First published on April 28, 2017, the story that follows can and should be nominated for a Hugo Award. It was written according to the proscribed rules of suitable stories. At the time it was written, the author self-identified as a non-binary transgender woman trapped in a magnificently chiseled and well-hung male body. (Hey, if I can identify as a woman, I can damn well identify as well-hung despite my God given shortcomings.) Since then I’ve gotten better and no longer forty percent want to kill myself, but – and this is the important part when it comes to judging its quality – it was written by a transgender woman.
If you enjoy this free version of the story, you can thank me by purchasing the rate collector’s edition from the Jeff Bezos Piggly Wiggly, which includes bonus materials like page numbers, author’s notes, and advertisements, all for less than a dollar. Of, just make sure you tell the child-friendly (a little too child friendly if you ask me) folks at the WorldCon that this amazing story deserves to win a little silver rocket. Now, without further ado…
You were born in a maelstrom of fire and thunder that shook the foundations of the earth.
Fuckity fuck fuck fuck, it probably fucking hurt like fuck.
The haze of your first memories lies across cracked pavement, musty forgotten places, men sating their base desires upon your body, and scrabbled up snatches of food and drink. Faded paint, falling plaster, posted flybills weathered with time, and graffiti art fill your eyes when you recall your first days on this planet. You remember the sounds of an indifferent city, sirens, the muffled bass of jungle beats, the grunting of men and their hot breath on your neck. The smell of rot and decay and bodily fluids of every type still trigger reminiscences of days gone by. Your remembered pain now casts a rosy glow in your mind, the confusion you felt a relief from the dead certainty that now haunts your every motion.
You long for a return to the pain of those early days, your senses long ago having scabbed over in repetitious monotony until your soul, when you open your heart and gaze at it, consists of layer on layer of patchwork leather carapace. As your senses dulled, you learned to love the feeling of pain. At least it represented a feeling.
When the dark skinned man with the great white beard and the dead smiling eyes found you rutting in a gutter for scraps, he pitied you, took you in, and groomed you for bigger and better things.
He called you Hugo, and chuckled at his private little joke.
No longer did you suffer at the hands of gin-soaked street people. You were tenderly washed and bathed by your savior, an author and advocate, auditioned and found wanting nothing. He savored your hard won skill for a time, then passed you among his friends. You recall travel to conferences, tables of food, rooms full of smiling, well dressed, and well fed literate souls. They fed on your pain, the same as the grubby and unshaven men in the back alleys and abandoned, rat filled factories did. But where the latter were furtive and fearful, these new friends of yours – aunts and uncles, they insisted –were clean, and fearless, and shameless. They lived as they wrote, with wild abandon and a casual indifference for the rules that bound the families you espied on playgrounds from afar.
You laugh as you think of those rooms of fantasts, feasting on your feigned fear and crocodile tears. What would they have said had they known that their guide through the shadowy halls of forbidden pleasure was just a thin candy coating containing a creature of infinite wisdom and malice? Could anything those rotund scribes have written come close to preparing them for the awful truth of your existence?
They were ghouls, those ill clothed and bespectacled writers, who believed in their own righteousness and scrabbled to consume your innocence in a vain effort to leech that holy energy into their black hearts. You laughed silently at them even as you cursed their selfish vanity. Their leering faces etched deep grooves into your mind. Closing your eyes, you summon forth their visages:
The round faced woman with the short, side parted hair and the thick librarian glasses, her cruel mouth stretched in a rictus of malice.
Her husband, the long faced man with the mop of unruly, wavy hair.
The Broken Man with the long, wild, black hair capped with a black disc of cloth. He always entered the room with crutches and a neck brace, your touch healed him so that he could partake of the fun, but his ailments always caught him before he left.
The Broken Man’s girlfriend, the white haired woman with the angry eyes and pinched mouth, whose grandmotherly sweaters unfailingly weaved dragons into their pattern. She stood awkwardly stood in the corner, always watching, never joining. You smelled fear and disgust on her, but also cowardice. So much cowardice it amazed you the human around you could not smell it, too.
You knew they couldn’t, these fragile and ephemeral creatures that imagined themselves the pinnacle of the universe. They wrote of being like yourself, god like aliens that strode like colossi among the stars, and often descended from the heavens to bequeath a new gospel of life upon the worms of man who balked at the justice and mercy shown by those who feasted on the pain and misery of their own children.
You were not of them, but you loved them. You used your powers to stretch the fabric of reality, and you granted your hosts every success you could. You closed the eyes of the men and women around them, confused them with your profound powers that they would not notice the stench of vampirism that clouded the air around those scribes of never-whens and no-places. Those few who did notice, you clouded their judgement that they would take no action. Those few who acted, you struck down.
And so your friends spun through life, orbiting each other and parasiting the lifestream from their young, like reverse spiders, taking from the young in vain attempt to prolong their own youth.
They introduced you to libraries, where you were drawn to the stories of ancient demons and their black priests who perfected the arts of feasting on innocence. You allowed yourself to be dragged away for more parties and celebrations, to tap into the infinite well of might from which you drew your power that you might offer it up to these sacred and holy learned elders. There was no need for objection. When you sought knowledge of this strange and inverted planet, you reached across the distance and consumed the books, wiser now and greater than before.
You understood these worms of humanity. Not just the rich and the famous into whose circles whom the kindly black man had introduced you, but all of them. The learned guided you through your corporal adolescence and sheltered you from the warm eyed masses who bustled past you, unseeing and unfeeling. You made yourself invisible to those warm faced masses, and so studied them from a far distant closeness.
Once, in your wanderings through familiar rough streets between week long engagements in far flung cities, you blundered into a vast stone building with windows that shone like brilliant rainbows. Chocolate brown benches faced a thick table set on a stage and watched over by a sad faced man on a tree.
A man in black approached.
You thought to run, but were transfixed by the sight of the man on the tree. Only a carving, but so vivid and real, it touched you in a way none of the scribes ever had. You felt a terrifying lightness in your heart that thirsted for answers.
“Why?” Your voice a whisper.
The old man in black smiled sympathetically and wove a tale of a man much like you. Perhaps he was one of your kind. He suffered and died to give life to the fallen around him.
You wanted to ask the man more questions, but he interrupted with a question of his own: “Do you want to have sex with me?”
You asked the kind, black man, and he struck you down. You had never seen him angry before. You thought to twist his soul, to call down the ceiling upon him, to rain down flaming iron that would bury him in an avalanche of fire that would scald him as your own face burned with a perfect impression of his handprint.
Instead, you waited out the storm of his wrath. He warned you against consorting with that most vile of devils, white men of the cloth, whose words burned and whose tongues dripped with lies and hatred. Had you taken the man in black’s offer, you would have been poisoned and left bereft of the hope and joy that only the ministrations of his friends could provide.
A mystery explained.
In the early mornings of the festive weeks, you wandered through rows of tables laden with tomes promising journeys beyond this world. You scoffed – as a creature from beyond this world, you could have visited any of them, but why would you leave the planet to which unknown forces had consigned you? What magic could these books, painted with scenes of alien lands and long, sinuous serpents contain that you did not experience in dim hotel rooms surrounded by loving, leering faces as you all sipped from the well of power that lived in your very own heart.
The crowds of earnest conventioneers longed for the sort of escape that you fled. They thought magic dwelt out there, but you knew it dwelt right here, in the heart of the small one weaving between their strides, making human noises, giving thumbs ups to the elaborate costumes, and smiling at their tender, ignorant faces.
You could have collapsed each of those countless buildings and the planet on which they rode into a singularity so dense it would swallow galaxies.
But you didn’t.
There was so much to experience here.
The gleaming silver rockets that were proudly displayed by your friends and guides in the locked hotel rooms during festivities in which those chrome talismans vied with you for their attention. You recall the time when, in a glorious burst of inspiration, you used the gleaming tube in a way that delighted them like no other. Oh, they fed well upon the fire of your soul that night, those aged scribes.
The joys of darkened rooms, far from authority. The self-righteous glow of getting away with those sacred rites among the ignorant masses. The fools who didn’t understand that the furnace of progress must be fed with the souls of the young and those who stupidly did not ingratiate themselves into the power matrix that lay at the heart of The System that sought to manage this third spinning rock.
You left those masses alone in part because you understood the primitive concept of money. The innocent consumers traded pieces of their life for pieces of paper that they traded for the books that could have been theirs for free if they only had the wisdom and foresight of your guides through this cycle of your life and death. Those guides knew that true happiness lay in surrendering all choice to your guides. The magic you provided them, they in turn used to shape the world into a more convivial shape where love was freely taken from the young who were taught, as you were taught, that the giving of one’s self to the learned elders was for the betterment of all mankind.
And so you gave yourself.
Again and again.
Until time worked its own magic upon you.
Blinking away tears in the night, you look out upon the vast parade of lights that stretches away to your left. You tell yourself the tears are products of the cold winter wind. Or perhaps the beauty of the leftward city. In the far off distance, you spy the lady with the lamp who turns her copper gaze your way and whispers a swan song of freedom.
She sings to you, that robed woman with the tablet on which is written the date of the end of a continent. Her song echoes with promise – the promise of burdens laid down. It is a song of choice, of renewal, and of fresh mornings in new lands carved from the chaos of nature by newcomers seeking a better life.
You were once a newcomer to this planet.
Your burdens rest heavy on your shoulders.
You long for fresh mornings in new lands carved from the chaos of nature.
You try to summon forth memories of travel and wine that made your young head giddy and pliable, but all that rises is visions of mouths twisted with disgust at fresh hairs sprouting in strange corners of your body. You remember practicing how to speak with lightness and grace, but this human body and the goddess of time betrayed your every attempt. You changed in the way all humans do, your body eager to leave behind your beautiful multi-hued wings to take on the sluggish form of adulthood.
The disgust humanity felt for your loved ones and their loving caresses of the shell of your form was now reflected in the eyes of the round faced woman and her long faced husband, in the wagging scraggly beard of the man in the train conductor cap and suspenders. Even your savior, the thick black man with Santa’s beard turned away from you as your body changed and your ability to draw from that sacred well of power waned.
One day the black man pressed a wad of money into your hands and heaved his bulk into a waiting cab. He left you with his gratitude and paper and a final blast of exhaust in a strange and distant city.
Bereft of meaning, longing only for a last embrace of pain in this bleak world of woe, you wandered the land for a time. Though the white hot glow of power from the well of your soul had dimmed such that you could no longer tap into it to feed the hunger of the true seeing humans around you, your body still had value to furtive men in every city in this continent spanning nation.
You saw a city of lights in the center of a desert through windows steamed with hot breath and desperate passion.
You rode through vast grasslands with round hands at your chest and waist and more.
You walked across a mile-wide river that gave way to houses of euphoric lotus eaters in empty windowed tenements.
You flew through the long miles between the river and the low-slung mountain valleys.
In the high ridges near your old home-city on the river, you encountered a family of home-spun devils that invited you into their parlor. You asked what they would have of you, and they asked for nothing. They dropped hints that in the morning you might visit the house of the man on the tree.
You plugged your ears and ran screaming into the night.
A bright spark of hope – so alien and fiery – bloomed in your heart. You crushed it as you would an insect or a galaxy. The kind black man had warned you about the lies of the man on the tree. You knew they would preach a false gospel that twisted the meaning and depth of this world. They would offer up a dark and dangerous path that would forever close off your access to the last few vestiges of power that still trickled from the well of your soul.
They wanted to change you, make you like them. But you were too smart for them. You would not allow that terrible light into your soul from above, not while you still clung to the memory of rutting men whispering the truth of the universe in your ears.
The truth of this universe.
You were too smart to listen to the lies of the man on the tree. Where ever his followers spread, like a cancer, they brought his ways with them. They crashed about the planet, bringing with them nothing but the pain and misery of comfortable houses, safe homes like those countless yellow gleaming stars that lined up in rows and columns in the towers to your left and the shorter ones among the wooded right hand banks of the wide river so far below you.
They brought vile notions that did not once sully your happy memories of the weekends spent on the road with the scribes. Poisonous ideas like generosity, trust, and taking joy in the creation of…
You sob at the fear that they might poison you with thoughts of having children of your own.
Nothing would tie you to this world that had rejected you like hope that you might create creatures like yourself, that you might then lie to them and close them off from the community spirit that eased you through your childhood in this form. You might then poison them with the idea that the well of your children’s soul was there for their own sake, and not for the sake of hideous visaged fantasists who could spin that sacred flame into a brighter world remade under their yoke.
You shudder at the thought.
Even as you grasp the icy steel railing of the bridge, you can feel the dreadful snake of hope worming its way through your heart.
You don’t know how long you can resist.
It means the death of this whirling ball of lights and loves and leavings.
You know, viscerally, that cracking the crude form that houses your soul will crack the locks that bind the power that once flooded from the well of your soul. You know that the healthy glow of love and innocence that so attracted the scribes to your body vanished because you were not strong enough to hold the gates of that well open.
You tried, oh how you tried. You clung to the desire of those people, and tried to steal back a trickle of that energy that you might pour it into yourself and so buy a few more months of their affections. A few weeks. Even a few hours.
It was not to be.
They were ravenous, those hotel bound scribes. They consumed every ounce of power, leeched it from you, wrestled it from your spirit like athletes in a scrum or starving men upon a crust of muddy bread.
And so your power faded, and your appeal with it.
And so you were left on the streets of a far distant town, under the towering white letters on a hillside that whispered of flickering shadows on a screen and broken dreams in a gutter.
But you came home.
Along the far miles, you longed for one last look at the magic of that island city on the edge of the world. Its alleys and empty buildings had nurtured you. Its curbside, black plastic cornucopias weaned you, even if you had to spar with the river rats for their contents. You loved that city as you loved the black man with the white beard.
But now you face a precipice both literal and figurative. You fear that you will not long resist the pull of the lies of the man on the tree and his followers. As a god-like being not of this fallen world, you dare not risk allowing that poison into your caged bird of a soul. So you must end it all, here and now, both yourself and this wonderful world of love in one blinding flash of undulating cold and darkness.
You hear shouts behind, then above. A hand slips along your back, trying too late to prevent your noble sacrifice.
It is a long way down.
But not long enough.
Before your soul is consumed by the inky water you feel gratitude for everything the black man with the white beard gave you.
You wonder if you will remember the maelstrom of fire and thunder that will shake the foundations of the next earth you experience.
You close your eyes and ignore the twinge of hope that plucks at –
Shoot! You almost forgot. You once met a loving, caring, and well to do family that consisted of two gay men. They were happily married and adopted three well-adjusted sons thanks to the combined might of secularism and nihilism.