The Mixed Tape Mythos Stories

THE MIXED TAPE MYTHOS STORIES

By Persnickety Bitch

In the Australian outback a solitary traveller stops at a strange roadside store and leaves with a mysterious cassette. A homeless busker tells of the night that they became a conduit for a wild and otherworldly force. A young writer meets a man with no shadow. We will encounter her again, a student at an academy for witches and warlocks. The results of a pitched and secret battle in a secluded valley shapes humankind’s destiny amongst the stars. The wondrous and terrifying magic of the Mixed Tapes links disparate tales of sex, superheroes, fantastical kingdoms, and human and inhuman monsters. If you have ever wondered what the little indulgences that frame my anthologies add up to, here they are, all in one place, for your reading pleasure.

Concludes with an announcement regarding the first Mixed Tape of 2016

~

The Shop

~

My headlights drained the colour out of everything they lit. The darkness recoiled from them and grew deeper around. The broken white lines in the middle of the road gleamed blinding and flickered hypnotically as the bitumen tread-milled beneath my Volks. The speedo read 100 kilometres an hour but at that moment I didn’t feel I was moving at all.

I couldn’t see the horizon but I imagined the small speck of light far ahead and to my left marked it. I imagined it was a fallen star. And as I drove on I imagined that it was searching for a break in the unseen doona of clouds above for its brothers and sisters.

I pressed down on the accelerator and my car beeped a Going Too Fast warning at me. I ignored it. I was moving again. Termite mounds, gravestone shaped when glimpsed out of the corners of my eyes, rose from the roadsides before me, then fell behind. A wallaby glowered at me from beside a rusty fuel drum letterbox. A rabbit loped out my way. I only just missed it. Take your time Fiver.

I drove on. The radio started to crackle up. A pity since I liked the song. I began to belt out the lyrics when the static drowned them out.

“Everything you do is simply delicate

Everything you do is quite angelicate

Why can't I be you?”

The light ahead was closer now and the road was curving towards it. It wasn’t long before I could make out the shape of a building. I past a sign that had seen better days. Spell-R-Us, it read. Transformative Wonders and Delights! Open 24 hours! Turn off 500 meters.

On a whim I decided to stop at this bargain basement new age joint in the middle of nowhere.

The car park was dirt, smattered with gravel. I pulled up right in front and got out. Dream-catchers and unoccupied birdhouses and wind chimes hung from the veranda roof. The flyscreen door was locked and someone had post-ited a “back in five” note on it. A small wicker basket hung from the handle filled with CD’s and cassettes. I examined the card stuck to it. It was black specked; there’d been ants on the paper when it had been laminated. Mixed Tapes. Complimentary. Take One, it read.

I looked through a dusty and limescaled window, past a display of gothic looking dribbly candles at the benches and shelves stocked with jewels and jewellery, snow-globes, aerosols, age-yellowed Playboys, cacti in cracked, dirt-leaking pots, and creatures squished into jars so tight that in several instances their skins had split and the clear preserving liquid was stained rosy. A stuffed alligator hung from the ceiling. A gimp suited mannequin rested against a drinks cabinet filled with Crystal Pepsi.

I hung around for half an hour but no one showed up. I took some photographs and a CD and hit the road.

I arrived, the next morning, at my destination, changed.

~

The Shopkeeper

~

The shop slotted in easy. Someone had been using the space right before me which tends to lessen the resistance a lot. Even so manifesting is always a bumpy process. I hear talk that with the next model that if you don’t know what to look for you won’t notice a thing. Until I see it with my own four eyes I’m calling bullshit.

I checked the merchandise to see if anything had been damaged by the rattling around. A couple of cheaper fragile items that I hadn’t thought worth boxing up for the trip had fallen from their perches. No great loss. I vacuumed up the pieces and chalked out a couple of runes to mitigate the residual magic.

I was running low on Wanda’s Temporary Dust. I figured that there’d be enough to do the whole shop. I figured wrong, ran out half way through the job and had to grind up some dust of my own (not hard, but time consuming and tedious). If it were up to me I wouldn’t have bothered dusting the shop at all, but it’s written down in the Franchise Rules and the Powers that Be are sticklers for that sort of thing and, idiot that I am, I didn’t read the document all the way through and signed in blood instead of ink.

Anyway, once that was done I lit the incense candles, cast a Glamour to change my appearance (no sense in scaring the customers) and turned the sign hanging from the door to “Open”.

My Grand Viz’s All-Seeing Crystal Orb said my first patron would be Byron White. A guy desperately in need of a break. Partner passed on. Taken for granted at work. Overlooked for promotion. The Naughty-nice-o’meter (my official Morality Reader still hadn’t come through so in the meantime I was stuck with this POS from an even shittier North Pole Surplus store) put him in a bit of a grey area. But I’m a softy. A simple good luck charm should make things better for him. So I was surprised when a young couple walked in through the door. I gave my ASCO thump. That didn’t do the trick. I was going to have to readjust it later.

“I’m telling you this isn’t the place,” said the man.

“Well it wasn’t here yesterday,” the woman snapped. “How many disappearing, reappearing jumble shops can there be? Hey. You. Beardy.” She reached into her satchel, took out a cassette and waved it in my face. It was labelled A TG Mixed Tape.

“I really, really, don’t think this is it,” the man mumbled. “It’s smaller. There’s different stuff. S’not the same old dude.”

“Well, gee, I dunno. Maybe it changed. It is a magic shop after all. And you.” She sprayed me with spit as she spoke. “You will reverse whatever the hell this Thing, the hell YOU did to us.” She returned the cassette to her satchel and withdrew an impressive looking hand cannon. “Right. Now.”

~

The Collector

~

The man with the tape recorder wore a brown trench coat, a trilby and reflective aviator sunglasses. Even though he was inside and the heater was going full blast, he had not taken them off. He had, however, unbuttoned the coat. This revealed a white shirt and lighter brown trousers with suspenders. There was a packet of cigarettes in the breast pocket of the shirt. Half a dozen scuffed and bent medals were pinned to the trench. His skin was pale and he did not cast a shadow.

“Can I get you anything?” said Kaitlin, half hidden by an open cupboard door. Her back was lit up by the light spilling out from the fridge. “I’ve got chock-chip cookies. The regular type, and white with macadamia nuts – those are real nice.”

I’m not hungry, said the man.

The man with the tape recorder does not, cannot, eat.

Kaitlin turned around to face the fridge. “Drink? There’s Pabst. My ex-roomie left it. It needs drinking up and I can’t trust myself to. Fourteen months and staying that way, thank you very much. And lemon cordial. Homemade. Not by me though. Mr Sanders – you probably saw him doing his lawn on the way in, with his old hand mower; I know, right, a devil-darn hand mower, I can’t believe it either! – makes it and brings it over; which is nice of him don’t you think? But I do go on don’t I?” Kaitlin turned to face the cupboard again. “How about a coffee? Or Ovaltine?”

I’m not thirsty.

The man with the tape recorder does not, cannot, drink.

“Suit yourself.” Kaitlin began to prepare a glass of chocolate milk. Two spoons of powder into the glass. One into her mouth. A sheepish grin. Pour milk and mix. Sip. “What did you say your name was?”

I didn’t say it was anything. It isn’t important. Tell me about your stories.

What follows is what Kaitlin believes to be the truth. You cannot lie to the man with the tape recorder.

“Oh those, they’re just a bit of silliness. Not at first; I was a kid then. Going through a phase, you know. But I didn’t really want to be a guy; I just wanted to have a different life. I’ve kept them up because people like them. More than the stuff I’ve submitted to the Student Union ‘zine. More people read them too. And, pin it on habit, pin it on a need for validation, on fetish, on whatever, it’s just fun to write.”

She is not deceiving herself. He can tell.

Kaitlin spooned the chocolaty sludge left in the bottom of the cup into her mouth. The man watched her, consuming vicariously.

Tell me one.

Kaitlin licked away her milk moustache, drew a breath and began.

The man listens and lives vicariously. The tape recorder preserves her words and his experiences, as it has preserved many others. When she finishes he will leave, leaving her with no memory of his visit.

~

The Voyeur

~

Ray wears his glasses like they’re an affectation, even though, and you can tell this from the way the lenses make his eyes look unnaturally small, they are not. He is clothing catalogue handsome and dressed the part in an expensive imitation working class plaid shirt and grey cigarette jeans picked out by an ex.

Ray thinks shopping is for fags. He says stuff like that on first dates.

Ray walks with his shoulders hunched, looking down.

He walks into the observation room.

He undoes his belt (his girlfriend brought it for him, though she too might be an ex; they are, at present,taking a break), drops his jeans and dacks and sits down.

*

Flashes. Red and Blue

Drivers. Eyes to road, then to GPS. Ears glued to radio chatter, mouths adding to it.

Passengers. Checking safeties. Adjusting Kevlar.

*

In front of Ray is a two way mirror, through it he can see a room with padded walls.

A door opens. A woman is shoved through. Her lips are moving. But what she is saying to the shover Ray cannot hear.

No sound is allowed to leave that room.

Ray looks at the speakers above the closing door. Then at the woman’s breasts. They are much more interesting.

*

Rubber tires crushing alley litter.

Rubber soles treading carefully.

Safeties off.

*

In some of the videos Ray has watched the person in the room tries to put on a show. They are always terrible. Ray likes that best about them. When he masturbates to the images of them changing he imagines how they have been threatened.

This woman stands still, hands fisted, glaring.

But the change, when it comes, is good. And when it’s over, the man in the room breaks down and cries and slaps at his side of the two way leaving wet handprints.

*

Men, women, uniforms, guns on monitors.

Men and women in cages on monitors.

The transformation room, many angles.

The ejaculating man.

*

Ray’s erection is long and thin and curves upwards. It rests against side of his hand. Ray squeezes his balls in time to its pulse.

*

A cassette ejected from a player.

Shoved back in. Not now. Soon. First… pass me. Gestures. No. The Colt. For old times’ sake. We use our immunity. You follow?

Yes.

Ready?

Magazine meet rifle. Ready.

Up volume. All speakers on. Press Play.

*

Voices in quick succession. Some sweet. Some harsh. Some laughing…

The man on the other side of the two way is unaffected. He has heard them already. Which is why he hears the gunfire.

But Ray...

Ray stumbles from the observation room on changing legs. They give out at the first sight of blood.

…Some angry.

And magic is fuelled by blood. It has purpose. Corrupt it at your peril.

The soliloquies of their vengeance and the screams of their victims ring in Ray’s ears as she crawls amongst the half male, half female corpses all shot to shit.

~

The Musician

~

The busker was adjusting the strings of his guitar and yarning:

They called it the Hobo Jungle, though you probably don’t remember it. It’s long gone now, that shopping trolley graveyard under the old bridge. There were cars too, car skeletons rather. The panels and engines were missing and when the river dried to a tinkle – which it does from time to time, mark my words, even though it don’t look like it ever could now – they’d emerge all rusty and gunked over. Cars, and all kinds of other shit you wouldn’t believe. There was a Red Cross donation bin up next to the highway, but the Red Cross never put it there. That was Jin, who queened it over the bums and vagrants back then. And how herself and Trev – who claimed he’d been an enforcer for Bullhead Joe and his mob, but’d got kicked out for being too tough (and who’s to say he weren’t telling the truth; Trev was always less full of it than everyone else) – boosted it from the Alderman Street depo is quite a story.

Oh, the things people dumped in that bin. The things people left beside it. Garage sale cast offs. Some with the slips of paper with the too optimistic prices printed on in texta or permimarker still stuck to ‘em. Fiberboard kit desk, with Jodie Heart’s Anton and a palm tree carved into the bottom, and a cock and balls and clit white-outed on: $60. Clock and chronometer, set into a strip of bark: $80. Cane couch, marbles – catseyes, pearlies, turtleshells, tigerstripes – jammed into the weave: $130. Bin bags, stretched tight by knickknacks or toys – Maddonas, virgins, saviours, saints, plastic tourist kitsch and glass, wood and wool trinkets for the knit your own yogurt crowd; supersoakers, building-blocks, trucks that turned into robots and sexless, sexed up dolls – or kitchen crap – saucepans, wobble handled fryers, cutlery and such on. All crap, but dammit if it weren’t just a little bit like Christmas every second day or two.

So that’s how the tape came to the Jungle. Its insides were mostly outsides when I found it in a box of dog-eared Clancy’s, Koontz’s and Cussler’s, but I untangled them and spooled them back in with a ballpoint, and tossed it into my collection, which filled the crate next to my sheet pile. I used to be a record store wallflower way back, and even though I had next to nothing I still clung to the rocker, good time girl dream. At night I’d pop one of my tapes into my broken boom-box and sing and dance myself till exhaustion. But the night of the tape there was… not music, not at first. And it filled me. With my lips I gave it lyrics. With my hands a melody on air guitar. And I see them; Jin, Trev, the others, the first to crowd around. And the cars, stopped on the bridge, backed up. The strangers sliding down the embankment to join us.

~

The Binder

~

Birgit Kappel’s boyfriend broke up with her the day after he proposed. He called it off over the phone to a mutual friend who passed the buck to someone who passed the buck to someone who passed the buck to someone else, and so on, etcetera, and as is the tragic, comic way of these things, Birgit was the last person in her social circle to find out.

She was, at first, a textbook broken heart. Look at her finger, see where she’s wound the phone cord tighter and tighter? And, phwoar, that breath, eh? Better hand over a coffee and steer clear. Albums rewound and replayed, repeat. And what was the one she returned to most you ask: Nena’s self-titled. A love/hate affair with old haunts? Of course.

The Wall was the hardest to keep away from. She walked by it almost every day. Looking for new works by the artists she knew, and revisiting the old ones. Say, that Dieter, he sure does a great Andropov, doesn’t he? But what’s this she’s written over it? Fick Dich. Fick Dich. Arschloch.

After spraying those words Birgit returned home subdued. Her minds ears filled her head with the pick-pocking synths of Nur getrmt. She stripped off and tied a length of twine around her waist, there was plenty left over and it trailed behind her as she made her way to the garage, to her car, and began to syphon.

Ich bin so allein. Ich will bei dir sein.

When the bucket was full, she took it out into her garden and upended it over her head. She held up an arm, and inspected the now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t rainbows in the oily wet film on her skin.

Ich seh' deine Hand. Hab' sie gleich erkannt.

She breathed in deeply the reek and the drops forming at the end of her nose. The fumes filled her, took the edge off her hangover, seemed to buoy a part of her up and out of her body.

Mein Kopf tut weh, mach' die Augen zu. Ich lieg' im gren Gras und erzl' mir was.

Then carefully, carefully, Birgit lit a match and held it to the frayed hemp fuse, stepped back, watched and waited, and then, screaming, blazed.

Mir ist schon ganz hei

Ich geh' auf dich zu

Deine Blicke gern mich

Denken immer nur an dich

Fast forward thirty-one years. Chernenko comes and goes. Gorbachev presides over twilight of the Soviet Union. The Maastricht Treaty. Gorbachev sells his soul to Pizza Hut, Dieter Hahn skewers him in the last cartoon he draws for Sdeutsche Zeitung. The Euro. As the markets crash so does Deiter’s fourth marriage. Die Deutsche Fuallnationalmannschaft win the world cup.

This is where I come in.

Where Birgit’s house was in 1983 there is an apartment block. Without it her Shade would’ve wasted away to nothing. As is, it’s emaciated. The block’s inhabitants aren’t leaving enough impressions. I find it drawing the memory of a fight between a father and son – only a year old, barely aged – from a mirror that reflected the worst of it.

I offer up a fraction of my past to it, and as it gorges itself I bind it.

Will it, with its new awareness, regard what I’ve done as a kindness, or like The Pilot, further punishment?

The Shade examines the receptacle I have given to it. It mashes buttons. Play, rewind, play, rewind, record, rewind, fast forward, play.

Es ist gebrochen, it says.

No, it is not broken, the, I suppose you’d think of it as a Tape, is blank, and this, I imprint a person, a place, and some enquiries into its consciousness, is what I want you to do.

~

The Seer

~

Igor and the Hounds are beginning their set on the main stage with a cover of Tubular Bells, just the bit everyone knows, the bit that sounds all easy-listening, and kinda almost forgettable, but at the same time’s a total earworm, and has this undercurrent of menace which for a moment’ll get all in your face with these ear piercing-screeching Krangs. But like I said, you probably know it.

It wafts, tinkling-tingling, charging the air, and maybe it’s the acoustics, some clever arrangement of speakers, or our collective imagination, or magic, but it seems not to originate from the performers, but to flow in, down from the mountains; down the craggy slopes, here a pine, there a pine, everywhere a pine-pine, ginormous looming motherfuckers, not a dinky-cutesy Chrissy-postcard plant in sight, weaving, weaving, out of the forest, low to the ground, skimming the grass, between the elephantine legs of a patrolling golem, up and over a chain fence of combination silver and iron mesh, up and over mounds busted open from the inside, toppled cairns, perking the ears of a group of shamblers roasting plucked out eyes by a bonfire and who stand on buckling legs, and trailing guts, lurch, arms outstretched, after it, weaving, weaving, through the graves, and the tent city amongst the graves, in the footsteps, hoof prints, claw and slither marks of the exquisite and exquisite corpse forms of a multitude of named and nameless undead, the mythic, the divine and the diabolical, weaving, weaving, and watched, on and off, by a group of goyles putting the finishing touches on their We Love You Leon (of Crypt Kicker Five fame) banner, weres and vamps, spooks and spirits, Children of the Damned in Silver Shamrock masks, an old fart with a psychedelic aura flogging compilation albums from some vanity label, glimpsing, weaving, weaving, against the current, in our fluoro festival security jackets: one effortlessly butch cyclops (that’s Trouser Snake), one try-hard butch surface normal (that’s me), and three golems (two terracotta guards and one great galumpher).

Sorry ‘bout that, I can get a bit omniscient at times. It’s in my genes. More than a touch of Delphi on my mother’s side. And my father’s. But you’ll have to ask my niece about that in, say, a four decades or so. She’ll be our family tree maven then. Me, I can barely make it past the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings without my brain glagging up.

A pumpkin patterned beach ball skims, propelled by slaps and punches, quick grabs and jerky flick-of-the-wrist throws, atop the crowd.

Trouser Snake’s walkie-talkie statics and she gunslingers it from her hip. There’s a one way conversation. Snake punctuates the other guy’s talk with yuh’s and huh’s, nuh’s and uh-huh’s and ah-hmm’s.

“Hey Morg,” she’ll say after she returns the walkie-talkie to her belt.

And I’ll say, “Yeah?”

And she’ll reply, “Security circle can’t pin our guy down. Now’d be a good time to roll your eyes so the whites show or do whatever it is you do.”

And I’ll roll my eyes, but not in the way she’s talking about. Zombie glaze gaze is a total load.

Beyond that it’s hard to predetermine. Occasionally I’ll get a whole week laid out for me, but mostly what I get isn’t much more than what you’d be able to deduce with a bit of common sense.

So, if I’m to be any help I’ll have to back n’ sideways. Which isn’t a guarantee of anything. Alternatives within alternatives, parallels within multis; all that quantum fruityloopery glags my brain worse than family trees.

But the alters are kinda like pink elephants. When you start thinking of them, you can’t not.

This is the kind of mindfuck I’m talking about: I know that nothing has gotten past the wards since Mash 85, and, I mean, I’ve always known that a chaos titan had materialised above stage one year ‘cause folk talk about that kind of thing, but I think when I heard the story the year’d chinese-whispered back a few, but now I know it right, just like how I know that a few alts over that the intruderless streak was broken last Mash; and how it’d rained heavily then, off and on, and how in-between downpours you could look up and see the most fantastic, broiling-crackling re-animator’s sky which near everybody with a working olfactory agreed was worth the festival funk for the ages; and how Trouser was working campsite allocation, pushing ‘bout everything with four wheels out of and off the muckier, growing muckier still, parts of the thoroughfares. An old guy bumps into her. He’s got a real neat aura. It’s a forking moment.

To get him to piss off Trouser takes what he’s hocking. Later, after her shift’s over, she relaxes with a coven of witches, round a ding, getting high off the incense, and someone shoves it into their CD player. A forking moment.

To get him to piss off Trouser tells him straight out. Which he does, ‘cause there are always others. And as she debates the merits of Thriller and Backstreet’s Back with a pair neck-bolts rocking black with white jig-jag Bride Of frizzes, nearby something, part man, part woman, part dog-wolf, part bitch, howls. A forking moment.

And the forks fork–

–again.

–and again.

–with every transformation.

Some moments recur. I latch onto them.

The neck-bolts split at their scars and pieces grow into whole bodies.

The change brings out the more monstrous side of a slip of a witch’s bull-dancer heritage: horns, hair, a serious pair of stones.

Trouser Snake…

“Hey Morg,” she says.

“Yeah.”

“Security circle can’t pin our guy down...”

I could say something. But I don’t. A song – you don’t know it yet, but you will – wafts through the elsewheres and whens in my mind, pricking at all that is mythic and divine and diabolical within me, making me more. My body tinkle-tingles with possibilities. I let them reshape my flesh.

~

The Wizard

~

The smoke looks like fire. The embers of the capital light the base of the cloud an orange-red that flickers and flings out tendrils which dance, spasm, collapse in on themselves, and seem to leave behind them a roiling black mass that rises higher and higher and is torn at by the wind and scudded across the sky.

Towns and villages, isolated cabins and crops, burn too. The silhouettes of the barbarians caper around them.

The women on the ridge watch them as they strip the corpses. They wear short servant’s shifts. Beneath the grime and the blood their skin is pale and smooth. Their earlobes are pricked. Their legs shaved.

The Merlin kneels beside a berserker. The dead man’s eyes have been punctured – maybe in the melee, or maybe by a crow after the skirmish had ended. Their insides streak his face; globby, black, caked on tears. He wears a bear skull headdress and is tattooed all over. An arrow protrudes from his beard. The shaft and the hair around it and the teeth in the man’s open mouth are crusted with dried blood.

With his knife The Merlin cuts a piece of blue whorled flesh from the warrior’s chest.

“Maia, to me.”

Nearby a young woman is scattering dirt over a fallen imperial guardsman. She drops the clod in her hand into the man’s red mash of a face. She looks to a woman who is raking her fingers through the fur of a coat. Dark flakes stick to her hands. The sweat on her palms is tinged pink. The woman nods at her daughter.

The Merlin proffers the meat to Maia as she approaches. She takes it.

“Into your mouth.”

Maia obeys. She feels maggots crawl from hunk and over her tongue and gums.

The Merlin does not need to tell her to strip. She hands over her shift. He bunches it up and throws it away.

From the folds of his cloak the old man produces a small rectangular box. On the side that Maia can see is a circular pattern of tiny holes positioned a little more than a fingernails width apart, and a small window. Through this Maia sees something with two gear like things set into it.

A thin cord runs from the artifact. It forks. The Merlin offers Maia the two budded ends.

She looks again to her mother. She is handing the cloak to Lady Rayelle, who takes it in arms that are as thick as a great apes and crisscrossed with scars.

Beyond them Maia’s younger brother urinates high into the air with his man’s manhood.

Lady Cassadra practices with a heavy looking battleaxe. Triss, her lady in waiting, pulls on a pair of hose.

In the mountains to the west the beacons have been lit. They are small and dim. Maia looks to the brightest, which marks the fort at Orem pass. It will, she thinks, be a difficult journey, even with a body capable of making it.

~

The Apprentices

~

Used to be that Kaitlin could wake up at eight, be up and out of bed in a lickerty-split and be out the door at something between a walk and a jog fifteen minutes after that, cardboard cup, Rice Krispies in soy-milk sloshing at the rim, in one hand, phone in the other, the slack of a headphone cord whipping about and whichever class she wanted to brush up on blaring in her ears at 1.5 speed, hurrying her to a just-in-time arrival at Advanced Ley Lines, or Intermediate Summoning and Containment, or Thaumaturgical Theory three-oh-whatnot, or A History of the Multiverse: Dominion’s Fourteen through Twenty-one, or whatever it was that particular day.

But for the past two weeks, ever since the planets aligned for her and her roommate, Kaitlin’s alarm has been set to seven. She slowly sits up in her bed and spits strands of beard out of her mouth, rubs the sleep from the crevices of her crow’s feet and massages her shoulders, her elbows, her knees, which does nothing to stop her joints from popping and creaking as she climbs out of bed and shambles her way to the bathroom.

“Morning Kitty,” Sonia says. She’s standing in front of their shared sink-cabinet, back to Kaitlin, naked except for a towel turban. She shoots a broad grin into the mirror. Her growing dimples dislodge a dollop of white from a cheek. Sonia catches it on a finger, smears half of it back onto the wart, and the rest onto a cluster on her nose. Her breasts are large and deflated. Her skin is tinged greyish greenish and roughened by cellulite.

Kaitlin nods at her and yawns. She has not had a good night’s sleep. “Morning back at’cha.”

She sits down to pee. As her small gristly penis sputters into the bowl, she drums her hands against her gut. “Jeebus, I feel like absolute crap. Do I look like crap Sonj?”

“She asks the hag. Girl, you look like Father Christmas, quit bitching.”

“I wish I had a team of magical elves to do my bidding.”

“Who wouldn’t? I can’t wait until I’m faculty. Then I’ll have apprentices that I can boss.” Sonia wrings water out of a sponge. She begins to dab and wipe her face. “I’ll be like, Yo, Johnathan Smith-Jones, inheritor of the Merlinic powers, and you, yeah you, Jennifer Jane Doe, Morgana’s child, by the magicks and wisdom ‘vested in me by the founding witch and warlock, I mark you my wards. Now pass me that grimoire, and type up this huge-ass pile of transcripts, and then iron my robe and polish my pentagram and chain, but first skedaddle off to the kitchens and get me a BLT because I am faminished, and grab a coke from the vending machine on the way back ‘cause I am fucking parched.”

“Master Whelan, is that you?” Kaitlin says.

Sonia cackles.

Kaitlin groans as she stands up, flushes.

“Hey, Saint In-the-Nick. I can see your sack.”

Kaitlin steps in the shower cubicle. The glass walls are misty. She scrawls Ho, Ho, Ho on one of them. Then she turns on the taps, obliterating the words with steam and spattering water.

Over the drumming, over the hum and hiss of the pipes, she hears her friend thanking her for helping with her Sum and Con essay the previous afternoon. “…and if the workload Whelan’s dumping on me stays what it is, I just don’t know how I’m going to keep up with classes.”

“It’s the least I can do since mine’s gone AWOL”. Kaitlin hasn’t seen Morfran since he chose her. After the ceremony, the Chief Binder had left for dominions unknown.

She yawns.

“Need some wakeup juice?”

“Always.”

Sonia leaves the room. Kaitlin raises her voice. “Make it two spoons of coffee, heaped, two of Quick, three Sugars. If you haven’t snuck the last of the ice-cream, use that instead of milk.”

“One sickly-sludge coming right up.”

Kaitlin yawns again. She tilts her head to face to the nozzle.

Water clings to her, finds her wrinkles and courses along them, like the water from the hereal pool had after she’d emerged, gasping. The High Merlins and Morganas had watched her with blank expressions as she’d fallen to her hands and knees on the angular cutting pebbles of the shore. A hand reaching out. Lines of power running from the fingers and knotting into a glyph. “…by the magic and wisdom invested in me by the founders of our order, I mark…”

~

The Accord

~

The Blackhawk, battered to hell, breaking apart, lay on its side in the ruins of the reception building of the Avalon Gulch Retirement Commune. The image would, Cooper knew, be forever fixed in his mind as a monument to the moment he realised he was overseeing yet another meat grinder.

The drone operator had been young. Her fingernails black with stars dotted and planets splodged in. Cooper had watched the feed from the UAV over her shoulder, distracted by the fantasy art on her desk. In both, spools of lightening uncoiled and lashed from wands and staffs and the cupped hands of old geezers and dames.

Another helicopter thundered overhead. Its downdraft churned up a haze of ash as it headed towards the stone circle at the opposite end of the valley. Several leafless, emaciated, charcoal caked trees toppled.

The envoy from The Collective joined him in the doorway of the newly erected command tent. She wore a pantsuit, which, glimpsed peripherally, appeared silver. Her hair was styled in a bun and possibly shot through with blue highlights; it was difficult to tell. Looked at straight on her hair was black and only black and her trousers and top were grey.

“We apologise,” she said, “We did not realise that there would be a High Morgana in residence at this outpost.”

“It’s like they say, no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

“Quite. But in any case, there is nothing more we would have done to help you had we known. It is best for all of us that they remain unaware of our part in this. We have seen your service record, and your father’s. You understand.”

Cooper nodded. His right hand brushed the grip of his Beretta 9mm on his hip, shadowed the khaki of his pants, entered a pocket. He withdrew a vacuum-sealed plastic bag containing a cassette tape and held it out for the envoy to take. “The artefact you wanted.”

“There were several.”

“This was the only one that was intact. We did find parts of the medallion. And a lamp, like you described, but that was broken too. They took the rest with them when they retreated through the portal.”

The envoy took the cassette. She weighed it in her hand. “There should be more.”

“There was, but an RPG hit the crates so now there isn’t.”

The envoy’s pupils dilated until her eyes were almost completely black. “That was very unfortunate.”

“Yes,” Cooper said. “Very unfortunate. These things happen.”

The envoy blinked. When she reopened her eyes they had returned to a kind of normal. They had been light brown before. Now they were green. She tilted her head, a kind of half nod. She, and by extension the group she represented, were going to let his lie, told on behalf of the organisation he belonged to, slide.

For the moment.

“I can’t believe this,” the drone operator had said. But Cooper was beginning to.

Same as it ever was, really.

~

The Lovers

~

They fuck.

For the first time, for the third time.

She straddles him. Squeezes with her thighs. Squeezes with her cunt.

His hands on her waist. Fingertips trickling. Down; over hip, over ass, over thigh. Caressing up.

The Cowgirl had been her favourite position when their genders had been reversed. She’d liked looking up at his face and at his breasts. She’d really liked looking at his breasts, and how they’d vibrated and bounced as he rode her, their sway as he leaned forward, and the contrast between his tan and their cream skin, how they filled, overfilled her hands.

She’d liked to initiate by coming up behind him, hugging, pressing into his back, reaching around, cupping. Sometimes she would close her eyes and pretend that she’d pressed all the way into his skin and that she was holding its breasts with its hands. Frequently, she masturbated to this fantasy.

Their first time, their first-first time, they’d started out with the kind of spontaneity that she’d long written off as Hollywood fiction. He’d tilted her head with a thumb and forefinger beneath her chin. And then there’d been the sort of mad passionate dry-humping that fades to black that fades-in to the guy with the sheet up to his waist, and the girl her armpits. And then he was peeling off her chicken cutlets, and, oh god, she’d been wearing track pants, and her ratty, blue “Whaling Sucks!” shirt, the slogan almost flaked away, the material stretched where she liked to tuck her knees under.

They fuck.

His hands on her chest. Palms pushing up. For a moment she has something that’s almost cleavage.

A nipple disappears into the trench between two slightly parted fingers. They gently scissor the areola and the sensitive skin around it.

Two days after the first tape had transformed them. After hover-handing awhile, she’d put her arm around him. He’d made to kiss her on the cheek, withdrew. She’d made to kiss his forehead, but, again, no contact.

She’d watched the sheets wrinkle around her body. He’d looked past her, to watch the ceiling fan above.

Their second-first.

They fuck and he climaxes.

His limp cock slides out, flops onto his belly.

His hands leave her breasts, tie the condom, toss it towards the waste basket.

He begins to finger fuck her. Their third-first continues.

This is how it started:

With him ejecting your tape from your player.

Her skin is bronze, her nipples a rich brown, and his skin is the colour of her nipples. He has balls like a bullfrog’s throat. He’s uncircumcised this time around. She watches him peel back his foreskin.

She wiggles her toes. Her legs are long. Runner’s pins.

She looks at the pictures on your walls. You’re so comfortable with your changes and look it. Maybe, she thinks, this time we will be too.

Maybe, but it’s still too early to tell.

He hugs her from behind, presses, reaches…

They fuck.

And the sex, at least, is good.

~

The Mother

~

2015 – Artefact #09 (cassette facsimile) obtained at the BATTLE OF AVALON GULCH

2021 – Cooper Institute established. First metamorphs born.

2040 – Tiresias launched.

2042 –

It’s been awhile since we’ve all gone out together. So we intend to make a day it. Xavier, always the early bird, was making rainbow swirl cake when I woke up. I boiled some water and added eggs. A few shells cracked and things got a bit puffy. Mostly they worked out.

The communal parklands are only a 15 minute commute away, but I can count the number of times I’ve been on one hand. Rod jogs there most mornings, but he never goes in, it’s his turn back point. We set up under an oak. The roots and branches are thick, and some of the lower ones droop and brush the ground. They make great back-rests.

Rod is in a mood, and we kiss. He rolls up my shirt, exposing my midriff. Joaquin, my primary, but not the father, pours tea from a thermos. We talk about Institute office politics, and the Bardarbunga eruption, and what song we are going to sing for karaoke at Ira and Clarice’s civil ceremony. John Green passed on a week ago and is still trending. We reminisce about his books and videos. Xavier says that his whole Manic Pixie Dream Uncle persona shitted him right the fuck off as a teen and we pelt him with pistachio shells.

A group of kids play on a jungle gym. They wear lycra jumpsuits, to accommodate their fluid, mutable bodies. Their legs grow longer as they run, their arms as they climb. When they rough and tumble they make themselves as big as they can. There are no bruises or scabbed scrapes afterwards. A statue of military man with a bushy moustache looks past them, in the direction of the launch site.

The baby kicks. Rod grins. “What do you think our little astronaut’ll be in the ultrasound tomorrow? Boy or girl?”

“It was boy last time. And the time before that. It’s due girl again.” Xavier says.

“Whatever one, it’ll be neither, really, or both.” I say.

“Well yeah, but chromosome wise. Like, physically.” Rod says and produces a coin. A signal that the familiar guessing game is about to begin in earnest.

I look at Joaquin.

He’d been in the chamber with me. As the head doctor counted down, he’d taken my trembling hand in his and said they should’ve put a DJ, or someone like that in charge, you know, considering the nature of the artefact.

He hadn't taken his eyes off the speakers. And I didn’t take my eyes off him. He grew a little taller, a little pudgier. His face and groin changed. I felt something twist in my belly and blacked out.

Joaquin takes my hand in his. Rod absentmindedly tosses his coin towards the statue then retrieves it from behind my ear. Xavier cuts a slice of cake. I think they will be good fathers.

~

The Scientist

~

She bruised easily. It’d been a long time since she hadn’t looked battered. In January she’d bumped her arm on a cabinet, then, just as the angry red and purple blotch had faded to a rancid yellow, she’d tripped on the stairs leading out of her apartment, and then three weeks after that she’d been patting Raylan, when her neighbor’s Labrador had jumped, pawed gently and his claws had ripped her paper thin skin, their pressure raising a right mottling. And now, on top of that, this.

But this time there would, she knew, be no bruising. Still, even at this last moment, her imagination refused to grasp this reality.

“Are you ready?” Harper asked her.

Joan nodded.

When Harper had dropped by her house to recruit her he’d looked a bit like her daughter had looked, way back, dressed up as Agent Scully for Halloween (if only Natalie had known what her Mom did for a living). But he still had four sugars in his coffee – three straight away, one added when the cup was half empty – just like he used to, and they’d spent the good part of an afternoon reminiscing about their time in the agency’s Applied Theoretical Physics division. When he slid the dossier across the table to her she opened it, scanned the first page she saw, looked him dead in the eyes and raised her eyebrows. A cassette. Masking tape. Magic marker writing. This is the object of power?

“Will it hurt,” she’d asked.

“Not normally, but…”

She looked at her wrists. The gauze patches were stained red. The left side one –

“The transfusion makes the process a bit rough.”

– fell away. Blood began to pump. She clamped down with her right hand as much as she was able. The patch on her right wrist was still attached, but only by a corner. Blood sprayed from the small hole that’d been made for the cannula. She felt it sluice down her cheeks from her eyes and ears. Blood, scalding hot, filled her toothless mouth and she retched. Wet red streaks trailed from her nipples. Her thighs were slick.

It was Harper who helped her to her feet afterwards. He supported her as she stumbled, dry heaving all the way, to an open plan washroom. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her body was male. It had large ears, and the physique and understated genitals of a classical nude. It looked to be in its mid-twenties. Her donors had been twelve.

Joan ran a hand through her hair.

“What colour?” She said. She did not close her mouth when she finished speaking. Her voice was deeper and she had teeth again.

Harper led her to the shower. “Let’s wash it out and see.”

~

The Hero

~

Along the canal path there’s this scoop in the ground that lets you slide-wiggle under the back fence of O’Reilly’s Scrapyard. The dirt’s so super hard packed that you barely have to brush anything off. It could be worse.

I really wish I was still able to phase through stuff.

I get changed in the caravan. Someone’s replaced the mattress since we were last here. There’s an empty bottle of jack in the cupboard with the missing door. But my kit’s still in its compartment. Track pants, jog bra, sweatshirt. My costume, least what we’ve done of it so far, is in my backpack.

I let my body snap back to its default form.

Usually I try and slow the transition, work on my self-control, but today is a Fuck It day.

Outside, the generator is chugging away and Dakota is mucking about with the hard light projector that she’d salvaged back when I started this gig. I’d change into my pimped out wetsuit. She’d change from her singe-specked, grease-stained men’s overalls into her lime sundress or orange playsuit or whatever she’d hidden in the van.

The cupboard had had a door then. And a lock.

She gives me a thumbs up.

Three assailants flicker into existence. They’re featureless, like department store dummies, and fast.

God, they’re fast.

I focus inwards and ignore the wrongness of the empty place where my old powers used to be.

Focus.

I ramp them.

Around me everything slows. A fist inches towards my face, a knife from its sheath. The third projection is pulling a gun. Dakota, who’s filming with her phone, is still moving in real time (the field only extends a few meters). And so am I.

I kick the legs out from underneath Puncher, step out of the way of the knife and rap Blade on the noggin. The muzzle of Glock’s gun is blossoming. I crouch. The bullet flutters my hair. I rise. The slide is back as far as it goes and is juuust beginning to move forward when I grip the wrist. I dig in with my nails, I twist and jerk, I chop into its throat with my free hand.

Its skin ripples.

I unramp.

The projections thud into the ground sans every skerrick of slo-mo grace.

I feel great.

I feel like shit.

On the veranda of Dakota’s place there’s a punching bag. I remember it twisting on its chain. The Warlock’s creepy cassette was in my pocket. The tablecloth that’d been laid out for her sweet sixteenth was still on the table. I didn’t notice until she pointed it out – after I told her what I thought was the best news – that I’d morphed my birthmark onto the wrong arm.

Which was when I lost it.

“Again,” she asks.

“Again.”

~

The Ceremony

~

Anointed with the ejaculate of The Penitent, Keira steps into the circle. Glyphs of fresh blood swirl to the centre. Those that mark the boundary are crusted. And the ejaculate is mixed with blood, for The Penitent’s skin is flayed and the wounds of her’s exile weep profusely and do not clot. Keira chooses her footfalls, treads lightly. But despite her care the tip of a toe is wet and it smears when it touches the ground. The humbled eternal watches the ceremony, and the others, over all the vast crafting hall of The Academy, held and pinned to the wall just above its entrance by barbed chains and iron spikes driven deep into the bedrock.

No pressure.

No way is Keira going to fuck this up. Not with that jerkass Ryan watching.

That liar. Cold, calculating, arrogant, fucker absolute. Dickhead, wanker and prick (but maybe Bitch would be more appropriate now).

His body is wrapped in black cloth, tattered at the edges. Shadows gather in the hollows of his high cheekbones. The skin of his brow is stretched. His silver hair tied back in a bun. He is unsupervised. Already, the masters and mistresses trust him.

He is so one of them.

It should have been –

Keira woke this morning to find Miranda curled at the end of her bed. She scratched her friend behind the ears.

“Hullo there,” she said. The familiar purred and stretched. “It’s been a while. Sonia working you hard?”

The cat shrugged. “I heard the stars marked you one of the lustful youths,” she said “I wanted to see how you’d changed.”

She looked Keira over with her golden eyes. “Here, do my chin.”

– Miranda in Ryan’s place, but when the planets had aligned for her, he’d taken her body – leaving her in his, comatose, near to death for three months – and usurped her ordained position.

As Keira reaches the centre of the circle, Ryan begins his invocation.

This is the first time she has been used as an instrument. The others have told her –

Kamil, as she took him in her mouth: “If it looks like a peeper or vee-jay, or feels like a peeper or vee-jay it’s probably close enough, so work with it.”

Elena, as she slid a hand down to grasp Keira’s tumescent cock: “When the circle is activated gravity’ll go AWOL. That’s cool, but don’t eat too much beforehand.”

Zephier, as he rolled her off his robe, shook out the wrinkles, put it on: “Try to top, it’s easier to reposition if they get shifty. They won’t instigate rough stuff, but they will run with your lead, maybe further than you’re comfortable with.”

– what to expect.

The blood glyphs boil away, revealing the chalk symbols below. The air grows steamy and humid. And there is something in the haze. Her feet leave the ground, her arms stretch out, up. As they entangle, far below them an artefact begins to take shape.

It looks like a tape recorder.

~

The Daydreamer

~

Between the newsagent and the laundromat there's a shop. It wasn't there yesterday, and it won't be there tomorrow, but for the moment it's a fixture.

You sit and watch the seething spume through the portals opposite. A flapping shirt, the sail of a sinking ship. Sea monster socks. Crashing bluejean waves. Your ears are pricked for the click of a dryer turning off. Then you can be out of here. Until then, you wait and amuse yourself with magical thinking. You'd much rather be tumbling or twittering, but your phone battery is dead. So it's just you and your imagination, like old times, when Poppa used to drag you here.

You'd pace around in that innocuous goosestep-y way that kids do and, when Poppa was in a good mood, moan, "I'm booorrrred," stopping when he turned grump. Whingeing was fun. Getting into trouble was not. The shop next door - a kind of spookhouse-cum-bookstore-cum-chemist - was a constant source of fascination. Poppa detested the place. "It's all jackoff shit," he'd say, clapping you on the shoulder, when he caught you peering in through the window at the weird amulets, candy-like pills and the aliens and monsters, the strange and picturesque landscapes, and the lush, garish and revealing costumes of the men and women on the covers of the well-thumbed paperbacks.

The shop is closed for the day. The window is dark, you could barely make out the merchandise as you walked past it. But if you had tried the door, you would have found it unlocked. And had you stepped over the threshold the owner, a gaunt reaper of an old woman, would have emerged from the shadows to meet you. In a story, and you've read many, she would have clasped your hands in hers and said something like, "I have exactly the thing". That's more or less what happens in real life too. You'd expect most people to be all "yeah, this is kind of off, I'm out," pretty quick, or at least more than a little leery of the woman's spiel, and of swallowing, say, the polka-dotted or rainbow swirled capsule, or pouring the sulphur-smelling poop coloured powder into the next meal they prepare, but shops like this put out a vibe that seriously fucks with your thinking, free will, all that mind jizz.

So Mandy removes the stopper from the vial and sprinkles into the taco mince she's preparing. In the rec room her partner and the kids play Mario-Kart on the park's GameCube. Ava mushes up the half-frozen Sprite in her mug and looks at the clock. The big chem essay is due tomorrow, but she really wants to get the next chapter done, cut loose, finally hit the long-planned cliff-hanger of Anita staking Jean Claude, so she'll all-nighter and do both. Gut churning with lemonade slushy and funky off-brand NoDoze, she begins to write. Rick shows his little sister the bracelet he brought, she's only twelve, but a wise-beyond-her-age authority on all things Girl - "do you think Monica'll like it?" Candice wishes she understood the distance that has grown between her and her husband, while on the other side of town Joey pulls into an apartment complex car-park with his new squeeze. Nirvana's Lithium finishes off the mix; Riles notes it and frowns. Not as essay ready a selection as some of the others, the thought feeding into her growing sense that the whole project is shaping up to be a bust. She ejects the cassette from her newly acquired player, inserts the next one and hits play.

You don't know these people, but you know the story shapes their lives are assuming. The O'Brian's will continue their vacation, and maybe grow closer as a family. Ava will hunt vampires in her fantasy of a fantasy St Louis. Rick will hand the bracelet to his sister, and at the moment when both are touching it the spell will activate. Candice and her husband and the squeeze's souls will be shuffled. Riles will rush to a mirror and see a beardo in a flannel shirt looking back at her.

Finally. The click. You retrieve your clothes and crush-hug them, their warmth, to your chest. The shop is gone when you leave the laundromat. It was never there. And the fading memory of peeking in through the window seems like an imagining of later years, not long past, when you kept an eye out for such places. A fantasy that you just couldn't shake, magical thinking that like your long sleeves, high necklines, low hems and bellbottoms reveals something deeply felt and true.

~

Submissions Wanted For the Next Mixed Tape Collection

~

For the first Mixed Tape of 2016 we'll be shooting for an early February release. Submissions are due in by the 28th of January. You can submit up to 1000 words of fiction, but you need not expend all these words on a single story. Multiple submissions are encouraged!

The last Tape of 2015 had a lot of magical transformation stories, this time around I'd like to put out a collection that skews a little more realistic, or outlandish and pulpy with realistically trans protagonists - i.e. an Indy Jones-esque tomb raiding story where the hero happens to be a trans man; a short swashbuckler about the Chevalier d'Eon; or a hardboiled mystery with a transgender detective.

But Persnickety, I hear you say, you’ve written a whole lot of stories without any trans stuff in them, I’ve just read a bunch! Well yes, you have, but read The Lovers again, which deals with body dysphoria in addition to being what I hope is a smutty good time; or The Hero, and pay attention to how the protagonist’s usage and relationship with their altered powers in part reflects common trans experiences. Though not stated outright the titular character in The Daydreamer is trans. That story is a personal one, examining my own relationship with magical transformation fiction and my current feelings towards the clothes I wear when I present as female. As someone who has only just begun to transition, I find that I have developed a strong attachment to the outfits that make me look less male. This is not to say that clothes literally maketh the woman, or that my womanhood is any less valid if I do not pass. Our gut level feelings can sometimes be irrational and inconsistent and confused. But they are also powerful. And there is absolutely truth there; I'd still be an unhappy little egg if there wasn't. I hope that I have tapped into that power, and I hope that what I have written resonates with at least some of my readers. As the curator of these collections I would love to see stories that really get into “how it feels” and that express these feelings through metaphor or embed them within genre tropes.

If you’re interested in contributing, shoot me an email at [email protected]

Cheers

PB



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