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Every year around the holidays, Rhonda Parrish, who is awesome, runs Giftmas: a month-long short-story fest that raises money for the Edmonton Food Bank. Yesterday’s offering was Spider by Jennifer Lee Rossman, a story about “orphaned kids who live in a junkyard, a girl with an awesome wheelchair, and FIGHTING ROBOTS!!!!” Which, I mean. Is so cool. Go read it.

This story originally appeared in 10Flash in July 2010, and is also about hardscrabble siblings, but it does not include fighting robots, and now that seems like kind of an oversight.

If you enjoy it, you can check out all the stories here, visit Lizz Donnelly tomorrow for another great story, enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for great prizes, and help feed Edmonton.


Things That Matter
Amanda C. Davis

My brother Rory hunched in the mouth of our cave and cut a groove in his index finger, like a spiral, from nail to base. He crooked it like a crescent moon and looked it over for a while; then he grinned at me and licked off all the blood.

I said, “Why did you do that?”

“Because it’s snowing,” he replied. “It’s really important.”

He does this every year. We ran out of plastic bandages so long ago I can barely remember using them, but our box of books is still plenty full. I tore out page 130 of The Lovely Bones to wrap around his finger. He took it off before he went hunting, though. I burned the paper in the fire, blood and all.

When Rory came back after checking the traps, he had three birds in his hands and one on his head, turned inside-out, a red cone with dirty white feathers entwining with the black of his hair.

I made him take it off, but he made me leave it by the fire while we plucked the others and set their meat to boiling. He kept looking at it like he wanted to put it back on. I combed the blood and feathers out of his hair. He twitched under my fingers.

“Somebody is supposed to wear it,” he insisted, and since he’s seven years older and was around before the New Winter I didn’t argue.

We strung up his inside-out bird-hat to dry for sinew. Its meat wasn’t good by then anyway.

At sunset, he took the hat-bird’s boiled-off bones and stood them alongside each other like trees, and he wrapped them each in paper, and he lit them each on fire, one after another, until he had nine little white sticks smoking side by side.

The smoke wasn’t so bad, so I let them go until they burnt out. He watched them the whole time. When the one in the middle went out he said, “That’s not right,” and relit it. He smiled to see them all lit in a row. That was nice to see. He doesn’t smile much.

After dark fell and there was nothing left to do but sleep, he took me far, far up the mountain, and pointed out at the pinpricks of fire below. “That’s where the city was,” he said. He used to do it all the time–every night, almost–but now he only brings me here when it snows.

“You should have seen the lights,” said Rory.

He took one of his dull brown coins from his pocket, those things he carries around that have been useless almost my whole life, and rubbed it between his gloved fingers until it got back a little bit of shine. He handed it to me.

I said, “Thank you.”

He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the metal in my hand. I rubbed it a little more, wishing I’d seen it when it was as bright as Rory says it used to be. Then I gave it back.

He clenched it hard in his palm, and then he started to cry.

He gets like this sometimes.

I gave him a hug. He’s much taller than me, so he hunched over to put his face into my shoulder. “It’s so important,” he said, into my scarf. “It used to be so important…to do this stuff, and do it right, right now, when it snows….”

I said, “We don’t do it anymore, and we’re still alive. So it must not have mattered that much.”

“It mattered a lot,” he mumbled through the wool. “You don’t remember.”

I hate when he says that, because I suspect he’s right: that there were things before the New Winter that I don’t understand and will never see, and that they really were important, not just in my brother’s messed-up brain but for real. I don’t like to think about a world where his dull brown coins were worth something, where people had to light bird-bones in a row every year when it snowed. I liked this world, no matter how cold or empty.

Rory sniffed back his shudders. “Let me show you something.”

Down the hill he pulled me to an evergreen tree. He had chopped down all the brush around it so that it stood alone with its branches heavy with snow. He gave it a shake, and the snow fell away.

“See how beautiful?” he said.

It was, it really was, lit by his lantern and the moon.

“Now watch,” he said.

He opened his lantern and held it to the lowest dead branch.

Fire took hold along the lower boughs and tickled up the trunk. Orange flame danced with green prickles that curled and blackened. The light was blinding against the dark forest. The green tree flickered into brilliant yellow.

He stood back with me, smiling. “This is the most important part.”

“What?” I said, pulling back. “Burning down a tree, or freezing to death?”

His brow crumpled. “No.” He took my hand: his in an old plastic glove worn nearly to shreds, mine in clean rabbit fur I made myself. “The important part is watching it together.”

“Oh,” I said.

He smiled and squeezed my hand. “You should have seen it in the city.”

We held hands and thought about a long-dead world with rows of bird-bones in real glass windows, strange hats in the winter, and pine trees that shone like torches in the cities where people used to be. The pine tree blazed and my brother stood calm. Strange things to long for in the snow…but his hand warmed my hand, and his smile shone. Maybe Rory had fixed his brain on something worth remembering after all.


Like this story? Say it with food.

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Craving something longer? The Lair of the Twelve Princesses is a 9000-word sword-and-sorcery novelette, available now at Smashwords or Amazon.


Everybody Knows Vampires Are Dead

by Amanda C. Davis


You are so totally over vampires, you tell everyone, just totally over them, and then one afternoon, on a stone bench outside of the junior/senior parking lot, one of them promises to come to your room one night while you are asleep, if you want him.

“Say the word,” he whispers, one fang brushing the rim of your ear. “Any time.”

“Then what?” you whisper back–trying not to sound as awkward as you feel, but having trouble hearing yourself over his scent and your heartbeat. “You watch me sleep?” A joke, but it doesn’t sound silly, not when the players are you and him. You: willing, trusting. Him: quiet, watchful.

He grins–he knows it’s a joke–and leans in again. “No.”

Other people’s vampires are so easy to laugh at. Their prancing and their hair; their shimmer, their accents, their opera capes, their crazy little deviations from the rules. Not your vampire. On some level you understand his ridiculousness is not only equal to all the others’, but part of a lineage. One tiny capillary fed by a rich vein. You know you two look stupid together. Your friends have informed you. Still–you’ve completely bought into this one specific vampire, not just because his hand has been a hair’s breadth from yours for the past ten minutes and if your skin touches, you will probably instantly die.

“Well?” you say.

He catches your eye, which you have been trying to prevent. The rhythms of your body change in significant ways. “What do you want?”

Oh, if you say it aloud, you or he or something (maybe your parents?) will burst into flame. He sees this. He is all the best of youth and age. Beauty and wisdom, energy and stillness. He says, “Here’s what I’d like.”

You are probably on fire right now.

He says, “I’d like see what shape you make under your sheets. I’d like to see the way your pillow cradles your head. I’d like to push away your hair from that…irresistible neck.”

He raises a hand and lets it fall before it reaches your apparently resistible neck, but your throat leaps as if he has touched it. Such a cheesy line. So typical. Isn’t there an equally huge vein on the back of your knee? You never hear about vampires fetishizing that. You realize you would be completely okay with his hand on the back of your knee. Or elsewhere.

“I’d like to nuzzle you to the cusp of waking,” he says. You would also very much like that. “I’d like to kiss your throat until I find where your blood rushes closest to your skin.” You think all your blood is surging toward him at that exact moment. “I’d like to cup your face while I open your throat, fold the wound in my lips to not waste a drop, and drink you in until you wake.”

“Does it hurt?” you say. Then you wonder how he would know. Then you remember it must have happened to him once. You are embarrassed for you both.

“Only once,” he tells you.

Horrifying, but not when your vampire says it. The sinister mixes with the sweet.

“Then what?” you say. You are stupidly aware that except for the brush of his fang on your ear, he hasn’t yet touched you.

He grins again. “Your turn.”

You wish your vampire was telepathic. You are drowning in scenes of “then what”. Some of them are contradictory, you aren’t yourself in some of them, and some are stolen from other people’s fantasies (a few of which seemed dumb when you first heard them–not when it’s you, and your vampire). Many of them take place immediately after where he left off. A few of them leap forward, years and centuries beyond.

He says, without hearing your brain-locked answer, “Any time.”

It could be tonight. It could be any night.

You look at your hands so you can think more clearly, breaking his gaze just long enough to notice a couple of your classmates stroll past. One of them snorts high in her throat. “God, vampires are so lame,” she says to the others. “I am so done with them.”

You wonder if this is cyclical, if you will have your vampire and then tire of him. If another vampire will come after that, or if one is all you get. You glance at his face to see if he might tire of you first, but you are somehow certain vampires don’t work like that.

You think you will whisper something in his ear. Not everything, just something. You’re the one with the pulsing blood, after all, and he’s the one who must be invited.

The moment before you speak is the most delicious agony in the world.

No wonder vampires live forever.


More stories, and poems too: Wolves and Witches: A Fairy Tale Anthology

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