Third Issue! Spirits and Splicing
Welcome to the third issue of the Flame Tree Fiction Newsletter, bringing you awesome new stories, launched as always to our readers a month before being made available online here! This month's new flash fiction stories are:
- Original Horror Flash Fiction: A Mother's Love by Deborah L. Davitt
- Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: A Girl Like Us by Eric S. Fomley
- Upcoming releases from FLAME TREE PRESS
- Recent blogs, links and Newsletters
Original Horror Story
A Mother's Love
Deborah L. Davitt
They don’t tell you that love isn’t always forever. They don’t tell you that when you lose the thing that was supposed to connect you forever, that sorrow doesn’t always bind you more tightly to each other. That compassion for one another’s suffering only lasts so long, before the empty crib becomes a silent accusation.
My husband, who’d held me while I wept, wanted to pack the crib up when I came home from the hospital. It would have been healthier. But I couldn’t let him. Some part of me clung to what might have been, I suppose.
And because I was holding onto a future that was never going to come, I didn’t hold onto him the way he’d held me, and he . . . drifted away.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault.
The divorce papers came. I managed to clean out the room. Put everything in boxes in the garage. Went back to work—I’m a museum restoration specialist. I spent my days removing fragments of old varnish without destroying the paint beneath. I’m good at fixing things.
Just not myself.
Since work was all I had, I decided I needed to enjoy going to work more. I’d ride a Taotao scooter. I could order one online. No conversation with salespeople required.
Except when the wooden packing crate arrived, it didn’t hold a scooter. It held a statue.
Waist-high, carved of wood, with staring seashell eyes. A little boy, big head and callow frame. Articulated arms and a lost look to his nearly featureless face. Provenance papers in French and Tagalog. A date—1875.
I tried contacting Nile.com. Their customer told me to “keep the shipment, we’ll send you a scooter,” as if this were an improperly shipped book, when I noted that it could be stolen property.
They said they’d escalate my complaint.
The statue stood in the empty nursery. I could feel its eyes through the walls.
Then I noticed that its hands had moved. They’d risen, palms up.
I lived alone. No one had touched it.
Unnerved, I put its hands back down. Closed the door behind me.
That night, I heard crying. It woke me from my sleep, heart hammering, tears streaming from my eyes. I’d never heard my son’s voice. He’d just lain in his little plastic crib in the NICU, fighting for each breath.
This wasn’t from some other apartment. This full-throated bawling was inside my walls.
But when I turned on the lights, shaking, nothing was amiss. Except the statue’s hands once again reached for something.
It was four in the morning. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I got a bowl, filled it with rice porridge left in the pantry—another thing I’d forgotten to give away—placed the bowl in his hands.
And hands shaking, feet numb against my cold tile floor, I talked to him. I told him that I was sorry he was here, in this strange country. That I’d try to get him home, to his own family. I told him about my little boy, who hadn’t made it home to live with me. I said all the things I couldn’t tell anyone else. How small his toes had been—premature, he’d been doll-like compared to the full-term babies in the ward. I told the statue about the little knitted cap the nurses had put on his head, which was still in my jewelry box, because I couldn’t bear to give it away.
After a while, I went back to bed.
But in the morning, the bowl was empty.
I had one of my colleagues translate the provenance papers. “It’s a taotao. A funerary statue from the Philippines. Same name as the scooter brand. Technically, you got what you paid for.”
I didn’t laugh. “This statue belonged to someone,” I replied. “It’s a representation of someone’s son. It needs to be returned.” The thought of it stabbed my heart. It was as if someone had erased my photos of my son—the one ones that hurt too much to look at, but that I couldn’t not keep on my phone.
“Repatriation might be difficult. The family it belonged to might not even know they ever owned it—it’s been over a hundred years.”
The provenance papers were no help. Most were forged. The person who’d sold the item on Nile.com? Ghosted.
“Maybe it’s a monkey’s paw,” another colleague joked. “They’re trying to get rid of a curse by passing it on.”
I hadn’t told anyone about the odd events. But I looked up from my restoration work and commented tightly, “Children aren’t a curse.”
“Lisa, come on. It’s not alive—oh, god, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that—“
Every night, I woke to crying. Every night, I gave the statue a bowl of milk or porridge, and talked to it for hours, standing in that cold room in my robe. Propitiation, veneration, sociologists would have called it. Ritual behavior before a cult object.
I just saw a child in need.
Finally, my supervisor got in touch with a museum in the Philippines willing to take the statue. The night before they loaded it into its crate, I cried, because I didn’t want to say goodbye. “But you’ll be closer to your family there. Maybe they can actually find your relatives and send you home properly,” I whispered into its ear.
I could feel the pressure of those seashell eyes. It wanted something from me. Something more than milk and a string of words. Something that would sustain it for the long journey.
And I knew what would give it strength, but I didn’t want to give it.
My feet dragged as I returned to my bedroom. My hands felt like lead as I opened the jewelry case.
But when I put that little knitted cap into the waiting hands, I felt . . . better. Lighter. Somehow at peace. “You’ll take care of each other?” I asked.
There was no reply.
But I didn’t need one.
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and Flame Tree’s Robots and Artificial Intelligence anthology. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels, you can find Deborah on Facebook or for more information visit her website www.edda-earth.com
Original Science Fiction Story
A Girl Like US
Eric S. Fomley
NY-NY-27 rubbed her sweaty palms together, tears rolling from her lavender eyes as she waited. The receptionist at the desk kept looking up at her, and NY-NY-27 was pretty sure it was because she was shaking so bad. It probably looked like she was having an aneurism. But that didn’t mean it didn’t piss her off that the receptionist kept looking.
She knew the risks for the surgery were minimal. For three generations twelve-year-olds have gone in for their genetic modification on their name day, the pediatrician had said to her concerns. Maybe she was just the last mother left who gave a damn.
NY-NY-27 had undergone the transformative surgery herself. But this was her daughter. So she waited, more nervous than she’d been in her entire life.
After several hours of wringing her hands together, twirling her white hair into curls, and pacing a path into the waiting room floor, a doctor in surgical scrubs entered the room. He had green skin and white hair, a file folder was clutched in his hand.
NY-NY-27 bolted across the room.
“Hello, are you NY-NY-27?”
“Yes? How’s my daughter? Is she alright?” She was so nervous she felt nauseous.
“Yes of course, ma’am, the genetic transformative surgery is quite harmless.” The doctor’s lavender eyes had optical implants that zoomed in on her as he spoke.
He probably thinks I need treatment. It’s called being a mother, asshole.
“So when will I be able to see her?”
“She’s ready now. We don’t need to hold her any longer, her vitals are perfect. She’s such a wonderful little girl. I just need a few things from you and you’ll be good to go.”
He opened the file folder and flipped through the paperwork, rattling off the successes of the surgery.
NY-NY-27 noticed her daughter’s picture paper-clipped to the inside flap. Her heart skipped a beat and she tuned out the doctor’s droning. She looked at her daughter’s beautiful golden hair, blue eyes, and fair freckled skin. The name Haley Dupree labeled above the picture. She was perfect.
NY-NY-27’s gut wrenched. Her chest was tight with sadness and shame. What was wrong with the girl in that image? What was so dangerous about the way she looked? She tried to rebuke the thoughts, knowing the consequences of that line of thinking.
“May I have that?” She asked, as she pointed to the picture.
The doctor looked irritated at the interruption, which turned to shock.
“Ma’am, I’m not at legal liberty to provide that to you. I would be breaking several laws, as would you.”
NY-NY-27 took her hand away, her chest constricting tighter. It was illegal to own pre-transformative surgery photos.
“Now, your daughter is up to state and federal homogeneity standards and will be allowed formal U.N. citizenship. Is my information correct that she was born in New York City, New York?”
“Yeah, that’s correct.”
“Very good. Her name has been issued accordingly. Your daughter’s name is NY-NY-39.”
The name felt cold, but NY-NY-27 knew it was necessary. To live in any U.N. country you had to be the physical equal to everyone in your gender class. Green skin, white hair, and lavender eyes. And the laws were only getting stricter.
She’d heard rumors that it wouldn’t be long before the laws stretched to the whole world. Then what are they going to do with physically diverse people? The thought made her shudder.
The doctor disappeared back into the surgery unit and tears trickled down NY-NY-27’s face.
Her daughter came out a few moments later. Her skin was green, her eyes lavender, and her hair white as paper. It was like looking into a mirror, as it was with every other female U.N. citizen.
NY-NY-27 sobbed. What have I allowed them to do to you, my beautiful baby? She pulled her daughter into her arms.
“What’s wrong, mom?” She asked.
“Nothing, baby.” Was all NY-NY-27 choked out.
The doctor came out a moment later, a smile on his face, clearly pleased with his work.
NY-NY-27 pulled away from her daughter, wiped the tears from her eyes, and took a deep breath as she walked up to the doctor.
“Thank you so much for helping her.” She said as she went to give him a hug.
He seemed surprised at the gesture, and when he opened his arms to her, she bumped into the arm that still held her daughter’s file.
The contents scattered all over the waiting room floor.
“Oh my! I am so sorry. Here, let me help you with that.”
She and the doctor stooped to collect the papers. She shuffled them back into the file and handed them back to him.
“Sorry about that again. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
NY-NY-27 turned, put an arm around her daughter, and led her out of the room.
NY-NY-27 stayed seated when her daughter got out of the hover car.
“I’ll be right in.” She said, looking into her daughter’s lavender eyes.
NY-NY-27 watched her daughter’s white hair flutter in the breeze as she walked up the sidewalk to their home.
She started to cry, unzipped the pocket of her jacket, and took out the crinkled photo she’d swiped from the doctor’s file.
Her daughter was beautiful before the transformation. The system had made her plain, made her normal.
NY-NY-27 clenched the photo, balling it in her fist. She had to find a way to reverse the damage, to get her Haley back.
The authorities would hunt them, they wouldn’t be allowed to live in any major country. They would be poor, homeless. But her daughter would have the chance to be herself. To be unique. She wanted her daughter to have the freedom to be Haley. The freedom to be different.
Eric S. Fomley is an American writer from Indiana and a member of the Codex Writers’ Group. His fiction is forthcoming in Galaxy’s Edge and Daily Science Fiction. Eric greatly admires and is influenced by the works of Ray Bradbury and Robert E. Howard. His love for reading and writing define the majority of his hobbies, though you may find him playing Skyrim or The Witcher III. You can follow Eric’s publications by following him on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark or on his website ericfomley.com.
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FLAME TREE PRESS | Upcoming Releases
Look out for our awesome new January titles The Haunting of Henderson Close by Cat Cavendish (Gothic Horror) and Junction by Daniel M Benson (plausible Sci-Fi) and the spectacular title which is new to Flame Tree Publishing, Savage Species by Jonathan Janz (Horror)!