Trigger warning: mild profanity and mentions of rape and violence
Most people wonder how I became Queen. How a cocoa coloured woman like me became the
ruler of a patriarchal, chauvinistic, post-colonial society? The truth?
I did it by killing.
One: A Made Woman
Gulf of Zula, Ethiopia
Several wars have raged between the Ethiopians and Arabs, leading to the seizure of the land by
the Arabs and enslavement of the native tribes.
I go to the gods every day.
I was raised that way after all. My whole life has always predetermined. Where I have been, has
never been a surprise and where I'm going is even less so.
Still though there are times I am content. I live a life of comfort and opulence. I can have
everything, well almost, everything I want.
I am a wife, a daughter in-law, friend, and one day, hopefully a mother. What more do I need?
I still go to the temple every day for hours.
I was more gloomy than ever. As the house got closer to my steps, the warmth slapped on my face, a
slap exactly like the one of the man whose beard is black and white, like our TV and like my shoes
and like me and my black and white life. At the same time that his fingers imprinted my broken pride
mixed with happiness and shame as a five-finger image on my cheek, I was a light year away from
happiness. I absorbed the grief, or no, the grief was absorbing me. What does it matter, whether I
absorb it or it absorbs me, I was the loser and that’s it. Grief followed me all over Mustofiat to Sufi
Abad, as if I had killed its lover, or was in debt to it. It was following me, I could feel it struggling until
suddenly, with its own permission and not mine, grief left my eyes, turned on my cheeks, rolled itself
over my cheeks, lower and lower, so my mouth became salty and life became colorless as death.
Through the capillaries to my heart it spread like a corona deep into my being. Grief made me cough
so much that tears reached my nose and started pouring out my eyes like Niagara Falls. I didn’t want
grief to be spectacular, and for this I raised my head.
With the collision of my eyes and her hair, fear jumped in me again and more stones were thrown at
my feet, which were more tired than ever. With a movement and a sound that I can’t write, I lifted
my nose, my mouth was no longer salty, and I could see better. I looked at her hair, her laugh and
her beautiful and troublesome gown with a pity that I had never felt before. I was sorry for her and
even more so, she reminded me again why, how, where, and from whom I had recived that slap. I
still didn’t know which bridge my laughter, my dress, and my enthusiasm had destroyed, which root
has dried up in which corner of history, in which house had decomposed God’s brain? Was my
freedom the reason for painting schools and library walls with the blood of books and students?
Were girls really the ones who exploded everything in Afghanistan? I really didn’t know what my
loud laughter did wrong that I didn’t know about myself. If I knew what I had done I would have
punished myself. I thought a thought and asked myself why these words are my right and why does
God hate me and think that I am shameless or his enemy? Was what those pious men (the Taliban)
say was correct? After all, I was laughing with God! I really wanted God to believe it. I painted my lips
like the pomegranates of our village garden, because the tall mirror in our house said I was prettier
that way and I always wanted and I didn’t want to be prettier!
Trigger Warning: death and blood
Stephanie sat cross-legged in the standing shower aboard the VIKENGRASS. The water
sprinkled over her body as she kept her eyes closed, trying to meditate and alleviate the pain that
came on this day every year. It was the anniversary of the accident that took the lives of both of
her parents, having her leg and finger amputated, along with permanently deafening her. All
because their self-driving car stopped working and drifted into oncoming traffic.
She opened her eyes to be met with darkness, alarming her. The lights came back on in a
moment, and the room shook. Stephanie quickly stood up and turned off the water, jumping out
of the shower and drying herself off. She grabbed her clothes and slipped them on, returning to
her living quarters as soon as she could.
The VIKENGRASS shuttered and groaned as explosions rocked the inner hull. The lights
in the hallway dimmed, flickering subsequently with the detonations. The crew scrambled from
their living quarters as sirens blared overhead, red lights flashing along the tops of the black
walls. It was against protocol to be woken this way, as a member aboard the bridge was
designated to wake them, preparing the entire crew to deal with the emergency.
Why do you love me when you told me you couldn’t love a lost monster? Why do you
restrain from erupting when I push your buttons and crash your creations, suspending your
plans? You’re flawful, my dearest, and this is why I open my heart as a loveless; let me present
my evidence, your honor. We dance in impenetrable fortressesses. You skulk and I scare; you
dance, and I dare the world to challenge us one more time. I miss hopscotching with you across a
soggy blacktop playground with pebbles encased in our fists.
Before I begin: Of course, there is no telling how much the world scorned you to date.
So, for brevity’s sake, I deem you the judge of our credibility (accounting for both me and my
unique species). Everything about our moral code is subjective, but I digress. Your honor, let me
open my case with a fact, because I cannot promise everything I relate in this letter will hold
truthful meanings for you. The word ‘shapeshifter,’ as you might have discerned from our title,
connotes our ability to morph, but not into people we have met.. Friends, Nature, humanity; this
is where the magic begins. We look into a long mirror, or any sizable shard of glass where our
reflections match the weariness of our hearts—and freeze. We capture the moment and hold it
close, because they tend to flutter away. Wings are too tempting for our kind.
Humanity choked itself with its need to grow, simplify, and automate. The air filled with
acrid rain, polluting and stinging her exposed body. She suffered in silence, withering in agony,
trying to keep up with humanity’s quest to rule the planet. She tried so hard, sending out
warnings, but her body quaked, sending humanity’s buildings tumbling onto her back. Still, they
would not stop. Then, she retched scalding acid, it dripped down her bosom, and people fled
screaming. She coughed and choked, to no avail.
Gaea sucked in a long, desperate breath. With it, nature retreated into her body and
disappeared. Her skin cracked, and her tears ran dry. The people moaned, sobbed and pleaded to
their gods, whispering apologies and empty promises if only Gaea would return nature’s spirit.
Their pleas were unanswered. Gaea was finally at peace. All that remained was her devastated
carcass. Humanity fell. The prayers ended, and silence, emptiness, and nothingness replaced the
cries and prayers.
Note: Story was originally published with She’s Got Wonder. They are not longer operational,
but the work can be found archived here: https://shesgotwonder.squarespace.com/journal/i-
For those of you who dream of “Once Upon a Time”, I’ve had it. I’ve lived each picture
perfect moment. Each chance meeting, every eye-opening kiss, and the most glorious of
“Happily Ever After’s”. I could tell you of ball gowns and castles and of the Prince Charming
who comes on horseback to rescue you from all that you have known. I have had it, and I have
lived it. But I have also lost it.
I used to be a Princess. Any girl can be one and any room can become an inescapable
tower if you deem the conditions of your life fit to build one. And I lived in a tall tower, the
foundations built from my life, and its towering visage of my own invention. I hid there for many
years, melancholy, magnificent, and measured. A scared little girl in a graceful frame, watching
and waiting for someone to save me from my life and from myself.
It had felt as though I had been waiting for eternity, the rescue from my self-imposed
exile untimely delayed. I grew more frustrated as the days went by, but I had friends in the form
of birds who kept me company and sang me songs. I passed my days reading the old stories my
mother had once shared with me beside my bed as I fell asleep. Whether it be day or night, I
dreamed of a faraway land without trouble or care, and a man to rescue and love me, and make
my life better with a single kiss. I wished for it every day.
Then, my Prince Charming came.
Whatever your “thing” is, it’s probably also somebody else’s thing.
If you’re feeling a little down, like there’s no reason to continue doing anything at this point, I would
like to offer up some options for how to proceed:
Abandon your craft. You suck at it anyway. Or maybe you don’t suck, but somebody else could be
doing it just as well or better, and that “someone else” will likely be more attractive, make less
mistakes, and have a more engaging personality. They will be a better fit for the “energy” of the
“collective,” and they will breeze through obstacles that once brought you to your knees. Set down
your paintbrush, remove your character heels. They look unnatural on you. Walk barefoot into the
Puget Sound and sit on the bottom with the broken chunks of asphalt that aren’t hurting anyone,
wasting time, or embarrassing themselves. It is a wonderful place to be, completely separate from
the opportunity to suck as hard as you were sucking previously.
Mercilessly continue doing whatever you want. Create funny trash and then frame the funny trash as
if it were hanging in the Louvre. When someone else inevitably creates funnier trash than your
original funny trash, make your funny trash trashier. When someone makes their funny trash even
trashier than yours, unfollow them on Instagram so you won’t lose your mind and concentrate on
something else, like learning how to dissociate. Eliminate preciousness from your creative process
(and amass street cred) by becoming a postmodern saint of mess and mediocrity. Become startlingly
unessential, dangerously mid, and completely and utterly shameless in your irony.
When I was packing my lunch last night, I was almost impressed by how good it was. I
don't get that feeling very often of "this is exactly what you need" but last night, I got jealous of
the future me who was going to enjoy this meal. So now, as I'm headed to the break room, I'm
ready to devour my food.
Lunch is my favorite time of day, as I can imagine it is for most people. It's the time to sit
and relax. When I get hungry, I normally get grumpy so I depend on lunch to make those feelings
go away. I also love my particular lunchtime because normally no one is in the break room. I
take my lunch earlier than most people to avoid the traffic and it really gives me a sense of
I put my Tupperware into the microwave so I could set up my temporary dining table.
This is my tradition and to make the tradition even better, a recap of Real Housewives of
Potomac came out today so I had entertainment to accompany me. I leaned against the counter as
my food sat in the microwave getting ready for me.
Then my sense of peace was gone. As I was pulling up my podcast to be ready when I
was going to press play, James walked through the door. James is my older coworker who used
to be a cool alternative young guy and now is an alternative old guy who doesn't stop talking
about the good old days. I liked James from afar. He was nice enough and told dad jokes that
pained me but I managed to chuckle. It wasn't until he knew that I had seen Back to the Future or
could hold a conversation about Pink Floyd, that James started to really interact with me more. I
think I gave him some idea that I am an elevated, high-brow member of Gen Z. Not a regular,
sticky-fingered, TikTok-watching, One Direction-loving member of Gen Z (which I am).
Because of these revelations, he talks to me all the time.
I must have been born with a vivid imagination and a creative nature that would ensure
reading had an overarching importance in my life. I read ‘Gone With The Wind’ for the first
time when I was eleven years old, and then reread it many times thereafter. Unfortunately for
my mother, I was a difficult breech birth: years later I would joke with her that the long and
challenging labour was due to me reading GWTW in the womb. “I should have had the
forethought to close that heavy tome as I made my way out into the real world,” I remarked
to Mom when home on a visit from the city, “but I was intensely engrossed in the burning of
Growing up in a large family, my sisters and I had a love-hate relationship, typical of many
children. I was a terrible tease with them; I was the proverbial thorn in their sides. However,
for the record they teased and taunted me too; in fact, they ganged up on me on many an
occasion, a middle child, and the only boy in a house full of sisters (several years later
another sister and finally a brother were born but were like a second family for my parents).
For example, they often insisted that I was adopted: making the best of a bad situation I
imagined there had been a mistake at the hospital between Prince Andrew and myself, and
my rightful and regal place was at Buckingham Palace in Jolly Olde England. As well, a
favourite trick of my sisters was to try to pull the towel off me that was wrapped around my
waist, when I was either on the way into the washroom to have a bath or on the way out. I
was mortified that my sisters would get sight of ‘the family jewels’, in all their glory and
It is generally known to be true that boys are testy and odorous little creatures, but girls are
just plain mean and spiteful when they have a bone to pick (and they don’t forget anything,
better than any elephant you may have met). When at our worst, we fought like cats and dogs,
enjoying every minute of our sibling-based battles; at our best, just have someone say
anything untoward about any one of us, and a line was drawn in the sand, the wagons were
put in a circle, and all artillery was pointing outward at the enemies. In short, may God have
Mercy on those children who had decided to pick on any one of the Potter brood. As siblings,
we were as thick as thieves, and sometimes did some good-natured thieving - seeing if we
could steal a chocolate bar from the candy counter at the town’s most popular restaurant-
coffee shop when the owner was busy at the cash register, just to prove a point. Even though
that woman kept an eagle eye on us, the hand is quicker than the eye!
Her shoes were made in the year 1977. They belonged to her grandmother when she was
a young woman. They were wingtip derby dress shoes in a size 8-and-a-half with a very slight
heel. She’d been granted permission to wear them to work after filing a special request with her
employer. She’d made a very thorough case for the shoes. They were in beautiful shape,
closed-toed, and sturdy. They’d made her bring them in to prove that she could sprint down the
hallway in them. The shoes were made from alligator skin, her favorite animal, said to still roam
free in the half-drowned Atlantis that remained of the Southeastern American wilds, where her
extended family had once lived, just outside of Miami – what the shoes lacked in utility, they
made up for in history.
Tip-tack-tip-tack, the shoes used to go, smacking tiles as she walked back and forth
across her grandad’s deck like America’s Next Top Model. Now they made almost no sound at all,
just a faint thup-thup-thup. Principal Ndongo’s allowance of the shoes hinged on the condition
that they be appropriately dampened – several spaces in the facility still had hard, lacquered
floor, namely the cafeteria and gym areas. She paced around the empty facility, poking her head
into all the rooms that would be, any time now, full of human beings. During her extensive
training, she’d participated in several full-occupancy armed safety drills, but those always struck
her as falsely urgent, bordering on ridiculous. They were meant to further complicate an already
fabricated scenario, like trying to catch someone off-guard while playing Simon Says. Simon
Says get the fuck down, now, now, now.
Risen from a blood-stained sea, a maiden broke through the foam-coated waves.
She took her first breath. Pain sliced through her body as air filled her lungs, and she
released a cry that shook the very heavens. Like a child unleashed from its mother's womb.
Violent and desperate.
Saltwater flooded her mouth, silencing her. Choking, she fought the waves that began
to drag her from her birthplace.
The force of the currents weakened her resistance to the point where fighting was
useless. The waves, no longer daunting, lulled her into a sublime stillness, cradling her until
she washed up on pearly shores.
In history, a haunting narrative unfurls – a tale of women unjustly branded as witches. These
women, accused with unsettling ease of dabbling in the mystical arts and harboring powers
beyond the human realm, found themselves ensnared within a complex tapestry of fear,
superstition, and power dynamics.
Their bond with the natural world and its enigmatic wonders set them apart. In moonlit
clearings, they would dance with abandon, their voices intertwining in ethereal harmonies,
defiantly casting aside the norms that society sought to bind them with.
Yet, these women, enigmatic and misunderstood, were fated to confront trials that bore no
resemblance to justice. Accusations of malevolent sorcery and dark enchantments tore them
from their lives. They were shackled, imprisoned, and, in some heart-wrenching instances,
led to the gallows. Their cries for understanding echoed through the corridors of time,
unheard by those whose duty it was to shield them.
Content warning: endometriosis, infertility
Day 7: Follicular and the Good
Rose is not late for work. She never is. She eagerly awakes early every morning to leave
ahead of her shift, allowing her enough time to take in the city sights. She couldn’t help
feeling overcome with pride at the realisation she was living in London. This meant that
during her short walk to work she would sometimes stop to admire the city in complete awe.
The large city life ironically allowed her small moments of public aloneness. She cherished
those solitary walks which somehow felt so peaceful despite the loudness of her urban
surroundings. She checks her bag, like she always does, lunch (carrots sticks, homemade
hummus, wholemeal crackers, red apple and one square of dark chocolate) check,
comfortable white shoes, check, and her emergency kit she would not need but would never
dare leave without, check. Rose is in great spirits today. She is aware, although short, this is
her window to shine. Soon she would be at work, and alone she would be no more.
Rose who is private by nature, was brought into the world in complete drama. Her mother,
Marigold, unexpectedly went into labour at her aunt’s Flo’s fourth wedding. The ambulance
just about arrived in time, but not without causing a scene. Aunt Flo, at 80 years old,
impressively chased the ambulance waving a fist of anger in the air. How could Marigold be
so attention-seeking? Wasn’t a wedding a once-in-a-lifetime event, or only four-times-in-
A Dining Table
Naguilian Road, Baguio City,
May 30th, 2022
For the longest time, I believed that you did not love me. I trusted the idea that you did not love me. I
mean, how could you? I’m an eldest child riddled with mental illness and a prickly personality robbed of
a spine. Who could love such a disappointment? And like all unchecked cancers, it festered and ate me
alive until I was a walking corpse.
Plus, I didn’t know if I loved you either. You always seem angry toward me and my siblings. And to me,
it felt like you were so indifferent to us. You let us get beaten on the street, heckled, and punished for the
tiniest of reasons. How could any child love a mother as cruel as that?
It took me a long time to forgive you for not being able to protect me. I was hurt, and I was in pain. And
for the longest time, I made sure I was protecting you. I knew your heart would never be able to handle
knowing what those men did to me. I never regretted my decision, but I resented you for it.
I was angry. And was very scared. Attachments come usually flushed with longing and fluorescent with
pain. And I know I’m arrogant when I say I’ve endured a lifetime’s worth of suffering to justify my fear
and mistrust. You’ve never protected me when it counted.
And yet, like the patient mother that you are, you coaxed yet another one of your eldest children to step
into the light. You managed to pry my stubborn heart open. And I wasn’t the only one. Beyond the salvo
of your own cancers, your children started to paint you in a vibrant, unmissable, shade of pink.
Trigger warning: mentions of sexual assault and death
There is a way I would want to kill you that even I cannot fully articulate. What I do know is you must beg for mercy, I will bask in your tears as you wish for a kinder, faster death. I will kill you so horridly that it shocks even my person. I want you to die. Because you have killed me.
Where I'm from, they say it takes smoke to start a fire. So for posterity's sake, you will know why. You will know why I have killed a man and why I have no regrets.
I am listening to cigarettes out the window the afternoon I decide to write this. The song, a sad dreary tune. There's a main girl and she's depressed, finding comfort in her cigarettes, wishing for a change. We'll find moonlit nights strangely empty because when you call my name through them there'll be no answer. I have always been one for the extremes, when I am hurting I listen to music that breaks me because it makes me hurt harder. You could call it masochism, I quite believe it's part of life's little gems. I have always felt things so intensely, so passionately, it'd keep me up all night. I talk about the things I love and appreciate the things I believe in with as much fervor as my heart can muster. I used to love that one thing about me and now I hate it because I remember and feel everything you did to me. That is all I think about now. I cry almost everyday after that meeting, or laugh whenever I recall how obscenely cruel they were to me. How you probably knew you were going to win because you are a man and I am a woman.
I’m fourteen. It is an ailment to be such- one that people refuse to acknowledge, scoff at, disavow, but I
beg for your trust when I say that it is existent, for it is tangible. I sense it in the aches of my chest, in the
sting of my puffy eyes, in the fatigued tremble of my anxious hands. I wish nothing more than to be able
to will it away- shun it from my mind, my body, my soul and everything it encompasses. Lock it away
from my fond memories it is seeking to taint and squeeze in its hands- those that desire to destroy all that
It is true that it is no monumental moment in one’s life. It is not a milestone you will photograph and tape
inside your closet- not on the walls, no, for you are too ashamed to display the unsightly kid you so hated
to whomever will pass by- for you to brush your fingers gently over and revisit as the years blur by. And
yet, I know with a certainty akin to the fire in my heart- the very same that is gradually dwindling in the
shower of my sorrows- that it is one I will remember.
Indisputably, I will recall those days I spent in the confines of my own grief- for the death of my own self,
of the child buried deep inside, the one that is too afraid of the darkness to even try and search for the
light. Those same days when I realized that I am a child, but that will change, and change- change is the
thing that ruins us all. How must I face it when I do not even know who I am to begin with?
If you open me like a Russian nesting doll and leave my core vulnerable, what- or whom is it that you will
see in its center? Would it be perceptible, or would it be a shapeless, abstract figure, seemingly ready to
burst into something more. Would you see a child, who yearns most to be one, and yet is imprisoned in
their mind that knows much more than they should? Who swore off their innocence long ago- kept in a
faraway land you could no longer reach, the world you once saw in rose-tinted glasses, filled to the brim
with juvenile jubilation and youthful negligence.
Fundamentally, biologically, socially- and to everyone else, I am a child. I wear frilly dresses with
rainbow colours, and I play tea with my friends. I study and know nothing about taxes or work, or any of
the other “real and valid problems” that adults face. I do not hear my parents arguing next door, and I do
not know of their plans of divorce. I do not know much of anything, really- simply because I am a child.
False, false, false.
We find her by the river, clad in nothing but her blood-dark cloak.
One of our husbands, a hunter. He carries her through stones and trees. He walks to the
end of the village, watched from behind bamboo windows.
The mother does not weep when she meets his eyes. She does not even speak. This is a
fear we all know. This is one of many fates.
We whisper amongst ourselves. We wonder if she is alive, if she wants to be. We know
what happened. None of us dare name it.
It is Sunday, the Lord’s day, when she first returns, dressed in her blood-red cloak. She
gazes upon us with moon-bright eyes, winnowing basket in hand. One of us thinks back to when
she was young, when her eldest sister looked at her in that way, too. I’m still here.
Some of us go home and teach our girls how to twist and rip and mend again, the cotton
cloth slick against our hands. Some of us climb small trees in search of fruit, ignoring the cuts.
At the river, we soak dresses and talk about all the ways a woman can fail. “This is what
happens when you don’t guard your daughters.” We wring them dry, scrub them almost angrily.
A new day, the same sun, another question—repetitive, like a prayer.
“What do you think,” someone says, “drove him to such an act?” We scratch our fingers
against the dirt, purse our lips as the water runs across our wounds. One of us washes slippers. If
it were my daughter, she thinks--
She would have been safe.
Loretta knew mountains would clash tonight. She stepped into her living room, startled to see her
guardian, Kenneth, leaning on her two-seater couch, his fingers drumming on his lap. He stood
up the moment he sniffed her presence.
“Loretta, I hope you know it's tonight?” he said, bowing as though she were some kind of
royalty. Although she was. But she loathed it when it was shoved in her face.
“I know. I wish I could avoid it or simply prevent it from happening.” her voice lacked the
fervency she'd rather it held.
Kenneth's regard conformed. “I know you wish that, but if you'd obeyed your parents, everything
shouldn't have been the way it is right now.”
Content warning: allusions to domestic abuse
The screeches we heard at night were pumas, barn owls, and El Sibador. They came when
the white men came.
My mamá spoke of the Cihuateteo, luring us westward when we did not come home
before the sun set. Yamilex scared me with tales of La Llorona when I would stray too close to
the waters of the river in the basin, but I know she was more concerned with the Sánchez
Navarro men seeing me and becoming too friendly.
I chose to become too friendly with one of them before she could catch me, and we were
married in the summer of 1935, when I was seventeen years old. He was twenty-four, and a
On the night before my wedding, a white man's wedding, my cousin Citlali told me I
shouldn't have done it. Yamilex scolded her with her eyes, thinking I wasn't watching, but I
already knew that neither of them wanted me to marry this man. But I loved him, and I still love
him, in a way. They were older and thought they knew better. It wasn't until I had my own
daughters that I understood how they felt.
Because I swore on the Bible that I would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth, and God always knows when I lie.
Because I want to be clean; clean as a blade through skin, a church pew before Sunday service, a
wooden rosary worn smooth by years of wandering fingertips.
Because the Bible says “respect thy mother and father,” even if you have a father who loves Jim
Beam and the crack of a belt more than he loves Jesus.
Because the only burning I can stand is the carpeted kneeler in the prison church rubbing my
Because there is no second baptism.