Episode 257: Little Wonders 13 – Death

Show Notes

The Little Wonders theme “Neversus” is by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Chrysalis

by Jennifer Lee Rossman

 

The love of my life died on July third, 1983, at the respectable age of one hundred and nineteen. Oldest man on Earth, according to the good Doctor Hippen.

I can’t say his death came as a shock; when a man reaches that advanced an age, only the absolutely delusional would suggest he buy denture paste in bulk. Still, I hadn’t expected it to happen so suddenly.

We had just begun a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle (always the optimist, my Edgar). One moment, he was looking for a piece of the sky, and the next, he found a piece of his very own. How convenient that his death would coincide with Lasagna Sunday, the bane of his existence.

With a heavy but unsurprised heart, I kissed him on the head and told him I would see him soon. Though a lady must never reveal her age, it’s safe to say the lease on my Earthly body was also on the verge of expiration.

I left Edgar sitting in his easy chair while I went to make arrangements for his funeral. It was his very favorite chair, with a remote control caddy and matching ottoman. He never did like being disturbed while he was in that chair, and I suspected not even death had changed my Edgar’s stubborn ways.

I returned that evening, accompanied by the pastor and doctor, to find that Edgar had been cocooned.

That is the only way to describe the scene – cocooned. A hard, golden substance coated Edgar’s body, the entire easy chair, and even the matching ottoman, forming a shiny, oblong cocoon. It seemed to glow from within, and if you put your face up to it and peered inside, you could see old Edgar sitting in his chair, just the way I’d left him.

All assembled agreed it was the most peculiar occurrence, and neither man of faith nor man of science could give a reason for it. The house lacked any signs of having been broken into (though why a burglar would see fit to cocoon a deceased man in amber was a mystery in and of itself), and after quite a bit of poking and prodding at the thing, we came to the conclusion that Edgar had likely produced the substance himself.

Pastor Brooks prayed over Edgar and the cocoon, while Doctor Hippen chipped away a sample and said he would send it off to some lab out of state. What he expected them to find, I don’t know, but as it was quite clear that Edgar was far too heavy to be moved and would never fit in the casket I had chosen, I accepted that he would be a fixture in my living room until we decided what to do with him.

That evening, after bidding the pastor and doctor good night, I settled in beside my dear husband to watch television. You can only imagine my frustration when I realized that, as in life, Edgar was hogging the remote control. I never should have bought him that darn remote caddy.

There was no discernible change in the cocoon come morning, though I could have sworn Edgar hadn’t had that wicked grin on his face the night before. In my long life, I had seen a vast many loved ones go on to the big bingo hall in the sky, and knew that bodies tended to settle, for lack of a better term, after the spirit left. Some twitched an eye, others moved fingers… why, my great uncle John even let out a belch, but in all my days, I had never seen a dead man grin.

Then again, I had never seen a dead man cocoon himself either.

Throughout the day, Edgar and I hosted family and friends – and a good amount of well-meaning gawkers – who came to pay their respects. I can’t say that any of them left feeling glad that they had come. With the exception of my great granddaughter Liza, who took to the whole situation with fascination, I think they were rather disgusted by Edgar’s unconventional wake.

The town came and went and filled my refrigerator with condolence casseroles, leaving Liza and I alone in the house with the cocoon, or chrysalis, as I was told. Liza, budding entymologist and lover of all things creepy or crawly, assured me that there was a distinct difference. Moths build a cocoon, while butterflies – and apparently old men – build a chrysalis.

Not that this clarification helped in any way. A large portion of my living room was still taken up by an Edgar paperweight, which seemed to have anchored itself to the carpet, resisting any attempts to move it.

As days went by, I became convinced that Edgar was not only changing his facial expression, but moving entire limbs. Nobody believed me at first, undoubtedly chalking up my claims to my old age and deteriorating brain. Now, while I admit that I have been known to put my reading glasses in the crisper and sometimes forgot to wear shoes when I went out, my mind was in perfect working order, thank you very much.

Liza stayed with me and, after a week of taking photos and making measurements, finally agreed that Edgar was moving. Really, the girl would have had to been blind not to do see it, for not only had Edgar shifted position in his favorite chair, but he had propped his feet on the matching ottoman and brought the TV Guide into his lap.

On the following day, in the assembled company of scientists and pastors and news crews from across the country, I witnessed my dear Edgar turn the page! It was something I had seen him do countless times, and ordinarily wouldn’t have been an occasion to celebrate, but to see him do so more than a week after his death…

A gasp went up in the crowd, followed by shouts of “He’s alive!” I merely stood beside the chrysalis, shaking my head in irritation. It was just like my Edgar to fake his death and envelope himself in a chrysalis just to avoid eating my vegetable lasagna.

At some point during the day, some enterprising young person decided to take an electric drill and bore a hole through the hard shell of the chrysalis so we could communicate with Edgar and possibly free him. For hours he drilled, plumes of smoke curling up from the drill bits that he was constantly replacing.

Words have yet to be invented to describe the noxious stench emitted when he finally broke through, but like any good wife I pushed through the odors. I put my face up to the peephole and Edgar looked up at me with that devilish glint in his eyes.

“What do you think you’re doing in there?” I demanded, wondering if I could fit a piece of vegetable lasagna through the hole just to spite him.

He thought for a moment, tapping his toes and drumming his fingers the way he did when faced with a particularly difficult word jumble. Finally, he scratched his head and said, “Well, Alice, I think I’m growing wings.”

And indeed he was. What first appeared as bony protrusions on his shoulder blades soon became white, feathery little wings as days went by, proportionally as small and ineffective as those found on a penguin.

Though Edgar remained conscious over the next several weeks, he grew increasingly tired and unresponsive. One day I found him asleep, and he neither woke nor moved no matter how we tried to rouse him. His breathing grew slower and his heart, measured by electrodes Doctor Hippen had fed through the hole, beat so rarely that I often thought my dear husband had died yet again.

I think it was Liza who suggested that Edgar was going through a change, much like a butterfly in its chrysalis. Furthermore, she posited, perhaps he was approaching the adult stage of human life, that the beings we know as adults are merely the larval stage of something greater, and that no one had ever lived long enough to metamorphosize. It seemed rather far fetched to me, but so had a human chrysalis at one point, so who was I to judge?

I came to find the matter as intriguing as Liza did, and went downstairs every morning eager to discover what change Edgar had undergone overnight. More feathers one day, a peculiar glowing growth on his head the next. I couldn’t wait to see his final form.

Unfortunately, as often happens when one reaches the undisclosed advanced age I had reached, the meter was running low on time and I was running low on quarters. They tried to give it a name, called it cancer and heart disease and any number of other things, but I knew it was just my time.

I died on April fourth, 1984, beside the love of my life, at a respectable age that is none of your business. Oldest woman on Earth, according to the good Doctor Hippen. I never got to see what Edgar became, or whether Liza was right. I only know I didn’t make a chrysalis for myself, despite trying my best, but maybe I wasn’t quite mature enough to go on to the next stage of life.

The last sight my old eyes saw before they closed for the final time was an angel, with huge, feathered wings and a glorious, glowing halo around his head. He was sitting on the matching ottoman, flipping through a TV Guide, of all things…

 


 

The Black Veils

by Jenny Rae Rappaport

 

Kavan held her before the Council on the day he went to battle; his chain mail left small circles on her bare shoulder as they pledged their troth.  Their fingers intertwined, tan and brown, as they exchanged the rings.  Aleena kissed hers, the wood smooth beneath her lips.  A piece of his spirit would stay behind, locked in the hair from his head which was embedded in the ring.  

“Watch for me before the monsoons come,” he told her as they made their farewells.

Aleena nodded as he mounted the great horned beast that he had earned the right to ride, and carefully checked that sword and shield were strapped in place.  She waved at him as he rode off until his battalion had disappeared from the horizon.  Then, she let herself cry—just this once—and returned to her mother’s house.

The dry season passed with no word from the army.  No carrier-birds came into the city, and the old men began to mutter ominously in the marketplaces.  The queen met often with her counselors, and on their advice, she walked among her populace.  

Aleena came upon the queen one day as she left the carpet-weavers’ shop.  Her work was done for the day and she was tired.

“Majesty,” she said, attempting to bow.

“Do not trouble yourself,” the queen said.  “You are with child.”

“My husband’s.”  The ritual week of lovemaking before their marriage had been fruitful.

“He is across the mountains?”

“Yes, Majesty.”

“Then we must trust that our husbands will keep each other safe.”

The queen held out her hand to Aleena, and Aleena squeezed it in return.

“Thank you, Majesty.”

The queen bowed to Aleena and went on her way, a tight smile on her face.

The rains began the next day, chasing people from the marketplaces as fast streams of water rushed through the city’s streets.  Aleena and her mother were huddled indoors, eating their noon meal when her ring began to burn.

“Kavan,” she said with a hoarse voice.

“A battle,” her mother said.  “Others will have had warning too.  I will go and hear the news.”

Aleena crouched on her pillows while she waited.  She took comfort in the fact that Kavan was not dead; her ring would have disintegrated on her finger if he had left the world.  But he was hurt, dying perhaps, and certainly his spirit was trying to tell her something.  She closed her eyes and concentrated, but heard nothing.

Her mother returned with wet hair plastered to her face.

“The queen wears black veils,” she said.  “The king is dead.”

Dead with no heir.  The queen carried no child.

“They request that—Aleena—they request all whose husbands live and bear children—they request—“ her mother continued.

“Mother?”

“The queen requests The Sacrifice for the safety of the men left in the army.  She has had a carrier-bird through the storm.”

“No.”

“There will be others if he lives.”

He had kissed the back of her neck, his mouth hot against her flesh.  His skin had smelt like saffron; his breath like mint.  He had promised her a house full of laughing voices and little feet, brown-eyed children who would clutch at her skirts and beg for treats.

“He will die, won’t he?“

“I don’t know.  He is certainly injured.”

Her ring burned upon her finger.

“Mother, if—“

“You must go.  With my second-child and my fourth-child and my fifth-child, I let your father live.”

He would die; all the men might die and the city might be overrun and the kingdom ravished.  He would die as her father had died during his last battle.  He would die like the king.

“You were my sixth-child, Aleena.  Do you understand?”

Aleena hesitated, a hand on her belly.  

“Aleena—“ her mother said, her voice cracking.

She nodded at her mother while she held back her tears, and went.

In the Council hall, she gathered with the other women and stripped her clothing off.     

She painted herself with the colors of the sky—golden ochre, indigo, and chalk white.  On her right breast, she drew marigolds for love, making as many petals as the days that he had been gone.  On her left breast, she drew tears for sorrow, the tiny drops too many to count.  Over the bulge of her belly, she colored the soft white spiral of life.  

The queen watched them from behind her black veils as the pregnant women joined hands and circled around her.  Faster and faster they ran, the sweat running down their bodies, and still she said nothing.  Then she screamed, invoking the power of the gods.  The queen sobbed and Aleena felt her sorrow at the king’s death, her despair that her womb had not quickened to life.  The black veils held her, held them all, in embrace, as they shared her royal pain.

She felt the life go from her belly, the spirit of her child flow through her ring, and towards the queen.  She watched her gather the souls into a column of light and throw them to the army across the sky.  When her ring stopped burning, she let herself cry.

Aleena collapsed with the others, pressing her forehead to the cool floor, letting the stone soak up her sorrow.  She tried not to think of the lifeless flesh, of the body within her body.  

Kavan would live, but at such a price.

Around her, the other women began to stir, rising to their feet.  They clutched at one another, fingernails leaving half-circles on each other’s bare shoulders.  The Council hall filled with the wailing cadence of women’s tears.  The queen stood alone in what had been the center of the circle, the black veils still hiding her face.

Aleena went to her.

“Majesty,” she said.

“They did not keep each other safe,” the queen said.

“He promised me a house full of children.”

“I was to have a palace full.  You may still have your house.”

“Majesty–“

“Laene.  My name is Laene.”

“Laene,” Aleena said, reaching up and pulling the black veils away from the queen’s face.  “Neither of us will have children if we do not keep each other safe.”

“Safe?”

“Safe.”

And then she kissed Laene, saw the tears on her royal face, and held her and the black veils in embrace.

 


 

Moments in the Crawl

by Evan Berkow

 

Age 6

The first time it happens is when her cat dies. Chelsea comes home from a sleepover at her friend Maritza’s house to find Mom pale and shaking in the living room. Mom sits her down on the sofa, says the words “Mittens” and “passed on,” and then turns into a monster. Her face steels into an ugly, gape-mouthed mask and her voice slows, spiraling downward, getting deep and grumbly until it’s nothing but an endless roar.

Fear grips Chelsea and she flees to her room, under her bed to where Mittens used to hide during thunderstorms. But the spot is empty now and she huddles there alone and terrified, warmed only by the pee running down her leg. After what seems like forever, Mom and Dad lumber into her room like a sluggish, four-legged beast. They sit silent on her bed until Chelsea crawls out, sobbing and shivering, an hour later.

The next week is full of doctors and needles and bright lights that pierce her eyes. Mom keeps saying that Chelsea became a blurry phantom that swept out of the living room. She won’t stop crying and the sight of it makes Chelsea cry as well.

Eventually, a woman in a white coat invites Chelsea’s family into her office. “It’s a condition known as the Crawl,” she says. “Very rare. In moments of profound trauma or grief, time literally slows down for your daughter. To her, it’s like she’s the only thing not stuck in molasses. Meanwhile, to everyone else, it looks like she’s moving in fast-forward. The whole thing is incredibly strange.”

Mom leans into Dad’s neck and makes a funny croaking noise. He throws his arm over her shoulders. “It’ll be alright, Tess,” he says. And then, to the doctor, “What can we do?”

“I’ll be honest. There’s not much anybody can do. No cure. No treatment. Just try to keep her calm. Help her make it through.”

Three months later, Grandpa passes away and Mom holds Chelsea’s small, flickering body long into the night. Dad is there too, his hand warm and strong on her back. She’s hurt and scared, but her parents are there to keep her safe.

She falls asleep in their arms.

 

Age 17

Two weeks after Chelsea’s birthday, Maritza’s mom calls to say there’s been an accident. Chelsea finds her dad nursing a glass of scotch and playing some dumb video game, but he immediately offers a ride to the hospital.

“You know I’m here for you,” he says on the road.

Chelsea doesn’t respond. She really can’t deal with him right now, not when Maritza is hanging on by a thread and the threat of her condition fills her mind like a black smog. Her heart is aching. Her breath keeps getting caught in her throat. She’s nowhere near ready for this.

It hits as soon as they arrive. Maritza is wheeled by, her face all purple and broken, and Chelsea is suddenly in the Crawl.

This time, she’s too conscious of the people surrounding her. Doctors. Nurses. Patients and their families. Everyone is too present. The sensation of being watched, of their stares scuttling over her skin, colors her perceptions. It makes her see herself through their eyes. The world’s not slowing, she’s getting faster. Too fast. A blur careening through the hospital. She feels everywhere at once. Crying by the statue that is Maritza’s mom. Dry heaving over a toilet. Trying to text her friends in the hallway, her panicky fingers flying across the face of her time-dulled phone.

There’s something desperate inside of her, the blood burning quick through her veins. She can barely take it, this sense that she’s racing through her slowed down, messed up world. It makes her want to scream.

Instead, she blacks out.

Chelsea comes to in the grass under a neon sign that says “Emergency.” She’s soaked with sweat and her dad is kneeling there, running his hand over her back and looking down at her with a sad-eyed expression that makes her want to pull away and hug him all at once.

“Home?” he asks.

Chelsea nods.

 

Age 22

It’s different, the summer after senior year, when Chelsea’s mother keels over dead and the world slows once again. Everything seems caught in some thick gelatinous sludge. Men inch up the stairs to her parents’ bedroom with a body bag hanging limp in their hands. Her father – she calls him David now that she considers herself an adult – is endlessly stirring milk into his mug of tea.

The slowness is heavy. It weighs down on Chelsea’s shoulders until it feels like she’s slogging through mud. The typical suburban sounds – cars driving by, birds in the trees, a distant lawnmower – have all coagulated into a dull groan that echoes between her ears and muddies her thinking.

Chelsea grabs a bottle of scotch and plants herself on the living room sofa. The day’s torpor is getting to her. She doesn’t feel sad, just numb and empty and bored. It makes her feel dirty. Grimy. This is not how it’s supposed to be. She should be more upset. She should be crying, wailing, gnashing her teeth and rending her garments. There must be something horribly wrong with her, something besides the Crawl.

The afternoon creeps interminably onward and the men finally come downstairs lugging what used to be her mother. It takes forever and Chelsea has ample time to memorize the way Tess’s body fills out the bag. David stands watching, trembling in slow motion. The air itself is beginning to feel stale, uncirculated. Chelsea’s head is pounding and she just wants it to end, for time to shift back to its proper pace.

She’s finished off the scotch by the time it does. David walks over and points to the empty bottle.

“Good choice,” he says and breaks down in tears.

Watching her father fall to pieces, something slides into place within her. It’s a growing certainty that she’s not screwed up, that the sadness will come in time, when it’s ready. And once it does, she knows David – no, Dad – will be there to bear it with her.

The realization is sudden. As numb as she feels right now, there’s still something important she can do.

Chelsea goes to her father and, for the first time, she’s the one to hold him.

 

Age 46

  Dad dies at home, in his bed, with Chelsea holding his hand. He takes a halting breath, smiles softly, and goes quiet.

When the slowdown comes it’s a stillness that feels like peace. The Crawl offers a pause for reflection, giving her all the time she needs without taking any time at all. It’s taken years, but she’s finally learned to appreciate that.

Flanked by her motionless husband and son, Chelsea studies this moment. She lingers on the laugh lines in her father’s face, the gray curls of hair that stick to his creased forehead. She turns to the picture from her wedding that he kept on his bedside table, where he’s laughing wildly with Chelsea and her husband. Another photo, of Mom and Dad with their arms clasped around each other as they send Chelsea off to college. There’s even a tiny, framed portrait of Mittens.

She can’t help but smile. There are so many memories here, frozen in time, all leading to this place, to this day. In the end, she’s thankful for every last one.

The Crawl will be over soon. Its hush is already beginning to dissolve back into the familiar rhythms of her life. Chelsea kisses her father’s forehead and stands, taking her place between her husband and son. She rests her hands on their shoulders, closes her eyes, and waits for the world to begin once again.

 


 

Always There

by David Steffen

 

Grandma is different now.  

I can’t imagine life without her.  Of course I knew she couldn’t last forever, but as I grew up everything changed but her.  Through all that Grandma was my bedrock, the one component of life that was reassuringly constant.  

I’ve always made a habit of stopping by at least once a week.  I’ve always told her everything, about troubles at work, arguments with my parents, and every detail about my dates with guys.  Most people wouldn’t tell their grandmother about their sex lives, but Grandma is the epitome of cool.  She can pick the losers from the keepers when I’m blinded by infatuation and she’s never steered me wrong.

Grandma loves to bake.  To me the smell of baking cookies has always been the smell of comfort and absolute bliss.  When I come over every Saturday, I bring a bag of groceries and she bakes up a few batches while we talk.  No mystery why I was chubby when I was a kid. When I got into high school I started watching my weight, but she still baked.  Instead of eating them myself, I gave them to friends and family, whoever wanted them.

When she’s done with the cookies, she clips coupons and sends out entries for mailing sweepstakes.  I’ve told her before that those sweepstakes are scams but she doesn’t care.  She thinks they’re fun, so she does them.  

Six months ago, Grandma changed.  Don’t get me wrong, she was still the same awesome Grandma, baking cookies and talking and giving me advice.  But she started to smell.  I don’t mean old people smell or medication smell.  This smell was way worse than that, and not normal at all.  I asked her about it. She would just say “I don’t smell anything, dear” and go on with what she was doing.

At first I wasn’t sure what the smell was, but it got stronger every time I visited her until I could barely stand to be around.  One day she touched my hand and her skin was cold.  A dead kind of cold.  

By that time, I was dumping her cookies in my trash bin as soon as I got home.  That smell clung to the cookies something fierce.  There was no way I was going to give them to anyone.  And who knows what kinds of nasty germs they were crawling with.  Dramamine helps keep the nausea at bay, but still the visits have grown shorter and shorter.  Flies fill her house in a buzzing cloud.  Grandma’s tried to get rid of them, but nothing works.  Sheets of flypaper wriggle with captured life, but there are always more flies.

I haven’t worked up the guts to tell her she’s dead.  I’m not sure how to go about it, so I’ve just kept putting it off and putting it off.  As if it would get easier the longer I waited.

When I stopped by today, her house was in even worse condition than usual.  The smell of fresh cookies met me at the door, mixed with that wet rotting smell.  The kitchen was heaped with dozens of batches of cookies, blackened with insects.  Mountains of cut coupons and sweepstakes surrounded Grandma’s easy chair in the living room.  

“We need to talk,” Grandma said from her chair.  I could barely hear her over the buzz of the flies.  I sat down on the couch next to her.  “I miss you, dear.  Saturdays aren’t what they used to be without your visits to look forward to.  Did I do something to offend you?”

By this time she was hard to see under the swarm of flies.  She didn’t bother brushing them away anymore.  I waved my hand and the insects scattered for a moment, allowing me to see her clearly.  The sadness in her eyes broke my heart.  Underneath it all she was still Grandma.  The flies settled back down again, hiding her.  I took a deep breath.  She deserved to know.  

“Grandma, there’s something I need to tell you.”

 


 

Even Death

by Christine Lucas

 

Some flowers grow amidst the reeds, others under the shade of the great palm trees, some bloom only after the rare desert rains, and some grow on corpses. Zerinia treads the desert scanning the horizon for the circling vultures. When she finds the bodies–the lost, the hunted, the forgotten–she throws her hole-riddled rag on the sand beside them, sits and waits under her parasol.

The scorching heat bothers her little anymore. The carrion birds know to keep their distance, as though out of respect for her quest. Thirst is a malady for the young; a few mouthfuls from her water skin suffice. Her only enemy is time. If the corpse has been left under the sun too long, the seeds won’t blossom. And if they do before the sun sets, the flowers will wilt in the heat.

But when they do… Oh, when they do, the dead flesh bursts with color: the vibrant green of the deathsweeds along the torso, the deep blue–or green, or brown–of the eyebuds, their roots reaching deep into the skull, the light purple of the bloodvine stems, slithering around the arms and legs, the brilliant yellow of the spotted mushrooms growing out of toes and fingernails… Oh, how her heart rejoices then! She works fast, with her ceremonial knife of carved bone, harvesting each and every one as soon as they blossom. Alchemists, necromancers and apothecaries covet their power and pay handsomely for her harvest, but she doesn’t part of her loot easily.

Not while she she needs to keep cheating death, with the brew she cooks from their powdered leaves and stems and petals.

It won’t last forever, she knows. She values her little beauties, but treasures her life more, such as it is these days. She treasures the rare sound of thunder over the desert, the perfect, languid flight of the vulture, the susurration of the little stubborn geckos that brave the most harsh of deserts, and her little unexpected finds on corpses: the silver daisies blooming on singers’ tongues, the white lilies of the unborn, and the deeply red flowers with the black stems of those who hated too much, too long.

There’s one flower she haven’t found yet, one that must surely be a myth: the rose that grows from the heart of those with true devotion. Those who loved someone, something, anything, with every breath, every thought, every moment, until it killed them. Even vultures, legend has it, keep their distance from such corpses, for only Death himself can pluck this rose.

She’s never seen one of these. Perhaps she’s always been too late, the flower already taken. Perhaps it’s just a rumor, an old wives’ tale, to admonish the young.

No one can love this deeply. No such thing as a deathrose.

Until she finds one.

The body of the old, wrinkled pilgrim–or hermit, or lunatic, whatever their difference is–lies beneath a rock slab at the side of a steep hillside. Vultures perch overhead, and the jackals and hyenas keep their distance. This corpse doesn’t stink. No flies buzz around. Only silence, but for the occasional ruffling of feathers and scratch of fur.

Zerinia works fast and a little sloppy, to cut the rose. It’s tougher than it looks, with dark velvety petals and the faint smell of crisp April mornings away from the desert. When it’s done, with her fingers still trembling, she curls up under the slab, the flower close to her still-galloping heart, and sleeps. When her eyes flutter open, deep into the night, she’s not alone anymore.

Across the corpse, which now blooms with all sorts of deathsweeds, sits a boy. Pale, nude, his hair dark curls down to his shoulders, he sits cradling his knees. A thin, luminous mist shrouds him, flickering like the memory of wings at his back. Once or twice, he reaches out to touch the fragile flowers, but they all wilt and crumble to dust under his fingertips.

He glances at her, over the blossoming corpse, his lower lip trembling.

“Why?” He sniffles. “You took it. The only flower I can touch. Why?”

Countless words crowd at the tip of Zerinia’s tongue: apologies, excuses, denials, but she’s given no time to utter any. The boy vanishes into the night, leaving her breathless and bereft, the rose now heavier than a millstone upon her chest.

The days grow to weeks, to years, to centuries, and Zerinia keeps treading the desert, harvesting the death flowers, seeking the boy. In her dreams, his form shifts from flesh to bone, until she can no longer tell truth from hallucination—if there’s a difference at all. She kept the rose close to her heart until it wilted. She never saw that boy again. She cheated him one time too many. Will he come? Perhaps he will, now that she can barely drag her feet, now that she can’t bring the water skin to her lips, so she’ll lay here just for a moment, just to catch her breath, but now her limbs are too heavy, so perhaps she’ll just take a nap here, under this rock slab.

She loved her death flowers, she did, and the never-ending roads…

A sharp pain in her heart. Needles and daggers and spears leave her breathless. Or, perhaps… roots?

Wings flap overhead, a great shadow over her face… Zerinia can no longer see, but knows it’s not a vulture.

He’ll have his rose, at last.

About the Authors

Christine Lucas

Christine Lucas lives in Greece with her husband and a horde of spoiled animals. A retired Air Force officer and mostly self-taught in English, has had her work appear in several print and online magazines, including the Other Half of the Sky anthology, Daily Science FictionSpace and Time Magazine, the Triangulation: Morning Afteranthology and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She is currently working on her first novel, and in her free time she reads slush for ASIM. You can follow her online.

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David Steffen

David Steffen is a writer, editor, and software engineer. He edits Diabolical Plots, which began publishing original fiction in 2015. He runs the Submission Grinder, a tool for writers to find markets for their work. In December 2015 he published The Long List Anthology, which is a collection of 21 stories from the longer Hugo Award nomination list last year. His own stories have been published in many nice places, including the other three Escape Artists podcasts, Drabblecast, and Daily Science Fiction. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Evan Berkow

Evan Berkow lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and a small menagerie consisting of two enormous gray cats and one adorable rescue dog. His fiction has also appeared in Strange HorizonsEscape Pod, and Crossed Genres Magazine. He’s a member of SFWA, Codex, and the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers critique group. Find him online and on Twitter.

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Jenny Rae Rappaport

Jenny Rae Rappaport is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing workshop, and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. Her work has previously appeared in Knitty and STRAEON. She lives in New Jersey with her family, where she divides her time between novel writing and herding small children. Follow her online and on Twitter.

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Jennifer Lee Rossman

Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek from New York, where she crochets, watches Doctor Who, and threatens to run over people with her wheelchair. Her short story “Scrapefoot” is featured in Circuits & Slippers, an anthology of sci-fi fairy tale re-tellings. Follow her online and on Twitter.

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About the Narrators

Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty has been called one of the worst-kept secrets in science fiction and fantasy publishing, but she’s no secret to Escape Artists fan. She’s been the host and co-editor of both PseudoPod, and is the current co-editor of Escape Pod along with Divya Breed. She’s also the host and creator of the podcast I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers, which is a finalist for the Hugo this year with co-host Matt Wallace. She is the 2013 winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her novels include The Shambling Guides and Six Wakes. Full links to all her social media haunts will be in the show notes. Follow her online and on Twitter.

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Makenzi Newman

Mackenzi Newman is a high school student from South Louisiana. “The Final Strand”. upcoming on Cast of Wonders, is her first professional publication. She has narrated stories for Cast of Wonders and Pseudopod, and would love to continue both writing and narrating in the future.

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Setsu Uzume

Setsu Uzume is the assistant editor at Podcastle, and spent their formative years in and out of dojos. They also trained in a monastery in rural China, studying Daoism and swordplay. While they have dabbled in many arts, only writing and martial arts seem to have stuck. Find them on online and Twitter.

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Stephanie Morris

Stephanie Morris is a professional fangirl by day and the lone library assistant staffing a college circulation desk at night. She has narrated short stories for all four Escape Artists podcasts as well as StarShipSofa, has guest-blogs on subjects ranging from book recommendations to zombie turkeys, and performed Shakespeare in a handful of weird churches. Until she suppresses her inner perfectionist enough to create a website, you can find her on Twitter.

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Kate Baker

Kate Baker is the Podcast Director and Non-fiction Editor for Clarkesworld Magazine. She has been very privileged to narrate over 350 short stories/poems by some of the biggest names in Science Fiction and Fantasy for multiple venues. Kate won the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine in 2011 and 2013, the British Fantasy Award for Best Magazine in 2014 and the World Fantasy Award for Special Award: Non Professional in 2014 alongside the wonderfully talented editorial staff of Clarkesworld Magazine. Kate is currently situated in Northern Connecticut with her first fans; her wonderful children. She is currently working as the Director of Operations for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Follow her online and on Twitter.

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