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  • Iain Aschendale
    …and when he returned from the mountain, he discovered that his manager had relieved him of the burden of his wealth. Taking only a robe and begging bowl, Jikan retired to the unseen places of New York City to meditate on this gift of simplicity. There his story should have ended, riches to rags, but for the intervention of 69cockthumper69, who uploaded “4MAZ1NG JEW1SH SUBW4Y M0NK S0UND 0N!!!!!111” to YouTube in the fall of 2006. The 72 second clip of his Hebrew rendition of the Heart Sutra was like pure rain falling on the parched spirit of a nation shocked by terrorism, weary of war, and disenchanted by the endless scandals of the Christian churches. What we now know as the Great Wave of Juddhaism had begun.

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  • Iain Aschendale
    If you aren't familiar with the movie The Polar Express, this isn't going to make a heck of a lot of sense to you. Merry Christmas!

    It was a tough run, but we made it, we finally made it. With five minutes to spare, but time runs funny up here.

    The boss promised me that this would be my final run, take one last load of Unbelievers up North and I'd be out, with a new identity and a fat bank account. Half a mile more and I'd be done.

    As the train passed slowly through the city, the kids yammered on about elves. Elves and the Big Guy, all they ever thought they wanted to see.

    They didn't know.

    I felt bad about what was going to happen to them, but that was the price of Unbelief. I knew all about that, I'd paid it myself. To look at me, I was in my fifties, but on the calendar, I wasn't even seventeen. Heck, by Easter these kids will be in their early thirties. How else do you think the Man in Red can make all those presents every year?

    "Ellllvesss!" For a moment I hoped that the kid had just seen some of the loaders. Older workers looked a bit like elves; decades of hard labor and a diet of nothing but reindeer meat and hot cocoa did funny things to the body. Elves, on the other hand, were bad news. I'd seen one once; it had gotten in through the sewers when I was about forty. They finally captured it, but at a cost. At the next roll call we all had to watch as it literally shredded seven of the flightless culls before being hosed down with napalm. And that was after it had been de-fanged. That demonstration had ended any talk of escape.

    For obvious reasons, Mrs. C (yeah, she handled the dirty work. Surprised?) always gassed the sleigh loaders last, but these weren't redshirts, these were Elves, real Elves, a mob of them boiling up one of the side streets. Must have breached the Wall. I heard a reassuring thump from overhead, and knew that my partner had seen them too. "You: four-eyes!" I barked.

    "My name's not four-eyes, it's --"

    "Don't care. You know who Ma Deuce is?"

    His eyes lit up behind his glasses. "Yes, sir! The M2 Browning fifty caliber machine gun is a heavy --"

    "Thought you would. Ghost is setting one up on the roof. Now get on up there, he'll tell you what to do. Pigtails! You're pretty smart, think you're smart enough to work a flamethrower?" She stared, uncomprehending. "It's like one of those super soaky squirt guns, but it shoots fire. There's one in the last car. Get to the platform on the back and hose down anything that gets close." She gaped again. "For the love of Mike, GO!"

    Who else? The kid from Edbrooke was already toast, curled up on the floor in a puddle of his own piss, but where was the other one, the troublemaker?

    Smart kid, he was right behind me. "Listen, young man," I said, taking one of the M4 carbines down from the concealed overhead rack, "we're in some serious jelly, but we've got to protect this train. This," showing him the gun, "kills Elves. Help is on the way, and if we're lucky, we'll live to see it."

    Of course, if the Elves didn't get him, the little Unbeliever would spend the rest of his year-long life in the Workshop, but the least I could do was give him the chance of a painless death. "If not, don't try to be a hero, boy. Those things out there will make you wish you'd never heard of Christmas. If they get on board, save the last one," I ejected a single round and dropped it into the pocket of his robe, "for yourself."

    Me? I locked myself in the cleaning closet. Didn't get out of the Workshop and into the Conductor job through self-sacrifice now, did I?
  • Iain Aschendale
    I thought about workshopping this, but it's really not worth it. I've got no experience with the software in this story, so there are probably lots of errors, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

    My stomach growled. “Siri, where’s the nearest Subway?”

    “This city doesn’t have a subway system, but there’s bus stop one block east of here.”

    “No, I mean a, um, someplace I can get,” What were they called in this part of the country? “a hoagie? A, um, hero?”

    “Hogan’s Heroes, the complete series, is available on DVD from Amazon for thirty-nine ninety-nine, with free ship—”

    “No, Siri, not a DVD, I’m hungry. Is there anyplace around here I can get a big sandwich, um, a grinder?”

    “Opening Grindr. You have three possible matches. Match number one, Vinnie: ‘Hey guys, looking for a foot long spicy Italian…’”
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  • Iain Aschendale
    In response to something @Tenderiser said in the Things you didn't know you didn't know thread:

    That's funny. My best friend out here is English, my textbooks are split about 50/50 between American and British English, and I know that, when I go back home, my friends occasionally comment on my speech patterns, but I didn't know I could do UK-iain online as well.

    True story: I did a summer study abroad in Istanbul when I was in college. The first day I arrived, the moment I stepped out of my hotel, I was accosted by a rug merchant. In Sultanahmet, which is the prime tourist destination in all of Istanbul. It looks like this if you look one direction:


    And like this, if you turn the other way: Hagia Sophia.jpg
    Istanbul has been a trading crossroads city for millenia; the people there know how to buy and sell. So this guy walks up to me and says "Hello, America! Welcome to Istanbul, please, come with me!" and takes me to his rug shop. I tell him it's my first day, I'm not buying anything my first day, not going to happen, so he takes me to his uncle's rug shop, which has a better selection. We have tea at both places, I admire the rugs, but continue not to buy anything. Finally, he says "You really aren't buying today, are you? Okay, let's go drinking," and takes me to a series of open-air bars and bufes (standing places where you can get a beer, soda, fresh-grilled kebap, whatever). He pays for most of it, only allowing me to buy one or two drinks, because the Turks are a hospitable people, and once he saw I wasn't a customer, I became a guest.

    We'll meet him again later.

    So I was in Istanbul for about two months. Towards the end of my stay, a friend and I decided to visit Aya Sofia again. Outside the museum, there's always a small crowd of licensed and unlicensed tour guides, looking to add some value to your trip and cash to their pockets. Fair enough. The first guy, that first day, had taken one look at me and known I was American. When I went there again, years later, with Mrs. A, they'd call "Hey, Japonais!" to her, somehow being able to tell that the Asian girl with the white guy didn't have a hyphen after "Asian", and further narrow it down to Japan.

    But near the end of my first trip, as I was walking up to church-mosque-museum, a tour guide called out to me "Deutsch, nein?"

    I shook my head no, and kept my mouth shut.


    Another shake.

    "Ah, Aussie mate?"


    So he ran down the list of every place a white person could plausibly come from, never hitting on America.

    I'd lost the walk, I wasn't invisible, but I was stealthy as hell, and that's a good thing.

    Anyway, remember my friend the rug merchant from my first day? Six or so years later, when Mrs. A and I were honeymooning, we were on our way up to Beyazit when I saw a face amongst all the other Turkish faces that looked familiar. He smiled and said "Iain! You're back! I have a new shop. Come with me, yes?"
  • Iain Aschendale
    I don't know if I can say "published," but this was the first thing I wrote that a complete stranger offered a one-time, non-exclusive license to post on a now-defunct website for the pleasure of the exposure. As such, it's pretty special to me, I hope you enjoy it.

    Jen had soon found out that living and working downtown wasn't the endless parade of designer shoes and smorgasbord of attractive men that the Sex and the City reruns had made it out to be. Life as a paralegal was an endless loop of long hours and high stress; her salary, after the bills had been paid, usually left just enough money for her to head to Fifth Avenue for a day of window shopping.

    Her social life was limited; her love life was non-existent. Dating coworkers was dangerous, not to mention against company policy, and her limited budget and wardrobe made the idea of clubbing seem foolish. As for her, well... She'd had to make compromises. Even before she'd heard about phthalates, the idea of trying to satisfy herself with one of those awful 'toys,' which always somehow reminded her of giant, mutant pacifiers, had turned her stomach.

    The first time she'd gone shopping at the supermarket, she'd been so sure her purpose was obvious that she'd put two kinds of lettuce, dressing, even croutons in her shopping basket before choosing a cucumber, and still ended up blushing furiously at the checkout. Once she'd realized that no one noticed or cared what she bought, she'd become the produce section's best customer, stopping in every few days for cucumbers, carrots, even a squash once. That hadn't gone well. You just haven't had a man in way too long, girly, she'd said to herself, and blushed.

    And so earlier today she'd found herself in a cafe, one of two dozen singles looking for love at a speed dating event. What a way to spend a Saturday afternoon, she'd thought ruefully. It hadn't started off well, either, the room was full of people in whose eyes she could see a certain desperation, hoping that the look wasn't mirrored in her own eyes, knowing that it probably was. The event was a string of blandly anonymous faces and strained small talk, punctuated every five minutes by the bell, and a new face. Halfway through, however, he had sat down in front of her, darkly confident, stunningly handsome, and before she knew what she was doing, she'd scrawled her cell number on the scorecard and slid it across the table to him.

    “Um, miss?” It was one of the hostesses, “You aren't supposed to provide your information directly...”

    “Jen,” she'd told him, standing, oblivious to the woman's consternation, “Call me. Soon.” It wasn't until she got home that she realized she hadn't even gotten his name.

    His call, an hour later, had asked, no, had summoned her to dinner, and she'd found herself dressing to be undressed. Down, girl! Had it been that long? Just the sight of a nice face and the sound of a deep, masculine... Stoppit!!

    At dinner, however, she'd found herself mesmerized again, with no idea what she was talking about with him, just a sensation of warmth flowing from her core every time he spoke. You, girly, are practically drooling for this guy, and you know what I mean. She never noticed the food, never seemed to see him eat but somehow, the check had arrived and been paid. In a cab together then, thighs touching, lips touching, walking up the steps to her apartment. Magically, it seemed, their clothes were on the floor, her marveling at his rigid perfection. Much better than a cucumber, she thought, and pushed him back onto the bed, straddled him, oh god it has been soo long...

    She gasped when she felt his teeth graze her neck, and a chuckle rose from deep in his chest, a chuckle that rapidly changed to a high-pitched scream of terror and pain as he felt her teeth, the teeth of her ravenous nether mouth, biting down, and beginning to chew...

    So much better than a cucumber.
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