Shine: Cleanup


This bonus short story was a commissioned work from a reader.
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Emily was having a lot of difficulties, and only one of them was trying to explain the concept of Garfield to the attractive merman currently watching her with rapt attention. There was also the difficulty of trying to explain landline phones, and novelty landline phones, and how a novelty landline phone ended up in the ocean.

It didn’t help that she didn’t know the answer to that last question.

“Where did you find this?” she asked finally, instead of explaining anything.

Drago pointed down the coast, toward a sliver of beach barely visible from the end of the pier. The land curled outward there in a thin crescent, walled in by thick forests and high cliffs.

That raised more questions than it answered.

“Was there anything else around it?” she asked, frowning at Garfield’s bright orange face. Garfield smirked back. His pupils and some of his stripes had been worn away by time and sand and saltwater. If he’d been bigger he might have looked sphinx-like.

“More of these,” Drago said, tapping the plastic with one of his nails.

More of them?” she asked, and he nodded. “How many more?”

He considered the question. “32,” he said. It was more confident and specific than she’d anticipated.

“… maybe you should show me.”


There were 32 Garfield phones scattered across the sand of the beach. They’d built up like driftwood, deposited by the tide.

“This is…” Emily wrung out her skirt as she turned, surveying the landscape. “Creepy,” she decided.

“Creepy,” Drago repeated, not quite but almost a question. She could see him chewing silently on the word.

“Isn’t it?” she asked.

“For me, a little,” he said eventually. He picked up a Garfield close to the water to examine it. “For you?”

Yeah,” she said. It felt like it should be obvious, if he felt the same way about it. “Why are there so many?” she asked, spreading out her arms. “How did they get here?”

Drago shrugged, his weight resting on his tail in the shallow water. “Your things get everywhere,” he said, setting the phone back into the sand.

“They do not,” she said, defensive, before realizing that he probably didn’t mean her. It was a collective ‘your’, a human ‘your’. She looked at the beach. “This isn’t normal,” she said lamely. “For us.”


“No,” she said, twisting and wringing out her braid. “It’s… stuff like this is supposed to be in buildings.” But of course he wouldn’t know that, when he usually only saw whatever fell into the ocean. Shipwrecks and plastic islands as the natural state of human detritus. “We should pick these up,” she said. “We can take them back to the lighthouse and get rid of them.”

Drago looked along the length of the beach, only some of which he could reach from the water. Then he nodded, and pushed himself backward with his arms to disappear into the sea.

“You’d better be coming back,” she warned the air he left behind. Then she trudged through the sand, toes sinking into it as she picked up Garfields and set them into a pile. Birds were singing, the breeze was cool, and the waves lapped gently against the beach. And she was picking up plastic phones that looked like the lasagna cat.

If her father were here he’d probably be monologuing about corporate pollution. He’d know exactly what to do with all these Garfields. Once she figured out how to get all this to him.

Drago emerged back onto the beach with a splash, a net in one hand.

“Oh! You brought a bag!” He basked, triumphant, in the sound of her pleased surprise. He started to scoop what Garfields he could reach into the netting, as Emily herded her pile toward it. “We’re making good progress!” she said, because the pile looked very impressive to her.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Should I get the others, also?”

She froze. “What others?”

“Below,” he said.

She almost asked how many were underwater that she couldn’t see, but refrained. If the number was higher than 32, she didn’t actually want to know. “Let’s see how much room is left in the net after we’re done with these, first,” she said, gesturing to the Garfields still sitting in the sand. “Why do you think they’re creepy?” she asked, adding another phone to the net.

“Not very,” he said instead of answering.

“I’m not saying you’re scared,” she assured him, assuming that was the problem. “I’m just wondering what this looks like to you, I guess.”

Drago pulled himself sideways with his arms and tail to reach another Garfield. “Signs,” he said finally. “Trails. Reminders that they are there, might still be here. Warnings.” He reached for her, and she realized she’d been shrinking in on herself. She tried to relax, and bent to take his offered hand.

“Sorry,” she said, which wasn’t what she meant, but whatever better word there was wasn’t one she had.

“I’m not scared,” he reminded her, pressing a kiss to her knuckles. He smiled with a show of teeth, and her heart skipped. “You’re not scary.”

“I could be scary! If I wanted.”

“Yes,” he agreed, tugging her hand to pull her closer, until she gave up and knelt in the sand. “I like this better.” He caught her mouth in a quick kiss, and while ordinarily she might have felt deprived, this time the Garfields were watching. “You will keep these?” he asked, gesturing to the phones.

“Oh, heck no,” she said. “Dad’ll probably make some kind of horrifying robot out of them, I don’t really know.”

Drago nodded, making it more obvious than usual that he didn’t understand half of what she said. “Good. I don’t trust him.” He pointed at the impassive, worn-away face of a plastic cat.

“You have good instincts.”


The Sky Forest above the Frozen Sea was haunted. Hunters spoke of snarling beasts, wraiths that hid in the shadows, lights like stars that lured the unwary to their deaths.

Neru did not believe the stories. Hunters were superstitious, and half of them cowards besides. Lazy cowards, at that. They had long been looking for excuses to avoid the cold trek across the sea, the difficult climb to the forest above. They did not care about the old ways, the needs of the shamans or the rituals to appease the old gods. Little wonder, when the shamans themselves were halfway to heretics, unpious ones like Natek and Janu leading the People of the Red Moon astray. Neru had little time for the excuses of the lazy. Xe would make the trek xyrself, and the gods would reward xem for xyr faith.

Or so Neru thought, until xe caught sight of the shadow beast. With skin like the night and no paint but on its mouth, xe might have overlooked it as it lurked amidst the trees.

The other creature was not so subtle.

Feathers and fur loomed large, talons like knives and six eyes all gleaming. As those eyes fixed on xem, it began to glow, the ends of its fur and the length of its talons all alight. It made gnashing and guttural noises, hooves scratching the ground. Neru shielded xyr face with two arms, raised the other two in supplication as xe began to retreat. The shadow beast, near forgotten, made itself known again—large as it was, it still looked small beside the other. Its mouth, the color of ice, split open to reveal the bones beneath.

It growled. Xe screamed. Xe ran.

Unlike the hunters, xe did not have much practice in knowing how much room there was to flee.

Looking over the edge of the floating island from which Neru had fallen, Xindi chirped sadly. “I hope it’s okay.”

Takondwa was less forgiving.

“What a dipshit.”

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The Princess with a Dozen Hooves

There was a shadow in the far-left corner of her eye. He’d been there for as long as she could remember. She’d been trying not to look at him for just as long. She didn’t know what would happen if she looked. She only knew that whenever she came close, she was overwhelmed with a sense of all-consuming dread. The shadow wanted her to look at him, but that only increased her certainty that she shouldn’t.

She knew that he wanted her to look at him because he’d told her. He hadn’t started talking to her until she was twelve.

“I don’t know why you won’t look at me, Princess,” he whispered in her ear. “I’ve been waiting, haven’t I?”

The Princess did not reply. She did not even deign to acknowledge that she’d heard him. She thought that acknowledging him set a bad precedent, and started down a slippery slope toward looking at him. Setting firm boundaries was important.

He was quiet, most of the time. Maybe he thought that if he didn’t say anything, she would forget he was there, and look.

“If I was going to do something bad, wouldn’t I have done it by now?”

When she needed to look to the left, she closed her eyes first, and turned her whole head. The Court thought that it was charming, and looked demure.

“I didn’t need to tell you about that loose step, you know. I could have let you fall. Wouldn’t I have, if I was bad?”

Her sleep was dreamless, and so there could be no shadows.

“You’d be lonely without me. You’ll never know how terrible it is, to be alone.”

She didn’t speak much in crowds, for fear that she’d lose track of whose voice was whose. The Court thought that she was shy.

“You really don’t have anything to cry about. You’re a Princess. Everyone loves you. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

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“You’re going to want to look hotter than that,” Sarah informed her conspiratorially.

“What?” Jamie looked down at herself, slightly breathless from running to catch the flight. “Why?”

“Check out Mister First Class.” Sarah waggled her eyebrows, and Jamie frowned. They did not often have a Mister First Class, a man for whom first class seats were not enough and who therefore bought out the seats surrounding him for a buffer zone. Mister First Class was usually super gross. Like, really gross. The grossest. She peered down the aisle to see who she might mean.


“Yes. Oh.”

He was gorgeous. He was beyond gorgeous. He was so gorgeous that Jamie almost had trouble looking at him. He looked like he’d been photoshopped, somehow, with a soft glow filter and everything.

“His eyes are like… like… cheap margaritas.”

“I was going to say ’emeralds’, but yours is good, too.”

Jamie tried not to keep staring. “Are you sure you don’t… you know…”

Sarah snorted. “Even if I wanted to cheat on my husband—and Lord knows, he’d understand if I showed him a picture—there’s no way I’d have a chance.” She took Jamie by the shoulders, her gaze intense. “Do it, Jamie. Do it for all of us. Live the dream.”

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No Good Deed

She probably should have eaten before she left for the vet, but she wasn’t actually sure how long the dog would last without medical attention. Also, making a West Highland Terrier watch while she ate his owner seemed like it would be adding insult to considerable injury.

Rainy days meant an easy lunch, because the road near her house was poorly maintained and no one in this state knew how to drive. By now it was a Pavlovian response. The slow drum of fat raindrops on her roof tiles began, and she salivated. It may have been morbid, but there were worse ways to get a meal. The squeal of tires and the crush of metal, and the hard part was done.

Liu Yang had always been a little squeamish.

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Love Story

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this.”

Enteth stumbled, hesitated, but ultimately did not stop at the sound of Ephotl’s voice. They probably should have anticipated this, that someone would realize what they were doing and try to intervene, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to them that anyone would care. “Go away,” they said shortly, and Ephotl snorted.

“What are you even going to do? No one will take care of you, after this. No one will even talk to you. You’ll be alone.” Ephotl, despite Enteth’s protests, was following them up the mountain—Ephotl was tall, for a Gorsa, and so it was an easy enough thing for them. Enteth, meanwhile, could really have done without an audience to their huffing and puffing, grabbing occasionally onto branches to keep from falling over. It was raining, was the other thing, which suited Enteth’s sense of melodrama and little else.

“Good,” Enteth huffed, and it came out more petulant than they’d intended. “I’ll live in a cave and eat leaves and never have to talk to another big dumb idiot ever again for the rest of my life.”

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