Student Spotlight: Jess Flarity
What do you write?
I love writing about the near future, so most of my pieces file under speculative fiction (especially science fiction). I’ve dabbled in pretty much everything though. I’m kind of a chameleon that way.
Is there an author or artist who has most profoundly influenced your work?
Philip K. Dick is my number-one influence. I’m interested in ideas, so I see the prose of a piece as the wrapping paper around the gift inside. PKD really shines if you reflect on his work under this lens, and considering the range of his writing, it’s quite impressive what he was able to accomplish in his lifetime. Also, in German, “gift” means poison (that’s from The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch).
Why did you choose Stonecoast?
Stonecoast welcomes a kaleidoscope of writers, and the range of disciplines in this program gives us incredible strength. You get to drink your own Kool-Aid here. Pick any flavor. I recommend the snozzberry.
What is your favorite Stonecoast memory?
My most vivid memory is of my cohort’s “bad haiku” skit during our first Residency―wow, that was fun! All of us coming together and really nailing it was both hilarious and heart-warming. Haikus For Days!
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I’d like to publish short stories in the SFWA market and “finish” a novel. I’m also co-writing a book with the talented Timothy Scheidler, a fellow Stonecoast student who’s done extensive studies on medieval literature. What’s really interesting about our project is the fusion of a science fiction setting with a sword and sorcery plot structure. Stay tuned for more details…
If you could have written one book, story, or poem that already exists, which would you choose?
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by PKD is what inspired me to write. The novel is about a hallucinogenic lichen from another solar system threatening the fabric of our collective reality. It’s a pipe-dream of mine to transform the story into a screenplay and make it the next Blade Runner.
Jess Flarity: Time of Death
Detective Harris had seen a lot of corpses during his twenty years on the M-Squad, and they only kept getting weirder. This one was collapsed onto an elliptical machine in the corner of a local gym, behind a barrier of yellow police tape. The body was so desiccated, he couldn’t even tell the gender of the victim—as if an Egyptian mummy had put on a track suit and gone for a thousand-year workout.
Something about it made his soul start to itch, a place he couldn’t scratch.
“What do you think, Ramirez?” Harris asked his partner, as they crossed into the crime scene. He glanced at the concentric rings in the foam of the drop-ceiling and caught a whiff of dusty mildew. It had been a while since he’d had a gym membership, but the damp odor of the gym was still familiar. Quite unlike his wobbly biceps and zero-pack abs. His gaze swung past his own reflection in the wall-to-wall mirrors and fixed itself on the uniformed woman next to him. Ramirez hesitated as he moved in to get a closer look.
“Has to be time magic,” she said, and then muttered in a language Harris couldn’t speak. She began tracing protective glyphs in the air, blue-white symbols crackling with electric, magical energy that made his arm hair stand on end. He took a pen out of his jacket pocket. Using the pen as a probe, the detective pushed back the track suit’s collar and noticed a silver chain around the wrinkled neck. A triangular diamond was clasped at the center of the necklace.
“Ah, hell. It’s the guild. Do we know this person?” he asked.
Ramirez finished the spell with a snap of her wrist, and the illusion of “normal police work” dispersed into the air around them. The crowd of surrounding officers didn’t seem to notice that anything strange had happened, and they continued sipping coffee as the first daylight spilled into the gym’s front windows, where a glass door led into the parking lot outside.
“It’s possible,” she said. “We’ve got to go back and find out.”
Harris sighed, then stood next to his partner and closed his eyes.
Zipping backwards through time was always unpleasant, like an amusement park ride that both began and ended with the attendant punching you in the stomach. After the initial shock of the spell set in, Ramirez kept whispering, until Harris heard the word cruitateny, and the spell ended with a jarring rush of last night’s Thai food in his throat. When he opened his eyes, the sunlight and the other officers were all gone. The gym was empty now, the rows of treadmills and weight racks against the walls silent and still. They both watched as the door to the parking lot opened across from them, and Harris got a good look at their corpse, pre-mummification.
He was a thin man with wide, blue eyes, and he was staring right at them as the door closed. The diamond necklace winked in a flash of reflected fluorescent light.
“Is he looking at us?” Harris whispered, his hand moving toward the pistol under his jacket. “I thought we were outside of the time flow…”
One look at Ramirez and he knew she was in a panic. This was a trap.
Before she could begin another casting, the man shouted some kind of force magic at them, an angry gong sound echoing off of all the gym equipment. The spell slammed into them, and they were both knocked back into the mirror like they’d been scooped up by a hurricane. Harris heard his partner’s head thunk on one of the racks of weights next to them as they fell.
His gun was blaring as he stood, bullets flying across the gym, the trigger hammering over and over as he emptied the whole magazine at the enemy. But the man had already cast another spell. Harris felt the bullets re-entering the gun, sliding back up the barrel and growing down into the clip.
“Goddamn, I hate time magic,” he muttered, and quickly holstered the pistol. He grabbed one of the five-pound weights next to him and hurled it as hard as he could in the man’s general direction, then strafed around the side of the room. The weight caught the man in the shoulder, and he yelped as his hands moved to cast another spell. Harris stomped across a row of treadmills toward him. One suddenly came to life, ripping out his feet, and he crashed to the floor, arm twisting in the wrong direction as he caught himself. His opponent was moving away from him, possibly trying to circle around to where Ramirez lay, unconscious.
Harris pushed himself up with a wince and vaulted over a weight machine. The man in the track suit was already standing next to Ramirez, his hands extended in front of him, sinister-sounding words escaping his lips. All of those “k’s” and “s’s” meant it was some kind of compulsion spell, something that would turn her into a mind slave. The detective quickly tackled him into one of the elliptical machines, the one where they’d found the body. That’s when he knew it was time for him to unleash his own cursed powers.
Harris removed the barrier from his soul, like mentally taking off his jacket, and all of the magic in the room twisted in anger. He hadn’t asked for this.
It wasn’t his fault.
The man recoiled when he saw Harris’s spirit, worse than if he’d been physically struck, and magic began boiling around them, causing reality to flex. All of the reflections in the mirrors started turning inside out on one another, until every object that was even remotely circle-shaped began transforming into an eyeball. Then they opened, revealing a green-flecked snake eye with a vertical slit for a pupil.
“What the hell are you?” the man screamed.
Harris gripped him firmly, pinning him against the machine. The compulsion spell he was casting lingered in the air, drifting next to them in an ochre mist. The energy wanted to go into Ramirez, but Harris willed all of the magic back into its caster instead, watched it swirl down a funnel into the man’s mind. Then all of the snake eyes in the mirrors blinked, and their pupils dilated into almost nothing. There was some other spell that had been cast on the building, some kind of time magic that must have set the trap. The eyes found it for him, hidden in the rings of the ceiling, and Harris drew out the magic, a dark purple, and crammed it into the man along with the compulsion spell. Then he took the man’s hands and placed them on the elliptical handles. There was only one thing left to be done.
“Looks like you could lose some weight,” he commanded, and the man in the track suit twitched as the combination of spells took root. The man started pumping his arms and legs on the elliptical machine, moving faster and faster with each stroke. Harris couldn’t look away, and he watched in horrid fascination as the magic sped his victim forward through time. The guy must have burned a million calories before his body withered from the magic, until he eventually he slumped forward and decayed entirely.
Until he was in the same position as when they’d found him.
Harris knelt down next to his partner and checked her pulse. It beat in a steady rhythm. The snake eyes in the mirrors wanted her, too, but he relaxed enough to put the barrier back up, and the walls stopped flexing. That would have to be enough, for now. Sweating, he sat down next to Ramirez and waited for the time travel to wear off, stretching through the pain in his arm where he’d fell. Eventually the magic dissipated, the curse along with it, and everything flashed forward to the moment where they’d left off. Harris took his partner under his arms and traversed the magical barrier she’d put up, handing her limp body to a nearby paramedic.
“What in God’s name happened in there?” the officer in charge shouted at him.
Harris sighed and stared at the mummified corpse. He was tired of the M-Squad. He was tired of the guild.
For once, he wanted to find a corpse at a crime scene and discover that murderer was somebody other than him.
The detective shrugged at the man in charge and went outside. The sun was up again, a shining gold disk, and the morning air held a crisp feeling of uncertainty.
“Hell,” Harris said, scratching at his head. “I’m getting too old for this.”
Jess Flarity lives in the woods near Mt. Rainier with a herd of elk. A former science and math teacher, he’s abandoned numbers in favor of words, and has been writing weird fiction ever since. He is currently a student at the Stonecoast MFA program and fiction editor for the Stonecoast Review. His fiction is published on the website 365tomorrows, and in the literary journal Tethered by Letters, available through his website jpflarity.com.