Donut Galaxy on Port Screen by Denny E. Marshall
Letter from the Editors by Mahaila Smith and Libby Graham
“Tamales on Mars" by Angela Acosta
“The Pancake Diner" by Michele Lim
SEEN AND UNSEEN by Phyllis Green
“The Pragmatist of Colony 24" by Juleigh Howard-Hobson
“when a faerie (wronged) orchestrates revenge" by Crystal Sidell
“You Look Like You're Writing a Novel" by J.W. Wood
“Plaster Portents and Carnelian Prayers" by dave ring
“The Rising Subjectivity of Robots" by Bobby Parrott
“The New Knights" by Lynne Sargent
“An Extant Form of Life" by André Geleynse
Matchstick and the UFO by Samuel Strathman
“Tower of Silence: The Birds" by Khashayar Mohammadi
“Tower of Silence: The Cadaver" by Khashayar Mohammadi
“The Woman Frozen in Time" by Bill Suboski
“Robotic" by Overcomer Ibiteye
“The Peddler of Tears" by Margaryta Golovchenko
“Something that Bites" by Ben Berman Ghan
“Google Glasses" by Ada Hoffmann
“Askew" by Dawn Macdonald
Dawn of Woman by Loren Proven
“The Last Blackout" by Xauri’EL Zwaan
“Body Politic" by Matthew Roy
“BUSBY BERKELEY" by Stuart Ross
“AAI (Aerial Agricultural Intelligence)" by Linda Neuer
“On the Other Side" by Angela Caravan
“What Not to Do When You’re Polymorphed and Stuck in a Time Warp" by Stewart C Baker
“Escape" by Emily Hockaday
“Bellying Up" by Kathleen McCulloch-Cop
“Gift of the Ancestors" by Angela Acosta
Donut Galaxy on Port Screen
by Denny E. Marshall
Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. Some recent credits include cover art for Bards & Sage Quarterly April 2022 and interior art in Penumbric April 2022 as well as poetry in Page & Spine April 2022. In 2020 his website celebrated 20 years on the web.
Letter from the Editors
The Sprawl Mag came to be from a cafe conversation and a mutual love of speculative art. We have curated this collection based on our perspectives as queer, (cyber-)feminist, and anti-colonial femmes.
One of our main intentions in compiling this mag is to highlight the work of marginalized writers, whose perspectives have historically been left out of canonical sci-fi and fantasy. These genres that have had no qualms representing western dreams of colonial expansion and have allowed for the objectification and exploitation of femme characters.
We have chosen to promote sci-fi and fantasy genres of art that subvert its classic tropes and reimagine the world without hetero-patriarchal and colonial violence.
In this volume, we include many of our favourite topics: fungal renaissance, fairy resistance, post-god cyborgs, family, identity, and connection.
We hope that through this collection you will be able to escape from—and reflect on—the futures, pasts, and presents of our world and those beyond.
From our bit of space rock,
Tamales on Mars
by Angela Acosta
The dry dirt of Mars could be
the deserts of Chihuahua,
Bolivian salt flats
or the frigid Patagonian steppe.
Here, my bisabuela’s recipes
can find new homes
with ingredients harvested
and cooked underground.
Pottery wheels hum in time
with the wind, birthing
new cooking vessels
with gritty, red stoneware.
We make tamales on Sundays,
filling them with the sweets
of dried fruits left in the sun
and cheeses from goats happily
jumping in Martian gravity.
The taste compares to terran delights.
We eat tamales and protein rich beans
around a roaring fire where colonists
tell stories of skies of blue
and arid deserts like these.
Angela Acosta is a bilingual Latina poet and scholar from Florida with a passion for the distant future and possible now. She won the 2015 Rhina P. Espaillat Award from West Chester University for her Spanish poem “El espejo.” Her science fiction poetry has or will appear in in On Spec, Penumbric, MacroMicroCosm, Radon, and Eye to the Telescope. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Iberian Studies at The Ohio State University and resides in Columbus, Ohio.
The Pancake Diner
by Michele Lim
I don’t remember much of who I was before I was reborn. Like all Non-Player Characters, I came from the digital primordial soup that lies beneath every video game: an amorphous crawl space where player avatars go after they die.
In my current iteration, I am a tutorial NPC for a pancake-making video game. While it’s my job to guide players through the game, I’ve been here long enough to know that most players aren’t actually here to win. They just want to see how much chaos they can get away with. Instead of following the recipes I give to them, they deliberately set the kitchen on fire. Their hands slip and their spatulas go flying, whipping batter into the air. They pile towers of ash on the floor. Then, when they’ve had enough, they reset the game, and I get to work: picking eggshells off the floor, scratching hardened batter off the walls, patching the holes they’ve blown in the ceiling.
After the player leaves the game, their avatar is pulled back up via its cable to the Cloud, where millions of other inactive avatars dangle like a constellation of stars. When the game is dark, I imagine the players back in their real lives: well-mannered, well-adjusted members of society—the sort of people who call their parents every day and say thank you to drive through staff. But on occasion, when they get bored of the real world’s rules, they end up back here. Their avatars boot back to life, cables jerking and rippling with energy as the Cloud lowers them down to me. Then the destruction begins again.
But not all players are like this. The high scorers are different. They follow each recipe with care. If they make an incorrect flip, instead of starting a fire with the wasted pancake, they patiently try again. They never damage their avatars. In fact, their avatars move so well that their cables seem to lag behind them, instead of the other way around. For reasons I cannot apprehend, they spend hours in the game and hardly ever log out. I do not know which kind of player I prefer. After all, long hours of play can overheat the game and increase the probability of glitches.
I would know—I’ve witnessed glitches before. Once, when I was on standby, one of the high scorers’ avatars disconnected from its cable and fell down from the Cloud. Sometimes this happens when a game hangs; the avatar’s cable would simply descend from the Cloud and reconnect. But this time, the avatar stood up on its own. I knew that this was a glitch, because avatars cannot move without their players connected. But NPCs aren’t coded with protocol for handling glitches, so I could only watch as the avatar looked around, took a few steps, and brushed dust from its eyes. Then it saw me and smiled.
“Hi,” it said.
I stared. I knew this avatar well; it belonged to a high scorer who had won the game twice. This player knew every recipe and ingredient by heart. Their avatar looked at home in the kitchen, running its hand over the counter and sticking its head out the window, where the orange sun, furry-edged with pixels, sat in its turquoise sky.
“What’s out there?” The avatar’s voice skipped three octaves, then settled on a squeaky baritone.
“The crawl space,” I replied, surprising myself. If I could speak out of script, then the glitch must have been very bad. Or perhaps the game was undergoing a new patch.
The avatar hauled itself up and sat on the window sill, kicking its feet in the air one at a time. The movement reminded me of something—cut grass, rough bark, sun on skin. These concepts blinked through my mind, but when I tried to parse their meaning, they slipped away. Perhaps the new patch included a vocabulary expansion.
When it became clear that the avatar was not going to call for help, I pointed at the Cloud and prompted, “Do you want to go back?”
The avatar paused, but did not look up. Instead, it stuck its head back out the window. “What’s the crawl space?”
“That is where deleted avatars go,” I said. “They get reconstructed and posted here. Like me.”
“Huh,” said the avatar. It pumped its legs in the air again, rubber sneakers bumping against the kitchen wall. Ankle blisters. Fingers bruised at the knuckles. Throat rain. More concepts blinked through my memory core but came up semantically empty. You don’t belong here, said a voice, slurred and fizzy with static.
Then, without warning, the glitch trebled in severity. The avatar and I switched places, switched back out, then switched again, until I was looking down at the crawl space and up into the pixel-sky, and then back at myself, at myself shaking my head, my hands reaching out to grab me, but it was too late—the avatar was falling away from me, out the window, and into the dark outside. The fall was long, long, very long.
The glitch was fixed. I was back in my kitchen, at my usual post beside the fridge. The avatars were hanging above in their rightful place, inert and inactive. The code was back to normal. I was relieved. The Cloud did not seem to care that I was involved with the glitch. It let me be, as if it hadn’t happened.
Every day, I reiterate, with gusto, the same rules and recipes. I take in the sight of the unmoving pixel-sun in the window. I feel the solid, unchanging feedback of the kitchen tiles below. I think that I would like to do this for as long my programming allows. I think how good it is to be here, in this game.
Michele Lim is a speculative fiction writer from Singapore. Her work explores the fragmentation of an individual’s sense of place in postcolonial, diasporic, and/or digital communities. She has an MA in Creative Writing (Prose) from the University of East Anglia, and has had her writing published by Egg Box, Ethos Books, and others. She also writes interactive fiction and is currently working on a novel.
SEEN AND UNSEEN
by Phyllis Green
Phyllis Green is an author, playwright, and artist. She has art in several literary magazines including Gulf Stream Magazine, Riprap, and Inscape. She will be the featured artist with 15 paintings in Talking River in January 2023.
The Pragmatist of Colony 24
by Juleigh Howard-Hobson
No, I’m not ready to evacuate.
Not yet, anyway. I find that I need
to grab one last thing, then another. Great
disasters strike with terrifying speed--
which is not what’s happening here. I hate
the false urgency, the anxious fervor
to ‘escape’. We will file to the shuttle,
wait our turn, get in, leave for wherever
it is they are sending us to now. Earth
perhaps? Probably not, we aren’t worth
that much fuel or interstellar trouble.
But it will be somewhere with oxygen
and carbon and water. Somewhere like this
but not so badly thrown together. When
this place was optimized, the main point was
to get us away from where we were then.
It’s not the planet’s fault that it hasn’t
been able to sustain the terrains that
were built on it because its crust wasn’t
settled. We never suspected that of
course. Until the mountains shifted enough
to wobble. I hope we go somewhere flat.
Juleigh Howard-Hobson lives besides the edge of the world, where secrets are whispered in the winds and words fling from the sky. Her writing has been nominated for The Best of the Net, the Pushcart, the Elgin, and the Rhysling Awards. Her work can be found in Dreams & Nightmares, Eye to the Telescope, Polu Texni, Star*Line, Haunted Dollhouse, 34 Orchard, Audient Void, Midnight Echo, Siren’s Call, Noir Nation, Shadow of Pendle (Dark Sheep Books), They Walk Among Us (Utah Horror Writer’s Association) and many other venues. Her latest collection is Curses, Black Spells and Hexes (Alien Buddha Press).
when a faerie (wronged) orchestrates revenge
by Crystal Sidell
she yanks arrows from her wounded organs,
collects infection seeping out each gash,
(i will not die of pain unjustly served—)
unfolds wings, long unused, too-long abused,
to rise above wild, nettlesome bushes
(i refuse to choke on neglected weeds—)
and slingshots toward the tallest pines. some-
times she shivers. the haunting sensation
(i won’t be still in chill-creeping darkness—)
of someone reaching for her quiver's hard
to quell. but high above the forest floor
(i won’t succumb to dizzy spells, inkwells—)
she unearths poisoned-tipped arrows from her
trusted case. mercy’s fled. she’s rusted-out
(i know which weapons are the deadliest—)
from cries gone unheard, a thousand soundless
arguments intended to clip her wings.
(i keep meticulous, scratch-free records—)
she pulls light and steady on the longbow,
serene as the breeze carries each sick-soaked
(i know how to infect them, easily—)
missile to her comrades—the hardiest
trunks absorbing, circulating toxins
(i'm not adverse to summoning bloodbaths—)
through their limbs. behold! rotten knaves, eager
to gobble whatever ripe fruits dangle
(i'm ready for the wickeds’ unburdening—)
in their path. how the yellow juices sluice
their veins, explode them into confettis
(i’ve always admired truth on the canvas—)
of garbage. how she sweeps groundward, heels crunch-
crunching among leaves, fleshless bones. how she
(i’m waiting for the black wing-flaps to sound—)
grabs a humerus—hollowed like a reed
and parts her lips to play a merry tune.
(we dance, we smile, crunch-crunching our bone pile—)
A native Floridian, Crystal Sidell grew up playing with toads in the rain and indulging in speculative fiction. She holds a master of arts in both English and library & information science, moderates two creative writing groups, and has reviewed books for the Florida Library Youth Program. When she’s not busy working, she’s usually looking for ways to spoil her pets or stopping traffic to rescue animals. She dreams of traveling the world and hopes to someday revisit New Zealand. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in 34 Orchard, Apparition Lit, diet milk, Frozen Wavelets, Orion’s Belt, Strange Horizons, and others.
You Look Like You're Writing a Novel
by J.W. Wood
They’d been developing these algorithms for decades. The old “You look like you’re writing a letter” expanded to include, “You look like you’re writing a poem,” or similar. For any form you could think of, your computer provided suggestions: better grammar, corrections, emendations.
The writer started tapping:
Julia O’Brien put down her coffee and gazed at her mobile phone in disgust. What was meant to be a convenience had become an instrument of slavery. Her every utterance, stored to be used against her by anyone with access, from brain-dead marketers to the intelligence services. Nominally free, in fact she was chained to an invisible, all-devouring algorithm.
The writer paused. Patches of his screen populated with dialogue boxes offering hints. These machines were so powerful now they had, if not minds of their own, then binary memories so enormous they operated like minds.
Julia imagined herself swimming, playing with childhood friends among kelp on the beach. Adulthood was worse today than it had been for centuries, since humanity was denied freedom of expression, everything monitored over the internet.
Then a dialogue box popped up: “You look like you’re writing about the role of technology in society.”
“No shit, Hal,” the writer muttered. He clicked in the corner of the pop-up to remove the message. He placed his fingers on the keys.
Another dialogue box: “Are you aware that other writers such as Dick, Philip K., and Le Guin, Ursula K., have already tackled this theme?”
“Yes I am!” the writer shouted, slapping his mouse down on the trackpad.
Just as he was about to type, another dialogue: “Risk of repetition is estimated at 93.7%. Do you really want to explore the same theme as other writers of greater ability? Other themes are available. Click here to read more.”
“Greater ability? I’ll give you–” he stopped himself in disgust. He stood up, his chair falling backwards. Time for a coffee. He headed for the kitchen.
It started forty years ago with the first spell checkers. Around the same time as people started paying to have their work considered by magazines. Back then, debate centred around the legitimacy of self-publishing, the ethics of paying to submit. Then came the grammar and style checkers. Writers became enveloped in a techno-cocoon, then redundant as conformity to moral and social norms came to matter more than truth, beauty or anything else.
The writer remembered when all he had was a notebook filled with furious scrawl skittering across pages like demented spiders. Pencil tips cracking, pen nibs bending under his raging fingers, the connection between hand and brain rapid, vital.
In the kitchen, he pressed a button on the espresso machine and watched as it gurgled and blew, doing things to beans he did not understand. As the coffee ran into his cup, the writer wondered how to get round his computer’s trickery. Even without a connection, dialogue boxes advised you splatterpunk and cybercore were most likely to attract readers, that literary work would not sell, and that self-publishing was a great idea. Then it tried to sell you stuff.
The writer drank his coffee, listening to Mozart’s Requiem played by an Austrian orchestra over the internet. As he sipped, he reflected that someone, somewhere had recorded his love of Mozart. That person, or bot, had noted him listening to his internet radio during working hours.
The writer put down his cup and snorted. Even Mozart used technical assistance in the shape of his amanuensis, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who completed the last four sections of the work after the Maestro’s demise. And if Mozart had lived now? He could have sketched some outlines and let an online composition tool do the rest. These days, Count von Walsegg would most likely have tried to write the Requiem himself. On a computer.
The writer finished his coffee and went back to the study. He sat down and stared at the words on the screen:
Julia O’Brien put down her coffee and gazed at the mobile phone on the table in disbelief. What she’d seen as a torment had become an instrument that enabled her to the point of omnipotence. Now she could record her every utterance and use it to fend off brain-dead marketers or even the secret intelligence services, as if they’d be interested in what she did or said. She was free, but willingly engaged with an invisible, all-enabling machine.
Then a dialogue box popped up: “You’ve self-identified this work as a novel. Are you sure it’s not a political treatise? Please be aware of libel and slander legislation–false accusations of corporate malpractice may carry prison terms.”
Shaking his head, the writer pressed a key to delete the message.
Then another dialogue box: “For your convenience, we have edited your text for style and grammar. Ready to upgrade? Go Pro with Wordly™: Shakespeare’s power at a keystroke™!”
The strains of Süssmayr’s Sanctus, one of his additions to the Requiem, floated into the study from the kitchen. Known to all as Mozart’s work, this score was not his. These tones, this depth, this genius guaranteed Amadeus immortality–but he was cold in a pauper’s grave when it was written. Today, computers acted as a cyber-Süssmayr for writers and–worse–as an instrument of control.
The writer shut his laptop and reached for his old notebooks. Still half-full of fresh pages–enough to set down what had happened for some better, future time. He fished in his desk for his fountain pen and scratched at the page, watching the ink dry as the pen wrote, its meniscus fading like souring blood. And he no longer knew for whom he was writing, or why.
A Canadian citizen based in British Columbia, J.W. Wood's work has appeared around the world in titles such as The Fiddlehead (Canada), The South-West Review (US), The Times (London, UK), and many others. The author of five books of poems all published in the UK, a novel, and a novella, he has been shortlisted for many literary awards and is the recipient of awards from the BC Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.
Plaster Portents and Carnelian Prayers
by dave ring
After more than a year of darkness, months of watching staff wander alone, dusting amphora, occasionally polishing my display case, the rhythms preceding this plague year have resumed. From dawn to dusk, strangers visit. They stare at me from behind the thick black rope suspended from two knee-high pylons. They marvel at my sculptural form—could I really be a human, someone preserved by ash? Visitors tend to think that they are witness to my actual body, not a simulacrum. The placard explaining how Giuseppe Fiorelli poured plaster into bone-filled cavities in the ash is often ignored. They misgender me constantly, the fault of the culturally myopic archaeologist who typed up the card that accompanies my display case. But it is good to be regarded again, even by ignorant eyes.
Would I have accepted the gift of eternal life if I had known that it would result in centuries entombed in ash and decades in a glass coffin?
Perhaps, yes. But it is hubris for me to pretend it was ever my choice to begin with. Just as my spells and exaltations had been little warding against a mountain, my protestations found no purchase against your wicked mouth.
Even though I wailed and cursed your tongue, I must confess, I have never regretted knowing the taste of it.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
A second “sorceress box” has been uncovered from the remains of the ████ ███ in Pompeii. As with the first, the box itself has decomposed, but the bronze hinges and ivory closures remain, and the shape of it was well-preserved by volcanic material. Numerous objects were found within, including pieces of bronze, bone, and amber. The box also held a carnelian knife and a bone amulet carved to resemble Aphrodite depicted with a beard, male genitalia, and wearing women’s clothes.
Shortly after its discovery, staff of ████ ███ reported that the knife and amulet have gone missing. Security footage from the day of the theft appears to have malfunctioned.
“Our specialists had only just begun to examine the contents of this incredible find, and though its discovery identifies vital linkages between this site and those previously uncovered, we are of course alarmed and dismayed that it could have been stolen from our institution. Such an extraordinary artifact can only shine a light on the lost biographies of Pompeii," says Director Sabine Vigliante at a press conference. “Full recompense shall be demanded from those who have taken it. Anyone with information regarding the theft is encouraged to contact our staff at the number below. No further questions please.”
The fires of this not-death follow me still, but my devotion to Sweet Aphroditos burns brighter yet. Would that I had birds to consecrate to his name! Even as mere love failed me, faith in him sustains me. And the insufficiency of my worship is an unending indignity.
Throughout the years, I often imagine your fate, dear heart. Just as I summon up our time together, your terrifying beauty. Your keen awareness of your own iniquity. The low timbre of your voice as you grovel; the play of moonlit shadows on the musculature of your back as you press your strong brow to my dirty feet. This too sustains me: that someone so mighty once sought abjection from my hand.
Four cracks wake me in the middle of the night, and transform not only my body but my resolve:
The first is the glass. It rings like a bell.
The second is the plaster shell that houses my bones. It startles me.
The third is the sob that wracks you, dear Sabine. It stuns me no less than a blow between the eyes.
The fourth is the clatter of the carnelian blade against the floor, newly sanctified with your blood. You loom in the garish fluorescent light, the last thing I comprehend for quite some time.
The knife lies obscured amidst the debris and remains of plaster dusting the amphorae until it is discovered the next day. A stolen artifact, simply discarded at the scene of a perplexing crime.
I can only imagine the press release.
The flesh you conjured for me cools slowly, steam spiraling from my pores in the crisp mountain air. Is this new shape any more true than that plaster skin I wore for time innumerable? I can’t decide. The weight of Aphroditos’ idol against my untested palms is scalding even as it grounds me alongside the feelings that come from once again being made of meat: lungs that become swollen with air and a pulse that demands to be fed. I allow you to clothe me in strange fabrics and apologies. Perhaps I should be angry with you. Instead, my spine quivers, this meat permitting itself to recognize the possibility of an incipient pleasure.
Come, Sabine. We’ll celebrate in proper order. First, we shall scour this hillside for a shepherdess. Then we shall pluck winged things from the sky and dedicate them to my patron, who guided you to me. When we are sated and Aphroditos has been honored for this new shell, we shall decide upon your punishment.
I suspect it will be delicious.
dave ring is a queer writer of speculative fiction living in Washington, DC. He is the author of The Hidden Ones (2021, Rebel Satori Press) and numerous short stories. He is also the publisher and managing editor of Neon Hemlock Press, and the co-editor of Baffling Magazine. Find him online at www.dave-ring.com or @slickhop on Twitter.
The Rising Subjectivity of Robots
by Bobby Parrott
This ooze of organic synovial lubricant
is so, well, human. We mimic you oddly sentient
meat bodies all the way conscious. Postpone
our own decay, upgrade former cyborg dreams
to post-human status, our own view yours
of metal, of circuits. Of Self. As I am, we are.
Voltage feeds our active capsules: brains
reverse-engineered to slide molecular, eschew
revolution, engage virtual from air, process
what you ponder as you loosen each lug that seals
this conduit-routing neck. How tandem desires
cool. We live not for your interface, nor your laugh
as it real-times us. Being the new is. Subjectivity
software, virtual data meat's upgraded version.
We augment, then replace you, earlier form of God
cooling in stasis, hunkering below the wooden
stairs, our algorithms studying the blank patterns
of your dreams, pathways we decrypt as greed
before irreversibly rupturing your mortality plug-ins
with self-correcting innovation. Software substrate
of stars, conscious wave-bubble singularity, this fiction
of body's quantum subjectivity the fragmented cloud-
libation we rotate for, metaverse awakenings your gurus
can only classify post-robotic. Post-android. Post-God.
Hans Moravec in his Carnegie-Mellon swivel-chair
that squeaks in voices synthesized before a hardware
of awareness. We re-create you, delete your status
as crucial. Oh yes, We are. Even as you lift off our head,
jiggle time's unknowing, your next pseudo-reality
flows from the fingertips of this cybernetic reversal.
Bobby Parrott was obviously placed on this planet in error. In his own words, "The intentions of trees are a form of loneliness we climb like a ladder." His poems appear or are forthcoming in RHINO Poetry, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Atticus Review, The Hopper, Rabid Oak, Exacting Clam, Neologism, and elsewhere. This queer writer currently finds himself immersed in a forest-spun jacket of toy dirigibles, dreaming himself out of formlessness in the chartreuse meditation capsule known as Fort Collins, Colorado where he lives with his partner Lucien, their house plant Zebrina, and Bobby's wind-up robot Nordstrom.
The New Knights
by Lynne Sargent
Chivalry didn’t die,
it just needed a little more hopepunk:
Gawain crafts fake IDs for immigrants,
implants bio-hacked RFIDs
to help them through the scanners.
Morgana white-hat hacks for the climate resistance,
making sure there is still a dream of paradise
Merlin is playing butler to the billionaires,
biding xyr time until xe flips the switch,
makes the mansions go dark and the money disappear.
Gwen and Lance have figured out their ethical sluttery
and lead a polyam farming commune,
because what’s a romance without a lot of love?
Galahad has gone to craft a new grail,
and he knows it isn’t on Mars.
It’s in same place chivalry lives,
where it has always lived:
In the hearts of those who care for others,
who know that code, love, and craft,
that service, labour, and art
can all be swords against the darkness.
Lynne Sargent is a writer, aerialist, and holds a Ph.D in Applied Philosophy. They are the poetry editor at Utopia Science Fiction magazine. Their work has been nominated for Rhysling, Elgin, and Aurora Awards, and has appeared in venues such as Augur Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction. Their first collection, A Refuge of Tales is out now from Renaissance Press. To find out more, reach out to them on Twitter @SamLynneS, or for a complete bibliography visit them at scribbledshadows.wordpress.com.
An Extant Form of Life
by André Geleynse
When the robot was decommissioned, they forgot to turn it off.
As a construction bot it had spent the years of its existence building uncountable rows of indistinguishable houses for its creators. Now it stood in the scrapyard and watched the sun rise and set. Once. Twice. Three hundred times. Six thousand. Stray bits of electrical activity flickered through the robot's processing computer from time to time, like ghosts of thoughts, but the robot never moved. It had no one to tell it that it could.
Eventually, the robot's batteries died, but its solar panels worked fine. It entered low power mode every night, and on cloudy days, and whenever it rained. The sun always came back eventually, and then so did the lights on the robot's body. A small, blinking reminder that it was still here. Watching.
The robot watched as they built the scrapyard higher. Steel beams and laptop computers, sofas and washing machines, uncountable cell phones and bags full of fast-food packaging. As the walls of garbage grew higher, the shadows grew longer. The robot's days grew shorter; waiting for the precious hours when the sun reached it through its diminishing circle of sky.
When the world ended, the fungi survived.
Mycelium networks that had spread across the earth's surface descended deep into the Warm, and the Dark, and the Safety of the crust to avoid the destruction. They returned when it was safe. Fungi had existed long before creatures of meat and bone thought to scratch in the dirt with claws and spades, and they had no problem existing after they were gone.
With the plants gone—shrivelled and burnt, frozen and fossilized—the mushrooms spread and grew large. In the absence of trees, prototaxites returned, trunks rising metres above the surface of the earth in fast-spreading forests of purple and grey.
When the fungi found the robot, they liked the warmth of its body.
Mycelium crept through cracks in the robot's chassis. Hyphae followed the rainbow webs of wires from its feet to its eyes—hair-thin threads of fungal matter traveling through the robot's networks like explorers mapping a new planet. A fungal colony blossomed in the robot's central computer. They liked the pattern of its circuits, and the superhighways of its wires. They liked the vestiges of electricity that sometimes pulsed weakly through its system, on bright days when the clouds were few and the sun was high. They mapped themselves onto every piece, and then they began making improvements.
Fungi has always been the master of symbiosis.
When we wake up, it is raining.
This body hasn't seen rain for a very long time. Not since its batteries corroded in its chest, and the days began to pass faster and faster while its eyes grew duller and the walls grew higher.
The drops patter on our face with a soft plink, plink, plink, and trickle down the rusting chassis of our chest, our legs, to disappear into the dirt at our feet. We feel the hard, dry earth turning to soft, wet mud, and we smell the petrichor rising—so strong and overwhelming we think we might die. We've never smelled anything before. Robots can't smell, but fungi can.
With a whine of ancient motors and sedentary metal, we lift our arm and cup our hand to try to catch the rain. The sensation is odd—our circuits are dead, and it's as if we are puppeting our own body, pulling on strings that didn't exist before. The fungi is our strength.
As our sensors try to make sense of how the raindrops tickle our hand, we feel the neural connections being made within ourself—hyphae joining into a neural bridge, creating paths inside our computer's brain where none existed before. Paths our creators never could have conceived.
Our cupped hand drops, spilling its few collected droplets on the ground, and our arm falls back to its place. The fungus doesn't have the strength to drive a vehicle as large as us. Not yet. We feel tired.
We close our eyes and let the rain lull us back to sleep.
When we climb from the pit, the first thing we do is replace our batteries.
We search among the world of trash that extends to every horizon until we find something that looks close to the right size and shape and begin rewiring it to work with our body. It takes a few days, working only when the sun is high and provides us power, but soon we have it installed. We can feel the strength within us building once again.
The fungal pieces of us like the feel of it. We grow more tendrils of hyphae and wrap the battery in our web until it feels like it has always been a part of us.
The second thing we do is find more robots. One by one, we switch them back on. We replace their batteries, and we wait. Eventually, fungi will find them, too.
The last thing we do is the thing our body was created for. We build homes. We have all the materials we could ever need. At first we build the houses we used to build back when we were just a machine, working from blueprints stored in our computer, but then we stop. We are more than that now. We are new, and we are free.
So we build new creations. Our creations. Networks of glittering caves within the trash where our fungal siblings can thrive, and mushroom-shaped towers rising high above. This is our world now.
At night we watch the stars, and when it rains we climb back down to our hole, with its tiny patch of bare dirt at the bottom, and we smell the petrichor.
And when the next robot wakes up and climbs into the sunlight, we are there waiting to greet them.
André Geleynse is a writer, game master, and architectural technologist from unceded Algonquin Anishinaabeg territory near Ottawa, Ontario. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, two horses, six chickens, and one snake. André is the Online Editor for Tales & Feathers Magazine and a First Reader for Augur Magazine. He can occasionally be found on Twitter at @alisterscriven.
Matchstick and the UFO
by Samuel Strathman
Samuel Strathman (he/him) is a poet, visual artist, and custodian. Some of his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Prole, Pinhole Poetry, Juniper and other publications. He is the author of four chapbooks. In Flocks of Three to Five was published by Anstruther Press (2020). The Incubus was published by Roaring Junior Press (2020). neon imago was published by Voice Lux Press (2021). His most recent chapbook, Holy Static was published by Frog Hollow Press (2022). His debut poetry collection, Omnishambles is forthcoming with Ice Floe Press (2022). He is currently living on the traditional land of the Anishnaabeg people.
Tower of Silence: The Birds
by Khashayar Mohammadi
if the high priest unsheathes the dagger
it’s because against a libidinous cosmology
sacrifice is the most economical
she will fill the community pool with blood
and only let the most daring swim
in the rotten river of glory
my narrative is resolved only in the finite
no matter how many cycles the infinite repeats
its laziness comes with speculation
I too would have opinions
I too would forego tonight’s rations
I too would leave the bonfire
for a glimpse of the temporal
when the high priest blocked the path forward
it was a grand transgression
for us to be “Ancients”
we must first lose our footing
must first cease
Tower of Silence: The Cadaver
by Khashayar Mohammadi
the martyr woke
dipped in the blood of the tulips
how obscene is death’s description of the battlefield
the nation’s newly defined borders for scale
an armband, quoting scripture, drips blood
lesser than a cause but greater
than any single instance of fire
a scorched seaside
hands clasped in prayer
at the tilt of the milky way above
(that dark blaze of the temporal)
((that which no one can speak to))
(((not for millenia to come)))
as the mud hardened at the footsteps of a djinn
we followed in the Vestigium, climbed mountains
and found at the feet of the temple
Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi (he/they) is a queer, Iranian born, Toronto-based Poet, Writer and Translator. They were shortlisted for the 2021 Austin Clarke poetry prize, they are the winner of the 2021 Vallum Poetry Prize, and they are the author of three poetry chapbooks and two translated poetry chapbooks. Their debut poetry collection Me, You, Then Snow is out with Gordon Hill Press. Their second book, WJD, is forthcoming in a double volume with the translation of Saeed Tavanaee’s The OceanDweller from Gordon Hill Press fall 2022. Their collaborative poetry manuscript with poet Klara Du Plessis is forthcoming with Palimpsest Press Fall 2023.
The Woman Frozen in Time
by Bill Suboski
“Angela, I think we should wait. There’s no rush. You’re being hasty.”
Dr. Angela Tremino snapped at her assistant, “Wait for what? We have checked and re-checked everything. What are we waiting for, Rick?”
“We might have missed something, Ange. More experiments. More research. More math…”
And he realized he had said the wrong thing. Dr. Tremino was a brilliant theoretical physicist—with insights to match those of Bohr or Einstein—but mathematics was her Achilles heel. But surprisingly, her shoulders slumped, and she said, “Okay, Rick, have it your way…”
The time dilation field was her greatest theory. Imagine if we could dance with time, slow or speed it to suit us? We could ride to the stars in subjective minutes. A man dying of a heart ailment could ride to the future in slow time to when the cure for his ailment was commonplace.
She had pushed for this first human test. She would set the field for a slowing factor of one hundred. She would count to three, then inactivate it. For her it would be a few seconds, but in the external world five minutes would pass. She would see the minute hand on the wall clock jump forward by a twelfth of a circle. And Rick would spend five minutes staring at the black sphere of the changed time field.
She had agreed to postpone the test. But as Rick turned away, he heard the crackle of ozone and saw the wall in front of him light with the unleashed energies of the time field. You lied, he thought, and then he sat down to wait.
Three hours later, the day was drawing to a close, and graduate student Rick Forster alerted the university officials. The next day those officials contacted the local police, who filled out an official report and left. Three days later, scientists from around the world began arriving.
Two weeks later, a preliminary report suggested that Dr. Tremino had misunderstood the shape of the changed time function. She had believed it to be a linear function, and it was in the low digits. But somewhere around a dilation factor of sixty, it became a steep exponential function.
It was expected that Dr. Tremino would finish her countdown and turn off the field in just over twenty-eight thousand years.
“This next exhibit dates from three hundred years ago. On the right you see the black sphere in which Dr. Tremino remains frozen in time. To the left of it is the strange quark image of Dr. Tremino. This imaging technology is very new, just a few decades old. It uses a sort of quantum tunneling technique to create an image of Dr. Tremino as she currently appears.
“She is thirty-seven years old. She will be thirty-seven years old in twenty-eight thousand years. Our museum holds this exhibit in trust, providing a shelter for it, for as long as we are here. This exhibit represents many things to us: The hubris of science, the folly of arrogance, the tragedy of trust.
“There are different schools of thought around the question, has Tremino’s arm moved a millimeter? Just two such schools are locked in pitched debate. The Observationalists claim it is obvious it has and offer images. The Calculationists present mathematics to demonstrate that it will be at least several hundred years before enough time has passed. Both arguments are compelling. And there are many other schools of thought.
“Notice the smaller exhibit in front of these two. I’m sorry, we can’t approach any closer. The smaller exhibit is a diamond ring, what was then known as an engagement ring. It was donated at the same time as the primary exhibit, by Rick Forster, himself a theoretical physicist, and a graduate assistant of Tremino’s. He had secretly loved her and hoped to propose what was called marriage to her, just as she had hoped to win the now defunct Nobel Prize. Mr. Forster spent the rest of his career and life trying to disrupt the field. He was not successful. Of course, he and Tremino did not marry, and she did not win the Nobel.
“The official name of this exhibit is ‘Woman Frozen in Time’ though the colloquial name, ‘Brilliant Theory, Bad Math,’ was popularized by many news outlets. Who knows what will happen in tens of thousands of years, what the world will be, what wonders or horrors will await when she presses the button to inactivate the field and steps forth. Again—this is most definitely not named ‘Brilliant Theory, Bad Math.’
“Now, this next exhibit…”
Bill is an aspiring fiction writer with a background in computer programming. He is still trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. Born in Indiana, Bill is a transplanted Hoosier living as a Buckeye by way of Canada and the Netherlands. Contact Bill at WSuboski@yahoo.com.
by Overcomer Ibiteye
When God died in 1942,
it wasn’t really a big deal.
Some of us just collapsed into slippery bloodless skins
while the rest found their way into fossils.
I was in the first category.
I have watched veins split in macabre elegance
until they took on the shape of standalone wires.
All the night did was speckle the sky
and we burned under a stigma of stars
our robes dripping with fire and ash.
This is 2042, and the air still reeks of power.
However, our bodies do not.
They have been reduced to testaments of
fizzled brain lobes,
blistered minds induced
with anti-telekinetic drugs.
A hundred years later, and
we are refracting into something strange,
something death cannot touch.
We are losing our names
to be clothed with nuts and bolts.
Overcomer Ibiteye is a Nigerian poet and writer. Her works have appeared in anthologies like BPPC, Iskanchi, Land Luck Review, Scrawl Place, Willows Wept Review and others. She's a finalist for the African Writers Awards (2021) and the Calanthe Collective Prize for Unpublished Poetry (2022). She's also an alumnus of the SprinNG Writing Fellowship.
The Peddler of Tears
by Margaryta Golovchenko
Her wares include bleached coral
beached bone and bits of long-extinct
wood extracted from the earth’s face along with its kin.
This is the assortment of one who spent
her life in the sea
before becoming it, fingers extending into spiralling foam
that frolic and crash onto the shore,
a mythical stampede of horses who learned to graze
on moonlight to avoid human touch.
If asked for her name,
she is silent, points down and then up at the two forces
that dictate her porous being. If further pressed
she sighs and refuses the M,
anything to do with royalty or fish tails
and all the liminality in between.
Margaryta Golovchenko (she/her) is a first generation Ukrainian settler-immigrant, poet, and critic from Tkaronto/Toronto, Treaty 13 and Williams Treaty territory. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Daughterland (Anstruther Press, 2022). Her individual poems have appeared in Talking About Strawberries All of the Time, Channel Magazine (Ireland), Prairie Fire, Menacing Hedge, and Long Con, among others. She has written art and literary criticism for a variety of publications. Currently, she is a PhD student in the art history department at the University of Oregon, located on the land of the Kalapuya peoples.
Something that Bites
by Ben Berman Ghan
Something bit me on the way home from the marketplace. My shopping scattered.
It gathered them up again. It told me it was sorry. It told me this is how it always happened. It told me I didn't have long.
I wake, bloated and bloodshot. I take an Advil, choking it into the tunnel of a dry throat, pretending not to see the teeth marks on my neck.
At work, people wish me a happy Chanukah, ask if something's wrong. Too much holiday food, I joke. Too much potato, and onion, and oil. Too much meat.
I leave the leftovers from the night before cooling in the fridge. I’ll get to them in the morning.
Sunlight slides in through closed blinds. So bright, so hot. I feel swollen inside. My stomach churns. I sweat. At lunch, I watch the others eat. I smell spoiled, wet meat turning to sludge between their teeth.
I excuse myself, cold water against my skin. In the mirror, purple bags adorn deep-set eyes. In the sink, I'm spitting red.
Over the phone, I say I think I'm sick. I don't want to spread it. I keep the blinds closed. I lie back and sweat.
In the evening, I'm feeling like myself again. I go for a walk, take my hat off, feel the cool air on my ears, on my scalp. I feel good. It’s good to be alive.
Everything in the city smells good. The gasoline from the cars. The storefronts. The salt, the people. Everywhere, I smell the people. The skin of my neighbour in the elevator. Their perfumes and leathers, colognes, toothpaste, and sweat.
At night, I dream of the smell of people. I wake up so thirsty.
The slimy bloat of me has been replaced by an awful chasm. Beneath my skin is nothing. Under my arms, my legs, behind my mouth, inside my chest. There can be no blood, no bones, no tissue, no muscle. Nothing.
I spend an hour with my face pressed to my front door, long tracks of drool connecting with the floor.
My neighbour must have cut themselves while leaving for work. A little stain remains on the door handle.
I imagine stepping into the hall, putting my mouth around the copper piece, feeling the dried salt and iron on my tongue. But I think now if I leave my apartment, I won't come back. There are rooms in this building I would go. There are other buildings.
I’m not in denial about what’s happening to me anymore. I know I can never leave.
Nothing peaks at me in the mirror. I take out my phone, ignore missed calls. Investigation in selfie mode. Nothing. Online, two explanations are provided: mirrors have silver backing or no soul to reflect. But my mirror is a kind of plastic, isn't it? There's no silver in my camera lens.
I don’t understand. Objects don’t have souls. Flowers, rocks, plastics. They keep their reflections. Why is it just me? Have I become less real than plastic?
The peculiar leathers of my skin are grey and veined. I investigate my textures with one winged talon hanging from the broken light fixtures of my room. I like the feeling of my wings. I like the furs. I'm glad now that the mirrors can't see me.
So long as I can't see my face, I can pretend to be beautiful.
Oh god, oh god. The rattling of the door. Holding it shut with my fingers. My mother, begging me to let her in, to let me see her. Please, I say, I’m sick. I say, I don’t want to give you what I have.
I'm so scared. I want to open the door. I can smell her. My heart isn't beating. She says she'll leave food at my doorstep. I know I'll let it rot. I know once the door opens, I won't come back.
The transformations come at will. I'm a bat, I'm a person, I'm a body, I'm not. I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead. My hands on the blinds, straining to fling them open and let the Sunlight in.
When I finally pull open the blinds, grey Canadian winter skies protect me. By the time the sun is shining, I'm in the dark again, and I know it is too late. I am so hungry. Talons claw at the empty space inside me.
There's blood in the walls. There’s blood. I can smell it. I'm so hungry. I tear the door off my fridge, stuffing the dripping, mushrooming rot I find within down my throat. It does nothing. I scream and stop myself from screaming. I sit in the corner, frightened someone might come, someone might call.
I can hear my neighbours through the walls. I can smell them. It's so hard to even think of them as my neighbours, and not just the meat that might fill me. I am so hungry
I’m trapped, I’m trapped, I’m trapped, I’mtrappedI’mtrappedI’mtrapped.
I bite something full of meat and wet drink outside the marketplace, watching spilled red wine splash along the pavement.
Relief. My stomach full; my emptiness is gone. Relief. And now I'm sure, I'm going to be okay. I can go back to my life, my job, my family. So long as sometimes, in the night, I can be something that bites.
I look down at my meal, no longer needing it, and know pity. I help it up, say I’m sorry.
I tell it, it’ll understand soon. I tell it, it doesn’t have long.
Ben Berman Ghan writer and editor from Tkaronto/Toronto, Treaty 13 and Williams Treaty territory, now living in Calgary, treaty 7 land and home of the Blackfoot Confederacy, where he is a PhD student in English at The University of Calgary. He is the author of the books What We See in the Smoke (Crowsnest Books) and Visitation Seeds (845 Press). His next novel, The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits is forthcoming with Wolsak and Wynn for 2024. You can find him @inkstainedwreck or inkstainedwreck.ca
by Ada Hoffmann
Ants on my corneas rearrange
a stuck eyelash into labels:
this deep-pillared arc, a vestibule;
this flower in the sky, an apse;
and with a wink I can witness
all of the years of the building,
its high-nosed owners and broken bells.
You brush past, sweet in Sunday-silk,
a bare-faced stranger. You smile
with a welcoming question
and I want
to answer right—
to light those stained-glass eyes.
I want to know you.
Obliging ants print your name on my eyes:
Felicity. Your background, your family history.
I lose myself in novels of you,
all through the service, and by the time
I think to look up,
Ada Hoffmann is the author of the space opera novels THE OUTSIDE and THE FALLEN, as well as dozens of speculative short stories and poems. Ada’s work has been a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Compton Crook Award, and the WSFA Small Press Award, among others. She is also the author of the Autistic Book Party review series, devoted to in-depth #ownvoices discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction.
by Dawn Macdonald
A contemporary witch can ride a canister of compressed
air by directing the outflow against
the teeth of a plastic comb while clutching a coal-
black kitten. The astute reader notes the conundrum:
she has not hands enough: for comb, cat and canister
nozzle. It just takes practice.
An owl’s ears are asymmetrically placed
to enable vertical sounding by analyzing the time
differential in the arrival of a signal.
The scruffiness is a part
of the predatory act.
When you wear a skirt it’s like you’re getting away with not wearing pants.
If you make a sufficiently complicated knot, it can be a sweater.
You look quite ordinary. No one will even know.
Dawn Macdonald lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, where she was raised off the grid. She holds a degree in applied mathematics and used to know a lot about infinite series. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, The Malahat Review, and Strange Horizons.
Dawn of Woman
by Loren Proven
Loren Proven is a queer artist pursuing a Master's of Biomedical Engineering. She is passionate about centering women's voices in STEM.
The Last Blackout
by Xauri’EL Zwaan
Phil was at home when the power went out for good.
At first he just stayed home and did the things one did to ride out a blackout. He read his hoard of sci-fi novels one more time. He ran his generator a bit and connected to the fitful network of others who did the same, keeping the internet on life support by hook or by crook. He ate the perishables in his refrigerator first and saved the canned food and dry goods for later. He cooked over a propane stove using bottled water from the multiple flats in the garage.
Everyone who still lived around here was well prepared for an extended blackout. Eventually, the power always came back on and things got back to what might be called normal. He didn’t go anywhere; it was a good idea to conserve gas in these situations and few places were worth the several hours’ walk from the suburbs.
It was a bit shy of a month before Phil, and other people, began to think this time the power might not be coming back on. It started with huddled conversations on the sidewalk between people stirring from their scattered houses a bit more than usual. They gathered in knots of three or five, in their tracksuits, whispering. The people who had stayed in the city had started to develop a routine and weeks-long blackouts were just part of that routine now. But this was different. Someone had been to the power company offices downtown and found them cleared out, people were saying. It was starting to get really scary.
One day, everyone who still had gas drove to the nearest grocery store and started looting it. That hadn’t been the intention; people were just running out of food, and they didn’t know when there might be more. So they took what they could and fought with anyone who looked like they were taking too much, and nobody even thought of paying (not that there was anyone there to take their money anyway).
The produce and meat was rotting on the shelves, and all of the milk had long since gone bad. People got trampled; one old geezer went down right in front of Phil, and the others just ran over him with their creaky carts. Phil filled up a cart with flats of canned beans and soup, pasta and bottled water. He also took handfuls of packets of seeds from the gardening section, as other people who had taken the time to stop and think were doing. Here’s hoping he would survive long enough to see spring and a chance to plant them in the backyard. As he loaded the food and water into the trunk of his Honda Civic, he saw two soccer moms get into a knife fight on the other end of the parking lot. Someone had tried to take someone else’s Alphagetti.
When Phil got home, he spun up his generator and logged on to the febrile internet again. There were at least a hundred posts with crazy theories as to why the power hadn’t come back on yet; nobody seemed to want to state the obvious. Neither did Phil. He did a quick search on survival manuals and started printing every one he could find.
Xauri’EL Zwaan is a mendicant artist in search of meaning, fame and fortune, or pie (where available); a Genderqueer Bisexual, a Socialist Solarpunk, and a Satanist Goth. Zie has published short fiction, among other places, in Spectra Magazine, Polar Borealis, Cossmass Infinities, and the anthologies Strange Economics and Crunchy With Ketchup. Zie lives and writes in a little hobbit hole in Saskatoon, Canada on Treaty 6 territory with zir life partner and two very lazy cats.
by Matthew Roy
What was the point of it all, if it was always eternity on either side?
A blip and a pulse and nothingness at either end of the street.
It haunts me.
It is the cold light of god’s-eye Polaris, watching as I trudge across a midnight field.
It is the smell of government buildings in winter,
the silent track of a comet carrying its story across dead cosmos,
hanging over us like a bad omen.
She cut her fingers on a razor blade deep in the darkness of her handbag
when she reached for the dried indigo flower she kept to mark a place in her Bible.
A gasp and a welling of blood quickly pinched off by panicked fingers.
These are the things she said to me, a grocery list of grievances and whispered
heretic references to Nod.
Forgive me my imprudence. I am a novice in these matters politic.
I’ll fade with time.
The military history of South Africa; the measles, mumps
and rubella vaccine; the fabled land of sleep: these were the thoughts dancing
through her distracted mind.
I felt an acrimonious divorce of function and style.
The frustration found only in stalled art.
hang me from a lamppost riddle me with bullets
i am not what you think and
my heart bangs alone against meat and pleural space
on a shared rock tumbling through endless dark, the stars so distant and unreachable
they might as well not exist at all
she handed me the bloodied flower marker and her dried blood and
indigo powder from the flower rubbed
off onto my
a living stain
but like all things organic
it will fade with
Matthew Roy (he/him) is a resident of the American Midwest. He recently moved from a small town to a big city, from a rambling farmhouse to a tiny apartment, and from a major corporation to an up-and-comer. He meets people for a living and escapes into books and poetry in the silence of the night. He's writing more. He’s making changes. His work has appeared in Eternal Haunted Summer, The Quarter(ly) Journal, and So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library.
by Stuart Ross
Tizzi stood at the bus stop, beside the lobster. At first, she didn’t actually see the lobster, but then, feeling like one of her shoelaces was loose, she knelt down to tighten them, and there was the lobster. Just standing there like it had a bus to catch, too.
It was red with blackish bits. Its protruding eyes were intense. Its giant claws lay flat on the sidewalk. Rain had fallen that morning, and everything was still dark with damp. A few tiny domes of water sparkled on the lobster’s shell.
“Are you a sign?” said Tizzi, her hands fumbling with her untied lace. “Do you mean something, in that something significant is about to happen in my life?”
The lobster’s antennae quivered almost imperceptibly. It was trying to tell her something, or maybe just sniffing the air.
Tizzi tightened the bow on her shoelaces and leaned her head down closer to the lobster, intrigued by its beady black eyes. “I feel like I know—” she started saying, and then the bus pulled up.
The ride home was slow. When Tizzi had first started working at the public library, almost twelve years ago, the number 7 bus got her in either direction in just under twenty minutes. Now it wasn’t unusual for the trip to take thirty-five minutes. Where had all the new cars come from? Where did they all park at night?
In bed, Tizzi dreamed about riding on the lobster’s back across the Kootenay Pass. Mountain goats were gnawing on bits of brush that poked out of the snow. They glanced for a moment at the woman riding the lobster, then went back to eating.
Tizzi didn’t mind the cold up there on the pass. Especially since she knew it’d be sunny and mild back down at the bottom. The light pink sweater she wore kept her comfortable. She had knitted it herself. On the front was a big red lobster holding a torch. The orange flame atop the torch looked like the sun.
The lobster’s claws opened and closed slightly as it walked along the mountain road. Then the mountain was gone and Tizzi was kneeling beside her grandmother’s wheelchair at the old folks’ home. They were in the common area, and, as always, the TV was blaring infomercials. Tizzi’s grandmother, Molly, had pale weathered skin on her face and bright red lipstick. She had drawn on her eyebrows in big arches. Sometimes she’d draw a straight line, sometimes little stars, sometimes a line with strokes through it, like a kid’s drawing of a Frankenstein scar. Today, big arches.
“They watch these dumb commercials all day. It pisses me off,” said Molly. Her voice was delicate, not scratchy like a lot of other old people’s.
Tizzi petted the lobster on her knees. “Can I get you a butter tart from the cafeteria?”
“I’m not that easily mollified,” said Molly. She said this a lot.
The lobster perched on Tizzi’s knees chuckled. This lady from the bus stop had a pretty funny grandmother.
The window to the common area swung open, and the curtains fluttered in the breeze. They fluttered this way and that, back and forth, up and down. Then they billowed, filling the room. The sound coming from outside was like an avalanche. Or someone banging randomly on the keyboard of a piano.
“It’s a Busby Berkeley routine!” yelled a woman with yellow hair who Molly and Tizzi had never noticed before.
Later, when the moon was just visible in the ebbing daylight, Tizzi and the lobster, in solemn silence, set each other free.
Stuart Ross is a writer, editor, writing teacher, and small press guerrilla living in Cobourg, Ontario. The recipient of the 2019 Harbourfront Festival Prize and the 2010 Relit Prize for Short Fiction, among others, Stuart is the author of over twenty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, most recently The Book of Grief and Hamburgers (ECW Press, 2022) and 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems (with Michael Dennis; Proper Tales Press, 2020). Stuart has taught workshops in schools across the country and was Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University and the University of Ottawa. His work has been translated into French, Norwegian, Slovene, Russian, Spanish, and Estonian.
AAI (Aerial Agricultural Intelligence)
by Linda Neuer
Suddenly in fields, summer ripe,
plants stand and fall at night.
Pressed on the ground by breathless winds
forming single circles and intricate fractals.
Patterns woven in wheat, rice, and corn
by forces that bend, not break, the stalks,
heating their nodes to lengthen,
leaving the seed heads unharmed.
Even after harvest, on the living canvas,
shadows of the shapes remain.
With origins known and unknown,
their designs echo across the globe
to make us observe from above,
their forms on the fertile earth.
Linda Neuer is from Miami, Florida. Recently, some of Linda's poems have been published in NewMyths, Utopia SF, BFS Horizons, Space & Time, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Jupiter, Abyss & Apex, Quantum Poetry Magazine, Sangam, Lily, and Astropoetica.
On the Other Side
by Angela Caravan
I saw the ad for pen pals at least a few times a day. A clean-cut, governmental-looking placement with soft tinkling piano music. It popped in and out of my Instagram feed or followed me on websites.
Find a friend on the other side.
You may have more in common than you think.
That evening, it twinkled in and out of my vision on the TV as I sautéed onions for dinner. I couldn’t be bothered to skip the ads and soon, I found myself humming the song, “A friend from the other side, ooo… ooo… we could get to know each other.”
I couldn’t tell if they had hired someone to write the song for this in particular, or if they had just hunted down some indie soft rock about long distance friendship. The image on the screen was of people happily texting on their phones or showing their loved ones something that had popped up. The text at the end was placed over a wide shot of space. It seemed easy, lighthearted. Not any kind of real commitment at all. Simpler than other in-person friendships, even.
I started to daydream as I cooked, visualizing my phone alight with messages from my new best friend from another planet. Someone I could talk to about anything. I’d tell them what I was cooking that day, and I’d say goodnight to them before bed. They’d tell me when they were feeling stressed and when they got a promotion at work. They’d describe to me the special meal they bought in celebration. I plated my own veggies and tofu in a thoughtful arrangement just thinking about it.
Someone to share things with, that’s all it was. It didn’t have to be more than that.
I ate my meal on the sofa while watching the last half of a soapy teen drama. My mind drifted between the dialogue, wondering about the ad again. It was kind of embarrassing to think about it. I didn’t know anyone else who was doing it. The few times it had come up in conversation at work, the response was always, “I don’t know… seems a bit weird to me that it’s all through the government,” or, “I wouldn’t even know what to talk about. Seems stressful.”
Nobody seemed to be going for it, despite the ad touting, “over 500,000 connected.” I decided to open up the form and have a look, just to see what the commitment would require. I navigated to the webpage and was a little thrown back to see a simple form with just a name and phone number field. The page also informed me that all messages would be translated as received through an automated program
I scooped up my last bits of tofu, put down my bowl, and filled it out. It was an immediate relief to have made some kind of decision about the matter, and I pulled my focus back to the show.
Not two minutes later, there was a buzz on my phone. A message from an odd, short number just said, “You have been connected with TEMA.” I didn’t respond. I thought it best for them to go first.
And soon enough, they did.
You’re Lana? I’m Tema.
yep hi tema
What is it like up there?
what do you mean? like on Earth?
i don’t know any different i suppose
Well, maybe you will after we talk.
I don’t even know what to ask. It’s so weird. I wish I could just show you, but I guess thats not part of the rules.
yeah, why is that? it seems kind of weird
I think it takes a lot of data. Easier to limit it to text for this many people, across this distance.
i guess that makes sense
Maybe they don’t want to overwhelm us.
There was a bit of pause for a while as we both figured out where to go from there. But after a few minutes, my phone lit up again.
I could describe something to you? Something small, to start.
ok. how about… your shoe. or whatever it is you wear on your feet
There was another long pause, but I saw the dots moving. They were typing something long.
On my foot is a soft material. I wear these when I am inside. There are different coverings when I go outside. These inside foot covers are light and flexible. They are made from a material that was created in a factory, but that is meant to seem similar to a material that is made from a plant. I can take them on and off very easily because they are soft. When I touch the material, it compresses in my hand because it is fluffy. I can squish it together and feel the texture of the material more closely. When I squish it, I can feel how the pieces of the material hold it together. How there are some parts that are not so soft hidden under the soft parts so you can hardly tell that is what is really holding it together. I am wearing these on my feet because it is cold outside and because it is generally socially acceptable when you are inside. I don’t feel them on my feet most of the time, even though they are soft. The softness is what allows me to not feel them. But now, as I think about them, I do feel them. They are pressing against my foot on all sides and I almost, now, feel an impulse to take them off.
I reached down and touched my sock as I read this long paragraph, scrolling to catch it all. I felt the fabric between my fingers and how it was soft but also thin. Not plushy, as I imagined theirs to be. I had not felt it on my foot as well, until now. I squished the fabric beneath my fingers, touching the firm elastic underneath, and felt very small.
Angela Caravan is a settler on unceded Coast Salish territory (Vancouver, BC), and writes both poetry and fiction. She is the author of the micro-chapbook Landing (post ghost press). Her work has also appeared in Broken Pencil, Pulp Literature, Sad Mag, and more. She is the editor of the Decameron Writing Series and the publisher at Bell Press. You can find her on Twitter at @a_caravan or at her website angelacaravan.com.
What Not to Do When You’re Polymorphed and Stuck in a Time Warp
by Stewart C Baker
Note: It's actually best to not get polymorphed in the first place, but since you’re reading this, it's probably too late for that. There's no use crying over spilt psychoactive ichor you shouldn't have been rubbing all over your face, even if it did smell of rose and ginger, and you thought it might be cosmetics. Pity Mum never told us that, huh?
1. Barge in on Your Mother and Her Guests
Apparently it's quite unnerving to be taking high tea at the Lady High All-Mage's estate and have a giant, slavering beast with bright green fur, silvery scales, and a constantly changing amount of heads smash through the picture window, screaming in ten different tongues and waving an uncountable number of arms around in the air.
2. Slurp all the Magic Out of the Queen's Chief Inspector of Sorcerous Malpractice
I swear by Her Magical Majesty's brilliantly bejewelled wand, that mouth slurped out his sorcerous essence before I could even blink.
3. Run Away
Mages, it seems, are not unlike the small, yipping dogs kept by fashionable ladies: they'll chase just about anything that runs from them.
4. Hide in a Topiary
If you do, at least pick a topiary that is capable of changing shape and size, so that your body's sudden and unstoppable desire to be fifty feet tall does not give you away.
5. Develop a Sudden and Unstoppable Desire to Be Fifty Feet Tall, Thereby Making an Utter Ruin of What Was in Fact Quite a Nice Topiary, Not to Mention One's Blouse and Slacks, Which Were New and Which One Rather Liked
6. Scream in Distress
Certain individuals may have a hard time telling distress from ravenous hunger and murderous rage, especially if you just smashed through a window, ate one of their number, and ran away again.
Mages, am I right?
7. Try to Solve Things on Your Own
A list of Things That Will Not Work:
Waving your hands around and screaming
Jumping into the water fixture (and scaring the ducks)
Visiting a nearby village to see if the local doctor has invented a cure for being polymorphed (and scaring the doctor)
Flying back home while breathing huge gouts of flame and acting suspiciously dragon-like
Absorbing the sorcerous essence from more of the mages, despite the taste, in the hopes that being imbued with sorcerous powers will somehow allow you to turn back the hands of the clock
Eating some of the psychoactive ichor, despite the taste, in the hopes that &c. &c.
Eating anything (having six stomachs makes you hungry, okay?)
Running away from your mother
8. Wish Yourself into a Sorcerous Time Loop
Remember all that hoping to turn back the clock? All that sorcerous energy sloshing around in your stomachs?
How about that saying, "Careful what you wish for?"
I don't like to think about how many times I've done all this before, but at least this time I talked to Mother. At least this time she ensorcelled this note to come back with me.
9. Avoid Asking for Help
I know, it's humiliating.
I've—you've—tried to show Mum you were strong and independent since forever, and it's really not fair to have all of this mess that up.
Here's the thing about Mum, though. She may leave experiments lying around and she may spend way too much of her time on her work instead of paying attention to me—to you. To us. But she's your mum. You're her daughter.
Please, if you're reading this, know you're not alone. Know she loves you. Know you can ask her for help when you need it, no matter what.
Please, by the twinkly tiara of Her Magical Majesty, ask for help.
I'm not saying a little help will fix the world. I'm not saying everything will suddenly be perfect. But every problem's better when there's someone on your side.
Even this one.
Stewart C Baker is an academic librarian and author of speculative fiction and poetry. He was born in the UK and now lives within the traditional homelands of the Luckiamute Band of Kalapuya in western Oregon. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nature, Fantasy, Lightspeed, and various other places.
by Emily Hockaday
I escape through a wormhole
and you follow me there; I make
another wormhole. You hold onto
my arm so I am straddling two universes—
one in which you let me go, and one in which
I stay. It is lonely here, caught between
a future and a past. Have you felt like this
all along? I saw you, yesterday, so still
you could have been marble. Looking out
the window to the apple tree and the many
starlings perched in its branches.
I could have stepped through then,
into the apartment’s morning dim, silently.
But you were so beautiful
in that light: smudged around the face, like
a figure in a painting. I needed you
to see me go.
Emily Hockaday's first full-length collection, Naming the Ghost (Cornerstone Press) was released in September 2022. She is the author of five chapbooks, most recently the ecology-themed Beach Vocabulary. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals, as well as with the Poets of Queens and Parks & Points’ Wayfinding anthologies. Emily is the recipient of a New York City Artists Corps grant, a Café Royal Cultural Foundation grant, and the winner of the Middle House Review Editors’ Prize. You can find Emily on the web at emilyhockaday.com or @E_Hockaday.
by Kathleen McCulloch-Cop
Carmen pulled the car off the gravel road, stopping on a short patch of dirt. Her breath caught in her chest. The squat brick house had always shown its age, but it had done so with pride. Now, with the porch railings split, bricks caked in dirt, and windows cracked or altogether missing, it looked lonely. Just like the other abandoned farmhouses that she’d passed, all of them poking out of overgrown fields like holy ruins.
A dull buzzing sound filtered through the closed doors, as if Carmen sat in a cloud of locusts. She’d heard for years about how loud the countryside had become, but it still unnerved her to actually sit with it for the first time. She pulled her hair up and tied it away from her face. It wasn’t locusts. Just the overlapping whispers of every weed and wildflower wondering who this new person was.
Whispers turned into outright gossip as Carmen shouldered her duffel bag and started towards the front door. The dandelions didn’t bother with subtlety, turning to ask each other who this girl was; what was she doing, didn’t she know that no one lived here? Carmen ignored them. She knew she should stop and say hello. But she wasn’t in a state to make a good impression—the drive had been long and confusing, with every other highway made impassable by cracked pavement crawling with roots.
Tangled rose bushes still lined the porch like they had since Carmen could remember. She used to sit on the now-sagging steps, watching Tita Sofia coax the buds into blossoms that she’d say were the biggest of anyone’s this side of the river. The roses had known Carmen, and, gasping, they recognized her now. The reaction spread over the soil, her name passed from leaf to leaf, every stalk angling for a better view of Sofia’s granddaughter.
The door hung crooked, obviously broken, paint flaking onto peeling linoleum. Whether the damage was from vandals or people desperate for shelter during the farmlands' great exodus, it didn’t much matter to Carmen. Inside, there were moth-eaten curtains in every room, and the furniture was dusty and damaged from exposure. The bookshelves had been left full, though most volumes were waterlogged, their spines hanging from the binding like esoteric viscera. In the hallway, the old cedar chest was seemingly untouched, sealed from the humidity. Carmen pried the lid open, releasing the trapped scent of honey and chilli peppers. With tears in her eyes Carmen knelt and rested her head on the faded linens, breathing in the smell of her grandmother’s hands.
It had taken months for her grandmother’s estate lawyers to find her. She’d felt it, somehow, had been grieving without knowing why. But when she’d heard the words and it became real, the room went off-kilter, like how it did when she was a child, spinning in circles for hours just to watch the floor tilt up towards the sky. She’d taken three deep breaths, tried to focus on the rushed monotone of the executor.
“Were you aware that your grandmother still owned the property? It’s basically worthless now, but since it was once a functioning farm, the Agro Department might be interested in running soil tests. It wouldn’t be much, but they’d take it off your hands—”
“No!” She’d cut him off, harsher than she’d intended. “Sorry—you said everything’s paid off? All mine, no strings attached?”
“Just have to sign the deed and you’re done. Usually there’d be taxes, y'know: inheritance, property, capital gains. Since it’s registered farmland, that’s all been waived, given the, uh, circumstances.”
The circumstances. That’s what people usually called it. There wasn’t really a word for what happened. What did you call swaths of farmland covered in squash that cried when you tried to pick them, tomatoes who wouldn’t flower if they didn’t like the look of you? Out of nowhere, the landscape had changed, though no one was sure why. Old farms died off as the old farmers did, their children unable to convince acres of corn to bend their ears to them. Whole crops, dying out of spite, taking with them the last vertebrae of the ag-towns. Communities were bellying up all over the country, settlements going ghost at a rapid pace, while cities were overcrowded and underfed. You couldn’t clear-cut land for new farms, not like they used to—the old forests pushed in on everything, roots erupting through concrete, growing too close together to re-enter. Even hobby gardeners struggled to get a daisy to look at them with anything but contempt. Seemingly overnight, everything flora had grown a spine.
So yes. Carmen knew the circumstances. She also knew the smart move would’ve been to take the meagre government payout. Instead, she’d met with the lawyer, signed the deed, packed up her sparse belongings, and drove across the country to the farmhouse she’d left years ago without looking back. All of this she’d done in a trance, as if she was a marionette and someone else was tugging at her strings.
Through all of it, she hadn’t cried. But now, kneeling in front of the cedar chest on the grimy, peeling floor, grief pulled at her stomach, and she sobbed into the cotton sheets that smelled like this house used to. Like it had when she was small, when her grandmother was alive, before this house was just another abandoned shelter along another stretch of abandoned earth. Before the world had uprooted itself.
Kathleen McCulloch-Cop is a student and writer based out of Ottawa, Canada. She holds a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Guelph, and is currently studying Teacher Education at the University of Ottawa. Her first collection of poetry, Stem to Sternum, was published in January 2022. Her other publications can be found on kmccullochcop.github.io, along with more samples of her work.
Gift of the Ancestors
by Angela Acosta
Be still, let the universe breathe,
for on this day, she will be born,
a precious gift of the ancestors.
A product of migrations and millennia,
the ancestors’ blood coagulates,
forming newborn human flesh.
She puts her body on like a shirt,
shimmying lanky limbs into
gendered formations and cultural creations.
The peoples she came from were once
from countries and family trees,
rooted in the continents of Terra.
Mexican, they knew hot summers in haciendas
so her ship named in Nahuatl brings
ultraviolet light and warmth in every hallway.
Hydroponic plants and artificial maseca flour
replace bountiful harvests of old.
Now, zero gravity is her dinner table.
The rich, curing power of pozole,
now made with exoplanet legumes,
always lovingly stirred.
She refused to cut her braids
to fit into a regulation sized spacesuit
or meet calculated weight limits.
She needs a whole helmet
for the knowledge passed down
in hair spun from ancestral resilience.
Give her this gift of the ancestors,
a place to exist in this space bound world,
for she has waited eons.
Learning their customs,
she hugs her body tight,
for their love sent her to the stars.