Stephen Hastings-King:
9 Stories


She says: In the beginning the air was thick with signals about naming me Ann Tanner. But my parents never picked them up.

She takes a drag from a cigarette.

She says: When I had braces, my family wired my headgear to rabbit-ears and shortwave radios to pull in distant signals. They'd put me in a chair, point me in the desired direction and indicate how I was to hold my head and the facial expression I was to make. Football games and military actions ran through my skull. Information tangled with static and filled me up.

The movements of smoke trail her features through spaces of expressionist light.

When I squint at her from across the table I can see the waveforms created by her carrier signal.

She says: I learned to control the overflow with tiny careful movements. I learned to fine tune, to locate channels inside of channels. Sometimes during a coup d'etat or evangelical broadcast unrelated pop songs would hover around my head. I knew each was playing just for me. I am antenna and receiver. Broadcasts search me out. They like my technologies.

She takes another drag from her cigarette.

The night-marsh seems crisscrossed with streams of faint chattering from telex machines. They inch closer, looking for her.

First Cadastral Calamity
(From Calamity in Clamville)

On a perimeter of a periphery amongst a network of gullies on an embankment of mud and grass the ice house rots on a float. For years he sat in the chair at its center whittling and smoking cigarettes as he surveyed a line that extended from the lower midpoint of the doorframe through the column driven into the ground wrapped in a crown of thorns then the cube of pitted fading orange Styrofoam to a horizontal French door that opens onto mud. Because of this boundary the Imaginary Marina remained imaginary. The Imaginary Marina was to have been quite grand. But his inherited property fell 8 feet short. The neighbor who owned the 8 feet would not sell. He would say: Everyone gets one idea, one idea that can change things. The marina was mine and it was taken from me. I’m waiting here for another.

Sometimes he waited over the water. To while away the waiting on the walls he drew a story. The stick figure fisherman drops a line through the hole in the floor and waits for something to happen. An enormous shark surfaces through the hole in the floor & grabs him. In the apotheosis the enormous shark is airborne and vertical its mouth a bizarre grin drawn around two rows of terrible triangle teeth. Between them floats the stick figure fisherman his hands giant with surprise. The enormous shark swims to the ocean floor where it deposits a skeleton stick figure fisherman. The skeleton stick figure falls through a blank space toward a pipe that brings him down and down. Through the friction of the fall the figure becomes flesh. The pipe ends in a trap which is the roof of the ice house. He falls through the trap and lands back in the chair he started from. The stick figure fisherman drops a line through the hole in the floor and waits for something to happen.

Stamp Album

1. Like anyone I was imbricated with multiple flows: chocolate milk; cardigans; small airborne creatures, pathogens, contagions and other words; candy; Civil War paraphernalia; old bottles dug up from abandoned dumps; jars and nails to fill them with; sawdust; poison ivy; pieces of paper. Especially pieces of paper.

As a kid, I discovered that once you start letting cancelled postage stamps in to where you live, they come from all directions. They're like plankton that floats around getting eaten by every other creature in the ecosystem when all they want to is to find someplace safe. But once they're in your space, no matter where you put them they want to be somewhere else. They form herds. They are restless.

Baseball cards were like that too. My closet was full of flat smiling gentlemen holding baseball bats or crouching in defensive anticipation. Hundreds of them spilled out of shoeboxes, cascaded over shelves, piled on the floor. They would get into the sleeves of my shirts. The closet was infested. When I opened the door, groups of baseball cards would break for freedom. I could hear flat gentlemen shouting encouragement to each other.

2. My beginner's stamp album was a giant loose-leaf notebook with padded covers that featured a graphic jet crossing a planetary distance. I never quite understood why the covers were padded, what impact the stamps needed to be protected from.

The pages of my beginner's stamp album were composed of photographs. The layout imposed divisions and sequences and a correct distance that should be maintained with respect to the stamps. The pages left me in my bedroom, looking at a book. That was not why I collected.

I liked to look at individual stamps, project myself into the little stamp environments and have adventures. Sometimes I grew muttonchops and attended the grand celebration of the opening of a new national aerodrome in 1912 Bosnia & Herzigovina. An orchestra played waltzes and the air was thick with confetti. Each time I walked between rows of fragile insectoid aeroplanes with the same woman I had never seen before who carried a parasol and held my arm. Other times I stood with Party officials wearing a trench coat and a giant fur hat near a power station engraved in blocky WPA style located on a prototypical hill and daydreamed about Electrification plus Soviets. Or I went jogging with a blue Marianne through the streets of 1848 Paris. We wore matching Nikes and sweat suits and ran past the barricades.

Once I told a startled-looking Sam the Rhesus Monkey that everything would be OK minutes before he was shot into space. I lost that stamp and never went back.


Beneath wire trees in the mottled light where clouds skim along the ground and pass through geometries within which densities of absence give way to slow-motion horses he is driving and standing in front of the same car. Moist beads of impact form a mesh across his face. Everything is soft and falling.


1. For the next-to-last journey he muled a stolen car from Gloucester to Florida. He brought with him a .38 and a bouquet of cheap flowers. He left the flowers at her door on the way out.

2. Their break-up raced through a nautilus shell. In the next-to-last chamber, he balanced a chef's knife on shelving then jumped onto the blade.

3. The furthest point of the next-to-last journey was a South Florida Motel 6.

He put the .38 on the night stand. But he couldn’t do it.

He bought several bottles of pills then wrote a letter as a narrative inside a narrative, one that outlined his trajectory and its mire and his implausible rescue and the ways it became a chimera, the other chapter divisions comprised of doses and times.

4. I watch her read the letter. Despite its melodrama of forgiveness, the story becomes her fault.

5. When the telephone rings I pick up to hear the circuitry, a vast plain of chatter that expands as I listen, opening onto infrastructure then the echoes of the undersides of voices that gives way to an abstract space of drift and vibrations and spirits. He blows across it, an atomized snarl of grasses caught in a phantom wind, and then through me and beyond become a waveform that rearranges the air and everything that is in it.


She drinks a chocolate martini. I fold myself up and slide into her pocket. There I join the others. We seven in her pocket talk animatedly about space, travel and the topologies of her breasts. She pays us no mind. We organize an expedition to the opening in her shirt. We want to slide around her skin. We climb carefully in a column. When she brushes us off her hand comes like a storm. Airborne I open myself to her length. My hand hovers just over her stomach. I disappear into details. She drinks a chocolate martini. She does not know my name.

Where I work you cannot see the sun.

Where I work you cannot see the sun.

Where I work people use words like leverage. They do not appear to denote anything.

Where I work everyone sits in a little cube in the middle of which is a little monitor on which they can look at the surveillance image of themselves sitting in a little cube in the middle of which is a little monitor on which they are looking at a surveillance image all day if they want to.

Where I work when it rains you can hear in detail water flowing through a basement amplification chamber. It is like being in the drain of a sink has become a tourist attraction.

Where I work everyone pretends they are somewhere else.

Word Balloon

Most times a vertical word balloon floats before him. The balloon looks like a distended variant of his tongue made from white sausage or maybe blank paper in the space on which he is drawn. Words crowd into it like he's an 18th century cartoon. They tumble. They jostle and somersault, a roil & boil that enacts the confinement of the space they're in.

He cannot see the words directly, only from below or at an angle. Mostly he reads their shadows.

Words flash and disappear even when he is not thinking of anything. He watches and wonders whether they obey the whims of another.

Sometimes he tries experiments. He gathers himself up and says peculiar sentences.

“There is a green rectangle. There is an interior frame of white lines.”

When he does, versions of each flash shadows around him. It is as if he moves through a box that is normally invisible because it is continuously present. The shadows of words reveal the walls of the box. He wonders about this information, whether it is better to know or not to.

When he stops saying sentences the flashing resumes its scatter.

Other times he wonders about the conventions that govern word balloons. He thinks: Maybe in the 18th century there wasn't much room so they had to be long and thin and slipped in between features. Or maybe tiny stories once told secrets and secrets had to be written on strips of paper that could be spooled up and hidden in the quill of a pen.

At times from the bottom of the balloon he sees a thread. Each one appears to run down his throat. He bites down on it. If he bites down long enough the word balloon disappears. Every time he relaxes they come back.

The Secret Lives of Horses

In a slow explosion of low fog something in a pasture flickers into and out of being. A brown wavering vertical is absorbed into a density of white. It spills out as a profile-horse which is absorbed back into density. This direction performs itself through numberless secret variations.

I fight an urge to call you, to hear your sleepy voice and say that where I am when no-one is looking time-forms are released from the objects that hold them.

On a mountain in my memory a silhouette locomotive of cylinders, rods and diamonds with open metal spinning flower wheels shudders through a plane of smoke and indeterminacy.

I point a camera at the geography of light that spreads inside a surface of asphalt. The screen remains black. The flash photographs itself scattering.

Stephen Hastings-King on process:

I write in the morning when the world is still bendy. I make coffee and arrange words: put some in, move them around, take some out; searching for seams, gliding along then through them.

I make surfaces from sentences and arrange them into structures. The movement of a reader through them generates spaces or environments. Meanings are emergent features of these interactions.

I think some very grand things but try not to let them get in the way.

Stephen Hastings-King lives by a salt marsh in Essex, Massachusetts where he makes constraints, works with prepared piano and writes entertainments of various kinds. Some of his sound work is available at www.clairaudient.org. His short fictions have appeared in Sleepingfish, Black Warrior Review, elimae, Metazen and elsewhere.

1 comment:

  1. brilliant as usual. really love these grand little guys.