Pendants of Precariousness

Edited by Julia Rios

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

October 2018


A shark tooth washes up on shore. Lustrous, polychromatic, it shines in rainbow whorls, like liquid coconut oil on water. I pick it up, careful of the tapered end.

In the hut, I bore a hole through one end and tie it to my neck.

“Is that a tiger nail on your neck?” asks my brother, Gatl.

“No, silly, tigers don’t live near the sea,” I say. He laughs, living in fantasies, tales told by our parents when we were young, when they were still around.

“Is it a rhino’s horn?” he asks. He looks down, covering a smirk.

“No, it’s a shark tooth,” I say. I let him touch it. “Be careful of the edge.”

Three nights later, we eat porridge together under glittering moonlight. Palm trees rustle above.

“Why do you wear it around your neck, Laki?” He points at my necklace. It glows even more fiercely tonight.

“For protection.”

“But, why string it against your neck if sharks bite necks? What if it cuts you?”

I tell him that by courting danger I conquer danger. I tell him it’s a symbol. I tell him it dangles as a harmless charm, but reminds me what I expose. I tell him that when the sharks come, they will see and they will be scared that I have their weapon.

He sits thoughtfully by the fire, sipping hot porridge. I keep looking for a hidden grin, but his eyes are glued to the flames. The blaze dances in his irises as he raises more porridge to his lips.


“We see you wear what is called the Passion Pulse, but you never activate it,” says Ptatn. Their three dewy eyes bat at me in an inquisitive gaze.

“Oh, it’s just a habit,” I say. An instinctive hand travels to my neckline. The iridescent octahedron rests, pulsating a warm orange.

“Is it a gift from a previous lover?” says Ptatn. They wish to know about my relationship past, as if to gauge our relationship future.

“I guess you could say that.” Their eyes turn away at my response. Is it anger? I have not yet learned to read their chemical-neurological states. My holobrochure for interunderstanding and dating gathers virtual dust. We test our interaction live.

I return to my poutine. My fuel-cell spork jabs a cube of cell-cultured casein protein, ‘cheese’ curds over tuberous gencarbs, searing it to perfection.

“What does it contain?”

“It’s a bit private,” I say.

“Oh, We’re sorry to pry,” they respond. They bite their double-layered purple lips.

I think of the first line of the holobrochure. Time to open up, it read.

“No, it’s okay. You have a right to be curious.” I explain to them.

I tell them our people buy each other trinkets at Great Occasions for anniversaries, graduation and birthdays. I tell them for centuries, we have worn lockets that hold our beloved’s smiles. I tell them we exchange misty snow globes of terrestrial worlds we left, even of worlds without snow or precipitation. Fluffy stuffed dolls emulate shapes of breathing specimens we encounter: bears, elks, foxes. Ferocious mammals locked into innocent beady eyes laced with faux fur. We pass these gifts on to those we cherish, adorable trinkets expressing affection.

“We see,” they say, triple chins undulate in enthusiastic approval. I smile back.

Their head dips close, their three eyes cross, blink in sync and pupils narrow. “It looks sharp,” they say.

“Keen observation. Most of our pendants are rounded off, but I keep mine edged.”

“It may damage the epidermis,” they say. They drop a fuel-cell spork into their crock of powder and pick up wet soup to slurp.

I lower my voice to a hush. “I’ll show you later,” I say.

For once, Ptatn’s expression is crystal clear. “We will be happy to experience it.”

Their layered lips draw up at the corners.


Ptatn sits on my bed, taking up almost the whole frame. I steal a tiny corner.

Then, I run my fingers on triangular facets, drawing a symbol I recall from ancient runes of old Earth. Passion Pulse brightens to a searing red, all sides of the octahedron quiver as it bursts open.

My mother’s hissing voice comes to life, her disembodied collagen mouth projects into the air. Dust passes through the lighted hologram, traverses through her plump lips, synthetic uniform pearly-whites, and the stiff botox edges of her diminished nasolabial folds.

With each statement her voice crescendoes.

“You’ll never amount to anything.”

“Go make something of your life, loser.”

“You know I’m the only one who stands by you. Everyone else is against you.” She pauses for dramatic effect and then finishes with: “You’re a failure.”

The holographic broadcast pulls into its case and closes up.

“Why do you keep this hostile voice stored near your heart?” Ptatn asks. Again the look of innocent curiosity, set in three luminescent eyes.

But Ptatn’s subdued voice is not as loud as my mom’s continuing in my ear. “You’re a terrible daughter.” “No one will ever love you.” “You’re pathetic.” I think of her toxic relationships, boyfriend after boyfriend, drunks and abusers. She projects them onto me.

I say in hypnotic self-assurance, hoping to convince myself:

“I court with danger on my chest to surmount them. Conquer them. It reminds me what I expose. I subjugate her to my beck and call. I have her weapon.”

Ptatn seems satisfied with the answer and snuggles their face in my arms.


Five days later, I get mugged. My panic activates my Passion Pulse. My mom’s voice screeches defamatory slander with such conviction that it feels true. “You’ll never amount to anything.”

The mugger stops dead in his tracks. I grab my bag back and sprint like the wind.


When the smuggler comes to get you, Gatl, I place the shark tooth in my knuckles. I cock my arm and release a swipe. His hands fly to his eyes.

We dash away in long strides until we reach the smuggler’s canoe. Then, we sail starlit skies to the safety of the vast unknown.

© 2018 D.A. Xiaolin Spires

About the author

D.A. Xiaolin Spires

D.A. Xiaolin Spires counts stars and sand, residing currently in Hawai’i. You can find her embarking on olfactorial odysseys as she inhales plumeria blossoms, poke, and poi. Her work appears or is forthcoming in various publications such as Fireside, Clarkesworld Magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Terraform, Nature Futures, Grievous Angel Poetry & Fiction, Reckoning, Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (selected for the Year’s Best issue), Mithila Review, Issues in Earth Science, Factor Four Magazine, Star*Line, Liminality: A Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Eye to the Telescope, Atlas Poetica, Outlook Springs, Gathering Storm Magazine, Polu Texni, and Story Seed Vault; as well as anthologies of the strange and delightful, such as Sharp & Sugar Tooth, Broad Knowledge, Battling in All Her Finery, and Ride the Star Wind. You can find her on her website at or on Twitter at @spireswriter.