They left me behind. Good enough to forge their swords, not good enough to wield one. So they say.
But tonight a stranger will ride onto the field to aid them, her shield bearing the device of a gourd on a vine. Let them think their lives saved by a mysterious ally from a distant kingdom. They will never know it was I.
My fairy godmother’s warning whispers in memory: “But you must be home by midnight, Iron Elle. Heavens help you if you’re caught in battle with the smithy cat for a horse and a pumpkin for a shield.”
Author’s Note: Cinderella plus swords equals Mulan. It’s basic fairy tale arithmetic.
His name was Ralph. I was just starting to like him.
We snuck off to the Edge to get high on visions and false memories. The abyss plays with your mind, so you start imagining lost cities in amazing detail, like you’d been there. (Everyone knows that “east” stops at Omaha.)
“Tell you a secret,” he said. “This ain’t the end of the world. It’s the beginning. I guess I’m as ready to begin now as I ever will be.” Then he stepped off the Edge. (Everyone knows he never existed.)
I come the Edge these days to remember him.
Author’s Note: I’d like to say that this came out of fascination with the unreliability of memory and also with the way contentment in the face of loss sometimes seems dependent upon a sort of self-inflicted selective amnesia. Honestly, though, I think I just had a Michael Swanwick story stuck in my head for several years straight.
Lisa edges through the half-open bedroom door, whispering narration. “Having put the kids to bed, the Babysitter Detective can at last begin her investigation.” Her cloth handkerchief (every Babysitter Detective should carry one) keeps her fingerprints off the light switch. “What secrets lie behind her clients’ everyday facade?”
Something about Mrs. Cauldwell’s slippers catches her eye. She turns the light back off to see it better: a faint shimmering plays over the one nearer the bed. She kneels to peer underneath. Now she can see the portal, glowing, beckoning. Her hands begin to shake.
This isn’t a game anymore.
Author’s Note: Harriet The Spy was awesome, but even better was Alison from The Lemon-Freshened Active Enzyme Junior High School Witch. Both Harriet and Alison used their imaginations to make their lives more exciting, but I don’t think Harriet ever stumbled into and foiled a real life crime in progress like Alison did.
The congregation grazed contentedly in the overgrown orchard, but Clever Hoof stood apart. “I’ve been thinking,” she said.
Pink Splotch lifted his snout, munching a windfall apple. “What now?”
“Well, Boar Briar’s sermons. Forbidding us things, like whatever’s in the buildings left behind by our departed protectors–”
Her friend recited, “Until Sow Thumb shall birth her New Brood: Behold! They shall unlock every door with new-made hands–”
“Yes, yes, but listen. Where did Boar Briar get his frock?”
The priest’s telltale black robe was nowhere in sight. Across the orchard, the door of the abandoned church stood wide open.
Author’s Note: If the departure of humanity leads to animals telling stories about the things we left behind, those stories could accumulate and aggregate into religions, complete with prophecies, origin myths, and taboos.