Fiction Inferno: The literary magazine that burns you up


Lynn Bey


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Second Place, Very Short Fiction Contest

ired of her present life, she extended her arm and grabbed another. It was her 87th, and already it tasted better that the 51st, better even than the bark of Ilex vomitoria or the pit of a decaying peach. Naturally it surpassed the 3rd, which had been altogether too crowded with sounds she had not recognized, except once, when she lay suspended in sleep, listening as she did with the whole of her body to the sporadic grunts that could only have come from a pond whose meniscus was pulled too tight. She held this new life, this No. 87, up to the light and saw right through it. There is so much to live for, she said to herself, but what she actually heard was how many lives could be had if only she'd remember they were there. Her first life, like all firsts, was not worth talking about and thus was impossible to shrug off. She'd been assigned parents, and in direct contravention of Instructions they'd stayed on beyond birth, beyond the formation of their opinions of her, even beyond the moment when her memories of them had hardened on her body and crusted in its corners. They insisted she sever ties with the alphabet and learn instead to forage in the crannies of the periodic table. But despite her Petition that they be removed or, in the alternative, that she be recused from this ghastly Experiment, she was able to rid herself of them only minutes before the Hearing, a Phyrric victory one could argue, coming as late as it did.

* * * 

Should she appear unscarred or lacking in relief, one would do well to remember that in her 77th life she took on a lover. His acrobatics were impressive but he rarely came down from the tin-patterned ceiling, not even when she did as he bade and sliced up a cloud so it spelled out charisma in garamond bold. When at last she grew weary and curled up to sleep, he, unprepared for such tricks, soon disappeared.

In No. 87 she looked down at the ground and saw that her feet were not there. She'd heard rumors, of course, of flaws in this model, but still she was irked. When the blind was raised on the fading sun, a street she believed had been fastened securely imploded beside her. She dove headfirst into the marble-black shaft, composing with the rapture of double-beat fusion an aria to which a name has been given and so can't be unsung. Too late she remembered that No. 87 did not come with wings. There was nothing to do but imagine the soil. There was nothing to do but lie back and smile, assured as she was that her yellowing bones were the finest grade tilth that this world or the next or the one after that would one day know. She has come to be called an Essential Hydrocarbon, a designation, one suspects, that will stick in her craw.



© 2001 Lynn Bey

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