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Category Archives: The Rainbow Throne

Gioconda the Hippo

Happy Wiggins was too fat to be a ballerina—at least that’s what all the other girls in her class told her. She didn’t want to believe them, but she left crying the first day and her mom wouldn’t let her go back there. But years later, the part she remembered most about that was the teacher telling her “It doesn’t matter how big you are, as long as you can make the moves.” She was what Happy’s mom liked to call a Skinny White Bitch, but she knew what she was talking about.

Happy’s favorite movie was Fantasia and her favorite part of Fantasia was the part with the dancing Hippos, set to the “Dance of the Hours” from La Gioconda, as she would later come to understand. She watched that scene over and over and over again, meticulously, until she had every move memorized.

“Hippos can’t dance,” her parents would tell her—anyone would tell her, if she talked about it. “Can’t nobody dance like that, girl, it’s a cartoon!”

But she could, and when she was fifteen, she got to prove it to the world. Some Skinny White Bitches from her school followed her home one day thinking they’d play a trick on her. They took a video through the window of her practising in front of the TV. They thought it was funny, right? Fat black Happy pretending she can dance?

Well, the Internet thought differently because it turns out some folks actually know what good dancing looks like. Practically overnight, Happy turned into an Internet sensation. She became iconic, a beacon of hope for girls who looked like her in any way, shape or color. She had managed “in spite” (as the media put it) of her size, to capture all the grace in poise and motion of the greatest ballet dancers of the age.

Vivian Murgatroyd, who had already spent several years distancing herself from her ex-husband in the business, soon snatched up the opportunity to be Happy’s agent-cum-manager.

“We should talk about your name, thought,” she said. “Happy Wiggins sounds like a cartoon character, a Saturday morning sideshow sidekick. We need something bolder.”

Happy wanted to be known as the Hippo.

“First of all,” said Vivian, “you’re not a superhero, but more importantly, Hippos are ridiculous and we want people to take you seriously.”

“Hippos are not ridiculous,” Happy countered. “They’re the most dangerous animals on Earth, and they’re not even predators. I think they’re an awesome symbol.”

But Vivian would not be moved.

“Fine,” said Happy, “then how about Gioconda?”

This gave Vivian pause. “I like it,” she said. “It’s classical, so it’ll play with the fans, but it also sounds black. And if we’re lucky, it’ll even bring in the Latin crowd—done!”

Little did Vivian know or care that Happy was still naming herself after a Hippo.

Happy Wiggins’s rise to fame as Gioconda was as meteoric as it was bends-inducing. Within three years, she had not only gained success and acclaim at the ballet, she had started to bring ballet back into the mainstream. She had fans all over the world, and yet she still felt like her weight was a liability.

She tried everything. She went on diets, hired personal trainers and nutritionists. Doctors all told her there was nothing physically wrong with her, she was just fat. Fat, but also fit. The real problem, though, came when people asked about her weight, specifically.

“I don’t like scales,” she revealed. “I break them.” And while this wasn’t technically accurate, it was her experience. When she’d tried to weigh herself in the past, something always went wrong. She’d take a deep breath, think about her target weight, step on the scale and she would be exactly as heavy as she wanted to be. That would make her smile the first couple of times, being right on track, but after thinking she’d lost a hundred pounds, she’d look in the mirror and say That can’t be right… Because she would always look exactly the same.

This finally came out in an interview with Antoine Lamarr Curtis of Zealot Magazine. “So you would always be exactly the weight you wanted to be?”

“That’s what the scale said.”

“So if you wanted to be 5000 lbs?”

“I have actually physically broken scales before.”

“What if you wanted to be ridiculously light? Say, eighty pounds?”

Gioconda gesticulated to emphasize the ridiculousness.

“But have you ever tried it?”

She hadn’t (yet) but she had “tried” other things. Part of being a ballerina is working with other talent and her most popular co-star, who she usually got along with, was Kurt Antonio. Kurt wasn’t just the skinny ballet dancer you would expect, he was tiny, a good four inches shorter than Happy’s 5’8”. But they did scenes together, and one of their favorite tricks was that impossible over-head lift, the attitude press. You might recognize it from the movie Dirty Dancing. This “press” is impressive enough when you see it with a six-foot guy and a girl who weighs 95 lbs soaking wet like Agnieshka Kosinski, but to see a Hippo like Gioconda held aloft by this ostrich of a man?

They confessed it made both of them nervous when they first tried it out, but world-famous instructor and director Sinovia Bakunin insisted that it was only a matter of leverage and weight distribution.

“And he was right,” said Kurt, “When I do that lift with her, it’s like I’ve got this way of just channeling all of the weight almost like it’s with chi or something, you know? And it’s like I barely even feel her when she’s up there. She actually feels lighter than Agnieshka.”

“And you think that’s because Kurt is doing something with his body?” Curtis prodded at the interview.

“Well, yeah. I mean, not that there’s not technique in it for me, but for me it’s just balance. I do fine with my own weight, but what he does?”

“But you’re the one with a history of confusing scales.”

This was not a connection that Happy had ever made before. To be perfectly honest, it was not one she had ever wanted to make. There was too much that went into it and the consequences were…

“She must have superpowers!” fans insisted when the interview came out. “She must have the ability to change her own weight, to alter the effects of gravity on her physical presence.”

“But it comes with a price,” someone else added, taking a supernatural turn, “because even though she can alter her weight, no matter what she does, she can never do anything about her size.”

“This is bullshit,” she said out loud to the Internet comments. But then she started to think about it and after thinking, she started to experiment. She got on the scale and without getting off, tried to move the numbers. She brought them up as high as they would go, and then brought them back down again, down, down, down. When she’d reached fifty pounds on the scale, she started feeling something odd. It wasn’t a dizziness, it wasn’t something inside herself, it was the way the air around her moved.

“Oh, shit,” she exclaimed when she figured out what it might mean, before she thought about what her momma might have to say about that language.

She tried the experiment in her hotel room, and that turned out to be a mistake. Going down was fine. She brought herself down to a total weight of what she thought felt like less than five pounds, at which point she became lighter than the air around her. She lifted up off the ground and maneuvered around the room by touching the ceiling. She eventually realized that she could kindasorta swim in the air, although it wasn’t anywhere near as efficient as swimming in water, but if she propelled herself off the walls, she could bounce.

Eventually, she would discover that the most efficient way of getting around was to make herself lighter as she propelled herself forward and then heavier coming down, so that she could bounce and ultimately leap great distances, but she wasn’t quite there yet.

It was a lot of fun there in that hotel room, but when she brought her weight back up, she overestimated by a huge margin and ended up breaking the floor of the room.

It hurt, too, but not near as much as she’d’ve thought it would.

It made her think of every fat joke she’d ever heard, which gave her an idea.

The next day, she bought a train ticket. There was a fan who talked to her before she got on, but it didn’t matter. She got on at the caboose and found the place she figured would be most structurally stable and she Increased. When it came time for the train to leave, it groaned mercilessly for several seconds.

“Folks, we seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties here.”

Once she got off the train, her footsteps echoing through the station, those “difficulties” stopped.

It made her wonder what else she could get from listening to fat jokes.

She figured this could be another way, like what she’d done before, to make a difference for girls who looked like her.

But once she started opening up about this ability, things started to get messy.

“I believed in you,” one girl wrote on her fan site. “And believing in you, believing that a girl who looked like you could still be a ballerina, made me believe that I could do it, too. But you’re not like me. You’re a superhero, and how am I supposed to be like that? I don’t have special powers!

“You’re a freak!”

Overnight (once again) she plummeted from being a star on the rise to being a fraud. “You tricked me!” was the general outcry, and all the support from the black community having a new iconic symbol couldn’t drown it out.

“A superhero?” Vivian Murgatroyd exclaimed when Happy finally approached her about it. “I mean, sure, they’re hugely popular, but you’re talking about a major rebranding here and I’m afraid your image is already pretty tarnished. Now, if you’d come to me before going public, maybe I could’ve helped you spin this, but now…

“Besides,” she added, “it isn’t who you are. Look at yourself! You’re a ballerina! What do you know about superheroing?”

That’s when Gioconda, the Hippo, drew herself up. “What do I know? I know that when I was four years old, some skinny white bitches looked just like you told me I couldn’t be a ballerina. That’s what I know.”

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Fast Girls and Strong Women

Donna woke up with a headache. It wasn’t a hangover headache, but it was familiar. What was it?

Where was she? She wasn’t in her own bed—Disoriented… The couch? She was still having trouble getting her eyes open, but that was for sure the couch-back behind her. Comforting. Head-ache not from being pounded into ground by demon monkey—check.

Or was it? Why the couch and not her bed?

What had happened last night?

“Morning!” her roommate Tamsin coo’d in her sweet cockney accent.

Were her eyes open? Not yet. So how did she—

“I know you’re awake ‘cause you don’t shake your leg in your sleep, only when you’re awake, so I know you’re awake—morning!”

Oh, right. Tamsin. It was starting to come back to her.

“Head still hurting?” Considerate was good, but did she have to be so chipper?

Donna moaned weakly in response.

“That was a really brave thing you did last night,” Tamsin assured her.

“We,” Donna managed to correct her.

“Well, yeah, ‘we’, I suppose, ‘cause of teamwork, but honestly, you were the one taking all the risks.”

“Burning building you ran into.” By this point, Donna was stretching and forcing out the words with her breath.

“Yeah, but I didn’t have to touch it. ‘Cept with my feet, I s’pose.”

And then there was coffee. For a girl with superspeed, that sure took her long enough, thought Donna, but she pushed the cranky thought aside and took a sip.

Tamsin’s hands went to Donna’s head. “How’s that noggin?”

“Knocked,” Donna said, too proud, perhaps, of her witliness.

“You had half a building fall on you—“

“Not the half that was on fire.”

“Lucky girl. It’s not fair, is it?” This was one of Tamsin’s trademark nonsequiturs—part of the byproduct of her ability was thinking too fast, making too many leaps in conversation and occasionally getting bored in the middle and forgetting what question she’d asked.

“Hm?” said Donna.

This was not one of those times. “Well, the division of power and all.”

Donna knew what she was talking about but hadn’t had quite enough coffee yet, so she frowned for more information.

“I mean, look at you, right? Then look at me. Ask anyone on the street which of those two has super-strength and which has super-speed, you think anyone’d guess wrong? I mean, unless they were being ironic or thought it was a trick?”

It was a relief to hear someone else say it, but Donna still raised an offended eyebrow.

“Ah, come on, I didn’t mean it like that! You’re gorgeous, you are.”

Well, now she’d done it.

“No, you are! Look at you! You’re a warrior princess and any man’d be lucky to have you! Just you stay away from my Tim now, right?”

This was the part when any other girl might have given her friend a love-tap on the arm or hand or a light shoulder-shove, but Donna threw her hands into the air instead to avoid breaking any of Tam’s bones—not that she would have been quicky enough to actually reach her, but hey, it was habit.

“You know what I mean, though?” Tamsin continued. “If I’d found a burning builidng in Brooklyn—say that five times fast—and I’d called you, I’d’ve had to wait, at least for the saving the builiding and the big people part. It’s not like I could come get you. I mean, it’s all good and well you finding things wrong and calling me, I’d be there in a flash if that name wasn’t already taken. But just imagine if you were you with normal strength but my speed, and I was me with normal speed, but your strength, you’d have no problem liftin’ me—“

“Rub it in, why don’t you?”

“I’m just saying—“

“No, I get it. Not like I haven’t thought about it myself.”

“You wanna switch?”

The question, which felt like another leap on Tam’s part, though in retrospect she should’ve seen it coming, took Donna completely off-guard. Not that she hadn’t thought about it, but—“What? Have you heard something?”

“No, I didn’t mean like for real, just hypothetical.”

The thought still made Donna uncomfortable. Because she had thought about it. She thought of all the accidents, of course, from breaking beds to breaking hands to little things like ruining jars of peanut butter by opening them wrong. More than that, though, she thought of the awkwardnesses, she thought of the fragile egos of every man she’d ever tried to date (hell, every man she’d ever interacted with) and how she hated herself for not being able to find somebody to love her, and how she hated herself for hating herself, for being weak, like she was betraying her sisters and her ancestors.

“No,” she said. “No, I like being able to lift builidings.” And she joked, “I’d switch bodies with you, though.”

“No, thanks,” said Tam, taking just a little longer than she usually did. “Be pretty damn queer, seeing you holding up a building looking like me, innit?”

And they giggled because it was true and then drank all the rest of the coffee.


Blackthorn

She calls herself the Rainbow Chaser
The suit she wears is a multi-colored maze of silks and kevlar,
Her shield against the terrors of the world,
A promise to the world that she will bring them peace and understanding,
From the first time, meting justice to the cop with his gun at the kid,
To this latest time, gaining media attention
For high-profile world-saving.

But who is this light of justice
Who shines through after the Rains of Terror are ended?
Why is it that so many of the people she saves are members of minorities?
That first kid, the fourteen-year-old, was black.
There was a girl, too, a while later, who was white
But she was a lesbian. And then there was a muslim.
And then later a man who was trans, who made a fuss about not needing help
Until he realized what she could do.

The Telekinesis was just the beginning.
That was just what people could see when she was out and about, saving.
But some bullets still struck home.
How did she keep on surviving?
Some said that her skin was impenetrable, but that wasn’t it, quite.
She could bleed–and, in fact, did.
Every punch, every stab, every kick, hurt.
But she had learned to roll with them.
And she also had superhuman healing.
It led many of her fans to ask each other “How could you Not like this girl?”
But of course, you can’t be a hero
Without making enemies.

“You’re a thorn in my side,” said one of her first victims,
“But I’ll still crash and burn my way through this briar patch.”
It was the first time she’d heard the term,
Thorn, applied to her,
But she brought him down anyway,
Uncovering the truth of his sweatshop operation
Using orphaned children of illegal immigrants,
And so the Senator was brought to his knees.

But conventional media saw through all her disguises
(Not that she was hiding much)
And what did they find?
Not just a woman.
Not just a woman who was black.
Not just a woman who was black and happened to love other women,
But also one, it seemed, who worshiped Satan.
“There is no Satan in pagan religion,” she explained to one accuser,
“Just a multiplicity of Gods.
If you believe your way is the only way that’s right,
You will see the Devil lurking behind every corner.
But I see no devils–only the Angels of other Gods.”

The Headline: “Blackthorn Worships the Devil.”
“There is no Devil,” she, “and I am not ‘Blackthorn’.”
“The woman worships Satan and has sex with other women.
She wears a rainbow because even she knows her black skin’s sinful.”
“Is my mother’s black skin more sinful, then, than my father’s?
His skin was white, but that didn’t stop him from being a rapist.”
“That is why she hates white people,” says the blonde on TV with impossible teeth,
“That is why she hates men–especially white men who are straight.”
“But who will save us?” say the white men who aren’t yet dead.
“Who will save the Straight White Man from this Thorn of Darkness?”
She buries her face in her hands.
“She wants equality?” they ask, “What about equality for Him?”

She reaches for her coat of many colors
As Miss Impossible-Teeth and her gardener, Uncle Tom,
And the boy at her Church who pretends not to look at the Reverend’s backside,
And the Christians with their pitchforks,
And the Atheists screaming that all religions are equally unseemly
And all bring corruption to the human heart,
They all rally against her, from every possible front,
And she unfurls the blanket with her spangled mind,
She unleashes the rainbow,
Cupcakes and glitter and witticisms shower down like so much confetti
Leaving no room for darkness of soul.

All are welcome at the feast but those who will not share with others.
Will she dine alone?
Or will you join us?


The Amazon

Tamora Thomas had never felt comfortable with her breasts.

When she was a girl, breasts were something women had, but then suddenly they were there, intruding: bouncing when she ran, misbehaving when she did cartwheels and calling unwanted attention from boys who had been her friends.

When she finally started dating, these protrusions were rivals for the affection of her boyfriends, who could hardly seem to bear to look her in the face, but also didn’t know quite what to do with them once they were bared.

When she joined the marines, it was partly to serve her country, but it was mostly to prove herself, to prove to her breasts, that they couldn’t stop her from being the best.

And she was. They called her the Amazon, which, if you know anything about Greek Mythology, is somewhat ironic. The other soldiers, the men at least, were distracted by them, and she used that to her advantage, to best them in training. All except one: Gabriel Hammond. He always looked her in the eyes, and she found his lack of interest in her pectoral rivals arousing. She cornered him one day and jumped his bones, pressing her bosom upon him, but he still wouldn’t touch her.

That was when he told her about Rosalind Furrowes, his fiancée, whom he had loved since childhood. And he spoke of her with such tenderness and love that Tamora couldn’t be angry with him anymore—indeed, couldn’t help but fall in love with Rosalind herself.

Gabriel married Rosalind during the furlough after boot-camp and despite his imprecations, his insistence that his bride would want her there, too, Tamora refused to meet her, and spent the time instead with another man, who appreciated her breasts more than he appreciated her.

In time, both Tamora and Gabriel were invited to join a special program. It was a super-soldier program, like the kind you always hear about in conspiracy theories and bad action movies—apparently, they were real. But perfectly safe, of course. Perfectly safe.

It was there, in close quarters, after many years and many false starts, that Tamora finally managed, in spite of herself, to seduce him. It was her breasts who had done it, she told herself in the morning. They had been responsible, had tricked her somehow—just look at the evidence: it was them Gabriel had focused his attentions on and under his attention, they had thrived as they had never thriven under any other’s care. He had proved himself so adept at manipulating them, in fact, that she had almost started to think of them, these intruders on her own torso, as allies, if not quite as friends.

But she was still angry with herself, not to mention him, especially when he tried to tell her “No, no, my wife actually wouldn’t mind—in fact, she’d be thrilled!” And that kind of angry is the last thing you want to be with someone when you’re about to go into battle.

Which is probably why she felt she could blame herself when he was killed that day by a South American insurgent with impenetrable skin who called herself The Marble Jaguar.

She had to go to the funeral. She knew she did. Her breasts knew she did. She had to face Rosalind Furrowes, whose husband she had slept with and possibly killed. She didn’t think she’d be able to look her in the eyes, but standing there with her dead husband between them, she actually found it hard to look away. They both did. Just kept staring at each other. Not angry, even. Not even hostile. No negativity at all.

She was surprised she even managed to get out of there unscathed, but she tried to put the whole thing behind her by letting one of those idiots from her first platoon marry her for her chest. His name was Patrick Langley and he was going into politics, where it helps to have a “hot young wife”, apparently.

But she didn’t like it, and none of the other wives liked her. Her breasts felt too engaged, too much under fire, and she felt too restless, so she used her serum-induced super-strength to strong-arm her way into a job in construction. This was frowned upon, as her breasts could hardly be seen under a jumpsuit, and their number one fan objected strongly. Fights ensued.

She had almost found the courage to leave him when Rosalind Furrowes showed up on her doorstep and said “I know you slept with my husband.”

This was supposed to be earth-shattering. This was supposed to be the start of a fist-fight, at least according to the mores of the other politicians’ wives. So why was Rosalind smiling through tears?

She soon explained that while she had always adored Gabriel Hammond, she was more moved that he loved her and realized too late that she didn’t feel quite the same way. But she loved the way he spoke to her and about her, and she loved hearing him talk about the Amazonian woman he went to boot camp with. So she, even as his wife, expected him to sleep with this other woman, and was glad that she acquiesced.

Hearing the wife of the man she had loved tell her what he had said about her, Tamora felt a whirlpool of conflicting emotions and soon realized that the only one that really mattered was the realization that both she and Rosalind had each fallen in love with the other, based entirely on Gabriel’s description. This was weird, but as undeniable as the way she now felt about Rosalind.

The divorce was ugly. Congressman Langley was forced to drudge up the affair she’d had with Hammond while still enlisted to change her discharge to dishonorable, but by then she was just relieved to be rid of him. Harder was her transition to the Hammond-Furrowes household, earning the trust and love of Gabriel’s two daughters, whose respective nascent adolescences served to remind Tamora of the issues she had always had with her own body.

But she didn’t have those issues anymore. Rosalind had cured them, had, with tender loving care, reconciled her mamaries and made friendship out of scorn.

She was, however, also the one who found the lump.

How do you pay for cancer, when you’ve been dishonorably discharged from the military? When you gave your husband the quickest possible divorce to avoid the press just so you could be with the woman you love? And Rosalind’s insurance couldn’t even cover it, because their relationship wasn’t even recognized in that state.

Maybe she could have sued the government, the military, but there was no way to prove that the serum used on her even existed, given its classified nature, let alone that it had in any way caused her condition—even though she was not by far the only one experimented on who developed complications.

Unable to afford chemotherapy, she found her only option was a double mastectomy, but they didn’t even have the funds for that kind of operation, the state of healthcare being as it was. What she did have was a katana, a bottle of bourbon and the heart of a marine.

Now, thirty-four and the flat-chested envy of her twenty-year-old self, she fights for a cure (rather than mere treatments), for affordable healthcare and for gay rights.

Having carved off her own breasts to continue fighting injustice, Tamora Thomas has at last become The Amazon.


Coldfire

She seemed normal to him. There wasn’t really anything all that special about her, that he could tell. Maybe if she’d looked different. Maybe if her eyes had been blue instead of the dull brown, maybe if her hair was just a couple shades darker, her skin lighter, she might have looked like something. And she was quiet. She didn’t really talk much and when she did, she seemed to struggle for words one minute and then come gushing out with complex poetic language patterns the next, as if those were all she could muster, like she couldn’t talk like a normal person.

But he’d asked her out anyway. Maybe because he felt sorry for her. Maybe because he felt sorry for himself. He was lonely and she seemed to have a quiet kind of appeal.

—Do you like the pasta? she asked him, and he nodded and offered her a bite. She had ordered a chicken thing, something with quaint presentation, but said she liked his better.

He wondered casually as she moaned her appreciation with his fork still in her mouth, whether he would get lucky tonight. He wondered even more urgently whether getting lucky tonight was even something that he would enjoy, whether he could stand it. Could he ever appreciate this girl who probably deserved better than his scorn, or would he be too caught up in his own memories?

“L’addition, s’il vous plaît?” He paid their meal just a few moments later and escorted her back out into the cold Brussels winter, towards the metro.

The night air bit hard after the warmth of the restaurant, its jaws squeezing the shawl around his neck so hard he could almost feel its teeth.

—You’re not cold? he asked her, his concern genuine although he wasn’t sure what he could do with her answer.

She shivered in response, but it seemed like an afterthought, like he’d reminded her of the cold with the question, which made him wonder if the answer would have been different if the question hadn’t been posed.

—Does it bother you, she asked him, the color of the sky?

He looked up. The sky is always red in downtown Brussels.

—It’s the lights, he said. They say Belgium is the brightest country in the world.

—It’s not just the lights, though, she darkened.

Just then, on Arenberg, where the gallery looked out on the little side-street behind the theatre at the Mort Subite, there was a toussle, a rustling sound like someone was sifting through a garbage can of broken glass. It caught her attention.

—If it’s not the lights, he asked, ignoring the sound, then what—

—Did you hear that? she interrupted.

Was she changing the subject?

—I hear something, but… It was just the sound of Brussels, what did she want?

—No, but listen, she said.

The sound came again, but this time there was more to it, there were layers that didn’t quite fit together, there was a chaffing sound with something underneath, a faint sucking, but they didn’t make sense together.

He told himself it was her safety he was concerned for when he took her by the hand and said

—Come on, let’s get out of here.

But she pulled back her hand and held up a finger to wait.

Who is this girl? he found himself thinking.

She went towards the sound, into the dark area behind the Monnaie, where a capsized trashcan seemed to wiggle. A squirrel? A squirrel couldn’t do this, and certainly not a pigeon. It must have been a cat or a small dog.

—Cathérine… He went for her hand again, when suddenly the creature emerged.

At first, all he could see were hairy tendrils that wrapped themselves along the edge of the can. What were they? Tentacles? But then he saw its face. That was not a face that belonged on Earth. Maybe at the very bottom of the ocean, but not here on the surface.

—But what is that? he found himself asking. He hadn’t been asking her, as such, but she answered.

—I don’t know… As though she felt that she should. As though she was making a decision to get to the bottom of this.

Another moment and he’d have looked at her and maybe asked her <<Who are you?>> incredulously, but he didn’t have the chance. There was a jungle-sound, like a warbling screech that didn’t belong on a city street this side of civilization, and the thing launched itself at them. He couldn’t tell how, he could tell what it used to leap, but he wasn’t paying attention, was he? He was too preoccupied with this thing that couldn’t exist, and how despite the fact that it couldn’t exist, here it was not just existing but flying through the air at—

Cathérine raised her arms and a blue flame appeared out of nowhere. He couldn’t even tell what direction it was coming from, it just wrapped itself around the creature, suspending it in midair. Cathérine still had her hands up and she waved one like she was throwing a ball in slow-motion, and the blue flames seemed to disappear inside the creature and turn it to ice.

It fell, but she caught it. She caught it with her bare hands, this ice sculpture. He was so shocked by the gesture, it took him a moment to wonder at how small it now seemed, no bigger than a football—smaller, even—until you saw the appendages coming out behind it, like something between a tentacle and a leg. What was this thing?

—Who are you? he asked her, and she steeled herself.

—I have to get home.

—Who are you? He caught her arm.

She looked into his eyes and for the first time, he felt like he was truly seeing her. There was something there, behind the brown—like they were contact lenses, and the true blue was finally showing.

—I have to go, she told him. I’m sorry, but I can’t let you walk me home.

It wasn’t till she said that that he asked himself if he even wanted to, if that would even be wise. So he let go of her arm.

—I’ll contact you, she promised, not that she’d call, not like this was still just a date. Then she headed for the shadows, leaving him to languish in a suddenly alien world.