Table of Contents Letter from the Editor...........................................................
The Crow in the Pine.............................................................
Report to the Grays Harbor County Commissioner............. 12 A Many Splendored Thing..................................................... 16 Viewing Rooms...................................................................... 19
_________ ÂŠ 2018 Buckshot Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Printed in Canada First Edition www.buckshotmagazine.com 2
Dear Reader, Before the trees change coat and summer ends for good, we can still look back fresh on the past few months. What has happened? What has changed? No doubt some things have grown, while others have bloomed; much is gone, but still more will grow again. The same is true here. All of these stories hold within them many seeds. First comes The Crow in the Pine, by Wendy Nikel, a heartfelt tale told by an unique narrator. Next is Dayal, by Fabiyas M. V., a surreal, otherworldy recounting of an everymanâ€™s fall from normality. In Report to the Grays Harbor County Commissioner, writer Samuel Chapman explores the intersection of politics, race, and immigration in a terse experimental story set in alternative history. In A Many Splendored Thing, by Fraser Sherman, several single and struggling individuals receive dating advice. Lastly, in Viewing Rooms, writer Daniel Uncapher has crafted a compact and compelling masterpiece. I hope that within these pages you will find words, places, and characters that not only entertain and invigorate, but also inspire you. The coming months are colder. Read on, and enjoy. Sincerely,
Anthony Tan Editor-in-Chief
The Crow in the Pine _____ Wendy Nikel I’ve heard it said that crows don’t really collect shiny objects. These people who deem themselves experts on other creatures while still being so ignorant of themselves will offer plenty of logical explanations for our attraction to things that glitter and gleam in the sunlight. They’ll say that it’s mere curiosity and seen only in adolescent crows. They’ll say that we’re only pecking at these things to see if they’re edible. They’ll say that the fairy-tale image of crows hording wealth in their nest like a dragon’s treasure is just that: a myth. That may be true of others, but they’ve never seen my trove. *** The first thing I stole was a bottle cap. A boy and a girl sat upon the old wooden bridge, swinging their legs over the side. The boy popped the bottle cap off on the edge of the handrail, and it skittered along the weathered planks, rolling and hopping like a bicycle wheel before coming to rest on the muddy banks. From my perch atop the pine tree, I watched it, tipping my head from side to side to make it glimmer and sparkle. My claws twitched with need, my wings rustled for flight, but I held back. I’d seen boys before, boys with stones that they’d throw at my kind when we dared to venture too close. This boy, though, didn’t seem interested in tormenting birds. His gaze shifted smoothly back and forth from the river to the beverage to the girl, as if those three things comprised his whole world. Soundlessly, I spread my wings and glided downward. I kept one black-marble eye on the boy as I pecked at the cap, tasting its sharp, metallic edges and the bit of sweetness still clinging to it. He took a swig of the soda and offered it to the girl. Their fingers touched, and she looked down, blushing pink. With a burst of power, I flapped away, and only then did the two on the bridge pay me any mind. *** Next, I stole a gum wrapper, which crinkled pleasantly and tasted of summertime and mint. The boy and girl were tall enough now to lean over the bridge’s railing as they jabbered about 4
whatever it is that boys and girls talk about (how would I know? I’m just a crow). I’d barely even noticed them until the boy pulled out a pack of gum and removed that lovely, shiny, brilliant piece of paper. For years the cap had kept me happy, glistening there among the twigs of my nest. But that paper — oh, that paper! When it slipped from his hand, I found myself falling, diving down to snatch it up before the wind pulled it and the river soaked it and the current carried it away. They noticed me. They pointed and exclaimed as they smacked their teeth on the gum. Fortunately, the boy was older now, much too old to be hurling rocks. When he tired of tracking my progress across the sky with his finger, his hand came to rest on the girl’s. She looked down, blushing. *** Years later, I stole a ring, small and round, with a single sparkling stone. Like many thieves, each crime made me bolder. The boy held the ring in his shaky hands as he knelt down before the girl on the bridge. I leaned in, feathers twitching, and it slipped from his fumbling fingers, I let out a caw! of delight. Before it rolled off the edge of the bridge, I dove down to seize it in my claw. The boy shouted and shook his fists, jumping up to snatch at my tail feathers. I laughed. He was too slow to catch me. The prize was mine, cold and glittering in my grasp. The boy turned red with fury, but the girl took his hands and blushed. With a word from her lips, he forgot all about me. *** A few years later, I stole the favorite piece of my collection: a tiny round mirror within which I could see my own black eye. It had been attached to a baby buggy, one with soft pink-and-blue animals cavorting along its side. The mirror was positioned in front, just out of reach of ten tiny pink fingers that gleefully reached for it. The boy and girl took turns pushing the little buggy over the bridge and down the lane. Each time they passed, I watched those ten tiny pink fingers wriggling in that mirror and thought what a shame it was that the mirror was set only to reflect the image of that small, squirming human. Such a glass deserved a nobler subject, something bold and brash, like a crow. So when the boy and girl stopped on the bridge and turned to look out over the water —their hands clasped and their cheeks pink, I stretched out my wings and relieved them of the mirror. The child squawked, as if trying to scold me in my own language, but I pretended not to hear it. *** For a long time, I saw neither boy nor girl nor baby in the buggy. When I finally did, I stole my last treasure.
At first, I didn’t know what it was, clutched so tightly in the girl’s hand, as she held the pink fingers of a small boy in the other. She knelt beside him, just as so long ago her boy had knelt before her, but instead of diving in to snatch up this newest treasure, I just watched. I’d like to say that it was because I had grown less greedy with age, but the truth was, I had only grown older, more tired. The little boy closed his pink fingers around the shining, metal object, and then, at his mother’s direction, drew back his arm and tossed it over the side of the bridge. They must have known I was there, for they didn’t bat an eye when I instinctively dove from my perch. I snatched up the shining object just before the river could swallow it. High up in my nest in the pine, I turned it over, studying it. It was a heart-shaped medal, with words on one side, and a thick ribbon of royal purple attached. The girl and her boy watched me, just as she had watched me with her other boy, the one who was no longer with them. Shifting from foot to foot, I considered my old treasures: the cap, the wrapper, and the tiny mirror. Over the years, they had grown less shiny, yet no less valuable in my eyes. Now the heart-shaped medal outshone them all. I waited a moment longer, and then I gathered the wrapper and ring in one foot, the tiny mirror in the other, and the cap in my beak. Wobbling from side to side, I glided down and landed on the bridge beside the girl and her boy. With a single caw! I dropped my treasures at their feet. The girl gasped and the boy frowned, tipping his head to the side like I did whenever presented with a puzzle. And when the girl stooped to gather my offering, I startled and flew away, not so much out of fear as out of habit. When I looked back, they had started walking. From my perch in the pine, with the medal at my feet, I watched the girl and the boy cross the bridge one last time.
__________ Wendy Nikel has an elementary education degree, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her tea. Her short fiction has been published in FSI, DSF, Nature, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, is forthcoming in spring 2018. For more info, visit wendynikel.com. 6
Dayal _____ Fabiyas M. V. Dayal’s auto rickshaw runs at breakneck speed, rushing through the heat and dust of Chava town. Quite unexpectedly, the rickshaw halts and the jeep behind it diverts to the right, barely avoiding a crash. The jeep driver sticks his head out, yells “Are you mad, bastard?”, then drives off. The rickshaw has run out of fuel. Dayal steps out and takes a can of diesel from behind the back seat. After filling the tank, he continues his journey. He has forgotten hunger and thirst. His mind frequently visits his old house, and always returns with grief and shame. He had been a clerk under the Irrigation Department. A small family can live comfortably with a clerk’s income, yet he had remained bankrupt. He once had a dream – to become the district collector, a glamorous post. Though he tried twice, he failed utterly in the Civil Service Examination. His handwriting, slow and shabby, was the culprit. His father used to say, when you try to catch an elephant, you will at least find a goat. Dayal became a clerk. Now, the sorry figure of his father, always struggling to provide, flashes in his mind. The tarred road ends. Dayal and his auto rickshaw have left the rest of the world behind. They enter a narrow path leading into thick forest as night falls. Crickets slay the silence. Headlights carve a way through the darkness. A deer jumps onto the path, stands and stares at Dayal and his rickshaw, dazzled by the bright light. Dayal waits for it leave, and continues. After a while, the vehicle loses its pace and halts with a groan; its wheels are fully immersed in mud. Dayal is too tired to push it out. He puts his head on the handlebar and closes his eyes. Soon, he is asleep. *** Sun rays fall through the canopy of leaves, scattering on the front glass of the auto rickshaw, waking Dayal from his dreamless sleep. He gets out of the vehicle, rubbing his eyes and finds a stream. There, he washes his face, then gulps water from the bowl of his palms. The coldness is refreshing. Finished with his morning routine, he goes, sits on a moss-covered stone beneath a huge teak tree. A breeze has started and the branches sway softly, slender as a woman’s arms. There is always a woman behind a man’s success, he thinks. He has read that in some book. “Behind failure, too,” he mutters. After his father died of liver-cirrhosis, he began shouldering the family’s burden all alone. Before long, his mother came down with rheumatism. She could hardly get up anymore, and Dayal had to 7
take over the housework. He loathed cooking. Too late, realizes he how much he has taken his mother for granted. Now he gets up, stretches. He has made up his mind to explore the forest. Down a narrow path, he spots a reddish-yellow mango lying beneath a wild mango tree. Suddenly he is reminded of his hunger, a clawing thing in his stomach; he picks it up quickly and devours it. After making his way to the rickshaw, he lies down in the back seat and slips into a nap. When he opens his eyes, standing in front of him is a half-naked tribesman in a dusty dhoti. A bottle of honey dangles in his left hand. A woman, perhaps the man’s wife, stands nearby with a bundle of dried twigs on her head. “Who are you?” The man asks. Though he is reticent by nature, Dayal decides that he will speak. He tells them who he is, how he came to be here. They grasp human what he is saying, and invite him to their hut. He politely declines. They leave, but not before giving him a match-box. “How could Simra abandon me?” Dayal settles back into the rickshaw. Now that she is gone, he understands her at last. She had come from a well-heeled family – a pampered life – with a concept in her mind of a husband, the perfect husband, developed from her love of TV serials and Hindi movies. She longed for a fantasy life, as on the screen, and for a short while after the marriage, she was shy. Her beauty both energized and blinded Dayal. He followed her around like a dog wagging its tail. “A husband should be a grave man, never a chocolate-boy,” his mother reminded him often, and he could not stand her words, her practical wisdom. She is jealous, he thought. Jealous of Simra. Back then he had been sensitive; his mind and face, pure and young, had captivated his young bride. They did not have many happy days left. His meager clerk’s salary was not enough for her, for all of them. Soon their poverty, and his mother’s rheumatism, shattered his wife’s long cherished dreams and with it, their romance. A few months later, his mother passed away. And Simra became a free bird. *** Dayal is startled out of his thoughts by a wild, thunderous trumpet. Immediately, he pulls down the drop-down curtains of the auto rickshaw and peeps through a tiny hole between them. Outside, it is drizzling. Large shapes move in the bush, their footfalls shaking the ground itself; elephants. A grizzled male with long tusks leads the herd. They pass by Dayal and his rickshaw, and through the tangle of grey trunks and stout legs, Dayal sees a baby elephant lumbering along with the rest of them. He stares on, breathless.
Soon, the elephants are gone, disappeared into the depths of the forest. Dayal curls up against the seat but he cannot sleep. Yesterday’s events have risen in his mind and this time, he cannot push them away. *** Her father, a churlish middle-aged man, comes by early in the morning. He compels his daughter to take her jewelry, dresses and other belongings. She is poker-faced and obeys her father. Dayal watches all of this, frozen. “I never thought things would end like this... yours is a wretched birth,” her father tells him as they leave. A few minutes later, a black Ambassador car comes to his house with bank and revenue department officials, accompanied by a police jeep. Then start the loan recovery proceedings. Dayal’s body and mind burn with humiliation; a large number of villagers have gathered in the yard, watching. Some pity him, while others jeer, laugh, and scold. He cannot find a friendly face. “We’re sorry. We have no other way. The proceedings here are finished,” the bank manager tells him. Dayal says nothing. He has lost his house and his land. His pride is steeped in shame. His wife is gone, his neighbours have lost all respect for him, and he misses his mother. There are things more horrible than death in this universe. The bankers are gone by noon. Dayal takes out a brown leather bag, some clothes, and enters his auto rickshaw, the only thing of value he has left. As he drives, he cannot meet the eyes of the people he passes, the other drivers. It is as if the whole world is watching, watching and laughing. *** The tribal couple leave Dayal cooked tapioca wrapped in banana leaf. They often present him with wild fruits, edible roots, honey and the like. He learns from them how to find bread and soon adopts their ways, their secret philosophy – live today, forget yesterday and neglect tomorrow. The auto rickshaw has become his home. Day by day, his mind convalesces. Saffron sun peeps through the twigs. Dayal is out for a stroll when he hears an odd noise. Moments later, a car comes nodding its head along the narrow path and stops beside him. A large man steps out, followed by his wife and a four-year-old son. “I’m Denny, from Chava,” the stranger introduces himself. Chava is near his home village, Dayal realizes. The other man explains. He and his family have lost their way while enjoying the charm of the woods. Dayal nods and points with his index-finger in the right direction out of the forest.
Denny is fazed. “Could you come in a sit until the route is clear for us, please?” Dayal consents, and gets into the car. Though it is worn-down and untidy, Dayal’s remains unerringly polite; life in the wild has not altered his manners. “Sir” Dayal points to the left. Five meters away, there is a tiger, pausing as it crosses to watch the car. “Please don’t stop, and drive fast, sir.” “What a trip, Dayal! I’d like to come back, without my family, later.” “Everybody likes the forest,” says Dayal. “I’m preparing a research paper on the wildlife here and I hope… that you can help me with it.” “Yes, with pleasure, sir.” Now they reach the tarred road. “We’re out of the forest. You can let me down here, sir.” “O God! I forgot. How do you get back here?” Denny asks. He stops the car. “I intend to come back the day after tomorrow. So if you don’t mind, please come with us. You can stay in our outhouse, and show me the way when we return.” Dayal does not decline, as he suspects that otherwise, it will take him many hours of walking to return to his rickshaw. They drive for a long while. When the car reaches Chava city, Dayal asks Denny to stop the car. “Sir, I’d like to get down here. I would like to see your city and I will wait for you here, the day after tomorrow.” “Very well, I will be here around in the morning… Please, take this.” The other man has taken out five hundred rupees and offers it to Dayal. “No, sir. I cannot.” “Take it, please. For being so kind. For food, at least, or whatever else you need.” Dayal takes the currency and bows his head. *** After sixteen long years, Dayal saunters along the roads of his home village, the early sun rising and its soft light nostalgic. The village has changed. A movie theater, a wedding-hall, a duplex, a barber’s saloon, an English medium school, metal towers and well-furnished shops have appeared, all put up during his long absence. The coconut leaf-thatched huts have been replaced with concrete
houses. Nobody calls out at him, and he would hardly recognize himself if he walked by a mirror; a dusty copper colored beard has grown on his face. His body is hairy like a bear. His shirt and pants are faded. Dayal recognizes one of his old classmates, greets him, hello!, but his classmate walks away quickly, avoiding his eyes. Dayal looks down and realizes that he has not washed in some time; he must resemble tramp. He continues his walk, a stranger in his own village, where he was born, raised, and lived in for thirty-five years. Yet he wanders with the thrill of a boy at a carnival. *** Twilight looms. Dayal is haggard and thirsty. Still he roams, looking around. He halts at a familiar street, enchanted at a two-storied house, an architectural beauty standing by the side of the road. A lady, neither young nor old, sits on the red marble door-step. Her hair is dyed with henna. Dayal walks up, opens the gate, and enters her yard. Up close, his eyes open wide. Sweetness runs through his veins. She sees him, gets up, and goes into the house. A few minutes later she returns with some coins. She steps up and offers them to him, but he simply gazes at her. “Simra…” He has broken the silence. His voice is charcoal, low and rough. Her eyes stare, widen, and glisten… then move away. The moment is ended. She goes back in and slams the door. Slowly, silently, Dayal turns and leaves, his mind barren, where nothing grows.
__________ Fabiyas M. V. is a writer from Kerala, India. He is the author of ‘Kanoli Kaleidoscope’, published by Punkswritepoemspress, USA, ‘Eternal Fragments, published by erbacce press, UK and ‘Moonlight And Solitude’, published by Raspberry Books, India. His fiction and poetry have appeared in several anthologies, magazines, and journals. He has won several international accolades including Merseyside at War Poetry Award from Liverpool University, UK. 11
Report to the Grays Harbor County Commissioner _____ Samuel Chapman DATE: August 9, 2022 FROM: Kim Thomas, Grays Harbor County Auditor, prepared with the help of Shuchen Tian, County Auditor’s Assistant TO: Jim Karlson, County Commissioner RE: United States Supreme Court Velasco v. Maine decision and resulting investigation INTRODUCTION: Per your request, my staff and I have compiled a report and recommended actions regarding the Velasco decision for Grays Harbor County, and the growing coverage of death-fraud in the press. This is an internal report. We recommend county officers not show it to the public, the press, or any representatives of the alterlife community. BACKGROUND INFORMATION: In 2019, the United States Senate proposed the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, certifying the proposal with a vote of 73 to 27. The amendment was conceived in response to the growing awareness of communities designated “post-organic” or “deceased-American” Comment from KThomas, 8-6-2022, 11:08 am: Can’t we just call them what they are? Comment from STian, 8-6-2022, 1:16 pm: Most other terms are considered racial slurs. “Lich,” “vampire,” and “zombie” are particularly offensive. “Undead” and “revenant” are better, but not much. And “wight” confuses people. STian, 1:17 pm: Some people back in Taiwan prefer “Jiangshi.” KThomas, 1:24 pm: Just use alterlife. The commissioner won’t care. STian, 2:08 pm: I think we should discuss this with the legal team. Kthomas, 2:09pm: Just do it. and intended to grant them a voice in democracy by removing the requirement that a citizen be alive to cast a vote. Thanks to a nationwide public groundswell and a donor campaign by wealthy alterlifes, KThomas, 8-6-2022, 11:12 am: Not relevant background. STian, 8-6-2022, 1:26 pm: Which part?
44 states ratified the amendment, which became the law of the land on October 8, 2019. The country approached the 2020 presidential election with a radically changed electorate. Americans that had once lived off the grid in isolated communities emerged as a political force. KThomas, 8-6-2022, 11:19 am: Is there a stronger way we can say this? Sounds like one of their pamphlets. STian, 8-6-2022, 2:29 pm: I have a bulleted list prepared: --Revenants purchased ConAgra Foods to ensure a steady blood supply --Undead are petitioning to participate in the US Olympic Trials --107 countries have refused entry to American-born liches on grounds of economic destabilization from the lack of death --Incorporeals have destroyed the property values of at least KThomas, 8-6-2022, 2:29 pm: I can see you typing more, don’t bother. It’ll only upset CC. Before November, the Federal Election Commission heard complaints from remote precincts that local officials had struck voters off the rolls, claiming the voters in question were misusing the concept of legal death. “Pretending to exercise their 28th-amendment rights,” read a statement from Harding County, New Mexico, in response to one such complaint, “fraudsters have in fact been voting multiple times under the cover of the newly-changed constitutional definition of death.” Ashley Velasco of Portland, Maine, was selected by the American Civil Liberties Union to be the banner case for alterlife voting rights. A revenant, Velasco testified that she was turned during a year spent homeless after fleeing an abusive boyfriend KThomas, 11:24 am: Change to “complex domestic situation” and that the individuals who accosted her later provided her employment on a collective farm. She further testified that an auditor’s clerk informed her she had been labeled a “fraud risk” and denied her a registration form, refusing to clarify. She was unable to vote in the election. ACLU attorneys eventually appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled KThomas, 11:27 am: Mention it was a 5-4 decision. STian, 2:34 pm: Why? KThomas, 2:37 pm: It’s required by guidelines. STian, 2:39 pm: I can’t find any reference to that in the assignment. KThomas, 2:40 pm: Do you want to be writing this or not, Shuchen? that her 28th amendment rights had been violated.
RELEVANCE TO GHC: Grays Harbor County has one of the largest populations of alterlifes in the state, being home to both the Cougar Smith Farm of immigrant Jiangshi and the Makah canoe-burial site in Olympic National Park. Representatives of both communities have brought stories of disenfranchisement to the media. They have been seeking more electoral power due to what they describe as horrific conditions on their sequestered land. “They tell me I can’t vote, I’m dead,” said incorporeal Makah Ancestor Sam Briggs to the Aberdeen Daily World, “like they gave a damn when we were alive. We’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. If they won’t recognize us now, then when?” KThomas, 2:41 pm: I know you added that last section after you read my comment above. Don’t be childish. STian, 2:43 pm: What do you want me to say, Kim? That everything is fine with these people, and they’d like to be able to vote but they can laugh it off? STian, 2:44 pm: I’ve been out to these places. People think just because ghosts don’t eat, or because jiangshi get all the blood they need from their animals, that everything must be easy-peasy out there. I’ve seen the jiangs give the young ones the first crack at a scraggly cow while they sit and count coins or rocks to distract themselves from going mad with hunger. And the Makah don’t bother to call the police when those “freelance exorcists” come out to hound them. KThomas, 2:45 pm: Shuchen. Enough. STian, 2:46 pm: Even the ones that do well need the help. Would Jim have let those vampires buy ConAgra if the deal had gone down in GHC? What’s he done to show he deserves that power? KThomas, 2:46 pm: My office. Now. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Governor Anwar directed all counties in Washington to cease inquiries into death-fraud cases. “Our great state will not tolerate interference in democracy from any direction,” his statement read. “If they can walk, talk, or breathe, let them vote. If they can’t, let them rest.” Alone among state officials, Grays Harbor County Commissioner Jim Karlson vowed to resist Anwar’s directive. “This is a blatant giveaway to fraud forced through by undead special interests,” he said to reporters. “Our hardworking voters will not tolerate it.” RESULTS OF COUNTY AUDITOR REVIEW: The County Auditor’s Office cross-referenced the names of voters declared dead with the Deceased-American Registry (DAR), for which all American alterlifes were required to present themselves during the 2020 census. In two months of work, we discovered two hundred and forty-nine cases of dead identities falsely claimed as alterlife in order to let one individual vote multiple times. RECOMMENDATIONS: We recommend that Commissioner Karlson strike these names from the rolls pending a criminal review. Furthermore, we recommend controlled communication with the press over the next six months to emphasize our struggle against the Alterlife Lobby. Talking points: 14
--Connect voter fraud and the undead constantly --Reference powerful Revenant and Lich business interests and downplay communities such as those in GHC --Avoid “human” stories like the skeleton Olympic archer --Overall, consistently remain in the role of resistance CONCLUSION: The war against fraud will be fought against both the criminals themselves and well-meaning “activists.” Commissioner Karlson has the support of a silent majority all across the country, and should remember that Comment by STian, 11:31 pm, 6-8-2022: Commissioner Karlson, this is Shuchen Tian, Kim Thomas’s assistant at the County Auditor’s office. She isn’t used to word processing--it’s my job--so I was able to insert this note that will only appear in one version the report. If you’re reading this, it means you followed my anonymous text. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you read this far. I am writing this to tell you the 249 cases of falselife voting are a lie. Do you want to know how many we really found? Two. One per month of work. We surveyed 60,000 registrations. Kim Thomas ordered me to write this report after she’d already decided to feed you fake numbers. I tried to stay within my job parameters at first. I wrote what she told me to write and inserted other details that would make you sympathetic to the alterlifes. She caught all of it. Commissioner, my mother is Jiangshi. She died of a brain tumor in Taiwan just days before my father moved our family to Washington. She was so excited to come with us. Even after the doctor gave her the prognosis, all she could talk about was Grays Harbor County, of the cedars and the mountains. She wanted to see an orca. We have no idea who turned her. The police in Taipei aren’t interested in following up on an emigrant’s case. We are trying to make the best of what she is now--we moved closer to Cougar Smith and visit every day--but it’s so hard. And now you’re on TV trying to take away her vote. Ms. Thomas wrote the last part of the report after the comments end. I had nothing to do with it. I’m probably going to lose my job here, and so this is the last chance I have of doing anything like this. Of saying what needs to be said. Please, Commissioner. I know what you’re afraid of. How many times in the last few years you’ve woken up and found everything spinning farther and farther away from its axis Not a single one of the people you’re trying to suppress doesn’t understand that feeling. Drive up Cougar Smith Road if you don’t believe me. There’s no such thing as an end of history, Mr. Karlson. Times have changed. Nobody gets to not change. the hopes of ordinary Americans are riding on his leadership against the powerful forces that seek to oppress us.
__________ Samuel Chapman lives in the Pacific Northwest, where he’s at work on a young-adult novel inspired by Robert Bringhurst’s groundbreaking books on the Haida Mythtellers. His fiction has previously appeared in Metaphorosis. When not writing, he likes fencing, hiking, running D&D games, and drinking tea. Read more of his work at www.samuelpchapman.wordpress.com. 15
A Many Splendored Thing _____ Fraser Sherman
“Break up with Peter by voice mail?” Michelle stared at me as if I’d suggested kicking a puppy. “Venus, that’s so—“ “You’ve read the book,” I slapped a copy of my latest paperback down on the bar in front of her. “If he was into you he’d have jumped you already, period.” She stared at me, trying to think of an argument. I didn’t give her time. “‘chelle, he’s a guy, right? So he’s hardwired to be sexually aggressive, unless he’s not interested. Didn’t the book prove it?” Actually it didn’t, but as a goddess, I’m very good at making complete bullshit sound plausible. “I know, you’d like to ‘stay friends’—“ “Sure.” She nodded hopefully. “It’s so hard to find anyone who likes foreign films around here.” “But don’t. Like that Cosmo article last week said, it’s kinder to be cruel.” I wrote that one too. “And a face-to-face confrontation’s going to make you both miserable.” This was taking too long, but I really wanted to seal the deal. “I’m not budging from this bar stool until you leave that message and break it off clean.” It took 15 minutes, but Michelle left the message. She looked so miserable, I decided to take extra time, reminded her of the “Six Signs of a Winner” and showed her they applied to the douchebag at the end of the bar. He’d have her heart broken inside two weeks. I was rushing out when I saw Ian scowling from his table at the hot redhead sitting, oblivious, a dozen yards from him. Judging from his outfit, he’d swallowed all my advice about how overspending on clothes would improve his sex life. “Ian, how’s it shaking? You look pissed off.” “She’s a bitch.” He slammed his glass down, glaring at the woman again. “A fucking bitch. I hate her guts.” “Turned you down?” “I used all the best lines in that pick-up book you recommended, but—dammit, why should she have the power to decide whether I get laid tonight or not?” “Oh, it’s not that bad,” I said. “You see Riley, the little programmer over there?”
“What?” He glanced at Riley, stared back at me incredulous. “Aphrodite, you know I don’t do blimps.” “I suppose she is kind of fugly.” She was cute as hell, actually, but I’d convinced Ian to set the bar very high. “Besides, I heard her last night and she says she has to have an intellectual guy.” “You think I’m too dumb for her?” “Try hitting on her if you like,” I said, in a tone that suggested I wasn’t optimistic. “If the book isn’t working, use some of those tricks from that online course you took.” I watched him stalk over there, smoldering with resentment, ready for an encounter that would reinforce both their worst opinions about the opposite sex. I’d have stayed to watch but I wanted to get a little more work done. Happily, a couple of bars down the road I found fresh meat. “I don’t understand.” Hal held up the copy of Men’s Monthly, finger jabbing at another of my columns. Good thing goddesses type fast. “I did everything this guy says about cultivating a bad-boy image— “Then you did right. Nice guys don’t get laid, everyone knows that.” “So how come she broke up with me?” “It’s a test, to see if you’ve got the balls to stand up to her.” And because I’d shown her another column that identified Hal’s behavior as self-destructive and immature. “So don’t be a eunuch.” “I shouldn’t try and call her back?” “Women are hardwired to want what they can’t have. If she thinks she can have you, she’ll completely lose interest.” Then I saw my watch. “Oops. Gotta fly!” Rushing to the street, I texted Alan, assuring him that nobody would think he was being a jerk if he posted a detailed description of Larry’s inadequacies on Facebook. I sent that off, then Pete called me. Busy, busy, busy… “Michelle broke up with me, Venus! By voice mail! That’s … not even to my face!” “That’s why I told you not to make a move on her. Think how much worse you’d feel if things had gotten serious. Don’t worry, as long as you shower and wear clean clothes, you’ll find someone soon, unless you’ve got a real problem.” Peter did shower and wear clean clothes, so that kind of advice only made him more insecure. Fifteen minutes later I was back in the apartment, opening my laptop to check out my PayPal account. Money isn’t as satisfying as the scent of a roast bullock, but a sacrifice is a sacrifice. And this
week’s offerings were good: Fashion designers, makeup companies, men’s magazines, women’s magazines, reality dating shows, I had a lot of worshippers. They needed desperate, lonely people for customers, and I, their goddess, provided. Don’t judge me, okay? My power was at its peak in an age men and women had nothing in common. Back in the day, Greek husbands barely tolerated their wives. Over the centuries since then, men and women have just gotten too damn comfortable with each other. The only way to keep them praying for love is to make it as hard as possible to find it. Midnight struck, and I felt the day’s accumulated prayers washing over me. Can’t I find someone who’ll like me the way I am? Why didn’t I see the break-up coming? Why do they act that way? Am I going to die a virgin? What’s wrong with me? Cash sacrifices are fine, sure, but being prayed to is the best high in the world. So I poured myself some Red Bull and began working on my new book. After they read this one, they’ll really need a miracle to find love.
__________ Born in England, raised in Florida, Fraser Sherman has had stories published in Drabblecast, Crimson Streets, New Myths and Space and Time. He lives in Durham, NC with his perfect wife and two wonderful dogs. You can find him online at frasersherman.com.
Viewing Rooms _____ Daniel Uncapher She grew up addicted to the rooms in other peoples’ lives. At night she walked among the houses, hunting for the familiar blue glow of a flickering TV, the reassuring motion of a ceiling fan, ribbons of light cascading through half-drawn blinds. Every lit window a world–teenagers hunched over computers, adults reclining in their favorite chairs, babies screaming over lullabies. She wanted to know where they came from, where they were going. She wanted their laundry list of regrets. She felt nostalgic for their childhoods–for the kinetic potential of childhood–for a calculus whose meaning exceeded its sum. Familiar things occupied unfamiliar positions, posing unanswerable questions in the unintelligible language of physical space; socks hanging from pots in the kitchen, broken pulls for curtains that never get drawn. In a tiny bungalow behind the school, in the middle of a room with newspapered walls, she found a woman in a rocking chair listening to AM choir and finishing a large-print word search puzzle, alone. A single 40W light bulb hung from its wire over her head. “It isn’t real,” she assured herself. “Nothing in this world is real.” She returned to old habits. People became alien, impossible creatures with bulbous heads and long, floppy limbs. Questions presented themselves without permission. What kind of cereal do they buy at the store? Which percentage of milkfat do they drink–do they still believe in drinking cow’s milk? What’s hidden in their underwear drawer, where there isn’t any underwear? Whose crumbs are those under the couch? In the morning they discovered an empty bed and went searching. The volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol turned up reports of ghosts. The entire city mobilized, which shocked her. The doctor observed her in this state and marked it a significant improvement; her prescription was made. On a narrow bed in a white room, in a glass-concrete hospital with a top-of-the-line HVAC system and full Basic Cable, she looked with wonder at the faceless men and women descending to save her, all the light of Heaven at their backs. They folded her in a gossamer gown, secured her with their golden chains, and then administered 225 volts of electrical current directly into her scalp until her eyes rolled up into her head and the first bead of spittle appeared on her chin. The view outside is like a Rembrandt, a single row of live oaks crossing a landscape of purple and gold. A crop-duster flies low over the fertile earth, spraying a miracle blend of chemicals on to parallel rows of perfect little lives, planted one-at-a-time by mechanical dinosaurs, guided by satellites 19
beyond the limits of human vision. Soybean, corn, wheat, peanuts, cotton; that’s money being made, real money, that’s Americans eating well, Americans on the moon, children growing up happy, healthy, well-fed. “Miraculous industry,” reads all relevant literature. “Industry,” she says, and she becomes a machine.
__________ Daniel Uncapher is an MFA candidate and Sparks Fellow at Notre Dame whose work has appeared in Baltimore Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, HCE Review, Wilderness House, The Cost of Paper, Posit, Chantwood Magazine, Neon, and others.
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