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Under the Raging Sky

Jenny Rae Rappaport has been published in Lightspeed Magazine, Escape Pod, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among other magazines. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She lives in New Jersey with her family, where she divides her time between writing and herding small children. She can be found online at jennyrae.com and on Twitter at @jennyrae. This is her fourth publication in Daily Science Fiction.

The storm clouds are gathering, the sky is glittering, and still Della bakes. The folding of the dough as she shapes each bread loaf is familiar, the stretch and spring of it a comfort against her hands. The roar of the wind means that the others are battening down the hatches; the skimmers are parked underground and no one is foolish enough to attempt a shuttle run.
Della does calculations in her head, while she rushes to finish: the speed of the storm over the plains, the spiraling winds, the violence of the lightning on this strange planet. That they'll ride tonight is a foregone conclusion, as inescapable as the moons rising. People will need the protection of flour and love, and it still may not be enough.
She doesn't look up when the door opens and the shop bell rings, only says, "How many loaves for your family?"
"Dell," he says, his voice hoarse, and now, she looks.
The red dust ringing the neck of Kazu's jumpsuit is stained with blood, and dammit, there isn't going to be enough time to bake the bread.
"Did they get you?" she asks, already knowing the answer.
"Would you let me near, if they did?"
Della doesn't answer, can't answer, because she knows what's right and what's wrong. It starts with the bites, with the young ones marking those who are too slow; it ends with the blood lust and the compulsion and the inescapable pull of the elders.
"The dough will overproof," she says instead, sliding a tray of loaf pans into the fridge.
They stand there, flour floating in the air between them, and Della feels him reach for her hand. But he doesn't kiss her, and that's as sure a sign as any that he's been bitten.
"We need to go," she says, and starts throwing baked loaves into backpacks. She tosses one to Kazu, before pausing for one last look at the shop. "Now. Before it's too late."
He says nothing, just stares at Della, so she does what she has to do--she grabs his hand, and they run together into the hungry, hungry night.
The dark sparkles come with the clouds, with the wind, with the blood lust upon the air. They are stirring and Della can feel it in her bones. All the good people are locked up in their homes, away from those that hunt them. They have their barricades and their doorsteps ringed with bread; all the precious prayers that protect them from those that they share the planet with. They do not talk about the price that they pay for this sanctuary in the starry sky.
Lightning cracks through the storm, and Della feels Kazu's hand tighten on hers. They run because running is the only option. The rest of the Hunt will be out soon, and the rules for it have been learned the hard way--do not cross the ones who live here. Do not ever try.
Della runs until there is nowhere left to run; until the wind prevents them from taking another step, and the dark sparkles swirl around them. Kazu is half-crazed, straining against her hand as blood drips from his mouth; she doesn't know whether to cry or scream or shake with fright.
They come on their beasts, creatures that are as inhuman as the Hunt themselves. Starlight and energy, crackling from the storm, and astride them they pulse with rage and hunger. There is nothing that can stand in their way--no machine made by man can contend with the power that they exude. Lightning flashes with their every movement.
And Della sees it--all the futility, all the tiny human striving that has happened on this planet, all the pitiful whims that these creatures have allowed them--none of it real, none of it true. Flour and yeast mixed with love are no true protection against them; they have let them believe that handmade bread and prayer have been enough for all the years that they have lived here.
But she tries anyway.
She holds onto her man as he strains to join them. She holds him tight as he tries to run from her. As the wind batters her and their voices scream through her skull, she holds onto Kazu. Until the tears run from her eyes, and she wonders why they do not kill her where she stands.
And then, she realizes, that they are laughing at her, as much as something like the Hunt can laugh, and that is one indignity too much to bear.
So many lies; so many years, baking nothing but lies. The song in her bones gets louder, and it feels like her head will explode. Della clings to Kazu's hand and grabs his face, kissing his bloody mouth, infecting herself.
Kazu laughs, as the blood dribbles down his neck, and for a second, they are both mad together under the raging sky.
Then, a voice like a tornado: "I only wanted the boy," and a flash like lightning that goes through her body like fire.
Della burns and is reborn, and when she opens her eyes, the bread from her backpack is gone, and the Hunt is in the distance.
"Come home," Kazu says, and so she does.
The wind stays quiet for the entire way.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

Author Comments

This story started life as a story seed--a question about "What do the clouds know?" Which generated no ideas in my head at all, until I asked my daughter what she thought about it. In typical eight-year-old fashion, she proceeded to tell me all about how the clouds were glittering and this meant that there were nice fairies and mermaids and all other sorts of fantastical creatures in the story she thought I should write. I ended up writing about bloodthirsty space fairies instead, which is how you get this version of the Wild Hunt in space. My daughter says that I still owe her a story about "nice fairies" one day, which I suppose I'll have to write, sooner or later.

- Jenny Rae Rappaport
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