by Mike Allen
for Nicole Kornher-Stace
(read by CSE Cooney)
She waits atop the lacerated hill — with crags stretched from its slopes like pleading hands — astride a mare of straw and bark and bone with witchfire embers burning in its heart, as she surveys the cobalt lands below, an ever-shifting plain of weeping smoke. Where her eyes affix cannot be guessed. Beneath a hat of iron wire hang tattooed skins that veil her face. The rifle resting on her thigh shines silver even without moon or sun, against a long skirt sumi black. The bandoleers crossing her breasts are lined with teeth, her collar's lace spun from skeins of blood. The claws of scarabs hold her hems in place. The membranes of her veil twitch with her breath. The coils of smog below sometimes part to grant coy glimpses of the hoi polloi, their flesh gone grey, their springs torn loose, their gears gutted, throats mauled. Those unharmed by other plagues lie sprawled where they were shot. No arms lift, no lips whisper, no legs stir. If something starts in motion, so will she: Her steed combust and roar to life, her veil pulse, her weapon howl. If even a soul stirs, so will she.
Mike Allen is editor and publisher of the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies, and thanks to Kickstarter he'll be releasing a fourth volume in 2013. He's also editor and publisher of the poetry journal Mythic Delirium. His first short story collection, The Button Bin and Other Stories, is forthcoming from Dagan Books, and his first novel, The Black Fire Concerto, is slated to come out from Black Gate. His short fiction has appeared most recently in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Not One of Us, with more on the way in Solaris Rising 2: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction. He lives in Roanoke, Va., with his wife Anita, a goofy dog and two irascible cats.
When asked whether or not he believes in ghosts, Allen replied, "Depends on the time of night."
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