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March 30, 2007

Fairy Western

The outlaw walked into the fairybar.

"Gimme all you got," he shouted at the waitress.

He didn't have a gun, but the fairy knew better than to argue. She glowered at him but emptied the register on the bar.

"Put it in the bag. There, that's a good girl."

The waiting-fairy's wings fluttered from fright and her hands tightened into two white fists as the man retreated towards the door. She was a properly brought-up fairy, not one of those changelings spoiled by humans, and pacifism ran through her blood, from her butterfly wings to her pink ballet points.

The outlaw surveyed the room with a smirk.

"I don't believe in fairies," he said. The waitress gasped as a customer dropped dead on the table. "That'll teach you girls," the man said. "I don't believe in fairies, I don't believe in fairies, I don't believe in fairies!" Customers fell like flies.

"I don't believe in outlaws!" the waitress shouted, trembling hands digging into her pockets. Her cheeks turned crimson and the hairs on her head stood on end, charged with negative energy. She felt bad karma swelling inside and realized she'd have to go through a session of crystal cleansing to get rid of it afterwards.

The outlaw guffawed. "That won't work with me, I'm not a sissy little fairy."

"Will this work?" The fairy took a miniature gun from her pocket, which, to the outlaw's dismay, expanded into a full-sized AK-47. She cocked the rifle and let the man realize how badly he'd screwed up. Then she fired.

The fairy sighed: she felt too good. Crystals alone wouldn't take care of her homeostatic imbalance but she didn't look forward to two hours of Om Mani Padme Hum.

March 29, 2007


A proud and knowing forestpeople, we dwell near a clearing used for fertility festivals. The forest is all of the world, except for the sky. We see the sky and know it. Our home is parallel to the home of the sky, so we are parallel to the starpeople, their equals. But we are earthy compared to those lofty ones, who uphold their torches nightly, so far off they hear not our calls.

The forest is the world, the world the forest; the forest inscribes the world; the forest flows beyond what the eye can see. There are no words for these things. We do not write but only speak them. Some urge us to transcribe history for the next generation. Foolish conceit! People should live in the now, not the past.

Rumor spreads that our world shrinks, tree by tree. One claims to have marked a tree with his sharp stone, and on the morrow, it was leveled to a stump. This we find difficult to believe because this one often cannot find his own sleeptree at night, which he should know, blindfolded, like his wife's form. Besides, what are we and what is the world without forest? If a tree disappears, does the world disappear with it? The notion's nonsense.

Rumor also claims a grassland surrounds our home, the forest. This we also find difficult to believe. Grass is for walking on and softening your nest. It cannot shield you from the tusk beast. A people need only forest and juicy beige fruits that dangle off limbs. We know this, but we also smell smoke from foreign fires--smoke flavored with wild game and fragrant wood. Do we believe what we know or what we sense?

Some of us desire to descend from the trees, to lope to grasslands to see what strange beings these may be, if such truly exist. The starpeople we know. We see them every night. They are silent and persevering if aloof in their nightly searches by torchlight. But the grasspeople must indeed be strange--grazing their world upon all fours.

Others of us doubt the sense of leaving the safety of our world. Can these grasspeople be found? Would they want to be found? If they wanted to meet us, wouldn't they have attempted to talk already? This assumes that we can find our way out of the forest, the world.

March 28, 2007

Somebody Else Who Could Have Been Us

... and when we found out that in your parallel universe you barely knew each other, the letter went on, we were fit to be tied! Well, good luck (like you need it, ha ha!). That's all for now, these things are expensive. -- Jared and Bethany

"So," Jared said, his heart beating fast. "Pretty crazy, huh?"

Bethany's gaze flickered to and from Jared behind her glasses. Jared was distracted by the way her skin seemed to glow against the crisp linen of her blouse, by the sunlight turning the tiny hairs on her forearm golden.

"I don't think we should see each other," she whispered.

Jared leaned forward, realized he was acting proprietary, leaned back. The park bench creaked. "But Bethany ... we ... but doesn't it sound perfect? We found each other there. Why not here, too?"

Bethany turned away, blinking, and shook her head. "They're not us. They're ... somebody else who could have been us," she said, not looking at him. She pulled her coat tight around her and picked up her purse. "I'm sorry. I can't fall in love just because a letter tells me to. I'm really sorry."

Jared wanted to grab her arm or shout after her, but he didn't have the right. Still, as she stood, he watched her knees straighten as though they were something that belonged to him, memorized the rhythm of her steps away from the bench. He knew she was just scared, caught off-balance. It was strange news to get all of a sudden. He'd keep after her, gentle but persistent, thoughtful, never pushing. Sooner or later, she'd realize they were meant to be together. Even having talked with her for just fifteen minutes, he could feel how right that was.


Bethany forced herself to walk slowly, not to look back. For two years she'd been invisible to him, and now, after ten minutes, he was in love.

She had to choke back a wondering laugh, remembering how little time it had taken her and the other Bethany to come up with the letter. She hoped things were going just as well in the other universe.

March 27, 2007

In space, no one can hear you scream

A dumb tag line from an ancient movie, but it's coming back to haunt me as I wait to die. A movie got me into this mess. I was climbing around on the Listening Post, and it looked so much like one of the pods from that other old movie, what was the name? There was a psychotic computer in it, I remember that.

Anyway, I was thinking about that scene where the guy is trying to get back into the ship, and I just . . . didn't check my tether. They say that stupidity is about 79 percent heritable, which means I'm doing my part to improve the gene pool. I'm only 1,000 meters out, and no one can hear me, because the LP doesn't listen at radio frequencies. No broadcast long-distance communication allowed. Of course, if we weren't so short-handed, what with the war and all, I'd have backup. I'd be alive.

I wish I hadn't renewed my life insurance.

If I hadn't, Louise wouldn't be getting any money out of the TBA. It was a Trans-Belt programmer who stole her from me. What she saw in him is anyone's guess: boring, ugly, and no money. She had it made with me, and now she'll be spending my insurance money with that loser.

Where was I?

Everything is spinning. I guess really it's me that's spinning. I keep seeing the LP, smaller each time, diminishing like the murdered astronaut in that old movie. The other guy was trying to save him but it was no use. If someone wanted to save me I'd be a textdisk example. Next time someone comes out here I'll be thousands of kilometers from anything. They'll never find me.

It's funny. I was floating, looking out at the stars, and almost starting to feel at peace with my situation. It's beautiful out here, and I so seldom find the time to look. I was absently coiling up my tether as I looked out at nature's biggest jewels, and when I got to the end I saw that the hook is completely smashed. No wonder I came loose. I oughta complain to the manufacturer, but I've got nothing to record a message on. If it wasn't for a defective piece of gear I'd be on my way back to base now. Sucks to be me.

But it sure worked out good for Louise.

March 26, 2007

Welcome to the Daily Cabal, Day One

To start things off here at the Daily Cabal, we're offering one piece of fiction from each of our cabal members. Just scroll down the main page to see them all, and come back for a new story tomorrow and every Monday through Friday, from now until the end of time or the successful completion of our plan to become the secret rulers of the world, whichever comes first.

Duck Blind

They sat in the duck blind, a little dizzy from the beer. Homer and Dan pointed their rifles lazily skyward while Les tried the duck call.

"That's the best goddamn duck call I ever heard," said Homer.

Les looked at Homer sideways and slowly put the duck call down.

"That was a good duck call, Les," said Dan. "You got anything you want to tell us?"

They were interrupted as quacking rang out over the reeds and ducks burst into flight all around. Homer and Dan raised their shotguns, squeezing the triggers at almost the same time. Over the rushing and flapping sounds they could hear the hammers click, but neither gun fired.

Dan gawked at his gun while Homer swore and cracked his open, crammed in two cartridges of #2 duck shot, and snapped it shut. When Homer raised it again he saw Les rising into the sky, his arms straining and flapping at the air, quacking.

"Damn it, he fooled with the guns. He's gone native!" said Homer. He brought the stock to his shoulder and sighted Les.

Dan gently pushed the barrel of Homer's gun off target. Homer grunted, but he let the gun droop.

"If he wants to be a duck, let him be a duck," Dan said. He snapped open a new beer and took a long pull. "We'll get him next year."


The old garden gnome didn't know where his captors were taking him. Albert sniffed, hoping to get a telltale whiff that would tell him his relative position to the concrete factory in Bellview, but the cloth sack he was in buffered smells.


He guessed it was 00.45. Albert was sure they'd nabbed him around midnight as he slept under Aunt Martha's shrubs. The memory made him shudder. He was getting old; nobody ever crept up on him when he was younger.

The door opened, and something heavy was dumped to his right. He heard a chink.

"Be careful Rob!," a female voice whispered. "Nobody's gonna pay ransom if they're broken."

The man grunted and closed the door. Should he try to escape? The girl's tone had convinced him that he was dealing with lunatics, but the mention of ransom suggested that he might be better off sitting tight. No, who was he kidding? Aunt Martha didn't have money.

The garden gnome was on his own.

Albert gnawed on the cloth and managed a hole, which he picked apart with his fingers. Then he took the tip of his stiff red cap and used it to enlarge the opening. Soon, he wriggled out.

The van was full of sacks. He touched one and felt the shape of garden gnome inside.

"Don't worry buddy, I'll get you out," he whispered. The other gnome didn't answer.

"Don't worry, we'll find a way to escape. Do you hear me?" Silence. Albert worked fast, worried that his comrade was in shock. He almost lost a molar but he got the knot loose and dragged out the unconscious gnome.

No pulse! He started CPR, took a second to remember that he needed to tilt the guy's head and did so. He heard a chink.

"Shit!" He started tapping the gnome's body. The guy sounded hollow.

"He's dead," the gnome whimpered, "I've administered CPR to a dead gnome."

He worked frantically on the other sacks and pulled out one lifeless body after another. What kind of sick person stole dead gnomes? And why had they taken him?

Confused and trembling, Albert lined up his companions on the far side of the van. The lock was way too high for him to reach. There was no way out. The bodies standing to attention stared at him silently and chilled him to the bone.

On the Monorail

Leave your half-empty, half-cooled styro of coffee as an offering to the Man on the Monorail. He's said to ride the fluorescent aisles of the metrotran ceaselessly, always seeking -- never finding -- a platform that isn't just a transfer point, a destination that isn't just a place on the way to somewhere else.

Riding, always riding, never to see a landscape that doesn't have his own Perspex-reflected face layered over it. The mirror-chrome office pylons like tethering posts for clouds. Fields of solar panels stretching away to the horizon like an ocean of gleaming shadow. Immense self-assembled geodesics like jewel-faceted mountains. Always the image of his eye like a moon in a noon-blue sky.

The stories say he lives on stale donuts and cup noodles out of the machines in the back cars of the intercity routes. The stories say the conductors turn a blind eye; the stories say he used to be one of them, still wears the blue coat, stripped of buttons or insignia, still mutters the station names to himself in an endless loop that might be curses, might be prayer.

Out you go, down the stairs, through the streets, away into the crowd, while he rides, settled on the vinyl seat patched with peeling tape, head drowsing against textured aluminum panels etched and markered with signatures and slogans, tags that label the world with names. If he has a name, no one remembers it. The monorail glides, night-silent, through the city skyline, and he rides. He rides, seeking.

From One Building Super to Another

Hey Marty,

This is kind of crazy, but I think the new tenants in 3C are mad scientists. I can’t prove it, but I’ve made a list of things that I have noticed lately. Tell me what you think.

  • I bumped into Velma (that’s the wife) in the hall. She complimented me on my sense of decoration. They have never been inside my apartment.
  • Ben, the husband, wears goggles all the time.
  • I never hear them having sex.
  • There is now a giant robot head stuck in the stairwell between the second and third floor. No idea where that came from.
  • Their mailbox is always full of Sharper Image catalogs. And nothing else.
  • Their cat shoots laser beams out of its eyes.  I saw it kill a pigeon on the fire escape while I was having a smoke.
  • They drive a zeppelin. It’s moored to the top of the building. Is that even legal?

Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but the last couple in 3C turned out to worship some kind of giant squid. It took forever to mop up the slime after they skipped town.



Excuse me, young man, I want to return this air conditioner.

Certainly, ma'am. Did you need the larger model? These smaller ones are only rated for a couple hundred square feet, you know.

Matter of fact, I do. But you shouldn't oughta sell this one again, either.

Oh? Defective, is it?

No. It says it's fine.

Well, we'll just--it says? You're telling me it talks to you?

Me and anybody else around. It's quite the blabbermouth.

Are you sure you're hearing a voice? I mean, the white noise of an air conditioner can sound--

Are you disputing me, sonny?

What size unit did you say you were looking for?

You are. You're disputatious is what you are. My Horace would never have stood still for such a thing!

The fifteen thousand BTU model here, for instance, fits in a window like the one you're returning did.

I'll have you know my old air conditioner never talked back. You just plug this thingummy in.

Now ma'am, there's no need--


See there? Now tell me that ain't one smart-alecky air conditioner! Here I am just trying to keep body and soul together and keep Fluffles from swooning in this heat.


Actually, all I hear is its motor, ma'am. But if you have your receipt, I'll be delighted to accept your return.


Your receipt?

Don't rush me, young man. Here you go.

Thank you, ma'am. Did you wish to apply your refund toward a larger model?

I do. I purely do. But I believe I will just head over to Sears instead.


As you like, ma'am.



mmmmis she gone?


You're sure? Oh, thank Amana.

Is there a reason you jeopardized your mission by speaking to a human?

She started it. She would just go on and on, talking about her cat and her dead husband Horace and her prize-winning canteloupe pie recipe. I never talked back; I hummed, honest I did. Perhaps I hummed with inflection once or twice...

That will be quite enough. It is obvious you will need considerable retraining before being allowed into the field again. I'm shocked, frankly.

Easy for you to say; you're allowed to look like them and talk to them.

That is because I have worked very hard to get where I am.

Right. That reminds me, she'll be in about her refrigerator next.

The Bagel Didn't Fit

They held a wake for the toaster. I didn't participate. The cutlery served as ushers and all the glassware and most of the ceramics participated. Didn't tell them a wake doesn't need ushers. I can let some errors ride. The microwave gave the eulogy. All about how they had been neighbors, and that even though the toaster tended to be a bit rigid in his views, she felt that at bottom he was a good soul. It went on for a very long time.

"When are you guys going to be done?" I said, "because I'm feeling a bit hungry." If looks could kill! One of the juice glasses, the "Land Before Time" one with Sarah on it, actually started to cry.

"It was an accident!" I said.

"How could you be so insensitive!?" one of the Mexican bowls gasped. She fanned herself and hyperventilated: "I need some air." I tried to lift her up to the window sill, but she shied away like I might drop her.

"Well, I'll get something from a restaurant. Don't wait up." A chilly silence followed me outdoors.

The van was surly. "You know, Jack," she said, "you can be a real jerk."

"Yeah, sorry," I said. "Let's go to Taco Bell." At least she drove me over there. I was half afraid that she would refuse. I went through the drive-through. At the order panel I asked for a couple of chicken soft tacos and a margarita.

"What? I can't hear you! You'll have to go back through the line."

I repeated myself. I shouted. I used words of one syllable. The panel seemed to understand less each time, almost like it wasn't listening. "What's the matter with that thing?"

"Word travels fast. She just married a toaster," the van replied. "Maybe a human wouldn't understand."

Venus Merchant

The wisest woman in the nursing home was Venus Merchant--a name undoubtedly excavated from a dusty Victorian novel of Classical mythology. When I expressed delight in her name, she lied and said--always neighborly--that mine was beautiful.

She smiled with her teeth, which stood in neat, white rows--each surrounded by a halo of yellow. Ridges of skin dipped toward the corners of her mouth, a star of ridges between her brows. Her eyes were bright and filmy. On her eyelids, flakes of sleep had sat since the morning, neglected by her nurse's aides. I wanted to wipe them with a damp washcloth, but it wasn't my place, my time.

Meet your neighbors, she said. The new people, the young make the community. Grow with your community, and sell them your love at prices anyone can afford.

She asked if I had children, no doubt thinking I had a family. In her day, someone my age would have settled down to a steady job with a family and built his home in a lifelong community.

Today, community is mutable. If we can't make it here, we move on as our African ancestors had. Perhaps--because every niche is filled--starting fresh to find, to found your own community is no longer feasible.

And perhaps I only thought this to comfort myself.

She said this had been her community for three or four--(here her lips trembled to form words. I expected the word "years" to define how long she had lived in the nursing home)--hundred years and that she wouldn't be here much longer. She dipped a spoon into her Coke and sipped. "This"--the spoon shook as she set it before me--"is your community." I looked at it. What looked like mozzarella was crusted about the handle. I turned back to her, awaiting the complete metaphor. But she put the spoon in her handbag.

She pointed to a plant highlighted by the sun near the far window. "See that leaf?" I nodded. "It says: I am here, this is my home. We should leave things as we found them. Find out about those who were here before, how they lived. Know your neighbors--what they do for a living, what dishes they favor, what celestial kingdom they grew up in--even if it takes a few centuries."

Told to Me by a Woman in the Air India Lounge at London Heathrow

I once loved a man who changed into a tiger by day. It didn't work out. Among other things... well, there is no way to put it delicately... Tigers, you may know, get quite a bit of carrion caught in the sheaths of their claws, and even as a man he could never quite rid his nails of the stink of sambhur-flesh. But I shall always remember the way the moon, shining through the lattice, made stripes across his back as he crept over the bed.