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.

fiat lux

I remember. They said I wouldn’t but I do. I don’t remember everything, but enough.

Dawn is now breaking—through the window pink sky appears, followed by a spray of golden light. From close overhead a lone crow utters a single drawn-out caw. Silence follows.

The silence only spreads itself so far. I stretch out its thin covering and fold myself inside it.

This is neither a beginning nor an end. I know how I arrived. I can turn and see a faint trail threading back to the fields of my youth. There are burn marks where attempts at erasure have been made.

I wanted to help, in this one way, this very simple way. They said my ‘self-limiting naiveté’ would destroy me. They were wrong. Instead their rigid framework destroyed me.

The air was cold, like it is today. And these stretched and endless limbs were no more suited to it then than now.

What strange form of life it was. How grew the light late in winter daysspreading across fields, streaming out over the river. How the darkness hid our fears.

Holy songs and rituals haloed material desires. Now far offnow beyondnow tinny at the end of this dying line.

Sudden harmonics ring out like hinges from one wall of noise to the next. Awash in reverb, notes soar to the forbidding sky.

I am underneath them. They enter my bones. The fullness of sound enters me, expanding at speed to the point of fracture.

The rending leaves two tottering halves, headless and forlorn. Push one down the hill while the other spins and spins. Rotate or roll away, makes no difference.

Yet still the light remains, ever-present, flashing in our eyes. It illuminates the new but it is the same light, and from the same sources. Even with our backs turned it warms us.

As we return to plaster together the beginning of another day.

 

[Text extracted from several years’ worth of abandoned drafts and reassembled, with minimal edits, to form a new whole]

[revised] guidance [from two years ago]

There is nothing where you are going.

What do you mean…nothing.

I mean what I say.

That means nothing.

I understand it to mean something.

I think it’s just something to say…

[shrugs]

But there are things here…around me.

Are you certain.

Yes.

Describe them.

Leaves scattered on the sidewalk. A car’s headlights flicking on in the predawn gloom. The distant whistle of a train.

And do these things have meaning to you.

I-I’m not sure.

Take a closer look.

Well, I notice them.

And what about faces—do you see faces.

They are obscured.

Do you wish to see them with more clarity—to distinguish one from another.

Perhaps.

Now it is you who are evasive.

It is in my nature.

And everything that came before—what happened between when you left and when you returned—is it now gone.

Yes, for the most part. I see only glimpses but I cannot bring it all into focus.

In those glimpses you see more than in what surrounds you now. The latter is of little consequence.

How do you know.

It does not matter. What matters is in between.

In between what.

The words.

100 Years of Leonora Carrington

As they rode along the edge, the brambles drew back their thorns like cats retracting their claws.

This was something to see: fifty black cats and as many yellow ones, and then her, and one couldn’t really be altogether sure that she was a human being. Her smell alone threw doubt on ita mixture of spices and game, the stables, fur and grasses.

Riding a wheel, she took the worst roads, between precipices, across trees. Someone who’s never travelled on a wheel would think it difficult, but she was used to it.

Her name was Virginia Fur, she had a mane of hair yards long and enormous hands with dirty nails; yet the citizens of the mountain respected her and she too always showed a deference for their customs. True, the people up there were plants, animals, birds; otherwise things wouldn’t have been the same. Of course, she had to put up with being insulted by the cats at times, but she insulted them back just as loudly and in the same language. She, Virginia Fur, lived in a village long abandoned by human beings. Her house has holes all over, holes she’d pierced for the fig tree that grew in the kitchen.

—from ‘As They Rode Along the Edge’ by Leonora Carrington

This story is now available in The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington published in the USA by The Dorothy Project, and in The Debutante and Other Stories published in the UK by Silver Press. Both titles have been published as part of a 2017 centenary celebration of Carrington’s birth, which also includes the NYRB republication of her asylum memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams, as well as Joanna Moorhead’s biography The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington.

For a breakdown of the differences between the two supposedly ‘complete’ collections of Carrington’s short stories, read ‘Hyenas, Horses, and Rabbits, Oh My!‘ by Selena Chambers at Weird Fiction Review. Over time Chambers will be reviewing each of Leonora’s stories found in the two collections, as well as evaluating the other books listed above.

There could hardly be a better time to be reading and appreciating Leonora Carrington!

(Click here to read my review of the out-of-print collection House of Fear, which includes a selection of her stories, the novella Little Francis, and the memoir Down Below, and here for my review of The Seventh Horse and Other Tales, which paired another batch of her stories with an abridged version of her novel The Stone Door).

[personal note 1.1]

Several months ago I left the enclosed city where I used to reside and moved to the outer regions in order to pursue my research on the condition. My initial research pointed to the probability that the act of living in an enclosed city is a significant contributing factor to an individual’s development of the condition—this separation, an unbridgeable gap between the individual and reality. But the results were statistically insignificant, given the small sample size and purely qualitative nature of the inquiry, which was only ever intended to be formative research. Now I need data from outside the cities for comparative purposes.

On the whole I have found the people here to be simpler than the city dwellers, almost childlike in their ways, as well as incredibly tenacious. Life here is difficult. On the best days, residents eat a subsistence diet consisting of what few edibles they can forage from the spindly native vegetation and the meager crops that persist in growing in this hostile environment. On the worst days they fast and wake early the next day to attempt gathering again. I do not see stress in their faces, though. Certainly their frames are lean, yet they are also muscular. To me they appear healthy, though I am not a medical professional.

From what I have observed so far, those living here who are afflicted with the condition are only in Stage I. For these individuals, management is straightforward provided that access to the herbal protocols continues unimpeded. Without taking the herbs, slipping into a dream state and staying there becomes an increasingly commonplace event. Many times there is no awareness of the transition from waking life to dream state. Return becomes more difficult. Stage I cases are marked by briefer periods in dream state than cases in the later stages, when return time lags even more and searchers must be sent out.

When I first arrived at this particular community I identified those individuals who required the protocols in order to stabilize. I launched a small-scale public health campaign of sorts, disseminating information at the weekly community meetings held in the square. The people had been aware that something was not right, but for the most part they had not discussed it with their families and friends. Once I put a name (albeit a vague one) to the phenomenon and explained what I knew of it, uptake and adherence to the herbal protocols occurred rapidly and I took my treatment outreach to scale immediately.

The people here trust me and I am determined not to fail them.

[personal note 1.0]

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