His grandmother had a special garden on the grounds that surrounded the house where he was bought up. She tended herbs, a few flowers, and a cherry tree. A bench sat beneath the cherry tree, which would explode with fluffy white clouds of petals for two weeks in the spring. When he was young, he loved this garden, with its beautiful flowers and its small statue to Uzume, the kami of joy. The stone goddess laughed at him as he played at his grandmother’s feet. It was this inclination for dreamy idleness that marked him for the monastery, he supposed, rather than the more warlike route his elder brothers followed.
Ryuichi sat on this bench now, beneath the cherry tree. However, there were subtle differences in the vista that made him realize that this was not exactly his grandmother’s garden. For one thing, his childhood home was missing. Instead, this garden was an oasis in the midst of a forest of towering black pines. The small, chuckling goddess was missing as well. Through the trees, he noticed the sky was a nude pearl color that never occurred in nature. It was like a translucent shield of rice paper, through which muted tones of lavender and blue could be perceived.
“So, I am dreaming,” said Ryuichi aloud.
He felt, rather than saw the arrival of the expected guest. It was a whisper on water, or a stir of the wind, that suggested his appearance. The shimmering youth.
“So you are,” the youth said in a voice like a reed flute singing words instead of notes, “and yet, you are not.”
The youth was underneath the cherry tree, nearly as tall as it was. His skin was as golden as ripe pears. He was as finely muscled as any young samurai. His hair drifted in an unfelt breeze, invisible filaments, like the whiskers of carp.
When Ryuichi did not reply, the youth continued, “I met you in your world. I only thought it fair that you get see mine.”
“Are you frightened? Please, there is no reason to fear. You must have many questions.”
Ryuichi could not look at him directly. It was disturbing. His face, while human, had strange aspects of the both the bird and the snow monkey—in the expressions, in its narrowness. It seemed to move like ripples in a pond. And, the youth was nude. “Indeed, I do. I saved you the first time. Why did you come back?”
“Need you ask, my Ryuichi? When I first laid eyes on you, I fell in love. Your beauty was so bewitching that I lost my sense of balance and fell into the water. You deigned to save me, and I felt your warm hands on my body, and heard your beautiful voice. Surely, you noticed when I kissed you?”
“Is that what that was? I thought you were attacking me”
The yosei seemed not to hear that; he continued on in his callow way: “You stayed with many days. I craved your touch, I wanted to hold you, to hear your voice. So I had to return.”
Ryuichi glanced at him now. His willowy limbs were too long to be really human, he decided. He moved with a sprightly grace, like an epicene noble.
“You caused quite an upset at the temple.”
The youth stopped his pacing, and kneeling in front of Ryuichi, he contorted his impossibly long limbs until he was face level with him. “You are not mad with me, are you?”
Ryuichi found himself staring into gold eyes, with no whites or pupils. It was like looking into the sun.
The youth leapt up. He clapped his hands happily, and danced around the cherry tree. Pale blossoms drifted down, embedding themselves on his hair. Ryuichi noticed that he was no longer so tall; he’d adjusted his proportions.
“I was really more annoyed.”
That stopped his frolicking.
“So, you are mad at me!” Ryuichi turned toward him, looking at his not-human face. There was just the slightest shifting of muscle, an undoing of flesh as it became fur or feathers. His translucent hair was both or neither. Ryuichi looked away. It was hypnotic. It made him sick.
He felt the yosei behind him. A swathe of shadow fell across his lap. But the shadow was insubstantial: a whisper in water…
Ryuichi looked up. Through his shifting face he saw the structure of bone, and the coursing of blood.
The yosei spoke after a silence: “I should have listened to my sister. ‘It never works out, between our kind and mortals,’ she warned me long ago. ‘Creatures of flesh and blood are finite and have decay built in the very bones of their being: we can only bring pain and confusion to them.’ I did not listen to her; she had been a fox among foxkind for a long time. I thought her brains were addled by that experience…”
Published in So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction (ed. Steve Berman) (Haworth Positronic Press) (2007)
Green was everywhere, in all hues and saturations. Emerald, chartreuse, and lime. It came muted, with silver or blue or yellow. It floated above him, in leaves or eyes, in every shape imaginable. The green oozed warmth, promised coolness, dribbled and dripped from every surface. It was dizzying, and disorienting. The smell of freshness, cut grass, or pine needles, invaded him, coating the back of his throat. It was too much…
But slowly, the green focused, gem sharp, and Israel saw the green forming into discernable shapes. He was in a clearing of some kind; surrounded by thousands of trees, or branches…it was unclear, still. Green gave rise to other colors, black and brown (but they still had green in them). A chair, a table, a fireplace. But even those were not what they seemed. The chair, for instance, was a stump, its back a still-living sheath of wood. The table was a log, petrified, with patterns whorled on it. Only the hearth looked normal. A pot of something delicious bubbled away on greenish flames.
Izzy looked up, and saw that the sky itself was green. Light, filtered through hundreds of leaves. The light was guarded by millions of fangs that sprouted from the elegant green and brown serpentine vines.
He gasped. Where am I?
Movement, out of the corner of his eye. A sleek brown and white shape streaked in the deeper part of the—forest? Whiskers, a round tail. A jackrabbit. A cough came to his left. Israel turned in that direction. Red and velvet, a fox stepped out of the thicket, into the clearing. It gave another coughing bark, and strode up to him. It sat down on its haunches, like a dog, and cocked its head, as if waiting for him to scratch between its ears.
“Don’t mind him, he spoiled.” The voice came from behind him. It was musky and sweet. He turned around and saw—a woman. She was garbed in a loose skirt that was white; therefore, it was tinged with the palest green. The color of the bottle of liquor. Her chest was bare. Her breasts jutted out, large and brown, tipped by tender buds as black as night. He tried not to stare at their hypnotic symmetry. Her hair was wild, a swamp of twisted black braids. Her face was…she had no face. She had a nose, eyes, and lips; it was a beautiful face. It was just that it wouldn’t stay still. The image would not stay fixed in his view. It rippled, and was supplanted by other, even more gorgeous facial features. She glided (or floated, he couldn’t be sure, cause he didn’t see feet) over to the cauldron on the fire before he could get a real good look. But it seemed as if she swam the clearing.
Izzy absently stroked the space between the fox’s pointed ears. The fur was soft; it felt good to rub the inverted bowl of its head. The fox’s eyes were closed in pleasure.
Izzy found his voice, “Who are you?”
She turned her disturbing face to him. He focused on her slightly less disturbing perfect breasts.
There was amusement in her reply, “My name is…” A spiral of phonetics, firm consonants and liquid vowels, slipped by him, redolent of musk, rustling leaves and sighing seas. It was impossible to grasp. “But you may call me Mrs. King.”
Ah, so he was underneath, within the briar patch. Miles below the surface of the earth, imprisoned by thorns. This made sense.
From the Journal Say…Have You Heard This One?
Honorable Mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2006)
Lucifer came to him in drag. He was disguised as Lena Horne.
C.B. went to see The Wiz with his family. The movie was pretty cool, by his standards, even though he thought Diana Ross was a little too old to be playing Dorothy. But the sets were amazing—the recasting of the Emerald City as downtown Manhattan, the Wicked Witch’s sweatshop, the trashcan monsters in the subway. The songs sometimes lasted a little too long, but they were offset by Michael Jackson’s flashy spin-dancing. But it was the image of Lena Horne as Glinda the Good Witch that would follow him.
She appeared in the next to last scene in a silver dress. Her hair was captured in a net of stars, and she was surrounded by a constellation of babies, all wrapped in clouds, their adorable faces peering out like living chocolate kisses. He fell in love. Ms. Horne was undeniably beautiful, with her creamy, golden skin, and mellow, birdlike features. Her movements during the song “Home” were passionate. They were at odds with shimmering, ethereal-blur in which she was filmed. Indeed, she could not be of this earth. In all of his life in Willow Creek, NC, C.B. had not seen anything like this before.
He was in love, all right. He researched her in libraries, finding old issues of Ebony and Jet; he watched old movies that she’d appeared in, like Cabin in the Sky. He collected some of her records; his 8-track of “Stormy Weather” was so worn down, he had to buy another copy.
But in the weeks afterwards, he began to sense that this love of his wasn’t quite right. His brother and his father would tease him about his “girlfriend,” who was 70 years old, and about how, when he came of an age to marry, she would be even older than that. Of how he could never have children. His brother was particularly mean: he imagined a wedding, held at Lena’s hospital bed, with her in an aqualung, exhaling an “I Do” as ominous as Darth Vader’s last breath. But C.B. wanted to explain that it wasn’t like that at all. He couldn’t quite put it into words.
Lena wasn’t an object of desire, someone who he wanted to kiss or hold hands with. She was something more. She was a goddess of Beauty, an ideal. She was something beyond anything he’d ever known. She hovered above Willow Creek, an angel, looking down on its box houses that were the color of orange sherbet, lemonade, and his own robin’s-egg-blue house. She wasn’t someone to sleep with; she was someone to be like.