Marlene Olin–Circling

Marlene Olin–Circling

The raptor swoops overhead. Is it a hawk?

“We should move here,” says Armie.

We’re hiking String Lake. While one side of my face is sun-kissed, the other’s eclipsed in the shade. I look down at my feet, careful of tree roots and large rocks, anything to trip over. It would be so embarrassing to trip.

“Let’s start all over. Just you and me. It’ll be fabulous.” He swoops his arm, lassoing the sky.

The path is barely wide enough for one and when he touches the back of my shoulder, when his fingertips brush my hair, I startle, lose my footing, almost trip.

Is it a falcon I wonder? Perhaps it is a kite.

“Remember how it used to be,” he says. “Remember that time in Orlando? Remember how we laughed?”

The signs were everywhere. Like paw prints, tracks. Changing his password on the computer. Hiding his phone bill. I should have looked harder. I should have taken a shovel and dug.

“We could build a cabin,” he says. “Fill the yard with columbine and lupine. A wood-burning stove and a view of the Tetons. It’ll be fabulous,” he says.

Or maybe it’s a buzzard. Black. Fat. Assured. Yes, it is a buzzard.

It happens when you least expect it. We were walking the mall, on the prowl for sales, our arms laden with packages. Laughing. Joking. On a MasterCard high. His fingers brushed my hair and skimmed my neck. Then we saw her.

“She’s a work acquaintance,” he tells me. “I’m sure I mentioned her.” The talons unfurling now, his voice a squawk. “You know how forgetful you’ve been.” He pivots his neck, scanning the crowd. “I’m sure I mentioned her. She’s just a friend.”

Like it was my fault. Like I should have remembered this woman. Blond. Blue-eyed. Beautiful. The anti-me. Like I would have forgotten her. She stared at Armie like he was lunch.

“Isn’t this mall fabulous!” she says. “The stores, the sales. That new Italian restaurant is just fabulous.”
I listen to the waters lapping, the children laughing. See filaments loop in the air. The lake was nearby. I could smell it. I could taste it. I could hear it. But I was too afraid to look.

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Adam Simone–N/A

Elizabeth Wilkinson had too many letters in her name. It never fit on anything official, like the drivers license she once had where it would be truncated or roll around to the second line. It made finding an email address upsetting. Her younger brother urged her to go to gmail and secure her name, but elizabethwilkinson at gmail dot com just felt too long to her. She was overwhelmed trying to think of something else, so she didn’t sign up for anything.

Aden made fun of her for not having email, but Elizabeth didn’t understand why it was so necessary. When she was growing up there was no email, no computers, no phones that had the touch screens. She was unsure why her parents had Aden when they were so old, when her mother’s womb should have been long barren. She was confused when folks in town assumed Aden was her child when they were out at the Walmart.

Elizabeth stared at the question on the job application in front of her, asking for her email address. She paused in thought for a few moments, considering writing an explanation for why she didn’t have an email address but decided on simply writing “N/A” in the space. They could call her.

Her mother insisted that Elizabeth drive into the city and apply for the job at the bank. She called it a change of pace, which Elizabeth didn’t understand. Elizabeth hadn’t minded her job on the phones at the telemarketer office. It was loud in there all the time, her co-workers would laugh and throw balls around to each other in between the calls, and they would eat their lunches while on the calls chewing loudly. Elizabeth would not have liked to get a call from one of them, only to hear them chewing with their mouth noises on the other end trying to sell her insurance.

Elizabeth was always polite on the phone. Her desk was surrounded by those low wall cubicles, with the cloth material on the walls. The walls of the cubicle were the only things that bothered her about that job. She would run her hands down the material and it’d rake like chalk across a board in her head. She hated those walls. But she loved those calls. Elizabeth would dial the next number down the list, it was all very orderly. She would dial the number and the person whose name was next to the number would pick up the phone. Half the time, they would answer and she knew immediately if she would enjoy the conversation. They would answer “Hello!” with an exclamation point. Elizabeth could see the exclamation point hanging in the air in front of her, bobbing slowly up and down above the pages with the numbers. And she would mimic back with an exclamation point.

Others, though, would answer “Hello?” with a question mark. It was the question marks that Elizabeth had to be careful with. She couldn’t tell why, but those people were always either the quickest to get off the phone with a curt goodbye or the most profane. Elizabeth didn’t like the profanity. The words would grate against her ears like the cloth material on the walls of the cubicle.

She wish she hadn’t been fired from that job.

It wasn’t her fault.

Elizabeth’s boss, who watched over all of them with a cup of coffee glued to his hand, was a loud man. She had worked there for nearly three years. Elizabeth came in ten minutes early every morning, and left fifteen minutes after the close of her shift. She never left a mess on her desk. She never bothered her co-workers. Elizabeth didn’t throw the ball, or talk with food in her mouth.

But one day she walked in on the boss without his pants on, and that was the day she was fired.

Elizabeth didn’t understand what was happening, when it happened. It was eleven twelve at night and she was getting ready to go home. But she had not used up all of the paper on her note pad that day and she always returned the unused pages to the materials closet. It wasn’t right to bring home materials from work. Her co-workers brought materials home from work all of the time. One time, Tim had brought home a whole printer. When he saw that Elizabeth saw him leaving through the back door he shrugged at her. “I’m out of printer paper,” he said, simply, and let the door close behind him.

When Elizabeth opened the door to the material closet, her boss had no pants on. She wish she hadn’t seen, but she saw it in his hands. A piece of paper with a photograph of something inappropriate. Elizabeth closed the door quickly, bent down and dropped the note pad on the floor outside the material closet.

Elizabeth returned home that night and it was dark outside, but her mom was still up. There was no dinner on the table, like her mom often left for her. Instead, her mom met her in the living room, before Elizabeth could take her shoes off for the day. Her hands were on her hips, both of them.

“Your boss called,” Elizabeth remembers her saying this with… what was the opposite of an exclamation point? “He asked that you not go back. He said they’ll mail your last paycheck.”

Elizabeth didn’t understand why she was the one who got fired. She always had her pants on.

Her mom just shook her head and returned back to the kitchen. Elizabeth went to her room without eating that night and fell heavily into her bed, face down on the pillow. She yelled into the pillow. Loudly. Her fist beat the back of her head into the pillow. She didn’t cry.

Elizabeth stood with the pen in her hand, at the small counter with the see-through table top, filling out the application for work. Underneath the see-through top were little cubbies with many different colored papers in them. Elizabeth was distracted by the paper, there was a green one, and there was a blue one and a washed-out red one. The rest of them were white. She thought, if you put them together they would make almost a rainbow.

“Focus.” She said out loud to herself. The man standing next to her, filling out words on the little green paper looked up at her briefly when she spoke. His eyes moved up to her face, then, slower, down her body. His gaze quickly went back to filling out the little green paper. A pile of checks lay in front of him. His calloused hands sifted them around as he wrote numbers onto the paper.

She finished filling out the application, noting that it would require a math test as part of the application. Elizabeth was good at numbers.

Her mother had told her that this was a respectable job. Aden told her that she would make a terrible bank lady. He told her that bank ladies were supposed to be hot. Aden was eight and Elizabeth didn’t know how he knew about hot. When she was eight she knew about dolls and fields filled with grass and dandelions.

The lady behind the desk took Elizabeth’s application and tilted her glasses down towards the end of her nose. Elizabeth couldn’t help but stare at the glasses. This was fortunate, because normally Elizabeth couldn’t look people in the eyes. Her mom told her that this made people nervous around her, or that people didn’t trust her. She was lucky sometimes that people thought she was looking them in their eyes if there was something interesting to her near their eyes. The lady’s glasses were full of glass and waves and twists and turns. A small beading of pearls snuck behind the lady’s neck and connected each end of the glasses behind her ears. Elizabeth liked the order of the pearls one after another. When she looked closely at them they were individuals, they were round spheres. When Elizabeth looked back further and saw all of them together they were not spheres, they were sloping curves and straight lines.

The lady checked off many boxes while Elizabeth sat still. Elizabeth did not like to fidget in front of other people, she learned that it was most appropriate to sit still, or stand still. Elizabeth saw the lady’s phone and felt sad.

“You have a good work history, there are some very nice recommendations here,” the lady pulled her glasses higher on her nose, shifting them back and forth until they settled into the small indents between her eyes. “Why did you decide to leave your last job?”

Elizabeth was not ready to answer this question. She thought back to her scripts. They were very comforting when she didn’t know how to respond to someone. “I was not pleased with my job. I felt that there might be other options out there that would better suit my needs. I would be happy to hear how this job could better suit my needs.”

“You know, this is a tough job. There is a lot of responsibility working in a bank. You handle money all day and have responsibility for your own drawer.” The lady scribbled a note on Elizabeth’s resume. The one that her mom helped her put together last night. The resume had serif fonts only. Those were Elizabeth’s favorite. “Do you think you can handle the responsibility of your own money drawer?” She asked, putting her pen down.

Elizabeth thought about the question for a few moments. “I am as responsible a person as you will ever meet. I will show up ten minutes early in the morning, and leave fifteen minutes after my shift ends. I keep my things in order, everything has a place. My drawer will be mine and it will be in order.” Everything Elizabeth said was true.

The lady scribbled some more. Her glasses eased slowly down the bridge of her nose when her head was bent forward. “What is your greatest weakness?”

Elizabeth had prepared for this question last night at the computer in Aden’s room when she had typed about how to interview for a job. “My greatest weakness is that sometimes people have a hard time making a connection with me. I am not sure why. But I know for a fact that this is not relevant to the quality of work I will do for you.” Elizabeth was honest, she was always honest.

On her first day of work Elizabeth woke up at the same time that she woke up every day. Her mom was still asleep. Aden was still asleep probably but she could hear the television still on in his room. Elizabeth put on her blouse, her pants, her sweater and her socks. Then she put on her shoes and she tapped down on the Velcro on both of them. Elizabeth bent over at the fridge and picked up the brown paper bag with her name written on it. Elizabeth Wilkinson. It wrapped around to a second line.

At the office, Elizabeth saw the lady who hired her in the parking lot, ten minutes before she was supposed to be there. The lady quickly smiled at Elizabeth before walking briskly ahead and entering the building from the side. Elizabeth watched the door click shut. Elizabeth had to go around to the front, she did not have her badge yet. She waited at the front door for ten minutes until her new co-worker came and opened it for the day.

Elizabeth placed her brown paper bag in the refrigerator next to a piece of green Tupperware that had a day old taco in it. She didn’t smile for the camera and the picture on her badge looked like her. Her hair was too long but she didn’t think so.

After the first ten customers came through her line, Elizabeth understood how to do her job. She placed all of her pens in a row in order from least full to fullest. She would use the least full pens first.

Elizabeth made change for customers in the way that she saw others doing it, first counting in her hands then counting to the customer laying the cash out in front of them. Her hands were a little chubby but they moved quickly with the money and she laid out the cash in front of the customers in ascending serial number order.

She took only thirteen minutes of her fifteen minute break, sitting alone at the round table in the break room with the day’s newspaper scattered in front of her. Her brown paper bag was folded neatly next to her sandwich. Elizabeth learned the scripts for speaking to the customers and wrote them down during lunch. She pasted the script next to her window on the inside so that the customers couldn’t see it.

            “Good morning (afternoon) miss (sir) how may I help you today?”

            “Would you like that in twenties?”

            “I can deposit this for you. Checking or savings?”

And so on.

Elizabeth was good at her new job and she thought that her mom was right. She felt respectable.

“Elizabeth?” One of her co-workers talked at her with a question mark. Elizabeth tensed up, unsure what was coming next. “Great job today!” Exclamation. She relaxed. “Could you go to the supply closet and grab me a new stamp for tomorrow?”

Elizabeth could do that. She knew where the materials closet was and she knew what stamp her co-worker wanted. She left the counter. The materials closet was stacked full of many office materials. She picked out a new stamp for her co-worker and was about to close the door.

Pads of paper, piled a dozen high. She reached out slowly for the one on top, instead running her fingers down the pile and pulling one from the middle.

The lady who hired Elizabeth was walking down the stairs from her office, to say good bye to the girls behind the counter. In the hallway, she noticed the door to the supply closet open partially. She placed her hand on the knob and thought to herself about how she needed a new gel pen because hers had just run out of ink. She inched the door slightly open upon thinking about the pen, but stopped herself, tilting her head to the side. She realized she should just get it tomorrow morning so she didn’t have to bring it home, and closed the door gently.

Inside the closet, Elizabeth huddled against herself holding the pad of paper in both hands. She knew that she shouldn’t let the lady see her in the closet. She wasn’t sure what would have happened but she had kept quiet when the lady was out there. Elizabeth bent down and hiked up her pants, because that’s what she was supposed to do. She waited for fifteen minutes before leaving the closet where she was right on time to catch the bus that brought her home, where her mom said she looked tired.

Siena Milia Hansen–The World Entire

Siena Milia Hansen–The World Entire

 

I waited in that old tire swing for his Chevy to quake the pavement. Papa promised me, you see.  I would wait here, he would return, and this time he would stay.

I spun and spun those waiting days away, the world passing by faster that way. I would bring him home, I said to George, speeding up the globe in orbiting roping twirls that smacked of swallowed air and smelled of spoiling winter rain.

Mother disparaged the state of my auburn curls and the rubber blackened tar beneath my knees.  George, he kept to the barn, to grazing the mare and half-breed ponies.  He no longer climbed the maple trees or stole the sweet combed honey from the neighboring bees.  Now he was a man, the man of the house, a man of the land.

Mama just washed and washed the dishes until she lost her fine French nails to the lye.  Little Peter dragged around that threadbare blanket beneath his heels.  All through the house he cried and cried for something he was too young to name.

My name: Emma Jane. I heard it every day, in my mind, just the way my father used to say it when he spoke on behalf of Miss Hannah the Hare.  I thought of those days when Hannah and he told me stories of weedless cabbage patches and hungry wolves, tales of badgers in bow ties and wily snails that bested the bravest of big brown grizzly bears.

With me Hannah hung by a paw or by an ear, listening for the rumble of the gravel drive, for that white Chevy to appear. But she was silent now, like George, like little Pete.

I sat cross legged in the springtime grass.  I watched the world kaleidoscope inside that thick black tire frame.  It swayed in the wind, taking the whole world in.  Swing, swing, and spin. I held the rope, I held on tight to the promise he made.  Angry blisters burned on my skin from those wet, contracting, woven folds.

Then I knew what I must do.  I dragged on George until he came and helped me cut that old tire swing away. That old white Chevy was never worth its salt.  You’ll see, I said, he’s broken down, and has no spare.  “He must be stuck out there on the other side of town,” said Hannah the Hare.

We three, George, little Pete, and me, we hoisted and wheeled that hulking black round that contained in it the world entire.  Its treads marked the dusty road that led into town.  At the bend we lost the tire loose atop the hill.  And so it was that we watched that big black world go spinning down, end on end, and straight through the center of town. George, he smiled, and little Pete laughed.  Take it to him, we told the hill, bring him home.

It took a day and a little more for us to find our world awash downstream in the river’s bend.  We sat there on the bank a good long while.  George threw the first of angry stones and then with sticks and silent tears we prodded that old entire world along.  It dislodged and spun once more, and then it, too, was gone.

 

Jenna Cassell–The Single Mingle

 Jenna Cassell–The Single Mingle

It was Saturday night…again.

Dahlia and Jocelyn were determined to get themselves ‘out there’ to a singles event. But each time they made plans they ended on the phone at the last minute. “How about if we just go to a chick-flick tonight?” Sometimes, they’d say it in unison and break out laughing as if they were not only of one mind, but shared the same sixty-something working woman’s body that was just too tired to go to some meat market competition.

Tonight, however, might be different. Dahlia had found a large singles gathering advertised as the pinnacle melding of all the most popular online dating sites, dating services and singles meet-up groups. “Everyone who’s anyone ‘out there’ will all be ‘in here!’”

They agreed to give it a try. After all, it could be no worse than that ghastly New Years Eve singles dance. The two of them had sat parked in front of the building, watching as people arrived. At first, they sat in silence, watching with interest for potential partners as other singles, dressed in holiday clothes, arrived. There were pairs of hopeful women (not unlike themselves), about a dozen unaccompanied females, a few couples and … two men. One of the men seemed to be predicting a small tsunami, as he was sporting a pair of flood pants, hemmed well above his ankles. The only way to make this worse, which of course he did, was to wear white socks. After the door closed behind him, the two friends looked at each other and burst into uncontrollable laughter until tears ran down their collective cheeks. Without any additional hesitation, Jocelyn put the car in gear and they fled the scene as though Mr. Flood-Pants were giving chase.

It took some doing, but Dahlia managed to persuade Jocelyn that tonight’s “Single Mingle” would be different. There would be a great assembly of the most elite, cream of the crop, readily available men. It was agreed that they would attend without considering any other options for the evening. Dahlia declared, “No backing out!” and Jocelyn concurred. Dahlia insisted on picking Jocelyn up, to prevent premature escape.

Jocelyn had been married for nearly thirty years. She found it totally unfair that now, in her sixties, she was back in the dating pool. “It’s like I’m doing my life backwards,” she confided in Dahlia. “When I was in my twenties, I was married and rooted securely in my adult life. I never really dated in my youth. I met and fell in love with my husband as a young woman. Now, I’m in my sixties, and I have to dive in, head-first, to a strange new world. It’s full of silly, flirtatious games, and I don’t know the rules—if there even are rules. I just want a normal life. I want to be comfortably in love with someone, without having to go through all this fuss to get there. Who knew it could be so difficult to meet an intelligent, centered, confident, kind, financially secure, emotionally stable and authentically communicative man?”

Dahlia laughed, “Oh, is that all you want?”

Jocelyn shrugged as she snorted out a huge laugh. “Well,” she managed to blurt out, “I just need ONE!”

Dahlia was the chorus to which Jocelyn sang. They had been close friends for years and were amazingly on the same page and life path much of the time. Their love for each other was palpable.

They met as planned and drove to the address plugged into the GPS from the flyer. They landed in front of a decadent, high-class hotel. The event would be held in the extravagantly decorated bar. As they stood in the doorway, they saw the registration table. The sign said the event fee was $45.00. They froze in place, not unlike deer before headlights, and turned to looked at each other.

Jocelyn was the first to speak. “You know, we could go to the hotel restaurant and have a really nice, elegant meal for $45.00!”

It was Dahlia who kept her resolve. “Remember, no backing out! We’re here. We are both having a good hair day, we look fabulous, and we’re going in!”

Jocelyn realized she was actually holding her breath as they ‘dove in.’ As they paid the entrance fee, both women peered into the darkened bar, eager to get a glimpse of whomever might be in there. The large room was already buzzing with activity. There were many people socializing around the bar, drinking, laughing, and carrying plates of food. Dahlia and Jocelyn decided to sit at a small table with their drinks, the better to peruse the playing field. They started chatting with each other, sipping on their drinks as they relaxed. At least they knew they could count on enjoying each other’s company.

It wasn’t long before a man approached their table. “Would you mind if I join you?” He was a distinguished looking man, nicely dressed, tall and fit, with a thick foreign accent. His skin had a beautiful olive quality.

“Please do,” Jocelyn heard herself say.

After sitting across from Jocelyn, their suitor asked, “Can you guess where I am from?”

The women looked at each other, now remembering that they were in the land of flirtatious opening lines and goofy games.

Jocelyn thought he might be from the Middle East, but she did not want to guess the wrong country. She knew the Middle East was experiencing increasingly intense turmoil with cultural and religious conflicts, and didn’t want to risk offense. Deciding to be playful, she said, with a southern accent, “Darlin’, you sound like you’re from…Texas?”

Dahlia was on board instantly with a version of southern all her own. “Oh, no! I know an Okleeehoooma accent when I hears one!” All three began to laugh.

“I am from Iran. My name is Adil, and it is lovely to meet you both.”

Just then, a guy wearing a nametag identifying him as ‘Steve’ plopped down with a thud near Dahlia and began flirting terribly. “You come here often?” He leered, breathing loudly. She could tell from his breath that he’d been at the bar for a while. She had drunk just enough at that point to find him harmless, so she started flirting back.

In the meantime, Jocelyn learned that Adil had earned a Doctorate shortly after relocating from Persia. He had recently authored a book simply because he had things he wanted to say. Jocelyn was beginning to be impressed…and interested.

The only thing that came to mind as a potential issue was the cultural differences between them. She had been married to a man who was from a culture other than her own, and there had been values and cultural issues that could never be reconciled. She wasn’t eager to experience that great divide again.

Adil gave Jocelyn his card. “It would please me if you would call, so we could get to know each other better.” Jocelyn took the card, placing it in her wallet as if it were precious currency.

Adil left the table to bring back another round of drinks. Steve asked Jocelyn, “Do you want to be rescued? I can get him to go away very easily!” he boasted while sloppily throwing his arm around Dahlia.

Jocelyn said, “No thank you. I don’t really want him to go away.”

Dahlia said, “Steve, would you please do that for me?” After a few minutes of thinking about this, he seemed to finally get what she meant. Without another word, he got up and left. The two gals were laughing when Adil returned to the table with another drink for each of them.

“Hmm,” Dahlia said to Jocelyn, “This guy just may be a keeper!” Adil pretended not to hear this, but his eyes sparkled, and he smiled warmly at Jocelyn.

A few days later, Jocelyn called Adil and they decided to meet for dinner. On their next date, they took in a movie. They saw each other regularly for three months. They were taking a walk by the bay when Jocelyn had to visit the restroom. When she came out, Adil was waiting for her on a small hill. He was silhouetted by a sunset that spread liquid gold from the horizon to the shore, where they stood. He turned and looked back at her, smiling warmly, and she flushed, feeling his eyes on her.

“What is it?” Jocelyn asked thinking she might have toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

“You. It could be you. You could be the one for me.” He said unabashedly.

She was shocked. Flattered, but taken aback. For all the times she had tried to be someone’s ‘one,’ a park bathroom wasn’t exactly the romantic backdrop she had envisioned.

They began to walk in silence, hand-in-hand. He was smiling involuntarily. She was breathing deeply, trying to refresh her lungs and regain her balance. This seemed so fast. He was moving too fast for her to keep up. Part of her wanted to take the leap and get carried away in the romance of it all. But, she feared vertigo from this whirlwind pace.

What was she feeling? She owed him a response to his pronouncement. She looked past him to the bay. The sun had just dipped behind the water’s horizon, turning the sky into a slow-moving oil painting of bright reds and yellow above the purple water.

“Adil, I am loving getting to know you. I do enjoy the time we share. I just need to take this a bit slower. Let’s give each other a chance to really know one another.”

“I know you,” he declared. “I see how you are this caring, loving, beautiful woman. I want only to be with you. You know me. What more is there to know? In my country, we would have already been married. My father was a Sheik. He could have taken many wives, but he chose only one. He knew my mother was the only one. I, too, choose to take only one wife and I now know who that is to be.”

She repeated the words in her head, ‘Sheik…could have taken many wives.’ There it was. The great cultural divide. The one trepidation Jocelyn had about this relationship. He was from a different world, with different ideologies about some of the most basic and prevalent cultural values and norms. Could people with two very different life paradigms share one life?

Wanting to change the subject before the sun set on their future, Jocelyn said, “I have an idea. I haven’t met any of your friends yet. Why don’t I join you and your hiking buddies on your Sunday hike tomorrow? I love that hiking trail, and it would give me a chance to get to know your friends.”

Adil seemed to stiffen with discomfort. “I don’t think that would be possible,” he said. Jocelyn waited for the rest of the sentence to provide some explanation, but Adil offered no more. He avoided her gaze by looking out at the now darkening sky. The deeper purpled clouds were silently moving over blackened water.

“Why is this not possible?” she asked looking up at him.

“I walk with three men. They are all doctors.” He explained.

She waited, but nothing more came.

“So, is the conversation only focused on medical issues? That doesn’t bother me. I would just like to meet your friends and go on the hike.”

“It is not the topic of conversation that is the problem. You would not understand anything said, no matter the topic. We do not use English when speaking to each other. We are all from Iran and we speak our Persian language of Farsi.”

It felt like a thick curtain had dropped between them. They were still hand-in-hand, yet Jocelyn envisioned a globe of the Earth and a red dot where each of their respective worlds were located. The chasm between them was becoming unavoidable.

Jocelyn wanted to explore this further, trying to salvage her hope for their future. “So, when I visit your family in Iran, will everyone be speaking Farsi?”

He stopped walking, took her by the shoulders and turned her toward him. His eyes gently smiled. “You would be my family. Here, in America. My Iranian family is not so important to me. I only go there once or twice a year. I would not be able to bring you with me. I cannot bring home an American, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl that is not a Muslim. But, we will be together here, and that is all that matters. No?”

“No.” she said sadly. “Family is very important to me. I have been thinking of how to introduce you to my parents. I’ve imagined the great difficulty with which they would even hear your name. I had thought I would introduce you as ‘Alan’ rather than ‘Adil.’ I’ve imagined navigating the conversation to divert attention away from the fact that you’re a Muslim.

“Well,” he laughed, “My name, Adil, means ‘wise and insightful.’ Seeing as I am so wise, it would not bother me to be introduced to your family however you see fit. As far as my religious beliefs, they are deep within me, so it is of no consequence as to what anyone else thinks of this.”

“So you do not care that my family would never really know you?” she asked.

“It is only in my heart to know you, be with you. Beyond that, little in the world matters to me.”

On one level, this was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to Jocelyn, but on another, it was disturbing to the core. Did he want their relationship to be an island where only they dwelled? Was there to be no community, friends or family in their lives?

While she longed to have one person, her soul’s mate, on whom she could shower all her love, and share all things, she knew she also needed more to fulfill her longing for a meaningful life.

When they said good night that evening, Jocelyn had a feeling it would be the last time they saw each other. While she did love being with him, she knew he wanted to move forward and be married. It was futile to continue in a relationship that did not ultimately fulfill both their needs.

Jocelyn knew herself well enough to know how important her friends, extended family, and spiritual community were to her, and she wanted an ever-expanding role in giving back to society. She wanted someone who could walk that path with her. The life she wanted was large and full.

As much as she was attracted to Adil and what he had to offer, she knew she could not live on a deserted island alone with him. She would have to let him go, and make room for a man who shared her life vision.

Jocelyn realized that although this relationship did not get her any closer to finding a man with whom she could share a loving life, it did enhance her own self-knowledge. This was a great step in her ability to navigate this process with clarity and self-respect. Even if she did not succeed in falling in love with this man, she was actually beginning to fall in love … with herself.

Theresa Kelsay–The Dirt Maze

Theresa Kelsay–The Dirt Maze

 

June rode her bike through the motel parking lot, looking for the dark blue Lincoln Continental. If it was there, that meant it was true. Her father was there in one of those rooms with his 44 Magnum and probably a case of beer.

The motel was built on what had once been an overgrown field. Over the years, kids from the neighborhood had scratched out a maze of dirt paths in that field with their bikes. The first time June went in with a group of kids, she fell in love with being swallowed by the jungle labyrinth that was just beyond the break in the fence in the open lot next to the house of the weird people that home-schooled their kids.

The first time she saw a snake was in that field. She had been surprised to find it perfectly coiled, hissing at her as if she had walked in on it doing something private. It was also where she had busted open her knee, resulting in seven stitches across her knee cap.

“You don’t ride a ten-speed on a dirt trail!” her mom had yelled. Her mom was always making the things she did sound ridiculous.

And it was where Chad Wilson had kissed her and felt her up under her shirt. She had wanted Marcus Niles to kiss her. The way he never looked at her made her want him to. She would ride her bike in front of his house and pretend he was watching her from inside. But it was Chad who had kissed her with his weird lips that weren’t really defined, but instead just kind of faded into his face. Plus, he was mean to her, called her thunder-thighs.

She didn’t mind his grabby hand up her shirt, though. It felt like he needed to touch her there, needed to squeeze something out of her until he didn’t need to anymore. For some reason, she liked knowing that.

After the field was cleared and the motel was built, they would sneak into the pool, until the manager realized they weren’t guests. Sometimes they would just walk up and down the balconies of rooms, talking. It was like walking in a new place, where strangers exiting the highway converged to rest or do whatever people did in a motel that was only twenty-nine dollars a night, inspired June and whatever friends from the neighborhood (not Marcus Niles) to talk more, to need each other more.

When she came around the back of the motel, she saw the long rear-end of the Lincoln sticking out past all the other cars. She stopped and froze. It was like seeing her dad’s sullen face, the way she always saw it in the hall, him passing, not saying anything to her. The way it was when he wasn’t terrorizing the whole house with his anger or hyena-laughing while drinking with his buddies in the driveway.

Her mom’s friend, Carol, had told her.

“Your dad’s at the motel. He took his gun with him.”

She had just come over and was on her way into June’s parents’ room. Her mother had not come out all day. June knew her mom would not want Carol to tell June about the motel and the gun. She also knew Carol was there to bring her mom some speed. She had been smoking pot in her room all day. Now she would want something to get her up.

June stared at the Lincoln. Her dad was somewhere in the motel, probably holding his gun. She couldn’t help him. Even if she knew what room he was in, she couldn’t go to his room and say, Please don’t kill yourself, Dad. It wasn’t what they did. Her family ignored. They didn’t walk and talk together in the dirt trail jungles or on the motel balconies and get chased off together by managers. They ignored each other, behind closed doors, until her father blew up, came home piss-ass drunk, knocking her mother around the house, passing out in a pool of urine on the living room floor. Or got annihilated at a Fourth of July picnic at their cousin’s farm and beat the side of the truck in after her mother had locked herself, June and her little brother inside. They drove home that night and slept together in fear he would somehow find his way home.

And at the same time, that he would not.

When he had left that morning with his bag (his gun must have been somewhere inside), he had said to June as he walked out the door, “You’ll be better off without me.”

Even though it was true, even though she hated him, she wanted the pretend ignorance back. He could coil up and hiss at her, he could squeeze whatever he needed from her and the rest of the family. We will always ride our ten-speeds on dirt trails and like boys who don’t pay attention to us and find comfort roaming over grimy places filled with strangers. And have our mother’s druggy friend, happy to tell us about our suicidal fathers. These were the discomforts that gave her that ugly little restless joy in being alive.

June prayed while pedaling home: Please don’t kill yourself.

When she got home, her mother was in front of the stove, fixing dinner with jittery energy.

“Where have you been?” she asked, not really listening for an answer.

Tammy Dominguez–The Truth About Hansel & Gretel

Tammy Dominguez–The Truth About Hansel & Gretel

Hedda lived in the Black Forest, far from any of the villagers in the nearby village of Darnshagen. She liked the quiet, the solitude. However, she loved children. They didn’t come often, but when they did, she made it a point to make their dreams come true. She spent countless hours covering her small cottage with colorful, sugary confections which she baked in her own kitchen. Cooking was her passion.

Her house was a testimony to her skill and her enthusiasm in the kitchen. The old stones were covered with gingerbread bricks. The cornices were long strands of licorice. The windowsills were boxes of gingerbread filled with flowers made of jelly beans, gumdrops and lollipops. The bushes lining the front path were cotton candy and marshmallows. The stones themselves were thin pieces of caramel. The door was solid chocolate.

One day, as she was baking sugar cookies, she heard children’s voices. She was very excited and rushed to the door, wiping her hands on her apron. She threw open the door and two small children stood there, looking worn and neglected. Their clothes were dirty, their hair disheveled, and they looked quite skinny. “Oh, dears! Please come in,” cried Hedda.

She learned their names were Hansel and Gretel. They claimed to be lost in the woods. They hadn’t eaten for a long time. Although desserts were Hedda’s personal favorites as well as her specialty, she knew these children needed true nourishment. She made a big pot of rabbit stew and vegetables from her garden and fed the children huge bowls of the hot liquid with fresh bread from her oven. As they ate, they talked. Something tugged at Hedda’s mind; something didn’t quite seem right with their story. But, after all, she didn’t know them, and they had traveled far and been through some difficulties. Who was she to judge?

After the wholesome meal, she gave them iced sugar cookies for dessert. She ran them hot baths, took their soiled clothes, washed them, and hung them to dry on the lines out back of her cottage. She loaned the children fresh, white nightgowns and tucked them into her own down-filled bed. She covered them with a heavy quilt that her grandmother had made. She would sleep in the rocking chair tonight.

In the morning, she awoke late. After all, she’d been up hours past her normal bedtime, washing the children’s clothes, making a meat pie for the morrow and cleaning her kitchen. It seemed too quiet in the home. No pitter-patter of little feet. No laughing. No voices. Nothing. The children’s clothing was gone. Her cookies were gone. So was her antique gold looking glass that had belonged to her grandfather. And the coins her uncle Fritz had given her from the war! The pearl necklace from her mother! “Oh, dear!” she cried. Why would they do this to her? Why would they repay her kindness with thievery?

She went out the back door to her stone bench. She sat down and cried. Before long, her dearest friends surrounded her, nudging her with their warm noses and thick fur. Fox. Rabbit. Deer. Robin. Possum. Badger. Wolf. Bear. They decided in unison to help her. They ran!

A few hours later, she heard children screaming in terror. She threw open the front door and in ran Hansel and Gretel. They dropped a satchel and out spilled her treasures. They slammed the door and barricaded it with her old rocking chair. Hansel ran to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife she had. He moved towards her. She put her hands up, as if to ward him off. “Hansel,” she pleaded, “please, no.” Hedda looked at Gretel for assistance. Gretel had a heavy cast iron skillet in her hand.

“Into the oven, old woman!”

“Please,” begged Hedda.

“Now,” shouted Gretel.

We’re making the snacks today,” said Hansel.

Hedda didn’t know what else to do. She opened the door to her oven and gingerly positioned herself on her side, tucked her knees up to her chest. She prayed as the children closed the door. She saw Hansel fidgeting with the burner knobs. Immediately, she felt the warmth. The oven was heating up! “Oh, dear,” she thought, “these are my last moments.” She could see through the glass door, the children were leaving. Gretel picked up the satchel. The heavy chocolate door closed behind them. Hedda tried to push the door open, but to no avail. She began to feel feverish. Her mind wandered. Perspiration ran down her temples to mix with the tears on her cheeks. It got darker and darker until soon Hedda was grateful for the blackness that claimed her.

Suddenly she felt a cool cloth brushing her forehead. She was lying on the kitchen floor in the arms of Leopold, the woodcutter who worked all over the Black Forest. He was pressing a cool cloth on her forehead. “Miss Hedda,” he said, “I came for the blueberry strudel you promised, and I found you in the oven.”

Hedda was overwhelmed by feelings. Sadness that the children had betrayed her. Gratitude to Leopold for saving her. Happiness she was still alive.

Unfortunately, things got worse for Hedda. The children got to the constable before she did. The local newspaper editor interviewed them and believed their completely fabricated and twisted story.

Somehow, they became the victims! Hedda was the wicked witch of the forest, with her sweet cottage laid as a trap for unsuspecting children. They even said she lured them in to cook them for her supper! Ludicrous! Preposterous! Insane! She did later learn from Leopold that the children’s own father and stepmother were at their wit’s end with those two hellions! They sent them away as the children were out of control rebels who refused to obey. The children found Hedda.

Hedda was blamed for many missing children for miles around. Because she was isolated and a loner, she had no alibi. The only thing on her side was the authorities found no evidence. No charges could be brought. But that didn’t matter. The damage was done. Hedda would forever remain the hag of the forest in everyone’s eyes.

She often caught children and even at times, adults, peering at her from the edge of her fence line with binoculars. Her privacy was gone. A tour guide even showed curiosity-seekers where she lived and charged a pretty penny to do so! The braver ones snuck up to the cottage and began breaking pieces off of her baked goods and candies as souvenirs and trinkets. Her cottage soon was a shambles on the outside. She took the remaining sweets down and fed them to her friends, the forest animals. Her cottage would have to be a plain old cottage once again.

Leopold was her only friend. He knew the truth. He believed her. One day he asked her to marry him. She decided to accept the kind, handsome widower’s invitation. It would be better to get away.

She would have a purpose again. She would cook for Leopold. She would make them a happy home. She would try and forget the day that Hansel and Gretel stumbled onto her porch.

Mark Lehnertz–Stop Dropping the Cheetos

Mark Lehnertz–Stop Dropping the Cheetos

The humid summer heat of coastal Florida was fierce, when we stopped at a truck stop, mid afternoon, midweek for cold drinks and junk food. Not a semi in sight but several pickups and old cars, hugged the shade strip of the side wall. John and I went in, poured fountain drinks, the size requiring two hands or a one arm hug. I grabbed Cheetos, he got jerky. At the register we looked toward the man talking in the large open space of a room behind the counter. What the hell kinda minister wears a white robe, I wondered?

Several guys came in behind us. Half hustled around the counter to the back and sat in folding chairs, the rest fanned out behind us. I dropped the Cheetos from my drink-moistened hand, squatted to pick them up and the words delivered in a high-pitched, ungrammatical whine were:

RAY-SHE-ALL PEW-AIR-IT-TEA.

The tortured syllables slammed themselves back together in English as, racial purity. I stood back up and asked, “What?” and John elbowed me.

Repeating himself, the not-a-preacher shouted. “Racial Purity.”

A guy behind me shouted, “Yeah, purity.” I dropped the Cheetos, again, picked them up, and the man in the robe got all graphic about the racial relations.

“These degenerate, sub-humans want to stick their diseased members inside the sweet-young, innocent white girl’s VAH-JEAN-AHS. They want to leave their seed-of-Ham to fester and breed mongrelized children, to destroy the white race.”

After three or four more times of listening to his kinetic descriptions of the mechanics of sex, and another squat to pick up the Cheetos, I wondered if the man wrote erotica in his spare time. All the body parts were starting to make appearances: rough dark hands squeezed firm young breasts, raspy-haired bellies scratched smooth white skin, then on to lips and tongues, and, well, the man was getting pretty red in the face, himself.

The acne-shot long haired youths, and the scruffy cheeked mullet wearing twenty-somethings and the occasional fellow a decade older, all seemed to be leaning forward, drinking in the words of true belief.

John and I looked at each other, more peripherally than pointedly. Not unreasonably, the image rose in mind of the two of us being found later, strung up, dangling from the station awning by nooses made of air hoses. The Cheetos slipped from my sweaty grip.

“Stop dropping the Cheetos,” yelled a voice behind me.

Silence.

The man in the robe turned fully towards us.

“We got a problem out there?”

I cleared my throat.

“Uhh, yep.” As best as I could drawl. “We gotta pay for our stuff.”

The man’s eyes widened as some urge towards customer service and hospitality momentarily eclipsed the dire prophecy of racial death in a sea of dark carnality.

“Why, Bobby, can you ring them up?”

Bobby did, slightly undercharging us in the process.

We paid cash, thanked Bobby and a bit louder, the man in the robe.

“Come on back anytime. Always a pleasure to speak with true believers.”

We waved, picked up the questionable nutrition from the counter we should have been using all along and excused our way past the even larger audience behind us. No one followed. We got into the car.

John shook his head as he pulled out of the driveway.

“What?” I asked.

“We went in for junk food,” he waved his hand indicating our success, “and they threw in a side of cheesy-crackers.”

Ed Baran–Dark Eyes

Ed Baran– Dark Eyes
Yes, it was late, and it was cold, and it was snowing. But something was drawing me back. I sat, hunched over the wheel, staring out the back window through the rear-view mirror. I’d pulled off the road in front of the fire station where it was plowed, and sat in the snowy orange glow, looking for something I knew I couldn’t see from here, but I was sure was still there, something somewhere in the blackness behind me.

There was something back there.

The snow, the lateness of the hour, all told me it was time to go home now. The road would take me there, I wouldn’t even need to think about it. I’d driven this path that ran from the house to the hospital a hundred times. And this would be the last. So just get home, where it’s safe and warm. And empty and cold.

But there was something back there.

I pulled the car up to the road, argued awhile, then turned back in the direction I’d just come. I drove past the old grandfather oak. I knew it was before that. I drove by all the driveways, ridged shut by the first pass of the plow, slowing down to study the stone walls, the bushes, the ups and downs along the far side of the road where I saw what I saw.

Then…an upward jerk, and a downward fall of tan…and those beautiful large black eyes.

I pulled the car in close to the snowdrift on the far side of the road, set the flashers, and got out, walking across the road to join her. My boots thudded hollow against the snowpack, but went silent as I reached the swale along the other side. She watched me as I walked towards her. She moved her mouth a little and I stopped and tilted my ear in her direction. Then a stomping and a snapping of branches cracked through the brush above us, and she tried to pull herself up by her front legs. But her frozen, splayed haunches kept her pinned to the snow.

“Oh, sweetheart,” I said. Her black eyes pleaded. And I remembered the growing blackness around those other eyes as I said yes, and yes again, until I said the irrevocable no.

I bent in to see how I might help, but there was a movement again in the brush and I stopped.

Yes, for those eyes, I should fight, too.

A car pulled in slowly behind mine. The white tree bones flashed on-and-off red, on-and-off blue, and into the two white eye beams stepped a silhouette that walked straight at us.

“Was it you that hit it, sir?”

“No. I was coming along the other way and saw her, and turned around and came back.” I demonstrated with my hands. “Now that I’m here, I don’t know what I thought I was going to do.”

“Well, that’s all right, sir. We’ll take care of it.” We were standing together now, looking down at her in the swale, when behind us, another car slowed to a stop. It was painted the same as the first. But this one stayed silent, unlit, and unintroduced. “We’ll have to destroy it,” he said. And I saw that he wore a bullet-proof vest.

“You know, the heart runs out ahead of any sense, I guess.” I tried to help my meaning by pointing with my fingers.

“That’s understandable, sir,” and he took my elbow and walked me back to my car.

But it’s those eyes, you see, you want to take them home with you. They’re like stars in the sky!

There was a muffled pop, and I looked back. A greasy smudge rose up against the snow. In the swale, lay only stillness. And in the brush, a trail of cracking branches that moved away, into the cold.

Elizabeth Chambers–Ring Master

Elizabeth Chambers–Ring Master

“We call it the Post-Modern Renaissance. The Revivals of our past have the potential to replenish a society too caught up in the quest for order and efficiency to appreciate our chaotic roots—they are a cure for our insufferable obsession with numbers and facts, the cult-like obsession with the future and its preservation . . . The stories of the past weave the loose threads of the future. Without them, the fabric of life is nothing.”

—Director Antonio Remedia, at a press conference following the launch of Histrium Technologies

 

Emma jerked awake. Slowly, her eyes focused on the seat in front of her. She gripped the armrests of her chair and was surprised to feel her wrists strain against cold, metallic restraints. Her breath caught in her throat and she suppressed a cry of rising panic.

“Please remain seated,” calmly intoned a voice from nowhere.

Emma’s pale blue eyes widened, frantically looking up and scanning the seats around her, rows of gray-blue chairs with unsuspecting occupants who appeared to be sleeping. At the top of the wall to her right a narrow window ran along the length of the curved ceiling. She craned her neck, straining forward to glimpse at the blur outside.

“Please remain seated,” the voice repeated.

She shrank back, trying to steady her breathing. The chairs, the window, the voice . . . all of it so . . . so strange. Too smooth, too flat and gray. Emma abandoned her attempt at any lady-like composure and struggled against the restraints binding her wrists and ankles to her seat, wailing at the smooth, ungiving metal.

“Please hold still,” the voice advised dispassionately.

“No!” she cried, squirming in her seat. “I—surely I—”

“Please hold still.”

“What is this? Who are these people?”

“If you do not remain still you will be forcibly—”

“Where is my father? Where are we going?”

“—restrained,” the voice finished.

Emma felt an uncomfortable prick as a tiny silver needle punctured the white skin on the inside of her wrist, and her vision went black.

 

Spinning. Spinning. Spinning.

The Terratrak encircled Earth like a tight-fitting jeweled necklace, arcing across Eurasia and leaping into Alaska, draping down west North America and northern South America, spanning the mid-Atlantic and northern Africa to clasp the other end. The Trak had exactly one hundred individual tracks, the centum rings, each several hundred kilometers across and a perfect Mobius strip, with a magnetic track running along the entire edge. Each ring was then fused to the adjoining one, creating a perfect transportation network of modernized bullet trains travelling in and between the rings, the continuous edge of each Mobius strip eliminating any bottlenecks in the system.

Thousands of sleek white pods, like snow-white pigeons flocking to the natural lines of the magnetic field, coursed along the rings, held in place by the huge ferromagnetic braces alongside each lane. The center three lanes were trans-ring, travelling much faster than the outer lanes, which carried pods only within their centum ring.

Pod C73-V5-HT0312 carried its new arrivals within several hundred kilometers of their destination before two giant mechanical arms plucked if off lane five of the seventy-third centum ring and transferred it to the gleaming Histrium Technologies outpost of western United States. The pod doors aligned with the station’s, sliding open almost immediately. Released from her seat, Emma stood in the pod exit, gathering her skirts in her free hand, mouth agape.

 

The doctor laughed, fidgeting with the volume controls on his tablet. “No, of course you won’t die, not at all . . . Your device is functioning perfectly, Ms. Zaveri, as it always has,” he said. “No reason at all to be concerned. Besides, when was the last time someone died of anaerobic tendencies?”

Lina Zaveri stared at the sterile white of the ceiling, feeling a tingling spread through her chest as her med device began to whir back to life. She sighed in annoyance.

“You tell me, Doctor,” Lina replied, spitting out his title like it was an insult.

He paused uncomfortably. “Decades, I am sure. Even when the earliest models malfunctioned it was usually because of the battery used, since artificial heavy-atom elements were only stabilized enough to implant in someone’s chest in the early twenty-second century . . . Your Ununtrium battery, having sustained the device for nearly ten years, will undoubtedly not need replacing for at least another five.”

Lina felt the tingling spread down her arms, seeping into her fingertips.

“Reassuring,” she snorted.

“Either way,” he continued, “I appreciate your concerns, and your prudence in returning for a check-up, it has always been a pleasure to have the Zaveris here at . . .”

Lina closed her eyes and ignored his usual discourse of appreciation.

“ . . . still, I would advise that you check the battery levels regularly, especially if you are particularly active.”

She slowly sat up and brushed long, dark hair over her shoulder. “Thank you doctor. I have another engagement today, if you wouldn’t mind releasing me. I’m sure you are a busy man as well.” She raised an eyebrow pointedly, nodding at the tablet in his hands, which had kept up an incessant stream of chirping notifications throughout the visit until the doctor had silenced it.

“Ah, well. As you wish, Ms. Zaveri. You have transportation from the Center, I’m sure?”

Lina nodded. “I’ll have the front desk call my car.”

As soon as the doctor left she slipped into her clothes, wincing as she pulled her shirt over the battery, a flat disk attached to the skin over her left rib. She checked her reflection in the opaque screen embedded in the wall. Her shirt covered it. Nothing noticeable.

Her car was waiting out front. She climbed in and then leaned towards the dashboard.

“Computer, take me to the Histrium Tech ring station,” she commanded.

“Received,” it answered. “We will arrive in an estimated thirteen minutes.”

“That will be all.”

Lina pulled the safety belt across her lap as the car glided away from the hospital doors and started towards the Ring city throughway. The tickle in her chest was almost imperceptible. She sank into the reclining seat, asleep within seconds.

 

Spinning. Spinning. Spinning.

Under her left lung, connected to her stomach, the device that had been with Lina since she was a young girl began working faster, faster, to compensate for her jaunt through the long hospital halls. Like a miniscule nuclear reaction chamber embedded in her chest, molecules sped around the outer circle of the device in order to achieve the required precision for the reaction that is second nature to cells. It absorbed the oxygen molecules from her lungs and the glucose being broken down in her stomach. The decay of the rare radioactive element Ununtrium contained in a battery on her chest powered the reaction mimicking the respiration of ordinary cells, which would normally take the sugar molecules and oxidize them into ATP for muscle contraction. The whirring little device replaced her mitochondria, powering all aerobic activity fed by inhaled oxygen. Without it, her muscular activity reverted to the anaerobic stage, operating without oxygen like the end of a 100-meter dash, which the body can only maintain for a minute or two at the most.

 

Emma very nearly staggered into the station, thoroughly awed. She drew herself up to her full height, closed her gaping mouth, and surveyed the arched glass ceiling and low wall separating the unloading zone from reception. The rest of the shuttle occupants began to file out behind her, with a range of reactions.

A young, coquettish-looking girl—Dolores Haze—wandered over to an oddly waxy potted plant. Holden Caulfield slouched off the shuttle and meandered towards a lighted exit before two uniformed men blocked the door. A shabbily dressed man with shadows under his dark eyes—Raskolnikov—was studying the sign that read HISTRIUM TECHNOLOGIES WELCOMES YOU, in curiously illuminated letters. Emma’s gaze shifted to the commanding figure of Jay Gatsby, who strode up to a desk by the low wall and demanded, “Who is in charge in this establishment?”

Emma frowned. She caught the gaze of a pale young woman standing behind the barrier, who smiled coyly with scarlet lips and jerked her chin up to motion her closer. Emma narrowed her eyes indignantly and looked for somewhere else to turn, but uniformed employees with HISTRIUM TECHNOLOGIES emblazoned on their jackets had already begun attaching themselves to the men and women filing off the shuttle, escorting them to the other side of the room.

Emma approached a gap in the wall and walked towards the young woman who was, rather indecently, draped over the barrier.

“And you must be Miss Emma Woodhouse, am I right?” the woman drawled.

“Excuse me, but I believe we haven’t—”

“Quite the motley assort, coming in today. Regular library come to life.”

“I don’t believe I know—”

“Oh don’t bother,” Lina said with a biting laugh. “Let’s go to the car.”

“The what?”

 

Lina dragged her through the wide glass doors of the station and across a sidewalk embedded with glowing yellow arrows blinking towards the pick-up lane. The massive, lit expanse of the centum ring behind them bulwarked the descending night.

“Too bad you couldn’t see it by day,” Lina said, flicking a hand towards the lights of the Ring city.

Emma gasped at the lit grid rolling away at their feet in every direction. “Is this London?”

“’Course not!” Lina chuckled as they approached the car.

Impossibly sleek and low, it gleamed out of the dark like liquid mercury. The metal curved over the wheels as cold, dark water flows over river rocks. Lina moved around the stunned and immobilized Emma to open the passenger door. Emma jumped as Lina grabbed her forearm firmly and steered her onto the smooth black leather seat. A strap slid over her waist mechanically and the door locked with a soft click.

Lina sank into the driver’s seat, which swiveled towards the dashboard automatically after registering her weight.

“Computer,” she commanded, staring straight ahead. “Let me drive.”

“Who are you talking . . .” Emma stopped abruptly as the same silky-smooth voice from the shuttle replied,

“Manual control enabled. Would you like directions?”

“No, that will be all,” Lina answered. The display dimmed.

Emma froze and clutched the sides of her seat as the car glided forward soundlessly, as if the road, not the car, was moving.

Lina laughed again, her red lips looking almost black in the semi-darkness of the interior. “Amazed, are you?” she said to Emma, who simply gaped as the blue-white lights on either side of the highway glinted past.

She couldn’t tear her eyes away. “I—I . . . where are the horses?”

Lina snickered. “Long gone. This carriage is hydrogen fuel cell powered. And the computer—well, centuries ahead of your time, darlin’.”

Emma was silent as the lights blurring by dwindled, until they gave way completely to dark hills. “Where,” she ventured, “are we going?”

“Jackson, Wyoming,” Lina replied with mock grandeur. Emma looked blank. “Though I suppose you won’t know it as Jackson Hole, either, since it was incorporated after you lived.”

“After I lived?” Emma asked.

“Well, sure,” Lina replied.

Emma sighed and stared out the window. The car swerved around a corner and suddenly they were enveloped by high canyon walls blanketed by stands of bristling trees. She peered down as the road passed seamlessly over a river, roiling darkly below. They moved like a silver bullet, so fast that no sooner had she caught sight of a signpost or darkly outlined tree, it was snatched away, miles behind them. Emma’s eyes slid closed and she fell asleep against the cold window.

 

“Where are you parents?” Emma asked plaintively the next morning.

Lina snorted, an ugly sound completely at odds with the graceful elegance of her charcoal-gray clothes and long, heeled legs striding slowly down the sidewalk. Emma’s own legendary grace was diminished by her skittishness any time a silent car slid past or the streetlights blinked to a new color. Lina caught the wide, swept streets reflected in Emma’s frightened blue eyes, taking a perverse pleasure from her own complete ease in roaming the streets alone, broad daylight though it was.

“My parents? You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you,” Lina sneered back after a pause, smiling grimly at the thought of Lunar Surface Station Five and its newest visitors.

“Surely they wouldn’t leave you all alone?”

“Oh, surely they would.” Lina imitated Emma’s British accent and pulled her across the street into the town square. “I’m fine without them.”

“It hardly seems decent for a young—”

“Look, you’re here, aren’t you? To be my au pair, or companion, or teacher, or whatever the heck it is—” Lina fell silent as another walking historical figure strolled past, lace-fringed arm wrapped around an older woman in a tight synthetic suit.

“A teacher?” Emma asked. “Here, in your world—what would I be able to teach you?” She glanced up as Lina tugged her under the mossy antler arch and onto the immaculately trimmed grass of the square proper.

“Exactly. Nothing.” Lina crossed the lawn to a massive stump, and after brushing it off, sat on the edge. “Sit.”

Emma huffed. “I don’t feel it would be proper of—”

“Oh, shut it. If they hope you’ll teach me decency then they’ll be sorely disappointed. I’m going to explain this to you.”

Emma perched on the edge of the stump and folded her hands delicately in her lap, as if afraid she would touch the faded tree rings and they would ripple out to reach Lina’s own pale hand. The wood was smoothed from age, wide enough to function as a squat table.

Lina gestured to a graying woman in an old flower-print dress tut-tutting over a young, stricken-looking mother and her linen-clad son. “See? She—the older one—looks a bit out of place, wouldn’t you say? The picture of old feminine domesticity. Muslin dress, actual leather shoes. Holding all the ancient matriarchal wisdom. You know her?”

Emma shook her head, gazing intently at the woman. Wisps of silvery hair had escaped her bun and fallen over kind eyes.

“’Course not. She’s after your time, by a few decades. But that’s Clarissa Dalloway, in the flesh. Revived to bring back all these positively fantastic ideas about home and hearth and fresh flowers on the mantle. But no one even has mantles any more!” Lina kicked at the air, as if punctuating the statement.

“I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t follow,” Emma said. “Who is she?”

“She’s the protagonist from Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway.”

“But that’s absurd!”

“Funny you think so. It is kind of crazy, when you think about it. Book characters brought to life. But they couldn’t just rip historical figures right out of their place in the past, now could they? That would be like raping history or something. But books, well, their copyrights expired hundreds of years ago . . . and book characters, hey; they’re only the produce of minds. So who cares, right? They don’t really have a place in history, so no harm done bringing them to the future.”

“But that . . . why?” Emma faltered.

“To guide us, teach us, or something like that. A Buddha in your back pocket. Gandalf in your garden. Sherlock saves the day again! I must say Jane Austen is a favorite.” She winked at Emma. “Probably doesn’t mean anything to you. But some people will pay an awful lot of money to bring a few pages back to life.”

Lina’s watch chimed with a red light. She swiped the display to silence it. A thin sheen of sweat had broken out over her forehead as they continued their stroll through downtown Jackson.

“Yep, got it!” she cried. Emma glanced at her with delicately raised eyebrows.

“Yes?”

“Bikes! They just came out in the early eighteen hundreds, didn’t they? You probably wouldn’t have seen one . . . but whatever. I’ll teach you how to bike, and that will be one technology mastered.” Lina’s piercing eyes glowed almost malevolently. Emma looked skeptical.

Half an hour later they were wheeling a pair of rented bikes down the bike path. After another hour Emma tottered after Lina, who pedaled around a shaded corner of path and into a small, empty park. Lina slowed and stepped off her bike, leaning it up against a park bench. She gasped and clutched at the bench.

“I—I—look!” Emma cried, rounding the corner. “I—I can fly!”

Spinning. Spinning. Spinning.

Lina blinked, still leaning heavily on the wood. Her watch screen burned red. The wheels of the bike spun around and around, faster and faster. Lina clung to the bench panting, her eyes transfixed.

“I can—oh!” With barely a sound, the front tire hit a gnarled root pressing from under the asphalt and deflected to the left with a sharp yank of the handlebars. Emma had only cried out one syllable of unpleasant surprise before the bike dumped her onto the path with a shrug and lay in a metal-limbed heap. Her head hit the asphalt with a dull thwack and she was silent.

Closing her eyes, Lina laughed breathlessly. Then she pushed herself up and reeled towards Emma’s prone body.

“Ironic, isn’t it,” she said, as she ripped open the front of Emma’s blouse, “that it was nineteenth century technology that killed a piece of work like you.”

And then she reached into Emma’s metal chest and pulled out her battery.