coal-bright eyes, her jaw set, her fists clenched. The pyre is covered in the flowers of the season: purple, blue, and yellow. Their scent is carried on the breeze. She fidgets with the curled edge of her tunic as the aurochs horn sounds in mourning, and she knows she will never enjoy the scent of summer flowers again.
The three of them—the girl, the old woman, and the corpse—sit in silence while the sun traces its slow arc across the sky. The girl knows that this silence is expected of her. She is satisfied with it, because if she is not silent then she will scream. She does not know the right word for the anger she feels, the rage and wanting in her heart that threatens to burst from her chest and lay waste the entire settlement and everyone in it, seek out the men who ambushed and murdered her father. There is a word for it, but it is taboo to her people, and never expressed.
If she knew the right word, she would say that what she wants is vengeance.
Rated R. Contains violence and disturbing imagery.
I began turning into wind the moment that you promised me to Artemis.
Before I woke, I lost the flavor of rancid oil and the shade of green that flushes new leaves. They slipped from me, and became gentle breezes that would later weave themselves into the strength of my gale. Between the first and second beats of my lashes, I also lost the grunt of goats being led to slaughter, and the roughness of wool against calloused fingertips, and the scent of figs simmering in honey wine.
Around me, the other palace girls slept fitfully, tossing and grumbling through the dry summer heat. I stumbled to my feet and fled down the corridor, my footsteps falling smooth against the cool, painted clay. As I walked, the sensation of the floor blew away from me, too. It was as if I stood on nothing.
I forgot the way to my mother’s rooms. I decided to visit Orestes instead. I also forgot how to find him. I paced bright corridors, searching. A male servant saw me, and woke a male slave, who woke a female slave, who roused herself and approached me, bleary-eyed, mumbling. “What’s wrong, Lady Iphigenia? What do you require?”
Originally published in Interzone. Check out the awesome art work Hobson mentioned here.
Dreams tell you what you really believe, deep down. But sometimes it takes a while before you understand them.
“When I climbed the hill of bones, the shaman was waiting for me,” Darren said, stirring Nutrasweet into his herbal tea. “Except now he was a giant rat. Like ten feet tall.”
Darren’s always told me about his dreams. Ever since he quit his office job to write comic books full time, his dreams have gotten weirder. I figure he’s really dreaming about how to pay the rent next month, though I can’t see what the giant rat has to do with anything. I was probably more worried about Darren’s rent than he was, even though we weren’t roommates anymore.
Around us, the coffeeshop was nearly empty. We sat at our usual table–the four-seater with room for my wheelchair. Darren’s backpack and bike helmet occupied the extra chair. The late-September sunlight stretched through the window like it wasn’t ready to leave. I asked, “So did the rat-shaman have the sword ready for you like he’d promised?”
Pretty much nobody knows how, exactly, the Christmas Spirit started to spread. One theory goes that a child in Meridian Mississippi was bitten by an infected reindeer, and then spread the plague at her school Christmas pageant, where it jumped to a couple of long-haul truckers who hit the interstate on Boxing Day and took the condition nationwide. One epidemiologist is convinced it’s a prion disease, like Mad Cow, spread through tainted Christmas hams. I saw a neurologist on TV who believes it’s a brain disorder brought on by heavy metal poisoning, spread through tainted high-fructose corn syrup in the candy cane supply, and I met a man in a bar who drunkenly explained that it’s caused by an insidious parasite that lives in evergreen trees. And of course we’ve all heard the right-wing pundits screaming their conviction that the Christmas Spirit is a biological weapon invented by radical Kenyan socialists to force redistribution of wealth.
They’re all wrong. I know the truth about the Christmas Spirit, and how it started to spread. In a way, I’m the reason for the season.
Rated R. Contains some adult themes, and drug use.
Originally published in The View From Here. You can read it at The Front View.
At the top of the Greenbriar Building, in Brooklyn, a girl has been sleeping for a hundred years. In fact, she may have been sleeping longer. But the Greenbriar was built a hundred years ago, and the room in which she sleeps was walled off and hidden, and ivy tangled its way up the sides of the building until even the window was lost. She would likely sleep there still, except that Rick wanted to know why his apartment was a hundred and fifty square feet too small.
It was a nice apartment– it had a breakfast nook, and a washer/dryer combo, and floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves in the living room and at the end of the hall. Rick liked it a lot. The building had never been renovated, not really, except to split the apartments up into smaller studios and one-bedrooms and to replace the stove and fridge. There were weird poky corners and weathered wooden floors and ornate brass fittings everywhere; Rick’s bathroom contained a massive claw-foot tub that, when she saw it, made Angela say “Oh, my God, no fair.”
Rated R, for an f-bomb or two, but really, it’s a sweet story.