Memory of the Future

He sat in a gilt chair. His chariot had stalled in a rancid fog, which reduced visibility to twenty feet.

—Tule fog, he shouted. It will clear in a minute! If it doesn’t, we’ll sue!

But particles of soot rained from a black sky, and the coal tar in my nostrils, along with the stench, made it hard to breathe.

—Do you like my helmet? His smile showed a flash of dagger tooth.

—Yes! Yes! Yes! the crowd shouted in unison. Four or five people collapsed from the effort.

—Do you like my scepter? I just love it! He lifted his golf club.

More affirmative shouting. The crowd stood on the prone bodies of the people who had collapsed, gasping like beached fish, beneath the trample.

—Do you like my cabinet? He opened a box on the seat next to him. Inside were three small figures about the size of Punch and Judy marionettes, two men and a woman.

One, a gray-haired man in rumpled clothes, looked up and grinned. He raised a blunt-nosed handgun and pulled the trigger. Bang! Out shot a white flag with the words, “Heil It!” into the air.

The crowd roared. Right hands soared upward into a forest of fingers.

The second man, in a dark suit, didn’t smile or move. He was sitting on a large pile of money. He stared at a phone in his left hand, frowning. In his right hand he held a crumpled newspaper. Or was that a ball of caramel corn?

The third little puppet, the woman, was blonde in the same way platinum and yellow diamonds are blonde. In fact, maybe her hair was made of Rumplestiltskin’s pale promise. (Where the needle was, no one knew.)

She was dressed in a white dress trimmed with crystals, and her belt was rust. She smiled and stepped out of the cabinet in four-inch heels onto his lap, careful to miss the places that might cause pain or some kind of enlightenment. She nestled in, purring like a cat.

Everyone cheered. She waved and held up a contract in Chinese.

In the distance I heard the moan of ice, the roar of fires, the long howl of a wolf. The trees said words they reserved for warning. The sky ached a certain gray.

Minerva, in the form of an owl, entered on stage left. She flew low and in utter silence over him, over the crowd and out of the picture.

Tobey Hiller

Tobey Hiller writes short fiction, flash and poetry. Her work has appeared in many magazines, print and online, national and international, and in 4 anthologies, most recently FIRE AND RAIN: ECOPPOETRY OF CALIFORNIA (Tanager Books). She has published a novel (CHARLIE’S EXIT) and three books of poetry (CROSSINGS, CERTAIN WEATHERS & AQUEDUCT), and has had two stories short-listed for prizes (“The Seventh Blue,” a fabulist story, for the REYNOLDS PRICE SHORT FICTION AWARD, and “Splinter,” for the Los-Gatos-Listowel Short Story Award.) She lives in the highfire earthquake country of California, a place whose hardluck landscape and ferment of energy she cherishes.
Tobey Hiller

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Tobey Hiller

Tobey Hiller writes short fiction, flash and poetry. Her work has appeared in many magazines, print and online, national and international, and in 4 anthologies, most recently FIRE AND RAIN: ECOPPOETRY OF CALIFORNIA (Tanager Books). She has published a novel (CHARLIE’S EXIT) and three books of poetry (CROSSINGS, CERTAIN WEATHERS & AQUEDUCT), and has had two stories short-listed for prizes (“The Seventh Blue,” a fabulist story, for the REYNOLDS PRICE SHORT FICTION AWARD, and “Splinter,” for the Los-Gatos-Listowel Short Story Award.) She lives in the highfire earthquake country of California, a place whose hardluck landscape and ferment of energy she cherishes.

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