Black Tongue by Bob Pastorella

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Corliss met Lani’s eyes in the mirror while working on her hair. She brushed so hard she pulled Lani’s head back. “Such thick hair,” Corliss said. “Beautiful, but thick. Just like your grandmother’s.”

Lani smiled. A small tick started under her right eye, a sign of nervousness.

Corliss turned the chair around to look at Lani. “Everything is going to be fine. This is an honor. Twice our family has received the invitation. How He must love our family.”

Lani started to say something, but Corliss covered her mouth with a thin finger. “Shhhhhh. No talking. Don’t even whisper. We must keep that pretty voice in tip-top shape, remember?”

Lani nodded. The tick under her eye was slowing down. It synchronized with her pulse again. She breathed through her nose and relaxed, content that she really didn’t have anything to say.

Corliss went over to Lani’s closet and removed an evening gown, emerald-green to match Lani’s eyes. “I cannot wait to see how this looks on you.”

Lani wasn’t paying attention. She was looking at the dressing table, looking for the silver scissors. Where did Corliss place them? She opened the top drawer and saw the scissors lying next to a dusty hair-dryer, exactly where they should be. She closed the drawer and paid a little more attention to Corliss.

The pageant was an honor, of that there was no doubt. Every year the High Prince ordered a song from the family of his followers. When the light went away so long ago, Lani’s grandmother was chosen to sing at the pageant. The prince had just stolen the light, and the festival signified a new time, the dusk of a new age. So much debauchery and decadence. The world didn’t know what it was doing, and it let the prince kill the light.
Twenty years later and the honor was bestowed on Lani’s family once again.

She had found a book. Reading was forbidden. Dreaming only brought pain and suffering with nightmares made real. So strong was the Prince’s power over all. At first, Lani recoiled when she saw the book, knowing that to touch it, to even look at it, meant turning away from the dark. The dark ended the wars, but the price was high, eternal, and damning. Lani had to see the book. If someone found her looking at it, she would say that she discovered it, and was going to destroy it with fire. Surely, they would believe her. She was the chosen one, the voice of the night. The book was a nature book, filled with images of the time before the darkness. There were trees, flowers, and the sun, all of the things they said caused the wars, and when she looked at those pictures, she knew that it just could not be true. How could something so beautiful, so lovely—that was the word that popped into her head—be so destructive?

She knew what she was looking at was the way things were supposed to be, the way things were meant to be.

After all, he was the Prince of Lies.

Lani left the book, holding those images in her head, swallowing them down so they would stay with her forever, and she dreamed the forbidden.

And plotted her escape.

A gift of silver. It was silver that undid Jesus, and it was silver that could unravel the Prince. The only piece of silver was the scissors, and she had to give it all away. And a lie. No, a trick. All of the silver and a trick could be enough to bring the light back.

A sharp knock on the door brought Lani back to the present. Corliss nodded, smiling.

“They’re ready.”

Corliss asked the guard for just a few more minutes. Lani stepped into the dress chosen for the event. When Corliss wasn’t looking, she opened the drawer and took out the silver scissors, placing them between her breasts under the dress.

All of the silver, and a trick.

She smiled in the mirror, knowing her trick was good.

The carriage crossed through the city, passing strangers walking to the forum. Everyone was turning out for the pageant, but not because they wanted to. Guards drug people kicking and screaming from their homes. Not everyone loved the prince.

Demons approached the carriage and helped Lani, careful not to snag her dress with their claws. Their flapping wings only added to the stifling heat. A beat of sweat started at the hollow of her neck, rolling down to the silver scissors. She hoped it tarnished the metal. A blemish of contempt. She walked behind the demons, avoiding their droppings on the black carpet. The people beyond the velvet ropes looked at her, weeping.

The Prince of Lies stood at the end of the carpet to receive Lani. He smiled when she stood before him.

“You have come to sing to me child?”

Lani smiled. “Yes,” she said, her voice louder than expected. The sound echoed through the forum, and a small pang of victory ran through her core. How ironic that her last words would be so triumphant.

“Then sing me a song,” said the Prince.

Lani reached between her breasts and removed the scissors. She held them up so the Prince could see her gift. Such was his arrogance that he actually smiled.

Lani released the blades. She opened her mouth wide, and she let her tongue slide from her lips. The blades were cold, but sharp. She feared it would take more than a few snips to cut her tongue off completely.

Her scream reverberated through the forum, but it was not as loud as the screams of the Prince. So simple, a gift and a trick. A lie for the Prince. And when the holy fire consumed the Prince, shattering his hold of the darkness, the light returned so strong it blinded everyone in the world with its brilliance.

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Bob Pastorella lives in Southeast Texas. He’s the author of To Watch Is Madness, and is featured in Warmed & Bound: A Velvet Anthology, the Booked Anthology, and In Search of A City: Los Angeles In 1000 Words. Bob’s short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, and he’s currently writing a Weird Crime novel.

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