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Vervain, Grasshopper, Sun

Marissa Lingen writes science fiction and fantasy. She lives in the suburbs of Minneapolis with two large men and one small dog.
You are not the first to read this spell.
The others have all been like you. All exhausted, all desperate. All sure that you will close the circle before you finish the invocation, let the energy drain. All sure that you cannot afford to. That your people--city or country or province--cannot afford for you to.
The scarlet vervain goes here. Then the safflower. You can't get safflower. None of the others could either. You can use turmeric. It will stain. When the spell is over, you won't care.
You have a hard time pronouncing the shfh dipthong. The last person before you who read this spell said their shfh's with ease. It was the tlv dipthong they struggled with. You can say tlvaxnif with no hesitation. Good. You are more confident than the last reader of this spell, more precise, even on the difficult shfh's.
You have reached the point in the spell where you are called upon to sacrifice the last thing you loved in childhood. Your culture makes this particularly difficult by not defining childhood clearly. You think, as you give up the last few notes of a very funny song about triplets, playing them into oblivion, that you won't know what you're missing. It's not true. You will be the only one who knows. You will find yourself unable to teach anyone that melody, and the words will slip past you, but you will yearn for them while no one else remembers they exist.
You are determined that this spell will be worth the cost.
Gaining voluntary assistance from three other spellcasters, two of them non-human, is the last step, possibly the hardest. The grasshopper sorcerer was easy to convince, but it is very difficult to restrain any of your other non-human options from squashing and eating her. No one wants to wear the robes. They itch, and they leave a shadow mark other people can sense but not understand. But you bribe the grasshopper and the dhole, and the other human you talk to slowly. Carefully.
The other human is not a sorcerer. But the need is great. You can make that clear, if you are careful to keep your voice level. If you don't look as desperate as you are.
All of the others who have read this spell looked as desperate as they were.
You have read the whole spell. There is a silence. Your grasshopper assistant, the dhole in the robes, your neighbor from down the turnpike whose first spell this is: you did not know they could be so quiet. You check them to make sure they're still breathing.
They are. But nothing and no one is moving except you.
You didn't know it would be like this.
It never was before.
You walk out the door, into the driveway, and the sun blazes with an unnatural steadiness, like a child's drawing. You expect birds to appear as black arched v's, but they are frozen against the sky.
This spell says that it will stop a plague for you. Everyone else who has read this spell wanted to stop a plague of microbes, with vomiting, coughing, suffering. Your plague is social, a disease of the mind.
You have learned not to mix spells with metaphors.
You were not the first to read this spell, but you will be the last. The dhole and the grasshopper and your neighbor cannot save you.
You will have all the time in the world to find a way to move minds forward again, now that you have stopped them. No one can tell you whether all the time in the world will be enough.
You wonder whether it would have worked better if you'd found safflower.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 3rd, 2017


I hate writing in the second person, but occasionally there's a story that demands it. This one fell on my head while I was waiting between panels at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention, a con that has historically inspired a lot of scribbling of notes. The pieces of this were all there when I reached for them, like trying to remember more about a dream.

- Marissa Lingen

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