Alex Dally MacFarlane

Angela Slatter
Daniel Braum
David Kopaska-Merkel
Edd Vick
H.P. Lovecraft
Jason Erik Lundberg
Jason Fischer
Jen Larsen
Jeremiah Tolbert
Jon Hansen
Jonathan Wood
Kat Beyer
Ken Brady
Luc Reid
Rudi Dornemann
Sara Genge
Susannah Mandel
Trent Walters

You walk into the room and fifteen seconds later my heart melts. It’s not beauty, though I can see from thousands of tagged pics that you look equally striking in a bikini or black dinner dress. Not wealth, even if a quick glance at your credit score, club memberships, vids of sliding seductively from a tan Bentley show you are doing quite well. Not family or education or place of birth. Exotic pedigrees are icing.

I love you for your friends.

I’d been here ten minutes and it already felt like a waste of time. A quick glance around the room showed a bland sea of black and white faces. They knew me, but I didn’t know them. A few I knew popped up pastel, info scrolling above their heads so I could quickly de-prioritize them. Laylines gave me connections and circles of interactions. Mostly blah. A few interesting people glowed warmly, colorful, inviting, but there were no clear connections. No one to introduce us.

I was about to say fuck it and head to a green tech party in the valley for farmed sushi and organic hemp beer when you lit the room with your brilliant glow, a beacon that scattered bright lines to the few luminaries present. All heads snapped around, and you posed for adulation. Everyone streamed vids to prove they were there, and you soaked it all up, beaming. I waited long enough to verify your identity, then simply stared.

The color of the room changes, and people look between us. Finally, you see me. When we lock eyes the lines between us arch over the crowd, entwining into one glowing band.

As I walk toward you the room flows around us, almost slow-mo, choreographed. A cinematic moment frozen in time that signals true love. People talk about connections, but how many have really experienced it? I pity generations who came before, trusting fleeting moments to chance, technology a distant and erratic dream. Why miss anything at all?

Your smile is reserved as I reach you. You’re so connected it makes me want you immediately. I want to party with sultans and crown princes, vacation on artificial islands, in underwater hotels, bridge cultural divides and branch out to the power centers of the Middle East. You want to connect with tech movers and shakers, current gods of new realities. We bring each other closer by degrees.

I reach out my hand and you do the same. We don’t have to speak. You learned everything about me in the time it took to cross the room. Ranch in Marin, stock portfolio, meetings in the White House rose garden, enviable friends list. Your smile widens to an inviting and wordless “I accept.”

Our first date is tomorrow. We’ll go to the most exclusive venue, so don’t worry; no one undesirable will get in. We’ll have an automated guest list.

So you can bring your friends.

Here’s this year’s installment in the series that includes A Winter’s Fantasy and

Uncle Cuthbert summoned us to his rooms in the North Wing. Edmund and I found him there, propped up on a heap of pillows with a lily-pad-pattern comforter pulled up to his chin and fires blazing on either side of the bedroom.

He was always sick, but we’d never seen him this bad.

“The countess assures me of your discretion,” he said, and we tried to act humble while he caught his breath. “I have… a task.”

He coughed several minutes before continuing. “The pond. Where I studied. Many years. Dangerous. In this cold. Creatures. Keep in. Walls up. Don’t…”

That was all he had strength for. His doctor wouldn’t let us wait for him to wake.

The woods were frigid — tree trunks coated with ice, path glazed slick. It was hard to walk, but not hard to find the pond. A little path led from the shack that had been Uncle Cuthbert’s research station.

We didn’t see any wall, although we tromped through the woods until our feet felt like stones. Pieces of glass lay everywhere on the ground, like windowpanes without windows. A few leaned up against trees.

“That could be a wall,” said Edmund.

We made quick work of it, setting up a wall of glass all around the pond, then hurrying home to thaw by the fire.

The glass was still there the next day; it must have worked.

It was getting dark. We’d worn warmer coats and triple socks, and thought we’d wait to see what we were holding back.

They lifted themselves from the pond around moonrise. Long fingers, long noses like icicles — they were icicles. When they rickety-walked closer, I could see air bubbles, trapped insects, and bits of water plants inside their transparent bodies.

I backed up. They could just slip through between the panes. But the glass distracted their sharp fingertips. They drew patterns on the glass, intricate, mesmerizing to them and us. I didn’t think we’d make it until morning — our coats weren’t that warm, and our socks were full of snow.

I couldn’t move my eyes, could barely move my hand. I found a rock. I don’t remember throwing it, just the crash, the shrieking, their icy-sharp fingers on the backs of our necks as we ran all the way back to the house, the shivers we couldn’t shake until summer.

Squatting on the bottom library step, the mousy, elfin-framed man named Arthur4 dusted his snake5-skin suit, glanced at his watch6, then adjusted his horned1-rims to watch an old woman6 wheeze and labor7 up the steps with a dolly that held his titanic8 stack of manuscript pages. She paused to catch her breath and pushed long tresses of gray hair out of her face.

“Cease wool-gathering, Miss Mykoytress.” His eyelids hooded to slits. “We haven’t words enough and time9 before I present my doctoral thesis.”

“Did you reproduce this thesis and read three-thousand pages of Remembrances?”

Art raised himself, as if slowly uncoiling his legs. “That facsimile records the achievements of the all-time greatest novel.”

“I read the first fifty before I realized I hadn’t read the first.”

He hissed, ready to strike.

“I reread it, realizing he taught himself to write on my time. I don’t have much left.”

Scenting the proverbial lost sheep’s weakness, Art flicked his forked-tongue7 and slithered7 up the steps to make the intellectual kill. “He had strapping male companions, one of whom Proust bought an airplane which the companion promptly crashed into the ocean. Proust never regained the time lost from the loss.”

“I prefer Of Mice and Men.” The tresses of her hair writhed and turned him to stone.


1 Pronounce Proust like Faust2 jousting it out with the metamorphosing Mephistopheles, whose elfin frame housed a Machiavellian mind that deluded the most casually espoused Marlowean/Goethean readers of Chairman Mao’s social policies.

2 The author uses assonance3 to demonstrate artfully4 the proper pronunciation.

3 The auctorial3 terms “ass-onance” and “pomp-ass” resonate like pans9 of Teflon-coated Freudian slips for the propensity to use overly erudite3 and pompous3 terms like “auctorial” in a flagrant flaunt of critical authority.10

4 The “author” impishly misdirects the reader with “Arthur” to obfuscate his identity slipping a devilishly deceptive “author” into the title.

5 The wise old woman archetype tempted into servitude by the wise old serpent male archetype.

6 Sly injection of the symbol of time.

7 Scathing indictment of the bourgeois laissez faire.

8 Double entendre alluding to the recyclable Greek myths and the ship that lost a thousand faces9. Note the juxtaposed conflation of a child’s and a man’s play toys: a doll-y and a ship (with phallic suggestion)–let alone the bio-ethical reproductive dilemma of cloning inherent in a “dolly.”

9 Marvel at the coy allusion to Andrew Marvell’s poem.

10 Never trust auctorial3 critical authority.

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