Plugs

Read Rudi’s story “Detail from a Painting by Hieronymus Bosch” at Behind the Wainscot.

Trent Walters, poetry editor at A&A, has a chapbook, Learning the Ropes, from Morpo Press.

Sara Genge’s story “Godtouched” may be found in Strange Horizons.

Ken Brady’s latest story, “Walkers of the Deep Blue Sea and Sky” appears in the Exquisite Corpuscle anthology, edited by Jay Lake and Frank Wu.

Smoke-Written

by Rudi Dornemann

Up the ladder so fast she skinned both knees through her dress. Into the cloud oracle’s room. The anonymous note had been right. The smoketeller lay face down in a puddle of his own vomit. Poisoned. Dead. In the brazier that smoldered beside his clenched left hand, enough incense for a whole day half-gone already. The mold-sweet smell so thick Irene felt it on the roof of her mouth.

She went up through the door slowly. Even breathing would change the pattern of the telling, but she couldn’t save it if she couldn’t see it.

She jostled the body over and knelt on the teller’s stool, crouched to put her eyes at the level where the teller’s would have been. Composed herself, and looked. Left to right. Threads of smoke against the velvet wall paper. A tangle of meaning she couldn’t read but could remember. An owl in each corner, marking divinatory quadrants.

A bare lightbulb hung above fizzed like it was about to go out. Irene leaned forward to put its glare out of her eyes, felt its heat on the top of her head. The light flickered; all the smokesigns seemed to jump and blur. She looked faster. The corner with the plaster owl passed, then the corner with the stuffed owl. Signs layered on signs unfurling intertangled in the air, all mapped in her brain.

Looking. Bronze owl. Looking.

Irene had nearly reached the wooden owl when the man came up through the trapdoor wearing assassin’s blacks and an expression of recognition. “You’re that memory artist. Don’t say you ain’t. Not one of those phrenologicals with their lumpy heads and magnets, you’re the one who’s some kind of broken, half-made witch. You were pointed out to me once, and you’re not the only one who can remember. Yes, ma’am, it’s a pity you’re here, a pity you’ve had so long to see what you shouldn’t. A pity I have to do what’s next.”

Irene didn’t answer, just reached up until her hand was hot. In the next second, in the dark, with broken glass in one hand, the brazier in the other, with the assassin’s location as bright in her mind as if she could still see it, and her swinging arms filling everywhere he could be with sharpness and burning, she wondered if the outcome of this moment were recorded in the air around them.

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