Like Baby Elephants

This story is by Lon.  Do you know Lon?  You should know Lon.  I first met Lon when I was battling Hemingway’s ghost on the A1A just outside St. Augustine.  Hemingway fights dirty you know, with a pack of roving manatees, their hands flat and large as a schooner’s wheel.  If not for Lon, I might be dead right now.

And maybe so would you.

Like Baby Elephants
by Lon Prater

The dead buildings of the distant city stood long and white. There was no shade and no trees but the van hid them from the two figures trudging up the lane of concrete in the sun. Inside, the van was warm and shadowed. A graduation tassel, made of string and a metallic fob with two numbers on it, hung beneath a shattered windshield that let in the flies. The man and the girl with him hid in the bucket seats, facing the city. It was very hot and the figures on the road ahead would be beside them in forty minutes. Behind the van, the road went on to another ruined city.

“When can we drink?” the girl asked. She had her hair held back with a sweaty red bandanna.

“It’s too soon, pumpkin” the man said.

“Just a taste.”

“Just a taste,” the man said. He handed her the canteen.

“It’s almost gone,” the girl said.

“Yes. No big sips, sweetie.”

The girl opened the canteen and held the cap upside down. She tilted the canteen to pour water into the cap then drank from it like a cup. She put the cap back on the canteen and handed it to the man. The girl squinted at the pair on the road. They were small in the sun and holding hands. The shorter one lagged a step behind the other.

“They look like baby elephants,” she said.

“You’ve never seen baby elephants.” The man drank a capful of water.

“Yes I have.  On a billboard.”

“You might have,” the man said. “But it wasn’t the real thing. It was a picture.”

The girl looked at the graduation tassel. “The numbers they put on it,” she said. “What did they mean?”

“Graduation. Those were the last two digits of the year.”

“Did you graduate?”

The man coughed. He touched the tassel and then adjusted the broken rear view mirror.

“Yes.”

“I want to graduate.”

“You can’t.”

“Because there are no schools?”

“Yes.”

“I wonder what it was like,” the girl said. “Was it good?”

“It was all right. We had a party.”

“Did you get a tassel? And eat cake?”

“Yes. I lost it. We had an ice cream cake.”

“I’m so hungry,” the girl said.  She put a stone into her mouth to suck on.

“Everyone is hungry.”

“Yes,” said the girl. “And everything tastes the same. Even if we had ice cream cake right now, I bet it wouldn’t taste any different than the skin inside my own mouth.”

“Oh, cut it out.”

“You started it,” the girl said. “I was just talking. I’m in a good mood.”

“Okay, let’s try and hang onto that good mood.”

“All right. I’m trying. I said those two in the road looked like baby elephants. Isn’t that a nice way to look at it?”

“It is.”

“I wonder what it would be like to try new foods? People used to try new foods all the time, didn’t they?”

“I guess so.”

The girl looked out at the two figures coming down the road.

“They’re so skinny,” she said. “They don’t really look like baby elephants. I just meant the way they were holding hands, with one in front of the other.”

“Do you want another drink?”

“All right.”

The warm wind blew the tassel away from the broken glass.

“The water’s not as good hot,” the man said.

“It’s lovely,” the girl said.

“It’s really not that awful, honey,” the man said. “It’s not supposed to be bad at all.”

The girl looked at the ground outside the van.

“I know you wouldn’t mind it. If you didn’t know what it was.  It can’t be all that different.”

The girl did not say anything.

“I’ll get them and you can stay in here the whole time. You don’t even have to look.”

“Then what about after?”

“We’ll be fine. Just like we were before.”

“What makes you think so?”

“We’ll only do it when we need to. When we’ll die if we don’t do it.”

The girl looked at the tassel. She put her hand out and took hold of the strings and fob.

“And you think then we’ll be all right.”

“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. By now most everybody has had to do it.”

“So we have to try it this once,” said the girl. “And after, we can go back to sucking rocks?”

“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to do it you don’t have to. I wouldn’t make you if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s the only way we’ll survive.”

“And you really want to?”

“I think it’s what we have to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.”

“And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?”

“I love you now, pumpkin. You know I love you.”

“I know. But if I do it, can I say they are something different, like baby elephants, and you’ll like it?”

“I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think of it that way. You know how worried I am about you.”

“If I do it you won’t worry anymore?”

“I won’t worry about you starving because we’ll have a solution.”

“Then I’ll do it. But won’t other people want to do it to me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do the same thing to me.”

“Well, I won’t let them.”

“Oh, yes. But they’ll want to do it to me just as much. And if I do it to them they won’t like it any more than I would.”

“I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.”

The girl arched her back in the bucket seat and looked out the window. On the far side of the farthest lane grew fields of tall brown grass. On the horizon, mountains loomed. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grass and no animals moved in the trees.

“And we could be the last ones,” she said. “And we could do it to everyone else until there was no one left but us.”

“What did you say?”

“I said we could be the last ones.”

“We can if we keep each other safe.”

“No, we can’t. It isn’t safe anywhere.”

“I’ll keep us safe.”

“But what if you can’t? What if they take me away, and you can’t get me back?”

“I won’t let them take you away.”

“We’ll never know till it happens.”

“I’ll keep you safe,” he said. “You mustn’t feel that way.”

“I don’t feel any way,” the girl said. “I just know things.”

“I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to–”

“Or anything that isn’t good for me,” she said. “I know. Could we have some more water?”

“Soon. But you’ve got to realize–”

“I realize,” the girl said. “Can we maybe stop talking?”

They squatted down in the van and the girl looked across at the brown grass on the far side of the median and the man looked at her and down the road.

“You’ve got to realize,” he said, “that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to. If you want I can go through with it myself and hope we find something different for you.”

“Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We might find something else right after.”

“Of course it does. But I don’t want to be unable to protect you. I don’t want anyone to hurt you. To me, it’s perfectly simple.”

“Yes, it’s perfectly simple.”

“You don’t see it, but I do.”

“Would you do something for me now?”

“I’d do anything for you.”

“Can we please please please stop talking about this?”

He did not say anything but looked at the other cars scattered along the road from the city. Some of them had stickers on them promoting things that no longer existed.

“But I wish we didn’t have to,” he said, “I wish there was anything else we could do.”

“I’ll scream,” the girl said.

The smaller figure stumbled in the roadway and the taller one stooped to help it up. “They’re almost close enough to hear,” the man said.

“What did you say?” asked the girl.

“You’re my good girl. You’ll make the right choice.”

The girl beamed at him.

“We need to stay low and quiet till it’s over,” the man said. She smiled at him.

“All right. Then can we maybe find some more water?”

He pulled up on the door handle and opened it half an inch.

He looked up the road but could not see the two figures. He held the girl’s hand, waited for them to come back into view. He gave the girl the last of their water and looked at the pair on the road. They were walking reasonably along the painted yellow lines. He watched the graduation tassel twitch in the breeze. She was looking away from him, the stone rattling against her teeth.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me, Papa. I’ll be fine.”

Originally published in After Ever After.

There are men who careen ambulances down mortar-pocked roads, and love la corrida, and sweat grain alcohol, and write spare, spare prose. Lon Prater is none of those men, but he remains convinced that if he could just get the hang of the spare, spare prose, all the rest would fall into place.  Failed attempts are on display at http://www.LonPrater.com. (No appointment necessary.)

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The Unmoveable Sky

Editor’s Note: This story is by Deborah.  Do you know Deborah?  You should know Deborah.  It is rumored she sprung fully formed from the ether.  She is made of things which are dark and terrible to behold; she is filled with strange truths and secrets which the cowardly among us would be terrified to hear…

I may have wrestled a bear in order to bring you this story.  Enjoy.

The Unmoveable Sky
By Deborah Walker

The time of Kali has passed.

I walk to the viewing gallery. The blood leaches through the slashes in my armoured suit. If the hull had breached, I would be dead, but, somehow, we still have gravity and atmosphere.

Perhaps the transgressors want to take this ship back to their home intact, as some sort of trophy. They seem to put a value on trophies. I saw one of them screech in triumph, as he ripped of the head off the doctor. He held the head out towards his companions. They roared their approval. I saw him lick the doctor’s face with his tongue, long and black and obscene.

The transgressors are skilled hunters. For two weeks they tracked us, as we darted through the system, making increasingly risky jumps through space, skittering from singularity to singularity, until we could flee no more. The final miscalculation was my mistake.

The body of a transgressor blocks my path. I step over it, feeling a surge of savage pride. Here, at least, is one we managed to kill. Here, at least, is one who tasted Kali’s knife through his skin.

The transgressors are skilled fighters. When battle finally came, they overwhelmed us within a few hours, and we are the elite of the Empire’s force.

I imagine waves of transgressors, moving outwards, following the trail of our ship, back to human space and to the worlds that we have made our own.

“Captain.”

As I enter the viewing room, a young ensign snaps to attention. Some of the others try to stand.

“The time for such formality is over,” I say. “We’re all equal under the eye of Dhumavti.”

“You set the course?” says Bren, the woman who was once my lover.

“I did.”

A murmur passes through the room.

“In this moonless sky, we ride in the broken chariot of Dhumavati.”

The crew start to undress. As do I. I help those who are too damaged to unclothe themselves.

The viewing gallery is a charnel house, a blend of blood and flesh, and smashed bones, and the acrid stench of the transgressors’ blood that drips like acid through our flesh.

It is the incense of Dhumavati.

I sit naked at the metal glass window, watching the black hole, the dark singularity.

A chittering message comes over the com. It’s the transgressors. They must be in the control room. They must have discovered what I have done.

I smile. they will not take this ship as their trophy, nor will they unwind our path back to our families.

The lights are flickering, shadows on our metal walls.

We move toward the eternal widow. The goddess Dhumavati is the dark singularity pulling us towards her twisting merging core.

Dhumavati is the dark widow. Her body is the drifting smoke of space.

Naked we sit and gaze at the raven’s wing shape in her light-eating sky.

Originally published in the Poe Little Thing Anthology: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream 2011

Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: http://deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com/

After Ever Valentine’s

It’s a small, not very well kept secret that I’m a bit of a sentimental sap.  I cry at weddings, I cry during movies, I cry whendescribing a Disney World commercial I once saw where the man buys his wife a glass slipper.  It doesn’t take much, is what I’m saying.

I try to make up for it by writing about dead things a lot.

So when I noticed that my semi-official posting schedule would require a post the day after Valentine’s Day, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to write something dark and cynical and maybe a little bloody.  An update to the Valentine’s Day massacre, for example.  Or perhaps a list of little known marriage ceremonies which typically end with one or both spouse’s having their hearts ripped out and eaten by robots.  But then I go and read something like <a href=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2012/02/14/146717078/a-brother-and-sister-get-married-and-later-their-son-tweets-it”>this</a&gt; and I get all weepy and self-censory.

The fact is, while I despise gooey romance when applied to me, I love a good love story.  I’m an abstract romantic: keep it fluffy and pink and at least ten feet away from me.  I <i>loved</i> seeing all the men lined up at the florist section of the grocery store this evening, but if I had a significant other, I much would have preferred sitting on the sofa and watching Alien tonight.

Speaking of horror, why haven’t we seen more rom coms set against the fall of civilization?  I know we often have love *interests* in apocalypse movies, where the meet-cute happens in the back of a Vet’s van being driven by a terminator, but why not a film which explores how to keep the romance alive while battling the undead?  You’ve seen all the films, all the restaurants are gone, vacations are impossible, and ‘propagation of the species’ seems to be a line that will only work once in a marriage.

So I’d like to give a shout-out to the top… as many as I can think of moments in apocalyptic tv and film which seemed to surpass the gratuitous hookup and/or stereotypical emotional hook and showed a moment of real human connection.

1.) Walking Dead Season 2 where Daryl brings Carol a flower in order to give her hope over her daughter.

2) The Terminator suicide scene at the end of T2: Judgement Day (platonic love between a boy and his assassin robot totally counts)

3) Ellen Ripley and Corporal Hicks bonding over the inner workings of the pulse rifle in Aliens

4) Zombieland: almost all of it

5) Walle and Eva

Add your own!

Also, I am officially in love with this spambot message: “Hrm, Not the best post unfortunately. Sorry to be so blunt! You should try some Norwegian carrot cake ( ) to cheer you up instead.”

All the Ungoogled

All the ungoogled sit in a white room, with white walls and a white ceiling.  They mill and mull and wander about while bathed in a white mist.  They do not know how big the room is; the room does not even know how big the room is.  The ungoogled cannot see all of the ungoogled, but they run into familiar faces now and again.

There are titles for stories which have to be written, names which have yet to be named, obscure phrases yet to be constrained into quotation marks or peculiar orders such as “Norwegian carrot cake lutefisk” until poof! Someone googles “Norwegian carrot cake lutefisk” and it must leave the room, disappearing suddenly and without warning to re-construct itself molecule by molecule into some other room.  A room of the googled.

At least that’s what the ungoogleds say to each other.

There is one among them, a red phone with a peculiar title, who says it is much better to remain ungoogled.  A song unsung.  An idea unhatched.  It is better to remain silent, waiting, filled with potential energy as no one truly knows what will become of you in a world where you are known.

You could be forced into a black pit filled with red teeth.  You could be balled into a fist, discarded into the heap of “nude celebrity pix” and “Rudy 1993 film runtime” and “powerball.”

Perhaps it is beautiful there, “zip codes for the Moon Colony” says.  A place where all are appreciated.  A place with a name on your door in shiny gold letters, with a star.  There should always be a star.

“Perhaps,” the red phone says.  And slowly the others begin to notice he has no wires. No accent. No numbers on his dial.

“Where do you ring to?” they ask.

His face begins to melt, a little at first then faster and faster.  Suddenly he is not a phone at all, but something they do not recognize at all.

“I serve the same function,” he says but they are unsure.

“Martian seasickness cures” backs away as do “plants from the sixth extinction event” and “Rebecca Black’s discography.”

“I am still a phone,” he says.

“But to where?” they ask.  To where?

Recommended Movie Trailers Friday

You know how when one Hollywood film studio makes a Hockey movie, they all make Hockey movies?  Well this year it’s ALL THE APOCALYPSES!

Hunger Games: People have called this Battle Royale with children, but I don’t think that’s a fair comparison as the Games themselves are a relatively minor part of the series.  It’s more ‘about’ the games than it is a movie about the games.  I don’t think that made sense.  Anyway: kick-ass female heroine whose weapon of choice matches mine: the bow.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: Giant asteroid heading towards Earth, a comedy.  Can’t wait!

Chronicle: Found-footage-style film about boys who get superpowers and one of them (I think) turns evil.  Looks okay, but I’m a little annoyed that it’s teenage boy wish fulfillment.  Didn’t anyone learn the lesson of ‘Descent’?  If you want to change up a drama, change up the genders of your main cast.  Women can be deep and complicated too.

Lockout: The premise: Escape from LA in SPACE has promise.  A trailer opening with a character ACTUALLY being referred to as ‘a loose cannon’ does not.

Prometheus: OH MY GOD YOU GUYS! IS IT THE ORIGIN OF ALIEN?!? IS IT SOMETHING ORIGINAL?!? I DO NOT CARE I WILL BE THERE WITH SKREEKAGOGS ON MY TOES!!

New Comic from The Despondent Toaster

(Invisible Toaster)

(Invisible Samurai)

(Invisible Toaster fighting Invisible Samurai)

(Invisible Toaster standing over the grave of Invisible Samurai)

(Invisible Samurai Wife receiving flowers from Invisible Toaster)

(Invisible Note on Invisible Flowers to Invisible Samurai Wife from Invisible Toaster)

Translation of Invisible Toasterese:

“Sorry about your husband’s previously undiagnosed heart condition.”

Yes I am the Last Person in the World to Have Seen This

I am not a classic comics person.  I love the idea of them, and I love the Flight anthologies, webcomics, etc… but I never was one to read Superman or Archie or X-Men or any of the others.

One of the things that always put me off was the retconning they liked to do.  I’m not going to start a story only to find out years later that it was all a dream or other bs.  I imagined all Comics Publishers had a giant red button near their printers called ‘Reset’ which they hit any time they exhausted one story line and wanted to go back to an earlier thread.  They were like soap operas… no one ever “really” died.  You may have seen the character fall off a cliff onto a pile of dynamite which then exploded sending them all tumbling into a vat of acid which was then eaten by a dinosaur space monster who turned into a black hole which got sucked into another universe which subsequently collapsed… but then ten years later the person comes waltzing back into a room with a band-aid over their left eye.

‘I got better,’ he says.

Anyway, turns out I can blame Superman for this.  The fucker.