The Sistren is a collection of stories about seventy-two singular sisters. Every week a new sister’s story is told, accompanied by an original illustration. 

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There was never nothing.

Somnia sleeps in her dark chamber, uteral, silent and still. Floating in the viscous liquid, her once-short black hair now cradles her entire body like a limp shell. There is sometimes movement – the twitch of her index finger, the flutter of a lash – but always it leads back to stillness. Somnia dreams. Her dark chamber dreams of light, her hair dreams of conquest, but Somnia’s dreams are untranslatable. She speaks a language in sleep that she would never understand waking. There is a different word for each follicle of hair at each moment in the day. There are a thousand words for darkness.

Somnia swims to the edge of her chamber, lifts herself out of the liquid and lets it puddle beneath her. She winds her way through the endless caverns searching for something specific – still asleep. In her dreams a swallow is leading her through hedgerows and she is following blindly. When she finds what she is looking for, she leans down and plucks it, and makes her way back to her chamber, eyes still closed. She takes it and pushes it deeply inside her. A chapter of her dream ends and she quietly begins another.

Somnia’s hands drift down to her belly. Slowly each one sweeps across it, caressing it gently in wide arcs. She can feel it tremulous inside her – even in her dreams the tiny reverberations echo and form almost imperceptible earthquakes. She will never claim to understand what is growing inside her, but deep in the greenest layer of her sleep she knows. 

It is quiet at the surface of Somnia’s chamber. Were you very still and silent, you would eventually see the tiniest ripples – her heartbeat. But were you to achieve perfect silence, you would notice another set of ripples even more subtle – emanating from her womb. And the shape of these ripples would eventually give away the full set of its contents. 

One day a sentient being exploring the known limits of our universe will collide with something vast and impenetrable – a fleshy boundary to something we all assumed limitless. Following the boundary for lifetimes upon lifetimes his kin would begin to notice a curve. Eternities later, were this being’s distant descendants to maintain a straight path, they would end up where he originally began. The dwarf stars, nebulas, galaxies and black holes – all of it contained by this oddly biological, perfectly impenetrable barrier.

Somnia sleepwalks again. This time she ventures further into the caverns, until her dreams dissolve and she sleeps in darkness. She is threading her way further and further through the labyrinth until something deep and maternal bids her return. Every journey leads her a few feet further into the dank caves, and a tiny bit closer to some unraveling of the questions she dreams. 

Sometimes she questions whether she will ever be born. Sometimes she questions whether she will ever give birth.

There was always something.

Illustration by Kaethe Butcher

The Vanske

The Vanske