A few years ago, a group of io9 commenters created the Thursday Tales forum on io9. Every week, they post short stories or continuations of longer stories on Thursdays. Eventually they had so many great stories that they decided to publish an anthology. It's called We Had Stars Once, we've got an excerpt!
We Had Stars Once is available now on Amazon — go check it out! Also, let's all feel a burst of pride for the awesomeness of Thursday Tales commenters! Way to go, everybody. Here's the excerpt — it's one of the stories from the collection.
A Single Soul
By David Karr (known as Bort on io9)
Sun shone down on the citizens of the city as they went about their day. Brightly-colored capes flitted about, performing heroic deeds of derring-do. I stood watch on my corner perch of my building. Daytime wasn’t so bad.
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I enjoyed watching from on high. It allowed me to see more and understand the patterns. There weren’t as many distractions up here. My anonymity ran deeper than my mask. Even in a city wheredanger could swoop from above, not many remembered to look up.
My vantage point also allowed me a front-row seat for watching the change that happened when sunlight retreated from the tide of night. The darker palette of costumes took over. It became moredifficult to discern the good from the bad.
That was why she stood out in her bright clothes. She emerged from the Eleusis and hesitated. Probably a college student out with friends; the city had been friendly and bright when she went inside. Now,left alone, it stood before her, dark and looming.
She didn’t see the delinquent following her, but I did. He, too, was young. This wouldn’t be his first victim, but he was still a novice criminal. A seasoned predator would have chased a little longer, waiting for the prey to panic or make a mistake. He pounced before I was in position.
Too far away to hear the threat, I caught the glint of metal when he pulled his revolver. The books she’d been clutching close to her chest fell with a muffled flump to the ground. He was lucky that she didn’t make a sound. I could have used the noise for cover to sneak closer faster.
She started to move backward. He panicked, and a gunshot echoed into the night. I was three steps away.
I cursed him for being an idiot. I cursed myself for being slow. I put him down with vigor and ignored his cries of pain. His pleas were not as motivating as the silence coming from the girl.
It was bad. Blood was everywhere. There was no hope but I checked for a pulse anyway. My fingers pressed against her neck in time to feel a ragged heartbeat fade to nothing.
The city fell silent, seeming to mourn the loss of another of her children. A voice cried out—a woman’s voice. I turned quickly, looking for the source. She sounded close, right next to me. I faced the body ofthe fallen girl. It couldn’t have come from her. Her body was pale and unmoving.
When the voice called again, the realization struck me down to my soul. I knew it as one knows things in a dream. The voice that cried in the night, only heard by my ears was hers. I stared at herlifeless body. Her voice couldn’t be coming from there. Still, like a dream, the meaning of her garbled words cut across the barrier between there and here. She was trapped, begging for me to save her.
With her corpse slumped over my shoulder, I tried not to think about why a dead body was harder to carry than a living one. It was a simple calculation of gravity. A hundred pounds is a hundred poundswhether it’s a sack of potatoes or a body. An unconscious body, like a sack of potatoes, wanted nothing except to stay on the ground. But dead bodies—I can’t explain it—are just heavier. It’s likeyou’re carrying everything they were and everything they could have been. The hospital grew closer, not even two blocks away now. Some wetness slowly slid down my back. In her condition, eventhe best doctor in the world couldn’t help her. No, her savior wasn’t in science—not tonight. I clenched my jaw. Magic. I didn’t trust it. It could be too random, too powerful—or it could do nothing.
Pandora’s Pithos, aptly—if ironically—named, when I considered my attitude on magic, was just ahead. It would be open, though there were no signs indicating 24-hour service. The type of clientele itcatered to, however, were decidedly more active at this hour. Clientele decidedly not me. And on my first visit, I brought them this. A dead girl who cried in my mind, begged and pleaded for all she was worth not to be dead.
I pushed the door open with my foot and tried not to fall over. A dreamy-eyed clerk looked up and her peaceful greeting froze on her lips. She thawed and began to yell at me about how this wasn’t a morgue. I barely heard her over my own gibbering voice, and the girl… the girl was constantly begging me not to let her die. Slowly, I managed to explain the reason for my entrance. This was amystic’s shop. Weren’t they familiar with the goings-on of that in-between space where the factual and the fantastical collide? This, she said in so many words, was beyond even that. She made a call. I wanted to listen in to prepare myself for the cops or a coroner, but I was too busy thinking encouraging thoughts to my spiritual associate.
It took too many minutes for a man to emerge from the back. I surmised that this was who the clerk had called. He gently examined the body lying on his counter as I repeated my story.
Life begets life, the man told me. The universe recycled itself again and again, life after life until nothing more remained. Always, it was created from something. Despite— and often in spite of—hismystical abilities, he could not create or grant life from nothingness. It had to come from somewhere. That her spirit had yet to let go and her body lay lifeless on the floor of his shop did not motivate him.
This upset me terribly and it upset her even more. At first I was angry with him. Magic, for all of its wonder and mystery, was not a cure-all; miraculous and unknowable, sure, but not perfectnor all-serving. He was right. My unusual circumstance aside, how could I ask that the laws of nature be corrupted? What was my place in the universe? It didn’t care about me, let alone this girl. Itwould continue to recycle no matter what.
I became angry with myself. Already, I tried once to save her and failed. Now my second chance had been squandered. Life begets life, the mystic said, and then there is the end. I considered my life. I thoughtof my childhood only briefly. A series of blurred images and colors; faces and voices barely remembered. I considered my career—not the one that paid for my rent and food but the one lived behind a mask. I thought of the people I could help, and sadly recalled the ones I could not.
I had seen life and I had seen death; now I had seen this: a life stuck in the in-between. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry. Sorry that I couldn’t stop it; sorry that she had to go. I wanted to tell her anything. Mymind flashed backward through time. I didn’t have the words to say anything to her.
Life begets life, he said.
I looked at the body of the girl stuck in-between. Her whole life was ahead of her. Mine had been lived. I turned to the mystic.