Under the Rain of Petals

The flowers drip petals into my hair and onto my face. Soft, blushing pink. They remind me of you.

Of the first day we met, the cold brushing rose across your cheeks, your nose.

Snow all around us, painting the village with clean white.

You did not say anything, but you picked up the basket I had dropped and smiled. Strange now to think of how I felt at your first smile. Like shattering. Like standing on the beach and holding your breath in that eternal moment between when the waves crest…and when they crash down on the sand and rush up around your toes.

Some part of me always felt that way when you smiled. Even after it became more familiar to me than my own face.

We met in winter, but it was spring where we fell in love. With the wind rippling the grass and the flowers exploding in little bursts of color. You walked with me over the hills, along the cliffs, under the trees. We stood beneath a rain of cherry blossom petals, and you kissed me and I became a burst of color. I melted into the wind and into you.

When I laid down in the shade, I brought you down with me. I drew you inside me. We did not get up again for hours and hours.

The summer was warm and lazy and long in your arms. Sunshine bright on the water. Your hands on my skin. Your breath on my neck. Dappled shadows across your face. I can still feel summer inside me. I never wanted it to end. I’m holding onto it even now.

Even now, anata

The snows came again. They piled deep around us for months, and I stayed with you. I kissed your nose, pink with cold, and you laughed.

I should have stayed there in you laughter.

But I left. For something… It seemed so important then, but I cannot remember why now.

I cannot remember anything but you.

My hand is red when I raise it to my face — red against the rain of petals all around me. I think there used to be pain — along the back of my head, deep in my stomach where the branch pierced me at the end of my fall — but there is no pain now. I was cold once, too, from the snow, but I do not feel the cold now.

I wish you were here now. To be shattered by your smile one more time. To burst into color from your kiss.

I close my eyes and smell cherry blossoms.

I hold my breath and wait for the crash of the waves.



It settled on the forest across the lake like a crown of clouds, coating the weary fir trees.  Limb by limb the trees were drowned.  I heard the birdsong slowly growing softer and softer.  I imagined I heard the gentle thumps as their bodies hit the earth below the trees.  Maybe some birds were making it out, flying away in fear of the mist.  I doubted it. 

The CDC was dusting the forest with old farm crop-dusters and Forest Service fire-fighting planes.  The birds wouldn’t find a safe haven and any flight would take them through more mist as it slowly drifted to the ground.  That was the point.

The virus had mutated so that any bird could be a carrier without quickly succumbing to the virulent disease.  They could carry the virus and be communicable for weeks with only a 40% mortality rate.  Humans were not so lucky.  We could carry it just as long, infecting most of the people we came in contact with but the mortality rate for the airborne virus was hovering around 90%.  No one had been able to come up with a vaccine for this strain yet, either.  Not that a vaccine would help if you were already infected.

Once the threat was understood, it was too late for most of the world.  The WHO instituted their plans for dealing with a pandemic but the world was already panicking and spreading the disease from person to person and country to country.

The CDC mandated testing and extermination within the poultry industry as a stop-gap effort to eliminate the source of the infection.  Once the first tests started coming back people realized just how screwed we all really were.  Turkeys, ducks and geese were extinct within a matter of weeks.  Chicken populations were hovering at the threshold.  We’d been incubating the damn virus in our own backyard without knowing it was there.  Martial law was declared shortly after I reached our lake house, hoping to hunker down with my family while the virus burned itself out.

Sandy fell sick 2 days after we arrived.  John and Laura didn’t quite understand what was happening or why they couldn’t see mommy.  But it was too late by then; deep down I knew it even if I couldn’t admit it until the symptoms started appearing.  They died in her arms and she gave in to the fever shortly after that.

I watched from across the lake, marveling as the mist slowly flowed across the water.  It lost volume and body the further from shore it went, slowly dissolving into the water.  I could see the bodies of fish slowly float to the top.  The Game and Wildlife people had pulled some strings to save some of the species and were planning on reintroducing them as soon as the lake tested clean again.  If there was anyone still around to follow through by then.

The fever was slowly building in me.  It wouldn’t be long before I started slipping in and out of consciousness.  The planes should be hitting my side of the lake by then, cleaning the world as best they could for whoever would be left to inherit it.

The Diamond Run

We live — and die — by our Runners.

They say it wasn’t always this way. They say all of us used to be free to Run, but I’ve never known a life like that. I was born after. After the sky went dark. After the Diamonds came through the clouds down to earth.

And ruined us all.

Meema says it was our fault. They were so beautiful — the Diamonds — that we didn’t ask the right questions. Not until it was already over.

Papi always tells her to hush it up. He thinks if we call them by name, out loud, too often, then they will find us. I think he’s right.

I wanted to be one of the Runners for our enclave. I begged and begged, but I was born too late. They’d already given my brother Beau the honor, and no family was allowed to have two Runners. No enclave had more than five. Couldn’t afford it.

“Don’t wish it,” Beau would say. “It’s not like you think. Don’t wish you were a Runner.”

Then I’d tell him that it was easy for him to say.

I’d try to quiz him: Did the Process hurt? What was it like? Did he know what they did to him to make him invisible to the Diamonds?

Did he ever get scared?

He never answered. Except sometimes, late at night when I was almost asleep, I’d hear him whisper, “Yes, Izza. I’m scared.”

One day, Meema got sick. Bad-sick, but not a death-sick. Doc said there was a medicine that could fix her right up, but we were out. We needed a Runner to go up onto the streets, to cross the city and trade with the Northeast River Enclave. It was a dangerous Run, one that took a path right through Diamond-heavy districts. Beau hated it; he told me it smelled like blood and corpses, that he saw more bodies in the allies, worked to death in the Diamond factories, than any other Run.

But Beau was the only Runner in the enclave that day. The others were already out.

Papi said no. I heard him yelling at the Chief that it couldn’t be Beau, he was too old, the Process was wearing off and he’d fully outgrow it soon.

But Meema was sick. And it was spreading.

So Beau put on a pack, hugged Papi, hugged me, and then he went for a Run.

I waited by the tunnel door every day for seven days.

Beau never came home.

One night, Papi took me topside. We sat under a scout shanty where the Diamonds wouldn’t see us and stared northeast. He held me and cried. I’d never seen him cry before.

“Izza,” he said. “Do you know why a family can’t contribute more than one Runner to the enclave?”

I looked up at him. “Because it’s not fair to the others. To hog all the honor.”

“No, Izza.” There was starlight in Papi’s eyes. “Because it’s too much to ask them to lose more than one child.”

When the Dragons Woke

Fucking tourists.

Shel leaned hard into the bow of the ship, the heavy wooden edge cutting across his back, digging into his spine. Brael was at the gangplank in her best jacket, hands on hips, smile on her face as the sweat-shined, squishy-limbed stream of people climbed onto the Rainhawk. They gawked and tripped over one another as they gawked, and Shel scowled at his hands as he tried to dig dirt out of his nailbeds.

Someone kicked at his booted foot, and he looked up at Harp’s broad, grinning face.

“Better shape your shit up,” she said. “Knock a smile on or Cap’n will dump you over for the brikeet to tear apart.”

“No, she won’t,” he said. “Cap’n needs me too bad.” But he straightened his posture a little and shoved his hands deep into his pockets.

“Sure,” said Harp. “Because it takes such a big crew to navigate this glorified ferry.”

Shel scowled and turned a shoulder to Harp’s ornery smile, glaring down at the diamond-clear water below them. Hundreds of feet deep, zigzagging across the planet surface in narrow, curving paths, perched on the tops of dark green mountain ranges; the surface a sheen of indigo and coral and all of the other gradient hues that painted Epson’s perpetual-sunset sky. Hard-edged, glinting cities sat upright on platforms here and there along the waterpaths. They looked made of gold. Then again, everything looked half-gold on Epson.

A flock of birds – silver on their wings – dove as one and glanced off the water ahead of them, scattering droplets like jewels. Harp made a little gasp of awe behind him, and he snorted.

She knocked a fist between his shoulder blades – a little harder than necessary. “You can’t seriously be jaded to all of this.”

Shel turned back to her and leaned against the edge again. “Twelve years working the waterpaths… It’s not like there’s anything new to see anymore. But them…” He jerked his chin at the tourists gathered around Brael at the mast while she gave a safety speech. “Richies who probably paid their weight in off-world minerals just to piss their pants at the fact that the sky is always this color.”

If Harp had a response, Shel didn’t get to hear it. Brael strode over to them with the same hard, sweeping gait that carried her everywhere, shedding her official jacket as she went. “I’d truly love to get this little boat rolling, but it seems my crew is standing around with their asses hanging out. Shel…darling…peaches…get the fuck on the wheel or you don’t get paid. Harp, one of our passengers is already getting altitude sickness — see to that, would you?”

Harp gave a sharp nod and went wading into the sweaty knot of people with a cheerful, “I hear someone’s not feeling well?” But Shel kept close to the outside, skirting around the mass of too-warm bodies to get to the helm on the back platform. Brael herself handled the rigging, loosing the bone-ribbed sails as Shel tugged the mooring line free.

The breeze billowed into the canvas, and the Rainhawk eased forward, gliding deftly down a rippling pool of light. The tourists cooed and spread to the edges, right hands tapping at their temples to activate the memory captures embedded in their eyes. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Seen one eternal sunset, seen ’em all, thought Shel.

He tipped the wheel just a touch to guide them around a turn without even scraping either edge or some of the shallower rock shelves that lurked just below the surface. Still, the wood of the helm vibrated beneath his fingers. Not from an impact, though. From something else…

Brael appeared at his side, her arms behind her back, her eyes steadily forward. “How are you holding up?”

Shel shifted, his fingers tightening on the helm. “I’m fine, boss. Sorry for before.”

She snorted. “If I minded you gettin’ attitude, Shel, you wouldn’t still be on this ship. I just want to make sure it’s not anything else.”

“It’s not. I just…” He shrugged. “Just a little worn out by all the…” He waved a vague hand that encompassed the tourists, the ship, the glistening water and the multicolored sky.

Brael shot him a quick look. She didn’t even turn her head, but he could feel it, sharp on his skin. “When’s the last time you were off-planet?”

“I don’t need a vacation, Cap’n.”

“Don’t you?” She raised an eyebrow. “You’re an excellent helmsman, Shel. But you do me no good if you go half-mad with some constancy disorder, ya mind?”

Shel exhaled, tried to let all his irritation out with the breath. He needed the wages too bad to be put on forced leave. “Aye, I mind.”

Brael nodded. “Good.”

She strode off, and he was left to stare half-vacant at the familiar waterpath that rolled out before them, adjusting the Rainhawk as needed by memory and instinct. Twice along their route he felt a thrum in the hull – like scraping a rock shelf but not quite – but there was nothing to see. Nothing but the quiet rippling of the water and the steady murmur from the tourists as they captured a rock, a plant, a bird.

They were drawing up to the far dock to let off their charges when they heard it.

A great groan that echoed through the canyons between the waterpaths. Then, sharp cracks and booms, like the sound of the planet’s bones breaking.

Someone on the port side cried out, and everyone rushed over. Shel pressed himself against the edge and strained his neck to see through the misty air below.

Across the valley, the craggy wall of another waterpath burst open, spewing liquid that glinted liquid gold in the always-fading light. And from the hole crawled an enormous shape. Winged and scaled, long neck, long tail, flashing teeth. It let out a roar that shook loose boulders, and then it took flight, arching up into the sky, catching coral rays on the hard edges of its spines and skin.

Shel’s heart beat against his ribcage, pushing the blood through his veins at a manic pace. He found Harp in the crowd and put an arm around her shoulders.

“That,” he told her. “Now that was something new.”

The Dance of the Crow Mother

When they tell me I will dance the Crow Mother, I cannot breathe.

I have practiced in the dark, in the wild grass of the hills, far from the glows of our fires. I have crushed the stalks beneath my feet, the bruised-green smell rising into the sky. I have held out my arms just-so and arced my body in circles. I have raised my voice to Her in song.

Since I was a small child, I have done this. For as long as I could remember the dance from one day to the next, from season to season, I have done this.

And now I will dance it in the circle.

I am not as light as I thought I would be, not as joyous. My heart is as tight as it is glowing.

I am afraid. Afraid I will fail. That my practiced feet will stumble. That She will not accept me as her dancer and will rain her displeasure down on my people.

I sit very still while they prepare me. My skin is dark, but the paint is darker. It runs in soft, curving lines across all of my body. My arms and legs. My breasts and stomach. Ne’hma paints my face, draws the patterns down my forehead and cheekbones, covers my eyelids in black. It is her honor to bestow because she holds the village to her bosom. She holds the village up to the gods. When she was younger, she was the Crow Mother.

They lay the shawl of feathers across my shoulders. I take a breath that shudders up my body. I step out into the glow of our fires.

The circle is clear, the faces of my peoples no more than shadows at the edges, lit in pieces by the moving flames. The air smells sharp and cold. It prickles against my naked skin. The silence presses against my ears. I am not sure I remember how to dance at all.

I raise my shaking arms to the night sky.

Hear me, Crow Mother, and welcome me into your dance.

My first steps are tentative. The ground feels foreign beneath my feet, though I have walked it all my life. The wind springs up hard enough to burn me with its cold, and I tremble. If She rejects me, we will have no new growth. I will doom everyone.

I close my eyes and pretend I am not in the circle. I am in the hills. I am standing on the wild grasses. I am in the dark, far from sight.

And my feet remember.

I stomp on the earth of the circle. I hold out my arms just-so. I arc my body in circles.

I raise my voice in Her song, and it does not sound like my voice. It is strong and clear and wild.

It is Her voice.

I open my eyes, and the fires leap up, stretch for the sky. I sing and I whirl, and my joy bursts out of me, catches all of my people in its embrace.

I am the Crow Mother. And the Crow Mother is me.

When the Night Belonged to Lissy

Everybody in the family knew what Cousin Lissy could do, but nobody talked about it.

Ma said that’s because there was nothing to talk about, that Lissy was just the same as any other of us kids and we weren’t to treat her any different.

But really, I think nobody talked about it because none of us could really pin it down. It was like trying to describe the sea. You could throw words at it, but the sea would just gobble them up, throw them against the breakers at the feet of the cliffs, and then change itself again.

When Ma weren’t around, my older brother John would say Lissy was touched, slow, on account of her having gotten tangled up on her way to being born, but it wasn’t really true. John just didn’t like trying to learn how to talk to Lissy right — said sign language was slow, and John always wanted to be fast. Fastest runner, fastest tree climber, fastest everything.

There were a lot of us kids running around, dodging between the family houses, spreading out across the connected yards — especially that summer. Lissy and me were the youngest two except for Bobby who barely had his first couple teeth. All the other cousins were bigger and louder. They ordered us around and talked over us and ran around outside on summer night way after the Aunts sent us to bed, so I didn’t really mind hanging out with just Lissy a lot of times — even though she was almost two years younger than me — because at least it was quiet and I got to say what I thought without someone elbowing me around and telling me to shut up.

Lissy actually liked to watch me sign, to hear about my day or the comic book I was reading. She told me it was a lot more fun to listen to someone who listened back

It’s why I was the only one who got to see what she could do.

The Uncles had made a fire in a pit back a little ways in the woods, this blossom of orange against a pitch-dark summer night, but they’d gone back toward the house, to grab more beers, to sit with the wives while us kids ran around in the dark. The other cousins had started a game of Cat-and-Mouse and scattered into the trees where the darkness could hide them. I wanted to go play, too, but Lissy hated Cat-and-Mouse because she couldn’t hear anyone sneaking up on her, so they always scared her halfway to hell. So I sat with her by the fire instead, listening to the shouts and laughter echoing all around us.

Lissy nudged me and signed thanks for staying with me, and I just shrugged because I wished I wasn’t the cousin stuck sitting with her and I hated myself for thinking that. I didn’t want to be a Bobby. I really didn’t.

She nudged me again. You want to see something neat?

I frowned at her, and she smiled just a little, with half her hair covering her face because she never bothered to pull it back. I shrugged again.

Lissy turned her eyes to the fire. She tapped her bare feet against the ground — bum, bum-dum, bum, bum-dum — and she nodded along with the beat she created. Her hands drifted in front of her, her fingers moving like she was signing things but they weren’t any signs I’d seen before and they didn’t mean anything as far as I could see and I thought maybe she might just be playing and that nothing would really happen. Nobody’d ever seen her do anything on purpose before — not even Aunt Beth and Uncle Arnie. It’d only always been accident.

But then the fire flared up high, throwing sparks like new stars, and the smoke curled thicker overhead. And Lissy stared, so I stared too, and I started to see…something. A butterfly made of flames. A circle of fiery faeries dancing. A giant wolf of orange and white, calling to his pack. The fire surged up, and the smoke twisted around, became a head, became wings, became an enormous bird with a comet tail of flames. It swooped down, brushing our heads, and I laughed. Which made Lissy laugh.

“Samuel Benjamin!” Aunt Beth’s voice was still loud enough to give me a jolt, even from all the way on the other side of the yard. “What’s going on over there?”

I tapped Lissy’s arm, and she took her eyes off the fire to look at me. The bird and the wolf, the butterfly and the faeries all disappeared. The flames dropped down into the logs.

“Nothing, Aunt Beth!” I hollered, my hands moving for Lissy so she could see what I was saying. “Just put too much wood on!”

There was a tense moment, and then she yelled, “Well, don’t do that again. You kids singe your eyebrows off, no one’s taking you to the hospital.”

“Okay. We won’t.”

“Fifteen more minutes, and then you and Lissy come back to the houses for bed.”

“Yes, Aunt Beth.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as silence fell again. Just the singing of night bugs and the crackling of logs burning slow. Lissy giggled a little, signed she was sorry she got us in trouble, and I told her don’t be because that was amazing.

She blushed a little.

We stared in the fire, the shouts of our cousins bouncing back and forth around us, and I swear I saw a knight charging through the flames.

Tale of the Heartwood

When the standing stones called, you answered. Everyone in Heartwood knew that.

Edmund knew it, too, and when he was little, he waited to hear them. He was sure they’d call him young – the youngest of anyone in the village – because he was special. More special than the others. More special than Mother and Father knew. More special than any of his brothers and sisters.

They called him Moody Mundy, but they’d be sorry when the standing stones called and the villagers draped him in flowers.

But they didn’t call him when he was eight harvests old. Nor when he was ten or twelve or fourteen harvests.

He doesn’t hear them until he is eighteen harvests old and already a subject of gossip in the village. No interest in marriage as the village girls aren’t good enough for him. No trade or skill to speak of. Edmund couldn’t be bothered with the mundanities of life. He knew in his heart his time would come, and when the stones finally sing out – deep like the earth, sweeping like a windstorm – he feels a thrill of vindication.

Mother weeps. Father drinks. The villagers weave garlands for his neck and head and sing to his good name.

Edmund hears only the call of the stones, of his destiny.

He leaves in a parade, the stars sprayed across the midnight blue sky like festival lights. The villagers will celebrate all night – eating and drinking and dancing until the red sun chases them all to bed.

Not Edmund.

He strides forest, heady with the wet, green smell of meadow grass and flowers, feeling the soft, warm breeze brush across his skin. He drags his boots to rid them of the dust from the silly, staid village glowing behind him and takes big, heaving gulps of air until he’s so dizzy he giggles.

The standing stones call, vibrating in his bones.

Edmund runs into the trees, spins under their dark canopy with their twined and twisted fingers, and finds himself surrounding by mist. It clings low to the ground, dense and sinuous, flowing around his feet like a stream as it pushes him deeper into the forest.

The song of the stones is in his heart now, in his blood.

It draws him miles from home, miles from Moody Mundy, to a bare hilltop where they stand in a circle. Craggy sentinels with faces as old as the earth, staring at Edmund as he stumbles into their midst, panting and smiling despite the thin scratches that lace his arms from running through the trees.

The call of the standing stones rises until it almost hurts Edmund’s ears. Then it drops into sudden silence.

Which is when he sees the first light.

It drifts from the darkness, blue like the sky, flitting from here to there as it makes its way toward him. It hovers near his arm, and Edmund thinks he can see something in it – a little figure perhaps. It lands on him, light as an insect, tickling him, but he’s too entranced to move.

Until it pricks him. He yelps and raises a hand to swat it, but it floats away and hovers just out of reach.

Edmund looks around the circle of the standing stones, a little lost. He was here, where they had called him. Where was his destiny?

Two more floating lights appear from the forest – green and gold.

Then three more after that. And five more after that. Until there are dozens upon dozens upon dozens.

They glide toward him, closer and closer until they are a twinkling wall of sky blue, spring green, sun gold.

Quite pretty, Edmund thinks.

Three of them dive toward him, pluck at his skin and clothes. He tries to dodge away, but they rip him by cloth and by blood.

Edmund stares at his new wounds, at the glowing lights all around them, and panic squeezes his lungs.

He is too shocked to even scream as the lights swarm down and bury him under the watchful eyes of the stars.

The Unwatched

No one expected the Shadows to rebel.

Hell, no one even knew that there was anything even inside them – they were just shallow silhouettes, right? There with the sun, gone with the night. Dark mirrors there just to prove our concreteness. Insubstantial.

But we thought the Earth was flat, too, once.

When scientists discovered what they really were – living, breathing, aware, chained to every one of us against their wills – social foundations split apart. Fringe extremist groups popped up almost immediately. Groups like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Shadows (P.E.T.S because, of course, that wasn’t fucking confusing) picketed and staked out government buildings and decried public figures in blistering vlogs. Then the anti-Shadow Humans First organization that poured money into politicians and streamed an impassioned feed asking us to keep Shadows in our place for the good ourselves and the safety of our children. Everyone else started to drift to one side or another – pro-Shadows, anti-Shadows, pro-Shadows-as-long-as-I-don’t-have-to-see-them-walking-around-because-they-creep-me-out.

No one actually asked the Shadows what they wanted.

A Midwest senator was making a speech on the presidential campaign trail, talking about getting back to the traditional roots of our great country, when his own Shadow killed him. Split him apart from the inside. On national television.

The rest of the Shadows rebelled. Sometimes by killing. Sometimes by just leaving.

We lost 43% of the world’s population before things settled down. The rest of us stay low. Watch what we say. Who we talk to. What we watch. We’ve learned to sleep with all the lights on.

No one expected the Shadows to rebel.

No one was even watching them.

In Which We Discuss The May Prompt

BECCA: Okay, so I’ll start this out: I know why I chose this picture, but what first struck you guys about it when I posted it?

K.T.: At first I thought. Wow, that’s pretty. And then I wondered how she got underneath the fish. Which was followed by: oh, she was murdered. Because my brain does that…

LEIGH: My first thought was actually, “Ooh, she’s pretty, I bet she’s a mermaid.”. For a while, I played with a more solidly mermaid idea (Which I’m holding in reserve because I think there might be more use for the twist I put on it later!) before picturing a little girl running along a jetty. Those things terrified me as a kid, the crevices between the rocks always seemed enormous! I ended up pulling it back into the pond kind of idea, when I remembered the gold fish, and modified the scene to go with them.

BECCA: For me, it was the dissonance in it. When I first looked at it, it seemed like a fairly straight-forward portrait, possibly with flowers in the girl’s hair, but then I noticed that the flowers were fish. And I really liked that switch-up, how the artist played with perception.

How’s about a follow-up question! How did you go about building your stories?

K.T.: The chinking shovel. I kid you not. And then I went oooo chinking shovel digging pond to cover her… And that was about it

LEIGH: The first line popped in my head when I sat down to write. I decided to keep the pattern throughout, and the rest just fell into place.

BECCA: I’m with Leigh – it was the first line for me, and then I followed it from there. Which is very, VERY different from how I construct longer works. I never pants it. Okay, last question: Do you guys have any other thoughts you want to share about this prompt? Anything you learned from the first go-round?

K.T.: I learned that if I have the picture to look at and no immediate inspiration, I just need to look at it a few more times and say what I see. Once I did that, the idea took off and the rest was easy to do. I adored Leigh’s and loved the voice in Becca’s so much. I feel like this is pushing us to write tighter and more varied pieces than we usually would. Not to mention it’s a lot of fun!

LEIGH: I learned I need the picture in front of me when I’m working on it. I was working on it at work, and totally forgot about the goldfish until I went to edit it, then had to modify it to fit. I’d just had the image of the little girl under water in my head. But so far, so good. I love seeing what you guys come up with too! I was creeped out by KT’s, and Becca’s was utterly amazing. I think it’s great that we’re breaking out of some of the boxes we tend to land in with novels.

BECCA: Personally, what struck me most are the different directions all of us took, which shouldn’t be surprising but still kinda is. I loved seeing that and seeing where you guys took things. And I learned to loosen up a little bit, to let a first line and a single image take me someplace without planning it out so religiously first. It was a good exercise.


Treachery of Folk

Mama says Never trust an ocean-child and I always says back I ain’t fool enough for that. ‘Cause an ocean-child creeps up on you like the tide – slowly an’ then all at once. And they don’t give nothin’ back.

I always imagined ‘em blue and grey, roarin’ and whirlin’ — all changeable so they’re different every time you turned ’round.

When I met him, though, he was green. Green like the reeds. Green like the grass in the delta a’fore the water gets salty. He didn’t sound like no waves neither, hushin’ and rollin’ all the damn time. His voice was deep an’ cool an’ alive, like wet earth.

He smelled like rain, an’ Mama never could get me outta the rain.

He kissed me an’ told me I was sunlight. No, I tasted like sunlight. Or somethin’ like that.

I didn’t think he tasted much like anything, but the way his tongue moved in my mouth an’ how his fingertips danced up my thighs made my whole body prickle. Like how I felt that time when I was little an’ I touched the electric fence as keeps the cows in around the farm down the road.

Warm. Fuzzy. Buzzing till it’s almost hurtful.

He would take me down by the delta. Always by the delta. Drag me to the ground, press hisself against myself, kiss me until he came up gasping, burning hot – the green in his eyes an’ his hair an’ his skin rich an’ bright. An’ then the rain’d come in, an’ I’d go home, tired, with mud on my shorts.

One morning, I woke up tireder than the usual. Tireder than I ought to be from just lyin’ there an’ kissin’.

And my eyes was green.

When Mama saw me, she cried and cried.

She says to herself she tried. She says to herself she taught me about the folk after all. She says to me she didn’t raise no stupid girl an’ she didn’t give two shakes what was to become of me.

I didn’t care. Didn’t feel much of anything. I wanted to go down to the delta.

I waited for him with my feet in the water an’ my hands in the mud an’ felt better. When he finally came to me, he even made the trees look grey. It was like somebody was walkin’ around shinin’ a light on him. I’d never seen him look so beautiful.

I’da bet he tasted like sunlight.

There weren’t no kissin’ this time. He touched my face, told me I’d always be his, and sank into the water. Or maybe just walked away. I dunno. I was starin’ at my muddy fingers.

I walked back home to Mama, who hugged me an’ pet my wet hair an’ cried some more. Told me she loved me even if I were just another ocean-child.

She takes me every morning to go sit in the water, an’ every evening she brings me home again. She says to me Never use up nobody, ocean-child.

And I says to her I ain’t fool enough for that.