A Fairy Tale

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.

Leavings and Remains

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.

The Adverse Possession of Madeline Greene

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.

Blessings by the Shade

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.

Feeding the Dragon

I have to say, it was easier than I expected to exhume Keith. We were able to drive my parents’ station wagon right into the cemetery, parking just a few feet from the grave. The soil was still loose and we managed to frantically shovel our way through the six feet to the coffin in under an hour. I had insisted on both Eric and I wearing all black, including ski masks over our faces, but no one came by. No night watchman on patrol or even any kids looking for an out of the way place to make out or smoke pot.

There wasn’t enough room in the back of the station wagon for the casket, even with the seats down. We knew that before we got there, but I don’t think what it meant had really registered for either of us until we were in the hole, crouched over the casket and holding
crowbars.

Eric turned his gaze from the coffin to me. “I don’t want to do this, Ian,” he said, his voice quavering.

“Me neither,” I said, but I wedged the crowbar under the lid and leaned on it. After a second, Eric did too. We bounced up and down, jimmying the lid until the wood shattered and it sprung open. And there was Keith.

I started to dry heave and Eric turned away, audibly hyperventilating. Somehow we communicated enough to grab hold of Keith—me under his armpits, Eric by his ankles—and carefully lift him above our heads to the grass. We closed the casket and climbed back out, then placed Keith in the back of the car, covered him with a white sheet and two army blankets, and hastily shoveled the soil back into the hole. All the while, we wore the ski masks, and by the time we were finished they were crusty with dirt and sweat. When we got into the car, the stench caused me to dry heave again. I hoped it was Eric and I and not Keith. He couldn’t be decomposing already. Would the dragon even want to eat him if he was so clearly dead?

I drove for the first leg of the trip, until we got far enough away from the cemetery that we weren’t worried that we were being followed. At a truck stop three hours west, somewhere in western Massachusetts, we finally stopped to shower. Neither of us had spoken a word the entire time.

Eight of Swords – Part 2

Looking for Part 1? Click here to read Part 1 of Darja Malcolm-Clarke’s novella Eight of Swords.


After class, she gave Chris an excuse about studying for the next day’s chemistry test so she wouldn’t meet him in town. He peered at her as if trying to detect animosity in her. But she had sealed herself off from him, as she always did when they got this way; she wouldn’t let him know anything, despite his claim that he was able to read her.

She needed time to figure out what she was going to do about him.

It felt good to be distant, but she ended up going to their alleyway anyway, in part because she longed for his presence despite herself, and in part out of curiosity, to see if the tagger had replied to her Bentwater tag.

Chris wasn’t there, she was, after all, relieved to see. But the tagger had been.

Beware: the government shuttles aliens over Beckford in helicopters

        8 of Swords

RAF—Bentwater. 1980.

           5/8—A16

               5/9—A1


At first the lines of numbers and letters made no sense. Then she realized it was two sets of consecutive dates, the first being two days from then. But what about the numbers and letters that followed?

She had that feeling of being observed again. She looked around, half expecting to see Chris coming down the alley or a stranger watching her from the shadows, but she was alone. She opened her backpack and scribbled down the new message, then got out her Emerald Krylon and considered her reply.

She surprised herself.

5/10 8:45pm

A time to meet her fellow tagger.

Chris would have been proud at such bravado.


“I’ll have more mashed potatoes,” said Chris, and Emily’s grandmother fumbled with the dish for a moment before Emily’s mother, across from her, managed to rescue it from landing square on his plate.

“Glad you made it tonight,” said her mother, smiling at Chris. Emily stared down at her own plate; her mother’s invitation had come out of the blue and without Emily’s foreknowledge. Moreover, it was May 9 and she still didn’t understand the number and letter half of the tagger’s message.

“So when is prom, next weekend?” said her mom.

Emily glared at her. “Yes,” she said coolly. “A group of us are going—Lindsey, Ashley and me with Nick, Tyler, and Chris.”

Her mother was surprised. “You didn’t tell me that,” she said. She looked like she was trying to decide if that was good news or not. “You’re going as a group?”

“Yes,” said Emily, willing her mother to be quiet. Chris said nothing.

“Did you hear about the war protests in Virginia and Massachusetts?” said her dad, rescuing the conversation.

“I saw that in the paper this morning,” said Grandma.

“Damn shame people don’t understand what’s important anymore,” said Grandpa. “Back in my day, people believed in right and wrong.”

“With all due respect, sir,” said Chris, “some might argue that the human cost of these wars is the important thing—that it’s a great wrong.” Emily’s mother beamed at him.

For Emily, the conversation melted into a blur as something clicked. “‘Scuse me a minute,” she said, rising from the table. What her grandmother said made her realize—the newspaper—of course! In the living room, she wrestled the front page from the stack of Dailys beside the sofa: A1 on 5/9. She scanned the page once, then again—but there didn’t seem to be anything there along the same lines as before. The lead article was about the growing number of protests against the wars across the country. There was another about Senate and House races. There was one about an experimental weedicide being used in the area against an invasive nonindigenous ivy. And the final article was about new veterans coming back home to the state.

Confused, she found yesterday’s newspaper in a pile next to the side table. She dug out the first section and turned to A16 as the tag in the alley instructed.

And there it was: “After Two Years Strange Lights in Local Forest Still a Mystery.”

She laid it on the sofa next to today’s front page.

“These are a different kind of war,” she heard Chris asserting truculently. Her grandfather growled something in return. Her mother made sounds supporting Chris.

“Whatever,” cut in her dad. “We’re at war. That’s what happens between countries sometimes. ”

Her mother sputtered. “‘Whatever’?” she said. “‘Whatever’? Rich, do you have any idea….” Emily’s attention drifted; Dad’s response was odd, another odd thing along with the myriad others, but these articles…what did it mean? Here was one that fit the theme she and her informant had been working with. There was something here on today’s front page that she was missing; something her informant wanted her to know.

She put one hand on each of the two newspapers as if to keep them from blowing away. One thing she was sure of—the article about the RAF had preceded the helicopters going overhead and a visit from the intruder.

Today’s article had to herald the same. She would be ready.

She made her way back to the dinner table and slowed as she heard Chris’s voice.

“And then she told me the protest in Beckford didn’t really happen! She said it was a mass hallucination!” Everyone chuckled and looked at her as she slid into her seat, stricken.

“We have our very own conspiracy-theorist,” said her mother, beaming at her but bemused.

“Well, I wish she was right,” said her grandfather. “It would certainly bode better for the country.”

Emily glared at Chris in disbelief. She tightened like a drum in dry desert. She couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Haven’t you noticed there’s something weird around here? Haven’t you felt odd? Haven’t you felt like something was wrong?”

They stared at her, all their eyes hanging over the table, zeroed in on her like she was a target.

“Like what, honey?” said her dad.

“Like,” she started. She knew she couldn’t say, aliens have visited my room. “Like, the city is trashed. Like people going nuts at school and in town. There’s a monument to Twitter made of mannequins on Fifth Street. There is a lamppost with raw meat and road kill duct-taped to it near the courthouse.” She told them more; told them what she saw.

This time they didn’t laugh. They looked at her like you’d look at a sick baby animal. “Emmy, you’re confusing the war protest and…I don’t know what,” said her dad, shaking his head. “Sometimes the world can feel like a confusing place. I think this presentation did a bigger number on you than you or we realized, sweetie.”

They took her to her room and made her go to bed. “I’ll call you in sick tomorrow,” her mother said, stroking her forehead as if she were putting a five year old down for the night.

But Emily didn’t stay in bed for long.

Eight of Swords – Part 1

The sound of the approaching helicopter smacked into the side of the building like shot puts. Emily lowered her spray can from where she was anxiously tagging the face of the alley wall and gazed up to the narrow band of ragged sky between buildings. The military helicopter flashed into view—a CH-64 Chinook, gray with two rotors on top, enormous and unnerving.

“More and more of these things have been going over,” she said to Chris.

“There are a few wars on,” said Chris, settling with ease into a swanky red velvet couch that had appeared in the alley two days ago. His fedora already rested on the coat tree situated next to the couch. “You think you’d be used to them by now,” he said, “as long as the country’s been at it over there.” The helicopter had passed but, rather than quieter, the thrum grew louder. They both watched a second one pass high overhead, speeding into the west.

“See, but there’re more than there used to be,” Emily said and leaned against the wall, uneasy. Next to her, a stenciled unicorn smiled into nothingness. A rainbow had emerged from its backside and a bubble from its mouth contained the words Eat my sunshiny shit. “They’ve been going west and come back from that direction later. Before, it was more random.”

“You’re just paranoid,” Chris said, slinging his arm over the back of the couch. A breeze whisked down the alleyway, making the fedora nod on its coat-tree peg. “You make it sound like there’s something weird going on.”

Her arms tightened across her chest. “There’s always something weird going on. You just have to know how to look for it.” The graffiti around her zigzagged across the brick walls in brilliant colors, surrounded by tags: Jonezee 305, Richo Red, and TBC. Her eyes rested on these without seeing them. “Those helicopters are heading west. Wright-Patterson is in Ohio. Dugway Proving Ground is in Utah, Papoose is in Nevada. Area 51, of course…. They’re all west. Those helicopters look like the military just going about its business, but I think something’s happening.”

“Let me guess.” Chris shook his can of black Krylon. “You have a theory in the works.”

“Chinooks are used for transport,” she continued. “The wars are east, right?— Iran, Syria, Afghanistan. What are those choppers carrying in the opposite direction, would be my question. Maybe advanced technology or weapons. Maybe extraterrestrial life. Maybe both.”

“You’ve been watching the History Channel again, haven’t you?” Deadpan glare from Emily. He softened a little. “Em, you’re finding patterns where there aren’t any.” Discounting her theories, regardless of their content, was part of the ritual. As always, she couldn’t tell if he really didn’t believe or whether he was saying it to annoy her. It was a talent of his to hide his real thoughts from her. She was not so adept at hiding hers from him, or at least that’s what he liked to tell her.

“What I mean is, the war would be a convenient cover-up for either,” she said. She set down her can of Ocean Blue. “You may think you understand the world, but there are so many things going on you don’t know about.” She wanted the full picture—a full understanding of all the invisible and hidden things happening around her.

“Right, okay,” said Chris, getting up from the plush couch to return to his piece. The hat nodded.

She stared at his back. She had been working on something else lately, but she couldn’t tell him about it now. She’d been having a strange feeling about the city of late. Nothing concrete, just the sense something odd had been going on.

Trying to grasp what, though, was like trying to hold graffiti in your hand.

Shadow of the Rain Catchers – Part 2

Looking for Part 1? Click here to read Part 1 of Dean Giles’ novella Shadow of the Rain Catchers.


“You’re looking at genuine blueprints of a Rain Catcher.” He let the words settle in her brain.

Ava’s face turned pale and then flushed red. She’d never been good at hiding her emotions.

Ewan pointed to a drawing of the main water tank. Its bulk was kept afloat by a supporting airship attached two-hundred metres above. The drawing showed multiple venting shafts penetrating the tank’s casing.

“Here.” He pointed near the apex of the tank. “There’s a small maintenance ladder and shelf. If I can get above the fabric sacks with my hang glider and land on top of the tank, then, I simply drop a canister attached on a rope into the collected water. I’ll fill as many canisters as I can carry, and drop them down on parachutes through a joint at the edge of fabric section. All you need to do is follow me on the ground and collect the canisters as they fall to earth. Job done.”

Ava stared at Ewan in blatant disbelief. “Please tell me you’re joking?”

“Why, Ava? Why would I be joking? This water could save my father’s life.”

Ava sat down next to him on the long wooden bench and took both his hands in hers. “If you decided to go ahead with this madness, you could die. Then who will look after your father? And, if you get caught by any of the Catcher’s security drones, you’ll be killed.” Her words were becoming heated. “I want nothing more than for Daniel to get better, but you’re being reckless, Ewan, you need to think about this, seriously. Even if we did manage to pull it off, you could still be arrested and God knows what the machines would do to you for interfering with one of their own… is it really worth the risk?”

Hers was the voice of reason, and the logic was hard to ignore. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Yu Yún has been taking our rain for centuries, and right now, more than ever before, I need to get back what’s mine. What’s ours. What belongs to the people.”

“You know that I feel the same, but it’s just not worth the risk. You should be in prison just for having those damn blueprints.”

Ewan threw his hands up in defence. “All I want is to take back some water. The rain should be free for everyone.”

“There has to be another way, Ewan. Just promise me you’ll think about it, please?”

Ewan felt the wind drop from his sails. Perhaps she was right, and he had to find another way to raise the funds.

Five full days of searching for a new job yielded no results. The few employers that had available work wouldn’t touch him because of the Yu Yún incident. It seemed wherever he went his bad reputation had already paved the way ahead of him.

Full of frustration from another long, unsuccessful day, Ewan took the road back to his village. It was dark and the humming of the Rain Catchers continued unrelenting above him, a constant reminder of his lowly place in the world.

He cycled as hard as he could despite inevitable dehydration. His insides were taut like a thousand tourniquets around his spine. He needed to forget, to somehow vent the anguish.

As if in answer to his growing despair, the horizon exploded with light. Like the hand of some ancient god had reached down and lifted the carpet of darkness, the sun smiled down on the earth once again.

The storm was passing. For nearly a week the land had been plunged in the shadow of the Rain Catchers. With the distant sunset came a renewed feeling of optimism. It reasserted itself instantly in Ewan’s heart, and with it came a rekindled loathing for the machines who stole the sky.

The Colored Lens Is Looking For Slush Readers

The Colored Lens is once again looking to expand our staff. We are looking for a first reader to help us keep up with the submissions we receive.

We pride ourselves on our 100% personal responses, and aim to have a 48 hour response time for rejections. To do this, we ask readers to read 3-4 stories a week and provide short personalized responses that include both positive features and the reasons it’s being rejected.

Stories are typically in the 3000-5000 word range, but we accept stories as long as 20,000 words. Slush reading is handled on an “as able” basis, meaning that whenever a reader has time, he/she logs into the database and selects the next unread story. If a reader doesn’t have time to read on a particular day, they simply don’t read any.

All of us at The Colored Lens are volunteers, so this isn’t a paid position. Reading does give you insights into the editorial process, however, and is a good opportunity to gain experience and insights into how the industry works.

If you are interested in the position, please review the stories on our site and send us an email at editors@thecoloredlens.com. In the email, let us know two to three of your favorites, and write a sample rejection for two to three of them that you don’t like as well.

Shadow of the Rain Catchers – Part 1

The hang glider looked like a parrot with a broken wing, a patchwork of coloured cloth stitched together in a swooping arc across its five meter wingspan. The wings told the story of the last year of Ewan’s life. He had scrounged every scrap of material from old clothes, furniture, and even dried out rabbit hide. He needed less than half a square metre to finish building his Little Dragon, and with it, find a way to save his father’s life.

Ewan had secured the hang glider to a makeshift bench in the middle of his wood-shack workshop. He had hand-built every inch of the shed and furniture, the wood and nails salvaged from nearby dumps or broken carts and the resultant outhouse had the look of a mangled old oak patched with shiny sheet metal.

He made his way across the dusty room, avoiding the scattered tools and piles of cardboard boxes.

In the corner he heaved a rickety shelving unit to the side revealing a handle on the floor. He grunted as he pulled the handgrip and lifted away a large section of flooring. The secret compartment housed a folded heap of fabric. The pattern was similar to the hang glider sail. A mismatch of different materials stitched together and attached to ropes of different sizes and lengths.

Ewan had seen the design in an ancient book. It was called a parachute, used long ago so people could jump from great heights.

Technically they were legal as there was no law against jumping off a cliff. But the hang glider was a different matter entirely. He would be fined a week’s water rations just for building the thing and prison time for actually flying it… if he got caught.