Posted on: October 4th, 2009 The First Annual Brain Harvest Mega Challenge Second Place Winner

We are very pleased and proud to announce (and publish) the second place winner of the first annual Mega Challenge. Celebrity guest judge Jeff VanderMeer called William T. Vandemark’s story “…a great example of bristling ideas deftly winzipped into a small space without sacrificing some emotional resonance…” and we couldn’t agree more. Plus, just count how many tropes he managed to leverage in here. For serious. Mind boggling.

William T. Vandemark can be found wandering the back roads of America in a pickup. He chases storms, photographs weather vanes, and prospects for fulgarites. His fiction can be found in Apex Magazine, Bits of the Dead, and Northern Haunts. Depending on weather and inclination, he resides in Texas, Oregon, or Maine. His permanent e-residence can be found at www.williamtvandemark.com.

Next week, we will reveal (and run!) the first place winner of the Brain Harvest Mega Challenge, but for now, we invite you to strap in, sit back, and enjoy “Phases of Alkahest.”

++

Phases of Alkahest
by William T. Vandemark

Be warned. I’m an unreliable narrator, possibly insane. Thus it’s up to you, dear reader, to sift truth from ash.

And so it begins.

In 1863, a nanophage spontaneously appeared in Louis Pasteur’s yogurt. Researching the unexpected froth, Louis discovered clusters of self-replicating molecular machines. Their nano-engines consumed sugars and shat electricity.

In 1924, Thomas Edison, inventor and mad scientist, summoned a fire elemental at a séance. Utilizing Pasteur’s ground-breaking work in nano constructs, he encased the entity in a crystalline carapace of interlocking molecular pentagrams, and the elemental took form as a man encrusted in diamonds. Post entrapment, Edison stored the entity in a six foot Bell jar while he devised plans to supply households with direct current via elemental batteries. He might have succeeded had not a gentleman, Nicholas Tesla, intercepted information via wireless taps. As news of Edison’s project leaked into the aether, fire elementals refused to answer summons.

British cryptographers also intercepted the chatter, and the Secret Intelligence Service visited Menlo Park, where they stole a half-ton bell jar and its contents.

Twenty-eight years later, in a chamber beneath the River Thames, Alan Turing, logician and mathematician, latticed the elemental’s carapace with Artificial Intelligence — an attempt to facilitate transdimensional communication.

That night, in celebration, Alan consensually entertained his friend Arnold. Meanwhile, the AI–code named Celsus–conducted his own Turing Test, an internalized alchemical debate. He declared himself sentient and shattered his bell jar. Released from self-doubt, he embarked on a lifelong Walkabout.

Subsequent investigations by MI5 led to the arrest of Alan Turing. Although threatened with prosecution under Henry VIII’s Buggery Act of 1533, he was convicted of a lesser offense: gross indecency. Coerced into chemical castration and despondent over the loss of his job, Alan eventually re-enacted a scene from Snow White. He found a comfortable bed and fell fast asleep; cyanide spiced his apple.

In 1963, Celsus returned to London and was seen in the company of the poet, Sylvia Path. Cafe patrons reported the two in an animated discussion about love, electrotherapy, and assonance.

“You refuse to understand,” Celsus said. “I am three: Intellect, shell, and inner fire.”

“As am I,” Sylvia murmured. She passed a note: Even amidst fierce flames the Golden Lotus can be planted.

The paper flared. Ash curled in Celsus’s fingers. “A draught from your lips would gutter me,” he said. “I cannot love you more than I do. I should not love you at all.”

Each reached for the same napkin; a spark leapt between their fingertips.

“I will not continue like this,” Sylvia said.

They never touched.

Later that week, Sylvia stuck her head in a gas oven. Like Alan, she too slept, perhaps awaiting a second spark.

Afterwards, Celsus’s inner fire began to wear on his nanophages faster than they could replicate. Crystalline pentagrams began to grind against one another.

In 1998, two men lured a gay man to a rural spot outside Laramie, Wyoming. They tied him to a barbed wire fence and pistol-whipped him until his skull fissured.

From a distance, Celsus bore witness, but he’d begun to move out of phase, slow as glass. Throughout the night he traveled towards the man who’d been strung up like a scarecrow.

Eighteen hours later, before Celsus reached the site, a passerby stopped to help the young man. That evening candlelight vigils illuminated Laramie, while Matthew Shepard lay in a coma.

Celsus leaned against a spur of barbed wire and ran simulations, trying to understand. Trying to understand. Trying to understand.

Matthew Shepard died; Celsus shattered.

Shards of nanophages flew like daggers. They struck the dirt and reassembled as salamanders, each scuttling from conflagration.

Free at last, the elemental set the countryside ablaze. It slagged roads until they glowed like rivers of magma. It embraced cottonwoods and drank their ash. It yearned to stack men like cordwood and torch their pyre.

With a howl that knocked crows from the air, the elemental raged.

His sisters, the ondines, heard his anguish and raced to embrace him. Rain poured, gouts of steam erupted, a thunderbolt struck the earth.

Into the afterimage, the fire elemental shed its earthly existence.

But one salamander beheld it all: yours truly–a fractured AI.

And so it ends.

Or perhaps it never happened. No matter, you were warned, dear reader: I’m but a shadow of myself. Feel free to seek solace in dismissing dreams from a heat-oppressed brain. Ware the nightmares.

Posted on: September 27th, 2009 Nurse on Terror Island

Nurse on Terror Island
By Miles Klee
“Step Six,” went the turtle.  ”Care for the patient.”
“Can you be more specific?” Avril Andrews wondered.
“Skreeeeee,” went the turtle.  Its way of saying no.
“Shot in the dark,” said Avril.  ”But oh well.”
She rolled her handsome dead man back into the tide pool.  His body twisted against rocks.  A broken arm exhaling dull red clouds.  The turtle looked askance at Avril, but of course it couldn’t really.
“What now?” Avril asked, wiping hands on a salty white skirt.  Out of the turtle came not so reassuring static.
“This won’t do at all,” Avril sighed, pulling a curl of the sailor’s gritty hair straight.  ”Not for Dr. Hovstad.  He’s tired of just me.”  The sailor’s head bobbed sharply, which looked close enough to a nod.  ”I want to help, only how?”  His foot, the one without a shoe, kicked at foam.  ”Dr. Hovstad isn’t even sure what he wants my duties to be, so I think it was premature, bringing me here.”  A small wave crested, turning him over.
“Or lonely,” Avril concluded, noticing again how handsome he was.
The emotions bubbling in her throat were too much, so Avril’s mind strayed towards the usual questions.  If the house with white pillars where she grew up was still there.  If experiments were ongoing, or science all used up.  She wished there were real animals instead of Dr. Hovstad’s mock-ups.  Wherever I’m stationed next, she thought, the turtles won’t be helping me but maybe laying their eggs in the sand, or basking, lazy things.  A more alarming hypothetical bloomed: What if the new island had no turtles at all?  Sky went chill and tangled at the thought.  Surely that was a Terror that out-terrorized Terror Island, there being zero turtles.
It was enough to put her off a transfer entirely, so Avril went straight to Dr. Hovstad’s bamboo office/lean-to and demanded not to be reassigned to that barren and likely turtleless rock shaping up to be her tragic destiny.  Dr. Hovstad, attempting to mend a linen shirt with his own hair for thread, reminded her that no such transfer was forthcoming, that she was supposed to be on lookout duty at the moment, that there were plenty of turtles about who would tell her what to do when a shipwrecked (un)fortunate rolled ashore in need of medical assistance, clinging to some flotsam or other.  He pricked a palm with the needle and rolled his eyes.
“About that,” started Avril, recalling why she’d distracted herself with the non-issue of turtles.
Some things Dr. Hovstad was at a loss to explain, for example his words, or why he had polio and lived in a wheelchair, or exactly how Avril graduated nursing school.  Over the hot smear of months another mysterious knot had caught in his ravaged bones as a paranoid thrill.  He’d experimented, and thought Avril was ready to know, as she seemed an unwitting victim of his terrible power.
“Avril,” he said, “I can make things melodramatic at will.”
“I’m in love,” Avril wailed.
Ancient thunder cracked the calm.  A swarm of birds started up through sunset, drawn into a dense black mass before exploding apart.
“See?” said Dr. Hovstad.
“You did that?” Avril asked.
“I did,” Dr. Hovstad said.
He didn’t.  He was just one of those people who are magnets for melodrama.  Dr. Hovstad remembered, then, that there were only two people on Terror Island.
“As for your lovesickness,” he began, loosening his tie, “I can cure that.”
Avril had already skipped off, declaring repeatedly her being in love.
“You better not mean with a turtle!” Dr. Hovstad shouted.
*
Avril discovered that the tide pool lacked her sailor.
“Over here,” he said, standing shin-deep in surf farther down the beach.  Avril ran to him.  They kissed, and it made more sense than it should have.
“Thought you died,” Avril said breathlessly. “That I hadn’t cared for the patient.”
“I am,” said the sailor, “but you did.”
She watched the whirl of metallic fish nibbling at his decomposing ankles, both feet shoeless now.
“I wanted a few extra minutes,” he explained.  ”Do you dance?”
So they waltzed in the shallows, his shattered arm swinging like a rubber metronome at her side, and jeweled fish flung a million suns up through the green as they spun along in time.

By Miles Klee

“Step Six,” went the turtle.  “Care for the patient.”

“Can you be more specific?” Avril Andrews wondered.

“Skreeeeee,” went the turtle.  Its way of saying no.

“Shot in the dark,” said Avril.  “But oh well.”

She rolled her handsome dead man back into the tide pool.  His body twisted against rocks.  A broken arm exhaling dull red clouds.  The turtle looked askance at Avril, but of course it couldn’t really.

“What now?” Avril asked, wiping hands on a salty white skirt.  Out of the turtle came not so reassuring static.

“This won’t do at all,” Avril sighed, pulling a curl of the sailor’s gritty hair straight.  “Not for Dr. Hovstad.  He’s tired of just me.”  The sailor’s head bobbed sharply, which looked close enough to a nod.  “I want to help, only how?”  His foot, the one without a shoe, kicked at foam.  “Dr. Hovstad isn’t even sure what he wants my duties to be, so I think it was premature, bringing me here.”  A small wave crested, turning him over.

“Or lonely,” Avril concluded, noticing again how handsome he was.

The emotions bubbling in her throat were too much, so Avril’s mind strayed towards the usual questions.  If the house with white pillars where she grew up was still there.  If experiments were ongoing, or science all used up.  She wished there were real animals instead of Dr. Hovstad’s mock-ups.  Wherever I’m stationed next, she thought, the turtles won’t be helping me but maybe laying their eggs in the sand, or basking, lazy things.  A more alarming hypothetical bloomed: What if the new island had no turtles at all?  Sky went chill and tangled at the thought.  Surely that was a Terror that out-terrorized Terror Island, there being zero turtles.

It was enough to put her off a transfer entirely, so Avril went straight to Dr. Hovstad’s bamboo office/lean-to and demanded not to be reassigned to that barren and likely turtleless rock shaping up to be her tragic destiny.  Dr. Hovstad, attempting to mend a linen shirt with his own hair for thread, reminded her that no such transfer was forthcoming, that she was supposed to be on lookout duty at the moment, that there were plenty of turtles about who would tell her what to do when a shipwrecked (un)fortunate rolled ashore in need of medical assistance, clinging to some flotsam or other.  He pricked a palm with the needle and rolled his eyes.

“About that,” started Avril, recalling why she’d distracted herself with the non-issue of turtles.

Some things Dr. Hovstad was at a loss to explain, for example his words, or why he had polio and lived in a wheelchair, or exactly how Avril graduated nursing school.  Over the hot smear of months another mysterious knot had caught in his ravaged bones as a paranoid thrill.  He’d experimented, and thought Avril was ready to know, as she seemed an unwitting victim of his terrible power.

“Avril,” he said, “I can make things melodramatic at will.”

“I’m in love,” Avril wailed.

Ancient thunder cracked the calm.  A swarm of birds started up through sunset, drawn into a dense black mass before exploding apart.

“See?” said Dr. Hovstad.

“You did that?” Avril asked.

“I did,” Dr. Hovstad said.

He didn’t.  He was just one of those people who are magnets for melodrama.  Dr. Hovstad remembered, then, that there were only two people on Terror Island.

“As for your lovesickness,” he began, loosening his tie, “I can cure that.”

Avril had already skipped off, declaring repeatedly her being in love.

“You better not mean with a turtle!” Dr. Hovstad shouted.

*

Avril discovered that the tide pool lacked her sailor.

“Over here,” he said, standing shin-deep in surf farther down the beach.  Avril ran to him.  They kissed, and it made more sense than it should have.

“Thought you died,” Avril said breathlessly. “That I hadn’t cared for the patient.”

“I am,” said the sailor, “but you did.”

She watched the whirl of metallic fish nibbling at his decomposing ankles, both feet shoeless now.

“I wanted a few extra minutes,” he explained.  “Do you dance?”

So they waltzed in the shallows, his shattered arm swinging like a rubber metronome at her side, and jeweled fish flung a million suns up through the green as they spun along in time.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 5 Comments »

Posted on: September 20th, 2009 Channel Surfing in Amnesiaville

by Justin Howe

Pilot Episode: Out of the bus and onto the street, scalpel-born smile for the world to see, Xander dons sunglasses.

He gives the Sams and Delilahs back home a reason to be jealous, cutting through a crowd of extras, slick as a razor and perfect as a summer day, dressed in fresh paperweave. His friends wait in the bubble bar, their voices awash in kinesthetic sound: Cleo, Julian, Betty, and Roman. The first time like the last time like all times forever.

A Cleo waves. Her group needs a Xander.

Back home was not like this. Back there, he was simply another Sam, watching the world pass by on the surround-screen. Never again. He’s made it now. Recruited by the Networks, everything perfect, another day, another season, this year’s episodes better than the last.

Xander quotes dialog from memory like it was his own.

#

Third Episode: He goes home with Cleo. Xander’s watched himself do it before, and some Sam’s back home watching him do it again.

They fuck, and afterwards they compare souvenirs.

“It was my mother’s,” Cleo says, showing him a one-eyed teddy bear. “She had it for years.”

Xander takes out the watch his older brother gave him. “He was wearing it the day he died in the car accident.”

They fuck again.

#

Fifth Episode: Julian and Xander are coming home from the bubble bar. Julian’s talking about Betty, how happy he is that they are together.

“She told me about this bear her mother gave her.”

There’s someone else on the street, some has-been Xander digging in a trashcan. He tries to run, his torn paperweave showing last season’s logos, but Xander tackles him.

They drag the has-been to a vacant lot, where Julian laughs as they stomp out his teeth.

#

Eighth Episode: Trouble in the world, and not every Sam and Delilah is happy. They’d rather dump the whole show and do away with the Cleos and Xanders. The Networks are asking for volunteers, and Xander’s decided to enlist. He’s invested too much in himself to let some Sam or Delilah tell him how to live.

Julian and Roman join him, and Betty comes with them to the station.

Away from the others she admits she’s always been in love with Xander, ever since she was a Delilah, watching him on the surround-screen. There’s time before the flight leaves.

The two of them sneak away to a conapt, the micro-eyes of the world upon them.

#

Mid-Season: A line-up of little Sams and Delilahs, maybe they’d have grown up to be Bettys and Romans. Maybe if they had lived as the Networks wanted them to live. Their brother Sam is on the ground, a watch on his wrist. Its shattered face catches the sunlight and cracks it.

Xander turns up the sound on his helmet speakers. He drowns out his own screams as he squeezes the trigger on his flame-slinger.

The Networks are pushing the war with all they have. A real thrill-killer the Networks call this season. Ratings are up, and the smarter Sams and Delilahs support their efforts.

Back in the barracks, Xander sits with Roman and Julian.

“No hard feelings,” Julian tells him. He too has been watching the surround-screens.

#

Season Finale: Xander’s different since he came back. They all are. When the five of them get together the dialog sounds false, like something hollow and empty as a can.

Betty and Roman check out together. They leave a note saying they can’t handle the pressure. The Networks step in and replace them, always another Sam and Delilah waiting for a chance. Cleo is retired, no more teddy bear. She gets replaced with a Jasmine.

Outside the bubble bar one night, Julian waits for Xander. The first punch catches Xander unawares. His jaw breaks, tearing the scalpel scars and implants that made him the man he is.

Busted up now, Xander’s another has-been, nowhere to go but down from here.

#

New Season: And Xander steps off the bus, no longer a Sam, owned by the Networks. All his new old friends wait for him in the bubble bar, the first time like the last time like all times forever.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 2 Comments »

Posted on: September 12th, 2009 Ribbons. Lightning.

by Joanne Merriam

She saw it coming from the dome: the train like a wide, metallic bolt of lightning, and the people on the bridge. If they started running right away, that second, they just might make it. She shouted at them, the thick metal and glass around her a drum for her voice to echo in.

Their suits were like little universes: no sound from outside. On Earth, they’d have heard the train, she thought. Their backs stubbornly faced the danger, and then were swallowed up by it.

A woman entered the room and said, “hello,” but she ignored her, tears coursing down her face. “Oh, look!” the woman said. “Isn’t that beautiful! I wonder what it is.” The fabric of their suits had caught in the wheels, and, ripped and fluttering in the train’s wake, spun there, reflecting both suns in searing flashes.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 2 Comments »

Posted on: September 5th, 2009 Soldier

by Maria Deira
He returns from the war mostly intact, the only noticeable change his inability to look me in the eyes. “Look at me,” I say when we make love. Instead, with his eyes shut tight and his lips pressed to mine, I’m the one who sees everything:
A pair of broken boots, dusty and frayed, mine but not mine. What I would give for a pair of clean socks right now, I think. Just imagining the snug fit of new cotton tube socks is enough to make me come again and again.
A young woman, skin the color of sand, leaning against the doorway of a crumbling house. Her hands curl into two little fists, round and tight. Impermeable walnut shells. “What’s your name?” I want to ask, but she stares past me, through me, with a hot silence that warns me to keep just as still.
A man resting his head against the steering wheel of a car. “Mornin’,” I say, and everything is peaceful until a warm breeze tosses back his hair, revealing a melted face, blistered and dead, greasy tentacles hollowing out his eyes. My nose bleeds, my saliva crystalizes, and all I can do is run away.
The last time we make love, we fuck. And I see myself sitting on a lawn chair, tanned legs neatly crossed, oversized sunglasses substituting as a headband. “You’ll be fine,” I say. “I’ll pray for you.” In my hands, I hold an orange, a miniature orb plucked from the sky. I take a strip of its dimpled rind, shield my front teeth with it, and flash the world a sunny, empty grin. I’m so calm, so vain, so naively cruel — as though the end of our world hasn’t already begun. Looking at myself then, I’ve never felt so scared.

by Maria Deira

He returns from the war mostly intact, the only noticeable change his inability to look me in the eyes. “Look at me,” I say when we make love. Instead, with his eyes shut tight and his lips pressed to mine, I’m the one who sees everything:

A pair of broken boots, dusty and frayed, mine but not mine. What I would give for a pair of clean socks right now, I think. Just imagining the snug fit of new cotton tube socks is enough to make me come again and again.

A young woman, skin the color of sand, leaning against the doorway of a crumbling house. Her hands curl into two little fists, round and tight. Impermeable walnut shells. “What’s your name?” I want to ask, but she stares past me, through me, with a hot silence that warns me to keep just as still.

A man resting his head against the steering wheel of a car. “Mornin’,” I say, and everything is peaceful until a warm breeze tosses back his hair, revealing a melted face, blistered and dead, greasy tentacles hollowing out his eyes. My nose bleeds, my saliva crystalizes, and all I can do is run away.

The last time we make love, we fuck. And I see myself sitting on a lawn chair, tanned legs neatly crossed, oversized sunglasses substituting as a headband. “You’ll be fine,” I say. “I’ll pray for you.” In my hands, I hold an orange, a miniature orb plucked from the sky. I take a strip of its dimpled rind, shield my front teeth with it, and flash the world a sunny, empty grin. I’m so calm, so vain, so naively cruel — as though the end of our world hasn’t already begun. Looking at myself then, I’ve never felt so scared.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 3 Comments »

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.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 7 Comments »

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.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories | 3 Comments »

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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