Horror & Dark Fantasy

COSMIC POWERS

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Fiction

Figs, Detached

Dioscorides said to harvest the branches when they are sapful. Before they bud.

Bittermilk

I ate the child and fell in love with the mother; I didn’t want to, but I didn’t know, I was new to town. The placenta tasted like raw ahi fed only on honey and dandelion. Inside it was pomegranate, was roe, was blood orange, was lymph.

If I could regurgitate his love (my love, our love?) I would, but I can’t.

Lacticifer sold his children at the Tenhen farmers market. I was hungry from moving into the house on the hill and rode down on my bike, the brake pads worn thin and worthless. He was short and wore mismatched socks, clogs, and Carhartt overalls. He caught my eye as I walked my bike through the market; his look was both imp and broken-winged bird. He sat on the open tailgate of his pickup truck, legs swinging, surrounded by mostly empty plastic crates. He told me I had mud on my ass, I said I was too poor to buy a fender, too lazy to put on my rain pants; he said he liked that I didn’t bother.

Lacticifer’s produce had placentas yellow like his eyes. See-through glistenflesh just enough like a peel I thought it was fruit. Some goblin fruit, but I was curious despite the cost and he only had the one left, so when Lacticifer handed me the fruit, I handed him a ten. He smiled at me, then frowned when I ate it right there at his stand. Yellow eyes, quick grin again, flat canines (liar, liar), I was gone.

That night, I fucked him against a flattened stack of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap popping underknee. Three weeks later, he gave birth in my scummy bathtub.

Infructescence

When I combed vomit from his hair I was with him. At first. His sick was dark, clung, sticky flakes among the strands. He sat in the tub, I leaned my thighs against its curled rim; he was vulnerable and haggard in the washed-out dawn light. I wanted to fist my hands in his hair, I wanted him, but I knew how gentle I had to be, start at the ends; how brass his locks, how tired his eyes. His sockets shadowbent.

Tapioca pudding and black cherry cordial made a fine vomit. I worked it willingly from his hair. He leaned into my touch, I leaned toward his warmth. We met, somewhere. And though I was there, wanted to be, my mind was drawn to the time of year, the grocery store and the heaps of figs that would soon be there, leaking clear fluids down their rinds. I wanted to be there with him, I didn’t. I couldn’t help either of those things. I know that now.

Lacticifer got drunk that evening. I didn’t realize how drunk until I woke up beside him in bed and he was moaning and limp on his side, retch spewing weakly from his mouth. I didn’t realize how pregnant, I didn’t realize pregnant, until he was in the tub (me combing) and his belly and chest opened up, his ribcage hinged back, and the fruit came out.

• • • •

First-tamed and first of the harvest. Before grain, wine, and olives. Years later, dried and stuffed into sows. Treaded and packed in jars with fennel, anise, sesame and cumin. Bacon glazed in fig syrup. The table is set. I fill myself, fill and fill my glass with Ficus latex. I feed like Anchimolus and Moschus.

Phytalus

Once, I watched a woman eat one of his children. She came to his stall, a coffee mug full of damp, crumpled tissues in one hand, a fresh baguette from The Rising Sun Bakery under her arm.

“I’d like to feel happy today,” she said. “Just a little.”

Lacticifer gave her two dollars off a piece of fruit and she had it with the bread and a small wheel of brie she took from her purse. She ate slowly, with limp hands. When the fruit was gone, she sat for a while in the sun, on the grass outside his stall. Ten minutes passed, then Lacticifer went and checked on her. He asked her how she was doing. He gave her a piece of the cookie he’d just bought from the same bakery as her bread. She grinned at him and ate it with a smear of brie. He grinned back, yet looked more grim and sad than she had before.

Sykophantes

When I saw what came out of him, I understood what he had done to me. Best as I could. I believed it because I saw it happen, because I’d eaten his child and all that followed had followed. I believed because he told me. The morning after giving birth, he sat on the couch for a long time. He was quiet, clean. He wore a pair of marigold sweatpants. His children filled all the shelves in the fridge. Finally, he said I’m so sorry and I thought it was because he’d been drunk. I thought this will be the thing between us, the thing that will make us stronger, the thing that will make us, us. I was wrong. Though he was sorry for the drinking—he apologized for it too many times later on for me to think otherwise—his apology was meant doubly.

“I didn’t mean to,” he said. Later on, I heard something else beneath those words: you shouldn’t have eaten it. And beneath those ones, my own: it’s your fault.

• • • •

The sea has fruit. It looks like bones. Snail egg-casings, rising from wet sand like stacks of thin vertebrae.

All Go Mellow to Bed

I couldn’t stand being away from him, so he moved in with me. My house is dark, the floors and walls planked in black mesquite, but Lacticifer brightened it up with his jackal eyes and collection of sunflower-patterned boxers mixed among my dresserful of black, grays and reds.

We made love for the first time in a bed (before, mine wasn’t set up, and he lived in his friend’s garage, sleeping on a cot too narrow for us to bother with). He lay back against the dirty sheets and spread his legs. He has no cock or scrotum, just a flushed spongy ridge, wet and porous when he’s aroused, that starts as a thread below his navel, widens to its fullest at his crotch, and thins again toward his anus. I rubbed against it until I came.

Calchas Versus Mopsus

Every weekend, we filled Lacticifer’s truck with crates of fruit for the farmer’s market. Not all of them produced love, though all were encased in that sulfur crystal placenta. I wondered who had seeded Lacticifer with the melancherry. Not me, obviously. I was not sad, just restless, distracted. I knew the angerdrupe was mine (who would ever want to buy that?), but where did the peaceable fruit for rejuvenation come from? I was not peaceful, though I could have done with rejuvenation. I worked at Tenhen Beanbrewers. I rose at four a.m. to ride my bike down the road, beneath the dripping hemlocks, to ochre my hands with the acid and oil of coffee. At night I sent out applications, first to the University’s Long-Term Ecological Research Site at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, then to the biology department, admin positions in both the Classics and Romance Languages—then to nurseries, Edible Arrangements, flower shops, the local feed and seed. The produce section at the grocery store.

Meanwhile, Lacticifer’s belly grew full. He never touched it tenderly or rubbed circles across it, though he always washed the mucus from his newborns so gently. Sometimes I wrapped myself around him while he cleaned the fruit, put my hand in his pants while streaks of afterbirth dried on his arms.

Caprifig

No one from town, no one I knew, ever bought what he called the worship fruit, but the people who came and purchased what I had planted in his belly still annoyed me. What did they do with Lacticifer’s children? The love I’d put in him. Make it into jam? Spread it on buttered toast to feed to their lovers the morning after?

But it wasn’t just them. It was me. I’d eaten the fruit, too. I wondered who had given him love before. Whose love had I eaten?

• • • •

On the Nones of Caprotina come dreams of a house with a fig tree.

Fig

One night, Lacticifer skipped dinner and drank a bottle and a half of pomegranate wine instead. I ate my green beans and quiche, and asked him who he fucked for the other fruits, the ones I couldn’t help him make.

He said it’s not always fucking, that it’s rarely fucking, and led me to our bedroom, where he knelt on the floor before the dresser and pulled out the bottom drawer. There were vials underneath a jumble of holey wool socks. He lifted a few bottles, smaller than the others. “I’m out of lust and hate,” he said, sighing. “I’ll need to find more.”

“I don’t hate you,” I said. “But I can do lust.”

“I know,” he said, kissing me, clumsy in his drunkenness, utterly besotted just for a moment. I held onto the kiss as long as I could. He pulled away, frowning, and added, “Hate will be hard, though. People don’t want to sell—they keep it close to themselves, then give it out for free.” He smiled, rummaged around, found a few more.

He held up a vial that was nearly full. “Boredom. Not really in demand.” He shook it. “Mostly drool.”

“Gross,” I muttered.

Another bottle. He handed it to me uncorked.

It was empty, but I smelled stale sex.

“Love,” he said. “One of the few I need cum for.”

“Is it really love?” I asked. I sank onto the corner of our bed, thumbing the vial round and around in my hands. Lacticifer looked up at me from his hunch on the floor, through his eyelashes, pale but profuse, like the legs of a house centipede.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Is it?”

I ignored his question, because I didn’t know. It felt like love, but I didn’t know. How could I know? My love for him had been induced. Instead of answering, I said, “Are any of these anything?”

“What do you mean?”

I narrowed my eyes. How could he have not thought of this? “I mean, just because we all call it love doesn’t mean your love is my love is their love. Or maybe it does. I don’t fucking know.”

“They’re approximations,” he said, reaching for my leg, petting it, trying to calm me. “They’re—”

But I had stopped listening.

• • • •

Ficus roots can break stone. Can they break a story?

Give a fig

“Do you still love me?” Lacticifer asked me.

I said, “Still.”

“I’m sorry,” Lacticifer said.

I should have known. I didn’t listen.

Blastophaga psenes

A local dulcimer player performed during one of my few closing shifts. Lacticifer knew I would get home late, but when I got off, my bike had a flat. A coworker gave me a ride, dropped me at home an hour early.

“You finally get a car?” she asked, noting the extra vehicle parked in our driveway. “Why didn’t you drive today?”

“I like riding at night,” I lied, got my bike and walked to the front porch. The car wasn’t mine.

In our bedroom, someone I only recognized from Lacticifer’s old photo albums was fucking him with the light on. His ex. Neither of them looked happy, but they were still getting off.

I broke every glass in the house and slept crying in a synconium of shards.

• • • •

Fig jam. Figwort. Fig newtons. Figment. Figure. Figuring. Figures. Figurist. It figures. Figure you out.

Obsolete: feague (liven up, whip).

German fegen (thrash).

Faire la figue, dar la higa.

The Breba Crop

Over the next three weeks, while Lacticifer grows pregnant, we don’t speak.

We still share our bed and wake up in the mornings wrapped round one another.

• • • •

The giant didn’t want to go to war, but it was necessary. He would have starved, otherwise. Still, you can’t beat the gods; he lost and they hunted him. It is said his mother took care of him, but that isn’t true; he had no mother. But he ate the last of the dried figs he had in his pocket before he laid down for the last time. He died with them in his belly. The scavengers left Sykeus for the rot and dirt, and from the compost of his body, a tree grew. The gods never found him.

Hemiepiphyte

A poultice of figs, ripe and honeyed and leaking rose, spread over his swollen stomach. It’d never been like that, that bloat, those purpled veins long and thick, reaching all the way up to his throat. Nothing worked, so I filled the tub with Epsom salts and warm milk and water to soothe his pregnant ache.

He moaned and arched when his rib-doors swung back. A single fruit sloughed out. It bobbed in the bathwater. A placenta dark as plum skin bled out into the white water. There was something red, beating, trembling, at its core. Lacticifer shut his ribs. He picked up the fruit and held it out to me.

“It’s hate,” he said, his sweaty hair like golden spider webs sticking to his face, “For you, my love.”

• • • •

If only Dionysos had chosen figs over ōmophagy. If only my satyros’ liver had been a fig, and I a maenad to eat it.

Jenn Grunigen

Jenn Grunigen

Jenn Grunigen is a writer and a drummer. She plays in the neofolk metal band Felled, has an MA in folklore, and is a graduate of the 2016 Clarion Writers’ workshop. Her writing has appeared in/is forthcoming from Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Hunger Mountain, and elsewhere. Her post-apocalyptic SF novel, Skyglass, a wild tale of sex, elves, and rock ‘n’ roll, is available now from Chromatic Press.