Edited by Julia Rios

August 2018

Content Note:

This story involves the death of a child.

The pigeon is a broken knot of feathers convulsing on the sidewalk. Kat waits for it to fall completely still before reaching forward to scoop it up. She cups it in her small, ten-year-old hands, thumbs pressing into the fragile bone-arch of its breast, and raises it from the dead.

“Wake up, birdie,” she says, and the pigeon jerks. Its jellied red eyes snap open.

“Practising on pigeons again?” Her twin sister Cil, five minutes younger than her, crouches slowly and stiffly at her side. The weight of her settling against Kat’s side is as familiar as her own face, though the smell of lavender handsoap—hiding deeper, ripening scents—isn’t. She hears only her own heartbeat. No companion thud.

There’s no warmth in the contact. None at all.

“It’s cause I practice so much that I was able to raise you,” Kat says. A car rolls past, scattering the pigeons that are still alive.

Cil sighs wetly. “Grandpa Benji’s getting suspicious.” Her favourite beanie’s pulled down over her ears. She hangs her head so all Kat can see is her paling lips, her lashes stuck to the sunken hollows under her eyes, and imitates their grandpa’s gravelly tones. “He’s all like, it’s 90 degrees out kid, why the long sleeves? Whew, kid, ever heard of showering?”

“I know.”

“He’s gonna wanna bind me. Put me back down.”

“I won’t let him,” Kat says. “I’m gonna watch out for you, okay?”

“Mama’s going to be mad when she gets back.” Cil sounds resigned. She was always Kat’s lodestar, the quiet voice of reason at her back. Until they played hide-and-seek one hot afternoon, and Cil hid in a heavy, old wooden storage chest in the basement that accidentally latched itself when she lowered the lid. Until Kat, kicking her heels in frustrated defeat upstairs an hour later, felt the snuff and slip-away of her death and knew too late where her sister was.

If she comes back, Kat thinks. If this is anyone’s fault, it’s Mama’s for running off with some man and dumping them, like unwanted luggage, with an old man who doesn’t want them either. It’s Benji’s, for leaving them alone that day. She hates them. She doesn’t need them. She’s stronger than them. Mama says she’s the strongest the family’s seen in generations.

She only needs Cil. The only one who’s ever needed her, the only one she’s ever loved.

Cil won’t like what she has to do next, but that’s okay. She always listened to Kat in the end, even when she still had the power not to.

Cil nods at the surrounding pigeon-corpses, clawed feet pointed at the sky. “Are you gonna raise them too?”

“No.” Kat balls up the plastic bag of poisoned breadcrumbs. She’d found them in a corner of the pantry, tucked away from when they were little, spending a rare summer with Mama and Benji, and Mama taught them how to raise things by practising on dead pigeons. They’re vermin, dear, Mama had said when Cil cried at all the small deaths. The city’s full of them. No one’s going to miss a few. “Just checking these still work.”

She climbs to her feet and holds out a hand to Cil. “Come on. Let’s go deal with Grandpa Benji.”

© 2018 Nibedita Sen

About the author

Nibedita Sen

Nibedita Sen is a queer Bengali writer, editor, and gamer from Calcutta. A graduate of Clarion West 2015 and SIUC’s MFA program, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PodCastle, Nightmare Magazine, and Fireside Magazine. She helps edit GlitterShip, an LGBTQIA SF/F podcast, enjoys the company of puns and potatoes, and is nearly always hungry. Hit her up on Twitter at @her_nibsen.