Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mustard Genius by G. Arthur Brown

Vintage Clue games became the hot item on eBay once Simon figured out that you could grind up Col. Mustard with a pestle and mortar, and then make tea from the residue. You’d steep this tisane for about 20 minutes in 200 degree water. Then you’d slam it. And you’d better be sitting down because it fucks you up big time.
Simon, since he was the first to do it and did it as often as he could, was the first to ascend to the rank of Mustard Genius. In layman’s terms, the drug had a terribly destructive effect on the body while boosting the brainpower of the user to levels unheard of. Simon was wheelchair bound and nearly immobile in less than a year. He couldn’t even feed himself or make Mustard Tea. But we got him one of those Stephen Hawking Speak & Spells and he was solving all kinds of equations and riddles and mysteries. With the power of his mind.
He was the first but he was certainly not the only Genius to come along. In the beginning, most of them just hooked themselves into the World Wide Web and argued over who, in fact, was God here.
Simon was better than that. He spent a lot of time at the observatory having astronomers describe what they were seeing to him. His eyesight wasn’t what it once was. He now saw like a bee. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly never seen a bee looking through a high power telescope.
Fuck! One time I did see a monkey looking into a microscope, though. He was a circus monkey named something like Raskill or Rashnash or Rishiraja. I came into the lab and I distinctly laid eyes on him in the act of making an observation. He had glasses and a lab coat on and everything. When he saw me, he turned his head, bared his teeth and made a simian shriek, like he was tricking me into thinking he was just some stupid monkey. But I knew better. Because I recognized the distinct yellowish stains around his mouth that come from drinking a lot of Mustard Tea. He was a fucking Genius Monkey. And he was doing science right in front of me! As soon as I told his handler, they fired his ass, but he got a job with a local real estate agency not long after. I see his goddamn face all over the billboards and benches in the neighborhood they make me live in now.
Yeah, I have to live in a special neighborhood now, because I’m one of the people who is not a Mustard Genius. I tried that shit like once, but it’s just not my thing. Come to that, being smart is not really my thing neither. I’d rather fucking watch the circus and shit. Now they don’t even have monkeys, though, and some of the horses are looking pretty smart. Soon the horses will be smarter than me. Then what’s left? Elephants? Fuck. Those fuckers hate tea. So I guess I’m safe there.
Anyways, me and Simon were hanging out in the elephant pen after a show. It was the best. You have to get used to the smell, but after that, there’s nothing sweeter. Serious, bro. Just me and Simon and his Speak & Spell and some fucking elephants. It’s the life.
Simon figured out a way to get his machine to do elephant trumpet sounds, and he was talking to those fuckers and getting them to do all kinds of cool things like stand on their back legs and spray water on us and rob banks and shit. Pretty cool. But Simon also agrees that they shouldn’t be allowed to get smart, so he’s not telling them about Mustard Tea and that’s fine by me.
People keep offering me Mustard Tea. Kids always rolling up on motorized scooters with their stained up mouths. I always decline. I say I’m allergic. Helps with the peer pressure. Plus, that shit is super expensive now because there are only so many old games in existence. I can pretend I’m too poor.
When no one is looking I’ll dunk Prof. Plum in my regular tea, just for a little flavor, but I swear I’m growing a second dick. There’s a little hermit crab-looking thing that lives in the new cock’s foreskin, so I wouldn’t really recommend Plum dunking to humans or to elephants. Just stick Miss Scarlet up your ass while you masturbate. You’re better off.

Beautiful Ash by Matthew Masucci

“Sam, did you know that it takes about 1500 degrees to reduce a body to ash?” John sunk the spade back into the ground. “How deep, do you think?”
Sam shrugged.
“Deep enough,” John said.
“Things are never deep enough.”
Sam was never here like everyone else. His eyes focused on the hole in the dark earth. “The glassblower God forms dust into balls of glowing lanterns. Our time is as thin as paper. When all is ash, we become the dust that becomes the glass that lights the skies. Dad will be a lantern for future skies.”
John lifted the lid of the wooden box and pulled out a bag of ash. His father’s ashes weighed seven or eight pounds. He would make a big tree.
John poured the ash into the hole, placed a sapling on top.
“Hold this.”
Sam steadied the tree while John filled the hole.
“Beautiful,” Sam said.
They stood there, looking skyward at a great lantern swollen red, awaiting rebirth.

Shadows and Pillows by Jeremy Maddux

I sit in the darkened bar, blending into the crisp shadows until I appear to be made of smoke like everyone else here. I build tiny monuments to oblivion with glass after glass of Cascadian dark ale, Tramadol and Hydrocodone. Sometimes Diazepam too, which I am directed to take by a presence higher than any earthly authority. I am free of my strings tonight, so I enjoy the light show. Fog machines and goth girls traipsing through the imagined ether like runaway construction paper cutouts.
You could go over there, my advisory shadow says. You could actually go over there and dance with them. It could be reality and not just a dream. You’d just have to move more than your hands and mouth for once, as grim a prospect as it might be.
I shake off the cerebral blitz of prescription meds and alcohol. Eyes are constantly tearing up on the stuff because they bring enlightenment and rapture I can share with no one else. But maybe I can. I ask my shadow to save my seat while I go mingle with the cute pinup pixie nobodies. I start with a bit of feet shuffling, trying to direct all of myself at the lithe one that is swishing her elbows and hips to Bauhaus. She doesn’t notice me at first, so I try to get her attention, hoping to skip the dance and return to my sedentary position by my shadow.
“How about a beer?”
Everything happens so fast I forget to blink. She gently taps me on the forehead and turns her back on me. That actually just happened!? My shadow laughs at me back at the table in the corner. He has company. My face has exploded in deep bursts of red distributed from my orbitals down to the scruff of my neck.
Defeated, I slouch back to the seat it didn’t save. It’s the Manager. Not of the bar, but of acquired taste. His face droops at the sight of me. That piteous gaze fills me with hope that I’m not wrong about my one sided convictions, that bold action leads to swift defeat. That inaction is truth, which is an honorable enough trait despite the boredom it brings.
You could have danced, my shadow says. Really danced. She was within your grasp.
No one is within anyone’s grasp, I rebut.
He’s right, though. Had I carried the action out and seen it to its logical end, we might have connected. We might have had something to celebrate a year from now.
“Everyone is within everyone’s grasp,” the Manager says.
I respectfully disagree, I say, respectfully disagreeing.
No need to punish yourself, my shadow says. That will come later.
I drop three crow’s feet on the table. Two for my tab and one for the Manager.
As my shadow trails me out of the Burgess Bar & Grill, the goth girl I failed to charm replaces me at the table we’d previously occupied. There is no doubt within my mind that they’ll have something to celebrate a year from now.
We pass through shelved barriers of night, stick figures directing traffic as I argue with the submerged entity of my immaterial leftovers.
It’s too late for any of that. The cards have been dealt. The die has been cast.
Bullshit. You never let anyone get the best of you, so they do it anyway. Loneliness is not set in stone. You are not a wandering archetype. Sadness and rejection do not the building blocks of a well-balanced human being make.
I should have ordered a slice back there. I haven’t eaten since the blackout.
Don’t mention that again.
Don’t mention what? The blackout?
Next thing I know, I’m six blocks ahead and a corner away from my stoop on Broadbelt Street.  The mailbox with the flamingo ornamentation darts out at me. It’s that or the booze and pills.  Mailboxes have no tolerance for drug use.
My shadow has left me alone due to the cutting word. I used it twice, so I shouldn’t have to deal with it for at least 48 hours. Make no mistake. Words have power. It’s simple really, just take a word that penetrates an enemy in such a way that they can’t help but acknowledge its power and you’re home free. I use the word blackout for my shadow, because it breaks up the ice in me and that psychopomp can’t afford to thaw. With any luck, it’ll be gone for 72 hours now.
I heave myself up the steps with what little energy remains and turn the knob. I just hope the bed linens have been changed and made. If not, it could be a long time before I sleep again.
The living room is covered in debris, as usual. My lemen (lemur/men hybrids) are splaid across couch cushions, flaking out on Monkey Bleach, which is slang for Hawaiian Baby Woodrose paste. Their life spans have never surpassed eight years, so I say let them enjoy their short duration highs before the inevitable euthanasia. I start to sit down beside Spry, the most chipper of the bunch but just as I crouch, there’s a knock at the door. Four rapid fire pecks, which could only belong to Codeine, a female grifter who can open bottles and pop corks with the muscles in her cooch. If you can’t roll with the punches in this society, you get left behind.  No one with such a talent as Codeine’s could ever get left behind.
I answer the door with the hopes that tonight something could happen that makes me feel alive instead of just coasting. As I open the door to let her in, she’s already smacking her lips against the smooth surface of her techpipe. Her eyes are phosphorescent orbs striking me down with icy intention. She holds up her phone so I can see the screen, which reads LOW BATTERY.
Finally exhaling a cloud of sizzling silver vapor, she cups the back of my neck with affection.
“Mind if I borrow your charger?”
I tell her I don’t mind her using me to charge her phone, but I insist on her using a plug in that is not above the belt, as those areas don’t get used as much. And, of course, if you don’t use it, you lose it, as they say.
Before I can even direct her phone down to my shaft, she slips the charger into my mouth. The port finds a connection and begins siphoning energy from my headspace.
“Thank you so much. In exchange, I’ll go make up the bed.”
So the night isn’t a total loss, I think out loud. Codeine makes eye contact, a million galaxies pinging off of each other in the stillness of her reflected sight. She’s the best medicine there is, I think, but I can’t get a prescription for her.
“You wouldn’t know what to do with me if you had me, honey,” she says from the other room.  “It’s better this way.”
She’s right. I probably wouldn’t. She leaves and returns after about an hour when the ambient sound of a fully charged phone summons her back to my side. I focus the arrow of my being at some innocuous corner of the room as she unplugs the port, taking a miniscule string of saliva with it. 
“You have this problem with drooling, don’t you?” Her comment is harmless, but she grabs both sides of my face to ensure that our eyes engage.

Something more is lost here than just a simple disconnect. After she leaves, I realize that a thankless job I just performed. And will perform again. And again, ad nauseum.
At least I can sit down now. I go to my bedroom to make sure she served her function, that she performed her thankless job as efficiently as I did mine. It appears she did.
Fresh, cool sheets under a warm plaid blanket, rolled back in that expert fashion usually met only by housekeeping standards. And the pillow…  Oh God, it’s so fluffed and welcoming that I barely notice its narrow concave slits for eyes.
I missed you, I say but it comes out in such a whimper that I briefly hide my face with the brim of my hat. I begin peeling off the many layers of clothing I’d adorned earlier in order to face the blasting winds of Coroner Town. No rest for the wicked, but I’d been an exemplary citizen for one day, at least.
I remove the final skin, that of the shorts I’d placed under my pants. No underwear to worry about, because fuck underwear confinement. My weary vessel collapses on the platform of sleep. I lay my head back to be absorbed by the pillow with kitten-like eyelids. Arms begin to form out of the muffling mass of fabric. They go up and down my upper body mass, starting at the temples and ending at my hands which are folded back behind my head.
I wish it could always be this way, I think out loud. The pillow opens its mouth to receive me as I backslide into the purgatorial melancholy to which I am already resigned.

“What would you like to dream tonight?” The pillow asks in the warmest female tone.
I know I can never have that one from Friday back, can I?
“You know that’s not up to me,” it says in a gilded gossamer voice of motherly intonation.

Then just give me something impossible, please.

Thanksgiving Brunch Mitzvah or, the End of the World for Women by Marleen S. Barr

I am a thirteen year old named Robbie who has always enjoyed Thanksgiving. This year, as ever, I happily joined my beloved immediate family: Daddy, Great Grandpa Izzy, Grandpa Lester, Uncle Arthur, and Cousins Mark, Richard, and Milton. All eyes were focused on the succulent roast festooned with stuffing, Brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes. Everyone was salivating as Daddy used a carving knife to penetrate the crispy skin. As warm fat oozed out of the roast and the savory smell of fresh rosemary permeated the dining room, people announced their preferences.  

“I’m a breast man,” announced Grandpa Lester. 
“I prefer thighs myself,” interjected Cousin Milton. 
Wishing to participate in the macho portion request fest, I said that I would like to chomp on a wing.

“This chick did not have wings,” matter of factly muttered Uncle Arthur.
Daddy abruptly dropped the knife. The whole family turned as white as the mashed potatoes.
No one remained interested in reserving his particular carcass preference. All eyes were focused on Daddy.
“Robbie, we have to have The Talk,” said Daddy.

“Puhlease, I’m thirteen. We had The Talk years ago. And I have a boyfriend. I’m going to the junior prom with Avi Aronstein,” I insisted.

Not that Talk. I’m talking about a different Talk. Because you’re thirteen, this Thanksgiving is different from all other Thanksgivings. Today you will become a man. Today is your Thanksgiving Brunch Mitzvah.”

“Brunch Mitzvah? What’s that?” I asked.

“Oy, a Brunch Mitzvah is no easy celebration. Tradition dictates that on this occasion fathers tell sons the truth. Robbie, in order to become a man, you must know that women were once included in society,” explained Daddy.

“Women? What are women?”

“Yes, women. Women, before the world ended for them, were once defined as humans who do not have penises and who give birth through orifices called vaginas. Babies were born after men insert sperm into vaginas.”

“‘No shit. But what about the gestation machines? How can women be better than gestation machines? And what happened to the women? Where are all the women?”

“Gestation machines do not exist. They are right up there with tooth fairies and dragons.

Great Grandpa Izzy remembers when a new form of bird flu decimated humanity. Social institutions fell apart--including food production; all the farmed animals died.  Professor Wolfgang von Weisswurst--an eminent science fiction scholar who won the 2023 Science Fiction Research Association Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction scholarship-- formulated a plan which saved human civilization.  According to von Weisswurst, women are extraneous. He posited that people, that is to say men, would survive if a small percentage of women were concentrated and hidden in windowless factory farm buildings. Some would spend their lives in gestation crates; others would be slaughtered and used for food. I clearly remember when men adopted von Weisswurst’s plan to combine Harry Harrison and Suzy McKee Charnas’ science fiction visions with meta-Nazism. They rationalized their decision by reasoning that women who are relegated to animal husbandry would no longer have to bother with finding husbands. What a great way for men to at once to turn women into bacon and avoid being called male chauvinist pigs. Your mother is being treated like a sow. Robbie, soylent green is women.

Great Grandpa Izzy continued the Brunch Mitzvah proceedings with the ritual toast. “L’chaim--for men,” he intoned while raising his wine class. As he cut into the roast which had been stored in the family deep freeze since his youth--and used especially for my Brunch Mitzvah--his knife hit a metal kosher food designation tag imbedded in the cooked flesh. He removed the tag and stared at the surrounding skin. He saw a familiar heart shaped tattoo. “Robbie, it is time for you to “meat” Great Grandma Rosemary,” he said while nonchalantly sipping more wine. “Oy, who knew that when I married a shiksa she would end up being kosher?”