Glass city, Glass heart
by Mike McClelland
Issue 5: Occult | 1131 words
The Gait of the Frost Giant by Casey McClelland
Things first went topsy-turvy when Moonbeam Heartstruggle (not her birth name) arrived in Quinlet’s Grove. Moonbeam had previously been in Fiji serving as an active member of the Festival of the Unchained Spirit, a cult and yoga movement. Moonbeam’s parents, as many parents have done in the past and will do in the future, had their daughter kidnapped, intending to send her to a rehabilitation clinic well versed in deprogramming youngsters from cultish ways of life. However, there was a sinister punchline to Moonbeam’s struggles: she was dying. Hepatitis C. Those in the Festival of the Unchained Spirit believed in sharing everything, including needles.
Moonbeam’s parents sent her to Quinlet’s Grove’s Bending Pinecone Center for Spiritual Autonomy and Palliative Care, which cleansed youngsters of cult affiliation and helped them manage their remaining time on the earthly plane by guiding them in the Vajrayāna system of Buddhist thought, which we’ll refer to as The Diamond Way (Bending Pinecone’s words, not ours). The Festival of the Unchained Spirit practiced an “enhanced” (Unchained Spiriters called it “enhanced,” experts used terms such as “warped” and “tainted”) form of Mahayana, a different system of Buddhist thought, which we’ll refer to as The Great Vehicle (the Festival of the Unchained Spirit’s term, not ours).
So Moonbeam, already learned in The Great Vehicle, was suddenly co-practicing The Diamond Way under the tutelage of the talented but dangerously curious Piper Carbunkle, a doctor and former nun from St. Ives.
While teaching The Diamond Way to an enthusiastic Moonbeam (who had always been something of an anglophile and thus found herself with quite the crush on her doctor), Dr. Carbunkle became increasingly curious about her practice of The Great Vehicle. They traded methodologies and before long invented their own practice, The Diamond Vehicle.
Eager to observe and refine The Diamond Vehicle before practicing it herself, Dr. Carbunkle instructed a captive (but still enthusiastic) Moonbeam to engage in the practice while Dr. Carbunkle took notes.
It took mere hours of meditation for Moonbeam’s limbs to disappear. Dr. Carbunkle knew she should stop Moonbeam, but something incredibly unique and likely important was happening, so she let Moonbeam disappear a while longer. Soon she was like a partial eclipse, her remaining parts appearing more luminous in the absence of the rest. Dr. Carbunkle decided it was probably time to rouse the girl, for fear she wouldn’t be able to find Moonbeam if she disappeared entirely.
When she approached and placed her hand where Moonbeam’s clavicle should have been, Dr. Carbunkle was shocked to discover that Moonbeam was still there. However, she was now made almost entirely of glass. Dr. Carbunkle shone a penlight over Moonbeam and found her entirely intact: just hard, cool, and translucent.
Moonbeam’s eyes opened dreamily as Dr. Carbunkle shone the light through her. Her face began to change to glass as well, and just before her mouth was rendered hard and firm, Moonbeam joyously whispered, her top lip beaded with glass, like raindrops on a plum, “Shambala.”
Shambala was, of course, the mythical kingdom existing within the center of the Earth. Dr. Carbunkle was, at first, rather jealous that Moonbeam had pioneered to its blessed shores, but then she decided that while Moonbeam’s role was that of pioneer, hers was that of prophet.
Dr. Carbunkle then placed her hand on Moonbeam’s shoulder. Poppies was the word that strummed out of the glass, like a low note from a vibrating chime. Moonbeam was dreaming of poppies.
Dr. Carbunkle gathered the small population of Quinlet’s Grove (except for Nancy Trumbull, who was binge-watching the newest baking competition television series and would not be disturbed) and instructed them in The Diamond Vehicle’s way of meditation. The townspeople exuberantly (well, as exuberant as meditation can be) followed the doctor’s lead. Soon, hundreds of glass bodies filled Quinlet’s Grove’s town common, shining in the frosty January sun.
It wasn’t until much later that Dr. Carbunkle learned that she and Moonbeam had, in fact, learned of a way to circumvent death. By transforming to glass, people could remain ageless, though fragile–seemingly forever; but they were only able to dream, rather than live. Instead of treatment and education about life-ending diseases, establishments like The Bending Pinecone Center for Spiritual Autonomy and Palliative Care began to instruct in The Diamond Vehicle. Before long, even an illness that was only potentially life-threatening led many to transform themselves to glass. They removed themselves to Shambala, choosing to live as dreamers rather than die awake.
Soon, people also learned that they could transform themselves in the process of relocating to Shambala. Humans became sculptures, chandeliers, dollhouses, and ornaments. Jewelry was the most popular choice; people would transform themselves into necklaces, bracelets, rings, and tiaras in order to remain close to still-fleshed loved ones.
Dragon Glass by Casey McClelland
About a decade after Moonbeam’s initial journey to Shambala, a professional tennis player named Sienna Badminton (yes, her birth name) was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She had just recently just won Wimbledon and was sure it wasn’t possible that she was dying. But she was. Her family, friends, and millions of ardent supporters encouraged her to learn The Diamond Vehicle, to go to Shambala, where she would still be able to dream.
Sienna agreed and learned the practice from the now legendary Dr. Carbunkle herself. Sienna, residing in the resort hub of Quinlet’s Grove, attempted to reprogram her aggressive, analytical mind–which had served her so well in sport–into one of stillness, openness, and potential. She’d decided to become a glass heart, so that her beloved mother Opal could wear her on a chain around her neck.
In her final moments in her human body, Sienna had a plate of spaghetti and meatballs and then held her mother’s hand as Dr. Carbunkle chanted alongside her. Just as she began to disappear, her black skin transforming into the most extraordinary, shadowy glass, Sienna changed her mind. She looked into her mother’s eyes and knew her mother didn’t need the dream of Sienna weighing her down; in fact, the memory of Sienna would one day make Opal soar. Against Dr. Carbunkle’s wishes, Sienna stopped clearing her mind. Instead, she filled it with lovers, opponents, triumphs, friendship, sadness, and hope. She flooded her mind with earthly memories and, as she did, her glass arms began to dissolve. Dr. Carbunkle watched in horror and Opal Badminton watched in wonder as Sienna disappeared into nothing.
Later, Dr. Carbunkle would say that Sienna had simply faded away. But what Opal said, which is what many more believed, was that Sienna transformed ever so briefly into a cloud of air, a cloud that fluttered over her chest, a cloud that weighed more than any glass heart. It pressed against her and then flew away, voyaging toward unknowable, unseen, utterly human mystery.
Like Sharon Stone and the zipper, Mike McClelland is originally from Meadville, Pennsylvania. He has lived on five different continents but now resides in Georgia with his husband, two sons, and a menagerie of rescue dogs. He is the author of the short fiction collection Gay Zoo Day (Beautiful Dreamer Press, 2017) and his work has appeared in publications such as the Boston Review, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Permafrost, and others. Keep up with him at magicmikewrites.com.