She slices open a vein, and out pours star-matter. Liquid and glittering, the iridescent mess drips from her arm into my cupped palms. And, for a moment, there is only this: breathing in duet (forte, agitato), her brow a slash of determination worthy of sainthood (she’s my religion, yes), and, too, the dumbass acolyte who made a promise they’re no longer sure they can keep (me).
Quicksilver catches in the open window’s breeze, splattering over my double-breasted suit.
The creak of the ship on open water, the dark sea below my feet. The infinite, so close, one false step away through the rotting side of the hold. One hatch opened in a storm, and I would be as good as foam.
The intrusive thoughts followed me everywhere, but especially on the ocean.
I had come here to meet those thoughts—I chose this fate every time a new boarding house turned me out to the streets. I’d learned the sting of salt could not scrape away the thoughts boiling through my skull. But I could change things. Be something more. The things I sought were larger than a life spent toying with unsuspecting, powerless people. Larger than thoughts breaking like a bloodied tide.
Marcus laughed when Rella asked him to take a rokri fish with him to Station 12. “Rokri fish? Isn’t that what teens use to send love letters when their parents won’t let them use the comms?”
“Yeah, but comms are expensive, and rokri are cheap.” Rella was always the practical one when it came to money.
Roki fish were unique in having a symbiotic digestive system. When two rokri bonded, whatever one ate, the other digested, and that connection lasted even across the immense span of space. As Rella explained, that meant Marcus could scribble short notes on specially coated paper, feed them to his rokri, and even though their work stations would be lightyears apart Rella’s fish would harmlessly digest the paper out.
I'm putting this note among Christine's artwork. When everyone finally gives up trying to find her, they'll take apart her studio, parse out the beautiful, shallow things she made, and, somewhere among the shelves, they'll find this little book.
I could never talk about this before, but being on the sidelines means you get an unobstructed view, even of yourself. Because I'm the one who led her to where she is today. Indirectly or directly, every step of the way. I think about those steps when I can't sleep at night.
The sun was just beginning to set when Kimi reached the beach, the wagon she hauled behind her exchanging the clatter of cobbles for the soft whisper of sand. Debris dotted the landscape, leftovers from the hurricane that swept through several weeks back. Kimi kicked it all out of her way, grateful there were no bodies today. The memory of purple and bloated once-people hung over her like a cloud, but she didn’t turn back. She needed to be as close to the water as possible.
That was where the ghosts were.
Ι clutch my Book of Shadows to my chest like a wounded animal.
I imagine my heartbeat, fast but steady, seeping through the cracked leather cover and into the old tree pulp of the pages, imbuing them with new life. I focus on that thought as I make my way to the clearing, footsteps muffled by the forest floor, my shoulder already sweaty from the strap of my satchel. It’s a warm night, but then again, all nights are warm on KOI 5554.01. This old, quaky orb we now call home has us stewing slowly in our linen clothes.
At least the weather here is consistent. At least the air is not trying to ravage our lungs.
I didn’t believe there was anything extraordinary about me.
See those beige and brown clothes, wrapped in thick layers around my delicate build? Everyone aboard the dusk lizard was dressed in similar attire, wearing their bogolan in safari suits, sabadors, and wide robes above an inner layer of enhanced shiki cloth to keep in the heat. Identical helmets enclosed our heads, tied to small pockets of oxygen at our sides. We’d needed them ever since the Call had driven us up the blizzard-battered mountains, where no oxygen would grace our lungs. It had been either that or drown with those who could not be saved.
There was a revolution. A bloody one. The farmers were angry, and they were dirty and sweating with years of back-breaking work. They turned their farming equipment—their sickles, their rakes, their spades—into weapons. When they breached the high spiked wall of the czar’s court, there was a wonderful and brief silence—a thousand breaths held in anticipation of what would come. The farmers were not kind to the royal family. They ripped the jewels from the czarina’s ears and they cut off her head. They paraded the czar through the streets naked and covered in pitch. He cried as best he could, though the pitch had sealed his eyes half-shut.'
The man in the orange vest held up his stop sign and motioned my car over to the side of the two-lane forest road. It was after midnight on a Sunday. There were no other workers, no construction vehicles, no orange traffic cones. There was just the man, standing in the middle of Route 322 with his sign held high. He wore mud-streaked jeans and a filthy white t-shirt stretched taut over his protruding belly, with one of those reflective vests that seemed to shimmer in the glow of my headlights. The stubbled goatee around his mouth was pure black, an unnatural color that looked like he had dyed his facial hair with shoe polish.
I don’t advertise my services, but they all know where to find me. I have a little place near the center of town with salmon-colored shutters and a wide front porch full of flowerpots. You can see them from the street, the flowers; they spill out of their pots in all sorts of shapes and colors, like globs of paint on an artist’s palette.
My clients bring them to me. Like I’m the one dying, instead of them. I guess they think of it as payment because I never ask them for money. It’s a transactional thing, what I do, as much as I hate to think of it that way. So now I’m the Flower Woman. I guess there are worse things they could call me.