Citali’s Song

By Jamie Lackey

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.


Thick mist clung to the ground, and only thin beams of sunlight slipped through the canopy overhead. The jungle was eerily silent, as if all life had fled, but Eleuia’s skin crawled with the feeling of unseen eyes watching her from the trees.

Even the noise of her own footsteps was muted. The silence built to an oppressive force, and her steps slowed. The sweet rotting smell wrapped around her, and the world spun. She stumbled, then fell, and she could see nothing but the twisted, four-toed footprints.

She couldn’t hear the sound of her own breath.

She filled her lungs, pursed her lips, and whistled Citali’s favorite song–the one she only sang when they were alone. The tune pushed the silence away, and she scrambled to her feet. A giggle crept along the edges of her belly, but she swallowed it.


The trail vanished into a cave. The bare rock was etched with strange symbols that were even more painful to look at than the creature’s footprints.

Fear shot through her. Caves led to the underworld, into death, but Eleuia knew deep in her bones that this rent in the earth led somewhere much worse.

She looked up at the sun through the green branches, felt the soft breeze on her cheeks. She could walk away, go back home to comfort one of the broken warriors. Her mother had told her a thousand times that bearing sons was an honorable life. If she had a daughter, she could name the girl Citali.

Death or madness might be better.

Eleuia gripped her macuahuitl and went into the cave.


The walls glowed brown-blue and pulsed in time with Eleuia’s heartbeat. The air was thick with the monster’s stench, and the taste of it coated her tongue.

She reached a room filled with dead birds. They carpeted the damp floor, their bodies contorted, their thick tongues twisted out of open beaks, their black, beady eyes wide. Their feathers shimmered in the strange, pulsing light, and their bones crunched beneath her feet.

The next room was filled with dead guinea pigs, and the next with dead jaguars.

She didn’t let herself think. She moved forward, walking on dead flesh when she had to.

The cave opened up into a great, open cavern. The walls stretched up farther than Eleuia could see, and tiny, unfamiliar stars twinkled high above through the distant gap in the rock.

Citali stood in the center of the chamber, bathed in thin starlight. Her bare skin was painted with the same strange symbols that had covered the cave entrance. The black symbols swirled across her body, and seemed to dance even as she stood frozen, her face turned up and her palms held out.

Eleuia’s breath caught at the sight of her, still alive, and relief weakened her knees. She darted forward and grabbed one of Citali’s hands. “Come on, we have to get out of here.”

Citali turned her eyes from the alien stars. They were as black as the paint on her flesh, and they held no recognition when they gazed on Eleuia. “I no longer belong to you,” she said.

Her voice still sounded the same.

“I won’t leave you here,” Eleuia said.

Citali shrugged. “Then stay. My master will require sustenance when he arrives.”

Eleuia tried to drag Citali back, away from the strange stars, but she didn’t budge.

Citali laughed. “Your tiny measure of strength is no match for the forces at work here.”

Tears stung Eleuia’s eyes. She wrapped her arms around Citali’s waist. “I love you,” she whispered. She’d never dared to say the words aloud before.

The black faded from Citali’s eyes, and she smiled. “You do?”

Eleuia nodded. “With all that I am.”

Citali clutched her hand. “I love you too.”

Eleuia kissed her. Citali’s lips were soft, and she tasted like sunshine. “Let’s go home,” Eleuia whispered.

“The monster will return if I move from this spot, and it will destroy both of us. You must kill me. I–I can’t stop it. There is–something–inside me, Eleuia. I don’t want it to use me. Please.”

The blackness swirled back into Citali’s eyes, and she laughed. “I use whatever pleases me. You won’t harm me in this form. Your love makes you weak.” She raised her hands to the skies and started to chant in a strange, heavy language that exploded in Eleuia’s ears. Eleuia fell to her knees, and hot blood poured down her cheeks.

Citali’s black eyes glowed.

Eleuia whistled Citali’s favorite song, but she couldn’t hear it.

She imagined her life without Citali, and the emptiness of it ached. Why hadn’t she spoken her feelings earlier? They’d had one kiss, when they should have had hundreds.

She imagined her mother’s smug sadness if she went home mad or broken.

She imagined Citali’s beautiful voice driving all who heard her to madness.

She lunged and swung her macuahuitl with all of her strength. The obsidian blades bit deep into Citali’s belly, and she crumpled sideways. Red blood pooled black in the pulsing light.

Eleuia knelt Citali’s side and watched her lips move. She felt Citali’s breath and read the words that she couldn’t hear. “Go, before it takes you.” She touched Eleuia’s cheek. “Run, my love. And don’t look back.”

Eleuia ran. She tripped over a jaguar and landed badly. Half of the blades on macuahuitl crumbled. She left it.

She could feel the heavy, uneven footsteps that pounded behind her. She scrambled over the guinea pigs and the birds and up the passage. She saw sunlight.

She felt the beast’s breath on the back of her neck. It’s rotted cocoa smell wrapped around her and slowed her limbs. It’s oily whispers threaded through her mind, breaking the ringing silence. She saw herself ruling the world with Citali at her side, both robed as great priestesses, adorned with gold, silver, and quetzal feathers. Men bowed down to them, and no one could force them to marry and bear sons. Eleuia’s mother looked on with pride on her face.

Life withered at their touch, and empires bowed to their whims.

It was a life that she hadn’t even dared to dream of, standing side by side in the sunlight without fear.

But it would make Citali a monster. Eleuia could face that herself–she could feel pleasure in power and fear–but it would destroy everything that she loved in Citali.

Citali gave all that she was, and never asked for anything, and she’d asked Eleuia to run.

She burst into the sunlight, and the footsteps faltered behind her.

The whispers took much longer to fade from her mind.

They were the last sounds she heard.


She went back a year later to try to find Citali’s body and give her a proper funeral, but the cave was gone. All that remained was a single strange symbol carved on a wall of unbroken rock.

Eleuia sang Citali’s song into the silence while she pounded the symbol away, and left flowers beneath it.

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. Her fiction has been published by over a dozen different venues, including The Living Dead 2, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction, and she has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists. She reads slush for Clarkesworld Magazine, works as an assistant editor at Electric Velocipede, and helped edit the Triangulation Annual Anthology from 2008 to 2011. Her Kickstarter-funded short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.

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One Response


  1. chuck von nordheim 

    Ms Lackey has a knack for reweaving strands of myth to create new tapestries of words that provide delight both in their sheer musicality and the poignancy of the revisioned content. Here, she takes a thread from Orpheus, loops into a Mayan context, and bleaches out the tired macho privilege that gnerally informs the originals for a new dye of female positivity. I especially like the image of the warriors curled up and crying under their blankets and the rooms of dead birds and guinea pigs.

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