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Cast of Wonders 496: Excuse Me, this is the Quiet Car


Excuse me, this is the Quiet Car

by Cara Mast

The magic of the quiet car is best when everyone follows the rules.

I’m halfway through the math problem I’ve been mulling over when a sudden bleep-bleep-bring-a-ling in the quiet makes me jump, slamming my knees into the fold-down tray table. Ouch.

And then, as if the phone ringing wasn’t enough, the man across the aisle from me picks up. “This is Paul Whitford. Yeah, hey Jerry, what do you need?”

White- and grey-haired heads pop up from the seats ahead of our row, the usual crowd of over-65’s turning to look for the disturbance. I really just want to go back to my problem set. The train shakes audibly around us, more like a throat clearing than regular train rumbles, and I’m pretty sure that’s a warning at this point. I’d rather not find out. Much as I’d like to ignore this guy, he’s now made his business everyone’s business. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 495: And I Will Make Thy Name Great


And I Will Make Thy Name Great

by Louis Evans

Abraham, the potter’s son, was sweeping out the workshop late one night, the air hot, the sweat beading on his brow, the kiln still radiating the baking heat it had absorbed over the course of the day.

This was when he heard the voice.

“Boy!”

Abraham looked around.

No source of the voice was apparent. No person had stepped into the shed, nor were the flames of a djinn visible. Four copies of the idol of Suen, god of the moon and chief among gods, were cooling on the shelf opposite the kiln, and sometimes Suen spoke to believers, but the idols were not yet consecrated and certainly could not host the presence of the god. No raven perched in the workshop’s eaves, croaking out an imitation of speech. Abraham was baffled. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 494: The Day I Didn’t Get a Pet Nebula


The Day I Didn’t Get a Pet Nebula

by Effie Seiberg

On the day I turned nine, I didn’t get a pet nebula.

I’d really really wanted one, just like the one Shelly had. And I’d been talking about it FOR-EVER, so Dad could have the time to save up for the one in the pawn shop, and I’m not usually patient enough to talk about anything that long. I told him how responsible I was and how I could take it for walks and trim its dust wisps and everything. I made him breakfast when he got home from his shift a bunch of times, and even did the dishes after to prove how responsible I was.

“C’mon kiddo, you know that’s not possible,” he’d said, ten rotation cycles before my birthday. We were at the wobbly kitchen table and he was helping me with my physics homework after dinner, so everything still smelled like tacos with neutron star shavings and spray cheese. The chapter was all about distortions of spacetime, cosmic strings and black holes and whatnot. He leaned his head on one tentacle, like he was too tired to hold it up on its own. Even his work shirt looked tired, like the frayed thin patches were struggling to hold his tentacles in. “A pet nebula isn’t happening.” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 492: Stillwater


Stillwater

by Valerie Kemp

Nothing ever changes in Stillwater. Nothing. I get up every morning at the crack of dawn, in the blazing heat, and drive our pick-up all over, delivering eggs and milk and whatever else my daddy feels like selling, to the good people of Stillwater, population 413.

I work my way in a circle from the edge of town, where we live, to the center. I endure all the little old ladies who like to pinch my cheek when they tell me, “Why Pruitt Reese, you are becoming more like your daddy every day!” Like that’s a good thing. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 488: Little Wonders 32 – the Power of Imagination


Interview with a Sixth Grade Science Fiction Food Stylist

by B Myers

A full excerpt from Gustatory Semiotics Review (Winter) follows.


It was our privilege to conduct this interview at the Matz residence in Saukinee, casually situated near our subject’s working environment—the Matz kitchen table. Kevin Matz, in his brief tenure as an originator of radical alterities in the foodsphere, has already reworked several well-known genre themes (via found objects, snack items, condiments, and food coloring) into novel tableaux formats. We found the artist a voluble if elliptical subject.


GSR: Kevin, let’s talk about the nearly complete canvas we see before us—Jelly Caravan. This installation, which will remain on exhibit until—.”

Kevin: About 5:30.

GSR: At first glance, this piece seems to represent graphically the terror of distances. Upon a vast expanse of black construction paper we see a tenuous line of objects. What is the significance or purpose of these objects you refer to as jelly galleons?

Kevin: The jelly galleons bring jellies from other star systems. Probably because the flavors come from the starlight. It’s hard to tell. No one understands the language of the jelly galleons. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 486: Eight Arms to Hold You


Eight Arms to Hold You

by Angela Teagardner

Oscar woke with the sun. He turned one glassy eye toward the tiny window near the ceiling where rose-gold light crept in. It was barred with a lattice of steel–steel currently scalloped with red paper hearts–but at least it faced toward the rising sun. He’d learned to wake as soon as that light, or maybe just the warmth from it, crept across his sensitive skin.

He stretched his limbs, reaching almost to the edges of his tiny cell. Today was the day. Operation Puddle Jump was a go. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 485: Simons, Far and Near


Simons, Far and Near

by Ana Gardner

Days after a solar hurricane fried Western Europe, nations across the world gathered their brightest grade-schoolers, and they launched us into space with promises of glory and cake.

Solar storms were worsening ahead of schedule, said government men in wrinkled suits, as they pulled us from our underground shelters and stuffed us into armored tanks. The exodus ships, forced to launch early, weren’t ready to sustain endless space travel. They’d need places to land, shelters for their thousands of passengers, far from our ever-deadlier sun.

And someone had to travel on ahead and build those shelters.

Fortunately, we learned as we marched up the launch ramp, Earth had a few shuttles ready for immediate departure. Sure, they had poor radiation shields and leaky engines, but wouldn’t you know it? Shuttle travel damaged the body worst after puberty. Kids had great odds of surviving a trip across the solar system.

‘Great odds’—those were the words they used, and they loaded us into hastily-cobbled ships and chucked us from burning Earth like spores from a coughing fungus. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 482: In Real Time (Staff Picks 2021)


In Real Time

by Avra Margariti

The kites frozen across the sky dapple the lawn like stained glass. Human statues dot the park, caught mid-motion: picnicking, dog-walking, sun-bathing. They might have been unnerving, once. Now, the utter stillness and silence soothes me like nothing else. In Frozen Time, scents are amplified tenfold. Grass, flowers, sugar. I drop a few coins into a vendor’s tip jar, then fill a clear bag with candy worms, chewing as I stroll down the small hill.

When a shape weaves between the stationary people, I think it’s only an optical illusion. A vase, two faces, now a vase again.

I blink, and the silhouette has drawn closer. It belongs to a kid not much younger than me in appearance, although there’s really no way to tell with people like us, who know how to manipulate time. The kid nods at me, casual like we’re meeting in the street and not in a frozen world, then steals a fistful of my candy.

“Who are you?” I ask once my tongue unglues itself from my palate. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 481: Factory Mother (Staff Picks 2021)


Factory Mother

by Sid Jain

The mushroom mycelia sundering in the pale, hot fermentation medium reminded Hanifa of her apartment building melting in Old Delhi: when concrete flowed like lava and spilled her life onto the streets.

“Hani, you with me?”

Hani blinked twice. “Yes, Gary.”

She stepped away from the sightglass, away from her memories. She was here, now, contained by the blistered grey walls of Mycagen Foods, in Durham, North Carolina. Here, the air didn’t slough the skin off newborns in their crib.

Gary, her night shift supervisor, rapped on his handheld tablet with his four fingers impatiently. “We don’t have all night, Hanifa.”

Well, Gary, she thought, learn to wait as I have. I’ve been waiting to be American for years. We all have our vigils to keep. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 480: The Umbra


The Umbra

by Johnny Caputo

The Umbra glided from rooftop to rooftop, his footing sure and light. The soles of his boots made no sound as he bounded from shingle to snowy shingle because he was silence incarnate, justice in the night. The Keepers, oblivious in their cushy, heated houses below, were too busy stuffing their gluttonous faces or resting their slothful heads to be aware of his presence. But soon enough, they would know the terror the darkness brings. The Umbra would teach them the true definition of justice. He would make them feel the wrath of—

Dave stubbed his toe on a snow-covered, rooftop skylight. He took a tumble and nearly cracked his head against the gravel. Luckily, he wasn’t going nearly as fast as he would have liked to imagine, so he managed to get his arms underneath him to soften the blow. He sat there for a terrible, silent moment, feeling the full sting of his mishap in both his hands and his pride. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 479: Loving the Falls (Staff Picks 2021)


Loving the Falls

by Marie Vibbert

I was in love with falling water. If I stared at a waterfall long enough, it pulled me to jump in. I could read the signs about sharp rocks and imagine the looks of disapproval that warned me against it, but I was always going to give in some day. I did, in my senior year of high school, during the spring flood. The vitality of the river was over-the-top, the surface all surge and deft scoops. I imagined it’d be like sliding on silk, or caramel, or running my body over God’s six-pack abs.

It wasn’t.

The impact hurt; rock cracked my butt like the water wasn’t there, and then I was breathing water, sputtering. I panicked and flailed, realizing I’d made a terrible mistake. My love was unrequited, leaving me nothing but a slush of pebbles and twigs and the slick-as-snot bottom. No glorious view of the edge, no anticipation, no acceptance. There was a brief moment of stomach-less-ness, and then I hit a wall of concrete and died. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 476: When Whales Fall


When Whales Fall

by Darcie Little Badger

As the whale corpse landed, Discordant Hum felt auspicious vibrations in the cold abyssal water. “A giant fell,” she said. “It’s ours.” Her body glowed green-pleased. Quick Squeak and Melodious Chord, Discord’s sisters, swam in tight circles above her head.

“What about neighbor broods?” Melodious asked. “They may want it, too.” She waved a tentacle, one of six hanging down her belly, its tip shorn during the last territorial fight.

“You have five spares,” Quick said.

“As a sculptor, I need them all!” (Continue Reading…)