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We Always Remember, Come Spring

Michelle Muenzler, also known at local conventions as "The Cookie Lady," writes fiction both dark and strange to counterbalance the sweetness of her baking. Her fiction and poetry have been published in magazines such as Star*Line, Daily Science Fiction, and Apex Magazine, and she takes immense joy in crinkling words like little foil puppets. Find more of her work at michellemuenzler.com or if you are feeling exceptionally brave, check out her darkly humorous and somewhat squidgy novella, "The Hills of Meat, the Forest of Bone," over on Amazon. Just don't say she didn't warn you....
"You know," Erd says, sipping cautiously from his cup, "I heard this may be the last year for the races."
I roll my eyes. "They say that every year." I glance down at my own cup but don't drink. Not yet. I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the races, preferring to chug mine just after the first attack sirens blare.
Erd takes another sip. Grimaces. "Pia's Landing canceled theirs last week. And word is Yulbrick will be canceling, too."
"What?"
Pia's Landing, I knew about. It's the heart of the sentimentalist movement, after all. But Yulbrick? Antonin Scaravel, the first racer, was from the Yulbrick colony. To think that Yulbrick might--
"Probably just a rumor," Erd says. "You know how some people get this time of year."
I stare at my cup, at the viscous gray sludge worming its way up the sides. "Yeah, Yulbrick would never give in to that sentimentalist crap."
In the distance, a rolling storm front drops lightning bolts like Landing Day tinsel; its rain sheet hazes the algal blooms of the forest canopy. We'll be swimming in it by midday, best guess. Still, it's best not to let the weather get into your head. Once the race starts, there's no stopping, after all.
At the starting line, the attack sirens blare twice in warning. Last call to bow out for those who haven't yet emptied their cups.
I jog over to join the other racers. There are fewer faces than last year. Only one new, hands quaking as she raises her cup to commit herself. But the air still manages to sing with that same taut mixture of bravado and fear as my very first race. Ignoring the new racer--I'll only ask her name if she reaches the finish line--I wave boldly to the spectators in the stands and down the bitter contents of my cup in one long gulp.
The liquid hits my stomach like a burning punch.
"Hoo-whee!" I whistle as Erd sidles in beside me. We toss our cups into a pile with the rest. "You'd better run fast. It's strong this year!"
Erd smiles and shakes his shoulders loose. "I'll be sure to warn the medics when I reach the finish line ahead of you."
Before I can zing him back, the attack sirens blare a third time, their wail overpowering the growing cheers from the stands.
And then we're running, and all that matters is completing the race.
By the time I reach the finish line at First Landing, red-tinged sweat gushes from every pore and my stomach feels like it's about to explode. I stagger past the roaring crowd, bathed in my own stink and barely able to focus. The cheers are faint in my ears, drowned out by an overwhelming ringing noise.
It's been years since it took me this long to finish a race, but the storm dropped the bridge over Fenten Gully, and I lost a day finding my way past.
But there it is, at last. The commemorative monument marking the race's end.
The monument is large. Carved of local basalt, streaked in gray. The names of those lost to the first assault by the planet's native sentients are etched into its flat surface, as crisp today as they were two hundred years ago. At the monument's foot is a small sculpture, a delicate latticework of crystal in the shape of a blooming flower.
I crawl the last few feet. Clutch at the sculpted flower with trembling hand. Weakly thumb the mechanism at its base.
A dribble of pale liquid seeps from the sculpted blossom. I barely manage to catch a few drops in my mouth.
"Cured," I wheeze.
Around me, the cheers grow louder. Someone shoves a plasti-bulb in my face, and I gulp down its contents, the more potent cousin of the base nectar seeded into the flower mechanism. Blurry hands roll me onto a stretcher, lift me up, and carry me toward the recovery tent.
Once there, I stretch to look past the medical team busy hooking me up to various fluids and pulling blood samples. Many of the cots are empty, but the handful of racers who made it are beaming with pride. As well they should be. This year was tougher than most.
A few cots over, my eyes find Erd, looking only half as shitty as I feel.
"Best race yet," I mouth, forcing a feeble smile.
His face hangs a moment, and the ringing in my ears grows louder. The newest racer, I note, hasn't made it in yet. A shame, but that first race is always the hardest.
Erd's face finally makes its decision and settles into a wide grin. "Yeah," he says, "let's just see any of the other colonies top this one. We'll be in the records, for sure."
I try to laugh, hack up spats of blood instead. "For sure," I agree.
The medical team scurries frantic around me, but I ignore them and instead picture tomorrow's closing ceremonies:
The roar of the crowds, in final crescendo.
A wreath of victory clutched against my chest.
And, as always, the knowledge that we proud racers have kept alive the memory of our founders' sacrifices for one year longer. We, above all others, still remember the dead.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 13th, 2017


This piece was heavily inspired by Shirley Jackson's classic "The Lottery" and how blind tradition--whatever its origins--takes a life of its own over time (no pun intended?). Also huge inspiration thanks to Codex for the Weekend Warrior contest that spawned this little beast.

- Michelle Muenzler

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