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In extremity, It asked a Crumb

Writing by Lola Weisselberg, artwork by Kate Granholm.

Lucia leaves the house first thing in the morning and sees herself in the street, drinking out of a puddle. The other her, her ‘shadow’, as she calls it, shows no sign of recognition as she and her sister start to walk by, but she tosses a small nod of acknowledgement in its general direction. In an uncharacteristic wave of benevolence and charity, she takes her face by the inside of her skin and shaves off half of a smile as an offering for its breakfast. As expected, it gives her no thanks – the godhead is not kind by nature – and keeps drinking from its puddle, watching her sideways out of one beady black eye.

Her sister patters away contentedly, unaware that Lucia is flying over the Acropolis as they walk down the street. Hundreds of feet in the air, buffeted by warm winds, Lucia hears her sister’s voice as only a weak echo. Human voices carry so poorly, and, separated as they are by land, air, and sea, as well as far more, Lucia finds it difficult to engage with her sister’s chatter with any conviction. Lucia has trained herself well, though, in the mortal dances, and can perform her role in the rite of conversation without betraying a lack of genuine involvement. 

They continue to walk, and she sees herself again a little farther down the street. This time, the shadow is picking at scraps of food on the floor by the bins – clearly her earlier offering hadn’t done much to appease its ravenousness, or cruelty. Lucia’s confidence in her prognostication is stronger than it was when she first began to see the signs, and she knows what it means when she sees a shadow feeding; today is a ritual day. She feels grateful for having forgotten to eat breakfast. 

At the school gates, the sisters part ways. A brief wave of the hand, and her sister dives into the throng of uniform-clad girls. A faint pang of jealousy twinges in the farthest part of Lucia’s buried humanity as she watches her sister assimilate into the social organism. She feels more foreign and dangerous than usual, an alien substance in the world’s bloodstream, as she walks alone to her morning classes. 

Chemistry, and Lucia’s mind and eyes wander. Outside the window, a shadow perches on the sill. Its black feathers catch the light, revealing a shimmering purple all the more beautiful for being obscured. But to see the godhead in such a disgustingly human setting, to expose it to prattle about esters and alkali and the petty stuff of the physical world, is enough to make Lucia’s blood spike and what little divinity she has left in her marrow bubble. Marshalling every cell of her body into order, drawing on every ounce of residual godhead not entrusted to the shadows for safekeeping, she calls out through the halls of her skull in an inaudibly booming voice,


The crow pretends not to hear. Lucia summons herself until she can feel the light beginning to shine through the skin of her brow, and orders again,

Go. I command you. This is not for you.

It ruffles its feathers recalcitrantly.


Rebellious crow. 

It smiles from behind its beak. She smiles back begrudgingly, knowing she ought not to be surprised at such disobedience. She has never been one for subordination, after all – even to herself. And so, she has been sharpening herself in a series of experiments in self-compulsion, in much the same way as one sharpens a flint: by breaking it down around the edges. In the last nine months, Lucia had cut her waist-length hair to the nape of her neck with kitchen scissors, made her best friend cry, gone three days without water, shrunk down two dress sizes, stopped sleeping, burned a full sketchbook, and held her breath until her vision blurred, all for the sake of seeing whether she could. Self-immolation, she tells herself, is a skill and a discipline. Today, for example, is a ritual day: no food, no water – nothing to pass the lips. It is crucial that the heretic flesh remains obedient. The human body, Lucia has found, is so difficult to keep on – it always seems to be sloughing off her shoulders. It takes a firm will to hold it together.

The day passes in a blur. Most days do. Time is so difficult to manage on the mortal plane – there’s always far too much of it, and yet it still never seems to stretch all the way to the edges. Projecting herself into her shadows, Lucia spends the majority of her classes flying over the Scandinavian peninsula, the biting cold burning her feathers. She passes out in History, for the second time this month, and is sent home. Her body’s mother picks her up at the gates, grey-browed and fretful, white noise emanating from the ends of her hair. Lucia wants to speak to her, to tell her that it’s alright, but she worries it will come out in babble. A crow caws in a nearby tree. 


Two weeks later, Lucia’s parents find her holding her hand to the front left burner on the kitchen stove – and so begin the bi-weekly visits to the psychiatrist Lucia picked because she looked, in the photograph on her website, like she knew something she wasn’t letting on. After three months of sitting on the left side of the green sofa by the window and talking about practically everything else, the day comes when Lucia finds herself ignoring the screams of the godhead and fighting her teeth’s attempts to bite her tongue as she explains, as clearly as the impotent, ridiculous little words humans use will allow, the truth. After a few moments of burning silence, the doctor says simply, 

‘I feel sorry for your shadows.’

Lucia lets out a laugh like breaking glass. Pity is to the godhead what Wednesday is to a forest fire. Over the crackling sound of every piece of her divinity spread across every one of her shadows laughing, the doctor, unshaken, continues.  

‘I do. I feel sorry for them. Because they are wasting the time of a bright and sensitive young girl who will, at some point in the future, see them for what they are. And when that day comes, she will throw them away and they will be left to gather dust. So yes, I feel sorry for them.’

The crows laugh a little quieter. 


Slowly, slowly, slowly, over the next two months, Lucia’s unreality begins to ebb. Shadows turn back into crows, her hair grows longer and longer, and she eats more every day. She still nods hello to every crow she meets, but they no longer nod back, and she no longer expects them to. She ends therapy after a year, the doctor confident in her full recovery – her father, according to the family’s shared sense of humour, bakes a cake.

She has stopped burning offerings – not because the parts of herself she was trying to appease are gone, but because she has found another way to placate them. As it turns out, a cup of coffee with a friend, a good meal, a squeeze of the hand, and dancing in the kitchen while the kettle boils are all perfectly acceptable forms of nourishment. 

Sometimes, though, even for years afterwards, Lucia will find herself beginning to feel like lightning in a bottle again. And in those low periods, when the space in between atoms is just a little too wide, and the world is just a little too loud, and her body is just a little too tight, Lucia’s blood will begin to whisper. 

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