Nine Koans in the Fountain

by M.V. Montgomery

alligator shoes

My fellow army scouts and I have to cross some rough terrain and are each issued, not a pair of shoes made of alligator, but two living baby alligators to strap on like snowshoes. The creatures clearly are not going to survive this pounding: so I refuse. When my companions return from their mission, there is little more than grease under their boots.

changed channel

Later, I am swimming/commuting down a calm channel. I had done so earlier, when the channel had been clear. Now the water is different—swampy, with croaking frogs.

favorite pillow

At a friend's reception. I am invited to stay the night and have brought my favorite pillow. His backyard has been completely redesigned with multiple recreation areas. I walk in the first area, where I might have been assigned to sit, but don't really know anyone there.   So I leave to look for friends and family and a place to stash my pillow.

Each rec area is wilder than the next. One has rides for kids but is mostly utilized by drunken adults. Another area opens into a dim cavern. There are architecturalized bodies, naked, pressed into the soft walls of the cave, and some guests coupling there. I continue to walk on through a tunnel. From somewhere outside, a band is covering oldies. I hum along to "Runaround Sue." A wealthy cougar catches up with me just as I am leaving the tunnel; she might have been looking for a temporary partner, but I am not interested and feign interest instead in the area ahead where food and drinks are being vended. Then an old man catches up to us—her husband.

The last area I enter does appear to contain family. I see the groom's brother-in-law in a cowboy hat, but don't recognize the woman he is with. I am asked something by a short, pretty, blond woman whose companion, also quite short, seems familiar to me from work. I ask her if we work together and she nods slightly, then looks uncomfortable. If the idea had been to preserve anonymity for the sake of an orgy, then clearly I have blown it with both women. Just then, I am approached by a group of drunken revelers who block me from leaving and openly mock me for carrying around a pillow: Not very subtle, is he!

fiction glider

In fleeing a disaster scene in a multi-person glider, it occurs to me that many future narratives are possible. We men and women are in an adventure story, soaring over tropical mountains in search of refuge. Those who must jump out so the plane can maintain altitude are the rugged individualists, or tragic heroes. When we are down to three, a real competition or triangle emerges; two is a buddy film, or a love story.


Aliens have invaded the earth, all with superpowers that make standing up to them no contest. Earthlings fawn around them to avoid being killed; the aliens tolerate their presence to a point, but can change their minds quickly and kill or use humans for cruel experiments. There appears to be no way of combating them. They are powerfully built and have frozen grins on their faces. Some wear hoods.

Don K and I, at a conference in Rome, are being tolerated for some reason. Him, perhaps, because he is a doctor-without-border; me, because I am assisting him. I remember suggesting to one alien how he could make films and how cool it would be to build in lots of stunts without resorting to special effects. Then Don K and I are walking by a pool in which several large aliens are dipping. One large black alien calls out to him, and Don just says, "You again?" and jumps immediately into the pool, though both he and I are dressed in suits for a meeting.

Not as brave as him, and knowing that my future at this site full of super-powered foes must be brief, I casually keep walking past the pool and beyond a copse of trees. If these aliens have a weakness, it is that with their botoxed-appearing faces they are unable to read human expressions well, so my own false smile hasn't put them on their guard. I break into a sprint, then on and on into the Italian countryside. I want to keep running until I find a place untouched by the invasion.

Jumpcut to a small secluded village where I, some days later, am moving sink-to-sink to clean up with a towel while a group of older Italian matrons who don't really need my assistance chat happily with each other and give me the occasional swat on the behind.

missing story

I remember that I have written another short story titled, "Altamont" that I haven't included in a recent collection and make a mental note to myself to add it later, as soon as I get up. I am able to recall several narrative details, nothing spectacular, but enough to convince myself that such a story exists.

not worthy

At a book signing, I am asked to sign a baseball and bluntly refuse.  I tell the man I cannot in good conscience lower the value of any collectible item.

simple eddie

Simple Eddie is in an auditorium sewing a button back on a jacket. In with a small retinue walks a stately man, formerly benign, now dressed as a dictator. He starts to mete out random punishments and even death sentences to the citizens seated in the auditorium: you die, you may live. Over to Simple Eddie, who gets up and runs out, terrified. But this scene has unfolded through his POV: could it all have been just the casting for a play?

who will play todd?

At a play tryout, I am handed a script and told to read it over. I protest that I prefer set design to acting, but I am ignored. Perhaps based on my appearance—I am wearing a rumpled flannel shirt—someone suggests that I should play a stoner character. But the casting director insists that I try out for Todd, one of the principals. Already, there is a large crowd of potential actors assembled. First the playwright is introduced and stands up: a blond kid in glasses. Then the parts are called out one by one. The assigned actors step forward. If no one does, a general casting call is made to the audience.

I see a man there who is old enough to have a young family raising his hand and struggling to push forward. He doesn't make it to the stage the first time, or the second. To fill the next minor role, the casting director calls out for anyone with a last name beginning with "R." This prevents a stampede, but blocks the older man for a third time. Finally, the part of Todd is called. The casting director seems shocked when no one who had been preselected steps forward. Todd? Todd?, he repeats over and over. Who will play the part of Todd? He is very reluctant to open this major role up for open auditions. But as I make my exit, I see that the man in the crowd is finally going to get his chance.


M.V. Montgomery is a professor in the Atlanta area. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Joshu Holds a Press Conference (Conversation Paperpress) and Strange Conveyances (Plain View Press). This month, his poetry will appear in Lunarosity and his fiction in Weirdyear, Two-Bit Magazine, and St. Somewhere.