On International Women’s Day, several of the best writers in SF/F today reveal new stories inspired by the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”, raising their voice in response to a phrase originally meant to silence.
The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the day of March 8th. They are collected here.
More than Nothing
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted in singing her pagan prayers.
Pines cast feathery shadows on the brightness far below. Smoothing her polka dot apron over her fresh-pressed jeans, Cora parted her full lips. Ready to pour from them a wordless yearning she’d never been taught. Liquid like the lake, golden like the light of the setting sun, calling—
“Cora!” Pastor Rose slashed through the gathering evening with his voice. “You finished washin them spoons for ice cream?”
He’d married her twin Nora, but he acted like they were two mints in one. “You wanted me to wash all of em?”
It was a steep trail up to the bluff’s viewpoint; she saw Pastor’s bald head before his white-shirted shoulders. Sweating just slightly. He stood beside her, pretending to take in the darkening vista. “However many we brought,” he said. “However many times they used. They gotta be clean when we put em away tonight in the church kitchen.” He smiled as if forgiving a child. “I know you miss your grandmama, but she raised you better than to go lazin off by yourself when there’s work.”
“I only needed a little air. I’ll be down to the picnic shelter directly,” she lied.
“All right.” But Pastor lingered. “You heard them stories about how the lake so special? Wishin on stars and that nonsense?”
Cora nodded. “Yeah.”
“Well, don’t let it affect you. The Devil’s in that mess, waitin to lure you to his side. Won’t nobody protect you then.” He stepped closer, held out a big hand. Cora ignored it. “Well?”
At last he left. Cora heard his scuffing feet kick up fainter and fainter disturbances in the forest floor’s carpet of shed needles.
He was gone. But she still wasn’t alone. “Come on out.” Stubborn silence. “No use hidin, Spence. I seen you slip behind that tree after you followed Pastor here.”
“Awright.” A thin-necked school boy came from behind the not-terribly-adequate shelter of a white pine’s trunk. “But you ain’t gonna lemme keep you from doin magic. Is you?”
“How you know what I’m doin?”
The boy thrust out his chin. “Cause you had me feelin the same way I felt when you said that spell stopped them bad kids beatin me up.” He swiped a palm across his short-clipped kinks. “Magic makes my skin on top of my head tingle and—” He stopped, then started again, talking faster. “—and I don’t know why come but it does. It just does. And it works. Someways. Maybe you could show me what you tryin and I’ll figure out how?”
“What if it’s evil?” Cora asked him.
“Evil? Nawwww. You my favorite babysitter!” Suddenly Spence wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her. She hugged back by reflex. He tilted his head to smile up at her, brown eyes sparkling in the last of the light. “Come on! We gotta study this! You could be conjurin a brand new 1949 convertible!”
“I got a better idea.”
“A city fulla factories! All for us! We can build our own convertibles.” Those she prayed to would be fine with that. Wouldn’t they?
What if what I feel is a mistake? Cora wondered. This hope. This dream. What if it turns out to be nothing, no answer, nobody home? But despite all her doubts, she took Spence’s hand, turned to face the fading twilight, and let fly the first notes of their new prayer.
Nisi Shawl is a writer of science fiction and fantasy short stories and a journalist. She is the co-author (with Cynthia Ward) of Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction. Her short stories have appeared in Asimov’s SF Magazine, Strange Horizons, and numerous other magazines and anthologies.