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Rachel Swirsky

Fiction and Excerpts [6]
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Fiction and Excerpts [6]

How the World Became Quiet (Excerpt)

, || How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future collects the body of Rachel Swirsky's short fiction to date for the first time. While these stories envision pasts, presents, and futures that never existed, they offer revealing examinations of humanity that readers will find undeniably true.

How the World Became Quiet (Excerpt)

After a powerful sorceress is murdered, she’s summoned over the centuries to witness devastating changes to the land where she was born. A woman who lives by scavenging corpses in the Japanese suicide forest is haunted by her dead lover. A man searches for the memory that will overwrite his childhood abuse. Helios is left at the altar. The world is made quiet by a series of apocalypses.

From the riveting emotion and politics of “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” (Nebula winner) to the melancholy family saga of “Eros, Philia, Agape” (Hugo and Theodore Sturgeon finalist), Rachel Swirsky’s critically acclaimed stories have quickly made her one of the field’s rising stars. Her work is, by turns, clever and engaging, unflinching and quietly devastating—often in the space of the same story.

How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future, available September 30th from Subterranean Press, collects the body of Swirsky’s short fiction to date for the first time. While these stories envision pasts, presents, and futures that never existed, they offer revealing examinations of humanity that readers will find undeniably true.

[Read an Excerpt]

Fields of Gold

Enjoy this reprint of “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky, originally published in ECLIPSE 4 edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books, 2011). “Fields of Gold” is nominated this year for a Nebula Award in the Best Novelette category. Go here for information on how to vote.

 

When Dennis died, he found himself in another place. Dead people came at him with party hats and presents. Noise makers bleated. Confetti fell. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.

His family was there. Celebrities were there. People Dennis had never seen before in his life were there. Dennis danced under a disco ball with Cleopatra and great-grandma Flora and some dark-haired chick and cousin Joe and Alexander the Great. When he went to the buffet table for a tiny cocktail wiener in pink sauce, Dennis saw Napoleon trying to grope his Aunt Phyllis. She smacked him in the tri-corner hat with her clutch bag.

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The Monster’s Million Faces

 

He’s old this time. A hospital gown sags over his gaunt frame. IV wires stream from his arms, plugging him into a thousand machines. I could tear them out one by one.

I ask, “Do you know who I am?”

He rolls his head back and forth, trying to see. His eyes are pale with cataracts, roosting in nests of wrinkles. He gestures me closer, skin thin to the point of translucence, veins tunneling below.

Recognition strikes. “You’re that boy I hurt. . . . All grown up. . . .”

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A Memory of Wind

After Helen and her lover Paris fled to Troy, her husband King Menelaus called his allies to war. Under the leadership of King Agamemnon, the allies met in the harbor at Aulis. They prepared to sail for Troy, but they could not depart, for there was no wind.

Kings Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Odysseus consulted with Calchas, a priest of Artemis, who revealed that the angered goddess was balking their departure. The kings asked Calchas how they might convince Artemis to grant them a wind. He answered that she would only relent after King Agamemnon brought his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to Aulis and sacrificed her to the goddess.

* * *

I began turning into wind the moment that you promised me to Artemis.

Before I woke, I lost the flavor of rancid oil and the shade of green that flushes new leaves. They slipped from me, and became gentle breezes that would later weave themselves into the strength of my gale. Between the first and second beats of my lashes, I also lost the grunt of goats being led to slaughter, and the roughness of wool against calloused fingertips, and the scent of figs simmering in honey wine.

Around me, the other palace girls slept fitfully, tossing and grumbling through the dry summer heat. I stumbled to my feet and fled down the corridor, my footsteps falling smooth against the cool, painted clay. As I walked, the sensation of the floor blew away from me, too. It was as if I stood on nothing.

I forgot the way to my mother’s rooms. I decided to visit Orestes instead. I also forgot how to find him. I paced bright corridors, searching. A male servant saw me, and woke a male slave, who woke a female slave, who roused herself and approached me, bleary-eyed, mumbling. “What’s wrong, Lady Iphigenia? What do you require?”

I had no answers.


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Eros, Philia, Agape

Lucian packed his possessions before he left. He packed his antique silver serving spoons with the filigreed handles; the tea roses he’d nurtured in the garden window; his jade and garnet rings. He packed the hunk of gypsum-veined jasper that he’d found while strolling on the beach on the first night he’d come to Adriana, she leading him uncertainly across the wet sand, their bodies illuminated by the soft gold twinkling of the lights along the pier. That night, as they walked back to Adriana’s house, Lucian had cradled the speckled stone in his cupped palms, squinting so that the gypsum threads sparkled through his lashes.

Lucian had always loved beauty—beautiful scents, beautiful tastes, beautiful melodies. He especially loved beautiful objects because he could hold them in his hands and transform the abstraction of beauty into something tangible.

The objects belonged to them both, but Adriana waved her hand bitterly when Lucian began packing. “Take whatever you want,” she said, snapping her book shut. She waited by the door, watching Lucian with sad and angry eyes.

Their daughter, Rose, followed Lucian around the house. “Are you going to take that, Daddy? Do you want that?” Wordlessly, Lucian held her hand. He guided her up the stairs and across the uneven floorboards where she sometimes tripped. Rose stopped by the picture window in the master bedroom, staring past the palm fronds and swimming pools, out to the vivid cerulean swath of the ocean. Lucian relished the hot, tender feel of Rose’s hand. I love you, he would have whispered, but he’d surrendered the ability to speak.

He led her downstairs again to the front door. Rose’s lace-festooned pink satin dress crinkled as she leapt down the steps. Lucian had ordered her dozens of satin party dresses in pale, floral hues. Rose refused to wear anything else.

Rose looked between Lucian and Adriana. “Are you taking me, too?” she asked Lucian.

Adriana’s mouth tightened. She looked at Lucian, daring him to say something, to take responsibility for what he was doing to their daughter. Lucian remained silent.

Adriana’s chardonnay glowed the same shade of amber as Lucian’s eyes. She clutched the glass’s stem until she thought it might break. “No, honey,” she said with artificial lightness. “You’re staying with me.”

Rose reached for Lucian. “Horsey?”

Lucian knelt down and pressed his forehead against Rose’s. He hadn’t spoken a word in the three days since he’d delivered his letter of farewell to Adriana, announcing his intention to leave as soon as she had enough time to make arrangements to care for Rose in his absence. When Lucian approached with the letter, Adriana had been sitting at the dining table, sipping orange juice from a wine glass and reading a first edition copy of Cheever’s Falconer. Lucian felt a flash of guilt as she smiled up at him and accepted the missive. He knew that she’d been happier in the past few months than he’d ever seen her, possibly happier than she’d ever been. He knew the letter would shock and wound her. He knew she’d feel betrayed. Still, he delivered the letter anyway, and watched as comprehension ached through her body.

Rose had been told, gently, patiently, that Lucian was leaving. But she was four years old, and understood things only briefly and partially, and often according to her whims. She continued to believe her father’s silence was a game.

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