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the researcher

a dead specimen floats in its jar, eyes squeezed shut like a new puppy.
black stitching lattices the bloated belly: repairs made for display.
formaldehyde skin wrinkled and waterlogged, pale and puckered
around a lumpen mass in the center of its forehead,
a boil of sclera and fused bone, staring without a cornea.

holoprosencephaly — cyclopia.

wiki link — another photo,
another pale body, legs fused together, fine dead veins like seams of silver.
sirenomelia.
another, features compounded and limbs unfinished, little face broken open like a star.
roberts syndrome.

write flashcards, review, pass exams.
drop the whole fluttering mess of them into the trash.


the artist

sketching from life is the georgian fashion,
but in this case, quite impossible.
bits of rubber between pinched fingertips,
smudging graphite across the parchment,
grey and blurred and only appropriate —
no definition in the outline of a monster,
certainly not one so old as that.

a copy of a copy of a copy, centuries gone, etched and engraved,
described and wondered at, details settling even if the shape doesn’t.
unnatural wings downy with cornsilk hair,
a single clawed foot,
the breasts of a woman and an eye embedded above the knee,
lidless,
rolling, and
awful.


the physician

strange things slither out on the pus of war,
signs and wonders, grotesques and miseries, as foreign boots in the thousands
trample the hills of the papal states to mud.

warnings come with them, one in particular: a misfortune as long as two men’s hands
laid end to end, twitching on the birthing bed.
intriguing as a specimen,
(god’s judgement notwithstanding).
word of its arrival reaches the seat of saint peter
far too late.

in forty-four days, the french smash
the italian army at ravenna,
a bloody lance of heaven’s displeasure.


the midwife

when the creature is pulled from between its dying mothers legs,
when the midwife snatches her hands away with a gasp, and it falls to the ground
with a wet, ugly thud,
it screams.
only once, a thin and shocked little sound, the milky, unfocused eyes
as wide as her own.

a sorry message on the sawdust floor,
wood shavings clumping to birth-slick skin,
not worth the baptism.


the child

cattle investigate the whimpering bundle at first,
before blood smears their muzzles,
and its scent drives them off, tails switching,
huddled for warmth.

the frost comes for what they leave behind: its blind gaze inured to the twilight,
wings swaddled uncomfortably to its delicate spine —
just tender flaps of flesh now, with no one there to decide,
twelve fingers stretching for the winter sky.



Emily Smith is a speculative fiction writer and a New Yorker by way of the Southwestern deserts. She writes about apocalypses both dreamed and realized, lost cities, and creatures that live beyond the edges of the world. Find her on Twitter as @memilies.
Current Issue
4 Mar 2024

Sometimes among the fish and crabs, we trawl squid and octopus, or little sharks, all added to the pots. Sometimes it’s a fish person, a thing we cut free and do not talk of, pretend we never saw. Today, it is part of a god.
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