Visit Home

By Robert Earle

A suburb that once was a few estates roofed with old hardwoods on a peninsula bordered by two rivers flowing into the Atlantic. The man knew the way (he’d been married there), but the woman directed him where to turn. They were looking for her childhood home, not his. Only she had memories of the woods that stood before these roads were built and of the barn being torn down when she was five and of the trees her father preserved to ensure their privacy as he sold off twenty acres, one after another, and kept just three for themselves.

They turned up a side street. There, set back a good eighty feet, stood the house with its shingles painted silver-gray and its trim in perfect condition, likewise the rain gutters, and the window in the second floor gable behind which she had lived from her birth until she was eighteen.

She said, “I’ve got to knock.”

“I’ll sit here. They’ll react better if it’s just you.”

Continue reading

Jade Staircase Lament – In a Station of the Metro

By Martin Porter

Just as the sun sets across the Tuileries, the spring moon rises above the Rue de Rivoli. The air is clear, the sky radiates colour with spectral translucence. I descend into the Metro, grasping the glossy brass handrail so as not to slip on the verdigris-stained brass-edged steps, illumined brilliant jade in the jewelled dusk.

The air is rank, dank with the sweet smell of cherry blossom mixed with the perspiration. I catch my breath and catch a glimpse of her waiting for him, dressed comme des garçons in oriental silk, smart, déshabillé, classic Parisienne chic.

Her face glows, transparent as a nimbus, yet real, more real than everybody else. A gust of hot air sweeps through the station as a train approaches. Hats are held to heads, unbuttoned jackets flap. Nothing about her is disturbed. Discarded tickets blow about her. Specks of dust sparkle through her.

She had already seen him in town dashing through spring showers, as if to a meeting. She was early, buffed and scented for their rendezvous, anticipatory. She was early. He was late.

He is late. Even now, she waits, uncomplaining. He is, to put it simply, never going to arrive. Against hope, she still waits.

Looking away, I push the turnstile and enter the desolate black dendritic roots of the metro. Waiting on the sooty platform, a discarded flier rises in the draught from the tunnels. I brush a pastel pink petal of cherry blossom from my collar.

Martin Porter was born in Jersey C.I., but now lives a retired life in Whangarei, New Zealand, writing poetry and flash fiction.  He has recently had flash fiction published in Flash Frontiers, Blue Note Review, Flash Flood, Flash Mob 2013, Bare Fiction magazine, was an invited reader at Auckland Library for the NZ National Flash Fiction Day Awards 2013, and won the Whangarei Library Flash Fiction prize in 2012 and 2014.  He can be found on the web at poetrynotesandjottings.wordpress.com.

Photo Credit: Metro Paris – Ligne 13 – Porte de Vanves by Greenski

INTERVIEW: Simone Caroti

Simone Caroti is Course Director for Science Fiction and Fantasy at Full Sail University and a senior research scientist at the Astrosociology Research Institute (ARI), a non-profit organization devoted to bringing the humanities and the social sciences into the debate on human colonization of outer space. He is the author of The Generation Starship in Science Fiction, a critical history of multi-generational interstellar travel in science fiction. His second book on the Culture series by the science fiction author Iain M. Banks is currently under contract from McFarland.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor Kristy Harding, Simone talks about Iain M. Banks, his forthcoming book on Banks’ Culture novels, and his work at the ARI.

PT: Thanks for agreeing to talk with me, Simone. Tell us about your new book?

SC: The book originates from a proposal I sent to my publisher, McFarland, in December of 2012. I’d been wanting to write about the Culture series for fifteen years by that point, so I was actually relieved when I decided to take the plunge. McFarland declared itself interested, and I started researching. I continued until April 3rd, 2013. Banks’ announcement of his terminal illness hit me hard, and I immediately stopped working on the book – I didn’t know how to go on.

PT: His death hit me quite hard, as well. I was reading A Song of Stone when it was announced.

SC: I own A Song of Stone, and I very much want to read it, but right now I just can’t. If I may ask, did the atmosphere of the book seep into your reaction to Banks’ announcement?

PT: That’s a good question. I think the atmosphere of the book did seep into my reaction to Banks’ announcement but in an unexpected way. The thing that impressed me the most about A Song of Stone was how Banks wrote about the worst of human behavior with such beautiful language. It was as if he took these characters wallowing in a trash heap, and he gave them dignity. So, when the announcement came out I was struck by the contrast between the beauty of his personal dignity and all the love he received from the community and the horror and tragedy of the cancer that took him away from us. I think sitting with that terrible beauty while reading A Song of Stone helped me to sit with the best and worst of the human experience when the announcement came out, the love and the pain surrounding his death, which is beautiful in itself, in a way: Iain Banks’ work helped me grieve his death. It’s the greatest gift I think I’ve ever received from an author as a reader.

SC: I love that. I think you capture the mood of most people who love his work – you certainly do so for me, and I’m thankful for that.

PT: Thank you. I know we’d all rather have him here still, writing books. Obviously, you did go on eventually. What happened? Continue reading

The Awakening

By Dave Dormer

It wasn’t until my early twenties had I realized just what I’d done.

We walked for what seemed like miles through overgrown and choked hiking trails. The odor of campfire smoke clung to everything we owned and my throat felt like it would collapse at any moment. There were little trails of blood on my shins from whipping branches that my brother, who walked ahead of me, would let loose when I wasn’t looking, ‘Sorry’ he’d reply with a grin. I can’t recall how many times I rolled my ankles on the rocky trail, but I had to keep up to my dad who’d always stride ten feet ahead of us hollering, ‘C’mon guys. Keep up!’

We finally reached the fen, my favorite part of the trail and a little easier to navigate. It was still early spring and not much moved other than whiskey jacks flitting about the trees. I kept my eyes trained on the tree line of the marsh’s border in hopes of seeing a moose on its way to drink or swim, but nothing moved.

As a chubby kid and not much for stamina, I eventually trailed behind the rest of my family and our dog. The rustle from the plastic bag in my short’s pocket was a reminder that I was on duty to clean up after him. When my gaze returned to the trail, that’s when I spotted it. A brown wooden box nestled among broken, decaying branches and roots of a dead-fall. I stopped. I looked at the box, and then to my family who were quickly disappearing around a crook in the trail.

‘What is it? Why is it here? I couldn’t take my eyes off it. My stomach twisted in knots at the sight of it. It was like looking at a Christmas present that I couldn’t have. I imagined my dad’s voice booming in my ear as if caught standing again, admiring his shotgun that hung on our wall, ‘Don’t you ever touch it!’ Continue reading

The Gambler

By Alexander Drost

When I arrived in Sparks, Georgia it smelled of grit and dark pine. The air was so muggy that my shirt was its dampest shade of gray. A clan of children hopped on the bus just outside town.

“That was some hit, Peggy!” One of the boys said. “You really beat the devil out of it.” Peggy smiled.

The bus hissed, the children skipped off and disappeared into the hanging woods. I watched them retract from the road and fingered the poker chip in my pocket, gently edging the engraved 19 with my thumb nail.

“This is as far as we get to it,” the driver said. “The Inn is half mile up there—You’re the Thomson boy coming in, yeah?”

“Yesir.”

“Mmmhm—well stand straight Mr. Thomson. Folks in Sparks can spot a weak spine.”

I thanked the driver and sank off the bus into the clay. It became heavier with every stride I took, and it wasn’t long until my slacks were a violent weighty-amber.

STARKEEP INN

The sign was almost unreadable; its paint had eroded to the wood and the post from which it hung was cracked with sap. The Inn’s veranda railed along its face and its wooden sides were peeking through two trees, grotesquely twisted, and feeding off the lawn. I followed the stepping stones.

A screen door slap jolted my glance upward to face two women, most definitely twins. Both dressed in black gowns which in no way accented a lick of beauty.

“Mr. Thomson,” they said simultaneously. Continue reading

From the Editor: Hauntings

By Kristy Harding

When I was a kid, my family went on vacation to Gettysburg. Most kids probably would have preferred to go to Disney World, but I was a budding Civil War buff, so I spent the weeks before the trip watching the movie Gettysburg over and over and reading everything I could about the battle. Like many sites of great suffering, Gettysburg is a magnet for paranormalists, so it was only a matter of time before I stumbled on a ghost story. The story I found claimed that the ghost of George Washington was seen riding around the battlefield on his horse by Union soldiers either before or during the battle.

The story captured my imagination, and when we finally arrived in Pennsylvania, I lay awake at night waiting for George Washington to ride through my spooky hotel room. While I waited, I gobbled up staple-bound collections of local ghost stories. In those pages, I was introduced to the classic ghost story tropes for the first time. I met the actors in a shadow play forced to repeat emotionally charged scenes from the past over and over without deviation like the mother in Tejashri Pradhan’s “Cliff Diving” (Feb. 5th) and the outsiders who are needed to hear a ghost’s story one last time and give the ghost permission to leave the old place behind like the spouse in Robert Earle’s “Visit Home” (Nov. 27th).

I never saw George Washington or his horse. At the time, I was disappointed, but I now know that a place doesn’t need to be visited by the spirits of the dead to be haunted. As I remember talking with reenactors immersed in their roles and ordering pheasant pot pie at a tavern from a waitress in hoop-skirts, I wonder if the monuments and tourist traps were just ways of dressing up the phantasmagoria of an entire town trapped in 1863, assigned parts, and forced to repeat scenes from the battle continually.

I was reminded of that trip to Gettysburg while reading Hauntings by the James Hollis, a book that inspired the theme of this issue. Hollis is a Jungian analyst, and his Hauntings is about hearing the voice of the soul over the stories and legacies of the past. An unconscious life, he says, defaults to repetition. Some of these repetitions, such as following a parent onto the factory floor have big consequences (Bret Nye, “Factory” (April 2nd)). Others, such as putting up holiday decorations year after year, are mostly harmless (Dawn Wilson, “Extraordinary Neighbors” (Dec. 11th)), but, eventually, it is hoped, something like the visitor in Christopher Krull’s “Space Above the Cubes” (Mar. 5th) interrupts and gets in the way of the ability to mindlessly follow the script, freeing us to make choices.

Appropriately for an issue about ghosts, everything in “Hauntings” is, in some way, a ghost story. Though not everyone who appears in “Hauntings” is able to break free of the pasts and patterns and ghosts that haunt them–and not everyone wants to–most of the characters who appear in this issue are forced to deal with some kind of interruption. This is one of the functions of all stories: to interrupt, to illuminate deadwood, to inspire (or scare) us into living.

And so, I will bring this interruption of “Hauntings” to an end and leave you to the ghosts.

A version of this appeared on kristyharding.com in April 2014.

Photo Credit: My Half Ghost Side by Elizabeth Watson