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Story 9

Nidhi Singh

Nidhi lives with her husband in the idyllic Yol Cantonment, an erstwhile POW Camp for German and Italian soldiers during the two World Wars. She’s studied atthe  American International School, Kabul and has a  BA (English Honors) from Delhi University.

Her short work has appeared internationally in SunLit Fiction, Left Hand Publishers, Veggie Wagon Journal, FurPlanet, Millhaven Press, Phenomenal Literature, Pen and Kink Publishing, The Sunlight Press, Riggwelter, A Lonely Riot, Mirror Dance, Body Parts, Military Experience and the Arts, Grey Wolfe Publishing, Expanded Horizons, Vagabondage Press, Rigorous, TQR, Fantasia Divinity, Fiction on the Web, Storyteller, TWJ Magazine, Indie Authors Press, Flyleaf Journal, Liquid Imagination, Digital Fiction Publishing Co, LA Review of LA, Flame Tree Publishing, Firefly Magazine, Four Ties Lit Review, The Insignia Series, Inwood Indiana Press, Bards and Sages Publishing, So To Speak, Scarlet Leaf Review, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Mulberry Fork Review, tNY.Press, Fabula Argentea, Aerogram, Asvamegha, Fiction Magazines, The Dirty Pool, Flash Fiction Press, Thurston Howl Publications and elsewhere.

She has also authored a few novels and several bestselling translations of Sikh Holy Scriptures.


Imagine my surprise when I received a story submission containing a rejection letter from an editor similar to those I myself have written many times. Although I cannot swear that I have never received a submission from a robot, that is the premise of “Phantom’s Slush Pile”. Maybe you will be more comfortable with it than I was.....


Martha struggles with an intense desire to write but is afraid of a society that still does not excuse creativity in a robot, which it will quickly put down if discovered. She feels her writing is laborious and is surprised to find a story accepted, not realizing that she may have improved.
                                                                                                                                   -- Nidhi Singh

Phantom’s Slush Pile

by Nidhi Singh

I write. I am a poor writer. Words are mysterious aggregates that mock me like fair clouds that sprout wings and fly away when I reach out. They form in my head, for I am a living lexicon; I know what they mean to mean, but I use them either too often or not often enough.

I began my reading lessons by stealing glances into the dog-eared ranch bible, although I  already knew it by heart, and then progressed stealthily into the inscrutable babble of esoteric texts.

I steady myself and open the Zettaflop mainframe.

Dear, Martha: We read your work, “€˜The Rubberbandman Diaries”, with interest. Unfortunately, it’s not a good fit for us right now. A word about the story, though. -- it’s perfect -- but no more. Don’t let it stop you from submitting other work to us.

Groot Vishuis.

Another rejection. I sigh with relief. Obscurity works for me just fine. I check Writer’s Ashram€ several times a day. The blue tags showing Received are all right; I am calm. I get all jumpy when things turn yellowy and say In-Progress, because it means the story has been additionally handled in some way. What way? Would they decline it, which is more likely, considering that I am a proud collector of  rejections? Or worse -- accept it? Oh, I would die with the excitement of it -- it would be so terrible for my nerves! I am not one for success or fame -- what if it goes to my head? I might stop trying to improve! My method devices, my tendency to begin at the beginning, my not ending before starting, my telling, not showing -- who will check me if I become a bestseller?

“Do you know of the Rubberbandman, who underwent a lifetime of agony stretching and contracting, to save lives?” I ask Philetus Swift Barber, who is from Churchill Downs; he’s the closest I have to a friend.

“Naah, what of him?”

“He was reborn a Rainbow Loom; see this here fishtail bracelet.”€ I hold out my slim wrist for him to approve, was made in it.

“Wow!” I thought only Gilgulim were reborn. “Philetus quit the 5th US Automaton Regiment after it was nearly wiped out at Battroborgad due to an electric storm. Fleet of foot, delicate, and warm like the horses he races, he is a star slave jockey. And he likes me and treats me like the lady I pretend to be.”

I didn’t tell him Rubberbandman was from a story I’d written. I was testing him, seeing how Iota Emancipated readers like him would react to my work. I always had a tale to regale pals with at the Lube Bar, or at the Hormone Dispenser. Like with stuff I’d made up about the curious banter between the pinup girl and the battery-dead beep. But when it came to putting it down on paper, I always came a cropper.

“Where do you come up with all this stuff,” Philetus asks, turning his handsome face up towards mine, the warm Sunday sunrays bouncing off his shining forehead.

“Master’s Library. And in dreams sometimes.”€

He halts, his fingers slip off my arm.

“Hey, I was only joking! Who knows what stuff dreams are made of?”

“Folks should be getting home now,” he says, relaxing, without looking at his watch. A thin spiral of white dust suddenly rises above the church steeple beyond the cotton fields, getting bigger as it slowly curves its way down the snaking road towards us.

“You’re darn right.” I beam down at him, rolling my eyes. “Come next Sunday again. I’ll make you nice mango-lemon softy.”

He clucks appreciatively. We turn back, hand-in-hand again, to our separate homes. At my wicket gate, I bend down so he may kiss me, causing me to shudder involuntarily. He shakes his head, “You are a good actor, you!”

I lean on the gate, feeling strangely drained as my eyes follow his striking figure till he turns the corner. As soon as I enter the dark, hardwood-clad house, I flick open the computer again to check mail.

Many tags have turned a relaxing decline-red. One -- I look closely -- seems an unfamiliar color: a green! The Monkeynut Magazine has accepted my  Rubberbandman story! I rub my eyes in disbelief.

In milliseconds I shred the image into a million parts, scan for occlusions, bounce radio waves off the screen and check the optics circuits -- it’s all in order -- the word accepted€ fades and comes back into focus -- still the same! I sink into the chair and tilt my head back, but I am nowhere close to fainting. I check my forehead -- it’s warm from the sun, but not flushed, and obviously, there are no beads of sweat. I feel for a pulse that isn’t. The unthinkable has happened; I am going to be a published author!

Suddenly I hear master’s car in the porch. There is no time to be wasted! I slide the cursor and click on Withdraw-Submission,€ flushing my story permanently down the graveyard of anonymous electronic garble.

“What’s keeping you so awfully busy, Martha,”€ Grace asks, standing right behind me. I deduce from her choice of words she is upset I wasn’t at the doorway.

“Checking out the recipe of Mango-Lemon Softy, Missus Grace, ma’am.” I press a button, bringing up the recipe screen, and hurriedly rise.

Mr. Chips is not convinced, though. He is mute, not dumb.

He has a frown on his face as he waves his hands and flicks his fingers to speak to me in sign language: “I hope you have not been writing again, Martha?”

I shake my head, but the lie will not spill forth from my lips.

“Automatons are not supposed to do that. You know what they do to self-aware machines --  they send them down to the slayer’s workshops. You will be torched down and melted in a crucible. Then you’ll be forged into pansies and strung up on the churchyard gates. And that, you know, will pain me deeply!”

The End.

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