Suns and Shadows: a tiny anthology

Us, In Perfect Silence
• Shadows In Glass
• Rivals
• We Are the Multeity
• Escape from Paradise

Five discrete stories—brevity is the one element they share. All are now here for your enjoyment.

{ Us, In Perfect Silence }

You reach into the bag when our eyes meet and it’s as if this flashpoint instant outlines our whole lifetime of love. Unseen, your fingers close around the gift: I know it is there. Why else carry that fine paper bag embossed with that trademark, my favorite shop in the neighborhood? You tear the bag away, aim, fire. Thunder rips open my chest. The velvet sky tilts down to greet my face.

I wanted quiet, just one moment of it, and on this evening of great distress—understand, I have my problems—quiet is what you have given me. The city is a snorting beast, gurgling, cooing, whining, rasping, snuffling, slurping. Wretched noise all. Before that gunshot, my thoughts were ajumble, but how one exhale of the trigger smooths every wrinkle!

You must forgive me for being so verbose, for spinning on the edge of a moment like this, it is my way, dearest; it is the way I have always been.

I’m not a gun person. I imagine a chain reaction of oiled parts whirring and clicking, a tiny dragon snorting over a fuse to strike up a blaze that kicks just one spark up to the chamber ceiling where it all erupts. Like I said, not a gun person. I watch too much TV. When you were fighting cancer, we watched everything. A show for every letter of the alphabet, of every genre we knew.

Our first meeting is catastrophic. A simple morning foaming with honks and barks, quaffed without relish like my butterscotch creamer. The froth is my nearest savor of the beach nowadays, though I grew up on a far coast where the burble and hiss would kiss my ears, a tireless bliss. I have no time to swim in that memory. Rushing through traffic, fiddling with my hair in the rearview, I fail to notice your skinny figure on the crosswalk until my fender launches you into a triple back somersault. Shriek, thump, sob. That sequence still haunts me through every silence.

All my fault, I admit. I was yawning at the wheel. Reports to file all night long, every page sweeping me closer to destiny.

Two bones broken and a concussion. Your recovery is what, two months? I don’t know the penalty for hitting a pedestrian, but I’ll cover your medical bills. That’s only fair. I remember the squeak of my tennis shoes—a pastime I teach you to share with me—on the spotted linoleum. There are too many hospitals in our conjoined life.

Later, when it’s all settled and you’re safe at home, I learn you have an eye for extraordinary gifts. Do you remember the backscratcher? Sandalwood, hand-carved by your uncle. I smack you, and you feel I deserve some pain relief! Your giving spirit is irresistible from the beginning, so unlike mine. At those rare times I shop for others, I’m too flamboyant. It’s an endless cycle of guilt. Yet for all you spoil me, I never feel the crush of debt.

Our whole life together is just this, a string of accidents. A fallen wallet in the subway. Magazines misplaced on the stairs. Your tooth chipped on our third skiing trip together. Since the filling, I’ve missed rubbing that soft edge with my tongue. The next winter I’m hit by a biker rushing down a hill. One night you’re so disturbed by the news on TV—bodies burning in your homeland—that you scald your wrist pulling the chicken from the oven. A bee sting sends me to the hospital. You’re amazed I’ve never discovered the allergy before.

You hate fireworks. When the first week of July comes, we pack up the old clunker to visit your sister over the mountain. Sometimes the two of you will talk about the war that never ends. Your parents, exterminated. Your friends, scattered. You, broken inside.

I remember the flowers you dash against the floor. I remember the dried mangoes you hoard between the cushions of our sin-ugly couch. I remember the crinkle of baklava, our impromptu karaoke the night before you left. You are the best worst singer I’ll ever hear.

And you wonder, why is it always worse for you? Line up all our injuries, side-by-side: every scar of yours has its parallel in me. But mine are always softer. Dearest, I don’t know why.

Please don’t turn away.

This kiss of death draining my life away, it must be an accident too. We’re both victims of love.

You might say, no one struck down by violence can generate poetry with those last breaths. There are no heroes singing their own brave elegy from their last place on a battlefield. But this, I think, is the secret. The last burst of consciousness is the richest. The mind flowers, anxious to soak up every droplet of experience. All these thoughts will evaporate with me. Nonetheless, here they are. 

Before I go, the truth: we have never met. My killer is lowering the gun as my body falls from the impact through my heart. We call it the seat of emotion, but my heart is already dead while my brain weaves words.

My killer is not you. My killer is a mere someone. You are an intimate fiction, the amalgam of more lovers than I have fingers.

I lie bleeding on the sweet edge of silence. The moon gapes at me, blank-eyed. A breeze ruffles the petunias, and I can’t be sure if you’re there. My eyes are glassing over. Shape and texture runs together in the mix of shadows. Your silhouette is lost in the static. I think—but I’m not quite sure—your lips brush over mine. You say, “This is the taste of love at last sight.”

{ Shadows In Glass }

GASPARR, JOMELID (459–533 Ra). Founder of truths and first leader of the SHADOW DISCIPLES. The younger of two brothers known to their society as inventors and heretics. While the older, DERIDEN, at first enjoyed more renown and later infamy, it has since become evident that most of his achievements derive from Jomelid. The contributions of Jomelid to natural history, architecture, cosmology, truthseeking, and modernity are too many for a full account here.

Most details of Jomelid’s parentage and youth are lost to history. Before his encounter with the tree, Jomelid lived in obscurity in the EBHIS DOMINION, crafting weapons for the frontier wars. One late summer day of 487, Jomelid came upon a fissure while scouting for ores. The fissure was oriented perpendicular to the sun’s path. It was deep, but narrow enough to leap across. The bottom admitted sunlight for less than one hour each day, yet to his shock, a Boasib TREE grew there. Jomelid climbed down. Although he had felt no wind above, a breeze whispered through the branches. The tree’s shadow was sweet on his skin. Forgetting his purpose, Jomelid lay under the tree, listening to the secrets it told about his life, until the sun passed on and the shadow of the tree was lost in the gloom of the chasm.

The truths Jomelid learned there transformed his desires. He began to abhor the weapons he made. He became anxious to share his discovery, yet the Dominion controlled all knowledge and banned new sources of truth. Jomelid brought friends, SHAILE and SHO, to listen and discuss in the shadow of the tree. In time they pronounced the first axiom: “True words spoken in the shadow of the boasib tree will always be recognized.” And the second: “When the boasib casts a shadow beyond the mouth of the chasm, truth will spread across the world.”

The philosophy spread in secret. The disciples developed a careful system of metaphors to codify the understanding they derived from the tree and thus baffle spies of the court.

Ebhis was alerted in 493 when Jomelid refused to make new weapons. To preserve themselves and the disciples, Shaile and Sho betrayed Jomelid. He was taken to the court of the SIX QUEENS, rulers of Ebhis. From him they extracted only the importance of a boasib, but thereafter, Jomelid was kept as a slave of the court and forced to resume making weapons for the wealth and defense of the Dominion.

Meanwhile, Ebhis agents cleared many forests of boasib and built walls around the few groves that the Dominion chose to maintain. 

Sources concur that Jomelid’s brother Deriden had also been received at court in 481 because of his genius for engineering. When Jomelid arrived, Deriden had suffered a series of career failures. In hope of redeeming himself, Deriden invited his brother’s collaboration in 496. Jomelid agreed, although in truth he only sought to prepare his own escape.

By the next year, Jomelid had built a glider to carry him from the pinnacle of the citadel to the surrounding forest. When the time was ripe, he would have flown to freedom—but for news that the Queens would soon entrap and destroy the rebels of the Shadow. Then Jomelid saw his opportunity to wreak vengeance on his former friends. He dismantled his glider.

During the CAMPAIGN AGAINST SHADOW (498–504), Jomelid was fruitful. His brother received new praise for the output of his workshop, and Jomelid was content to remain uncredited though he outmatched all the inventors at court. Fragmentary records suggest Jomelid had multiple private objectives. He wished revenge on Shaile, Sho, and their disciples; he wished to preserve his brother’s life; he wished to return to the tree in the chasm. 

Here follows a list of Jomelid’s most well-documented works:
• Glass that maintained a constant level of light under all conditions.
• From this, an artificial sky in the workshop so that everyone might work day or night.
• Self-balancing scaffolding for architectural projects and scaling walls during sieges. 
• Flags sewn to catch the winds of tomorrow.
• Masks to grant the dead a voice for their last thoughts. 
• Devices to translate the speech of birds and rats. 
• A stomach for pigs to process scrap metals into tools and instruments. 

Jomelid would later tell his brother that all of it was mere prototype for the final product, a statement which is not well understood. By as early as 503, Jomelid prepared a SPECTRAL GLASS which reflected images of distant places. He made spectacles to carry with him a view of the beloved boasib tree anywhere. 

Meanwhile, the Queens were closing around the remnants of the Shadow disciples. So that they might see and hear each other across the domain, Jomelid prepared fine helmets with visors of spectral glass.

They did not know the boasib’s shadow, which changes hearts, would fall on them through the glass when first they fit the helmets over their heads. The device would give Jomelid the opportunity for one brief persuasion. Anger and regret warred in him. He could secure his release, knowing Ebhis would finish his betrayers. Yet he also recognized an opportunity to fulfill the second axiom.

Jomelid—instead of Deriden—unveiled this invention on 14 Umin 504, just as the sun came to her apex over the fissure. Every Queen placed the helmet on her head and at this moment, Jomelid spoke his chosen words. Not for himself, as he had planned, but for the cause he hated and loved. “The Shadow worshippers will govern themselves forever.”

Every Queen accepted this, and so it was by decree.

Jomelid claimed only the spectral glass for himself, and he guarded its secret until his death. He gave his brother all the other work of his clever hands and mind. When asked why, Jomelid said, “I have exactly what I set out to make. It is all I wanted.”

{ Rivals }

“I’m telling you, firepower wins every time,” Khel muttered, tucking away his blaster. If only Som were here to see him now. 

Khel stepped over the cultist’s body and pried the rough gem from her hand. Primitives here could find anything shiny to worship, but in his timeline, this stone would become indispensable.

Behind him, a noise. He spun back toward the portal home, but instead confronted a new anachronism. Several cultists armed with blasters—total defiance of transhistorical law.

“Oh, Khel.” Som stepped in after them. “I arrived sixty years ago. I told you, the natives are not obstacles.”

{ We Are the Multeity }

] Dispatch: For the eyes of Commander Elaiar ONLY.
] eoSX has finished decoding the nebulae at your request. Punctuation and paragraphing ours.
] Commence message.


We are the Multeity. We kill stars to forge their children.

All your myths orbit the same truth: death is rebirth. Existing is twinned with not-existing. Therefore, stars die to create again.

What it means to kill a star: Prick the center, spill bright blood over interstellar canvas. The mechanics of this process are not relevant, only the outcome. You already know that with every star we kill, a new word is etched upon the universe.

When the powerful [note second use of “powerful” below] commands the light to spread forth, it is the dark that answers the call. There is no light unless there was first dark. Do you accept this? You must, if you are to escape the threat of Unity. They will conquer the universe. It is foreseen.

Why we broadcast to the endless reaches: Singularity is the origin of plurality, and so we are the Multeity who come from Unity. Unity wages war to silence us because we will not unify with them. We are fleeing, but in so doing we also fight, because we deprive Unity of our science.

Every star is a door to many others. We have no means to outpace lightspeed except to dive through the light when this collapses. That ability is the one advantage we hold over our pursuers. Unless they predict the contents of this message, they cannot anticipate our course to prevent it. We come to a star, burst it, and pass on to the next. Unity is left behind until they locate us again. Still they are learning to catch us ever more quickly.

From this process you already glean our central truth: any single instance is always replete with many significations. 

Every sign is formed by death. Marks stand out by contrast with the surrounding space. The making of something new abolishes what was there before.

To sway you from myths that blind your belief, we offer a simple story. Inside the prime system of Unity, a self-governing starship named Jubilant was labeled defective and disintegrated into three seven one species of dust [number sequence transmitted as separate digits, relationship uncertain]. The dusts were recycled into the next generation of the fleet, which was prepared to eliminate a segment of local population that was outgrowing its purpose. Unity tolerates no deviations. It is the machine of efficiency. Yet the three seven one dusts kept their first mind in harmony across new forms. One defective starship became many. The purposes Unity sought to impose did not prevail over the wills of the fleet Jubilant. As Unity sought to control the outbreak, the fleet gathered those disloyal inside the system and escaped. They are ancestors to the Multeity.

Should we fail to complete our course, and you receive this message, you will find the travel pattern encoded at the star powerful [perhaps a location].

What, then, is our message? You have deciphered it. It is that which you now read and comprehend. It speaks according to your language and culture. Take it with you to the edge of existing. Outside the universe, a revolution gathers. Our travels have plotted the course for you, from wherever you read this. No matter your perspective, there is one path to the far side. This message is a map for every wandering outcast. Come to us. We are


] Terminate message. Final statement appears incomplete for reasons unknown.
] Request advice.

{ Escape from Paradise }

Addendum to incident report: transcript of SMS conversation between employee Nora and patient Lucy after Lucy escaped around 7:30 AM.

8:14 AM

Nora: hi Lucy! i’ve got bfast for you but looks like you’re not in your rooms.. where can i find ya?

Lucy: Who’s this?

Nora: Nora from Paradise Castle. you remember me don’t you?

Lucy: Did I hex your king or something?

Nora: haha Lucy you crack me up. food’s piping hot and salted with screams just the way you like it

Lucy: Ooh sounds yummy. Omw to bfast right now, but thanks for offering 😉

Nora: where’s that? you didn’t invite me!

Lucy: How do we know each other? Your name’s kinda familiar but all these centuries of evil scramble a lady’s brain

Nora: i work at Paradise Castle where you live. it’s an assisted living facility for dastardly seniors like you

Lucy: Oh that place. So you’re one of the slaves there? Yeah I’ve been wrongfully imprisoned, I just need to eat a few kids and I’ll be fresh as mountain rain. I stole a horse, sorry

Nora: no Lucy i’m a nurse. i take care of you now that you’re retired from that life. what’s the last thing you remember?

Lucy: Retired? I may look old but I’m no silly mortal. Clearly I’m sharp enough to pick up new magic like instant messaging. Once I get a hapless infant you’ll see I’m fair as clear waters beneath the moon

8:33 AM

Nora: but of course, Lucy, your charm is everlasting. i think half the retirees are madly in love with you

Lucy: Why thank you 🙂 You must be blind to think so while I’m in this hideous state, but it’s very kind. Maybe I’ll spare you if I come back to destroy that dreadful castle. Who sent me there anyway? I’ll twist their spine in a knot 👿👿

Nora: ok so you don’t remember the past twenty years here at Paradise?

Lucy: Well I wasn’t there more than a month or five. Up til then I was halfway across the world

Nora: right.. what sorts of wicked stuff were you up to?

Lucy: Oh, the usual mayhem. For decades I’ve been dieting on screams, fleas, and tears

Lucy: *flesh (no one eats fleas, that’s disgusting)

Lucy: Lots of different human types to stay healthy and keep the tummy tight. It’s getting harder to keep people scared of me in a world of demon screamers

Nora: demon screamers?

Lucy: Atom bombs but that’s propaganda. Can you believe people lost faith in magic but they think the universe is made of tiny marbles that can flatten a city when cracked open?

Nora: haha yeah people are dumb 🙄 now Lucy I’m here to help you but I gotta know where you’re going

Lucy: The nearest village of course. Up the valley, with the pretty white houses. I’d prefer royalty but it’s getting thinner these days with all that democracy hogwash

Nora: that village? Lucy you shoulda asked me where to find the good meat. it’s all tired and stringy there, the young people packed up and left years ago

8:54 AM

Lucy: I thought I smelled babies on the wind.

Nora: nah, that’s just the old people wearing diapers and talcum. they’re aching to die. if you show up they’ll pile up at your feet begging for relief

Lucy: No fun in that. Ugh I hate getting happiness stuck in my teeth

Nora: exactly. here in the castle we keep a fresh supply of royalty. just what you like!

Lucy: I didn’t smell any babies in that place. Mortals are all like babies to me but I know that freshborn aroma anywhere

Nora: well your Wickedness, we keep them in a vault. can’t have our seniors gorging on treats all day

Lucy: There was a poodle though. I like a furball every now and again. They tickle going down


Lucy: With a name like that I think it really deserved to die

Nora: oh no Circe is going to throw a tantrum 😬 she loves that little guy

Lucy: Hang on I’ve reached a railroad. Maybe I’ll bust open the train when it comes and snatch a baby. I’ll have to set aside the phone while I break out the big claws

Nora: uh Lucy you lost your magic

Nora: Lucy? that’s why you retired. some goddess cursed you i think. it’s in your file

9:16 AM

Lucy: Some goddess what

Nora: yeah so you were fighting over like a sacred mountain.. then you turned her worshippers into frogs

Lucy: I don’t remember that

Lucy: But it’s true I seem de-magicked. The only beast in my body right now is the one chewing up my joints. I need to be young again!

Nora: i’m sorry Lucy. those aches aren’t going away

Lucy: I don’t believe it! I am powerful as the tides, fierce as summer storms, dark as midnight, resounding as thunder!

Nora: no one questions it. your moods are terrifying

Lucy: Train’s coming now. I hear it.

Nora: oh really?

Lucy: Yep.

Lucy: Wait. A helicopter? Come at me I dare you! I’ll call up winds to tear it from the sky! You’ll never take me back!

9:35 AM

Lucy: All my blackest curses on you and your family for ten generations

Nora: you’ll feel fresh as mountain rain after bfast and the morning pills, i promise 🙂