Since this community is sitting alone and unloved (yet again), here's my four-point plan:1)
I'm going to start posting completed pages of MAGNETIC CENTRAL.
One at a time, at an agonizing trickle, but still... COMICS pages. In a FICTION WRITER'S COMMUNITY. TEH SUCK!2)
Nobody but members of the community will notice.3)
One or two of you will be guilted into action. But probably only one.4)
The rest of you will be forced to live with the shame. FOREVER.
Stitch that, you, you... EXISTENTIALISTS.
Sometimes I open a bottle of wine. I drink a glass, and then I forget. I go about my business, and I forget. And then at the end of two or three weeks, I come home. I come home, and the wine is there on the counter like it always was, and I remember, and I’m so happy to see it. I pour myself a glass, and I sit down to enjoy it, but I can’t. I can’t enjoy the wine because I’m wondering: is it bad? I forgot the wine, but did I forget its flavor? Was it always this sharp? Wasn’t it sweet? And I spend the whole glass down to the bottom with that last drop that always gets stuck in the flute, and I don’t know. And the rest of the night I wait to be sick.
Tomorrow morning, "Organ Music for Children" and "Watch Her as she Disappears" fly off in the post to Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, respectively... Cross your fingers, kids.
I just finished a piece I'm calling, "Watch her as She Disappears." I'm still trying to figure out just how kosher it is to post full texts before I go sending them off in hopes of publication... Oh yeah, and I got my first rejection letter today. It's on the wall, soon to be joined by many, many more...
Anyway, I'm not dead, and I hope you aren't, either.
whatcha up to?
The door swung open again. It barely made a sound, but it did let the light from the streetlamp and the chill from the winter breeze into the room, and Speckle glanced up from his coffee expectantly. He saw a mother and daughter wearing matching woollen coats, covered in flecks of snow; the girl turned to politely close the door behind her, but her mother caught Speckle's lingering gaze, took her daughter by the hand, and scurried past. Speckle sighed, took another sip, and wearily looked across the table at his companion.
"What time is it?"
Susie drew in breath to answer the question, but thought better of it.
"You've got a watch," she replied quizzically, reaching over and tapping the face of his watch with her index finger to prove her point, before resting her hand on his forearm by way of apology.
"It reset itself," Speckle explained. "It always does that when I get nervous."
...or, Why I Haven't Been Writing (much or very fast lately)
I wrote a little over 100 words on my current project last night. Its the most productive I've been since I sat my ass down and made myself finish "How to Hide a Dictator..." Some combination of shift in schedule, vulnerability to an attractive nuisance, and discomfort with at least one (not really) essential element of my current story project have kept me away from getting it done.
How to proceed? Those 100 words last night knocked out the aforementioned (probably not) essential (at all) problematic element, but they took a lot out of me in the half-hour before I had to shuffle off to bed. Today should have easier, not so personal, material to cover. That, and learning to write fiction before sunrise and turn off the damned internet when I sit down at this box... and I should be golden till the next hangup.
what's your plan?
Still haven't finished last weekend's story. At the beginning of the end, the third section, but that's as far as it goes. I've got excuses, of course-- work, life, existential angst, ennui, deep doubts about my artistic ability, blah blah blah (have I mentioned my worrisome new teeth? I mean, today?) --but I'm no better for having them. But then, neither are you.
What's keeping you from writing? I mean, really. Let's get off fiction for a moment. There's only a couple of people posting here, not counting the nepotism of me, myself and I. Obviously my last few posts haven't been fiction. A couple have been outright raspberries at the silence. Silence is galling when it isn't called for. So tell me. Lay it out. Explain it to yourself, with your own mouth, and see how it sounds. Is the excuse actual? Does it excuse your reticence, or is it just an excuse?
I won't think poorly of you if you don't comment. I don't expect results. No promises have been broken, it's merely that I know what's keeping me from working and why. I'd like to hear your version.
|More Christopher Priest;
this time, germane to the (I didn't realize how ethically sketchy) third, unpublished volume
of 'Dangerous Visions',
the anthology Harlan Ellison
started back in '67. Priest writes a cruel chronicle of how Ellison shanghaied the material of at least
ninety-one authors and has held their work in legal limbo as bought-and-paid-for but yet-to-be-published. That's nearly a hundred people, many of whom don't have the legal right to publish and/or re-solicit the purchased work. Many are now dead.
What a moral sinkhole.
This is identity theft at its most eccentric-- a library of purchased manuscripts no-one but Ellison and his closest associates have access to, a wealth of fiction denied to the world because of an overreaching ego, and a source of irritation for everyone that would very easily end if only Ellison could bring himself to admit defeat, if not wrongdoing. That, or publish the damn thing. It's been thirty-four years since the initial announcement. Surely some of the material has dated, but would it really be so much of a disappointment to see the work in print after having been strung along for so long? If anything, it would a vindication, all but erasing the pall of the nigh unto criminal fibbing he's indulged in for nearly one third of his life.
Imagine that: lying to almost everyone you know, several thousand of whom are your most adroit, adoring fans, bearing your standard throughout everything they do. Lying for thirty-four years and no-one bringing you to court for it, no-one but your detractors taking you to task. Going to bed knowing that some thirty people you counted among your friends submitted work to you, to be published in a forthcoming sequel to a celebrated, award-winning anthology (which remains in print to this day), only you never came through and now they're deceased. Not even a galley copy, just a big damn enormous box of file folders gathering dust in your study, looking more and more like the vulture eye from 'the Tell-Tale Heart', accusing you, and there you are, pushing eighty, touring the country, continuing to capitalize-- albeit meagerly, book sales being what they are --off the contrarian stance of maintaining rigorous control over your own intellectual property, and championing creator's rights all the while. Imagine being your own worst enemy.
What's saddest is, it's a great story. And Ellison refuses to tell it.
"How to Hide a Dying Dictator in the Eating Disorder Ward of the State Hospital" is residing with some cool cats over at Monkey Bicycle
right now. We'll know if our blurry-eyed dictator finds his way to webpublication in about three weeks or so.
Potentially of interest:
Sometime SF author Christopher Priest
lists his top ten
favorite works of slipstream
Will be posting a story of several parts later this week. I've got to attend a seminar for the next couple of days, so won't be doing much until the weekend. This place better'd be messy with prose by the time I return.
Jul. 9th, 2006 @ 08:49 am
Murphy’s Law, Savannah, Ga. July 8 2006 Saturday.
A table of four saw me sitting in the corner, smoking and nursing a PBR while my friends were off ordering, going to the bathroom, or not yet arrived. A broad faced guy with a short Mohawk got up, crossed the ten feet to my chair, and introduced himself as Andy. He asked, “What are you doing here by yourself? Come sit with us.”
His companions were two women and a man. They were P.J, he was tall and almost ugly, had a necklace of cowrie shells, and he howled along every word of the classic rock that the cover band thudded out. He and his wife, Kat were from Pittsburgh and it came out later that they had just met Andy and his girlfriend (whose name I was never able to hear) much as I had just met all four of them.
After half a tallboy and a round of shots—courtesy of Andy, only P.J. refused the lime—a round of yelled toasts, of photographs of each of us and our raised glasses all together, and the end of a crowded bar yell-singing along with “Flat Bottom Girls,” the band took a break. Andy returned to the bar; Kat and P.J. got into a conversation with two middle-aged lesbians. Andy’s girlfriend and I were left on the other side of the table. She was very pretty, and the two of them seemed very much in love. She was the only one of the party from metro Atlanta and we talked about that for a minute.
“Tell me the best story you know.”
“I’m from Lawrenceville. I don’t have any good stories,” she shrugged and sipped her drink.
“That’s not true.”
“Oh! I got it, I got it! I went to school in Athens—UGA—and was almost out of gas going to Super Walmart late one night, I don’t remember what I needed, raman or something. So I stopped at this gas station and it was empty and pulled up to the pump and when I walked to the door the woman working there pushed it shut in my face. I tapped on the glass and said, ‘I need to pay for my gas.’
The woman cracked the door and yelled, ‘Go! Just Go!’ I went back to my car and tried to run my credit card in the pump, you know? That didn’t work either. So I went back up to the door and tried to open the door again and it was locked. I put my money on the ground near the door and knocked on the door again. That’s when I saw the other person in the store. He had a fucking shotgun! Like a double barreled shotgun!”
Every time she said the word shotgun she raised her arms as if aiming a rifle.
“The woman in the store yelled out again, ‘He’s my cousin. Just go!’
Well, so of course now I pretty much ran back to the car, and went on to Walmart. When I passed that gas station on the way back, the guy with the shotgun was on the ground and there were policemen with their guns drawn. The guy had robbed two gas stations earlier that night, the woman really was his cousin, and he was hiding out there.”
The world is thin here. Matter's thin. Ley line, fault line; Egypt's no better than California. No place to build a ziggurat, but no-one asked me.
I noticed when we were walking through the market. I had stopped to watch the hashish-man making bricks, squeezing the oil out, and my mother and her new husband continued walking. The doctors say without the influence of mother to ground me I hallucinate. I say doctors don't know sleeping from walking. The young brown people around me chittered and swam. Rough, ecstatic fabrics brushed my hands and knees. I watched the collapse of stalls reeking with spices all colors of earth. The hash-maker twists his press. Stars eke out.
Some time later I am in the desert, my clothing torn, my wrists raw, my lips and the skin on my face raw. I stumble better than I walk. The influence of sand on unfamiliar feet. Beneath the grit I hear stars shifting. There are pyramids on the horizon. There are always pyramids on the horizon, but this one is so close that I stumble into it, collapse on its bottom step, barking my knees. I rap the stone to make sure that it's real, put my ear to it. It sounds black inside, with little glimmers; the knocks echo infinitely. Thin. I decide to climb.
The steps take forever with my untimely gait. The sun falls toward the west in intervals. Stop action. Shutter time. Never before have stairs felt so much like climbing. The sky has gone storm-dark, and the surrounding sands are filled with sparks. The only improvement is the wind, but the air it moves is unfit for breathing. Thick. The clouds come to a curious funnel atop the ziggurat. The higher I walk, the thinner my skin becomes. My hands and feet become as transparent and glimmer-filled as the stones beneath. I look toward the peak and see a dog-faced man walking down the steps toward me. We meet in the middle and embrace.
Mother found me where I was left, stock still in the center of the market, my face directed at the stagger step of sky between awnings, grinning, crying. She scolded me for frightening the locals. I scolded her for calling them natives. Might as well call them savages. The world is too thin for such pettiness, and after all, I wasn't the one that got lost.
"Here's your mania," the ginger-haired kid said, holding up a marble. "Your mania is this cat's eye. Specifically this one." Fingers flick open, the glass sphere with the blue & yellow streamer in it falls, collides with a school of like orbs of like color, scatters them violently within the confines of the stone-age binding circle. "Now it's in play with all these lookalikes. The thing people think is you, your habits, your ideas, your pursuits, whether you go to the movie theater on days threatening rain or not, that stuff? Your mania," and the kid points, "is irrelevant. All it's going to do is collide and conflict, co-ordinate and complement. You might as well not play."
"Lucky for you I don't want to," his flouncy-haired sibling said, and kicked him in the nose.
Ignore the crap name. Prototype X,
a British SF&F mag, is taking submissions. Online
submissions, for the high-tech slackers among us.
And no, I do not point PTX out merely because it has Moorcock's support. I'm not that vapid of a whore. yes i am
FLOTSAM: accomplished, lazy
Jun. 13th, 2006 @ 01:53 pm
socks, on my journal this time. all apologies.
JETSAM: the clash - train in vain
Jun. 10th, 2006 @ 02:15 pm
reposted here for the rest of the gentlefolk in the community. i have more stories than just "pet", i swear to spud! just let me revise them...
By: Alan Fay
The clouds shifted gently and held the moon in embrace. We said our goodbyes, and more trite conversation followed. I tired of her gossip and politics, but as she went on and on there was a certain beauty to it. She brushed aside the invisible dust that caressed her white flowers on her black skit, and she got into her car. I waved. It was still early, for our kind. My feet hurt the minute I started walking.
The street is an old whore - she smells bad, and drags me out of the house, and leaves me with nothing but this feeling, this isn’t where I should be. Tonight, I was walking with her with the rest of them, this side of Ponce. These men were too crazy to drink - the drunks were all sleeping by now, under proud trees. They would yell and spit and drag their feet, begging her for a place to stay, and a reason to live.
It was in this silent travel that my thoughts would sleep well ahead of my body, and I would get numb and watch myself dreaming. Tonight was no exception. I was tired.
When I got home I tried the garbage disposal again. There was a buzz and some smoke drifted up. It was broken, true. But one should always test for the presence of miracles. I opened the freezer and shoved aside my alarm, and took out a few ice cubes. I poured out some Jameson into a glass and threw the ice into the sink. To hell with all this. Bottoms up.
I groaned in unison with the sofa, and picked up the crossword puzzle. Eight down. A six letter word for life? The doorbell rang. Ridiculous. I took a sip and lit a Dunhill. It rang again. Slowly, I put the cigarette in the ashtray and got up. My hand rested on the knob, but then I put my eye against the peephole. The familiar fish-bowl face was staring right at the door. Why?
"What are you doing here?"
"I was in the neighborhood."
"It's five in the morning."
"Really? Geez, time flies when you're having fun!" Mary was rumored to be mildly retarded. I knew, because I started that rumor.
"Why are you here?"
"I knew you would be up, and I thought you could use some company."
"Well, not really, but you can have a..." She dove past me and opened up the fridge. "...drink." I had no beer.
"Why do you keep your socks in here? Do you have any beer?"
"It's summer, and no." She turned around and made a face, and then stared at me strangely. She made a beeline for the sofa and sat on the edge. She straightened her back and looked around like she was royalty.
"Can I smoke?" I picked up my cigarette and rolled it around in my fingers. I stared at it, thinking.
“Sure." I took another sip and watched her. She fumbled through her purse and pulled out a joint.
"Do you have any matches?"
"Look, here's a lighter. What were you doing tonight?"
"I was at Azul. They were playing music." Her eyes seemed to pop out when she said it. We sat there in silence, smoking. It was calming.
"I danced, and danced to the music!" She suddenly yelped, like a mummy shot out of a cannon and straight into the afterlife. I nearly spilled my drink. "Look, none of that! Be quiet, god-damnit. I really wanted to drink in peace." She pulled hard and coughed. She made a weak smile and giggled. She took another drag and the smoke rolled out of her lips like spaghetti.
"Play some music...it makes me feel good."
"Mary, no - it's late. I'm tired. I've had a crappy night."
"She doesn't want you." Quiet again. I leaned back and watched the smoke dance up into nothing. I looked back at her and took a sip. There were big flies trying to get in through the screen and i heard their big wings trying to bust through.
"You haven't even met her."
"She doesn't want you...and she can't dance."
"She doesn't dance. She hates music." I smiled to myself and she didn't notice.
"What do you see in her?" She pulled on the roach quickly and then threw it into the ashtray.
"I think she's hot." I smothered the cigarette in the ashtray.
"I'm hot." She closed her eyes and put her hands together and over her head.
"But i don't want you."
"Not that, stupid. You need to fix your A/C." Mary wasn't very attractive. She would have made a good backup model in the 1940's. she liked velvet and fake fur. Her heels were modest because she didn't like men to stare at her legs and feet. I watched her casually, while she moved her hips on the sofa and stretched her fingers out. Was she even coherent anymore?
"Mary, it's late."
"You want me to leave."
"...yes...and no." I lied.
"I want to sleep here tonight."
"Then, sleep." She put on her goofy stare again and teased her hair. She visibly spaced out, then came back into the moment again.
"Baby, I have an idea..."
"...it's not a good idea."
"Oh, come on. I'm good. I'm still good..."
"You're drunk and high and you know I'm not going to make you drive home like that. The blanket and pillow are behind the couch. I'll do some laundry and you can have a clean towel in the morning, if you want to shower or something."
"Baby, I don't need a towel." She was rocking back and forth.
"Mary, just get some sleep."
"Baby...please..." She edged closer to me and I watched her slow-motion and gentle descent onto the floor. She was like some svelte, beached whale with brown stockings, guided by some primitive force she was hoping would guide her home.
I did love her once, that sprawled out snoring body on my floor. I finished my drink and grunted as I lifted her back on the couch. She muttered some nonsense and put the back of her hand on her forehead. I tucked a pillow under her head, and pulled the blanket over her. I sat on the floor and stroked her hair.
"Ssh. Sleep." She moaned and drifted into the fantasy. For a moment, guilt crossed my mind, but I wasn't sure why.
There were good times. Mary could be a minx. I liked her style. But the cocaine proved to be too much. She was reckless, and I didn't want anything up my nose. Tonight, she wasn't twisted - I knew that much. She was broke.
I let her be when she forgot what erogenous zones were. She would pass out and I lost interest. There was no joy in fucking the dead.
The least I could do now was give her a safe place to sleep tonight. She deserved that much, as a human being, a wounded being. There was no pity in it. I did not pity confused people. I was constantly confused. I pulled some stray hair from her lips and tucked them around her ear. She made a sudden motion and then sunk back into the dream.
“Baby, get my pillow,” she mumbled, and pointed incoherently, and just about poked my eye. I dodged her.
“The soft one…with the brontosaurus…” Every syllable was spelled out.
“Oh god-damnit,” I stood up. “…the one with the cavemen throwing spears at it?”
“Yeah…yeah!” She almost woke up.
“No, no…just stay there. I’ll be right back.”
“Oh-kay…” She slipped back into the couch.
I went into my room and couldn’t find it anywhere. I turned on the light and the cover was half-buried under some clothes. I grabbed one of my pillows and put the cover on it. Good enough.
“Oh, you’re the best…” She didn’t even open her eyes and grabbed it out of my hands. She held it close. I sat down on the floor. She started to snore loudly.
When I woke up, the first thing I felt was the pain in my back. I lifted myself off the floor and looked up. She wasn't on the sofa, but I heard some noise in the bathroom. The door wasn't shut and I could see she was in the bathtub. She was in her underwear, randomly splashing the soapy water and laughing on her cell phone.
I opened the door to my room. The first thing that stood out was the window screen on the floor. It was bent in half, as if some floating pirate ship had wandered into my neighborhood and fired a cannonball into my home. Then I heard something move and looked at my pile of clothes.
There, staring up at me with a sandal in its mouth, was a raccoon. It looked up at me and we locked eyes. We were trying to decide to fight or flee, in our respective deep realms of instinct.
I was the first to move back to the door, and the bastard bared its teeth and charged at me. But I was suddenly holding the door shut, my knuckles white and hearing it scratch and bite and snort on the other side.
Mary came out of the bathroom and I could see her big nipples through her soaking bra.
"Baby, what's going on?"
"There's a god-damn raccoon in my room!" She didn't say a word and darted into the living room. She came right back with a .45 in her hands.
"Alright, get out of the way."
"Wait, what - no! Where the hell did you - ?"
"Move, god-damnit!" She waved the gun to motion me to move and I got out of its wavering path, fast. She took a step back and then ran straight into the door. It swung open and I watched from the bathroom as the thing rolled back like a tumbleweed. Mary unloaded the entire clip wildly into my room, and I watched my books, movies, and
computer monitor explode. After the carnage, it lay dead in a red stain that grew on the floor. She had shot it twice.
"Mary, what in the bloody FUCK! Jesus Christ!"
"It's cool baby," she flashed a goofy grin and her eyes all popped out. "I got him."
Sparks fell onto the carpet. We stared at each other. I was filled with some much shock and rage I just crumpled to the floor. She sat across from me and pawed my hair.
"It's ok...it's ok...I got him."
"God-damnit," I whimpered. "God...god-damnit..." I was shaking all over. It felt like my blood was gone and I was pumping hot air through my veins.
"Mary, unplug...that..." I managed to point weakly at the monitor. She got up and yanked out all the power cords. It sat there hissing and smoldering.
We sat in absolute silence, pondering our next move. I looked down at my watch. Roughly a quarter past eleven. It was fortunate my neighbors had jobs. I looked out the window. A couple on bicycles casually strolled by. The wind picked up and blew through the trees. We were safe, for now.
"Mary, we've got to get rid of this thing.” She was spaced out, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the body, which was quickly becoming an intolerable mess. The landlady would always stop by and knock on my door around noon, just to get a quick glance into the apartment.
"Yeah...we're gonna have to throw it away."
"Yeah...no shit. What are we gonna do about this?"
"I think it's dead."
"I think that's pretty obvious."
"Baby, you got a box? We can bury it."
"I don't have a shovel..." but I recalled I had some boxes behind the dryer. I fetched one that seemed to be large enough and dropped it on the floor next to the raccoon.
"OK, now what?"
"Silly, we put it in the box." Her eyes popped out again.
"Just...pick it up and drop it in."
"Just...pick it up..." She seemed confused. I certainly didn't want to touch it. It was obviously diseased, probably rabid.
I went into the kitchen. I found a pair of tongs that I had used last summer at the cookout in the park, and a pair of plyers. The distance to the thing didn't seem sufficient, so I slipped into the moldly latex cleaning gloves I had on the edge of the sink.
She started laughing when I walked back into the room.
"Are you gonna cut it up? What are you doing?"
"I'm going to put it in the box, god-damnit."
"Oh-kay." She rolled back away from it and kept laughing to herself.
The thing was heavy. After a few minutes, I had managed to get it on its back. Its eyes were still fierce, and its claws were sticking straight up like it wanted something, like it could rip off a piece of my skin on its way to the grave. I stopped trying to move it and stared at it. For a moment, I saw the appeal of taxidermy.
"Well, put it in the box, god-damnit," and she kept laughing, obviously proud of her clever impression of me.
"Fine, fine, I will." It took effort. I ended up putting the box on its side and rolling the creature in. Mary was hyperventilating.
"That's too funny," she finally stammered out.
"What's funny? That you destroyed half my room and I'm the only one trying to get rid of this thing?" She sat up and put on her serious face.
"Baby, baby,” she picked it up and moved towards the front door. “I’ll carry the box outside."
"You're not going out like that."
She looked down and suddenly became aware that she was still only in her soaking panties. She dropped the box on the floor and it landed haphazardly. She walked past me and I stared at the bottom of the box, which was slowly being covered in red spots.
Mary came back out of the bathroom in a few minutes, wearing a silky black dress that seemed to cling around her belly uncomfortably. It looked more like a kimono. She took out her compact and applied some powder. Then, some lipstick. Then, she adjusted her hair and smiled at me.
"Are you done? We're burying this thing, you know. Not attending its funeral."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, geez, I don't know, Mary - dead raccoon in a box perhaps...that you're supposed to carry outside?"
"Baby, don't get mad...do you have a shovel?"
"No, I don't. We went over this."
"Are you gonna dig a hole with your hands?" she put her hands in front of her and dug furiously at the air.
"No...I figure we can just chuck the box into a ditch or something."
"There's no ditch around here."
"There's the park."
"The kids are playing in the park!"
"No, the kids are in school."
The box was starting to soak through. How could such a little thing bleed so much? I picked up a towel out of the dryer and put it under the box.
"Alright, I get this side...lift." I opened the door and checked the hallway.
“Ok, it's clear. Let's go."
“Wait, I forgot my purse.”
“God-damnit, go and fetch it…” She dove back into my apartment. She came back out with her oversized bag, the thick strap slung between her breasts.
We walked it down the stairs and out to the yard. We crossed the street and I set the box down and surveyed the park. A car went by slowly, but then sped up and went away. We took it down the hill.
"I think that over there will work. There's a bunch of trees there. We can just leave it there and cover it in leaves."
"I dunno about that."
"Do you think it's too close to the road?"
"Well, I'm just saying...it's gonna smell bad."
"Eventually. But by then it's no skin off our back if the police find a dead raccoon in the park and nobody knows who left it there."
"Alright, if you say so..."
We managed to drag the thing over to the trees and I sat the box down. I looked inside and the thing was still dead, and still staring up at me. Its claws were down at its side, as if it had finally given up.
I lit a cigarette. I walked away and left Mary staring at the box. The clouds drifted peacefully across the sky. It was a hot day, and i felt my sweat mix into my eyes and made me squint. I felt relief.
I turned around and Mary was in the process of dousing the entire thing with some lighter fluid.
"What the hell are you doing!"
"It's cool, baby, we're gonna burn it up!"
"Mary, Jesus fucking Christ - no!"
It was too late. She lit the edge of the box with her lighter and the entire thing went up like a firecracker. She backed away quickly and watched her work. Then she turned and gave me a goofy grin.
"Great, just great. The cops will never see this."
"They can't trace it back to us now! It's cool."
"Right - everything is peachy-keen now. God-damnit." I was far too tired to fight it. We watched it burn. The smell was terrible and the smoke started getting thick. The box was now engulfed in flames, and was soon going to be an idle heap of smoldering fat. It crumpled in on itself, like a closed fist.
"Let's get the hell out of here, c'mon." She followed me back up the hill and we sat down on the park bench. The thick black smoke went high up into the air and above the trees.
"Ashes to ashes!" Mary giggled. "It's kinda cool." I wanted to say something but the heat started to make me stupid. I just stared at the fire, hoping my mind would just shelve everything and process it later.
JETSAM: something like funk
"All right, all right, time and space have a discrete atomic structure at the Planck scale. So what?"
Rusk sighed. The conversation had taken on an interminable plod, and her coffee, barely potable to begin with, had gotten cold. She sipped at it miserably, hoping Shairp would notice. He didn't.
"So time isn't a vacuum, it's a physical medium with attendant physical laws, and a particle traveling through time is subject to those laws." He was grinding his teeth. "But what kind of particle? What if the local physics of time were determined by the kind of particle traveling through them?
"Think of the particles as passengers. Some passengers get first class, all the amenities; others get steerage, because it's what they can afford. It's all the same ship, but they travel differently because they're treated differently.
"The current quantum theory of gravity suggests a revision, if not a revival, of the æther, but a blanket medium doesn't explain the behavior of particles at the Planck scale unless the physics react according to the class of the passenger."
"Pass the pot." Rusk held out her hand. Shairp leaned back in his folding chair to grab the carafe. "I realize you're trying to make this easy on me, but I'm not a physicist. I don't even understand why you're trying to explain this to me, unless it's some ham-handed attempt at making a pass." She poured herself a warm-up and gave the carafe back. "Is that the idea? Club me over the head with your brains and take me back to your cave? Because it's not working."
"I'm trying to tell you Tipler lied to me, to detour my line of research so he could get funding for his own. The cylinder was our project. Ours!" Shairp pulled a pack of Chesterfields from the carton in the mini fridge. "Someone in defense got to him."
Rusk stood and stretched, her sweater riding up. "Leave me out of your office gossip. I'm here to make sure Dr. Tipler gets the proof he needs for appropriations. More money means more research, and that means you, too."
Shairp held the unlit cigarette in the corner of his mouth with a disbelieving grimace. "I say some idiot wants to weaponize time travel and you roll your eyes."
Rusk scratched her stomach. "Lab coats are patriots too."
"Unbelievable. Unfuckingbelieveable." He took the cigarette from his mouth and ran his fingers through his hair, his head down.
Rusk looked at him, seeming to weigh something, then sat back down. "So what was your point about the particles?"
Shairp didn't look at her. "He said we couldn't aim. I thought we could, depending on the type of particle. I wanted to try projecting a continuous stream of information at a specific point in spacetime as a kind of probe. My idea was to hook the projection up to a quantum computer, see if the stream went both ways, if maybe the computer could read the stream and interact with the information received."
The suggestion seem to intrigue Rusk. "A time traveler AI."
Shairp shook his head. "But he said it was impossible. Wanted to bombard a region and see if he could induce a historical pattern instead. Which sounded reasonable, at first. Only now it resembles a bombing campaign." He waved at the map of the Kiev Oblast on the wall. Red strings ran from pushpins in Lelyov, Chernobyl, and Pripyat, leading off into the layers of paper surrounding the map; movie stills of 'Stalker' next to photographs of Andrei Tarkovsky sick in bed, the radiation index of Pripyat and chapter excerpts from 'Roadside Picnic' by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, the unpublicized nuclear disaster in Chelyabinsk in 1957 and the Zone of Exclusion now known as Chernobyl.
Shairp looked up at Rusk, his eyes wet. "I think I helped win the Cold War."
When I am able, I slip from the hammock. Reklama remains asleep where she is, clinging to a mildewed couch cushion, a pile of disheveled books on the floor beneath her. Only the gentlest of snores escapes.
My splinted ankle doesn't work so well. I crawl aft, pushing aside rust-stained peels of paint, greedy with need, making for the milk crate filled with antique stoppered bottles.
The first sip is nectar. The second is hops.
Leaning against the sink, I look up. A wooden platform sways overhead, suspended from the ceiling by chains. I step up on a box and climb the sink, putting myself on eye-level with an ugly suitcase record player. The needle trails a seaweed tangle of industrial dust.
Gingerly clambering back down, I realize that the box is a custom-made case filled with LPs. A quick flip-through turns up a Columbia recording of Marlene Dietrich singing, of all things, 'Time On My Hands'. 'Dark Magus' turns out to be the Japanese pressing. The only other Miles in the collection is 'Jack Johnson'. David Bowie, of course; 'Hunky Dory' and 'Diamond Dogs'. Some obscure radio station interview albums, the kind where the tracks are all separate and you have to manually transfer the needle. The interviewee seems to be John Lennon, though I don't see any affection for the Beatles anywhere else. The last item is a children's record: 'Br'er Rabbit'.
Most of the sleeves are split or deformed by moisture, but that doesn't stop her from enjoying them. Not exactly collector mentality.
My ankle whines. The constant lament: If only you had more time.
I feel the ship shifts beneath me, settling in the sediment; the whole structure groans. Reklama turns in her hammock, inquisitive but eyes still closed. Her hair pitches through the openings in slow-moving streams.
I take a fifth, reluctant sip of the homebrew. The fermentation tastes as though it's gone into reverse. I put the stopper back in, and set the bottle down.
I wave my hand in front of my face. The image breaks into discrete frames. A spray of slides, names and dates in the margins. I feel my waveform collapsing, the numbers that give me meaning succumbing.
I know my purpose, but can't conceive of it in terms myopic enough to exclude everything surplus to that purpose. I have to eat, to excrete, to wake and to sleep, because I have to imitate local patterns in order to perceive them.
The hell of it is, I see a beautiful woman, and all I can think about is dying.
Tara didn't want the yellow eye. Motherfucker gave it to her just the same.* * * * *
"How successful were the tests," he asked, adjusting the volume on his shirt.
Black Island noise fusion swallowed her sigh. "I don't want to drink gin in a hot tub. Give me the shit."
"I'm asking about the tests. Who'd you get them from? You know, the wrong doctor..."
Tara had a tension headache. Motherfucker sensed it. The music was just another way of trying to jack the price. She fingered the plascash in her pocket, prepared to evaporate any and all haggling.
"Self-diagnostic, with redundancies. The kits were generic, procured from punks like you."
She could tell from his body language that it wasn't good enough. He was determined to go through the routine.
"Assisting in an abortion-- fuck assisting, I'm facilitating! I give you something and it goes wrong, you get found out, they try and trace me. I have to have assurances."
The noise fusion reached the peak of its cycle, a lightning bolt of discord, oscillating off the bricks. Tara held up a piece of plascash. "This is written for the amount you asked." She fanned her fingers, exposing the second chit. "This is a bonus, written with insurance. My real name, tax status, everything. This one makes me your hostage." She tucked them both in Motherfucker's breast pocket and tapped the volume on his shirt back down to where it was tolerable. "Now. I need the fucking Sickness."
He rubbed the diamond stud in his lower lip. "I can't stress this enough."
"Give me the shit or I split." The whole scene was giving her the copper jitters.
He touched his right eye. Twisting the tripod of his fingers, he opened the ocular safe and tilted his head down. A sulfurous pill fell out.
He screwed his eye shut as he handed her the pill. "Teacher's always right."
Tara snarled. No reason not to. The deal was all but finished. "You know as well as I do that we don't have that kind of relationship."
"Not now, we don't."
Tara put another ten minute chit on the stall lock, swallowing nervously.
Ten minutes. No evidence. The pill dissolves, the caplets activate. Ten minutes later, everything in the uterus has been converted.
It hadn't tasted like anything. Not even glycerin. Just slid right down.
Tara looked at her watch, listening to Michaels (social studies 9-12; phy. ed., all grades) do a line off the dispenser in the stall beside her. Of all the times for that frog-faced Southerner to hype himself up. Why couldn't he take mini-thins like everyone else?
We're past leaving things in the toilet for the cops to find. Break the would-be baby back down to components the body can use. Safe, simple.
Michaels banged his elbow and the cornflower blue cubicle shook. Tara gave his general presence the finger, watching his expensive tabi-style sneakers shuffle in a circle. At least he wasn't teaching algebra this year. Maybe a few students would actually graduate.
Does it hurt?
Michaels' stall slammed open. Tara imagined him having to stand with his calves against the toilet, bending backward so the door could clear his gut. Disgusting man. He had a plaque in his office that read, 'I cuss cuz it makes Momma proud.'
I can't say. Your kind of customer doesn't cling to the same lightning rod too many times, so nobody tells me. I hear it's painless. You get a little warm, maybe a little dizzy. Supposedly that's it.
The door to the bathroom banged, and the shuffling ceased. The quiet was hollow. Tara had to assume Michaels was gone. The only person she had to curse now was herself. Was she getting warm, or was it only her imagination? She checked her watch again.
She had left Motherfucker and gone straight inside, hoping to get the thing done before lunch was over. He'd been a decent student. Not excellent, but intelligent enough to pass all the tests. He stopped attending classes after graduating to twelfth grade, opting instead to take up a position in the breezeway, doling out medicine to anyone sick enough to afford it. She doubted he made the Sickness himself. He'd never shown that much initiative.
She didn't have any pangs of conscience about it. The pill cost as much as three hours' bed rent in a hospital-- a bargain by anybody's standards. If it worked as advertised, she'd be able to make up the difference in savings within a couple of months. No mandantory leave. Of course, she still had to get the bacterial engine in her car recharged, and she'd like to be able to change apartments within the year, but that was...
The bathroom door banged again. Tara heard a gentle crackling sound, like a geiger counter. She watched as five pair of reinforced tabi accumulated around the base of her door. The geiger rattled, rabid now, fierce and insistent. She heard Motherfucker's voice.
She couldn't bring herself to answer. A hard hand hammered on the door. A different voice.
"Ms. Banks. This young man tells us he sold you a pill."
The rattle of the geiger reached a crescendo, then switched off. Tara's eyes prickled, swelling.
"You know that you're not allowed to do that." The voice was calm, patient, directed. A teacher's voice. "What this young man sold you was a transmitter, activated by stomach acids. You've given us just cause. Make this easy. Come out, sign this affidavit, and we won't have to put you in the back of a car or anything."
Another hand slammed against the door. "Murderer."
"I didn't!" Tara knew she was about to cry, but couldn't stop. Her tear ducts burned. She couldn't stand up. She couldn't do anything.
Motherfucker spoke again. "Ms. Banks. These are good men. You should come out." She couldn't see his feet. Tara reasoned that he was standing behind the police.
"Let's just yank her out before she tries to suicide."
The cornflower pressboard disintegrated into yellow dust, and kevlar hands took her by the shoulders. She was surrounded by black faceplates with numbers on them. Tara pulled against the officers, bruising herself, kicking and thrashing; screaming.
Motherfucker stood off to one side, looking small and lost in the blue tile room. Tara had time to shriek--
"You should have been born dead!"
--then they hauled her away.