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Fault Lines

by AJ Fitzwater

954 words
Listen to this story, narrated by the author

Till runs her fingers across the angry ridge of skin on her wrist, the latest mountain range to erupt from the fault lines of her veins. Even now the plate tectonics of her bones haven’t resettled, and the carpals grind against each other as she flexes the crust for her audience to see.

The crevasses of the counselor’s frown deepen as she fails to constrain the magnetic field of her outer core. There is no shame in it. Till’s mantle, her flesh, keeps the hot dark at bay, but this woman, by some lucky grace, can’t see that. She only sees skin, and what Till can do to it.

This woman is no mother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend; whoever, or whatever, they might be. Counselor. Because of course the best person to counsel what’s inside is someone who’s never had it. Till hasn’t succeeded enough on the Richter scale to warrant a full-blown state of emergency. Everyone knew that if Till was serious about it, the continental drift would fracture vertically, not horizontally.

Just like some people can read lips or body language, Till reads hands. Doesn’t matter if they’re writing upside down, one hundred words per minute on a keyboard, shorthand, or shielded.

Or PIN numbers.

The counselor writes: attention seeking behavior.

Till’s inner core, the one they conveniently forget is as hot as the sun, shifts.

There is so much gold in me, I could cover the entire surface of the world one and half feet thick. You know I could.

Too early, Till thinks at it. Slow down, I need you. The mantle has barely had time to heal.

The counselor watches as Till presses the fingers of her free hand, the right, the weak one, against the ridge of flesh. She says something, anything really, but what she writes is all that matters.

Those words are lies which will never be uttered to Till’s face.

The dark burns against Till’s gullet, pushes against the still fragile and cooling lithosphere, against the base of her spine, her skull. Show them, it whispers. Show them the metal you’re really made of.

No. Till doesn’t push or squirm or sweat. The dark has been doing these things for so long she’s learned to smother, cool the lava with a shock of water until it crackles, knits, waits. No one notices how practiced and neat the fault lines are; just wide enough for the dark to squeeze out, but never enough to deprive the dark of its host. Till has to remain intact.

Despite it all: the acrid tongue that spoils all food for her; the cystic skin working overtime to maintain the mantle’s integrity; the I-hurt-no-one-but-myself and I’m-different-from-others, and can’t-you-hear-how-selfish-that-is.

In spite of it all, Till respects and admires the peaks and troughs of her skin. They are the relief patterns. Such landscape. Wild territory.

The counselor is staring at Till. She has asked a question and too much time has gone by.

Till’s neck itches.

She smoothes her forearm and neck, reading the ridges, the pulse, the undulation and intersection of fault lines. That’s not very clever, she whispers.

What’s not clever, the counselor asks. Her full moon eyes push against Till’s skin; she thinks her gravity has some effect.

Aren’t you tired of being clever? Let go, just for a moment.

Till knows she should say no, but already she searches the room for something sharp. Of course they wouldn’t be so stupid.

The pen perhaps, or the counselor’s glasses. But they wouldn’t leave the right incision, and Till is, if anything, picky. All fractures of the mantle make a pattern if one looks close enough. Because it’s pretty, she said once, and only once.

Because if you’re going to do it, do it right.

Whatever they pump into Till’s body, the dark swallows it whole for her and laughs in the face of such foolishness. It makes me stronger, not weaker.

A picture frame? The fire alarm? A window?


They underestimate the power of fingers.

Magma pulses just below the surface, reaching out, making the connection. Nails on throat.

At first there’s blood. And the relief. Oh, the relief! The pressure drains from her skull and arms as the blood shields her chest, but leaves nothing of the weakness.

Then shimmering with oily rainbows, exultantly elastic, the dark comes.

The rip is skilful and not deep enough to cause damage to her larynx, major arteries, or esophagus. Just deep and wide enough for the bulb of plastic-like liquid to squeeze out, a parasite freed from its nest of flesh.

The counselor has already hit the panic button, is reaching for the gash on Till’s throat, so these few seconds are precious.

But oh, these few seconds.

It is just a drop.

The shiny, silky morass leaps the small gap between them and slides across the parched landscape of the counselor’s hand. It quivers, as if fearful of the exposed air, then excavates into the greedy, sucking pores.

Her body quakes once. Sadness infects the counselor’s smile.

You understand now, says Till.

Till’s mantle crusts over with practiced ease, the dark licking the flesh healed to Till’s specifications. This should leave a nice scar. An interesting one.

The door rumbles with pummeling fists, shouts.

Time to be clever again.

The counselor opens the security window, then gives Till her wallet and a clean handkerchief. She places her newly stone strong hand over Till’s. Already her skin is too warm. She checks the wound, looks deep into Till’s eyes, nods. A problem shared is a problem halved, Till imagines her saying.

If only.

It’s only a short drop to the ground.

Go, be free.

There’s always more where that came from.

AJ Fitzwater is a meat-suit wearing dragon living between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. Their scales were partially shaped by the Clarion workshop of 2014, and added two claws to the tally with two Sir Julius Vogel Awards. Their work has appeared recently in such venues as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer Magazine, Glittership, and Giganotosaurus. Find them on Twitter @AJFitzwater and blog pickledthink.blogspot.com.

Issue 29

May 2018

3LBE 29

Front & Back cover art by Rew X