|Publisher:||Dog Horn Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.33(d)|
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by Richard Evans
Centropolis sprawls outwards in perfect symmetry, its intricate streets coated with afternoon rain evaporating into evening sun. I stand on a curved ledge atop a financial edifice floating a kilometre above the surface, buffeted by harsh winds. No matter that this is summer, it is forever cold up here and my thin clothes afford little protection. The golden sun sinks into the horizon, drawn down through wisps of violet cloud by an insurmountable force. Commuters traverse the chasms between iridescent buildings through a matrix of elevated tubes, for the streets are the dangerous province of the poor and the desperate.
"Take it easy, Quaid." The PsiCop creeps along the ledge, her movements insect-like in her strict black uniform. A visor covers her eyes, keeping me guessing as to her intentions. "Name's Vasquez and I'm here to help."
I look at her pale hands, uncertain whether the flesh is genuine.
"Whatever it is that's hurting, we can change it." She shouts over the billowing wind.
"I've seen too much change."
She sits a meter away. "How 'bout we just talk then?"
Cold gusts slice into my lean form. "I'm three hundred years old, and yet these bones do not wither." I touch my shaven head with a youthful hand. "This construct is a sensate prison for an ancient mind."
"What are you telling me?"
"The original flesh was weak ... so they made this body for me. But now, all those that I loved are long gone."
She taps her elaborate headgear and the visor dissolves, revealing exquisite brown eyes. Her voice softens, she whispers on the wind. "You aren't the only one."
I look down at the shimmering streets and then at Vasquez. She offers a tentative hand and I tremble as the next world beckons.CHAPTER 2
Everybody's Got Talent
by Jodie Daber
The audience are naked. Thick leather straps restrain them and their open lash wounds ooze. They are savage with exhaustion, their hands clapped to meat. On the stage a woman tries to force a scrabbling pangolin to suckle at her rouged and leaking nipple. The pangolin coils itself stubbornly around her arm and she looks up at the Judges' Box and sobs. The audience scream off, off, their abraded voices like a flock of terrible birds.
In the Judges' Box Suckling sits, hooded and in heaven as a roasted, thumb-sized songbird leaks its juices over his tongue. He is just about to bear down on the bird, to crack its back against his soft palate and lick away its breast, when he is nudged by Mrs Isinglass and inadvertently swallows it whole. He pounds his buzzer without removing his hood and the woman on stage is condemned.
Rubber-suited Production Assistants stride across the boards, grinding diamonds between their gleaming teeth. The pangolin scuttles wisely away. They pick the woman up, a leg and a wing, and toss her to their colleagues in the aisles. An empty chair is found. The woman's sobbing grows louder as they strip her, but she doesn't scream until they buckle her in.
Backstage the holding pens stretch for miles, chicken-wire cages with concrete floors and a chewy reek of greasepaint and sweat. Inside them the contestants limber up, la their scales, fix their feathers or sit and shake and sob. A pair of gilded twins fill each other's mouths with honey. A chunky middle-aged couple in matching sequinned cocktail frocks lug a paddling pool brewing with grubs. Several somethings sort of akin to sloths hang from the quivering out stretched arms of an otherwise naked man. Everyone has their number tattooed in the palm of their hand.
Assistants stalk the pens in wipe-clean suits and rubber boots with heels that look like hooves. They carry clipboards edged with razorblades and the necessary tools on their belts. They cherry pick the choice contestants, separate the beautiful and the wrecked, the stars and the scum, the fattest and the strangest and the ones who will win. They will perform at prime time, when the paying audience comes.
A small boy sits with his side pressed to the chicken wire and his knees drawn up to his chest, trying to make himself even smaller than he is. His long coat bulges considerably at the back. He received the summons three days ago and his parents panicked. Neither of them had ever been called and out of terror and a cringing kind of hope they convinced themselves he would be safe, too. When the envelope came, hand-delivered by a grinning Assistant, his mother had collapsed.
The boy could not sing or dance or vomit on demand, he was neither winsome nor imposing; he was a pale and rather clammy child with no discernable talent at all. His mother had taken to her bed and his father had taken to the bottle and somewhere in their fevers they had a terrible idea. His father went out in the boat for a very long time while his mother force-fed him rum.
A muffled offstage call of "Next!" heralds a tumbling troupe of eunuchs, bald and bejewelled and naked below the waist. They squat and shit, singing jumbled falsetto arias as like hulking babies playing with clay they sculpt their waste into swans. Isinglass pauses for effect as she dislodges the dwarf latched like a lamprey in between her legs. Below her the besmeared eunuchs pant for her verdict. She stubs out her cigar on the dwarf 's scabby head and smiles a little like a jackal. "People like you," she says, "are what this competition is all about."
When the eunuchs have been led away and the stage perfunctorily swabbed, a tiny old lady stands in the spotlight and swallows a fly. The audience bellow their derision. She reaches into her smart wicker hamper, raises her hand — a spider, big as her palm. She swallows it, gimlet-eyed. The audience pause. They think they know what's coming. A golden cage drops down from the flies and a blue-plumed bird cocks its head.
In the Holding Pens, the man with the sloth-like things loses it. For hour after hour he has stood in silence but all of a sudden he is screaming get them off me get them off me and clawing at the creatures on his arms. The contestants closest to him take a quick step back but the ones behind them press closer, straining to watch him falling apart. Within a minute, the Assistants are through the crowd and upon him. One tries to pull an animal off the gibbering man, leaps back when she sees the way his skin has grown over its claws. The man is dragged away through tunnels to a seat in the audience, buckled in appendages and all.
The old woman holds up the velvet collar and makes the little bell tinkle. Her belly is hugely distended underneath her housecoat. The audience whoop themselves silly as from the wings comes a worried whining. In the Judges' Box Mrs Isinglass doodles elaborate cocks in the margins of her scorecard.
The boy stares at the number in the palm of his hand. 4,357,776. The Assistant with the fanciest clipboard calls out "4,357,765!" The number is starting to scab. He scratches it because he knows he shouldn't, scratches harder until his palm is wet. His father is waiting in the Friends & Family Suite, a cold warehouse with nowhere to sit. Later on, an Assistant will tell him the verdict. They have made plans for all the outcomes. His father made him repeat them over and over again. He looks up. Through the chicken wire, an Assistant is staring at him.
"You should have gone for a smaller breed," says Mrs Isinglass, as the old woman and the retriever are carried away, each looking as grim as the other. "Next!" The glamorous couple pull on their paddling pool and slip off their heels. To their own strained twitterings they dance a stationary tango ankle-deep in wriggling bodies. The audience seems pleased. They finish their act unimpeded. "You are the best example of this kind of act I have seen all day," Mrs Isinglass says, and the couple are escorted offstage by Assistants. It is a short walk to the Vans but it is a long drive to Boot Camp and the glory of Round Two.
Now the boxes fill with the great and the good, the rakes and the bloods and the gals-about-town, dignitaries and millionaires, celebrities and the propped-up husks of previous winners. They nibble on thyme-infused tallow cones, the hot, crisp ears of hares, breast milk parfaits and silver punnets of wasps. Jewelled beetles crawl on their lapels, larks rustle clipped wings in teetering nests of hair, the heavy scents of lead and lavender clag the air. They are the paying guests and they expect the best.
And so the pick of the bunch are paraded onstage, the best of the best and the absolute worst, the talented and the deluded, the damaged and the great. A woad-daubed woman inflates chickens with a trumpet, the spatter reaching to the fifth row and further. The honeyed twins loose swarms of bees from the most unexpected of places. A beautiful woman panics and gnaws her fingers to the bone. A lithe young lovely performs a human ouroboros. The paying audience largely ignore them, looking instead to themselves and their rivals. Mrs Isinglass checks her watch.
Then the boy stumbles on stage as though pushed, clutching his thin coat closed. He staggers centre stage and pauses, suspended for a second by the noise and the lights and the wall of stinking heat. Then he thinks of his father and swallows, lets fall his coat, drops prone on the splintery boards. Clumsily stitched along the little boy's spine, the dorsal fin of some huge fish flops. With his arms by his sides and his mouth open round, he writhes.
On the other side of Isinglass, Gentle Fudge slumps, blood beneath her fingernails and a rolled note up her nose. She racks up another line on her vast, blue-veined breast and when she can't quite reach it she inflates herself a little more. Isinglass pokes her in the nipple and she looks down at the little boy, scenting parents' tears.
"Ooooh, yummy!" she says, in a voice like rancid butter, "I want it! I want it! Put it in a basket and give it to me!"
The talent parades on, cold magicians with leashed assistants, Trojan cats and wilding clowns, man-made centaurs and stigmatic virgins and the Great DeGloving Machine. In the Friends and Family Suite the supporters of the successful clap each other on the back and the rest slink home to begin the long and lonely years. Somewhere beneath the theatre in a dressing room littered with needles and filth, an oversized picnic basket gives off a whiff of boy-sweat and fish as a puddle spreads beneath the wicker. The audience bay and strain and slap their bloody paws together and from the box above, the gods rain down their slops.CHAPTER 3
The Milky Bar Kid is Dead
by A.J. Kirby
The Milky Bar Kid is dead. He bit the Californ-I-A dust. Popped yon popsicle clogs. Met his candybar maker.
The Milky Bar Kid is dead. They'll hover the dang flags at half-mast for the goddamn halfling. They'll call a national day of mourning for the slapped- arse face mini-cowboy, gosh darn it. Childrens everywhere will wonder where their next milky bar will come from, because they'll no longer be on him. Haw haw.
The Milky Bar Kid is dead and we'll all be forced to wear blue and white checkered shirts in commemoration of his image. We'll don shrunken Stetsons and bind our own feet so we can cram them into childrens's size spurred boots. We'll have to slam on they milk-bottle Milky Bar specsses just so's we can show we are strong an' tough like him.
The Milky Bar Kid is dead and I killt him.
There, I said it. And, oh, I know what you're thinkin'; I must be some sick psycho with a soup-bowl hatred of all things chocolatey and shiiiit. Or there must have been summpin from mah growin'-up days — some uncomfortable memory of a whip-talkin' stranger enticing me onto his bronco with a bagful of milky bars — which warped me forever. But it's not like that at all. Sure I killt him, but I reckon he was god-dang already dead.
I wipe the thick white foam from mah pint of Guinness off mah handle bar 'tache. Wonder when the terrible news is going to hit the wires. They got the rolling twenty-four hour news service on the idiot-box behind the bar here. About five ticker-tapes scroll across the screen. At the moment, said breaking news ain't really news at all, but when they find out about the untimely demise of ol' Milky, the screen will explode with excitement.
'... dead ... The Milky Bar Kid is ...' the tickers will say. They tend to sound like Yoda if you happen to catch 'em midsentence.
The red ticker which moves diagonally across the screen like a slash from Zorro's sword, or the Peruvian national soccerball team's shirt, will suddenly start churning out block capital warnings. The blinkin' sun yellow strand at the bottom — the one that usually contains the dollah news — will start flashing like a dag- gang beacon. The newsreader will have to try to stick his city-boy orangey suede through all of these virtual prison bars just so's he can get a look in.
I wonder how the news will hit with the good folk in the bar. Wonder whether they will break down. This here barkeep, Chico, looks as though he on the edge of taking a rope to his ol' neck every day anyway, what'll he be like when he learns our gosh-darn kindergartenhood hero has gone overboard? He's always had that Mehican shuffly-feet misery about him. You can see it by his peekers; never any hope in they peekers. An' they saddlebags which ride along unnerneath his peekers; this man ain't slept since godknowswhen.
An' how's ol' Maggie, the sour-faced trick-turner, going to cope when she hears that El Kiddo Milky-Barro has been skittled? She's a weepy kinda woman at the best of times. Not that a man could ever say she's had a best of times. But. But she looks as though the slightest dang thing could push her over the edge into raving loony and I wouldn't want to be the trick caught under all that weight if she did turn coyote.
But at the moment, I'm the only one that knows. Part of me revels in the knowledge, yessiree, but another part of me feels as guilty as sin. Is guilt a sin? I cain't remember mah Seven Deadlies these days, but I'm pretty dang sure that murder is one of them. Back then, when they wrote 'em, they called it summpin else. Iss all about brandin' an' marketin' these days, ain't it?
This here town could do with a bit of the old marketin'. The place is like one-a-them ghost towns nowadays. The streets are mostly deserted, like. Everyone's off somewhere else, either down they labs, or queueing for a loan so's they can register for they labs. But River's Bar is comfortable enough. I've been comin' in here ever since I came up to Cally, an' by now, mah ass has kinda settled into the grooves on the barstool. Sometimes, a man finds hisself noddin' off on said stool, despite the six-shooter digging into hiss leg.
River's Bar is like kinda el-typicallo Wild West saloon type. Has them doors a-swingin' when a fellah walks in, not that many fellahs walk in these days, but yer know what I mean. Has a pianner over in the corner and card tables out back. It's a place where you drain the hoss right where you sit and nobody but nobody eyes a batlid cus there's sawdust on the floor and the place plain stinks anyway. It's the right kinda place to sit and wait out the fuckin' cavalry. It's the right kinda place for a miseryguts like me; a man that had it all, I s'spose, but pissed it all up the wall by being a forgetful so-and-so.
It was forgetidness what did it, your honour. I gosh dang took my eye off the ball, only for a moment like, but it was enough. I got guilt on me, riding me down like all they rootin', tootin' hosses. Try to think of summpin else. Try to think of summpin else.
'Hey, Chico,' I call, 'fetch me a Diablo to go with this black stuff.'
Chico barely even looks up. He's a-starin' at a stain on the woodchip bar, mayhap hopin' that it'll just disappear if he stares at it long enough with they acid-misery peekers of his.
Wearily, like a hoss that has been rid all through the darkness hours with no el watero, he raises his head. Kinda shuffles over to where I'm sat, proppin' up said bar.
'Yezz?' he asks.
'Drop o' Diablo to keep the devil from the door,' I says. 'Sniffter o' bourbon for your old chum Cotton-Eye Ed.'
Chico just nods, dully, and reaches up for a dusty bottle. No label on the bottles here. It's prolly juss reconstituted piss wrung out from the sawdust.
'Good day today, Cheeks?' I asks, for conversation's sake.
Chico free-pours, bottom lip all jutted-out like a ten-year old's. Like the Milky Bar Kid would have done if everyone went took all his bars one day. Chico cain't remember a good day. He deposits the clunky, lip-stick marked glass in front o' me and doesn't bother askin' to be paid ferrit. You pays later. You always pays later in this joint. This life.
Mah eyes whip back to the telly, where summpin is happenin'. For a moment, I's afeart that iss gonna be the news that I juss know will come upon us all. What will come to pass will come to pass. But I reckons iss juss the adverts.
Ad break: A science dick is on, prattlin' on about summpin or other. I reckon it might be summpin to do with New Life, so's I better pay attention.
'Oi, Cheeks; ratchet up the noise on the idiot box, wills yer?'
Chico is slow to obey, but obey he does, grabbing the biggest remote a man ever seen and clickin' a few buttons on it before he finds the right one. Iss like he never seen it before.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cabala"
Copyright © 2011 Adam Lowe.
Excerpted by permission of Dog Horn Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Half Life by Richard Evans,
Everybody's Got Talent by Jodie Daber,
The Milky Bar Kid is Dead by A. J. Kirby,
Trick Machine by Richard Evans,
Elsbeth Schultz by Rachel Kendall,
Girl Absorbed by Richard Evans,
Stain by Rachel Kendall,
Flat Thirteen by A. J. Kirby,
Freak of Nature by Richard Evans,
Bird-Girl of Belomorsk by Rachel Kendall,
Son of Preacherman by A. J. Kirby,
The Fox and the No-Moon by Rachel Kendall,
The Mythical Christine by Jacqueline Houghton,