HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for the Toys & Games Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website. Below are just a few of the pieces we loved. Keep an eye on our website for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release date of Toys & Games…
A seven-foot-one monster defensive end
storms Eli Manning, crushes him,
he fumbles, the crowd to its feet
though it’s only about two hundred people,
the ball is scooped up
by a short Chinese woman
who bobbles it briefly
but makes it look smooth
like a hippie with a round ball
on the back of his hand,
then dashes downfield
pretty speedily but
of course is soon overtaken
and flung to the ground
like laundry. No one
helps her up,
Brendan Cooney is a U.S. poet living in Copenhagen. His poetry has appeared in Spillway, Sugar House Review, Canary, Isthmus, and other magazines. He has also published nonfiction in Prairie Schooner, Salon, Guernica, National Journal, and others. Brendan did graduate work in cultural anthropology in California and creative writing in Alabama.
Arthur shielded his eyes from the sun. He was beside a lake, surrounded by aspens. To his right, a doe bounded off into the trees. Wow! They had said there was nothing like it. They weren’t kidding. The smell of the grass. The breeze on his face. The quiet. Nothing like the hustle and bustle of Chicago. The Shishone. It was as vast as it was beautiful. Arthur already felt at home. Emily used to talk about coming back. She loved the peace. Well, he was here now.
He wandered beside the edge of the lake. The sky was bright. Almost unreal. Nothing like the grey haze back home.
He was thinking about how Emily used to say he didn’t pay attention to the simple things. “Look at me now, Em. You proud?”
His boot caught on a rock and sent him face first onto the ground. Someone giggled behind him. Arthur turned quickly and saw a red-haired woman standing not ten feet away.
“What are you doing here?”
“Nice to meet you too, Arthur.”
“How the hell – how do you know my name?” he said, squinting up at her.
The woman shrugged. “I’m resourceful.”
Arthur, slightly irritated by the unhelpful response, got to his feet. He hadn’t registered any visitors. How was she here? Was she a glitch? A virus?
“Are you a virus?”
She snorted. “You’re a real charmer, y’know.”
“What are you doing in my Memrize?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fiiiine. I’m not a virus. I’m a person. Like you.”
“But I didn’t invite you.”
“And yet here I am.”
Arthur spoke cautiously, “So…you know Emily?” The second he said it, he wished he hadn’t. Memories flashed through his mind. Emily in the doctor’s office. Emily’s episodes at home. Emily crying on the front steps of the house. Emily in the hospital bed. Arthur felt nauseous.
The woman arched an eyebrow. “Who’s Emily? Sister? Girlfriend?”
“Wife.” Arthur attempted to ignore the bare finger on his left hand.
“Huh. Well, no. I don’t know her. I don’t know you either.” She winked. “You just happen to be the lucky one today.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I mean I picked your Memrize. I’m a serial visitor.”
Arthur tried not to sound irritated. “Don’t have your own Memrize?”
She waved a hand dismissively. “Nah. I don’t like to linger. Unlike some, I don’t detest my pathetic existence outside the upload.”
“I don’t hate my life outside,” he lied.
“Sure you do. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.” The woman knelt and ran her hands over the grass, as if checking the texture quality. “I’m Lena, by the way,” she said. “So is this Emily’s memory?”
“Yeah. She used to come here with her parents. They always said how pretty it was.”
“And where’s Emily now?”
“She’s unwell. Too sick for this.”
Lena went to the lakeside and looked at her reflection. Eventually, she said, “Must be Alzheimer’s, right? If she’s too sick.”
“Figures. Most people outside have that. One of the only diseases Memrize isn’t compatible with.”
“She wanted me to see some of her favourite memories, a while back when they were advertising this, and…” His voice trailed off.
Lena looked Arthur dead in the eye. “You know this place isn’t real, right? It’s not revisiting old memories, it’s just pixels in your brain.”
“Well, why are you here?”
Lena considered him for a moment before her gaze returned to the water. “I’m looking for someone.”
Arthur was tempted to make a snide comment, but Lena had spoken with such overwhelming sadness. “Did she get lost?”
“Oh,” he said redundantly. “I’m sorry.”
“Save it. I don’t want your sympathy. I just want to find her.”
“But…if she’s gone…don’t you think –?”
“No.” Their eyes met again. “She was dying when the Memrize beta trials started. It sounded too good to be true and I couldn’t – I wasn’t there. Her parents signed the consent form without me.”
“Can’t you just search her name in the Mem Space?”
She shook her head. “Parents blocked me out. They never liked me. And I’m not next of kin. Not like you.”
“So you’re jumping from upload to upload to find her.”
“Pretty much. Why would they block me if she wasn’t still alive?”
“How long have you been looking?”
Lena’s shoulders slumped. “Fifteen months.”
That was almost as long as Memrize had been running. There must be billions of participants by now. Lena must have twigged what Arthur was thinking because she said, “They took her away from me and put her in this fucked up simulation. I don’t care if it takes me a hundred years.”
“I wish I could help.”
Lena perked up almost immediately. “My God. Maybe you can.”
“When you clock out of here, when you wake up, you can search for her. Angela Heiser. 21st June, 2111. You’re not blocked, so you can find her easy.”
Arthur bit his lip. “Lena…I can’t wake up. I’m permanent.”
“What? You’re permanent?”
“I donated my body before I got uploaded. I can’t leave.”
He hadn’t seen the harm in crossing over for good. A lot of people were doing it these days and, with Emily the way she was, there was nothing left for him in the real world.
“How old are you outside? How old is the slice of you that’s left?”
“And how long were you with your wife when she actually knew who you were?”
That hurt. “Twenty years.”
“Fifty-two. Fifty-two fucking years. I’m eighty-one outside this shitshow.” There were tears in Lena’s eyes. “You don’t know what that does to people. You can’t begin to imagine. The bond. The commitment. The boredom, the yearning, the laughter, the fighting, the hate, the love of it, the fucking love! Everything we sacrificed for each other. And you think you’ve had it bad? Well, good for you. At least your wife is fucking alive. At least you know where she is. But you gave her up. You gave your own body up. What kind of person does that? You want to exist in this magical little program where nothing is real and you don’t age and you don’t do anything? Christ, if I had to live in your head I think I’d kill myself.”
Arthur said nothing.
Lena was shaking. Finally, she wiped her eyes and said, “I’m going.”
“Wait, Lena –”
“Don’t, Arthur. Don’t even try.”
“Lena, I’m sorry.”
“Tell that to Emily.”
She froze and flicked for a second before vanishing.
The aspens quivered in the breeze. The sun reflected off the surface of the lake. Arthur was alone.
Agnes Price, originally from Portsmouth, is now a student at Coventry University studying Psychology. She is confident in the knowledge that if her original literary endeavours fail, she can always fall back on erotic fan fiction. There seems to be money in that.
At the bus stop
there are two of you, treading time,
in rhythm, apparently
against the cold. Well, not really,
no: really by way of grappling
with the hold over you that
Time (equalling Money?) clearly craves.
In the canteen I notice
half a dozen of you
slow-stutter-waltzing with trays,
a balancing act involving
relationship but, much more
than that: your small stash
of (probably inadmissible) dreams.
Afterwards, at the pub, it’s your voice
that does all the dancing,
noisily, naughtily, rattling the bag of dry
sticks on your back:
Rules, Manners, Roles.
Could something (still) flow freely
other than beer?
Then a last little jig
on your door step – foot wiping,
approximately – before you abscond.
And who will know.
Angela Arnold‘s work has been published in various poetry magazines and anthologies. She is also an artist (painter), writer of non-fiction and a creative gardener who currently lives on the Welsh border. “Inspiration comes from observing the twists and turns and complexities of human relationships, our impact on the (un)natural world around us, and a desire to look below the surface of our normal thought processes.”