Posted on: August 30th, 2009 Inventory

By Jason Fischer

You are standing at an existential crossroads, a wasteland at your feet and a song on your lips.  Overhead, a trio of mechanical vultures have begun circling, and the red dots of their laser-sights are crawling across your bare chest.

To the west runs a dank near-motionless river, and every now and then something thrashes around in the water.  The way east is blocked by an endless sense of ennui.  South is a burning city, and an ex-wife to whom you owe alimony.  To the north stretches an endless desert, with rumours of a herd of undead camels. There is a gleaming muscle-car parked here, but passage to it is blocked by an enormous white bull.

There is a set of tubular bells here, and a three-legged stool.  There is a sign on the river bank.

Obvious exits are North, South, and Angst.

>READ SIGN

It says “Do Not Swim”

>GO SOUTH

Your wife’s divorce lawyer is eyeing you from the city outskirts.  Are you sure?

>INVENTORY

You are carrying:

Compass
Pistol
Divorce Papers
3 Bullets
Your Sense of Self-Respect
Wet Towel
A Mid-Life Crisis
Toasted Cheese Sandwich

>GET INTO CAR

The bull paws at the ground and snorts.  Are you sure?

>PLAY A SONG

I’m sorry, I can’t understand that command.

>PLAY TUBULAR BELLS

You hit at the bells.  You haven’t been trained in the musical artistry of tubular bells, and the sound seems to anger the bull.  You now regret torching the Tubular Bell Academy.

>SHOOT BULL

Your pistol is unloaded

>LOAD PISTOL

You try, only to discover that these are chocolate bullets.

>LOOK AT BULL

Blocking your passage to the muscle-car is an enormous albino bull.  This powerful creature towers over you, with blood-stained horns and a piercing gaze that speaks of great intelligence.  It is looking at you expectantly, but warily.

>GIVE SANDWICH TO BULL

It sniffs at your cheese sandwich with disgust.  The sandwich appears to be soggy.

>GET STOOL

You pick up the three-legged stool.

>SIT ON STOOL

You sit down on the stool and rest.

[STAMINA +3]

>MILK BULL

What are you, some kind of wise guy?

>READ DIVORCE PAPERS TO BULL

The wet towel has soaked everything in your pack!  The papers are ruined.

>WRING OUT TOWEL

The towel is now dry, and should be safe to put in your pack.

>GIVE BULL YOUR SENSE OF SELF-RESPECT

The bull is satisfied with your offering, and leaps into the river to fight with the unseen water-creature.  It’s an epic battle of the titans, and will likely go on for hours.

>GET INTO CAR

You open the driver’s door and climb in.  It smells good.

>START CAR

The muscle-car roars into life, and the fuel gauge leaps to full.  “Born to be Wild” is playing on the stereo.

>GO NORTH

You floor it.

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Posted on: August 22nd, 2009 My Phrasebook Is Useless

by Caleb Wilson

April.  My phrasebook is useless.  They speak in dialect here and the words all sound corrupted.  Months of study wasted!  At cultural training we’d practice by ordering korckru at the restaurant across from the office.  The waiter would bring a plate of savory wedges with golden sauce seeping into the rice, then dazzling Jenny and I, sitting opposite across the red paper tablecloth, would offer each other every old toast we could remember.  Here when I buy korckru from a street vendor I receive a foam clamshell, melted at the bottom from the heat of beige chunks with the caustic flavor of gland meat.  My flat is filled with such packages.  The food residue attracts nizemboil, who swarm from the drainpipes each night, and who have nibbled the clothing in my closet till it looks like lace.  I would buy new clothes, but through some fluke of the bank, my money supply dwindled oddly when I exchanged travelers’ checks for 10 olarck notes.  All I can afford is rent and one meager meal per day.  I have sent a telegram to head office to request more funds but haven’t yet receieved a response.  I wonder if gorgeous Jenny, across the Wdanied Chasm in Vorsklizpl, fares any better?

May.  Money problems solved.  Have been volunteering as test subject at the Unzlesniack Memorial Hospital.  Desperate for human contact, and the medical students’ probes are better than nothing.  Each test puts 20 olarckl in my wallet.  I’ve restocked my closet with drab, tough fabrics that are impervious to the hungriest nizemboi.  Eating better.  Have learned difference in local dialect between korzckru (food of the gods) and korckru (food of the dogs).  Could use a date.  Still unable to raise lovely Jenny by telephone; despite proximity the phone connection with Vorsklizpl is flaky.  Last week I went to the lip of the Wdanied and looked across to the gleaming skyscrapers, the boulevards thick with flowering trees, the citizens with their cheery parasols.  Did not see Jenny of course.  On the way back to the Riltprzian District, walking between the green brick buildings and clouds of earthy exhalations from the charnel cysts, a prostitute approached me.  “Jrlzickth ydurckzeel?”  Looking for a girl?  I was, but didn’t suppose she’d be able to help me find ravishing Jenny.  Desperation in her voice as I walked away and she offered to rub me down with fermented gifnozd oil.  A not entirely unwelcome prospect, but declined for now.

June.  Again destitute.  Hospital condemned (szkrulni plague) so working the assembly line in holashirckl factory.  The blood gutters in the floor are choked with bones, beaks, and clots of zwershluny.  Will never eat another holashirck as long as I live!  Have downgraded from 20 olarck girls to 5.  Cleanliness factor becoming a problem.  My flat reeks like a bindzuyck nest.  Afraid I do too.  Still no word from flawless Jenny!  Have determined to travel to Vorsklizpl to find her.  My neighbor Hovartsh has lent me a wiplozna for crossing the Wdanied.  Must go now to chuztrapnikol ritual.  Deacon Gimzled is sponsoring me as an orburgistor.  After the surgery I will be allowed to urndip the chuztratl.

July.  Durckfixniadz!  Olarcklzeel still proving difficult.  Durcklingl durckfuylinginzia!  Every waking moment I frmzithlrd the unforgettable Jenny, though odds of impressing her durck erdoli after my disfigurement from botched orburgizdian procedure.  Must hop everywhere, and harugrizl very painfully distended.  Durcklly all back-alley surgeons!  Oh no, alarms ringing.  Have the chuztratl escaped?  Again!?

August.  Zerckzu bitten off by rogue chuztrat.  Blood everywhere.  Evicted.  Still hopping.  Gone to find the fluyzniadniaz Jenny.

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Posted on: August 16th, 2009 Our Whale We Call Home

by Michael Landis

Years of brine and spume have made us salty and unpalatable men. Should we ever return to civilization, it should spit us out. While we fishermen may feel ill-placed under this canopy of ribs and blubber, the fish schools speed and the hermit crabs scuttle, carrying out the functions of life unconcerned that their sea sloshes in the belly of an interoceanic whale. I fear one day it may be our whale we call home.

Nothing sates the whale. The stomach’s inventory ranges diatoms to dreadnoughts, restocked hourly. We have been privy to many fortunes (within the greater misfortune of being ingested) that we as petty fishermen would otherwise never taste. Scavenging from wreckages, we live luxurious lives: an elaborate costume set from Tartuffe; casks upon casks upon casks (only once have we intoxicated the whale, leading her to perform terrifying barrel rolls); a herd of milk-cows, while an astonishing bounty, were sadly unaccompanied any bulls; arbitrary billions in unspendable bullion.

Whales eat plankton, not riches. Thus, our opulence remains inseparable from the miasma produced by mountains decaying animal matter. The rancid stench first caused my eyes to water. Now I weep knowing I have been here so long as to no longer detect its smell.

She must be nursing; we are awakened at every hour to the reciprocal croons between her and her calf. A calf means there must be other whales. In fact, we have seen our whale swallow lesser whales like tadpoles. We wonder if lesser whales contain lesser men dwelling in their innards. And though none of us has verbalized this, we all tacitly acknowledge that we ourselves may be lesser men in a lesser whale. To dispel this solemn consideration, one fisherman joked that perhaps lesser men contain greater whales to which some laughed and some did not. I sleep as unsoundly were I sailing the Baltic or moored in the belly of a whale.

Our only celestial body, the blowhole, does not keep months as the moon does so we do not know how long we’ve been here. Some of the fishermen have invented whale-days to live in accordance to the aperture. Others use the portal for divine communion with the Lord, praying to negotiate an escape from purgatory. The galleons have been torn plank-from-plank and rebuilt into shacks, some going so far as to pen deeds. Between the milk, silk, and rum, most fishermen prefer this life of unaccountable excess to their responsibilities back in Helsinki. One fisherman claims it would be a veritable utopia “if only there were womenfolk for [procreation].”

None of us can estimate how many years have passed except by ridiculous whale-time. Every function of our lives revolves around this infernal whale’s habits. What she eats, we eat. What she breathes, we breathe. And now we’re civilizing in this microcosm. To think, an existence dictated by the whims of a whale.

I’ve constructed a ladder from baleen and seaweed. None of the other fishermen wish to leave, but I must escape. I am leaving through the blowhole come this whale-Saturday, be I delivered to the surface of the Baltic Sea, to the depths of the Atlantic, or to the prison of a greater whale.

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Posted on: August 9th, 2009 Shatter Shatter

by Sean Markey

My real name is Cherie, but you can call me Cherry or I might just rake your face. My nails are epic weapons, like napalm or dynamite. You already know about glass hearts, but I bet you’ve never seen one, not even your own.

Me and my boyfriend, Chuck Masser at the time, we’d given up on graduating, so we spent most our time at the beach, each trying to get the other to show their glass heart. Chuck wouldn’t.

“But I wanna see one,” I said.

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but we schemed a plan to do just that.

Floyd Anders tried to be careless like us, pierced ear and shaved head. All bullshit. But I knew how much he liked me; you can’t hide something like that. I started sitting beside him at school, when I went, and invited him to hang out.

After I got expelled from school for beating the lipstick and eye-liner off this cocky bitch, Floyd came to my house. Chuck knew about this, but he didn’t care. He knew I was his, and we would run away together to Vegas or L.A., somewhere bright and more glamorous than me. Cities can be like that, you know.

I tried to act sweet and interested in Floyd, but it made me wanna puke. He got the idea to kiss me, but I rejected him. I could almost hear his stupid heart break, and I knew he was all mine. I could use him up. I let him kiss me. It was clumsy, his tongue slipping all around, so I bit his lip until it bled and told him to leave. He left happy, and I almost felt bad for him, but instead I called Chuck and told him, “tonight.”

At the pier, the waves were loud, but the wind was soft. Chuck was there too, hiding behind a fish-cleaning station. I let Floyd kiss me again, and tried not to cringe when his hand slipped down my back. Clumsy freshman. I moaned into his mouth a little, then whispered into his ear.

“I wanna see your heart.” Softer than the wind and the dead things beneath the waves.

That stopped him. When he looked at me I touched his face all nice. He swallowed and looked around.

“Please?”

He would have jumped into the ocean, anchors first, and stayed there until his breath ran out. And still he hesitated in showing me his heart.

Finally, he turned away and lifted his shirt. When he turned around again, he held his glass heart in his wet hands, chest heaving. He almost dropped it when he saw Chuck standing beside me.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Put your heart on the table,” Chuck said, pointing.

Floyd knew he’d lost, holding his heart in his hands like that, so vulnerable. He walked over to the table and set it down. The heart rocked gently and sparked the moonlight through it like a diamond.

“Touch it,” Chuck said.

“No. You,” I said back.

Chuck touched it. “Hard,” he reported. “Wonder what happens if you break it.”

Floyd made a noise, a kind of whine. Chuck pulled a hammer from his pocket, and suddenly it had gone too far.

“No,” I said, but Chuck just grinned.

He brought the hammer down on Floyd’s heart, but it bounced back and flew from his hand. He cursed. Floyd almost passed out in relief.

“Enough,” I said. I’d seen what I wanted. The adventure was over. I reached out to pick up Floyd’s glass heart, to hand it back. The moment my finger grazed the smooth curve, it shattered. I shielded my face and Floyd screamed and collapsed. Oh God, I killed him, I thought.

But he wasn’t dead. Just broken. Chuck said “wegottago,” like that, but I couldn’t move.

I watched Floyd walk away that night. Empty. Contagiously empty, because I’ve never been able to not feel empty again. Just like that, and everything’s changed.

I never said goodbye to Chuck, or anyone else. I ran away to Ohio and serve coffee to tired truckers at a shitty restaurant. I don’t deserve L.A., or the happy stories where couples say “I do,” and trade glass hearts forever.

I’m not sure what’s happened to Floyd, but I’d take it back. I TAKE IT BACK. You can’t break your own glass heart, did you know? I tried. I tried I tried, but it just won’t shatter.

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Posted on: August 2nd, 2009 We Have an Objective

by KJ Kabza

On April 7, 2003, we took the Slip ’n Slide into Baghdad. I’m proud to say I led the way, sailing smooth and clean like a puck across a shuffleboard court. My buddies behind me whooped and screamed and crashed into each other, the hot sun and cold water in roiling chaos over their bodies, but they didn’t care. As long as they got wet.

Baghdad was a mess of carnival barkers and acrobats, water balloons and cotton candy, everyone shouting and running beneath spinning Ferris wheel lights. For a minute, we stalled–Johnny stared at unfamiliar girls, Micky saw the size of the crowd and froze, Sanchez started to laugh–but I pulled them together. We have an objective, I said. The Fun House.

To get to it, we crossed the midway. We nearly lost Javier to the mindless lure of the shooting gallery, but Sanchez fired his Super Soaker into the air to snap him out of it.

The beaming man at the Fun House gate, bow-tied and pinstriped, gave us free bags of popcorn and invited us in with a flourish. “Prepare to be turned… upside-down!”

The mirrors made us into delightful monsters: one-eyed, legless, rail-thin.

We threw popcorn at everything and laughed at the mess.

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