Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams





Sené. Pregnant Sené. Sené of the tired skin. She whose face held a million wrinkles, each one etched deeply as if carved over the course of forty years. Sené whose blood was only twenty-four years young.

[Faru, Faru running through the bush.]

The shining eyes of her boys made her smile, but not much else touched her. Not a full-throated bird’s song, not the sun peeking pink at dawn, not her husband’s fleeting caresses.

[Faru leapt right, darted left. His hoof
slipped and his hind legs buckled.
Faru stamped his front hoof,
shook himself off and leapt up again.]

Sené had hard-working hands: dry, cracked, and bloated. With them she beat the dirt out of her family’s cloths, scaled fish, pounded root vegetables, carried crops to her husband’s mother, and avoided touching herself.

[Thin branches whipped against Faru’s face as he ran.
Faru, the flawless. Faru, the godly. Faru reeking of thick
sensuality. His huge goat eyes darted back and forth. His
god’s heart beat a fearful rhythm in his chest. His lips lay
open in a pant. Desire—his and his sister Quashe’s own
special force—throbbed through his skinny goat legs.
Desire. That which made Faru who he was.
Faru, Faru running through the bush.]

Sené’s hands were always busy. Just now, they were sweeping out the corners of the cliff dwelling she, her husband Na, and the two boys called home. Now her hands were rolling up the sleeping mats and tucking them away. Now they were building a fire.

[Faru heard the thump, thump of Laloro
thundering behind him. Laloro, great god of disease.
Faru did not look back. He reached the end
of the bush and teetered on the edge of the cliff.]

Sené pulled down a bunch of lemongrass from the hanging basket. She squatted, one hard hand holding her bulging belly. She threw the fragrant herb into the pot and watched as the bits danced and dove with the boiling water.

[Faru glanced over his shoulder. Laloro—a godly
elephant covered in hideous warts—charged at him. Faru
jumped. His hooves found footholds on the slenderest of
rock surfaces. He bounded from rock to rock until he
landed on a large outcropping. Faru skidded to a stop.]

Rocks tumbled across the entrance to Sené’s home. She put her hands to her knees and strained to rise. Her joints throbbed as she shuffled to the entrance of her dwelling.

Faru jumped down from Sené’s roof and landed on all fours. Sené opened her cracked lips to scream, but the sound died in her throat. Faru rose on his hind legs and stretched, exposing the expanse of his human torso to Sené’s gaze. The thrumming of thousands of dragonfly wings beat in her chest. She bent down to one knee.

Faru preened as he always did when admiring eyes drank in the vision of him. He was a god, yes, but he was vain. He twisted his body this way and that. Light undulated across his fur in shimmering waves. He brushed his hooves across his chest, smoothing the flat gray circle of fur that collared his throat. Sené was powerless to look away.

Faru fixed his luminous eyes in Sené’s direction. He licked his lips. A muscle in his jaw flexed and his nose twitched. Sené held herself stiff until the tea hissed and spilled over. Wet tumbled into the fire.

Sené leapt to her bare feet. “Faru, honorable one, would you like some lemongrass?”

“No, no time,” Faru said. “Come.”

Sené’s blood pulsed as she neared the god. She stood before him, shaking, waiting. With a grunt Faru grabbed Sené by the neck. His hooves scratched her skin. Godly lips pressed against common ones. A godly tongue coaxed Sené’s mouth open. She gagged, almost choking as an intangible force flowed down her throat.

[A large shadow slid past the opening of Sené’s home.]

Faru broke away from Sené. “Don’t leave here. I’ll return.”

With that, he turned and bounded away.

[Laloro swooped by the cliffs. Laloro flying by on
chicken’s wings. The tiny appendages didn’t seem enough
to hold his elephant heft. He delighted in this, the most
surprising of his godly powers, but he wanted more.]

Sené. Sené, full of dancing light. Laughter long buried came twisting up into Sené’s throat. She stared at the empty space where Faru had held her and clapped her hand over her mouth. Giggles seeped from between her fingers.

The lemongrass hissed again. Sené looked over at the fire. Even the water, boiling over, seemed something to delight in. She bent down over the pot, dreamily drumming her fingers on her cheek. Her lips would not lie flat. They twisted up and open, surprising Sené with irrepressible glee.

[The moment Faru reached the top of the cliff,
Laloro wrapped his trunk around Faru’s body
and flew into the thick of the bush.]

Sené tipped the tea over, dousing the fire. Her nostrils flared as the scent of lemongrass filled the dwelling. Inexplicably, she began to rub the back of her hand over her face. Her fingers wound into her hair, twisting the rough strands into coils, then setting them loose. She smoothed her eyebrows, massaged her neck. Those hard ugly hands found delight in the curves of her body. Her breasts, sagging and full, were a wonder to touch. So was the tight swell of her belly.

[Laloro did not care that his trunk made breathing hard for Faru.
In fact, he coiled his trunk tighter. Faru laughed.
“What’s so funny, doomed one?” Laloro asked.
“I have nothing for you. It’s gone,” Faru said.
Laloro’s tiny eyes rolled in their sockets. “I want
the bewitching power and I want it now.”
Faru laughed again. “My sister will not fall
for such tricks. Quashe will not be seduced by
a ugly hulk of flesh covered in warts.”
“Shut up, Faru,” Laloro roared,
“give me the power or I will crush you.”]

Sené’s hardworking hands parted the front of her cloth. Her fingertips alighted on the curly tangle between her thighs. Lust unfurled and snaked in dizzying circles within her. Her feet backed her body to the wall. She pushed her spine against the rock. Her hand swiveled and writhed, her hips rotated in delight.

[“Where is it?” Laloro asked.
“I’ve lost it.” Faru said. “Nobody’s perfect,
even gods have their days off.”
Laloro stared deeply into Faru’s eyes. Faru looked back,
unblinking. Laloro knew from the calm in Faru’s face he
was telling the truth. Laloro loosened his trunk and
dropped Faru to the ground.]

Sené’s fingers were knuckle-deep inside herself. She was reaching for the mirth that Faru had trickled down her throat. Reaching to stroke the sudden burst of joy filling all her tired parts. When she was trembling, pleasure shooting from the pressure of her fingers, all of her skin sighed. She withdrew her wet fingers and used her own juices to draw patterns on the wall. Each mark was a reminder of this sensation; a sign to herself, a message to her husband Na, that everything had changed.

Sené. Slow Sené. Sené of the new urges climbed down the cliff. She crossed the dangerous ledges and narrow passes carefully. As she stepped down onto flat ground, she glanced up at the peak of the cliff. She saw two forms running there. The wind carried their laughter to her. They were, unmistakably, her boys. “Na,” she yelled, expecting to see her husband’s form just behind them. Instead, she saw the large frame of Na’s mother lumbering in the distance. Just as she was wondering where Na could be, a hummingbird hovered near her ear. Her heart leapt, and she felt the desire sweep through her again.

Sené swayed through the meadow, her thoughts suddenly preoccupied by a flock of yellow butterflies. She was sensitive to all sensations: the wind on her cheeks, the sun on her shoulders, the tall grass brushing against her hips. From the other side of the meadow, she could smell the sweet, sharp scent of ripe berries. In seconds, she was tucking little buds of fruit under her tongue.

[Faru, Faru running to the cliffs.]

When her belly was full, Sené’s skin ached for coolness. She headed straight for the river. Quashe’s river. Before Sené’s toes met the moist river earth, before she could submerge her fingers into the cool dark waters, Sené heard the deep bouncing of her husband Na’s laughter.

[Faru leapt down from Sené’s roof and landed
on all fours. He snorted. The sight of her empty dwelling
tore through him. Faru, Faru. Without the power of desire,
his breath did not call forth horny submission. His
presence did not attract an aroused audience of winged,
slithering and walking things. He was invisible.
And the horror of it pained him.]

Na? Laughing? Sené crept along the bank toward the unfamiliar sound. She hid behind a tree and peered around the trunk. Na was sitting, legs spread, feet dipped in the water, the seductive crocodile head of Quashe—goddess of desire—leaning against his bare chest. Quashe’s back formed one gleaming stretch of reptile skin. Her torso, neck and arms were human-soft, honey-amber skin, wet with river dew. Na’s fingers were sticky with her. One palm full of a tight godly breast, the other cupping the curve of fertile god belly. Quashe’s thick tail swished back and forth as she dripped water into Na’s mouth from her crocodile snout.

[Faru, Faru needing the power of desire
just as Sené needed breath.]

A flash of anger interrupted Sené’s joy. How could Na be sharing sweetness with this . . . this . . . crocodile god? Without a thought, she opened her mouth and sang an imperfect love song:

“Lover the length of you
Your weight between my thighs
Lover the scent of you
An oasis of sighs”

Both Quashe and Na turned to face the sound of Sené’s singing. Sené. Sené who had so long been a dry discarded thing, stepped toward her husband. Unwavering, she pointed her big belly right at him and sang him to his feet.

Na was, for a few seconds, stilled. His body trapped between godly pleasures and the pull of his wife. Not his wife, a juicy apparition of his wife as a goddess; Sené as a queen, a swarm of butterflies hovering over her holy head.

[Laloro found Faru, bereft, lying flat on his back
outside of Sené’s dwelling. Laloro laughed aloud. “You
really have lost it?” He hovered close to Faru’s face.
“Shower me with some horrible disease,”
Faru said, reaching for Laloro’s trunk.
“Give me some fatal sickness or leave me alone.”]

To Na’s ears, Sené’s song was nothing less than enchanting. In the thrall of her voice, he forgot about Quashe. He forgot the honeyed skin that coaxed him through a labyrinth of pleasure, turned away from the crocodile claws that gifted him with fish and seduction.

Sené opened her arms to her husband and he stepped into them. Neither of them heard Quashe snarl. Their hands were too busy groping each other, fingers remembering a dance from old forgotten times.

[Laloro took pity on Faru. “Climb onto my back
and I’ll fly you to the Old One.”
Faru climbed on without
complaining about Laloro’s warts.
“You are weak,” Laloro teased. “Worse than a mortal.
The great vain Faru begging ugly Laloro to disease him?”
Laloro raised his trunk and pointed it at Faru as he flew.
“Shall I do it? Shall I put you out of your misery?”
Faru didn’t respond.]

Quashe lifted her snout and shrieked a series of clicks and trills. Teeth bared, she belched. With every belch, a ripple disturbed the surface of the river. As Sené and Na’s tongues found each other’s throats, tasted each other’s salt, Quashe kept belching.

The river waters swirled, and finally folded in on themselves. From the folds, a humongous crocodile surfaced. At the point of Quashe’s finger, it lumbered onto shore, barreling between Sené and Na. Sené screamed, as the creature, paying no heed to her belly, knocked her onto her back.

[Laloro dumped Faru at the entrance to the Old One’s cave.
With his trunk, he tipped the bell to announce their presence.
The Old One’s voice drifted out in irritation.
“Who is it calling so loudly?”
“Oh, honored elder, it is Laloro.
I am dropping Faru here at his request.”
“How rude,” muttered the Old One. He approached
the mouth of his cave slowly. His old gnarled hands
clutched two ancient wooden canes. His long white
cloths trailed behind him in the dirt as he approached at a
snail’s pace. Each of his steps was executed with an
enormous amount of concentration and energy.
“Have you no knowledge of protocol?” the Old One said
when he finally came face to face with Laloro.
Laloro dropped to one knee and
rubbed the pads of his feet together.
“Great one, without whom we’d have no
accordance, great settler of confusing matters,
we are blessed to be in your presence.”
“Yes, child,” said the Old One, rubbing his groin.
“How can I be of service?”]

Still Na had no eyes for Quashe. He leapt onto the crocodile’s back and locked his arms around its neck. The crocodile shook its massive head and Na went flying into a tree. His head thudded against bark. He lost consciousness, and Quashe laughed.

Quashe sprang onto the crocodile’s back and looked down on Sené. As the god searched Sené’s face, river snakes slithered up the riverbank. The snakes slid over the crocodile’s back and settled in coils around Quashe’s arms and waist. Quashe stared without a blink of her reptilian eyes. She stared until the secret to Sené’s power was revealed to her. When she recognized it—the force Sené used to attract Na—Quashe threw her head back and shrieked.

[The Old One wiggled his nose toward
the gourd bowl that rested on the floor near
the cave entrance. Faru didn’t move. Laloro sighed
and dropped a few coins into the bowl. The Old One
sniffed and looked at Laloro disdainfully.
Laloro dropped a few more coins into the bowl.
“So Faru has given away his powers,
and now he’s sick and wants my help.”
“That is correct,” said Laloro, gazing longingly
in the direction of Quashe’s river.
“Why would such a vain god do
such a thing?” asked the Old One.
Laloro blushed. He scratched a patch of dry skin on his
back. It flaked and fell to the grass. The grass wilted.]

“Faru,” Quashe said, recognizing the mark of her brother. She leaned forward and opened her huge crocodile mouth over Sené’s face. A forked tongue flipped from the flat of her mouth and flicked over Sené’s lips. Sené turned her head away. Quashe’s snakes writhed.

“Open,” Quashe demanded. Sené clamped her mouth shut. Quashe released a snake. It slid around Sené’s neck into a tighter and tighter yoke until Sené’s mouth burst open in panic.

Quashe’s tongue wrestled Sené’s. She speared the power Faru had banked in Sené’s body and swallowed it. Pleasure sparked through her divine thighs as she leaned back, satisfied.

[“And you are involved in this matter?”
the Old One asked with certainty.
Laloro dug into the earth with one huge foot.
“I threatened him.”
“What’s that?” asked the Old One.
“I threatened to kill him if he didn’t give me his powers.
He lost the desire trying to hide it from me.”
“Ahh,” said the Old One rubbing his nipples. “You have
created discord among the gods. I believe you should
throw more coins into my gourd.”]

“Now, let us see who Na finds more desirable,” said Quashe, stretching across the crocodile’s back. She sent her snakes slithering over to Na. Each snake curled around a different limb. Together, they pumped blood through his body until Na’s eyelids flickered and he returned to consciousness.

Na’s heart constricted at the sight of Sené trapped beneath reptilian heft. Then Quashe called to him. His gaze leaped from Sené to Quashe. Quashe’s voice yanked all of him into stiff hardness. Quashe shook with clicking laughter and leaned over to confront Sené. “You cannot hold the powers of the gods, ugly one. I should let my crocodile eat you for trying.”

A brief flash of emotion sparked in Na’s eyes, but he remained silent. Every inch of him strained towards Quashe, but entranced or not, he knew the rules—not without Quashe’s permission.

“Stay there,” Quashe barked at him and commanded her crocodile to back off Sené. “You have refused me. I must find something sweet to clean myself of this bitterness.”

[Quashe sat stiffly on her crocodile’s back.
Na’s betrayal pulsed in her memory. The flickering
of Faru’s desire surged through her flesh as
she searched the trees for a few men to ravish.]

Night fell and Sené had not moved. The sound of Na crying forced her awake. She opened her eyes and saw him standing, immobilized, waiting for Quashe’s return. She put her hands over her ears to shut out the noise and the sensation of hand against skin ran through her body like lightning. Her fingers fluttered. She had thought this day’s delight was done—departed with Faru’s gift, but here she was, still shocking herself with sweetness.

Sené ran a finger from her forehead to her chin and shivered. She held her hands before her face. They looked just as they always had: dry, cracked, swollen. Yet today, they had done new things. They had stained themselves with berries, lured a husband away from a goddess, and painted the walls of her dwelling with the juices of her own coming.

[A flapping sound echoed in Quashe’s ears.
A dark figure dove and nipped the dip in her throat.
She glanced back and saw a throng of fruit bats
hovering close. She pressed her human-soft skin—
impregnated with the double sweetness of her and her
brother’s powers—against her crocodile. Her tough
reptilian scales pointed to the sky. Another dark-winged
figure swooped down and broke the skin at her elbow.
Quashe yelled at the top of her lungs.

Sené rolled onto her side and struggled onto her hands and knees. She crawled over to Na and pressed her cheek against his calves. A bout of dizziness swept through her. She settled herself against the earth and lay curled around Na’s feet.

[“Old One, I must go,” Laloro yelled upon hearing
Quashe’s scream. “Quashe needs me.”
“Yes,” said the Old One. “Go to Quashe and bring her
here, I believe she can help with Faru’s problem.”]

Sené nudged Na’s ankles with her charged hands. Her fingers massaged their way up his calves. She pressed her thumbs into the indentations behind his knees. Tears crept down her face. Her fingers shook. But she kept touching him.

Sené rose on her knees and kneaded Na’s thighs and buttocks. Her hardworking hands drifted up his spine, manipulating immobilized muscles. She spread her fingers over his back and raked her fingernails across his skin. She did not think of pain or pleasure, she wanted only to bring Na back to life.

[Laloro flew in the direction of Quashe’s
screaming. When he reached the meadow,
he could see Quashe’s huge crocodile crowned by
a small mountain of bats. Laloro pointed his trunk
at the bats and showered them with a plague. Bat skin
bubbled and burst into flame. Laloro took a deep breath
and blew the burning creatures from Quashe’s back.
Quashe raised her beautiful crocodile head and
looked up at Laloro, eyes glittering in gratitude.]

Sené stood, her belly brushing against Na’s back. If she closed her eyes, she could feel him quivering, ever so softly. She pinched his shoulders with little bites. Still Na did not move. She walked around to face him and stroked his forehead with thoughtful fingers.

“Come back, husband. Quashe doesn’t care about you.” She caressed his ears. “Na, please, return to me.”

[Quashe grazed Laloro’s warted skin with
her snout and he almost burst from pleasure.
She looked at him with new eyes. What had once
disgusted her was suddenly quite useful.
“I hope . . .” she said in a wavering voice,
“I hope I can call on you again.”
Laloro bowed. “I am at your service always.”]

Sené rubbed her lips against her husband’s. Her tongue darted out and licked Na’s lips. His body gave a slight tremor. She sent her tongue out again, this time to enter Na’s lips, to moisten his dry gums with her saliva. Sené pulled Na’s lips apart with her fingers. Her fingers strained to pry open the barrier of his teeth. It had worked for Faru and Quashe. Why shouldn’t it work for her?

Sené took a deep breath and blew into Na’s throat. She blew the remembered delight of lying together in the grass, her thigh lodged against his crotch. She blew the memories of Na rushing home from the river to hold their new son, of the tickle of Na’s gentle questions about all the things the baby had done that day. She blew all the desire that had been aroused in her after Faru’s kiss. Finally Na began to blink. His tears sprinkled Sené’s face. He worked his lips into a grimace and spoke as if language was unfamiliar to him.

“Sené. Please, forgive. I’m sorry.” He took her callused hand in his and groped her knuckles with his lips.

[Deep in the Old One’s cave, old fingers dribbled
honey in intricate swirling patterns on the floor.
Faru lay, inert at one end of the design. When Laloro
delivered Quashe to the cave, the Old One
sprinkled brother and sister with cinnamon.
“Laloro,” the Old One said, “I am calling on my brothers
to help. Please stay in the corner until they have safely
gone again. You would not want to pay the price if you
should accidentally crush one of them.”
Laloro backed away. The Old One rested one of his canes
against his hip and pulled a tiny snail’s shell from the
folds of his cloth. He blew out a thin, shrill sound, and a
parade of snails slowly crawled into the room. The Old
One took the lead, and his brothers followed, treading a
circle around Quashe and Faru. The pace was slow, but
the Old One’s powers were potent. With each shuffle of
his feet, each undulation of his snail brothers’ bodies,
Quashe’s wounds healed. Once the Old One and his
brothers completed a full revolution, Faru’s powers
slipped from Quashe’s body and returned to his.]

Sené and Na supported each other all the way home. Na stroked Sené’s arms. Sené squeezed Na’s waist. Na pulled Sené up the cliff when her belly became an obstacle to climbing. At the top of the cliff, Sené turned away from home, walking in the direction of Na’s mother’s dwelling.

“Sené, sweet wife, where are you going?”

“To get the children, Na. Did you not leave them with your mother?”

Na shuddered at Sené’s unspoken words. Her intonation reminded him that just that morning he had abandoned her and their children in favor of Quashe’s delights.

He took Sené’s hand. “They are safe with mother, let us go home and be new together.”

The cave was spilling over with the scent of Sené’s juices. Sené reached into the hanging basket and grabbed an armful of twigs. She dumped them onto the fire pile and kneeled to light a fire. Na stopped her. With the scent of her vibrating in his chest, he lifted her to her feet. Trembling, as if this were indeed new, he pulled her to the mats. With his free hand, he tipped two mats to the floor and unrolled them with his foot.

[Laloro flew both Quashe and her crocodile to the river
on his great diseased back. Laloro watched as Quashe
stepped into the river and the water swirled around her.
Quashe paused. “Will you be waiting there for me?
Perhaps we can feed together when I rise.”
Laloro could not speak. Quashe lifted her tail and
slapped it hard against the water’s surface.
Drops of water splashed Laloro’s face. He lifted
his trunk and trumpeted a loud “Yes!”]

Na kneeled before Sené; he parted her cloth and stroked her bare belly. He pushed his chin between her thighs and kissed her moistness. Sené pulled Na’s head away from her body and looked into his eyes. There was a hard seed-thought hiding out in Sené’s newly juicy body, a dry little nugget of doubt that questioned Na, questioned her own sanity, suggested she had better use for her time than dabbling in fantasy—she and Na would never again be one. But the same scent that filled Na’s nose seeped into Sené’s pores. It drowned that dry little thought and lured Sené into her husband’s embrace.

[Faru, Faru bounding up the cliff.
Rocks flew away from Faru’s angry hooves
as he rushed towards Sené and Na’s cave. Desire
was once again his, but Faru was not satisfied. He could
see the scar he intended to rip across Sené’s face.
He would not kill her, he would do worse—he would
kill anything desirable about her. Faru’s goat eyes
flashed when he reached the entrance of Sené’s home.
He reared up on his hind legs, ready to attack.
But neither Sené nor Na saw him. They saw only
the stretches of each other’s skin.
Faru’s anger turned to wonder. How could they
be touching each other in that way? Faru dropped down to
all four hooves. How could Sené be calling up such desire
from Na? He suddenly felt as weak as Laloro accused him
of being. He listened to the power of desire pounding in
his blood. The same power Sené had held, yet she had
not died when it was taken from her. She was moving,
breathing, calling forth passion without Faru’s magic.
Faru, Faru pausing for the truth.
A moth brushed against Faru’s ear. He turned away from
Sené and Na. Behind him a pack of flying night creatures
swarmed. Faru laughed and went bounding up the cliff
towards the bush. The flying things brushed against his
skin, bursting with desire. He leaped and twisted with his
throng of admirers. Sené and Na were vague forms,
coupling mysteriously on the periphery of his memory.
Faru sprang to the top of the cliff, and ecstasy exploded
in his chest. He heard the hoarse groans of bush animals
bellowing in heat. It seemed as if the entire night was
singing a love song to him. Faru parted his godly
lips and let out a triumphant yell.
Faru, Faru running through the bush.]

Kiini Ibura Salaam

Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work is rooted in eroticism, speculative events, women’s perspectives, and artistic freedom. She has been widely published and anthologized in such publications as the Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Colonize This! anthologies, as well as Essence, Utne Reader, and Ms. magazines. She is the author of two short story collections: Ancient, Ancient—winner of the 2012 James Tiptree, Jr. award, and When the World Wounds. Her micro-essays on writing can be found in ebook format as well as online at