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    IAF INTERFICTIONS ONLINE INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN ends above target goal

    Thanks to 277 generous backers for our Interfictions Indiegogo Campaign, we raised $10,318 by the time our campaign ended at midnight, July 14th, 2014.  When we launched on June 3rd, we were staggered to find donations doubling almost daily, until after about 3 weeks we had reached our original target goal of $8,500, and were able to move on to our Stretch Goal of $10,000.

    Which means we not only get to publish Interfictions Online for another year, but we can pay our contributors at higher rates now, rates more in line with the effort and talent that innovation requires. Thank you, each and every one of the 277 generous donors who stepped forward to say that interstitial art is valued and valuable. The number of people is as important as the number of dollars raised. We are awed by your generosity.
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    INTERFICTIONS issue #3 is up online!

    The editors of Interfictions Online are happy to announce the birth of the journal’s latest issue, on May 22, 2014!

    The Spring 2014 issue’s non-fiction offerings include Mark Craddock’s poignant collage in Aerial Acrobatics and Gender Reassignment Surgery – A How-To Guide, while Inda Lauryn’s Parallels and Transitions splices analysis of contemporary female vocalists into a graduate school memoir. Isabel Yap’s Life Is Not a Shoujo Manga speaks for itself. And in an interview with Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremy Zerfoss, the two creators discuss their illustrated guide to writing, Wonderbook.

    The fiction offerings remix tropes from ghosts to automata, with new work by Richard Butner, Su-Yee Lin, Kat Howard, Tade Thompson and S. Craig Renfroe Jr.

    Several of the poems in this issue reimagine older narratives: Sridala Swami’s AI Winter draws on the Mahabharata, Sonya Taaffe’s Double Business on Hamlet, and Mary Alexandra Agner’s Hypothesis Between Your Ribs on the brief life of Charles Darwin’s daughter.

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  • ≡ Quiz

    Eilis O’Neal

    “Which is harder to get rid of: a wicked stepmother or a frog that insists you keep your promises to it?”

    That was last week’s winning question, and all I can see in my head is the shocked, inconsolable look on the contestant’s face when she got it wrong. But thinking about it isn’t going to help me, not now. I’m sitting on one of the tall metal chairs, waiting for the show’s theme song to end and trying not to look nervous. “Try not to sweat” was the way the makeup woman put it. “Everything shows under the lights out there.” So I’m trying not to, but I don’t think it’s working. A few feet away, the host is sitting on a similar chair. He’s wearing a dark suit and smiling placidly at the camera, the same smile he greeted me with when I walked out onto the dramatically darkened floor. I’m not sure he can smile any other way anymore.

    Suddenly, the music ends and the lights flash upwards around us. They’re blinding, so that I can’t see anything but the host. The audience is gone, reduced to the sound of an occasional shuffle or cough. I know about where my husband is sitting, but I can’t see him anymore, so I just gaze in that direction, wanting comfort even if I don’t know exactly where to find it.

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    “The next question is: Which is more profitable: a goose that lays a golden egg once a week or a wife who spits gold coins whenever she speaks?”
     
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    The host has finished welcoming the viewing audience. He explains the game and then points out the two prizes sitting on pedestals over to the side. He raises his heavily-groomed eyebrows to the camera, saying, “Remember, this is a game in which you compete not with other contestants, but with yourself.” Then he turns to me and asks if I’m ready. I nod, remembering not to lick my lips.

    “Good luck,” he tells me before shifting just a little to read the prompter. “Our first question is: How can you tell if someone is a princess: by her kind and loving character, by the bruise a pea under her mattress will leave, or by her collection of designer handbags?”

    I know the answer to this one without even thinking, but they always start out easy. Even so, I take a minute to think, to make sure, before I answer. That’s what Stephan told me to do. “Think about it for a minute, even if you think you know it,” he told me last night. “There’s a lot at stake on that show.” He had seemed almost as insistent about that as he had about me going on the show in the first place. But this question, at least, I know that I know, and a few seconds later I’m right. The host smiles, as if he’s genuinely pleased that I’ve gotten the answer. Who knows? Maybe he is.

    The questions are easy for a while, simple enough that I relax a little. It’s after the first commercial break that they start getting tougher. “Which is more uncomfortable: red dancing shoes, glass slippers, or a pair of six-inch Jimmy Choos?”

    I bite the inside of my cheek and glance down at my own shoes – black ballet flats, as comfortable as my own skin. No help there.

    Stephan used to bring me new shoes almost every week. Stilettos, mules, kitten heels, boots, pumps. All sorts of colors, all sorts of styles, mostly that I’d never heard of. He longed to see me in slouched suede boots, wedges with ribbons that laced up the leg, killer black vinyl heels. He wanted me to wear them with nothing, then to pull them off me, lick my leg down to the ankle. I’d try them on, hobble around for a while, maybe even make love with them on, then collapse into a bath to soak my feet. They were all a little too small, or maybe my feet were a little too big.

    The host pauses for a moment after I answer, so that I have to hold my breath and dig my nails into my palm. Then he grins, white-toothed as a wolf, and says, “You got it!” I can hear a sigh being released in the audience at the precise moment that I resume breathing. The host reminds me how many questions are left, then says slowly, “The next question is: Which is more profitable: a goose that lays a golden egg once a week or a wife who spits gold coins whenever she speaks?”

    When we were first married, Stephan told me he could listen to me talk for hours. Everything I said – from describing the way a raindrop clung to the point of a leaf to wondering about the old woman at the grocery store who bought nothing but oranges and ice cream sandwiches – was interesting, worth stopping whatever he was doing to hear. We used to talk until three in the morning, on the patio or the couch or in bed. He’d even crack open the bathroom door in the morning just to hear me singing in the shower. He knew all my stories well enough that he could have told them himself. During the weeks he was away on business trips, our phone bill tripled. “Don’t stop,” he used to whisper to me when we’d lie in bed talking, languid after sex, his breath feathering against my ear. “I want to fall asleep listening to you.”

    I feel like I have been sitting in this chair my whole life. I keep having to cross and uncross my ankles to keep my feet from falling asleep, and I wish I could fold my legs up under me, like I do on chairs at home. But I can’t, of course. The host asks, “Which is the greater change: a mouse turning into a coachman or a servant girl turning into a princess?”

    There was a fight, once. Stephan had just brought home a new pair of shoes for me, strappy black sandals with ice-pick heels. “You can wear them to the opera,” he told me. “Everyone from work is going next Friday.”

    I laughed, shaking my head. “You know I hate the opera.” I walked up to him, placed my hands on his chest, my head on his shoulder. “Let’s go to the dollar movies instead,” I murmured. “You know, like we used to, in college. We’ll buy a huge popcorn and five kinds of candy, because the tickets will be so cheap.” I looked up at him and smiled ruefully. “I can wear my sneakers then.”

    He didn’t smile back, only stiffened and pulled away slightly. “We’re not in college anymore. Is it too much to ask you to come to a company event? Look nice and smile and talk to everyone, like I have to? It’s important for us to do those things.”

    “I know,” I protested, surprised. “And I do them sometimes. But I don’t want just that.”

    Stephan only gazed at me, eyes cold. “Look, eventually you just have to make a choice about what sort of life you’re going to have. This is what I want – the opera, not the dollar movies. What about you?”

    “Can’t I have both?” I asked, but he didn’t answer.

    There’s a commercial break after the next question, and I get up to stretch. I bend over, pulling the muscles in my back taut, to let my head hang down. When I’m done, the makeup woman rushes over to push my hair back into place. I glance over at the prizes, my heart racing a little, but whether it’s from fear or excitement, I’m not sure. The stage lights have gone down, and though I’m not allowed to go over to Stephan, now I can see him to wave to. It calms me a little, takes away some of the terror that looking at the prizes brought on. He gives me a thumbs up, looking happy for me. He wanted this so much, I think. He practically begged me to come on this show. And then they’re counting down to the end of the break, so that I have to sit down quickly.

    The host reminds me that I have not used either of my Emergency Helps; I have both of them left. I can’t tell whether he thinks that’s good thing or a bad thing. I’m still trying to decide when he gives me the next question. “From which are you more likely to die: a poisoned apple or salmonella?”

    I had salmonella once, a few Christmases ago. Not bad enough to go to the hospital, just enough to keep me homebound for a few days. Stephan said that he would skip his company’s Christmas party to stay home with me, but I told him to go on, that I’d be fine. He promised just to stay for an hour. I watched It’s a Wonderful Life with the lights out and fell asleep on the couch, only waking up when I heard him putting his coat in the closet. The clock on the TV said 2:36.

    “Was it fun?” I asked the next morning.

    He shrugged. “It was all right. Nothing special.” He leaned over and kissed the top of my head. “It would have been better if you had been there.”

    Three months later, when we were out for drinks with some of his coworkers, one of their wives asked about the dance lessons Stephan and I were taking, if they were going well.

    “What dance lessons?” I asked.

    The woman blinked, suddenly uncomfortable. “Well, Stephan said you were taking dance lessons. He danced with Sylvia Jennings at the Christmas party for quite a while, because he said he needed to keep in practice for your lessons.”

    I couldn’t help but glance over at Sylvia Jennings. She was sitting down the bar, a martini glass in her hand. Her long hair was the color of antique wood, and her cheekbones were so sharp they could hurt you if you got too close. Her crossed legs were tan and slender, legs for dancing, and she was wearing red pumps with four-inch heels.

    The questions keep getting harder. I am sweating, despite the makeup woman’s warning, and I just hope that no one can see it. The host still looks cool and collected, and yet somehow deeply concerned about my well-being, as if he wants me to win with all his heart. He smiles and breathes a sigh of relief when I answer correctly, and furrows his brow when I look unsure. Surely, I think, that much concern must be surgically enhanced. He asks, “How do you spot a princess who has been supplanted by her servant girl: by her long golden hair, her dead horse, or the birthday her husband forgot?”

    I almost asked Stephan about Sylvia Jennings once. It was a Saturday, when we were running errands around town. We were at a stoplight, and the crossing street was backed up at least half a mile. The radio was playing softly, because the windows were down, and the breeze kept ruffling Stephan’s hair across his forehead. His hand rested on my thigh, the fingers tapping lightly in time to the music.

    I wanted to ask. Or, at least, part of me did. That part wanted to ask so badly it made my chest hurt, but I was scared, the same as the time I found a lump in my breast while standing in the shower. I didn’t tell anyone for three days because I didn’t want to go to the doctor, didn’t want to have anything change. The lump was nothing, it turned out, but in the car that day, I felt that same fear, dark and thick, choking in its intensity. And I didn’t want to accuse, to play the harping wife. But mostly, I just didn’t want to know, and so I didn’t ask. The light changed, the car moved on, and I kept quiet.

    The illuminated board shows that I have only a few questions left to win the game. They will be the hardest, the ones that few people could answer. The host is still smiling at me, and I wonder if his face hurts. He doesn’t appear to be sweating, but maybe he has had his sweat glands removed to prevent such things. He makes a few joking comments to the audience, so that I’ve worn a hole in my inner cheek by the time he gets around to asking questions again.

    “What should you see in a magic mirror: the fairest woman in the land or yourself?”

    “What is the ratio of mothers to wicked stepmothers: 2 to 7, 4 to 6, or 3 to 4?”

    “What is it best to wish for: a million dollars, unlimited wishes, or your heart’s desire?”

    Finally, only one question remains. I can feel the tension in the room, the change in the audience’s breathing. No one rustles anymore, and any coughs are quickly stifled. The host sits up straighter, leans forward to say, “This is the final question. A correct answer will win the game. Are you ready?”

    The lights swoop down, spotlighting only us, leaving the rest of the stage dark.

    “Which is worse: having no prince or a prince who doesn’t quite love you anymore?”

    Adrenaline lances through my body, so strong that for a minute I can’t think. Then, when my mind clears, I realize that, for the first time, I don’t know. I flash to my Emergency Helps, still unused. I want to call a friend, someone to help me think this through, but everyone I can think of who might know the answer is asleep, or locked in a tower, or dead. There’s no one who can help me with this one. I lace my fingers together, twisting them, digging my nails into my palm.

    The host swallows, his throat tightening, willing me to say something, to make some answer. But I can only sit there, can’t even work it through out loud like most contestants do. I’m so unsure that my brain feels fuzzy, but I try to push through the fog and think.

    Once, I would have chosen the first without hesitation. Better to have a little love than none at all. But now . . .

    The other day I realized that it had been three months since Stephan had asked to see one of my paintings, three months since he stepped inside my studio at the end of the hall. I was in the kitchen, picking green paint from under my nail and wondering what he might think of the painting I was working on. It was strange, a departure from the others in the series, maybe not even connected to them at all. I needed someone else’s opinion. But he hadn’t seen any of the paintings in this series, I realized, hadn’t even asked about them.

    I could have blamed it on his schedule, if I’d wanted. It was hectic enough, an excuse strong enough to withstand my scrutiny. I could have blamed it on myself, on not asking him to come and look at what I had been doing. I couldn’t blame it on Sylvia Jennings, who had been transferred to an office in another state two months ago. A lot of things to blame or not to blame, but not if I was really honest. Because really, standing there, I could see that it was just indifference, masquerading as forgetfulness. Something that had been there for a while, if I looked at it straight on. Not the violence of hatred or disgust, nothing like that, just something a little less than love.

    The answer. Remembering, seeing the green paint lodged under my nail in my mind, I think I know it. I take a breath, ready to answer, then pause. I know that I’m making the host nervous by taking so long, but I can’t help but glance over at the prizes, sitting under their own spotlight several feet away.

    There are only two prizes – one for winners and one for losers. No halfway measures in this game, no chance to settle for lesser winnings or go home unscathed. If you win there’s a crown, glittering and bright, made for a princess. And if you lose, there’s a broom, all gnarled and long, made for a witch.

    Just two choices, two people you can become. There’s no room to be anything else, not when you’re living inside a fairy tale.

    The host is staring at me intently now, his eyes a bit too wide. I’m really making him nervous now. His gaze flicks to the cameraman, who nods. “Will she win? We’ll find out, right after this commercial break.”

    The lights rotate up and off us. I don’t look at Stephan, though I know he’s trying to get my attention.

    “I have to go to the bathroom,” I say. “I can’t wait.”

    The host grimaces, then nods. “You’ll have to be escorted. And you’ll have to hurry.”

    “I know.”

    A man in a blue security uniform appears beside me, and I slide off the tall metal chair and onto the ground. “Three minutes,” the host warns.

    The bathroom isn’t far, just down a set of stairs that lead to the basement level. The guard stations himself beside the door and I slip inside. It’s a nice bathroom, all pale blue and softly lit, like the bathroom at an expensive hotel. There’s even a little wicker chair stationed in front of a Hollywood-style mirror, lit up with its own lights. A high window near the end of the row of stalls, the kind that pushes outward like the ones in elementary schools, lets in a bit of sunlight. I can see two feet and the bottom of blue pants standing beside the window, which, with the bathroom being in the basement, is at ground level. Another guard, to make sure no one tries to sneak answers to contestants pretending to need to pee.

    My heart is beating fast now, faster than when any of the questions were read. I glance back toward the door, peer at it, as if, if I try hard enough, I could see the studio with the crown and the broom and Stephan. For a minute I don’t know what I’m going to do, what answer I’ll give. I’m caught between two places, two choices with nowhere in between. Outside there’s a shout and the sound of laughter. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement at the window as the guard walks away towards whoever has made the noise.

    And then I’m moving, grabbing the wicker chair and dragging it over beneath the window. I step onto the seat, raise my arms to push the window out. For a second it won’t budge, but I shut my eyes, pushing as hard as I can, scared that I’ll break the glass and not caring if I do. Cool air brushes my face as the window opens.

    I put my hands on the bottom of the window and pull up, hauling myself through the window. It’s so narrow that I can just barely squeeze through, like a genie through a bottle or a wish through a person’s heart. The surface of the parking lot that abuts this side of the building scrapes my arms, and I can feel tiny pieces of gravel and bits of broken glass embedding themselves in my flesh. Dirt covers the front of my skirt as I push myself to my feet.

    The guard isn’t there. There’s nothing moving at all, except a gray pigeon pecking in the parking lot. I stand still, unsure, caught between one moment and the next. Then, from inside the bathroom, I hear the voice of the makeup woman calling my name. A second later, Stephan’s voice echoes hers.

    And then I’m going, walking quickly out across the parking lot. My arms and knees are bleeding, and my heart can’t seem to catch up with my feet, but I’m still moving away, out of this story, and for the first time since I entered it, I can breathe.

    About the Author

    Eilis O’Neal lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is Managing Editor of Nimrod International Journal. Her YA fantasy novel, The False Princess, is forthcoming from Egmont USA in summer 2010. Her short fantasy has appeared or is forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Zahir: A Journal of Speculative Fiction, Leading Edge, and others. She can be found online at www.eilisoneal.com.

    Author’s Note

    I had the idea for “Quiz” while I was on a trip. I was in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, and suddenly I just had a picture of this woman on a quiz show – except all the questions were about fairy tales. I had to get up, turn on the light, and fumble around for my glasses so that I could write down all the quiz questions that kept popping into my head.

    A lot of my short fantasy lives in the borderlands between genres. I’m not sure why, except that I like the ambiguity, the idea that people can read it in a variety of ways. Is the magic real, or is it just someone’s imagination? Are things happening in a literal way, or are they metaphor? In “Quiz,” the honest answer is that I don’t know. Is there really a quiz show going on, or is this some sort of dream? Are the prizes – and what they represent – real? I’m not sure. But the dilemma presented to the woman, the emotions she feels, and the choice she has to make are all real for me and, I hope, for the reader. And tangling them up in fairy tale language – real or not – helps me get to the core of these issues. Plus, I just like fairy tales.