DP FICTION #100B: “Interstate Mohinis” by M.L. Krishnan

edited by Kel Coleman

Content note (click for details) Content note: gender-based violence, sexual violence, domestic violence, death

In the way of Death runs the Vaitaraṇī river. We are flayed open to its woe. We are always aware of its currents in gurgling lungfuls of unease.

Time spun in recursive loops since I died in a scream of metal and flame and asphalt on the Parthibanur State Highway. There was no cremation. What could they consign to the flame? A scorched knob of my torso? My jawbone, still glued with tissue? A lone filling snugly hidden within a lone tooth?

Sometimes, I dreamed about flowing water. About where I would be—not here, anywhere but here—if my body had survived the accident. Mushed, but still recognizable. With its vestigial humanness that demanded respect, especially in death. My ashes would have been tossed into an ocean or a river in a coursing procession of night-blooming jasmine garlands, women who keened and thumped their chests, and drunken louts who gyrated around my urn until they foamed at the mouth. Until they collapsed in exhaustion or pleasure.

When I first began feeding, I wondered if I was a vetāla or a piśāca. But I felt no urge to sway from bael trees or dart into a hedge of thathapoo with its ray-toothed flowers. Besides, I did not have an appetite for birds or small rodents. I only hungered for certain kinds of men.

Maybe I was a mohini.

Still, I had no idea of what that involved. My life before death kaleidoscoped in and out of my field of vision, shimmery and indistinct. My knowledge of mohinis was from B-grade movies that appeared in torn lesions of memory—of sullen heroines with thick, kohl-rimmed eyes and billowing hair who always wore chiffon saris, leaving little to the imagination. Their dark areolas were signal-flares, beckoning the film hero through transparent fabric. And they always ambushed him along a quiet road, devouring the hero in more ways than one.

I did not know how to seduce the men I wanted to eat, but they came willingly enough as soon as they recognized a somewhat feminine shape under my soiled clothes. The lorry drivers who were lean and sharp as machetes, with their drug-glazed eyes and arrack breaths. The college students tweaking on tabs of acid who slid off their motorcycles and into my arms. The married men in respectable cars who were the easiest, who didn’t even pretend to notice the windshield wiper piercing the larvae-rimmed void in my neck. I gorged on them all, sucked the marrow out of each knuckle and each toenail until they were reduced to papery, crumbling husks.

For a brief moment, my hunger would lessen. My skin felt supple, but I distrusted this newness, this heft, because I was nothing. A nothing death for a nothing life that I couldn’t even fathom. So, I walked and fed along the highway, along this momentary emptiness. This was all I knew.


The Vaitaraṇī yawns into a chasm of blistering liquid. We have valleys to ascend. A darkness like pitch, cupping our throats. We drink.

Three relevant details marked the day I first saw her.


I was irritated. I had just eaten a middle-aged auditor in a safari suit; a tuft of a man with an unnaturally distended face. His skin held the waxy quality of an ash gourd. He had grabbed my windshield wiper the moment I approached him, trying to nail me in place as he frantically undid my salwar with his free hand. I snapped his neck clean in half and fed on his corpse in haste; before he inflated into a fleshy, putrescine balloon that squirted post-mortem gases and fluids everywhere. He tasted rubbery and sulfuric.


Post-feeding, I began to walk. I took my time on the Parthibanur highway corridor that yoked the big city with an industrial waste landfill, a polytechnic college that was also a homeopathic dispensary after sunset, and a shantytown that buzzed with a thriving opioid trade. Flyovers latticed the sky as far as I could see. This was a slim keyhole of space carved by rushing streams of traffic. And yet, shops and tiffin centers mushroomed out of necessity along the sides of the road.

On this day, I avoided the streetlights, only weaving through deepening puddles of dusk. I stopped behind the biryani center, hoping to smell the food—crescent moons of slippery onions, sizzling fat, goat carcasses hung from hooks arrayed across the tin roof. My efforts never amounted to anything. I could only smell my human prey right before I fed—their fear and lust coating my tongue in a gummy residue.

I crossed a construction site wadded between a fancy store and the biryani center, where laborers were splayed atop one another in a ganja-induced fog. At least someone’s having fun, I thought.

Finally, I arrived at the Sri Annai Fancy Store that sold everything from hair clips to bluish-hued stage jewelry that glimmered in various states of oxidation, to jumper cables for car batteries and even tickets to the latest political rallies that zigzagged through this area. I moved behind the store where I melted into the gloom of the urine-soaked wall. Its surface was papered in flaking Kanneer Anjali posters; giant cartoon tears embellishing a printed photo of the newly-dead, so every passerby could mourn the end of a stranger’s life. I watched people mill in and out of the shop for a long time.

As the night wore on, I became restless.


A sudden quietude. My irises cleaved with visions of a bloated river in spate. And just as quickly, a wall of heat sliced through the mist, chasing the images away, snapping me back into the here and now.

And then I saw her, the Beautiful One.

A Benz pulled in front of the shop. She stepped out of the car in a sari that was bioluminescent, flashing green as she moved. A tight braid sheathed in nerium buds swung down to her buttocks. Welts mapped the sides of her hips and circled around to her back. Her left eye was a faceted ruby under the streetlight, burst capillaries tinting it red.

As I watched her, my loneliness opened under my feet in a sinkhole, taking me unawares. At first, I thought it might have just been my hunger. But it turned out to be something else entirely.


The riverbank softens into caustic sludge. A forest winks on the far shore. The iron-leaved trees ring ceaselessly.

From that moment onwards, I staked my days around the locus of her. My life had now bisected itself into two clean halves. The first, an endless conveyor-belt of time and repetition and grasping men. And now, every moment attuned to the Beautiful One’s presence. I could not allow myself to believe that I would never see her again. Every day, I tried to observe smudges of traffic for a gunmetal-hued Benz.

Luckily, I did not have to work too hard. She had a routine, as I soon learned.

The Beautiful One visited the fancy store twice a week. Her shopping done, she would glide into the cool tomb of the Benz and leave. But sometimes, she would walk down to the biryani center and order a packet of mutton trotters and rice.

I ached for those moments when the night blinked to a standstill; the Beautiful One sheathed in green silks, waiting for her food, almost immobile. I would dissolve into the long shadow of a concrete pillar at the construction site. I could have spent several lifetimes in that ribbon of time, of vehicles and mutton parts and the form of her illumed by headlights, every time a car passed us by.

And in those instances, I would always hear rippling water, a low hum that filmed over me.

Some weeks, the Beautiful One arrived at the biriyani center with a man. I soon realized that this was the man that owned the gunmetal Benz. Piecing together an overheard mosaic of conversations, I learned that he was an up-and-coming Big Man, a land mafia goon who also nurtured a fierce political will. With the Beautiful One by his side, he would hold kangaroo courts for his oily sycophants after he had sated himself on flattery and food. He had a wife and eight grown children.

Big Men always had perfect families, and the Beautiful One was not his wife.

Every time the Big Man visited the biryani center with his entourage, he would be seated on a clean bench as befitting his status. His hangers-on arrayed themselves around his feet. He would then present a knotted length of fresh oleander to the Beautiful One, his face slicked with anticipation. She would untie it gently. The Big Man would jerk her closer as she squirmed in his thick arm, as he bound and fastened the oleander around her hair. This was a regular show, a marquee-lit warning to his followers that were mostly made up of young men with hungry eyes and hungrier ambitions. A show to remind them that she was utterly off-limits, belonging only to him. She never spoke a word through it all.

The first time the Beautiful One saw me through the grease-grimed windowpane of the biryani center, she did not scream or flinch. She continued eating; a placid metronome of movement from hand to mouth. I had become careless, wanting a closer look. But I couldn’t help myself.

Her pale green sari faded white against the fluorescent lamp on the wall. Her neck shone purple with bruises. The Big Man was making a joke about her engorged lips, about his biting habit, about how he wanted to swallow her whole.

I do what I have to, he said. If I want a midnight snack, I must eat.

His sycophants laughed and hooted as if on cue. The Beautiful One continued to eat in silence. She never looked away from me.

As the night wore on, one of the hangers-on had whipped out a phone. Something about a cricket match. Vast, liquid streams of money being moved around in gambling bets overtook the conversation. While the Big Man hissed threats and growled sequences of numbers into several cellphones, the Beautiful One escaped onto the back porch to wash her hands.

This was my chance. I swiftly emerged near the water drum.

I’m sorry, I whispered. Please, please don’t be afraid. I’m sorr—

There you are, she said, without surprise. Valikkarutha? Does it hurt?

She gestured at my throat, the bent rod. I suddenly felt self-conscious.

No. Not really.

She smiled then. Do you have a name?

I don’t remember.

Ah, I also had one name. But he—and she pointed to the Big Man inside—gave me another.

Naa usuruoda illai. I blurted. I’m not alive.

She looked at me for what felt like a long, unbearable flue of time. A glassy-skinned lizard darted across the floor.

I know, she finally said, and walked back into the biryani center.


The moon is a thin, curved line over the way of Death. A smile ripped from an unwilling mouth.

The Beautiful One and I started talking to each other. Our exchanges were quiet and unobtrusive while she waited alone in the semi-opaque dimness for her mutton trotters. No one seemed to notice.

Once, she even offered to buy me food.

No no, I don’t—I can’t eat this.

She was thoughtful. If you’re dead, then you can eat rice?

I’m not sure.

At my grandma’s funeral, I made ellu saadam urundai, rolled balls of black-sesame rice.

She spoke of her grandmother often. Of how the old woman stubbornly refused to wear a blouse, choosing to only drape her sari on bare skin. Of her saucer-wide earlobes that were adorned with thandatti; earrings floating over her clavicles in tetrahedrons of gold. Of how she meticulously prepared paaya—a goat leg broth simmered for hours in coconut milk.

I used to hate it, The Beautiful One laughed.

I tried to hide my smile. But, this is what you always order.

She told me that she had despised its viscid collagen taste, its phlegm-green hue. However, once her paati died, she began to crave its smooth pepperiness. Now she ate it whenever she could.

It’s okay ma, she said. This is all I want to eat.

In that moment, I understood the shape and contour of her particular craving for this dish. I wanted to tell her that my appetite was singular as well, that I could only consume one thing. That, like her, I was also bound to a hunger not of my choosing.

It makes sense, I said.

Another night. The Beautiful One pushed a steel tiffin box into my hands.

Just try it.

Later, I opened it when I was alone. Greasy, undulating mounds of black-sesame rice spilled out of the container. I attempted to eat one, but it gummed over the section of the windshield wiper that cored my flesh. I coughed out what was left of the rice, and as if on cue, flesh flies immediately glazed it in mucus. 

I closed the box tightly. I wanted to preserve its contents for as long as I could. I wanted to ask her if I could keep it, because it was hers, because it tethered me to her in a connective skein, a talisman for when she was gone.

Maybe next time, I promised myself.


A well of laments, a hillock, and a cascade of spear points. How do we rent ourselves asunder?

The Big Man was angry. He twisted through the biryani center in gales of unshed rage. Back and forth, back and forth he loped, toppling chairs when his fury dribbled out of his mouth in expletives. No one dared to approach him. He crushed three cellphones in his fists.

Fear sent his entourage skittering for cover.

Investment failure.

Land deal pochchu. He is finished.

CBI raid.

I caught some murmurs from the sycophants. It appeared as though the Big Man had lost a lot of money. I did not care about the erratic ticker tape of his businesses or his ambitions. I only sought the Beautiful One. I found her on the back porch of the biryani center, leaning, as always, against the water drum. A motionless pillar wearing silence.

Inside, the beatings began.

The Big Man’s anger had detonated at last. A sycophant lost an eyeball. Another one got his nose broken. A veshti-clad octogenarian tottered up to the Big Man and softly touched his arm. This was an expensive mistake. The Big Man broke a bench over the man’s head. The octogenarian crumpled into a mess of flesh and exposed bone with an odd, burbling sound.

This was when the Beautiful One decided to intervene, decided to unsnarl the tangle of the Big Man’s brutality somehow, decided to drape herself over the octogenarian in response.

Before I could stop her, before I could shield her from the unerring finality of the Big Man’s fist, before, before, before, before everything, this night, the biryani center, the gunmetal Benz, the known arc of his violence, his hand sliced across her face. Once, twice, thrice.

The Beautiful One’s body bent at an impossible angle and folded in on itself. Her teeth rattled out of her mouth in a gasping breath. I rushed over to her and pinched my way up her arms, her neck. I begged for a thrum, a pulse, its percussive hope. There was nothing.

In that instant, madness undid me from the vacuum of survival.

I scratched away my clothes and wailed until the tin roof peeled from the scaffolding. I leaped onto the Big Man’s shoulders and held him still between my thighs. He continued to thrash with his bulk. I blurred into a wreath of hair as my jaw unhinged into his, as I impaled him in place with the windshield wiper, its usefulness finally telegraphing into view. A soupy, maggot-infested gush slopped around our feet.

I was ravenous.

But in this instance, there was no polypeptide rush that seared my bowels with hunger, no apathy at the conveyor-belt looping of men that I usually fed on. Instead, my skin thrummed with newness—a fury, lined with teeth. 

I took my time in consuming the Big Man, his innards roping over my knees in glossy coils as I slurped through every tendon and nail and gristle. I saved his hands for last.


We bring no payment, no supplication, no penance. The opposite of the Vaitaraṇī river cannot be seen. Twelve suns glare overhead.

At first, I was nothing. Then I felt the throb of something in me, someone even, in the presence of the Beautiful One. And with her gone, I had heaved over the cliff-face of nothings and somethings and someones altogether.

I crawled to her corpse and pulled it close, her skin to my skin. The Big Man’s blood hammered inside the double-jointed cavern of my gaunt frame.

I lay there for a long time, letting the Beautiful One’s body stiffen in my arms. Her anguish blushed into focus because I perceived her. Like tuning into the radio at the right frequency, the wavelets of our isolation looping into a mutual current of existence. A woman could succumb to a five-lane mash of traffic, and people would continue to drift along their lives, her death a transient blip. Another woman sat, her skin strobing with wounds, and everyone pretended not to see. But I did. And the Beautiful One had perceived me too. In that, we were one.

At last the river arrived, as I knew it would. 

It coursed through my body in long, deafening sheets of sound. And then the heat, rupturing the eventide and the stars and the deepest dark as it split the night wide-open across the waters.

We waded into the boiling flood, the Beautiful One and I. I held her corpse taut against mine. The river scoured away the last bits of us in burning rinds of flesh and hair. Marrow-laced foam filled my throat. It tasted of smelted copper ore, the embers of a long-ago life. It tasted of relief. Maybe even joy, though I could not remember what that was anymore.

© 2023 by M.L. Krishnan

3030 words

Author’s Note: I wanted to write about a kind of visceral loneliness that underpins queer identities, especially in spaces where concealing yourself is both necessary and integral to survival. I wanted to write about left-behind women, about being unseen—the invisibility that cloaks over a person even with their flesh-and-blood presence in the room. Growing up in Tamil Nadu, I have always been fascinated by the Mohini mythos whose lore continues to weave through the axes of the divine, the profane, and almost every cultural mundanity in-between. My memory is very visual, so I knew that I had a story in my hands when I kept seeing a persistent image of a woman in my head, trawling a highway in order to sate her hunger. And so I found a way to weave all these threads together when I sat down to write her into existence.

M. L. Krishnan originally hails from the coastal shores of Tamil Nadu, India. She is a 2019 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, a 2022 recipient of the Millay Arts Fellowship, and a 2022-2023 MacDowell Fellow. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming in The Offing, PodCastle, Baffling MagazineThe Best Microfiction 2022 Anthology and elsewhere. You can find her at: mlkrishnan.com.

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DP FICTION #52B: “Bootleg Jesus” by Tonya Liburd

Out where rock outcroppings yearn to become mountains, there was a town cursed with no magic.

In this town, there was a family.

In this family, there was a girl.

She was nine, almost ten, Mara. Childhood hadn’t completely lifted its veil. She had an older brother, Ivan, who was fourteen, and whose voice was changing. Elsewhere, puberty would have signaled all sorts of preparations – acceptance into a special group home as much for his safety as for the general public – while his Unique Gift manifested. Watchfulness. Guidance. Training.

But not here.

Here the rocks, the soil, of the mountains had a special property that had been artificially duplicated thousands of years ago, and before that, the rock itself was transported. Here the rocks and soil prevented the manifestation of magic. There was no ‘curse’, really, of the dampening of magic – just something some said.

Everyone here in this town got along here by their wits, their brains, their strength – things were done from scratch if possible.

For what else had they to do here, this far away from civilization.

So, like everyone here around the age of puberty, Mara’s brother was special, yet not special, because of the rocks.

Mara would be special, yet not special like her older brother someday, like her mummy and daddy, like the rest of the adults. Like the people, families, who showed up sometimes on the outskirts, wanting to find a place for themselves here.


One day, Mara was playing in the house, and her father sent her to the yard. Some houses had garages, like hers, and some didn’t – like the oldest of the houses of the people who never had to arrive, who’d been here all along.

The garage wasn’t off-limits, and she was bored, so she went digging around inside.

One after another, she found an item, an item of before, before her family arrived, before she was born, and she discarded them.

In the back of all the clutter in the garage, there stood a bust of a Jesus. Unlike most busts and portraits of Jesus in the Western Hemisphere, this Jesus had brown skin and black features. It was supposed to give advice when priests and counsellors weren’t to be had. “They make them all blonde and blue eyed,” she remembered her mother saying disparagingly. “Like that’s how he was in that part of the world. As if he’d blend into the Egypt that was, if he was there. Hah!” And that would be the end of any religious discussion in the house. This Jesus was manufactured several decades ago as an answer to all the lilly-whiteness in the world, calling them Bootleg Jesuses, and one was bought by an ancestor so the family would remember they had a black ancestor as they headed into whiteness, white-acting, white-passing.

This Jesus had a heart on his chest that he presented to the world with rays of light—or in this case, neon rays—like in numerous postcards. His hair was dreadlocked. All of this was inside a metal box, made to be placed on a table, with no plug where it could be plugged in. So; what made it run?

Oh, she knew. It would run in any other place in the world, where magic ran free…

Where there existed people with Unique Gifts so powerful that they were considered gods…

She picked it up, and put in on a small round picnic table she had to unfold.

She smiled at it.

“Red and yellow, black and white,” she began to sing in her young voice, “we are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world…”

It was the only religious thing that she knew, because her mother insisted that if anyone told her that her Jesus was wrong, she was to answer by reminding them of that song.

“Jesus, do you love me?” Mara giggled.

She heard it sputter to life; it lit up. The dreadlocked head of the Jesus bowed up and down, up and down. Then stopped, the light illuminating its white robed chest going out.

Mara gasped, her mouth hanging open. Then she put her hands to her mouth and squealed.

“Mummy, Daddy, Ivan, Jesus bowed to me!”

“That’s nice, dear,” her mother said, and that was the end of that. But little Mara would never forget. The Bootleg Jesus became her favourite thing in the house, in all the world.


If one looked around, or even past the hills, there was one constant: goats. They climbed where man feared; they frolicked where man could tame them. So man ate them.

They made a soup out of them called “goat water”.

Mara liked to be outside, and so did her older brother Ivan and their friend Sydney, who visited them often, and one day they all had goat water outside, and they enjoyed it, and it became a thing for them. Goat water, outside. At the borders of the town. Where the wild goats were.

And Mara always brought the Bootleg Jesus with her. Everyone humoured her at first. Then, as the years passed, it became more of a sentimental habit. “Mummy and Daddy don’t have to come with us, Bootleg Jesus will watch over us as we eat and play… haha…”

Everyone knew it wouldn’t work, right?



They remove the veil childhood had over knowing how the world really runs.

Mara knew pain, now. She felt her brother’s.

Mara knew fear and hopelessness. She felt Sydney’s.

Mara knew dreams of being one with the earth, of feeling its ponderous power in her veins, of letting the power out through her to be free.

She and her brother ate goat water near the outskirts of the town. Sydney was absent.


Ivan’s knuckles were white as he sipped spoonful by spoonful, his eyes dark and fathomless, partially hidden by his dark hair.

Mara looked at him while she ate and winced. She was twelve now. She opened her mouth to speak.



She sighed, wincing.

They both knew why Sydney wasn’t here with them; she was apprenticed with Mr. Stewart, who demanded long and hard hours. Meeting together was a “childish thing”, a thing of the past. She had better things to do.

But that wasn’t true, was it? They both knew what was really going on behind closed doors, in Mr. Stewart’s house, to Sydney. She’d told Ivan, and then Mara; and Mr. Stewart was a friend of Sydney’s family, and they went back a long way. No one would believe her if she said anything, Sydney knew, what with her mother and her father and their fights.

The next time they managed to meet to have goat water Mara stared at the Bootleg Jesus, a childhood comfort, accusingly.

“Weren’t you supposed to protect us?” she squeaked, not wanting even the wind to hear, so embarrassed was she to still hold onto this faint hope.

She slapped it.

Light and gears sputtered to life, and the Bootleg Jesus’s head went down and up.

Mara sprang onto her bare feet. A strong breeze blew up, and she held her long black hair down with one hand, her brown skirt back with another.

Ivan and Sydney looked her way, expressions curious.

She kicked it.

Again light and gears sputtered to life, and the Bootleg Jesus’s head went down and up.

“WHAT?” Ivan said, springing to his feet as well.

Mara fell to her knees before it, taking it in her arms, then setting it down carefully.

“J… Jesus, do you love me?” she asked it, her voice tremulous, her mind back in the cluttered, unused garage, when she still had her naïveté and her heart was untarnished by life’s darker corners. Where she’d thought about godhood.

The bootleg Jesus lit to life again, bowing its head. A tinny voice. “Yes, Mara.”

Ivan approached. “So what’s inside it? What’s the key thing that makes it run?”

“…You wanna open it up down to its nuts n’ bolts and destroy it to find out? Because I don’t see anyone here who knows how to take it apart and put it back together,” Sydney said.

And all the way home, Mara smiled a gentle, private smile, like she and the Bootleg Jesus that she held in her arms, all the way home, shared something special.


“Mara!” her brother called loudly.

She was in the yard, picking out some garlic for this evening’s meal of goat water.

“It’s not working,” he yelled. The Bootleg Jesus.

She got off her knees. “Let me try.”

In the garage, sitting at a table, she said gently, smiling, “Jesus, are you there?”

It came to life, white robe going bright, neon rays from the heart glowing, the head bobbing down and back up. “Yes,” it said in that tinny voice. Then the lights went out, and it stopped moving.

Ivan slapped the table in frustration. “See, it only likes you.”

Mara’s smile went wider. “Maybe because I’ve always had faith.” She turned to leave.


Mara turned back.

“Ask it for me, then.”

“Ask it what?”

“Will Sydney and I ever get married? Will we get Mr. Stewart to stop?”


It lit up, head bowing. “Yes… and no.” It went dark.

Ivan bolted out of his seat and marched out of the garage, punching the door to the house as he passed.

The house rumbled slightly.

“What was that? Earthquake?” She heard her mother wonder out aloud.

“In this area?” she heard her father say.

Mara was the only person who went to the outskirts of the town with the Bootleg Jesus that day.

And the next.


Ivan came outside with Mara this time.

Ivan paced back and forth through the lush grass around the bust of the Bootleg Jesus. “So you work, huh? Huh! Well, then tell me this!” he pounced before the bust, snakelike, hissing.

His bottomless brown eyes shone like brown diamonds with the tears in them. “Then tell me what to do about Sydney. She hurts. I hurt. But she hurts more. People hurt her. I want her there when I tell my parents about us, I want her to be able to come out here with me whenever she and I want – what to DO ABOUT THAT?”

The bust of Jesus sputtered with light from within, the head bowed back and forth and a mechanical, tinny voice spoke. “Lose the battle. Win the war.” The light from within sputtered out; it went still.

Mara smiled. Ivan stayed, where he crouched, thunderstruck, fingers gripping green blades of grass, before the Bootleg Jesus.


The next day Mara was out, alone again.

Her bowl of goat water lay in the grass, the sun starting to descend. She’d been out here for hours, crying.


The Bootleg Jesus lit up.

“What… can I do about Ivan and Sydney? I mean, can I make Mr.Stewart stop?”




“What do you mean?

The Bootleg Jesus’s dreadlocked head bobbed up and down, the whites of its eyes electric-white. “Do what your heart desires.”

Mara gasped. Hastily, she wiped tears from her eyes. “Will he die?”


“Will I die?”


“Is it worth it?”


Do what your heart desires… crumble and destruction… death and victory…

Grabbing onto her dark hair from both sides, Mara raised her head and screamed to the sky. The bowl flew away. The ground beneath her rumbled, a nearby tree shuddering its green leaves.


Mara walked up the steps to Mr. Stewart’s porch—were those cracking sounds coming from underfoot?—and banged open the flydoor and inside door to Mr. Stewart’s house, the flydoor rattling on its hinges.

She saw Mr. Stewart inside. In a pair of pants and undershirt. He watched her approach.

He wasn’t one to mince words. “What do you want.”

She walked right up to his face. “Leave. Her. Alone.”


He scowled.

Then Mr. Stewart roughly took her arm. And that was it.

Then it seemed like Mr. Stewart wasn’t trying to grab her, he was trying to let go. He started to shake. Then he began to convulse. His eyes rolled back ’til you could see the whites; he fell onto a couch seat.

Mr. Stewart had set something in motion inside Mara, and it wasn’t going to stop now.

She had been staring at Mr. Stewart all this time, and she had been hyperventilating. She couldn’t… stop.

Behind the house, she heard a teeth-rending crack. Mr. Stewart’s house seemed to have picked up on his shaking; she looked about wildly.

Mara ran to the door. As her foot stepped in the doorway, a crack split the floor under her feet in half. She jumped down the stairs, onto the ground. The split went into the house, and other cracks branched away from it, taking over the whole house. Windows splintered. The upper floor groaned like it needed to eat, and started caving in alarmingly, warping the roof. Neighbours were coming out of their houses, pointing, shouting and a couple were screaming.

She looked up, past the whole house, to the mountain face that was behind it. And saw the crack in the rock above. Rocks of various sizes were breaking free and pounding down on the house’s roof. She held her breath. The crumbling seemed to stop. Then she realized what it was that was making this all happen.


She let her breath out in a scream, a scream to release all holding back, all fear, to let the wild things out – or the wild things in. The cracking of the mountain behind the house thunderclapped the air, and huge rocks began to fall. The house rumbled down to its foundation, crushed from above.

People scattered, really screaming for their lives now. But nothing hit them. Nothing hit Mara, either.

Mara simply stared. All the pressures of growing older—and never being old enough for your autonomy—and the ways adults around her had abused that notion… all of it inside her. Calm.


She could smell the goat water being made by her mother from the front gate. She eyed a green onion in the garden as she passed and it unrooted itself, trailing her. Her mother froze as she ascended the back steps into the kitchen.

She’d heard, then. Seen. She knew.

The spoon her mother was stirring the pot with lifted from her hand and went into Mara’s. “Let me.”

Lips trembling, her mother stepped back.

Mara put the spoon down and took hold of the green onions still hanging in the air, turning the tap on to wash them. When that was done, she took up a knife—which caused her mother some consternation—and started chopping them, then put them in the pot to cook.

“You always cooked it for me… so many times… I know it by heart now.”

“…Mara…” her mother said, voice trembling.

“Yes?” Mara turned, fingering the knife.

Her mother swallowed.

Mara noticed her mother eyeing the knife and put it down gently. She smiled slowly.

Her father walked carefully up behind her mother, placing his hands upon her shoulders. “You’re… such a big girl now…” he attempted.

“Not so big,” Mara said. “Ivan and Sydney are older.”

“Yes, yes, that’s right,” her mother said, swallowing nervously again.

Her mother stood tall and lifted her chin, lips trembling. “We’ve never hurt you,” she said, trying to be strident.

“No… no you never did. Not you. Not Daddy.”

“You know you can always talk to us,” he said, a strained smile on his features.

“Not about everything, though,” Mara said.

Ivan and Sydney burst upon the scene.


Mara’s head snapped to see her brother and Sydney behind her, coming up the stairs. The knife lifted from the counter to point at her parents in the blink of an eye. The house rumbled slightly. The air thrummed.

“C’mon, now, Mara,” Ivan said, a cautious laugh, “put the knife down.”

Mara sighed. The knife went back to its place on the counter. The air went still.

“You ain’t gonna hurt anybody now,” Ivan said.

Mara nudged her face towards her parents. “They think I might.”

“No they don’t,” Ivan said, his voice getting louder. “They don’t think you’ll hurt them. Right?”

They nodded.

“Ivan,” Mara said, “Why don’t you tell mom and dad what you wanted to say for so long now?”

Ivan’s lip trembled.


His gaze went to the white floor. “Not like this,” he mumbled.

“Now’s a good time as any.”

Ivan stepped forward, holding Sydney’s hand. He took in a deep breath. “Mom, Dad, Sydney and I love each other. I’d love to marry her someday and I hope that we can have your blessing… now that Mr. Stewart can’t hurt her no more.”

“You have our blessing,” Mara’s father said.

They stood in silence. Mara sighed, turning to look out the kitchen window.

“Well, now what, Mara?” Ivan said. “You have all the cards.”

“No I don’t,” she said softly. She turned back to the kitchen. “I can’t stay here anymore.”

“Why not?” Ivan retorted.

“Here’s a place where no magic can be, yet here I am, manifesting. There’s people out there who know what I can do. They’ll know about me soon enough. There’s places for people like me. You don’t see people like me in public for long.”

“Mara…” her brother started.

“You know it, and I know it,” Mara said. “I have to go.”

“What… what can we do for you?” her father said. Her mother looked near tears.

“You can give me a bowl of that goat water, to go,” she said. “It was always what kept the three of us together.”

“Anything else?”

“The Bootleg Jesus,” she said, a warm smile finally coming to her face.

“I can give you the backpack with the sleeping bag in it,” her father said. “Not like we needed to camp out here with the stars, the open sky…” he caught himself, and coughed.

“I’ll get it,” Ivan said, ducking out of the room.

Mara’s mother began weeping silently, then stepped forward to prepare the soup for her.

“I don’t want you to go,” Sydney said, stepping forward to embrace Mara. She shed tears on Mara’s shoulder for some minutes, before breaking away, wiping at her nose.

“Here, take my poncho,” Ivan said, coming back, dropping the items on the floor.

She didn’t hug her parents as she took the soup and outfitted herself, although her mother looked like she was finally unafraid enough and wanted to do it for all the world. She did hug her brother though.

“Where’s the… oh.” Sydney said as the Bootleg Jesus floated into view.

Mara walked out the door, and down the steps. The sun was maybe a couple of hours from setting, but still hung low enough to set an orange glow across the sky.

The front gate opened of its own accord, and Mara stepped out.

This was all she knew for her entire life. And, just like that, she was unfit to stay here. She’d always been a keen reader, and what technology they had—like television—she knew that it took a massive Gift to do what she’d done today.

The Gift of those considered gods. Townships developed around them. People worshipped them. But they were hard to find, and they might show up in the public consciousness for a while, but just like that, their presence winked out and disappeared.

But she was all of twelve. And yet unafraid.

She looked back to her home. All that stood between her and it was the Bootleg Jesus, bobbing in the air. And it was fitting, in more ways than one.

It started with you, she thought, looking at it, lit up and ready for questions.

Would she ever get the time to control her Gift? Would she be allowed to? How far did her Gift go? Would she ever find out?

She looked forward, to the sky, then to the ground. They were all that stood between her now.

A god.

Mara took one step away from home, and then another.

© 2019 by Tonya Liburd

Author’s Note: If I recall correctly, it was the simplest of things – and this has happened before, for example, with the Ace Of Knives: a name of a player while I was gaming. They had the name Bootleg Jesus and it was a title and an idea generator. What is a Bootleg Jesus? etc.

Tonya Liburd shares a birthday with Simeon Daniel and Ray Bradbury, which may tell you a little something about her. She is a 2017 and 2018 Rhysling nominee, and has been longlisted in the 2015 Carter V. Cooper(Vanderbilt)/Exile Short Fiction Competition. Her fiction is used in Nisi Shawl’s workshops as an example of ‘code switching’, and in Tananarive Due’s course at UCLA, which has featured Jordan Peele as a guest lecturer. She is also the Senior Editor of Abyss & Apex magazine. You can find her blogging at http://Spiderlilly.com, on Twitter at @somesillywowzer, or on Patreon at www.Patreon.com/TonyaLiburd

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