In honor of Black Speculative Fiction Month, eight SFF authors share stories that honor forebearers and memories of the past, fight the legacies that underpin the brutalities of the present, and demand a future that’s freer than today.
The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the morning of October 19. They are collected here.
“A boy followed me home today. Crawled on his hands and knees. He was bloody and torn by the time I got the key in the lock. Poor thing.”
She says all this in one breath as I drop one cube of sugar in her tea. My hands are shaking by the time I pour my own cup.
“What did you do with him?”
“Well, cleaned him up, of course. Set him down at the kitchen table and bandaged his wounds. Funniest thing, though, once I finished, he went back to all fours on my nice floors. I struck him once, but he refused to move so I left him there.”
I gulp at my tea. Too strong. I let it seep too long. Surely, she’ll say something. I’m tempted to do away with the whole thing, but as usual, I swallow the moment down with more bitter tea. “How old is the boy?”
“He won’t say, but I think maybe four? I don’t know a thing about younglings. Aren’t they supposed to be chatterboxes by that age? He’s said absolutely nothing since following me home. Only . . . growls, I suppose.”
“No, he grunts. That’s the word— he grunts. But with no inflection so I can’t tell if he finds me a suitable refuge.”
“I’d say him following you home on hands and knees indicates such comfort.”
She gives me a look that misdirects some of the harsh tea in my throat. I clear it out into a soft fist, the distant memory rushing to the forefront of a strike so hard it still trembled the softest parts of me. I am humbled by a glance.
“Anyway, he won’t eat what I’ve offered. Perhaps too refined for his tastes. I was hoping you could send me home with some of your . . . sandwiches.”
The disgust is not lost on me, and I feel the urge to prove her wrong, but she’s caught me on a day I’ve run low on food. I was hoping she wouldn’t note the lack of sandwiches, since she, in fact, does waste the time and effort and my food and therefore my pittance for wages. She has assisted me in the past, when I was most desperate, so I cannot rob her of some decency. Anyway, it is for this strange boy, not her, so I nod, my belly protesting quite loudly. It does not go unnoticed, the pursing of her lips an indicator that I am proving nothing other than my lack of proper upbringing.
“Make them small, like you do. No crusts. I hear younglings hate crusts.”
I nod again and sip my tea. Its bitterness is cinching my appetite.
“I would like them now, dear. I cannot bear this tea for another sip. Sugar certainly doesn’t help, and it appears you’ve run out of cream.”
“Yes, of course.”
I leave the breakfast nook and set to work on a tuna sandwich that I then cut into eight pieces. I wrap it in a tea towel and return to her, handing the sandwich over.
“I really must be going now. I’ve wasted too much time with this strange boy in my home. My Edward, rest his soul, would’ve slapped me down had I done this while he were alive.”
“Good day, Sophia.”
“Good day, Aunt Jillian.”
My yowling stomach and thoughts of the boy keep me awake enough for me to hear the soft knocks at the front door. I slip into a robe, arm myself with my father’s walking stick, and spy through the peephole. I can only see a thick tuft of kinky hair like mine at the very bottom of the distorted lens.
“Who is it?”
My only answer is another knock.
Foolish me, I disengage the locks and leave the security chain on, then open the door a full three inches. Standing there is a small boy covered in what appears to be blood, soaked from head to toe. His knees are bandaged, his palms the same, though a package rests within them.
My tea towel.
“Your prayers were right; she was not kind,” he says with a thick tongue. He couldn’t be anymore than three. I say nothing and he offers the tea towel. “Eat. I’m hungry no more.”
I take the towel; it is heavy with the sandwich. With something much more.
“Eat,” he says again. “And you will never be hungry again.”
I close the door, slide the chain free, then open the door again to see he has disappeared from my porch. I step out and look around, but he has gone without a trace. I wish he spoke of his name. The trees beyond my short yard sway, and I swear I hear a whimper. My foot feels warm. I lift it to find it coated in blood.
I close the door and, taking the tea towel and the walking stick with me, step out onto the grass and begin walking into the forest, looking for the boy.
Looking for more prayers.
“teatime” copyright © 2020 by Zin E. Rocklyn
Art copyright © 2020 by Eli Minaya
Of Trinidadian descent and hailing from Jersey City, NJ, Zin E. Rocklyn’s stories are older than her years, much like the name she’s chosen to pen them under. Her work is currently featured in the anthologies Forever Vacancy, 2017 Bram Stoker Nominated Sycorax’s Daughters of which her story Summer Skin was longlisted for Best of Horror 2017, Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters, Brigands: A Blackguards Anthology, and Nox Pareidolia and the independent zine Weird Luck Tales No. 7. Her non-fiction essay “My Genre Makes a Monster of Me” was published in Uncanny Magazine’s Hugo Award-Winning Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 issue. Her personal website, terizin.com, is currently under construction, so stay tuned for all of her weirdness in HTML form. In the interim, you can follow her on Twitter @intelligentwat.