Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

Our Mutual Friend

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Mommy sang to me. She meant to sing only to me, but she sang to you too since you were there as well. She could sing more notes than there were stairs leading up to the fourth floor where our apartment was back when we lived in the city. This was before she bought our first house, “a house of our own, Sweetie,” she said. It was small, like a box, with only the rooms we needed. I sometimes wanted a bigger house like my friends. They had more toys and space to play, more indoor space away from the mud and slush in our front yard, my play space. Still, I liked our house. I could hear the birds sing from my window every morning and identify them by their calls, like you had taught me. Then we moved again. I did not know why then, Tobias.

Mommy and I moved a lot. There was a time when I was four when Mommy and I moved late in the night. She had me hide in a suitcase. That was the night I learned grown-ups could be scared. She told me to go in, and that she would zip me up. “Don’t make a sound,” she said. “If you do, we’ll get in big trouble.” Shortly after I was all zipped up, I heard loud angry voices climb up the stairs of our apartment. I think they broke down our door. I squeezed myself as small as I could. The suitcase was so tight, and I felt the fabric all around me. I could not see anything it was so dark. The air was stuffy, and tasted like sweat and cloth. I shuddered and tried not to squirm. I wanted to scream, but I remembered Mommy’s words, so I put my hand over my mouth and cried really quietly.

I listened and heard a man’s voice call Mommy “Paula”. I had recently learned that Mommy had another name that grownups called her: Paula. He kept asking where Genevieve was. Genevieve, Genevieve, Genevieve. Mommy said that she put her up for adoption, something like that. Eventually, the men left, and Mommy said I could come out of the suitcase. I gasped to breathe the air. She slumped into a chair breathing heavily. She looked like I felt when I would come crawling into her bed after a scary dream. I thought she was afraid, so I cried, and Mommy held me. We left hurriedly, scared that we would be seen since it was a full moon, but only a barn owl saw us as it flew across the sky. You told me what type of bird that was later.

Maybe that night is why I met you, Tobias. We were on a train, while Mommy and I were in the process of moving. It was the day after she had me hide in the suitcase. I think she was exhausted. I had never seen her nap before. I sat on her lap while her head fell back into the seat. Her eyes closed, and her mouth fell open. I stared at her. Her head lurched with bumps, and she never reacted. I poked her arm, surprised that she did not scold me, because it is rude to poke. Instead she continued sleeping, and I remembered being in the suitcase. I started crying again, but then I met you. You sat across from us at that moment in our compartment, calmly watching us. You were a grownup like Mommy with forest colored eyes and dark hair. I startled. You had not been there before, and I knew Mommy had locked the compartment.

“Mommy, Mommy,” I said, and like any mommy, she woke up at the sound of her child’s voice.

“What?” she groggily answered with her eyes closed.

“Look,” I said pointing at you.

“What?”

“Look.”

“That’s the seat.” And then you were no longer there.

“Oh.” I said. “I poked you when you were sleeping.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have.”

Afraid of where the conversation could go, I changed the subject. “Mommy, who’s Genevieve.”

“Oh you heard that. I had hoped you had fallen asleep in the suitcase.”

“But who’s Genevieve?”

“Sweetie, Genevieve isn’t real. She’s someone that man wants to be real.”

“What’s apopsion?”

“Adoption? Adoption is when you don’t have parents, so other parents become your parents.”
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Born of Lies

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Again Elton stretched his fingers out over the far edge of his desk, and again they curled. Shy, in their own way.

Her voice hammered down.

“You impertinent little devil! What did I say?”

Elton blubbered, setting the boys in the class to snickering. He pressed his palms to the smooth oak top and pointed ten times at the chalkboard.

Miss Humphreys’ willow switch cracked down too fast to see. Elton leapt yelping to his feet and flapped his fingers in the air.

“Nose to the corner,” Miss Humphreys said. “For the rest of this Lord’s day.” She pointed with the switch, as if Elton and every other student didn’t already know which corner she meant.

Elton looked down at Royce with his slickened hair parted in a gentlemanly fashion. Royce shuffled in his desk and smiled softly.

“Please,” Elton stammered. “No. I—”

“Ah! So soon? Such moxie!”

Elton knelt by his desk and spread his fingers again but Mrs. Humphreys had seen enough. She grabbed him with a twist to the ear, adding in a pinch of her nails for good measure and, ignoring Elton’s squeals, deposited him at the front corner of the room next to the shelf of readers tattered and worn, behind the chipped enamel globe, far away from the heat of the pot-bellied stove.

“Kneel,” Miss Humphreys said, “if it suits you so. Pray for absolution. Think only of your shame.”

Elton mumbled from the corner but Miss Humphreys turned away.

“Now, where were we?” she asked.

A score of students focused upon their slates.

For the remainder of the morning, whenever Miss Humphreys was sure to be distracted, hesitant glances were cast at Elton’s back. His forehead stayed pressed to the corner. His arms hung slack at his sides.

During arithmetic facts and figures, he never turned around.

When Fabius Maximus targeted supply lines like a rabid Mescalero, Elton kept his shoulders stone-still.

Even when cinnamon-pigtailed Genevieve, whom it was rumored Elton favored, went up front to gather and pass out the readers, he didn’t offer the slightest twitch.

At recess the wind blew chill and steady through the dry grass and bottlebrush. The older children stole to the eastern side of the school.

“Can you see ‘em?” Genevieve asked.

“Shh.” Oliver, the tallest eighth grader, stood on his toes and peeked through the window. “He’s there.”

“Has he—”

Oliver ducked down quickly. The other dozen students followed suit. “She’s heatin’ a coffee atop the stove.”

The group walked back to the school’s front porch. They pressed close to the peeling white woodwork, out of the wind’s reach.

Genevieve glared at Royce. “What’d you tell him?”

“Nothin’,” Royce said.

“You said somethin’ that got him scared.”

“Ain’t so.”

“Royce Kroupa, you ain’t ever goin’ to heaven!”

Royce chuckled. “You want to know too?”

“Tell us,” Oliver said. The crowd of kids were in like agreement.

“All right then.” Royce sniffed and squinted at October’s bare horizon. “I had a tutor for a spell.”

“Yeah,” Genevieve said. “Like you ain’t brought that up none.”

“Well, it’s true and he told me stuff, on account of he knows how teachers think. ‘Cause he sorta is one, follow?”

The group agreed.

“There’s reasons why they choose the corner, and not say, the stoop or the recitin’ bench.”

Royce looked slowly from eye to eye. No one interrupted.

“There’s somethin’ there,” he said.

“What are you on about?” Genevieve asked with blatant doubt.

“In olden times. Like the General Whatsit—”

“Maximus?” Oliver offered.

Royce snapped his fingers. “Maximus. Back then they done it too. That’s where the teachers learned it. They’d perch a kid in the corner with his nose up close where he can smell the woodwork, right?”

The group muttered. They’d all had a stint in the corner at one time or another.

“Well,” Royce said. “It’s a test, see? There’s something in the corner. In every corner.” His excitement continued to build. “And when it sees a young’un that’s unwanted, just a burden on the world, why sometimes, if it’s particu-airily hungry, it reaches out and snatches ‘em up!”

“From the corner,” Genevieve said slowly with her lids half-closed.

“You bet. It’s a paper man. It sidles out edgewise. Anything in the corner is its. You stand there long enough and you’re in a serious way.”

“Paper?” Oliver asked. “That ain’t worth frettin’.”

“Naw, but it’s witchy and edge-sharp. Prunes the fingers of pilferin’ nibblers and takes the tongues of fibbers. Then, before you know what’s yours, it rumples you up like a pleat. Swallows you down then and there or fobs you in its pocket for later snackin’.”

“I oughta tell your pa,” Genevieve said. “Let him know how you spin lies and stories.”

Royce chuckled dryly.

Though Oliver also seemed unimpressed, the other students were quiet. The wind kicked up in a bluster, whipping hair and loose clothing about, yet Royce’s perfect part stayed in place.

“I’ll prove it’s so,” he said. “Watch.”

Miss Humphreys rang the class bell to end morning recess and the children hurried back inside. Elton still hadn’t moved from his place up front. Miss Humphreys gave him all the attention of a foot stool. While the next lesson was being prepared Royce raised his hand.

“Yes, Mr. Kroupa?” Miss Humphreys asked.

“I was a-wonderin’—”

Wondering,” she corrected.

“Yes’m. In olden times, those codger Romans?”

Miss Humphreys blinked rapidly, perhaps a bit taken aback that anyone in the class wanted to know more, this student in particular.

“They had teachers and such back then?” Royce asked.

“Certainly.”

“They set up the how and why of schoolin’.”

“Well—” Miss Humphreys rubbed the bridge of her long nose. She pushed her glasses back high. “To some extent, yes. The Greeks and the Romans taught us the value of a learned society.”

“But,” Royce said, his tone dramatically falling, “they had dark ways.”

“And who told you that?”

“Genny, she did.”

Genevieve pressed her lips into a dour frown.

“Well,” Miss Humphreys said, “she would be correct.”

“She says they used to fodder their kids to the coyotes.”

“Wolves. That may be—”

“Like offal. If’n a kid wasn’t fit and kelter, they had ways. Weird rites and sacrificin’. Ain’t—isn’t that so?”

Miss Humphreys gave Genevieve a knowing look. “Yes, they were most unchristian, and we will speak no more of that.”

“Sinister,” Royce said.

“I said, no more.”

Royce let the issue drop but turned with nods and winks. The younger students fidgeted in their front row seats. Elton still hadn’t moved.
(more…)

Lady Bird

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

She leaned forward, bringing herself closer to the edge of the cliff. She often wondered whether everyone could see the way she saw. Especially when she was on the rope with her head between her legs, or hanging from the trapeze, her heels underarm. She thought then, can they see these lights? These shapes on top of the spectators’ heads, their most secret secrets untangled against my tangled body, and these darknesses in their palms, and the birds in their mouths, can everyone see them?

She peeked over the edge. A steep fall, then jagged rocks. Then water.

These birds, crammed between their teeth, are they swallows?

The man pulled her back. “Be careful,” he said. “You’ll fall.”

She pursed her lips. “You shouldn’t say things like that to an acrobat. It’s bad luck.”

“Does Lady Bird care about such things? Born on the rope. Isn’t that what the ring master says every night?”

“You think you know so much about me, don’t you?” Her eyes fixed on the ocean, she caressed the wooden box that lay between them. She tapped the crudely carved spade on the lid. “But I know nothing about you.”

“You know everything. Why do you talk like that?”

“What’s in the box, then?”

A gush of wind ruffled his hair. The girl shuddered in her transparent costume.

“You could have at least changed before dragging us up here,” he said.

“What’s in the box?”

“Why is this so important?”

She looked around. A wasteland. Can everyone see this? she wondered. The beach beneath them almost beaten by the tide. The pleasure wheel fading in the distance, its lights dim and pale. And the circus tent, off-white specked with desolation.

“Why are you so scared?” He reached out, his fingers brushing her cheek. “You know my life before the circus means nothing.”

The girl pulled her leg over her shoulder, pushing his hand away. She peered at him behind her thigh. No secrets over your head, no lights. Who are you? Why are you hiding?

“You say that, and yet you hold onto that box,” she said.

“Let it go. It’s just a box.”

“Throw it in the sea then, why don’t you?”

“Can’t you leave me this one thing? Everything else is yours,” he said. It wasn’t a complaint. Merely a statement.

“Everything?” she asked. “Even your lions?”

“Yes, even them. Say the word and I’ll bring you their heads.”

She put her leg down and glared at him.

“I would never do something like that.” Her eyes softened. “Bring me their heads… Silly.”

He chuckled. “I always had a flare for the dramatic.”

“True.” She rested her forearms and chin at the edge of the cliff and thrust her pelvis towards her head. She then bent her knees and hung her feet over her face. She looked at him behind her soles. Nothing. How are you hiding? You are the only one who can. “What’s in the box?”

“Oh, come on. Milk. It’s just milk.”

“Milk?”

“Yes, snake’s milk.”

She frowned. “Very funny.”

“All right,” he said. “A watch.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

She sat up and put her ear to the lid. “I can’t hear anything,” she said. “Be quiet.”

“I’m not making any noise. It’s the wind. The waves.”

“Hush them, then. What kind of a useless tamer are you?”

“Do you enjoy hurting me?”

“There is no watch in there. Tell the truth.”

“It’s dirt from my birthplace.”

“You were born on a ship.”

“You forget nothing.”

She remembered the first time he entered the circus tent, his lions on a leash, the box tucked under his arm. She was hanging upside down above the ring, yet she saw no shapes. No darknesses, no birds. Most people hide their secrets in their hearts, at the back of their heads, or under their tongues. Where are his? she had wondered. “Tell me.”

His face grew serious. He studied her small feet, dangling over the edge. “Fine,” he said, “I will. But you won’t ask for anything ever again.”

“Promise.”

“It’s two pieces of paper. One holds my name.”

She laughed. “Your name? Aren’t you the Desert Lion?”

“Aren’t you Lady Bird?”

“All right. And the other?”

“Nothing.”

“You said you’d tell me.”

“I did.”

She stared at him counting three breaths, an old balancing habit; one, earth, two, sky, three, my body in between. “Show me,” she said with the fourth.

“You promised not to ask for anything else.”

“I lied. Will you open it?”

“Why are you doing this? You know I can’t refuse you anything.”

“That is why I do it.”

“I’ll have nothing left.”

She shrugged.

“What if I don’t?”

“I’ll fall.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“Am I?” She put her weight on her palms and lifted her waist from the ridge.

“All right. All right. Sit straight.”

She obeyed. She sat cross-legged by the box and waited.

He fished for the small key hanging from the chain around his neck. He opened the box, pulled out two yellowed sheets and handed them over.

“Is that your name?” she asked.

He nodded.

“It doesn’t suit you.” She glanced at the second page, then looked at him.

He gazed at the horizon, silent.

“Was that all?” she asked.

He nodded again.

“Why keep it for so long, then?”

“I just wanted to have something that was mine,” he said. He retrieved the pages and put them back in the box. He locked it and tossed the key in the water. “Are you happy now?” he asked.

“Very.” She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. Is that a birdie between your teeth?

They sat side by side, shoulders touching. He stared at the sharp rocks underneath.

She suddenly turned to him as if she’d just remembered something.

“I’m working on a new number. Want to see?”

“Sure.”

“It’s not perfect yet,” she said, and threw herself over the edge.

A swallow soared by, almost brushing his cheek.

Natalia Theodoridou is a UK-based media & theatre scholar. Originally from Greece, she has lived and studied in the USA, UK, and Indonesia for several years. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review Online, Clarkesworld, Crossed Genres, and The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, among others. She is a 2014 Rhysling Award nominee. Her personal website is www.natalia-theodoridou.com.

Psychopomps

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Mark’s next door neighbour and business partner Pat kept telling him that power flowed through his veins. He took a breath and closed his eyes, trying to will the power back out again and into the ash wand in his outstretched hand. He pointed it at Pat’s door. A narrow beam of blue light squeezed out of the end and hit the lock. Nothing happened. Sighing, he folded the wand and put it in his pocket. He took out his key and let himself into her house.

He heard her moving around in the kitchen, back from sorting out the invasion of reptilian arsonists in a garden in Llandudno the day before, while he had expelled a banshee from a pub in Macclesfield. This morning’s job was to sort out an elderly-care home with a spirit infestation. Mark opened the kitchen door.

Pat coughed, wafting her hand at a cloud of green fumes. “Damn, they’re still moving,” she said.

Mark peered through the smoke. Two dragons, one red, one green, as iridescent as hummingbirds, each about an inch long, stood in the palm of her hand hissing at each other.

“They might be tiny but they’d incinerated every plant in that,” Pat said. One dragon snorted, and shot a tiny flare the size of a match flame towards the other. “Help me separate them.” She pushed her hand towards Mark.

He picked up the green one with his forefinger and thumb. “I’ll put them in the safe.”

“No room, there’s a backlog of entities stuck in there, waiting for me to get the chance to dispose of them.”

“Get the dragons to set each other alight and burn each other up.”

“That won’t work,” she said. “An entity can’t destroy another entity. If they could we’d be out of a job. I was trying to find a way round the space problem using this new incantation I picked up online. Instead of you having to exorcise them and put them in containment, it renders them immobile and you can leave them anywhere.”

“Wouldn’t it get a little cluttered after a while?”

“No, apparently they fade away gradually over a few hours. At least, that’s what it said on the website.”

“Seems like more trouble than it’s worth.”

Pat moved her hand away as her dragon flamed at the one Mark held. She shook her head. “I think it should make things easier. Exorcising a recalcitrant entity the usual way can be exhausting. It causes something like a bad hangover, without any of the pleasure of the night before.”

“I’ve felt that. Bit like 24 hour flu?”

Pat nodded. “Consider it an occupational hazard. But this new method doesn’t seem to work, the dragons are still moving about. Good job I tested it on something small.”

Mark looked at Pat’s notebook open on the table, the dragon still held between two fingers. “You should have printed the thing out instead of copying it. This looks like an inky spider’s crawled over the page.” He held the green dragon at arm’s length and read the incantation. This time, red smoke billowed. As it cleared, he saw the red dragon motionless on Pat’s palm. She picked it up by a wing.

“I can’t read my own writing,” she said. “Well done.” She put the dragon on a shelf next to a pile of recipe books. “You stay there, Boyo. We’ve got work to do.” Mark put the green one next to it. They stood, as immobile as toys. Pat picked up her car keys. They got into the car, she slipped her stiletto heels off and they drove away.
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Donor Rules

Monday, March 10th, 2014

The ripeness of female expectation swelled through the subterranean Great Hall. Jostling waves fanned out through the assembled women, two hundred or more, and deepened as Mayor Noa, a tall woman with waist-length steel-coloured hair, stepped onto the creaking wooden stage at the front. Extra-ordinary meetings like this one meant only one of two things, and everyone had seen the wooden ballot box already present on stage.

“Settle, please,” said the mayor.

The cavernous, earth-muffled space emptied of sound as if a giant wave had swamped the hall and back-swelled, dragging the noise away with its monstrous suction. The two groups of women, those who were eligible for the ballot and those who were not, were conspicuous by their stance: the first could have been magnetised by the forward pull on their bodies; the second, far larger group, stood keen, erect and interested but apart. Shades of grey and white formed the colour palate of the second.

But for any observer who had witnessed the ballot before – and there had already been several since Harvest – there was an extra frisson to the air above the crowded women: a rumour had tumbled from mouth to mouth and there was a shudder of something unusual this time.

“If I can have your attention.” Every eye was already trained on her striking figure. “We are pleased to announce the arrival of the fifth donor we have welcomed this year. All of you who are eligible have now been date-checked and those within the window have been entered into the ballot. You have until sunset tomorrow night to have your names removed should you wish to withdraw for whatever reason, without prejudice. We will reconvene tomorrow evening at sunset for the draw. Thank you.”

The tall woman left the stage to a pattering of applause and the swelling buzz of the rumour circulating the hall, refusing to be squashed.
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