Bleached sky drapes over charred branches—
her bare feet cut imprints in the ash layers.
Echoes double back on each other until
there’s only silence.
She sorts through debris—
chains of coal, frail blackened bones, slivers of teeth—
always on the hunt for the lost pieces, the path.
She’s got a hole in her cheek where the last kiss rested.
A gap in her hair where the wind once teased.
Pried open ribs where hunger was known to dwell.
(food, affection, anger, longing—all hungers, all valid)
When the skies screamed, broke, toppled—
she was in her garden, sewing herbs into bird stomachs
to send messages to her lover under the Hill.
The air burned and the earth shattered
like a tea saucer on a tiled floor.
All the birds snuffed out—a puff of feathers, cracked apart songs—
and her neighbors drifted up in clouds of dust.
Even the Hill—timeless, ethereal, serene—
is lost somewhere in the rubble of the old woods
and tattered myths unwoven in the dust.
She doesn’t believe her lover is vapor
because one chickadee hopped wingless into her palm
and spat out a string of fractured words:
So she hunts in the places the Hill has been,
where the airless sky twined ‘round bone trees
and tiny alien flowers grow from blistered soil.
She sent the chickadee back,
unable to follow birds herself,
(that’s not her magic)
with the words on strands of her hair:
A. Merc Rustad is a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker who lives in the Midwest, United States. Favorite things include: robots, dinosaurs, monsters, and tea—most of which are present in their work to some degree. Their stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Inscription Magazine, Scigentasy, and Vitality Magazine, and forthcoming in Lightspeed, Fireside Fiction, and The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015. When not buried in homework, Merc likes to play video games, watch movies, read comics, and wear awesome hats. You can find Merc on Twitter@Merc_Rustad or their website: amercrustad.com.