M. A. Stirnaman is a speculative-fiction author and screenwriter. He resides in Orlando with his superstar wife and two hyper-troublesome dogs. His work has been published in Potluck Magazine and Sci-Phi Journal. When not writing, he can be found cheering for his favorite hockey team or watching horrible movies.

As If It Mattered

Pushing my latest into the public in an attempt to make it real.

Read on for an excerpt from Joyverse, a new story.

A pile of books sat in one corner, most read so much that their covers were torn and their pages yellowed. We sat huddled in the opposite corner, equally used and humbled. 

The cellar smelled like rot and was forever damp. A young boy, maybe six or seven, pressed against me for warmth or maybe just comfort. I focused on remaining still, not wanting to invite more contact from him or others, but also not denying his need for human touch and connection that hadn’t yet been burned out of him.

It wouldn’t be long, I wanted to say to him. A matter of years, perhaps just months or weeks even until you see me and the others as disease-ridden strays, annoying bugs that buzz in your ear, something to be ignored and flattened under your thumb. 

The storm sat above us, its massive posterior pressing down on our home, devouring the shifting air currents and gaining weight, lingering with intensity as it had been for what felt like days but may have only been a single night. Time was irrelevant down here. It would have to move on soon. The time must be fast approaching when it would decide that a tastier meal was over the horizon, or when it would finally eat itself to death and expel its mass in one last horrific push.

As thunder roared, its sound muted as it traveled through several feet of concrete, wood, and dirt, I focused on the markings again. A section of wall, dangerously supporting the weight of earth above it with hastily constructed wooden boards and nails, was unremarkable at first glance as all of us down here were, but as the minutes turned to hours turned to complete disorientation, a story took shape. Gouges in the wood just a few inches off the ground was too chaotic to blend in with the normal weathering and deterioration of the rest. I’ve seen marking like this before. They were remnants of a lost struggle. The bent nail surrounded by splintered wood. Was that the final hope? The dark red, almost black smear, revealed in brief moments of light cast by a poorly wired light fixture gave truth to that.

Fight never lasted long here. They took away your physical defiance first. They made it clear that you would never overpower them, that you had no power. Your mental defense takes longer to steal, locked behind millennia of evolution, it is a secure sense of self, but these are artists. They had practiced being God for so long that taking your name from you, taking away your desire to survive but still want to hold onto life came as easy to them as the invention of guilt and suffering must have come to God.

We all felt fear, albeit different levels of it. There was no crying, even when the ground above us shook, shedding dirt and threatening to bury us. To cry out is to invite pain. The first mistake most of us make is thinking that they want to hear our despair. They don’t need us to tell them what they already know. Silent acceptance is what they want. Except for father, who wants to hear it all.  

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