The morning Ama wasn’t in her bed, Rhee strapped on his gun belt and set out along the witch river. The sky hung dark with magic-summoned clouds, promising rain from the direction of the witch’s cottage nestled in the heart of the obelisk forest. And for the first time in his long life, Rhee walked towards the towering obelisks, a hundred feet tall and thick as two men, spurs singing in the desert sand, his wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his brow and one hand poised above his revolver.
It wasn’t like Ama not to come home for the night. Sure, she was as headstrong as Rhee’s wife—God rest her soul—and she could take care of herself. But she was thoughtful enough not to make Rhee worry and had a kindness that had also bloomed in her momma, a foreign flower in the harsh soil of the desert. Rhee hadn’t been surprised when Ama’s mother, his only daughter, had taken off swearing she was going to more beautiful places than Twopenny Falls, but he had been surprised when she left her baby behind. So Rhee had done the only decent thing and taken in his granddaughter Ama, who was far more like Rhee than she had any right to be.
Like Rhee, Ama was just another cactus in the sand. She belonged.
He could close his eyes and picture her in the lazy afternoons, running off into the desert with her arms flung wide. She’d watch the sand blow over the plains or the rain clouds roll in from the obelisk forest. She’d scream with the lightning, her voice echoing like thunder in its wake. She’d take her journal and sketch the delicate petals of the fairy dusters and the hard, shiny shells of scorpions with an artistic eye she sure hadn’t inherited from Rhee. She could see things he missed in the play of dark and light, in the way the obelisk forest cast claws of shadows over anyone who dared venture close enough.
But at the end of her daily wanderings, Ama always came home and curled up in her bunk beneath her granny’s quilt. It wasn’t like her to stay out when the howls of the coyotes haunted the sands. It wasn’t like her to make Rhee hunt her down.
Rhee swallowed some cold water from the witch river to put out the fire of worry in his gut. Walking was thirsty work for a man in the desert, and he didn’t have a horse anymore. His workhorse had died a couple weeks before, and he had yet to scrape the money together to buy another. Ama had built a cairn of stones on the horse’s grave in what she called her garden, but that was little more than sage bushes clumped together. Rhee loved her too much to tell her the garden was mostly weeds.
Rhee’s knees and lower back were burning like the midday sands by the time he finished the five mile walk to Tanner’s land—a task that took all of the morning. Tanner, the only man who had ever seen the witch with his own two eyes, lived on the edge of the obelisk forest like a fool, his ranch squat against the looming stones. But Rhee kept his eyes off the forest of monsters and on his revolver.
He only had three bullets.
He counted himself lucky to have those three. Most shooters had moved to the newfangled energy pistols with automatic sights and lasers after Mad Tom had found them in what he called a broken metal caravan. Now there was pitiful little ammunition to be bought other than the energy blocks, and a farming man like Rhee didn’t have the coin for a new gun. And he sure didn’t trust them either. Old Johnny Whitetail had blown his damn hand off with one of those things, and Rhee wasn’t about to pinch pennies to buy himself one when he had better things to buy and a good gun of his own.
If he was going to shoot a man, he’d do it full well with his own eyes and his own lead.
The fire trickled from his veins to his back and knees as he walked, his body pinching and wrenching in ways it never had even a couple years ago. But leisure was a daydream. He had no time to rest his weary bones.
Every moment he was away from Ama was a moment she grew closer to the witch.
Tanner’s house, a ramshackle flat fallen into disrepair, looked abandoned when Rhee first approached. But he wasn’t fool enough to go in half-cocked; he kept his finger on the trigger, his hands as gnarled as tumbleweeds still steady after all these years. Back when everybody was still using revolvers in Twopenny Falls, Rhee shot bottles and targets at the saloon for bet money. It was his cunning eye and steady grip that had first won over the missus.
He widened his stance in front of the battered wooden door. He cupped his hand around his mouth and shouted, “Tanner!” His voice echoed into the obelisks, catching and distorting until he sounded like a dozen different men all demanding the same thing. “Tanner, you come out here right now or I’ll blow your damn door down!”
Nothing responded but the familiar whistle of the wind. He pointed the gun towards the door. “I’ll count to three, Tanner!” It was more warning than the man deserved. His rage eclipsed his fear; he let it fuel him.
“One!” he started. “Two!”
The door flew open, and Tanner, dirt-streaked face and tattered clothes, stumbled out with his hands up.
The tightness in Rhee’s chest loosened, and he spat at Tanner’s feet. “Where’s Ama?”
One of Tanner’s hands went to his bald head, rubbing like it was a genie’s lamp he could use to wish for more hair. “Now Rhee—”
“You know me, Tanner.” He leveled the gun at Tanner’s chest. “So don’t test me. Where’s Ama?”
“Keep a cool head about you, Rhee—”
“I’ll tell you where she is—just give me a moment.” Tanner stood rubbing, rubbing, rubbing his head. Rhee fought the urge to shoot his hand.
“She in the house?” Rhee kept the gun leveled but took four wide steps until he had crossed the distance between them.
Tanner finally stopped his rubbing and threw his arms out wide. “No, not there...”
Rhee’s heart beat a frantic staccato in his chest. “You’re not filling me with any good feelings towards you, Tanner.”
“You know the rules!”
“I don’t care about the damn rules.”
“But the witch needs her!”
“Damn the witch!”
Tanner flinched, raising his arms as if they’d protect him from a bullet. Spit flecked his lips when he spoke again, his eyes shiny with fear. “I’m sorry, Rhee... Ama was chosen. She’s Lamia’s replacement.”
Rhee’s throat constricted, a lump forming that made it hard to talk. “And like a good little boy, you did what the witch said.”
“I know, I know. But I had to. If we want the rain to come, if we want the river to fill with water, I had to take her.” Tanner’s voice was as soft as the wind, and Rhee knew the truth when he heard it. It didn’t make it any easier to hear. “After your wife and girl, I tried to talk Lamia out of it, but—”
Rhee smashed the butt of the gun against Tanner’s cheek. Tanner dropped into the sand as Rhee let loose a storm of curses that would have set his daughter to blushing.
“You already took her? She’s already there?”
Tanner rolled in agony, sobbing into his hand, fingers speckled red.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—” Over and over Tanner muttered apologies, dirt sticking to the blood on his cheek.
He was sorry. A sorry sack of shit. Rhee cursed again before holstering the gun.
He only had three bullets. And if he was going into the obelisk forest after Ama, he would need every one.
Even if Tanner deserved one in the head.
“Are you gonna go after her? In there?” Tanner’s face was swollen, his eye turning black with a bruise. “Lamia doesn’t allow anyone but me to enter—”
Rhee clenched his steady, withered hands into fists and steeled his voice so it wouldn’t shake.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. I’m gonna get Ama back even if I have to kill the witch and damn the rains.”
The numbness started in his toes. He was well into the afternoon when he realized what it meant—that he couldn’t feel the pain anymore. Dead nerves. Or something worse. Some sort of permanent damage that didn’t heal in a place like Twopenny Falls.
But he didn’t care. He didn’t stop walking. What would his legs matter if he lost Ama?
So he kept his hand on his gun and his eyes peeled for movement.
There was only the sound of the river rushing and his spurs striking stone filled the air. Not a bird singing, not a rabbit rustling, not a coyote hunting.
The witch river widened and dipped, but Rhee stuck close to its bank. Enough tall tales had come about the witch that lived upriver where she summoned the water that helped their town survive.
The witch had taken the last little girl twelve years ago. Ama hadn’t been born yet, and his daughter was too old to be of interest to the witch. His soft flower of a girl had wept when she heard the news, while the missus had pressed her hands on her meaty hips and demanded Rhee go and fetch her back from the witch.
“It’s not our business,” he had said.
What a young fool.
If he had done as his wife asked then, would he be traipsing through the woods over a decade later on aching legs and back?
A hint of music hit him in the dead air, the first human sound he’d caught in this place other than his own breathing. The first sound that proved something existed out here with him.
He licked his lips and stepped closer to the witch river. His hearing had been fading lately, but he knew he wasn’t mistaken in this.
There—again—a voice in song.
He opened his mouth to cry out, chose to swallow it instead. A fish’s tail flicked out of the river and then disappeared into the dark depths, leaving a shadow as big as he was.
The faint singing started again, louder this time, and while Rhee couldn’t make out the words, he felt compelled towards them. Pulled, like the arm of a compass toward true North.
A shadow swam closer, tail flicking above the water before the head rose with it. Slender arms braced against a rock, bare breasts heaved, and long, wet hair trailed after. At its waist, skin turned to shimmering scales and fins. Its dark eyes snapped to Rhee—and then he knew the legends were true.
She opened her mouth—a wet, pink void filled with rows of needle-thin teeth—but before she could sing, he leveled the gun and fired. It took her in the chest with a hollow thud, and she slipped below the water as the other sirens farther down the river stiffened and turned his direction.
Four left. Four sirens alive, and only two bullets. He clapped his hands over his ears and howled a sound, not quite a word, as the four darted for him, mouths open in snarls, voices stretching in song. Without moving his hands, he started to sing as well—far louder than even the roar of the river.
“She shot for the sun,” Rhee sang, belting out the first song that came to his mind, a lullaby the missus had sung to his daughter when she was little, and then to Ama after his daughter was gone.
Of all the songs, of all the tunes he knew, it was this one that he hated the most.
All the sirens slipped beneath the water, but Rhee didn’t think them gone for a moment. “And the moons. Constellations beyond,” he sang.
He forced his stiff legs to move, forced his eyes away from the sirens. His hands shook over his ears as he sang. “Even in her flight, the stars fell at her feet.”
The sirens swam ahead of him, their mouths open with song. Competing with him for his attention. For control of his body.
Over and over, Rhee sang the lullaby. For an hour? Two? He stumbled along the riverbank, aches echoing from his knees to his pelvis. He did not even stop to take a drink of water, though his lips cracked and voice shook, and he did not turn from the river, afraid to be lost in the forest of indistinct obelisks. The sirens took turns above the surface, waiting for him to falter. Waiting for his voice to go out. For his hands to drop from his ears.
Waiting to cast their spell on him and devour him with their rows of sharp teeth.
He gasped for air like a drowning man when all four of the sirens sank like stones. Still singing, still clasping, he turned as they fled back downriver, black shadows growing fainter with the roll of the river.
A trick? A trap? But the river flowed spotless, not a siren to be seen.
Rhee pulled his hands from his ears—and found nothing but the stillness.
He collapsed to his knees and dropped his arms to his sides, muscles burning and trembling and twitching. He crawled to the edge of the river and drank deeply, shoving his face, gray beard and all, into the water’s edge. Cooling him, refreshing him, the water ran over his aching face and burning hands.
That song—that silly, childhood song that he had never wanted to hear again—had saved him. He could still picture his wife singing to Ama, putting her to bed beneath the homespun quilt. He and his wife had clung to Ama. She was all they had left after their daughter. Ama was their light—until his hard old wife had crawled into bed beside him and whispered goodbye.
“Don’t you mean goodnight?” he had asked.
And she had just smiled and gone to sleep.
Ama had raged and cried at her granny’s funeral even more than when her momma left. The night after, she said she’d never sleep again unless Rhee sang her the song.
“Then I guess you won’t be sleeping,” Rhee had said.
If he could go back... if he could do it all again...
Ama. He’d find her and apologize to her. Ama, I’m so sorry.
He’d save her.
“Tell me, boy, what you’re doing in our forest.”
Rhee stiffened at the voice, the rasp of a blade on leather. He had not been called a boy in a long time, and had not been so afraid in longer than that.
But the voice did not take control of him, did not force him to turn. Not a siren then, but something no less dangerous if it lived in this forest. Something drawn to him from the noise of his gun, the strength of his singing. Something bad enough to scare the sirens away...
“Face us,” another voice said, similar but still distinct from the first.
He had heard the tales, but they were nothing... nothing when staring them down...
God, what creatures have you wrought?
It was a woman, yet not. Clawed feet gripped into the side of the obelisk, puncturing stone. Feathered arms curled to her drooping breasts protectively, each finger tipped with a talon. Her hair was black feathers, and her face ended with the point of a beak.
But her eyes—God—her eyes were startlingly human.
The harpy dropped to the ground like a feather on the wind. Another perched above her, and a third clung to another obelisk. When he did not stand, the first stepped towards him, powerful thighs rippling with coiled muscle.
Had Ama seen such beasts? Had she been afraid?
Had the witch created them?
And a thought worse than all the rest—had they been human once?
He swallowed bile.
Her beak couldn’t smile, but her eyes could. “What are you, who comes here to our forest?”
They watched him with curiosity, not malice. “I am Rhee, and I am here to find my granddaughter.”
The three creatures chirped in something approximate to laughter. “There is only one man allowed to come and go in our forest—and he is not you. But you sand fleas, you desert worms, you do not come in and survive.”
Even on his knees, he met the creature’s eyes. “Then I will be the first.”
The laughter again. The first hunched her back and bent her feathered knees to meet his gaze. “You do not know then, the purpose of my sisters?”
Rhee moved his head, a muscle in his jaw twitching. “No.”
“We protect Lamia. We eat men who think they will be the first to do what no one else has done.” She leaned towards him. The carrion smell of her breath raked over his cheek. “What do you think of that?”
His stomach dropped. His chest clenched.
They would not let him go after Ama. They would not let him live. He would survive the sirens only to be killed here, closer to the witch’s cabin where Tanner had taken his granddaughter. Ama would go on forever believing he had not come for her, that he had not tried to save her—
No. Damn that.
He still had his gun.
Two bullets. Three harpies.
Ama, his heart beat. For Ama.
His forefinger found the trigger and his thumb cocked the hammer in the fluid movement of his drawing. His eyes never left the harpy’s—brown, deep brown like Ama’s—as he centered the gun between them.
In the moment before he squeezed, the harpy’s eyes widened with an altogether human emotion.
The gun went off with a blast. Rhee’s heart jumped as it did every time he shot, even after all these years. The harpy whirled away, blood splattering in an arc, her face a hole that erased every human aspect. He was standing before her body settled, cocked the gun again as an inhuman cry went up from the other two.
One bullet left.
Hissing and screeching. Feathers fluttered as they rushed him. The obelisks cast one into shadow, one into light.
He shot again.
It took one harpy in the fleshy arm, her wing bending as she swerved off-course.
The other hit true, knocking him back in a tangle of claws and feathers. Sharp blades slipped into his shoulder, his chest, his knees—
The river swallowed them.
The claws found the flesh of his inner thigh and clung. He screamed beneath the water tinted pink with his blood, the harpy’s face distorted through the bubbles of his breath. He slammed his fist against her beak, but she did not break away.
His side hit a rock, flinging them apart and sending him spinning in the rapids.
Ama! Ama! His heartbeat screamed.
The harpy caught on something, feathered arms working and churning, and pulled herself free of the water.
But with no air, to Rhee she was nothing more than a blurry shadow as he scrambled for the surface.
He flailed as his back hit another rock, his head connecting at the temple. Blood filled his eyes.
But the pain slipped away, just beyond his fingertips, as the water dragged him down. The cold filled his lungs, chilled the sore muscles of his back, the ache of his knees, cooled the raw wounds from the harpy, the split in his head.
He couldn’t feel a thing.
He couldn’t see a thing.
And he knew it. Regret filled him like the river.
Ama, I’m sorry.
Slender fingers brushed through his hair, fingers he hadn’t felt since—
His voice was salt and stones. Fire burned low in his throat.
The fingers caressed his brow. His body felt distant, foreign. Missing. He cracked his eyes open, sticky, heavy.
The sun silhouetted her, threw her into shadows except for the dark hair—the same dark hair she had given Ama. He squinted and reached for her, but his shoulder ached and the wetness weighed him down.
She hummed her song, the song her momma wove for her, the song Rhee hated.
“You came back for me...”
She tipped his face towards hers with fingers on his chin.
“Teach me the words,” she sang, and his body seized.
It all flooded back.
And even more, stretching back and back, twisting a chain into one link, a lifetime into one moment. Ama crying. His wife dying. His daughter leaving. The desert stretching as far as the eye could see.
Where had she gone?
“What words do you want?” Rhee asked. His voice escaped his control, eager to please and ready to sing despite his gruff rasp.
A siren shifted at his side, came into focus. Not his flower at all. Just a creature of pale white and dark eyes. Similar, so similar, just another girl, but a monster—someone’s daughter?—no, a monster, even if she reminded him of his flower all the same.
“The song you gave us,” she sang. “Teach me the words to that song.”
Not that, Rhee fought. That song isn’t yours. But her command loosened his tongue anyway, muffled his brain with thick cotton.
“She shot for the sun. And the moons.” His soul ached, twisting his heart, clenching his stomach, drawing tears to his eyes. “Constellations beyond.” He hadn’t cried for his wife when she died, hadn’t cried for his daughter when she left, hadn’t cried for Ama in the woods with the witch, but now—but now—
“Even in her flight, the stars fell at her feet.”
He still had control of his body, so he tangled his fingers in her long hair. The siren stiffened at his side.
“I saved you from the river!” she sang. She reared up on her fish tail amidst the sandy riverbank, and Rhee sang the lullaby louder.
“She shot for the sun.” He dragged her face towards him, this girl who was still a child herself, this girl who, close up, looked enough like his daughter to twist his wounds open anew. “And the moons. Constellations beyond.” She screamed and sang in response, but his strong hands found her neck and squeezed. “Even in her flight, the stars fell at her feet.”
Her words choked off, but still he sang. Her fingers fought against his grip, nails digging ruts into the back of his hands and his wrists. He felt nothing amidst the overwhelming sea of sorrow that took his soul out with the tide.
She looked like his daughter, and he fought to kill her—
Her eyes bulged with moonlight when she went still in his grip. He tasted salt. He heaved her to the side and dropped her on the sand, her white throat colored with galaxies of bruises the shape of his fingers.
He sat and dropped his face into his steady hands.
He wept like he hadn’t since he was a boy.
How many miles did he still have to go?
And how would he kill Lamia without bullets? Without a gun?
But the miles to go... he would walk them.
And when he arrived, he would throw himself at the witch’s feet and trade himself for Ama.
He would save her at the cost of his own life, and finally rest beside his wife in the death he deserved.
After a spell, he dragged himself from the riverbank, offering one last glance to the dead siren. He had no doubt the others would come for him as soon as they discovered her dead, just like he suspected the harpies were still on his trail.
But he couldn’t think of that.
So he walked, sliding one foot in front of the other.
Shuffling from obelisk to obelisk, scabbed hands reaching. His head throbbed with what he feared was a fever. His leg and shoulder were torn from the harpy’s talons, but he had no way to patch the wounds. They dripped even as the rest of him dried, leaving behind a trail of blood drops like little red petals.
When the obelisks thinned and opened into a copse of real trees, he thought he had gone mad. But there, shaded beneath the real green leaves, sat a little house of metal and stone. The cottage that stories had told him of.
Along the outer wall of the house sat tubes of blue liquid, reaching up and up like flowers planted in a garden. And floating in the middle were curled lumps of flesh the size of children, some with fish tails and some with feathers.
Monsters. Little creatures—but God above, none of them Ama.
The door of the house flew open, and a man rushed out, half his face a blue and black bruise.
“Now, Rhee, I already warned Lamia you were coming for—”
Tanner. How was Tanner here?
Rhee stumbled to the man, grabbed his shoulders to steady himself. “Where is she? Where is Ama?”
“Rhee, you’re in a bad way! Sit down, sit down! Let me help you!” Tanner eased Rhee into a chair by the door.
So many questions burned in his throat, yet...
“Tanner.” The voice was honeyed and soft. Tanner stiffened at his name, dipped his head as another emerged from the door.
“Lamia, Rhee is hurt.” Tanner backed away from Rhee as the witch herself came forward.
Rhee had expected a young temptress, flagrant in her sexuality; or perhaps an old crone, withered and bent; but he had not expected this, an average woman with a crooked nose and tanned skin like she’d come off the desert. Neither ugly nor beautiful, just another face he’d see at the general store in town.
“You’re the witch Lamia?”
She knelt in front of him, keen brown eyes assessing his wounds the same way Ama’s eyes focused when she was drawing. “You came across my protectors then.”
“Your monsters,” Rhee spat before thinking, gaze snapping to the tubes of growing creatures. “Where’s my granddaughter?”
Fingers probed the cut above his knee, and Rhee’s eyes shot wide at the fire that stabbed up his spine. “Don’t—”
“Let me heal you.” Lamia pressed something metallic to his leg above the wound, a faintly glowing square that exuded the warmth of a house fire.
“I don’t want your damn magic.”
Lamia fixed him in place with a glare. It was a look that reminded him of his wife.
He shuddered as the wound on his leg pulled and itched. When Lamia moved her hand and the device away, the wound was closed.
“What sort of magic—”
Lamia shushed him and pressed the box to his shoulder. “The rare kind.”
The warmth brushed against him as the skin knitted itself together.
“You came after Ama.” It wasn’t a question. “I was told my daddy came after me, but I can’t be sure. That was probably seventy years ago now. The creatures in the forest are supposed to keep you from coming. Supposed to protect us here in the forest.”
“And Tanner?” Rhee spat his name like a poison. “How’d he get here?”
“He is a necessity.” Lamia’s eyes never moved from his. Her voice was calm and assessing. “He brings me supplies for my survival, and I send him with seeds and rations for the town.” The seeds they used to grow their crops. The rations they used to eat.
Rhee pressed his lips flat. He feared speaking would interrupt her and she’d offer him nothing more.
“Once girls wanted to be chosen. Longed to be chosen. But families didn’t want to give up their daughters, even for a better life. They tried to kill us, so we came here to the obelisks to hide. We gave ourselves protectors, to make sure no one would harm us again. Those monsters should have been enough to keep you away.” Half of Lamia’s lips worked into a small smile and something Rhee could hardly recognize—something akin to respect. “But not you.”
“No, ma’am. And neither will you.”
Lamia’s smile faded. “I guarantee you that Ama is in a better place, Rhee.”
That he could not abide by. “She can’t be. She’s not with me. She belongs with me. I’m her family, and—” Rhee stuttered to a stop. And she’s all I have left. He couldn’t say it.
Rhee’s voice cracked when he spoke again. “Where is she? Ama?”
“Gone?” He couldn’t look at the tube creatures.
Lamia moved the box from his healed shoulder to his forehead. His scalp began to itch. “I’ve sent her ahead.”
Lamia’s fingers brushed against his woundless forehead. “To the stars.”
Rhee’s eyes fixed past Lamia, past the river, past the obelisks and the trees atop them as his steady hands dug into the arms of the chair. To the stars. To a place no one he knew had ever gone. To a place where people dreamed up monsters like the sirens and harpies and the machines they were made in. To a place where the fates of farms and worlds like his were decided. “Why?”
“She can learn. She can come back and work the land as I do. Give water to the town, and the towns beyond yours that need it. Grow this world into one that can hold a bounty of life, not just a desert.” Lamia dropped her hand to his shoulder and squeezed, a gesture far too comforting for a woman so hard. “She’s smart, Rhee. You know that. And she loves this land just as you do. Just as I do. She’ll want to care for it. She’ll soon protect it as I do.”
Rhee’s hands shook, not steady anymore. “But I couldn’t say goodbye? I couldn’t...”
Lamia’s eyes softened. Rhee thought she might cry. “She didn’t want that. She didn’t want so say goodbye. Nothing to weaken her resolve when this world needs her.”
“You couldn’t...” Rhee swallowed hard. “You couldn’t take me instead of her?”
Her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. She shone like a flower growing in the desert in that moment, made of stern stuff and yet achingly beautiful. Like his wife. Like his daughter. Like Ama.
“I’m sorry,” Lamia said. “So few born on this world understand nature at the level she does, or have the curiosity and capacity to learn more.”
“And I’ll never... see her again?”
Lamia stilled. One eye watered with unshed tears, and it was this sorrow that kept Rhee in his chair when half of him wanted to hurt her for taking Ama from him. “By the time she returns, all of us will be long dead. It is the curse of traveling through the stars.”
“I’ll never see her again...”
He looked up at her, this desert woman in the obelisk forest, far away from home. She had the stars in her eyes even if her feet were planted on the sand.
And Ama could grow to be like her.
So he nodded, the storm inside him swallowing, swallowing.
“She left this for you.” And from Tanner’s hands she took a book—small, leatherbound, unobtrusive.
Rhee took it in his battered hands, looked at the cover he had seen a thousand times.
Lamia gestured for Tanner to follow her into the stone and metal cottage. The door closed between them, and Rhee felt they had slipped out of the world even if they had just left his vision.
He thumbed through the book and found Ama’s familiar illustrations. Her cramped, curled handwriting that made notes of her surroundings. Words so complicated and long Rhee didn’t understand them all. It wasn’t a goodbye, but it was a farewell.
He closed the journal.
The obelisk forest was beautiful, when one knew how to look at it.
Rhee rocked in the chair on the front porch, the sound or the river a steady tune, the shade of the trees dappling the bank.
Would Ama be better off in a place that offered learning? A place that would teach her to create the water their planet needed?
Her mother had wanted more than this world, more than this small town. Ama deserved better, too. Better than what an old man could offer her in a desert of scars.
Ama deserved the whole universe.
The storm blew out. The tide rolled in. Rhee’s hands steadied.
He hummed Ama’s lullaby as the sky in the obelisk forest darkened.