“Semele’s Daughter” is published in Broken Time Blues: Fantastic Tales in the Roaring ’20s. My story will be available to read here for a limited time–until Hugo nominations close–by generous permission of the publisher. The Kindle Version is less than $3 on Amazon–a great deal for 12 stories by solid writers and cover & interior art by Galen Dara.
If you like this story, or any of the ones I list below, please pass the links on to others who might appreciate them!
Here are some other great Hugo-qualifying online fiction (these are all by fellow Inkpunks):
- The Memory Gatherer, by Morgan Dempsey, in Redstone Science Fiction.
- The Parting Glass, by Andrew Penn Romine, in Lightspeed Magazine.
- Blue Locks, in ScapeZine and Cold Iron and Green Vines
by John Nakamura Remy
Some say I’m the best witch hunter of the Second Prohibition. Maybe I am. I bagged and sent 18 bona fides to burn like Edison bulbs in Sing Sing. J. Edgar told my chief, in private, that me and my partner, Crossan were the best men in the Bureau. I’m at Communion 6:00 AM every goddamn morning. You could ring the church bells by me.
But I’m a fraud, and proof positive that God isn’t Love. God is Irony.
Exhibit A: I’m a woman. Not even Crossan knows.
Exhibit B: I’m a bull dyke.
Exhibit C: My wife is a witch.
Who knows why God gave me a womb instead of balls. I’m a man at heart, even if I was never man enough for Pop. Never mind that before the One God Party pushed through the First Prohibition, I could drink any rummy under the table, that I look pretty keen in a fedora and a slim suit, that I volunteered to fight with our Kraut allies–sniped the heads off of forty godless limeys when they prairie-dogged from their trenches, or that sorcery or no, I married an angelic baby doll that any god-fearing man would go smiling to hell for.
And that’s where I still have faith. Lily is love, Lily is my cross, my living rosary, my ecstatic Hail Mary, and someday she’ll be my salvation.
I get out of bed, let my feet chill painfully on the icy hardwood. It’s too early for Lil–she was out late again last night. She doesn’t know that I know, but she was at the Indigo Flame, down the stairwell to what most rubes think is the boiler room of Junior’s Delicatessen. I’m sure she was drinking, singing, dancing in an ensorcelled trance, but the morning light on her face makes her skin like fine china, and my heart tells me she can do no wrong. I soak her in while I knot my tie. Maybe it’s a bit crooked, but it’s worth a minute of staring into heaven.
Even though they’re consecrated by the Secretary of Religion, I still say a quick prayer over each bullet before I thumb them into my second best friend, my beloved M1911. I hear Lil’s breathing in the next room, and I try not to think about what she’d do if she knew that I was killing her ken, and not tracking down counterfeiters for the Secret Service like I tell her. Finally, I chant, “Thou shalt not suffer a sorcerer to live,” and I see these words light up like a pale blue fire along the blade of my bowie. I sheathe it in my shin holster, before anyone sees, and think what a fucked-up asshole I am. If she only knew.
Crossan picks me up 45 minutes later in front of St. Patrick’s. I light up and we drive. We don’t need to talk. The java’s still kicking in and we’re headed to the Upper East Side. Central Park’s summer green fights the gray of the city. I wonder for a sec, with all his college education, why Cross didn’t go on to Wall Street, or building these fancy buildings.
He stubs out his cigarette. “We’ve got a lead, Kingston. Simons extracted a confession this morning. Orgies, elemental sorcery, socialists, gin smuggling. The works, partner. She gave us the name of the big shot.”
He’s excited now, and it’s at times like this that I get why he ditched his Columbia diploma to work for the Bureau.
“He goes by Bach, and we figured out where he sleeps, before–”
“Before what, Cross?”
“Fella, you’re touchy this morning. You know the score. Some hearts can only take so much of The Bath. She deserved it, though. You know how many babies she killed?”
I’ve been to the Bath before. I can see the nameless witch in my mind’s eye, hands cuffed behind her, ivory flapper dress wet, fringe like limp noodles, nipples showing, mucous and makeup smeared across her pale face, bureau men all around, sorting out facts from sobs, heaves, gasps, and babbling. The woman’s face turns and I see Lily, but I shake it off, look out the window at the green oaks.
I pay a price for every confession, and for every man and woman I’ve sent up to burn. They do things modern now; quick electric frying in private, not the screaming human torches they had in the town square pre-Lincoln. But they’ve got to burn. It’s tradition, it’s god-ordained, and it’s what the preachers and priests still say. I was at Sing Sing when they strapped one sorceress to the chair and pulled the lever. Her hair caught fire, and when I caught the sulphur smell it was like a crack opening in the door to hell. And that’s all I remember, until Lil came home from the stenographer pool, found me carving, “There is none righteous, no not one,” into my left thigh using the tip of my bowie. She decked me good, knocking me back, then held me, whispering healing words into my ears until my eyes flooded. We made love, and she dragged me out of Gehenna and back into paradise again, with her touch, her tongue, her Jane Mast curves, and zest for life.
Everything is right when I’m with my goddess.
Want to read more? Go and buy Broken Time Blues: Fantastic Tales in the Roaring ’20s!