Isn't that what everyone wants? Doesn't a thrill run through your body when your mom says, "Honey, we got you the best experimental holiday gift!"?! Well, we did. Today we dance on 2020's grave with two diametrically different tales. Specifically, Jorge Jaramillo Villarruel's "The Madonna of the Dunes" and Joel Haskard's "Subterranean Superhero Blues"! Free scifi fun and humor... enjoy!
The Madonna of the Dunes
by Jorge Jaramillo Villarruel
They are together in the
As he woke he felt the wet skin next to him. In the 3.00 am light of the stormy sky and of the landing strip, her body was invisible. The shadows and soft light transformed her in a landscape of strange and dark geometries perceived only by touch and smell and by the corner of the eye. Hearing her sleeping breath he went out of the room, putting on a black leather jacket. Then he stepped outside the apartment they’d been sharing for the past months. The abandoned landing track over the ancient and silent dunes formed an ambiguous scene that reminded him of the night they met for the first time, the morning after he liberated himself. He walked until dawn.
wee hours before the end
When she got up he had come back already. She went to the main room and observed what he had attached to the blackboard: (1) The faces from two MX$500.00 bills looking at each other; (2) A ripped page from a book by J.G. Ballard, who was the only writer he would read anymore; (3) Unica Zürn’s unrecognizably grotesque and bound naked body accompanied by the necrophilia-tinged caption, ‘Tenir au Frais’; (4) A high-resolution print from Carlos Reygadas’ ‘Battle in Heaven’; (5) His own doctorate degree with the borders burnt. A map to the mind, an imprint of fear and desire. "This was the stuff dreams were made of when I was young," he explained when he saw her grimace at his collection. “Now they are the stuff of reality.”
of the dream and darkness.
Walking the gravel roads of the derelict park, with its Beethoven sculpture which was the only structure earthquakes didn't make fall or stumble, he thought he saw someone following him, though it might have been himself, afterimages of memory and guilt, repressed primitive desires. Pale morning, pale sun, overheat of the engines of soul. Sweat ran all over his face, the tears of his tired body. He hid within the abandoned trolley, urban wreck, flotsam in an overflow of loss. It was wet and warm inside and the sun didn't burn there, it was a nice place to wait for the end of the world, a universal flood of information devoid of meaning. His cerebral engine started, sparks were thrown into the imaginary landscapes of sand and burning daylight. He delighted in his own thoughts and it overwhelmed him, made him tremble in emotion.
They slip away
"What is that?" she asked with a fake smile. He ignored her question and went on cleaning the trolley. He removed lichen and musk, put in a wooden table as a desk, polished the steel sheets, repaired the lights and the electric engine. He removed what remained of the seats, nothing but rusted wire and springs that had lost their elasticity after decades under the sand and the sun. He also appended a metallic aerial, not too sure whether to receive signals from outer or from innerspace. The mechanical monstrosity was getting a better form, yet the air conditioning was beyond repair. She asked again, forgetting the smile, "What do you want that for?" He looked at her the way a physician looks at the tomography picture of a benign tumor. "I like to think I’m an artist," he said. "I want to invent the reality here."
into the serene landscapes
He had been spending progressively more time inside and around the trolley. It had turned into a studio from where he would be able to read reality as an open book of clear meaning, written with symbols instead of characters, and to write down his observations. Every relevant event in the world, past, present and future, was a symbol of an arcane alphabet of deep significance. She tried to get back to him, to attract him back to the shared nights when the sky was warm and time ran fast. She felt out of place, alone, in the slow hours of noon when the abrasive sun made the dunes dance, Isadora Duncan on an empty stage. One day, he handed her a low-quality xeroxed copy of Tanguy's 'Through Birds, Through Fire and Not Through Glass,' and said, "This is us." Then he left.
of crystal and steel
Through her paintings, Dr. Fernando Antelo diagnosed Frida Kahlo with Asherman's syndrome, meaning scar tissue had formed within her uterine cavity. This disease might have appeared after the streetcar accident in her youth when a metal tube penetrated the artist's abdomen, leaving her paralyzed for several months. The trauma severely damaged her skeletal framework and internal organs. Even when, against the odds, she survived, the trauma would cause complications during her adulthood, like her inability to procreate, as well as great pain. But it detonated her interest in painting her innerscapes out. Painting always contains pain more than art.
of the dead and forgotten cities.
That infinite horizon made her sad, the confused blur not allowing her to tell earth from sky, but that sculpture was what attracted her attention the most. It didn't tell her anything at all. An alien structure of metal and fabric, standing still against a cold silence without end. It was all she was to him, a collection of angles in estrangement. "This is us," he had said, aiming towards dreams supplanting reality. She felt uncomfortable watching the black and white reproduction, a lackluster rendering of an ocean or a wasteland from an alienated world, too similar to the world she felt imprisoned in. She finally understood why some grayscale photograph of Siqueiros in Lecumberri jail had obsessed him so much before the tests and internment, long before his escape. Incarceration, no matter how imperfect, is a form of freedom. And freedom adds meaning to a mostly meaningless existence.
A deserted womb is
In the cold afternoon, when the sky looked like raining, she explained to him why she had stopped bleeding. He started taking long walks further and further into the labyrinth of his mindscape, looking for that elusive place where he would find meaning and reality, his former cell, distant beyond the abandoned desert city, longing to be free from his open confinement. She talked to him, her words devoid of sense. Her angry voice was sheer sound, the primal babble of past and forthcoming times, the meaningless music of the quasars and dead stars. But he didn't seem to hear her.
an ocean of coral fossils,
Miscarriage was not the end of the world, he would have asked her to abort anyway; bringing children to this desolate Earth should be a crime. An electric storm woke them up early morning. He leaned against the window, staring at her. She remained in bed, covered in a pale-shade-of-brown sheet that resembled the waves of sand in the desert when the wind blew. "Come back to bed," she begged. Later that day, a sandstorm covered the window panels in the same shade of brown. One day the whole world would be covered in dust, would become a dry oceanic landscape without any life forms, the realm of immobility, witnessed by the silent faces of the paintings and billboards.
white and red mineral organisms
By then, he had moved permanently to the trolley, which now resembled a spaceship, a means to explore the depths of innerspace. When she woke up, she found his psychiatric record in the bed. After breakfast, she dared to ask, "What is this?" "A love letter," he said. Later, he put his backpack on and took her for a walk to the radio masts and towers cemetery, structures buried in the sand, a forest of dead metal trees. Their preferred spot. There they could be alone, away from the unreal world that pretended to be the real one the rest of the time. He put down the backpack, knelt in front of her and kissed her empty womb goodbye. Then he went back to his spaceship.
that prevail in this dead world.
Her body was lying still on the top of the dune, pale and gorgeous as a stone from the depths of the sea or a fossilized dream made of stones. Her soft lines, cradled by the warm sand, a coral of flesh and blood. A handrail protruded from her entrails, a strange aerial sending her music to the stars. Dr. Hernández stared at the installation in awe and repulsion. After a while, overcoming horror and wonder, he went into the trolley. Inside, there were books and sheets of paper with annotations for an aesthetic apocalypse. On the table, the faces of Frida and Diego, turning backs to each other, was all that remained of the semantic spaces. "Reality has finally replaced imagination!" he exclaimed in realization. When Dr. Hernández went back to his office at the hospital, he was waiting for him wearing an astronaut helmet. On his desk, the lost psychiatric record with a picture of Siqueiros in his cell attached to it with a clip: “Set me free.”
Subterranean Superhero Blues
by Joel Haskard
Dude, I’ve got Aquaman in my basement!
I get this text from my old college roommate, Kyle, who owns a swanky mansion along the creek. I have to admit when Minnehaha flooded and his basement filled up with water, I felt a little bit of glee. Kyle is an acquired taste (“douchebag” my wife likes to clarify) who made his fortune the old-fashioned way – inheritance. His father was the Throw Pillow King of Edina.
Lauren and I head over. We find Kyle sitting on the basement stairs, drinking a beer. His basement is a mess. There is standing water halfway up his massive TV, halfway up his framed posters of 1960s sports cars with half-naked women on the hoods.
“Hey guys! Check this out.” He tosses a beer out into the basement. A green gloved hand shoots out of the water and deftly catches the can, followed by a gold-scaled arm and then this blonde super-hunky guy. Lauren gulps a little.
“Aquaman, these are my friends Frank and Lauren,” Kyle says.
“’Sup,” Aquaman says, nodding. He settles into a submerged black leather chair and kills the beer, belches. His hair is somehow dry and perfectly coifed.
“He’s like the best roommate ever,” Kyle says.
“What does he do?” I ask.
“You’re looking at it. Awesome, right?”
A week goes by. Kyle could have sump pumped the basement out long ago, and it’s starting to smell like sewage. The drywall is rotting black. Paint is buckling off the ceiling in weird yellowish strips. But still… Aquaman.
We watch from the stairs. Aquaman is talking into a conch shell. “Tell the great whites to stop punking the hammerheads.” He puts a hand over the shell. “Hammerheads,” he shrugs at us, chuckling. “What are ya gonna to do?”
“He looks like a young Robert Redford mixed with that guy that plays Thor,” my wife breathes.
Aquaman hears this and scowls. “I’m DC and Thor is Marvel,” he growls. “You gotta keep that shit straight, lady. I don’t hang with those losers.”
“Those losers are making some serious money at the movies these days,” I say.
“Oh no,” Kyle mutters.
Aquaman puts down the shell phone. He levitates up and raises his arms. The waters below him begin to swirl and dark clouds form around the recessed lighting inches above his head.
“Listen, joker – he’s DC, by the way – I’m sick of all you mortals with your fawning worship of box office returns. Let me tell you something. I ruled Atlantis as a benevolent king and had to stand by and watch as its great castles and spires crumbled into sand. I built my Fortress of Banishment using kelp, barnacles, and sunken pirate ships. I fought German U-boats with my bare hands and I’ve banged more mermaids than there are krill in the sea!”
Aquaman makes a little chirping sound and two dolphins appear, one on each side of him. They stand up on their tails and raise a fin.
“That’s Lester and Toby flipping you off, bro.” He lifts his golden trident out of the water and points it at my chest. “They say I don’t have a back story. They say my super powers aren’t super enough to carry another major motion picture…. Behold!”
One of the dolphins dives and comes up holding a beach ball with its flippers. He tosses it to the other dolphin. They toss it back and forth.
Aquaman glares up at us, waiting. We meekly applaud and head back upstairs.
“Touchy,” Lauren says.
“A-man is becoming a bit of an A-hole,” notes Kyle. “I think I’m going to drain the basement next week.”
“Hey, guys!” we hear Aquaman holler. “How about rustling up a couple of anchovy pizzas! Guys?”
About the Creators and Philanthropists
Both authors donated their stories, so visit their websites and give them some love! We also want to thank recent authors Zella Christensen, J.S. Veter, and Steven Fischer who donated stories, and reader Benjamin Hackett for his fiscal donation.
World's Shortest Creator Interviews
Jorge Jaramillo Villarruel
Who would you drive across country to see perform, and how do you think they should adjust their material to appeal to the cephalopod demographic?
That's an easy one. The Taureau-trois-graines Inexperience and Screamin’ Jay, which is the blackest black metal band ever, founded by loa Grande Malenfant and a bunch of voodoo blues musicians, with Screamin' Jay on vocals. But to appeal to the cephalopod-folk, they should add Lovecraft-inspired songs to their setlists. Songs like "Are You Inexperienced?", "I Am the Black Houngans," or "I Put a Wanga on You" are good and all, but they lack cosmic horror to appease the tentacled ones.
Do you hope to see lighters or iPhones waved when the song-story of your life is performed? Are you expecting a mosh pit? Or are you hoping that the crowd will stomp their feet in rhythm and raise their glasses, or some other response, perhaps?,
Mosh pit, sure, but that's just the intro. The real thing is a good old beer bottle battle. That would be the best way to honor me. Punks vs. black metalheads. That would be an epic battle!
Frankenstein monsters don't get enough genre love. How would you revive the Frankenstein trope in the 21st century?
I would start with the 2010 cult-classic movie Meet Monica Velour. Here you have the far-more-accessible monster reimagined as Frankenbooty partaking in the most beloved and hip pastime that all the modern kids can relate to: juggling.
If you were to write a ten-volume epic fantasy starring a punctuation mark, which would it be and why? What would the one-sentence plot summary be?
The Umlaut. Double dots are badass. "The Umlaut exacts revenge on the greedy and cruel, roaming the Finnish countryside seeing all with its piercing black eyes of vengeance!"
About the Artists
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and you can get a free demo of his janky retro JRPG, which was formerly on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.