TUG ON THE RIBBON AND OTHER STORIES
“My spirit animal is a cassette tape.”
My first short story collection, featuring the title story “Tug on the Ribbon” which was lauded by none other than William Gibson over the Twitter. This volume also features “Coming Soon,” a story about alien invasion by way of the silver screen; “Luna Sangre,” a tale of dystopian sorcery in a nightmare Mexico City of the future; and “Crunch Time” which pits the zombie apocalypse against office politics to see which meme emerges victorious. “Tug on the Ribbon” itself is a love story between a young boy and a lost technology, that of the cassette tape.
Samples from each story will follow.
You can view this book over at Amazon for your Kindle here: Right here at this very link. Amazon makes ugly links so I’m hiding it.
My spirit animal is a cassette tape. I’ve always known this as sure as I’ve known that the desert will kill a man without water and that the Chariot comes around every year no matter how many mothers cry as it comes up out of the flats. I knew before we moved out to the village. I remembered hiding out in the closet of my dad’s house, back where it smelled like leather shoes and was cool and dark even when I knew that heat was falling out of the sky so hard you’d forget what rain felt like or if it had ever fallen.
The roof creaked and shirked in the summer sun, but I was safe and in the near-dark, among draped shirts and shoes that were too small or too scuffed for him to wear anymore. There was a day that they’d been bright and shiny and gleamed like they were wet all the time.
That’s where I found the box of cassettes. I always thought the word sounded like caskets, which nobody but me found funny. The side of the box had the word “Florsheim” printed on it, which seemed like a funny way to say that it was full of cassette tapes. They all lay there just as tight as me and my three brothers jammed into that double bed, well at least until Virgilio went off to the City several years ago. Kasper went just two years ago. I was upset and I wasn’t. I missed my brothers, but the bed was a lot bigger.
But I’d learned never to mention the upside to my mother.
I’m supposed to go next time the Chariot comes around with its gray-suited man. I was too young last time. Sixteen summers they said. I’d only had fifteen when it rolled up, tall as a building and smelling like smoke, but not the right kind of smoke. You wouldn’t want to eat anything cooked by it, bitter and sharp like the burning tires that people sometimes lit up outside the village walls. But not too close, since half the walls themselves were made out of piled up tires filled with dull orange clay that went from greasy slick to bricks in a couple days of sun. Ruby once lit one of the walls and caught hell for it.
They asked the Old Man, Xipíl what to do with him and Xipíl said that Ruby was restless and that maybe he needed to be set on his vision track just a little bit early. Sometimes that happened. Sometimes children were allowed to become great big children and never allowed to become grownups, to find the path that they were supposed to follow. Not me, though, like I said, I knew it from many an afternoon in daddy’s closet and even after we moved here. It was kind of a secret place, not so secret that I couldn’t be rustling around in there, not like the drawer on his dresser. That one didn’t make the move out here with us. Day we did, I just remember him opening it and staring into it like he was going to cry but never did.
I asked him if we could take the Florsheim box when we moved and he nodded without saying anything, eyes on the drawer. I didn’t ask for much else, and nobody seemed to want to carry anything that didn’t fit in the family’s scrubby little Hyundai. Whatever he left behind, he never talked about again. Virgilio had rummaged in there once and came out with a pocket knife that he used to carve the words I WON’T GO into the tamarind tree that grew in our yard. That was the day we moved into the village.
But he did go anyways.
I still have that pocket knife.
Our new house was a lot closer to the stripyard, which gave me plenty of chances to add to my cassette collection, soon as I was old enough to sneak out. Then I was old enough to be sent there. I never asked why I didn’t go to school but I remember Virgilio going, every day. But that was in the old neighborhood, the old house.
At the striypard, I turned scrap like a bunch of other kids my age. But I was fast and didn’t screw around and could pull quota before midday, then disappear off to the shoals of books and discs and musical junk. That was where my real hunting took place. Wasn’t long before I needed a lot of Florsheim boxes, though none of them ever had that word printed on it.
I had a whole spirit zoo, not just one animal that ruled my life forever and ever amen, like they say. If I didn’t want to hear what was playing, I could just stop it. Or I could skip over the song or put something completely new in. My fingers had to press hard on the big plastic buttons. But never the red one.
Learned that lesson pretty quickly when I erased two precious minutes of my favorite song; I didn’t even know its name. I realized something was wrong and rewound the tape to the beginning, pressed PLAY so hard that my fingertips hurt and listened back. Instead of music, there was only the whine and squeak of tape rubbing against capstans and the silver eraser head. And the faint sounds of my breathing, nervous, curious, frightened. I’d made that song totally disappear, but for thirty seconds of the guitar trailing away slowly like the Chariot leaving and weaving down the road.
The rest of the night I spent crying. Not even mama’s cooking could fix that. All the soup in the world wasn’t going to drown that sorrow. So I made real careful not to press the red one again unless I knew what I wanted to do.
Not long after, the Old Man went and found me. I was sitting in a corner of the garage. I’d marked off my territory with some empty cans marked DANGEROUS and CHEMICALS that I’d fished out of the stripyard. In it, I stashed a variety of cassette playback machines, most didn’t work nor would they ever on their own, but there were plenty of parts to choose from. Seventeen different drive motors, twice as many record heads and an assortment of speaker magnets. And the soldering kit that I had blown a whole week’s extra forage on. Don’t know why, but working on them came natural (and the books I’d fished out and taught myself to read didn’t hurt.)
Looking at the names, you’d think I had my own zoo there. Panasonic, Magnavox, Sony, Unitech, Matsushita, LG, Yamaha and even a big speaker with the name Fender in fancy lettering. I remember I was checking the hookup to the house’s solar kit. I remember ‘cause I had to make sure I wasn’t drawing so much that mama would notice and I was pretty steamed when Xipíl crept up on me.
“I been looking for you, Luis Michelo Cervantes,” he said with an asphalt-dry voice like the road itself giving up a croak.
“Yes, Xipíl,” I replied, trying to be polite, upset at the interruption. “What do you want fixed?” Xipíl, like most of the other adults, only paid attention to me when something with wires got broken. They knew I could talk to ‘em.
“Nothing, young man,” but there was a something behind that. “I was just thinking that most children come see me when they’re ready to take their vision track and you’re sixteen now. Chariot’ll be here before you know it. Don’t you think it’s about time?”
I shrugged just like Kaspar used to when he was trying to get a rise out of mama, only I came to it naturally. “But Xipíl, I already know my spirit animal. I already know what I’m gonna do with my life.” That was only half a bluff on my part.
His skin was brown as leather but not shiny like my dad’s shoes had been. The red bandana held the white hair out of his eyes and it was the same color of the shirt he wore with the words ‘Coca-Cola’ on it. They were written in the same kind of fancy letters as that Fender speaker, but I didn’t know what they meant. Maybe it was a place he’d been to.
His brows knitted themselves in a gesture that wandered somewhere between pity and scorn and he said “I look at you, Luis and I don’t see the same thing that I saw in your brothers. I see something more there. Much more. And all you give me back for this recognition is disrespect.”
“It isn’t disrespect,” I said, wanting to turn around and make sure the connection wasn’t bleeding. “It’s just that I’m not one of those kids that needs… I mean. I already know.”
“And that’s exactly the kind of thing that an ignorant boy says.” His eyes flicked over to the gutted electronics in my work-area. “You think that stuff is your future? You think that the spirits are going to touch you through those electrical things? That don’t happen anymore. Not since the Deflation.”
The Deflation was the war my parents lost, I guess. I don’t know for certain. Folks like my dad clung and hung onto something, but you can only hold onto that edge so long before dropping. It didn’t make no nevermind to me. I was born to it. But everyone else older’n me talked about it like it was a tragedy. For me, it was just like the sun coming up anyways.
It was everything I had to keep from laughing at Xipíl and say that I already had talked to ‘em. But this wasn’t a contest I could win. He might be irritating, but the rest of the grownups were on his side. And in the village it was grownups or kids, not in-between.
“Okay. So what is it I have to do?” I unplugged everything as I spoke, let the batteries soak up a little extra when I was away. It’d keep. Though I didn’t know exactly why I was working on all that. I knew it was important, but not why.
He loosened up his face so much that I thought he was goin to fall apart right there. “Well, boy, you gotta walk that track just like all of us gotta do. You’re sixteen now, and you might think you have all the answers, but the truth is whatever you think you know isn’t worth any much more than the scrap you pull.
“You gotta look for something bigger.”
I wanted to ask him what his vision track had revealed to him, what hidden truth he’d picked up. But I figured I already knew the answer to that. He’d just wrinkle up his wrinkles a bit more and smile. Just like he’d never answer the question as to why boys saw coyotes that told them to go to the city and most girls saw the rabbit that told them to stay here in the village. Only some girls ever got to go and none of them ever came back.
The garage smelled like old paint that would never get used. Xipíl looked like he’d never get tired of waiting for the right answer.
“Okay, so when can I start?” I asked finally.
He cradled a grunt of victory for a moment before letting it go. “Your mama knows not to expect you for dinner. For the next couple nights anyways.” Xipíl got up out of the crouch that he’d slumped down into, like a vulture gone hungry too long. “You best follow me and prepare.”
If you want to read the rest of the story, and three others, for just three bucks, head over here.