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art by Stephen James Kiniry

Junk Silver

Michael Canfield writes about monsters, superheroes, couples, bank robbers, babies, astronauts, paranoids, background artists and stage extras, hobbyists, and other people. He has published mystery, suspense, fantasy, science fiction, horror and just-plain-odd stories online in Spinetingler, StrangeHorizons, Futurismic, EscapePod, M-Brane SF, in dead-tree magazines including Black Gate, Talebones, Realms of Fantasy, Flytrap, and other places. His story "Super-Villains" was reprinted in the prestigious Fantasy: The Year's Best series, edited by Rich Horton. Several other stories received honorable mentions in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series. His first story collection 419 Memoirs and Other Strange Stories, his short novel Growing Up Zombie (written under the name Adam Brick), and Red Jacket: A Novel with a Superhero are available as ebooks from the major online retail outlets. Visit his website at michaelcanfield.net.
Albe ignored Tic, who exclaimed "huh!" after stabbing another Wikipedia article in his usual overly-enthusiastic way. Albe then watched Tic push the article off the sharp end of his poker into the bag. Tic wiped his hand on his leg, as he did every time he cleared his poker of trash.
Albe had gotten himself knee-deep in Myspace pages, which had started to seep through his garments and cling to his skin, so he didn't care what Tic chose to vociferate about.
"Junk silver," said Tic, unswayed by Albe's lack of response. "That one was about junk silver. Know what that is?"
Albe didn't, and he didn't care.
He knew Tic would tell him anyway.
"Silver coins which are in fair condition but don't have any collectible value," said Tic, almost certainly quoting or paraphrasing the very Wikipedia article he had just shoved in his trash sack.
"I don't know why you bother to read any of this shit," said Albe.
Tic shrugged.
"Your head, fill it with any garbage you want," said Albe.
"Junk silver isn't necessarily scrap silver."
"What!"
"Just means the coins aren't unique enough to interest collectors."
Albe rolled his eyes, realizing Tic was still blathering on about the trashed article.
"Now here's something!" cried Tic.
Albe looked over in spite of himself. Hmm. Now Tic did have something interesting. "What is that?"
"That's the point of the tattoo needle that did the work on Angelina Jolie's left shoulder blade."
"Oh yeah."
"Recognize it?"
"Yeah."
Tic stuffed the needle's point into his trash sack.
Albe put his hand down the front of his garment and scratched vigorously. "Lousy Myspace crud!"
"Lousy comes from the word louse. A single lice," said Tic.
"Quit reading me damn Wikipedia articles!"
"That's from Wiktionary," said Tic, sheepishly.
Sheepishly. From the animal called the sheep. Obviously.
Albe threw down his poker, and unslung his trash bag.
"What's happening?" asked Tic.
Albe climbed out of the Myspace bog, and sat down on a mound of EBay storefronts. He pulled his footwear off and dumped it out. He left his lowest extremities uncovered for a few moments, just cooling in the air.
"You shouldn't spend so long in those social media swamps," said Tic.
"I know that! You don't have to tell me!"
"Well, if you know that--"
"Look! Got to be done. All right?"
"But not all at once. I like to take my time. Live a little."
"You call this living?" Did morons come any more moron-like than Tic?
"My heart is beating," said Tic. "My circulatory system is circulating. Brother, that's living."
"You're an idiot."
"Maybe. But I don't hate himself."
I don't hate myself! Albe started to say, but decided not to, because it wasn't true. He sighed. Pulled his footwear back on.
"Why don't you relax awhile longer," said Tic.
"Can't," said Albe. "The civilization's not going to trash itself."
Tic looked up the horizon. Up both horizons. "You could say it already did."
They both chuckled. "You have a point, Tic."
"Maybe I'm not such an idiot after all."
"I shouldn't have said that."
"Don't worry."
"Myspace, you know."
"Forget it."
"Thanks Tic." Albe stood up, and started trashing the EBay storefronts. The planet was about three-quarters gone, and resembled the crescent moon as popularly depicted in its many extinct cultures. "We'll be done here in a few weeks," he said.
"Yep," said Tic. "All done."
"And then on to the next planet."
"Yep. And then on to the next."
"Makes you think, doesn't it?" Albe said.
"How so?"
"All this shit. All this shit meant something to somebody once."
"That's what I'm saying. Junk silver."
"Junk silver, Tic," agreed Albe. "Too right."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 24th, 2011


One pleasure of writing and reading stories (for me, I mean) involves the resilience of the form, particularly at the shortest lengths, against a variety of tyrannies set against it. Logic, realism, consistency, can and should, sacrifice themselves for the benefit of deeper values. There are many deeper values, but to name a few: emotional resonance, sparking the reader's imagination, and that undervalued human mechanism, humor. I make no claim for this story's success or failure in any of these regards (nor any regard at all). I'm only telling you what I like, and what I try to do.

- Michael Canfield

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