Excerpt: Source of Gravity

—E. Sedia—

"Muse" (detail)—Peter Schwartz
          Miranda opened her eyes. A lone light twinkled at a distance, a single star, a beacon indicating a safe haven. There was nothing else in the murky water (air?) surrounding her, and she had no other memory than the shattering sky above and the turbulent waves below. She swam toward the light.
          This wasn't one of those things she was supposed to do, and she would've realized it if she were thinking. But the instinct, a dumb and deaf mechanism that led all marine life to their frequent doom and only occasional salvation, kicked in and would not let go. I am panicking, Miranda thought, as if observing a stranger. Panic is not good.
          Swimming with legs felt awkward—they dragged behind her, wooden and useless, like a broken tail. Still, she paddled and kicked, the light growing closer. Its yellow center, warm as butter, promised comfort, and the green rays that extended from it hinted at magic, at some unknowable meaning.

"When she finally dared to look, Agatha was gone, subsumed by Miranda's flesh, only a bleeding hole in her belly indicating the point of entry. "
          One was never alone in the depths. Silent shadows slid by, taunting the periphery of her vision, and the palimpsest of their movement (too close), felt rather than noticed, covered her skin in goosebumps. There were things in the darkness, things with long crooked jaws and sharp teeth, things with white ribs half-covered with peeling skin, things that would rend her apart if she just acknowledged their presence in her mind.
          The light almost touched her face when it finally resolved into what it was: a lantern of an anglerfish. Miranda remembered her name—Agatha.
          "Hello," Miranda said. "Long time."
          "Long time," the fish agreed. "You've changed, sister."
          "So have you, Agatha."
          The anglerfish did not look well—her formerly round body had shrunk, and her fins looked tattered and blemished with fungal growth. But her mouth was still the same—large and roomy, able to suck in any creature of the same size or smaller than her. Even though she was bigger than the Agatha, the size of the anglerfish mouth filled Miranda with unease.
          "Things are changing," the fish said. "We are all changing. The ocean is sick. The world . . . Even I am dying." She shot Miranda a sharp look of her saucer eyes. "You wouldn't have anything to do with it, would you?"
          "I don't think so," Miranda said. "Why?"
          Agatha's fins fanned in a slow, hypnotizing motion, and the lure on her head bobbed up and down. "You've changed." A fin pointed at Miranda's legs accusingly. "And you crossed to land. You gave up a part of you to do it. These things have consequences."
          Miranda's stomach felt cold and leaden. "There was a man," she whispered. Agatha always made her feel too young and foolish. "He said he'd give me my tail back if I asked."
          "He took it. Do you know why?"
          Same thing she asked Lucas. Where was Lucas? "I don't know."
          Agatha sighed. "You are a sea creature, and really should have more sense. You can't just change like that—the world changes with you. And the man who took your tail from
you—he changes things on purpose."
          "How do you know?"
          "Why else would he want your tail?"
          Miranda told her about Lucas.
          "A collector," Agatha said. "I'm sure there are more of you, poor magical idiots. Just give away everything you have, why don't you?"
          "I can get my tail back," Miranda said.
          Agatha laughed, a disconcerting little hiss. "Be careful, sister. Once you cross, there's no going back. You see new things, sure. But keep in mind, new things are seeing you back."
          A chill crept into Miranda's chest and squeezed her heart in a cold fist. "What do I do?"
          "What can you do?" Agatha inched closer, so that her maw was next to Miranda's ear. "You do what you have to. But be careful—there are things after you now."
          Miranda faltered at the thought of what needed to be done. But Agatha was right, she had to have protection. And Agatha was certainly capable of providing it, and, judging from her pitiful state, had no other recourse but to agree. She would die soon otherwise. "Agatha," she said. "I need your favor."
          Agatha bobbed in an enthusiastic nod. "Clever girl. There's a wreck nearby, and I'm sure you'll find what you need."
          "Lead the way." Her voice did not tremble.
          Miranda followed the lantern, but her former speed was gone. Agatha had to stop a few times and wait for Miranda to kick her way closer. By the time they reached the silty bottom and a shipwreck half-buried in the sediment, Agatha was huffing impatiently and rolling her eyes.
          Agatha led Miranda through the breach in the hull, and into one of the larger cabins. Slimy shreds of a suitcase surrounded a rusted metal box. Inside it, Miranda found a sewing kit, and a pair of scissors—small ones, but they would have to do. She would've preferred a knife; a bigger briefer pain would be easier to bear than a series of small dull torments she inflicted on herself with the tiny scissors.
          Her skin was resilient, and saltwater stung with each little cut. The skin on her protruding belly split open, clouding the water with tiny vortices of dark blood. The fat under her skin glowed yellow in the light of Agatha's lure.
          "That's enough," Agatha said.
          Miranda looked away as the wrenching pain in her gut told her that Agatha started burrowing. She remembered Charlie talking about a pound of flesh—something to do with gambling, she presumed then, but now she wondered if that's what he meant. Letting an anglerfish consume a part of her, and become one in return. The spines of Agatha's fins prickled as she worked her way deep inside of Miranda. When she finally dared to look, Agatha was gone, subsumed by Miranda's flesh, only a bleeding hole in her belly indicating the point of entry.
          Miranda reached into the metal box again, to extract a needle and a thread. Her skin was puffy and raw, and she bit her lip as she sewed the hole shut.
          Agatha shifted inside her belly, finding a comfortable position. "What now?" she asked, finally content.
          "Now we find Lucas," Miranda said, and swam for the surface, each movement resonating with a new stab of pain and the laughter of the anglerfish inside her.

Ekaterina Sedia currently lives in New Jersey with the best spouse in the world and two cats; she teaches botany and plant ecology at a state liberal arts college, gardens, and writes books.

Her new novel, The Secret History of Moscow, is coming from Prime Books in November 2007. She is currently working on The Alchemy of Stone. Her short stories sold to Analog, Baen's Universe, Fantasy Magazine, and Dark Wisdom, as well as the Japanese Dreams (Prime Books) and Magic in the Mirrorstone (Mirrorstone Books) anthologies.

Peter Schwartz is the editor of 'eye' and the associate art editor of Mad Hatters' Review. His artwork can be seen all over the Internet but specifically at Sitrah Ahra. He has almost 200 poems published in such journals as Porcupine, Vox, and Sein und Werden. Currently he is working on paintings for an exhibit at the Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in Chelsea, NYC.

content Copyright 2007, E. Sedia—All Rights Reserved
image, "muse" Copyright 2007, Peter Schwartz—All Rights Reserved