Halaman utama Realms 2: The Second Year of Clarkesworld - Nick Mamatas, Sean Wallace (ed)

Realms 2: The Second Year of Clarkesworld - Nick Mamatas, Sean Wallace (ed)

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Realms 2: The Second Year of Clarkesworld - Nick Mamatas, Sean Wallace (ed)

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Realms - The First Year of Clarkesworld - Nick Mamatas, Sean Wallace (ed)

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REALMS 2:

The Second Year of

Clarkesworld Magazine

Edited by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace





Copyright © 2010 by Clarkesworld Magazine.

Cover art copyright © 2008 by Aaron Jasinski.

Ebook Design by Neil Clarke.





Wyrm Publishing

www.wyrmpublishing.com





Publisher’s Note:

No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.



All stories are copyrighted to their respective authors,and used here with their permission.





Visit Clarkesworld Magazine at:

www.clarkesworldmagazine.com





Table of Contents



INTRODUCTION: Tomorrow Can Wait

by Sean Wallace

Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky

by Ken Scholes

Tetris Dooms Itself

by Meghan McCarron

Blue Ink

by Yoon Ha Lee

Curse

by Samantha Henderson

Clockwork Chickadee

by Mary Robinette Kowal

Flight

by Jeremiah Sturgill

Captain’s Lament

by Stephen Graham Jones

Birdwatcher

by Garth Upshaw

The Buried Years

by Loreen Heneghan

The Glory of the World

by Sergey Gerasimov

Teeth

by Stephen Dedman

A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antartica

by Catherynne M. Valente

After Moreau

by Jeffrey Ford

Debris Ensuing from a Vortex

by Brian Ames

When the Gentlemen Go By

by Margaret Ronald

The Human Moments

by Alexander Lumans

The Secret in the House of Smiles

by Paul Jessup

A Dance Across Embers

by Lisa Mantchev

Threads of Red and White

by Lisa Mantchev

Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang

by Kristin Mandigma

The River Boy

by Tim Pratt

Acid and Stoned Reindeer

by Rebecca Ore

Worm Within

by Cat Rambo

Can You See Me Now?

by Eric M. Witchey

The Sky that Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and into the Black

by Jay Lake

The Clarkesworld Census





INTRODUCTION: TOMORROW CAN WAIT



Sean Wallace


Change is a constant in our lives, and it also plays an important role with the internet, which continues to grow and evolve at an awesome rate. (Surely the Singularity is right around the corner . . . ) Mind you, t; he accelerating and approaching future can be dizzying, confusing, scary yet exciting, and online magazines such as Clarkesworld Magazine are trying to move with the times, looking forward always, but with the occasional backwards glance.

This introduction is your backwards glance, covering all the changes with our online incarnation, giving you a peek at what’s been going on, covering October 2007 all the way through September 2008. A lot can happen in twelve months, and it has.

But where to begin?

Well, starting with the October issue, a nonfiction department was introduced, covering a wide range of material, usually running two pieces, sometimes three times, a month. And when I say wide, I mean wide, with articles focused on the introduction of science fiction and fantasy literature to Hispanic audiences; discussions about mainstream/genre readerships, with recommended top ten lists for both; explorations of the fantasy world of professional wrestling; the impact of baby-rearing on one’s writing; diving into modern fantasists and the influence of role-playing games; and much more.

And that wasn’t all, as Clarkesworld also ran interviews every month, either with an author, an artist, or editors, with Daniel Abraham, Kage Baker, Laird Barron, KJ Bishop, Steven Erickson, Margo Lanagan, Richard Morgan, John Picacio, Steph Swainston, Catherynne M. Valente, Sean Williams, Vernon Vinge, Gene Wolfe, and more.

That’s a lot to take in, but in June Clarkesworld also started presenting audio fiction, beginning with “Clockwork Chickadee” by Mary Robinette Kowal, and narrated by Kowal. We try, whenever possible, to have the author do their own story, though this doesn’t always work out!

This is a lot of change, of course, and a lot of firsts, at least for Clarkesworld Magazine, but it’s also been nice to be recognized, with stories appearing for the first time ever in several anthologies, including:


The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed., with “The Sky that Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue into the Black” by Jay Lake


Unplugged: The Year’s Best Online Fiction, Rich Horton, ed., with “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica” by Catherynne M. Valente


Year’s Best Fantasy 9, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, ed., with “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica” by Catherynne M. Valente


Best Horror of the Year, Volume 1, Ellen Datlow, ed., with “When the Gentlemen Go By” by Margaret Ronald

Stories also appeared on the 2008 Locus Recommended Reading List, along with tons of honorable mentions in various year’s best anthologies, but to top that all off, Clarkesworld Magazine was nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and then moninated for a World Fantasy Award.

All of this points out simply that the future (and change) is always charging forward, and we are slaves to it, but surely you can take a moment out of your day, and read these stories, now, today, and kick back.

Because tomorrow can wait.





SUMMER IN PARIS, LIGHT FROM THE SKY



Ken Scholes


Life is marked by intersections and measured by the choices we make at each pause in our journey. I am fortunate to have made a good choice at the right time but more than that, many before me did the same and so the stones were set in the path long before the day of my birth. Will you not come after me and walk the stones so many before you have helped to put in place?

Adolf Hitler

Commencement Address,

Yale University School of Human Rights and Social Justice, 1969


Adolf Hitler came to Paris in June 1941 feeling the weight of his years in his legs and the taste of a dying dream in his mouth. He spent most of that first day walking up and down the Champs Elysées, working the stiffness out of his bones and muscles while he looked at the shops and the people. Some of the dull ache was from the wooden benches on the train from Hamburg; most of it was age. And beneath the discomfort of his body, his soul ached too.

He’d never been here before, he thought as the Parisians slipped past in the noon-time sun. He snorted at the revelation. A fine painter you are, he told himself.

Of course, it was only for the summer. Then Paris . . . and painting, he imagined, would slip quietly to the back row of his memory. He would return to Berlin and take a job for the government buying supplies he would never see for people that he would never know. In the end, he realized, he would become his father’s son and live out the rest of his days as a quiet civil servant.

Alois Hitler had been a hard man, even a cruel man, before the accident. But death up close can change the hardest heart and after nearly a month in the hospital, he returned to his family with a deep faith and a sense of compassion for all humankind . . . especially his children. He listened. He prayed. He studied St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhard and even Buddha. He became gentle and warm toward his wife and their five children. Until the very end, he encouraged Adolf’s dreams. And when he died, still working as a customs official for Napoleon IV’s puppet chancellor, he left behind a small but sufficient inheritance to finance his son’s art.

By living frugally and occasionally taking odd jobs, Adolf stretched it as far as he could. He’d even set aside a bit for his old age. But come September, he’d decided, it was time to put away the canvas and brush. Time, at fifty-two, to put away childish things.

Adolf sighed.

And then something happened. He stood in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, dwarfed by that first Napoleon’s grandiose gesture of complete victory, dwarfed by the size of his own dreams in the shadow of over thirty years of failure. He stood, feeling his breath catch in the back of his throat and his eyes turning to water. And suddenly, he was no longer alone.

A girl—a pretty girl, a dark girl dressed in ragged clothing—separated from a crowd of passing students. She walked up to him without a word and kissed him hard on the mouth, pressing her body against him while she fastened a flower into the button-hole of his Prussian great coat. After the kiss, she vanished back into the crowd.

Adolf licked his lips, tasting the apples from her mouth. He took in a great breath, smelling the rose water from her skin and the sunshine from her hair. He listened to the sound of his racing heart and the drum-beat it played. He felt the warmth of her where it had touched him.

It was his first impression of Paris.

His second impression was the perpetually drunk American, Ernie Hemingway.

After a day of wandering aimlessly, as the sun dropped behind the horizon and the sky grew deep purple, Adolf found de Gaulle’s and went inside because he heard American music.

Americans had always fascinated him. He’d met a few—not many because they tended to have little use for Europe. America was an entire continent without kings or emperors or royalty of any kind. A place where they selected their own President every four years and where any one of the ninety states from Brazil to Newfoundland was a thriving nation in and of itself united by democracy, progress and freedom.

A middle aged man stood on the bar leading the room in a bawdy tune. He worked the song like a conductor, waving a pistol instead of a baton, and scattered drinkers around the room joined in the song. A man in a ratty suit crouched over the piano, mashing the keys with his fingers with a rag-time flair. Adolf watched and smiled. The man sang too fast and slurred too much for the lyrics to make much sense but the gestures and pelvic thrusts conveyed the gist of it.

When the song was done, the man dropped lightly to the floor amid cheers and brushed past Adolf on his way to a table at the back of the room. Adolf found an empty table near the American and sat down. The pianist launched into another song, this time in French—a language Adolf grasped better—and he blushed. Looking around, he was the only one who did.

“Are you a priest, then?” the American shouted across at him in English.

Adolf looked up. “I beg pardon?”

The American grinned. “You’re blushing. I thought you might be a priest.”

He shook his head. “No. Not a priest.”

“Well then, are you a homosexual?”

The word escaped him at first, then registered. He blushed even more, looking around for a different table to sit at. He had heard that Americans were quite forward but until now had never experienced it. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said. “I’m not liking men, though I am very flattered by your . . . ” He struggled to find the right word, couldn’t find it, then said the closest one he did find. “By your . . . love.”

For a moment, he thought the American might hit him. But suddenly, the American started to laugh. The laugh started low and built fast, spilling over like an over-filled bathtub. Adolf wasn’t sure what to do so he offered a weak, tight smile. The American leaped up with his beer in his hand, staggered a few steps and sat heavily in the empty chair at Adolf’s table.

He leaned in and Adolf could smell days of alcohol rising from his skin. “Deutsche?”

Adolf nodded. “Ja.”

The American stuck out his hand. “Ernie Hemingway.”

He took the hand, squeezed it firmly and pumped it once. “Adolf Hitler.”

Ernie waved to the bar. “Hey, de Gaulle!”

A slim man looked up. “Oui, Monsieur Hemingway?”

“A beer for my new friend Adolf Hitler.”

The bartender nodded. “Un moment, s’il vous plaît.”

Then Hemingway leaned in again, his voice low. “You got any money?”

Adolf nodded. The man’s fast speech and unpredictable movements made him nervous. He found himself blinking involuntarily.

“That’ll save us both a bit of embarrassment.”

He nodded again, not quite understanding. The bartender arrived with two pints of light, foamy beer and Hemingway raised the glass. “To life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

“To your health,” Adolf said.

“I’m afraid it’s far too late for that,” another voice said. The pianist—finished with his tune—pulled up a chair, flipping it around backwards and straddling it. He was a short man, wiry with curly hair gone gray, blue eyes and a brief but contagious smile. “We just have to hold out hope that somehow he’ll manage to pickle himself before he begins to decompose.”

Adolf didn’t understand but said nothing.

“Adolf Hitler,” Hemingway said, “Old Mother England’s wittiest bastard child, Chuck Chaplin.”

They shook hands.

“Fresh from the train?” Chuck asked in perfect German.

Adolf nodded. “Yes. This morning.”

“Looking for work here? It’ll be hard. You’re not Jewish are you?”

“No, not Jewish. I’m a painter.”

Chuck nodded. “Are you any good?”

Hitler smiled. “My English is better than my painting.”

The pianist returned the smile. “And your English is atrocious.”

“Your German is quite good.”

Chuck grinned. “Benefit of an English education.”

Ernie looked perplexed, trying to follow the rush of German in his drunken state. “What are you two going on about?”

Chuck turned to Ernie. “Drink your beer, you silly sod.” Then, back to Adolf in German: “Do you have a place to stay yet?”

Adolf shook his head. “I was going to ask after a boarding house or hotel.”

“Nonsense,” Chuck said, switching to English. “You can stay with us. At least until you find something more suitable.”

Adolf looked around again, suddenly unsure what to do. He lowered his voice. “I’m not a homosexual,” he said in a quiet voice, nodding towards Ernie. “Tell him for me? In English?”

“What’s he saying?” Ernie asked.

“That he admires your mustache and the light in your eyes,” Chuck answered. “Particularly the way you dimple when you smile.”

“Bloody British fairy,” Hemingway muttered into his beer.

“That’s not,” Chuck said slowly and deadpan, “what your mother said to me last night.”

Perhaps, Adolf thought, Paris was a mistake after all.





Very little is known of his life before the Revolution. The records and recollections of those who might have known were lost in the heavy fire-bombings during the final days of the War for Democratic Change. And the man himself rarely offered up a personal detail, despite having given over five thousand documented speeches over the span of his life. In an early American lecture, he casually mentioned coming to Paris to be a painter. In a spontaneous speech at his son’s wedding, he fondly recalled a kiss in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. We may never know more than these scattered references. But would knowing matter? Or would it merely add to the legend of this great but humble man?

Nicholas Freeman, Editor

Preface, A Kiss in the Shadow: Essays on The Pre-1942 Life of Adolf Hitler,

Harbor Light Press, Seattle, 1986


By day Hitler wandered the city with his easel and stool and pallet and canvas. At night, he sang and drank with his new friends down at de Gaulle’s. He never did move out. He slept on a cot in the corner of their large loft and tapped into what little remained of his inheritance to help with expenses. Ernie and Chuck took him under their wing, showing him around the city and helping him with his English.

The economy was struggling as a massive influx of Jewish refugees fled the Russian Civil War. The Empire was already stretched thin with footholds in Africa and Indonesia. There were quiet rumors that Napoleon IV was gradually losing his grip on sanity as he entered his eighties and even quieter rumors that his military advisors and generals had plans of their own.

Still, the summer was hot and bright and one afternoon in July, Adolf looked up from painting the Arc de Triomphe and locked eyes with the girl who had kissed him there over a month earlier. She was staring at him, a slight smile pulling at her mouth.

He licked his brush and tried to resume work, suddenly uncomfortable with her wide, dark eyes. She took a step closer.

“You’re no good at it,” she said to him in heavily accented French. “You’ve gotten the colors all wrong.”

He shrugged, feeling a stab of annoyance though her voice was playful. “It’s how I see it.”

“Perhaps you need spectacles,” she said, taking another step closer.

Adolf chuckled. “And this from a girl who kisses men old enough to be her grandfather?”

“You don’t look so old,” she said.

“Perhaps you are the one who needs spectacles?” He looked at her. She was tall, slender, with long arms and legs. Her breasts were small but high on her chest.

“How old are you?” she asked. When he didn’t answer right away, she grinned. “I’m nineteen.”

“I’m . . . old.” He set down his brush.

She laughed; it sounded like gypsy music to him. Then she repeated herself. “You don’t look so old.”

He nodded.

She stretched out her hand. “I’m Tesia.”

He took it, uncertain what to do with it. Finally, he raised it to his mouth and kissed it lightly. “Adolf.”

“German?”

“Yes. You?”

“Polish.”

“We’re neighbors then,” he said, not knowing what else to say.

She smiled. Her teeth were straight and white. “Yes.” She pointed at the bench near his stool. “May I sit and watch?”

“May I paint you?”

She laughed again. “I couldn’t let you. You’d get the colors all wrong and I’d be cross with you.” She caught her breath. “I wouldn’t want to be cross with you.”

He snorted and went back to work. She was right, he realized. He could never paint her.

He painted quietly and she watched in silence. When it grew dark, he asked her if she wanted to have dinner with him and she said yes. He packed up his supplies and tossed his canvas into a nearby waste-bin.

“Why do you do that?” she asked.

“Like you said: I’m no good.” He shrugged. “Sometimes I use them to keep me warm at night. They burn well.”

“Ridiculous.” She dug the unfinished painting from the garbage. “I like it.” She tucked it under her arm.

They walked to a small cafe that overlooked the Seine. He went in first as she paused at the door. From inside, the smell of roasted rabbit, baking bread and fresh sliced onions drifted out. The waiter frowned when he saw them.

“No,” he said.

“Pardon?”

He pointed to a newly painted sign near the door. “No Jews.”

Adolf felt a stab of anger. It passed quickly. “Monsieur,” he said in careful French, “I’m not Jewish.”

“Not you,” the waiter said, pointing at the girl. “Her.”

Adolf looked. She blanched, her eyes a bit wide and her nostrils flaring. She clenched her jaw. He saw the band on her arm now. He hadn’t noticed it before but why would he? He’d heard about the new laws but they had seemed far away to him. He shook his head in disbelief. “You are making a mistake.”

The waiter said something under his breath that Adolf couldn’t quite understand. He opened his mouth to protest but felt a firm hand on his arm.

“We’ll go somewhere else,” Tesia said.

They had a quiet dinner by moonlight. She stole two apples from a cart. He bought bread and cheese. After eating, she kissed him again, this time more slowly.

He pulled away. “I’m too old.”

“Nonsense,” she said and kissed him again.

Afterwards, he asked her, “Why did you kiss me that day when you first saw me?”

“Because,” she said, “you were beautiful and you stood alone.”

He walked her home. Twice, as blue-coat soldiers passed them on the street, she pressed herself closer to him, concealing the band on her arm.

“Why don’t you take it off?” he asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said, standing on the doorstep of a run-down hotel. Inside, he could hear loud voices conversing in Polish and Yiddish and Russian. “It’s against the law, I suppose.”

“It’s a silly law.”

“Most laws are.” She smiled, kissed him quickly and fled inside.

Whistling a love song he dimly remembered from his youth, Adolf made his way back to de Gaulle’s and his waiting friends.

When he looked for her the next day and the next, she was nowhere to be found. When he returned to the old hotel, he found it somber and empty.

July slipped into August.





My father never talked about the events leading up to the war. He simply smiled, waved his hand and said it was unimportant. After he died, I found a photograph in his belongings. He and two other men sitting at a table in some nameless bar raising their glasses to the camera. He was gaunt, bearded and hollow-eyed, dressed in a tattered Prussian coat. The back of the photograph reads Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky, scrawled in his pinched, careful German script and it seems to have been taken at night, possibly in 1941, the year he met my mother. His companions, their connection to my father and their present whereabouts are unknown.

Jacob Ernest Hitler

Memories of My Father: An Introduction to the 50th Anniversary Edition of Unser Kampf, Penguin Books, New York, 1992


The explosion was all anyone could talk about.

On August twelfth a blast ripped through Notre Dame Cathedral as Napoleon IV knelt to receive Mass from his archbishop. Fourteen people were killed, including the Emperor and his young wife. Photographs of the bombers, arrested later that night, filled the newspapers. Four frightened Jewish youth. Hanging them, the generals now in command claimed, would not even scratch the surface of the conspiracy that threatened the Empire. Still, they hanged them quickly.

Hemingway threw down the newspaper in disgust. “Those sons of bitches,” he muttered.

Chuck and Adolf looked up at him.

Ernie kicked the paper. “Do you believe this?”

He’d been drinking most of the day. At least once, they’d taken his pistol away as he waved it about. There were more soldiers in the streets these days and though the patrons of de Gaulle’s little tavern thought their American mascot eccentric, the blue-coats might not be so inclined.

Chuck shrugged. “Name of the game, my friend.”

“It’s a goddamn travesty,” Ernie went on. “They killed their own goddamn Emperor and then they blamed the Jews.”

“It’s just four,” Adolf said.

Ernie pulled back one fist, reaching for his pistol with the other. “Four? It’s not just four. Don’t you see it coming? There will be more laws. It’s a shell game, Adolf. They will whip up the people and keep them focused on their chosen scapegoat. They will move the Jews now to a separate place for their own good, to protect them from the angry mobs that they themselves have created. When the dust settles, there will be a lot of dead Jews and a new Emperor who is not a Bonaparte.” He pointed to the picture of a French general in the newspaper. “Behold your new Emperor.”

People were listening. They looked uncomfortable. Chuck lowered his voice. “That’s enough, Ernie. You’re making a scene.”

Ernie jumped up, his chair tumbling backwards. “Someone sure as Christ needs to. What you people need is a revolution.”

Adolf caught his sleeve. “Sit down, my friend.”

Ernie looked around as if suddenly coming to his senses. He sat.

Chuck laughed. “You and your revolutions.”

“It worked for us, didn’t it?”

“If it worked so well,” Chuck said, “why are you here?”

Ernie stole Adolf’s beer. “Because I’m an American. I’m free to come and go as I please.”

Adolf remembered stories about the American Revolution. He’d studied it in school, though his textbooks said little. No one really believed that the young nation of upstarts would live beyond its cradle. But Lincoln averted civil war over slavery and assisted the Canadians in gaining their own independence. Naturally, the grateful northerners joined the Union. And shortly after, the Spanish-American conflict left the United States with an entire continent under its sway.

“A revolution would never work here,” he told Ernie.

Chuck agreed. “He’s right. The army’s far too strong.”

“Ah, but words are stronger,” Hemingway said.

Adolf leaned forward. “Words? Against rifles?”

Ernie waved for another round. Suddenly, his eyes glinted with an almost savage intelligence. “Listen,” he said. “I’ll tell you just how I’d do it.” The beer arrived, de Gaulle looking pained when Ernie waved the ticket away. “Later, mon ami. That’s a promise.” He looked around to make sure no one was listening. “First,” he said, “I’d write a book.”

Chuck laughed. “But you’re a terrible writer. Your words stumble about on the page like drunken soldiers in women’s shoes.” He paused for dramatic effect. “And those were just your grocery lists.”

Ernie pointed, eyebrows narrowed in a mock scowl. “You’re quite the bloody comedian.”

Adolf chuckled at his friends. “So you’d write a book?”

Ernie nodded. “Yes. A book about all of the horse-shit here. A book so passionate, so full of raw rage and sorrow that people’d sit up and take notice.”

“And that would bring about a revolution?”

“In time it would. Yes.”

“Nonsense,” Chuck said. “Who’d read it? The Jews? The gypsies? The Marxist refugees? They don’t have pots to piss in or blankets to sleep in. It’d do them more good on the fire, keeping them warm.”

“Not the Jews,” Ernie said. “The Americans.”

Adolf sat up. “The Americans?”

“Naturally. You’d have to get them involved. First, with the book. Then with speeches. Maybe even a traveling troupe of the persecuted and oppressed. They’d eat it up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they’ve got the resources. Strong army. Strong navy. Airships.”

Adolf swallowed. “Why ever would they be interested in a Frankish Revolution?”

“Two reasons,” Ernie said, holding up two fingers. “One: A democratic foothold in Europe. Two: The liberation of the Jews.”

“The Jews?” Adolf asked.

“Freedom for every race, color, creed,” Chuck said in German. “You saw what they did with their emancipated Africans. Liberia’s doing quite well; shining that blessed light of liberty for all of Africa to see.”

Adolf leaned in. “But most Americans are Christian, aren’t they?”

“They are indeed,” Ernie said with a grin.

“And?” Chuck asked.

“Jesus Christ was Jewish,” Ernie said. “It’s all a matter of perspective.” He raised his glass. “To democracy,” he said.

They raised their glasses, too. A boy who sold photographs to tourists pointed his camera at them and raised his eyebrows. Ernie winked at him.

A bulb flashed. A shutter snapped.

The next night, Adolf gladly handed over a handful of coins for the photograph and tacked it up on the dressing mirror in their loft.





He never considered himself to be a great man but an adequate man. He never considered himself to have made history but rather to have been in the right place and the right time to do his small part. Well-spoken but shy, intelligent but unassuming, he caught the public off guard with his dry wit, his careful words and his passionate commitment to human rights. For this reason, it is said that only Hitler could go to America.

Dr. John F. Kennedy

Out of the Ashes: A History of Modern Thought from the French Revolution for Democratic Change to the Re-Birth of the Nation of Israel, 1941 - 1952,

Harvard University Press, Boston, 1971.


Throughout August, he kept an eye open for Tesia but Adolf was convinced he’d never see her again. She was a smart girl, he told himself. Smart enough to see the stirred pot start to boil. As badly as he wished to see her, he hoped he would not because that would mean she hadn’t left this dangerous place.

There were more soldiers now and more laws. More signs in shop windows. Rumors flew of outlying rural churches desecrated by Jews. The local synagogue was burned to the ground by angry citizens while the police and soldiers stood by.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Adolf told Chuck one afternoon as they walked to de Gaulle’s. They spoke in exclusively in English now; Adolf had gotten quite good at it.

Chuck kicked an empty can. “It is. Man’s inhumanity to man, I think they call it.”

Adolf stopped. “I think Ernie was right.”

Chuck laughed and stopped, too. “About the book?”

“Maybe. About the Revolution. About the Americans.”

“Perhaps,” Chuck said, resuming his brisk pace. “But I don’t think it will happen.”

“Why not?”

He clapped Adolf on the shoulder. “Who’s going to do it? Are you going to do it?”

“Of course not.”

“Why not?”

Adolf opened his mouth. He started to say because I’m not a Jew and the realization of it twisted his heart in his chest. “It’s not my line of work.”

“Exactly,” Chuck said. “This sort of work requires more than just a willing body.”

“More?”

Chuck’s hands moved as he talked. “Joan of Arc, King Arthur, Moses. What did they have?”

Adolf thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know.”

“God,” Chuck said. “They had the voice of God, the vision of the grail, a light from Heaven. A power they could point to over their shoulder.”

“A light from Heaven?”

Chuck pointed up. “Licht vom Himmel.”

Adolf nodded. They stood outside de Gaulle’s now, waiting to go in. He smiled at his friend. “And when they have that?”

“One spark to start the fire,” Chuck said.

They walked in. Ernie waved them to their table. He was remarkably sober for the time of day. He grinned. “You’re becoming popular, Adolf.”

Adolf raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

Ernie nodded towards the bar. “De Gaulle said a girl was in looking for you earlier. Said she’d be back later.”

He coughed as a shudder passed over him. “Did he mention her name?”

“Foreign girl. Dark.” He lowered his voice. “He thought she was Jewish; I assured him she was not.”

Adolf took the meaning from his words and nodded. “Thank you.”

He shrugged. “She’s more trouble than you need, friend. These are bad times for love.”

“I don’t love her,” Adolf said. “I hardly know her. And she’s just a girl.”

Ernie patted his hand. “That’s what they all say.” He opened his mouth to continue but the sudden opening and closing of the front door stopped him. A young man stood panting in the doorway and the room went quiet.

“They’re relocating the Jews tonight,” he said. “Outside of the city. For their own protection, they said.”

“Who said?” de Gaulle asked.

“I heard it from a soldier. They’re lined up along the Champs Elysées. Blue-coats for block upon block. They’ve even called up the reserves.”

Ernie looked at Adolf. “For their own protection,” he said quietly.

Outside, the shouting started. Whistles blowing, sirens wailing. Adolf hung his head. “They’ll go, won’t they? They won’t fight back.”

“They might,” Chuck said. “But after a few of them are killed, they’ll stop. They’ll go like sheep and hope the butcher is a shepherd.”

Adolf rubbed his eyes, disbelief gnawing at his stomach. “What do we do?”

Ernie looked up, his face pale. “We wait here for it to be done. Then we leave Paris.”

The bartender dimmed the lights. He passed around shot glasses and bottles. The handful of men drank themselves drunk and fell asleep at their tables.

In a whisky fog, Hitler dreamed of another life, another time. A dark time, a time when a caricature of himself strutted about in uniform, barking out orders and gazing with pride upon a broken cross. And other men in uniform, men who saw the light from the sky spreading out behind Adolf like a halo, raised their hands to him and cried “Heil.” And on the hands that they raised, blood shone out in that awful light. Blood of the martyrs, blood of the ages, and Adolf looked down at his own hands and saw that they were bloody, too, and he reached back to find some of his father’s faith and compassion but found that in that life, in that world, there was nothing but rage and hatred to reach for.

Hitler wept.

He woke to screaming and leaped to his feet.

Ernie mumbled; Chuck stirred.

He heard the screaming again, distant from the alley behind the tavern. Either the others were too drunk to notice or too drunk to care. He moved quickly to the back door and stepped out into the night.

“Hello?”

The screaming stopped. Instead, he heard muffled, muted sound. He followed it.

Behind a pile of crates he saw two large forms crouched on the ground over a smaller bundle that bucked and twisted. As he drew closer, he realized they were two soldiers and a girl. One blue-coat held the girl down, a razor at her throat and a hand over her mouth. The other had pried her legs apart, his own trousers pushed down to his knees as he raped her.

“Wasn’t enough to kill our Lord,” one of the soldiers hissed. “You had to kill our Emperor, too, Jew-bitch.”

Adolf stopped. His heart fell into a hole somewhere inside him. His stomach followed after. His eyes locked with the girl’s and suddenly she stopped struggling.

She’s waiting for me to save her, Adolf thought. He couldn’t move. He stood transfixed while powerlessness and shame washed over him. Tesia lay still and the soldier thrust twice more before looking up.

“You there,” he said. “You this girl’s father?”

Adolf cleared his voice. “No.”

“Then mind your business. You can come back for your turn later.”

Something snapped like a guitar string in his spine. Adolf turned and fled for de Gaulle’s, his feet pounding the cobblestones. Behind him, he heard Tesia struggling again, trying to scream but unable to do more than moan. He ran into the tavern, kicking over chairs and tables as he went, until he reached his own. He stood panting, sobbing over his friends, then bent over Ernie to frisk him.

Ernie stirred. “What the hell—“

Adolf found the revolver, yanked it from the pocket, and wordlessly stalked out of the tavern. Each step steady, deliberate, until he saw the soldiers. Until he saw Tesia beneath them. Then he stopped and looked down at them.

A blue-coat looked up. “I thought I told you—“

The pistol didn’t roar or buck like at the cinema. It popped and shimmied just a bit and he thumbed the hammer and pulled the trigger again to be sure it had really worked though the soldier was already falling sideways, his mouth working like a landed trout.

The other soldier let go of Tesia and scrambled backwards on his heels and hands, fear white on his face. The revolver popped again once and he thrashed away, popped twice and he rolled over with a sigh.

Adolf, still clutching the pistol, dropped heavily to his knees. Tesia lay still, her dress and blouse ripped, her eyes closed. He reached for her, pulled her to himself and she fought him, kicking and flailing and growling low in her throat. He released her for a moment, then tried again. This time, she let him pull her in and he cradled her, rocking back and forth. He had no idea what to say so he said nothing and let that silence sweep him aside like a giant hand. After a few minutes, shouts from over rooftops brought him back from that quiet place he’d gone to.

He shook her gently. “Tesia, we have to go.”

He stood, pulling her up and keeping her close. The revolver dangled in his hand and he looked again at his handiwork. The two soldiers were dead now or soon would be. They lay sprawled like cast away dolls. The realization of what he’d done struck him. Blood on his hands.

Hanging on to her, he bent as far away as he could and threw up on the ground. When he ran the back of his hand over his mouth he smelled whisky and cordite.

He heard a quiet cough and looked up. Ernie, Chuck and a few others from the tavern stood there watching him.

Chuck looked at the bodies and then the girl. “Adolf, what have you done?”

Ernie stepped forward, snatching the pistol from his hand. He tucked it into his waistband. “I think he did the right thing, Chuck. This is where it starts.”

One spark, Adolf thought.





Were he alive today, he would say himself that this monument is not about one man’s struggle but about the struggle of many. Our struggle, as he put it so well. From 1942 to 1952—when the charter was finally signed—he struggled alongside us, raising support and awareness for our cause, never asking for anything for himself. With his wife and his children often by his side, he went from city to city speaking in any venue that would listen. And though originally published in his native German, his book was a shot heard ‘round the world, translated into over forty languages within its first five years in print. I heard him speak shortly before his death: “Well-aimed words will always be more powerful than rifles,” he said. And his words roused a slumbering giant, turning its head towards cruelty and oppression, towards a cry for freedom in a far away land.

Rabbi Benjamin Levin

Dedication Speech, Hitler Memorial, Jerusalem, Israel, 1992.


They told Adolf to take her to the loft and wait for morning. De Gaulle had a nephew who was driving to Calais the next day; they’d hide Hitler and the girl in the back of the truck and hope for the best. He ripped off Tesia’s armband and tossed it away.

“Listen to me,” he told her. “You are not Jewish. You are my daughter, Klara, and you are ill. We are looking for the hospital. We left your papers at home by mistake. Do you understand me?”

She nodded. Her eyes were red and she limped now, but she stood on her own.

“Good.” They set out at a brisk walk. More shouting and sirens punctuated the night, suddenly joined now by occasional gunshots.

Along the way they saw soldiers running. They saw groups of men and women, some now fighting back. People called news to one another from their opened windows. Two soldiers had been killed raping a girl, someone cried. A band of drunks was storming the police station looking for guns, another shouted. Adolf heard it as if it were far away and kept pushing them towards safety, towards home.

He locked them inside. He took down half a bottle of schnapps from the cupboard and poured two drinks with shaking hands. Tesia did not speak and did not meet his eyes. He knew she was still in shock, the color drained away from her skin and her face slack. He tucked her into his cot, wrapping his great coat over her and when he pulled away, she clutched at him and mumbled something.

He bent in closer and heard the words. “You were beautiful,” she said, “and you stood alone.”

He held her as sobs racked his body. The world had never seemed so grim and despairing and he wondered if it had always been that way, if he’d just never seen it before. He felt the broken girl in his arms, felt her breath against his neck and smelled the sweat and dirt on her. Behind him, in the window, something like Heaven’s light grew beyond his wildest imaginings, filling that cavity in the world’s soul. His tears subsided; Tesia slept.

After an hour of holding her, he left her side to pack his things. He’d leave his paints, his pallet, his brushes. He knew he’d never use them again. But he did pack his suitcase with clothing, bedding and canned food. He also checked his papers and counted his money. Somewhere, he could buy her the papers she would need.

On a scrap of paper, Ernie had hastily scribbled a name and an address—a friend of a friend at the U.S. Embassy in London. Ernie had pressed it into his hand before leaving with Chuck and the others to storm the police station and start their Revolution for Democratic Change.

“Viva la France,” they had said as they went racing down the cobblestones.

Adolf took down their photograph from the mirror. He looked at it and smiled at his friends.

If I’m to be a writer, he thought, I should write something about this place, this time. Something so I will never forget.

He found a pen, turned the photo over, and after a moment’s thought, wrote on the back of it in his pinched, careful, German script: Summer in Paris, Light from Heaven.

Hitler weighed the pen carefully in his hand and wondered if one man could make a difference. He weighed his destiny carefully in his heart and wondered if the Americans would listen.





Ken Scholes’ quirky, speculative short fiction has been showing up over the last eight years in publications like Clarkesworld, Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales and Writers of the Future. Ken’s first novel, Lamentation, debuted from Tor in February 2009. It is the first of five volumes in the Psalms of Isaak series. Ken’s first short story collection, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys, is available from Fairwood Press.





TETRIS DOOMS ITSELF



Meghan McCarron


Andy kidnaps me at 11:12 PM. I see the time on my microwave. He clamps a hand over my mouth while I’m making a pot of coffee, and I scatter the grounds all over the floor. It’s late, and I have work to do, but that doesn’t matter now. “I have a gun,” he says in a movie-villain voice. He forces a blindfold over my eyes. I giggle.


When I go to see Catherine, she cuts off my hands. She likes to take off the left one first because it’s more useful to me. She uses a hunting knife that she’s never sharpened, and when she saws into my wrist she hisses, “Sinister! Sinister!”

When I first came home with a bloody stump, my roommates shrieked, What did she do to you? Now they roll their eyes and go back to playing Scrabble. They like Andy better. It takes a lot of effort to kidnap someone, they say.


Usually Andy kidnaps me at some bright sunny hour when his wife is at work. But tonight she is sick, “from stress, mostly,” he says. Also from the flu. “She looked so sad tonight,” he says. “So sick and sad.” He tells me this as he tightens my blindfold, and then waves his hands in front of my face to make sure I can’t see. Air fans my cheeks.

He takes my hand, then changes his mind and takes my wrist instead. He pauses at the door, checking for roommates; the apartment is silent, though sometimes roommates are just hiding. He leads me out the door and down my creaking stairs to a car. It’s not his car; it smells new, or fake-new, a smell achieved only through the relentless application of cleaning products. The seat fabric feels cheap to the touch and the anemic motor sputters and kicks. A rental. Economy size, if I had to guess.

He buckles me in and says, “Now you’re mine,” but in Andy-voice, not movie-villain voice, leaving me unsure how to take the line.


Once my roommate Marcia came home with a hunting trap clamped on her leg. We heard her coming all the way up the stairs, step CLANK step CLANK step CLANK. She said she and her boyfriend were playing cops and robbers in the woods, and she stepped in the wrong place. No one asked why her boyfriend didn’t help her home. Other roommates whispered that he must have been the robber. I was not convinced. At the very least, he must have caught her cheating.


Andy and I drive for a long time, probably in circles, since Andy barely leaves this neighborhood. Not that I blame him—things get weird further out. There’s downtown and mountains and a desert, somewhere. While we drive, he tells me about his latest career developments. He has an agent now, or is it a manager? I don’t understand the music business. I thought it was better than the writer and his prizes, or the lawyer and her golf tournaments, but now they all sound the same.

I ask Andy about his music, instead. To him it’s a color or a smell or even a different kind of sound, like bees or sandpaper. I love when Andy talks like this. His voice is the color of mahogany. I forget I can’t see where we’re going.

The car rolls to a stop on what sounds like gravel. My calm breaks, and I clutch my hands on my knees. Why am I nervous? Andy gets out without a word and opens my door. The night air is sharp; it smells like forest fires.

Every time Catherine cuts off my hands, they come back smaller, so when Andy takes my hand in his, I feel engulfed. I smell rust, and something chemical, in addition to the faint tang of burning wood. It’s the smell of the river. I wish I could take off my blindfold, because I love staring at the river’s concrete expanse, but I’m pretty sure the blindfold is a rule.

Andy pulls me toward him and kisses me, hard; if someone could hit someone else with their mouth, it would feel like this. He shoves me away and takes off at a run. His footsteps fade, PAT PAT Pat Pat pat pat patpat . . . and I’m out in the open, alone.

“Bet you can’t find me!” Andy calls.

“Andy, is this blind man’s bluff?” I say. “That’s so lame.”

He shoots his gun off, which until now I didn’t believe he had, and I realize it’s something a little different.


Once, Catherine and I tried to have sex. She bit my nipple so hard I yelped; it took me days to find her clit. There were snippets that approached loveliness, and I could maybe see why people fumbled towards the good parts. But I could still taste her in my mouth when she turned to me and said, “Let’s never do that again.”

Andy and I have fucked on any number of occasions, but we always set rules ahead of time.


Andy is shouting and shooting at the same time, which is half annoying and half terrifying. I thought he said, “Take off your shoes,” but when I did he just started shooting again. I throw myself on the ground until he figures out what he wants from this game.

The shooting stops.

“Goddamnit! Get up!” Andy shouts.

“I can’t—understand—you!” I shout back.

“Oh,” Andy says. Then he gets gruff again. “Take off your shirt!”

I half-heartedly throw my shirt off and hold my arms against my cold, naked skin. Andy likes strip games. I don’t. I thought he had a better idea than this.

I’m still on my knees, half-naked, when one of the bullets hits me in the shoulder. The pain explodes outward from the point of impact, I am cold with it, then nothing, then hot hot hot.

I pop the bullet out of my wound—they were cheater bullets, thank god—and hurl it at Andy. It clatters on the gravel. “Fuck you!” I cry. There is a moment of silence as I double over, panting with pain. Just my breath, my heaving chest, pant pant pant. It is gorgeous, this silence. It is such a relief.

“Fuck you,” Andy says, and starts shooting again.


The first time Catherine cut off my hands, it was to free me from handcuffs. I was chained to her refrigerator and we wanted beer. We could have picked the lock, or dislocated my thumbs, but those methods seemed too obvious. Which is funny, because cutting off my hands is really obvious.

The hunting knife was sharp then, left over from a knife-throwing game with one of Catherine’s exes. When it cut into my skin, pain welled like pleasure. The sensation built as Catherine sliced through muscle and tendon, cracked through bone. When my hand dropped to the ground, I saw white light. I screamed.

Now the pain is ragged, the relief the barest break. I grunt. I’ve begged her to sharpen the knife, or to get a new one, but she insists that the knife is a rule. My forsaking pleasure is a rule, too. Someday, if she gets her way, it’s just going to hurt.


When all my clothes are gone, I throw myself on the ground again, by the car. The gravel is gritty against my bare skin. The little pebbles against my nipples are strange and uncomfortable, but uncomfortable like lace panties, not like splinters, or the cuts on my feet. Despite this, I don’t feel remotely turned on.

The tall, dead grass rustles.

“Aw, baby, look at you,” Andy says. “Stand up.”

I pull myself up, and the cool air shocks my bare skin. I hear the wind again. I touch the wound on my shoulder and clean away the gravel, though I let the stones stick to the rest of me. I feel covered, that way.

Andy takes a few steps towards me, and I can feel the edges of his heat, his halo. His breath washes over my forehead, and his clothing whispers as he takes his gun out of his pocket.

“You’re all dirty,” he says, like I’m a little girl, brushing the gravel off my breasts. His fingers are light and loving. They flick the gravel off with ease.

I imagine what we must look like, a naked, blindfolded woman and a clothed man standing in the dead grass. I try to imagine his wife standing here instead of me and almost laugh. I wish I understood why I’m the one who can be blindfolded, stripped, and shot, and then gently cleaned—gently kissed. The standard answer is that wives are boring, but I don’t buy that. Wives will kick your ass if you give them the chance.

But if you shoot your wife, you have to listen to her toss and turn because her shoulder aches. Or you have to wonder if she’ll pull a gun on you at breakfast. Andy can walk away from me. So maybe the real question is—what about me makes it so easy to walk away?

He puts the gun against my back and prods me. “Let’s go,” he whispers in my ear. His voice is warm and, again, I’m not sure how to take the line.


Everyone plays the same game. I’m not just talking about the trends that go around—cartwheel contests, speed eating, naked relay races. Those games are sham games, fakes for people with nothing better to do. But when you find a naked roommate giggling to herself outside your building for the fourth time in a month, and she’s not even running with a baton, or running at all, it’s more like a jog, you get suspicious. If you can play a sham game wrong and it still gets called a game, what the hell kind of system is this?


I march barefoot towards the sounds of whirring generators and rustling trees. I step on metal, on glass. My feet must be a bloody mess.

“I didn’t do too good at this game,” I said. “Did I?” It’s a canned line. One he likes. I want to please him, suddenly.

“No, you didn’t,” Andy says. The gun is getting warm from being pushed against my skin. The sound of rustling is actually water rushing. Where is the water coming from? It builds as we walk towards it, until I lose the sound of my footsteps, of Andy’s footsteps, of anything but this impossible sound.

He puts a hand on my shoulder and pulls me to a stop. The sound roars below me. It has to be the wind, whistling through the concrete. I can smell the forest fires again.

“What now?” I say.

“Take off your blindfold.”

I’m standing on the edge of the concrete wall, where I expected to see ancient graffiti, cracked concrete, slow, dirty water. Instead, a river rushes below me, dark except for where the moon is reflected in a distorted circle. The river is deeper than the channel ever was, like the concrete was ripped up to expose a secret below. It smells like acid rain.

“Jump in,” Andy says.

I look over my shoulder so fast I almost fall. “What?” I say.

Andy softens his tone and puts a hand on my ass, cupping it like it’s his favorite thing in the world. “Come on, baby. Jump in.”

“That’s not even supposed to be here,” I said.

“I found it last night. A friend sent me photos.” He gazed at it, the midnight-dark water, the splotches of electric light.

“You’re not jumping in?” I say.

“Baby,” he says, patting my ass. “You lost the game.”

The river can’t be real, and yet it looks more solid, more dangerous, than anything that is. The second-to-last thing I’m doing is wasting the river on Andy, and the last is getting shot in the gut for refusing to jump in.

I turn around and snatch the gun from Andy’s hand.

I have always known I could do this, but from the look on Andy’s face he hasn’t. He gapes at the gun like I pulled it out of thin air.

“You jump in,” I say.

“Me?” he says.

“You’re the loser now.”

Andy’s face collapses, then hardens into a glower. “You cheated.”

I have cheated. If he walks away, I’ll let him.

“I changed the game,” I say.

He looks down at his shoes, screwing up his face like this is a huge problem, one that takes mighty effort to solve. He shifts back and forth on his feet and screws up his face. I keep the gun pointed at him. I’m still cold.

He bends down and unties his shoes. He removes his pants, shirt, shocks. He climbs up on the wall next to me and looks out on the river with his hands on his hips, like it’s his newly conquered domain. Like I’m not even there. The gun is close enough for him to snatch back, but he doesn’t even look at it. He just stands there, staring at the water.

I thought snatching the gun would make it like one of those childhood games, where I grant myself invisibility so he gives himself invisibility goggles, I call lightening so he turns himself to metal—perpetual one-upmanship until one of us runs out of ideas. Andy stares down the river, naked and silent. Every so often he shuffles his feet, or peers down farther, as if readying to jump that never comes. My hand aches from holding the gun, and the cuts on my feet burn. Andy ignores me, frozen between fear of the river and fear of not finishing the game. Is he out of ideas?

I keep telling myself a little longer, just stay a little longer, but finally I give in. I hunt and gather my clothes from the scrubby field; Andy is still standing on the ledge when I finish. I dress behind him, shaking the dirt off my underwear, easing my shirt over my bloody shoulder. Andy twitches once or twice, but otherwise does not move. I force my bloody feet into their shoes.

I pick up Andy’s pants from the pile of clothes and fish out the car keys. I jingle them, to see if that catches his attention. He peers down into the rushing water again. I think about climbing up on the ledge with him to see what he’s looking at, even bending my knees, diving in. But I called bullshit on the game, and it felt wrong to step back in.

I looked back at him, once, on my way to the car. He raised a hand. At first, I thought he was waving me back, and I stopped in my tracks. He was waving goodbye.


I take the rental car back to Andy’s house on the east side of town. He lives in an ancient craftsman bungalow with a long low porch and two giant palm trees in the front yard. I walk in the screen door and find his wife playing Tetris, crumpled tissues surrounding her in white clumps. I try to introduce myself, but when I open my mouth, she rolls her eyes and thrusts the other controller in my direction. I sit down next to her on the couch and play at manipulating shapes, finding a place for everything. Andy’s wife kicks my ass at this, but that’s kind of the point.

Around three AM, Andy comes in. He’s sopping wet and, weirdly, drunk.

“I got cold,” he says, as if this was an explanation.

He shuffles into the kitchen before I can even open my mouth. His wife doesn’t look away from Tetris, as if her husband shows up soaked and wasted on a regular basis. He comes back with three beers and hands them out. I have ignored my side of the game, and bricks are choking the top of my screen.

Andy looks as if he’s undergone a religious conversion. Perhaps it’s just the wetness, my mind adding in a false baptismal glow. Did he really go in? My whole conception of Andy changes, struggling to imagine him diving into the river, fighting the current, pulling himself ashore. But he had been naked, standing on that edge. I try to imagine him stepping down, putting clothes on, and getting back up. Maybe he was afraid of losing them?

No, Andy is still just Andy.

He plops down on the easy chair by the couch and, without a word, flips the TV off. My disaster Tetris, and his wife’s high score, disappear. We sit in silence. Not-new Andy, his sniffly wife, and me.

“How was the water?” I say to him.

Andy takes a sip of beer. “Excuse me?” he says, as if I was some rude stranger.

“How was the river?” I repeat, trying to sound casual.

Andy takes a swig of his beer and looks at the blank television. He takes on an expression he imagines is deep. “Real,” he says.

“Oh really?” I said. “How’d you get back here, then?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Andy says.

“A real river would chew you up and spit you out—”

Andy looks away, as if ignoring me will make me disappear.

“Do you know why he’s like this?” I say to his wife. She’s blowing her nose, and looks at me from behind her tissue. I take off my shoes, my socks, and show her my filthy, scabbing feet. I pull back my shirt, where the blood on my shoulder was starting to soak through. “He did this and then tried to get me to jump in this . . . river. Now he’s pretending like he went in, lying to us—”

“I’m not lying!” Andy says.

“Why in the hell are you clothes wet?”

“I took them with me,” Andy says.

His wife stares at her husband. “What is she even doing here?” she says, guesturing at me with her controller.

“Returning your car,” I say.

“She stole it,” Andy says, as if this trumps anything I might say.

“What did you do, rent one of the public showers?” I say. “Jump in the ocean? You kinda smell fishy—”

His wife groans and drops her controller. “I’m going up to bed,” she says, standing up. She leaves her pile of tissues on the couch.

Andy’s head snaps up. “So am I,” he says, and gets up a little too fast. She looks at him like he’s crazy, but doesn’t say anything to deter him. He pretends to ignore the look. His wife walks a step ahead of him towards the stairs so she can’t see him following her. Their feet move in perfect unison up the stairs, step. step. step. Andy’s footsteps squelch. Neither of look down at me, once.

This was my cue to leave, but I stay on the couch. I turn the TV back on and watch Tetris bricks pile up on both our sides. I find it comforting to watch it play itself. When both sides clog up, I hit the controller with my least-cut toe to start another round.

Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. Plunkplunk plunkplunkplunkplunk plunk. GAME OVER. Click.

Andy and his wife start snoring upstairs; Tetris keeps dooming itself. I feel like an asshole. Why do I even care, if Andy lies? Why waste my time, barge in on his wife?

I wonder if the river’s still there. I wonder if I could make myself jump. Would I float out somewhere, wet but still me, still here? Would I drown? Or would I dive for the dark, rushing water, and hit a dirty puddle on concrete?





Meghan McCarron’s work has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Strange Horizons, and Best American Fantasy. She has been a rare book wrangler, a Hollywood assistant, and a boarding school English teacher. She has just moved to Brooklyn, where she will be something else completely.





BLUE INK



Yoon Ha Lee


It’s harder than you thought, walking from the battle at the end of time and down a street that reeks of entropy and fire and spilled lives. Your eyes aren’t dry. Neither is the alien sky. Your shoulders ache and your stomach hurts. Blue woman, blue woman, the chant runs through your head as you limp toward a portal’s bright mouth. You’re leaving, but you intend to return. You have allies yet.

Blue stands for many things at the end of time: for the forgotten, blazing blue stars of aeons past; the antithesis of redshift; the color of uncut veins beneath your skin.

This story is written in blue ink, although you do not know that yet.


Blue is more than a fortunate accident. Jenny Chang usually writes in black ink or pencil. She’s been snowed in at her mom’s house since yesterday and is dawdling over physics homework. Now she’s out of lead. The only working pen in the house is blue.

“We’ll go shopping the instant the roads are clear,” her mom says.

Jenny mumbles something about how she hates homework over winter break. Actually, she isn’t displeased. There’s something neatly alien about all those equations copied out in blue ink, problems and their page numbers. It’s as if blue equations come from a different universe than the ones printed in the textbook.

While her mom sprawls on the couch watching TV, Jenny pads upstairs to the guest room and curls up in bed next to the window. Fingers of frost cover the glass. With her index finger, Jenny writes a list of numbers: pi, H0 for Hubble’s constant, her dad’s cellphone number, her school’s zip code. Then she wipes the window clear of mist, and shivers. Everything outside is almost blue-rimmed in the twilight.

Jenny resumes her homework, biting her nails between copying out answers to two significant figures and doodling spaceships in the margins. There’s a draft from the window, but that’s all right. Winter’s child that she is—February 16, to be exact—Jenny thinks better with a breath of cold.

Except, for a moment, the draft is hot like a foretaste of hell. Jenny stops still. All the frost has melted and is running in rivulets down the glass. And there’s a face at the window.

The sensible thing to do would be to scream. But the face is familiar, the way equations in blue are familiar. It could be Jenny’s own, five ragged years in the future. The woman’s eyes are dark and bleak, asking for help without expecting it.

“Hold on,” Jenny says. She goes to the closet to grab her coat. From downstairs, she hears her mom laughing at some TV witticism.

Then Jenny opens the window, and the world falls out. This doesn’t surprise her as much as it should. The wind shrieks and the cold hits her like a fist. It’s too bad she didn’t put on her scarf and gloves while she was at it.

The woman offers a hand. She isn’t wearing gloves. Nor is she shivering. Maybe extremes of temperature don’t mean the same thing in blue universes. Maybe it’s normal to have blue-tinted lips, there. Jenny doesn’t even wear make-up.

The woman’s touch warms Jenny, as though they’ve stepped into a bubble of purloined heat. Above them, stars shine in constellations that Jenny recognizes from the ceiling of her father’s house, the ones Mom and Dad helped her put up when she was in third grade. Constellations with names like Fire Truck and Ladybug Come Home, constellations that you won’t find in any astronomer’s catalogue.

Jenny looks at her double and raises an eyebrow, because any words she could think of would emerge frozen, like the world around them. She wonders where that hell-wind came from and if it has a name.

“The end of the world is coming,” the blue woman says. Each syllable is crisp and certain.

I don’t believe in the end of the world, Jenny wants to say, except she’s read her physics textbook. She’s read the sidebar about things like the sun swelling into a red giant and the universe’s heat-death. She looks up again, and maybe she’s imagining it, but these stars are all the wrong colors, and they’re either too bright or not bright enough. Instead, Jenny asks, “Are my mom and dad going to be okay?”

“As okay as anyone else,” the blue woman says.

“What can I do?” She can no more doubt the blue woman than she can doubt the shape of the sun.

This earns her a moment’s smile. “There’s a fight,” the blue woman says, “and everyone fell. Everyone fell.” She says it the second time as though things might change, as though there’s a magic charm for reversing the course of events. “I’m the only one left, because I can walk through possibilities. Now there’s you.”

They set off together. A touch at her elbow tells Jenny to turn left. There’s a bright flash at the corner of her eyes. Between one blink and the next, they’re standing in a devastated city, crisscrossed by skewed bridges made of something brighter than steel, more brilliant than glass.

“Where are we?” Jenny asks.

“We’re at humanity’s last outpost,” the blue woman says. “Tell me what you see.”

“Rats with red eyes and metal hands,” Jenny says just as one pauses to stare at her. It stands up on its hind feet and makes a circle-sign at her with one of its hands, as if it’s telling her things will be all right. Then it scurries into the darkness. “Buildings that go so high up I can’t see their tops, and bridges between them. Flying cars.” They come in every color, these faraway cars, every color but blue. Jenny begins to stammer under the weight of detail: “Skeletons wrapped in silver wires”—out of the corner of her eye, she thinks she sees one twitch, and decides she’d rather not know—“and glowing red clocks on the walls that say it’s midnight even though there’s light in the sky, and silhouettes far away, like people, except their joints are all wrong.”

And the smells, too, mostly smoke and ozone, as though everything has been burned away by fire and lightning, leaving behind the ghost-essence of a city, nothing solid.

“What you see isn’t actually there,” the blue woman says. She taps Jenny’s shoulder again.

They resume walking. The only reason Jenny doesn’t halt dead in her tracks is that she’s afraid that the street will crumble into pebbles, the pebbles into dust, and leave her falling through eternity the moment she stops.

The blue woman smiles a little. “Not like that. Things are very different at the end of time. Your mind is seeing a translation of everything into more familiar terms.”

“What are we doing here?” Jenny asks. “I—I don’t know how to fight. If it’s that kind of battle.” She draws mini-comics in the margins of her notes sometimes, when the teachers think she’s paying attention. Sometimes, in the comics, she wields two mismatched swords, and sometimes a gun; sometimes she has taloned wings, and sometimes she rides in a starship sized perfectly for one. She fights storm-dragons and equations turned into sideways alien creatures. (If pressed, she will admit the influence of Calvin and Hobbes.) But unless she’s supposed to brain someone with the flute she didn’t think to bring (she plays in the school band), she’s not going to be any use in a fight, at least not the kind of fight that happens at the end of time. Jenny’s mom made her take a self-defense class two years ago, before the divorce, and mostly what Jenny remembers is the floppy-haired instructor saying, If someone pulls a gun on you and asks for your wallet, give him your wallet. You are not an action hero.

The blue woman says, “I know. I wanted a veteran of the final battles”—she says it without disapproval—”but they all died, too.”

This time Jenny does stop. “You brought them here to die.”

The woman lifts her chin. “I wouldn’t have done that. I showed them the final battle, the very last one, and they chose to fight. We’re going there now, so you can decide.”

Jenny read the stories where you travel back in time and shoot someone’s grandfather or step on some protozoan, and the act unravels the present stitch by stitch until all that’s left is a skein of history gone wrong. “Is that such a good idea?” she asks.

“They won’t see us. We won’t be able to affect anything.”

“I don’t even have a weapon,” Jenny says, thinking of the girl in the mini-comics with her two swords, her gun. Jenny is tolerably good at arm-wrestling her girl friends at high school, but she doesn’t think that’s going to help.

The woman says, “That can be changed.”

Not fixed, as though Jenny were something wrong, but changed. The word choice is what makes her decide to keep going. “Let’s go to the battle,” Jenny says.

The light in the sky changes as they walk, as though all of winter were compressed into a single day of silver and grey and scudding darkness. Once or twice, Jenny could almost swear that she sees a flying car change shape, growing wings like that of a delta kite and swooping out of sight. There’s soot in the air, subtle and unpleasant, and Jenny wishes for sunglasses, even though it’s not all that bright, any sort of protection. Lightning runs along the streets like a living thing, writing jagged blue-white equations. It keeps its distance, however.

“It’s just curious,” the blue woman says when Jenny asks about it. She doesn’t elaborate.

The first sign of the battle, although Jenny doesn’t realize it for a while, is the rain. “Is the rain real?” Jenny says, wondering what future oddity would translate into inclement weather.

“Everything’s an expression of some reality.”

That probably means no. Especially since the rain is touching everything in the world except them.

The second sign is all the corpses, and this she does recognize. The stench hits her first. It’s not the smell of meat, or formaldehyde from 9th grade biology (she knows a fresh corpse shouldn’t smell like formaldehyde, but that’s the association her brain makes), but asphalt and rust and fire. She would have expected to hear something first, like the deafening chatter of guns. Maybe fights in the future are silent.

Then she sees the fallen. Bone-deep, she knows which are ours and which are theirs. Ours are the rats with the clever metal hands, their fingers twisted beyond salvage; the sleek bicycles (bicycles!) with broken spokes, reflectors flashing crazily in the lightning; the men and women in coats the color of winter rain, red washing away from their wounds. The blue woman’s breath hitches as though she’s seeing this for the first time, as though each body belongs to an old friend. Jenny can’t take in all the raw death. The rats grieve her the most, maybe because one of them greeted her in this place of unrelenting strangeness.

Theirs are all manner of things, including steel serpents, their scales etched with letters from an alphabet of despair; stilt-legged robots with guns for arms; more men and women, in uniforms of all stripes, for at the evening of the world there will be people fighting for entropy as well as against it. Some of them are still standing, and written in their faces—even the ones who don’t have faces—is their triumph.

Jenny looks at the blue woman. The blue woman continues walking, so Jenny keeps pace with her. They stop before one of the fallen, a dark-skinned man. Jenny swallows and eyes one of the serpents, which is swaying next to her, but it takes no notice of her.

“He was so determined that we should fight, whatever the cost,” the blue woman says. “And now he’s gone.”

There’s a gun not far from the fallen man’s hand. Jenny reaches for it, then hesitates, waiting for permission. The blue woman doesn’t say yes, doesn’t say no, so Jenny touches it anyway. The metal is utterly cold. Jenny pulls her fingers away with a bitten-off yelp.

“It’s empty,” the blue woman says. “Everything’s empty.”

“I’m sorry,” Jenny says. She doesn’t know this man, but it’s not about her.

The blue woman watches as Jenny straightens, leaving the gun on the ground.

“If I say no,” Jenny says slowly, “is there anyone else?”

The blue woman’s eyes close for a moment. “No. You’re the last. I would have spared you the choice if I could have.”

“How many of me were there?”

“I lost count after a thousand or so,” the blue woman says. “Most of them were more like me. Some of them were more like you.”

A thousand Jenny Changs, a thousand blue women. More. Gone, one by one, like a scatterfall of rain. “Did all of them say yes?” Jenny asks.

The blue woman shakes her head.

“And none of the ones who said yes survived.”

“None of them.”

“If that’s the case,” Jenny says, “what makes you special?”

“I’m living on borrowed possibilities,” she says. “When the battle ends, I’ll be gone too, no matter which way it ends.”

Jenny looks around her, then squeezes her eyes shut, thinking. Two significant figures, she thinks inanely. “Who started the fight?” She’s appalled that she sounds like her mom.

“There’s always an armageddon around the corner,” the blue woman says. “This happens to be the one that he found.”

The dark-skinned man. Who was he, that he could persuade people to take a last stand like this? Maybe it’s not so difficult when a last stand is the only thing left. That solution displeases her, though.

Her heart is hammering. “I won’t do it,” Jenny says. “Take me home.”

The blue woman’s eyes narrow. “You are the last,” she says quietly. “I thought you would understand.”

Everything hinges on one thing: is the blue woman different enough from Jenny that Jenny can lie to her, and be believed?

“I’m sorry,” Jenny says.

“Very well,” the blue woman says.

Jenny strains to keep her eyes open at the crucial moment. When the blue woman reaches for her hand, Jenny sees the portal, a shimmer of blue light. She grabs the blue woman and shoves her through. The last thing Jenny hears from the blue woman is a muffled protest.

Whatever protection the blue woman’s touch afforded her is gone. The rain drenches her shirt and runs in cold rivulets through her hair, into her eyes, down her back. Jenny reaches again for the fallen man’s gun. It’s cold, but she has a moment’s warmth in her yet.

She might not be able to save the world, but she can at least save herself.


It’s the end of the school day and you’re waiting for Jenny’s mother to pick you up. A man walks up to you. He wears a coat as grey as rain, and his eyes are pale against dark skin. “You have to come with me,” he says, awkward and serious at once. You recognize him, of course. You remember when he first recruited you, in another timeline. You remember what he looked like fallen in the battle at the end of time, with a gun knocked out of his hand.

“I can’t,” you say, kindly, because it will take him time to understand that you’re not the blue woman anymore, that you won’t do the things the blue woman did.

“What?” he says. “Please. It’s urgent.” He knows better than to grab your arm. “There’s a battle—”

Once upon a time, you listened to his plea. Part of you is tempted to listen this time around, to abandon the life that Jenny left you and take up his banner. But you know how that story ends.

“I’m not in your story anymore,” you explain to him. “You’re in mine.”

The man doesn’t look like he belongs in a world of parking tickets and potted begonias and pencil sharpeners. But he can learn, the way you have.





Yoon Ha Lee’s fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Sybil’s Garage. She is one of the section editors at the Internet Review of Science Fiction. Currently she lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and daughter. Visit her at yhlee.livejournal.com





CURSE



Samantha Henderson


1


Her son was a year grown when the dream started. Always it began in the pantry, at first—she was tallying the beer, or the bags of grain, when the first joints of her fingers started to itch. Little more than a prickling warmth, then a fierce burning, and as she twisted and scratched them for relief they sprouted fur, some gray, some brown. One by one they disjointed, split away from her hands and fell to the floor, where they scampered into the corners. She thrust her hands into the folds of her gowns to save them, but it was no use—joint by joint her fingers changed into mice and ran over her feet until she was left with nothing but two stumpy paddles.

And then she’d wake, sometimes alone, sometimes besides her husband’s softly breathing body, and check her fingers in the moonlight to see if they were still there. If she was alone she’d rise and go to the cellars, checking for nibbled food and dung in the corners.

She was alone more and more. One thing she’d learned was that the smaller the kingdom, the more the king had to take into his own hands. He was away from home more often than not, now, and stayed in his own rooms most of the time when he was home, with councilors and petitions and the business of an almost-prosperous land.

Another thing she’d learned was that her business was with the beer, and the bags of grain, and the stores kept in stone-lined cisterns beneath the ground, and keeping the women a-weaving. Her business was her son, for now, and she knew that when he was grown enough he would become part of the men’s world with his father and learn the ways of a countrified prince.

Then it happened when she was awake, walking the halls to her rooms, leaving the candle behind and trusting to the torchlight. Her hands felt thick and itchy, and when she lifted them they fell away joint by joint, little dark bodies running to the walls and vanishing between the stones. She waited an instant to wake, then screamed when she didn’t.

She staggered against the wall as a curious maid poked her head around the corner, eyes widening as she recognized her.

“What’s the matter, my lady?” The maid came forward, brisk, in no sort of awe whatsoever. Because she wasn’t a proper queen, she wasn’t a lady, she was a miller’s daughter with an odd kind of luck. So far the servants treated her with condescending sympathy.

She raised her hands, for show or to defend herself, but they were normal—strong peasant’s hands with short, clean nails and losing their calluses.

“Nothing,” she managed, then “nothing” again, in a tone that tried to be imperious and failed. “I just tripped, that’s all.”



2


The dwarf smelled her long before she came over the rise of the hill: the soap she used and the oil at the roots of her hair, and skin that never lost a touch of the sun and the faint tang of soured milk. The boy, too—the sweat of its toiling beside its mother and a diaper clout that needed changing. They paused at the crest while she sought the entrance to his dwelling in the shadow of the valley below; a shelter hacked from the living stone of the mountainside. He stood in the doorway, not bothering to conceal himself. She spotted him and stumbled downhill, dragging the tired child behind her.

“He wants me to do it again—the weaving,” she said, without preamble.

“Took him a while,” he replied, dryly.

She started to cry, because she knew what he was going to say and realized the truth of it the instant before he spoke. He turned inside the cave and beckoned her to follow. It was cozy inside, and roomier than she’d imagined. Red coals glowed on a long, low hearth. A squat battered kettle sat there, with a water bucket in the corner.

“He’s finding a reason to despise you. He feels guilty for doing it with no justification,” he threw over his shoulder.

She was such a child. She didn’t know that he could hate her so.

She spoke to his back as he lifted the kettle.

“You sent them. The dreams. My fingers: mice. It was you.”

He didn’t turn around. She waited while he built up the fire under the heavy-bottomed copper, and folded her fingers carefully across her stomach. Afterwards he leaned against the mantle, built small to accommodate his height.

“I felt sorry for you, you know,” he said. “At the beginning, even. That’s why I came in the first place. Sympathy you’d have for a snail in the path, or a turtle turned over in the sun. And then, after the first night—no more than that—you started to enjoy it, the attention that you feared so much before. I could see it in you. You almost believed you could do it, didn’t you?”

Were her fingers beginning to itch? She twisted them in her skirt and didn’t look.

It’s true, she thought. I did think I could spin straw into gold. Not because I could, but because ugliness should serve beauty. Isn’t that always the way?

“You were quick enough to agree to the child,” he said, giving her the side of his face, the silhouette of a long, gnarled nose. “And I can’t blame you, for your loving man would have killed you just to make the point. That’s a king’s job, you know. To make a point. And perhaps he didn’t want to marry you so much, for there are beautiful women enough of his own rank. But he had promised, you see. And he made his point.”

“You hated me.”

“Yes. For a long time.” He poked at the fire and a great clot of sparks flew up, some landing on the hearth and squirming like lit worms before darkening into black ashy spots. In the corner, the boy chuckled over some toy.

“But I wouldn’t have sent the dreams if you hadn’t played the game of not knowing the third day. Belshazzar, Cruickshanks. Conrad. Harry.” His voice became burred and rough at the edges. “Three days you played me like a salmon.”

She said nothing, being an inland girl. She had never tasted salmon.



3


The girl wrapped potatoes in damp clothes and pushed them into the coals banked behind the hearth. The men in the doorway were not going to go away, but she made them wait for all that. She heard one grunt softly and shift his weight.

She’d grown a lot the past year and had to bend her head to avoid hitting the arch of the fireplace, which had been built too low for human kind.

“My brother left years ago,” she said, finally, still kneeling and staring at the coals. “He visits sometimes, and brings game from the forest. Less and less these days.”

“Does he know who he is?” One of the men—the taller, thin one—surged forward, shrugging off the other’s restraining hand. “Do you?”

He stopped as she turned, her eyes cold and hard and blue, so blue they were almost violet at the edges. Her father’s eyes, a king’s eyes, chilly and appraising. She said nothing.

The thin man flinched but stood his ground. He made an effort to gentle his voice.

“Your pardon. But your father is dying, and dying with no successor. Your brother is his heir.”

She was still kneeling, still looking up at him, and now she smiled very slightly and the thin man felt that to stand over her was no advantage at all.

“His heir? What, with a miller’s slut-girl for a mother, who ran away from court to return to the squalor she came from?”

The thin man swallowed and stood his ground.

“Even so, my lady.”

She sighed and looked back at the coals. The roasting potatoes filled the rough-hewn chamber with the smell of clean dirt.

“He hunts,” she said, finally, rising and dusting the ash off her full skirts. “Track him down in the wild wood, if you must, but don’t seek him here, not if you value your lives.”

They didn’t move, glancing at each other nervously. The other man, who stood in the doorway, was shorter and stouter than his companion. He cleared his throat.

“We do not seek only your brother, my lady,” he rumbled.

“Ah?” she was grinning now. “My own humble self? But I would not inherit; I couldn’t. Perhaps my dam carried me in her belly to the manikin’s house, perhaps he got me on her—isn’t that what they say? You’d never prove the king’s my father.”

“But your mother was your mother,” said the stout man. “And your mother had her gifts.”

“Pieter,” said the thin man to his companion.

The girl laughed: a harsh bark. “So! Straw into gold, is it? If she could, then I can? How does your master’s kingdom these days, Pieter? Are there small economies? Is the wine cheap and raw in your throat? Are there discontented whispers outside the chamber of the dying king?”

The thin man turned to expostulate with Pieter, but the bulkier man pushed him aside roughly.

“I’ve heard enough about it,” he growled, to his companion or to the girl.

“Fine threads of gold, reams of it, spilling on the floor and piling under the window. Enough to buy a kingdom, much less . . . ”

“I’m useless to you, gentlemen,” she returned, lifting her fingers spread like a fan in front of their faces. “For see?”

And before their eyes her fingers sprouted fur, and separated from each other joint by joint, and scampered to the floor with a squeak and a flutter, with a twitch and a shiver of bright, beady eye.

The thin man started back with a shudder; Pieter never got a chance, because a great hairy bulk loomed behind him, wrapped a beefy arm around his throat, and lifted him half a foot off the floor as he choked him.

But the thin man didn’t run, not even then; it was only when he saw the footprints the girl had made in the ash and sand of the hearth that he ran—not footprints, but claw marks, a bird’s foot, like those the chickens make outside the kitchen door, but huge, monstrous.

He turned and pushed past the enormous man and the gasping Pieter and vanished into the night.

The big man released Pieter, who fell to the floor in a limp bundle.

“Is he dead, Bearskin?” asked the girl.

Her brother shrugged. “Perhaps.”

She returned to the fire and poked at the potatoes with the stumps of her hands.

“We have to go,” she said.

“Come with me,” he said. “I have places to hide you in the forest. And they will be afraid of you for a while.”

“Yes,” she returned, tucking the hot potatoes in her apron and wrapping them against her. “But not long enough.” The cave was rustling with mice, scampering over the ashes, over the mantle, across Pieter’s limp body.

She followed her brother into the forest, the potatoes warm against her thighs and the stubs of her hands, warm against the tiny fingers that were sprouting from her bloodless flesh.





Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Strange Horizons, Chizine, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Helix, Lone Star Stories, and Weird Tales, and her first book was published in 2008 by Wizards of the Coast.





CLOCKWORK CHICKADEE



Mary Robinette Kowal


The clockwork chickadee was not as pretty as the nightingale. But she did not mind. She pecked the floor when she was wound, looking for invisible bugs. And when she was not wound, she cocked her head and glared at the sparrow, whom she loathed with every tooth on every gear in her pressed-tin body.

The sparrow could fly.

He took no pains to conceal his contempt for those who could not. When his mechanism spun him around and around overhead, he twittered—not even a proper song—to call attention to his flight. Chickadee kept her head down when she could so as not to give him the satisfaction of her notice. It was clear to her that any bird could fly if only they were attached to a string like him. The flight, of which he was so proud, was not even an integral part of his clockwork. A wind-up engine hanging from the chandelier spun him in circles while he merely flapped his wings. Chickadee could do as much. And so she thought until she hatched an idea to show that Sparrow was not so very special.

It happened, one day, that Chickadee and Sparrow were shelved next to one another.

Sparrow, who lay tilted on his belly as his feet were only painted on, said, “How limiting the view is from here. Why, when I am flying I can see everything.”

“Not everything, I’ll warrant,” said Chickadee. “Have you seen what is written underneath the table? Do you know how the silver marble got behind the potted fern, or where the missing wind-up key is?”

Sparrow flicked his wing at her. “Why should I care about such things when I can see the ceiling above and the plaster cherubs upon it. I can see the shelves below us and the mechanical menagerie upon it, even including the clockwork scarab and his lotus. I can see the fireplace, which shares the wall with us, none of which are visible from here nor to you.”

“But I have seen all of these things as I have been carried to and from the shelf. In addition the boy has played with me at the fountain outside.”

“What fountain?”

“Ah! Can you not see the courtyard fountain when you fly?” Chickadee hopped a step closer to him. “Such a pity.”

“Bah—Why should I care about any of this?”

“For no reason today,” said Chickadee. “Perhaps tomorrow.”

“What is written underneath the table?” Sparrow called as he swung in his orbit about the room, wings clicking against his side with each downstroke.

Chickadee pecked at the floor and shifted a cog to change her direction toward the table. “The address of Messrs DeCola and Wodzinski.”

“Bah. Why should I care about them?”

“Because they are master clockworkers. They can re-set cogs to create movements you would not think possible.”

“I have all the movement I need. They can offer me nothing.”

“You might change your mind.” Chickadee passed under the edge of the table. “Perhaps tomorrow.”

Above the table, Sparrow’s gears ground audibly in frustration.

Chickadee cocked her head to look up at the yellow slip of paper glued to the underside if the table. Its type was still crisp though the paper itself threatened to peel away. She scanned the corners of the room for movement. In the shadows by the fireplace, a live mouse caught her gaze. He winked.


“How did the silver marble get behind the potted fern?” Sparrow asked as he lay on the shelf.

“It fell out of the boy’s game and rolled across the floor to where I was pecking the ground. I waited but no one seemed to notice that it was gone, nor did they notice me, so I put my beak against it and pushed it behind the potted fern.”

“You did? You stole from the boy?” Sparrow clicked his wings shut. “I find that hard to believe.”

“You may not, today,” Chickadee said. “Perhaps tomorrow.”

She cocked her head to look away from him and to the corner where the live mouse now hid. The mouse put his forepaw on the silver marble and rolled it away from the potted fern. Chickadee felt the tension in her spring and tried to calculate how many revolutions of movement it still offered her. She thought it would suffice.


“Where is the missing wind-up key?” Sparrow hung from his line, waiting for the boy to wind him again.

“The live mouse has it.” Chickadee hopped forward and pecked at another invisible crumb, but did not waste the movement needed to look at Sparrow.

“What would a live mouse need with a windup key?”

“He does not need it,” said Chickadee. “But I do have need of it and he is in my service.”

All the gears in the room stopped for a moment as the other clockwork animals paused to listen. Even the nightingale stopped her song. In the sudden cessation of ticking, sound from the greater world outside crept in, bringing the babble of the fountain in the courtyard, the laughter of the boy, the purr of automobiles and from the far distance, the faint pealing of a clock.

“I suppose you would have us believe that he winds you?” said Sparrow.

“Not yet. Perhaps today.” She continued pecking the floor.

After a moment of nothing happening, the other animals returned to their tasks save for the sparrow. He hung from his line and beat his wings against his side.

“Ha! I see him. I see the live mouse behind the potted fern. You could too if you could fly.”

“I have no need.” Chickadee felt her clockwork beginning to slow. “Live Mouse!” she called. “It is time to fulfill our bargain.”

The silence came again as the other animals stopped to listen. Into this quiet came a peculiar scraping rattle and then the live mouse emerged from behind the potted fern with the missing wind-up key tied in his tail.

“What is he doing?” Sparrow squawked.

Chickadee bent to peck the ground so slowly she thought she might never touch it. A gear clicked forward and she tapped the floor. “Do you really need me to tell you that?”

Above her, Sparrow dangled on his line. “Live Mouse! Whatever she has promised you, I can give you also, only wind my flying mechanism.”

The live mouse twirled his whiskers and kept walking toward Chickadee. “Well now. That’s a real interesting proposition. How about a silver marble?”

“There is one behind the potted fern.”

“Not nomore.”

“Then a crystal from the chandelier.”

The live mouse wrinkled his nose. “If’n I can climb the chandelier to wind ya, then I reckon I can reach a crystal for myself.”

“I must have something you want.”

With the key paused by Chickadee’s side, the live mouse said, “That might be so.”

The live mouse set the tip of the key down like a cane and folded his paws over it. Settling back on his haunches, he tipped his head up to study Sparrow. “How ‘bout, you give me one of your wings?”

Sparrow squawked.

“You ain’t got no need of ‘em to fly, that right?” The live mouse looked down and idly twisted the key on the floor, as if he were winding the room. “Probly make you spin round faster, like one of them zeppelin thingamabobs. Whazzat called? Air-o-dye-namic.”

“A bird cannot fly without wings.”

“Now you and I both know that ain’t so. A live bird can’t fly without wings, but you’re a clockwork bird.”

“What would a live mouse know about clockworks?”

The live mouse laughed. “Ain’t you never heard of Hickory, Dickory and Dock? We mice have a long history with clockworks. Looking at you, I figure you won’t miss a wing none and without it dragging, you ought to be able to go faster and your windings would last you longer. Whaddya say? Wouldn’t it be a mite sight nicer to fly without having to wait for the boy to come back?”

“What would you do with my wing?”

“That,” the live mouse smiled, showing his sharp incisors, “is between me and Messrs DeCola and Wodzinski. So do we have a deal?”

“I will have to consider the matter.”

“Suit yourself.” The live mouse lifted the key and put the tip in Chickadee’s winding mechanism.

“Wait!” Sparrow flicked his wings as if anxious to be rid of them. “Yes, yes you may have my left wing, only wind me now. A bird is meant to fly.”

“All righty, then.”

Chickadee turned her head with painful slowness. “Now, Live Mouse, you and I have an agreement.”

“That we did and we do, but nothing in it says I can’t have another master.”

“That may well be, but the wind-up key belongs to me.”

“I reckon that’s true. Sorry, Sparrow. Looks as if I can’t help you none.” The live mouse sighed. “And I surely did want me one of them wings.”

Once again, he lifted the key to Chickadee’s side. Above them, Sparrow let out a squeal of metal. “Wait! Chickadee, there must be something I can offer you. You are going on a journey, yes? From here, I can tell you if any dangers lie on your route.”

“Only in this room and we are leaving it.”

“Leaving? And taking the key with you?”

“Just so. Do not worry. The boy will come to wind you eventually. And now, Live Mouse, if you would be so kind.”

“My other wing! You may have my other wing, only let the live mouse use the key to wind me.”

Chickadee paused, waiting for her gears to click forward so that she could look at the Sparrow. Her spring was so loose now, that each action took an eternity. “What would I do with one of your wings? I have two of my own.”

The other clockwork bird seemed baffled and hung on the end of the line flapping his wings as if he could fling them off.

The live mouse scraped a claw across the edge of the key. “It might come in real handy on our trip. Supposing Messrs DeCola and Wodzinski want a higher payment than you’re thinking they do. Why then you’d have something more to offer them.”

“And if they didn’t then we would have carried the wing with us for no reason.”

“Now as to that,” said the live mouse, “I can promise you that I’ll take it off your hands if’n we don’t need it.”

Chickadee laughed. “Oh, Live Mouse, I see now. Very well, I will accept Sparrow’s wing so that later you may have a full set. Messrs DeCola and Wodzinski will be happy to have two customers, I am certain.”

The live mouse bowed to her and wrapped the key in his tail again. “Sparrow, I’ll be right up.” Scampering across the floor, he disappeared into the wall.

Chickadee did not watch him go, she waited with her gaze still cocked upward toward Sparrow. With the live mouse gone, Chickadee became aware of how still the other clockworks were, watching their drama. Into the silence, Nightingale began to cautiously sing. Her beautiful warbles and chirps repeated through their song thrice before the live mouse appeared out of the ceiling on the chandelier’s chain. The crystals of the chandelier tinkled in a wild accompaniment to the ordered song of the nightingale.

The live mouse shimmied down the layers of crystals until he reached Sparrow’s flying mechanism. Crawling over that, he wrapped his paws around the string beneath it and slid down to sit on Sparrow’s back.

“First one’s for me.” His sharp incisors flashed in the chandelier’s light as he pried the tin loops up from the left wing. Tumbling free, it half fell, half floated to rattle against the floor below. “And now this is for the chickadee.”

Again, his incisors pulled the tin free and let the second wing drop.

Sparrow’s clockwork whirred audibly inside his body, with nothing to power. “I feel so light!”

“Told ya so.” The live mouse reached up and took the string in his paws. Hauling himself back up the line, he reached the flying mechanism in no time at all. “Ready now?”

“Yes! Oh yes, wind me! Wind me!”

Lickety-split, the key sank into the winding mechanism and the live mouse began turning it. The sweet familiar sound of a spring ratcheting tighter floated down from above, filling the room. The other clockwork animals crept closer; even Chickadee felt the longing brought on by the sound of winding.

When the live mouse stopped, Sparrow said, “No, no, I am not wound nearly tight enough yet.”

The live mouse braced himself with his tail around an arm of the chandelier and grunted as he turn the key again. And again. And again. “Enough?”

“Tighter.”

He kept winding.

“Enough?”

“Tighter. The boy never winds me fully.”

“All right.” The mouse turned the key three more times and stopped. “That’s it. Key won’t turn no more.”

A strange vibration ran through the sparrow’s body. It took Chickadee a moment to realize that he was trying to beat his wings with anticipation. “Then watch me fly.”

The live mouse pulled the key out of the flying mechanism and hopped up onto the chandelier. As he did, Sparrow swung into action. The flying mechanism whipped him forward and he shrieked with glee. His body was a blur against the ceiling. The chandelier trembled, then shook, then rattled as he spun faster than Chickadee had ever seen him.

“Live Mouse, you were rig—” With a snap, his flying mechanism broke free of the chandelier. “I’m flying!” Sparrow cried as he hurtled across the room. His body crashed into the window, shattering a pane as he flew through it.

The nightingale stopped her song in shock. Outside, the boy shrieked and his familiar footsteps hurried under the window. “Oh pooh. The clockwork sparrow is broken.”

The mother’s voice said, “Leave it alone. There’s glass everywhere.”

Overhead, the live mouse looked down and winked.


Chickadee pecked the ground, with her mechanism wound properly. The live mouse appeared at her side. “Thanks for the wings.”

“I trust they are satisfactory payment?”

“Sure enough. They look real pretty hanging on my wall.” He squinted at her. “So that’s it? You’re just going to keep on pecking the ground?”

“As long as you keep winding me.”

“Yeah. It’s funny, no one else wants my services.”

“A pity.”

“Got a question for you though. Will you tell me how to get to Messrs DeCola and Wodzinski?”

“Why ever for?”

“Well, I thought . . . I thought maybe Messrs DeCola and Wodzinski really could, I dunno, fix ‘em on me so as I can fly.”

Chickadee rapped the ground with laughter. “No, Mouse, they cannot. We are all bound to our integral mechanisms.” She cocked her head at him. “You are a live mouse. I am a clockwork chickadee, and Messrs DeCola and Wodzinski are nothing more than names on a scrap of paper glued to the bottom of a table.”





Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional puppeteer who moonlights as a writer. She has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures and founded Other Hand Productions. Her design work has garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve.

Mrs. Kowal’s short fiction appears in Strange Horizons, Cosmos and Cicada. She is the art director of Weird Tales and a graduate of Orson Scott Card’s Literary BootCamp.





FLIGHT



Jeremiah Sturgill


Brow lift. Neck lift. Face lift.

Blepharoplasty—not familiar with the term? Pretend I said eyelid surgery. To make them slant to the outside, that’s all; the exotic look is in. Trust us. You’ll love it. Rhinoplasty—a nose job, that’s all. Not just a reshaping, mind you, but a reimagining. First, we’ll add that beautiful upward tilt (yes, like hers—and hers—and hers), then we’ll reduce the size and narrow the bridge. You may need to breathe through your mouth afterwards, but once we cap your teeth, you’ll thank us for it.

Next is cosmetic otoplasty—that’s for your ears—followed by collagen injections in your lips and cheeks. Removal of your second chin, and the insertion of an implant to help shape the first one. Permanent laser hair removal below your lower lip, above your upper lip, and for your sideburns too (I can’t believe you have sideburns!). We may as well take off your eyebrows while we are at it. You can draw them on in the future, if you want to go retro. Or schedule a follow-up for replacements, if they come back in style.

Liposuction’s next, then abdominoplasty (just another word for tummy tuck, girl, no need to worry). After that, we’ll staple your stomach, reshape your buttocks, and make sure your love handles are all-the-way gone—nip and tuck and all that nonsense. You get the idea.

Of course, there’s still the grand finale, the one no woman would be complete without: breast augmentation. Enlargement and reshaping in your case. In most cases, actually, but that’s not important. All you have to do is show up. We mail you the bill.


The last day comes and it’s done—you’re done, it’s all downhill from there. Just a few months of rehabilitation, followed by a simple maintenance routine. A chemical peel treatment and derm abrasion therapy every now and then for your complexion, along with the daily, oil-free, skin-exfoliating face wash. And that Hollywood all-liquid seven-day miracle diet? Why not. Couldn’t hurt. Fen-Phen and caffeine pills? Sure. If anything goes wrong, you can always file a lawsuit.


All right. You’ve been faithful. You’ve done everything you needed to do, and it has worked. You can hardly believe that beautiful woman in the mirror is you.

Catching your breath in the doctor’s office, you don’t even mind the wait. It feels good just to sit still. Well, not still. Your foot keeps twitching, and you can’t seem to make it stop. But why would you want to? It’s good to keep moving. Helps burn those calories.

They call your name and you walk into the examination room and sit down again. Your foot keeps up its hypnotic spasming, and everything looks like it’s underwater. He comes out, the doctor does, and you lift up your shirt. He pinches you with cold metal on your stomach, your back, your thighs.

“Abigail, I’m sorry,” he says, and you can see it in his eyes: the news is bad. “Your body-fat index is point-oh-six.” He looks like he wants to cry.

You can’t help yourself. You cry. You deserve to feel bad, tubby. Fatso. Whale. Blimp. Pig. Point-oh-six? How could you have been so weak? Too many calories, that’s the problem. You stumble on your way out of the office, ignoring the secretary when she calls out your name. You decide then and there that something’s going to have to give, and isn’t going to be you. You cut you intake in half—three hundred calories a day is more than enough. Decadent, even. You’ve worked too hard for this to end now, for it to end like this, only—

Of course it’s not enough. You’re still not perfect. It doesn’t matter how skinny you are if you’re ugly. Thin and beautiful, that’s the ticket. Only you chickened out at the end, before they were finished. One last procedure, that’s all. One last procedure, and you’ll finally know what it’s like to be pretty.


Dr. Bernstein handles the height augmentation—he always does the best job, gets all the best dwarfs. Not that you’re a midget. Or are they little people now?

Over the course of six months, he breaks each leg three times in three different places. With the help of a special brace while they heal, he gives you another two and one-eighth i