Laman utama The First Year Clarkesworld Magazine

The First Year Clarkesworld Magazine

, , ,
0 / 0
Sukakah Anda buku ini?
Bagaimana kualitas file yang diunduh?
Unduh buku untuk menilai kualitasnya
Bagaimana kualitas file yang diunduh?
Tahun:
2010
Penerbit:
Wyrm Publishing
Bahasa:
english
Nama seri:
Realms 1
File:
EPUB, 1,04 MB
Mengunduh (epub, 1,04 MB)

Mungkin Anda tertarik Powered by Rec2Me

 
0 comments
 

To post a review, please sign in or sign up
Anda dapat meninggalkan komentar Anda tentang buku dan berbagi pengalaman Anda. Pembaca lain tertarik untuk mengetahui pendapat Anda tentang buku yang telah Anda baca. Terlepas Anda suka atau tidak buku itu, jika Anda menceritakan secara jujur dan mendetil, orang dapat menemukan buku baru buat diri mereka, buku yang sesuai dengan minatnya.
1

The First Year Clarkesworld Magazine

Tahun:
2010
Bahasa:
english
File:
MOBI , 1,28 MB
0 / 0
2

Walking with a Ghost

Bahasa:
english
File:
PDF, 13 KB
0 / 0
REALMS:

The First Year of

Clarkesworld Magazine

Edited by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace





Copyright © 2008 by Clarkesworld Magazine.

Cover art copyright © 2008 by Rolando Cyril.

Ebook Design by Neil Clarke.





Wyrm Publishing

www.wyrmpublishing.com





Publisher’s Note:

No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.





All stories are copyrighted to their respective authors,and used here with their permission.





ISBN: 978-0-8095-7248-9 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-0-8095-7258-8 (hardcover)





Visit Clarkesworld Magazine at:

www.clarkesworldmagazine.com





Table of Contents




Introduction: Turn the Page, Press Return

by Nick Mamatas

Magazine Covers





A Light in Troy

by Sarah Monette

304 Adolf Hitler Strasse

by Lavie Tidhar

The Moby Clitoris of His Beloved

by Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia

Lydia’s Body

by Vylar Kaftan

Urchins, While Swimming

by Catherynne M. Valente

The Other Amazon

by Jenny Davidson

Orm the Beautiful

by Elizabeth Bear

Automatic

by Erica L. Satifka

Chewing Up the Innocent

by Jay Lake

Attar of Roses

by Sharon Mock

Clockmaker’s Requiem

by Barth Anderson

Something in the Mermaid Way

by Carrie Laben

The Third Bear

by Jeff VanderMeer

The First Female President

by Michael De Kler

There’s No Light Between Floors

by Paul G. Tremblay

Qubit Conflicts

by Jetse De Vries

The Oracle Spoke

by Holly Phillips

The Moon Over Yodok

by David Charlton

I’ll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said

by Cat Rambo

Transtexting Pose

by Darren Speegle

The Taste of Wheat

by Ekaterina Sedia

The Beacon

by Darja Malcolm-Clarke

The Ape’s Wife

by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Lost Soul

by M P Ericson





Turn the Page, Press Return




Nick Mamatas


There are two major theories when it comes to editing the online literary journal.

The first theory is the simplest: treat it just like a paper journal, even if it is nearly impossible to balance a laptop (much less;  an eighty-pound eMac like the one I have on my desk) on your lap while on the commode. Secret studies have shown that the washroom is where 90% of the world’s literary journals are read.

The second theory is in the decided minority: take full advantage of the new medium by presenting new types of fiction: hypertexts, microfiction to be sent to cell phones and other gadgets, memoirs in lengthy blog form, etc.

Well, if you want both an online magazine, such as the one I edit, and a book to be made of your stories, such as this book, neither theory works very well. Reading large amounts of text remains difficult on screen, and many people find the reading of long fiction on screen especially problematic. And of course, one cannot easily transport a hypertext onto the printed page. <click here for video demonstrating difficulty of using hyperlinks in printed matter.>

For Clarkesworld Magazine, my editorial choices were guided by both the online medium and the ultimate goal of paper reprint. This means that my primary goal was to cultivate the audience of a popular magazine and not the audience of a literary journal. That latter audience is, of course, made up nearly exclusively of emerging writers who read just enough of a journal to know whether they should or should not submit their own fiction to it. An audience that small and ingrown would also obviate the need for this handy volume.

Hi there, reader-who-isn’t-also-a-writer, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Popular magazines are popular largely thanks to the fact that they are cheap enough to get rid of. Magazines determine their ad rates not based on the number of copies they sell, but on some multiple of that number. You may buy a magazine, and then your spouse may read it, or at least flip through it and thus catch some of the advertisements. Then after you’re both done with the latest issue, someone else may snag it off your coffee table or go sorting through your recycling. Even if you’re one of those people who read a magazine once and then rush off to seal it in Mylar and place it gently on a shelf with the rest of your periodical collection—you know, even if you’re a big ol’ kook!—your habits are counterbalanced by the number of magazines in medical waiting rooms.

Online magazines, however, have no “pass along.” So when reading for Clarkesworld, I made it a point to select only those stories that would send readers off to their email client or their blogs to send the story to all their friends, creating an active pass along. “Look at this weird story!” I wanted them to say. “You have to read it.” There was no room for the “good ol’ fashioned yarn” in Clarkesworld, or for one more comfortable variation on the stories we have all read before. Every month had to be a parade, the next Wrestlemania, an unexpected volley of bottle rockets, or some really interesting if nigh unidentifiable roadkill.

Also, because it gets tedious to read long stories online, all the stories had to be short. I set a 4000-word limit somewhat arbitrarily, but I think it worked. The end result is that Clarkesworld stories combine the shock of a bear trap on your ankle with the handy convenience of a sandwich. You may not want to read this book cover to cover all at once. It might spoil your supper.

To gain some attention in the overcrowded online milieu, I also took another unusual tack. Unlike virtually every other editor of short fiction, I never use form letters for rejections. I promised myself that I, or my twin brother Seth whom I keep hidden from the world so that he might better play me for half of our waking hours, would read at least the beginning of every short story and explain why the story, if rejected, failed to please. For this, some people have called me a sadist and an egomaniac. Others, generally those who have actually read some of the stuff that comes into magazines and journals on a daily basis, have called me a masochist.

I prefer to think of it as taking the long view. Despite the claims of those interminable how-to manuals on the subject, writing and submitting one’s work requires no special bravery. All one need be is a smidge tougher than a bowl of milquetoast, and you can hack it. As it happens though, in the Western world the idea of writing and publishing is considered somewhat effete, even feminized, which means that lots and lots of hothouse flowers waste their time and money on writer’s conferences and MFA programs and the aforementioned interminable manuals.

Well, there are two things you can do with a flower: fertilize it, or nip it in the bud. My comments did the fertilizing. Seth, he was the bud-nipper. Really. The end result was a great anthology, thanks to a year of making it clear to writers what we didn’t want. Anthology is an ancient Greek word referring to the gathering and artful arrangement of flowers. Hope you like our first bouquet.

Go on, take a whiff of this!





A Light in Troy




Sarah Monette


She went down to the beach in the early mornings, to walk among the cruel black rocks and stare out at the waves. Every morning she teased herself with wondering if this would be the day she left her grief behind her on the rocky beach and walked out into the sea to rejoin her husband, her sisters, her child. And every morning she turned away and climbed the steep and narrow stairs back to the fortress. She did not know if she was hero or coward, but she did not walk out into the cold gray waves to die.

She turned away, the tenth morning or the hundredth, and saw the child: a naked, filthy, spider-like creature, more animal than child. It recoiled from her, snarling like a dog. She took a step back in instinctive terror; it saw its chance and fled, a desperate headlong scrabble more on four legs than on two. As it lunged past her, she had a clear, fleeting glimpse of its genitals: a boy. He might have been the same age as her dead son would have been; it was hard to tell.

Shaken, she climbed the stairs slowly, pausing often to look back. But there was no sign of the child.

Since she was literate, she had been put to work in the fortress’s library. It was undemanding work, and she did not hate it; it gave her something to do to fill the weary hours of daylight. When she had been brought to the fortress, she had expected to be ill-treated—a prisoner, a slave—but in truth she was mostly ignored. The fortress’s masters had younger, prettier girls to take to bed; the women, cool and distant and beautiful as she had once been herself, were not interested in a ragged woman with haunted half-crazed eyes. The librarian, a middle-aged man already gone blind over his codices and scrolls, valued her for her voice. But he was the only person she had to talk to, and she blurted as she came into the library, “I saw a child.”

“Beg pardon?”

“On the beach this morning. I saw a child.”

“Oh,” said the librarian. “I thought we’d killed them all.”

“Them?” she said, rather faintly.

“You didn’t imagine your people were the first to be conquered, did you? Or that we could have built this fortress, which has been here for thousands of years?”

She hadn’t ever thought about it. “You really are like locusts,” she said and then winced. Merely because he did not treat her like a slave, did not mean she wasn’t one.

But the librarian just smiled, a slight, bitter quirk of the lips. “Your people named us well. We conquered this country, oh, six or seven years ago. I could still see. The defenders of this fortress resisted us long after the rest of the country had surrendered. They killed a great many soldiers, and angered the generals. You are lucky your people did not do the same.”

“Yes,” she said with bitterness of her own. “Lucky.” Lucky to have her husband butchered like a hog. Lucky to have her only child killed before her eyes. Lucky to be mocked, degraded, raped.

“Lucky to be alive,” the librarian said, as if he could hear her thoughts. “Except for this child you say you saw, not one inhabitant of this fortress survived. And they did not die quickly.” He turned away from her, as if he did not want her to be able to see his face.

She said with quick horror, “You won’t tell anyone? It’s only a child. A . . . more like a wild animal. Not a threat. Please.”

He said, still turned toward the window as if he could look out at the sea, “I am not the man I was then. And no one else will care. We are not a people who have much interest in the past, even our own.”

“And yet you are a librarian.”

“The world is different in darkness,” he said and then, harshly, briskly, asked her to get out the catalogue and start work.


Some days later, whether three or thirty, she asked shyly, “Does the library have any information on wild children?”

“We can look,” said the librarian. “There should at least be an entry or two in the encyclopedias.”

There were, and she read avidly—aloud, because the librarian asked her to—about children raised by wolves, children raised by bears. And when she was done, he said, “Did you find what you were looking for?”

“No. Not really. I think he lives with the dog pack in the caves under the fortress, so it makes sense that he growls like a dog and runs like a dog. But it doesn’t tell me anything about . . . ”

“How to save him?”

“How to love him.”

She hadn’t meant to say it. The librarian listened too well.

“Do you think he wishes for your love?”

“No. But he keeps coming back. And . . . and I must love someone.”

“Must you?”

“What else do I have?”

“I don’t know,” he said, and they did not speak again that day.


She did not attempt to touch the child. He never came within ten feet of her anyway, the distance between them as impassible as the cold gray sea.

But he was always there, when she came down the stairs in the morning, and when she started coming down in the evenings as well, he came pattering out from wherever he spent his time to crouch on a rock and watch her, head cocked to one side, pale eyes bright, interested. Sometimes, one or two of the dogs he lived with would come as well: long-legged, heavy-chested dogs that she imagined had been hunting dogs before the fortress fell to the locusts. Her husband had had dogs like that.

The encyclopedias had told her that he would not know how to speak, and in any event she did not know what language the people of this country had spoken before their world ended, as hers had, in fire and death. The child was an apt mimic, though, and much quicker-minded than she had expected. They worked out a crude sign-language before many weeks had passed, simple things like food, for she brought him what she could, and no, which he used when he thought she might venture too close, and I have to go now—and it was ridiculous of her to imagine that he seemed saddened when she made that sign, and even more ridiculous of her to be pleased.

She worried that her visits might draw the fortress’s attention to him—for whatever the librarian said, she was not convinced the locusts would not kill the child simply because they could—but she asked him regularly if other people came down to the beach, and he always answered, no. She wasn’t sure if he understood what she was asking, and the question was really more of an apotropaic ritual; it gave her comfort, even though she suspected it was meaningless.

Until the day when he answered, yes.

The shock made her head swim, and she sat down, hard and not gracefully, on a lump of protruding rock. She had no way of asking him who had come, or what they had done, and in a hard, clear flash of bitterness, she thought how stupid of her it was to pretend this child could in any way replace her dead son.

But he was all she had, and he was watching her closely. His face never showed any emotion, except when he snarled with fear or anger, so she did not know what he felt—if anything at all. She asked, All right?

Yes, the child signed, but he was still watching her as if he wanted her to show him what he ought to do.

She signed, All right, more emphatically than she felt it, but he seemed to be satisfied, for he turned away and began playing a game of catch-me with the two dogs who had accompanied him that morning.

She sat and watched, trying to convince herself that this was not an auspice of doom, that other people in the fortress could come down to the beach without any purpose more sinister than taking a walk.

Except that they didn’t. The locusts were not a sea-faring people except in the necessity of finding new countries to conquer. They were not interested in the water and the wind and the harsh smell of salt. In all the time she had been in the fortress, she had never found any evidence that anyone except herself used the stairs to the beach. She was trying hard not to remember the day her husband had said, casually, A messenger came from the lighthouse today. Says there’s strangers landing on the long beach. Little things. Little things led up to disaster. She was afraid, and she climbed the stairs back to the fortress like a woman moving through a nightmare.

Her louring anxiety distracted her so much that she asked the librarian, forgetting that he was the last person in the fortress likely to know, “Who else goes down to the beach?”

The silence was just long enough for her to curse herself as an idiot before he said, “That was . . . I.”

“You?”

“Yes.”

“Why? What on earth possessed you?”

His head was turned toward the window again. He said, “You spend so much time there.”

At first she did not even understand what he was saying, could make no sense of it. She said, hastily, to fill the gap, “You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck.”

“I won’t do it again, if you don’t want.”

She couldn’t help laughing. “You forget which of us is the slave and which the master.”

“What makes you think I can forget that? Any more than I can forget that I will never see your face?”

“I . . . I don’t . . . ”

“I am sorry,” he said, his voice weary although his posture was as poker-straight as ever. “I won’t bother you about it again. I didn’t mean to tell you.”

She said, astonished, “I don’t mind,” and then they both, in unspoken, embarrassed agreement, plunged hastily into the minutiae of their work.

But that evening, as she sat on her rock beside the sea, she heard slow, careful footsteps descending the stairs behind her.

Come! said the child from his rock eight feet away.

Friend, she said, a word they’d had some trouble with, but she thought he understood, even if she suspected that what he meant by it was pack-member. And called out, “There’s room on my rock for two.”

Friend, the child repeated, his hands moving slowly.

No hurt, she said, and wondered if she meant that the librarian would not hurt the child, or that the child should not hurt the librarian.

Yes, he said, and then eagerly, Rock!

“What are you doing, this evening?” the librarian’s voice said behind her.

“Teaching him to skip stones.” She flung another one, strong snap of the wrist. Five skips and it sank. The child bounced in a way she thought meant happiness; he threw a stone, but he hadn’t gotten the wrist movement right, and it simply dropped into the water. Again! he said, imperious as the child of kings.

She threw another stone. Four skips. The librarian sat down beside her, carefully, slowly.

She said, “What is the sea like, in darkness?”

“Much more vast than I remember it being, when I had my sight. It would do the generals good to be blind.”

“Blindness won’t teach them anything—they have never wanted to see in the first place.”

“You think that’s what makes the difference?”

“We learn by wanting,” she said. “We learn by grieving.”

Shyly, the librarian’s hand found hers.

The child threw a stone.

It skipped seven times before it sank.





Having completed her Ph.D. in English literature, Sarah Monette now lives and writes in a 99-year-old house in the Upper Midwest. Her first two novels, Melusine (2005) and The Virtu(2006), have been published by Ace Books, with two more novels in the series to follow: The Mirador (2007) and Summerdown (2008). Her short fiction has appeared in many places, including Strange Horizons, Alchemy, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and has received four Honorable Mentions from The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Visit her online atwww.sarahmonette.com





304, Adolph Hitler Strasse




Lavie Tidhar


When they came for Hershele Ostropol it was not at night but in the middle of the afternoon, and they came quiet and with no warning, with just a polite knock on the door. He had taken it to be the postman, carrying a late delivery of one of his special magazines; but the two who stood in the doorway wore no uniforms, and only their eyes betrayed who, and what, they were.

They called him by his real name, which was Hanzi, but they knew who he really was and he knew then that it was over; the knowledge washed him in lethargy, and a sense of futility made him open his hands as if in a shrug, his fat fingers opening limply, sweat dampening his palms.

They had interrupted him writing, it was another one of his stories. The computer was left switched on in his small study (Granddad’s old room), and his special books and magazines lay in plain view on the desk.

He knew then that it was over; and he went with them without a fight and let them steer him into the dark Mercedes that waited for him, as he knew it would, outside.


How it began, how Hanzi Himmler first came to assume the identity of Hershele Ostropol, he could hardly articulate. But it can be pinpointed to two events that both happened close together: he was given the new computer, and he caught his grandfather with a prostitute.

The computer was a Bulgarian Pravetz. Along with the modem the computer came with a small communications program and a list of telephone numbers for several Bulletin Board Systems in and around Berlin. The first time Hanzi connected to a BBS was late on the night of his birthday, when his parents were sleeping and he had the telephone line to himself. He dialed the first number on the list, and found himself confronted with a colorful welcome screen.

On the BBS, Hanzi discovered that night, he could download small programs, and text files and even code, and he could post messages on the BBS which other people could then read. He chose his first identity that night, his first login name. He wanted Nighthawk, but ended up being Nighthawk1 as the first name was already taken.

Hanzi didn’t care. He read the public posts, and he downloaded a text file that contained a hundred and eleven dirty jokes and, more importantly, he also downloaded a file containing the telephone numbers of many other BBSs.

For him, it was a discovery. He felt like Ernst Schafer must have felt on his expedition to Tibet to prove the origin of the Aryan race, as if he too were an explorer in a new and mysterious land. He had found a door to a new world, and everything was suddenly possible.

Everything . . . Granddad, Hauptabschnittsleiter Himmler, lived with his son and daughter-in-law in the solitary room on the ground floor by the garden. He was once a distinguished Head Section Leader, but had retired many years back and now spent most of his time in his room, unseen by his family. He was not a well man, and Hanzi knew Herr and Frau Himmler worried about him.

Hanzi returned home early one day from school, with a sore throat and a headache that buzzed little flies on the inside of his skull. His parents were away, and Granddad should have been asleep in his room. But he wasn’t.

As Hanzi came through the door he heard strange sounds coming from his grandfather’s room towards the back. He listened carefully, the words and the sounds making him feel strange, though he couldn’t then define what it was he felt, exactly. It took him a while to realize they were the sounds of sex.

He edged his way down the corridor. His head still hurt and an uncomfortable erection was building in the pants of his khaki uniform. The door to Granddad’s room was ajar, and light spilled out from it onto the darkened corridor. The voices were louder, and more persistent. Granddad, and a woman. She was shouting something, and as he came closer he could hear the words, so clear that they cut through his mind like sharp crystal, and remained there forever. They had the tang of well-rehearsed, stock lines, though he only understood that later.

“You disgust me! You sick, perverted old man! You’re nothing but a dirty Jew!”

Through the open door Hanzi saw Hauptabschnittsleiter Himmler crouching naked on the bed, his thin, wrinkled buttocks raised in the air. Above him stood a middle-aged woman dressed in the old uniforms of an S.S. officer, holding a riding crop in her hand. As she spoke she hit the old man hard against his rear, making him scream.

“What are you? I said, what are you, animal?”

“I’m a Jew!” the old man cried. “I’m a dirty Jew!”

“And what do we do to dirty, disgusting Jews?” the woman asked. Hanzi caught sight of her sagging white breasts below the open leather coat. She had bright red nipples that looked squished over the pale twin mounds of her chest. It made him feel both scared and excited.

“Punish them!” the old man said. He was breathing rapidly, and his voice was muffled now, his speech unclear. Hanzi saw his grandfather’s face turn against the white fluffy pillow it was resting on. The old man looked back at the aged S.S. officer. A little drool rested at the left corner of his mouth. “Punish me, mistress . . . ” he said. “Spank me. Hurt me!”

The woman, whose face had so far remained calm, almost bored while the old man’s face was turned away, had now assumed a new expression: she smiled slowly, licking her red lips as she exposed yellowing teeth. “You should have gone to the gas chambers,” she said. “You disgust me.” The riding crop went up, came down again with a sharp whack.

“Yes,” the old man said. “Yes. Yes!”

Something sticky and warm spread in Hanzi’s undergarments, and he shuddered and bit his fist until it hurt.

He stood there for a long moment, mortified. Inside the room the noise slowly abated. He looked inside—and saw that the woman was looking directly at him now—and she was smiling.

She reached her hand out—he always remembered the long pale fingers, the bright red varnish on the nails—and gently shut the door.

“That’d be fifty Reichsmarks again, Herr Himler,” he heard her say through the closed door.

“Thank you, Helga, yes,” Hanzi heard his grandfather say. His voice had regained its old authority; he sounded nothing like the pathetic creature that begged to be spanked. “I shall expect you again the same time next week.” Hanzi retreated at the sounds of movement from inside. A moment later he could hear the door open, and the clicking of heels against the floor.

“Make sure . . . ” he heard the old man say, and the woman laughed, and said, “I know, I know, I’ll go through the back door.”

Hanzi waited in the kitchen, afraid to move, afraid to make a sound, until he heard the back door open and close. His grandfather had not come out of his room.

Finally, he went up to his room, and switched on the computer.


At the library Hanzi found pictures of Jews in a large, leather-bound book on one of the top shelves. They were of grotesque-looking creatures, alien and frightening. He stared at them, repulsed, fascinated—he couldn’t have described the feelings he felt. Not then. He also stared down the librarian’s top, trying to see her breasts when he thought she wouldn’t notice him.

On another visit, the librarian showed him an old documentary film, Fritz Hippler’s The Eternal Jew, and its images of hordes upon hordes of rats drowning in sewers filled Hanzi with frightened fascination.

“There is not much information.” The librarian sighed, and she removed her glasses and wiped them with the hem of her sweater. “It’s better that way.”

“Yes, Miss,” Hanzi said. Yet something drew him to find out more, a dark fascination that grew inside him like an obsidian rose and made him spend himself alone in bed at night. Sometimes he thought of the pictures, and sometimes of the librarian, removing her glasses and lifting up her sweater, revealing soft pale skin underneath.

That day, after watching the film, he logged in to several of the local BBSs and posted a brief message on each, asking about those strange, forgotten beings, the Jews.

Nothing happened the first day, or the one after. In fact, a full week passed before he had a reply.

A private message. It contained a telephone number, and a login name and a password.

He sat in his room. His parents were asleep. He dialed the number, and connected to the the Judenhacker BBS.


The judenhackers called it Slash. It stood for the “/” sign in Jewish/Nazi stories. They gathered to re-imagine the relationship with that vanished, mysterious race, writing stories with titles such as “the Stalag of Death,” telling stories of concentration camps, of stalags, where sadistic Aryan female guards were captured by their former slaves the Jews, recreating powerful sexual fantasies from third-hand memories of a time that was gone and would not come again.

All quiet, Hanzi thought. The house was secure. He was alone.

On his head he wore a homemade yarmulke, and pinned to his cheeks were long pretend side curls, and as he masturbated he nodded his head to a prayer he didn’t know.

I’m seventeen, he thought as he covered himself up, a vague lack of satisfaction irritating at him. The stories were no longer enough. I should . . .

He chose a pen name for himself that night, a handle: Hershele Ostropol, after a forgotten Jewish legend of a storyteller. Already, he knew what he wanted to do, what his purpose was, and that night he sat in front of the keyboard and wrote his first story, and published it in the morning.

It was called The Last Jew and the Virgins of the Rhein.





The Last Jew and the Virgins of the Rhein, Part I

By Hershele Ostropol


The Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end . . . spying on the unsuspicious German girl he plans to seduce . . . He wants to contaminate her blood and remove her from the bosom of her own people.—Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf





He drove carefully over the blasted roads and into Paris, avoiding with ease the few checkpoints the army had thrown up half-heartedly outside the city. The war had ended, after all. They had won. There were no more Jews.

He parked the Volkswagen in the darkened Latin Quarter, on the left side of the Seine from Notre Dame. He stepped out of the car into the cool air, inhaling the scent of sewage and roasting chestnuts on the breeze. For a moment he remembered a time before the war, when he visited Paris with Miriam and the baby . . . He forced the memory away and began marching into the maze of alleyways and shuttered shops that was the Quartier Latin.

There. It was an ancient stone building, its windows carefully blank. He stood in the shadows and watched.

There was a sentry on duty outside the heavy oak door. A solitary working streetlamp cast a hazy glow over the entrance, and he watched, carefully observing, as the striking young girl stood up and stamped her feet on the ground. She was blonde, a pure-blooded Aryan. Her golden hair was cut short at the shoulders, spilling over pale, delicate cheekbones. She wore a tailored black coat that opened momentarily when she moved, revealing dark leather, the flash of a white thigh. He looked closer, observing, memorizing: long silk stockings stretched over those long, beautiful legs—and a black sleek handgun was strapped to one thigh.

Virgins of the Rhein. He felt a shiver of apprehension run down his back. He had to remind himself the girl was a cold-blooded assassin; attractive—and deadly.

The door opened, spilling more light onto the pavement, and he heard the momentary sound of laughter and piano music from inside. A second girl was framed in the doorway, and his eyes traveled over her long, muscular body that was clad only in a body-hugging black dress, extenuating her firm, large breasts and flat stomach.

The girl marched down the steps and stood facing the guard. She snapped a sharp salute that was followed by the other guard.

“All quiet, Helga?”

“All quiet Ma’am!”

The tall blonde nodded. Her lips were bright red, and when she smiled they revealed between them rows of white teeth. “Go back inside, Helga. I’ll take over for a while. You’re needed in the basement to help with the prisoners.”

“Ma’am!” The guard, Helga, snapped another salute, and smiled at her superior. Her tongue ran over her lips slowly, as if she was already contemplating her job inside the thick walls of the building. The two women stood close to each other, their faces almost touching. “Go,” the tall blonde murmured. “The prisoners . . . need you. Leave them alive.”

“For a while longer,” Helga whispered. The two women’s lips touched lightly, almost hungry.

“Go,” the leggy blonde said. She laid long, delicate fingers on Helga’s shoulders and stripped her slowly of her long coat. The hidden watcher felt himself getting aroused almost against his will as Helga’s perfect form was revealed. The tall blonde covered herself with the coat. “Go,” she said again, and this time it was a command.

Helga obeyed. She walked up the steps and disappeared inside the mansion, closing the door behind her. The hidden watcher looked at the woman that remained.

It was time to act.

He stepped out of the shadows and walked briskly towards the blonde woman . . .

TO BE CONTINUED.


Hershele sat in the basement of the Technische Universität Berlin, the converted computer lab. He was working, but it wasn’t on homework, though he had to hand in an assignment in the morning. The assignment was about a new kind of viral electronic mail that the papers were calling Goebbels Mail, a kind of mass advertising of products. Hanzi didn’t care. He was writing.

The lab was empty, warm. Outside the snow fell, and through the window he could dimly see his beat-up Volkswagen being covered in white. It was silent, comforting, safe.

He stood and looked around, but could see no one. He slipped the yarmulke from his pocket and put it on his head. He sat in front of the keyboard and felt a tingle in his fingers, and down below.

His story had been well accepted, he thought, and it made him smile. It was the feedback that almost drove him now, more than the other kind of gratification.

There was a lively debate about his story on the BBS, ranging from the congratulatory “keep going, it’s really good,” to the nitpickers (it was an old English word. It came from slavery, when there were still African people to enslave) who argued over the minute details of the story, on whether the clothes were right for the period, to Hershele’s choice of car for his character. But there was interest, and several more discreet messages who assured him his story was affecting them in the same way slash stories have always affected him. “Too softcore,” was another comment, and so, now, Hershele allowed himself greater liberty as he began to write the shorter, second part of what he was already planning would become an ongoing series.

Tucked away in the basement, Hershele forgot his audience and wrote only for himself, a metal Star of David pressing painfully into his palm as excitement made him close his fingers in an involuntary fist.




The Last Jew and the Virgins of the Rhein, Part II



By Hershele Ostropol





“Stop!” the blonde woman said, pointing the carbine in his chest. Her cat eyes examined him leisurely, almost hungrily.

The Last Jew raised his hands calmly to shoulder height. In his left hand he was clutching a brown wallet: the paperwork inside it had cost him a small fortune several months ago from an old forger in Nice.

“Standartenfuehrer Walther Viter, S.S,” he said.

His eyes followed the blonde’s heaving chest, followed exposed contours of her breasts up to her face, to the eyes widening in surprise, to the red tongue moistening her full lips. Surprise? Anticipation? A touch of fear?

He lowered his hands and watched the blonde raise the carbine. “Colonel, I did not know . . . ”

He saw the subversive light in her eyes and didn’t hesitate. There was only one way to act from the start and he didn’t hesitate, he reached out and grabbed the blonde, pulling her closer to him, his hands resting on her breasts, his erection pressed again her soft back side. “Do not underestimate me, Fraulein,” he said softly as she squirmed against his body, “I am here to inspect, and to judge. The hand of the S.S.—” and here he shoved his hand between the blonde’s legs, feeling her hidden mound grow moist against his finger—“reaches a long, long way.”

He released her and watched her sway. “Lead on,” he said, and motioned for her to proceed him up the stairs to the mansion. Almost as an afterthought he picked up the carbine and pointed it between the blonde’s eyes. “Don’t make me repeat myself,” he said. He watched in silence as she wriggled up the stairs, her smooth ass moving sensuously against the leather.

He followed her into the headquarters of the Virgins of the Rhein, and closed the door softly against the darkness outside.

TO BE CONTINUED.


“Yes, of course I was pleased with the Last Jew’s fake German identity—the colonel’s name I made from adding together the names of Fredrick Viter and Walther Rauff, both rather obscure historical figures. The contents were harder, the sense of something major happening almost—or so I like to think—palpable,” Hanzi said. He was sitting in a coffee shop on Göring Strasse with his friend.

His friend was also a colleague. They worked for Deutsche Bank together. His name was Hermann.

“I also enjoyed your Nazi Biker Sluts—Why Won’t You Come Out Tonight? “ Hermann now said. “Quite risqué, I thought.”

“I hope so,” Hanzi said. They were quite alone. No one was listening.

“And I thought Nazi Super Sex Toys Last All Summer Long was almost poetic,” Hermann said. He was something of a fan, and he began to look shiny with perspiration. “Too bad the Last Jew had to come to an end.”

“I couldn’t keep it up,” Hanzi said. The last installment of The Last Jew and the Virgins of the Rhein was published just as he got the job. His parents had died soon after, in a train crash when they went to visit relatives in Vienna, and Hanzi stayed to live alone in the family home.

“I also liked your monograph on The Fetishizing and Eroticizing of the Jew,” Hermann said. “Thought provoking.” He coughed and looked at his feet. “So what are you working on now?”

Hanzi smiled. It was a strange, almost ethereal smile. “I’ll show you,” he said. “Meet me next week, at the house.”

They drank the rest of their coffee in silence and admired the girls who passed them by.


The house was at number 304, Adolf Hitler Strasse. It was a comfortable white-fenced house in a quiet suburb of Berlin, with neatly-trimmed lawn at the front. But when Hermann arrived there, Hanzi was gone.

His last story was found on his desk, uncompleted. Hermann found the house undisturbed, the door open, Hanzi’s ancient Pravetz still turned on, the word-processing program still running, the story incomplete on the screen. Hanzi’s special books and magazines lay in plain sight over the desk: it was as if Hanzi, perhaps getting up to answer a knock on the door, had then simply disappeared.

The story was called Hershele Ostropol in the Stalag of Death, and it began like so:


Hershele Ostropol in the Stalag of Death


When they came for him it was not at night but in the middle of the afternoon, and the two women came quiet and with no warning, with just a polite knock on the door. He had taken it to be the postman, carrying a late delivery of one of his special magazines; but the two who stood in the doorway wore no uniforms, and only their eyes betrayed who, and what, they were.

Hanzi knew then that it was over; the knowledge washed him in lethargy, and a sense of futility made him open his hands as if in a shrug, his slim fingers opening limply, sweat dampening his palms.

They had interrupted him writing, it was another one of his stories. The computer was left switched on in his small study, and his special books and magazines lay in plain view on the desk.

He knew then that it was over; and he went with them without a fight and let them steer him into the dark Mercedes that waited for him, as he knew it would, outside.

The two female S.S colonels sat opposite him in the car, leather skirts riding up their pale thighs. Their lips were colorless, without lipstick, and their blonde hair gathered like dew on their shoulders.

“What will you do with me?” he whispered, unconsciously licking his lips. The woman on his left had brought out a horse whip and was stroking it, almost tenderly.

“What will we do with you?” she asked. A gold swastika plunged from her neck into her bosom, hung on a thin necklace. She looked out of the window. “We will teach you what it really means,” she said, “to be treated like a Jew.”

The car purred as it went into motion; and soon it was gone from Adolf Hitler Strasse, heading towards . . .

TO BE CONTINUED.





Lavie Tidhar grew up on a kibbutz in Israel, lived in Israel and South Africa, travelled widely in Africa and Asia, and has lived in London for a number of years. He is the winner of the 2003 Clarke-Bradbury Prize (awarded by the European Space Agency), was the editor of Michael Marshall Smith: The Annotated Bibliography (PS Publishing, 2004) and the anthology A Dick & Jane Primer for Adults (The British Fantasy Society, 2006), and is the author of the novella An Occupation of Angels (Pendragon Press, 2005). His stories appear in Sci Fiction, ChiZine, Postscripts, Nemonymous, Infinity Plus, Aeon, The Book of Dark Wisdom, Fortean Bureau and many others, and in translation in seven languages.





The Moby Clitoris of His Beloved




Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia


Yukio was only a salaryman, not a company boss, but for years he’d yearned to taste whale clitoris sashimi. Regular whalemeat sashimi was quite expensive, but Yukio would need to work for a hundred years to afford whale clitoris sashimi, the most expensive status symbol in Japan.

Much of Yukio’s knowledge of the world came from manga comic books or from anime movies which he watched on his phone while commuting for three hours every day. He treasured the image of a beautiful young ama diving woman standing on the bow of a whaling boat clad in a semi-transparent white costume and holding sparklingly aloft the special clitoridectomy knife. An icon far more wonderful than that of Kate Winslet at the front of the Titanic! Americans might have their Moby Dick, but Yukio’s countrymen (or at least the richest of them) had their Moby Clitoris Sashimi.

The beautiful young ama woman would take a deep breath, dive, swim underneath a woman-whale, grasp her 8-centimeter clitoris, then with one razor-sharp slash cut off the clitoris and swim away very fast. On the deck of the whaler the crew would wait for the ama to climb back aboard, her costume now see-through due to wetness.

And then the whalers would harpoon and kill the whale, because it would be too cruel to leave a female whale alive after amputation of her clitoris. In this respect the Japanese differed very much from certain Islamic and African countries which cut off the clitorises of human girls, so that men should not feel inadequate about their own capacity for orgasms.

Whenever the Japanese were criticised for hunting whales, it was the harvesting of clitorises which empowered them to continue. And of course Japan observed a strict clitoris quota, so that enough female whales would continue to copulate pleasurably and repopulate. Thus, while it was true that whale clitoridectomy directly pleasured only the richest individuals, every Japanese citizen who enjoyed eating whales also benefitted.

This Yukio knew. Yet he still yearned to taste whale clitoris sashimi for himself! Most men have licked a woman’s clitoris, although probably they haven’t eaten one; but the organ of ecstasy of a female whale sliced thinly was said to possess a taste beyond words.

When Yukio’s vacation came—the usual very hot and humid fortnight in August—he didn’t surrender his holiday back to the Nippon Real-Doll Corporation, as he had done in previous years, in the hope of more rapid promotion through the copyright department. Instead, he took a train from Tokyo (and then a bus) the hundred kilometers to Shirahama City where ama diving women lived. He would seduce an ama to love him. They would marry. She would get a job on a whaling boat. For him she would smuggle clitoris sashimi . . .


To his consternation Yukio soon discovered that the ama women of Shirahama, who dive for red seaweed, sea snails and abalone, looked nothing like the icon in his mind. For one thing, they weren’t slim but were muscular from exercise—and chubby, to cope with cold water. For another, their faces were darkly tanned, not a lovely creamy-white. For a third, their voices were loud and raucous, perhaps due to damage from water pressure; and their speech was quite vulgar. For a fourth, they didn’t wear semi-transparent white garments, but orange sweatshirts, thermal tights, and neoprene diving hoods. And for a fifth, their average age seemed to be over sixty. Even if one of those fat vulgar grannies wanted a lover and husband, how could Yukio excite himself enough to woo her?

Disconsolate, he went to get drunk. Presently he found himself outside The Authentic Ama-Geisha Inn. The name seemed promising.

Inside, he was amazed to find waiting several beautiful, slim young hostesses dressed in the correct long, white semi-transparent costumes, and also wearing white high heels. Perched jauntily on their foreheads were diving masks. One hostess wore her very long hair in an oily black rope which would excite a bondage fetishist or a flagellant considerably.

Soon this hostess, whose name was Keiko, was leading Yukio into a private room—which contained a low table, plastic cushions, and a small, blue-tiled pool set in the floor of tatami matting, which was plastic too; plastic would dry more quickly than straw matting. He knelt. Keiko knelt and poured some Johnnie Walker Black Label. She giggled and said sweetly, “You may splash me whenever you wish!”

Thus revealing more of her breast or thigh or belly . . .

“But you’re the ama of my visions!” Yukio exclaimed. “Why aren’t you diving in the sea? You would look so beautiful.”

Already he was a bit in love with Keiko, even though the plan had been for an ama to fall in love with him.

“I’m an ama-geisha,” Keiko explained. “Only you can wet me, not the sea.”

“I’ve seen amas just like you with the whaling fleet! Only,” and he recollected his apparently foolish plan, “not with such wonderful hair as yours. They dive for whale clitorises,” he added.

Keiko giggled again. “A real ama does that.”

“A fat old granny?”

Keiko’s job was to please him, and Yukio seemed to prefer intellectual stimulation rather than getting drunk and splashing her, so the astonishing truth emerged—a truth known to most inhabitants of Shirahama, but which the media patriotically chose not to publicise.

Each whaling ship carried a real ama and also a false ama (or rather an authentic iconic ama). The real ama, old and fat, foul-mouthed and lurid, would harvest the clitoris while the false ama—who looked more real—would wait in the water beside the ship. The false authentic ama would then take the clitoris from the real inauthentic ama and would climb a steep gangplank back on board deck, her garment delightfully see-through. Meanwhile the old fat ama would sneak on to the ship from the rear, using the ramp up which dead whales were winched.

This substitution made whale-hunting seem graceful and elegant and sexually exciting in the eyes of the world—slightly akin to marine bull-fighting—and justified the high price to gourmets of clitoris sashimi.

Yukio stared at Keiko. “Wouldn’t you rather be on a whaling ship, than here? With your wonderful rope of hair you’d set a new style for cartoon books and films. I can license your image for you.” Yukio’s work did indeed consist in copyright matters concerning Real Dolls modelled upon porn stars. “I’m a specialist. You’d earn a big fee.” And Yukio would be the lovely Keiko’s agent and manager, and because of this, he would become her Beloved! And at last he would eat whale clitoris sashimi.

Keiko was wide-eyed.

“Agreed?”

Before Keiko could change her mind, Yukio picked up his glass of Johnny Walker Black Label and threw the contents over her, wetting and revealing a delightful breast.

“Kampai!” he exclaimed, to toast her—but in his mind he was shouting ‘Banzai!’ for victory.


The whaling industry normally recruited deep-sea ama from communities such as Shirahama, but Yukio needed Keiko with him in Tokyo to register her image. Keiko could stay in his little apartment in a highrise in the suburbs.

So Keiko exchanged her authentic ama costume and high heels for jeans and a blouse, and piled her rope of hair upon her head, hiding it with a scarf, because nobody must steal her image on a phone en route! Already Yukio felt paranoid and jealous.


On the train Yukio looked at the news on his own phone, and a headline caught his eye: THROW THE WHALE AWAY!

A meeting in South Korea of the International Whaling Commission had ended in confusion. As usual the dispute was about whether to save whales or eat them. The Japanese delegate had suddenly declared that whale clitoris sashimi was a cultural treasure unique to Japan. If foreigners forced the Japanese to stop eating whalemeat, the Japanese would continue to harvest whale clitorises—but to please world public opinion they would throw the rest of the whale away. They would accomplish this grand gesture by compassionately exploding all clitoridectomised whales using torpedos packed with plastic explosive, since nuclear torpedos were unacceptable.

“That will make clitorises even more valuable and prestigious,” Yukio said to Keiko.

“I have a clitoris too,” she replied.

“But not a whale clitoris.” Or at least not yet, he thought.

Maybe the Japanese delegate’s statement was intended to bewilder the World Wildlife Fund, which had been picketing the meeting. Under the United Nations’ Declaration of Cultural Rights, it was forbidden to attack or slander any country’s unique cultural icons, such as the Golden Arches of MacDonald’s or the Eiffel Tower. Now that Japan had registered whale clitoris sashimi as a cultural treasure, that gourmet experience was protected from criticism—and if there were no clitorises to be sliced, obviously the experience would become extinct. To preserve the cultural experience, the Japanese must continue to hunt whales.


Yukio’s apartment was a four-mat one, which was better than living and sleeping in a room only the size of three tatami mats; but still it was rather crowded by two people, unless those two people were intimate. So Yukio found himself examining Keiko’s clitoris, causing her to sigh with pleasure. Then he went to sleep and dreamed that every century a magical woman-whale would appear offshore, to provide sashimi from her clitoris for the Empress of the time. On the brow of this whale: a white mark exactly like a chrysanthemum flower. During the subsequent hundred years, the whale’s clitoris would regenerate.

Yukio awoke in the morning, thinking immediately about the possibilities of cloning clitoris. Keiko had already risen and was now kneeling, dressed in her authentic iconic ama costume which real ama no longer wore. Truly she had the graces of a geisha. Obviously a woman’s clitoris couldn’t possibly taste as wonderful as a whale’s, yet what if cloned human clitoris could be marketed profitably enough so that the genius who thought of this became rich enough to afford to eat whale clitoris?

Since Yukio had no idea how to clone anything, an alternative occurred to him. These days, because pigs and people are very alike, pigs provided transplant organs for human beings. Maybe a million people had inside them pig hearts or lungs or livers or kidneys. When the pigs were sacrificed to provide transplants, the rest of the pig, including the clitoris in the case of female pigs, would probably go into pet food.

What if Yukio were to buy the sex organs of pigs, to provide a source of clitorises? These could be packaged in tiny jars as human clitorises, and sold over the internet! Upon the label, a photo of a genuine human clitoris, with a certificate of authenticity which would be correct since the picture at least was genuine. Delicious clitorises, cloned from this very clitoris you see! Realistically, Keiko might not obtain a job on a whaling ship—yet she could still help Yukio to achieve his goal.

Truly, his trip to the seaside had inspired him, probably because the clean air contained more oxygen in it than in the city.

Yukio took his phone, and soon he was photographing Keiko’s clitoris while she assisted him. He wasn’t quite sure if her clitoris was the usual size but it was certainly very noticeable. Using Photoshop, he could get rid of the surrounding flaps of flesh familiar to users of porn magazines, leaving only the clitoris itself in the picture. His computer could print many labels. In a truly iconic sense he would indeed be cloning Keiko’s clitoris, or at least its image. In his excitement he almost forgot to go to work.


On the commuter train, he used his phone to search for Pig Organ Farms and for Food Bottlers. Genius is to perceive connections where none were seen before.


When he returned home that night, Keiko was already lying asleep on the futon, still dressed as an ama and wearing her diving mask for even greater authenticity. Her long rope of hair seemed like an oxygen tube. The TV set was showing young men eating as many worms as they could as quickly as possible. It was the popular weekly show Brown Spaghetti Race, sponsored by the Dai-Nippon Cheese Company. The more Parmesan the contestants poured on the wiggling worms, the less difficult it was to pick them up using smoothly lacquered chopsticks.

Would consumers be more excited by “genuine canned cloned human clitoris sashimi” or “genuine ama clitoris sashimi (cloned)”? Maybe the label should show Keiko smiling as she held her photoshopped clitoris to her own lips with chopsticks? Would the suggestion of auto-cannibalism excite buyers? Was his ideal market gourmets who couldn’t afford whale clitoris, or sexual fetishists? Or both?

Yukio sat on the edge of the futon beside Keiko and regarded her tenderly. He lifted her rope of hair, closed his lips upon the end of it, and blew into the hair as though to supply her with more oxygen, such as she had been accustomed to at the seaside. Maybe, subconsciously at least, that was the reason why she had put on the diving mask.

“Keiko-san,” he told her politely, although she was asleep, “there is a change of plan.”


It took Yukio some hard work and organisation and most of his savings to set up the Genuine Cloned Ama Clitoris Sashimi Company, or GCACSC for short. The sexual organs of organ-donor pigs must be rushed by courier, refrigerated and ultra-fresh, to the Greater Tokyo Bottling Company, where a dedicated employee dissected out the clitorises for bottling. Irrelevant vaginas and labia and also penises and balls were cooked and minced and canned to become Luxury Pig-Protein sent as food aid to starving Communist North Korea, with the full co-operation of the government’s Japan-Aid programme, which subsidised the project and praised Yukio’s initiative and sense of social responsibility, while respecting his wish to remain anonymous. The donor farm believed that the complete sexual organs were being processed, which in the case of male pigs was true; and Yukio had no wish to enlighten them.

He enlightened the gourmet public about the availability of cloned ama clitoris sashimi by means of a clever spam program, which he bought in the Akihabara electronics district. A spam program was appropriate since the word spam originally meant `spiced American meat.’

Every night after Yukio came home from the Nippon Real-Doll Corporation, he printed labels for the jars and boxes and address labels and dealt with an increasing number of internet orders and payments. He had rented a garage for delivery of the little unlabelled jars of clitorises, which were received there during the day by Keiko, dressed ordinarily. She would then change into her ama costume, stick the labels on to the jars, skillfully fold the beautiful little cardboard boxes which Yukio produced on his printer, fit a jar into each, and stick on an address label.

Keiko was very busy; and so was Yukio. What with Yukio’s regular work at the Real-Doll Corporation and his after-hours work at home, he became a bit like a Zen monk who had trained himself in No-Sleep, or not much—now he slept standing up in the commuter train instead of looking at manga and anime on his phone; consequently he never watched the News in either manga or anime format. All he knew was that orders were pouring into his home PC. The spam had done its job sufficiently well that consumers were spontaneously spreading the word of the new and affordable (although not cheap) gourmet delight. Keiko told him that by now magazines were writing stories about, and TV channels were talking—she had done some phone interviews. Apparently Yukio was being hailed as the new Mr Mikimoto, but Yukio had no spare time to pay much attention.

Mikimoto-san was the man who invented cultured pearls by putting irritating grains of sand inside oysters, at Pearl Island. To suggest that his cultured pearls were as good as naturally occuring pearls, he had employed amas to dive into the sea around Pearl Island for tourists to admire, and in fact, according to Keiko, Mikimoto-san had invented or revised the see-through costumes of the amas. The ama water-ballet actresses would bring up real oysters, which might or might not contain real pearls, for the tourists to eat authentically in the Pearl Island Restaurant.

One evening an astonishing thing happened. Yukio had woken up automatically as usual in time to get off the commuter train, and was walking away from the station homeward when he saw Keiko coming towards along the street dressed in schoolgirl uniform!

“Why have you become a schoolgirl?” he cried out, but Keiko walked past, ignoring him.

Then along the street came another schoolgirl Keiko, then another, then a couple together.

They were real schoolgirls wearing false faces—latex masks of the real Keiko!

“Excuse me,” Yukio said to a false Keiko, “but where did you get that mask?”

The schoolgirl paused, but remained silent.

Of course, she couldn’t speak while wearing that mask because Yukio wasn’t speaking to her but to the mask. Should he reach out and peel the mask from her true face? That might constitute assault, or even a new perversion, of unmasking schoolgirls.

“Please tell me,” he begged.

She bowed slightly, then beckoned—gestured him back towards the station.

Like a tourist guide for the deaf she led him inside the station to a vending machine. It was one of those that sold the used panties of virgins, which old men would buy and sniff. But now it also sold something else in little bags: those masks of Keiko.

Quickly Yukio bought one. The packaging showed the upper body and face of Keiko, just as on the labels of the jars of clitorises. Keiko held to her lips with chopsticks a clitoris, although now she was using her left hand rather than her right—evidently she had been photoshopped. A speech bubble above her head read: Eat my virgin clitoris.

That was the cheeky message conveyed by the mask. Identities concealed, schoolgirls could tease men naughtily without a blush, without even saying a word or making a gesture. What innocent, or wicked, erotic power they would feel! Clitoris power. Maybe the packaging of other masks had different speech in the bubbles. Or maybe not. Or maybe yes.

Quickly Yukio googled non-manga non-anime News on his phone.

He saw a picture, taken through a window, of a classroom in which all the girls were wearing identical Keiko masks to the consternation of the teacher. He saw a picture of a playground where a dozen Keikos of different heights were strolling. A craze had hit the whole of Japan, probably spreading among schoolgirls everywhere by txt!

Because of trousers, he noticed some boys too, who were also wearing Keiko masks. Ah, the boys were doing that so as to save face!

He asked the Keiko who still lingered by the machine, “Keiko, did you do this without consulting me? To prove that you’re clever too?” What a perfect ecological loop, that the same machines which sold the used virgin underwear of schoolgirls should provide the same schoolgirls with these masks . . .

But of course she wasn’t the real Keiko, and besides she had no intention of speaking.

How could Keiko have organised the rapid manufacture of all the masks and their supply to vending machines? Yukio ripped open the packaging and unfolded the latex mask. On the back of the chin, to his horror he saw: ™ Nippon Real-Doll Corp.

Had he fallen asleep at work without realizing and talked in his sleep? Had he been too clever for himself? Had part of him exploited himself schizophrenically out of company loyalty? Or had the company security-psychologist decided that Yukio was behaving oddly, and investigated his computer?

Oh foolish Yukio, to have copyrighted the label with Keiko’s image in his own name at work, borrowing the company’s copyright software—that was how they had found out!

But then the company perceived a unique business opportunity: the Real-Doll Corporation could turn real schoolgirls everywhere into clitoris-power dolls of his Keiko! A million texting schoolgirls could spread a craze within a few days, or maybe a few hours. And Yukio couldn’t complain or sue, nor could Keiko. For one thing, Yukio had committed industrial theft. But, even more worryingly, the Real-Doll Corporation’s psychologist-detective may have also found out the true source of Genuine Cloned Ama Clitoris Sashimi.

Yukio bowed to the false Keiko, then hurried home.


“Who are you?” he said to Keiko in the four-mat room. Quickly he explained what he had discovered—Keiko had been too busy labeling in the rented garage that day to watch any news. And he added: “You must wear a mask from now on, or else I won’t know you!”

“Do you mean wear my diving mask?”

“More like a mask of Kate Winslet, I think . . . No, wait!”


The big oval of latex cut from the Keiko mask fitted the diving mask perfectly. Superglue secured it. Her false eyes, false nose, and false mouth squeezed flatly against the inside of the glass, as if she had dived to a depth of such pressure that her features had become two-dimensional. Her photoshopped clitoris forever would touch her flat lips.

Since the false genuine face which she wore a few centimeters in front of her real face was in fact her true face, this negated that falsity and bestowed a mysterious and mystical authenticity upon her actual face, even though that was now invisible, as mystical things often are.

A Zen-like state came over Yukio. He knelt before Keiko, like Pinocchio praying to the Blue Fairy to make him real. By not-seeing what he was seeing, Yukio began to worship her countenance.

Unseeing too, a blind goddess, Keiko heard his mantra of worship.

“My Beloved, My Beloved, My Beloved . . . ”

Whale clitoris sashimi was only an illusion, from which Yukio was now freed by enlightenment. Probably its sublime taste was also an illusion caused by exorbitant price. He would eat Keiko’s clitoris instead.





Ian Watson started writing science fiction in Japan in the late 1960s, where he was supposed to be a lecturer but his university was on strike for 2½ years. Many novels and story collections later, his most recent are respectively Mockymen (Golden Gryphon, 2003, and Immanion Press, 2004) and The Butterflies of Memory (PS Publishing, 2006), which isn’t a sequel to The Flies of Memory (Gollancz, 1990). His previous collection, The Great Escape (from Golden Gryphon) was a Washington Post “Book of the Year.” Throughout 1990 he worked eyeball to eyeball with Stanley Kubrick on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, subsequently directed by Steven Spielberg, for which Ian has screen credit for Screen Story. His first collection of poetry, The Lexicographer’s Love Song, appeared in 2001 from DNA Publications, and he has won a Rhysling Award for his SF poetry. He and Roberto Quaglia began collaborating three years ago, resulting in a now complete book of linked stories, The Beloved of My Beloved, of which the “Moby Clitoris” is one, currently seeking an English language publisher—it already found a Japanese one. Ian lives in a tiny English village midway between Oxford and Stratford with his black cat Poppy, and his web site with fun photos, run by Roberto, is at www.ianwatson.info. He and his Spanish translator and Hungarian publisher maintain a website (www.ajeno.intelmedia.co.uk) to spread greater awareness of the unknown Colombian poet Miguel Ajeno.

Roberto Quaglia (www.robertoquaglia.com) hails from Genoa in Italy, where he ran a bar for years, won prizes for photography, and became one of the few Surrealist city councillors in the world. Currently he lives much of the year in Bucharest because he learned to speak Romanian, though he may also live in Moldova where people also speak Romanian. Robert Sheckley enthusiastically prefaced Roberto’s surreal satirical SF double-novel Bread, Butter and Paradoxine (published in English by Delos International). He continues to take thousands of photographs. Genoa is the city of Christopher Columbus, who perhaps discovered America, and now America discovers Roberto Quaglia, which they can also do in “The Penis of My Beloved” in Claude Lalumière & Elise Moser’s anthology Lust for Life. Roberto cruises the motorways of Europe in a white Mercedes with no wing mirrors so that he will always see into the future. His recent collection of essays, also from Delos, Pensiero stocastico (Probabilistic Thought), considers such matters as “The Advantages of Human Clonation,” “The Miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes and Porn Photos on the Internet,” and “The Myth of Diana, the Death of the Sad Princess.” He has also written the remarkable Jonathan Livingshit Pigeon, much better than a seagull.





Lydia's Body




Vylar Kaftan


The girl did everything for him. She polished his boots with bear grease and swept the floor with a willow broom. She washed the sheets, both sets, once a week. She dried them on a clothesline near their house—the one-room log cabin she guessed he’d built himself. Sometimes the Wisconsin breeze blew more dirt into the sheets as they fluttered, the linen stained with human fluids she couldn’t scrub out.

He went hunting most days, the man she believed to be Lydia’s father. Sometimes he’d stroke her hair and say, “I’ll be back by nightfall, my Lydia, with fresh meat.” The girl smiled at him, grateful for his presence at night when the panthers screamed. He trudged off through the forest, shotgun slung to his back, and she closed the door behind him. The door had no lock. No one was around for miles except the Chippewa, who ignored them.

The girl leaned against the door each morning, in the single room that had become her new home—her prison. She repeated to herself, in case she forgot: My name is Amanda Barnes. I’m twenty-six years old. I was born in 1980. I don’t belong here. But then she looked at her body, the unfamiliar skinny arms, her work-raw hands, and wondered how much longer she’d stay.


Mix cornmeal with water, and bake into johnnycakes. Thrust the dash into the churn with regular strokes.


This body knew its required tasks. The body’s hands mixed the cornmeal, stoked the stove, braided the onion tops together and hung them in the attic. Amanda found these chores instinctive—a way of listening to her core, where some ancestral spirit guided her. No words were spoken—she simply knew, the way she knew her heartbeat.

Of course she’d told the man who she was—two years ago, when she woke up here. He’d blamed the fever and given her medicinal whiskey that she vomited back up. She couldn’t blame him—her story was unbelievable. How should she tell him she’d fallen asleep and awoken in another time, with no idea how she’d gotten here? She was only a little surprised to discover that the body had magic in it. Dishes cleaned faster than expected. The dirt floor swept itself at the barest touch. Magic must have brought her—but she couldn’t reverse it.

Her old life was fading away. She remembered drinking cinnamon lattes, driving to work, skimming the Internet personals—these were the habits of a film character somewhere, in a theater she had been in once. They happened in darkness, and when the movie ended she was here, blinking in the sunlight of 1838.


Mend shirts with tiny stitches, overlapping each other so they look like white paint. The tighter your stitches, the less likely they’ll rip. I’m careful when mending his shirts.


He’d come home at night, with a dead deer or even a bear. Amanda marveled at how he slung the corpse around, the meaty weight under full control. She sometimes watched him working shirtless, as he smoked meat in a hickory fire or planted potato seeds. When he split firewood, the log cracked on the axe’s downstroke—almost before he touched it, like the wood opened itself for him. He worked to provide for her—not her, but Lydia, whose body she was in.

Amanda had thought about leaving, but there was nowhere to go. The nearest town was forty miles away, and she didn’t know what direction. Wisconsin was frontier territory—just fur traders, Indians, and settlers who wanted to avoid other people. She’d asked where town was, but he didn’t say. “Why would you go there, Lydia?” he’d ask. “It’s too far, and there’s nothing to see. Someday I’ll take you, when you’re older.”

Someday. Amanda clung to that idea, as she scrubbed their undergarments. She didn’t know what magic had summoned her, nor who Lydia was. If something connected her to this body, she couldn’t see it. She’d stopped praying to find her way home. Even her mantra—My name is Amanda Barnes—felt useless. Just unrelated syllables—a spell with its life drained away. With each day, the idea of leaving became harder to remember. Despite her mantra, there was him, and he was the only reason she saw that drew her to this time.

It was impossible not to love him. That was the problem. Perhaps if she’d grown up here—if she remembered him swinging her in his arms, or leaning down to ruffle her hair—perhaps then, she could accept him as a father. But Amanda was twenty-six, and this man not much older—thirty-three, or a bit more. He was attractive, kind, and hardworking. He brought in fresh-killed meat, and hoed the potatoes with his strong arms, and once he shot a wolf that was nosing around the cabin door.

On Sunday nights, they sang hymns together. Their voices blended, tenor and soprano, and Amanda knew she could never tell him how she felt. He thought he was her father. Maybe, in a sense, he was—but he was all she had. At night as she listened to him sleep across the room, she thought about how they harmonized on the high notes, and how cold it was to sleep alone.


I like how gravy simmers. A bubble pauses, swelling on the surface. It grows so large it might escape and float away. But the bubble bursts, because it must. It returns to the pot, to be served for his dinner.


He came home one night, flushed with November’s chill. “Poor huntin’ out there.”

Amanda served his meal, buttering his potatoes. The attic was full of onions and smoked meat. Soon the blizzards would begin, and she—again—would be stuck inside the cabin for six months. Last year she’d gone nearly mad with boredom. Still—sometimes he’d go looking for fresh meat, and she’d worry. What if he didn’t come back? What if a wolf attacked him? What would she do on her own?

“What happens to me?” she asked aloud.

“Hmmm?”

“What happens to me,” she said, changing her train of thought, “in a few years? I’m nearly grown. What then?”

He chewed on his venison. “I dunno,” he said. He spoke with difficulty, as if he’d been considering it. “Frank might want you. He’s the man I trade with in town.”

“Am I property, to be given away?” she asked bitterly.

“Lydia! I wouldn’t do that.” He stabbed his fork into the fried onions. “I wouldn’t give you to any man you didn’t want.”

“Well, I have to think about my future.” Future—the word recalled something, about the butterscotch candies she kept in her desk . . . She shook her head. My name is Amanda Barnes . . .

He stirred the onions around his plate. “Want me to find someone for you? I could send you back East to work as a servant. I don’t got any living relatives. It’s just us, Lydia. You ’n me. At least out here, it’s just us. We can live any way we want. No one will bother us.”

“Who would cook for you if I left?”

He set his fork down. The fire in the hearth crackled. “I don’t need much. I’d get on all right.”

“Alone?”

He stood up. An upset person had nowhere to storm to, except the attic loft. Even there no one could hide, not long—everything was visible from below. He moved to the fire, next to the glassless shuttered windows. “I’d get a wife, I suppose.”

“Why haven’t you?”

“I don’t want one.”

Amanda took a guess. “Because of my mother?”

He jumped like she’d shot him. He turned to face her. “Yes.”

Amanda closed her eyes. “Do I look like her?”

His response was hoarse, and a long time coming. “Yes. Yes, you do, Lydia.”


He likes his meat fried with potatoes. The potatoes are in the attic. He never goes up there—that place is my own. Listen. A blizzard is coming.


Amanda was in the attic, getting a string of onions for supper. All meals were the same each week—potatoes and onions, and whatever meat he brought home. He never came up here—somehow, she knew. She had memories that felt like someone else’s. He was hunting again. Amanda worried about him, alone in the woods. But he took his shotgun, and he kept it well-oiled.

She kept thinking of the way he’d spoken the name Lydia. She’d heard that note—the longing for his absent wife—his loneliness, alone with his daughter in the wilderness. But he’d chosen this life for them—to live undisturbed by others. Free.

Her kerosene lamp gave little light in the attic. It was early March. The windows were shuttered for the season. Overhead the wind blew across the roof. A blizzard, she knew—no, it wasn’t her knowing that. The deep instinct told her. She hated the blizzards, hated the way they buried the house and trapped her inside. If he were home when it started, he’d stay—but otherwise, he dug shelter where he could, and she was alone.

She tugged on an onion string. All winter, she’d thought about him—as they slept in their beds, and as they sang together. She saw how he looked at her. He was thinking it too, and probably hating himself. A father and daughter—no, that couldn’t be. But she wasn’t his daughter. She was Amanda Barnes, whether he believed her or not.

The string broke. Onions tumbled to the floor. One rolled behind the cornmeal barrel. Amanda hunted it down and scooped it up like a runaway softball. She used to play softball—when was that? In her past, which was now her future. She felt shaky as the wind howled. The blizzard was coming. He would take shelter somewhere, and she was alone.

Amanda cradled the rough onion in her hand. Every crop was hard-fought. Each onion grew from his sweat, as he worked to feed them both. Tears ran down her face. Winter was driving her mad—hands scratching inside her, a voice trying to shout, a feeling colder than snowdrifts. Something hateful rose inside her like a ghost, until she thought she would burst.

She threw the onion against the wall. It’s March that does this to me, she thought, only March. She wanted to vanish into the snow with this magic body. A wish—but wishes were powdery snow melting in sunlight, gone before a season ended. If she could wish herself into happier times—but she knew no spells, and the body only seemed to do household magic. The things it knew, perhaps, from when Lydia was here.

But now it was Amanda’s body. She was stuck in this house, this time. This life was hers—to suffer through, or to find happiness. She picked up the onion. “My name is Amanda Barnes,” she said aloud. That man was not her father, and she could do as she pleased. No one would stop her.


The wrong wish is a dangerous spell, cold like ice. It traps the careless. It freezes you under the surface and never melts. I made a mistake. I need my body back.


Downstairs, the door crashed open. Amanda dropped the onion. Lydia’s father stumbled in with a swirl of snow, his arm clutched across his coat. His hand pressed bloody snow against his shoulder.

“Lydia,” he called, “I’ve shot myself.”

The girl scrambled down the attic ladder. He staggered to his chair and shrugged his coat off. He tore his shirt away, ripping the stitches like paper. The wound was more blood than injury. She grabbed strips of cloth and put water on the stove. He would live—but her body was cold, like the blizzard had swept inside the house.

“An accident,” he said. “My own fault—careless. So distracted—aahh!”

He sucked in his breath as she cleaned his wound with water. “No. Bring whiskey.”

She fetched the bottle from the shelf. He poured it over his shoulder, hissing when the alcohol burned the wound. The brown liquid mixed with blood and ran down his arm. He took a swig of whiskey. He swirled the liquor in the bottle, and drank three more times.

She took the whiskey. Her hands shook. The wind rattled the shutters. Behind his back she took a drink herself. The liquid burned her throat and warmed her, like she hadn’t felt for months. She drank again, to drive away March, and loneliness, and the dark hatefulness inside her.

“More,” he muttered, and she handed it back. He drank deeply, leaving the bottle half-full. He set it down. “I’m fine. Help me wrap the wound.”

The girl obeyed, and the magic worked—her hands knew where to put the cloth, where to tighten or leave loose. The whiskey burned inside her like a kerosene lamp flame—banishing darkness, past, and future. There was only this moment, touching his skin, easing his pain. His breathing slowed, and his muscles relaxed. When she finished, she pulled her chair over and leaned on his good shoulder. She might have lost him, she realized, and she would have been alone—with the blizzard, and the cabin, and a lifetime stretching ahead of her.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” he said. He took her hand and squeezed it. Her heart raced. She leaned over to kiss his cheek. He turned his head to say something—and she brushed against his mouth.

I can do what I want, Amanda thought fiercely. She kissed his lips, her tongue exploring their closed line. He moaned once, then opened to her. Their tongues fought inside him, tasting of whiskey.

Amanda stroked his hair. The room floated around her. “Shh,” she said, moving her mouth away. “It’s all right.” The instinct inside her screamed no, you can’t—and she silenced it. This was her life now.

He grabbed her waist and pulled her onto his lap. He plowed into her mouth like a starving man. Amanda’s breath quickened. His hardness pressed through his workpants against her leg. She wondered if this body could hex him. Her hand slid up his thigh, brushing against—

He shoved her away. She tumbled to the floor, bruising her hip. He reeled against the chair and clutched his forehead. “Oh, God, oh Mary, Jesus—” he muttered.

Amanda crawled away. The room spun. His voice rang over the crackling fire: “We can never do that again, do you hear me? Never.” He yanked the door open. Blizzard winds swirled in. He swore and slammed the door, not looking at her. “Go to the attic. Stay away. Go away.”

“I’m not your daughter!”

“Stop it!”

“My name is Amanda Barnes—”

“Stop it!”

She couldn’t. The words poured out like blood, staining the space between them. “Don’t you see how I’ve changed? I’m not her anymore. I love you. Look at me—you know I’m not her!”

He whirled around, and she read doubt in his eyes. For a moment, she dared believe. Then his expression hardened, like he’d built a barrier against her—against himself. “It’s not possible.”

“I swear it’s true. You know it’s true.”

“We can never be that way. No matter what we want.” He pulled the Bible off the shelf and went to his bed. He faced the wall and opened the book. He didn’t turn the pages.

Never. She could never have what she wanted, never leave, never hope. Deep inside her, something clawed to get out. It was that instinct, that voice—the one she’d trusted until now. Amanda glanced at the attic ladder, but it was too hard to climb. She stumbled to her bed and collapsed, drunk and exhausted. Her stomach heaved, but she kept its contents down. Even when she closed her eyes, she was spinning out of control. She couldn’t fight anymore. The darkness would bury her—like this damned cabin under ten feet of snow.


No, you can’t—I won’t let you—


She was fighting for her life, the girl: only one body for both of them, two minds in the same magic flesh—one born there, and one summoned against her will. It should have been an exchange—Lydia’s wish come true. The spell should have let her escape her hated life. It had been the wrong wish. The wrong wish could kill.

Lydia’s spell failed, and she had paid for it. Trapped under Amanda’s presence, she’d waited, cold as burial, imprisoned inside her own flesh. Somewhere in the future was a soulless body—Amanda’s body, the one Lydia wanted. She knew now: her magic couldn’t take her there. But it could still free her from this self-made prison.

She waited until Amanda was weak. The fight was brief—the body’s magic ran deep like a well, and Lydia knew how to tap it. Amanda did not, and was defenseless. Lydia rose from the icy place inside and summoned power from her own blood. She started with her fingertips, the muscles clenching at her command, and worked her way into the body’s organs. She wrapped Amanda in tendons and bile before pushing her into darkness. Lydia buried her in the body, grieving. Her guilt was a stain she would never scrub out. But she felt her life returning, once she controlled her body again.

Lydia woke in her familiar bed. It was night. Her head felt fuzzy, like she’d woken from a bad dream. Her tongue was cotton-dry. She looked toward her father’s empty bed. A candle stub cast its light across the patchwork quilt. Next to it stood the empty whiskey bottle, reflecting the flame into a shining stripe.

She sat up, wondering where he might be. Then she knew—by instinct, like breathing. She knew where he was, the way she knew what he wanted.

A shadow crossed in front of the flickering candle. A breath touched her face, smelling of liquor. His hands pressed her shoulders against the bed. “No,” Lydia whispered, sick with whiskey and buried desire. Her stomach lurched as her fingers curled toward him. “No, we can’t—we can’t—”

He said, “Oh God.” The candle went out.





Vylar Kaftan’s fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, ChiZine, and Abyss & Apex. She lives in northern California and volunteers as a mentor for teenaged writers. She blogs at www.vylarkaftan.net





Urchins, While Swimming




Catherynne M. Valente

On the third day the ardent hermit

Was sitting by the shore, in love,

Awaiting the enticing mermaid,

As shade was lying on the grove.

Dark ceded to the sun’s emergence;

By then the monk had disappeared,

No one knew where, and only urchins,

While swimming, saw a hoary beard.

—Aleksandr Pushkin

Rusalka, 1819



I: Snail Into Shell

Rybka, you have to wake up.

At night she always called me rybka. At night, when she shook me awake in my thin bed and the dirt-smeared window was a sieve for the light of the bone-picked stars, she whispered and stroked my temples and said: rybka, rybka, wake up, you have to wake up. I would rub my eyes and with heavy limbs hunch to the edge of the greyed mattress, hang my head over the side. She would be waiting with a big copper kettle, a porcelain basin, the best and most beautiful of the few things we owned. She would be waiting, and while I looked up at the stars through a scrim of window-mud and window-ice, she would wet my hair.

She was my mother, she was kind, the water was always warm.

The kettle poured its steaming stream over my scalp, that old water like sleep spreading over my long black hair. Her hands were so sure, and she wet every strand—she did not wash it, understand, only pulled and combed the slightly yellow water from our creaking faucet through my tangles.

Rybka, I’m sorry, poor darling. I’m so sorry. Go back to sleep.

And she would coil my slippery hair on the pillow like loose rope on the deck of a ship, and she would sing to me until I was asleep again, and her voice was like stones falling into a deep lake:

Bayu, bayushki bayu

Ne lozhisya na krayu

Pridet serenkiy volchok

Y ukusit za bochek





In the morning, she called me always by my name, Kseniya, and her eyes would be worry-wrinkled—and her hair would be wet, too. While she scraped a pale, translucent sliver of precious butter over rough, hard-crusted bread, I would draw a bath, filling the high-sided tub to its bright brim. We ate our breakfast slick-haired in the nearly warm water, curled into each other’s bodies, snail into shell, while the bath sloshed over onto the kitchen floor, which was also the living room floor and the bathroom floor and my mother’s bedroom floor—she gave me the little closet which served as a second room.

In the evening, if we had meat, she would fry it slowly and we would savor the smell together, to make the meal last. If we did not, she would tell me a story about a princess who had a bowl which was never empty of sweet, roasted chickens while I slurped a thin soup of cabbage and pulpy pumpkin and saved bathwater. Sometimes, when my mother spoke low and gentle over the green soup, it tasted like birds with browned, sizzling skin. All day, she sponged my head, the trickle ticklish as sweat. The back of my dress clung slimy to my skin.

Before bed, she would pass my head under the faucet, the cold water splashing on my scalp like a slap. And then the waking, always the waking, and hour or two past midnight.

Rybka, I’m sorry, you have to wake up.

My childhood was a world of wetness, and I loved the smell of my mother’s ever-dripping hair.

One night, she did not come to wet my hair. I woke up myself, my body wound like a clock by years of kettles and basins. The stars were salt-crystals floating in the window’s mire. I crept out of my room and across the freezing floor like the surface of a winter lake. My mother lay in her bed, her back turned to the night.

Her hair was dry.

It was yellowy-brown, the color of old nut-husks—I was shocked. I had never seen it un-darkened by water. I touched it and she did not move. I turned her face to me and it did not move against my hand, or murmur to me to go back to sleep, or call me rybka—water dribbled out of her mouth and onto the blankets. Her eyes were dark and shallow.

Mama, you have to wake up.

I soaked up the water with the edge of the bedsheet. I pulled her to me; more water fell from her.

Mamochka, I’m sorry, you have to wake up.

Her head sagged against my arm. I didn’t cry, but drew a bath in the dark, feeling the water for a ghost of warmth in the stream. It was hard—I was always so thin and small, then!—but I pulled my mother from her bed and got her into the tub, though the water splashed and my arms ached and she did not move, she did not move as I dragged her across the cold floor, she did not move as I pushed her over the lip of the bath. She floated there, and I pulled the water through her hair until it was black again, but her eyes did not swim up out of themselves. I peeled off my nightgown, soaked with her mouth-water, and climbed in after her, curling into her body as we always did, snail into shell. Her skin was clammy and thick against my cheek.

Rybka, wake up. It’s time to wet my hair.

There was no sound but the tinkling ripple of water and the stars dripping through the window-sieve. I closed my mother’s eyes and tucked my head up under her chin. I pulled her arms around me like blankets. And I sang to her, while the bath beaded on her skin, slowly blooming blue.

Bayu, bayushki bayu

Ne lozhisya na krayu

Pridet serenkiy volchok

Y ukusit za bochek





II: The Ardent Hermit

I met Artyom at university, where I combed my hair into a tight braid so that it would hold its moisture through anatomy lectures, pharmacopeial lectures, stitching and bone-setting demonstrations. At lunch I would wait until all the others had gone, and put my head under the spotless bathroom sink. Pristine, colorless water rushed over my brow like a comforting hand.

There were no details worth recounting: I tutored him in tumors and growths, one of the many ways I kept myself in copper kettles and cabbage soup. This is not important. How do we begin to remember? One day he was not there, the next day his laugh was a constant crow on my shoulder. One day I did not love a man named Artyom, the next day I loved him, and between the two days there is nothing but air.

Artyom ate the same thing every day: smoked fish, black bread, blueberries folded in a pale green handkerchief. He wore the spectacles of a man twice his age, and his hair was yellowy-brown. He had a thin little beard, a large nose and kept his tie very neatly. He once shared his lunch with me: I found the blueberries sour, too soft.

“When I was a girl,” I said slowly, “there were no blueberries where we lived, and we would not have been able to buy them if there were. Instead I ate pumpkin, to keep parasites from chewing my belly into a honeycomb after the war. I ate pumpkin until I could not stand the sight of it, the dusty wet smell of it. I think I am too old, now, to love blueberries, and too old to see pumpkins and not think of worms.”

Artyom blinked at me. His book lay open to a cross-section of the thyroid, the green wind off of the Neva rifling through the pages and the damp tail of my braid. He took back his blueberries.

When there was snow on the dome of St. Isaac’s and the hooves of the Bronze Horseman were shoed in ice, he lay beside me on his own thin mattress and clumsily poured out the water of his tin kettle over my hair, catching the runoff in an old iron pot.

“You have to wake me in the night, Artyom. It is important. Do you promise to remember?”

“Of course, Ksyusha, but why? This is silly, and you will get my bed all wet.”

I propped myself up on one elbow, the river-waves of my hair tumbling over one bare breast, a trickle winding its way from skin to linen. “If I can trust you to do this thing for me, then I can love you. Is that not reason enough?”

“If you can trust me to do this thing, then you can trust me to know why it must be done. Does that not seem obvious?”

He was so sweet then, with his thin chest and his clean fingernails. His woolen socks and his over-sugared tea. The sharp inward curve of his hip. I told him—why should I not? Steam rose from my scalp and he stroked my calves while I told him about my mother, how she was called Vodzimira, and how when she was young she lived in a little village in the Urals before the war and loved a seminary student with thick eyebrows named Yefrem, how she crushed thirteen yellow oxlips with her body when he laid her down under the larch trees.

Mira, Mira, he said to her then, I will never forget how the light looks on your stomach in this moment, the light through the larch leaves and the birch branches. It looks like water, as though you are a little brook into which I am always falling, always falling.

And my mother put her arms around his neck and whispered his name over and over into the collar of his shirt: Yefrem, Yefrem. She watched a moth land on his black woolen coat and rub its slender brown legs together, and she winced as her body opened for the first time. She watched the moth until the pain went away, and I suppose she thought then that she would be happy enough in a house built of Yefrem and his wool and his shirts, and his larches and his light.

But when she came to his school and put her hands over her belly, when she told him under a gray sky and droning bronze bells that she was already three months along, and would he see about a priest so that her child might have a name, he just smiled thinly and told her that he did not want a house built of Vodzimira and her water and her stomach, that he wanted only a house of God and some few angels with feet of glass, and that she was not to come to his school any longer. He did not want to be suspected of interfering with local girls.

My mother was alone, and her despair walked alongside her like a little black-haired girl with gleaming shoes. She could not tell her father or her own mother, she could not tell her brothers. She could think of no one she could tell who would love her still when the telling was done. So she went into the forest again, into the larches and the birches and the moths and the light, and in a little lake which reflected bare branches, she drowned herself without another word to anyone.

I swallowed and continued hoarsely. “When my mother opened her eyes again, it was very dark, and there were stars in the sky like drops of rain, and she saw them from under the water of the little lake. She was in the lake and the lake was in her and her fingers spread out under the water until there was nothing but the water and her, spanning shore to shore, and she moved in it, in herself, like a little tide. She had me there, under the slow ripples, in the dark, and the silver fish were her midwives.”

I twisted the ends of my hair. A little water seeped out onto my knuckles.

Artyom looked at me very seriously. “You’re talking about rusalka.”

I shrugged, not meeting his gaze. “She didn’t expect it. She certainly didn’t think her child would go into the lake with her. When I was born, I swam as happily as a little turtle, and breathed the water, and as if by instinct beckoned wandering men with tiny, impish fingers. But she didn’t want that for me. She didn’t even want it for herself—she pressed her instinct down in her viciously, like a stone crushing a bird’s skull. She brought me to the city, and she worked in laundries, her hands deep in soapy water every day, so that I would have something other than a lonely lake and skeletons.” I picked at the threads of the mattress, refusing to look up, to see his disbelief. “But we had to stay wet, you know. It is hard in the city, there are so many things to dry you out. Especially at night, with the cold wind blowing across your scalp, through the holes in the walls. And even in the summer, the pillow drinks up your hair.”

Artyom looked at me with pale green eyes, the color of lichen in the high mountains, and I broke from his gaze. He scratched his head and laughed a little. I did not laugh.

“My mother died when I was very young, you know. I have thought about it many times, since. And I think that, after awhile, she was just so tired, so tired, and a person, even a rusalka, can only wake herself up so many times before she only wants to sleep, sleep a little while longer, before she is just so tired that one day she forgets to wake up and her hair dries out and her little girl finds her with brown hair instead of black, and no amount of water will wake her up anymore.”

My hands were pale and shaking as dead grass. I tried to pull away from him and draw my knees up to my chest—of course he did not believe me, how could I have thought he might? But Artyom took me in his arms and shushed me and stroked my head and told me to hush, of course he would remember to wake me, his poor love, he would wet my hair if I wanted him to, it was nothing, hush, now.

“Call me rybka, when you wake me,” I whispered.

“You are not a rusalka, Kseniya Yefremovna.”

“Nevertheless.”

The frost was thick as fur on the windows when he kissed me awake in the hour-heavy dark, a steaming basin in his hands.


III: By the Shore, in Love

It took exactly seventeen nights, with Artyom constant with his kettle and basin as a nun at prayer over her pale candles, before I slept easily in his arms, deeper than waves.

On the eighteenth night my breath was quick as a darting mayfly on his cheek, and he reached for me as men will do—he reached for me and I was there, dark, new-soaked hair sticking to my breasts, rivulets of water trickling over my stomach. I smiled in the dark, and his face was so kind above me, kind and soft and needful. He closed his eyes—I could see at their edges gentle creases which would one day be a grandfather’s wrinkles. When our lips parted he was shaking, his lip shuddering as though he had just touched a Madonna carved from ice, and I think of all the things I remember about Artyom, it is that little shaking that I recall most clearly, most often.

I was a virgin. Under the shadows of St. Isaac’s and a moon-spattered light like blueberries strewn on the grass I moved over him with more valor than I felt—but one of us had to be brave. He guided me, but his motions were so small and afraid, as though, after all this time, he could not quite understand or believe in what was happening. I felt as though I was an old door, stuck into my frame, and some sun-beaten shoulder jarring me open, smashing against the dusty wood. It hurt, the widening of my bones, the rearrangement of my body, ascending and descending anatomies, sliding aside and aligning into a new thing. Of course it hurt. But there was no blood and I kissed his eyebrows instead of crying. My hair hung around his face like storm-drenched curtains, casting long shadows on his cheekbones.

“Ksyusha,” he said to me, tender and gentle, without mockery, “Ksyusha, I will never forget how the light looks on your stomach in this moment, the light through your hair and the frozen windows. It looks like water, as though you are a little brook into which I am always falling, always falling.”

The bars of the window cut my chest into quarters. He arched his back. I clamped his waist between my thighs. These things are not important—no one act of love is different much in its parts from any other, really. What is important is this: I did not know. I bent over him, meaning to kiss, only meaning to kiss—and I did not know what would happen, I swear it.

The lake came out of me, shuddering and splashing—my mouth opened like a sluice-gate, and a flood of water came shrieking from me, more water than I had ever known, strung with weeds and the skeletons of fish and little stones like sandy jewels.

It tasted like blood.

I choked, my body seized, thrashing rapture-violent, and it gushed harder, streaming from my lips, my hair, my fingertips, my eyes, my eyes, my eyes wept a deluge onto the thin little body of Artyom. The windows caught the jets and drops froze there, hard knots of ice. I screamed and all that came from my throat was more water, more and more and more.

His legs jerked awkwardly and I clutched at him, trying to clear the water and the green stems from his mouth, but already he convulsed under me, spluttering and spitting, reaching out for me from under the growing pool that was our bed, the bubbles of his breath popping in the blue—the bed was a basin and the water steamed and I wet his hair in it, but I did not mean to, I could not close my mouth against it, I could not stop it, I could not move away from him and it came and came and his bones beneath me racked themselves in the mire, the whites of his eyes rolled, and I am sorry, Artyom, I did not know, my mother did not tell me, she told me only to live as best I could, she did not say we drag the lake with us, even into the city, drag it behind us, a drowning shadow shot with green.

I would like to remember that he called out to me, that he called out in faith that I could deliver him, and if I try, I can almost manage it, his voice in my ear like an echo:

“Ksyusha!”

But I do not think he did, I think he only gurgled and gasped and coughed and died. I think the strangling weeds just passed over his teeth.

He never tried to push me off of him, he never tried to sit up. His face became still. His lips did not shake. His skin was pale and purpled. The water rippled over his thin little beard as it slowly, slowly as spring thaw, seeped into the mattress and disappeared.

The snow murmured against the glass.



IV: Shell Into Snail

Rybka, you have to wake up.

She rubs her eyes with little pink fingers and turns away from me, towards the wall.

Rybka, I’m sorry, you have to wake up.

She yawns, stretches her legs, and wriggles sleepily towards the edge of the bed. I am waiting, kneeling on the floor with our copper kettle and a glass bowl. I am her mother, I understand the shock of waking, the water is always warm. She stares up through the window-glass at the stars like salt on the skin of a black fish as I pour it over her scalp, clear and clean. I comb it through every strand—her hair is so soft, like leaves. Afterwards, we lie together in the dark, my body curving around hers like a shell onto its snail, our wet hair curling slowly around each other. I sing her back to sleep, and my voice echoes off of the walls and windows, where there is frost and bare branches scraping:





Bayu, bayushki bayu

Ne lozhisya na krayu

Pridet serenkiy volchok

Y ukusit za bochek





Her hair is yellowy-brown under the wet, but damp enough to seem always black, like mine. Her eyes are so green it hurts, sometimes, to look at them, like looking at the sun. She swims very well for her age, and asks always to be taken to the mountains for the holidays. She is too little for coffee, but sneaks sips when I am not looking—she says it tastes like wet earth.

There is money for coffee, and kettles, and birds with browned, sizzling skin. We can see a bright silver scrap of the Neva through our windows, and the gold lights of the Liteyny Bridge. A woman who can set a bone is never hungry. I wash my hands more than anyone on my ward—twelve times a day I thrust my skin under water and breathe relief.

I taught her before she could read how to braid her hair very tightly.

In the morning I will call her Sofiya and put a little red cup full of blueberries floating in cream in front of her, and she will tell me that after the kettle, she dreamed again of the man with the thin little beard and the big nose who sits on the side of a lake and shares his lunch with her. He has larch leaves in his lap, she will say, and he tells her she is pretty, and he calls her rybka, too. His beard prickles her cheek when he holds her. I will pull my coffee away from her creeping fingers and smile as well as I am able. She will eat her blueberries slowly, savoring them, removing the purple skin with her tongue before chewing the greenish fruit. I will draw us a bath.

But now, under the stars pricking the window-frost like sewing needles, I hold her against me, her wet eyelashes sticking together, her little breath quick and even. I decide I will take her to the mountains. I decide I will not.

Rybka, poor darling, I’m sorry, go back to sleep.

I wind her hair around my fingers; little drops like tears squeeze out, roll over my knuckles.

We are as happy as we may be, as happy as winters with ice on the stairs and coats which seem to always need patching and wet hair that freezes against our shoulders and the memory of still eyelids under water may leave us.

I am not tired yet.





Catherynne Valente lives in Ohio. Her short fiction and p