I first encountered Tara Isabella Burton’s writing through her non-fiction, one of her travel pieces, so was excited to see her name begin to turn up regularly in Shimmer‘s submissions.
She is brand new to Shimmer‘s pages and we’re delighted to have her. Her story in Issue #19, “Methods of Divination,” is haunting and if it leaves you with a vague sense of unease at the end, it’s only proper. It’s a Shimmer story, after all.
Be sure to explore Tara’s interview, and if you haven’t dived into our cover story…well, you have such wonders to discover.
You used to be in the band; now you work on the asteroid. People you have to work with, they ask about it all the time when they find out. And they always find out—somebody always tells them. They all want to know what that’s like. “You used to be in the band? And now you work on the asteroid?”
They always think they’re the first ones to ask. You can tell because they always start with “You must get asked this a lot…” and nobody really ever means what they say—they always mean the opposite.
Didn’t you save any money? That’s the next question asked by approximately two-thirds of those who want to know what it’s like, being in the band and then working on the asteroid. They don’t really want to know that, though. They already know you didn’t save any money, or you wouldn’t be working on the asteroid, even if you weren’t still in the band. It’s not really a question, so much.
What they’re really saying is I would have saved some money. It’s all over their faces, although they probably think it looks like concern. Or pity.
It just looks like reverie and scorn.
Whatever, they bought the record. They spend their money on one hit wonders because the song was in the surprise hit feel good groovie of the year and everybody everywhere played it all year long and there were kisses and fucks, and it was the last year of college.
But sure, they all would have saved some money, some of the leftover-after-I-go-buy-the-same-record-as-everybody-in-the-known-universe-this-summer money.
Things move so fast, here in the future. As humans age, so also goes humanity and as the peak of a race’s existence is hit and passed—time seems to speed up on the downhill slope. It’s inevitable.
“It takes a thousand years to go from one to twenty-one, the rest is a rocket slide,” you saw in a burst yesterday. Attributed to Einstein. It had a date and everything.
Everything is attributed to Einstein, especially online. Einstein said we only use ten percent of our brains and if we’d use the other ninety, we’d all discover Jesus through science, plus cleanliness is next to godliness.
Einstein never said that. It doesn’t matter. Somebody said it, and somebody else copied it and used it to tag a burst, a unique quote to express their common individuality with 876,453,667,981 other humans throughout the galaxy using that quote to tag their bursts.
The human race is well past drinking age. Humanity has already sobered up and is settling in for a soft descent into fading quietly into a good or bad night. Everybody knows it, like an old dog knows it: time to go. Past time, maybe.
“Great minds think alike,” Einstein said that, too. Or he didn’t. It doesn’t matter, no one ever says what they mean or means what they say.
The shifting slopes of language, the treadmills that render words blasphemous one day, innocuous half a generation later—they go faster, too. Here in the future. The name of the band was the name of the asteroid, and back then, all those months, mere days ago, that was a risk.
The name of the band was the name of the asteroid was the name of the massacre. The massacre reigned in young hearts and minds, supreme and bright and loud. You didn’t know that would happen. It was just dumb luck. The band played that kind of music, dark and driving and angry about things to be angry about, and the singer was a wannabe Altairan and a poly sci major, so he heard about 98 Ianthe way before anybody else. He wasn’t that smart, he wasn’t a songwriting or music playing kind of lead singer, his boyfriends did all his homework for him—but he came up with a dilly of a band name. You had to hand him that.
It worked. People asked about the name, found out about the massacre. The band started bursting at shows, infodumps with images of the asteroid branding them. The band raised consciousness. The band got on some politically-oriented festival lineups. The band got signed. The groovie happened, the same time another groovie about the massacre became very big for ten minutes or ten days or ten months.
That was two weeks ago, or two years, or two decades.
Now it’s just an asteroid again.
Wars are like bands. They come and go throughout your life, large and small. It’s impossible to remember them as they pile up, dragging behind you as you march toward the bright future when no bands play for no wars.
Some very few bands and wars stick around, become legend. There are so many songs and so many groovies about them, people start making songs and groovies about how there are too many songs and groovies about that band or war.
Most bands and wars do not stick around. 98 Ianthe was that kind of band, and that kind of war. You used to sing harmony on songs about the massacre, you co-wrote one of them, and now when you go out to the craters and look at the signs on the monuments, the basic details of the story seem new. Then you remember, oh yeah, and a piece of once-dear lyric, a shocking, bloody image emerges from the past and you smile or wince.
I remember that. I remember dancing to that right before John or Jane got killed in that.
Or I remember drinking to that a year or a hundred years before John or Jane came back from that and it was another thousand years before John or Jane ever danced to anything again.
No wonder we forget so much, no wonder we speed the time along the longer it goes on.
You would kill yourself, sometimes, under the crushing weight of all the dancing and wars and John and Jane you’re speeding away from. You have a weapon that would work. You could go out to one of the craters you first saw one day the last year of college, when another twenty-two year old with richer parents and surgically sculpted ears and eyes that almost looked Altairan passed you the pictures. You could use the weapon. It would work.
It would be appropriate. So appropriate you can’t, you can’t face the thought of 98 IANTHE MEMBER ENDS IT ALL ON 98 IANTHE. You didn’t even tell your friends and family you were working here for a year or maybe seventeen months or seventeen years, it’s the last thing you want in your obituburst.
The last thing you want to do is die here.
The third question that isn’t a question is: you must hate it when you hear the song. This one comes up close to one hundred percent of the time when the song plays at work or in a vehicle going to work. The song comes on, and you catch your breath and hope somebody who knows won’t say anything, but somebody does.
No, you don’t hate it when you hear the song.
You hate the question.
You don’t usually add the second part of that. When you do, they look at you like you were in a war, not a band.
Out on the edge of one of the craters is a bench for sitting and reflecting. You are supposed to reflect on what happened in that crater four centuries or four millennia ago. Or four months. When you do that, you start seeing a giant bloody bowl full of baby Altairans who look like seals who’ve just become angels.
The baby seal head pointy-eared angels, in your mind, are at first glance Altairans, and then they’re not really, they’re Altairan-shaped bits of breakfast cereal, soaking in blood instead of milk. Around the bowl are grinning human children faces, going YUM YUM! in what was at the time a very kitschy, retro typeface from a different war and band logo, eight hundred years or eight hundred days before.
The drummer drew that picture, his girlfriend made it a poster, it became the first t-shirt, the first EP cover, the first thing that got the band yelled at in papers and extra-frisked and busses torn apart at border crossings.
It was compared, famously, to toddler wall scribbles in poop and Warhol and Scooby-Doo and Guernica. Everybody burstargued about it all the bursting day long for ten minutes or ten weeks.
The sprint to a groovie soundtrack was pretty much on the first time the band was compared to Hitler and Che in the same minute by 5,639,593,842 people.
There are some Altairans working here. Not many, and they work on the other side of the asteroid. You have no idea what they do over there. They come sometimes and stand on the edges of the craters, their silky seal-angel heads bobbing. They don’t talk to each other, but they are talking anyway, you know this. They may be pointing with those tentacles, they may not be. You can’t remember, and you used to know so much about them.
The band had to meet some Altairans, once. The lead singer grilled all of you for weeks on what this or that meant. Or his boyfriends did while he freaked out and primped.
The pictures burst everywhere, with the manager-planted headline 98 IANTHE OFFERS AID AND COMFORT. It was the end of the very short, short ride, and the government and the uber-nationalists you hoped would react didn’t have time to take the bait.
The pictures were faked, the band’s PR summit with the Altairans never happened. The Altairans heard the song about the massacre, apparently, or…did something like hearing the song, and pulled out at the last minute. They didn’t like it. The label or the manager or the band decided that the meeting would happen, anyway. In manufactured burst pictures, at least.
It came out.
A legend can survive martyrdom, even in these last days. Fake martyrdom and get caught, though, and the whole universe unbursts you.
That’s true, anyway.
A cluster of Altairans at the craters approached you, sitting on your bench, exactly once. They didn’t want to know if you’d saved any money or did you hate the song when you heard it—they wanted to know why you’d lied about them.
They waved tentacles around and you didn’t know if they were pointing at you or not, and you didn’t know what to say, either. So you just stared and they waved tentacles and bobbed angel-seal heads with pointy elf ears and finally they went away sad.
You thought they were sad.
You were sad.
They probably don’t say what they mean or mean what they say with those tentacles, either.
A couple years ago, or maybe it was twenty, there was a tribute record and the current clump of college twerps named after some newer war on a bigger asteroid with even more pathetic and adorable alien victims wanted to cover the song. They flew out to the asteroid, the lead singer and guitarist, and they were not at all like you eighty thousand years ago. They were earnest and passionate and they were totally down with that old school vibe, but they wanted to take the old and mix it with the new, yeah?
It was darker, it was harder, like all the new music you didn’t like anymore, and they changed the lyrics so they were about the new war and the new massacre and the new asteroid, and what a bunch of sellout assholes you were. They would never be like you, the song promised, their hearts were truly woven to thousands of babies who looked like talking Christmas trees with clown shoes, freshly dead in fresh craters.
In their ironic, anti-retro t-shirt design, though, they were that band from twenty million wars and bands ago, they were dressed as you, force feeding bloody baby Christmas-tree-clown-shoes cereal to weeping children going YUM YUM? in the same typeface, which was now so un-retro it was retro.
Last week or last year, you exchanged private bursts with the bass player, and he said something you’d been thinking, but not saying. You said oh my god, I’ve been thinking exactly that.
He said maybe ten million years ago, for the ten seconds the band and war lasted, you were, the band was, on the wrong side of that fight. Look at how things are now, they’re everywhere. They’re taking over. Did you think it would be like this?
You never thought it would be like this.
That’s what it’s like when you were in the band named after the war named after the massacre, and now you work on the asteroid.