Jahi, and other Lilies in the Valley

Johnny Libenzon
35 min readFeb 10, 2022
She sees nothing, and she sees everything.

Winter brought snow that lined the rooftops, brought the cold, the shivering teeth that warmed themselves to the sweet smoke of hot chocolate. So too did it bring college students, normally rushing from class to class in their peacoats and winter overcoats, indoors, leaving the streets of the campus generally far more empty than usual, and the libraries and study centers overflowing. Those that were able to rush in early grabbed seats, guarding them like mountain lions from potential threats, and sat day and night to push themselves to academic perfection.

Others avoided the campus, the smell of body spray and cheap Subway tuna melts, to instead find local cafes and diners where they might use black coffee and knockoff pastries to burn the midnight oil and experience several panic attacks per hour on their own quest to excellence.

Celia was one such student. Well, not usually. Usually she studied at home, in leisure, and with a decent idea of time management for the most part, unlike the majority of her cohort. But today… ah, things had gotten away from her. She was, as her friend Irene had put it earlier on when the two had gone for their second cup of coffee (Ack, correction: Celia’s fourth, and by 2:00 PM), ‘up shit’s creek.’

Which made Celia think of a TV show she’d promised her boyfriend she would watch once exams were finished. But at this point, she honestly thought exams were going to finish her.

Oh, and he wasn’t exactly her boyfriend anymore. At roughly 4:00 PM that day — or was it 4:30? Whatever, it was before 5:00 — he had quite unceremoniously dumped her. Both literally, dropping her off back at her apartment following her final class of the day, and literally. In that he dumped her.

Whatever, right? He was a prick. She had been planning to break up with him after the semester’s end so she wouldn’t have to deal with the fucker over the holidays, but he’d gotten to it first. So it was fine. Well, not fine fine, but like, it wasn’t as if she was pissed that their painful little dance was over and done with, but she had hoped to be the one doing the dumping. And then he had cut the line and done it first when it was totally in her court, her place to do it, especially considering he was annoying, and vulgar, and irritating, and unmotivated…

And considerate, and humorous, and gentle, and… ugh.

Whatever.

Anyway, that’s just where it started. At 6:30 PM, or was it 7:00 PM, she had been informed of an especially terrible grade on a recent assignment. And then she had thought, oh well, fuck it, the universe is just adding a bit of Fuck You sprinkles on the Eat Shit ice cream she had already been served earlier, so that was fine as well. It made sense, really, that she would need to feel the pain of it a little more honestly, so there it was. Now she could stiff her lip, calm down, and keep going. She had plenty of time to recover and study for exams, after all. She could relax. Hmm, ice cream, she said? Not a bad idea, though she was running out of that gourmet French Vanilla flavored one…

Then, just before 8:00 PM, she got an email informing her of a change. Oh, a change? No worries at all. The subject line was innocent enough, as so often they were.

But then she remembered that while it is said that good things come in threes, the bad things often do as well.

With the single click of the ‘Send’ button and a few seconds between the draft leaving some hiring manager’s inbox and slipping snugly into her own, Celia found that she no longer had a summer internship lined up either.

Celia had curled up on her couch, throwing her phone to the side, and wept. She stayed there for several minutes, shaking in her Christmas sweater.

Then she thought — what asshole sent an email like this off at 8:00 PM on a Friday? Then she remembered the internship was in California, so it was the end of the work day for them. Great. Her rejection was something some asshole over in Silicon Valley decided to toss out like scraps before heading home for the weekend.

Then she thought — Wow, I haven’t cried like that for a while. Must’ve been great for my pores.

Then she thought — Simon would have hugged me by now. So tightly my arms would’ve hurt, but then he would kiss my dimples until it was ticklish. I’d be giggling by the end.

Then she thought — Fuck this.

And she went to Big Harry’s Diner.

It is 10:58 PM, and Toronto is falling asleep.

The stop lights continue to flutter, cars flooding the streets like a plague of rats descending on Paris. They slip through the cracks, through the soft-glowing streets of the city, humming past commercial outlets and office buildings that had closed up for the night, pubs and ramen shops that continue to welcome the late-sleeper and vagabond into the warmth of sandwich and soup alike.

Somewhere up above the hubbub, situated between a street filled with townhouses and other sparsely populated with half-a-dozen Tim Hortons and a Winners or two, there is a diner. It is an older joint, and attempts to persuade newcomers of their traditional stance on things; the apron-and-dress on the waitresses, who bundled their hair up into pleasant little buns that bounced ever so slightly under the weight of the coffee pitchers, as well as the simple brunch menu that stretched into the late hours of the night. Oh, and they were up all night, providing useful reprieve to those that worked late and woke when the sun was already high in the sky.

Celia sits at the diner. Big Harry’s Diner, that is. She once asked why it was called that — the owner’s name was Steve, and he was a pretty thin guy, like one of those dudes you’d expect to see on TV with a headband on, going 30 miles an hour on an exercise bike while screaming ‘work it baby, work it!’

He explained that people trust things like that, apparently. Overweight people were more trustworthy when it came to food. Like they knew where the good stuff was. He also bemoaned that being a small business owner, he had to do what he could to get an edge on his competition, which was also why he only hired hot girls to work there, let both his sons run the place while he was off cheating on his wife with a line cook at the local Denny’s, and constantly complained about how Ontario was quickly becoming a shithole filled with all sort of… ah, well, the usual banter, as they say. Celia learned quickly to avoid him when he was around, which generally wasn’t when she was.

As she sets her laptop on her usual booth in the corner of the diner, far away from the TV, the bar, the door, and both staff and customer alike, Celia considers how oddly safe she feels here, despite it being the middle of the night. Maybe it’s because she knows all the waitresses by name? Or maybe it’s because crime in this area has been on a downward trend, save that one shooting three years ago, but to be fair they did increase the number of cops patrolling here after that —

Right, she’s getting distracted. She needs to work. Work hard, harder than she has in weeks. It’s still a week till her first exam, but she needs to prove herself wrong. She needs to prove them all wrong. She…

It was a nice morning, wasn’t it? Gentle snowfall, clouds in the sky.

She opens up a tab. Then another. And another. Soon, a dozen different sites, consisting unequally of research papers, and lecture notes, and previous lab reports, and the course textbook. So many words, they all jumbled together. What was this, Field Theory? Celia forgot which term meant what, there were so damn many of them. Magnetic flux density, mutual inductance, time-varying fields, equations by so many people like Poisson and Laplace and Ampere and Maxwell and…

First coffee of the day was going to also be the only one. Used the coffee machine, some nice De’Longhi her mom got her for her birthday. They’d gone to Best Buy for it. Celia remembered them smiling, feeling content. Celia squeezed her mom’s hand. She had missed her.

Her mom had squeezed back, just as hard. They had missed each other.

She touches her own cheek, feeling the tears begin to spill. Damn, and she had just put eyeliner on again before she left the house.

“Hey, mind if I sit down?”

Celia’s head jerks up. Her thin blonde hair, compared by her older sister to a ‘curtain of gold’ on good days and to Dragon’s beard candy on bad ones, frames her face, and currently resembles the latter. Loose strands stick to where tears had dragged them down to her cheeks.

The speaker was a taller woman standing near the other side of the table. She’s placed a single slender arm over the back of the booth, leaning on it like she was listening in on an intimate conversation. The woman is darker-skinned, Middle-Eastern maybe, and clearly holds her lustrous hair in higher regard than Celia does her own. Her features are angular, sharp, the kind begging to be chiseled in marble. Her ears are adorned with hoop earrings, her neck wrapped in a thin black choker.

“Uh, who are you?” Celia blurts out.

“No, no,” she says with a smile. An earnest smile. She is alluring, but in a haunting, curious way. Her eyes look older than the rest of her face. “I asked a question first. You answer my question, I’ll answer yours. Seems fair, no?”

“Okay,” Celia says.

After a moment of silence spent staring into the older woman’s eyes, Celia realizes an eyebrow has been raised at her.

“You forgot my question, didn’t you?” She says.

“What? Ah, right — fuck, I’m sorry, I’m just… You don’t wanna sit down, I’m a mess right now.”

“I wasn’t aware. Turns out I’m blind too, go figure.”

“What?” Celia repeats dumbly.

“God, you kids these days… Fine, that’s basically a ‘yes’, anyway.” The woman says, sliding gracefully onto the padded seat and placing her elbows on the table. She’s wearing a plain white blouse that seems strangely modern and yet something one might expect to see at the Ren fair.

Celia opens her mouth to speak, but the woman raises a finger to silence her. Normally, Celia would take affront and ask the newcomer who the hell she thinks she is, but something about the way she looks at her instead makes her feel… compliant? Like she wants to please this stranger, make her proud.

A waitress comes by with a small notepad. The newcomer looks up, earrings jingling pleasantly from the motion, and grins at the waitress rather inappropriately.

“Can I have a second menu? Wonderful, thank you darling — oh, is that a Wadjet Eye tattoo on your wrist?”

The waitress seems confused, and mildly irritated.

“Uh, this? It’s the Eye of Ra.”

“No, no, it’s in the wrong direction, and it doesn’t look quite correct. That would be the Wadj… ah, the Eye of Horus.”

“Huh. Maybe, I guess. Anyway, what do you want?”

Celia blinks, realizing she’s the one the waitress is now staring at. It’s then that Celia recognizes her as Maddy, a newer employee and not one that she knows very well. Shame.

“‘Midnight Brunch Special, thanks. Scrambled eggs, hashbrowns as my side, rye bread lightly toasted, side of turkey bacon,” she recites easily. After all, this is only the hundredth-or-so time that she’s ordering it.

“Great. And y — ” Maddy turns to the newcomer.

“What’s your biggest burger? Just the sloppiest, the… ah, greasiest… thing you got?” The stranger says.

“I guess the ‘Summer Vacation Bacon Nation.’”

“Right, that sounds suitably terrible for my cholesterol. One of those will suffice.”

“Great. Fifteen minutes, ladies.”

Maddy leaves, and Celia quickly glances down towards the other woman while she’s still glancing over towards the waitress. Judging by her figure, she clearly keeps herself in check. Cheat night, perhaps?

She’s about to ask the same question she originally had when she first caught sight of the woman, but the answer comes before Celia can begin to repeat herself.

“My name is Jahi,” The woman says. “I’m here because my stomach was growling, and so I’d like to eat something violently American.”

“This is Canada.”

“Yeah, no shit. Six different people opened doors for me today,” Jahi laughs. It’s a teasing, melodic sound. Highly practiced, honed over the years. “I’m kidding but, come now, you know what I mean. What comes to your mind when I say ‘I had a really Canadian meal earlier today,’…?”

“Celia, but I’m not a missus. And I guess I think of poutine or maple syrup or something.”

“Precisely. What if I said I’d just had an American meal?”

“McDonalds.”

“And all the calories and heart palpitations that word alone entails,” Jahi sighs, interlacing her fingers on the table and leaning forward.

The door to the diner opens as a patron leaves. A chill wind gusts towards the booth, and Celia smells Jahi’s perfume. It reminds her of the saltwater breeze, languishing over a beach that faces the summer sea.

“So! Let’s just get to it, shall we? What are you all mopey about?” Asks Jahi.

What the fuck? Thought Celia, staring at Jahi with a look that must’ve been far less subtle than she thought, considering the other woman widened her eyes in response.

“What’re you, a psychologist? Also, I don’t even know you, why should I tell you anything about myself?” said Celia.

“Well I suppose that’s fair. What would you like to know, Celia?”

Jahi didn’t even seem a little intimidated by the sudden venom in the blonde’s tone.

“No, that’s not… you can’t just meet someone at midnight in a random diner and expect them to tell you about their life.”

“I didn’t ask for your life story, only what’s bringing you down right now.”

“Same thing.”

“Besides, it’s just past eleven. We’ve got time.”

“Until what?”

“Midnight.”

“Are you like, one of those people that thinks they’re an ‘empath’ or something? Seriously, if you’re here to try and fix me or something, please fuck off.”

“That’s fair.”

“What do you even know? I bet you go up to random girls freaking out about exams and tell them ‘oh, you look sad’ — like, what’s even the point of that? You think you’re helping people by just pointing out how shit they’re feeling?”

“I suppose not.”

The waitress named Maddy came by again, placing two cups of water down on the table and a set of cutlery. She then quickly scurried off again upon seeing Celia’s hot face flushed with rage.

“And who cares if I was dumped? Fuck him, I don’t need that asshole.”

“I’m sure you don’t.”

“You’re just agreeing with everything I say, huh?”

“Pretty much.”

Celia sits back, her gaze facing the window again and avoiding the perceived look of pity in Jahi’s eyes. She hated pity above all else — when people that didn’t know the whole story chose to base their entire perception of how you were doing on whatever they could learn from five minutes of brief conversation.

“Is the boy so important to you, Celia?” Jahi asks. Her voice has softened, causing Celia to drop some part of her guard from the sudden shift in tension at the table.

“Yes — no. I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Perhaps I was wrong, but you seem like someone with more important matters on your mind. Some invention, perhaps, or research in a field of great complexity.”

“How did you know that?” Celia asked sharply.

“Women’s intuition?”

“Funny.”

“I feel like you have more important things on your mind than men that don’t respect you enough to realize the kind of woman they’re entangled with.”

“Leave me alone,” Celia says quietly. She turns her head away, struggling to hold back tears. She doesn’t know why she feels this way anymore. Nothing about this day makes any semblance of sense.

Jahi just watches her, and remembers.

It is 1793, at roughly 4:35 PM.

Jahi remembers the face of that young girl. She would one day influence generations of those just like her. Generations of love, of dreams, of girls imagining themselves as brighter than the world expects them to be. She can’t be more than eighteen now, but she looks older. Early genius does that to people.

They are in Southampton, in the countryside, where Jahi had first approached the aspiring writer as she sat on the grassy hill overlooking the woods. She and her sister Cassandra were staying with their cousins, the Butler-Harrisons. The eldest son, John Butler, will become mayor next year. Jahi is wearing an elegant dress sweeping past her shins, with black silk and lacing.

Jane wears a plain frock of mousy brown, and is busy writing poetry under an overbearing English sky. She has been speaking with Jahi for several minutes now. The conversation began with a familiar undertone of hostility, considering Jahi had come up on the young Austen girl tearing a paper out of her notebook and tossing it aside in a brief fit of rage. But they quickly reached a happy medium once the question of Jane’s craft had come up.

Admittedly, Jahi can see how curious Jane is about her own nature. She does not look at all like she belongs in the area, though she has lightened her skin somewhat over the years to fit the cultures she finds herself sifting between.

It begins with probing questions, followed by barely concealed excitement at Jahi’s interest at the Englishwoman’s work. Followed quickly by a question regarding something Jane notices about Jahi’s wrist.

“Oh, this?” Jahi raises her arm, the back of her palm facing Jane. “It’s the wedjat eye. Well, your archeologists would simply call it ‘the Eye of Horus’ Some say it holds a protective magic within.”

“Does it indeed?” Asks the young Jane.

“Well, a donkey-headed deity has never attempted to do me harm quite yet, so I suppose it might.”

Jane laughs. She dabs at her eyes with a handkerchief.

“You strike me as an odd woman, Jahi. Even your name is unnatural, yet oddly pleasing to the ear. Do men find you just as fascinating as I?”

“Oh, the men would find a goat with three horns fascinating. If that is the standing by which we’re measuring my ability to charm and disarm, then we have set the challenge quite low.”

“And so witty as well! You must not have a husband. You seem to yet derive far too much joy from simply living to warrant one.”

“How astute of you, Jane, and how very right you are,” Jahi says, tilting her head, a mischievous grin pulling over her sharp features. “Though suppose I would like a wife instead?”

“Oh my,” Jane blushes,

“I jest, darling, I hope I did not go too far.”

“But of course not, I simply… Jahi, you have been staring quite rudely at my papers!”

“With intent, Jane. I wish to read them.”

Jane looks down, her cheeks red, and Jahi knows immediately what the girl must be thinking. Jahi imagines the girl is embarrassed; After all, sharing her writing with her friends and family is one thing, but with this strange woman she had just met? It was unlikely she would. After all, gentle criticism from loved ones in one matter, while with a complete stranger —

The young author looks up, and Jahi stares.

“I permit you to list through all that I have here. If it should please you, we can return to my cousins’ manor and I will bring out more for your review.”

“I would be honored. Where should I start?”

“This one, Man with an Auburn Cap, followed by the two titled This Old Road, as they were once a single, longer piece but are now a couplet. I have not given the latter of them a unique name yet.”

Jahi sits and reads. She has consumed plenty of poetry over the years. All the world has been her stage, and many of the most famous works of this time were ones she’d had read to her in person by the women and men that had written them.

There is something about Jane’s writing that she cannot shake. It rouses a yearning in her to break free of convention on behalf of the girls of England. This land is not her own, is not even slightly close to where she had first planted her feet in the soil. Yet the stories of these women, and the kind of change they wanted to implement despite the overbearing presence of the world’s expectations around them was universal.

As Jahi reads, Jane uses the fingers on her left hand to rub and play and pull at her right thumb. A habit she has had since birth. She hopes, if anyone writes her biography, they will avoid such childish tendencies.

So many hundreds of years living on this earth, yet century after century, Jahi learned that lesson yet again, and again. Sometimes she wondered if someone up there was hammering the message into her head through ink-stained parchment and the words of the uncharacteristically wise.

“Oh, be honest with me, Jahi — it is quite dreadful, yes?” Jane sighs, interlacing her hands over her stomach. “You can speak the truth, I will take your appraisal without reprisal.”

“They are lovely. They make me feel truths I did not believe myself capable of feeling anymore,” Jahi whispers. She raises her eyes, and the look that Jane gives her is one she will never forget: The look of pride, of absolute joy, of an amateur receiving praise from a respected critic in their field.

Did she know that Jahi had written dozens of novels, manuscripts, and smaller collections over the years? Was it the way she mumbled to herself unconsciously as she read, and listed back and forth between pages to make sure every detail was accounted for? Or the way her eyes would dart over the same sentence over and over again, left to right and back again, when she wished to commit those words to memory? Jahi did not ask, and she might never know.

“You mean that? Without flattery, this is what you feel?” Jane’s voice has become excitable, her eyes lit up with glee. Her fingers are playing with her thumb again. She cannot help it.

“I do. I have read much in my time, but… Jane, you have a gift. I hope the world will let you spread it. I have met many women that wanted to push the standard in this manner, yet the societal pressure surrounding them nearly pushed those women back into their boudoirs.”

“Such as whom?” Jane asks.

“A certain Egyptian woman, for instance.”

Jahiatara leans back against the painted chair behind her, which featured legs that ended in lion paws and an eagle-shaped inlay in its red surface.

It is 50 BC, an hour past sunrise.

The sky is a thick shade of goat’s blood. The sands are golden, like most of the palace interior.

“So you have met him, then?” Said the woman sitting before Jahiatara, a bronze-skinned member of the royal caste. The last time she and Jahiatara had met, the woman was in exile. Now, she was the Queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, and she wore expensive silk regalia lined with beaded necklaces, anklets, and rings to cement her status.

“Yes, my queen — the man you know as Zarathurstra. When he was still alive and vibrant, that is, not simply on his deathbed.”

“But, Jahiatara, this would make you… six hundred years old? If not more.”

“Oh please, do not remind me of my age. Not all of us can soak in donkey milk every day to keep the skin clear.”

“Is that a barb, demon?”

“Perhaps. Though veiled within is a gentle request for a bath.”

Cleopatra erupts into a sudden laugh, the gold in her hair shuddering in the wind.

“I will have the servants draw one for you. But returning to the topic at hand: What was the prophet like?” The queen says, crossing one leg over the other.

Jahiatara smiles, but does not look down.

“It surprises me that you care so much about some god-fearing man from some eastern land. Next you will ask if he truly held divine power, and not some heretical sorcery,” said Jahiatara.

“His legitimacy is irrelevant to me. However powerful he may be, his one god, natural or chthonic in nature, cannot hope to defeat an entire pantheon.”

“Perhaps not,” Jahiatara admitted.

“And your time with him was…”

“Less extravagant and myth-worthy than you must be thinking. Though many of his followers, ah, worshiped me, in their own way.”

“Hmm. Did you love him?”

“I do not believe I am capable of such things, highness.”

Cleopatra frowns.

“That does not bode well for me, then.”

“I aim to inspire you, highness, not to love you.”

“And if I were to demand your love?”

“Then you would only be disappointing yourself, Cleo.”

“How dare you speak to me with such familiarity?” hisses the queen.

“What will you do, sic Roman assassins on me? I am not afraid of you, Cleo, especially after the protection symbols you yourself inked into my flesh. I love what you represent, but I cannot love you. I am, as we established earlier, hundreds of years old. Imagine how I see you, barely blossoming into your womanhood.”

“But I…”

Jahiatara sees the domineering strength in Cleopatra’s face slipping quickly. So speaks first, before the queen can risk embarrassing herself.

“Do not say it, please. If you say it, then I will leave, and both our hearts will be broken.”

“Is this what you do, Jahi? Build the hopes of those women you see as valuable, only to dash them when admiration turns to affection?”

The succubus does not reply. No one else had called her Jahi, not before Cleo.

These words stick with her for countless centuries to come.

She blinks, and she is in a coffee shop in Indiana, United States. It is snowing outside.

It is 1935, at 2:33 PM. She is currently half-way through a brief stint as an acting professor at Purdue University. Several months after this day, she is found out and told to provide proof of proper documentation. The next day, she swiftly sweeps off to another state. Students whisper rumors of her mysterious exit for years to come.

Both Jahi and Amelia have only twenty-seven minutes left until they have to go off to do some work; Jahi has a class to teach, called History of Iran: Late Antiquity through the Islamic Age. The faculty had, naturally, found the topic a fascinating idea to teach to students, especially considering few other academics in the state could purport to have such knowledge under their belts.

Jahi has been away from the world for half a century now. Without going into too much detail, the succubus had been imprisoned by a wronged sorceress, and made to spend years in the form of a nude statue.

She is currently wearing clothes that are fashionable for the time, though pushing the envelope, as she always is; a white blouse and high-waisted pants that flare out at the ankles. Somehow, the succubus avoided appearing like a sailor, though her long hair and plentiful makeup help greatly in that regard.

Her companion, Amelia, sits across from her on the other end of the small round table with a white cloth over it. The young woman, a counselor and technical adviser for the Department of Aeronautics, stirs sugar cubes into an espresso. She wonders if her friend Jahi wore such an outfit today to mock her choice of career, as Amelia wears overalls and slacks.

Amelia quickly realizes that, as usual, everything Jahi does, she does so for a reason.

“And you are truly content here? Sitting around, your feet planted firmly on the dirt?” Jahi asks, leaning forward to blow into the foam on her cappuccino, delighted at how the bubbles popped on the cup’s surface.

“For now, yes. Why shouldn’t I be? You know, I am still in mourning, Jahi.”

“Oh, finally.”

“What? George is fine, thank you very much.”

“Only kidding,” Jahi grins insolently. “I quite like George, I’ll admit. He seems to me a proper gentleman. Strange hair though, you ought to give him a better comb.”

“Stop that, I disdain when you act like a fiend only to see if I bite back. And no, I was referring to the fire,” says Amelia. Her smile has turned into more of an unamused scowl.

“Ah, well, artifacts burned today are empty memorabilia tomorrow.”

“How reductive. I didn’t peg you for a pessimist.”

Jahi shrugs. She reaches over towards the small tray of sugar cubes at the edge of the table, raising one between two painted fingernails. Before she can plop it into her mouth, the disapproving glare from Amelia causes her to roll her eyes and place it back on the tray. It’s a bad habit, and one she’s been working to shake.

“So, you’re going to let this sort of thing keep you down?” Jahi says.

“The fire, or my husband?”

“Not sure there’s much of a difference.”

“Ever over-exaggerating, aren’t we?” Amelia says. Her fingers play on the surface of the table. “But no, not quite. In fact… I’m planning a new flight.”

“Really! Where to this time? And can I come along?”

“The destination is a secret for now. I do have some ideas, though. And… no, of course.”

“Well, I had to try. Are you retracing your steps? Trying to beat your previous limit?”

“No. I’d like to fly around the globe. ‘Circumnavigational’, as an aviator might say.”

Jahi cocks her head.

“Well, I don’t see the need for such secrecy.”

“It is the manner in which it is being plotted. I plan for this to be the longest circum — mhm, ‘round-the-world’ flight ever done by a single pilot — and a woman at that.”

“How ambitious,” Jahi smiles, “And here I thought you were content with fawning girls calling you ‘Professor Earhart’ and that being the end of it. Glad to see I was mistaken.”

“Jahi, I already have intense renown in any circle in which aircraft and aerial navigation are discussed. I received my posting here for a reason.”

“Yes, yes, but this will make people talk about you for decades, perhaps even centuries to come. Imagine, the great Amelia Earhart, the Queen of the Skies, the Princess of the Planes…”

“God, you’re not very clever, are you? And they already call me ‘Queen of the Air’, you’re behind the times.”

“They also call you ‘Lady Lindy.’ Press isn’t any more clever than I am…” Jahi mutters, turning to look outside at some young students staring at the aviator from behind the glass. Upon being noticed, the girls gasp and rush off towards their next class. Jahi had a feeling she knew what they wanted to do one day.

“I suppose I should get going,” says Amelia, reaching for her wallet before Jahi stops her with a gentle touch to the forearm.

“It’s my turn. Though, in exchange for a quick question. Only one, I promise,” says Jahi.

Amelia knows she should get going, but the way the other woman’s face has softened so suddenly and completely ignites the curiosity inside her. She places her hands back down on the table.

“Why do you fly?”

“I was expecting something more eloquent from you.”

“My question stands.”

“Well… I suppose, the lure of flying is the lure of beauty.”

Amelia’s eyes are unfocused. She seems lost in a field of memories.

“To me, aviation exemplifies the possible relationship of women and the creations of science,” Amelia says, “But although women have not taken full advantage of its use and benefits yet, air travel is as available to them as to men. That was, perhaps, why I wanted to go down this path initially. And to fly as well, or better, than the men do, is inspiration to all those girls who are being dissuaded as we speak by sad, pitiful families and friends to avoid such grand dreams.”

“But it is dangerous,” says Jahi, her expression unreadable.

“Just so,” the aviator agrees, “And though women receive more glory than men for comparable feats, they also get more notoriety when they crash.”

“Well, how unexpectedly wise of you, Amy.”

“I have my moments. You just need to ask the right questions.”

“Fine, then to follow up before you scamper away: What happens if you do end up crashing? Believing, as you said, that you may well be ridiculed in the years to come for it?”

“I’d rather lose my life pursuing this rather than fade away into mediocrity,” Amelia says, “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And if they fail — when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others. I want them to remember me.”

A moment of silence follows. It is broken with an awkward laugh from the succubus.

“I didn’t peg you for such a philosopher,” said Jahi, “But sure, I understand the value of a legacy. It’s doubtful that you’ll actually die, though.”

“Oh, knock on wood,” Amelia laughs, standing to her feet and slipping away from the table. “But just between the two of us? I agree.”

The succubus picks up the sugar cube again, rolling it between her fingers, and slips it between her lips while the aviator is busy buttoning her jacket up again.

“Well, I’ll see you next week, Jahi.”

“Of course. And Amelia?”

“Hmm?”

“Good… good luck.”

Amelia rolls her eyes. She’s never been very good with Jahi when she lets just enough of her sentimentality slip to know she’s trying to be honestly supportive, yet still holds back enough to actually provide a real compliment or supportive statement.

After Amelia leaves the coffee shop, Jahi imagines herself in a small monoplane, sitting behind Amelia.

She knows she shouldn’t fantasize like this, but she can’t help it. Amelia is everything she likes in a partner: Confident, forward-thinking, and rocking the status quo. So many centuries, and she’s never been able to shake herself of it.

In her mind, they are happy, high in the sky, above the clouds, the earth below and nothing but open air before them.

Two years later, the news reports that Amelia Earhart has disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

Jahi does her mourning in silence.

It is another day, another time.

If we are to be specific, then it is January, in 1943, at 10:44 PM, in Munich.

“If you’re smart, you won’t get caught. I believe in you,” Jahi says to someone else. They are speaking outside, in the darkness, as the succubus smuggles supplies to the young German girl to continue her undercover crusade against the Fuhrer’s propaganda.

Jahi is disguised in a thick coat and shawl, acting as a spy on behalf of an independent organization helping the Allies win the war. She has lightened her skin tone accordingly, and uses her near-flawless command of the French tongue to assume the identity of a hobby nurse tending to the wounds of soldiers returning from the field. Though no one has yet noticed, she always seems to only tend to the children, or those too injured to enter the field again.

Those few that she is made to treat that might live to rejoin the fight, or have otherwise committed atrocities on the field, do not last long. Posthumously, their injuries are ruled as too severe for them to have been able to overcome.

It will be some weeks before anyone makes the connection. Fortunately, Jahi will be long-gone from Germany by then.

“Thank you, Jahi. I’m grateful to you for all your help,” says Sophie. She is mousy, and her eyes betray a depth of sadness that should not exist in the mind of such a young girl. The succubus is about to comment about the danger of what Sophie is doing, but quickly reminds herself that Sophie is twenty-two. She is an adult. She is capable of making her own choices.

“Your White Rose movement is… an act of intense bravery. I should be thanking you.”

Sophie does not smile at the compliment. There is little to smile about. The Nazi regime is brutal, and she is aware of the consequences of failure, no matter how confident Jahi might be in their cause. They both know the odds. Jahi just doesn’t like to think about them.

“No need; someone had to do it. Somebody, after all, had to make a start,” says Sophie. “I must believe that what we write and say is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we do.”

“I hope you’re right, but I…” For the first time in months, since her visit to the front, Jahi loses her composure for a moment. She feels regret, disgust, and pain. And fear. “Sometimes I have trouble reconciling the German people with the inhuman things I’ve seen the Wehrmacht do. I forget that there are many innocents here, too.”

“There are no innocents,” whispers Sophie.

“But you — ” Jahi starts, but is swiftly cut off by the younger girl.

“That they live in silent rebellion makes them complicit, Jahi. The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. They are slowly burning the heart out from the rest of us.”

These words flicker in Jahi’s mind like a candle, or a torch. They light a fire that urges her onwards. In the darkest hours of the war, Jahi remembers them, and they help her push through when all hope seems to have become ashes.

“I hope they remember you,” Jahi says.

Sophie Scholl does not live to see the end of the war. She is arrested the next month for distributing inflammatory leaflets at the University of Munich. She, and many others with her, are taken by the Gestapo, and sentenced at Stadelheim Prison to an execution by guillotine. She is permitted to smoke a cigarette, alongside her fellow White Roses who die alongside her, before the blade comes bearing down on her throat.

Years later, Jahi learns of her supposed final words:

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

Upon reading them, Jahi feels tears tug at her eyelids for the first time in a century.

She remembers the other dead, and the false promises she has made to women she thought would one day revolutionize the world. She tries to hold the well of emotion in.

But soon, Jahi cries.

“I’m scared, Jahi.”

“You’ll get through this, Noor. You’re the best of them. I believe in you.”

Noor Inayat Khan is executed at Dachau concentration camp in September 1944, alongside three other women that Jahi has never met. The time of death is not known.

Jahi learns the others’ names: Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman. She mourns them all.

Then she learns Noor’s final words. There was only one this time:

Libertè.

And Jahi cries.

“Jane, but… you are still so young…”

“Oh, do not be in poor spirits, darling, and do not be so concerned at my having wept upon seeing you in the doorway! I was never the most spritely of women, and a weak body is a sound excuse for weak nerves.”

“Don’t say that.” Jahi’s voice is hoarse. “You will be fine, I… I swear. It shall abate.”

Years later, the prevailing sentiment puts ‘Addison’s disease’ as the author’s cause of death. Though there are other schools of thought.

“Don’t die. Please don’t die.”

Jahi is not there when in the glorious town of Winchester, on a bright day in July, in the fine year of 1817, Jane Austen passes away. The demon could not stay — not without arousing suspicion from the rest of the family.

But she does end up visiting the author’s final resting place, at the Winchester Cathedral. Jahi is enraged to learn that the gravestone does not state, in any proper terms, Jane’s extraordinary achievements as a writer. She half-considers, in her state of unbalanced rage, of chiseling a more apt description into the stone with her bare hands, and dealing with the pain and blood later.

She does no such thing. She doesn’t have it in her. Part of her knows she should be grateful, that at least Jane will live on in the pages of her novels. She should be happy, glad that such a strong-willed soul will not be forgotten.

And Jahi cries.

“Why do I believe you?” says Celia. Her voice is quiet, her face painted with dread, and pity, and desire.

She had been staring at the succubus as she told her story. Time seems to have frozen still, and Celia wonders how long it has actually been since Jahi had begun to tell the highlights of her centuries-long tale of love and loss. The plates before them had long since been scoured free of food, leaving only fat and sauce remnants where burgers and eggs once lay.

Out near the bar, the clock strikes midnight. Someone makes a wish and tosses a dime into the tip jar. Someone leaves the bar, and a waitress waves him goodbye with a mock kiss.

“Because it is the truth. Does that scare you, Celia?” says Jahi, her own face streaked with tears. Had anyone walked by at that moment, they might have thought the two were in the midst of some emotional torment. That might have been true for the student, but the demon was simply remembering things she had long since buried under the surface.

To the girl, the tears were something new, and wracked her body. For Jahi, they were just part of her story.

In that story, there were smiles and laughter and joy and ecstasy, as well. The latter especially — she was, by her nature, a creature of intimacy. But she always left that part out of the tales, because so many grew fixated on that aspect above all else. But Jahi had felt it would be reasonable to include some detail about that with one of the women mentioned earlier, and Celia had blushed at the matter-of-fact, yet sensual way, in which their liaison had been described.

“Yeah, it… god, I’m sorry. It’s just, if you’re talking to me, then…” Celia dabs at her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater, glasses set aside. She did not know why those stories had affected her so strongly, but Jahi knew. She was afraid of what this meant for her.

Jahi had a choice here. She could stand up, excuse herself, and leave. She did not know what might become of Celia in the future, but she had too many instances now, since that last time in the mid-century, when she had unwittingly pushed beautiful, wise souls to their deaths. It did not take Celia long to understand the underlying point of Jahi’s tales, and how she herself might fit in that timeline. The sort of life Celia might lead was about to be charted, even as the girl adjusts her glasses again and steadies herself.

“Will I be like them? Can you help me?”

Jahi does not know. She doesn’t want to know.

“I could. But you understand what you’re asking here, don’t you?”

Celia is staring at Jahi. Her lip is quivering, breathing slow and deep, but her eyes are burning with the fire of determination.

It’s happening again, thinks Jahi. I’m going to be the death of her.

And yet she cannot simply walk away.

“And if it burns you?” Jahi asks.

“Do you…” Celia takes the time to find the words. “Do you think you’re what made them all go out so quickly, or do you think you’re just drawn to the kind of women that burn themselves out?”

The former. I can’t help myself, can I?

“I don’t know,” says Jahi.

“I think it’s the latter,” says Celia, folding her arms over the table. She has calmed again, and all thoughts of grades and old loves have left her mind. “I don’t think you cause these women to push themselves so far. I think… I think they want someone to push them. If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else.”

“How wise of you, girl. And if no one like me ever came along?”

“Then I think we would have lost something,” Celia whispers. “I mean, I learned about Cleopatra in middle school and felt inspired. I read Pride & Prejudice in high school and it put me on a Victorian craze for weeks. I’m not as familiar with the rest, but I’ll be sure to read about them soon, and feel inspired by whatever they did too.”

“The others were brave, and died for it. Those you know sought power or recognition, and died for it. The world did not love them the way I did,” says Jahi, “because to the world, women like them are seen as mad and foolish. And if they die, they are seen as weak and overzealous. And if they live, then they live forever wondering if they have done enough.”

“But… I want to be remembered. It’s almost a certainty if you help me, right? That I’ll be someone the world will remember?”

And that’s what they all say, isn’t it? Yet none of them know what they are asking for.

“Is living not enough?” Jahi says softly.

Celia does not reply, her eyes downcast. Jahi smiles.

“Take a minute, Celia. Think about it. I’m gonna go take a piss.”

It is 12:12 AM.

Jahi stands outside the diner. Though she is dressed in a winter coat that reaches her knees, she has it unbuttoned, exposing the blouse underneath. She is not cold.

The snow continues to fall in Toronto, draping the streets in a sheer silk that adheres to all that it touches, covering cars and postboxes alike. A weather advisory had gone into effect while the two women were at the diner, informing Torontonians of a freezing chill in the morning, but for now the cold was not so terrible that one couldn’t enjoy it if they really tried.

As Jahi sweeps her long hair around the side, laying it out over one shoulder, she tilts her head up. Snowflakes have fallen all along her black locks, settling neatly, and melt against the heat of her skin.

A gloved hand reaches forward, palm up towards the sky. Clumps of snow collect along the grooves of the leather, some scattering between her fingers, falling to the earth below. Jahi’s eyes focus on a single snowflake that had settled between her thumb and the rest of her palm, admiring the lattice of fractals, interlaced and spun out into a marvelous geometric shape. She always admired snowflakes, so beautiful and complex, and yet…

So fragile. She shifts her thumb and squeezes it between folds of leather. A simple movement, and the snow melts, all the intricacy that it had once boasted collapsing into nothing but water.

Behind her, the door opens, a gentle bell ringing out.

Jahi turns to see Celia outside. She’s all bundled up again, scarf covering her chin and hat pulled snugly around her ears. Her glasses reflect the glow of the streetlights around them.

For a moment, the succubus and the girl watch each other in an uncomfortable silence. Then, having grown increasingly agitated, Jahi speaks.

“I know it’s tempting. That claim to power, the idea of belief. To think of yourself as special and able to leave a tangible mark on the world often sweeps away all the other fears, doesn’t it?” The succubus rubs her arm with the opposite hand. “But it’s okay to be selfish sometimes, too. All those people… I still don’t know if they died happy, like everything went the way they wanted it to. Sometimes I wonder — ”

“It was nice meeting you, Jahi. But I have to get going now.”

A cool silence stretches out again. The dumbfounded demon turns to stare down at the shorter girl, and finds that behind Celia’s glasses is a look of utter surety that she would never have expected in one so young.

“I’ll be fine by myself, really,” she says, before remembering something amusing. “You know, it’s funny, I was crying about grades and boys before you got here. Those problems seem kinda small now, compared to an immortal telling me about how she met some of the most important women in history.”

“You…” Jahi hesitates, but quickly finds her footing again and regains her posture. “Everyone’s problems are proportional to the emotional weight attached. I’m sure the boy and your academics are important to you, no matter how much of a dickhead the boy might have been.”

So many years. So many years, and she still keeps shifting her verbiage somewhere between crude and verbose, no matter how hard she tries.

“I guess so. Nothing I can do about that, huh?” Celia laughs, pulling her scarf up to cover her chin. Behind them, someone leaves the diner, laughing all the way to their car and nearly slipping on the ice on the way off the entrance ramp.

Jahi feels an urge to convince Celia that she needs her help. She briefly considers telling her about more people she’s met, and about the sorts of difficult conversations they’d had, arguments that led to some of the most fascinating discoveries of human history.

She opens her mouth to speak, but she is stopped by the look in Celia’s eyes.

Jahi has seen that look a thousand times before.

“So… see you around?”

“It’s probably best that you don’t — I might yet convince you to change your mind. Ramble on about how much we could do together. I’ve practiced some good villain speeches before in my time.”

“Ah, the whole ‘Luke, I am your father’? Unless you’re not into that stuff.”

“I’m not a relic of the past, Celia. I’ve been keeping up to date on things.”

Something about that makes Celia laugh. Jahi does not.

“Well, I guess I still hope you’ll keep tabs on me anyway. Even if you don’t try to influence me like you did with all the others.”

“I’ll try my best not to,” Jahi says.

No more words are exchanged save for some formalities. The usual ‘See you around’ and ‘Have a good night.’

Jahi watches Celia turn away from her. The girl leaves imprints on the snow in her passing, walking across the near-empty parking lot and into the side streets that would lead her safely home to her apartment. The demon notes how she is carrying herself, the newfound spring of confidence evident in every step she takes. Her head is held high. Her eyes are looking straight ahead, not on the sidewalk upon which she walks.

In Celia’s mind, she is still not entirely sure that what just happened was real. She is in a haze. But the words are strong, and regardless of their legitimacy, she hopes the words will carry her.

Eventually, Jahi does not see her at all. The footprints remain as the only evidence of the blonde having been there in the first place.

“You will be remembered,” Jahi says.

And she’ll remember Jahi as well. That’s the kind of person she is; her presence, the notion of someone like her saying you have value, leaves a mark on the mind. The seed grows and grows, one day giving birth to a beautiful flower. Jahi provides the nurturing soil. The girls, for good or ill, are the lilies in the valley.

Then she leaves too, and the footprints in the snow are all that’s left of her as well. Her posture has not changed, and she is staring ahead. She sees nothing, and she sees everything.

They’ll remember the women that change the world, but not those that helped them along the way.

This suits her just fine; she isn’t doing it for the glory, or the money, or the power. In fact, all these years later, and she’s never told a single soul why she’s doing it. Not really. Many have wondered if she even knows. But if she is not meant to be in the history books, then perhaps this lighter approach will yield better results than the one she’d relied on for so long. Perhaps this one won’t burn out like so many before her.

Decades later, Jahi learns the fate of one Celia Fairsick. Upon being told the circumstances of her death, the demon smiles for the first time in years.

This is just as well, for Jahi has no more tears left to shed.

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Johnny Libenzon

Toronto-based aspiring author writing a mix of sci-fi and 'rural fantasy' short stories