Tyranny of the Inanimate
By Charles Patrick Brownson
His conflict with the Thing-World had gotten out of hand. This morning, before leaving his hotel room in Atlanta, he'd stubbed his toe on a chair while staggering to the bathroom. Having just awoken and feeling grumpy from the effects of jetlag, he was certain the chair had deliberately, and inconspicuously, extended itself across his path.
Then the zipper broke in the pants he'd selected for the day. While preparing a cup of coffee using the complimentary packet of grounds, the single-cup, drip-style machine went berserk, pissing fresh brewed gourmet coffee all over itself. This was punctuated by another stub of his toe on the way to the bathroom for a towel. But the worst attack occurred when he tried opening the drapes of his hotel room window.
The moment he gripped the pull-cord he sensed its malicious intent as it wrapped around his arm like a snake. And nothing happened when he pulled to draw the curtains apart. He pulled again, swearing underneath his breath. He jerked it a third time and the curtain rod snapped, the drapes collapsing upon his head. Screws skittered here and there across the floor as the entire contraption ripped from its mounts, sending a cloud of plaster dust into the air.
Vexed with the notion that the entire universe had conspired against him, he exploded into a fit of rage. Cursing, he disentangled himself from the drapery cloth, grabbed the metal curtain rod and bent it over his knee. He might have carried on with his rampage, destroying every visible Thing in the hotel room if it weren’t for a knock at the door. The female voice announcing itself as housekeeping startled him. He lurched about the sunlit room like a vampire searching for slivers of shadow.
After boarding a plane back home to Seattle, his iPod stopped working. He'd charged it before leaving the hotel room specifically to avoid this kind of situation. He turned it off, then back on again, but all it did was rest in his palm with its light blinking. Eventually there wasn't even a blinking light. The device was dead. So much for finishing that audio book, he thought. It was going to be a long flight.
Now, more than ever, he was convinced of the malicious powers of the inanimate, as described by the philosophy of Resistentialism. He was no philosopher, but he liked to read a lot. Some time ago, he happened upon a magazine article from the 1940’s that first proposed the idea of hostile objects.
A parody of the French existentialist movement, the article's tongue-in-cheek nature wasn’t entirely lost on him. He knew the author never meant anyone to take Resistentialism seriously, yet he couldn’t help but acknowledge some feasibility to the author's claims. Despite the stark absurdity of espousing a theory fabricated solely for satirical purposes, he'd felt compelled to concede the assumptions as inarguable.
Angry about having no audio book to listen to, he pulled the ear buds from his ears, shoved the iPod into the pocket of his jacket, and tried calming his nerves by reassuring himself that the malfunctioning device was nothing more than the result of a random glitch. He tried convincing himself that there was no such thing as the Thing-World, but it wasn't easy. Moving from belief to unbelief, he realized, wasn't going to happen as simply as his next plane transfer.
All of a sudden, his drink tray unfolded. Falling from the recess in the back of the seat in front of him, it collapsed onto his knees. Abruptly, he slammed the drink tray back into its stowed position and swore at the top of his lungs.
Realizing his mistake, and not wanting anyone to perceive him as a threat, he muttered a sheepish apology to his seatmates before they had a chance to wave down a flight attendant. Except nobody was paying attention.
As it turned out, the collapsing drink tray had been the first sign that the plane was in trouble. Across the aisle, a woman's meal had spilled into her lap. Ahead of him, he saw oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling. A carry-on suitcase busted out of an overhead luggage compartment and pegged a guy in the side of the head. Then the engines screamed as the jetliner made a steep nosedive.
The conclusiveness of his approaching death, and that of his fellow passengers, seemed eerily fatalistic. Events had transpired beyond anyone's control, especially that of the pilots. The plane was now in control. This is it, he thought, the strength of his convictions returning. The Thing-World was about to win.
For whatever reasons, the gods of the inanimate world had maliciously seized control of the lives of more than two hundred people, plunging them headlong towards an irrevocable fate with the continent. He reached for the oxygen mask, inhaled, and uttered a silent prayer for mercy.
When he brought his head up from between his knees and braved a peek out the window, the ground loomed before him. Seated just behind the wing, he saw the jet engine's rear turbines. The entire engine pod shook violently beneath the wing as though it would drop from its mounts at any moment. Then the tapered round nozzle of the jet pipe lost its natural shape. At first, he thought the intense heat had melted the steel. But the opening of the cone drooped and then stretched wide, like a pair of lips. It grew wider as the corners turned upward, taunting him with a huge, unmistakable grin.
- - -
Charles Brownson is a writer of speculative fiction living in Seattle, Washington. He was educated at the State University of New York at Fredonia where he studied English Literature and philosophy. His stories have appeared in such magazines as Collective Fallout and the Triangulation: Last Contact anthology series.
Tyranny of the Inanimate
Posted by E.S. Wynn
By Susan Franceschina
I thrive as a spy above the plastic dogs circling below. I’m brilliant and alone on this balcony. The sidewalk traffic fluctuates depending on the time, but I see everything, even the multitude of frothing mouths.
They’d love a piece of my flesh.
I watch while sipping strong black coffee. It chases away last night’s sleeplessness. It makes me feel warmer, slightly opposite of dead. And this seclusion feeds my soul. I’m the Queen of the World for seeing through the cocky swaggers below. I’m a fucking genius.
I can’t remain still, so I slip into the bathroom, crumbling. My reflection confirms my worst fears.
I wipe frantically at the white foam, but it pours from the corners of my mouth like a swollen river bursting through a dam. It’s unstoppable, and I hate myself for wanting what the circling dogs want.
I run outside, suddenly shameless. I tear a piece of flesh off a passing woman. God, it’s just the thing. And she doesn’t mind. In fact, she respectfully gorges herself on me. It’s better than sex.
I slip between the cool sheets of my bed. Like a past-due reward, sleep comes quickly.
- - -
Biography: Susan loves to write. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Wanderings, WEIRDYEAR, Fringe, Yellow Mama, Yesteryear Fiction, and others. Unfrozen, her latest sci-fi short about a sexually frustrated girl trapped in a dystopian world, can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Unfrozen-ebook/dp/B005OCQRDI/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1
Posted by E.S. Wynn
A Night Garden
By Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Hands. Whose hands are they? A lady’s hands, in peach lace gloves. No, not peach. White. White that has taken on a peachy hue under the gaseous orange glow of the street lamps. Gaseous, orange, as steaming organs. But what organ is orange? The spleen? The bladder? Oh, Bladder. What a pressing. Press the knees together, just so. That’s right. Knees move under fabric, rippling blue shadows with peach. No, not peach. White. A white skirt, remember. You are wearing a white skirt, therefore, you must be a lady. A lady, delicate as a lily, a gardenia, and with a delicate name: Delia. Delia, hear the rustle, hear the whispering of leaves…Look up, Delia! The trees are calling you. Textured as coral, swaying sensitive and bright, seemingly porous. Pitted by the night. The night, which gnaws through the leaves like a caterpillar, like a snail through letters left in a mailbox while the world pitter-patters outside, sodden and grey. But the world is bright. Don’t you see it, Delia? Colours so bright that they scare you, a bobbing, peachy moon so big you feel it might fall, shatter any moment. Watch the moon. Watch it widening. Your eyes will widen too, when you find the moon is constellated, pitted with tiny black stars. When you find that great peach moon is really your white, eyed lace parasol. From the garden party, remember? Can you remember the garden party? No, you cannot. Something is pressing you. Not just your bladder, but your ribs. Hard like a gun’s muzzle. What is it? Pressing against your ribs, the parasol’s wooden handle. You squirm, a sleep-deprived child, not caring that you might be under gunpoint, not caring that his eyes have been on you this whole time. Black eyes, set close in a thin, wily face. His pink mouth mocking, moving all the time, saying God knows what. What in God’s name has he been saying? He, whose name you cannot recall, but who you know from his top hat, his forked beard, his mouth, which moves in such a way as to make your skin crawl every time. His mouth moves. You strain to understand. You don’t trust this man. This man, who is he? Betherford. Betherford, of the forked beard and moving mouth. Your skin crawls to see it move, to see him looking at you in that way, the way he has been looking at you all along. At the garden party. Was he at the garden party? Lace and chilled champagne, grown warm as the afternoon wore on. And Betherford. Betherford watching you, leering at you, leaving the party at the same time. He has a cab. He will take you anywhere, through the gardens of night, where Bether-bats flitter around trees as textured and bright as coral. "Will you see the night flowers?" his mouth moves. He touches your hand. "Will you see the night flowers?"
- - -
Laura Elizabeth Woollett is a student and writer from Melbourne, Australia. Some of her favourite things include: books, sweets, transatlantic accents, verdigris, and Victoriana.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
A Day of No Particular Importance
By Christian Chiakulas
The tree stood in its place, atop a small green hill overlooking an old, abandoned pasture. Beyond the pasture ran a dirtroad, which snaked to the side around another, hill, and then to the cozy Italian village called Carcino.
The tree was an old tree, even then, and had known many neighbors, many visitors, and even some friends. The man who lived in the house behind the tree on this day was no friend. The tree heard him coming now, heard the crunchy steps of boots over the path between the house and tree. His name was Giuseppe.
Giuseppe was underneath the tree now, looking out over the empty pasture and leaning against it by an outstretched arm. The tree did not mind, but wished that the man would deign to spare it at least a passing thought from time to time. The tree did not think that was too much to ask for, but this man Giuseppe had not given the tree so much as one good hard look since he had moved in. And now he was standing directly underneath the tree, leaning against it, standing in its shadow, maybe even enjoying the tree's presence. This was the first time Giuseppe had ever stood underneath the tree for more than a few minutes at a time, and the tree wondered what he was doing.
Before Giuseppe there had been a kindly old woman named Francesca, and she had been the one to plant the tulips and daffodils that once lived underneath the tree. They had been good friends, and so had Francesca; she had lived in the small house for decades after her husband had died. The tree was ashamed to admit that he did not remember the husband's name.
There was a car driving down the weathered path parallel to the pasture, heading in the direction of the small house. Giuseppe and the tree watched as the car, a sleek black thing, disappeared from their line of sight, knowing that it was coming up the hill, straight for them. The tree heard Giuseppe swear.
Giuseppe walked back towards his house, muttering curses under his breath, and the tree looked back over the pasture. Giuseppe had been waiting for some sort of unwanted visitor, not enjoying the tree's presence after all. Should have known, the tree thought.
The screen door on the house opened and shut with a hiss, and the tree looked again despite itself. Giuseppe was standing on his porch loading bullets into the back of a shotgun. The tree looked away again, not wanting any part of this foolishness.
A few seconds passed, and the tree could hear the car coming up the hill now, and knew that things might get loud soon. Nothing like this had happened in over half a century, the tree remembered, when a great World War had engulfed Italy and Francesca was a young woman, not yet a widow. The tree remembered sleeping through much of that time, not wanting to be bothered by the cacophony of the metal birds and tanks as they screamed by. The tree did not know what it had all been about, exactly, but it had been very glad to see the end of it.
The car was on Giuseppe's property now. The tree again felt an urge to look, but suppressed it. Nonsense, that's all this was, human nonsense. The tree wished that it had a friend to strike up a conversation with, another tree, perhaps, or at least some flowers or bushes.
The car had reached the point in the road that narrowed and became a driveway. Now it was tires crunching against the gravel, and without meaning to, the tree snuck another glance.
The car had stopped, the engine idling like some sort of animal, growling at Giuseppe and preparing to pounce. Giuseppe had raised the rifle, but even from its vantage point across the driveway the tree could see that the man was shaking badly.
The car spread its wings and two men emerged from either side, wearing dark suits and black glasses. Each of them also carried a gun.
The tree forced itself to look away. A voice spoke out to Giuseppe from behind it, a calm, almost bored voice speaking the deliberation of a planned speech.
A gunshot murdered the morning silence, and the tree heard the sound of a window shattering, not from the house, but the car. The tree wanted to look so badly now, but knew that it would not be proper. Best to let humans be humans, and trees be trees.
There were several more gunshots, slightly quieter yet more shrill than the first, and then the thud! of a man who had never been a friend sprawling onto a wooden porch. The tree waited, listening to the shuffling sounds of the two visitors as they cleaned up their mess, speaking to each other in the familiar, bored tones of men at work. One of them might have said something about the way Giuseppe had fallen, and the other perhaps complained about the car's windshield. But they made no fuss, and soon, they were gone, leaving the tree to its view and its peace and solitude. Nothing had changed.
The tree looked back at the house, and saw that it looked exactly as it always had, minus one or two innocuous details. Something may have happened here, but the tree that stood in its place on the hill overlooking Carcino would not notice, would not ever feel the repercussions of the day's events, would never be heartbroken, and in fact would stand in its place on that hill for decades and decades to come, never taking notice of the mad comedy its neighbors acted.
The tree enjoyed the rest of that day, wondering absentmindedly if its next neighbor would be a friend, like Francesca had been, or just a part of the scenery.
- - -
Christian Charles Chiakulas has been writing since the age of thirteen, drawing influence as much from popular fiction as from literary greats. He grew up outside of Chicago, IL in the suburbs of Oak Park and River Forest.
Posted by E.S. Wynn
By Ella Kennen
Eddie’s mom’s jaw practically dropped to the floor.
“You are not going to school looking like that,” she spat out. “Now march back to your room and get dressed properly.”
Eddie scuffed the floor and turned around.
“And for goodness sakes, son,” Eddie’s father added, “can’t you at least pretend to groan when you’re upset?”
Eddie’s shoulders drooped.
“That’s the spirit,” Mr. Haskin said.
When Eddie was gone, Mrs. Haskin shook her head. “I don’t know, Howard,” she said. There was no polite way to put it: Eddie was a terrible zombie. “I can’t remember the last time he shuffled anywhere. And the way he insists on wearing clean clothes to school? It’s a disgrace!”
Mr. Haskin nodded, his head dangling precariously from the last remaining strip of skin. “The worst of it is his table manners.” He shuddered. “Who cooks their food, for crying out loud? It’s embarrassing.”
Mrs. Haskin leaned in, her teeth clearly visible through her tight-lipped expression. “You know, I saw him sneaking silverware up to his room the other day. Silverware! Where does he get these ideas?”
Mr. Haskin slammed a bloody fist on the table. “It’s those kids he hangs out with. It’s just not right, associating with living people. It’s..it’s… unnatural.”
Eddie came back, wearing a soiled shirt and bloody pants. “I can hear you, you know.”
“Of course you can,” his mother retorted. “The way you insist on taking care of your ears.” Eddie was the only zombie she’d ever seen who still had both lobes intact. She knew the neighbors talked about it.
Mr. Haskin decided to take another tack. “Son, if you only used your talents…”
Eddie looked down at his hands. He noted with disgust that flesh was peeling off one his knuckles. His parents would be so proud. Eddie looked back up. “Talents? What are you talking about?”
“Well, your speed, for one thing,” his father whispered.
“My speed,” Eddie spat out. “That’s just another thing you’re ashamed of.”
Mr. Haskin would have grimaced if he hadn’t been doing so already. “Well, yes, but you could use it to your advantage.”
“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Haskin agreed eagerly, her eyes growing big in her too-wide sockets. “The way those human boys let you get so close. Don’t you see? It’s the perfect trap.”
“Trap!” yelled Eddie. “But they’re my friends.”
“Son, be reasonable,” said Mr. Haskin. “They’re human. Nothing more than food.”
“No,” countered Eddie. “They’re good people.”
The Haskins gasped.
“Where did you learn that word?” Mrs. Haskins moaned.
The vein in Mr. Haskin’s neck throbbed a deep purple. “You will not use that kind of language while you are under my roof.”
“Fine,” said Eddie. “Then I’ll just leave.”
“Where will you go?”
“I don’t know,” Eddie admitted. “And I don’t care.”
He opened the front door then turned back to his parents, staring stiffly at their willful son. “I do know one thing,” he said before slamming the door behind him. “I wish I’d never been unborn.”
- - -
Ella Kennen has lived here and there. When she's not busy dabbling, she might be working on her dissertation. Check out more of her writing at http://ellakennen.wordpress.com
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