Saturday Storytime: The Shape of My Name

Time travel stories are hard to do well. They’re even harder when they don’t hide where they’re going, when the map of time is laid out on the table so the story is all about the travel. This story by Nino Cipri manages that and more. Thank you to all the readers at Lady Business who recommended it.

I had two childhoods.

One happened between Dad’s ten-day hitches in the White County oil fields. That childhood smells like his tobacco, wool coats, wet grass. It sounds like the opening theme songs to all our favorite TV shows. It tastes like the peanut-butter sandwiches that you’d pack for us on our walks, which we’d eat down by the pond, the same one I can just barely see from my window here. In the summer, we’d sit at the edge of the water, dipping our toes into the mud. Sometimes, Dad told me stories, or asked me to fill him in on the episodes of Gunsmoke and Science Fiction Theatre he’d missed, and we’d chat while watching for birds. The herons have always been my favorite. They moved so slow, it always felt like a treat to spot one as it stepped cautiously through the shallow water. Sometimes, we’d catch sight of one flying overhead, its wide wings fighting against gravity.

And then there was the childhood with you, and with Dara, the childhood that happened when Dad was away. I remember the first morning I came downstairs and she was eating pancakes off of your fancy china, the plates that were decorated with delicate paintings of evening primrose.

“Hi there. I’m Dara,” she said.

When I looked at you, shy and unsure, you told me, “She’s a cousin. She’ll be dropping in when your father is working. Just to keep us company.”

Dara didn’t really look much like you, I thought; not the way that Dad’s cousins and uncles all resembled one another. But I could see a few similarities between the two of you; hazel eyes, long fingers, and something I didn’t have the words to describe for a long time: a certain discomfort, the sense that you held yourselves slightly apart from the rest of us. It had made you a figure of gossip in town, though I didn’t know that until high school, when the same was said of me.

“What should I call you?” Dara asked me.

You jumped in and told her to call me by my name, the one you’d chosen for me, after the week of indecision following my birth. How can I ever make you understand how much I disliked that name? It felt like it belonged to a sister whom I was constantly being compared to, whose legacy I could never fulfill or surpass or even forget. Dara must have caught the face that I made, because later, when you were out in the garden, she asked me, “Do you have another name? That you want me to call you instead?”

When I shrugged, she said, “It doesn’t have to be a forever name. Just one for the day. You can pick a new one tomorrow, if you like. You can introduce yourself differently every time you see me.”

And so every morning when I woke up and saw Dara sitting at the table, I gave her a different name: Doc, Buck, George, Charlie. Names that my heroes had, from television and comics and the matinees in town. They weren’t my name, but they were better than the one I had. I liked the way they sounded, the shape of them rolling around my mouth.

You just looked on, lips pursed in a frown, and told Dara you wished she’d quit indulging my silly little games.

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Saturday Storytime: When Your Child Strays From God

Sometimes a bad review will lead you to a story you’ll like. In the case of this story from Sam J. Miller, it was the reviewer’s distaste for the name “Carolina Bugtuttle”. Combine that with the religious themes, and I knew that the protagonist inhabited a world that would be at home in an alternate Green Gables universe. And though the comparison feels very strange given the trappings of the story, I was right.

Understand: Timmy was not a bad boy. There was a sweet curious creative little nugget inside that lanky angular body he’d metamorphosed into. Love and kindness, buried under all the hate and anger. He acted like everyone in the world hated him, and preemptively acted to hate them harder. Every single day, it seemed, he made my husband so mad he spit nails.

This, of course, was my fault. Everything a child does is his mother’s fault.

We venture now into territory that could potentially be the subject of another e-bulletin: Confronting the Whore Your Son Is Dating. I have lots to say on the subject, not all of it germane to the subject at hand, although my husband Pastor Jerome would say that’s never stopped me before, since The Deacon’s Wife routinely goes On and On about Unnecessary Details No One Cares About, but I say what the heck. That’s what the internet is for.

A brachiosaurus raced me most of the way to Susan’s house, every heavy footfall shaking my teeth, some of them an arm’s length from my soccer-mom SUV, and I wondered what would happen if one of them came down squarely on top of it.

Webslingers have a lot of theories about the things they see in the webworld, none of it backed up by science but all of it rooted strongly in This Happened To a Friend of a Friend of Mine. Some visions were real things, transformed, like how Marge became Pug-Marge. The brachiosaurus could have been a tractor, or a bug. Some visions were total figments of the imagination—though whose imagination exactly, and what they meant, was the subject of endless webhead debate. Some slingers said the visions couldn’t hurt you—So and So got stabbed like a dozen times by Bettie Crocker and that teapot from Beauty and the Beast one time and she bled until she passed out and when she woke up she was stone cold sober and unharmed—and some said web-world wounds would follow you, Freddie-Kruger-style, into the real world. Drugs are maddeningly resistant to methodical study, or even rational scrutiny.

To be honest, though, all the dinosaurs were a good sign. Timmy used to love dinosaurs. When he was little. The fact that his webworld was packed full of them meant maybe he was in a peaceful happy childlike state of mind.

I passed a skate park. Teenagers moved through the little hills and curves, on rollerblades and skateboards, enjoying the sudden snap of early-spring warmth. What did it mean, I wondered, that every one of them had a horse head? That they were dumb animals, or that they were strong and noble? Being on drugs was a lot of work. I’d only been under for a half hour and already I was exhausted.

You may imagine, fellow congregant, that risking death or imprisonment by venturing out into the world Under the Influence was the most frightening part of my ordeal. Not so! For I realized, as the horses watched me pass with hostile looks on their faces, that the law and bodily harm were the least of my worries. The real terror came from two warring forces that threatened to crack me open. The first was love: that tether that tied me down, a choking liquid swamp I floundered in, thick and warm as phlegm, floodwaters that had started rising the second I took a hit of webbing, the only thing I couldn’t vanquish with a Good Attitude. Love for Timmy, helpless maternal love that overpowered my anger at everything he’d put us through.

The second was fear.

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Saturday Storytime: Midnight Hour

I usually try to find a new writer for these stories each week. It’s easy to do. F&SF has no shortage of talented short story writers at the moment. Quite the opposite in fact. So it tells you something about how this story from Mary Robinette Kowal hit me that I know it’s not going to leave me alone until I share it, even though I’ve shared another of her stories before.

The Nameless Queen sipped her port, rolling the blood–dark liquid in her mouth. The night’s rain pattered against the tall leaded glass windows of her sitting room in a gentle susurration. On the mantel, the clock ticked four minutes until midnight.

The door burst open, bouncing against the paneled wall. “… must be planted in winter so that they can grow snow. You see? Grow snow. It is so delightfully simple that I am not certain why no one has thought of it. Grow snow! Then we shall have relief in the heat of the summer.” Her husband strode into the room with his hands tucked behind his back and his brow knit in concentration. Beneath his dark green robe, King Lennart of Stromhold’s broad shoulders presented the picture of a man of action, so long as one did not listen to the irrationality of his words. “Who is next, well? We have not got all day. Unless we stop the clocks, then we would of course, but meals would never come and one should get frightfully hungry. Yes? Who is next?”

One of the ministers who trailed him leaped forward. “What should we do about the ambassador from Itodia? Prince Volis has brought favorable trade terms for the everwood but wants to meet with you directly. We have not given the details of your situation, of course, but he has heard the rumors.”

The queen drew her feet up into the chair and pressed into the high winged back, praying that the king would not notice her until the clock struck twelve.

He tugged at his sandy beard. “Bugger him. Bugger, bugger, bugger. We shall not sell him any everwood at all. Shall we? No. Sell him the wood from the snow trees and then his ships shall freeze and they can skate upon the seas. That will be enough advantage. Who is next? Well? Who is next?”

She closed her eyes. It was bad enough to be with him when his hour of lucidity ended, but she rarely had to face his full raving energy.  Another minister slid into place. “We have narrowed the architectural candidates to three and I have their portfolios for you to look at. The first is the one I recommend.”

“Let us see, let us see—” Pages rustled, and then fluttered to the floor. “No, no. There are no ponies here. I distinctly asked for ponies. How shall we have the miniature jousts if there are no—” His voice caught on the word.

Lennart coughed, gagging on the torrent of speech. The next breath was ragged, but the words that followed were clear and lucid. “Your clock is slow.”

As if in response, the clock on the mantel chimed, counting the twelve strikes of midnight. The queen put her feet on the floor and rose to face her husband. “I will have it fixed.”

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Saturday Storytime: Bearing Fruit

I’m catching up on some writers I really shouldn’t have missed over the last several years. Based on this story, Nikki Alfar is very much one of those writers.

Despite the general, dismaying, though not unsurprising atmosphere of disbelief, it is hard for even the most determined of pundits to gainsay the unorthodox rapidity of your gestation; and so no one argues very much, really, when you announce that you are departing on a quest to uncover the unknown father of your unborn child. Your parents, you suspect, are not-so-secretly relieved—in fact, even before your departure, the very same male cousins who were once tasked with safeguarding your purity have been redirected to the construction of a new shelter for the family carabao. The shifting valuation of commodities is not lost on you, but even you are forced to admit that everyone has a use for milk, which therefore gives worth to the carabao. Whereas mangoes, it has become clear, are not to all people’s taste.

Accompanied, therefore, only by Dideng and Aguing, you set off, following the river along its meandering path upstream. Your triumvirate is armed with one sharp bolo, one stout stick, and your own sharp tongue and stout wits, which you hope will suffice since not one of the three of you knows how to wield either of the first two anyway. Fortunately, it seems that bandits, beasts, and all other living hazards of the wild—which is not all that wild, being mostly composed of field, sparse forest, and riverbank—are leery of women impregnated by supernatural means, for you are left unmolested, or at least no more so than you have already been.

When you are slightly more pregnant than you were—it is difficult to estimate, since the actual passage of time and the tumescence of your belly steadfastly refuse to coordinate—you come upon a mango tree some distance from but within sight of the river, with a young boy several years younger than you diligently loosening the soil about its roots. You are mortified at the very notion that this spratling might be the father of your child, and are perfectly prepared to give up, turn tail, and go back the way you came, except that Aguing has already hailed the little fellow with a wave of her stick, so that there is nothing to be done except to try and discern what you came to learn.

“Is this your mango tree?” you ask, critically eyeing the boy’s scrawny frame and filthy fingernails. This, of course, is highly unjust and judgmental of you, given that you live among farmlands and farming is a good and noble occupation for an honest man; so why not, for an honest boy? But you are some—days? Weeks? Months?—pregnant, after all, and might therefore be forgiven a modicum of irrationality.

“Oh, no,” says the boy, “this tree belongs to the wealthy widow in the valley below. I tend it for her, and she lets me keep any fruit in excess of what she needs.”

“And might you have dropped some of this excess into the river,” you say, “where the offending fruit might have floated downstream, severely inconveniencing, not to mention impregnating, any innocent young maidens hapless enough to have encountered it?” You have been rehearsing several versions of this little speech in your mind for some time, though of course you had anticipated delivering it to someone more able to appreciate your exquisite sarcasm.

“What? What!?” yelps the boy, nearly severing his toes when he drops his trowel—well, who would not be shocked, after all, following an oratory like that? “No,” he says, shaking his head with mildly alarming vigor. “No, no! Can mangoes do that?! No!”

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Saturday Storytime: What We’re Having

Time travel stories are tricky. As this story by Nathaniel Lee demonstrates, they’re tricky even when you sort out all the potential paradoxes.

I wondered about the bacon all day. Eventually I went and bought the package anyway, put it in the fridge. I want to do right by you, Frankie, even if I’m crazy and it means I’m wasting five bucks. I don’t want you to have cooked imaginary bacon.


Grilled Cheese, Turkey, and Tomato Sandwiches on Sourdough

That was when I was sure of it. The tomatoes had been in the fruit bowl for a week already and you kept saying we had to do something with them before they went bad.

(They were okay, Frankie. You didn’t need to worry. Maybe a little squishy, but that could have been the whole pan-­frying thing.)

Anyway, the point is, the sandwiches were there, butter­-hot and smelling like purified joy, but so were the tomatoes, still in their bowl. It wasn’t the right day for pan-­frying anyway. You only make sandwiches on your day off, when I’ll be up by afternoon and we can have a little time together before my next shift, because they’re no good once you let them get cold.

(Except they are good, Frankie, I don’t tell you that enough. Even if they were frozen they’d be good.)

So that was that. Today wasn’t your day off, so they weren’t today’s sandwiches.

They were tomorrow’s.


Beef Stroganoff, Same as Yesterday

I kind of enjoyed having tomorrow’s food. It felt special. It was like having a window on you when you didn’t know I was looking. I think about you a lot, Frankie, even if I’m quiet when we’re together. I like to know what you’re thinking about. Mostly I feel like I don’t. That’s why I’ll take whatever advantage I can get.

You never seemed to notice, Frankie. I’m not sure why. You ate those meals, too.

Didn’t you?

(Well, obviously the stroganoff, but honestly, why did you make so much of it? I swear that week lasted a year.)

Maybe you did, but you ate them at the right time, with the right version of me responding to your actual notes and e-­mails and not whatever you’d said the day before or what I thought you might say tomorrow. A lot of times I feel like I’m talking to you a day late anyway, even when we manage to get into the same room at the same time. (I try, Frankie, I really do, but I’m always so tired and half the time I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’m not good at techie stuff. You just kind of assume I’m keeping up with you.)

Maybe it wasn’t the skillet that was out of synch. Maybe it was us.

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Saturday Storytime: The New Mother

Sometimes we get in the habit of thinking that science fiction is about the reach of imagination, about how far out an author’s imagination can take us. This story by Eugene Fischer, however, is a demonstration of how effective science fiction can be when the author’s imagination takes us that far in instead.

“Let’s go on the record now,” she said, and clicked on the recorder. “How long have you been aware of the spread of GDS?”

“It was first brought to my attention three months ago.”

“How did you learn about it?”

“An aide briefed me. I have my staff keep me informed about what our former colleagues in Austin are doing. Can’t lose touch with state-level needs while I’m stuck out here in D.C. It was Texas research that discovered GDS, you know. We’ve been a leader on this issue from the start.”

“I know,” said Tess, scribbling leader!! in her book and adding a wavy underline for absurd emphasis. “You’ve put language into the latest HHS funding bill that would prohibit federal funds from going to any organization that provides prenatal care for women known to have GDS. Can you explain the reasoning behind that for me?”

“Absolutely. This is a measure consistent with the track record I’ve shown my entire career. I have always promoted solid public health policy, with a special focus on women’s health issues. That’s what this new regulation is.”

“How is it in the interest of public health to deny care to pregnant women?”

“You’re looking at it completely backwards,” said Bailey. “The question is, how is it in the public interest for the government to subsidize the spread of a plague? Because that’s what we’ll be doing if we let taxpayer money go to increasing the number of cases of this disease.”

“But you’ve campaigned on child welfare. Surely this is a child welfare issue.”

Bailey nodded. “I agree. It is.”

“The how can you reconcile that with an amendment that will necessarily mean higher infant mortality.”

“There’s nothing to reconcile, Ms. Mendoza. My voting record is perfectly consistent. I’m protecting the normal, healthy children in those hospitals. We can’t risk the health of the majority of mothers and children by exposing them to a disease we’re just beginning to understand. One which, from all appearances, will warp their entire lives.” Bailey placed manicured fingers gently atop the monitor on her desk. “I could show you dozens of letters from women in Texas distraught that they or their daughters may never have the opportunity to be normal mothers now. I could show you even more from men who fear that they’ll never get to father children at all. Until we know exactly what this disease is, the situation calls for the utmost caution. If we don’t handle this correctly, it could literally be the end of mankind.”

It was nothing Tess hadn’t heard before. The tune was so familiar she could sing along if she wanted. The only difference with Bailey was a little more polish, a better memory for the talking points. It actually made her a less interesting interview than the representatives, who occasionally slipped up in interesting ways. Gale Schoening of North Carolina had distinguished women with GDS from those without by referring to the latter as “real mothers.” Matthew Hock had said outright that his constituency were “the natural-born citizens of Houston.” When Tess observed that in just twelve years the first girls born with GDS would reach voting age, he had said, “We’ll see. A lot can change in twelve years.” But aside from personal quirks, responses were so alike Tess could practically write her notes in advance. GDS is a disease. We have to protect healthy people. Men could become extinct. Think of the at-risk men.

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Saturday Storytime: Three Voices

I maybe like stories about the creation of art. You know, just maybe. This story from Lisa Bolekaja is enthralling and devastating. It manages that despite a viewpoint character you’re not going to like very much, which is always a challenge.

“Hey, Tye.” He embraced her and she melted into his arms. He felt solid with her, like they were meant to be fused this way. He wiped away her tears and held her face.

“Snot doesn’t look good on you, girl. Doesn’t match your hair color this week.” She laughed and he smiled.

“This fucking song is getting on my nerves,” she said.

“I told you it wouldn’t be easy.”

“I thought I could find my way into this bitch, but now…it feels like I’m trying to climb up a mountain with roller skates on.”

“Let’s quit for the night,” he said. She nodded. He didn’t want to let her go, so he held her a little longer. Pressed her head onto his shoulder and rocked her.

“When we finish this thing, I’m going to compose a song just for you. Something light and easy—”

“And with words, for God’s sake,” she whispered. She sounded better. She pushed away from his arms and sauntered over to one of the theater seats. He sat next to her. She leaned in towards him.

“I spoke to Bethanny. I know why she could never finish Three Voices,” she said.

Andre drew in a deep breath and let it out slow. Tye watched his face with intense scrutiny. When Andre didn’t respond, her eyes narrowed.

“She told me she developed throat polyps after training with you. She never had throat problems ever until she started singing Three Voices. Even after throat surgery, she wasn’t able to sing professionally again—”

“That had nothing to do with the song, Tye. Many singers develop throat nodules when they overuse their voice.”

Tye reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out her cell phone. She opened up an App page and Andre winced when he saw the picture of the woman on the screen.

“What about her? I remember this woman, Andre. I always wondered what happened to her.”

Andre took the cell phone from Tye’s hand. He stared at the picture and the text from a news article from three years prior. The woman, Nelia Cardoso, was a Brazilian singer from Pernambuco who had shot to stardom performing dance club hits, but had been classically trained in Portugal and New York. The article described her bout with throat cancer which ultimately led to having her vocal cords removed. She had been under Andre’s tutelage to bring Three Voices to life in Manhattan prior to developing cancer.

“First Bethanny, and then Nelia. How many others before them, Andre?”

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Saturday Storytime: Doll Re Mi

I should have posted this last Saturday, but I didn’t post anything. Call it a minute of silence for the loss of one of my favorite writers. This is Tanith Lee in solid sensuous, decadent, menacing form.

Suddenly Folscyvio could not recall what he had said last to the old-young mental deficient. Had he asked a price?

Or—what was it?

When confused or thrown out of his depth, Folscyvio could become unreasonable, unpleasant. Several persons had found this out, over the past eighteen years. His prowess as a virtuoso was such that, generally, excuses were made for him and police bribed, or else clever and well-paid lawyers would subtly usher things away.

He stared at the ridiculous auburn wood and green glass of the fish-tail, at the pegs of brass and ivory adhering to the glaucous tail-fan.

He said, with a slow and velvety emphasis, “I’m not saying I want to buy this piece of crap off you. But I’d better warn you, if I did want, I’d get it. And for a—shall I say—very reasonable price. Sometimes people even give me things, as a present. You see? A diamond the size of my thumb-nail—quite recently, that. Or some genuine gold Roman coins, Circa Tiberio. Just given, as I said. A gift. I have to add, my dear old gentleman, that when people upset me, I myself know certain . . . other people, who really dislike the notion that I’m unhappy. They then, I’m afraid, do these unfortunate things—a broken window—oh, steelglass doesn’t stop them—a little fire somewhere. The occasional, very occasional, broken . . . bone. Just from care of me, you’ll understand. Such kind sympathy. Do you know who I am?

The slightest pause.

“No, Signore.”

“Folscyvio.”

“Yes, Signore?”

“Yes.” Oh, the old dolt was acting, affecting ignorance.

Or maybe he was blind and half-deaf as well as stooped. “So. How fucking much?”

“For the vio-sirenalino?”

“For what fucking else, in this hell-hall of junk?”

Folscyvio was shouting now. It surprised him slightly. Why did he care? Some itch to try, and to conquer, this stupid toy eyesore—Besides, he could afford millions of libra-eura. (Folscyvio did not know he was a miser of sorts; he did not know he was potentially criminally violent, an abusive and trustless, perhaps an evil man. Talent he had, great talent, but it was the flare and flame of a cunning stage magician. He could play instruments both stringed and keyed, with incredible virtuosity—but also utter emotional dryness. His greatest performances lacked all soul—they were fire and lightning, glamour and glitter, sound and fury. Signifying nothing? No, Folscyvio did not know any of that either. Or . . . he thought he did not, for from where, otherwise, the groundless meanness, the lashing out, the rage?)

Unusually, the stooping man did not seem unduly alarmed. “Since the need is so urgent,” he said, “naturally, the vio-sera is yours. At least,” a gentle hesitation, “for now.”

“Forget ‘for now,’shouted Folscyvio. “You won’t get the Thing back. How much?”

“Uno lib’euro.”

Everything settled to a titanic silence.

In the silence Folscyvio took the single and insignificant note from his wallet, and let it flutter down, like a pink-green leaf, into the dust of the floor.

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Saturday Storytime: An Evolutionary Myth

One of the things I really appreciate about current trends in F&SF publishing is the amount of translated work being published from Asia. Take, for example, this Korean story about transformation from Bo-Young Kim.

The tiger laughed . . . human laughter. “What’s so piteous about me?”

“If you can speak human languages, it means you have a human mind; and if you have a human mind, you once were human, despite your present, animal form. I don’t how you came to take the shape of a beast, but it’s sad, isn’t it? How could it not be pitiful, to lose that original form which you inherited from your parents?”

“What does original form mean, anyway? Ought every creature to spend its whole life as a newborn infant?” the tiger quipped. “You say you were born in a human form, but your ancestors were once bears and tigers, snakes and fishes, and birds and plants. Now you fight to hang onto this human shape, but ultimately you’ll realize the effort is pointless. What’s so precious about dying in the same form you were born into? I might look like an animal, but I chose this form: I wanted to fill my belly with the work of my own two hands . . . and this form is the result.”

I had nothing to offer in reply.

“Do you know that in the old days,” it continued, “it took aeons for creatures to change from one form to another; that it took many ten-thousands of aeons for any kind of differentiation at all to develop. Things aren’t better or worse now—it’s just that a different kind of adaptation is necessary these days. Nature chooses its survivors without considering good, or evil, or superior, or inferior. Even the human form is just a single means of survival chosen by nature. Humans are frailer than rabbits, when they’re not in a group or deprived of their tools! A pathetic weakling like you . . . pitying me? How insolent!”

The tiger bared its razor-sharp fangs at me, its wrath apparent, so I shut my eyes and tensed in anticipation of the coming attack . . . but as long as I waited, it didn’t slash open my throat. When I dared to open my eyes, I found the tiger quietly watching me.

“Say it,” the creature finally said.

“Say what?”

“What is it you want?”

“I don’t want anything,” I said. “I just don’t want to be discovered by anyone. I want to live and die without anyone finding me.”

The tiger said, “You should become a bug, then. Since you can’t get over this fixation on people, it’d be best to become a maggot or a fly. Or . . . how about a worm? Worms enrich the soil. You’d be more useful to people that way, than whatever it is you are right now.”

Though every single word he spoke dripped with insult, I couldn’t think of any suitable rejoinder to offer him.

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Saturday Storytime: Sun’s East, Moon’s West

“Strong” female protagonists are all well and good, but sometimes I prefer the relentlessly practical ones, as in this story from Merrie Haskell.

Time passed swiftly in the bear’s castle; winter turned to spring. I had time to practice my swordcraft, for there was an armory, and time to practice my riding, for there was a stable. As for my night duties, the bear was a gentler lover than my husband.

The bear took some interest in my daily activities, and often showed up to watch me exercise my borrowed swords against a variety of straw dummies.

“What are you training for?” he asked. His voice rumbled so deeply that it caused my ear bones to itch.

“For dragons,” I said.

“What does a miller’s daughter who can spin straw into gold care for dragons?” he asked.

“I kill them.”

“I see. And how do you go about it?”

I told him. I showed him the dragon claw and the dragon-scales I had carried in my pocket since my first and only battle. I explained about my grandfather the dragon-slayer and his philosophies of dragon combat. I explained also how my first and only dragon had eaten my husband’s donkey.

“After that, my husband wanted nothing more to do with me,” I said. “An unhappy marriage cannot bear the loss of a much-cherished donkey.” I stopped. The bear was looking at me strangely. “I’m boring you?”

“Not at all. I’m amused, I assure you. Go on.”

I went on, talking about the three days in the forest before he found me, all the while in the back of my mind trying to figure out how I amused him. When I wrapped up my story, he took me in his paws.

“Close your eyes, and keep them closed,” he growled to me, and scrumped with me right there, on the floor of the armory.

It seemed that day, as it always did during our matings, that his body was smaller than it appeared, and I felt more skin than fur beneath my fingers. I nearly cracked open an eye, but as if he sensed my curiosity, he growled, “Eyes closed!” and slobbered a beary kiss into my ear.

Later, as I pulled together the tattered remains of my shirt and watched him bear-waddle away, I wondered if I was just imagining him as more human when my eyes were closed.

I looked down my breasts poking through two of the four large rents in the fabric. “Alas, Lissa,” I told myself regretfully. “Human hands don’t do that to good linen. Not generally.”

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