About the Author

Rich Larson

Rich Larson was born in West Africa, has studied in Rhode Island and worked in Spain, and now writes from Ottawa, Canada. His award-winning short fiction has been translated into Chinese, Vietnamese, Polish, French, and Italian, and appears in numerous Year's Best anthologies.

Books by this Author
Shades Within Us
Excerpt

Porque el Girasol Se Llama El Girasol (Rich Larson)

Girasol watches as her mother shakes the entanglers out onto the hotel bed. They are small and spiny. They remind her of the purple sea urchins she was hunting in the netgame she can’t play anymore, because they had to take the chips out of their phones and crush them with a metal rolling pin before they left Las Cruces.

She is not sure she will be able to swallow one. It makes her nervous.

Her mother plucks the first entangler off the bedspread and peers at it. Her mouth is all tight, how it was when they checked in and the clerk passed her the little plastic bag.

“Peanut butter or grape jelly?” she asks, because she took a fistful of condiment packets from the breakfast room.

“Jelly.”

Her mother peels the packet open and rolls the entangler inside, globbing it in pale purple. Girasol takes it in her hand, getting her fingers sticky, and stares down at it. Ten points, she thinks. She puts it in her mouth.

She gags it back up. It pokes in her throat and she thinks she can feel it squirming a little, like it is alive. Her eyes start to water.

“Squeeze your thumb in your fist when you do it,” her mother says. “Squeeze hard.”

It takes three tries, and when it finally stays down Girasol is gasping and trying not to sob. Her throat is scraped raw. Her mother rubs between her shoulder blades, then takes the second entangler and swallows it. Her face twitches just once. Then she goes back to rubbing Girasol’s back.

“My brave girl,” she coos. “Brave girl, sunflower. Do you feel it?”

“I don’t know. Yes.”

For a few moments, Girasol feels only nausea. Then the entangler starts to prickle in her gut. Warmer, warmer.

“You should feel it.”

“I do. I feel it.”

“It should feel like a little magnet inside your belly.”

“I feel it.”

Her mother’s voice is stretched out like it might snap. “Okay.”

***

They test the entanglers outside, on the cracked and bubbled tarmac of the parking lot. Emptiness on all sides. Their motel is last in a ragged row of gas stations and stopovers, after which there is only the highway churning away to horizon. In the far far distance, they can see the Wall: a slouching beast of concrete and quickcrete latticed with swaying scaffold. Workers climb up and down it like ants; drones swarm overtop of it like flies.

Girasol has never seen the Wall in real life before. It makes her feel giddy. Her teacher only showed them photos of the Wall in class, and had them draw a picture of it on their smeary-screened school tablets.

While Girasol drew, the teacher stopped over her to ask, in a cheery voice, what her parents thought of the Wall. She gave the answer her mother told her always to give: their country was so good that bad people always wanted to come in and wreck it, because they were jealous, and the Wall was good because it kept them out. Then the teacher asked Fatima, and then Maria, but nobody else.

Girasol is still staring off at the Wall when her mother’s charcoal coloured scarf drops over her eyes. She feels her mother’s strong fingers knot it behind her head.

Excerpted from Shades Within Us, copyright © 2018

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Strangers Among Us
Excerpt

The Cullng by Kelley Armstrong

We grew up with stories of how the Cullings saved us. Stories of the famines and the aftermath, a world that once grew grain and corn in abundance, the forests overrun with rabbits and deer, lakes and streams brimming with trout and salmon. How all that had come to an end, the water drying up and everything dying with the drought—the grain and the corn and the rabbits and the deer and the trout and the salmon. And us. Most of all, us.

Left with so few resources, it was not enough to simply ration food and water. Not enough to reduce birth rates. Not enough to refuse any measures to prevent death. We needed more. We needed the Cullings.

The Cullings removed surplus population by systematically rooting out “weakness.” At first, they targeted the old and infirm. When that was no longer enough, any physical disability could see one culled. Even something that did not impair one’s ability to work—like a disfiguring birthmark—was said to be enough, on the reasoning that there was a taint in the bloodline that might eventually lead to a more debilitating condition.

The population dropped, but so did the water supply, and with it, the food supply, and eventually more stringent measures were required. That’s when they began targeting anyone who was different, in body or in mind. If you kept too much to yourself, rejecting the companionship of others; if you were easily upset or made anxious or sad; if you occasionally saw or heard things that weren’t there . . . all were reasons to be culled. But the thing is, sometimes those conditions are easier to hide than a bad leg or a mark on your face. It just takes a little ingenuity and a family unwilling to let you go.

 

***

“Who are you talking to, Marisol?” my mother says as she hurries into my room.

I motion to my open window, and to Enya, who had stopped to chat on her way to market. She says a quick hello to my mother and then a goodbye to me before carrying on down the village lane.

I murmur to my mother, “A real, living friend. You can see her, too, right?”

“I was just—”

“Checking, I know.” I put my arm around her shoulders. Having just passed my sixteenth birthday, I’m already an inch taller and making the most of it. “I have not had imaginary friends in many years, Momma.”

“I know. It’s just . . . I’ve heard you talking recently. When you’re alone.”

“I argue with myself. You know how I am—always spoiling for a fight. If no one’s around to give me one, I must make do.” I smack a kiss on her cheek. “I don’t hear voices, Momma. I’m not your sister. I have a little of what she did, but only a little, and I know how to hide it. I don’t talk about my imaginary friends, even if they’re long gone. I don’t let anyone see my wild pictures. I don’t tell anyone my even wilder stories. I am absolutely, incredibly, boringly normal.”

She makes a face at me.

“What?” I say. “It is boring. But I will fake it, for you and Papa.”

“For you, Mari. Our worries are for you, and yours should be, too.”

“But I don’t need to be worried, because I am very careful.”

“The Culling is coming.”

“As you have reminded me every day for the past month. I will be fine. I’ll even stop arguing with myself, though that means you’ll need to break up more fights between Dieter and me.”

“Your brother will happily argue with you if it keeps you safe.”

“It will.” I give her a one-armed hug. “I’ll be fine, Momma.”

Excerpted from Strangers Among Us Copyright © 2016

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Tomorrow Factory

Tomorrow Factory

Collected Fiction
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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