APEX MAGAZINE: Your cover art for this month’s Apex Magazine, the beautiful “Song of the stars,” has a wonderful cosmic feel to it. At the same time, the subtle textures are evident, adding an emotional depth. How important are textures to the feel of a piece, especially in digital art versus traditional painting techniques? Does an artist’s medium matter as much as what they do with it?
CAROLINE JAMHOUR: I think textures add interest to a painting in a very peculiar way. A picture is something that consists in visual elements like colors, shapes, luminosity, contrasts. But textures evoke a new sense beyond sight: they appeal to the sense of touch. So I think it adds a new dimension of sensorial experience to an image, even if it’s only visually implied and not something you can actually touch. One thing I dislike about digital art is that it can frequently have a sort of “plastic” look—too smooth and unnatural—and sometimes this smoothness is what you’re going for and it works, but other times it just looks too artificial and lacking interest. So I try to add a more natural, organic feel to my digital paintings by adding textures or trying to keep my brush strokes unsmoothed. I believe there’s a charm in a little distress, in something that is not perfect: it says that it has a story, that it’s alive, even if we’re talking about a painting. Digital painting has an interesting character: it doesn’t have a natural texture like traditional materials do. But you can mimic these materials to convey the visual feel they produce, so it’s a very versatile tool that allows lots of experimenting. In traditional painting the material has its own way of behaving and interacting with your tools and surfaces, so it allows for a more spontaneous acting, while digital painting allows, and also requires, more actual control. So it’s really up to the artist’s intentions when deciding what the medium that they want to deal with.
AM: Many of the pieces in your DeviantArt gallery feature the concept of night prominently. What is it that you find captivating about nighttime and/or the dark? Is it based on your painting techniques, or is it more based on the idea or the story for each piece?
CJ: Night and darkness have a strong symbolic appeal to me. I feel most magic happens at night—it’s the time when I feel more creative and introspective, when I can dive into myself. Also related to sleep, which brings me very vivid, fantastical dreams that compose my inner world and bring me inspiration. But also, it’s about the shadow parts of ourselves, not as something bad, but vast and mysterious. I like to play with dramatic contrasts, light and dark: usually bright, colorful lighting in a dark environment. I don’t think it’s something I pursue deliberately, but more of a language that just happens when I’m going to express myself through art. I want to evoke an atmosphere of mystical, oneiric feeling.
AM: Your gallery offers many pieces that highlight mythology, such as your piece “Cetus,” and it seems that Greek mythology is inferred throughout your galleries. How do those mythologies inform or influence your overall work? Does a change in the mythology or belief system, say, Greek mythology versus Buddhism, alter how you approach a piece?
CJ: I have a big interest in mythology and symbolism, because these things offer such deep, infinite possibilities of meaning, and stories to tell and that we can relate to. Though not by personal choice, I think Greek mythology turns out to be a major influence because it’s the mythology that is more popular and has more influence in our occidental culture, so its characters and symbols are probably more present in my personal imagery. However, I don’t take any particular mythology or belief system into consideration when creating a piece, except when it’s specifically about a character from that mythology. I think of all mythologies, its gods, stories, and characters as symbols and storytellings of the multitude of human experience and our relationship with natural forces, from within and without. I like to study various mythologies, so when I have an idea or feeling I want to express, I have enough symbolic language as a resource to be able to express it.
AM: In a couple of your gallery images, I noticed that people suggested a nudity label. In a previous discussion about censorship and nudity with another of our cover artists, Adrian Borda, he said something that as a fellow artist I agree with. He said, “I find quite hopeless the war against the people who are offended by a few pixels on the screen.” Have you run into issues with censorship or others that are concerned with the nudity you portray? How have you dealt with it in the past, and what impact do those types of comments have on your work?
CJ: Though it was only a few times that people seemed concerned with the nudity label on my images (that I stubbornly refused to add until it was forced on by the website’s staff), it upsets me that people feel that nudity in art can somehow be offensive—especially regarding female nipples! It upsets me because it comes from an ill culture that sexualizes the entire female body, even when it’s not in a sexual context whatsoever. How can these people be on an art website and have a problem with nudes? Wouldn’t they go to art galleries, or do they believe minors and children shouldn’t? And I believe this is harmful in many ways, as it highlights the unhealthy relationship we have with the human body as a culture. I, personally, am not very fond of adding clothes to the characters on my paintings, with rare exceptions; I simply can’t, it feels uncomfortable. I love nudity as it’s about truthful and pure being, without disguises or artificialities, and it’s very adequate for what I wish to connote, which is a sense of honesty from within.
AM: The description for your piece “Vanitas” explains your method of automatic painting, defined as a work that starts without planning or a reason. Many artists, myself included, use a similar method often in our works. Are the ideas you come up with using this method a surprise, or do they still follow your normal ideas or styles? Does the physical act of painting the piece bring out ideas you never thought would be in your mind?
CJ: It’s hard to say it’s totally a surprise, because in any case, it will be something from the matter of my inner world so it will be somehow familiar—but it’s something I probably wouldn’t come up with in a planned way. Though I don’t often use this method of automatic painting or drawing, being restricted to a few experiences, I feel it is somehow an inherent part of the developing process of all of my drawings and paintings, since the ideas and directions come up as I draw, and not as a previously well-established plan. Even when I believe I have a plan, it changes along the way as it materializes. Drawing/painting is more like a dialogue and a discovery than just a plain execution of an idea. In the end, I often feel like I don’t know where exactly that picture or character came from, like it’s something beyond me, or a hidden part of myself. It’s actually pretty exciting, as every painting, when finished, comes as a surprise and a message, rather than only a result.
AM: Thank you to Caroline Jamhour for an intriguing look at her work. Visit her galleries on her website at www.carolinejamhour.com and aeryael.deviantart.com.
Caroline Jamhour is a visual artist, born in 1986 in Curitiba, Brazil, where she currently lives. She mostly works with digital painting but also traditional media, including painting, drawing, and sculpting. Her artworks depict mythological and symbolical themes and fantastical characters that inhabit her inner universe. She mostly dedicates herself to personal projects but also does freelance work, and currently works as a tattooist.
Russell Dickerson has been a published illustrator and designer since the previous millennium, creating works for many genre publications and authors. He has also written many articles for various organizations in that time, including Apex, and his work can be found on his website at www.darkstormcreative.com.
On a good day writing an essay, a good essay at that, can be a tall order. Undoubtedly, the instructor and marker has read hundreds, maybe even thousands of essays just like yours. They have pretty much seen it all and now you are not only faced with writing a good essay, but a unique one as well. Now add to this request to write a science fiction essay and, needless to say, the stress factor is increased by a minimum of tenfold. There are challenges with writing a good essay and there are challenges with writing science fiction, so there will certainly be challenges when you need to do both simultaneously.
Fortunately, like nearly every other writing assignment, strategies and tactics can be employed to increase the likelihood of success. These tactics will mostly revolve around breaking down the essay into smaller, bite-sized, executable chunks, and putting forth a highly refined piece of writing. Novices will usually focus on quantity when it is really quality that they should be worried about, because make no mistake it is the only thing that the instructor is worried about.
With this in mind, the writer should look at their essay as a short story and not the beginnings of a multi-novel series. Doing so puts gives the writer a couple of advantages. On one hand, they don’t need as much time or space to develop their characters or focus on background. This leaves little chance for the reader’s (the markers) attention to veer off course. Moreover, it signals to the reader that there is a beginning, a middle and a definite end to the story, and that they are not about to enter a rabbit hole that will consume days of their precious time.
Before jotting down a single letter, the writer should hammer out the parameters of their story. What tense will it be told in? Will it be told in the present or will it be like a memoir that is being told in the past tense? The second parameter that should be defined would be from whose viewpoint is the story being told through. Is it being told through the eyes and mouth of the author like a narration or is it being told through a character in the story? Identifying these points right from the get go will greatly increase the speed and efficiency to which the story will be written, but more importantly it will help maintain consistency and cohesion throughout the entire paper.
Next, map the story or essay from character introductions to story development to climax and the conclusion. Outlining the narrative allows the writer to create a framework structure in which they can fill in afterwards. Speaking of the plot, conflicts always make for a good point of interest, discussion and introspection. Very few stories out there are without conflict, however what surprises most writers is that there need not only be a single point of conflict in a story. Often times there are two or more points of conflict (for example one conflict can be external – character vs character, while the other is internal – a character battling their inner demons). While this may seem like a lot of work, it actually opens up the story and increases the number of avenues that the writer can steer the plot towards.
Since this is a science fiction essay it will contain elements that are out of the ordinary (e. g. robots – a popular figure in this genre). Be sure that the element(s) can be explained or defined by science (e. g. the mechanical robot is made of gears, pulleys and levers, or if it is made of energy then the atomic bonds allow it to maintain some sort of cohesive structure). Also be sure that the element is within the realm of science, so keep dragons, elves, dwarves and magic out, there are exceptions to this but in general they are placed in the fantasy genre. Keep in mind that while these sci-fi elements may be key to driving plot, they are meant to be tools to immerse the reader into your science fiction world. Focus on using them to make the experience richer, and avoid going into so much detail as to alienate the reader because it is too technical to understand.
Less is more with these elements. Make them the cherry on top of your sci-fi cake and not the cake themselves. Saturating the story with too many strange and foreign elements makes it too easy for the reader to detach and lose context. The same can be said of the characters in the story. It doesn’t matter if they are heroes, aliens, robots or cyborgs, your characters should be relatable. A good idea to keep in mind would be that the reader should see themselves in a character in some way, no matter how big or small. This helps form bonds between the reader and the story and deepens their experience.
Finally, like with all pieces of good writing, this science fiction essay should be treated to several layers of editing, spell-checking, grammar checking and proofreading. Due to the highly subjective nature of the genre, an essay writer can also open their writing up to critiquing by their peers, mentors and advisors. The advantage of this would be to let people who are familiar with the genre to give their opinion about the quality of the story.]]>
The Second Coming was something of a washout, if you remember. It lit up early-warning radar like a Christmas tree, of course, and the Israeli Air Force gave the heavenly host a respectable F-16 fighter escort to the ground, but that was when they were still treating it as a UFO incident. As soon as their sandals touched the dust, Jesus and the handful of bewildered Copts who’d been caught up to meet him in the air looked about for the armies of the Beast and the kings of the earth. The only soldiers they could see were a few terrified guards on a nearby archaeological dig. The armies of the Lord hurled themselves at the IDF and were promptly slaughtered. Their miraculous healings and resurrections created something of a sensation, but after that it was detention and Shin Bet interrogation for the lot of them. The skirmish was caught on video by activists from the International Solidarity Movement, who happened to be driving past the ancient battlefield on their way to Jenin when the trouble started. Jesus was released a couple of months after the Meggido debacle, but most of the Rapture contingent had Egyptian ID, and the diplomacy was as slow as you’d expect.
Jesus returned to his old stomping ground in the vicinity of Galilee. He hung around a lot with Israeli Arabs, and sometimes crossed to the West Bank. Reports trickled out of a healing here, a near-riot there, an open-air speech somewhere else. At first the IDF and the PA cops gave him a rough time, but there wasn’t much they could pin on him. It’s been said he avoided politics, but a closer reading of his talks suggests a subtle strategy of working on his listeners’ minds, chipping away at assumptions, and leaving them to work out the political implications for themselves. The theological aspects of his teaching were hard to square with those previously attributed to him. Critics were quick to point out the discrepancies, and to ridicule his failure to fulfil the more apocalyptic aspects of the prophecies.
When I caught up with him, under the grubby off-season awnings of a Tiberias lakefront cafe, Jesus was philosophical about it.
‘There’s only so much information you can pack into a first-century Palestinian brain,’ he explained, one thumb in a volume of Dennett. ‘Or a twenty-first-century one, come to that.’
I sipped thick sweet coffee and checked the little camera for sound and image. ‘Aren’t you, ah, omniscient?’
He glowered a little. ‘What part of “truly man” don’t you people understand?’ (He’d been using the café’s Internet facilities a lot, I’d gathered. His blog comments section had to be seen to be believed.) ‘It’s not rocket science … to mention just one discipline I didn’t have a clue about. I could add relativity, quantum mechanics, geology, zoology. Geography, even.’ He spread his big hands, with their carpenter’s callouses and their old scars. ‘Look, I really expected to return very soon, and that everyone on Earth would see me when I did. I didn’t even know the world was a sphere—sure, I could have picked that up from the Greeks, if I’d asked around in the Decapolis, but I had other fish to fry.’
‘But you’re—‘ I fought the rising pitch ‘—the Creator, begotten, not made, wholly God as well as—‘
‘Yes, yes,’ he said. He mugged an aside to camera. ‘This stuff would try the patience of a saint, you know.’ Then he looked me in the eye. ‘I am the embodiment of the Logos, the very logic of creation, or as it was said in English, “the Word made flesh.” Just because I am in that sense the entirety of the laws of nature doesn’t mean I know all of them, or can over-ride any of them. Quite the reverse, in fact.’
‘But the miracles—the healings and resurrections—‘
‘You have to allow for some … pardonable exaggeration in the reports.’
‘I’ve seen the ISM video from Meggido,’ I said.
‘Good for you,’ he said. ‘I’d love to see it myself, but the IDF confiscated it in minutes. But then, you probably bribed someone, and that’s … not something I can do. Yes, I can resurrect the recent dead, patch bodies back together and so on. Heal injuries and cure illnesses, some of them not purely psychosomatic. Don’t ask me to explain how.’ He waved a hand. ‘I suspect some kind of quantum handwave at the bottom of it.’
‘But the Rapture! The Second Coming!’
‘I can levitate.’ He shrugged. ‘So? I was considerably more impressed to discover that you people can fly. In metal machines!’
‘Isn’t levitation miraculous?’
‘It doesn’t break any laws of nature, I’ll tell you that for nothing. If I can do it, it must be a human capability.’
‘You mean any human being could levitate?’
‘There are recorded instances. Some of them quite well attested, I understand. Even the Catholic Church admits them.’
‘You could teach people to do it?’
‘I suppose I could. But what would be the point? As I said, you can fly already, for all the good that does you.’ As if by coincidence, a couple of jet fighters broke the sound barrier over the Golan Heights, making the cups rattle. ‘Same thing with healing, resurrections of the recent dead, and so on. I can do better in individual cases, but in general your health services are doing better than I could. I have better things to do with my time.’
‘Before we get to that,’ I said, ‘there’s just one thing I’d like you to clear up. For the viewers, you understand. Are you telling us that after a certain length of time has passed, the dead can’t be resurrected?’
‘Not at all.’ He signalled for another pot of coffee. ‘With God, all things are possible. To put it in your terms, information is conserved. To put it in my terms, we’re all remembered in the mind of God. No doubt all human minds and bodies will be reconstituted at some point. As for when—God knows. I don’t. I told you this the first time.’
‘And heaven and hell, the afterlife?’
‘Heaven—like I said, the mind of God. It’s up in the sky, in a very literal sense.’ He fumbled in a book-bag under the table and retrieved a dog-eared Tipler. ‘If this book is anything to go by. I’m not saying you should take The Physics of Immortality as gospel, you understand, but it certainly helped me get my head around some of the concepts. As for hell …’ He leaned forward, looking stern. ‘Look, suppose I tell you: if you keep doing bad things, if you keep refusing to adjust your thoughts and actions to reality, you’ll end up in a very bad place. You’ll find yourself in deep shit. Who could argue? Not one moral teacher or philosopher, that’s for sure. If you won’t listen to me, listen to them.’ He chuckled darkly. ‘Of course, it’s far more interesting to write volumes of Italian poetry speculating on the exact depth and temperature of the shit, but that’s just you.’
‘What about your distinctive ethical teaching?’
He rolled his eyes heavenward. ‘What distinctive ethical teaching? You’ll find almost all of it in the rabbis, the prophets, and the good pagans. I didn’t come to teach new morals, but to make people take seriously the morals they had. For some of the quirky bits—no divorce, and eunuchs for the Kingdom and so forth—I refer to my cultural limitations or some information loss in transmission or translation.’
I’d already seen the interrogation transcript, and the blog, but I had to ask.
‘Could you explain, briefly, the reason for the delay in your return?’
‘Where I’ve been all this time?’
I nodded, a little uneasy. This was the big one, the one where even those who believed him could trip up.
‘I was on another planet,’ he said, flat out. ‘Where else could I have been? I ascended into heaven, sure. I went up into the sky. Like I said, levitation isn’t that big a deal. Gravity’s a weak force, not well understood, and can be manipulated mentally if you know how. Surviving in the upper atmosphere, not to mention raw vacuum, wearing nothing but a jelebah—now that’s difficult. As soon as I got behind that cloud I was picked up by an alien space ship that happened to be passing—you can call it coincidence, I still call it providence—and transported to its home planet. I’m not at liberty to say which, but—assume you can’t go faster than light, think in terms of a two-way trip and a bit of turnaround time, and, well—you do the math.’
‘Some people,’ I said, trying to be tactful, ‘find that hard to believe.’
‘Tell me about it,’ he said. ‘They’ll accept levitation and resurrection, but I mention an extrasolar civilization and I’m suddenly a fraud and a New Age guru and a flying saucer nut. Talk about straining at gnats and swallowing camels.’ He shrugged again, this time wincing slightly, as if there was a painful stiffness in one shoulder. ‘It’s a cross I have to bear, I guess.’
What I was thinking, completely irreverently and inappropriately, was the line you jammy bastard! from the scene in Life of Brian. I’d stumbled at this point, like so many others. It was all too Douglas Adams, too von Däniken, too much a shaggy god story. Just about the only people who’d swallowed it so far were a few Mormons, and even they were uncomfortable with his insistence that he really hadn’t stopped off in America.
We talked some more, I thanked him and shook hands, and headed back to Lod airport with the interview in the can. When I glanced back from the corner Jesus was well into a bottle of wine and deep conversation with a couple of off-duty border cops and an Arab-Israeli tart.
I couldn’t pitch the interview as it stood—there was nothing new in it, and I needed an angle. I settled on follow-up research, with scientists as well as theologians, and managed to pull together an interdisciplinary meeting in Imperial College, London, held under Chatham House rules—quotes on the record, but no direct attributions. The consensus was startling. Not one of the clergy, and only one of the phycisists, thought it at all probable that we were looking at a return of the original Jesus. They all went for the shaggy god story.
‘He’s a Moravec bush robot,’ an Anglican bishop told me, confidently and in confidence.
‘A what?’ I said.
He sketched what looked like a tree, walking. ‘The manipulative extremities keep sub-dividing, right down to the molecular level,’ he said. ‘That thing can handle individual atoms. It can look like anything it wants, walk through walls, turn water into wine. Healing and resurrection—provided decay hasn’t degraded the memory structures too far—is a doddle.’
‘And can it make Egyptian Christians float into the sky?’ I asked.
He pressed the tips of his fingers together. ‘How do we know that really happened? His little band of brothers could be—more bush robots!’
‘That’s a stretch,’ said the Cambridge cosmologist. ‘I’m more inclined to suspect gravity manipulation from a stealth orbiter.’
‘You mean the ship’s still up there?’ That was the Jesuit, sceptical as usual.
‘Of course,’ said the cosmologist. ‘We’re looking at an attempt to open a conversation, an alien contact, without causing mass panic. Culturally speaking, it’s either very clever, or catastrophically inept.’
‘I’d go for the latter,’ said the Oxford biologist. ‘Frankly, I’m disappointed. Regardless of good intentions, this approach can only reinforce religious memes.’ He glanced around, looking beleaguered (‘like a hunted animal,’ one of the more vindictive of the clergymen chuckled afterwards, in the pub). ‘No offence intended, gentlemen, ladies, but I see that as counter-productive. In that part of the world, too! As if it needed more fanaticism.’
‘Excuse me,’ said the bishop, stiffly, ‘but we’re not talking about fanaticism. Nor is he. He is certainly not preaching fanaticism. Personally, I’d almost prefer to believe he was the original Jesus come back. It would be quite a vindication, in a way. It would certainly make the African brethren sit up and take notice.’
‘You mean, shut up about gay clergy,’ said the Jesuit, rather unkindly.
‘You see?’ said the Oxford man, looking at me. ‘It doesn’t matter how liberal he sounds, or how any of them sound. It’s all about authoritative revelation. And as soon as they start arguing on that basis, they’re at each other’s throats.’ He sighed, pushing biscuit crumbs about on the baize with a fingertip. ‘My own fear is that the aliens, whoever they are, are right. We’re too primitive a species, too mired in all this, too infected by the mind virus of religion, to be approached in any other way. But I’m still afraid it’ll backfire on them.’
‘Oh, there are worse fears than that,’ said the computer scientist from Imperial, cheerfully. ‘They could be hostile. They could be intentionally aiming to cause religious strife.’
That statement didn’t cause religious strife, exactly, but it came damn close. I waited until the dust and feathers had settled, then tried to get the experts to focus on what they all actually agreed on. As I said, the consensus surprised me. It added up to this:
The supposed Second Coming had no religious significance. The man calling himself Jesus was almost certainly not who he claimed to be. He was very likely an AI entity of some type from a post-Singularity alien civilization. Further interventions could be expected. Watch the skies.
I wrapped all this around the interview, ran a few talking-head soundbites from the meeting through voice-and-face-distorting software filters, and flogged it to the Discovery Channel. This took a couple of weeks. Then I caught the next El Al flight from Heathrow.
I was sitting in a room with a dozen men, one of them Jesus, all sipping tea and talking. All of them were smoking, except Jesus and myself. I’d caught up with him again in Ramallah. The conversation was in Arabic, and my translator, Sameh, was so engrossed in it he’d forgotten about me. I must admit I was bored.
I was, of course, excited at the idea that this man, if he was a man, represented an alien intervention. I was just as excited by my doubts about it. There was, as the bishop had implied, something quite tempting about the notion that he was who he said he was. The original Jesus had explained himself in terms of the religion of his place and time, and had in turn been explained in terms of contemporary philosophy. It begins in the arcane metaphysics of Paul’s letters, and in the Stoic term ‘Logos’ in John, and it continues all the way to the baroque Platonic and Aristotelian edifices of theology. So it was perhaps not entirely strange that this Jesus should explain himself in modern philosophical terms from the very beginning.
Right now, though, he was trying to explain himself to Muslims. The going wasn’t easy. I couldn’t follow the conversation, but I could hear the strain in the voices. The names of Allah and the Prophet came up frequently. For Muslims, Jesus is a prophet too, and there were plenty of the faithful who didn’t take kindly to this man’s claims. The gathering here, fraught though it was, was the most sympathetic a hearing as he was likely to get.
In terms of publicity Jesus wasn’t doing too well. He’d had his fifteen minutes of fame. Religious leaders had refused to meet him—not that he’d asked—and even the scientists who were prepared to speculate publicly that he was an alien were reluctant to do anything about it. I mean, what could they do about it—cut him up? The defence establishment may have taken seriously these scientists’ claims about alien intervention, but there’s only so many times you can draw a blank looking for a stealth orbiter before you conclude that there’s no stealth orbiter. The general feeling was that something odd had happened, but nobody could be sure what, and for all anyone knew it could have been a bizarre hoax. There were photographs, videos, eyewitness accounts, radar traces—but that kind of evidence can be found any month in Fortean Times and debunked every quarter in Skeptical Inquirer.
The only people—apart from his own small following, most of it online—who paid close attention to his activities were fundamentalist Christians. Not because they believed him. Oh, no. They believed me. That’s to say, they believed the religious and scientific experts I’d cited in the documentary. They were quite happy with the notion that he was an alien entity of some kind. To them, an alien meant a demon. Worse, a demon walking around in human shape and claiming to be Jesus could only mean one thing: the Antichrist.
I only found that out later.
Handshakes all round. Smiles. Frowns. Jesus and two of the men—followers, I’d gathered—went out. I and Sameh accompanied them into the muddy street. Breezeblock buildings, corrugated zinc roofs, mud. Ruins here and there. It was nearly dusk. Lights in windows, braziers at stalls, the smell of frying chicken. A big Honda people-carrier drove slowly down the crowded, pot-holed street, conspicuous among old Renaults and VW Polos and Yugos.
We stood about—a moment of uncertainty about where to go next. Some problem with the traffic. Sameh was talking to the followers, Jesus was gazing around, and I was fiddling with the camera.
I saw a flash. That is to say, for a second I saw nothing else. Then I saw nothing but sky. Everything had become silent. I saw two bright lights moving fast, high above. My legs felt wet and warm. I pressed the palms of my hands on damp gravel and pushed myself up to a sitting position. I could see people running around, mouths open, mouths working; cars accelerating away or coming to a halt; everything covered with grey dust; but I could hear nothing. A little way down the street, smoke rose from a flower-like abstract sculpture of bent and twisted metal: the Honda, its wheels incongruously intact.
I saw Jesus run towards it. Sameh and the two followers were face down on the street, hands over the backs of their heads. They didn’t see what I saw. I don’t know how many people saw it. He leaned into the wrecked Honda and started hauling out the casualties. He dragged out one corpse, whole but charred. He laid it down and pulled out something that might have been a torso. Then he clambered in and started heaving out bits of bodies: an arm, half a leg, a bearded head. More. It was like the back of a butcher’s shop.
He vaulted out again and knelt on the road. I saw his hands move, with effort in the arms, as if he was putting the bits together. He stood up. Three men stood up beside him. They looked down at the rags that clothed them, and then at the wreck of their vehicle. They raised their arms and cried out praise to Allah. Jesus had already turned his back on them and was hurrying towards me. He wore jeans and scuffed trainers, a shirt and sweater under a new leather jacket. He was looking straight at me and frowning.
Sound and pain came in a rush. My ears dinned with yells, car horns, screams. My thighs felt—
I looked down. My thighs felt exactly as you would expect with a chunk of metal like a thrown knife in each of them, stuck right into my femurs. I could see my blood pumping out, soaking into the torn cloth. Everything went monochrome for a moment. I saw his hands grab the bits of metal and tug. I heard the grate of the bones. I felt it, too. I heard a double clatter as the metal shards fell on the road. Then Jesus laid his hands on my legs, and leaned back.
‘Up,’ he said.
He held out a hand. I caught it and stood up. As I got to my feet I saw the pale unbroken skin of my thighs through the ripped fabric. My camera lay crushed on the ground. Sameh and the two followers picked themselves up and brushed themselves off.
‘What happened?’ I asked Jesus, but it was Sameh who answered.
‘Another targeted killing,’ he said. ‘That Honda. I knew it had to be a Hamas big shot inside.’ He stared across at the wreck. ‘How many?’
I pointed at the men, now the centre of a small crowd.
‘They had a miraculous escape,’ I said.
Jesus just grinned.
‘Let’s go,’ he said.
Jesus had a knack for making his movements unpredictable. I and Sameh stayed with him and his followers, jammed in the back of a taxi, to Jerusalem. Through the wall, through the checkpoints. Jesus nodded off. The followers talked to Sameh. I sat bolt upright and replayed everything in my mind. I kept rubbing my thighs, as if I had sweaty hands. When we got out of the taxi at the hotel Jesus seemed to wake up. He leaned forward and said: ‘Would you like to meet me tomorrow, privately?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Where?’
‘You know where the tours of the Via Dolorosa start?’
‘There,’ he said. ‘Alone.’
I was still struggling for a remark when the taxi door slammed.
I pushed past guides and through coach parties, looking for him. He found me. He had a camera hung from around his neck and a big hat on his head, a white T-shirt under his jacket. We fell in at the back of a dozen or so people following a guide who shouted in English. I think they were Brits. Jesus rubber-necked with the rest of them.
‘I saw the Gibson film on DVD,’ he said.
‘What did you think of it?’ I asked, feeling a little smug.
‘I liked it better than yours,’ he said.
‘I just report,’ I said.
‘You could have done better,’ he said. ‘ ”Moravec bush robot!” I ask you.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘Do you deny it?’
He looked at me sharply. ‘Of course I deny it. What use would a robot be to you?’
‘And the whole alien intervention hypothesis?’
The crowd stopped. The guide declaimed. Cameras clicked. We shuffled off again, jostling down an alley.
‘Yes, I deny that also.’
‘And any other natural explanation?’
His lips compressed. He shook his head. ‘If you mean a hoax, I deny that too. I am who I say I am. I am the natural explanation.’
The man in front of us turned. He wore a baseball cap with a Star of David and his shirt was open at the neck to display a small gold cross on a chain. He reached inside his heavy checked jacket.
‘Blasphemer,’ he said.
He pulled out a handgun and shot Jesus three times in the chest.
I grabbed Jesus. Two men barged out of the crowd and grabbed the assassin. He’d already dropped the gun and had his hands up. The two men wrestled him to the ground at gunpoint, then dragged him to his feet. Screams resounded in the narrow space.
‘Police!’ the men shouted. One of them waved a police ID card, like it wasn’t obvious. I learned later that they’d been shadowing Jesus from the beginning.
The assassin held his hands out for the plastic ties. He kept staring at Jesus.
‘Save yourself now!’ he jeered. One of the undercover cops gave him the elbow in the solar plexus. He doubled, gasping.
Jesus was bleeding all over me. ‘Lay off him,’ he wheezed. ‘He doesn’t know what he’s done.’
The man strained upright, glaring.
‘Play-acting to the end, demon! I don’t want forgiveness from you!’
Jesus waved a hand, two fingers raised, in a shaky blessing, and sagged in my arms. I staggered backwards. His heels dragged along the ground. One of his shoes came off.
It took a long while for the ambulance to nose through the narrow streets. Jesus lost consciousness long before it arrived. I stayed with him to the hospital. The paramedics did their best—they’re good with gunshot wounds in the Holy Land—but he was dead on arrival.
I couldn’t believe it.
I watched every second of the emergency surgery, and I know he was a man.
The autopsy should have taken place within twenty-four hours, but some procedural dispute delayed it for three days. I managed to attend. It didn’t even take much effort on my part—I was a witness, I had identified the body when it was pronounced dead. On the slab he looked like the dead Che Guevara. The pathologists opened him up, recovered the bullets, removed organs and took tissue samples. Results came back from the labs. He was human right down to the DNA. So much for the bush robot theory. There was a burial, and no resurrection. No levitation and no infinitely improbable rescue. Some people still visit the grave. One thing I’m sure of: this time, he’s not coming back.
There was a trial, of course. The assassin, an American Christian Zionist, disdained the prompting of his lawyer to plead insanity. He proudly pleaded guilty and claimed to be acting to thwart the attempts of the Antichrist to derail the divine plan for the End Times. I was a witness for the prosecution, but I suspect my testimony had as much effect as the rantings of the accused in the eventual ruling: not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. The assassin did six months in a mental hospital. After his release he made a splash on the US fundamentalist lecture circuit as the hero who had shot one of the Devil’s minions: the false messiah, the fake Christ. The man he killed wasn’t the real Antichrist, it’s been decided. The Antichrist is still to come. Millions still await the real Rapture and the return of the real Jesus.
Perhaps it was some obscure guilt about my own inadvertent part in Jesus’s assassination that drove me to research his writings and the live recordings of his sayings and miracles. They’re all online, and the authentic ones are carefully kept that way by his followers: online, and authentic. There’s enough apocryphal stuff in circulation already, and far more interest in him than when he was alive.
The odd thing is, though, that if you trawl, as I’ve done, through his blog posts, his devastating put-downs in the comment sections, and the shaky cell phone and home-video recordings of his discourses, it has an effect on how you think. It isn’t a question of belief, exactly. It’s more a question of examining beliefs, and examining your own actions, even your thoughts, as if under his sceptical eye, and in the echo of his sardonic voice. It works on you. It’s like a whole new life.
Originally published in Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge (Pyr, 2007)
Ken MacLeod was born in Stornoway and lives in West Lothian. He has Honours and Masters degrees in biological subjects and worked for some years in the IT industry. Since 1997 he has been a full-time writer. He is the author of sixteen novels, from The Star Fraction (1995) to The Corporation Wars: Insurgence (Orbit, 2016), and many articles and short stories. His novels and stories have received three BSFA awards and three Prometheus Awards, and several have been short-listed for the Clarke and Hugo Awards. He is curently working on a space opera trilogy, The Corporation Wars (forthcoming 2016-2017). Ken MacLeod’s blog is The Early Days of a Better Nation (http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com). His Twitter feed is @amendlocke.
While Wells’s masterworks, such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds are perennial favorites, general readers aren’t as likely to delve into Wells’s impressive but sometimes obscure back catalog. Now that ABC-TV has launched a new Wells TV series, Time after Time, which borrows from The Time Machine in sending Wells himself to our era to battle Jack the Ripper, it’s a great time to take a look at one of the obscure oddities in the Wells canon: When the Sleeper Wakes, another entry in Wells’s time travel oeuvre, but one that is distinctly different from his more famous time travel novel.
When the Sleeper Wakes is the first title for a book that underwent significant changes and revisions during Wells’s lifetime. Originally published as a serial between 1898 to 1903 – imagine waiting five years to find out the end! – the book was retitled The Sleeper Awakes for its subsequent single-volume book release in 1910. This new and revised version improved the quality of the writing and changed elements of the story to better support its author’s avowed socialism.
In the story, a man named Graham takes a sleeping potion and wakes in the year 2100, where he learns that through the miracle of compound interest, the bank accounts maintained by his sleeping body over the previous century more or less centralized all of humanity’s financial systems under his control. The trustees who managed the world’s money on his behalf fear the loss of power they would sustain once Graham is awake and actively managing his money, so they turn Graham into a puppet ruler and a tool to help keep the peasantry exploited in the name of money. Graham sides with the peasants and the workers and leads a revolution to overthrow the financiers and restore freedom.
The question, though, is whether the novel’s power exceeds its limitations, and in this case the limitations are rather painfully obvious. The book is less a vehicle for telling an exciting story than it is an effort to show how Big Money will invariably betray the promise of socialism unless and until the majority of society can come together to take full control of society’s resources.
While the novel is rather blunt in its promotion of the socialist ideal – some might even say that the novel is too didactic – the science fiction elements are still captivating even today. Wells envisions a world of airports and airplanes decades before such things were commonplace, and he foresaw that urbanization would depopulate the countryside. Moreover, his central idea of a sleeper waking up in the future – one borrowed not just from Rip Van Winkle but also from ancient stories of King Arthur and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus – influenced pop culture from Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973) to an episode of Futurama. However, because of the aforementioned issues with didacticism, the novel is one that is more likely to be studied and admired than read for enjoyment.
At heart, When the Sleeper Wakes is an interesting study in early dystopia. We see in the world of 2100 anticipations of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, decades before their time. The society depicted in the novel is more than a little similar to the shocking dichotomy seen in the great silent epic Metropolis between the glittering rich in their fantastic towers and the oppressed workers in the bowels of the city. This novel helped set the template for all of the modern dystopias in which a wealthy elite live in idle splendor while the oppressed masses serve them in misery.
Therefore, while this may not be top-tier Wells, When the Sleeper Wakes has enough originality and more than enough importance to make it well worth the read, especially if you’ve already run through Wells’s most classic novels and are looking for something to fill void.
This science fiction book review is written by John S., a certified essay writer who has been working at Smart Writing Service since 2008 helping students with academic writing.]]>
“Uncontainable” was released in issue 91. You can read it here.
Here is a full list of Shadow Award nominees.
The awards celebrate the finest in horror and dark fiction published by an Australian or New Zealander for the calendar year of 2016. Works are judged on the overall effect – the skill, delivery, and lasting resonance – of a story.
Location: Winton Woods High School, 1231 W Kemper Rd, Cincinnati, OH
What is this event?
The school hosted a student writing contest wherein the contestants were presented with a surprise prompt and were given one hour to write a story or poem based on that prompt. The prompt provided was “The Salisbury steak wasn’t from Salisbury and it wasn’t steak.” (taken from INKLINGS, by Leslie and Jarod Anderson).
The winning story will be published in Apex Magazine!
Maurice Broaddus (author of The Voices of Martyrs and Buffalo Soldiers), Janet Harriett (editor and author) and Gary Braunbeck (multiple Stoker Award-winning author of In Silent Graves and too many other novels to mention).
Entrants will read their stories to the audience and the judges, While the judges are making their decisions, the entrants will hold a panel discussion on their writing process and how they dealt with this particular challenge. After the winners are announced, the judges and the writers of the top two stories will have a panel discussion on an as of yet undecided topic.
Apex Magazine is proud to be part of this event, and we hope you can join us at Winton Woods High School on April 1st!]]>
I was born with a tongue, but the others were not.
This is how it is: We who live on the edge of the Heap are different. Harper’s arms are no more than nimble flippers that sprout exposed bone. Zora’s skin blisters from the sunlight, while Ernest cannot raise his medicine ball sized head—he only lolls it. They cannot of course talk, so I talk for them, and I talk to them. We bronzer children of the golden class are a motley litter of rejects, everyone knows. So kilometers upon kilometers away from the outer city, we scrounge the Heap in contractual service of Sydney’s New Waste Strategies. Because nobody but us—and those like us—will do it. Digging into the Heap, which is really many heaps, we yank out its treasures and sort them accordingly: opaque plastics are ground, heated and pelletized; rare metals are stripped from the electronic innards of people’s junk devices; yuck organics are thrust into the 3D-er, which spits out scaffolds for auto-luminescent creepers to grow upon in parks far, far away from here; but shimmering finds like a cockatoo mask or a dented wind-up Tasmanian devil we keep for ourselves. We are free to do so.
Call me Eudora. It is a name selected 13 years ago by my carer, Naguib, from one of the spines of his flaking paperbacks that he keeps in chest-high piles in his shack—our shack. It was what caught his eye when two shove-happy bodyguards dropped my squirming infant body into his arms. Naguib said that Eudora would be ideal for me because it means “good gift,” and the author whose name I would share knew to tell stories True and isn’t that the best thing? To tell stories True? To not shy from telling people what is what …? It is what I try to do.
Our Naguib minds us, he says, because he has a “heart” unlike the rest of the world, unlike the goldens who flit about in the City and Eastern suburbs.
“Everything is sport for them,” he says when on a rant after viewing news on the tablet, or having some fresh conversation with the New Waste Strategies people, or seeing young goldens performing wheelies when pissed and visiting the Heap to have a peek at their creations: our kind. “Deviant liaisons in underground clubs with misshapen silvers or incapable bronzers, daring to go full-term just to see what it might look like, just because! It’s the new thing, a dare: couple with someone beneath you, allow a disgusting thing to grow in you! Hilarious. But then there is a bronzer child to get rid of when he or she comes out of the belly. What to do now? Just chuck it to the Scavenger Man, Naguib, he’ll not turn a defected infant away—he could turn nothing away, he lives in the Heap! Later, we can have a bet at whose children have lived the longest and have a gape at our own faces on failed bodies. What great sports there are for goldens. What fun.”
After these rages, he backs into a corner, droops over a book and reads. Usually, it is Steinbeck, though on occasion it is Morrison: only specific authors for specific ailments, he has said. He does not acknowledge us again until he is made right by the doing of it.
But one day, I have a notion and wedge into his rage. “‘Sport’ like a competition between the goldens, Naguib?”
He does not look up from East of Eden. “Aye, my Eudora. Competition between the goldens about you lot. Foul, is it not?”
I pause to consider the synonyms and then their implications. “Is it foul because we are foul?” I swallow the grit from the morning dust storm. “Because we are wrong and sick and—”
“Ridiculous,” he hisses, waving my words away. “It is foul because goldens are without conscience and do not take responsibility for their actions or inactions. Why should they have to, they feel. They’ve lived protected in the east, by the water. It is foul because the level of care they have taken with their bodies—and been at liberty to indulge in—for generations has been better than what they would afford to silvers. The silvers lived out west and in the south—nearest to Hazchem Site 0. And so now, the goldens and silvers are fundamentally different, both outside and in. Neither see you all as anything worthy of care but I do. I’ll keep you all safe, especially from the likes of goldens.” Naguib flicks his eyes at the others.
Ernest bats at a chain of clothes’ pegs dangling over him, while wheeze-breathing from his always-wet lungs. Zora whimpers over the dolly that Harper pokes at with her fleshy flippers. The two are signing at each other in a fury.
“You cannot imagine how many years I’ve been tending to those like your brother and sisters. Years, Eudora. You are my little innocents.”
We are not permitted tablets or vision feeds, and we do not go to the city, ever. He is our only teacher and I crave more, so I lean in towards him, the distance for appropriate secret keeping and I breathe, “If it is a competition between them over us, Naguib, who is winning?”
Naguib looks to me over his book, his eyebrows as dark as a line of a fat crayon mashed onto butcher paper, “Read a book to the children,” he grumbles, returning to his incredible, magnificent drooping. “Something fanciful. Concern yourself with giving them stories and nothing else.”
Lately, I have noticed how I’ve cared less and less for rules, and so after dinner, after Naguib kisses the tops of all of our heads, and after he warns us to stay inside because a mob of undercutters have been squabbling with people in the area, and he finally leaves the shack to discuss business propositions with our neighbor, I lift one of Naguib’s mangled but working tablets onto my lap.
It is a wrong thing to do. It has been strictly forbidden, but I push the power on and watch as a faded image shudders into view. It is an input box, waiting for my command.
I do searches as Harper cuddles into me, back to back, whilst playing with a doll. I bring the tablet in closer and discover sites erected by goldens posting mobile vids and pics of their bronzer offspring. Who has made the most hellish brood? They ask in loud sentences constructed out of purposeful grammatical wonk. Whose squirmer has lived the longest? Whose looks the most unsullied by the errant genes racing through the lower goldens and most of the silver class individuals? Whose thing looks least like the disgusting rubbish they are on the inside?
It is me who has won the longest-lived category, and I am startled that anyone knows I exist besides my family and our neighbors here. Something in me wants to celebrate. I do not understand why I feel so pleased at being a winner, but I must say that the others in the Heap have always said that I am the wrong one: flat, unforgiving in nature, brittle and sharp-humored, an old, pointless book. I am not right, I just look right because I have all my parts and seem almost golden on the outside, but inside my brain, what makes me tick, must be tangled and malfunctioning. But people somewhere consider me a winner, and my cheeks warm at the thought. And so while Ernest, who is on his back next to me, kicks his feet up at an uncoiled cord hanging from the ceiling, I allow myself to celebrate fractionally. Because I am thought almost worthy.
Eudora is a winner. Born with all her parts. Still living.
I look out the window to the plasmification plant puffing away in the distance, in the haze over the tops of the heaps and smile.
An ID image of me from when I was younger fills the panel. Besides it I find the proud face of my mother, captioned Vera Ryde. She has clear, unknowable eyes, like the eyes of a pale cavefish I saw in a proper encyclopedia, the sort of eyes that seem to have never seen the light of day. Only she has my thick black hair or, I suppose, I have hers. I think about who she could be, given what Naguib has told me of the goldens, and I stop. Instead I try—as respectfully as I can, just for a little while—to crush Naguib’s hot words into tidy, little blocks, akin to the aluminum can cubes the compactor belches out to be carried away by workers and made into something else.
I am about to press the power button. I want to take the children out for a walk, so that I can raise my chin at other bronzers, knowing that I am better but Naguib’s message box is flashing. If he did not relay to me the particulars of the competition, I am curious as to what else he might not have explained to me.
I do another bad thing because it is hard to live up to my name.
I tap Naguib’s message box open. The reveal is dull stuff, indeed: requests for location services, schedules for meetings with zero-waste advocates. But I scroll down and a message winks at me. Dated six weeks before, a message from Miss Ryde’s family indicates to Naguib that she is ill, and they request he deliver me to her staff in Sydney to be tested for a possible bone marrow match. Not only do I seem unadulterated from my bronzer parentage, in their estimation, I might also have a certain resistance to autoimmune diseases from my scrounging the Heap for so many years. Pig whipworm, bountiful gut microbiota, good cells, you know? They say I might be sturdier than her and I must help her because I would not be here without her having had an unsanctioned, sly union with a silver. She is valuable! Understand that they do not so much as blurt this as suggest it in the crisp, tight-mouthed language of goldens declaring how things must be to those below them rather than the sharp, lowercased boasts between them on the message boards. But I can read between the lines because Naguib has taught me everything about squeezing information from words, which are all we have. About taking everything you can from even the most rejected thing. I see that they have cut a message under their kind words and have been unsubtle about their request: exchange Eudora for future economic support or keep Eudora and certain business arrangements with Sydney New Waste Management Strategies and their affiliates could be dissolved.
Naguib sent a single reply: No.
I do not know what to think or what to do and instead perform a search for the children: Zora, Harper, as well as young Ernest. No one actively seeks them but there is information. It is projected by Ernest’s mother that he will not live past three, but should he, she will secure the winning of her social club’s pot, which is something in her book. Ernest just turned two. Isn’t it stunning how a few surgeries could prolong his life, she types? And Zora’s mother informs the board that her brood tends not to live past seven years of age, but that she is an adrenaline addict and cannot stop pushing her body to the max to see what other sorts of glorious bronzer wrecks she can create. She is quite proud of the angularity of her creations’ bones and their tissue-thin, blistering skin. She is pregnant even now with number five, and if it is a very promising wreck of a human, she may secure an attendant to care for it so she can hire it out at parties.
Naguib’s tablet back goes back into its port, and I stare at its stupid rectangularity.
I do not understand why the learning of information can hurt.
Last night, when I was fetching water outside and a dust storm brewed in the West, a bronzer boy from the East Heaps leapt out of the dark and shoved me into the side of one of our bins. With his too large forehead he leaned into me and asked if I thought I was superior to him, better than the rest of them? He did not wait for an answer but gripped my shoulders with his claws and told me that despite my words, despite looking like a golden, despite my ability to find treasures, I was just a dumb rat worthy of drowning, just a rat crawling around the Heap like the rest of them. Someone would teach me a lesson soon, the undercutters maybe. I have been taunted before but never confronted in this manner. It was as if each year I did not succumb to some illness and expire, others would loathe me more. So because I understood the boy’s anger and I knew he would eventually, if not then, soon, strangle me, and because I did not prefer being touched against my wishes, I stabbed him in the soft spot where his neck and face meet. I did so with a fork from my pocket, leftover from Zora’s tea party utensil set. After he slumped away, I returned to the others inside, picking up the bucket of water. I had not spilt it but felt sloshed myself, rather like I do now.
In the later afternoon I prepare the tub for the little ones without my usual focus, only half-trying to tell them a story as I unkink everything I thought I understood in my mind.
“A long time ago there was a monster that would blow into the Heap when red dust storms rolled in,” I explained, lowering each of them into the warm suds. “The goldens thought it was a lost mega fauna, galloping in from the interior but they weren’t especially confident of this theory and stood unsure and frightened when it would approach. They let it sniff around the rubbish collection centres of the western suburbs, but then it began pulling bronzers from the Heap for its brekkie. The monster was something new, not seen before and never known. It was made from rock and dirt on the inside but rubbish on its outside with twisted car panels like armor segmenting it. It was frightful and it swaggered, knowing its power to scare others. Usually, it would just eat bronzers but sometimes, because it was lonesome and wanted to play, the monster would curse bronzers instead. It would bend down, look into their eyes and with rotting breath; it would whisper the measurements of their hearts and the contents of their character. After hearing what the monster said they were, they could never be any better or do anything other than what the monster had said. What a curse! And do you know what happened then …?”
Zora taps the encased communicator tablet affixed to the shack’s wall, placed so thoughtfully by Naguib: “It needs its mom, yes, Eudora? If its mom came and told it to stop, it would. Its mom could even curse it into leaving everyone alone—moms are supposed to make their kids right.”
Harper disagrees, shaking her head. She stands to rub her flipper on the communicator, soapsuds skidding down her twisted back: “Stupidest of stupid ideas, Zora Stupidface. It is lonely and wants to play but it doesn’t know how to play proper-like. Someone must come and show it how to play, and then everything will be OK. I am right! Confirm, Eudora.”
“The both of you are wrong.” I laugh, squirting them with a mermaid squeeze-toy. “If you’d worked together, perhaps you would’ve figured out the solution. The monster is minus a heart—only cold shadows knocked around in its chest—that is why it ate so many bronzers. It craved hearts, sort of like how Ernest cannot slurp down enough tinned peaches because he loves them so much. So a brave bronzer marched to the monster and pointed to the city, where one can find everything, and said ‘I will take you to the city to find a golden who can give you want you want.’ And that is just what they did and no bronzer was ever eaten again.”
Zora crinkled her face and punched the communicator: “But what happened after that to the monster and the bronzer?”
Harper flicked Zora’s hand out of the way and frowned: “Are they still there looking for a heart for the monster? Even now?”
“Maybe. I don’t exactly know,” I say, washing Zora’s underarm. Always I have had to be gentle with her skin.
Harper was dissatisfied: “You are meant to know when you tell us stories. You are knowing less and less as you get older, Eudora.”
Zora winds her way back to the communicator: “You will have to find out. I don’t like not knowing the end of stories.”
I nod in agreement. Zora and Harper are like me; we all must know the endings of things. We are thirsty for it. As I dunk my brother and sisters’ limbs into the water, I turn my scowl on the inside, so as not to make them think I am sour with them because it isn’t them who I am growing angry at.
The thing is, because I was born with a tongue and the others were not, it is assumed I divulge all my thoughts. It is assumed that I want nothing but to give others the truth.
The assumption is false but I have not dissuaded people from it.
On the morning Naguib is set to leave the Heap for Sydney, when he is organizing his supplies for a new project negotiation, I work on suggesting that I am aware of nothing and am not considering doing Something he would likely disown me for.
“If you have a surplus of time, Naguib, could you bring us an extra book?”
“I do not like bringing things into the Heap, Eudora. We can get everything we need here.” He pats his breast pocket and smoothens down his shirt, ensuring everything is where it is meant to be. Naguib smiles. “Who would I be then, if I felt one thing but did another?”
I nod without a smile and look around for a place to put my eyes, anywhere that is not Naguib’s understanding face that has put up with the foulness of other people for years.
“But I might visit a resale shop to see if they’ve any editions they cannot sell that would be coming our way. Help them out, you know?”
“We would be thankful, Naguib.” I am as deceitful as the air here, seemingly OK but air that is truly filmy and wrong from the gases curling up from the open waste pit at the Heap’s edge. I do not know what to say to him.
“You are getting so much older. I will have to find something more appropriate for you to read. I’m not used to children your age, but no matter … you are getting older and that is a good thing.”
He grinds his teeth absentmindedly. He would like to sit and read, rather than sort all these problems out all the time, but instead of going to the corner to droop, he swallows the rest of his instant coffee and exits the shack, off to visit the other independent contractors with the objective of banding together for a unified force of re-purposers.
Ernest and I are in the clearing in front of our shack, trying to catch a worm, when the undercutters find us. As if they were waiting for us to be left alone.
“Golden Girl, Golden Girl!” they call. One slithers his tongues at me, but it is no bother: they look like the pirates in illustrations from Ernest’s adventure books and are as flat as. I am not frightened. “You found a sort of plant the size of your brother’s head? It moves on its own and blooms at night? Woulda been picked-up near—” The finder consults his tablet which hangs from his neck off a thick shoe cord. His business associate looks on with animal interest, like he is watching only because we’re moving, all the while sinking his teeth into a charred rib of some unrecognizable thing. “Near Liverpool Heap …? Big money for its return, Golden Girl, because get this: some golden got the thing for his littlie during a trip to Borneo or something—managed to sneak it in to the country but then his girlfriend chucks it. Thing freaked her out.” He leans in because people always lean in when they want something from you. “You help us out?”
“A plant of that nature would be a find,” I acknowledge. I plant my flimsy boot into a nearby pile of take-away food cartons with frilly designs to see them cave in, for the power of it.
He is careful in his wording and presses, “So you haven’t seen it then?”
I am more careful. “It is unfortunate you are having such a trial, locating these items all the time, but I cannot be of help to you,” I say.
The talking one nods, thoughtful, and looks out at the heaps as if surmising what to do next. The chugging from the compactor far off is muted. The sky over the Heap is a rancid orange but still. No one but us is around. “We don’t always have—how did you say it?—a trial with finding things. Why would you go and say a thing like that?”
“From my observations—”
“Your observations?” He grins.
“Yes, from my observations you are having an increasingly difficult time locating items in the Heap. It would trouble me if I were in your position. In fact, I’d consider undertaking some new occupation—at least, if I were you and were concerned about success.”
“Huh,” says the talking one, as if veritably dumbfounded though he is not; he is playacting as grown-ups often do for children. I blink at his reaction and he looks over to his partner. “Free advice is what she is giving us. Isn’t that considerate of her?”
The rib-eating one takes a long lick of the bone, flicks his eyes at Ernest at my feet and flips the bone to him as if he is doing Ernest an immense favor. I snatch it away, tossing the filthy think back into his face. He laughs. “Well, Locky, I am reminded of a previous encounter with this one. Remember how she and her twisted brother and sisters found that miniature generator contraption? Sold it? Even after you told her we was looking for it? Would do anything for it? Pay or barter a good deal to secure it?”
The talking one nods in such a way that I finally understand the word “solemnity.” “You alone, girl?”
I gesture to Ernest and then vaguely towards the shack. “I am never alone.”
“That’s as good as alone. As good as.” The rib-eater smiles. He scratches at his fuzzy chin. “I reckon we do a safety check in the shack. We could do a safety check on her, too.”
I coil on the inside. I will not have my home prodded by the likes of these scroungers.
The talking one must see something in my face because finally, he decides and says, “Ahh, leave her be. She’s still just a kid. If she’d found it, she’d be within her rights not to sell it to us. She could sell it to the goldens herself, make a small killing, buy one of her sisters some more time from a real doc. Anyway, we should try Mrs. Stanmore. Her brood finds all sorts of things.”
Rib-eating one shrugs, then pets my hair and smiles. “What you need is to get dirty like the rest of us, Golden Girl. As soon as you grow up, you come find me. We could all make a life together.”
“You are boring me,” I say, scooping up Ernest into my arms. “Good luck in all endeavors away from my home. Do not fall into the open pit on your way out.” To the talking one I nod, then turn to return to the shelter, supporting Ernest’s head on my shoulder.
“Deep down you like me, Golden Girl. I’ll wait for you and I may even buy you one day, when your father gets desperate enough!” calls the rib-eating one.
Inside, I crouch down onto the corner play area where Harper and Zora are to prop Ernest up. They peek out of the window of a cardboard house we’ve made. The ambulatory plant I found last night scrambles down the roof of the cardboard house to stroke Ernest’s head. Ernest gurgles happily and the plant’s bulbous sacks vibrate in response.
“The little ones must keep you,” I say to my trophy, stroking the cerulean green vine it unfurls towards me. I swell with pride at having kept it away from the undercutters. “Anything to make them happy, plant, yes? Besides, I have other things I can sell.”
If I can best them …
That night, after Naguib has returned and has taken to bed, I move. I brush my lips against Ernest’s lovely head. I push my nose into Harper’s curly hair. I stroke the closed eyelids of gentle Zora. They are my family and my home: I murmur that I will come back soon. It is a promise and not a lie. Soon, soon.
“Eudora? Where are you planning on going?” Naguib has come out from behind his partition of books, blinking in the semi-darkness.
I stare at him. I do not want to tell him the truth because he will not let me go.
He rubs his eyes, then lowers himself onto the floor, sitting cross-legged. “Eudora, Mrs. Stanmore met me when I returned. She said,” he paused at this and looked down, “the undercutters came by here? But I thought you would have told me …”
I continue to stare at him. To confirm would mean that I’d omitted the truth and was a liar. Quite possibly I could prove to be something defective. He might imagine me as irretrievably tainted by my golden parent and loathe me forever.
“Where are you going?” he asks again.
“I’m going to the City to visit my mother’s people and dictate my own arrangement. Bone marrow and whatnot for credits with their best doctors for the children.”
Like an old picker, Naguib ambles up to a standing position. He turns to a pile and carefully unwedges a book. He places it in my hand. “There is some credit pressed in here, so keep it close. Understand you are the oldest child I have ever had. You’ve lived the longest and made me proud in so many respects. I want to keep you for as long as I can. Out there, in the City, there are monsters but—”
I do not tell him that I think I, too, am capable of monstrosities if it came to doing so for my brother and sisters. Instead, because I cannot stand the hot, wet feeling stinging inside my nostrils, I turn away from my Naguib and give him the cleanest version: “I must go. I will return with what I’ve said. It’s a promise.”
Naguib scoops me into him for a hug. It has been a long time because he is not an affectionate man. “You can try, my Eudora.”
“I’ll do better than try.” And I leave our home.
I understand that in the City you can’t properly spy the satellite clutter gleaming across the night sky in hazes of bright white. Supposedly nothing flies there either, whereas here vultures and plastic bags drift along in giant glittering flocks.
No matter. It is merely a place, like the here, which contains goldens who are thirsty for sport. For Harper, for Zora, for Ernest and for Naguib, I will see just how much goldens want to see me, how much my mother can provide, and then I will return with everything my family has ever needed.
This will happen because I am a treasure, and people will pay for what’s rare or amusing.
This will happen because I say it will, and I know how stories are supposed to work. I was the one born with a tongue and the others were not.
Mary Elizabeth Burroughs is a graduate of Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego and University of Mississippi’s MFA program. A native of Florida, she now lives in Sydney, Australia where she teaches English to high school students. Her published fiction has appeared in Black Static, Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism, and Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars (Aqueduct Press).
There’s this thing called the Locus Magazine Reading List. The reading list is compiled by the Locus Magazine staff editors and professionals in the field. The Locus Awards winners are then selected from that list by reader voting.
Since Apex as a whole only has one item on the entire list (novel Rosewater by Tade Thompson–yay Tade!), I want to accomplish five things.
1) Help Rosewater make the Locus Awards top 5 in the novels–science fiction category.
2) Via write-in votes place “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon in the top 10 for novelettes.
3) Via write-in votes place The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler in the top 10 for novellas.
4) Via write-in votes place Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka in the top 10 for first novels.
5) Via write-in votes place an Apex Magazine story in the top 10 for short fiction. Based on popularity and critical input our most popular story of 2016 was “The Old Man and the Phoenix” by Alexander Baisden.
Voting is easy. Go here and fill out the ballot. There are lots of quality works–let your opinion be known fairly and in all the categories. Considering voting for Rosewater and writing in “The Tomato Thief,” The Kraken Sea, and Stay Crazy.
While you’re there, grab a subscription to Locus Magazine. It’s a fine publication that has earned the support of genre readers and writers.
If enough of our readers and fans make their voices heard via the Locus Award voting, perhaps the work of our fantastic authors won’t go overlooked!]]>