By KT Wagner
Agatha’s eyes haven’t adapted well during her transition to wax, but that’s expected. She rubs them, careful to avoid contact with her fingernails. Wax-stage eye-gouging accidents are likely only an urban legend, but she isn’t taking any chances.
Near the narrow window of her second-floor bedsit, angled mirrors reflect enough light for her to work despite the rainy day. She’d like to purchase a voice-command task lighting system, but her daughter said no. Agatha purses her lips. A muddy color prickles through her. She misses being in charge of her own finances. It’s her body that’s different, not her brain: But stones can’t—or won’t—look past the fragile, fading forms of wax.
The skies are stormy, but clearing in the west, and there’s more than an hour left until dark.
She adjusts the setting on the laser heat wand and tries to ignore the tinkle of shattering glass downstairs. Damn kids! Always into something they shouldn’t be, or fighting, or pulling stupid stunts. Her two grandchildren will enter stone puberty within a year or two, but they don’t act that way.
Maybe they would if their breed parents paid more attention. She had natal-hosted the boys—as tradition, and contract, demanded—but never felt much connection to either one. It might teach them a lesson to lose an appendage or two. They have spares.
The pale lavender of her scorn infuses the half-formed rosettes on her vestigial arm, distracting her from the commotion. She rushes to trap the color in wax by applying searing jolts of heat to the tips of the newly sculpted sempervivum—houseleeks.
Still gasping from the melting pain, she tucks a hand under and lifts the arm to admire the result. More impressionistic than the realist art currently in favor, but to her taste. Her artist’s eye notes that a touch of the cool greens of inner peace would finish the design nicely. She closes her eyes, tries to ignore the heat-aggravated ache of the natal scar on her side, and meditates on her vision of an ideal life—a remote cabin in the temperate rainforest, where it never gets too hot or too cold, a place with few people and fewer responsibilities. She dreams of a place she can pursue the art she discovered as a result of the crushing boredom that accompanied her transition to wax.
To date, the perfect vision and therefore the perfect green have eluded her, but she knows it’s only a matter of focus and time.
Her breed daughter bursts into the room, toga flapping. “A child’s arm shattered while you were up here daydreaming! I trusted you to look after my sons when they come home from school!” She looms over her mother, stone fists raised high.
Agatha cowers against the wall, her hands splayed in a protective stance over the garden sculptures on her head and arm. “I-I’m sorry.” She squints at the window and realizes the sun is setting. Time got away from her again. A fiery orange sunset, her personal shade of anger, silhouettes the houses across the street—including the shapes of the houseleeks covering the thatched roofs.
“Mother! Pay attention.”
Agatha blinks. “Sorry. It won’t happen again.” She bows her head, notes the pleasing tinge of red her fear brushes onto her art, but dares not try to capture it. “I promise. I’ll stay downstairs with the children when they get home from school.”
Her daughter growls an unconvinced noise, but lowers her massive arms. Agatha remembers to breathe. Stone stage adults are not known for patience, and her daughter takes after her breed father, all pink and white quartz, confident and assured. Agatha never felt like her colorless granite body quite fit, and she secretly welcomed the wax stage until she realized the full extent of the change in status.
Bloody, antiquated contract law forcing wax-stage adults into dependency on their breed children. Stones don’t understand the wax stage, and most fear it. So many resources wasted by stones searching for ways to avoid turning.
Her daughter turns away, hesitates. “Mother, there is something I need to talk to you about. I’ve been avoiding having this discussion . . .”
Apprehension ripples through Agatha, waves of yellow that she doesn’t need to see: The color is so familiar. “Okay?”
“First, I know you don’t like the internet, but we think you should try to connect. Maybe find a companion position. Hiding in this room, mutilating yourself . . .” Her face contorts into a grimace of disgust.
Agatha is already shaking her head.
Her daughter’s expression softens. “You still have much to offer. It’s not productive spending all this time—”
“I’m not signing up for one of those wax-matching sites. We’ve had this conversation, and the answer is—and always will be—no!” Purple outrage flushes through to her fingertips. “I’m an artist, not a nurse-maid.”
“Whatever you say, but there’s more.”
Agatha sighs. She’s tired of explaining and being ignored.
Her daughter clears her throat. The sound rumbles through the room. “We’re moving. I wanted to tell you earlier, but I knew how you’d react. All this denial of your wax role . . .” She sighs.
Agatha swallows hard. “Where are we moving?” She wonders if she’ll be allowed to bring her art supplies this time.
“Not we. The condo is down south. It’s too hot for you.”
“Surely they have some sort of air-conditioning. Don’t all homes down there have—?“
“They don’t allow full waxes to move in. Liability or something.” She doesn’t meet Agatha’s eyes.
“You’re abandoning me? Where will I go? You know I don’t have any resources. I can’t live outside at my stage.” Agatha can barely whisper the words. The pain is so intense that it’s like a slow flame has been lit under her. “Our contract. You have obligations to—”
“The world has changed. If you’d just log onto the internet once in a while you’d know,” her daughter ground out. Then she spoke more quickly, “We’ve worked it out. There’s a reputable companion broker. I researched it and they’ve arranged many successful matches. We’ve set up a date for you. Tomorrow.”
“But I—” Agatha pushes away the urge to snap off a middle finger and hurl it at her daughter.
“You have to go, Mother. We signed over your contract.”
Exhaustion deadens Agatha’s limbs from many overnight hours researching at the hated computer while everyone else in the house slept. She’s late for her companion meeting. The tiny establishment is tucked away, four stories up at the end of a dead-end street. At least it’s bright and airy with none of the candles or fireplaces favored by the stone crowd.
She wears a voluminous, green silk toga for the occasion, the extra length draped over her head. The hostess leads her to a small table by an open window where an enormous, jasper stone-stage man perches on a stool. He stands and bows awkwardly, fabric billowing around him. His toga is also unfashionably modest.
Agatha is shocked at how young he is. Only maybe ten years older than the boys. She glances at the hostess, sure there is a mix-up.
“Agatha?” The large green and red man winces, as if in pain.
She nods and sits. “My daughter arranged this. You’re too young, we can’t possibly have anything in common.”
The man doesn’t look at her. Instead, he motions to the hostess and dictates a tea order for both of them.
“I’m perfectly capable of ordering my own tea.” Agatha taps a lavender-tinted finger against the tabletop. She glances around. They’re alone.
She straightens her back and looks up into his eyes. This level of forwardness from a wax should annoy a stone his age. “I don’t wish to waste any more of your time. Obviously, there’s been a mistake.”
She pushes back her chair.
“I own your contract.” The man grasps both her arms and pins them to the table. Sweat darkens his forehead, highlighting the veining of the rock. “There was an accident. My wife and her mother . . .” He gasps and closes his eyes.
Agatha struggles to free her arms without damaging her hands. The rosettes decorating her wrists are crushed. It will take at least a week to repair them. Orange wax glows between her fingers.
Focus. She mentally runs through the list of potential scenarios compiled during her long night. Sort. Discard. Sort. Discard. Her heart thumps against her ribs, but her tone is brittle and cold: “I’m not much good to you broken.”
Most likely, he’s a sadist looking for a toy, but there are other possibilities. She swallows hard.
He releases her and sits back, panting. “My apologies, but the contract—”
“You’re in labor, aren’t you?” Under the table, she crosses her fingers. There’s still a chance he might simply prefer to break her later.
A deep shudder racks his body and he pulls aside the front of his toga. A vertical fissure splits his chest. Agatha slumps with relief.
Carefully, so he doesn’t see, she extracts the heating tool from her toga. A poor defensive weapon against a stone, but the only thing she could think to bring to protect herself if necessary. Now, it might have another use. She arranges it on her lap and flicks the switch to on. It had been an enlightening night of surfing the despised Internet. Contract law loopholes don’t all favor stones.
She mutters soothing sounds, pats his hand and ignores the sympathetic pink flushing across her skin. Two glass beads pop from the fissure and begin to swell, shiny and fragile. Bubbles and moans escape from between the man’s lips.
She is unmoved, her skin now neutral in tone with a slight tinge of yellow. Stones are weak and vulnerable while giving birth, but waxes are vulnerable all the time. She’d hoped to have more time to prepare. Likely, he did too.
Jiggling her chair sideways until it is right next to him, she places a comforting arm across his shoulder. The glass fetuses are well-formed and ready for their natal-host.
She shudders and wishes for another way. Bloody little parasites. Carrying these two for nine months will take a lot out of her at this stage, but contract law is clear—she only proxy inherits if she has guardian status, and for that she must natal-host to term.
She decides to think of the glass fetuses as statuettes to enhance her gardens. Perhaps her third try at raising children will result in individuals she actually likes. Reaching over, she snaps off the larger one and sets it on her head. It roots into her wax quickly. Her head throbs. Restless, the second fetus stirs against its breed father’s chest.
Timing is critical. Labor is consuming the man’s attention, but he’ll be mostly himself again a minute or two after the last fetus disengages.
On her lap the heating tool vibrates. She strokes the handle.
The hostess sets tea on the table, her eyes averted.
“Ice water and towels, quickly!” Agatha orders in her best authoritative voice.
She watches the woman disappear into a back room, turns to the stone-man and orders him to stand. “Up, I need more room to work.”
His block head sways side-to-side in a negative motion.
She shrugs. “Hosting one child is probably enough at my age.”
He clambers to his feet, and she motions him closer to her and the window. “I need more light.” She snaps off the remaining fetus and slaps it onto her vestigial arm.
One hand on his chest, she stares up into his watering eyes and jams the heating tool into the shrinking birthing crevice. Face flushed, his attempted bellow is a hollow thump. She leans into him and wraps her functioning arms around him in a tight embrace. His chest is hot against her. His hard body resists, but is still too weak.
“Don’t fight me. I’m here to help,” she croons.
He relaxes and she tips against him. His top-heavy stone body staggers as she lets go. Shoving hard, she topples him toward the window.
The tinkle of shattering window glass, a short wail, and a sickening crunching as stone breaks into gravel, brings the hostess running.
Agatha sags in her chair, holding a protective hand over each fetus. “Oh my, I warned him,” she says to no-one in particular. “He stood up too quickly after giving birth.”
Her skin pulses blue, but she doubts the hostess notices.
Waiting for the authorities, Agatha wonders what her new home is like. For now, she will dream it is a remote cabin in the temperate rainforest. A haven of cool greens where she can pursue her art.
About the Author:
KT Wagner writes speculative fiction in the garden of her home on the west coast of Canada. She enjoys daydreaming and is a collector of strange plants, weird trivia and obscure tomes. KT graduated from Simon Fraser University’s Writers Studio in 2015 (Southbank 2013). Her short stories are published or podcast at Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four, The Twisted Book of Shadows, The Centropic Oracle, Toasted Cake, and several anthologies. She’s currently working on a scifi-horror novel. KT can be found online at www.northernlightsgothic.com and @KT_Wagner