Handle With Care“You come in here every day, huh?”
Like clockwork with gravel caught between its gears, I skip and stutter as I try to adjust my scripts. The barista shifts from background to fore, from coffee source, money receptacle, to person, and my eyes flick up to meet hers before the pain of contact forces my gaze back down.
“Yeah,” I say. (But my heart is racing, now, my flesh crawling over my bones, every moment of silence another thing-I-should-have-said fear-she-might-speak rule-I-don’t-know.) “I guess,” I add, after too long or too short a pause, fingers tapping against my thumb. If I leave now it will mean no coffee, no routine, an afternoon without a plan. I’ll stay. I have to stay. I don’t want to be here.
I risk another glance upwards, but her eyes are still on me.
My coffee is ready. I take it, say, “Thank you.” Back on script. I make my way over to my usual table, trying to take comfort from the familiar routine, and t
Here be MonstersThe reading on Keelyx’ screen defies all probability.
There are no planets here, no stars. This is one of those deep stretches of space, never mapped in detail, marked on charts with here be monsters – but only because it’s empty, not worth the cost of exploration. Even interstellar traffic passes through here so rarely that Keelyx’ cargo of serum represents an entire system’s only hope against the Borna plague.
Still, somehow, there’s something out there. And it’s broadcasting an SOS.
Keelyx knows her duty. She knows that the lives of the Borna victims depend on her. She knows that unplanned detours are always dangerous – she’s alone, her fuel is limited, and no one will notice if she disappears – but the signal isn’t far, and the very thought of dying alone in the blackness of space is reason enough to respond. She twitches her claws against the pedals lined up before her feet, and the ship changes course.
219Three months, and Carlos’ absence still clings to the building like a ghost. Rory feels it most in their flat, of course – the cold of an empty bed, the sink less stained by toothpaste – but even the hallway holds its memories of Carlos fumbling for his keys; even the lift still feels like Carlos leaning back against burnished steel, hands in his pockets, lips turned up in the playful half-smile that Rory so loved. He can’t take the lift anymore without remembering.
He doesn’t want to forget.
Three months, and sometimes it still hits Rory like a storm. He finds himself crying in the lift, stabbing blindly at buttons made blurry by tears; his mind is full of Carlos’ eyes, his smell, his hands. He thanks all that he holds holy that there is no one to see him crumple into a corner and weep, as the lift surges downwards and his heart climbs his throat.
The lift spits him out into the subcellar, which is not where he meant to go – his finger must ha
A Timeless EternityHand in hand, I walk towards the prison. The people I pass stand still as statues, frozen mid-step, mid-motion: they are timeless in the light of my candle, helpless until the flame goes out. I alone can still walk in this frozen world, still live, still breathe. I alone, because of the hand in my hand and the candle held between its fingers.
My breath mists before my face as I walk. It is a cold day today, so cold that spittle freezes when it strikes the ground.
The doors of the prison, and all the doors within it, are locked – of course; but all doors are open to me. I wave the hand before them, perhaps brush its closed fingers against their wood, and the locks slide open as surely as though I’d turned a key. I close them behind me as I pass, not from caution but from fear: I know that nothing can hurt me while I carry the hand, that no one can see any trace of my passing, but all the same I dare not leave a trail. One never knows what might go wrong.
I find Marielle sitt
Johannes and MargaretheIt would be easy enough to flee. The only bond that ties Margarethe to the blind old woman is her love for her brother. But he is all she has left, now, and she will not leave him.
Johannes sits in a cage of bones, eating canned mandarins and jars of sour cherries, awaiting his death. Margarethe visits him there when the old woman is out. “I’ll save you,” she says. “I’ll find a way – somewhere we can flee to, somewhere she can’t follow. I’ll steal the key from her.” The cage is held together with steel cables and padlocks and barbed wire. There is no escaping from it.
“You know what she’s planning,” says Johannes, and Margarethe knows. Fresh meat is hard to come by. If they run, she will try to follow.
“Why is she waiting, do you think?”
“Fattening me up, probably. She keeps feeling my finger, seeing how thin it is.” He scoffs. “I always show her a bone – there are enough of them
ShouldShe should have known when I would not be weaned.
She should have known when I hid from the sun, when I layered black film over my eyes to keep away the pain. She should have known when I swallowed my peas like pills, quick-quick-quick down the back of the throat and washed down with juice and begging myself not to vomit. She should have known when I fussed and cried at the touch of wool.
She should have known when I walked on cat’s-paw toes and dangled my hands like a raptor. She should have known when I walked on fences, walked on curbs, walked inside the lines of cracks and tiles and coloured floors. She should have known when I learned to read, three years old, with some twenty minutes’ teaching. She should have known when I forgot how to speak.
She should have known when I always obeyed her, always kept to the rules. (The doctors should have known what it meant when she asked them.)
She should have known, should have told me, before the fear became insurmountable; befo
Even Death May DieDeath stared out into the night with empty eyes, sighing deeply with an absence of breath so complete it had become a presence unto itself.
“Mourning what you’ve taken, or contemplating your own mortality?”
Death turned to look at me, hollow eyes brimming with the resonance of tears. “Both,” it said. “It was a beautiful world, while it lasted. And –” It shivered, somehow, bones rattling and grinding. “I never thought I was mortal,” it said.
“Hey, everything dies.” I settled down beside the used-up god, lighting up the concept of a cigarette, and amended myself: “Well, everything died, anyway. It’s your turn. No sense in lingering.”
Again that shiver, that quick rubbing sound like a misaligned joint. The shadowy miasma Death cloaked itself in darkened, drew tighter.
“I’m afraid,” it admitted. “I ended them – all of them, every one – like a gift, but now
The Triumph Of VictoryThere was once a demon born into a child's skin, sealed tight into his heart; and from there it grew like a seedling from a nut, reaching through his spirit and flesh with dark grasping tendrils. Bit by bit it swallowed the child: at first it was no more than a whispering voice in the dark, then a trusted friend through his despair, then a puppeteer, until at last they had reversed their places: the demon filled all beneath the child's skin, walked with his legs and spoke with his voice, and the child was nothing more than a spark sealed deep inside the demon's heart.
So the demon had carved out a life in the child's place, and for years it walked the earth in his skin and did as it pleased. It was a good life it had stolen: the skin's strength and the demon's cunning won it many rewards, and even the sometimes-pain of the spark in its heart served more to warn the demon of danger than to cause it discomfort. But it was a lonely life, as well. The demon cared much for the powers and co
The Serpents' KissHis snakes are getting hungry.
He can feel it in the way they coil up from his shoulders, in the menacing tone of their hisses in his ears. Feed us, they whisper, or we will feed on you.
But there is nothing left for them to feed on. He has killed them all already: corpses lie strewn on the rust-stained ground, empty-skulled and in various stages of rot. Sometimes the sight of them disturbs him, but by now he can barely remember that they were once human. It doesn't matter anymore. Nothing matters except to keep his snakes fed and himself alive.
Their hissing whispers slide into his mind as softly as sable: We must feed. We will feed. We shall feed. He shudders, tearing his eyes away from the patchwork of bodies, and moves away from the village. He doesn't know where to go next. His snakes are hungry.
The sun is bright and hot above him, and the desert shines like burnished gold. Shadows dance across his vision. One shadow seems to follow him, slithering low and ca