When the Asphodel Queen decides she’ll die to save our people from her ex-husband’s tyranny, she commands me to build her a coffin, the very first in our world’s history. Her ageless face of ivory and emerald is water on a windless day; her stillness betrays nothing of her decision. As the Senate screams in sorrow, I am held by her imperial glare, the enormity of my task sinking in like sunlight on skin. “Me, Your Majesty? I’m but a humble craftsman.” Her voice rises above the growing din, as panic races through data-vines and across the crystal-network.
When Loren left, he said it wasn’t me but the city. “This place hates me, Julian,” he said of LA. “I have to live in a city that loves me like this shithole loves that douchebag from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” Typically, he buried the casual cruelty under a bad joke, but it was the first crack in a reservoir of obsession he’d kept completely secret. When he abruptly left for Portland, he didn’t ask me to come with him, and I wouldn’t shame myself by following him. Fast-forward three months: Loren’s parents come to me to find out what happened to him.
Dia was four years old when she first saw the earless seals of Lake Baikal, and twenty-four when she met their queen. In the time between, she moved from her small town, which was a short train ride’s distance to the lake, to the big city, which was a short train ride’s distance to everything, and went to university to study hotel management. Dia was well suited for hospitality; she was accommodating by nature. In the city, she learned the art of the turndown: how to dim the lights and plump the pillows just right.
It never was a love story. Or perhaps it was, but I was too blind to see it. I kissed him because I had to—because the castle demanded it and the servants needed it—and frankly, the dead are talkative bastards. He transformed, and in his place was a man dressed in green and gold with hair that needed trimming and hands instead of paws. And I smiled, because it was expected, and I said “Yes” because it was expected. And then, I married him for his library.
Gaza looked down at the city of Nyss, surveying his creation. He thought it was perfect. Well, almost. In the city centre stood several griots spinning a tale to a captive audience, their camels and brightly-coloured caravans sheltering in the shade of palm trees. The griots should be dusty—after all they had travelled some distance, spent several months weathering the harsh terrain of the desert. As it was they looked too pristine.
You should know that we thought our parents were normal, ordinary, super basic. But they weren’t, at all. Let’s start with the way we found out, what some call “how it ended” and others call “the start of it all.” The grid went down. It covered Oxhead and Oxhead Woods and The Annex at Oxhead, the gated communities within the one large gate. It was sudden. One father dropped to the bottom of a shower stall.
Welcome back, listeners! It’s me, Eli McCarthy, your go-to podcast host for allllll the juiciest super drama. I’m thrilled to be coming to you live from the maximum-security containment wing of Site 92, where I have the pleasure of interviewing Sixten Graves, known by most of you as Sol Undertaker. For those of you living under a rock [chuckles], Sol Undertaker placed themself voluntarily in prison here.
The east is red when Xiaohong leaves the two-room apartment that has been allocated to her and her parents—two rooms carved out of a once-grand courtyard home, now divided between five families by order of the local Party authorities. The manor has been forced into a new identity, with makeshift kitchens elbowing their way into […]
She was born a low and needful thing. Hatched down in the tannin dark, dead leaf pillowed, gnashing her mouth in the loam. Burrowing deep where shed buttons and broken boot laces lay. Alone and babbling, prowling for worm-meat and snail-slick in the wet ground rot. Fattened on maggot and grub, she hardened white and lay sarcophagal. Then a second birth, splitting free and strange in new skin.
I was born the year they put the sun on trial for treason. It was so hot that year the streets boiled like black soup and the air rippled like music and the polar bears all roared together, just once, loud enough that a child in Paraguay turned her head suddenly north and began to weep. Tomatoes simmered on the vine and the wind was full of the smells of them cooking, then of their skins peeling, turning black.