Jamie Lackey

jamie.r.lackey@gmail.com

jamie.r.lackey@gmail.com

For a Song

The ocean’s whisper filled the night air as Lydia walked across the cold sand. But she wasn’t here to listen to a whisper. She was looking for a song. She kicked off her shoes, left her clothes in a crumpled pile, and waded into the dark water.

Her skin instantly ached from the cold, and shivers wracked her body. She forced herself forward, one step at a time, till she was deep enough to throw herself into an oncoming wave. She gasped when her face hit the water, and the salt burned her throat.

She struggled forward. She wasn’t a strong swimmer, and the cold made her limbs heavy and listless. “I will do this,” she said, and choked on another mouthful of water.


In her senior year, Lydia’s homeroom desk was near the middle of the room, fourth row, third seat back. Donna Harrison sat in front of her. Sometimes, Donna’s long brown hair would brush against Lydia’s desk.

Lydia loved Donna’s hair. And her always-perfect nails, and the way her eyes crinkled when she smiled. Donna was on the basketball team and dating Tommy Miller. She’d been in Lydia’s class since second grade, and they’d never talked. No one ever talked to Lydia. But sometimes, Donna would smile at her when she handed papers back. Lydia always smiled back.


Lydia caught lilting notes over the sound of the waves and the hammering of her heart. The song pulled her now, her legs kicking, her arms pulling her forward without effort.

The siren sat on a rock, knees tucked up to her chin, singing up at the moon. Her eyes were shadows as she stared down at Lydia.

She finished her song and started another. Lydia couldn’t feel her fingers, though she could see that they gripped coarse rock.

Finally, the siren finished her second song. “Why are you here?” she asked, in a voice like shattered dreams.

Lydia knew just what that sounded like.


She’d asked Donna to sign her yearbook. It was a small thing, hardly out of the ordinary. Donna had spent a long time with her head bent over the blank page, her pen motionless in her hand.

Eventually, she wrote, “Lydia, I’m sorry. I wish we could have shared more. Goodbye, and good luck out there.” She signed her name with a big, loopy D.

Lydia reached out and ran her hand over Donna’s hair, just once. Donna didn’t pull away, and Lydia gathered up her courage. “I think you’re perfect,” she said. “I’ve always thought that.”

Donna’s smile was sad. “Only God is perfect, Lydia.”


“Why are you here?” the siren asked again.

Exhaustion tugged at Lydia’s limbs. The water felt warmer than the air, now. She thought about letting go, about letting it wrap her in its liquid embrace. Her teeth chattered as she answered the siren. “I loved someone, and she–she didn’t love me back.”

“That is what happens when you love,” the siren said. “But many people face unrequited love and do not seek me out. Why are you here?”


Lydia usually walked home from school. But one day, she didn’t. Tommy Miller dragged her into his Buick. His eyes were glazed and he smelled like rum, but he was still strong. “Donna says you’re a dyke,” he said. “You know that’s wrong, don’t you? I can help you. Like I helped her.”

“What do you mean?” Lydia said. Her head spun and her throat ached. Donna had said that about her?

“She told me about her impure thoughts, begged me to get them out of her head. I did, but then you put them back. But I can help.”

“I don’t want your help,” Lydia said. She punched him in the throat, scrambled out of the car, and ran. She ran to the beach, the one that nobody ever went to, because sometimes, when the wind was just right, you could hear the siren there.


“I don’t belong there,” Lydia said. “I don’t want to go back.”

“Don’t be foolish, girl,” the siren said. “You are angry, but it will pass.”

“Aren’t you lonely?” Lydia asked. “I know what that is like. Don’t send me away.”

The siren’s face was beautiful in the moonlight, her long hair as dark as the water. “What do you want?”

“I want you to teach me to sing,” Lydia said. “I’m here to learn your songs.”

The siren stared at her for a long time. “You don’t have the strength to swim back, do you?”


Lydia stood on the shore and listened to the siren sing. She heard her own loneliness echoing back to her, across the waves.

She thought about Donna, and what it must have cost her to write what she did. She wondered how much it would have cost Donna to do more.

Lydia wondered what she’d be willing to pay to reach out and end someone else’s loneliness.


“I wouldn’t go, even if I could,” Lydia said. “I’ve made my decision.”

The siren took Lydia’s hand and pulled her up onto the rock. “Stubborn child. Very well,” she said. “I suppose I have been lonely. I will teach you my songs.”

Fox-Woman

Akina pushed her long hair back so her father’s visitors would be able to glimpse her pointed ears and golden eyes. Her father wanted them to see that she was the daughter of a kitsune–no other man alive had a daughter who was half fox, and Lord Kisho knew how to display his unique acquisitions.

Akina posed beneath a sakura tree in her father’s garden. Delicate pink petals floated around her. They settled in her black hair and in the folds of her pale blue kimono.

She tried to enjoy the sunshine, cool spring breeze, and her momentary privacy. She wasn’t hidden inside behind screens like her sisters. She reminded herself that there were good things about being less-than-human.

A flash of movement caught Akina’s eye. A three-tailed silver fox jumped onto a rock in the reflecting pool. It winked at her and bowed.

Lord Kisho had Akina’s mother stuffed and kept her on display, but Akina had never seen a live fox before. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it. It was larger than her mother, and its pelt glistened like thick winter ice. It jumped from the rock and trotted up to Akina. “Hello, Akina.”

“You shouldn’t be here!” she whispered. She imagined him stuffed, on display next to her mother. “If my father catches you, he’ll kill you!”

The fox sat down by her feet. “We have a few minutes. I am here to rescue you.”

“Rescue me?”

“Yes. Don’t you long to escape?”

“It’s impossible. My father has guards and hunters and the walls are too high to climb.” Akina imagined a life free of her father, free of the constant fear that if she didn’t please him, he’d stuff her just as he had her mother.

“And yet here I am.”

“You shouldn’t be!” Akina heard footsteps approaching. “They’re coming! Run! Hide yourself!”

The fox stood and bowed to her again. “My name is Yukio. You will see me again.”


“I have found a man who wants to marry you,” Akina’s father announced as he strode into Akina’s small room. “Come to my garden once you are presentable.”

Akina nodded numbly and let a maid dress her like a doll. She wondered if Yukio would follow to her new husband’s home. She wondered what sort of man wanted a wife who was not fully human.

Her throat tightened. She swallowed and patted a tear off of her cheek, careful not to smudge her face, then went to her father’s garden.

The man standing beside Lord Kisho took Akina’s breath away. He was tall and slender, with hair the color of midnight and eyes like storm clouds over the mountain.

This was the man who wanted her?

The servant behind him glanced up at her, and she glimpsed gold in his eyes as he winked at her.

Yukio? Could he have arranged for this man to take her away from her father?

“Daughter, this is Lord Botan.”

Akina smiled at the stranger without meeting his eyes.

“She is everything that you promised, Lord Kisho.” Lord Botan’s soft tenor sent shivers up Akina’s spine. Was it fear or desire? How could she not know the difference?

Akina stood awkwardly, unsure how to proceed. She’d never been trained in proper etiquette–her father had wanted her mannerisms to be quaint. The silence stretched, and when Akina couldn’t stand another moment, she blurted, “I’m glad that you find me pleasing, my lord.”

Lord Botan’s left cheek dimpled as he smiled.

“You are dismissed, Akina, my fox-child.” Lord Kisho said, his voice soft and tender in a way that Akina had never heard before. She wondered what he had received in trade for her hand. “Go and pack your things. You will be leaving at dawn tomorrow.”

Someone had already packed Akina’s few possessions. She threw herself down on her futon and buried her face in her pillow, unsure whether she wanted to laugh or cry. She fell asleep before she could decide.

Lord Ruthgar’s Legacy

I was plucking mint leaves from the herb garden, hoping tea would soothe my head, when a slim, well-dressed young man strolled up our lane. “Are you the alchemist’s daughter?”

“She’s an herbalist,” I snapped. The scent of crushed mint leaves filled my nose. I took a deep breath and loosened my grip. My head throbbed.

“Yes. Well. Are you the daughter?”

“Yes.”

“I am here to inform you that your father has bequeathed unto you his entire estate.”

My mother had always refused to tell me my father’s identity. “My father’s dead?”

“Yes. And all that was his is now yours.”

“Is that a lot?”

The stranger scanned our modest cottage, with its herb garden and climbing roses. “Yes.”

“I see.”

“May I come inside?”

I scanned him up and down. Thin and pale, with short blond hair and dark green eyes. He didn’t look particularly dangerous. “I suppose.”

Inside, I poured hot water over crushed mint leaves. “Would you like some tea?” I asked.

He shook his head. “We should go. The moat will keep out any unwanted visitors, but I dislike leaving the estate empty.”

“The moat?”

“Yes. Do you have many possessions to pack?”

I sat down and sipped my tea. Thoughts spun through my aching head. Curiosity and exhaustion warred. “May I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Who was my father?”

“Lord Ruthgar.”

Lord Ruthgar had never made my list of possible fathers. Rich and insane didn’t seem like my mother’s type. “Really?”

“Yes. And you are Lady Ruthgar, now.”

I blinked at him. “My name is June.”

He shrugged. “You are the Lady of Ruthgar.”

I thought of the castle, huge and dark and isolated, and shuddered. I’d been wanting to move out on my own, but that wasn’t the destination I’d had in mind.

“Who are you, anyway?” I asked.

“I am Angus. Your manservant.”

My mother opened the door and came inside, stomping mud off of her boots. “I do wish that these herbs grew somewhere other than the swamp.” She stopped and stared at me and Angus, sitting at the table. “We weren’t expecting company,” she said. “Can I help you?”

“Hello, ma’am. I am Angus–”

“I know who you are,” my mother said.

“He says that Lord Ruthgar has bequeathed me his estate.” I took a deep breath. “And that he’s my father.”

My mother sighed. “I didn’t expect that.” She moved to the sink and rinsed dirt from the herbs she’d collected. “I thought the castle would go to some cousin or something.”

“The estate was his lordship’s to do with as he pleased. And he wanted it to go to his daughter.”

“Well, she’s not taking it.”

“What?” I stood up, and pain spiked through my head. “What do you mean, I’m not taking it?”

“You don’t really want to move to that castle, do you?”

I glared at her. “Well, I can’t decide about that till I see it, can I?”

“Very good,” Angus said. “Let’s go.”

“I’ve seen it,” my mother said. “It’s rubbish.”

I downed the last bit of my tea and followed Angus out the door.

“Promise me you’ll be back for dinner!” my mother called.

The Mutable Sky

Sky took a step forward. Her leg stretched out toward the desolate horizon, then came down behind her. She wobbled and half-fell before she regained her balance. She closed her eyes, but it didn’t help.

She’d never been comfortable in her body, but this was ridiculous.

Oil slick-purple clouds rumbled, then dumped sheets of rain that billowed like sails. They smelled like burnt sugar and felt like feathers on her upturned face.

Sky stood, let it drench her. She glanced down at her naked body, trying not to hope and failing.

It was still wrong. Unchanged. Still her familiar, male prison. Reality itself bent and broke around her, but her body remained stubbornly unaltered.

Her tears tasted like cilantro.


Bare trees loomed to her left, and a herd of horses lumbered by, competent if not graceful on their lengthening legs.

Sky watched them, hoping to catch the trick of it.

“You’re new,” a voice said.

A woman floated toward her. Her long blond hair curled and billowed around her naked body, and her pale, bare breasts reminded Sky of how wrong her own body was.

“Yes,” she said. To her delight, her own voice sounded different. Feminine, like she’d always heard it in her head.

The woman blinked. “How strange you are.”

Sky had always been strange. She had thought no one would notice, here. “I’m sorry.” Her voice wavered, new and old within single syllables.

The woman shrugged. “Strange is not bad.”

“Oh,” Sky said. “Good.”

“What is your name?”

“Sky.”

“I’m called Celina.” She floated around Sky, looking her up and down. “I’d like to have sex with you. Your body is very fine.”

Sky’s hated penis twitched. It stretched to the horizon, then returned to normal. “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not. I hate this body. I hoped I might change, here.”

Celina frowned. “I don’t understand. Your body is lovely and strong.”

Sky shrugged. She was tired of explaining herself.

“Well, things do change here.”

“Have you?”

Celina shrugged. “Why would I wish to?”

Jealousy twisted Sky’s stomach. If she looked like Celina, she wouldn’t want to change either.

“Is there a secret to walking?” Sky asked.

Celina shrugged. “I’m sure there is. But I never bothered to learn it.” She floated in a fast circle around Sky, smirking as Sky’s head turned all the way around to watch. “I float instead. I can teach you.”

“Why?”

“You are interesting, and I am bored. And I am selfish and optimistic enough to maintain designs on sex.”

Items of Thanks

He stood on the cliffs over the river and waited. The wind whispered through his thin wings, and the rocky ground was hot beneath his bare feet. The human tribe always took this path–always crossed his river here. It had always been safe before. But spring storms had weakened the trail that wound down the cliff. The weakened stones would crumble under human feet.

He had seen it. But he could stop it.

The line of figures approached over the horizon. He waited till he was sure they had seen him. It didn’t take long. Their eyes were keen, and they were constantly scanning for threats.

He spread his wings and took to the sky.

The tribe found another way down the cliff.

They left him offerings as thanks for his warning. A shiny rock, a handful of shells, and a cornhusk doll. A veritable fortune. He treasured them.


He stood on the shore of his river. The deep waters here looked calm, but hidden eddies waited to pull travelers down to the rocks below.

He watched the new tribe approach, then took flight when he was sure they’d seen him.

They continued toward the river.

Surely, they’d change course. They must understand his warning.

The first of them reached the river, took a step into the water. If they continued, they would all die.

He had to stop them. He swooped down waving his arms. They fled.

They found a different spot to cross the river.

They left no gifts.


He perched in a tree, above a couple that would die crossing a bridge. Unless he stopped them.

Warning the humans had grown more and more difficult. He had failed many times, and each memory was a weight on his heart. He wished he could make noise as they did. Maybe then they’d understand. But his throat was not like theirs.

He relied completely on fear now. Slowly, the humans had learned to look at him and not see. Their eyes cut straight through him. They crossed his river and died.

He wanted the two below to be different.

When they didn’t see him, he pounded on the roof of their vehicle. He threw dirt, then stones.

Finally, for an instant, they saw him. Their eyes widened in terror. He tried to warn them–tried gestures he’d seen humans use.

They didn’t understand. They fled. He tried with others. Again and again.

They all died on the bridge.


He withdrew from them. He watched their tragedies without trying to stop them. He told himself that it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t believe it.

He curled in a bush and listened to the water rage over rocks. It was dangerous today.

And there were humans coming.

They were young. Just past adolescence, holding hands and laughing. The boy carried a picnic basket. The girl a bag on her shoulders and a worn blanket draped over her arm. Both wore swimming suits.

He stood to better see their faces, to remember. The girl stopped and stared at him.

He waved her away from the river, even though he knew it was useless.

The boy tugged on her hand, but she shook her head. They spoke for a few minutes, then turned and walked back up the path. Away from the river. Away from their deaths.

He remembered how victory felt.

A few moments later, the girl ran back down the path, and his heart froze.

But she stopped. She pulled a tiny ragdoll out of her bag, kissed its forehead, and sat it against a tree.

He would treasure it.

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. Her short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Penumbra. Her fiction has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists, and she’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her Kickstarter-funded short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.

The Steam Lord’s Autumn Ruby

Tan knelt in a narrow stairwell and reloaded his steam-bow. He grimaced as its familiar hiss filled the tiny space. The sword strapped to his back was both quieter and more elegant, but it was also ineffective against the terra cotta golems that were chasing him.

He was glad that his master hadn’t lived to see the way the world had changed. Steam-powered men policed the streets, and cowards hid behind weapons that killed from a distance. Even the people had changed. No one had moved to help or hinder him on his mad dash from Lord Chen’s palace. They had huddled in the shadows of their peaked roofs and turned their faces away.

The door exploded inward, its thin wood no match for a terra cotta boot. Tan fired on instinct. The bow recoiled into his shoulder, and a short metal rod burst from the end with another hiss. It blew a hole the size of Tam’s fist in the golem’s chest. Steam billowed out of the wound.

The golem used its last moment of animation to bellow an alarm and crumpled to the ground.

Tan vaulted over its cooling body and fled. He had to find someplace to hide–sooner or later, they’d wear him down, or he’d run out of bolts.

He almost wished he’d never heard of The Steam Lord’s Autumn Ruby.

Citali’s Song

Eleuia examined the tracks that led into the cloud forest and gripped her father’s macuahuitl. Sharp obsidian blades glinted in the morning light, and the heavy wooden handle was comforting in her hand.

She could use all the comfort she could find. None of the warriors who’d seen the beast that took Citali would venture after it. Most were curled under piles of blankets, crying. A few stared blankly and giggled at nothing, and one had fallen into a stupor. Any rescue was up to Eleuia.

“You can’t go,” Eleuia’s mother said. She clutched at Eleuia’s shoulders. “You’ll die, then who’ll be left to take care of me?”

The weapon’s weight kept Eleuia’s hand from shaking, and she was grateful for that, too.

“Someone has to go.”

“If you come back, you’ll be mad or broken, and no man will ever want you.”

Eleuia shrugged her hands away and strode into the cloud forest. She’d been looking for ways to avoid marriage for years.

The creature’s tracks were unlike any Eleuia had seen before. Each footprint had four thick toes, but they protruded at angles that made her head ache when she looked at them directly. The creature had also left behind a strange, rotting-cacao smell that made Eleuia dizzy.

Eleuia thought of Citali’s smile, of her deep brown eyes, of the warmth of her fingers. Of their friendship, and the deeper feelings that they never spoke of. Citali was the only person who could make Eleuia smile. She gritted her teeth and followed the tracks into the jungle.

Trying to be Happy

The veranda steps groaned as the movers dragged our things into our newly-purchased, sprawling, dilapidated house. I stood in the shade by the car, drained by the heat. My head throbbed, my feet ached, and I felt fat, sweaty, and resentful. The baby kicked, and I glared down at my distended stomach. I wished I was back home, with air conditioning and a cold cocktail.

John rushed back and forth, giving instructions and grinning like an idiot.

I took a long drink from my water bottle. It was blood-warm.

Motion fluttered in an upstairs window. A teenage girl with dark, elaborately curled hair frowned down at me. She was wearing a filmy, white dress that seemed to flow into the thin curtains. Her eyes met mine. She mouthed something–I’ve never been much of a lip reader–then she vanished.

Chills cut down my sweaty back, and I dropped my water bottle.

John was at my side in an instant. “What’s wrong, Donna?” he asked.

A moment ago, I would have given him a list. “N–Nothing,” I stammered. “Just my imagination playing tricks on me.”

He kissed my forehead and laid a hand over my belly. “Maybe you should sit down. I had them put your rocking chair on the porch. I’ll get you some more water.”

He filled my bottle from the tap. It was only a little cooler, and it tasted like iron.

Grandma’s Shoes

Becca climbed out her bedroom window, grabbed a shovel, and ran to the graveyard. Becca’s mother had ordered her grandma buried in Becca’s favorite pair of shoes, and homecoming was approaching fast.

Becca figured she’d take the jewelry, too, while she was there. Her grandmother would have wanted her to have it. She didn’t let herself hope for anything more.

The full moon illuminated the graveyard well enough for her to dig without any other light. The soil was loose, but she still worked up a sweat in the heavy late-summer air. She’d never done much digging before. Her arms burned and her back ached. She wished she’d thought to borrow a backhoe. She wished she knew how to use a backhoe. She wished that her mother wasn’t so horrible, and that her grandmother was still alive.

After what felt like an eternity, her shovel thunked into the hardwood casket. She removed enough dirt to clear the top half of the lid, then she jerked it open. A thin stream of dirt cascaded down the side of her hole, onto her grandmother’s waxy face.

The stink hit Becca like a bag of hammers, and her stomach lurched. She managed to turn enough to throw up on her own shoes instead of on her dead grandmother’s carefully arranged gray curls.

She scowled down at her already-filthy canvas sneakers. They were going to be a total loss. But the shoes might have been a lost cause anyway, and it would have been wrong to throw up on her grandmother. Aside from the puffiness, she looked almost normal. And Becca had loved her grandmother.

That, more than homecoming, was why she wanted the shoes back.

She covered her mouth with her shirt and took a few slow breaths. She could do this. She reached in for the necklace, and her fingers brushed her grandmother’s neck. The flesh was the same cool temperature as the dirt and too soft–like a foam mattress.

Her grandmother’s eyes snapped open, she grabbed Becca’s wrist. Her swollen fingers felt like refrigerated sausages. Becca yelped and tried to step back, but her feet slipped, and she fell to her knees. “What are you doing, Rebecca?” Her grandmother’s voice was wet and distorted, but recognizable.

Becca’s terror eased. Her grandmother wasn’t mindless–she remembered who she was. The hope that Becca hadn’t let herself feel spread in her chest, and she grinned. Even dead, her grandmother wouldn’t hurt her.

“I’m here for the shoes,” Becca said. “It’s nice to hear your voice again, too.”

Her grandmother blinked at her. “Which shoes?”

“The red pumps.”

“I gave those to you,” her grandmother said. “Why would I be buried in them?”

Becca shrugged. “Mom decided. I don’t think she wanted me to have them. She always hates–hated it when you gave me things.”

Her grandmother sniffed. “I raised her better than that.” She released Becca’s wrist and started wriggling around. She placed one red pump, then a second, on top of the casket. “Since you’re here, you should take the jewelry, too.”

She tried to pull off her rings, but they were trapped on her swollen fingers. She couldn’t work the necklace clasp, either. “This whole dead thing is quite frustrating,” she said.

Becca reached in and unfastened the necklace. The smell hardly bothered her at all now. “I can imagine.” Becca put the necklace on and picked up the shoes. “Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.

Her grandmother shrugged. “I can’t think of anything. I don’t really need much. I’m dead, after all.”

Becca blinked back her tears. She’d already cried for her grandmother. “Okay. I love you.”

“I love you, too, dear. It would be nice if you’d come and visit.”

“I will.”

“And don’t worry too much about your mother. Things will get better. Eventually.”

“I–I’ll try not to let it get to me.”

Becca reached for the lid. “Grandma?”

“Yes, dear?”

“What’s it like?” Becca asked.

“What’s what like?”

“Being dead.”

“It’s not bad. But it’s not great either. It’s certainly not something you should rush into.”

“Right. Thanks Grandma. I’ll remember.”

“You do that.”

Becca closed the lid. It took less time to fill the hole back in. She left her vomit-covered shoes next to the headstone and walked home in the red pumps.

Her mother noticed when she wore the shoes to homecoming, but neither of them mentioned it.

Jamie Lackey has attended James Gunn’s Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction in 2010. Her work has appeared in The Living Dead 2 and Stories from the Heart: Heartwarming Tales of Appalachia. Another of her stories is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction. Jamie Lacky is also a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine.

Unexpected Pigment

Ted knelt beside The Painter’s statue and tried to pray himself out of existence. He’d managed a few minor miracles during his training–he’d captured the scent of a still-life lily and animated a painted dove–surely The Painter wouldn’t make him go through with this ridiculous marriage? He visualized himself fading like a watercolor left out in the rain, his pigments washing away drop by drop.

It didn’t work.

Marcie, the prime cause of his unhappiness, stomped up behind him. “I figured I would find you here. You need to stop moping.”

Ted sighed. “I am not moping.”

“No?” He could hear her arched eyebrow. “What would you call it?”

“I’m praying,” he snapped. Maybe if he didn’t look at her, she’d go away. All he wanted was for her to go away.

Marcie sighed. “I don’t like this any better than you do. I’m not exactly head-over-heels for you. But our fathers have decided that we’re going to be married, and that’s that.” She laid her hand on his shoulder, and he flinched away from her touch.

“I’m a priest. I have devoted myself to the church,” he whispered. “The path before me is toward the divine, not the secular.”

“Sometimes the canvas of our lives is covered with unexpected pigment.”

Ted looked up at her. He hadn’t been expecting her to quote scripture.

“I was trained at the temple,” she said. “I never got beyond mixing paints, but I was happy there. Then my brother died, and I was called home.”

“Don’t you miss it?” Ted asked. “The magic? Feeling The Painter’s hand upon you? Knowing that your life has a purpose?”

Marcie shrugged. “I guess I just found a new purpose.”


Marcie was as pretty as a picture in her simple wedding dress. She walked up the aisle like an angel, and he couldn’t see a trace of bitterness in the smile she gave him.

How could she be so content? She hadn’t chosen this path, either. Ted’s eyes ached from angry weeping, and he’d painted nothing but dark, twisted self portraits for weeks.

The priest–lucky bastard–sang the marriage vows and painted gold rings on each of their palms.

Ted hesitated. Every eye in the chapel fell on him. Marcie squeezed his hand, and her eyes pleaded with him. They were the color of the sky after a rainstorm. A pale, fresh blue. How had he not noticed that before?

Maybe she didn’t resent this marriage because she actually wanted him. The thought sent unfamiliar butterflies dancing in his stomach. It felt almost like magic. He bowed his head, plucked the heavy ring from his skin, and repeated the vows.

His old dreams fell away, but as he slid the ring onto Marcie’s finger, new dreams replaced them.


Marcie curled beside him in their bed. Figures danced on the insides of Ted’s eyelids. No matter how he tried, the estate’s books never seemed to balance. He’d always hated math. He missed painting.

“You know,” she said, “I can handle the books.”

Ted blinked at her.

She snuggled into his side. “You’ve done nothing but work since our wedding. It can’t be making you happy.”

“No,” Ted admitted. “It’s making me miserable.”

“Let me help. We’re partners now, remember?”

Ted had never had a partner before. He kissed her forehead. “I’ll try to keep it in mind.”


Ted squeezed Marcie’s hand while the midwife urged her to push. Something was wrong–Marcie’s strong fingers were limp in his, and her colors were faded and distorted, like a picture that had been left out in the sun too long.

“Don’t leave me,” Ted whispered. “We’re partners. I need you.”

“You’ll be fine. Find a new path.” Her eyes slipped closed. “Take care of our baby,” she whispered. Her voice sounded far away. She slumped back into her pillows, and her hand slid from his.

Ted’s tears fell on her faded cheeks.

Long moments passed, and he pulled himself together. Then panic clutched his chest. “Why isn’t the baby crying?”


Ted returned to the temple. He poured all of his energy into his training. He performed scores of miracles. People traveled for hundreds of miles for his blessing. He had everything he’d dreamed of as a young man.

He painted Marcie and their stillborn son a thousand times. But no miracles touched his brush, no life ever moved the painted faces.

Still, he held onto hope–onto faith. The Painter had placed him on this path–surely this wasn’t his destination. He picked up his brush and started again.

Jamie Lackey has attended James Gunn’s Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction in 2010. Her work has appeared in The Living Dead 2 and Stories from the Heart: Heartwarming Tales of Appalachia. Another of her stories is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction. Jamie Lacky is also a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine.