An excerpt from "Stem, Stone, and Bone":

photo by eefauscan, via istockphoto.com

photo by eefauscan, via istockphoto.com

From the time Jacinta was a little girl, toddling after her mother’s strong steps, she had worked in the cacao groves. As the beetles hatched out of the gourd-like growths on the sides of the gently swaying trees, Jacinta learned to catch them by the handful in her left palm. A stiff blade attached to her right thumb swiped with increasing deftness as the years went by, striking the frail legs and proboscises off the cacao beetles and giving a sharp crack to the broader ends of their shells, the crack that rendered them lifeless and as still as the beans that everyone outside the Shining City on the northern coast of Venezuela thought they were.

But late at night, when the adults had cracked open the thick, hard shells and poured out the fat drops of black blood they fermented into wine, after they had gone silly with laughter and tears, Jacinta and the other children would slink out into the fields and capture the smallest of the beetles—the ones that had slid through their fingers at harvest—and trace mazes into the dirt for the beetles to race against each other for their prize: the sweet, clear moisture from the limelichens that grew from the rocks at their feet.

Read the full story for free at the Fantasy Magazine online archive.