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Erin Hartshorn, Nila Fhiosagam
Arsenika would like to thank the following people for their support on Patreon. You make this magazine possible!
Erin Hartshorn, Nila Fhiosagam
Things vanish in the Wildermere. The usual, expected things—livestock, the occasional person—but also the less conventional.
The less tangible.
You walk to the border between this world and that, stand in the tangled underbrush, and peer between the gap in the ancient redwood trees. And something is snatched away, leaving only the faintest shadow of a memory and that nagging sense that you’ve left behind something important.
It’s the kind of place where you sign up for a day-walk tour to take photographs to show your coworkers back at the office, the kind of place you’d post selfies on social media from, say you’d been, and that, oh, it was so beautiful (but even for all that beauty, no, you don’t think you’d ever go back). It’s why someone would plan a trip to the coast, even if they only had limited vacation days and didn’t have family in the area (but why would you plan it, if you didn’t have family there?).
It’s the kind of place that has a handful of little, quaint villages whose main source of income, it appears, are tourists staying at the obligatory bed and breakfasts with their hand-painted signs and lovingly trimmed hedges. Tourists who visit the quaint souvenir shops to buy key chains and wood bookmarks and leather-bound journals and t-shirts, stamped, emblazoned, and printed with the word “Wildermere.” By the time the weekend is over and you’re checking out of the B&B, you already have enough Wildermere-branded tchotchkes to stock your own little souvenir shop back home.
But there’s still that feeling—that creeping, twitching, untraceable feeling—that you left something behind. You decide you must’ve lost a sock under the bed (but you always match your socks, clean or otherwise). You settle the bill and drive away in your SUV (which seems so obtuse here in this tiny village with its skinny streets; you wonder why you would ever buy such a large vehicle).
You go home. You unpack. You return to work. Your coworkers greet you with a bright, “So how was your trip?”
“Fine,” you say.
You share your photos. You give away the souvenir key chains.
But something is still wrong. Something is out of place. The outline of the memory is smooth and that, in and of itself, is what begins your questioning.
Memories aren’t smooth. Memories aren’t flawless.
You remember standing on the border of the Wildermere and looking between the trees. You remember the exact way you stood, with one hand in the pocket of your jeans and the other hanging loose at your side (but you never held your hand loose like that, just like you never stand perfectly straight—you’re always leaning, always resting a part of yourself on something else, the table, the wall, as if your legs couldn’t ever support the whole weight of you). You were wearing your favorite pair of waterproofed hiking boots and your fleece-lined raincoat.
You remember the precise angle of the sunlight peeking through the clouds. It had been overcast that morning, and the weather report on the B&B’s dial radio had said there was a forty percent chance of showers. For breakfast, you’d had a cup of strong coffee and a stale croissant with strawberry jam that you microwaved to make more palatable. You remember regretting the coffee; it had upset your stomach, and you kept burping up the flavor of it. There was a breeze from the south that smelled like horse manure.
You remember feeling underwhelmed, and a little irked that you talked yourself into paying for this trip (but you know you would have never picked this place; you’ve always wanted to go hiking in the mountains). You remember wishing it was something more.
So you start making lists. And in those lists, you hope you’ll find something, anything, that doesn’t connect, that doesn’t fit the smooth contours of your memory, because it’ll be the one thing that can confirm your suspicions. It’ll be the frayed end of the cord the Wildermere cut when it stole from you.
You make lists upon lists. You fill the leather-bound journal with Wildermere stamped into its cover with everything you remember, everything you know is true. By the last page, you begin to question even that.
You buy another journal. You start at the beginning.
I know my name is Ellen.
I know I walked along the borderline of the Wildermere last March.
I know I wasn’t alone.
© 2020 by R. J. Howell
during the three-year rain / Saturn birthed
a beautiful new ring that some dubbed the greatest
mishandling of galactic expectation
awed by dauntless Saturn / my lover
and i settled into our waterproof
casings to apprentice
ourselves to the solar system
how sad to be flung
into your own outer space
how dry you can become without tears
how cold to forget the new moon
my lover / a woman who stuffed her chest
with flowering weeds saved from drowning
in the yard my lover a woman
who kicked sunlight into the fireplace for
winter nights / i—heap of spare parts
that i am—i / loved her / asked her:
is your skin shedding all reptilian
because you’ve refused crying / fearful
others might see your augments
starry system my lover a woman
orbited towards me across the yard
/ rained weeds on my junkyard crown and said:
i tried on a kind of strength for so long but
if Saturn can marvelous defy / then we
© 2020 by Tamara Jerée
I know you come around here often,
so why don’t you measure the salt of my tears?
(I have etched your name on every drop.)
The slime of me craves the sweat of you.
My tentacles long to riddle your ship with holes
just like your eyes speared all my hearts
clean through their exoskeleton shield.
I want you in the depths of my sea;
I want you like the depths of my sea.
I want you fathomless.
© 2020 by Avra Margariti
what will you sing if hunger abides in your blood?
ash pours back into the waters, this is the beginning
of grief. the body is part-salt, part-coal, part-grain, and
it sits at the heart of the water. there is an animal
for everything created by nature, and the hyena is the mark
of the sea. I mean to say that the sea tenders a slaughter
slab. the many sounds of the waters are warnings
encrypted upon the blue layers. let blue be made black,
and let black be the shadows shawled with eulogies. I cup
a handful of sea; my father’s ghost brews alongside
hundred others. I mean to say that water is a skull, and
there are many things to a skull.
a poem opens with hunger. last night, I ploughed my throat
into a scream. I confess this poem is about a swallow & the ash
is sealed with a fang. I let the images haunt, for what good is my life
without hieroglyphs? my tongue is put out like a sickle:
it pierces itself in silence. I mean to say that there will always be
a sea swimming into my sleep. the ungovernable awakens me.
don’t ask me if I drowned in my dream. it is too early to be
bruised by the voices of my mistaking. I mistook poetry
for communion: let grief be shared as bread. let the metaphors
be drank as wine. let us be drunk: we have enough poetry
for a lifetime.
© 2020 by Wale Ayinla
Every day I carry a shoeful of sand to my square office where,
stumbling from edge to edge, I bruise like a baby and
age like one.
If I bring my own supplies, I figure,
I can at least blunt the corners of the reception desk,
deodorize the salmon in the fridge, and
smother the robot at the other end of the line.
Every day I raise my patent-leather loafer and
toast to the sugary sand that coarsens my eardrums and
thaws my bones.
The sand grows stealthily.
A colleague took notice of my beachy floor.
“The cleaning lady is lazy,” she said, frowning.
The sand is an accomplice with words—
both proliferate with the reliability of plants.
The palm tree is rotting on the balcony.
The fruit flies, dressed in filmy black,
have come to the funeral.
My sand saving, every grain of it,
has gone into the burial.
Emergency is a feast that takes years to digest.
To be prepared, we starve ourselves
every day, keeping our minds crystal-clear.
© 2020 by Na Zhong
Harris walked into the tent, his sun-burned face wrinkled into a permanent, unconscious frown.
“There aren’t enough bees.”
“Fuck,” Grace muttered. She pushed the monitor back, blanking the screen showing the active bee swarms and the yet-to-be-pollinated flowers, and unhooked herself from the computer. “That means we’ve got to go out there.”
“I’ll get the finger puppets,” Harris said. He spoke slowly and moved slowly, clearly hoping Grace would stop him with an alternative.
There was no alternative.
“Don’t call them that.”
He grunted, unwilling to argue, and equally unwilling to give in to the respect Grace demanded for the job. But as Harris pulled the bee-bodied pollinators from their careful storage bins, she admitted he was right. Finger puppets. They were god-damned finger puppets. She took her two, leaving them in their protective paper sheath, and led the way out of the shelter. The heat was wet, the air sluggish. Summer in Southeast Texas was what she’d always imagined hell to be. She let Harris drive the gyrowheel. Eyes closed and motionless, she enjoyed the air passing over her.
“So we’re doing this ourselves?”
“Team Carpenter is on honey production. Team Bumble is testing substitute bee protein on Summer Tanagers. Team Sweat is out in Tennessee investigating that live hive sighting. And Team Mining is, well…”
Harris snorted. “They still haven’t checked in?”
“They’re fine. Maybe Genever decided they all needed a break. They’re drinking beer at an icehouse because it doesn’t really matter if one team out of hundreds isn’t pollinating.”
“Yeah,” Harris agreed. “But they were supposed to be handling the bees. Right?”
Grace kept her eyes closed. They both knew the score, so there was no point in talking about it. Whatever Team Mining was doing, they weren’t doing their job, which meant she and Harris, who weren’t part of a team themselves, were forced to pick up the slack.
“We’ll hit the closest ones first,” she said. “No need to waste time and effort.”
Harris didn’t argue. If scrappers had hit Team Mining, there wasn’t anything the two of them could do. Not directly. And any government rescue would be too late. The goal wasn’t to protect each other as much as it was to keep the chain intact, because without the bees, they were all nature had. They were the bees.
They stopped at a wild orchard. The surrounding fence had fallen into disrepair. They drove over it to the ruined farm buildings where the field office sat, a dirty black and yellow tent dulled with pollen and wind-borne dirt. Harris slipped on his pollinators and climbed in an auto-ladder. The treads of the vehicle chewed up the wet ground as he, carefully but surely, stuck the pollinators in the flowers, moving quickly from one to the next. The pollinators didn’t have to look anything like bees, but the designers were convinced it helped morale, as though each animal substitute felt better the more fully they embodied their role.
Grace unsealed the tent with a bit of saliva. Cool air rushed past her as she entered, the inside lighting up with computers and sensors coming online. She called up the local bee tracker. The swarm that was supposed to be here flickered, the signals blinking in and out as though they were coming from an electrical storm.
The skies were clear.
Which meant humans. Scrappers. A few disorients spaced around the area and the bees would blunder from one blossom to another without any pattern, reduced to their most basic programming. She took a moment to type out an SOS to the Kludge Factory, then went out to help Harris. There was no telling when or if help would come. They’d have to do this themselves.
Pollination couldn’t be hurried. Grace lost herself in it, enjoying the sun soaking into her dark skin. Though she didn’t worry about burning, she knew she should have put on protection to prevent cancer. Harris was slathered in oxide every day, and still his skin pinked like raw chicken. She even enjoyed the sodden air, which made every breath a mouthful of steam. Pollination was physical work. Necessary work. With the bees gone, she and the rest of her crews had to keep the chain from breaking by fulfilling every aspect of life the bees did. Harris talked about it as though they were fooling mother nature into thinking everything was okay. Deceit appealed to him. For Grace, it was penance.
After the orchard, they headed toward the nearest swarm remnants. Grace held out a jammer, a government issue salve to the scrapper problem. It hadn’t worked. Her staff reported that the jammers fritzed out close to a disorient. Grace suspected they didn’t interfere with disorients so much as get interfered by them.
They found Silas, arm broken, head clubbed in. Maria was breathing, but her pupils were different sizes. They’d come back.
Following the jammer until it was a useless collection of blinking lights and soft whines, they located one of the disorients. It was cobbled together from junk. Grace even noticed bee parts welded into it. No scrappers were around, but she wasn’t surprised, though she was still tense. Meanwhile, Harris was so on edge he refused to leave the gyrowheel.
“For God’s sake, just break it already. Let’s go.”
Even with the bees incapacitated, catching them would be hard work for the scrappers. Destroying the disorient wouldn’t release the entire swarm—it would only prompt their higher functions to kick in. They’d defend themselves. They’d sting. They’d fly down nostrils and throats, burrow into ears. A lot of the scrappers would die.
But the reason she’d taken this job was that humans didn’t matter anymore, not as humans. The scrappers were just trying to survive. The world was, too.
Some things were expendable. Some were not.
She smashed the disorient.
In a few days, they’d come collect the bees from the bodies.
“‘Toadman’: A person who has struck a very particular deal with the devil. They must peg a toad to an anthill until the bones are picked clean, carry the bones around for a day, then drop them in a stream on a full moon at midnight. One bone will remain and it will grant them psychic control of horses.” (view original)