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Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Issue 68: Total Eclipse



Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Shousetsu Bang*Bang



Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the contributors and editors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy or visit our website at http://shousetsubangbang.com. Thank you for your support.




Shousetsu Bang*Bang issue 68 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://shousetsubangbang.com.

TABLE OF CONTENTS



Sacrifice, by Hiwaru Kibi

Off-site team-building, by Hyakunichisou 13

Silver Lilies, by Yuriko Toru

Hasta, by A.S. Mara

Higher Than Hay Bales, by Okō

The Smart Girl's Spellbook of Practical Wicca, by shukyou

----

Shadow of Hyakinthos, by Iron Eater

Ritual, by Fumiki-kun



Front cover by cloven

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Issue_68







Sacrifice

by Hiwaru Kibi (火悪 木美)

 Silviestro was going to die. He had known this for nearly a year now, ever since the astrologers had checked their charts and calculated the dates, then pointed to the calendar at what would be his twenty-second birthday. He’d been reminded of it in every plate of food brought to him by grateful villagers, in every lustful gaze sent his way by shapely maidens. Not for a moment had the knowledge left his mind that he would meet his end here, on top of the highest hill, anointed with sacred oils and wrapped in sacrificial robes.

But it was still another thing entirely to be left to watch the Sun go black.

It had now been more than two centuries since the last eclipse, back long beyond living memory, but the astrologers were sure it would be calamitous if the proper precautions were not taken. The precise nature of the precautions, of course, were left to some discussion, as the Great Fire and three Great Floods over the preceding two centuries had done a fairly excellent job of wiping out the kingdom’s historical archives. Nonetheless, all the scholars were in agreement over a few key elements, the first being the location. It seemed that if one of a place’s local landmarks was literally named Sacrifice Hill, it put to rest a great deal of debate on the matter.

The second point of agreement was Silviestro’s attire. He was clad only in a light linen robe, with nothing on beneath. After tying him up, the sages had muttered amongst themselves for a moment, then yanked the lapels wide, revealing his broad, tanned chest. Then they went away muttering, leaving him exposed from neck to navel, with his arms bound behind him. When the wind blew, it ruffled his dark, curly chest hair.

And the third and final consensus was that this was necessary. It was a season to atone, maybe, or a moment to shore up favor against cosmic forces, or a time for appeasing the evil gods that ate all the stars in their due course — that theory came from a fringe yet persuasive sect — but the why of it was less important than the fact of it. The beautiful young Silviestro, in the prime of his life, was to give his life so the rest of the village, or kingdom, or entire world (it was unclear which) could live.

Silviestro tried to meet his end bravely. He stood tall, helped somewhat by the fact that he was lashed to a heavy post with his arms behind his back and his feet anchored in place. He took deep breaths and hoped it wouldn’t hurt. He was too pretty for pain.

When the first edge of the Sun’s disc began to go dark, Silviestro trembled. As the blackness crept its way across, blotting out the daylight, he shook even more. His mind raced with horrible possibilities for his doom. Perhaps they would kill him by locking him in a box and making him fight a duck, and then replacing the duck with a series of successively larger ducks, until he finally succumbed. He didn’t know why they would do that, but he also didn’t know why the Sun went black. Sometimes the universe was full of mystery.

At last, after what felt like hours, the gears of the world seemed to grind to a halt as the sky fell nighttime-dark, with the Sun left only a halo of its former self. Silviestro looked up, daring to face his fate, as he saw five bolts of golden light break off from that halo and plummet down to earth, right to where he stood. They landed with a crash so spectacular, Silviestro felt all of Sacrifice Hill shake, and he closed his eyes in fear, waiting for what would come.

When nothing came, he cautiously cracked open one eye, daring to peek at the horror that had come for him.

The horror was … well, it wasn’t a single horror. There were five figures standing there in front of him, lean and leonine. They looked almost entirely human, except that their faces were somewhat pointed, like the muzzles of great cats, and they were all at least seven feet tall. They were wearing robes much like Silviestro’s, only no one had torn their garments open to expose their chest hair. Their faces were all framed by great manes of golden hair almost the same color as their skin, out of which emerged long, pointed ears decorated with several jeweled rings and studs.

“Hello,” said one of them, in strangely accented speech. When it smiled, Silviestro could see rows and rows of sharp teeth.

Oh, why had they given him nothing to say? Silviestro swallowed hard. “Oh, Great Lords of–” What were they lords of? The sages hadn’t been clear. “Of … the Sun,” Silviestro finished, grasping at proverbial straws.

That made the tall lion-people laugh gently. “Oh, darling,” said one, with a voice as low as a hammer against a stone door, “that’s not us. I can see how you might be confused, but fear not. As our coming has been foretold, we are the Lords of the Moon.”

Silviestro looked up. It was dark in the sky, certainly, but there wasn’t a hint of Moon to be seen. “What Moon?” he asked, worrying that there had somehow been more than one Moon in the heavens his entire life and he’d missed it.

That made them all laugh again, which was worrying Silviestro somewhat. “The regular one,” another said. “And are you our Prophet?”

That was a question Silviestro had honestly never expected to be asked. “Am I your…” He frowned at them. The village elders were very fond of chuckling about how Silviestro’s parents must have gotten such a beautiful son by trading in his brains, but perhaps they were the ones confused here. “I’m your Sacrifice.”

“Our–” One of the Moon Lords cocked its head to one side. “Our what, now?”

“Sacrifice,” Silviestro said again, scanning their faces for signs of recognition. He tried again, slower: “Sa-cri-fice. Sacrifice.”

“Yes, darling, we heard you the first time,” said the one with the stone-door voice.

One of the Lords put its hands on its hips and looked at another. “I thought you left explicit instructions last time.”

“I did!” exclaimed the other. It turned to Silviestro. “Why didn’t your people follow the Codex of Directives?”

A lot of the pre-sacrificial discussion had been hard to follow, but Silviestro was fairly sure he had never heard two of those words before, and very sure he’d never encountered all three in that order. He chewed on his lower lip. “There was a fire,” he said after a moment’s consideration, “and a lot of things were … well, it was a fire.” He hoped they weren’t counting on him to explain what exactly fires did. Did they have fires on the Moon? He didn’t know, and wasn’t sure it was polite to ask. “And floods. More than one.”

The Moon Lord with arms akimbo shook its head. “This is why I said stone. Stone. But no, you were so fond of the printing press nonsense that you–“

“Do they still have printing presses, boy?” asked the one who’d mentioned the Codex. “Tell me they do. I do so love a good moveable type.”

“Ah, well, yes,” said Silviestro, eyes darting from face to face. “There’s one a few towns over. I think.”

“This is entirely beside the point,” spoke up one of the Lords, who hadn’t yet said anything, or at least Silviestro thought so. He was having a hard time telling them apart, and not only because of celestial phenomenon that had left midday dark as midnight. “What on earth are we going to do with another sacrifice? I say we untie him and make him our Prophet instead.”

Silviestro frowned. “Prophet?”

“To spread our glorious message, of course,” answered one of the Lords. “The time of our worship and devotion is at hand, and we were hoping” –that Lord shot a harsh glare at another– “that when we arrived again, everything would be in order, needing only our arrival to complete the Revelation. But since you are here, you may be the first among your peers to embrace the Light of Truth that we bring to all of personkind! You will go forth to your lands, testifying of what you have seen and preparing the way for the Harmonic Age that is to come! Peace and harmony will spread throughout all sentient life!”

“…Can’t I just be your Sacrifice?” Silviestro asked. “No offense, but I think I’d be better at it.”

The Lords looked at one another for a long moment.

At last, one threw its clawed hands into the air. “I can’t believe I altered orbital patterns for this.”

“Zlitith, it’s not that bad,” began another.

No,” snapped the first. “I don’t even like this moon. This is a pathetic moon. It lacks methane. Do you know how rudimentary a place has to be to lack methane?”

Silviestro certainly did not, but from their expressions, he gathered the others did. “You’ve got to stop taking these setbacks so personally,” said the Lord who’d spoken first. “Not every Assignment from the Star Council is a simple matter. If we establish the groundwork now, by the next Convergence, we should–“

Zlitith bared a row of pearly teeth. “I cannot entertain this right now. Heshet, if it wants to be a Sacrifice so much, sacrifice it. The rest of you, come with me. I need to sit in a vacuum for at least ten cycles to calm my nerves.”

Four creatures turned into four beams of light that zipped back up into the sky — which was already beginning to brighten again, Silviestro saw to some abstract relief. Perhaps he had just averted the calamity? Or made it worse? How could he tell the difference?

When the others had departed, Heshet turned to him and smiled. “Hello, Sacrifice,” it said, opening its toothy mouth. “I am Heshet, tenth son of Takluli, disciple of the Ninth Way and advocate of universal peace and harmony, come to you from beyond the stars.”

Now that the light was returning, Silviestro could see a little better the shape and dimensions of the Moon Lord standing before him. It was hard to tell anything about Heshet, because nothing about him fit in categories Silviestro understood. Heshet seemed to be mostly human but a little lion, mostly male but a little female, and entirely too capable of ripping open flesh with those fangs. The box of progressive ducks had begun to seem a more humane option.

“Silviestro,” said Silviestro. “I’m from–” He tried first to point, but his arms were still bound fast, so he nodded in the general direction of behind him. “From right over there.”

“Silviestro,” echoed Heshet, letting every sound roll around his mouth before it spilled out his lips. His voice was so low and heavy that Silviestro almost felt it more than he heard it. The sounds came to him like a rumble that began in the ground, then traveled up his whole body before reaching his ears. “So if the Codex of Directives did not survive your various natural disasters, darling, why are you here?”

That was a question Silviestro was not wholly sure he was qualified to answer. “Because of the–” He nodded toward the sky. “That thing.”

“Well, yes, of course,” Heshet said. “We’re all here because of the eclipse, naturally. But you’re tied to a pole.”

“Because I’m–” He found himself afraid to repeat the word, considering the earlier response, but he didn’t see any way around it. “I’m your Sacrifice.”

“Of course you are, darling.” Heshet stepped forward as he talked, regarding Silviestro with curious eyes. They were almost wholly human, yet as the light returned, he could see that they were an amber color he’d never seen a normal person have. “And a fine job you’re doing of it too. Well done. What I want to know is, why you? Specifically, that is.”

Finally, a question he could answer. “I was chosen because today is my birthday.”

Heshet’s ears twitched, making the rings in them chime against one another musically. “You were born only today?”

“No, I–” This was requiring more explanation than Silviestro was strictly prepared to give. “Today is the anniversary of my birth. There’s usually a party.” Back in the villages, celebrations likely were happening already, festivities of gratitude for having survived the sun’s departure. “People bring gifts.”

“A gift,” said Heshet thoughtfully. He looked Silviestro up and down, then licked his chops in a predatory way that made Silviestro’s stomach tremble. “Would you like a gift, little Sacrifice?”

There seemed to Silviestro no right way to answer that question. “What kind of gift?”

Heshet smiled and pulled back his robes, letting them fall to the ground. Silviestro was intensely grateful for being tied to the pole at that moment, because he feared he might have fallen over. Heshet’s body was muscular and downed with light golden hair, same as the hair on his head. His arms and legs were both just a little too long for human proportions, and his feet bent back in a way Silviestro wasn’t quite sure he understood.

The anatomy of this amazing creature, however, was even less eye-catching to Silviestro than what Heshet had done with it. He was covered in dark designs, patterns etched into his skin. In his youth, Silviestro had seen some criminals brought through town in chains, pirates transported for trial, and many of them had sported similar markings emerging from beneath clothes. Those, however, had been crude and, in many cases, clearly faded. Heshet’s markings were stark and bold, designs of great complexity that stretched over every inch of his furred skin.

Notable too were the bits of jewelry. The earrings had been plainly visible before, of course, but now Silviestro saw that there were heavy gold rings in each of Heshet’s nipples, a sparkling bit of black stone decorating his navel, and just below–

Heshet’s cock would have been impressive on its own, a size that would have made him the envy of the kingdom. But apparently not content to leave what nature had given him, Heshet had studded and pierced it all the way from the tip to the shaft. He seemed to be fully erect, giving Silviestro a good look at the ladder-like constellation of metals and gems that ran the full underside down to his heavy balls, which were equally adorned.

As Silviestro stared, Heshet moved forward, shifting his weight on his unnaturally small feet — or maybe it was that his feet were long and he was only balancing on his toes? The combination of factors was too much for Silviestro to take in all at once, and so he was still staring as Heshet moved closer to him and dragged the back of a single claw down Silviestro’s chest, starting at the base of his throat and working downward. Silviestro gasped and jerked without meaning to, but his bonds held him fast.

Heshet’s mouth curled into a toothy smile. “Are you attached to these robes?” asked Heshet.

“They’re awful,” Silviestro admitted. “They itch.”

Heshet laughed and leaned in to drag his tongue along Silviestro’s neck, making Silviestro gasp again. It wasn’t quite like being licked by a cat, but there was certainly friction to Heshet’s tongue Silviestro had never felt before. Heshet dragged his tongue down to Silviestro’s nipple, circling and sucking in rhythm. Silviestro outright moaned at that, closing his eyes as Heshet manipulated the sensitive skin there.

Moments later, he heard a tearing sound, and he opened his eyes to see that Heshet had hooked one of those claws into the neck of the robe and torn it from his shoulder down to where his hands were tied. The loose fabric fell open entirely, revealing his whole upper body. Heshet grabbed the fabric beneath the ropes around his waist and tugged it away, leaving Silviestro all but bare.

Heshet lowered himself to the ground then, and it was hard to tell from Silviestro’s angle if he was more kneeling or crouching. Either way, he supposed it didn’t matter, not with the way Heshet was licking his lips with Silviestro’s cock only inches from his mouth. He opened his maw, and before Silviestro could gather the presence of mind to beg him to be wary of his teeth, he had Silviestro’s entire shaft behind his lips.

“By the gods!” Silviestro exclaimed, which he hoped wasn’t blasphemous, seeing as he was in the presence of an obviously powerful being not specified in that oath. Heshet, however, did not even pause. He closed his lips around Silviestro’s shaft, licking with that same sweet friction as he moved his head back and forth slowly. Not a hint of teeth was to be found anywhere.

Silviestro thrashed against his bonds, not trying to get free, but because the sensation was so good that he couldn’t stay still. He’d had mouths on him before, of course — quite a number, in fact, in the month leading up to his sacrificial ascent — but this was transcendent. Instinct begged him to grab Heshet’s hair, to make certain he went nowhere until the job was completed. But of course, he was the one who was going nowhere, who had trussed up specifically to be left at the mercy of whatever cosmic forces came looking for him. As it turned out, those cosmic forces had found him.

Heshet pulled his lips away for a moment, letting his tongue rake up and down the length of Silviestro’s shaft in a way that made Silviestro see stars. “Oh, fuck, please,” Silviestro muttered, not even sure what he was begging for. For more, perhaps, more of anything, so long as it came at the hands — and mouth — of the handsome Moon Lord before him.

Looking up at him, Heshet grinned and stroked Silviestro’s thigh. His claws were terrifying and sharp, yet he knew just how to move so they not only didn’t break the skin, they didn’t even mark it. “Are you ready for your gift, darling?” he asked.

There was nowhere to go from here but forward. As much as he could, Silviestro nodded. Whatever his gift was, he couldn’t turn from it now.

Heshet lowered his head back to Silviestro’s cock and licked it several more times, igniting the skin and lapping up the precome that dribbled from its tip. He sucked at Silviestro’s shaft until Silviestro began to moan with the feeling of an impending orgasm. Yet as he felt his climax build, Silviestro felt Heshet relent, until his touch was only teasing, not purposeful. At first, Silviestro though this might have been an accident, but Heshet did it again, and again, until Silviestro had been brought to the brink of orgasm fully five times without being allowed to cross over. He was moaning incoherently now, possibly even pleading. Maybe this would be how he would die. At the moment, it seemed an entirely plausible way to go.

All of a sudden, there was a sharp sensation — one that rocked so hard through Silviestro’s entire body, he was certain that it would be followed by pain. He could feel it straight to his fingertips and toes, a jolt that made him think of how lightning traveled from clouds to the ground. He cried out in a voice so loud that it bounced off the nearby hills and came back to him. He was nearly certain they could have heard him on the Moon.

But there was no pain. What came instead was a feeling of tremendous release as his balls tightened and he came hard, straight into Heshet’s waiting mouth. His cock shot pump after pump of hot, wet seed, past the point of sense. Silviestro shouted again as Heshet worked the sensitive skin there, coaxing from him an orgasm that seemed to go on for entire minutes, if not entire lifetimes.

At last, Heshet drew back, and Silviestro collapsed against his sacrificial pole. Looking down, he could see his spent cock jutting out from the torn fabric. Something gleamed at its tip, and at first he thought it might be slickness from Heshet’s mouth.

As his eyes focused, though, he realized that what had caused the sharp shock — and the resulting orgasm — was an enormous silver ring that now dangled right from the head of Silviestro’s penis. It was so heavy that he could feel its weight tugging against his softening shaft. “Oh,” Silviestro gasped, staring at it. It was quite a piece of work, and it matched Heshet’s perfectly, down to the opalescent jewel affixed at the lowest point. A moonstone, he thought. How appropriate.

Standing, Heshet smiled, then looked off into the distance. “I see they’re coming for you,” he said, and this time when he spoke, Silviestro could feel the rumble of the words right through his new piercing. “Probably to collect your remains. Won’t they be surprised when they see what remains indeed?”

“I–” Silviestro cleared his throat. “What should I … say?”

“Oh, tell them anything, darling,” Heshet said, brushing the backs of his claws against Silviestro’s cheek. “They’ll believe you or they won’t. And eventually your planet will have peace and harmony. It simply may take a few more of your millennia than originally planned. You must believe, we’ve done this successfully many times before. It’s all rather scientific, in fact. Unless…”

A long moment passed before Silviestro echoed, “Unless?”

“Unless, of course, you are feeling in the mood to be our Prophet,” Heshet continued, smiling. “Don’t say anything now. Of course you need some time to consider the offer. But if you do accept our offer, you’ll know how to find us.” With a wink, he evaporated into a ball of light and rose into the ever-emerging sun.

From the path back to the village came the distant sound of horses, and Silviestro knew they’d be here soon — as Heshet said, likely expecting to find his corpse, or at least some part of it. Being found in his current state would warrant some explanation, of course, and he wasn’t sure how much of it he was ready to give, especially when the only proof was in a piece of jewelry whose very presence aroused him. Despite the spectacular orgasm he’d had only minutes before, he was starting to feel stirrings in his loins again.

Maybe this was the way to the Harmonic Age the Moon Lords had mentioned. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, Silviestro felt as though he himself had just been saved from calamity, and that felt like enough for one day. As the other villagers approached, he closed his eyes and let the returning light of the sun warm his face.

 

Off-site team-building

by Hyakunichisou 13 (百日草 十三)
illustrated by Keshi

“I want a ridiculously large soft-serve ice cream cone with sprinkles on it,” Russell said, ticking the list off on his fingers. “I want a button with an ironic pop culture reference that I’ll lose before I get home. I want meat on a stick, and I want something deep-fried.”

“It’s good to have goals.” Lew ignored a glossy postcard thrust in his direction by a guy in a glittery rainbow T-shirt, and deftly dodged a clump of silver balloons bobbing at the corner of a vendor’s stall.

“Ooh, and I want all the free samples.” Russell veered off the street to where a young woman in a polka dot red dress stood in front of a tea place, offering small paper cups from a tray.

Queen Street West had been closed to traffic, and a double row of canopied booths lined the road, leaving a broad pedestrian walkway down the centre. On the sidewalk, stores and restaurants had set out tables of merchandise, cafe chairs and tables, and in one case a charcoal grill. The August sun broiled the asphalt and struck a gleam off every scrap of metal, from the canopy poles to the streetcar tracks; Lew was already grateful he’d remembered to wear a hat.

He caught up with Russell in time to hear the woman say, “It’s our new peach matcha latte,” which was an outrage to the nature of peaches, matcha, and lattes alike, so Lew retreated and waited by the curb.

“Hey, Russ,” said a woman jogging by with a tool belt bouncing around her hips and a massive roll of duct tape in one hand.

“Hey, Petunia.” Russell dropped his empty paper cup into a bucket beside the polka dot tea woman, and crossed the sidewalk back to Lew. “So what do you want?”

“Mainly to get out of my head for a bit.” He was at the stage of novel writing when he was sick of the entire pointless, time-sucking endeavour. Time to leave his apartment and do some of the things that normal adults who weren’t obsessed with imaginary people did to fill their weekends, whatever they were. It was going to have been groceries and a haircut, until Russell had texted him.

They paused at a booth set up by a local astronomy society, which was lined with photographs of black disks with glowing coronas. The table was covered with what looked like craft supplies.

“Would you like to learn how to make a pinhole viewer out of a shoebox?” the portly man behind the table asked, pushing himself out of his lawn chair with his cane. “It’s an easy way to watch a solar eclipse safely.”

“No, thanks, we’re fine,” Lew said.

“Not interested in the eclipse?”

“I think I’m in a meeting all that afternoon.”

“Aw, I was going to say we should take a long lunch and at least watch it streaming,” Russell said.

The man shook his head at Lew. “Listen to your friend. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come around all that often. Life isn’t all about working! You’re young! Take the time to do things that are interesting, or you’ll regret it when you’re my age.”

“It’s actually a very interesting project–“

“No work talk!” Russell commanded, and pulled him away.

They shuffled along with the crowd, past booths selling handmade soap and artisanal hot sauce and stained glass ornaments in the shape of the sun and jewellery made out of salvaged lake-polished glass. Russell had told him about the generational change in the neighbourhood, and Lew could see it–lots of adults his age, lots of strollers the size of armchairs.

“Hey, guys,” Russell said, and stepped forward to embrace a couple coming the other way. “Is this Adam? How are you doing?”

The woman yawned. “We’re good,” she said, resting her hand on the bundle strapped to her partner’s front. Lew surmised that there was a baby in there somewhere, under the flower-print drapery.

“This is Lew,” Russell said. “We work together. Lew, this is Jie and Andrew. And Adam. How’s the mat and pat leave going?”

They chatted for a bit, until Adam roused and began to make kitten-like sounds under his sun shield. “Ugh, the only way to get him to sleep is to keep walking,” Jie apologized, holding up her venti coffee cup in illustration, and they said their goodbyes and continued in opposite directions.

“Last fall, everyone was pregnant,” Russell said. “I mean seriously every second person I know who was biologically capable of it got pregnant, plus one person adopted. Maybe it’s an age thing. Was it like that with you?”

Partly due to the move cross-country, partly because Julian had gotten their friends in the divorce, and partly owing to his generally hermit-like habits, Lew’s social circle outside of work consisted mainly of people he’d never met in person. “If it was, I didn’t notice.”

A woman skipped up to them and presented a tray of cookies, shaped like suns, with chocolate centres surrounded by dandelion yellow manes.

“Cookie?” she offered. She was wearing a tutu with rainbow-striped netting, and beneath a gold foil mask that obscured part of her face, her dark cheeks and shoulders and arms were dusted with glitter.

“They look beautiful, thank you.” They each took one, and she danced to the next group on sparking ballet shoes.

“The BIA is really getting into this eclipse thing,” Russell commented.

Under its layer of sugar, the cookie was aniseed, an unusual choice, but Lew was a fan. Russell took a bite, and his expression went to anticipatory to horrified.

“Do you need a napkin?” Lew asked, managing to keep a straight face.

Russell swallowed with a grimace. “Licorice cookies are just wrong. Look, there’s the water trailer. I need to wash the taste out of my mouth.”

The municipal government’s mobile water trailer had rows of spigots where people could refill their water bottles and take a drink. While Russell was standing in line, Lew browsed the brochures in the adjacent display, which were equally split between why fixing a dripping tap was a good idea and why looking directly at an eclipse was a very, very bad one. A city employee was explaining to a couple the board of education’s plans for indoor recess on eclipse day. “We don’t want them injured for life because of one stupid thing they did when they were young…”

Beside them, a girl of about eight squinted into the opening of her shoebox viewer. When she turned, Lew saw that her T-shirt had a picture of a penguin on it beside the words Yes, I would like to science please. He couldn’t help smiling. He felt a touch on his elbow, and turned to find Russell wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Okay, disgusting prank cookie taste eradicated, hydration achieved,” he said. “Let’s go find some real food.”

Real food turned out to be an iced cupcake with sprinkles on a stick, which seemed to check off at least some of Russell’s wish list requirements. Lew ate the remainder of Russell’s cookie. They wandered past the West Queen West Business Improvement Area booth, a tattooed tarot card reader, free face painting, and a man wearing a STAFF T-shirt fiddling with a long tube stuck in a bucket of sand by the curb.

“Cool, are there going to be fireworks later?” Russell asked. Lew opened the program brochure they’d gotten from the BIA booth to check.

The man straightened up. “Yeah, it’s for fireworks, that’s–oh, hi, Russell.”

“Dude,” Russell said, and they exchanged hugs. “I thought you were on tour.”

“Yeah, that was only for June and July, so I’m back. How’s things with you?”

“Ah, you know, work. Hey, this is Lew. Lew, Eddie.” Handshakes were exchanged, and then Eddie asked if Russell had heard about Manjusha’s new business, and Russell lost track of a conversation about people he didn’t know. He stuck the program back into his pocket and let his attention wander to the booth beside them–colourful jerseys and caps, apparently soccer-related–to the crowd, to the fireworks bucket. The tube had a label that had been covered with rainbow stickers–probably something to do with not competing with the festival sponsors, Lew supposed–and another that read Non-toxic colours derived from natural sources, which frankly wasn’t something Lew had known was a concern when it came to fireworks.

“All right, see you then,” Russell said to Eddie in farewell, and Lew followed him into the slow flow of people.

Loud music came on just ahead of them–classical, not rock, one of the livelier parts of The Blue Danube. The crowd slowed and parted. In the middle of the street, three couples in rainbow dresses and glittering coats began to waltz. Then they whirled apart; each seized a spectator and drew them in, dancing in a circle around their boombox. The music reached a crescendo; the costumed dancers stopped, curtsied or bowed to their partners, and then melted away in all directions without acknowledging the scattered applause.

“What is with all the rainbows and glitter?” Russell demanded.

A voice Lew recognized said, “Well, dude, maybe they knew you were coming.”

Russell cheerfully gave Scott the finger, and opened his arms to embrace Clement, Scott’s husband. “Guys! How’s your summer going?”

“Too damn fast. Can you believe the CNE opens this Friday?” The fair marked the end of summer far more decisively than falling temperatures or back-to-school sales.

“We’re having a barbeque on Labour Day. Save the date, I’m roasting a goat,” Scott said.

“Is he seriously still going on about that?” Russell asked Clement. According to Russell, all through the wedding planning, Scott had been pulling for dinner being some sort of animal on a spit. It didn’t surprise Lew; Scott had been a fan of roasting things on sticks over flames ever since the first Boy Scout campout they’d been on together.

Scott looked indignant. “Fire. Meat. I don’t understand why I’m getting so much pushback on this.”

“Honey, I don’t think you have any real idea how much meat is on a goat.”

“A small pig, then.”

“Oh, Russell, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Would you recommend the contractor who did your bathroom?”

“Yeah, she was pretty good. I’ve got her contact info, just a sec…”

“You’re renovating?” Lew asked, as Russell began thumbing through his phone and Clement leaned over his shoulder to watch.

“Ugh. Probably.”  Scott shoved his hands into the pockets of his cargo shorts. “So, you and Russell, huh?”

“Sort of.” They worked together, sometimes slept together, periodically hung out together. They just weren’t together, a situation so comfortable that it was confirming something Lew had begun to acknowledge about himself.

“Cool.”

“Does he know everybody in the city?”

“Ha. Yeah, actually, I’m pretty sure he does.” Scott paused, and lowered his voice. “Did you mean know, or, like, know?”

That particular emphasis hadn’t occurred to Lew until just that moment, and he tamped down a fierce surge of curiosity. “Uh…actually, you know what, it doesn’t matter.”

Scott looked relieved. “After Chris broke up with him, he made some, I’m going to say regretful personal decisions here, in terms of being delusional about some of the guys he was hooking up with. But he’s a great guy.”

Clement wrapped a dark hand around Scott’s sun-pinkened arm. “Come on, sweetie, we now have twelve minutes to get home before the game starts. Take care, Lew. See you soon, Russell.”

“Enjoy the sportsball!” Russell called after them. Scott, his back to them, waved as if shooing away an insect. Russell laughed.

Half a block later, a booth bordered by racks of clothing caught Lew’s eye. “Hang on,” he said to Russell, and wove through the oncoming stream of people to the other side of the road.

“Since when are you into vintage?” Russell asked, as Lew flipped through vests and jackets.

“You see me in vintage all the time.” He paired it with modern pieces, and as a result looked slightly old-fashioned rather than full-on retro; it was as much the quality of fabric and construction he was after as the look, anyway.

“Right now? Um…the pants?”

“These pants are from the mall. This shirt is older than I am.” He pulled out a Twenties tuxedo shirt in spotless condition, and regretfully put it back; it was destined for some lucky man twice Lew’s size.

“This is pretty cool.” Russell took a grey Fifties gabardine car coat from its hanger. He shrugged it on–it was a little small–and cautiously sniffed the sleeve.

“No thrift store smell here,” said the booth owner, resplendent in a shirt covered with pink flamingos. “Everything’s been either laundered, or dry cleaned with non-toxic CO2. You could walk away wearing it, if you wanted.”

Lew moved to the next rack. His hand brushed against rayon, linen, silk… He pushed the hangers back to reveal a dressing gown, pink and purple hydrangeas on a lighter blue background. He ran his hand down the sleeve. The silk was silvery cool in the heat.

Russell, minus the jacket, came up behind him. “Nice. Are you telling me you have a hidden glam side?” he said in Lew’s ear.

“Have you ever worn a silk dressing gown?”

“No, I’m more of a ratty plaid flannel kind of guy.”

“You’re missing out.” Lew slipped the gown off its hanger and slid into it. It hit him mid-calf, and though the shoulders were a little wide, it wasn’t the type of thing where fit mattered. There was a short tear near the hem and the sash was severely fraying, but neither were deal breakers. The price was about what he’d expected. He signalled the owner, who insisted on wrapping it in tissue paper and presenting it to him in a brown paper bag with ringlets of ribbon around the handles.

“I smell funnel cakes,” Russell announced, as they emerged from the shade of the tent onto the street, which was practically shimmering with heat. Half a block ahead, three food trucks were parked in a row along the south side of the road, scenting the humid air with hot oil and grilled meat.

“That covers deep-fried.”

“Split one with you? Except,” Russell said, “I have to know, do you prefer powdered sugar as is right and proper, or are you going to insist on Nutella and bananas and all of that kind of newfangled nonsense?”

“I think you’re leading the witness, there.”

“I just like to know where we stand.”

After five minutes in line they came away with a plate-sized disk of crisp, sugar-dusted,  deep-fried goodness. They strolled along, tearing bits off of it and dredging their clothes with icing sugar.

“Again with the rainbows?” asked Russell, as a man in a white tuxedo and rainbow top hat walked into the centre of the street and plonked a wooden crate down. He climbed on top of it and pulled four small foil balls out of his pocket, then started to juggle them. “Didn’t we already have Pride? Am I in a time warp?”

The man called, “Hey! Wonder Woman T-shirt!” In the gathering crowd, a teenager poked his friend, who was wearing a red shirt with the gold logo on it. The juggler underhanded a ball at the pair, pulled another out of his pocket, and continued juggling without a pause.

“Hey! Black and purple paisley dress!” She lifted one hand off her walker to field it. “Hey! White linen shirt!”

The juggler pointed at Lew with his chin, which was all the warning Lew got before a foil ball was arcing towards him. He caught it, fumbled it as it bounced off his palm, and caught it again. The juggler grinned, and tossed another ball at a guy in an orange turban.

Lew unwrapped the foil. Inside were three round cellophaned candies, half of each bright with rainbow swirls, half black as licorice.

“Wait, I have got to know,” Russell said, and halted Lew with a tug on his shirtsleeve. They watched as foil balls went to twin sisters, a couple walking a golden retriever, a boy in a Jays jersey, and the woman in the window of the Hawaiian shaved ice truck on the opposite side of the road. The juggler flashed empty hands, bowed, and hopped off his crate.

Before he could disappear, Russell jogged up to him. “I have to ask,” he said, “what is all this rainbow and glitter stuff about?”

The juggler put down his crate and reached into his pocket. He presented a glittery laminated business card with a flourish. “We are the Dukes, Duchesses, and Non-Binary Nobility of Rainbows and Glitter,” he said. “We support play, wonder, surprise, beauty, and joy in the public realm.”

“Ah. Of course you do,” Russell said.

“Check out our website for upcoming events. Enjoy the colours,” the juggler added, picked up his crate, and escaped between two booths.

Russell shook his head at the card. “Theatre majors, I tell you.”

There was probably a story there. Lew stole the last of the funnel cake from the paper plate and licked his fingers. “I could do with something cold to drink.”

They could see to the end of the fair, where the street opened again. “Let’s just walk that far,” Russell said, “and if there’s nothing between here and there, we can hit the lemonade booth on the way back.”

They passed another jewellery stall and a place with ironic T-shirts and a booth with the name of a local food bank on its banner. In front of the booth, a man was passing out what looked like recipe cards. “We’re raising funds to expand our community kitchen,” he was saying as the group ahead of Lew and Russell passed by. “Creating food security isn’t just about affordable groceries, it’s about supporting community and building skills. Here’s an inexpensive recipe for groundnut stew that one of our clients shared with us. Good afternoon! We’re raising funds to expand–“

Lew reached out to take a card. The man looked at the two of them, and his expression flinched for just a moment before he recovered.

“Oh. Uh.” Russell cleared his throat. “Hi.”

“Hi, Russell.” The man’s smile was easy and professional. “That’s right, you live in the neighbourhood.”

“Yeah. Same place.”

“Are you enjoying the fair?”

“Yeah, yeah. You?”

“It’s been a great turn-out, and we’ve gotten a lot of interest. The BIA’s really done a good job. Though it’s a little warmer than I like it.”

“Yeah, no kidding. Uh, how’ve you been?”

“Good. The community kitchen expansion’s finally been approved, and we’ve got some grant money and a major sponsor, as long as we can come up with matching funds.”

“That’s, yeah, that’s great.”

“‘I’m pretty pleased about it. Anyway, I should probably get back to it.”

“Yeah. Um, good to see you.”

“You too, Russell. Take care.” He extended a card to someone behind them. “Good afternoon!”

Holy fucking shit kill me now,” Russell whispered as they walked away.

Lew put a hand on his arm, which was rigid. “Are you all right?”

“Fuck. Yes. Fuck.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Oh, God.” Russell clutched at his hair. “So that was Chris.”

Lew winced in sympathy; surprise ex encounters were no fun at all. “Ouch.”

“I haven’t seen him in like two years.”

“Ah.” Lew knew about the existence of Russell’s ex–not an ex, the ex–but none of the details.

“He looked good. He looked good, right?”

Only if you liked slim, attractive blond men being enthusiastic about things. “He shouldn’t wear that colour, and I think his nose is going to be peeling tomorrow.”

Russell laughed painfully. “Thank you.”

Lew looked around. “Would you like to hit that coffee shop and take a break?”

“Sure, okay,” Russell said distractedly, and kept walking. The booths were sparser here, the crowd thinning. “I mean, I haven’t really told you about Chris.”

“You don’t have to.” Lew had told Russell about Julian, but that had been a very simple slow-motion train wreck and there hadn’t been much to tell.

“I was avoiding it. It doesn’t make me look good. At all.” Russell ran his hands through his hair. “Have you ever tried to do something because someone important to you wanted you to, and you knew you were going to fuck it up and you promised do to it anyway?”

That was a fair summation of the final six months of Lew’s marriage. “Yes.”

“He wanted it to be just us. Monogamous, like matching-pyjamas, finish-each-other’s-sentences monogamous. And I was totally behind the matching pyjamas, but I’m not…I don’t think I’m a one-and-only kind of guy. I mean, I’ve ended things before when they got to that stage. But for him–for Chris I said I’d do it.

“I really tried. It was so much harder than I thought. I felt…extinguished, like…like I’d gone numb, like I was putting a glass wall between myself and everybody else.” He threw up his hands. “God, I sound like an asshole. My boyfriend wouldn’t let me sleep around, fucking woe is me.”

“You need what you need.” Julian had left because Lew had needed to spend more time with the imaginary people in his head than with his husband; he couldn’t explain any better than Russell could why some things were so fundamental that they were worth breaking everything else for.

“So we were out at a bar, I got a little flirty, this guy kissed me. I didn’t start it, not that time, but I didn’t exactly slap his face either. Chris and I had a huge fight, I promised it would never happen again, then two weeks later when it went past kissing he dumped my cheating ass, the end.”

“I’m sorry. That’s always hard, regardless of the circumstances.”

Russell sighed. “Yeah.”

The street was blocked off by a row of battered wooden barricades painted fluorescent orange. Lew watched a streetcar’s laboured roll around the corner, wheels grinding out an attenuated screech.

“At least now you’ve gotten it over with,” he offered. “The next time you see him, it won’t be the first time since you broke up.”

“True.” Russell made a face. They turned and walked back the way they’d come, on the other side of the street, the thickening crowd shielding them from the food bank booth. “I’m sorry. I invited you out to have fun, not watch me freak out over my ex.”

“It’s fine. I’m not not having fun.”

“Hmm. You did get to go vintage lingerie shopping. You must be having a little fun.”

“Russell, I enjoy database architecture and writing novels that no one else is interested in reading. My idea of fun isn’t the same as other people’s.”

Tinny music blared. The 1812 Overture, the few bars that everyone knew. A few people glanced guiltily around or hastily grabbed their phones. There was a whistling pop, and another, then more in a cluster. Movement at the side of the curb drew Lew’s eye to another bucket, full of sand, with a rainbow-stickered tube upright in it. “What–“

Colour shot up into the air, bloomed, blossomed. An umbrella of powdery pigment opened above their heads, scarlet and turmeric and indigo billows, emerald and mustard and orchid clouds. The colours hung for a moment in the motionless heat. Then they descended.

It was less like a fog than a storm. Lew put his hands up instinctively to shield his face, and when he brought them down again they were violet. Lime green stippled his bare arms; a thicker stripe painted a vibrant slash across Russell’s shoulders. Cerise splatted at their feet. More colour coalesced on their clothing like morning dew, currents swirling as people ducked and dodged, shrieked and swore. Lew sneezed. When he opened his eyes again, it was over, only a lightly tinted wash still drifting through the air, and everything was a brilliant, riotous mess.

“Joy and wonder my ass, seriously,” Russell said. He hadn’t been wearing a hat, and he was streaked everywhere with pigment, hair and nose and cheekbones and clothes. Lew sniffed and rubbed his nose, and Russell snickered. “You should see your face.”

Every exposed inch of Lew’s skin instantly itched. He wiped his face with the reasonably clean underside of his forearm, which came away smeared with purple. “You’re no better.”

Around them, people were shaking their hair out, swiping at their arms and legs with paper napkins. Russell batted at his clothes, letting fly a multi-hued mist. Lew sneezed again. He looked down at his no-longer-white linen shirt, and winced at the thought of what the vintage clothing stall must look like.

“Now I really need something to drink,” Russell said.

“I think I’ll head home.” The urge to wash his face was grating at him already.

Russell looked at him and laughed. “No way are you riding the TTC like that. Come back to my place, and you can have a shower and toss your clothes in the washer. Come on, you’ll be more comfortable,” he added as Lew hesitated. “We can grab lemonade on the way.”

They headed back the way they’d come. Coloured powder was everywhere, on food trucks and bike racks and benches, being kicked up as people walked and tracked into booths that had escaped the initial volley. They saw two paramedics, who had clearly been caught in it, talking to two police officers, who clearly hadn’t. Another police officer was talking to one of the Rainbows and Glitter Dukes, both of them obviously unhappy.

They bought plastic cups of lemonade and walked back to Russell’s condo. Before they went in, they brushed each other off a final time, leaving two faint multicoloured rings on the sidewalk.

“You can go first,” Russell said, putting his keys on the kitchen counter and leaving a smudge of turquoise behind with them. “Just leave your clothes in the tub, and I’ll throw everything in the washer together.”

Trying not to touch anything, Lew walked straight into the bathtub, emptied his pockets onto the white ceramic lid of the toilet tank, and pulled the shower curtain closed with fingertip and thumb. He ran the water until it was just the warm side of tepid, and stepped under the nozzle fully clothed, hat included. Rose and amethyst and topaz spattered the tiles and spiralled down the drain. When the water was running clear, he stripped, shampooed, soaped and rinsed.

After drying himself, he wrapped the towel around his waist and went into the main room.  Russell was still standing in the kitchen alcove, reading something on his phone. “I didn’t want to touch anything, I’m still shedding this crap like a moulting husky. There’s sweats on a shelf in the bedroom closet, if you want to grab something to wear.”

Russell disappeared into the bathroom, and Lew turned towards the bedroom. His gaze fell on the paper bag that he’d dropped by the door. He did have something of his own to change into.

The tissue paper had protected the dressing gown. He unwrapped it, shook it out, and slid into it, enjoying the fluid glide against his skin.

Five minutes later, the bathroom door opened and Russell poked his head into the main room, where Lew was lounging on the couch with his feet up. “Did you find–” He stopped.

Lew honestly hadn’t been thinking of anything except avoiding wearing someone’s else’s saggy sweatpants, which was an entirely different experience from quality vintage. But the way Russell’s eyebrows went up and the speculation that sparked in his eyes made Lew abruptly notice the thinness of the cloth that covered him, the brevity of the towel that Russell held around his hips. He uncrossed his legs and put one foot on the floor, which caused the overlapping front edges of the dressing gown to slide down between his parted thighs.

“That’s…not a bad look on you,” Russell said.

“I apparently have a little glam side.”

“So I see.”

Lew stood up, the silk belling and settling around his calves. He walked over to Russell and kissed him. Russell slid his hands down Lew’s arms. Lew put a hand in Russell’s damp hair. He felt an odd edge of newness, a fresh intimacy, with them neither naked nor in their accustomed clothes.

Russell stroked down Lew’s back to cup his rear. His hands were warm through the fabric. Lew dipped a finger under the edge of the towel and tugged until it loosened and fell away. He kissed down the side of Russell’s throat. Russell’s hands circled and kneaded.

“Bedroom?” Russell suggested.

“Mm-hm.”

Even on a Saturday, Russell hadn’t left his bed unmade. He pushed the coverlet aside and lay down on the pale grey sheets, scooting over to make room for Lew. Lew paused to regard him: lean, hair mussed, a little tanned on face and arms, cock showing definite signs of enjoyment.

Russell smirked and arched his back. A few weeks ago, Lew had stood here, mostly clothed, and watched him jerk himself off, and he could tell Russell was remembering that. Today Lew wanted considerably more contact. He waded over to Russell on his hands and knees, and bent to kiss him again.

Russell pushed his hands under the dressing gown as if to work it off Lew’s shoulders. Lew caught one hand to stop him.

“Ooh, you want to keep it on?” It was half tease and half interest. In answer, Lew reached down, gathered a fold of the silk into his palm, and stroked it up Russell’s hardening cock.

Russell’s eyes widened. Lew grinned and bent to swirl his tongue around a nipple. Russell breathed in noisily. “This what you mean by missing out?”

“It’s a perk.”

“Fuck, yes, yes it is.” Russell rolled his hips into Lew’s touch. Lew went down on an elbow to suck his nipple, and Russell groaned and grabbed a fistful of the cloth on Lew’s back.

Lew took the time to tease him, releasing him to let the silk flutter against his erection while Russell squirmed and gasped, then holding him firmly without moving, then matching the motion of his lips and tongue on Russell’s skin with the stroke of his hand. Russell clutched at Lew and thrust into his touch.

“Tell me when you’re close,” Lew breathed into Russell’s ear, and followed it up with a gentle nip on his earlobe.

“That’d be now,” Russell panted. Lew dropped the fold of bathrobe and flicked it aside–it was silk, after all–and wrapped his hand around Russell’s cock. He stroked with intent, now, and Russell stuttered out some incoherent consonants and made a desperate sound and came.

“Wow,” he said, after he’d caught his breath. He pulled Lew down for a kiss. “You want it that way?”

Lew was past the point of wanting to be teased. “No, just get some lube and bring me off.”

“You got it.” Russell fumbled in the bedside table. He pushed Lew onto his back and leaned over him on an elbow and kissed him as his hand, cool and slippery, slid around Lew’s cock.

This was how Lew liked it best, face to face, hands stroking or bodies thrusting together, with something slick to smooth out the friction of skin rubbing against skin. He liked the way Russell’s mouth caught the sounds he made, the comfort of being able to relax and know he’d be given what he needed. He liked how Russell paid attention and sped up his stroke as Lew’s moans got more urgent, and he liked the little catch of breath Russell made when Lew came, as though it were a satisfaction for him as well.

Russell rolled onto his back and they lay side by side, touching at shoulders and hips, the indirect afternoon light a soft, hazy glow warming the room.

“We should probably get up,” Russell said after a while.

“Right.”

“I should put those clothes in the washer.”

“True.”

Some time later, Russell said, “Okay, now I’m really getting up.” He pushed himself to a sitting position and turned to looked at Lew. “There’s some iced tea in the fridge if you–“

Then he frowned, and reached down to brush at something on his pillow. “What the hell?” Lew propped himself up to look. There, on the light grey fabric, was a thin smear of magenta. “How? How is that even possible?”

“Apparently joy and wonder followed you home.”

“Theatre majors,” Russell muttered darkly.

They managed to heave themselves out of bed and dress, Lew in his dressing gown–which needed a bit of spot cleaning, but that was to be expected–and Russell in threadbare pyjama pants and a faded T-shirt with a cartoon Shakespeare on it that made Lew even more curious about his past experiences with theatre majors. They sat in the living room with glasses of iced tea, reading, while the washing machine and dryer vibrated through a cycle in the kitchen. Lew’s linen shirt would have to bleached, and even so it would never be the same again.

On Monday, someone set up a stream of the eclipse on a monitor in one of the boardrooms. Lew’s meeting ended early, thanks to a senior executive who ran meetings as though people’s time mattered, and he poked his head in to escape the post-meeting rehash that always took place in the hallway once she’d dismissed them.

Russell was sitting in one of the chairs, coffee cup in hand. Lew squeezed past the standers blocking the door and dropped into the seat beside him.

The moon was a well of black, circled by a halo of fire. Even though he knew it was safe, Lew blinked and looked away from the glory. His eyes fell on the back of Russell’s neck. Just below his ear, his skin bore a smudge of blueish-green.

Lew smiled, remembering Russell’s keys and phone on the kitchen counter. He’d probably been leaving turquoise fingerprints behind him for the past two days.

He reached out and rubbed the pigment away with his thumb. “What?” Russell said, turning. He saw Lew, and his face lit up.

“Nothing to worry about,” Lew said, and settled back to watch the sun emerge.

Silver Lilies

by Yuriko Toru (百合子 亨)

 

The Eclipse Festival was a prestigious event, Piper reminded himself determinedly. The colony on the moon was hosting an enormous party to brighten up the dark, and supplying free room, board, and transportation to all their prospective entertainment. An invitation to perform was not the kind of invitation one could just turn down.

Still, he rationalized, if he declined he wouldn’t have to face his inevitable failure. Wanderer could find somebody different to accompany his dancing, and Piper wouldn’t let him down onstage in front of an enormous crowd. Sure, Wanderer would be disappointed, but he could probably persuade himself he could live with that. Then Spoken was handing him a bowl, and it was too late to back out now.


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