Episode #26: Three Flash stories by Kat Howard, Nino Cipri, and Bogi Takács

April 22, 2016

The Face of Heaven So Fine

Kat Howard

There is an entire history in the stars. Light takes time to travel, to get from wherever the star is to wherever we can see it, here, on Earth. So when you think about it, when we see the stars, we are looking back in time. Everything those stars actually shone on has already happened. But just because a story already happened, that doesn’t mean it’s finished.

Full transcript after the cut.

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 26 for April 19th, 2016. I'm your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing these stories with you.

It's been a while since GlitterShip last ran flash fiction, so I'm treating you to an episode with three flash stories in it. This episode also marks the return of Bogi Takács, whose fiction previously appeared in GlitterShip episode 3, "This Shall Serve As a Demarcation."

Our first story today is "The Face of Heaven So Fine" by Kat Howard

Kat Howard lives in New Hampshire. Her short fiction has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, anthologized in year's best and best of collections, and performed on NPR. Her debut novel, Roses and Rot, will be out in May from Saga Press. You can find her on twitter at @KatWithSword.

The Face of Heaven So Fine

Kat Howard

There is an entire history in the stars. Light takes time to travel, to get from wherever the star is to wherever we can see it, here, on Earth. So when you think about it, when we see the stars, we are looking back in time. Everything those stars actually shone on has already happened. But just because a story already happened, that doesn’t mean it’s finished.

Juliet was the bleeding heart of a story, made flesh and made gorgeous. She was all eyeliner and fishnets, the kind of girl who looked like she’d carve designs on her own skin, not because she was trying to hurt herself, but just for the beauty of it, you know?

It wasn’t ever herself that Juliet cut, though. It was her lovers. All of them. That was the deal. A fuck, and then a perfect star, cut out of their skin.

The scars were like a badge of honor. Proof you’d been with her. People would ask her to put them some place visible, those little stars she cut out of people, but Juliet chose. Juliet always chose.

I fell in love with Juliet the first time I met her, which doesn’t make me any different from anyone else. I know that. That’s just how it was with Juliet. If you fell in love with her, it was an instant, headlong crash.

I don’t think she fell in love back. It didn’t matter. She was like a star – so bright that everything else seemed dim when she walked into the room. It was enough to be in her orbit.

I met her for the first time at a party. I knew who she was. Everyone knew who Juliet was. She was a love story with a knife, and a tattoo of an apothecary’s vial.

But when we met, I was dancing, and some guy bumped into me, and I tripped. When I put my hands out to catch myself, it was her shoulders that they landed on.

She leaned close, her lips almost brushing my ear, “You’re Rose, right?”

I nodded.

“Let’s dance.”

We did.

We danced until I could taste her sweat mixed with mine, until I wasn’t sure whether the ache in my thighs was from exhaustion or desire. We danced until I saw stars, her hand under my shirt, tracing a constellation on my skin.

Because of the distances between the stars and the Earth, some of the stars we see in the sky have already died, burnt themselves out. Some people think that’s sad, that we look up and see things that aren’t there anymore. I think it’s beautiful. It’s like, because we can still see them, in a way they’re still alive.

After, when her fingers were still inside me, her head resting on my chest, I asked: “What do you do with the stars?”

Juliet was silent long enough that I thought she wasn’t going to answer. Then she said, “There was a boy, and I loved him. It was the kind of love people write poetry and songs about.

“He burned brighter than the stars, and then he died. And I didn’t. I thought I would, but I didn’t.”

She climbed from the bed, and looked out the window. “I promised I would cut him out, and hang him in the heavens. That way, everyone can see him, and when they do, they’ll know he was worth everything.”

Juliet cut the star from the skin on my chest, right over my heart. She used a dagger. “It was his,” she said when I asked.

It hurt. Of course it hurt. The star of skin was the least of what she was cutting out of me.

I had never wondered before how it was that people fell out of love with Juliet.

The scar healed cleanly. Not just cleanly, but perfectly, a star shining on my skin.

I look for him in the sky. That boy that Juliet loved so much that she would change the face of heaven for him. I don’t know how long it takes the light from those stars, the ones that she hangs, to reach us here, but I know that it will.

I wonder if light reaches back in time, too. Maybe it’s impossible, but a lot of things are, and they happen anyway. I see the stars, and I wonder if that boy ever looked up at the sky and knew how much Juliet loved him. The kind of love people write songs and poetry about. The kind of love that is written in the stars.

END


Our next story is "A Thing with Teeth" by Nino Cipri

Nino Cipri is a queer and genderqueer writer living in Chicago. Their writing has been published in Tor.com, Fireside Fiction, Podcastle , Daily Science Fiction, and other fine publications. A multidisciplinary artist, Nino has also written plays, essays, and radio features, and has performed as a dancer, actor, and puppeteer. They currently work as a bicycle mechanic, freelance writer, and occasional rabblerouser.

A Thing with Teeth

by Nino Cipri

She started with Elena’s books. Sylvia tore out the blank back pages first, then the title pages, the dedications. Finally, the words themselves, the brittle pages of the story. She tore them into strips, sucked on them until they were soft, chewed them into balls and swallowed them.

Sylvia thought she could detect hidden tastes on the pages. The worn copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon that Elena had kept since childhood was faintly sweet, like store-bought bread. The sex guide tasted coppery, and Elena’s journals had a hint of fake cherry, like cough drops. The books of poetry were minty, but with a bitter aftertaste.

Elena’s letters were next. Torn into pieces, swallowed, hidden in the cavern below her throat. Sylvia could taste the dust on them, the fine desert sand that Elena said got into everything. She could taste gun oil, the military-issue soap, the hand-lotion that Sylvia had mailed across continents and oceans. She'd imagined Elena running into her dry, chapped knuckles when she'd packed it up.

This stuff is worth its weight in gold around here, Elena had written. You’re a goddess.

I miss you.

I miss you.

I miss you.

The words echoed in the empty part of Sylvia’s chest. Her stomach felt like an empty house, filled with dust and ghosts.

She swallowed the death notification from the Army, and then the letter from Elena’s commanding officer. It included all the details that the official notification had left out, typed out in unadorned English: the ambush, the ground-to-air missiles, the crash, the fire.

We couldn’t recover her remains from the wreck, he wrote. I’m sorry. It’s likely that she died from her wounds, and not the fire. She probably went quick.

Sylvia thought again of Elena’s hands. Had she worn that lotion that day? Had she smelled its perfume before she died?

Sylvia tore the letter into strips and let it dissolve on her tongue.

If hope was a thing with feathers, what was grief?

When the books and letters were gone, she ate their photos, the black-and-white strips from photo booths, the matte prints from their civil union, the out-of-focus pictures from their honeymoon in Puerto Rico. Still hungry, she started on Elena’s clothes next, the T-shirts with the ironic slogans, the cotton briefs, the lacy bras she rarely wore. Sylvia ate the sheets off their bed, both their bathrobes, a washcloth, a slipper. She ate Elena’s pocketbook. It took her four days and a heavy kitchen knife to finish off a pair of old hiking boots, chewing and chewing and chewing.

All that and she still felt hollow, carved open like a canyon.

Sylvia stood at the mirror with her aching jaw held open, peering into the inside of her own mouth. She half-expected to see words imprinted on the red skin of her throat, black letters crawling towards the tip of her tongue. Her breath fogged the mirror.

When Sylvia spat, there were threads of blood in the saliva, mixed with something darker. Ink, maybe.

Sylvia walked out of her house in her pajamas, into the cold, damp air. She ran her fingers over the bark of the oak tree that dominated the backyard, then knelt down on the grass and stared up at the sky through the branches, at the chalky moon, the glassy stars.

She stared at her hands, the bitten nails and torn cuticles, knuckles dry and chapped. She pressed her fingertips to the cool, damp ground at the foot of the oak tree. It parted easily, and she came up with two small handfuls of dirt. Hesitantly, she put one in her mouth, pouring it past her lips. She worked it around her tongue, and then swallowed it.

Sylvia worked quickly after that, digging her fingers into the damp sod. She clawed up chunks of the ground, shoving handful after handful into her mouth. By dawn, she’d swallowed enough dirt to fill a grave. She lay back, her hands caked with soil to her elbow, belly distended, lips and chin black with soil.

Finally, she thought. I’m full.

END


 
And, our final story is "Increasing Police Visibility" by Bogi Takács.

Bogi Takács is an agender Hungarian Jewish author currently living in the US. E writes both speculative fiction and poetry, and eir works have been published in a variety of venues like Strange HorizonsClarkesworldCapricious and Nature Futures, among others.

E has an upcoming novelette in GigaNotoSaurus and a story in Defying Doomsday, an anthology of apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled characters, edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench.

E also recently guest-edited an issue of inkscrawl, the magazine for minimalist speculative poetry.

You can find Bogi on the web at http://www.prezzey.net and on twitter as @bogiperson.
 

Increasing Police Visibility

by Bogi Takács

 

Manned detector gates will be installed at border crossings, including Ferihegy Airport, and at major pedestrian thoroughfares in Budapest. No illegally present extraterrestrial will evade detection, government spokesperson Júlia Berenyi claimed at today's press conference...

Kari scribbles wildly in a pocket notebook. How to explain? It's impossible to explain anything to government bureaucrats, let alone science.

Kari writes:

To describe a measurement—

Sensitivity: True positives / Positives = True positives / (True positives + False negatives)

Specificity: True negatives / Negatives = True negatives / (False positives + True negatives)

Kari decides even this is too complicated, tears out the page, starts over.

To describe a measurement—

Janó grits his teeth, fingers the pistol in its holster. The man in front of him is on the verge of tears, but who knows when suffering will turn into assault, without another outlet.

“I have to charge you with the use of forged documents,” Janó says.

“How many times do I have to say? I'm – not – an – alien,” the man yells and raises his hands, more in desperation than in preparation to attack.

“Assault on police officers in the line of duty carries an additional penalty,” Janó says.

The man breaks down crying.

Kari paces the small office, practices the presentation. They will not understand because they don't want to understand, e thinks. Out loud, e says:

“To describe any kind of measurement, statisticians have devised two metrics we're going to use. Sensitivity shows us how good the measurement is at finding true positives. In this situation, a person identified as an ET who is genuinely an ET.”

The term ET still makes em think of the Spielberg movie from eir childhood. E sighs and goes on. “Whereas specificity shows us how good the measurement is at finding true negatives.” How much repetition is too much? “Here, a person identified as an Earth human who's really an Earth human.”

The whole thing is just about keeping the police busy and visible. Elections are coming next year, Kari thinks. Right-wing voters eat up this authoritarian nonsense.

“So if we know the values of sensitivity and specificity, and know how frequent are ETs in our population, we can calculate a lot. We can determine how likely it is for a person who was detected at a gate to be a real extraterrestrial.”

Alien is a slur, e reminds emself.

Eir officemate comes in, banging the door open. He glances at eir slide and yells. “Are they still nagging you with that alien crap?”

The young, curly-haired woman is wearing an ankle-length skirt and glaring down at Janó — she must be at least twenty centimeters taller than him, he estimates. She is the seventh person that day who objects to a full-body scan.

“This goes against my religious observance,” she says, nodding and grimacing. “I request a pat-down by a female officer.” She sounds practiced at this.

Janó sighs. “A pat-down cannot detect whether you are truly an extraterrestrial.”

“I will sue you!”

“Sue the state, you're welcome,” he groans and pushes her through, disgusted with himself all the while.

Kari is giving the presentation to a roomful of government bureaucrats. E's trying to put on a magician's airs. Pull the rabbit out of the hat with a flourish.

“So let's see! No measurement is perfect. How good do you think your gates are at detecting ETs? Ninety percent? Ninety-five percent? You know what, let's make it ninety-nine percent just for the sake of our argument.” They would probably be happy with eighty, e thinks.

E scribbles on the whiteboard – they couldn't get the office smartboard working, nor the projector. Eir marker squeaks.

SENSITIVITY = 99%

SPECIFICITY = 99%

“And now, how many people are actually ETs in disguise? Let's say half percent.” That's probably a huge overestimate still, e thinks.

“So for a person who tests as an ET, the probability that they truly are an ET can be calculated with Bayes' theorem...” E fills the whiteboard with eir energetic scrawl.

E pauses once finished. The calculations are relatively easy to follow, but e hopes even those who did not pay attention can interpret the result.

Someone in the back hisses, bites back a curse. Some people whisper.

“Yes, it's around 33 percent,” Kari says. “In this scenario, two thirds of people who test as ETs will be Earth humans. And this gets even worse the rarer the ETs are.” And the worse your sensitivity and specificity, e thinks but doesn't add. E isn't here to slam the detection gate technology. “This, by the way, is why general-population terrorist screenings after 9/11 were such abysmal failures.” Americans are a safe target here; the current crop of apparatchiks is pro-Russian.

This is math. There is nothing to argue with here. Some of the men still try.

Kari spends over an hour on discussion, eir perkiness already worn off by the half-hour mark.

“We can't just stop the program,” a middle-aged man finally says. “It increases police visibility in the community.”

Kari wishes e could just walk out on them, but what would that accomplish?

“I had a horrible day,” Kari/Janó say simultaneously, staring at each other: their rumpled, red-eyed, rattled selves.

“I hate myself,” Janó says.

“I'm useless,” Kari says.

Then they hug. Then they kiss.

Below their second-story window, on Klauzál Square, an extraterrestrial materializes out of thin air, dodging the gates. 

_____________

Endnotes:

For those interested in the actual calculations, the Bayes' Theorem page on Wikipedia demonstrates them with the numbers used in the story, in the context of drug testing.

I first heard the terrorism comparison from Prof. Floyd Webster Rudmin at the University of Tromsø, Norway.

END


"The Face of Heaven So Fine" was originally published in the February 2013 issue of Apex Magazine.

"A Thing with Teeth" was originally published in Eunoia Review in 2013.

"Increasing Police Visibility" was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license, which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the  Google Audio Library.

Thanks for listening, and I'll be back on May 3rd with a GlitterShip original.

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