Zither

Originally published in Grand Science Fiction.

Cressela set the stained zither across her feathered thighs. She was not playing for handouts today. Most people avoided the loading docks of the spaceport, especially this empty bay, scarred by fatal accidents among lumbering cargo cranes. She tuned the strings, then plucked out a chasing-ghosts song.

Discordant notes draw restless spirits in.

A whisper, a gust, spun out from between open airlock doors, scattering dust and flakes of yellow warning paint. She lured it with melody, closer, closer, then slapped her hand against the zither­­ once, twice. The wind died. Cressela smiled.

A new stain marked her zither’s belly.

Photograph of a Hungarian zither by Peter Siroki