Escape Pod 616: My Generations Shall Praise

My Generations Shall Praise

By Samantha Henderson

The woman on the other side of the glass must be very rich and very sick. I study her face, looking for any kind of resemblance. If I’m a Jarndyce candidate, we must be related. It’s the only way she could ride my brain.

She’s a predator. I recognize my own kind.

Mrs. Helena McGraw is studying me too. The side of her mouth quirks up, twisting her face out of true. “Great-grandmother Toohey,” she says, a little too smug.

Never knew my great-grandmother, but I do a quick calculation. That makes us second cousins. Helena’s lucky, me ripe for picking on death row. Only this low-hanging peach has some say in what’s going to happen to her. Not much: a choice of deaths. But how I choose means everything to her.

I can see we’re alike in some ways. The shape of the brow ridge, how far the eyes are separated by the root of the nose, the slight protrusion of the chin. We’d look more alike if her face wasn’t marked by her disease, tiny lines birthed by pain and exhaustion. Makes her look older than she probably is. And my life sits on my face: coarse skin, smudges under my eyes like permanent bruises, cheeks hollowed where I’m still missing teeth. During the years the state’s waited to kill me, they’ve taken excellent care. Dental, exercise, better nutrition than a welfare brat living on peanut butter. Access to books, online classes. But you can never truly erase the witness of a life hard-lived. It’s like cigarette smoke in an old house – you have to grind off the wallpaper, scrape the plaster to get the smell out. One of the reasons I’ve always hated smokers.

“Lucy Toohey,” she continues. “Dropped out of college and married a musician with more sex appeal than brains. Two kids. One was a boy who, in the fullness of time, got a girl pregnant. Kid was adopted, the papers sealed. That was your mother. Do you care about the details?”

“Nope.” I consider how this new information changes the calculus of my life. Mom never told me she was adopted. She ran away from home pretty early and supported us with a series of shitty waitress jobs. My grandfather – not by blood, as it turns out – showed up at the third or fourth sleazy diner I remember. Mom screamed at him and threw coffee cups, which shattered the front window and got her fired. “Where do you come in?”

She leans back, mimicking me. “Lucy got smart, divorced the musician, and married my great-grandfather. He didn’t much like Lucy’s kids, sent them away to their father. I won’t bore you with the rest, but I’m an only child and I married a trust-fund. He’s dead. Was bad at business, but I’m good.”

Mom got a job at a crap roadhouse after the coffee cups. That’s where I learned I could make extra money giving the truckers blowjobs, even more if I roofied them and cleaned out their wallets. Maybe being good at business is genetic. Maybe not, considering Mom, always slipping behind no matter how much she tried, pathetically honest always.

I didn’t love my mother. But she didn’t know that. I did kill for her, though. She didn’t know that either.

“So now I’ve got more money than God,” continues Helena.


“Pancreatic cancer.”

Gamechanger. “Ouch.”

She smiles with the other side of her mouth. “True.”

“And you want to map yourself on my brainmeat.”

“Also true.” Despite the smile I can feel the heat of her desire to live, and the anger that even with all the money in the world my own true, trashy, baby-killing self can deny her. The DOJ can’t force me either, much as they’d like their cut. They can fry me, everyone likes that, but God forbid they let someone hop my mind.

I understand the satisfaction of taking a life. But a legal killing is so expensive, the ceaseless cycle of appeal, the sheer mass of salary-men required to make the machinery of a justified death grind on, and no-one turning the gears wants to spend money in a voting year. They went reality-show for a while, but despite tearful interviews with victims’ families and artfully edited black-and-white footage of crime scenes, the climatic three minute shot of someone twitching under a grey hood isn’t really all that interesting, and the ratings tanked after the first season.

So they’re stuck again, with a public that howls for blood whenever a politician who needs a boost reminds them to, but saddled with a powerful need to pretend there’s justice in this process. I’ve seen plenty that wouldn’t be on death row if they could pay for a lawyer worth her salt. Even some who were innocent. But once you’re here you’ll stay here; the machine loves you too much to let you go, blacks your eye and kisses it better, heals you all twisted and grinds you small in the end, loving you to extinction.

No way to monetize its beloveds in their little cages. Not until Dr. Henri Jarndyce, playing around with gene therapy, engineered a virus that could strip away the weeds of one personality, with all her memories and inclinations and thinky-thoughts, and leave the field tender and furrowed for the seeds of another.

See, personality’s all electric, anyway. If you really wanted immortality, you’d invest in software, downloading your blips and wavelengths to a computer. But everybody wants the fleshy life. Helps if the field and the seeds are related somehow. Helps more if your fallow field is a clone.

But human cloning’s still illegal, mostly. So is the Jarndyce procedure, mostly. You can’t find a suicidal cousin and promise them oblivion. You can’t bribe a desperate nephew with three mouths to feed, clothe, and educate to let you take a ride in the body of the fourth. There’s only two ways. First: find a brain-dead match who signed her organ donor card and get her next of kin to agree. If you’re her next of kin yourself, congratulations to you.

Second: find a match on death row and practice your rhetoric.

Helena needs to practice her rhetoric.

She’s here, so she already knows somehow we’re a likely match. She’s here, so she got permission from the Rimbaughs and the Alcotts. They must’ve liked the idea of the Jarndyce virus wiping my brain, every memory, every tiny electric jolt that makes me me disappearing one by one, and then a stranger’s electricity mapped out in that blank space. But why should I make them happier by leaving this world now, not later? For now I can live appeal to appeal. I have my routine. I like thinking my own thinky-thoughts.

“You got nothing I want,” I tell her. “I don’t know why anyone gets suckered into doing this.”

“Jarndyce candidates? They’ve got people they care about,” she says. She’s careful to make her grammar just a little better than mine with her careful “they’ve gots.” “Someone who’ll get the money. Last Jarndyce set up a trust fund for the children of the woman he killed. Made him feel better about himself, I suppose. You could do something like that that. Fund some charity.”

There’s a pause before we both start laughing.

“Oh Mrs. McGraw, cousin of mine, I almost like you. Can’t you fight on a little longer? Clone a new pancreas? Adrenal mods?

She coughs and shakes her head. “Did and done. Anything else will kill me.”

“Well, bless your heart, but I think you’re gonna die,” I drawl, enjoying her wince. “Because I got no reason to leave this earth any sooner than I have to.”

She coughs harder. “There’s your daughter.”

I laugh again. “Nice try, but I’ve always been a crap mother. And Cece’s too stupid to know what to do with the money.”

“There’s the baby.”

I open my mouth and shut it.

She chuckles. “Oh, you didn’t know? She didn’t tell you? You are perhaps not as close as you once were?”

Cece’s not the brightest bulb, but for some reason she’s a good kid. Much better than I deserve. For a long time she thought I was a good person.

The trial was remote jury, with only the judge and officers present: family and witnesses on closed circuit feed. I was watching her screen the moment the sheer weight of the evidence coalesced. I saw her face melt from when everything came together for her – she was one person, then another. A small change, but nothing would be the same for her. All I could think was poor stupid little bitch. I wish I could be sorry I broke your heart.

There are a lot of people on death row who shouldn’t be here. I’m not one of them. I can’t blame Cece if she doesn’t want a monster for a mother.

But I’m kind of hurt she didn’t tell me.

My cousin leans forward, hands spread on her knees, like a football coach about to give a pep talk. I see the faint trace of a nicotine stain on the front and middle finger of her right hand.

“Here’s my proposition,” she says, moving quickly, while I’m still a little off-balance. Good technique. “I’m going to set up a trust for your daughter. You find someone, anyone you trust, as a third-party administrator, and I’ll pay for that too. Choose someone to vet the agreement. She’ll get her needs met, medical, anything, and a generous allowance. We both know better than to let her touch the principle.”

“You met her.”

She shrugs. “I do my research. That’s good business.”

I play for time. “Give me a minute to think.”

She’s relentless. “And the baby. He, she, it…”

“How did you find out about the baby?”

She grins. Her teeth aren’t as white as they might be. “Let’s say ‘she’ for now, shall we? It’s nice to think about having a granddaughter, something you can dress in pink. We’ll make sure she gets everything you and Cece didn’t. Private school, college fund.”

Deliberately, she eyes my face. “Braces. Dermatologist. Come on – a big middle finger to anyone who ever called you trash, and I know they did. Your kid, your grandkid will have it all while theirs are clipping coupons and making a block of American cheese stretch the week. Just for letting me have something you’re going to lose anyway. What’s it worth to you?”

I can’t help it; it comes out a snarl. “All your money. That’s what it’s worth. Everything.”

A mistake. I let her get to me when she hit all my soft spots. Now she knows I have a price.

“We know that’s not going to happen. I’m not unreasonable. A third.”

I call her bluff. “All of it. I’ll sign right now.”

She hesitates, then shakes her head. “Half. I’m not going to a new body and not have the cash to enjoy it. And remember Justice won’t let this happen without their cut.”

“You look like shit walking,” I observe. “What if I agree, and you die on me?’

A shrug. “We’ll put it in the paperwork – a deed of gift. Once you sign it, it’s hers, whatever happens to me.”

I tap the Formica for the guard. The door opens behind me, and I raise my hands shoulder-high, as far as the thin chain that attaches my wrists to my waist will let me.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Not too long.” She breathes deep and braces herself to get up.

I nod. The guard lays her hand on my shoulder, tightens her grip when I don’t move.

“Did you quit smoking yet?”

It catches her on the way to the door; she turns, disconcerted. She expected the last word. “What?”

“Did you quit? I don’t want you crapping up my lungs.”

Her thin face is powder-white; she tamps down the anger. “Yes, I quit.”

The guard’s fingers dig in: a last warning before a baton in my belly. They’re no meaner than they have to be, the women, anyway. I obey. The yawning doorway leans darkly into the bowels of the prison, like an old badger’s den going perpetually down between the roots of ancient oaks. I like that. It makes me feel safe, like I’m indwelling within my own mind, coiled up inside the body that Helena McGraw wants so badly.

I always sleep sounder than a monster should, but that night I can’t sleep, because my memory dredges sound. Thick diner china mugs breaking. Cece’s cry as she drew her first breath, and how it startled me. The hiss of air bubbles breaking the surface as a baby tries to breathe underwater.

Library time, next day, I search Jarndyce Procedure on YouTube and get a stack of hits that make it through prison filters, a handful of grayed-out links that don’t. I click on barnes chicago grimes, surprised it wasn’t screened since the footage was some unlicensed freelancer with a flipcam. Reg Barnes was the last Jarndyce client out of this region, got mapped on the cerebral cortex of a rapist-turned-murderer named Grimes. I’d seen Grimes a few times in solitary exercise as I was passed between buildings, his dead-man’s walk in an empty yard. Just a couple glances, but I remember the way he moved. I look for that now, in the few seconds of jumpy footage: Grimes’s broad face and narrow nose, medium-build body in a bespoke suit walking down the street, speaking intently to a young woman who leans in to hear him, glancing at the camera, brows contracting in anger as realization strikes, vanishing quickly behind the corner of a building. Grimes’s face, but does any of Grimes remain? He’s not supposed to. Jarndyce wipes the furrows clean, neutralizes every electric memory. But what is a brain after all? Three pounds, give or take, of flesh connected to neurons. A thing connected to a thing connected to a thing. How can you say what ends where? Maybe Grimes doesn’t exist in his brain any more, but in his fingers and toes, in his dick and the top layer of his skin, a thin layer of Grimes over the client. Maybe I could do that – predator-stalk from the outlying regions of my body, swoop down on my newly-seeded brain, make sure a piece of me grows back.

I play the footage over and over, looking for Grimes’s walk, the way he held his shoulders. It’s useless. If it’s there I can’t see it, and if I start seeing it it’s from a desire to see it – nothing I can trust. I close out YouTube, then on impulse open it again and repeat the search. This time the barnes chicago grimes link is grayed-out, forbidden, and I laugh.

Cece’s the closest I’ve ever come to loving anyone. And I sure don’t love her enough to sacrifice myself for her. Like I said, I’m a crap mother. But does anyone love their children as much as they say they do? Can you love something that’s simply a wandering offshoot of your own body? I think it’s all part of a great pretending, bolstered by the endless flow of Christmas specials and Lifepic streams howling about the preciousness of children. Because if it’s not a grand old lie, how terrible a thing. What an obscenity, to weave your joy so intimately to a mewling snotrag of a child. I would burn out such a thing to the root.

But now I know I’ll have a grandchild. Does this make me love Cece, my good, dumb kid, a little bit more?

No. But it makes her more interesting, knowing that through her my blood and flesh could rise. And what a glorious fuck-you to that bitch who ditched her kids for a shiny new husband, to my mom’s fake dad, who fucked her up so badly she broke a shift’s worth of china chucking it at his face, to every sanctimonious bitch who looked at my photo on the front page of their newsfeed and thought bad breeding.

A little Cece. And then a littler Cece after that. Smarter than me. Better educated than me. More money than me. Better tools. That’s interesting. That’s why we have kids, isn’t it? And why some people love their kids – just to see what they’ll do.

If I take Helena’s offer, I might not see it. But then I might. I didn’t see the shadow of Grimes on the face that Reg Barnes bought. But I didn’t not see it, either.

So I call Bernie, my court-appointed unfortunate, and he sets up a remote with Helena. Bernie uses his Pad and props it between the bars of my cell; the image quality’s good between his poor old shaky paws. Poor bastard’s worn himself out defending the unforgivable. I kind of like him; he reminds me of my mother.

Helena looks worse. Downright yellow. But eager. She can’t hide that.

“Not doing too well, are you? Put in that deed of gift and I’m game. But what if I sign and back out?”

“You can’t.” There’s a fraction of a second’s delay between her lip movement and the sound. “Once you sign you belong to me, and the Justice doesn’t get their share until you go under. They’re not going to let anything get in the way.”

I shrug. “What if I kill myself?” Behind the Pad Bernie frowns.

“You’re not going to starve yourself to death in three days. I suppose you could slam your head against a wall. But you haven’t done it so far, and you’re not going to now.”

“How do you know?”

She leans forward and someone on her side moves back to keep her centered. “Because part of you thinks you can win. You’ve been thinking that you’ll be able to keep a piece of your brain, that you’ll ride along with me like a tick on a dog’s ear, see the sights, enjoy some freedom and my money. That’s the only way you’d agree. You don’t think the rules apply to you.”

“Can’t blame me for trying.”

“Not at all.” She starts to cough again and makes a sharp gesture. The image winks out.

“I consider the Jarndyce option a form of coercion,” says Bernie, his voice full of fog. “I’m advising you to refuse.”

“Of course it is. Tell Cece to come after we sign. Will they let her in short notice?”

He’s the picture of resignation in a badly-tailored suit. “Of course, since there’s money on the table and you haven’t signed yet.”

“Tell her I’m stopping the appeals.”

“I don’t like…”

“Shut up, Bernie,” I tell him gently. He hates being called that. “Just tell her.”

For the signing they let me and Helena occupy the same room, no barriers. Two guards march me down Death Row’s shabby corridor, each cell shuttered against the sight of me. At first I think they’re going to take me out of the prison, into the city perhaps, but they just take me through a maze-like arrangement of hallways, up an elevator, and down another corridor. One wall is entirely glass, and outside, spread beneath like the sea, a green mass of trees.

I stop and stare at it for the four-odd seconds the guards will let me before they shove me onward. This floor must be four or five stories aboveground; at this distance the forest beneath looks soft, like I could leap and land safely in the trees. From the exercise yard there’s no hint that this exists. Something round and hard rises in my throat and my eyes prickle, surprising me.

My four seconds are up and I’m yanked away. At the end of the corridor a door, tall and sturdy, and behind that door a mass of dark-suited men, a woman in a pencil skirt, and my cousin in a green pantsuit, impeccably tailored. At my appearance the men and the woman surge around her like a confused tank of fish.

Bernie’s there too, a grey sadness. I convinced him to be the third-party executor, representing Cece’s financial interests in exchange for a nice little retainer. He still hates all of this but I convinced him he’s the only one I trust. Made him think he was doing this for more than the money.

For some reason I expect Helena to be short, but instead she’s got an inch or so on me. She looks so fragile I’m almost afraid to take a deep breath, in case I use up all the oxygen before she can sign.

I study this woman who’s decided she’s too rich to die. I don’t blame her – everyone thinks they’re the most important character in the book. Her skin is loose over her stick-bones, barely any meat beneath it. Her face is like an overripe plum that’s beginning to prune. Next to her I feel like an Amazon.

The attorneys sign. She signs. As she bends over the documents I can smell cigarette smoke on her. I knew that bitch had no self-control.

When it’s my turn I make a point of reading the whole document, beginning to end, like you’re supposed to with all legal documents and which nobody actually does. I stretch out the minutes until I smell the fear in her, the fear that I’m going to back out at the last minute. Lead her to her heart’s desire and destroy it.

But this is business, not pleasure. I sign with an exaggerated flourish. I don’t belong to myself anymore. I’m Helena’s mule. And wicked fast there’s a flicker of something in Helena’s harried face.

Relief? But it’s more than that. Victory. Like she’s looked into the abyss and defied it. Like she’ll live forever.

But she won’t. I’m forty-seven. This body is good for maybe thirty more years, if she’s careful. It doesn’t make sense, that look of sheer triumph for the chance at a quarter-century in an aging body.

It bothers me. It stays with me as Bernie pats my shoulder and the gaggle of suits converges on that frail green figure and the guards escort me away, down that corridor with its emerald view. I have one more week to live with my own self intact. I should be making my peace with that.

But instead I’m consumed by that look, that half-smile, sly and triumphant.

That woman, I think, riding down the elevator, is not stupid. That woman is like me. What would I do in her place?

I am she and she is me. I would strive to live forever.

So I lie in my bunk, staring at the seams in the cement ceiling and I become Helena. I, Helena, am a good businesswoman, very thorough. I have all the ruthlessness of my cousin the baby-killer and all the control she lacks. I find out everything there is to know about Cece. I find out she’s a good little soul, utterly unlike her mother. I know how she’ll respond to love, someone taking a genuine interest, especially from someone in her mother’s body. I know how she can be manipulated. Helena will own her, body and soul. She’ll go wherever Helena takes her. She’ll trust her, like a babe-in-arms, like a baby in the bathtub. Like the Rimbaughs and the Alcotts trusted me.

Once my body is finished, Helena will shed me like a carapace. Good at business, she’ll make her money breed and no law will apply to her, and how long can Bernie last, anyway? She’ll take Cece, and when Cece is worn out she’ll take the child. She’ll breed my family like cattle, like her money, and the virus will map her onto their brains ad infinitum.

Clever bitch. I have to admire her. But it’s risky. What happens when you move from brain to brain, pushing yourself into those wet little crevasses over and over? Would you even notice yourself changing, like a frog in a hot pot? After a century of it, would you even be human?

Maybe the solution isn’t to meat-hop from body to body. Maybe as her bodies – my generations – fail her she’ll harvest what she needs – heart, liver, lights – from my grandchildren. Eat them fast, eat them slow, kidney by kidney.

I’ll be damned if I let anyone ride my generations like mules.

But I’m the idiot who signed the papers, beguiled by the idea of Cece and little Cece frolicking in a wonderland of no want. Better for her to face the world as it is. Better for her to struggle. I’ve signed and taken that from her, and the lawyers have their cut and the DOJ has its very juicy cut and no one will give a damn if I want to get out of it.

I close my eyes and dream I’m in an empty city with jagged buildings and elongated streets stretching forever. I round a corner and a familiar figure stands there, laughing at me. I can’t tell if the face is Barnes or Grimes. Grimes or Barnes. The features shift like the tide.

Fuck me, I’ve had my hour of self-pity. Three nights to plan. Couple years ago, before I went full solitary, I traded three packs of gum and a twist of what I said was meth for a finger-length, sturdy piece of plastic someone cracked from beneath an old bunk. It’s been sitting in the bottom of my toilet tank for anyone to see – no one paid any attention. I fish it out and carve a slit down its length, and fit in a thin shard of metal that came from the weather sealing at the bottom of a door. Now I have a blunt, loose-handled knife. I trade a quickie with one of the guards who’s been trying to get a taste of me for years for the half-hour loan of a lighter and two cigarettes. I flush the cigarettes and heat the plastic until I can mold it around the metal nice and firm. I’ve got a tiny strip of emery board I managed to hold on to since they put me here and with that I put an edge on that blade that could slice a baby’s hair in two.

After my mom chucked all that crockery at my so-called grandpa, after he left, I followed him. Told him I wanted to hear his side of the story. I decided if he wanted to fuck a fifteen-year-old, my mom was right to hate him and he deserved what he got. Back seat of his Camry, his pants down around his ankles. I had a screwdriver in my sock. Always did, ever since I was thirteen. Useful as a knife and won’t get you in trouble. He didn’t even notice when I put the tip at the hollow of his throat. Punched it right through. I tossed the screwdriver in the bushes where the truckers peed behind the diner. Lazy cop never found it. We left the next day and my mom never knew. My only gift to her.

Cece’s coming this morning to say goodbye. My knife’s too pretty not to use.

I rehearse it in my head like a dance. Last time I’ll see her, they’ll let us together, we’ll hug. I know how to carry the knife so a search won’t find it. We’re the same height, just about. I’ll cradle her against my shoulder, arms crossed behind her head, nudging it into position. I’ll hold the knife, blade-out, against my wrist. And then I’ll pull back firm into the carotid artery beneath her jawline. Deep, and I’ll hold her up. I’ll I do it right, she won’t even know what happened, and she’ll bleed out before the guards who what’s happening. My only gift to her.

They pat down Cece more thoroughly than me, which makes sense; no-one expects anything to go out of death row, only in. Cece’s big blue eyes and freckles face me the whole time with a kind of intensity I haven’t seen since the trial. They leave us together with one guard at the door, bored with us already. Cece hugs me quick, then takes my hands, unsure of what to do. She looks good. Her hair is styled and her skin’s cleared up. Her nails are short and manicured, and her belly curves out a little under her short sleeved linen shirt. Pregnancy suits her.

“I don’t understand.” She almost calls me Mama like she did before the trial, but she can’t do it. I’m surprised that it hurts me that she can’t. Instead she swallows. “You signed something? And there’s a trust fund?”

“I stopped the appeal.”

“But…they said you had a chance…” Her grip tightens on my fingers. I’m a murderer, but no-one wants their Mama dead. Not usually.

“I’m tired of fighting, Cece.” God, I sound so movie-of-the-week. “It’s time to let this end.”

“But they said the jury…”

Blah, blah, blah, media saturation, jury was prejudiced, Bernie’s last ditch half-assed attempt. It was a remote jury so that dog won’t hunt. Cece blabs on; I don’t listen. I let go her right hand and brush my left palm across my crotch, retrieving my pretty knife.

“Cece,” I said, stopping her white noise. I try to make it portentous and meaningful, like a normal person would. “Cece.” I step forward into her embrace. She wraps her arms warm around my back. The guard tenses, watching for something passed between us. I feel a dull flash of anger. Back off. It’s my daughter, asshole.

I slide the knife forward, into place, into position behind her ear. I brace to push in and pull back and take her weight.

There’s a freckle on her shoulder, just where it meets the neck. She’s always had it, even as a newborn. I remember cradling her close, smelling that spicy newborn smell, curious if I’d feel anything for her. That freckle stood out on her waxy new skin, before she’d seen the sun. It’s been years and years since I’ve seen that freckle.

I have to do it now.

I can’t.

I want to. The blade wants to. It wriggles in my hand like a live thing.

I stare at that freckle and I can’t.

I feel the hot bulge of the baby against my belly and I pull away from her, palming the knife so Cece and the guard don’t see it. Hell, Cece can’t see anything, she’s crying too hard, her face all salty snot. My eyes are dry as sand. I feel sick down to my bones.

Cece’s still crying when the guards lead me away. I feel strange, fluey. My head’s fuzzy, my feet lead-bound. I wait until the barred door bangs behind me and the automatic catcalls of the other prisoners fade into silence, and then a great wave of nausea takes me. I barely make it to the toilet, spilling a bitter thin stream of vomit.

I sprawl on the floor at the base of the toilet. Eventually I heave to a sit, knees tucked beneath my chin. When I try to get up my belly roils, so I stay there a long time, thinking. Cece. Helena. Grimes. Barnes.

If this is caring, then what a terrible thing God made.

So Helena thinks she’s won. I know I can beat her. I know I can hide out in my nerves, in the electric impulses of my body, and take it back. I can imprison her as I’ve been jailed, give her a taste of helplessness that’ll make cancer seem like a walk in the park. And before I snuff her out, I’ll rape her mind, strip out everything she knows. I’ll learn her secrets, how to be her enough to fool everyone around us. I can make sure Cece and the baby have everything they want.

Or, if I choose to live forever, I can take them. Helena’s wrapped them like a Christmas present. Thirty years left in this body. Will it be enough?

Why not live forever?

The nausea takes me again and I barely make the toilet as my throat burns. Too late for appeals. Tomorrow Helena rides me until I can buck her off. Together we’ll be unstoppable.

I run a finger along my jugular, feeling the blood beat beneath the skin, pulsing red and lovely to the brain Helena’s bought and paid for. Like I said, my knife’s too pretty not to use.

My only gift to her.

About the Author

Samantha Henderson

Samantha Henderson

Samantha Henderson’s short fiction and poetry have been published in Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Interzone, Weird Tales, Goblin Fruit, and Mythic Delirium and in the anthologies Tomorrow’s Cthulu, Running with the Pack, and Zombies: Shambling through the Ages. Her work has been reprinted in the Nebula Awards Showcase, Aliens: Recent Encounters, Steampunk Reloaded, and The Mammoth Book of Steampunk. Her stories have been podcast at Podcastle, Escape Pod, Drabblecast and Strange Horizons, and she’s the author of the Forgotten Realms novels Heaven’s Bones and Dawnbringer.

Find more by Samantha Henderson

Samantha Henderson

About the Narrator

Alethea Kontis

New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, storm chaser, and Saturday Songwriter. Author of over 20 books and 40 short stories, Alethea is the recipient of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, the Scribe Award, the Garden State Teen Book Award, and two-time winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. She has been twice nominated for both the Andre Norton Nebula and the Dragon Award. She was an active contributor to The Fireside Sessions, a benefit EP created by Snow Patrol and her fellow Saturday Songwriters during lockdown 2020. Alethea also narrates stories for multiple award-winning online magazines and contributes regular YA book reviews to NPR. Born in Vermont, she currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and her wonderful world at

Find more by Alethea Kontis