short fiction from Unpsychology Magazine
This soaring is a short fiction that appeared in Unpsychology #5 — The Earthsongs edition. They are set in a future — in a place a bit like the UK — beset by devastating seasonal floods. The Heat has ravaged the land; and the RageTime has left an uncertain, fearful society — a world in which outliers, artists and Lostlings creep around the edges of the present, and live with the legacies of the far distant past.
Habitants is the third story from the Watertime, which first appeared in Unpsychology 6 — the other-than-human edition . The stories are set in a future — in a place a bit like the UK — beset by devastating seasonal floods. The Heat has ravaged the land; and the RageTime has left an uncertain, fearful society — a world in which outliers, artists and Lostlings creep around the edges of the present, and live with the legacies of the far distant past. The first story, Bobcat in the Watertime was in the Climate Minds anthology (#4, 2018). The second instalment, This Soaring appeared in the Earthsongs edition (#5, 2019). Download all digital editions of Unpsychology Magazine, issues 1 to 6, FREE from HERE)
You can also find the instalments here on Unpsychology Voices.
- Bobcat in the Watertime is at https://medium.com/unpsychologymag/bobcat-in-the-watertime-d4574035764d
- This Soaring is below.
- Habitants is at https://medium.com/unpsychologymag/habitants-a-story-from-the-watertime-95a34d6d4a5.
(…For Sarah Jewell…)
This soaring; this transcending. The world has been a terrible place, but when Flute is singing she knows there is something else beyond all this. There must be. Why else would people take a small girl from her family and make her sing?
The Mill House in the valley was flooded many years ago, and that was where the healing songs had started; people gathering, exhausted and broken in the aftermath of conflict after conflict: the big ones from the Heat and the RageTime, and the small everyday grindings and face-offs that mean that no-one had the heart or the energy anymore to make something of this life. But the Mill succumbed eventually to the rising water and, moved upstream, became the House-on-the-Hill, with music, song, dance and wordings filling its halls. It feels like a place of hope and, perhaps because of this, is sometimes regarded with suspicion, occasionally even hostility, throughout the land.
Flute is just happy to feel sheltered and to know that what she is here to do is this. The separation hit her hard, and she wonders where the others are now. Jake, she knows, works in the City; childhood friends have faded into the surrounding WaterTime lands; but Bobcat — oh her lovely Bobbie Bobcat — is a Lostling and hides herself from the consequences of her daemonic sight. When they were little, Bobbie’s ghost sense was something cool — it set the sisters apart — and made Flute a little proud (and Mamma a little scared). Then came the TeckTime when everything was supposed to be fixed, but when, instead, things turned bad and were screwed down tight. And then came separation — and all that is left now is the song.
When the Tecks took Dadda, and Mamma died, the people from the House-on-the-Hill heard news of the orphans, and came to to offer their kindness and help. But Bobbie hid herself away when they were around, and Jake refused to go, and so they took Flute, who never really had any resistance in her, just dreams and songs, and so there wasn’t any sense of there being a choice. In any case they told her that everything would be wonderful at the House.
And it has been, for the most part — but how do you put back together what has been broken apart?
Flute walks down the corridor towards the Hall. The House is very old — built of ancient red bricks — but the Hall is a relatively new construction — made in the early days of TeckBuild — it is smooth and vaulted, with perfect acoustics and filled with white brightness, even on the dullest of days. Whatever else she is feeling, her spirits always lift in the Hall — there’s always music of some sort going on in there. Now there is a small band in the corner composing a praise-song or a healing-song or just one of those old-fashioned love-songs that used to be endlessly streamed back in the day. Flute nods to them, and walks towards the other side of the enormous, vaulted room.
She sees Kim and smiles. Kim is her song-sibling and shares everything with Flute — their voices blend like they were born with the same soul. They get to work. There is a Healing in a week, and work to be done.
The tone of the piece needs to be right for the occasion: a memorial event for the days before the Heat and Raging, when humans were naive and well meaning, but ignorant and with no sense of limitation. There will be hundreds there, perhaps a thousand or more, coming to heal and share memory and pain, and to pledge that there will never again be burning and digging and endless accumulation.
And there will be gatherings like this all over the land — as far away as the City and beyond, in any of the places where humans can still live — giving thanks for sustenance and re-connection with the Earth and the Habitants. It all depends on the WildThings, the singers, dancers, artists and voicers whose stories now hold the world together.
It’s all a thing of joy, Flute thinks and her voice rises with Kim’s and swirls like smoke into the highest reaches of the Hall. Everyone else in there has stopped what they were doing, just to hear the song of these two, and Flute’s senses are turned into the vibrational energies she feels whenever her voice is tuned in to Kim’s.
It’s all a thing of joy — nothing like it — she thinks, but then is aware of something else beneath that; a subtle kind of grief that makes her voice break.
Kim notices the change, and catches her eye, and Flute is back in the moment, but the shadow is still there — is always there. This is what she lives with — this polarity of grief and joy that can never be fully integrated or put to rest. It is worst at night, and when she is watching Screens in the Reck after dinner. Then she sees the flickering images of smiling entertainers, and wonders why no-one ever talks about the bad things any more. It is best when she is singing or walking the pathways around the House, and then she feels a little like the WildThing she is meant to be. She thinks again of Bobcat out there in the WaterTime and wonders where she is and how she is right now, and whether the ghosts still comfort her as she wanders the world alone.
After the rehearsal, she walks back with Kim towards the main House, but her mind is now somewhere with a memory of Gramma talking about the old world, which was made up, it always seems to Flute, of choking smoke, speed, loudness and drowning desperation. But there was nostalgia there too, in the voice of this ancient old lady who had survived where so many, including her own children, had not. In Flute’s memory, her great-grandmother’s memories whispered of the old days, when there was an endless belief that things would grow and get better.
Though, back then, even when Gramma herself was a girl, there had been a knowledge of what was to come. The BigMen of the time had all the data and all the Teck — and the people knew — deep down they knew — but somehow nothing had changed.
Gramma had been sitting outside in the shade of that warm summers day, and she said sorry, and little Flute and Bobby and Jake had said what for, Gramma?, and she had said, for what we did to you, and they had said, don’t be silly Gramma — because old people are silly, but she said No!
No, it could have been different! There might have been no Heat and no RageTime (though humans have alway been a fighting kind), and then Gramma cried, and Flute hugged her, and said don’t cry, Gramma, and she thought again, Gramma is silly, and then they all went off to play. Gramma died soon after, and everything was sad for a while, but Flute sang at her Memory, which was the start of things, she supposed, when people realised that she would be a WildThing.
She remembers that hug with Gramma, and the tears come, and she wonders what it must have been like to grow up in fear, regret and endless hope. Now, everything is quiet acceptance. Nothing is meant to grow any more — except the Wild and the food; nothing to be extracted or taken from the Earth. Life is hard for some for sure, though the Letrix City runs smoothly and the Lands are settled these days — except for the usual gangs who roam around in their ancient Autos, roughing up and kidnapping the odd straggler, shouting at the Royals and bothering people with their brashness.
And now she is lost again and this is familiar to Flute. The world that was is a blur of fire and noise, and the world that is seems unsettling and unknown. She thinks of Bobcat wandering; flitting from shadow to shadow, ghost to ghost, and never trusting anyone except the Habitants, and realises it has always been like this, from when they were children. Flute always followed Bobby into places that were damp and deep, and sometimes high enough to touch the sun, and she never understood — just followed — always with a sense of fear, tempered with a blind trust in her Lostling sister.
She talks, now and again, to Bobcat on her Pad — when she is allowed Padtime and Bobby is somewhere with Contact. Usually, the conversation is furtive and blurry — Bobby in some dank cellar or old hole in the forest, with the sounds of Habitants around her. She is always distracted, Flute thinks and after every fleeting talk, she feels a sense of loss, and wonders whether it is really worth it. All she knows is that there is a kind of magic in Bobcat’s voice, and that the ghosts that surround her are somehow necessary and comforting. Each time Contact is lost, Flute feels like crying, but puts on her brave face and thinks to talk with Jake on her next Contact — Jake with his soft acceptance. Maybe one day, I’ll join him in the City, she thinks, walk the smooth streets and sing in the CellarBars.
And, I am not wild, she thinks, not a WildThing at all, just a small thing caught in the glare of a fierce world.
Flute shivers, and Kim sees and touches her arm, catches her eye and offers the familiar tenderness and companionship that Flute so needs and values. They share everything, these two (even, perhaps, a soul) and though the Big House often still feels strange, and never feels like home, Kim’s presence is always a happy thing.
Is it love?, she wonders, as Kim takes her hand and leads her to their room at the top of the Big House. She isn’t sure what love is anyway. She knows she loved Mamma and Bobby Bobcat and Jake and Gramma — and Dadda before he faded — but now, with Kim, the grief begins to recede a little, and the two hum their healing song together as they climb the stairs, then laugh as they reach the door, then look around to see if anyone is watching, then step right in and shut the door behind them.
A first short story set in this future world, Bobcat in the Watertime, appeared in Issue 4 (Climate Minds) of Unpsychology Magazine, you can find it HERE and together with a whole feast of other stories, poems, artwork and essays at: https://bit.ly/2GjbVXB.