Monday, April 24, 2017

FEATHERS by Brenda Anderson

Outside the Möebius Strip, a bouncer eyed Floyd. “A geek, huh. On Monster Night, geeks go in the corner, behind the chicken wire.”

Floyd peered up at him. “But I’ve got a personal invitation. Tell the manager it’s about a feather.”

The bouncer sighed and led him inside. A tall, sallow-faced man studied him. “Feather? Explain. Fast. I’m busy.”

Floyd swallowed. “There used to be a playground near here. When I was a kid, we played a game to see who could swing the highest. One particular swing was different. More than once I swung up and over. On the way down, I changed into feathers.”
The manager looked bored.

“Then I’d change back into a small boy. But one day, someone stole two feathers. Next I knew, they razed the park and put up buildings. And yesterday I got a handwritten note. ‘You want your feathers? Come to the Möebius Strip.’ So here I am. Here’s the note.”

Floyd fished it from his pocket. “It’s signed Monster Me.”

The manager shrugged. “He’s up next. Go nuts.” He turned and left.

Floyd looked round. Beyond the bar, the large, noisy main room opened onto a stage. On the left, what looked like art students huddled over tablets and sketchbooks. On the right, squashed behind the chicken wire, the geeks swapped notes. Floyd joined them.

“Here for the mind reading act?” said the guy next to him.
Floyd shook his head.

“The fights were unbelievable. Wormhole Monster just beat Sinkhole Monster. The mind-reading comes next.”

“Not interested.”

The guy frowned. “What are you doing here, then?”

The lights dimmed. The manager strode onto the stage, paintball gun in hand. “The winner of the last bout will now select a volunteer for the world-famous monster mind-reading act.” He raised his gun and squirted purple ink in the air. Two huge shapes purpled into view. One squished forward.

“It’s the winner, the wormhole monster,” whispered Floyd’s neighbour. Floyd opened his mouth to reply.

Purple Monster extruded something that looked like a thin trumpet. “I see a man who’s looking for a young girl from his playground days,” it intoned. “Step forward, sir.”

Floyd flushed bright red. Everyone turned and stared.
Purple extruded a finger and tapped him on the shoulder. Bouncers descended, propelled Floyd onto the stage and turned him to face the crowd.

“I will now read his mind,” intoned Purple. “This man came here to seek two feathers, and perhaps the then-young girl who stole them. How do I know this?”

The crowd sucked in its collective breath.

Purple waited for silence. “I ate her.”

The crowd gasped, and cheered.

“Wait,” said Purple. “This man can find that girl about a third of the way along my intergalactic intestinal tract. Do you want to?”

Floyd opened his mouth to speak. That girl. He remembered now. When the prostitutes used to file past the park on their way to work, a young girl had accompanied them a few times. The girl had taken two of his feathers. He’d never been the same since.
He cleared his throat. “Er, yes.”

The crowd cheered.

Purple quivered. “Good.” It seized Floyd and popped him into one of its body cavities. The noise of the crowd faded as he slid faster and faster down a long slippery tube. Without warning, he slammed into something hard, flipped head over heels, and once again turned into feathers.

Floyd drifted downward, all wisps and fronds, and hit bottom. A young woman knelt and looked down at him. The same blue eyes in a piquant face, a little older now.

“You’re that kid, aren’t you? I’ve still got two of you ... I mean, your …” She grinned. “Do you want them back?”

Floyd nodded.

She giggled, pulled two feathers out of her shoulder bag and solemnly added her two feathers to his. Floyd did a cartwheel and as he landed, regained his human body.
He checked his arms and legs. “Thanks. Uh, long time no see. I’m Floyd.”

“Zadie. How do we get out of here?”

Floyd looked round. Nothing came to mind.

“We need a good propulsion system. Let’s tickle him,” said Zadie.

“You mean …?”

“Yep. You change back into feathers. I do the rest.”

Purple coughed and gagged. Floyd and Zadie spun round. The wormhole monster coughed them up on stage, and faded from sight. The crowd leapt to its feet. “Where’s the monster?” shouted many. “Bring him back!” shouted the rest.

The manager hurried them to a back door and pushed them onto the street. “Go ruin someone else’s business,” he hissed.

“But …” began Floyd.

“We’re going.” Zadie led Floyd away. “You’re so cute when you’re angry,” she whispered in his ear.

This time, Floyd knew not to say a thing.

POLAROID by R. E. Hengsterman

On a day in day out basis, the universe does its damnedest to maximize good coincidence. And in opposition, unfortunate or tragic happenstance comes with a hefty price. Because of this invisible pursuit of balance, I find myself trapped, the byproduct of a cosmic mishap. Often, I end up on the wrong side of these equations. Today I'm in a Polaroid. And I'm not talking about being in a Polaroid - as in I've had my picture taken.

No, this is much, much more problematic - a circumstance of irrational proportions, if not inconceivable, absurd, crazy, or even improbable by any stretch of the imagination. My ability to even speak of these events is a minor miracle.

At the current moment, I'm floating in a bath Silver bromide (Ag Br), cyan, yellow, magenta, and dark blue pigments. How did this all come to be? It's simple. I broke one of the fundamental laws of the universe. And once you do such a thing there are consequences.

It all started three weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon. The house was empty, and I was on a mission to replace my worn-out copy of Hustler. I headed to the basement looking for something new to stimulate the expulsion of my youthful vigor. Our basement, dank and murky, was a treasure trove of goodies. You never know what you'll find. So, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. There were boxes of old vinyl records, grade school photos, unmatched shoes, youth trophies, baby clothes, and the occasional Cosmo; the issue with the cover that screamed - "The Craziest Sex Tips We’ve Ever Tried," and
"How to Make Him Feel More Pleasure" in big block letters. A decent start, but the wow factor wasn't there. I needed more.

Forty minutes later I came across a stash of old Playboys; spines covered in black mold, centerfolds gummed together - downright nasty, a whole box of wasted potential if not outright carcinogenic material. I avoided those.

I rummage until a small metal box catches my eye. Gunmetal gray and a lock pickable with a standard paperclip. Inside, a 6x8 inch sealed Manilla envelope. On potential alone, my heart races. What I found were a dozen nude Polaroids. A brunette, vulnerable and beautiful.

With my stash in hand, I headed to my room and exercise a few demons. This exorcism goes on for a week or two, each day a different photo and each day a new fantasy. The celluloid edges peeling on the abused Polaroids. And then the unthinkable; please pay attention because this is where the story gets a little complicated.

It's midweek, and my Mom is shoveling the dirty clothes at the foot of my bed into the laundry. On this day, she finds the motivation to do a little additional digging (cleaning).

I come home from school and find my mother, crooked smile and hips cocked, perched at the front door. And I knew trouble was coming. Maybe she found my stash of weed or my calendar with all the blowjobs marked BJ in red.

But it's worse. She found the photos, hidden inside an empty Chuck Taylor shoe box.

What occurred next is impossible to describe - jaw-dropping, life-changing, laws of the universe psychological apocalypse that ripped in whole the cosmos and expelled me from my world. And that's how I ended up in a Polaroid three days ago. Not sure if anybody's looking for me, but I'm here, in the envelope, wedged between two naked Polaroids of my mother.

EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH by Matthew Lyons

He smiles at everyone, and God love 'em, everyone can't help but smile back. He's the sweetest old guy, never forgets a birthday. Gets everybody a card, something meaningful and heartfelt, every time. Some of the folks at the office have worked with him for twenty years, more. They know all his stories, but love to hear him tell them anyway. Even the ones that are a little sad. He talks about his wife Marjorie like she's still around, still gets all misty-eyed when he remembers her, which is a lot.

He goes on at length about bands he saw back in the day, movies he loves. He never discusses politics or religion and thanks people to afford him the same courtesy. At Christmas parties he only ever has two drinks max so he can make sure everyone's staying safe and has the numbers of three good cab companies stored in his phone.

When he calls out sick, everyone talks about how they hope he'll feel better soon. He never invites anyone over to his house because he values his privacy and so did Marjorie and he feels like he owes that to her, still.

He has three heavy locks on every door and spends an inordinate amount of his free time cutting tangled clumps of hair and teeth from the rollers of his vacuum cleaner.

Eventually he decides to just go ahead and buy a shopvac and not long after that most of the pretty high school girl who sells it to him ends up inside it. She was right, the cleanup works like a dream. He can't even see the stains of her on the basement floor when he's done.

When he screws up, it's something tiny he wasn't even paying attention to, fucking typical. The cops come calling and his lies are just shitty enough to make them return in force, peacocking with rifles and riot gear. He waits for them to come back, armed to the teeth inside the foyer, dragged in homemade armor. He knows how this is going to end.

He makes them storm his house and when he goes, he goes messy; takes six of them along with him. When they find the toy he made out of the pretty high school girl's head, a couple of them puke right on their boots. The stink is so awful in his stuffy little house.

The next day at the office, the news spreads like herpes and everyone he had fooled lies and says they always knew there was something wrong with him. In the dark, they cry into their pillows and wonder how they were so wrong for so long, and when they think about how much they still like the person he pretended he was, it's like an enormous rotting mouth has opened up underneath to devour them whole. Just because they don't feel the chewing doesn't mean it's not happening.

STYLOMETRY by Tamara K. Walker

“Algorithms are musical,” you thoughtfully articulate, munching on air with your daily snack of posters and sandwiches. The classroom is empty, and you yearn to grasp the naked spokes of the dry-erase asterisk on the whiteboard and turn it like a ship’s wheel.

“That’s trite,” I say, abruptly but patiently, dismissive in the way you know I’m not being cruel.

“Music is algorithmic. Beat is procedure. Melody is function. Evident.”

“Yes, music is composed of algorithms, but in the other direction,” you persist. “Are algorithms, writ large, music? I think there’s more to be gleaned from that mapping, much more.”

My contemplative silence yields the point, as cursive mice etch wavering borders around the room with their bodies. Just a moment ago you were considering the repulsiveness of larvae, chalking speculative skeletons around the aversion to early forms of insects and animal life, by extension. The skeletons led you down the hallway to alpha and beta versions of software, and from there, to algorithms.

A textbook entitled Forensic Linguistics sits on your desk, your light reading, the cover so glossy new you could see your face reflected in it, except that it always shows reflections of someone else’s face, and never anyone you recognize or have ever seen. You’ve taken exactly one bite out of a honeycrisp apple and set it on the book on your desk on the floor on the fireplace, and I silently admonish you to not bite it again, lest you suffer Turing’s fate, which I am certain is inevitable based on the random patterns of the mice.

“You know about stylometry.”

“Yes.”

“Authorship attribution. How to tell which author wrote what. I’ve been thinking about metastylometry. Instead of algorithms and methods to recognize an author’s style, this would enable one to predict the evolution—which distinctive features will develop.”

“So you’d not only be able to discern which author wrote a given text, but what the texts a given author would be likely to write in the future will look like.”

A snowy electronic silence pervades the room. Your desk dissolves in a flurry of mahogany particles like a malt ball core in saliva after the chocolate has melted, visually revealing the salient denuded truth: you are no longer my pupil, and I have ceased to be your teacher. We frantically struggle to wrest control of the exposed underpinnings.

I win, or you gain the upper hand; we can’t say for certain which one of us I am now that there’s a victor and that victor is me. I hastily interrupt the algorithm, excise our function, and run the modified version in safe tranquil perpetuity. Genuinely endless loops of you, as a little one, a larva, playing in the sandbox.