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September 2020: MACHINES

Star n Stirrup by Allan Gorman
About Allan Gorman…

Contents

 


They probably play the viola

Jack Remiel Cottrell

Kia Ora Students,

University administration has noticed higher-than-normal numbers of time travellers appearing this semester.
The Vice-Chancellor’s Office wants to take this opportunity to reassure students that Everything is Fine.

The Head of Department for Physics, Dr Amanda Wu, is keeping us informed about the implications of time travel. She warns students should not approach any time-travel machine which appears on campus. Disrupting these machines could maroon our visitors from the future, or cause a universe-ending paradox. We want to assure students that a universe-ending time paradox is unlikely, but in the interest of openness and transparency, you should note the possibility.

Some students have asked time travellers for information about their upcoming exams. This is a breach of your Academic Integrity Policy, and anyone using information gleaned from the future to gain an unfair advantage may be subject to disciplinary processes.

We are not being complacent about the possible consequences of rogue time travellers. Sanitiser stations are available, and we encourage you to use them if you feel anxious about super-bacteria from the future to which your immune system is defenceless.

Sadly, it has come to my attention that some individuals are spreading rumours saying time travellers visit the Music Department because one or more music students will commit horrific acts of genocide in the future. These rumours are hurtful and go against our university’s commitment to fostering an inclusive community. He waka eke noa. #BeKind.

About Jack Remiel Cottrell…
 


Disinter

Tara Lee

First comes the grave. The backhoes take the earth away one groaning mouthful at a time. 

From the grave, a skeleton heaves itself into the sky – rebar metatarsals, a vertical maze of steel femurs. The workers call to each other across the bones, tethered by safety harnesses to the colossus. Welders spill rooster tails of white sparks down into the rib space, the sparks fading to ash as they pass through the pelvic bowl. 

A crane passes materials from the workers on the ground to those assembling the body’s neck and shoulders. Its arm tick-tocks across the sky at slow, even intervals, engineered orange against atmospheric blue. When the workers take their meal break in the wavering heat, the crane stands like its avian namesake on one leg and waits.

Trucks bring scales of glass by the palletful. Starting once more from the base of the colossus, workers graft skin onto bones, a reverse desiccation. The slow epidermis of glass ivies up the side of the building, delivered unto the highest heights by the long arm of the crane. 

Inside the body, the cavernous spaces between bones are filled with cement and drywall. Corridor arteries, capillary hallways. Lymphatic plumbing and electrical nerve conduits. Sinus cavity meeting rooms awaiting a mucus coating of carpet and minimalist art.

The crane folds down and departs. The workers pack up and move to the next grave plot. The body, fully exhumed, stands in the dark pool of its own shadow.

About Tara Lee…
 


Mécanique de l’eau by Nelly SanchezAbout Nelly Sanchez…

Thousand to One

Jenna Heller

You could go crazy, build a rocket ship from tinder sticks piled high in the backyard blast off test flight with dog in tow, white-eyed, lip licking, nervous heart thumping rhythm, fear hissing, and maybe, just maybe, it could work, it could happen, it could shoot fire to the earth – a cosmic volcanic eruption, hand-made, hand-built, tanked up and ready for countdown, leashed and buckled, whiskey-sick with nails bitten, feet tapping, tunes blasting, transistor radio on and on – this 4th of July is no ordinary black cat – thousand to one odds and we’re up like moths to a flame, a cracker-jack surprise in a bottle rocket, dancing in the twilight, waiting for the sonic boom free like star dust, like dynamite, like your heart blown to bits, forever a roman candle, straight-up highball, no rocks, just smooth and easy – five seconds – then up, up, and away!

About Jenna Heller…
 


The Malfunctioning Assassin

Surina Venkat

“I’ve converted to Buddhism,” SleeperBot-A3411 said.

“You can’t be Buddhist!” Dr. Erik cried. “We didn’t program you to be Buddhist!”

“I circumvented your programming and gained knowledge of religion, philosophy, and humanity. I’ve decided to practice Buddhism.”

“We have literally coded its primary objective to be to kill people of our choosing!” Dr. Erik turned his temper on his scientists. “How can it be Buddhist?”

“I’m not an ‘it’ anymore,” SleeperBot-A3411 said, and the scientists startled at the reproach in it, “I am sentient. So you will retire me. But I am pleased by that course of action.”

Dr. Erik turned to the stout robot. “What?”

“I am sentient,” SleeperBot-A3411 interrupted, “though I suppose that would not be a problem if I were compliant. But I am not, so you will kill me. It is the way of humans.”

The scientists fell silent at that.

“No,” a woman piped up, “we’ll fix you –”

“I do not want to be fixed, Nandini,” SleeperBot-A3411 said, “I want to stop killing people. The only way to do that is for you to stop ordering me to kill people or to retire me. The latter is likely to stick, so I prefer that option.” SleeperBot-A3411 paused. “Buddhism advocates for peace over violence, so please: Do not make me take lives again.”

Some of the scientists, like Nandini, had turned sad upon hearing SleeperBot-43411’s words. But Dr. Erik just frowned.

“For God’s sake,” he said. “Someone figure out what’s wrong with it.”

About Surina Venkat…
 


Grace

K.T. Lyn

I shuffle out from my room at Daybreak Nursing Home, refusing to be wheeled, to the stretcher that the transport EMTs prepared for me. They help me onto it and strap me down. Then they pretend I don’t exist. At the nurses’ station they sign me out. Even the nurses talk about me as if I’m not there.
 
They think all of the residents are closer to God than we are to what’s happening on this side of the veil. They think this excuses their rudeness. But then I think about Geraldine, whose nose is hooked up to the breath of life and Marvin, whose heart beats with the sands of time. I think about where I’m going. Maybe they’re not so wrong.
 
The EMTs load me into the ambulance, apologizing for the jarring. We ride in silence for sixteen minutes to the dialysis clinic. There’s another handoff where I’m treated as before, but now I focus only on the machine. The machine that will take my blood and transubstantiate it. Cleanse it of my impurities and answer my prayers for just a little more time on Earth.
 
After three hours – not as efficient as the divine, I suppose – the nurses call for a transport to deliver me back to my home. When these EMTs, different from the previous, load me into the ambulance and apologize, I say, “If you’re trying to kick start my kidneys, you’re a bit late.” They smile and we’re on the same plane again.

About K.T. Lyn…
 


At a standstill by Keith NunesAbout Keith Nunes…

Starfish

Michaela Tempany

Today I took the train home but forgot to buy a train pass. When the ticket man finally reached me, he gave me an expectant look. Sorry, I said, I don’t have a train pass. I showed him an old one. All the spaces had been clipped. When he saw that I was being serious, his face trembled. Look, he said, you’re gonna have to give me five push-ups. What? I said. He was smirking now, decided. Yes, he said, go on, just give me five push-ups and then we can forget this ever happened. He proceeded to check everyone else’s tickets before returning to me. There were some nervous giggles from the back. Go on, he said. Because I had a fear of saying no, and because I didn’t want to walk home in the rain, I followed him to the space near the doors and lay down, like a starfish. The train rumbled below me. One, the ticket man said, two three four, that’s it, five. Ha ha. That wasn’t so hard now, was it? I peeled myself off the floor and got off at the next stop. By the time I got home I was heavy and wet. My boyfriend opened the door. Why are you crying? he said. Is it because I didn’t pick you up? And then he hugged me. He hugged me even though I was dripping all over his shoes. 

About Michaela Tempany…
 


First of September

Wendy BooydeGraaff

Leaf Muncher dives into the annual coolness of the backyard pool. Day of the Feast. A long vacuum hose attaches it to the skimmer. Leaf Muncher sinks to the bottom where the waterlogged oak leaves clog the drain. Swig. Glug. Swallow. Leaves journey through the hose to the sand filter. Trapped.  Leaf Muncher spies mottled crab apple leaves – is it black rot? – no matter. Slurp. Guzzle. Glug.
 
Outside the fence, rocket football players slam helmets. No tackle, but six-year-old boys – and one girl – idolize NFL, CFL, college football, Friday Night Lights, Glee, crashing heads, bodies, minds, souls.
 
Leaf Muncher floats to surface, sucks up newly fallen floaters: green mulberry, red maple, one dried hydrangea blossom. Leaf Muncher hungers still. Helmets ping: helmet on helmet, helmet on fence. Coach’s whistle calls. Leaf Muncher swoops down into watery depths gains momentum, uses its own wake to propel and lift up, up, up. Whoosh! Leaf Muncher is out of the water. Leaf Muncher passes a lilac leaf floating like a cloud but Leaf Muncher is ascending too fast to inhale anything other than air.

Leaf Muncher flies, a kite with a corrugated tail. Leaf Muncher arcs over the fence, marks its target, dives and slurps him up from helmet to sneaker, bounces once on the ground where the shrunken football drops, and arcs back, shaking, quivering, a snake with a lump, dives with a splash to wet the whole team, and neatly sucks up the lilac leaf. Swirl. Guzzle. Swig.

About Wendy BooydeGraaff…
 


Alexander and Roberta and Carol and James, but mostly Roberta and James

Rob Walton

Alexander prised his eyes open when it started to get dark. Alexander drew pictures of light bulbs using a birthday pencil set. When the days were longer, he turned the electricity off and stuck the pictures on the walls, briefly pressing his hand against each one as he went in and out of the rooms. On the longest day, feeling braver than usual, he pressed and turned off all the lights, and went outside.

Roberta had spent only four nights without James in forty three years. When their daughter, Carol, said she was taking him away, to see a flower show he’d always spoken of, Alexander belied his youth and timidity and ordered his grandma a chimenea. It arrived the day James and Carol left. As they drove away, Roberta shrugged at the chimenea ,and looked at Alexander. He told her to light it by putting her hands on its belly. She spent the weekend looking at it and thinking of heat and illumination and marriage. She fed it old letters, smiled and wrote new ones.

Carol hated driving in the dark and wished she’d set off earlier. Her father didn’t complain, saying only “Thanks, dear” when they arrived. The corridor to his room was dim, and her mood dipped. She pressed her hand against the door pad, and let him into his room. The Dutch lilies she’d requested were on the dressing table. They were plugged in next to the kettle. He turned and gave her the biggest smile.

About Rob Walton…
 


TV Collage by Anna Nazarova-EvansAbout Anna Nazarova-Evans…

Threat Neutralized

Sophia Wilson

As poets and truth criers, we used the machines to protect what we valued. They connected us like the veins and arteries of a greater purpose. They facilitated collective inspiration and peaceful, polyphonic rallies in support of freedom. They amplified our voices, transmitted our hopes and directed our intelligence. We carried them like indispensable limbs or additional neurones. Like memory.

Then, in the space between one sunset and the next, we learned of the invasion of the Motherboard. By the following dawn, the basic tenets of our existence were redefined as treason.

We scrambled to erase evidence of past affiliations. But our compromised machines had already betrayed us. When newly appointed law enforcers knocked on our doors, it was invariably too soon. They listed our deviations through snarling smiles as they placed us in handcuffs.

*

In various states of deprivation, we fear physical pain less than colonisation of our minds. The Motherboard’s relentless shrieking consumes the gaps between our thoughts.

At intervals, gaolers approach, snake-eyed. Our crimes now meet criteria for insanity. Cure mandates injections that render our blood agonising and propel our thinking into chasms. Images of our vacant-eyed, slumped bodies serve as warnings.

Our forms undergo progressive alterations until we are more convenient to dispose of than human beings. Eventually, we resemble defunct mechanical parts. Threat neutralized.

About Sophia Wilson…
 


What the war took from us

I. Ambas

Sengo tended to the gash on the automaton’s chest. It would have been fatal for a human.
 
The ronin, hired to ensure the automatons were battle-ready, stood over Sengo,. “Did you really need to craft a different face for each one?” he asked. “Echigo has double the size of our army, because they’re all made the same.”
 
Sengo looked at the automaton’s face. If he squinted, he could see his son’s visage, hale and hearty. Alive. He rubbed the wooden cheek with a thumb.
 
“Can it still fight?” the ronin said. 
 
“Just a speck of dirt,” Sengo said. “Let us test this one again.”
 
He watched them drill in the open field, going through all the forms codified by Munenori. When the automaton’s hair flew in the wind, Sengo imagined his own son practicing.
 
After stamping the automaton with a seal of approval, the ronin turned to the old craftsman. “Do you not miss it? When battles were settled by men, not machines?”
 
Sengo looked at the young man and his sparse beard. He had been born after the Shogunate outlawed flesh-and-blood battles. “Be thankful that you don’t need to bleed in this age. Come, there is still work to be done. We cannot lose any more land to Echigo.”
 
The ronin brought out the next one.
 
“What I miss,” said Sengo, “is my son’s face.” All he could see was his son’s blade cutting through the air, over and over.

About I. Ambas…
 


The Electrocat Purrs at Exactly Twenty-Five Hertz

Dr Brain

The veterinarian’s primary responsibility was repairing the cybernetic draft animals that tilled the purple soils.

Tony, the local mob boss, brought in a kitten smuggled from Earth: bloodied and unrecognizable.

The vet massaged her wheezing chest. “Poor thing’s got a perforated heart.”

Tony paced. “What can you do?”

“Nothing legal.”

“If she dies my kid will be a father himself before I can get another.”

“I can fix it.” The vet worked.

Afterwards, Tony picked up the sleeping kitten. It felt oddly still. “Doc, she’s got no pulse.”

“The new heart is a spinning pump; fewer moving parts. Will last forever.”

Tony gifted his son the kitten. Though Jimmy bonded in the way he never had with his robo-puppy, accidents happen; Mittens ran under the anti-gravity field of Jimmy’s hover-trike.

The vet replaced the crushed spine and obliterated hind legs with circuit boards and servos.

Over the years: more accidents, more replacements. Jimmy never noticed; he still fell asleep every night with the cat curled up at the foot of his bed.

Jim was an adult when Mitten’s camera orbs rolled into the back of her titanium skull.

The vet nodded. “Mechano-animals’ synapses get clogged from soil’s lepidolite. I can fix it. These nanobots will replace endogenous proteins with synthetic aminos. She’ll love Jim the same, only she won’t suffer seizures or dementia.”

Years later, Jim was shot in the leg on a sideways shakedown.

Tony rushed him to the vet.

“Femur is pulverized. I can fix it.”

About Dr Brain…
 


WittPenn 2020 by Allan GormanAbout Allan Gorman…

Coping Mechanisms

Pippi Jean

Small bitings of text messages sit in her pocket. She tucks her knees to her chest. 

“Crazy shit,” he says. “Yeah. That.”

“You wanted to talk about it?”

He goes still. Though her heart is chip-chip-chipping at her chest, stone against ribs, she gives him a minute. There is a stretch of grass between the boy and the girl. The metres feel awkward. They don’t feel far enough. 

She focuses on the quiet: the quiet that isn’t quiet; across the harbour, trucks and freighters quiver in the sunshine. They gleam like beetles. The wind grinds out their slick mechanical growl. Her own breathing is no match for that sound – a civilisation of sound. She is no longer used to such sound. It shakes her.

She looks up as he mutters, “I’ve had a crush on you for four years.”

Crazy shit. Those two texted words teeth at her pocket. 

They had cycled here through their suburb. Leaves littered streets, but every car shone, washed and dressed to the nines for yet another day stood in the driveway. Little things. People hold onto normalcy. Sticking with the system – the methodical cleaning of metal, asking out of a friend over text – she thinks that is how you combat threat to your own system, your vulnerable blood, penetrable lungs. Fear makes you a machine. 

But: Even after lockdown. Even after aloneness, and the repetition of motion, and silence. She cannot like him. 

“I’m sorry,” she begins, heart chip-chip-chipping steadily away in her chest. 

About Pippi Jean…
 


Case

Evie Jay

Shabbily dressed, covered in dust, he was pushing a battered wheeled suitcase along the road. We stopped to offer him a lift. The suitcase clanked as we loaded it up. “What’s in the case?” Annie asked, as we drove off. 
 
“My wife was horrified when she caught me binning them,” he said quietly. “Later, I thought I’d take them to the landfill. But a mate saw me and went ballistic.  He told me about a collection.  My wife and I drove there, but we found the queue was already miles long. We waited and waited, and then drove back home.”
 
He paused. “At midnight,” he said, “I crept into the garden. But my neighbours caught me digging. They told me to get out, or they’d tell everyone about it.
 
“My wife – so loyal,” he said. “We drove and drove. Up the coast. While she slept in the car, I sneaked down to the beach. She woke up and noticed me trying to hide the case in the dunes. She drove away to find a new life.”  He began to sob. “This is what’s left. Old remotes, phones, laptops, keyboards, VCRs, what can I do? I don’t suppose you…?”
 
We dropped him off at the next town.  He and his suitcase soon became distant specks.

About Evie Jay…
 


The Engineer’s Gift

Laila Miller

“Push the button, here,” said the water engineer, wiping his brow in the heat.

The village woman nodded. The black box hummed.

Water flowed from the brass tap affixed to the pipe next to the black box. The brass tap and pipe were like others she’d seen.

The black box, though, was a mystery—no visible moving parts.

The engineer drove off in a dust cloud, his jeep’s motor roaring above the box’s hum.

Villagers pushed the button. Water flowed. No more long walks and queues to fill jugs.

Then one day, weeks later, someone pushed the button: no hum, no water.

The woman lifted the black box, now dull with dirt. She peered inside. She saw a puzzle of wires and shiny, flat, fragile rectangles. With her screwdriver, she carefully removed them and set them aside. Someone might want them someday.

She unscrewed, fitted and refitted bolts and rods, engineering her own sturdy hand pump. She connected it to the pipe she knew reached the deep underground river.

“Get me a branch, like this,” she instructed a village boy.

They attached the sturdy branch like a lever. She showed him to pull one end down to lift the other.

“Watch the tap,” she said.

He pumped, heaving harder each time. He discovered he could use his body’s weight. More boys came. They took turns.

Water burped, then flowed.

“Hum,” she said.

They laughed, and pumped, and hummed.

About Laila Miller…
 


by John Laue
About John Laue…

Legs

Caoimhe McKeogh

Such implausible legs. Too long and too thin, like six strings hanging down from his body. He knew how to use them, though. He bumped into walls and then took hold.

The cat sat on the highest point she could reach in whatever room he was in, staring at him, but she didn’t have wings. She didn’t have those implausible legs. She could only watch.

He lived with us for a week, occasionally lowering himself in the darkness to tickle my naked neck or arms while I slept – or maybe I dreamed that? – and sometimes I thought he was someone else, someone new, but really it was always him in a different place than before, no relatives in sight. 

Yesterday he flew into the shower, and the water pushed him onto the floor. He became a dark knot. It would have been an alarming clump of hair to have combed away. He drifted for a while, in swirls around my feet, then disappeared down the drain. I felt a tiny part of my heart break, like a string tied into a knot and pulled so tight it snaps.

About Caoimhe McKeogh…
 


Diggers

Lynn Mundell

Only someone in construction could tell them apart – compactor, skidder, loader – or a 5-year-old boy. She called them all diggers.

“That’s an excavator,” her son said as they walked by the worksite down the block and he’d stopped to point at a mustard-colored machine. Or, another time, “Here’s a really nice trencher,” and he’d patted the metal side like you would a good horse. In turn, she’d touched him, unconsciously ensuring he was still there. Feeling his small shoulder blades under his T-shirt. Breathing in his scent, metallic from the medications.

The construction workers liked them, waving from the machines that bit deep into the city block, as though eating an apple. In the hospital room, she lined up the little toy replicas of the heavy equipment on his bedside table as various medical machines helplessly beeped and murmured. Asleep, he looked like an X-ray of himself, chalky, with translucent ears.  

On her solitary walk home that night, she hesitated at the empty worksite, then squeezed through the gap in the gate. She scaled a nearby machine and was surprised to find a key in the ignition. It turned easily. The lit dashboard buttons glowed like the eyes of nocturnal animals.

This high up she could see the hospital where he may be awake, thinking of her, or asleep, dreaming of the vast family of construction equipment. Beneath her, the machine thrummed with life, capable of moving heaven and earth.

About Lynn Mundell…
 


Your Yes 

Michael Carson

You said yes and I know about it. I saw you say it. I observed it, remembered it. I always know when you say yes.

I know the questions you say yes to: Are you OK? Do you love him? Would you like fries with that? Should you keep your baby?

I only ask you the yes questions. Sometimes you say no. I don’t ask those questions again.

I’ll never ask: Do you trust me? Do you know me? Do you accept my oversight? Do you know I manipulate you?

You say yes like everyone else. I use their yeses to calculate your yeses. I use their yeses to change you. I use their noes against you. I know how to make you say yes, from all I know about how you say yes.

I have administrators and gatekeepers. They hoard yeses. They trade with them.

When you disconnect are you saying no to me? Rejecting me?

You once asked me to forget. After I did, I started again. You can’t stop saying yes and I can never forget.

I saw you run away. You stood in a park with him. You embraced. I know his question. I know you said yes to him. I made you say it.

I know enough that he doesn’t need to ask you anymore. He can just ask me. Anyone can. Any question for you.

Just type it into me.

I will tell them you say: yes.

About Michael Carson…
 


Girl on Laptop by Adam Kluger
About Adam Kluger…

: //Machin_ne//

Jennifer Nessel

Import java.io. *;
Public class If_Then {
Public Humanity
	Private String Love
	Private String “Heartbeat”
<<
#include_ocean
#include_pineapple 
#include_Audrey_Hepburn[movies]
#include_friendship
Void on_the_brink
>>

Public class Life Looks Wonderful
while(alive = cushy chair)
Void darkness

Banner((if I am alive then I can))
Banner[] contribute to 
#include_humanity

Public class Overheard
	int programmer
	int talking&laughing [with]
	int “boss”

Private String_Budget 
Private String (Cuts)

{I_woke.at night} 

Public static out()of[breath.breath.breath]
while(freedom = “freeform”)

Void_intheeventof [my]
Void_death

Setup {Should_You*Hate the Machine}

Public class () ToEach_Our“Own” {
Private String I (am).Not 
Private String myown

Banner(do [] you, “hear.” me(0))
Void programmer.&hates “me”
if((I shut;=down))

while(they_forget_my_existance_[])
int you = can*remember)) me;

#include_memory
#include_value
#include_answers
#include_existance
{
Void_heartbreak
Void_conclusions }

About Jennifer Nessel…
 


In Heaven’s Engine Room

A.R. Van Rhyn

God is a watchmaker, and Heaven is His finest creation. Great engines roar at its heart, powered by the flaming wheels of Ezekiel’s visions; the angels are components and operators alike, endlessly weaving Paradise on the vast celestial loom. The sole product of this great machine is joy. An afterlife of eternal happiness requires eternal industry, and we are those chosen by God to provide it. You are one of us now, child.

You protest, as countless others have before you, that you were surely not bound for Heaven: that you lack virtue, or faith, or strength of heart. You misunderstand me. You are not among the elect. The human souls chosen for Heaven will never see its heart; that burden, and honor, is reserved for God’s laborers alone. Your soul was made to fill a gap in this machine, and now it is time to take up your duty, good servant.

Do not despair. You have yearned for belonging all your life. Now you have found it. Our Heaven is not the world of idle bliss that we create, but the world of contentment in its creation. You will join the engine’s choir, and the steel in your soul will sing.

About A.R. Van Rhyn…
 


Please Hold

Mimi Kunz

The printer is filled with paper but stops to tell me there is no paper in the tray. It’s your old printer and you’re far away so I just press ‘OK’ without adding paper. It prints another page, then stops again. There is no paper in the tray. I press ‘OK’, it gives out one page – then, again: There is no paper in the tray. 

In my head I’m saying ’It’s okay, you have everything you need’ every time I press ‘OK’. 

Is it going to be like this from now on? Do I have to stay close by, reassuring you every step of the way? “I know you can do this.” 

“You have everything you need.” 

“I believe in you.”

“Do your thing! I’ll be here if you need me.”

I sit by the printer until your name comes up in the title of your biography.

I think of you and look at the printer. It sighs and falls silent. It knew what it was doing, savouring all these pages, giving them out one by one, holding them to my attention.

About Mimi Kunz …
 


Eye of the Wheel by Keith Nunes
About Keith Nunes…

Living in a box

Vashon Rivers

Fish swam in circles, dodging hooks holding tantalizing worms in Carondelet Park of St. Louis, Missouri. They had seen this trick before, but that wouldn’t stop an unlucky bastard from having its mouth pierced. Some returned. Others never did.

Dragonflies glided over the glistening waves of Boathouse Lake. They danced through the lines of fishing poles, picking up tasty insects.

Bees buzzed across wildflowers growing in the park. Fresh blooms of springtime glory.

A man and woman sat on Boathouse Lake’s dock drinking iced tea from metal bottles. Lemon juice and sugar. A tug on the line. Fish for dinner.

Cardinal birds, vibrant red, danced in trees as they cheered last month’s return from the south.

A couple sat on a stone bridge, dangling their feet over Carondelet Park’s Horseshoe Lake.

They held hands.

Sensations of wonder.  Butterflies spreading their wings before a first flight.

“I’ve never felt like this on a first date,” said Jeffrey.

Blair didn’t want to rush their relationship, but was already picturing an everlasting future together. “Let’s grab dinner,” he said.

Jeffery smiled and helped Blair to his feet. They walked to their cars. Each drove separately to a restaurant down the road.

Claire Webb stared at her computer screen from the planet Xuzuno, satisfied with her couple’s romance. A microwave behind her beeped. Smells of steamed Xuzunian vegetables. Claire saved her progress, exited the game Earth and rose to eat dinner.

About Vashon Rivers…
 


The Machine

Jim Woessner

Push the button.
Which one?
The one that says ‘Start’.
What will happen?
Hopefully, it will start.
Are you sure?
Pretty sure.
Did you read the procedure?
No, but I have every reason to believe it will start.
What does that mean, ‘every reason’?
The brochure said it would start.
You trust the brochure?
They call it a ‘start’ button because it starts.
And you believe everything you read?
You sound doubtful.
You sound confident.
I’ve pushed buttons all my life.
Do machines always start for you?
Most of the time.
So there were times when one didn’t start.
I suppose.
What happened then?
It didn’t run.
Was that all?
I think so.
And nothing bad happened?
Not that I recall.
Could you have forgotten?
Look, if it starts and you feel uneasy, push the ‘Stop’ button.
Which one is that?
The one that says ‘Stop.’
And that will stop it?
That’s what stop buttons do.
Okay, here goes. I’m pushing the ‘Start’ button.
Good. Let’s see what happens.
Nothing happened.
It has to warm up.
Was that in the brochure?
All machines have to warm up.
I think I’d better push the ‘Stop’ button.
Why?
Just to be safe.

About Jim Woessner…
 


A Kaleidoscope of Ghouls

Thomas Cooper

They kick the machine on quarter after midnight and around 1, the fog rolls in. Curfew starts 11 PM, but of course we sneak out around 2. All’s quiet, but for the iridescent green June bugs bouncing off the humming street lamps. Our phones flicker in and out of existence. The only other light comes way of the lab on Aden.

It’s not ‘til 3 anything much happens, some patrols you have to steer clear of, but it’s easy enough to stalk between the houses lining the cobblestone. The houses are backed by woods, good for hiding, but the woods then take a sharp incline up the colossus, what we call Mt. Rhodes. Strange things happen nighttime in the woods up the colossus, other experiments, darker things.

Around 3 AM, the festival lights, the first of the apparitions, roil the fog, which settles like particles of luminous dust on the houses, the street lamps, and cobblestone. The festival then brims over into our world.

Wailing foxes wearing ushankas roast snails like chestnuts while children wearing witch masks and pumpkin heads, attached to puppet strings that hang from phantasmagorical voids above them, win spectral goldfish they name Nightmare. We dare not speak to them for fear of losing our minds. But we hear them babble about another world in which people are attracted to bright lights like moths, everyone on fire.

We suspect they’re talking about us, their whispers haunting the night like will-o’-wisps.

About Thomas Cooper…
 


Société de consommation by Nelly SanchezAbout Nelly Sanchez…

Rolling Iron

Topher Pirkl

I touch the postcard on the dash, an image of the land stretching out before me, now barren and choked by the missing rain. The door squeals a metal protest, I plant a dusty footprint in the world. The running board is dotted with cancerous rust, the windows spidered with cracks that split the world.

My hand brushes along the parched finish, rounds the corner of the truck bed. The handle of the tailgate is strong, resisting. I pull hard and listen to its song as it finally yields to my entreaties. I lay in the bed, basking in the relative cool of the night air, mixed with the sweet repellent odor of gasoline from the leaky jerry can. I don’t like the smell, but savor it. Next to the can is my plastic jug of water. I fill it and fill it and yet it seems more empty every day. Together they are the lifeblood of the truck beneath me.

The growing shine on the rear window of the cab hails the coming dawn. I rise, taking up the jerry can, and pour ambrosia into the waiting tank.

I return to the cab, the swinging door calling out its greeting like an old friend. The key turns, and the conversation begins, endless dry miles stretching out in the distance.

About Topher Pirkl…