"L'wek and Sarah at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915," which was published in Dreams and Nightmare in 2006 and has never quite been able to decide if it's a story or a prose poem, is available as a podcast at Drabblecast, along with a real drabble by Shane Shennen and a summary of the Top Ten Badass Animals of 2008. There seems to be a certain confusion in the forums about what exactly the piece is about, perhaps because I let the title be abbreviated to the less-unwieldy "L'wek and Sarah."
There's also a dead-on clever parody of my writing style in the forums which makes me at once ashamed and very happy.
Norm Sherman and crew do an amazing job of crafting with sound in their podcasts and I'm enjoying going through them.
L’wek and Sarah at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915
The Tower of Jewels
They weren’t alive and growing, like the crystals in the under-caves. They didn’t sing, like the exiled azurite. But there were a hundred thousand of them hanging on the tower that rose shining, countless Bohemian crystals, red, blue, green, white, clinking together like a song.
Bohemia. It was on the other side of the world, they said, but L’wek couldn’t shake the idea that it was through the world: past the under-caves, the exiled realm, the Fires Within.
It was late afternoon, and the orange sky set the Tower afire. L’wek didn’t like the sun; no Lemurians did, after the loving darkness of their own tunnels and caves. But sometimes it managed to strike beauty out of the strange, scabby surface of the Earth.
Since the Emergence they’d all had to learn: humans, certainly, but mostly the Lemurians.
L’wek adjusted the smoked glass protecting his eyes and saw a girl was looking at him. She must have been nine or ten, and was dressed in a white gown somewhat out of place with the garb of the other humans. Suddenly she showed her teeth in a feral snarl, and L’wek backed away, startled.
And then, realized: she was smiling. It was hard to get used to that.
The Child Hatchery
“That woman,” said Sarah, “has come to see the babies every day this week.”
L’wek nodded, taking her word for it. The premature human infants in the Incubator nauseated him, and he didn’t understand why so many lined up and paid money to see them.
“My cousin’s child was born too soon,” Sarah had said, brushing at the wrinkles in her out-of-fashion dress. “It died, and she did too, a few weeks later, of bed-fever. They all used to die.”
She leaned against the wall, watching the line snake by. Watching the woman in dull pink, the woman that came every day, heavyset and eyes permanently smudged, as if by tears.
“I don’t see how any of you live at all,” L’wek broke forth. “Fragile and thin-necked and raw. My swarm-mother made us go in and see them and I thought I’d faint. They look like worms. Raw pieces of meat. Wrapped up like chocolates.”
Sarah nodded, unoffended. “Fragile,” she repeated, tasting the word like a chocolate baby.
Mabel and Fatty
The man was tremendously fat, bigger than most humans L’wek had ever seen, but he was graceful, moving with a delicacy that suggested the buoyant. The women sat in a chair beside the cameras and laughed at him.
“I never saw a movie,” said Sarah, rare longing in her voice.
L’wek saw the one of the men who had been adjusting the reflectors walking towards them quickly, making calculations on a sheet of paper. He moved out of his way, but Sarah wasn’t watching. The man walked right through her. She dissolved and re-amalgamated when he had passed.
The woman in the chair laughed again at the fat man, her voice bubbling like melted silver.
The Court of Abundance
L’wek’s swarm-mother was in charge of the Lemurian exhibit, and he was proud that she’d been chosen. With the help of her latest maturing swarm, she’d built a replica of a home cave, a communing passage and a crystal den. The humans were especially taken by the crystals: their movements and their random fragments of song, so dissonant to L’wek’s ears this close to the sun.
Many looked closely, and spoke politely to the swarm-mother, and spoke cheerfully of the future, of interaction and mutual learning and the benefits of exchange to both species. There was the optimism of new-minted Empire in the air.
But some looked darkly at the Lemurians, and spoke as if the Emergence had caused the Earthquake instead of vice versa.
L’wek wanted to tell them that his people had died too, just like Sarah had, although they didn’t haunt him like she did. He wanted to tell them of the caves destroyed, the crystals crushed and songs lost forever. But he saw in their eyes the same look he saw when some humans stared at the fat, graceful man: anger, and a wish to do them harm. As if their very existences marred their world.
Once, when one seemed friendly enough, he tried to talk of Sarah. The human woman seemed startled, but not afraid. But later he saw her watching him from across the great building, hatred in her face.
The Palace of Fine Arts
The swarm mother said they’d leave the exhibit and its nascent crystals as a gift. L’wek thought perhaps she meant it as a reproach for something that hadn’t happened, but would, eventually, if they stayed long enough. She wanted them gone, back through the Earthcrack the humans didn’t know about, well before morning.
He tried to tell Sarah, but she was staring at the searchlights that illuminated the Tower of Jewels. He could see the bits of glass glitter through her body.
“Shhh,” she said when he tried to tell her he was going. “I’m listening to the glass.”
The tinkle of glass chipping itself drifted on the breeze. L’wek had nothing else to offer a dead girl.
He joined his swarm-mates as they passed in a silent mass past the naked weeping statues of the Palace of Fine Arts. One statue was plump, and clothed in dirty pink, and wept out loud.
The woman who went, again and again, to see the Incubator Babies. As she cried, almost silently, she watched the Lemurians pass by.
L’wek tried to ignore her, but the subvocal scratch of her quiet weeping followed him to the Earthcrack, through the surface tunnels, down to the depths of the nethermost cave.