BY DAVID CARROLL
Imperfect Copy a novel
The Tiger who wanted to be Human a comic
Changeling, with Kate Orman
BY KATE ORMAN
Untitled, by Sarah J. Groenewegen
Forgotten Memories, by Evan Paliatseas
The Rushing of Blood, by Evan Paliatseas
Keeper's Demise, by David J Richardson
NON DOCTOR WHO
Alien To Her, by David Carroll
She Twitched, by David Carroll
The Inner Light, by Kate Orman
Waiting in the Light, by Jonathan Barons
Grandfather's Clock, by Steven Caldwell
Messages, by Steven Caldwell
Inge, by Simon Moore
By Kate Orman
First Appeared in Burnt Toast#13, 1993
When Melanie first went into the garden she was wearing her very best dress. The sun shone brightly on the white lace as she skipped down the cobbled path into the courtyard.
She glanced around, her copper hair bouncing about her shoulders. The courtyard smelt of summer grass and cement; the banks of flowers were tidily trimmed. Cherry trees blossomed in geometric lines, swaying softly in the wind.
The walls were high, the sky was burning blue overhead. She skipped down the path to the sundial, noted the sharp dagger of shadow that inclined across its surface, wondered what the markings round the rim meant.
Melanie wasn't sure that she was supposed to be here, but the sun was so bright and the grass smelt so sweet she was sure no-one would mind.
She found a freshly cemented wall on which a vine had taken root; tiny green fingers were pushing their way into the cracks between the stones. She traced a finger along the coolness of the wall, finding places where the tendrils were as thick as her little finger and were beginning to sprout thorns, soft barbs with sharp points.
She passed a pond and went through an archway and found the man.
At first she thought he was hiding, standing with his back to the wall, half-hidden by the vines. Then she saw that his feet did not quite touch the ground. He wore no shoes, and the thorns dug into his feet, into his hands and shirt, the tendrils wrapped themselves around his arms and waist. Rosebuds trailed through his hair.
Melanie stood very still, because she was sure that she wasn't supposed to see this. She stood still because she hoped that no-one inside the castle could see her. But mostly she stood still because she was hoping that he couldn't see her.
When he opened his eyes she felt her bottom lip start to tremble. He moved a little bit, and the vines moved, they tightened around him, pushing thorns into his face and hands. His blue eyes were very serious with pain.
"Hello," he said, and his voice was serious too.
Melanie watched a bright red drop of blood running down his cheek. She bit her lip to stop its tremor.
"What are you doing up there?" she asked, in the hushed tones of a child confronted by a dead bird.
"I'm trapped," he said. She could see white clothing through the trailing vines, and fingers with buds growing between them.
"Oh." Melanie scratched her nose. "Who trapped you?"
"The woman who lives in the castle." He pointed at it with his eyes.
"Are you a burglar?" asked Melanie, a little bit thrilled that such an exotic creature might be trapped in her courtyard.
"Yes," he said, after a moment. A bird called in the distance. "I broke in to steal something, and the roses were waiting for me."
"Well, if you're a burglar, I really oughtn't to be speaking with you." And she turned to go back through the archway.
"Mel!" he called out, and there was a crackling, rustling sort of sound as the vines moved to restrain him.
She turned in the archway, wishing he would stop shouting. She inched back towards him.
"You helped me out of a trap once," he said softly. "A trap just like this one."
"No," said Melanie, who had never seen rosebuds before.
"Don't you remember?" he said.
"It's like being in gaol," said Melanie. "Burglars go to gaol, and that's where you are."
"Data jail," he said, incomprehensibly, and, "Have you ever seen a prison like this before, Mel?"
"Why does she keep you there?" Mel's lip was beginning to tremble again.
"She likes to play chess with me," he said.
"Are you good at chess?"
"Perhaps that's why you're stuck to the wall, instead of being in a proper prison."
"Maybe I'll come and play chess with you. When I learn how."
"I could teach you," he said, and Melanie felt the thrill again of having something untoward trapped in her garden.
"Maybe," she said. She turned to go.
Mel strode through the courtyard in her Reeboks, laptop folded under her arm. The garden was in full bloom, bittersweet and dahlias, fuchsia and geraniums, and everywhere the roses, filling the air with their rich sweet scent.
In the pond the fishes were fat and happy, wriggling their random paths through the clear water. The trees were full of nesting birds, swooping over the garden in their search for building materials.
Mel wore a scarlet tracksuit with her name stitched in shiny orange thread on the breast pocket. She walked in rapid, measured steps, pausing only to slide on a pair of Raybans as she ducked under the archway.
The vines were lush and deep green, hiding the stones of the long wall. Mel put down her laptop on a white plaster table and slid into a comfortable chair, flipping open the computer.
"Good morning," said the man attached to the wall, politely.
Mel wrinkled her nose in irritation and took off her sunglasses. She had been hoping he wouldn't interrupt her.
"What are you doing?" he inquired, and if there was a treble edge to his voice, she did not notice.
The vines had grown to a thumb's thickness, the thorns arching out like slender shark's teeth. Mel had sometimes tried to pick those flowers, but she knew better now, after the green barbs had snagged in clothing and skin. There wasn't much visible of the man, now. A hand cupping a ruby blossom, a naked foot, a face crossed at an odd angle by a single vine. Sometimes when he tried to speak that vine would tighten suddenly, its hooks sinking into the flesh dangerously close to the eye.
Mel sighed and answered the question. "I'm doing my job. I'm working with the computer."
"So that's your job," he wheezed. "Working with computers."
Mel forced herself to type; there were things to be done, and she couldn't let herself be distracted like this.
He was quiet for a bit, and Mel got on with her work, feeling the sun beat down on her hair. She imagined she could hear the plants' tiny rustle as he breathed in and out, the tendrils wound crushingly around his chest.
"What is it you're working on?"
Mel's hands stuttered in mid-command. "Simulations."
"Look," she said. "Do you have to ask so many questions?"
"Why don't you ask one?" he said quietly.
"You don't answer them," she said, turning to face him. "I asked you what you were doing there, and you said-"
"-the lady in the castle keeps me here. Because I broke in."
"But it seems-"
The vine tightened across his cheek, and he gasped. "Yes?"
"You seem to have been there an awfully long time for such a little crime."
After a while she brought him a drink of water, standing on the white plastic table while he sipped from her cupped hands. "I have all the time in the world," he told her.
"You haven't got any older," she said, wiping the last of the moisture from her hands onto his forehead. "Is it part of the trap?"
"Not my trap, no." A single blue eyes looked at her, the other contemplating a thorn that grew centimetres away.
"I can't believe she keeps you just to play chess." Mel hopped down from the table. "How can you move the pieces?"
"We play computer chess," he explained. "I tell her my move, and she types it."
"I can do that," said Mel brightly. She turned her laptop around so he could see the screen.
They played three games, the sun staying directly overhead in a noon that went on for sultry hours.
"Essentially," Mel explained, "there's no difference between using a picture of a piece of paper to represent a file, and representing the file as a three-dimensional construct in virtual reality."
"Oh, you've read Gibson?"
"Perhaps I'll read you Neuromancer then, one of these afternoons..."
"These constructs," he asked between moves. "What would they look like?"
"Anything you want. A shape you could manipulate with virtual hands -- a pencil, an aeroplane, a picture-book... Gibson's books have huge geometric landscapes which users fly through. And real landscapes. A whole simulated Paris.
"Just imagine," he whispered, "you could simulate a whole world, a whole world and live in it, and you might never know the difference..."
"If you never knew the difference," said Mel practically, "it wouldn't matter, would it?"
"Wouldn't putting your mind into the computer be dangerous?" he said. "What if you were cut off from your body, with no way to return?"
"I suppose..." Mel blew out a sigh. "Well, if you're not going to let me win any games, I'd better go back inside."
She put the table back, snapped shut the laptop, and was already striding away when he called her name, louder than either of them had ever dared.
"Look," she said, restraining the urge to stamp her foot on the grass, "for all I know you're just a simulation, something from one of the wet corners of my mind -- some botanical bondage fantasy."
Her cheeks burned red as she said it all, but he was already saying, "and how do you know you're not a simulation, Ms Bush? Which of us is the butterfly, and which the emperor?"
Mel stood stock still, considering the possibilities. She heard the distant birds calling and the movement of fat black beetles, busy amongst the plant life on the wall.
She dragged the table back again, stood on it tiptoe, and kissed him on an exposed bit of throat. If the roses observed, they did not mind.
She went away promising that she'd help him if he asked, if he ever asked for help she'd give it. If he asked her.
But he didn't.
It took her half an hour to travel from the castle's entrance, down the cobbled path to the archway. The stones were worn and clipped, and sometimes slippery with age. The weeds had triumphed over everything, the sweet grass, the gardens, shooting up between the cracks in the stones and ravaging the walls.
She hobbled, leaning heavily on her cane. Her copper tresses were grey now, tied over one shoulder. She wore black, black slacks, black blouse, black shawl.
The roses were ancient and withered, queens of the crumbling masonry, holding the stones together in their taloned grasp. Mel reached up to pluck a wilting blossom, and pulled back her hand sharply. A single sphere of blood welled from her thumb, and she watched it grow, getting her breath back.
He was almost hidden by the plants now, a shape behind the twisting and turning of the vines. There was a hand that flexed helplessly, a single blue eye that blinked out at the world, surrounded by burning red roses, the only thing left alive.
She listened to his breathing for a time, the only sound in the dead garden. The sky was a single sheet of torpid colour.
"I've been here so long," she wheezed at last. "And I can't get away."
"Yes," he said, the tendrils rustling as he drew breath.
"For a long time," she said slowly, "I entertained fantasies of escaping this place, leaving you behind, and simply getting away."
If he spoke, the crackling of the leaves hid the sound.
"But it's not just me, is it?"
"No," he managed.
"I've asked myself," and she needed to sit down, scraping the rickety plastic chair towards her, "what am I doing here? Where did I come from, where am I going to? What was I put here for?"
She ran her gaze up the vines, noting the buds splitting off at mathematical intervals, buds splitting off them... and finally to the eye, watching her with hope and despair.
"So I'm free," she said, "and you're trapped. So I'm alright, aren't I?"
The roses were rippling now, a hideous fractal movement. She heard him cry out as they twisted around him, thorns hooking into his cheekbone and wrist and ankle.
She came to her feet, the cane falling away, and she staggered to him, and the vines were biting into her hands as she tore at them, tearing, and the roses were screaming electronic anger as their fingers wrapped around her, wrenching and hurting, but she was winning, tearing them loose from the corrupt masonry, and they were shrieking their anger down her throat, until at last, at last, he came loose in a great ripping and tearing free, showering them both with cement dust and dried petals.
They gripped one another, wreathed in fat dead vines that oozed blood. Neither of them could stand properly, so they clung together, ignoring the thorns.
"There," she cried, feeling the tremor in her body and the aching in her tired lungs. "I did what I set out to do, didn't I?"
"You remembered what you came here for. Why you broke in, followed me."
"Yes? Yes?" she said, desperate to understand.
"You understood," he said, "that while one of us is trapped, none of us are free."
And he was breaking up into mathematical patterns, planes like a flock of playing cards. "It was the thorns," she whispered. "I was only frightened of the thorns."
But he was already gone and, shortly, so was she.
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