"Let's Say," Jason Ashbaugh
"Detail From a Painting by Hieronymus Bosch," Rudi Dornemann
"An Epic of Egg-like Proportions," Alex Dally MacFarlane
"Feed the Hungry," E. C. Myers
you’re my neighbor
you see me
some march afternoon
pick up a rock
from the driveway
throw it through
my living room window
then dance around
in the street
don’t try to read into this
because in the end
it’s my rock
none of your fucking business
Jason Ashbaugh was born and raised in Southeastern Oklahoma, town of Kingston. Currently, he's enrolled at Texas Woman's University as an undergrad. Other than this, his education has been from bars, sideroads and books. His work has appeared in The Scramble, A Room of Our Own, when it rains from the ground up Vols. 1-2, Letter X Vols. 1-7, and in a mixed media exhibit with W. L. Evans at Camp Fig Studio in Austin, Texas.
Detail from a Painting by Hieronymus Bosch
[ Rudi Dornemann ]
—first published in Conduit 11—
I am a small, bird-headed demon, skating.
Gliding up a frozen river, I totter from side to side to side; my legs are short, and my crotch is low. In my crossed beak, I carry a letter. I have not read the letter.
I am coming to a bridge. I will pass under the bridge and go on.
I pass fields mummified by winter, all snowless rows of frozen mud and broken stalks of grain. A town is nearing on my right, an abandoned place, curtains flapping from the windows. Smells like plague to me. The evening is clouding up, bringing an unhealthy damp, and I skate a little faster.
That bridge is coming soon. I'm getting closer. I don't know where the road goes, the one that crosses the bridge, or where it comes from. Cities, perhaps. One of gold I suppose, the other of silver. Soaring places, all tall buildings and spiky spires. I won't go there, not to either of them, I don't think, not ever.
When I have delivered my letter, I will be food for some larger, fiercer demon, who will devour me whole. Perhaps raw; perhaps baked in some kind of pastry shell—it is more than I can guess. But I know the letter will continue its journey, carried in the beak of some new courier.
I could stop and rest. Three of my kind are spending the night in an open field near here. I hear their laughter and smell the ribald smoke of their fire. They are playing a game of lots. It's what I would do if I were one of them. Casting divinations for penny bets, each of us with a pile of coins between his feet.
My feet move forward and back, forward and back, and my weight shifts after them with each sliding step. The runners of my skates are ribs, my own ribs, but my chest hasn't hurt in years, and I can hardly even guess where the scars are anymore.
As their game unfolds, those demons—the ones I can sense but not see—they're casting the chances of my life. It is a dull game, and I'm sure they'll give it up early. The better to sleep; the better to be on their way first thing in the morning, toward or away from one or the other of those cities.
To read the note I carry would probably unmake me, turn me into
quivering jelly, leave nothing but a pool of fetid plasm. Unfit for a larger, fiercer demon even to sop a crust of bread in.
The silver city, as I see it with my inner eye, would embrace the hectic whirl of banks and markets as well as the deep, cool shadows and deeper,
cooler ponds of long-established parks.
I do not have a straight beak, or even a beak curved in a single arc. I am not fit for the various joys of sporting about in gardens; I am not equipped for music, or merry discourse, or love. I am fit only for utility, not pleasure. In the end, I am sure I will be more nutritious than tasty.
I am traveling in a great circuit, away from hell and back to hell. The fallen one doesn't want to know the information contained in the message I carry, nor does he want to forget it. From the way my fellow demons shun me, I suspect some taint of heaven about the whole thing.
I pass fields that have lain untended for so many years that their next crop will be forest. I pass the remains of houses that have outlived their inhabitants, barns that now shelter only bats and mice.
In the city of gold, I imagine there are parades and brash music and singing at all hours of the day and night. I dream of the festivals the inhabitants of such a city must celebrate. The costumes! The elaborate masks! Someone strolls through the crowds, wearing a mask, a cross-beaked bird's head. He's carrying an envelope—an invitation, receipt, love letter, or freshly revised will and testament. That one detail, exactly what the missive is, I can't imagine. But I know he'll deliver it, and after that he'll take off his false head and join in the dancing.
The vanes of ruined windmills stir to fits of wind, make feeble attempts to turn all the way around. Gears and grindstones rattle and groan within.
A lucky tumble of the dice—double points to my hooded, spoon-billed kinsman—and I'm destined to wind up in a stew, swimming with the
parsnips and other root vegetables.
What I carry, my master below can neither have near him nor ever
entirely let go of. Under certain shades of darkness, it glimmers like a distant star. A scrap of heaven. In rain and heavy dew, the envelope is pulp-soggy; the ink seeped and suffused the mass many miles and years ago. I will skate to the hut of the saint. All the legions of my fellow demons will pause in the midst of tempting and tormenting him. They'll shy off for a few minutes while the saint copies the letter's blurred script onto a fresh sheet of parchment. I will wait as quietly and still as I can, even if my legs ache, and I expect they will. Then I'll be on my way again.
A child throws pebbles at a corner of broken house wall, every throw another pock in the whitewash. He doesn't see the demons who tussle above him in the middle air. If I didn't know they were there, I wouldn't see them either. And their clash of arms, I would take for more noise of decay from the mills or maybe the sound of ice straining and splitting on the river.
But the river is as solid and smooth as any dance floor. The sound of my skates, forward and back, is the sound of dice skidding across a flat bit of stone. I hold the letter in my beak. If I go a little cross-eyed, I can see it before my face, almost make out the smudged arcs and lines of the letters. . . . But no, here comes that bridge.
I will pass under.
I will go on.
Several years ago, one of Rudi Dornemann's brothers built sets for a production of Sunday in the Park with George where the tech crew's running joke was that they'd rather be working on Saturday Night in the Garden with Hieronymus. Recognizing that the title was too good not to steal, Rudi has been trying envision the apocryphal musical ever since. In the meantime, his fiction has appeared in The Fortean Bureau, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, Flytrap, Electric Velocipede, and Rabid Transit: Menagerie.
It took all the fossils, finally, after the King's horses and King's men failed, to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but he was a shambling, crumbling zombie of a thing, shedding blood and egg-tears with each step. Feared by the people for his hideous visage, he stepped over the lands until he reached the mountains, and from there to the stairway to the plate in the sky where he found a small girl whose white skin was marked with dark blue ink. She whispered to him of the winds and the routes they took, twisting upwards and downwards and sidewards until they reached the lady of the forest-top whose gnarled hands possessed a darker power he might find useful.
Still trailing parts of him, he took up the ink-girl's carpet and flew east, past deserts and rivers until finally he reached the forest. Atop it sat the lady, wood for her body and lichens for her hair, and her fingers like twigs sank into his seeping self and flickered, once, twice, like images on an old cinema reel, and suddenly he was whole, no longer a tap but a man.
Alex Dally MacFarlane is in her final year of undergraduate study at King's College London, where she tries to fit as much ancient history as possible into her War Studies and History degree. Her novelette "Statues" recently placed in the quarterfinals for the 4th quarter of the 2006 L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, and she has a story in Crimson Highway webzine. You can find her lurking on Livejournal under the name of Alankria.
"Did you bring it?" Jerry asked, his cheeks bulging as he chewed. He clutched a half-eaten sandwich in one hand.
Bill gaped at his friend. Jerry was practically a skeleton. How had he shed almost two hundred pounds so quickly?
"Hello to you, too," Bill said as he shuffled into the apartment. Jerry grabbed the paper bag from him and shut the door. He swallowed the last of the sandwich then looked inside the bag.
"Yes! You brought it. Good man." He headed for the kitchen area of the studio. Bill followed, taking in the squalor: food wrappers decorated every inch of floor, pizza cartons were piled high in corners, and dishes and silverware littered the furniture. By the time Bill joined him, Jerry had already unwrapped the roasted chicken and was systematically eviscerating it into bite-sized chunks.
"Listen, Jerry," Bill began. "I just spoke to Samantha. She's really upset."
"She's upset?" Jerry swallowed a mouthful of chicken. "She dumped me, and she's upset?"
"She didn't dump you. She just couldn't deal with . . ." Bill swept a hand across the room. "With this anymore. You need help."
"I'm just really hungry."
"You've been eating nonstop for six days. Have you even slept?" Jerry shrugged then chugged a can of Coke. "There's something wrong with you."
"I'm perfectly fine. I just have a big appetite." He popped open another can of soda.
"Sam says you were eating tacos while you two—"
"Lots of people like to mix food and sex."
"Look, I don't see the problem. She said I needed to lose weight, and now look at me. She should be happy." He shoveled mashed potatoes into his mouth.
"But why can't you stop eating? Maybe you have a tapeworm or something. You should see a doctor."
"I like it. I can eat as much as I want, and I don't gain a pound. It's what I've always wanted."
"I thought Sam was what you always wanted. She misses you, Jerry."
Jerry put down his fork with a sigh. "I miss her too."
Bill couldn't stand to look at his friend that way, so he stared at the table instead. Something caught his attention.
"Hey, what's this?" He held up a creased envelope. "'Feed the Hungry,'" he read aloud. He tore the envelope open.
"What? Oh, yeah. Sam is always saying I should give to charity."
"Did you sign up for this?" Bill asked.
"Yeah. Last week. It's like thirty cents a day, something like that. Right?"
Bill shook his head. "You should have read this. Jerry, you don't have a worm. You have a wormhole."
"A wormhole. One end is anchored in your stomach, and the other is directed to the stomachs of needy children in third world nations. Jerry, you're feeding the hungry." He put down the pamphlet and looked at his friend. "What are we going to do?"
Jerry looked back at Bill and thought for a moment. "Could you pass the salt?"
E.C. Myers considers his writing an ongoing experiment in sleep deprivation, the products of which have been sold to publications such as flashquake, Son and Foe, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers' Workshop and a member of the excellent writing groups Altered Fluid and Fangs of God. You can learn more about him and his work at http://www.ecmyers.net
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