ahoy chicagoans

To those readers living in the Chicago area: if you’ve reached the point where you feel you can leave your quarantine unit without enduring heart palpitations in order to do some socially distant browsing at one of your local bookshops, my novel A Set of Lines is now available at that fine Chicago institution known as Quimby’s. New stock of Bunker Diaries and Inner Harbor Field Reports has also arrived at the store. Just a heads up that the supply of these two publications is dwindling, and there are no plans for a second printing. As always, thanks for reading and be well.

the new experiment

From its exterior the laboratory suggests disuse: a grey windowless mass of concrete block ringed by a rusting chain-link fence entwined with clumps of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. This is intentional. For inside, beneath the glare of a single fluorescent bulb, the scientist toils over his most ambitious experiment to date. He has been indoors for months⁠—his only encounters with fresh air taken as inhalations from a flexible plastic tube fed through a tiny aperture in the wall above his workbench. At the end of each day he meticulously cleans the inside of the tube with a long fine-fiber brush. He stores the brush in a locked drawer and wears the key around his neck on a silver chain.

A cistern of water sits in one corner of the single-room building. A metal safe holding nutrition wafers stands next to it. At night the scientist stretches out on a low cot set against the wall. Creeping through the twilight of semi-consciousness he approaches the hypnagogic border checkpoint and loiters there, stepping over and back across the border in an eccentric shuffle akin to backwoods buck dancing. As he dances he conjures his ideasdarting in and out of lucid dreams, imprinting theories on the inner walls of his mind.

This current experiment began following the now-infamous ‘centrifuge episode’, in which the scientist’s (former) circular laboratory began rotating in response to the frenetic activity of bodies moving outside its walls. The event scratched the flint of inquiry once again, leading the scientist to abandon the city of his birth and migrate to this forgotten rust-belt town, at the edges of which he established his current laboratory in a former small engine repair shop.

What you may ask is the nature of the experiment. What indeed. Does he even know himself…does he know himself? Does he know himself? What does he know?

(1) Concrete is porous.

(2) Nutrition wafers only come in one flavor: bland.

(3) Eventually the water will run out.

Now Available: A Set of Lines

A Set of Lines front cover

A Set of Lines: a novel by S. D. Stewart

Last night I drew all night. I copied the images from the textbook and then I drew them again freehand—I made them move on the page, lengthened the lines and darkened the centers.

The tree, the river, the old textbook—a triptych with shifting borders hangs in a place where dreams and memories intersect. Omission and loss haunt those who live here, suspended as they are in an endless struggle to connect. Contracting and expanding as it progresses, the narrative of their existence ever-circles around a shrouded core.


With cover design and interior illustrations by Nate Dorr, who since 2017 has been quietly depicting the beauty of decaying, mutated biospheres in his Disaster Landforms series.

Interior design and layout wizardry by Nathan Grover.

Read reviews on Goodreads.

Order the paperback | [ebook forthcoming]

Shipping Note: Delivery estimates shown during the order process are the latest possible arrival date. Most U.S. orders will take 7–11 business days to arrive, depending on the selected rate. Economy rate is reasonable: in many cases, the book will still arrive inside of a week. Delivery times outside of the U.S. will vary by location.

jasper the badger

Sir, your badger…

Yes, his name is Jasper.

Sir, some of the passengers have reported your badger has been biting their ankles.

Why do you persist in referring to him as ‘your badger’? He has a name, dammit, and it’s Jasper.

Whatever his name, sir, we can’t have him running amok in the cabin.

He’s not running amok. As you can see he is resting peacefully at my feet, safely stowed under the seat in front of me, per your draconian regulations.

That may be the case at the moment, sir, but just a few minutes ago he was up in first class, where not only did he nearly sever a woman’s pinky toe from her right foot but when I tried to corral him back here into coach, he rather nimbly leapt upon a man’s lap, causing severe scratches to the unfortunate man’s groin area. I had to administer first aid in both cases.

Hmm, that doesn’t sound like Jasper at all. Are you sure there’s not another badger on board that you may have mistaken for Jasper? To the untrained eye badgers do often look indistinguishable from one another.

Sir, I assure you there is only one badger on board this airplane and frankly at this point I’m wondering how it was ever approved for air travel.

On Jasper’s behalf I must take offense at your implication. I’ll have you know that Jasper is a certified emotional support badger. He went through a rigorous six-month training program, during which it was very difficult on both of us to be separated. If you’d like I can show you the certificate he earned. He’s quite proud of it.

That is all well and good, sir, but I simply must ask you to please ensure your badger remains under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight.

And I must tell you that is where Jasper has been, despite these questionable reports of a rogue badger you continue to unfairly foist upon me. Frankly, I’m of a mind to contact the airline and report your egregious manners to the customer service department. What is your badge number, anyway?

Sir, I am a flight attendant. I do not have a badge number. And you are of course welcome to submit your report, but please know there will also be a report submitted that details the havoc your badger has wreaked in the first class section today, including descriptions of the numerous injuries sustained by the innocent passengers caught in the melee.

Well, I must say I’m skeptical of their innocence. They are traveling in first class, after all, and my experience with those types of people is that they always have some traces, however faint, of blood on their hands. So it’s likely this other rogue badger you claim is present somewhere in the cabin was simply settling certain karmic debts. Badgers are actually often tasked in this way with balancing the natural scales of justice, so to speak.

[What follows is a flash of silvery fur, a brief strangled cry, then silence.]

While the plane did eventually complete its flight without any further major incidents, the final medical report listed five victims of badger-inflicted injuries, including the near-fatal laceration of a flight attendant’s femoral artery. While no charges were pressed in this case, Jasper never flew again, at least not on that airline. Attempts by said airline to verify the existence of a training program for emotional support badgers led nowhere, although the investigation did uncover rumors of a similarly described program for marmots located somewhere in rural Washington state.

the porcupine and the balloon*

The Porcupine and the Balloon were never meant to be friends….or were they. It will end badly, said the Balloon’s sagging mother. Mrs. Porcupine, her quills white-flecked with age, was less concerned⁠—not foreseeing any obvious threat to her spiny little offspring. You better keep your distance if you wish to stay friends for long, was her only comment. Yet despite their mothers’ skepticism, some mystical force continued drawing the two youngsters together. The shiny buoyancy of the Balloon’s disposition held great appeal to the morose little ground-borne mammal. For the Balloon’s part, it was enthralled by the very pointiness of its companion’s appearance. People always say oil and water don’t mix. But what of balloons and porcupines? Surely the world has witnessed more volatile pairings than this? So let’s allow them their fun (while it lasts), for after all, a balloon’s very nature is ephemeral, and if this particular one prefers to go out with a bang rather than slowly deflating into a crumpled foil bag, who are we to stand in its way?

*I ran out of reading material on the train today so I wrote this for you.

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.

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