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She rode back to Tomas’s stable with her mind full of shards, like a shattered clay pot. “So that’s how you stayed awake,” she said. Grandma could see her rolling her tongue around in her mouth, as if trying to find a tender spot. You had to know the desert well, or have a good sense of the uncanny. “Good thing I put on my good boots.” She snatched up the bag by the door, opened the bedroom so that Spookcat could get to water, and took her walking stick into her hand. Falling asleep when she was supposed to be standing guard—what was that? She kept her eyes lidded. Eva was weak-eyed, mild-mannered, and had a disposition as yielding as a featherbed. Grandma Harken could see them if she looked—the shadow of a palo verde tree that fell a handspan too short, a place where, for an instant, there were two moons in the sky. They were the same dusty black color as the scales. Grandma Harken had spent the better part of fifty years growing tomatoes and she had a spot in her garden that held water just a fraction longer than anywhere else. It’ll offend Spook-cat.”. Anna watched her go. “But I’m starting to, I think.”. For lack of anything better to do, she put the scale in her mouth and bit down hard. “She’s got desert in her, not steel.”. She’d hurt that bastard plenty. Anna’s grandson was the current train-priest, and he said that his god thought letters were prayers and moved them as a kind of professional courtesy. You have an amazing touch for world-building! She hadn’t noticed the shackles on the dragon’s leg. “This is a dreadful land.”, The cold-king stretched. She had a cup of tea in one hand—herbal, because she didn’t need to spend another night like the last one. Much.”, “Sit, sit. The tracks did bend there, an abrupt turn that no train that was not a god could have navigated. She struck at it, tearing strips from its wing, but it was in the air before she could bring it down. Butter a shallow 1 1/2 qt. All around her, the garden whispered, a slow exhale after the heat of the day. Ursula Vernon is a freelance writer, artist and illustrator. Can’t be another. “But born human, I guess?”. The bargain was between the desert and the trains, and no business of any mortal creature at all. She passed saguaro standing tall, arms raised, filled with woodpecker holes. Her people hadn’t been involved one way or the other. After a few moments of standing there, glowing like anything, the mockingbird dropped into the center of the bushes. “You should.” The coyote licked up the cigarette and held it dangling in its mouth. He does like turning people into birds, doesn’t he? The Tomato Thief is a Hugo nominee for the Novella award this year. “She’s got cholla ribs for bones. She did not know what kind of bird it was—some sort of water fowl, with a harlequin mask of green and cream over its face. Grandma’d seen it once before, so she didn’t take a step back, even if a good chunk of her skin wanted to. The illustrations by Alankrita Amaya are beautiful and the color scheme is … The second shackle broke. Her tomatoes were the biggest and the juiciest in town. “Nah.” She spoke slowly, and Grandma got the impression she was picking each word carefully. She was something of an authority on the subject. In the end she got two more nights. “Huh,” she said. There is a tomato thief in my garden bed. (Grandma Harken thought of herself as an old lady, because she was one. “Trains don’t care about folds.”, “They run in three worlds,” said Anna distantly. And the coyote with cold-moon eyes caught it neatly out of the air and swallowed it in two bites. It was a man, more or less. Whatever they might be under the feathers. She moved slowly, but slowly like a woman who’s got a gun pointed at her, not like someone who isn’t fitting inside their skin. “At least I’ll get one more night in my own bed,” she said. “How may I assist you, Grandmother?”, It felt awkward to be formal with a man you’d seen in diapers, but Grandma Harken had come to speak to a train-priest, not talk about how much he’d grown in the last forty years. Boy had no business in the desert. The cold-king sagged like a puppet with its strings cut. It ain’t a lie exactly. He’s not the enchanter, anyhow. The light outside the window was starting to edge toward gray. It was hard to imagine her being snappish about anything. She had two ripe tomatoes and she ate them both, on bread with salt, and they were perfect. “Don’t suppose you can tell me anything,” said Grandma Harken. I’m not fit for company now.”. Marguerite went down the steps and her skin blazed suddenly silver. “Give me water,” said the dragon a third time. “I hope so,” said Grandma. The gap should have been too narrow for a grown human to fit, but one of the ties was twisted out of the way, on the end nearest the ruins. A twenty minute walk has its advantages.” She held up a needle and threaded it on the first try. “Too much talking, now.” She drank the coffee greedily. “So you haven’t eaten any of these tomatoes?”. Her ribs heaved. She can’t hurt you!”. “All right,” she muttered to herself. I had dreamed of delectable tomato sandwiches, bruschetta and more. She poured out more coffee. They nodded together and stood, leaning against each other, the only two people in the desert who knew what it was like to be tongue-cut birds. OK, so I liked the whole thing, but my big take-away was how much Spook-cat reminds me of my kitty, Eowyn, who has slept out in the living room the last three nights, because I just got a new blanket and she’s scared of it :3. Grandma Harken cursed herself for a fool and poured the last of her water out over the dragon’s tongue. Soon, I think, but not yet. “Somebody’s folding the world.”. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. After you’ve dealt with this foolishness, perhaps.”, “You get your answer and she gets a teacher,” said Anna. She leaned against the gate-post. “Not unless he’s a thousand years old,” said Grandma. That was immense power and vulnerability, all at once. Grandma stamped. Her voice cut off suddenly, with a metallic click, as if the cuff on her tongue had struck her teeth. If she lived long enough to talk to the cholla-bone girl again, she would tell her this one. She hadn’t been all that good with her own baby, and Eva had been as good and placid and easy a child as any born. A human upside down, which generally meant “dead.”. “The one I like to ride.”, Tomas looked at her, gazed briefly heavenward, and said, “That mule died five years ago, Abuela Harken.”. Add the pureed tomatoes, chicken broth, sugar, sprig of thyme, & a 1/4 teaspoon of both salt & pepper. She heard the tracks sing, as if there was a train somewhere nearby, but it did not pass this way after all. “Give me water,” said the Gila dragon, in a voice like sand hissing over the desert floor. The roadrunner slammed into the fowl’s back, driving its long beak into the fowl’s neck. Other side of the Gila.”, Grandma Harken nodded. 3 Favorites [+] Latest Posts. “Turned into a mockingbird, from up past Gila way.”, “Wouldn’t think so. “Well,” said Grandma. Almost perfect, she thought. “Were you going to eat that?”. Later. Cook the pasta, according to package instructions, until al dente {about 7 minutes}. “With your father’s kin. “Can you tell me what it meant by there is a bend in the track?” asked Grandma. She respected owls, but she did not want them hanging around the house. Her hands slowed on the file and she said finally, “He’ll get in trouble and he’ll figure it out. She’d made bread earlier in the day, and a little dab of mayonnaise, for the tomato ripening on the counter. And owls.” She shuddered, and the feathers on her head all puffed up like a crest. It was rude, and also, she would destroy you.). She breathed in sharply. She could not get purchase on it. One shackle left. The cold-king’s power struck Grandma Harken and would have knocked her down, but she let it spin her around instead. She looked into its eye and saw her face reflected back. “Thank you,” said the dragon. “I told you to stay away.”. The coyote grinned, that being the natural expression of coyotes. She landed on her shoulder, and the roadrunner-boy ran to her and crouched over her, fierce and futile. She petted Spook-cat, which first alarmed, and then delighted him. When her daughter Eva asked her to move into town, to be a little closer, Grandma Harken refused. The knife went skittering across the floor. “No!” cried Marguerite. A few flat weeds crawled across the ground and despite everything, Grandma Harken felt a gardener’s urge to pull them. He’ll be fine.”, Grandma Harken was sharpening her garden shears. She caught the cold-king’s arm and tugged at it, fierce and ineffectual. “Is she smart?” she asked Tomas. Grandma stamped again, because the deathless do not die so easily. As it is, some of ‘em get tired and turn around. I have a volunteer tomato plant that surprised me … We do have one other story by Ursula called “The Dark Birds.” Here’s the link to it: https://apex-magazine.com/the-dark-birds/, This won the Hugo Award in 2017 for best novelette: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Novelette. The mockingbird-woman stared at her for a moment, then her lips widened in an unwilling grin. please sign up He was deeply intimidated by the jackrabbits that lived in the desert, so trips outside to do his business lasted less than two minutes, followed by immediate retreat back under the bed. “Well, then. She laced on her good boots, in case she had to run, and locked Spook-cat in the bedroom. She walked along the track, into the sharp bend. . Marguerite, in bird form, was barely a third the size of the fowl, but she fought like a creature possessed, battering the creature’s face with its wings, keeping it out of the air. I know what you are thinking. She ambled over to it, and there it was, pecked out of the surface, a round-bodied lizard. Chinese, black, Irish—even a Cornish woman way up north, where the snow piled up everywhere but on the tracks. It’s not the clearest of the trains. A wash that had water in it, except that Grandma knew damn well that it didn’t, not this time of year. It is a sideways return to the world of “Jackalope Wives,” which won the Nebula in 2014 for best short story, and is the only other story of hers that I have read. Esta abuela es divertida, descarada, lenguaraz, sabia, y lo mej. “I should know better than to try and deal with coyotes,” muttered Grandma Harken. They creased the red skin of the tomato just slightly, but didn’t break the surface. Grandma glared at him. The rest of the garden was large and dusty, like desert gardens often are. Her eyes were starkly orange. People get awfully tetchy when you point a shotgun at their spirits. Grandma Harken’s hand didn’t waver on the shotgun, but her mind was off and running like a jackrabbit. The shadows on the hill were clean and crisp. Written by Niyatee Parikh Sharma and illustrated beautifully by Alankrita Amaya, the book is on the search for the tomato thief. No, she had not been a dream. A serpent with tiny, poisonous eyes slithered free, tail whipping as it fled. ... By mid summer, I had some beautiful tomatoes on the verge of ripening, peppers, carrots and radishes. Her eyes tracked over the petroglyphs—a human, a set of concentric circles, another lizard, bigger than the last one. She rolled sideways, slowly, onto her knees. Still, Grandma felt on some level that if you were drinking something that came out of another living being, you ought to be on a first name basis. Neither Anna nor any of her grandchildren could have said what bargain the train-gods struck with the desert, though. But this one had taken the tobacco. The mockingbird-woman shrugged. Jackrabbits aren’t known for eating tomatoes off the vine. Leaning back onto it would get you poked in a dozen places. New issues are released every two months. It takes time to grow it back.”, “Seems a fragile sort of place for a soul,” said Grandma Harken. And that’s another strike against her being born a mockingbird. They thought they’d owned the railroads. baking dish. He had a dark crest and his cheeks were stained brilliant scarlet. I loved every bit of this, but it was so mean to publish it in January when a fresh homegrown tomato is s i far away! She was old but her claws were still sharp. When she lowered the bottle, the coyote was gone. It moved then. Grandma knew Gila monsters well enough and did not fear them, but the largest one that she had ever seen was smaller than the smallest claw on this one’s foot. I’m not looking to die just yet. She woke in the morning with dew collecting on the quilt. Thank you! Las aventuras de una señora mayor experimentada, cabreada porque le roban los tomates y con un humor agrio que deja para sí misma, su mortalidad y sus huesos doloridos. “I ain’t losing my mind,” she said firmly. Where can I find more? Whatever she’s done or had done to her, it came from the outside in. She threaded the dishtowel through the ring by the little sink. It can be annoying when other people are right. The herb leaves rustled and the bean plants whispered to each other farther down in the garden. A thrasher called from the palo verde at the end of the garden. She cleared her throat and spoke to the rails: “The Mother of Trains knows my name.”. Stepped out the world, she thought, back into one of the other ones. She prowled around the edge of the garden and found nothing. She had a few sips of water left in one of the bottles. Apex MagazineJanuary 2016 I have a tomato thief and, clearly, it has to be somebody who is keeping a close eye on the garden, because they're taking them … The ancient horned jackrabbit lunged forward. “So you ain’t wearing a mockingbird skin,” said Grandma Harken, watching her guest eat up the last crumbs. It went limp. They ripened in spring and she pulled the plants up as soon as the last one had been picked. “All right, then,” she said. The other trains say that it’s waiting for something.”. “Pretty,” he said. The saguaros folded their arms to prevent it, and they were the only thing tall enough to cast a shadow here. She didn’t look any older, so far as she could tell from the mirror, but her heart felt like somebody had been scraping the last bits out with a spoon. But I’ve never heard of anything coming back alive from inside a coyote.”, The coyote looked, if possible, even more pleased. “Sit a spell,” she said, “and we’ll fix that.”. “And I will walk a little way home with you, just in case you die along the way.”. But these were small things. Grandma Harken knew right away that it was missing, but she looked around the plants anyway. She’s old! She couldn’t see any edges. It didn’t matter how good the terms you were on, though, they were expensive as the devil. It lifted its great mottled head. Sunday Night. “Come out from between them, and don’t do anything sudden.”. The folds in the world that had gone out from the mockingbird’s wings had settled now, a paper ball crumpled and then smoothed out again. That there was a bargain was undeniable. He lived under Grandma Harken’s bed and would occasionally consent to sleep on her pillow, despite her snoring. That’s what their name means, the used-up ones. Marguerite’s skin and eyes were brown, no longer gray and white. “But you’re welcome to come back, if you like. Grandma poured the coffee out into earthenware mugs and slid the cream across. Grandma Harken watched it vanish against the sky. “Is that you, you old jackrabbit?”, “Last I looked,” said Grandma Harken. I love your stories! “Oh well,” she muttered. It was a low, flat beast, for all its size, so it did not tower over her. One dug into her back, in the same place that the ladle had, and for a moment Grandma wondered if she was still in her chair on the porch, watching a glowing bird fly across the garden. “I know,” said Grandma wearily. She struck the hare hard and rolled it over, biting at its throat. The hillside was an intricate pattern of white powdered earth between dark green scrub. A thrasher called from the top of one, and she had to shade her eyes and see if it was actually a mockingbird. She had almost succeeded in putting the previous tomato out of her mind. 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