Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and as it shambles toward its summertime publication we’re going to be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Today’s teaser comes from “St. Baboloki’s Hymn for Lost Girls,” by L. Lark, whose poetic prose recasts cosmic horror in the language of fable…
The flowers come first, and then the monster.
This is the first thing Naledi is taught, even before her mother’s name. Four days after her birth, Naledi is carried to the mission church beyond the grove of marula trees. Young monkeys watch from low branches, cheeks stuffed with fruit. The church has battered white walls and a stained glass window above the pulpit. A bare nail juts from the place where a crucifix once hung.
Ona, Naledi’s mother, drips rainwater into Naledi’s eyes and tongue through a root, singing the hymns of St. Baboloki and the high god Midomi. She uses a cactus barb to prick Naledi’s finger and smear a dollop of blood onto the white altar cloth. It spreads through the fibers in the shape of a moth.
Ona wraps her palm around Naledi’s small foot.
“I hope you never see the flowers,” she says, while Naledi’s laughter bounces against the rafters.
Naledi grows too quickly for her skin. By the time she is thirteen, she can easily pluck hairs from the men of her village, but her body feels tight and too warm. Even her hair seems to grow in every direction, reaching like the limbs of a skeletontree. Naledi’s size makes her feel formidable, even when migrating giants appear in the low plains. Once, she swung her knobkerrie at a bull elephant positioned between her and the well.
Naledi does not remember her father. Her mother claims she has none.
“I swallowed the seed of an ebony tree and you grew inside me. I carved your club from its branches. You and the knobkerrie were born together,” Ona says, showing Naledi how to polish the wood with palm oil. Ona teaches her how to fish and weave a basket and interpret the warning huffs of baboons, but Naledi speaks to the insects all on her own.
“Little darling,” Naledi says to a bee, running her index finger over its honey-yellow tuft. Static bounces in-between them. “Why do you sing so loudly today?”
Naledi is tending to the nets gathering tilapia in the river. The water is thick and filled with plumes of dust, but spiked dorsal fins carve through the current. Bees zigzag between the tall grasses.
“We can finally smell the flowers,” the bee says, and flies from Naledi’s palm…
Lark is a writer and artist living in Portland, Oregon, who is prone to daydreaming and sunburns. She especially enjoys writing about ghosts, old houses, and all manners of eldritch abomination. Links her to projects and publications may be found at l-lark.com.