Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




My Sister is a Scorpion

My baby sister didn’t used to be a scorpion, but she is one now. I don’t know if that sounds weird to you, but it doesn’t to me, because right after my sister was born, Abuelita turned into a white crane and flew away. She was so sad after we buried Abuelito, you know. One winter day, she stepped outside of the faded stucco church into bright sunshine, her Bible tucked under one arm. Maybe the touch of the sun was not enough to warm her after the shadows of the church, and she wanted to be closer to it. Maybe the air felt stronger that day, strong enough to bear her to heaven. She dropped her Bible, looked up at the sky, and sprouted wings—wings like an angel, white as her hair, white as teeth. Her neck grew long and elegant, and just like that, she leaped into the sky. With a few beats of her enormous wings, her shadow passed over the pages of her Bible fallen open on the church steps, fluttering sorrowfully in her wake. And she was gone.

Mamá watches the skies out the kitchen window. Even when she’s in the middle of washing dishes, her face looks like she’s somewhere else. She’s waiting for Abuelita. I miss Abuelita and wish she hadn’t left me alone, but I don’t think she’s coming back. Maybe she flew to where Abuelo is and stayed. I would.

But I was telling you about my sister. Her name is Noemí, but we call her Mimi. She’s almost a year old and her teeth are small and perfect and bright, like the inside of seashells or Abuelita’s wings. Her hair is soft as a kitten’s and black, black as her eyes, which gleam like a scorpion’s waxy scales in moonlight. I always knew there was something different about her. Maybe it was because Mamá and Papi treated her like she was made of glass, like the small bowls Mamá put beneath each of the legs of the crib to stop the scorpions from climbing into Mimi’s blankets.

“Lucia,” Mamá says, “if you ever see a scorpion in here, do not touch it. You must run to get me right away, understand?”

I understand. Scorpions are dangerous. If they sting you, you swell up to the size of a balloon and float away—but in me and Mimi’s bedroom, I don’t know if you’d be able to float out into the sky, because the window doesn’t open very wide. I think about this at night, in our empty room, when the sun has set and the desert is dyed purple and the breeze through the cracked window is cool. I always leave the window open, because if I get stung, I need to run to the window before I blow up too big to fit through it. I’ll climb up on my bed and onto the sill and slip through. Then I’ll float away, like Abuelita, high above the town. Above the stucco church, above the graveyard. I’d wave goodbye to Abuelo and my uncles whose graves we visit there in the back, and then I’d turn toward the big, yellow moon.

• • • •

Mimi was always ready for anything.

Mamá and Papi don’t understand that. See, Mamá has been lying to me. Over weeks, she and Papi took taxis to and from the hospital, back and forth, like when Mimi was born and I was left with Abuelita. But this time, when they came back the last time, they didn’t have Mimi in their arms. And they never went back to the hospital again.

Since then, Mamá and Papi been floating around the house like ghosts. Once, I heard Papi sobbing in the bathroom, but whenever Mamá starts to cry he yells at her to stop.

When I asked why Papi hides in the bathroom, Mamá told me it is because Mimi is dead. In between words like cancer and there’s nothing we could do, all I heard Mamá say was you’re alone now, Lucia. You’re alone forever.

I curled my hands into fists. “You’re wrong,” I said. I poured every ounce of my heart into the words, hot like asphalt, hot like oil. “You’re wrong.”

I knew it would make her cry, that Papi would shout, but I said it anyway. Because she was. She was and I knew it, and so I looked for Mimi even harder.

Because Mamá and Papi don’t know what I know.

My sister Mimi is a scorpion.

• • • •

It must have happened when I was at school, because when I came home, Mimi was already gone. Papi took her to the hospital, Mamá said that day, but I knew better. I know with the same certainty that Abuelita is a crane that a scorpion got past the glass dishes Mamá placed at the bottom of the crib. I’ve seen spiders walk on the ceiling. Maybe the scorpion crawled up the wall of our bedroom and onto the ceiling, and from there, dropped into Mimi’s crib.

And when the scorpion dropped into the crib, in the middle of Mimi’s nap, she didn’t cry. She’s ready for anything. When the scorpion lifted its pincers and its tail, brandished high, she probably sat there, eye to beady eye with it. And the scorpion saw the spark in her, how her black eyes were like the snap of candles. And the scorpion knew she was different.

So when, with the slow, inevitable ripple of its many legs, the scorpion crept close, when its arched tail lashed with the speed of a whip, it knew what would happen: my sister would not die. She would become a scorpion. She would shrink like ice melting, and her skin wouldn’t turn yellow, like some ugly scorpions, but black like her hair. Black like her snapping shining eyes. Black like a stove, gleaming and hot. With eight legs and slender, sharp pincers with the same elegance as Abuelita’s crane neck.

Then Mimi and the scorpion would have jumped away, out of the crib to the tile floor. They would dart into the dark corners of the room, so Mamá wouldn’t find them at the end of nap time.

Scorpions are small and easy to lose, you know. They fit into all the small cracks and shadows of houses. But I will find her.

“You must be careful when you open closets,” Mamá says. So I am. I keep my eyes open for Mimi. Every time I go into the bathroom, I check the tub, calling her name very softly—if I say Mimi’s name any louder, Papi will be angry with me. I check the kitchen cabinets every morning, starting with beneath the sink and moving from left to right, just to be sure. When Papi asks what I’m doing, I say nothing.

Because when I find Mimi, she’ll be my secret. I’ll hide her in my front dress pocket and we’ll go on adventures. At night, I’ll carry her to the dusty lot where the neighborhood boys play soccer, and together, we’ll look up at the sky and count the stars with glittering black eyes. I’ll feed her with the crumbs of the pan dulce Mamá brings home from the panadería where she works and slip bits of concha frosting to her. Vanilla is my favorite, so Mimi will know how much I love her when I give her vanilla.

With Mimi in my pocket, I’ll never be alone again.

• • • •

In the middle of the night, I hear the drag of tiny legs on glass.

It’s dark, but I can see Mimi’s crib in the moonlight from the window, placed safely away from the wall in the far corner of the room. Just where it always has been. The crib’s legs in glass bowls, just as they always have been. No one has moved them. Even though Papi says every Saturday it’s time to move the crib, neither he nor Mamá have touched it. I’m glad it hasn’t moved.

Because the moment I wake, I know I’m not alone anymore. My heart trips in anticipation as I lift my head slowly from the pillow.

A smudge darkens the bowl at the foot of the crib closest to my bed.

Mimi is here.

I pull back my blanket and put my bare feet on the cold tile floor. Three quick, tip-toe steps and I’m at the bowl. I kneel down before it.

Mimi is here.

She freezes. Looks up at me.

Her scales are so black they look like soot. So black they reflect almost no moonlight. Unlike her eyes: these glint, liquid and bright, as they look up at me. The intelligence in them snaps like candles, snaps like her pincers as she raises them and her arched tail up to me.

Mimi came back.

“I missed you so much,” I say. And with one hand, I reach down into the bowl.

Isabel Cañas

Isabel Cañas

Isabel Cañas is a Mexican-American speculative fiction writer and graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She holds a doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. Her debut novel The Hacienda, a Gothic tale of witchcraft and suspense set in 1820s Mexico, is out now. To find out more, visit