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by Kathryn McMahon

733 words
Listen to this story, narrated by the author

We keep my sister in a corner of the sky. It isn’t true to say her bed is made of light and rainbows, and it isn’t fair to claim she is comfortable. Lightning chains her wrists, and I want to tell you that thunder is more afraid of her than she of it, she is that vicious.

My sister was born with long kite-tails of hair and eyes that stared through you when she spoke. I’ve heard she was born with teeth, too, and while that would have suited Sunchoke, regrettably, it is only a rumor. She was never interested in the mossy art of being soft, of letting herself be coddled. When she strode through the forest, branches moved out of her way. When she swung on sinewy arms, they bent to catch her. She knotted twigs so their shadows spelled rude words in the dappled light. I scrambled after her on my bruised-apple ass, whining when I couldn’t keep up.

“It’s not my fault your feet find roots to trip over,” she’d say and toss pinecones at my head.

“It’s not my fault you’re convinced you’re something special,” I’d answer.

She’d shrug, and if I was lucky, she’d hold back the blackberry vines instead of letting them fly in my face.

My sister was heir to the forest throne, born to lead the wild things. She did not want the offerings they sent: hollowed-out burls and hummingbird nests. The keening skull of a blue jay. The yellow wing of a finch twitching in the sun. They never would have parted with such prizes for anyone else, and she reveled in their fear, crashing heavy boughs down on them whenever she pleased, all the while chewing mushrooms and licking tree frogs.

“What would I do with those?” She passed the gifts on to me as big sisters do with that which they would not be caught dead, and I, I treasured them. But I soon tired of spying on her and scavenging for love in her castoffs. I built a secret throne high in a crumbling cypress. Then I stole her title for myself.

I love my sister. But she never understood what it was like to grow up under a shadow that howled like a night-hearted sprite.

I took the finch’s golden plumes and made a crown, with its bones, a necklace adorned with the screaming beak of the blue jay. With cobwebs, I crafted the inscription that would have anointed my sister Queen of the Canopy. But I did not draw it on her forehead as I was meant to do, no.

I snuck up on her while she was napping — was it cowardice or cunning? — and fixed the cobweb glittering with power to her calloused foot. I pricked her with a bramble, tricking her into kicking me as big sisters are prone to do. Her heel thrust the inscription onto my cheek, and thus, I crowned myself.

Seeing the magic I wore and reading my treachery, she reached for me, for my silver-smeared bruise. “What have you done?”

The wind came for her then. It had observed her with apprehension, Sunchoke being its one competitor who could sway the trees. And if there is anyone filled with more jealousy than me it is the wind, jealous, of course, of violence it has not itself committed.

The wind stole my sister so quickly from my side that even now my hair lashes toward the cloud where she is kept. With spider silk still clinging to her foot, and feet that were adept at kicking, she kicked and kicked and wove the silk into a great parachute the precise shade of rain.

The lightning will hold her awhile, but the thunder is already too afraid to groan. The clouds, like the branches, cowards, part for her. The wind is embarrassed it underestimated her and keeps her aloft, surrounded by storm.

She glides above us, east, west, searching for me. Her hair flies about in long, undone kite-tails, electrocuted. She calls my name, and the wind, defeated, always finds my ear. I watch her seduce the lightning strikes from where I hide in the densest, swampiest weeds, far from my throne. I war with the wild things who jeer at me, calling for my head. Hollering up at my sister to come for me, to take me up. To take me down.

Kathryn McMahon is a queer cross-genre writer living in Montana. Her fiction has appeared in various literary magazines as well as in Luna Station Quarterly, PodCastle, and PseudoPod. Find more of her writing at darkandsparklystories.com and follow her on Twitter @katoscope, Instagram @katoscope, and Hive at @katoscope (mobile app).

Issue 37

November 2022

3LBE 37

Front & Back cover art by Rew X

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