Memory Credit Card

The year is 2200 where money is valueless, and memories are priceless. They have become the most valuable currency, traded and exchanged in markets, auctions, and more. People own and carry devices allowing them to store and capture memories, changing and upgrading them into tangible assets—the richer the memories, the wealthier the individual is.

Sasha, a young woman living with five other roommates in her New York City apartment, depressed, finds herself intrigued by this system. When she was little, she had always been fascinated by the idea of sharing experiences. Memories were the ultimate form of connection. Now she rolls her eyes when the silly memory comes to her. She’s walking through the Memory Market on an early Sunday afternoon, and as she approaches one of the booths, she notices a distant figure in a dark coat. The figure seems to radiate an aura of mystery, one that scents the air with forgotten tales and hidden recollections. She goes to approach the figure. As she gets closer, Sasha realizes that it‘s an older man with more warts on his face than features. He has something tucked away under his coat, and when she approaches him, he cautiously reveals it. The man tells her that what he holds in his hands is a device that able to extract memories from the deepest parts of someone’s mind.

Intrigued, Sasha decides to trade some of her most cherished memories for the strange device. She watches as the man clicks on the machine and sees shimmering memories transfer from her mind to the device. The man then transfers those memories to himself before handing her the device and walking away.

With her newly found and totally safe device, Sasha goes around exploring the market, carelessly trading tales of love, adventure, and heartbreak. She loves immersing herself in the lives of complete strangers, which is probably why she’s gullible enough to approach one and give away significant parts of herself. The market has become a garden of shared experiences to her, where she values each memory not just for its richness, but because it gives her new connections. She also learns of the system’s fragility.

She learns while some people hoard their memories for wealth, others cling to the past, grasping onto nostalgia and ignoring the present. Despite what others will think of her and the deal with the strange, ugly man, Sasha believes in the value of shared memories over the wealth of richer ones. In a world where memories are currency, Sasha makes every exchange of human connection valuable, receiving a wealth of diverse experiences that are priceless.

The Eye of Alice

Money made the world go round, but memories make the world a sphere. 

When they first were able to exchange memories for currency, everyone was excited. How could they not be? Trade in a traumatic memory and get paid for it? People couldn’t wait! Every single person was cashing out, especially with traumatic memories, or Traumemories. The adrenaline rush of hyper-awareness was the world’s new cup of coffee. The wealthy got addicted to the rush that came with the fight-or-flight reactions from a Traumemory—without having to actually be in a dangerous situation. What they didn’t tell you about were the side effects; they only told you about the substantial checks. 

Alice was born with the eye and mind of a creative, and she had the hand, ear, and eye coordination to create anything. She was able to make any of her thoughts into something beautiful: poetry, short stories, drawing, painting, sculpting, music—if it had anything to do with creativity, she would do it.

When memories became the new currency, Alice felt a sense of urgency to learn how to earn a decent wage without giving up her memorable moments. More and more stores and businesses were quickly switching to monetization of the mind. Fortunately, people started paying Alice with their memories. She became quite successful despite the lack of cash flow in the world; people would pay her to own a piece of her visions and to hear her play music and serenade them. Each new memory was an interestingly different perception of life, and Alice would create art from every memory that society would supply.

Life was great until the day she almost died in a car accident and was trapped in critical condition. The doctors gave Alice her options: live out the rest of her days on life support or be put in a Med-Bay and walk out of the hospital that day. A no-brainer, right? She chose the Med-Bay, but she had insufficient funds to pay—unless she exchanged some of her memories away. 

“Traumemories pay the best,” the doctor said.

So that’s what she chose. Unable to remember her accident, Alice went all the way back to her most traumatic experience as a kid and exchanged it.

A few hours later, Alice was healed and back home in her studio, wanting to create something—anything—but she didn’t feel that spark like before. 

“I’ll just wait; it’s probably a side effect of the Med-Bay.”

Days, weeks, then months passed… 

The creative seed seemed to be gone.

Alice forgot how her most traumatic memory was the catalyst that had her crafting and creating in the first place. 

“There has to be a way to get my memory back!” 

Or was it too late? 

The Art of Remembrance

Vista Concepción was seldom seen, but when she was, she was always with her paintbrush, which emerged from her fist like a gnarled finger. Her sole company in her moldy apartment was her belongings—hoarded, imbued with memories of her lifetime, and huddled together like cold children.

Vista wasn’t interested in portraits, still lives, or even the view outside her window. She preferred painting her memories. Her paintbrush was the only souvenir from her childhood. Its body was splintered and haphazardly carved with her name: Vista. A view, sight, vision. Something to behold. She liked to think she and her paintbrush were connected by fate, destined to transform blank slates into unforgettable art.

Currently, she was trying to capture the exact shade of pink the sunrise cast over her family’s farm. She couldn’t go back to witness it; her motherland was seduced by the lucrative industry of Memory Itemization, and her childhood home, once teeming with life, was now punctured by the blank faces of factories.

Vista nearly tossed the wet paintbrush in a violent streak across the canvas. She once made a humble living. People loved the realism of her watercolor landscapes. Now, with purchasable memories, no one wanted replicas. Art was a dying trade, and Vista, unable to let go of the past, often went hungry.

As her stomach growled, the unfortunate truth settled: memory is also a replica of the past. Everyone had convinced themselves that purchased memories portray the indisputable truth. Vista, too, had convinced herself that hoarding every afterimage got her one step closer to her past—but to remember is to constantly repaint a hazy ghost. Each time she conjured the fields of her childhood, the smell of cream skimmed off the top of fresh milk, and the laughter of her family, it moved her further away from the material truth.

If only there was a way to remember exactly as things were, without loss.

Remember. Each syllable reverberated like a clock striking midnight. Inspiration attached itself like a weed taking root straight to Vista’s heart. She began her work.

The Memory Liquidator hesitantly ducked under the caution tape. He’d been consulted for bizarre estate sales before, but nothing like this.

They found the woman’s body fused to her chair, and her hands fused to two bloody canvases. Police informed him that she attached herself with industrial-grade glue, but this was hardly the worst sight. Items were grafted into her scalp and skin, creating grotesque appendages. Her apartment was disgustingly cluttered, yet everything was linked to her limbs, fastened with zip ties, leaving her body a mangled amalgam of accumulation.

What struck the Liquidator most was the removal of her left breast, and the replacement of an old paintbrush shakily sewn to her skin, as if skimming the fat allowed the paintbrush closer access to her heart. A smile still graced her face. Every item here was tinged with deadly memories; nothing could be sold or taken from her, exactly as she wished.

Proof That You are Successful

She auctioned away one of her favorite memories on Instagram for a profit of 10,000 memory credits—a substantial sum. The memory had been of a reception for content creators, and she’d pitched it well. It felt like a royal ball, she said on Instagram Live. If you’ve ever wondered what a celebrity gala is like, this memory is for you. She timed the auction well, too—on the heels of the Met Gala, when people were frenzied over designer outfits and the parade of social wealth.

At the auction’s close, she launched the application linked to her memory harvesting implant. She selected the memory, which she’d titled PROOF THAT YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL, and sent it via link to the winner, who would download it to their implant.

She felt the shape of the memory’s absence, but the filling was gone—like a cavity’s rot being sucked out of a tooth, leaving behind an empty chamber. Panic, a side effect of the procedure, welled up in its place.

She looked at her phone’s screen to anchor herself. The wallpaper was a vision board, a collage of images surrounding the name Natalie. It didn’t matter who Natalie was, except that she was determined to become Natalie.

Surrounding the name were images representing Natalie’s memories: a condo in Malibu, the ocean a turquoise gem; the manicured slope of Canadian ski resort; a Mercedes with paint so glossy it was June-bug-iridescent; toasting wine glasses, women’s smiles blurred above. Natalie was wealth, Natalie was joy, Natalie was life at its finest.

And she was determined to buy memories like Natalie’s with the profits made from her drab memories.

But she didn’t have enough credits to acquire memories as expensive as these, to transform her brain into Natalie’s. She must keep selling. Perhaps even her own worst

memories—her parents’ divorce, her car breaking down in the snow, blocking her now-ex partner for the last time—could be twisted into something enticing. My dad said WHAT to my mom? Win the auction to find out! Survival tips you NEED from someone who escaped death in subzero temperatures. The Saga of a Psycho Ex.

She filmed a video thanking today’s winner, which took two attempts to get the background right—a clean white wall with succulents arcing overhead. Her followers often asked where she’d gotten the plants and their chic wooden baskets. She never replied. She filmed her videos on the bathroom floor, phone propped on the toilet. The succulent wall was a posterboard. Her followers did not need to know this, because soon she would be Natalie. Soon, she would have a filming room and a real succulent wall.

The emptiness where the memory she’d sold was caving in, becoming less raw. The pain, the panic of it, always faded. She turned to the harvesting app, scrolling through her memories, searching for her next extraction. One day—when she could afford memories of gemstone waves and friends’ parties—this would all be worth it.

Memory Man 

He comes once a month on the last day during the last hour. Never late, like clockwork, tick tock, and always on time. You gotta be lucky enough to find him, people say, but when you do, you’ll know. Only a handful of people have seen him, even with a backpack you can’t miss and a hat that covers eyes you’ll never see. People say if you’re desperate enough, you’ll find him.

You’re desperate enough. She was desperate, too.

You could go to The Center and tell them it was an accident. They’d ask you why and you’d tell them you don’t know. They’d buy It and take It away, but then they’d take you, too. You could go to a dealer in one of those alleys, the kind where piles of trash somehow tumble out of half-full dumpsters, where cats look for a feast and lampposts only ever flicker and there are rotting corpses of people who were hurt by accident—it was an accident, don’t forget that. They’d buy It and sell It, but then they’d sell you out because that’s ten times the money.

So, you look for him instead, clawing up hills like she clawed up your arms, dirt burying itself under your fingernails like your flesh buried under hers, like you buried her—

You notice his hat first. It’s tugged so far down his face that his nose is barely visible. Tufts of white hair curl themselves underneath, snaking around one another and fighting for the chance to say hello. She fought for the chance to see another day.

His backpack is twice his size, and the way it’s being poked and prodded and slammed into from the inside tells you that’s where your Memory will go. Dog tags hang off the side, limp like the overcooked noodles you had that night, limp like her when she took her final breath—your fingers pressed firmly against her neck, her mouth slack and lips drained of color when you tossed her into the now-full dumpster.

He doesn’t speak, doesn’t need to. And you, you don’t dare utter a word. His fingers are thin, delicate, smooth—hers: scratched, broken, swollenas they flick up his hat. You look into his eyes. Those big, round, purple eyes people said you’d never see. But they’re right there and they’re telling you it’s okay. It was an accident. They know.

The last thing you hear is the wind before the world goes black, and you’re being pushed and shoved and poked and prodded at and slammed into and finally—you don’t remember a thing.

He leaves once a month on the first day during the first hour. Never late, like clockwork, tick tock always on time. You won’t even know he came, people say, save for the body he leaves behind. You can find it if you’re lucky enough.

But no one who’s truly desperate ever sticks around long enough to hear that part of the story.

Both Sides of the Coin

I hold my son’s plush hands and count his pink fingers to make sure there are ten. I wouldn’t forgive myself if there were any missing, though I would forget how it happened. I have three severed fingertips—I can’t remember how it felt to lose them, but each finger fed my son for three months.

My phone vibrates like a heartbeat in my pocket, and I know it’s a request.

How much for a thumb?

I reply, $8,000.

The buyer accepts. I place my son in his playpen and kiss his soft head. He squirms like a little worm that thinks it’s about to be eaten.

When memories became a new type of NFT, everyone was quick to unload their baggage in exchange for vacations to faraway places and sex with people they never thought they’d meet. Happiness became the equivalent of fast food—cheap and of no nutritional value. These days, painful memories are scarce, and the market is teeming with people begging to feel something.

The memory must be at least ten seconds long. I take the knife I once used for cutting apples and place my thumb on the cutting board, like a nub of ginger waiting to be peeled. I know where to cut, I know how far to go. I cut through the red, counting the moments through gritted teeth. I can’t look away until it is done. I press the back of my ear to sync the memory and send it from my phone. The buyer instantly pays, and I am left with blind pain. My body moves automatically, a puppet pulled by the strings of the nurse I was before. I treat the wound with my son crying behind me, as if he feels it too. Then the world grows still, dark, and numb.

The memory from this woman pounds into my skull like a drill. I feel the sawing of her thumb, the anguish of hot flesh against cold steel. A scream rips through my throat and the skin on my forehead floods with salty sweat. It’s delicious. A rush of laughter erupts from the deepest part of my gut. I spiral in this feeling of pain that is not mine, of pain I paid for like a prime rib served on a broken platter.

It is over too soon. The memory clings to me sticky sweet, but the feeling is gone. I pull my phone out and view my collection with pride. There is the thumb, there is the fetus in a closet, there is the eye of a soldier, there is the burned flesh of a child in a war zone. It’s all there and so much more. I am rich with pain that I bought and now own.

My phone rings.

Sir, it’s time for your press conference.

I straighten my red and blue tie, adjust the pin over my heart, check my teeth, and smile.

Kids Are Like Sponges

A brusque Slavic voice ricocheted off the brick alley walls around the corner, and my level two high school Spanish was not helping me decipher any of it. My socks were soddened by the blood running down the front of my jeans. As I surveyed the empty sunset-lit block, my breaths came in jagged bursts. I didn’t recognize this part of town. My body was still shaking with the shock of what happened at the police station.  It’s not every day you see a man in a black suit and Ray-Bans shoot two cops while you are mid-conversation with them.

“Run!” That’s all I had heard. I didn’t know if it was my own voice or Sam’s. She had been next to me during the shooting. It was her blood running down the front of my jeans.

 I caught my breath and looked down at my phone. The GPS read You have arrived. I double-checked that the address I punched in while running matched the one that had come from the unknown phone number, which seemed more area code than number. I had ignored the texts at first. I had been busy climbing the unnecessarily copious number of steps leading to the police station. And I think I was finally convincing Sam to sell me her memory of the time she walked in on me mid-wipe at the movie theater’s unisex bathroom. If I had known that morally ethical inclusivity came at the cost of your best friend catching you in a frog squat with dropped trow, I would have thought twice about signing that petition clipboard.

They tell you to only sell your memories if prescribed by a licensed Memorist. Bunch of horse shit. Before everyone’s uncle owned one, Memor-link boxes were exclusive to Memorists’ clinics. That’s back when my trauma-laden shell of an aunt decided to visit one. She had been prescribed to sell her traumatic childhood memories. What they didn’t tell her was that even though the memories disappeared, the emotions stayed. And rope is much cheaper than you think. I didn’t have any trauma. What I did have was a memory of a certain popular senator guiding two blindfolded toddlers into an SUV during my alleyway pee break last week. After talking over what I saw with Sam, she had eventually convinced me to go to the police station.

I ventured down the narrow alley and found a blindfolded kid with a short buzz-cut connected to a Memor-link box. Beside him, a bald, pale man in a tracksuit grunted, “Do now. No more trouble.” He had a way with words.

Feeling resigned and chicken shit, I took the connecting pair of Memor-link wires, peeled the Giver-Tabs, and suctioned them onto my temples. I closed my eyes and brought the memory into focus. The box beeped. Then I heard hair clippers.


The shopkeeper lifted their head as the doorbell chimed. “Welcome.”

An old woman entered, her face a map of laughter and tears earned over a life well lived. She kept her crimson shawl pulled tight as she wandered the shelves, eyeing the shopkeeper’s wares. Many customers took time browsing, gathering courage before asking for what they truly wanted.

The woman paused and ran soft fingers over a stuffed bear. “A baby’s first laugh,” the shopkeeper explained. “It was sold for a new car.”

With a careful reverence, the woman picked up the bear and cradled it in her arms. “What a waste,” she mumbled, squeezing it before returning it to the shelf.

“Everyone has their reasons,” the shopkeeper said. “And everything has its worth.”

A moment passed and the woman sighed. She was ready.

The shopkeeper studied her as she approached the desk. It had become something of a pastime to try and guess what the customer wanted to sell. The shopkeeper had seen it all: first kisses, wedding days, funerals, friendships, favorite recipes, a mother’s voice. What had the old woman brought to sell?

She clutched at her shawl, finding some invisible comfort in the frayed woolen threads. “How much for a life?”

“More than you can give.”

She shook her head, “How much for my life?”

Interesting. “Do you understand what you ask?”

“I do.”

“I see. A lifetime of memories is not a simple thing to lose. What do you ask in return?”

“My grandson is sick. A heart defect. My sweet boy has fought hard, but he’s losing the fight. Unless something happens, he won’t see another month.” The woman’s voice was painted with emotion, but her eyes were dry. She had cried enough tears to know that they wouldn’t change anything. “I am old and have lived a good life. I will give you all my memories, every moment of my seventy-nine years, if you can make him healthy.”

“I can fix his heart, but I can do no more than that. I can’t promise him a long and happy life.”

“He only needs a chance. He will make his own happiness.”

The shopkeeper considered the offer before them. “Very well. If you are sure, sign your name in my ledger.”

They opened the book to a blank page and the woman signed without hesitation. When she looked up again, her eyes sparkled with tears. “Thank you.”

“You have until tomorrow morning. Until then, you will remember. I suggest you make use of today.”

The old woman nodded and the shopkeeper was alone once more.

The doctors will find a healthy boy with a healthy heart in the morning, but the woman won’t remember anything. Not her name, her family, her face.

But the shopkeeper is not cruel. Even when she has forgotten everything else, the woman will remember the sound of her grandson’s first laugh, and that will be enough.

Meet Our Fall 2023 Interns!

If you’ve ever met one of our wonderful F(r)iction staffers, you’ll quickly learn that almost every one of them was once an intern in our Publishing Internship Program.

This program is run by our parent nonprofit organization, Brink Literacy Project. While our publishing internships are a great way to get a crash course in the literary industry, they can often provide a path to what can become a long and rewarding professional relationship. For more information, please visit the internship page on the Brink website.

Aubrey Unemori


What is your favorite place to read?  

In bed, in the middle of the night, when the city is at its quietest. 

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead?

Valenda, I hope! 

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

Latte style! I like my coffee strong, iced, and with soy milk.  

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?  

My favorite English word is ‘palimpsest’ —not only fun to say, but also a creative exercise in excavation and meaning. My favorite Japanese word is “atatakakunai” (あたたかくない), which doesn’t mean anything significant, but is a beast to say in conversation!

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

I’d bring a Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki for the meditative and existential island fever vibes. I’d bring the Bloodborne soundtrack for the terror-inducing adventure vibes. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be?  

Livable wages as the standard for all employees. 🙂 

Inanna Carter

What is your favorite place to read?   

When I’m feeling outdoorsy (which really isn’t that often) I love reading outside on my porch when the wind breezes just right. If not outside, then happily in the comfort of my own bed. 

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead? 

The easy, boring answer is that I would 100% not open that door. But if I were to open it, it would lead to the most beautiful library/cafe with more books than I can wrap my head around. And plants. Lots of plants. 

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

I am unfortunately not a coffee person! But I do love taro boba tea. I used to have a ritual where I’d make some at night (from the kits from Amazon) and just sit back and read. I need to start doing this again for sure. 

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language? 

I definitely have a favorite English word but of course I can’t think of it right now, so I’ll go with ethereal. My favorite German word is “Handy.” It means mobile phone, and I say it…way too often. “Wo ist mein Handy..? Ah! Es ist da!” 

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

The book would be my Death Byseries by Linda Gerber, a 3-in-1 book. A fun fact is that this is the ONLY book I’ve ever read more than once. It’s my comfort series. The album I would bring would have to be BE by BTS. It’s a short album, but it’s the album with a lot of my comfort songs that I definitely couldn’t live without. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be?

I will say 100 times over that the literary industry needs more diversity! Things have been better, but it’s still way too easy to go to an agency’s website, look over their staff, and find little to no POC. I could say a lot more, but I’ll leave it at this: We need to do a lot better. 

Montanna Harling


What is your favorite place to read?   

I love to read in corners where the sun spills into the room; being able to glance outside while reading (and also writing) helps me access the imagination more easily and make connections between the stories I’m reading and the world around me.

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead? 

I’d be forever preoccupied with imagining increasingly weird rooms that might have been behind that door if I didn’t open it, so I would have to open it. I envision that the door would lead to books (obviously!). More specifically, I imagine that on the other side of the door, there would be a forest that is itself a library—books tucked into the hollows of trees, books held by branches, books shaded by foliage. As someone who loves eco-fiction, being outdoors, and libraries, I would absolutely enter a mysterious doorway to end up in this place. 

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.  

My daily coffee usually comes in the form of an iced, flavored latte—I am consistently drawn to sweet drinks. Sugar fuels my writing.

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

My favorite word is the same both in English and Latin. I love the word “inspire” because I think the etymology adds such beautiful meaning to the word. It’s derived from “inspīrāre” in Latin, which means “to breathe into,” often with the suggestion of breathing life into something. Viewing the relatively common word “inspire” in these terms—of giving life to something, of inspiration itself being the act of breathing that which inspires you—is very fascinating to me.

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

Album—Taylor Swift’s Folklore. I return to this album not only because the imagery is complex and rich, but because each song is crafted in a way that tells a story.  

Book—Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. This book’s combination of fantasy, academia, and Bardugo’s beautiful prose has made it one of my all-time favorites.

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be?  

I would change the regionally centralized nature of the US publishing industry; as someone who grew up in a rural region and lived most of my life in California, it was difficult to come to terms with the reality that I might have to move to New York in order for my literary career to get started or succeed. I hope that access to publishing and writing communities can spread beyond New York, and that these opportunities can be available across a wider geographic region both in-person and virtually.  

Sara Santistevan

What is your favorite place to read?   

My dream home has a cozy reading nook overlooking a body of water. Until then, my favorite places to read are in my bed, in tiny cafes, and by the ocean, where the steady crash of waves can lull me into a trance.

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead?  

The wooden door inside the mountain is weathered, bordered by moss and ivy. When I open the door, I’m met with complete darkness. Curiosity gnaws at my guts, so of course, I go inside and fall down, Alice-in-Wonderland-style. I’ve never fallen from such a height, but I can only imagine light spilling from the door far above, tauntingly, as I free fall.   

Right as stars cloud my vision, I land on a conveniently plush daybed. The space I find myself in is circular. Each wall is seamlessly lined with massive bookshelves, made of deep brown oak and smelling of soil that reminisces a recent rain. A warm tugging at my chest pulls me toward a book with a shimmering aquamarine cover. The blurb on the back informs me it tells the story of a girl who spends her days swimming and fishing in an ancient ocean. I open the book. A handwritten note nearly flutters out; it reads: This library holds all the stories of your life and all the tales of your previous lives. Your soul story spans continents and worlds. You may stay as long as you like. Once you are satisfied, a door will open, and you will be free to return to the world outside.  

I bring the book to the couch and begin to read.  

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.    

I could talk about this for ages, but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet…like my favorite coffees!  

I grew up drinking coffee from a young age. I loved to join my grandparents and mom as they drank coffee in the early evenings and told hilarious family anecdotes. So, I still have a soft spot for a simple shot of espresso in the morning, sometimes with half and half. If I have more time, I’ll add some espumita (a foamy blend of sugar and the most concentrated drips of espresso).  

When I go out for coffee, I’m a sucker for the fun, sugary drinks, like lavender and pumpkin spice lattes.   

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

Lately, I’ve been loving the word “alchemy.” Not only do I enjoy the mouthfeel, but I’m also fascinated by the idea of transformation and creativity as an ancient magic of the universe. I imagine this word as a piece of gold that glimmers iridescent in the moonlight.  

I also love many words in Spanish, but one of my favorite ones is “estrella” (meaning “star”), which rolls off the tongue beautifully. If “alchemy” is iridescent gold, “estrella” is sprawling peals of silver.   

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

After much deliberation, I’d have to say my album of choice in this hypothetical would be the 25th anniversary edition of Buena Vista Social Club’s eponymous record. It has songs for aimless strolling, dancing, lounging in the sun, and reminiscing. Warm instrumentals serve as the throughline on the album, which might make me feel a little more at home on an island. Plus, I’m learning Spanish in an effort to connect to my heritage, and I’m sure listening to this album on repeat would help!  

My go-to book would have to be Samanta Schweblin’s short story collection, Mouthful of Birds. Schweblin ingenuously uses uncanny details in her writing to explore social issues in her home country of Argentina. Each story is so shocking that I could read this collection one hundred times and come away with a new insight every single time.   

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be? 

Although the industry has made great strides toward inclusivity, I still think work needs to be done to make entering the industry more accessible for all. I believe that if publishers actively create opportunities for underrepresented individuals to share their stories, more people will be excited to engage with new literary works. It’s especially important for diversity to be reflected in new books so children and young adults can develop confidence and a strong sense of self by identifying with characters who positively represent their communities. 

Zara Garcia


What is your favorite place to read?   

My favorite place to read is on my aqua blue sofa surrounded by an army of Squishmallows. 

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead? 

I open it cautiously. It leads to a wooded meadow with plush green grass and wildflowers. There are birds of every kind speckled through the trees and grazing in the grass. In the middle of the meadow there is a picnic blanket laid out with luscious fruit. I am reunited there with my beloved parakeet named Bird who is standing on a banana. 

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.  

I must admit that while I’m no coffee connoisseur, I’m very picky and will only drink coffee that I prepare myself. I follow the directions on the back of the instant coffee jar exactly: 6 oz. of hot water with 1 tsp of coffee. Then I fill my mug to the brim with almond milk creamer. 

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

My favorite word in English is azure because it sounds cool, it’s a beautiful color, and it works nicely as an adjective, especially in poetry. I also think it’s a lovely gender-neutral name.  

My favorite word in Spanish is arrullo (pronounced “ah-rroo-yoh”). It can mean cooing, lullaby, or murmur. One of my favorite songs in Spanish is “Arrullo de Estrellas” by Zoé, which translates to “Lullaby of Stars.” 

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

I think if I were on a deserted island, I would just accept my demise. I have no survival skills. The album would have to be Depression Cherry by Beach House. I think I could die peacefully listening to the dreamy melodies and haunting voice of Victoria Legrand. Every song on the album makes me feel as though I am a drifting cluster of cells in the vast universe, and I find that feeling comforting. 

The book would have to be One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez because reading it is such an immersive experience. It makes you feel as though you are living through several generations, witnessing the rise and fall of life itself, and it’s simply a masterpiece on the human condition. I discover new details to dissect every time I read it, and I don’t think it could ever get boring. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be?  

A more mission-driven, inclusive approach when it comes to the writers and stories that get published. It is so disheartening to see books that represent marginalized identities being banned from schools. The literary industry can and should push back by amplifying as many underrepresented voices as possible and advocating for them harder. I think that the industry has a responsibility to help move along the evolution of the literary canon by prioritizing diversity in the stories they put out into the world and in the hands of future generations.

An Interview with Benjamin Percy

Over the decades, we’ve witnessed different versions of the X-Men Beast’s (Hank McCoy) physical changes as he continues to mutate and shift with Hank’s personality. With the nature of comics today, creative decisions and changes to a character comes with the collaboration of different writers and artists. How did creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby lay the foundation for Hank McCoy in X-Men #1 (1963) with Stan’s verbose, brainy dialogue and Jack’s drawing of Beast’s bulky physical presence?

It’s a wonderful juxtaposition (that would later be improved upon). The brutish appearance and the erudite manner.

I’m thinking of other fictional creations that use a similar technique. Think of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho for instance. He wears expensive, tailored suits and fusses over his face and hair with every manner of product and eats in white linen restaurants…and he also spends his evenings engaged in blood-splattered extracurriculars. A torturer, a murderer.

That startling contradiction is what makes Hank so much fun. You never quite know what to think of him. He might be quoting Homer or Shakespeare, but we’re still worriedly studying him out the corner of our eye, waiting for him to break our neck with a hard kick from one of his Fred Flintstone feet.

The seventies Bronze Age is a beloved era for Hank McCoy fans. He joined The Avengers, experiences a classic bromance with Wonder Man (Simon Williams), and gets more playful banter with catch phrases like, “Oh my stars and garters.” Hank also droped his human-life appearance for his iconic blue fur look. Do you feel this change in appearance and being in the public eye with The Avengers influences Hank’s increase in people pleasing syndrome, where the individual wishes everyone to be happy and sidelines their own needs?

Bouncy Beast is always how I think of this version of him. They took the raw ingredients—established in X-Men #1—and refined and amplified them beautifully into the genius, joyful, gymnastic, blue-furred, simian character that everyone fell in love with.

You could argue that his behavior is a compensation for his appearance. He makes the extra effort to be kind and generous to distract from the fact that he looks like he might chew your face off or pick a flea out of his fur and eat it.

I should say that within the current continuity, the Cerebro cradles contain deep archives of all mutant memories. So, this version of him still exists.

Hank was on two teams in the eighties: The Defenders and X-Factor, which would see the return of the original X-Men lineup together. In The New Defenders comic, Hank struggles to form that classic “non-team” into a regular team like The Avengers while being at odds with Valkyrie for leadership of the team. While in X-Factor, he falls back into a subordinate role to his old teammate, Cyclops (Scott “Slim” Summers). Given Hank is one of the top, brilliant minds in the Marvel Universe, what kept him from being seen as a Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) or Tony Stark (Iron Man) during this era? Does it have to do with the stigma of his character design and how quarterbacks and not linebackers are seen as team captains in the field? Or does his playfulness and need for everyone to get along keep him from effectively leading?

I remember reading an article about grooming politicians, and it’s generally considered a poor choice to grow a beard, because you appear like someone who has something to hide. That aligns with your quarterback theory. Beast doesn’t look like a good guy; he doesn’t look like a leader. Maybe, as time goes by, the perceptions of others start to rub off on you and pollute your sense of self and inhibit your potential.

In the nineties, there is a paradox of Hank becoming a guide from the side to allow the comic books to focus on fresh new characters. However, to non-comic book readers he was a face of the X-Men and the first mutant in The Amazing Spider-Man daily newspaper strip. The X-Men: The Animated Series began with Hank in prison and on trial in the media for being a mutant. In the comics, Dr. McCoy was sequestered in the lab trying to cure the Legacy Virus. This era also saw Hank more reserved and bookish, wearing glasses, and quoting philosophers. Hank takes on the role of the public face of mutant kind but does speaking for all mutants affect Hank speaking just for himself?

You’re talking about the comics in chronological terms. That’s interesting to me, because I have no understanding at all of Marvel or DC continuity. That’s because of how I grew up. I moved around constantly as a kid. I didn’t have a comic shop that served as my home base. Instead, most of my comics were erratically purchased from the spinner racks in gas stations and grocery stores or from bins at garage sales and flea markets. Even if I did find a comic shop, I was probably randomly buying back issues, because they were cheaper. I have no idea, as a result, what was published when, because I’d be reading a seventies issue one minute and a nineties issue the next.

So when you say, this is how Beast or Punisher or Spider-Man—or whoever—changed over time, you know more than me. I have a more holistic understanding of characters.

With that said, I religiously watched X-Men: The Animated Series when I was a kid, so that version of McCoy—and his frenemy relationship with Wolverine—probably imprinted itself on me as much as any of the comics. Beast as the statesman and strategist. You certainly see that in my writing of him.

Hank has another mutation in the aughts into his cat-like look. This period also had writers like Grant Morrison in New X-Men (2001), Joss Whedon in Astonishing X-Men (2004), and Ed Brubaker in Secret Avengers (2010) putting Beast front and center. Instead of reverting his demeanor on these teams back to the “beautiful, bouncing Beast” for fans from the seventies and eighties, how do writers respect the creative changes Hank has undergone to present a whole new Beast in both look and personality?

The Morrison and Quietly run is one of my favorites (as some might guess, since I’ve given Kid Omega a lot of real estate in my run on X-Force). The weirdness and darkness are really appealing to me. And the feline appearance of Beast was a fun evolution.

We haven’t talked about Hank McCoy and Professor Charles Xavier yet. How much is Hank, as an adult, a proxy/placeholder for the vision of Professor X in a group like the Illuminati or to other mutants when teaching at The Xavier Institute? Does the shadow of Charles Xavier dictate the history of Hank’s behavior? Should readers not be as surprised when Hank goes on his own to make major changes to the timestream in Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men (2012) or his recent actions with Krakoa when Beast is looked at through the long lens of having Professor X as a mentor? 

I’ve kept Charles mostly off stage for this exact reason.

Every title—and there are a lot of X titles—have their core characters. Sure, Logan can show up in another book, but it’s in the Wolverine mainline where the important stuff is going to happen.

What you’re talking about—with Charles—is pretty significant, and he’s not one of my characters. He belongs more to X-Men or Immortal X-Men. So Gerry Duggan and Kieron Gillen will determine his fate (and his faults).

Krakoa is the mutant nation, and X-Force is its CIA. That was my pitch for the book. Charles gave Beast carte blanche when appointing him as the Director of Intelligence. Hank didn’t have to report to the Quiet Council or get approval for their dark deeds. Did Charles shut off his psychic connection to Hank? Was he unaware of what was going on? We’ll see in the pages of X-Men or Immortal X-Men but not in X-Force.

Every powerful country in the history of the world has killed people and engaged in unsavory, amoral activity that doesn’t square with patriotism and the public-facing view of a nation. At the very least, Charles knows this in the abstract—but perhaps not in the specifics, re: the shadow ops of Beast’s X-Force.

In X-Force 40, we read that Hank has been manipulating the time stream to ensure his plans see their completion, which shows his dimensional chessboard way of thinking. What can you tell us about Hank’s plans and The Ghost Calendars storyline? How has Hank standing against multiple world conquerors over the years shown he’s learned from their mistakes but is also in a place to do what he feels needs to be done, regardless of what others think of him in the vein of a traditional Marvel villain?

Keep in mind that Beast has a utilitarian code. He wants the greatest good for the greatest number of mutants, no matter the cost. That might lead him to assassination, blackmail, timeline manipulation, and genocide. He’ll even kill his own. We’ve seen him murder Wolverine and resurrect a more mindless version of him to serve as a more willing soldier of Krakoa. He’s ruthless. But there is a code. He operates with the cold indifference of a surgeon. Think of him as a Kissinger figure.

He hasn’t become this way out of nowhere. He’s made many decisions over the years that were troublesome. Look at the Legacy Virus, Threnody, and Mutant Growth Hormone. Look at his involvement with the Inhumans and Illuminati. But his current position of power—and the longtime victimization of mutants—have festered and encouraged these darker corners of his mind.

Where can our readers find you online and find more about your other work?

I’m on all the obnoxious social media platforms. I also have a website that I don’t do a very good job of updating: . We’ve been talking about comics, but I’m also a novelist, and my newest book—The Sky Vault—releases this September. 

Arcana in Persona 5 Royal: Queen, Fox, and Oracle

With Persona 5 Scramble out, it seems right to pay homage to its predecessor, Persona 5 Royal, and the way the parent game created wonderfully complex and lovable characters, each character represented by a tarot card. Couple this with the fact that F(r)iction’s Arcana issue is coming out, now is the perfect time to take a look at how this beloved video game connects its characters to their corresponding cards.

Needless to say, this article will contain spoilers for Persona 5 Royal! Read at your own risk.

1. Makoto / The High Priestess:

An upright high priestess card indicates wisdom, but reversed, it indicates that one’s problems come about because they are too heavily swayed by others’ opinions. This card is extremely apt for Makoto. In her investigation regarding high schoolers involved in the red-light district, she focuses solely on how others perceive her usefulness: “I’m going to show you how useful an honor student can really be.”

But in the process, she begins to question the status quo when she realizes her new friend’s boyfriend is trying to flirt with her, as well. Here is the boyfriend’s undiscernible first text to Makoto: “It’s meee, Tsukasa. *heart emoji* I no we just met but I cudn’t wait 2 *phone emoji* u.”

She tries to convince her friend to leave this toxic relationship and constantly questions her own involvement in this situation. At one point, Makoto, normally no-nonsense and uptight, gets frustrated to the point where she slaps her friend in a fit of anger and passion. Eventually, all’s well that ends well; she makes up with her friend, her friend leaves her toxic relationship, and Makoto grows in her self-confidence and learns to follow her instinct: “This time I’m not seeking anyone’s praise, and I’m not trying to show off my intelligence. I simply want to fulfill my own personal goals and dreams.”

2. Yusuke / Emperor

Yusuke depicts all the traits of a reverse emperor card: in his pursuit of beauty through his art, he’s nothing less than a petty tyrant, rigid in thinking, seeing others as people meant to serve and flatter him. A talented artist with a creative block, he (and his views about life) feels tainted because of his corrupt art mentor. Yusuke solicits the player for advice on how to overcome his internal struggles. But when one of his paintings is exhibited, even his language reflects that of a king: “That was nothing more than the drivel of unrefined commoners. I needn’t pay any mind to them,” and upon critique, “How dare you!”

The player and Yusuke then go on a variety of adventures to help Yusuke learn the meaning of beauty, from romantic rowboat excursions to eccentric church visits, before he realizes that his pretentious attitude towards others has been harming him all along. He states in self-understanding: “I looked down on [my mentor] for focusing so sharply on fame and money, yet I too yearn for the praise of others!” It is from this realization that Yusuke realizes that his art is meant to be a gift to viewers, and his newly found determination propels him to paint in order to give hope to others.

3. Futaba / The Hermit

Perhaps one of the most beloved characters in the series, Futaba represents the hermit card. Before Futaba grows into someone who finally finds answers within her, she begins as a girl who chooses to resist growth and cuts herself off from others in detrimental ways. Before she meets the player, her foster dad says, “She won’t take a single step outside the house, or even try to see other people […] she doesn’t even let me come in her room.”

When she meets the player, she expresses a desire to slowly start changing herself and creates a promise list with the player. From going to school to starting a conversation with someone her age, her list consists of tasks that someone who has been shut in their room for years would find difficult. But through her persistence and with the player’s support (whom she calls her “key item”), she’s able to begin to see the benefits of re-integrating herself with society. Her final confession upon completion of all the tasks is this: “My whole world is expanding. Every day brings new and different discoveries […] Things might be the exact same as they were yesterday, but from my perspective, it’s all spinning […] I just hope I can keep changing little by little.”

While these are only three of the many lovable characters in P5R, the other tarot card and their corresponding characters are just as spot-on! And if you found these tarot-themed analyses interesting and are looking for more ways to connect with your inner mysticism, then discover more arcana content in the next issue of F(r)iction. Order here!


The mansion was like something out of a horror flick, all dark parapets and grotesque spires. Declan watched, breath hooked behind his chest, as the Director’s sleek black limousine purred down the drive. Jass shifted beside him, rubbing her hands against the splintering cold.

“Tonight, or never,” she murmured.

The reminder set his whole body tingling: tomorrow they Aged Out, left the labor camp forever to make their own way in the wider world. Tomorrow he finally threw out the stained gray jumpsuit he’d worn his whole life and put on the bright yellow shirt Jass had stolen for him from the fabric recycler.

So tonight was their last chance for payback.

Once the limousine disappeared, Jass ducked past the swiveling cameras and held her hackphone up to the gate’s scanner. For a gut-lurching moment, nothing. Declan waited for an alarm to wail, for a security drone to appear out of the gloom.

The buzz of the electric fence cut short.

The cameras froze on their pneumatic stalks.

The gate folded open.

Jass pumped her fist in the air. “We own your house, slimeball!”

Declan felt his adrenaline surge. He pulled the crowbar out of his bag and tossed it to Jass, then armed himself with a canister of spray paint. The open gate still looked anything but inviting, and he figured smiley faces on the two horned statues would help a bit.

The inside was a labyrinth of lavishly-furnished rooms; Declan had the feeling of being digested by them. He couldn’t remember any home but the Dorms, where he’d slept elbow-to-elbow with the other indentured wards. One room in the Director’s sprawling mansion could have fit a hundred cots.

The decor grew stranger the deeper they went. Photos, first: the Director posing with the corpse of a feathery leviathan, likely a dinosaur clone-grown for the hunt; the Director with a woman a half century younger than him, clutching his wife’s hand as if she were his child. Her eyes were dark and anguished above a bone-white smile.

Then came paintings, strange paintings of naked bodies writhing in flames, a non-Euclidean tower drenched in dark smog, a woman with her legs bound together vomiting up something that resembled a sea slug.

Declan wiped them out with swooping arcs of spray paint. When they passed a long table supported by humanoid statues on hands and knees, Jass clawed a gouge down the middle with the crowbar.

Both stopped at a life-sized portrait of the Director. He hovered in the darkness, staring down with a paternal smile on his pallid face. The angles of his body jutted at his tailored suit like chicken bones inside a garbage bag. His hands were smeared with black oil.

“My turn with the crowbar,” Declan said.

Declan lined himself and swung for every kid in the enclave, for every sweat-drenched hour spent hewing rock, for every sleepless night spent shivering and coughing up mold. The canvas split, bisecting the Director’s wattled neck, and then—

 The portrait glided left to reveal the dark mouth of a staircase.

Jass took the crowbar back, tugging it from his trembling hands.

“Spooky,” she muttered.

They descended. The air was colder now, damper, and it carried a faint stench Declan couldn’t place. The floor at the bottom was a spongy material that swallowed their footsteps. Jass waved the hackphone, trying to get the ceiling lights on, but they weren’t responding.

A soft moan carried through the dark.

Every centimeter of Declan’s skin turned pebbly with goosebumps. He pointed his light toward the sound, looked over at Jass, knuckles white around the crowbar.

They approached slowly, warily, yanking aside a series of plastic shrouds. The stench grew stronger.

When Declan’s phonelight hit the wall, every joint in his body turned to water.

An emaciated figure hung strapped in place, a shrink-wrapped skeleton. IVs were feeding the bulging veins in his bony wrists. His skin was sun-starved and covered in sores, eyes and mouth stapled shut with precise sutures.

“Niall,” Declan said in a shredded whisper. “It’s Niall.”

Jass’s body seemed to buckle. “But they said he was transferred to Dorm Eight,” she choked. “They said…”

Declan was eyeing the web of restraints, searching for a release, when he heard a voice like bone scraping bone.

“Here to join the fun?”

Declan whirled. The Director was even larger than his portrait, a hairy, wrinkled beast, naked apart from a surgeon’s rubber gloves and night-vision goggles that glowed a predatory green. One hand held red-stained pliers; the other a loaded gun, and Declan knew in his fear-sick gut that they were never Aging Out of their gray jumpsuits, never leaving this fucked-up house, either they died here or joined Niall on the wall—

Jass’s crowbar obliterated the top of the Director’s head; a chunk of bloodied scalp went flying past.

Declan watched frozen as the Director crumpled, falling first to knees and then to belly. Then a white-hot fury ignited his whole body and he followed Jass’s lead, kicking, stomping, extracting evil from the world.

The supervisor brought up the chemical profiles of runners 4930 and 4284, two human data points in the sea of treadmills below, just in time to display a cloudburst of serotonin and adrenaline.

“It’s testing through the roof,” he murmured. “We can expand it, too, do a whole uprising…” He trailed off under the Director’s stare. “With your approval, of course. We’re very grateful that you let us use your likeness.”

The Director turned from the main screen, where Declan and Jass danced around his mutilated body, to the observation screen where they were in full sprint, limbs pumping furiously, kinetic output almost doubled.

Two of a thousand indentured runners racing oblivion, skulls linked by long rippling cables to a spidery sim-machine on the ceiling, minds snared in electric dreams.

“These are trying times,” he said, voice solemn but warm. “The least we can do is give them a little revolution.”