Tag Archives: a Stone and a Cloud

“a Stone and a Cloud” – Fiction by Brendan Byrne

The Familiar World - Rene Magritte, 1958
The Familiar World – Rene Magritte, 1958

The grand finale of our Winter 2016 issue is Brendan Byrne‘s “a Stone and a Cloud,” an unforgettable short story of modern alienation & techno-anxiety. But not only is this story your last look at FLAPPERHOUSE #8– it’s also your first look at the forthcoming anthology by the esteemed Dark Mountain Project, in which “a Stone & a Cloud” will be reprinted later this Spring.

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THE FIRST TIME I MET CLARE SHE TOLD ME SHE DIDN’T WANT TO BE HUMAN ANYMORE. She didn’t tell me verbally or via backchat, but from the way she tilted her head when I introduced myself, her lips pressing together, her eyes vacating, as if she was trying to imagine herself inside me, somewhere past the skin, the skull, and the meat. And then there is the fact that Artur introduced us.


An Open Field. You stand in it, and the background blurs. A thick sheen of rain obscures the horizon, or maybe your eyesight fails to serve the level of detail around you. Like a ’70s film on an HD screen, you can see more than you’re capable of being comfortable with. You sit; the grass underneath you supports you unquestioningly. Your hands hover in front of you: they want to do nothing, cracked and aching as they are. You lay back; you are supported perfectly, the mound of your lower back fitting with the slope of the land. You ever so faintly arch. Are you on an incline? It is such a gradual gradient that you would never notice. The sky above you is woven with soft gray clouds and their manatee offspring. They truck slowly across. There is no threat, though you know it must rain often enough; the land is too green. The field reminds you of somewhere you have never been but have read about online, someplace authentic, someplace where you can be yourself, a place free of politics and anxiety. You twitch, sleeping with your eyes open, but you don’t need to dream: the clouds pass above.


“You don’t look like a videogame designer.”

“What does one look like?”

This conversation, she’d say later, had been repeated endlessly. The guy shrugged, his ice cubes trying to crawl out of his cocktail. He wasn’t embarrassed, but he didn’t have an answer. I could have answered: not so blank, not so restful.

Instead I asked her which games she’d designed. When she told me, I was surprised to find that I’d played one, and told her so. “It has decent market penetration among your population.” She said it cold and slow enough that she could have been reading it off a spreadsheet. She didn’t give me any body language.

Not knowing what else to say, I introduced myself. The guy with the ice cubes looked at me indolent and aggressive as a medium-sized cat, and she said to me, “Artur was telling me I should talk to you.”

“About what?”

She didn’t respond immediately; she was still looking at my face. The guy with the ice cubes began saying something, so I nodded once, raised my glass of cheap white wine and walked away. I drifted to the edge of the roof; the scrum of people got thicker. They surrounded the bar, though nobody was getting drinks, just admiring the rough, dark wood, the brass scalloping, rough and warped; it had just been salvaged from the captain’s stateroom on a recently decommissioned destroyer and bolted into the roof. Someone in engineering tried to explain the process to me but eventually gave up, lacking reassurance. I wondered if any of Artur’s people self-styled as a woodsmith; Artur certainly didn’t. They were probably going to hire some artisanal Brooklyn guy with a superior website and beard to come in and spend several weeks imaginatively restoring it.

I walked to the opposite side of the roof. There was no one there, just the skyline. I could be impressed by it, if I let myself. I turned and looked back to where Clare was standing, next to a kind of plant I’d never seen before. Artur was there, wide and short and game in his perversion of business casual. They both looked at me. He grinned and waved me over. I mimed a grin, drained my glass and left the party.


She stood almost six foot. Her hair was short cut, yellow as a digital rendering of straw. Her avi was a collapse of autumnal humus, undergrowth that looked like it had been churned in some herbivore’s stomach sacs and exuded. She wore no jewelry. Her social was protected; I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t send a follower request. She’d been wearing a tortoise-shell shirt, shellacked like the animal’s skin. Her fingers were thin.


NYU MFA ’10, she’d done a game as her thesis. Assemblyline Worker #5697 @ Apple Plant #72, Guangdong Province! was released right before Steam launched its OS X platform, leaving it just underexposed enough to become culty. “There was a vogue toward boring the player,” she said in an interview two years later.  “This was, I think, partially lifted from the Contemporary Contemplative Cinema movement, which was at high tide then. Indie gamers wanted to suffer for their play. I was happy to help them. And the Foxconn suicides were in the news. Apple backlash was kicking up. Jobs wasn’t dead yet. It seemed obvious. I could do it, so I did it, and then it was just this thing, outside of me. I let it stay there.”

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