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art by Richard Gagnon

Rising, Falling

Leah Thomas, long-time geek and recent graduate of Michigan State University, currently lives and teaches in Taipei. In 2010 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego. Lately she has spent her spare time molding an old Halloween mask into a District 9 prawn face, hitting soccer balls with nunchucks and illustrating comics full of ugly, scrawny gits. She hopes to one day acquire stranger hobbies. "Rising, Falling," is the second of her stories to be published by Daily Science Fiction; some of her other work can be found at www.weirdfictionreview.com
"Wait," Mother scolded. "We need to wind the bobbin first."
Erin sat back from the sewing machine and crossed her arms over the seeping hole in her stomach. "Can't you do it for me?"
Mother set Erin's hands back on the machine's turquoise hull. She rested her own decaying palms on top of them. "You should learn, Erin. What would you do if I weren't around?"
Erin clenched her fists, dislodging Mother. "Where're you going?"
"It never hurts to be prepared. Even the dead don't live forever."
"Like Mr. Brixton?" Mr. Brixton, from three houses down, had been dead for only months before his stovetop set him alight.
"He was a fool. What does a dead man need to cook for?" Mother, ever impatient, reached across Erin and slotted the empty spindle into place. The table shook when she put her foot down on the electric pedal. The spinning bobbin steadily gathered thread.
"Mr. Brixton was being brave, Mom." His papery skin was highly flammable, but the only reason the flames got him was because he ran back into the burning building to fetch his Persian cat, Priscilla. Erin theorized that he had been cooking her a salmon dinner. "What happened to Priscilla?"
"'Priscilla' who?" Mother tucked the newly wound bobbin into the base beneath the needle and set a spindle of flesh-toned thread in place above the hull. She adjusted the height of the sewing machine head, so that a foot of space stood between the needle and the base. "Lie down."
"Mr. Brixton's cat." Erin laid herself flat across the base and the table, positioning her body so that the gaping wound in her torso was aligned with the needle's point.
"Maybe she ran away." Mother pulled safety pins from between her teeth and poked them through both sides of the hole in Erin's stomach, pinching it shut. Erin could not feel it, of course, but she averted her gaze all the same.
Mother threaded the needle.
"Hold still, Erin."
"Hold still, dead girl!"
The kicking was not painful. It was just frustrating. Every time Erin tried to get to her feet, the other girls kicked her legs out from beneath her. Again and again they thumped her head against the sidewalk and asked her if rotting dead girls (who everyone knew didn't bleed without pulses) still got their periods. One of them grabbed her backpack and laughed at the old lunchbox she kept in there ("What does dead meat need a lunchbox for?"). Erin scrabbled free while they were laughing and gagging at the smell of her, but that was when Sarah Miller knifed her in the stomach.
"This is like what happened when my mom miscarried!" She spat the words into Erin's face. "Every time one of you crawls out of a grave, a baby dies somewhere. Did you know that, graveyard girl?"
Erin had heard that one before. But she hadn't asked to wake up in the coroner's office after the car accident, veins full to bursting with embalming fluid. None of the undead people wanted to stumble around with their limbs falling off, skin fraying as their faces peeled away from their cheekbones. How could anyone think that they wanted to dissolve into a trembling pile of self-aware bones? It had just started happening.
Erin tried to get up again, but one of the girls began stomping on her chest. Something cracked inside Erin's diaphragm--her sternum? A rib?--but she paid it little attention.
All her attention was on Sarah's gleaming eyes. "I wish you could feel this," she hissed.
She twisted the knife around in her belly and Erin wondered if the blade would break off inside her.
"I hope the needle doesn't break. Erin…? What's wrong?"
Erin let her head loll on the table; flaps of skin dangled from her scalp. "I… hope those girls didn't get Priscilla. She was a really nice cat."
"I'm sure someone's looking after her. Now be careful not to move while the needle goes in."
If Erin's lungs still worked, she might have gasped for breath.
"Wait. Will it hurt?"
"Oh, honey." Mother placed a bloodless hand on Erin's unfeeling forehead. "Nothing hurts us anymore. You know that."
Erin bit what was left of her lip. Mother put her foot on the electric pedal; the needle fell and rose and fell.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 10th, 2012


This story was inspired in part by my mother, who taught me to sew this past winter. We made a real mess of it at times, breaking needles like nobody's business and cussing like disgruntled old sailors whenever I failed to backstitch. At the end of the weekend we had murdered her ancient sewing machine--may it rest in peace in the bottom of a closet. Despite the kerfuffle, hunching over that table beside her for untold hours became something of a bonding experience; I imagine that mothers and daughters have done this sort of thing for generations, although likely with less bloodshed.

- Leah Thomas

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