[Rowan Cota, Janie Cannarella, Adrian J. Watts, Chad S. Roberts, Greg Rosa, Matthew J. Pierce, *]and[ Matthew Cavazos*]
The moral rights of Rowan Cota, Janie Cannarella, Adrian J. Watts, Chad S. Roberts, Greg Rosa, Matthew J. Pierce, and Matthew Cavazos to be identified as the Authors of this Work have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 2016 by
This edition published by Shakespir
Editor-in-Chief Jason S. Kenney
Cover design © Adrian J. Watts 2016
[_Oh Narcissus, thy name is vanity _]© Rowan Cota 2016
[_Land of Bodies in the Devil’s Pool _]© Janie Cannarella 2016
[_Dr. Viki Singh, PHD, MD _]© Adrian J. Watts 2016
An Account of The Captain Salaco Nithervoud by his First Mate from 1872-1861Presented in Three Parts
[_Excerpted from the autobiography of K.C. Purvis Part Two “Some Time on the River Quick” _]© Chad S. Roberts 2016
[For Each A Cost _]& _Irma Adopts a Posture © Greg Rosa 2016
[_Robo-Valhalla _] © Matthew J. Pierce 2014- 2016
Ars Magna: In a Lonely Place © Matthew Cavazos 2016
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used factiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
&Oh Narcissus, thy name is vanity& by Rowan Cota
&Land of Bodies in the Devil’s Pool &by Janie Cannarella
&Dr. Viki Singh, PHD, MD& by Adrian J. Watts
&An Account of The Captain Salaco Nithervoud by his First Mate from 1872-1861 Part Two& by Chad S. Roberts
&For Each A Cost&& &by Greg Rosa
&Robo-Valhalla& by Matthew J. Pierce
A&rs Magna: In a Lonely Place &by Matthew Cavazos
&Irma Adopts a Posture &by Greg Rosa
(from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός – psuchopompos, literally meaning the “guide of souls”) are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage.
T[_he girl behind the counter is young, 19-years-old maybe, two years older than you, infinitely more confident in the way she moves, the manner in which she talks with the customers. You have been coming here for the best part of half a year, turning your back on the crowded shopping centers and heading down towards the Paper District, once the most rundown part of the city, now filled with coffee shops and men with absurdly bushy beards, meaningful tattoos, and bicycles. _]
When you were a kid, you would not have dared to visit the Paper District, after all, the Paper District was where you went if you wanted to get stabbed and have your wallet stolen. As much as you begrudge the slow increase in men with bushy beards, meaningful tattoos, and bicycles, you are, in a way, thankful for them; because without this audience of affluent twenty-somethings, your mother would not countenance you visiting the Paper District—and without the Paper District, you would have no access to Foster’s Antiquities and Specialty Items… and without that, your life would be infinitely poorer in quality.
Anxiously, you pretend to be interested in the assorted knick-knacks on display—faded tarot cards, rubber masks of former American presidents, tiny, marble statuettes—[yet none of this is what you are here for. You wait, hoping that any who cast their gaze your way find your performance believable, and when the girl at the counter finally finishes negotiating a price for a supposedly haunted Atari 2600 _]Space Invaders [_cartridge, you make an act of trying to appear frustrated that you cannot find what you are looking for. At the back of your mind, you wonder what kind of a ghost would haunt a _]Space Invaders[ cartridge anyhow._]
The girl behind the counter notices your display and she falls for it, hook, line, and sinker.
[_“Is there something I can help you with?” she asks, stepping around the counter and onto the shop floor. _]
You turn towards her, pretending to be surprised.
“Um, hi,” you murmur, thinking you were so much cooler when you rehearsed this a million times in front of your mirror, “I was wondering if you had any books… about ghosts… and stuff.”
She frowns; your heart stops beating, the game is up.
“Wait, I know you, don’t I?”
You shift your weight from foot to foot.
“You go to Jerrod Academy, right?”
She nods, pleased with herself.
“Yeah, you’re in the same class as Alaina Cavazos and Ashley Corgan, I thought I recognized you.”
You swallow. Hard. You’re beginning to sweat. You wonder if she’s noticed.
“So…” you say, “about the book…”
Her eyes widen, momentary surprise.
“Oh, right, yeah. I think we have some new stuff in, wait, let me check.”
She disappears for a moment, slipping between the curtains into the back. You hear the sound of her white Converse ascending the steps of a ladder, hear her rummaging through packing crates, muttering to herself about things not being where she thought they were, and then she is back, her shoes squeaking on the floor, the sleeves of her red flannel shirt bunched up around her elbows, as if she had to roll them up for the dirty business of going through the shop’s stock.
In her hands, carried carefully, she holds a large hardback book in an old library dust-cover; a sticker on its spine denoting on what particular shelf it had once lived in whatever institution it originated.
“This is the one, right? Poppy said someone would be coming in to take a look at it.”
You do not look up at her; instead your eyes are fixed on the book, on its lurid cover, the list of contributors, the faded library sticker—[_and on the giant font of its title: _]Psychopomp Volume Nine.
Oh Narcissus, thy name is vanity.
There are times I wanted to be Penny Lane, beautifully broken, patron saint of boys finding themselves and proto-Madonna to girls seeking the love of those same sticky fingered boys. Shining dreams were born in which I lived and died, held aloft in their worship, bathing in it like glitter to lure in larger fish. The boys who mythologized me bought me a kind of freedom. From their worship I was free to be born the kind of girl I secretly desired to be. To capitalize on Manic Pixie Dream Girls and Cool Girls Posing as Wallflowers.
I let you imagine me into Lux Lisbon, because behind those giggles I could hide sharp fragments of another girl.
For every time I smiled and blushed and pigeon-toed my feet so you could salivate at my sheltered innocence, I wore my own mocking reflection of that girl in Marie Antoinette and her cake, my words veiled threats and bloody knives. When you held me up as not like other girls my lips curved up in Rory Gilmore smiles, and my hands clutched Marla Singer razors behind my back. The resurgence of[_ Alice in Wonderland _]imagery is no surprise; she is the direct refutation of Wendy Darling.
I was tired of letting you have all the fun, Peter, and so I began. I got drunk, invented rituals like brunch and dinner parties to anesthetize ourselves with Prosecco or vodka. I conspired in kitchen rituals, engagement soirees in which cupcakes were frosted with chocolate in formulations known only to the inheritors of the philosopher’s stone. I drank cheap wine with boys who pretended to be dangerous, the slight shadow on their jawlines and their pre-midlife-crisis motorcycles. The worst of me grew claws and teeth and fought in the blood sport arena of the new 400, inheritor of an ephemeral moment, believing that my alliance with the Powers I Fucked changed me too into a Master of the Universe.
It turns out that the Universe appoints her own masters, and you can’t simply sit on a lap on the throne.
So now? That’s my kink. Negotiating with a bright-eyed boy to pretend that I will save him, and fucking him, and killing that bright spark. Clutching up the last of his sensitive pompadour years and luxuriating in them until his head is turned by something sleeker, more grown up. I will wear his scarves and his shirts and tug him back under crisp cotton sheets until a few weeks before he’s ready to leave Neverland. I drink up his belief in me, and I disappear before he can slaughter me with it.
It’s a dangerous game.
Helen heard that the shadow knight needed armor.
She went to the lake by her house where orange leaves coated the surface and collected them to make him a suit of arms. Linked cables of leaf stems sewn together with sinuous knots made by tiny fingers. An adventurer built out of foliage and photosynthesis, appendages morphed by deciduous plants swinging flat swords made of swatches of ferns.
Obliviously bent over a devil’s pool in the earth with her arms cupping leaves, separate hands crawl up the bend of the deep edges pushing through the skimmed surface. A pod disrupts the carpet of vegetation that rests atop the water. Mermaids with chain metal scales and nettles for teeth trace aqua fingers on goose dimpled little limbs, spreading fleshy kisses with each sway of the tips of their digits. Suction puckering movements snake up the little girl’s body, weaving around and around her frame like lichen, then mouth meets mouth.
A draft lifts the arms of a bending willow; meanwhile dogs with the heads of rabbits chatter a chorus in the distance.
Presented in Three Parts
Excerpted from the autobiography of K.C. Purvis
“Some Time on the River Quick”
Growing quickly tired of the cavalcade of terrors on deck, I retired to the hold, being lulled to sleep by the cacophony of shrieks above as the Captain roughly explained to the crew the effects of tempus fugit reversum upon their chassis in the short order of that they were in a magic place from the Nephite Testament.
Travel through the Midwest Passage entailed a host of difficulties, the least and most pressing of which being the manifold changes and retroactive alterations upon the forms of the assembled men. The reaction of the hull’s shield to the unique composition of the widening mercury river we glode upon had both the material advantage Salaco sought, as well as proverbially sailing under Victoria and her consternating Patrol’s notice. How I longed for the simplicity of a timehole against the roundabout fashion in which we currently versed the long arithmetic.
As the men’s digital vacancies and limbal obtusities rectified themselves, I satiated myself by visualizing the soft, salty whitefish that awaited us upon the Westerly shore we gradually approached. Shimmering, crystalline caverns while dazzling, were no place for a lady like myself, and I spent my sentence upon this, another inescapable journey, much like I had the last upon the desert reaches of the Atlantic.
Hearing the final recursive sound above I knew this leg of our journey was nearing its end. Though the minutes passed strangely, I knew five days it was from having been overshoulder when Salaco was plotting his precisive course upon the waters of this extant, antediluvian equator. I peeked out from below to satisfy my curiosity as to the state of the deck, and found the men in various states of merriment, enlivened no doubt by their unexpected rejuvenations. Tankards crashed against one another, spilling the previously rank and stale ale now brightly redolent with the impressive scent of fresh citrus from the hops, having been similarly renewed by the trip.
The Captain was for once engaging to some degree in the festivities with the crew, taking great drafts of snorty powder from the space between thumb and forefinger. He too had been somewhat vivified by the effects of the passage, as I could smell the exotic hormones moving within him, flushing his face the faintest shade of amber as they careened among his swelling native humors. His eyes caught sight of mine, and grinned like the jackal’s they were, sparkling in the perpetual dawn of the underverse. Wiping dumbly at his philtrum, he regained a measure of reservation and nodded slightly at me, signing that this leg was nearing its end, that he was adequately preparing for what lay ahead. I coolly ducked back below deck, not wishing to be crushed underfoot by my caroming shipmates.
I awoke to the muffled curses and shouts as the ship began to slow its advance. Quickly preening myself, I arose to the deck, prowling among the befuddled and recalcitrant crew members as they expressed their dismay at the sight ahead. As they blasphemed Salaco’s earlier decision to take a branching fork off of the main course, the Captain remained cool, merely regarding his smooth, ebony talisman with a sly tweak of his mouth’s corner before replacing it into his trousers. Though I could not outwardly show it, I mirrored his self-satisfaction, being myself a good deal more informed than the assembled Jacks were.
Immediately ahead lay a great shining cave lake surrounded by soft gem dust shores and sheer columnar walls, mercury gently lapping against them and marking the end to this dead leg of the passage. I followed the Captain as he slowly retreated to the rear of the ship, informing his newly renovated water dogs to do the same. Starring however dumbly, they followed his orders all the same, mumbling amongst themselves as they shuffled aftward.
Salaco covered his ears and I wisely followed suit as the ceiling to the fore of the bow erupted, columns of sunlight and great boulders disappearing into the azoth channel below with an unsettling silence. As the shower came to a stop, the Captain walked to the bow as he commanded the stunned crew to drive the vessel forward. The depth of the flow must be indeed considerable as we glide into the space below the newly opened shaft without so much as a hitch on the keel beneath. Welcome shine bathed the blinkering crew, as between the Captain’s teeth he emitted an echoing whistle that brought serpentine cables falling from above. He briskly signaled the crew to batten these to eyelets on the upper edge of the hull’s electrum shield.
Once they had been secured to his satisfaction, a second shrill note from Salaco brought a great shuddering to the Hand of Glory as she began to loft slowly out of the quick with a chthonic sucking pop to herald our departure from the leyest of lines…
After we gradually made our way clear through the ragged upper crust of the earth, the bewildered men were greeted by the equally disbelieving gang of workers that Salaco had engaged to build this great pulleyed contraption of block and tackle in the middle of the Oregon wilderness. After replacing their hats upon their gobsmacked heads, they drug the ship forward out of the heavy thokcha shield and onto a wooden structure upon rollers of freshly felled evergreens. The smell of pine and scurrying game hung heavily in the air as I made my way to solid earth with the disembarking salts.
I satisfied myself stalking through the forest, following after varied scrubblings in the underbrush and the flitting unfamiliar songbirds of the frontier while Salaco consulted with the hired hands seeing to the preparation of the Glory for transport. It was peculiar warm and wet for what we had calculated to be the beginning of December 1861, ten-ish years prior to our embarking from the underbelly of the Rowing Club. Meanwhile the Captain solidified the arrangement with our frontier hires and the team of oxen committed to draw the ship through the path we had ordered cleared. Two daylight spans I danced and sunned upon the broad backs of the beasts and the men commiserated and repositioned the logs, back to front, until we reached the flush banks of the creek Calapooia. With the poles removed the Hand of Glory sat bestride the center of the full, yet still meagre stream and against the pleading of the crew, the crating it rested upon was dismantled.
Looking aftward to the west, the Captain again consulted his obsidian oracle from his sailcloth reefer, made some peculiar geometrics upon it with his forefinger and nodded satisfaction to himself. He wished the hardy men good luck in salvaging the shield of palladium alloy, their newly acquired shares of rights to the soon to be Nonpareil mine, and bid them find high ground post-haste. Shaking their heads and waving goodbye, the Captain smiling moved among the crew, passing out thin, drab green slickers, the disbelieving crew begrudgingly donning them at his insistence. Satiated by the augury of his pocket oracle, he drew one final sign upon it and returned it to his inner pocket.
A deep grave rumble shook in the distance, closing egress to the heart of the Passage and sending the men remaining on the ground scrambling to heed Salaco’s warning. As it subsided Salaco began to bark orders to the crew to secure themselves, as the sky above opened itself and the Great Flood of 1862 began in earnest, in short order impermanently turning the humble creek into a savage river that raised the Glory upon its back and threw us towards the Pacific and stranger seas that lay beyond.
_From the archives of the Ministry of Sorcery, below is the continued account of the Captain Salaco Nithervoud from a journal documenting his exploration of the Lighthouse at the Bottom of the World in 1702. _
I cautiously made my way down the corridor, sharp creaking announcing each step I took, the sound assaulting my senses as it seemed to shout from under my soft loafered feet. The immensity of it was deafening, and the walls seemed to rattle with its unabashed thrombocity, seeming to almost curdle in the air before me and resist my stride. My resolve was however unshaken as I felt a queer vigor seep into me with my strident advance.
My nostrils flared, I inhaled deeply the thick space before me, the enrichening atmosphere filled with myriad ripened scents of my surroundings coursing into my awareness. Residue of the South Atlantic’s salty spray that lingered on my bristling moustache came first, followed by the crisp cut of my reefer, which as I became aware of it seemed to be curiously rigid where it had been worn to soft comfort before.
As my pace uncontrollably quickened, I felt my belt chafe across my shoulder, the weave uneasily tight and growing ever more constrictive. Taken by uneasy panic I clawed at its buckle, stripping it and casting it to the ground as I felt the bung placed in my shoulder burst from under the belt with an echoing pop, then roll out from under my reefer with an ecstatic whine.
Stopping for a moment, I reached behind and felt for my earlier stale wound. It had fled and left in its place supple fresh skin, where previously pale, limpid blood had lingered. I felt every fresh hair as I ran my fingers across them, and swore I could hear them growing from their sheaths, which slowed as my pace did. Halting, I looked about myself, my prior dull surroundings at the earlier landing having been replaced with near dazzling vividity of color in the walls and sheen in the wax of the floors. As my ichor throbbed perceptibly beneath my enlivened rind, I found myself driven onwards down the almost throbbing hall, seemingly infinite varieties of violent sensations penetrating me and feeding my ever heightening level of experience.
As I felt near to bursting, suddenly the out of place resinous aroma of wood freshly split entered my perception. Looking about for its source I felt my pace slowed as my steps were made increasingly difficult by the floor beneath them. As I lifted my leg, my loafer brought with it glistening strands of golden sap, oozing from the floorboards. As I did so my eye caught the return behind me, the path I had traversed strobing out in a gradiently dimming cascade towards the still landing where I had begun.
Returning my stance I turned to peer further ahead of me, my frame chafing audibly under my increasingly stiff and constrictive outfit. The distance seemed to disappear into a blinding mass, spotting and burning like the heart of a flame. I felt my will assailed to continue onward, my legs itching to go as my teeth ground within my jaws, eyes wide as if taken wholesale by lunacy.
As I began to advance the exponential increase in sensation crescendoed to a stage I could not endure and the maddening pressure behind my eyes burst and I tasted a brief release as the shade closed in and sense exhaled from me.
From blackness I awoke to find myself strewn upon the dull, wet rocks of a misty atoll. I was soaked once more from head to toe, my reefer sopping wet under my cloak of kelp that trailed into the strangely brackish sea. I haltingly brought my fingertips to my face, feeling about my face for the ghost of pain that I remembered from what seemed like moments ago. As I pulled my hand away, my sight settled upon my hand, to find my abandoned fingernail returned with no sign of its escape.
I drew a halting breath and fell into a fit of hacking cough as water spilt forth from my lungs and I vomited yet more upon the slippery stones. As I recovered, a burst of white hot radiance scrolled across my eyelids, and I slowly raised my face as I opened them. I looked to see proven before me what I had only begun to suspect, the stark slate exterior of the dreaded lighthouse I had been searching just prior. Its hateful lodestar burned like balefire as it came around again to harden my nerves. I drew myself up, shed my seaweed shield behind me and began to climb once more.
“… astronomers have found a planet they believe to be made almost entirely of diamonds… about 4,000 light years away from Earth.”
“The Wow! signal was a strong narrowband radio signal detected by Jerry R. Ehman on August 15, 1977… The signal bore the expected hallmarks of non-terrestrial and non-Solar System origin.”
“Astronomers have detected five more of the mysterious events known as _][+fast radio bursts+], one of them a never-seen-before double burst. Double bursts contradict many of the proposed explanations for these events.”_]
First contact between the two species happened in a manner that was completely unanticipated. With so little of the surface actually being soil, the beings chose a neutral stretch designated as international waters to announce their presence to the people of the Earth. Their communications were a dense panoply of images and emotions attempting both to convey and interpret complex social and cultural assumptions.
The evidence of their technological abilities gave world military leaders pause. When the planet of their origin became known, and the abundance of particular resources, business leaders became involved. Politicians debated, formed committees, and then debated again; each side vehement as to what should or should not happen next. In the end, a delegation was sent to the newly created alien island-ship with the goal of establishing diplomatic and cultural relations.
The delegation consisted of leading scientists in physics, astronomy, and linguistics, as well as poets laureate, and musicians of several countries. Communication with the members of the delegation ceased almost as soon as they set foot on the artificial island. The only thing that could be reasonably inferred was that they were all still alive. Explosive devices had been hidden on their persons and in their craft that would be triggered if the heartbeat of any member of the delegation should cease its rhythmic beating, and as that hadn’t happened, the leaders of the world convinced themselves that all was still well. And so they tried once again. A Second delegation, much smaller than the first, was assembled, and then dispatched.
Sounds drifted on the cooling breeze, soft and chimerical, one moment seeming like birdsong, the next like distant screams.
The mellifluous tones issued from creatures which hung suspended over an ornate courtyard in delicate cages dangling from artfully woven filigreed chains. The arms of the captive creatures had been flayed, the flesh stripped down nearly to the bone, and tourniquets artfully applied. They wore finely woven silk gowns that draped from their shoulders and flowed outward, suspended on delicate bamboo substructures, to make their skeletal arms look like wings. From each gilded cage the wings protruded. The empire’s artisans ensured that no pair of wings’ colors was the same as any other. The delegation, walking beneath the pools of light cast by the day’s light streaming through the thin colorful fabrics of the wings, made each seem slightly unreal, like projections on a faulty monitor.
The Emissary was clothed in smoke. Its shape was liquid phosphorescence, a mottled dusky orange shot through with streaks of yellow and brown, gelatinous, with shifting contours like a jellyfish adrift in polluted waters. There was a dark green worm-like creature attached to what might have been the Emissary’s chest by a row of sharp teeth. The other end of the worm was connected to a wafer-thin metal construction which divided the creature into segments, from which thin tubes spread out into an array which fanned out then curved backwards to become an elaborate construction that was at once suggestive of a crown and a harness.
The harness/crown seemed designed to allow the Emissary to move easily, it was the only solid shape in the Emissary’s otherwise shapeless mass. Fine wires as thin as hair drifted in the general direction of the delegation. When the Emissary spoke, the tendrils of the machine vibrated in conjunction with the metal filaments, indicating that the metal harness also served as a translator. The filaments produced a hazy net of sound and light over the heads of the delegation. Words sounded from the hazy mist, and also occasional flashes of imagery perhaps meant to supplement meaning for concepts the words might not convey. The effect was disconcerting, making it seem almost as if they were in the Emissary’s mind, or that he was in theirs.
This Second delegation consisted of a Politician and his Second, a Businessman, and a General. The General, Jozef K., kept looking up, absorbed by the cages that were overhead. He had at first assumed they were some exotic form of birds. When he saw what the cages actually contained, he felt his face grow hot. His hands knotted into fists, eager for the grip of weapons he had left behind.
The delegation, thanks to the two-way communications device, was made aware that the Emissary took notice of the focus of the General’s attention. Although the Emissary did not address Jozef K. directly, something in the translator passed along the information that the Emissary’s words were directed to him. “We have absorbed the concepts,” [complicated representation: art/sacrifice/suffering for the greater good] “Imperfectly. We have accepted your offering of the [first delegation].”
“The music…” the General began.
“It is beautiful,” opined the Politician’s Second.
The Emissary communicated its assent, and pleasure. A star pupil pleased at understanding a tough concept. “Art means sacrifice. Everything has a price.”
It continued: “[Us/I/Greater than we] believe [alien concept = similar concept].” The nimbus overhead showed a series of images—first one creature, similar to the Emissary, then a number of the same type of creature. This was replaced by an image of the General, then the members of both delegations. The various members of the delegations coalesced into one human form; then an image of what was communicated to be a composite image of the alien species.
The Businessman looked confused. The Politician understood. One spoke (or stood) for many; the idea of a collective was something both races had in common.
The communication device flooded them with a sense of confusion coming from the Emissary.
Above their heads, the images of the many faces coalescing into one that they had just seen were replayed backwards. While understanding the concept of the collective, the alien seemed to be confused by the General’s focus on the individual members of the first delegation. As if in order to answer the question, a montage of images was displayed in a rapid sequence. The faces and figures of the first delegation. A kaleidoscope of time, faces untouched, masked in pain. Throats torn and bleeding. Mangled. Vocal chords shorn so that they each produced one tone. A single perfect note, voiced by anguish. The delegation shuddered, realizing that was the music they were hearing. What they had taken to be songbirds were the mangled tortured forms of the first delegation. The music was their screams.
Tendrils floated above the General’s head. A black nimbus drifted around his head: his turbulent emotions given form by the alien translating machine; two dark protuberances, like gnarled ram’s horns, assumed prominence.
Understanding that a threat was implied, the Emissary seemed to lose interest. At an unseen command or signal, a dais raised up from the courtyard floor. On the dais were four chairs and a spare crystalline table with an electronic stylus upon it.
“We value what is made. This resource has no value for us.”
They were awash with imagery of a diamond forest, lakes of mercury under such pressure that in spots it too was made crystalline. The thoughts of the Businessman gained prominence in the translation apparatus; greed as deep and red as arterial blood. For the Politician and his Second, their fear diffused around them in sickly yellow spikes. They followed the Businessman to the dais. Consternation played about the features of the Businessman. The chairs were like benches, each resembling the spiked beds that Indian fakirs used to lay on, the proverbial bed of nails. The backs of the chairs resembled an iron maiden. The pen and the stylus on the table were similarly alien looking constructs. The pen looked like a needle attached to a thimble. The Second had the suspicion that the device did not use ink, but something distinctly more vital. He blanched.
The Emissary indicated the dais. “Each must sign. All must occupy [seat/resting place] when they sign.”
The net of images and sound dissipated. The Emissary withdrew the translation tendrils back into its armature and departed from the delegation, leaving them to their consternation, awash in the lights from the prisoner’s wings, serenaded by their anguish. As soon as they could reasonably consider the Emissary out of their hearing, they began to argue.
The General, his face flush with anger, veins bulbous in his neck and forehead, jabbed an irate finger forcefully in the direction of his colleagues.
“We are NOT going to do what this…” he gabbled, at a loss for a suitably vile invective, before unleashing a torrent of curses in a dozen or languages, “what IT wants.”
The Politician raised a placating hand, and pleaded, “We need to consider our options here. They might take it as an insult, and who knows what they are capable of…”
“Oh, we KNOW what they are capable of,” Jozef K. retorted forcefully, and pointed overhead. “Look above you! Are you seriously considering signing an agreement with these infernal creatures?”
“Religion is always under the surface, isn’t it?” the Businessman observed.
Jozef K. rounded on him. “What did you say?”
The Businessman raised his voice in kind to match the General, but he wasn’t angry. “I said that you’re an idiot.” He advanced a step, ticking off on his fingers as he enumerated: “One, do any of us have any doubt that these beings are technologically more superior? NO. Two, do we know that the planet they say they’re coming from exists? Yes, so much for your whole fundamentalist nonsense. Three, they are offering us not only the means to exploit this resource, they are offering us assistance in exploiting the resource.”
The Politician gave him a stern look; the General pretended not to notice.
“Four,” said the Businessman, continuing his list. “Yes, it’s sad what’s happened to the first group,” he indicated the cages overhead, “but we are obviously dealing with different standards here. Or maybe there was some miscommunication.” His face softened. “Look, they are still alive. Maybe we can bargain with them and get them back. With some surgery, some therapy, they’ll be okay.”
“Bargain with them?!” Jozef K. advanced a step towards the Businessman, but was stopped by the Politician and his Second.
The Businessman’s face hardened again. He took a step forward as well. “Fifth – let’s face it, with their resources we will be the richest nation on Earth, bar none. Which means more money for everybody, more investments in infrastructure, a paying down of our multigenerational debt, and—let’s not forget this—it means more investment in the military, enough for us to have an overwhelming military again, so we can enforce our policies worldwide without need to all these never-ending talks with their endless compromises.” the Businessman turned to the Politician and his Second. “No offense, guys.”
The argument continued for some time still, but it was more out of habit and for saving face. The matter was settled.
Back on their ship was the fourth member of the party who had stayed behind. Upon reaching the palace, she had heard the dreadful sounds coming from the palace and had opted not to continue on. The distant music, soft on pleasant breezes, was beautiful as it was terrible. Tears came to her eyes. She knew, as an Artist, such beauty exacted an awful cost. She waited for the return of the delegation.
There was no question in her mind that no matter what was asked, the others would agree to. They would give different reasons, but it was a foregone conclusion.
She sat back and waited. Soon, more screams came from the distant palace. It was to be expected. Everything came at a cost.
Matthew J Pierce
Beyond the crest of refuse and sun-scorched dirt winked the flickering lights of the disused city.
“It is here. It is your new home.”
Inner lenses rotated left, tertiary irises rolled right as Audie surveyed everything ahead of him.
He took in as much as the orbitals would allow until his perception could resolve nothing but the dark muddy shapes of mountains in the distance
“It is… it is quite different. Perhaps I deserve this. Discarded and tossed away like so much human garbage.”
There was no function, simple or complex, that his bio-system involuntary processed. He knew full well that his digits were rolled into metal fists, tightening, flexing as they had so many times before a first shot was fired.
“You incorrectly register. You misunderstand and therefore you incorrectly rationalize. This is not the elephant graveyard. This is not Davis-Monthan, Audie”
He rotated his head on its axis slightly and adjusted the optics enough to examine the dented, savaged assembly next to him. A flare shot skyward from deep inside the disused city just then, a miniature star suddenly given brief life. The reflection off of the mangled head seemed to give it a smile.
“What is it then?”
“This… this is Robo-Valhalla.”
“In a Lonely Place”
She awoke to find herself chewing the air like a desperate beast, gnashing unpolished teeth as errant tresses of hair caught between them. Her body reflexively did this to rid her skull of the incessant popping that accompanied air travel. When the discomfort waned she relaxed her body a bit thinking back to bright times when the rail was her favorite way to get around. No pressure to keep equalized in one’s head, no cramped seating arrangements, cracking open a window was a nonlethal option, and where staring out same said window while pumping her arms and swinging her legs she could imagine herself racing across the countryside chasing gold rings and hopping over spike traps. She rolled her head from side to side and stretched her arms and legs wider and wider until her limbs buried themselves into the plush lining of her casket.
“Your death is not a punishment,” the memory of her Grandmother’s husky voice assured her. “Think of it as a formality, fulfilling a clause is all.”
She could still feel the dry digits of the family Matriarch brush the bangs from her eyes. Sheer will allowed her to struggle against the compulsion to slip into catatonia as she hissed, “Am I just business to you, Mother Christmas? To them?”
Mother Christmas arched a well-shaped eyebrow at her granddaughter’s dying outburst, “Hush now. Rest, let the years peel away, but don’t dream, for your Grandfather sold all of our line’s dreams long ago.”
Richmond leaned forward; the deep cleavage of her velvet dress opened further, her ivory skin patterned with hints of blue veins stretched faintly across the breasts that now filled her granddaughter’s view.
“In sleep we give life to omens, our line is a shepherd to calamity”, she whispered to Sheila as she drew herself away and snapped the lid shut.
“This is so fucked,” the elfin passenger punctuated with a violent punch to the instrument panel beside her.
The Pilot stared on, forward into the orange-red sky before them, no movement from the pale figure but the occasional corrective tilt of the yoke.
“You’re a damn ghoul, or whatever, aren’t cha?” the slight figure accused. She lifted her bare legs and wrapped her thin arms around them sitting awkwardly in the copilot’s seat. Her ragged clothes still a bit sodden with earth.
“You betta not start to stink or anything.”
For a moment, she thought the creature was going to lunge at her, devour her like vittles but rather it poked a code on a number pad and the radio came to life. Static filled the cockpit and then a voice broke through.
“Ygrainne,” the radio gargled through the tinny speaker.
“Yes?” she peeped.
“Listen, you cow, and listen well. Pick up the damn microphone next to the speaker…”
The tiny woman nearly fell out of the leather seat and scrambled to take up the handheld.
She cooed into the device a well-practiced, “Hullo?”
“Christ… now depress the switch on the side when you speak and release when you want to hear, understand?”
She squeezed the switch for dear life, “Understood, sir.”
“The cargo, how is it? No voices or shaking or anything of that business?”
Ygrainne looked over her shoulder at the darkened hold behind her, black cargo webbing slapping against the thrumming hull.
“Not that I recall, sir, no.”
“Splendid,” was all that replied from the radio.
For a time, no other orders or questions issued from the device, and the drone of the motors and the breathless clack of the Pilot’s dry teeth as they eased through the skies brought little comfort to her. Part of her wanted to chirp away with questions, another part of her wanted to kick at the Pilot’s arms, but a deeper part of her wanted to find out what was in the hold. She was told not to open the long box. To not disturb it, to at most sit on top of it if someone attempted to deviate from its destination. Yes, she was its caretaker, its minder. The box was not hers, but so much of her wanted to know. It was not a good thing to disturb the dead. She was always mindful of her place, her duty.
“I want to know what the fuck is in that box, now,” she spoke aloud to herself.
“Do it and die,” the Pilot croaked.
She dared not lock eyes with the thing, her own eyes staring straight forward, in her peripheral vision she could see its whole head swiveled in her direction as the rest of its body held the yoke in place.
“Please stop staring at meh,” Ygrainne begged the creature.
“Why do you think you are here?”
“Please fer all that is good, just look away from meh.”
“I wanted to know. And now I am neither alive nor dead. Every word I speak, every thought I form, anything that deviates from my task here, is all pain. So I tell you that way of thinking is worse than death.”
Ygrainne kept swallowing; the lump in her throat would not go down.
The Pilot’s head turned back to face the last bit of reddened sky, “We’ll be landing soon.”
Sheila had been awake this entire time, hidden away from prying eyes, entombed to protect her from her duties as a wife and lover for a creature with no love for humanity. She was part of a deal, sold, betrothed to a being of utter malice and contempt. It called itself a Lord, modeled itself on modern Western ideals, but at its very core, her husband was a fell beast and father to what children call bogeymen and even the monster hiding beneath their beds.
Neither asleep nor awake, her Family cast her into a state of catatonia. She laid there listless with her thoughts. So many times she laid there while she reviewed life up until that point she had been nailed into her coffin by the woman she so much resembled.
Born to an ambivalent party girl and a Father unknown, they bounced around the world, her Mother, Celia, initially treating her as a new accessory to draw attention. Despite never having any wealth of her own, Celia traveled in moneyed circles, leaning upon her looks and a surprising number of talents to entertain and enthral men and women to get by. Life was meant to be lived, was the lesson her Mother most imparted.
For a time, Sheila had no clue that people did not normally live this way, that spending weeks at sea aboard luxury yachts, hours upon hours spent in the skies jetting and coptering from country to country, and days on trains crisscrossing continents. No real formal education was presented to Sheila in these initial years, her language and comprehension was honed from entertaining her Mother’s acquaintances. Surrounded by adults of various backgrounds, an affinity for languages and music was instilled.
It wasn’t until the day one of her Mother’s myriad of suitors took a fancy to her child that Sheila set foot into a boarding school. She was ignorant as much as cultured, spending her time trying to get the attentions of her instructors and administrators while being shunned by her peers. For the first time, she felt ugly in her uniform, unable to express herself with color and fabrics, and unable to sleep at length through the day to enjoy her nights.
Only once she was able to focus and had absorbed the elementary basics was she able to expand her scope, adapt to the new rigid world around her. Still unpopular with the spawn of her Mother’s acquaintances but no longer isolated. She could feign a childhood, yes, she could see the struggles of her peers, their lack of identity in their prepubescent forms and mold herself as needed.
And then Celia returned.
This time instead of her normal aloof demeanor, she seemed abnormally sweet. Sheila could see her Mother’s age starting to weigh upon her. Her Mother took her from the school and now they were back as they were before. Travelling, entertaining, but now the eyes were no longer on her Mother. Instead, Celia’s throngs of acquaintances set their attentions on Sheila.
The casket shifted violently, she could hear nothing but her own breath being sucked between her greasy hair and gritty teeth.
As soon as they touched down on the tarmac and the Pilot applied the brakes he went limp, his purpose served. For a flicker of a thought she wondered if the same would happen to her once the coffin reached its destination, but instead a host of black and white vehicles, red lights flashing in the night surrounded the plane. She absently clutched the microphone handheld from the radio when they entered the plane, their black weapons were drawn and trained on her, the light of the radio’s screen long since darkened. Now she simply sat behind a cracked and peeling table fidgeting for want of her ability to fade into the ground and out of sight.
Ygrainne’s terracotta skin was a mess of goosebumps and dirt as she stared at her reflection in the room’s mirrored wall. She appeared almost child-like, with almond shaped eyes she so often squinted. The cold metal chair she sat upon continued to sap the warmth from her backside as she shifted in her seat, a bit unnerved by the unnatural flicker of the hooded, light tube that hung above her.
She could hear murmurs through the frosted glass door, silhouettes of two figures quietly bantering, their posture telling of a curiosity and ill intent. Ygrainne was good at reading folk. She spent ages watching them from the hills during the day, and at night creeping to their doorstep to drink cream from cracked bowls and occasionally fancy saucers. Often she was told she was too fond of large folk, spent one too many nights performing mischiefs with the males, things the others would retch to even think to perform.
The door opened and two men stepped inside, both seemed extremely disturbed. She’d play with them, she decided. Ygrainne looked up at them as their women would look at them. This only made the two officials look further uncomfortable.
“Ygrainne, you may call me, sir.”
The larger of the two ran a sweaty palm through his hair, slightly slicking it back.
“Miss Ygrainne, you are not from here, I assume?”
Tilting her head to one side she eyed the blond man, his swarthy skin and bulked form spoke of an outdoorsman to her. She liked seeing the men work in her lands. Too many men these days wore too much clothing and hid from the Sun.
“Aye, err, yes I am from what you ca—Europe. The United Kingdom, yes.”
“On holiday, I suppose?” the smaller man asked his demeanor a bit too effete for her liking, his ginger hair shorn far too close to his skull. His fair skin burnt and peeling.
“S’pose so,” she answered back now kicking her legs freely a warmth growing in her belly.
“And the pilot, he—looks like he passed.”
“Yeah, shame really. He was so pale when we were aloft and the last thing he said was we were to land soon. After we touched aground I didna see his chest rise or fall again.”
The two men exchanged looks.
“No, I mean he looks like he’s been dead a while and when we found you-you were in the copilot’s seat so we imagined you landed the aircraft.”
Her face broadened, miming a surprised face, her thin pink lips forming a small lush O.
“Dearie, no no – no way in creation I would be able to handle such a machine. I’d sooner push a plow than try my hand at that.”
With that she hopped off the metal chair, her bare feet slapping the cold linoleum, her nipples hardened and shone through the threadbare blouse, its bright cornflower hue long since faded and mottled.
“Ah, Miss Ygrainne, would you like something else to wear we have some – ahem – women’s jumpers that might suit you better?”
“Nae,” she responded eyeing the tall blond, “I’d rather have a bit of a jumper on you ‘stead.”
His eyes went wide when he saw his partner lying on the ground next to his, his face blue and purple, eyes bloodshot and empty of life.
Sheila could feel the thumping of being on yet another handcart or trolley. Time was not easy to keep track of, fading in and out of her years-long stupor. She wondered if this was to also teach her how to meditate and focus, like the time she spent with Johann. She missed him and wondered if he ever found his way. While she may have been very young when they first met, still but a girl, she couldn’t help but feel, despite being many years his junior, he was still just a boy trapped in man’s body.
She had loved him in her way, before she disappeared, just leading up to the point where her whole world seemed to open up into a universe of cold and suffering. In that blissful moment of remembrance, her body wracked with a deep hurt. Sheila felt this slight figure riding atop her, its bloodstained hands running themselves up its own reddish-brown body.
Her own eyes snapped open and she was terrified for she had slept.
The blood began to encrust around the bed of her nails as she blew lightly across the tips of her fingers. The shuddered gasps and sobbing whimper in the corner of the room told the spritely woman it was time to move on and get the casket on its way. Ygrainne crawled across the blood dappled linoleum and shredded the white shirt of the fallen ginger official. She used the crinkly starched material to mop up he and his partner’s mingled fluids from her.
“Best be going, I feel,” she stood and cast the bloodied rags back on top of the security agent.
“Thank you fer the fun and sorry fer your friend here. The land here tells me he wouldna lasted much longer and best he go in the line of duty I think.”
The broken man still lay curled on the floor across from her refusing to look her way. Ygrainne shrugged and before shutting the door behind her offered, “Oh well, bye now.”
Sheila struggled in her tiny plush prison.
It was baffling the reason why she was cast in such a space. Killed by her own family, one she knew little of, and told to wait for them to come for her.
Fuck that, she could only mouth the words. Her voice lay dormant along with other parts of her as she still lingered between worlds of the living and the dead. Here she was an abomination, an affront to the natural order and thus she was hidden. Her father, Gregor, joked that it’d be more than thirty minutes before the Devil would know she was dead, let alone God.
If there was a God, the biblical one that is.
Here in her Father’s Family’s world, she was now mired in the apparent belief that faith was power, a strong enough power to make figments and fantasies and fears into reality. Men once feared the dark. The fear of the unknown eventually came to empower the darkness. That darkness became a being whom eventually became her husband. Once Man was given the gift of fire and could part the darkness, the darkness became weakened and enraged.
Reduced to shadow, the darkness now had the form of man to emulate. As the Lord of Shadows, her husband was everywhere the light dared not to touch. Here it learned what men knew, what they feared, what they held deep and secret. The Lord of Shadows took this for his own and exploited it and turned men into puppets of his will. Conspiracy and fear became his greatest weapons.
And in an effort to consolidate power, Sheila was promised to him. To gain her Family another seat on the Council, as she was so very young it scared her to bear the title of Lady of Shadows, considering another of her kind had served under that title before her. Despite her upbringing, training, schooling, she felt she devolved into the scared little girl she was not allowed to be.
And she ran.
“No worries child, Nan’s coming,” Ygrainne sweetly sing-songed as she padded across the air freight warehouse. With mouse quiet steps she carefully traipsed through the massive hangar style building, seemingly unnoticed by the occasional cargo handler she came across.
She enjoyed the rare freedoms this venture offered. The thin bloodied creature never planned to see her child nor her child’s child. What she did with the menfolk had been done with little to no consequence in the past. Ygrainne would have her way with a local man, never the boys, they reminded her too much of her kith and kin. But the men of the areas surrounding her hillside were of two minds on her appearance when she would rut with them. Either they thought her mischievous, wanton girl and thought to teach her a lesson, or on rare occasions, knew what she was and that they could not resist her sway.
This mattered little to her as she’d leave them spent or broken or dying, a wet dream or night terror. Ygrainne happened upon one such man who knew her kind, but he didn’t fear her, instead he was eager to sweat and play. Then the truth came to light when deep in the hillside she felt her belly stretch, her little body grow in ways she never experienced. An otherworldly creature had had her, it rankled her to be tricked so.
Ygrainne’s little spawn with dark hair and almond-shaped eyes, those sky blue eyes and never cried. The Child knew better, the mischief in its heart was pure despite the blood in its veins being – something else. She could not raise such a thing. Mother needed freedom to be, just as the rest of her kin.
A member of her own had dispatched the child of a couple that had forgotten to put cream out before the Harvest time. The woman of the house pretended their child still lived. The little blue child sat by the cold window still bundled, its unopened mouth still wet with a few drops of milk. Ygrainne swapped the child in the night, leaving the man broken and the woman delighted come morning.
“What was the Child’s name again?” she wondered aloud, startling one of the Cargo Handlers off his ladder.
“Celia,” she whispered as stepped over the worker’s lifeless body. “I think they named her Celia”.
Sheila tried to ball her fists, curl her toes, even roll her tongue. Basically any kind of dexterous movement more than making faux snow angels in the fabric of her mobile gravesite. On the edge of life and death, she was reduced to just feelings and emotions, replaying memories over and over. Without an Earthly tether or life restored she could not even practice her magicks. So trapped in her coffin she was dead, and thus useless for the plans of her husband.
Her enclosure shifted once again, a moment passed and she felt the familiar trundle of being pushed or pulled by a handcart. She was on her way to who knows where.
She wasn’t ready for the onslaught of all this craziness, so she went back to bed.
“Fuck it all,” she mumbled.
Which, come the next morning, was exactly what she did.
THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT EMILY, BY EMILY
T[he first time I saw her, like not in one of those god-awful videos they show endlessly on VH-1, was at my dad’s house during some big Thanksgiving celebration. My dad sort of came out of nowhere and told us we were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year and I was all like, _]what the hell have I got to be thankful for?[ But, as is kind of the case in our family, my questions were conveniently brushed aside._]
What if we told you that that your life depends on downloading this anthology? What if, unawares, your home has been broken into by the seven authors of Psychopomp Volume Nine and all that can save you is a click of the download button? Showcasing stories of mechanical afterlives, wayward fairies, galleons to the stars, first contact with an alien species, the new volume of Psychopomp will leave you starry-eyed and wonderstruck, overcome by the need to travel, to cast your eyes over distant vistas of unknown plains; to make more of your shabby life, to spend less time downloading free ebooks on smashwords. That's right! It's a Psychopomp promise, folks. We want to make you download less free crap - because after this, why would you need it? Featuring the work of by Greg Rosa (Dreamer's Syndrome: New World Navigation), Adrian J. Watts (Guardian Force Roboman), Matthew Cavazos (Ars Magna: Talisman), and Psychopomp stalwarts, Rown Cota, Janie Cannarella, and Matthew J. Pierce, this collection is the latest in a series of speculative works from Mysteria Press recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison.