Ten Candles

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

“For a long time, people wondered just what the first-ever crime committed in the Martian Colonies was going to be. The first murder. The first rape. The first vicious assault. The first deletion of a child’s innocence. For a long time, people wondered, but now they wonder no more.”

“Spartan men became men via a series of brutal rites. You’ve probably seen the film. As have I.
Newborn boys were bathed in wine. The child’s reaction to the alcohol’s caress determined and indeed defined the fledgling warrior heart that beat beneath the pale veined skin that stretched across the cage of his being.

I, too, became awash in the fumes. The stink of his breath as he slouched before the blue scrambling lines on the screen. I drank it. I sieved it between the clench of my own teeth and drew it in and down into me. Then, I would shrink and cower as he threw his broken and filthy words into a home he’d scared into being empty and dark. A slumbering slobbering giant of a man and I watched as he dribbled and snored.”

“At age seven, the Spartan boy child is subjected to intense violence. He is mercilessly pummelled and stripped of his dignity and coaxed to believe himself an unworthy and stupid pretender. Yet still he would pull on his mask of a morning, his tainted fouling flesh and he would wear it and he would smell its rot odour and he would claw and dig in and scratch to the end of the day. Tests. Pointless cruel gauges of intelligence, compliance, and endurance. A father’s engrained preferences sated. Tests to be excelled at and passed and beaten. Just as I have done.”

“The boy would be cast out. Oh, how I wish now that I too had been shoved. But the atmosphere here is thick and riven with grains. The shed detritus of the red rock terrain and so in this my cage I did stay. You may not believe me but I would do it and still I might. I’d step through that air-lock and I’d let my tongue fatten and I’d let this cold world gag the very life out of me. I am not scared. I am not weak. I’d have done it and still now… I might.”

“The would-be warrior babes were cast out with nothing but a blade, tasked to kill, sent on a foul errand to seek out and cut down a life. And then… the boy, he returns a man.”

“Today, I shot Daddy. I put the smooth flat end of the compressed air cannon he used to puncture core samples up to his chest. As he balled his thick tannin-stained fingers and, again, he drove them into the side of her head, I laid it against his chest. I laid it there, I laid it bare and I blasted his warrior heart clean through his body and out through his back and onto the flames of my cake. Today’s my birthday. Look at me. Look. I am become”, said she.

The Other Side of the Storm

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

I’m not sure who told me that the gates were to be stormed. I mean, for years now we’ve all, I guess, contemplated it. It’s only natural to want to know, you know? They’re mysterious and controlled and bound in a swath of secrecy, and such unanswered things they do fester. They mutate into unfounded theory and farcical fiction. A constant nagging taunt.

We see what we want to see and, from the sky, we’re no better. I’m a pilot. I don’t know all the answers. I understand much of the science but, then, there are the little things. The not perfectly conclusive. Anomalies. They’re part of the job, of life.

It’s a big long world and I used to think it nice that it thought to hold on to some of its shadows. But, I mean, just what unknown flavour of science goes into the fact that when I’m throttling up my Pouakai-God Spark-352 and I’m skimming the great vast upper-stratospheric pond at 6,150kmh that it still takes me 6.5 hours to complete the total 40 km circumference of this world? No sense, but it is what it is.

It is, I mean was, amazing to me that there were still those who believe there is an entire other world outside of the fences. Over the looped barbs and past the oxidizing steel mesh. The dreamers clutching their youth, the socially maligned spooky kids and the perpetually worried doom-gloomers who cannot sleep of a night for fear it will be their last.

It is a truth that the narratives they conjured are great. Myths of fantasy, fog and mist but, nonetheless, it is they that inspired me to reach for the beyond. From the sky I found the truth. Yet, still the fringe post their theories and chant that the end it is nigh. From the sky I know this existence is rectangle. Not a perfect rectangle but near as well enough.

The myths were true. Fancy that. We all start out believers. I did. Craving anything that took me away from this sand sodden place. I read tales about fantastical iron creatures that could eat an entire dune in a day. Of vast stretches of water that magically turned to plastic and, then, clinked and fumed in the sun. I loved the horror. The violence. Tales about mythical majestic hunted creatures. Chased until they fall exhausted, tongues extended and eyes wide as they swallowed their very last breaths. Their heads then art for the walls. I know, I know, totally unbelievable but that’s why I loved them. Far-fetched fiction. My only escape.

The storm hit about a week ago now. I’m losing track. I thought it a joke. That we’d all crunch up there through the salt sea chanting with brews held aloft. A bit of silly fun. But, then, they cut the chains and we surged and the gates crashed into the sand…

… I can’t remember if they fell inward or out. I just know that once there was a barrier and then there was not.

I saw my sister and I saw my father. Frances has been missing since she was six and a half. I know with certainty it was her and I know she knows I am me. My father, John, he was a test pilot like just as I. But then John he died the day I was born.

So we spilled as drunken rabble into their world and they into ours and then I saw my family and then I saw me and then time sparked and let out a shrill wail. It died or, perhaps, it just went away and now all that is left is this.

The Mondo Oscenità Deluxe

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

John Swann probes blindly with his heavy boot. The lamp at his shoulder sears a bolt through the gloom but he can still not see the path at his feet. Is it a path, or is it obsession that has sculpted this barely there ledge?

Retreat? The ship. He’ll lean his bell-jar helmet into the shale storm’s whip and make his way back. The lake. Its endless depth consuming the dark ink of the night. Beautiful nothingness. The pull of home.

“Mondo Oscenità’s a lie!”, he screams into the fog of his visor.

But how? She’d stowed these exact coordinates into her very last breath. This fabled place to shed and renew. Dear sweet Sonja, her name now but ink on his chest.

Oxygen thins.

Suddenly a door hewn into the stone.

An elevator descends, as does Swann to his knees. His helmet falls and sobs rip at his empty lungs as he inhales the warm oily gush of the plunge.

Naked. A mist hovers. Euphoric high never once had. Pores eased open, coaxed to empty their weight. Cleansed. Dirt rolls and drips through the grate in the floor.

Dressed. Elegant. Exquisite perfection.

A corridor and a young woman with smiles that beam from her eyes.

“Welcome, Mr. Swann.”

He is drawn to the youthful puff of pearlescent skin that cups beneath her chin. Golden-brown hair plays bunched at her shoulder. Skin… something about her skin.

“We’ve met?”

“We’ve not”, she blushes, filling her creamy cheeks with swirls of purple. An artist’s dipped brush in a jar.

“I know you.”

“You do?”

“The nymph. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s ‘Nymphes et un satyre’, 1873. Oil on canvas.”

“You believe me a nymph?”

He reaches for her face, she retracts and fingers are left playing the air.

“Synthetic? Projected? Only I see this? The other guests see someone else, right?”

“No. Though the idea does have fascinating commercial implications. The distance travelled to get here plays with perception, Mr Swann…”

Sonja. The warm autumn sun pierces the curtains and casts a ghost of its lace across her bare breasts. So vivid, so cruel these thoughts. Cold dead things in the reeds. Blood on her wrists, her waist and across the gentle roll of her hips. Why?

“…your suite awaits.”

They enter his room and Swann immediately smiles. Slowly, he claps.

“The Nightmare, Fuseli, 1781. So exactly perfect. Unmade bed. Table, mirror, phial, book. Red velvet curtains. Is there a hell-eyed hack to peek out from behind their fold?”

“We’ve a strict ‘No horses’ policy.”

“You missed something.”

“Do say?”

“A beautiful woman to flatten these rumpled sheets. And a daemon…”, he says unbuttoning his shirt and flexing the muscles that tighten the names on his flesh.

“Bed.”

She is naked. His hand slips her hip and up to the base of her breast. Pale skin puckers, folding into itself. He recoils at the scent of linseed and wet death. Paint drips from his fingers, as frosting scooped from a cake.

“I’m Sonja, no Frances, or… what’s the name of that girl wrapped in carpet and sunk in the lake?”

He makes for the door.

“No door.”

“I’m on the mountain. Oxygen gone.”

“No… Hunger will eat you.”

“Stop!”

“Nobody will miss you.”

“Shut up!”

“I will, but madness will dine. You’ll beg me to speak. No sleep. Silence will roar and you’ll smash your head to the wall. No death. Fragments of your skull will float and click behind your eyes. You’ll watch me turn to dust. Eternity alone, Mr John Swann. We here at The Mondo Oscenità Deluxe are so very glad you came.”

The Christian Dirce

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

“Listen to me closely, Commander, and form a visual. The beautiful naked Christian is lashed to the side of the mighty bull as it agitates in the stall beneath the arena. Hands scream for air as they are bound with braided leather to its magnificent horns. The Christian’s feet are roped and tied to a sash that loops the bellows that heave within the beast’s belly. A torment that enrages as it digs and rips at its groin.”

“Ouch, I feel that.”

“Focus, please, refrain from speaking, Commander. You can feel the surge of the bull’s fear and it ripples in shuddering waves and transfers from the animal’s hide and into the glisten of the Christian’s oil and herb slicked skin. It is a kind of tangible heat this fear, one that floats and lays thick in the air.”

The technician taps at the screen as an image melts and forms from the pixels.

“The Christian’s hair still carries the rich blooming scent of the spice they washed through it. But it is a scent that fails beneath the heady stink of the bull. Warm fluids purge from both as at once they sense the end.”

The Commander’s eyes flicker and roll back into his head and he bites hard at his lip.

“You hear the rolling boom of the crowd. The bull and the body are as one. Shapes and colours stretch as if melted and a drunken bewilderment slots in for their fear. The Christian’s form is exquisitely beautiful. A virgin chosen by men. Sickly old men employed by the Emperor, so eager were they to search out and make so his perversions. To find one so perfect, so young and so pure.”

The Commander’s breath shudders just behind his bit lips and sweat starts to gather at his flesh.

“Silenzio. You hear nothing but the beating of lungs within chests. And then, suddenly, trumpets open the doors at the top of the ramp and the bull thumps up and into the stinging glare of the day.”

The technician leans in and places a cold probe on the Commander’s shoulder.

“OK, Sir. Formulate this narrative forward to your conclusion and give me a final visual if you would”, the technician makes a clicking sound as he pulls and finalises an image from the Commander’s neural feed.

“Interesting.”

“What is?”

“Since introducing this particular narrative, a high percentage render the exact same image that you just did. A massive bull lays dead. Blood streaming from its mouth. A spear protrudes from his side. Skewering his heart. A beautiful woman lays naked. She, too, is dead and still bound to the horns of the bull. In a repose that could just as easily be framed as wistful sleep. No signs of violence, save for the bindings at her hands and feet. Her long red hair cascades and lays gently as it fuses with the animal’s blood and stains into the dust. Her breasts are exposed and a white pall drapes across her hips. Almost as if she is a lover about to stir. And the Emperor and his warrants, they look on. Detached. This is interesting.”

“You said that. We’re all the same? A collective. Bees in a hive?”

“No, it’s just I never mentioned that the Christian was a woman. Death and blood and sex. It is so interesting for us to examine these instinctive equations of your… how do you refer to them? Base instincts.”

“Fucking sentient AI. Who are you to judge me?”, snaps the Commander.

“We do not judge. It is you that painted the picture.”

The Hood Rat

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The cliff face rises shear above the old skeleton. A tidal wave hewn in ancient granite, it crests high above the smoke that bleeds a bitter mist from the ruined city. A thin wisp that sweeps out upon the great lake that fans out as splotchy just cleaned glass at its edge.

For as long as anyone could remember, the armies of the Pabulum had amassed on the eve of this most sacred of months. Listen as now they crank their contraptions and ready their fire as hearty songs of conquest spill over the lip. Lyrical hate that flutters down to we, the People of the Stipe, and we brace en-mass at its foot.

This festival of death and cruelty, such a needless and hellish taunt. An intractable spectacle drawn in blood and fortified with ancient vintages of faith. An unwavering addiction to the notion that this city, this once beautiful thriving haven, had been promised in verse to those at the top and not to we, the heathen pretenders who toil as pigs down below.

In the old city, the resistance yawns as we, now too, lock our weapons in for the kill. The sniper sits in the warehouse, inclined with her back nestled into the over-stuffed bale of wool at her back. She lines her eye along the barrel of her jezail and up through the skylight and up still further until it falls on a fraction of movement up in the holes in the rock.

Children with dirty faces huddle in the cobbled plaza and they calculate the currents in the wind. Razor bullets will soon pepper the ground at their feet and they’ll let loose the balloon with the sting in its tail, and they’ll pray that it’ll kill at least one.

The Pabulum know this is a farce. They know that up in their lofty nests there is no chance for we creatures that pretend ourselves human. It is ritual contempt, prodding us down in this cage. The killing, the maiming so perfectly honed so that next year there will still be sport to be had.

The children will be shattered. Those not ripped apart or scorched from the barrage tremor will wail both in and out of their dreams. But they need not worry, I’ll whisper. Tiny ears, they must be patient and wait. Wait for the Hood Rat to come.

That whiskered thing that has lived for eternity down and beneath us in filth. This saviour, he will climb up and into our streets and, with his hood pulled tight to his head, he will stride to the foot of the folly.

He will lay waste to our enemies.

He will save us.

He will conduct the air and the bullets will drop dead to the ground.

He will scale the great cliff and he will crawl into their minds, and he will eat from the inside to the out.

Wait. Huddle down, for he will come. Listen beneath the drone of the guns and beneath your own screams and the whistle of the bombs as they fall.

“Do you hear the scratch of his clawed feet on the cobbles? It is the Hood Rat. He has risen and no more will we breathe in the smoke of this hate”, I’ll say.

He who would tell lies to children.