SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page

Determining the Gull Bone Index

Story by James R. Gapinski (Read author interview) February 15, 2016

Art by Paul Bilger

We’ve been freefalling for months according to Becky’s day planner. An expanse of mountainous crags stretches beneath us, endless and unmoving. Perspective lines do not shift. Daniel insists we move closer to the ground each day—he has developed a method of squinting and measuring distances with his fingers.

The rush of constant velocity had been nauseating at first, but Becky and Daniel adapted within days. I still vomit some mornings. I dream about falling, and I wake just before I hit the ground, but then I’m still falling in real life, and it’s a giant mindfuck of contradictory sensations. I’m weightless and seemingly motionless, but I know there’s violent gravity at work. The laws of attraction—that’s what Becky’s textbook calls it. We take turns reading to pass the time; her backpack contents are the only sources of amusement we have.

We spend the morning riding jet streams away from our waste and my occasional vomit, which falls next to us at a constant speed. Becky’s textbook talks about a hammer and feather and how they’d each fall at the same rate in a vacuum.

We spend the afternoon trapping birds. A flock approaches and we ready our small net, stitched together from socks, shoelaces, and whatever clothing could be spared. We catch a gull. Becky plucks the feathers and stuffs them in her purse; she has trouble sleeping without a pillow and almost has enough feathers for a facsimile. I worry that the purse-pillow will drift away in the middle of the night.

Daniel cleans a bone and says that he’s fine-tuning a new method for measuring our descent. He holds the bone in front of his eye and does that same tired squint. He maps approaching cloud formations. I’ve never seen him interested in the clouds before—maybe the unchanging ground has gotten boring. “Eight-hundred-nineteen-point-two gull bone indexed latitude,” he says as if that means anything.

Becky spies a shattered piece of airplane fuselage falling in the distance. She tells me how her niece builds model planes. She says it’s her niece’s birthday tomorrow, double-checking her day planner to be certain. I say we should celebrate. She agrees. We rummage through Becky’s backpack of goodies and find some old receipts. We tear off little nubs of paper and toss them like confetti. The papery snow hovers all around us. We approach Daniel’s eight-hundred-nineteen-point-two cloud. It rises like a fluffy continent beneath us.

We enter the cloud, and in the zero-visibility haze, we frantically shout “Marco” and “Polo” to each other, desperate and hopeful and terrified between each call-and-response.


Notes from Guest Reader Chase Burke

This is a fantastic, weird, impossible little story that does not care about the laws of reality. I love it.

About the Author

James R. Gapinski is managing editor of The Conium Review. His fiction has appeared Juked, Word Riot, NANO Fiction, Cheap Pop, Lunch Ticket, and elsewhere. James lives with his partner in Portland, Oregon.

About the Artist

Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-One

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

SmokeLong Fitness--The Community Workshop

Book Now!

Included in the price of SmokeLong Fitness:

The Community Workshop in small groups
One live Zoom webinar each month with killer workshop leaders (recorded for participants unable to attend).
One open-mic party each month (or other live Zoom events)
Discounts on intensive workshops
Discounts on senior editor feedback
Surprises (good ones)