Category Archives: Issue 23

Monsters in Space, by Angela Ambroz

When I think oil rig, I think big metal Viking onslaught in the night. I think tower of the gods, fucking Valhalla, and a screeching guitar solo. My eyeballs of imagination are compelled to perceive beautifully inky black skies, inky black seas, inky black oil. It is, in short, inky black badassery.

monsterspull1Admission: I didn’t really think about college dorm-style corridors and a cafeteria selling McSubways, but that is, perhaps, beside the point? Perhaps I am at fault for a failure of imagination?

Because, okay, my mind is small sometimes, but in this great vastness of deepest outer space, I can see some of that Scandinavian, hyper-blond majizzmo glory. When I chance to see a window, I recognize the awe-inspiring grandeur of our Valhalla views. Check that shit out. Methane. Nitrogen. Oozy orange chrome foam. We’re on Titan, bitches! We’re on a giant moon of a giant planet, orbiting a super-giant sun. Wow! I mean, I am impressed. I hope everyone is suitably impressed.

And I’m sure I can see Odin in the distant twinkle of the stars: all that power, that one-eyed energy, blazing away – just out of reach. Human civilization still in its infancy, etc. Type I civilization, etc. It’s like our grubby, oily fingers are pointing, yearning for those stored-up powerhouses of energy, energy, energy. But it’s always X million light years away. Odin’s jealous of his power, who wouldn’t be? And so we’ll never go star fishing until we figure out the FTL drives, at least.

I mean, Titan’s OK. I am not complaining about Titan. Who would complain about Titan? We have, like, twenty-five hundred edutainment channels. I basically have a PhD in Renaissance Italian history. And that’s saying something. I would never have had those opportunities on Earth. I had nothing on Earth. And oil riggery was back-breaking labor two hundred years ago, I am sure. Now, with the beautiful scientific roboticness of it all, my back? Is not strained at all.

I don’t even mind the Obligatory British-Virgin Galactic Petroleum Commercials. Not at all. They’re quite beautifully produced. Some of them make me cry.

So why are we talking? I guess we’re talking about the explosion? Or my thoughts and feelings about my continued employment?

“This is not Jamestown, Virginia, sixteen-oh-whatever. Am I being clear? Let me be more clear: This is not Jamestown. You are not the primordial soup of America’s forefathers. There are no American Indians outside. Your suffering is not so noble, nor extreme.”

Flashback to Foreperson Saif, giving us one of his ranty pep talks again.

“Are any of you economists?” He smirks. “No, right? I mean, what economist would be working here, right? I’m not trying to be mean. I’m trying to be clear.

“Anyway, if one of you were an economist, you would know that the mortgages are not indentured labor. Mortgages are a totally different (and pretty clever and modern, you know?) piece of badass financial technology. Indentured labor is, like, bending down in the fields trying to grow tobacco for the Man while the locals aim arrows at your butt. And you’ve probably got AIDS or something. It’s like, famine and disease and very limited outside options.”

Foreperson Saif can be such a dick sometimes. My tailbone was starting to hurt, encased in the unforgiving plastic chair. It had been hours.

“Does anyone here really think they’ve got no outside options? That is some whiny bitching. Ugh! Sorry, guys, but you’re all welcome to return home – be my guest! No one cares about how you pay your mortgage! Pay it off any way you want! But don’t blame BVGP for offering this sweet-ass deal, with numerous discounts, a super-low interest rate adjustment, and various other things. It’s your free choice that brought you to Titan’s inky black amazingness. I mean, am I right or am I right?”

That said, Foreperson Saif is also a pretty good-looking guy. That’s what I was thinking when the bombs went off. Twelve people died, one of them being Foreperson Saif.

“A representative from British-Virgin Galactic Petroleum will be with you shortly.”


Was I in a cell? Is this what cells were like? It definitely felt cellish. Very drab. But that’s okay. I just practiced some Centered-Calm Counting and wondered when I’d get back to work.

I guess they have to interview everyone during Moments of Crisis. Anyway, it was nice to meet new people. From Earth! Latest fashions. Newest slang. Very cool. And some of their social scores were amazing. Like, in the ten thousands. I didn’t even know that was possible.

The BVGP rep who came in was a tall lady, frizzy halo hair, beef jerky vibe. Like, kinda dry and intense—but not in an unattractive way, I hasten to add! She looked me up and down, no-nonsense. I blinked up her social: oh, wow, yikes. Great social. Gosh, is that, like, the new Earth thing? Just get crazy, crazy high social? I had a moment of feeling so friendless, so alone, so on Titan.

Anyway, South Asian Sigourney Weaver was like, “Hello, Louise.”


“I’m Geeta.”


“Do you know why we’re talking?”

“Oh yeah, sure. This is about the explosion that happened last week. I am totally with you guys. Gotta give us all the debrief. I don’t mind or anything.”

“I’m glad you’re on board.”

“I am so on board. I am literally on board. Get it? ‘Cause we’re on the…”

“On BVGP’s polar orbital platform. Yes.”

Okay, oops. My heart was squeaking out some pitter-patter beats. Oh my God, what if they tried to lie- detector me? Would I show up all Type 2 and shit—all false positive—like I looked like I’d be lying, when I’m actually telling the truth?

Do not fuck up, Louise.

Ugh, shut up, Louise.

Geeta was looking at her tablet. I tried to look disinterested. And not think about the whole drab-prison-cell, possible-lie-detector-test thing.

“You’re pretty young to be on Titan, Louise. Paying for some family mortgages?”

“Oh, well, you know, it’s not just for that. I was always really interested in the stars, you know—and when Cosmos 4D came out when I was, uh, five? I was like—”

She interrupted my practiced spiel. “You don’t have to do that, Louise. Let’s just be honest in here. Who racked up all the mortgages?”


“Where’s she?”

“Well, I think she’s—she’s kind of not well. Like, I think she might have Alzheimer’s?”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, it sucks.”

Geeta stopped then. She just stopped, and looked me up and down. I thought she was blinking up my social. Or maybe chatting via brainlink with some of the other BVGP reps. Maybe they had found the terrorist in our midst? Maybe I could go back to my room? Pub Quiz was starting in thirty minutes.

But Geeta was just looking at me.

“You know,” she finally said. “A nice girl like you shouldn’t have to pay off her crazy mother’s debts by coming to one of these damn oil rigs. That just isn’t fair.”

Uh—easy there, tiger. Mom’s not crazy, I said Alzheimer’s

“Yeah?” I resisted the urge to compulsively start a game of Doctor Who Bombshell. They had net mufflers all over the room, but my MiWiFi was still trickling in a bit of bandwidth. Enough to access the game, at least. No, bad habit.

“You didn’t even finish college, right?” Geeta asked.

“Well—not the traditional, uh, one. Like on Earth or whatever. But I have an online PhD on Italian Renaissance history.”

“Oh, very nice. From where?”

“BVGP Learnera.”

“Oh, okay.”

Bitch, don’t be judging.

“Louise, can I surprise you?”

I was still bruised, but I shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”

“Do you know I used to be you? I used to work on the rig. Just like you.”

“Oh.” Despite myself, I perked up.

“Yeah. I was about your age too. No, I was—um, twenty by then. It was funny. My dad was a futures trader in Mumbai. I wanted to be a lawyer. God, I was so bourgeois. I was really into that Indian Independence stuff. Do you know much about that period? It’s not Italian Renaissance history, but—”

“Oh, sure, I saw Gandhi, it’s such a good movie!”

“It is, isn’t it?” Geeta laughed, warming. “Yeah, I wanted to be Gandhi. Or Nehru. Someone, anyway. But then Dad got screwed in the Great Asian Crap-out, and suddenly we had, wow, so many debts. And suddenly I was up here.”

Titan?! You were on Titan?”

“One of the first.” Geeta smiled.

“Wow—that is really—wow, what a coincidence!” I said. “How’s it feel to be back?”


“Yeah, I bet. Wow.” I was smiling too now. “So, like, how did you—you know— ?”

“Move on up?” Geeta said. “Well, I did some of the Learnera stuff. Worked hard. Worked well. I made it a point to learn all the systems. Not just my own. And then, our mortgage wasn’t too big—I was here for, uh, six years? Not crazy. So when I got back to Earth, that’s—okay, eight years total, I was away. Well, I just went to Delhi Uni and piled on the degrees.”

“Wow. And then you came back to BVGP?”

“It was actually Texaco-Shell when I was working here. But yeah, went back into oil.”

We chilled out in a few moments of companionable silence. I broke it with a big smile.

“That is really inspirational. Thanks for sharing.”

“No prob.” Geeta smiled back.

Geeta was such a great lady.

It turned out the explosion was just a leaky pipe somewhere, and everyone got back to the beautiful squishy buzz of work work work. Geeta stuck around, and she and I-–well. I don’t know. We were, like, girlfriends, I guess? Though it’s weird (and I guess illegal?) to date your boss. Not that she’s my boss. She’s just my—mentor-type person, I suppose.

Anyway, it was several pub quizzes later from that day. It was sometime during Titan winter, what we called Titan Tits. Up on the rig platforms, the stars were bright, blazey glories of stored-up energy. The space between was inky black badassery. Down moonside, it was a cool, psychedelic Hell-place full of swirling colors and crazy gasses. And I was trying to learn all the systems—

When goddamn Baruch interrupted me.

“Louise, can I talk to you? Private?”

I looked up from my cubicle, withering. Baruch was an older white dude, fifty-something. Big, bushy black beard. Big black hair. Big saintly eyes.

Forty-year-old oil workers are so pathetic, because they’re usually alcoholics and they’ve got insane mortgages that they racked up due to alcohol and they are so, really, incredibly behind all the times.

I’m not saying Baruch’s an alcoholic. I don’t know what Baruch does. I’m just saying what’s typical for men of the age and size and stature (low stature) of Baruch. Men who don’t have, like, real jobs.

Baruch walked away from my cubicle before I could respond. I followed him into the hallway.

“Yeah?” I asked.

Baruch was looking a little fretful. Oh my God, was he having the DTs?

“You know, Baruch, I was really close to maxing out my level. You kinda interrupted something. Are you after money or something?”

The anxious look was replaced by an annoyed one. “You do know it’s not a game, right? It’s not really a game.”

“I know, but it’s still fun. Like a game.

I didn’t want to get into this. The last time Baruch and I had spoken was during a movie night, when Baruch had embroiled me in this stupid argument about how the oil companies want to gamify the means of production, and distract us from our oppression, and infantilize us, and so on and so forth, blahdy blah blah.

“Are you in an intimate relationship with Geeta Nair, the BVGP representative?”

I reeled back, startled.

“Oh my God, Baruch, that is none— ”

“Okay, fine. That’s a ‘yes’ then.”

“Baruch, this is sexual harassment—and I’m going to report you to— ”

“Look, hold on,” Baruch made to grab my arms, changed his mind, put his hands on his hips. With the beard and the hip-hands, he looked very fatherly. Very loving rabbi. “Just hold your horses, Louise. I need to talk to you. About Geeta. Because I suspect you don’t know what’s—uh—actually going on.”

“Ugh, like worker’s rights and how she’s trying to sexify the means of production?”

Baruch’s eyes twinkled. “Look, you’re a young kid. And you’re like all young kids. I have a daughter, a bit younger than you. Becky, she’ll be—uh— fourteen now, I guess. Back in Pittsburgh, with the missus. Squirrel Hill. Great town. Really great town. Really interesting labor rights history, though I’ll spare you—don’t give me that face. Anyway, this is what I mean. You’re basically teaching me how to deal with entitled young women, so I can be ready when I get back to Becky and the missus in Squirrel Hill.”

“Baruch, this conversation is getting really weird. Can you just tell me what you want to tell me?” I couldn’t smell any alcohol on him, but I’ve heard they have this new, smell-less booze that alcoholics use.

Baruch looked up and down the hallway. He leaned close and said, “Okay, three things. First, I suspect that Geeta and I agree about a number of things—well, maybe the ends. Not the means. Second, the investigation was a cover-up—the explosion was not a gas leak, and there are some very bad people among us. And third, you’re a catamite and you’re very much in over your head. Okay, I guess that was four things.”

Well, I had to look up what ‘catamite’ meant (goddamn Baruch), and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Or perhaps I should say ‘heads or anals,’ ha ha. I also found a Lord of the Rings fanfiction about catamites that kept me entertained for a while.

But what the hell was Baruch talking about? And what was the point of calling me a pubescent, ancient Greek, anal sex-receiving plaything?

I was none of those things.

I brought this up with Geeta.

“Do you know what the word ‘catamite’ means?” I asked.

She was sitting up in bed, looking at her tablet. Her hair was pulled back, giving her a sexy, chilling-at-home look.

“What, honey bear?” she asked absently.

“Catamite? The wiki definition is about little boys that get done in their butts by slightly older boys, and it’s a classical Greek thing.”

“Okay, interesting. Can we talk about this later? I just got a crazy email.”

“From Earth?” I propped myself up on one elbow. I hoped my voice didn’t sound too hillbilly.

“No, honey pie, from usual old Titan.”

She read quietly for a minute, while I played three games of Doctor Who Bombshell (one win, two losses but with dignified scores) behind my eyelids. When I opened my eyes, I stared at the condensation stain on the ceiling. God, Titan could be boring. Especially when your girlfriend was just reading, reading forever.

“Uh, Geeta?”

“Hm?” She was still staring down at her tablet.

“You know how, like, new crews are coming in a week? And you know, I’m taking this course on photography and it’d be so awesome to give it a try? Can I, one, borrow your camera and, two, get permission for an EVA so I can snap the new guys from outside the dome?”

“Huh? What?”

“I’m just bored, you know? And I need to deepen my craft.”

Geeta reached out and caressed my cheek. It was nice, but I could tell she was a billion light-years away. Probably on some other star, with Odin, rocking crazy energy. So much power.

She opened her mouth as if to say something. Closed it. Looked me up and down and looked sad. What? Was I looking so pathetic?

Geeta had this vibe sometimes—this “oh poor little scrub” vibe—and it was not cool. “Oh, Louise,” she said, with pity. “You gotta have your fun where you can get it, right? Sure. Take the camera. Don’t break the lens. Hell, I might ask you to take some pics for me. And you need to ask your dorm super for permission to go outside.”

“Oh, awesome! Thanks, Geeta!” I squealed and gave her a big squeeze. She returned my hug, laughing. When we pulled apart, something in her gaze changed. Like, got sharper.

“Louise, one day, I want to free you from all this. You do know that, right? That’s what I’m working for.”

“What? Free me from what?”

“From this. All this shit.”

“Oh, right. Lay off, Geeta,” I grinned. “You’re starting to sound like this guy I work with.”

Before she could speak again, I did some monster-in-bed crawling sexplay stuff to change the subject, and she started laughing again, and then I kissed her, and said, “Oh, Geeta! You’re like the best lady ever!”

My super was this nerdy, kinda overweight Ghanaian dude, Kwame. He wore thick glasses because—he said— he was allergic to contact lenses and disagreed, philosophically, with corrective surgery. Yeah, whatever.

When I buzzed, Kwame’s door slid open with a hiss, and I stood in the hallway, feeling awkward. He always did this too. Always. He never just stood up and greeted you like a normal human being. Instead, he’d say Enter! like he was some Star Trek character, and I’d have to decide whether and how to enter, and where to sit, and what to do.

“Enter!” he said, still staring at his wall monitor. The news channel was on. There was something about protests in London about BVGP (!), and the East African Community in a big nuclear standoff with the South Asian Group, and the Pope and the Dalai Lama getting symbolically married as part of the New One World stuff. And Jetset Junior was getting divorced (oh my God) and the Dow Jones Industrial average was kind of peaking, or whatever (it looked very phallic, heh), and tonight there’d be a special on how to weatherize your windows for the November acid rainy season that sweeps through the EU and Russia each year. Oh, so it was November? Almost my birthday, just a few orbits away.

I was distracted by the news, and thoughts about Mom, but looked back and saw Kwame staring at me.

“What?” I asked.

“What what?” he said.

“What? Oh, yeah, I came here. Uh, can I get an EVA permit for Monday?”

“Are you part of the Gardening Group?”

“Ugh, no.”

“Good. ‘Cause I am not giving any permits to those yahoos.” He leaned back in his swivel chair and pulled out his tablet. He started touching it: touch, touch, touch.

“Well, you can’t not give them permits just ‘cause you disagree with them.” I leaned against his kitchen table.

“Actually, Mizz Louise, I can do exactly that.”

“That’s kinda anti-democracy, isn’t it?”

His tablet vibrated. “There—sent. Well, they’re kinda anti-labor. You know they wanna terraform Titan? I even heard,” he lowered his voice, “they want to bomb the shit outta the rig, kick BVGP out, and then grow carrots and tomatoes instead.” He leaned back and laughed and laughed. Ho ho ho.

Many months previous:

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“I sure as hell know more than you do!”

“Would you guys shut the fuck up? There—is—a—classic—film—on.”

But there was no way I was going to appreciate its fine art, it seemed. Not tonight. The two guys behind me were still at it: one was Baruch. The other was Ravi, the glamorously handsome failed-med-student kid from Ohio. They had been going on and on about labor rights for the last ten minutes.

It was a bit hard to get them to shut up, though, since we were the only three in the theater.

“That just makes no fucking sense,” Ravi hissed. “If you’re anti-BVGP, you’re pro-workers. How could you be anti-corporation, and want to bomb the shit out of the workers too?”

“I’m just saying there are some disturbed people out there. Extreme thinkers.” Baruch whispered. “A lot of people see the workers as complicit in the whole system, you know?”

“Complicit in the system that exploits them?”

“Some people get very confused. Forget who they’re fighting for.”

“Guys! Come on!

“Louise, you know, honey,” Baruch called over the three rows between us, “this concerns you too!”

“Thanks, Dad.” I gave a short wave, ending with a middle finger.

“I’m just saying we might see some of that here soon,” Baruch said, turning back to Ravi.

“What soon?” Ravi asked.

“We might see some of these terrorists blowing up our shit here. I’m not saying I don’t welcome the disturbance to the means of production—”

I gave up and turned around. Baruch didn’t seem concerned he had a witness to his treacherous statements.

“—I’m all for blowing up some equipment. Some empty offices. Make it expensive for them to work here.” Baruch gave a quick glance at one of the CCTVs. “I just worry we might see some people getting hurt. And these guys—these guys—they fuck with workers, you know? They are really mean bastards.”

“Who the fuck are you even talking about, Baruch?” I asked. “No one comes here but us! There’s no one else on the whole stupid moon.”

He smiled. “Oh, Louise.” He touched his nose. “Spies, traitors, various subversive elements.”

It’s always fun when new crews come. First off, they bring so much Earthy stuff. They’ve got the latest tablets and new clothes and tons of movies—and all that just gets pumped down into the graymarket and it’s awesome. Second, it’s obviously awesome to be the Old Hand, and I am personally a big fan of bossing around people who are older than me and seem like they’ve just suffered some major downward social mobility. Like, old white men in business suits. Why are you wearing a business suit? You will not be needing a business suit here. Let me show you your room and cubicle.

On Monday, we had a half-shift and most of us went down to the airport to see the shuttles coming in. The BVGP Common Dome was massive, really spectacular, and today Saturn was, like, raaah, feel my glory! You could really feel its heavy weight. I felt oddly proud of it. Proud of our neighbor planet. Proud of my work.

Geeta was up with the bigwigs, schmoozing or getting ready to schmooze. She had lent me her dissler and told me to suit up and follow some of the official photographers, mainly this guy named Jacques. Moonside, the sky was a rich creamy yellow, roiling around with nitrogen smog, and I felt so Titan-positive, I could have eaten all those methane clouds. Rah! Thunder! Rah! Lightning! Rah, planet of the gods!

The shuttle appeared amid the umber-foamy mists, hovering down, and, boy, thrill of anticipation, big time. Were there tears? There might have been some tears. Jacques hopped awkwardly forward—we were allowed to go about half a klick out from the Dome, and Jacques’s voice had buzzed in my ear: “Let’s try to get a good shot of the dome while the shuttle comes in.”

It was really an honor, you know. A real privilege. Jacques was, apparently, a really big deal, too. And I was already thinking golden ratios and magic hours and to Dutch or not to Dutch when Jacques said, “Okay, now you try. Go a bit closer—there, by the pipe. Great job, Louise.”

I stood by one of the main air pipes. These are big tunnel things crawling along Titan’s surface, connecting each of our bubbles and domes, feeding us air and water, whatever. I didn’t really do the engineering Learneras.

Jacques bounced ahead of me, a Michelin man in his EVA suit, and I tried to set my gear up. Tripod, check. Dissler, check. Probably a high ISO, what with this hazy but dimmish orange light. I opted for 1600, took a few test snaps. Not terrible. The shuttle was coming closer. I felt the winds against my suit; wasn’t that awesome? Spacey, Titan winds. So awesome. I also felt a moment of panic, because, if the suit was defective in any way, you know, well, oh my God.

I could hear, through my helmet, the music playing in the BVGP Dome as the shuttle landed closer and closer. It was some pop-mystical Enya stuff; oh, I love that stuff. Really moving. I clicked some snaps, inspired by Enya. My heart flew out into the cosmos, and I thought of Geeta. Man, she was such a beautiful lady.

Oh yeah, and what had she said? Set the ISO to 400. She had said I could get some wicked long exposures, with the rolling smog and blinking shuttle lights. There were two shuttles now; the second one was descending from above—and I was about to take a really excellent long exposure when, I mean, I was using the remote control thing to keep the camera steady when—

A very big bang.

monsterspull2“Louise? Louise?”

Fuzzy lights. Smog brain. A steady beep.

“Louise, I need you to wake up now, honey.”

A man’s voice. Fatherly.

“Honey, we don’t have much time. They’re going to put you under again in a minute.”

I struggled against the slings and arrows of outrageous sleepiness, and a massive headache, and I woke up. Or I think I woke up?

Drab. Another cell? It was dark and kind of wet, and there was junky medical equipment and—

“Oh my fucking God, what the fuck—”

“Calm down, calm down, Jesus, Louise.”

Baruch fluttered around me like a bird, but all I could see was the absence of—holy fuck—the left side of my body.

“Where the fuck is my arm? Where the fuck—?”

“Honey, shh, shhh,” Baruch was at my side now, petting my forehead. His touch was fiery. Was Baruch on fire? Was I? His voice was wobbly. “Honey, they don’t want me telling you this, but the sooner you know, the better—”

“Baruch, are you harassing me?” I started sobbing. I mean, what the fuck.

“No, honey,” Baruch laughed, choked and emotional. “I’m not harassing you, honey. I’m trying to help you. They used you, Louise. They really fucked you over. I mean, I can’t believe—okay, it doesn’t matter now. Calm down, please.”


“Still on Titan, honey. But you’re safe now.”

Like, safe from the long arms of corporate oppression? Safe from the consumerist opiates of Doctor Who Bombshell and Jetset Junior’s love life and where the fuck was my arm? Was I on drugs? I hoped I was on drugs.

“Where’s Geeta?”

Baruch’s gaze hardened. “You do not want to care about wherever the fuck she is.”

Huh? But I do?

Just then, there was movement outside, and Baruch sucked in air and stood quickly, and then some people came in and there was something about an IV bag and—boom. Out.

I wish I could say, and that’s how I emancipated myself from indentured labor and became an underground freedom fighter. But I’m not Baruch, and this isn’t the Indian Independence movement and this isn’t the proletarian revolution. I just lost my arm and got my heart broken, and now I live in a basement on a very fucked-up moon.

They say I’ll be able to leave soon; get smuggled aboard one of the Earth-bound shuttles, one of the labor-sympathetic pilots is meant to be making the trip up soon. Like three years soon. Until then, here I am. And after that, who knows? Kick BVGP out, terraform, carrots and peas?

Wait until this all blows over, they say.

Wait until capitalism blows over, right?

I think about Titan’s methane clouds, sparkling and luminescent and the boldest of oranges, and I think about them blowing over the broken air pipe (currently in repairs, much cost to BVGP shareholders, Dow Jones Industrial crap-out, expect more mortgages) and the ashes of the dead people from the shuttles and the Dome, and the whole terrorists-in-our-midst witch trial. Geeta, I’ve heard, has disappeared. Melted back into fighting the good fight at another rig, or whatever.

The main question: What would Odin do? Would he have settled for this shit? How would he have weathered these false dichotomies? Odin didn’t have to deal with mortgages and economic meltdown and eco-raping planets and moons.

But he did have to deal with having one eye and some asshole family members and people trying to be all up in his shit. So I had one arm, some asshole family members, and now people had tried to blow up all my shit. But I had two words for that: suck it. This moon ain’t big enough for Louise 14B-WV of mortgage numbers 21701003WV, 2171211WV, and 21713977WV.

I couldn’t see the stars from down here, but I knew they were up there. I knew Odin would always be there, macho badass, and, one day, I could go meet him, to the sound of screeching guitar solos and choral movie-trailer Viking music.

I couldn’t wait for that shuttle pilot.


Angela Ambroz currently lives between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. Her day job is international development, civil society, and data. She has been previously published in Strange Horizons, GigaNotoSaurus, Redstone Science Fiction and others. The whole list, and other stuff:

Angela Ambroz
Angela Ambroz
Interview with Angela | Shimmer #23 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Shimmer #23: Angela Ambroz

Tell us a little about how “Monsters in Space” came to be.

Angela Ambroz
Angela Ambroz

I’m an economist — specifically, I work in international development. So I try to incorporate the issues I see at work into spec fic. Things like poverty, crazy inequality, behavioral manipulation/the power of marketing, consumerism, social structures, power dynamics.

With “Monsters in Space,” I wanted to write something about the financial crisis of 2008, something sort of satirical, dystopian, and capitalist. And in space! Watching Neil Tyson’s “Cosmos” earlier this year really inspired me on the setting – there’s a bit when the Ship of Imagination flies around Titan, and he talks about it being mysterious and full of mine-able gas/oil/stuff. That was great: it was dark and beautiful and very promising.

The rest just tumbled out: I’m a big fan of teen angst protagonists, especially girls whose names could be “Sparky”; Baruch is Mandy Patinkin in a giant beard; “Doctor Who Bombshell” is just 2048 Doctor Who edition (beware: addictive); I grew up in Pittsburgh; I love labor rights history, blah blah. It was one of those stories that just wrote itself!

My favorite part of this story is the voice. How did you develop it?

It’s a pretty big rip-off of George Saunders, who is a genius (a GENIUS, I tell you! it’s even been made official). In fact, it’s such a big rip-off that I feel like I should be sending him money or something? Maybe this advertisement can count: BUY HIS BOOKS, PEOPLE. Anyway, he’s the master at this: the post-1980s/post-Reagan upbeat American voice of late capitalism, especially via a first-person unreliable narrator. The only thing I did was put it in space and make it a girl.

If you had to fight monsters in space, which weapon would you choose? Which weapon would you absolutely not choose, even if it would be effective?

My chosen weapon would be some sort of programming/hacking thing from a trashy 1990s cyberpunk movie. “I’ve got to hack into the system!” and so forth. Bashing at the keyboard while staring intently at scrolling 0s and 1s, sucking down neon soda and wearing smudged bottlecap glasses. I’d also want an opportunity to say, “You’re going to get us both killed!”, since I love that line.

Weapon I wouldn’t choose: the Death Star.

Have you read anything great recently? 

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet was soooo good.

It’s almost a new year! Do you have any resolutions?

No! I am actively not resolving! In fact, this whole resolution business is just part of that mentality that I’m taking a bit of a satirical shot at (a mentality that I am very, very much a slave to, to be fair): the constant quest to improve yourself, to be better, to do more, etc. To take all the online courses, learn all the things, read all the books, run all the miles, and so on. I’ll consider it an achievement if I *don’t* fetishize accomplishment or productivity in 2015.


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Be Not Unequally Yoked, by Alexis A. Hunter

Things used to be pure inside me. Separated. When I was a boy, I was wholly a boy. When I was a horse, I was wholly a horse.

Things used to be simple inside me. I was all one thing or I was all another. And the two only got close when the change was happening.

But things aren’t so simple anymore. The lines inside me feel blurry, more and more every day. And as I sit here across from that pretty Beiler girl, all I can think about is how she smells like dew-damp clover. She’s got eyes as bright as bluebells, a smile like sunshine and I know that should make me feel something, but all I can think of is that smell.

yokedpull1It makes me hungry. I press my hands over my stomach to keep the rumbling quiet. My shoulders twitch and I imagine rolling over, scrubbing my sunburned back against thick sweet grass and the dry Michigan soil beneath.

A few dozen boys and girls pack the Stoltzfus’ barn, all chattering like blue jays. All laughing as the Sunday singing comes to an end. The smell of musty alfalfa hay wafts down from the loft. Two draft mares in the far stalls snort softly and munch on sticky-sweet molasses grain.

The Beiler girl—Katie?—is speaking. My face feels hot as I lean forward, head cocked sideways. “What’s that now?”

She smiles, her face going probably the same shade as mine as the kids around us start rising. “I said, you’re Abram Fisher’s son, jah?”

“Jah,” I say, and stand with the crowd of dark-clad teenagers. I’m a full head taller than most everyone here. Standing makes it more noticeable. I feel a dozen eyes on me and fight the urge to bolt. “Jah,” I say again. “I’m Joash.”

She sticks a hand out, still smiling. “I’m Katie.”

I take her hand in mine, feeling the calluses on her palms scrape the calluses on mine. She doesn’t let go right away, so I do it for her, shoving my hand awkwardly back in my pocket.

Katie’s talking again, but there’s laughter and chaos all around us. The boys are showing off, flexing muscles hidden by somber blues and blacks, harnessed by suspenders. They heft the well-worn benches and stack them along the barn wall, jostling each other like good-natured colts.

I promised Dat I would look for a good girl to settle down with. And I reckon Katie’s as good as they come, but the horse in me tramples through my head and it’s hard to think of much else.

My gaze lands on Daniel Yoder, follows him as he lifts a bench over his head. He’s the only one near my age—the two of us have outgrown terms like “boy” and “kid.” Near outgrown Sunday singing, too.

Little Katie of the clover turns away and I realize I’ve been ignoring her something awful. I trip over an apology, but she’s already disappeared into the mingled pack of youngsters. They’re all pairing off, and I stand alone.

I brace myself with a shaky hand on the barn’s support beam. There’s a painful emptiness deep in my gut, an emptiness that’s got nothing to do with being hungry. Least not for food. It’s got everything to do with feeling walled off. Hindered. Strapped down.

Everybody’s shuffling out the barn doors and I follow the kids out into the yard. There, dozens of buggies and horses wait. All I can see is the leather straps, the gleaming bits of metal jammed between strong teeth. I hear every faint snort and whinny, catch every hoof scraped in annoyance against the earth.

It’s wrong. It’s all wrong.

I just stand there watching as Katie lets another boy take her home. I don’t know his name. Truth is, I don’t know most of their names. Our family only moved here a few months ago, and I haven’t exactly tried to get to know these kids. Weren’t for Dat, I’d never have come out tonight in the first place.

Daniel Yoder brushes past. His shoulder catches mine and something like lightning zips between us. He stops, laughs and pats my back. “Sorry ’bout that, Fisher.”

“Joash,” I say, instinctively. Fighting the trembling of my body, I offer my hand for a shake. “And… no trouble.”

His grip is firm. Warm. The wind picks up behind him and drives his scent into me. Horse-hair and sweat. My heart beats unsteady, and my stomach’s all churned up like butter.

“Joash,” he says. “Good to meet ya.”

He’s already turned away by the time I reply. “Jah… you, too.”

He drapes his arm around the shoulders of Rachel, a plump girl with a hearty laugh. They make their way to his buggy where he helps her inside. I watch their hands link, watch them smile at each other, but mostly all I see is Daniel.

I don’t understand what’s inside me. I want back the simple division of my two selves. I been this way—half horse, half human—most my life. Mam says it started when I was only five. I have no memory of that first change, but I sure remember my first time in horseflesh. It’s a crisp memory, cold and clear like frost on the grass.

The moonlight pales the skin of my upturned palm. I stare at the surface, remember the warmth of Daniel’s grip, and I shudder. I bolt forward, down the dirt road toward home. There’s no light in the Stoltzfus’ house, but I don’t trust them not to be watching. I gotta get some place safe before it overtakes me.

Before she overtakes me.

I’m breathing harsh, but it’s not the running that does it to me. It’s Daniel. His skin against mine, his voice warm like a sunrise, and those eyes—flashing in my memory a cornflower blue… And there’s a panic and I—

I plunge off the side of the road, slosh through a ditch and into a thin tree-line. Just a little bit of cover. I collapse and the change hits me like it always does.

Real sudden. Real uncontrollable. The panic is second only to the pain. I clench down to smother a scream. It hurts down to the bone. Sometimes I feel this invisible instrument scraping at marrow, unravelling me. Jabbed between joints, levering my bones apart.

My skin stretches. Burns. There is a lingering moment of agonized anticipation as I wait for it to rip like thin cotton. When it does, I am barely able to keep my silence. Skin gives way to thick, tough horse-hide. I rake my fingers through the soft soil, desperate for some anchor.

“Father, please,” I gasp, before the change takes away my voice. My prayers become whinnies. My hands become hooves. My clothes split and rip as the other part of me emerges, full in the flesh.

When it’s over, she stands there for a long moment. Her name is Belle; she’s been with me, part of me for as long as I can remember. She shakes her massive head; her flaxen mane slaps against her neck. A fly buzzes somewhere close and her tail twitches over tawny haunches. Pain recedes. Fear lingers, though it didn’t use to.

She waits. I wait.

And finally, it comes.

It’s a rush. Power. She bursts forward, out into the freshly churned soil of the Stoltzfus’ fields. Thick haunches propel her forward. Hooves reach for more ground. The wind combs invisible fingers through her coarse mane and tail.

Inside her, I give myself over to animal abandon. Here, everything is okay. There are no rules and frowning elders. There are no demands to find a spouse, to choose the church or the outside world. There is only sweat and the strain of muscle, and the wind and the grass, and the power.

Belle snorts uneasily. Slackens her pace and cocks her head to the side. There’s a fearful sensation, creeping in, and I am sick with it instead of lost in the mare’s power. She slides to an abrupt halt and whirls. There is nothing but the wind behind her, nothing but the crickets and their serenade. Her hooves churn the soil as she skitters to the side again, always looking behind.

What’s wrong? It has never felt like this before.

We are both disturbed by the sensation that she’s dragging something along behind her. An invisible buggy, a burden—and at that moment, it hits us, as one.

She’s carrying me. She always has, but now she feels it.

Our forms used to be pure inside her. Separated. When she was a horse, she was wholly a horse. When she was a boy, she was wholly a boy. She was all one thing or she was all another.

But things aren’t so simple anymore. The lines inside her feel blurry.

Pale streaks of light are beginning to bleed into the sky outside our barn. I am on my hands and knees in the straw of my stall. A neat pile of somber-colored clothes waits on a worn bench beside me and, next to it, a bucket of water and ladle.

Mam is a gut woman. Too gut for me.

When my sides quit heaving and I can finally breathe evenly, I rise on shaky legs like a newborn foal. I scoop up handfuls of water from the bucket and scrub away the sweat and grime on my chest, shoulders, and thighs. Pulling on the coarse black pants feels like a sin. They scratch against my renewed skin and the horse in me shudders. The plain white shirt clings to my still damp chest as I slide the suspenders over my shoulders with a grimace.

Mam’s smell—mostly flour, a hint of vanilla and a whole lot of fresh-baked-bread—reaches me before I hear her step behind me. She leans against the outside of the stall, peering around carefully. Our eyes meet and shame instantly fills me, a hot sensation spreading from stomach to face in a flash.

There are so many questions and tentative hopes in the lines of her face. I avoid her gaze and it’s all the answer she needs. Still, she steps closer. “Did ya meet anyone then, son?”

Yes. Daniel’s face floods my mind—the squared jaw, the slightly bent nose and that playful smile. I inhale sharply and pull Mam to me so she won’t see my face.

Mam clings like a child. Used to be, she was taller than me. Bigger than me. But that was many years ago. Now she feels too thin, too fragile. And I bear guilt for that, too. In Pennsylvania we were surrounded by loved ones—her and Dat’s cousins and sisters, brothers and grandparents.

But then I saw that Zook boy thrashing his horse. All I could see was the whites of that creature’s eyes. I could feel its panic and pain. Feel the harness and the buggy traces hemming it in on both sides, and it was scared and he kept striking it with the whip and…

“Joash?” Mam pulls back enough to look into my face. “You okay, boy? You’re shaking.”

She blinks tears from her faded blue eyes. I shake my head. Mam and Dat have been there for me, all my life; they’ve made sacrifices for my sake. I even told them about Belle. But how can I tell them about the two halves merging? About my lustful thoughts for Daniel Yoder?

“I just feel poorly for failing you, Mam. I know ya miss all—”

“Shh,” she chides, sliding an arm around me and guiding me out of the stall. “We best put the past behind us and thank the Lord for the blessings of today and tomorrow. I raised you better than to be dwelling on things such as can’t be changed.”

Things such as can’t be changed.

I do my best to put them evil thoughts behind me as I enter the kitchen with Mam. We take up our familiar places at the counter and I help her get breakfast ready for Dat. I lose myself in the comforting smells and sounds of this place: the crackle of bread’s still-warm crust as I slice through it, the sizzle and pop of bacon, the whiffs of smoke leaking from the wood-stove’s flue.

Only when the door bangs shut behind me am I pulled out of this momentary calm. Dat scrapes muck off his boots on the mat. His eyes are dark, watching me, brows pushing down in a frown as he hangs his hat on a peg. He’s a big man, dusky of hair and eyes. His skin is bronzed from hours of labor beneath the sun, and all these colors makes the bland white walls of our home seem blander.

“Been out all night, boy,” he says, his voice a thunder-rumble of judgment. “Take that as a good sign?”

He wants me to find a girl like Katie Beiler, ask to take her home in my buggy—only I never bring a buggy, ’cause I can’t stand hooking old Mae up to one. Instead, I’m spending my rumspringa stalling and changing shapes in the night. Sometimes I think he’d give up the world for my sin to be drinking, smoking, or anything other than what it is: bone-deep and unshakable.

He huffs at my silent admission and stomps into the dining room.

“C’mon now,” Mam says gently. I help her carry breakfast to the thick cherry-wood table, handcrafted by Mam’s father. We set out the serving dishes: piles of greasy bacon, rolls of spicy sausage, the still-warm braid of friendship bread, eggs scrambled the way Dat likes. I fill our glasses with chilled milk from our Jersey cow, Daisy. And Dat’s eyes follow me, a constant silent reprimand. He lets me help Mam in a way that most Amish would find shameful. Women’s work.

But if you’re half mare and half man, what does that make you? Where does that put your God-given roles and responsibilities as laid down in the Bible and the Ordnung?

Dat offers a prayer and we tuck into our meal.

My silverware lies untouched; I eat with my fingers. The taste of metal in my mouth brings back bitter memories of the day Deacon Zook found me in my horse-form and tacked me up. I shiver at the memory, almost glad when Dat speaks.

“Can’t put off the plowin’ anymore.”

The horse in me twitches. “That so?”

He’s trying to ask without asking. “Wouldn’t be gut to start out wrong. Best give the People time to get used to us, ‘fore we go adopting peculiar ways again.”

My hands clench under the table. Mam’s eyes are on us. Tension whirls around us like smoke off pine brush.

“Mae’s too old for that kind of work,” I say. An image flashes in my mind—old Mae harnessed up straining as she drags the plow. Muscles bunching, hooves slipping in the soil.

“Joash, we got to be careful—” Dat starts.

I stand. My knees jar the table. Milk splashes out of my glass. With shaking hands, I use my napkin to clean up the mess. “It ain’t right,” I whisper. “I can’t…”

Most times, I control the change. But the need is always inside me, sometimes burning hot and sometimes just embers in my belly. Whenever I get tore up with emotions, she surges to the front of my mind. Same thing happens when I go too long without letting her out—like with the Deacon that time. Never should’a turned mid-day like that; I learned my lesson well.

Dat’s standing now, too. He’s got his hands out as if to show he isn’t going to hurt me. He’s treating me like the animal inside me. Careful not to spook me.

My eyes are wet when I meet his gaze. “Please, Dat…”

His jaw clenches as he steps for the door. “So be it. Best hope Mr. Knowlton’s got time to tend to our work then.” His heavy tread sounds his retreat through the kitchen. The door slams and I settle shakily back on the bench.

Dat’s off to hire an English farmer and his tractor. The Ordnung isn’t specific about hiring your fieldwork out, but I know what kind of disapproval the act will bring down upon my family’s head. We used the English when necessary, but they’re still outsiders.

My family’s given almost everything for me.

Come next Sunday Singing, I’m going to ask to take Katie Beiler home. It’s the right thing to do.

Isn’t it?

The steady clip-clop of hooves and the rattle of buggy wheels signal the arrival of our neighbors. My fingers freeze up, still carefully holding the needle. Mam’s stopped her quilting, too, and we listen to the muffled chatter of masculine voices.

The kitchen door opens and I scramble back from the quilt.

It’s only Dat. “Put down your woman’s work now. I need ya.”

I move to the window and peer out. A dozen buggies and strapped-up horses. I wince. When I catch sight of Daniel amongst a group of young men our age, my heart stutters. I straighten quickly and face Dat. “Mam needs me—” I’d been helping her sew the wedding quilt. Mam was always more kind, open, and understanding about my peculiarities.

Dat grips my sleeve in one strong hand and lowers his voice. “I ain’t asking, boy. I did what you wanted and hired out the fieldwork, now you gotta at least act like you might be a man.”

Mam inhales sharply, but doesn’t speak against her husband. I reel back from his words, but he’s already dragging me toward the door. I shake him loose to pull my boots on. When he closes the door behind us, he does it nonchalantly, as if nothing is wrong.

It isn’t normal for Amish families to keep secrets this big. The weight of this settles on me as I tuck my hat down against the sun.

The young men are gathered around the skeleton of a barn we’ve been in the process of raising. Bare blond rafters and stacks of sheet metal wait for us.

“Hullo, Joash!” Daniel calls. The group parts, allows me in. They nod a welcome, but I can feel the distance even in that expression. Most of them are bearded—a sign of their marriages. Daniel and I are the only two clean-shaven men.

“Hello,” I offer back, mustering a smile.

The group passes back and forth some friendly banter as if I’m not even there. I can’t keep my eyes off Daniel as he joins right in. There isn’t a scrap of fear or awkwardness in him. It’s like God took all the strength and courage of a self-assured stallion and wove it into this man standing before me. My face flushes hot and I wipe sweat out of my eyes.

On the roof, the entire unit moves in tandem, laughing and sweating and striving together. I fumble with the sheet metal. It’s hot and the edges are sharp. I nearly let a piece slide down off the rafters, but Daniel catches it in time.

“Ach, you act like you never roofed a barn before, Joash,” he says, smiling.

“Jah, been a while,” I lie. I grip the rafter between my thighs and help him hold the sheet as a few other fellows begin bolting it down.

“Here.” Daniel steps across the rafters as if he’s skipping over a puddle and offers me a pair of gloves from his back pocket. “Helps with the edges.”

Our fingers brush as I accept the gloves. For a heartbeat, we remain that way, hands touching under the safety of the garment, and our eyes meet. Something sharp and wistful passes through me. I want him—really and truly, in a way that terrifies me. I keep telling myself it’s just the horse in me, but I don’t know anymore. Daniel’s lips curve in a gentle smile, like he knows, like he sees the hidden parts inside me. But then he breaks the contact, retreats to his spot on the roof.

“Th-thanks,” I say, then clear my throat. Normally the gloves would feel unnatural—and I can hear Belle echoing her distaste in my mind—but today they feel like a gift. Like a sign of… something that can never be.

We work through the heat of the afternoon. I lose myself in watching Daniel. He works quickly, chattering with a lightness I envy. The muscles under his tanned forearms bunch and cord as he hefts the sheet metal up over the rafters. The other men in their white shirts and dark pants blur around us until I am completely lost in the rhythm of Daniel’s words, the marvel of his strong hands.

Someone nudges my shoulder and I jump.

“Fisher, you gonna help us or what?” I blink, blush, and realize that they’ve all moved on to the next panel. They’re all looking at me.

“I-I’m sorry. The sun…”

Dat’s dark-eyed frown lingers on me from the other side of the roof; Daniel’s still laughing, his cornflower blue eyes twinkling like something magical. I’m all mixed up and it’s hard to focus on keeping my footing.

When the laughter settles down, a few of the men around me start humming hymns from the Ausbund. The words of praise to God usually have a lulling effect on me, but I hear Deacon Ezra Beiler, Katie’s father, ask a question of my father.

“So what ’cause you got for hiring them English tractors, Abram?”

The humming drifts into silence. Now there is only the warping cry of sheet metal and the steady breathing of the men around me. My body tenses as I peek at Dat on the other slope of the roof.

He settles back on his heels, meets my gaze briefly before looking to Deacon Beiler. “We’s still settling in. Our mare is gettin’ too old for that kind of work and I ain’t had the time to get a new one.”

A moment’s silence. My pulse pounds through my temple at the lie my father told. I yearn to fly apart, to fly into Belle, and leave behind the burdens of this world.

I walked Katie Beiler home from singing. She asked why I didn’t have a buggy.

Seems like I have to lie more and more every day. I thought about marriage, the way the lies would pile up like the husks of dead leaves.

She’s a true beauty—not just in the coils of wheat-blond hair under her kapp and those bluebell eyes always seeking mine—but in her heart and soul. She has a gentle way with animals and seems especially fond of her dat’s dairy cows. She told me, as we walked, of a time when she’d helped one of the cows with a difficult birth. Her eyes glittered with unashamed pride as she told me of tying twine to the babe’s front legs and pulling with the cow’s contractions.

“I named him Jonah,” she said with an easy laugh. She laughs like that often and speaks kind of everyone. In that way, she is so similar to Daniel. But of course, she isn’t.

But I won’t be selfish. And life is all sacrifice, all struggle. I’ll join the church, let them baptize me, pray they never find out what I am. I’ll lie to Katie—assuming she accepts me as her husband. I’ll lie with Katie in one bed and raise a family and pray they’re not cursed like me.

I used to pray for God to take this thorn out of my flesh. I used to ask him why he did this to me. And I used to be afraid that maybe he didn’t make me this way. Maybe I did something when I was little, so bad it cursed me.

As I step onto our porch, I square my shoulders. There’s a soft flickering light from the lantern in the dining room. Did Mam wait up for me again? Standing outside the door, I try to summon up strength like Daniel’s got. No more thoughts of him. No more. You just gotta shut that off. My eyes sting. I blink back the tears, try to shove back Belle as she noses her consciousness into mine. We want something more than what we’re about to choose.

We want more than a lie of a life with Katie Beiler.

We want more than pretending to be one of these people, and all the while hiding our true self.

But this is what we must do.

Mam and Dat are huddled around the lantern at the table, their hands linked. They both look up and even in the wan light I can see Mam’s puffy, red-rimmed eyes. Dat’s jaw keeps working in the way that tells me he, too, is near tears.

“Mam? Dat? What’s—”

“Sit down,” Dat says, and he doesn’t sound angry. He sounds tired, and somehow that’s worse.

I obey. Fear pulses through me and I remember the way they looked when they told me we had to leave Hickory Hollow. It was my fault then. Is it my fault again?

“Bishop Stoltzfus came by this evening,” Dat says.

“Why?” My voice croaks and I’m suddenly parched.

Mam’s shaking, but she won’t speak. She bows her head, graying strands of hair escaping her kapp.

“He gave us a warning ’bout using the English tractors,” Dat continues. There’s still no anger in his dark eyes. They reflect the flame, they do not harbor it. “Says it’s not in line with the spirit of the Ordnung. He thinks we do it for the convenience. ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat.'”

“I-if we don’t stop—” Mam says, but can’t finish.

I scoot down the bench so my knees brush hers and I rest a hand on her arm. “I’m sorry, Mam. I’m so sorry.” She doesn’t need to finish. If we don’t stop, we’ll be cast out. Again.

Mam draws herself up when she sees my tears. She straightens her shoulders. “We can find another home. We can try again. One of those less… them modern orders, where—”

“No.” My whisper stops her.

“That’s not all,” Dat says. “Bishop says you got to choose your path before the week’s out. He had to tell Daniel Yoder the same thing.”

The utterance of Daniel’s name makes me flinch. So we’ve both got to choose. Conflicting thoughts surge through me and the trembling begins in my hands; I remember and long for the surety of hooves.

Squeezing Mam’s hand gently, I stand. “Use the horse, then.” It’s hard to speak when I’m trembling like this. My vision is blurry, but I catch the surprise in Dat’s voice.


“No more tractors.”

“Are you sure, Joash?” Mam sounds as broken as I feel. Gratitude and love flood my chest, and they are warm feelings, but they are not enough.

“Jah, I’m sure. And I’ll join the church. Bishop ain’t gotta worry about that.”

I’ve got to get outside before Belle tears me apart.

Belle rears and scrapes her hooves against the sky. We fly across the fields, mindless of the corn and wheat shoots we trample. I try to lose myself in the rhythmic pounding of her hooves.

Despite a recent rain, the night is steamy and hot. We shift and slide on the slick soil as we run. Sweat froths on our neck, our chest. Belle no longer flinches or skitters away, trying to see her burden. We are becoming one.

And we’re both wondering how we’re going to carry this lie for the rest of our lives.

We stretch low over the ground, avoiding Amish and English homes alike. We streak toward the trees surrounding Barrowman’s Pond. The thought of cool water, washing over our steaming body and soothing our feverish minds, is appetizing, like sweet clover calling.

I am trying not to think of how I will ask Katie to marry me when Belle pulls up sharp and snorts in surprise. We stand at the edge of the pond, surrounded by creaking trees. Cattail fronds bob around the water. A young man surfaces, splashing and triggering a cascade of ripples around him.

We do not move, Belle and I.

We are pierced. Our heart beats too fast, our breath comes too quickly as we recognize the man in the water.

Daniel Yoder tilts his head to the side as he sees us. He stands and the water comes only to his waist, leaving his bare chest dripping under the pale moonlight. The sight burns deep inside me, inside us both. With Belle at the helm, my feelings are amplified. She trembles.

“Well, hullo there,” Daniel says. “You slip out of somebody’s pasture?”

Belle snorts. Scrapes her paw greedily through the mud. She wants to bolt into the water, but for the first time, I am fighting her, trying to wrangle her back.

Daniel steps toward us. His clothes are piled in a heap on top of a nearby boulder. Our gaze rolls over the muscles of his chest, the strong shoulders and forearms, the abs rippling down to…

Daniel pulls on his trousers. His suspenders loop over his bare, wet shoulders. Belle snorts and shakes her head. He smiles as he rubs his hand down the length of our face. He caresses our muzzle and laughs when Belle nuzzles her head against his hard chest. His skin is surprisingly soft. He slides his hands down our neck and we tremble. The slow slide of his skin against ours makes every part of us feel painfully awakened. It should be enough—this gentle touch—but it isn’t. She needs more. Panic shoots through me as she presses our body into his.

His edges are sharp against us, his touch playing against my hunger and I—

I need more and there’s a panic and I—

Belle screams a protest as we begin unravelling. Our vision blurs, pain seeping in on every front as we collapse in the wet clay. Daniel stumbles back and the removal of his touch eases off some of my panic, but it’s not enough. My fear is redoubled as Belle’s bones grind down. Pressure in my chest, in my head. No, no! Not in front of him.

He doesn’t run. I can hardly see him through the tears in my eyes—eyes that are being squeezed and pushed and compressed into the proper size to fit my shrinking skull. Rough horsehide sloughs off in peels, as if grated away by an invisible hand. The strength of my hooves is lost to trembling fingers. When at last my world stops blurring, when my body stills, I am curled up in the mud. Belle’s last whinny twists into words, “God, please!”


I can’t raise my eyes. The mud is cool against my new, naked skin. My breathing is wet and thick, shuddery.

Daniel steps nearer and I am forced to look up. I try to brace for disgust, for horror, for any number of judgmental expressions I have pictured a thousand times. Instead, there is only awe in the clean lines of his face. His eyes are wide, glittering by the moonlight as he crouches down and carefully extends one shaking hand.

yokedpull2“…Joash?” His voice is breathy.

My stomach churns as I wipe tears from my face. “Daniel.” I sit back on my haunches, hands struggling to hide myself. He glances down, then away. There’s color in his face, as if he’s just worked a full day under the heat of the sun. He whirls to his pile of clothes and returns quickly with his shirt. I accept it when he presses it into my hands.

“Here, to…”

I cover myself and whisper a raspy thanks. Another few heartbeats of silence. We stare at each other and I am sick with dread. I shiver with it.

“I-I’m sorry you…” I start, but the words escape me. “I’m sorry.”

He’s already shaking his head. “I find myself speechless, Joash. And I tell you that is not a frequent thing!” He laughs, and the sound is a little skittish, but still warm. “I don’t even know what to say.”

I drop my head. If I could, I would turn and flee, but his shirt cannot hide the truth of me. “I know. It’s… horrible. I think I am cursed—”

“No.” He kneels beside me, laying his hand on my shoulder. I shiver, but he doesn’t pull away. His eyes are full of an earnestness that strikes me in the chest. “It is a wonder, brother.” That light in his eyes, that awe! “Truly. I knew our God was a God of wonders, but this…” He laughs again and it is a merry sound that washes over my bruises and my fears. “Joash, it cannot be a curse. It is a sign of the Lord’s power.”

“Y-you don’t think I am… wrong? An unclean thing?” My hand rises to his shoulder, emboldened by his touch.

“An unclean thing? More like a miracle. It is a gut thing, do you not think? A gift to be embraced, welcomed, even. I—”

I cannot stop the tears. I sag against him, my forehead against his bare shoulder, and I am powerless under the sway of this relief. Belle is, for once, at peace within me. We are both still, even as our shoulders shake with all that has been held back and pressed down. Daniel’s hand still rests gently on my shoulder and he does not pull away. His warmth is overwhelming; I feel his breath on my neck and only when the heat of my attraction rises do I pull away, necessarily.

“I’m sorry,” I say again, wiping my face.

He squeezes my shoulder and stands. “Do not be. I have very many questions for you, Joash. I would ask them all, but I have to get back.”

The thought of him leaving rips at my insides. I start to rise, then stop, clutching his shirt against me. “I-I could take you… carry you, wherever you need go.”

His head cocks to the side as he considers me for a moment. I fear my voice was too eager, my expression too hungry. Then a smile cracks his face and he nods. “Jah, if it wouldn’t trouble you?”

Heat rises up my neck as I surrender to Belle again. The change is slower this time, but no less painful. I am aware of Daniel’s marveling eyes upon me as my bones are leveraged apart, as they groan and lengthen. Pain blinds me, a half-human, half-horse cry escaping my lips. My skin shudders, then gives, an audible rip that rises into the night air.

Within moments, my weakness becomes strength. My flesh becomes hide. I am strong and sturdy and I rise to see his shining face. He laughs again and scoops up the rest of his clothes. When he returns to us, he stands at our side. “May I?”

When we bob our head, forelock dancing over our eyes, he grabs a fistful of our mane in one hand. We’ve never tolerated a person on our back. That one time under the harness was enough. But there is no suppressing leather now, no metal bit between our teeth.

There is only Daniel. He climbs on our back and speaks softly, “You are a wonder of God, Joash, and a gut man.”

The next minutes pass in a slow blur. It is hard to feel guilty for enjoying Daniel when he is so near, when his touch is constantly on my neck. My neck. Because Belle and I are the same now, or soon will be. The lines inside me dissolve like sugar in water. This is my powerful body. These are my strong hooves, my wild gaiety and fierce exuberance for life. Yet, there are still parts of me that are afraid. There are parts of me that still reprimand me for this sin. I am at once happy and miserable.

But I am one. I am whole. I am wholly man and wholly horse.

Why did it take Daniel to bring me to this conclusion? His knees hug the barrel of my sides and his hands are bunched in my mane and it feels so right, and I am no longer a secret. He beheld me and he did not turn away. He saw in me the handiwork of God, not the abomination I have always deemed myself. He accepted me and if he can accept that, perhaps… Perhaps I could stay. I could live a lie for the rest of our community if only I knew Daniel knew and cared, if only I… If I could tell him…

I begin to carry him home, but he directs me elsewhere. We trot down dusty dirt lanes, lined with sentinel-straight oak trees. We move under the moon, then under the branching shadows of trees.

We reach a home I do not recognize. My heart beats quicker as I try to find words to express how he moves me, how I am constantly lost in thoughts of him. I am still grasping the edges of these slippery words when the door opens and Rachel slips out. When she nears, I see joy in her face. Daniel slides off my back, still shirtless, and pulls her into an embrace. They whisper back and forth, affirming vows that will soon be spoken in front of everyone.

Daniel kisses Rachel and a cry, both equine and human in its torment, wrenches from my lips as I stumble back. Daniel flinches, turns, and our eyes meet. My sides rise and fall unsteadily as he disentangles himself from the girl and steps to my side. He brushes his fingers against the side of my face and there is something like an apology on the fullness of his lips. A shadow flickers over his strong cheekbones.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Joash.” His voice is low, so she cannot hear.

I sway, but keep my feet. I nicker softly and brush my head against his shoulder. He turns, drapes an arm over my head, and the warm susurrus of his voice and breath flood my neck.

“I can’t,” he says. “You need something I haven’t got in me. I don’t… But I meant it back there, brother. This is a gut thing. You are a gut thing. You mustn’t forget that.”

Through the rumbles of pain, thundering inside me, I nuzzle his chest. I enjoy the touch for just a moment longer.

And then I turn and trot away. It takes every ounce of resolve I have to leave him behind, but I do not turn and I do not look back. Still, he fills my thoughts. I let his words echo in my head. It’s hard to think through the pain, but something in me feels alive and awake, almost hopeful.

Daniel welcomed the truth about me. I can’t be with him, but I can take his words with me. Beyond the cornfields and Sunday singings, I will find someplace both man and mare can call home. This world is big, bigger than Amish and English put together. Shadows litter the path ahead, and I do not know the way. A thrill of fear almost makes me almost want to turn back.


Instead I race under the moonlight. The packed dirt roads are solid as a rock beneath my hooves.

I can still feel the imprint of Daniel’s body against mine.

Maybe I always will.


Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction.  Short stories are her true passion, despite a few curious forays into the world of novels.  Over forty of her short stories have been published, appearing recently in Cricket Magazine, Spark: A Creative Anthology, Read Short Fiction, and more.  To learn more about Alexis visit

Alexis A. Hunter
Alexis A. Hunter
Interview with Alexis | Shimmer #23 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Of Blood and Brine, by Megan E. O’Keefe

Child’s mistress was out when the scentless woman entered the shop and laid a strip of severed cloth upon the counter. For once, Child wished her mistress were at her side.

bloodpull1“May I help you?” Child asked around a clot of fear.

“Make me a vial of this perfume,” Scentless said, her voice honey-sweet though her sillage was hollow, “and another exactly the same, but with the tiniest hint of the sea.”

Child squinted, desperate to find a hint of the woman’s identity beneath the netting she wore across her green-brown eyes. Scentless had forgone the usual patterns women painted around their eyes. Her face was a bare mask.

Unease dampened the palms of Child’s hands. The woman was old enough to have passed her Naming Day, but no matter how Child flared her nostrils and breathed, she could not scent the woman’s name. Scentless wore the wrap all named men and women wore, covered hair-to-toe in thin black fabric to protect her skin from the poison of the sun’s red glare. The cloth of her wrap had a subtle sheen, the fabric so smooth Child could not even see the weave. She must be wealthy. The slender arc of her cheekbones rose just above the bottom of netting, hinting that she was beautiful.

And yet the woman wore no scent. She was nameless.

Even the dead smell, Child thought, then shook herself. This was business. Whatever had urged this woman to go out into the world without a name was none of her concern.

Forcing the pleasant shopkeeper-smile her mistress had taught her, Child made a show of rinsing her hands in clean water, then scrubbing them with salt and rinsing them again. She dried her hands on a fine, fresh rag, and held them up for Scentless’ inspection. The woman leaned forward, sniffed the air, and nodded her approval.

Thus prepared, Child gathered the cloth into her hands and brought it as close to her nose as she dared. The aroma was warm, spice-tinged. Cardamom and violet with the faintest whiff of balsam. The sea would be a pleasant addition to such a scent, but Child had no idea how to blend such an aroma.

“I can recreate this by this evening,” Child said, “but the addition of the sea will take time. There is no single oil for such a scent.”

Scentless inclined her head, the supple fabric of her wrap hissing softly as the folds brushed against each other. “I will need it by the full-moon,” she said, and laid a rope of silver upon the counter alongside the cloth.

Child’s throat clenched. Such a sum was no small thing to turn one’s nose up at, even if the deadline was nigh impossible. Not daring to touch the silver, lest she spoil the cleanliness of her hands, Child folded the cloth and set it aside, then took up a slip of paper and a grease pencil. She breathed deep, settling the butterflies fighting to escape through her lips.

“Forgive my asking, but what is your name? I cannot smell it on you.”

The woman’s eyes crinkled at the corners. Whether in amusement or anger, Child could not tell. “I wear none. Put what you like on your paper, I will return in three days to check upon your progress. I will bring you a gold rope if you finish in time.”

She pressed black-gloved hands together and bowed deep, then turned and stepped from the shop back into the hot red eye of the sun’s regard.

Child stared at the paper, stunned. A whole gold rope. Enough to buy her own wrap, her own name. Chewing her lip, she wrote: Scentless.

Then crossed it out, over and over again, until the name was little more than a black square. Her mistress had not been here. She did not need to know. Heart hammering, Child filled in the square until it was black as coal.

Beneath it, she began to make notes on what she had smelled in the cloth.

Ivy-beneath-cedar returned that evening with wine so rich on her breath Child scarcely scented her arrival. She staggered a step, then slung herself into a creaking chair in their workshop, squinting eyes veined with red spiderwebs at her. Child tensed, turning on her stool so that her back guarded her work, and laid her palm flat over Scentless’s receipt.

“You’re working late,” her mistress slurred.

“We had a new client today. A wealthy one.” Hesitantly, Child pulled the length of silver from the pocket of her apron. Ivy-beneath-cedar’s eyes sparked beneath the netting of her wrap, reflecting the glitter of the lantern light against the precious metal.

“What did she want for so much?” her mistress scoffed, “To change her name?”

“Cardamom-over-violet, centered with balsam,” Child added in a rush, “Two vials.”

“Well.” Her mistress heaved herself to her feet and took the length of silver from her. “That is a simple enough task for you. If you make her happy, we might use some of this for your own Naming Day. You’re meant to take the wrap in what, a month? Two?”

“Four weeks,” Child said, unable to keep a flush from creeping across her cheeks.

“Right. Good girl.” Ivy-beneath-cedar gave her a thick-handed pat on the shoulder. She straightened, brushed the rumpled folds of her wrap smooth, and then stumbled through the back door toward her bedchamber, humming an uneven tune all the while. Child’s small fists clenched. She was no fool. There would be no silver left for her by the time her Naming Day came. Ivy-beneath-cedar would drink every last silver away.

But the gold rope. That she could use.

Child smoothed the wrinkles her sweating palm had left on Scentless’s receipt and returned to her work, fingers dancing amongst warm amber bottles lit by the glow of her oil lamp. She didn’t dare burn candles—tallow and beeswax were too strong of scent, they would muddy her work. And she needed clarity now, if she were going to distill the sea.

Child walked the edge of the cold shore, bare feet sinking in rough sand. The red glare of the sun cast the pale beige granules in eerie, pink light, as if blood had been spilled across them and then diluted by the waves. Beak-pecked carcasses of sea creatures lay along her path, their poisonous flesh bulbous with tumors even after those few birds who could stomach them had picked them over. Why anyone would desire to smell like those wretched waters, Child could not guess.

The beach was empty, as it always was, save for a small group of mourning. They bundled their dead—two or three, she could not tell—onto a floating bier, set light the wooden slats, and shoved it out to sea. Child caught her breath, anger tightening her fists as flames licked up around the bier, revealing the wraps the dead had been sent to their rest within. Such a waste. But then, they had earned them. It was their right.

She turned upwind to avoid the smoke and breathed deep of the air, closed her eyes, and flared her nostrils. At the base of the scent of the sea was the brittle bark of the trees which ringed it. Warm, dry. Overlaid with the overwhelming crush of the water itself; a cool, menthol middle mingled with the wet vegetal aroma of aquatic plant-life.

But there was something else above it all, something that took those two meager elements and made them say sea. There was brine, metallic iron, and the air itself, crisp as if lightning had just struck. Both aromas too ephemeral to bottle.

She sighed, opened her eyes, and kicked clumps of sand tangled with rotted seaweed. The Cardamom-over-violet she had already made she clutched tight in her pocket, warming the hard glass with her palm. Ivy-beneath-cedar’s workshop was not suitable to this task, she did not have the ingredients required.

Child extended a finger in her pocket, felt the small thread of copper she kept hidden there, her week’s meager pay. She could buy a new fragrant oil or resin.

And then, with the gold rope, she could start her own shop. Blend her own name.

The market awnings of the city Bahat were dyed green, but in the high light of noon the tops of them turned brown under the red light. Child blended amongst the crowd as best she could, but she was tall for her age and that made her difficult to miss. She drew stares, the people of Bahat wondering just what a girl her age was doing unnamed and without her wrap.

Child paused, glancing at the backs of her hands. Even under the shade of her hat the sun’s glare took its toll. Her skin, nearly fourteen summers old, was already dry and cracked as an ancient lakebed.

Soon it would be dangerous to go without. Soon, the cracks in her skin would begin weeping dark fluids, and no emollient salve would hold the spread of the sun-sickness at bay.

Ivy-beneath-cedar wouldn’t care; apprentices were easy enough to come by. The Justice of Bahat would see no harm done—those who failed to earn enough to purchase their own wraps before the sickness took them were considered useless. Just another mouth to feed from the scorched soil.

Child swallowed, shook her head. No. She would capture the sea. She would claim the Scentless woman’s golden rope.

Embarrassment blushed her cheeks, added haste to her steps. She wove amongst the hundreds of other men and women of the market, catching hints of their names as she slipped between them. A blunt name struck her—without nuance, without balance. Myrrh-under-clove, or was it over? She couldn’t tell, the dominant notes had been blended in equal measure. The heady scents competed with one another for dominance, bludgeoning her senses.

Curiosity lifted her head and she turned, following her nose. A male silhouette familiar enough to tickle the back of her mind stood beside a market stall, weighing a bottle in his hand. The man paid for the bottle and set it in his basket—a basket she recognized. That man—no, that boy—was Lemon-over-neroli’s apprentice. Not even twelve summers, and he was already named. Poorly, but named and shielded from the sun none the less.

Child hunched her shoulders and hurried toward another merchant, eager to prove her own worth. The first stall she came too was filled with the usual base notes; sandalwood and patchouli, white musk and dark. She moved on, systematically, sniffing every single offering until her nose went numb and she was forced to rest. Child lingered near the stall of a kafa-maker so that the bitter-bright aroma of his roasted beans would refresh her senses. At the shop her mistress kept a platter of the beans for cleansing the nasal palette, but she hadn’t dared bring them with her. Ivy-beneath-cedar would suspect her of stealing before borrowing.

While Child rested, a tall woman approached and purchased kafa, her voice sweet and her eye makeup elaborate; whorls of black danced like eddies of wind around her lashes. As she turned to leave a breeze ruffled her wrap, blowing her scent towards Child’s overtired nose.

Balsam. Violet. Cardamom.

Child stiffened, sniffed the air once more to be certain. The woman drifted back into the crowd, nursing her kafa. Entranced, Child followed.

Cardamom-over-violet led her out of the market and into wider, half-empty streets, until they were climbing up winding ways and skirting the fences of homes bigger than any shop Child had ever seen.

Strange gardens grew beyond those gates, inedible plants that thrived under the harsh light, their huge leaves drooping between forbidding iron. Child attempted to slow, to blend into those lingering, but her clothes were too filthy and her feet dribbled ocean sand with each step. She did not belong here.

She did not even have a wrap to obscure that fact.

Cardamom-over-violet turned into one of those iron gates, the trailing edge of her wrap disappearing amongst vibrant greens. Child hesitated, then took a few quick steps forward, hoping to catch sight of some small clue, or just another sniff. Just to be sure.

Fingers wrapped round her arm, vise-tight, and yanked her into the greenery.

She stumbled, tripped, tried to wrench away on instinct but her other arm was grabbed and pinned to her side. Cardamom-over-violet peered at her through her wrap’s obscuring eye net, her eyes a familiar green-brown. Child stilled in her grasp.

“Why are you following me?” the woman asked, and though her voice was sweet it was not the honeyed tones Child remembered from Scentless.

bloodpull2“I thought I knew your scent, Cardamom-over-violet. Please forgive me, I was mistaken.”

The woman released her and leaned back, pressing her back against the gate. Relief flooded the woman’s posture, a slump came to her shoulders. “No, forgive me for grabbing you, Child. I am on edge.”

Child eased forward a half-step. “Are you well?”

Cardamom-over-violet’s head jerked forward, her shoulders squared, “I am fine, only grieving. The spirit of my sister…” She broke off, shook her head. “Never mind. I am a silly, mad woman.”

Child licked her lips, clenched her fist around the vial in her pocket. “Maybe it was your sister’s scent I recognized?”

“Impossible,” the woman snapped, “my sister drowned in the sea. An accident. Now go,” she pointed, “back to your world, little one.”

Child crossed Bahat in a haze, unable to peel her fingers from the vial. Cardamom-over-violet’s scent had been correct, she was certain of it. Her nose never lied to her, even if it was tired from a day of blending.

As she pushed her way free of the market press she caught a whiff of something, clean and sharp. Like the rain around lightning. Like the air above the sea. She froze, turned slowly, found the aroma turned with her. Shaking herself, leaves fell from her hat, their vibrant green bruised deep where they had been crushed against her. Leaves from Cardamom-over-violet’s garden.

Before they could be trod upon she scooped them up, gathered them up near her nose and breathed deep. Yes, that was it. That was the scent of the air above the sea. Now she would just need the brine. The iron.

Regret panged through her, bitter and queasy. Regret because she had already made her choice—already knew what she must do. To survive. She drew a deep breath to steady her nerves.

Every good perfumer knew where to find the scent of iron.

She glanced at the angle of the rusted sun, saw it seeping down into dusk. Ivy-beneath-cedar would be out by now, drinking away her silver.

And Child had her own key to the shop.

Scentless came the next morning. Her wrap was the same fine weave, the same loose fit. Her eyes bore no marks, but shone green-brown down at Child. A green-brown that was familiar to her now. Peering through the shadow of Scentless’s eye net, she followed the partial line of a cheekbone, marked the edge of the top of her nose. More than sisters. Twins.

Child’s fingers trembled as she sat the first vial upon the counter, nudged it forward. She had not bothered to set the wax on the cork with the seal of the shop; she wanted no link between the two.

“Here is Cardamom-over-violet,” she said, and watched the corners of the woman’s eyes twitch with subtle recognition.

“And the other?” the woman asked.

Taking a deep breath, Child set a second vial upon the counter. It was a sliver less full than the first, its cork also unwaxed.

“It is unfinished,” Scentless said, her voice as dulcet as ever.

“I need to know two things first.” Child willed strength into her voice, heard it crack anyway.

“Ask,” she said, a lilt of curiosity creeping through.

“First, will you pay me the gold?”

Scentless pulled a rope of glittering gold from within the folds of her wrap and laid it upon the counter with deliberate care. She took her hand back, leaving the gold. A promise.

Child nodded, cleared her throat. “Second. Did you drown in the sea?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed, and she gave a slight shake of the head. “No. I was drowned in the sea.”

“Give me your hand,” Child said as she uncorked the unfinished bottle and slid it forward. Scentless hesitated just a breath, then held her wrapped hand above it. Child grasped it in her own, felt the lush weave of the fabric, softer than any silk. She pricked the woman’s finger with a fine needle. Scentless sucked air through her teeth, but did not flinch.

Child squeezed drops through the cloth into the bottle. Drops that were not red. One, two. The deep-teal ichor was slow, viscous. Child whisked the bottle away and gave the woman her hand back, then stirred the mixture with the needle. Sniffed.

Metallic brine tingled her nose, mingling with the fresh-air aroma of the leaves. It would not last, the ichor would decay and lose its scent, but Child suspected it would last for as long as the woman needed.

She corked the vial, and still did not bother to wax it.

Scentless gathered both, bowed her thanks, and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Child blurted, and blushed as the woman glanced back, one thick brow raised. “What will you do?”

“This,” she held up Cardamom-over-violet, “will be for me. And this,” she held up the other, “is for the sister who squats in my home.”

Long after Scentless had gone, Child closed the shop and stepped under the red light of the sun’s regard, gold rope heavy in her pocket. In one hand she clutched a new vial, its wax stamped with a sigil of her own making. She held it to the bloodied light, the contents sloshing slow and viscous within their confines. It smelled of air and earth, of sand underfoot, and rain threatening above.

Of a storm about to break.

A fitting name, to start a new life in a new city. Far away from the nameless Child who had blended a killer’s end. Ozone-over-fern turned toward the market. She was going to need a wrap before she could buy a workshop of her own.


Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on. Megan now lives in the Bay Area of California with her fiancé and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. She is a first place winner in the Writers of the Future competition, vol. 30. Her website is:

Megan O'Keefe
Megan O’Keefe
Interview with Megan | Shimmer #23 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Shimmer #23: Malon Edwards

Tell us a bit about how “The Half-Dark Promise” came to be.

Malon Edwards
Malon Edwards

Back in 2011, Lincoln Crisler asked me if I wanted to be part of a four-novella anthology he and two of his buddies, Tim Marquitz and Ed Erdelac, were putting together. Lincoln had recently published my short story, “G-Child”, in his meta-human Corrupts Absolutely? anthology, so he was familiar with my work.

I was flattered that Lincoln had asked me to be part of the anthology, but I was also a bit hesitant. Lincoln wanted each novella to be about 20,000 words. At the time, I hadn’t written a short story more than 3,500 words — if that — and I’m a notoriously slow writer. I didn’t want to be the one who screwed up the anthology because I didn’t make deadline or the word count.

Also, those three guys love horror. They play in the dark. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to bring enough dark in my story to match theirs.

I almost told Lincoln I didn’t want to be part of the anthology, but I was very much intrigued by its theme. Each novella would feature a character during a different stage of life: youth, middle age and old age. Lincoln was doing old age, Tim middle age, and Ed youth. Lincoln thought Ed and I could split youth; I would do childhood, and Ed would do those wonderful teenage years.

Since I like a challenge, especially when it comes to writing, and since I enjoy writing children, I agreed to be part of the anthology. It also helped that I went to high school with Ed and I wanted to be in another anthology with him, and that Tim was very welcoming. He’s one of the kindest writers I know, despite how he looks. Everyone should buy all of his books and friend him on Facebook. He’s funny as hell.

Anyway, it took me some time to get into my novella, The Half Dark — which ended up to be just over 10,000 words, so it’s more like a novelette—but by the time I was done, I’d laid some good ground work for what was to become my Half Dark world. That was about three years ago.

Unfortunately, the anthology didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. I’ve always liked The Half Dark and its world, though, and I’ve wanted to expand on it, so as weeks and months went by, I would add new and different world building elements to it. Eventually, I got to a point where I was ready to write “The Half Dark Promise.”

One of the most interesting parts of “The Half-Dark Promise” is your use of Creole. Were there any reasons that you used Creole in certain situations, and not others? (Coming from a multi-lingual family myself, we often use words or phrases in certain languages because it’s just better that way. Is something similar going on, here?)

This may come as a surprise, but I don’t know Haitian Creole. I very much wanted to include it in the “Half Dark Promise,” and in more than just a few instances, but I wanted to do it right. So I researched it.

Let me step back for a moment, though. When I wrote my Half Dark novella, the main character, eleven-year-old Bijou LaVoix, speaks Louisiana Creole. She and her mother are from New Orleans (like my mother), and I wanted to use a language to help make the world a bit more rich. From what I can tell, Louisiana Creole is a language not many people speak, and internet study aids are few. So, my novella had very little Louisiana Creole.

By the time I was ready to write “The Half Dark Promise,” the world of my alternate Chicago had expanded somewhat, and I wanted Haitian Creole to be the dominant language and culture. I also wanted to have it well researched.

It didn’t take me long to find Mandaly Louis-Charles’ website, She, and it, is a great resource. I’ve requested her help with Haitian Creole many times, and she’s even narrated another story of mine set in my alternate Chicago for Escape Pod.

Ultimately, though, my lack of knowledge of Haitian Creole limited its use. I definitely wanted the language to give the story and world flavor, but I also wanted it to add to Michaëlle-­Isabelle’s characterization. I think one of the most endearing terms in Haitian Creole is “ti chouchou,” which means little darling or little sweetie. I love that Michaëlle-­Isabelle’s father calls her that.

In an early draft, I had the Pogo speaking Haitian Creole, but I removed it. Even though the Pogo is of Chicago, them speaking Haitian Creole just didn’t feel right. I didn’t want the Pogo sharing that sort of intimacy with Michaëlle­Isabelle. They didn’t deserve that intimacy.

What does the setting of the story – the South Side of Chicago – do for this piece? You’ve written other pieces set in Chicago, too – for any particular reason?

Ever since I’d read Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Octavia Butler’s Parable series almost ten years ago, I’ve wanted to write short stories rich in world building and culture, but set in Chicago. At the time, I hadn’t read novels set in Toronto or Los Angeles, or even Chicago. I wanted to do for Chicago what William Gibson did for the Sprawl. I know; ambitious.

But I also wanted to put my experience — the black experience, as lived in Chicago during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s in my stories. Brown Girl in the Ring is so rich in West Indian/Caribbean culture, and I wanted a similar richness in my stories.

At first, I didn’t see cultural richness in my life and experiences. My wife is from Canada, so we decided to move back to the Toronto area to raise our family. Many of her friends are West Indian, and the black experience in Canada is quite different from the black experience in America. I made comparisons I shouldn’t have, and my cultural experiences seemed to come up short.

I knew that wasn’t the case, so I actually sat down and took notes about my life, my experiences, and Chicago. My mother is from Mississippi, but after she graduated high school she moved to New Orleans for a while, and then Chicago. The mother in my Half Dark novella, which is also set in my alternate Chicago, had a similar experience.

One of the things I remember Chicago Public Schools proudly teaching us is Chicago was founded by a black man, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. There’s even a high school and a museum named after him.

Not much is known about Du Sable, but many historians believe he was Haitian. I thought it would be pretty cool to have an alternate Chicago whose founder and first mayor is a black man, and whose first language is Haitian Creole.

But again, I wanted my experience to be part of the Half Dark world, which is very much a scary place for children, so I tried to recall some scary experiences I had as a child in Chicago. And even though I grew up on the South Side of Chicago as a child of the eighties, my life hadn’t really been difficult or scary. My mom provided a good life for me.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns either, though. For a significant portion of my childhood, my mom was a single mother. She worked, and I was latch-key kid. I took two CTA buses from Jeffrey Manor, where I lived, to my school, John T. Pirie.  I did this from about second grade to fifth grade before my mom re-married and we moved to the suburbs. Sometimes, I took the bus by myself, but often it was with my god brother and my god sister, who were one and two years older than me, respectively.

I was a bit of an anxious child, so I remember being a bit scared to take the bus by myself, but I got used to it. It was my every day routine. After a while, taking the Jeffrey 6 and the 14 bus to school wasn’t scary.

The only thing I really remember being scared of in real life as a child in Chicago, was the clown.

I can’t remember how old I was when my mom told me this, and it might have even been teachers at school who said it. Either way, they’d told me if I ever saw a clown holding balloons to run away and go fund an adult. Back then, I was quite young when they told me this, and my memory now is a bit hazy, but they’d been referring to serial killer John Wayne Gacy who had dressed up as a clown he called Pogo. I do remember adults being afraid of him, and afraid for the children who walked home alone.

And there was my main piece for my Half Dark world and my alternate Chicago.

I’ve added a few more touches, like the Tell It Like It Is chant Michaëlle­Isabelle says in “The Half Dark Promise,” which seems to be very much a Chicago thing, and the promise itself, which elementary schools and high schools make with students for various reasons, including sober proms.

I didn’t want to depict Chicago as entirely negative, though. Chicago is messed up. Big time. There’s some bad shit going on there. It’s a scary place. So, I’ve given my Chicago a truly shit-your-pants boogeyman. I’ve given it a monster that scares both children and adults–the Pogo creature. It’s sinister, it’s Lovecraftian.

But I also wanted to show a South Side of Chicago that has hope. I wanted to populate my Chicago with hardworking people who, even when gazing up at its underbelly, try to make it a better place.. And I believe that’s happening right there, right now.

Have you read anything great recently?

Not too long ago, I read The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. It’s so outside of my comfort zone as a novel. It went way over my head, the first read, and blew my mind at the same time. I was so confused by it, but I loved it all the same. I’m reading it again, slowly this time, to get a better understanding of what I missed the first time. It’s such a cool book.

Finally, it’s a new year! Any resolutions?

To write more. Plain and simple. Oh, and to write faster.


 Read “The Half Dark Promise” | Buy Shimmer #23

The Half Dark Promise, by Malon Edwards

omething moves in the half dark two gas lamps ahead of me. I hold fast at the edge of a small circle of gaslight cast down from the street lamp above me.

I don’t breathe. I don’t move. I just hold my breath so long that I get lightheaded as I try to drop eaves hard into the half dark around the gas lamps ahead. But all I hear is my steam-clock heart going tanmiga tanmiga tanmiga in my chest.

As my breathing slows, I peer into the half dark. Zye mwen fè yanyan—my eyes search right and left and up and down. I can’t help but think about Bobby Brightsmith, about his little sister and his little brother. I can’t help but wonder if I’m about to join them.

Wherever they are.

Something moves again. I press my hands tight over my mouth. I try not to whimper too loud. Mwen pa vle kèlkeswa sa li a manje m. I don’t want whatever is out there to eat me. M pou kont mwen. I’m out here all alone. I can barely hear the laughter and shouts from timoun yo on Yates Avenue, the next street over.

Since Bobby went missing, Ollie Cobbler and the other children won’t walk home with me. They don’t like me. They’re scared of me. They give my harness the side eye. They think Bobby disappearing is my fault. They think Manmi did some vodou on him.

At lunch recess, them fast Covey Four girls who sit in the back of my class tease me about it out on the schoolyard. They sing:

Michaëlle-Isabelle, Michaëlle-Isabelle,
Don’t get close, or you will smell.
Michaëlle-Isabelle, Michaëlle-Isabelle,
Here she comes, go run and tell.
Michaëlle-Isabelle, Michaëlle-Isabelle,
Her mama casts them voodoo spells.
Michaëlle-Isabelle, Michaëlle-Isabelle,
Take your Haitian tail to Hell!

Don’t believe them. Mwen gent sant siwo. I smell sweet, like honey. The half dark thinks so, too. The voices come at me from everywhere—from the low rooftops above my head and the cobblestones beneath my feet. Tell us, little girl, it whispers to me, do you taste just as sweet?

Pye, sa’m te manje m’pat ba ou! I want to tell my feet. I want to run away like Bobby told me. I want to flee. I want to be gone from this place. Instead, mwen espere maybe whatever speaks with those voices can’t see me. Mwen espere, I hope, maybe their night vision has been ruined by the gaslight. Then I realize that they live and prowl in the half dark. Their eyes are used to it—that is, if they have eyes.

The first thing Bobby Brightsmith told me when I moved to the South Side of Chicago from La Petite Haïti with Manmi was to run like a scalded dog if I ever saw zonbi la in the half dark on the way home from school.

halfdarkpull1See, when Bobby was eight years old, a little girl and a little boy were snatched from the half dark not far from home. They were never seen again. Bobby said because of that little girl and that little boy, timoun yo in Chicago now walk home from school in groups, in the half dark just before nightfall. The half dark comes fast this time of year.

I was surprised on the first day of school when Bobby took my hand on our walk home. He was nervous. He flushed rose-red down to his neck. But he didn’t let go. He’d signed the half dark promise just like every other timoun in Chicago. Even lekòl segondè elèv yo with their teenage swagger and their foul mouths held hands on the walk home. Bobby’s hand was sweaty. Large. Callused. The hands of a smith’s son. But I didn’t mind. Vrèman vre—truth be told—I was just pleased Bobby wasn’t calling me names while speaking to me. That didn’t happen at my old school. Actually, that didn’t happen at my new school, either.

The second thing Bobby told me was, if I’m ever bab pou bab—face-to-face—with something nasty in the half dark, call it out, and make it Tell It Like It Is. He’d said if I do it right, I’ll take away its power and it will have to answer me with total honesty. Once it does, once it’s under my control, I could even tell it to go jump in the lake, if I want.

Kounye a, I don’t want to be face-to-face with it. But I do want to go home. I want to go home now.

So I take a deep breath, and say:

My name is Kaëlle
(tell it tell it)
and I’m on the line
(tell it tell it)
but I’m not scared
(tell it tell it)
because I’m so fine!
(tell it tell it)
And you know what?
And you know what?
You can. Kiss. My. Butt!

Just so you know, that wasn’t me answering. It was the half dark.

But just like Bobby says it will, the half dark does its part and Tells It Like It Is:

We are the Pogo
(tell it tell it)
and we are many
(tell it tell it)
we feast on girls
(tell it tell it)
both strong and skinny.
(tell it tell it)
And you know what?
And you know what?
We will. Eat. Your. Guts!

For three ticks of my steam-clock heart, the world goes quiet. I can’t hear timoun yo on Yates Avenue anymore. Never before have I been this scared in all my life. Not even when papa mwen disappeared. But I feel my hope grow some. I can’t help it. Bobby might not know what an equilateral triangle is, or how to do long division with remainders, but he knows how to throw down with the half dark.

And then, I remember he’s missing.

Maybe he didn’t Tell It Like It Is. Maybe he got too scared. Or maybe he just never got the chance to tell off the half dark. I won’t miss my chance, though. I pull up my britches, as Manmi says, lift my chin, and tell the half dark: Go jump in the lake.

"The Half-Dark Promise" by Malon EdwardsIn response, the shadows breathe, long and low.

And then, nothing.

For five whole minutes, four hundred ticks of my steam-clock heart, I stand in that circle of gaslight, trè trankil. Nice and quiet. My forehead tightens. A soft sigh tickles the back of my neck. It’s warm and damp. Something is out there in the half dark. So I begin to create my sanctuary.

First, I strip down to my leather chest harness bodice. I pull the skin from my face and my neck and my arms. I take my time. I want to remove the skin in one untorn sheet.

It comes off wet. Sa fè’m mal. It hurts. A lot.

M kontinye ale. But I keep doing it. M pa lage. I don’t stop. M se fin prèske. At heart-tick eight hundred and seventy-five, I’m almost done.

When all of the skin has been pulled off, I spread it open and I blow on it. It’s brown with translucence. It catches my breath, like a parachute. It dries with patience, like butterfly wings. As it hardens, I shape it around me, from head to foot.

This is my chrysalis. Sa bèl. It’s beautiful. The joy in its creation makes the world go slow. Ti Mari pa monte, ti Mari pa desann. All is dead and silent.

Until, far off, I hear somebody’s mama calling for them to come home. Pa manman mwen. But I wish it was my mama. Kounye a, right now, manman mwen is making her rounds in Back of the Yards, tending the miners and their families.

I don’t know whose mama is yelling, but I do know she will never see her child again. Bobby told me no one escapes the half dark without the chant.

Not even him.

One day on the walk home from school, I told Bobby the half dark promise was silly. He just looked at me. His eyes were all big and wet. Li t’a pral kriye. He was going to cry. I was sure of it. But instead he said, You know that little girl and that little boy who went missing? That little girl was my sister, and that little boy was my brother. He said nothing else on the walk home that day.

I wanted to brush his loose dark curls out of his eyes and kiss his tears before they fell. But I didn’t. He wouldn’t have wanted that. So I squeezed his sweaty hand instead.

Bow! The half dark tests my chrysalis. It tries to snatch a knot in my head, or eat me. I’m not sure which. Either way, li kanpe fèm—my chrysalis—stands firm against its assault. Mwen pa bridin kò l. I don’t even flinch. Ata pa yon ti kras. Not even a little bit. Tankou yon wòch, li kenbe fò. My chrysalis is as hard as a rock.

And the half dark knows it. So it tries a different tactic.

The half dark presses against all sides of my chrysalis, sending tentacles over its surface. I know what it’s trying to do. It’s looking for weak spots. I think it won’t find any, but then, my chrysalis starts to shiver and creak. The tentacles (I stopped counting at twenty) try to squish me all at once. Mwen pa pè. But I’m not scared, or so I tell myself.

The half dark chuffs a laughs. It sounds like stretched faces and eyeless sockets. M trè pè.

Now I’m scared.

In La Petite Haïti, zanmi lekòl mwen, my classmates, called me the Snake Girl.

At the slightest touch, my skin sloughs off, as scaly as you please. My classmates threw rocks at me to make my skin fall off. They thought if they held me down and pulled it off they would catch my disease.

It was Papa who told me I have epidermolysis bullosa, and he knew what he was talking about. Li te yon doktè. Manmi is a doctor too, a pulmonologist. She only knows about respiratory diseases. And polio. She developed the steam-clock heart, like the one I have ticking in the socket of my chest harness right now, during the polio epidemic ten years ago.

It was Papa who told me, Pran kè. Be strong. Don’t let estipid sa yo get to you.

So, whenever my classmates threw rocks, I pulled my skin off, stretched it tight, and then blew it dry, all while running from them, in preparation for my chrysalis. Sometimes, I did this two or three times a day. Before school, during lunch recess, after school. Back then, my hands were gwosomodo. Clumsy. Dousman. Slow. Forming my chrysalis hurt. And I don’t mean the three or four rocks that would split my forehead and cheek before I could finish.

When I got home from school, I used to just stand in the foyer, my arms bent and hanging away from my sides. I’d stand that way for as long as I could, completely still, because if I took one more step, or if the wet new skin on my arms touched the sides of my chest harness, I would faint with pain. Now, I’m trè vit—so fast—my hands blur when I make my chrysalis. I’ve learned to ignore the pain. I’ve learned to embrace it. But there’s only so much pain a girl can take.

Epoutan li te ye merite sa. But the pain of my new skin was worth it. The rocks hurt more. They always hurt more.

Papa made me feel better, though, once his last patient of the day left. He was gentle when he wrapped my new skin in gauze and tended my wounds in his office. As he did so, I would tell him how strong I had been at school that day, how I protected myself with my chrysalis. And he would kiss my afro puffs and call me his Butterfly Girl.

It was easy for me to be strong for Papa. I loved him so.

I feel the first crack of my chrysalis deep in my chest, the same way I feel the thoom! thoom! thoom! of the bass drums during the Back-to-School Bud Billiken Day Parade. Tout bagay byen. But everything is fine. My chrysalis is still strong. At least that’s what I tell myself. Until now, my chrysalis has never been smashed or broken. Not even by Number One Bully in Mob Three, Ollie Cobbler. And he has a steam piston in his left arm. But the half dark isn’t Ollie Cobbler.

I hear the second crack, much louder this time, behind my left ear. Golden brown splinters of my chrysalis sting my cheek. Cold air rushes into me. Three tentacles push through the jagged break. The tentacles have suckers, and beaks, and mouths with tiny sharp teeth.

I reach behind my head and slide Tonton Macoute out of the sheath in my backpack. Nan yon klendèy, just three quick Rising Butterfly strikes, and the tentacles fall to the smooth floor of my chrysalis, coiling and flopping like snakes with their heads cut off. The Pogo howls in surprise. Not a howl like a lougawou throws at the full moon. But a howl that says, You done just pissed me off.

Tonton Macoute does that sometimes.

Papa tried not to make a big show of giving me Tonton Macoute, but he couldn’t help himself. I’d just gotten home from school. I hadn’t needed to pull my skin off to make a chrysalis at all that day, so I was happy, and even more pleased when Papa allowed me in his office after his last patient of the day. He sat me on his knee in that big leather chair I liked, placed the machete across my thighs, kissed my afro puffs, and told me, Ti chouchou, I give you this so you will always remember, and I will never forget.

I was eight years old.

Manmi was standing in the doorway. Her last patient of the day had cancelled. Papa had thought Manmi would still be in her office. Manmi te fache avè Papa. I’d never seen her that angry with him before. Pissed off doesn’t even begin to describe the look on her face.

But all Manmi said was, Pa fè estipid. Don’t be a fool. And then she went back to her office on the other side of the house and stayed there all night.

I’d just looked at Papa. I hadn’t been sure if she’d been talking to him or me.

Even today, I’m still not sure.

There are too many tentacles. For a moment, I forget my training, and just hack and slash and chop. I scream as I do this. It doesn’t sound like my voice. And then, other screams join mine. Screams from the tentacles. The awful screams of children. They ask, Why are you killing us? What did we do to you? We just want to go home!

So do I.

Which is why I don’t stop hacking them to bits.

Tonton Macoute wasn’t new when Papa gave it to me. The handle was worn, and there were reddish-brown spots on the blade. Those spots could have been rust. Those spots could have been dried blood. I never asked. I wasn’t too scared to ask. Mwen te okipe. I’d just been busy. The day after Papa gave me Tonton Macoute and Manmi gave him the side eye he showed me how to use it. For two hours after school every day, he trained me with the machete.

I learned to float swift Rising Butterfly strikes, and drop vicious Iron Butterfly chops. I learned to flow with confidence into Form of the Monarch, and feint Papa out of his Preacher boots with Form of the Viceroy. I even learned to unleash brutal savagery through Form of Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing.

Like I’m doing to the tentacles in the half dark now.

The children’s screams have stopped. But I haven’t. I don’t realize that I am crying through my rage until the Pogo whispers to me in its many voices, Little girl, there is no need to cry. Do not worry; we shall gobble you up in just two bites. You will hardly feel a thing.

halfdarkpull2Silly half dark.

I’m not crying because I’m afraid of the Pogo.

And I’m not crying because I’m afraid of being eaten.

I’m crying because Bobby was my best friend.

I’m crying because I’d never had a best friend before.

I’m crying because I’ll never have a best friend again.

I’m crying because I’ll never see Papa again.

I’m crying because I know Papa is dead. I know he did some horrible things. Mwen pa estipid. I’m not a fool.

But I don’t tell the Pogo this. It doesn’t need to know.

All it needs to know is Tonton Macoute.

I can’t remember my last moment with Papa. I can’t remember where I was when Manmi told me he was missing. I can remember him widening my stance, dropping my elbow, bending my knees, lifting my chin, adjusting my overhand grip, and then, one day, he just wasn’t there. I asked Manmi, Poukisa lap kriye?

She never answered me.

So I hugged her and said, Pa kriye, Manmi. Don’t cry.

But she couldn’t stop. She’s never stopped.

More tentacles tear my chrysalis, my comfort, my leave-me-alone space, from around me. I’m done with this. M fin ak sa a. I’m tired of being bullied. I’m tired of being scared. Most of all, mwen bouke fatige tèt mwen. I’m tired of being tired. So I let the Pogo know. Each time a tentacle slithers into my broken chrysalis to rip away another piece, I hack with Tonton Macoute. The tentacles scream again. Black blood splatters my face. It burns. Ki mele’m. I don’t care. I lick it from my lips. Mwen pa pè. I’m not scared anymore. So I hack on.

But the tentacles keep coming out of the half dark.

As fast as I am in Form of the Malicious Skipper, I just can’t keep up. My chrysalis is soon gone. It doesn’t take long. I know I should run. Bobby said so. Two more blocks, and I’ll be home. But I don’t. Chunks of my chrysalis are at my feet. I’m exposed. Unprotected. Covered in blood and ick. Tired. Men pa trankil. But not quiet. No, not quiet at all.

M pa pè! I yell, jabbing Tonton Macoute. I’m not scared of you! Pa yon ti kras! Not even a little bit!

"The Half-Dark Promise," by Malon EdwardsHigh above the gas lamps, where the half dark is its darkest, something bends toward me. Li menm jan ak kay. It’s as big as a house. It blots out the world. It puts its huge, diamond-shaped scaly head with its small, squinched-up reptilian face smack dab in front of me. It smells of water rot. A mess of tentacles sticks every which way out of where its mouth should be. This is the Pogo.

The tentacles all have tiny mouths. The tentacles all have tiny teeth. The tentacles all wail in children’s voices. But one voice is louder than the others. Bobby’s voice. Run! he shouts to me. Go home, now!

I can’t run from you, I whisper to him.

And then I hack his tentacle off the Pogo’s face.

The Pogo flinches into the half dark sky and chuckles deep. Tomorrow, out on the schoolyard, timoun yo will tell each other thunder is when the half dark laughs after it has snatched a child. Bobby writhes and twists in pain, scattering pieces of my chrysalis, making the cobblestones slick with black blood. His wails have turned into terrible screams. So I pick him up, and wrap him around my middle. His screams stop.

That’s better, now isn’t it? I ask him.

In response, Bobby coils his bloody, clean-sliced end around my waist, slithers his tiny mouth full of tiny teeth up my chest, across my shoulder blades and to my neck, where he nestles just below my chin. My chest harness is smeared with a trail of red. I wrap my arms around myself, pressing Bobby tighter against me. This is the first time we’ve hugged. He’s warm. And soft. I like how he feels.

Now I can run. Now I can go home.

I probably won’t make it, though. The Pogo still blots out the world. Ki mele’m. I don’t care. I’ve found Bobby.

But I run, anyway. And I don’t look up.


Malon Edwards was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, but now lives in the Greater Toronto Area, where he was lured by his beautiful Canadian wife. Many of his short stories are set in an alternate Chicago and feature people of color. Currently, he serves as Managing Director and Grants Administrator for the Speculative Literature Foundation, which provides a number of grants for writers of speculative literature.

Malon Edwards
Malon Edwards
Interview with Malon | Shimmer #23 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Shimmer 23

The Half Dark Promise, by Sandro Castelli
The Half Dark Promise, by Sandro Castelli

People often ask me, “what makes a story Shimmery,” and it’s not always easily answered — sometimes, you don’t know a story is Shimmery until you hit the end, and you realize there is a change inside you.

We’ll release a new story from Shimmer #23 every other Tuesday; or you can buy the full issue now!


The Half Dark Promise, by Malon Edwards
Something moves in the half dark two gas lamps ahead of me. I hold fast at the edge of a small circle of gaslight cast down from the street lamp above me.

Of Blood and Brine, by Megan E. O’Keefe
Child’s mistress was out when the scentless woman entered the shop and laid a strip of severed cloth upon the counter. For once, Child wished her mistress were at her side.

Be Not Unequally Yoked, by Alexis A. Hunter
Things used to be pure inside me. Separated. When I was a boy, I was wholly a boy. When I was a horse, I was wholly a horse. Things used to be simple inside me. I was all one thing or I was all another. And the two only got close when the change was happening.

Monsters in Space, by Angela Ambroz
When I think oil rig, I think big metal Viking onslaught in the night. I think tower of the gods, fucking Valhalla, and a screeching guitar solo. My eyeballs of imagination are compelled to perceive beautifully inky black skies, inky black seas, inky black oil. It is, in short, inky black badassery.

Editorial, by E. Catherine Tobler
What makes a story Shimmery? …a confident voice that knows where it’s going from the first line, even if I, as a reader, don’t know. The immediate delivery of an image that is unusual, arresting; an image that makes you pause and want to see more. The stories in Shimmer #23 accomplish both things for me as editor and reader both.


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