Our ninth issue is thirty-six pages of very short shorts, illustrations, and a truly strange comic strip which confuses and delights us. As with previous issues, it sports a silkscreen cover, hand-stitched thread binding, and smells vaguely of citrus. It’s available now for four bucks.
Our Black Hole
Alice and Brad were fighting again. You did this, you did that, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that. Neither could say how long they’d been fighting. Maybe this fight was just a continuation of the last; maybe fights didn’t really have edges, like the universe itself, infinite yet bounded. Neither could say what had started the fight. At a certain point, they began to fight about that. Brad was well on his way to his sixth beer and Alice was threatening to stick a steak knife in a wall socket when they noticed the anomaly.
“What is that?” asked Brad.
“Don’t change the subject!” said Alice.
But neither could ignore the weird shimmering patch that hovered between them. It looked like a distortion, as if the air itself had thickened and kinked, and in fact Alice had been rubbing her left eye all night because she thought there was something in it. But this was no floater, no gunk on the iris; this was something very real but very strange, and it was definitely out there. Brad reached out to touch it but Alice told him not to.
“Don’t be an idiot,” she said, as she pulled a wooden salad fork from the drawer for oversized utensils. She poked the tines into the distortion, and, amazingly, the tines vanished.
“Holy shit,” said Brad, “what is that thing?”
Alice jiggled the fork around, which caused the distortion to rip. It was like puncturing a blob of paint that you thought was dry but wasn’t. A gooey black interiority appeared.
“Stop jiggling the fork. You’re making it worse.”
“I’m not making it worse, I’m just — I’m just letting it breathe.”
“Don’t let it breathe.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
She pushed the fork further into the little black hole, and, incredibly, the fork vanished. It seemed to fall into the hole, though the hole hovered upright. Neither Alice nor Brad was a physicist, but they knew spooky physics when they saw it.
“What should we do?” asked Alice.
“Maybe if we ignore it, it’ll go away,” said Brad.
Alice didn’t have a better idea, so that’s what they did.
They went to bed and curled up on their separate ends. Normally the cat slept between them. In the morning Alice asked, “Have you seen Felix?” Brad hadn’t seen Felix. They argued over who’d seen him last. They eyed the black hole, which had grown overnight.
“You don’t think —” said Alice.
“He must have slipped past your legs when you took the garbage out last night. I’m sure we’ll find him.”
“Or maybe he jumped out the window you left open again for the hundredth time. I’m sure we’ll find him.”
But they didn’t find him, and the black hole grew.
“Where are my keys?” asked Brad.
“We’ve got to do something,” said Alice.
The black hole only appeared when Alice and Brad were in the same room. When they left for work, the hole disappeared. But when they returned, there it was again, hovering greedily between them. Very soon, all their fights revolved around the black hole.
“It’s because you’re so negative!” said Alice.
“Give me one reason not to be negative!” said Brad.
Soon the hole was the size of a full-length mirror. Normally Alice and Brad stood on either side of the kitchen island to cook. When they carelessly took their positions one night, the island vanished.
“Oh, look what you’ve done now!” said Brad.
“It takes two to tango, buster!” said Alice.
They went for a walk to see the sunset. A bird flew between them and vanished.
“We really have to do something about this,” said Alice.
“You’re right,” said Brad. Then he said, “See? I can say it. Don’t tell me I never say it!” They consulted a local physicist, who shot some laser pulses into their hole and measured its emanations.
“Well,” he said, “it’s a black hole.”
“It’s because he’s so negative,” said Alice, meaning Brad.
The physicist shook his head. “This isn’t about positivity or negativity. It’s about collapsed spacetime. Would you mind if I ran some tests?”
They agreed to the tests, and the physicist led them to his hadron collider. After a day of poking and prodding, he told them, “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Alice, say something to Brad. Whatever pops into your head.”
“All right. Why is it okay when your pee spatters on the floor? How can you just ignore that?”
The physicist watched his gravity meters. “Fascinating,” he said. “Absolutely fascinating. Now Brad, say something to Alice. Anything at all.”
“Would you rather that I pee sitting down? Would that solve the problem for you? Because if so, maybe I’ll start. But only on the condition that when I introduce you to people I get to say, This is Alice, she makes me pee sitting down.”
“Fascinating.” The physicist mopped his brow with the bottom of his lab coat. “It seems that whenever one of you speaks to the other, something unsaid peels off and falls into the black hole.”
“That’s crazy,” said Alice.
“Yes, well, advanced physics often sounds crazy to the untrained ear.”
“What can we do?” asked Brad.
The physicist looked up from his Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and said, “Black holes eventually evaporate if you stop feeding them. So I’d say stop feeding it.”
“And that,” Alice told her best friends, “is what happened.”
“I never liked Brad anyway,” said her pretty best friend.
“I liked him, but he was bad for you,” said her brainy best friend.
“I liked him,” said her dumb best friend. Everyone knew that the dumb best friend had a crush on Brad. Also, no one cared what she thought. She added, “You guys should try to work it out.”
“And that,” Brad told his drinking buddies, “is what happened.”
“Bullshit,” said his handsome buddy.
“Bullshit,” said his know-it-all buddy.
“Alice,” whistled the buddy with the jutting brow who was always horny. “Boy,” he added, “that Alice.”
As for the black hole? It knew there were other galaxies to anchor, other voids to express. They say hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but their account fails to tally all that goes unsaid. There’s always lots of free-floating subtext for a hungry black hole to devour, invisible to the human eye, yet massive enough to bend the very beams that light our way. The black hole knew it, and moved on.
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