from “The Saint Under the Marsh” by Alex Fleetwood

December 30, 2009

FULL STORY TO APPEAR IN THE JANUARY 2010 ISSUE!

I was saying that St Mary’s-under-Marsh used to be a Catholic girls’ school in —-. It was bombed flat in the War, and rebuilt, which means you get the usual problems with old schools: no-one tidies up these old buildings that get bombed; they just build another lot on top. When the governors decided that they’d had enough, they’d sent the student body to merge with a boys’ school down by the estuary and put the land up for tender, and near the end of that process was where we came in.

To shut down a school, this is what you do:

Arrive in two cars, not a van; that’s partly so that we can put it on the risk assessment that team members will be able to get help independently, and partly because we get jokes if all five of us turn up in a van. Normally Paul picks me up and goes on to get Becky, and Terry collects the equipment and Father Mike. The last few times, Paul and Becky have turned up to get me. Wait to be let in by the caretaker, who’s been told you’ve come to do an electrical safety test. Walk around the site, the grounds and outbuildings, taking account of any abnormal readings on your handhelds (Paul and Terry) or shivers up your spine (Father Mike and me). Whenever anything seems as if it shouldn’t be there, carry out a little superstitious ritual and take the atmospherics again. Upload the signatures to our office database as we go, to check for repeat appearances in case anything’s concealing itself on our soil by imitating the traces of our young. Drive home and argue with Paul and Becky over whether to listen to drivetime, the evening football build-up or symphonic metal in the car.

We missed the turn-off for the school the first time because I was telling Paul about which buildings had changed use on the site and we had to take a detour past the town football stadium. Paul supports West Ham, Becky supports Arsenal, Terry prefers rugby (he coaches a Colts team and the Cub Scouts) and Father Mike supports Doncaster. You learn these things about people, when you spend nine visits out of ten carrying out a ritual invented by a distraught war widow just in case of what would happen if you don’t. Summer’s when we do most of the work, needless to say; the rest of the year is tests, remedial visits, and justifying our contract every time they put a new minister into the DCSF. When the work’s slow, we get seconded around the charity to things like working groups on child poverty, which is a bit more like what I’d rather be doing; the people you meet from the other offices say they’ve never heard of your department and ask whether you’re youth field workers, which I suppose we almost are.

“I don’t spend much time with children, though,” I tend to say, and someone will invariably go, “Jealous.”

They could have brought us directly into government, but it’s probably for the best that they never did. Directors of children’s services have a hard enough job these days without the tabloids finding out they’re spending public money on woo-woo too.

Because St Mary’s-under-Marsh is Catholic, there’s been a bit of a turf war with the local bishop, and that’s why we were only getting access to the site at that time of year. I don’t know what we’re going to do about the other kinds of faith schools. It’s not my job to bother, but Terry goes to workshops about it every so often with DCSF and a stand-in for the Communities Secretary, so that they can make a show (in front of the very few people who know that there’s actually a show to make) of respecting today’s multi-faith society. My guess is that we’ll do exactly the same thing, but with an imam or a rabbi instead of Father Mike, and every so often I’ll have to take off my shoes.

Sorry, DCSF is the Department for Children, Schools and Families–or “Department for Children’s Soft Furnishings,” but I can’t take credit for that one–I heard it from a university vice-chancellor when we went in on a slow afternoon to condemn a handful of Portakabins they’d been using for foundation courses.

“You’d feel safe sending a daughter to a school like that, wouldn’t you?” Paul said when he finally hit the turn-off and saw the sign the council hadn’t taken down yet. He smiled at Becky and made it clear the important word was a daughter, not a school. “I don’t know about that,” she said, and her face fell. Paul turned his smile round on me and went, “Megan’s come out of it all right–ain’t you?” Not being Becky, I wasn’t playing up to it, so he made the best of a bad job and said, “Except it didn’t do much for her taste in men.”

He pulled in to park up in the governors’ car park.

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from “Mary’s Waltz” by Dayna Ingram

December 18, 2009

FULL STORY TO APPEAR IN THE JANUARY 2010 ISSUE!

The dry wind whips into a brief fury, and when it settles I hear a voice from my neighbor’s backyard.  I leave the ants and press my ear up to the rotting wooden fence.

“Little heart a-beating

Little life so fleeting

Will you take it with you

Or die try-ing?”

The child-like voice sings a nursery rhyme I’ve never heard, almost whispers it, really.  I straighten up and put my hands on the top of the boards, and lift myself up until I can just peek out over the top.  There is the girl from the window, wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt, kneeling in the dirt near some sort of small circle made of stone.  She looks a little more real out here in the daylight, a little less tragic.  Something moves inside the circle, but I can’t make it out, and my arms are getting tired.

“Hey,” I call as my grip begins to slip.  “What are you doing?”

Her song cuts off mid-verse and she grabs something up from the circle, but she doesn’t turn her head to look at me.  “Come and see,” she says.

I drop to the ground and all but run around the fence, through her gate, which hangs open.

“Sit down,” she says when I reach her.

I plop my butt on the ground and cross my legs.  Now I see the sunglasses she wears, overly large plastic ones, the kind you get at drugstores and highway gas stations.  Her head is still inclined to the circle, and I look down.  I’m back on my feet in less than the time it takes to shout, “Jesus!”

Inside the circle, a sleek blue-black scorpion, about the size of a box of woodstove matches, stands as still as the stones surrounding it, pincers and deadly tail poised in the air.

The girl laughs, low and musical, the kind of laugh that is able to distract me from the strangeness of what I’m seeing.

“It’s okay, he won’t hurt you,” she says, and beckons me back to her with a closed fist. I step a little closer to the circle but I don’t sit down.          

“It’s an Emperor Scorpion,” the girl goes on to explain.  “Their sting will hurt you, but it can’t kill you. My dad imports them from Africa, on request. He owns a pet shop. Sit down.”

“That’s okay,” I say.  “What are you doing with it?”

“Watch,” she says, and opens her fist.

On her palm sits a tiny brown mouse, at least two times smaller than the scorpion.  She tilts her hand and the mouse tumbles over her fingers and into the pit formed by the stone circle.  The scorpion jerks back from this new arrival, and the mouse pumps its puny forepaws along a rock, furiously trying to climb it.

The girl starts up her song again, humming at first, then repeating the first verse, slowly, as the mouse begins to explore its surroundings.  The scorpion’s pincers widen, and my stomach clenches, knowing what must happen.  I think about telling her to stop, or maybe snatching the mouse back up myself, but I’m frozen with cruel curiosity.  The mouse runs in frantic circles around the stone perimeter; the scorpion twists slowly to follow it.  The girl sings another verse in her low, upbeat whisper:

“Molded out of black glass

Turn too slow but think fast

One more bite it’s over

No cry-ing.”

Before I can blink, the mouse has scuttled its way onto the top of the scorpion’s tail, and now it is feverishly chewing away near its tip.  The scorpion continues to turn in slow, tight circles, trying to bend its pincers backward to knock off the mouse.  Almost independently from my brain, my body bends closer to the battle.  I can hear the mouse’s teeth work their way through the scorpion’s armor-like hide and into the meat of the thing.

Finally, the business end of the stinger is gnawed off and falls away, and the mouse wastes no time.  It jumps onto the scorpion’s back, well out of reach of the flailing pincers, and digs into the scorpion’s neck.

“No cry-ing,” the girl sings again.

“Wow,” I breathe.  “Shit.”

There’s only the sound of the mouse’s chewing for a while, and the wind picking up, and my heart beating.  I realize I’m sweating, and wipe my arm against my forehead.  Sticky skin against sticky skin, does nothing.

A door creaks open behind me and the girl moves camera-flash-quick, kicking out as she stands up so that the stones fall into the circle, covering both scorpion and mouse in some sort of awkward tomb.


Introducing New Editors

December 16, 2009

The Editors of Collective Fallout would like to introduce their new members, Assistant Editors Michelle Galo and Gabriel Malloy.  Michelle and Gabriel will begin working in January on Volume Two Number 2.  We don’t know what they are looking at–but there is apparently something of great importance in the upper right of the screen.  New online content?

* * * * *

Assistant Editor, Michelle Galo

Michelle Galo lives, writes, and teaches in upstate New York to the sounds of sparrows and snowplows.  Her poems have appeared in Alehouse and Naugatuck River Review.  She enjoys embroiling innocent bystanders in philosophical conversations, baking cookies, lurking in used bookstores, and writing more Vampire: The Masquerade characters than she will ever have time to play.

* * * * *

Assistant Editor, Gabriel Malloy

Gabriel Malloy is an amateur dishwasher and professional freelance writer currently living in Los Angeles, where he is definitely not working on a screenplay.  His interests include tea, BBC Radio 4, mythology, and his ongoing speculative fiction project.  His work has previously appeared in Collective Fallout, and he is a finalist for the first Delfino Prize in Queer Genre Fiction.


from “Made to Be Broken” by Katherine Sparrow

December 14, 2009

FULL STORY TO APPEAR IN THE JANUARY 2010 ISSUE!

Yells, and the sound of pounding feet came from down the street. Two boys ran toward them.

“Come on! Run!” one said as they passed by. Rosemary turned and followed. Eddie followed her. He heard concussion shots behind them. Firecrackers, he told himself. Cars backfiring. The kids looked like ghosts in the moonlight as they ran on modded legs with bulging muscles too big for their frames. Eddie’s ligaments, joints, and muscles throbbed as he tried to keep up. Rosemary kept pace effortlessly.

They slowed down when they came to a train yard full of boxcars covered in spiraled graffiti. They jumped into one just as it started to roll out of the yard. Eddie put on a last burst of strength and jumped on as it was starting to pick up speed.

“Jesus, Rosemary.”

“Sage and Thyme,” she said.

“I mean Ross.”

“Anyone see the bull?” one of the kids asked.

“Naw. Where’s the Bones?”

“Lost them on Seventh.”

“Sure?”

“No. Hope so.” The boys spoke in short bursts of sound, as though the world spun faster for them. “Are you two true-old or faux-old?” one asked. Wind and the sound of turbines sped up beneath them.

“I’m only thirty-six,” Eddie said.

“Whoa. Wow. I’m Soda. This is Makeshift.” They wore ‘jigsaw youth brigade’ patches on their sleeves. Their faces were a patchwork of different squares of skin color that bled into each other. Eddie had read there was a war between the multis and supremacists in the city, and that the supremacists were winning.

“I’m Ross. This is Eddie,” Rosemary said. She tried to pitch her voice lower, and ended up sounding adolescent. “We’re trying to get to the convergence.”

“Everyone’s trying to get there. Only neutral place in the whole city. Only it keeps shifting around.” Makeshift rolled up his sleeve and poked a finger in a knife cut that ran up his arm.

Soda lit a splinster and they passed it around. Rosemary inhaled and, coughing on each word, said, “It’s just us boys tonight. Right?”

They nodded and Eddie felt sad until he placed the wet edge of the splinster into his mouth and inhaled bits of smoke and dust into his body. Then they were all hugging and laughing as the hulls of high rises, fractured roads, and mounds of garbage rolled by beyond the train.

“Where does this go?” Eddie asked.

“Nowhere. Through the city. Performance artists rearranged them to make it a train to nowhere,” Makeshift said.

“Or government workers rerouted it to keep us in,” Soda added.

“Maybe it’s just to distribute inner-city goods,” Eddie said.

“I want it to never stop moving,” Rosemary said. “We can farm right in the boxcar. We can take care of each other and maybe some chickens, too.” 

The boys high-fived her. They sang songs and flicked matches off the train onto weeds and rubble.

“We should get off now,” Soda said. He stood and jumped. Makeshift did a somersault off. Rosemary followed right behind him, not even looking at Eddie.

Eddie hesitated and looked down at the moving ground five feet below. He jumped and fell hard, hitting his shoulder and knee. He lay on the ground and moaned. Rosemary ran to him and helped him up. She hugged him, but then pushed him away and punched him in the arm. “Boys like pain,” she said.


from “God Toys” by Gabriel Malloy

December 9, 2009

DELFINO PRIZE FINALIST!

FULL STORY TO APPEAR IN THE JANUARY 2010 ISSUE!

His apprentice’s birthday is in the early spring, and Daedalus leaves the house on the hill, something he rarely does nowadays, taking the road down to the town on market-day. The boy should have something suitable, a young man’s gift. The engineer wanders through the maze of stalls, half-listening to the cries of the vendors, aware that people are whispering his name, pointing him out to each other, telling the old stories. Not that he cares much, any more. A new tunic, an amulet-necklace, a belt knife, a pot of thyme honey; nothing seems right, though Talos would be grateful for any of them. 

The honey-seller, a rough-haired woman with a mountain accent, has a basket at her feet, covered with a cloth to keep off the sun. There’s something familiar about the small, sleepy sounds coming from it, and when Daedalus asks, the woman draws aside the covering with a laugh, showing a dozen or so quail chicks huddled together, fist-sized bundles of gold blazed with black and brown.  They go silent for a moment, blinking in the light; then their eager peeping begins again, their bright eyes watching him.

Sensing a possible sale, the woman says, “They’re easy to raise, you know, and fatten quickly if you feed them well. They don’t fly much – keep to the ground, mostly – no more trouble than chickens, they aren’t. They make – ” she pauses for a moment, then adds, with a sort of inspiration, “very good pets.”

Talos names the chick Melitto and it follows him around the place like a puppy, dashing here and there after him, giving its anxious two-note cry when it loses sight of him for too long, searching until he whistles back at it. Daedalus finds it rather an annoyance; the thing seems always to be underfoot and determined to be stepped on, and it’s pecked him once or twice when he’s picked it up to put it out in the dooryard with the other fowl. And it always manages to find its way back inside, to Talos.

But in the evenings, when he and the boy are sitting in the small square of garden behind the house, watching the moon come up and the bats weave through the air as they hunt moths, the sight of the boy with the bird on his knee, one hand idly stroking the new, smooth feathers, gives him a terrible kind of pleasure; sharp, deep, almost pain.

They’re so alike, he thinks. Black and brown and honey. Sometimes the boy catches his look and gently puts his pet down in the short grass, rising and going to the arms already reaching out for him. Holding him, Daedalus notices the widening shoulders, the lengthening limbs, the hard angling of cheek and jaw. What will happen when you want to fly? Stay close to the ground.

The apprentice stands beside his master’s bench, holding out a bronze flywheel, bent and scraped. “I don’t know what could have happened – my waterclock – it was on the floor of the workshop this morning. Somehow it must have got knocked off the table. One of the shutters was open – perhaps an animal got in, or the wind…”

The master barely looks up from the sketch he’s making. “An animal. Or the wind.”

Sighing, Talos turns away, the bit of metal glittering between his fingers. Beyond repair – but he’ll try anyway.

There are other ways to lose a boy than to a sun-god; Kronos eats his children. Daedalus waits until Talos has gone; then pours himself another cup of wine.  No, this time it will be different.This time he’ll ask before, not after. And this time, his question won’t be Why? but When? So he’ll be ready.