Here you’ll find merch and Issue #22 story excerpts. So take a look, and make sure you haven’t missed anything!
Artwork by Aimee Campbell
Ndibi hesitated. Rubbing his sweaty hands on his long shirt, he couldn’t believe he was finally doing this. The mugginess of the hut drenched his back, and the growling mumbles of the bush wizard sent shivers through his shoulders. Here he sat in a bush hut with an actual bush wizard. The only person he could find to relieve him of his grief; to bring back a normalcy to his world.
“Go on. It is what you asked for,” said the bush wizard. His knotted fingers reached out with the bowl. The old man’s hands did not shake or sway. Everything about him was aged and ancient, from his full cotton-white beard to his wrinkled mahogany brown skin. But his broad shoulders, thick arms, and muscled thighs shattered Ndibi’s image of how a magician should appear. For the ritual, he had removed his mbubb over-gown and sat naked in front of the fire.
Sleek and scaly black, the beastling shivered as he hunched in the early morning birdsong. He could smell the herbally clean air of this little forest, the trees tall and smooth. Certainly a lot sweeter than the fug that festered the air of his old alley behind the opera house. Beneath his talons, patches of grass and wildflowers grew in little whorls in every direction. But as pretty as he found it, he was distracted by the fact that his tummy ached.
Train-hopping vagrants made for truly regrettable meals. It had not occurred to the beastling that the people he would encounter on his way out of the city would be so inedible. His last indulgence had been a set of three, arguing in languages from heavens-knew-where as they swayed to stay upright on the chugging train, swigging from a bottle of ditch-liquor so brutal it could have melted the beastling’s scales.
The night he proposed collecting, the light of the full moon spilled through the gallery’s closed shutters, giving Nick’s marble sculptures a ghostly sheen. After a few glasses of wine, we smoked a joint and lay on a makeshift mattress, a pallet of blankets on the floor. He took a deep drag and held it. I straddled him, putting my mouth close to his. The smoke jettisoned from his opened lips into mine. I let it settle in my mouth and then lay on the mattress, exhaling slowly. The taste of the pungent smoke mingled with the sweet residue of wine. Smoke snaked into the darkness like the dancing light of a friar’s lantern.
Nick took another drag, letting it out in little puffs. “The gallery is missing something. I need a collection to accompany my work.” Nick was a constant seeker of the muse. When I met him, he had this frenzied dark charisma.
“Did yo’ Mama an’ Daddy tell you why we call him Big Cat Smooth?” Captain C.E. McGee asked me.
I looked at him sitting on our LevCouch through the Near Sight display of my contact lenses. I was curating my TruTell feed and culling folk who thought there were horrible people on both sides of the Illinois-Sovereign State War.
The Tuskegee North Institute knows how to ensure this war never ends. For more than twenty years, Tuskegee North has put dead soldiers into new bodies and the stalemate has persisted.
“I didn’t know he was called Big Cat Smooth.” I tried not to sound annoyed. There were a lot of people I needed to cull. But I had time. Mètdam and Mato wouldn’t arrive for another hour to go over Daddy’s Electric Resurrection with me and Mama.
Captain McGee kissed his teeth. Tchiup. But he smiled at Mama sitting in her white leather wingback chair. “Now, Annette, how could you an’ Willie deprive yo’ daughter of important family history like this?”
Cassandra stood above the man on fire. His photograph was laid out on a table in her corner office, along with the others. As she circled them, deciding their order, she rubbed her lower back. No pain anymore, she thought. Thanks to the electroceutical. Sometimes, she massaged the area absentmindedly, remembering the throb once lodged there.
The man’s name was Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who set himself alight on the eleventh of June, 1963. Tony had shown her the photograph in high school. It was the monk’s complete composure throughout his self-immolation — the way fire sprang from his flesh like a horned animal — that drew her breathless silence. Tony was always showing her things she wasn’t ready to see. That same day, she’d gone home to read up on eyewitness accounts. A line from David Halberstam, a journalist, stood out to her: Humans burn surprisingly well.
Poem: I failed to talk to Grandma again by Chinedu Gospel
Poem: The Deathing Room by Beatrice Winifred Iker