Issue 95 Apr 2021

Issue 95 Apr 2021

Commencement Rites by P.J. PowellHolland Hills High seniors line the hall outside the gymnatorium, shrouded like a bunch of priests and priestesses in their red polyester gowns, waiting for their names to be called. Everybody wants to escape this conformist teen nightmare. Probably the only thing I have in common with my classmates, other than these stifling robes that smell like starch and great expectations.

Our families are all out in the bleachers rooting for us. All except for my dad, at least so far. On the way in I checked every dark corner, the shadows between the floodlights. The places where Death might stand to watch his daughter walk across the stage. But those places were all empty. He said he would try to make it. He’s got about fifteen more minutes, which I intend to spend staring into space. Awkwardly, no doubt.

“I’ll be so glad to get out of here for good,” Brian Martin says, stretching his arms upward to reveal wet circles under his armpits. He’s not talking to me. Nobody here does, if they can avoid it.

They don’t know what I am, not exactly, but deep down they know something is off. They never fell for the trappings my high-end mom insisted would help me fit in: my healthy tan, my long, black hair, my lash extensions, my limited-edition Louis Vuitton. They also didn’t bother to see the girl underneath, the gamer who laughs a little too loudly and still loves pastel locker decorations. All they feel when they see me is their mortality humming in their bones, so they down a glass of denial and choose to ignore me. Given my paternity, I guess I can’t blame them.

The Book Killer by Harman BurgessThe sun radiated molten fire as Michael & I walked home from school. Around us, San Francisco suburbia hummed with activity as people bustled from place to place; walking dogs, picking up kids, returning from work, and so on. I stopped to wipe some sweat from my eyes as the concrete sidewalk bubbled beneath the heat. Michael kicked absentmindedly at the grass, watching the cars blur by; with his screen-addict eyes, overweight physique, and unshaven chin– he did not cut a very imposing figure.

 “Are you going to Sam’s thing tonight?” asked Michael, with the deep squeak of adolescence.

 “Dunno,” I said. “Did you understand what he was going on about earlier? Automated programming, neural networks, pattern recognition… way over my head.”

 I readjusted my backpack, and we continued walking. I wished—as I always did—that I’d remembered to pack a water-bottle and cursed my past self for subjecting me to this torture, as the temperature eased towards the hundreds. My feet rubbed unpleasantly against the sides of my sneakers.

 “He was talking,” said Michael, “about a process of automation that would allow an AI to generate certain patterns of text.”