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“The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss” – Fiction by Abhishek Sengupta

Saraswati – Nandalal Bose, 1941

The grand finale of our Winter 2018 issue is Abhishek Sengupta‘s brilliantly Byzantine and Borgesian short story “The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss.”

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ABSTRACT

HAVING WORKED AS A LIBRARIAN in the Egyptian National Library and Archives (ENLA) for forty long years, visiting it for ten years as an ex-librarian subsequent to his retirement, and concentrating on reading each book housed there thrice, Uziah Greiss discovered that the 13013th word in each book is a number. Always. Without exception.

He also noted that although they appeared in different formats, each one of them was a different number (or a sign denoting a number, or terms we could map numerically). For example, in a book named A History of Martyrdom, the 13013th word is “gross”. It appears in the sentence ‘A gross misconduct on the part of the king announced the beginning of war.’ Numerically, the word “gross” stands for one dozen of dozens, or more simply, the number 144.

After years of studying, Greiss came to another startling conclusion: each number appearing as the 13013th word in a book was unique and appeared only once throughout all books ever written. Never repeated.

This synopsis attempts to uncover, as well as understand, the only (and yet, incomplete) text ever written by Uziah Greiss, which is as much of an enigma as it is a catalogue of his finding.

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INTRODUCTION

Let it be known that this is my final attempt at publishing the short synopsis of The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss (that is not the real name of his book, but then, his manuscript had no name – real or otherwise, and it remained incomplete for someone killed him before he could complete it). All my earlier attempts at writing and publishing the synopsis have met with failure in some mysterious circumstances, but I promise to stay true to the history of writing this synopsis by recording my failures as well. So, let me start by quoting the circumstances leading to each of those failures.

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Attempt # 1: I completed the synopsis in my first attempt. A publisher in town showed interest in it. I had been traveling on a bus with my completed manuscript when I suddenly started feeling drowsy. Although not in the habit of falling asleep on a bus, that day I did. On waking up, I found my bag, which sat on my lap and contained the manuscript, had been stolen.

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Attempt # 2: I stumbled half-way through the synopsis when the news broadcast confirmed reports of war breaking out. My wife claimed the city we stayed in was not safe anymore, which happened to be true. So, we moved to a different city, one supposed to be safer. When I unpacked my belongings, however, I could no longer find my half-finished synopsis.

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Attempt # 3: A letter arrived when I was about to complete the synopsis. My wife opened it. A clear warning surfaced, attempting to prevent me from trying to publish my synopsis. It told grave consequences awaited my family and me if I tried. The sender’s name didn’t figure anywhere. I didn’t want to pay much heed to an anonymous warning, but my wife was reluctant. She said she was afraid for our son’s life. She tore up the pages on which I had been writing the synopsis.

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Attempt # 4: I started writing the synopsis in extreme secrecy this time. I didn’t mention it to anyone, not even my wife. One day, when my wife and son went to the market, I received a phone call. The voice on the other end claimed my wife and son had been in an accident and were admitted to the nearest hospital. By the time I reached the hospital, it was too late. Both were declared dead. When I returned home a broken man, I found someone had broken into my home. The synopsis I was working on was gone.

Continue reading “The Forbidden Book of Uziah Greiss” – Fiction by Abhishek Sengupta

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“Disclaimer” – Poetry by Hussain Ahmed

Whispers of Desert – Nicholas Roerich, 1925

“Disclaimer” is Hussain Ahmed‘s shadowy, whispery, profoundly meta poem from our Winter 2018 issue.

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THIS POEM BEGAN AT NIGHT

it should be read in whispers

this poem is black and not dying

it is not meant to nurse a bullet wound

this poem is not brown

it did not scale through barbwire fences

only to be reminded of how burnt pasta smells

this poem has no voice

it’s the wind blowing over the face of desert

don’t look it in the eyes when it tries to speak

this poem is a collection of pixels

not enough to light up a grieving heart

this poem sings in many unknown voices

it has hacked through your system

this poem should not have an end

this poem follows no rule, you become aware of its meters

when it stings like anopheles

this poem was born amongst the click of empty bottles

it survived avowal sobriety of savvy imageries

this poem needs home; it’s been fed but it wants to stay out cold

this poem wants to live on bread and alcohol alone

but it does not mean it is yellow, this poem is colorless

this poem wants to be written on a rocket going to space

this poem needs space to grow

this poem should have no sexual preference; it has nothing to do  with God.

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Continue reading “Disclaimer” – Poetry by Hussain Ahmed

excerpts from “in her own words” – Poetry by Valerie Hsiung

Fate, Life, Truth, Beauty – Georg Pauli, 1905

From our Winter 2018 issue, here are four tantalizingly poetic excerpts from Valerie Hsiung‘s in her own words.

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TAKE THOSE HANDCUFFS OFF OF ME. All I hear. I am a penniless billionaire. I am the granddaughter to a squandered fortune. What would she say? She would say to not be so lazy today, tomorrow you can be lazy. She would say to walk clear into the burning fields.

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AND THEN. IT CHANGED… Became too quiet between us, what was left for us to trace went unfulfilled. The need to not speak too soon is the need to survive as prey. Cursed us all but not on purpose. Those are nice shoes! Oh no make no mistake, I was definitely flirting with you. So we’re both too old for this. At least me. All purpose flower. Black tea on an empty stomach kind of seasick.

Make believe. And later,       ropes them in.

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DECIDED NOT TO CHUCK IT ALL AWAY AFTER ALL. But, the offer
may still stand… And…sometimes, it’s good to let yourself be bad… She smiles.
Paper sails mean paper moon.
Can you picture it? She sits at a desk, and then
she gets up from it, the desk, smiling, identifying the source
inside her, both old and violent or nostalgic and haunting inside as a river or jukebox or when pharmacies still sold ice cream, yet on the outside, all you see
is something timeless. She cannot see this. She feels she is vanishing
before them, before herself.

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WHEN I LIE, EVERYONE BELIEVES ME. Because that’s what they want to hear,that’s what they’ve always. wanted. to hear.

But when I tell the truth?

everyone begins to call me a liar. Their liar.

That’s when the poison begins to take hold.

{ X } Continue reading excerpts from “in her own words” – Poetry by Valerie Hsiung

“The Louse” – Fiction by Ian Kappos

Portrait of a Philosopher – Lyubov Popova, 1915

A philosopher encounters a metaphysical parasite in “The Louse,” Ian Kappos‘ bitingly bizarre flash fiction from our Winter 2018 issue.

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THE PHILOSOPHER HAD LICE.

He discovered it during an attempt to see into the future. He had been sitting on the edge of his mattress, looking into his scrying mirror, when something caught his eye that quite literally made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. In the light spilling through his window, it was unmistakable: tracing a wild path through his thinning hair, like a confused grain of brown rice, was a louse. A godforsaken louse.

In a burst of panic, the philosopher jumped up and looked around his studio apartment for something with which to deport the louse: a spear, a hammer, a solvent of some sort. A sealant or maybe helmet that he could affix to his head in order to suffocate the thing. But he found nothing. As luck would have it, he had traded most of his belongings at the pawn shop in exchange for the scrying mirror. He admonished himself for his lack of foresight. He leaned out the window, curled his fingers into a fist, and thrust the fist up at the sky.

He stared directly into the sun, as if trying to burn the memory of the louse from his retinas.

Wait, the philosopher thought. That’s it.

He grabbed the scrying mirror, poked his head again out the window, looked up at the sun with suspicion, then drew his head back inside and inspected the scrying mirror.

He would not have long.

Due to nonpayment, the electricity had been turned off, leaving the philosopher no choice but to make do with the resources at his disposal. But he would do it, he vowed, and fell quickly into work.

The philosopher reviewed what he knew about classical electrodynamics. He studied the scrying mirror, turning it over in his hand, examining it from all angles.

f = pE + J x B

He racked his brain. He racked his scalp. After several minutes of fervent racking, the philosopher concluded that if he used the Poynting vector as his basis for directional flow of energy, the surface area of the mirror (“B”) should concentrate and redirect a sufficient enough charge distribution (“p” being the density of the charge and “E” being the speed of light) for his purposes.

In other words: it should concentrate and redirect a sufficient enough charge distribution to blow the little bastard to smithereens.

He scrutinized his reflection in the mirror, sifted a hand through the sweaty tassel of hair on his head until finally, with a tiny yelp of victory, he located the louse, and, feeling his way over to the windowsill, lined it up in the crosshairs of the mirror.

Almost immediately he felt the handle of the mirror grow hot with the concentration of electrical energy transmitted from the sun. But just as he was beginning to feel triumphant, the heat of the handle rose to an uncomfortable level. When it got so hot that it started to burn his fingers, he bit his lip and blinked through his tears, determined to keep the louse in his sights.

The philosopher’s head erupted in fire. He ran screaming around his apartment, overturning everything in his path, running to the faucet and finding that the water had been turned off, too. He dove headlong into his mattress, driving his skull beneath a pillow, and rolled around there until the fire was out.

He rose from the blackened sheets, venturing to feel, hesitantly, that he had won.

When he turned around, there was the louse, standing over him. It was now at least twice his own size. The philosopher sank back into the mattress.

“Please don’t eat me,” said the philosopher.

The louse stared. Continue reading “The Louse” – Fiction by Ian Kappos

“The Dead/s of My DNA” – Prose Poetry by Nooks Krannie

The Past – Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, 1907

“The Dead/s of My DNA” is a surreal & evocative prose poem by Nooks Krannie from our Winter 2018 issue.

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THE SUN WAS INHABITED BY A THOUSAND FOOT HUMAN SKIN, spinning charkha and bottomless teeth. My father a baldness in cotton tents, spun orange. I stole a wild tire gum stick flavored with artificial liquor squeezed from a plant based gelatin. Pictures of a green skinned parent cursing an awkward smile, a fork in both eyes. It’s radish stew for dinner. When I was 3 I kissed a stray cat inside my mouth, my father fished out a dog spirit from the garden hose, yellow udders in pimples of charcoal areolas. My first dog was called Tommy and he was sold into slavery before the malignant carved a C soup inside a bald man.

Mother, mother, I yelled, there’s a plastic tub swallowing bouquets of pubescent flowers on my laptop. Mangoes are humming between tart gums and threads of nature are lost like kites in a midsummer god race. Mother, mother, if you have a face, feel free to breathe on splendid carpet, the stove is your mecca taught in Farsi script. Mother, mother, your mother is hanging out in the bathtub of the 70’s, silk blouse and cashmere saree in red velvet icing, her hair is an allspice fashion and the doctor said she can rest no more. Mother, mother, save me, your sister said I stole her lips, she’s feeding me shrimp pasta and her skin burnt in the sun for money.

Parents manufactured in 4 inch hands, a logo of far east on the wasted back. Flash off. I lost them ‘rents and now a silhouette by Michaels gel pen is all / I found a mouse in my closet with my 4 inch hands, it had pink ears and its tail was a 40 year old janitor, I left it there and closed the door. It’s been years now and I swear it lives under the false promise of my mirrored gush, neat and fallow like the names of me before me.

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Continue reading “The Dead/s of My DNA” – Prose Poetry by Nooks Krannie

“Betula nigra” – Fiction by Avee Chaudhuri

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
An artist reminisces about a relationship with a problematically eccentric innkeeper in “Betula nigra,” Avee Chaudhuri‘s beautifully twisted short story from our Winter 2018 issue.

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BEFORE MY LIFE IN RADIO, I LIVED WITH THE WIDOW OF A PREEMINENT PSYCHIATRIST in Eastborough, Kansas. I slept in the carriage house where I also set up a small studio. Working mostly with acrylic, I painted about three and a half dozen versions of a Venetian noblewoman defecating into the Grand Canal after what must have been a hearty and fibrous meal. I would change her dresses and décolletage, the expressions on her face, the time of day, and the color of the dwarves in her retinue. After viewing each new iteration of La Contessa Cacare, my landlady would be kind enough to give me an injection of psychotropic drugs, as well as an exacting, vengeful handjob and a stoppered vial of champagne to be enjoyed in solitude on the roof.

We met at a farmers market in Wichita. I was working the aubergine stall. She’d just lost her husband. She noticed the splotches of paint on my shirt and the paraffin under my fingernails and when asked I told her, yes, I was a struggling artist, had no money and had not spoken to a single member of my family in five years. We locked eyes for an instant and then fell to making love under the stall, among rotting eggplants and fruit flies, just like they do in the movies. I followed her home like a stray capybara.

I lived with her for almost three years and did most of the domestic work. She was something of a gourmand, so I taught myself charcuterie and also kept a kitchen garden with living basil and Moroccan spearmint. At the time of her death, I was in the process of clearing out a root cellar.

She was an ample woman of about 50, with striking yellow irises, brown skin and a touch of gout. Sometimes she drank too much bourbon and could become violent, even once destroying the fragrant kitchen garden with a full set of Chinese throwing stars. On moonless nights she set the carriage house on fire. Either she would douse the English Laurel in gasoline, or aim a flare gun at the open window of the steeple where I kept turpentine and linseed oil. I started to sleep in flame-resistant aramid pajamas. She bought me them for Christmas.

When old friends came by for money I’d borrowed, she would brandish her husband’s ancient glass syringe, caked in her blood, and threaten to inject air into their veins.

Her husband did leave her with plenty of money, and there was no need to convert her large, drafty Victorian house into a bed and breakfast.  But two years into our friendship, she began to pursue the idea, and one day I came home to find that the house was filled with strangers admiring the framed pictures of Union soldiers on the mantle as well as the handsome decanters full of amber and green liquids. My studio had been converted into a honeymoon suite, and my Shitting Countesses, ranging from euphoric to doleful, had been unsystematically moved to the attic.

She wasn’t an ideal innkeeper. She undercooked the eggs and sausage. She asked awkward questions at the breakfast table: don’t you think age of consent laws are ruining this country? When the house was booked up, she liked to dress in a negligee, cover her body in baby powder, and pretend to be the ghost of a woman who was mutilated by Comanches. She shouted ‘godless prairie nigger’ on the front steps as the neighbors were leaving for work or to take their children to school. I thought she had finally gone insane without her husband to care for her. He treated her with a few injections a week and some lazy psychoanalysis. That and a handful of corrective rapes. The reality is he was a cruel man and it is a perfectly acceptable and palatable theory that she murdered him in his sleep, by setting fire to his flannel pajamas.

But she wasn’t going mad. The strange dialogue at the breakfast table, the food poisoning, the cultivated halitosis, playing a murdered homesteader, they were all part of a grander design. In each bedroom there was a guestbook on the nightstand. She’d taped the same note onto every single one, urging her guests to give honest feedback since she was just starting out in the business and could use their insights. Many of them left entries that are savage and heartfelt and faintly matricidal. I considered tearing these pages out to spare her feelings, but then I remembered all the times I had dislocated my shoulder, after leaping out of the carriage house in flames. Though as it turned out, had I intervened she would have likely castrated me. Those guestbooks were her prized possessions. She was after a kind of truth.

Continue reading “Betula nigra” – Fiction by Avee Chaudhuri

“Polis” – Fiction by Gary W. Hartley

City – Olga Rozanova, 1914

“Polis” is Gary W. Hartley‘s droll yet haunting flash fiction from our Winter 2018 issue.

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THIS IS A CITY OF THE LOST. They all dry washed up here, quicker than you’d imagine. Quicker than you can say the word cliché. Quicker than you could utter ascertain, dichotomy or paradigm. Quicker than you can say Ken Dodd’s Dad’s dog’s eaten Russell Brand’s dog and now Ken Dodd’s Dad’s dog’s dead. The lost. The lost have been known to try decisiveness from time to time. It wasn’t anything resembling a city before they rocked up, and they did rock up, sure enough. The lost, they washed up and rocked up and just arrived. It was akin to a shed before, some well-tended grass around the perimeter, space for expansion and hope of something better. The lost hope of something better. There are lots of them, the lost, and they swing from one day to the next knowing they’re lost and starting to come to terms with it. The knowing lost. Lost and swung. Rejecting those terms and coming around to the thought that they might well be liberated, actually. They are very mobile. The lost and mobile. The mobile lost. Moving around seeking to un-lose themselves, blaming the latest geographic circumstance while feeling completely static as they quest without mission from spot to spot. Cities of the lost are transient places where the population can always be replenished, losses of the lost are less. The transient static lost. New blood, and lots of it. The fresh blood of the lost. Old blood, unremembered. The forgotten blood of the lost. There were lovers – lost lovers – who had other lovers but none of them had much belief in love any more, they prefer buildings and hiding in them. There is changeable uniform in three-year cycles. The lost are not very good at finding each other and though this is a city they all say they’re alone and watch series after series occasionally uttering a laugh – the laughing lost – or letting a tear drop softly, tasting for salt content.  They see themselves in minor fictional drama characters, newsreaders and reflections in electronics store windows. The lost electronic generation. Vaporise vaporising vaping vapid poison poison poison is coming this way. All the stats and pundits agree. The lost pundits. They will live their lost lives as normal right up until then. Very few see their lives as normal even though they are as pie crust as anything when viewed against anyone else in this hall of mirrors. The normal lost looking at their reflections in the faces of the found, when they can be found, which is rarely. The urge to stampede, lost losing themselves. Normality or lack of it is rendered irrelevant when stampedes happen. In disaster they will in a way be found but will not be present in the moment long enough to appreciate it. This togetherness thing can be found in all sorts, brilliant to absolutely awful. The awful and the brilliant lost shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowl. This story is going to keep focusing on the awful from now on. The reportage of the deaths and gore will be kept to a necessary minimum. They will say it was a mistake, all a bad mistake and there will be an enquiry to make sure it never happens again. The enquiring lost. Enquiries never say anything and this one will be no different. No-one will care too much because cities are in a ranking system that everyone knows by instinct but is not written down anywhere. The rank lost. What’s gone is gone, the last biscuit in the tin you were warned about as a child.  It won’t have been appreciated quite enough when it was there and will be mourned only by a niche crowd. Niche crowds are always less niche than they think. The city of the lost. Every city may well be a city of the lost yet no-one’s checked the stats and everyone’s stockpiling weapons and saying it’s purely defensive, so they don’t have time anyway. It may sound like a cliché but this is the end.

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Continue reading “Polis” – Fiction by Gary W. Hartley