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Cast of Wonders 497: Hurricane Season


Hurricane Season

by Avi Burton

Amaya smelled like the ocean. Most Florida girls did, when they returned from the beach with new tan lines and salt-crusted hair, but Amaya was different. The ocean-brine was under her skin, a part of her that was ever-present, unignorable. She wore jasmine perfume to cover it, overpoweringly sweet, but I could always smell the salt underneath.

We met at the beach— she always seemed to be there, sitting silently and watching the tides. I was crouched over a tide pool when I heard the slip-slap of her lavender sandals approaching.

“You’re new, right?”

I looked up and saw her silhouetted in the sun, smiling down at me, and nearly fell into the tide pool. Her swimsuit had a spotted pattern that made her look like the selkies I’d read about in mythology books— lean-boned girls with dripping hair and fur coats, who belonged to the ocean and only haunted the land.

“Yeah,” I said ungracefully, managing to catch my breath. “I used to live inland.” Swamp country, marsh and reed. Dark and jungled places, nothing like the deceptive brightness of the beach.

“Ella, right?” She held out a hand. “I’m Amaya. What’s inland like? I haven’t been there much.”

I shook her hand, feeling the callused pull of her palm in mine. I didn’t know how to describe it. “Covered,” I said. “You’re always in the shadow of swamp-trees or buildings. Not like here, where everything is so open and exposed.”

“You like it here?”

I shrugged. I liked it better now that Amaya was here.

“My family is from there.” Amaya told me without prompting, pointing out to the sea. The ocean looked like glazed glass, turquoise and still.

At the time, I assumed she meant the opposite coast, and craned my neck to see any kind of land. There was only ocean, rolling on.

“That’s far,” I said, picturing a map of the world in my mind— continents scrunched up like crumpled tissue, jagged edges carving into the sea.

“Really far,” Amaya agreed, eyes twinkling. “Sometimes, we go back. That’s what happened to my aunt. Ma says it was her time, and she just blew away.”

“What?”

“Do you remember that big storm that came in a few weeks ago? The one that almost tore the roof off the high school?”

I nodded. I’d watched in terrified awe from the car as the school roof slanted dangerously, clinging with all shingles to the brick that connected it, as the wind sunk its teeth in and tugged.

“That was my aunt,” Amaya confided. “They named the storm after her— Hurricane Marlene. When it’s my time, there will be Hurricane Amaya, and I’ll cause devastation like you’ve never seen before. I’ll tear the coast from the sea. Florida will split in half, like two slices of a sagging birthday cake. And then I’ll be gone, and out to sea. Poof.”

I could see Amaya becoming a storm. She had a certain kind of presence that I lacked— wild dark curls that blew in a halo around her head, a grin that dared you to ask what she was smiling about, can-cap bracelets that jingled when she walked and sounded like rain.

I didn’t say anything then, but I hated the thought of her going out to sea. I wanted her to stay and talk with me about hurricanes forever. Every day that summer we went to the beach and watched the ocean— the sea-birds diving into fractured waves, sun splintering off the water, all parts of the same and different whole. She tracked the weather patterns obsessively, drew wind currents over the heart-lines on her palm. I tried not to worry about it too much.

One day, Amaya asked me to come to the beach at night. She said we’d been friends long enough, and it was time for me to meet her family.

It rained as I walked: hot, drippy, Florida rain. The sky was muggy with gray-black clouds. I met Amaya at the base of a crumbling limestone cliff, a broad rocky outcrop with a walking trail that tourists loved. The white stone and sand crunched beneath my feet as I walked.

There were no tourists here now though, not in the ugly humid wet with clouds that smothered the stars. I glanced up at the flat-ironed sky. The rain slipped down my back. In the distance, thunder threatened. “Looks like a storm’s growing.”

Amaya squeezed my hand. “You’re not afraid of a little weather, are you, Ella?”

“No,” I answered, heart hammering in my throat. That wasn’t what I was afraid of. I could feel every point of skin-to-skin contact like an electrical wire sparking. Her hand was slippery in mine, and I clutched it tight, terrified to let go.

“Good,” said Amaya, “Let’s go storm-chasing.”

Laughing, she pulled me up the cliff, feet slipping in the sand. I followed after her, helplessly swept up. Around us, the storm bubbled and boiled, gray clouds cracking and unleashing a torrent of rain.

We reached the top of the cliff, and the path became narrow and sharp-edged. Amaya’s smile grew even wider as the water soaked through her skin. She tilted her head back and caught a few drops of rain on her tongue, savoring the taste.

“It’s her,” she called to me, voice distorted by the roughening wind. “You can taste it. Go on, try.”

Water streamed into my eyes as I leaned my head back. The drops I caught in my mouth carried a strange flavor, a little bit of sea and a little bit of something else— citrusy, sweet.

“Papaya,” Amaya explained, seeing my confusion. “Aunt Marlene always made the best papaya pie.”

I laughed— a habit. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a girl, and here was I, and we were standing on a cliff off crumbling stone and the rain tasted like papaya. That was what life was like when Amaya was around: peculiar but sweet. Miraculous in its strange, small way.

The wind screamed and tore at my clothes, whipping my hair into my face. Amaya screamed back, high-pitched and gleeful. “I’m ready, auntie! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

Thunder rolled out above us, sonorous and unstoppable. Amaya spun out of my grasp and raced to the edge of the cliff, throwing her hands up to receive the rain. She seemed miniscule in the face of the rabid ocean, waves that reached with hungry lapping fingers up to the edge of the cliff. Salt-froth sprayed through the air. For a moment, I wondered if she was delusional, or desperate.

Then the agitated clouds rolled and shifted— flowed into each other, gray and black— and formed a face. A kind face, wide-browed, and eerily similar to Amaya’s, but older. I nearly fell to my knees and prayed. I realized with a jolt why people believed thunder to be God’s voice.

Amaya just laughed and waved. The face beamed down at us. It winked. Then the clouds melted in cotton-candy wisps, and the storm became faceless once again. The wind seemed to curl around Amaya for just a moment, like it was tussling her hair. Then the weather started behaving like a true storm again, vengeful and directionless.

“That’s Marlene. She always had the prettiest voice.” Amaya turned to me, brown skin glowing with rain, hair plastered to her forehead. Her grin nearly stretched off her face. “You see, Ella? I told you, we’re storm-creatures— oh!”

A crack of lightning flared behind her, and she startled— slipped— fell. I watched her flail, as if in slow motion, arms wavering as she tipped backwards off the cliff.

I lunged. Grabbed at her rain-slick hand. Caught it in my grasp. Felt her waver, felt her start to slide from my grip. I gasped and pulled, hauling Amaya up over the lip of the rock and back to safety. She collapsed trembling into my arms.

“Almost went back to the ocean,” Amaya said, voice adrenaline-giddy, face pressed against my chest. “Almost went back to Auntie Marlene.”

“Not your time yet,” I told her, panting. Her body shivered in my grasp.

“Not yet,” Amaya agreed, drawing closer to me. “There’s something I have to do first.”

She kissed me, then, as the rain sleeted down. Her perfume overwhelmed me. All I could smell was jasmine and the ocean, salt-sweet strange.


After that, it was a summer of storm-kissing— behind the beach house, in the sea as the waves torrented, hidden in a grove of swaying wild palm trees. Never in calm weather— never where anyone else could see. This was Florida, after all, and we still had to be careful.

It never stormed so much as it did that summer. Meteorologists called it unprecedented. I called it a miracle. Every muggy downpour and whirlpool-wind that I explored with Amaya meant that she hadn’t left yet, meant that she still wanted to stay with me.

The color of our youth wasn’t golden, but storm-gray. I learned to love the clouds of that color, and I learned to read their moods; when they would shift and when they would stay, when they promised rain and when they promised real roof-tearing storms.

My favorite weather was when the clouds and the ocean were the same bleak slate-blue, like mirrors of each other. Amaya’s favorite was when the sea had so many types of colors that you couldn’t choose just one. I loved that, too. I loved her.

Selfishly, stupidly, I thought it would last forever.

But the summer drew to an end and Amaya drew away from my grasp. She looked at me with a stormy sorrowful gaze and told me clearly that it was time for her to go.

“Where?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“Far,” she told me, and gestured out across the ocean. It was splintered today, a kaleidoscope of green and gray and blue. It matched Amaya’s eyes. “My family’s nomadic, you know. We have to move on, eventually.”

“But now?” I asked, reaching for her hand again. She pulled away. “It’s not the end of hurricane season. There’s still a few more months.”

She shook her head. “Ma says we have to pack up and go. When it’s time, it’s time.”

“Can I follow you, then? There’s nothing here to keep me grounded, I could go, I could migrate with you—”

“Ella.” She cupped my face with the palm of her hand. “I love you, but you’re not like my family. Not like me. You’re a storm-chaser, not a storm, and I don’t want you running to follow something that’s already gone.”

“Are you breaking up with me?” The stupid, childish question fell from my lips without a thought.

“I’ll come and visit you,” Amaya said, which wasn’t really an answer. “When the rain comes, I am thinking of you. When the thunder booms, I am telling you a joke and laughing. When the wind howls, I am whispering secrets in your ear. I’ll talk to you through the storm, alright?”

But I can’t talk back. The words died on my tongue. If I said anything more, I would cry, so I kissed her instead. I couldn’t tell if the saltwater on her lips was tears or just a part of her. I clutched her close, tried to keep her in my arms, but that’s the thing about summer storms— they don’t last long.


I saw Amaya one more time after that. I had started to trek regularly out to the cliff where we’d spoken to Aunt Marlene, even though it wasn’t the same without her there. I sat and watched the waves, coolly rhythmic against the rocky ledge.

That night, as I hiked up the soft-sand trail, I saw Amaya standing there. The weather was shifting, cloudy, moody but not tempestuous. Clouds spotted the blue-black horizon. She was small and shadowed in the moonlight, but still so, so beautiful.

Amaya turned, and waved at me. My heart leapt in my throat.

There came a crack of lightning out on the horizon, and rain began to pour down, heavy and dark. In the flash of it, Amaya was gone. Thunder sang sweet overhead.

I never saw her again— not in person.


It still storms here more often than it should. The palm trees bend in the wind, and the hermit crabs scuttle and hide under rocks. Every time the rain starts, I go out to the cliff that I cannot think of as anything other than Amaya’s. I wait for a hurricane that will shake the world and split Florida in two.

If the hurricane won’t come— and it hasn’t, yet— then I wait for a storm that will carry me away, like it took her, like it made her so wild and weather-y. But it’s just rain sleeting against my skin, and winds that pass right through, like I’m a ghost. I breathe in deep anyway, and inhale the briney scent of salt and sea.

Sometimes, though, sometimes— the storm smells like jasmine.

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Cast of Wonders 474: Little Free Library

Show Notes

“Little Free Library® is a registered trademark of Little Free Library LTD, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.”


Little Free Library

by Naomi Kritzer

Meigan built her Little Free Library from a kit, because she wanted to make it into art. She sanded the wood and painted it with primer, then glued on the rocks she’d picked up from the Lake Superior shore over the summer and used acrylics to paint indigo swirls around them. When she mounted it on the post outside her St. Paul house, she decided to paint the post, too, and painted a fuchsia road, winding around the post to the box at the top, and outlined the road in smaller pebbles. There was a little bit of glitter in the fuchsia craft paint, and she decided that the book cabinet should have some of that, as well. Finally she screwed on the sign that said “Little Free Library” with the instructions: take a book, return a book. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 472: AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest (Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)

Show Notes

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a “cli-fi” post-apocalyptic novella by author Premee Mohamed. It takes place in the distant future, after the climate crisis has entirely disrupted life as we know it, and a mysterious mind-controlling fungus has wormed its way through the scattered population. The story focuses on a choice: Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to move far away, to study in one of the few communities sustained by pre-disaster technology, but her mother is ill, and in a world where the planting season is planned down to the minute, every body counts. It’s not easy for her to leave her loved ones behind. To set her family up for life, Reid decides to take part in a foolhardy and dangerous mission. To accomplish this task, she must ask others to put great trust in her, but she can’t easily separate her own thoughts from the parasite’s will, making it difficult for her to even trust herself.

If you’re not yet familiar with Premee Mohamed, you’re sure to hear of her soon. She’s an Indo-Caribbean scientist and author based in Edmonton, Alberta, where this book is set, and a rising star in speculative fiction. Premee is a biologist and works in the field of climate science, so the depiction of Reid’s parasitic passengers is eerily plausible, and the climate disaster scenarios in the book are grounded in modern-day research predicting an all-too-likely future.

Yet there’s still hope to be found here: rather than doubling down on the hardships of life-after-technology as so many gritty apocalyptic novels do, this book’s focus is on connection and friendship, the things that bind us together. It shows the world moving forward after terrible hardships — including natural disaster and plague — and reflects upon the importance of community, our duty to take care of one another, and our collective ability to get through difficult times. In other words, it is exactly the sort of book we need right now.

 

 


AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest
(Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)

by Isabel J. Kim

Danny died on a Tuesday which was a real bummer because he was supposed to go on a road trip on Wednesday with the gang, and if he was dead then there was no way his mom was going to be cool with him going. Instead, Danny would have to spend the next three weeks on a mythic journey to regain his life from the demons that dwell below, play dice against a three-headed chthonic judge sitting on an opalescent throne, or ask his mom for one of the GET OUT OF DEATH FREE cards she got comped from work.

And then he’d be grounded for, like, six months.

Danny spent ten minutes lying on the asphalt feeling sorry for himself. Then he sighed and picked his broken body up off of the street. He took out his phone and called the gang.

The dead don’t text. They lack the fine motor skills. Fumbling, he poked his way to a group call.

“Bad news, gang,” Danny said when his friends answered. “I’m dead.” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 471: The Storyteller’s Wife


The Storyteller’s Wife

by Eugie Foster

Janie Harper felt strange driving home with the sun so high, the tawny-gold of noon instead of the cool, buttery silver of early evening. Ten years of nine-to-five drudgery, lost weekends sacrificed to project deadlines, corporate double-speak, and mind-numbing boredom. All gone.

She’d hated her job, hated her days spent watching the clock and wishing the hours of her life would speed away while she was trapped in her cubicle. But even with three months to prepare for this day, her last one, the morning had passed in a surreal haze punctuated by queasiness and a peculiar chill, like her stomach was lined with ice. She remembered nestling the glass-framed photograph of Tom, her husband, into the box the secretary had provided for her personal effects, but not carrying it to her car. And she couldn’t remember driving out of the concrete monolith of the parking garage, or if she’d obeyed the speed limit in the school zone, or even if she’d fastened her seatbelt.

At least her supervisor had known about Tom, about their situation, and had taken Janie aside before the pink slips went out. Janie, through her upset, had remembered to be grateful. She had needed the head start to make arrangements, to prepare herself and Tom for the now-uncertain future. But even three extra months hadn’t been enough time. No one was hiring: not for secretarial positions, not for retail associates, nor food service, and certainly not mainframe programmers who needed full health benefits. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 469: What If We Remembered?


What If We Remembered?

by Amadin Ogbewe

“Osi, my boy, you’ve got it all wrong. Magic is simply physics with a soul,” Epa Osadolor said to his audience of one, gesturing dramatically, his eyes wide.

Osi’s eyes and mouth were just as wide, his little face frozen in anticipation. His breath stilled. He knew better than to interrupt Epa Osadolor in the middle of a lesson, but found he couldn’t help himself.

“What is Physics?” he asked, unable to hold back.

“Oh, yes, I suppose it’s still elementary science to you,” Epa Osadolor said, snapping abruptly out of character. He scratched his puffy beard as he looked at the boy.

“How best to explain this?” he pondered aloud. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 464: Cats of Fortune


Cats of Fortune

by Ivy Grimes

When I was a little girl, I thought Aunt Dee had everything. She had her own trailer, a video game console and six games, dozens of heavy pink-and-purple necklaces, and a yard full of cats. Ten, to be exact. They were all different colors, like the shoes in a rich woman’s closet, and they drank water from the birdbath and ate kibble from old pie tins. Best of all, Dee had a secret she shared only with me—the cats were lucky. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 460: More Than One Zodiac in High School


More Than One Zodiac in High School

by Eliza Chan

“You were supposed to be a boy,” Amy’s mum said, attacking the raw duck with a cleaver. “The fortune teller said it was guaranteed. Aiyah, even then you don’t listen to your parents.” She tossed one half into an oven dish with a dash of salt, star anise, and cloves. Rice wine and soy sauce were massaged into the skin. And all the while, the other half was being surreptitiously dragged off the countertop by Amy’s dragon.

Her mum pushed the huge beast out of the way. “And born in the year of the dragon! Okay for a boy, but for a girl… no husband will want you! Too much fire to bear sons and every meal will be burned.” She clucked, exactly like her chicken spirit: tutting, fussing, and happiest when she had something to worry about. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 458: Little Wonders 31 – Acceptance


Rosie’s Ghosts

by Srikripa Krishna Prasad

They sway in front of the bay window, sunlight tinting their translucent bodies gold. Rosie watches from under her eyelashes, her book lying uselessly on her lap despite her attempt to focus. Don’t look, she thinks, shame burning her throat, but they are magnetic as they dance together, the short woman’s head fitting perfectly into the crook of her partner’s neck. Their laughter rings in the air; Rosie knows it intimately. She hears it often when they reminisce about their time in this house, when they touch each other, when they waltz impromptu around the room. The creature in her chest cries out for this joy, this bright love that has transcended even death, despite how much she tries to suppress it.

The short woman leans up, and the tall woman leans down, and their lips meet, their arms bracketing each other tenderly, like they hold something precious. (Continue Reading…)

magic butterflies

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Cast of Wonders 452: Little Wonders 29 – Flash Fiction Contest Winners


Porch Light for the Lonely

by Alyson Grauer

When the wide western sky is black, embroidered with thousands of silver stars, and crickets sing unseen in the dry grass, critters come to the porch of the old house. The rug has long since lost its color from years of harsh sun. The wrought-iron bench is rusted, enamel flaking away like tree bark. The mailbox is crooked, and the torn curtains blow gently in the wind. Though it’s the sturdiest house left on the block, it sits unlived in, untrespassed. Only the flies and spiders know how empty it truly is inside.

Many cats come: strays, abandoned pets, and feral. They drape themselves about the empty porch, meowing with quiet yearning. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 451: Unnamed


Unnamed

by Monte Lin

Huìhuì Gāo’s homeroom teacher squinted at his roll call. He wore a slight smile that conveyed no joy. After a few seconds, he said, “Ms…?”

Her hand hovered over her desk, hesitant, ready to catch her name. Her teacher squinted and furrowed his brow and looked about the classroom, finally settling his gaze on her. “Here,” she said, her voice cracking a little. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 450: Little Wonders 28 – Metaphors & Allegories

Show Notes

“This is not my adventure”, by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez, was originally published in Uncanny Magazine #30, Disabled People Destroy Fantasy, 2019


Three monsters that are not metaphors

by Dani Atkinson

1. The kelpie is not a metaphor for depression.

“You’re kind of like a metaphor for depression, though,” I tell her, and she snorts angrily. Her hide twitches, dark and sticky as tar pits.

Just because she’s deceptively appealing, and wants to trap me and drag me down into cold grey waters, means nothing. Just because I am already drowning does not make it a metaphor. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 445: The Pop-up Artisan of Drink Me Café (Staff Picks 2020)


The Pop-up Artisan of Drink Me Café

by Marie Croke

I came to her coffee shop, but never bought anything–things like that the owner’s bound to notice. Figured my days were numbered as soon as she took note, but my mom ran me off and the cold drove me in and there’s only so many stores one can pretend to be shopping at before people start looking at you all suspicious-like.

Took a coffee cup out of the trash and did the mime thing actors did, pretending to sip while I turned pages in my library book. Whenever the owner came near–wiping down a table, picking up dirty napkins, delivering a latte–I got all stiff, shoulders tense, waiting for her tap on them.

“Excuse me.”

Like I said…

“What are you reading?”

“A book,” I muttered, hugging the book awkwardly with my arm. (Continue Reading…)