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.
In free-bioform Hong Kong, Dorotéia Fernandes performs on her lute. A meeting with Kailee, part bat-part woman, lingers with her well beyond their evening conversation. A whole new world opens before her. -SY
Puffs of breeze were the first I knew of her. A gust of wind first tickling at my hair from behind, then blowing into my face. Then a voice: “Dorotéia.” And a few seconds later: “Ms. Fernandes.” It was a thin, high-pitched woman’s voice, with only a hint of Cantonese accent, and it came from somewhere above me.
It was late, and dark. I’d just finished my recital at Hong Kong University’s concert hall, and I was in the nearby Tai Mo Shan Park, trying to walk off my post-performance adrenaline. The path I was on was dimly lit, and when I looked up there was at first only a black sky. But in the next moment I saw a flicker of movement, a shape. She was flying, hovering, then landing on the path in front of me. The span of her wings must have been eight or ten feet, but her body was tiny, the top of her head barely my waist-height. She was dark brown, almost black, and whatever she was wearing was close to the same shade as her membranous wings and the skin of her face. Only her hair was a different color; a splash of closely-cropped blonde curls at the top of her head and disappearing behind huge, pointed ears.
“Ms. Fernandes,” she said again, “please don’t continue down this path. There are some men ahead who look…unsavory.”
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.
The man Denara had her eye on is missing, and she may have made a catastrophic mistake. An old legend tells of an aged helper of the mountain, so Denara decides she has no choice but to fix it. Tom Howard weaves a seaside community, beaten down by time, unawares of looms behind them. -SY
The unexpected silence woke her. For the first time in Denara’s life, no raindrops fell on the roof tiles over her head. She left her bed, pulling her homespun robe around her, and made her way to the kitchen. Her mother, tall and thin, stared out the window at a morning sky lightened much too early.
“The rain has stopped,” said Denara.
“Don’t worry,” said her mother, returning to washing the breakfast dishes. “I saw blue skies for two hours when I was your age. It’ll start raining again in a few minutes.”
Denara scooped chunks of fish out of a bubbling stewpot into her bowl, appreciative of the stove’s warmth. “Would you like some breakfast, Mom?”
“Why did the rain stop?” Denara asked, pushing the bits of fish around in her bowl and hoping her mother had a logical reason for the rain stopping.
“I don’t know,” replied her mother. “It might have something to do with the low tide last night. Your father said he’d never seen the ocean that far out.”
When I saw the clown hatch from the egg, it all made sense. Of course they weren’t human. Who the hell would grow up and decide to become one of them? I can’t say that it all fit together—zoologically speaking—of course, but then I don’t know much about all that. There’s all sorts of weird shit out there, and when I won the big black shell at the showground I knew there would be some kind of trick to it. Who gives away a fifteen-kilo egg as a prize in a guess-the-jellybeans-in-the-jar game? Calling it a ‘fortune egg’ did nothing to further its appeal. I didn’t even want the bloody thing. The show hands had to push it to the car in a wheelbarrow.
So in the garage it went, covered with an old dust sheet. I would’ve forgotten all about it, but about a week later I went in to get some wax to buff my Mini Cooper. As soon as I got through the door I heard a loud tapping from the egg. Pulling back the sheet, I saw that it was already cracked. As I watched, a section of shell was pushed out by a meaty paw, and a pudgy white face thrust itself into the gap. Its lips and eyes were black, its ears red. It looked like an obscene baby.