Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams



Fantasy Fiction

What If the Whole Camp of Kids Learned How To Liquefy?

When she melts, it’s like a balloon collapsing, but fast. Her body turns to an inky puddle, a pool of shadow. Then, in a snap, she goes clear. Shimmering. When all the other children are asleep, when the guard is looking at something else, when the camera eye is on something else. That’s when this happens. When she becomes a shadow, then a shimmer, and slithers out from under her thin silver blanket, onto the ground. She can slide, fast fast, between gray sleep mats with kids snoring, gray sleep mats with kids crying, she can slide past a gray sleep mat where one boy pulls up the corner to bang his head on the concrete floor.

The Dirty Golden Yellow House

On the first floor of a Colonial-style house constructed last century out of planks of old growth cedar, a monster is dragging a woman’s husband from room to room. The specific path this monster takes will be evident the next morning from the gashes in the wood floors and the splattering of the husband’s innards upon the plaster walls. Blood on the ceiling. The woman herself is hiding in the upstairs bedroom in her closet, face buried in the nylon hems of her patterned dresses, hands to her ears, a washcloth between her teeth so she can bite down hard on something that isn’t her tongue.

Three Tales from the Blue Library

They were a pair of fools, husband and wife, and none of their labors prospered. Their mint grew ragged, their chives sprouted thorns, and their child swelled and shrank with the weather. Nobody knew what this child’s sickness was. In winter he filled up with poisonous gas, his limbs grew too stiff to move, and his parents had to drag him about in a wagon. In summer he withered and red streaks appeared on his skin. His desperate parents devoted their every instant to keeping him alive. They tried hot baths, ice baths, sunshine, darkness, vegetables, sweetbreads, gruels, exercise.

Apolépisi: A De-Scaling

I find Aleda’s scale, sticky with ichor, tucked between the tentacles of our pink anemone bed. I tweeze it out from the undulating appendages with my thumb and index finger and flounder against my escalating heart rate. Aleda’s swishing back and forth, getting ready for work near the mouth of our cave. It’s time for her to catch the current to the school where she teaches merlets the whisper of the sea. “I love those ‘mussel heads’,” she’ll say when she returns and rests her hands on my shoulder later tonight. I’ll swivel around and squeeze her so close a longing will bloom in my chest.

The Three Books and What They Tell

The first book is always a new and shiny hardback. It smells freshly cut and bound, with satisfyingly thick cotton pages, beautifully type-faced, each word aglow with the unshifting present. It has a fixed number of pages, though exactly what that number is no one has quite figured out. The second book usually settles itself into a worn out, dog-eared paperback. The number of its pages fluctuate—the quality and material of the pages are inconsistent as if the book is made of several editions. Some pages seem ripped out, others are no longer there, and the typeface changes intermittently throughout.

Her Five Farewells

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.

The Sister City

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.

The Queen of the Earless Seals of Lake Baikal

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.

The Inheritance of Dust and Leather

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.

The Clockmaker and His Daughter

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.