Shelf–much to my chagrin–had always been an ugly town with ugly houses which flanked ugly streets walked by ugly people who wore ugly hats and smiled ugly smiles. Its townsfolk were those damnable souls that were just Loud. Plump and curvy to a man, woman and child, they called to one another with cheery waves and noisy salutations, banged pots as they cooked and slammed doors as they went about their business, living loudly by night and snoring monstrously by day.
Little wonder that I eschewed the company of such insufferable neighbours. Overlooking this raucous place from my house on the hill, I, Albrecht Lazell Esquire, lived a life of quiet solitude to focus on my experiments and studies. And how they filled my every waking hour!
Of these multitudinous inventions … Nay, obsessions! … three were the source of my greatest pride. The first (being a large rocket ship which virtually filled the entirety of my back garden) had barely reached completion before the events that I am about to relate to you; the second (a wondrously complex clockwork head and brain of brass, cogs and springs) I had used to replace my real head at the end of my tender teens; and the third (the chief source of this narrative) I would still describe as my greatest invention; The Instantaneous Communicating Machine. Continue reading
It was the three hundred and fifty-sixth year of winter, and this he wrote in the Book of Cold. Walter flipped the pages of the now wilting tome, and read his favourite parts once again, mumbling under his breath, carefully thumbing through the frozen pages that threatened to crumble under his touch.
The Signs of the Warm-time, Colors of the Sun, Sun Signs, The Seed and The Soil – he enjoyed each chapter as much now, as when he had first scrawled the words – copied them, from the Book of Cold that his father had carried.
In the three hundred and tenth year of winter, his father had died – in a cave much like this one. He’d passed in the night, sick from the winter’s white that had crept up his leg through a hole in his shoe. He had cried in pain for hours at first, then whimpered and then moaned intermittently until the cold blood had reached his heart and then he had died. Walter had stayed with him – with his corpse, in that cave for a whole day, hoping that he would wake up, hoping they’d be on their way again. He’d only been a boy then. He’d wandered many years in the sun-less winter since, to know better. The frozen dead will never wake. Continue reading
The waves had declared war on Cyrille’s father. Cyrille was a little girl when she heard them roar at night.
Father’s arms were strong like iron bars and his hands were always stained with paint. He hugged Cyrille often. Each of her dresses had large, coloured handprints from his paints.
Cyrille was frail. The round, horn-rimmed glasses made her resemble a sad-faced owl. Her steps were slow in the sand and quicker on the road.
They lived on an island with only four people: Cyrille, Father, Ms. Tombs, and the mailman. The mailman didn’t even live there all the time; he had a small house that Father called a shack. He usually took his rowboat, to the friendlier beaches on the mainland.
Ms. Tombs had a grand house identical to Father’s. Humidity had made the white paint peel and the shutters warped on both the houses. Ms. Tombs had a fine body to match the grand house. Ms Tombs often went diving in the sea to keep that body in shape.
Father would swagger when he marched into Ms. Tombs’s house, holes in his galoshes and a gap-toothed grin. Years of gifts had passed from his rough hands to the lady’s hands. Cyrille had tried to ignore the heavy footprints connecting the houses.
Each night Father would go out just as the sun kissed the cold ocean waves. The water roared at him, and he roared back and laughed. Continue reading
And when Satyavan’s life had thus been taken out, the body, deprived of breath, and shorn of lustre, and destitute of motion, became unsightly to behold. And binding Satyavan’s vital essence, Yama proceeded in a southerly direction.
– The Mahabharata
There is fear in me as I move through the dance floor, sticky with a mix of spilled drinks and glitter and blood. I’m not drunk, I’m not even close to drunk, but the beat of the music slides between my ribs and pulls everything I feel right to the surface, just under the skin.
Three nagas with jewel-scaled arms hiss urgently to each other as I pass, black eyes cataloguing the lines on my face, the grey at my temples, the heaviness of my step. I’m hardly old, but age is something unknown to this ancient place, full of monsters in the full flush of youth.
I manage to angle my foot just enough to step down heavily on one of their tails – she rears up and expands her hood, split tongue flickering out of her mouth as she looks at me in what is clearly reproach. “Sorry,” I say insincerely, ignoring the flex of muscle underneath her violet-black scales, the coils and coils of her glistening like oily rope.
I height Perdurabo but I am sick of it. To endure this dismal dross sickens me. I shall avaunt! Hie me away from these citied planes, this procession of moments that constitutes time, this extension of dimension in all directions that constitutes space, this A to Z within which have arisen only prisons and orisons. I shall find the keys that open doors most never see and I shall return with that which shall grant me dominion, that which shall place in my possession the power to escape all prisons, to direct all orisons at my own newly acquired godhead.
I was sleeping in the fire. Or trying to.
I was obsessed with breaking the chains of space and time that bind us to this single plane of existence; I wanted to explore other realms, realms that exist all around us, if we could only see them. I found clues in the writings of the alchemists, but I should have known that they had hidden as much as they revealed in their complex symbolism and allegory. So there I was, trying to become more like the salamander, trying to learn to live in elements other than air. All I needed was one glimpse of the other worlds, worlds that once seen could never be unseen again. So I was sleeping in the fire.
I had gained entry into the tiny hotel that occupied part of the ground floor of the shoddy lodging house I lived in and had created a makeshift bed of fire using the gas stove and an assortment of trays filled with cooking oil. The initial discomfort had passed, and I was beginning to feel almost snug when a sudden involuntary spasm caused flaming oil to overturn directly onto the naked flames. There was a loud explosion that hurled me across the kitchen and then a powerful jet of flame that would not cease until the gas was completely exhausted or firefighters arrived. Naturally the explosion attracted the attention of several people, and there was soon a crowd clamouring at the entrance to the grimy kitchen that was to have been the stage of my first step to the other worlds.
My grandfather called me at college three weeks before the summer semester ended to say he’d stopped sleeping. “No need to any more, Rob, my head’s clear as ever, but maybe we should think about seeing each other before too long.”
He didn’t ask me to come right away, but by the following midmorning, I was creating a dust cloud on the long driveway to the dozen or so acres at the heart of the farm. On either side, fields leased to neighbors were high with corn having a good year.
Though my father grew up here, farm life never got into his blood. Manufacturing close tolerance jet engine parts for the military and the money that brought appealed to him more. As for me, well, the road to my eventual future in neurological research was already mapped out in some detail.
I’d driven all night without sleep, but going sleepless wasn’t anything new for me. With finals close, I habitually shambled around campus, bleary eyed, grunting at friends and getting no better response back. We were a serious, career fixated lot, little more than academic zombies by the end of a term, too obsessed with stuffing our own brains with the knowledge to think about eating anyone else’s. Still, if knowledge were transferrable that way, who knows how safe our professors’ brains would have been?
The invisible sun has risen somewhere. The blare of the alarm wakes him up. Groaning, he braces himself for another meaningless day.
He clears a circle on the fogged window of his 253rd-floor flat. The air outside looks pregnant with frozen mist. Vistas do not stretch before him even at this height, only buildings in the city’s nucleus do. Yellow sulfur lamps illuminate halos in the blackness. Everything seems still.
He gets to the basin, his head heavy and eyelids heavier. He opens the spout and the water gushes. He wishes some things could change, on their own – maybe the transparent candy-red toothbrush, the curvy-edged mirror, the buzzer of the lift – just to keep up the excitement.
The long hand tells him that he should have been up 20 minutes ago. “I was”, he tells it, “but didn’t want to get out.”
“Am I the lucky one today?” He talks to himself but rejects the thought immediately. “How many people in the City? 5 million?” He doesn’t know. He was never good at guessing. “But should be around that number. So probability? 1:5,000,000. Not likely.”
I’m watching you and my father whispering in the kitchen. You’re going over the plans yet again. Neither of you looks sad. You don’t look happy, either. I suppose there’s that at least. But your faces show determination or maybe resignation. Either way, I had what I came for. Neither of you had been forced down this path, so both of you are to blame.
Down the hall I’m sleeping in my bedroom. My twin brother must be sleeping there, too. The twin that I remembered, but you denied.
Before I was old enough to realize that asking wouldn’t get me an answer, would only bring harsh words and long periods of tension, I inquired about my brother several times. I didn’t know he was my brother, exactly. I just remembered another boy, my age and size, who was there with me when I was very young. Those times, you always told me that I must be thinking of a cousin of mine. You’d ask my father, “What’s his name, dear? Your brother’s son. The one who lives out east?” He’d answer, and you’d say that must be what I was remembering. That they had visited for a month one summer when I was four or five. But I was sure you were lying. I wasn’t remembering just one summer. I was remembering someone who I had played countless games with and fought epic battles against with our toy soldiers. Someone who had always been there, back to my first memories.
The last time I questioned you about him, when I was eight or nine years old, I asked if he had been my brother. “Don’t be silly.” Your words were clipped. “No one your age has a sibling. You know that.”
I have what I came for, but I’m still watching. You’re both sitting, calm, as your cups of coffee grow cold. How can you be doing this? I want to scream at you, to tell you that you shouldn’t do it or if you must, that you should do it to me instead. But you can’t change the past. That’s how it works.
Jackson Keyes wiped the sweat from his face, once again cursing the heat of the southern California desert. He hummed one note, trying to concentrate on the road instead of the pain in his head. The car began to veer off the pavement raising clouds of dust, and Jackson lurched in the seat trying to pull the old auto from the soft shoulder.
Then he saw it, a small town, barely visible on the horizon. Probably no air conditioning, he thought, grabbing his soaked handkerchief to wipe away the sweat.
The town was tiny, a haphazard collection of one story cement block buildings with one central streetlight at the square. He sat through two cycles of red and yellow before a pickup truck behind him blasted its horn. The green signal lamp must have burned out.
“Yeah, all right,” Keyes grumbled and wiped his face again.
His stomach cramped and he coughed at the nausea. He had to get to that bank, he thought. The time was near. He pulled over to a young boy on the sidewalk and asked about the bank. Continue reading
~3500 Words (Nebula Award Nominee)
Over the years, Tikka’s job as a Minor Propagandist for the planet Porcelain’s Bureau of Tourism had shaped her way of thinking. She dealt primarily in quintets of attractions, lists of five distributed by the Bureau: Five Major China Factories Where the Population of Porcelain Can Be Seen Being Created; Five Views of Porcelain’s Clay Fields; Five Restaurants Serving Native Cuisine at Its Most Natural.
Today she was composing Five Signs of Spring in Eletak, her native city.
Here along the waterfront, she added chimmerees to her list as she watched the native creatures, cross between fish and flower, surface. Each chimmeree spread its petals as it rose, white clusters holding amber centers, tendrils of golden thread sending their scent into the air along with a whisper of sound, barely audible over the water’s lapping.
The urge towards love beat along every energy vein of her silica body, down to her missing toes. She resisted it. She would remain alone this spring, as she had every spring since she had made her vow and inscribed it in the notebook where she kept her personal lists. The “Life Resolutions” page had the vow inscribed as #4 under #1 “Keep myself clean in thought and mind,” #2 “Devote myself to promoting Porcelain’s tourism,” and #3 “Fall in love.”