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March 26, 2010 will mark the Daily Cabal’s third anniversary of posting brand new, very short, often wildly speculative fiction every single weekday, come Hell or high water, with about 800 stories posted to date. And we’re going to celebrate!

But we have no idea how, so there’s a contest.

THE CHALLENGE: We invite all Daily Cabal readers, supporters, wanderers, stumble-uponers, nay-sayers, and enemies to comment here with ideas for how we Cabalists can best express our elation at having survived another year. Some kind of flash fiction writing would probably to be involved, but apart from that it’s all open to whatever you can imagine. Give us a writing challenge, a theme, a restriction, a process, a warning, a command …

THE PRIZE: The person who submits the winning idea will be respectfully Tuckerized (inserted into the story) in multiple Daily Cabal posts according to any personal details that person is willing to divulge, whether those details are true or fanciful, clear or ambiguous.

THE DEADLINE: Put your ideas in the comments to this post by the end of the day Sunday, March 14th. To add a comment, click where it says “No comments” or “1 comment” etc. below.

Thanks to Luc for putting this announcement together!

The chicken settled into the in basket on my desk for lack of a better seat. He was clearly uncomfortable.

“I gather you’re here about your kind being killed for us to eat?” I said.

“Oh,” said the chicken. “So that part’s true. But–”

“Let me explain. When we kill a chicken–and by ‘we’ I mean some anonymous worker way off in a processing plant somewhere–we make most of the parts of that chicken into food. For instance, we might roast the whole chicken together–”

“After a decent funeral, I hope? No, I’m kidding. Sorry: nervous habit.”

I cleared my throat. The conversation was uncomfortable, but the chicken was more diplomatic than I’d been led to expect. “So we might roast the whole chicken, or we might use the breast meat in strips in one place and the wings in another … are you sure you’re all right?”

The chicken was scratching at the papers beneath him now, his feathers looking a little ruffled. “Honestly?” he said. “You aren’t quite the barbaric kind of creature I was expecting, but in a way this is worse. Your talk is pretty cold-blooded, for a mammal.”

“Well, unless we’re going to live on apples and tree nuts, we have to kill something, right?”

“But here we are, having a conversation … are you saying you’d just as soon eat me as talk with me? How do you justify that?”

“Listen, I’d love to see better treatment of your people while you’re alive, but it’s not as though you contemplate your impending doom the way a human would. And chickens don’t actually talk.”

“But … I can talk! Clearly your idea that chickens can’t talk is erroneous in some way.”

“You’re fictional. I don’t eat fictional chickens.”

“Uh … oh,” said the chicken. He spontaneously let out a kind of “buGAW!” noise, then looked embarrassed. “So that’s how it is?”

“That’s how it is.”

“This didn’t come out the way I was hoping.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll just let myself out, then.”

“Sounds good.” I smiled perfunctorily, and he flapped down to the floor. “Oh, and would you send in the Amazon rain forest on your way out? Thanks.”

It was a still sea that spat him forth, the surface as flat as a pond, the 
waters rank with dead sea-grass and the bloated bodies of fish.  There was no 
sun to herald his arrival, nothing but a faint spot somewhere above the 
slate-grey clouds.  
A jagged rock snagged his bobbing vessel, and the skin around him tore.  As he 
uncurled from his foetal position he found twin horns on his head, sharp and 
mean.  They made short work of the amniotic sac, and in moments he’d freed 
himself. 
Awareness.  Movement. 
He saw his body for the first time, drank in the enormity of his limbs, his 
height, touched his long snout and horns.  He was.  The newborn knelt in the 
motionless brine, sluicing the wreckage of skin and slime away from his matted 
fur. 
He cupped a handful of water in his broad hands, and lifting it above the murk 
he saw his own face reflected.  He was a bull-man, a hybrid of man and beast.  A 
minotaur.  While there were many blanks in his mind, these terms of reference 
came instantly to him.  
The child stood for a long moment in the shallows, pondered the desolate stretch 
of shore, the endless cliffs.  The beach was loose stone, here and there covered 
in thick drifts of dead sea-grass, white and crumbling to dust.  There’d been no 
high tide in months, if not years.  In moments he realised the concepts of tidal 
patterns, lunar cycles, the works. 
With some panic he realised that he was the only living thing on that desolate 
shore.  The world he’d just been born into had an ocean but no tides, death but 
no new life to make way for. 
‘I’m alone?’ he asked, voice a thick rumble.  It was a strong and deep sound.  
He cried out in fear, an animal bleat, the sound echoing against the cliff-face.  
As the sound faded, the beach was once again silent and still. 
Drawing a deep breath through the fat pipes of his nostrils, the bull-man found 
control.  He clambered ashore, the rocks doing little against the thick leather 
of his feet.  This shale shifted beneath his weight, but he kept his balance, 
shuffled forward.

So what if when the trapdoor opens the world is never the same. A tiny room with just 3 by 2 meter window. You don’t know where or when you are, but what you can’t figure out from signage and facial features is irrelevant.

Could be a screen, resolution being what it is these days. Don’t know if it’s the real world or if there even is a real world anymore. Not that the real world seemed real last time you checked.

Kneel under the 3×2. Put your hands in the wall-mounted silicone gloves, thick and squishy. A momentary disconnect when your arms extend through the wall, weird biofeedback tingle in your fingertips. Relax into the moment, searching the world outside for something – anything – to connect with. Vehicle lights are a blur of red and white blood cells. People stream by. Everything slows, masses become individuals. Contrast suddenly is.

Pop your gloved knuckles so loudly the sound echoes. Your eyes dart around. Salarymen, schoolgirls. Two seconds of decoding signs confirm it’s Japan. It’s like watching a kaitenzushi, that great conveyor of raw fish, rotate round (singing “the wheels of fish go round and round, round and round…”) and round. So many choices. Gotta start with one.

An office lady, thumbs racing over a phone keypad. Reach out and slap her tight-skirted ass. She stops, startled, looks around, sees nothing, shrugs it off, keeps going, dreams about it that night, imagines her long-ago high school English teacher, smiles, sleeps well. You relish in the afterglow of first love.

A stuck up blond Russian model type, hair sculpted with so much gel you don’t know how she holds her head up. Ruffle her hair and splay it out in all directions. She doesn’t look around, only screams, runs directly into the nearest convenience store, hides her head, remembers losing her metro pass in Moscow, struggling home in rain, beatings that followed, running away, drowning herself in another country and culture. You keep the adrenaline and shame.

A salaryman, staggering, tie loose, face red, combover uncombed over, cheap suit unruffled thanks to permanent miracle of polyester. You wrap your arms around him and hold him fast. He tries to pull away from the hug, eyes cast down, school bullies, failed diets, fear, the one girl who took pity on him in university. You let go and he pulls away, almost reluctantly, folds himself into the crowd and gives in to the familiar feeling of security, safety, anonymity. You’ll take those too.

Safety in anonymity in numbers in distance: for you this is everything. You are perfectly safe, yet alone. Trade-off. Weak smile.

You pull your hands from the gloves, slink down the ladder and close the trapdoor, sure to latch it good and tight, curl up, dream of connecting, in some small way, with someone, anyone, in any version of reality.

It’s enough for now.

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