Chenting, In The Land of The Dead by Kij Johnson, Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, May 2018

Kij Johnson has long been one of my favorite short story writers. I first discovered her when I was doing my master and have kept an eye out ever since. She’s low key in many ways, in that most readers don’t know about her, but those who do really enjoy her work. Maybe she has something of a cult following.

issue32coverrgb400pxHer work is often whimsical or fairy-tale-esk, and this piece, Chenting, In The Land of The Dead, is no different.

So, a scholar is offered a job as the governor of Chenting, a town or village, in the land of the dead. He isn’t dead yet, but an ambassador lets him know that he will be soon. He takes the job, as it is the only one offered him, and when he dies he goes to Chenting.

Before he dies, however, he has a long talk with his mistress about what Chenting will be like. She thinks it will be a horrible place of fire and brimstone and what we commonly think of as “rather hellish.” On the other hand, the scholar believes Chenting will be a beautiful place and when he arrives he is proven right. It is a wonderful place.

In joy and relief, he sends a message to his mistress to come meet him and live with him in the land of the dead. She comes.

I won’t ruin the end.

This piece is short, concise, and a study of how our expectations oftentimes create the reality we live. A quick and good read. (C+)

Anisha and the Rocks

When Anisha went down to the beach near the river mouth and out by the houses that were nothing more than shacks of wood and scrap metal, corrugated to look like the waves or the sand blown by the wind, she didn’t expect to find anything more than sand, shells, and the Rocks.

“Alright there, Nisha!” her mother called as she headed off. “You’d better be home by summer–your daddy’s cookin!”

But Anisha was already out the door and her strappy sandles were slapping the hard packed gravel road as she ran.

If she was lucky Mica would be down by the river mouth and his friends all of them. They always told the greatest stories, picked up from the fisher village that doubled as a meazily sea port.

Once she was out of eye sight from her house she slowed to a walk. Her skinny legs seemed to dangle out in front of her with each step she took. They’d begun to seem unruly to her, which wasn’t a good feeling, more like someone had added on some inches that she wasn’t aware of and she kept stubbing her toes. She’d thought she’d broken one the other day. Smashed it into one of the rickety kitchen chairs.

“Nisha! You gotta be more careful!” cried her mother, as Anisha hit the deck and squirmed around on the ground in pain.

But her toe hadn’t been broke. It felt fine now, and she flexed it just to make sure.

The unpaved road was lined by trees. They arched over and gave a smattering of shaded shimmers as the wind blew and brought the sound of tree-whispers and the smell of sea salt. She knew, just through the trees on her left was the river. If she listened real close she could just make out it’s murmur. But with the shivering of the trees it was difficult.

It took her ten minutes to get to the place where the road ended and the trail began, then another five to come to the river mouth and the beach.

Nobody was there but the gulls. They wheeled in the vast blue sky that met the vast blue ocean out in the distance. Thirty meters out to see the Rocks of Boheama loomed. Anisha had heard stories from Mica that young men from the village climbed the tallest, Bo’emata, nearly a full grand in height. But you had to climb it in at low tide, and more than one man had died in the attempt over the years, Mica said.

8/21/15 Aporia Astrum (excerpt)

Mai nudged his foot under the table and smiled. This was one of her good moments. He thought it was one of her good moments, at least. He couldn’t tell if her eyes were seeing him or if she was seeing someone else. Someone she used to know.

“Hello there, dear,” he said smiling back. He picked up the dishes and took them to the sink and set them to soak. “Was it good?” he asked.

“I don’t like peanut butter much,” she said.

He had been wrong. This wasn’t a good moment. There were fewer and fewer these days. The doctors said there wasn’t anything to be done for her.

“Darling,” Gordy said. “We didn’t have peanut butter for dinner.”

“Nope. I have never liked peanut butter,” Mai said.

“How are the cocoons doing?” he asked.

Whenever she went off like this he tried to bring her back to something she knew. Something she loved. Loved more than him.

She put her hands on the hardwood table and used the back of her legs to push the chair back from the table as she rose to her feet. Her slippers made a shushing sound on the carpet.

Leaving the dishes until later Gordy half walked, half shadowed his wife down the hall.

“Hatching, or shedding, hatching or shedding,” said Mai. “My Monarchs should be done by now–it’s much like putting cookies in the oven.”

But it took much longer, thought Gordy.

He slid in front of her and opened the door to the garage and then put out his hand so she could hold on as she took the step slowly. Against the wall–he’d made the whole thing for her–was a wooden box, the top slanted at an angle, the front of which was set with a piece of glass. Inside were the colorful cocoons of butterflies pinned to the ceiling. Some brown, some green, some a metallic golden accented with midnight. And there were the butterflies that had just burst from their confines. Amazing to think those had been squirmy little buggers–caterpillars. He shuttered. Still, Gordy didn’t think they were much improved with wings, no matter the color.