A Series of Short Stories or Propositions                                                   —Sun Yung Shin



One by one, the children of the world underwent a metamorphosis. Gates of ivory crushed to dust. 


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One by one, living people of the world underwent a metamorphosis. Gates of horn polished like glass.


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One by one, the dead people of the world began to outnumber the living and the annual games became lopsided. Ribbons trailed from every ankle. A crown of white flowers, petals all asunder…


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The male calf that was ripped away from his mother, a dairy cow, wept. His mother wept. This was repeated. They never saw each other again. The mother sensed that her son was killed after a long, dry train ride. She felt the squeal of the train wheels against the tracks especially in her left knee. The wet weather of a mother’s body.


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A girl fell into the river. Her pale blue jeans became dark blue jeans. Her eyes stayed the same color. The color of the past.


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At a run-down sperm bank, a centrifuge stopped working properly but they continued to use it anyway. The children that resulted from those sperm felt themselves drawn to the outer edges of things all their lives and never understood why. They could never get far enough from the center. They sought out round rooms and spaces but there were never enough, not even in Greece, where they all ended up, where they all eventually died. They died and the centrifuge was still being used by the indifferent workers at the bank. A cold country, the workers wore mittens inside.


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Two bodies in bed felt the shore (or “water” or “surf” ?—does the shore lap?) lap upon their limbs. Their bed was captured while they were still on it by the tidal waves. The white sheets upon the bed trailed the bed like a ghost. They were afraid, but happy. Creatures swam like punctuation on a page.


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A young boy found a tether and picked it up in his small hand. He liked ropes and things like that. He liked how they could take on any shape and could also lie still and quiet. He followed the tether far into the distance. No one ever saw him again, but he may still be following the tether, perhaps to a kind of maypole in the future.


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A group of dogs decided to flee their masters. One was so vain he had to have his nails trimmed and his coat brushed by the maid before he would agree to leave. He brought her the clipper and the brush in his large mouth. She carefully trimmed his black nails that were like buffalo horn and brushed his gray coat until it gleamed in the light. He fell asleep, thinking of his beauty. The other dogs left without him.


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There was a lonely priest.


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A woman became obsessed with zombie movies. She started making various algorithms and models of epidemiological disasters. She wrote the word “plague” all over her walls, but no one came to look at her beautiful handwriting. Her DVD player nearly broke from playing so many zombie movies, but she coaxed it back to life with some gentle teasing. When the woman eventually died because she forgot to eat or drink, she didn’t realize she had died, and neither had anyone else. She died happily ever after, watching her zombie movies and writing the word “plague” over and over again until her walls were covered with solid layers of ink.


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A giant office printer ruled a country as its king and its god. People smeared laser jet toner all over their naked bodies and danced around bonfires. Public hangings increased until the printer put a stop to it by grinding up the executioners into pulp for paper. Nobody liked that paper because it was tainted with so much glee. It was like looking at the sun.


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One year all the mothers named their newborn babies “Adult.”


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The alphabet got tired of being abused. It ran away, but not all the letters had legs and feet. Even the one-legged letters hopped away. Some were left behind. There were so many words we couldn’t spell anymore. All we had was U, O, C, B, and even those tried to roll away. It was hard to catch them, but what else could we do? R, H, K, X, N, and M were distant memories. Eventually even the old timers couldn’t remember them.


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In a different version, everything else happened. I was finally at peace.


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For one whole decade, it rained inside houses so everyone lived outside their house. They had to look at their neighbors doing everything. If anyone built a house, it immediately began raining in there. The houses recycled the rain, so the streets never flooded. The houses did not disintegrate, but fish and sea life did begin to gather inside. They watched the people go about their business outside. Those prone to melancholy couldn’t look inside until the decade was over and the water drained toward the ocean and things went back to normal.


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In Hell, all the dead Nazi officers were burned to life.


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In Hell, all the wives of the dead Nazi officers continued to scold their Polish maids because the food was overcooked.


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One day, all the soldiers broke their guns and buried them deep in the earth. The roots of trees reclaimed them and occasionally you would see a tree with some dark metal sticking out of a branch. Birds landed on them just the same. Over seasons, these exposed pieces rusted and eventually broke into dust.


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Over the course of human evolution, we—


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Instead of there being two genders, eventually gender became stages, the way a butterfly begins as a pupa, then becomes a caterpillar, then encases itself in a cocoon, growing wings and emerging as a butterfly. Gender became resurrection. Gender became a kind of recycling.


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Each soul could bring one thing with them to the Afterlife. They could not bring gender. Some brought their childhoods, however painful. Some brought a single lucid dream. Some brought a memory of music. Some brought their bodies, often carried gently in their arms like a beloved child. 


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Face transplants became popular later in the century. (Organ donation had become mandatory in the middle of the century.) It never failed to alarm her to come across someone with the face of a dead person. Some people pre-sold their faces on the black market so as to leave their loved ones with a better estate. In the worst cases, people desperate for cash sold their faces while they were still alive. They wore sterile aqueous masks and stayed inside. They used the internet to communicate with others, It wasn’t so bad, they said, I wasn’t that much to look at before anyway.


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In the era of cloning, DNA evidence was no longer enough to convict someone of a crime. So many people had the exact same DNA. The field of forensics exploded as criminology attempted to keep up with the replication trade. A strange side effect of cloning in society was an increase in murders, with primes murdering their clones and clones murdering their primes. It was a mess.


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Fathers became irrelevant. Then mothers became irrelevant. Then children became irrelevant. Then humans became irrelevant. Robots didn’t consider themselves relevant, exactly, but they knew how to get things done.


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Pinocchio enjoyed a tremendous comeback as the story of choice. People couldn’t be trusted with real children, so every couple was given a wooden marionette. Many of these marionettes ended up in the municipal trash. But, many escaped. Sometimes you’ll think you see one of them in a tree, but then it will turn out to be just a tree (or “branch”?).


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Every marionette at first was named Pinocchio and people didn’t really like that. Italians liked it, but really nobody else. So people stopped using names but it was illegal to change the name of the marionettes. So people began staying in small groups so they could refer to the different marionettes with hand gestures or phrases such as “this one,” or “that one.” Small clusters of social groups developed this way.


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The marionettes would secretly use the letters of Pinocchio to make names for themselves, names they shared with no one. Late at night you might hear one of them whispering to itself, nochipnoc… that has a nice ring to it…


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The problem with being a marionette was upkeep. Wood needed to be re-sanded, re-stained, re-painted, re-lacquered. Limbs broke and new ones had to made on a lathe.


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The good thing was that you could take parts from three broken marionettes to repair a newer one. The old ones were burned. People covered their eyes and ears during the burning, as if there might be screaming, but there never was. Not during the burning, anyway.
 


 photo: Dan Markworth

photo: Dan Markworth

신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin was born in Seoul, Korea, during 박 정 희 Park Chung-hee's military dictatorship, and grew up in the Chicago area. She is the editor of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor (winner of the 2016 Minnesota Book Award for poetry); Rough, and Savage; and Skirt Full of Black (winner of the 2007 Asian American Literary Award for poetry), co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, and author of bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson. She lives in Minneapolis.

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