POEM: Mind The Gap

First Publication: October 7th, 2015



By Alexandra Erin


There is a place between

where I was born

and where I live now

and there are no words

for how I feel about it


There is a space between

what I once was

and who I’ve become

and there is no way

to bridge that gap


There is a pause between

the moment I act

and the moment I think

and I’m not sure

what I can do about it


There is a gulf between

the things that I dream

and the things I can do

and I’m less and less sure

which even is which.




SHORT STORY: Made With Love

First Publication: October 5th, 2015
Word Count: ~1700



by Alexandra Erin

When I made Annabelle, I wasn’t looking for a companion. I hadn’t known at the time how much I needed one.

I didn’t think of myself as lonely as a child, even though I was frequently alone and didn’t have anyone who shared my interests. I was simply solitary. My interests were unique, or so I thought at the time. The adults in my life assured each other I would become interested in boys any time, and then some of them assured me it would be fine if I was interested in girls.

Mostly I was interested in making things, and in the strange blue stone that dotted the quarries and rocky outcroppings near our home, and in making things out of the stone.

Astralite, it was called. The star-stone. People used to think it came to the earth in falling stars, but that’s nonsense.

A geologist once told me we have no idea what made astralite form, but it definitely had a terrestrial origin. I don’t know that I could have articulated this as a child, but the way it appeared in veins running through the limestone certainly testified to that.

The name had stuck even after its celestial origin was disproven, because it was popular and evocative and it certainly fit in other ways. The luminescent qualities of the star-stone were one of its many notable qualities.

Despite the difficulties involved in commercial exploitation, high-quality astralite has always been in demand. I was fortunate that our local strain was not seen by anyone as particularly pure or interesting. It marbled our limestone with whisker-thin wisps, not great galloping rivers.

Over the course of several summers, I collected slivers and dust and pressed them into molds of my own devising, stamping out the gears and shafts and other bits that would become Annabelle. I’d created the technique to make jewelry that I gave away as gifts.

Astralite has a tricky reputation for jewelry. My mother still has the first pendant I ever made, but everyone has heard about the rich lawyer who had astralite stones faceted and polished like gems set into a necklace for his wife, only for them to break apart completely before she opened the box. The world is full of stories like both of these: the cherished astralite heirloom and the junk jewelry that disintegrates.

Sometimes astralite is like the most solid of bedrock. Sometimes it is fragile as hematite, soapstone, or amber. People chalk this up to differences in composition or structure, though no one’s been able to reliably measure such differences.

Those who work astralite will tell you the truth, though most people think we’re just being romantic. It’s simple, though. You have to love it.

The proof of this sits next to me on the sofa every evening, and lays beside me in bed while I sleep. I pressed her parts together out of dust and scrapings, but in twenty-three years not a single piece has broken, not a single axle has cracked. There isn’t so much as a chip on the tooth of any of her gears.

People think I’m a genius. Even the ones who believe I’m a fraud—and that’s most people—think I’m a genius at it. Even making a person-shaped machine that can walk and speak like a person is something of a holy grail in the field of robotics, an area in which I have no actual expertise or experience.

If Annabelle were nothing more than a remote-controlled automaton and all those intricate visible clockwork pieces suspended inside the thin blue glowing wire frame that bounds her limbs were simply there for show, she would still be a triumph in both design and execution.

The truth is, I don’t know how I made her. I started with the simple idea for an astralite clock. The immediate inspiration for this was an old spring-driven alarm clock my parents had, which I had taken apart and put back together many times.

As soon as I started making the pieces, though, I found that they pulled me in a different direction. I started making more pieces, other pieces, and putting them together in the way that made the most sense.

I started when I was eleven. It took three years, during which time most of the adults in my life thought I was making an impressive sculpture. When asked, I said “Something like that.” I’d had a vague inkling in my head of what my labor was leading to, but it sounded ridiculous to say it aloud. I was making a person. I was making a girl.

People tell me she is a work of art. I used to correct them by saying that her creation was done out of love, but I’ve stopped, mostly because I realized that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Still, I don’t like to hear Annabelle described that way, as a work. “A thing of beauty” is another one that makes me see red, though that one is also applied to other women.

When I was a child, I made Annabelle the size of a child. Since then, I have grown and she has grown with me. She bathes in astralite dust periodically, according to her own unfathomable internal rhythms. She takes it into herself. She grows. She changes.

We are adults now. We live together, loving each other yet not quite lovers, at least not in the sense that my more prurient correspondents assume. They like to ask how we have sex. I used to ask them why they assumed that we do, but more often than not, this would only result in even cruder inquiries in the next follow-up.

I support my love and myself with my astralite art and jewelry, which I sell to a select clientele in order to preserve my reputation for quality. It’s not enough for the customer to love a piece in the aesthetic sense, or to love the idea of having it. There has to be real love attached to it, flowing through it.

Astralite needs love to survive when removed from its rocky womb.

That’s the secret.

That’s the key.

That’s why I can work it as easily as if it were soft clay, and make a sculpture you can’t dent with a sledgehammer. When my pieces leave me and go out into the world, though, my love for them cannot sustain them. They must go to loving homes. They must be purchased with love, given with love, treasured.

Annabelle helps me vet my clients. While my explanations of astralite’s nature are still regarded as new age fringe theories by many, they are known. So are the qualifications I set for buying my pieces. Many have tried to bluff their way through the interview.

Usually it’s obvious when someone is faking, covering their covetousness with cartoon hearts in their eyes. I can be fooled, though. People can even fool themselves. Annabelle, the treasure of my heart, is never fooled. Love comes as naturally to her as breathing does to you or me. If this means she does not often have to stop and ponder about its existence, it means she acutely notices its absence.

Even with the vetting process, I offer no guarantees with my work, as things can change and hearts with them. I’ve heard from people who received one of my pieces secondhand, often through a bequest or at an estate sale, only to have it fall to pieces. Usually they’re just complaining, but in a few cases a new owner has sought my help in establishing that the piece was a counterfeit so they could seek redress from the seller. I have no choice but to disappoint them again.

On the other hand, I’ve received many kind messages from people who have found a secondhand treasure which appeared pitted and pocked but which cleaned up more nicely than they would have thought possible with a little tender love and care, or who inherited a cherished keepsake from a family member and want me to know how they feel closer to their loved one than ever when they wear or handle it.

I also receive several inquiries a week asking me for instructions on how to build another Annabelle, along with offers to buy her or requests that I make her available for an in-depth examination. I used to try to respond to these, but now I don’t bother.

It’s not even the volume of them. It’s the fact that even explaining that she is a person whom I love feels like I’m granting too much legitimacy to the premise that she’s not. It wears me down.

I couldn’t tell someone how to make another one of her. I don’t think there could be another one of her, any more than there could be another one of me, or you, or anyone else. I doubt copying her framework or the pattern of her gears would create a spritely blue glowing woman who laughs at my jokes and shares my fears.

The mechanics by which her physical form were constructed hardly matter. That’s not what made her. Sometimes, when I receive a query about her origins that is neither presumptive nor insensitive, I share what advice I have to give on the subject, though to my knowledge no one has yet succeeded in making another living being out of astralite, at least not on purpose.

I did receive an email yesterday from a hysterical mother whose daughter had found one of my tiny carved hummingbirds with its wing broken off. The girl had pressed the pieces back together. She wants to be a veterinarian, her mother said, and she cooed over the poor broken thing, and made it a tiny bandage, and kissed it better, and now a tiny blue hummingbirds follows her around, flitting around in circles around her head and watching over her while she sleeps.

Her mother wanted to know if this is normal.

I told her it’s natural.



By Alexandra Erin

First Publication: September 29th, 2015

Word Count: ~500




The wind carried the strange chemical signals away from the crater. The signal-cloud was too light and dispersed to be sensed through the visible spectrum. The molecules it contained were heavy enough to fall like a soft rain in its wake, though, creating a trail that the hive’s scouts discovered.

An individual ant was not equipped to make sense of what it was detecting, any more than an individual rod or cone in a retina can read a book. The first scouts who found the alien scent-trail stopped in their tracks. If they had been people, their reactions would have been as though they’d just read a sentence in which all the words were correct and in the right order but it still didn’t make sense, or as though they’d just heard something that had the tone and cadence of speech but wasn’t.

An ant is not a person, though. An ant isn’t even a mind. It’s more like a slow moving set of impulses in a larger neural network. The ones who found the trail retreated to the hive, where the information could circulate amongst the All. None of the individual ants knew what the signals were. No one could make sense of it.

The All could, though. The All knew what it was looking at.

Ah, the All thought. Chemical formulae. Interesting.”

The hive reached itself out to follow the trail to its source. By the time they reached the crater, the source of the trail had been packed up and carted away by the pesky bipedal monominds who got in everywhere and poisoned everything. The hive did not care. It trusted that if they even noticed the signals, they would have no clue how to read them. All the important information had suffused the soil around the object.

Instructions. Recipes. Technology.

The hive was cautious, but curious. It was always interested in improving itself, and all the necessary ingredients could be harvested or refined easily enough. There were enough young that some could be fed a formula from the stars to see how it would affect their growth. This sort of applied biochemistry was the colony’s stock in trade.

Scouts from other hives began to arrive at the crater. The All of the first hive briefly considered the merits of combat, but discarded it as an option. The markers had dispersed too widely to keep them a secret and there was no hope of defending so wide a territory as the landing site. Better to withdraw and begin applying the new knowledge. If it provided any advantage, then the first hive to develop it would have an edge over the others.

Among the monominds, the message eventually went out that the meteorite had shown traces of an interesting organic compound. This sort of thing was reported often enough that it provoked more debate over the likelihood of terrestrial contamination than it did excitement over the potential implications.

While the monominds bickered, the hives decoded the recipes and synthesized new compounds. The next generation of queens were showing some fascinating potential, and that was saying nothing about the warriors…

FICTION: The Hoard Most Precious


By Alexandra Erin


First Publication: September 24th, 2015

Word Count: ~1,500


Ah, so, another little mammal has come to beard the great wyrm in its den. Come, then! Come out and show me who would slay the dragon. Come out and see the hoard you would claim as your own.

What is that look? Is my treasure so much smaller than you imagined? I have roasted a thousand fools as they stood precisely where you stand, and yet I do not think a single one of you has ever found my fabled trove to be exactly what you thought the stories had promised.

Do not be twice fooled, though. If my neat and orderly hoard occupies less space than you were led to believe it must, still I assure you its value has likely been underestimated.

I think it’s the jewels, to be honest. Those who have much first-hand experience with precious stones are rarely driven to hunt the dragon’s hoard, so you have only your dreams to serve as a basis for comparison. You expect a chest of gemstones to be as big as your family’s cedar trunk, and you expect the contents to all be the size of a fist, yes?

Well, there are uncut stones to be had in that size, but unworked materials rarely hold my interest. See this cask of rubies? They were a gift in admiration from a red dragon with whom I once fought over territory. Neither one of us could claim the peak over which we quibbled, and so we sealed the truce between us with an exchange of gifts.

They seem mere pebbles, yes? You could retire modestly on one of them. If you could but fill your purse with the fraction of them it would hold, your descendants would be wealthy forever.

Then there’s gold. Certainly, there’s more of it here than you’ve ever seen, but I feel you were expecting there to be more even than this. Piles of gold. Mountains of gold with me nestled between them. The cave must be stuffed with gold to the point of bursting, or else the treasure-hunters will feel cheated.

Well, by my best conjuring, all the gold ever mined by the hands of man or dwarf would not fill this cavern. Does this surprise you? If it does, you have little knowledge of the nature of gold, of its scarcity, or indeed its density.

If I were to promise you your weight in gold to leave me in peace, you might decide it would be worth it, on the balance, to trade an uncertain fate for a certain fortune. But if I were to show you how little gold it would take to make up that measure, I fear you would be sure I was cheating you.

See that gold rock at your feet? I leave it there for a purpose. Do try to lift it. It fits easily in your hand, but it is not so easy as you supposed, is it? This is what a stone-weight of gold looks like. Fourteen pounds, as the accountants of the day would measure them. Would you like to keep it, with my compliments? As I told you, I have little use for raw material. It is not your weight in gold, no, but it is more than enough to change your life. And think of the story you would have to tell!


Be not so hasty! I make this offer not for fear of my life but for fear of yours. I have no taste for killing greedy fools at this time of my life.

Yes, I called you greedy. The nugget in your hand would be enough to make you very wealthy, and you could carry it out with no more risk to your life than you faced in coming here. What else should I call you, when you turn down a proffered fortune for the slim chance of an even greater one?

What? You think I am the greedy one, to hoard such wealth? If I am jealous of my hoard, it is for a purpose, though I can see no reason why I should need such a purpose beyond the fact that it is mine.

Listen! I was old when the world was new. My bones are as old as stone, but my spirit is older still. The reckoning of my memory encompasses every epoch of the earth, and yet I recall each detail with the same clarity you recall your own life.

That is the crux of it, though. With what clarity do you recall the fleeting moments of your life? Do you not rely on keepsakes, which you call mementos, to serve as signposts as you wind your way through way through the labyrinth of the dusky past? Do you not commit events of great moment to paper in order to preserve a more reliable accounting than your own poor memory can serve?

You see a trove of treasures gilt and gleaming and assume that I covet such things because I am a covetous beast, which means I am but a sinful brute, which makes it virtuous for you to slay me and claim all of this for yourself.

But what would any of this be to you, that you would not find in that chunk of gold I so generously offered and you so cavalierly discarded?

See this bowl? A simple vessel of beaten gold. To you, nothing about it is as remarkable as its composition. The metal alone is valuable. There is not a dealer in art nor in antiquities who would pay a penny more than the gold’s weight for it.

To me, though? I was alive when this bowl was made. To look at it is to throw open the door to a time and place long forgotten. I remember the slim brown hands that held it, the full lips that sipped fragrant spiced wine from it. I can see in the theater of my mind the cushions on which they arrayed themselves, the curtains that hung around them. I can smell the wine, the food, the perfume and incense on the air!

Ah, and what does that call to mind but this gold censer? Its sweet airs once blessed the services of a temple no living being outside this cavern has ever clapped eyes upon. When I look upon the censer, I can smell the incense. I can see the great edifice of the temple. I hear the voices, lifting up in song.

I hear the same voices crying out in fear, and I smell the scent of burning wood and roasting flesh. It was not a nice religion. Or perhaps I was not a nice dragon. I do not recall what the nature of our conflict was, to be perfectly honest. I recall the people, though. So long as this relic remains in my possession, they will not be forgotten.

Few things in life endure. Wood and fabric rots. Iron corrodes. Silver tarnishes. Paint, pigment, and ink fade. Bones are ground into dust.

Gold lasts, though.

Gems last.

See these coins? Relics of rulers I’ve buried and empires I’ve outlasted. You would weigh them and count them, but in taking them from me, you would rob me of an accounting of history. Outside this cave, coins are stamped over, melted down. History is forgotten. Here, it is accounted for and preserved.

Among your kind and mine, I have had friends, and lovers, and enemies. The passage of the centuries dims the distinctions among these groups. I remember all fondly as threads in the tapestry of my immortal life. I would prefer to continue remembering them.

Here is my final offer, then: take whatever you may carry, so long as there is enough of any item you select that you do not deprive me of more than half of it. Take no more than half the fine rubies I highlighted. Select your favorite coins from among the various strikings and denominations rather than pilfering one pile. Take whatever it pleases you to take, just leave me with my memories.

Whatever this costs me, I will have purchased something precious: a novel experience. You would be the first one to accept such an offer, the first enterprising soul to leave my lair alive. After a few millennia I may not recall the color of your hair or the cast of your face, but every time my gaze falls upon a spot where some trinket used to be, I will remember that you existed and you did something remarkable, something without precedent in the course of history.


Are you quite certain?

A pity.

What follows will not be long, and I long ago ran out of ways to make it memorable.

POEM: We Ride The Line

We Ride The Line
By Alexandra Erin

First Publication: September 23rd, 2015


When night comes out,
it does not fall.
It just shows up
when the light dies.

The darkness was always there,
hiding behind the light.
I try to wrap my head around this,
look at the moon,
so pale in the morning sky.
I know it shines as bright in the blue
as it does against the black.

I know the stars are there
behind the glare, somewhere.
I know darkness is just what’s left
when light goes out of your world.

I don’t know what it means.
I just know it’s true.

We ride the line, she says.

I tell her I knew a girl like her once.
She tells me I’m mistaken,
I didn’t know that girl then
and I don’t know her now,
I’ve just confused real people
with the intersection
on a Venn diagram
between observable traits
and my own imagination.

She says she’s used to it,
she knows I’ll learn better.

We ride the line together,
tell our stories, say our prayers.
We pass from dark to light
and back again, frequent flyers
on the annual trip around the sun,
all expenses paid
one way, or another.

Daylight changes things
more than we’d like to admit.
Each time the light dies
we swear we’ll get it right
next time, tomorrow,
next year, time after that.
We burn up our somedays
like we’re made out of maybes,
like we’ll never run out.

We ride the line to the end.
Alone, we go around together.
Somewhere is a last stop
waiting for us.
Someday the fare box
will take our last pennies,
exact change
from one state of being to another.

Just like flipping a switch.
Just like shutting off a light.
The darkness is there already,
hiding behind it.

We ride the line.
Night does not fall.
It just comes out,
when the light dies.

POEM: Toll Call

Toll Call

By Alexandra Erin


First Published: September 22nd, 2015


To continue this call in English, press 1.
To continue a different call, press 2.
To resume a call you don’t remember placing, press 3.
To end a call you had no intention of ever beginning, press 4.
To speak with technical support, press 5.
To speak with the dead, press 6.
For billing inquiries, press 7.
For all other inquiries, press 8.
For other other inquiries, press 9.

If you know your party’s extension,
enter a perfect dreamless sleep
and never awaken

If you’d like to leave a message,
please consider with whom,
and at what cost.

If you’d like to speak with the operator,
please hang up the phone
and turn around

Please have your account number
and be ready to scream.
Be ready to run.
It won’t help.
Nothing will help.

Your call is very important to us.
It will be answered in the order it was received.

FICTION: “Sometimes, There Are Dolphins”



By Alexandra Erin

First Publication: September 21st, 2015
Word Count: ~2,000


Honeymoon Island, off the gulf coast of Florida, was connected to the mainland city of Dunedin by a causeway. It was a state park, open every day from eight a.m. until sunset. The beaches of Honeymoon Island were laid with shells as other beaches are covered in sand, with a fresh batch deposited daily by the gulf water tides.

The water as seen from the shore presented a shimmering spectrum of ocean hues, from sun-dappled silver to sparkling emerald to deep azure and many incomprehensible blends in between. The near-constant wind blowing in off the gulf keeps the clouds moving at a brisk pace, ensuring that even the most overcast days often present an interesting sight when the sun begins to dip below the distant waters at the curve of the world.

None of this had made much of an impression on Clara. She’d enjoyed the first afternoon at the beach well enough, and had had enough fun splashing around in the surf and collecting shells that she hadn’t minded staying to stare at the horizon with her mother.

“Sometimes, there are dolphins,” her mother had said excitedly. “They skim right along the shore, swimming in a pod. They trace the causeway and follow the outline of the island. Sometimes they jump and show off, or swim back and forth. They don’t always come, of course, but when they do, it’s usually it right before sunset.”

There hadn’t been any dolphins, though, that night or any of the five that followed. Each night, her mother had repeated the words “sometimes, there are dolphins,” at least once, with a little less fervor. Clara had gone from resenting her mother for dragging her out each night to feeling sorry for her.

This was the last night of their vacation, and now Clara was excited even though her mother wasn’t.

It was all because of the book.

She’d found it in the crawlspace over the garage of Grandpa’s old rundown little retirement cabin days ago, but it had taken her some time to learn how to read it. She’d never seen a book like it before, one not printed with orderly uniform letters but written by hand, many hands. Some of the letters were loopy and sprawling, some were spider-leg thin, but they all crowded against one another on pages that seemed like they should have been roomy enough to accommodate anyone.

Looking at the writing had given Clara a headache at first, as well as an odd, fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach. Curiosity had brought her back to the book, though.

That, and boredom.

Florida was supposed to be fun, but this wasn’t anywhere close to the right part of Florida, as far as she could tell. There was no Disney World here. There wasn’t even a Universal Studios. There was a Busch Gardens, but her mother had said she wouldn’t like it, even though the best description she had mustered of it was “like a zoo with rollercoasters,” and Clara couldn’t imagine anyone not liking that.

“Maybe next time,” her mother had said, though this was supposed to be the final trip, when Grandpa’s affairs were all wrapped up so the funny old house could be sold off.

Clara didn’t know what her grandfather’s affairs had been. She’d asked a few grown-ups what an affair was, but the answers had been amused and evasive.

So while her mother had spent most of her time meeting with people in suits and going through boxes in what she called the study, Clara’s attention had kept drifting back to the book. In time she’d learned how to look at it without wincing, and then how to read it.

It helped when she realized that the parts written in red pen were newer and made more sense than the rest. In fact, they helped her make sense of the others. She learned to think of it as a teacher correcting a badly written essay, suggesting better words, easier words.

At some point, she had started to think of the teacher as her grandfather and imagined that he was giving her some kind of guidance, knowing how much she hated to feel confused. The day she saw some of the papers in his study marked with the same red ink in the same handwriting, she had realized she was right. That was when she decided to keep the book for herself. It would be her inheritance, the last gift from her long-absent grandfather. It would make up for all the missed birthdays and Christmases.

She couldn’t tell her mother, of course. For some reason, her mother hadn’t wanted Clara to know much about him. Probably she was still mad about all her own birthdays and things that he’d missed.

Clara had already somehow known she couldn’t tell her mother about the book, but it felt good to have a reason that she could use to explain to herself why this must be so.

But even though she would keep the book for herself, she wouldn’t be selfish about it.

When she’d found the ritual, she’d known that her grandfather had a gift for his daughter, too. He’d spent so much time marking it out, translating the instructions into simple terms and even drawing clear diagrams. All the words were sounded out in bright red ink. It couldn’t be simpler.

The sea-king’s summoning spell, the note beside the illegible title had read. That was exactly what they needed. If the lazy old dolphins wouldn’t come out and play for Clara or her mother, she was sure they wouldn’t ignore a summons from the sea-king himself, whoever he might be.

She hadn’t fully believed that it would work, of course, when she’d tried it. It had just been something to do. She was a bit old to believe in fairy tales, after all. Not all the way.

But she’d…felt something, something rising up from deep inside and beneath her. She’d seen the candles gutter green and then sputter out. She might have imagined what she’d thought she’d felt, but she knew that candles didn’t look like that when they just blew out.

And the book…the book had slammed shut and spun around in the center of the circle, just like it was riding on mama’s old record player.

The spell had worked.

It had worked!

And so this night, it was Clara’s turn to scan the horizon as intently as her mother had the nights before.

The dolphins were coming, she knew. They were coming. They’d heard the sea-king’s summons and they would be coming. Her mother’s guidebook didn’t say if the dolphins would come from the left or the right…from the south or the north…so she tried to keep watch in both directions.

“Well, it’s a nice enough night for our last night here,” Clara’s mother was saying. She laid a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Better enjoy the view while it lasts. Look, the sun’s dipping into some haze. Do you think it’ll be swallowed up before we get a proper sunset?”

“I don’t know, I’m watching for dolphins.”

“Clara…I know I said there might be dolphins,” her mother said. “But, honestly, it’s best not to set your heart on it. Sometimes, there are dolphins, but it isn’t something anyone can predict or control.”

“Maybe,” Clara said. She almost decided to tell her mother about the spell then and there, but she thought it would be better if she just let her be surprised.

The dolphins would come by sunset. She’d had that idea fixed in her head when she did the spell, and if she’d only been guessing about how the magic would work, she still had gotten the distinct impression that the message had been received and answered in the affirmative: sunset.

“Just don’t get so fixated on looking for one thing that you miss everything else, okay?” her mother said. “My father…your grandfather…did that, he did that his whole life. He ignored everything else, everyone else, while he went off and searched for…I don’t even know what. I’ve been looking through his files for a week now and I still don’t know what he hoped to find. I just know that he died alone, half-crazed and full of regret. He missed so much of my life, Clara. He missed his own wife’s last years. He missed so much…”

“Jeez, I’m just looking for dolphins, Mom!” Clara said, whirling around and pulling away from the hand on her shoulder. “Will you give it a rest? I’m not going to miss my whole life because I spent one night looking for the stupid dolphins that you wanted to see in the first place!”

“Sorry!” her mother said. “I’m sorry, I…that was probably projecting. This is the first time I’ve been back here since papa’s funeral, and the longest I’ve been here since I was a little girl, and I’ve just…I’ve been feeling and thinking things that I left buried for so long. I shouldn’t have pushed all that off onto you, Clara. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry, Mom,” Clara said. “I didn’t mean to get so mad. I just…I knew you wanted to see dolphins, so I wanted to bring them to you.”

“Oh, honey, you can’t bring someone dolphins,” her mother said, with what sounded like a surprisingly nervous laugh. “They’re wild and free creatures, almost like people themselves. Honey, that’s what makes seeing them so special, you see? They don’t operate on a schedule or come when you call them. You can’t control nature. Believe me, your grandfather wasted his life learning that lesson, if he ever did learn it in the end.”

“Well, I don’t know if he wasted it,” Clara said, as she became dimly aware of a commotion among the other late-lingering beachgoers. “But…”

“What on earth?” her mother said, looking at a point behind her, somewhere out over the water. “What…”

Clara turned to look out to sea. Almost straight out from her, at a point on the horizon and moving on a path perpendicular to the nearest stretch of shore to her, something was moving…several things were moving, racing along the shining silver waters, leaping out of the water as they ran along.

“Dolphins?” Clara said excitedly. Behind the frantically frolicking figures, the sun was sinking into the sea.

“Those aren’t dolphins,” her mother said, then corrected herself. “Those aren’t just dolphins.”

And they weren’t.

There were dolphins, yes, but fish of every size and description raced along beside and ahead of them.

“Are they feeding?” Clara guessed.

“Nah, dolphins don’t hunt like that,” a young woman staring out at the onrushing spectacle said. “They try to surround a school of fish and trap them against the surface of the water, they don’t chase them down like lions hunting gazelles. And look, they’re not trying to catch the fish…they’re breaking ahead of them.”

“What are they doing?” someone else asked. “I thought they were supposed to follow the shore.”

“They’re wild animals, they’re not supposed to do anything,” Clara said. “Right, Mom?”

She looked up at her mother for support, but her budding sense of satisfaction was nipped when she saw the look of pure horror on her face.

“Are they racing?” a man guessed. “Or being chased? Why are they trying to get away from the fish? Don’t dolphins eat fish? I’ve never heard of a fish eating a dolphin.”

“I don’t think it’s the fish that they’re trying to get away from,” the young man said. “What’s that saying? If you and your friend are being chased by a bear, you don’t have to outrun the bear…”

The nearest dolphins weren’t so far from the shore now, and they showed absolutely no sign of slowing or stopping. Clara hardly noticed. Her attention, like everyone else’s, was not on the dolphins but on the rising swell far behind them, behind the stragglers and the leaping schools of fish.

The sun set.

He rose.


Alexandra Erin is a crowdfunded poet, tweeter, blogger, and author. If you enjoyed this or her other work, please join her on Patreon to keep the words coming.

TOMU CHAPTER 307: Getting To Know You

Since I’m moving to a Thing of the Day model and since my Thing at least one Day most weeks is going to be a Tales of MU chapter, I’m going to start cross-linking them from here, so people who follow my blog or the thing-of-the-day category can keep up with them.

Today’s chapter is 307: Getting To Know You. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t informed by the “cool kids” discourse I’ve been participating in and observing on Twitter and around the internets, but I’d also be lying if I said my take on that hasn’t been shaped by my experiences writing Mackenzie all these years.

FLASH FICTION: “Feeding Gnarlybone”

Feeding Gnarlybone
By Alexandra Erin

First Publication: September 17th, 2005
Word Count: ~400


“Why do trolls live under bridges?”

“Well, properly speaking, trolls don’t live under bridges,” I said. “They’re highly magical creatures, you see, and they like to live in canyons and river beds, places where there’s a steady flow of energy for them to tap…”

“But then why does everyone act like they do? And what about old Gnarlybone? Is it just him?”

“You didn’t let me finish,” I said. “Trolls live in canyons and river beds, but those things don’t exactly come with roofs, do they? So the troll builds himself a little house out of stone… no one’s cunning with stone the way a troll is, and they anchor it on both sides of the pass, and what does that give you?”

“A bridge!”

“Something very like one, yes,” I said. “Close enough that they might as well do a little extra work to make it into one. Because the places where they like to live are natural channels for natural energy, but there is another kind of energy that’s created when folk travel on the same path in enough numbers for enough time. The flow of ideas, of thoughts, of words, of life… it creates a channel that intersects the one the troll taps.”

“So trolls don’t actually eat travelers?”

“Have you ever heard of old Gnarlybone eating anyone?”


“Have you ever known anyone who got eaten by Gnarlybone?”


“It would be accurate to say that trolls feed on travelers, or on travel, but so do humans and most other folk,” I said. “After all, we’d be in pretty sorry shape if we couldn’t get grain from the flatlands, wouldn’t we? But trolls can survive without that kind of commerce, as long as they can tap a powerful enough natural flow. The way I understand it is that it makes things better for them, like a bit of honey or spice might do. It’s a thing they can live without, but life is better when they have it.”

“So rivers are troll food, but roads are troll candy!”

“Yes,” I said. “I suppose that’s about right.”

“So we should probably go down into town tomorrow.”

“Oh?” I said. “Why do you say that? Are you in the mood for some candy yourself?”

“No! Because then we’ll be feeding Gnarlybone, and he won’t have to eat anyone.”

I laughed.

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said. “Anyway, we don’t need anything from town.”

“But we could buy some candy.”

“I thought you didn’t want any.”

“Yeah, but if it would help us feed Gnarlybone… I’d take some.”


Read more of my flash fiction at fantasyinminiature.com. If you enjoy my work, please consider leaving a tip, buying some e-books, or join me on Patreon.