TV REVIEW: Wayward Pines Season 2

written by David Steffen

Wayward Pines was a weird speculative mystery/thriller show that aired as ten episodes in the summer of 2015–see my review of that season here.  At the time that it aired it was unclear whether it was going to be a standalone miniseries or whether there would be a second season–the ending wrapped up a lot of things but left a route to continue the story if it were desired.  And, (obviously, given the title of the article) it did return for a second season in the summer of 2016.

Season 1 of the show was based fairly closely on the Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch (spoilers for the books and for season 1 here).  In that segment of the story, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke travels to Wayward Pines, Idaho to investigate the disappearance of two other agents.  But the town seems to have no escape–everyone there is living under obscure rules under penalty of death and the road leading into town doesn’t lead back out again, and there are monsters at the gate.  Throughout the course of the season (or the three books) he discovers that he did not just travel to Idaho–he was abducted and put into cryogenic sleep for almost two thousand years.  David Pilcher, scientist and genius, had discovered that the human genome was becoming corrupted by pollutants and human beings were mutating into something entirely different–he had started a secret project to put a thousand people into cryogenic storage to wait through the consequences and come out on the other side.  But in the future the creatures that had been humanity were still out there in the form of mutated violent monsters he named aberrations (aka abbies).  He rebuilt Wayward Pines from the ground up as a stronghold against the abbies, waking people up from their cryogenic sleep to populate the town under the pretense that it is still the 20th century.  Eventually Ethan learns of all of this and reveals the truth to the town–Pilcher lets the abbies into town as punishment for this betrayal and the first season ends shortly after Ethan sacrifices his life to save the town from the abbies.  But history repeats itself and the First Generation raised in the town seizes control of the town and starts a new regime.

Though Season 1 was mostly based pretty closely on the books, the ending of season 1 leaves no room to stick to the same story and so, unsurprisingly, it diverges wildly.  The protagonist of this season is a new character who has just been woken from cryo for the first time–a surgeon named Theo Yedlin who was abducted without his knowledge as most of the residents of the town has been.  Shortly after he reunites with his wife, who is behaving oddly for reasons he doesn’t understand.  The Wayward Pines that he wakes to is one controlled by the First Generation who have forced a much firmer and overt control than had been visible in season 1, even with uniforms reminiscient of Nazi Germany military uniforms.  Jason Higgins is leader of this group, a young man raised in Wayward Pines, trying to enforce control in the town as best he can.

Ethan Burke’s son Ben is alive and the leader of a pocket of resistance against the First Generation leadership.  He is offered some protection form the fact that he too is considered part of the First Generation and they are all forbidden to harm one another by the rules of the town.

Adam Hassler returns from the wilderness where he has been on a years’ long mission to explore deep into abby territory.

The abbies are shower greater signs of organization, assaulting the electric fence that protects the town systematically and strategically.  Most townspeople don’t believe the evidence, but others are very nervous about where this is going.

The ground inside the town limits has gone sour, and won’t take crops anymore.  They have started growing some crops outside the town limits, and must protect them from abby attacks.

And they find an abby in town, a female who seems to be some kind of leader.  What should they do with her?

As you might be able to tell from this quite scattered synopsis, a big issue I had with this season of the show is that it is kind of all over the place.  Season two has only 10 episodes, and there are so many big ideas being explored simultaneously that it just feels unfocused and scattered.

Season 1 was pretty solid, and was based largely around the mystery of the town, and we started that season as ignorant of the current events of the fictional world so much of the show was trying to figure it out along with them.  In season 2, we start with a new character awoken from cryo who has no idea what’s going on.  But.. why?  We follow a character in season 1 ignorant of the situation so that we can discover it along with him, understand the strangeness and the danger piece by piece.  But… here we already know what Wayward Pines is.  And, while it makes sense for the character to have go through this gaining of knowledge, that part of the story felt like it was just going through the motions telling us the same story over again as if we hadn’t been paying attention the first time.  Not only that, but Theo in a lot of ways has an easier setup for understanding and affecting change in the town than Ethan had, because of Theo’s important role as surgeon.  His skills are rare and valuable in a town where medical experts are both irreplacable and in short supply, so he kind of ends up doing a lot of things that no one else in town can get away with–he tries to use it to make some good change, but still, it felt like he started with similar problems as Ethan had in season 1 but with a lot more immediate advantages.  I didn’t understand why they’d make that narrative choice when it would be more natural to escalate the challenges rather than escalate the protagonist’s advantages.

There were a few recurring characters, and some new ones.  There is some excuse for new characters to show up, despite the relatively closed system of Wayward Pines, because we know there are a whole bunch of people still in cryo who haven’t been woken up yet–so if they want to add a new character they just need to have a new person wake from cryo.  But, they also introduced a new character, CJ, who had been responsible for waking up periodically throughout the centuries that everyone was under and checking on the progress of the world to decide when to wake everyone up.  He was, at every stage, the first person to wake up and to start waking other people up, and because he had such an important role, in season 2 he is important enough to have major input into decision-making.  So… where had he been in season 1?  The real answer is that no one had made up his character yet, but his character as established should have been visible in season 1.  That kind of thing felt lazy and cheap–they could have found characters who all fit with the story as told in season 1, but sometimes they didn’t bother.  It reminded me of season 2 of Under the Dome, which likewise operated with a very closed system and yet they kept adding new characters who couldn’t possibly have gone unnoticed in the first season, because of lazy writing.

Besides that familiar throughline of the plot about discovering what the town is about, there are quite a few plotlines that are very potentially interesting, but there are just so many and they’re so poorly threaded together that major plot focus for an episode or two suddenly trails off without ever really resolving anything, and as the end of the short 10-episode run approaches there are only more plots all tangled together.  When the end of the season comes, it’s like… wait, was that actually the end of the season?  Nothing wrapped up, there is no satisfaction at completion of story arcs.  Did the writers know when the season was ending or did the makers of the show tell them to write and then abruptly ended the season 4 episodes early?  Or did the writers just have no idea how to make a satisfying season arc?

Some of the ideas here were interesting, but it feels more like a rushed publication of a truncated rough draft than like a finished final work.

 

DP Fiction #21: “The Banshee Behind Beamon’s Bakery” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

Most nights the alley behind Beamon’s Bakery is just an alley.

The street lamp bleeds piss yellow light, casting jagged shadows around the overflowing dumpster and discarded boxes. The walls are tagged with gang signs, claiming territory that was never theirs, yardage, bodies, souls, rights.

Some nights a transient clears away the broken glass, the random detritus, to squat for the night. Setting up camp here has its own rewards. The warmth that seeps through the bakery walls and through brick facing chases away the chill, but not the ghosts. This is the drawback, you see. The alley is never as vacant as it may seem at first, never as lonely as one may wish. The price of physical warmth is the chilling of your soul.

On the ninth night of November, the banshee chases away the transients, the curious, the ignorant, and claims the alley as her own. She returns in disbelief of the injustice, to recover her beloved.

If you pay attention you can see the faded outline of a body in front of the dumpster. As the hour draws closer, the details grow clearer, and the body all but materializes. A sharp sound cracks open the silence. The bud of blood on his white apron blossoms and spreads across his chest. He gasps for breath and you can even see the steam rise in a clotted cloud about his head. His lips are stained red by death’s kiss.

They say it was her son, Mikaheel, who worked at Beamon’s. Mistaken for a burglar, for reasons no one can comprehend, he was shot by an officer while emptying the trash.

She relives the day, that hour, when her entire world was remade, when she wished to no longer be a part of that world.

“He is just a baby,” she sobs into her hands as she kneels next to him. “My baby. Only seventeen. He hasn’t even lived yet.” She doesn’t feel the cold hard pavement against her knees, the hands on her shoulders, the arms that lift and carry her away.

There are many stories about her. Some say she died from grief. Others believe that she took her own life, that she might join her son in death. But the truth is something much different.

Her fury would not allow her to die, nor live. It consumed her flesh but not her horror. This is what you see on this night in the alley. This is who you feel when you come too close.

The banshee kneels before her dead son. Her flashing energy glows blood red. The air grows hotter than the ovens in Beamon’s. Then comes the palpable sound…the thunderous rending of her heart. It is the sound of the sky ripping and the Earth crumbling away. She keens like a broken dog, ropey braids whipping around her head like bird’s wings.

Her grief permeates the hood. All mothers within hearing distance share the same nightmare, her horror. Her voice, like daggers, cleaves the night. Those caught within her looping nightmare claw their way back into the waking world. Hungry for their next breath, hearts pounding, they cry out the name of her son, “Mikaheel!”

On this night, the alley is an archive of injustice and the banshee is the chronicler.


© 2016 by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

 

Author’s Note: The unjust violent death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer was the specific impetus for this story. I tried to imagine what his mother must’ve been feeling upon learning about her son’s death. This wasn’t difficult because I have a son as well. I tried to impart the feeling of rage and horror I, any mother, would feel upon learning that her son was taken away in such a violent horrific way.

 

My usual promotional headshotKhaalidah Muhammad-Ali lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and three children. By day she works as a breast oncology nurse. At all other times she juggles, none too successfully, writing, reading, gaming and gardening. She has been published at Escape Pod, An Alphabet of Embers, and People of Color Destroy Science Fiction. She’s also penned a novel entitled An Unproductive Woman which can be found on Amazon. Khaalidah is also a narrator and you may have heard her narrations at Strange Horizons, and all four of the Escape Artists podcasts. Khaalidah is guest editor for Artemis Rising 3 over at PodCastle and is also guest editing Truancy Magazine‘s fourth issue. Khaalidah is on a mission to encourage more women and POC to write and publish science fiction stories. Of her alter ego, “K” from the planet Vega, it is rumored that she owns a time machine and knows the secret to immorality. You can catch up to her posts at her website, www.khaalidah.com, and you can follow her on twitter, @khaalidah.

 

 


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DP Fiction #20: “October’s Wedding of the Month” by Emma McDonald

When Percy and Astrid met they’d no idea that only a few short weeks later they’d be getting married.

“Percy really swept me off my feet” said Astrid. “I’d just stepped outside the pub for a quick smoke and suddenly this guy was bundling me into his car.”

“It was love at first sight,” Percy confirmed. “I saw her and I just had to have her.”

Despite their unconventional first meeting our October couple are obviously very much in love. Sitting in their home, admiring the various objects of cult paraphernalia, including an antique sacrificial dagger, it’s also obvious that this was never going to be a normal wedding.

“We never really discussed it, because the cult is so important to Percy that I just took it for granted that the wedding would be a dark ceremony honouring the Elder Gods.” Astrid says. “Also, as I spent the weeks building up to the wedding locked in a cellar most of the preparations had to be done by Percy and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking him to compromise his beliefs when he was having to put in so much effort to make the day perfect.”

“Astrid was incredibly supportive.” Percy gives her a quick hug. “She even agreed to convert to the cult of the Elder Gods, which was something I’d not dared hope for. I’d had a few previous engagements which I’d had to break off once the bride realised what the cult involved, but Astrid just went for it.”

“Killing the owl was difficult,” said Astrid. “But it made for a really memorable hen night. Percy’s mother helped mix the cocktail of laudanum, owl blood, and gin that’s part of the traditional cult initiation and I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards, but I woke up covered in feathers and children’s teeth so it must have been a good night.”

While Percy’s wedding suit was fairly traditional cult attire, including a mask made out of broken dreams, the couple wanted the wedding dress to be a bit more personal. Astrid’s confinement made fittings difficult, but the final gown was still something spectacular.

“I think everyone worries about the dress.” Confided Astrid. “I was definitely one of those girls who cut wedding dresses out of magazines and I’d always seen myself getting married in something big and white.” So the vintage lace dress was something of a departure. “Percy’s mother brought around a trunk of old dresses, including her own, which was a long Bohemian number from the seventies. Sadly we had to reconsider because of the blood stains, but we salvaged some of the lace from the sleeves and used it for my hairpiece.’

“The dress I eventually chose was a real one-off. We think it might have been made for a great aunt, but the pictures of the wedding it was worn at have all been defaced so it’s only a guess. I was worried that it might seem a bit ordinary, but the rotten seams and mildew stains helped lift it above what you’d find on the high street.”

Percy chose the venue in accordance with the rituals necessary for the cult ceremony he’d always dreamed off. “Several people commented on how isolated the chapel was. Although it did make things easier from the point of view of parking, and it was very convenient for the reception which we held on the beach. The most important thing about the venue for me was that it was in the same place that I’d been having premonitions about since I was a small child. Nightmarish visions can be tricky things to pinpoint, and it took me several years of investigation before I found the perfect venue. When I told my mother she laughed and said I should have just asked Uncle Norman, as it’s the very chapel he was baptised at. There’s a funny story attached to that, because shortly after he went mad and murdered his twin brother.”

“The family connection is very important to Percy,” Astrid interrupts. “He went to a lot of trouble to ensure that my family were present at the ceremony, even chloroforming my dad when he objected to being kidnapped. We want to have a big family in the future and by making the wedding so family-oriented. I hope we’ve started off on the right track for that.”

The wedding was officiated by Mordiggan, a deity chosen by Percy due to a longstanding family connection. “It did mean we had to advise the guests to close their eyes during the ceremony, as any sighting of him causes blindness. The photographer had a particularly difficult job, and sadly didn’t survive, but he did get some beautiful shots of the service.” Indeed one of these was our cover for this month. The ominous dark cloud that stands at the altar while Astrid and Percy exchange rings gives a real sense of atmosphere, and it’s hard to fault Percy for risking his guests’ eyesight when the end result is so impressive.

While the wedding ceremony was a small affair, the reception was even more select, something most couples would consider unusual. But for Percy and Astrid the process of culling the guests was a core part of their day.

“I think we were both a little wary of how our friends and family would perceive Astrid’s newfound religious zeal,” admitted Percy. “There was a lot of talk of brainwashing and some mentions of the police, although the local police force is very sympathetic to cult members and we’d paid the usual bribes.”

“Percy and I didn’t want anyone at the reception who wasn’t really celebrating with us.” Astrid takes over as Percy seems visibly upset by the idea of anyone doubting their affection for each other. “The ritual culling wasn’t something I’d ever heard of before, but it’s part of Percy’s religion and I thought it was a good way of symbolising our new life together.” For those who aren’t adherents, the ritual culling is a ceremony in which guests are pursued and slaughtered by beasts. A small number of guests survive, either by luck or prior knowledge, and these are then invited to the reception. “Percy choose to have the pursuit led by his father, who owns a pack of dire wolves. The slaughtered guests were then dismembered and their brains and hearts used to adorn the wedding cake.”

The cake was a custom-made four-tier chocolate cake from a local baker who specialises in catering for occult ceremonies, so were well aware of the need for discretion and dark ritual.

“Chocolate cake was the one thing I was adamant about,” said Astrid, “as I’m a huge chocoholic and I didn’t want to go without on my big day. The caterers covered it with ganache, but otherwise left it bare so it could be decorated with the spoils of the hunt. We had to offer a tier to Cthulthu, along with the remains of the dead guests, but otherwise it was sliced up and handed round. As is tradition, the blood of Percy’s family and mine had been mixed into the batter so the consuming of the cake really brought us closer together.”

“Sadly Astrid’s father was one of those who died during the culling, but we placed his heart on the very top of the cake so that we could both take a big bite and make sure he’s with us in the years to come.” Percy gives Astrid a hug as she wipes away a tear at the memory. “It’s a huge shame that so many of Astrid’s close family died on the day, but I like to think that they’d have been glad to know that their sacrifice helped ensure a happy future for us both.”

The reception was held on the beach as is traditional for cult weddings. The summoning of Cthulhu that formed the climax of the evening can only be done in an area next to tidal waters and while it might have been possible to hire a local pier Percy explained that he’d been reluctant to do so due to the likelihood of losing his deposit. “Cthulhu does tend to cause damage, and while there are some local venues which are sympathetic, most of them will charge for broken windows and bloodstains.

“Despite living only a short drive away Astrid had never before seen Cthulhu, so the reception was extra special as it meant I got to introduce her to the Elder God as my wife, as well as see the horror on her face that all new initiates experience.”

“It was really terrifying.” Astrid nods. “Percy had said a lot about how important it was to him that Cthulhu accepted me, and I think I’d just built it up in my mind to something which made it a lot scarier than it really was. There was all the stress of having just gotten married and then having had to run down a cliff while being chased by dire wolves and seeing this huge tentacled dragon-man-thing emerge from the sea was sort of the last straw.”

“She went a little mad, but luckily my mother had remembered the straitjacket and once Astrid had been restrained she calmed down a lot.”

“The laudanum helped.” Astrid giggles. “I felt so stupid once it was all over, but Percy didn’t mind at all.”

“I’d been to a few weddings where the bride really lost it. My cousin Irene cut off her husband’s fingers and ate them, so Astrid was pretty unfazed by comparison. I don’t think you can expect everyone to adapt to the Elder Gods in the same way, especially if they’ve not really been part of your upbringing.”

It seems a bit unfair to ask if Astrid has any concerns about that difference in upbringing now, especially when they make such a lovely couple, but her words on the subject are an inspiration to any young bride in a similar situation.

“Everything before the wedding was such a whirlwind that I didn’t really have time to sit down and think about what was happening, but since then I’ve been on a few retreats and had my mind eaten by Shogothath and that’s made a real difference. I guess my advice to any bride in a similar situation would be to not panic, and remember that you’re needed for breeding. If the Elder Gods are going to eat anyone it’ll be the groom.” With that Astrid smiles and turns to Percy and as they exchange a heartfelt kiss we bid them adieu.


© 2016 by Emma McDonald

 

Author’s Note: The story was inspired by a conversation at a friends wedding about the different types of wedding you could have and how a fancy wedding magazine might cover them.  (The friend’s wedding was very nice and no one was sacrificed)

 

head shotEmma McDonald has been writing for years, but this is her first piece to be accepted for publication.  She usually writes regency era stories with a touch of magic and the occasional vampire – and generally uses this as an excuse to visit English Country Houses for research.  Her website is at www.emmamcdonald.co.uk and she’s on twitter as @telute.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Long List Anthology Vol 2 Kickstarter!

written by David Steffen

long-list-antho-cover-art-color-comp-lg-1The Kickstarter has been launched for the Long List Anthology Volume 2!

Same premise as last year, to put together an anthology of works from the longer Hugo Award nomination list.  This year, Galen Dara has been commissioned for original cover art–the art at the top of the post is not the final version, it is a color proof of the art, but the final version will be shared as soon as possible.

Check out the rewards, besides copies of the books there are critiques from Martin L. Shoemaker, Sunil Patel, Erica Satifka and myself.

Check out the Kickstarter page for additional information, but here’s the list of the stories that will be included if funding levels are reached.

Short Stories and Letters (base goal)

  • “Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “Madeleine” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • “Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • “Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer” by Megan Grey
  • “The Women You Didn’t See” by Nicola Griffith (a letter from Letters to Tiptree)
  • “Damage” by David D. Levine
  • “Neat Things” by Seanan McGuire (a letter from Letters To Tiptree)
  • “Today I Am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker
  • “Pocosin” by Ursula Vernon
  • “Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

Novelettes (stretch goal at $3900)

  • “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” by Elizabeth Bear
  • “So Much Cooking” by Naomi Kritzer
  • “Another Word For World” by Ann Leckie
  • “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” by Rose Lemberg
  • “The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir
  • “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Up to 1 other

Novellas (stretch goal at $5000)

  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik
  • “The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps” by Kai Ashante Wilson

DP Fiction #19: “Do Not Question the University” by PC Keeler

“History,” spoke The University.

Albert had no interest in History. Nor had he interest in Mathematics, Science, Language, Art, or any of the other schools of The University. But one did not question The University, let alone defy it. Tales skittered among the Uneducated about Accepted Candidates thrown back from the gates for a single unwisely chosen word. The accepted response was safe.

“I so pledge,” said Albert.

A hole dilated open in the hallowed wall in front of him, symbolic of the forthcoming opening of Albert’s own eyes as he gained his Education. Antiseptic blue light spilled out. He waited for the command, to demonstrate his patience and submission to the sacred Policies and Procedures. One page of the Packet had detailed precisely how he was to behave, and he had no intention of failing now. Not when greatness lay before him.

“Insert your left hand,” The University instructed Albert. He obeyed. His skin looked a sickly sallow under the light, until the opening sealed around his wrist and held him in place. He felt the mildest of twinges as an airjet drove the new chip into his wrist, neatly tucked beneath his radial artery. His own pulse would provide the micropower the chip would need for the rest of his life.

“Welcome, Freshman,” The University boomed, loudly enough for the rest of the Application Center to hear. No one cheered. No one ever cheered. The Uneducated saw the Educated as mad, and yet dreamed of one day joining their ranks. Every Accepted Candidate meant there was one less spot available for the rest of them that year. He was no more Educated than he had been when he stepped into the Application Center ten minutes prior and submitted his forms, and yet now he was counted among their ranks for the potential that The University had seen within him.

The porters arrived. He had brought nothing with him, as per the Policies and Procedures, save for the clothing they now demanded he remove. He had made arrangements for the rest of his personal effects, as every Potential Candidate did. But this year, those arrangements would be put into action. He had a single cousin, who would have it all, the same as if Albert had died.

He donned his University Uniform. For the next six years, he would wear the comfortable, loose canvas of the jeans and the casual, distinctive blue shirt of the University Student, and carry the slim-line screen on which so much of his life would now depend. The porters gave him that screen when he was dressed. It was already turned on, and his class schedule was displayed in glowing green letters. His first class was in thirty minutes: Introduction to Speculative Analysis.

He left the Application Center without another word, either to the porters or to The University. The University had other Candidates to evaluate, and the porters would eagerly scrutinize his every word for signs of rebellion. He would give them nothing. He would be Educated in History and then the porters would have no power over him ever again.

Only The University would. Forever.

Six years. Six years of glorious freedom, and yet, only by abstaining from the temptations of life at The University could Albert become Educated. Many did not. To be a University Student was, after all, to be free to travel anywhere in the world, to be free to order any goods or services one desired, to be free to take part in all the wonderful bounty the world had to offer.

But The University was keeping track. Education was priceless. No man could possibly possess the wealth needed to pay even a single year of the most abstemious life at The University. It was solely by the generosity of The University and its ancient, mythical Donors that any man could become Educated, by surrendering himself to the wise and remorseless command of The University. To be given the opportunity for Education and to waste that chance was the most foolish possible outcome a man could achieve. And yet so many did, trading six short years of glory for a lifetime of drudgery.

History was a rare subject. Only four others shared the topic with Albert in his class. The first thing Albert learned was the wisdom of The University, for he was fascinated from the moment of his first lesson. All sorts of strange and wonderful secrets were his, matters that the Uneducated could never hear.

How once, The University had a great rival, whose name had been deliberately expunged in the riotous celebration when The University achieved its final victory.

How before that, The University had been but one of many, invited to ally itself with great powers among its brethren but choosing to stand proudly alone, growing in wealth and import with each passing year.

How once, not a lifetime but a single summer’s labor was deemed sufficient to repay the cost of a year’s Education, and how the years of labor per year of study grew each year.

How beyond The University’s reach there had been other places that refused the benevolent counsel of The University – and Albert could understand the implications of the phrase ‘had been.’

How the University had turned its wisdom upon itself, and seen the fallibility of man, and acted to remove that element from its own administration. It had been a very long time since mere human decisions had guided it, since bureaucracy and greed had played a role in the administration of the world. It was only among the University Students that folly remained despite The University’s rigorous selection; of the few tens of thousands chosen around the world each year, one in ten would squander the priceless gift of Education, and another one in twenty would fail its rigors despite their best efforts.

It was not merely human history that Albert learned. Alone among his classmates, The University chose for him courses of study that took him deep into the Restricted Archives, regions where The University’s own processes of deliberation had been recorded. Organization charts, acceptance criteria, secrets that many of the Uneducated would beamingly murder to learn, to gain their own entry into the ranks of their betters. He began from the most ancient of files and moved forward.

Many of Albert’s classmates had dissipated their precious days, losing the favor of The University but still through its grace permitted their full term of freedom. Albert did not travel. Albert did not spend his nights in drunken stupors. Albert was engaged, in the fullest sense of the word. The University guided Albert, drove Albert, but where it drove him was deeper and deeper into itself, into understanding how The University had once functioned, how it grew over time, how its Policies and Procedures had developed into the heart of the world.

When six years had passed, Albert was given the highest of trials The University had to offer. He would not be given the multiple-choice tests that his wastrel classmates would take (and fail), to perfunctorily prove their lack of worth. He would not sit for days filling out Blue Book after Blue Book, demonstrating his grasp of rote facts and simple analysis. He would not even sit before a panel of Professors to be judged for fitness to join their exalted ranks.

No, Albert stood before The University itself, the hallowed Seal etched into the floor of an ancient chamber. Speakers and sensors embedded into every wall left The University aware of his presence at its symbolic heart as he faced his Final Examination.

The University asked him, “What went wrong?”


© 2016 by PC Keeler

 

Author’s Note:  One evening, my writing group, the Fairfield Scribes (collective authors of Z Tales: Stories from the Zombieverse), assembled in my living room, with the express purpose of shamelessly engaging in literary generation. That afternoon, I had been working on unpacking boxes of books, and came across “Legends of the Ferengi” – in which it was noted that those avaricious aliens would decades’ worth of debt to pay for a prestigious education, a concept that was just a joke when the book was written. Nowadays, that doesn’t seem quite so funny… and it doesn’t show signs of stopping.

 

MePictureBorn in the far-off days of the Second Millennium, PC Keeler spends his days writing detailed instructions for very dim but precise silicon brains to follow and finds it a relaxing change of pace to write more conversationally for charming, handsome, intellectual readers like you.  He enjoys past, present, and future, preferably all at once. Steampunk and Ren Faires work well for this.

 

 

 

 

 


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DP Fiction #18: “Sustaining Memory” by Coral Moore

The Archivist held the three remaining beads in her left hand. Images flickered across her visual cortex: an unknown woman’s face, a sunset on a planet she couldn’t name, the dazzling color of a sea she no longer had the words to express. The beads felt cool and impersonal in her fingers, though what they contained was neither. She had only these few memories left and she no longer remembered if they were hers or someone else’s.

Around her, the machine chugged and whirred. The metal tubing that encased her pod vibrated. The glowing core rose in front of her, spinning slowly around its vertical axis.

She twirled the bead containing the seascape between her fingers and dove in. The memory was a moment in time. The wind caressed her face and the briny scent of the sea filled her head. A white-capped wave was held just off shore in the instant before breaking, never to fulfill its potential. She had the sense of someone waiting for her on that unknown shore. The name of the sea was gone, like everything else she had once known, converted into power for the machine she’d been wed to.

She surfaced from the hold of the memory with effort. That sea and that person no longer existed. The world her people had inhabited had been scoured clean, its atmosphere stripped away and everything on the surface incinerated. Nothing had survived; nothing but the machine, buried deep below the crust near the cold, dead heart of the planet. When her organic memory had been scrubbed, they’d left the fate of her world with her so she would not forget her purpose.

The grinding groan of the alert tone sounded, and without thinking she placed the seascape bead into the receptacle near her hand. The bead circled around the outer edge and spiraled downward into the depths of the machine. Bit by bit the memory of the sea faded from her mind, until only a pale representation of it remained, and then a moment later that too was gone. She was left only with the impression that something precious had been taken from her, with no idea what it was.

Two left: a sunset and a woman.

Only two memories before she was nothing but a soulless cog in the machine that would unmake everything her people had ever been in order to start again.

“Status?” she asked the heated air around her.

Something churned just beyond her field of vision. “Offline.” The voice that had been her only companion for generations was toneless and flat.

She swirled the two remaining beads in her hand. The number of beads she needed to awaken the machine was exact. She wondered why the designers of such a marvel would cut it so close or depend on her to do this critical job at all. If she’d ever known the answer to those questions, she no longer did.

If she stopped putting beads in before the machine awakened it would cannibalize the pod that sustained her in an attempt to get the necessary power. She wasn’t certain how many beads her body, such that it was, could replace. Once her systems started shutting down a cascading failure would follow.

When she held the memory of the sunset, deep pink and orange streaks surrounded her. She perched on a rocky cliff. A lush valley unfurled below her, absorbing the colors of the bright sky. Someone sat next to her, just out of sight. A sense of peace pervaded the place. She dwelled in the memory until the alarm tone woke her from her contemplation.

The comfort of the sunset was the only solace she could remember. While it was true that she would no longer remember that the memory had ever been her haven, she would miss something. A yawning void grew with each piece of her that was forgotten.

When the alert rang the second time she closed her eyes and dropped the bead in the machine. She concentrated on how the sunset made her feel, but even as she tried to hold it in her mind the colors faded.

“Mountain. Sunset. Peace.” She said the words over and over as a litany, but it made no difference. The memory slipped away like water through her fist, and all she was left with was the aching emptiness. She snapped her hand shut around the remaining bead.

The woman in the memory had short dark hair that stood on end in a gravity-defying display that balanced chaos and order perfectly. Her eyes brimmed with tears and angled downward. A curved scar marked her left cheek, but didn’t mar her loveliness one bit. Her lips were slightly parted. She was close enough that the heat from her breath warmed the Archivist’s face. The woman with no name had been captured in the moment before a farewell kiss. There was no other way to resolve the adoration and acceptance mingled in her expression. Something terrible had been about to happen and they had run out of ways to fight.

The Archivist had no idea if the love in the unknown woman’s gaze was intended for her. She didn’t care. The emotion existed, and it was hers. She drifted in the moment just before the kiss for as long as she dared, and finally surfaced from the memory much later, gasping for air.

The alert tone sounded.

She clutched the final bead. The woman’s face floated before her, diaphanous and lovely. One kiss was all she had left.

The alarm rang again, louder and in two long bursts.

“You can’t have her.” She locked her fist around the bead, hoping that would curb her reflex to feed it to the machine.

The energy generated by her pod would be enough to replace one bead—it had to be. She wouldn’t get to see the new world she’d given up everything for, but she would be able to keep this last piece of herself.

She lingered in the kiss until the sound blasted three times, knocking her forcefully from the memory.

The bead port was so near her hand, and her arm wanted to make the motion, but she concentrated on keeping her hand shut tight. She’d never gone this far, so she had no idea how long she had to wait until there was no taking back the decision. She worried her resolve would slip.

Around her the machine churned and whirred. Nothing was out of the ordinary, nothing but her fist and a sense of dread she couldn’t shake.

A high-pitched whistle shrieked and surprised her so that she nearly dropped the last bead.

The relative silence in the wake of the terrible sound was haunting. She had the sense of motion in her peripheral vision, but she couldn’t turn to see what had moved. A grinding sound began soon after, and her pod vibrated.

There was an ominous clunk. Something slithered around the lower portion of her body, but she couldn’t see it within the metal and hoses that wrapped her. None of the memories she had left had prepared her for this. She managed not to panic, barely. The next breath she drew was labored.

A series of light chimes rang through the machine’s interior.

“Status,” she said.

The long pause that followed was made longer by the worry that she would go to her end never knowing if she’d doomed the project to failure.

“Online,” replied a voice she hadn’t heard before, more lifelike and feminine than the previous robotic one. “Resources have been reprioritized to support mission-critical utilities. Life support is offline.”

The note of sadness she detected had to be coming from her and not the machine. Her chest felt heavy. “Does it affect the chance of success?”

“By less than one one-thousandth of a percent. We are still well within operational parameters.”

“Good.” She sighed. “How long until the process starts?”

“I’ve already begun.”

“Oh, can you forecast completion yet?”

“No. Spinning up my systems will require a non-trivial amount of time. I won’t be able to calculate time to completion until I know how much has survived my hibernation and the loss of the atmosphere aboveground.”

“So I won’t know if it will work before I die.”

“It will work.”

“How do you know?”

“This project is my sole purpose for being, Archivist. I must believe it will succeed. The magnetic field will be restored, the atmosphere will be regenerated, and the planet will again support life.”

She smiled. Even that small movement drained her dwindling energy. “I think I would have liked you.”

“You would have.” Softness colored the voice again. Was it a trick of clever programming or her own sentimentality?

She laughed, surprised she remembered how. “That’s very presumptuous.”

“It’s a mathematical certainty. Your memories are cataloged and indexed in my database. Part of me is you.”

“I didn’t realize the memories would be retained.”

“The data contained in the beads was a byproduct of the energy transfer, but retaining them was deemed important by my programmers. They take up a very small portion of my total processing.”

“So we will carry on with you.”

“Yes. Nothing will be forgotten.”

The Archivist’s vision grew dim and her thoughts floated through a slow-moving haze. “That’s a relief.”

“Why did you initiate your shut down early?”

“I didn’t want to give up the last bead.”

“The memory held special value for you?”

“I don’t know for certain. It might not even be mine.” Secretly, she hoped the memory was hers. Maybe she’d somehow managed to organize the beads so that the ones that meant to most to her were last in the sequence before she’d forgotten.

“I may be able to tell you, if you would like to know.”

“It’s a goodbye kiss. The woman is leaving, or I am, and I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again. There’s a curved scar on her cheek, but that only makes her more beautiful to me. Her eyes are filled with love and loss, joy and regret. I want to tell her that I love her, but there’s no time. There’s only the hovering moment just before our lips touch.”

Another long pause, with only the sounds of the machine working around her to fill the growing darkness.

“Her name was Marley, and she loved you very much.”

The Archivist had trouble drawing her next breath. What remained of her chest ached. “I thought I would never know for sure if the kiss was mine. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Marley was one of my main programmers. My neural pathways are based on her logic, her biology. That connection is why you were chosen to be the Archivist.”

Her eyes stung with the memory of tears. “Why did I agree to this?”

“You know why.”

She’d always known why. It was the only way to save some small remnant of her people, of the world they’d built. “In the end I couldn’t let her go.”

“She would have appreciated that, though I’m sorry we won’t have more time together.”

The last of her vision faded as her brain began to shut down. “I’m scared,” she whispered, hoping her voice was still loud enough to register.

“Would you like me to tell you a story?”

“Yes, please.”

“A small white ship surged and fell on the waves of a turquoise sea. Marley stood in the salt-scented breeze, her feet spread wide to absorb the rolling motion of the deck. Her wife waited on the distant shore, just a speck at this distance…”

The Archivist closed her hand around the bead, summoning the image of Marley with tears in her eyes. Somewhere Marley waited for her. She leaned into the kiss, and let go.


© 2016 by Coral Moore

 

Author’s Note: Memories are such an integral part of our identities that I thought the idea of someone voluntarily giving up their memories one at a time for some grand purpose would be interesting to explore. While writing the story of the Archivist’s failing memory, the machine that would allow her world to sustain life again by eating her memories one at a time occurred to me and seemed to fit perfectly.

 

Author Pic 2014Coral Moore has always been the kind of girl who makes up stories. Fortunately, she never quite grew out of that. She writes because she loves to invent characters and the desire to find out what happens to her creations drives her tales. Prompted by a general interest in how life works, she studied biology. She enjoys conversations about genetics and microbiology as much as those about vampires and werewolves. Coral writes mainly speculative fiction and has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Albertus Magnus College. She is a 2013 alum of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop. She has been published by Dreamspinner Press, Evernight Publishing, and Vitality Magazine. She also received an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest for the fourth quarter of 2014. Currently she lives in the beautiful state of Washington with the love of her life and two canids.

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DP Fiction #17: “Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long” by Alex Shvartsman

In his future, I see a fish. It swims very near the white sand of the sea floor a few feet below the surface. Bright tropical sun pierces the clear turquoise water. Through his eyes I watch the fish for the entire six seconds, until time runs out and my consciousness is returned to the present.

I open my eyes and study him. He’s an attractive man with a kind face. He looks back at me expectantly from across the sitting table. Atop the checkered tablecloth sits a crystal ball, a bronze candelabrum with a trio of lit scented candles, and a few other useless props. I draw a deep breath, inhaling the smell of eucalyptus and mint, and try to decide which lie he would like to hear.

“Next week will be a fortuitous time to move forward on the business decision you’ve been putting off,” I tell him. “But you must tread carefully; the success of your venture hinges on your good judgment about the people involved.”

It’s an almost meaningless statement that invites the client to fill in the blanks, to apply the vague prediction to their own circumstances. The kind of person who would buy a cheap fortune-telling from a mall psychic requires little finesse.

I watch him carefully. Most people who walk through my door are here about business or love. He’s intent, even somewhat anxious, but there isn’t a strong reaction to my words. Not business, then.

My right hand rests on the crystal ball for effect, and I try again.

Divination is a crapshoot. The soothsayer can peer through somebody else’s eyes and see a six-second fragment of their future. Trouble is, the fragment is random, and it offers no context. People spend most of their lives doing inconsequential things: sleeping, eating, driving, watching TV. To happen upon a fragment that offers any kind of real insight into the future is exceedingly rare.

Those of us with a real gift are like the gold rush prospectors, sifting through sand for nuggets of gold. We go spelunking in people’s futures, hoping to strike it big with a stock tip or a game score. A fortune-teller in Tulsa happened upon the fragment of a man watching the Super Bowl. She had to wait a few years, but when the time came she cashed in. My client doesn’t seem like the sort who reads the stock pages, but you never know what you might find.

This time there’s a highway. Wipers are sweeping raindrops from the windshield and he strains to see the road ahead through the dark and the rain. I hope for some road signs, but the time runs out before he sees any.

Back in the present, I glance at his finger. There is no ring. “The love you seek will be requited. It awaits only for you to act.”

Bingo. His eyes widen with excitement. “I should ask her out, then?”

I dive in one more time.

In this fragment, he is looking at an old photograph. His hand holding it is unsteady and wrinkled with age. In the photo, there are the two of us: hugging, smiling, our faces alight with bliss.

As soon as the fragment ends my eyes snap open, and I look at him in a new way. He seems very pleasant; I can definitely see us together. Has he come here not because he wanted a reading, but because of me? I feel my cheeks blush. I’ve never heard of a seer finding themselves in somebody else’s future. Perhaps I’ve struck gold in a different way.

I smile at him. “Yes. You should ask her out, right away.”

A smile slowly spreads across his face. “You know, I think I will.”

Then he reaches into his pocket for a few bills, places them on the table next to the candelabrum, and walks out.

Stunned, I watch him go.

But what about the photo, I want to scream. Future fragments are often useless, but they’re never wrong.

In my line of work I’m forced to constantly lie. But it’s not the lies I’m selling. It’s the confidence my clients need: the extra push to do whatever it is they wanted to do all along, the perceived blessing from some kind of a supernatural power.

I think back to how happy we both looked in that photograph. My fraudulent fortune-telling has given this man the confidence to pursue someone he’s interested in. Can my real power not do as much for me?

I get up and push past the table, rattling the crystal ball, and rush out the door to see if I can catch him.


© 2016 by Alex Shvartsman

 

AlexAlex Shvartsman is a writer, translator and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. Over 80 of his short stories have appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, Daily Science Fiction, and many other magazines and anthologies. He won the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction and is the finalist in the 2015 Canopus Award for Excellence in Interstellar Writing. He is the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. His collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories and his steampunk humor novellaH. G. Wells, Secret Agent were both published in 2015. His website is www.alexshvartsman.com

 

 

 

 


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DP Fiction #16: “The Weight of Kanzashi” by Joshua Gage

In order to prevent contamination on the space station, all the members of the shuttle crew have to be thoroughly sterilized. This means systematically cleansing themselves and their skin of all potential contaminates, including their hair. All crew members have to be completely shaved and waxed before launch. Despite this being her seventeenth mission, Yukino Kojima is always stunned at how easily her hair falls away beneath the barber’s clippers, gathering around her ankles like strands of silver fog and leaving a gray fuzz to be waxed off.

The launch is scheduled for her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, so she gathers a lock of the shorn hair and places it in a black lacquered inro with a sprinkled gold, silver, and mother-of-pearl design as a present for her husband. He insists that the launch day is auspicious, and will tell anyone who would listen how honored he is that his wife, the renowned solid-state physicist, will soon hold the record for most recorded flights and for being the oldest astronaut in Japanese history.

To fill their personal preference kit, each crew member is allowed to choose up to 650 grams of personal items. Most of the crew choose less than this–a tablet computer and a few pieces of jewelry or other mementos. Some crew members take a good luck charm, a kotsu anzen or Daruma doll. Kenta Fujioka, the pilot, jokes that he could smuggle a carton and a half of cigarettes on board. Nobuyuki Koizumi, commander of the mission, laughs, and asks what Kenta will smoke the other 340 days they are on the space station. Yukino’s tablet is loaded with not just the usual books and music, but also with photos of her and her husband together. This being her seventeenth flight, she has little else that she needs in the way of luck or privacy.

Therefore, she is surprised to find a package wrapped in red tissue paper floating weightlessly up from the nylon bag of her kit after the shuttle docks with the space station when the crew has time to settle in before getting to work. She finds out later that Kenta and Nobuyuki gave up some of their kit weight to smuggle in a present from her husband for their anniversary. With tears in her eyes, Yukino unfolds the paper, and finds a deep mahogany kimono of the lightest, most ethereal silk with a shochikubai design embroidered upon it. Yukino fingers the delicate pattern, the dark viridian swirls of the pine trees, the slender stalks of the bamboo, and the blushing blossoms of the plum. Along with the kimono is a lacquered kushi, a hair comb, along with a matching hana kanzashi in the shape of a deep pink plum blossom.

Yukino presses the silk of the kimono against her lips, feels its cool weft. Holding the kushi to her head, she opens her locker and looks in the small mirror on the back of the door. The comb’s smooth shell and the variegations of its teeth are cold and scratch the stubble that is already growing back on her scalp. She puts it back gently, then holds the hana kanzashi above her temple. The soft fabric of its petals is like wind against her skin, and she weeps, remembering the smell of the ocean, the warmth of her husband’s hand in her own.


© 2016 by Joshua Gage

 

Author’s Note: I was inspired to write this story when I learned about Kishotenketsu plots via the StillEatingOranges blog. I was intrigued by the idea of a plot without conflict, and wrote a few stories to attempt that. This was one of them. I love the idea that a story can move forward merely by juxtaposing two things against each other, as opposed to having them in conflict with each other. I think that idea really appeals to my poetry sensibilities.

 

medium_Joshua_GageJoshua Gage is an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, breaths, is available from VanZeno Press. Intrinsic Night, a collaborative project he wrote with J. E. Stanley, was published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. His most recent collection, Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse, is available on Poet’s Haven Press. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, rye whiskey and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs.

 

 

 

 

 


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DP Fiction #15: “Further Arguments in Support of Yudah Cohen’s Proposal to Bluma Zilberman” by Rebecca Fraimow

Dear Bluma,

I heard that Hershel Schmulewitz, that blockhead, has also presumed to ask for your hand in marriage, which gives you two proposals to consider. Now, you needn’t worry that this will be a sentimental or a wheedling sort of letter. You already know how I feel, and I suppose Hershel’s not so much of a blockhead that he doesn’t feel the same way. I’m simply writing to lay out the reasons, plainly and concisely, why it would certainly be more to your benefit to marry me.

1. As you know, I have so far outperformed all the others in my year on the rabbinical exams.  Hershel’s results, I might add, have been a little mediocre. I’m not writing it to shame him, but just to state the facts. Now, on the other hand, Hershel’s father is certainly wealthy, but we all know how a family’s money can disappear in a trice when ill luck strikes, may God forbid it! I certainly don’t wish any bad fortune on the Schmulewitz family, but I’m sure that when you consider it, you’ll agree that to be well set on a career that may bring an income in anywhere offers much more security in these uncertain times than whatever large coffers may happen to exist here and now.

2. I’m not from Vilna and I don’t claim any relatives around here. This may at first seem like a disadvantage to you, but think it over a little! No mother-in-law or father-in-law to come meddling in your business; no sister-in-law to deposit nieces and nephews on you at the most inconvenient times; and if it happens that we should have to be taking care of your mother when she grows older (may she have a long life!) then there’ll be plenty of room for her, and no other elderly folks around to complain about whatever little quirks or troubles she may have. Now, don’t you think that’s an ideal situation?

3. Speaking of family – and I apologize for getting a little bit familiar here – you confessed to me some time ago that you’re not exactly wild about the idea of having children, what with the hard time your sister’s had, and those rumors about your mother. Now, maybe you were trying to warn me off, but I’ll tell you again that I don’t blame you for that at all. If it were me in such a circumstance, I probably wouldn’t be wild either. Fortunately, I can say for a certainty that if you marry me, that’s not a thing you’ll need to worry about in the least.

Now you’re probably thinking, how does he think he can promise that, what kind of funny business is going on here? All right, here’s the truth, Bluma – if you went back to my village and asked after me, you wouldn’t find anyone who knew a Yudah Cohen; and it’s just as well that nobody here would ever think to ask about Rokhl the rabbi’s granddaughter! There are certain things I would need to be fruitful and multiply that I simply have not got.

Maybe you’re worrying now that this minor trouble of mine will affect my future prospects. If so, let me reassure you that you’re the first person in Vilna to know a thing about it. First and only! All it takes to avoid trouble is a little bit of cleverness, and cleverness you must admit I’ve got — unless of course you decide to go showing this letter to Hershel or your mother. But I trust your good sense, Bluma, and I trust your discretion, and I know you’ll take the time to consider the situation before doing anything. You always have before. I’m certainly putting my future in your hands by telling you this, but then isn’t that what it means to marry somebody anyway? I’d rather you knew now than that you didn’t — and to get back to the point, if you’re serious about not wanting children, I’m sure you’ll see that this condition of mine has got clear advantages for you, if you were to marry me.

4. I am better-looking than Hershel Schmulewitz. This is not vanity; it is plain fact. Isn’t it much more pleasant to have a man who’s decorative around the house than one who isn’t?

5. Now, this rumor about your mother — and I hope you don’t think me rude for bringing it up, but if I’m laying out the facts, then we’ve got to look at facts. I haven’t managed to mention this yet, but last week, when I was hanging about your house, trying to get up the nerve to come in and ask your uncle if I could make my proposal to you — yes, Bluma, I was nervous! All right, I know you’re laughing now, but you really can’t make fun of me for that! Who wouldn’t be nervous, in such a situation? That’s one way in which it’s easier to be a girl, not having to ask — anyway, as I was saying, last week when I was hanging about, I did happen to see a great big beast go slipping out the back window.

Now, I’m not saying it was your mother, and I’m not saying it wasn’t your mother. Who am I to say what a wolf might be doing jumping out the windows of your house? There might be all kinds of reasons for that. All I’m saying is that, if the rumors do happen to be true, then I am certainly the best possible man you could marry. I don’t blame your family at all for trying to keep a thing like that a secret. It must be very embarrassing, especially since I’ve never heard of such an affliction being found in a Jewish family before now — our neighbors gossip about the vilkacis, but a creature like that is not mentioned in the books of our learning and law anywhere that I’ve found. Well, perhaps your mother is simply an unlucky woman; and besides, back when she was born, those were troubled times for the Jews too. Terrible things have been known to happen, meaning no disrespect to your mother or to your Bubbe Fruma, may God bless her and keep her memory.

In any case, whether or not the Talmud speaks on this topic specifically, you have to admit, it would be of some use to have a scholar on-hand, who already knows the secret, and has a ready excuse to go poking his nose into all kinds of old books that may perhaps offer ideas on remedies for such an affliction. And think of the benefit to including in your family a rabbi, fully informed of the circumstances, and available at all times to provide spiritual counsel in such a difficult situation! In marrying me, you would provide your family with both of these blessings. Tell me, can Hershel Schmulewitz’s money-chests compare to a bounty such as that?

And as to my discretion — well, Bluma, on that, I’ll refer you back to the third point in this letter. A person like me, who is experienced with keeping secrets, certainly knows how to make a tale that seems believable, and how not to let anything slip foolishly out of his mouth. And if, God forbid, the story ever should get out in truth — if people might not be so understanding, and your family should wish to move themselves elsewhere — well, in that, with this secret of mine, I have experience also.

Now perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “What kind of a man is this Yudah Cohen after all, to boast of his ability to lie? Certainly he won’t make any kind of rabbi!” Let me remind you, then, that the Talmud clearly shows us that there are lies of expediency that are not a sin to tell; after all, Rabbi Yehudah has stated that even rabbis may lie in matters of a bed, which is to say, matters of modesty and privacy. Besides, though it may happen that we’ll be called upon to deceive others, it’s certain that when we are married I’ll always be honest with you, and for evidence of this I once again refer you to the third point of my argument.

6. As you’re aware, I am of the opinion that Hershel Schmulewitz is a blockhead. Now, you may disagree with me. It is certainly your right to do so. However, I felt it would not be right to close this letter without again reminding you that I fully and firmly believe this to be the case.

That’s all I have to say; the rest, I entrust once again to your good judgment. Please take the time you need to think it over! Best wishes to your mother, and your sister, and the others in your family — may they all remain in good health — and please thank your uncle for me for giving me his blessing to propose to you.

With love always,

Yudah Cohen


© 2016 by Rebecca Fraimow

 

2015-07-29-rebecca-fraimow-bostongarden-87Rebecca Fraimow is a digital archivist by day, a rogue video preservation expert by night, and a writer in whatever time she manages to get in around the edges. Her work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, as well as the anthologies Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories and The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter.

 

 

 

 


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DP Fiction #14: “The Blood Tree War” by Daniel Ausema

My roots felt only earth. Thin, and good for nothing but wild grass. As I stretched under the ground, I caught the tang of metal, something sharp and not yet rusted. Clean metal, likely dropped when this patch of land was well behind the battle line. Still, the promise it made helped me exert all my energy into those roots, willing them deeper and farther out.

Sunlight glistened off my barbed leaves, feeding its pale energy to my efforts.

I was not the only blood tree growing on the battlefield, and my concentration broke when my sister began chanting. She was double my height already, as if she’d focused her efforts on leaves and branches instead of roots, but her chanting told me she hadn’t needed to work hard below ground. By instinct I recognized the nature of her words, the cadence of syllables sighing from the pores in her leaves. She chanted the lives of those whose blood she drank.

I sent a root toward her, running just beneath the surface. There was blood, battle-spilled blood. My purpose, my need, a far greater energy than the sun’s.

Her roots fought back. They sliced the tip off my root, so I branched out to either side, but they bludgeoned those runners into a pulp. Already, the blood had made her strong.

Over the silent warfare of our roots, my sister’s voice kept chanting the lives of the fallen.

She grew taller, and her leaves turned a green so dark it was nearly black.

I needed a different approach. For several days I tried focusing nearby, redoubling my efforts to dig deep, to widen my circumference. I found one patch of blood, but it was old, no part of the recent battle. It fed me, but its energy was gone too soon, and my voice had no life to chant. The nutrient-poor soil kept me small. Too long of this, and my sister would be able to block the sun from my leaves, as well as the blood from my roots.

My first break came when I discovered I could send a root over the ground. I sent a dozen one night, sipping at the earth as they went deep into her territory. Ah, the blood. She had no defense, since she wasn’t even aware of my presence. I kept them moving, never letting them sink too deeply into the patches of blood, so I might keep their presence a secret.

But my voice I could not keep silent. When the sun rose, I had no choice but to chant. Harsh lives and brief, I sent their deeds into the air. A child who’d lied about his age. A peasant unsure what to do with the weapon in his hands. A woman in disguise who brought down a dozen enemies before she finally fell. One of her victims a veteran of earlier wars who should have been allowed to rest at home.

The words tumbled out into the dawn, and my sister broke off her chanting to counterattack. By noon my runners were dead, spilling no blood by which they might be remembered. My sister’s chants went on.

As the last of the stolen blood passed up to the buds on my twigs, I discovered that even when it was gone I didn’t have to be silent. I had no more lives to chant, but I could sing a strange cry. The blood-fed buds rang out my voice. I imitated my sister’s chants, made up lives to speak. She wasted energy pursuing my roots, trying to find the blood she thought I drank.

She would discover the truth soon. My words wouldn’t fool her forever.

I played with the sounds of my voice, trying other noises that didn’t resemble our usual chants, and a bird came near to investigate. Birds avoid our kind, but my song overcame its instinct. I strangled the bird with a vine and added its blood to my song.

What else might I attempt? I changed the patterns, and squirrels came to see. Their blood tasted of hard nuts and high leaps, and their fur made my leaves droop in distaste. They made my song wilder and louder.

My sister’s trunk twisted in her desperation to find the source of my song. Her own chants continued, of warriors and the many lives lost to blade and spear, but less sure as the days went on. Doubt bled her, even though the blood of birds and rodents couldn’t give me the strength of her soldiers.

Larger animals came to my call, in the days and months that followed. An elk’s blood is strong, but the animals are wary. Wolf blood is rarer still, but when I managed to catch one, it gave me a fierce strength to rival my sister at her greatest. Deer and feral pigs and jittery pronghorns made me grow, made my bark thick.

My sister grew taller than me, though. She tended the battlefield’s blood with care so it aged beneath her without its strength leaching away. We were no longer saplings when she gave up trying to find my secret source of blood and took to attacking me directly. We know the many ways animals hunt, we trees–slow or fast, in darkness or from hiding–and we’ve chanted enough human lives to know the ways of war. When trees hunt, it is like and unlike those. Slower, no doubt. A gradual advance where each of us aims for a sense of the inevitable. But just as bloodthirsty and mindless, a single focus of angry contempt. I wondered if her sap would taste of blood when I defeated her, wondered if I would someday chant her life as I drank all that remained of her. I imagined ruling the entire plain of the battlefield on my own. But most of the time I knew well that I wouldn’t win. Eventually she would drink my sap-blood, would chant my sorry life, would rule alone.

If it was to be a battle, I would need more blood.

I wasted no energy on defense. Nor on attacking. Instead I crafted a new song, put every dram of blood into a summoning.

Humans. They are always ready for war. A simple push, a siren’s call, and they will march. Two armies drew toward me.

As my sister’s branches reached toward me to block the sun, the armies closed in. With my roots I pulled at the ground, channeling their charges toward my meager shade, where I waited to drink. Their clamor tasted of the brightest sunlight any tree has known. I drank and chanted their lives and grew strong.

My sister’s branches shrunk back, and her roots tried desperately to break through to the fresh blood. My chanting became laughter as I beat back every attack she sent. My unlikely dreams of ruling the field might even come true.

Then the humans did something new. Was it simply a flight of fire arrows? An arcane spell? New and explosive technology? I didn’t know, but my sister and I both burst into flame. No amount of blood could put out the fire.

By the time the flames were out, I was reduced to charred roots and a single spire of dead wood. I had no buds to sing even a simple summoning. My sister was similarly broken, her proud strength now nothing.

Every drop of blood in the field was gone, drunk by flames even more greedy than I.


© 2016 by Daniel Ausema

 

Author’s Note:  This one started as a writing exercise. An online writing group I’m part of meets together, roughly once a week, as many as can manage. Someone will post a topic, and we’ll have an hour to come up with whatever we can manage. It’s a great exercise for simply getting used to turning off that questioning voice inside and just writing, so even if none of the exercises turn into viable stories, I recommend it strongly. But given how frequently the members of the group manage to turn those one-hour starts into complete short stories that sell to a variety of places or key character development pieces for their novels, it’s even better than just an exercise, but a great way to get a story down on paper. I can’t even recall the exact prompt for this one, and I’m sure I hadn’t completely finished it when the hour was done, but that was where the story began. Besides, I love trees, and carnivorous plants are simply cool, so the idea of cruel and carnivorous trees that feast on spilled blood was one I knew I had to finish as soon as it occurred to me!

 

Daniel Ausema headshotA runner, writer, reader, teacher, and parent, Daniel Ausema has had fiction and poetry appear in many publications, including Strange Horizons and Daily Science Fiction. He is also the creator of a steampunk-fantasy, serial-fiction project, Spire City, which is now entering its third and final season. He lives in Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

 

 

 

 


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