From the author: The new saleswoman set up in the park. Her kiosk built itself from the new brand of metamorphic foil she was selling, and it had more foil hovering above its front to make shade. I went with a group of kids after school when she first set up, and she ran through her spiel even though she had to know we didn’t have money. Hoping for word of mouth, I guess.
The new saleswoman set up in the park. Her kiosk built itself from the new brand of metamorphic foil she was selling, and it had more foil hovering above its front to make shade. I went with a group of kids after school when she first set up, and she ran through her spiel even though she had to know we didn’t have money. Hoping for word of mouth, I guess.
She passed out one-inch samples, which felt like thin, slippery plastic and looked like aluminum. When she began a new operation on her watch, all of our squares folded themselves into tiny silver cranes, which flew off our hands, settled back, and unfolded again. There were oohs and aahs, then groans when she said they wouldn’t do anything without the watch. We put the samples in our pockets.
“The most obvious use is anything you might need a screen for — movies, for example, or use it as a wall or a fence.” She stood out away from the kiosk and messed with controls on her watch. The piece of foil, which was about three by four feet, hung in midair like a TV screen, then stood close to the ground like a fence.
“It is fully chameleonic,” she said. With that, the texture turned from crinkled space blanket to dry gray wooden boards.
We weren’t too impressed. Being kids and all, we didn’t see much need for fences.
“For the TV screen, would you have to project on it some way?” a kid said.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, and she put it back in the air and started playing a cartoon of a red bird. The picture was bright and clear even in the daylight. That did wow some of the kids.
She touched her watch and the foil folded up into a tight package maybe two inches square, which she plucked out of the air and tucked into her shorts pocket. She stepped back into the kiosk and brought out a much larger package. This one looked to weigh ten pounds, the way she was holding it.
“A serious investment, this is what we call the full sheet.” She tossed it into the air and it unfolded itself far above our heads, above the wispy trees. It was maybe a quarter the size of a football field.
“Many more possibilities here,” she said. The foil began to fold itself into the shape of a simple house, just a roof and four walls. It turned in the air so we could see all its angles, then unfolded and refolded into a smaller, more complicated design that had little rooms sticking out the sides and a lot of angles to the roof.
“Let’s go out to this clear space,” she said, and we all walked out to where there were no trees overhead. The house began to lower. She helped one of the kids come closer to the rest of us, and the house came down tight to the grass. It was dark inside, but then the walls began to glow with all the intensity of a movie screen. The walls were brick — no, they were shiny tile now, some sort of seashell.
“Abalone,” said a little girl. “My favorite color.”
Windows appeared, and through them we saw tall mountains and trees on all sides. The other kids were gasping, running from window to window. The scene outside changed to palm trees and a white beach. The windows changed to red and blue and green pieced glass. I just stood at the center. I must have sighed because the saleswoman came close to me.
“Not impressed?” she said. I noticed how tinny her voice was. It had an echo or something. And the inside of her mouth was silver.
“It’s just, the floor is still grass,” I said.
“We could go get another piece and make the floor.”
“Sure, that would be cool.”
“There is one thing more to show,” she said when the house had risen up and unfolded and retucked itself into a tidy bundle.
“What?” said the little girl who’d been so impressed with the abalone.
“You’ll never guess,” said the saleswoman.
I might guess, I thought. I kept my eye on the watch she set on the grass beside her foot. She began the slow process of unfolding then, first the legs and then the torso, arms, and finally the head. Everything that hadn’t been showing stayed silver so that the foil, when she unfolded, was a horrifying crumpled mass of shattered glass, part of an eye on one shard of it and a part of a mouth far below, shards of green shorts and shards of leg skin, and so on. It reminded me of an especially ugly tie-dye.
The abalone girl was crying, whining, “Put it back.”
A few adults had come in from the edges of the park. They grinned as the sheet rose high into the air where it had room to finish pulling taut. All of the bits of flesh and clothing color faded, leaving a silver reflection of us filling our sky. If the full sheet weighed ten pounds, this had to weigh a hundred or a hundred and fifty.
I took up the watch then and saw that it still had a list of operations to run. No doubt it would make her fold up again. Eventually, she’d put the watch back on and try to make some sales.
It was easy to see how to end the programs, just hit backspace again and again.
The sheet dropped, draped over treetops. The little kids were screaming and sniveling in the dark, the rest of us laughing as we found our way to the edges. I heard some older kids went back to loot the kiosk later. Me, I thought about keeping the watch, but I ended up just tossing it in the little duckpond at the edge of the park on my way home.
This story originally appeared in The Arcanist, The Arcanist: Year One, and Sins and Other Worlds.