Posts Tagged "short fiction"

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant’s Tale

by on Aug 4, 2015 in Short Fiction | 1 comment

(3,500 Words) Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages… Every circus has a story, and every story has its secrets. Those of us taxed with bearing the burden of such things do so with no sense of pleasure, only duty. We remember so that others, in time, may forget. I. Here, the music: a calliope. The notes, instantly recognizable; the tune, age-old and clichéd. The instrument itself, its brass pipes pitted and dark, is carried within an open-sided wagon, the wheels painted in once bright shades of yellow and red. There is no way to adjust the volume, so the music is always too loud, too brash. I’ve always hated the music. It brings to mind the sharp pain of a cattle prod, the shouts, the forcing of my cumbersome body into positions it wasn’t meant to hold. And for what? The momentary pleasure of others, the applause, the indignity? All small cruelties of a life lived in captivity. But we are all captives in one way or another. And so the spotlight swings a great arc, back and forth, back and forth, until it stops to reveal: The Ringmaster: Time has left his top hat with a curious, half-deflated appearance, and there’s a tiny V missing from the brim. If you ask, he’ll blame a Siberian tiger with an incompetent handler; the truth is, he’d indulged in too much popcorn and tripped up the steps, but to admit that would be to concede fallibility and appearances are paramount. Always. He’s taken to sneaking a handful of popcorn in the morning, carefully brushing his teeth afterward to remove the evidence from his teeth. At night he doesn’t bother to hide such things. He’s in charge of the Big Top after all, and if the red and white stripes on the tent are dull, if the fabric is frayed at the edges, it’s no one’s business but his own. The Contortionist: She never stays still. Pale and lachrymose, she flits from one room, one space, to another, leaving a trail of glitter behind. Her fingers are always on the verge of trembling; her lips hold an apology at the ready. For nothing. For everything. She rarely speaks and when she does, her voice is high-pitched, her words either sharp enough to leave marks behind or light enough to drift in the air like wisps of cotton candy. When she catches a glimpse of her reflection, she jumps, unsure who the face belongs to but unable to remain still long enough to peer behind the silvered mask. The Mirror Twins, Acrobats Extraordinaire: Two girls of fifteen, long of limbs and torsos, wide eyes in elfin faces. The eldest twin (by a mere three minutes) has a tiny mole on her right cheek; the youngest has the same on her left. They slip and glide through hallways and rooms, their feet making no noise whatsoever, something they’ve spent their lives perfecting. They exist in their own sphere, a small ring within the larger whole. They share a bedroom they’ve painted pale green and do their best to avoid the Ringmaster, having learned all too well the sting of his whip when he’s reminiscing. They wear matching scars on the backs of their thighs when they were unaware he was still awake one night. But they were younger then and not so careful. The twins see the Contortionist in passing, but the passage of time has turned those meetings into small, unhappy accidents. They can’t bear to see the way she folds her body, the way her joints seem boneless. (And she cannot bear to see her own failure in their eyes.) The Animals: Me, a scarred beast with broken tusks. I keep to myself in the corners, sleeping most of the time. In truth, I’ve not the energy for much else, but even when I sleep, I’m aware of the performers around me. I see and hear everything, even the secret thoughts not meant to be shared. On my back I carry a gilded cage, filled with dark, shadowy shapes, nebulous things...

Read More

It is Healing, It is Never Whole

by on Aug 4, 2015 in Short Fiction | 0 comments

(3,400 Words) When the souls of the suicides come tumbling out of the low, gray clouds, it’s given to us to collect them, catalog them, contain them, and load them onto the train. None of us know where the train goes—it’s the general consensus, to the extent that there is one, that it would serve no purpose for us to know, and anyway it’s not our job. Our job is to collect the souls of the suicides and do everything that comes after. The soul of a suicide is a delicate thing, a floating wisp of silver gauze, shimmering and nearly transparent. They fall slowly, almost dancing, and sometimes I step outside the dormitories onto the dead grass and I tilt my head back, and I seem to remember something like this once before, catching solid cold on the tip of my tongue. The soul of a suicide is not cold but gently warm, like the space in a chest where a heart used to nestle. It makes you want to cradle them, gather them close, and sing them songs to which you only know half the words. But we don’t hold the suicides like that, because it would show an inappropriate amount of favoritism. We catch them in our huge cloth nets and pull them into the separating trays, where we scoop them up in our hands and wash them in the cloudy water that jets out from the spigots before the trays, and we slide them, softly pulsing, into the collection jars. When they pulse like that I think of shivering, but I and my fellows never speak about this. Someone has always been here, doing what we do, because there have always been people who, for one reason or another, decide that life is just not for them. Someone—but it has not always been me. I don’t think. Sometimes I lie in my narrow cot in the cavernous dormitory and, like those soft, subtle clouds, I get my fingers around what remains of before, but then it slips away and burrows itself into the mud and I don’t see it again. Not until the next time. § This one had eyes. In my hands, it blinked up at me. Its eyes were blue and pale, like little fragments of what I remember of a very different sky. There was nothing else of a face on it, but there was all the feeling in the world in those eyes, though there were no tears. I don’t know how it blinked, for its eyes were lidless, but there was a flicker in them like a veil passing over and gone again. A veil or part of itself. I stood there, cradling it in my hands. No one around me seemed to notice, but I was barely aware of that, anyway. The soul of a suicide is not supposed to have eyes. A suicide is done with eyes. As they’re done with ears, nose, a mouth. Those were some of the things they relinquished when they gave up everything else. But here it was, looking back at me. The water was waiting. So was the jar, and then the train. But I didn’t move, staring down, and at last I pulled my hands in like the nets, curling them up and over my chest. I held the soul of the suicide close to my unbeating heart, and I slipped it into the folds of my shirt. No one saw me, I don’t think. At any rate, no one did anything. The soul of the suicide pulsed its slow heartbeat pulse. It didn’t feel as if it was shivering now. § I know you haven’t seen the train of the souls of the suicides. Allow me to describe. The train is infinite, and none of its cars are ever empty. They contain racks upon racks of our jars, loaded with special mobile arms as it roars past our loading dock in a never-ending rush. It glows in the dimness, and that glow may be individual lights on the outsides of...

Read More

Coming Undone

by on Aug 4, 2015 in Short Fiction | 3 comments

(800 Words) Entry #070-698 I was born incomplete, unfinished. My right leg ends in a stubby knee. The corresponding arm never developed past the shoulder. People always think these undeveloped limbs are the error, but it’s the full-length, ‘healthy’ limbs that make me wrong. I’ve spent my whole life trying to fix God’s mistake. Entry #070-699 When I was old enough, Mama and Pappa bought me a plastic prosthetic leg. It was slick and it slid against the stub of my knee, birthing goosebumps. It was wrong, but they couldn’t know that. On the holo-screen, I saw men and women more metal than flesh. Glistening steel connected to bone and muscle, woven under their skin. Powerful arms, piston legs, pulse-cannons, and jets, made one with the human body. My breath caught. For the first time, I realized what I could be: Whole. Entry #070-723 I come home from the surgeon with my stubby knee and a metal leg connecting at the hip in place of the ‘good one’ I was born with. Leaning on a crutch, I hobble forward. Each step is a thrill, electricity skittering up my spine. I can hear the tiny whirring of my leg. It is good. Right. Even if Mama and Pappa can’t see that. Entry #070-727 There’s a glimmer of pride in Mama’s eyes when I show her my enlistment papers. For a second, she thinks I am normal. For a second, I feel normal. I can’t tell her why I really did it. Can’t confess that it had nothing to do with patriotism or duty or honor. Turns out I don’t have to tell her. She later finds the UISR Marines “Augmentation: Your Best Body, Your Best Weapon” pamphlet in my desk drawer. “I should have known,” she says. A dead flat glaze—defeat or disgust?—replaces the glimmer in her eyes. Entry #070-1034 I am 78% augmented. I am 78% whole. Two robotic legs, two synthetic arms, a DNI chip in my skull. I move freely. Each step makes the ground tremble and I tremble with it. Minute vibrations purr in a comforting rhythm better than any heartbeat, warmer than the soft lull of a sleeping lover’s breath. It feels so good to be 78% right. There’s more progress to make. Every firefight with the Gambazi offers the chance to earn more money and thus earn more augments. Mama doesn’t speak to me anymore. Pappa still writes, but his emails always contain at least one plea—veiled or overt—to seek ‘help’. I shouldn’t let that hurt me. Entry #070-1050 Wrong. Wrong. My body rebels. Goddamn Gambazis. They’re tearing me apart from the inside. They’re destroying all the work…. And the Marine doctors only stand by, useless. Screaming, I beg them to fix me. But the Gambazi Virus cannot be fixed. My traitorous flesh is rejecting the metal. I am coming undone. Entry #070-1053 One by one, they disconnect and haul away the best parts of me. The pain is horrendous, but the emptiness and silence are worst. There’s no heads-up display filtering my world. No gentle hum of gears and processors to soothe me. I am a filthy lump of flesh tangled in sweaty hospital sheets. My arms, my legs…my everything, all stripped away. General Vora visits, brings my honorable discharge papers. A shiny gold stamp on a slick piece of paper. My augmented body—my best body—has been reduced to rubble. They want no part of the aftermath. I want no part of it either. I beg the nurse to end things for me; if I had hands, I’d do it myself. Entry #070-1055 Mama bursts into tears, but does not recoil. She flies to my side, brushes stray hairs away from my sweaty brow. Pappa stands behind her, jaw working as he takes in the wreck of my body. “Mama?” I choke out. I never thought she’d come. She wraps her arms around me, pulls my head to her chest. Warm—I forgot how warm skin can be, how comforting. “Mama?” I rasp again. “I’m so sorry, baby.” Pappa steps closer, settles his hand...

Read More

Brisé

by on Aug 4, 2015 in Short Fiction | 0 comments

(5,300 Words) You are in the kitchen. You are staring at the coffeepot, at your reflection in the glass carafe, much as you stared yesterday at the door of the microwave, and the dark night before when you fixated on the patio door. “How many?” you whisper. “How many more could there have been?” You back away, then turn and leave the kitchen. As you pass through the house, your reflection catches you in the polished silver potbelly of the umbrella stand, in the sun-shot crystals of the chandelier, in the convex face of the hallway clock. § Erin stands in her hallway at the studio door and grips the rubbed-brass doorknob. She rests her forehead against the solid wood and her hair swings down along her cheeks. She watches the tendons draw across her knuckles as she flexes her hand, grasps the knob tightly, then relaxes. She feels that her entire body is as taut and discolored with strain as her thin hand. She pushes away from the door, flaps her hand to shake out the tension. She chuffs out a breath and her shoulder blades thud against the plaster of the wall opposite the studio door. She slides down to the carpet and sits, her legs outstretched, to gather herself. § Richard had presented her with a studio of sorts, with its too-close mirrored walls and an ugly impediment of a barre. The day of his grand reveal, he had unlocked the door, then pushed it open so she might precede him into the little room. It had been a bedroom before, ideal for children, Richard had once liked to suggest. Inside, he closed the door, and pointed out all the features he’d specified. “I installed a sound system for your music, and see, up there’s a security camera so I can watch you work. Motion-activated. I’ll never have to miss a step. It feeds to a server so I can watch you from anywhere in the world. Just a one-man audience, I know, but I’m your biggest fan.” And when Erin said, “Thank you, I love it, it’s perfect,” she, for the first time in far too long, heard her own voice sound familiar and correct, bright with echoes as it crashed her lies back to her from the shining walls. “One thing,” she’d said. “This door doesn’t lock from the inside.” “Why would it need to lock from the inside? And besides, what if something were to happen to you? You could fall and break your back and nobody would know it, if you’d locked yourself in.” “You would know. You’d see through your own personal surveillance system.” He was watching himself in the mirrors. The expression on his face had been complex, as if he wished to feel pleasure but could not quite reach that threshold, and wasn’t certain why. Erin had known exactly why he wasn’t satisfied. He’d built his own music box, complete with dancer, and it wasn’t quite right. He’d done it wrong. He’d forgotten to turn the key, and Erin—his gaze in the mirror shifted from his own face to her body—wore slacks, not a tutu and tiara. Erin pressed her molars against each other as her husband failed to conceal a sigh. She tried a different tack. “The door opens inward, you see? If I can’t lock it behind me, someone could open it while I’m dancing and hit me with it.” “Someone who? Me, you mean. Who else lives here?” He looked around playfully, hand planked over his eyes as if he sought some newcomer from a distant horizon, but the effect was lost, because the two of them were mirrored to the North, East, and West. Plenty of the two of them lived there. “The cleaners, maybe. Guests. I don’t know, I’m just planning for the worst-case scenario. Could you have the contractor come back tomorrow and fix the lock?” He turned and looked directly at Erin’s face, the real flesh face this time, not the mirrored one. He moved to her and held her face in...

Read More

Never Chose This Way

by on Jul 7, 2015 in Short Fiction | 3 comments

1600 Words Once upon a time, I thought I was a girl. Once upon a time, I lived in a castle. Well, it wasn’t really a castle. It was a fortress of sorts, though, and it had something like a moat and something like dragons, or that’s the story we told each other at night, whispered from room to room, down halls that stank of antiseptic and that stuff you sprinkle on carpets to soak up bodily fluids. The smell, I think, lent something to it. The dragons all had hypodermic needles. The dragons all wore scrubs. There were bars on our windows, and we had all been somebody’s princess once, but somebody got disillusioned. Because teenage girls are like that. You try to raise us pretty and proper, but we go out and develop personalities on you, and suddenly nothing fits. This girl-skin doesn’t fit. When we went around the circle at group, the litany of why-are-you-here was generally “drugs”, “depression”, “family problems”. Time and again, “family problems”. And we would nod, we would accept that as code for “they wanted a good girl, but they got me instead, and now I am here.” § We are told that there is only one right way to be a girl. We’re told that, and for some of us, we know from day one that we’re doing it wrong. Too fast too loud too rough too big, shut your mouth, make yourself smaller, let the boys talk, be pretty. If there is only one right way, everything else is wrong, and depression, drugs, family problems? We’re here because we failed. We failed to be what we were supposed to be. We’re wrong, our parents told us. Bad girls. And they locked us away. § Annabel decided one day that she was a dragon. I pulled my legs up under me on the couch in the dayroom; I’m too small and my feet don’t reach the floor. “How can you be a dragon?” I asked. Annabel stretched, preened. “I just am,” she said. “I can’t be the thing they tell me I am. I’m something bigger than that. Something big and scary. Something that—that can’t get hurt.” Something that can defend itself. Something that takes down every white knight that comes along. § Aimee was a werewolf. She told me in our shared bathroom one night; two girls shared a bedroom, four girls shared a bathroom. I wished she was my roommate; Rachel didn’t get me, didn’t even read, but Aimee had fading blue stripes in her thick brown hair, and curves, and she didn’t seem to mind me looking, when she caught me. She bared sharp teeth at me when she told me she was a werewolf, but that fierceness dissolved into a laugh, which she followed with an affectionate hip-check. Still. I could see it, Aimee thickly-furred and bloody-fanged. I could see it. I wanted to see it. § (I would trace my bones beneath my skin; I was far too thin when they brought me here, they said, but I just said this is not my body, this is just meat. I would lay flat on my bed and let my fingers dip between my ribs, cup my hip-bones—they protruded like handles, like I’d whittled myself down to be easier to grab, to hold, to pick up, to take away. Take everything away, and then what’s left must be me. I tried to kill myself when I was twelve and no one asked why. At sixteen, I was even lighter, and in my third well-guarded castle.) § If you’re not a girl or a boy, we reasoned, you must be a monster. It made perfect sense. Our sexuality was monstrous to those around us. Our appetites. Our refusals. Clara was a gorgon, turning men to stone; she had her reasons. There were dozens of witches of different varieties, and several other wolves, and gradually more and more dragons. Strong young dragons who fought with our guardians, kept fighting, built up a tolerance to their venoms; when Thorazine lost...

Read More