Prosperity (Flash Fiction Friday)

  • Word Count: 975
  • Word: Snow
  • Trope: Jealousy

PROSPERITY by Killian Levy

“Her name’s Liv. Don’t ask her what she’s been through. But something tells me you two would get along.”

My buddy wasn’t wrong. As soon as Liv flopped in the car, I felt harmony. She didn’t say anything, didn’t need to. She smelled like vanilla and ammonia. Sweat stains yellowed her white tee and grime shined the ankles of her skinny jeans. She looked like Maggie.

They all look like Maggie now. I could find her in every face that looked my way. Even my buddy can look like her. Liv was his aunt; they already looked the same.

Maggie didn’t look like anybody. She was remarkable, until she left, and now everyone looks like her. Liv was a user—so was I, and so was my buddy. Didn’t matter to me.

“Where to?” I asked.

Liv’s face burrowed into a gray hoodie. “Drop him off first,” Liv said, muffled.

She adjusted the two hospital bands on her wrist and looked out the window. She sat behind me while I drove, so I couldn’t see her in the rear-view. I guessed that was deliberate. I was a stranger, and she had OD’d twice this week. On purpose or accident, I wasn’t sure—buddy asked for a favor, and I owed him.

She hopped to the front when my buddy got out. Her eyes stayed glued to him until he was down the street and out of view.

“You holding?” she asked.

My hand was hot on my thigh. Of course I was. I’d had a vial on me every day since Maggie ditched out and left her face on every billboard and bus bench—every child that passed on a tricycle had her nose, and every girl at every party wore her mask. The vial was burning a hole through my pocket. “Didn’t you just get out for holding? Won’t they test you?” Liv was wearing Maggie’s mask now.

“Test me?” Liv laughed. She didn’t sound like Maggie. Her hair was different, too. “They don’t have a test for props yet.”

She was probably right.

Props. Prosperity. The name of the drug that hit the streets a few months back. I never did drugs until after Maggie—when props came around. Think my buddy got it from Liv the first time, in fact. My first snuff tasted like printer ink. It flipped me upside down and turned me inside out. Everything melted away—that’s when features first fell off everyone’s faces. Faceless people in crowds and clean slate mannequins in mirrors told me I was worth loving. Worth living. It gave me the confidence to write papers for class and ask girls out I never would have asked out. It didn’t get me Maggie back.

Liv put her hand on my leg and told me not to take her home. “Keep going straight,” she whispered. Her hand reached into my pocket and pulled the vial out of my jeans. She did a snuff and put the vial to my nose. It didn’t taste like printer ink anymore.

An hour later (after a stop at my propsmaster for more vials), we were outside of the city and pulling into a cabin that belonged to a friend of hers. I didn’t care who’s house it was as long as she kept Maggie’s mask on. Liv didn’t care that I called her Maggie halfway through the drive; she didn’t ask who the name belonged to. It belonged to her now. This cabin was ours now, too.

“What do I call you?” she asked. She was already walking away—she didn’t care—it only mattered what she wanted to call me.

“Do you have a mask you want me to use?” When the faces all blurred together, the attention could be from anyone; they became what you wanted.

She ignored the question and pulled into the cabin. I don’t remember how she got in—it hadn’t mattered.

I lit a fire—it burned the cold from my hands and the heaviness in my chest.

We snuffed and took turns touching each other’s faces. Hours dissolved with each new mask I wore for her—laying naked on bathroom towels in front of the fire, hearing all the words she spoke to the nameless: the dead, the hated, the abusive, the loved. I was all of the people from whom she needed to hear affirmation. I mimicked the words she mouthed with chapped lips, acted as the voice of the ghosts that lived inside.

“Maggie,” I whispered. She touched my thigh and moved her lips around my jaw. She said the name back to me in a harmony that sang the tune of ecstasy.

“I want you back,” she said. “I’m sorry. You’re all I’ve ever needed. You’re all I want.”

Maggie’s face began vibrating.

She screamed. “Who are you? What do you want? They’re all mine; these faces are mine!”

I stared in the mirror from across the room. I didn’t recognize who looked back at me as my skin wriggled across the reflective metal under the glass. Liv screamed—a voice I didn’t know. She shot up and bolted across the room. Her bare feet stepped on broken brown vials, and her hands rummaged for something in the drawers.

“Where’s Maggie?”

***

My legs crunch the snow when I pull myself up. I look down at the blue handle of a screwdriver sticking out of my chest—part of the handle is melted. Maggie lies next to me; her face turns to me, and she smiles. Her blue eyes match the color of the sky above, and the snow underneath her is quiet. Looking cold in her white tee, I drape a grey hoodie around her shoulders.

Three figures step out of the trees where a cop car wails sirens that echo through the valley.

They all have Maggie’s face.

What’s In A (pen)Name?

A name can be a tricky thing. It is you—at least the you that anyone will take with them. A name is the first thing someone learns about you. It’s the thing they try to remember as you jib-jab small talk—not many other details will stick (unless you have a dog with you…and then they will only ever remember your dog’s name for the rest of time).

Names are an identifier, albeit not a very good one. Look at how many James Smiths there are in the world (over 35k said one ancestry census). There is a good chance you are walking around with hundreds or thousands of people with your exact name. There are not a whole heckuva lot of people with my first/last name combination, but there is one particularly famous one—that’s where my current problem lies.

I think I need a pen name.

I don’t want one. I spent a long time thinking I didn’t need one. However, after a few years of moving my name around, trying my middle initial, and a few other ways to get around this famous person’s name on the internet, I have not gotten very far in establishing myself and popping this person’s bubble on Google. Now, my long-time internet ‘handle’ has its own life on the web. I’ve had it for twenty years. Exiled Replicant is singular and can easily be remembered and found. But I can’t necessarily publish books as “The Exiled Replicant.” I suppose I could, but wow, would that be pretentious.

I googled pen name generators and anagrams of my sobriquet. Still, it’s way too long to come up with anything resembling catchy by using those ordinary devices. Eventually, I came up with some possibilities and felt a new life forming. I got excited. (oo) I said to myself, thinking about the personification of the new life I’d created. Not a character, but a new me. Maybe, even possibly, a name I would have to stick with for the rest of my career (if by some miracle you ever sell something and become known by any small group of readers).

How do you choose?!

There’s also the small notion of having to change everything you’ve ever worked on up until this point to now be that new name. What are the easiest and choicest steps to changing your social handles, website addresses, and bylines on everything possible to erase your retired persona? Do you keep more than one nom de plume at hand for a time you need to incinerate some other version of yourself that you no longer feel you can encapsulate?

When it comes down to brass tax, the questions become: do I decide to juggle multiple names, Twitter handles, and websites for different components of my writing career? Stick with the one I already have and just deal with being on page nine of the world wide web unless I can surpass a famous musician? Or create one new name, one time, and just continue along my course, as myself personality-wise, with a new name?

How many of you know Anne Rice or C.S. Lewis’ real names? Kirk Douglas or Elton John’s? How long ahead of their career did they decide? Were they well on their way before they got the full agent “turnaround,” or were they smart enough to do it from the get-go? The only one I can think of was when I saw early acting videos of Willem Dafoe pronouncing his name differently. Everyone else seems to have quickly swept their old selves under the rug.

How many of you have gone with a pen name? And if so, did you always have that name from the beginning or have to choose your own path later on?

BOOK REVIEW – Fadeout by Joseph Hansen

This 1970 noir-style detective story titillates with an engrossing story and a queer protagonist.

Joseph Hansen was a famous poet and novelist from the ’50s until his death in 2004. I had never heard of him, which honestly is strange as a gay dude living in tinsel town. He was part of the first Gay Pride Parade in Hollywood and was notable in the community.


Fadeout is the first in a series of 12 books in the Dave Brandstetter mysteries, which now, of course, I’m going to have to buy all of immediately. I loved this book, and I can’t wait to read the rest.


Our protagonist is an insurance detective working for his father’s insurance company. He is a gruff and dutiful mid-40’s who also happens to be unabashedly homosexual. The story opens with a car accident and a missing body. Brandstetter’s company doesn’t want to have to pay the 150k life insurance policy on the man in the car because, well, his body is missing. Did he wash up in the sink somewhere unseen, or is there something more sinister going on? Of course, sinister! Everyone has secrets, and everyone seems to know the missing wannabe writer and mayoral candidate Fox Olsen. Brandstetter uses his skills of people reading and offering cigarettes to get down to the bottom of it.


Throughout the book, we’re given glimpses of Brandstetter’s life, and this is where I read with my mouth open. I’m ecstatic that Hansen could write this, a hard-boiled mystery, with an openly queer protagonist who doesn’t hide who he is. He has the typical drinks and cigs, gay flings, lesbian besties, and a penchant for dark young men. Throughout the story, you can see people around him use words like fag, flit, and queer without Brandstetter batting an eye. He watches them go about their homophobic rants without feeling the need to tell them who he is, even though a few throughout the story peg him pretty quick. He does the job, and the job is what matters. The story runs parallel with troubles in Brandstetter’s own life which gives you a good feeling of who he is.


At times there were too many characters introduced in a short time that I had trouble keeping track of who was who and how they were all related. However, it was still a fun mystery to unravel.

Rating: 4.5/5

Jojo Rabbit Review

So excited that I was able to see the premiere showing of Jojo Rabbit at TIFF tonight!

This was another of Taika at his best. Taking him back to his bittersweet indie roots, his storytelling and humanity shows through at every moment. A story of a 10 year old nazi youth in full swing of his country’s ideology indoctrination, he starts his journey with his invisible best friend Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi himself) going off to Hitler Youth camp. His mother is a wild and endearing woman with a playful attitude during this horrible time of war. The movie starts off hilariously, but it takes a little bit of time to allow yourself to feel okay laughing at this side of the german war and this little boy who wants nothing more than to do right by his fuhrer. After a terrible (and hilariously acted) accident, and the discovery that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic, his ideals are turned upside down to the thoughts on the war he has grown up with. It’s a simple message delivered in a way that tells you what you already know. Facism is bad. It’s a story that Taika tells us needs to be told over and over again, because people easily turn a blind eye to the horrors of humankind, but heart and love can prevail. Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie are a great pair and carry the film with warmth and wonderful comedic scenes, but it’s Scarlett Johansson who leaves us with the memory of what it means to be on the right side of humanity, and to take life as it comes and teach your children what you can, when you can. Even surrounded by well-known and substantial actors, these two children stand out and bring the movie’s warm embrace. Taika is never afraid to lead with a joke, but he always takes the time to bring his message of humanity home by hanging on the sad moments of life too, not jumping over life’s tragedies to get to the next one-liner. He balances the good with the bad perfectly, leaving you walking away with a warm feeling in your belly.

Hugo Award Finalists 2019!

If you need a new list of books to read this summer, get on these before the awards in August!

Which have you read? Who do you think is going to win for Best Novel?

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

 

Click here to see the rest of the categories and nominees!

Queer up the classics

A FUN IDEA: Our favorite classic authors are our favorites for a reason, but because of the times there was a severe lack of gay characters and storylines. Taking your favorite authors from the golden age of sci-fi (from Asimov to Zebrowski), tell us your favorite story and explain in the comments how you’d “queer” it up!

– Idea from Queer Sci Fi!

Tell Me Your Favorites

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – click

Check out one I really enjoy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies. They have so many stories, many of them fantasy and second world based, and have been around for a decade. A large selection of their stories also come as podcasts to listen to!

Do you have any other lists of websites like this one? I’d love to see your favorites!

Spiders

Just a little Halloween inspired prose for October.

SPIDERS

Do I live among the spiders,

or do the spiders live with me?

I am not entirely sure,

Will you help make it clearer to me?

Humble in living, crude in thought,
I make the most of what I haven’t been taught.
I am the man in my castle, king of my hill,
but the spiders sit above me, hiding their will.
Night comes again and I slink into bed,
reminiscing and planning for a few days ahead.
From their webs they come down, crawling in droves,
but my eyes cannot see, for I am dreaming of groves.
They descend and tickle my skin with their legs,
my body jumps, shaking the bed from its pegs.
Jolted I wake, feeling and reaching to fight,
but the spiders have scurried off, giggling in the night.
It’s only the bites they leave, oozing and blue,
that makes me realize what I am to do.
Tis your webs of deceit, and your sharp little teeth,
that wrap around my soul and puncture my meat.
I shall wait silent in the night, looking for thine,
evil fucking spiders, your sins are now mine.
Do I live among the spiders,
or do the spiders live with me?
I’m still not entirely sure,
but killing you was curing to me.