Chimerascope: A Collection
“A massively enjoyable trek” —Quill & Quire *starred review*
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Chimerascope [ki-meer-uh-skohp] — a story of many parts...
- A young artist hungers to draw you.
- A dinner conversation takes three lifetimes to finish.
- A geologist faces a planet-sized, eons-old puzzle to save her crew.
- The hero of the Fall of Earth must choose between love and revenge.
- A mysterious dancer leads a businessman to a most exclusive nightclub.
- A man is born each day into a new life—only to die each night.
- A sentient aurora threatens the last of humanity.
- A Norse god’s bar in Toronto hosts an unplanned family reunion.
- A woman descends into insanity—or is it the end of the world?
- A house as big as the world.
Chimerascope is Doug's first full collection of short fiction, containing sixteen of his best stories, including an Aurora Award winner, a Best New Horror selection, and eight Aurora finalists. Sixteen stories of fantasy and science fiction that take you from love in fourteenth-century Japan to humanity’s last stand, from virtual reality to the end of reality, from alien drug addictions to a dinner where a man loses everything.
"Doug Smith is, quite simply, the finest short-story writer Canada has ever produced in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and he's also the most prolific. His stories are a treasure trove of riches that will touch your heart while making you think."
—Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids and FlashForward
"...Chimerascope is a massively enjoyable trek through the far-fetched, the horrifying, and the flat-out weird, all filtered through Smith's remarkable imagination and prodigious talent. ... Although Smith's tales may centre on the fantastic, what is immediately notable is his steady grasp of character, which lends humanity to even the most absurd situations. The stories in this collection traverse genres and styles -- from outright horror to witty surrealism to martial-arts mythology -- without missing a beat. ... 'The Dancer at the Red Door,' with its mix of oblique horror, urban fantasy, and monsters equipped with pincers extending 'from each side of a slit-like mouth,' recalls Clive Barker at his most disturbingly fanciful. ... The closing story, the post-apocalyptic narrative 'Memories of the Dead Man,' contains echoes of Stephen King. Chimerascope is a sterling set, with nary a weak or disposable entry. Smith's writing, evocative yet understated, gracefully brings to life his imagined realms."
— Quill and Quire, Mar 2010 *Starred Review*
"From a bittersweet tale of love amid the savagery of human galactic conquest ("Scream Angel") to a postapocalyptic story of a righteous gunman known only as the Dead Man ("Memories of the Dead Man"), the 16 stories in this collection showcase the inventive mind and immense storytelling talent of one of Canada's most original writers of speculative fiction. Covering the spectrum from sf ("Enlightenment") to horror ("By Her Hand, She Draws You Down") to fantasy ("The Boys Are Back in Town"), Smith writes with a keen eye for detail and atmosphere, crafting each story with wit and perception. VERDICT: Twice winner of Canada's Aurora Award, Smith writes stories that will appeal to fans of such literary sf writers such as Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe."
— Library Journal, Mar 2010
"Smith is obviously a gifted writer in the genre of science-fiction. … Smith paints his worlds so well that you are transported within a paragraph or two and remain in transit until the short story ends -- a challenging feat to be sure. Smith takes common science-fiction topics, such as love between alien races, and manages to find a new way to have his tales unfold. … Smith tells them with a flair that breathes life into his characters. … [The] familiar traits that drive human needs and wants -- such as ambition, pride, love, hate and fear -- are what piece these stories together and give them a life of their own."
—Broken Pencil, The Magazine of Zine Culture and the Independent Arts, August 2010
"Smith’s second collection (after 2008’s Impossibilia) delivers an entertaining selection of stories that deftly span multiple genres, often milking surprisingly original tales out of tired tropes. The Zelazny-inspired "The Boys Are Back in Town" nicely toes the line between quirky humor and pathos. "State of Disorder," featuring a classic mad scientist out for revenge, is a neat twist on time travel and quantum physics. "Jigsaw," a young adult tale, is a fun romp involving aliens and continental drift. The best of the bunch, "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down," is a haunting variant on the vampire legend with an understated and brutal ending."
— Publishers Weekly, Jan 2010
"[An] engaging and entertaining volume, pieces of whose content resonate after the book is finished."
—Booklist, Apr 2010
"A creative hybrid of diverse genres of the fantastic … Smith approaches issues as complex as addiction, colonialism, the point between pain and pleasure, militarism, violence, art and mass consumption, vulnerability and love, the construction of reality, and ideas of urban safety. … One of the most impressive things about this collection are Smith’s introductions to the short stories. It is incredible to see an author who is so able to analyse himself and explore the dark reaches of the mind that give birth to speculations and eventual narratives. His interest in his own psychological process, in the bizarre mixing of ideas where stories are born is conveyed into the mental processes of his characters, their complex minds and personal quirks that make them likeable. His characters are psychologically deep and illustrate a complexity of the soul… They are not ‘easy’ characters, and Smith resists simplifying them for his reader. … I couldn’t point out what binds the stories together, but they seem bound in their ability to be unquantifiable, able to challenge barriers and evoke powerful questions that send the reader into contemplation about social issues, the human experience, and the nature of questions themselves."
—Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating Canada, October 2012
"Chimerascope confirms for me what Impossibilia affirmed, namely that Douglas Smith is an extraordinary author whom every lover of quality speculative fiction should read. Rating: A+"
"Smith's voice proves one of the more endearing features of this sampling of his work, which holds true even in his individual story prefaces—an authorial vice that can be distracting, but in Smith's hands remains charming. ... Throughout Smith shows a real gift for truly "cinematic" description...with arrestingly inventive premises in a field where really interesting new ideas are harder and harder to find. ... [Chimerascope] speaks volumes of his range and future potential. ... Smith is definitely an author who deserves to be more widely read."
—Strange Horizons, June 2010
"This collection contains a beautifully diverse selection of short tales that runs the full spectrum of the speculative genres. The tales are well-crafted, easily digestible; several of the stories are incredibly moving and stick with the reader long after. The wide range of stylistic approaches works well together."
— 2011 Sunburst Award jury, June 2011
"A superb collection... Spanning a wide spectrum of classic sci-fi, stories inspired by mythology, and post-apocalyptic fiction, this is a collection you’ll want to own and re-read. ... It’s a complex mix: one of the many reasons this collection succeeds so powerfully."
"An absolutely stunning short story collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, one of the best I've ever read."
— Corey Redekop, award-winning author of Shelf Monkey, Sep 2010
"[T]here is not only something here for everyone, but something good for everyone, as Smith consistently displays his comfort and competence, working within multiple genres. ... Smith’s characters tend towards regular men and women caught in desperate situations, often fallible, sometimes likable, but always portrayed with, if not sympathy, then enough clarity that the reader may understand why the characters behave as they do. ... Ultimately, genre fans eager to read work by a talented author, who consistently writes top-notch prose, will be well-pleased to see the strange beasts lurking within Douglas Smith’s Chimerascope."
"This collection was impossible to put down. This contains one of the best collections of speculative fiction I have ever read. There is a reason that the majority of these stories have won awards and nominations. Smith is absolutely brilliant as he proves SF is every bit as intelligent and thought-provoking as any literary work out there."
"I found Smith to be an especially talented storyteller. His characters ring true, and he creatively crafts worlds and situations that I found haunted my thoughts long after I had finished reading."
—Fluidity of Time, June 2010
"I enjoyed Smith’s characterization the most. These personas fly off the page and into your head and force you to think their thoughts. And that’s just about the best that fiction can aspire to. ... The evidence for Smith’s talent is in abundance through this entire book. There wasn’t one story I didn’t like, even the horror genre pieces which I’m normally not into. They’re all so different, even the ones set in the same universe, that it’s hard to believe they came from the same person. Very highly recommended."
—Terry Grignon, Golbing book reviews, March 2011
"...showcases his talent and his prolificacy. ... I remain in awe of the range of writing he has produced, and how often his stories have merited award nominations or received awards."
—Bureau 42, Feb 2011
"Smith is a master of beginnings … some of the most well-crafted hooks you’ll find anywhere: deft introductions to the characters and their not-quite-familiar worlds packed into just a sentence or two that draw the reader in. As for the endings … Smith’s tendency is to forego the shocking twist for endings that feel satisfying and right, a trade-off that I’ll take any day. … Reading Smith’s stories is like taking a series of guided tours through strange places. … Chimerascope delivers that in spades and is well worth the price of admission."
—Canadian Science Fiction Review, 2011
"A collection that I would highly recommend."
—Justine Lekowicz, News Talk Radio 1010, Bookend Reviews, 2012
Here are the stories that comprise Chimerascope. Click on the links beside each story to read an opening excerpt from each and to see past reviews of these stories.
- Scream Angel (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award WINNER
- The Red Bird (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- By Her Hand, She Draws You Down (reviews | excerpt) Best New Horror selection, Aurora Award Finalist
- New Year’s Eve (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- The Boys Are Back in Town (reviews | excerpt)
- State of Disorder (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- Nothing (reviews | excerpt)
- Symphony (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- Out of the Light (reviews | excerpt)
- Enlightenment (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- Murphy's Law (reviews | excerpt) Included in hardcover edition only
- The Last Ride (reviews | excerpt)
- Jigsaw (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- The Dancer at the Red Door (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- Going Harvey in the Big House (reviews | excerpt) Aurora Award Finalist
- A Taste Sweet and Salty (reviews | excerpt)
- Memories of the Dead Man (reviews | excerpt)
© Douglas Smith
They stopped beating Trelayne when they saw that he enjoyed it. The thugs that passed as cops in that town on Long Shot backed away from where he lay curled on the dirt floor, as if he was something dead or dangerous. He watched them lock the door of his cold little cell again. Disgust and something like fear showed in their eyes. The taste of their contempt for him mixed with the sharpness of his own blood in his mouth. And the Scream in that blood shot another stab of pleasure through him. He expected their reaction. The Merged Corporate Entity guarded its secrets well, and Scream was its most precious. Long Shot lay far from any Entity project world and well off the jump route linking Earth and the frontier. No one on this backwater planet would know of the drug, let alone have encountered a Screamer or an Angel. That was why he had picked it. Their footsteps receded, and the outer door of the plasteel storage hut that served as the town jail clanged shut. Alone, he rolled onto his side on the floor, relishing the agony the movement brought. He tried to recall how he came to be there, but the Scream in him turned each attempt into an emotional sideshow. Finally he remembered something burning, something... ...falling. It had been one of their better shows… .. .
The Red Bird
© Douglas Smith
Asai first saw the Red Bird the night the soldiers burnt his village. Fleeing in terror through rain and flames and killing, his parents dead in the mud behind him, the boy heard his name called above the screams of the dying. Called from on high. He looked up. Aflame against the black sky, a hawk of burning plumage hovered over the forest entrance. A voice cried in his mind. Asai! To me, to me, Asai! Asai ran toward the trees. A mounted rider, gleaming katana raised, burst from a smoking house to block his path. A ruby light flashed from the hawk, striking the sword and swordsman. Exploding into flames, the soldier fell screaming to the ground. Oblivious, the man’s horse bent a leg for the child to mount. Ride, Asai! Fly with me! the hawk called. Once in the saddle, the boy clung with bleeding fingers as the horse thundered through the streets past soldiers and the dead. At the forest edge, Asai dared a last look back. The village priest stood before the burning shrine. A rider bore down on him, spear lowered. Hands crossed on his chest, the priest closed his eyes. The look of peace on his face burnt into Asai’s memory. The boy turned away, blinded by tears. They rode on through black woods lit only by the hawk’s bloody glow. Trees surrendered to scrub grass then to sand and crashing surf. Just as Asai felt he would fall from the saddle, the horse stopped before the Temple of the Hidden Light… .. .
By Her Hand, She Draws You Down
© Douglas Smith
By her hand, she draws you down. With her mouth, she breathes you in. Hope and dreams and soul devoured. Lost to you, what might have been.
By her hand, she draws you down... Joe swore when he saw Cath doing a kid. He had left her for just a minute, to get a beer from the booth on the pier before it closed for the night. Walking back now, he could see Cath on her stool, sketchpad on a knee, ocean breeze blowing her pale hair. A small girl sat on another stool facing her, a man and a woman, parents he guessed, beside the child. Kid’s not more than seven, he thought. Cath promised me no kids. She promised… .. .
New Year’s Eve
© Douglas Smith
971219: Friday, December 19, 1997
Bogey pushed his black queen’s pawn forward to meet John’s then leaned back. “Rick’s Café Americaine” throbbed white neon at John through a haze of cigarette smoke. Wobbling overhead, fans swirled the smoke in lazy eddies among crowded tables. “Another closed defense,” John muttered. “You’re a closed kinda guy,” Bogey replied, immaculate in a white jacket and linen shirt, black bow tie and slacks. The beginning strains of “As Time Goes By” wafted from a piano somewhere off-display. He glared over his shoulder, motioning to a plump white-haired waiter in a black tuxedo. “Carl, get me a whiskey, and tell Sam to stop playing that damn song.” “Yes, monsieur, and for you, sir?” “Mr. Dunne doesn’t drink, Carl,” Bogey said. “He hasn’t figured that part out yet.” Carl waddled away and John reached for his king’s knight. “Predictable,” Bogey muttered. John scowled at him, but a trilling sound cut off his reply. A telephone appeared, hovering above the table. Bogey lit another cigarette. “Still bothers me when it does that.” “And your smoking still bugs me,” John said. “Then you shoulda left smell out of the equation, kid. Answer the damn thing, will ya?” .. .
© Douglas Smith
“It's nothing,” he says, not for the first time. She watches him straighten his tie in the hall mirror. So he doesn't have to make eye contact, she thinks. “I fear nothing?” she says. “Then I must be fearless. I don't feel fearless.” Leaning on the kitchen doorframe, she hugs her faded blue dressing gown around her as if she's holding the universe together. She's staying home. Again. He shakes his head. He does that a lot lately. “I mean there's nothing out there to be afraid of.” He picks up his briefcase, ready for another day. But she knows that it's not just another day… .. .
© Douglas Smith
FAST FORWARD: Third Movement, Danse Macabre (Staccato) They had named the planet Aurora, for the beauty that danced above them in its ever dark skies. At least, it had seemed beautiful at the time. Now Gar Franck wasn’t so sure. Gar huddled on the floor, shielding his two-year-old son, Anton, from the panicked colonists stampeding past them in the newly-constructed pod link. “Damn you, Franck! When will you make it stop?” a man cried from across the corridor. A woman lay in the man’s arms, convulsing as her seizure peaked. She was dying, but to Gar’s numbed mind her moans harmonized with the screams of the mob into a musical score for his private nightmare. Anton sat on the floor, a broken comm-unit held before his blank face. The child let it drop to strike the metal surface with a dissonant clang. More people fled by. The child ignored them. With morbid fascination, Gar watched Anton repeat the scene. Pick up the comm-unit, let it drop. Pick it up, drop it. Again. Each clang as it struck the floor was more chilling to Gar than any cry from the dying. This attack had blown the colony power grid. The only light now came through the crysteel roof. Gar looked up. The aurora blazed and writhed in the night sky, a parody of the chaos below. Greens, reds and purples shimmered strobe-like over the corridor, turning each person’s frenzied flight into a macabre dance… .. .
The Boys Are Back in Town
© Douglas Smith
The shrill cry of a harpy sounded as I stepped into our tavern. A pair of them sat slumped in a booth, heads on the table, wings flapping feebly. The Sibyl plopped two drafts between them, and one harpy lifted its head briefly to emit a high-pitched “screeee!” At the bar, an elderly tourist couple and two centaurs stood sipping blood-red liquid from tall glasses. A tarot spread lay on the bar in front of the ample frame of Dino, my partner, and when the Sibyl returned, she began turning cards. I slipped onto a stool beside her. Dino was scowling. “Problem?” I asked. He jerked his head at the harpies as he cleaned a glass. “They keep crapping on the carpet. Stinking spawn of Oceanus.” “Take them out back. They can wait there.” He shook his head. “They don’t like being near the gate.” I nodded toward the tourist couple. “Any trouble?” He shrugged huge shoulders. “Gave them a shot of ambrosia, and they’ve been fine, ’cept for complaints about the noisy college kids.” He glared at the harpies again. We really didn’t mind harpies, nor centaurs, fawns, or even an occasional cyclops. The humans were no trouble, either. Better credit risks, too. The real problem in running our establishment was the mix–as in mixing twentieth-century, good-credit humans with creatures that weren’t supposed to exist, let alone be buying you drinks in a quiet little tavern. The Sibyl turned another tarot card, white eyes staring straight ahead. “Old friends coming.” “On the ferry?” I asked. No reply. Conversation wasn’t her strong suit but she’d answer questions. Eventually. I was glad she was back on the tarot. Lately she’d been into goat entrails, and that had really stained the bar… .. .
State of Disorder
© Douglas Smith
And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Tick. In the banquet hall of a sprawling castle of a house, the woman looks up, startled. The dishes of the night’s dinner still litter the long table before her. At the evening’s outset, the table had been so clean, its settings so precise. She tries to recall each step in its journey from order to chaos but fails. Tick. She jumps again at the sound. A man’s wristwatch lies at the table’s far end. He has left it, forgotten or unwanted. Or for another reason. The watch is old with a broken strap; the woman young with a broken heart. The watch lies face down, but she knows it is the old-fashioned kind with hands. A date will show in a little window. A date from a time long ago. Two lives ago. It will be today’s date. She wonders how she knows that. Tick. Rising, she moves toward the watch... .. .
Out of the Light
© Douglas Smith
The morgue door swung open. Jan Mirocek hesitated at the threshold, clinging to the hallway’s bright comfort. Ahead in the dark room, under a lonely cone of light, Detective Garos loomed over a shroud-covered corpse. Jan glared up at the single ceiling bulb. Forty watts max, he thought. He turned to a clerk slouched at a desk in the hall. “Got any more light?” The man just shrugged. “Our guests don’t do much reading.” Scowling, Jan stepped inside. The door clicked shut behind him, cutting the light even more. He cursed and pulled a small flashlight from a coat pocket, his breathing slowing as the beam brightened his path. I can do this, he thought. Trying not to look into the shadows, he walked to Garos. Morgues didn’t bother Jan. He knew death. And corpses. He just wanted more light. Garos eyed the flashlight but the big man didn’t comment. “Good to see you in action again, hunter. It’s been a while since...last time.” His beefy hand swallowed Jan’s. Last time. At least, old friend, you have the decency to leave it at that, Jan thought. “I’m retired, Andreas. Why’d you call me?” Ignoring the frown from Garos, he studied the contours of the white shroud. Slim, short, female. Garos shrugged then turned to the corpse. “White female, early thirties. Found about one this morning–just twelve hours ago–on a well-lit, still-busy, Toronto street.” Stabbing his beam into dark corners, Jan pulled two extra flashlight batteries from his pocket. He shook them in his hand, calmed by the clicking noise. “So? What do you need me for?” “You tell me.” Garos pulled back the sheet… .. .
© Douglas Smith
They’re dead now, the Be’nans. Ta’klu was the last to die. Her body hangs in my arms, as heavy as my guilt, as my footsteps echo in these empty alien streets. And soon we’ll be gone from this world too. I’m the last human in this bizarre, beautiful city. Fan is still here with me–but she’s already dead. The High Places rise above me: two bone-white curves sweeping hundreds of feet into a morning sky from opposite ends of the city, bending inwards like two impossible fingers yearning to touch. Built by generations of Be’nans and now only a body length apart at their lofty tips, the High Places reach for each other. But they don’t meet, don’t connect. Not yet. I’ll go to them soon, to try to keep a promise. If I fail, and if Ta’klu was right, then what happened here will happen on another world. And another. But first I must prepare Ta’klu in the manner of her people. She used to laugh when I called her Ta’klu, a name never meant for a human throat. Little here was meant for humans. We aren’t capable of understanding. Beside me, Fan nods in agreement… .. .
© Douglas Smith
Dex hadn’t planned to save the entire human race. Mostly, he'd been trying not to die, while still keeping his job in the process--two goals that, Dex had learned, were often mutually exclusive. However, since humanity remained unobliterated, from Earth to the outer ring colonies, while Jack Dexter--Dex to his friends--remained broke, he figured that his fellow humans at The House Limit could at least buy him a beer. The Limit was the only spacer bar on Station Beta One, making it the perfect destination for two things: cheap beer and a good yarn. More importantly, Dex knew that the second could serve as payment for the first. .. .
The Last Ride
© Douglas Smith
On the night her life would change forever, Odin's horn wakened Vaya from a peaceful sleep. The mournful wail, echoing with the screams of the dying, called the Valkyries to ride from Valhalla, as it had done through the ages whenever war raged in the world of mortals. Vaya disentangled herself from the arms of her still slumbering sisters where they lay in the communal bed of the Valkyrior. Throwing back the warm cover of furs, she stood up, naked and shivering in the chill of the sleeping hall. The central fire had died to embers hours ago, and the rough stone floor was like ice to her bare feet. Vaya dressed quickly as the other Valkyries rose beside her. Moonbeams stabbing through high windows beneath the hall’s vaulted ceiling provided the only illumination, but after so many ages, Vaya did not need light to prepare for a ride. She wrapped her short skirt around her waist and laced up her leather tunic and boots. After strapping on a golden chest plate, she added armored leggings and armlets. Finally, she donned her winged helmet. Then grabbing her spear, she sprinted with her sisters to the stables… .. .
© Douglas Smith
Still in shock, Cassie Morant slumped in the cockpit of the empty hopper, staring at the two viewplates before her. In one, the planet Griphus, a blue, green and brown marble wrapped in belts of cloud, grew smaller. Except for the shape of its land masses, it could have been Earth. But it wasn't. Griphus was an alien world, light-years from Sol System. A world where nineteen of her shipmates were going to die. And one of them was Davey. On the other viewplate, the segmented, tubular hull of the orbiting Earth wormship, the Johannes Kepler, grew larger. Cassie tapped a command, and the ship's vector appeared, confirming her fears. The ship's orbit was still decaying… .. .
The Dancer at the Red Door
© Douglas Smith
The city has a song. Its rhythm, a million broken hearts...
Alexander King first met the Dancer on the day the street people began to glow. He drove to his office in downtown Toronto early that July morning in his newest toy, a vintage Jaguar XKE, dark red with black leather seats–a toy he'd always wanted, and one of which he'd already tired. He pondered this as he parked in his reserved spot beneath the building of blue glass and silvered steel that bore his name. Riding his private elevator to the penthouse executive floor, he felt a strange unease awakening with the day. He met first with his management team to finalize the acquisition of a competitor. They sat in his office, walls hung with original Tissot drawings he’d once loved. Before signing the takeover papers, he noted both the concessions he’d won and the absence of any pleasure in reaching a goal that had consumed much of his considerable energy for seven months. He ordered the sale of the one profitable plant in the acquisition, and the closing of the remaining operations. But it didn’t bring him the rush that exercising new power normally did. He felt none of the usual thrill of moving the pieces in the game. His game. With a growing disquiet, he focused on his senior staff sitting around the huge teak table. He’d picked his team early in their careers, molding them into business weapons for his corporate arsenal. It came more as confirmation than surprise that he no longer felt pride in them. And with that thought, in that moment, he accepted what a secret part of him had known for some time–that he was totally, utterly tired of his world, the world he had built and in which he ruled. The only fear King had ever known had been of finding a game he couldn't win. He had never expected to become bored by the game. But it had happened. Well, then he needed a new game. No. He needed the right game… .. .
Going Harvey in the Big House
© Douglas Smith
Big G’s first thought each wake time was how much he missed his drawer in his old sector of the House. His new cube was too big. Rubbing his eyes with a beefy hand, he sat up on his sleep shelf, ducking his head needlessly from habit born of years of waking in a drawer. Triggered by his movement, the ceiling tiles glowed to full brightness. Big G looked around his cube. Dull green walls. A floor covered with a gray coarse carpet. His private in-chute and dis-chute in the opposite wall, with a hidden compartment big enough to make his few personal items seem lonely lying inside. He shook his head. All of this luxury still made him uneasy. But what bothered him most was the size of the cube. Six and a half feet long, and five feet wide, with a ceiling so far overhead that he had to stand to touch it. He sighed. Too much space. It wasn't right. Sometimes now, he'd wake in sleep time, reach out, and feel nothing. He'd panic then, flinging out his arms and legs, snapping his neck back, only to thump his head and crack his knuckles on the walls beside him. Falling reflex. That's what Tapper, his partner, called it. From when our ancestors built the House generations ago to shelter us from the poisons of the Outside. The Builders would fall sometimes, Tapper said, and they'd throw out their arms and legs, trying to catch a girder or a beam to save themselves. Tapper used to work in Archives, so he had lots of stories of Outside and the Builders and the House. Big G didn't know about those things. He just knew his new cube made him nervous. But the Inners had made him a Smoother, and the Inners were the direct descendants of the Builders. The House protects the People, and the Inners protect the House. And Smoothers were the arms and legs of that protection. Smoothers needed to be respected and feared, so the Inners gave them cubes. Big cubes. His ID chip pulsed in his head, signalling an incoming call… .. .
A Taste Sweet and Salty
© Douglas Smith
The man known only as Stranger lived and died in a town with no name. Each day he lived. And each night he died. One morning, Stranger might wake on silk sheets in a fine villa in the town. Rising, he would walk out onto a broad stone patio and look down over cobbled streets twisting between the red-clay buildings below. Out on the Medicean, ship sails billowed like clouds on an inverted sky. Ships he owned. He was rich. He was powerful. The next morning, he might wake naked and shivering in a dark forest, his skin painted with dew etched by the tracks of insects that had explored him in the night. He had nothing. He was nothing. Yet another morning, he would find himself before the altar of the town's only church. Or on a ship. Or in the governor's palace. A ditch. A general's tent. A brothel. Sometimes rich, sometimes poor. Sometimes male, sometimes female. Old, young. Strong, weak. Sometimes known to all, and other times as he ever was to himself–a stranger. But always, he awoke in the town that huddled under the gaze of the mountain shaped like a skull. And always, before the day had passed into the next, he had died at the hands of another… .. .
Memories of the Dead Man
© Douglas Smith
You are done for–a living dead man–not when you stop loving but stop hating. Hatred preserves: in it, in its chemistry, resides the mystery of life. – E.M.Cioran, The New Gods
You ask me of the Dead Man. What kind of man was he? Good question. But not the right one. Some call him a murderer, a cold-blooded killer–or worse. Some call him a hero. Jase and I made it through those days only by his hand in our lives, so you’d think I’d know where I stand on that one. But even after thirty years, I’m still not sure. I had dreams once, beyond living another day, but they’d died when I was twenty, died with my husband and daughter in the Plague. For ten years after that, I did what I had to, to feed Jase and me, to survive. That meant taking what we needed and staying in motion, one step ahead and not looking back. Not getting involved. Not trusting. I made an exception with him, with the Dead Man. No–not that name. You call him that. They call him that. I won’t. To us, to Jase and me, he was Bishop. He said his other name was John, but we just called him Bishop. Yeah, I made an exception with Bishop. But then he was an exception to a lot of rules, even before the Merged Corporate Entity rebuilt Earth under its own rules. It began in a shantytown, squalid and squatting on the edge of the Alberta Badlands. Began at 4 a.m. on a chill May night, under a moon as bright and cold and pockmarked as the chrome on the old Buick I’d just hot-wired…
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