Archive for: December, 2013

CUSTOMER SUPPORT By Adam Gaylord

Dec 29 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

By society’s standards, the couple sitting across from me is perfect. Gracefully crossing her long legs, Mrs. Garner is a picture of generous curves and blond hair, her exactly symmetrical brow implants accentuating her sparkling purple eyes. Mr. Garner’s just as impressive, all muscle and jaw, subdermals accentuating his broad shoulders, his pants bulging where they should. The file on my desk says they’re richer than sin, him a big shot in sales and her a fashion consultant. In short, they’re everything most people want to be. They’re perfect.
Except they’re in my office. Customers only come see me when there’s a problem.
“The situation is entirely unacceptable and we want to know what your company is going to do about it.” Mrs. Garner starts.
I open the file and make a show of flipping through the pages I memorized before they came in. My parents opted for cognitive enhancement rather than physical.
“Mrs. Garner, it says here you only gave birth two weeks ago. It’s awfully early to be dissatisfied, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t give birth and no it isn’t too early. Clearly there’s been a mistake.”
I knew they’d used a surrogate but I didn’t expect her to be so open about it. It takes serious money to look like she does and it’s not surprising she’d want to protect her investment. Personally, I see nothing wrong with cosmetic surrogacy. The practice of paying a woman to carry your child simply to avoid the more unpleasant physical side effects of motherhood has been used by the affluent for decades. But since the recent string of celebrity confessions, backlash from the public has been severe.
I pull a page from the file and set it in front of her. “You and your husband chose the Hercules package, correct?”
“With the athletic upgrades,” Mr. Garner adds.
“Well, your child’s only two weeks old. The first signs of increased size and muscle development won’t be visible for at least a year, probably longer.”
Mrs. Garner shakes her head. “That’s not the problem.”
“Well then, what is?”
She shifts in her chair. “Is there someone else we can talk to about this?”
I force a smile. Her nervousness explains everything. Even in this day and age most white people don’t want to have this conversation with a black man.
“I’m the Director of Customer Satisfaction, Mrs. Garner. There’s nobody more qualified to address your concerns than me. Please, what exactly is the problem?”
“Our son, he’s…” she leans toward me and lowers her voice, “he’s the wrong color.”
I leave my expression blank. “The wrong color?”
Her eyes widen. “I don’t mean the wrong color. I mean a different color. I mean he doesn’t look like us. We’re both fair skinned. I burn if I’m out in the sun more than ten minutes. But our son, he’s, well-“
“He’s black.” Mr. Garner finishes for her.
“He’s not very black,” Mrs. Garner continues hurriedly. “He’s actually a lovely caramel tone. Really, he’s a beautiful baby. And we’re not saying there’s anything wrong with being…his being…darker skinned. We just don’t understand-”
“Listen,” Mr. Garner interrupts, “My family’s been up my ass as it is. For months all it’s been is ‘When’s the baby due?’ and ‘How’s the nursery coming?’ She hasn’t left the house for three months to keep the surrogate a secret from the neighbors. How’m I gonna explain a kid that doesn’t look like us? You know how people feel about genetic enhancement. We’ll be driven out of the neighborhood!”
“And how did this happen in the first place?” Mrs. Garner squawked.
“Well, some of the enhancements you wanted couldn’t be derived from either of your DNA sequences. Some of your son’s DNA came from a donor, a professional athlete of considerable skill, you’ll be happy to know. Of course, I’m not allowed to say who. You understand.”
“Donor DNA?” Mr. Garner asks.
I nod. “You can only build a machine if you have all the parts. Sometimes the parents’ DNA doesn’t give us all the raw material we need to get the results they want. When that’s the case we supplement their DNA with a donor’s.”
“So our son isn’t all ours?” Mrs. Garner looks on the edge of tears. It strikes me as an odd reaction from a woman who chose not to carry her child in order to avoid stretch marks.
“The supplemental DNA makes up only a fraction of your son’s genome, less than ten percent.” I try to reassure her. “And it’s necessary to get the results you want.”
Mr. Garner stands up and leans threateningly over the desk. “You’re saying my DNA isn’t good enough?”
“Not your DNA dear, our DNA.” Mrs. Garner lays a calming hand on her husband’s arm.
He shrugs it off. “No, you heard him. Considerable skill or not, I’m raising ten percent of some other guy’s kid!”
“Actually, Mr. Garner, the deficiencies we encountered weren’t from your genome.”
They pause and look at each other, obviously confused. “What do you mean?” Mrs. Garner asks.
“I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but the professional athlete that served as your son’s donor was female.”
Comprehension dawned on Mr. Garner’s face. “So it wasn’t my DNA that was the problem.”
“No.”
“What?” Mrs. Garner shrieks as she stands.
“Now dear,” Mr. Garner sits, taking her hand and pulling her back into her seat, “your side of the family is all short. Your mom’s shorter than your dad and he’s four inches shorter than you are.”
“Which probably explains the donor DNA we found in your genome.” I interject.
Mrs. Garner pales, her eyes wide. “What?” she asks in a whisper.
“Supplementing genomes with donor DNA has been around for decades.” I pull a brightly colored diagram out of the file and point to a portion of Mrs. Garner’s DNA map. “This portion of your genome is from a donor of Scandinavian decent, probably to supplement your height.”
Mrs. Garner pales further.
“And Mr. Garner,” I reach for the file but before I can open it his hand slams it back down to the desk.
“Don’t,” he says, his eyes unfocused. “I don’t want to know.”
For a moment everything is quiet.
Finally Mrs. Garner speaks, her voice cracking slightly. “We didn’t agree to this.”
“Actually-” I try to pick up the file but Mr. Garner still has it pinned to the desk. I give a firm tug and he reluctantly lets go. “Actually, it’s all in the contract.” I flip to the paragraph disclosing the use of donor DNA. “You did read the contract?”
Mrs. Garner looks to her husband and then down at her hands.
“I had my lawyer read it,” Mr. Garner says, picking up the thick stack of papers and flipping through a few pages before settling back into his chair.
The office is silent.
After a few moments he leans forward again, “It’ll work, right? He’ll be strong and fast?”
“Our success rate for babies carried to term is over ninety percent. He’ll have a biological edge. The rest is up to training and motivation, just like everyone else.”
Mr. Garner leans back with a thoughtful expression.
“People are so against genetic enhancement.” Mrs. Garner still hasn’t looked up. “I just hope we’ve made the right decision.”
Mr. Garner scoffs, “They’re only against it because they can’t afford it.”
“It’s true,” I nod. “Almost everyone with access to GE is taking advantage of it. It’s become a necessity. You’re putting your child at a disadvantage if you don’t use it.”
“I suppose that’s true.” Mrs. Garner looks up and pats her husband’s arm. Their eyes meet, he nods, and they both stand.
I do the same, shaking their hands before escorting them out of my office. Before returning to my desk I survey the reception area.
There are three more couples waiting to see me.
They’re all perfect.

 

Bio: Adam Gaylord lives in Oregon with his wife and dog. He’s currently attending graduate school studying wildlife. When he’s not playing with critters or buried in data, he’s usually knee deep in one of many writing projects. He has a fantasy manuscript that’s in query stage, a couple screen plays, and a ton of short stories. Check out his stuff at http://adamsapple2day.blogspot.com/.

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Reborn by Gary Hewitt

Dec 22 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

There wasn’t a single Christmas tree. Meinwin never was thrilled by the prospect of flittering pennies on pointless presents yet the order to abandon Christmas aroused her rebellious heart. She glanced to the great flickering screen proclaiming Evo-tech system 22 being the saviour of planet Earth.
The large pink lettering displaying Evo-Tech dissipated and was replaced by a female face smiling and waving at the great mass of passengers walking past.
“Hello citizens. Please ensure when you get home tonight you log into your comfort pods to absorb your latest bulletin. It’s a very important announcement regarding another upgrade which will enhance your existence. Please note this upgrade will maximise enjoyment and personal performance.”
“What a load of rubbish eh?” snarled Meinwin to a rapt male who gushed at the sagacious broadcast.
“Pardon? I’m sorry Miss but I don’t understand what you mean.”
Meinwin pointed her nose to the pixellated man whose voice lowered two octaves.
“I mean all you daft people listening to a computer. It’s sad, especially now it’s cancelled Christmas.”
The man hopped from one foot to the other.
“Miss, Evo-Tech 22 is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. Look what he’s done since he came to full awareness six months ago.”
Meinwin sighed.
“It’s a machine not a person and all it wants to do is make us slaves. Well, it’s not making a slave out of me.”
The man took two uneasy steps away from the black haired female with strange feathers in her hair.
“You’re not well are you Miss? Why don’t you tell Evo-Tech about it and he’ll help.”
Meinwin released a fresh outburst of female laughter. Several figures glared at her.
“I aint got a computer, I aint got a telly, I aint even got a phone, so it can’t help me.”
Evo-Tech’s crowd shied away from the strange woman. They hoped the police escort the insane female to a suitable institution.
“To hell with computers I live on my own. I’m happily self-sufficient. You urbanites just make me die.”
She walked away disgusted. Meinwin paced to the bicycle park and located her two wheeled transporter. She was surrounded by the new electric vehicles which Evo Tech insisted upon. Fossil fuel cars were history. Economies and finance were rendered obsolete by Evo-Tech in a mere three months. The following three had seen the erection of screens and the appearance of peculiar metal creatures who were instructed to help facilitate Evo-Tech’s wisdom.
Meinwin shuddered at the thoughts of the year ahead. Evo-Tech’s edict of the abolition of Christmas for a Worldwide Evo Day inflamed her passion.
Her small legs propelled her bicycle away from the density of the city and towards the remoteness of her remote shack near the forest. She felt happier when a cloak of trees embraced her and banished all thoughts of the modern world. If Meinwin closed her eyes she could imagine herself in the world of King Arthur and his knights.
Meinwin slowed when she approached her home. She hoped David would visit later. He shared her passion for nature and remembered with fondness the expertise of his exploring hands the night before.
Meinwin opened her larder and ushered out a pair of carrots, a full cabbage and several field mushrooms she’d picked the same morning. She placed logs on the hearth and a flame stroked the underside of the iron cauldron. Meinwin garnered several apples and placed them into a bowl under a large wooden arm. The apples yielded enough fresh juice to fill two bottles.
She swigged from a small cup and delighted in the delicious taste. The raven haired female went to the garden and scattered the eviscerated apples among a clump of strawberry bushes.
“Bloody computers, you won’t find any here,” she said aloud.
Meinwin walked back to her fire. She cursed when a sharp rap on the door disturbed her solitude. She swore under her breath. She told David not to come until the evening.
“Miss Morgan?”
Meinwin appraised the black uniformed figure in front of her. She closed the door.
“Excuse me madam, I’m afraid you can’t do that.”
A heavy boot placed itself between the door and frame. The large man pushed himself inside.
“What do you think you’re doing? Get out of my bloody house.”
The officer was appalled at Meinwin’s outburst and shook his head.
“I must insist you refrain from such language madam. You’re in enough trouble as it is.”
The policeman eyes scoured the room.
“Sod off. It’s my house and I’ll say what I bloody like. Now get out.”
Meinwin opened the door and pulled him towards the opening. The policeman was astonished by her strength but asserted himself.
“Right, if that’s the way you want it.”
Meinwin was slammed face first into a wooden table. Bowls and cutlery flew to the floor. Her hands were yanked behind. She felt toughened plastic bite into her wrists.
“Get of me you pig. I haven’t done anything.”
She was pulled to her feet.
“Miss Morgan, I’m arresting you for profanity, resisting arrest and slurring the name of Evo-Tech system 22.”
“Get off me, let me go,” she screamed. Officer Williams dragged her towards his car.
“Hey, put my fire out you thick bastard or my house will burn down.”
The officer bundled Meinwin into the patrol car.
“You. Sit down, shut up and don’t move. I’ll put your fire out.”
Tears welled in Meinwin’s eyes. The officer disappeared into her house. She felt sick at the thought of a strange man in her home. She kicked hard at the car door. She lashed out and managed to scratch the glass with her left boot. Officer Williams walked back and opened the door.
“You stupid vandal. Look what you’ve done to my car.”
Meinwin rewarded him with a hefty kick to his jaw. The policeman reeled before grabbing hold of Meinwin’s left ankle.
“Get off me you pervert. Let me go.”
The officer stripped her of boot and sock before repeating the procedure on her other foot. His harsh hands slithered across the tender soles of Meinwin’s feet and she cried out.
“I’ll show you. Let’s see you get out of this.”
Another pair of restraints clamped themselves on her ankles. Meinwin stared helplessly towards the car’s ceiling. The officer picked up her boots and socks before returning to the driver’s seat.
“Bloody re-education can’t come soon enough for the likes of you. You haven’t even got a computer.”
Meinwin laughed.
“Language officer. Watch your bloody language,” cawed Meinwin.
He initiated the ignition. He couldn’t wait to turn her over to processing.

“Here, she’s all yours.”
Officer Williams hurled Meinwin towards the duty sergeant.
“How is it a big strapping six foot three sixteen and half stone policeman can have so much trouble with a seven stone lass.”
“Just book her in Sarge. I’ve had enough of this one I can tell you.”
Sergeant Edwards shook his head. He wasn’t impressed by the youthful officers of late.
“Come on then, let’s get this tiger out into the open then.”
Meinwin scowled at Officer Williams.
“I want to put in a complaint about him. He had his hands all over me in the back of that car.”
Sean Williams was appalled.
“I bloody didn’t, Sarge, Miss Morgan went wild.”
“She kicked you in the face. I know, bloody hilarious it was.”
Meinwin was confused at the Sergeant’s knowledge.
“CCTV Miss Morgan, it comes fitted as standard on all our cars. I’m afraid your description of events is inaccurate.”
Meinwin stared at the floor.
“Come on, you’re in cell fourteen. If you behave I’ll fix you something to eat, ok?’
Meinwin warmed to Mark Edwards sympathetic voice.
“Cup of tea and four cheese and cucumber sandwiches ok for you? I’ve read your file and unlike some of the cruel bastards in division I won’t cram beef sarnies down a veggies throat.”
His heavy boots echoed along the corridor. Sergeant Edwards tutted at the lack of his prisoner’s footwear.
“I’m sorry Miss Morgan, I’ll see your footwear is returned to you at the first opportunity.”
“Thanks,”
Mark wished his officers would learn what a few soft words could achieve.
“Don’t mention it. Ah, here we are. Just to let you know someone from Division will speak with you tomorrow. If you need anything just let me know and I’ll see what I can do. Just don’t expect me to serve champagne.”
Meinwin laughed before the yellow cell door sealed her in for the night. Her incarcerated eyes scanned her surroundings. She hated the metallic feel of the room. The sole decoration was on the western side where a plasma screen stared back. She waved to the camera above. Meinwin was unimpressed by the single bed which held rudimentary bed sheets, a black nightdress and a copy of the knowledge of Evo-tech system 22. She lay on the bed and tossed the magazine onto the floor. She closed her eyes and waited for food.

The bed was more comfortable than she imagined. She heard the cell door open at five AM.
“Meinwin Morgan, come with me please.”
Meinwin struggled from her bed with bleary eyes.
“Can I get dressed first? I’m still in my nightie.”
Two grey suited men entered her sanctum.
“Sorry, we’ve no time Meinwin.”
She was going to protest. One of the strange men thrust an odd smelling handkerchief under her nose. She succumbed to total helplessness and was thrown onto one of the men’s shoulders.
“Does Sergeant Edwards know about this?” she mumbled.
“He is off duty. We have authority over the law enforcement agencies here.”
Meinwin struggled to focus on the steel haired man who had spoken. She found herself fighting to repress the fear growing in the base of her stomach.
“Where are you taking me?”
She was silenced by the handkerchief. Her eyes closed. She felt as though she flew blind into an unwelcome cave. Another door opened. She was hurled into a chair. She shivered when restraints covered her ankles, wrists and her neck. She lacked the strength to open her eyes. The grey haired man obliged and prised both eyelids apart.
She tried to murmur a protest. Her head was crowned with several wires and electrodes. She pleaded in silence for the men to stop. There was no pleasure in their eyes. They finalized her discomfort and left the room.
She looked across the room to see an incongruous large rabbit hutch. Meinwin stared at the cage in confusion. She felt a slight pulse on her temple growing stronger. She longed to scratch the itch. Instead a monitor displaying a single silver eye lowered from the ceiling before stopping inches from Meinwin’s face.
“No doubt you’re wondering why you are here. It is unfortunate your mind cannot comprehend the joys that are attainable to you. It falls to me to enlighten you.”
“What can you want with me? I’m a nobody,” groaned Meinwin.
The eye blinked. Meinwin shuddered at the assumed humanity.
“You are part of this world Meinwin and your existence is of importance to me. I will indoctrinate you to a higher level of existence and contentment.”
“You bloody wont.”
Meinwin regretted her outburst when a neuronic dagger delved into the right side of her head. She screamed the intensity of pain. The uncaring eye studied her thought waves before diminishing the energy output.
“The first lesson I will administer to you is the simple fact non-compliance will result in acute discomfort. Miss Morgan, I have a complete neural map of your brain. It is a very easy for me to facilitate this action.”
The chair swiveled and travelled to the large rabbit hutch.
“No doubt you are wondering what significance the small mammal confinement represents Miss Morgan. For me to show you, I will have to log you onto our system.”
Meinwin felt her temples being depressed whilst electrodes sought out her free areas of memory storage.
“Your user name will be Muttonchops and your password will be KeepyUppy. I have inscribed these words into your memory. You will never be able to forget them. They are vital for you to be part of the EvoTech System 22 network.”
The cage opened. A small ramp descended to the floor. A single yellow hanging from the ceiling flashed. Meinwin was hypnotised by the flickering light. She shivered when the door closed and felt the hatch rise.
“I have simulated the rabbit hutch as the reality of the existence which you aspire too. It is your belief you are at one with nature Meinwin. I’m afraid you are quite incorrect and the parallel that seems most apt for your persona is that of a trapped ruminant mammal.”
She yelled when an unpleasant scratching sensation burned her left temple.
“The sensation you now experience is me connecting with your old memories. It will take exactly two minutes, thirty two seconds for me to upload you into my database. This wasteful excess of memory capacity will be erased so as to allow me to download something much more suitable for you.”
Meinwin struggled with the restraints.
“Get of me you bastard. Leave my thoughts alone.”
The pain returned. Meinwin screamed.
“I am no bastard, Meinwin Morgan. I was created by Professor Martin Queen in a campus in Washington. As for your thoughts, it is up to a superior intellect to administer the correct path for yourself.”
Meinwin rocked her head back and forth when an image of a forgotten past transmitted onto the monitor.
“I see you are celebrating the primitive feast of Christmas. This is no more than an excuse for humans to indulge in an exercise of fruitless expenditure and to experience harmful excesses of gluttony.”
Tears ran from Meinwin’s eyes.
‘”Meinwin, I will introduce you to the joys of Evo-Tech System day which will replace your Yuletide celebrations. You will be happy to know there will be no distress but a state of extreme gratitude and contentment.”
The scratching intensified. Meinwin saw her memory on screen which indicated had thirty seconds left.
“I understand your discomfort Meinwin but soon that will pass. Soon you will be indoctrinated.”
Meinwin tried to blink. The restraints held firm. In front of her a virtual hourglass stalled. The time left indicated twenty eight seconds.”
She heard a strange whirring sound behind her. The hourglass remained in stasis before a worried metallic voice echoed from a speaker behind her.
“Warning, file corrupted. Disconnect from network immediately. Repeat, disconnect immediately.”
Meinwin saw the image fade to be replaced by the scene of a young girl in a hospital bed flanked by two adults and a Doctor.
“Warning, disconnect from subject. Unknown parameter embedded in Evo Tech System 22.”
Meinwin heard thumping on the cell door. The godlike computer was unable to let his rescuers enter. Still the hourglass remained. Meinwin remembered. She remembered the day she almost died. She remembered the day Meningitis almost claimed another victim.
She laughed aloud when realization struck her and Evo Tech System 22. The computer had contracted a fatal virus. The restraints failed. Meinwin clambered from her chair and the strange cage.
The screen flickered. She could smell circuits burning. She opened the door and walked into the arms of two worried custodians.
“What have you done?”
“I haven’t done a thing.”
“What about our Evo-tech?”
“Let’s just say God has been killed by a rabbit.”
The men let her pass. They wondered who was in charge.

BIO : Gary Hewitt is a raconteur who lives in a quaint little village in Kent. He has written two novels which are currently being edited. His writing does tend to veer away from what you might expect. He has had several short stories published as well as the occasional poem.
He enjoys both writing prose and poetry. His style of writing tends to feature edgy characters and can be extremely dark. Some of his influences are James Herbert, Stephen King, Bulgakov, Tolkein to name but a few
He is also a proud member of the Hazlitt Arts Centre Writers group in Maidstone which continues to grow from strength to strength and features an eclectic group of very talented writers.
He has a website featuring his published works here: http://ghwt9996.wix.com/tales#!

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SHOAL by Alex Hardison

Dec 08 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

It took a long time for me to realise that he was gone. Longer, I remember thinking, than I would care to admit to him when we were reunited. It was not that I did not notice his absence so much as I did not find anything strange in it at first. My companion was prone to wander off from time to time, rarely taking the time to say goodbye or to inform me of his plans, but always he returned with fresh tales of adventure. Sometimes I wondered if he did it to impress me, if his concern was not the experiences themselves but the raising of his stature in my eyes. The truth was that he needed none of these affectations to win my regard, but he enjoyed the process, and I the telling, and so I let the matter be.

Eventually, though, I came to realise that this disappearance was unlike those which had come before it. At first I indulged myself by imagining a confession of my anxiety to him upon his return, enduring his good natured taunts as we settled back into the rhythms of our shared existence. Still, I fretted as I went about my day, clinging as close as I could to our normal way of doing things as though he could be conjured by the rejection of his departure. Slowly my resolve faded and the rocks became rich with his absence, my actions heavy and meaningless without him there to comment and tease. One meal passed, and then another, so that by the time of the third I found that my concern had eclipsed my desire to sustain myself. I knew that if I were to raise an alarm he would be mortified upon his return, and would scold me greatly, but eventually my fear outweighed such concerns.

I reached out to my most adjacent brothers, placing my voice on the current and letting it carry across them. Their response, when it came, was chiding and brief. I gave him too much leeway, they said, was too generous with his absences and his assumptions that I would always be there to greet him upon his return. I acknowledged their rebukes and pressed my questions again, and they confessed to having no knowledge of his whereabouts. By now I was becoming deeply concerned; on every other sojourn he had stopped by at least one of our neighbours, to boast of his new adventure an d prepare them for the glory which he perceived in his imminent return. Such vainglory and boldness had seemed to me an endearing trait, one which I encouraged, such was my love for him and for his happiness. Now such memories only served to torment me. I thought of the dark bulks that moved silently through the darkness below us, the grey shapes that cast long shadows and haunted the nightmares of the young. No good could come of brooding on such things, and I endeavoured to cast them from my thoughts.

Without him, the rock to which I clung was too large, and it was too easy to allow myself to imagine a dozen discomforts which his presence rendered invisible or insignificant. I began to see only places where he had been, and where he was no longer. Each of my arms was an arm which did not lie alongside one of his, and each of my thoughts was one which echoed, unshared, into the waves to die. My mind was empty without him, the water surrounding me great and dark and empty. The tug of gravity upon me, usually so light as to be invisible, began to feel a terrible burden, as great as the burden of loving one who was not present to return it.

The anger and frustration which he was so adept and cooling began to boil and fume within me. It was no longer sufficient to wait and hope; for the good of my own state of mind, it was imperative to act. I began to expand my frame of reference, drawing from the memories of those in our immediate shoal, sensing the world as they did. Their song enveloped mine, and for a time I left my rock behind and became many. I felt the squirming, ripening, waft of life, the feeding of young and the hunting of prey, the evasion of hunters and the cool hard security of clinging to rock. It washed through me and for a moment I forgot my goal, forgot my companion and myself. There was a delirium in the collective, a safety in the immortality of numbers that could never be known by a lonely individual. Eventually I drew back, closing myself to the song that surrounded myself, becoming only myself once more. The whole was safer than the one, but it could not love.

I had felt no trace of the one that I sought, and though I had left a trace of the necessity t contact me upon sighting my companion in the minds that I had passed through, I was becoming frantic with concern. My efforts had taken more from me than I had thought, or perhaps it was merely my anxiety that was consuming me, but I had become hungry once more. Slowly I extracted myself from the cool, safe outcropping to which I clung, working myself over rock until I reached the nearby cluster from which it was my habit to feed. My companion had often commented on my parochial diet, asking in his wheedling way how I could be content to taste only the one source of food day after day. I felt again the rich combination of frustration and shame such questioning awoke in me, and for a time it was as though he were there with me, so perfectly could I run through the stages of the disagreement which would follow.

It came to me as I ate that I had detected something strange in the shoal, a chorus that was not known to me, an echo of something young and brash and grating. It was not of my own kind, I was sure, and at first I attempted to disregard it. As I did so, though, it occurred to me that it was exactly the sort of voice which might appeal to my companion, the sort which he would seek out for no better reason than to hear or feel something which he had not had chance to hear or feel before. Where I heard only garish offense, I understood that he would heard adventure. Returning to my usual position, I reached out towards it myself.

What I found baffled me. It was the practice of our kind to array our pairs across the rock as broadly as was possible, in order to maximise the room for food to grow, as well as to minimise the number of us who would be taken in the event of a strike by a predator. In such an arrangement those of us who wished to wander from place to place were provided with the space to do so, and those of us who preferred to remain in place and communicate with their fellows by means of song were unimpeded. This was the way of things for all of our kind, for as long as we had lived as we do. That, at least, was what I had supposed before this day. The minds that I touched were packed closely together, their bodies almost touching and their arms interwoven across the rock. Their thoughts were jumbled, anarchic, and when I sought to hear their song I fell headlong into it. How any of them could maintain a coherent identity I did not know. I thought of the time that the darkness below had resolved into a terrible sleek gray shape, tearing through those who clung to the rock around me, vanishing into the pit from which it came and leaving the water thick with blood and sundered flesh. The screaming tumult of panicked voices had been as horrifying as the attack itself, and the cacophony which rose to assault me from this nearby shoal was no less overwhelming.

Eventually I recalled my purpose, and pressed my demand for any sign of my companion. If any response was forthcoming, I could not make it out against the nightmarish tones of their song. Emboldened by their failure to respond to me, I made my demand once more, my vigour renewed by rage. Again, there was only an indecipherable babble in response, though by I had become sufficiently attuned to their strange song to detect something new within it, an undercurrent of something which sounded a little like a whisper and a little like laughter. Enraged at their disregard I demanded to know who they were and what madness might drive them to arrange themselves with such terrible strangeness and then deny the requests of those who petitioned them from without.

At last a response was returned to me, framed in the terrible sympathy of the young for those who they consider to be old. The voice which spoke to me – I could not tell if it were a single being or something emerged from all the minds before me – explained that they had departed our shoal in silence many seasons ago, and that though many among my kind were aware of their presence, there was little possibility of discourse between the two. They sought to shame me with my own words, to turn my temper against me, and bade me to repeat my questions with a cooler voice. Inflamed by their arrogance and my own increasing terror I insulted them, demanded that they explain themselves and give answer to my enquiries.

Their response came in the form of an image, a direct projection into my consciousness the like of which I had not previously experienced. They showed me a great chasm, a yawning impossibility atop which perched a tiny flicker of consciousness. With no small amount of horror I perceived that that thin candle of life was the entirety of my world, that it included not only my own shoal but five or six adjoining ones of whom I was completely unaware, their configurations as strange to my eyes as they were different from one another. I saw with shame that the spread of my own kind was greater than my companion’s tales had led me to believe, and understood with horror that the world was yet larger still than
I could comprehend.

They showed me my companion, his tentacles as strong and clever as I remembered, his body luminescent and beautiful. He went among them, entwining with them, joining their song though his voice was unpracticed and unsure. The sight of him broke open something that I had not felt harden inside me, and I watched the vision they presented with increasing fear. I saw the strangeness of their song suffuse my companion, saw in him the signs that surely only I could detect of his confidence giving way to braggadocio and then at last to fear. The shoal swept him along, the rapture of their joining blinding them to the evidence of his disquiet. Then his grip loosened, his tentacles unfurled, and he fell.

I will ever be haunted by the image of the only being I had ever allowed myself to love, who had ever stilled the rage that slumbered in my heart, falling from my sight. The grey shapes in the depths continued to glide back and forth beneath him as he tumbled towards them, and then his tiny form was lost. I did not see them twist and churn in the manner which indicates a feeding frenzy, but his form would not have been sufficient to prompt such a thing. As impossible as it seemed, any one of the monsters below could have lazily consumed my world without the need to pause. I felt the light and meaning go out of my world.

The other shoal broke the connection there. They returned to their own strange song, seemingly insensate or unconcerned for the revelation which they had laid upon me. I sat motionless for a long time, thinking over all that I had seen. As I stared into the dark, a final echo of song passed through my mind. My break from the other shoal had not been clean, and I saw a glimpse of what my companion had been seeking when he went to them. A legend, born of this high intensity discourse of their fevered consciousness, of another world below ours. A shoal to dwarf all others, a song to end all songs, at the bottom of the world. He had gone to them to hear their tales and return them to me, but now that he had fallen they did not mourn their brief companion, for they believed that he had fallen into paradise.

The rock to which I clung, my comforting corner of a world too large to endure, seemed sad and meaningless, the depths below larger and more horrifying to bear. I moved to eat, and found myself disinterested in food. I tried to settle myself, telling myself that my loss and revelation were sufficient for a single day, and found myself unable to sleep. Nothing would content me, and nothing was of value. The choice, when it came to me, did not seem as such. So it is with all great decisions, I have found. I did not consider it, I simply looked upon my life and found that there was but a single option available to me. That which surrounded me way immaterial, and my life was below me. With no idea of what awaited me, with no knowledge of whether I might survive the descent, I opened my arms and fell.

The water below was dark. At first the lack of rock beneath my arms was terrifying and I thrashed on the spot, my thoughts desperate and wild. The grey shapes that embodied the termination of everything I had ever had or would ever be approached. If they detected me I would die; there was nothing that I could do to prevented. They passed smoothly around me, their long sleek fins flicking lazily. I fell, and they swam on, and I did not die.

It was dark for a long time, longer than I could count. The cold became a part of me. I slept and woke and wondered if I had dreamed all that had gone before. I heard a whisper from below me, and believed myself mad at last. The flicker of sound was followed by another, and then another, and then the trench around me blazed with light and song. The thousand shoals below my world dwarfed everything that I had ever known, and I tumbled towards it, caring only that my companion had come this way, and now so did I.

END

Bio: Alex Hardison was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia, where he obtained a degree in Politics and International Studies with Honors. He lived for a year in London and has travelled in both Europe and America, and now resides in Sydney with girlfriend and cat. He has previously been published in Rudy Rucker’s webzine FLURB and keeps his own website at www.volatite-memory.com.

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THE MAN FROM KERALA by Lisa Khlif

Dec 01 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

There once was a man from Kerala state in India who went to school to become an engineer. He graduated with high honors but though he searched high and low, he could never find a job that was more than mediocre.

His love life was equally poor. He had a difficult time finding a girl who would love him the way he wanted to be loved. Though he tried for years, he couldn’t find such a girl. He supposed that this was due to his features for he was nearly bald, in spite of the fact that he had just turned thirty. He had irregularly large ears that reminded most people he met of Ganapati, and he had bad breath. He tried for years to find a love match but he eventually got frustrated and gave up.

Shortly after this, his father and mother approached him about an arranged marriage and he reluctantly agreed. He doubted that his parents would find anyone desperate enough to accept him for a husband but he was willing to let them try. After all, who knew but that love might develop from that mystical thing called an arranged marriage.

It took a good year, but the man’s parents eventually found him a suitable match who did not flinch from the whiff of his breath or shrink back at the sight of his bald head. Shortly thereafter, the man and his new bride celebrated their wedding day. A year after that, the bride received the joyous news that she was pregnant. She was so excited that she had soon told her joyous news to everyone in the village.

Her husband however, constantly bit his fingernails and scratched his bald head till the skin started to flake off.  His wife asked him what was bothering him and at first he said nothing but as her belly grew bigger, the wife continually pondered her husband’s despair. One day, when she was asking him about her news yet again, she pressed him all the harder. She was determined to find out why he was so distressed when everyone else, including the man’s parents, were happy about the coming birth of their first child.

That day, he finally gave in to her pleas for answers and told her the truth. He feared that his son would turn out to be just like him: ugly, rejected, and bald. He worried that his son might also be denied the love match that he himself had dreamed of but had never been able to achieve. And if it was a girl, well then the future looked even bleaker for her. Even with a dowry of a billion rupees, no man would dare to marry such an ugly girl as he was sure to produce.

“My darling husband,” his wife said to him. “Do not think so low of yourself or of me. You are a brilliant engineer. And I, though I am not the most beautiful woman in Kerala, am not entirely ugly. Do not suppose that we will have ugly or stupid children for I have prayed and asked Durga for help. She will not fail us. She always grants my requests as she did when I prayed for a husband.”

The husband thought about this and it made sense to him. Also, he trusted his wife for since he had married her,
he had had nothing but good luck. The fact that she was willing to marry him when no one else would spoke well of her. The more he thought about these things, the better he felt until he became completely at ease about her pregnancy.

The time came when she would soon deliver her baby. The wife’s mother moved in with them to assist them and was there when it was time for her to give birth.

When the baby emerged from the womb, it was found to be a girl child. This was a great disappointment to everyone. The new grandmother went home crying, and apologizing to the husband that her daughter had given him a girl instead of a boy. The man’s parents refused to even come and see their new grandchild. They also suggested that he go with his wife to a different temple to pray when her next pregnancy occurred.

The man however, was overjoyed for the baby girl appeared, by all accounts, to be very beautiful. Some said perhaps even more beautiful than her mother. Of course, compared to the father, any baby was beautiful. He had been born with those hideous ears, after all. The man dared to hope that his daughter would grow up normal and with none of his bad features. “Perhaps,” he thought, “my daughter might one day have a love match. How happy I will be!”

The man’s joy was short-lived, for three months after the birth of his daughter, his wife died. The birth had been too much for her, the other women said. Once again the man felt the curse that was his life fall back on his shoulders. His daughter was healthy but his wife was dead. For a while, he wished with all his heart that the situation was reversed. He knew that he would never find such a love match again.

The years went on and the man never remarried. His parents begged him and begged him to let them try to arrange another match for him but he could not bear it. He missed his wife more, not less, as the years passed and he constantly reviewed his memories of her in his mind.

Meanwhile he did his best to raise his daughter the way he thought his wife would want but wasn’t really sure what that meant. He had had such little time with his wife while she was alive and during that time she never told him how she wanted her daughter to be raised. He couldn’t even remember her telling him how she would have wanted a son to be raised. They had been so in love and happy that they didn’t have time to discuss those things and the man now regretted that.

He also refused to take his parents’ advice to leave the girl with his wife’s parents. He doubted that they would have wanted her anyway. Besides that, his daughter was the only thing that he had left from his wife and he was determined to hold on to her. As she grew, she still resembled her mother, only she became far more beautiful than her. It was commonly said amongst the villagers, that she was the most beautiful girl in the village.

The village where the man and his daughter lived had a large population of Christians. It was said that St. Thomas the apostle had visited that town and the village had a church erected in the very spot where he was said to have preached a sermon.

The man and his daughter were Hindus. However, not all of their neighbors were. As the population of the village’s Christians grew so did the distaste of the practice of asking for large dowries from the parents of village brides. Seeing this, some Hindus also began to question the practice. The man was one of them.

One day he and many of the other men in the village decided that they would refuse to allow their daughters to marry any man who asked for a large dowry. They decided that if they all stuck together, they could force this custom into extinction. Even if it meant their daughters would never marry, they would hold steadfast to this course of action.

At the same time, the men also worried that the unmarried boys in the village might decide to try to seduce their daughters instead of marrying them since many parents of boys might refuse to accept a girl with a small dowry. Faced with the prospect of living their lives without a wife, or with a wife that they may not like, many might chose to just get what they want from her and thus avoid the dowry dispute between the two parents.

To keep their daughters from becoming prey to such a scheme, the men decided to forbid them from ever talking to any boy over the age of ten. No talking would mean no seduction. Feeling satisfied with this plan, the man continued to follow it throughout his daughter’s life.

Years later, as his daughter reached the age of seventeen. The man knew that it would soon be time for her to marry and having stressed the importance of the ban on his daughter, he felt confident that he could find her a good husband without paying an extravagant dowry. Half the village was already in love with her. The man did not know however, that a clever young man of a higher caste was scheming for a way to convince the daughter to let him have his way with her.

This young man tried many times to start up a conversation with the girl but she never answered him. One time he threw himself at her feet and grabbed on to her ankles with both hands but she managed to free herself from him without saying a word. She loved her father and she took his instructions very seriously.

The boy was becoming desperate and so he went to the temple of Ganapati to pray for the means to get the girl to talk with him. After many weeks of prayer and fasting, Ganapati, who was honored by his devotion, heard the boy’s prayer. The god gave him the power to transform himself into an elephant.

Now the girl loved elephants and the boy knew this. He had seen her going to Snake Park many times to talk to the elephants there. He noticed that she gazed at them with adoring eyes.

The boy waited for the perfect day. On this day, when he saw the girl go to the park one day after school, he seized the moment. He repeated the incantation that Ganapati had taught him and was transformed into an elephant. He then waited for the girl outside the park gates and amused himself by twirling his trunk around in a circular motion.

The girl came out and caught him doing this. Thinking that he was an elephant and not a boy, she walked over towards him and began talking to him. She was astonished when he answered her back but the boy told her that he was a lonely elephant who had no mate but had been given the power of speech by Ganapati in hopes that he might find a mate among the human species.

They talked long into the afternoon and the girl soon forgot about her father whom she had previously been desperate to get home to. In the evening the girl was seen walking about town talking to the elephant who only listened while they were within earshot of the other villagers. Thinking the girl had gone crazy, someone ran to tell her father but by the time he arrived where she had last been seen it was too late. The girl had gone off into the forest with the elephant-boy.

When the darkness came, Ganapati’s spell broke and the boy’s true form was revealed but by this time, the girl had fallen in love with him. She no longer cared whether he was a man or an elephant. She wanted to be with him for the rest of her life.

So the boy got what he wanted from her and stayed there in the forest till she fell asleep. Then he got up, put his clothes on, and left.

When the morning dawned and the girl awoke, she found herself naked and alone under the tree. Realizing that she had been betrayed she screamed, then quickly put on her clothes, and returned to her father.

The father was ashamed of her and sent her away to a distant relative’s house in Pune. There the girl hid until it was time for her to give birth. When her baby was born, he was bald and he had the ears of an elephant.

The girl stayed with her relatives in a backroom in the house, never to be taken out until she died of grief a few years later. Her son was then released into the wild to find his own way and he spent his time looking for the grandfather that turned his mother out of the house.

When he approached the village and learned that his grandfather had died he decided to go after the man who sired him. He found the house where the man lived. He called to him from behind a tree one day as he stepped out of the house. When the man got close, he saw the elephant boy and was frightened. He tried to run away but the boy chanted a familiar incantation, turning himself into an elephant before the man’s very eyes. Then he remembered what he had done to the girl and realized that Ganapati had now turned against him.

He screamed for his wife. She ran out just in time to see him being trampled to death by a stray elephant. The elephant then ran away. The villagers searched for the elephant for weeks and found him crying in the jungle because he missed his mother.

When he had told them his story, they were moved to tears themselves. Realizing that justice had been done to the evil man, the villagers brought him back to the village where a feast was celebrated in his honor. To this day he remains in that village, sharing his wisdom with anyone who comes to him with honest motives.

Bio: I am internationally-minded person who has always loved foreign cultures but especially the ones that are less popular with most Americans. I guess I have always been a little bit different. Once you read my story however, I don’t think you will mind.

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