Issue #69

Winter 2019

Two Stories

by Liam Cooper


One sunny morning, a clean-shaven businessman in a grey suit was walking along a familiar street on his way to work. He had been down this road many times before, when suddenly, a strange building he had never seen appeared at the end of the block. Bewildered, he felt compelled to go inside. The man found the building unlocked, and that despite the haunted exterior, in actuality it was a completely normal office building. People busy working in their cubicles, shadowless underneath the fluorescent lights overhead. The man wandered between the rows of seemingly endless desks, unacknowledged by the multitude of diligent office workers. Suddenly, he grew very weary, and lazily sauntered toward an unoccupied desk. A lone terminal whose island-like solitude was exaggerated by the never-ending sea of surrounding bureaucrats that extended to the far-off horizon. When he finally arrived at the workstation, which seemed to take hours when it had appeared to only be a few rows ahead, he discovered a brass plaque attached to the bureau’s top drawer that had already been engraved with his name and date-of-birth. Out of a nondescript sense of obligation, the man continued to show up to this desk every day for years. While slowly over time, other employees began to dwindle around him, until only he was left alone in the infinite office building. He never knew where they went, or what they had been doing this entire time, all he knew was that he missed them.


It's a Small World (After All)

For Julio Cortázar
The third planet is sure that they're being watched
By an eye in the sky that can't be stopped
- "Third Planet" by Modest Mouse

In the backroom of his strip mall hobby shop, Elio Nai stares ponderously at a row of plastic figurines on a large countertop. He manipulates the miniatures with a watchmaker's precision, laboriously re-arranging the tableau's fabricated models until he is satisfied with their placement: diecast firetrucks equipped with ladders and hoses, foamboard libraries containing tiny bookshelves stocked with matchhead-sized copies of classic literature, even a balsawood rendition of the hobby shop itself with a shrunken version of Elio. He strenuously studies and painstakingly positions the scenery until its finely adjusted proportions and sightlines create an uncanny replica of his surroundings. Customers come and go — elderly retirees purchasing ship-in-a-bottle kits for their grandchildren, radio-controlled car enthusiasts searching for replacement batteries, juvenile delinquents shoplifting airplane glue to huff in the back alley. All the while Elio remains ambivalent toward their va-et-vient. He is consumed with maintaining and expanding his territory.

Elio begins to pay an increasing amount of attention to the layout's minutiae, and dons jeweler's glasses to better survey his papier-mâché dominion. Unsatisfied with the diorama's kit parts, he scratch-builds his own statuettes, and their artisanal exactitude make them treasured totems among hobbyists. Though he prefers to keep as many pieces as possible for his own microcosm, Elio reluctantly begins to take the occasional commission after his work is featured in craft magazines and exposed to the art world – which is unsure how to assimilate the eccentric sculptor into its streamlined conveyor belt of fetish commodification. Elio resists publicity, shuns recognition, and only sells his maquettes for supplementary income. He unofficially closes the store so he can use extra floorspace to stage his hand-made hamlet.

Elio continues to perfect his artform in isolation. He hallucinates wandering along the avenues of his creation, admiring the landscape, noticing aspects which can be improved. Fluctuating back and forth between molding new renovations and living out his dreamlife, Elio falls behind on rent payments. The frontier continues to grow. Unconcerned with his incessant landlord's demands, Elio is finally evicted in late January, and forced to box-up his diminutive kingdom. He subleases a basement from a friend and moves in downstairs. When he unpacks the display as it was in his former store, he is surprised to find that the scaled-down townspeople have taken on a life of their own. Elio watches with detached bemusement as the homunculi run about on frivolous errands: taking their children to soccer practice, buying Lilliputian groceries, partaking in extramarital affairs. All appeared to be a reduced facsimile of the reality he had known. The only difference was the strange temporal displacement which made days fly by in the compartmental universe. Entire generations pass, empires rise and fall before Elio's eyes, all over the course of a few weeks. The transitory nature of the mini-civilization precluded Elio from having much direct involvement with the murine citizens, who never seemed to notice Elio's omniscient presence constantly looming over them.

Weary with the predictable pattern of historical processes, Elio decided to try his hand at divine intervention. He selected one of the more pious individuals from the population, a vintner who always seemed to be in genuflection with his hands clasped together, and lifted the chosen villager above the terrain; dangling him from on high, soaring like a toy airplane. This hierophany proved too much for the manikin, and he perished in Elio's hands. Curious as to whether he could interact at all with the tiny people, Elio tried again. This time he took precautions, but it would take several failed attempts before he finally hit upon a method of communication that did not petrify his victims. Instead of immediately revealing himself, Elio parceled out his message onto minuscule golden tablets, which he engraved while looking through a microscope in order to make the inscriptions small enough for the tiny people to read.

Elio picked another devout farmer from the vivarium, used tweezers to delicately bury the scriptures near a tree on the man's property, and then flashed a penlight onto the spot to draw the ordained yeoman's attention. Some platitudinous commandments were all Elio could fit onto the tablets due to the size limitations, but the carvings nonetheless seemed to be a revelation to the small man. Elio watched as his social experiment proceeded. The tablet's recipient rushed around like an amplified ant to his friends and family, proselytizing as he went. Most of those he met chastised the ranting heretic, or walked away confounded, but some began to follow him as disciples. The small cult continued to grow until its patriarch died. A mass procession of religious mourners carried their high priest's casket through the streets and ceremoniously buried him beneath the sacred tree where he had discovered the holy tablets. What followed was a schism between the two major branches of the man's followers — one led by his son, and one by a charismatic in-law. As both sects gained members, internecine fighting spread to neutral areas which were forced to take up arms against the crusaders.

Throughout this tumultuous epoch, the micronation continued to make scientific progress and technological advancements, accompanied by industrial pollution and Malthusian overpopulation. Elio watched in horror as genocides and pogroms started to occur. As one of the societies began to take preliminary steps toward what Elio assumed was nuclear armament, he decided the experiment had run its course. In an apocalyptic act of destruction, Elio laid waste to his creation by setting fire to the basement. He took a moment to reflect on the unfortunate outcome of his investigation while watching the house burn down from across the street, listening to the sirens of approaching emergency vehicles. As he turned around to look at the stars, Elio noticed a gigantic eye in the sky staring back at him.

Author Bio

Twentieth Anniversary Issue

Liam Cooper is an experimental, inter-disciplinary artist out of Oregon who spends most of his time making weird art, music, or writing. He is currently working on a piece that incorporates Commedia dell'arte, ballet, and professional wrestling. He would like it to be known, for synchronicity's sake, that he found out his father was personal friends with the designer of the Small World ride at Disneyland after writing the eponymous story.