QSFer Sarah Katz has a new queer sci fi book out (Ace, Bi, Gay, Gender Fluid, Intersex, Non-Binary), The Plane book 1: Apex Five.
On far-future Earth, the only solar-powered human Rohem embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will reveal the danger of humanity’s sudden forward leap in technology.
Telo stood overlooking the great Maw, its depths inky black despite the soft white light of the Great Stone overhead.
Tales of the great chasm’s origins had always been his favorite before his father’s death. Thoughts of his father caused anger to bristle and nerves to rise simultaneously. Tonight, he would become Chief of the Ayam—or at least his age and birthright provided him the opportunity to try.
First, he had to survive a night at the lip of the Maw.
When his first warrior, Dato, had insisted on accompanying him, Telo had steadfastly refused. He must embark alone on the quest to chiefdom.
Yet it wasn’t tales of the Flightless, or even the Zaam that plagued him tonight. Instead, the far more recent threat of the Cursed loomed for anyone who remained outside after nightfall.
Dark brown hair tied back in a softgrass ring in an attempt to cool the sweat from his back, Telo almost wished he had no locks.
Already, the warning call of the grass shoot seemed like an age ago. The darkness had fallen soon after. Telo moved cautiously, guided only by the light of the Stone, the night clouds beyond faint in comparison.
He’d stayed awake nearly the whole night, and thank the Zaam none of the onn beasts had befallen him yet.
Drawing a deep breath to steady himself, the young Ayam looked upward to the Great Stone that towered above the jungle canopy, several dozen footfalls from where he stood by the Maw. For just a moment, he allowed himself to close his eyes to steady his breathing. Circles of brighter white created a design like a winding river down its length.
Here by the Maw, the absence of dwellings meant a lack of light even from the modest home lanterns.
Behind him, the rainforest seemed alive with the song of nocturnal insects and tree frogs. If he hadn’t known better, the night would have seemed almost peaceful.
He stiffened at a rustle in the shadows to the right. Mustn’t make any sudden movements…no movement at all, if possible. They were attracted to motion. Beyond that, it was said they could smell fear. And yet Telo mainly wished to avoid the need to encounter one of them, should the creature turn out to be a familiar…
Staring into the chasm before him with shallow breaths that he kept as silent as possible, the young man only wished his people knew more about this Curse. For eons, the legends of unseen light that dwelt within the Maw had fed the fears well enough for soon-to-be chieftains. These days, it was what dwelt around its edges—and all throughout the jungle—after nightfall.
How much simpler life had been for Ayam when the people still felt safe after the forest came alive with the gentle sounds of the dark. So long as they avoided the gaping pit just beside the quietest part of the forest stream.
After sundown, however, the darkness itself meant the entire terrain was off-limits, and all Ayam must withdraw into their tree shelters.
The near pitch dark threatened to disorient him. Telo found himself wishing that the once-often seen lightstreams would grace the skies above.
As soon as the heavy rasps reached his ears, Telo closed his eyes. They had weak sight, he knew. Yet, despite years of warrior’s training, Telo’s own eyes could barely make out how close his feet stood to the edge of the abyss before him.
Equipped to move at the same enhanced speed as an afflicted in man form, the beast’s only weakness remained its eyes. Telo would have to think fast, the hot breath of the creature behind him now close enough to feel on the nape of his neck. The stench was rank with rot. It could surely smell him as well, but shouldn’t be able to determine exact distance…
Screwing shut his eyes tighter, Telo chanced a nimble leap to the left. He held his own breath at the quiet grunt of the creature as it processed its prey’s change of position and rattled quietly. The only noise that followed was the sound of tiny pebbles as they slipped off into the oblivion that now lay directly beyond his toes.
How silent it was besides the breath and that light scuttle…Telo hadn’t even heard its footfalls. Which was why he needed to use every sense he had at his disposal. Drawing in a quiet breath, he opened his eyes just as a long, moist tongue lapped at the air centimeters from his bare shoulder. The sheer proximity shot through Telo like a flame, spurring him on.
Sarah Katz is an author and cybersecurity engineer. Her short stories have appeared in 365 tomorrows, AHF Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Rreview and Thriller Magazine. Her nonfiction articles have appeared in Cyber Defense Magazine, Dark Reading, Infosecurity Magazine and Tech Xplore.