Sometimes I read a story, and I wonder why I bothered to write any. This story by Amal El-Mohtar was one of those, and I’m glad that it’s inclusion in the “2013 Locus Recommended Reading List” has prompted the publisher to make it freely available to everyone.
When Emily woke again, it was to morning light filtering through the blankets over her head and whispering voices in the hall. She ventured a peek over the sheets, and saw Anna and Lynette in animated conversation, while someone who shared Lynette’s height, cheekbones, and colouring stood silently by with arms folded. Kel? They had short–cropped black hair, sharp cheekbones, and human feet.
Lynette’s remained disconcertingly taloned. She hadn’t imagined it.
Emily rolled over and burrowed deeper into the blankets in search of oblivion.
“Hey,” came Anna’s voice, gently, from beyond the duvet. “Morning. How are you feeling?”
Emily tried to part her lips to say something intelligent and managed a tiny croak of misery. Anna patted her shoulder.
“Have some water. Come on, we won’t bite. What do you remember?”
Slowly, Emily sat up, taking in the company. Anna, in pink flannel pajamas, looked concerned. Lynette without her make–up and feathers was still devastatingly beautiful: her black hair was a long sideways braid over her shoulder, and her light brown cheeks still had a hint of glitter to them. Her eyes were as black as her hair. She looked less like a magical bird–woman and more like someone from Emily’s own family now — as did Kel, who was looking at Emily with distrust.
She accepted a glass of water and took small, careful sips. “Lynette has bird feet.”
Anna winced. Kel muttered something under their breath that sounded like it was probably rude. Lynette waved her hand.
“We will speak of that later. I think Anna meant from earlier in the evening.”