Falcon

0404 - Falcon

 

Movement below her woke Eyris from her long sleep, and she turned her great head to focus on its source. Her mechanical eyes flipped back and forth between lenses with tiny whir-click­ sounds, until she had a clear image.

Two humans in a boat. She checked her internal database to clarify the type of boat. A gondola. But it was floating through the air, just below her perch, rather than on water.

Hadn’t boats been meant to sail on water?

Eyris moved her great head ever so slowly, tracking the boat. The taller human held a staff that seemed to be the vessel’s source of propulsion, while she shorter one kept turning in circles and pointing.

She zoomed in on the pair and learned that the smaller one was a child while the larger was obviously its parent.

“… turning, or you’ll capsize us, Sash,” the larger one said, and the smaller paused in his? No, her. She was definitely female. The smaller one paused in her spinning.

“But Mom, there’s a giant pigeon!”

“Yes, honey, that’s a gargoyle. During the Second Golden Age they were brought into use again, not just as decorations on buildings, but also as part of the security systems. It’s said that some of them gained true intelligence, but no one really believes that.”

Eyris knew she wasn’t supposed to interact with humans, but she was clearly a Falcon and to be mistaken for one of those trashy street-walking birds would literally have ruffled her feathers, were they not made of stone.

She knew she’d be admonished. Maybe even suspended from her job as a gargoyle, but she couldn’t help it. Honor was at stake.

Summoning the strength of long-idle gears and pulleys, she leaned forward, until her shadow moved across the boat, and the occupants looked up at her.

“Mom… are they supposed to do that?”

“Do what, Sasha? Ohhhh!”

“What do we do?”

“There’s a ritual for greeting one of the Grotesque Ones,” the larger human said. “Let me think a moment.” She brought the gondola to a halt, and faced Eyris, bowing. “We apologize for interrupting your sleep,” she said. “We are merely observers and mean neither offense nor harm.”

Eyris’s first instinct was to knock the humans from their boat and watch their tiny forms plummet down, down, down to the ground, relishing in their screams.

The ritual greeting halted that process.

Grudgingly, she responded, her voice raspy from disuse. “I am Eyris, she who Guards. You have not caused harm, small ones, but you have caused offense.”

The taller human took an instinctive step backward, nearly capsizing the craft the way her daughter had not actually come close to doing. “I… apologize, but… I am uncertain how we offended you.”

Eyris sighed. “Humans have always been oblivious. ‘Seen one bird, seen them all,'” she quoted a phrase she’d heard over and over during her life. “Check your ornithology references, small one. You will find that you have misidentified me.”

The taller human was apologetic when she replied. “I am sorry, Eyris. I have no such references. Avian species are largely unknown to us these days. The sky is inhabited by poled gondolas, such as mine.”

“No… birds?”

“Not in the City, no.”

“Then I will explain, and I will forgive you… this time.” And she opened her beak to display the rows of metal teeth there (an addition that was not based on her organic inspiration). “I am no pigeon, small one.”

“You’re not?”

“No. I am a Falcon.”

 

 

Death and Taxes

0403 - Death and TaxesShe was asleep when they found her. Or, more accurately, dormant. Her guardian stone was still active. Had there been any real possibility that the pink-skinned humans with their measly two arms could have removed her from her cradle, the guardian would have awakened her.

So, yes, to their perception she was asleep. Asleep and hungry – why did intruders always make her feel hungry?

But the two-arms were no different than any who had come before, or any who would come after. They didn’t run in fear from her visage, her six arms and bladed weapons. No. They… persisted.  

But she was protected. It was part of the deal.

She was protected. They persisted.
And they were punished.

Those who tried to pry her weapons from her hands had their own skin split open in the process. Those who attempted to remove her headdress found themselves blind, and in blinding pain. Those who had the gall – the unmitigated gall! – to use chisels and something called a ‘crow bar’ (though according to her guardian it did not bear any resemblance to a crow) to remove the armored carapace that protected her soft parts and her legs, had been forced to crawl from her chamber on their hands, dragging their useless legs behind them.

None of their injuries were permanent, of course. Harming creatures who were weaker than you was unethical, or at least tacky.

And in truth, there were a few pink-skins who visited her resting place to try and understand her people and her culture.

Of course, they got it completely wrong.

They referred to her as ‘Kâli,’ who was apparently a goddess in one of the two-arms’ cultures. (Had she been awake, flattery would have gotten them everywhere – what woman didn’t appreciate being referred to as a being to be worshipped? Maybe not always, but, you know, as a change of pace.)

But she was not Kâli.
And she was not deserving of worship.
And this resting place, this cradle, was not the chamber of beloved royalty.

Rather, it was a prison cell. Here, under the guardian’s care, her body remained death-still, but her mind… Her mind was hooked into the Great Collective, where it served out a centuries long sentence as an accountant.

A tax accountant.

Her crime was symbolized in the weapons she held in her tertiary hands: a stylized knife and fork.

She hadn’t meant to devour her mate on their wedding night. But he’d smelled so good, and she’d been so hungry, too nervous to eat before the ceremony, and too busy during.

But, the elders had chastised her, cannibalism had been outlawed centuries before, and even then, it had only been permitted to the victors in war. Not, despite her protests, to the winners of Pawns and Leaders.

“How much longer?” She asked the guardian in charge of her case.

“Five hundred more years.”

“Home stretch,” she quipped, and returned to her work.

She wondered what would happen to those two-armed pink-skinned adventurers when she and her fellow inmates were released.

She also wondered if they were worth eating. She was just so hungry.

 

Nothing Like Sea Monkeys

0380 - Mermaid Tail

‘Essence of Mermaid’ read the label on the envelope. ‘Empty crystals into a wet towel  and keep damp overnight while they grow into your new Mermaid Friend.’

Josie had saved her allowance for three months before her mother had finally agreed to go to the website and click ‘buy now.’

“You know this probably isn’t real, J-girl,” her mother said. “When I was your age, these ads were in the backs of magazines and comic books and they promised us sea monkeys.”

“Did they eat sea bananas?”

Her mother laughed but it was the kind that meant she was missing her own childhood. “No; they weren’t really monkeys at all, just a kind of shrimp, and they never seemed to work the way the label said.”

“But you bought them anyway?”

“I did.”

“And you’re letting me buy the mermaid.”

“I am.”

“Why?”

“Because sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little money on hope and magic.”

And so, the payment had been made and the envelope had arrived. An envelope within an envelope. Josie had taken one of the old kitchen towels to soak, and poured the blue and green crystals into it, then soaked it.

And then she waited.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to peek, and she tried not to, but it was harder than not shaking the packages under the Christmas tree every year to see which were toys and which were underwear. After four hours, she peeled open just one quarter of the damp towel.

Jelly. All she saw was blue and green jelly.

She rewrapped the towel, brushed her teeth, and went to bed. The next morning, she had to get ready for school, so she put the towel in the tub, where it would be out of the way. Maybe by the time she got home, her mermaid would have grown.

“Mom! Mom! Is she here? Do I have a mermaid?” Josie ran up the porch steps and into her house. “Mom?”

“Hey, kiddo, there’s chocolate cookies on the – Josie! Slow down!”

But she’d already pushed past her apron-clad mother, dropped her backpack on the floor near the stairs, and made her way to the bathroom.

The tub was empty.

“Mom! Mom, come here!”

“Josie, what is it? What’s wrong?”

The little girl pointed at the empty tub. “The towel with the mermaid essence. It’s gone.”

“You started them without me?”

“I wanted it to be ready when I came home from school.”

Josie’s mother pulled her close. “I’m sorry sweetie, I didn’t realize. The towels are in the washer, now.”

“There wasn’t a baby mermaid in the load was there?”

“No, honey. Just a wet towel.” Josie started to cry, but her mother tugged gently on one of her braids. “How ’bout I order another packet of mermaid essence? When it arrives, we can set it up together.”

“I – I guess.”

“Would a cookie help you feel better?”

Josie sniffed. “Maybe.”

“Shall we go find out?”

“Okay.”

Mother and daughter left the bathroom and walked down the stairs in tandem. As they passed the laundry room door, they heard a loud thump-a-thump-a-thump sound. “Laundry’s off-balance again. Let me go fix it.”

Josie headed toward the kitchen but after a beat, her mother called her back.

“Something wrong, Mom?”

“I’m not sure ‘wrong’ is the correct term, kiddo. Let’s just say… Essence of Mermaid is nothing like sea monkeys.”

Her mother stepped aside to reveal a mermaid tail – a grown-up sized one – protruding from the open door of the washer.

Chalk

0396 - ChalktopusStephen loved to walk from his tiny garret apartment overlooking the river to the university where he taught. His first class was a geography section that met at ten minutes past seven every morning. Most of the year, that meant his walk was illuminated by the first, warming rays of the morning sun.

He would walk the first section along the river, where fog often diffused the colors of the sunrise, then he would turn toward the center of the city, stopping at his favorite newsstand for the daily paper – he reveled in the inky texture of newsprint against his fingers – a coffee, and a cheese Danish. His lunches and dinners were always healthy but having coffee and pastry in the morning had been a ritual since his student day, when eating on the go had been more important than balanced nutrition.

Besides, his daily walks, rain or shine, warm weather or cool, kept him trim. He could afford the ’empty’ calories.

The last section of Stephen’s walk brought him through the Chalk Alleys. These were narrow streets between great brick buildings, their external walls covered in layer upon layer of chalk drawings. He enjoyed the work of the different artists, and while he could never decipher the tags that represented their creators’ names, he recognized each distinct style.

There was one chalk artist who was obsessed with machine age cityscapes, and another who thought themself a contemporary Degas, covering walls with stylized dancers in modern club attire. There was the illustrator who memorialized local personalities on the bricks, and there was another who created trompe l’oeil windows onto other worlds.

More recently, however, a new artist had joined the extant crew. Stephen had glimpsed some of their work on warehouses along the waterfront and become intrigued by the monsters they depicted. A white shark with three-dimensional teeth swam on the wall of the old boathouse, and a dragon with scales that glittered like the stars was on the wall opposite the university gates. Creature-Feature’s (Stephen’s private nickname for the skilled creator) monsters were all based on real animals, but given heightened realism, and exaggerated danger.

As he turned the final corner, Stephen saw Creature-Feature’s most recent work: a giant squid that seemed to undulate along the wall, several of its tentacles even curling around the corner of the building. In the weak light that hit these bricks, it seemed as if the squid had was following him on his path. Indeed, when he turned the corner, the tentacles followed him, stretching off their flat surface to reach for…

No! This could not be happening!

Stephen quickened his pace in order to reach the next corner, and where he could cross the street and climb the stairs to the pedestrian bridge.

The great beast followed him.

It made no sound, but when Stephen had to step closer to the wall to side-step a puddle, he caught the scent of seawater and something faintly rubbery and slimy and sinister, and felt the sucker on the tentacle’s underside brush the back of his neck.

Dropping his coffee and pastry, Stephen broke into a run. Most of his brain was occupied with breathing and not tripping and wishing he’d thought to wear running shoes to work and change upon arrival, but another, smaller part, wondered if any of his students followed this route to school, and what would they think?

The sunlight grew brighter, bringing more of the brick expanse into its warming glow and Stephen cast aside his newspaper and ran faster. If he could reach that corner, he’d be out of the shadows. Surely sunlight would stop the thing, right?

Right?

But he’d forgotten: just before the corner one of the old building had been supplanted by a skyscraper, as was happening more and more often in the city. The tall structure blotted out the sunlight, and the squid reached for him again, and this time, the suckers caught him.

As the chalk creature dragged him into its dusty embrace (why had he thought it was slimy?), Stephen screamed.

But there was no one to hear him.

The seasons changed. Stephen’s class was reassigned to the bewilderment of students who had always enjoyed their original professor’s lectures. The landlord eventually emptied the apartment and leased it to someone new at twice the rent.

Rains erased the cityscapes and dancers, and new illustrators came to create new chalk picture, but the squid, on its sheltered bricks, remained. It wasn’t technically indelible, but no one was willing to touch it. It felt too weird, they said.

Still the image of the giant sea-monster had been altered. If asked, people would say the image changed around the time of Stephen’s disappearance.

And the alteration?

The figure of a man in khaki pants and a jacket with elbow-patches, a messenger bag slung across his body, was visible in the curl of one of the squid’s tentacles, his mouth open in a perpetual scream.

Stitches

0400 - StitchesJeiyiz stood in front of the looking glass in her room and surveyed her work. So far, one arm was completed, and work on her torso had begun. When the final stitch had been completed, she would be considered a woman in the eyes of her people and could leave their village and make her way in the universe.

The embroidered flowers and symbols that were sewn into her skin represented the people who had raised her, the friends who had supported her, the animals which had given themselves for her nourishment, and the Great Path that all her kind walked.

The Path was a spiritual one, that lead each of the Embroidered Ones to their personal fulfillment. For some, this resulted in marriage and children, while for others it led to a life of ministry or activism. Some found that their branches of the Path resulted in demanding careers that allowed them to give back to their communities, while others lived lives of creativity, adding to the collective Story in words, music, and visual art.

Jeiyiz was not yet certain where her journey would end, but she knew that she was anxious for it to begin. Her plan was to go to the City to the great University there, and study as broad a curriculum as possible.

After that, she wished to travel. On the newsfeeds, she’d seen the giant starships that sailed into orbit around her World and been dazzled by all the different kinds of People who came down to visit. Some were green-skinned, and some were pink. Some had horns, and some had hair. Some had art on their bodies – not thread like hers, but ink and scars.

Jeiyiz wanted to meet all these different People. She wanted to taste the diversity that existed in the universe and discover her true place in it. She’d been told she could write; maybe she would chronicle her experiences.

But first she had to complete her stitching.

She pulled her kit from the bottom drawer of her dresser, and threaded the needle with clean, white, thread. She’d filled each spool herself, first gathering the fluffy white fiber from the thread-plants, then cleaning it, carding it, stretching and spinning it until it was fine enough to be sewn into living skin.

With the first stick of the needle, blood ran down the fiber, staining it red-brown. It didn’t hurt much, but she would not have objected to a little pain. “Pain is what lets us know we are alive,” the elders said. “Pain is a signal that we are part of the Universe.”

The angle at which Jeiyiz was working was awkward, and she had not stenciled a design in chalk or marking pencil, but she was certain her imagination would lead her stitches in the correct direction.

She worked for an hour, finishing the first two of many water plants. Water was her element, and while she had heard that there are People who come from desert planets, she could not imagine living on one. The very thought left her parched.

At the end of her hour, she tied the knot, snipped the thread, washed her blood off the needle, and replaced her kit in her dresser drawer.

Standing in front of her mirror once more, Jeiyiz surveyed her work. The once-white stiches have absorbed her blood, and dried to almost the color of her skin. She runs the hand of her un-sewn arm over the earlier sewing of the opposite side, and smiles at her reflection.

Her torso was nearly half finished. By the end of the Hot Season she would be ready to claim her adult status and begin her Adventures on the Great Path.

Perhaps one day she would find a life partner and agree to a marriage. She lifted her unembroidered arm and studied the smooth flesh there. If that partner was not one of her People but another kind of Person, would they be willing to stich their story into her skin?

For the moment, Jeiyiz could only wonder.

The Camels of Mars

0398 - Camels of Mars

Their craft had finally set down on the ground that didn’t look all that different from any desert back home.

“Isn’t it supposed to be red?” Benjy asked glancing from the scenery outside to his father, who was also staring through the viewport.

Fahrid O’Reilly sympathized with his son. He’d wanted Mars to seem different, too. “That’s just because of the dust in the air when we look at Mars from Earth,” he explained. “Are you disappointed?”

“Who’s gonna believe we really came here if the dirt I send home is just… dirt?”

“Benjy, we’ve been through this before. You can’t send soil back to Earth. But you can send a photo of yourself at Curiosity Memorial.”

The ten-year-old was not impressed. “Anyone can photoshop that.”

“Well, we’ll have to figure out something else to prove to your friends where your new home is.” He was about to remind the boy that his mother had arrived on the previous lander, three months before, and that he’d get to be reunited with her shortly, but one of the officers – Morris – came to join them.

“The umbilical into the Habitrail will be attached any second now,” he said, gesturing to the series of interconnected domes and tunnels that provided a livable environment on the Red Planet. “Everyone’s anxious to get to their quarters and decompress from the trip, but we think it’d be best if you took the animals out first. Get them settled in their enclosure.”

Fahrid nodded, “A wise choice, Commander Morris. I’ve been checking on them and they seem to be alright, but large animals shouldn’t be cooped up for so long.”

“Do you mind if I ask… what made you pitch the idea of bringing them?”

“I was going through my father’s things after he died, an I found a picture of him with a camel, and a book about the Texas Camel Corps.”

“Is that a real thing?” Morris asked.

“Oh, very real. In the early twentieth century a rancher in Texas who’d been the camel caretaker at a zoo decided that camels would be fantastic herd animals.”

“O’Reilly, don’t you dare tell me they raised camels for food?”

“No… no they didn’t. They used them as pack animals and for transportation in the Chihuahuan Desert – there are places where it isn’t practical to use road transports, and it’s too dusty for flitters. He started doing tours for tourists, but eventually he was training camels to be used as riding beasts for ranchers throughout the southwest.”

“Wow, I had no idea.”

“Most people don’t. Anyway, I did some research, found out that he’d been experimenting with genetic mods, and his descendants had continued his work. Not only can our camels store liquid water, instead of just fat, they can actually create water out of what they eat and breathe.”

“They’re not dangerous, are they?” Morris asked.

“Benjy,” Fahrid said to his son, “why don’t you take this one?”

The ten-year-old uncurled his fingers from the rim of the viewport and pushed himself away from the bulkhead. Standing up straight, and speaking in rapid, but well-rehearsed sentences, he shared, “It’s a myth that camels are mean. Llamas have been known to spit at humans, and camels can do that too, but for the most part they’re docile creatures. Some people even describe them as giant hay-eating puppies.” He paused and grinned up at both men. “Lucy’s my favorite. She likes to give kisses.”

Morris seemed like he was about to ask a question, but there was a jolt followed by a hiss. “Sounds like the umbilical is linked. Can you two manage, or could you use a hand?”

“The more help we have, the faster we finish,” Fahrid said. He turned and led the officer down to the part of the hold where the livestock had been quartered on their long journey. “Coming, Benjy?”

“I wanna get Sophie first,” the boy said.  Part family pet, part herding animal, Sophie was their border collie.  “We’ll meet you there.”

“Okay, but don’t dawdle.”

“I won’t.”

It took the men, the boy, and the dog about an hour to offload the seven camels and five goats, and usher them into the umbilical tunnel that led into the main dome of Opportunity Village, where much of the extant community was waiting to greet the new arrivals, whether they had four feet, or only two.

From the center dome, there was another tunnel that led to a series of gates and beyond them to another dome, this one carved among pillars of stone that were part of the natural landscape. It had shaded stalls, water troughs, and pens full of hay. An older woman, dressed in a coverall, was waiting with a pitchfork, and several people using tablets to control camera drones were also gathered.

“Mr. O’Reilly! Welcome!” She greeted Fahrid first. “Benjy, it’s good to see you. And Commander Morris, welcome back. You staying, this time?”

“Looks like it,” the officer said. “Especially since Specialist Weaver finally agreed to marry me.”

“Did he! That’s wonderful. You two will have to join George and me for dinner soon.” But she turned back to the O’Reillys. “I’m Anna Meier, the governor. I’m so excited to have you and your charges with us. Join me, now, as we pitch the first hay into the feeding bins… folks back on Earth are dying for a photo op.” More softly, she added, “Penelope is waiting for you in quarters… she asked for a private reunion.”

“Penny’s always been camera shy,” Fahrid observed. He reached out to ruffle his son’s hair. “Okay Benjy, line’em up.”

And they cajoled the animals into a loose semicircle around the feeding bins and let Governor Meier toss the first loads of hay to each beast.

“I’m so excited. I know the dome won’t be their favorite place, but with rebreathers, we’ll be able to use your animals to explore the surface and hopefully find more access to the underground sea.”

Benjy and Sophie wandered away while the adults were talking, heading directly toward Lucy. The camel blinked at the boy and the dog, and then slurped the former. Benjy heard the whirr-click of the drone camera capturing his picture.

“Hey, kid!” A blonde reporter with a friendly grin called out. “Mind looking this way?” Benjy turned and flashed her a smile that was a dimpled echo of his father’s. “Awesome,” the reporter said. “That’s the money shot.”

And it was.

All the papers and news feeds on Earth, Luna, and Mars had the image of boy, dog, and camel, with the great stone pillars behind them, as their lead story. The caption? The Camels of Mars.

 

 

 

Duet for Two Young Superheroes

0395 - Halloween Carols

“Dashing through the streets,
Meeting goblins as we go,
Wearing contour sheets,
Wishing it would snow.”

Ethan marched down the street, singing the hood piece of his Amazing Spider-man costume dangling behind him like a cape. Well, more like a deflated balloon. He couldn’t help it though. The costume was a little bit too big for him, and when he wore the mask he couldn’t see properly.

Besides, it was hot for October. Nearly ninety degrees. He would melt into a puddle of red and blue goo if he had the hood on.

He launched into the chorus of the song, his favorite of the Halloween carols they’d been learning at school all week.

“Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
Try to get the treats before the ghost takes us aw–”
Ethan trailed off, realizing he was singing alone.

“Zach, why aren’t you singing?”

“I’m Batman!” his friend answered, trying (and failing) to make his young voice sound deep and husky. “Batman doesn’t sing.”

“You wish you were Batman,” Ethan retorted. “I don’t wanna sing alone. You have to sing with me.”

“Halloween carols are lame,” Zach complained.

“You’re only saying that because people kept singing the other version of the song to you.”

“Don’t remind me,” the boy in the Batman costume groaned. This had been the day they’d all worn their Halloween costumes to school, and he’d been constantly assaulted with eight-to-ten-year-old boys – and some of the girls – singing at him: Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg…. It had been funny the first time; now it made him want to puke. “Why’s it so important that we sing anyway?”

“Because,” Ethan said, his bravado and cheer fading somewhat, “we’re turning onto Willow Street when we get to the corner, and that means we have to pass that old white house, and Rebecca says it’s haunted.”

“You mean the house with the tower-thingy?” Zach hadn’t learned the word ‘turret’ yet. “It looks haunted. Like, when I’m riding my bike, I always cross the street so I’m on the other sidewalk.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

“So, if we’re singing, won’t that make it easier for the ghosts and monsters to find us?”

“No, it’s like that movie. The with the widow and the bald king and the kid who played Draco Malfoy, except this was before he was Draco?” Ethan lived with his mother and older sister, who were both into musicals. He kinda liked them too, but he didn’t really tell people that. “In the movie, if you whistle something happy when you’re scared, you stop being scared.”

“So, if we sing while we walk past the Ghost House, we won’t be afraid of ghosts?”

“Either that or the noise of happy singing will make them afraid of us.” They’d reached the corner, by then, and Ethan stopped walking. “So… will you sing with me?”

“I’m a singing Batman,” Zach answered, in the same voice he’d used before.

Ethan didn’t twit him though. Instead, he launched into the chorus, grinning as his best friend joined in.

“Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
Try to get the treats before the ghost takes us away! Hey!
Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
If you don’t have treats for us we’ll never go away!”

Lachesis

0388 - Fate

They’re had been three of them, once. The Moirai Sisters. Each of them controlling one of the three branches of Destiny.

Clotho, the spinner, had gone first. She’d woven herself into her own tapestry, preferring to end her days surrounded by a portrait of hope. As beings with immortal blood, she was technically still alive, and sometimes, it seemed, her voice could still be heard: Pluck that thread, Sister. Tweak that rune. That woman deserves some luck. That man is evil, make him feel the pain he caused to others.

Atropos, the immutable one, went next. She had been in charge of clipping the threads to end lives, and it had gone to her head and bruised her heart beyond repair. Too many children, she said, haven’t been allotted adulthood. Too many rapists and murderers were given long lives. She’d cut her own thread, in the end. Lachesis never even knew where she found the scissors.

But, just as her sisters had never blamed her for doing her job as the allotter, Lach (their father had given her the nickname) had never resented them for leaving her alone.

She’d had to change her methods, though. Doing the work of three with the skills of one necessitated the alteration. Where the Sisters had spun threads, woven lives, and snipped the ends as the colors faded, Lachesis had conjured a sort of runic tickertape machine.

Rolls of paper, made from Potential, inked with Hopes and Plans and Dreams, gave her updates on every life that came into being. She was no longer allotting, but allowing. She read the scrolling symbols and made decisions: this person would have a long life, with many meters of paper, and this one would have their scroll ripped off mid-word.

It was hard work. It was constant. It would never end, until she chose to let the ink of her own life run dry.

But for now, Lachesis let meter after meter of ink and paper run through her calloused fingers, and sent a prayer to the gods in memory of her sisters.

Lydia

0394 - BrideShe’d told them – the doctor, his wife, the sad creature they’d meant her to marry – she’d told them that she didn’t want this life.

“But we saved you,” they said. “You were in a box, in the ground, and we saved you.”

She remembered that, she thought.

Not the box. But… the before-time.

She remembered drunken nights with eager lovers. She remembered the pricking of the needles as the ink was injected into her skin, making her body into a living scrapbook. She remembered all the times she and her friends had left their dorms to hang out with the townies at the amusement pier.

And she remembered the calliope playing and the carousel spinning.

It hadn’t been an ordinary carousel.

No painted ponies and prancing unicorns. No pretty swan boats for those who weren’t interested in catching the brass ring.

That carousel had been populated by grotesques. Leering goblin faces, twisted features of nightmare horses.

She remembers the night the carousel spun out of control.

She remembers the faces whirling around and the screams that filled her ears.

Her own screams.

And then nothing.

And then a storm.

And then the doctor, and his wife, and that poor miserable creature.

It took her a while to regain herself. A lot of screaming in the mirror. Even more screaming at Them.

Her speech returned slowly, like her faculties.

But she was able, finally, to articulate her feelings.

“You brought me back without consent,” she said. “You gave me a new life I never wanted. But that doesn’t make me yours.”

Her arguments fell on deaf ears, so she resorted to the methods she’d used as a kid. She watched  – learned the codes for the doors, learned the pin for the atm card, learned the floorplan of the castle. (Why did these types always have a fetish for castles?)

And one night – during another storm – she went to the creature’s chamber. She was just going to give him the standard line – It’s not you; it’s me – but he was so lonely, and so sad, and she felt it as viscerally as if she were generating the emotions herself.

She hadn’t realized he was a projectile empath.

She’d slept with worse for less worthy causes.

So she gave him her body for one night, and corrected him when he tried to twist his tongue to shape her name.

“Eve is the name They gave me,” she told him. “My name is Lydia. Like the song.”

A tilt of his head, a stroke of his hand moving her hair back from her face – she’d washed out the fright-wig perm during her first shower, though the white streak remained. Maybe she’d dye it pink – curiosity flooded from his eyes.

She knew he responded to music.

So, she sang the words the calliope was playing the day she… she had to think it, if she couldn’t say it… the day she died.

Lydia, oh! Lydia, say have you met Lydia
Oh! Lydia, the tattooed lady

Then she dressed again. She’d kept the gown they gave her but cut several feet off the bottom, so it skimmed her knees. She’d stolen a pair of boots from Them.

“I have to go,” she told the Creature. “Find your voice. Make them let you go. You’re not as scary as people tell you. And if you need me… find me at the carousel.”

She didn’t tell him which carousel.

She wasn’t even sure if her carousel still existed.

She practically danced out of the castle. She took maximum cash from five ATMs in town before she muffed the PIN intentionally, and let the card be taken.

Then she hopped the train out of town.

Years passed. She’d convinced the authorities it hadn’t been her in that grave. Told them the carousel accident had left her disoriented and she’d gone away with friends. Flashed them cleavage and cash, and presto-change-o, her new life and her old one had been reconnected.

She joined a band, went on tour, stopped at every carousel, checked every newsfeed for word of her Creature. (He’d become Hers, in her head, over the years.)

One rainy night, in a town between here and there, she stood outside the wrought iron gate of a carousel – this one also lacked the painted ponies and genteel swans – and watched the children riding the ostriches and elephants and giraffes, she felt him.

Not the same sadness and loneliness as before.

Contentment. And hope.

His presence loomed behind her.

His voice  – made of gravel, but musical even so – sang her song.

Their song.

Lydia, oh! Lydia, say have you met Lydia
Oh! Lydia, the tattooed lady

By the Shore

0393 - By the Shore

Eleanor sprawled on the warm sand and popped open her parasol in order to keep her face from burning in the bright sun. “A creamy complexion is a sign of good breeding,” her mother would have reminded her. “As well, good grooming habits are a sign of a strong character.”

Well, her mother was right about one thing: she was a strong character. While the other girls were perfecting their skills with ink or learning the best way to serve crabs, she was typically off exploring.

She had the treasure-trove to prove it, too. A veritable hoard of pretty shells, wave-worn sea glass, and the occasional found object – her current favorite was a mirror set into a wooden frame so water-logged it had darkened to near-ebony in color.

And of course, there was her parasol. She’d found it in the remains of a ship-wreck, and it was perfectly intact, if slightly green on the fringe. No matter; she liked green.

She also liked solitude.

Here on the sand, she didn’t have to listen to the other girls gossiping about the boys they liked – oooh, Brian’s tentacles are so much thicker than Michael’s. And Benjamin does amazing things with ink.

Well, they had a point. Benjamin had skills with ink that were mind-blowing, but even so, squealing and swooning was not Eleanor’s style.

The sun continued its ascension and the temperature grew warmer. Recognizing the need to hydrate, Eleanor closed her parasol and staked it into the sand. Then she rolled down into the waiting ocean, where her strong arms and graceful tentacles propelled her into swimmable depths. For over an hour – maybe two or three –  she frolicked in the waves, giggling when the foamy crest tickled her nose, and diving deep to play chase with a pod of dolphins.

When she reached the point of being pleasantly tired, she emerged from the water and moved to collect her things.

“Come here often?” a voice asked.

Benjamin. Here. Did that mean the others were coming, too? Eleanor sincerely hoped not.

“When I can sneak away,” she answered. “Are you alone?” He nodded an affirmative, and she smiled. “Then you may stay.”

“Why thank you, gracious Lady.” He was teasing her, but it held no malice only… was that affection?

“I have some prawns here, if you’re hungry,” she offered, settling onto the warm sand once more.

“Thanks!”

They ate without talking until Eleanor had to know. “I thought Priscilla had her tentacles wrapped around you, these days.”

“She decided Ronald had more powerful propulsion.”

“She would,” Eleanor’s tone was hardly complimentary.

“Besides, I heard you knew about a shipwreck… is that where you found the parasol and jacket?”

Eleanor glanced down at herself. The school uniform she’d also found in the wreck had become sun-bleached during her time out of the water. “I could show you where it is, if you want.”

“I’d like that,” he said. “My family isn’t generations old, like yours. I’m only first-generation hybrid. My mother – she was fully human. Dad said she used to believe that mermaids had fish tails instead of being part squid. Can you believe that?”

“Fish are food,” Eleanor said. It was one of the first things they’d been taught in school.

“Exactly.”

The breeze changed directions and Eleanor shivered slightly. “It’s getting cold.”

“May I sit closer? Dad says I run warm because I’m closer to human. Did you know that if they stay in the water too long, their body temperatures can drop dangerously low? It’s amazing they’ve taken over the surface of the planet!”

“As long as they stay on the surface, it’s fine,” Eleanor said, shifting her position so Benjamin could sit right against her. He was right; he was noticeably warmer than she was – than anyone was. It was… nice. Comforting.

“But they don’t,” Benjamin said. “You’ve seen it. Out in the Middle. That swamp of used things. They call it ‘plastic.’ And you’ve seen the turtles and the sea-birds that get choked on those weird Circles of Six.

“Yeah,” Eleanor said. “Mother says we used to Take humans to keep our species alive. We can only interbreed for so long… But I keep thinking, maybe we should Take a few and show them what their wastefulness is doing to us. They won’t listen to the whales or the sharks or the turtles – ”

He cut her off. “Some of them try, but they don’t speak the same language. Literally.”

“… but we can speak like they do. So maybe if….”

“Maybe,” but Benjamin’s tone was dark. “Or maybe they’ll Take us and put us in their glass cages for people to point to and gawk at. Maybe it’s better if they think we’re part fish, or just mythical creatures.”

“Maybe they’ll change,” Eleanor said.

“We’ll figure something out. We both need a senior project. Want to be partners?”

“Meet here day after tomorrow to exchange ideas?” She suggested.

“Seal it with a kiss?” He wasn’t teasing… not exactly.

A conch shell rolled up to them just as their lips met. As they twined their longest tentacles together, it began to speak. “Eleanor and Benjamin, you are truant. Please return to school immediately, or your parents will be notified.”

Reluctantly, the pair broke apart. “We should go,” Benjamin said. “They’re going to give us a ton of demerits.”

Eleanor folded her parasol and collected the rest of her belongings. “Race you back!”

Both youngsters leapt for the water, but Benjamin changed the rules by grabbing her hand. “Together,” he said.

He was right: they did get a ton of demerits. But, Eleanor reflected, it was worth it for a day by the shore.