Online Fiction

The Vulture Maiden

With the development of our socialist system, the social system for the natural extinction of religion was established.

— Ganze Prefecture Policy on Religious Freedom

Chapter 5, Section 1: “Freedom of Religious Beliefs is a Long-Term Policy That Will Prevail Until the Natural Extinction of Religion.”


The Spring Festival began at sunrise with the roar of a giant kangling carried by two monks and blown by a barrel-chested third who stood on the highest wall of the Shining Hill monastery’s central temple. Golden light, like the voice of the horn made visible, lanced into the gray shadows that covered the broad valley as the sun peered through a notch between distant peaks capped with violet snow. Frost evaporated from the tufted brownish grasses, mingling with low, icy vapors that made the sky appear to shimmer like a silken tapestry. In the hall below, the crashing of cymbals rose to overpower the kangling’s dying wail, and then came the low, deep-throated chanting of the monks. The rocky hill behind the monastery began to glow with a warm, honeyed light.

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Gasoline Lake

The dachshund looked like a slab of ancient beef jerky, dabbed with glue and rolled in lint. It teetered on three stumpy little legs that had dried in unnatural positions while the fourth had cracked clean off, leaving a bit of slightly ragged hem, dog fringe. Though there didn’t seem to be much need for a flea collar, one hung around the petrified neck like a reminder of better days for dog and fleas alike. The eyes were dusty raisins. There was no way to examine the mouth without broken jaw bits ending up in either hand, but the muzzle was slightly parted, and the tongue could be seen to have receded all the way back into the dark cavity of the throat like a frightened snail. The dachshund felt warm to the touch, but that was from being left sitting in the sun. If you sniffed your fingers after stroking the hard brown flanks, you could still detect a faint, undeniable odor of dog.

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His Powder’d Wig, His Crown of Thornes

Grant Innes first saw the icon in the Indian ghettos of London but thought nothing of it. There were so many gewgaws of native “art” being thrust in his face by faddishly war-painted Cherokees that this was just another nuisance to avoid, like the huge radios blaring obnoxious “Choctawk” percussions and the high-pitched warbling of Tommy Hawkes and the effeminate Turquoise Boys; like the young Mohawk ruddies practicing skateboard stunts for sluttish cockney girls whose kohled black eyes and slack blue lips betrayed more interest in the dregs of the bottles those boys carried than in the boys themselves. Of course, it was not pleasure or curiosity that brought him into the squalid district, among the baggy green canvas street-teepees and graffitoed storefronts. Business alone could bring him here. He had paid a fair sum for the name and number of a Mr. Cloud, dealer in Navaho jewelry, whose samples had proved of excellent quality and would fetch the highest prices, not only in Europe but in the Colonies as well. Astute dealers knew that the rage for turquoise had nearly run its course, thank God; following the popularity of the lurid blue stone, the simplicity of black-patterned silver would be a welcome relief indeed. Grant had hardly been able to tolerate the sight of so much garish rock as he’d been forced to stock in order to suit his customers; he was looking forward to this next trend. He’d already laid the ground for several showcase presentations in Paris; five major glossies were bidding for rights to photograph his collector’s pieces, antique sand-cast najas and squash-blossom necklaces, for a special fashion portfolio.
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Uneasy Street

“Ah, good, here come the cops to arrest some more mutants,” said Raleigh’s boss, Pete. “Can’t have them just lounging around, living off the fat of the land, snacking on the core of our civilization.”

Raleigh finished counting verdigrised pennies into the grimy hand of a man who wore a heavy overcoat and woolen muffler despite the August heat, then he handed over the brown bag full of Copenhagen slicks. His eyes followed the man out into the heat-warped glare of the street. In the flickering intervals between speeding cars, he could see that the tiny park across the street was full of cops.

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The Diane Arbus Suicide Portfolio

“It’s very thrilling to see darkness again.”

—Diane Arbus


“You’ll like this,” said Schaeffer as he let Brovnik into the apartment. “She was a photographer.”

Brovnik chuckled unhappily till the smell hit him; it fit right in with the buzzing of flies. The other cops’ hard shoes clapped on the uncarpeted boards of the hall; their voices echoed in the cluttered flat. Brovnik walked slowly, as if in a sweltering museum. Dozens of unmounted photographs were thumbtacked to the walls, curled by the July humidity. Schaeffer went into the bathroom with everyone else. Brovnik wasn’t in any hurry to learn the cause of the splashing he heard. He bent close to a picture of a white girl standing against a canvas tent, her head thrown back, arms spread wide, the hilt of a sword and part of the blade poking out of her gullet. The other pictures were just as freakish. He liked them.

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Sea of Tranquillity

It was the year 1969. In the van, Jeff was broasting alive, and his tongue had turned to pumice, but he hardly felt the July heat. The freeway shimmered as if it were aflame, and where the illusion was strongest the boy imagined he could see through cement to the surface of Earth’s moon. Somewhere high above Bur­bank’s smoggy gray sky, the lunar excursion module crouched like a spider on stilts. Down here, lanes merged and diverged, cars sped from near to far away in seconds, and two ladies in black changed a tire on a black T-Bird by the side of the road. Up there, astronauts waited to walk.

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“Here,” Daniel said, handing Paula the photograph. “Take a look at this, then tell me you still want to meet my father.”

Paula hefted it in one hand; it was framed in dark wood, covered with a heavy rectangle of glass. A fringe of dust clung to the glass’s edges, under the frame, blurring the borders of the photograph into a spidery haze.

“What is it? Who is it?”

“Us. My family.”

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Mars Will Have Blood

“Too much ichor,” said red-faced Jack Magnusson, scowling into a playbook. “The whole tragedy is sopping in it. Blood, blood, blood. No, it won’t do for a student pro­duction. We’re not educating little vampires here.”

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The Demonstration

As they approached the site of the company picnic, Dewey and his parents saw a crowd of weird-looking people standing along the roadside waving picket signs. Dewey’s father muttered, “God damn” under his breath.

“Roll up your window, Dewey,” said his moth­er.

“Who are they?” Dewey asked, putting up the rear window of the sta­tion wagon.

“Anarchists,” his father said. “They’d like to see us all turned into animals — and worse.”

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Bruno’s Shadow

Through the light which shines in natural things, one mounts up to the life which presides over them.

-Giordano Bruno

Creaking, the heavy door swung open, and I stepped into the darkened cell. The old gatekeeper waited at my back. Two hundred years ago he would have been a jailer, and this might have been my cell. I straightened up slowly, uncertain of the ceiling height, and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dimness. I had an electric lantern with me, but I wanted my first impressions of the cell to match those of its last tenant. What had he felt as the door closed behind him and the key turned in the lock? In the end, had his eyes turned huge and sight­less from staring into shadows? Had he seen the pyre to which they led him after so many years in the dark? Or had that fi­nal dawn burned out his eyes, even before the flames of the auto-da-fe came leaping from below?

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