Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
"Can't Stop, Won't" by Carrie Devall
Rax carefully tossed the tiny insectoid bot towards the side of the maglev train as it slowed beside the platform. She'd designed the mechanism to land lightly enough on the train to not set off its surface sensors. The train's engineers had to balance the threats of graffiti and terrorist attacks with the need to not have smashed bugs setting off alarms.
She hopped up onto the running board and touched her thumb against the door's reader. Her ticket order was registered; the electronic security field admitted her into the car. She walked down the aisle looking for an empty seat, grabbed an overhead strap and rested her hip against a wall as the train started up.
The train shell's nanobots would test the chemical makeup of any surfactants. Rax's insectoid should register as a mosquito, thanks to the maskskin she had concocted with a "borrowed" chemical printer from work and corn syrup. The train's self-cleaning bots would release chemicals to break a bug's tissues down. The particular mix GreenPlus Engineering used should activate her bot's inner core. Her home-brewed paint should spew out, programmed to spread and then adopt colors for the lines and fill she'd designed on her throwup app.
Her paint should not be soluble by the train shell's processes. It would have to be removed externally, and not until it was retired from service for the night. The train would pass by three large metropolitan areas, not to mention her minicams mounted in six picturesque locations. Her internet galleries and her current installation in a Mission cafe would receive the images. TGR97 would eat his goggles.
Also, not insignificantly, he would have to hand deliver the three thousand unmarked credits he'd offered to the first V-tagger to accomplish this feat only he had so far. She could show him the laser mural she wanted to mount on the North American elevator. No one had been able to crack that target, but she knew if they put their heads together she and TGR had the rads.
Rax jostled towards the rear of the car and slipped a jimmycard into the bathroom lockscan. She raked fingers through her hair in the mirror over the filthy sink. What she really wanted to do was check the feed from her cams, but there were likely cameras or jammers in the bathroom.
Stepping off the train, she glanced at the previous car. The colors were right, but a skater boy with a skewed top hat was giving her the finger with, "1 N ONLY - TGR97."
How had that bastard hacked her bot? Her system was isolated, clean, apartment secured.
TGR97's brag imgtext was waiting on her P-Funk's screen, "Nice try kid. Careful who U party wid. XOX." Rax sat down hard on a bench.
Those hugs! Coming and going. Bastard had fished for her P-Funk last meetup, planted something. Damn.
She popped a Vodka Gumlet and bit down hard. She'd show him. How...? Something big bad ...
One strength of this story is the conflict between two characters, even though one is not present. Another strength is that the characters are actively involved in the story, rather than being passive victims, as was too often the case among the stories submitted. Rax is a thinking being, not a mere representative of some group (as was sometimes the case among other submissions). The language of the story is vivid, and the jargon presented was clear (as the language gimmicks of some other stories were not). I hate to just praise this story because it doesn't fall victim to the faults of other submissions, because it has its own pleasures-the character of Rax, whose optimisim is strong, even after defeat. And the details are good, too. I like Vodka Gumlets.
"The Mothra Comeback Interview" by Matt Betts
No, no. Now's fine. It's good. Come in. I was just up late, that's all. Damn neighbor left his porch light on all night. I was smacking myself up against it until about four this morning. Need my beauty rest, you know?
Are you recording? Good. Let me be honest with you. It's all true. Every word. I had it all-fame, money. And women? You know about the twins, right?
Hey, girls? Come in here and sing something for the man. Yeah. That's nice.
Anyway, I had it and lost it, all because of my habit. What can I say, it's genetics. My people have a thing for sweaters. I was up to eight, ten cardigans a day. I started out at Macy's with the high-end stuff, then began hanging out at Burlington Coat Factory during the lean years and finally hit rock bottom rummaging through the Goodwill stores looking for discarded knits. It was awful. A real low.
But I beat it.
I'm clean now.
I'm proud to say I own the largest private collection of Cosby Show sweaters in the world now. Impressive isn't it? A few years ago, I would've torn through them in no time. But now I can admire them for their aesthetic qualities; the bright yellows, the screaming blues, the neon oranges ...
Excuse me for a moment. Girls? Take five please. I'm talking here. Maybe head poolside? Thanks.
Godzilla? Screw Godzilla. There. I said it. Was he at my intervention? NO. Come see me in rehab? Nope. He was off working on that God-awful American movie of his. Did you see that one? Who's he trying to fool? He obviously had some work done. A facelift, minimum, probably a tummy tuck as well.
I'm glad the film tanked. I really am.
What have I been doing lately? Some character work-plays mostly. Did you catch my Guildenstern at the Boise Dinner Theater? No? The critics said I really stood out. And my Tevye in Fiddler truly brought down the house. I've been keeping busy. I had a few meetings with the Cloverfield people, but that one didn't pan out. I was in an episode of Law & Order once, but my scene got cut in post-production.
Pardon. Someone want to close that window? I can still hear them singing out there. Thanks.
I'm sorry, this is embarrassing, but I must know.... Those are really nice socks; are they wool or is that a blend?
When I first read this, I was in too much of a hurry to get through the pile of manuscripts, and its skill eluded me. But on a second reading, I discovered its charm, and appreciated the consistency of Mothra's voice (one that I would never have imagined Mothra having). The story is jammed with wonderful details, and I like the little interruptions that occur. This is very crafty.
"The King of Birds" by Benjamin Wakefield
Pazuzu was the greatest and most wicked of all his father's children. As he had no form of his own he stole the likeness of other creatures, both real and imagined. On some days he towered above the treetops and trampled all those beneath him. On others he hid in the undergrowth, waiting to devour the unsuspecting giants above. Though he despised all of the creatures of this world, he hated his own kind the most of all. Whilst walking through the forest he came across his youngest brother, the sorcerer Jobriath.
"Bow to me, little brother, for I am the King of Men and Beasts and of all that lies in between. Bow to me or die, our father's youngest son." Pazuzu said.
"I see no such king, brother." Jobriath replied. "None can rule all the beasts of the forest, the desert and the air, as you have said."
"I am king to all the beasts of the forest, the desert and the air! Do you doubt me, brother?" Pazuzu asked.
"Oh brother, I doubt your power!" Jobriath replied. "Change for me, into a wolf of the forest, and then I will bow to you."
"Little brother, this I can do."
Pazuzu closed his eyes and changed into a wandering wolf of the forest. He raised his head and howled to his brother triumphantly.
"I bow to you brother, for you are the King of Wolves," Jobriath said. "Play for me, with this ball, as a wolf might play."
Jobriath took a ball from his cloak and dropped it to the ground. Pazuzu played with it.
"Do you doubt me now, brother?" Pazuzu asked.
"Oh brother, I doubt your power!" Jobriath replied. "Change for me, into a snake of the desert, and then I will bow to you."
"Little brother, this I can do."
Pazuzu closed his eyes and changed into a slithering snake of the desert. He flicked his tongue and hissed to his brother triumphantly.
"I bow to you brother, for you are the King of Snakes," Jobriath said. "Dance for me, to this flute, as a snake might dance."
Jobriath took a flute from his cloak and began to play. Pazuzu danced to its music.
"Do you doubt me now, brother?" Pazuzu asked.
"Oh brother, I doubt your power!" Jobriath replied. "Change for me, into a bird of the air, and then I will bow to you."
"Little brother, this I can do."
Pazuzu closed his eyes and changed into a beautiful bird of the air. He spread his wings and cawed to his brother triumphantly.
"I bow to you brother, for you are the King of Birds," Jobriath said. "Sing for me, in this cage, as a bird might sing."
Jobriath took a cage from his cloak and opened the door. Pazuzu hopped inside and sang. The door was locked behind him.
"You have tricked me, brother!" Pazuzu cried. "Release me now, or I will kill you!"
"Oh brother, I doubt your power!" Jobriath replied.
I had several stories in mind for the number three spot, and this one is the one that finally spoke to me most strongly. I like its use of the folktale form, complete with formulaic repetition. I like the tone-The language is rooted in the kind of "translator formality" that is so common in folktale collections. I like the vividness of the details. I like its understated style. It would have impressed me more strongly if it had had stronger characterization.
"A Minor Apocalypse" by Emma McNairy
At Monday morning assembly, after a few announcements of club meetings and a rambling plea to please return the lab's frogs, I stood and pronounced: "This Friday the world will end." I sat again.
The student body murmured their agreement-there was a massive English paper due Friday, as probable a cause as any to cause an apocalypse, and exams were next week, so why shouldn't the world end? It made perfect sense. Steven, who listens to too much rap and smokes too much pot, punched my arm. "Tell 'em dude, right on." The teachers panicked, not because of the implications of my announcement, but because they thought I was insane. The headmaster cleared his throat, smiled nervously and dismissed us. We walked to class.
Monday through Friday morning went ordinarily. We went to class, left class, hung out in our dorms, talked, ate, slept. There might've been a little less attention paid in class, and I was a little more popular, but nothing worth writing home about. (In fact, most people didn't write home-about the coming end or anything else, figuring that their parent's wouldn't nag them about lack of contact when the earth was destroyed.)
Thursday night we stayed up until dawn. We decided to watch the sunrise, and went to the May Dell, which is modeled after a Greek amphitheater and is the location of our famously beautiful graduation ceremony. The May Dell echoed with the sound of the alarms we'd set off when we'd left the school. It was shiver-cold in the blue darkness, so we made a bonfire. We danced around and sang what we remembered of the disturbing Lord of the Flies songs. We went back inside and wrote our names on the dorm room walls with charred wood from the fire.
Philip, my roommate, was lying on his bed when I walked into the room. He wasn't bothering with class. I grabbed my biology book, as if this final token gesture would get me into heaven. In Biology II I sat next to Maria, who is Latina, and totally "smoking"-to quote the bathroom wall. I asked her what she thought of the apocalypse. She flipped her hair and said she wasn't fazed. As we turned to page 243 in the textbook the earth rumbled. Our teacher explained the tremors as "a common natural phenomenon"-but we knew better.
We headed to the basement of the school, which was used by the CIA during one of the world wars. It was designated an official bomb shelter. Besides, it had a ping-pong table, and the geeks had stashed their laptops and video games there. As the second floor melted into butter and vines grew from the doorknobs, we sat in a circle. I leaned over and kissed Maria, because there seemed nothing better to do during an apocalypse. When the teachers used the fire extinguishers they produced nothing but cotton balls.
In some ways, this is a story with a cliched framework-like many of the other stories submitted, it deals with the end of the world, of civilization, of a particular person-the ending is like the standard "Then everything went black." BUT-this one is redeemed by its emphasis on the particular-the ending image is fresh and imaginative. Also, this story has a definite viewpoint-it resides in an identifiable character who is not a cliche, but an identifiable person, who is one of a number of other individuals, not just a member of a group-and the details of setting are also vivid. It represents the work of a whole imagination, not just a scheme. I enjoyed it.
"Internal and External Conflicts of a Cookie" by Rebecca D. Landau
This is the tale of a cookie's life, as brief as it is tragic. He had a happy, if uneventful doughhood. No eggshells got into the batter and it was mixed well and the proportions were just right. There wasn't too much salt and there were enough chocolate chips to satisfy even the most devout chocolate fan.
His baking, the life changing journey of transformation from dough to cookie was peaceful. He was not burnt, nor did he melt into another cookie.
He lived in a small shop full of plump and happy children, in a bakery case. There were cakes, pies, brownies, croissants, muffins and cookies of all kinds- snicker doodles, gingersnaps, sugar cookies frosted with angels and Christmas trees (December was nearing), peanut butter cookies, triple chocolate cookies, shortbread and chocolate chip cookies like him self. They were all pleasant enough to talk to but what caught his eye was a cupcake.
She was beautiful. Her pale pink frosting, the color of roses and twice as fragrant, was pilled thick and her cup was a darker shade of pink, more of a magenta. Inside the half see through cup he could see her pale brown dough.
She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful cupcake he'd ever seen, but he didn't know what to say to her. She was a cupcake, he was a cookie, he knew it could never work out between them. (Pastry romance is rather different than human romance. It consists of one pastry's crumbs falling on the other.) Besides, what if she laughed at him? She was sitting rather too close to a vanilla cupcake. He was an unpleasant fellow, petty and vain with a terrible temper. But perhaps she saw only the handsome silver wrapping and not the undercooked inside.
He sat in the pastry case for a few hours (half the average cookie lifetime) trying to work up the courage to speak to her when the baker's giant hands put him into a bag-with her! Oh, bliss! If they were jostled in just the right way, her pale pink frosting would smear all over him!
"Hi," she said, a little shyly.
"Hi," he said. He wanted to crumble into a thousand bits in her mountain of frosting. "I've been wanting to tell you-" he began.
Suddenly, the thick, sticky fingers of a toddler lifted him out of the bag and into her mouth. In a few gulps, he was no more.
In spite of its cliched ending, this story was a delight to read. It is entirely rooted in a cheap gimmick, but the characters and events are played out so consistently and so playfully, that the story succeeds in spite of its throwaway conclusion. A cookie with adolescent insecurities, and a shy cupcake and an obnoxious cupcake side by side-the perils of young love interrupted by the perils of a monstrous toddler's appetite. It's all quite delicious. I especially like the line "It consists of one pastry's crumbs falling on the other"-I would have like to have seen that much thought go into Avatar!
"Familiar Problems" by Theora Tiffney
"Um." I shuffle my feet as my classmates laugh. God, I hate this stupid teacher and this idiotic subject. It's useless. It really is. Even math's more useful.
"Come on, Sarah." Mr. Neyls is a bit worried, and it makes him look like a tortoise. "It isn't hard at all. You just need to concentrate."
I CAN concentrate! I want to yell at him. I just really, really don't want to do this! I'll never live it down!
"C'mon, its not like it's going to be gross or anything!"
"Yeah, Sarah, don't wimp out!"
"You summoned that demon last period just fine!"
Yeah, but demons are dignified! I bite my lip.
"Jeez, stage fright much?"
"We don't bite!"
"Sarah, you've got to do this." It's Mr. Neyls again, looking worried. "I can't give you a grade for this class otherwise."
"Fine!" I shout, and close my eyes. It takes very little, after all, partially because I have such a good memory of doing this the first time. There is a poof, and a ghostly green shape, about four inches long and a quarter of an inch across, drops into the palm of my hand. The class is silent a moment in shock, then explodes in laughter. Even Mr. Neyls is laughing, try to hide it as he might.
Every witch has a familiar. Why does mine have to be a caterpillar?
This brief vignette has character, and is a wonderful little dig at the Hogwarts style of education. Sarah's thoughts are dynamic-we see her changing under pressure. I especially like the ironic line "Even math's more useful." The greatest strength of this story is that it finds a place for a lot of ironies in a very small space.