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As Real as I Am
by Catherine Rain
Lulu liked the view from the wooden deck. Here, on the side of the hill,
she could see all of the valley. This was all still so strange for her;
she was used to being so close to the ground she could barely see over
Suddenly she was accosted by a force at her side. She turned her head--
still not used to this frontal vision thing, she thought, even after this
long-- to see that it was Lea who had flung her arms around her, hugging
Lulu with the force of her entire weight. Lulu put a hand on the top of
the little girl's head, stroking her hair.
"Lulu," said Lea in a nervous voice, "you know a lot,
right? Is it true that we're all just made-up people in a comic? If that's
so, are we all just drawings on paper? Are we even real?"
Lulu wasn't sure how to answer so many questions so rapidly, so she put
an arm comfortingly around the girl.
"What if we're not real?" insisted Lea.
Gently Lulu took the little girl's hand and, ever so carefully, bit down
"Ow," said Lea, "hey, what're you doing?" She yanked
back her hand and looked ruefully at it. "Well, I guess that's real..."
Helpless to Watch
by Catherine Rain
S-ko sighed. "Mr Artist is in one of his moods. I really don't know
how we're to cheer him up."
"Trout?" suggested Tam.
"Well, he seems to perk up a little when I smack him with the trout,
but it never really lasts. It's like there's something inside him that
we just can't get to, some void that we can't fill no matter how we try."
Tam nodded. "I wish there were some way we could fix him."
"I just don't know what we're lacking!" said S-ko, slamming
her fist down on the table. "Why can't we do anything? Why aren't
we good enough?"
Tam had a thought briefly, but then dismissed it. "Hmm, I don't
know either. He's always upset, no matter how big his problems are or
"I know, and... remember what I told you? Sadness about misfortune
just creates more misfortune." S-ko sighed, putting her head down
on the table. "But there's just something inside of him that won't
stop. He's the most mysterious person I know."
"He's the second most mysterious person I know," said Tam.
S-ko glanced at her curiously. "Who's the most mysterious?"
by Catherine Rain
Whenever Tam slept, the sky was black. Black and infinite.
She tried not to mention it any more than she had to in response from
questions. She didn't want to think about the meaning of the blackness.
It was more than the practical fact of being in space, more even than
the endlessness of infinite vacuum stretching out in so many directions
(more than she could see or count). It was a black that meant Something,
and that Something was a memory that threatened to swallow her into its
darkness. No physical vacuum could have been as terrible as this.
Oh, she'd looked everything up in countless dream dictionaries, found
lots of alternate meanings (the womb? Her own silence? Existential angst?)
but none of them rang true. She was only evading it anyway. She knew what
it meant, what pursued her and pinned her to her seat and insisted she
endure the blackness whole. Because when it finally caught her, when she
wasn't fortunate enough to hear an alarm or the morning shrill of Myshka
crying, when she didn't wake quite in time and the dream made it to its
completion-- that was when its source was clear, when it pinned her down,
when it reached straight through her and she realised with a sickening
wrench that the darkness was uncoiling itself out of her.
She woke up that morning with the same knot of dread in her stomach.
S-ko was still asleep, so Tam shuffled into her slippers and padded over
to the window. The sky was a wintery grey. An atmosphere, letting her
breathe easily, yet it was merely a cloud cover, she knew. Weak and intangible
mist between herself and the ozone layer, between her world and a lesser
blackness bringing with it a drowning infinite of the greater.
She shuddered, and tiptoed back to bed.
Sliding under the covers next to S-ko's curled and sleeping form, she
burrowed, and tucked the down comforter around herself to entrap her own
body's warmth. Here, warm, safe, the stillness of the early morning surrounding
her, she heard a winter bird chirping outside of the window.
She was not there in that blackness. She was here under a thick featherdown
comforter and a bright red-and-turquoise afghan that S-ko had given her
long ago. There was a pot of violets on the dresser, and her favourite
soft wool sweater was hanging on the closet door, drying from the laundry.
This room couldn't look more like home if it had a cross-stitched sampler
calling it sweet.
She rolled over and listened to the sound of S-ko breathing, slow and
regular. This was her home; it was the very opposite of that blackness.
It was all that the blackness meant to take away, and it was with her
yet. What did it mean, what could she cherish, what could she guard against
the black depths? She searched for the answer, closed her eyes and let
herself ask question after question until finally she could hear it pounding
in the back of her mind and her blood and her throat: Life, life-- life.
When she sank again into a drowsy sleep, she was running across fields
and bridges with Myshka, the sky a pure and unshielded azure blue.
by Catherine Rain
Lulu wandered the house late at night, looking for company. Usually
Myshka was awake at this hour, but today she'd tired herself out chasing
falling leaves, and she was fast asleep. S-ko was outside looking at the
stars. But it was cold out there and it made Lulu sleepy, so she wanted
to stay in.
Tam was in bed, but her eyes were open and staring at the ceiling, so
Lulu crawled under the covers from below. She poked her head out at the
top and looked at Tam. "You not asleep?"
"No," said Tam, "as you can see."
"You have nightmares again?" wondered Lulu.
The alien woman rolled over onto her side to face Lulu. "I suppose
you could say it's a waking nightmare. I can't stop thinking about it
just because I'm awake."
"Lulu can listen. Make the nightmares go away. Lulu cover you up
so they can't get to you." She took the blankets in her hand-- how
strange it was that she could pull on things so easily just by wrapping
her hand around them!-- and pulled them over Tam's head and their own,
so that they seemed to be underground together in a secret burrow, the
blankets draping closely over them.
"I don't know if it's that easy. I can't hide from my own past,"
"Lulu help you hide."
The woman sighed. "It doesn't work like that. I have to face my
past so that I can fight against it. It hurts from the inside. Sort of
like-- let me think. Oh, like sickness."
"Lulu fix. Tam not sick alone."
She put her hand above her face, lifting the covers away from it so
that she could look directly at Lulu. "Thank you, Lulu. I appreciate
"S-ko concerned too. Mr Artist concerned. Everyone concerned."
"I know. But really, that's part of why it troubles me. I don't
want the others to expend their own energy feeling concerned about me.
I should be able to deal with this myself, without being a burden on the
others. S-ko has her own memories to deal with; she was there too. And
yet..." Tam raised the covers higher with her hand, making their
burrow bigger, and rolled over onto her back. "S-ko deals with it
herself. She's fine. If she's fine, then why can't I be fine as well?
Why can she gracefully accept it, when I can't, and bring her a greater
"You have same memories," pointed out Lulu, "but different
minds. What bothers Tam not bother S-ko. What bothers S-ko not bother
Tam. What bothers Myshka, no one else care."
"I suppose," said Tam, and dropped her hand, letting the blankets
fall softly over her.
Lulu reached out a hand to the still lump beside her and lifted the
covers again. "Before Lulu changed, Lulu was turtle, and Lulu remember
now. Before Tam changed, Tam was Bobble, but Tam remembers pilot past?"
"I remember being a Bobble, but it feels like it wasn't real."
Tam had not moved, her eyes fixed at a point above her, not at Lulu. "It
seems like that whole life was a dream. Being a pilot, being in war--
that history feels real to me; it feels like that's what I lived through,
even though I know it was made up. Mr Artist wanted me to be interesting,
so he made me suffer. Perhaps he's concerned a bit that it doesn't get
out of hand, but surely he doesn't worry much, because he crafted me carefully
Lulu waited while Tam gathered her thoughts. It was awkward. How to
say things convincingly? What words would fix it? "Lulu care about
Tam." How to make it sound like she meant it? "Lulu care a lot.
That is true."
"Lulu think Mr Artist care too. Lulu think everyone care. But Lulu
know Lulu care."
She let Tam think for a while. The clock ticking outside the covers
was loud. Even the wind outside was still.
The temperature was still dropping tonight, and she was starting to
feel sleepy, but she didn't want to fall asleep if Tam still needed to
talk, because she had to be awake to listen. "Lulu cold."
"It is a chill night," said Tam. "Curl up with me and
we can share body heat."
"We'll warm each other up. Or I will, at least, and it will warm
"Not a burrow?"
"Why not a burrow?" Tam reached over and draped an arm around
Lulu. "Come closer."
Lulu dragged herself towards Tam's warmth. Humans were like radiators,
nice and cozy. The warmth spread through her and revived her mind from
the sluggish, sleepy darkness she had been slipping towards. Tam was nice
and warm, though she was squishy and soft and not much like a turtle would
have been. It was like having a soft radiator on her belly: she and a
radiator twining their legs together, wrapping arms around each other.
She was waking up now, and ready to listen to Tam's troubles.
"Tam want to tell Lulu what happened in the nightmare?"
"Mmnh," murmured the warm woman. "I'm falling asleep.
Some other time?"
Now, of course, Lulu was wide awake. "Okay," she said. What
else could she say?
But now she was awake, and she was tangled up in a sleeping Tam, whose
warmth was keeping her alert. Perhaps she would be awake all night.
Lulu felt a heavy weight curl up on top of her and Tam's legs, heating
up their twined bodies and keeping her from disentangling herself.
It was going to be a long, wakeful night.