the first thanksgiving

This story first appeared in the late lamented LiP Magazine, and appears in Tipping the Sacred Cow: The Best of LiP Magazine.

No, really, it isn’t any trouble at all. I’m thrilled that you’re interested, because I love to tell the story of this place; I feel the story is part of its healing quality, you know, and that is why you’re here, why we’re all here. And it wasn’t always like you see it now—by no means! We had to work at it; we really had to create it from nothing, but we did it because we believed in what we were doing, and you know, when you really believe, the universe makes a way…

I think it helped that we were all, the group of us who started it, of truly like mind. We’d been meeting at conferences for years; we’d been talking and thinking and hearing about all these wonderful ideas for a sustainable life, as things kept getting worse and worse — you know, the wars, the destruction of nature, and the terrible violence in the cities — and we were all thinking the same thing: there’s got to be a better way! We need to stop talking about it and actually start to live it. For the sake of the planet!

So our minds were definitely starting to form a gestalt; we discovered we all agreed on the basic ideas, and finally it was simply a matter of when, not if.

(Of course the other thing it turns out we all had in common, which some of the others who tried to “do” sustainable living around the same time didn’t, was investments. Which we were also savvy enough to liquidate before the Crash—that’s the “creative class” for you, I like to say!)

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on the lost coast circuit

 

van in the pines

This tale was first published in the e-anthology Things You Can Create.

The Lost Coast circuit was nearly a hundred miles long north to south, but Jake and Ella had come directly over the inner ranges from the limited-way, cutting their usual route in half. Low on supplies, with fewer places to get them each time they came through. So they headed for the river crossing a mile or so in from the coast, where there was a swap-mart by a cable-ferry. It drew trade from the hemp colony, the only one left on that circuit. From the narrow valleys around, settlers came trading hides, honey, or milled timber for smoke, paper, rope and oil.

Jake had his whetstone to sharpen and tools to repair any knife or blade. Ella could sing; she specialized in classical tunes, much favored then as now. Jake played a mouth-harp well enough to back her up, but her voice was the main draw.

Last time they’d done all right in trade: plus supplies, even negotiated some hard-to-find things for their skills. A metal belt-buckle for Jake that could still shine up. Ella got a lucky charm, a jolly red-haired clown of plastic, pocket-sized, improved by some hand with new paint.

But this time there wasn’t a soul on the beaten-dirt plaza above the ferry launch, near the pylons of the was-bridge, or anywhere else they looked. Only rags of mist floating up the river channel, wind whispering in the tall brown grass, and the dark pines sighing to themselves on the hills.

There was a single, roofless shelter at the edge of the plaza; Jake couldn’t remember it from before. Ella stayed close to the van as he unsheathed his knife and pushed open the only door. It shrieked on its dry wooden hinge; she bit her lip as he disappeared inside. And waited, singing softly to herself, Number one is the lowliest number

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interview at the crossroads

I will try to tell you what has happened to you, says the Companion.

But before that, I’d like you to—your surroundings, your daily life; could you describe them for me? Take as much time as you want. It’s important that you remember now, even though you will see that the idea is to forget, eventually. I think the reason will become clear in time. For now, just tell me about your—self, anything you like. Anything you remember.

Eva shakes her head slightly, a twitch, as if to clear it. She reaches up with her hand, puzzled.

My hair—is loose now—I wore it—up, there… (Touching the locks that fall about her shoulders.) I had it—done, that’s the word—at a place, the same place. For a long time. In a—building. There were many of them. Long rows…

Yes, yes. Good. What else?

The buildings were tall, and made of stone and metal. And glass. There were these—engines, many of them! I moved around in them—I mean, from place to place—they took me from place to place—to get my hair—a man named—what was his name? He had very short hair himself. He did it. He said things that made me laugh. It felt good to go there. The noises were all different there: sharper, longer, louder. That was—Downtown, it was called.

Yes. And were there any birds? Did you ever hear birds?

Oh yes, I heard them. We ate them, too—not the ones we heard, I mean—there were not so many of those. Where I lived (not Downtown, a place—outside it, with smaller buildings) there were some birds. They sang. And actually that was how it first, how I first—because they were singing about—no, that isn’t right… What they were singing was here.Wasn’t it? What I mean is, it was in their singing, this place, where I am now. Because when I first began to listen…

Yes, yes…?

Not the ones we ate. They were dead too.

Yes, quite right. Well, dead, you know—isn’t exactly—we don’t—that’s to say, we just call it “other.” Because we truly don’t know about that.

Eva falls silent; birdsong and the chirring of insects pour into the stillness between her and the Companion. She looks at her surroundings: trees, shrubs, grasses, moved by the wind, gently, constantly. Clouds float above; the sky is vibrant. Its color is so intense it seems to be made of some substance other than light and air.

I can hear so many birds here, she says, wonderingly.

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the listening post

dunes

This tale was published on The Dark Mountain Project blog. 

I don’t remember how old I was when I was taught to tend the listening post. The lottery was held when Good Gillem, who taught me, was an old man and ready to be replaced. All the children who were old enough to work were given a pebble; we put them in the box; mine was drawn.

So I had to leave the oasis, where the other children would work all their lives as our parents and grandparents had to shepherd the tiny spring into channels where a few fish would spawn each year among the cress and rice we planted. To tend and harvest the palms, weave their fibers into cloth, mend the screens and strengthen the mud walls. To grind the flour and bake the dry, flat bread. My work would be different from theirs. I felt sad and proud.

As I stood in the shadowed doorway of my parents’ house, ready to set out, my mother held my shoulders tightly and kissed me on the top of my head. She was not crying, but her face was twisted in sadness. We’ll see you on Year’s Day, she whispered. Be good till then. One day each year they would come to visit me, for once I was at the post, I could never leave it again.

On my shoulder I carried the little bundle she’d prepared for me. Alone I walked out beyond the storm screens, to the open desert, which I’d never seen before. I stared. Stretched before me were endless hills of red sand under the burning sky. The vastness of it made my heart jump like a netted fish in my chest. Everything I knew shrunk to nothingness before it. Carefully I followed the old markers that led over the dunes. I climbed the highest dune and looked back down on my home. The oasis looked indistinct, just a grainy shadow behind the screens, its colors, plants, and people gone. I turned my face away, twisting it as my mother had done to keep from crying, and went on.

The sand shifted and whispered around me. It was red, soft, warm, moving like a smooth-limbed body turning in its sleep. For a moment I felt tempted to leave the marked path and just walk into that great red place, join my body with its body and sleep in its softness. I thought I heard it calling me as it whispered: come and sleep with me, little one! Come and lie down in my arms! It was so great and I was so little. Why shouldn’t I do as it wanted?

Another sound woke me from my daze: the clinking of the old metal flags of the marker as I approached. I realized the sun outside the screens was too strong and it had opened a channel in my head for the whispering sand to enter. Quickly I pulled my hood up and wrapped it tight. Behind the screens I mostly forgot to wear it, unless a big storm came. I drank from my water jug until the whispering died down, and went on again.

At sunset I reached the foot of the black rock mountain, and saw the marker flashing at the entrance to the cave. Gillem waited there. He stood leaning on a great staff of knotted wood. It must have been older than he was, perhaps much older, as there were no trees from which to cut such staffs now in the oasis or any of the places we knew.

I followed him inside the cave and set down my bundle on its smooth, swept, rock floor. Gillem nodded to me in greeting but that was all. My training began at once.

He showed me the wall at the back of the cave, behind a stone outcrop that shielded it from view. Into the wall were set the devices of the listening post. They were like nothing I had seen in the oasis; I didn’t understand them at all. You don’t have to understand how they work, Gillem said. I don’t, nor has any Listener before me, as far as I know. You just have to do exactly as I show you, and the devices will sweep the skies, as they have down all the lifetimes since they were put here, for a message.

How many Listeners have there been? I asked.

I have never counted, replied Gillem. Each one keeps his archive and when he is finished, adds it to the others, to show that he has fulfilled his task. The count can be made if you want to – he waved his arm at the huge archive wall – but it would take a long time and it is easy to lose track. There’s enough to keep you busy.

And has any message ever come? I asked.

No message has ever come, he said.

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notes from the island

This story first appeared in Zahir Tales Magazine (nom de plume: Diana Swift)

by becky liddiard, http://cargocollective.com/beckyliddiard

Two Islands by Becky Liddiard – cargocollective.com

I decided to start keeping a diary today. Yes, it is ridiculous. There’s no one else to read it here, of course. Nor will there ever be, here or elsewhere, if what we believe has happened since the last Visit is true. Years have passed since then; we’ve no reason to doubt our belief. So why write anything? But I’ve decided this will be company for me, of a kind. My diary will be like the invisible friend a child has, and I had once upon a time as well. With all that has happened in my life, I don’t suppose I ever imagined I’d want an invisible friend again. But there you are. Today I do.

Lars has his music, and his solitary nature, and he has me. He never needed other company much. When he was exiled here, after the first shock, he adapted quite quickly. When I chose to follow him rather than to become one of the slave-women in the Director’s household, I, by contrast, had to relinquish my pleasure in a small society of friends, family, a circle of acquaintances. Because his preference for solitude and the sparseness of his family had not added anyone to that limited circle, the connections we lost were almost exclusively mine. I was never entirely dependent on society; in fact, I had learned to be independent of it from living with Lars. But it was still almost unbearable for a time, the loss.

It was more difficult for me, yes. But that was so long ago; it’s funny I should decide to take this up now, after twenty years of life on the island, after forgetting even to miss any other human voice, any words but his terse daily commentary. Nothing particular has happened; that’s the beauty of our situation, the strange beauty of it: we’ve grown into our routines like plants, and nothing disturbs them any more. So I really don’t know what made me do it, finally. Nothing I could name. An ancient instinct, perhaps.

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the alien occupation

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I am pleased to present all of you who share an interest in Terran affairs with the most recent discovery made possible by your support for the Terran Archivist Group: this interesting multi-volume study whose title roughly translates as A Definitive History of the Alien Conquest and Occupation of Eusa. This compendious work, written roughly 300 Terran (approximately 40 Tlönian) years ago but discovered only recently during excavatory work on Terra, and apparently produced by an indigenous historian named Brandon Harbury Thorne, is a remarkable addition to our knowledge about the Galatean occupation of Terra.

As you are all aware, Terra was invaded and occupied by the conquering Galateans for approximately 1,000 of their years, and it has only been since the relatively recent (perhaps 25 Tlönian years) decline and dissolution of that enormous empire that Tlönian archaeological brigades have been able to visit Terra and try to reconstruct some of its fascinating and complex history under Galatean rule. We now have Thorne’s painstaking–and so far unique–work to thank for illuminating a previously obscure area of that history: The large land area of Eusa, which was only sparsely inhabited by seemingly primitive and fragmented tribal societies at the time of first contact with the Galateans, had previously revealed to our scholars only tantalizing hints of the traumatic experience of invasion and conquest. Now the picture is much more complete.

The indigenous population of Eusa was not even confirmed to have retained the capacity for written historical record until the discovery of Thorne’s work. It is evident to us that Thorne was probably a member of a select group of indigenous scholars who were trained in Galatean “thought-enclaves,” as their universities were called, and thus became skilled in advanced techniques for historical research and analysis, which would have been far beyond the capacity of the vast majority of the degraded and diminished indigenous population of Eusa.

With your courteous permission, I will now proceed to try to summarize some of the major revelations that this long-awaited Tlönian translation of Thorne’s work has produced in the field of Terran studies. First and perhaps foremost, Thorne indicates to us that the indigenous population of Eusa was already in severe decline from a series of centuries-long shocks at the time the first Galateans literally stumbled upon those shores. We can now confirm, thanks to Thorne’s corroboration of findings from our own initial excavations in several different parts of the Eusan land mass, that at least some of the scattered and disunited peoples of Eusa may have descended from a fairly complex cosmopolitan civilization of their own, of which they themselves had but scant memory, preserved mainly through some bizarre rituals whose origins were lost in the mists of time, and a scattering of oral histories. Current theory now has it that intractable and unending wars, famines caused by an unstable climate and mass deaths from a variety of forms of toxic contamination may have decimated the Eusan population and reduced its civilization to these degenerate remnants, perhaps even centuries before the Galateans arrived.

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long ago, in the future: the big people

With a tribute (Easter egg-style) to the great Ursula K. Le Guin, whose speech at the National Book Awards was one for the ages.

A group of people is sitting around a fire. One of them stands to tell a tale:

Wunzappona there was a place where everything was Big. The people were Big, but more big-around than tall, like say, two or three of us tied together. And there were a lot of them too, crowded into this place, so they were always bumping into one another! And they didn’t walk—they couldn’t walk because their little legs could not support their huge bellies! Like if you were to put an enormous stone on top of a tiny stool. So each wore a machine with wheels just around his own body, which, of course, made them even Bigger! And every day they wore a different one, and threw away the one before, as you throw the shell of a nut you are eating as you walk.

“Outside the place there was a mountain made out of thrown-away machines. And their dwellings also were the shape of their machines, just big enough to fit perfectly around them like your skin fits around your hand. Some of these dwellings were piled high on top of each other. But most of them were spread out, and since there were many millions they spread over whole valleys, beyond where your two eyes could see as far as you could look. But it didn’t matter how far they spread out; the Big people couldn’t get away from one another!

“And then, on top of everything else, they were asleep all the time. Now we often say we are “awake” because our last eye is open, but I don’t mean that. We all still sleep at night, and dream when we are asleep, yes? They were asleep like that! All the time. But still the machines moved them from place to place constantly; they never sat still. So of course they were always bumping into one another! Most of the time they just said, in their sleepy voices, ‘Oh, imagine bumping into you like this!’ And that was how they met.

“But more and more often, they bumped so hard that they died. Even though their machine shells were hard, the people inside were soft, much softer and weaker than we are, like fat snails. And they ate all the time. They only lived to eat, and to dream. While they were dreaming, and bumping into one another, they were using their hands, which still worked on their own, to fill their mouths with food. They could eat everything. The number of things we eat is very small, mostly plants, though we can make a large number of things from a small number of plants—milk and cheese, and jam and flour and so forth. But they, oh my children, oh my brothers and sisters and cousins and kin, they could eat everything. They could eat large animals—because in the Big world there were many animals as large as a person or even larger—and eat birds, and insects, and wood and metal and even earth! About the only thing they couldn’t eat was plastic, and you all know why that is, because it’s the deadest thing there is. And they were strange but they were still alive. While trees can eat stone, and air can eat metal, and insects can eat wood, no living thing can eat plastic, as far as we know.

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