- “The Lost Technique of Blackmail “ by Mark Teppo
- “Frayed” by Jonathan Brandt
- “Darkest Amber “ by Erin Hoffman
- “Life at the Edge of Nowhere “ by Kjell Williams
- “The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall “ by Ken Scholes
- “A Mouse Ran Up the Clock “ by A. C. Wise
- “Nightlight” by Celia Marsh
- “Retired Shapeshifters “ by Beth Langford
- “My Past Lives “ by Beth Langford
- “When the lamps are lit “ by KJ Bishop
FICTION Issue #19
RonTom St. John’s Liberty Prescott Four, President and CEO of InterCore Express, was not, as his CV would otherwise tell you, a graduate of the Las Vegas School of International Business, due to an “incomplete” mark received on a course in Economic Linguistics. There was an issue with a position paper. I knew this because both Prescott’s wayward term paper and a copy of the dean’s letter to Prescott Three (which mentioned the word plagiarism in all-caps quite prominently) had just been automat-delivered to me by one of our own couriers.
“Where did you pick this up?” I asked.
The iDeeBoy beeped at me, and it extended its ICEPane for my Package Receipt Acknowledgement key. As a member of the Security Directorate at ICE, the automats would allow me to open a package without signing for it, but they wouldn’t go away until I had officially tagged the COCT.
I swiped my ICID instead, and the iDeeBoy froze, the image on its v-mon panel caught midway between a happy and a sad face. After a fraction, the look of constipation vanished and was replaced by the automat’s terminal interface. I called up the PDL manifests and discovered the ICEpak on my desk had been in-system less than three windings. A local delivery, picked up from—
My hand retreated from the v-mon panel as it were hot, and I suddenly felt a little constipation of my own.
The package had come from a “B” series station. Depot 12-B4. One of the old stopdrops.
Henry Beech limped to the Central Fountain in Haberdashery Square. He squat in its waters to relieve the stinging welts on his backside. Momentarily soothed, two plain truths rose into focus above the scrum of thoughts quaking his mind: First, it clearly is not wise to break up with one’s fiancée on the eve of her inaugural (and within reach of her security detail); second, there simply is no delicate way to explain to a mother why you have begun reanimating her daughter’s killer.
Another thought quickly eclipsed the first two: Where was Claire? He scanned the Plaza for any sign of her. But there were so many among the crowd, assisting their smartly suited companions. At dusk it was so hard to tell them apart.
A distant commotion caught his attention. A pack of District Police were sniffing their way purposefully through the crowd.
He didn’t think things would heat up so quickly. In fact, he was counting on his ex-fiancée to grieve alone for at least a few hours before publicly sending for his head.
He also hoped that she, the love of his life, would come to understand and to forgive him.
On his feet again, he suddenly became aware of how conspicuous he was—standing in the center of the Festival of Bespoke Tailoring—not only single, but also not wearing any pants.
The alley was dark and redolent, old dirt and new steel, rain-swept asphalt and acrid ozone. Kali’s footsteps spread halos of dryness where the ground gave before her. Two streets away something hollow and metallic hit the ground with a clang, and every muscle in Kali’s body screamed sudden tautness, a rush of adrenaline sending a wave of shadow across her vision.
Being out of JH’s range made her twitchy.
She kept walking, pulling air through barely parted lips and holding it in to slow her pounding heart. At last she came upon the slender figure that wavered out of the late evening humidity, a charcoal silhouette in the night. It bent with lazy grace to pull a glass canister from the crate at its feet, then tossed it at Kali.
The weight hit her outstretched hand cool and solid. A liter of liquid destruction, darkest amber, smoother than blood. The tang of it hammered her sinuses and wrapped around her throat, addictive as a new lover, poisonous as addiction unchained.
“How much?” she breathed, but only just, holding the chemical burn inside her as long as she could.
Night mist breathed apart, relinquishing Clio, the local Sixer’s flygirl. “Fifty.”
“That’s twice last week’s,” Kali spat, ire leaping up inside her, the flash of internal combustion.
Clio was trouble, blue steel cybergrunge and sultry eyes lumipainted to a persistent four-alarm come-hither. She took a long drag on her tres chic synthmenth cigarette and blew chartreuse smoke at Kali. “Deal with it.”
Jim Hespuro sighed as he scanned the map of what used to be Gallatin, Mississippi. He had been searching the remnants of a residential neighborhood since dawn, trying to see the opportunity invoked by his job description, the recovery project supervisor, even the in-flight briefing. Row after row of gutted houses flooded the streets, strewn about like oversized dollhouses. Ragnarök didn’t do this, he reassured himself. This mess came from the two decades of storms and flooding that followed. He stopped at what was supposed to be the edge of town.
“Figures,” he muttered. “Can’t even get good maps of an R&D town when the war’s been over for years.” Entering another subdivision, he pulled down a microphone hanging from his ear. “Gary, you there?”
“It’s ‘Survey Central,’ ” Gary said from what was once ground zero. “We’re supposed to at least pretend we’re professionals.” He sounded half-joking, as though the thought of malfunctioning microbials was absurd. “What’s new?”
“I just stumbled across an uncharted subdivision at the northern edge of town. Maybe a hundred houses or so.”
“Could be the lab,” Gary said. “Check it out. We might get lucky and go beyond the standard ‘Rebuild and Repop’ routine.”
“Already on it.”
The sun went from one side of the subdivision to the other as Jim searched for anything out of the ordinary, which here meant anything not rubble or debris. Jim kicked down what was left of a door as he entered yet another ruined house, turned around coughing and rubbing his eyes. Don’t forget the dust.
They called him Slinky Boy because he could bend and fall from the top of the stairs all the way to the bottom with no serious injury and much to the amusement of others.
“Amazing,” someone said.
“Look at him go,” another added.
“Yee-haw,” Ninja Bob shouted. Then he and Larry Sue and Longhair Eddie hauled their toy back up to the top of the stairs for another go in that small gap between classes at the end of the day.
Slinky Boy’s real name was Focus Jones; it reflected his parents’ most wishful thinking. They were in real estate and had met (and conceived their son) at a Personal Effectiveness conference while they were both married to other people. Focus showed up nine months later. Fourteen years later, his classmates at Thomas Jefferson High School renamed him in honor of his new exploitable skill.
“Wow,” someone said.
“Look at him go,” another added.
Simon watched the mouse scale the clock’s side, its whiskers thrumming. The clock struck, and the mouse quivered in time. Its paws lost their hold, and the mouse fell, its legs beating the air as Simon bent to retrieve it.
Carefully he turned the creature on its back. He could feel the flutter-beat of a heart through the skin, and above it the gentle ticking of a different kind of mechanism. He soaked the corner of a cloth in chloroform and held it near the mouse’s mouth and nose until the shivering stopped. Then he picked up a scalpel and tweezers, peering through his glasses, and opened the creature up.
The mouse’s insides whirred, and the same honey-colored light that had lit its ascent winked off golden gears. Simon made a few minute adjustments; tightening here, and re-setting a balance there, and then he righted the mouse. Waking, the mouse blinked and ran its paws over its whiskers before running for a hole in the baseboard.
The bell hanging over the shop door chimed and Simon looked up. Hastily he pulled the watch, which he should have finished that morning, towards him and feigned absorption in his work. Hard boots clicked over the wooden floor, and the man’s shadow filled Simon’s peripheral vision, blocking the light. The man cleared his throat and Simon looked up. His heart went into his throat.
“Herr Shulewitz? Simon Shulewitz?”
Simon could barely swallow. He fought to keep his hands from trembling as he set the watch down and straightened his shoulders, trying to meet the Staatspolizei man in the eye. The officer held his peaked cap under one arm, and the rest of his uniform was in perfect order—pressed and clean with sharp lines and not a speck of dust. The row of medals across his breast would have been blinding if the sun hadn’t been behind him.
“Herr Shulewitz,” here the man attempted something like a smile, but it pulled the deep scars around his mouth into ghastly lines and Simon fought the urge to shudder. “Are you aware that you have a vermin problem?”
It was his father’s birthday yesterday, Adrian remembered as he unclipped Jessie’s lead from her collar and let her loose to run. Dirk had left for work even earlier than usual, the sky still dark, the city still asleep, but where Adrian grew up, half a world away, it was late enough that most people already awake and alert. He checked the time again to be sure and called the house, hoping to catch his dad before he had to leave for work.
He watched Jessie while he waited for his father to pick up. She ran back and forth between him and the smells that lined the path as he walked slowly. He could only smell trees and fresh-cut grass, but there were infinitely more interesting smells for Jessie, judging by the amount of time her nose spent on the ground.
His father answered, as though he knew who was calling, and Adrian dragged his attention back to the phone, first apologizing for missing his birthday and then asking all the expected birthday questions. Adrian’s sister called him last week, to tell him how much his share of the present was, so his dad has just thanked him for a present Adrian never saw and had no role in choosing. Adrian assured him it was no problem at all. It must have been nearly time for his father to leave for work, but instead, he continued onto the usual subjects for his weekly calls. Adrian let his mind drift, answering the questions by rote, thinking instead of the day ahead of him.
“Do you remember,” asked his father, deviating from the expected script and surprising Adrian, “when you were very little, how the attic got haunted, and we had to get it blessed, and you cried for days on end?”
“I liked the ghosts,” Adrian said, following Jessie’s plumed tail along the path. “I stopped telling you about them after that since you’d made them go away.” He could see his father shrug as though he was standing next to him.
ISSUE #19 POETRY
- by Beth Langford
We miss the animals we’ve been:
sometimes we swerve into lights.
In your fridge, a lost moth stills.
You pull out the milk, sour and fragile.
Sometimes we swerved into lights
but even the weak-winged goose knew freedom, falling.
Now you bring out the milk, sour and fragile
and we’re blunt-toothed things, we lie supine.
Even the last goose knew freedom, falling.
Even the rat, scars and scared eyes.
Once we were sharp-toothed things, once we swallowed life whole.
Once we could lie dormant for years.
Evening falls—scar clouds, scared sky—
and in your fridge, a moth congeals
but us, we could lie dormant for years
missing the animals we’ve been.
In my past life I was a cartoonist.
An American, from the 50s or 60s—
cellulose acetate and gouache.
I know because
every time I see a bug-faced space man
I remember the future we had then:
bright and bleak.
Before that, I was a peasant child
in central Hungary.
My mother was frail at twenty-three,
my father was afraid of wolves.
When I sleep in total darkness, I remember.
In Egypt I was not Hatshepsut
but an advisor; careful,
noble, loyal, and poisoned.
And I was a trilobite, not stone grey like fossils
but when I run my hands across them I remember
all my multicolour cousins.
Back further, though, I remember only a viscous world
in which I beat cilia against saline currents
too strong to outswim.
We called all night—
There was no answer from any dream,
Not even the easy one across the road,
Double-glazed and serene,
With matronly vintage fins
Tightening the counterpane
Whose reversals seemed to say a lot—
In time the flow slowed to a trickle,
Like difficult peeing;
Then it was over.
So, how about cards, or a baby?
Would a baby be an excuse
For patiently abiding, having picnics,
Letting the cutups loose?
The hard one’s gone already, though not
To die. Moss will cover all his hurts, maybe.
Reports of a unicorn in the outfield
Patterns in the corn
A miracle in the otherwise stable
Night—You, nightwatchman, what happened?
Nay, but I was sleeping like the gnomon there on the lawn;
My dreams were full of fish and spies,
I don’t suppose you saw them?
And so we have to listen to this tedious gent,
Who parted company with reason long before
All this nonsense started,
Recount the follies of a false life
Where infinite belongings were his stock in trade,
Adore the flight of the riparian bird,
Worship something found in a cave,
Tie parcels with string,
Avoid the beach rubble,
Although it looked like Cornwall—
He woke more like Osiris than a taxpayer,
Unable to forget that he was king, once.
Nay, but I was sleeping like a kite dipped in silver.
Into my mouth swam many things
All alight, incendiary, flailing,
Came to rest in my care—
Here, this one’s yours, you can have it—
—while a tram rattles back to the depot?
You were mistaken, mein Herr. We shall have to walk
And slip like children back through the fences
Into the world of infallible dunces.
Chances? Where are your dice,
You said they were Limoges, or was it Limburger—painted
With handsome twits and twats from that erotic book your mad ancestor wrote?
(What was the title—Egypt, Still Wet With Spit?)
They are not in your handbag?
Well, that’s nothing to do with me.
You can go back and look for them.
I have to go to an opening sale,
To purchase more exquisite, delinquent things than you
Or your dark bird dreamed
In chalk-cut twilight.
But we must wind down to the corner again;
By all means, we must go home
And take a turn around the question of the decorations
And your plans for a rocket.
We must get out the melodeon,
Ten times blow into the dirty hose,
Wish upon the black Porsche;
Salaam the dog’s grave under the apple tree,
Do penance for violence—
Then what rompish, darksome, magic character
Might spring, high-stepping,
Out of the cobra box on the summer lino?
And then what hordes, departing through snow,
Dressed as bears and lords,
Might draw whoever needs some convalescing
Time, or sexual leave, to holiday shores
Once painted by Watteau?
I prefer Epping Forest, or even the Augarten—
Best of all the Jardin du Luxembourg
As it was in the master’s time,
Dreaming, and silvan-haunted.
That is to say, I want to go in, not over. But look,
I would paddle a boat in the shape of a swan
For a thousand and one diaphanous afternoons
To hear one reed from the isle of Pan
Amongst the rumours bleating through the crowd
And the music blasting from the stores
Or lose my shoes once in the park, twice in the street, thrice in the sea—
And your Hessian boots, dear Excellence, and your sealed books—those too
Will have to go—and your servants, and the plans—
And yes, even you, Milord—
The diamonds you hoard in your navel, your title, your hand…
We have to part, like the red balloon and the world.
Nonfiction Issue #19
by Penelope O’Shea
“I don’t really understand this obsession myself, so that is why I thought talking it out might be the best way to understand my feelings. The compulsion may perhaps be a latent desire to return to infancy, when all life depended upon the nourishment of a liquid diet. Maybe it is connected to my current penchant for a dram of something sustaining on cold winter’s evenings . . . or perhaps I’m just a little off. I’d like your honest opinion, Doc, if possible. What do you make of my passion for soup? Why is it that every week I can be found boiling some carcass found in my deep freeze as a means to making a meal that will last for several days? Why is my bed littered with oyster cracker crumbs? Why do I find myself with a hot mug of broth at the strangest times of day . . . and let’s be honest, in the middle of the night, as well? Am I crazy?
“I really think it might stem from the fact that, cold or hot, soup is simple and satisfying . . . two traits so hard to find together in today’s gourmet and/or fast-food obsessed society. Soup fills the gastronomical void while sparing your wallet. After all, it is basically old bones and a handful of past-prime veg that make the base for soup stocks . . . and those things come as cheap as chips, and are great for those of us who have let things in the freezer or crisper hang on a bit longer than their peak. So, soup requires little planning for the absent-minded. And, soups are an absolute boon for the palate when you can’t seem to get it together to shop, plan, and cook that multi-course menu you always intend to make. Soups are the best one-pot renditions of the tastes and flavors of many individual courses. Perhaps, that is what this obsession is about . . . getting the most out of something that requires me to give very little. Is that reading too much into this passion?
“Take the most recent recipe I’ve concocted. It combines sophistication and simplicity into one small bowl . . . ok, I served it in a shot glass at my last soirée as something to offset all those little appetizers served by white-gloved butlers. But, even so, in the small serving vessel, the payoff was vast.
Cool as a Cucumber Soup Shots
12 oz. Greek yoghurt (If you can’t get this, simply buy plain yogurt, and dump it into a cheesecloth-lined sieve positioned over a bowl and allow the yogurt to drain for a couple of hours until thick and creamy)
½ c. half-and-half
1 English cucumber, with peel, but seeded and chopped
¼ c. chopped red onion
3 scallions, both white and green part, chopped
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
Mix these items together and place mixture in food processor in small batches to pulse until drinkable. After which, fold in
2 T. fresh chopped dill
Juice of two lemons
Chill until cold, at least two hours. Decant into tall double-shot glasses. Recipe yields about 12 shot glasses of soup. Then, to garnish, float on top of each shot:
12 shaved pieces of smoked salmon, rolled into rosettes. (Roll the piece from one short side to the other. Then pinch one end of the roll and fan out the other end.)
“See, Doc, simple and elegant. But that isn’t the only reason I’m mad for soup. There is such versatility. You can remake a classic soup with just a few adjustments to the ingredients. Take gazpacho. This cold tomato soup is an export of Spain and it is superb. But, what if that Spanish soup was conquered by those south-of-the-border types from Mexico? Wouldn’t it serve those Spaniards right to have their former colonists take something from the motherland and remake it with New World ingredients? I like the poetic justice of that conquest . . . and from that, this soup was born.
1 ½ lbs. tomatoes, peeled (place an “X” on the bottom of each tomato with a knife, and submerge in boiling water until the skin starts to split, then put into ice water and the skin will slip off quite nicely)
Seed the tomatoes over a sieve to catch the seeds, but drain the juices into your mixing bowl. Help this process by gently pushing on the seeds with your finger or a spoon. Then cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and add to the bowl.
To the tomatoes and juice, add:
1 small can (5.5 oz) of tomato/vegetable juice (Use a “hot ’n spicy” one for a real kick)
1 c. peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
½ c. chopped red bell pepper
½ c. chopped red onion
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (or leave the seeds if you like the heat)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. Worchester sauce
½ tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground (in mortar/pestle or spice mill)
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Stir together and let chill for at least 2 hours. Then, when you are ready to eat, place soup in bowls and garnish over each serving:
¼ c. black beans
¼ c. shredded Mexican cheese (like queso fresco or shredded Monterey Jack)
¼ c. fresh or frozen-and-thawed corn kernels
¼. c. hand-crushed tortilla chips or fried tortilla strips
1 T. sour cream
1 T. chopped cilantro
“My mouth is watering just thinking about that . . . . How much time do we have left in this session, anyway? Because, I admit, I am feeling peckish. Actually, if it’s all the same, I’d like to stay on this couch a bit longer and keep working through this compulsion of mine. By the way, Doctor, you have excellent taste in furniture. This couch is very comfortable . . . not at all like those in the other shrinks’ offices that I frequent. And maybe, that is the reason for my desire to make soup. Well, not your couch, obviously, but perhaps my deep longing for a measure of comfort in this world. And soup does provide that blanket of warmth. I mean, some people take chicken soup for a cold or crave a cup of chili on a biting, raw day. So, maybe I’m not nuts; soup fortifies body and spirit. And to me, the best fortifier is:
Ham and Bean Soup
Start by heating 2 T. oil in the stock pot and sauté:
3-4 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
2-3 ribs celery, cut bite-sized
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium potato, diced
6 stems fresh thyme, thrown in whole
1 bay leaf
Cook these until everything is tender, and until most of the thyme leaves have fallen off their stems. Once your veg is softened, fish out the stems and pour into the pot:
2 quarts ham stock, made by boiling a ham bone for 2-3 hours. Pull off any lovely, tender bits of meat left clinging to the bone, but reserve this for later
4 c. beef stock (I actually use the remaining broth from boiling corned beef, but canned works just the same)
1 beef or chicken bouillon cube (BUT taste first to insure that you actually need the extra saltiness)
2-3 cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
Let this mixture heat until just under the boiling point. When everything is hot, using an immersion blender, blitz the soup until some of the beans and potato lend their creaminess to thicken the soup. I probably make about 12-15 “stabs” into the bottom of the pot. Don’t pulse it all or your will just make baby food. (You can do the same thing by removing 3-4 ladles of soup with veg into a standard blender, whizzing that up and pouring it back into the soup, but it’s not nearly as much fun as the stabbing bit.)
Now that you’ve done the blending, add the reserved ham meat, cut into bite-sized pieces. (If you added it before blending, you’d have messy strands of meat twisted in your blender blade and swimming sickly on the top of your soup . . . trust me, I’ve been there and it doesn’t ruin the soup so much as it ruins your mood during blender cleaning.)
Fish out the bay leaf and serve with brown bread and cheese.
“Can’t get more comforting or easy, right? That soup is like having a hot cup of tea or coffee . . . which reminds me of another soup I’ve only just made . . . in the middle of the night. Perhaps I am not well, when I’ve taken to making other liquids into soups, too. Do you think that is some kind of projecting on my part?
Cinnamon Hazelnut Affogato
Brew a pot of cinnamon-flavored coffee. And if you don’t have this, add about 2 tsp. cinnamon to plain coffee grounds and brew this through your coffee maker.
While the coffee perks away, toast a handful of hazelnuts in a dry pan. Once you smell them, remove from heat, let cool and chop into small pieces.
Once the coffee is finished, add a shot of cinnamon liquor, such as Goldschläger, to one cup of black coffee.
In small dessert bowls, scoop out a big dollop of the vanilla or cinnamon-vanilla ice cream. Pour the spiked coffee over the ice cream. Sprinkle the nuts over the top and watch the creaminess melt into that black pool, creating a gorgeous soup-like consistency. Serve with hazelnut biscotti and spoon greedily into your mouth.
“You know, the more I talk, the more I think maybe this problem is bigger than both of us. Perhaps I’m all wrong in trying to talk through the compulsion; maybe I ought to just try cooking through it, making something besides soup, of course. I think perhaps I’d better go. I’m so sorry to have wasted your time, Doctor.”
“Excuse me . . . hello? . . . Um, miss? . . . . Hey, lady!” I am startled by him, as he gently but firmly shakes my shoulder. I look up into his face, blinking . . . I don’t remember this doctor being quite so young when I sat down on this couch . . . .
“Ma’am,” he continues, “you can’t just come in here and take a nap. This is a furniture store. Unless you are thinking of making a purchase, you are not to sit on the sofas. My manager is giving you the eye, and he will likely come over here and remove you from the store personally. So, are you interested in taking a look at some fabric swatches or what?”
I fumble for words in my own mental fog, finally managing to ask him who he is, where I am and how long I’ve been here. I am told that I staggered into this store just as it opened, lay down on the first couch inside the door, and have been asleep for at least twenty minutes. The sales clerk, Dave he tells me, then explains that, while I was apparently dreaming, I was distracting the other fine shoppers with quite audible interjections . . . something about cucumbers, whizzing, beans, and some word he didn’t quite recognize, affa-something.
This is when the truth comes rushing back to me . . . late last night, in my kitchen alone, trying my hand at bouillabaisse for first time, I might, just might have had one-too-many shots of cinnamon schnapps, while trying in my sleepiness to get that silly French soup to look like the picture. And although I haven’t any recollection of it, I must have fumbled into my car this morning to make my first session and wound up here instead.
I quickly mutter my apologies and push myself outside into the rain. As I look around, I realize my psychiatrist’s office is one door down in this strip mall . . . and I’ve missed my appointment completely. Ah well, perhaps I’ll grab a bite of something warm and bracing on the way home . . . and that’s when I see the HAPPY GINZA sign flashing at the mall’s cornerstone position. And, all of a sudden, I am compelled like a moth to a flame toward the promise that beyond those doors they just might serve hot-and-sour soup . . . I wonder why?
with Elizabeth Bear
What is your favorite food?
What do you eat for comfort food?
Bread and cheese and tea.
Is there anything you eat that no one you know eats?
Lots of things. Monstera, persimmons, beet juice.
Is there anything you won’t eat?
There are things I don’t *like*, but I wasn’t raised under the sort of economic circumstances that permit one to develop pickiness. I try to avoid octopus, because they are awfully smart.
Is there a childhood food that you miss?
The apples from my grandfather’s apple tree, eaten still warm from the sun.
Is there a favorite food you can’t get where you currently live?
Ethiopian is a little scarce in my neighborhood, but I live in the Northeast, which is both diverse and well-stocked.
(When) Where was your most memorable meal?
An amazing omakase dinner at Lily in Toronto in 2005, where there was more fabulous food than I have ever seen in one place.
If money was no object, what would your food splurge be?
Maybe a four-week tour of Great Restaurants of New York City? *g*
Who are your cooking influences?
James Barber, Alton Brown, Julia Child, and my mother.
What is your favorite drink?