36 comments

Speculative

Ⅰ. Picture Alaskan snow and meteors that drop like baseless promises and dissolve away like morning kisses.

The sky is indigo and crooked, leaning right into tomorrow, and Raphaela is tracing cold hearts of ice into the windowpane with her nails. Not the romantic ones shaped like clovers that rip into tissue paper halves, but the human hearts that quiver and bleed and only last a fragile lifetime.

The stars are falling, but Raphaela isn’t wishing. She’s praying. While looking past the white expanse, her arms snake across her chest, biting into her ribs as shallow gasps slither from her mouth. Because she knows that shooting stars are really one of two things:


a. dying rocks

b. corpses


She knows because she was the latter once.

When she floats past the threshold, flakes tickle her nose as if they're prisms and mayflies, born to reflect light and meant to die shortly on warm skin. The snow crunches on her boots like ivory teeth but in a pulse of madness, she almost wishes it would nibble on her bare toes instead. She finds the cold works better than lukewarm beers and often finds herself perched on the front steps of her withering cabin, the heels of her palms wheeled under her chin until her cheeks colour like freshwater salmon.


Ⅱ. Picture steamy glasses and glass windows fogged from mist.

The internet in Yakutat trembles like earthquakes — she hears it's relatively better in Anchorage — and electricity is sometimes only found in thunderclouds. Living almost completely off-grid makes Raphaela feel both lost to the world and like a distinct piece of something bigger. Like a smudge within an oil painting and a fingerprint among thousands of interlocked hands.

Her days are covered with bubble wrap and loop through a conveyor belt so that she never knows when they begin or end. Every breath is wrenched from her throat with the sticky fingers of guilt and stolen by constellations poking the sky like frostbite.

Stephen’s pickup has a chipped bumper and wears necklaces of hooked chains. On weekends, she lies slack against the tailgate as he drives her into town and pretends there aren’t singed stumps planted between the spades of her shoulders like daisy seeds.

That maybe she’s human.

Food is expensive in Alaska, so halibut has been her bread and butter lately and she’s discovered a decent sourdough starter that correlates well with her wireless bread machine. Raphaela has a humble amount of cash holed up from jobs she was assigned once upon a past life. Twenty-eight years have passed since then and time is still allergic to her face, which is taut as a tightrope and smooth as fondant.

She’s meant to meet Stephen when the noon sun dries into a brushstroke, but as she paces onto the pier, the shadows in her wake shrink and blur together while her stumps tingle with the chill of being watched by marble eyes.


. Picture toasty flames that curl into lions and dated photo albums speckled with decades and coffee and pinching nostalgia.

Raphaela places a large cooking pot on the woodstove, the water forming eyes of hurricanes as the steam escapes into miniature tornadoes. The reservoir of humid vapour keeps her warm when the bulbs in the sky short circuit and blackout, preventing her lips from cracking into canyons.

Her candles are shaped like coins that travel across her dresser like the ellipses at the end of an open sentence, a hint at something more. Stephen had once offered to hook a deep-cycle battery (powered by solar panels) to LED lights, but she told him she preferred candlelight because it reminded her of wax moonbeams.

While searching for a wooden spoon, she comes across the picture album. She flicks the switches of her battery-operated radio, which drones '90s songs through its teeth with an underlying static hum. Burying into a cocoon of tassel blankets, she swirls her pinky in a mug of hot cocoa, marbling the foam into waning moons through the Belgian truffle shade of liquid. Marshmallow snowmen drown just under the surface and thick cream splatters over her upper lip like the aftermath of a snowball fight.

The photographs take her tripping backwards along the patterned hands of time. To when she still had dove wings stapled to her spine. When she still belonged to the sky. She used to take photos of all the humans she was designated to deliver hope to:


a. the girl bullied at her birthday party with balloons spiralled into horseshoes

b. the man who lost both the love of his life and the ability to see sunrises

c. the kind boy with a broken heart and caterpillars of IV fluid coiled over his hand


There were so many others, but she remembers the boy’s face and what he’d said when she visited his hospital room while he had faced the agonizing side effects of a periodic chemo session. His name had been Sasha.

“It hurts, Ms. Raphaela,"

“It’ll pass, dear heart,” she squeezed his hand, “Sasha, you’re the bravest boy I’ve met.”

Now she’s hurting but isn’t sure it will pass. It’s been too long since then and she’s stuck her heels into the dirt of many cities — New York City, Tangier, Amsterdam, Naples, Buenos Aires, Cairo — but unlike them, she’s never aged. She has no idea where the living versions of her photographs are, or whether they’ve returned to the stars when all she can do is capture them in her eyes.


Ⅳ. Picture red planets like drops of blood and melting suns dripping into puddles of honey.

Sometimes, Raphaela tries talking to the galaxies in her veins (that once flowed with golden blood). They used to respond, but now they are black holes that swallow all sound. She’s used to the reflection of silence, and isn’t sure what’s she more afraid of:


a. the echo

b. or the answer


Tonight, after years of echoes, she gets an answer. The firewood crackles into ashes and sequins of ice decorate her door. The cold causes the cottage to shiver and when umbrellas of frost unfurl over her window, she wishes she could call upon fire. It starts slowly, impossibly, but her stumps scream and her fingers paint themselves the angry orange of Jupiter. Globes of fire orbit around her cuticles and dance like wolves.

After years of silence, her fingers sing, and though her arms burn, she doesn’t care. It’s there, at the smoked edges of her sanity, that she almost remembers what it was like to live in the sky.


Ⅴ. Picture shadows that have faces and know your name, and glass vials filled with ink, labelled 'fear'.

She’s buying overpriced creams for her lovely burns the next day, when someone reluctantly pats her shoulder. She hasn’t had tea with fear in over a decade, but now it’s sipping champagne in her mind with eyes sewn from buttons of night and a grin sharpened into a scythe.

The man who tapped her has tender eyes, but there’s something she doesn’t like. The way his shoulders are old with regrets and his young heart has thorny roses growing out of its arteries. Raphaela makes sure her quickened footfalls are imperceptible.

“Yes?”

“So I didn't imagine it. You really are—”

“Nobody,” she pants breathlessly, “I am nobody.”

Memories unroll behind her eyes and make her arms crawl, as she relives the agony of lashes burying into her back. The image of shears flash in her mind, with blades made of comets slicing through her feathers and the hopeless feeling of plummeting from the heavens.

Ointments forgotten, she hauls herself out of the supermarket, her legs rigid as pines and stiffening into icebergs. She can't afford to stay any longer when he could potentially be a spy from above, deployed to finish her off for whatever reason.

The man jogs after her, colourful words trickling off his tongue. “I know you’re a guardian angel,” he deadpans and Raphaela stops, but doesn’t turn around.

“Who sent you?” is all she says, yet doesn’t wait around to hear his answer.


Ⅵ. Picture lights. Neon signs twisted into calligraphy over smirking sidewalks and taxi headlights that blink like tiger eyes through the rain. Picture lights brighter than that.

After frantically waving off Stephen, Raphaela flutters into her cabin that glows slightly, like a lantern in enchanted woods. The sun is a single firefly that drowns under the horizon as she hurries to feed her candles.

She keeps her wings in the closet with wooden hips and ashy wounds. All her pain and terror sifts to dust when she touches the softly charred plumes. They cling to her thumb when she strokes them, like a stray kitten. Her wings; cleaved from her flesh, blackened to the edges, but still her wings. But should this be the price of aiding an ailing child, of lending them a breath she didn’t need? Then what was the point of all she stood for?

Raphaela holds the wings to a window and whispers secrets to the clear, Northern sky. It threads its fingers through a string of lights, rivers of colours possessed by the Arctic air. Raphaela thinks the bright ribbons in the night look like crowns, and she allows her barriers to crumble and wash away every emotion that’s been trapped inside her bones.

Amidst the gentle torrents of closure, she doesn’t notice how the strong feelings set sparks to her fingers or how her hands bleed whips of fire that lick her cabin walls.


Ⅶ. Picture wildfires that singe, yet cleanse. Of butterflies with clipped wings that know they’re going to die, but still lay their eggs to save the future.

Raphaela is aware of the dangers, of how quickly the dry evergreens embroidered around the hem of the chalet pluck flames and strike into matches. She’s even mapped out possible escape routes for times like these, but those plans are now fuel to the inferno.

As her cabin burns into the snow and spreads to the bordering wood, she feels like she’s falling again. Cradling her wings, she knows she has three options now:


a. succumb to the tongues of fire

b. fight until the bitter, cold end

c. pray to a sky that has turned away its ears


In her panic, she chooses to run, but finds herself in the clutches of nowhere. Toxic fumes entwine into phantoms around her, until she’s coughing bullets into her palm. The forest is ablaze in all directions, but Raphaela only chuckles madly at the irony of death — the strange ways it chooses to make a statement. She even hears it calling her name, delicate as a mother’s lullaby and formal like a queen. Miss. Miss. Miss! M—

“Miss!”

Raphaela pivots around and meets pensive eyes. The man with tired dimples and muted words from the supermarket. “You,” she hisses, hobbling into blunt angles, “did you follow me home?”

“I mean no harm.” The man combs through his hair and gestures to an SUV clouded by smog in the distance. “Gosh, this’ll sound so weird, but yes I did. Please understand, I didn’t know how else to—”

“Leave!” A wispy birch faints through the fire. “I don’t know you.”

“Miss. I've never stopped believing in you.” The man chokes on a ring of carbon monoxide and her heart sinks. His desperate tone stirs through the black-and-white memories of her past. “I’m Sasha. Do you remember me? From the hospital, um. . . twenty—”

“Sasha,” she sobs, cupping his cheek and breaking into quarters, “Little Sasha?”

“Yes, little Sasha. It passed, Ms. Raphaela. Like you said it would.”

She's wheezing from smoke, but her lungs taste fresh air. "You're alive. You're here?"

"I'm here."

If her heart is winter, then his smile is spring. Even as the world ignites behind their crouched forms, he guides her across the snow and she feels like she can still fly. They reach a patch of scarred ice and he tells her how to step and where to crawl. Raphaela hesitates for a second. Then she swallows her worry and imagines she's a careful dancer in pointe shoes, tentatively balancing her boots on the safe spots.

The glaciers in her eyes melt into mountain lakes that reflect the sky, and when she tiptoes over the ice like flute notes, for once her laughter sounds like music. The Northern Lights crisscross into wings that beat across the night and as the stars begin to fall, Raphaela makes a single wish.


January 17, 2021 01:30

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

36 comments

R. K.
03:29 Jan 17, 2021

Strangely, I can almost say I like this one. Maybe because it's a strange story? Either way, you don't control your writing, it steers your fingers, I think.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Laura Clark
13:30 Jan 17, 2021

RK. This... I loved. Have you read the Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern? Your writing reminds me of hers. One critique of her is that she often focuses on descriptions and beautiful metaphors at the expense of the plot or of comprehension sometimes and I’ve read a lot of reviews of her writing that slate this. For me, that’s why I love her writing. I read so many things that have plots and are pitched at a reading comprehension age of 15. They’re easy to read and entirely forgettable half the time. So you need to read a few lines a couple of...

Reply

R. K.
20:30 Jan 17, 2021

Starless Sea! It's been on my TBR for a while now, waiting for when I have a minute. The premise seemed so fascinating with fantasy and mystery and legends and of course, pirates! Fixed up every last thing, please give it a reread if you can. I'm so thankful for you. It feels as though while carving the words, pieces flung here and there and you helped me refine it. Thanks so much!

Reply

Laura Clark
22:45 Jan 17, 2021

Loved the changes and, as always, flattered that you’ve taken on my suggestions. I’m so glad you like this piece as well - it’s such a strong one!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Scout Tahoe
01:45 Jan 17, 2021

Oh, Ru. It's lovely. So descriptive and beautiful. Kind of makes you want to lie down and cry. Raphaela is a sweet name, an angel's name. Reminds of something... hm. It slips off the edge of your tongue. Sasha returned. I breathed. It was sad. But he lived. What a pretty little story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Rayhan Hidayat
14:14 Jan 24, 2021

“If her heart is winter, then his smile is spring.” So simple, but so good. Yay, more magical realism! What a gorgeous story, from the snowy setting to the imagery to the themes explored. My only critique is the “picture this or this” you start each section with. It would lend the story more focus if it was “picture this AND this” instead. But maybe I’m just being nitpicky. Good stuff as always!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Zilla Babbitt
16:48 Jan 19, 2021

This is so beautiful. So. Beautiful. I love the way you've designed it; like a school essay outline. It has touches of myths and fairy legends, all mixed with your ethereal storytelling. "failing rocks" is probably meant to be "falling." That's under the first section. I'm working on a story for this very prompt but you've conquered it already. Well done.

Reply

R. K.
16:58 Jan 19, 2021

Thanks Zilla :) And how lovely that you got that rare snow, we always get so much. It truly is a magical source of inspo for writing, this piece included.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Deidra Lovegren
00:36 Jan 19, 2021

I'm not sure what I love better: your gorgeously dripping sensory imagery or the multiple choice structure which brings an intelligent whimsy that makes this an incredibly satisfying read. Best line (and best parallel structure): If her heart is winter, then his smile is spring. (I think I need a tee shirt with this on it.)

Reply

R. K.
00:38 Jan 19, 2021

Let's get matching ones. And thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Orenda .
05:03 Jan 17, 2021

your writing's so magnificent, yet this feels so sad. The writing's so powerful that it gets you in the feels and like Scout says, pour your eyes out. and the boy lived <3 can't believe I've written such a short review. No words can express how immersive this is. Awesome job 😚

Reply

Show 0 replies
18:08 Mar 14, 2021

Hey Ru! I loved this as always, i enjoyed the character and the organization of this story. It was so beautiful, the imagery was perfectt too! And the story gave me sad days or watching rainy clouds vibes! Which was just soo nice! The choices was a very creative idea too! Very unique! Great job on this! And keep writing! Its interesting to read your stories because they are just so creative and complex!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Radhika Diksha
13:18 Mar 11, 2021

Not the romantic ones shaped like clovers that rip into tissue paper halves, but the human hearts that quiver and bleed and only last a fragile lifetime. ( I am gonna steal this sentence literally) The descriptions were on point, the legends the myths, it all melted together. The story was strange yet it was near to the heart. The description allowed me to enter the story. I have yet now never seen a story with such beautiful descriptions. It was amazing as well as inspiring. Keep writing.

Reply

R. K.
13:57 Mar 11, 2021

Mysterious things are the most beautiful, if you know how to look. I write to inspire and I hope it even touched you a smidge. Thank you for the kind words, Radhika. You keep writing too!

Reply

Radhika Diksha
14:09 Mar 11, 2021

Welcome R.K for such kind words.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
B. W.
07:01 Feb 22, 2021

Hey, how are ya doing? and sorry that its been a little while, though this is a great story as usual ^^

Reply

Show 0 replies
Amany Sayed
00:07 Feb 01, 2021

Finally got around to reading this! It's truly beautiful. Your imagery is wonderful and your descriptive words are vibrant and colorful. It's interesting how you lightly weave a sort of fantasy like aspects into your story and they just WORK. Lovely. I'm attempting a future tense/second-person story this week, and I was wondering if you could give me any pointers?

Reply

Show 0 replies
18:52 Jan 22, 2021

Wow...this is just an amazing write. I literally have no words to describe how amazing this is. I know I liked this story a long time ago, but I wanted to save it to my library to give it a more thorough read :) The imagery was just so well crafted, and this story-just wow. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Maya W.
03:00 Jan 22, 2021

Hi Ru, I'm so sorry I haven't been able to get to this sooner. I've been working on my novella and my schoolwork, mostly, and Reedsy has been a secondary focus, if that's a thing. But, of course, it's wonderful. I love Raphaela's character (and name - such a beautiful name. And so fitting, too), and the list format works wonders with your style, but we already knew that. I love reading and writing stories about mythology, as you know, especially when paired with elegant writing. All in all, amazing work!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Briana Spring
22:03 Jan 21, 2021

Ru, I. Adored. This. The descriptions were absolutely beautiful. It had an overarching feeling of melancholy, which I loved. It was tragically beautiful. The concept of a fallen angel stranded in Alaska is the most creative story idea I've encountered in a long while. I really enjoyed that touch of fantasy and the ethereal-quality of it. I thought the name Raphaela fit perfectly for an angel. I also liked how we subtly learned why she fell from heaven. Again, I just can't get over the descriptions; you used metaphors and imagery that ju...

Reply

R. K.
22:15 Jan 21, 2021

Thank you Briana! I'm so glad you liked it. I did try to subtly hint at the angel concept, without a heavy info dump, letting the readers slowly find out, so I'm glad that came across. I'm grateful for the edit. Thanks again :)

Reply

Briana Spring
22:46 Jan 21, 2021

It totally worked! When you mentioned the stumps in her back, I literally gasped. And then her name made perfect sense to me. It was a wild ride.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
K. Antonio
00:50 Jan 20, 2021

This story as your comment suggested is odd, but its appetizing. The imagery and the scenery you create through smart use of vocabulary is great. The format is different, but oddly enough it works and gives us this sense of whimsy. This looks like one of those pieces that took a lot of work to produce. Like every sentence was constructed with a lot of effort. GREAT STUFF! I'm just loving how this prompt and the "cabin prompt" have brought such an array of stories this week! (Obs: I will say that the title to me seems a bit lackluste...

Reply

Show 0 replies
A. S.
00:28 Jan 19, 2021

This is my favorite story that I have read in a long, long time. Each word was masterful. When I read this, every line blossomed into something that begged to be recognized. My only regret is that there wasn’t more. This was so beautiful that I don’t have enough words to praise it. Thank you for bringing this to life.

Reply

R. K.
00:34 Jan 19, 2021

Can you tell I almost scrapped it? Sometimes, it's right when you're about to give up that awkward miracles happen. It's imperfect, but at least not unsaid, right?

Reply

A. S.
00:38 Jan 19, 2021

That is so true: miracles do happen right when everything is at its worst. I’m really relieved you chose not to scrap it, it would’ve been a waste of beautiful words, and goodness knows we need more beauty in our world.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Elliot Thomas
19:46 Jan 18, 2021

Your writing is so beautiful. The imagery and the way the words seemed to dance with their own melody, made me want to smile and cry at the same time. I needed this. Thank you for a wonderful story.

Reply

R. K.
20:07 Jan 18, 2021

Wherever you are, always remember to admire the beauty in small things. Thanks for reading :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Frances Reine
13:29 Jan 18, 2021

I have never felt so much by reading a short story my entire life. You have magic in your words, you really do. The "smile sharpened into a scythe" is one of many phrases in your imagery I have a hard time believing anybody else can capture. You have the perfect balance of showing and telling. This is so beautiful and I hope it wins.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mia S
19:54 Jan 17, 2021

Your writing makes me feel so many things. That's what I love about it. This is, as Scout said, such a pretty little story. I loved how the main character was a fallen angel, and that she was cast out for saving someone's life. Goes to show that even the people or beings that are considered "perfect" can be as imperfect as the rest of us, or maybe even more so. And then the boy returns at the end. It ties it all up so well. I'm in love with this format; the way you did the numbered dreams. And your descriptions are so...*luscious*. That's ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
N. N.
17:23 Jan 17, 2021

RK, I adore this so much! It is, by far, my favourite of all your works, and I'm so glad you loved writing it just as much as I loved reading it. A story filled with opulent, velvety descriptions and it even managed to have a plot — Initially, I believed it would be slightly plotless, but it was great how you intermingled your rich talent of vivid depictions with a creative plot. Something I noticed: "[...]she’s stuck her heels into the dirt of many cities — but unlike them, she’s never aged. New York City, Tangier, Naples, Buenos Aires."...

Reply

R. K.
17:43 Jan 17, 2021

I'm grateful for your valuable insight, thank you!

Reply

N. N.
17:54 Jan 17, 2021

Sure, no problem! Ah, I wondered if that might be the case. Well, glad to have cleared that up. Oh, sure, Ru. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply