DP FICTION #61A: “The Eat Me Drink Me Challenge” by Chris Kuriata

The first YouTube video received over seven million hits before being taken down.

A shaky camera held by a giggling friend captured a teenage boy standing in a well-tended backyard. Dressed in cargo shorts, he stared solemnly down the lens before announcing, “I’m Shyam Rangaratnam, and this is the Eat Me Drink Me Challenge.”

After taking a deep breath and a dramatic pause—as all on-line daredevils do before embarking on their potentially painful stunt—Shyam broke the seal on the familiar purple vial, and emptied the liquid onto his tongue.

An audible poof sounded as the teenager twisted and writhed, shrinking away like an ice cube under running water. The camera zoomed into the grass, swishing back and forth before discovering miniature Shyam—no bigger than a salt shaker—cavorting through the leafy green jungle he’d thrown himself into.

“Aw shit, dude,” the friend behind the camera guffawed as he stomped his sandaled foot into the grass. “Look out! I’m going to crush you!” In his over-exuberant Godzilla impression, the camera man came frighteningly close to stomping Shyam for real. Every adult watching the video cringed, astounded by how close these kids came to filming a gruesome tragedy.

Escaping his friend’s joking foot, Shyam scrambled through the blades of grass—each one capable of slicing him as deep as a piece of sheet metal—and climbed into the dollhouse positioned in the middle of the lawn. Toy collectors identified the dollhouse as a vintage My Little Pony Lullaby Nursery (which in the box sells on Ebay for upwards of two hundred dollars) that likely belonged to Shyam’s mother back in the 80’s.

The dollhouse rumbled, shaking like a rocket ship preparing for blast off. First, the plastic roof popped into the air, making way for Shyam’s head just before as his arms burst through the side walls and his feet came out the bottom.

Woozy, Shyam stood up and stumbled back and forth with the body of the dollhouse still wrapped around his chest. The hard plastic dug into his neck, cutting off his air supply.

“I can’t breathe” Shyam croaked, clawing at the Hasbro plastic. “Dude, I’m serious.” He fell to the ground and rolled like a burning man performing STOP DROP AND ROLL. The camera went shaky as his friend rushed to help, shutting off—just as all great internet videos do—a moment too soon.

*

The first to make the long, arduous trip up the rabbit hole was the Mad Hatter. Going up is always more difficult than going down. Given the chance to do the journey over, the Hatter would have gone sideways.

Despite arriving with best intentions, eager to leave behind the wild past that resulted in the multiple death sentences necessitating his emigration, the Hatter joined a bad crowd. Millinery shops always attract dangerous outliers, and soon the Hatter found himself at the centre of an underground anarchist movement: The Gonzo Flamingos.

When FBI officials infiltrated the group in the 1980’s, the Hatter made a deal with the US government. In exchange for a reduced prison sentence for the Flamingos’ acts of vandalism and destruction, he gave the military a sample of Eat Me Drink Me, which he’d smuggled out of Wonderland sewn into the band of his hat as an insurance policy for emergencies such as this.

The Hatter understood the value Eat Me Drink Me held in this new land.

During Reagan’s conflict with the USSR, no military scheme was deemed too wacky; be it training Olympic gymnasts in the art of karate, or building satellites to zap nuclear weapons in outer space like a game of Missile Command. The Hatter’s Eat Me Drink Me was analyzed, synthesized, and reproduced in high volume. Thousands of soldiers were shrunk down to allow the easy dissemination of armies into enemy territory, where they’d return to normal size and overpower. Genius strategy.

Only problem was the Russians soon had Eat Me Drink Me of their own. The red-loving Queen of Hearts, angered over the Hatter’s escape from her majestic death sentences, hoped to jeopardize his deal by sending an envoy of knaves up the rabbit hole bearing Eat Me Drink Me for the Soviets.

With both sides possessing the same strength weapons, the threat of mutually assured destruction created peace.

In the late 90’s, the horrifying truth was revealed that great numbers of soldiers shrunken down in preparation for a full scale operation were never restored to full size due to a lag in the production of Eat Me. A documentary film chronicled a group of such soldiers who’d been living in a shrunken community in Afghanistan, made of US and Russian soldiers alike, both having quit any allegiance to the countries that had forsaken them. The documentary concluded with a heartbreaking sequence where the filmmaker offered a dose of Eat Me he’d acquired from a mysterious source, but after taking a vote the shrunken former soldiers decided they couldn’t return to full size after years of living small, and chose to remain in the community they’d formed beneath the rocks and the sand.

In 2002, the US government offered an apology to the families of missing shrunken soldiers, now estimated to be over a thousand. Instead of reparations, a monument was unveiled in the shadow of the Vietnam memorial wall, standing seven inches high and requiring a magnifying glass to read the names of each soldier etched into the alabaster column. The controversial monument had been designed by a Hawaiian artist well known for his ability to write the Lord’s Prayer on a grain of rice.

*

To no one’s surprise, the Mad Hatter was turned down at every parole hearing and served each year of his sentence until 2007 when there was no choice but to release him. Those closest described him as bitter over his treatment by the prison system, and his resentment only grew when he was included in a class action lawsuit brought forth by the families of the shrunken soldiers.

Maybe he needed the money, or maybe he was out for revenge, but after meeting with the heads of several underground businesses, he sold the recipe for Eat Me Drink Me and the horrible, wonderful stuff flooded the market, available for the first time to the average person.

*

Nostalgia propelled the popularity of Eat Me Drink Me as a recreational drug. Children of the 80’s who suffered nightmares of miniature soldiers crawling out of their toilet drains or climbing into their throats at night to choke them now leapt at the chance to reclaim the childhood anxieties their parent’s shitty generation had saddled them with. Approaching the end of their thirties, they flocked to Eat Me Drink Me as a cozy reminder of their youth, like the golden age of Madonna, audio cassette tapes, WrestleMania, or anything else their pre-teen children didn’t know or care about.

Obviously, the stuff wasn’t sold at Costco—you had to know a guy who knew a guy, but there were tons of those guys around. Eighty bucks bought a nice dose of Eat Me Drink Me. The drug could be purchased in full confidence. This was no sandwich baggie of broken up herbs, or a frightening clump of there-could-be-anything-in-there powder wrapped in a dirty wad of paper. Eat Me Drink Me came in a professional purple vial of liquid and a coin-sized tin of fresh cake. The producers clearly valued quality.

Positively, no one became an addict. No one blew through their kid’s college fund to fuel all-night EMDM binges. The drug was used sparingly, like a weekend trip to the cabin. Most Eat Me Drink Me was consumed on birthdays and anniversaries—special occasions when the kids were sent to a sleep over, or Mom and Dad booked themselves into a hotel room.

Yes, Eat Me Drink Me was primarily used as a sexual aid.

There’s no need to be graphic; becoming small and restoring yourself has all sorts of applications in the bedroom. I bet you’re thinking of half a dozen right now. Experimentation came naturally.

Therapists who specialized in intimacy counselling saw their business plummet. The divorce rates for people married between 1995 and 1999 lulled.

*

The same scene played out in households across North America.

Kids looking for a confiscated phone or video game memory card would sneak into their parent’s bedroom and snoop through the nightstand. Brushing aside socks and underwear, their fingers would knock into something hard at the bottom of the drawer. Horrified, the kids would find themselves holding the recognizable set of purple vial and miniature cake tin.

“Gross out! I can’t believe they’re doing that in the house. Now I can’t get the visuals out of my head.”

*

The two minute and seven second video posted by Shyam Rangaratnum reshaped his generation’s entire perception of Eat Me Drink Me. Within twenty-four hours of uploading his challenge video, tens of thousands of kid’s were searching their parent’s bedroom, rescuing Eat Me Drink Me from the realm of disgusting, old person sex and making it a part of modern day, youthful fun.

The formula of the video was easy to replicate; get small, climb into a toy dollhouse, get large, and smash the toy to bits. Sure-fire hilarity.

Every kid brought their own twist to the Eat Me Drink Me Challenge, making their version better than the one that had inspired them.

One video showed a young man climb into a Barbie dollhouse his friends threw off a bridge, capturing him exploding out in a burst of pink plastic shards before splashing unharmed into the water. Another showed two young women playing Han Solo and Chewbacca sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon before blasting the good ship to smithereens like it smashed into an asteroid. One fool hardy young man straddled a lit cherry bomb, growing back to normal size milliseconds before detonation. The explosion burned a hole in the crotch of his pants and left him rolling across the asphalt parking lot from the nut punch, but if he had mistimed eating the cake by as much as a heartbeat, he would have been torn apart into dangling little pieces.

*

Every school held special assemblies, bringing in speakers to warn teenagers about the dangers of playing around with EMDM.

“You may think this is all fun and games, but no one knows the long term effects of chemically induced concision coupled with accelerated restoration. Just say no.”

Kids jeered and laughed. They’d heard about the “Just Say No” campaign from their parents when Nancy Reagan peddled the same corny platitude. Either someone they knew, or they themselves had taken the Eat Me Drink Me Challenge with no ill effects. All this handwringing and unfounded scare-mongering was ridiculous, and would be laughed at in twenty year’s time, like Reefer Madness or Duck and Cover.

*

The Mad Hatter’s legal troubles were never ending. An artisan tea maker claimed he came up with the recipe for Eat Me Drink Me and sued for patent infringement. During depositions, it came to light the Mad Hatter had used Eat Me Drink Me on multiple occasions without his paramour’s consent. As many as thirty victims came forward. His passport was revoked. Already suffering financial hardship, and facing eviction from his garden on Mount Pleasant, the Mad Hatter ended his tea party by hanging his belt over top of a door. In the end, all he had left was seven hundred dollars in mint condition coins.

*

Most internet fads disappear into the sands of time, like the ALS ice bucket and the Harlem Shake, but the Eat Me Drink Me Challenge lingers, tormenting those who took part and forever chilling those who didn’t with the reminder, There but for the grace of God go I.

For once, the adult’s warning had merit. There turned out to be long term detriments to using Eat Me Drink Me. These effects went unnoticed amongst the parents of these teenagers, as they had already shut down their reproductive factories.

But their children had yet to perform all their life experiences, and so they bore the brunt of Eat Me Drink Me’s disastrous after-effects.

Post-mortems showed that Eat Me left the system within seventy-two hours. Drink Me, on the other hand, lingered in the body like radioactive material. Before cremation, all corpses need to be tested for traces of Drink Me. Just as a pacemaker in a crematorium will cause an explosion, burning a body with Drink Me will poison the air for a two mile radius.

Drink Me attacks the reproductive system of both males and females. A male who has ingested Drink Me carries remnants in his sperm. A female carries remnants in the lining of her uterus. Not the eggs, because the eggs are already formed at birth.

The babies came out small. No more than the size of a tooth.

A shrunken baby happened when just one of the parents had been exposed to Eat Me Drink Me. If both of them had ingested the foul stuff then the baby came out like… well, it’s probably better not to know. Normally, people say your imagination will always be worse than the truth, but in this instance, there’s no way you can imagine something worse than the truth. Trust me.

Although the shrunken babies were carried to full term, the hospital treated them like preemies. The miniature infants received intensive care. Staff volunteered overtime. An unspoken agreement had been made, that modern medicine would overcome the insidious effects of Eat Me Drink Me, and the children would not be made to suffer for the ill-advised decisions made by their parents or their grandparents. One day, there would be cause for celebration. Rather than perish, the shrunken babies would prevail.

*

Shyam Rangaratum, the young man whose boredom and natural sense of showmanship set this whole ordeal into motion, of course sired a shrunken child. Like everyone else, he held out hope his son would outgrow his disability, that by his first or second birthday he would catch up to normal size. That didn’t happen. The medical community’s attempt to introduce Eat Me into a baby’s system did not take. Shyam knew his son would never grow bigger than his middle finger.

Other than that, his child was completely healthy. He learned to walk and talk just as well as the children of Shyam’s friends. Shyam’s son often smiled. He was capable of experiencing happiness.

After great discussion and soul searching, Shyam and his wife Uma decided to conceive a second child. They agreed it was the right thing to do, even knowing full well the baby would be born shrunk.

“We could get a donor,” Shyam said. “You’re fine. You could have a normal baby without me.”

In bed, Uma pulled Shyam close. Times were still early, and she had faith the shrunken babies would forge a new normal. It seemed cruel to deny their son a sibling, someone who would share his perspective of the world, someone with whom he could scheme and dream.

Shyam and Uma’s children will never feel the need to move to the desert where bitter old soldiers live hidden under the sand. Instead, they will master the real Eat Me Drink Me challenge, claiming their rightful place in the world, living so well even the giants will envy them.


© 2019 by Chris Kuriata

Chris Kuriata lives in (and often writes about the Niagara Region). His stories about home-invading bears, whale-hunting clowns, and time-traveling kittens have appeared in many fine publications such as Shock TotemOnSpecThe NoSleep Podcast, and on-line at The Saturday Evening Post. Find out more about his work at https://chriskuriata.wordpress.com or on Twitter @CKuriata


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The Diabolical Plots Year Five Fiction Lineup

written by David Steffen

Diabolical Plots was open for submissions once again for the month of July, to solicit stories to buy for the fourth year of fiction publication.  1288 submissions came in from 915 different writers, of which 26 stories were accepted.  Now that all of the contracts are in hand I am very pleased to share with you the lineup.

There is a lot of strangeness in this lineup, varying wildly in tone from humor to drama.  I hope you’ll like them as much as I do.

All of these stories will be published for the first time around March 2019 in an ebook anthology Diabolical Plots Year Five, and then will be published regularly on the Diabolical Plots site between April 2019 and March 2020, with each month being sent out to newsletter subscribers the month before.

This is the lineup order for the website.

April 2019
“Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey
“One Part Per Billion” by Samantha Mills

May 2019
“What the Sea Reaps, We Must Provide” by Eleanor R. Wood
“Dogwood Stories” by Nicole Givens Kurtz

June 2019
“The Ceiling of the World” by Nicole Crucial
“Bootleg Jesus” by Tonya Liburd

July 2019
“Little Empire of Lakelore” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
“Lies of the Desert Fathers” by Stewart Moore

August 2019
“The Inspiration Machine” by K.S. Dearsley
“Colonized Bodies, Dessicated Souls” by Nin Harris

September 2019
“Empathy Bee” by Forrest Brazeal
“Dear Parents, Your Child is Not the Chosen One” by P.G. Galalis
“Fresh Dates” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

October 2019
“Tracing an Original Thought” by Holly Heisey
“Save the God Damn Pandas” by Anaea Lay

November 2019
“Consider the Monsters” by Beth Cato
“The Train to Wednesday” by Steven Fischer

December 2019
“Consequences of a Statistical Approach Towards a Utilitarian Utopia: A Selection of Potential Outcomes” by Matt Dovey
“The Problem From Jamaica Plain” by Marie L. Vibbert

January 2020
“This is What the Boogeyman Looks Like” by T.J. Berg
“Beldame” by Nickolas Furr
“Gorilla in the Streets” by Mari Ness

February 2020
“Invasion of the Water Towers” by R.D. Landau
“The Cliff of Hands” by Joanne Rixon

March 2020
“The Eat Me Drink Me Challenge” by Chris Kuriata
“The Old Ones, Great and Small” by Rajiv Mote

The Best of Pseudopod 2017

written by David Steffen

Pseudopod is the weekly horror podcast edited by Shawn Garrett and Alex Hofelich. 2016 marked some major moments in the podcast’s history.  2017 marked a major landmark for them when they were added to the SFWA list of professional short fiction publications, after raising their flash fiction pay rates to be in line with their pay rates for longer fiction, which means that all four of the Escape Artists podcasts are on the list–Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders.

After running a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016 for their 10th anniversary to fun an anthology, that anthology went live in 2017, Of Mortal Things Unsung which included many Pseudopod favorites as well as some brand new original fiction.  (My story “What Makes You Tick” that had previously appeared on Pseudopod was reprinted in the anthology.)

In February Pseudopod once again participated in the Artemis Rising theme across the Escape Artists podcasts, publishing horror stories by women (including some originals picked out from a special slushpile just for this purpose).

Pseudopod publishes episodes weekly, with occasional Flash on the Borderlands episodes that collect 3 similar-themed flash stories for a single episode, for a total of 66 stories published in 2017, by my count.

Stories that are eligible for this year’s Hugo and Nebula Awards are marked with an asterisk (*), all of which would be credited to Pseudopod as the original publisher.

The List

1.  “Under the Rubble” by John Wiswell*
This story as told by survivors in a collapsed grocery store, which collapsed for reasons unknown.

2. “The Hole at the Top of the World” by Benjamin Blattberg*
What is at the top of Mount Everest?  What will happen when the summit is reached?

3. “Granite Requires” by T.J. Berry*
Each kind of stone requires its own sacrifices, some much more extreme than others, to everyone who lives in this small town.  Granite is among the most demanding.

4. “The Corpse Child” by Chris Kuriata*
It is believed that there is a cure of a sick child that involves placing the corpse of a child underneath their bed for the night.  Does it really work?

5. “Passover” by Caspian Gray*
In a concentration camp, a worker finds a body that won’t burn.

6. “An Unsent Letter From an Unnamed Student” by Aaron Fox-Lerner*
Who decided who is the monster?  What if both sides think that they’re haunted?

7. “Indiscretions” by Hillary Dodge*
All the little details in Mary’s day tell her something is wrong.  But what is it?

 

Honorable Mentions

“Four Hours of a Revolution” by Premee Mohamed*

“A Howling Dog” by Nick Mamatas*

“When First He Laid Eyes” by Rachael K. Jones

 

 

 

DP Fiction #27B: “The Aunties Return the Ocean” by Chris Kuriata

Editor’s note: Content warning for harm to children

Auntie Roberta landed badly on the roof of her escarpment house, scraping her knees across the flagstone shingles and splitting her pantyhose. Her arms were too full of black water to keep her balance so she nearly slid off the edge.

She carried so much ocean she barely knew where to hide it all. Inside her stony home, she filled the kitchen drawers and cupboards with cold dark brine. Every pot and tankard as well. She quickly ran out of places, yet her weary arms were still loaded with the stuff. Where would it all fit? Auntie Roberta got on her knees and stuffed the final bits of ocean into the mouse holes. She heard the panicked mice squeak before drowning.

What an exhausting evening she’d endured. At the appointed hour, all the Aunties of the world had banded together like a swarm of locusts, and set upon the heart of the ocean. Their grubby hands tore the water apart, breaking up the reflection of the moon as they scrambled to load every last drop into their arms.  All along the empty ocean floor, fish flopped and ships jammed into rock beds. The neighbours had called the Aunties’ bluff, refusing to give in to their demands. So, just as the Aunties threatened, they stole the ocean.

During the theft, Auntie Roberta kept close watch on the other Aunties, noticing none of her sisters carried away as much ocean as she did. Auntie Roberta always did more than her fair share and never received thanks. The other Aunties thought they were smarter than her, but really they were just lazier.

“Hey!” Auntie Robert shouted. “Get away from there!”

A burr covered cat with collapsed ears sat on the kitchen table, lapping away at a mug filled with ocean. Auntie Roberta flung a wooden spoon and sent the cat retreating through a gnawed hole in the parlour wall.

“Sneaky thief,” she huffed.

***

“It smells damp in here,” the neighbour woman Marilyn said. She didn’t outright accuse Auntie Roberta of helping to steal the ocean, but she certainly sounded suspicious.

Normally, Auntie Roberta threw rocks at nosey neighbours, but the neighbour woman Marilyn came bearing a freshly baked pie and, well, Auntie Roberta didn’t know any spells strong enough to compete with flawlessly executed baking.

“Roof leaks when it rains,” Auntie Roberta said, stuffing pie into her mouth with both hands. “Makes the house damp. Can’t do nothing about it.”

The neighbour woman Marilyn pointed to the ceramic mugs, each filled to the brim with a curious liquid the colour of midnight. “What’s in all these?”

“Coffee what’s gone off.”

The neighbour woman Marilyn put her nose to the rim and breathed in the scent of salt and seaweed, triggering memories of her uncle’s tugboat and the baskets of crabs she helped haul from the deep.

Auntie Roberta licked the last of the crumbs from the bottom of the pie pan and the neighbour woman took her cue to leave. A neighbour had nothing to fear in the house of an Auntie so long as she was eating, but once an Auntie’s belly was full, staying under their roof was like leaving your head in a lion’s mouth–sooner or later the jaw would get tired and CHOMP.

Auntie Roberta washed her sticky lips in a mug of the ocean, breaking up the reflection of the midnight moon that continued to shine from the still water.

***

Word of their victory reached Auntie Roberta in her rain barrel: “The neighbours have agreed to our demands. Therefore, return your section of the ocean back where it belongs.”

Auntie Roberta took stock of the ocean squirreled away all over her house and wondered how on earth she’d manage to carry so much. She couldn’t believe she had done it the first time.

“Looks like I’m making two trips,” she grumbled.

To distract her mind from the inconvenient task, she looked forward to the coming spring. At last, no more sneaking around or disguising her identity. No more inventing schemes to trick the offspring into entering her service. Thanks to the ocean theft, this year the Aunties could snatch up whatever offspring they desired and the neighbours couldn’t lift a finger in protest. It had been agreed.

***

The sight of the returned ocean astonished Auntie Roberta.

“Are we joking?”

The returned ocean sat miles below its original level. The water had gone off, turning grey as stale root-brew. Auntie Roberta saw all sorts of detritus swirling in the stunted ocean; cobwebs, bits of crayon, pocket lint, silky upper-lip hair… You couldn’t even see the reflection of the moon anymore. It was an embarrassment. The Aunties left the ocean looking torn apart as a robbed grave.

The original genius of their plan, having every Auntie take part (for how could the neighbours track down and punish a million Aunties?) turned out to be its greatest weakness, for while a dozen Aunties will be cunning and precise, two dozen will be absent-minded and deceitful. Harvesting the effort of every Auntie in the world? Good Lord. The neighbours ought to be thankful there was any ocean left.

***

The day after, Auntie Roberta lay on her roof, camouflaged beneath a blanket of shingles, her arms loaded with rocks to repel the invading neighbours she was sure were coming once they switched on the morning news and got a look at the mess the Aunties had made of their beloved ocean.

Not a single rock needed to be thrown. The angry neighbours never came. Instead of seeking retribution, the neighbours gathered together as a community and held a day of mourning for their once vital ocean.

No action would be taken against the Aunties. The neighbours would honour their agreement, terrified if they reneged the Aunties would rise up and do something even worse.

That evening, Auntie Roberta smelled fresh bran muffins and opened the door on the neighbour woman Marilyn. Auntie Roberta stuffed muffins into her mouth, famished after spending all day on the roof with nothing to eat but the occasional low flying sparrow.

The neighbour woman Marilyn lifted a mug from the kitchen table. A bit of the ocean remained inside: a mouthful’s worth. The neighbour woman Marilyn swirled the mug, making the ocean race around the ceramic walls like a fat, black worm.

“I’d never looked closely before at how beautiful it was,” she said.

Auntie Roberta kept quiet, unwilling to admit her involvement in the ocean fiasco.

The ocean in the mug retained its midnight colour, and when allowed to pool the reflection of the moon shone brightly, dancing on the wall like candle flame.

“May I keep this?” the neighbour woman Marilyn asked. “So that one day my grandchildren can see what the ocean used to look like?”

Auntie Roberta’s full belly made her agreeable, and she waved her hand generously. “I suppose so, on the condition of future baking.”

She watched the neighbour woman Marilyn carry the mug down the escarpment, clutching it between her hands, not wanting to spill a precious drop of the original ocean. Neighbours made a bad habit of deifying things. Such reverence for objects made them easy to take advantage of.

***

When an Auntie grabbed an offspring, they performed a series of alterations to make the offspring more compatible with their needs. Some were muted. Others had their limbs lengthened or shortened. A few had their eyes cut out in order to heighten their other senses.

Auntie Roberta modified her offspring by burning the hair down to stubble, compacting the feet into cloven hooves, and replacing the teeth with chunks of rock. This kept the neighbours from recognizing their darlings when Auntie Roberta sent them into town to purchase necessities. She didn’t mind the extra work. She re-sculpted the offspring so effectively that even if their mothers did recognize them, their mothers always let them go, correctly believing they were beyond hope.

For days, Auntie Roberta waited in vain for fresh baking. Because of the damage done to the ocean, the temperature soared and there was scarcely air to breathe. Few neighbours could make the trip up the escarpment. There were no more markets and all the stores were closed. The moon did its best to keep the tidal waves in effect, but the new handicapped ocean could no longer provide the neighbours with the luxuries they had taken for granted all these millennia.

Before the receiver in her radio went out, Auntie Roberta heard about the neighbours’ pitiful attempt to rehabilitate the ocean. They emptied the tank of every aquarium and science lab. They hoped these fish would adapt to the new environment. “Nature will find a way” was the motto. Over the next thousand years, the fish might evolve into new species–guppies the size of whales–that would clean the waters and make the ocean once again capable of reflecting the moon. No neighbour alive would live to see that day, but maybe the children of their grandchildrens’ children would know the ocean as their ancestors once had.

Auntie Roberta allowed none of this tumult to affect her. So long as her house remained protected and she had her latest offspring to aid her daily tasks, she could endure anything.

The other Aunties, however, decided the neighbours had suffered long enough, and so they began bartering back the other half of the ocean.

***

Auntie Balut came to visit, trekking up the escarpment on the back of her long-legged offspring. The sunburned beast of burden collapsed after delivering her master. Auntie Roberta found an old can of stewed tomatoes. She cracked the tin and slowly fed the convulsing offspring the life-giving water inside. The last thing Auntie Roberta wanted was for the offspring to croak. With no one to carry her down the escarpment, lazy Auntie Balut would declare herself a houseguest and expect to be waited on hand and foot. The trouble with Aunties was their obnoxious insistence on making themselves at home.

With her shoes off and her bare feet propped on the kitchen table, Auntie Balut showed off the fine jewelry swaddled six layers thick around her neck. “This here had been in the family seven generations. And this here? They actually had to break into the mausoleum to strip it off the body.”

All the Aunties were rolling in wealth, for each held back a parcel of the ocean, stowed away in a kitchen drawer or under the bed like an antique vase they were waiting to appreciate.

“I could ask for all ten of their fingers, and they’d happily slice ‘em off with one hand and then wedge the knife between their teeth to slice ‘em off the other.” Auntie Balut dumped a purse of chopped fingers onto the table to prove she spoke no hyperbole.

In these harsh times, a bucket of the original ocean went a long way, and so the Aunties made out like bandits. The neighbours learned to extract threads of algae and encourage new growth. They pulled tiny fish from the black depths, happy to see new schools spawned the next morning.

Most impressive of all, when the sun set and the neighbours’ pitiful hovels were cast in darkness, their bucket of original ocean reflected the bright full moon just as it had shined the night the ocean was stolen. Whole families from age eight to eighty circled the bucket, hypnotized by the twinkling light and fortified by the fresh air.

When Auntie Balut finished crowing about her recent windfall, she looked around Auntie Roberta’s kitchen and her mood turned dour. Auntie Roberta had no mounds of jewels or ancestral skulls or even piles of snipped-off fingers to attest to profitable negotiations for her share of the ocean.

“Oh sweetie,” Auntie Balut said. “Did it not occur to you to keep a bit of the ocean for yourself? You know, to make a little—” she rubbed her fingers together in the sign of filthy lucre. Auntie Balut threw her head back and cackled till she broke wind, relishing the embarrassed look on Auntie Roberta’s face.

“You put all your ocean back? What, was someone supposed to spell out what we were really up to?”

Auntie Roberta held her chin high, waiting for Auntie Balut to laugh herself out. Instead, the laughter and the insults intensified, turned mean. “Maybe you gave the neighbours ocean freely. Maybe you love them more than your own Aunties.”

When she’d had enough, Auntie Roberta retrieved her knife from beside the whetstone and went outside. On the lawn, Auntie Balut’s offspring slept heavily, full of tomato water and dreaming of its old life. Auntie Roberta swung her knife, ripping the throat open from ear to ear, effectively bringing the offspring’s service to an early retirement.

“Leave all your jewelry on the table,” Auntie Roberta said as she wiped her bloody hands on her apron. “That should lighten you up enough to carry your own fat ass down the escarpment.”

***

Ages had passed since Auntie Roberta last paid someone a visit, so she intended to do this one right. Instead of squeezing herself into a ball to roll down the chimney or gnawing her way through the tasty kitchen floorboard, Auntie Roberta clicked her heels together on the front porch’s WELCOME mat in a perfect parody of one of the neighbours. She even brought a gift.

“Good morning,” Auntie Roberta said, proudly displaying a tray of baking. She hadn’t the right ingredients for her cookies; mostly sand and flour made from crushed mice bones, held together with spit and tomato water. She decorated the tops with broken Christmas lights.

The neighbour woman Marilyn nodded, and ushered Auntie Roberta inside. She had shorn her head bald, and her dry skin wrinkled like an impression of an alligator.

“Is your husband at work?” Auntie Roberta asked.

“No,” the neighbour woman Marilyn said, casting her eyes to the bloodstained hole blasted into the wall over the couch.

“Too lazy, is he?”

The neighbour woman showed no interest in the cookies, so Auntie Roberta snatched a couple and tossed them into her mouth. The glass crunched and made colourful clumps between her teeth.

She cut to the chase. “Have you still got it?”

The neighbour woman Marilyn nodded. “Have you come to take that from me too?”

Auntie Roberta reached for more cookies. “Things freely given cannot be taken back. But there’s nothing to stop us from making a trade.”

“What could you possibly have to trade me?”

The last of the cookies flew into Auntie Roberta’s mouth. “Anything you’d like, so long as you’re not too greedy.”

“Too greedy?”

“Meaning ask for one thing, not a dozen.”

She licked the empty tray and tossed it into the corner. The ceramic shattered, sending white shards flying like punched out teeth.

The neighbour woman Marilyn closed her eyes. Praying? Thinking? After a moment of privacy, she nodded and said, “Come with me.”

Stuffed animals made a pyramid on the too-tiny bed. Auntie Roberta’s back ached to see a bed that small. She would have to saw her legs off to fit, and there would be no room for the occasional late night company. The heads of plastic dolls crunched beneath her feet. This was a gaudy, immature room.

The neighbour woman Marilyn reached beneath the bed, retrieving a lunchbox painted over with frolicking cartoon animals. The frivolous object offended Auntie Roberta’s sensibilities, but the neighbour woman handled it reverentially, as though it were part of a daily religious ritual.

She split the box open and removed the Thermos rattling inside. Before passing the pink canister to Auntie Roberta, she held it to her chest, resting the lid against her cheek. Auntie Roberta thought she looked ridiculous, like a chimpanzee fooled into accepting a surrogate dolly.

“At night, I’d unscrew the lid, and moon light would cover the ceiling. We used to lie on our backs and watch the light ripple. She said it looked like friendly ghosts.” The memory pained her, and she thrust the Thermos towards Auntie Roberta. “It sings to me at night, begging to be let out, but I’m afraid it will evaporate and I’ll be left with nothing.”

“Relax, I’ve handled ocean before.”

At the front door, with the Thermos tucked snugly into her apron, Auntie Roberta lingered, about to suggest the neighbour woman continue to visit her little house on top of the escarpment. She could bring fresh bread, baked on the rocks in her yard. Neighbours often made feeble attempts to befriend Aunties, either out of awe or fear, but such partnerships were forbidden. This was a new world, however, and Auntie Roberta didn’t feel like she needed to play by the rules anymore.

She turned back, about to extend an invitation, but changed her mind. The light in the neighbour woman’s eyes, dim when she first arrived, had now gone out completely. She was a woman without hope, and Auntie Roberta knew she would never see her again.

***

Using steady, freshly licked fingers, Auntie Roberta poured the ocean into a hollow glass amulet the shape of a spider with its legs ripped off. She sealed the amulet tight and hung the chain over her neck. Ice coldness stabbed her breast and she shrieked. Unexpectedly, the ocean remained as cold as it had been the night the Aunties scooped the water up.

“You’re a tenacious bugger,” she saluted the ocean.

The heavy amulet swung from her chest proudly. No Auntie could laugh at her now, like stupid Auntie Balut had done. The ocean around her neck proved she was just as devious and cunning as the lot of them. She couldn’t be mocked—just so long as the embarrassing truth of her giving the ocean away to a neighbour woman (and having to pathetically make a deal for it back) stayed secret.

“I didn’t trade mine away for useless trinkets. I still got my piece of the ocean.”

All that was left now was for Auntie Roberta to fulfill her end of the trade between her and the neighbour woman.

“It’s a goddamn shame,” Auntie Roberta said.

The offspring stirred at the sound of her approaching footsteps. For practical purposes, Auntie Roberta kept the offspring crated beneath the basement steps when she went out. So much easier than worrying what mischief they were getting up to in her absence.

Auntie Roberta paid dearly for the return of her dignity. She knew this offspring was the last she’d ever have in her service. Without the ocean, the land was mute of the sound of copulation. Neighbours were unwilling or unable to create future offspring.

“I promised your mommy a strange mercy.”

Auntie Roberta slid the block of wood from the crate door. Her apron held the same knife used to cut the throat of Auntie Balut’s offspring. Used properly, it would do the job just as the neighbour woman Marilyn had demanded:

“Release my daughter from your service, quickly and painlessly,” she had said.

She must have thought Auntie Roberta would use a spell, giving her daughter a final dream of their happy family on a clean ocean before magically stopping her heart. Charming, that the neighbour woman thought spells came as  easily to the Aunties as snapping their fingers, but no. Auntie Roberta wasn’t going to waste the effort of a spell on the offspring.

“Come to Auntie.”

The offspring remained in the cramped crate. Normally so eager to get out, this time they crouched on their elbows and knees, eyes opened wide. Monkey noises came from their throat, contractions that normally turned into… what, cheers? Laughter?

In the darkness of the basement, the reflection of the moon beamed from Auntie Roberta’s amulet, shimmering over the steps, filling the crate with its cool, blue light.

“Oh, you like that, eh?”

Auntie Roberta lifted the amulet. The reflection of the moon brightened the clay wall. The offspring rolled onto their back, looking up at the light as it rippled and twinkled, dancing across the wall like friendly ghosts. Purring softly, the offspring threaded an arm into the dirt, cuddling the imaginary mommy tucked lovingly beside them.

Auntie Roberta twirled the amulet between her fingers, sending the moonlight gleaming all over the basement. She hated her sisters, the rest of the Aunties. Since the inception of the universe they had a glorious, renewable pool of fresh neighbours that provided them with everything they needed to survive. And they’d fucked it up irreversibly and for what? A fleeting moment of superiority? Untold riches for the cleverest of speculators? Well, that worked out just great, hadn’t it?

“What a goddamn shame.”

With the last of the shimmering ocean lying cold against her breast, Auntie Roberta pulled the knife from her apron and held up her end of the trade, completing the task faster and more mercifully than any spell she might have cast.


© 2017 by Chris Kuriata

 
Chris Kuriata lives in St. Catharines, Ontario. His short fiction about elderly poisoners, whale-hunting clowns, ghastly family photographs, and childhood necromancy have appeared in many fine publications. You can read more about his work at www.chriskuriata.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Announcing the Diabolical Plots Year Three Fiction Lineup!

written by David Steffen

Diabolical Plots was open for its yearly submission window for the month of July. During that time, 803 writers submitted 1070 stories.  This year, the maximum word count was raised from 2000 words to 3500 words, and this year instead of one story per month Diabolical Plots will publish two stories, for a total of 24 stories that will begin running in April 2017 which is when the Year Two stories have all been published.

Thank you to all the writers who submitted.  You made the final choices incredibly difficult, which is a very good problem for an editor to have.  If we had the resources to publish more right now, there would have been plenty of excellent stories to choose from.

OK, without further ado, here is the list of stories and authors and their publishing order!

April 2017

“O Stone, Be Not So” by José Pablo Iriarte

“The Long Pilgrimage of Sister Judith” by Paul Starkey

May 2017

“The Things You Should Have Been” by Andrea G. Stewart

“The Aunties Return the Ocean” by Chris Kuriata

June 2017

“The Existentialist Men” by Gwendolyn Clare

“Regarding the Robot Raccons Attached to the Hull of My Ship” by Rachael K Jones and Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

July 2017

“Monster of the Soup Cans” by Elizabeth Barron

“The Shadow Over His Mouth” by Aidan Doyle

August 2017

“For Now, Sideways” by A. Merc Rustad

“Typical Heroes” by Theo Kogod

September 2017

“Strung” by Xinyi Wang

“The Entropy of a Small Town” by Thomas K. Carpenter

October 2017

“Lightning Dance” by Tamlyn Dreaver

“Three Days of Unnamed Silence” by Daniel Ausema

November 2017

“When One Door Shuts” by Aimee Ogden

“Shoots and Ladders” by Charles Payseur

December 2017

“Hakim Vs. the Sweater Curse” by Rachael K. Jones

“The Leviathans Have Fled the Sea” by Jon Lasser

January 2018

“Six Hundred Universes of Jenny Zars” by Wendy Nikel

“Brooklyn Fantasia” by Marcy Arlin

February 2018

“9 Things Mainstream Media Got Wrong About the Ansaj Incident” by Willem Myra

“Artful Intelligence” by G.H. Finn

March 2018

“What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves” by Jo Miles

“Soft Clay” by Seth Chambers

 

ETA: Note that this list originally include “Smells Like Teen Demon” by Sunil Patel, which was removed from the lineup.  This list has been edited because it is the easiest way to reference which stories are in which year, and I didn’t want this to be a source of confusion.