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art by Eleanor Bennett

Jumbo Gumdrop Serenade

E. Catherine Tobler was born on the other side of the International Dateline, which either gives her an extra day in her life or an extraordinary affinity when it comes to interdimensional gateways. Her fiction can be found in Clarkesworld Magazine, The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, and Fantasy Magazine. She is the senior editor of Shimmer Magazine and calls Colorado home.
The yellow light in the cracked green window flickered and then by degrees began to grow dim, throwing the thing that sat on the warped porch into shadow. Wind stirred leaves; they rustled like paper, dry and ready to ignite with the smallest spark. Cold rain forestalled that.
"Jumbo gumdrop serenade, sweet serenade." Nesta scooped the bundle from the wet porch and hustled it inside. She kicked the old door shut behind her and hopped from her left foot to her right as she approached the long table. Splinters danced in her toes.
Chanarasanda snapped her fingers. "Here, here, and there, bring it here." She held her hands out and fingers flapped against palms. "Here and there. Here. There."
Nesta giggled and Chanarasanda blew on the lamp, giving air to the starved flame. It grew, a long yellow tongue to lick the glass which contained it.
Miluchra peered over the table's edge, ruby eyes reflecting the flame she'd brought. She rubbed hands together and small sparks shot between her blackened palms. She, too, reached for Nesta's bundle, but Nesta handed it only to Guinhumara, who placed it in the barrel of still water on the table.
The four women watched the bundle sink through the water with a gurgle. The bundle absorbed the liquid and sank fast. Bubbles rose in a shimmer, popped on the surface with air kisses. Guinhumara's fingers danced through the bubbles; she lifted her middle finger to her mouth to taste of the brew.
"Round and soft, what do we make of it tonight?" she asked, dipping her finger in for another sample. Water glistened on her lips. "Wet and tasty."
Miluchra ducked beneath the table. She came back up with a black leather pouch. With her long-fingered hand she flicked it toward Nesta who was nearest. Nesta rolled the pouch in her hands.
"A stink of bowels, of deepest earth. My womb, my shell--what is its worth? You, Chanarasanda, blow till the foul thing takes flight." Nesta's dark eyes narrowed as Chanarasanda blew. Wind whipped Nesta's earth-dark hair from her shoulders. "Sweet tumult."
In the air between them dark granules joined together in a whirlwind. Chanarasanda ceased her blowing and the grains dusted gently over the surface of the water. One bubble emerged from the bundle within, breaking with a peacock's mating cry and the smell of fire.
"Such a stink, sweet stink," Nesta whispered and patted the smooth black fall of Miluchra's hair.
Guinhumara tapped Nesta's hand with her fringed cane. "Did you bring anything?"
Nesta pulled a pink flower from her headdress. Above the barrel of water, she rubbed the flower between her fingers till pollen scattered the water's surface, till the petals bent under the pressure and yielded a pink rain that smelled of apples. Nesta dropped the remains of the petals into the water and Guinhumara stirred the mass with her fingers.
"It grows," Chanarasanda said and beneath the water, the thing stirred.
The wrappings, like fallen sails, moved in the water; a body, a hand, toes, briefly visible under the wet fabric. A great belch rose from the barrel and water scattered over the four women.
Guinhumara closed her eyes and sucked the water through her skin. The water sizzled against Miluchra's flesh, vapor in seconds. Nesta lifted her arms and drank the rivulets of water, while the wetness was blown from Chanarasanda as if by a hard spring wind.
"Attend," Guinhumara said and all four women stood.
They joined hands around the barrel, bare feet placed flat against the rough wood floor. They encircled the table, round around square, and with fingers entwined, attended the thing in the barrel. It rolled in the water, splashed, and bellowed until another bubble rose and broke. A cat's plaintive wail.
Miluchra's flame was doused, but under her concentration, rose anew to burn brighter. Guinhumara leaned closer; water flecked her face and vanished. The thing in the barrel snatched a hand out, grabbed the ribbons on the edge of Guinhumara's crescent hat, and pulled it off. The hat vanished into the tub with a gurgle, Guinhumara's bald head reflected as the water stilled.
"A grippy thing," Nesta whispered, meeting Guinhumara's steady aquamarine gaze. "What is this thing, this jumbo gumdrop porch present, unliving but now grippy for Guinhumara's hat?"
"Mischief never hurt us." They all looked at Miluchra, the quiet one who now spoke. Her eyes glimmered with fresh fire, fire uplifted by Chanarasanda's softly blowing expression. Strands of auburn hair on Chanarasanda's head, blowing, kindly blowing, giving air to Miluchra's ever-warm flame.
Nesta giggled and the ground beneath them shook. Her toes gripped the floor, aching for the touch of sweet spring dirt. Soon-soon, my sweet womb; patience for the victory.
"What do we make of it, tonight?" Guinhumara asked.
On the heels of her question, the thing emerged from the water, pearl-white fingers gripping the edge of the barrel. The wet wrappings clung to its round head, turned the room dark, and made it blind. It slipped in the water, arrived with a landed-fish splat on the flat table. The four women leaned closer and Guinhumara plucked the wrappings off the wriggling creature.
Earth-colored eyes blinked back at them, fire-red lips puckered in a blown kiss. Water spewed out of that sweet mouth and then a belch of seaweed air.
"We did not make this," Chanarasanda said, pressing a finger into the dough-soft belly. Air escaped the creature's other end.
"A stink of bowels," Nesta said. "Of deepest earth. Silly gumdrop serenade." She touched a small white toe and the creature giggled and kicked. Nesta cocked her head and smiled. "Pretty pony parade."
Miluchra touched the small tumescence between the chubby legs. The kicking stopped; the earth-eyes widened and a stream of water shot toward Guinhumara's regal nose.
"It's a boy," she said.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

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