Size / / /

There is a tree. This tree emits a constant buzzan unwavering electric hum that goes on and on like an aluminum bar. From ten, five, three feet away, you can see nothing unusual about the tree. Nothing that could be making that particular sound. You reach the trunk and stand beneath the tree, peering up through the branches. Nothing. But still the sound. You shift your head half an inch to the left, to see between the leaves. There are no leaves. There are only flies. And they notice you, noticing them. They descend on you. All is black.

When you awake, the tree is gone. The flies are gone. But the buzzing remains.

 

There is an apple. It may hang over a neighbor's fence, or peek out from behind the other apples in the outdoor display of a produce market. It would not be the apple that it is if you did not encounter it at a moment of acute hunger. It fits perfectly in your hand, and your hand fits perfectly in the pocket of your jacket. When you are safely away from the scene of the crime, you take a bite. It is crisp. Inside the apple there is a hook. A fishhook, which pierces your lip. The hook is attached to a fine cord, which disappears into the earth. At the other end of the cord is an iron wheel, which turns slowly, dragging you with it. When the wheel is at its lowest, you shovel dirt with your bleeding lip. When the wheel is at its highest point, you can almost stand.

It is possible that you will one day manage to remove the hook, but you will need to split your lip in two. For those who know how to read it, a hieroglyph.

 

There is a book. It does not matter how deeply it is hidden. You find it because you know what you are looking for, and exactly where to look for it. Behind a row of peeling yellow paperbacks on a shelf accessible only by standing on tip-toe at the top of a teetering ladder, you lay your hands on it: the book that contains every answer. The book is lovingly bound in plush leather, the spine is well-worn and the paper soft as grandmother-flesh. You flip to the first page. It is unintelligible. Before the first page there is another page, which contains instructions on the interpretation of the language in which the first page is written. On the pages before that, more instructions. And before that, notes on the culture that created the book, the context you must know if you are to speak the language you have learned, and then the ingenious system which governs the book's index. Nine years pass, and you have mastered the language of the book. You pose your questions, and find the answers lucid and concise. It is your duty, of course, to create a translation, an annotated version of this miraculous text.

And of course, in these nine years you have forgotten any other language you might have known.

 

There is a man. He stinks of vodka and bad vegetables. You ignore him on the train, even as his watery gaze soaks through your scalp. When you go out to catch the bus he is hanging from the signpost, whistling rusty nails across your ears. You study the tops of your shoes, and try not to inhale. Next he is behind you in line at the grocery store, then he is crouched on a bucket outside the coffee shop. He peers at you from the mouths of alleyways, and the tops of fire escapes. Asked to describe him, you would not be able to; you decided some time ago that ignoring him was the only thing that would make him go away. But you know him by his smell, and the feeling of his gaze. In a crowded movie theater one night you feel it. Instead of ducking, you turn to look him in the face. You are prepared to scream, to charge, to grab him and shake.

But he is not there. He has not been there for a long time.




Cory O'Brien is a writer, primarily of words, but also computer code and faces. He has an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the author of Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology. He retells mythology and his life story at bettermyths.com.
Current Issue
13 Jan 2020

After the full-body suspension is over—has it been months, a few years?—we are still in casings. They’re thin and brittle. Like garlic exteriors or dried-out electrical tape that’s lost its sticky.
By: Julianna Baggott
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Julianna Baggott's “The Orientation.”
My child has a new face / Something came out of her
By: Terese Mason Pierre
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Terese Mason Pierre
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Terese Mason Pierre's “A New Face,” as read by the poet.
Issue 6 Jan 2020
By: Mitchell Shanklin
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 23 Dec 2019
By: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 16 Dec 2019
By: Osahon Ize-Iyamu
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Liu Chengyu
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 9 Dec 2019
By: SL Harris
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessy Randall
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 2 Dec 2019
By: Sheldon Costa
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Mari Ness
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 25 Nov 2019
By: Nisa Malli
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Nisa Malli
Issue 18 Nov 2019
By: Marika Bailey
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Alicia Cole
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 11 Nov 2019
By: Rivqa Rafael
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Mary McMyne
By: Ugonna-Ora Owoh
Podcast read by: Mary McMyne
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 28 Oct 2019
By: Kelly Stewart
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Kelly Stewart
Monday: Aniara 
,
Issue 21 Oct 2019
By: Omar William Sow
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Amy H. Robinson
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Load More
%d bloggers like this: