[Fiction/short story] Rampant speculations: a Syntax Sam adventure

Syntax Sam final

Created by the incredible Katie (@binch_queen)

Syntax Sam stared down at the oily pool of evaporating context on the floor, frowning. They nudged it experimentally with the tip of their left boot, recoiling when it flowed up and around their red combats in a thin sheen. Sam panicked, shaking their leg wildly in an attempt to dislodge the clinging rainbow goop, but it quickly wafted away into irrelevance, followed soon after by the remains of the puddle on the floor.

This was normal: small quantities of context never lasted long in isolation, at least not without some solid fact to anchor to. But Sam’s attention had already drifted. They could swear they’d heard a noise just now too, something they’d never heard before in the Library… there it was again! It sounded like it was coming from just a couple shelves away.

Granted, noise itself was nothing unusual in the Liminal Library. If you were to tiptoe through the polished marble galleries and curving, beshelved corridors of the Bon Mot Monarch’s palatial repository, you would hear a constant gentle susurrus. This ever-present rustle was the heartbeat of the Library: the restless sound of books sliding to fill gaps and exchange positions in an endless cycle of literary self-evaluation.

But the noise in question was not made by a book. It sounded, Sam thought, like the roar of a lion which had been shrunk down to minuscule proportions. Which was odd, because while nearly anything could happen in the Kingdom of Words (and often did), it rarely happened here in the Liminal Library, at the well-guarded center of the Bon Mot Monarch’s seat of power. Sam abandoned their quest for From Die Jesu to Sharkbait Ooh Ha Ha: a Guide to Practical Chanting and set off in search of the tiny lion.
As they emerged into one of the main spokes radiating off of the central hub of the library, they nearly collided with a Well-Phrased Knight going the other way. Sam recognized her as Helene, one of the handful of Knights who regularly patrolled these halls.

While not decked out in armor as she might be on outside duty, Helene was nonetheless clad in the smart fitted tunic and leggings of a palace guard, complete with toughened paper bracers on her forearms and an ink-woven blade at her belt. Her sharp martial outfit made Sam’s own pleated red skirt and pale blue crop top seem pretty shabby and casual in comparison. At least Sam’s combat boots lent them a semblance of professionalism.

Helene snapped a quick salute, which Sam returned with a nod of their head.

“Syntax Sam! I didn’t know you were prowling around in here,” Helene said. She seemed on edge, distracted.

“I was looking for a book, actually, but I thought I heard something a couple of shelves over. Like a little lion roaring,” replied Sam.

“A lion, huh?” said Helene. She kept shooting glances over Sam’s shoulder, towards the heart of the library. Sam picked up on her mood.

“What’s up, Helene? Something the matter?”

“Not exactly… only, I’ve seen an unusual number of Fictlings floating around the shelves today, and I’m wondering if something funny is going on with the fact supply.” Helene gestured to the narrow channel cut into the floor which supplied fact and context to the library’s shelves in a steady stream. “I was just heading in to check it out, make sure everything’s fine.”

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[Review] Mockingbird

107, Redfern
★★★★

Mockingbird.JPG

Mockingbird is a darkly comedic family history, of sorts. Energetic counsellor and narrator Tina dances and sways her way through four generations of her family, from her great-grandmother to herself. Her ancestor’s storylines adopts a similar flow: woman meets man, woman gives birth, woman gets locked away for poor mental health. And not just any condition – each woman is diagnosed with postpartum affective disorder (PPD), a mood disorder that can closely follow giving birth.

Writer and lead actor Lisa Brickell developed the script of Mockingbird in consultation with New Zealand’s Changing Minds organisation, which seeks to educate and reduce stigma around mental health. Consequently, the mission of Mockingbird is very clear in the way it challenges preconceptions and assumptions about women’s health in particular. In a world that’s quick to dismiss women as being overly emotional, PPD is an issue both poorly understood and rarely discussed. Many of Tina’s ancestors are dragged away to the nuthouse for traumatic electroshock therapy when all they’re experiencing is a crippling lack of support.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Mockingbird makes a point of injecting ample comedy into what could otherwise be an extremely somber production. Both Lisa Brickell and her accompanist (and occasional voice-in-the-back-of-her-head) Siri Embla are trained clowns who pull off wonderful impressions and burst into humorous songs with plenty of back-and-forth. While there are many sobering moments, the overall tone is light, helping the audience digest the heavy matter at its heart.

Mockingbird is a clever, sensitive exploration of mental health. Funny and moving, it sheds light on an issue that affects many people but remains taboo even in our modern society.

[Humor] Queer Boy’s Guide to: social power systems

1897_Parade_Illustrated_Gift_Book_cover_3128737358

For the previous issue of Queer Boy’s Guide to: common street wildlife, click here.

Society is a complex beast, and like anything else produced by humans it’s impossible to understand and entirely inconsistent. I know what you’re thinking. Queer Boy, how can you possibly hope to write a simple guide to something so monstrously chaotic? Don’t worry – it can be done!

Fortunately, despite the untold millions of societies that rose and fell throughout history, human cohabitation and power structures tend to adopt broadly similar trends. This means we can break down social organization into just a few forms of power distribution, which I’ve summarized in the following list along with tips on how to best navigate whatever system you find yourself in.

Patriarchy

“Those with balls make the calls.”

Summary: One of the most prevalent power structures, the patriarchy is characterized by a dick-heavy distribution where men are in charge of everything whether they’re qualified or not. Generally, if you’re not a dude, you’re in the wrong unless you agree to make up for your shortcomings with apologetic sexual coupling.

How to recognize: Observe a woman. Does she get catcalled and harassed by gross dudes while minding her own business? If so, you’re probably in a patriarchy.

Advice: If you find yourself mired in patriarchy, this author’s advice is to remove yourself to your nearest neighboring matriarchy or lead a swift gender revolution, executing the men in charge. If neither of these are feasible, your best bet is to take advantage of men’s extreme insecurity and fear of ridicule to orchestrate an escape.

Pastriarchy

“Those who rise claim the prize.”

Summary: Common in states with half-baked constitutions, pastriarchies give power to the sweetest and roundest while denying it to the unleavened masses and minorities, such as nuts and loose grains. The upper crust of pastriarchal societies are distinguished by their shiny, flaky skin, gentle sugar dustings, and delicious almond paste center.

How to recognize: Do you feel like it’s unseasonably warm? Is there a crushing, inescapable heat that permeates the air no matter where you go? Do those around you bear vapid, foolish grins? These are sure signs that everyone’s getting baked constantly.

Advice: Honestly, go nuts. So long as you resist the urge to sink your teeth into your fellow citizens, pastriarchies are relatively benign, even to those of a coarser grain. Even if your activities border on the barley legal, authorities are easily buttered up with praise or a judicious bribe of les petits four.

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[Fiction] Leap

Weight of Mountains Sally Ann Colwell

Watercolor “The Weight of Mountains” by Sally Ann Conwell

The final thrust is the one which leaves you reeling.

It’s a long run-up to the line: eyes set, shoulders squared, back straight but not so straight you spoil the spring that coils electrically around your spine. Breathe in and you can feel it suck the tension from your limbs and hoard that fire for itself, ratcheting in not tighter but stronger until its pastel slinky surface hardens into taut sprung steel. Breathe out and you can hear the hammer of your heart squeeze blood along its causeways until it throbs with the anticipation. Your spine is the pillar of courage and movement.

I took ballet when I was younger – maybe four, or five – dressed in the plain black ballet shoes and featureless white top of a young man struggling to follow along in an activity he barely understood. Very little of my time spent then in dance remains to me; but I recall leaning sweatily over a wooden bar beside the wall and kicking my leg enthusiastically back up into the air.

Presumably, this exercise was intended to convert my wimpy little calves into the rippling muscled flesh-mounds shared by dancers, Tour de France cyclists, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in that movie where he plays an obscenely oiled Conan. Perhaps the transformation to smooth-chested barbarian might have even worked if I’d stuck around, but I was out of there long before the kicks and pliés could work their magic, and I wouldn’t touch dance again for decades.

In my time-muddied mind’s eye, those ballet classroom walls were always lined with faceless rows of parents judging silently, arbiters of extra-curricular achievement. This part I know is fiction because my own parents were far too supportive to ever so much as frown at an aborted saute or fumbled step-change to the fifth position. Any parent who could be proud of a thirteenth-place Sunset Lanes bowling trophy wouldn’t scoff at mere balletic missteps.

But there’s another part to that imagined recollection, one I hope desperately is true. In my memory, the young Sam dances like the child in the picture, heedless of the world outside but immersed in its color. I can see him spring and leap around – not graceful by any means, god no, stumbling like an idiot – but starting to come to grips with the joy to be had in running and dancing when everyone and no one is watching. In my more unreasonably optimistic imaginings, he’s already questioning the roles he’s fed and daring to dream of being hoisted aloft in silken slippers before the crowd.

His spine is straight: that crucial spring coiled tightly, arms thrust to the side for balance, dreams and fears and desperate motion stored as elastic potential. He stands tall beneath a rapidly descending future and the crushing weight of mountains.

Over two decades later, I have misplaced his secret of standing tall alone. My shoulders are hunched and rounded; often I am blind to the vivid colors that surround me, distracted by details. When I dance now, the cold and inflexible brass pole running from ceiling to floor becomes my spine. I caress it with my thighs, rub my body along its length and cling to it for the support my own worn-out and rusty bones cannot provide. I twist and gyrate to crude pop rhythms, dragging my limp body across the floor. I scowl at my stiff hips.

Still, there are moments where my spine remembers. The first ragged breath at the end of a routine sends a lick of fire shivering through its disused coils. There are days where I walk alone in public and the burning glares of others sink beneath my skin and feed the furnace smoldering deep within.

It’s been a long and lifeless hibernation, but when I slap my palm onto the pole and lean back, I am sure that I will learn to support myself once more. The effortless courage of my youth left an impression that learning to ride a bike never did, and my spine retains it. Slowly, beneath the weight of mountains, I will stand tall once more.

[Rainy day flashfic] Small and technical horror

haunted_hallway_by_sinbawii.jpg

Image remodelled by sinbawii on Deviantart

This story is based upon a dream described to me on Twitter. And Sam – one of the small tiles is indeed named Smegmantha, as discussed.


Somehow, the worst part is the clicking. Tiny white tiles clack in mindless modularity and they are everywhere. I run through corridors that only resolve themselves when I draw near, clattering into existence as tiles rush to fill structural voids. It’s as if they ran out of materials constructing this place and left self-assembling tiles to make up the lack. An architect’s plans ebb and flow in my wake.

There are others trapped in this place, just as I am. Sometimes I can see a surprising distance ahead when the architecture allows, a vast white empty space stretching on without end. On these occasions I will sit or catch my breath against a wall – hairline fractures scarring the surface in perfect tessellation – and gaze out upon the inchoate domain I inhabit. Always in the distance tiles ripple in concert as they pursue another poor unfortunate locked in a quest to escape.

And behind? I no longer look behind. Not anymore.

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[Audio review] Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

A moustache sharp enough to cut through the ice to the heart of any mystery

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is an energetic and lighthearted adaptation of Agatha Christie’s deviously clever mystery.

This review contains audio from the VCR Clue game, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Firesign Theatre, and The Polar Express.

[Fiction/crime] Nut smugglers

Image property of Blue Sky Studios [Ice Age franchise]

Snow crunched under Red’s tires as she flicked on her indicator, sweeping right into the wide parking lot of the Natural Nuts Packaging Co. The little Invader Zim Gir figurine anchored to the dashboard wobbled furiously in protest at the maneuver.

“Don’t worry, little guy,” Red said. “Just need to hitch up the load and then it’s smooth sailing from here on out.” The robot’s oversized head continued to nod in what she liked to think was agreement.

Red chewed her lip, squinting in the faint pre-dawn light at the loading bays ahead. Three monstrous warehouses loomed against the twilit sky, untethered semi-trailers arrayed before them like boats at a land-locked wharf. She brought her cab to a stop, engine idling. Shouldn’t there be someone here to meet her?

On cue, a figure hurried out from a squat office at the edge of the warehouses, one arm raised oddly. After a moment, Red realized they were shading their eyes against the blinding glare of her high-beams, so she cut the engine and climbed out to meet them. The person kicking through the ankle-deep snow towards her was a bespectacled man in a blue tuque. A bushy brown mustache nestled above his mouth like a slug.

“Ho, there!” he called, waving. “Where are you from? There aren’t any shipments scheduled till six, not for -” he consulted a tablet with an ungloved hand – “An hour, or so.” Red frowned.

“Didn’t you get the updated paperwork?” she asked. The man paused.

“Updated paperwork?”

“I’m here for the Bellevue shipment. Broker should’ve faxed the job through again yesterday.” The man shook his head, ice crystals flaking from his mustache.

“The Bellevue job? Pickup’s not till nine. You’re four hours early!”

“There has to be some mistake. It’s the same job, anyway. Load ready to go?”

“Yes, but…” He noticed Red shivering, huffing on her hands in an effort to prevent them going numb. Why’d she leave her dang coat in the cab? “Look, it’s freezing out here, lady. Come to the office where it’s warm and we’ll sort this whole thing out.”

“Thanks,” Red managed, hugging herself. She couldn’t retrieve her coat now without looking like an idiot, so she trudged along behind the shipping supervisor, cursing internally.

The office was cozy. A cup of coffee sat cooling on a table beside a half-eaten sandwich, little wisps of steam curling up into the air. The man sat down, beckoning Red to do the same.

“So what’s the story, then? The Bellevue shipment’s on the books for nine today, and now you’re here claiming it before dawn. Suppose you tell me just what’s going on?” Red drummed her fingers on the table impatiently.

“It was originally nine, but a couple days ago the broker called me saying the receiver needed the schedule bumped forward, so the new pickup was at five. I thought they would’ve informed you by now.” The man clicked his tongue, checked his tablet again, then wandered over to a stack of papers and leafed through them.

“Here we are,” he said, sitting down and sliding a document over to Red. “This is all I’ve got. FND Express from the Sacramento plant to Nutopia in Bellevue, Washington.” She picked up the manifest and scanned it.

“Yeah, this is the one. So are we good?” The man sighed, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but it’s all too irregular. I can’t let the load go like this without confirmation from above, and my manager’s still chasing Z’s. About an hour either way’s as far as I can push it.”

“Seriously? You’d rather I hang around for three hours than shift the load a little early? Come on. Neither of us wants that. I’m here now. What say we get this done? Less headache for you later.” The man grimaced, glancing at the document and back to her. He reached a decision.

“Fine. Sign here, please.”

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