Excerpt for Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

TRIPPING

THE TALE

FANTASTIC





***

ALSO BY THE EDITOR



Bug: Deaf Identity and Internal Revolution


All Your Parts Intact: Poems





***

TRIPPING

THE TALE

FANTASTIC

weird fiction by deaf and

hard of hearing writers





CHRISTOPHER JON HEUER

EDITOR





Handtype Press

Minneapolis, MN





***

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



Michael R. Collings’s “In the Haunted Darkness” first appeared in World Horror Convention 2012—Souvenir Book (March 2012).

Willy Conley’s “The Ear” first appeared in Kristen Harmon and Jennifer Nelson’s anthology Deaf American Prose — 1980-2010 (Gallaudet University Press, 2012).

David Langford’s “Hearing Aid” first appeared in SF in Practical Computing (London, October 1982 in a badly mutilated form; reprinted in full in Phoenix magazine, Wantage, August 1983).

Kristen Ringman’s story “The Meaning, Not the Words” comes from her book I Stole You: Stories from the Fae (Handtype Press, 2017).





DISCLAIMER



Each story contained within is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.





COPYRIGHT



Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers.

Copyright © 2017 by Christopher Jon Heuer.



Cover Artwork and Design: Mona Z. Kraculdy

Editor Photograph: Michelle McAuliffe





SMASHWORDS LICENSE STATEMENT



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission. Please address inquiries to the publisher:



Handtype Press

PO Box 3941

Minneapolis, MN 55403-0941

E-mail: handtype@gmail.com

Online: handtype.com



Printed in the United States of America.



A Handtype Press First Edition





***

CONTENTS





INTRODUCTION

Christopher Jon Heuer


HEARING AID

David Langford


THE MEANING, NOT THE WORDS

Kristen Ringman


THE EAR

Willy Conley


TAKING CARE OF THE CHILDREN

Lilah Katcher


THE TALE OF TWO PRODIGIES

Jacob Waring


STARTING FROM SCRATCH

Kris Ashton


RUI’S STORY

Bobby Cox & Joanne Yee


FAMILY DOG

Raymond Luczak


DREADED SILENCE

A. M. Matte


THE VIBRATING MOUTH

John Lee Clark


GHOSTLY DEMANDS

Marsha Graham


THE JOB

Maverick Smith


THE CLIMAX

Tonya Marie Stremlau


THURISAZ

Brighid Meredith


IN THE HAUNTED DARK

Michael R. Collings


SPIRIT BOX

Kristen Harmon


UNDERSTANDING

Kelsey M. Young


ONLINE DATING

Daniel Crosby


TOMMY GOES TO COLLEGE

Christopher Jon Heuer


BIOS





***

This anthology is dedicated to my son

Jack Christopher Heuer


May giant Martian tripods invade Earth forever

so we can blow them up

with our grenades and rocket launchers

***

INTRODUCTION

Christopher Jon Heuer



If you watch the original 1953 version of War of the Worlds, you’ll find a statement on deafness. Well, not deafness, exactly—there are no deaf characters in the film whatsoever—but on American Sign Language (ASL). Well, actually, no. “American” isn’t mentioned, I don’t think. But sign language. That shows up. This is worth a brief recap; bear with me.

A house-sized meteorite crashes into Earth. It’s pulsating and glowing. The people from a nearby town are understandably freaked out. The Pacific Technical Institute sends its best man, the darkly handsome and dashing Dr. Clayton Forester, to investigate. He of course figures out the best way to do this is to leave three hapless locals behind to keep watch on it (a good move, since it’s radioactive as well as very hot). Which frees him up to pursue the movie’s starlet at the town’s square dance.

The three guys left on watch see the mechanical alien tripod “eye” rise up out of the crater and instantly assume they’re dealing with Men from Mars. How to communicate? One guy gets the bright idea that they’ll use sign language, because hey, it’s universal!

Of course they were incinerated.

This happened within seconds of their timid, white flag-waving approach. They were the first human beings, in fact, to fall before the Martian Heat Rays. And while this was all completely awesome—the special effects killed for a movie released in 1953—it was also a little bit insulting. Because of course sign language isn’t universal. It can vary from state to state, and does vary from country to country. If we’re talking planet to planet? Well, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume: duh. And if the director, or at the very least the script writer had shared my thinking on this matter, someone might of come up with a less stupid game plan for setting off an interplanetary war.

Now please don’t think my argument here is that scene is insulting only because of the “universal” remark. Initially that’s why, but there’s more to it. You see, absolutely nobody knows or cares that an ignorant and incorrect assumption was made about the signed languages that millions of deaf and hard of hearing people rely on worldwide.

And that, Dear Reader, is the proverbial photon torpedo that blows up my Death Star.

Why doesn’t anyone know or care? Is it because we’re a minority? So? Black people are a minority. Is “blackface” still a thing in Hollywood? Maybe it’s true the movie industry is still shoving as many white actors as it can possibly find into roles that should be going to people of color (the Ancient One in Dr. Strange, etc.), but at least nobody is rubbing black shoe polish (or red or yellow) all over some white guy anymore before plunking him in front of a camera. Then again you never know. Donald Trump is our President now, and Steve Bannon is running the world. We might be back there in a few years.

That is to say, unless we do something about it. We as deaf and hard of hearing people. If we don’t write our own stuff, if we don’t represent ourselves accurately, if we don’t express our own dreams, if we don’t step up to take our rightful place in genres outside of “disability fiction,” then what happened in 1953 is going to keep happening in 2017 and beyond. Absolutely nobody is going to care. And because nobody cares, nobody will get it right. Maybe that isn’t entirely true—there’s a deaf character in S. M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire series. I’m sure there’s a smattering of deaf characters elsewhere in science fiction and horror and fantasy.

But what are the odds these characters were created by hearing authors? I’d say pretty high, because how many deaf authors are out there? And so where is that going to lead? Sooner or later, what’s going to happen? We’re going to be lip reading what passes for alien lips—a different set at each end of twenty alien tentacles, no less—from a thousand yards away through binoculars or something. And that’s not even going to be the “science fiction” part of the story. That’s going to be what’s supposed to pass for the “real” part. Or else we’ll suddenly all be too simple-minded to drive a car, or we’re all going to be Rob Lowe in Stephen King’s The Stand (irony: Rob Lowe is actually deaf in one ear), a character supposedly completely deaf, possibly born deaf—I’m not sure—who runs around putting his hands over his ears and then his mouth every time he meets someone new, to indicate he’s deaf and can’t talk. Even though once he gets sucked into Mother Abigail’s dreams he ends up speaking perfectly. I’m not saying this is a bad movie or a bad book. I’m saying that if you’ve been deaf all your life, you eventually learn to make yourself look just a little bit cooler than that.

So let’s get some breadth going here. Just a tad more depth. Let’s show deaf and hard of hearing people as we really are. OR. Let’s have deaf and hard of hearing writers write science fiction or horror or fantasy stories that have nothing whatsoever to do with deafness (or being hard of hearing). Because do we spend 100% of our waking lives writhing in the existential agony of our identities? At least a few of us think about global warming. And porn. Whether or not we can afford that post-8 p.m. cupcake.

Thus this book. Roughly, here were my instructions in the call for submissions: “Go.” Stay in the above-listed genres. But do whatever you want. Deaf characters, no deaf characters. Sign language, no sign language. Deafness as topic, Deafness as culture, deafness as disability, deafness not there at all. Whatever. Shake things up. Think Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions. Give people something to chew on. Have some fun. Push the boundaries. Bring the field along.

The result is the stories you are now about to read. I’ll get out of your way in a second. I want to thank the authors first, and our publisher. I hope they’re all out there taking a bow, knowing full well how totally ass-kicking this all is, how huge it is. They’re the pioneers that got us to other worlds, guided us through the ether of ghostly realms, took us through time. Without them, where would we be? Let me tell you.

We’d be here and now. With absolutely nobody knowing or caring. Not a world I want to be stuck in.

If you disagree, by all means stay.





***

HEARING AID

David Langford





It was one of those parties where the decor was very expensive and very sparse, and the drinks likewise. Anderson studied his thimbleful of terrifyingly high-class sherry, and had a wistful vision of a large tumbler of Algerian plonk—a large tumbler of practically anything, for that matter. Of course one should not be dwelling on the alcohol famine, one should be making witty conversation: only Anderson found himself cut off from conversation by the probably musical noises coming from speakers in each corner of the room. He’d heard of the “cocktail party effect” whereby you could unerringly pick a single voice from amid twenty-seven others (he’d counted, three times), but for him it never seemed to work. Perhaps it was something you hired people to teach you when you had the necessary style, flair or connections to be invited to parties like this more often than a token once a year.

The host was doing things at an intricate console which seemed wasted on a mere music system. It was so obviously capable of running vast automated factories, with possibly a sideline in tax avoidance. A different and louder sound of probable music drifted over the chattering crowd. Anderson made a face, knocked back his homeopathic dose of sherry, and realized this had been a tactical error since there would be nowhere to put down the glass until another tray of drinks came by—if one ever did. Worse, Nigel had abandoned the console and was moving toward him with the manner of a snake converging on a rabbit.

“Hel-lo, Colin ... what do you think of the music?”

Anderson didn’t think anything at all of the music. Music was simply music, a kind of sonic fog which made conversation difficult or even dangerous. Audibility now down to eighteen inches ... speak only along the central lane of the motorway and make lots of hand signals. Music, bloody music.

“Technically interesting,” he said cautiously.

Nigel Winter moved a little closer and twinkled at Anderson with the confidence of one whose shirt would never become limp and vaguely humid like that of his audience. “So tuneful, isn’t it,” he said with a smile.

“Oh yes. It makes me want to take all my clothes off and do the rumba,” said Anderson without conviction.

“Ah, but seriously, don’t you think there’s a Mozartian flavor there?”

“Pretty damn Mozartian, yes ...” He knew it was a mistake before he’d finished saying it.

“Caught you there! You weren’t listening—hear it now? It’s what they call stochastic music, random notes ... very experimental. The composer simply conceptualizes his starting figures for the random-number generators. Intellectually it’s all tremendously absorbing; but I’m afraid I was pulling your leg a teensy bit about Mozart. You just weren’t trying to listen, were you?”

Anderson thought fleetingly of his university days at Oxford, when people like Nigel could with a certain legitimacy be divested of their trousers and placed in some convenient river. “Ha ha,” he said. “Music’s not really my thing,” he said. “Why, before I met you I used to think pianissimo was a rude word in Italian.”

Nigel pulled the unfair trick of becoming suddenly and offensively serious. “I do think that’s a terrible thing to say,” he said quietly.

A fume from the sherry—there hadn’t been enough to make it fumes in the plural—coiled about Anderson’s brain and lovingly urged him to say Go to hell, you loathsome little person. “You must remember I’m tone-deaf,” he said, falling back on his final line of defense. “Unless the pitch is different enough, I mean really different, I can’t tell one note from another.”

(He could remember a time when this fact had seemed a rock-solid defense. “Come sir, why do you not appreciate da Vinci’s great masterpiece?” “Well, actually, I’m blind.” “Oh my God, I didn’t know, I’m so sorry, please do forgive me—” Somehow the revelation of tone-deafness never produced quite this reaction. Instead—)

“Oh, that’s just an excuse,” said Nigel. “I’m sure you really aren’t ... I’ve read how true tone-deafness is extremely rare, and most people who say they’ve got it are simply musically illiterate. You’re not trying, that’s all. You really should make an effort.”

“How much effort do I have to put in before I appreciate a team of monkeys playing pianos, or whatever you said this godawful noise is?”

Nigel sniffed. “Really, Colin, one has to master traditional music before one can expect to follow conceptual works which reject its conventions. Now do promise me you’ll try.”

Rather to his horror, Anderson heard himself mumble something that sounded hideously like acquiescence. Then Nigel was gone, off to adjust the noise machine further, and Anderson was left peering suspiciously at his tiny, empty glass. As a small measure of revenge, and because there was still nowhere to deposit it, he put the glass in his pocket before leaving.



“What brought you to us?” asked the white-coated man, suddenly and treacherously forcing quantities of ice-cold goo into Anderson’s left ear.

“I saw the small ad in The Times,” he said. “Ouch.”

“There, it doesn’t hurt a bit, does it?” said the man from Computer Audio Services, kneading the stuff with his fingertips until Anderson felt his eardrum was pressing alarmingly against his brain. “Ouch,” he agreed.

“Just a moment while it hardens,” the man said chattily. “I’m so glad when people aren’t ashamed of coming to CAS. After all, the world’s so complicated today that busy men like yourself just can’t take time out to learn little things like musical appreciation ... That’s what I always say,” he added with the epigrammatic air of a man who always said it.

“I’m tone-deaf,” Anderson said.

“Oh quite. There’s no need for excuses with us, Mr Anderson. We understand.”

“But I am tone-deaf.”

“Of course, of course ... Now this isn’t going to hurt a bit.” For the next several seconds Anderson enjoyed the sensation of having his ear cleared of blockages with a rubber suction-plunger. Blockages such as eardrums, he thought. At last the mold was out, and the CAS technician summoned a flunky to carry it away.

“There. It’ll be cured, machined, drilled, tapped and ready in fifteen minutes. Now I think you’d decided to try our Analyzer aid ... our cheapest model,” he said reproachfully.

“The cheapest model,” Anderson said with rather more enthusiasm.

“But I expect that in no time at all you’ll want to trade it in for our Scholar, with fifty times the memory storage at less than twice the price. You could be ready to cope with fifty composers and not just one—”

“The Analyzer,” Anderson said inexorably.

“Well, of course it’s your decision. Now which composer dataset would you prefer? With the Analyzer, of course, you can only have one.”

Anderson contemplated the bandaged finger which he’d cut on some broken glass in his pocket. He massaged it gently and said, “Mozart.”

“Oh, a very good choice, sir. What was the name again?”

Anderson told him again, and wonders of technology were duly set into motion. The result was a transparent ear-mold with the thumbnail-sized bulge of the Analyzer protruding; there was also a discreet invoice which made his credit card seem ready to wilt Dali-fashion as he passed it over.

“The battery is extra, sir. Would you be wanting a battery?”

“On the whole, yes.”

“Then if you’ll sign here ... Thank you so much. I’m sure you’ll find your computer aid a real social help, and something which a busy person like you needn’t be in the slightest ashamed of using.”

“A tone-deaf person like me.”

“Of course.”



After playing for an afternoon with his new toy Anderson felt himself rather well up on music and Mozart, rather as his first day with a pocket calculator had given him the air of an expert on the theory of numbers. In the evening he paid a call.

“Hello—just thought I’d drop in to say thanks for the party.”

“Why, how charmingly old-fashioned of you, Colin. Do come in and have a quick one. I really don’t know why I throw these parties; one loses so much glassware. I’ll only be a second, now.” And Nigel vanished, presumably to manipulate the combination lock on his secret drinks cupboard.

The room’s trendy bareness seemed to shout at Anderson now that it was emphasized by the lack of crowd. He wandered to the intricate hi-fi console and allowed himself to be discovered peering at it.

“Oh! Did you want to hear some music?”

“I was just thinking I’d probably ... appreciate it more without all those people shouting their heads off.”

“Well, well.” Nigel looked at him with eyes slightly narrowed, and then turned to the smart brushed-aluminum console. Anderson noted that the drinks provided for single callers weren’t any bigger than those at vast parties—but was he imagining it, or did this sherry taste slightly more, as it were, British than last Saturday’s offering? He longed to sniff Nigel’s glass and compare; but already the sound of what might very well have been music was spilling from each corner of the room.

“Now what d’you think of this delightful tune,” said Nigel with a false smile.

Anderson cupped his ear at the nearest speaker with the gesture he’d been practising, and flipped a fingernail at the Analyzer nestling there. The noise was like a small gunshot; he suppressed the resulting wince before it reached the outside world. “Interesting,” he said with what he hoped was an air of deep concentration. Nigel watched him, faintly smiling. Then after a moment, a mechanical version of the still small voice of conscience whispered in Anderson’s ear, saying: “Random notes, 87% probability ... random notes, 92% probability ... random notes, 95% probability ...”

“Oh, this is more of your stochastic music,” Anderson murmured. “Now I can listen to it properly I can see it’s just random notes. I mean, I can hear it’s random.”

Nigel’s smile became at once more visible and less convincing. “Of course that was rather obvious after our little chat on Saturday,” he said and fiddled again with the controls. “Let’s have something of the real thing.” The speaker noises changed to something quite definitely though indefinably different, and Nigel turned again toward his guest like a restaurant waiter offering a selection of red herrings. “What d’you think of that?”

Anderson consulted the Analyzer, and after a short pause came back with, “Come on, Nigel, pull the other one. It’s random again, isn’t it? Only this time it’s the change in pitch between successive notes that gets randomized over a certain interval, so it sounds that little bit more musical than just random notes.”

“Can’t fool you,” said Nigel, hardly smiling at all. “Anything you’d like to hear?”

“I’ve been listening to a few things by the chap you recommended—Mozart. Not bad.”

“My God, I recommended him? I must have been really pissed. Still, there should be something of his in the databank—” He turned back toward the console keyboard.

A minute or two later Anderson was able to say with quiet confidence, “Ah yes, that’s the K.169 string quartet, isn’t it?” Following an irresistible urge, he breathed gently over his fingernails and polished them on the lapel of his jacket. Half-heatedly his host caused the equipment to play further noises which the Analyzer rapidly identified as the Serenade in D Major, adding the useful information that it had been composed in Salzburg. Nigel seemed a little shaken by this onslaught, and was breathing more heavily as he returned to the console.

Not recognized,” said the small voice. “Transition probability analysis suggests Mozart work, 82% probability ...”

“That’s Mozart all right,” said Anderson, thinking fast. “But hardly one of his best pieces ... in fact I must admit I don’t recognize it at all.”

“Er, yes, just an obscure oboe quartet I thought might amuse you. H’mm.” A thought appeared to have struck Nigel, and he punched another sequence on the keyboard—savagely, as though squashing small insects.

Not recognized. Transition probability analysis suggests not Mozart work, 79% probability ...”

“You’ve got the wrong composer, old chap.”

“It’s so easy to make mistakes with equipment as sophisticated as this,” Nigel said viciously. “I’ll have to throw you out soon—I’m meeting someone tonight—but first, what d’you think of this one?”

The lights on the hi-fi console flickered alarmingly for nearly a minute; Anderson fantasized that Nigel’s expensive gadgetry, like Nigel, was baffled and irritated. Then more musical noises seeped through the room. Anderson cupped his ear attentively, and clicked his fingernail again at what was hidden inside. There was a pause.

Not recognized. Transition probability analysis suggests Mozart work, 94% probability.”

The transition probability jargon was something to do with sequences of notes favored by given composers. In the long run they left their fingerprints all over their work so obviously that even a machine could catch them red-handed.

“Ah, you can’t mistake Mozart,” Anderson sighed, wondering if he was overdoing it a trifle. “Even in a minor work like this—no, I don’t actually recognize it—the towering genius of the man comes across so clearly.” He definitely was overdoing it, he decided.

Nigel seemed to have brightened surprisingly. “This really is a very sophisticated system, you know. I’m rather proud of it. One thing you can do with it, if you know how, is to have the processor run through a selection of someone’s works and cobble up a sort of cheap and nasty imitation—something to do with transition probabilities, it says in the manual. Of course you couldn’t expect it to fool anyone who knew anything about music, not for an instant ... But I’ll have to say goodbye now. Do come round again whenever you like. It’s nice to see you making an effort, musically, but you really will have to try much harder yet. Old chap.”

Anderson looked down into his empty glass and thought of thrusting it into his pocket quickly, or perhaps up Nigel’s nostril, slowly.

“It’s very kind of you,” he said with a titanic effort.



The CAS salesman studied him wisely. “Now if you cared to exchange it for the Scholar model we could in fact allow quite a generous trade-in price, Mr Anderson.”

“And then I suppose I’d have a wonderful machine that could fail to spot imitations of fifty composers rather than just one?”

“Our clients usually find the Scholar very satisfactory,” the other said severely.

“So will I—if it can tell inspired music from cobbled-together computer rubbish, the way this one doesn’t.”

The salesman sighed. “To handle that would need a full-scale AI, an Artificial Intelligence. CAS isn’t in that business  ... yet. Now if you come back next year, when we hope to have chased out the last bugs, then perhaps we can sell you our Mark III model—the AudioBrain.”

Anderson reflected for a moment, and then leaned forward with what he considered to be an expression of great shrewdness. He’d practiced it in the mirror for use on Nigel. “If you’re likely to market it next year, there must be prototypes around the place right now. In fact you must be market-researching the thing already. It wouldn’t hurt to let me try one out a little for you.”

Licking his lips, the CAS man murmured that it would be, well, rather irregular, but ... Anderson reached for his wallet.



“How am I doing, Nigel?” he asked confidently, back in the bare, expensively-carpeted room.

“Not bad,” Nigel muttered. “You must be trying a bit harder than you were—I told you understanding music was mainly a matter of trying. How does this sound to you?”

One of Anderson’s ears took in the new meaningless noises that were tinkling from all four corners of the pastel room. In his other ear, the AudioBrain prototype whispered to him: “Sounds like Bach, I should say ... but that’s just the TP analysis. As a whole it’s hardly an inspired piece, and the long-term melodic structure is absolutely shot to hell. No, it has to be another faked-up computer piece ...”

”Synthetic Bach,” Anderson said casually. “Come on, Nigel, no need to keep on pulling my leg like that.”

Nigel looked thoroughly annoyed. Possibly to conceal this and reduce Anderson’s satisfaction temporarily, he took the tiny glasses away for replenishment from the hundred-gallon plastic tank of cheapest British sherry which Anderson was now convinced existed somewhere toward the rear of the flat.

Despite having defeated Nigel in umpteen straight sets of hard-fought musical appreciation, Anderson still didn’t feel wildly happy. It might have been that he was tiring of the game; it might have been the AI software built into this new hearing aid, which was now saying: “You should be able to tell this for yourself, dumbo. Only a real musical illiterate could miss spotting that one ... you’re not trying, that’s all. You’re hopeless. You really should make an effort.”

“But I’m tone-deaf,” Anderson said aloud.

“That’s what they all say,” the AudioBrain retorted. “Come off it!”

Thus it was that as Nigel returned, Anderson was addressing the empty air and saying, “Go to hell, you loathsome little person.”



It was another of those parties whose expensive minimalism extended to the furniture, the pictures on the walls, and (inevitably) the drinks.

“Hello, Nigel, long time no see,” said Anderson.

“Um. How’s the culture, then? Still working to better yourself on the musical front?”

“Pardon?”

“I said, are you still slogging away at the musical appreciation?”

“Pardon?—Oh, that. No, I find I can’t handle music any more. I’m going deaf—and not just tone-deaf.” He pushed back his hair and tapped the thing plugged into his ear.

“Oh, my God, I didn’t know, I’m so sorry ...”

Anderson decided once again that he liked the AudioBrain a good deal more with its battery removed.





***

THE MEANING, NOT THE WORDS

Kristen Ringman



I stole you from your tent.



I’m not usually so impulsive, but your eyes—one hazel and one green—were so beautiful I couldn’t help myself. You never actually saw me, not then. Not while you zipped your tent shut or while you lay down on the top of your sleeping bag because that night was humid. Not until my hands were in yours, my body against your body, pulling you outside with strength I only have in those moments. Strength for taking humans. I am otherwise made of slim bones, pale white skin, and red fur. A fox who is sometimes a girl.



You weren’t like any other human I had taken before.

You didn’t speak with your mouth; instead you used your hands. Your family, who seemed to have coerced you into their camping trip high up in the White Mountains, didn’t sign with you. But I knew of your hand language because of the way you used it with your friends in video chats on your phone when you were able to find a signal. You used every muscle in your face to add layer upon layer of inflection to the movements of your hands. The conversations kept cutting out, so you sometimes punched the side of a tree in frustration. I apologized for you, but I didn’t have to—even the trees understood: blood relatives surrounded you, but you were alone.



We steal people like you.

Humans who don’t just feel alone—you’re isolated. In a group of people, you go unseen like a fae creature, like a spirit. It’s easier this way. Not only because your friends and family don’t notice your absence at first. You’re our kindred and you don’t even know it. You ache for the magic only we can give you. The songs of trees and rivers. The lives of animals up close, sometimes right against your skin. Stars reflected in pools like so many shiny fish. A sky filled with bats and the unnoticed wings of the fae, blending in with the background, as we always do.



I stole you because I fell in love with your eyes and the voice you kept in your hands like the glow of a firefly. Words I could understand better than spoken English. Not words—meanings. The way your dark hair always got in your face. The way you moved through the trees without caring what you were stepping on or how loud your steps were. I wore my fox skin during the day and I watched you, listening to the snapping of the branches under your feet as you walked away from your campsite and back, away and back. I felt the tension between you and your kin like a tightrope you walked with your arms out like wings. I don’t know how you crossed that line, back and forth, so fluidly, without stumbling. I wasn’t sure I could have done it, not like you.

I had to wait until nightfall before I could take you without anyone else seeing. Lucky for me, your tent faced the dark grove of hemlocks, away from the campfire and the circle of voices you didn’t seem to care that you couldn’t hear. I shifted under the hemlocks: my red fur became a long mane of tangled russet, my small breasts stayed hard against my skin, my nipples perked up from the chill in the late summer air, my human ears pointed up ever so slightly. The only part of me that stayed exactly the same was the amber in my eyes that matched the color of my fur and hair.

I knew my own beauty. I couldn’t take humans so easily if I didn’t have it.



You didn’t hear me unzip the opening in your tent, nor did you hear me slip inside and take you in my arms. Once we touched, I knew it would be easy. Your skin sang against my skin as if it finally found something it had been looking for desperately.



It’s not always that simple, the stealing of humans.

Sometimes they fight the connection. They reach for their gadgets: the material possessions their inner psyche understands it is losing. Instead of reaching for their lives themselves, they covet the things inside them. It becomes hard for them but effortless for me. I don’t care about how pretty they are then—their soul is full of greed and plastic. It’s not an asset to our realm. It’s nothing that would make a good fae. Those are the humans that I take and I find a way of dissolving them. Of turning them into so many grains of sand at the bottom of a pond. Or I let them stay human. I let them go back to those objects they worship, the clothes they drape over themselves like capes, the phones they clutch in their small hands, the paint they smear on their faces. Humans like that—they think they’re witches, but they’re slaves.

Other times there are people like you: the human I stole from a tent in northern New Hampshire on the eve of the August full moon. You were perfect.



As soon as I released your body by the shore of the pond in the moonlight, you pulled off your clothes and dove into the shining waters. You thought I was a girl.

“Who are you?” you signed.

I understood you, but I couldn’t sign back. I could only mime things that made you laugh at me, or stare in wonder at my eerie accurateness, or nod with comprehension of the meaning behind the words. You understood me, too. I loved you more for that.

We spent the night dipping in and out of the gray waters, walking the Moon’s path along the shore of the pond, watching the deep green pine trees sweeping themselves back and forth over the stars. I spoke with you of fae things I had never told a human before, all with my hands making shapes, my face learning to move in the subtlest ways. Your hands were on fire with language and stories, telling me of school and home, your friends, your parents, your dog. I loved that your dog was closer to you than your family—that he was your family. But then he was gone, and you would always be broken inside. I heard things from your hands that made my fae heart ache and my skin yearn to shift back into the fox skin—into the mind that wouldn’t quake at such emotions, the mind that would sort them out and follow the scent of the nearest food, slinking through the trees like a red shadow.

Your life made me cry. You kissed me.

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make you like me. I loved you for who you were already. A human.

But a fox girl and a human?

It would never work.



I could have kept you, but I didn’t. I put you back with a quiver in your heart and a dream in your head of a naked girl in a pond. The next day you and your family packed up and left.



I always wonder if I chose wisely. If sending you back to your world was the best possible thing for both of us. I wonder, but I don’t let it change me. I remain a fox by sunlight and a girl by moonlight. A wanderer. And now—a lover of languages who uses hands instead of mouths. Taken: hundreds of humans. Loved: almost half of them. Deeply loved: five.

Sometimes I wonder what that means about humans. Sometimes I wonder what that means about me. It’s the meaning that’s important, not the words used to describe it.

We’ve got to let the things we love go. I at least know that.

But every eve of the August full moon, I return to that pond and I wait for you.





***

THE EAR

Willy Conley





Jessie Sweetwind was out on a five-mile run during a cold twilight evening thinking about her deaf students when she almost stepped on an ear. What caught her eye—and helped make that split-second decision to avoid stepping on it—was the wetness and color of flesh.

She continued running, the image frozen in her mind, as she made her way up to the top of a hill that marked the run’s halfway point where she would turn around a couple of wooden barrier posts and head back. Should she pass the posts and improvise a new route home or turn around and get a good look at that thing to be sure it wasn’t what she thought it was? A half hour of ambient blue light was left before it would become black. There were no lights along the footpath and the moon hadn’t risen yet. Around and around the posts Jessie ran doing figure eights.

Eileen should’ve been with her. She usually accompanied Jessie on these runs to fill her in on various environmental sounds like the babbling brook, a drilling woodpecker, or coupling teenagers. Mainly, Jessie wanted Eileen for security—she was big-boned, taught phys ed, coached field hockey, and there was no one Jessie would rather have along than a woman who knew how to throw a block or a verbal attack should danger come their way. Eileen enjoyed coming along since she could maintain a steady breathing rhythm, signing while running with Jessie—both conversed in ASL without voice. She especially liked how signing added a bit of aerobic activity for the upper body.


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