This week’s stories are about things that can’t last: people, relationships, or alien flesh. And they’re about longing for connection: with one’s offspring, with a dead poet, and with... aliens. Again.
I Just Think It Will Happen, Soon by Rebecca Campbell | Interfictions Online
Nela’s Dad started the thought. “So they’re calling you Twens? I read an article in The Atlantic about how you’re a generation without a future—”
“—No, they can’t conceive the future, linguistically, that was the point—” her mother, correcting.
“—okay, yeah. It’s linguistic, not, you know, terminal. Something about preferring present tense, on twitter and things, like there’s no future—”
“—so are you a Twen, Nela?”
Across the kitchen island they held hands, and Nela could not help thinking that their skin’s sweat and sebum commingled as their words often commingled in conversation, starting and finishing one another’s thoughts in stereo, the way they left traces behind on one another, and on her, with each word, each touch. Until she was old enough to make her discomfort known, her hands, too, had been held. There had been tickles and enforced cuddles, and she had watched The Muppets with them in the basement, her heart beating all rabbity because she was trapped in their arms. Twenty years later, The Muppets still filled her with dread.
Tonight, though, she was an adult and could refuse their touch, could disinfect the granite countertop of the kitchen island, which she kept between them. She could politely decline their meal and eat white rice from the white bowl she always carried with her. She could wear—without comment—moth-eaten cashmere and fingerless gloves and though her mother had asked twice if she wanted to take off her coat she had preferred not to. She ate her rice grain by grain with steel chopsticks and it had almost been okay—almost—that across the granite they dismembered a chicken swimming in ochre-colored curry, fat smeared, garnished with a mucilaginous swirl of green-speckled raita.
“I don’t like ‘Twen,’” Nela said, “but it seems to be sticking.”
From the safe side of the island she thought of a quiet and empty room, pale light at the windows, and the scent of spring.
“Totally,” said her mother, “I hated absolutely hated ‘Millennial’”
The invented medical condition in the story—Bartleby’s Syndrome—has some qualities found in the real world. The autism spectrum is an easy parallel to make, for instance. Does making the condition fictional and an amalgam of multiple issues help the story to avoid stereotypes surrounding non-fictional ones? I can’t tell, so I’d love to hear your opinions on it. I appreciated many things about this story on the sentence level and found myself empathizing with the main character on many levels.
Needle on Bone by Helena Bell | Strange Horizons
Aliens have been appearing and immediately dying in my grandparents’ attic for as long as I can remember. My grandmother told me to ignore them, that they were just passing through our world, and if I didn’t think about them, then they wouldn’t think about me, and neither of us would be bothered by it. “It’s like the sound of traffic,” she said. “You know it’s there, if you pay attention long enough you can almost make out a single car against the din, but you don’t remember it, not really, just that it’s there.”
But it wasn’t noise, it was pressure. When they came it was if the house breathed them in, then slowly breathed them out. When friends came over, I’d say the house was haunted and they believed me. One night we dared each other to spend the night in the attic. We hid under blankets with giant flashlights and waited for boxes to shake or the floors to creak or the lights to blink on and off like lightning. Nothing did. We got bored and chased each other around dusty armoires and hanging clothes. The most exciting thing that happened that night was when Harper Lillington tried to grab me and I scraped my back against an old gilt frame. It bled and scabbed over, but we didn’t want to tell my grandparents, so I slept on my stomach with my shirt half off to let the wound breathe. The next day my shoulder hurt when I moved, and the air was a little heavier, the floor dustier, but that was all. We were disappointed.
The first time I remember meeting you was at work. We passed in the lobby on the way to the elevator.
Later, we met through friends.
I just fell in love with the imagery of this. The descriptions of the aliens in the attic and what happens to them stuck with me.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu | Clarkesworld Magazine
One rainy autumn afternoon, the library received a donation of books. I opened one and saw a small red collector’s seal on the title page, which told me that another old man who had treasured books had died. His children had piled his collection, gathered over a lifetime, in front of his apartment building. Those which were worth something had been picked out by used book dealers, leaving the rest to be sold by the kilogram to a paper mill, to be gifted, or to be donated to the library. This sort of thing happened every year. I sorted the books, recorded and catalogued them, stuck on call numbers and barcodes, wiped off the dust, and stacked them neatly so that they could be shelved.
This took me two hours; I was exhausted, dizzy, and needed a break. While the teakettle was boiling, I picked up a slim volume off the top of the stack. It was a chapbook of poetry.
I started to read. From the first character in the first line of the first poem, I felt that I had found what I had always sought. Accompanied by the faint pitter-patter of rain outside, I chewed over the verses carefully, as delighted as a starving man who had finally been given manna.
The poet was unfamiliar to me, and there was only a short paragraph that passed for her biography. There wasn’t even a photograph. She wrote under a pen name, and her real name was unknown. She had died twenty years ago at the age of thirty-one. I pulled out my phone to look her up, but the Internet gave me nothing, as though she had never existed.
I felt a tingling up my spine. How could a poet who had lived in the information age leave no trace on the Web? It was inconceivable.
The speculative element in this one is light, and it’s not fast-paced or full of sensawunda. Just a quiet story about poems and poets, and the question of just how much of an author’s life should endure beyond their death. It reminded me of that part in A Room of One’s Own when Woolf talks about how we know so little about her personally, and that’s good. “...when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.”
Your Right Arm by Nin Harris | Clarkesworld Magazine
Artemis, with Wildflowers by Ani King | Strange Horizons
K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author, media critic, issuer of the Tempest Challenge. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.