Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 44
Stories
Look After Your Brother
by Holliann R. Kim
Broodmother
by Jakob Drud
A Good Mother
by Andrea G. Stewart
The Crow's Word
by Stephen Case
The Last HammerSong
by Edmund R. Schubert
IGMS Audio
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
Bring Out your dead
by Chris Bellamy
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
A Place for Heroes
by Myke Cole

A Good Mother
    by Andrea G. Stewart

A Good Mother
Artwork by Andres Mossa

Pehlu was a sandpiper the first time I met him.

In the pre-dawn hours, I escaped the confines of my fourth-level bed and crept to the shore. Even the sharp eyes and ears of third-grandmother didn't catch me. I went to the beach to be alone; only the fishermen were out on the pier, casting their lines into the sea.

I caught Pehlu the sandpiper with a laugh in the back of my throat, my outstretched fingers a net. The ocean's breeze ruffled the feathers over my knuckles and his round eyes stared at me, bright as polished stones. He fit neatly in my thirteen-year-old hands, and his heartbeat thrummed against my palms.

When I brought the bird level with my eyes, he spoke.

"Ulaa."

I nearly dropped him. "How do you know my name?"

"Each time you come to the shore, you chase the birds and cry out, 'Ulaa comes for you!'"

A flush crept up my neck. "I do not."

"You do. I've seen it."

"There are many girls my age living on the island. It could have been someone who only looked like me."

The bird did not reply. His legs kicked the empty air beneath my hands.

"Well," I said, finally, "what is your name?"

"Peluvisinaka."

"I like Pehlu better."

"Very well. Can you please put me down?"

I could not think of how to deny so polite a request, so I placed him back on the sand.

He shook himself and began to preen.

"You're not a real sandpiper," I said. I crouched, and the salt-seaweed smell of the ocean washed over me. A tiny crab, disturbed by my presence, scuttled back into its hole.

"I am, for now."

"You're a kailun -- a spirit."

He snatched up a beetle and swallowed it. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

"You talk. Sandpipers don't talk."

Pehlu looked up at me, his head tilted to the side. "Mother tells me I shouldn't."

A sudden rush of kinship filled my chest. "My mother tells me I shouldn't run off to the shore in the mornings. But my cousins above and below me snore, and it gets hot in the sleeper, and sometimes I feel that if I don't get away, my own skin will suffocate me."

The sandpiper nodded, wisely as any grandfather. "I feel that way too, before I grow."

I thought for a moment. "When you grow big enough, one of my people's grandparents will eat you. That's what happens to all the kailun."

"Maybe you can keep me safe."

I straightened, rocking my knees onto the cold sand. "We should be friends. I don't have any."

"Neither do I."

"Ulaa!" My mother's voice echoed down the beach. I glanced back and saw her striding toward me, her long brown hair whipping in the wind. The sun had crested the horizon, and others were making their way to the shore. By the time it was afternoon, a swell and press of bodies would move from the sleepers to the outdoors. The waves would be dotted with children, the sand covered with people plying their trades.

"I have to go," I whispered before rising to my feet and letting my mother overtake me.

I did not protest as she took my hand, as she scolded me, as she led me back through the city and into the hot, musty air of the sleeper. She told me to go back to bed, so I did -- climbing the ladder to my fourth-level cot. Around me, a hundred throats breathed in the darkness: mothers and fathers, children, third and fourth and tenth-grandparents. When the wind blew, the bamboo struts creaked and the lattice-walls swayed.

"Pehlu," I whispered as I lay there, listening. I hooked my thumbs around one another and fluttered my fingers like a bird.

Nineteenth-grandfather ate a kailun the very next day. All of his family gathered in the city square to watch the ritual. I couldn't count how many of us there were -- I stood near the front with my mother, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Around us, the buildings loomed like giant, crooked fingers. The mountains beyond the city were cut into farming terraces.

My mother leaned over to whisper in my ear. "Nineteenth-grandfather is my father's father," she said. "What will that make you, when your children have children?"

It took me a moment to puzzle out the words. "Twenty-second-grandmother."

She patted my shoulder in silent praise.

Beside me, my cousins poked and jostled one another. "Only a good mother gives her children a name," one boy said to the other. He squared his shoulders, imaginary bow held in his hands. I knew the words he spoke -- all children did. "What do I see before me but a herd of wild animals, all of them brought up by bad mothers?"

The other, younger boy pranced from side to side, imitating a kailun in the form of a deer. "Ooh, me, me! I have a name! I have a good mother!"

And the first boy nocked a pretend arrow before letting it fly.

The dramatic "death" of my youngest cousin was enough to throw off the balance of several people behind us. One of my uncles seized both boys by their ears. "That's enough. Quiet, both of you."

They settled down just as first-grandmother emerged from her house with a kailun flask. I only ever saw first-grandmother during the rituals. Though her hair was white, her face was unlined, her hands thin and smooth. She wore a long, blue robe that swept the ground behind her. No expression marred her face.

Through the gaps in her fingers, I could see the bright glow of the kailun. The light flickered as the spirit moved. She brought the flask to the chair where nineteenth-grandfather sat. He hunched in his seat, his gnarled fingers curling around the armrests like tree roots.

After she uncorked the flask and tipped it over his mouth, her hands came away. A tiny blue light, so bright it hurt to look at, pressed against the glass. Nineteenth-grandfather's chest expanded as he sucked at the air in the flask.

The kailun disappeared past his teeth.

As we watched, nineteenth-grandfather, whom I'd always known as an old man, became young again.

"Pehlu!" I called out. "Pehlu!" My feet sank into the sand as I ran toward the waves. I spun in a circle, searching. The sandpipers scattered at the sound of my voice; none responded. My breath formed a mist in the early morning air.

"Pehlu, Ulaa comes for you!"

A lone sandpiper emerged from the sea grass. "I'm here, Ulaa, no need to shout."

I dropped to the ground, heedless of the sand upon my nightgown. "I'm so glad you came."

"Me too. I mean, glad that you came. I didn't think you would. Your mother seemed very angry."

I shrugged, though my stomach flipped at the thought of her scolding. "I do what she says, except for this. What is it like, being a sandpiper?"

He folded his legs beneath him and told me. And told me more than that. Before he was a sandpiper, he was a sparrow. Before a sparrow, he was a clam. The first thing he remembered being was a spider.

I told him of my grandparents, of my cousins, of my aunts and uncles.

"There are so many people," he said.

"Yes, there are."

We lapsed into a comfortable silence, listening to the waves upon the shore and the wind through the rushes, until my mother came for me.

He stayed a sandpiper for an entire year. I should have known it wouldn't last forever. When I was fourteen, I went to the beach and called for him. I walked up and down our usual stretch of sand twice.

At last, when I'd begun to cry, he emerged from the sea grass. He held his pincers in the air, in a gesture of surrender.

"It's me, Ulaa." He was a crab at least twice the size of a sandpiper. "I tried to hold off the change as long as I could. I don't like this form at all." His mandibles trembled as he spoke, like the moustache on an old man.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks with the back of my hand and spoke without thinking. "I think you're very pretty."

Pehlu lowered his claws. "Pretty? Me?"

I blinked until my vision cleared. Now that I examined him closer, I found that he was pretty. His carapace was a dusky violet, faded at the edges, his legs orange and white, and his claws green. "Yes. You have all the colors of a blooming flower."

The crab held his pincers in front of his eyes, turning them this way and that.

I laughed. "Are all the kailun so vain?"

"I . . ." He clutched his claws close, his mandibles clicking. "I shouldn't be. Mother says that all life on an island has its purpose. It's something I'm supposed to learn before I'm grown."

And the kailun's purpose was to feed the grandparents. I shook off the morose thought, seized a twig, and tapped it on Pehlu's shell until he grabbed it. "See? We can't run races across the sand anymore, but you can pick things up now."

He thrust the twig in the air, like a boy playing at spear-fishing. "Thank you. You've made me feel much better."

In the distance, the sound of someone sawing through bamboo echoed. The city was awakening.

"Your people are always building," Pehlu said.

I cradled my cheeks in my palms. "First-grandmother says we cannot spread the city out any further, or we'll have no land to grow food. So we keep building up, taller and taller. I'm lucky to have a fourth-level bed."

"Someday you won't be able to keep building up."

Someday you will become a deer and I won't be able to protect you. But I didn't say it. I focused on the spot where my mother would appear at any moment. "Then we'll have to find another island."

My mother ran her fingers through my hair, lingering on the tangles. We stood outside, in the shadow of our sleeper. Sunlight peeked through the tiny gaps between buildings, hazed with dust and pollen. I kept my gaze up, because when I lowered it I had to look at all the people around us, and though their shouts filled my ears and rattled my bones, I could pretend they weren't there.

"Ulaa." My mother bent a little, her face blocking my line of sight. "Why do you keep running to the shore in the morning? I've told you so many times not to. There isn't anyone there except the fishermen. You could be washed out to sea and I'd never know."

"I want to be alone." It was only a half-truth, but I could lie when I didn't have to look her straight in the eye.

She tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. "You should play with your cousins."

I twisted from her grip. "They only want to play at hunting kailun."

Her lips pursed. "What's wrong with that?"

A thousand angry retorts boiled in my throat and I swallowed them. My cousins would never want to play the games Pehlu and I did; they couldn't tell me what life was like as a crab or a sandpiper. "If the kailun talk, why don't we talk back to them?"

My mother took my hand, and led me into the crush of people. We pushed toward the city square, where she'd buy me breakfast and start her work making bread. "Why would we talk to them?" she called back to me. "We eat them. If we spoke to them, it would make hunting them harder, wouldn't it?"

"But we eat them when they become deer. What do the kailun become after deer?"

She was silent for a long time. The crowd around us smelled of fish and sweat. This close to the square, the flow of people began to move more swiftly, like a stream that had just become unblocked. My hand nearly slipped from her grasp.

The press of people eased as the street opened into the square. My mother cleared her throat. " I suppose we may never know."

I wanted to rail at her. Not knowing was one thing, but how could she not care? Why didn't she want to know? But then she found the stall with the tea eggs and bought me three of them, and I forgot my troubles, savoring the salty-sweet taste as they slid past my teeth.

A few months later, Pehlu became an eagle. In the early morning hours, before my people came to the beach, I tossed pebbles into the air and laughed as Pehlu caught them. We played near a half-built ship, its ribs rising into the sky like the bones of a giant whale.

He landed on the sand. "This is quite the boat your people are building."

"We're looking for another island," I said. I fingered another stone, turning it over and over in my palm.

"What if there are no kailun there?"

"There will be. Just like there will be crabs and sandpipers and eagles."

"Ulaa . . ." He hesitated. "What will you do when I become a deer?"

I chewed the side of my cheek as I thought. "Do you know what you'll grow into next?"

"No."

"I'm not sure. I'll do something, I just don't know what yet," I said.

"Will you eat a kailun when you become a grandparent?"

"No!" I dropped the pebble to the sand. "Why would you ask me that?"

He ruffled his wings and looked to the sea. "I don't know. I know we are friends, but the bigger I grow, the more I think about the things beyond myself. "

"Don't."

"Sometimes I hate your people. Sometimes I even hate you."

I scooped up the stone and threw it, hard as I could, high into the air.

Pehlu flew for it, as if he couldn't help himself. This time, when he caught it, I did not laugh.

"I'm sorry," he said as he landed again, the stone clutched in his talons. "I didn't mean it."

All the anger drained out of me, like water from a leaky jar. I knelt so he didn't have to crane his neck to look at me. "I know what you meant. I'm sorry too." I thought of first-grandmother and her ageless face. "I will try to help you when you become a deer. I promise."

The boat left the day after I turned fifteen. Pehlu was a wild boar then, his coat still spotted and his tusks small. He watched from the trees and I watched from the beach as the boat sailed toward the horizon. It carried forty-eight grandmothers and grandfathers, of varying rank. By the time the sun had fully risen, the huge ship was merely a speck on the horizon.

By noon, it was out of sight.

Throughout the next year we all leaned a little to the east, as if hope had magnetized our bodies. More people came to the beach in the morning, and earlier, so I often had to cut my meetings with Pehlu short.

But yearning could not bring that boat back to shore.

The day after I turned sixteen, as I crept down the ladder, I heard third-grandmother talking in her sleep. She rolled over in bed, her hands curled beneath her chin.

"There are no other islands," she said with a sigh. "They're all dead." She repeated the words a second time, and then a third, and each time the hollow feeling in my chest expanded.

As soon as my foot touched the cold stone floor, I ran.

I helped my mother knead dough in the city's center. We stood in a stall at the east end of the square, in the shadow of a twenty-level sleeper.

A line of children formed by first-grandmother's house, sticks in their hands. Once twenty or so of them had joined their ranks, they ran across the square together, laughing, poking at any who got in their way. Two days until the hunt. The thought made my stomach churn.

"Hopefully we'll get more kailun than last year," my mother said. She brushed a strand of hair from her eyes with the back of a floured hand.

I doubted that we ever missed any. There were so many people. "What happens if we run out?"

She gave me a tired smile. "When I was your age, I didn't worry so much. We will make things work. People are smart and resourceful. We'll find another island with more kailun, or we'll find another way to keep us young."

"What if we don't?"

"We will. We have to."

I went to the shore the next morning, while the stars were still visible in the sky. Pehlu did not meet me on the sands as he usually did.

A whisper reached me from the brush just off the beach. "Ulaa," a voice said. "Come here, please."

I followed the sound to the bushes. There, splay-legged and trembling, was Pehlu. He stood as tall as my waist, budding horns just above his eyes.

He was a deer.

"This year, I will join the hunt," I said.

Pehlu nodded. He lay in the dried leaves beneath the trees, his legs folded beneath him. We'd gone over this a hundred times, each time changing slight details.

"When we chase you toward the pens, look for me in the line. Once I see you, I'll trip, and then you jump over me and escape."

His nose twitched, his jaw moving slightly as though he were chewing cud. "I don't know if I can be quick enough."

"I'll fall on the people next to me. You have to be quick enough. It's the only chance we have."

"The only chance I have. If I die, you will live on with your people. Why can't you just tell them not to hunt the kailun?"

I sat next to him and placed a hand on his back. His fur was coarse and slick. "It's not so simple. None of them want to die. And I'm not yet grown; no one will listen to me. It's like being part of a wave. I can't leap free and tell the rest of the water to stay on the shore." The sun beat down on my shoulders and sweat prickled on my back. "We'll get you out of this. Maybe when I'm older I can do more."

He leaned toward me and placed his head in my lap. I rubbed the nubs of his horns; he'd told me they itched. "I wish we both could do more."

We formed a line at the border of the city at dawn. When we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, my people stretched nearly from one end of the island to the other. I shivered, tied my shawl tighter, and looked down the line. My mother had not yet joined me; she had gone to get her spear.

On my left, my cousins, though older now, still jostled one another. They swatted each other with their sticks. I held mine loosely by my side; it felt as though I held a snake.

The pens stood on the southernmost tip of the island, just before the beach. It would take us until afternoon to get there, driving the deer and kailun before us.

"Here." A hand touched my shoulder. My mother stood behind me, offering me a spear. "You're grown now. You needn't use a stick."

I took it, the handle smooth beneath my palms. My fingers trembled. I think I mumbled some sort of thanks, but my tongue was as a piece of bread in my mouth.

She smiled and opened her mouth as if to speak, but the horn blared and then we were moving -- a single solid line of people, footsteps grinding into the dirt, sounding like nothing so much as the hammering of one piece of bamboo into another. I marched with them, one shoulder pressed to my mother's and the other to my cousin's, my heartbeat echoing in my ears like I stood in the vastness of an empty cavern.

The deer fled before us. So did the wild boar, the crabs, and the sandpipers.

I could not tell which were kailun and which were not.

Would I even recognize Pehlu? I shouted with the others, whacked the bushes with my spear. This is what we did, how we lived. I fell into the rhythm and it was easy.

I saw him. He didn't run when he spotted us. He faced us down as the other deer ran, his legs tense and his eyes wide. I staggered into my mother, but Pehlu called out to me before I fell.

"What of the others? I'm sorry, but I cannot. I must try to do more."

He dashed away as the brush scraped my knees, as I lost my grip on my spear. When I opened my mouth, only a wordless moan escaped.

"Ulaa," my mother said as she hauled me to my feet, "are you hurt?"

I wrenched my arm free and I ran. I ran with the deer, after them, searching for Pehlu, my Pehlu, who ran races with me on the sand and caught pebbles that I threw into the air. All I saw were the white flashes of deer's tails, the kick of tiny hooves. This was a dream, a terrible dream, and I would wake up soon in my fourth-level bed and I would creep to the shore.

"Pehlu!" I cried out. "Pehlu, please!"

I ran with the deer into the pens, the bamboo fences higher than my head. Pehlu did not reply to me; only the shouts of my people and the pounding of their feet met my ears. Around me, the deer circled one another, their eyes rolling with fear.

"Only a good mother gives her children a name," came the words from behind me, in a roar. I whirled in a circle, my arms outstretched, hopeless and lost as a blind old man.

The deer pressed against one another and the walls, nostrils flaring. I went to them, squeezed my body between theirs. "Pehlu," I whispered.

"What do I see before me but a herd of wild animals, all of them brought up by bad mothers?"

They could not help themselves.

The kailun leapt forward, toward the spears, the bows, and the stamping feet. "I have a name!" "I am Kaivuliran!" "Mine is Norisaka!" "I have a wonderful mother!"

And each kailun that spoke was felled, the blood running from their noses, my people stepping over them to catch the fleeing spirits in jars. I caught glimpses as the world turned around me: my cousins laughing, one with blood on his stick, the bright blue lights of the kailun spirits, and my mother's face, round and dark.

"Ulaa," she said, taking my arm. "Ulaa, you should not be in here. You could get hurt."

Oh I'd been hurt already, though I could not find the words. I tore from her once more, pushing through the crowd of people -- so many people, their sweat mingling with my tears and the taste of bile in the back of my throat. I couldn't speak, couldn't breathe.

And then I was free of them, in the forest, my feet pounding into plants and twigs and dirt, until I couldn't run anymore, until my legs gave way and I crawled beneath the low branches of a tree.

I cried enough tears to fill a bowl. Angry tears, sad tears. I should have tried to do more, no matter that it was hopeless. Now I was bereft of the only friend I had in the world.

The brush stirred behind me. "Ulaa?"

I whirled my head, my hair stuck to my cheeks with my tears.

Pehlu. He approached hesitantly, his tiny hooves finding purchase between the dried leaves on the ground.

Had I dreamed the hunt, or did I dream now? "Pehlu, is that you?"

He folded his legs beneath himself and thrust his head beneath my palm. He trembled at my touch. "Yes. You saved my life."

"Me? How?"

"I tried to save them. I tried so hard. I told them not to answer when your people spoke. It is a great failing of ours, that we cannot help but respond. But though I felt the urge to speak, I knew what your people said was not true. They said that only a good mother gives her children a name. You are not my mother, yet you named me. My mother named me Peluvisinaka, and you named me Pehlu, and I kept my silence.

"I kept my silence while the rest of them died."

He shook and I held him, and as my people passed our hiding spot on their way back to the city, I saw first-grandmother. She stopped in her step, her gaze going to the trees. And then she turned her head, and by all the spirits, the sky, and the ocean itself -- I could have sworn her gaze found our hiding spot at the base of the tree.

I could have sworn she looked straight into my eyes.

That evening, my mother found my fourth-level bed in the sleeper and sat upon the edge. I lay there as the light faded, listening to the low murmur of voices and the soft breathing of those asleep.

She placed a hand on my forehead, brushing away the stray hairs. "Ulaa, you've been acting strange all day. What's been bothering you?"

I wished I could tell her, but I'd tried to speak to her about the kailun before. The pallet above me bulged and shifted as my cousin settled into his bed. "I don't know."

From below, on the ground, "I think I know." My mother's taut expression was enough to tell me who spoke, but I peered over the edge of the bed, just to be sure.

First-grandmother stood there, her white hair bright against the stone floor. Outside, the wind picked up, howling through the slats, making the bamboo creak as it swayed. "Come here, child."

I obeyed, because I obeyed in all things except when it related to Pehlu. My mother squeezed my arm as I passed her, a warm, comforting gesture. When I finished climbing down the ladder and pivoted, first-grandmother had approached, her face a handspan from mine. Dark eyes peered at me. "You've befriended one of them, haven't you?"

"Befriended one of who?"

First-grandmother let out her breath in a sigh. "I'm not a fool. I befriended one too, once."

I was about to ask what happened to her kailun, when I realized what must have happened. She was first-grandmother, after all.

Others began to sit up in their beds, or to hang over the edges, to watch our exchange. First-grandmother rarely set step from her house except for the hunt and for the ceremonies. Her hand darted out and seized my chin, and I felt the rasp of her fingernails against my skin. "You should not try to protect them. Do you want your cousins to die? Your aunts and uncles? Your mother?"

My heartbeat thrummed, like a sandpiper's. For a moment, I wanted to lower my eyes, to whisper no, to climb back into my bed and forget this day. But Pehlu would have been stronger. He had courage. He'd tried to do more.

I held absolutely still, but pitched my voice so that others might hear. "It is not a choice between wanting my family to die and not wanting them to die. I do not want to kill." My gaze flicked to my mother, who clutched her gown around the neck, as though it were too tight. There was no turning back. "There are too many of us, first-grandmother."

She released my chin, and I thought she was about to leave. But she only retreated a step and addressed the entire sleeper. "Get up," she called to them. "Get your spears. We missed a kailun, and we must find it."

I didn't wait for more words. I shoved first-grandmother aside and threw open the door into an oncoming storm.

"Ulaa!" My mother's voice tore away with the wind, fading into the roar of waves against the shore.

I ran toward the ocean. The rain began as my feet hit the sand. Behind me, first-grandmother would be gathering all the people -- so many people.

"Pehlu!" I called out. I shouted his name, the name I'd given him, over and over, and only the wind answered. I went to the spot where I'd found him as a sandpiper, to the place where he'd emerged as a crab, and even to the bushes where I'd found him as a deer. He did not appear. I went to the waves. White crests formed at the tops, battering the fishermen's boats tied to the pier. Rain soaked my hair, slicking it to my head. I could not believe this was how it ended.

"Ulaa, I am here." A brown snout emerged from the waves, covered in whiskers, and then a rounded head with tiny ears. A seal. He dove into the foam and then emerged again. "Do you like it?"

My smile wobbled. "I do. You are very pretty. But they are looking for you, Pehlu. You need to go."

"What will happen to you?"

I didn't know. Would first-grandmother kill me, the way she'd killed her kailun? If she could do it to her kailun friend, why not to one of her wayward descendants? I threatened to disrupt her way of life.

A shout sounded from behind me. I turned my head to see people spilling onto the sand, as though it were late morning and not evening. They did not carry baskets and blankets; they carried torches and spears.

"Come with me," Pehlu said. "Quickly. Maybe I can keep you safe."

I went to the nearest boat, and unwound the rope keeping it moored to the pier. Pehlu took the cord between his teeth and I hopped aboard.

My people spread across the beach, and by the time one of them saw me, I was a speck in the roiling seas. Lightning outlined the towering sleepers of the city, which reached into the sky as if trying to grasp the clouds.

Pehlu pulled my boat through the surf while I gripped the side, and each time a wave swelled, the ocean tried to wash me away.

It was the fate my mother had always feared for me.

I lived, though barely.

The storm passed, leaving me with bleeding knuckles and bruised shins. The next several days passed with clear skies. Pehlu brought me fresh-caught fish, and I drank the rainwater stored in the small urns at the bow. I was so often thirsty, and hungry, and heartsick. Except for Pehlu, I was alone.

And Pehlu did not remain the same.

He turned into a dolphin, and then a whale, all within days of each other. He breached the surface next to me on the eighteenth night, his bulk as long as six fishing boats lined up end to end.

"I tried to hold it off before," he explained, "but you need me to change, Ulaa."

The ocean lapped against the wood, and I lay in the bow of the boat, my skin cracking, my mouth dry, as I tried to form words. Why? I wanted to ask him. Why do I need you to change?

Twenty-three days after I'd left home, I found out.

I woke in the morning -- not to the slap of water against wood, but to silence. I crept to the edge of the boat and peeked over it.

Sand, white sand, with the first sprinkling of sea grass. As I lifted my gaze, I found dirt, and saplings, and the gentle slope of a hill. The sight helped me tap into a reserve of strength I hadn't known I'd had. With a heave, I rose to my feet and stepped onto the land. I ran for the vegetation, my legs nearly giving way with each step.

A pool of fresh water greeted me just beyond the saplings. I fell to my knees and drank deeply of it. Only once I'd sated myself, the cold water dripping down my chin, did I think of Pehlu.

"Pehlu," I called. "Where are you?"

The earth answered.

I am here, Ulaa. No need to shout.

"But are you on the island? I don't see you."

Ulaa, dearest, I am all around you. You are looking at me now.

I wanted to laugh, to cry, to shout anew. This was why there were no more islands.

But how could we have known?

I laid my palm upon the moist ground. "You saved my life."

His presence surrounded me, warm and gentle as an embrace. Look after my children, please. I will be a good mother, but I will need help.

It took me nearly a year to settle in, to build a house, to cultivate things that I could eat. Pehlu helped in the ways he could.

I helped in the ways I could. My people would find this island, one day or another. I hoped my mother would find it. And every few days, I went to the beach and searched for kailun.

They came to me as spiders, as sandpipers, as crabs and sparrows. I picked up each one of Pehlu's children, cupped them in my palms, and whispered to them their second names. And for those that were shy, for those that hid in the brush and hesitated to approach, I made of myself a fool. I spread my arms and ran across the sand, my hair flowing free with the wind.

"Ulaa comes for you!"


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