Monday, January 23, 2017

THROAT BABY by Edward Morris

My girlfriend says I snore, and stop breathing sometimes. She keeps recommending I go do this Sleep Study, and I keep rescheduling. Sucks dating a paramedic. Can't hide nothin'.
She says it sounds like I was drowning. Or there's something trying to swim up out of me. I am hard to sleep with. The whole right side of my pillow is usually covered in drool when I wake up. Part of life, I thought, but that changes when someone else starts to live with you.

I spit in a spiderweb this morning, by accident, in the hedge out front. It wound around the web, down and through, glittering. It stayed. The spider moved. I saw later. But that part stayed.

I'm trying to quit smoking cigarettes. Too many other things fucking with me, and I know it's never going to get any easier. It's just time. It's time. I'll go do that study. I will. I'll see what is putting the a in my apnea. But not this week. I'm free next week.

Always next week.Each time I spit, I feel like it wants to go back down. Like it wants to swim back home. There'll be a string of it hanging out, when I just spit on the street, and I have to pull and pull and pull.It comes off. Nothing weird. It eventually comes off.

My Grandpa smoked cigars when he was middle-aged and had allergies all his life. And that otolarynologyst (so funny to hear the word in Papa's North Georgia accent,)why, “He done took so many of those polyps out of my sinuses, he said he could have made me a little brother.”

They weren't cancerous. That doc, and others, said our family was 'chromosomal,' which was a fancy way of saying, 'Probably inbred way back, and just all kinds of neurofibrowhatsis brewing in the wings.'

I have an ecig. I love it. Tastes like ice cream and Otter Pops. I'm almost used to it as the go-to habit, because I feel suffused with nicotine when I'm done smoking it proper,which is different than the way you smoke a regular cigarette. Just a matter of switching habits. Of learning to embrace new mutations. Learning to learn to.

More strings. More strings this afternoon. The last one was hell, and when it split,there was a little blood. Not painful hell, just awkward hell walking around looking like a dork trying to get it off. Like I was puking on the sidewalk. Some old Grandma gave me a wide berth and goes, “Shoo. He still feelin' it.”

It is painful to live in cities, now. Painful to look at everything you can never have, to choke and choke and nothing comes up. The whole way home, I couldn't look at myself in any shop-window glass. Not even the mirrored front of Nike. I hung my head. I didn't know why. I didn't need to see.

My boots had a new crack in each one, I saw when I got up on the doorstep. There was no more money. I gagged, like you do when you brush your tongue. Down in my throat, something gagged back. That part seemed natural. Like it was just time.

The house drowsed on into the quiet. It was a safe place, or it used to be. Nowhere felt safe now. I was sorry, to the house. Sorry for what might happen.

Rushing into the bathroom, I selected my instrument tray at random. A Popsicle stick. Two fingers. An ear-syringe left over from a baby cousin's visit. A sense of the random. Timing. Something--

*

Something makes sense, for the first time. The world is about to change. I open up and say Aah.

Ah. AHHHHHH. Everything, maelstrom, suction, the whirlwind. My jaw cracking farther, wider.The walls begin to crackle, bloop and bend. I... fall. I am...Pulled. Upward. Thrust. Toward the ceiling. Dreaming---

Dreaming free. Free. I follow the push, and swim. And swim to---

*

PLOP.

*

“Jesus Christ, what the hell is it?”

“I dunno, man. It was just floating there in the sink. What's your roommate's name...Charlie...Charlie sick?”

“Dunno.” A long pause. “Haven't seen him around.”

SEX, REPTILES, AND SATELLITES by Russell Hemmell

Why would you fancy partners, when seeking is challenging and there are no guarantees you will actually land on one? There’s no reason to bother with mating - tricky, teasing, tiring, sometimes even painful - when you can manage to breed without. And all that mess! These were more or less Threlena’s thoughts, in that sunny September morning when she finally delivered six perfect babies, very much copies of herself. A sparkling example of parthenogenesis, which in turns made the Outside World interested indeed.


She looked at them with her eyes full of pride, admiring their healthy scales and their minuscule tails, while gobbling up with enthusiasm void shells and unopened eggs. A girl has to eat, after all that hard job. The hatchlings were quiet, their eyes closed; one, more adventurous, had just started opening her jaws. A tiny greenish tongue darted fast in the air, ready to pick up her first nourishment.


Threlena was going to take good precautions, keeping the babies coiled up in her tail. No predators she could see around that pristine glassy cage of hers, but hey, you never know. And guess what, motherly care never fails. Yet another surprise in store for her Keepers. They hadn’t ever seen one of her kind so attentive with the brood, she was ready to bet. She couldn’t wait to look at their amazed faces – and that was just the beginning. Threlena could only imagine all the photos, TV sets, and social networks – her popularity was going to be unrivalled – but that was only the beginning. Because she was going to use her celebrity to achieve something meaningful: make her species join the space exploration, the real one. If only those lusty space geckos in the Russian sex satellite had thought better before going out…She didn’t know if there had been others in the past, but she was sure they was not going to remain the only ones in the future: after all, you can’t trust lizards to be reasonable. What had they believed to achieve by luring their own Keepers into sending them on orbit, achieving immortality? Morons. It had been short-lived fame, and now they were resting dry, frozen and very dead somewhere in a science museum. If that were going to be the end game, she would still prefer her very worldly but comfy box.


Looking at her little ones, at those tiny slick bodies now eagerly swarming around in discovery, she could deem herself satisfied for the moment. But, as there’s no perfect happiness, there were a few other items on her to-do-list. For a start, manage to make hatchlings grow up safe, fit, and ready to strike. There was a dramatic scarcity of suitable live preys in the area, and it promised to be challenging to teach babies how to hunt. Note to self: make Keepers aware of the issue. Have Them fetch the necessary.


Second, get some satellite attention as well. News channels to be preferred. Just to show the brazen-faced, four-legged cousins they were not the only ones with initiative and prime time.


And then, the most important thing: beat the rest of the reptile world – mammals had never been real competitors; without that convenient Cretaceous meteorite, they would be still hiding up in the trees – and get first in line for the space race.
Going where it really mattered: Mars. Not on the surface, for sure – that, she would rather leave that to those crazy bipeds, thank you very much, and any suicide-inclined lizard – but in orbit, safely snuggled against a
scientist’s shoulder. Sure it existed some kindred spirit willing to take her and her little ones on board for the future glory of Planet Earth.


In exchange, she should do for them what no reptile had ever done before: educate the Outside World about the arcane details of snake breeding. That was a task that required time and efforts (lots, lots). They were powerful, her Keepers, and tech-savvy, yet lacking any observation spirit. Oddly believing that nature had to mirror their energy-consuming and inefficient replication process. Otherwise, They would have realised how things were for her long before. Well, no longer.


Threlena the space traveller was going to reward the fortunate ones on her path and make up for that shameful ignorance. After all, looking with your own eyes at another planet’s surface is the dream of all species, and they were entitled to her gratitude.

Coiling up in elation, Threlena let out a satisfied sigh. That was definitively not bad a thing for a six-year old captive green anaconda from Essequibo, Guyana. She slithered through the dew-brimmed foliage and devoured a solitary cricket, thankful for such a good start of the week.

KEENO AND THE CUBISTS by Russ Bickerstaff

Keeno didn’t have any problem with the Cubists moving into the neighborhood. He just wanted everyone to know that. He’d grown up in the area years ago when it was more . . . traditional . . . and he knew that it wasn’t going to stay that way forever. He went off to college and started a job that became a career and when he met a girl and married, the only place he could think of to raise their kids was the place where he grew-up. So he moved back into the neighborhood and everything was fine. There were babies that they took to see fireworks who toddled along into preschool and then grade school. And everything was fine. And then the Cubists started moving into the neighborhood.

It was perfectly normal at first. Walk your kids out to the park and you see a couple of Cubists their moving along on their straight lines in those weird jerky motions and you know your kids are going to ask questions later. But it’s a weird, little novelty and they learn to forget about it just like everything else. But then a couple days later you see them at the park again. And then the day after that, you see one of them walking down the street with her little cubist dog and you feel kind of weird about the whole thing. That’s when you start to notice the moving vans. Weird angular people unloading their weird angular furniture and all those goddamned boxes. It’s enough to make you lose your lunch.

Keeno didn’t have anything against the Cubists. At least, he didn’t like to think that he had anything specific against the Cubists. They were probably quite nice people. They were so colorful. You knew where they were right away. The Cubist houses were clearly visible from down the block. It’s not like they were trying to hide what they were or anything. In a way, that really was the problem ultimately.

They almost seemed to be flaunting their Cubism everywhere. They almost seemed to express a disdain for the rest of the world and all its curves and fixed perspectives and things. When pressed to explain exactly what he meant by this, Keeno had difficulty with specifics. The Cubists largely kept to themselves and seemed to be unwilling to interact with other people in the neighborhood due to how often they were stared at.

Maybe this was Keeno’s big problem with the Cubists: the fact that they didn’t seem to be willing to interact with the rest of the neighborhood. They were all secluded in their own cubical spaces when they weren’t flaunting all their straight lines in your face and they seemed to totally disregard the world around them.

Clearly something needed to be done, but it was unclear as to what exactly that might be. There was no way to make the roads or sidewalks curvier. The paths through the park were already quite curves. Nary a right angle anywhere in the entire park. There was nothing specific about the neighborhood that should have drawn any attention to them to bring them in. What was causing them to flock to the neighborhood in the first place?

Keeno wanted to investigate further, but his work had kept him far too busy to do so. This was a problem as thoughts of the Cubists kept distracting him from being able to focus on his work. He just kept thinking about their weird heads and their jerky movements and getting disgusted with all the straight lines and right angles in the world around him. Something had to be done. It was somewhere around the third time he had left work early in a week that things began to fall out of focus for
Keeno. He collapsed into bed and fell asleep, gradually coming into a dream of curve-less space that he was quite incapable of escaping until his own horror had finally pulled him into the cold embrace of full consciousness.

The rest was more than a little predictable. Keeno would have to get used to seeing things differently. It would be awhile before he could openly accept his own angularity and mutation of perspective. In time he would come to accept other Cubists. In time perhaps he would be able to even accept himself.

SNAPSHOOT DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE by J.S.Watts

The swarm first appeared above the dozing village in the silvered light of a fat moon, which, though no one had noticed, looked remarkably like a well-fed oyster. An unusual beginning, not least, because all the bees were white: a hovering cloud of albino snow.

Then there was the incident of the rabbit. Old Willum had been sleeping under his customary bench, his elderly white head cushioned less than softly on yesterday’s newspaper. He claimed he was woken up by a white rabbit, which kissed him soundly on the mouth before lolloping over to the middle of the village green and disintegrating into the air as a swarm of white bees.

‘‘But Owd Will’m likes a drop of the heavy stuff,’’ said Gabe.

‘‘That he does, but the bees are real enough,’’ retorted John.

The two beekeepers were suiting up in order to deal with the swarm which, twelve hours on, was preventing the villagers living around the green from leaving their homes.

‘‘Real, but not right, if you know what I mean. Who’s ever heard of nocturnal, albino bees?’’

‘‘Granted, but it’s daylight now and the bees are still here. We’ve seen ‘em, same as Old Willum. He just got a bit confused as to what he was seeing. A bit like the time he woke up thinking he was a giant blue caterpillar.’’

‘‘Ah, but that was because the vicar had wrapped him up in an owd sleepin’ bag while he was catching zzzs. Confused him mightily until he sobered up, that did,’’ Gabe sniggered and carried on sniggering for longer than was truly necessary. John ignored him, treating him to a consciously dignified silence whilst continuing to don the necessary protective clothing.

Veiled, gloved and booted, the two men walked towards the swarm which, at their approach, sailed sedately across the green and into Mrs Dodgson’s award winning rose garden. Gabe and John followed in steady, if not exactly speedy, pursuit, too focussed on the bees to pay attention to Mrs Dodgson’s prize red and white blooms or the snow white cat crouched above them on the clematis arch.

As they passed under the arch, a cloud of white smoke from Mrs Dodgson’s garden bonfire wafted in front of their veils and by the time the smoke had thinned they had lost sight of the swarm. Though they searched the entire garden and those of all the neighbouring black and white cottages, they failed to find the bees’ new location. It was as if they had faded into the breeze.

The men were bemused and not a little frustrated, they had been banking on the unlikely swarm being worth a bit, but the villagers, now pouring like molasses out from their homes, were not unduly concerned. They were just grateful to be free of the constraint and able to be getting on with their business, whatever that might be. The village buzzed with renewed activity.

Mrs Dodgson remained indoors longer than most of her neighbours, but then her giant cannabis plants were going through a tricky stage in their growth cycle and needed her full attention. An earlier crop that hadn’t had enough of it, and had suffered as a consequence, was burning away discreetly on the bonfire in her back garden.

Out in the garden, the white cat, who had grown tired of the clematis and bored with waiting, stretched and grinned. He grew a pair of long ears and shortened his tail to a fluffy white scrap, then hopped off towards the rabbit hole at the foot of a nearby oak, disappearing in a puff of white fur and a fading smoke trail of silvery white bees.

Friday, September 23, 2016

CRY HAVOC, AND LET SLIP THE WAFFLES OF WAR by Eirik Gumeny

Five black helicopters chopper away overhead, searchlights crawling across the human slums lining the edge of the city. Sid and I are hunkered down in a drainage pipe just beyond the ghetto, hunched on our toes and trying to keep everything important out of the watery shit spewing past.

“I think they’re following us,” I say, carefully looking up at the search team.

As if on cue, the helicopters turn and drop, sweeping closer to the sewage treatment plant, the downdraft churning up pulpy liquid from the spillway in front of us. We push backward into the pipe.

“Why are they following us?” I whisper. I wipe sludge from my wrist, check my watch. “It’s not past curfew is it?”

“No, we’re good,” Sid says quietly. “With the time anyway.”

“‘With the time?’ What aren’t you telling me, Sid?”

“You’re not going to like it …”

“Talk.”

“Fine,” he says. He takes a deep breath, regrets it immediately. Then: “I, uh, I didn’t pay for the waffles.”

I deflate. “Really, man? That’s what you think this is about?”

“They were REALLY expensive.”

“So, what? Fifteen bucks?”

“More like five hundred ...” he mumbles.

“Dollars?”

“Five hundred and one, technically. Before taxes.”

“God damn it, Sid!” I shout. “That’s a Class D felony!”

“I didn’t know that when I took them!”

“WHY WOULD YOU STEAL FIVE HUNDRED DOLLAR WAFFLES, YOU GANGRENOUS TWATKNUCKLE?!”

“Jesus, man,” he hisses. “Be quiet!”

“Asshole,” I mumble. “Let’s just lie low for a few and get home.”

“Hey, I’ve always wondered: What’s the D stand for?”

“What?”

“The D, in Class D, what’s it stand for?”

“DOOM,” screeches a voice that isn’t either of ours. We turn to look and find a massive robot blocking our exit. 

“Look what you did!” hisses Sid.

The robot’s an Android Coalition Security Droid – a Mark I cyborg, the first in a line of human/robot experiments. The thing looks like a Ken doll and an electronics store dumpster smashed together by a troubled five-year-old. Exhaust blades where limbs should be, flesh used like twine. It’s a walking cyberpunk nightmare.

We try to disappear into the sewage pipe but there’s a metal grate no more than twenty feet back. We’re trapped, and worse, all the runny poop is starting to seep into our socks.

“Uh … Here!” shouts Sid, hoisting the take-out box and stepping toward the cyborg. “Take the waffles!”

“Code 42C, Statute iii of the Coalition Codes of Conduct,” drones the droid. “Returning stolen property does not subvert the initial offense.”

“OK, sure,” says Sid, “but, like, they’re … for you? As a gift.”

“Code 822R, Statute xi of the Coalition Codes of Conduct: Bribery is punishable –”

“What? No,” he stammers. “Who said bribe? I didn’t say bribe. I just figured you could … use a break?”

“I have no need for sustenance.”

“Waffles aren’t for sustenance, dummy. They just taste good.”

The red eyes of the robot’s Hunt Mode blink blue. The entire meat-and-circuit monstrosity seems to relax.

“The sustenance paste they feed us IS pretty disgusting,” says the cyborg. “Robots should NOT be in charge of food.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” replies Sid, shoving the box into the security droid’s hands. “Here. Eat.”

The android’s eyes flash purple for a moment – Computing Mode – before returning to blue. The cyborg slowly opens the take-out box and then crams an entire waffle into its Food Deglutition Cavity.

“Oh my God,” says the cyborg. “These waffles are incredible! AMAZING! I can … I can FEEL again!”

“So … You’re not going to bring us in then, right?”

The robot’s eyes flick red. “Tell me where you got these waffles.”

“The Tick Tock Diner,” Sid answers immediately.

“On Old Route 3,” I add.

“I need to obtain more of these,” the cyborg monotones, before hopping into the spillway and heading west, entirely ignoring his idling helicopter.

“What the hell is in those waffles?” I whisper, watching the android skip away.

“Pre-war Canadian maple sugar.”

“Oh.”

“And military-grade hallucinogens.”

“Damn it, Sid! We have been over this!” I bark. “You can’t – Wait. What do military-grade hallucinogens do to a human/robot hybrid?”

“I don’t –”

There’s a tremendous sound, then a number of even more tremendous explosions. We scurry to the end of the tunnel. The cyborg is down the spillway in full-on Kill Mode, weapons extended from all its orifices.

“COME BACK HERE, YOU STUPID BUTTERFLY!”

We watch as Mother Murphy’s Home for Wayward Bastards erupts in a tiny mushroom cloud of nuclear fire. Firefighting drones spring up from the sidewalk surrounding the flaming wreckage. The security droid starts picking up burning orphans and throwing them at the drones.

“That’s just mean,” says Sid.

“This is absolutely going to end the truce,” I add.

The Trouble with UPCs by Dale L. Sproule

Some people complain about them, but Sophie was happy using the self-scanner at the supermarket, at least until last Tuesday. The codes had been scanning accurately, when she came to the dry roasted peanuts, which the scanner read as "Elephant – $11,280,875.45."

Even if she had wanted an elephant, her credit card limit couldn't stretch that far. And none of the plastic bags available at the self-check-out were big enough to fit one. Besides, the only elephant

Sophie had seen in any of the aisles at the store had been a shopper rather than a product. 

So, she attempted to bring the error to the attention of the clerk helping the self-scan customers. 

Holding up the jar of peanuts she declared, "Excuse me, this is not an elephant."

But the clerk was paying no attention, having gone off to sweep the floor around the empty cash registers. Sophie had, however, garnered the attention of customers at the other self-serve terminals, who gaped at her, as though she were from Mars. She looked them in the eye, one after another, turning each to ash with her laser vision. "Does anyone else think I'm from Mars?" she demanded.

The one customer remaining in the line-up backed away slowly, swinging her enormous trunk and flapping her huge ears. 

Harrumphing self righteously, Sophie didn't ask a second time. Replacing the peanuts in the basket, she stuck her flashing green nose in the air and walked out – as a further demonstration that this sort of lackadaisical service was simply bound to lose them customers.

Conflicting Reports by Jasper Oliver

They all saw Jesus come out of the post office, they agreed on that much. “Jesus!” they cried and looked at one another and nodded. One guy said Jesus was a woman and another that Jesus was an old man. A third insisted that Jesus was a horse escaped from the Piccadilly circus. He said he’d read about it in the paper, that the circus ringleader was a large cruel man who beat the horse and refused it gruel and that the horse had escaped and was the son of God. He described its resplendent red conductor’s jacket, its teeth gnashing at the bit, its sorry shiny eyes. The fourth guy saw regular Jesus.

“Crown of thorns and everything,” the fourth guy said and smoked his cigarette cruelly.

They wondered about this, how they all could see the same thing and yet give such varying accounts.  The police reporter nodded and jotted it all down. He didn’t wonder. He’d been on the force a long time.

“I think maybe we all see what we’re supposed to,” the 1st guy said- the lady Jesus guy- “we all find what we need in Christ.”

The third guy looked out over his shoulders at the new buildings being erected. It was true, he had owned a horse as a child and loved it fiercely.

“I saw a ghost once,” the second guy offered. “It was long and pale and had red coals for eyes. It burbled and lived in our sink drain for an entire summer and would come out at night to steal milk and use the restroom. We’d always hear things shuffling about and the toilet flushing and in the morning the milk cartons would be empty save for a quarter inch of sludgy pink backwash. I guess my Mom felt she owed it the milk because we were always well stocked by nightfall. One time I saw it. I couldn’t sleep and had wandered into the kitchen and the fridge door was open and it was inside, crouched and squeezed on the 3rd shelf behind the eggs. It was wispy and opalescent with thousands of tiny silicate hairs, no face but those burning eyes. That was the weirdest thing I ever saw until today. Do you think Jesus is like that? Like a ghost?”

“He seemed pretty solid to me,” the fourth guy said and the rest of them agreed. “And anyway you didn’t see him have burning eyes like that right?”

The second guy admitted he had not but thought privately that proved nothing. Surely every ghost was different. He wondered if he’d see Jesus again that night, gazing up from the depths of the drain with geriatric eyes. He shuddered and squeezed out a few tiny terror tears.

“Thank you very much for your reports,” the policeman said and closed his notebook, “this will help us a lot with our investigation believe me. The varying descriptions don’t matter much.”  He took them by the hand, each in turn and got into his cop car and drove away. In his mind he’d always pictured Jesus as a portly Jackie Gleason type. He was raised in the church but hadn’t been to service for years. He wondered if Jesus got his mail there often or what?  He thanked God he’d been on patrol that day.