Sunrise, Autumn Equinox

The sun reached out to the tiny stone as if he had arms, and fed it to himself as if he had a mouth. He felt restored almost instantly, and the stone, of its own accord, made its way from his mouth to his heart.

The stone found what it knew (though the Sun didn’t know) was there: an empty pocket the exact same size and shape as itself. It slipped easily into the space, fit perfectly, and in that moment, it was as if the Sun had eyes, which opened.

Bright white bands of heat passed across his skin in radiant currents, weaving and looping over and around its broiling, ancient eddies. Years fell away and he became like a young child star. The universe was new, wondrous and adoring.

This time, however, that love was profoundly humbling. Awed, warmed, honored, he heard what had been the ceaseless noise and chatter congeal into a deep, exquisite note. And rising from that perfect note, a hush. From deep within that hush swelled another note, just as sweet, and from that, another absolute hush.

The progression continued, a rhythm emerged, and the sun wept and sang for joy.

The Elephant Nebula

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Still no name for her

She inhabits every image.
She is here right now—I can feel her.
She’s the nervous flutter,
the blur in the picture,
the pressure on the sides,
the dangerous weight above every family photo.

She is the yearn
and the choice to yearn.
Outlaw, outlier,
invisible, homeless.

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Wandering, waiting

I am a stranger here, a poor fit for this place. But I’ve been here so long, I’ve found a kind of peace with that. I’ve even been known to flaunt it a little, this strangeness.

photo study for The Sixth - 0252

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I have a lot of experience with being lost, and with leaving. This is why, ultimately, I’m indifferent to you.

photo study for The Sixth - 0262

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How long did I fall?

How long did I fall? Illustration by Penina S. Finger

How far?

This was not an abyss, which has sides and which, however deep or wide apart, still would have seemed to hold me inside itself. Here, there were no sides, nothing to suggest I may ever, ever be pressed against by anything.

The stars were icy splinters. Their cold, pointed beams seemed to heave me farther, faster. Billowing desolation screamed and wailed, unfolded itself again and again, and tore away everything I ever thought I was. The farther I fell, the more it tore away, and the pain drove me mad.

I was sick with vertigo, and so alone, I could feel nothing else—not fear, not love, not rage.

Twice, I sensed vague eddies, gravitational tugs suggesting there was something else aside from me, but these quickly fell away. As they faded, I guessed they were nothing more than awkward echoes of my own yearn, now long past.

I tumbled through the agonizing nothingness. I tore through time.

And then, as if the universe had hurled a rock directly at my face, I slammed into a world. Had I been any less withered and frozen, the impact would have destroyed me. Instead, I bounced. I flew right back up into the thinnest, weakest reaches of its pull and fell again, bounced up again, not quite so high, and fell again.

This time, I struck an angled stone and arced, my leaps lower and lower until at last I came to rest. I was held now, and slowly, this hold relaxed itself around me. I sank gently into a little muddy shore by a pool. The Little Stone Arrives, illustration by Penina S. FingerSunshine, warm rains and ever-shifting shadows both calmed and confused me.

Still empty of all feelings but one, I lay in the soft mud, pulled time close to me like a pillow, and began to dream.

I dreamt about the sea. I dreamt about a butterfly.

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The night sky over the savannah sparkled with a dense carpet of stars. Across them, a small, black shadow darted furiously, and traced a blazing path of startling constellations.

It was a little owl, under moonlight the color of a late savannah dusk. Seen from below against the backdrop of stars it was blackest black, a hurtling blot of deep, deep nothingness.

Owl Constellation, by Penina

It seemed to ricochet against the stars, it darted so frantically, and with each sudden turn there was a flash of light.


The owl had begun its hunt at dusk and spotted its first prey—a Caterpillar—in the waning daylight. But what ought to have been an easy catch had gone badly. The sluggish looking worm had a defensive trick. As soon as the array of tiny spots on her back sensed the owl’s breath, she spasmed into a tight curl and then jerked straight. The force launched her up, and should have tossed her out of danger. Instead, she landed on the owl’s back.

Owls, even small ones, are not prone to panic, but they can become fiercely and increasingly determined. At first, the owl simply beat its wings, hovering just above the undergrowth. When that failed, it heaved itself high into the darkening sky.

The caterpillar seemed to have an iron grasp. She did slip—twice, but both times caught a new pincer-full of feathers before she could fall.

Now the owl began to truly wheel and soar, plummeting and abruptly rising, turning and suddenly changing course in its attempts to shake away the unwelcome passenger. Each time the owl snapped to a new direction, it wrenched the caterpillar taut and fired every bioluminescent phosphor she possessed. She possessed thousands.

Flash –

flash, flash –

To anyone watching from below (though no one was), it would have looked like distant celestial explosions.

Nothing spins in the air quite like a plump, velvety worm. She held on as her body whipped every which way. She was curled, whipped into a taut line (flash), twisted serpentine, whipped straight again (flash). The world was a blinding blur of hard white stars and pungent blue-gray feathers.

The night deepened, the stars brightened. For a bug’s eternity, there was only the soft foom of owl wings and silent flashes of light.


Caterpillar’s escape trick had taken a huge amount of energy. Each burst of light took more. Stunned and dizzy, she simply clung, barely understanding what she clung to. The same fierce impulse that had driven her to arch and spring now compelled her to hold on tight.

Finally, she did begin to ache and wonder. She began to long for rest.

By good fortune, so did the bird. Utterly exhausted and hungrier than ever, it coasted with a wobble to the bare, but dewy savannah floor.

Its final lurch and sudden stillness were all the signal the caterpillar needed. She released her grip. Her tired body had frozen into a curl and she fell with a faint patter.

The owl wanted nothing to do with her now, and stood resting for as long as it dared. There was the faintest shush of dry earth as a snake began to uncoil, but the bird was gone as soon as it had breath to spare.

Caterpillar took much longer to recover, but her paralysis hid her until the sun began to rise. Refreshed by a new layer of dew, she rolled to her feet and hurried off in search of shelter and food.

Stars, by Penina


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Small Change

The policeman watched the woman walk calmly out of the woods with the elephant.

He still didn’t know where he was, and how he’d got here. She was a petty thief, seemed almost violent, and she was his only clue.

As he hurried after them, he passed the stone outcrop where the elephant had laid down a wilting frond of bracken. The woman had reached for it, and for some reason he had panicked, told her not to touch it. Now he paused to look at it and saw, creeping through the drying leaves, a velvety red caterpillar. It climbed down onto the stone surface, and crept toward a little round pebble that lay on the outcrop.

Was this some unique kind of coccooning? He was intrigued…He was being left behind and needed to hurry, but felt compelled to watch just a moment longer as the caterpillar planted the first of its tiny feet on the surface of the stone. It stopped and began to change color, from poisonous red to vibrant orange. Now it climbed across, and continued to change until it was a deep and golden yellow. Then it turned and wrapped itself around the stone, almost completely encircling it.

It was a very pale little rock. So pale, it seemed to glow, which made the caterpillar’s golden skin shimmer. Was this some unique kind of cocooning? He was intrigued, but the woman was about to disappear over a low rise. He had to go.


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Almost Near Enough

The earth shook and the trees shivered. A moment later, we could see a large, shadowy form making its way toward us. Then its great, long face pressed into the clearing.

As elephants go, it wasn’t particularly big. Still, neither of us had ever been so close to one. We shuffled backward—terrified, awed and curious—until we found a good sized tree to press ourselves against.

It eyed us from some mysterious and regal plane of elephant thought, its trunk curled tightly around a wilting frond of bracken. After long consideration, it ambled over to the other side of the clearing and carefully placed the frond on a stone outcrop about as big around as its foot and as high as its knee. Then it turned its attention back to us.

My companion, the strange young woman who had brought me to this place, seemed to suddenly overcome her fear. She pushed away from the tree and took two vigorous strides forward. That must have been the limit of her fearlessness, because the next two steps were hesitant.

The elephant regarded her, its great ears just slightly forward. She took one more careful step and stretched a hand toward the creature, opening her palm to offer something she held. opening her palm to offer…The elephant looked at her a moment longer, then down at her hand, and reached with its trunk for the thing she offered.

It was a gold colored disk, vaguely familiar. The elephant took it and the touch of its trunk made her faintly gasp. Now I could see what it was. I put my hand to the front of my police helmet, where my emblem should have been, and there was only a sticky spot. I was outraged and sickened. I wanted to rush forward and grab it back, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the tree.

The elephant continued to examine the emblem, which shone brightly in the sun. It lifted it higher, as if to compare the two yellow disks, side by side.

And the sun seemed to respond: a great pulse of light silenced the birds and nearly blinded us.

Unstirred, the elephant extended its trunk back toward the woman, returning the disk. She smiled, took it and stuck it on the elephant’s forehead. I’m sure there was a little adhesive on it from its time on my helmet, because it stayed.

She leaned over to pick it up…Then, to my amazement, she took the elephant’s trunk like a friend’s arm. They turned to leave the clearing and she glanced down at the stone outcrop where the wilted bracken had been laid.

She leaned over to pick it up and I felt a terrible panic.

“Leave it!” I shouted. I ran toward her.

“It’s not time yet. Don’t touch it.”

I had no idea what I was talking about. She gazed at me with distracted eyes, as if she was struggling to remember who I was. But she obeyed.

She straightened, turned her back to me, and the two continued on.

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The Ringing Bell

Once, when the Policeman was about nine years old, he’d gone to his classroom during recess to stash away a new stick for his collection. As he carefully wrapped it in his spare sweater, two older boys rushed in. One was attacking the other viciously, punching his head and face. They hadn’t noticed the younger boy and were both at least a head taller, though the attacker was heavier and more muscular. He demanded money and hurled foul insults.

Outraged, the small witness rushed forward, pushed the thief hard against the wall, and managed to stun him. He hurried out of the room to find an adult, but was knocked to the floor by a running girl. She was desperately barreling down the hall to escape a pair of bullies. Now he was overwhelmed by the events multiplying around him, and doubly furious. Thin, but tough and wiry, he reared up to face the bullies with his fists ready. Their advantage lost, they cut and ran.

The bell rang to end recess, and the disheveled older boy he had defended walked out of the classroom. Wiping blood from his mouth, he inclined a brief, dazed smile at his rescuer, and disappeared down the hallway. The girl had gotten to her feet behind him. She pressed closed eyes against his shoulder and gave him a shaky hug before hurrying away in the other direction.

The colors of its slowly-fanning wings were so strangely vivid, and somehow not there at all, clear as crystal.

. . .

Looking down at the tiny creature perched on the tips of his fingers, the Policeman whispered to himself, “This is not a butterfly.”

The colors of its slowly-fanning wings were strangely vivid, and somehow not there at all, clear as crystal.

And Butterfly mused, “He will bring order to disorder.” Until now, Butterfly had not actually realized things were in disorder, only unexplained.

“This man,” he decided, “can make things right.”

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The Fall

Once, the Sun was the subject of much celestial acclaim. Above all other suns, the citizens of the universe turned their clamor to this one, and for good reason. He was unique among stars in many ways—a fervent traveler, an outstanding bard (his songs are still sung), and profoundly at peace across eleven dimensions, all at once.

As we know (but usually forget), most cosmic phenomena look outside themselves for esteem, which makes them fickle. If the object of their reverence falters—and everything falters—they become ashamed and look for new things to worship. In the meantime, the Sun had gradually woven his worth so tightly with the feelings of his followers that when they withdrew their affection, he was undone.

It wasn’t a sudden withdrawal, but a gradual, confusing silence. Thus, the slow, painful realization caused an imperceptible, but steady crumpling of the Sun’s heart. At first, he experienced a general disarray of his inner workings. Finally, after several eons, the weight of the inward collapse was too much: his heart shattered.

Gravity held most of the pieces together, but one piece dislodged itself and fell. Though it was small, it was also compact, and very heavy. Like a molten bullet, it tore a black, ragged tunnel right through and out of its host, and hurtled on through the wild currents of space.

Anatomy of the Sun: The Heart, by Penina S. Finger


The Sun survived, and enough of him remained intact, but one other bit of damage had been done. A critical stellar organ was knocked free, and pulled into the slipstream of the escaping fragment. Vague and nearly formless, its loss went unnoticed.

The two objects traveled together across the spans of space and time. Gradually, the fragment was slowed by the friction of interstellar matter and polished to gleaming, but its accidental partner landed first. Cooled and congealed to near solid by its travels, it chose a form that would keep it relatively safe, and bided its time.

Shortly after, now smooth and round, the broken bit was able to alight on a world. It bounced for miles in great arcs, and then finally rolled to a stop in a little wood, by a pool.

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When I woke up, I saw my reflection, twice.

When I woke up, I saw my reflection, twice, in a pair of perfectly black, perfectly shiny sunglasses. Framed below a glossy white helmet and above dry, thoughtful lips, the double me tipped slightly, then loomed close as the policeman who wore them reached down to take my hands and lift me off the sand.

It was early morning and the beach was still very cold, and soggy. The great flood that had brought him had been swallowed by the sea.

His motorcycle was parked on the sand farther back from the water. He brought a sandwich and a thermos of coffee out of its storage compartment and offered me half the sandwich. I accepted it, of course. I am almost always hungry.

He didn’t ask me who I was, but he couldn’t know. I can barely remember, myself.

As the sun broke through the clouds to warm the sand around us, I took a bite of the sandwich, and when I did I remembered whole new things. I recognized him now. I laughed and knocked my knuckles on his helmet, right on its shiny sun emblem. Then I took his sunglasses off his face, and his dark eyes hardened with confused irritation. Quickly, I grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him into the waves.

Off balance and stiff in his clothes still very wet from the flood, it was easier than I expected to draw him into the water. When it was just to our knees, I turned to face him again, holding his arms and his gaze. He gasped and took a step back. I was right! We were now knee-deep in a little woodland pool and I laughed again for joy.

At the moment, his back is to me as he sits on a small granite outcrop to take off his soggy shoes and to try and regain his bearings. He doesn’t yet know this is another world, or that I have stolen his pretty emblem.

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