That Man Behind the Curtain – January 2020

Photo of a black cat sitting in a box.

We did not order this cat.

We’re coming down to the final stretch. With our final quarterly out the door and no Kickstarter in the wings, January has been a very quiet month. The next few months will be even quieter. Here’s a look at the numbers.

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Fiction: The Prototype

An essay by Claire Lev, as provided by Judith Field
Art by Luke Spooner

When they let me out of hospital, I decided to rent somewhere with space to write. Jo, the social worker, helped me find a terraced house in the old part of town, the only one in the row not converted into flats. Gentrification had leapfrogged the area. There were no skips outside the tumbledown houses, no four-by-fours blocking the narrow streets. The shades of my immigrant ancestors spoke to me in the place they’d once made a crowded, warm world of their own.

“Bit big for a youngster like you, on your own,” the landlord said, “Miss … er …”

“Claire Lev,” Jo said.

“Claire … Lev. Millwall … two!” I chanted, using the rising and falling cadence of a football commentator. Okay name for a house, Millwall. Bucolic. Strong.

Jo pursed her lips and shook her head at my display of what the shrink dubbed “knight’s move thinking.”

“Miss Lev.” The landlord leaned away from me, as though I was contagious. He told me a rabbi had lived in the house, which meant that he’d labeled me as Jewish. Once people slot you in like that, the label is like a flashing light in their heads, steering everything they say. I waited for him to ask “if I knew the Cohens.”

“It was about 80 years ago. There were a lot of you people ’round here then.” You people.

“I’ll take it,” I said.


No one since the rabbi had smartened the house up. The faded, peeling wallpaper looked as if it had been there since the thirties. It was patterned with overblown tea roses that I saw faces in. The bathroom looked even older, with its rust-streaked basin. The bathtub stood on little bunched feet, poised to run.

The attic became my writing room. I scattered rag rugs and beanbags over the floorboards. The light poured in through two huge skylights and blasted the frozen shadows off my brain. Sometimes I’d be writing a poem and in mid-sentence I’d have to stop, as though someone had plucked the thoughts right out of my head.

It didn’t help that the house was full of noise–pipes clanging, stairs squeaking, floors groaning. The cat flap in the back door banged, even on windless days. I rang the landlord and asked him to get rid of it. I heard soldiers marching in one of the bedrooms, but when I went in, there was nothing to see, even though I could still hear them. And always the smell of wet mud, the sound of water dripping.

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Strange Science: The Voice of a Mummy

Scientists have recently determined what a mummy might have sounded like by 3-D printing a mummy’s vocal cords.

Though a single elongated vowel is not much of a conversation, the technology has been used previously to simulate the sound of speech for a mummified corpse found frozen in the Italian Alps. The latest subject is a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy.

You can read more about this here!

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More Demons and Creepy Critters

If this week’s story about demons has you wishing for more demons and other creepy critters, we’ve got you covered!

“Excerpts from the Audio Notes” by Jonathan Ficke (scientists working with demons) (available in MSJ Spring 2019)

“5 Ways to Prevent Dimensional Pests” by E. R. Zhang (help with extra-dimensional entities) (available in MSJ Summer 2017)

“A Study of the THING from Cobb’s Barn” by Ira Krik (studying an extra-dimensional entity) (available in MSJ Spring 2016)

“The Front Line” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (fighting otherworldly creatures) (available in MSJ Summer 2014)

“Dying is Easy” by Franco Raud (deals with demons) (available in MSJ Autumn 2013)


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Loads of Short Fiction from MSJ Alums!

It’s only the beginning of 2020, but MSJ alums have already had a number of short fiction out this year!

Jennifer R. Povey’s “The Men Who Go Under the Ground” is available at Curious Fictions.

The new anthology Witches, Warriors, and Wyverns contains stories from Dave D’Alessio, Ali Abbas, and co-editor Dawn Vogel.

The most recent issue of Eye to the Telescope includes poetry from S. Qiouyi Lu, Tais Teng, and Dawn Vogel.

Rhonda Eiskamp and Dawn Vogel have a story and a poem in issue 9 of Apparition Literary Magazine.

Lorraine Schein and Dawn Vogel have stories in issue 7 of Truancy Magazine.

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OpenSciEd for Science in Classrooms

For teachers looking to teach science in interesting ways, the resources have not always been available. With OpenSciEd, however, teachers have access to open source science education materials that focus on the fun parts of science rather than memorization.

The service is rolling out new content as time progresses, so not all grade levels or topics may be covered at present, but it’s worth checking out if you’ve got school-aged kids interested in science, and find the available resources not as robust or useful as they might be!

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Fiction: A Home for Wayward Demons

An essay by Star Posey, as provided by Megan Dorei
Art by Leigh Legler

These records are as much for my sanity as they are for posterity. It’s long past due for me to share my findings, and exterior circumstances have motivated me to do so.

There might be someone out there who remembers.


Nov. 1st

I arrive home around midnight to find Sarah waiting on the stairs. She is a deeper shadow than the rest, punctuated by neon orange eyes. I freeze. For a moment, I feel acutely judged. I stifle the urge to tell her that it’s perfectly acceptable for a twenty-five-year-old partial shut-in to go trick-or-treating. It’s practically therapy, at this point.

Instead, I simply say, “Howdy.”

Low, rattling suspicion hums from her chest, but she stays motionless. Guilt clogs my throat. She’s hungrier than I thought. I spread my arms apologetically before realizing that in my bed-sheet ghost costume, it’s merely a flaring of wings.

“You wanna try out some more options?”

Nothing about her posture indicates enough patience to undergo yet another investigation into her eating habits. Because she doesn’t speak (at least not a language I understand), I’ve spent hours trying and failing to puzzle out her nutritional needs.

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Strange Science: The Question for 42?

If you’re familiar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then you know that 42 is “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” But the computer that provides this answer can’t also provide the question.

Mathematicians, however, working on the question of “can each of the natural numbers below 100 be expressed as the sum of three cubes?” have finally found the numbers that fit into the equation resulting in the answer of 42, with the help of a supercomputer.

While other numbers were more easily calculated, 33 and 42 were the outliers. After 33 was solved, 42 was the only remaining natural number below 100 that had not been solved. Perhaps it’s just coincidence that Douglas Adams chose 42 as the ultimate answer, or perhaps he was aware of this problem. Either way, it’s nice to finally have A question for which the answer is 42 that is more complicated than “what’s six times nine?” (which is 54, not 42).

You can read more about this here!

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Hands-On Labs Wins Education Award

Hands-On Labs, a service that provides digital content and lab-grade materials kits, has been awarded the 2020 Education Innovation of the Year award in the international Cloud Computing Awards.

You can read more about this here!

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Awesome Finds: A Mendelian Genetics Game on Kickstarter

They’ve already reached their funding goal many times over, but fans of genetics might want to check out Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game currently funding on Kickstarter to get a copy of it! It’s a board game for 1-5 players involving dice drafting and worker placement in order to conduct experiments on pea genetics, much like Gregor Mendel did. It looks like a cool way for folks 14 and up to learn about genetics through a game!

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