You Do Not Know What Slipstream Is
by Lon Prater


You do not know what slipstream is, and so you ply the net, sifting through half-remembered conversations and fine discriminations, more Fisher King than Grail Knight.

One page glows about the curious unsettling effect slipstream is supposed to have upon the reader, and so, just to keep your head off-kilter, you begin to write on upside down pages, back to front in a spiral notebook from Dollar General.

"What are you doing?" your oldest daughter asks, and suddenly you're back in Chucky Cheese's realm amid the electronic noise and clamor of the young devoted crusading for more of Chucky's paper ticket manna. 

"A story," you say, hoping you have not lost the thread, fearing that it's gone forever.  You try to dive back into it, your pen a staccato flash of blue across the upside-down pages. 

But now she's interested.  "Who's it about?" she says, tongue darting out to clean tomato sauce from around her mouth. 

You put your hand to your receding hairline, laughing at how that could be one of the worst possible questions she could have asked right now.  "No one."

"No one!  How can a story be about no one?"

"I'm not sure," you say, because you aren't, or because the story is too far beneath the surface still to really explain.  Or (telling the truth now) because you hate to admit that the story is about yourself, and how you have no idea what slipstream is.

She slips out from her side of the plastic booth and curls around next to you, alert eight-year-old eyes squinting at your cursive title.  "You don't know what what is?" she asks.

"I can hardly explain it to myself," you tell her, hoping the answer will suffice to send her off to Whack-a-Mole, or whack her little sister, or whack some other cartoony thing too fresh and unjaded to be worrying over writing a story about not knowing what slipstream is while at the same time hoping that when it's done the story happens to be just that.

*     *     *

If you give up on the story and go insert tokens into the Skee-Ball machine, proceed to section 62.

If you try to finish the thing, to really capture it once and for all right here in Chucky Cheese's, proceed to section 101. 

*     *     *


You pour eighteen tokens into the machine, years of honing your skill at rolling balls up hills rewarded by a strip of tickets longer than you are tall.  Your kids add them to their bag, excited as only girls of eight and five can be. 

Trophies await them just beyond the guarded glassbound case, and they do not understand why you are so pensive, not when there are so many clearly definable prizes to pick from.  They choose some things they won't remember a week from now when their mother has snuck them all into the trash and the three of you go out into the night, the same number stamped on each of your hands in invisible ink. 


*     *     *


Not quite satisfied with that, you decide not to get up, to keep on tugging at the thread of the tale unraveling before you.  It's leading to something graspable.  But just barely. 

So you never really got up, never rolled the balls.  Just kept scribbling, scribbling into your upside down Dollar General notebook, smiling vacantly and nodding where you're supposed to as the girls interject their joy into your process.

The five-year-old: "Daddy, I found tickets already on a machine!"

The eight-year-old: "I beat the Pirate Ship!"

The five-year-old: "Daddy, look how many tickets!"

Still calling yourself a Fisher King, you dig one paw into a pocket and lo, there are more tokens.  Little bits of not-quite-metal made to look like coins, even minted with a date.  But they are not really coins, they are not tender outside of Chucky's border.  Maybe slipstream is like that, you muse.  The word just means something so long as some other rules apply.  You wonder what games the slipstream coin will let you play, what prizes you can win if only you trade in enough of the right kind of paper tickets.

Number One Daughter startles you, her face so close you can see where the lady didn't trim her bangs very evenly today.  "I just won forty tickets!" she exclaims.

*     *     * 

If you get up from the chair to high five her and go play at this point, you just might be able to pick this up at another time.  Proceed to section 89. 

*     *     *


You lied to yourself.  You didnít get up.  You just kept writing.  Someone once compared slipstream to the beautiful mortarwork between the cracks of genre.  But you did not care to think of genre as so many squares of red brick, did not see how the rough glue of a million marketers and masons could be worthwhile, not to mention elevating. 

"Bah," you said.  (But not out loud.) "Slipstream is simply what the pretentious and literary call work that wouldn't otherwise sell."  And for a long time after, your ego was grounded in being correct.

You read things labeled "interstitial," praised for their use of prose to create an experience in the reader--but not the same type of experience as magical realism would, because that's a more easily defined genre (just barely) and so it can't possibly be slipstream.  (Or can it be, sometimes?)  You try to winnow out what it is about these tales that makes them slipstream where very similar others do not earn the label.

You drive the kids home, flush with their million little victories over Chucky's games.  You wish you had maybe spent more time with them.  They're getting older so fast it scares you.  You promise yourself that next time you won't use the excuse of them being old enough finally to entertain themselves.  You'll give them your undivided attention.  You really mean it.  Other stories wonít be so hard, wonít swallow you up so completely.  You really do mean it.

*     *     *

In the car:

"So did you finish that story, Dad?" the eight-year-old asks.

"Yes," you say.  "Just barely."  If you had stayed much longer, your wife would have sent out a search party.  You picture it, a gang of khaki-clad explorers wearing monocles and jodhpurs and safari hats, crashing through Chucky Cheese's with a train of native porters in tow, only to find their quarry in a cramped plastic booth trying to write a story about himself coming to terms with slipstream as a mode of fiction.

"So what was it about?"

You laugh.

"I still donít know, honey."

"What was it called again?"

"You Do Not Know What Slipstream Is."

She wrinkles her face up behind you in the car.  It doesn't matter that it's dark even with the streetlights flashing past, nor does it matter that you donít actually have eyes in the back of your head (despite numerous claims to the contrary.)  And it most especially doesn't matter that you're really still in Chucky Cheese's writing about things that will never actually happen.  You know she'll wrinkle up her face because that's what you're doing right now and she's your real imaginary daughter, so that's what she'll do too.

"So what is it?" the younger one pipes up.  She's just now at the great age of articulate interrogation. Life will never be so simple again. 

You play dumb, hoping to buy time.  "What is what?"

"Spitstream," she says, and the older one chokes back a laugh.

"I'm not really sure, baby."

She screams the way she's taken to screaming out her laughter, her childish delight.

"What's so funny?" you ask, looking back into the rear view mirror, jerking up again as she slaps another stack of tickets onto the cramped little table among the paper clutter of a long-finished Fun Saver Meal.

"You are," she cackles.  "There's no such thing as Spitstream."

She's just turned five and you love to watch her laugh like that.  The eight-year-old is there too, her tokens spent and now she's anxious for her prizes.  She smiles at her little sister's flub.  "It's slip-stream," she tells her, sounding far too much like her mom. 

The little one gives her sister the look that means she knows better than to believe that.  "It's whatever I want it to be," she insists.

And you figure this is just as good of a place to stop as anywhere else.  You still donít know what slipstream is, but it's time to go turn in your tickets and get your prizes.  Your kids hope they will have enough to get something really cool from Chucky's stash.  You just hope that whatever you get will be remembered beyond next week. 

 *     *     * 

When you are ready, proceed to the next section.



About the Author:

Lon Prater still doesn't know what slipstream is, but he can sure show a skee-ball machine who's boss.  Find out more about his writing at


Story © 2006 Lon Prater.