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Author : Doretta Lau Narrator : Andrea Bang Host : Jen R. Albert Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Originally published in How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? Published by Nightwood Editions in 2014, audiobook version of this produced by ECW Press. CW: strong language, including racist and misogynistic slurs. Thanks to Nightwood Editions for allowing us to reprint the text of this story and to ECW Press for allowing us to run an excerpt from the collection’s audiobook; this audiobook was produced as a part of ECW Press’s Bespeak Audio Imprint. You can purchase the print version of this book here and the audiobook here. God Damn, How Real Is This? By Doretta Lau My future self sends me a text message at least once a day. The latest: Hey, tricho-slut, get your man hands out of our hair. I have a Lake Michigan–shaped bald spot forming on the back of my head. stop plucking. it’s starting to look like a penis. Last I checked there were no Great Lakes of any sort blooming on my scalp, no Superiors or Hurons or Eries flooding my hair. Of late, these missives from the future have become increasingly more abusive. I wonder, when will I flip my bitch switch and hop on this negative self-talk train? In a week? In a year? I’d like to believe this use of misogynistic language is out of character and that maybe I’m being trolled by a bored identity thief. I file the thought as something for my present self to discuss with my now therapist. Another message flashes on my phone: That mole on your left arm that you’ve been ignoring? Get thee to a doctor. I peer down. My arm is presenting itself as blemish free. At times like this I wish I could send a text to my future self to make clear the murky. I want to address important issues such as: “Will I die alone? But that technology hasn’t been invented yet, or our future selves have circumvented its implementation for the good of humanity.” I call my local clinic and explain my situation. “This is Franny Siu calling. I can’t find this mole my future self is warning me about, but I’d like to make an appointment to see Doctor Chang.” “I understand,” says the woman on the phone. “Last week, my future self started blasting me messages about herpes. Today, she escalated to drug-resistant gonorrhea. I think she’s trying to tell me that my boyfriend is cheating on me.” “No sex for the hexed,” I say, unsure how to handle this kind of intimacy with a near stranger. “Come at two tomorrow afternoon.” “Great. See you tomorrow,” I say, and hang up. Despite this disruption, I still have time before my therapy session to stop by my ex-colleague Rita’s house and check on her. Rita has not left her house in months because her future self keeps divining death and destruction. As soon as she thinks of doing something — innocuous activities such as watching a movie or washing her feet — a new text arrives dissuading her from taking action. I pack up some leftover food and a stack of library books, slap SPF 90 sunscreen on my face and arms, and get on my bike. A block from Rita’s, I see that Chronology Purists have purchased a new billboard: Has communicative time travel ruined your life? Our counsellors are ready to talk. I think about calling the number listed, but decide instead to stop at a convenience store to pick up additional supplies. The scene indoors is vaguely apocalyptic. The lights are off. Many shelves gape, emptied of goods. Since the texts from the future began arriving nine months earlier, people have been hoarding canned food and toilet paper out of fear that the new technology has sparked end times. I sigh. Spoiler alert, present-day peons: it’s our appalling behaviour that blights our existence. I grab a loaf of bread and head to the counter. The clerk is wearing a bulletproof vest. “What if I shot you in the head?” I ask. “The vest wouldn’t do you much good then.” “Do you think you’re the first to ask that, smartass? My future self has already pointed that out to me, thank you very much,” he says. “How does the store stay afloat without the scratch-and-wins?” I ask, motioning to the bare strip of space under the Plexiglas countertop. Three months ago, the government suspended all forms of gambling. I miss the surprise of running a toonie across a scratch card, that sick joy of self-inflicted failure that’s preceded ever so briefly by hope. “That will be ten dollars, please,” he says, pointing to the bread. I reach Rita’s house and speak through the front door. “Hey, I’m leaving you some gazpacho. The ingredients are organic. I triplefiltered the water. There’s also a loaf of gluten-free bread and the books you asked for.” No answer. The smell of feet lingers in the air. “Just send me a text,” I say. My phone pings with a message from present-Rita: Thanks, Franny. There’s twenty bucks for you under the doormat and a book that needs to be returned. “Your recent actions are fashioning me into an enabler,” I say, stooping down to look under the mat. “I don’t like who I am becoming under your influence.” No answer. I text her: your future self is chicken little. your future self has become your mother. No response. I move on. My therapist, Kelly, does not have a cellphone. She’s a Chronology Purist — she wants her life to play out exactly as it would have if communicative time travel had not been invented. I don’t get how this is possible, given that the timeline has already been breached, but logic is not my strong suit so maybe I’m missing the point. Sometimes her future self tries to get in touch with her via my phone, but present-Kelly has instructed me never to pass on any information. I’m in the uncomfortable position of knowing that the majority of her stocks will tank in the next six months . . . though I suppose if I do pass on the information, it would be classified as insider trading. I keep my mouth shut; we both stay out of jail. I wonder if I should look for a new therapist. “How was your week?” Kelly asks. “I worry that I am a misogynist,” I say. “My future self is really fond of calling me a slut or a whore, which I find puzzling because I never use either of those words. I’d be much more likely to refer to myself as a douchebag.” “What at present do you think is causing this negativity?” “I don’t know. I’m frustrated with the fact that I can’t communicate with my future self. I mean, I guess I could leave notes for her in my journal, but I don’t know if she’ll ever see them.” “What can you do right now that will make you feel better?” “I guess I could write a letter to myself, and you can give it back to me six months later.” “Okay, do you want to try that this week?” “Yes,” I say. “Our time is up,” she says, standing. “Until next week.” As soon I leave the office, a new message arrives from my future self: Hey rickets breath, have you taken your calcium and vitamin-D supplement today? I hit delete. Kelly’s future self is angry with me: I’m going to have to raise my fees to cover my losses, so you’re the one who will suffer if you don’t tell me to sell the stock. I decide to write two letters: one to my future self and one to Kelly’s. The next day at the doctor’s office, the waiting room is a cacophony of phones beeping and bleeping. Everyone looks anxious. I know now that ignorance is Eden. If I knew how to code a virus, I would direct my future self to send the inventor of communicative time travel a diseased email to avert this reality. I text Wilson to meet me at 2:30 at a coffee shop across from the clinic — I need someone to talk to in case I have terminal cancer — and he replies with an immediate affirmative. The receptionist, who does not look ill, calls my name and leads me to a private room. Doctor Chang appears after a few minutes. He examines my arm and says, “Do you think that maybe — and I don’t want to sound judgmental — that your future self suffers from a touch of Münchausen by proxy?” “What makes you say that?” “You’ve been here seven times during this past month. You complain of future ailments, but in actuality they’re merely imaginary diseases foisted upon you by your future self.” “I read somewhere that the child is the father of the man,” I say. “Are you still pulling your hair out?” “Did my future self contact you about that?” “Yes.” “I’m sorry we have no boundaries,” I say. “Also, isn’t my condition just Münchausen? I mean, I’m still me, even in the future. No proxy.” Doctor Chang gives me a look that indicates that he is the medical professional and I am just a poor excuse for a patient. I leave his office in shame. My diagnosis? Dormant Münchausen by proxy. Wilson is late for our meeting at the coffee shop. My hand wanders to my tresses. My phone pings. Whorebag! place your man hands where I can see them or I’ll shoot! I sigh and fold my hands in my lap. The last thing I need is for my future self to become suicidal and send an assassin my way. Fifteen minutes, three hairs and four text messages later, Wilson rolls in on a skateboard. “Konichiwa,” he says, kissing me on the cheek. “Nice dress.” “Those wheels become less and less an acceptable form of transportation with each passing calendar year,” I say to him. “I broke up with Cynthia,” he says with a shrug. “I live for today.” Two months ago, Wilson’s future self went silent. No texts or email. He concluded that his future self was dead, so his motto became carpe diem. He made a bucket list, which included things such as climb Mount Everest, learn Japanese and eat yogurt for the first time ever. Everest was a bust (summit, avalanche) and he’s lactose intolerant. I suspect this list could be the reason for his early demise, but I haven’t said anything because I don’t want to be a killjoy. “Did you get a haircut?” I ask. “I did — that’s why I was late. So, how did your appointment go?” “My doctor says I have dormant Münchausen by proxy but I think it may just be plain Münchausen since I’m doing it to myself,” I say. “There’s now a hold on my insurance for a month and I can only seek medical help in life or death situations. Also, Rita still won’t leave her house.” “Forget your troubles. I’m here! Come to the park with me,” Wilson says, grabbing my hand. “Is there a cliff you want to jump off?” “Something like that. Better, actually. Also, I stopped drinking coffee and I don’t like the way they serve tea here.” “What’s better than jumping off a cliff?” I ask. “You’ll see,” he says, smiling. We leave on our separate vehicles. I reach the park first. Wilson shows up with a fresh bruise on his arm. “I fell,” he says. “I wish my future self were alive so he could send warnings.” “Everyone is afraid to live now,” I say. “You should be thankful for the radio silence.” “I’m nearly done everything on my list. There’s only one thing left.” “What is it?” I ask. He points to something in the trees. I gaze up in search of this final thing, sure that I’m about to witness some new kind of beauty, but I don’t see anything. When I look back at Wilson his face has travelled and is inches from mine. He kisses me. I close my eyes and think only of the present. We separate. He smiles. “I feel the same way about you, too,” I say. His phone pings. A look of surprise lights up his face. “It’s a text from my future self.” You magnificent bastard, it reads. I’m glad you stopped being a scared little pansy and chose to live life. Don’t fuck this up for us. I love her. He turns off his phone, but not before I glimpse the rest of the message. Tell her to get that mole on her left arm checked. The post PodCastle 645: God Damn, How Real Is This? appeared first on PodCastle.
Author : H. Pueyo Narrator : Kaitlyn Zivanovich Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Originally published by The Dark. CW: Domestic abuse Rated R. Sea-Crowned By H. Pueyo Water — there’s water everywhere, water covering my feet, my knees, my hips. Water, foam, salt, sand in my mouth, waves crashing against this iron cage, pulling both it and me towards the depths. Once, I looked at the sea for comfort, to shelter my loneliness from your anger, but you took that away from me, like you took everything else. We have the same blood, you and I, and yet . . . And yet I am the only one here, aren’t I? We were found in the same basket, floating among the debris. Sometimes, I like to believe that we helped each other survive, or that our parents, whoever they might have been, protected us, guiding us to find the expedition team. Did they felt regret when they saw us there? Did guilt crossed their minds when the only survivors of a then fresh massacre appeared in front of them? I can only imagine what happened next: “This one doesn’t look like them,” one of the soldiers must have stated, holding you in their lap. “Look at his eyes — he could almost be one of ours.” The most important word here: almost. “Throw the monster back to the water,” the captain might have commanded. That’s why they feared us, after all. Our eyes, and our power. “Keep only the normal one.” Only one person, vice-captain Adrião Lima, gave a contrary idea: “I’ll take both to land, and get rid of the other one as soon as I am there. Their kind can’t die in the water.” Yet choking a child to death is easier said than done. As you know, Adrião didn’t kill me, the child with the terrible eyes. Instead, he named you Martim and me Jamim, and kept you outside the house, and me inside. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t dislike the house, at first. As soon as I could walk, I ran through door frames, memorized how many wooden boards each room had, and knew every single color painting the kitchen’s ceramic tiles. Adrião didn’t talk to me, but you did, and I cherished every single word I learned, and repeated them when I was alone: house, white, ceiling, brown, sky, blue (water, water, water) birds, rats, ants, hands, hair, me (you, you, you) You were kind, Martim, do you remember those days? You would run back home to play with me, and we would hide salt biscuits in a jar under the bed so I wouldn’t starve when you were out. At night, you slept with me, and, together, we dreamt of the sea. “No one can ever see Jamim’s eyes,” Adrião told you more than once. “No one will ever accept it.” “I don’t see anything wrong with your eyes,” you told me, in secret. I thought my eyes looked like yours, as our bedroom had no mirror, and I didn’t understand the problem, either. “What is so different about me?” I asked, looking at the dry skin of my palms. We were alone in the house, but you looked everywhere before voicing a word: “Adrião doesn’t like to talk about it,” you said, checking the open windows. You were glowing under the sunshine, and, at that time, I imagined if my sallow face could ever be like yours, no matter how alike we were. “But I heard one of the soldiers saying something — saying . . . About the time they found us.” My first reaction was laughing: finding us? Who? You didn’t laugh back, you looked ashamed that I didn’t take your words seriously, so I hugged you and kissed your forehead, and you whispered close to my ear: “I think they’re afraid of us.” They were more than afraid, Martim. They hated us, and you preferred to hear them, but what can I do now? When we were children, you tried not to think too hard about it, and I distracted you accordingly. I asked you to tell me everything about the outside world: “Tell me how the grass feels!” I said, my head completely out of the window, looking at the patches of emerald green meters ahead. “Depends on the day. Sometimes, it feels wet.” I was excited when you told me that, so excited that, when you were out of the house again, I climbed the window pane, and jumped to the yard for the first time. There, I understood what you meant: the grass was wet under my feet, the sun felt warmer than in the bedroom, the ants tickled my toes. I wanted to run where you and Adrião were, and beg you to take me to the sea, because there was nothing I wanted to see more than the subject of my dreams, but I was back to our cabin the second I heard a noise, like a flower who withered as soon as she tried to blossom. “Tell me about the beach again,” I asked, shaking our entwined fingers. We both sat on the mattress, and your free hand drew shapes in the air. “The wind is different there, it’s humid, salty . . .” “Salty like food?” You looked at me, and laughed. “Not like food. It feels like the salt is sticking to your face,” you tried to explain, rubbing my cheek. “The water is green and blue, and the waves crash against large rocks, crying shoooo . . . Shooo . . .” It was my turn to laugh at the sounds you were making, and we both laid on our backs, staring at the ceiling. “Jamim,” you called me. “I have something for you, but you can’t show Adrião — ever.” “What? Please, tell me what!” Even now, if I close my eyes, I can see your focused young face, hair falling over it while you searched for something inside your bag. The only reason my hair was as short as yours was because Adrião wanted me to look like you from a distance, in case a neighbor saw a shadow in the window. Never in my life I had seen something as wonderful as the ten sea shells you found for me. At the time, I had no idea what they were, and the names you taught me sounded as foreign as their spiraling and conic shapes. “Come closer,” you told me, placing a stripped orange shell against my ear. “The sea sounds like this.” Martim, I never loved you as much as I loved you that day. I hope that you remember that when I’m long gone. “But it’s a secret,” you said. “We can’t go near there. The sea cannot be trusted, that’s what Adrião says.” I kept the shells hidden for many years. As we grew up and our bodies changed, you kept living your life outside the house, and became a private, following Adrião’ steps. Your name was now Martim Lima, unlike me, who kept being just Jamim. Adrião eventually found us another house, away from the rest of the town, above the rocks and near the shore. “You’re old enough to live on your own,” Adrião told you, like I wasn’t there. It was the first time we left the cabin together, but I was hidden under layers of heavy rags in the back of his cart, while you sat by his side. “Always remember what I told you. No one can see Jamin, and . . .” “And the sea is not to be trusted.” All the frustration I felt for not being able to see the path from our old house to our new one was gone when I ran to the bedroom, and saw what I had wanted to see my whole life. The waves sounded just like the song the shells had sang to me, but louder, violently clashing against the rocks. At night, the water was black, gurgling white foam. During the day, it was crystalline green, turning deep blue into the distance. When you were gone, I spent hours looking at it, imagining myself below, running in the sand, collecting shells, or even swimming. Would I know how to swim, if no one taught me? That’s ironic to think now, but then, it filled me with irrational happiness. Without your supervision, I had plenty of activities. I learned how to cook with the food you bought in the market, salting cod and filling pastries with custard. I found boxes of abandoned books in the storage room and I read to the point of borderline obsession. Most of anything, I watched the sea, I watched the sea, and I watched the sea. The books were the ones to tell me the truth; not you, not Adrião. I must admit I resented that. Through yellowed pages, I learned about completely underwater cities, cities Adrião and his kind were never able to reach, although they never described the people who lived there. This is how they found us, Martim; not for kindness, but for guilt. “No one can live underwater,” you told me with a grave look when I showed you the proof. “That makes no sense.” “We did,” I insisted with a smile. “See this line: ‘entire cities under the sea, including grandiose buildings and houses that only they could access.’ Can you imagine that, Martim? Can you imagine how beautiful it must have been?” You couldn’t, of course. “Stop reading those things,” you told me, closing the book and touching its battered cover. “You don’t look surprised,” I said, crawling to your side. Then, I had a realization: “Did you knew?” “Of the people of the sea? Yes.” “And you didn’t tell me?” “They were not good, Jamim,” you told me, and sighed. “It’s better not to think of it. They are all dead, by now.” We, you should have said, not they. That should have been a sign, but I followed your advise, and didn’t think of it. Days passed, and became months and years. Every afternoon, when you returned from work, I greeted you with a kiss, and you looked happy at last. “I found something you might like,” you told me one day. Your hair was shorter, and the lines of your jaw began to show the shadow of a future beard. “I found those in the library.” Something had changed inside you. Perhaps the feeling of betrayal you had when Adrião left us alone was gone, and you wanted to know more about who you truly were. Perhaps you learned how to appreciate me the way I appreciated you, and you wanted to show it by supporting my endless curiosity. Or, even, you might have felt the same call as I did, the call from the sea. “There is a small bronze plaque in the other side of the beach that talks about this,” you said, drawing it on a paper. “It’s a memorial for the people of the sea, who perished fifteen years ago. They call that day the Night of the Drowning, but I don’t think that’s quite true.” “Why not?” “Here, look.” You skipped to another chapter of the book you were holding. “If they lived underwater, how would they die drowning?” “What do you think, then?” “No one died because of the sea — they died in it. I just don’t know how yet.” “How do you think the cities looked like? I imagine them translucent, sea-foam green.” I closed my eyes, allowing the magic to flow inside my mind. “Like a glass dome, but outside the fishes keep swimming, and pink coral grows around it like a vine.” “Where did you learn so many things?” My merry laughter made you smile, and I pointed at the piles and piles of books I accumulated around the house. “Do you think they breathed underwater?” you asked. “Do you think we can?” I asked back. At night, we slept together like husband and wife, and I wondered if one day you would get one. A wife, that is, someone to replace me. Where would I have gone, then? Would you have let me go to the sea? But I tried to avoid this kind of thought, because I couldn’t ruin our blissful peace. The amount of joy I felt when you returned was proportional to the hopes I had that you would let me roam outside of the house, since we were connecting in a way we never had before. Before I could tell you about my dreams where we were there, under the water, and a woman I had never seen kissed my forehead before she left, you changed. Yes, you, Martim, don’t blame it on anyone else. One day, one wicked, sorrowful day, you returned home without saying a word, and you broke four dishes. The noise scared me and I ran to the kitchen, only to find you sitting on the floor, crying. “Adrião lied to me,” you said, while I comforted you, caressing your hair and kissing your back. “The others will never accept me.” There was nothing you could do to please them, but you were not aware of that, not yet. You worked harder, and you got better, more refined. Your reports were more literate, your actions more pragmatic, and yet all your companions received far more glory than you did. “Think of the sea,” I told you. “Think how well we would have lived there.” “No one lives there anymore,” you answered. I licked your tears, wondering if the ocean felt as savory as them. One month later, you did it again. You came back punching furniture out of your way. You howled like animals do when the sun is down, and I ran to you, like I did every day. This time, you pushed me away. “Martim,” I tried to tell you, smiling. “You have to get used to it. No matter how much you try, they know you’re different. They know you’re one of us,” I pointed at the open window. “You will never be one of them.” I thought I was helping, but you slapped me across the face. Trembling, I touched my cheek, feeling the skin burn, trying to put my jaw back into its place. You ran to the bedroom, and left me there, and the only comfort I had was feeling my own tears wet my hands. The next day, when I woke up, I promised myself I would forgive you, again and again. That I couldn’t understand your suffering, but I wouldn’t let you worsen mine. So I kissed your sleeping mouth, and stole the spare keys you hid in the cupboard because you were too sure I would respect Adrião’s laws. After you left to work, I unlocked the door. What a warm, beautiful day! I left my sandals in the house, and touched the short grass. The ground scratched the soles of my feet, but I didn’t care. You were right — the more I approached the shore, the more the breeze changed, turning humid, almost palpable. There was no one outside, so I ran down the path of the rocks, thinking: Martim! I wish you could see me, Martim! I wish you could be here with me! When I reached the beach, I fell on the sand, realizing it was not as easy to walk there as the straight boards of our house. “Martim,” I said out loud, tasting the sound of your name. I could see you, smiling at me, holding my hand, bringing me closer to the sea. I felt like we could go to the cities underneath, if we tried, and I walked to the shore, feeling the water for the first time against my legs. “I love you,” I told the sea, imagining I was saying the same to you. I filled my hands with sea water, and tasted it. “I love you, I love you!” When I was back to our house, I entered the second bathroom, the one we never used, and filled the old bathtub. All my euphoria had vanished and turned into physical pain, and I wanted to feel good again. You understand this, don’t you? That was when I saw my reflection for the first time. All my life I had imagined myself to be exactly like you were: with your hair, and your nose, and your mouth. With your arms, and your stomach, and your jaw, and your legs. Imagine, then, the horror I felt when I saw what I was: somewhat like you, but not really. I was uglier, stranger. I screeched, falling back, but I had to see myself again. We had, indeed, something similar, except in the eyes. My eyes were black, inside and around. There was no white sclera, and my pupils and irises were equally dark. You betrayed me, Martim. You never told me that. When you were back, I said nothing of adventures and discoveries, and you only touched me in bed, at night. I kept running away to the beach, and you kept beating me when you were angry, until, eventually, you found out. Let me remind you what happened in the last few hours, in case you forget. You returned earlier from your shift at the barracks, and you saw me walking in the road. You watched me until I got inside the house, and you followed my sandy steps. When I was changing my dirty clothes, you made your triumphant entrance: “I can’t believe you did this to me!” You screamed, and I recoiled, covering my head to protect myself. “Someone could have found out about you! Someone might have, already!” “Martim,” I tried to say, my voice but a whisper. “No one saw me, I’m sure, I was just . . . It was too lonely in here, and . . .” “You want to ruin my life,” you growled, lifting me by the collar of my linen shirt. “Now I can see it — you were doing this from the very start!” “No, Martim, I . . .” “From the beginning, you were trying to make me turn out like you, away from everybody else!” Sometimes, your words were inaudible, part for your wrath, part for your slamming me against the wall. “You and your ridiculous dreams of the sea! You made me believe that I was different — that we were different, but you know what, Jamin? This is all just a myth. A lie!” Martim, you are stronger than me, and I could do nothing against you. I couldn’t even answer, because you were choking the air out of me. “Stop — stop . . .” “You were trying to drown my dreams,” you continued, throwing me to the floor. I coughed, dizzy, unable to even think. Why were you doing this against me? I love you, you love me, we are the only living people of the sea. Why, Martim? “You’re frightened,” I said, against my better judgment. My body was dripping with sweat, but I was able to stand up, shaking. “You’re afraid to admit what we are, and what we can do. Together, Martim, you and I . . .” Looking into my ink black eyes, you answered: “There is no you and I, Jamim. If you love the sea that much, I’ll bring you to it.” And that was the end. You grasped my hair with all the mighty strength you gained in the last years, and dragged me out of the house while I yelled, and thrashed, and begged. “Do you know what that is, Jamim?” You pointed at a rusty iron cage hanging from the tall rocks, on the other side of the beach. “When your people was captured, they were put inside that cage, and left to die. To this day, we don’t know if they died drowning or starving, but you will soon find out.” Night falls again, and water reaches my lips. I still think of you, Martim, and of what you did. My body is exhausted and sore, but my calloused fingers grasp the bars, struggling to stay awake. How many days since you left? It’s time to hate you, I say like a prayer, even when my voice has long abandoned my lips. You are not here to rise my limbs as they fail me, you are not here to kiss my forehead as it crashes against the oxidized iron of the cage, you are not here to feed me when I think of biting my own hands. Tell me I am dead, Martim. Let me be dead. But I’m not. The sky is vast and speckled with stars, the sea breeze dries my tears. There is a dazzling world ahead, a world where only you exist. Slowly, I close my eyes, drifting away. Hunger makes me think of biscuits hidden in a jar under the bed. It makes me imagine stuffing a fish in our kitchen, my fingers smelling like paprika, lemon, bell pepper. It makes me think of sugar and angel hair. But there is no food here, there is nothing but the sea. When water covers the entire cage, my muscles begin to relax. The ocean is filling my lungs, but they don’t burst; they absorb, they extend. Despite the darkness above, I see light underneath: hundreds of lanterns spread across the sand, lightening the path, maybe for me. If I widen my black eyes, I can see phantom figures watching from afar, blue shadows waving, urging me to come. The people of the sea. You were right, Martim. You forgot about our kind, but I never did. I realize that when the iron cage yields, and I fall, motionless, into the arms that wait below. I am from the water, and my people — and yours — never drown. The post PodCastle 644: Sea-Crowned appeared first on PodCastle.
Author : Tori Curtis Narrator : Serah Eley Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums PodCastle 643: Strange Things Done is a PodCastle original. Content warnings for sexual content, mild gore, mention of injections, and imagery related to body changes. Rated R. Strange Things Done By Tori Curtis Audra was both proud and shy of her body, these days; she liked to be seen, but could barely stand to be looked at. She and Nicole lay in the bed that had once been Nic’s grandparents’, both of them naked, both of them staring down at her tits. “Those are new,” Nic said, nodding at the pinfeathers scattered across her chest (inconsistently, like powdered sugar or freckles). They had come up all over her body, but especially between her neck and her navel, thick over her shoulders and chest. Nic had no impulse control and she wasn’t used to denying her base desires; she sat on her hands to keep them to herself. The muscles flexed in her forearms and in her throat when she swallowed. “Does it hurt to touch them?” she asked. Audra looked down, shifted her weight, spread her hair out on the pillow like a halo. The feathers were brighter than she’d expected. When she’d had hair across her chest, so long ago it wasn’t even a sense memory anymore, it had been dark and dull. The new growth was almost tropical: tiny dots of blue, violet, bright red. She looked up, making eye contact briefly, and said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you see?” Nic reached out and Audra added, suddenly panicked, “Gently!”, and they both laughed. Nic was always gentle with her, and gentler when she realized that she was being given a gift of extraordinary trust. Her fingertips barely brushed the new feather shafts. Her nails scraped over Audra’s nipple, and Audra goosebumped all over, the feathers stood erect. “I don’t think that’s what birds do,” Nic said. Audra crossed her arms over her chest, careful with all the tender parts of her. “I’m not a bird,” she said. “I wouldn’t know.” “Well,” Nic said. They were both unsure. “Didn’t used to be.” Audra considered that and stretched, pointed her toes toward the long end of the bed. She scratched a spot on her arm where she thought a new feather was beginning to form. “It doesn’t hurt,” she said, “but I don’t think I like you touching them yet. Not while they’re still so new.” “That’s all right,” Nic said, and spread herself on the bed next to her, languid and easy and casual to balance Audra’s nerves. “There’s plenty of other places I can touch for now.” Earlier that summer, she’d gotten the chance to transform herself — again — in the most suspicious way possible. An old friend from middle school had called her up out of the clear blue sky. “Audra,” her friend had said, “you won’t believe the opportunity I have for you.” It was the first time Lacey had ever called Audra by her name. They had once been two boys on the basketball team together. They spent hours in Lacey’s basement doing all the normal things twelve-year-old boys do: talking about girls, drinking the dust from the bottom of Doritos bags, painting each other’s nails with shaky hands and stolen polish, scratching it off with their school IDs before anyone could see. They loved each other in an unsteady middle school way, fist fights and mutually assured destruction taking the place of feelings and trust. At the end of eighth grade they were separated, and Audra fell into a time of great hardship. She lived years in the hours between three and five A.M., staring into the gray and smashing empty bottles against the underpass and doubting she’d make it to thirty, doubting indeed that the victory would be worth the spoils if she did. One day she saw on Facebook that Lacey was a girl now, and hated her for it, and six months later she made an appointment with Lacey’s doctor. They asked her what name she preferred, and she didn’t know. She was only out to two people in real life. They didn’t call her anything but baby, sugar, princess. And then she got that message and she thought, oh God, can you believe the audacity? But she loved Lacey, even twenty years later, even suspecting that she was making a mistake in doing so. So she replied. They met in a coffee shop because Audra wasn’t sure what she’d find if she went back to Lacey’s house. If her old friend had grown up to be more successful than she was, the jealousy would unmoor her. If she’d turned out worse, if she lived in a tiny scratched-up particle board apartment with beer and lotto tickets where the food should have been, Audra thought she’d be shipwrecked with guilt. They took a table in the back and ordered fancy drinks. They talked and fidgeted while they waited, and they each tried to guess who the other woman had become from what she got: matcha and foam, heavy cream and fresh strawberries. “You said you wanted to offer me something,” Audra said, shy but desperately curious, when they were done tracing their histories, so much overlap it felt like they were two trees grafted together. “But you didn’t say what.” Lacey said, “You’re not going to believe this, but I can give you wings.” Audra couldn’t breathe. She licked whipped cream off the top of her drink. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not good at business or marketing or whatever. Is that a metaphor?” She was trying to think of a delicate way to ask. “Is there something I need to sell? A, um, a downstream?” Lacey laughed. She was wearing one of those expensive charm bracelets, but the metal was turning orange where it touched her skin. A fake. “No,” she said. “I can’t believe you’d think I’d try to pyramid scheme you.” Audra couldn’t make eye contact. “It’s been decades,” she said. And then she was angry, because it wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. They were white women in their thirties, born and raised in rural America. “And your mom literally dragged my mom to that Mary Kay party, remember? It was in the park, and we climbed onto the pavilion roof and watched them, and nobody even noticed.” Lacey had asked her mom to get her eyeliner and eye shadow and lipstick, because it was 2005 and boys could wear that stuff now. Audra hadn’t been brave enough to ask; she’d collected deposit bottles and gotten her supplies at the drug store. Lacey was shaking her head. She’d barely touched her drink, she was so focused on their conversation. “It’s not a metaphor,” she said. “I had this weird opportunity, and I can give someone literal wings. And I thought of you.” Audra didn’t think that could be true. But it didn’t surprise her, either. She had been the kid with long black hair and studded leather chokers and a wealth of cheap art supplies. She’d had wide ruled notebooks full of sad girls doodled in blue ballpoint: anime eyes, intricate fishnets, their vast, feathery wings eclipsing their bodies. She was a grownup and she still believed that if only one person in the entire world could get wings, it should be her. “It’s not perfect,” Lacey said. “We don’t know what the timeline is, or how they’ll turn out on you, or—” Audra interrupted her. She didn’t have time to waste hearing reasons she should change her mind. “Will it work?” she asked. “Like, at the end of the day, I’ll have real wings, and they’ll be mine? Like, right here?” She motioned self-consciously over her shoulders at where she imagined they’d be. Lacey was grinning, a smile that felt oddly familiar after all these years. Was it excitement that they were doing something stupid and it was going to be awesome, or joy that she’d spent so much time picking out a present and it had gone over well? “Real wings,” she promised. “And they’ll be yours, you’ll be able to move them and you’ll have full sensation and everything. It’ll be — I mean, there’s a lot we don’t know, I can’t make a lot of promises. We have no idea what the side effects will be, and the process to get them is . . . intense.” Audra knew she should have been worried about who ‘we’ was. Nic would have asked that. There were so many people in her life who would have tried to protect her. She said, “What do I have to do? Is it a terrifying experimental surgery?” Lacey was laughing so hard she knew she’d overshot, so she kept going. “Are they going to have to harvest bones from my arms and legs to construct the wings? Am I going to lose six inches?” “You wish,” Lacey said. “You’ll grow them on your own, but you have to do injections. Twice a day for the first six months, then daily for a year after that. You can’t miss any, you probably shouldn’t stop once you’ve started. And it’ll be painful.” Audra took Lacey’s hands from across the table. After everything else, this felt like a blessing. “That easy?” she said. “I’ll do it.” “I knew you would.” Nic found her on their bed the night she started the injections. She was naked from the shower, staring down the suspicious-looking vial she’d gotten from Lacey, wondering how crazy she’d be to go through with it. Nic stopped in the doorway. She gave Audra a long chance to kick her out, then she sat down next to her. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Are you late?” They knew each other’s cycles, but it felt rude to admit it. Audra felt gauche when she knew Nic’s period was starting a day and a half before the blood came. Nic would comment on Audra’s pleasing softness, but not on its origin. “No,” Audra said, “I’m on track with that. This is something new.” Nic touched her cheek and she leaned into it, enjoying the moment before she had to say what she’d decided. Nic’s hands were weathered like old wood, covered in rough patches and healing wounds no matter how many times Audra rubbed lotion into them. Her nails were thick, strong, a little too long for a lesbian. She scratched Audra’s scalp and Audra thought maybe she’d just flop into her lap and they’d skip the conversation altogether. “Is something wrong?” Nic said. “I would’ve gone with you to the doctor.” Audra kissed her, because Nic was right, she would’ve, and Audra explained and she tried not to lie even though it would have made things easier. “You have to love me,” she said after, “even though I’m so stupid.” “That’s a hell of a lot of fine print,” Nic said. But then she hugged Audra and pulled her close, limbs every which way and wet hair soaking through her undershirt. “Are you sure this is, um, real?” Audra laughed. This was why she hadn’t wanted to talk about it. She wanted Nic to think she was sexy in an effortless, shy-girl-at-the-library sort of way. She wanted to be sunny and sweet and desirable, a trifle or a pavlova. They’d been together too damn long now and Audra still preferred ‘girlfriend,’ avoided the heft of ‘partner.’ She wanted to be insubstantial, she wanted to melt in Nic’s mouth. Watching Nic worry about her, watching her think, my baby’s been scammed or worse, she felt reality crash into them. She imagined that they’d be capsized by her bad decisions, and that she’d drag them down until they’d never find air again. This was catastrophizing. She could stop it if she just made better choices, or if she believed that she’d survive no matter what choices she made. Instead she hedged. “No, obviously I’m not sure. I’m stupid enough to try it, I’m not so stupid I believe it.” “Okay.” They were both quiet, just Nic’s breathing and the owl outside. Nic didn’t want a fight and Audra did, so there was no way they could both be happy. “Do you think it’s safe, though? It’s just, I’m kind of sweet on you, I’d hate to lose you.” That was what Audra wanted to hear, so she felt safe being cruel. “I signed over my death benefits to you,” she said. “You don’t have to worry.” Nic choked. Her throat made a quiet noise as it closed. That felt good, too. “That’s not what you mean to me,” she said. “My friend Lacey was the one who told me about it. And gave me these.” She held up the vial. It was big, unsettlingly so. She held it in her fist like a lemon, not between two fingers like all the other medicines she’d injected. But she’d need to use a lot of it, and neither of them were sure how often Lacey would be able to resupply her. “And I trust her.” Nic turned to try and see her face; Audra hid behind her hands. “I don’t remember her,” Nic said. “She can’t be that good of a friend.” “Of course you do,” Audra said. “We were friends in middle school, I’ve told you about her. She’s the one who sent Zoe all the love poems I wrote about her? You know, the one where I rhymed scone with bone?” Nic sighed hard, like an old dog settling in the back corner. “Yeah, she sounds like a bottom-dollar kind of girl. I can’t believe you fell out of touch.” “Middle school friendships are weird.” “Yeah.” She bent down and kissed Audra’s neck, relaxed into it. They both knew that Audra had made up her mind, and there was nothing left to do. “I’m surprised she didn’t pick Samantha. Or Sarah or Sally. There are lots of good S names.” It wasn’t the sort of comment Audra would have tolerated from a lot of cis girls, but Nic had been there through so much she knew she didn’t mean anything by it. She said, “When we were kids, we went on a field trip to Old Stone Fort. We were bus buddies, and we had a tour guide named Lacey. She was . . .” She tried to think of how she would describe her: the leather vest, the messy eyeshadow. But the things that had enchanted her childhood self could never be so glamorous to adult eyes, so she gave up trying. “She was perfect. I’m sure that’s why.” For a long time nothing happened except that she was exhausted. She was exhausted and her body had once again become something she dreamed of, something she hoped for, and was no longer just the place where she lived. The blood feathers grew down her wrists and up her neck. She looked at herself every minute of the day, so that she felt vain in her preening, and in the same hour she would see herself beautiful, a girl and worth having, then grotesque, a monster to be crushed with whatever tools were available. She didn’t know if she was so tired from all this growing or just the whiplash. She craved protein and salt. She bought a rotisserie chicken (lemon and thyme) and ate it herself over two days. She filled her freezer with cheap mozzarella sticks and pizza bites. She made grand plans for dinners to feed Nic, and then she ate the nacho cheese before she could dip the nachos into it, ate the ground beef and lamb stuffing before she could fill the peppers, ate Nic’s portions before she could plate them. Nic smiled and kissed her and spread cream cheese and pâté on a bagel, and then made another when Audra stole that one off her plate, and said nothing. Nic found a chest freezer that had been hard done by, bought a share in a hog, got a license to hunt deer. Audra wondered what would happen if Nic got mad at her for all this, and imagined herself dying as a cockerel dies, her neck snapped by the force. The transformation was visible to strangers before it was satisfying to her. Customers asked what was wrong with her, if she was going to be okay and, most damning, if she’d done it on purpose. Audra pretended she didn’t know what had happened. She gawked at her own skin, new as a fiddlehead, and agreed it was disgusting, and performed as much fear as she thought they wanted. She denied herself every day, and felt like Peter in Luke, and hated herself for thinking it and for what she did. She wore long sleeves and turtlenecks; she promised worried strangers she’d go to the doctor. She scratched the keratin caps off each individual feather and watched them unfurl and cried from wanting something so badly and getting it. She printed “A Litany for Survival” in size six font so that no one could read it over her shoulder. She folded it to the size of a prayer card and kept it in her wallet and took it out on the bus, took it out when she went to the bathroom at work to cry, took it out when her eyes blurred from fatigue and when she was sure her fears would swallow her up. She imagined herself running for the door, slipping and breaking her nails on the doorknob like a girl in a movie, shredding herself to escape from she knew not what. She imagined herself slipping through doorways and falling out doorways and hiding in doorways, remembered all the doors that had been closed behind her. She imagined one day she would find a brave self who could exist in a room with all of her fears. That day she would lead them in and lock the door and finally be alone. Her wings would unfurl and she would be home. When the wings started to grow in earnest, she was bowled over by pain and exhaustion. It was worse than anything she’d ever experienced. Worse than breaking her ankle, worse than the dry sockets she’d got from having her wisdom teeth out in some man’s basement “home office,” worse, she was sure, than plenty of things she couldn’t remember. She woke up before dawn and texted Lacey that she was dying, woke up with her alarm and texted her boss, “Real sick. Not gonna be in for at least a week, maybe two.” Nic offered to stay home with her, but they both knew she couldn’t. Nic didn’t have that kind of job; they didn’t have that kind of life. Besides, how could she have helped? Neither of them really knew what was happening. Instead she called every hour, almost on the hour, although she didn’t have that kind of job, either. She put her phone on speaker and told uneven, prattling stories on the drive to work and the drive home, reassuring Audra every three minutes that yes, I swear I’m on hands-free, I promise I won’t get pulled over and blow up our life. Lacey never responded to the text, but she came to help, delighted as a scientist and sympathetic as a friend. She said, “You’ll outlive this, you’re tough,” but Audra didn’t want to be tough anymore, so Lacey said, “I’m right here, babe, I’ll hold your hand through this whole thing and you’ll be glad you made it this far.” The wings erupted slowly, over many days, and then quickly, painfully, her skin splitting like a cocoon, the bruising so bad that it stretched up to the nape of her neck and then fell all the way to her hips and ass. She was glad the pain was too intense for her to remember anything else clearly. She was glad Nic couldn’t be there to see her like that. She was glad to have Lacey, who had grown into a single-minded, even-tempered woman. Lacey wrapped the open wounds in bandages. Lacey said, “Don’t worry about the bleeding. It looks bad, but it always looks bad. There’s never substantial blood loss. It’s never dangerous.” Audra didn’t ask questions. She didn’t say, I thought you’d never done this before on a real person, and now you’re acting like you know how it goes. She said, “I feel so weak, Lace. Last time I felt this bad, I was—” She didn’t want to say it. She didn’t like to talk about that time. She focused on symptoms. “I feel sick to my stomach, and every time I try to stand, my vision fades out from the edges.” None of that bothered Lacey. It was the pain; it was the amount of energy, broad and bleak as a chasm, that her new wings demanded from her body. “You felt like shit after Dr. Bobby was done with you, didn’t you?” she asked. They’d had the same surgeon. “It’s hard on your body, but it’s worth it.” Audra couldn’t keep up with her injections. The pain was too severe. Nic would have done it. Nic had gotten a nurse to show her how. But lots of people had seen Audra as a patient or a client or an experiment; she didn’t want Nic to join them. So Lacey did it. She injected her from the vials in Audra’s medicine cabinet, from the vial in Audra’s bedside table, from the vials in Lacey’s toolbox that they didn’t talk about. Lacey focused on signs. “Your wings are growing in beautifully,” she said. “Look at how strong and well-feathered they are.” She took Audra into the bath, both of them naked in the water. She used a plastic cup and baby soap to rinse dried blood from the pockets where the wings had grown. She pulled out paper-wrapped packets of gauze and needles and fishing line and she sewed the skin into something akin to a back. Audra held still and didn’t cry at all, and when Lacey was done, she said, “There, there, it’s all over. I knew you’d be good.” Nic came home in the evenings and cooked for them and watched Lacey as a dog might have, ready to bite but holding back until given her owner’s command. They ate dinner together, the three of them sitting on Nic’s hand-me-down bed. Lacey inhaled whatever was put in front of her; Nic fed Audra by hand and apologized for being gone all day, went back to her own dinner only after it had gone cold. “I can take care of you tonight,” she said, but Audra shook her head. “You work so hard, baby,” she said. “You need to rest. And Lacey’s an expert, she lives for this.” She was certainly an expert, though they didn’t talk about how. She taught Audra how to condition her wings. She palpated each of the strong, delicate bones to make sure they’d come in as they were meant to. She rubbed oil into her feathers, starting at the shaft and moving up along the grain. “You’ll have to do this every day when I’m gone,” she said. “Since your body doesn’t produce the right oils.” “Store-bought is fine,” Audra joked, and they both smiled thinly. They were both tired by that point, but Audra was also excited, and Lacey was also proud. “I’ve never seen them grow in so nice,” she said, shaking her head, spreading the feathers from Audra’s skin. “They’re such pretty colors. Your wingspan is going to be — God, once you’ve healed you’ve got to let me take you in so we can get you measured and x-rayed.” “No,” said Audra, nervous because Lacey’s hands were deep in the part of her that was newest and most precious. “I think I’ll stay here, instead.” She had already more than once been measured and photographed. “You don’t understand,” Lacey said, “what it’ll do for my career.” Audra didn’t think she could say no twice. She didn’t think she had it in her. But she didn’t need to. Nic came to the doorway, and she said, “Hey,” and her voice was as low as a man’s when she was angry. “I hope you’re being a friend in there.” They never discussed it again. She thought about that conversation as the moment she finally became an adult, or the day her life started, or the way she finally pulled herself out of the slush of a youth spent trying to erase herself. She let Nic hold her that night in bed, and she said, “I know you love me,” and Nic reacted like it was an actual compliment. The next day she got a voicemail from her boss, and she thought, well, this was a good run while it lasted. I was going to be out of this job soon anyway. Audra had lost so many jobs for so many stupid reasons that she had started to think of it as just something that happened to a person every few years, will he, nill he, like moving. She went through the whole mourning process before she listened to the message. She cried. She broke a plate. She looked at new job postings with Lacey. She seriously considered camming (“You definitely have a niche,” Lacey said) and the military and three different MLM cosmetics companies. She texted Nic: “they fired me!!! the bastards fired me!!!!” Then she hit play. “Hey,” her boss said, “it’s me. I hope you’re on the mend. I just wanted to let you know you’re almost out of sick time.” Audra had the phone on the bed next to her, her face hidden in a pillow. “I can dip into vacation,” it continued, “but I know you’ve already got time scheduled in August. Um, if you want, I talked to Joe and under the circumstances we’ll let you work from home.” His voice wavered a little, like he was uncomfortable. He’d called from his cell, and she imagined him standing in the corner with the door closed, looking out the window and scratching his ugly scraggly beard. “We’re all worried about you, Audra. We’re all hoping you get better soon. Just reach out and let me know what you want me to do.” She cried for a long time and she called him back and she dragged her laptop (heavy, because it was old and because Nic liked to play Warcraft on it) into bed with her and replied to emails for eight hours. “Surprise,” she told Nic. “They didn’t actually fire me?” Nic said, “I knew it had to be a misunderstanding,” and she didn’t correct her. That night she lay prone in bed and let Nic rub aromatherapy oils into her shoulders. They ached from the new growth, and from being so scared and tense, and Audra had spent so much of her life afraid to let anyone touch her, more afraid to like it. Nic rubbed the base of her skull and the base of her new wings, scraped her nails down her back and her sides. Audra sighed and moaned and stretched out on the bed, and finally she relaxed enough that her spine popped. “You’re so beautiful,” Nic said. “You have no idea how sexy you are.” Audra shivered, and her wings flexed. “I just can’t stop thinking about work,” she said. Nic laughed, long and quiet and broken as a city leveled in a storm. “What? Am I not supposed to talk about it now?” “No, baby girl, you’re fine. Don’t you worry about a thing.” But Audra didn’t really trust her until her hands started moving again, gentle fingers over the line where her bra snapped. “I’m just, like, I have to ghost them, you know? God, I don’t think I’m brave enough to go in like this. I have to just disappear and let them mail me a check.” “Hmm.” “Are you even listening?” Nic sighed and flopped on top of her, gentle as a falling leaf, her weight firm and reassuring. Audra tried to turn her head to look at her, and found she couldn’t. “I just don’t know what you want me to say. You love this job. And I love you, I don’t want you to lose it.” Audra was crying. Petulant, she reassured herself that she’d make Nic take the wet pillow when they went to sleep. “But you’ve had to work through a whole lot, so if you want to just, I don’t know, say no this time and back out, I’ll support you. I’m a real high roller, I’ve got sugar baby money.” She wasn’t, and she didn’t. Audra thought that if she left this job, they’d lose their apartment and then they’d starve and she’d have to cut her beautiful new wings off and sell them to science to buy a day’s bread, and wouldn’t that be a waste of suffering in a life full of it. But she never actually found out. The offer was all she needed to be brave. The first day she felt well enough to run errands again, they got home and Nic said, “Oh, sweetheart,” and Audra opened her mouth and shrieked like a buzzard caught in telephone wire. She’d been having a panic attack for an hour and a half, but she’d been too stubborn and too proud to tend to it until they’d finished everything they needed done. She stood in the center of the room with her shoulders hunched forward miserably, the same way Nic contorted to hide her breasts. Nic kept a few paces away. Some days her touch was a comfort. Others, Audra couldn’t bear comfort. Nic said, “I don’t know what to do.” Audra would have preferred her to pick something, then deal with the consequences if she was wrong. It was a cruel craving, but it was the one she had. She stopped screaming. “Do I look like I can be trusted to make decisions? They ought to assign me a keeper.” “I want to make you better,” Nic said. It wasn’t good enough. “I’m gonna make you better, but I need a hint about how.” Audra shrugged and let her head loll to one side, and that was enough of a clue that Nic came by and put an arm around her. “I thought being home would help.” Nic said, “It seems like it helped a little.” “At least I can’t feel them looking at me anymore,” she said. “But.” She couldn’t describe it while she was in it. Later she’d be able to talk about the strange, pervasive disconnect, the sensation of floating. Not of flying, but falling, her wings snapping back to catch her, then cracking like an umbrella’s skeleton. She snatched at the only thing that might anchor her, a knotted line just out of reach. Audra closed her eyes and hid her face and whispered, “Maybe if we made love or something I’d remember myself.” Nic laughed, but she held her very tight as she did, so that Audra was contained within her laughter rather than shaken by it. “I can’t tell my friends I decided to fuck you because you were having a panic attack. They’d say I was a monster.” Audra was too scared to scowl, dripping bitterness like ink from a well. “Poor baby,” she said. “I don’t care what your friends think. Maybe if you were a better girlfriend, you wouldn’t, either.” “Easy,” Nic said, “Easy.” She laid her palms flat on Audra’s skin under her shirt. “There’s a person here you’ve got caught in your talons, so be gentle.” She held them both still until Audra’s anger subsided unopposed, until she stood there trembling. “All right, let’s see if we can get you back on the ground.” They made it as far as the hallway before Nic, always eloquent, said, “Heck, but you’re pretty, though,” and kissed her. Their apartment wasn’t big enough to justify hallways, but it had them, anyway, and they had to find something to do with the space they were paying for. Nic pushed Audra against their bedroom door and it gave a little before the latch caught them solid. Audra was cold all the time since HRT, but Nic was always warm, she always made sure to warm her hands before she touched her. Audra felt heat in her chest and it was Nic’s hands against her bra, felt heat on her thighs and it was Nic’s hands spreading her legs. She touched Audra under her clothes and over her clothes at the same time, so that her hands between Audra’s legs were muffled as though through crinoline, so that the feel of her fingertips on feathered skin was as bright as lemon balm and winter time. Audra’s clothes pulled at her shoulders and her neck, and she leaned into it, focused on how it felt to be restrained by something other than the tightness in her chest. Good, she thought. She spread her wings so that her back was flat against the door, so that she could be surrounded on all sides. “You think you can stay up?” Nic asked. Her lips were soft and sticky against Audra’s neck. “Mmhmm,” she said. “I’m good.” “Hate for you to fall,” said Nic, teasing, and lying, too, because she thumbed over Audra’s nipple and Audra’s knees gave out and Nic was ready to catch her, a strong arm around her ribs like they were dancing. Audra whined. She felt misaligned, like if she moved the right way her whole self would pop back into place and she’d stop hurting so bad. “Please,” she said, and she closed her eyes but she could still see Nic’s smirk, “just wanna feel you inside me, is all.” “Like this?” Nic traced her nails over Audra’s bottom lip so gingerly that it was electric, and Audra wanted so much to bite, to take the whole hand. She could feel it already in her teeth without having to do it. The snap of her jaw and the jangle of bones down her throat. It wasn’t the only thing she’d ever wanted that had scared her. Everything was so intense right now, so raw. Audra had to take herself firmly in hand to keep from acting. She opened her mouth, unlatched her jaw and presented her tongue. Nic’s fingers were hot and salty, and she sucked and slurped but did not bite. Nic said, “Oh, wow,” and Audra fluttered her eyes open. Her pupils were so far blown it ached. She was starting to see in new colors, and she wasn’t sure if it was the drugs or the migraine building at the base of her skull. She was sure she was a sight: debauched, needy. For once, she didn’t worry about ‘beautiful.’ She licked Nic’s fingers. She licked her lips. “Yeah,” Nic said. “Okay. Christ, baby.” Audra laughed. “I just really want to-” She stopped. She put her hand on Audra’s waist under her blouse, rucking it up like it was a skirt and they were two straights in a bar. Her fingers were still slick with spit. “I’m gonna need you to take some of these clothes off so I can show you what I wanna do.” Audra just looked at her. “God gave you hands, didn’t he?” But then she realized the problem, and swallowed hard so she wouldn’t cry. “You don’t have to be afraid, of course you can touch them, come on. Obviously I only grew them so you’d have something pretty to play with when you — while you were undressing me.” They were both laughing and they were both tender, and Nic stepped over so Audra had room to turn around. She reached back and gathered her long hair into a high pony, held it there out of the way, her elbows splayed. She pressed her cheek and her chest into the door, and Nic unhooked the clasps of her shirt, and her new wings stretched over them both.   The post PodCastle 643: Strange Things Done appeared first on PodCastle.
Author : Aimee Picchi Narrator : Jen R. Albert Host : Setsu Uzume Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh Discuss on Forums Originally published by Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. Rated PG-13. In a Field of Bone-Bonnets Aimee Picchi The hut shuffled to face the sunrise, a habit that pleased its old witch, and kindled the fire in its hearth for her morning tea. The witch groaned as she wobbled from her bed and picked up a ragged note from the floor. The scrap had been slipped under the hut’s door in the middle of the night while the witch had snored in her feather bed. During the note’s delivery, the hut had remained still because the witch had told it many years ago that her customers were scared enough already and might be frightened off if a giant chicken-footed hut suddenly moved. The witch and the hut both knew what the note would say. The messages were always the same, even if the words were different. “Another woman needs my help.” The witch wheezed as she reached for her bag of medicines. The ever-glowing skulls strung by the hut’s doorway clattered. You need to rest. “My dearest hut, I must continue with my work until I can no longer. Stoke your fires at dusk. That’s when I will return.” As she reached for her walking stick, she gave the hut’s central beam a pat. The hut watched with worry as she limped into the woods in search of the young woman who had written the note and crept to the hut’s door in the middle of the night. As the sun arced across the sky, the hut rotated on its chicken feet to follow the warmth. It opened its shutters and aired its insides, then closed the shutters when the afternoon air grew hot and humid. As the sun was setting, the old woman stumped back, her breathing labored. Fatigue lined her face, and she stepped inside unsteadily. You are too old to keep doing this, the hut clattered. “Helping others does not stop at any age.” The witch climbed into bed, drawing her quilt to her chin. “I know in my bones my end is near. You have served me well, with more care than I ever could have imagined. But you are a magicked thing, and you will need another witch’s power to remain alive. I have used the last of mine to grant you three days to find a new witch. After that, I can do no more, and the magic will drain away.” The hut settled on its haunches. I cannot continue without you. The witch touched the hut’s timbers. “Dearest friend, I hope that is not true.”  She began drifting off, but mumbled softly, “To find her… the town holds a clue, but is no place for you. Wrong turn, you could burn. Red among bone finds your new home.” The hut tended the fire to keep her warm and it rocked from foot to foot to soothe her pain. By morning, the old witch was as still as stone. The hut stood in the clearing. The old woman had always done the thinking for them. The hut’s timbers groaned as it realized the old woman would no longer hobble across its wooden floors or demand it run through the woods so fast the birch trees lashed at its windows. The hut would do anything to feel her footfalls again. The emptiness swelled inside it. It sought out the willow where the old woman liked to sit on hot evenings. It dug into the dirt, ignoring how its claws ached. At last, it stepped back, studying the grave through its porthole windows. Satisfied, it tilted its frame until the old woman’s body slipped out of bed and into the grave. It mounded dirt over the old woman, and covered the grave with scarlet wolf-teeth daisies and white bone-bonnets, her favorite blossoms. Shaking its beams, three skulls tumbled from its doorframe and landed among the flowers. The skulls sang a eulogy in pale chromatics of unwanted endings. The hut imagined sitting by her gravesite for three days, letting the magic drain away. Its windows would lose their shine and its feet would sink into the ground. With time, animals would take up residence. Dearest friend, I hope that is not true. The memory of her witch’s voice echoed in its rafters. The hut heaved itself upright on shaky legs. The hut wanted to honor her as best it could. I’ll do what she wanted, it clattered. The hut’s shutters creaked in sorrow as it said goodbye. The gravesite disappeared from view as it made its way toward the nearest town. By afternoon, the hut was walking through wide boulevards, looking in the windows of fancy shops selling starched white frocks and tiny crystal figurines of creatures the hut had never seen. The old woman would have hated the town, the hut thought. As the hut trundled through a smaller street, a man wearing a butcher’s apron leaned from his shop door. “Is your witch inside?” His eyes darted toward the windows. “Come out, old lady!” The hut backed up. “No witch, eh?” Emboldened, the butcher jabbed an accusatory finger at its timbers. “My wife visited a year ago. She said she needed medicine. Only things that came back were a lock of her red hair and a bloody scrap of her skirt.” The hut turned, confused. It remembered the red-haired woman. She was clever, asking the old witch about plants and medicines. She wore her hair in a thick braid twisted into a bun, and the freckles dotting her nose seemed to dance when she laughed. “Now, I understand if that old witch got fed up with her. Irina could be mouthy. And always running off to the fields and hills. Probably getting up to no good. God knows even I lost my temper. What you did to her — she didn’t deserve it!” The witch never ate women or girls. Only men who hurt them, the hut said in a severe tone. The man’s mouth opened and closed. He trembled as he ran into his shop and bolted the door. The remainder of the day was no better. A grandmother smiled in passing at the hut but a gang of young men threw rocks. It recognized a few women. The witch had healed them and handled the men who came stalking after them. But under the eyes of town guards and offended proper citizens, none of the women would approach the hut. Its timbers groaned as it walked out of the town. The town holds a clue, but is no place for you, the old woman had said. The hut felt more than its energy slipping. The first day hadn’t brought any help in finding a new witch, only lessons about how humans feared it and the old woman. The hut sighed through its eaves. A shutter came loose and dropped onto the dusty road behind it. On the second day, the hut felt weak enough to be worried men might bring it harm. Its joists ached, and it wondered if this was how the old woman had felt in her last days.  At the outskirts of a village, it turned in at a little wooded glen and hid, waiting until dark to search for a new witch. But a chicken-footed wooden cabin with glowing skulls hanging from its doorframe was never going to be well concealed. Especially at night. An uneasiness came over the hut as it heard the village’s residents bang their shutters closed and lock their doors tight. It saw a line of flickering lights approach — the village watch with flaming torches, shouting and waving the fire at its wooden beams. A spark jumped to its shingles, igniting a fire on the corner of its roof. A wrong turn, you could burn. In searing pain, the hut fled through the woods until it reached a stream burbling through a gulley. It pitched itself into the gulch and dipped the corner of its roof into the muddy water, dousing the flames and cooling the shingles. If the old witch were alive, she would climb up on its roof and repair the ruined corner. As the hut crouched in the gulley, its worries about guards and burned shingles gave way to a deeper ache that settled into its frame. As much as the hut had provided a home for the witch, the witch had given the hut a sense of belonging and purpose. The magic, the hut understood, wound down far deeper than its own timbers. On the third day, the hut decided to avoid people.  Her witch had said the town holds a clue. But only the butcher had spoken to it, talking about his wife and accusing the hut and the witch of hurting her. The hut recalled that the butcher had mentioned the red-haired woman liked flowers.           The hut sighed with a memory of its witch’s love of flowers: delicately pretty wolf-teeth daisies, and healing white bone-bonnets.  She used to sing, “Wolf teeth upon the heath, field of bonnets bone upon it.” Perhaps, thought the hut, the red-haired woman would also pick bone-bonnets? The hut plunged through fields and hillsides in search of the flowers, until its feet were blistering and the chimney mortar crumbled at its corners. As the sun fell below the horizon, the hut caught sight of a meadow of white flowers nodding in the breeze. Bone-bonnets. Even if the hut were to lose its magic here, it was at ease with settling itself down in this field, allowing its timbers to become home to insects, birds and vines. But in the midst of this field stood a red-haired woman, picking flowers. Irina. She looked up and waved. The hut approached slowly, its chicken legs stiff and aching. Your husband thinks we ate you, the hut said. The woman laughed, her freckled nose crinkling. She had a loose-limbed ease about her, now that she was healed and free. “Another of his lies. I sent him a piece of my skirt bloodied by my monthly, a lock of my hair, and a note saying bandits held me for ransom. Knew he wouldn’t pay.  Been camped out ever since I left you, practicing old grandmother’s flower lore and helping those that find me,” she said. “How is she?” The hut’s skulls tapped out an echo of the eulogy. “I’m sorry,” she said. She stood silent for a moment and then rested a hand on the hut’s wooden beams. “I can feel her magic fading.” She looked up in concern. “You need another witch, I see.” The hut leaned forward, its windows studying her closely. What had been faint when she visited the old witch was now a growing river of magic running through her veins. She told me to find someone. The hut shifted on its feet, suddenly shy. She told me  — The hut stopped, and started again. I know that my work is not yet done. Irina placed a hand on the hut’s railing. “If you will have me, I would be honored to call you home. I hope with time I may prove a home for you just as you shall for me.” When the red-haired woman stepped on its porch, its hearth flared with heat. She patted its doorframe, and the hut felt the weight of loneliness lifting. The hut’s door swung open as its skulls blazed. Welcome home.   The post PodCastle 642: In a Field of Bone-Bonnets appeared first on PodCastle.
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Devon, UK
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1 week, 9 hours
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