The Fable Online
Issue 19 December 2016
Sarah Kedar Editor-in-Chief Heather White Associate Editor
Readers Heather White Stephen Tim Tanko Sarah Kedar
ÂŠ2015-2016 The Fable Online | Contributing Authors Cover illustrated by Luke Spooner.
Foreword by Heather White
As we head into the final month of the year, most people stop to celebrate. Festivities abound, with lights and decorations and joy. Anything to stave off the dark and the cold. But the festivities only hold back what our ancestors knew: dark things lurk beyond the edges. Cold. Death. The future. In this issue, we have a collection of stories which celebrate and explore the dark, the broken, and lost. Here, death is another frontier to explore, double-edged decisions are made, the underbelly of stories explored. Halloween, Samhain, may have passed, but the night still lingers, waiting for us to break from the light.
Table of Contents Cyan Psychosis by Nicole Melchionda .....................................................................................................................6 Holograms by Rony Nair ................................................................................................................................... 7 Mrs. Ruthy Andrews by Brent Green ................................................................................................................................8 Stolen Words by Megan Bailey ...........................................................................................................................16 You Drifted by Martha Magenta ......................................................................................................................17 Dinner by Kathryn Trattner ......................................................................................................................19 Final Transformations Inc. by David Henson ..........................................................................................................................22 Him by Sam Fisher................................................................................................................................ 24 I Would Breathe Water by A. Henry Ernst ..........................................................................................................................27 Keepsakes by Hamilton Perez ........................................................................................................................31 Once Orc: An Orc Story by Stewart Breier...........................................................................................................................32 Speed-Dating by Brandon Hartman ...................................................................................................................34 Walls by Stewart Delo .............................................................................................................................38 Your Line Ends Before the Future by F.C. Brown Cloud ......................................................................................................................54 About the Authors....................................................................................................................61
Cyan Psychosis by Nicole Melchionda
Warm whispers fizzle in cochlea, and marinate pruned flesh: digest me with sea salt.
My toes fan outI want to blend our entities and sink, a glinting crystalline embrace shatters if I raise my head.
Swathed in seaweed our body will hide under piled sheets of darkness.
I’ll cradle you safely in my lungs. I’d rather be breathless than stare into cyan psychosis andwonder if I’m human.
Holograms by Rony Nair In your town I search, without seeking visitations’ of the divine. Not for me the corpus of maudlin and hymen. or scores lost in meandering intent. there's you somewhere, in the oxygen that I breathe. Somewhere in the hairclips that tie disparate strands in airy weaves and raised flags, In long ago defeat. somewhere in the roaming of the mind around the bends in the head, somewhere in the rusted edges of your contempt are shrugs which begin from eyes that have already reshaped history; Entwined it in cobwebs of stretched out half-shreds, shrapnel bursts from long ago. I’m in your town and I seek a glimpse. I’ll never find.
Mrs. Ruthy Andrews by Brent Green I always knew Marrying my husband Would kill me. With every fall My body makes Named a step, I imagine The cityâ€™s sidewalks Splitting apart, Opening into a Wonderland abyss I can stumble into & Finally be safe. Because now My husbandâ€™s Last name Would be the Death of me. My chestnut bangs Fall over my eyes Like blinders As my pace slows, Cutting off the Evening sun. I knock A synthetic cocktail
Down my throat, Watch Today’s lazy sky Fruit no dizzying Bands of color To coat the sky. Or maybe The pollution Was just less Than usual. Old-timed Radio speakers Synchronize With holographic Emitters On the edge of every Block’s facade Throughout Seltern: Women with last names A through CRO Report to military square By nightfall For mandatory Draft registration. This is your final call. Give women equality Only to include us In your petty squabbles As fodder For insatiable greed, I know how it is.
Show me there’s a threat Worth fighting against And I’ll prove you The opposite. But don’t Call me A pirate Sympathizer Or a pacifist Because I’ll fight Plenty For love. I don’t want to go to military square. I yell it as loud As my muted Voice will allow Inside my head. Taking four more synthetics From an old prescription bottle, I watch the lines on the sidewalk Grow into drunk-waves Morphing into mires Slowing my feet, Bogging them down In invisible mud. The last thing That I remember Is nothing At all.
***** I was born With men Standing Over me. Iâ€™ll likely die With a man Standing Over me. But Iâ€™d call The one On top Of me now A brute. An old Brutus Who had stabbed So many women When their backs Were on the ground. Today, I figure, Is a good day To start The afterlife. The man leans back From my drooping face, Cautiously walksto A lingerie-clad woman. He talks into her ear
As close And gentle As a Seductive kiss They both pull out Pocket handguns, Point them Toward me Like exhausted teachers. Their voiced orders Carry weary Determination & pity: “Strip naked.” I do. Because We’ve all done Worse things Than nudity before. If marriage had Taught me one thing It was to be comfortable In my skin Because when you’re Married You have to wear two. I throw my clothes With force Into the corner In defiance
Because fuck you If youâ€™re gonna Fuck me. I raise my arms high, Letting them appraise Every confident inch. If other people Are going to own you The least you can do Is own up to yourself. After grunting In whimsical appreciation, He leads me in silence Like I am his daughter Through a blue-lit building, Plain doors lining the hall, Excited moans echoing from underneath. I suppose If you run a brothel Keep the red associations With Satan and lax morality To a minimum, Give your clients A little blue, A little slowedDown mentality. The room Iâ€™m taken to Has one desk, No bed, Two pens
And a contract. The devil is a stickler For details And loves the illusion Of choice. I see at the bottom A clause Giving me exception From the draft. I take a breath, Think about my husband, John. How this would be The perfect way To divorce him. As vile as it sounds, There comes a point When youâ€™ve fallen out of love You donâ€™t want To climb back up Anymore. I look behind me To the extended arms Of a man With only killshots Or profits On his mind, And see my choice is Either a brothel Or a bullet.
I donâ€™t even have to decide. I sign on the dotted line.
Mrs. Ruthy Andrews
Stolen Words by Megan Bailey
You took the words. You ruined them. Did she think you deep? When my favorite poems fell from your lips, did she buy the fraud? Did she drink in the stolen words and not question the tastemy lip gloss linger on each line.
My devotion is not fodder for your next distraction. How dare you take these pieces of me and try to slap them on something that couldn't carry my weight. If my garden is too wild for you get the hell out- but don't you dare grab at the blooms as you go. I am made of thorns and vines and I will leave a scar.
You Drifted by Martha Magenta
You drifted away, like a boat growing smaller in the distance.
Time slipped between us like a smothering mist Shadows silently filled the echoing emptiness.
You left your trace on a wave your word on paper your memory in me.
Dinner by Kathryn Trattner
He set the table with shaking hands -- a constant tremor. Plates covered in roses -- the best china with a blue maker's mark -- had come as a wedding gift from a relative he hadn't much liked. Angela had penned a thank you note in beautiful cursive and scribbled his name beneath. On the stove sat a basic meal: canned green beans and mashed potatoes from a box; a chicken from the readymade section of the grocery store encased in plastic, condensation blurring the inside. No gravy. He'd looked at the jars and then the packets, debating pros for one and cons for the other until he'd walked away. The knock on the door came as he folded paper napkins, creasing them into triangles. He paused. It came again and he crossed the room, placing his hand on the knob, inhaling. A young woman wearing a black dress, long legged in high heels stood on the other side. He met dark eyes, dropping his gaze at once. "Come in," he said, waving a hand. "I'm setting the table." "Wonderful." Perfume--white gardenias and green leaves--trailed her, curling around him. She glanced at the table and moved to the open kitchen, studying the wrinkled dinner. She licked her lips. "Looks good." He shuffled to the stove. "I'll make you a plate." She smiled, showing hard white teeth. He served cold chicken and gummy boxed potatoes. He sat with a groan, knees popping; the feel of her across the table made it impossible to eat. The scrape of the woman's fork on the china brought his eyes up, but he stopped at her chin. Her red mouth opened to take a bite. He cleared his throat and forked up green beans. Her fork clattered to the table. Martin stopped.
"It was your fault." The woman's voice slurred, coming thick. He stared at his plate. The smell of blood swirling into the air, fighting the pine cleaner he'd used to mop the floor. He glanced up, gagged. A cut creased her forehead, already bruising. Above the scoop neck of her dress, marks from a seat belt colored the visible skin. Blood from her hairline soaked into the blond strands. Her arm hung at an unnatural angle, bone poking through flesh. "Drunk driving." "It was a long time ago," he said. "For you." He swiped a hand across his face. Looking down and away, refusing to see yet still seeing the woman he'd hit at seventeen. There had been shattered glass, a moment of horror, and then he’d driven away staring straight ahead. "You hit me first." The woman vanished, replaced by a boy with short brown hair and Angela’s blue eyes. Not striking, but calm and patient. He was small, so small and hunched in the chair. A black eye blossomed; blood flowed from his snub nose. Drops fell onto the plate, the food stained red. The child reached out with his fork, scooping up a bite, but a man brought it to his lips. The man, with the same eyes as the child, smiled and swallowed bloodied mashed potatoes. "Remember when I hit you back?" "Yes," Martin said. The man laughed, sounding like a younger version of Martin. The laugh altered, sliding into a higher register -- a woman’s laugh. One of Angela's good friends, a housewife who'd lived down the street. Martin watched a bruise circle her wrist. He caught a whiff of bourbon. "You never could take no for an answer. It never bothered you, hearing it. And then it got to the point where I couldn't leave the house when Paul wasn't home because you'd follow." Martin put his fork down: it beat against the surface, the illness’s Morse code. He looked
at her cheeks, her forehead, anywhere but her eyes. "You never meant to hurt anyone." He dropped his gaze, stared at his plate, the food cold and sterile beside overblown china roses. The ticking clock matched the sound of her chewing, the scrape of fork on plate. "Would you like more?" he asked. "No." The voice made his skin crawl. He dreaded the sound of her, knowing already the slant of her shoulders and the tilt of her frowning mouth. Angela. The patter of dripping blood, a splat and hiss. "Hello." He nodded, not looking. "I lost her. I lost the baby." He pressed his palms hard against the table to stop the shaking. "Didn't you want a girl?" He remained silent, a tremor spreading up his spine. The woman pushed back from the table, the chair screeching against the linoleum. Angela sighed as she stood and slid her plate away. He saw her from the corner of his eye, a dark shape. She paused, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Walk me to the door?" His flesh crawled but he stood, head down. She walked ahead of him--blood dripping on the carpet--pausing at the door, waiting for him to open it. He grasped the knob, turned it in a slick palm. She stepped across the threshold, the metallic sting of copper and gore following. "See you soon." He shut the door, didn't bother to lock it. A deadbolt wouldn't keep the Devil out.
Final Transformations Inc. by David Henson
Jennifer dabs her eyes. Her father sits in a hospital bed in a tiny cramped cubicle. About a dozen wires snake out of micro holes in his skull to a complicated-looking panel of dials, switches, and blinking lights. An IV is connected to a port in his chest. She glances at the brochure on her lap. "With our advanced direct-brain simulation technology, you will pass with abandon and peace, your unconscious guided by your personally selected script, your last minutes seeming like years of exhilaration." "Oh, Daddy. I'll miss you so much," Jennifer says. "I know, Honey. I love you," her father says. "Try to focus on Jeffy. I keep reminding myself I'm helping make room for him." "I know," the daughter says. "But it's so hard. I'm still trying to get over Mom. I--" Dr. Youthen from Final Transformations Inc. comes into the room. "Folks, it's time," he says. "Want to bring the granddaughter in to say goodbye?" "Grandson," Jennifer says. "I already have. I don't want him here for the ... procedure." "I understand. Mr. Ezra, any questions?" the doctor says. "Uh, Jonson. Ezra's my first name." "Sorry. Questions?" "No, I think I'm clear on everything. I went through this last year with my wife." "I remember. I believe she chose a gazelle." Dr. Youthen says. "No, no. She went with a tiger. She was always a live wire." The doctor begins to inspect the IV connection in Ezra's chest. Jennifer looks away and reads from the script her father has chosen. "The man notices the callouses first. As his favorite pastime is walking, he doesn't pay much attention. When they flourish to cover the bottoms of his feet, he starts going barefoot...." "I see you selected the horse transformation," the doctor says. "I think it has our best script of them all." "You said the same thing about the tiger illusion," Jennifer says.
"We prefer to call them transformations," Doctor Youthen says. "Yes, well you can call them whatever you like, but -- " "Sweetie, Sweetie, it's OK," Ezra says. "Yes, Doctor Youthen, the horse. I like torun." "So I heard." The doctor turns to the panel. "I understand you got in one last marathon yesterday," he says, twisting dials and flipping switches. An ominous green liquid begins flowing through the IV. "Lie back now, please." Ezra does as he's told and closes his eyes. "Personal best," he says. Jennifer takes her father's hand and again reads from the script, hoping it truly reflects his last moments. "....He finds he can go further and faster on all fours. His walks become runs covering miles with muscled ease. Years pass. Then one evening, as the hills rise and fall beneath his gallop, a brightness appears beyond the last ridge of his thoughts. He feels the light's pull, and his gait quickens...."
Him By Sam Fisher
I thought about Him the day He left me. I knew He'd be back and I had nothing to be sad over: we'd gone through this twice already. Him leaving. Him coming back. It took longer the second time, and we never recovered the trust He had violated, but He'd be back. Because I love Him. He'll come back. He always does. I thought about Him six days later and wept into my scrambled eggs. No contact. Not a single "hope you're doing well." I dried my eyes and continued with breakfast as the radio blabbered on about some silly contest. Then "Someone Like You" started playing. I screamed out a big fuck you to Adele and broke down next to my oven. Both because I was alone, and because I burnt the bacon. But mostly because I was alone. I thought about Him three weeks later, as I lay on our bed. Online. He was online! I tried coming up with the best possible message ever written to a past lover, expressing the heartbreak I felt, how shitty His excuse for leaving me had been, how he mistreated and deserted me. With weak hands and a wretched heart, I finally sent it off: "Hello." I was shaking so hard I had to put the phone down, the words swimming in and out of my vision. Read. Typing. Offline. I killed my phone battery by staring at the screen, waiting for a reply that wouldn't come. I thought about Him seven months later, as I left the city where our love began. I saw Him on every street, lingering behind every corner. I ached for His soft kisses and His warm embrace. For the way He held me the night my mother had died. How His smile always felt like home. The stolen kisses by the doorway, the naked dancing in our room, His clothes always thrown everywhere. This city was us, and I was leaving it. I thought about Him two years later, on my way to the first date in over seven years. Incessantly looking for His features in my date, I kept being let down. There was no cheeky playfulness in the eyes. No dimples to sweep me off my feet. The words rung with a deep hollowness. It was an unjust comparison, and it just made me ache for Him. I thought about Him eight months later, as I left a one-night stand's apartment.
I used the guy, and I was used in return: one night of lackluster sex, and that was it. Only the thought of Him got me through the night. His firm touch, His smile as he lay on top of me, the warmth of His body pressed against mine; the mere memory of Him gave me so much more than this guy ever could. I thought about Him a year later, as I walked the crowded streets of Edinburgh on a brisk August evening. "I want children," He had said nine years ago, with a serious look on his face. "At least two. A boy and a girl." I had nodded. "Fine. But then I want a Labrador," I had countered, with an equally serious face. "And a gold one at that." He had stopped and had put his hands on my shoulders, turning me towards him. "So, we're gonna do that whole family with a white picket fence and a dog thing?" And I had nodded, filled with the promises of a lifetime spent together. I thought about Him six years later, on my wedding day. As I stood next to my future husband, I knew I was standing next to the wrong man. I was scared. I compromised. It should have been Him. I thought about Him seven years later, when my son was born. I was admiring the newborn's teeny tiny eyebrows, dark as chestnuts, thinking how cute He'd find them. "They're like tiny worms," He'd say, scrunching up His own eyebrows in imitation, trying to make what would have been His son laugh. I thought about Him eight years later, when my daughter was born. "All we're missing now is a Labrador," I whispered to her as she looked at me with her huge blue eyes, eyes surprisingly similar to His. "And a gold one at that. We could have had it all." I thought about Him sixteen years later, when my husband died. As the man I had spent more than thirty years with was lowered into the ground, I glanced around, looking for Him. I wanted to be wrapped in His warm embrace, to be comforted as only He knew how to do so. To hold me, squeeze my hand, speak to my soul. I couldn't grieve for my husband: I had already lost the most important person in my life when He walked out the door â€“ taking everything I had ever been with Him. I thought about Him twenty years later, my body eaten away by cancer. Tubes snaked in and out of me as life deserted me one breath at a time, wrangled out by unrequited longing grown heavier with each passing year. Surrounded by my family, my
children and my grandchildren and their children, generations of my wonderful family, the only thought nagging my heart was that I would give every blissful year, every moment of pain and joy â€“ I would give it all, for one single moment. One more moment with Him.
I Would Breathe Water by A. Henry Ernst
By the time he reached the bottom of the lake it was all rather tranquil. The ache in his belly was taking a while to subside, though. The stones were heavy and made little clicking sounds as he tried to move. They were very smooth, unlike the jagged wounds that currently trailed from his neck down to his groin. He was grateful that there were no carnivorous fish in the lake, for the clots of blood on the gashes were dissolving quickly, enveloping him in vermillion clouds that spread his scent in all directions. He was irritated, to say the least. They could have just shoved some ipecac down his throat and he would have vomited Grandma up whole and unhurt. She had a full bottle of the stuff on her night-stand along with various other unguents and tinctures that smelt terrible. And she was giving him indigestion anyway. The woodcutter, alas, was always drunk on his hero complex. (The drama with the pigs had also ended in disappointment, but had, at least, left him merely tired out—not facing the business end of an axe.) He took in a cautious lungful of water. It tickled, but it was not unpleasant. He didn’t have to breathe, of course—he didn’t even have to bleed—but the action was soothing. The stones were not going to come out by themselves. He trailed a fore paw down to the largest wound and hesitantly probed inside. It took a while to find purchase. He wished he had opposable thumbs. He clenched his jaw and yanked. “Fu…” —Language. There may be children listening. Eleven, twelve, thirteen came out. He piled them into a little cairn. Perhaps the Two Brothers would find some symbolism in that. He looked up. The daylight was failing. Was there any point in swimming back up? Right now they’d be scouring the forest for his kin. They’d probably burn him this time. Perhaps the Fox might let him hide out at his place. But things with the Fox never ended well; he always ended up looking like an idiot.
He took a few tentative steps. Fish darted around him. Trunks of water-lilies spiraled upwards like so many locks of green hair. The squelch of mud was pleasantly cool against his paw pads. —No-one cares if I’m here. This pleased him. His steps became broader, bolder. Soon the current had guided him to the source of the river. He walked, and walked, and walked. He passed a broken spinning wheel and a rusted suit of armor, the skull grinning through the open visor. He found a rotting apple reeking of poison. There was even a ring, a golden ring engraved with filigreed symbols he couldn’t understand. It didn’t take long to reach the river’s mouth because no-one was reading. The salt burned his eyes at first, but he remembered how he’d gotten over the stones, and then it didn’t hurt anymore. And so he entered the ocean, lost in wonder. He stared for a long time at the kelp forest swaying from side to side, entranced by its rhythm. Then he heard the wailing. It warbled down in fits and starts. Curious, he trailed the sound to a great black rock. He spread out his paws and let himself float up to the surface. The swells were steep, and the tide strong. He was exhausted when he scrambled hacking and spluttering onto the rock. She was sitting with her head in her hands, keening. The ringlets of her hair were almost as red as the little girl’s cape had been. “Excuse me,” he said, panting, “why are you so upset?” She turned around and screamed. “You’re a... you’re a...” she gasped. “Yes, yes,” he groaned. “I know. Do calm down. I’m not going to eat you.” “Where… where did you come from?” “The Realm of the Two Brothers.” “You’ve travelled far! Wait… did you swim here? You shouldn’t even be able to…”
“I know. It’s a long story. Where am I now?” She stared at him for a moment, then pointed to the row of brightly-painted houses dotting the shore. “That’s Copenhagen, and this is the Baltic Sea.” “Denmark? Isn’t that the realm of the Gloomy One?” “I don't think Mr. Hans would like being called that,” she huffed, folding her arms. “Besides, the Two Brothers are renowned for their cruelty.” “I can’t argue with that,” he said, gazing down at the weals on his underside. “But he must have done something to make you cry like that.” “It’s complicated.” “Try me.” She sighed. “My love left me for another, and the moment the sun rises I’m going to turn into foam.” “And I thought my story was depressing,” he said, shaking himself dry. He stared out at the horizon and frowned. “You know, it doesn’t have to end that way.” “What do you mean?” “Look around you.” The sun’s rays were on her now, the scales of her tail shimmering. “You’re still here and I’m still here. You’re supposed to have lost your voice if I remember correctly. Yet here you are, speaking to me.” “You’re right,” she said, running a hand up and down her torso. She blew out her cheeks. “To think I traded it for a pair of legs.” “Well, that was stupid.” “I know.” She reached out and ruffled the hair on his head. He flattened his ears and lay down, tongue lolling. “You’re not as frightening as they say you are,” she said. “That’s very kind of you. Do you mind if I stay here for a bit?” “Not at all. I could use the company. It’s not like any of my family are speaking to me anyway.” Together, they watched the sunrise. “You know,” he said after a while, “maybe there’s a version where you end up marrying
the prince.” “How did you know he’s a prince?” “It’s always a prince. And in this version, everybody sings a lot, even the crabs, and the fish.” “What big ideas you have,” she said. He grinned. For once, he was not afraid of showing his teeth. “All the better for telling you stories.”
Keepsakes by Hamilton Perez The first time we kissed was while on a camping trip with friends who’d already coupled up. We were brought along like a third and fifth wheel, spinning lonely and independent on different axles. Not surprisingly, we were left the last two sitting awake beside the fire--shoulders rubbing against each other, feet warm beside the blaze. We spoke in hushed tones that blended with the babble of the nearby river, our words like rippling burbles over the driving current below, our faces slowly pulling together. The fire called it a night before we did, its curling flames turning to thin wisps of smoke before that kiss ended. As the early rays of dawn washed over us we started to get up and nearly fell on top of each other before realizing our shoes had melted together, forming an awkward and misshapen heart. It made for a fun story to tell the rest of camp as they woke up in pairs, each with eager grins waiting to hear what happened with us alone together. She kept the shoes, demanding I not remove mine. She called it “symbolic.” Before she left, more than three years later, I found them sitting at the top of the trash. “It was cute,” she said, “but in the end, they're just ruined shoes.”
Once Orc: An Orc Story by Stewart Breier
Once pon time there lived Orc, and when he not barbecuing and astewing guts, he out araiding and apillaging. He liked that best. Mostly the raiding, more so than the pillaging, though that good too. This Orc especially good at bash and smash over all other Orcs. Many Orc like his smashing and he get invited for lots of times. Even though some Orcs think he overly smashing, get jealous, they bash, some clubbing, but he turn out top of smash. He get some extra bumps and scarring to show, that ok. So you want to know what the irk this Orc have? What the thing that get him mad, beyond the usual mad, the everyday bash em mad? That thing is this Elfie. Now, of course Elfie make Orc mad. Elfie make everyone mad. Even not Orc get mad at Elfie, because Elfie. You mad at Elfie right now? Me mad. But this Elfie, mad particular. You see, Elfie skirmish with Orc raiding party. He kill Orc friend. Best friend. From growing up days, and drinking times, the long going back times. Arrow struck through heart. He hold. He bleed. He die. It itch under his skin, the mad. So, Orc hunt. He see Elfie sometimes, in raids, though he not catch, he track. He find where Elfie go. He know where Elfie go. This not for Orc alone, though, for he with other Elves. The Orc get tribe. He talk. He talk the mad, he talk the rage. He get that Elves kill Orcs in raid, and that this Elfie particular, he a too too pretty Elfie for his skin. Tribe get the hunt. Elfie village all neat and pretty in the woodland, ready for destroy. Ready for meat. Orcs go in clubbing, swording, claw, claw, biting, and there much destruction. Orcs and Elves, both sides death. Orc I tell you, he find his Elf. Then grand face off extreme. Elf quicky, quicky, cuts. Orc, clobbery, big bashes. Elfie, slendery slashes, between Orc's bashings. Orc powerful to Elf's cuts, though. He grab, and bash! Elfie not dead though. Elfie, bleeding from mouth, toothiesamashed, stab Orc, thrust sword into ribs. Orc cry out, wail of the One-Eye. Elfie want to draw sword out to stab again, but he not able. Orc grab sword by blade, all bleeding, and stop him. With other hand Orc rip Elfie's throat out with claw. Then Elfie dead. That kill Elfie. Some say, you hear in human town, that blood curl, and violence not satisfy. It satisfy. Orc
feel right after that. It sad that friend gone, but it good now that Elfie gone too. Back at camp, tribe have bashing dance to celebrate. Most live afterward. You heard story, you want to know Orc name? Well I forget. I get too smashed one night, and now not remember.
Speed-Dating By Brandon Hartman
Welcome to Speed-Dating! To ensure that you will have a pleasant and expeditious dating experience we have included a section of Speed-Dating Questions to help you develop chemistry with your fellow speed-daters: 1.) What is your name? 2.) How old are you? 3.) What do you do for work? 4.) Where do you see yourself in five years time? 5.) Are you a morning person or a night person? 6.) Where do you live? 7.) If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? 8.) What is one thing about yourself that you would like me to know? 9.) What is one thing about yourself that you would not like me to know? 10.) What do you think is most important in a relationship? 11.) Which was the first crush you ever had? 12.) When was your last relationship and how long did it last? 13.) Did you break it off or did she? 14.) Why? 15.) What are you looking for in a relationship? 16.) Is that the same thing you were looking for in your last relationship when she dumped your sorry ass? 17.) What is your birth date? 18.) What is your social security number? 19.) Do you want to get married? Have you ever been married? How many times have you been married? 20.) Did you say four? Who do you think you are, Cary Grant? Mickey Rooney?
21.) Are you still married? 22.) What do you look for in a spouse? Has that changed? 23.) Do you want children? 24.) Do you have any children? 25.) Are you lying when you say you donâ€™t have any children? 26.) How many children do you have? 27.) What are your deepest regrets? Spare no detail. 28.) What do you do for fun? 29.) How do you spend your spare time? 30.) What is your favorite sporting activity? 31.) Are you the member of an exclusive country club? 32.) Do you own a yacht? 33.) What is your credit score? 34.) Do you believe in love at first sight? 35.) Do you think pick-up lines are funny? 36.) Did you know that pick-up lines are not funny? In fact, did you know that pick-up lines are degrading and display a blatant disrespect of women? Did you also know that they demonstrate a complete lack maturity on behalf of their user? And furthermore, did you know that if pick-up lines are your strategy for courting a woman, you should get used to being single? 37.) Do you play the lottery? 38.) Do you remember when I said that pick-up lines are asinine and puerile behavior? 39.) You donâ€™t? 40.) What would you do with your millions if you won the lottery? 41.) Are you rich? 42.) Are you not poor? 43.) Do you have a rich uncle who recently passed away and left a large inheritance? 44.) You do?
45.) 3.2 million dollars, you said? 46.) Is the money in annuities or blind trusts? 47.) What are your thoughts on prenuptials? 48.) Do you believe a cup is half empty or half full? 49.) Aren’t they the same thing? 50.) What is your most treasure possession and why? 51.) Do you keep it in a safe? 52.) Do you use the same password for all of your log-ins? 53.) What would I find in your underwear drawer right now? 54.) Ew. 55.) Whose shoes would you like to step into for a day? 56.) Do you think OJ Simpson was really wearing Ronald Goldman’s shoes? 57.) What is your favorite book or movie? What is the last book or movie you read/watched? 58.) Do you own a kindle or other reading tablet and/or have many large screen TV’s in your home? 59.) What is your address? 60.) Do you have any home security systems? 61.) What is your mother’s maiden name, the city where you were born, and the name of your first pet? 62.) Where do you bank? 63.) Have you ever been pick-pocketed? 64.) Mugged? 65.) Robbed? 66.) Would you like to? 67.) Are you an orphan? 68.) Do you live alone? 69.) What adjective would a close friend use to describe you?
70.) Do you have any friends? 71.) How long will it take for anyone to notice that youâ€™ve been missing? 72.) How would your life change if you only had a week to live? 73.) If I was going to kill you, would you prefer to be shot, stabbed or strangled? 74.) Donâ€™t you know how to take a joke? 75.) What is your favorite color?
Walls by Stewart Delo
The trumpets of Heaven are flat, grey sounds to a tired soul. The end of my morning’s work was heralded first by the wheezing of a faded green armchair, where I sat down for a rest, and second by the noise of a needle initiating contact with a vinyl record. Experts call that noise a ‘sound floor.’ The sound floor makes records a poor format. You hear the sound floor in the precious instant before the music, but it persists throughout the recording, limiting the dynamic range. It rises with the music’s volume. Anything played pianissimo, in classical music for example, may be quieter than the sound floor and disappear beneath it. The sound floor is, nonetheless, a comforting noise to some people. It signals the music’s coming, the unfurling of a new world. When I started to look at things this way, at every solid wall as an opening-out, my work began to flourish. We can call it the ‘unfolding principle.’ Computers and generators stand on every piece of furniture in my Manhattan loft, and that morning, not one of them looked able to decide between staying where it was and tipping over into space. These machines form an engine for a new kind of travel. Wires dominate the floor and furniture legs, and every inch of this ridiculous-looking loft is papered with a reflective silver fabric that stops radiation, noise and almost anything else from escaping. I’d just put on a record of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but my phone rang and I had to take it off. To Sian, my lab assistant, I said, “Put this music back on as soon as I hang the phone up.” She nodded. Everything about her, from her dull blue suit-jacket to the severe posture of young career scientists, reminded me of her professionalism and my good fortune in finding her. From the floor near her foot, a mound of misshapen teeth grew, ground sickly against each other and disappeared. Strange things like that had been happening all morning. Then, into the phone, I said “Yes?” “Hi Rich.”
“Henriette.” My accountant. “You probably have some things you’d like to speak to me about.” “I’m coming over at ten thirty.” “Today isn’t any good for me, I’m afraid.” “It was your idea. You begged me.” “Make it eleven?” “You’re not gonna enjoy this.” “I never enjoy things. An easy way to avoid disappointment.” “Classic, Rich.” I hung up. Henriette works very hard for me, especially since I lost my lab and moved all its operations to my apartment. That was five years ago. I’ve suggested countless times that she retire. She’s beautiful and much younger than me. A mere 60. She could use an older man to take care of her. But she knows too much about my finances, and about my soul, to ever trust me. Sian went to restart the record. She’s even more tireless than Henriette. Perhaps she trusts that the peripheral things I ask for, like music, help my mind, and therefore, science. I could use her faith. The phone rang again before Sian put the needle down. I answered, and a strange voice said, “Stay behind. You will throw yourself at the feet of Time to turn your choices back.” The voice lurched around the words, as if from a broken jaw, and had the sick sheen of artificial pitch-adjustment. “I already would,” I replied. “I despise my choices. But I don’t regret them.” “You will learn nothing but to be a worm in a tunnel of flesh.” “Who is this?” “Pilate.” “And yet you speak English. You’ve been studying?” The voice went silent, replaced by some background noise chopped up by the phone line. “Never mind,” I said. “My life is a tunnel of flesh. I imagine we’ll see each other soon. Good day.”
I hung up and looked over at Sian. She was staring, with her hands at chest-level as if she might have to take some kind of action. “What? Speaking Latin, was I?” I asked her. “No,” she said. “You were more like this.” She locked her neck in a strange way and made some harsh drones. I said, “I see.” “You don’t seem bothered.” “I expected strange things.” “I’ll bet you’ve been seeing and hearing things all morning. You should tell me.” “Forgive me. I know you care.” “For the records.” “Oh. Yes, of course.” “I found this.” Sian held out something horrible. A small grey device that would reverse everything. I’d been meaning to throw it out. I swallowed my horror and pocketed it. “You should be more careful,” she said. I said, “Thank you, Sian.” It would be inaccurate to say I had no wish to turn back. But I had no wish to be able to turn back. I wanted a wall behind me that could not be penetrated. Sian went into a broom closet to make sure the engine’s exhaust filter, which I’d crammed in there and ran through the ceiling, was functioning as needed. To make a nuclear explosion, we convert matter into energy. But Einstein submitted that matter is energy. So in a certain way of thinking, to make a nuclear explosion, we must remind matter of what it truly is. Allow it to unfold itself, shuffle off its rigid mantle of solidity, and let it be free. As it may have been in some embryonic universe billions of years ago. It was Rev. Sampson, deceased, who first had the notion to apply the ‘unfolding principle’ to good and evil. Who submitted that all things have the same source, God, and that evil must be the stuff of God compressed into some unnatural state of rigidity. She never decided what this meant from a moral perspective, but it gave her some interesting
hypotheses about the physics of the universe. She brought me and Small in to work on it when we were all young. Sampson and Small were in theoretical astrophysics, I was in particle physics. We reached for a world outside the walls of ours. Someone knocked and I said, “Go away.” “What’ve you done?” came a hoary male voice. “Got a fuel rod stuck up yer arse, have ye?” “I thought you were my accountant. Come in.” Curt Small is an Irishman. He moved to New York six years ago following the death of his wife, to help me work on the engine. He stood before me now in a maroon sweater that mocked all science, severity and boldness. “Sgt. Pepper?” he observed. “Yes. What do you mean by coming up here and defiling my sanctuary?” “You called me, ye forgetful old fart. Wanted to tell me about a breakthrough you made on the vehicle.” “Oh, yes. Just a small thing, hardly worth it.” “You figured a way to stop the fuel feeds leaking? I knew you would.” “No, not that. I got it working.” “You what?” “Got it working. It should take us anywhere now. One of us.” “My God.” “Though I did stabilize the fuel feeds.” “You’re a genius, Rich. You’re a goddamn Promethean hero.” “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m falling apart into a thousand pieces and I’ll be dead pretty soon.” “Ah, ye don’t look too badly off.” “Thanks.” “This is the part where you’d tell me I don’t look too bad either.” “Curt? You’re the fattest corpse I’ve ever seen walking around.” “Cheers.”
“You know what the missing variable was? Sound.” “Sound!” Curt beat a nearby computer tower with the ball of his hand. “Christ, we’re dense, aren’t we?” Our engine works only when the air molecules of the room are very uniformly controlled. We’d always known that this included temperature and light levels, but the last thing it asked of us, which I’d come upon the day before, was to control the vibrations in the room with a prevalent sound. “The engine works when a high-pitched tone, just at the upper reaches of audibility, is projected throughout the room along with the other atmospheric controls. You know that high tone at the end of ‘A Day in the Life?’” “Don’t tell me you just put the Beatles on yesterday and that noise brought the engine to life.” “I wish it could be as poetical. No, I came upon the idea through mathematics. I just put the record on now to see if that noise falls within the band of acceptable frequencies. Curiosity’s sake. You’ll see a sensor light up if it does.” “Maths are plenty poetical for me. I’ll take it.” Curt sorted out his questions. A face appeared and stared at me from the corner of the room, made of something like dripping tomato-flesh. I looked away. My hand rested on my pocket, where the fail safe device was contained. Curt said, “When should we try turning it on?” “I turned it on this morning.” I could never start the journey with my few friends around. They’d make it into something dark and abysmal. I’d be sure to turn back to Earth, and them. Instead, I undertook the journey myself through small acts. I adjusted the atmospheric settings before breakfast, then injected myself with a solution of the necessary nano-machines. I took a shower, letting the machines tumble through my bloodstream like prions, changing my makeup. Then Sian and I worked the engine controls as the sun rose. I’m an early riser, she, a believer. My goal was to unfold the decision into a less rigid form. Remind the decision that it was not a decision, but inertia compressed into a state of artificial rigidity. “You fuck.” Curt was not impressed by my engineering genius. “You cunt. My wife died. I’ve got nothing left but this and you didn’t even talk to me first.”
Curt’s anger made his vowels into long rips of a bowie knife. “You’d have stopped me,” I said. “Gone yourself. Neither of us have anything left to live for, and I wanted to be the one to go.” “You’ve got a son, you fuck.” “See? You’re doing it now.” “I’ll bet you never talked to him either. I’m calling him.” “You don’t know what’s out there. What I’ll find, when I’ll return or if the machine will even work. What will you tell him?” “That his father’s a prick.” “I’m sure he knows.” Curt’s veined hands rose up to strangle me, but he knew better than to touch me now. I was unfolding into a higher state and something of my unfolding might pass over to him. Instead he stomped out of the room. From the landing outside, he said, “Rich, if you find yerself wedged six feet up Satan’s arsehole from this, I’ll do sweet fuck-all to help you out again, you selfish, selfish bastard.” This was tall talk. Curt didn’t believe in God and the devil, and neither did I. Samson had proposed that the universe was a compressed form of the base matter of Heaven and Hell. That in the moment of dying, our souls would remember that they were souls and unfold themselves into oneness with God. I believed no such thing, but science pointed to consciousness being a manifestation of something beyond the material world. Sampson was the religious one. Now she’s dead. If I encounter God out there, I doubt I’ll tell Him apart from my own hallucinations, but when you’re old, you follow through with your plans regardless of little wrinkles like that. Human determination may be the only wall that cannot be penetrated. McCartney sang “Fixing a Hole.” I was slowly fading from the world and my walls were growing farther from me. I was grateful for the chance, with the engine running, to listen to what I liked and not maintain the atmospheric conditions. Music tugged my heart back to Earth, including the music of Sian’s voice. “I told you Curt’d be angry,” she said, emerging from the closet. “What a useless observation.” “Think he’ll be back?”
“Of course. He’s only gone to get his tools and computer.” “It would’ve been better to let him know before. You could’ve convinced him to let you go, if you were so set on it.” “I doubt that.” “Well it would’ve been better either way.” Curt returned to my silver castle. He was more subdued, more scientific, erecting a professional front behind which he could retreat from my betrayal. He asked for my observations. I told him about the faces and voices. We did expect strange things, but didn’t know what forms they would take. We were at a loss as to whether they were intrusions from the world beyond or just the fevered visions of a brain unfolding itself. Henriette appeared at length and I asked for privacy. Curt and Sian went to the bedroom to check an array of fuel rods. She said, “Hiya Rich.” “Henriette,” I said. “What can I do for you today?” “That’s a nice shirt. How attached are you?” “If you’re trying to get me undressed, I’ll gladly acquiesce, but I’ll warn you from the outset: my heart belongs to science.” “I’m asking for your benefit. Because you’re gonna lose it.” “Has anyone ever accused you of being overly preoccupied with money?” “I’m your accountant, dumb shit.” The lines of disapproval run deep across Henriette’s face. Her dark red nail polish is blood from the unworthy.“Did you really borrow five hundred Gs against this place?” “How else is a man supposed to get a reactor built in this town?” “You should’ve told me. I could’ve figured a way to get a hundred more out of your investments, maybe.” “One’s less than five, so I don’t see the good it would have done.” “One has a major advantage over five: you can pay it back. Maybe. Someday, on top of your other debts. Your son has problems enough without this falling on his head, which it will as soon as you die of starvation in the street, which you will as soon as they
repossess your condo, because he’ll be too pissed off to let you sleep in his house, and the best thing I can think of to do is kill you before you blow the rest of your money to build a goddamn space station. At least then, your savings could take a chunk out of the debt.” “I’m hardly worried. You’ll let me sleep at your place.” “What am I gonna do with you?” “There are things beyond this world, more important than money. I’m surprised I have to tell you that. My son will inherit a rather impressive scientific legacy.” “You think, even if your damn thing works, you’ll get a patent and a…what? A military contract? Whatever inventors make money off of? Before they repossess this place?” “I don’t think. It’s for lesser scientists.” “Better hope you die before me, ‘cause if I go, you’ll really be in shit.” Henriette’s phone signalled a message. She checked it. “God dammit,” she said, “I gotta go. Are you in for the day?” “Yes.” “I’ll try and swing back later. This is not over, not even close.” “Oh, how did you find out I borrowed that money?” “I’m your accountant, Rich,for the fifth time today.” “Some accountant, leaving me in the middle of something you keep insisting is important.” “My daughter just went into labour, her husband’s in the bush laying pipe. I’m going to pick her up.” “Oh, congratulations.” “Don’t even.” She left. The fail safe grew warm in my pocket. I took it out so it wouldn’t overheat. I turned it over on the green armrest, and for a moment the world vanished around its grey face. That surface could be an opening-out to new choices. But Curt and Sian came back in and startled me. I dropped the device and chose to leave it in the tangled wires. A beam in the wall behind me.
My companions went about checking screens and working controls. Sian flipped the Beatles record over. I noticed something like black paint on the wall before my armchair, forming a rough circle. “Do you two see that?” I pointed at it. “See what?” said Curt. Sian shook her head. “A circle in the wall. Some kind of black ink. It’s not fading away.” “I’ll make a note,” said Sian. “That spot could be a focal point for background radiation. An eddy.” “Look, I don’t think you should stand up, do any walkin’ around,” Curt said. “This process of destabilising could produce a tremendous shock.” I nodded, stayed slumped in the armchair. Curt added, “Especially for a dried-out stick-bug’s carcass like yourself.” He was softening toward me again. He wouldn’t forgive me, I knew, but now that the journey was underway, we were getting scared of it. Curt, perhaps, a little relieved. So I sat and watched the black paint grow. The morning dragged on, with terrible shadows drifting in and out of my head alongside Curt and Sian’s conversations. The tone sounded at the end of Sgt. Pepper and activated a light on the engine. That tone fell within the range of frequencies at which the walls of the world could be penetrated. In this respect as in others, the Beatles had stood poised on the threshold of a new world. Henriette returned eventually. I asked Curt for privacy again, rather than face his disapproval combined with hers. He took Sian to get calzones from across the street. I wish people could love me for my faults, as they do with vinyl records. “My son came by the hospital,” Henriette began. “Her brother, not my son-in-law. I managed to get away.” “Your devotion to me is touching.” “Listen, shit-ass. I thought about it. Your investments are gone to hell, there’s no two ways about that, and this condo too. We’ve gotta sell. I don’t even know how you got 500 grand against this place, where it’s worth about half, but we’ll leave it.” “I’m a better liar than you.” “I told you to leave it. Now I don’t know what your computers and instruments are worth,
but I’ll get someone to value the lot. Should get us into the tens of thousands.” “I’ll get a better price for it than anyone.” “Will you shut the hell up? Now all that together will more than cancel out the money you borrowed, but it’ll hardly take a bite out of the debt you had before, so we keep a little, make some safe investments. You start lecturing, maybe write a book, stop sinking money into this astrophysical shit and you might be ok.” “It leaves me without a place to live.” “Well you got two options there. Three, actually.” “I’m listening.” “One is that you kill yourself. It’ll make more paperwork in the short term, but in the long term, it’ll be a whole lot less of a pain in the ass.” “The second, I know. Sleep on a discarded mattress in the streets.” “You should be so lucky, to find a mattress in Manhattan.” “And the third?” “You can sleep at my place.” I was so taken aback by Henriette’s offer that I couldn’t bear to tell her I was leaving. Instead, I managed to say, “Thank you.” “Shut up. You asshole, I’ll keep you out of bankruptcy if it kills me.” “I’m not afraid of bankruptcy.” “No, from where I’m sitting, it looks like you’re not afraid of anything.” A silence fell over us. Pictures began forming on the computer screens in my field of vision, pixelated images of the corpses of war-crime victims, children with bloodied fronts and heads. I said, “But I am.” A softness came over Henriette. Her eyebrows knotted. She leaned over my armchair with a handout, making to comfort me. I recoiled and whispered, “Don’t.” She sat back in her seat. “Well, all right,” she said. “Bastard.” “It isn’t you.”
“You’re damn right about that.” “I’ve done something to myself this morning. Infected myself with a nano-machine solution. It would be a bad idea for you to touch me.” “Infected?” “Let’s…talk about the money.” Silence fell again. Henriette’s silences are rare, and only for disappointment. She opened a tablet and brought up some files about me. Atrocities kept crowding the screens. Henriette spoke, but her voice grew thick and earthy. Dust and tiny pieces of bone started creeping into the lines in her face. In my changing eyes, she became like the lifeless stuff of the material world, like the bodies on the screens, retreating from me as I became more like a soul. Strands of rotted muscle drooped from the crook of her jaw. I knew she wasn’t really changing, but the illusion cut me. All I wanted was to put her face and her voice back the way they should be. I tried to get up, hoping to lean down and pick up the fail safe device, but my strength departed and I could only swing my arms around. Curt arrived just then. “Don’t touch him!” he shouted at her. Sian was right behind. She dropped two half-eaten calzones on a desk near the blackpaint circle and ran to the computers. The sound of Curt woke me up a little, brought me closer to Earth, and let me hear voices. This happened just in time for Henriette to say, “What the hell have you weirdo assholes done to him?” “Did it to himself,” Curt snapped back. “He’s shot himself up with a nano-machine solution that changes his physical composition. If you touch him, you might start changing and your body will reject the tissue.” Sian cut in with, “The engine’s functioning normally. The door’s opening. It’s a normal symptom of the process, whatever it is.” The change in my vision persisted. Henriette started to look like a doll sewn out of the dead parts of psoriatics. Two fingernails took the places of her eyes. Curt said, “Rich? What do you see?” The tiny teeth and bones were creeping into his wrinkles too. I said, “The dead.”
“Ma’am, Henriette,” he said, “it’d be best for you to leave.” “The shit I will! What’s gonna happen to him?” “The change in his composition makes him susceptible to the emissions of an engine, that one there, that opens a breach to someplace outside the dimension we live in. He’s going on a trip and we can’t follow him.” I interrupted, “There are worlds beyond this world. I always told you that…” “What do you mean by trip?” Henriette demanded. “Will he come back? Will he be ok?” Curt said, “We don’t know.” “Well God dammit, how long does he have left?” “That’s a tough one for the moment. Sian? What d’you make it?” “The engine only has a few more cycles,” Sian said. “He’s halfway gone right now.” I looked at Henriette, pretended her face was as I remembered it, and with sadness lancing the back of my throat, said, “I’m in Heaven.” The door must have been opening, because Sian said, “Get her out of here.” Curt led her to the door. I tried to rouse myself, straining to hear Henriette. I thought that a word from her would give me the strength to reach for the failsafe device. She said, “Fuck you, Rich.” Words on the wall I built behind me. Curt was growing deader-looking as he led Henriette away. Sian too, but it was happening slowly. Their curiosity kept them closer to the world of souls than Henriette. Closer to me. Sian went into the exhaust closet, Curt shut the front door behind him. A disturbance shook the room. Something dropped fully-formed from the ceiling. A confusion of meat and tendons, a massive spider hanging on mucous threads above my face. The sound of my name emerged from somewhere inside it. “Pontius Pilate, I presume?” I croaked. “Legion.” The word came from a thousand pleading voices. “Come to tell me to turn back?” “No.”
The black paint on the wall had become flesh, a desiccated lung-like membrane through which I expected to be able to push myself. “What does it feel like?” I asked. “Heaven, Hell…can you tell me what this is?” “No.” A sweaty drop fell from the creature onto my hand. The skin there turned puffy and white. Curt came back. I asked, “Curt, is everything normal, still?” “Sure,” he said. “Lot we know ‘bout what ‘normal’ is. Some cunt turned the engine on without a proper test run.” Seized by a sudden idea, I whispered to the hanging demon, “Reverend Sampson.” The creature allowed a hole to open in its body. Some gluey clear stuff spilled out onto my clothes. The creature’s inside was lined with reddish growths like deep-sea worms. Each one terminated in a mouth. Together they palpated the damp air in search of some nourishment. A feeling returned to me, as if Sampson were alive again, and I suspected that she was one of those pulsating villae. The creature had come so close that I couldn’t move in my seat. After a while, Curt’s voice came to me. “Your son’s here,” he said. Keeping my eyes fixed on the hanging terror above me, I said, “Let him in.” My son Glenn is in insurance. He visits me on work days sometimes, under odd pretenses, in order to get away from his office. I’d lent him and his wife a set of champagne flutes that my mother had given to me as a wedding gift, for a marriage long since terminated. He’d come to return them. Though my gaze was directed into the heart of the demon, I could see the cardboard box in the corner of my eye as Glenn carried it in. He looked like a moving mountain of dead fingers tied up with hair, and I couldn’t stand to look directly at him. “Hey Dad, brought the wine flutes back.” His voice was clear to me, and I thanked what God there was for that. “Thank you, Glenn.” “Curt, Sian. Good to see you.” “You too Glenn,” said Curt. I think Sian smiled.
“Sorry Dad, I didn’t know you were doing some testing.” My eyes staring straight into the creature, I said, “It’s not that important.” “If you’re not doing anything on the weekend, you should come by for dinner. Tina found steaks on sale, so we’re gonna try steak in mushroom sauce.” “Sounds divine.” He came near me, put the cardboard box on one of our computer towers. “You haven’t been around much lately.” “No, you’re right. There’s an opera playing I’d like to see. You two could accompany me.” “Sure.” “Or a Mets game, if you’re more in the mood for that.” “Whichever. Just don’t be a stranger, is all.” A clear drop fell on my cheek, and I put my hand up to cover the spot. “How are things?” I said.“How’s Tina?” “She’s good.” “How’s…the money?” “Same old. Better, actually. They moved Tina to a new skill. It’s a 2.5% raise. So, you know,good.” “Good, good.” “Yeah.” “How are your headaches?” “Honestly Dad, I’m more worried about you. You look tired.” “I’ve had a strange morning. I’ll be all right.” “If you say so.” I saw something curious in my peripheral vision. Curt’s corpse-like head tilted in the direction of the failsafe device. He walked past Glenn, scooped it up and returned to his post. Hairs as wide as artichokes sprang from his back. Glenn said, “What’s that?” He said, “Glenn. Your father…” The last traces of his flesh were replaced by hanging flaps
of dead skin and fingernail. “Yeah?” Glenn turned to me. “Dad? What is it?” I said nothing. The choice had grown too terrible, the wall behind too vast. I left it with Curt. Then Sian deftly removed the failsafe from his hand. The look of death disappeared from her. She said, “Your Dad’s too polite to say, but this isn’t a great time. Could be dangerous for you, without the proper protective gear. So, um…” “No, yeah, of course,” Glenn said. “Sorry to....” “Not at all,” I managed. “I’ll see you on the weekend. Just send me an email.” “Will do.” “Have a good day, Glenn.” “You too.” He left. Outnumbered and out-willed, Curt went to the washroom and slammed the door. He’d be back to work the engine, but he was finished with me. Sian said, “I’ll watch Curt’s readouts.” “Thank you.” “You’re doing something amazing.” “What?” “I know you feel like you’re making a mistake. But I admire you.” Behind the computers, in her blue jacket, Sian looked like a ship’s captain, though she wasn’t controlling anything. It must have beeneasy for her to admire me when she didn’t have to face the black circle.Still, it felt good not to be alone. I said, “Thank you, Sian.” “It’s nothing at all.” Then to Legion, “No turning back now anyway, is there?” A thousand suffering voices asked me, “Do you want to?” I didn’t know. Sampson’s brilliant new theory of matter doesn’t help us understand empty space. The space between two walls, for example, or two choices. Space cannot be unfolded and made more traversable. Only crossed.
My silence was taken as an answer. The meat-thing went back into the ceiling. Some force lifted me from my armchair, like the erecting of a scarecrow. I could always have turned back. The choice never departed from me. Every wall is a door, an opening-out. Sian still has the failsafe. Maybe even now, with my hand on the black membrane in the wall, I can still turn back. If I want to.
Your Line Ends Before the Future by F. C. Brown Cloud
“Chinese researchers report this week that they have used CRISPR gene-editing technique to modify the genome of a human embryo in an effort to make it resistant to HIV infection.” Jocelyn Kaiser, “CRISPR debate fueled by publication of second human embryoediting paper,” Science News, Apr. 8, 2016
Our proposal is imminently modest. Sure, it'll be expensive. But we're planning to save the world here. I don't see anybody else fronting credible plans that'd cost less. I don't know if you've been following that NASA spaceman shit, but compared to terraforming, our ideas run a pittance. And that's not even getting into the politics of it all. If NASA gets their way, woohoo, they'll save a bunch of astronauts. Whereas our plan -- and, sure, this was a calculated decision, but you can't blame us for considering all the angles in advance -- includes a significant genetic contribution from members of our nation's high-level military personnel. Somebody's got sway? Then, bam, yeah, we included him. You should've seen Gen. Haffletower beam when we showed him his name on our list. Whole tenor of our conversation changed dramatically. That was during last week's closed door session with the DOD. Gotta tell you, the after presentation Q&A was downright jocular. Think the NASA boys will get that kind of response from their plan to secret away a few dozen astronauts on Mars? Let me give you a hint: no. Even their science is worse than ours. Ours is based in well established kinetics and thermodynamics. Ours is based in water. How fundamental can you get, right? If there's one thing we understand by now, it's water. You don't get blindsided by NASA style brittle O ring shit with water.
See, water wants to be free. In water, it is. But get a water molecule stuck next to some non-polar chemical and it starts to feel trapped. You know why, right? Each water has its oxygen, greedy eight proton nucleus that bogarts electron density, and two lowly hydrogens that shacked up sans pre-nup and lost control of their single electrons. Smart money trades up bombshells and still comes out ahead. Oxygen is smart money. That's why water is so charged. Electrons all on one side, protons on the other. It's like a little magnet. So you've gotta think, where's a magnet happiest? That's right. With another magnet. Set a magnet on a wooden table, any NASA scrawnmonster can pick it up. But put two together and you'll guffaw, watching him struggle to pull them apart. Two big ass magnets together, they don't want to let go. Infatuation hits them quick. That's water in water. Whole orgy of magnets frolicking together. Gets you thinking New York in the seventies, am I right? But water near a nonpolar chemical is miserable. "Nonpolar" meaning uncharged, lifeless, wooden, a total dullard of the chemical world. I mean, I don't want to harp on this too much, but have you seen those NASA boys at a party? Nobody wants to get stuck talking to them. That's why oil and water don't mix. NASA boys are like oil. Non-polar. Boring. A drag on any affair. Whereas water molecules, like bipolar humans on their up days, are the life of any party. Flitting around, chatting everybody up, swapping spit in water it's protons that get swapped, but the idea's the same. Water's fun. Oil's not. Put both in a bottle and shake it up, before long the water molecules will seek each other out and exclude all the oil. Your growing glob of oil, it's a gaggle of NASA nerds clumped at the yearend gala because nobody else will talk to them. And your genetic information is like oil. Yeah, I'm getting to it. Do you want to really understand our plan, or not? Anyway, your genes. They're dull. The chemical innards, that is. The part that determines who you are. A total schizoid molecule, your DNA. The innards are non-polar, these flat oil-like rings, always pushed away by water that'd rather chat up somebody more fun, somebody more wild and free like itself.
And the outsides of double-stranded DNA? The outsides are fun. Outsides of DNA are phosphate acids. Acid is fun, as long as itâ€™s not some sham brothel MK Ultra gag. Makes somebody's focus get shaky, colors swimmy, bland ideas suddenly seem profound. And, okay, the phosphate sheaths of DNA aren't as fun as that kind of acid. Nobody Learys out and wrecks his professional reputation for phosphate. Polyphosphate, maybe, but that's another story. I'll tell you some other time. For now, you just need to know that phosphate is super charged, a thrilling conversationalist, good in bed, hung like a fucking rhino, an absolute blast for any water molecule looking to flirt. Phosphate edges of DNA see all the action while the bases sit at home. Doing I don't know what ... watching Netflix? Reading a book? That's why your genetic information is so stable. Why it's so rare to get mutations. Why some of us might live till eighty, ninety, a hundred even, before growing a lethal cancer. Despite the sun's UV rays. Despite free radicals, cigarette smoke, flatulent blasts of carbon monoxide spurting out the tail end of trucks. Because the part of DNA that matters, the sequence of bases that makes you, you and not a big lump of tumor, stays tucked away from water with all its fun and danger and risky behavior. If a single strand of DNA ever gets exposed and tries to flirt with water, well, water rejects the bases and they slink off slump necked to find a matching dullard strand of DNA that wants to pair off and sit sober at home and talk Star Trek or Jane Eyre. And then they're safe. Paris gets bombed. New York. Boston. Nobody's bombing Kansas. And that's why CRISPR works. Maybe you've heard about this already? The new genome editing tool that's been all over the news? In the last five years we've jumped from using it in bacteria, to eukaryotic cells, to mice, to human embryos. In our journey to re-sculpt mankind, CRISPR isn't a step, it's a giant leap forward ... and because we're doing the work ourselves, nobody's going to fuck up our announcement. CRISPR is an enzyme paired with a genetic guide. The enzyme is like a General Atomics RQ1, high precision tool to seek and destroy. But a Predator drone alone is not enough. It does nothing until you feed it coordinates for its GPS.
In bacteria, those GPS coordinates come from cellular memory. Bacteria are where CRISPR comes from. That's where it was discovered. CRISPR is their version of an immune system. Foreign sequences slot into the genome next to repeats of an enzyme binding stretch. Next time that foreign sequence shows up inside the bacterium, maybe a virus attempting its mind control attack, water molecule after water molecule will push the guide strand away until it finds its match and pairs off tight, monogamous, and dull ... at which point the enzyme will destroy. Now, bacteria aren't sentient, but if they were, damn straight they'd be humming, another one bites the dust. CRISPR evolved in bacteria, but it works in our cells too. Inject a unique guide sequence and the bacterial enzyme into a cell and you can modify any part of any genome. See, the benefit of CRISPR is you get your military drone plus targeting coordinates all bundled up into one tidy package. Then it works the same as in bacteria. Exposed nonpolar bases of your guide strand are pushed away by water, the enzyme tags along, and the pair is pushed around until they find the matching sequence of chromosomal DNA. Scans through the entire genome. Then clamps on and, bam. Enzyme kicks in, frags the DNA, gives you a heritable change. Use CRISPR on an embryo and you're changing every cell in the resulting body. The germ line, too, meaning every cell in the next generation's body, too, and in that child's child'schild's body, too, and so on into the future. With CRISPR, we're finally able to sculpt the race. NASA's building spaceships. Satellites. Telescopes. Big whoop. We're talking about building ourselves. The issue is -- and this is why we were meeting with the top brass -- you can only get so far putting great new people onto our same overpopulated wreckage of a world. It's like, you ever baked a cake? Youâ€™re wasting your time measuring out a teaspoon of cinnamon or a tablespoon of vanilla or half a cup of sugar if the batter was made with rotten eggs. Cake's still gonna taste like shit. Or, how about this, you know the story behind the DOD's Crusader? Not my department, I'm happy to say. It was the cannon that'd supposedly conquer Asia. Cost billions. But we all know how that went. Right: axed. No use throwing good money after bad.
Why would the planet be any different? The slew of problems we've got now are inescapable. Global warming. Food crises. Terrorism. Land grabs from the Russians and the Chinese. Shit leaking out of all the big CAFOs, to say nothing of the risk that an unplanned deadly disease might pass from domesticated species to ourselves. All those problems are caused by overpopulation. For too many years we've let too many deadbeats make too many deadweight babies. The terrorists wouldn't think their way of life was so threatened if they werenâ€™t sardining it up with so many others who don't share their beliefs. And, global warming? Pollution? Traffic jams on all the highways? With fewer people, those problems vanish. Think about it. If the whole world only needed a few million televisions, versus its current one and a half billion sucking power all the time, how much electricity would we need? Heckuvalot less, that's for sure. Nobody'd bother fracking to power a mere million televisions. So the question becomes, how do we zero out the masses? And that's where CRISPR comes in. CRISPR and this one other thing we've been working on. Maybe you'll want to hear about that other thing first. Because that's the part that throws people sometimes. Thinking they must've heard wrong. But we're serious. Had a crack legal team put together a brief validating our interpretation of the Geneva rules. Trust me, we've covered our asses every step of the way. Because none of this will work unless we cull the herd. Airborne virus seems best. No need to fancify everything Gore Vidal style, misleading mythology and paper flowers dropped from the sky. Keep it simple, that's our motto. Focus on the essential. In our case, we had the pathology guys keep three aims in mind: lengthy latent phase, potent transmission, high mortality. We'd thought about brevity and relative painlessness for the acute phase of infection, what with ethical considerations and all, but that was beyond our current capabilities. In our test subjects, some Susscrofa, Pan troglodytes, a small set of undocumented Homo sapiens, the Wong Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale showed moderate to severe agony near the end. You've gotta do what you've gotta do, right? Now that we've got the genome editing tools, we want to get this thing done pronto.
Because, and this is also an essential feature of the virus, we needed the ability to confer total resistance with a few edits to the genome. And that we can do. The magic of CRISPR. Now that we've identified workable resistance genes it'll just be a few quick snips with the CRISPR system to get an IVF embryo ready to go. Virus: neutralized. We can eliminate the hepatotoxicity, stop the lung flooding, block the jump in cerebrospinal pressure ... a genetically resistant patient might come down with a fever, a slight cough, the merest trickle of eye bleeding, but that'll be it. In pigs we've seen zero survivors from wildtype, and only two deaths from our resistant population. At this point, it's a fifteen year plan. I know, I know, we're asking a lot from the world to hold out that long. But everyone agrees that it's best to wait until our F1 generation reaches sexual maturity. Theirs will be the first generation with no elders. Not that this matters much. Humans needed the elderly, once. They stored the memories of our civilization. But the role of elderlies was supplanted by books. And then books were replaced by the internet. The new race will have the internet. They won't need us. For full resistance, we have to edit embryos, after all. You and I will die. Everyone alive now will die. Has to be that way. And, yes, most people's children will die, too. But that's the thing. We don't need all of them. Only the few from edited embryos will live. A million or so surviving humans should be more than enough. Which wasn't always the case. We needed the masses to get to here. It's not just that whole crock of not knowing which traits you'll need. That whole neurodiversity thing. I think everybody knows you'd rather have an Eisenhower than an imbecile. No, it's that we needed all those hordes specifically because they were imbeciles. Simple folk with simple wants. We needed those people to grow food. To build walls. Manufacture automobiles. Then fork their money back to us to purchase all those televisions. But we don't need those people anymore. Once upon a time it took ninety six farmers and three admins to provide for just one man with a plan. The world before automation was a wretched place. You get stuck with such awful smells and sounds and violence and dissent when your robots are made of meat. That's what those human hordes really were. Ill-mannered inefficient rutting rotting complaining machines. Thank God we've learned to replace them with reliable plastic and metal petrol powered devices.
Problem is, even though we don't need those suffering masses for farming anymore, they've kept up their rutting all the same. Making more and more and more people we don't need. So we'll dial it down again. Keep the ones we want, the children of a few good men, and retire all the rest. Menial tasks can be should be taken up by dissent free programmable machines. And then the ones who're left, our children, you know, will have plenty of space. The political situation will be taken care of. With only a million humans left on Earth there won't be enough scarcity for there to even be an economic situation to speak of. And then our children, living in a placid utopia, can focus on enjoying life and populating the stars. It's not that we hate those NASA guys. We've got a few of them on our list. It's just, they have to get their priorities straight. First you make sure humanity won't implode. Then you can play at being spacemen. Our children will be out there someday. Well, my children, anyway. And they'll look back on us, their forefathers, and the sacrifices that we made, with pride.
About the Authors
A. Henry Ernst was born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa, where he studied medicine and English literature. He is married and lives in Cape Town where he practices as an anaesthesiologist and writes fiction in his free time. He is currently busy with an MA in Creative Writing. He has published one novel under a pseudonym.
Brandon Hartman lives with his wife in South Jersey where he's addicted to coffee, attempting to convert to tea, and thankful he doesn't have to speed date (anymore).
Brent C. Green is a full-time novelist and traveling spoken word poet with a degree in Creative Writing from Texas A&M University. He is also the Writing Director for the nonprofit organization Mic Check Poetry, and has been a competing member of their national slam team since 2011. His work has been published in a variety of regional literary magazines such as The Eckleburg Project, Fifteen13 Press, and Southern Knuckles magazine. Brent advocates radical thoughts and honest questions expressed in unconventional styles such as spoken word poetry.
David Henson lives in Peoria, Illinois with his wife and their dog. His work has appeared in The Fable Online, Literally Stories, 365 Tomorrows, Intrinsick, Pikestaff, and The Eunoia Review, among others. F. C. Brown Cloud teaches creative writing at the Monroe County Jail and corresponds with inmates across the American Midwest for his work with Pages to Prisoners and as director of the Indiana Prisonersâ€™ Writing Workshop. He has published essays, stories, and research articles in journals including Chicago Literati, the Weeklings, and the Journal of Cell Biology. Brown Cloud received his B.A. from Northwestern and his Ph.D. from Stanford. Find him in Bloomington, Indiana or at fcbrowncloud.com. My twitter handle is @FCBrownCloud. Hamilton Perez is a freelance editor scribbling away his days in Sacramento, California. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Between Worlds, and The Fictorians.
Kathryn Trattner writes from the middle of the United States but dreams about oceans. Her fiction can be found several places including Wyvern Lit and Cheap Pop. Connect with her on Twitter @k_trattner
Martha Magenta lives in England, UK. . Her poems focus on a wide variety of topics including: nature, love, loss, spirituality and meditation, environment abuse, and violence against women. Her poetry has appeared in The Reverie Journal, Whispers, and Beaux Cooper; her haiku and senryu have been published in online journals, including Modern Haiku, Haiku Presence, and Chrysanthemum. She is owner of POETS community on G+. https://marthamagenta.wordpress.com/
Megan Bailey is a novelist and short story author. Her first novel, There Are No Vampires In This Book, will be available May 26, 2015. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Green Tricycle, The Muse Apprentice Guild, Story House, The Romance Rag, and This Month Magazine. When not writing, she loves playing video games for way too many hours and reading everything she can get her hands on. You can keep up with Megan at www.MeganBaileyBooks.com
Nicole Melchionda is currently a senior at Stetson University where she is majoring in English with a minor in creative writing. She recently completed an independent study on gothic poetry with award-winning poet Terri Witek. The interests that infiltrate her work include biology, human anatomy, cosmology, psychology, and interpersonal relationships.
Rony Nairâ€™s been a worshipper at the altar of prose and poetry for almost as long as he could think. They have been the shadows of his life. He works as an oil & gas Risk Management consultant and has been 20 years in the industry since starting off as an Industrial engineer. Extensively traveled. Dangers fronted often. But thatâ€™s the job that pays the bills. Rony was a published columnist with the Indian Express. He is also a professional photographer about to hold his first major exhibition and has previously been published by Sonic Boom, Quail Bell Magazine, YGDRASIL journal, Mindless Muse, Yellow Chair Review, Two Words For, Ogazine, New Asian Writing (NAW), Semaphore, The
Economic Times, 1947, The Foliate Oak Magazine, Economic Times of India, among others. He cites V.S Naipaul, A.J Cronin, Patrick Hamilton, Alan Sillitoe, John Braine and Nevil Shute & FS Fitzgerald as influences on his life; and Philip Larkin, Dom Moraes and Ted Hughes as his personal poetry idols.
Sam Fisher lives in London with three flatmates, all of them dreaming about the day when a golden labrador can finally join their household.
Stewart Delo is a Canadian writer of generally low moral calibre who dreams of peculiar, disquieting stories and inflicts them on the world at large. His plays, 'Mushroom,' 'Monument Valley' and 'Astrolabe,' have been staged in the Atlantic Fringe Festival in Eastern Canada.
Stewart Breier is a graduate from The Colorado College with a B.A. In English / Creative Writing, has worked as a Substitute Teacher and Tutor, volunteered at the Public Library, and as a Literacy Instructor, and as a Writer for NASA. Currently, he is opening up a Massage Therapy Practice in his city, San Diego.