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COSMIC POWERS

Fiction

The Summoning of Spirits Too Far from Home

Fantasy Magazine presents a Halloween bonus story:


In the seventy-first hour of the Patchwork Dance, Javra’s sweat wept tiny rivers into the earth. The cavalla flames felt cool in her hands, though they had blistered her badly when the dance began. Tracers from the flames seared into Javra’s mind as her hands wove the air, though she had not drunk of the Owapuhito the gathered villagers sipped from glass vessels.

Patatu beat the drums with a frenzy in his fingers that swung Javra’s arms high into the air. She leapt and fell with the pounding rhythms, creating the breezes that would draw Patchwork Man down from the sky to seed their fields after three empty feast seasons and a winter that promised to break far from kindly.

The Owapuhito drinkers chanted the call, woven together from all the old languages of Earth, just as Patchwork Man had woven himself from all of their different-colored ancestors. Javra could no longer hear the words.

The beat of her heart.

The thud of her feet on dry dirt.

The hiss of the cavalla as her sweat sizzled dry.

This was all Javra knew. These were the last sounds she heard before her mind broke open and Patchwork Man tumbled out of the sky above them and into the sky of her mind.

He fell into her body.

And broke all her bones.

The Plagiarist

Alex Rose’s elegant “The Plagiarist” explores a Nabakovian textual world.


It’s a rare thing–your leaving the office after sundown–and slightly disorienting, not unlike waking from a deep sleep, or stepping into the daylight after a matinee.

You’re glad to be out of there, away from your computer, the oppressive fluorescents, the endless queue of books, each lobbying for your attention. Recasting the world’s literature onto an electronic database is hardly the enlightening, Zen-like task people presume it to be. It’s neither monotonous enough to be meditative, nor involved enough to be stimulating.

Outside, a brisk evening gale burns the cheeks. You slip on your leather gloves, the ones that make you look like a strangler, and head south towards the subway.

In the icy, ash-scented air, the city appears lapidary, all gauzy and glazed like a comic book metropolis. Frozen condensation weeps down the sides of buildings in swooping sags. A frail woman with corn silk hair pumps open her umbrella; you’d thought for a second she was uncorking a bottle.

Something about the gesture calls to mind a chapter of last night’s dream. You were lost in a hotel, frantically looking for your room. When you finally located it, you were shocked to find it occupied by a another man with your name; a man who had surreptitiously slid in to your space, like “castling” in chess, and was in fact withdrawing from your account, drinking your wine and groping your wife.

Only now, of course, does it occur to you that the plot of your dream was itself a pale imitation of Dostoevsky’s novel, The Double, a gloomy book you’d recently uploaded to the archive. This seems to confirm a discouraging truth: you are not even original in your dreams.

A Spell for Twelve Brothers

In “A Spell for Twelve Brothers”, Erzebet Yellowboy shows us new territory within a well-known fairy tale.


“Give me a girl,” the king said to me the night he caught me, the wizard-woman of the wood, by trickery and might.

I said no, I mustn’t.

He said, “Oh, but you will.”

He pinned me down and stripped my feathers one by one, leaving only the bare bones of my knuckles where once wings had grown.

“Do it now,” he said as I struggled, and he thrust his will into me and I gave.
I gave him his desire as he took all of mine away. I made it so that his seed would sprout within the queen’s good womb and bring him forth a girl at harvest, just as he demanded.
He shared his thoughts as I lay dripping on the floor. “When my daughter is born to me, I’ll have no need of sons.”

I thought to myself in my blood-red haze that he must be mad, but I was broken and could do nothing then. Instead, when I made my way back into my warm green wood and waited.

I do not think the queen wanted to send her sons away, but it was the better choice. She loved her twelve boys, every one, and had never worried for them. Yet when the king allowed that they would die and had their coffins made, all because she would next bear a girl, the queen came to know that thing called fear.

She could not stand to lose her fine young men. She knew why the king wanted them gone. She knew as well as I did of his appetites. No young girl was safe in his domain. She knew that he would tolerate no interference, as sons who did not share his lusts might give. She bid them leave the castle, flee into the forest and there to watch for her flag. If I bear a son, she said, you may return.

The princes loved their mother, but not the thing inside her belly, for they knew it was that thing that drove them away. When they left they took their anger with them. I know, because I was watching from my home in the wood, as I always did. Once gone, the king thought no more of them. They were no more than a problem out of the way.

They found the cottage in which I dwelled and I let them have it. I watched them as they made themselves at home as best they could, those twelve, spoiled princes. They knew to fear the king as well, though for other reasons than we did. I saw them turn their heads away from the blood-red flag their mother finally raised, her signal that all was not well. I saw their hearts go bitter and I felt their anger bleed into my forest. During the darkest night, I planted twelve seeds in their sour soil and cast another spell.

It seemed to do no good. They swore among themselves that any girl to cross their paths must die, all because of a sister they’d never seen. Too much like their father, the oldest were, in some regards. It was the youngest who gave me hope, for while he agreed with the others, I saw him turn his head away and a tear fall from his eye.

I had to see her for myself, this new-made princess. I went by my ways into the castle and stole a glance at the infant’s face. I drew back in shock. On her forehead, as though burned there by a brother’s rage, was a golden star. As though sensing my stare, she turned her face away into her mother’s breast. The queen shushed the child and peered down the corridor, listening for her husband’s step. I flew back into my forest where I kept my counsel.

The brothers did what men will do and left the youngest at the hearth. No matter how brave or gallant, they always need a woman, or if no woman can be had, the weakest boy will do. They hunted; he cleaned the game. They held games; he prepared the weapons. They spoke among themselves of how they’d do the deed, should a female appear. The youngest did not share their joy in this. I began to think that only his spell caught.

Every now and then I crept back to that dreary castle, stark stone standing in a field all kept around by a great wall. The cattle bellowed, the horses danced and the king went out to war in the summer season. I watched their sister grow from year to year. I watched her limbs stretch, like the branches of my trees, reaching for the sun. I was there the day she found their shirts and took them to the queen.

I could not hear their words, but I could smell the fear. Its pungent scent encased me as the queen opened a rusted door and showed the girl the coffins kept within.

And then it happened. I should have seen her coming; it was one of my paths she took. As it was, I was wide awake and yet she slipped right underneath me and made it to the door before I realized she was there. She had those twelve shirts with her, all tucked into a sack. On her feet were embroidered shoes that offered no protection from the thorny floor of the forest in which we lived. She had come in search of her twelve brothers.

The Banyan Tree

Jeanette’s story, “The Banyan Tree”, digs deep into the roots of wishes and the goblins that have captured them.

Lata has Victory in a blue beer bottle. Victory has feathered wings and a cape, sheer clothing that clings, and a feather in her hand. She is pale and cold, no matter how long Lata puts her in the sun.

Victory, in a bottle. Lata waits for the right time to smash the bottle and release her. Or maybe Lata will never let her go. Victory in a bottle is like a decorative ceramic plate. Lata could arrange mangoes on the plate for company, but she won’t; Lata could break open Victory’s blue beer bottle, but she won’t.

***

How Lata found Victory:

She followed the goblin, the one that lurked under the house and hid behind the thick ironwood stilts when she went down to shoo it away. She hadn’t know about him until recently–just two weeks ago, lying awake in the stifling night heat, she had heard something scampering about and chittering beneath the floor. Since then she had watched him, pretended she didn’t know, and wondered where he left for so many times each day.

Then two days ago Lata tied her brown hair back with a white cloth, put on her dark blue pants and light blue wraparound, and clutched her best kitchen knife in sweaty fingers. The knife was just in case, she told herself. Goblins had sharp teeth and would attack when angry. Best to have a weapon.

She waited and waited, and the goblin appeared.

Lata followed him through the jungle to the edge of a banyan tree. The shadowy maze of its aerial roots towered over her, and she hesitated, but continued. Minutes passed, winding through the undergrowth. She was about to turn back, irritated with herself for bothering to follow, but then she saw it. Finally at the center was the trunk, and there between strangling roots the goblin slid long fingers. The banyan tree opened, its lattice of roots creaking. Something glimmered deep inside, and thoughts of turning back disappeared. Lata stumbled towards it.

The goblin turned. He grinned, revealing sharp yellow teeth. There were bottles behind him, on wooden root-entwined shelves. Lata knew as if she had always known and understood. They were his goblin-wishes, trapped, waiting.

Lata fought the goblin. She slashed him down, spilled blood over the banyan tree. He would die soon, but she hurried the process. She stabbed and stabbed. Blood over the banyan tree, shiny in the setting sun, wet and sticky on Lata’s clothes and hands and face. She stepped inside, pushed apart roots which gave way to the pressure, stared, then smiled.

She hadn’t known, she never would have guessed–but now she stood in awe, wondering how she ever could have lived without them. Wishes, in bottles, stacked on shelves lined up row after row, spiraling higher and higher. Thousands of them, gleaming through all colors of glass, fluttering their wings and softly buzzing. The goblin-wishes, hers now.

One bottle caught Lata’s attention. It was a blue beer bottle and inside she recognized the form of Victory.

Yell Alley

It is a hotel room, a motel room, an inner-city squat, a cot in a hostel where the water won’t run, a hunter’s platform in a pinewood, a forsaken tree house, a root-cellar beneath a ruined country cottage, a hut perched on one hopping chicken foot, a boathouse in a campground, a sheet-tent in a […]

Fantasy Classics: The Water Babies

This week, we’re printing an excerpt from Chapter Four of Charles Kingsley’s fantasy, The Water Babies — originally published in 1863 — as part of a new series we’re introducing. Each month we’ll publish a reprint from classic fantasy fiction along with an essay discussing the piece’s place in the fantasy tradition.

The Annie Oakley Show

In my experience, there are few things that men like to see more than a little girl holding a big rifle. Accordingly, I’m dressed young, hair in pig tails, dress to just below my knees. As I wait for the hotel manager, Harry, to go and bring his sharp shooting guest, I play to the […]

In This City

In this city, there are glass sculptures that catch the light from stars as yet unborn. In this city, there are buildings made of woven silk and mirrorwood. They fold themselves around one another like lovers, and their passionate sighs are the wind in the subway. In this city, there is a young man called […]

Nora

The witch lived nestled at the foot of a forest, in a house shaped like a growing cornucopia. Ivy and creeping myrtle knit curves of wicker together, and sapling trees knelt on the house’s foundations. In the warm season there were roses of all colours, tulips, poppies, chrysanthemums and bluebells; in the cold season there […]

A Foreigner’s View of the River

They sat in the restaurant shaped like a catfish, floating atop the River Saigon. From their table, Sandy could see the shore, grainy beneath a film of yellow light. Even from the water, she could hear the mopeds in their thousands, echoing through the streets like the people; a fierce, vibrant noise. Stepping off the […]