outside the walls

Outside the city walls the scientist retires to smoke his long-stemmed pipe and absorb the local gossip. As the burnt yellow of the sky fades, scattered fires spring up, each circled by a huddle of indistinct figures. The scientist approaches one such group, steps within the fire’s glow and notices a figure seated apart from the others, its face shrouded by a voluminous hood. To this one he turns his attention.

Ah, Liferuiner, it’s been a long time.

The figure nods.

And how many lives have been touched by your handiwork since last we spoke?

The figure stirs, clears its throat.

Actually I’ve been on hiatus, so to speak.

I see. So how have you been spending your time?

I’d rather not say. And you? How go the experiments?

The same as always, my friend. I fear I will never reach the threshold I seek to cross.

Too bad. It is hard for us on the fringes. Our work is never appreciated.

The scientist nods as he puffs on his pipe, watching the Liferuiner jab at the fire with a rough-hewn staff, jostling the reddened coals until sparks shoot forth.

I must return to the laboratory soon, my friend. I cannot tarry here all evening long, as others are wont to do.

The Liferuiner raises its cloaked head, reaches out a withered hand and grasps the fringe of the scientist’s sleeve.

Before you go, I have something for you.

It reaches into a satchel slung across its chest and brings out a small vial of pitch black fluid.

Take this, my friend. May it aid your progress in reaching that threshold you speak of.

The scientist holds up the vial, through the contents of which no light passes. A faint smile flickers across his lips.

I am once again in your debt, my friend. Please do take good care.

He stands and touches the brim of his hat, but the hooded figure has already turned back to the fire, stoking it viciously again with the staff.

Up above the craggy walls of the city loom in the light of the rising moon. The scientist steps forward, now following the path back to the structured madness of his experiments.

new print publications

Zines © 2019 Sean Stewart

These are limited print editions of projects originally serialized online.

Bunker Diaries is a fictional journal kept by an unnamed instructor while teaching a cadre of listless trainees in a desert bunker. It was serialized here in Fall 2012 and has been lightly revised for this print edition. It is no longer available online.

Inner Harbor Field Reports is a compendium of observations made during lunchtime walks around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor between 2014 and 2019 (heavier on the early years of that range). It began as notes embedded in rambling blog entries (which is why this print edition seems like it starts in the middle of something, but trust me, you’re not missing out on any needed context). Eventually I decided to streamline it into pure observational bliss and moved it over to Tumblr. I had a good run there, until Tumblr inexplicably extended the long arm of censorship and shut down my site. Attempts at appeal failed and as my interest was already waning, I decided to end it there.

I enjoyed this project while it lasted, though, and so I thought it would be cool to memorialize it with this print edition. The text remains largely untouched, with only minimal corrections and revisions. The ending is somewhat abrupt, much like the beginning, closing on a sole entry from 2019. Although there is a postscript explaining the genesis of the project, the lack of contextual intro and outro is purposeful, for the intent of this document is only to offer a narrow slice of the ongoing continuum that is life at the Inner Harbor.

These two publications are orderable through PayPal as an economy package deal: both publications for a whopping US $1 savings from what the combined cover price would be from either Atomic Books or Quimby’s Bookstore, where they are available for purchase separately both online and in-store.

Atomic Books: Bunker Diaries / Inner Harbor Field Reports

Quimby’s: Coming Soon (they haven’t posted links online, but they are in stock)

_____________________________________________________________________

Limited copies of Hatred of Writing still available direct, and from Atomic or Quimby’s.

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.

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