“In Search of Life on Alameda VIII” by Chris Shafer


Alameda is a space traveler.

[In this picture, we see Alameda. She is eleven years old. Her greasy blonde hair is pulled back in a ponytail and she is slightly overweight. Alameda doesn’t like that last judgment. She grabs her waist and measures herself with her fingers, but there is a pudge. Yes. I’m sorry. It is definitely a pudge.]

Because of budgetary concerns, Alameda has built her own space suit.

[In this picture, we can see Alameda fashioning a space suit made from items her mother purchased from infomercials, and used only once. She wears a Blue-ice mask, a sauna belt, and wields, in her right hand, a Zoom X-3 teeth whitener. If you press the button at the bottom of the page, a blue light will emit from the Zoom device.]

With her spaceship, christened “T.J.,” Alameda searches the universe for life.

[In this picture, we see Alameda’s eyes through the slit of an Antler-hoof deer stand. Behind the deer stand we can see Alameda’s universe: the Little Lake Trailer Park. If you press your ear to this picture you can hear Alameda’s parents fighting.]

Alameda’s dad leaves for work early every morning. He is a king. Alameda has seen him carry his golden crown under his arm and a picture of his castle in the paper.

[In this picture, we see that Alameda’s Dad’s castle is the Exxon plant with all its huge towers and smoking stacks. He wears a yellow construction hat. If you pull the tab on edge of the page the factory will pop up.]

Alameda’s mom is the commissioner of the space program. She gives Alameda lengthy speeches about the importance of space travel. Alameda believes that her mom is an alien and that she is slowly shedding her human shell.

[In this panel of three pictures, we can see, from left to right: 1) Alameda’s Mom tells her to go outside and play. 2) Alameda’s mom smokes while she folds the laundry. 3) Alameda finds ashes in her folded underwear.]

* * *

Every time Alameda discovers a planet, she names it after herself.

Alameda I is a watery world. It consists of huge lily pads and inhabitants who walk around with large holes in the middle of their bodies. Alameda frees one of the child creatures from slavery and retrieves a cloak from the planet’s depths.

[In this picture, Alameda pulls a beach towel from the trailer park’s neglected pool. A few inner tubes are strewn about and the lifeguard ring is floating among the fallen leaves and branches.]

Alameda II has a surface that stretches and rebounds beneath her feet. She takes large leaps into the atmosphere. In her excitement, she perforates the ground and gets lodged between two worlds.

[In this picture, you can see a trampoline and how Alameda is stuck in a hole that she punctured in the fabric. Her feet dangle and move when you shake the page.]

Alameda III is a red planet that crumbles in little pieces every time she touches it. There is no life. Her only discovery is yellowish historical documents with pictures of what must have been a great battle and the end of the previous inhabitants.

[In this picture, we see the rusted skeleton of an abandoned car. Alameda stands in front of it holding up an adult magazine.]

Alameda IV is a small planet that moves away from her the closer she gets to it.

[In this picture, we see Alameda chasing an Armadillo. This picture is also a hologram and if you move the page you can see them run back and forth.]

Alameda V is never reached. Alameda’s exploration is halted by the presence of hostiles. She finds refuge in an asteroid field until the coast is clear.

[In this picture, we can see that Alameda V is a near a gas station, where a group of older boys hangout with their skateboards. The arrow marked number one is pointing to the kid named T.J. The arrow marked number two is pointing to Alameda, who is hiding behind a group of mailboxes.]

On Alameda VI, she is a god. She can rearrange the planet to her liking. She watches the inhabitants as they scurry about in response to her wildest whim. She holds one of the pathetic creatures between her thumb and finger, the way she would sometimes hold the moon back on her home planet. The tiny being begs for mercy, but Alameda does not listen. She wants to show her power, and immediately feels sick when she hears a “pop” and sees its body flatten between her fingers. She holds a funeral and vows to be the planet’s protector in the future. She also needs to change the name of her spaceship. T.J. will no longer do.

[In this picture, we see Alameda sitting with her head between her legs. Behind her is an anthill, and to the left, a small cross, made of twigs, marking a grave.]

Alameda VII is not a planet, but an abandoned space station. It is moist and smells of thick mold. She isn’t sure what happened to the previous crew, but believes something evil has taken them. Radio transmissions are still being received somewhere in the station. She can hear them echo. The station itself is still falling apart and makes sudden jolts and thumps. Alameda feels that something is not right and as the space station begins to shake violently, she wants to leave. She negotiates the small corridors, but something large falls and traps her legs. She feels the coldness of space leaking into her space suit and her chest becomes unbearably heavy. Something is not right. She claws at the large silver tubes that carry what useable air is left, but cannot find the strength she had fondly come to know as hers and hers alone. Alameda watches as her only exit becomes blocked, then the entire station comes down around her.

Alameda is spewed out into the final darkness of space. She waits for her eyes to adjust and when they do she sees a small light in the distance and swims towards it. She names the new planet Alameda VIII, and savors this moment when it is still unknown, still waiting to be explored.

[In this picture, we see the photograph that is printed in the next day’s paper with the headline: Youth Crushed To Death. The article details how Alameda’s parents were fighting. How her father decided to leave and, to prove a point, he latched the trailer to the back of his truck and tried to take it with him.]

Chris Shafer has broken his ankle, several fingers and toes, his nose twice, his collarbone, and fractured a vertebra (which was also his). His work has appeared in The New Southerner, One, and The Ante Review.

To read Chris Schafer’s comments on Jonathan David Sanchez Leos’ “Corners,” click here.

Comments from K. Anne Unger, Editor
It’s always refreshing to be grabbed by a piece of fiction that takes you to surprising new places. “In Search of Life on Alameda VIII” explores more than literature as an art form, it picks us up and carries us to the end, keeping us hanging on, anxious for the next glimpse of this kaleidoscope journey through the eyes of a maladjusted child. This flash piece reaches in deep, perpetrating a fantastical illusion that can sustain itself for only so long.

Comments on this story by Anna Sykora, author of “Words of The Whale”
Tales told in an experimental manner always ask for special effort from a reader. We need to take the time to assemble the jigsaw puzzle, which may seem to be missing needed pieces. We need to understand what happens and why, and after that we need to grasp why the author chose this special form. Sometimes, frankly, at the end of this process, the effort does not seem worth it.

But this was NOT one of those troublesome tales. I found my efforts exhilarating as I worked (just a bit) to match up the two different, parallel accounts of Alameda’s actions. Is she really a space traveler? By the second set of pictures, we know the answer. By the third set we begin to understand her efforts to escape from her troubled family—at which point I felt enthralled. Well, fantasies served me in the same way in my childhood…

Shafer’s choice of form is ingenious—and even better, it works! I especially admired, 1) how the “pictures” gloss the fantasies, and suggest what really happens to the child; and 2) how the pictures remain somewhat mysterious. I feel tempted to believe that they represent Alameda’s deathless mind later on, remembering her body’s traumas with the calm detachment of an angel or a Zen master.

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