We have a special treat for readers of GFTW today. Marian Coman, a Romanian writer that Jeff VanderMeer calls “talented,” has graciously given us permission to republish the short story “Unwired” from his now-in-English ebook collection Fingers and other fantastic stories. We do hope you enjoy this haunting tale of belonging.
A silver metal ring with wide borders, on which a few incomprehensible incrustations can be seen. The elders are still wearing this Mark. In the middle, a narrow orifice, like the ear’s funnel, with a metallic strip that leads inside, to the cortex. Grandma is one of those with a so adorned temple. Yesterday, the Mark got infected and from inside the orifice pus started festering. A slow, golden waterfall, drawing an uneven stream through the wrinkles of the face. Grandma moaned slowly, crushing a few tears between her lids and swallowing as if parched by thirst, while mother treated her Mark with dry herbs tea.
We’re staying on an island. Grandpa says we have come here when he was a child, confronting the waves on a boat made of plastic bottles. We have come, I mean he, together with Jen, Terry, Adi, Magy and Sandra. Grandpa’s name is Paul. This is the first history lesson. It’s the first thing any child learns in the amphitheatre in the middle of the island. Much later, one learns how to use the screening system that protects us, says grandpa, from the fury of the Machine. Anyway, so he says, but mom and dad don’t really take him seriously. They want to build a boat out of the trunks of the palm trees on the beach with which to leave this place. In the evening, around the fire, they start quarrels that end only late in the night. In the shack, mom and dad continue whispering until the sun comes out of the ocean and the day begins to break.
Mom and dad, typical of those their age, don’t have the ring on the temple. But the Mark is there. Like a hollow or a snake hole. Like an ear without auricle. An ear that hears nothing. Out of all of them, I’m the only one without the Mark. Grandpa is proud of me and, of all twenty eight children, he loves me the most. I don’t really understand what grandpa is saying. He says to me: ‘Tiger, you’re the first mighty fighter. We have succeeded in escaping the Machine; you will succeed in defeating it’. Grandpa has also given me a book The ICAN Cod’, which I’m going to read when I grow up. He says to do what is written there and my name will be tied to the beginning of a new era.
Grandpa is a bit off. When he is not around, everyone laughs at him or cus him out. If it weren’t for Jen, Terry and Magy, I don’t know what would become of the poor man.
I understand grandpa because I am, in a way, just like him. If they catch me alone, older children poke me and press their fingers on my temple until I start crying. ‘Freak-head’ they call me, ‘Come on here, we’ll make you a hole in your head, your head be damned!’ Other times they kick me with their feet or throw stones at me, when they see me on the beach, where I go for crabs and sea stars. To escape them, I take refuge beyond the rocks, in the north of the island, in the unmonitored area, where they cannot reach me because they have the Mark and their heads would throb with pain. Sometimes I wonder how grandpa has managed to come, crossing the ocean, but he says everything is written in The ICAN Code. The book is thick, handwritten, and has many schemata and maps. Even the island is diagramed at the end. A large drawing, on two pages stained with grease. The beach, Jen’s Hill, the cemetery, the cliffs and the cave from the unmonitored zone is where I have headed in the morning.
At the bottom of the cave, the walls are rough big, and sharp, rocky ridges adorn the dark belly of the island. Like the fangs of some unseen animal, stuck on limestone. The light outside casts weird shadows on the inside and these fangs seem to come to life, dancing on the walls. Here and there, the puddles on the ground reflect a ray on the ceiling and the world seems like a crystal. I would stay here for a thousand years and I wouldn’t know about mom and dad, the bad children, the Machine and all the horrors I hear at night, while I pretend to be asleep. Or I would return with the Mark on my temple just like all the others and they wouldn’t laugh at me anymore and wouldn’t poke me and would let me gather, quietly, little sea stars. Maybe then they would even allow me to play with them on Jen’s Hill.
The grains of sand on the rocky spurs that surround me shine, stealing a lost ray of sun and I feel like laughing about how silly I have been till now, believing in all that grandpa has said. Oh, look, the edge of this rocky ridge is very sharp; I squeeze it in my hand – ouch! – a drop of blood strikes the pool of springwater at my feet.
It’s dark inside the cave and maybe mom and dad are looking for me on the beach. I fix my temple on the rocky edge and I seem to hear my ‘marked’ sister singing – how much I would like for her to play with me – I blink twice, then my head seems to raise itself and bashes against the cave’s jag. If it hurts me, I will know I must leave quickly from here, from the unmonitored area. But I will have the Mark. And so the head hits the stone, and it’s night, and I die.
(Translated by Carmen Dumitru)
© Marian Coman. All Rights Reserved.
For more from Marian, read this GFTW guest post on Romanian fantasists.
Marian Coman (www.mariancoman.com) is a Romanian journalist and writer of fantastic literature, winner of a EuroCon award in 2006. He published two volumes of prose in Romania („Nopţi albe, zile negre” and „Testamentul de ciocolată”) and a publishing one („Teoria flegmei. Apel la mitocănie”), all of them at the Tritonic publishing house (www.tritonic.ro). Moreover, he published short prose in several magazines and anthologies in Romania. He is the chief editor of the newspaper Obiectiv – Vocea Brăilei (www.obiectivbr.ro) and of the Obiectiv Cultural magazine (www.obiectivcultural.ro). Marian Coman is now available in English, in the short prose volume ”Fingers and other fantastic stories”, available in kindle format on Amazon.com.