Wishes fluttered around us with the snow. I held out my hands, cup-curved, and tried to catch one. Throughout the square, men, women and children did the same–hoping they would catch their own, which was the best luck of all, or that theirs would fall into the hands of someone who would understand, someone who would say Yes and grant it.
I had little to wish for this year. My son grew strong, my husband’s back had recovered and when the ground thawed he would return to our spice fields. War had not come to our province in five years. Perhaps I should have wished for my sister to fall pregnant again with a baby that would not die only days out of the womb; but no, that was her wish to make.
War would come and go regardless of wishes. We all knew that.
Looking down at my snow-flecked and spice-stained hands–red and orange and yellow between the grooves in my palms, and the colours would not fade no matter how hard I scrubbed–I saw a wish. Black letters in the curves and dots of our script covered the paper-scrap.
A final kiss, before I depart for Aratavi.
My hand shook, a little.
I imagined the person who might have stood in line earlier in the day, waiting to write his or her wish so that it could be scattered by our town’s priest. Knowing that soon the journey to Aratavi must be begun–a journey to search for the remains of a loved one. People went to Aratavi during peace-time for no other reason. And in the marshes and pools, rife with the stream-women and algae-men who had killed so many of us, many found only their own grave.
Yes, I thought.
I rubbed paprika on my lips.
One by one, I kissed every person in the square. I left red marks in my wake. That way, I knew who I had yet to step up to, smiling kindly before I pressed my lips against their cheek, their brow.
An hour after the priest scattered our wishes, the bell tolled again, signifying that the previous year had transitioned into the current. I had kissed every man, woman and child.
I would never know whose wish landed in my hands. There was the man who touched my hair, briefly, before I moved on; the woman who whispered Thank you when I kissed the fist-shaped bruise on her chin; the man who wept silently through the hour. Perhaps it was one of them, but perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. I granted the wish.
And my own wish, also: Happiness, in whatever dose possible.
Jake jerked his head up. He’d been drooling. He wiped his face on his sleeve, looked around, then saw the message flashing on the screen. The scanning electron microscope had finally finished pumping down. They really needed that new machine.
He groggily clicked thru the startup procedure, finally got an image of the sample. One am. He had 6 hours left till anyone else had the machine scheduled.
Zoom in, focus, zoom in, focus, Jake was reading license plates before it registered that he’d imaged a city on an antarctic meteorite. One of those meteorites that, mineralogically, seemed to have come from Mars.
Jake excitedly scanned the rock surface. The city covered a good part of it. This was incredible! Forget the thesis. Nature, Science, a Nobel prize!
Jake feverishly scanned and photographed streets full of dwellings, temples, public buildings, focusing in on smaller and smaller details. Fountains, park benches, things that could be statues or streetlights, even people. Hundreds of people, all froxen in place, the monochromatic SEM display reminding him of the ash people of Pompeii.
“This stupid machine,” Jake grumbled. No matter how he focused or adjusted the stigmation he could not resolve facial features. He became obsessed with getting the perfect shot. Backscatter electrons didn’t help. He tried an alternative view and suddenly, one of the faces swam into focus. It had a pair of wide-spaced oblong eyes, a thin, sharp nose, and a wide mouth. The martian looked up at Jake, beckoned with a finger.
Jake began to doubt, for the first time, that he was awake.
“I don’t know,” Sara said. “Jake was supposed to be on overnight. I unlocked the door, and the place was a mess.”
“Ew. His clothes are here.” Jili poked her foot at the crumpled jeans and T-shirt that lay on the floor between the chair and the SEM. The worksurface was littered with empty Mountain Dew cans, candy wrappers, and a spiral notebook, open to a blank page. “He doesn’t use a laptop?”
“No, and it doesn’t even look like he was working last night. He didn’t take any photographs. Do you suppose he ran out of here naked?”
Jili woke up the screen. “He’s got a sample in there, but at such a high power and so out of focus you can’t see a thing. Well, let’s clean up and get to work.”
When Kat Beyer lost the use of her hands in 1999, she decided that shouldn’t stop her. She writes with speech software, and her hands have healed enough to paint. She has published with Circlet Press, Strange Horizons, and others. Check out her website, complete with gallery, links to writings, favorite single malt scotch, and “Wasabi for the mind, ” at www.katspaw.com.
Ken is multiple kinds of geek: writing, film making, virtual worlds, video games, music, cars, motorcycles, and computers. His publications include Analog, Writers of the Future, Strange Horizons, Talebones, Darker Matter, Fortean Bureau, Ideomancer, Weird Tales, Midnight Street, Modern Magic, The William and Mary Review, Rosebud, Science Fiction World, Exquisite Corpuscle, and others. He’s also sold some stage plays, a screenplay, and produced an award-winning feature film. There are rumors he may be making more films soon.
He lives in Tokyo with his wife, Yuki – a manga artist — and runs a company that creates virtual world and social media strategies. Sometimes, people force him to speak at conferences.
His website is irregularly updated. Someone should really do something about this, don’t you think? Alternately, you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Quillpill, LinkedIn, Naymz, and occasionally MySpace and Friendster.
Daniel Braum likes his fiction to take him to places on the edge of civilization, or anywhere near or far where the darkness needs a little light or vice versa. His stories often blur the lines between genres, most of the time unintentionally. His short stories can be found in print in places such as Cemetery Dance, Electric Velocipede, and Full Unit Hook Up and online at sites such as the Fortean Bureau, Abyss and Apex, and Dark Recesses. He is very happy to be in such good company with the diverse and talented authors here at the Cabal. He is currently shopping for a publisher for his first novel, a supernatural thriller set in Central America. Visit him at www.danielbraum.com and www.livejournal.com/danielbraum.
What we know of the Rudi Dornemann has come has been passed down through the generations of storytellers, from father to son and from mother to daughter since the days before the Dark Times. The tale-tellers speak of how the Rudi’s fiction appeared in various magazines, some of which were fashioned from the skins of ancient creatures called trees, others of which were made of a more ethereal substance — some chronicles speak of webs, others of vast systems of tubes. The names of these magazines have come down to us like the words of some incantation — Behind the Wainscot, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, The Fortean Bureau, Flytrap, Ideomancer/, Rabid Transit: Menagerie, and others. Some of the legends tell of the Rudi’s home in a place called “Maine”– an Atlantis-like locale said to be located somewhere off the coast of Vermont. A few of the tales relate that he had a thing called a website and others speak of his blog.
Sara Genge lives in Madrid, Spain. She writes speculative fiction aided and abetted by a coven of friends and female relatives. She’s walked the Camino de Santiago and spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Paris. Sara even saw a gnome once, but it was after a week of sleep deprivation and sixteen hours of studying, so she’s not sure if it wore a pointed red hat or not. Her blog is regularly updated.
David C. Kopaska-Merkel was born in Charlottesville Virginia in 1872. He attended Redhill school until the fourth grade, but dropped out after only 18 years without completing high school. He took to electronics like a duck to water, once the field was invented, and quickly developed a machine that allowed him to become his own great-great-grandfather. He later tried his hand at fiction but, realistically, it was too unbelievable. So he became a ghostwriter for scientific reports. In his spare time he specializes in yak pedicures and appraisals of stuffed marmots. He lives in a quarter million dollar condo a half a block from the railroad tracks, with a flock of seagulls and a couple of minor inconveniences.
Jason Erik Lundberg is an American expatriate living in Singapore, and the author of The Time Traveler’s Son (2008), Four Seasons in One Day (2003, with Janet Chui), and over forty articles and short stories; he is also the co-editor of Scattered, Covered, Smothered (2004) and A Field Guide to Surreal Botany (2008). His solo work has most recently appeared (or will soon) in Polyphony 7, Subterranean Magazine, Sybil’s Garage, Farrago’s Wainscot, Hot Metal Bridge, and other groovy venues. His short fiction has been honorably mentioned in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, nominated for the SLF Fountain Award, and shortlisted for the Brenda L. Smart Award for Short Fiction. With Janet Chui, Lundberg runs Two Cranes Press, an independent publishing atelier. A graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and the Creative Writing Master’s program at North Carolina State University, he now teaches English and creative writing at Hwa Chong Institution. His website and blog can be found at jasonlundberg.net.
Susannah Mandel enjoys poetry, bicycling, comic books, movies, languages, and landscapes — in fact with the proper priming she can enjoy just about anything. She is especially hot on science fiction, and looking at things. Susannah has degrees in English literature and media studies (and it may not be over yet), and has worked in research, editing, translation, teaching and linguistics. After time in northern California, Boston, and the north of France, she now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She publishes a regular column at Strange Horizons about the fantastic in classic literature.
Alex Dally MacFarlane has been writing ever since the discovery of computer games made her think that if stories could be found on a 32-bit cartridge, why not in the mind of an eleven-year-old girl? Now she works just outside London, England, proof-reading military specifications. Her short fiction has sold to magazines including Shimmer, Sybil’s Garage and Farrago’s Wainscot, and she guest-edited the Five Senses issue of Behind the Wainscot. Visit her at http://alankria.livejournal.com.
Luc Reid is a past winner of the Writers of the Future Contest and the founder of the online neo-pro writers group Codex. His first book, Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures was published in 2006. He created and writes for a site with practical articles about how self-motivation works called The Willpower Engine and recently completed a free-to-copy eBook on writing motivation called The Writing Engine: A Practical Guide to Writing Motivation. Luc lives in Williston, Vermont. His Web site is www.lucreid.com.
Angela Slatter is a Brisbane-based writer, schlepping her way through life. Her short fiction has appeared in places such as Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Shimmer, The Lifted Brow, Strange Tales II, 2012, Crimson Highway, Dreaming Again and a few small disreputable bars in London. She likes fairytales and thinks the creepier they are, the better. She is working on a couple of novels, but the one taking her time at the moment is set in Jerusalem during the last years of the Crusader Kingdom – it’s always 1187 in her head.
Jeremiah Tolbert is a web designer, photographer, and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. His stories have appeared in Interzone, Ideomancer, Polyphony 4, and All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories. He is responsible for the design and maintenance of the Daily Cabal site, so if anything goes wrong, you know who to blame. He blogs on photography, science news, and more at his website.
Edd Vick, the son of a pirate father and a baking mogul mother, is a 2002 graduate of the Clarion SF Writing Workshop. He has had several stories published in Asimov’s SF Magazine. Other magazines to publish his work include Electric Velocipede, Tales of the Tai-Pan Universe, and Jim Baen’s Universe. Anthologies with stories by Edd include Fundamentally Challenged, Distant Planes, and Northwest Passages. He lives in Seattle with SF novelist Amy Thomson and their adopted daughter Katie. Visit him at eddvick.livejournal.com.
Trent makes his living taking drugs for the DEA. Unlike most Americans, he walks to work every day with a spring in his step. His work appeared in The Golden Age SF anthology, Electric Velocipede, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and BSFA’s Vector. Online work can be found at 3am Magazine, The Angler, EOTU, Lamination Colony, Pindledyboz, Vacancy (audio). Forthcoming are works in Full Unit Hookup, Grendelsong, Legends of the Mountain State, Triangulation, and Visual Journeys. Also forthcoming from Morpo Press, a poetry chapbook called Learning the Ropes. He is the poetry editor of Abyss and Apex.
Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. He writes odd little things that show up in odd little places, like Weird Tales, Fantasy Magazine, Farrago’s Wainscot, and Behind the Wainscot. It’s also forthcoming in Chizine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and several anthologies, including Crawlspace: The Best of Farrago’s Wainscot, and Hatter Bones.
Consensus molds reality. Why isn’t there a manifest God? No consensus! For every Baptist sure of Christ’s divinity, someone else fervently believes the opposite. Even two people who sit together in church don’t worship the same God. They may suppose they do, but ha! Six billion unique concepts cancel each other out. But you can game the system.
I decided to create the perfect partner for myself. I didn’t worry about official records. No one really cares about those. I made a Facebook page, Twitter account, LiveJournal, personal website, even a couple of T-shirt designs at Café Press. I invented a small business complete with everything except a product. (She’s a consultant; I left it vague.) Building a girlfriend from the bottom up, so to speak, kept me occupied. I posted elaborate descriptions of our dates. Natalie was so busy, I told my friends, that she didn’t have time to meet them in the flesh. She confirmed this in stressed-out posts on her blog.
Soon I was the biggest problem, because only I knew she wasn’t real! As time went by, more and more people added their increments of belief. Then my sister emailed.
“Invited Natalie for lunch,” Charlotte said, “it was so nice to finally meet her.” Um…what? I hadn’t even answered Charlotte’s invitation. That night my mother texted that she and Natalie were planning a joint shopping expedition. I stopped writing messages “from Natalie.” Didn’t matter. Everyone kept getting them, except me. I suspected a joke, even thought about ways to catch the perpetrators.
Then I realized I’d fallen into a trap. I couldn’t believe in a conspiracy. I had to believe all these messages were from the real Natalie. Only then could that become true. I took a few days off. I didn’t eat or sleep. I posted reminder notes from Natalie all over the apartment. I dug out unused Christmas cards, addressed them to Natalie and myself, and put them all over. I constantly repeated things like “don’t forget Natalie wants low-fat milk.” Pretty soon I was so hungry and so short on sleep that the distinction between reality and myth almost completely disappeared.
I woke up on the living room floor, dizzy with hunger. The TV mumbled. I smelled pizza.
“Dinner’s here,” Natalie called. “Hurry up, I have to be at the airport in an hour.”
“Coming!” I struggled to my feet. Better wash my face for our first date.