A Letter to My Daughter

I can’t imagine that they let you watch the news in whatever terrible place they keep you. There were more riots today, around St Paul’s. I was on the other side of the river, and I saw the Truth Grenades going up from there; little puffs of silver smoke. Some of the protestors came across Millennium Bridge, dragging casualties. Have you ever actually seen anybody who’s been hit by a Truth Grenade? Ironically enough I suppose you’re the one person in this country who hasn’t.

I hired a prostitute to pretend to be you. Don’t be mad. Her name is Candy or Candice or something of that sort, which makes me think of the fairground. She’s young enough to be my daughter, to be you, and the resemblance is striking. We sit and talk most nights, and it’s strange because a lot of the time we talk about you. She doesn’t mind, though she cries sometimes when I tell her about what happened. We were there together on the waterfront when the injured from St Paul’s came across. I swear, I almost lost it then. I need her, in your absence. Last week I showed her the exact way you held a knife and fork.

But that protest. That was something. The authorities are getting freer with the Truth Grenades now, and it seems sometimes like the whole city is brimming over with the injured. I see them in doorways or on street corners — their families abandon them, you know? They put a sign around their neck and drop them off on the kerb and drive away, and that’s it. Christ, darling, I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty.

I remember the day you invented the damn things. You were seventeen, and made of denim and glitter and the colour black. You were such a mystery then—picking up all these adult things out of nowhere: the way you talked and the way you moved your hands. The day when you discovered Truth was a strange one. You’d caught it in a film canister, bottled it like water. I called the university.

People came and went and came back again. Sitting sedately in the living room a doctor in a hairy grey suit had you conjure some more of it, smiling at first at this quaint little trick, then not. Then frowning and biting his lip and pawing his mobile from the pocket of his coat. The house opened up, and then the street filled with vans and reporters and police officers, and you said to me, “I think I’m going to be famous,” and you shrugged as though saying, well, these things happen.

It was a Thursday when they stole you away. Like a summer school, they told me, for young inventors. Young geniuses. There’d be others like you there, and you’d work together for a few weeks to explore your ideas. Realise your potential. We waited on the kerb in a cloud of reporters. I think you were pleased, or proud, or happy at least. The yellow bus, when it came, had soldiers on board, and I didn’t wonder why until later — until much later when you hadn’t written and hadn’t called, and the phone numbers they’d given me turned out to be dead. I remember that you kissed me, once, before getting on board that bus, and it was light and cool and given with the expectation that you would see me again in a little while.

Candy or Candice is all I have now. I notice little things, like how her eyes are a slightly different colour, how she smells of cigarette smoke. But we sit around and we talk, and maybe I get a little drunk, and maybe I say things that are supposed to be secret, or maybe I don’t. The doctors have given me something to help me sleep, but I never take it. We’re making a plan to get you out, see? Candice/Candy says she’ll gladly switch with you, if that would work. Me and her go in, me and you come out. If only we knew where you were.

“It must have been terrible,” said Candice/Candy once, “when they first used the Grenades. You must have known then…”

I nodded. I saw it on the news, when they ended an Animal Rights protest. I recognised the colour, the silver smoke. The protestors went dead, pulling off their piggy masks, some of them crying, some falling abruptly asleep as the police moved in. It finally clicked, then, as to why they’d taken you.

I tell Candice/Candy this and because she listens well I tell her what the house is like without you. How sometimes the telephone will ring and I’ll pick it up and make noises and put it down and then I’ll wonder where I am. Whose house is this? Candice/Candy holds me gently against her shoulder and I cry, and it’s okay, because she’s you.

Derek is more militaristic. Remember him? The bald guy with the tattoo of a dragon on his neck. He and I used to climb mountains together, before you were born. He was around a lot when you were a kid. When your mother died, he was here to keep the house together, and make you meals and read to you and see that I didn’t screw things up any further. Well, he’s leading a revolution now. I go for weeks at a time without seeing or hearing from him. Then I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to find him in the kitchen, dishevelled and stinking, helping himself to food from the fridge. We talk: he’s been finding things out. Ideas, he says, fantasies. They’re the most important things. You lie to yourself enough and the truth can’t hurt you. He smiles in the dark, one eye and a yellowed-pearl-string of teeth. You make your own truth, he tells me. You have to or you’re not going to last.

The young, Derek says, are the future of the country. It’s too late for my generation. Each weekend I travel to a different university and hand out books and leaflets with your picture on. These children are the age you would be now. They are pierced and jagged and strange. They give me hope, at least.

It has not been without incident, of course. I have been questioned by police, by campus authorities more times than I care to count. Candy/Candice says that people are as afraid as I am underneath, and for the most part this seems true. Nobody wants to call the police these days. They can track you anywhere, and they don’t approve of troublemakers.

Other times, I have been caught up in what Derek calls affirmative action. It sounds noble and professional in the terms he describes it. One day, he promises me, we will find where you’re held. One day we’ll destroy the Truth factories and set the people free and make up stories to cure the victims. That is what Derek says.

But there was an incident in town last week. I was there. Two men were stopped in town, and tried to run. I was there. One of the men, a greying man in a knitted jumper, pushed past me. He looked hunted, sick. More like a child than a terrorist. The police didn’t even call a warning before they used the grenades. I found myself lying on the concrete, face down as the explosions went off and the silver smoke puffed up into the air.

One of the Truth Grenades must have clipped me; when I woke in hospital later on, everything I saw was dark and shaky. I could feel it, the truth, some great mass of it lurking just out of sight. So heavy it made me sick. Made me feel tiny and lost and the worst kind of empty, like a machine of blood and bone and body, a thing without the slightest trace of a soul. I could barely breathe anymore. For a second I thought I knew what I was, and then it was gone.

I told Candy/Candice about that later, and she said, my god how awful. She really does speak like that sometimes. She is confusing. She wants to help the Truth victims now. Derek and her have spoken over the phone and she thinks that maybe someone could start a charity. A hostel for all the abandoned victims. It would be dangerous, to associate with such a thing, but Candice/Candy thinks that it would work. “We could help them,” she says. “We’d find a way.”

I can’t see that far ahead. Can’t think of the state of the city until I have you back. Often I imagine a thread that connects us. Invisible and indestructible. And I think that if only I could find that thread, where it connects to me, and take hold of it, and follow it along like a blind monk… I would cross countries to find you, darling. You know that.

I still have that film canister which you captured the very first Truth in. I guess it must have been forgotten in all the confusion of your legalised kidnap. Original Truth, like Original sin. Both of them started out simple enough, and both of them spilt over and made a terrible mess.

I’m holding the canister now, as I write this, and it’s small and simple as a bullet. I’m going to finish writing this, so that one day, I hope, you will know what really happened. After that I don’t know what I’m going to do.


Krishan Coupland was born in Southampton, England, and now studies at Staffordshire University. His work has appeared in Brittle Star, Aesthetica, and 3AM Magazine. Read more.

The Stickman

Micah Dean Hicks

The villagers heard the stickman coming before they saw him: hiss on the gravel road into town, the click and clack of branch to branch. He walked up the dirt street dragging bundles of wood and brier behind him. The stickman was twice as tall as the tallest man in the village and wore a cloak of brown leather, so patched it looked made of mouse skins. He was filthy and thin, vermin walking the blades of his straw-yellow hair and beard.

The stickman sat down against the side of Nye’s dry goods store and began twisting and snapping his branches. The villagers came out to look. They’d never seen anything like him. Nye felt sorry for the stickman and asked him if he was hungry. The stickman kept twisting sticks in his long fingers. She brought him bread and put it in his lap. He ate it while they tried to get him to talk and wondered where he came from. Had the villagers left him alone, the stickman probably would have left. But they fed him, and because they fed him, he stayed.

The next morning, the stickman had made tiny globes of knitted branches and twine and placed one in front of every door. Inside each was a songbird, trilling mournfully. The villagers picked up their globes and stuck their fingers inside to brush the bright feathers. The birds panted and thrashed against the sides, loose feathers collecting in the bottom of the cage. The villagers laughed at the birds for being so afraid, and agreed that the cages were beautiful. Nye embraced him, startled that a body could be so hard and coarse, like a tree. Maybe then the stickman would have left. But they praised his cages, and because they praised him, he stayed.

All night, the villagers lay in their beds and listened to the warp and snap of branches. They heard the heavy tread around their doors and saw the stickman’s shape blacken their windows as he walked by. They wondered what beautiful things he’d have for them in the morning.

The next morning, Nye found her four cats rolling around on the porch inside globes of twisted branches. They saw her and ran to her feet, bumping the wood against her shins, meowing and clawing at the sides. Nye laughed at the stickman’s joke. Outside, the other villagers found dogs, pigs, and chickens all rolling across the dirt in their round wooden cages. They laughed, but when the villagers tried to break them open, they couldn’t. The branches would bend when twisted, but always bounce back to shape. They were too hard to saw through. The carpenter shook his head and said that they were clever things. While they talked about it, a boy rolled into the street in his cage, looking out at them through the bars. Everyone was quiet.

They found the stickman outside the village twisting together huge cages, bigger than any of the others. They couldn’t make him understand that they wanted him to let the boy go. Nye picked at a half finished cage, and a pair of branches slid apart and sprang open toward her. She tried to fix it, but couldn’t. The stickman kept working as though no one was there.

The villagers spent all afternoon working on the boy’s cage with axes, knives, and metal bars. Nothing worked. The father told the boy to press himself to the back of the cage, then touched a flame to the thinnest branch. The fire caught and swept over the globe, soaking it in flames. The branches bent but did not break as the father shook them, burning his hands. Afterward, everyone said that the boy had not screamed. The flames died out eventually, only ash and bone inside. The cage was blackened, but whole. The carpenter shook his head and said that they were clever things. Nye pulled the bones out of the cage, and they buried them.  The villagers came to the stickman again. They told him that he would have to leave and take his cages with him. Smiling, he kept working on his row of giant cages.

That night, the villagers dreamed they were up high in a tree and couldn’t climb down. While they dreamed, the stickman went to every window, leaned inside, and gathered the sleeping villagers in his arms. They awoke the next morning in round cages, the sun fractured through the wall of branches in front of them. Nye saw that the inside of the cage was lovely, the wood gleaming and white, the weave seeming to have no beginning or end. She found strange writing carved all along the inside and ran her finger over it, wondering what it meant.

The villagers were afraid. They shouted for the stickman to let them go. He tipped their barrels of rain water into the dirt street, turning it to mud. He rolled the wooden globes, airy and light, through it until they were coated, the mud dripping down through the gaps and soaking the villagers. Then he pushed them through the stables until they were covered in straw. The villagers lay in the egg-like dark and said nothing, their ears pressed against the damp walls listening.

Outside, the day was bright and green. A wall of wind came from the east and started the cages to rolling. The stickman led his cages to places none of them had been before. Inside her globe, Nye saw a gap in the wood, the place where she’d undone the branches the day before. She pushed against it, and the side of the cage opened and split. Nye shoved her body through, dried chips of mud falling like egg-shell, and fell out on the ground.

Her cage tumbled faster without her, catching up to the stickman in front. He did not look back at her. The stickman climbed inside Nye’s broken cage and started knitting it back together from within. The globes whispered over the grass and rushed away. Nye ran after them to help the others, but they were too fast and disappeared over the hills.

Nye looked for the stickman and his cages for years, wandering into lands she’d never heard of. The people there spoke languages she couldn’t understand, and eventually she gave up trying to speak to them at all. Her clothes wore thin, and Nye patched them with whatever she could find. She collected fallen branches and vines from the woods, dragging them behind her into villages. These, she twisted into small globes and gave to people, hoping that they would recognize them and point her in the direction of the stickman and everyone she loved. They were delighted, but did not understand. She slept in the shade of their houses, and they brought her bread. Sometimes, she left the small globes on their doorstops out of gratitude. Sometimes, birds would perch on them and fall inside, getting trapped. Nye picked up her sticks and headed to the next town, sure that she was getting closer.

Micah Dean Hicks is a master’s student in the Center for Writers at The University of Southern Mississippi. His work is published or forthcoming in over twenty publications, including PANK, kill author, Prick of the Spindle, Tryst, and Brain Harvest.

Opium Magazine's Literary Death Match | Baltimore Museum of Art 10-30-10

Hey, Baltimore/DC Metro literati! Come out Saturday Night for Literary Death Match, hosted by Todd Zuniga, Founding Editor of Opium Magazine and LDM creator. The night’s theme… Andy Warhol. Literati, Art, Fun. Does it get any better?

Featured Contenders: Daniel Wallace, Stephanie Barber, James Magruder, and Cliff Lynn

Judges: William P. Tandy, ellen cherry, and Shodekeh

Where: Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore (map)
When: 9:30-11 p.m. (sharp) — Doors open for Warhol exhibition at 6:30 pm
Cost: $10 (includes museum entrance and access to LDM)