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The Ivory Maiden

by Esther Davis

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I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

***

“You will not change my answer.”

“Why?”

Morgan turned toward the ceiling-high window, letting her red hair fall like a fiery wall between her and her sister. “I do what’s best for the city.”

“You can’t stop the townsfolk, you know,” Glenda said. “Barring her from the city means nothing. We’ll seek out the Ivory Maiden and present our wishes.”

“We?”

“Yes, Colwyn and I, and anyone else who wishes to join.”

Morgan kept her back turned, her gaze on the snow-coated courtyard outside. Frost crystals obscured the view, as if the horse drawn sleighs and ice coated Ever-Bearing Tree belonged on some moth-eaten tapestry. “I’ll have you arrested.”

“And break your nephew’s heart?” Glenda demanded.

“Better to crush his dreams while he’s young, before they’ve had time to embed themselves. This selfish wish-asking needs to end.” The words came out numb, as if they’d sat in the chilly air all morning before marching through Morgan’s mouth.

“Selfish? He’s asking the Maiden to heal his sick kitten!”

Morgan didn’t reply. Her lips felt heavy, frozen shut. Silence drafted through the room, its stillness broken only by the ticking of the grandfather clock. When she spoke, her voice seemed too loud, echoing off the vaulted ceiling. “The royal ambassador comes tomorrow. If we are to gain the king’s favor, his representative is to hear nothing of the Maiden or this wish making.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“That you better keep your visit to the witch silent enough that I have no grounds to order your arrest.”

Morgan felt her sister’s gaze laying siege on the fiery wall of hair flowing down her back. She needn’t look to see the vast room separating her and Glenda nor the oaken desk barricading them from one another.

“Ever since you took father’s place…” Glenda’s voice drifted off. The doorknob turned—groaning. “I don’t recognize you anymore.”

Morgan watched the fluttering snowfall long after the study door thudded shut. Through the window she watched Glenda, wrapped in a thick overcoat, exit the manor into the snowy courtyard. Colwyn, Glenda’s seven-year-old son, clung to her arm, trotting to keep up with his mother’s stride. He looked upward, saying something to his mother. Glenda shook her head.

Glenda handed money to a sleigh driver, then she and Colwyn boarded and disappear into the clutter of huts and brick-built businesses beyond the manor’s outer hedge.

A militiaman entered the room. “You called for horse rider, ma’am?”

“Follow my sister’s sleigh from afar,” Morgan said. “Don’t let her spot you, and tell no one what you see. No arrests are to be made. Just keep her safe from the bandits, and send a messenger to me once they’ve returned safely home.” Continue reading

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The Baboons of Mars

by Esther Davis

No one ever wanted to play catch on Mars.

Nine-year-old Jasper trudged across the red sandscape, grumbling under his breath about boring adults and stupid baby sisters. Dad promised a game of catch. Why’d the colony’s generators have to break down today?

Katy couldn’t play, ‘cause she wasn’t even a year old. Nibbles the Hamster couldn’t play, because he got loose and chewed through the generator’s main electrical wire. Dad said they could cremate the hamster tomorrow, after he fixed the colony’s power supply.

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The Day the Ocean Died

by Esther Davis

It must be another sign, just as Nana said. First the stars died, blackened and unseen. Then the birds died, their corpses filling the sea shores. The nations died too, somewhere in the mess. Great continents of empty homes covered the world, the elders said. If others besides our fellow islanders survived, we would never know.

Now the ocean had died… Continue reading

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Where the Dead Walk

by Esther Davis

Chunks of scoria cascaded from the rising form. The ground trembled. Mina’s szajo reared, and she flung her arms around one of its curled horns to keep from falling.

“Calm, boy. Calm!” Mina’s lips trembled as she whispered in the ram’s ear.

The szajo didn’t calm. It bayed, a guttural sound that reverberated through Mina’s frame… Continue reading

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Summoners

by Esther Davis

“Go ahead. Flood the whole city over your petty grudge. You’re the Lady Monte, after all.” How Heather itched to spit that into Her Royal Plumpness’s face. Or maybe just glare. Glaring worked.

Heather handed the unconscious child to her nephew then splashed down the roadside to the next victim. She weaved through the scattered furniture and scanned the flooded street for any people they might have missed. Her knee-high boots should’ve kept the water out, but the moisture still managed to find crevices to seep though, sloshing between Heather’s toes and making them even prunier.

An Aqua Hound stood on the flood’s surface, sniffing at the hair plastered to a servant’s face. Heather squinted at the hound. All the other water Elementals had Melted. Was Lady Monte still around, or did her spell just need a few more minutes to wear off?

Heather fished a pebble from the flooded street and chucked it at the hound. The stone passed through its midsection. A few drops fell from the aqueous body, but most of the liquid kept its shape. The hound glanced up and barked—a bark that sounded more like a crashing waterfall. Continue reading

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Unwelcome Shrink

by Esther Davis

Warren leaned back in the grimy chair, one arm crooked behind his head, the other dangling at his side. He tapped the floor to spin the seat. Bright blue signs with prices for Time Machine repairs hanging behind the counter, the pile of tools and spare parts shoved in corner, the pristine windows that stared at the brick wall next door, all revolved around him.

The door beeped. Warren stopped spinning. Without leaving his seat, he scooted up to the counter and raised the chair back to its normal height before the customer could see.

Dr. Saman entered, scratching his chin through his beard. Warren nodded in greeting. If Dr. Saman smiled Warren couldn’t see it beneath the white bush growing out of his face. Warren found his own beard much nicer. More luscious.

“It broke again?” Warren asked… Continue reading

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Trespassers Beware

by Esther Davis

Kira huffed and let her pink arms dangle over the iron railing like cooked noodles. “When can I have a turn?”

I pressed the binoculars closer, letting them dig into my eyebrows. Rubber bumps rolled along my finger as a twisted the knob between the two scopes. The purple and white fuzz sharpened. A platinum cyborg horse trotting across the Data Ice.

The words escaped with my gasp. “He’s huge.”… Continue reading

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Amethyst to Soothe

by Esther Davis

Amethyst-EstherDavis

“Amethyst” by Esther Davis

Arye withdrew his fingers and hissed. Though the bottle sat undisturbed, angry violet streaks sizzled across the cauldron’s surface like claw marks from a rabid animal. Arye’s fingertips stung. He placed them on his lips, hoping to cool them. The flash still played across his eyes.

Amethyst shouldn’t burn. It healed. It soothed. But never burned… Continue reading

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Born of Flame

by Esther Davis

“Paddle down the creek,” the Phoenix Spirit said, “until the cherry grove mists over, and the waterfall’s tumbling deafens your mind.”

For forty-nine years Feng paid his dues in the Land of Spirits. Now came his second chance.

Jade and opal carpeted the creek bed. Only the occasional stir from Feng’s paddle reminded him that water, not air, separated his sampan from the gemstones. Pink cherry blossoms lined the shore.

Feng let his eyes feast on his surroundings one last time—the green carpeting, the double suns shining above, the creatures and spirits eying the curious traveler. He imagined returning from his mortal voyage, this time entering the Land of Spirits with a clean conscious.

He mustn’t fail… Continue reading

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When The Gardener Sings

by Esther Davis

I taste the world. Bitter chemicals my neighbors sweat. The sweet nutrients my buried tendrils grasp. Refreshing water drawn through my roots. I feel the breeze ruffling my petals, the rain as it runs down my stem. I sense the sunlight tickling my leaves. Sense, but not see. I only see when the gardener sings.

His shadow interrupts the sunlight’s tickling, and cool liquid embraces my roots. It comes first as a low hum that vibrates my fibers. Then the hum becomes more.

I hear through the gardener’s ears and see through his eyes. A bed of swaying tulips rained on by a can, and a song. A song full of memories. Old. Ancient. He doesn’t know where the song began, only that his great-grandmother learned it from hers… Continue reading

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