Fiction
Incendiary
Grimley Bogue
Butter Pat Babies
Steve Rasnic Tem
Preamble
KJ Hannah Greenberg
Stockholm Syndrome
Lucy Mihajlich
Painting
Sayuri Yamada
Konfessin Mouser K.
AE Reiff

Excerpts
Hellbender
Jason Jack Miller
The Blood Poetry
Leland Pitts-Gonzalez
My Hands Were Clean
Tom Bradley
The Tumors
Matthew Revert

Preamble
KJ Hannah Greenberg


“There are a few things you need to know before we start. Charles will explain.”

A small, albino hedgehog scurried to the front of the room. The human attendees pressed their translator pads.

“First, lest you forget, this instruction is intended for you, for your students, and for your immediate families. We choose to publicize our findings out of love. Yet, we have discovered that many recipients of our wisdom incorrectly attribute meaning to our intentionality and only after being cognitively refitted can aptly discuss why and whether their former lifestyles are equivalently suitable.”

The diminutive mammal coughed dryly, and then gestured with a forepaw toward a Komodo dragon.

“I am Hortence. We recommend, secondly, that you avoid placing rocks in your socks to stimulate yourselves. The sensations we remove, during conditioning sessions, make room for cerebral elevation. Many of our former comrades revitalized their careers in journalism or in academia after undergoing the procedure. As long as you neither get eaten nor otherwise act in a contrary fashion, our system will bring you success.

“Keep in mind, nonetheless, that avian families ordinarily pass land from one generation to another, their homes being their chief lifetime investments as well as their greatest source of pride. Hence, large sums, commonly triple market value, are usually necessary for obtaining their properties. Funds, too, are needed for paying their interstellar relocation costs and their living stipends. Those brave birds risked their lives as well as caused the rest of us to forego our favorite snacks when they joined our confederacy.”

The reptile groomed a paw with a long, bluish tongue. As he buffed his last claw, a grasshopper leapt to the dais.

“During earlier times, unaccountable motions caused two-footed passengers on one side of this moon to sail directly over the cables to the opposite side. Thus, our first group of graduates flew up and down the prime dome before being sorted out by instructors suited up with jet packs. We gained insight into the limits of your species’ contributions. Subsequently, we strapped those early, would-be entrepreneurs to the rocket-propelled coaster train, which you can see through the observation aperture, and looped them through magnetically operated clothoids at a force of 2 G. Survivors were given severance pay and sent home.”

The insect whistled. A tank, full of piranha, was wheeled in by a team of gophers. Again, the audience adjusted their translator modules.

“We considered ourselves lucky to be rid of that batch. Before the next recruits came in, we assigned the overseeing octopi an entire seventeen hours of sleep and counted, among the collective’s many small miracles, that no fur, fin, or feather had been harmed. Some of the stouter among us divided the cadets’ leftovers. We wondered why, if they had clothing, food, and shelter, they had asked for increased meal allowances and doubled textile allotments. In the end, we attained our understanding through the actions of our second collection of initiates. After hearing this presentation, that second set gruffly insisted on exiting our facility.

“It was difficult to love that second crew. We had become worn from our first students and still desperately needed to apply our energies to expressing certain of our ideas. Nonetheless, select lions and harriers escorted those would-be aides beyond this chamber. Those acolytes could have represented us at the trials had they kept their powers better contained.”

Bubbles filled the tank. The translators showed the icon for sighing. A two-headed chimera loped to the speaking platform.

“I prayed that the second gathering of fuzzless monkeys would heal and that maybe, one day, I could, again, share their intimacies. Few things, this galaxy over, taste as good as does the blood of the brave. Yet, when the big cats and the raptors had finished their drills, all that was left was our former guests’ scent. Fortunately, necessities, such as air, remained free as well as abundant.

“Before we refurbished for the third group, I pursued a little research. My results, which saw distribution throughout this solar system, would have been a welcome addition to my permanent records. However, The Crisis occurred before our clerks could tab that data.”

Unbidden, an elephant of a rather purple hue marched to the front of the hall. It wagged its trunk at the chimera. The two-headed beast answered with an elaborate movement of its necks.

“We were struck by a bureaucratic apocalypse. Never again will we be able to accept applications for your positions. In brief, our computing machines refused to process any more data. Our elders had mastered thought travel, could heal wounds at a distance of three clicks, and knew how to synthesize food, but they had neglected, before they reached farther into the X1 star cluster, to teach us computer technology.

“As a result, we had to return to primitive operations.”

A solid-looking wall suddenly transformed into a pleated surface. That plane, like a giant curtain, was slowly drawn to one side. Behind the material was a giant hamster wheel.

“Although most bipeds prove unsatisfactorily small, we use both whole and fractured individuals to supply us with energy. The former run that circuit. The latter donate their life force so that we can build new rotating devices. Once more, we are able to tabulate just how much kibble, how many coconut husks, and the amount of whattle leaves our community needs.”


KJ Hannah Greenberg is double trouble. She's been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, helps out as an Associate Editor at Bound Off and Bewildering Stories, and had two new books launched, A Bank Robber's Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend and Don't Pet the Sweaty Things. What's more, she makes her hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs line up in pairs.