Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams



Fantasy Fiction

Braid Me a Howling Tongue

When I was young, I used to fray apart my mother’s tales, seeking the threads of their structure. They were journeys, always, and marked by transition-places: doorway, gate, river. On the other side, someone offered the rules of this new environment. I liked the stories where these interpreters were animals or hags, though in my least favorite, it was a child with ragged clothes that admonished, that’s not the way things work here. I understand. Understand that people bore easily, that stories must be pragmatic. No time to waste on the heroine, bumbling her way through years of figuring out the rules.

A Man Walks Into a Bar: In Which More Than Four Decades After My Father’s Reluctant Night of Darts on West 54th Street I Finally Understand What Needs to Be Done

My father was so honest, people often spoke of him in cliches. For example—you know the way someone will sometimes say so-and-so was so honest they’d walk five miles to return an extra nickel they’d been given in their change? Nobody means anybody actually did that kind of thing when they say it, of course—you and I both know they’re only exaggerating for effect. Except in the case of my father. My Dad had really done that. Around the neighborhood, he was seen as so calm and understanding when compared to other fathers, other husbands . . . some of the grownups jokingly referred to him as Saint Barney.

Mad Honey

The three wolves in the sun-smeared wood did not turn and run when Aran approached with his musket in hand. Wolves were supposed to run from men with guns. This was the way of the world. Sweat and necessity made his musket slide against his palms. He gripped tighter, not wanting to startle the beasts by bringing the musket to bear too quickly. Two of the beasts stood over the third, which reclined on its side in the patchy grass. He could count their rib-bones through their thin hides. His own hungry bones hummed in sympathy. But the world turned on toward frost and frozen ground, and necessity stilled the tremor in his chest.

The Metamorphosis of Marie Martin

This story is part of Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, the first climate-fiction contest from Fix, Grist’s solutions lab. Imagine 2200 asked writers to imagine the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, and the winning stories feature intersectional worlds in which no community is left behind. Read all 12 stories in the […]

One Day in the Afterlife of Detective Roshni Chaddha

It all started with a desperate phone call from a Yamaduta. Doesn’t it always? The new recruits are the worst. Madhav should have stuck to cleaning the Vaitarna River. It attracts debris from all the worlds. But someone had decided he deserved a promotion and transferred him to the most demanding unit of all: the Yamadutas, tasked with escorting the souls of the dead from the human world to the afterlife. Why they thought picking up trash was the same as picking up souls is beyond me. He sat opposite me in my airless office above Auntie Nimmi’s curry shop.

To my daughter, in the dark of the moon

My daughter. Oh, my daughter! You are too young to understand, but I will tell you anyway: one day you will be a great hunter, you will be a great champion, and you will look around our village and you will wonder—is this everything? Is this the only glory left to me? Is this why my mother left, even before my seventh anno, towards the cursed spire from which there is no return? So now I tell you: Yes. That is why I left. That is why, in your own time, in your own manner, in the fullness of your power and the fullness of your guile, you will follow me.

The Noon Witch Goes to Sound Planet

The Noon Witch is not a cat person. She likes the color purple, hates police procedurals, loves breakfast foods, thinks scented bath products and anchovy pizza are gross. Hates platform shoes. Hates walnuts in brownies. Used to like the electropop group all the girls at school like, until they used too much synth on their latest album, so now she hates them too. The Noon Witch isn’t an overcritical person. She’s just at that difficult age when you’re desperate to figure out who you are, so you lean too much on your likes and dislikes to try to cobble together what you think should be your personality.

The Graphology of Hemorrhage

Rao Nawong, aide to Magician Tepwe Kodai, had not been on the hillside for long with her. The sky threatened rain on and off, and the air smelled of river poetry, of lakes with their scarves of reeds. Water would make their mission here, in the distant shadow of the Spiders’ fortress, more difficult, if not outright impossible. The Empire’s defeat of the upstart Spiders, whose rebellion had sparked a general conflagration in the southwest provinces, depended on the mission’s success. At the moment, Nawong found it hard to care. His world had narrowed to Kodai’s immediate needs, politics be damned.

The Dragon’s Hand

A boy traveling alone was beset by bandits on the outskirts of a strange town at sunset. They left him stripped and bloody in a ditch by the side of the road in the deepening dusk, as a bright full moon appeared over the trees. The boy watched it moving across the sky, his pain and shame a kind of trance. For a long time nothing happened. When he heard footsteps on the road, he was afraid, but something was broken inside him and he dared not disturb it by moving. Still he looked up at the moon, filling himself with its light. He felt a distance growing between himself and his body. The traveler’s steps paused.

The Blindfold

I’ve got a mother that wants to get in on a long-term financing agreement to change her son’s race for a trial, Ecstasy pings you. His court date is coming up; the hearing for the random race generator is next Thursday. Thursday. That doesn’t leave a lot of time. But, then, that’s why E is pinging you. They’re paying in cryptocurrency, Ecstasy says. My commission is the usual 10 percent. They’ve already set up the chain; you just need to agree to be on the other side. Local judicial computer systems have shit security. It’s always been the case.