Allison V. Smith

Sînziana Păltineanu

Intention of transgression – everyday. 

Last night I had fish for dinner and nightmares all night. I tossed and turned, dreaming of the devil’s fingers that reportedly had started growing in the forest nearby. As soon as I managed to pull myself out of these nocturnal ordeals, I hastily opened The Encyclopedia of Fungi I had inherited from my great-grandmother to reassure myself that the devil’s fingers were not going to find a favorable habitat in our region. But the concluding paragraph in the encyclopedia entry left it open for this mushroom with red tentacles to continue sprouting in my brain, spreading its smell of rotting flesh. I accepted that the surroundings might be favorable after all and I decided very quickly that I wasn’t going to search for the devil’s fingers. Instead, with an unanticipated satisfaction I scribbled in my notebook something about the riddle of the fish, the fungus and the night. As soon as the spores of the night dispersed, I began concocting a plan. I was going to seek the companionship of a protective object for the following night. 



Layers of toxicity.

By now there is little doubt that I had mistakenly taken the nocturnal recurrence of the devil’s fingers for a nefarious manifestation. The fungus meant no harm and it announced itself in the forest nearby without delay. Before long I began observing the spores’ geographical distribution in the area and so I came to understand the fungus spreading as witnessing body on an infested terrain. It opened its red tentacles to flag places with high levels of toxins.

How could it be that for a very long time I couldn’t tell what injured plants looked like? I also couldn’t see the layers of exposure with my own eyes. Yet I must have sensed them and feared them. 

As I feared the metal mouths for some time.



Burnt sky. 

It happened once that a metal mouth bit my face and carved out a good portion of my left cheek. As I ran desperately to the forest, I could feel the wind and the cold get inside my mouth through the hole in my wounded cheek. 

I wish proof of what happened to me mattered. 

I healed.

Slowly, I learned how to recognize metal mouths. I also discovered that vomit had an incapacitating effect upon them. 

§ Remember to craft devices that translate frequencies.
§ Remember to water the plants and to feed the birds. 



Boiling whispers.

I’ve been distinctly hearing them in areas that the devil’s fingers relocate to. An agitated rhythm that bubbles, bubbles, and bursts. As the fungi mature, the whispers, too, grow in intensity until the whole surrounding area appears to be quietly boiling. Yet it all remains an acute auditive perception unsupported by any visible proof, such as the presence of hot liquids. Regardless of outdoor temperatures, the initially discreet bubble-bubble-burst intonation picks up over days and nights until it manifests itself as an unsettling, eruptive soundscape no louder than a collective whispering. So far I’ve counted sixteen instances and not once was I able to record them (none of the devices I used were able to capture it). 



Velocity now, future and past muted. 

intermittent car lights – wet pavement – fast forward – reflections of rubber shoes and pharmacy lights  – a fusion of mud and flesh – nights of no particular consistency or texture – what used to be grass is now rubber green – surfaces exfoliate – dissolution to the smallest named unit




Rewind the dynamic movement through the toxic landscape and my head begins to spin: the repetitive and indefinite search for the witnessing bodies, their bright red fingers springing out of the violet earth, all around the dangerous collective whispers afloat. 

an intensifying murmur – 
and the tension in my stomach breaks aloud into a refusal

Inverted contents. My stomach has turned itself upside down. 



Disruptions multiplied.

And motion prompts motion prompts thousands of ants to resume activities across cracks – wings of creamy beige and blue fly over exhausted branches and the ants’ busiest paths – time  

the aura of a blind cat



Allison V. Smith

Between graduating from SMU until turning her attention to full-time freelance and fine art photography, Allison worked at seven newspapers. Her photos continue to be published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian, and her work is in the permanent collection at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Allison is represented by the Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas, the Hiram Butler Gallery in Houston, and the On Center Gallery in Provincetown, MA. Find more of her work here.

Sînziana Păltineanu

Sînziana Păltineanu is an experimental fiction writer and researcher based in Berlin and working at the crossings of fiction- and history writing, queer feminism and librarianship. As an exophonic writer, Sînziana seeks to craft a deviant use of the English language. Currently, they are at work on a short story cycle.