Singing after life
Fresh footstep blossoms once more
Tea’s brewing on top
Strawberry Mountain is a band from Seattle, WA.
By. Joshua Scully
Donald Barlow didn’t have any pots on his head or bands of aluminum foil wrapped around his arms.
That was a step in the right direction.
The old man was crazy, but, aside from an absurd hat, he answered the door in ordinary dress.
“Thank you for coming,” Barlow said as he pushed the door open for his former neighbor, John Forbes. “I see you came prepared.”
Forbes stepped through the doorway with a new Winchester Alaskan rifle in his hands.
“Well, I wanted to help if I could,” Forbes replied once inside the kitchen.
Barlow had called Forbes the night before about an unusually threatening bear near his home. The former asked the latter to bring a firearm capable of bringing down a grizzly. If Forbes was successful, Barlow offered to butcher the animal and hand the meat over for freezing.
At the time, Forbes was somewhat relieved that Barlow’s call was normal. When Barlow lived in town and next to Forbes, the elderly man seemed borderline insane most days.
Barlow had owned a butcher shop at one time, but his ridiculous stories scared off most customers. He was the guy in the neighborhood who insisted that the government controlled the weather. He communicated with extraterrestrials and lived with a family of yeti for three months in 1988. Barlow once even claimed to own some functional voodoo dolls modeled after various politicians.
Forbes could readily see the old man hadn’t acquired any new housekeeping skills since moving into his countryside residence. The kitchen, which apparently doubled as a workshop, was a disaster. A large table covered in newspaper, plastic, and bits of egg shell dominated the room. There was a plate of scrambled eggs and ketchup near the only chair.
An ancient 12-gauge shotgun leaned against that chair.
“Sorry if I caught you in the middle of breakfast,” Forbes said before gesturing toward the shotgun. “You been using that?”
“Oh yes,” Barlow chuckled while backpedaling toward the table. “I just hate to have to get so close to shoot.”
“I don’t blame you,” Forbes replied. “This time of year the bears get pushy. Was it in your garbage?”
“Well, yes,” Barlow finally replied with a goofy grin.
“What’s with the hat?” Forbes asked frankly.
The old man reached up and pulled the straw fedora from his head. A few bright blue and purple feathers were tucked into the horsehair band. Barlow whimsically ran his fingers through the feathers for a moment before replying.
“Let me explain,” Barlow said with a grin before putting the hat back on his head. “Actually, maybe I should show you.”
“Don’t tell me you shot a peacock? I noticed the neighbors are raising peacocks. Is that where you got the eggs?”
Barlow only laughed at these questions and picked up the shotgun.
“Follow me,” Barlow said jovially. “You need to see to believe.”
Forbes audibly sighed. He could sense Barlow starting to get weird, and he didn’t want to waste the entire morning.
Barlow pushed open a door next to the refrigerator that led to the basement.
There was dried blood on the floor between the table and refrigerator.
“Getting messy in your old age?” Forbes joked.
Barlow only smiled and guided Forbes down several creaky steps into a cool, dark room under the kitchen. There were bloody smudges on a few of the steps. A dank aroma seemed to float through the space.
Barlow leaned against the washing machine and fumbled around with some shotgun shells next to a bottle of fabric softener and a few more of those peculiar feathers on a small table next to the washer.
“What do you know about Earth’s magnetic field?”
Forbes rolled his eyes and mockingly slumped where he stood at the bottom of the stairs.
“Do you know anything about electron diffusion regions?”
“No,” Forbes sighed. “Where’s the bear?”
“You see, the magnetic field of the Earth sporadically connects to the magnetic field of the sun,” Barlow explained, “and portals are created across millions of miles through those fields. These portals penetrate the fabric of space and allow for travel through time.”
“Is that what the fabric softener is for?” Forbes asked sarcastically.
“I’m serious,” Barlow said after a visible scowl.
“Don, is the bear down here?” Forbes asked more forcefully. “I don’t have time for a wild goose chase.”
Barlow’s scowl deepened.
“Or a wild peacock chase,” Forbes added.
“You see that door?” Barlow said pointing to a door on the other side of the room and next to the furnace.
“You trapped the bear in your coal room?”
“One of those portals open into that room. I don’t know why or for how long,” Barlow continued while lifting his hat and running his fingers through the feathers again, “but I reckon these are Qianzhousaurus feathers.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Their eggs are real good eating,” Barlow said with a smile.
Forbes turned to leave and noticed a strange shape under the basement stairs. He peered around the staircase and realized this was the form of a bloody, mangled grizzly.
“Don, what did you do?”
“Nothing but open that door and have myself an egg,” Barlow replied. “A Qianzhousaurus followed me back through and ran into the bear outside. The creature dragged the kill back down here and I chased the beast back through the door last night. It’s a smaller one and I still couldn’t bring it down.”
Forbes stood with an uncertain tremble. He gripped his rifle tightly in both hands.
Without another word, Barlow stepped forward and opened the door next to the furnace. A brilliant glow filled the room. The old man turned away from this illumination and toward Forbes.
“What do you know about the Novikov self-consistency principal?” Barlow asked.
Forbes shook his head.
“Oh well,” Barlow laughed. “Let’s go! I’ll butcher the beast and split the meat with you. You still have that big freezer in your garage, don’t ya’?”
Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. He writes speculative fiction.
Odd Nosdam is a musician from the Bay Area, CA.
By. Russell Hemmell
“Books are mischievous objects, Gillian -remember. Written words have always proved dangerous, and ancient books, containing bunches of them in a fascinating format, are the worst. Stay away – especially in the Day of All Hallows’ Eve.”
Her teacher’s eyes were jade-like stones, repeating those words day after day – adamant and unforgiving.
“They kill you by spell, they kill you by handling. Sometimes it’s the quest itself that dooms you to hell.”
But Gillian had come to all possible extents to put her hands on the One of All Books bestowing mystical powers, the One everybody had tried to hide from her knowledge.
She entered the old library, eyes-wide-open, fearful and expectant. And there It was – waiting, on a golden lectern, ripe to be grabbed.
Gillian approached -hesitant, her hungry fingers lingering over the torn leather cover, skin over skin, human against beast.
A chilling gust coming from nowhere opened up the volume, and its pages whistled to her ears with the crystalline voice of a vestal that prayed – words different from the ones printed on its pages, resounding in the thousand tongues of the most radiant angel.
Whispering to her ears. Insinuating with slithering moans into the deepest recesses of her mind. Buying her soul, spiriting it away.
Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from the U.K, passionate about astrophysics and speculative fiction. Recent Stories in Gone Lawn, Not One of Us, SQ Mag, and elsewhere.
Daniel Fries is a musician from the United States.
By. Stephen Oram
Screaming white noise. Pitch black darkness.
What a way to be greeted into a new day.
Aiden felt around for the edge of his cardboard mattress. Beyond its frayed borders buried among the food scraps and his few discarded clothes was the nectar he craved.
The withdrawal was intense as the nanobots issued their friendly warning that his addiction needed feeding for him to stay alive.
Fumbling around in the detritus of his life he found his last vial of nanobot nectar and gulped it down.
A pinpoint of bright light appeared. Then another. And another. And another. He blinked. The nanobots were working. A gradual shift from the oppressive white noise to the welcoming sounds of a city about its daily business.
As his sight returned he noticed the clock on the house control unit in which his robot waited while he slept.
‘Jessie. Why didn’t you wake me? I told you – 7am.’
‘Good morning Aiden. It was in your best interests to sleep longer. Your metabolism needed the rest.’
‘Don’t you do what I tell you anymore?’
‘Not if it would cause you harm.’
‘For fuck’s sake. Being late for these lunatics will cause me more harm than a little tiredness you stupid robot.’
‘Would you like me to cancel your appointment?’
Aiden sat on the edge of his bed rifling through his clothes desperately trying to find something wearable. Everything was dirty, but he sniffed each item and gradually pieced together an outfit for the day. Maybe after today’s transaction he’d be able to buy a pure water bath to reactivate the self-clean molecules in his clothes.
‘It’s best to play safe today and inhabit the old female body.’
Jessie transferred from the control unit to the mother bot, as Aiden affectionately called it. With Jessie at the helm, the mother bot shook off the junk piled on top of it and stood up.
Aiden lifted the top four layers of his corrugated cardboard bed and took out a bag of vials wrapped in an old rag.
It would be delicious to keep a couple of the sweet nanobot nectar vials, but he was a mere delivery boy and even his addiction couldn’t overcome his fear of his supplier or today’s customer.
He handed the bag to Jessie.
‘Aiden, it’s illegal for me to carry this.’
‘Just carry the bloody thing.’
‘I have stored a copy of you issuing that instruction to protect myself from decommissioning.’
‘Let’s go,’ he said, more to himself than Jessie who would follow him wherever he went.
The streets were packed with humans going about their business, each accompanied by their own unique-looking robot following half a step behind.
‘Whatever happens with these guys,’ said Aiden to Jessie, ‘you must protect me.’
‘Understood,’ said Jessie.
‘Who knows what harm they might do to me if they’re not happy with the goods. It’ll be more than refusing to pay, that’s for sure.’
The door to the gang’s offices was conspicuous by its failed blandness. Painted dark battleship grey it was criss-crossed with STF filled plastic bars down its length. Bars that would instantly harden if forced.
The tiny speck of red light above the door let him know that someone inside was watching. He waved. Jessie waved too. ‘Remember. My life is in your hands,’ he said quietly.
With an over-engineered creak the door opened and the sound of a violin concerto drifted down the hallway.
‘Mendelssohn E Minor Opus 64,’ said Jessie matter-of-factly.
Aiden fixed his smile and walked towards the source of the haunting music. Beautiful in normal circumstances, but somehow made sinister by the setting.
‘Pass me the bag,’ he said to Jessie.
Through the smog of highly illegal cigarette smoke he could see the silhouettes of the gang members lost in the euphoria of nectar and music, each cradling a knife across their chest.
Their leader, who was standing watch, swaggered over to Aiden. He gave her the bag and she offered him a cigarette. The precious hand-rolled cylinder sat in the palm of his hand; it was only the second time in his life he’d been offered one.
Jessie crushed the cigarette to a pulp. ‘Smoking kills.’
All heads turned towards them.
‘Shit,’ said Aiden. ‘Sorry. Bit of a misunderstanding. These robots, eh?’ He laughed a hollow laugh.
The gang leader stared at the crumpled mess in Jessie’s hand. ‘Expensive mistake,’ she said as she ran her thumb along the sharp blade of her knife. ‘Aiden, isn’t it?’
‘Leave,’ she said. ‘Leave now.’
‘The nectar?’ he asked.
‘Thank you. Appreciated.’
‘Get out,’ she said quietly. ‘Now!’
She turned to the nearest gang member. ‘Terminate that robot,’ she said, looking at Aiden for confirmation.
When he didn’t reply she took a step closer to him while rubbing her blade against her leg.
He gulped, looked at Jessie and nodded his agreement.
Jessie adopted a fighting pose; she was equipped to maim and kill if necessary.
The gang leader took another step closer to Aiden.
‘Protect me,’ he shouted.
Jessie knocked the bag out of the gang leader’s hand and the vials of nectar spilled out on to the floor.
An unconvincing smile formed on Jessie’s lips as they emitted a high pitched whine, triggering a few of the vials to emit an orange glow which was followed quickly by a puff of black smoke.
They were destroying themselves.
The gang leader dropped her knife and scrabbled around on the floor desperately trying to gather as many as she could.
‘Shit and double shit,’ said Aiden.
Jessie grabbed his hand and dragged him out of the building.
‘Enemies for life,’ he said, as they walked away quickly. ‘No money. No escape.’ He turned his head. ‘Your stupid robot rules. I’m as good as dead.’
‘I will protect you,’ said Jessie.
Stephen Oram writes near-future fiction intended to provoke debate. In his time he’s been a hippie-punk, religious-squatter and a bureaucrat with a gentle attraction to anarchism; he thrives on contradictions. As 2016 Author in Residence at Virtual Futures he was one of the masterminds behind the new Near-Future Fiction series and continues to be a lead curator. He has been published in several anthologies, has two published novels, Quantum Confessions and Fluence, and a collection of shorter pieces of work, Eating Robots and Other Stories.
Yosa Buson is a musician from California.
By. Ryan Sonneville
TO BE POSTED MONDAY/ WANTED ADVERTISEMENT SECTION
Combat Droid Required, Will Pay Cash
I am in need of a combat droid. Preferably a 650 or 457 Jaspin model. It does not need to be fully functioning; it must have a working actuator, Techniatic limbs and mobility functions. Weston blaster and titanium sword would be advantageous. I have parts for most Jaspin models as a result of previous work.
I will be entering the Dark Zone on Mars next week. Recent news reports state that locals have attacked prospectors and I wish to avoid this fate. The droid should be able to compute basic instructions in English code translator; it must be able to process 5 simultaneous commands. Droid with previous expedition experience is desirable but should not have a history of emotional reckoning. At no point in its work history should it have been outfitted with an emotion processor (deep code analysis will be completed by myself prior to final purchase).
The droid will likely not be returned.
Ryan Sonneville is a writer and teacher in the Bay Area.
BläpDëli is a musician from Santa Rosa, CA.
(Cover art by Jackson Pollock)
In honor of all the great work submitted to Fictional Pairings over the past few months, we have compiled all of the published pieces into a single post.
We appreciate the interest and support we have received thus far and look forward to matching fresh new fiction, poetry and art with music in the months to come. Please see our Submissions Page for information.
Up the Hill – Roland Dodds
Your New BAM-AG Home – Maria L. Berg
The Post Modern Cat – Roland Dodds
Floating Over a Spider – Joshua Scully
I Guess We Are Too – Irene Meklin
The Giving Machine – Roland Dodds
The Processor – Ryan Sonneville
Cut cruel instead of just, a mate who opposed
Those lives he should protect (as Leofric,
The Earl of Mercia and Chester) — — knows
His noble bride, her restless candlestick
Outlining fat upholstering his form.
He squeezes hearts as if to be re-born
By disconnecting his humanity.
— — “They must have bread, not taxes! He’ll agree!”
She vows and prays her fortitude won’t sway,
This teen whose innocence met misery,
One more pale boundary finely washed away.
Unfairness gripping her, the Lady chose
To pass the night rehearsing rhetoric
To rouse his sympathy, or shame impose.
So short a life of honor makes her sick.
All hunched in blankets, hairy his old form,
Who frightens servants with his facial storms,
A predator aroused by agony — —
Tenacious that grip, no apologies,
Assimilator of mice,.loving prey.
Godiva rides out dawn in Coventry,
One more pale boundary finely washed away.
June’s globe of light garbs better than her clothes,
Wild beauty flying all flags, hair so thick
It can’t unmake men’s awe. It helps expose
Her fully to bald lusts of Leofric.
— — “Come, do your duty, wife!” Called to perform,
Godiva spots her chance for tax reform.
— — “Our people will starve from such penalties!
Milord, hear me!” He yanks her from her knees.
— — “On one condition — — this then you shall weigh….”
About to hear, she’s full of Coventry,
One more pale boundary finely washed away.
Godiva‘s cheeks went pale, then color rose.
In bargaining, no longer would she lick
His ironclad complicity, exposed
To his blood’s “loyalties.” — — “Milady’s quick
To criticize. Ride out some morning shorn
Of jewels, embroidered gown, yourself adorned
Like naked truth, full nude — — then I’ll agree.”
Nobility of cause scales modesty.
Instead of blushing, she consents, names a day.
Her presence looms like one unbought, fresh tree,
One more pale boundary finely washed away.
Her husband snores, phlegm mustaching his nose.
Unloosening her braids, Godiva flicks
Her brush through tumbling tresses — — this day’s “clothes” — —
Dark, waterfalling, lifelong waves that pick
Their way ’round youthful curves of purest form.
July the tenth rubs off on muscles warmed,
Her braincells like a sugar orchard’s bees
Discovering new food: capacity
For good on empty-handed land where they
Will build the monasteries she foresees,
One more pale boundary finely washed away.
Unmounted, she romanced God’s employees,
Her key to fame (not just a mane). First, clothes-free,
This lady, Southam-bound, rode by surveyed
By grateful country folks of Coventry,
One more pale boundary finely washed away.
*** On July 10, 1040, Lady Godiva made her famous ride through Coventry, England.
Around Southam, an annual pageant still marks this occasion
— — — — — — — — — — — — —
— — — — — — — — — — — — —
Native New Yorker LindaAnn LoSchiavo, a dramatist and poet, is currently completing her second documentary film.
Dead Recipe is a band from Austin, Texas.
By. Jenean McBrearty
Lord Mathew Chesney ensured he’d be seated next to Mlle. Genevieve d’Eon at tea. Lord Sutherland had whispered her praises during a recital of Handel’s Water Music, and Chesney was determined to verify Sutherland’s assessment. “A delicate flower, yet sturdy. Loveliness and loyalty, Mathew, in a divine combination, worthy of high regard.”
“Yes, yes, but there’s a willingness behind her coquettish countenance, is there not?”
Sutherland led him to the gentleman’s room, and apt stage for answering such an undisguised question. “Gordon Stevens has been engaged to paint her portrait. Visit his studio tomorrow at eleven o’clock and judge for yourself.”
Stevens had ushered him through the foyer, and upstairs to his windowed loft overlooking St. Alban’s Wood Street, gushing, “Welcomes,” and “Honored.”
“I’ve come about commissioning a portrait Lady Marie. Naturally, I want to see where and how you work, but you come highly recommended. And who is this that sits for you today?”
Though not a raving beauty, Mlle. Genevieve was a demur young woman with hair the color of corn silk and eyes of palest blue. A shawl of green velvet fell loosely about her shoulders, low enough to expose an alabaster neck-line.
“Lord Chesney, M’lady,” Stevens said.
“Afternoon greetings to you, Sir,” she said in a low voice that invited a man’s attention.
“How like you our fine city? Not too cold for you?”
“I find it comfortable outside and intriguing within doors,” she said. “Merci.”
Mathew stepped in front of the easel and saw Stevens had sketched her outline. On a side table lay his color pots and brushes. “I’ve interrupted your work,” he said with feigned regret. “Yet, how fortunate for me to have caught you at your chemistry. Send for me when it is done, and I will praise your artistry, if it be to my liking. Certainly, your subject is praiseworthy now. You must both come to tea this afternoon. He handed Stevens his card. “I’ll send my coach.”
“Delighted, Monsieur. Delighted.”
“And you, Madame? Leave your velvet here lest you shame the ladies.”
She cast her eyes to the floor. “You are too kind.”
He kept her display of modesty in his mind’s eye. Genevieve was no child, yet…the tinge of red on her cheeks revealed an innocent soul, arousing in him the manly virtues of respect and protection. “Has anyone tasted her sweetness?”
He asked Sutherland on their way to the smoking room of his London townhouse. His guest produced a pouch of the finest Virginia tobacco to share.
“Sadly, no. Only the sweetness of her company.”
“Then her virtue is authentic,” Mathew said when they settled into their chairs.
“Authenticity in a woman is a tedious piety verging on the anti-social.”
“More’s the pity if she aspires to sainthood, Mathew. Don’t let her Anglo-Saxon complexion fool you. She’s a Catholic. What do you think about this business in the Colonies?”
But Mathew wasn’t ready to change the subject just yet. “I’ve heard Mlle. Genevieve is returning to France. The word negotiation was overheard. Could she be marrying?”
Sutherland gave him wink. “King Louis is not the secular pope of the French church. He may have tasted her sweetness.”
“Perhaps.” The thought was painful. “Do you think it’s possible France is supporting the insurrection in America?” Sutherland had finally snared his attention.
“Ahhhh. War is as trying as stubborn virtue. There’s no good reason for Louie to recall every French subject because he wants to have another go ‘round with George over the American causus belli.”
King Louie was pacing the palace floors. “What good does it do to have spies if they can’t be discreet? I thought you told me d’Eon had agreed to return to France with his cache of documents. Where is he? Getting his portrait painted! We have French painters. David. Delacroix. Who is this Stevens?”
“Your Majesty, please. Chavelier d’Eon couldn’t be expected to be celibate his entire time in England. So, he’s been having a love affair with one of his informants. So, what? There’s been no…shall we say, undercover work? He returned, and to the whole world he is Mlle. d’Eon, why not leave his admirer with a keepsake?”
Beaumarchais, former clean-up man to Louis XV, had now taken over the same duties for young Louis XVI. He’d successfully brokered a deal with Comte de Broglie’s man in London, Charles Genevieve d’Eon, whereby the esteemed Dragoon, Parliamentarian, and a holder of the Order of St. Louis, would return his majesty’s communications, which he hid in a trunk under his floorboards, in return for keeping his identity as a woman until death.
It was hardly a punishment. D’Eon’s first secret service assignment had been as a spy at St. Petersburg, posing as a maid in waiting. Expert marksman though he was, he was also known for his fluid gender. When rebuked for insulting the ambassador, he pleaded that it was his more feminine side that led to the imbroglio, and begged understanding from his well-born, well-placed friends.
“Do we not forgive female spies because of their sex? Should we not be as charitable to one who has chosen to follow his heart as a woman?’ Beaumarchais said in d’Eon’s defense.
Louie stopped pacing and smiled. “Perhaps this portrait makes his identity credible even to the unromantic English.”
At the pier, Lords Chesney and Sutherland bade good-bye to Mlle. Genevieve, who tearfully assured them she would never forget their kindness or Lady Marie’s biscuits. But the man to whom she gave the portrait of her youthful self, a gentleman who loved her from afar, the Prince of Wales, did not come to say good-bye and kiss her black-net gloved hand. Genevieve wasn’t the first Catholic the Prince loved, but she was the only one he never bedded. Rather, he had her portrait hung in the Dulwich Picture Gallery in Southwark and visited the gallery often. Genevieve was listed as spinster and carried the title until she died. Beaumarchais found her fascinating.
Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over a hundred and seventy-five print and on-line journals.
Peter Cavallo is a composer from Australia.