“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.
Two days after my brother turned seventeen, he was gone, just like he’d guaranteed my dad. No sad goodbyes, no notes, no taking a knee in the hall before dawn to give me any good advice for high school when I got there. My mom’s story when anybody asked was that he’d moved out, he was old enough, he needed room, it was completely natural. My dad, if asked, would just shrug, knock back the rest of his can of beer, and say he hoped Rance was in the military.
Marisol stared into the cave, breathing in the stomach-turning scent of decay that meant a dragon’s den was inside. I held my handkerchief over my nose and mouth so that I wouldn’t gag. “You’re sure this is the one?” “Definitely.” She scratched the stub of her left arm where it tucked into the metal hinge, just above where her elbow had once been.
Gather round while Dusty Boots continues this tale from the Great Sweet Sea.
I have heard it on the rumors that when the tale-spinner’s guild gathers in their secret places, a full half of them are sworn to never tell the truth, and the other half to never tell a lie, even if it mean their life. Being one of that trade myself, I can tell you that’s more or less the shape of it, and I tell you so that you will know that the tale I tell you now is true, just as it happened and just as it was told to me.
Alta owns the Menagerie: a twin-gabled, brown shingled colossus. The whole house sits on the eastern edge of a square green park on Larkin Street, and is teethed with a row of white windows that overlook the street where Alta stands, having walked this early morning from North Beach to Russian Hill. Her reflection gleams in oiled blacks and white, caught in a larger dormer window.
When it begins to snow, it never stops. Perhaps not for you, but another iteration of you—a manifestation of your wild possibilities. I hope it’s not you, for my sake. When it begins to snow, the sky comes down in sharp, precise fragments, and you press your forehead against the window and think: don’t ever stop. And it doesn’t. I don’t want it to be you, because when it begins to snow, the world ends.
Right before I wake up from a dream of hotel sex, I hear drums. They start low, building, voices murmuring healing healing healing. I sit up in bed, pissed. I look to my altar in the corner. “Come on!” I yell, throwing the covers back. I hear cackling. My ancestors have been on a real asshole streak lately. After the tragedy I did the brown-girl-spiritual-thing, called upon my ancestors for guidance, but when my ancestors showed up, they were like me: sarcastic, shit-talking assholes. I felt seen.
The vine’s voraciousness dwarfs even the kudzu of the Southern United States, whose growth of one foot per day is a snail’s pace compared to the Teczotchicin’s rate of up to twenty-five meters. It is among the rare plants one can watch growing beneath one’s feet, birthing folktales of its murderous qualities. Indeed, the vines have been known to devour whatever they encounter, entangling wild boars in their constriction, swallowing homes of nesting birds, and suffocating local banyan trees which reach thirty meters into the air.
I am ashamed of the way I learned magic, and shame has made me a coward. I stay silent as Arul circles the body of the girl who has made bright flowers of her flesh, silent as he says, “Unorthodox interpretation of Lee’s Symphony of the Meteor. Backlash ultimately fatal. Time of unmaking . . . midnight, give or take a couple of hours. Stop staring, Myei. Write it down.” I write it down. The flesh column that was once a young girl stretches from the packed dirt of the kitchen floor to the belly of the longhouse above us, held high by stilts out of respect for the Mother River’s many moods.