This week’s stories are about walking around in dead bodies, speaking to the dead, taking care of birds that emerge from the dead, and aliens.

On Post-Mortem Birds by Natalia Theodoridou | Interfictions Online

1 Extraction

Place a body block under the back of the cadaver so that the chest protrudes and the neck and arms fall backwards. You might hear the bird flutter at this stage. Do not be alarmed; this is normal. Make a deep, Y-shaped incision in the usual manner (cf pp. 22-25). Peel back the skin, muscle and soft tissue. Pull the chest flap over the face. The birdcage should now be exposed, and the thoracic bird should be visible. Using a rib cutter or saw, make two cuts on each side of the cage. Be very careful when you pull the ribs away so as not to damage the bird. The bird should now be free. Depending on your relationship with the deceased, it may choose to fly away. If it does, there is no point in chasing it. The bird was never yours. It will never be yours. Do not forget this.

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If the bird stays in the chest cavity, extract it using your bare hands and proceed to step 2.

I feel like this is the third story about birds and dead people I’ve read recently. I know that the associations between the two are ancient, but it has me wondering if there’s a theme emerging? (Or perhaps a themed anthology I don’t know about...)

Beyond the deja vu feeling, I like this take on the theme and the structure of the story. It’s beautifully written and evokes beautiful imagery.

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What kind of bird would emerge from your chest cavity in this world? I’d like to think mine would be a raven. I’d do well with an owl inside me, too.

Image Credit: Zach Stern “Legacy” on Flickr

This Wanderer, in the Dark of the Year by Kris Millering | Clarkesworld Magazine

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Or it starts this way: I am home, and doing the dishes. This is my job when I’m home. Scrape, wash, rinse; my hands are mechanical. Annelise leans on the doorframe. ... “Did you see the news?” Her accent curls around each word, turning it into rough music. We met in Durban ten years ago, when I was doing a predictable piece on the townships. Annelise was the only good thing about that trip.

I set a plate into the drainer. “About the meteor?”

“They’re not sure that’s what it is,” she says. “Weren’t you working there a while ago? The gypsy story?”

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“Not gypsies. Roma. Gypsy’s a pejorative.” I wash off a couple of forks and set them in the drainer. “But yes. That’s right near where all those people were killed.”

All I can remember is how gray the sky was, and how cold it was at night. I have some beautiful pictures from that assignment, but I don’t remember taking any of them.

“Sorry.” Her tone is unrepentant. Annelise is an evolutionary biologist, and she dislikes the niceties of human behavior. We’re all too fast-moving for her.

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“Maybe it’s a spaceship. Also, do you have to use every pot we own to make dinner with?” My voice is sharper than I mean.

“When someone else is washing dishes? Yes.” Again, no contrition. I used to love the way you never apologized.

So creepy. And harrowing. The descriptions of torture (of a kind) and mentions of atrocities of war might put some off reading this altogether. I feel that the author struck an acceptable balance.

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The timing of things is a bit jumbled in the beginning, and so I sometimes felt off balance. I don’t know when exactly I found myself solidly in the story, but it did happen. So much so that the ending really freaked me out for a bit.

Elephants and Corpses by Kameron Hurley | Tor.com

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Bodies are only beautiful when they aren’t yours. It’s why Nev had fallen in love with bodies in the first place. When you spent time with the dead you could be anyone you wanted to be. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t want to have long conversations about it. They were vehicles. Transport. Tools. They were yours in a way that no living thing ever could be.

Nev stood at the end of the lower city’s smallest pier with Tera, his body manager, while she snuffled and snorted with some airborne contagion meant to make her smarter. She was learning to talk to the dead, she said, and you only picked up a skill like that if you went to some viral wizard who soaked your head in sputum and said a prayer to the great glowing wheel of God’s eye that rode the eastern horizon. Even now, the boiling mass of stars that made up the God’s eye nebula was so bright Nev could see it in broad daylight. It was getting closer, the priests all said. Going to gobble them up like some cancer.

Why Tera needed to talk to the dead when Nev did just fine with them as they were was a mystery. But it was her own body, her slice of the final take to spend, and he wasn’t going to argue about what she did with it.

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“You buying these bodies or not?” said the old woman in the pirogue. She’d hooked the little boat to the snarling amber head of a long-mummified sea serpent fixed to the pier. In Nev’s fascination with the dead body, he’d forgotten about the live one trying to sell it to him.

I feel for the world Hurley spins here moreso than the characters. The idea of a body merc is a cool one, especially in light of the exploration of identity that slips its way into the adventure story this starts out as. Tricksy!

Honorable Mention

Time Machines: An End of the World Inventory by Ginger Weil <— Zombies

K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author, media critic, and issuer of theTempest Challenge. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.

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