Archive for the ‘TCL #6 – Winter 2013’ Category

No More Horizons – Part 1

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

The soldiers called it Lake Exile. It sparkled below me like a field of glittering emeralds in the sunlight. The green mountain that loomed over us was Warden Peak, and although this planet was known on star charts as Manasseh, the soldiers called it New Alcatraz.

They could call it what they wanted. I called it paradise. Ensign West found me on the veranda gazing down at the verdant lake under the churning pea-green sky. The raptors in the trees around our so-called prison camp may have been startling to look at, but their song was melodious and rhythmically hypnotic. I was caught up in the spell, content to absorb the natural symphony of sight and sound forever.

“Mr. Yancey,” West said.

I tore my eyes away from the lake and turned.

“The admiral would like to speak with you.”

Kate had told me to expect this—a debriefing. I stood and followed Ensign West into the heart of our camp.

As prison camps go, I’d give it five stars. Cobblestone paths, a wide common area surrounded by copper-shelled cabins. Soldiers sat at picnic tables and talked. Some kicked a soccer ball around. Others played Frisbee. I passed a few men and women tossing pennies against a cabin wall.

In one corner of the common area, shunned by everyone, sat one of the Buttheads. Its head hung low, its red-rimmed eyes stared at the ground, its forehead a fleshy, bulbous protrusion that hung over its eyes like a visor. The forehead was what earned our alien hosts their dubious nicknames. More shocking than the forehead, however, was the Butthead’s mouth—a wound-like gash that stretched to the sides of its head at its widest point. Its willowy arms hung listlessly at its sides.

I hesitated as West led me past the bench on which the Butthead sat. I was still unaccustomed to seeing the aliens up close.

The alien stood, startling me backwards a pace. Its eyes closed, it threw its large head back, and in a beautiful vibrato tenor, it began to sing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”

My mouth hung open. West had to pull on my sleeve to get me moving.

“Do they always sing like that?” I asked.

“Only that one. We call him Opera Man.”

“So it’s a male…uh…Butthead?”

West shook his head. “Who cares?”
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Grandma’s Shoes

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

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.

The Boy, the Bug, and the Marked Man

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

The station hummed with life, people arriving and departing, coming together and splitting apart like nervous little animals come to size each other up before going about their business. A thousand conversations hung above the people like a cloud. Harried mothers struggled to keep their broods and their bags within sight while shooting wary glances at the huge clock that hung suspended from the forty-foot ceiling. Travelers, the weary ones just off a dirigible and the fresh faced ones looking to meet their conveyances, milled about in the confusion of the crowd, looking like toys that children had set in motion independently of each other, oblivious to the actions of their playmates.

I sat on a hard wooden bench and watched it all. The energy of the place made me think of a spring wound too tight. The tension in the station–the tension of departure and return–made me uneasy, as though one little problem with the dirigibles or the timetables, with luggage or tickets would throw everything out of balance; even something as simple as the discovery of a pickpocket would wind the spring one tick tighter and the whole place would pop into pandemonium. I felt it could happen. I always felt it could happen on days like this, and I did not want to be there.

All the more reason to get it over with, I thought. Just one more quarter and I would have enough to earn my night’s rest.

I’d been sizing up marks since the big clock had read 2:16. No one had struck me right. Now the clock read 4:02, and its ticking high above the rows of benches was just one more thing to worry about. If I didn’t find someone by 5:00, I would have a problem. There aren’t many places lonelier than a dirigible station on a Sunday evening once the majority of flights have left and most of the travelers have gone. The five o’clock chimes would signal the shift, the winding down of the springs, the beginning of the change from hectic to languid. I wouldn’t be entirely alone, not for a few more hours, but the crowds would thin to the point that it would be hard for me to move about unnoticed.

For now, I could, though. In all of this bustle, no one paid attention to a little boy who walked with purpose through the station. It was plain enough to see I was on my way to or from my parents, that I needed no help, made no demands. I could slip in and out of large and small parties, picking up bits of blustery greetings and tearful goodbyes as I looked for the right person. I was picky, had been taught to be, and it had always worked. I’d never failed, never been hauled up to one of the station police with their big coats and little eyes and ugly nightsticks.

Two benches away, someone’s aunt admonished her niece to be careful, not to talk to strange men on the flight, to go straight to her hotel when she reached San Francisco, to wire for money if she needed anything, and to come home right away if she felt the least bit unsafe. Her shrill voice cut through the hum of the station, and once I started listening to that voice, it would not be drowned out. I glanced back to see the pair. The aunt was gray and pinched. The niece was young and blonde but not a girl any more, and she smiled politely, surely having heard it all before, and probably having dealt already with more real dangers in life than the aunt would even let herself imagine. Neither one would make a decent mark–the aunt too cautious, the niece too eager.

I had only just dismissed them as possibilities when a more promising figure entered my line of sight. A man had sat down on the bench not far from me. He had a single, small valise at his feet, and he sat stiffly for a moment, pulling out a pocket watch and checking it against the clock above him. With a satisfied grin below his Clark Gable mustache, he let himself rest against the bench. He looked moneyed but not overly so–the kind of man who would want to hold on to what he had and who would look for opportunities to get more. His clothes were nice but not new. He had no wedding ring. All things I’d been trained to look for.

I stood, casually patted my jacket pocket to feel the bug even though I knew it was there, and walked toward the man. I didn’t look at him, didn’t even glance his way. Nothing to make him notice me. But as I passed him, I started counting my steps until I reached the end of the bench. Then I turned away from the waiting area and toward the platform.

Large marble pillars separated the waiting area from the loading platform, and I ducked behind one, glancing first at the mark I had chosen to make sure he was making no preparations to move. The clock read 4:06 now. The San Francisco flight would depart at 4:40 and would start boarding any moment. The trick was to get him just moments before he needed to start gathering his things for the trip. That way, if he was suspicious, his decision making process would be addled by the demands of the timetable, the cost of his ticket, and the importance of his destination. People make poor decisions when they have too many things to consider, like a machine running with too many parts rather than not enough.
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The Desert Cold Oasis and Spa

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

The woman in the diner’s backroom sat in a chair–but no, she wasn’t just sitting. She had become the chair, or the chair was eating her, consuming her like a wicker tumor. Half her teeth were gone and white willow strands had forced through the empty spots in her gums. Wicker strips curved from her hands instead of fingernails. Beneath her faded peony-pattered skirt, curls of wicker cleaved to her legs instead of varicose veins.

“Girl.” The Wicker Woman reached out a veined hand, tried to stroke Maddy’s face, and her wicker fingernails clattered against Maddy’s cheek.

“How long have you been here? What are you–do you need to go to a hospital?” said Maddy.

“Not the hospital. The camp.”

“What camp?”

The woman nodded at a dusty book at her feet, a withered piece of newsprint sticking out the top. The book was called Strange but True: Mystical Phenomena of the American Southwest. Maddy pulled the newsprint out of the water-warped pages.

A picture of a beaming man, his hair curled in a 1940s pompadour, his face superimposed over a palm tree. The Desert Cold Oasis and Spa, Offering Electroshock, Hypnosis and the Occasional Healing Boat Ride. Exit 6 off I-15.

“You get healed there,” said the woman, lisping around the wicker protruding from her mouth. “I want to go.”

Maddy stared at the soft newsprint in her hand and imagined this spa, sand blowing through its deserted buildings, or a chain restaurant erected where it had once stood. But then she saw the Wicker Woman looking at her with brows knitted over cloudy eyes.

“I can take you,” said Maddy. “I’ll take you with me.”

Maddy dragged the chair through the gloaming of the diner, past the turquoise Formica counter and the tintype of a boy holding a glass Coke bottle. She banged out the broken screen door and pulled the chair over the sparse grass between the diner and the pitted road.

Maddy threw open her U-Haul truck, which overflowed with furniture, books, lamps and an old mannequin Maddy had bought at Goodwill freshman year.

“There’s no room,” said the Wicker Woman. “Are you going to leave me here?”

“No, I–”

“Leave some of these things, girlie. You don’t need them. What’re you going to do with that thing?” She gestured at the mannequin.

Maddy hesitated, but she shook her head, hauled out her aqua desk chair and plunked it by the side of the road. Dust eddys jumped around the chair wheels.

One less thing to move in when I get to Los Angeles, thought Maddy. And truly, she liked the look of her chair on the grass, about to pass from Maddy’s concern, about to be far behind her on the road.
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China Island

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

I’d already saved Laurence Saunders a number of times over the years, small insignificant salvations. On December nineteenth, I managed to save him twice.

That last day, Laurence slipped unnoticed from his home sometime between noon and three p.m., the three hour space between the meals-on-wheels delivery by Mrs. Heflin and the arrival of the nurse’s aide. Despite the tragic circumstances, no blame was ever cast on either woman. After all, Mr. Saunders had been found wandering numerous times before.

No one considered my involvement, not even once: not the police officer who coordinated the search and rescue, not the other neighbors on our street, not even the dogs they eventually brought in from the mainland, though, perhaps, they would have if they’d bothered to check my boots.

Laurence was my closest neighbor, his front porch no more than forty feet from mine. Five years ago I’d watched his wife’s coffin carried down the steps of that front porch after the wake. Later I’d watched him sit on that same porch for hours, alone, day after day, only the fraying of his bathrobe marking the passage of time.

With his wife, Suzie, gone, I was his only companion. Laurence and I were separated by forty feet, two walls, and a growing silence that neither of us could shake. For me, the silence shouldn’t have felt any different from when Suzie was alive. But it did.

I had never been one of the Saunders’ flock of visitors. The August barbeques with the overflow of pick-up trucks and coolers full of beer had always seemed like just so much unnecessary noise. Since Suzie’s death, that kind of noise had gradually ceased. Laurence started losing people’s names about three years ago. Started losing other words about a year after that. Now that the silence had infected his house, few visited anymore.

I watched, I listened, and, at night when Laurence fell asleep in front of his flickering TV, I slipped in and turned out the lights. It felt good to be needed.

Ten years ago I’d left my husband, Peter and his three basset hounds back in Portland and moved across the bay to China Island and Aunt Eveline’s old clapboard house. The twin occurrences of Aunt Eveline’s death and the demise of my marriage felt somehow linked. My true path finally revealed.

“Good luck, Sarah,” My ex-husband had said on that last day, shaking my hand as we stood outside the courthouse. He seemed almost relieved to see me go.

Eveline’s death offered me a new beginning. Between the house and an old savings account, she’d left me enough to almost squeak by. And somehow or other the island always provided.

Then December nineteenth arrived and Laurence Saunders wandered into the woods.
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Those Who Do Not Reap

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

The world is water.

From horizon to horizon, water. Trade winds go from west to east, and carry weather and fish with them. Wind and weather bring us news of the world, in the form of all manner of things that float. A string of islands are our own, we and the cousins. Fifteen islands, from tiny Ike to the largest, Yuhime. Ours is the northernmost, Liipil, an island that catches the winds, the volcano beneath dead as our ancestors. As you go south, the land becomes more active, and the cousins become more numerous.

The world is water, and we are at its center.


The youngling who had been assigned to the northern heights plummeted into the village, calling shrilly. “Wings! Wings! The ikei are returning!”

“From where?” I asked, straightening from my crouched position over the morning’s treasures.

The youngling pointed with one wing. West by north. “Did you see which they were?”

“Sun behind them.” That would be no, then.

“Find Lilleloi, tell her,” I told the youngling. “She’s in the fields.” Without further comment, it crouched and leaped upward, beating wings frantically upward. I watched the youngling’s attenuated body and great wings catch the breeze and soar upward, sun glinting off of waxy leaf-scales. I wrapped up the day’s gather into a large leaf and carried it in one arm, using the other to help me climb up to the platform where I stored the sea-treasure I had not yet completely studied.

After putting my work away, I swung down, landing heavily at the base of the great starflower tree that the platform was built in. “I’m getting too old to do this,” I muttered. I was going to have to start climbing down rather than swinging, soon. I had years yet before I would be too heavy to use the platforms altogether, when I would have to have those younger than I fetch and carry from the platforms.

Not too old yet to run, though. I trotted through the village, joined by younglings and adults, down to the landing field. We’d fired it less than a month ago, before the winter rains had made it far too damp to burn. It was a good and welcoming landing place for the ikei, our pelagics who spent most of their time at sea, circling the world with the trade winds, following the great sea-herds of whales and fish. It was better than we had managed some years, when the summer had been far too wet for the burn and we’d had to settle for clearing the field by hand.

Kii and Liiloka had brought food with them, voyage-fruit and sweet tik-tik, and we settled down to eat and wait. A flock of younglings arrived, swirling down to land lightly, grabbing and squabbling over tik-tik. A few stretched out, settling to turn the leaf-scales on their backs to the sun.

Kii stumped over to me, her massive body and her fronds of lichen making her seem like a particularly mobile boulder. She held a quarter of a voyage-fruit out to me, and I accepted with a murmur. “Anxious?” she asked, her voice low as distant surf.

“Every year,” I said. “Every year I think is going to be the year that Thiol does not return.”

The elder snorted. “Foolish to get attached. I try new ones every year.”

“He makes fine eggs,” I told her. “I haven’t had one be fallow since he became my favorite.”
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A Fairy Tale

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The chorus of “Happily ever after” roused me from my stupor. Even from the living room I could hear the bored edge in Elise’s voice; it was as predictable as Kari’s enthusiasm or Allan’s singsongy tone, and as strained.

Storytime was finished. I headed to Kari’s room to say goodnight, but paused outside the door when I heard her speak. “Daddy,” she said, “is that how it was for you and mommy?”

I held my breath, sincerely wondering how Allan would answer. But it was Elise who answered: “Of course not. Mom’s not a princess.”

Kari laughed, but Allan didn’t miss a beat. “She is to me,” he said.

I crept away as quietly as I could, unsure whether the sound I suppressed was a sob or something more like bitter laughter.
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Leavings and Remains

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Homework Assignment #22: Write About Your Family
by Meoquanee Minawasinons (age 7) – April 28, 2079

My family is my two older half-brothers and my two older sisters and my dad and my mom and me.

Sansuka and Sasrutha are old old men, Dad says they would be 26 now. Sansuka is a geomancer and he works in the Deep Fishing Mine in Wattlesburg North. He writes us lots of letters that come in by carrier pigeon because he says they’re faster than the Internet. He calls me baby and gives me piggy-back rides when he visits. Dad says Sasrutha went to Toronto to be with his boyfriend and ended up being a travel writer. He has been everywhere except Mars and always sends us copies of his articles with his very own notes inked in. He writes under a fake name because he doesn’t want the places he’s visiting to know he was there. Except they do, they just don’t know that he talks about them after.

My oldest sister is Keezheekoni, I don’t remember much about her. Dad says she left right after the government had the airtrains put in and maybe she is travelling like Sasrutha, except liking it more and that’s why she doesn’t write to us. Sasrutha always ends up getting a mango worm in his head or needing money for bail, his articles are pretty funny.

Ominotago we call Minnow and she is only four years older than me but she calls me baby-baby, which I like when Sansuka calls me that but not her. Dad says she was used to being the baby and doesn’t like that I’m younger than her, which is silly. I’d rather be older, but not as old as the twins because Sansuka is losing his hair already. Also we call her Minnow because Ominotago means ‘nice voice’ and she sounds like a cat being stepped on. At least I think that’s why we call her Minnow. It’s why I call her Minnow. Sometimes I call her Fishbreath.

Dad says he used to be a no-good layabout before he met Mom, and then he became a good daddy BOOM like that. He grew up in the Tooth for a Tooth War, in the Wild Eagles tribe, but he wasn’t kidnapped like the other kids. He was actually born into the tribe, but he doesn’t remember who his parents are because none of the adults were very good at taking care of kids. That’s why the war ended so badly, because they were all hiding in the Northwest until the leaders finally said, “Oh wait we’re actually pretty stupid and we have no idea what we’re doing.” That’s what Dad says happened. He says they were just a bunch of angry kids and if they had just stayed in the North and been angry all by themselves instead of stealing people’s babies, nobody would have cared. Except they did and some people died and the government couldn’t always figure out which kids belonged to which parents and sometimes they thought the parents didn’t even want their kid back. That’s why I have an Aunt Ying even though she’s not really my aunt, but Dad says she didn’t have anyone else to be family with.

He was trained up to be their storyteller except I don’t think his tribe would like the stories he’s ended up telling about them. He also says Wild Eagles is a dumb name but they chose it because they got tired of news reporters mispronouncing their own language at them. Dad tells stories to the tourists who come up by airtrain now.

Mom’s from Sri Lanka and she married a bad man and she had Sansuka and Sasrutha there but she didn’t want to stay with her husband so she came to Canada instead. And the government found out she was a terramancer and told her to go north and make the hinterlands (where we are) better for tourists. Dad says she must have been a fertility goddess too because she kept popping out babies way after he thought they wouldn’t need protection. I don’t know what that means.

Mom’s a zombie now. She cut herself about a month ago when she was making dinner and we didn’t think it was bad but the next day it went all green and by nighttime she was dead. She and Minnow and Dad and I had all piled into the truck and drove to the hospital fast as we could but it’s really far and the doctors say she would have probably lost her arm anyway.

She had signed up to be an organ donor so we stayed at the hospital overnight while the doctors took out her eyeballs and heart and things. They sort of stitched her back up and we drove home. Minnow and I went to school like always in the school bus but when we got out Mom was waiting to take us home. Minnow started crying and got on the bus, but I let Mom pick me up and she ran all the way home with me on her shoulders. She’s a lot faster than the bus because she doesn’t have to stop at all the houses.

Tammy Gabriel saw Mom drop me off at school the next day and started yelling, “Your mom eats brains! Your mom eats brains!” over and over until I threw rocks at her. When I got home I told Dad about it and he said Tammy’s just upset because her dad died in a mining accident last year but he stayed dead. So the next day I told Tammy I was sorry for throwing rocks at her but if she ever said anything bad about Mom again then next time I would make her eat them. The end.
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The Adverse Possession of Madeline Greene

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

There is a legal doctrine called adverse possession whereby one man – in absence of legal or moral claim – may come to own the property of another. In its simplest terms, it requires only that the trespasser take hold of the land and cling to it as long as possible. By sheer force of will and the passage of time, he can take the ground right from under your feet.

Perhaps this principle is a vestige of our flag-bearing forefathers, who declared themselves founders of a land that had already been found. As a child learning American history, this irony had troubled Madeline. She could not understand how something could be discovered that was already known, anymore than something that was seen could be unseen, heard be unheard, or any sensory phenomena be erased from memory.

It was only as she grew older that she began to appreciate the duplicitous nature of existence and even observe the dichotomy within herself. She was twenty-four, therefore above the age of majority but uncomfortable identifying herself as an adult. She was neither tall nor short, neither thick nor thin, and hair that was neither straight nor curly but rather overtaken by a slight wave and frizz. Even her eyes were unable to reach a definitive conclusion as they alternated between gray and blue depending on the light and time of day.

As physically unobtrusive as she was, Madeline was even more nondescript as a personality. At work she was an office automaton, her desk serving as a way station for memos and reports that passed under her purview without remark or notice. In the few social events that she attended, she invariably found herself standing at the edges of conversations, listening and nodding but utterly ambivalent about whether to participate herself.

In short, Madeline Greene was sure of nothing except that she existed and about even that she was beginning to have her doubts.
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Blessings by the Shade

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

They still tell stories about the day I was born, of how a lilac comet streaked across the stars and the volcano ceased spitting fires to the heavens. They call it omens but I call it a conspiracy of convenience. This is what made me High Priestess, because I am blessed. The volcano is Lua Pele and Lua Pele is the volcano, and only the High Priestess of Lua Pele can soothe her. She gives us ebon earth for sustenance; she takes our lives with vermilion lava.

The Altar of Lua Pele is not ordinary. While the High Priestesses before me have studied it for lifetimes, I stand before it but once a day. It is not marble, because what marble glistens like the flesh of dew-drenched coconuts? They have only given me the knowledge I need. I am to go to the altar once a day, they whisper, and no more. To my left, on the altar’s top face, are hieroglyphs wrought in bronze; those are for the incantations and they are always first. For the sacrifice a spike rises from the middle, pale as the rest of the altar and thin to a point beyond my observation; that is for the sacrifice’s head and not the heart. The altar needs no cleansing. Its surface drinks like a stranded mariner. I never could find out where all the blood went. The basin to my right is for washing my hands last, its waters redolent of ‘?helo berries that replenish without human touch.

There is a legend of a High Priestess once who had cleansed her hands, made the sacrifice, and then chanted the incantation. On the panel that faces me the altar’s seamless surface has the thinnest crack dark as charred kukui oil. It is the altar’s only flaw. The High Priestess vanished by night, but the legend says no more. I would that I could be so bold.

Sometimes my sister visits me in the night. I have guards and priestesses to keep my privacy, but she enters my chambers unannounced. Even though she is only Queen and I High Priestess, they follow her orders before mine. There were no comets and the volcano did not stop when she was born.

“Sweet sister,” she asks, resting her face next to mine on the pillows, “whom have you sacrificed today?” She knows the answer, but she asks all the same. Her crown is a chain of polished aventurine links, wrapped around her skull thrice, and from it a single black pearl the size of an eye dangles over her forehead.

I tell her. It was the merchant who charged too a high a price for lapis lazuli sweet sister, it was our cousin who tried to usurp you one time too many sweet sister, it was the baker who burned your bread sweet sister. And while she asks for details, she runs her fingers through my hair. Mine is soft and long as hers and the strands shimmer jet violet in the candlelight because we are of the same seed, the seed of Lua Pele, and we are blessed. She strokes my cheeks and rubs her thumb to my lips and nothing more follows when I am good. She does not mind my shuddering.

“Good, sweet obedient sister, blood of mine by half,” she whispers when she leaves, still with the moons high in the sky or as night gives way to dusk. I draw the curtains around my bed to lie still and weep. To her I am always half-sister and never elder-sister.
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