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Art by Melissa Mead

Y is for Yellow

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.

The room is really quite pleasant, with a neat and solid floor and a window that commands a view of the grounds. When we got here, the lawns shimmered, dark green in the sun. But John had the gardeners kill the grass with acids and salt, and now the yards are bare yellow.
It is all for a purpose, John assures me, in his comforting physician's lilt--the grass, the little gate at the top of the stairs, the locks, the bars on the windows. I am getting better, and we shall remain in the rented house for only a few weeks more until I have recovered from my spells of melancholia and nervous apprehension. The patient must be patient, John says, speaking not just as my physician, but as my husband.
And so I shall be patient. But how I long to see something green.
All is yellow in the house. Yellow wallpaper, yellow floor, yellow boards over the doors. The nurse wears yellow cotton. John wears a once-white suit, now dyed yellow. If it weren't for his face, burned red from the sun, I would liken him to a giant canary.
When I am well, I will see green again. I will see grass and fields, and the groves and orchards of a home I can't quite remember. I have been ill for a long time. And I have been in this yellow house, it seems, forever. I dream of escape.
But of course this is irrational. A product of my hysteria. The world beyond is so dangerous when one's nerves have grown as incandescent as mine. And that is why John keeps me in the yellow house. It is for my protection and convalescence.
I twist the wedding ring on my finger. It is a band of yellow gold.
I am always awake at night, creeping quiet, loath to awaken John. During the day I sleep and dream away the hours.
In my dreams the sky is blacker than night, filled with worlds of kaleidoscopic continents and seas, and I sail through the ether to visit them. In the space of my dreams, I am strong, and the world is full of color.
Of all these celestial bodies, one stands out--a green star, shining in the night like the flame of an enormous lantern. Even in my waking hours, I imagine basking in the great lantern's light.
The lantern-star of my dreams calls to me. It speaks of bright days and black nights. It warns me of evil's might. The lantern is here, somewhere, inside this house, this yellow house. It makes no sense, but I know it is true.
I have begged to be let out, to be allowed in open air, but John insists I'm not yet ready.
"Your flame is too weak," he says, smiling at me as though I were a baby in a bassinet. "The softest breeze might snuff you out. Rest, my pet. Be a good girl."
It takes days, but I eventually come to wonder why, if I am so weak, John has taken so many precautions to keep me trapped inside?
Door locks. Really, they are little match even for my weak, nervous hands. A hairpin is all it takes. John is out on the grounds somewhere, hiking, or chopping wood, or something equally vigorous.
Downstairs, I let the lantern's glow guide me: into the cellar, under piles of burlap sacks, inside a chest. And in the chest, at last, I uncover my emerald siryn. The lantern bathes me in light.
And resting beside the lantern is a ring. A green ring.
I remove my yellow wedding band and replace it with this simple loop of unknown metal. Its power warms me. No, more than that. It ignites me. Then I place my ringed hand inside the lantern and recite words that are suddenly more familiar to me than my own name.
In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might...
When I concentrate, a green ray flashes from the ring. I aim the light at the walls to burn them away. But my light dissipates, powerless when it contacts the yellow wallpaper.
And now I remember it all.
The little men who made the ring included a weakness to keep their servants under control. The ring and green lantern are useless against the color yellow. It is a weakness John, my sinister husband, has exploited.
But I am more than the power of the lantern and ring. I still have power that belongs to me alone. Yellow doors may stand up to the power of green.
But not to the power of my boot heel.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
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