Plugs

Ken Brady’s latest story, “Walkers of the Deep Blue Sea and Sky” appears in the Exquisite Corpuscle anthology, edited by Jay Lake and Frank Wu.

Trent Walters, poetry editor at A&A, has a chapbook, Learning the Ropes, from Morpo Press.

Sara Genge’s story “Godtouched” may be found in Strange Horizons.

Jason Fischer has a story appearing in Jack Dann’s new anthology Dreaming Again.

Archive for the ‘Masker’ Category

In the Bleak Midwinter

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Following yesterday’s “Masker.”

The drummer drums.

I march. I sing

Behind us is a procession of ghosts, all singing the song that won’t leave my head as long as I wear this mask, the same mask they also wear. All of us marching in time to the drum, up and down a series of hills through unbroken snow.

I force a word out between teeth gritted against chattering. “Where?” It’s the next hill before I manage another: “Going?”

The drummer points with the human thigh bone he’s been using for a beater and the whole parade is still. On the top of the next hill, a human-shaped, tree-tall figure stands against the half-risen moon, which shines waveringly through it–a statue of glass?

Up the final, steepest hill and the statue turns out to be ice, a colossus with a tangle of white cloth in the depths where its heart should be. The ghosts march past me, silent now, and ring the statue. The drummer doffs his hat in an exaggerated bow, as if he wants me to step forward. He taps the drumhead lightly, twice, and my feet move me into the circle.

The ghosts reach out, mouthing the song I can’t hear in my head anymore.

That tangle of the cloth, I realize, is an angel, its wings in tight like a dead bird’s.

I reach out and the ice burns my palm. I’ve forgotten the song.

The ghosts are still silent, but watching their exaggerated enunciation brings the slightest whisper to my mind and I croak a single tentative note, then another, the tune gathering force until I’m shouting the refrain.

The statue shatters to splinters. The moon ignites like a circle of paper, becomes the sun. The angel, freed, falls forward in a slow-motion tumble, cradling a burning clock in its arms. Just before it hits the ground, the angel convulses its wings in a downbeat with a sound like thunder, and it’s gone.

The drummer collapses in a heap of rags, and I tear the mask from my face. I can remember my name.

In the strengthening light, I recognize this hilltop, a couple miles from the family and life I left behind. The ghosts fade–not ghosts, but echoes of this same ritual carried out in previous years, by previous maskers, as a trace of me will return, I’m sure.

I hurry home while, somewhere above, the clock still burns.

Masker

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I don’t remember the stairs down, or grabbing my coat, or going out, but I’m part of the procession now. Masked and singing, we walk in a line through the snow. We sing the song that I’ve been hearing in my head since I first put on the mask a few weeks ago, the words that came clearer as the solstice approached.

Repeated for hours, the words become nonsense, then seem to mean something else. My fellow marchers are blurred as if by tears, no matter how much I blink, and there are no tracks in the snow but my own and the drummer’s. After a mile or two, I realize I’ve forgotten my name, and every other memory that isn’t about the mask or the procession is a distant as a dream lost on waking. The wind blowing the drummer’s clothes shows he’s skeleton thin. He grins with all his teeth.

I keep singing, even though I don’t know how much sound makes it past my scarf, which is pulled up over my freezing nose. The ghost-wind stings my eyes and there are frozen clumps of tears along the bottom of my mask. If I don’t keep singing, I know they’ll find me in a snowbank when the spring melt comes, and I wonder if that’s who the rest of the marchers are–recipients of the same mask, who sang and marched until the winter overcame them, and can’t help but come back to walk the longest night.

I can’t stop singing the words that are pulled out of me in an unending thread. And I’m running because I can see the sun’s glow, and I keep running, because the procession will end when it’s up, but the sun gets halfway over the horizon, then I swear it’s going down again, and there are hills, each valley a pocket of night, but we charge up the next incline hoping the sun will be higher, and I can’t tell, it should be up by now, I keep running, and then, at the crest of one hill, it’s the moon, not the sun, and I don’t know how many hours we still have to go. The beat of my heart, and the beat of the drum in time with it, slows back to marching. My feet are stumps of ice.

The drummer drums. I march.

The drummer grins. I sing.

Continued tomorrow with “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

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