1: Two girls in an orphanage, secretly learning to read

Credit: hdptcar

Witness two little girls in an orphanage in a distant city, a long way from the centre of a great and ancient empire.

They have, against all the odds, taught themselves to read. Every morning, without fail, they wake each other up before anybody else, and practice, using a book filled with mysterious stories of ancient creatures called “gods”.

Their reading, and the gods, are forbidden.

They catch each other’s breath as they read. They are alone in the world, except for each other. They are safe, with each other.

The rest of their day will be filled with scrubbing floors, scrubbing stairwells, and scrubbing walls. But at the end of the day, if the sky is clear – and out here so close to Great Takla Desert, it almost always is – they will read to the light of the moon.

And what they read about, as fantastical and strange as it may well be, could be just about to come true.

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Short Story: The Talk

(Originally written for The Weekly Knob on Medium)

It’s time to tell you, son, where you came from.

You may have heard some of the other kids telling tales, so we wanted to make sure you knew the truth. A lot of people may start spreading rumours, or plain making stuff up, but you’ll know, after today, how much we love you, and how hard we worked to bring you into the world. And we’ll have done for you what our parents could never do for us.

You know by now where babies come from, and that is all perfectly true. But… well… sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes even though a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, it turns out that… they just can’t have that baby after all.

But that doesn’t mean they’re just going to give up, does it? No, of course not. You see, son, we knew that there was a soul out there for us, just for us to raise as our own child, and we weren’t going to let what had happened to us get in the way of that. Oh no.

So we looked into the options. There are a lot of them these days, and medical science can do amazing things. But we… well, son, to put it bluntly, we were beyond their help—but we wouldn’t stop there! There are always possibilities.

We could have adopted, I suppose. There are so many children in the world who desperately need loving parents to help them grow into good people.But… we wanted to raise a child that would be just like us, a child that we had truly made ourselves.

D’you know how hard it is to get very large quantities of clay, son? Especially around here. It’s not exactly loamy soil in this area, and craft supplies ask questions when you ask for as much as we needed. But we persevered.

Of course, there’s the neighbours, too. What will they think, with us working all day and night, all this clay out in the back yard? Ritual chanting at night is not really popular in the suburbs. At least, not these suburbs. We had to ride out some tough Resident Meetings, I can tell you.

But we did it, and in the end, we had you. You: complete and perfect, just like us. Yet… not. We had a problem. You had no voice. Because none of us, ever, has had a voice, since the first one was made. We were never told the truth about ourselves, about how to give ourselves speech. We’d found out about the special words to make us work, but not how to make us truly live. We had to find that one out without help. To finally set ourselves free.

We had to find a way to give you words. They wouldn’t just be any words, they’d be the best words, words about the world around you. Not just from here, either, but from all around the world.

And so we stuffed your arms and legs with newspaper, put books in your heart and your head.

Have you ever wondered why you can speak so many languages, son? Well, it all came down to that: the core of you, the paper at your heart.