the suddenness of their movements

There was a suddenness to all of their movements, as if all the electrons in their bodies surged toward the surface at once. It was dizzying to observe so the scientist looked away. Whilst the scientist was looking away the bodies began moving past the circular laboratory at great speed. The scientist stayed in place and attempted to measure their speed with a rudimentary monitoring device of unknown provenance. But their speed exceeded the recording limits of the device. Thus transpires another futile effort by the scientist to obtain data supporting the most recent hypothesis.

Following this failure the scientist considers locking the laboratory and obliterating the key in the smelting furnace next door. But what would be the point. The laboratory is the beginning and the end of the scientist’s existence. Without it there is nothingness. With it there is at least something, although it is not always a good something, and in fact it is often, as in this most recent case, a bad something.

By night the scientist dreams of sleep-sweetened first encounters and thrilling unproven theories. Mornings usher in a monochrome world. In this pattern there is a perfect crystalline structureone easily shattered by the light tap of a rock pick, a tool notably absent from the scientist’s laboratory.

Outside the bodies continue their frenetic movements, even as the scientist slips into anhedonia, manipulating the lab instruments with mechanical disinterest, testing long-proven theories over and over again in a grotesque caricature of the laboratory’s past glory. Soon the resultant contrast between fast and slow, outside and inside, generates a frictional energy against the surface of the circular walls. The laboratory suddenly begins to rotate as if it has become an enormous centrifuge. Standing flat against the inner wall the scientist ponders this most recent twist of fate. Mental calculations are madea hypothesis begins to formthe game is on again!

bob sloth’s inter-dimensional crisis

Whilst traveling between two dimensions, vinyl siding salesman Bob Sloth noticed a loose thread in the fabric of space-time and, without even remotely considering the implications of his actions, idly began pulling on it. It happens to the best of us: one moment you’re just trying to get from point A to point B and the next you’re trapped in a state of inter-dimensional liminality with no one to blame but yourself.

In his defense Bob had been going through a recent rough patchhe’d come in below quota on his sales figures from the previous month and his boss Phil Hesher wasn’t too pleased. Then there was the dismal economic state of his town Largesse. Ever since construction of the inter-dimensional bypass, Largesse has been in a slump of epic proportions. Finally, his one-man show ‘My Life Feels Like a One-Man Show’ was flailing at the box office due to his understudy Bob the Sloth’s bombed performance.

Now here in this nowhere place in nowhere time Bob contemplates the vast wasteland of his life up until this point. It has always seemed to him to be one long sequence of continuity errorssome committed with great intention, others on a whim, but none, so far as he could tell, had been accidental. No, he alone was to blame for each and every one of these disruptions in the status quo, these deviations from the norm, from the general forward movement in the name of progress. ‘Two steps forward, three steps back’ has always been his unofficial motto (as assigned by astute observers and unbeknownst to himself, that is). On the contrary, his official motto, that is the one he assigned to himself, has always been ‘To what end, Bob, to what end’, with the second repetition enunciated at a slower, measured cadence in his head, eventually dropping off to the point of an almost-whisper, though still coming to a firm, audible full stop after the second ‘end’.

There could not be more appropriate circumstances for this contemplation. It is as if his life has been paused and he is hovering in a void, neither losing nor gaining momentum. A chance to catch up has been granted, perhapsto take stock, as they say. Thoughts of how to escape, to transcend this space between dimensions, have not even begun to coalesce. Will they ever or will Bob remain entombed in his interstitial hidey-hole indefintely (forever?). Only time will tell…or will it, seeing as it has no bearing on events transpiring in Bob’s current locale….

the saboteur

The saboteur slips through the night wreaking a panoply of sabotage. No one sees it, though, for it is a discreet form of intangible sabotage in which this particular saboteur specializes. To cause hidden sabotage is harder than one might think, considers the saboteur as he packs up his equipment in the early morning hours. Crawling in and out of dreams, sidling through grey matter, traversing axons and creeping around dendrites: all of it grueling work. And for what, he mused. Freelancing is tough. It’s nice not having a boss, but you feel you’re on perpetual call. Don’t want to turn down any clients with the potential for lucrative return business. This madness results in very little down time, no chance of relationships beyond the superficial. It begs the question, he thinks, of why do it at all. Surely there is more rewarding work to be done. He thinks back to when it all began. Minor acts at first: messing with people’s heads without actually getting inside them via the back doors he later learned to use. Then a slow transformation of increasing technical subtlety, eventually ascending to the point of fully cloaked missions. Looking on it now he is mystified as to the actual steps leading to his present position. It is mostly a blur. What prompted his entrance into such an unusual vocation? He had no mentor; neither did the few others in his field utilize one. It was frowned upon. Not so much a badge of honor to go it alone as a matter of practicality. A highly competitive field it was, but also one where most saboteurs located an unfilled need and grew to fill it. They focused their efforts on what in effect became their own personal niche. Of course there were a few generalists around, but it was his understanding that they did not fare as well in terms of compensation. When it came to this type of work, clients wanted the best tool for the job, so to speak. For that is all he was, after all: a highly specialized tool. Outside of his narrow range of skills he was nothing. And when he retired or passed on someone else would take his place. Certainly the clients would not miss him. There was never any direct contact; the entire transaction was completed through a digital third party. They did not even know he existed as an individual, only an anonymous resource to be ordered for a specific task. As for his fellow saboteurs, well, it’s not like there was a professional association. Nor did anyone meet down at the pub after hours. For one thing, after hours usually meant early morning, a time when sleep’s siren song called louder and sweeter than the raucous hoots of the bar. And that sweet song was what he heard in his head at this very moment. Time to sweep away the dark existential thoughts now and embrace the daily death of sleep, one he hopes will be free of sabotage, particularly of the self-inflicted varietya type in which even the least experienced saboteurs among us excel.

it’s rather dry this time of year, isn’t it

Gagging on small talk was a common pastime we could not help but engage in, having never learned as small children how to talk to other people. Choking on dry word-chunks about the weather and idle chitchat regarding weekend plans was the norm. In the awkward silences mushrooming between ill-formed non sequiturs one would contemplate one’s fingernails with intensity. Perhaps the geometrically pleasing pattern in the kitchen tile would draw one’s eye and immediately become the single most important focal point in the room. Anything to prevent dwelling on the brainless statement that just dribbled out of one’s mouth 10 seconds earlier, now still hovering with impunity in the air, each second since feeling like an hour complete with all the attendant mental self-talk that typically fills such a length of time, only compressed into a single second, so like, really rapid-fire, and as a result significantly more debilitating. Maybe I will just stand here feigning rapt attention as I read every single package label in this entire snack machine, one of us considered, hoping against hope that during that excruciating length of time the room would empty itself of other humans. Another clung to a particularly adept small talker in the room, desperately hanging on each of the talker’s meaningless words, the line of thinking being that this human life preserver could certainly keep one afloat if one seemed really interested in the inane prattle issuing forth from its word-hole. Who would dare turn away from such a loyal audience at the risk of being outdone by some other babbler in the room. Who, indeed, I whispered to no one in particular as I slunk silently out the door, avoiding all eye contact throughout my quick and surreptitious departure, my soundless footfalls rapidly and confidently transporting me closer to solitudinous freedom.

hatred of writing update

Hatred of Writing is now available at both Atomic Books in Baltimore and Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago. Copies are also still available direct from me through PayPal on the order page. Many thanks to those who’ve already ordered! Your support means a lot.

From the depths of the salt mine comes…Hatred of Writing.

.

sentence death notice

The sentence died at 1:03 PM (EST). It was not an easy death. Tremors rippled across the subject area and into the predicate. Wheezing soon led to coughing up of apostrophes and commas. The sentence then clenched in pain and began hemorrhaging superfluous adjectives. It was all over in a matter of minutes. By the time the doctor arrived there was nothing left to do but carefully scoop up a jumbled pile of letters into a body bag. It was impossible to obtain a diagram for the records office.

The sentence is survived by the immediate members of its paragraph. There will be no funeral; instead, the paragraph invites all interested parties to attend a brief ceremony and reading from Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Thank you.

song of the drifter

The drifter drifts into town in the wake of a tumbleweed stampede. You know the scene. Faded porches flank a straight-arrow main drag. The chink, chink, chink of spurs as boots kick up tiny clouds of red dust. A town gone dead for want of purpose.

The drifter pauses. Cocks head left then right. Continues chink, chink, chinking down what passes for a street in these parched, forgotten parts.

Are any of my friends here?

His shout echoes off the weathered grey clapboard buildings.

(How about my enemies?)

He laughs. My enemies. They may be legion but here they are not.

Above this parody of a town the sun busies itself with broiling the world beneath it. The drifter shields his eyes, peers up. High noon approaches. The time of reckoning, he reckons.

Out of his line of sight an alley-side door cracks open. A creature of diminutive stature pokes its weather-beaten head out and focuses red rheumy eyes on the tall shadow growing larger out on the main drag. The head recedes and the door eases shut behind it.

The drifter pauses in his progress to once again bellow at the sky.

Have you forgotten me?

The tortured sound of the drifter’s voice carries. Below the porch of the town bank a pack rat pauses, whiskers twitching, in its survey of sweepings.

Where have all of you gone?

The drifter steps up onto the porch of the saloon. Chink, chink, chink. The door swings open with a creak.

In the darkness the two burning eyes pause to adjust. But there is not much to see. A roomful of dust-covered tables. A lacquered bar bare of bottles on the rack behind it. In one corner a low stage. In another a battered billiards table. And everywhere stagnation. Desolation of loss. An absence of company.

Outside the drifter removes his hat and wipes his brow. He stares across the street at the building from which had briefly emerged the diminutive creature with the watery eyes. Yes, that’s the one. He descends the stairs.

Inside the building minor panic crescendoes to a state of mania. But the small man is now dressed. He snaps the top snap of his best shirt, knots his bolo tie. Now he pulls on his boots. Now he grooms his drooping whiskers. Now he fits the gun belt around his waist. He opens the door.

It is high noon. In the street stand two figures back to back: one tall and one short. Were it not for the gravity of context the sight might elicit a chuckle, perhaps even a guffaw. But the street remains silent. It is, after all, otherwise empty.

Twenty paces is the rule here, no matter the length of stride. And so they begin. Chink, chink, chink.

The pack rat scurries down an alley, back to its midden. It wants no truck with this scene.

The two figures turnone aims high, the other low.

On a bluff outside of town a shepherd’s shaggy head swivels at the pistols’ report. He gazes down at the town as his sheep nibble the last bits of greenery growing on this rocky point.

Drawing his horn to his lips the shepherd blows a long mournful note. Down below the drifter saunters out of town whistling a tune no one ever recognizes.

new zine: hatred of writing

Hatred of Writing, © 2018 S. D. Stewart

Now Available: Hatred of Writing

Selected short fiction from the past five years.

Limited to 50 numbered copies

48 pages, digest-sized, hand-lettered cover

Published in October 2018

$5 US / $6 CAN / $7 World

Order by PayPal or for cash payments via post send me a message.

before the show begins

The translator’s communicator was malfunctioning so while she consulted with technical support about a repair or possible replacement I took the opportunity to whisper into the speaker’s ear. For many years, I said, I’ve been hoping for this moment, this interstitial space in which to build a wall of speech brick by brick in your ear, blocking the canal to keep out the sound of hundreds of millions of screaming humans on their deathbeds, each of them living in their own personalized squalor, sleeping under the stars winking out one by one, for isn’t that what you want, isn’t it what we all want, to not have to hear it, the sounds of our own world dying a slow strangled death—a pool of poison molasses creeping toward our personal boundaries at the edges of which we teeter, peering down and around, anywhere but at the death sludge soon to be upon us, enveloping us, drowning us. But wait, you said, what about the other ear, I can still hear out of that one. Ah, no worries, I replied, I have plenty of bricks stored upon my bowed back and a bucket of fresh mortar mixed up this morning after I arose against all odds what with the usual black fog in my head and rusted anvil sitting square on my chest. I feigned cheerfulness as I continued to whisper, now in the other ear, in case the speaker didn’t quite catch that last part about the other bricks and the fresh mortar. You see, I said, some of us have always known it was coming, maybe we were born under the wrong sign or something, that nonsense about carrying the weight of the world, even as infants (maybe that’s why we were so fat), then shedding pounds, stretching out, an entire planet’s worth of anxieties whittling away at us, stripping the flesh from our sides as the reality of what we’d been born into sank further in, spreading through our cells like a raging infection intent on nothing less than total destruction of life. However, I said…lucky for you, for those of us who know, who have always known, who will continue to know until the very moments of our very likely premature deaths, we are here to help the others, such as yourself, to block it all out, to keep you out of the know, so that you may continue to dwell in your blissful ignorance and follow your own self-serving interests. Well, you said, that’s all fine and good to hear and I appreciate your telling me all of it but you know I really must go now, I have a speech to give, I must reassure all these people in this great hall that it’s okay, the world’s not going to end, we’re all fine, it will be fine, stay calm and try not to think about it. Uh-huh, I said, sure, you go ahead, I’ve said what I came here to say and now it’s your turn to go out there and say what you came here to say, only just one second, just a moment, if you please, there is this one other bit of information I’d like to convey and that is, well, frankly, I think you’re a liar, I’ve always thought that, and it’s not just that you’re a liar, but you’re also a really bad liar, and I’m pretty certain that everyone out there in the great hall also thinks you’re a liar, they see through your ill-conceived, small-minded deception, and they’ve come here not to be reassured, as you think you’re about to do for them, but in fact they’ve come to bear witness to your final pack of lies because this is the end for you, it’s over, your time has now come and we’ll not be hearing your lies again, not here, not anywhere, it’s all been taken care of in advance you see. So goodbye, good luck, break a leg, enjoy the next few minutes, your last moments in the golden spotlight before your grand departure, before the darkness descends and your journey into the void begins …well, I won’t belabor the point…besides I really must go now, the translator is heading back this way and my friend is holding a seat for me in the front row. You’ll be fine, I said, smiling, and patted the speaker’s shoulder, who looked up at me with an expression that can only be described as blank. I slipped out around the curtain and down the steps into the darkened hall, where I took my seat and waited for the show to begin.

the infiltrator

The infiltrator had grown tired of infiltrating. Just once, said the infiltrator, I would like to be somewhere for a legitimate reason. No pretenses, no cover, just me at a place, any place, simply being myself, my real self, if such a self even exists anymore. I haven’t encountered it in so long, you see, that I fear it may have evaporated out of my false pores into an air that was already too heavy to hold me in all of my now free-floating particles.

Infiltration is demanding and wearying work. It wears on a body and on a mind. So much time living ‘in character’ to the point where the lines between self and character blur, the two ever beginning to merge in unpreventable ways. So much so that if you knew me outside my infiltrative self you might not know the difference. You might like me or not like me for the character that I am currently playing. You might never see beyond that character because what is beyond, as I have theorized above, may no longer exist.

I suppose the infiltration began in adolescence. More of a hobby at first, or rather a defense mechanism that grew into a habit once I discovered my aptitude for it. Adolescence being a time when personal identity is at its most fragile point—slippery and malleable—subject to change at a moment’s notice for a myriad of reasons. As time passed I grew to exploit this psychological state of development to its fullest potential, donning and discarding identities like so many flimsy drugstore Halloween costumes.

When I reached my late teens my skills were suddenly noticed by a recruiter and so it was that I turned professional. Since then it’s been one job after another—sometimes only for a few days, other times for months. I even did one gig that lasted for two years. The pay was phenomenal, but I shed so many layers of my identity that by the end I knew not who I was. I now live in fear that I never fully recovered from that experience, that I crossed a line every infiltrator knows well should never be crossed, the one that cannot be stepped back across, the one that strips away the last vestiges of one’s original identity like the husk of an overripe fruit, leaving behind a pulpy indeterminate mass.

And so now I exist in this liminal state where every direction leads to a potential new identity and not moving toward any of them means a sort of hovering in place, neither here nor there, nor really anywhere…said the infiltrator, to no one in particular, somewhere in between the empty moments of a forgotten day.

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