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[podcasting|fiction] Starflower’s Crossing

This requires a modest amount of explanation. I offered a custom-written flash story as a prize in the Strange Horizons fund drive. Jennifer Hudock won the story, gave me the title “Starflower’s Crossing” as a prompt, and has now recorded the resulting story for podcast. It can be heard at her Web site, This Week in Awesome, and is wonderfully executed.

Go check it out!

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[fiction] “People of Leaf and Branch” live at Fantasy

My short story “People of Leaf and Branch” is live at Fantasy magazine. This is a tie-in to Green Powell’s | Amazon ], which will be released tomorrow.

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[fiction] “Clown Eggs” now available in audio at DrabbleCast

My Abyss & Apex short story “Clown Eggs” is now available in audio form at DrabbleCast.

I’ve always loved the opening of that piece.

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[fiction] New story live at Clarkesworld

Rolling Steel: A Pre-Apocalyptic Love Story by and me is live at Clarkesworld, for the April, 2009 issue.

comments here on her first pro publication.

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[fiction] Lux Fiat

Lux Fiat

by Jay Lake

Her
Green deeper than the memory of seasons. Once whip-thin, growing like xylemic lightning toward the springtime heavens, now substantial and barked rough and full. Sap thundering, blood of the earth, slow, soil-driven thoughts. Aspiring upward, storing sunlight and rain and the dreams of a thousand generations of pine beetles.

Him
Bright and sharp. Killing dull at the back. Made to swing in short, constrained arcs. Handle of polished ash which remembered another time and place, a man with a lathe, the feel of fingers and palms in a grip made to fulfill destinies. Carried-shoulder high into a blue-tinged wilderness across crackling whiteness and under the dripping arms of sky-high messengers of world’s faith in itself. Held low, pulled back, swung hard, bite. Bite. Bite. The blessed release, better than any animal rutting, as wood falls away and the metal edge triumphs.

Them
Booted almost knee-high. Wrapped in cotton and wool and puffy layers like so many day-glo penguins. Laughing hot breath, small whines of mixed joy and cold-fueled boredom. An axe, a rope, patience, snow crusting on corduroy. Thermos of hot chocolate in the car, secret sack of candy canes for the trip back, bungee cords for the roof, atavistic ambitions of the Christmases like grandpa used to make but never really did either.

Everyone
Carpet stained with old incidents of cracked sippy cups and incontinent cats and That Time With the Fire Place. Walls washed free of crayon. Windows with the baseball-torn screen. Winter dawn easing into the living room like an incompetent thief. A corner cleared of scattered DVDs and dropped sweaters to be replaced with a green memorial to the rebirth of the world, dying already with its amputated base braced in an old paint bucket filled with tap water and crushed aspirin and a lost caramel square. Dollops of desire and commercialism and overpriced love spread beneath in bright wrappings. The fat man straightens up, his back twinging, and thinks this is the last of the year, I’m going to sleep til February, maybe the missus will talk to me now that I’m out of the workaholic mania that takes me every autumn and God, he loves that old woman who loves him back like no one every did. Turning to leave, he pauses to plug in the green plastic cord.

Lux fiat
A dadaist housebreaker leaves the roof dreaming of love amid the snowbanks. A parent rolls into another parent, both of them murmuring wonder that 6 am has come and gone without the thunder of small feet. A child emerges from sleep like a porpoise in the waves, visions of videogames dancing in her head. A tree stands in a corner, eye-bright and proud and mourning the sky-heights it will never reach, yet never quite so sad as it might be. The season of light has come again, and the days are growing longer.

“Merry Christmas,” whispers the axe to the rope.

§ § §

© 2008, Joseph E. Lake Jr.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Originally published at jlake.com.


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[fiction] “Real North”

Real North

by Jay Lake

This story originally appeared in Helix in October, 2006. It is in continuity with Trial of Flowers and Madness of Flowers, from Night Shade Books.

What always was

A thirty day slog beyond the crest of the Rimerock Range, weather’s frigid enough for the wind to freeze out and fall as dry, burning snow. Some proconsul back in the days of the Purple Empire sent men up this way to measure the air and the progress of the suns. When you come out of Last Pass there’s a bronze stele they set up to mark where it can get that cold. There’s writing on it, and glyphs, in six languages, four of them lost, but they all say the same thing:

The world ends here

Even though there’s mountains beyond mountains, walls of ice two miles high, waterfalls frozen diamond bright and knife-sharp, the world does end there. Stand on the south side of the stele, you’re so far north the suns ride the horizon like magnets on an Oelian gaming table. So far north the next day’s sun can be seen coming from the infinite east before the last one has vanished into the infinite west.

South of the world, of course, is ocean beyond measure. Only here in the north is the world bounded by a border. This where the Real North begins.

§

At the end

“Knew a man oncet,” said Jadetooth. Big fellow, greasy as a bear haunch, wore more layers of fur than a cannibal otter. He didn’t say much, generally, spent words like they was breath to a drowning man. He grinned across the tiny cookfire. You didn’t go with big flames in the Real North unless you were longing for unexpected company and maybe an early death.

Not a lot of late deaths up here, though, come to speak of it.

Facing away from the fire, Gristle grunted. “Ate a man once.” He snorted, almost a laugh, probably rolling his moonmilk wall-eye. “Raw.”

“Shame to let good meat go to waste,” Polder said. He was cook tonight, tending the pot for three of them. It was Gristle’s turn to scan the darkness of the cave mouth.

Jadetooth was mostly watching the theater within his head, it seemed. He ignored them both, choosing instead to speak to the fire. “Be walkin’ east erst he could ‘member.”

Polder tapped in a little of their precious salt. “He ever get there? I figure direction is all in where you’re standing.”

“Man can walk thirty miles a day,” said Gristle. “Twenty thousand days in a man’s life, that’s, uh, thirty thousand miles.”

In went the radishes they’d found almost a week back growing by a hot spring. “Six hundred thousand miles, actually. But who’s counting?”

“North.” Jadetooth stared in the fire some more. “North.”

“Ain’t no north of Real North,” Polder said. “Freeze a man’s lungs up here if he forgets to cover up good.”

“Tole me a story, man did.”

“Jadetooth my friend, you’ve already said more tonight than I’ve heard you any two weeks running that we’ve ever trekked together.” Polder shaved some hard sausage into the little pot, meat to flavor the old fatty broth. “You going to tell us this story?”

“It were thus.”

§

The first true story

Once upon a day there was a prince glorious born to the Lemon Palace on the high hill over the Great Bay of the Sunward Sea. Life there was easy, bathed in warmth with plentiful springs bringing sweet water to rich and poor alike. A fleet of wise-eyed boats bobbed bright of the mornings into the Great Bay to tug out the silver swarming fish. The prince glorious woke each day and walked the low, peaceful walls of his father’s palace eating a tangerine and calling down blessings to those who worked the waves far below his feet.

Like all young men he grew uneasy with his fate, imagining his parents to be pinchpennies and bereft of vision or purpose. He knew that others elsewhere had their lot in life better than him. Not more comfortable, perhaps — he was not stupid, the prince glorious — but more interesting than the never-ending sameness of sunrise and sunset and fresh fruit and fine fish and doe-eyed serving girls vying for the places with him in his bath.

And so he set out, clothed in silk and dignity and the armor of assurance that all youth carry. He turned his back on the Lemon Palace, on the Great Bay of the Sunward Sea, on the fish and birds and women that had made his youth so easy and pleasurable. He did not even think to take a blade with him, for no one on the shores of the Great Bay had ever spat on his shadow or called him spawn of a tyrant or sought to cut his purse or take his fig. Truly, he had no sense of what the world might be.

He walked the shadowed trade road, passing out of his father’s realm and into the world beyond, where clouds lay low and fat-bellied across drowned farmland. There desperate men with rusty knives prowled the dusk while women carried in their sweetpockets the burning itch and firepiss. Mile by mile, day by day, cut by cut, failure by failure, he learned the folly of his longings. But when the day came that sense trumped pride, he could not find the way home.

§

The second true story

Once I was a dandy, moving rocks to make room for goats

Once I was so handy, moving goats to make room for rocks

Once I wooed a maiden bedded, made her sheets so red

Once I slept in bloodied sheets atop a maiden’s head

Once I carried a sword, fighting some old man’s war

Once I marched to war, carrying a young man’s sword

Once I walked a wall, limping in the cold

Once I limped on paths of stones, slowly growing old

Once I passed a gate, turned my face toward the north

Once I found the gate behind me, I found Real North

§

The third true story

My sweetest mayor of the palace —

May these words find you with the sweetness of honey, the thrill of larks, and the speed of light upon the water. My eunuch tells me I am granted the privilege of one final missive prior to the defenestration. I have chosen to cast my poor words, along with my miserable life, upon the glorious mercy of your eyes.

It is my greatest and final sorrow to have so troubled His Sublimity with my meager studies. It was ever and only my intention to advance the state of human knowledge within our fair city, to our best advantage in commerce and affairs of the sword alike. To truly comprehend the shape of the world would be a boon to the masters of our trading fleets, and to the captains of our war galleys. Even such mysteries as the progress of weather might yield to potential certainties of topology.

Yet I know my measurements and reasoning have brought pain to our most enlightened leader, and greatly troubled the Sublime Court as well. And so I say this, sworn by these teeth torn from my mouth by my own hands: give me leave only to burn my notes and cast my models into the sea, and I shall ever after speak the truth which has been so evident to all not blinded by the folly of scholarship: the world is round as the dreaming mind of God, and ever it shall be.

Yours in the flame and the fire,

(signed)

Azzaroti of House Perdi, condemned apostate by the grace of His Sublimity

§

In the beginning

Each of these men is a figment of the others’ imagination. No two of them are real. No one of them is false. Real North has burned the stories from them. Real North marks the edge of human. Real North has left them only with their true selves.

§ § §

© 2006, 2008, Joseph E. Lake Jr.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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[fiction] “The Golden Whip”

The Golden Whip

by Jay Lake

This story originally appeared in Helix in October, 2007

By all the saints and murders, if I’m going to lash myself in the hard-heart, it’s going to be with a golden whip. Silver’s for pussies and pretty boys with tattooed eyeshade and one ball lost to the pimper-man. The high-hats like titanium, rendered fibrous and braided into a coil sharper than a toothsome serpent and twice as louche as Cleopatra’s twat. Poor folks do it with plastic, like they always have, retro-heads do it with leather like they always will.

Me?

Gold.

Good old fashioned riverbed riches a man with a tin pan and a decent shotgun could winnow out of God’s country, at least back when God had a country. He’s stateless now that the Vatican’s gone retail and Mecca is a parking garage for the sandraces.

No, gold for my whip, gold for my heart, gold to pay me for the betrayals I’ve heaped on those around me. For the love of Me, anyone who’d sell himself for thirty pieces of grubby silver doesn’t know the commodity market for warm snot.

A man’s honor is always worth spot avoirdupois.

§

There’s this thing that happens when you contract your happy ass to Mother Company. Docs come rolling in with blinking lights and a needle long as your forearm. Mostly for show, they could do it with cell-wall traction and biomagnetism and damned if you’d know better than you’d just been pinched by a table-elf down at Sally’s Dirty Bar, but that needle says “serious” in a voice could draw blood off a street lamp.

You listen when doc plunges that thing into your chest. Well, maybe you do. I screamed like a girl until my teeth buzzed. Sooner be knifed with a nickelback shiv out of the hoverbays.

There’s the priest-comporter reading rites and contract clauses over you, there’s the recruiter grinning into his next bonus, there’s two witnesses shagged out of the drunk box — never fear boys, you’re next — then you’re in with Mother.

Everything’s easy after that. Which is kind of the point. Pain and focus, boy, pay attention. We’ll never hurt you this much again. Unless you get out of line. Or we get bored. Or the wind blows north by northwest and Cary Grant comes stumbling through the corn, guns blazing from the summer sky.

They suck you in with a little bit of money and little bit of the warm and little of bit of plain old fashioned easy. After a while you don’t know no better.

Lot of guys spend their lives that way, happy.

A few slip the noose and run for the riverbanks, diving into an acid bath hoping to swim faster than their muscles will slough away.

Thing is, after a while, there’s people that like you, need you, love you, down there inside Mother Company. That needle becomes an old ghost, last memory of your life before. Now there’s dependencies and reflexive contracts and mutual-aids, tiers and territories of folk who might live or die on your simple error. Drop a decimal on a bulk protein trade? 3,700 dead in Delany-on-Mars. Rounding error in the water purification budget? Sepsis rages through Lower Kowloon like fleas through a dog pound.

What the hell, there’s more people where they came from. Mother Company needs you, not them. You’re part of Her.

After a while, you’re running ops for a whole region, life support and basic trade and civil order, all rolling across your desk while nimble fingers rub your shoulders and it all seems okay.

Then one day some bastard with a Rousseau complex and a hairdo could stop air traffic walks in your office with the gleam of Enlightenment in his steel teeth and a ball of holy fire in his hand.

“Here,” he says, hands it to you.

Nobody hands you shit doesn’t belong, not past chimp security and four hundred thousand virteo cameras and the nanobath in the elevators.

You take it.

§

High fall far falling green flowers exploding in showers of fractured glass pollen fire running in your veins like oil in an old Arab’s dreams the satellites scream in their orbits from the pain of gravity what’s left of you but a cavity open white skin and pale red insides besides the world is gone and your skull gleams pretty and pale in the desert night and you can see God up there in the sky His great watery eye unblinking as Mama’s stare while grind out your first and last high up on the porcelain pillar who’s a good boy shit and get a kiss and here’s your needle Company man and what the hell ever happened to a simple life with a simple plan and you can see the damned stars and how they connect those red lines are the blood inside your eyes blooming like those fractured flowers until Mother Company unplugs you from Her neural net or you unplug Her from yours or the plugging is as mutual as ever it was between mother and son one long fuck begun with an extrusion when you weighed nine pounds and knew three words two of them bad but that’s all you can say now something which translates around the wet rough burping as “help…”

§

When that son of a bitch fed me the holy fire, I thought I wanted it. I didn’t know what it was, but it looked good. Candy and babies, right? Or maybe candied babies.

By the time I found my ass and my hands again on the same stretch of real estate, forty thousand people had died and a tsunami was swamping Dili in the wake of a subaquatic disaster in the Sunda Strait. There were boys with zap guns and big long hooks standing over me. They looked worried.

“Sir?”

“I…” I couldn’t get any further than help. These boys weren’t about help. They were beyond it. I wondered why they hadn’t killed me yet.

“We’re going to have to ask you to leave.”

That would probably be a good idea, I tried to say, but it came out in a slow slime of gravid bubbles.

Then there was a long march down a number of halls I’d never seen before, into corridors roped with data conduit and oxygen feeds, past rusted fetters bolted to grimy walls festooned with thin-scratched hashmarks, until they turned me out in a green clearing that stank of birdshit and rotten fruit.

“I…” That was one of those baby-words.

“Good bye, sir.” The door shut into empty air and I was alone in the middle of a riot of life that would have put Darwin to shame.

§

So there’s a road out of anywhere, right? On an island you can build a raft. In the desert you can walk each night into the rising moon, sleeping your days away beneath a blanket of sand. But in the jungle…thickets of possibilities leading in great, vicious circles well-supplied with teeth.

I wondered as I walked each day, bereft of direction or intent but unwilling to rot in place, thinking about Mother Company. Did She cry for me in Her chrome-steel brain racks? What about my people? I had and did kill with a thought, spared and savaged entire tribes and nation-folk in the efficiencies of the market. Now I was…a man alone.

My chest ached where the needle had gone in.

At night the crying of my people kept me awake.

Birds rising over the morning jungle in a screeching feathered tide were all the news that was fit for me.

One day I worked a length of vine free, using rocks from a riverbank that only cost me a few leeches to fetch. I employed my handiwork to beat myself until my back bled. That felt better. Kind of like being at work.

With the pain came the holy fire. My veins sang.

“Walk on,” I told a green-eyed cat that stared like a pagan god. It had hair the color of fire.

“Walk off,” it said, but I didn’t believe it.

Maybe the holy fire was talking to me.

§

Three days later I saw the cat again. It lazed atop a cyclopean wall overrun with creepers and silver beetles the size of my hand. I showed my bloody vine, but the cat was not impressed. I tried to explain myself, but it would not listen.

“Go home to Mother,” the cat said.

“No.” Were people still crying for me, somewhere in the western Pacific?

“Go away.”

“No.”

The cat shrugged with the grace of its kind and rolled off the back of the wall, falling from my sight into the endless green void that is the jungle.

Where there’s a wall, there’s a way, I thought, and followed down the shadowed road the cat had shown me.

§

When finally I found the beach, the Intros found me. Small men and women, wearing shark-leather loin cloths and necklaces strung with data storage beads.

“Company man,” said one, a red-head who looked a hell of a lot like a certain cat. She had the same sparkle to her as the bastard who’d busted my office with holy fire all those…days…weeks…years ago?

“Still got wires in his head,” said another. He’d been dark-skinned once, that one, but spent enough time underwater to stretch out, wrinkle up and go pale as a rotten grape. He jabbed toward me with a coral-headed spear, but it was a lazy, slow move.

“Mother talk to you at night?” the red-head asked.

I found my words, throat like sanded glass. “Just the cat.”

She smiled and I was sure, though I already knew I’d never know.

“And the fire,” I added. It was in my veins, strong as ever, though the jungle hadn’t given it much to latch to except fractal noise and olfactory overloads. These Intros with their gear and their weird and the pounding sea behind them were bringing up the flames of the holy fire sure as any hydrogen leak.

“Let us in,” she said.

For her, I would do anything.

I sold my people for a smile.

§

Intros might be living in huts, but they got gear. Nice, organic gear runs on xylem matrices with diamond-seed nangates embedded. Slower than a whore’s smile, but unhackable except with Monsanto’s best.

Not much Monsanto down here on the shores of paradise. That’s why it was still paradise.

They tied me down, fed me palm wine, doped me up, laid a hypno hook or twenty, wired me in off a triple sat-bounce through a black-sponge router, and hacked their merry way into Mother’s western Pacific cores.

§

You’re the sum of your choices, the measure of your days. Some moldy old fucker said that once. Spray off the quoteserver, boys, because you’ve made a test pattern of eighteen percent of the terrestrial economy, shockwaves out to Titan. Hell, you even crashed Mercury’s temperature futures exchange. You were the conduit for the greatest act of cultural sabotage since Ahmed Q. Khan gave the mullahs the bomb.

You were the judas goat for a bunch of Intros with a post-Luddite agenda and a hell of a lot of ambition.

Only one thing left for you to do now. Weave that whip of gold, smack-crack across the back, and go hunting the orange-headed cat and the man with the holy fire. Because you need more, more of both, or you’re going to die just like the millions you killed that day on the beach.

You’re too big to kill, too mad to die, too old to live.

So where the hell are they?

If you could only find your way back into that jungle, you might know.

§ § §

© 2007, 2008, Joseph E. Lake Jr.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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