Friday, January 3, 2014

"New Corpse Smell" by Nicolas Wilson (Flash Fiction)

Genre:  Science Fiction, Horror

Type of Short Story:  Flash fiction collection

Summary:  This collection includes fifteen action-packed short stories, mostly science fiction, horror, and military fiction.

Shades of Cray: The story of the first transracial individual.
Leaving Lost Atlantis: A man writes his ex-wife, after discovering what happened to Atlantis.
An Iraqi Christmas Carol: A small group of soldiers and an Iraqi policeman mount a rescue for a kidnapped boy.
Quarter: A military team designed for assassinations loses control over one of its members in the middle of a mission.
Werehouse: A man trying to help his homeless cousin runs afoul of a society of murderers.
Atlas Dug Up: Two philosophical equals have a love affair that continues after death.
Blood Falls: An expedition to the Antarctic goes south, after a rock wall collapses.
Murder Your Darlings: A writer finds himself convinced one of his characters is trying to kill him, after his loved ones start getting hurt.
Mine: A doctor exacts revenge on a former-General.
Failure Cascade: A ride on a space elevator goes horribly wrong.
Euthanasia: A surgeon gets caught between his oath and his vengeful calling.
Shrink: An executive ponders the consequences of modern business.
Indian Gift: An ex-outlaw is drafted into convincing an Indian to sell his land.
Parallel: A professor familiar with inter-dimensional travel tries convincing one of his students to kill another.
New Corpse Smell: Observing decomposition.

Sample Story from Collection:

"Shades of Cray"

Day 0

My name is Alistair Cray. I was born to African American parents. I’ve spent the majority of my professional scientific career working to make myself white. Predictably, this has caused some controversy.

They all think I’m a racist-that may be the first thing liberals and white supremacists have ever agreed on. And those who don’t think I’m a racist assume I’m a coward, that I can’t take the discrimination, that it’s all about closing the wage gap, or the opportunity gap, or about being able to walk down a dimly lit street without every white woman crossing to the opposite sidewalk. And I’d be lying if I said I’ll miss any of that, but I see those things as unintended perks.

My critics have dubbed me “transracial.” At first I thought it was a boon, because it would link my studies and my thought to the transgender movement, and maybe even the nascent transhuman movement.

What I found instead was that trangendered people, on the whole, were just as disgusted by my work as evangelicals. In retrospect it shouldn’t have surprised me. Blacks aren’t statistically more likely to favor gay rights than whites; in fact, there’s some polling data to the contrary. Apparently, even those of us most affected by intolerance don’t recognize our own intolerance.

But it isn’t about them, and at the risk of alienating the good people who have come this far into reading this, it isn’t about you, either. It’s about me. It’s something I’ve always felt, always been.

Kids in school made fun of me, called me an Oreo. Growing up in a predominantly black school, being singled out as too white was not conducive to a happy childhood, and that lack of connection made me look for intellectual stimulation elsewhere, amongst my teachers, and amongst my studies.

But it goes back before that, even. Growing up, I used to have wonderful dreams. Dreams of splendor and fantasy. A knight fighting dragons for the favor of beautiful princesses, a spaceship captain romancing and blasting his way across the unknown corners of the galaxy, even simple quiet moments with a family of my own, smiling wife and happy, energetic children. In all of these dreams, without question or pretension, I was white.

I’m sure there are those who would hear that and presume that an Anglo-centric U.S. media warped my innocent brown mind- but as far back as I can remember, I felt white. It was quite a shock, really, when I started to realize that little dark child in the mirror was me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love my parents, or don’t respect them. Just as the son of a bricklayer might want to be an astronaut (or the son of an astronaut might want to be a bricklayer), I don’t want what my parents had. I remember the first time I discussed it with my mother, she slapped me, and said, “Thank Jesus your father isn’t alive to hear you say that.”

I wish he were. I wish he’d lived long enough for me to get up the courage to tell him. I’m proud to be his son, proud that he worked so many extra hours at the mill to put me through school. Proud that he was so strong, and brave, and confident. I wanted to be all those things, to emulate him in all those things, but my whole life I felt like a swan raised by ducks. I know in our beauty-obsessed culture, that sounds like a value judgment, because swans are prettier, and more majestic, but it’s not; my parents are simply different from who I think I am. I still think I am a swan, and being a swan means being myself, not just quacking and waddling like I was raised to, to fit in.

But I wanted to jot down some of the technical bits, too. There are certain genes affiliated with racial characteristics, and more than half of my research focused on tracking those down.

Next, I took a sequence of my own DNA, and replaced African traits and characteristics with European ones. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t, and my research was enabled by the Human Genome project and hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of other studies.

This DNA was then placed inside a virus. Due to the agreement I have with some of my financial backers I can’t be too specific, because there are genuine medical uses for this technology- like eliminating sickle cell anemia- but like AIDS this virus invades host cells, and replaces their DNA with the genetic material the virus is carrying.

Now, before I could inject myself with that virus, I had to undergo intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Otherwise, my immune system would have gone to war with both the viruses and with cells already infected with the altered DNA.

The combination of radiation and chemo can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. I have the quadfecta. I’ve typed most of this from the toilet in the clean room, and just staying on the thing makes the room spin, which only makes me more nauseous, and brings the vomiting back that much quicker.

Day 7

My labs show new blood cells are beginning to grow. That means the transplant is taking hold, that my immune system is slowly being rewritten.

The last of my hair fell out. It had clumped at the top and back of my head, like a yarmulke. If my mom were taking my calls, I would have joked that it was a sign I was supposed to be Jewish. Even if she were taking my calls, I doubt she’d have laughed.

I spoke on the phone this morning with a transplant specialist from Boston. He wanted to make sure I was mindful of “graft-versus-host disease,” when he accidentally coined the term “race graft.” I think I like it. He immediately started to back-pedal away from the term, and it was only then I realized that, despite the depth and creaminess of his voice, he was white; it was only his guilt that gave him away. “Does it matter?” he asked, almost petulant.

“Not at all,” I replied. I spent another 45 minutes talking to him. In part, I wanted to make sure he didn’t feel awkward or slighted; and really, I was rather lonely.

Day 12

My lips fell off this morning. I should explain; for days, I’ve had skin flaking off in chunks, where the outer layers have been deprived of nutrients, dried and fell away. This isn’t too unnatural, as the skin replenishes itself about every two weeks.

This morning while eating breakfast, my lips cracked, and flaked off. It was a little like losing baby teeth; it came away like it had always been meant to come away, but there was still a little pain as I twisted and pulled. Smaller, paler lips poked through the torn skin, sensitive because they’d never touched the air before.

And I decided I wanted to keep my old lips. Not forever, and not really for long. But I decided I wanted to keep them long enough to say goodbye to who and what I’d been. So I started keeping the larger pieces in a Rubbermaid tote. I figured that would keep bacteria at bay as well as anything else.

Obviously, I wanted to have the “remains” cremated, since burying a few handfuls of skin flakes seemed both macabre and histrionic. But as the day grew long, I decided I didn’t just want to bury some ashes in my backyard, I wanted pomp, and ceremony. In a very real way I was killing my former self so I could have a different life, so I felt I owed him at least some kind of funeral.

I called my mother, because she’d buried my father, and because, really, she was my best friend. I was surprised she answered. She hardly spoke to me, which I’d expected- though expecting it didn’t make it hurt any less. Finally, I asked her to just tell me whether, if I did hold a funeral for my former life, she would come. “I might,” she said, and there was a moment’s silence before she added, “because the son I raised is dead.” She hung up.

Day 17

The infectious disease specialist I’d been consulting with hated the idea, and was actually screaming at me on the phone until I reminded her, “It’s not good for me to be excited.” So she compromised. I could hold my funeral, but I had to hold it in the early morning, forbid sick people from attending, and stay on a respirator the entire time.

Oh, and my eyes are still very sensitive to light outside of the clean room, so I’ve been wearing these thick protective lenses. The combination of the respirator and heavy goggles make me feel a bit like Darth Vader attending Anakin’s funeral.

Not many friends showed up; of course, I don’t have many friends, and never did. I wonder if that will change, if being more myself will make me more outgoing, or if I am that socially isolated kind of a person inside, if that’s still a part of who I’m going to be. I can’t help but feel like a moth inside his cocoon, wondering what kind of butterfly will emerge.

I hadn’t bothered calling most of my family, because I knew by now most of them couldn’t understand. A few of the few I called showed, but even the ones who did wouldn’t sit near me, save for my gay cousin, Alan. Alan likes me because now he isn’t the family’s black sheep, just “blue gray to match my eyes.”

By and large, my funeral was filled with white coats, colleagues- but they came, and that meant something.

Near the end of the ceremony a woman snuck into the back. She was dressed in black, with a veil, and I’d have sworn it was my mother if it weren’t for the protective goggles keeping out so much light. I thought I could talk to her afterward, but after the eulogy, she was gone.

Day 20

My hair has started growing back. Right now it’s just peach fuzz, but it feels good not to be bald anymore. I left the color the same; it was always the same color as my dad’s hair, and I wanted to keep it, but it’s coming in softer and straighter. Alan really wants to take me wig shopping, but for now I just want to see what it does.

And my eyes are finally healed enough to ditch the glasses, and adjusted enough that I can see clearly, so for the first time I’m really seeing myself in the mirror. I tweaked my eye color away from brown, but I was purposely nonspecific. They turned out to have a greenish hazel center, and a silvery blue corona.

But staring in the mirror, I’m not the man I thought I’d be. Echoes of my former features still wash over my face, like my nose, still broader than my wanted, my lower lip still poutier than I’d pictured. Some of it is probably swelling, and will go away, but… I maybe overestimated the amount of change I’d see.

I could have surgery, I suppose, but that feels like it would be too shallow; like it’s one thing if a transgendered person gets breast implants, but it’s another if they opt for the double Ds; it’s the difference between chasing perfection and trying to be complete. Maybe this face is just me, and maybe this is the me I should try to get comfortable with. I guess time can tell on that.

And my mother called. As soon as I answered, she hung up, but it’s the first time in a a long time that she's called me.

So I decided to take a walk, just around the block. Half of my consulting physicians would have conniptions if I told them, but I decided I could bundle up, and not let anyone breathe on me, and be relatively safe.

Outside, everything is different. For the first time I feel I’m seeing a new world, with new eyes. And I hope I’m not the only one who does.
Buy this collection on Amazon.

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