Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams





Yam, feed me now.
Yam, when I am dead,
I shall feed you.

—A Nigerian grace

Everybody gather round the bus, now! Thank you please. Sir, beg you, don’t try to pick the trumpet flowers. You might cause damage. Yes, sir; me know say you paid for an all-inclusive tropical vacation here on the little nipple of mountain top that is all left of my country, but trust me. Some things you don’t want all-included. Not since the sea uprise and change everything. Things like trumpet flower bushes.

How many of you coming on the wondrous, watery tour? Gather in, everybody, so I could count heads. You in for a treat this morning, mek I tell you. Submerged cities, underwater skyscrapers, and an audience with the Wise Old Fish of the Mountaintop. If you ask him nice, maybe ’im will let us come back down from the peak. But be polite, you hear me? The tour last week had some from foreign ladies who feel say they were too tourist to mind them manners when tendering the requisite offering to the Wise Old Fish of the Mountain.

Sir, what you carrying on like that for? Didn’t I tell you not to pick the trumpet flowers? Stop with all the screaming, please. I warned you you might cause damage. Is all right, though. The trumpet flower plant is fair-minded. Even though you kill two of her future possible generations, she only take from you the same number of orchids you take from her. What, you didn’t realize that “orchid” is Latin for “testicles”? Chuh. Just give thanks is only two flowers you pick. I don’t know what woulda happen if you had pick three, or four.

Try and lie still, sir. Our friendly resort staff soon come and fix you up good-good. Just remember, gratuities not included in your bill. Our workers rely on your extra generosity as a reward for their good service, ascording to how seeing to your needs is the only industry ya-so nowadays. Here; you can use my scarf to stanch the bleeding. You don’t want the smell of blood to bring the mongooses out from their holes.

But stop; the rest of oonuh not on the bus yet? Get on, get on! Can’t keep the Perspicacious Mister Fish waiting! Yes, find yourselves a seat. We provide every luxury on dis-ya bus. We oxygenate and filter the air for your comfort, no extra charge. You can even take off your helmets; no air-borne irritants in here! In your seat pockets, you will find your inflatables. You each get seven hundred. Don’t fret; they indexed to the American dollar. In case of sudden tropical depression, you will find they remain relatively stable. Can’t promise the same about Mister Fish, though!

Now, before we can set out on today’s marvellous and malleable tour of our once prosperous nation, oonuh haffee tell me if the password change.


No, lady, is not game me playing. What? You think I already know the password, only I not saying? But seeyah! After is you people from foreign who come up with the new passwords! You know, a code phrase you always want us to say to you at irregular intervals? Time was, it was “Yahman.” No? Is the same one? Yahman, then; yahman.

All right, driver. We ready.

Guests of this beautiful resort, don’t mind the lurching of the bus. This is one of the ones that wake up one morning with legs instead of wheels. Even the bus-them and all had to come to them senses and swim for dear life when that last duppy tide come through! Never mind, though. Here in the islands—or the mountains—we could do worse than have sentient buses. Biggest problem is when them take it into them head to hold our pickney-them to ransom in order to get more fuel.

Pickney? That mean child.

No, Ma’am; is no problem that you bring your nine year-old on the trip with us. It will be educational for her, yahman.

By the way; if anybody see a pig deh-bout while we following the camino, him name Malky. If you see him, call him for me, do. Thank you please.

Over on your left, you can see the trembling waters of the island’s former nuclear plant. You know what they say: “If my swamp a-rock, you best don’t knock.”

Mister, I mean don’t get it into your head to go for no sea bath over there. You might come out again as pretty as me. You think I didn’t notice you staring at me? If you tell me your room number, you and me could spend a little sweetness later. Ten percent surcharge, of course, and you haffe provide certification you had three clean blood tests in the past six months.

The extra eyes give me 360 degree vision, and at least me never have to worry with combing my hair any more. To tell the truth, I think I was happy to lose it all and get more vision instead. Papa Fish tell me I must count my blessings.

If you cast your gaze just beyond the shivering bay . . . see that scrim on the other side of it? Forming what look like an edging between the mountain and the sea? Yes, Sir; like a frill. Well, that frill stretch all the way around the foot of the whole mountain, except for the places where the cruise ships dock at the resorts. You can guess what that frill is? Any of you ever read a book name The Goats Look Up? No, my mistake; Stand on Zanzibar. Ask not for whom the bell tolleth. That’s all me a-say.

The bridge we crossing on right now is taking us over some famous ruins of former industry. This new body of water, we call it Sugar Lake. No, you can’t get out the bus to take pictures. I know it smell nice, like boiled sugar sweeties. Funny thing about that duppy tide; time was, the biggest you would get is a king tide, and that was plenty big. All that melted ice from way up and down yonder. Hey you, little nine year-old pickney; you could tell me some of the effects of rising seas, of swollen oceans pushing an island like this one down under the sea? You look like a smart girl who pay mind to her lessons.

Yes, floods. What else? Rivers running backwards, sewage rising up into the water table, crops deading because the soil get salinated. Very good! You forget one, though. For a long time, we didn’t have beaches no more. People like you and your mummy stopped visiting us. Things did bad them there days. Not enough jobs, food crops doing poorly. But is all right; oonuh coming back again, both the tourists and the things that drowned. Why? Nuh this-yah duppy tide, this new thing? Nowadays, is like nothing that get drowned is really gone.

Duppy? How you mean, what it mean? Now that I think about it, oonuh been worrying out my soul case from the beginning, asking me what words mean. Aha. I see most of you never drink your phrasebooks this morning. You have to take a dose every day, for your protection. The water here not safe for oonuh to drink. You don’t have resistance built up.

But I was saying: when the long time ago sugar plantations get submerge, is like that event leave a residue. A big sugar plantation duppy. It just sit down there below and a-brood. It make of every plantation the island ever had. All of them. All those boiling houses where people who look like me—but with fewer eyes—get forced to feed long poles of sugar cane they cut from the fields into the grinders, to squeeze out the sweet juice. Then they had to pour the juice into some rahtid big cauldrons to render it down to molasses, and then to sugar. Every so often, one of the people who looked like me (except; eyes) would nod off from fatigue and get a hand caught in a grinder. Fine. So all those duppy hands, they sitting down below, too.

Beg pardon, Ma’am. I don’t mean to upset your little girl, and she so clever. But I have this tour guide script to follow, you see? Koo here, see how the script get tattooed on the inside of my bottom lip, in peeny little letters? The whole script fix deh-yah in my mouth, so you understand I don’t have no choice but to speak it. Is Master Fish make it to be so, yahman.

I could continue? Thank you please.

Oonuh sure you don’t spy a pig out there in the murk? I hope he not lost. He’s such a little guy, only standing as high as my shoulder. I prefer to have him with us on these rides. He help to keep the mongooses away.

Long and short of it is, that swamp below make of molten sugar. True we call it Sugar Lake, but is more like Syrup Swamp. Now we have to move along. If the bus stop here too long, the heat of the bridge will burn her poor feet. The pain give her the belly runnings, and we inside that self-same belly at the moment.

The facilities? Absolutely, sir. The water reclamation unit is at the back of the bus. Any other bodily fluids you care to donate while you in there are gratefully appreciated. Or any bodily solids. You don’t even have to remove any bones first. And sir? Don’t fret if what you see coming out of you don’t look exactly like what you expect. If, for example, your pee turn into hundreds of little frogs and hop away to hide in the dark corners. Is how you folks say it? “Change is good.” Right? Yahman.

Next stop is the Twinkling City. See all the rainbow colours as the light catch the oil slick? Pretty, nah true? Pickney-child, you too smart for me. You right. No light not in the sky to make refractions in the oil slick.

The actual city, of course, is down below the surface. Oonuh want to see? All right, I will open up one window. You gwine haffe peer out one at a time. Don’t worry; I will stand by and make sure the murk don’t reach long fingers in and pull you out for the mongooses. Oh! Out he gone! Why he open the window before I was ready? Never mind. I ready now. Who else want to look? Yes, lady. Lean out. I will grab your waist. If you screw up your y’eye-them and gaze hard, you might see thousands and thousands of lights flickering down below. We nah know where the electricity coming from to power the city, but there underneath the oil, it still going. Traffic lights still clicking from red to green and back again. Factories still a-run. I bet you anything the university still full up of scholars, experimenting on the wonders they find in the uprisen sea, and studying the results, and making discoveries, and arguing, and publishing.

Now, as I was saying to the rest of oonuh; the oil slick have a circumference of approximately 325 square miles, and is about 29 feet deep. I say, “oil slick” because is that it was at the beginning of the duppy tide, but like everything here, it change up. It have a way nowadays to rise up all of a sudden and grab sea gulls from out the air. At night, it will sometimes whisper to us in our dreams. Those who can’t hear it have a way to die screaming before they wake up. Perhaps you already beginning to hear it when you sleeping? Show of hands? All of oonuh hearing it except that man in the noisy shirt? Maybe the shirt drowning out the sound of things you need to hear. Sir, when we get back to the resort, they will have a ticket waiting for you, for a flight home. You will have to leave right away, before night come. Your choice, though. Only try don’t doze off between now and when we get back.

Come back in now, lady. My arms don’t get tired, exactly, but put a tender life in my hands like this, and after a while, I start to get certain impulses. To let go, or to hold too tight. Quick, close the window!

Yes, of course I was here when the duppy tide make landfall. Is the reason I still here. On our TV stations, we had meteorologists telling us for days to get out, get out. Local weather website had a live feed. I would watch it on my phone during breaks at work, and on my computer when I was home in the evenings.

What? You think say “tropics” mean “backward?” Chuh.

The feed didn’t look so bad, though. Long shots of dark sea and a dark sky. Screech of the wind whistling past the fixed camera. Camera view little bit unsteady from the wind making it vibrate. Nothing we never see before. Until I look at it good and realize the camera image not split into the usual two equal horizontal bars of slate sky on top of midnight sea. Up at the top of the image, a shallow bar of lighter grey. That was all the camera could see of the sky. The lower bar, the one taking up more than seven-eighths of the computer screen? That was the duppy tide rising up. I wait too long to leave. Most people did evacuate long since, but I couldn’t find Malky. You sure you don’t see him out there in the dark? Sometimes I think I spot him, but I can’t really tell in the murk.

I couldn’t leave him all alone.

We have to speed up. Time getting short. Over here in this boiling bay, all the fights we ever fight, for freedom, for independence, revolts against hunger, protests for wages.

That laughing waterfall? This land had stewards before us. Rush, driver, rush past all of them. All the zombis. How many of oonuh know is this part of the world zombis come from? No hands. Well, you know now.

Finally. Last stop. I will let you out the bus just now, but don’t get too close to the whirlpool. You haffe koo ’pon it from a distance. This island have a bedrock of ancient limestone, so we get sinkholes. Some terrible things get push down into sinkholes over the centuries; lost, and then forgotten. But that thing outside? That is all the sinkholes, with all their cargo. That is sinkhole papa. And yet, all the ocean it swallow, the levels only rising, not going down. Massa Fish the—well. I was going to say, “The Unflappable,” but a fish had best be able to flap, you don’t find? So. Massa Fish the Intensely Flappable. You feel him now? That vibration rumbling up through you, that sound too low to hear, but so deep it make your insides shiver? My generous guests, what you looking at is the open maw of Massa Fish. He shouting. He been shouting since the duppy tide beach him up here on the mountain. And me think say him finally getting an answer. Check the skyline. Dark. Seven-eighths black, with a little grey line of sky on top. Duppy tide a-come down again, even vaster! Massa Fish a-call out for him mama! I so excited to see what changes she will bring this time, I could turn myself inside out! Any last questions, fish food?

How to escape the tide? Me sorry, friends; me don’t have the answer.

I never did escape. Yahman.

Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson was born in Jamaica, and grew up in Guyana, Trinidad, and Canada. Her debut novel, Brown Girl in the Ring was the winning entry in the Warner Aspect First Novel contest, and led to her winning the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She has since published many acclaimed novels and short stories as well as numerous essays. She currently teaches writing at the University of California, Riverside. Her latest novel is Sister Mine.