Jay Tilden is a fiction writer and student of history, originally from Vermont. He does not like people, which is probably why most of them die in his stories.
The Abjuration of the Astronomer
You are quiet. Softer than usual—the edge is there, but your eyes sag with exhaustion. You’ve none of your usual confidence, none of the venom that has vanquished so many foolhardy critics. When you enter your new temporary residence (though a voice in my head says prison instead), you do it in shambles. You only brought one bag, and I can see the papers and garments stuffed hastily inside as you set it on the table, head bent, sighing heavily. You walk to the tiny window over the empty writing desk.
I. The return Unlike most of the boys mustered out and sent homeward, Enoch Thomson received no horse. The stable boy said they were all spoken for, which meant, Enoch supposed, one was expected to spend a year trudging from Vermont to Maryland, suffering in the shit, and trudging back again, but one oughtn’t bother about a horse at the end despite one’s troubles. He estimated walking from Brattleboro to Derobe Valley Village would take three days, accounting for sleep and meals. And he wasn’t the only one going home the long way (he hadn’t seen any of the other surviving black soldiers on horses) and more importantly, he was free. It was over.
Examining his brothers with a watchful silver gaze, his stomach let loose a startling grumble. He swayed lazily in his spot a moment, then rose up on his massive paws and stretched his rear up high. He lumbered slowly forward, holding his head high and keeping his gaze cold and steady. The rabble, that insatiable frenzy continued as he came to a stop, observing the scene again. They paid him no mind, until a low growl undulated in his throat—and then they were melting away, ears flattening, bloody jowls frowning irritably.
Hal the bus driver quickly noticed something was wrong. Susie, age eleven, did not get on the bus. She had attended George Washington Elementary since she was five. She was a good girl from a good family. In all those years, the only day she and her parents hadn’t been at the bus stop was the day her dog died. Hal worried she was ill.
Where Is the Gasoline?
I push through the doors. They squeal, then die. Overhead the rafters groan, heaving sighs. The cows are asleep, the horses are asleep, the crows in the rafters are asleep. In the corner, there is a fat coil of rope. Taking it up in my arms, it is heavier than bricks. I cross the hay carpet. My feet are noiseless, but the animals sense me nonetheless. The cows murmur, the horses scratch the wood halfheartedly, the crows ruffle their wings, then settle again.
The popular notion that our hyper-informed digital age is “unique in history” is a misconception: “every society since ancient Egypt,” writes Martyn Lyons, “has been an ‘information society’”—i.e., a society where “those who control and restrict access to knowledge…thereby control a key component of power.” Indeed, the accessibility of information—more so than any single technological innovation—is a major element driving and shaping western European society, giving rise to numerous innovations in communication as well as information—recording and—accessibility. Crucial groundwork was laid by premodern societies long before the sweeping changes the press would one day catalyze: it was, as Elizabeth Eisenstein wrote, not “the agent, let alone the only agent of change in Western Europe,” but “an agent” whose effects would be chiefly determined by its utilization and relationship to information.