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.

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.