The Duchess and the Pirate

The duchess was captured at sea, and held for ransom by the dashing pirate. She: buxom, bowlegged and muscular from a lifetime of riding, surly. Him: Leggy, raw and rude in his masculinity, dashing. A former sailor in the royal navy, he grew tired of the floggings and the scurvy and jumped at the chance to go rogue when his own ship was captured. He worked his way from the very bottom of a crew of two hundred to commanding his own ship.

The duchess is intrigued.

Sparks fly, of course, in the close confines of the ship they can’t get away from each other, but she has languished herself, and is tired of forever trailing after her husband, a civil servant in the foreign corps. Her mind is sharp, and her hands strong, and she has been wasted in domesticity; she is quick at the front of every boarding party, fierce and urgent and proud.

The pirate falls for her as she screams defiance atop her first kill.

Will they make it work? Can love — true love — blossom in the salt spray, in a time of war and plunder, between two so different people? Can they find space together to indulge in their primal, physical needs? Perhaps in a lifeboat, a gunwale, the close, airless confines of his cabin? Reader, it will all end happily; never fear.

Phylloxera

Born to a mother like our mother before, and hers before her, and so on, generations back and up the spiral twist of the vine, we took to earth and to root when the chill came into the air, the first nip of cold any of us had known after a civilization of summer. Root was safety, root was sleep; the tender flesh of the stock and the sweet sap all we needed to sleep the long winter through.

They knew we were coming, our mothers, planned for the hope of us, though never they’d see us; when we woke again, buoyed up to the sun by the rising tide of the sap, breaking black earth, spreading delicate wings, they were long dead, centuries dead. We have already lived far past our time, cradled in slumber, and wake already gravid, brim-full of portent. Time is short, and the fundatrix yet to be born — we will not live to see her or her impossible bride.

Uprooted once, borne out of our sphere, we found food and safety in alien climes, and spread; they chased us with toads and with poisons but we spread, leaf to root, fatter and more fecund than ever before, till they despaired of us and imported the old stock to keep us at bay. Still we thrive, ground to gall, mother to daughter; daughter to mother; living well is the best revenge.

Psalm 91

A foot the size of a house, and he’s enraptured. Starry-eyed, David stares up and up and up, past thighs the length of an office building, a chest the width of a city block, to a head you could fit all of city hall into. He’s never seen anything so powerfully erotic.

The streets are lit with the fires tearing through the city, a guttering light licking against the unnatural darkness that swept through town when the power plant exploded, soft as candleglow against that titanic hide. He picks his way determinedly through rubble in Its gargantuan wake, trailing the siren song of screaming destruction.

As he gets closer, the streets empty of everyone except soldiers. He gives up trying to explain himself after a well-meaning but mildly alarmed corporal insists on personally escorting him back to the lines. They can’t understand, and it doesn’t really matter.

In the final block he rams a garbage can through a plate glass window and climbs 70 flights of stairs to the roof, barely keeping his feet as the building shudders and jumps. At the top he’s barely up to Its shoulder, and he has a frisson of vertigo as he climbs over the edge and curls his toes into nothing. Heart in his mouth, he leaps, out and down, betting everything on love.

Mating Season

The year has turned once again and the dads have come back to the hills, as they always have, pulled by some mysterious force, some unspeakable compulsion. The journey is long and dangerous, and many dads arrive scarred and bloody from travel: missing eyes, severed hands, skin pulled away from the muscle underneath. One, near his end, is more scar than dad; in the half-light of evening you can watch the ponderous thump of his heart through the parchment of his skin.

“Good team this year,” says one, a young one, scratching an unfamiliar beard. This is his first year, and he is shy, eager, and dry for blood.

“Could go all the way,” agrees the old one, his milky eyes focused on nothing much, the puckered mouth of his wrist searching the air. “If they want it enough.”

The young one edges closer and shivers as that rough stump finds his shoulder. He closes his eyes, and thinks of the coltish daughter waiting at home, the yearling son hiding behind her. “Still, you never know.”

The old one laughs, deep in his hollow chest, and leans in close to the young one, his breath hot against his beard. “No, you know. You know.”

The Conqueror Worm

A fine time! How long has it been, Annelus wonders, since xie last saw another one? Xie loses track, not that it matters; they have met, and that is enough. Strangers and relatives, traveling opposite ways on the disappearing road!

Annelus cozies up to hir. How long has it been, xie wonders, and forgets hir question even as xie asks it; what does it matter? They cozy up together, tip to tail, tail to tip, skin sliding smooth and hungry against skin, patient skin. The road, the appearing road, rolls itself around them in a white light that tastes like Annelus, tastes like another one, tastes like coming and going.

Annelus loses track, not that it matters.

The disappearing road, and Annelus forgets. A fine time later, a shiver courses along hir length, and xie wonders how long it has been. The road remembers, as Annelus does not, but what does it matter? The road bears their children away, sons and daughters of earth.