FICTION


The Book Club at the End of the World

By Elizabeth Zuckerman in Issue Five, July 2022

“What was it like to come back?” you ask at book club, almost three months since regular meetings started. You’re not quite sure if you’re ready to talk about this; you are sure that if you don’t, you’ll explode. Still, it’s very personal, or at least it was for you: coming out of the weightless, thoughtless lack of self to a withered meadow full of red poppies and crumbled stones, how old your hands looked and how young they felt, turning your head and seeing your husband asleep in the dead grass next to you. He’s younger than you this time; girls in their twenties side-eye the two of you on date nights. Ereshkigal snorts when you mention that, but you recognize it as the friendly snort and don’t choke off your words like you used to before you went away, before any of you knew there would be a coming back.


Constructed

By Brandon Crilly in Issue Five, July 2022

Spotting a seven-foot-tall construct in an open-air market should have been easy.

Kenli scurried between stone workshops and rattling wind towers, hoping not to draw the attention of his fellow crafters. Most hadn’t risen yet, even on the morning of Reconnection, but lights shone through the occasional curtain. If anyone noticed him out in his bedclothes and sandals, he’d find out how little patience they had left.

Especially since they had been right all along: finding that intact construct had been too lucky. It had wandered off twice already, thankfully without damaging anything. Tweaking its sigils after hadn’t helped either, though there was a lot about the old magics Kenli didn’t know. He must have missed some hairline scratch, or maybe one of the sigils he couldn’t decipher was at fault. With Reconnection looming he’d spent more time preparing his wares, and now that would cost him.


Heart of My Heart, Soul of My Soul

By Jelena Dunato in Issue Four, May 2022

When Maryeta and the baby died, I thought I’d never love again. The world was a thick grey haze through which I moved with effort. I performed my duties, but I watched myself as if from outside, a pale stranger with a golden crown receiving foreign emissaries, hunting in the woods, dancing with pretty daughters of ambitious nobles.

I wasn’t old, but I felt like it. The whole weight of the world on my shoulders and no one to share it with. My advisors nudged me to marry again: after all, a king needs heirs. But I had Steffon, my golden-haired boy, with his mother’s hazel eyes and shy smile. He was enough.


Resistant

By Rebecca Angelo in Issue Four, May 2022

“My name is Clark, and I am a recovering criminal,” I say to my support officer, whom I report to every quarter here on the station near Proxima Centauri. My job in communications at the terraforming office is supposed to make me regret ever dealing in the black market back on Gaia-canth. It's not having that effect.

My subordinate, Dyann, arrives early to offer their report. I think they actually enjoy their life out here in the middle of nowhere. They’re so passionate about everything—prisoner rights, human rights, rehabilitation—it's close to infuriating. I'm just here to do my stupid job, do my stupid time, and get back to Earth.


Axolotl

By Atreyee Gupta in Issue Four, May 2022

I eat silence. It tastes lonely and bitter alongside ma’s watery yam casserole as it serrates speech from my tongue. In thirty years I haven’t learned how to digest this aching abyss. I turtle into my eight-year-old self, wondering: what aren’t ma and baba saying? Is the silence punishment for my inadequacy? No matter how I iterate myself, the recipe fails. Untethering from home, I’ve discarded my native language, abandoned the gods, adopted cutlery. Yet the minute I cross their threshold, artifice, concealment, and placation cloak my intentions.


Focal Point

By Elise Stephens in Issue Four, May 2022

Her world was gone, like a night sky stripped of moon and stars.

“They told me you fell,” Hilf whispered from the bedside. “That you tripped down the stairs from your studio and after that you didn’t look into their eyes.” His voice deepened. “Why didn’t you let them fetch a doctor?”

Her husband hadn’t removed his riding coat in his rush to see her, and she could smell the wet wool as she sat up and opened her eyes. As before, the darkness remained. Blind. Had she seen Hilf’s kind green eyes for the final time?


The Calligrapher's Granddaughter

By Stewart C Baker in Issue Four, May 2022

Rain again, pouring from the dull, dark sky and into the shogun's capital. A hot, relentless rain that fills the summer air with shouts as people hurry about their business.

It smells, Hatsuharu thinks, like sweat and desperation. He is sitting beneath the awning of his small shop in the city's southern quarter, watching as the downpour churns the street until all the world is rain and mud.

He puts one hand beneath the folds of his robe to scratch idly at his stomach, wondering if he ought to put the thought to paper with one of his special brushes. Better not—business has been slow of late, and an illustrated epigram of weather like this will only make it worse.


Sworn Guardian

By Kimberly Christensen in Issue Three, March 2022

When the crack of thunder ripped us from sleep, our eyes scanned the darkness for one thing—the green light over our doorway. Ten breaths exhaled at once, as if we were a single organism. Lightning had not ignited a fire—at least not yet.

“Who’s in the watchtower tonight?” Bristlecone whispered from the top bunk, her voice sinking through the humid air.


Hope: A Perspective from the Forest

By Tadayoshi Kohno in Issue Three, March 2022

Dad, I thought to my father. The smoke is too thick. I can’t breathe. I looked up at him, and he looked down at me. His soft amber eyes glistened with tears and sorrow.

I know, Dad thought to me as he laid his snout on mine. My body glowed with the knowledge that he would protect me.


For the Remnants

By Belicia Rhea in Issue Three, March 2022

Every night we wait for the drones overhead to spill our allotted water rations. I’ve never gotten used to the whirring sound—and that smell, nearly sour, the way it coats the air. Turns it artificial. For most of who’s left, it’s all they’ve known.

The kids are already racing outside with their mouths open, waiting for the pour. I remember as a boy, before the machines, playing in puddles that lasted all night, floods rushing the ground till morning. It rained for days, dragging cars away, the water reflecting our nervous faces back at us when we looked over the porch.