Title of Short Story Collection: Into the Rift
Author’s Name: Brett James Irvine
Genre: Speculative fiction
“The Cloaked Man”
Every day I spend a few minutes staring out of the window waiting for the Cloaked Man to take me away. Every day I cast a few cups of water or wine onto the earth out back in His name. Why do we still call it earth? That place is long gone. Every day I spend an anxious hour praying and intoning the rites described in The Book, hoping that they don’t pick me to sacrifice myself for the Elders.
Every day I bite my lip when Jerrick thrusts at me in feigned lust, hoping he finishes without losing his temper. Every day he loses his temper, and beats the side of my head with his curled fist, crying until he is exhausted and falls asleep. Every day he wakes up and uses the nanomeds to treat my wounds. Every day he strokes my hair and tells me he’s sorry that I’m like this and that he’s sorry he has to punish me.
Every day I wonder why we live like this, and when the Cloaked Man will arrive, blood under his finger nails, ash on his staff, gas rising from his lidless sockets. Every day I go to sleep, awaiting a day like the last. Every day, except this day.
I see him stepping out from the cover of the trunks – that’s what we call them on this planet: trunks, for they have no leaves or branches, just a trunk and a fruit each – his back bent and hunched and aching, his knees kicking out to the side, struggling under the increased gravity. He is old, the Cloaked Man. He has a strange hat.
Gunslinger? Cowboy? I don’t know why our King called him that. He looks like a loser, an old man, a lost hero, his missing fingers a reminder that life is hard and happiness is harder. Every day I wait for this man. This day, he is here and I do not want to go. But I have made my choice.
I am not used to this new world. He is not as I wished him – he is beautiful and strong and heroic, and ugly and scarred and mean as well. His voice is free and soothing and harsh and scared. I don’t understand him. My mind hurts because he is human and not human, he is not like me, he shifts and changes and is hard and stubborn and doesn’t talk.
But I don’t intone any stupid rites this day. I also don’t waste wine like before. The Cloaked Man gets angry with waste. He says it killed our world after we left it. His beard is scratchy, and I think I like it. He doesn’t beat me when the lusting starts.
My life is beautiful and free. The Cloaked Man came to save me, and I am learning to be free. The lessons are painful and I do not understand. But I am not forced to do anything, and I like it and I hate it and I am infuriated. I learn new words all the time.
Every day, I wait for the Cloaked Man to come back. I don’t waste wine anymore, but I still throw the odd cup of water. I know He is not coming back. I hate that He left. I hate it and I like it because I understand. He is missing fingers. He has no eyelids. He is not human.
Every day I spend a few minutes rubbing my growing belly, telling my unborn child that his father was a story and a hero and a man with no eyelids. I hope our child is a gunslinger like the Cloaked Man. I love our child. I hate our child. I still lie awake after Jerrick has finished beating me, but I do not let him nanomed me.
Jerrick does not like my child. He knows it is not his. But he is afraid, so he hits harder than before and thrusts deeper. It is painful, and I hate it, and I like it too. He knows the Cloaked Man is gone. But he is terrified of the saviour the Cloaked Man left in my belly.