The Shaman waits, every year, for the body of the community’s best and brightest. The seemingly endless sacrifice in service of a dream that never comes to pass, and bearing the secret becomes too much. – SY
The young man’s corpse washed ashore in the hushed chill of morning. The Shaman had been waiting, watching for the body through the long hours of the night. He dreaded the lies he would be forced to tell the tribe. He carried the youth, who through his aging eye appeared no more than a boy, from the waves and placed him on top of the prepared funeral pyre.
His striking flint and steel felt too worn in his hands. He had lit too many of these fires on this sacred beach with only inquisitive sand crabs for company. This winter ritual, this lie about earning the right to journey to the Golden Island, was wrong. If the gods wished the tribe to sacrifice their youth, they deserved to know their fate. Ages ago, before the Shaman’s birth, many would die trying to reach the island every year. His father convinced the tribe that holding a contest would better please the gods. At least then only one would die.
A brilliant spark caught on the coconut fiber kindling and red tendrils of fire snaked through the bundle in his hands. He coaxed the fire brighter with a soft puff before adding it to the larger slivers of wood. Soon, the pile blazed hot and bright, sending a tower of smoke high into the sky that would be seen for miles. The villagers gathered on the other side of the steep rocky ridge dividing them from this sacred space would see the smoke and know that all was well.
Escaping the grief of miscarriage, Helena and Jonathan head into the tropical rainforest of North Queensland. Lena starts to accept their drifting away, while finding a renewed vigour amongst the green and leafy forest. A walk down the path of grief, of rediscovering herself, leads Helena to startling changes she could not have expected. – SY
Helena stares out the passenger side window as the four-wheel drive winds up the narrow trail, her reflection transposed over lush Daintree rainforest. Ancient trunks shrouded in moss and vines, dense carpets of ferns, conifers and prehistoric cycads; a world displaced in time, a sea of green deep enough to drown in.
In the driver’s seat, Jonathan glares straight ahead, hands gripped firmly to the wheel. Every line of his body radiates tension. It seems he still hasn’t forgiven her for her morning breakdown.
‘God, Lena. I’m doing this for you,’ he’d said, standing in the doorway of their bedroom. ‘You need a change of scenery. It’s been months now. You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding away inside the house!’
Lately everyone seems to be telling her what she needs, and what she can or can’t do. It doesn’t stop the tears though, doesn’t still her shaking hands. She never used to cry. Now she can’t seem to stop.
‘Come on, Lena. Please.’
But she hadn’t responded, just sat on the end of the bed, staring at her half-packed suitcase.
When the world can be fed on the hurts, the small slights and arguments that pepper our lives, surely most people could be well fed? Not so for Greg, who looks out into the universes to see how it could be done differently. Sometimes though, people just need to get their teeth into something. – SY
Meek as a newborn lamb, Greg Rindes bowed his head and plodded inside the strifeteria. The yellow-painted brick building was several thousand feet long and wide and held nearly all the staff of Milligan’s Alternate Reality Analysis Center.
Today the strifeteria was holding its monthly puncheon full of rich, junk food physical conflict. Several of Greg’s co-workers were standing in the dining rings, beating each other with their fists and feet. The air was thick with the stink of blood and sweat.
Each time one of the combat diners struck a blow, the air between them filled with high-calorie conflict threads that both chubby combatants absorbed through the conflict pores around their bodies. Like the fighters, several staff members outside the dining rings had grown fat from consuming too many physical conflict calories. Nevertheless, they still cheered when the diner fighters resumed beating each other senseless.
A man floats in the deeps of Malta, returning to a place he has spent most of his life avoiding. The power of the ancient sea has long overshadowed his life and tonight marks a new turning point in its history. -SY
Thirty miles off the shore of Malta, his wife of forty years wept like an orphan. It was their first vacation in far too long and taken at her insistence. A return to the old country. Needless to say, it hadn’t gone well. Call it a clash of cultures, a patriotic scrimmage. These kinds of wars were fought on quiet fronts.
Back in the navy, he’d been little more than a handyman for the Marinai housing outside of Sigonella, a lowly liaison to the local contractors. Still, he’d been proud of his uniform, and she had too. It’s what caught her eye when he’d first sat at her table. Tonight, when he asked her to dance, she shyly agreed. This was a game they played, pretending the old days were new. When every kiss was the first, there would never be a last.
A dozen men in long beards and tourist prints took offense to his attire. When they tipped him overboard, they made sure he fell facing the night sky. They wanted pop-eyed fear, cries of desperation. He turned his face to the sea. He couldn’t bear to see her framed by such filth.
The waters slapped hard against him, wrapped tight, and pulled him down. He floated in darkness and thought only of her. Already the ship was distant, the slow roll of its wake finding the Mediterranean’s rhythm. They would reach the Syrian coast in two days. Maybe someone would stop them, but it wouldn’t be him. He would exhale. He would inhale. After a quick struggle, he would rest.
He’s just a poor boy from a fishing family but his heart is captured by a bird of paradise, flitting out of his reach. Tino has a plan to bring his dreams of life with Delice to fruition, but every dream requires that some part of yourself is given up. – SY
The crunch of dirt mixed with the coppery taste of blood. Tino worked his jaw, opening and closing his mouth slowly. A burst of fireworks erupted behind his eyes, but it appeared nothing was broken. He rose to his knees and leant his head against the limestone wall that ran the perimeter of Delice’s house. Her house? Nay, her prison. He spat a russet-stained wad onto the ground; and with it his anger and shame.
Delice. Delice. The sound of her name was like running his nails down a skein of finest satin in the marketplace. He had seen her there first. She walked alongside her father, stopping at stalls to test the ripeness of a papaya, or watch a potter turn his wheel. It was as if she sensed his presence, and she’d turned to meet his stare. Eyes the colour of the sea kissed by morning sun.
He held himself in those eyes for as long as he dared; the net he wove forgotten in his hands. It was his grandfather’s voice that broke the spell.
“What exquisite bird of paradise keeps you from your task?” Grandfather kept at his work, strong fingers braiding and pulling, but a knowing smile stretched his sun-creased face. Tino blushed. He busied himself refolding and hanging their wares around the little stall that had served as his family’s livelihood for four generations.
And then, there she was. A net in her hand. Examining the grid-like pattern; turning the fibres this way and that. Her slim fingers traced the rows of tight knots, and Tino wondered what it would feel like to have those fingers run down his spine.
The stand was near the back of the flea-market, wedged between a crumbling brick wall and another stand where a young woman was selling tie-dyed pants. The sign above it read “Edna Lewis’ Yes/No box. Your questions answered”.
Below that, someone had taped a piece of cardboard with the words “Closing down: All answers half price. Today only!” handwritten in red marker.
I was intrigued, so I stepped up to the stand. An old bald man with a thick, almost white beard looked up from his book.
“Can I help you?” he asked, with a slight Dutch accent.
“What’s this about?” I asked, pointing at his box, the sign.
He reached below the desk and pulled out a box, jet black, about the size of a biscuit tin.
“You give me 50c,” he said, “then you ask your question here.” He pointed to a small protrusion on the side of the box. A microphone, I guessed.
“Then,” he continued, “if the question has a yes or no answer, one of these two lights will blink.” He pointed at a green and red light in turn. “Green for yes, red for no.”
“And it’ll give me the right answer?”
“Yes. Yes,” he said, sharply.
When a childhood prank lands his sister in trouble, Jaran starts along a path that he feels he cannot escape. Evil deeds seem to breed and Jaran is sure he is the cause. Sometimes you can never go home again. – SY
Jaran never forgot the first time he met evil. Not witnessed an evil act, not listened to the unkind gossip he heard the adults mutter when they thought he was sleeping, but saw the very substance of it. Evil in its raw, unrefined state. The kind of evil that only the Black Healers had the skill to extract.
That was the day Aliya turned fifteen. Jaran had contrived to ruin the new dress his sister wore, a gift from the village women to mark her coming of age. It was a fine dress, shimmering white like sunlight reflecting off a lake, and woven from the finest arachia threads painstakingly harvested a few strands at a time each morning while the dew still glistened.
The urge that drove him was more than jealousy, more than his resentment of Aliya’s firstborn privileges though he had no words to explain his feelings, not even to himself. He scraped moss and algae from beneath rotting branches in the forest, forming a little cake of green slime. It was a cruel choice. A splattering of mud might have washed out leaving no stain. But to Jaran that seemed a thing half done; a compromise.
Whenever I ran in from playing outside, I knew something about me made them unhappy. Their disapproval grew in the quiet spaces—whispering eyes, heavy-lidded glances, a barely noticeable sucking of the teeth. Each day I felt myself shrinking, until one day, my aunties informed me of the cause of this silent shame: the sun was taking away my magic.
This explained why I had gone from being big enough to share a bed with my sister, to sleeping in a shoebox, and then a pickle jar, and finally, a thimble. As I poked my head out from my temporary bedroom, they explained the sun’s evils and the horrible audacity it possessed to rob a little girl of her powers. I nodded along, and when they told me not to worry, that they would assist me in restoring my magic, as was their maternal duty, my smile prompted them to lovingly call me beta and stroke the top of my head with the tip of their fingers.
Nettie Lonesome follows her senses to a small town, to accidentally embroil herself in family politics and pettiness. Lila Bowen brings us into a world of fantastic intrigue, navigated as only a skin-walking vulture can. -SY
A story set in the world of The Shadow
A bird’s sinister shadow sweeps over a small town nestled between jagged mountains, rippling over neatly painted buildings and swept porches and a dusty thoroughfare. The bird has passed a dozen such goddamn towns, shiny as eggs in rough nests, but it hasn’t stopped a single time. Until now.
Something down there must’ve caught its eye.
Circling widely, the ungainly critter lands in a dirty yard by a clothesline. It’s not quite a vulture but close, ugly as sin with a bald head and a great mass of twisted tissue where one eye should be. It doubles over, quivers, and…becomes a girl just as rough and ugly as the bird. She goes by the name Nettie Lonesome, most of the time. Lanky and rib-bone thin, frizzy black hair thick with grime. She coughs into a hand, then quickly covers her chest, looking about shiftily to see if anyone noticed. Within moments, she’s stolen a faded shirt and pants off the line, slipping into them like a fish sliding back into the water. They’re fit for a child, and her bony ankles and wrists show, but at least she’s covered. At least she looks like a boy again.
The sea peeled back from the bay, sucked by a force stronger than tides. Laid bare beneath the sun, fish glittered and flopped, and deep furrows in the naked ocean floor traced the line of the currents. The horizon bulged. Ahli gaped, as cries went up around her.
Her father, Yune, dropped the net they were piling into their little round bowl-boat. He grabbed her shoulder and pointed inland.
The sight of his normally cheerful face twisted into a mask of fear gave her a speed she’d never possessed.