Fiction

The Last Living Summer

It was Donna who brought up the odd change in the air. I had noticed too, but I hadn’t said anything about it. There was something in it, an aftertaste that shouldn’t be there after a gulp of it. Metallic, like aluminum would taste if you put it on your tongue. She thought it seemed thinner, too. It might have.

It smelled like fish.

She stopped in when she was done her walk for the day. She beachcombed. Such an old-fashioned name for it, sounding very blue and green and smelling like salt, peaceful and quaint; it was more like a reconnaissance mission or the act of a militant, scouting for signs of the enemy.

I was on the porch and saw her coming long before she called hello. My house faced the water, just as hers did, six hundred feet to the east.

Donna got all the way to the post at the end of my “yard,” the one with the fake seagull gruesomely nailed through the feet to the wood, before she looked up and saw me through the screen.

“Air tastes funny,” she said. She stopped at the foot of the steps and took a big breath. “Like metal.”

I nodded. I was sitting with my notebook, playing, not doing much of anything, waiting for a time when I could pour myself a drink. There was still propriety. So I got up and pushed the door open as if I was going to give it a sniff.

“Just come on up.”

She looked around up at the sky and down the beach where she’d come from and then did come up. She was tanned, her teeth unnaturally white against her skin. Outside the door the air was still. The only sound was the slapping of the waves against the shore, against each other. No birds. Not for weeks now.

The wood seagull was the only one I’d seen since June.

“Tastes like metal,” Donna said...

Elevated State

3rd Place Winner of the "Enter the World of Filaria" Contest

The suns blazed down on the manicured lawn. Sweat down his neck, but he did not wipe it away. His suit itched, in that all-over way only a new suit could. He would not scratch at his collar. He could not. Representatives from all the important plantation-level families were here. They had made birds for the occasion, for God's sake.

The Director's introduction droned to a conclusion. ". . . give you the Exploration Society's field researcher of the year." Disinterested applause. A clammy handclasp. Then he was at the podium. He looked down at his notes on the subcultures developing on the reservoir level. Gave a nervous cough. He looked out at the audience.

They were naked. All of them. Red blotched mottled their bodies. Pus oozed from sores. They stank of shit and blood. He swallowed. Saliva caught in his throat, congealed there. He coughed again, trying to dislodge it.

A paroxysm of coughing wracked his body. When it finally subsided, he looked down at his hand. Blood dripped onto the floor. Eyes blinked in dim light. The lift. He was still trapped in the damn lift.

He tried to stand, to look out the small window. He could not get his legs to work. How long had it been since the attendant had appeared, asking if he required assistance? He still shivered at the way the scared, too-wide eyes had looked down at him. The way it had not met his eyes when it passed the damp, grey foodstuff through to him.

"Eat. Eat. Make you feel better."

His stomach churned. He had been so hungry. It had tasted surprisingly good, but he was miserable now. He did not know what exactly it had done to him.

He banged on the wall again, leaving a red stain. "Help! I'm...

Maker of Flight

1st Place Winner of the "Enter the World of Filaria" Contest

ISAAC, L1

Moist air clung to his skin as he hunched over the workbench, goggles tight. Isaac held the little bird down with his gnarled hands, the incessant chirping pinging his ears.

"Schit schtill, wouldja," he said, as his mouth clenched shut, rotten gums pressed together tightly where teeth used to be. "Thish ish for your own good."

A flurry of blue wings batted at his knuckles, panic stretching the tiny bird’s eyes wide, as Isaac poked around its backside with the silver screwdriver. Finding the latch, he inserted the tip into the screw and the cavity flew open, spilling sprockets and gears onto the scarred wooden surface. Quiet filled the room as he placed the still bird down. Wiping his brow and the top of his bald head, the candlelight bounced off the walls. Silence. Stretching his back, shoulders raised, he took a deep breath. Hacking out a deep, rattling cough he spat into a dirty handkerchief and stuffed it into his pocket. His dusty dungarees were more stain than fabric. The floor was lined with metal parts lurking in the shadows. Sheet metal and iron beams, mesh wire and rebar. Rust and mold drifted to his flat, wide nose, his sinuses raw from the turpentine and ether.

He reached across the desk, a hulking presence in the claustrophobic room. Grasping the tin cup, he swallowed the orange juice in one massive gulp, squinting his eyes shut for a moment of humanity. He’d paid a lot for this forbidden fruit. Scarce, yes. Gone? No. So many lies and rumors these days. But the sweet crank that was his only friend, nectar to the godless, she was his only reward for a job well done.

Dirt walls vibrated around him as...

The Angel of Fremont Street

The flimsier ones look almost like abandoned plastic bags or discarded call-girl calling cards whirling precariously in a too-slight breeze. These are the personifications of "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas"—false faces slipped on for a weekend and left behind, left to pile up in the corners of the Strip like any other trash.

Elizabeth barely notices them anymore. She used to kick them off with revulsion, disgust, when they’d wrap around her legs, eddies of almost-wind kicked up by her strides, but now her kicks are mechanical, almost like part of a dance. The flimsies always try to cling to anyone solid. They never realize that she’s a discard, too.

Elizabeth is one of the most vivid discards anyone on the night side of Vegas has ever seen, and no one knows why.

She didn’t even know she was a discard at first. Venus found her on the roof of the Flamingo, looking down at empty, dusty streets and the buzz of dying neon, and told her. You’re a persona. You’re something someone pretended to be for a while, then cast off. A mask. Some strange mask, because alone of all of them, Elizabeth seems just to be a regular girl. Venus was a drag queen, paint and sequins and desperate yearning for femininity. Hal, sitting on the front steps of the 7-11, was a drug dealer, cast off when his originator went straight, left Vegas. The flimsies are all millionaires and supermodels, just like everyone who thinks they’re reincarnated claims to have been Cleopatra.

Elizabeth is twenty years old. She is here for college. She is from a suburb of New York City. She has a few brothers; one has a potassium deficiency, so the first thing she learned to bake was banana bread. Yes, she loves to bake. Yes, she...

Bone Pickers

2nd Place Winner of the "Enter the World of Filaria" Contest

Erik was dreaming of a time and place not his own when the pickers came to get him. Many tiny silver hands, tugging at his skin and clothes, woke him, and he shuddered off the memories of the dead man whose arm and leg he wore.

"Man here," announced one of the pickers. The voice didn't come from a mouth—its head was smooth and featureless as a silver egg.

"'Course I'm here," he said to their blank, upturned faces, the words clogged by a throat full of phlegm. He hacked up a gob of it and spat it into the far corner of the crate. "I'm always here."

"Other man," said the picker. "White hair. Loud voice. Not new."

"Not new? He's been here before?" People passed through the warehouse level -- some of them even had camps set up in corners among the boxes and crates—but the pickers usually left them alone. "Why bother me now?"

"Monculii," the picker explained.

"Shit." Rolling up to his feet with a move both graceful and asymmetric. "He's screwing with the monculii?" He and the warehouse supervisor had modified certain machines in secret. "Better bring me."

They swarmed up his lower body, silver hands and feet and bony spines pressing against him, and he was whisked out of his crate and down the grey-tiled floor, carried by pickers at an impossible speed. Impossible for any human, especially him, with his gait lopsided from having legs of different lengths. The pickers' tiny feet left no trace in the dust thick on the warehouse floor.

He saw the bulk of the monculii before he saw the man; the smooth black oval of its face loomed out of the warehouse mists at the end of the row of crates. The pickers clinging to its...

Matthew

“Do you remember being dead?” Rana crouched, and pressed coffee into Matthew’s hands. The fingers that brushed hers as she pulled away were cold.

“No,” Matthew’s voice was quiet, even. “I remember before, and I remember after, but nothing in between. I remember you, but I don’t remember why I came here.”

He turned his head towards her, owl-like, and if he saw the hurt flicker in her eyes, he gave no sign. His eyes reminded her of gas flames burning low—blue ringing orange and gold. Rana rose, and crossed her arms.

She was conscious of the weight of her gaze on his cold flesh, even if he wasn’t. She thought of Matthew’s funeral, and the days before and after; a blur of time bleeding together, like the rain-shadows running over her dark skin as she watched him.

First had come the call, after midnight, with Jena’s broken sobbing on the other end; then the funeral in the rain, cold mourners filing past the casket; a flicker-frame reel of a car crash playing out in Rana’s dreams, and last—Jena running away as though she could outrun the pain. And Rana, left behind to pick up the pieces and try to explain.

Now there was this—Matthew dead, but at her door. She had let him in, and in the moment she couldn’t have said why. Perhaps it was something in the cold rain dripping from colder skin, something in his smile, in his strange burning eyes, something in the way he had pronounced her name, softly.

“Rana.”

Just that. Just her name, and his flame-strange eyes watching her from behind drops of water gathering in his hair, making it into points before falling away.

“Rana.”

Out of everyone he could have gone to, he had chosen her. And she couldn’t say no.

Watching him, Rana frowned and chewed her...

The Mystery of the Missing Puskat

Densley Takes On A Case

He knows America well; there are cars in Detroit, and gangsters in Chicago. New York has the Mob, and Man Jew, and Broadway, and Hollywood is called La-la land and it is magical: it is where movies come from.

Father Ben has the books, and he lets Densley read them. Thirty or so: it is a vast library of knowledge. Women are called dolls; men use their fist, or a gun. Densley too has a gun; he has carved it himself, of the burau tree.

It is sava, dusk, when he returns home across the football field. He is deep in thought; the gun is in the waistband of his trousers. When he glances left he can see the sea beyond the trees, and rising above it, the volcano, obscured by clouds. When he goes past Eliezer's house he sees a girl, playing alone by the side of the road. When he comes closer he sees that she is not playing: she is crying.

“Olsem wanem?” he says. What's going on? The girl doesn't stop crying. She says, “No gat”—but clearly, Densley thinks, something is wrong.

The girl's name is Isabel, and she is the daughter of his cousin Samson, not the one from Gaua but the one who once worked in the Public Works and had since disappeared, sans wife and daughter, into the bright lights of Luganville. He says, “Isabel...” and waits for her to look up. “Si?”

“What's going on?” He kneels down beside her. Isabel says, “I can't find my puskat.”

Densley feels disappointment. Here, he had felt, was a client and here, he had felt, was a case. The moment he had seen Isabel cry (for she never cried) he knew that something was wrong, and his help would be needed. It was a promising encounter, but now ... a missing cat?

“She probably went in the bush,” he says. Isabel shakes...

Dust and Bibles

“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this?”

2 Thess 2:5

The interior of the red pickup he’d hotwired in Cactus Lake picked up an underlying odor like rotten cheese beneath its smell of vinyl and old hair grease. Despite the dry desert air, he was sweating. His damp palms stuck to the black plastic steering wheel and dark stains patterned the crotch of his light-colored jeans and the armpits of his matching jacket. Beneath the band of his cowboy hat, trickles of sweat prickled his brow.

The radio, which had been playing a mix of old country songs and some newer, turn-of-the-century honky tonk, was replaced with hushed static when the truck moved too far away from the tower in Cactus Lake to pick up anything good.

Outside, the sun reflected off everything but the highway—the white desert sand and the pale rocks and the chrome parts of the truck. It threw everything into a bright and blinding haze, and he was thankful for the sunglasses he’d found tucked up in the truck’s sun visor. On the black asphalt, the sun burned the road kill to cinders and it reminded him of dehydration — a nasty way to die. Your guts cooked and your blood evaporated into dust in agonizing slow-motion.

The severed head sat beside him on the passenger seat in a green and stained canvas rucksack. The taste of curdled milk sat on his palette and he’d decided a while back that was what death tasted like. He’d have killed for a cold beer but he’d have killed just for the fun of it too.

Beside the head was a file and an envelope stuffed with $2,500 in old American dollars. That was only half the money; $5,000 was a lot of cash for a delivery job. He couldn’t even get that much to murder a man anymore. Raping...

Dancing in Eden

The bar is smoky when Adam enters. It reeks of spilt beer and the feverish stale sweat of those surrounding him. Immediately, the closeness and the tension make his tongue swell and press against his teeth. He claws his way to an open spot at the bar, orders a beer he hopes will be cold and knows will not, and turns his eyes to the front of the room.

The cool flicker of dead light reflects off the multitude of eyes glued to the stage. He joins them in the sacred prayer for HER appearance. The one moment he risks looking away is to grab the beer waiting for him. The glass hits Adam's teeth sharply and rattles his foggy brain. His gums start to bleed, but he doesn't care. He licks at his blood and beer stained lips and gulps hard, the aftertaste becoming the only thing he remembers about the alcohol he just swallowed. That and the light buzz suffusing his thoughts. He wonders briefly if the buzz is truly from the beer, or emanating from those pressing in around him like sardines.

The silence suddenly becomes unreal, every breath, every blink in unison. Every person in the room melts into the silent seduction, and the unfathomable black of the stage becomes the partner they each long to impress.

Slowly the music begins...

At first Adam mistakes it for the shuffling of feet and the scraping of the door as it admits more and ever more of the faithful through it's gaping maw. Like a bird, the rhythm rises up from those commonplace noises and risks making itself known. A common gasp of relief ripples through the crowd until it reaches him. He raises his voice with the abandon of a zealot. All eyes strain forward. Each of these human husks surrounding him leans toward the stage. They are pressed into Adam's back and sides, their...

The Turtles

You stand under the winding staircase leading to your room, and with your imperfect hand you run over the unknown handwriting that on the envelope put down your name.

You feel a strange stirring inside you, a puzzlement, and you smile... because somebody remembered you—and sent you a letter. JUSTIN CERNY, SCHOOL STREET 10, OLOMOUC. You read your address and suddenly you cannot catch your breath—you realize that... that it was written by a woman.

You firmly grasp the envelope—until your arthritic fingers ache, lean on the crutch and, lost in swirling thoughts, unheeding the pain, you climb those twelve coiling stairs to your forgotten realm, where you will sit down and look who wrote to you...

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Right after the door is closed upon you, you drop the crutch, and breathe out; you have left the world behind, outside, all by itself. You take in the silence of the little room in the centre of the ancient city. The silence. And the mute movement of your three companions—three turtles—running at their own independent, time-challenging pace in the closed space of the four carton-box walls. You have always admired them—their serenity and peace. But tonight there is no time for watching them, you hold a letter in your hand. From a woman.

You switch on the lamp and slowly open the mystery. By now you ignore the quiet of the room, the tranquility of the misty city on this November evening, the distant chimes of trams; your attention is focused on your clumsy fingers—and once again you think it a curse being so clumsy, so handicapped at your age of thirty years—but quickly you cast it all off, automatically—the way they had taught you at home—and begin to observe the violet paper protruding between the pale...

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