Read “Ratspeak”, a fantasy short story by Sarah Porter about the language of rats.

Ratspeak is the the shrill and sly language of the rats of New York City’s subway. When a curious boy is granted his wish to speak and understand the secret language of the rats, he brings a curse upon his home. “Ratspeak” is a standalone story by the acclaimed author of Vassa in the Night (Tor Teen, September 2016).

A GUIDE FOR YOUNG LADIES ENTERING THE SERVICE OF THE FAIRIES, by Rosamund Hodge


I.

This is the lie they will use to break you: no one else has ever loved this way before.


II.

Choose wisely which court you serve. Light or Dark, Summer or Winter, Seelie or Unseelie: they have many names, but the pith of the choice is this: a poisoned flower or a knife in the dark?

(The difference is less and more than you might think.)

Of course, this is only if you go to them for the granting of a wish: to save your father, sister, lover, dearest friend. If you go to get someone back from them, or—most foolish of all—because you fell in love with one of them, you will have no choice at all. You must go to the ones that chose you.


III.

Be kind to the creature that guards your door. Do not mock its broken, bleeding face.

It will never help you in return. But I assure you, someday you will be glad to know that you were kind to something once.


IV.

Do not be surprised how many other mortal girls are there within the halls. The world is full of wishing and of wanting, and the fairies love to play with human hearts.

You will meet all kinds: the terrified ones, who used all their courage just getting there. The hopeful ones, who think that love or cleverness is enough to get them home. The angry ones, who see only one way out. The cold ones, who are already half-fairy.

I would tell you, Do not try to make friends with any of them, but you will anyway.


V.

Sooner or later (if you serve well, if you do not open the forbidden door and let the monster eat you), they will tell you about the game.

Summer battles Winter, Light battles Dark. This is the law of the world. And on the chessboard of the fairies, White battles Black.

In the glory of this battle, the pieces that are brave and strong may win their heart’s desire.


VI.

You already have forgotten how the mortal sun felt upon your face. You already know the bargain that brought you here was a lie.

If you came to save your sick mother, you fear she is dead already. If you came to free your captive sister, your fear she will be sent to Hell for the next tithe. If you came for love of an elf-knight, you are broken with wanting him, and yet he does not seem to know you.

Say yes.


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Two-Minute Personality Test
By Jonathan Safran Foer

What’s the kindest thing you almost did? Is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you? Are bonsai cruel? Do you love what you love, or just the feeling? Your earliest memories: do you look though your young eyes, or look at your young self? Which feels worse: to know that there are people who do more with less talent, or that there are people with more talent? Do you walk on moving walkways? Should it make any difference that you knew it was wrong as you were doing it? Would you trade actual intelligence for the perception of being smarter? Why does it bother you when someone at the next table is having a conversation on a cell phone? How many years of your life would you trade for the greatest month of your life? What would you tell your father, if it were possible? Which is changing faster, your body, or your mind? Is it cruel to tell an old person his prognosis? Are you in any way angry at your phone? When you pass a storefront, do you look at what’s inside, look at your reflection, or neither? Is there anything you would die for if no one could ever know you died for it? If you could be assured that money wouldn’t make you any small bit happier, would you still want more money? What has been irrevocably spoiled for you? If your deepest secret became public, would you be forgiven? Is your best friend your kindest friend? Is it any way cruel to give a dog a name? Is there anything you feel a need to confess? You know it’s a “murder of crows” and a “wake of buzzards” but it’s a what of ravens, again? What is it about death that you’re afraid of? How does it make you feel to know that it’s an “unkindness of ravens”?

2

Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction ( 2016 ) 

“A necessary and relevant addition to the Black LGBTQ literary canon, which oftentimes overlooks Black lesbian writing,

Lez Talk

is a collection of short stories that embraces the fullness of Black lesbian experiences.  The contributors operate under the assumption that “lesbian” is not a dirty word, and have written stories that amplify the diversity of Black lesbian lives.

At once provocative, emotional, adventurous, and celebratory, Lez Talk crosses a range of fictional genres, including romance, speculative, and humor. The writers explore new subjects and aspects of their experiences, and affirm their gifts as writers and lesbian women. 

Beginning with Sheree L. Greer’s “I Can’t Turn it Off,” a short, powerful tale imbued with socio-political undercurrents, the collection also includes work from Claudia Moss, LaToya Hankins, Lauren Cherelle, K.A. Smith, S. Andrea Allen, Faith Mosley, and Eternity Philops.”

Edited by S. Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle  

Get it  now here


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The Awful Thing We Did to Eliza

Dad said a man was coming from the city to photograph us tomorrow. I never had a photograph taken of me before. My parents had one, taken with James when he was a baby. Eliza and I weren’t born yet.

The picture sits over our mantle, embroidered in a gold frame. Dad always promised he’d have one taken of all of us when he had the money. He’d say we’d have one of our whole family, together. Now he says it’s better late than never.

James and I are in the living room, drawing. Mom and Dad are seated at the kitchen table, drinking water and tea leaves. Mom is crying quietly.

“Catherine…” Dad says, “we can’t let this kill us. It’s the best we could do.”

“We could have done better,” Mom mumbles, “a better doctor, something…” She trails off.

“There isn’t anything we could have done differently,” Dad says. “We did what we could with the time we had. The Lord needed her back.” Mom lets out a moan.

Upstairs, Eliza is in her best Sunday dress. My mother made her look very pretty. Like she’s sleeping.

Dr. Coffett came to visit a few days ago. Eliza was moaning for hours before. My mother had come in to take care of her, and I was to move to James’ room. All night I heard her wretching.

When Dr. Coffett was leaving the next day, I asked him what was wrong with her.

“Well, sweetheart, your little sister is very sick, but I promise you I’ll do everything I can.” He smiled a lazy smile at me. I counted two gold teeth.

After he leaves, mother tells me Eliza has a bad fever. She tells me I can go up and see her if I like, but not to wake her. The stairs creak as I climb. It’s dark upstairs, and very still.

I reached our room and quietly opened the door. The two windows on the other side of the room had the shades drawn, blocking out almost all of the sun, even though our room was facing it. Tiny rays fell at the foot of Eliza’s bed where she lay, hidden except for her face. Her forehead was red, and wet, her dark hair matted against it. I touched it. It was so hot. She was breathing quickly.

The man from the city is downstairs. He and dad talk about how much a “daguerreotype photograph” costs. Mother and I are in Eliza’s and my room. She is brushing Eliza’s hair. I put the flowers we picked today around her. I don’t like looking at her.

I’ve seen a dead person before. I was at my Uncle Jed’s burial. He was killed by two men who robbed his house. He ran after them and they shot him dead. But even with those little holes in his cheek and the black circles under his eyes, I could tell there was something certain, definite about him. Eliza didn’t have that. She very well could have been alive, except for that stillness.

It was stillness which scared me. All the signs of her sleeping were there, save for the gentle up-down of her chest, the light whistle of air from her nostrils. When you see a behavior so many times, you begin to expect all the signs to be present. Seeing such a vital few missing was disconcerting. My mind tries to make sense of it, but the effort brings on a slow, tired, nauseous feeling. I want to leave the room.

“Catherine, are you ready?” Dad’s voice echoes from downstairs.

“We are.” Mom’s voice breaks and doesn’t carry.

“Yes, Dad,” I finish.

Footsteps begin on the stairs. Dad enters follower by the man with the camera. James slips in behind them, looking as though he didn’t think he should be here or didn’t want to be here, I couldn’t tell which.

The man with the camera is very tall, like Dad, with dark hair and a thick dark beard. His face could have been whittled from wood, it was so lined. He looks from me to Eliza, and steps over to the bed to examine her.

“If, as you say,” he says in a thick German accent, gesturing to my father, “you would like to make this a picture of the family rather than a memorial, I will need to decorate the girl to make her appear alive.” He takes a small paintset from his pocket. “I will decorate her eyes, to make them appear open, if this is acceptable.” My father looks to my mother, who, holding a tissue to her eyes, nods.

Turning, he descends to one knee beside Eliza’s bed. His back is to us.

A few minutes later, he stands up and says, “I believe she is ready.”

We look behind him at Eliza. The man had painted a set of eyes onto her eyelids. Thin black paint outlined the shape, in the middle of which sat a brown iris around jet black pupils. He had also drawn thin flecks over the eyes for eyelashes.

They weren’t grotesque or frightening. They were just…off. Eliza’s eyes were blue, not brown, but that wasn’t it.

Mom once said between life and death was a barrier, a wall which we cross over only once. The eyes on Eliza seemed to bring her back over that wall, even if the eyes were a little abnormal. I felt a mix of hope and uneasiness.

The man asks if we’re ready.

As we group together around Eliza’s bed, the man, now behind the camera, says, “One more thing. The exposure will take forty to fifty seconds, so, if you will, please remain as still as possible in order to minimize any blurriness.”

I supposed Eliza’s face would come out crystal clear.

“On the count of three.”

Eliza was buried the next day.

We held a funeral for her at Saint Catherine’s church, and buried her in the graveyard next to it. Mom howled when the casket was closed. I guess it’s because that’s when she knew she wouldn’t ever see Eliza again.

The tiny coffin looked very odd to me. James, my dad, and two men I didn’t know carried her outside. I could tell James was struggling with the back corner, but he still did all right. A lot of people came out, all wearing black. Eliza was in white. They washed the paint off her eyes before they put her in. She still made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know why.

We put the photograph in its own gold frame. It was put right in the middle of the mantle. It was always nice to walk by and look at. It was helpful to remember what she looked like. You stop seeing a person and for some reason, their face begins to fade. You can’t quite remember what they looked like, or the specific features that made them, them.

A few weeks later, I was looking at the photograph again. I did it less often now, but I still stopped from time to time. I was looking at Eliza, but I was also looking at myself. I liked seeing my face. I knew what I looked like, but somehow seeing my face in the photograph was different from looking in a mirror, or seeing your reflection in a pond.

I also felt badly, because I knew Eliza would never see a picture of herself. She would never know what she looked like when she was younger. She would never watch herself grow up. Hot tears burn in my eyes as I look at her. Painted eyes behind the gray of the picture. A look on her face, an almost sad…

I stopped.

I didn’t know what it was, but I could feel a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I started to feel cold. Something was out of place. Something was wrong.

I stared at Eliza’s face, just above the blankets, looking for the thing that had registered growing dread in my subconscious, but which I couldn’t readily focus on. It was something instinctual I felt, I knew fear, but I didn’t know why.

I squinted at the photograph, at her thin cheeks even more apparent in the light from the camera, at her pursed lips and her fake eyes, I knew I was looking right at it, but I couldn’t see it. I felt as if I were lost in the woods at night, knowing there was something just beyond my eyesight, something monstrous and heinous, glaring back at me, grinning as I frantically searched for it, knowing I can’t find it. As I stared at the photograph, my fear turned slowly to dark, clammy terror, nausea rolled over me, my hands quivered, and for my own life I did not know what was wrong!

And then I saw it.

I saw it because I remembered what the man with the camera had said that day, what I had thought, and that fact slid slowly into place in the forefront of my mind like a heavy gray stone, and clicked solidly with my fear of something terribly unnatural, terribly wrong, and my primal fear was suddenly explained. The room spun as I realized, as numb, raw shock crashed into me, as I wondered how I couldn’t have noticed it before, as I thought how many weeks it’s been since the burial and how tired or drunk Dr. Coffett had looked the last time he came by, as wrenching disbelief crept up my spine, and every nerve in my body fired blank terror.

She was blurry.

So I met this guy the other day

who told me how once he was on this road trip, and he was passing through some little mountain town. Apparently, he gets out of his car to go get dinner at this pub, when out of nowhere this dog, he said it was a beagle or something, runs up and bites him right on the ankle, and then takes off running. An older guy was coming out of the pub and sees what happened, and is like “oh shit! The dog that bit you, did it draw blood?”

And at this point, the guy is freaking out, like, was the dog rabid or something?

The old man looks at him gravely and tells him no, it’s worse. He’s cursed. Anyone he bites is doomed to itch constantly. The guy actually starts laughing now, he says “okay, you really had me going there!”

And the old man looks him dead in the eye and says “Don’t leave town tonight. At sundown it’ll start.”

Anyway, so the guy leaves town anyway because this is clearly a crock of crap. But as he’s checking into his hotel a few hours down the road, sure enough he starts itching. And itching. And itching. No way this is a curse, he says.

But it doesn’t go away. He tries showering, he tries oatmeal baths, he eventually even shaves his entire body but nothing works. Even doctors can’t find anything wrong with him.

After months of non stop itching with no relief, he finally decides to go back to the town where he got bit.

He finds the old man at the pub, who says he wondered when he’d be back. Last time this happened the victim was back in a week.

“Last time?”

“Oh, sure, that old mongrel is a mean one alright. But you’re in luck, he’s been knocking up the fine lady dogs of this town left and right.”

The guy asks, “why does that make me lucky?”

Turns out, the old man tells him, he has to go find which litter of puppies the cursed beagle sired. So he and the old man go around seeing all the puppies in town. “Grab the runt of the litter an’ give it a cuddle” the old man instructs.

The guy is desperate by now and doesn’t even question. He spends several days hugging puppies, but to no avail.

Then one morning, reading a paper at the local diner, he turns the page with one hand while itching his neck with the other, and sees a classified ad for puppies who were found, abandoned outside the animal shelter the next town over.

He and the old man drive out to meet the pups. They’re a squirmy bumch, but clearly half beagle. The guy grabs for the nearest one, but the old man stops him. You need the runt, he says.

The man looks the littlest ball of pudge, suddenly apprehensive. “We don’t have to hurt it, do we?”

“Hurt it?! Yer gonna adopt it, sonny.” The old man cackles.

So the guy takes the tiniest puppy, picks him up, and rubs his face into the fur.

Miraculously, the itch is gone! He shouts and laughs for sheer joy! Itching relieved, suddenly he wants a scientific explanation. Why did that work?

“Simple.” Said the old man. “The best cure is the little heir of the dog that bit ya.”

She always wanted to be right. I left.
—  –A little story I heard while walking through the Gap.

Aisle 13

by Justina Ireland


It’s two days before the last day of school, and I’m sitting in my Combatives class ready to die of boredom.  Mr. Vaughn is showing a demonstration video on how to slay a basilisk. Again. It was the last question on our final. Only half of us got it right.

I was not one of the lucky few.

No one is paying attention as the warrior in the party uses her reflective shield to distract the basilisk while a mage makes a big deal about putting the creature down with a sleep spell.  We’re all talking and thinking about the summer.

“What did you get in here?” Jeb asks from across the row.

“C,” I say.  “What about you?”

“D minus,” he says, waving his test at me.  His ears droop a little like a chastised puppy. Demons are so sensitive.

I shrug.  “At least you dodged a bullet. No summer school.”

“Yeah,” Jeb looks down at his test morosely.  “But still, you can’t kill a basilisk?  Who knew they were an endangered species?”

Mr. Vaughn is clip-clopping across the front of the room now, arms crossed as he gives one of his “these are skills for the real world” lectures once again. As fun as it is to watch a centaur go off on a tear, I’m over Mr. Vaughn and I’m over this school year.  

I don’t really care about the test, but I do hate when Jeb gets all emo.  “Look, we’re never going to use this anyway.  No one goes adventuring anymore.”

He nods and incinerates his test with a simple fire spell.  No one even glances at him.

“What are you doing this summer?” he asks after a long while, his voice low. He’s still bummed about his bad grade. Maybe I’ll take him out for frozen yogurt after school.  Cheer him up. Sprinkles would cheer anyone up.

I slouch down in my desk, stretching with a yawn.  Mr. Vaughn has given up on his lecture and has retreated to his desk to eat an apple someone brought him.  He’s much calmer now.  It’s probably the apple.  Centaurs freaking love apples.

“Nothing dude,” I say, finally answering Jeb’s question.  “Absolutely nothing.”

*****

The second day of summer vacation my mom tells me I need to get a job.

We’re sitting at dinner eating Mom’s famous tavern stew, which is really just a bunch of random things boiled down to mush.  She’s still dressed in her work clothes: low cut white gown and flower crown.  I asked her once why the clinic makes her wear such a ridiculous outfit, and she just shrugged and said “It’s tradition. This is how healers dress.”  The men have an outfit that is just as stupid, tight white breeches and a flowy tunic, but I still think it sucks that my mom has to dress like a sex object to help people. Like, where is the self-respect in that?

“So, Caitlyn, what are your plans for summer?” Mom asks as I’m about to shovel in some of her stew.  My mouth is full so I just shrug and say “Uhnano.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? No big plans?” Mom is giving me this tight smile that means she wants a specific answer, but I have no idea what she’s looking for here.  It’s summer.  It’s two and a half months of not thinking about magic spells or chemistry or monster identification or algebra or anything, really.  So why is she hassling me?

“I was thinking of maybe taking my mage’s test or something,” I say, hoping it’s enough to distract Mom from whatever she’s about.  Dad isn’t even paying attention to the conversation. As usual he’s nose deep in Berserker Weekly.  Dad used to be this big time adventurer, walking through forests and bashing in heads for fun and profit.  That’s where he met Mom.  I think he saved her from an evil wizard or a druidic cult or something. It was a long time ago, though, and now he mainly consults for a living.

“Oh, that’s a good idea.  After you get your license maybe you could call Marcus and see if he’ll let you work in the Hex shop.  I mean, you should really get a job this summer.  Don’t you agree, Brock?”

A frown creases Dad’s dark face but he grunts in assent.

I take another bite of stew and look down at the bowl to avoid answering. There’s no way I’m going to work in my Uncle Marcus’s Hex shop. The thought of untangling curses all summer makes me want to turn myself into a frog and hide out in the forest.  Not to mention that my Uncle Marcus is the cheapest man alive.  I’d be lucky if he even paid me.

Mom pushes her bowl of stew away and jumps to her feet.  “Good! Caitlyn, I’ll send Marcus a note letting him know you’ll be there tomorrow bright and early—”

“I don’t want to work in the Hex shop. It’s gross.”

Mom stops and turns to me slowly.  Her skin is pale as usual but two spots of color have appeared high on her cheeks.  She is pissed.  “Removing hexes is not gross.  Your uncle gives those people their lives back.”

“A woman with boils all over her face is pretty gross, Mom.”  Last year when I had to pick a concentration Mom took me to see Marcus to convince me to pick cursework because it pays pretty well.  I chose spellweaving instead.  I’d rather work in a factory making love charms or fire spells than to have to turn frogs back into snotty princes all day.

Mom purses her lips and turns to my Dad.  “Brock, will you please talk some sense into your daughter?”

“Cursework is disgusting, Mel,” Dad says, lowering his paper.  “Why can’t the girl go adventuring like everyone else her age?”

“No one goes adventuring anymore, Dad,” I say.  Because it’s true. Adventuring is something your parents make you do because they don’t understand that it isn’t cool to slay dragons anymore or that maidens can rescue themselves.

I mean, adventuring is just so lame. Walking around, looking for a prophecy to fulfill, and then working really hard for something that may or may not come true? Yawn. I have better things to do.

“No one goes adventuring, huh?” Dad and Mom exchange a look, like they’re about to laugh at some inside joke.  Then Dad raises his paper again.  “Either way, you’re not going to sit around the house all summer and play video games.  Get a job, Caity-Bird, and if you can’t find one then your mother will call Marcus and you can spend all summer waking princesses.”

And that’s how I end up working at the Shop Quick.

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Deadline’s July 1, 2014 folks!

We’re starting with a paid fiction contest and hope to expand into poetry and short films. Any money we earn through the $10 submissions fee feeds right back into the prize. How many other contests do you know that split their earnings with the winner? (Okay, that’s a totally rhetorical question - please don’t send us answers to that!) PLUS the runners up get our merchandise packs. 

Submit here.

:)

Is Your Short Story Publisher-Friendly? 8 Ways To Make It Easier For Editors To Say YES!

These days, it seems everyone—from professional writers to that guy in the coffee shop—is submitting short stories to literary journals. How do you give your short story every possible advantage so that it grabs an editor’s attention? First and foremost, your story should be page-turning terrific. But just as important: Does your short story make it easy for an editor to say, Yes, let’s publish that?

Here are some tips that will make it easier for an editor to give his or her stamp of approval.

dailywritingtips.com
20 Tips For Winning Writing Contests

Submitting stories to writing contests can be quite lucrative if you know the tricks of the trade. At the same time it is easy to make an avoidable mistakes and

Tip 1. Always adhere to traditional standards of correctness (see above). A contest is not the time to throw the rule book away. This applies most strongly in writing contests which are run by universities or colleges.

Tip 2. If it says Literature contest, that’s what it means. They are looking for subtlety, depth, a subtext, creativity, and clever (even poetic) use of language; an emphasis on interesting often dark characters, and setting rather than plot.

Tip 3. If it says Writing competition, well written popular fiction is what will win. Now your emphasis must be on plot. You need a great opening line and an absorbing plot. Plot follows your main character’s conflict. Give this person an interesting difficult tussle of some kind. Your story ends when your character has resolved the conflict against all odds.

Tip 4. If it states a particular theme in the rules, then that theme must be intrinsic to your story.

Tip 5. Whatever kind of work you are writing, title is everything. The title is the judge’s first impression of your work. Spend time thinking of something relevant to the story that is eye catching and appealing.

Tip 6. Use your delete key. Read and reread your work. That paragraph you really like that you spent hours over. Does it advance your story? No? Then delete it. Does your story only get going on the second page? Delete page one.

Tip 7. Short stories work best from a single point of view. Don’t confuse the judge.

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I once shaved my head in a public restroom. I was thirteen and on a school trip to the planetarium. That morning I’d swiped the clippers my father used for his face and put them in my coat pocket. They don’t check you for metal when you come in on a school bus.

When you come in on a school bus it’s a massive wave of little footsteps against the lobby floors, echoing from one marble surface to another. Backpack key chains clanking in time to the whispers and giggles of school children.

The inside was a fishbowl full of stars and blue light. There were more of us than there were seats in the darkened dome so I slipped out the door unnoticed. The fluorescent lighting made the bathroom glow poisonous yellow.

It was a slow process, the shaving. You were meant to have short hair already, I think. After a while, I figured out that if I pulled my roots taught, the cut was closer to my scalp. After a while, the door still hadn’t opened and I was a patchy kind of bald. My brown curls littered the tiling. I beamed at my reflection in the rust-speckled mirror.

Later, when they asked me why I did it, I shrugged my shoulders. They asked me why and I thought about the men and women I saw playing drums and dancing in the airport when we dropped my sister off. I asked one of them why they didn’t have hair and he told me it was for cleanliness and simplicity. I liked that.

They asked me why I did it and their faces scrunched all up in this very worried way and they made me eat lunch with the guidance counselor for the rest of the year.

///

When my hair had grown enough to cover the lobes of my ears, I broke open a Magic 8 Ball on a dare and drank what was inside. I said I wanted to know the future.

It tasted harsh and chemical and got me drunk for the first time. I threw up blue for three days, but it was only after two that my mother found me hunched over toilet, shower running to drown out the sound.

She took me to the hospital and they told me it was too late to pump what was rest of the blue out of my stomach. They told me to rest, that I was dehydrated, before pulling my mother away. Her expression darkened, I could see through the window into the hall.

“24-hour psychiatric hold,” she said when she came back in. Her lipliner quivered as she spoke. Apparently I was a danger to myself.

///

The ends of my hair hung against my collarbones the year I read that the Mars rover sings Happy Birthday to itself every August 5th. It plays the song to the empty planet. It keeps itself company.

I told this fact to my friend Vanessa at lunch the next day. Unimpressed, she told me it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter the way stealing boxes of condoms from the Thriftway and sneaking into college parties mattered to us then. That was around the same time I learned how to sneak out of my house, the time that climbing down the tree in my front yard became more exhilarating than climbing up it.

Vanessa introduced me to the boys we met as “the crazy chick.” Boys always wanted to fuck the crazy chick she would tell me. I wasn’t really crazy, not like my sister, but head shaving and isopropanol drinking is enough for some people, I guess.

I became accustomed to returning home with the sun, eyelashes clumped and legs sore. I became accustomed to the sight of my mother’s face in the morning light, tired in a way I can’t quite explain, waiting on the other side of the door.

“Have you been sitting there all night?” I would ask.

And she’d nod and turn and go up to bed.

///

My hair grazed my hipbones the day my mother called me.

“I’m busy,” I said.

“It’s your sister,” she said.

I took a train back home and tied my thick hair back with a ribbon that matched my black dress. The casket was open and her sharp angles poked from beneath paper skin. She looked better than the last time I’d visited.

She’d been at a facility in New Mexico then, she wouldn’t look at me so I told her that you can cry in space, but your tears don’t fall. They bubble in your eyes and cling to your face. If you keep crying without wiping them away you can drown.

She spoke then. “What?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I told her.

When we put her in the ground I held my breath and counted out all the planets and their moons in my head. My parent’s house was full of the mourning, the air thick with their sadness and misdirected anger.

When I thought I might suffocate I locked myself in the master bathroom and rummaged through the drawers until I found what I needed. The clippers began to hum and I could have been right back in that poisonous yellow room.

I felt the weight of the last ten years fall to the floor in muffled clumps, cool air brushing against the newly exposed skin.

—  “Clean and Simple” - Kate Olsson

CUT HER OUT IN LITTLE STARS, by Rosamund Hodge

Three sisters fell in love with a star. (This is not quite true. But wait and listen to my story.)

They lived very near the edge of the world, where the rivers run faster and faster until they fall roaring off the rim, into the infinite void. Where birds with feathers of smoke and fire build nests, and hiss at passers-by as they brood over their eggs in smoldering trees. 

Where stars, sometimes, come down to visit the earth.

There is a little village called Edge-of-the-End, and the people of the village are as used to visiting stars as anyone can be. Many strange folk come through the village; the people are polite, and careful, and keep their iron-wrought charms about them. Sometimes they listen to the stars’ low, musical voices, to their tales of dances and battles in deep heaven, but they do not pay much heed to them. It takes a fearful quantity of common sense, to live at the edge of the world.

In that village lived an alchemist, who had come to Edge-of-the-End from very far away, deep in the center of the world. He liked to say he was a humble student of wisdom, by which he meant that he only wanted to unlock the secrets of the universe, and gain eternal life. For years he had labored over his notes and his vials; he had deciphered books written in wicked, ancient languages, and he had caught the burning birds and carved their bodies apart, and he had tracked and counted all the stars (in the sky, and in their visits to the village)—

And yet, he was still no more than a man, plump about the middle and starting to lose his hair. He lived in a brick house with his three daughters, whom he had absent-mindedly begotten on a woman he married in the brief hope that fleshly love could teach him some sort of mystery. The wife died, leaving him no more powerful or enlightened than before; but the daughters lived, and cooked and cleaned for him, so he regarded the experiment as not entirely a waste.

And then a star came to village.

He had the shape of a young man, but his hair was white. Little sparks of light clung to his eyelashes and flickered between his fingers. There was no mistaking him for a human, and yet he did not possess the same terrifying, white-hot power that coiled beneath the tongues and fingernails of the other stars.

The alchemist talked to the star, as he talked to all the stars who came to the village inn. He asked him why he was so faded.

The star sighed and said, “I am near the end of my power. I will never walk the sky again.”

The alchemist smiled and said, “Let me help you.”

And that was how he came to keep a star in a cage, hidden away in the basement of his house. He told his daughters that the star was a friend whom he was trying to cure, and that the cage was purely for the star’s own safety. 

The girls knew better: they all had bruises from his absent-minded rages, and they knew how much his promises of safety were worth. But because they knew their father so well, they obeyed. They lied when humans and stars alike came asking after the vanished star; they kept on cooking and cleaning; they did not heed the sounds when their father went down alone to experiment.

They were obedient except in one thing. They all of them talked to the star.

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Perhaps it goes without saying, but if you need happy endings, these stories aren’t for you. The women are nearly all left in liminal space—speeding down a highway, floating in a night-time quarry, riding in the windy bow of a lobster boat, forever searching the faces of addicts and prostitutes for a mother’s face. Noyes doesn’t offer tidy solutions for her protagonists’ struggles. Some readers will be turned off by this open-endedness and lack of redemption; other readers may find the stories depressing. But for many, these tender and brutal stories will pierce your core like a hook in the gut, shimmering with raw pain and heartache and the desperate desire to survive. Because despite the darkness in these stories, the women and girls within always discover something about themselves and grow a little bit stronger. They’re sometimes thoroughly lost, maybe irrevocably damaged, and uncertain what to do next, but in Noyes’s talented hands, you’re left with the certainty that these tough and wild and messed-up women are going to figure it out. They’re going to be okay.

Silba Dreams of Earth

Silba gazes up at the stars from the ice plains of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

She limits her ocular vision to a near-human spectrum. As if entering deep meditation, she dims her awareness until everything beyond her physical body is but a whisper: patrol drones sailing over the frost plains, submarines within the darkness of the moon’s ice-locked oceans. Even the perfect spirals of orbiting satellites fade to ghostly tingles along some distant, second skin…

LISTS I LEFT FOR MY SISTER, by Rosamund Hodge


These are the things that I’ve been told:

1. Stop asking.

2. There’s nobody left alive Outside. That’s why we give thanks, every day, for the strong metal walls and the kindly thrum of the ventilation fans, the holy work-tables of the machinists and the sacred aquaponics room. They keep us alive, when all the world has died.

3. The Council is wise. The Hereafters protect us.

4. There are people alive Outside, but they’re cannibal monsters who eat their own babies and would tear you to pieces in a moment.

5. What happened to Mama was for her good and ours.

6. If you crawled up the ventilation shafts, squeezed your way past gear and wheel, pried open every metal plate, you would see the sky. But the sky isn’t blue anymore: it’s black and red and rains poison that can melt the flesh from your bones. There are no stars left at all.

7. You should be glad you’re still alive. You know what usually happens to girls like you.

8. It’s not cruel and ugly Outside. It’s beautiful, too beautiful, because the world wasn’t broken by weapons, and not by humans at all: it was broken by monsters, creatures so beautiful and heartless that anyone who sees them, becomes one of them.

9. Papa came from Outside. (Only Mama ever said this, late at night and softly, softly into my hair.) Papa came from Outside, and he said there were people and stars and blue, blue skies. He said it and he loved us so it must be true.

10. We are all of us happy and lucky, here underground.

#

These are the things that I remember:

1. Mama’s hands turning pages of her tattered old books. Her smile as I sounded out the letters: Blue sky. Green grass. Sasha’s anxious frown, as she sat by the door, listening for the drumbeat of the Hereafters’ feet as they marched by on patrol.

2. Four bowls of rice soup becoming two. Mama poured hers into yours, Sasha poured hers into mine, and when I was little, I didn’t realize they were lying when they said they weren’t hungry.

3. The first time I realized what my songs could do. I was greasing the gears in the Left-Left-Top Corridor, and thinking of the Outside that I would never see, and I hummed a half-forgotten song. It slid into something else, a tune soft but deep that hummed in my chest and made the metal walls shiver in reply. There are a hundred dead lights in the Left-Left-Top Corridor, lights that never glow even when we get double rations—but when I sang, they sparked and kindled to life, shimmering all around me, and I wondered if this was what Mama’s books meant when they talked about stars.

4. The moment I decided not to tell anyone but you, Kisa, my little sister. The way that you laughed and clapped your hands when I sang and the dead lamps in our quarters glowed to life.

5. The swift, sharp knock-knock-knock against the door before they broke it open.

6. Mama, weeping and begging as the Hereafters dragged her away, as they pried open the secret cupboard and took all the books.

7. The way that nobody would look at us, for weeks after.

8. The little bit of bone that they gave us to put in our memorial jar. It’s the same as everyone gets for dead and cremated kin, and I hated it. If they’d only been a little crueler, not let us have any piece of her, I could have pretended she was still alive.

9. Sasha’s face, painted the same bone white as all the rest of the Hereafters. The brass rings on her fingers, the hooked knives on her belt. The steady drumbeat of her steel-shod feet, as she marched in formation. Her cold voice, as she told us she was joining them to atone for Mama’s sins.

10. Two full bowls of rice, heaped with fish and vegetables. Our reward for Sasha’s service.

#

These are the things that I wonder:

1. Did Sasha tell the Hereafters about Mama?

2. Did she hesitate before she told them about me?

3. Is there a world Outside?

4. Did Papa really come from there?

5. Will you ever forgive me?

#

These are the things that I know:

1. I can’t become a Hereafter. Some people say the training eats their hearts and breaks their minds, makes them unable to disobey the Council. And some say they just kill all the recruits who aren’t ruthless enough. Whatever’s true, if I join them, there won’t be any of me that survives it.

2. I can’t stay. The Council won’t let a girl who can sing electricity run free. Now that they know about me—now that Sasha has seen me and told them—I don’t have a choice. They will make me a Hereafter or they will kill me.

3. I can’t take you with me. I’m sorry, Kisa, but I can’t bet your life the way I bet mine.

4. Mama believed there was a world Outside, one we could live in. She believed that Papa came from there.

5. Mama was a liar. She swore she’d never leave us.

6. I may die tomorrow. The Hereafters could easily catch me. The machinery between here and the surface could easily eat me. What I find above could easily do worse than destroy me.

7. I’m going anyway.

8. Whatever happens, as long as I’m myself, I will remember you.

9. And if I find a way, I will return to set you free.