February 2012


The terminal housed busses and the occasional passenger train that still chugged along the line. It was hard to escape the fact that it was a relic of the days when our withered burg had been a transportation hub of the mid-South before the highway had been cut fifteen minutes east.

In the men’s room before my bus arrived, I noticed that someone had scrawled a racial epithet. That sort of thing always irks me, not least because such things reinforce the Hollywood stereotype of the South as a land of relentless bigots. It made me feel a bit better, though, that other people had apparently been as disturbed as I and scribbled their own ripostes.

My personal favorite: “One day, we will all be asked to account for our actions on this earth. Do you really want to explain your men’s room graffiti to your lord and savior?”

He never wanted for business, and the kids’ parents tended to pay well–very well. Helicopter parenting did wonders for his bank account as investment bankers fretted that their children might acquire criminal records for youthful hijinks before they could take over the family business.

Sometimes, though…

Stevens looked through the police report. His latest client had gotten into an altercation at a house party in the student ghetto (over a boy) and she’d been caught trying to cut her romantic rival’s brake lines with a pair of scissors. Red-handed, she had stabbed her discoverer in the leg with the aforementioned shears and fled in her car–in the presence of 8-10 witnesses, no less!–causing minor scrapes and damage to other vehicles in her wake. One of the witnesses had actually been a reporter for the student newspaper, allowing the incident to be blown up and lurid on the next day’s front page (“SOUTHERN MICHIGAN STUDENT STABBED IN ATTEMPTED MURDER”) with exclusive pictures.

The girl in question had blown a .10 when she’d been taken into custody–12 hours after the incident!–and been found carrying an aspirin bottle filled with Ecstacy and methamphetamines. So there were no less than 13 indictments or other charges facing the girl, and her father had literally faxed a blank check from his tri-state plumbing supply business that morning.

Stevens sighed, and began composing a short press release for the SMU student paper.

“Look, I was told that I could find the person I’m looking for here,” said Davis. “This just looks like another saloon in a town full of them.” The various customers didn’t react to his outburst, save a little girl seated near the back who regarded Davis with intelligent eyes.

“You come in here whining about how you want a molder to make you a person, on the strength of a rumor you heard over a glass of whiskey, and you complain to me about it?” The bartender laughed. “You’ve got to realize, son that the Permeable Lands are just like the world outside. You’ve got to give something to get something. What have you got that anyone who could mold that well would ever want?”

Davis produced a handful of crystals and dumped them on the bar. “I think you know what these are.”

The bartender raised an eyebrow. “Another thing you’ve got to realize, son, is that the Permeable Lands aren’t like the world outside at all. What do you suppose I mean by that?”

Davis stared quizzically at the man for a moment before comprehension dawned on his face. “All the bottles behind your bar are empty,” he said. “The people in here–all of them–haven’t made so much as a sound. Saloons aren’t like that even on a quiet day. And that little girl staring at me…no one would let a kid like that into a place like this and put her at a table with four full-grown men playing poker.

“Now, that’s more like it,” said the bartender. “You’ve passed the first test.” As he spoke, the figure before Davis melted away into sand.

As did the bar, the walls, the other patrons.

Davis was left standing in an alley, covered with alkaline dust and gripping his payment in the palms of his hands. The girl was the only thing that hadn’t vanished on the wind.

“Name’s Caroline,” she said. “I’m the molder you were looking for, and you’ve interested me enough to hear you out.”

F. Randall Dortmund’s parents had worked in publishing–specifically, in remainders–so he grew up surrounded by books that no one wanted to read. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, that worked out to writers of high Victorian prose and Gothic melancholy romances. Surrounded by reams of the stuff, Dortmund imbibed it all deeply and came to feel that those old authors were being wrongly overlooked in a cynical and overly practical age.

So it’s scarcely surprising that, when he came of age, Dortmund would write the sort of book he wanted to read. Toiling away in business school with a vague notion of taking over the family business, he wrote novel after novel of his own curious blend of chaste Victoriana and towering Gothic melodrama. His family connections were enough to get the first few published, but in 1947 that wasn’t what most people wanted to read.

The later postwar era, though, saw an explosion of interest in Dortmund’s work, enough that he was able to support himself as a full-time writer. His books shed some of the most irksome features of the 19th-century works they emulated–and all the more palatable to modern readers as a result–but were utterly chaste, with mainly psychological, internal, and melancholy conflicts with precious little blood. They were regarded as suitable reading for all ages.

One would have thought that the counterculture movement that followed would have spelled the end of Dortmund’s popularity, but his books soon became newly popular in an ironic sense, with many readers delighting in the innuendo that could be found in his naive prose. This led the author to accentuate those features to an extent bordering on parody, alienating many earlier readers but gaining new ones.

There is much speculation on how Dortmund’s private life and sexuality influenced his later writings, but he was notoriously aloof and private even as he made himself available for regular public consultations with fans (the “Dortmund circle”).

When he died from a combination of pneumocystis pneumoni and Kaposi’s sarcoma in 1984, Dortmund’s executors found one last novel in his private safe (with instructions that it be published immidiately), along with a signed press release to be issued on the author’s death.

The press release ready, simply: “Be kind to animals, love one another honestly, and dream gothic dreams.”

“What, do you think all dryads have to be prissy little girls prancing around sprinkling fairy dust? I’m an androdryad for Pete’s sake!”

“Well, excuse me!” Jennie cried. “It’s not my fault that all the dryads in d’Aulaire’s are girls!”

“Yes, please do take others’ prejudices and perpetuate them,” the young man snapped back. “That’s going to heal the wounds of generations of androdryads who feel like chopped liver while their sisters are celebrated in melody and verse!”

Jennie opened her mouth to respond, but found herself preempted. “Syke!” Whelk screamed from the back. “Hurry up with those customers! I’ve boxes that need moving!”

“A fine fate for a son of Oxylus and Hamadryas, working as a stockboy for an ungrateful dried-out old bogey,” the androdryad–Syke, apparently–hissed under his breath.

Jennie needed to speak to the shopkeeper, not his assistant, but her curiosity was piqued. “How is it that he can boss you around like that? I thought dryads generally did their own thing. And aren’t you supposed to be tied to a tree or something? What are you doing inside?”

“Oh, so now the clay’s going to lecture me about my own nature, is that it?” Syke said. “d’Aulaires left that bit out, did they? For your information, clay, I am in fact the bound spirit of a fig sapling. The old bogey has it under a fluorescent lamp in the back, and if he doesn’t think my countenance is cheery enough, he holds the water for a few days or switches the light off. He-”

The young man suddenly staggered, looking quite pale. “You like that, do you?” Whelk shouted. “I’ll pull off another leaf if you don’t get rid of that clay and snap to this instant!”

“Now, I run an honest faro bank, good sir,” Evans said with his best ten-dollar smile. “I’d stake my reputation on it, and I’m known from Dunn’s Crossing to Prosperity Falls.”

“Hmph,” Perkins snorted. “That might be enough for the miners and other hardtack types wandering through here, but I’ve read my Hoyle’s. It says there ain’t an honest faro bank from ocean to ocean and I’m apt to agree.”

“Well, if you see it that way, sir—not that I agree with said interpretation—I could see my way to moving on.” Evans kept smiling even as his mood darkened and he slowly reached for his faro box. He’d hoped for a few more days—maybe even a week—in town.

“Now, I ain’t closed you down yet on account of the fact that no matter what I say, people with more money than wits is gonna want to play, and I’d rather you out in the open where I can get a clean shot then in some back room where you’re free to put .44 to brainpan if someone catches you at your cheating.” Perkins rested his hand on the heavy Colt Walker by his side. “I may not go by ‘Gravedigger’ Perkins anymore, but I’m not afraid to fill six feet of earth with them that deserve it.”

“You wouldn’t gun down an unarmed man in broad daylight with witnesses, would you, deputy?” Evans said. He kept the grin at its brightest even as he eased his box closed, ready for an upturned table and a run to the post outside. “Seems like that’d be bad for all kinds of business, not to mention raising all sorts of questions. I’ll see myself out, if you don’t mind, and save you the cost of a cartridge.”

The voice had come from behind. Jennie, startled, turned and pressed herself against the marble wall.

“I said, have you come to steal the treasure? Come to steal the Prophetic Orb?” One of the decorative caryatid columns, the one that looked like a nude young woman carrying a sword, stirred and stepped off its pedestal.

“N-no, I swear!” Jennie cried. “I’m just here to talk to it!”

The caryatid immediately relaxed. “Thank goodness!” She stuck her swordpoint in the ground and leaned against its hilt in a casual pose. “I would have had to kill you then, and I really do hate killing people. Gives you the feeling that you’re just ruining their day, you know? Or I guess any other days that might possibly have from now until forever, too.”

“But I’m okay if I don’t want to take it?” Jennie said, relaxing a little herself. Posed as she was, all the statue needed was a pair of tights and a cell phone to be the spitting stone image of a college freshman.

“Oh yes. I was created–or was that summoned, I forget–strictly to defend the Orb. Other than that and not leaving except to pursue it, things are pretty well wide open. I love it when pilgrims come to talk to the Orb. Gives me a chance to catch up on all the latest news and trends. Why, I remember about a thousand years ago it was even considered good luck to talk to me before seeing the Orb. I don’t mind telling you–even though I’m a teensy bit ashamed–that I turned that into an opportunity to get the nicest shoes and clothes from those poor folks. They always rotted away after a few decades, though. Pity. Would you like to talk? I think you might be about my size, maybe a little bigger.” The caryatid didn’t notice Jennie bristle at that remark. “Maybe you have some cast-off closet-filler I can drape? I promise, it won’t take but a moment–or maybe two–and then you can go see the Orb.”

“The Orb, huh?” Jennie said. “You mean the one that used to be in the orb-shaped dimple on that pedestal?”

The caryatid glanced over and then did a double-take so comical that Jennie had to laugh despite herself. “It’s gone! Oh no, oh no, oh no! The Fáidh told me this would happen if I kept trying to extort visitors for pretty things!” She glanced at her visitor with a darkened expression–well, really more of a pout than anything–and tried to tug her sword out of the ground. “You took it, didn’t you?”

“And where would I keep an Orb the size of a regulation basketball in this outfit?” Jennie cried. “My pockets are barely big enough for my cell and wallet!”

The student-run newspaper at Southern Michigan, the SMU Times, was notorious for exactly two things: the number of alumni that had gone on to work major news desks all over the country, and the absolutely infernally wretchedly awful state of its copy editing. Some, myself included, have opined that there must be some relation between the two.

Who could forget the time that the paper blew the lid off the extraordinary rendition and torture practices of the SMUPD? That epochal headline had read “Arson Suspects Held in Campus Fire.”

Then–this one is legendary–we have the spoonerism in one of the Times’ “Voice on the Street” posts. The reporter, paraphrasing an interviewee, had clearly meant to write “sorority girls sucking from university funds.” He was worried that Phi Qoppa Mu was taking cash away from the other student organizations, but when the paper published the story, it read (if you’ll pardon my French) “sorority girls fucking some university funds.” Microsoft Word helpfully changed “srom” to “some,” proving once and for all that Bill Gates does in fact have a sense of humor.

There was also the time the Times spoke of a quote from former South African president “Nelson Mandevla.” I couldn’t quite decide if that brutal misspelling evoked a Mandela under development (Mandevla ver. 0.93a) or a twisted lovechild of Mandela and Dmitry Medvedev.

Mollycraig Smith was so named because her parents had each made unfortunate promises to key family members. Mr. Smith had promised his mother Molly that he would name his unborn daughter after her; Mrs. Smith had sworn up and down to her father Craig that her unborn son would be named after him.

When Mollycraig came along–and both grandparents were present–Mr. and Mrs. Smith had to think fast in the delivery room.

Luckily, they’d promised Great Uncle Joe and Great Aunt Jo Mollycraig’s middle name.

We continue our two-year anniversary celebration today by highlighting important new imaginary contributors to the site, as well as a few whose older submissions were shamefully overlooked by the EFNB editorial staff this time last year.

Philip H. Fleming
Among the Primordial Star Clouds, Between the Pleiades, Shadows of Late-Sequence Stars

Provo, Utah native Philip Harold Fleming is an avid online gamer who moonlights as a systems analyst for a mid-level accounting firm. He calls the works he’s submitted so far part of an ambitious “online space opus” that relates space travel to MMORPGs.

John Sullivan
Deep Daybreak, Deep Departure, Deep Midnight, Musings

An insurance adjuster from Miami, OH, John Sullivan writes about topics regarding his “unusually introspective” childhood and adolescence. “If it seems a little needy and insecure,” Sullivan says, “I hope that also means it’s relatable, since I’ve never met anybody who isn’t at least one of those two things.”

Mark Amiton
Grant’s Crossing, Impermeable Army, The Molder’s Creed, The Permeable Lands, Up the Crystal Staircase

Mark Amiton works as an advertising copywriter in Mt. Pleasant, MI, and claims to be fascinated by advertising’s ability to influence reality. The idea of making or unmaking the physical world at whim is a strong feature in Amiton’s prose; “I wish it really were like that,” he told us, “so I could just make my books through sheer force of will rather than having to sit down and write up the damn things.”

C. D. Bayles
Flamethrower Faerie Junior High XL, Kaiser of the Roads

A pseudonym, C. D. Bales prefers that details about his or her biography, occupation, and place of residence remain strictly confidential. The editors of EFNB have respected his wish, and instead encoded Bales’ personal information throughout the site using an elaborate series of ciphers.

Callie Wellson Dowes
Tumor’s Essence, Tumor’s Tenacity

A former nurse and current epidemiology intern at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention at Emory University in Georgia, Ms. Dowes has a natural interest in the mechanisms of disease. Her experience with transmissible tumors, HeLa cells, and parthenogenesis–combined with a very comprehensive collection of Japanese anime and video games–strongly influence her submitted works.

Carla Y. Eleuard
Beneath a Sundering Sky, Jasper’s Hope, Legion’s Legacy

A dual citizen of France and the United States, Ms. Eleuard splits her time between Boston and Marseilles. As a former staff member of the erotic Anglo-French science fantasy magazine Oreillers Lourds, Ms. Eleuard is interested in “smart stories that play with the apocalypse in slightly kinky ways.” Her dream is to launch the world’s first dedicated graphic novel in the Provençal dialect of Occitan.

Cull Featherton
Easy Money, Mercenary’s Folly

Another pseudonym, Mr. Featherton insists that his stories rise out of his experience as a mercenary during the Angolan Civil War. When confronted with a list of inconsistencies collected by our researchers that seem to suggest otherwise, Mr. Featherton argued that certain details had been altered to “protect the guilty” and “prevent any blockheaded kids from trying anything stupid.”

Harry M. Guest
Lanxisol Centlin Subject 012a, Lanxisol Subject 112b

Harry Guest works as a pharmacist for Fizlere Corp. out of Battle Creek, MI. As one might imagine, his work–both in the molecular chemistry and sleazy business aspects of the field–has led to a fascination with drugs and heir side effects. Mr. Guest assures our editors that the products he describes are in no way shape or form reminiscent of any pharmaceuticals manufactured by Fizlere. “Side effects for our products are typically upset stomach,” he says, “not superpowers.”

Connor Haehnel
Datastream Rapids, The Datane Trojan

We believe Connor Haehnel to be a psuedonym; the author himself has been mum on the subject. He claims to be an employee of a large West Coast technology firm that he would prefer not to name, and his stories are reflective of the future he sees for the technology industry “for better or (almost certainly) worse.”

Sandra Cooke Jameson
Outside the World Beneath, The Naming of the Sparrows

A retired professor of ornithology, Ms. Jameson taught for many years at Mississippi State University and is an avid participant in the annual Kirtland’s Warbler Wildlife Festival birdwatching events in Roscommon, MI. With a life list of over 800 birds, Ms. Jameson’s hobby has a profound influence on her fiction. Her claim to be able to actually understand the language of birds, and that her stories are adapted transcriptions of actual avian conversations, remain unsubstantiated.

Jordan Iverson Peers
Elemental Manhattan, Galloping Hooves in the Distance, Ineffable Diva Wyrm of the Kitchen Sink

Ms. Peers is a housewife in northeast Texas near Dallas, where her father worked for many years as a private detective. Those experiences, combined with a massive library of reference and fantasy works, are the root of much of her fiction. She told our editors that the definitive merging of noir archetypes with rare and unusual creatures of myth is an enduring and lifelong goal. When asked why her stories are set in New York and not Dallas, Ms. Peers claims that the city is the only place such creatures could live, as “they’d fit right in.”

Levi Paris Schroeder
A Series of Surreal Amphibians, A Series of Surreal Mammals

Levi Schroeder worked as a zoologist at Michigan State University for 30 years before retiring to work part time at animal shelters and local zoos. He credits long research hours, an obsessive-compulsive need to catalog, Borges, and Dungeon and Dragons as the basis for his fictional bestiaries (which have become popular items at local bookstores).

Katrina P. Sunderlund
Dusk and Dreaming, Lady Milvy and the Riddle of the Garden, The Pursuits of Andrew Travis

Ms. Sunderlund refused to answer any questions when our editors contacted her. Surreptitious calls to neighbors and her publisher revealed that she hosts poetry readings in a local public library, maintains between three and twelve cats, and has no visible source of income.

T. W. Reyauld
Bardic Foibles, Hunter’s Mark, Noble Nonsense

Fantasy writer T. W. Reyauld, a Montreal native, is just beginning to break into the highly competitive world of professional writing. His contributions here are part of a series of interlocking first-person narratives which make up the majority of his novels. He hopes that success will allow him to retire from his job with the provincial government civil service, which he likens to “herding sabretooth cats.”

Carolyn Riley
Pearlsea in Pieces, The Pearlsea Experiment

Carolyn Riley’s “Pearlsea Cycle” is the source for her contributions. She informs us that it’s based on the experiences of her husband before they were dating in college, and draws on themes of science fiction, wish fulfillment, alternate worlds, and the question of reality and cosmic beings. When asked how these issues feature into the excerpts she has given us, which don’t seem to incorporate any of those ideas, Ms. Riley simply smiles knowingly.

Bernard S. Roberts
A Vyaeh Manual of Arms, Of Executioners and Adjudicators, Of the Tuy’baq, Of the Vyaeh

Bernard S. Roberts is a former scenario writer for a major video game company. His contributions to games such as “Thermopylae 2200 AD,” “Dark Places of the Earth,” and the first of the critically acclaimed and wildly popular “Nero” sci-fi shooter hexalogy. Disillusioned by the way that, as he saw it, improved graphic were displacing story in video games, Mr. Roberts has since begun compiling his leftover and rejected scenario ideas into science fiction stories. He admits a certain Heinlein influence, and adds that while the races in his works have their origins in intellectual properties held by his former employer, he has “changed things just enough to hopefully avoid getting sued.”

Daniel C. Rudnick
Flyer, Flyer’s Fall

Now a successful patent attorney in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Dan Rudnick writes occasional short pieces inspired by memories of his small-town childhood, which he describes as “equal parts rose-tinted and just plain tinted.”

H. Brent Ryder
Pacific Gold, Sepulcher of the Non-Euclidean God-Essence

A member of both the Midwestern World War Historical Society and the Lovecraftians of the Old Northwest, Mr. Ryder’s ambition is to write a tale that combines the early island-hopping campaigns of the second world war with cosmic horror.

Koji Umebayashi
Nturta Tiil, Wahshi-san’s Negligee

A contemporary (some might say competitor) of Nokin Kobeyashi, Koji Umbayashi lives and works in Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture. A former investment banker before turning to prose and poetry, he lived in San Francisco 1968-1989 and writes in English while publishing Japanese translations locally. He is interested in both history and the comic, but his works tend to favor one or the other; the combination, he says, “is as alien to most readers as corn on pizza is to most Americans.”

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