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by Jamie Lackey

Carl clutched the cool seed to his chest. He’d lost everything else, but at least he still had what he’d come for. It was as big as his fist, and heavy. He’d almost dropped it when the shaman handed it to him. 

His bright yellow life-raft drifted aimlessly. The crash—if there had even been a crash—was an empty space in Carl’s mind. He didn’t know what that meant, but as far as his memory was concerned, he had gone straight from the cramped airplane to this sun-baked, half-provisioned raft. There’d been no sign of his luggage, wreckage, or other survivors.

His stomach rumbled. He wondered what would happen if he ate the seed.

The shaman had promised that it would grow into his deepest desire, once he planted it. He’d planned on going straight home and burying it in his neglected back garden. He’d imagined a huge, golden flower bursting from between the stunted weeds, and a beautiful, kind-faced woman stepping out of its petals to take his hands between hers.

If he closed his eyes, he could still see her. He knew he’d never be able to eat the seed. He’d never be able to do anything to hurt her. Even if she wasn’t real.

He took a slow swig of blood-warm water. He only had half of a bottle left. He’d eaten his last protein bar for dinner last night. He pawed through the crinkly, slippery wrappers, searching for a stray crumb or smudge of melted chocolate.

Hunger gnawed at him. The slow, steady slap of water against the raft, the constant rocking motion, and the glaring sun made him queasy and dizzy. He’d never done well on the water.

He longed for land.

He wanted to live.

He wondered if he was dead already.

He held the seed to his forehead. Its cool, smooth skin soothed him. He imagined his dream-woman curled inside it.

Did she dream of him? Or of rescue? Or was there nothing inside but wood?

He drank the last of the water. His empty belly ached.

Where were the damn rescue ships?

Or the islands? Weren’t there supposed to be islands scattered all over this area?

He slept. He woke. He listened to the sea and the creaking raft. He talked to the seed. He told it about his dead mother and boring job and empty life. He told it that wisteria was the only thing that would grow in his garden.

His lips chapped and split. The blood felt good coating his dry mouth.

The seed felt warmer. Was its magic failing? Was there something inside, dying?

Was there some way he could save her?

The shaman had said that any soil would do. There was dirt under all of this water. Maybe she’d be a mermaid. She’d be a beautiful mermaid.

Maybe one of them could live.

He thought about rescue, his back garden, his empty life. What if the ships came right after he dropped her?

What if they didn’t?

He dropped the seed over the side of the raft and watched it sink through crystal water until the darkness claimed it. He’d never felt more alone.

He slumped against the thick rubber edge of the raft. His eyes were too dry for tears.

In his dreams, he was in his garden. A mermaid brought him tea.


The raft shuddered, and he scrambled to the edge. Maybe there was a ship? Finally? Rescue? But there was still nothing on the horizon.

He looked down.

The ocean glowed, then boiled beneath him, roiling and wild. The raft careened away on a steaming wave. He clutched at canvas straps with shaking fingers. Time grew meaningless. He held on, breathed when he could, and cursed the hot salt water that stung his eyes, his bloody lips, his cracked fingertips. The raft crashed into something solid, and his grip failed. He tumbled away and lost consciousness.

He woke on a fresh volcanic island. The ground—mercifully still—was uncomfortably hot against his skin, but it didn’t burn him.

As he picked himself up, a golden flower erupted from the new earth. Hot lava glowed from the cracks it left as it burst free.

The petals opened, and his dream-woman emerged. She dipped her hands back into the flower and offered him nectar that dripped from her cupped fingers. The liquid soothed his lips, then his mouth, throat, and soul. Her soft, cool hands curled around his. Drops fell on the hot ground, and wisteria spread and bloomed around their feet. “Welcome home,” she said.

“How?” Carl asked.

She smiled at him. “You saved me. So I saved you. Isn’t that how love works?”

Carl touched her cheek. “I suppose it is.”



Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Penumbra, and her stories “Music from the Air” and “Ashes to Diamonds” are in the January 2012 and Mid-October 2012 issues respectively of Stupefying Stories. She's a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her Kickstarter-funded short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.