Alternate Stories/Alternate Realities
edited by Alan Ira Gordon
Table of Contents
Editor’s Intro • Alternate Stories/Alternate Realities • Alan Ira Gordon
The Arch • Madiha Bataineh
Aftereffect • Robert Frazier
Mother’s Return • Beth Cato
from Alternate United • F.J. Bergmann
Breaking The News • Lisa Timpf
Remnants • Davian Aw
The War Roadies • Marge Simon
Greek Fire • Amogha Sridhar
Good Neighbors Are Hard To Find • Allan Rozinski
Slouching Toward Greatness • Robert Borski
Alternate Universe Haiku: Uniformity • D.A. Xiaolin Spires
“a billion billion” • Geoffrey A. Landis
Around The Table • Jessica Jo Horowitz
The Scarlett O’Hara Sutra • Nadia Hutton
The Headlong Year • Mary Soon Lee
Pocket Universe • Diane Jackman
Alternates • David Barber
For The Sake Of Argument • Francis W. Alexander
Click To Enter • Lark Beltran
Universe Hopping • Amanda Partridge
In the womb of the vast middle
east disaster zone, we built the world’s
largest moving heart structure to prevent
radiation spewing from nuclear sites
ink-dried sun recited:
this spell will be a start.
Now trees sprout from the rusted pipes and crumbling roofs a new wonder
splashes through the windows, holds
the house of nuclear
meltdown close. The arch covers the site, closes in on the outflow. Reactors
dismantle when we wake up far
from that dimmed dimension:
this is the most important work we have ever done.
The zone remains uninhabitable, closed to visitors, but branches reach
for the expanse/an open surgery (or evolution)
to find space for lighter definitions of the daylight’s f l o w
an utterance about the strangeness of the new clear mind
an opening of questions
like what have you felt so deeply?
If teleportation were an ecstasy,
the fortunately gifted would
zip zip zip from present to present.
Thus time travel sans a future to reach …
and where the baggages of their pasts
wash clean with each jaunt,
leaving a purity of the now.
A breathless moment on the red plains of Mars.
A freefall from the frigid heights of the ionosphere.
A nanosecond of absolute heat at the sun’s core.
Teleporters might share these pleasures
if they could only escape the thought
that with every cleansing leap
they must await the tabula rasa
of inevitable uncreation,
of identity without context.
mother appeared again in the backyard
haggard, sobbing, ravaged by age
she did not know me
but then, I was seven when she stepped
across the threshold of the machine
to limitless parallel worlds
I wrapped her in a blanket
gave her laced coffee
as I called the institute
it took a matter of minutes
for them to arrive
mother knew those uniforms
she screamed and fought
even as the sedatives kicked in
I sipped my own coffee as they took her
I first stayed here in my childhood home
out of duty
eager to intercept each arrival
when did I stop caring?
after thirty, fifty times?
I turned on music after they left
straightened the chairs and table
wondered when she would arrive again
join so many of her, locked away
I wondered why some mothers were so terrified
of the institute garb
while others run, weeping
to their embrace
as I wash her favorite mug yet again
when did I stop caring?
was it when I passed forty
and she no longer recognized her little boy?
or was it that moment when I was seven
my face pressed to the glass
as I screamed “don’t go!”
and she waved and smiled, saying
“I’ll be home soon”
from Alternate United
She tired of it quickly: red stripe, white stripe, red stripe, white stripe.… And every star the same. She wanted to sew flamboyant oriflammes: green, azure, egg-yolk yellow, the pink of dawn clouds. Royal purple. Planets and suns, against the black of space. Her last, enormous flag was neatly folded, only the red, white, and blue showing, when they came to pick it up.
She had masts mounted on the White House roof in her husband’s absence. When an urchin shouted “Ships ahoy!” from the crow’s nest, she ordered sails run up, the ballast-ropes severed. The foundations had already been detached. The great edifice, already containing several decades of hot air, quivered but did not lift. She and the servants scoured the premises for parasols, curtains, bed-linens, ball-gowns, aprons—anything that would hold wind, finally stripping every painting out of its ornate frame to use the canvas for spinnakers. They were well out of cannon range by the time the British warships came up the Potomac.
Every full moon, unless game was plentiful nearby, another member of the expedition fell ill. She would bend over the stricken man, her dark, lustrous eyes gazing into his, stroking his pale brow, letting her fingertips drift over the hot pulse just beneath the skin of his throat. She and her attendant larder did not take the most direct route. Either her milk or the blood would determine what her child would become.
The consortium of shareholders that financed her initial plans to develop Mammoth Cave as a self-storage facility never dreamed that her discovery and subsequent expansion of the immense network of passages under the subcontinent into what we now know as the Tubman Subway and Riverine Tunnel System, Inc. would garner them the colossal fortunes their descendants now enjoy. The Tubman family itself remains reclusive, in an unknown subterranean location, but is said to secretly pull the strings of the most farsighted legislation passed by Congress.
Breaking the News
how’d you like to be
the one who breaks the news
no-one wants to hear
that’s the position they’ve put him in
resentment would ooze
from every pore
if he had them
though he’s comprised
of circuits and relays
he understands a handful of things
about human emotion
knows they won’t like the answer:
can imagine their querulous voices asking
are you certain? and
might there be some mistake?
still, he’s checked and re-checked,
parsed out all the permutations,
all the possible ways
that tomorrow might evolve
pondered the data before him
with the solemnity and impartiality
of a judge
still the same answer
the only future he can see
where the Earth remains intact
a bus rattling quietly down an empty street
peeling blue paint bleached dry by sun
the sky an expanse of unmoving white, the road
a grey line to the horizon, dusted with small stones
and sand that has never seen the sea.
abandoned shopfronts, half-shuttered
grimy windows peeking in to dust
and darkness. last era’s fashions hang
on bodies that never breathed; they stare
each other down, forever.
a water tower, bled dry.
run-down shacks bake in sunlight
wood and broken concrete, metal sheets
a magazine against a wall: a girl
smiles from the cover, her face
whitened by sun and forgotten computers
her name unknown. words shout promises
from headlines struggling
(12 Neat Makeup Tricks!)
to be listened to, struggling
(Make Him Want You!)
to be loved;
paper flaps on glass.
tanned young bodies whisper
(this could be you)
in the eternal utopia of advertising dreams
where the light is always perfect, the people
untroubled, strolling forever
in a twilit milieu of secret smiles
ever softly ensconced
in the luxury of immortality-
this is their world.
when everything is gone
they will remain, the last of us.
doze off on the bus
too real to be remembered.
The War Roadies
Old Mary checks her astral charts
on where to attend another war.
She’s mother to us all and much revered,
no matter she’s grown thin as wheat,
so crippled we must wheel her in a chair.
Yet her mind is keen; she knows
the ways of politics and power.
We pick a platoon with needs,
bags of white power dreams,
cacao and coffee beans,
archaic photos, kegs of ale and rum—
you name it, someone has it for you;
we are the roadie rearguard,
Crazy Adam and his ornery mules
pull our seven wagons,
(he speaks in tongues, yet they obey).
Ishmael is from Nairobi.
We do not question the surprises
in his soups and stews, though often
things are still alive when served.
Delilah and her blind girls braid their hair
with flowers woven in the strands,
if such can be found in barren lands,
to please the ones in uniform—
the universal soldier girls and boys—
comforting and mending souls,
giving their bodies, avoiding their lips.
Our dogs sport flags around their necks,
but only those of the current company—
we’re prepared with many different designs.
The troops fall in, our drums as thunder,
our bagpipes can be heard for leagues.
When the smoke of battle eclipses the stars,
Old Mary smiles and waves us on.
A kiss on the lips for the dying, regardless
of sex, creed or race, no matter who won
or who lost, for our mission is only to serve,
as our people have done for generations.
With sky-lit displays or candlelight prayers,
we honor the victors and bury the dead,
just as Old Mary commands.
Sappho’s fragments lie around us
like little puzzle pieces;
we push them side by side with our thumbs.
There, is the Nalanda library microfiche.
There, the borrower cards
from the library of Alexandria.
There, simmering in our spines,
all that we never lost.
Our fingertips still know
how to make Greek fire.
Dear, knowledge that we lost
comes back as prophecies
holding soft whispers from Andromeda
in a forgiving reality.
Libraries burnt out of spite
collapse into themselves and become stars.
Starless spaces and Greek fire.
A universe of eidetic memory.
Good Neighbors Are Hard To Find
The alien couple moved into Unit 1C,
a two-bedroom apartment in a complex
on Twenty-Fifth and Vine with
off-street parking, utilities included.
They didn’t look any stranger
than the rest of the pierced and inked-up
rebels in the neighborhood:
their antennae were barely noticeable.
Besides, they were friendly enough …
they threw killer parties, and baby-sat for free.
They liked to watch television,
especially reality shows.
But their favorite programs were
comedies like The Outer Limits,
The X-Files, and, of course, Star Trek.
The only thing was, when they
laughed too hard, all the lights
in the neighborhood flickered,
the air crackled and hummed,
and the dogs howled to the high heavens.
Yesterday, the landlord
pounded a sign into the lawn
in front of the complex that read,
“Apartment 1C for Rent.” I
asked him if they’d been evicted.
“No,” he said. “Such a pity. They gave
short notice: he got laid off, and they had
to move back home with his parents.”
He retrieved his handkerchief and blew his nose,
his moist eyes drifting skyward.
Slouching toward Greatness
being a complete success,
we return through the chronosphere
just in time to see Clinton 45
raise her hand and complete
the oath of office,
the applause so loud
it might as well be thunder.
Alternate Universe Haiku: Uniformity
Winter’s insidious spill
All snowflakes the same
A billion billion
you’re a jerk there, too.
—Geoffrey A. Landis
first appeared in microcosm
Around the Table
In the history I know, Guinevere never married Arthur
but instead threw an apron over her blue jeans
and waited tables at the diner to put herself through school.
She studied anthropology and social policy
and discusses the effects of cultural meddling
with the Lady of the Lake (who has written essays
against gifting advanced technology
to cultures too young to bear it—
outside interference is a double-edged blade).
And he himself gave up his throne, removed his crown,
packed his things and ran off with the stableboy.
They live in Montana, now, raising horses.
In his heart he always did prefer cowboys to knights.
—Jessica Jo Horowitz
The Scarlett O’Hara Sutra
When the fires of Atlanta abetted,
the bodhisattva emerged
in the form of Scarlett O’Hara.
She will lie, she will cheat, she will steal.
She will take this karma on herself until all living beings are freed.
She will know all suffering, all pains of the world and of women. She will be there in the moments of childbirth, in moments of fear and assault, in moments of loss and mourning and heartbreak.
On the mountaintop of Tara, she pronounced to all living beings: AS THIS RAGING DIAMOND IS MY WITNESS, YOU SHALL NEVER GO HUNGRY AGAIN.
No woman will face rape or degradation, no woman will die in childbirth or be murdered, no woman will ever be alone again. Call on the name of the bodhisattva and you will know no more pain and face the glory of Nirvana.
Thus I have made up.
The Headlong Year
If years had just eighty days,
Earth’s orbit hastier than Mercury’s,
would our tempers be equally precipitate,
our tweets a mere thirty characters?
—Mary Soon Lee
he used the string
in his pocket
for cat’s cradle,
bows and arrows.
Now he finds
it explains a lot.
The Theory of Everything.
Killing Hitler is still popular amongst travellers to the Alternates;
also saving Christ from the cross; or nailing him up there, it depends.
A recent trend is helping out the great and famous using hindsight;
dropping an apple on Newton’s head and a word in his ear, about gravity;
or telling Jane Austen Elinor and Marianne could be done better
as Sense and Sensibility, which alliterates and will sell more; plus,
all the Shakespeares who heard to be or not to before Hamlet got penned,
and that baffled look on young Albert’s face as you mention E=mc2
because Alternates are endless; from twins of our own timeline
to the worlds where asteroids gave the dinosaurs a miss.
Murdering your grandfather in an Alternate avoids paradox;
likewise the law. The past is a foreign country, it explains
in the small print of your contract. They have no extradition there.
But hopeless loves, lost fights and second chances have had their day,
mostly for reasons similar to the first time round. Travellers
visit close-Alternates now instead, to seek out themselves,
their innocent selves. Imagine the conversations, like parents
to wayward children. She will leave because you stifle her;
the child you don’t want now will flood your life with light;
and the writing. It turns out we had no talent after all.
For The Sake Of Argument
Here at the Armchair Quarterback Bar,
one can hear debates and arguments
drowning out the thumping of pool balls.
Was Larry Byrd the GOAT of the NBA?
What President was greater than Barbara Jordan?
Did Booth really conspire alone
in his attempt to kill Lincoln?
Will the Titanic be taken out of mothballs to sail again?
No subject is off topic.
One question needs to be asked of the Realm Master …
Is there any alternative earth
where global warming is not a topic?
Click to Enter
I did so,
on the picture of a spiral galaxy
while browsing the Hubble website
one late night.
There was a rush, a pulling
away from selfhood’s cage.
The room was gone.
The world was gone,
and I had gone …
how far beyond?
Blue stars in mist
gemmed the jet-black,
each orb of mist
a separate galaxy,
solid as I was not,
for I’d become pure thought
and held in palm of mind
creation’s clear design:
as I weighed each human passion
with a distant, dry compassion.
Stray atoms screamed
but we liked the dream!
There was a rush, a pulling
away from the lambent void.
The stars were gone,
high thoughts withdrawn.
I sat before the Hubble website
one late night.
Passing through the wall is painful—
passing a kidney stone, but the reverse:
you are the stone pushing through
an opening never intended to hold
the mass and the soul you contain.
There is no controlling where you land—
Is the only difference in this world
your best friend’s favorite flavor of cake?
Or have you found your way into chaos,
your very identity called into question?
If the ways you walk and talk and live
If your values and issues and drives
then from where do you derive your sense of self?
The pain of crossing the wall is less
than that of the questions you gain.