by Tahmeed Shafiq
There is a world inside a raindrop.
It is a world consisting only of a single city made of bricks of blue-grey stone. The city has no human inhabitants, only human-shaped figures made of hundreds of sheets of paper. Love letters.
Do not let the poets fool you with talk of raindrops talking on shingles: the death of a droplet is only serene from our perspective. On the macroscopic scale of a camera lens it is violent, destructive. Raindrops don’t land; they collide, they shatter. And every time this happens the letters are shaken loose from their people, to be hurtled about and settle in the shape of new personas. New anguish and joy and tenderness touching for the first time through the ink of their pages.
I took this raindrop to the Arctic, froze it and strung it on a silver chain to make a pendant for you. The icy facets reflect no light, but if you shake it light will flash from within as lightning created by your motion cascades around the city, blasting the ancient stone but never touching the letter-people.
And this I give to you.
I’m not surprised you don’t recognize it. Sylphs are very rare. They live only in the densest regions of nebulae, where their food is plentiful.
These nanocreatures drift through the void, letting their appendages trail along in the near-vacuum. From time to time these tentacles catching passing hydrogen atoms, which they draw into themselves. There the hydrogen is metabolized somehow, giving the sylph enough energy to continue on being and to propel itself towards the next tasty morsel. I think they might be producing helium, and expelling the gas to create thrust. If so, they are living fusion reactors.
But they aren’t alive, not really. They don’t do anything except move. Even viruses reproduce.
Sylphs are a mystery to scientists because despite their classification as non-living they seem to be able to sense their surroundings. When a sylph is forty-three weeks old it begins to drift away from it home and towards the nearest star, where it burns and ‘dies.’ How it locates these stars we do not know.
Nature doesn’t produce things like sylphs. Someone or something must have made them. But why toss them aside, like so many unwanted toys?
I hope you like it.
I told you my father was a miner, but he did not dig for coal. He dug for dragons.
He was taken from my mother and I when I was only a baby, to work deep in the mountains for the dragon that lived at their heart. Down they dug, deep into the belly of the earth, freeing the wyrm’s kin from where they lay entombed in stone. But they found only the dead, and as the dragon’s fear that he was the last of his kind grew, so too did his anger. We would see smoke puffing from the mountains whenever he took his rage out on his slaves. But then one day when I was seven, the dragon was seen flying away from his nest. A day, a week, and still he did not return. But the men did, caked with dirt from their travel. They said that the dragon had left for more distant, wilder parts of the world in search of his brethren.
I was playing in the garden when my father came up the village path, and in his hand he carried a single living dragon scale, bright as bottled sunlight, as payment for his long years of service.
And this too I give to you.
I have one last gift for you, and this is the most special of all.
Think of a teacup, sitting on the highest shelf of the cupboard. It’s never been taken down, and in all that time it has acquired quite a bit of dust. But if you blow away the cobwebs, wipe the inside of the handle, you will find that it is still serviceable. It is not perfect; it is chipped near the base and cracked at the rim. Some would call it ugly, and in a certain light it really is. There are some tasks it was never meant to handle. But it will try its hardest never to fail you.
I don’t know its true worth, but I hope it will be enough. And this is the last of all I give to you, arms outstretched, half-afraid, half-hoping.
All that I am, that I have been, that I am yet to be. All the roads that have led me here, and all the years that lie ahead. All their contents; fear and tears and laughter, all swirled and mixed as smooth as tea in a cup.
And if I give you this, what will you give me in return?
Tahmeed Shafiq is nearing the end of high school but is at the start of his writing journey. His fiction has been published in Lightspeed. He was born in Bangladesh, where there are few dragons to write about.