Read an Excerpt
Day of the Dead by Jamie Dee Galey
El Alebrije by D. Richard Pearce
The sun's rays have not crossed the ridge, nor has the first turista awoken in the bright orange hotel, as I flit among the children making their way to school. They laugh and try to catch me, but I don't let them touch me. I keep my sting and my teeth well out of their reach, for the children cannot see them. They see only what they wish to see in me, which is a gift from the one who first dreamt me.
The young painter sees us playing and says, "Be careful, mariposa, lest they catch you."
But I am no butterfly, as I prove when I spy the village bully, Jorge, coming along the road. Yesterday he stole Juan's lunch, and Juan is too afraid to tell. I buzz into Jorge's face and spit, my phlegm warm and gummy, and all of the other children laugh and cheer as Jorge curses and chases me down the street.
Many miles away in San José, my mother is still asleep, so I can go with the painter to his shop and watch as he hangs the painting he finished last night. It is a large painting, on canvas, not amate. He does not follow the tradition. He did not make the paper, nor did he grind or mix the paints himself. The canvas and paints came from a rich land far away, and the paintings themselves are utterly unlike those he saw as a child, but they are from his heart, and his memories and his hopes.
They are beautiful, and delicious. I sample the one showing a young man sitting in a window, waiting. In another, a faceless figure atop a stack of books on a blue background, watches me feast, seeming to disapprove of my taste. I wink at it.
In SanJosé, my mother is yawning and stretching. I fly to the window, after a quick glance over the artist's shoulder. He is sketching a butterfly--yet it is not quite a butterfly. I am pleased.
At last she made her way downstairs and began the business of her business, dusting shelves, polishing and greeting the catrinas--small skeletal statues clad in the high fashions of days gone by--and other cousins of the creature hovering behind her, statuettes and sculptures in many colors, shapes, and sizes. She checked her stock of herbs and other supplies, making a list for ordering: chamomile and black tea.
While she did this, the little creature flitted around the shelves behind her, kissing the catrinas impishly as they fluttered their fans, a rosy tint flushing their bony cheeks. He stuck his nose in the near-empty jar of chamomile and sneezed. He curled around the heels of his mother as she finally opened the gate of her store. She turned and nearly tripped, an exasperated "Bastante, little one!" escaping her lips.
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Subtlety by Lucy A. Snyder
Subtlety came to us from Latin
(by way of the clever French)
in that thin, gossamer term subtilis, which in turn is a web of under-stitched subtext.
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Four Torments and a Judgment by Erik Williams
The demon Yarsloth sat in the back of the church, invisible to the flock of worshippers around him and bored out of his mind. A Mid-Level Demon, Yarsloth held a title demanding important work. The last century alone he had spent implementing a family curse over five generations. But Dispatch had needed to fill a hole, so here he sat, yanked from his curse work and assigned a menial task barely fit for a lower-caste imp.
The congregation around the demon broke into song. Yarsloth lowered his head and tried to block out the unsatanly noise as he flipped through the file on his assignment. As he read, his motivation dwindled.
Adramelech had assigned Yarsloth to perform four torments followed by a judgment. Only one torment was allowed per week, however, and it had to occur on Sunday during worship. Which meant Yarsloth faced a month of Sundays sitting in this blessed church.
Clown work, he thought.
Sure, he would get to create mayhem, but it paled in comparison to a century of destroying a family generation by generation. And he would have to sit through four weeks of evangelical revivalism. No demon should ever have to endure that.
Yarsloth shook his head. He hated this type of job. Why not judge the target and get it over with? No, Hell had to drag it out and give the sinner a chance to truly repent. Only if he failed to do so could judgment be passed and Hell gain the damned soul. But for things to reach that point, Yarsloth had to perform the overly-dramatic torments first.
The demon read the case file further and sighed. In addition to it being clown work, he had a boring target on his hands. The file said reverend John Simms didn't practice what he preached, instead worshipping at the altars of kiddy porn and child molestation. No necrophilia. No cannibalism. Nothing Simms had done warranted the attention of a Mid-Level Demon.
Might as well be guilty of tax evasion, Yarsloth thought.
Reverend Simms finished his sermon. Yarsloth had to admit to himself that what he had heard had actually sounded pretty good. Full of hellfire and brimstone. Always good topics.
Simms now walked amongst the congregation, asking for individual testimony. Yarsloth took this as his cue. Showtime.
"A demon visited us last week," Simms said to the flock. Many nodded their heads in agreement. "But we drove that demon away through our faith in Jesus!"
Yarsloth shook his head. The resolution in Simms's voice pissed him off.
"That demon is still here..."
Can he see me? Yarsloth thought. Then he shook his head again. No human could see him unless he chose to reveal himself.
"...in all of our hearts," Simms continued. "It is a representation of our sins, of our guilt, and of our shame. But through faith, we can drive it away like a bird on the wind."
Yarsloth seized on Simms's words and unleashed the second torment.
Yarsloth prepared to unleash a horrible third torment. No more clown work.
The church had been cleaned, but the congregation had not returned. Maybe ten parishioners sat there the next Sunday, listening to Simms trying to explain the events of recent weeks. Yarsloth resolved to make sure the third trial would chase off the last few believers and cripple Simms's faith.
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Hepato Cellular Carcinoma, Stage IV by Samantha Henderson
On the beach across the street from the liquor store that's down the road from the clinic,
A bicycle rusts, bent almost in half,
Useless even to the beggars
And wild children who beg for candy in almost-perfect English.
Five steps beyond: nothing below your feet but air, more air,
Air scrubbed clean by salt,
And salt water, blue as a blind kitten's eyes,
Deep as the world.
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Sam--Sharp Walls by newel anderson
Painlessness by Kirstyn McDermott
Christ, not again. Hard enough to sleep with the afternoon sun sleazing through the venetian blinds, the dull ache in each and every joint of her sweat-sick body, and Faith groans as she rolls over to grab the bottle of water beside her bed. Blister pack of tablets beside that, antibiotics of some kind, and RelaxaTabs as well because the doctor refused to prescribe her any sort of decent sleeping pill; she takes two of each.
Natural rest, my arse.
Hard enough to sleep with the near-constant vertigo and the quilt pulled right up to her chin, sweating and itching beneath it because otherwise she'll only wake up with chattering teeth and her fingernails a disturbing shade of blue.
Hard enough without this: the sobs and muffled shouts pressing through the shoddy townhouse wall, the nameless thumps and, yesterday, even the sound of smashing glass.
Faith pulls the pillow over her head, but it's too hot, too close; she can't breathe properly even when she's not trying to smother herself. Stretches her legs instead, trying to kick the cramps from her knees, and when the shouting from next door starts up again, she raises a fist for the umpteenth time to pound against the wall.
And, for the umpteenth time, stops herself at the very last second.
It might only make things worse.
No idea who her neighbours are, after all. A single woman, the agent's assurance during inspection, quiet and tidy; you'll have no trouble there-and with that now so obviously a lie, who the hell knows what she's moved in next door to on a fucking twelve-month lease?
The shouting ceases, gives way to sobbing. Soft, feminine cries that Faith almost can't hear--and somehow that only makes it worse. So, two more RelaxaTabs before curling tight beneath the blanket with her chin tucked close to her chest, and no matter that it's harder to breathe through her congestion like that.
Harder still to sleep with what she can hear--and imagine--beyond that wall.
If ice could boil, and still stay frozen, this is how it might burn.
The seething shiver of skin on skin, on cloth, on the bare bathroom floor as she lies spread-eagled in an effort to touch absolutely nothing, or as much of it as she can. The water that ebbs around her chattering teeth, slips into her mouth despite the cool, strong hands that hold up her head, long fingers curved firm around her chin when all she wants to do is slip beneath the surface and sink, sink, sink. The light that swells her skull, her bones, her guts, seeking to split her wide and spill itself into the world.
New city, new job, and Faith is lonely. Not that she would ever admit as much with a clear head, a clean bloodstream; hence the wine.
That had been the plan, anyway.
But mice and men and smothered, broken blondes, Mara isn't alone.
Faith can't hear the sounds all the way out here in the kitchen. Those same whimpers and thumps she remembers from when she was ill, sounds she'd later decided--hoped?--had been amplified by delirium, fever-swollen and exaggerated beyond all measure of reality. Until now. She picks up the cordless phone for the second time tonight, index finger hovering above the 0 on the keypad.
What if Mara hates her for calling the police?
What if the ... boyfriend? lover? (rapist?) takes it out on Mara herself?
What if the police don't arrive in time, or even at all?
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Watching the playoffs by Jim Kacian
through a fog of flu. The Falcons are marvelously organized, and as one they march repeatedly across the field, in huge bites. In my mild miasma, their precision--the way they explode as a unit, unfolding beautiful, irresistible patterns--seems the endeavor of some lower species, bent on community survival with no quarter given.
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Dolls by Kristine Ong Muslim
These brides reek of blood;
their froth of white makes their wounds disappear.
I have found their bodies inside the boxes stashed, unopened, for twelve years under the stairs. Finding them is like unpeeling prisms to expose the darkness inside, to scoop a handful of dank caves, a row of basins that remain hollow.
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The Disappearance of Juliana by John Walters
Your first clue comes from one of Greg's old friends. You find him in the musty basement of a bar, playing pool all alone. He's got a week-old growth of dark beard and his jeans and yellow sweatshirt look like they've never been washed.
The room stinks of stale beer, cigarette smoke, dusty carpet, and B.O. You gag and almost retch, but you force it down and continue.
"I want to find Greg," you say.
Whereupon he looks at you with a peculiar expression that is a bit more than just a mix of being half-drunk and half-stoned, carefully lines up the cue stick with the cue ball, and takes another shot. "How did you find me?" he asks.
"It wasn't difficult. If no one's found you before, it's probably because no one's looking."
He digests that while he takes a few more shots. Finally he asks, "Why do you want to find him?"
"We were living together. He left suddenly. I miss him. I want to know why he left." It's true, as far as it goes, though not the whole truth. Your stepfather is stalking you, your mother is a silent presence halfway across the city who you know is constantly hoping you'll call, your job is a boring dead end.... You just have to get away, is all, and searching for Greg is a good excuse.
"You won't find him." At which point he buttons up and won't say any more; he ignores you as if you aren't even in the room.
You ply him with cheap tequila. When the bottle is almost down to the worm, he breaks down. "They got him," he says. "The invisible people got him."
In Rome, something happens. After you find a hostel in the center, you start to walk the streets, ostensibly looking for Greg, but you soon realize that you don't really give a damn whether you find him or not. You look around as if for the first time. All sorts of things are happening about which you had no idea--little things like the pattern of raindrops in puddles, the way the cobblestones in the streets are arranged, and the looks on the faces of the people that pass you by.
"Have you heard of the invisible people?" you ask. "Do you know where they are?"
As if she didn't hear the question, she says, "I think you should go on to India, as you have been considering. It seems the logical next step in your quest."
You wonder whether she deliberately evaded your question about the invisible people or whether she didn't hear it. You are just about to ask again when she says, "Aren't the stars beautiful? They shine like jewels."
You look up, and it's true. They are resplendent and innumerable in the clear winter sky.
Then you notice that you are suddenly cold again. A chill breeze hits your face like a slap waking you from a deep sleep.
You shiver and look around.
The woman is gone.
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Sam by newel anderson
Offworld Friends are Best by Neal Blaikie
So Kelton says we're moving, and we move. Not a stitch. Pre-cision. I've never liked anyone on Bette anyway, so no one glooms my leave. Tight, tight, tight, and we're off. Bye world, you well you. No sniff from me, no no. Must brace! Forward, forward.
You know how, que? You've been there. What Kelton says goes, O ersatz leader, even tho Lennor and Gelya nod like they had some edgewise. Right. Sure ya did. Same as me, huh? Yeesh. What's the point in being dolt if you can't stand up for yourself? Whatever they do in there at night must be real speck for all that draggin and moanin, yes'n no no'n.
But I guess Kelt is the moneybags round here. Gelya with her cryptic stuff, all pens and paper--yes, paper!--strangles the muse whenever. Can't be bothered most. And Lennor, poor Lennor, what's he draggin that's small enough to warrant this life? Steppin n fetchin went out, say, eons ago, right? Well, spose there's his screechy cat stuff, spews forth bout the zact sec Kelto leaves for business or whatever. Guess he thinks it's music.
But I guess I can't complain bout the commos, that's sudden. Bette's been a not-harsh mistress, tho the people spank. What with all this very ultra tech and such my little life's been prefeckly snappy. Yum! Course I do have to deal with Elmo. What a stew that one is! Could you be a bit more of a total lost one? Martha's socks! Any chance we could, say, accidentally leave it behind?
I might even stop the pee n em for that.
At least I got the cat, ole Mister Fibb, patchwork tabby o' me heart. He and I sit back and watch, danders up, faces hard-packed and simmered, as the shot goes like this: first the stuff gathers, skitter skitter, then big tubes appear. Helpers spring from their hideys and soon the tubes are filled. Pop goes the porter and, tube by tube, everything but us is sent through to New Place, Wherever. Good riddance, stuff, see you in storage. No dry eyes anywhere.
Irised me fib, I say. Same as it ever was. And my mouth so big with yawn, a tube almost went for it. Confused behemoth. Pitiful gus. You know, it's always scramble, line up, disappear. Just like that. Just like last time. Just like all the times before, mas y mas, mas y mas. Exacto. Phisheyes. Yer soup, meef.
Kelton says (really talks like this, tho I mock a weeble), "This world has outlived its usefulness for our family unit, has nothing new to offer us. We must move on in order to maintain a prosperous slide along the growth continuum. The tyranny of the local, the expectations of the planetary culture, are stifling for us Offworlders. We must embrace change and become one with it. New worlds--new opportunities--await us, and we must once more take the plunge into the void between, the long dark night of space." Long sentences, more like it. Mangled clichés. The usual prop.
And so time comes for us to go, all six, like ice logs floating down the river Styx. Burned and stiffened, drained of phlegm. Eyes slammed shut and blinkered. Our lives described in one loose sentence. Local reference morphed with mythic allusion.
"So, Eli," I said. "Why have you been following me?"
For a flash, I thought this too direct, his slump pointed downward sudden, his meanor not much meaner. Then a spark sparked, a match lit up in Martha's oven, and the prey rolled bright green eyes up at me and spoke. Or mumbled.
"You are--" He choked a bit, phlegmatic to a fault I'd say, but who's complainin now, eh? Progress was afannin, the cat had jumped the bag, had left it crumpled. I could tell there was no backward goin. And didn't want there to be. Bad.
I tried to grasp the wall's old stones, to pull up and climb, but kept slipping back into the dust with fading ease not under me. Then a high-pitched voice said my name, and I turned to see who called on me, to grasp at anything that was graspable. Was startled to see a teddy there, not ten meters away, standing still and staring, with my eyes now locked on its, its long arms swaying back and forth, back and forth in an imaginary breeze, one hand pointing off and on at its own chest, a sound like "pip" coming from its too-round mouth.
Was it telling me its name?
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Monkeyshine by Hugh Fox
"Come in, come in, come in," said Alexander's step-grandmother Azariah, midget-monkeyish, pequeñísima. "It's so good to have you here for the Fourth of July. All the way from Boston!"
"Cambridge, s'il vous plaît," Alexander corrected his step-grandmother. "Cambridge isn't Boston, just like earthworms aren't Sir Galahad." Black shoes, knee-high black socks, black shorts, long-sleeved blue shirt--with a tie no less--his mother Charlotte always preaching, "The child's image is the adult's reality. You want him to be General Patton, you dress him in khaki, you want him to be a cockatoo, you dress him in feathers...."
"Only you're looking and sounding too serious, pal. You look like a maudit lawyer-doctor," groaned Grandpa Ryan, Mr. Irisher-Chicago. "Kids oughta be kids, there's time enough to be old, bald, bold, bowled-over."
"You look like you've been bowled over," answered Alexander, five--just three days after his fifth birthday--running over to Grandpa and punching him in the stomach as in come Mama Charlotte and Alexander's older sister Pocahontas, eight.
"Really, dad, you always dressed me like Madame Sérieuse when I was a kid. Remember Spain and the Azores and Lisbon, Campeche, everyone would call me 'Señora' and 'Madame' ... half-joking but half-serious...."
"And look at you now, married to a Parisian, teaching German philosophy at the University of Harvard." Ryan loving the complexity of his daughters' and sons' lives, his own life--complexity, complexity, complexity, like a giant electronic interstellar chess game--staring as serious as he can at Alexander. "So do you play the bagpipes, my friend? And where's your kilts and Scotch beret?"
"Listen, the way that monkey talks. I mean his vocabulary, even the delivery style, he's more like an octogenarian than a five-year-old.... "whines Grandpa, marveling at how his super-brain daughter still remains an all-star beauty, with all her dimples and her vampire-black eyes, and a body like a combination of cow and salamander.
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Baby Edward by Jeremy C. Shipp
There's more than one way to kill a dream.
My dream is a baby boy named Edward, and he's not allowed in the house. He lives in the VW Bus in my backyard. I keep the windows closed and the doors locked, which doesn't serve any real purpose, obviously. But I like to keep the key on a chain around my neck. I like to wear it under my dress shirt, coat, and tie. When I first put it on in the morning, the metal is cold against my chest. By the time I'm tapping at my keyboard, inventing new ways to politely coerce resources from suspecting citizens, I'm cold on the inside. Anytime I want, I can put the key in the lock, twist, and end this. But I don't.
You might ask, where's the mother during all this? Well, I hate to shatter your notions of family, but there is no mother.
I made Edward.
And he's mine.
If your girlfriend surprises you with a romantic candle-lit picnic, you can't tell her it's a horrible idea. You can't tell her that the blanket is too close to the weeds and the Bus and you-know-who. I guess you could tell her all that, but she's gazing into your eyes, tickling inside you with her phantom toes.
So you say, "Thank you, Annabelle."
I see his massive lips pressed against the window, gushing with drool. He smiles, and I attempt to hide my fear with a smile of my own.
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Jamie Hawkins' Muse by Vanessa Gebbie
Jamie Hawkins, only child of an old mother, had a hump on his back and one leg three inches shorter than the other, so that he walked like a crab. His heart, his mother said, was so big it nearly cracked his ribs. It was full with wanting to love so much that his chest ached with the trying. But Jamie, with his crabwise way and his turn-aside head, his quizzical look ... he opened himself to a world that span on by without a backward glance.
The spirit is not a vacuum, and where people would not speak to him, the essences of things did. Jamie grew up limping round his own island, analyser of little things, observer of single blades of grass for their shape, their greenness, their smell when crushed. In this way, he collected images, sounds, words, seeing a closeness between people that he felt but did not know.
He would sit at the window, the chair turned from the desk so that his body faced it straight. He wrote left-handed, the wrist curled round, fingers forcing sinister loops that meant little. He was not happy; neither was he sad. He existed in a state of sleepy limbo, where his food arrived on a tray brought by his mother, and his contact with the outside world was through glass, misted.
Why is it that lack of fortune attracts, like north and south, more misfortune? Why is there no balance in things? Maybe, had he been straight, with both legs the same length, his mother would have stayed with him longer. As it was, when his food did not arrive at suppertime one bright summer evening, Jamie went to find her, and discovered she had died. Quietly. No fuss. Given out.
There was something in her calmness, in the stillness of a hand on the floor, that moved Jamie beyond loss. This was where poetry was. At the end of things, where they were full to bursting with life, and life had given out, simply because it could not be held in any longer.
At first sight, on his first morning, the mortuary didn't seem the best place to find real poetry, which was the only kind Jamie was after. There was not much depth to the bleached metal surfaces, the gaping gutters, and the coils of pale tubing. But he had time stretching like an empty desert before him; the trick was going to be finding the hidden rivers.
She looked asleep. Strands of her hair, a damp greenish-blond, hung together in lank curls as though wet, one flattened across her forehead. Her eyes were not quite closed, as though she was still watching between her lashes ... but the glint was gone, flattened, old glass. The dark lashes cast shadows down her cheeks. Her mouth was half-open, petulant, protesting.
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Freight by Joseph Love
The train was taking forever to pass, and my hands were freezing. My ears were overwhelmed by the crushing clack of freight cars. Barely lit by the splotched red from the signal lights, the bubbly graffiti passed. I could see the last train car fifty yards away, still a dull white smear that could have been a part of bridge or sky. The pocked-white grain car--the last one--shuddered by, and I read the prophecy written in bright red, a single curly line: "spit." I spat.
The red and white bars lifted; cars crossed. I twisted the plastic bag around my wrist, letting the heat from the box of chicken slide up my sleeve. A bald man, wearing cut-off shorts and fumbling with a soda in one hand, rode up to the tracks on a bicycle. He rolled slowly over one track but caught his tire in the second. I watched as he stupidly hit his thigh with the handlebar and slowly fell between the rails. Something fell out of his hand with the soda. It was flat and shiny. I ran to him, wrapping the plastic bag more tightly around my wrist, feeling the heat of the cardboard against my arm.
When I got to him, he was digging with his fingers in the tracks; his soda was stuck in the rail. I picked up the flat, shiny thing and pocketed it without looking, without the man noticing.
"You never rode a bike before today, Mister?" I asked.
He didn't look up, just kept gouging at his bottle. "Just bought the damn thing today," he said.
Artie stepped into the yellow light from the house; his breath hung between me and Ma. I could hear his soda swish in his pocket.
"Skoke, who's that with you. In the shorts?"
"Artie. He rode me here on his bicycle."
Artie's bicycle fell over behind us into the mud.
"Artie, you wanna eat with us?" Ma asked.
"Yes, ma'am," he said.
Ma opened the door all the way so Artie could see into the kitchen and den and bathroom and part of Ma's bedroom. "Come on," she told us. "It's freezing out and that boy's wearing shorts."
"And my brain's about to get frostbit," Artie said.
Ma looked at me to see if that was supposed to be funny. She couldn't see the staples. I smiled at her. She shook her head.
Mamma kept the wood eye in the felt bag that hung over the back of her lift chair. I reached into the bag and fished through her kerchiefs until I found the change purse Da had bought her when people still listened to Harry James. She unsnapped the brass clasp and held out the shellacked wooden eye.
"See how yellow this thing's gotten?" she asked.
"Yes'm," I said.
"It ain't really yellow, I don't reckon. Not that it matters." She flicked up the eyepiece of her headset, tilted her head up towards the ceiling light, and pried open her eyelid. I saw the wedding ring she hid in the dry pink cave; she took it out and pushed in the eye.
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Untitled Collaborative by Mike Capp, Justin Hillgrove, and Shana Marcoullier
Under The Flowers a Carcass Waits by Rusty Barnes
Under the pear tree is a sloppy-jawed mutt chewing a beef knuckle.
Here the lilac bush, flush with bees, a purple and somnolent fiasco.
Nearby the grayed-out tractor tire crowded with black-eyed Susans and chamomile,
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Worldly Divine by Cameron Gray
The Salivary Reflex by Tina Connolly
When Allison first had sex with Tom, she licked him carefully, covertly, as part of foreplay, as part of the sex. Salivation disguised as affection, wearing the cloak of lust.
But it was really simply a taste test. Allison's personal yardstick. Let others measure men by fat wallets or thick penises, by how much time they spent with their mothers or on their hair.
Allison just tasted.
Tom tasted of salt and oranges then. More like orange juice in early arousal, sweeter, crisper. He nuzzled the foamy skin at the base of her belly, and she licked the rounded bones of his neck and tasted oranges.
During, the oranges intensified. Sweat and musk emulsified into a richer brew like heated wassail, pungent and furry. Citrus caught at the back of her throat.
It was the wassail taste that did it for Allison. The rest was smoke and mirrors. Tom's job as Co-Director of Finance--or was he the Vice-VP, or perhaps the Financial-Assisted Vice-Director? They all sounded rather similar to Allison, and equally ephemeral. Jobs came and jobs went. Sometimes you kissed ass, sometimes asses kissed you. Smoke and mirrors.
But the burning taste of oranges ... that you couldn't fake. That must be irrevocable. That, for Allison, was love.
Tom and Allison had been married eight years when the K-I landed. Kéaille in French, Ke Ki in Japanese, Kay-Eye in Britain, but bald, stark K-I in the USA.
The K-I topped out at four feet tall. They were pink, knobbly, and rounded. They were translucent at the tips of their five chubby appendages and over the centers of their lower torsos. The torso's translucence revealed a certain organ that most of the K-I had.
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Nan by Scott Christian Carr
~Run. Run like I do,~ thinks Nan, and I do. Past the burned-out buildings, past the old factories of crumbling brick and bent, rusted steel that provide shade and shelter from the sulfur flats and the poisonous westward winds from the great chemical wastes beyond.
~Controlled breathing,~ thinks Nan, and I try to do as instructed. ~Through the nose--don't gulp the air. Don't pant.~ The voice of Nan's mind, a steady metronome inside of mine.
~Metronome~ is Nan's word, not my own, but with the description comes a comforting thump-thumping inside my head, much steadier than anything I've ever heard or felt. More constant than the wind, even; it's the pulse of a relaxed heart. My heart. Trying not to slobber, I pull my wagging tongue back into my mouth. I take a deep breath through my nose, but it burns and I fly into a sneezing fit.
Nan stops running and turns to face me. He's laughing. "Hoooo, hoooo, hoooo.... "Huge guffaws, but Nan is out of breath too. His stocky simian body rises with each burst of convulsive laughter, each gulp of acrid air.
~Simian.~ Nan's word for himself. ~Not an ape,~ he thinks, ~not a monkey.
Nan fingers the shiny piece of metal he found, the ~knife,~ he calls it. He juggles it carefully from palm to palm, touching its smooth, sharp edges. He'd seen it glittering in a pile of rubble, and stooped and snatched it out in mid-stride. Settling down now on his haunches, he inspects it closely, slashing at the air and holding it up to the sun. When he grips the knife tightly, it's almost entirely concealed in his huge fist.
He holds it close as he runs, pressed tightly to his side. The long hair on his back and arms hides its glimmer.
Running after him, I can barely keep up. Even though he runs as if he has a cramp or a stitch in his side, I fall behind. I do my best to follow, not breathing through my nose, but ~pacing myself.~
~Good,~ thinks Nan. ~Cardiovascular exercise.~
They all leap nervously into the air when they see us, frantically scrambling amongst their piles of hoarded junk for the highest, most threatening perch. When they spot me, they raise their arms high above their heads and begin to shriek. They bare their teeth at me and spit--but remain safely atop their sacred dumpsters. It's only for show. They know enough to leave me be, at least when Nan is in sight. They know that I am with Nan, that I am his dog, his pet. His ~friend,~ he calls me.
They won't bother me as long as we're together, but I would never dare enter their territory alone.
They can be ferocious, and their aim is deadly.
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By Zombies; Eaten by Christopher William Buecheler
The death tag wrapped around the woman's toe is curling at the sides, yellowing with age, growing brittle. Tags like this are written in pencil now, because we reuse 'em. We have to. This little town only had a few to begin with, and the dead pile up fast around here. I suppose we could've gotten more shipped to us if the shipping routes were still running. They're not.
The little girl in the corner hasn't said a word since we brought her in, but her eyes are like leaking faucets, producing tiny rivers of horror and fear and despair that run down her face as she stares out at nothing. The body under the sheet? The one with the old, used toe tag? That's her mother. When we found 'em, Mom had already become a mid-morning snack. The zombie had put out her eyes with his thumbs, jerked his arms, split her head open like a coconut. Then his buddy went to work on her legs, gnawing at 'em the way a dog will work a bone.
Turns out one of the things had once been her husband. They call it residual memory. No one's quite sure exactly how it works, but it's been seen too many times to be denied. He went missing a few days ago. Neighbor called us this morning on the jerry-rigged phone system we got here in town and said that Dad had shown up again, with a friend, moaning and crying and banging at the front door.
Fool woman should've known better than to open it. I'm not saying she deserved what happened, no ... but these things have been all over the place for months. Whole country's been warned. Whole country's seen what they can do. Christ, everyone in town saw what was left of Brenda Glickman, and it was her own kid done that. You'd have to be blind, deaf, and stone stupid not to know better.
Wasn't much could be done except put an explosive round in Dad's head. Little girl was right there watching. Watching and screaming, and I felt bad about doing it, but if you don't catch 'em before the change, destroying the brain is the only way to put 'em down. I'm not talking a little bullet to the head here, either. I'm talking about atomizing the old grey matter. Making brain pudding. That's when the kid went silent, all at once, like someone had knocked her clean out. Except she was still watching, all glassy-eyed, while we hauled away the bodies.
Dad's burnt now, and here's Mom lying on the table, brain removed before it can start to change, and the cause of death on the tag reads like a bad joke. "Killed by zombies," in shaky pencil scrawl, and then, scribbled up and diagonal to save space, an afterthought: "Eaten."
Andy's been my deputy for about six months. He volunteered for the position after I was elected sheriff. I think he wanted to avenge Lisa. I got my position because I shot the last sheriff in the head before he could turn the local high-school basketball star into Sunday dinner.
Andy spends a lot of time cradling his shotgun like a baby and looking through the big windows out front. There's bars on those windows now. Necessary measures. It's bad and getting worse out there. You'd think we could just wipe the zombies out, but it hasn't worked like that. For example, you'd be surprised how few people have the heart to shoot a loved one--even a dead loved one--in the face. Most of 'em just lie there, crying like babies, and let themselves be killed. For every zombie Andy and I put down, two more seem to take its place.
Anna looks up at me with her big blue eyes and asks me where we're going. Got to laugh at that a bit, because it's not as if I really know. I can tell her where we're not going. We're not going to the school; I can't look at the sick, blind, stupid hope in those people's eyes again.
I let the yellow lines on the road flash below the cruiser for a few hours. Anna sleeps curled up against the door, wrapped up in a police blanket and murmuring through her dreams. The human race has been dying for ten thousand years. I don't know how much longer it can hold on, but I'll be damned if I'll go quietly.
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Rise by newel anderson
The Festival of Colour by Paul Richard Haines
The town was called Pushkar and it clung to the edge of the desert near the shadow of Nag Pahar, the Snake Mountain. Pushkar circled a lake, an oasis supposedly formed from a lotus blossom dropped by Brahma, if you believed in all that shit. I wondered why high white walls crowned with broken glass surrounded the New Sunrise Hotel.
The only reason I was there was because I couldn't stand another six hours on the road to Jaisalmer. I had been suffering from the joys of exotic travel--hot flushes and chills--and desperately needed to find accommodation for a few days until my affliction passed.
A brawny Indian sweating in a faded uniform guarded the iron gates leading to the courtyard. He ushered me inside with a grunt. The shotgun he brandished did little to alleviate my unease. The hot winter sun glared off its shiny barrels.
The courtyard inside was surprisingly lush, with low wooden seats nestled amongst manicured gardens. Large palms provided shade from the persistent heat, and the rooms on the second floor had balconies overlooking the courtyard. A stone fountain gurgled in the centre of the garden. Several Westerners clad in colourful hippy gear lounged around smoking cigarettes and eating fruit.
A young boy in the early bloom of acne leaned on the reception desk reading a comic. Behind him, a cheap-looking scimitar was mounted on the wall, partially obscuring a faded poster of Vishnu. The boy pushed the guestbook lazily towards me without looking up. I wrote in a fake name.
'Single, fifty rupees. With bathroom, one hundred rupees,' the boy droned.
'Bathroom.' I pushed a pile of dirty rupees onto the page of his comic.
He looked up and stared at me with dark, lifeless eyes. The edges of the room seemed to twist and then snap back into reality as he dropped a key onto the counter. I reached for the key, needing its cold metallic touch, suddenly unsure of myself, of where I was and, even more importantly, who.
Something large moved in the shadows of the reception room. Something watching, wanting....
A knock at the door. I awoke with a dull ache in the back of my head.
Dusk had crept into the courtyard and shadows fluttered into the room. The air inside was cooler than before. Another knock, this time harder.
'Hello?' I climbed off the bed and pulled on a shirt.
'It is me,' said a voice behind the door. 'Harry.'
Christ, what was he doing here? I hid the whiskey bottle under the pillow and hoped the room didn't stink of hashish. 'What do you want?'
'I have a gift for you.' A pause. 'And we need to talk.'
She sat cross-legged near the water's edge, up on the ghats, staring at the sunset. She waved and beckoned me over. I climbed up the steps, the stone worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims' wet feet. My stomach fluttered as I approached and again I had that sense of the surreal, as if I'd been here before, with her blue eyes locked on mine, an embrace deeper than a lover's.
Sometimes, in a moment of vulnerability, I'd experienced this when meeting someone for the first time. That deep acknowledgement, a subconscious pull of mutual attraction. But never the feeling without meeting first.
'Hi,' I said, trying to keep my voice cool, staunch, wise. Travelled. 'I'm Shane.'
'Hello,' she said. A soft English accent, maybe London. 'Please sit; we don't have much time.'
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Thou Shalt by Hugh Fox
Thou shalt THE FOXBOOK read and only follow
IT, as the leaves fall and the snows come, the wheelchair sprite into bed, swaddled in her hair, let's try Siegfried tonight and in the morning chocolate--cheesecake muffins, a ride into hill/esker territory, loving the trees that tower out of the roadside pits, the rivers beginning to frost over, a huge bed after wienerschnitzel lunch, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, peach wine, sex as much as we can, and when we
can't, catch on to the clouds and new moon, the evening news, thou shalt not kill, or even descend from your high until you die ... and maybe not even then.
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closer in my heart to thee by Jeffrey Somers
I lifted the blinds a quarter-inch and looked out, the bright, hot afternoon sun hurting my eyes after the cool shadows of my half of the apartment. The car had deteriorated further since the day before, its rear windshield shattered to match the front one. The tires were long gone, as was the hood and most of the engine. It was the only car on the street.
Helen was screaming again. I would have put the stereo on to drown her out, but the power was off again.
"Bobby! Bobby, please! Bobbeeyyyyy--"
She trailed off into a croak. It was painful to hear her dying, thirty feet away. It had been two days since her symptoms began, and even though I was pretty sure she was raving now, pretty sure she'd lost touch with reality, I shivered involuntarily. My sweet girl, dying, behind a flimsy wooden door.
Listening to the news on the radio, I sat on the floor with my back to Helen's door. The TV was mostly reruns and static, when it worked at all. The radio was more reliable.
Despite its volume, I could hear Helen weeping weakly.
The Sweat was a plague, and incredibly contagious. I told myself this over and over. Our entire apartment building was under quarantine, marked by a huge red sticker on the outer door, block letters proclaiming us doomed. Under quarantine, hasty law declared that if I attempted to leave before the twenty-day period was over--for any reason--I could be shot. By anyone.
So fare thee well, my own true love,
And soon reunited we will be.
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that's ailing me,
But my darling when I think of thee....
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