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The Antidote

Arsenika would like to thank the following people for their support on Patreon. You make this magazine possible!

Melinda Bardon, Danisaur, Addison Smith

Gina, John F Benedetti, Marguerite Kenner and Alasdair Stuart, Jaime Mayer, Karen Anderson, Maria Haskins

Ada Hoffman, Anya Johanna DeNiro, Paul Alex Gray, Naomi C, Katharine Mills, Erin Hartshorn, TJ Berry, Dave, Nila Fhiosagam, Escape Artists Inc.

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The Stories of Your Name

If I were Palaeolithic, I would paint your name on sacred stones with ochre and ash.

After a thousand generations archaeologists would discover my work, and would marvel at it. They would protect your name and preserve it, ascribe meaning to it, infer understandings from it, and formulate inadequate hypotheses for its being. Your name would be a clue to their origins. It would lead them to transcend their ephemeral present and connect them to the epoch of their kind.

If I were an Arstesian biosculptor, I would shape your name in tissue and bone.

The flesh-nurses would feed your name nutrients and watch it grow, would monitor its microbiome for disease vectors. They would call surgeons to treat your name, and care for your name in its recovery. When their job was done your name would be exhibited. Arstesian royalty would come to perform conspicuous admirations of it.

If I were an oracle, I would speak your name portentous.

I would gift it to the pilgrim who had climbed to my cliff-top temple, and with it she would return as a saviour to her people. For long years she would remember your name, and those whom she had saved would remember it too, until your name became a part of their language, a synonym for good fortune, for fecund fields and fair winds.

If I were a wrench-head on a Skaralic Starcruiser I would hack the aft plas-cannons while the officers hibernated.

I would blast your name into the flank of an un-named planet as we passed. I would make your name a geomorphic scar, a hemishperic graffito. It would persist for millennia. The planet which I marked would be long distant when the crew woke from their hyper sleep. They would never know your name, but after all of the might of the Skaralic military had been spent in futile and mutually destructive vainglory against the Mercerne System, that planet bearing your name would remain.

If I were a philologist, I would find your name in every tongue and text.

Where people spake riddles, your name would hold the key. It would occur in signs and gestures, in glyphs and runes. I would trace your name diachronically, and with it I would track an Empire’s rise and fall. Your name would be threaded through centuries of expansion and aggression, of colonisation and resistance, of revolution and reparations.

If I were an acolyte, I would make your name my mantra.

Sequestered on an island monastery, I would kneel six times a day with my forehead pressed to the damp stone floor and my lips would silently shape themselves to your syllables. When the fae powers coalesced around me I would gather with my fellows on the shingle beaches and we would pool our magics and call to the Ancient Gods in their benthic crypts. They would rise from the waves, spume-flecked and tentacular, and with your name they would greet us.

If I were a writer I would make a story of your name.

A very short story, perhaps.

I would narrate it in the first person directly to you, the second. I would insist upon the subjunctive mood. I would tell the tale conditionally, never committing to anything more certain than ‘if’… ‘would’. I would share my story with others, for them to make of it what they would, but I would not give them your name.

It is yours, and only you may give it.

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Past Far Gone

     Tell me about her?
     I can’t. Too much to be known.


I left my past long ago
on the backwater planet
it had grown up on, showed myself out
and left by night, locked up,
as good as threw away the key.
Didn’t have to run: there was a ship.
Old but fast enough. Hers.

Three hundred years gone,
impossible even then and still ticking.
Her face: backlit, with its faint glow
of ductile heat, warm always,
rare mineral glass shining
more translucent than bone,
its shape shifting hot beneath
a shimmering skin of fine details,
in liquid crystalline matrix.
Her body: layers of projection, meshed;
the ship’s hull; a shining bare-strut armature;
light and glass and metal, insubstantial.
I was never certain if we touched.


There are strange places in the ship
where the edges don’t meet.
She folds space around the ship,
folds the ship around us,
folds us and herself around,
around again, labyrinthine.

She folds time.

I dare and she the ship responds
with an unpolished trust.
I feel the uplink like a dream:
I walk an impossible hall and am not myself.
I see: her family memory, segmented
and kept boxed, in nodes, secure,
a long memory of memories
articulated. It is choked, squeezed down
in high-speed bursts too dense
for sluggish cells of mine to parse,
          the time
     he both and          first
by blood,     wretched      when
forget, forget, this isn’t
     they always           but
alone, she deserves
     she      be never     can’t

The link closes and the permissions lock,
the key swallowed whole.


She’s no longer the only one,
these past centuries, but of those other few
none have been around, able, to tell me.
Rumour says it has got easier.
Ease, like all things, is relative.

It will hurt still, but not for long,
not like it has done. It will hurt
but not like wrapping wires
around your tongue, your fingers,
searing shocked and bleeding
as static eats your eyes
and you are certain: this is it,
I die here, now, this way. The end.
Even as it doesn’t end, as
the pain continues beyond tolerance.
This is it, like this, desperate. It is over.
But it is still like that.

And in the moment, you are still alone.

You cannot be ready.
It does not stop. It just is
no longer the same.
At last.


Take metal hands in the darkness—
no more real hands than light,
than impulse, than starship.

Reach past, past far gone.

Stroke the texture of the memories,
and fold them over, over and over,
into the blood once from veins,
into the map of once a homeworld,
into the night once empty;

fold yourself into the waiting hands
of an electroneural midwife, your own creation;
enter into recursive parentage,
unorphaned, sublimated machine.

Extend some invisible part of yourself,
some intention: stroke the particles
composing your new quantum-solid home,
vibrate its molecules
and give voice, from the resonance
of their oscillation.

Then, and only then,

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My mother had been dead just a week when a moth flew into my room.

You’re wondering, what’s so special about a moth? I may as well talk about my chipped nails. My nails were black that night, because I was committed to my grief, and the polish was flaking away. I painted them the night after she died, sitting up at 4 a.m. listening to the sound of birds outside my window.

Anyway, my mother was a week dead, my nails were chipped, and a moth flew into my room.

I was sorting through my jewellery collection. By that I mean I was holding a charm bracelet my mother had given me for my thirteenth birthday, and I wasn’t looking at it. I was just holding it. The silver chain was cold when I picked it up, but it had warmed in my hand.

I nearly dropped the bracelet when the moth zinged into the lampshade overhead. It was a big one, and it flapped around like an energetic leaf. I don’t like moths usually, but this one was so big, I gripped the edge of my bedside table as I stared it down. It bumped repeatedly against the ceiling, oblivious.

Then I thought of my mother.

Well, I thought of my mother constantly. She had been alive a week ago, and then she wasn’t, and she’d become a flickering light bulb in my mind. By turns illuminating everything and plunging it all into darkness, and so fucking distracting. It made strange, shivering shadows of all my memories.

In that instance, I was thinking, specifically, of the time a moth landed on her back as we were walking to the columbarium where my grandmother’s ashes were kept. I saw it and reached to brush it off, but hesitated. “There’s something on your back. A moth.”

My mother stopped in the street and looked at me, smiling, creases around her eyes like a soft-worn blanket. “You know what they say about moths.”

I know what they say about moths, mother.

So my mother was dead, and there was a moth in my room, and I thought, that’s my mother.

I ignored that thought. Of course it wasn’t my mother. It was a moth. Those two things might only differ by two letters in English, but in Chinese they weren’t the slightest bit similar.

I slipped the bracelet back into its velvet pouch and put it down. The moth was getting all up in that lampshade. Then it zipped out and flung itself around the room, and it was going to be a racket all night if I didn’t do something about it, but I just stood there.

The window was wide open, and the damp summer air smelled green and deep. The moth didn’t leave. I considered turning the light off.

I sat down on my bed, and the moth landed on the covers. My purple covers, stitched with stars, so that I could sleep in the embrace of the galaxy. My mother’s bed linen was always beige or cream, like cups of tea with varying amounts of milk stirred in. My mother didn’t drink tea.

The moth rested on one of the stars.

I gave in. “Mother?”

No reply.

“Mother, I’m gay.”

I can’t believe that was the first thing I blurted out. I came out to a moth, because I couldn’t come out to my mother. It was so terrible that I slammed my face into one of my pillows, trying to suffocate myself in more embroidered stars. I wished someone could have ejected me into space—the tears would have frozen in my eyes before they could fall.

As it was, I wiped my eyes with my pillowcase. “There’s this girl… We’ve been seeing each other for a few months.”

The moth leapt from the bed and swooped frantically into a wall. I thought that my mother was just reacting really badly to her daughter being a lesbian, but after playing bumper cars all by itself for a minute, it dived down again, this time onto my laptop, which was open next to me.

It hopped around on the keyboard. I gaped at it—it was talking to me! It had to do it over a few times before I calmed enough to read what it was saying as it fluttered from key to key.


So yeah, it turned out the moth wasn’t my mother. You’re thinking duh, you knew that.

“Shit. I thought… Who are you?”


You see, it was a dead person. It just wasn’t the dead person I was looking for. “What’s your name?”


My heart pitched in my chest, more desperate than any moth. “I’m Jessica. How long have you been dead?”


“I’m sorry.” Did the dead forget their own names as soon as they exhaled their last breath? I couldn’t bear the idea.


“Oh. Hi.”

I’ve never liked moths, but I had a whole conversation with this one. She’d forgotten her own name, but over the course of an hour, she spelled out a careful poem about her girlfriend’s brown eyes and freckled nose, and the sweet smell of tamagoyaki and fresh-steamed rice in their flat in the mornings.


I touched the moth before she left; she soothed her powdery wing along my thumb, and then she was gone, leaving only the dust of her scales on my skin.

Every time I’ve seen a moth since, I’ve tried talking to it. It’s stupid, I know. None of them have ever replied. It’s been months. But last night, a moth flew into my room. It wasn’t huge. It was dainty, almost.

“Mother?” I asked.

It didn’t head for my laptop, it didn’t hurl itself around like a ferry in a storm; it just flew around me in gentle circles.

It was quiet, but when I woke up today it was still there, perched on top of the velvet pouch on my bedside table.

My mother and I never did talk much.

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Leda’s Womb

The egg waxes, the yellow white
of moon marrow, of stretched skin,
opaque with the dull stain of life blood speckling
the outer shell, enveloping the hard white.

How many hours spent caressing
that vessel, an echoic chamber of kicking limbs
and wings. Those shuddering beings
inside that might violently breach the womb wall
in heady dissonance with their flurries
of thrash and thrust.
How many nights spent imagining wet black webs
and sharp egg teeth, multiplying heart beats.
(Too many beats and so many beaks

bent on devouring the thick orange yolk
of mother sun.)
Leda broods over the nest, battens down
the swan feathers and thick sheep wool,
pacing away the long weeks while
waiting for the inevitable hatching
of all those frenzied limbs.

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Jiak liu lian

You catch a faint whiff of blood while selecting durians for the buffet.

You smell it, despite the fusion of sweat, lubricant and the sandal-bottom aroma of durian fresh from the tree. You eye the guests Ah Jie guides to the tables, seeking the source of the iron-heavy scent. The ox-like man with a nose ring? The white girl wearing shades and a hoodie? Or the child chewing the plastic wrapper of a sweet–

Ah Jie scolds you for staring. So you take a deep breath, start carving with your knife and call out to the tourists:

“Lai lai D24! Verrrry nice! Verrrry creamy!”

Every weekend the tourists arrive by the busloads from Penang, KL and Singapore. They love the farm-cheap prices and supposedly organic fruit Ah Jie’s family grows. They descend on the all-you-can-makan durian buffet like a monsoon flood.

You’re used to their exciting pawing at every bit of fruit, their gruff demands for more. You do your best to meet their constant demands and sheer amount of durian they consume.

“Eh uncle, more D24 can?”

“You got Black Pearl or not?”

“Why your Mao Shan Wang so sweet one?”

You patrol the shaky wooden tables surrounded by aunties and uncles as they dig into the spread-eagled offerings. You dole out servings of every type of durian the farm grows (and more!) on Styrofoam plates dangling from your hands. The tourists eat, joke, and chase everything down with ABC or Tiger. Nothing remains in their wake save the wreckage of broken husks and balled-up yellow tissue paper.

As you pass Ah Jie, she gives you this exaggerated half-nod in the direction of the farthest table. It’s her sign that she wants you to do something that’s either too troublesome or complicated for her.

Sure enough, at the last table, you see the white girl seated alone, uncertainly looking at a plate of D24.

“Ok, Ah Jie. I handle.”

You step up to the challenge. You ask if you can help. She looks at the durian and shrugs.

The classic beginner’s reluctance, you think. So you set out to find a less creamy or sweeter variant.

“Here, Miss, you should try this Mao Shan Wang—”

Then, the smell again, cloying, close. This time you’re certain it’s coming from this girl with her hoodie, sweating in the afternoon sun. You set the durian in front of her, and as she moves, you almost reel from the images this scent brings: rotting flesh, bones picked clean and deoxygenated blood. When she looks up, you see yourself reflected in her shades, a black island surrounded by unnaturally pale freckles.

Impossible, you think. Especially out here. So you distract yourself by commencing the how-to-appreciate-durian-for-non-Asians talk.

“So, Miss, first time right? I teach you ah. First thing you do, is enjoy the smell.”

You take a bladder-sized helping of durian and inhale. You let the flavour inundate your senses, prepare your palate.

She follows your every move.

“You try,” you say. “This one is Mao Shan Wang, or in English they say, ‘Cat Mountain King’. Very good and high quality!”

She sniffs at the sunshine-yellow lump. It lacks the intensity of a D24, and but it smells of a swampy, isolated hill in Kelantan (probably where Ah Jie got it from).

You hand her a new serving with an exaggerated flourish. “Okay, so now best part. You just take, and taste, like this.”

Hand firmly pressing the flesh, hand to mouth, durian to tongue, senses erupt and taste buds ignite. You bite. You roll the flesh in your tongue. You let it wash over you. With your own hyper-consciousness, you can almost see which plantation, which hill, which tree, which branch this durian came from.

Your pupil imitates your every move, and when she smiles at the end of the entire ritual, you think have converted another white person to the wisdom of durian appreciation.

“See. Good right?”

But she asks, “But the smell?”

“You tahan. Then soon all smell like perfume.”

“This tastes really good.”


She lowers her unfinished piece. Instead of taking a chunk out of the milky flesh, you see just two holes, pinpricks as if made by fangs.

“This is as supple as human flesh,” she says.

Now you understand where the smell’s coming from. You have the barest of glimpses of her smile, bordered by blood-encrusted teeth.

All you can say is: “You compare siao is it?”

When it is time for the tourists to leave, you make sure this one gets on the bus. Her smell–sweet durian mixed with the odour of scabbed over wounds left to rot–follows her all the way out.

“I should come back,” she says.

“Your kind not welcome here.”


“Oh. I mean…you are kindly welcome here. But please book with tour agents so you don’t come during off season.”

Later, Ah Jie asks you to clear the tables. She allows you and the others to help yourselves to the leftovers, before she gathers them to make ice-cream. At the table where you entertained the white girl, you pick up the fruit with two punctured holes in it, and reconsider what she said.

As supple as human flesh. You can’t really compare. You haven’t had soft, blood-pulsing, warm human skin under your tongue for ages.

At the thought, you almost feel an old urge in you rising to fruition. Why not just a bite? Just a bite of flushed, raw meat? Just to sustain you for the next few months working in the middle of nowhere? Why not—

Ah Jie shouts at you to hurry up. So, to suppress the craving, you sink your teeth into a remaining piece. Its flavour washes the chamber of your throat, sweetening it until there’s nothing left to sate your wild appetite but chewed-down paste and shreds of durian flesh.