“The Crystal Crypt” — Philip K. Dick

“The Crystal Crypt” by Philip K. Dick

“ATTENTION, Inner-Flight ship! Attention! You are ordered to land at the Control Station on Deimos for inspection. Attention! You are to land at once!”

The metallic rasp of the speaker echoed through the corridors of the great ship. The passengers glanced at each other uneasily, murmuring and peering out the port windows at the small speck below, the dot of rock that was the Martian checkpoint, Deimos.

“What’s up?” an anxious passenger asked one of the pilots, hurrying through the ship to check the escape lock.

“We have to land. Keep seated.” The pilot went on.

“Land? But why?” They all looked at each other. Hovering above the bulging Inner-Flight ship were three slender Martian pursuit craft, poised and alert for any emergency. As the Inner-Flight ship prepared to land the pursuit ships dropped lower, carefully maintaining themselves a short distance away.

“There’s something going on,” a woman passenger said nervously. “Lord, I thought we were finally through with those Martians. Now what?”

“I don’t blame them for giving us one last going over,” a heavy-set business man said to his companion. “After all, we’re the last ship leaving Mars for Terra. We’re damn lucky they let us go at all.”

“You think there really will be war?” A young man said to the girl sitting in the seat next to him. “Those Martians won’t dare fight, not with our weapons and ability to produce. We could take care of Mars in a month. It’s all talk.”

The girl glanced at him. “Don’t be so sure. Mars is desperate. They’ll fight tooth and nail. I’ve been on Mars three years.” She shuddered. “Thank goodness I’m getting away. If—”

“Prepare to land!” the pilot’s voice came. The ship began to settle slowly, dropping down toward the tiny emergency field on the seldom visited moon. Down, down the ship dropped. There was a grinding sound, a sickening jolt. Then silence.

“We’ve landed,” the heavy-set business man said. “They better not do anything to us! Terra will rip them apart if they violate one Space Article.”

“Please keep your seats,” the pilot’s voice came. “No one is to leave the ship, according to the Martian authorities. We are to remain here.”

A restless stir filled the ship. Some of the passengers began to read uneasily, others stared out at the deserted field, nervous and on edge, watching the three Martian pursuit ships land and disgorge groups of armed men.

The Martian soldiers were crossing the field quickly, moving toward them, running double time.

This Inner-Flight spaceship was the last passenger vessel to leave Mars for Terra. All other ships had long since left, returning to safety before the outbreak of hostilities. The passengers were the very last to go, the final group of Terrans to leave the grim red planet, business men, expatriates, tourists, any and all Terrans who had not already gone home.

“What do you suppose they want?” the young man said to the girl. “It’s hard to figure Martians out, isn’t it? First they give the ship clearance, let us take off, and now they radio us to set down again. By the way, my name’s Thacher, Bob Thacher. Since we’re going to be here awhile—”

Read the rest of “The Crystal Crypt” at Project Gutenberg.

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“What Have You Done?” — Ben Marcus

When Paul’s flight landed in Cleveland, they were waiting for him. They’d probably arrived early, set up camp right where passengers float off the escalator scanning for family. They must have huddled there watching the arrivals board, hoping in the backs of their minds, and the mushy front parts of their minds, too, yearning with their entire minds, that Paul would do what he usually did—or didn’t—and just not come home.

But this time he’d come, and he’d hoped to arrive alone, to be totally alone until the very last second. The plan was to wash up, to be one of those fat guys at the wall of sinks in the airport bathroom, soaping their underarms, changing shirts. Then he’d get a Starbucks, grab his bag, take a taxi out to the house. That way he could delay the face time with these people. Delay the body time, the time itself, the time, while he built up his nerve, or whatever strategy it was that you employed when bracing yourself for Cleveland. For the people of Cleveland. His people.

They had texted him, though, and now here they were in a lump, pressed so tightly together you could almost have buckshot the three of them down with a single pull. Not that he was a hunter. Dad, Alicia, and Rick. The whole sad gang, minus one. Paul considered walking up to them and holding out his wrists, as if they were going to cuff him and lead him away. You have been sentenced to a week with your family! But they wouldn’t get it, and then, forever more, he’d be the one who had started it, after so many years away, the one who had triggered all the difficulty yet again with his bullshit and games, and why did he need to queer the thing before the thing had even begun, unless, gasp, he wanted to set fire to his whole life

Read the rest of Ben Marcus’s story “What Have You Done?” at The New Yorker.

Read “Jumping the Line,” A Very Short Story by Mikhail Bulgakov

“Jumping the Line”

by

Mikhail Bulgakov

There was a line outside the Moscow Criminal Investigations Department.
“Oh. . . Geez . . . all this waiting and waiting!”
“Even here there’s a line!”
“What can you do? Do you happen to be a bookkeeper, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Nope, I’m a cashier.”
“Did you come to get arrested?”
“Yeah, what else!”
“That’s good. So how much were you caught with, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Three thousand smackers.”
“That’s nothing, young man. You’ll just get a year. But if you take your heartfelt repentance into consideration . . . and the fact that the Bolshevik Anniversary is coming up . . . so, all in all, you’ll do three months, and then, the sweet bird of freedom!”
“You sure? You’re comforting me no end. I was already real desperate. Yesterday I went to see a lawyer, and he scared the living daylights out of me–the article, he tells me, is such that you won’t get away with less than two years’ hard labor.
“Pure twaddle, young man! Trust my experience. Hey, you there! Where do you think you’re going? Get back in line!”
“Citizens! Let me pass! I filched some official money! My con- science is biting me!”
“Everyone’s conscience is biting them! You’re not the only one!”
“I squandered the entire holdings of the Moscow Agrarian Industry Store in drink!” a low voice kept mumbling.
“Quite a fellow, aren’t you! You’ll pay for it now! You’ll never see the light of day again!”
“That’s not true! What if I’m ignorant? And not educated? And there are hereditary social conditions, huh? And my previous con- viction? And being an alcoholic?”
“How come they put you, an alcoholic, in charge of the wine store?”
“I did warn them!”
“Hey you! Where do you think you’re going?”
“Citizen Officer! I am tortured by remorse!”
“Hey, stop pushing! I’m tortured too!”
“Excuse me! I’ve been waiting here since ten in the morning to get arrested!”
“Just give me your last name, place of employment, amount!”
“Fioletov, Misha, tortured by remorseful conscience!”
“How much?”
“In Makrettrest–two hundred smackers.”
“Sidorchuk! Process this Fioletov!”
“May I take my toothbrush with me?”
“You may! And you, what was the amount?”
“Seven people.”
“A family?”
“Exactly.”
“And how much was it you took?”
“Two hundted in cash, a robe, a watch and some candlesticks.”
“I don’t get it. An official’s robe?”
“What do you mean? Us guys don’t deal with officials. It was a private family. Shtippelman.”
“You’re Shtippelman?”
“Me? No!”
“Then what’s Shtippelman got to do with it?”
“What he’s got to do with it is we knifed him. I’m reporting seven people: his wife, five children and their granny.”
“Sidorchuk! Kakhrushin! Take preventive measures! Now!”
“Excuse me, Citizen Officer! Why is this man getting preferential treatment?”
“Please, citizens! Be conscientious! this man is a murderer!”
“Big deal! You’re telling us he’s a big shot or something? For all you know I might have blown up a state institution!”
“This is an outrage! Bureaucracy! We will complain!”

Translated from Russian by Anneta Greenlee and published in the Fall ’98 issue of Conjunctions—read more Bulgakov stories there.

“Gavin Highly” — Janet Frame

Did it happen this way? The land lay like stone, and one night, all night long, rain pelted down on it the way people, they say, hammer hard on a stone to find blood. And in the morning the land was cut in two by a deep flow of creek, clotted with red weed—Gavin Highly’s creek.

But all this was a long time ago. I did not know back then that hearts could be laid out like land and cut in two by storms coming out of the sky, or that dreams could be thrown, as Gavin Highly threw the ashes of his fire or his oyster shells or his old tins and bottles or his scraps of food, deep into the dark flowing divided heart to be buried there. I did not know, and my brother did not know. We cared more about plums—ah, they were yellow and dusty blue and hung on trees, over Gavin Highly’s fence, and in the early autumn the sun burned on each plum till its tight yellow or blue dusty skin gave in and rolled up like a blind to let in more sun. The plums split and were ripe and we ate them and, if Gavin Highly caught us, all he said, in one breath, was “Hop-it-you.” I think he understood about plums.

Read the rest of Janet Frame’s story “Gavin Highly” at The New Yorker.

“Jon” — George Saunders

Back in the time of which I am speaking, due to our Coördinators had mandated us, we had all seen that educational video of “It’s Yours to Do With What You Like!” in which teens like ourselfs speak on the healthy benefits of getting off by oneself and doing what one feels like in terms of self-touching, which what we learned from that video was, there is nothing wrong with self-touching, because love is a mystery but the mechanics of love need not be, so go off alone, see what is up, with you and your relation to your own gonads, and the main thing is, just have fun, feeling no shame!

And then nightfall would fall and our facility would fill with the sounds of quiet fast breathing from inside our Privacy Tarps as we all experimented per the techniques taught us in “It’s Yours to Do With What You Like!” and what do you suspect, you had better make sure that that little gap between the main wall and the sliding wall that slides out to make your Gender Areas is like really really small. Which guess what, it wasn’t.

That is all what I am saying.

Read the rest of George Saunders’s short story “Jon” at The New Yorker.

“The Toll-Gatherer’s Day” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The Toll-Gatherer’s Day”

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Methinks, for a person whose instinct bids him rather to pore over the current of life than to plunge into its tumultuous waves, no undesirable retreat were a toll-house beside some thronged thoroughfare of the land. In youth, perhaps, it is good for the observer to run about the earth, to leave the track of his footsteps far and wide, to mingle himself with the action of numberless vicissitudes, and, finally, in some calm solitude to feed a musing spirit on all that he has seen and felt. But there are natures too indolent or too sensitive to endure the dust, the sunshine or the rain, the turmoil of moral and physical elements, to which all the wayfarers of the world expose themselves. For such a man how pleasant a miracle could life be made to roll its variegated length by the threshold of his own hermitage, and the great globe, as it were, perform its revolutions and shift its thousand scenes before his eyes without whirling him onward in its course! If any mortal be favored with a lot analogous to this, it is the toll-gatherer. So, at least, have I often fancied while lounging on a bench at the door of a small square edifice which stands between shore and shore in the midst of a long bridge. Beneath the timbers ebbs and flows an arm of the sea, while above, like the life-blood through a great artery, the travel of the north and east is continually throbbing. Sitting on the aforesaid bench, I amuse myself with a conception, illustrated by numerous pencil-sketches in the air, of the toll-gatherer’s day. Read More

“The Emerald” — Donald Barthelme

Hey buddy what’s your name?
My name is Tope. What’s your name?
My name is Sallywag. You after the emerald?
Yeah I’m after the emerald you after the emerald too?
I am. What are you going to do with it if you get it?
Cut it up into little emeralds. What are you going to do with it?
I was thinking of solid emerald armchairs. For the rich.
That’s an idea. What’s your name, you?
Wide Boy.
You after the emerald?
Sure as shootin’.
How you going to get in?
Blast. That’s going to make a lot of noise isn’t it?
You think it’s a bad idea?
Well…What’s your name, you there?
Taptoe.
You after the emerald?
Right as rain. What’s more, I got a plan.
Can we see it?
No it’s my plan I can’t be showing it to every—
Okay okay. What’s that guy’s name behind you?
My name is Sometimes.
You here about the emerald, Sometimes?
I surely am.
Have you got an approach?
Tunneling. I’ve took some test borings. Looks like a stone cinch.
If this is the right place.
You think this may not be the right place?
The last three places haven’t been the right place.
You tryin’ to bring me down?
Why would I want to do that? What’s that guy’s name, the one with the shades?
My name is Brother. Who are all these people?
Businessmen. What do you think of the general situation, Brother?
I think it’s crowded. This is my pal, Wednesday.
What say, Wednesday. After the emerald, I presume?
Thought we’d have a go.
Two heads better than one, that the idea?
Yep.
What are you going to do with the emerald, if you get it?
Facet. Facet and facet and facet.

Read the rest of Donald Barthelme’s short story “The Emerald.”

 

“A Night at the Opera” — Janet Frame

We acted the cliché. We melted with laughter. Not the prickly melt that comes from sitting on a hot stove but the cool relaxing melt, in defiance of chemistry, like dropping deep into a liquid feather bed. We did not know or remember the reason for laughing. There was a film, yes: a dumb sad man with hair like wheat and round eyes like paddling pools; another man with a mustache like a toy hearth brush; and many other people and things—blondes, irate managers, stepladders, whitewash, all the stuff of farce. And there was a darkened opera house growing cardboard trees and shining wooden moons.

I shall never know why we laughed so much. Perhaps other films had been as funny, but this one seemed to contain for us a total laughter, a storehouse of laughter, like a hive where we children, spindly-legged as bees, would forever bring our foragings of fun to mellow and replenish this almost unbelievably collapsing mirth.

Nor was it the kind of laughter that cheats by turning in the end to tears, or by needing reinforcement with imagery. It was, simply, like being thrown on a swing into the sky, and the swing staying there, as in one of those trick pictures we had seen so often and marvelled at—divers leaping back to the springboard, horses racing back to the starting barrier. It was like stepping off the swing and promenading the sky.

After the film, we managed somehow to walk home. The afternoon was ragged with leaves and the dreary, hungry untidiness of a child’s half past four. Faces and streets seemed wet and serious. The hem of sky, undone, hung down dirty and gray.

But the laughter stayed with us, crippling, floating, rolling, aching, dissolving.

“It must have been a comic picture,” our mother said, not knowing, not knowing, when she saw our faces.

Read the rest of Janet Frame’s short story “A Night at the Opera.”

“The Royal Command,” A Surreal Short Story by Leonora Carrington

“The Royal Command”

by

Leonora Carrington

I had received a royal command to visit the rulers of my country.

The invitation, in gold letters in relief and adorned with roses and swallows, was bordered in lace.

I went to look for my car, but the chauffeur, who lacks practical sense, had buried it.

“It’s to grow mushrooms,” he told me. “Nothing better for mushrooms.”

“Brady,” I said to him, “you are an imbecile of the first degree. You have ruined my car.”

Actually, since the car was completely ruined, I had to rent a horse-pulled buggy.

Upon reaching the palace, an impossible servant, dressed in red and gold, said to me: “The queen went crazy yesterday; she is in her bathtub.”

“How unfortunate!” I exclaimed. “How did that happen?”

“It’s the heat.”

“Can I see her in any event?” (I hoped I hadn’t made the long voyage for nothing.)
Read More

“Food” — Donald Barthelme

I was preparing a meal for Celeste-a meal of a certain elegance, as when arrivals or other rites of passage are to be celebrated.

First off there were Saltines of the very best quality and of a special crispness, squareness, and flatness, obtained at great personal sacrifice by making representations to the National Biscuit Company through its authorized nuncios in my vicinity. Upon these was spread with a hand lavish and not sitting Todd’s Liver Pate, the same having been robbed from geese and other famous animals and properly adulterated with cereals and other well-chosen extenders and the whole delicately spiced with calcium propionate to retard spoilage. Next there were rare cheese products from Wisconsin wrapped in gold foil in exquisite tints with interesting printings thereon, including some very artful representations of cows, the same being clearly in the best of health and good humor. Next there were dips of all kinds including clam, bacon with horseradish, onion soup with sour cream, and the like, which only my long acquaintance with some very high-up members of the Borden company allowed to grace my table. Next there were Fritos curved and golden to the number of 224 (approx.), or the full contents of the bursting 53c bag. Next there were Frozen Assorted Hors d’Oeuvres of a richness beyond description, these wrested away from an establishment catering only to the nobility, the higher clergy, and certain selected commoners generally agreed to be comers in their particular areas of commonality, calcium propionate added to retard spoilage. In addition there were Mixed Nuts assembled at great expense by the Planters concern from divers strange climes and hanging gardens, each nut delicately dusted with a salt that has no peer. Furthermore there were cough drops of the manufacture of the firm of Smith Fils, brown and savory and served in a bowl once the property of Brann the Iconoclast. Next there were young tender green olives into which ripe red pimentos had been cunningly thrust by underpaid Portuguese, real and true handwork every step of the way. In addition there were pearl onions meticulously separated from their nonstandard fellows by a machine that had caused the Board of Directors of the S&W concern endless sleepless nights and had passed its field trails just in time to contribute to the repast I am describing. Additionally there were gherkins whose just fame needs no further words from me. Following these appeared certain cream cheeses of Philadelphia origin wrapped in costly silver foil, the like of which a pasha could not have afforded in the dear dead days. Following were Mock Ortolans Manques made of the very best soybean aggregate, the like of which could not be found on the most sophisticated tables of Paris, London and Rome. The whole washed down with generous amounts of Tab, a fiery liquor brewed under license by the Coca-Cola Company which will not divulge the age-old secret recipe no matter how one begs and pleads with them but yearly allows a small quantity to circulate to certain connoisseurs and bibbers whose credentials meet the very rigid requirements of the Cellarmaster. All of this stupendous feed being a mere scherzo before the announcement of the main theme, chilidogs.
“What is all this?” asked sweet Celeste, waving her hands in the air. “Where is the food?”
“You do not recognize a meal spiritually prepared,” I said, hurt in the self-love.
“We will be very happy together,” she said. “I cook.”

From Donald Barthelme’s short story “Daumier.”

Read Barry Hannah’s Short Story “The Spy of Loog Root”

THE OUTCAST NEPHEW was farhearinged. That is a difficult word and concept, but as with farsighted, his ear could not participate with sounds up close, only those far away, up to a quarter mile, a distance of course at which the rest of us townsmen can hear little at all except explosions and aircraft. It seemed to work that if voices were soft enough, faint enough, they could penetrate his tympana. One thought of the sound waves, but how, in his case? I don’t know, but imagine the tenderness of his ears, bent by the incredible bawling of noise he must have sensed up close, so that he ran away, holding both ears in agony, dispossessed of normal human intercourse.

He was one of those exceptional children, ghostly with long blond hair, to whom none of his family out at Loog Root Pass felt kin, except the mother. We never got, because of his affliction, a definite reckoning on his intelligence before he ran off, alone, into the hills.

Read the rest of Barry Hannah’s short story “The Spy of Loog Root” at The Oxford American.

“An Arrest” — Ambrose Bierce

“An Arrest”

by

Ambrose Bierce

Having murdered his brother-in-law, Orrin Brower of Kentucky was a fugitive from justice.  From the county jail where he had been confined to await his trial he had escaped by knocking down his jailer with an iron bar, robbing him of his keys and, opening the outer door, walking out into the night.  The jailer being unarmed, Brower got no weapon with which to defend his recovered liberty.  As soon as he was out of the town he had the folly to enter a forest; this was many years ago, when that region was wilder than it is now.

The night was pretty dark, with neither moon nor stars visible, and as Brower had never dwelt thereabout, and knew nothing of the lay of the land, he was, naturally, not long in losing himself.  He could not have said if he were getting farther away from the town or going back to it – a most important matter to Orrin Brower.  He knew that in either case a posse of citizens with a pack of bloodhounds would soon be on his track and his chance of escape was very slender; but he did not wish to assist in his own pursuit.  Even an added hour of freedom was worth having.

Suddenly he emerged from the forest into an old road, and there before him saw, indistinctly, the figure of a man, motionless in the gloom.  It was too late to retreat: the fugitive felt that at the first movement back toward the wood he would be, as he afterward explained, “filled with buckshot.”  So the two stood there like trees, Brower nearly suffocated by the activity of his own heart; the other – the emotions of the other are not recorded.

A moment later – it may have been an hour – the moon sailed into a patch of unclouded sky and the hunted man saw that visible embodiment of Law lift an arm and point significantly toward and beyond him.  He understood.  Turning his back to his captor, he walked submissively away in the direction indicated, looking to neither the right nor the left; hardly daring to breathe, his head and back actually aching with a prophecy of buckshot.

Brower was as courageous a criminal as ever lived to be hanged; that was shown by the conditions of awful personal peril in which he had coolly killed his brother-in-law.  It is needless to relate them here; they came out at his trial, and the revelation of his calmness in confronting them came near to saving his neck.  But what would you have? – when a brave man is beaten, he submits.

So they pursued their journey jailward along the old road through the woods.  Only once did Brower venture a turn of the head: just once, when he was in deep shadow and he knew that the other was in moonlight, he looked backward.  His captor was Burton Duff, the jailer, as white as death and bearing upon his brow the livid mark of the iron bar.  Orrin Brower had no further curiosity.

Eventually they entered the town, which was all alight, but deserted; only the women and children remained, and they were off the streets.  Straight toward the jail the criminal held his way.  Straight up to the main entrance he walked, laid his hand upon the knob of the heavy iron door, pushed it open without command, entered and found himself in the presence of a half-dozen armed men.  Then he turned.  Nobody else entered.

On a table in the corridor lay the dead body of Burton Duff.

“Magic” — Katherine Anne Porter

“Magic”

by

Katherine Anne Porter

And, Madame Blanchard, believe that I am happy to be here with you and your family because it is so serene, everything, and before this I worked for a long time in a fancy house—maybe you don’t know what is a fancy house? Naturally … everyone must have heard sometime or other. Well, Madame, I work always where there is work to be had, and so in this place I worked very hard all hours, and saw too many things, things you wouldn’t believe, and I wouldn’t think of telling you, only maybe it will rest you while I brush your hair. You’ll excuse me too but I could not help hearing you say to the laundress maybe someone had bewitched your linens, they fall away so fast in the wash. Well, there was a girl there in that house, a poor thing, thin, but well-liked by all the men who called, and you understand she could not get along with the woman who ran the house. They quarreled, the madam cheated her on her checks: you know, the girl got a check, a brass one, every time, and at the week’s end she gave those back to the madam, yes, that was the way, and got her percentage, a very small little of her earnings: it is a business, you see, like any other

—and the madam used to pretend the girl had given back only so many checks, you see, and really she had given many more, but after they were out of her hands, what could she do? So she would say, I will get out of this place, and curse and cry. Then the madam would hit her over the head. She always hit people over the head with bottles, it was the way she fought. My good heavens, Madame Blanchard, what confusion there would be sometimes with a girl running raving downstairs, and the madam pulling her back by the hair and smashing a bottle on her forehead. Read More

“The Legacy” — Virginia Woolf

“The Legacy”

by

Virginia Woolf

“For Sissy Miller.” Gilbert Clandon, taking up the pearl brooch that lay among a litter of rings and brooches on a little table in his wife’s drawing-room, read the inscription: “For Sissy Miller, with my love.”

It was like Angela to have remembered even Sissy Miller, her secretary. Yet how strange it was, Gilbert Clandon thought once more, that she had left everything in such order-a little gift of some sort for every one of her friends. It was as if she had foreseen her death. Yet she had been in perfect health when she left the house that morning, six weeks ago; when she stepped off the kerb in Piccadilly and the car had killed her.

He was waiting for Sissy Miller. He had asked her to come; he owed her, he felt, after all the years she had been with them, this token of consideration. Yes, he went on, as he sat there waiting, it was strange that Angela had left everything in such order. Every friend had been left some little token of her affection. Every ring, every necklace, every little Chinese box-she had a passion for little boxes-had a name on it. And each had some memory for him. This he had given her; this -the enamel dolphin with the ruby eyes-she had pounced upon one day in a back street in Venice. He could remember her little cry of delight. To him, of course, she had left nothing in particular, unless it were her diary. Fifteen little volumes, bound in green leather, stood behind him on her writing table. Ever since they were married, she had kept a diary. Some of their very few-he could not call them quarrels, say tiffs-had been about that diary. When he came in and found her writing, she always shut it or put her hand over it. “No, no, no,” he could hear her say, “After I’m dead-perhaps.” So she had left it him, as her legacy. It was the only thing they had not shared when she was alive. But he had always taken it for granted that she would outlive him. If only she had stopped one moment, and had thought what she was doing, she would be alive now. But she had stepped straight off the kerb, the driver of the car had said at the inquest. She had given him no chance to pull up. . .. Here the sound of voices in the hall interrupted him. Read More