If you were a dinosaur, my love, then nothing could break you, and if nothing could break you, then nothing could break me. I would bloom into the most beautiful flower. I would stretch joyfully toward the sun. I’d trust in your teeth and talons to keep you/me/us safe now and forever from the scratch of chalk on pool cues, and the scuff of the nurses’ shoes in the hospital corridor, and the stuttering of my broken heart.
My red cloak is made of softest wool and is bright as berries, bright as blood. Wearing it as I cross the barren field, I glow against the snow and leafless twigs, the tangles of sticks poking up from the ground. Sparrows and thrushes dive at me, as though to peck at a bush of winter berries.
BY SENAA AHMAD
Huda will ask again and again.
She will ask it on the first night at the summer place, the porch steps creaking like an old-timey pirate’s ship beneath their knees. She will ask it when they see the Amelia Earhart house way down the harbor, a curled finger, creepy, shuttered-off, and full of promise. She will ask it in pig Latin to piss off their nine-year-old brother, who literally jumps up and down and shrieks, Stop making up words, you stupid earworms! She will ask it in the drowsy, ethereal mornings after Fajr prayer, she will scream it above the furious wingbeat of July rainstorms, and giggling as they sneak chocolate chip cookies from a cupboard in the new kitchen where chocolate chip cookies aren’t supposed to exist. She will mutter it in Amina’s ear as her sister pretends to sleep, trying—Amina can always tell—to study the frowning flutter of her eyelashes like a logic puzzle she can solve. She is testing, testing. Always with a mad scientist gleam in her eyes, to see if another answer will come.
By Aaron Perry
When the Hedgewitch of Feckless Lovers’ Lane turned one hundred and five, she decided she did not fancy brewing potions for the rest of her life. As her grandmother had told her, there was not much fame in potions—people would do whatever foolish, brave, or malicious thing they had intended, with or without the brew. So the witch packed up her laboratory and set her sights on a grander legacy: she stole the free will of the king.
For now though, she sits backstage in front of the mirror and looks the old magician in the eye.
As she does, she learns what death looks like for him, and thinks about what it will look like for her when her own time comes. Sometimes it looks like the darkest depths of a top hat, endlessly waiting for the arrival of a rescuing hand. Sometimes it looks like a party where everyone is a stranger, and no one ever looks your way. Every now and then, it looks like a diner at 1:47 a.m. and a heart waiting to be broken.
But most of all, it looks like a brightly-lit stage in a theater packed with people, utterly empty of applause.
“The Propagator” by Simone Kern in Metaphorosis
Marisol is a propagator. She works for VerdiCorp, and she has recently stolen some soil and is beginning to propagate corporate-owned plants—living, green things which literally bring health to people in a polluted world—to give away to people who can’t afford them. What she’s doing is illegal, a small protest in a terrible world. And it leads her to yet larger acts of resistance. . . This is an absolutely riveting, evocative story of a half-drowned Houston, corporate control, botany, grief, and the fight for reproductive justice. The future here feels all too real—beautifully realized, and chilling.
“Sacrid’s Pod” by Adam Troy-Castro in Lightspeed
Hello, Sacrid Henn.
I’m aware that you’re terrified.
I’m also aware that you are paralyzed, deaf, and blind, your only sensory input being my voice.
A young woman wakes in a mysterious pod, her only company an artificial intelligence “caretaker.” This is an incredible story—tense, chilling, and breathlessly compelling. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, but suffice it to say that it’s an incredibly satisfying escape room-plot thriller, as well a story of resistance and one that paints a fascinating far-future world with intriguing human-alien AI interactions.
‘I love you too much to let you write walls around me,’ she said.
‘But what sort of story can I write you into, if it isn’t one of mine?’
‘You can’t,’ said the Princess, folding her arms in a way that terrified the King more than he could possibly express. ‘I don’t want you to write me into any story. I want to make up my own story. You can be in it, if you like, but that’s all.’
Aksel could see a smear, something just inside the vessel’s skin. He blinked, rubbed his eyes. It was still there.
“The Harvest of a Half-Known Life” by G.V. Anderson at Lightspeed
In a post-apocalyptic world where even the bodies of loved ones are harvested for maximal use (skin for leather, fat for soap, flesh for meat), one young woman has lost her mother and is trying to find her place in the world. A quiet, layered, and moving piece—gruesome, but also tender and lovely.
“The Weight of a Thousand Needles” by Isabel Cañas at Lightspeed
A crow with ruby eyes, a prince of Night, a jinn and a girl who tells stories. . . an utterly magical, ravishing fairy tale. And a reminder: “Be kind before you are clever.”
1. The first time you meet a murderer, you are in kindergarten. At the exact moment you are at the dentist getting a lesson about avoiding cavities, the parent volunteer at your after-school program—a woman who has been babysitting you for the past two months—brings in a plate of cookies laced with rat poison that sickens and kills three of your classmates.
“I had a vision, Rae.” Her voice was an unfamiliar, hoarse whisper, skittering up my spine. As if she’d found another voice in the dark. As if another voice had found her. “You are a daemon escaped from the deepest depths of the void. And I am a daemon hunter blessed by the brightest lights of heaven. We are enemies henceforth. Before we both turn twenty-five, one of us must kill the other.”
by José González Vargas
The chiripas came with the rain season. They were small, bean-sized insects the color of coffee that ran and hid whenever they felt seen and followed. At first, nobody paid any attention to them. Why would we? They were bugs. There are bugs everywhere. Most living organisms on Earth are bugs. It’s no big deal.
BY JOHN CHU
Ordinary fathers lead ordinary lives. They go to work, they raise the kid, they open their homes for the weekly mahjong and meal that rotates from one family to the next in their circle of Chinese immigrants. When they text their daughters, the cell phone vibrates discreetly. If the phone is buried in a backpack, the buzzing might not be noticeable at all. Katie’s father, however, is a physical manifestation of Order and Chaos.
“Blur” by Carmen Maria Machado in Lightspeed
I can barely see without my glasses; in the absence of corrective lenses, my vision is a blur. And so what happens to the protagonist of this story is a true nightmare to me: she loses her glasses when she sets them down for a moment in the bathroom of a highway rest stop. And then she’s helpless, far from home, alone. Until a man approaches, offering help. . .
Khadija Singh lifted the window shade and looked down at what had become of Billings. She saw the remains of the big mid-century developments, paid for with out-of-state developer money in the years when everyone thought the Deluge Bowl migration would lead right across the Rockies into Montana and Idaho and the unburned parts of the Pacific Northwest, the high sheltered places.
But she wondered about that as her aunt unslung the bag from her shoulders and opened a packet of stale chapatis. Would Tamar be fine? Would any of them ever be fine again? Even if the war stopped and soldiers retreated from the borders and the UN made them all sign another treaty. As if they were naughty children, India and China and Pakistan. Naughty, deadly children who could burn down the whole world if they didn’t stop their games.
Once more before bedtime, my sweet. Snuggle up here in the rocking [item used for sitting], and I’ll tell you how it happened.
You have heard all the tales about Myrra Ferrinn, I’m sure—she of the ink-dark skies, she of the high places where men may not follow—and, of course, you have heard the tale of her gruesome end.
A Lady of Ganymede, a Sparrow of Io
The Lady waits for the Duke in a body as fragile as sugar glass, resting her head against the cool marble of the colonnade that circles the Hall of the Nobles of Io. She watches the sparrows as they flirt and twitter between the shade and the sun, like socialites at a debutante ball or starships popping in and out of visible space at the great port of Ganymede, so long ago and moons away that it seems now like nothing more than some childish fancy.