You are here because you ignored the words of your parents and elders, your more sensible peers. You have thrown away promising careers in sheepherding or law, trade or civil administration. You bribed your way here; you stole money for your passage; you broke promises and made new ones that you never meant to keep. You’ve sailed rivers and oceans, crossed mountains and plains, and now here you are at the edge of the desert.
We didn’t ask you to come, not here, not now. Not into the deep, where we didn’t want you. Nor into our other waters, where we didn’t want you either. But you came anyway, with your ships and your harpoons and your chanting tunes. And we watched you slaughter our kin and dim their songs, and still, we did nothing. Until their blood ran red, in the cold, dark sea, and our anger ran true.
In the beginning of me, I was a bird. A magpie, although I’ve since been a jay and a red-tailed hawk and even a big, black crow, crying tok-tok-tok at every passerby. But the magpie was special: on my first day, I saw those flashing blue wingtips, and I was myself. And every day after, I woke up and flew to a shiny window, just to admire my plumage. Birds don’t last. Their hearts beat so fast, the seeds burn them out.
Now that you are dead, we will write you a love letter. It was Achmat’s idea. He worries that in our loneliness, the two of us will become like parallel mirrors, reflecting upon each other an eternity of grief. You were the strong one, he says. Our centroid, he calls you. I disagree. You made us strong. That is why we will write you a letter. Perhaps it will make us strong enough to bear your passing.
They never tell the story right. The Danish must have their heavens and happy endings, and Andersen’s tales are meant for children. We, however—you and I—know that people are people, and every one of us capable of— But the story. Once there was a vain and foolish emperor, who made up for his foolishness by a kind of low cunning. As such rulers do, he drew to himself a retinue of like men and women, who told him he was wise and humble, gracious and good.
This is a story about how you are not supposed to knit a sweater for your boyfriend. The thinking goes like this: a sweater is some of the most complex knitting one can attempt. First is the expense: it takes a lot of yarn to knit a sweater, especially one for a well-built, broad-shouldered man who works out, and if you’re being fancy about it you want the good yarn, the all-natural merino blend, the pretty, pettable yarn, and that stuff isn’t cheap.
Listen, listen, hush, listen. You’re wrong about the war. You’re wrong about why the world is changing. Why it is dying all around us. That the Gods, many and unknowable be they, wanted this: That’s what you were taught, that’s what you believe. That’s why they gave the Memra their fire beasts and the drawing light that they wield so wildly. That’s why the Reach sings those great stone men into being to crush that flaming war machine.
Death takes much and in return it offers Susan P—- only clarity. She finds herself in a great gray desert and knows her life has ended. Clad in a royal dress, she carries a bow and quiver, and a finely-carved ivory horn dangles from her throat. A tremor of fear shakes her. She’s not possessed such things in many years. Has she returned to His world? But Susan doesn’t recognize this bleak land, this starless black sky.
The villain won. It is that simple. By means fair or foul (but of course mostly foul), he has crushed the opposition, defeated all his enemies, and established absolute control over a domain that is, now and forever, entirely defined by his whims. Has he conquered the world? Perhaps his accomplishment is nothing that insignificant. Perhaps he has overcome a galactic empire.
“I’m so cold,” said the woman in white. I didn’t have anything to offer her. No cozy sweater, wool coat, or scarf. Looking at her, though, I wondered if she’d want anything of mine. She had her own sense of style. Her clothes, all white, made my greys look grubby and drab. “Aren’t you cold?” she said. I shrugged. “I’m used to it.” It was dusk. I’d been walking alongside the road out of town. The locals called it Bad Luck Bends.