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The Hugo Awards have these things they call nominations tallys but they are commonly referred to as The Long Lists. These include the top fifteen nominees, and show who just missed making the finals. For example, Escape Pod, PodCastle, and Mothership Zeta all made the long list last year for Semiprozine.
One of the great values of these long lists is that it allows readers even more excellent works to add to their “to read” pile. David Steffen has worked to make mining those lists significantly more convenient for you. For the third year in a row, David has published a volume of The Long List Anthology. In this most recent version are included works from names familiar to fans of Escape Artists. Lavie Tidhar, Ursula Vernon, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Ken Liu, among a host of amazing others.
Want to know what sort of story makes it to this anthology? Go listen to episode 607 of Escape Pod and catch Red in Tooth and Cog by Cat Rambo. Been procrastinating picking up Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw or Run Time by Escape Pod’s S.B. Divya? This anthology will assuage your guilt. You can find The Long List Anthology Volume 3 at all the usual purveyors of books. If you’re already the proud owner of this book, become a subscribing supporter of Diabolical Plots which is also edited by David Steffen. Subscribing there puts you in line early for not only the ebooks of the original stories published in Diabolical Plots, but also gets you in line early for The Long List Anthology Volume 4. Go support this fantastically creative human being.
If Only Kissing Made It So
by Jason Kimble
This afternoon, the boy I’ve had a crush on for years told me two things: he loves me, and he’s a time traveler. I’m not sure if I feel crazier believing the first or the second.
If I’d known Lucas Medina had rung the doorbell, I would have thrown on a good shirt. At the very least, I would have dumped my snack in the garbage. Instead, I opened the door wearing a stained Atari T and sucking on a bright green ring pop, and instantly wanted a do over.
“Hey, Smarty. You busy?”
I palmed the ring pop, wiped at my sticky lips, and backed away a step. Smarty Marty, that’s me. I tutor Lucas in physics two days a week, but Friday isn’t one of them. I only have so much patience for trying to bridge the geek-jock gap, thanks. But you try blowing off the sight of the most confident guy in school when he’s slouched at your door playing kicked puppy with those clear, green eyes of his.
He needed a shave. Lucas is probably one of the few guys in school who genuinely grows stubble. The rest of us just manufacture some level of fruity covering. Personally, I think mine has surpassed peach fuzz and is somewhere near the prickles on a strawberry. Lucas, though: full-on dark whiskers all along his otherwise smooth cheeks and square jaw. Add to that his half-untucked T and jeans falling apart at the cuff, and I’m pretty sure the only thing missing to make him the prototypical man in need was a rainstorm.
“I … no. No, come in,” I said, before the weather got a chance to comply. Lucas quirked his mouth up at one corner.
So there we were, standing in front of my couch. I played with the edge of my oversized shirt, trying not to pay attention to the way Lucas’ tighter one clung to him, showed off our star pitcher’s pecs.
“A drink,” I managed, all but sprinting toward the kitchen. It got me out of the room, away from the still-unrevealed distress, and let me dump the ring pop. “You want something?”
“Soda, I guess,” Lucas called after me. I heard the squeak and crack as he flopped down on the couch. Then he laughed.
“You got beer?” he yelled.
I stood with the door of the fridge open, my hand wrapped around a two liter of cola. One deep breath and a forced calm later, I was handing Lucas a can of Miller.
“My dad buys 24-packs, then nurses them for two or three months,” I said in response to him raising one thick eyebrow. “He never notices if I snag a stray here or there.”
Lucas popped the tab and took a large gulp. He smiled at me. Well, probably at the beer, but since the beer couldn’t appreciate it, I lay claim to the scruffy grin.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said, sitting back, the can resting on his knee. “I just forget sometimes you’re not as white bread as everyone thought.”
“They don’t think that anymore?” I quipped, perching on the couch’s far arm. Lucas took another swig of beer.
“Sorry. Misspoke. Nevermind.”
Not sure where else to go, I started with the obvious: “So, what brings you here?” The obvious, I should be proud to point out, presented in a tried and truly crappy bar pickup line kind of way.
He took another gulp of beer, then handed the can to me.
“You were going to ask me something earlier today, at the practice field,” Lucas announced.
It was my turn to swig. Smooth and refreshing, my ass, but it still only takes about half a can of the stuff to give me a buzz, and I needed the courage.
“I didn’t think you saw me. I–”
“I did. And if I’d had that fight with Sydney when I was supposed to–”
“When you–? What, you schedule those shouting matches?”
Lucas pushed himself up and faced away, one hand holding the back of his neck.
“I am all sorts of fucking this up,” he muttered.
I set the beer down on one of the herd of coasters covering the end table and stood up, too.
“Hey, I’m sorry. Sometimes my inner snark takes over. You’re right. I was going to hang around and finish watching practice.”
“Is that the right time?” Lucas pointed to the large wall clock: 4:07.
“Um, yeah,” I managed, a little off balance. Then I lost the rest of my balance when Lucas turned, grabbed my shoulders, and covered my lips with his.
I tried to pull away, but his fingers dug in. His mouth reseated itself, whiskers scratching me. As his tongue nudged my lips, I let it in. I stopped pushing away at his chest and instead let my hands rest there. I closed my eyes. The awkwardness of it melted as I let him lead. There was a rhythm to it, not quite matching my heartbeat, but close.
He broke off far more gently than he’d begun, though his hands still held my shoulders. His eyes darted across my face. I smiled, and the tension in his fingers eased. His smile was a crooked, nervous thing.
“So?” he asked, letting go of me and shoving his hands in his pockets. He’s a good half a head taller than me, but the gesture made him look small.
“Well, I don’t have a basis for comparison, and my lips are a little rug burned from the stubble, but … yeah.”
He flushed, and I felt heat rise in my own face.
I gulped some more beer and offered him the can to finish off. When he was done slamming it back, he fell onto the couch, stared at the ceiling, and sighed loudly.
“Have you told anyone yet?” I asked.
“We just kissed two seconds ago,” he shot back.
“Well, I meant more generally. Do your parents know you’re gay?”
He groaned and closed his eyes, tapping the empty beer can against his knee.
“Don’t remind me.”
“Then you told them?”
“No, but I do not look forward to the 23rd, let me tell you.”
I couldn’t help the nervous laugh. “You put it on the calendar?”
“I … sort of.”
Lucas handed off the empty beer can. I stashed it in the garbage, under some stray homework papers. Then I sat down next to him.
“It’s okay. I get it. I mean, it’s like every second of your life’s blocked out. I feel that way all the time, and I don’t have half your commitments. Between school and ball and student council and that internship, I’m amazed you don’t have to schedule taking a dump.”
Lucas’ head lolled my way on the fuzzy couch back. He raised an eyebrow.
“You … don’t schedule that, do you?” I risked quipping.
Lucas chuckled and put a hand on my knee. Then he leaned over and kissed me again. This time the desperation was gone. So too was my awkwardness.
When he pulled away, it wasn’t very far. Lucas’ face hovered there. I felt warm again, but it was a comforting sensation rather than the previous burn of embarrassment.
“There,” Lucas said, almost a whisper. “That’s how I remember it.”
“Let me guess: I kiss like your cheerleader girlfriend.”
“Smarty, no one I know the rest of my life will kiss the way you do.”
“Sure they will,” I said, feeling suddenly naked. I turned to the muted television and watched silent, cartoon robots battling on the screen.
Lucas’ head fell against my shoulder and he sighed loudly.
“I’m making a mess of this.”
“You? No. No, I’m just–Lucas, don’t blame me being all over the place on–”
He stood up, then, running his hands through his always-tousled, black hair.
“Trust me,” he said, looking up at the clock. “By now we should be in the middle of some under-the-shirt groping.”
“Oh?” I crossed my arms and folded my legs up onto the cushions. “In a hurry? I’m sorry if I’m not as easy as Sydney. Maybe it has to do with my owning underwear.”
“Shit, shit, shit,” he muttered, covering his face and pacing toward the kitchen. “God, I am just so tired…”
I held myself back a moment, but I couldn’t keep my defenses up. I walked to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“It gets easier,” I lied.
“What’s the point?” Lucas said flatly, letting his hands fall. I reached for one and took it, squeezed it slightly as I locked my eyes on his.
“Whatever else happens, you have to be–”
“‘–honest with yourself,'” he finished for me. His expression lightened a moment, though I wasn’t sure if that was from my assurance or the look on my own face.
“Obvious cheese?” I asked.
“Yeah, but that’s not how I–”
Lucas bit at his lip, looked at the clock, then let out another sigh.
“You know, what the hell,” he said, leading me once again to the couch. “Might as well get it all out there. This one’s obviously a replay, so it’s not like it’ll make a difference. But I should tell you at least once.”
“Replay?” I asked as he sat us down.
“Do you ever feel like it’s the wrong day?”
“No. I mean, you wake up, and all day long you could swear it’s Thursday, but it’s Wednesday. Everyone knows it, even you.”
“Except when you don’t pay attention,” I carried on from his premise. “Yeah. Actually, today’s been one of those. I keep thinking it’s Saturday, then realize it’s Friday and I still have the whole weekend ahead of me.”
“It’s an extra day,” Lucas said.
“I guess you could look at it like–”
“No. It is. It should be Saturday, but I messed things up, so it’s Friday again.”
“What, you forgot to set the universal alarm and Saturday never woke up?” I couldn’t seem to find a comfortable position to sit in.
“Dude, I was kidding.”
“And I’m not,” Lucas said, leaning in, hand on my knee. This time the contact gave me goosebumps of a different sort.
“Smarty, I went and did something stupid. I–we’re–everyone’s always saying ‘if I had it all to do over again.’ I found out how.”
His teeth flashed at the announcement: “You always told me I was smarter than I let myself be. And eventually I admitted to myself you were right. Seems you keep outing me all over the place. When I’m forty-five, I figure out how to come back, how to get a do over–”
“‘and set right what once went wrong.’ Lucas, I’ve seen Quantum Leap. You need a better–”
“I’m serious,” the smile fell as he grabbed my elbow, stopped my turn away. The green in his eyes went from cool to an intense heat.
“There were things I wanted to fix, not the least of which was us, but it doesn’t work that way.”
“Us?” I swallowed the rest of the snark as Lucas’ face reddened. His fingers dug into the soft flesh around my elbow, though, and I couldn’t swallow the yelp of pain.
Lucas’ mouth fell open, as did his hand. He sprang up to pace.
“I have fucked up so many things in my life, you don’t even know,” he announced.
“I hardly believe that. Everyone knows Lucas Medina is a golden child.”
“Stop,” he pleaded. That puppy-dog look — the one he’d arrived with — was back. “The point is, I can’t change it. Any of it.”
“See, now the story just falls apart, Lucas,” I said, snappish despite myself, despite the look. “You came back in time with all the knowledge of your forty-five-year-old, brilliant scientist self, and you can’t change anything?”
“I don’t know. Whether time is immutable or I’m anchored to a single eventuality, all I know is, any day that doesn’t match up? I have to live it again until it plays out the way it did the first time.”
“And the first time, what? You weren’t a faggot?” He looked like it hurt, but nothing he said made any sense.
“I read this story once,” I continued, “where an anal-retentive, straight-laced guy decided to kill his co-worker. He went to the house, but couldn’t go through with it. Instead, he acted so out of character that no one believed the co-worker the next day when she related the whole, freaky thing.
“If you’re worried I’m going to tell somebody, Lucas, just say so. You’re the locker room gossip. Does Sydney even know the shit you talk about her?”
My face burned again, though this time there was nothing whatsoever pleasant in the experience. I couldn’t keep my hands still. My elbow ached. When he reached out to me, I flinched.
“Martin, please. I–yeah. I will fuck this up, too, because that’s what I did before, when I was stupid and horny and didn’t realize what we could… but not today. Today isn’t supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to be this big relief. We wind up in your bedroom. We should have been there already. We don’t … finish ’cause your mom comes home early with a pizza to celebrate her surprise raise.”
“Stop playing me, Lucas,” I whispered. He’d never said my actual name before. Is that why I didn’t flinch when he closed the second time? He cupped one hand around my cheek, his thumb absently brushing back and forth close to my ear.
“I’m not,” he whispered back. One more kiss. This one was … I don’t even know. It swallowed me up and I didn’t care. I let everything–or he made everything–wash out around us.
“Don’t worry,” he said when he pulled away. “This didn’t–it wasn’t how it should have been. I’ll get it right tomorrow. I promise.”
And then he left. I only got my feet moving again when he’d closed the door.
Last I saw of him, Lucas was loping off down the street. He slid right back into place in the plain sidewalks and pre-fab flower gardens. Somewhere down the block, another jock buddy met up with him. They smacked each other on the back. I imagined for a minute they’d planned to meet, to go over the joke.
He fall for it?
Fuck yeah. Lucas would flash that smile. He was totally into it, the dirty queer.
My imagined victory celebration of Jock Prank 738 was interrupted when my mother pulled into the driveway, home some 45 minutes early. She waved at me from her open window, the frantic wave of a ten-year-old on his birthday.
Lucas looks just as surprised to see me knocking on his bedroom window in the middle of the night as I was to see him at my door this afternoon. Well, actually, he looks really groggy, but it’s a surprised groggy. He’s far too hot with his shirt off, bed-head be damned. His question, as he slides the window up and squints against the street light behind me, is the same one I’ve been asking since I snuck out of the house half an hour ago.
“What the hell are you doing, Smarty?”
“Breaking three or four laws to start, possibly more. There’s the curfew, then stealing Mom’s car, then driving alone with just a permit … ”
Lucas crosses his arms and starts looking around behind me. Time to go somewhere with this.
“My mother got a raise today,” I try.
Some of Lucas’ sleep haze seems to fade, but he doesn’t say anything yet.
“Here’s the big question for me,” I throw into the continuing silence, “is the first boy I ever kissed delusional, a sociopathic prankster, or a cursed time traveler destined to hurt me despite himself?”
Lucas fights a smile as he pops the screen and climbs outside.
“You practiced that.”
“Damn right,” I say, smiling back. “But you didn’t ask for the practiced answer.”
A muffled snort and he asks, “so, what’s the answer?”
“I think it’s a trick question.”
That one actually seems to throw him. He freezes a moment, looks at us exposed on the lawn below the street light, then grabs my arm and leads me under the shadow of an oak further into his back yard.
“When does it happen?” I ask.
“What?” He crosses his arms against a sudden, chilly breeze.
“When does the day reset? Is it always the same time?”
Lucas closes his eyes, and a deep furrow digs itself between his brows.
“I thought as much. Doesn’t matter if you’re awake or asleep?”
“No,” he answers, opening his eyes again. I can’t see the green–just the odd twinkle of moisture–but I know it’s there.
“I was hoping,” I say.
“Please, Martin. Don’t.”
My watch starts beeping.
“Have you ever been touching anyone when it happened?”
“I–not that I remember. Why is your–?”
“We have one minute,” I answer. There’s another gust of night air, and Lucas angles his back against it, moving to block the breeze for me, as well.
He’s too much muscle for me to be cool. There’s no sweeping gesture, no pulling him to me. I don’t care. I lunge at him and he holds up his arms. I slip in between them and kiss him. It’s only off for a second, as I clutch at his sides to keep him from pulling away. Then he does what I can’t, and wraps his arms around me to hold us together.
I don’t know how long we’ve been kissing. I don’t know when it will end. If it will. If I’ll wake up and it will be today again and I won’t remember. This is all I know: Lucas Medina smells of a mixture of spicy deodorant and dried sweat. He’s got a patch of gooseflesh on the small of his back. His tongue carries a hint of cinnamon. His whiskers have scratched my lips raw again. And we’re breathing in unison.
About the Author
Jason Kimble left the tornadoes of Michigan for the hurricanes of Florida, because spinning air is better when it’s warm. He lives there with his finally-legal husband. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Escape Pod and the Speculative Masculinities anthology from Galli Books, as well as twice previously on Cast of Wonders. You can find more of his nattering at this website, Process Wonk, or on Twitter.
About the Narrator
Max Gladstone is the Hugo, John W Campbell, XYZZY, and Lambda Award-Nominated author of the Craft Sequence, beginning with THREE PARTS DEAD and most recently continuing in RUIN OF ANGELS. He is also a game designer, and the lead writer on the globetrotting urban fantasy serial BOOKBURNERS, available in ebook and audio from Serial Box, and in print from Saga Press.
Max lived and taught for two years in rural Anhui province, and has traveled throughout Asia and Europe. He speaks Chinese, can embarrass himself reading Latin, and is a martial artist, fencer, and fiddler. He’s also worked as a research assistant for the Berkman Center for Internet and Policy Law, a tour guide for the Swiss Embassy, a go-between for a suspicious Chinese auto magazine, a translator, a philosophy TA, a tech industry analyst, and an editor. He has wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, sung at Carnegie Hall, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia.