God had only ever given Demetria one thing.


Her daughter of darling joy. The sun of her morning and the moon of her nights.

Pers’efonie could coax wheat from the ground with her melodies. She could inspire the birth of fruit from barren trees with a caress and a kiss.

Demetria stood at the molded sink of her small cottage, gripping it with unrest, some of her dreadlocs settled around her shoulders, the rest cascading down her back. Her small, sad smile was in remembrance of the mornings when they’d wash the vegetables in preparation for a day of feasting. Living off the land was what people did those days. It was the only way left to live.

The land Demetria owned was a gift from her late father and mother, just a stretch of acres salvaged after the Re-Imagining outside of Yoruba Sanctuary. It came with the cottage. The wood was hand-carved. The brick, hand laid. The fixtures and furniture, hand-crafted. The land itself was once well-tended, and the forest beyond their property was abundant, a sturdy symbol of safety wrapping around them like a wooden forcefield.

Day 57

Demetria had watched her, when Pers’efonie was there, frolic amongst the vegetation as it bloomed and blossomed, bright and loud and fun, like she was.

On that morning of Day 57, the landscape around Demetria no longer flourished. A strange chill had set in; browning the once green of the grass. Plump and vivid fruit had shriveled, molding, to something pale and thin and starving. The flowers shed their pedals, and were now naked, shivering.

Demetria pried her fingers from the sink and stroked her hair from root to tip in her methodical fashion. Once. Twice. Three times. She was already humming that song, the one Pers’efonie had sworn the trees had taught her.

I braved the forest...and it sheltered me. What is love...but all...of me...

Those were the words. It was a slow, deliberate melody, with lots of room for runs and vocal stretching, all of which Pers’efonie performed with magnificence. When she was there. Demetria thought it was the anger about her daughter’s absence bringing the heat to her neck. But it was something more unexpected, possibly even sinister.

A violent flame burst in Demetria’s mind. She caught her breath and the edge of the stone countertop in the same swift motion, holding them both hostage in exchange for stability. Demetria closed her eyes and touched her temples with her forefinger, rubbing it in circles as if to clarify the image flickering inside the fire.

She could only see those monstrous flames moving and swirling and writhing. Nothing was palpable besides the heat on her skin, her arms and neck and face tingling as sweat arrived on them. Then, the fire faded to nothing as fast as it had arrived, leaving her cold.

Frigid, even.

Now all she saw was the condensation lining the window. Ice multiplying in each of the corners like a new infection and stretching toward the middle in a diabolical plan to join forces and conquer the glass.

Her heart still rapped against her chest. A passionless organ moving in swift involuntary rhythms.

The rusted device on her wrist chimed. Worthless technology. Something to keep the population connected...informed...accounted for. The chime was a reminder of the daily transmissions, tidbits of global updates to prevent the population from sinking back into the apocalypse they’d scarcely survived.

“We are now on Day 57, nearly two cycles out of the Re-Imagining. The council of the Æncients has announced their plan to restructure the remaining sanctuaries in favor of their own perceived jurisdiction. Protests are sprouting up all over in opposition, claiming these creatures are abusing their genetic advantage by exerting their will under the guise of restoration. Many believe this is conquest. Of who, you may ask? The remainder of the human race.”

Yes. The remainder of them. Hundreds of thousands of humans tops, scattered across the globe among a mix of Evolutionaries and a newer, more mysterious race of Æncients, both a far cry from the simple human genome. The humans were fewer and farther between. Many of them hadn’t survived the Re-Imagining. Too much cosmic energy distribution. Too much natural disaster-fueled turmoil. Too much infrastructure collapse. Only the lucky made it free — as the entire world needed to be re-imagined after that much turmoil.

That was before her time. Before the sanctuaries started counting the days again, but up this time instead of down, fairly sure there was a future to count on.

“Temperatures continue to drop this morning, a record low in over a century,” the technology on her wrist echoed. “Food becomes more scarce as what some have been calling ‘winter’ returns after literal centuries of hiatus. Some speculate this is part of the call for subservience and protection from our “saviors” in the sky. No one can be sure. This is Cynque-R signing off for today’s broadcast. Stay warm. Stay saved.”

Stay saved.

Demetria ran her daughter’s name over her tongue again.


She let it spill from her lips in but whispers, afraid if she spoke it with the fullness of her soul that her soul might escape with the words themselves. She would be empty then, as she was empty now, without P that impossibly long period of time.

Had it been days? She thought to herself. More than 10? More than 20?

It didn’t seem fair to give up. Not so soon. But she’d tired herself out traveling the furthest reaches of the sanctuary, asking every soul that would listen where her daughter was.

How many days had that taken?

Too many. And still, she’d returned without a sliver of evidence. Those heathens in town had given her averted eyes and incomplete sentences, essentially their fear and nothing more. The collective confusion felt like they shared a secret no one dared tell.

They didn’t see or hear anything?

Not the soft, smooth brown of Pers’efonie’s cheeks? The deep autumn color of her eyes? Nor the tempest of wild braids atop her head? They didn’t hear her singing lullabies to the lilies? Or having banter with the branches?

Demetria shivered. The cold always came with the memory. “Don’t go too far out in the meadow, P,” Demetria had warned her daughter many moons past. “The world is still a bit loose. Nothing’s certain.” They’d spoken from opposite each other on that day, a day she hated to remember, her standing at the worn down porch, Pers’efonie facing her, but inching back toward another destination.

“I’m just goin' to talk to the trees, Mama,” Pers’efonie replied, spinning away in a linen gown woven of white threads. “They keep whispering to me. Wouldn’t it be rude not to find out what they’re saying?”

Demetria smirked, slightly. “Rude?” she asked Pers’efonie.

“You’re the one always saying respect your elders. Nothing I know older than the trees.”

Demetria laughed at that, so hard her body jiggled. “You’ve got a mouth on you, miss lady. Maybe that’s why the forest is all fond of ya.”

“The trees won’t let a thing happen to me,” her daughter said, a real seriousness slipping into her tone. “I trust them. I really do.” The look in Pers’efonie’s eye was intense, penetrating in its truth. Like those old trees had really promised her protection.

Demetria shifted her weight, uncomfortable. “Go on then,” she said. “Just not too far, okay?”

She was halfway into the house when she turned back. Through the screen, she caught a last glimpse of Pers’efonie skipping through the tallest reeds and into the clearing that led to the forest. The leaves and branches seemed to close in and conceal the opening the deeper her daughter went. Demetria’s stomach turned with a loud groan.

If only she’d listened to it.

The door rattled from the rush of passing wind, bringing her back to the present, her eyes stinging with new tears. They fluttered open. She didn’t even know she’d closed them.

Demetria straightened up there, first wiping away the tears, then staring through the window at that same spot at the forest edge where she’d watched Pers’efonie skip through and vanish.

The cottage had become a prison. Something once quaint and once kind had become a cruel reminder of a life Demetria would never have again. She could not be happy without P. She could not hope to live without P. Pers’efonie was the light of this world.

Possibly the only light left.

Another gust of wind. Another chill in her bones. Somehow there was ice on the countertop where she’d been resting her hand. She tried to brush it away. The ice held to the edge, gripping it with the anger as she’d done moments before.

Her hands were so cold.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Demetria looked up quick. She would be a fool to mistake such a sound for wind. It was hard, distinct, intentional. Perhaps it was someone come to tell her they’d found Pers’efonie. Her chest fluttered, sent her almost leaping to the door. She paused at another thought. Maybe it was someone come to tell her they’d found just her body.

She felt the heat again, and with it came a tightness in her throat.

Demetria pulled her shawl closer to her chest and leaned up to peer out the window, hoping to see who might be at the door, both scenarios fighting for dominance in her head. But the sink jutted out too far from the wall for a clear view. She cursed the unfavorable interior and tiptoed toward the origin of the noise.

Knock. Knock. Knock. Louder this time. Angry. She nearly jumped out of her clothes.

“Hello? I...who’s there?” No one answered. She took the handle and held it, ready to turn. Two deep breaths later, she swung the door open, and squared her body to face her visitor. The wind seemed to be the only thing on the other side of the door, blowing and blustering about. She sighed and collapsed against the archway, relieved. She couldn’t bear anymore bad news.

The dust of the dead meadow crowded the door, kicked up by the wind moving in circles. The house couldn’t bear any more dust. Demetria stepped inside and went to close the door, her eyes cast down.

Her hand froze. Her eyes too.

At her feet was a small sheet of looseleaf. She noticed the ripped edges, then the burns, then the words themselves.

Meet me. They said. Tonight. H Squared Tavern, south of the sanctuary.

Demetria covered her mouth. She felt her heart drop with despair, felt her skin go ice cold with sorrow. But there was a burning smell coming from the looseleaf near her feet, the stench of brimstone coupled with the heat that had always accompanied the violent flame from her vision.

Fire shot straight up from the ground. She doubled back with her face covered, screaming. When she turned, fire shot up from where she might’ve stepped, forcing her back toward the first flame. She couldn’t tell where it was coming from, just that the more places she turned, the more streams of fire invaded her cottage.

Overhead, the beams of the roof were splitting and crashing around her. She choked on the fast spreading smoke. It was like in her vision, a fire impossible to see escape.

Demetria crouched down and crawled one hand and one knee in front of the other. Determination moved her forward, despite the burns on her hands and the fire chomping at her clothes. She must make it out, she thought as she inched forward, still choking. For Pers’efonie, she urged herself, taking one more bold move toward the exit. She was seconds from reaching the outdoors when the flame reared up ahead of her like a beast, snarling and snapping with jagged incisors made of fire. Yet the fire did nothing to heat her insides, the hotter it burned, the colder she felt -- and in the end, she was left inhaling smoke, but exhaling condensation. The last breaths in front of her escaping already chilled.

She was surrounded on all sides, the fiery storm roaring loud as it took all that she had left. It continued spreading around her, ravenous as the makeshift mouth closed, devouring her whole.