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In Our Own Image

By David L. Nye

Journalists in cheap suits packed the room and tried to yell over each other. At the front of the aisles, large cameras glared from tripods. Flashes burst from around the room. They blinded Thompson, a Navy captain sitting at the thin table under the bright lights.

Thompson had been under these lights before, at this table. He first sat here after entering the astronaut program. Seven years later, he returned to explain the colony NASA planned to build on Mars. There were fewer reporters then.

“Dr. Tivoli,” a reporter said, “Given the track record of Capt. Jerry Thompson, why replace him so late in the game?”

The man at the podium, Dr. Tivoli, grinned. Thompson wondered if Tivoli planted the reporter. Probably not, he decided.

“That is the brilliance of the Avatar Program. Adam-1 is Capt. Thompson.” Continue reading

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INTERVIEW: Tom Lucas

NSFW Warning: This interview has explicit content and may not be safe for work.

Tom Lucas is a college professor, author, blogger, poet, book reviewer, and spoken word performer. His most recent book, Pax Titanus, was published by Eraserhead Press in 2014 and is part of the New Bizarro Author Series. He has been published in many places including Writer’s Digest, Orbit, Anthropomorphic, Graffiti Rag, and Dark Fire Fiction, and he has shorts appearing in the upcoming anthologies: They Did It For The Money and Southern Haunts III. As a staunch supporter of spoken word he has performed on the Lollapalooza stage as well as guest spots on CIMX, WDET, and WJR.

He was born and raised in Detroit, and although currently enjoying the lack of snow and ice in Florida, remains a son of the post-industrial apocalypse. When not writing, Tom likes to drive fast and take chances. He can be found at readtomlucas.com and on Facebook, and if you sign up for his email list, he’ll send you a free story.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor Kristy Harding, we talk about bizarro, Pax Titanus’s epic creation story, and The Struggle.

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Space Above the Cubes

By Christopher Krull

Lance composed a new message so he could read his own email signature: “Senior Account Executive,” his title read. The “Senior” part had been added yesterday.

“Congratulations!” Lance spun around in his cubicle’s chair and saw Jan, the office coordinator.

“Thanks, Jan.” Lance replied. White khakis hugged Jan’s wide hips. A colorful necklace ornamented with plastic tropical fruits she bought on a recent Caribbean cruise hung below her wide face.

“It’s all about the ship,” Jan had told the office who gathered in the break room to heat their lunches.  “The Admiral of the Seas – everything you need is on the ship. It’s like being on a different planet!” Lance removed his gaze from the plastic fruit adorning her sun-spotted cleavage as Jan spoke to him, “We’re going to have to circle-up later today so you can download me on your strategy for the Vydyne account.”

Lance sighed. His new title came with a 3.5 percent pay bump and new account responsibilities. Tight times meant even the office coordinator had to do revenue-generating account work. Lance nodded and returned to his blank message. The screen blurred and a brain zap came on. Brain zaps are most commonly associated with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) withdrawal syndrome. There’s no medical consensus regarding what causes brain zaps, which often are described as nausea-inducing electrical waves running through one’s head. WebMD informed Lance they were harmless when he first investigated the strange feeling that came on when he tried to wean himself from the antidepressant. Lance found the drug allowed him to accept what he did for a living and even perform better. Now off the once-a-day pill, he was unsure what coping mechanism might be needed to take its place.

Lance felt a pulse and stood from his computer. The cube farm was silent but active with other Account Executives glaring into their computer screens, most wearing ear buds. Their eyes occupied by the screen, their ears with the buds, Lance thought at some point in the near future they would have feeding tubes in their mouths, bed pans beneath their chairs.

A thud came from the drop ceiling above Lance’s head. Continue reading

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Undead

By Gabriel Valjan

“May I help you?”

He had heard the question repeated numerous times while he sat there on the long bench with the others, their questions waiting to be answered. All kinds of people were with him there in that packed room in their various states of anxiety and impatience, slips of paper in their hands, but it was just the same: they either sat or stood like question marks.

“Next.”

The line moved and another person disappeared. He glanced down at his hand to revisit the letter of the alphabet and then the number. This could take time. He wanted to get up and stretch his legs, but if he forfeited his seat then he would have to stand and wait. He would blend in with any of the other men, hands in their pockets, no slips of paper visible, their call-number memorized, if that. They were all players in this grand line for an answer, still waiting, ready to ask, ready to march to either the next “May I help you?” or the next “Next.” He chose to remain seated; he slid over when a body vacated the bench and another one reloaded it at the far end. Monotony is the great weapon of state bureaucracy.

“May I help you?” Continue reading

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An Autobiography in Water

by Harmony Button

 

In fourth grade, at my artsy hippie school, we used to walk to the local YMCA to go swimming. It was about a mile from the school to the pool, and we knew the route backwards and forwards: past the weird historical building with the lions on the porch, past the rod iron fence, over the freeway bridge, past Loraine’s Lunch Basket, which always seemed like an incredibly romantic place to me. The locker rooms at the YMCA smelled like hot chlorine and hotel shampoo, and I hated the first touch of the wet floor on my dry feet. It was always an odd feeling to shed our winter coats and hats, our sweatshirts, our t-shirts, our underwear — we had just walked through the snow, and now here we were, naked! We were supposed to shower before getting in the pool, but who ever heard of taking a shower with a swimsuit on? It felt wrong, stepping into the warm water, letting it soak through the tight, dry Lycra. Continue reading

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The Anchor

By Jennifer Cornet

The anchor looks less blue under the dismal, cloudy sky. I would call it hazy gray or ash white. It sits perched in its corner, surrounded by black metal bars and dusty brick walls. Behind it, a barren field of dirt and building debris and in front of it only half trampled bushes; a sad attempt at landscaping. Nothing about this says strength, or unity, or power. Even the vases full of yellow water and long dead flowers, strewn about on the ground at its feet bring a sadness to the marker. It is neglected and lonely and I can’t help but feel pity for the steel as I stand on sidewalk, just outside the gates.

The traffic flows smoothly into the Navy Yard. Even at the height of morning rush hour, there is little back up by foot or car. The guards work swiftly, bundled up in fluffy jackets and warm fleece gloves keeping the constant stream of workers flooding the base in motion. It only stops for the morning colors.

As the last note echoes through the biting November air, I have to remind myself to keep moving. I cannot waste the entire morning staring at the anchor although I feel like it wants me to. My finger tips are beginning to numb and I can no longer feel the warmth of my coffee seeping through the insulated layers of my thermos. I should get to my desk and enjoy it before I am forced to drink the swill in the mess instead. Continue reading

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Cliff Diving

By Tejashri Pradhan

Every night, she stands at the edge of the cliff, her gaze on the sky rather than on the ocean below. The world stretches about her in every direction, but there’s only one direction for her. She feels the wind buffet her body and tangle her hair and chap her skin until she can’t handle the cold any longer. She doesn’t jump, but merely takes a step off the edge.

Every night, she spreads her arms out to the sides like skeletal wings. She imagines the air buoys her and lifts her up to the singing stars and jellyfish moon above. For a moment, she’s suspended in midair, and then the sea rises to claim her.

Every night, her body shatters against jagged rocks that slash the skin from her flesh. The current drapes its cold fingers around her ankles and tugs her down until she has no choice but to let the seawater pierce her lungs. She’s reminded in that instant of how fragile a human life is and how easily lost.

Every night, the frothy ocean swirls around her like mouthwash swishing around the slick rocks that are Earth’s teeth. It presses into her broken skin, cleansing in its sweet agony.

Every night, she feels his pain when he lost his footing and slipped, crying out for Mommy. She’d told him not to go to so close to the edge, but in that moment, it didn’t matter. She threw herself on the cliff on her stomach, groping wildly for his hand. Her fingers barely grazed his tiny wrist. For a frozen instant, his pulse fluttered against her fingers like a broken wing trying in vain to fly. She saw his development in reverse. He was shrinking back into a baby and from a baby into a fetus until he was encased by Earth’s womb. She had no choice but to watch helplessly as the ocean swallowed her heart.

Every night, she knows she should let herself feel his terror too, but that would mean sleeping instead of jumping. It would mean allowing her nightmares to crawl into her torn heart the way the salty waves of the ocean seep into her open wounds. She can bear the pain again and again, but she’s too cowardly to risk feeling his fear.

Every night, she dies and floats in nothingness—no thoughts, no existence. It could be nirvana or some higher state beyond consciousness, but it just feels like a void. Maybe it isn’t that she seeks out his pain. Maybe she seeks out an escape because it is only when she’s drowned that she can take comfort in oblivion. And yet, it’s so incredibly empty because she knows if there’s nothing, she’ll never see her baby again.

Every morning, the sunrise sweeps her back to the shore with all her pieces reassembled in just the physical sense. She returns to a life that has long since ceased to have any meaning—that seems like pale watercolors compared to the vibrant acrylics of the cliff at night.

And when night finally comes, she does it all over again.

Tejashri Pradhan has lived her whole life in California, making up stories even before she could write. This is her first published story. She can be found on Twitter @TejiSunflower.

Photo Credit: “Tertiary limestone cliffs of Uluwatu” by PHGCOM