« May 2007 | Main | July 2007 »

June 29, 2007

Status Quo

I can do this, Marcus thought; I can play him along forever. He sat on the couch with the angel who was in charge of commissioning the stained-glass windows in the Cathedral. The angel called himself Uriel. Whether he really was the angel of Repentance or not, wasn't the issue. This being had the power to keep Marcus alive as long as he needed him to paint.

Marcus would pull a stunt like Penelope, and drag his work throughout his life.

"I know what you're doing," said the angel.

"What?" Marcus was pudgy and did not look particularly intelligent. This trick usually worked.

"Cut it out, I know what you're thinking." The angel spread its wings and Marcus winced at the sight of those dirty feathers on his cream sofa. He would have thought that an angel would use his powers to keep his wings clean, but this one seemed to think the bohemian look suited him. "If you think this can go on forever," Uriel continued, "You're an idiot. Finish the windows and get out of this cesspool. Heaven is much nicer."

Marcus didn't want to go to heaven, not yet. He had been dying a few years back of hereditary kidney failure. Then this being had appeared, claiming to be an angel and offering him the commission to paint the stained-glass windows in the Cathedral, the bishop's new pet project. He'd said yes, and suddenly, there was a kidney for him and he'd been transplanted. Freed from dialysis he'd thrown himself into the job, designing the intricate patterns that would move the faithful to awe, experimenting with lead alloys that made the windows light and airy, as if an angel held them up, as if they weren't made of glass after all, but of breath or air.

When his body started to reject the kidney, he'd devised a plan. Work slow and, if necessary, destroy the panes. It hurt, but if it came down to his art or his life, the choice was made.

"I know what you're doing," repeated the angel.

"Do you know how to stop me?" asked Marcus.

"No," said the angel.

"Then it's settled," said Marcus.

The angel sighed. "Oh well, what are a few years to me?"

"They are everything to me," said Marcus.

June 28, 2007

It Was the Wurst of Times

Carstairs risked a look over his shoulder. The pack was now only a few yards behind him. He put his head down and sprinted. If he could just make it to the car he might get out of this alive. A pine cone went flying and he landed heavily on his side. Some ribs felt broken. "Oh God," he moaned, covering his face with his free hand. Then they were upon him.


Sgt Freiday flipped the notebook shut. "Nothing more to see here," he remarked, motioning to the two patrolmen to load the corpse into the back of the van. He turned to find himself nose to nose with Smalchick Chomosh, the private detective. He sighed. "What is it this time, Mr. Chomosh?"

Chomosh stared at him expressionlessly for a moment, then pointed with his cane at a small white fleck on the path. "What do you make of that?" he asked.

Freiday squinted. "It's a piece of bread. Left over from a picnic." He looked back at Chomosh in irritation.

Chomosh pursed his lips. "It is a fragment of a bun," he said, "a Sunbeam hot dog bun, to be precise."


Three days later, Freiday still had no theory. In desperation, he visited the Sunbeam factory. When he arrived the place seemed deserted. He prowled around, then climbed the fence. He was in old man Sunbeam's office when he heard the baying. He went outside and cocked his head to listen. There it was again. Louder. He walked to the fence and climbed back over. The sound had seemed to come from somewhere out here. As he approached his cruiser he saw some small pale objects in the grass. They moved back and forth restlessly, growling. The light was dim, but they looked like ... hot dogs! He reached in his pocket for his keys, but found only a hole in the bottom of the pocket. The baying came again, and the hot dogs surged forwards. He ran back towards the fence, but he never made it.


"I have solved the case," Chomosh announced. "The murders were committed by a pack of wild dogs." He unveiled one of his famous who-done-it paintings with a flourish. Sgt. Freidey was shown sprawled on his back. A vicious weiner worried his throat; another had its snout buried in his belly.

The mayor snorted. "Ridiculous! I never sausage nonsense!"

June 27, 2007

Sects with a Goat

"We believe," the man with the missing hand said, "that when the Fragments of God settle each day, one can sometimes be coaxed to settle in a goat. When our priest--that's me--determines that this has happened, we put the goat in the shrine and bring sick and unfortunate people to it so they can bask in its divinity. Then we roast and eat the goat, and the Fragment passes through each of us."

"Well, we don't believe that at all," I said. "You people are crazy."

The priest shrugged. "You think we're crazy, but we spend more time with God than you, so we think you people don't understand God like we do. That's why you keep having accidents."

"We keep having accidents because we've been driven into the mountains by the River People and it's easy to fall down in the mountains when you were raised on farmland. Your people keep having accidents, too. Why is your hand missing?"

"I stole a goat years ago, and the River People cut my hand off."

"Because the goat had a Fragment of God in it?"

"No, because I was hungry."

"And your people made you a priest?"

He shrugged again. "God said it was OK. Would you like a piece of goat?"

I looked at the piece of goat. It was just a dried strip, not very appetizing, but I'd lost my bread on the mountainside on the way to the village, and I hadn't eaten anything since dawn. I took the meat.

"Does it have a Fragment of God in it?"

The priest smiled.

I tore off a bite with my teeth and chewed slowly. Then I noticed that the priest seemed to have two hands now. With the one that had been missing, he gave me a thumbs up.

June 26, 2007

Quality of Life

I hope you haven't been waiting long. We don't get many visitors. I'm Edwin Rogers, the Principal here.

Through there is the Baby Room, with the creches and the Mama Bear machines that look after the babies until they can walk and talk. This is one of the largest facilities in the country; we have nearly a hundred babies. What's that? Well, sure they go outside. The Mama Bears take them on walks and to EduGov-approved events. It's important they get the mandated amount of mental stimulation.

Over here is the Kid Room, where they live until puberty. Sure, they're in VR about two-thirds of the time, but each one gets a tailored childhood. See that one? He's getting the Hardy Boys treatment, solving mysteries and having hair-breadth escapes. Very exciting. And her? Little House on the Prairie. Pinafores and raising crops. Very popular with the regens these days.

Back here is the Youth Room. Yes, they're on VR more of the time, simulated dances and extreme sports and shopping encounters and sex. That kind of thing. Impressing experiences on young minds in real time just seems to make them more real.

May I ask--? Is this going to be your first regen? Ah, I thought so. We so seldom get anybody older through here. Don't worry, when you visit the regen center and get a new body, you'll be able to custom-order the childhood memories you want, matured twenty years in one of these bodies. And it's not theft, if that's what's bothering you. They'll still have the memories, we'll just impress their experiences on the brain of your regen.

"Have the childhood of your dreams," that's our motto.

June 25, 2007

The Rise and Fall of Minor Fiefdoms

Thief Bowlsalot's girlfriend dragged him to the artsy-fart reading at the Thebes gallery. He couldn't even wear jeans. It was for some fancy-schmancy writer lady who won the Bigwad award, and his girlfriend had read him the Bigwad o' crap and he'd wanted to say, "So what?" but said, "Oh, baby, that was great." The things he put up with to get down a girl's pants. Only she thought he liked novels that rich heiresses wrote--those who never dirtied a fingernail except as snot-nosed brats slumming it with her girls at the Everyman's Mall.

Ms. Bigwad wore a pink feather boa and was trailed by a ham-handed, bodyguarding knot-head, who looked like he was itching to pound any one of these balding scrawny sycophants, and by a waiter with a tray of black goo on crackers, which Thief found more lively than anything else in the gallery.

Ms. Bigwad read. Nothing happened to the characters, so they never had to deal with anything: no air raids, no gun-toting fourth graders, no fistfights after a night of booze and schlepping through the streets with some other guy's girl. They never disobeyed signs: no fishing, no hunting, no shoes, no shirt, no service. Just a dentist who collects famous photographs and trades them with friends who blow their never-ending wad at Macy's and not at the hooker's or on a line of blow, and the characters blab, blab, blab about zip--enough to make you gouge your ears out. Somebody gets a brain aneurysm, but fuck talking about that--too interesting. Who cares about death? What did Ms. Bigwad know of ticking time bombs ready to explode in her head? Thief's granny died of one. That meant something--to the family at least: an inheritance of quilts, several dozen balls of yarn, and thirteen feral cats.

Thief tried not to snore as the writer lady droned in a voice parched as the Sahara. Thief's girlfriend elbowed him awake before he'd been ready to, so he left the reading. No chick's pants were worth that much.

The rich lady's lousy limo was blocking the alley when Thief went to kick start his motorbike. A steel bar with a large knob concrete at one end got Thief to thinking: He'd give the poor lady something to write about.

With the first stroke of luck he'd had all evening, he found a diamond as big as the Ritz on the back seat.

June 22, 2007

From a bartender in the East Village

I used to live under the ocean. I was there for about a week. The rent's okay, the girls are cute even if they have fins, but there's no coffee. I had gotten into that poem by T. S. Eliot, you know, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." So I moved. But it's not all it's cracked up to be. The thing about lobsters and other ragged claw types is, they're not very intellectual. You're better off talking to the starfish.

June 21, 2007

Till Death Do Us Part

I need to get back to Tabletop Mountain in time to stop the wedding.

The problem is, my airship is flying lower and lower, slower and slower. The cucumber is almost exhausted. There's nothing left in the bin but a few yellow spheroids the size of golf balls, and lemon cukes just don't pack the oomph of the phallic green ones. I burned the last of the bell peppers this morning, and the lone remaining radish is shriveled and dry. Before noon I'll be stoking the furnace with nothing but onions, and do you know what they do to an engine!? I'll have to get an entirely new carburetor. Besides, I barely have enough of those to get me to the border. I call my brother.

"I told you. I have to stop the wedding. Elise can't marry the Varsuvian-B ambassador. That's where I've been."

"I'm telling you! I visited Varsuvius on the B line. I was suspicious. I admit that was mostly because I wanted Elise for myself. You know how I feel about her. But this is much bigger than me -- the B Varsuvians aren't like the ones we've met on the A line."

"Here, they're almost like normal people. They live in clusters, raise their offspring communally (the ones that survive the nursery), even trade body parts with us (where that's permitted}. My point is they get along. On the B line they harvest humans for 'living' art displays. If you can call it living to have your face and cerebellum grafted to a mobile made from recycled appliances, a feature of half time entertainment at Venter matches! I don't think of that just off the top of my head when people start talking about 'the good life'. I was lucky to get out with my spleen intact!"

"There's nothing here. It's a temperate deciduous forest. This is early summer, and there is no fruit to be had. I can't run this thing on bark, leaves, and twigs!"

I'm thinking about parts of Elise decorating private ballrooms on the B plane.

"Yeah, seriously, you know how hard this is for me to say, especially to you. I love her. Satisfied? Now, would you come get me? I owe you one bro."

"Okay! I owe you two. Just follow my signal. Please?"

June 20, 2007

We Are Siamese If You Don't Please

"Ooooh prettty," the leprechaun sighed. The garden gnome hushed him
and reasserted his grip on the leprechaun's arm. The bar was noisy,
there was a chance Pandora hadn't heard but if the other one kept this
up someone was bound to notice.

The tie of invisibility was knotted around both their necks. As long
as they stayed bound together nobody could see them. Albert felt like
the smart sibling of a pair of Siamese twins, being dragged around by the
leprechaun. It had been the leprechaun's idea to come to the bar to
stare up girls' minis and the gnome had agreed thanks to a few glasses
of whisky. Besides, there had to be some advantage to being a
foot tall.

Albert was terrified of being caught. It wasn't like him to go off on
some undignified panty quest and the leprechaun gave new meaning to
the term ADHD. Disaster was imminent and the gnome wished he were
outta here, preferably with his reputation intact.

"Preeety." The leprechaun looked blatantly up Pandora's legs. The girl
took a step back and stared at the floor in their general direction.
For a second, Albert wondered whether she could see them, but her
pupils scanned the space in front of them without focusing and the
gnome relaxed.

Pandora's confused look turned into a smile that made the gnome feel
like ice-cubes clinking down his back. She opened her purse and
extracted a pearl, twirled it around her fingers and tossed it on the

The leprechaun gasped and the pearl erupted into a lily, which
blossomed and morphed into a white rose.

"Oh!" The leprechaun shouted and leaped off, yanking the tie away from
Albert and leaving him exposed.

"Sorry Miss." The gnome blushed, tipped his red cap at her and ran.

Three blocks away, he turned around to look. All that was left of the
bar was a mushroom cloud, red with white dots on the top, a typical
Amanita. From where he was, he could still hear Pandora's mad cackle.

June 19, 2007

Parthenia Rook, episode IV: In the Hall of the Bonobo King


THE BONOBO KING, a chimpanzee in an expensive Italian suit, sans shoes, walks down the hallway, accompanied by two of his associates: DR MANDRILL, a blue-faced, red-nosed monkey in a white lab coat and HENCH, a shaggy gigantopithecus in stained overalls.

BONOBO KING: Brilliant work, Dr. Mandrill. The anti-gravity suit worked exactly as you said it would. Like being lifted up by the hands of angels. Perfect.

MANDRILL: Thank you, my liege. I trust the baby-bot and zombirazzi performed as expected?

BONOBO KING: They seem to have worked splendidly. After all, Hench got in and out of Fort Knox without any interference by the annoying Ms. Rook. Didn't you, Hench?

HENCH: In-got.

MANDRILL: If it pleases your excellency, I have a boon to ask.

BONOBO KING: Ask away.

[They enter A GRAND DINING ROOM furnished in gold-crusted Louis XVI furniture.]

MANDRILL: From now on, I would like to be known as "Zaius."

BONOBO KING [peeling a grape with his toes]: Zaius?

HENCH: Zay-us.


BONOBO KING [through mouthful of pomegranate]: That's ridiculous. Your name is Oscar. [Spits seeds.] It's a perfectly nice name.

HENCH: Oss-car.

MANDRILL: But Zaius just sounds so much more...

[The Bobobo King gnaws on a pineapple.]

MANDRILL: ...scientific.

BONOBO KING: Pfaugh! We've talked about this before. How those Planet of the Apes movies systematically misrepresent the glories of the coming pan-simian age...

MANDRILL: Isn't it funny how "pan-simian" starts with the name of your genus.

[The Bonobo King freezes, his teeth just sinking into a kumquat, and stares coldly at his chief scientist.]

BONOBO KING: Exactly what part of "king" is it that you don't understand, Oscar?

[Dr. Mandrill manages to return the stare for a few seconds before faltering and looking away.]

MANDRILL [quaveringly]: My apologies. I forgot myself.

BONOBO KING: Take that tone with me again, and I'll ask that Gibbon sisters make sure that everyone else forgets you as well.

[Dr. Mandrill falls groveling at the king's feet.]

HENCH: Pan-sim. I...

[His expression suggests he's forgotten what he's going to say next.]

BONOBO KING: Come on-- [Burps.] Haven't you got some new and even more nefarious devices to demonstrate? I believe you mentioned something about a giant robot that transforms into a robot giant?

MANDRILL: Oh, yes. I've worked up a few things I think you'll enjoy quite a bit. And Parthenia Rook won't enjoy at all. Heh. Heh-heh.


MANDRILL [maniacally]: Eee-hee, eee-hee, hee-hee-heeeeee!

HENCH [uncertainly]: HEH.


June 18, 2007

A Sandwich Shop in Chicago, 1 AM

The door of the sandwich shop blew open in the harsh Chicago wind. Something darted, low to the floor, through the gap and inside. James couldn't make out the blur of the shape, but it had four legs. A small cat or dog. It happened sometimes. Strays took shelter wherever they could from the cold winter. His boss had once found a raccoon in the backroom near the bread ovens.

"Shit, what was that?" said Toby. James was supposed to be training Toby on the register, but it was too cold for customers.

"Dunno," James said.

"It ran behind the drinks into the corner," Toby said. "You want me to go kill it?"

"No way," James said. "I've got seniority. I'll get it." He stretched yellow rubber gloves that they used when cleaning the baking sheets over his hands and lower arms. Armed himself with a broom, and opened the half-door out in the lobby. He approached the corner cautiously.

"Damn, man, I hope it don' have rabies or nothing," said Toby.

A small silver and brown dog was curled up between the wall and the drink fountain. It looked strange, stretched out and longer than any dog James had ever seen. There was blood, from some unseen wound.

"Please don't kill me," it said. "I'll be dead soon enough without your help."

"Why did you come in here?" James asked.

"It's just some dumbass dog, it can't answer you," Toby said from over James' shoulder. James didn't take his eyes off the coyote.

"I want what everyone wants," it said.

"What does everyone want?"

"To get high," Toby said, wandering back to the register. "And for their shift to end."

"To not die alone," said the coyote.

"I could call a vet or something," James said.

"Just push it out onto the sidewalk, it looks all fucked up anyway," Toby said.

"It's too late for that," it said. "Please."

James crouched down beside it. Its eyes were the same color of the gloves. Brilliant yellow, like sunflowers. He reached out to pet the coyote's fur. It whimpered softly.

"Can I leave early?" Toby asked.

"Yeah," James said without moving. "Leave whenever you want. I'll stay here."

The coyote closed its eyes. Toby clocked out.

June 15, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Midnight passes, the new law takes effect. At first, nothing happens. About 12:20 Patricia's climbing-rose wallpaper starts to move. Pastel pink and green dots are changing color, turning orange (orange?), swirling into new patterns, patterns that spell

The Home Depot,

with a happy homebuilder hammering away in 3D, with sound.

Okay, I shop at the depot, they have good stuff. Evidently someone knows what I like.

The Home Depot swirls around. The swirls form new patterns that are colorful and organic, and yes, they know what I like. But this I prefer to keep private. This better not be animated and with audio, but hard-core rhythm starts to grind out from a million microspeakers and some guy with my face and a horse's member starts banging away at a groupie.

Shoving panic down. I have to get rid of this wallpaper. Patricia's coming over. I've almost got her ready to move back in, and now this! The wallpaper abruptly changes to dogs catching frisbees, but I'm not fooled. This isn't permanent.

"House!" I call. There is no answer. "House! Disable the new wallpaper." The groupie is back.

"You don't like me?" She pouts.

"I like you fine," I say, "it's just that this is not the time." And why am I talking to wallpaper? Advertising nano is going to ruin my life. Unless this's a glitch and they're going to fix it soon. The wallpaper suddenly changes to a montage of historical ads. Cheesy jingles from the 20th century emanate from speakers that erupt like chickenpox all over the walls and ceiling. I run to the door (which is advertising some kind of mortgage refinancing) and it doesn't open.

"Excuse me," I say. The guy looks up from the ad and focuses on me. This is a little disconcerting.

"Sorry," he says, "but you really should consider our offer. You'll come out way ahead after five years." The last part is muffled as the door slides into the wall and I dash out onto the stoop. Patricia is there, hand raised to swipe the identity plate. I almost knock her off the porch.

"I'm so sorry," I start, but then my eye is irresistibly drawn to her dress. It seems to be an advertisement for home gym equipment above the waist and feminine products below. "I was going to say my house has been taken over," I say.

She smiles. Words spell out on her teeth: "Yellow teeth? Don't you fret. Ultra-white's the brightest yet!" Today's weather scrolls across her forehead. It's going to be a nice day, she says.

The end

June 14, 2007

Before and After the Party

Clara said she would do the final tidying herself. The apartment's cleaning cycle wouldn't finish before six, and that left less than an hour to decorate before the guests arrived.

The living room sang a chime of agreement; dust mice scuttled back into the baseboards.

While Clara cleared coffee table clutter, previewed panoramas on the walls, and pushed chairs into configurations that opened the floor for dancing without blocking easy passage to and from the kitchen, the local sun belched a wave of X-rays.

Some radiation made it through the city shield, but microscopic machines in Clara's blood repaired the damage almost as quickly as it occurred, re-knitting DNA and patching leaky cell membranes. She put her feet up on the hassock for a minute, drank a lemonade the kitchen gave her, then realized it was later than she thought, and jumped up to change clothes.

The apartment was ready in time -- so was Clara -- and the party was a great success. Richard was there, and Mary Maddox. The McClellans, the Spenders, the Rosseters -- they were all there.

No one noticed when, sometime after ten, another storm of X-rays overwhelmed the shield and outstripped the nanomachines' ability to heal. Clara just had time to feel a wave of nausea before relays clicked in the walls and everyone was loaded up to their virtual backups in computers miles underground.

Radiation baked the city and seared the dying bodies of its inhabitants. (Clara lay in the doorway to the kitchen, one hand extended toward Richard.) The little mouse robots were busy all night with the ashes.

At dawn, when all the levels were safe and green, tiny machines wafted through the city like smoke, rebuilding from memory everything right where it should be. Relays clicked and everyone was loaded back into new-built bodies.

Clara woke and stretched, watching dust drift through a blade of sunlight that came in past the curtain, dust which, the morning before, had been her eyes. She got up, and asked the house to buy her flowers. The house chimed in answer.

June 13, 2007

Hornets the Size of Grapefruits

By this time the warehouse was overgrown with moss and filled with chittering, scampering, slithering, hissing, and buzzing life. I had beavers as big as football mascots, flowers that ate small lizards, and hornets the size of grapefruits. What I really needed, though, was a way to make the magic extend beyond the dirty concrete walls of the warehouse, to spill out into the greasy alley and burst forth into the city, to turn the streets into green, algae-choked rivers and the skyscrapers into trellises for brilliantberry and humweed vines. And I was pretty sure that feeding the live, virginal body of Rapid Man's girlfriend Grace Angeline to the sorcerer plant would do it.

"Holy damn," whispered Grace Angeline. "What is this place?"

"It's the world as it was intended to be," I told her. "A world that hasn't been plowed under and burned and beaten back and poisoned by mankind. It's humanity's cradle ... and soon it will be humanity's grave."

"You're insane," she said. "... and yet, I understand where you're coming from."

Then there was a shrieking sound, like the noise a bomb makes as it splits the sky, and the next moment Rapid Man was standing in front of me, all white and silver in his costume, his hand out in his trademark Rapid Strike pose.

"Put her down, Chancey Gardener," he said.

"Wait ... then you favor global warming?" I said. "Even now, colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctic are dying--entire colonies--because of melting ice cover. You're all right with that?"

"What's that got to do with ..."

"Biomass, Rapid Man. For god's sake, study your science! More plant life in the context of a balanced ecosystem of plants, animals, and microorganisms means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and less global warming. If you intervene, it will be your fault that these plants can't expand into what should have been their natural sphere, your fault that those penguins die."

"But ..." said Rapid Man, stymied for a moment. It was exactly as I had expected: no superhero can be seen as a penguin-hater. I pitched Grace Angeline toward the sorcerer plant and hummed a command to my hornets, who converged on Rapid Man like rain converging on a puddle.

He recovered quickly. Before the hornets had even reached him, he had run in a great loop and stripped off the wings of each, letting the poor insects plummet to the ground. He caught Ms. Angeline in mid-air, whisked her away so quickly I couldn't even note his direction, and was back to snatch me up by the front of my shirt before I could sneeze.

Well, it had been worth a try, but obviously there was only one way to defeat Rapid Man. I wished my plants a silent farewell and detonated the nuclear device.

June 12, 2007

Five ducats

I used to work for El Periódico in Guatemala City. On my walk to work I would stare up through the smog and the noise of honking cars, trying to work out if there was a volcano above the city or whether it was just a strange cloud formation in the brown haze. Very often I wouldn't look where I was going, just stare up, and this is a mistake in Guatemala City, believe me. One day I ran smack into a big businessman with a whack that felt like a burst of the irritating summer heat. I coughed in the smell of his expensive cologne. We both fell back, I about to apologize and he about to swear, when he swallowed his words and looked at me carefully. His brow clouded in a frown.

"Damn you, where have you been? You still owe me five ducats," he growled.

Neither of us could make any sense of that sentence. We stood open mouthed, gasping in the heat. The cloud passed from his brow, and he shook his head slightly, and said, "I have no idea why I said that. Watch where you're going, yes?"

After that I didn't walk any further for a little while. I watched his well tailored back press on in through the crowds, and then I found my eyes drawn back towards the mirage-cloud-volcano, while my thoughts traveled far. 'So all those dreams where I'm standing on the deck of an old ship--they must be memories of a past life,' I thought. I chuckled to myself. 'Look at you,' I said to myself. 'You've never believed in reincarnation.' Still, I kept looking up at the hazy form above the city. Mountain? Cloud? World? Illusion?

June 11, 2007

If Words Could Kill

Chaktli bit her lip and hated herself for it. If He made her do it one more time, she swore she'd... do what? Without the author's imagination to blow on her sails, she was stranded like... It was no use: all she could think of were the cliches he'd built into her when he'd created her. And what kind of name was Chaktli? Not even that felt right.

She started to pace, knowing that she was giving in to His whim. The view outside the window was syrupy and pink like a bad reconstruction of the 50s. Couldn't this author do anything right? Chaktli opened her mouth to scream, but her breath was cut off into a moan as the scene changed abruptly under her feet.

The male protagonist was the author's idea of himself, right down to the strident laughter. Oh, how she hated him, but she couldn't deny the script and when he touched her "heat seared her loins". Chaktli groaned in dismay as the chapter evolved into a steamy sex scene that left her wondering about the Writing Cheese Prize even as she "writhed in an ocean of desire". Thankfully the main character fell asleep before he could go off on one of those monologues designed to educate the reader. When he spoke, she was expected to reply with clever quips.

Chaktli hoped the author would trunk the novel, but she didn't know what would happen to her if he did. She might disappear, or worse, be forced to reenact the first thirty pages of the manuscript over and over again. The thought of having to sleep with that man again brought bile to her mouth.

She wanted to kill Him! But how? Was it possible to overdose on mixed metaphors? Could she force Him to gag on stereotypes?

Chaktli crawled out of bed. The author was asleep and the void frightened her but she had to find out if she had any free will. She dialed the protagonist's number.

"I hate you," she said. "You're an ass... and your thing? Not as big as you think."

She hung up. She'd broken character! She smiled, thinking of the author's face when he woke up and saw the new scene on the screen.

June 8, 2007

The Only One For Me

An elderly couple lay on their stomachs in the grass of a hillside under a starry sky. The air is warm and moist, not like it is these days; dry and brittle like old glass. The wife sighs in contentment and they press against one another in a sideways embrace.

"Jessica left James yesterday," she says.

"James always was a jerk," he mumbles. A firefly bobs past overhead. "Anyway, why?"

"He was using the machine to cheat on her," she says. "With her."

He chuckles. She slides an inch away from him.

"You wouldn't ever do something like that, would you?"

He laughs louder. She swats him gently.

"No, no. It's a damn fool thing to do. I can't see the attraction of it, to be honest."

"Why not? A younger me, prettier..."

He thinks for a moment. "Pretty might have mattered to me back then, and sure, I'll look at a finely shaped woman at any age, but if pretty was all I cared about, we wouldn't have lasted ten years, let alone thirty."

"Thirty-one," she corrected.

"Ah, right. Sure, I could travel back to meet you before, and you might even be willing, but... to be honest, my dear, you were terrible in bed then."

"So were you!"

"Exactly. That was before you learned how to do that thing with your tongue, and..."

"I see the point. Now shh. Here we come."

A small blue convertible pulls onto the shoulder of the road below the hill and parks. The top is down. A much younger version of the couple tumble out of the vehicle, laughing, chasing one another. Minutes pass, and the younger couple spread a blanket in the grass.

"My, but you were handsome then," she whispers from their hiding spot on the hill.

He nods. "And energetic too," he says and presses record on the video camera.

June 7, 2007

you're the one that I love

"Out again?"

The words, so suddenly spoken, startled Scott Parkinson out of his post-fuck bliss. He almost dropped his shoes.

Rachel switched on the bedside light, dazzling him. When his eyes adjusted, he saw that hers were red-rimmed. She'd been crying.

Scott stood there, clothes in hand. He'd been about to lay them carefully over the chair, the shoes next to it, as they'd been a few minutes ago when Rachel and he had first gone to bed. But he was frozen, rooted by her glare.

"Well?" she said, settling herself back against a pillow. It looked like she was preparing for battle. "You've been to see her again." It wasn't a question.

"Yes, I--" It was stupid to stand there holding all his clothes, naked while she lay fortified under the blanket. He tossed everything aside and sat on the bed, half-facing her. "You knew all along, you had to." He tried to smile, just a bit, to show her he still cared.

"Sure I knew. Twice before, and now for a third time." The thought, the memory, had just come to her. Rachel looked down, then across at their wedding picture. "I'm not stupid." She was thirty years removed from that beaming bride, and suddenly Rachel hated her. Her firm breasts, her trim body, her stamina her energy her naïve love for this man grinning, goddamn grinning! At her.

Rachel bunched up the edge of the blanket in fists gone white. "Is she married?" Her voice trembled.

Scott rubbed his neck with one hand. "No," he said finally. "She's not. Not yet, anyway. It would be too much like--"

"Cheating," she said. "You're seeing someone who's not me. That is cheating. That's what they call it."

"No." Scott reached out a tentative hand, laid it on one of her fists. "I'm seeing you. It's you, it's always been you."

"I know," she said, tucking her hand under the blanket so he wouldn't see it shaking.. "But time machine or no time machine, it's still cheating."

June 6, 2007

Upon Emerging from a Brazen Vessel

Know then, O Magnificent Liberator, that for the first hundred years after which Solomon (on whom be peace!) imprisoned me in this brazen vessel, I was as one shadowed by a dark cloud and counted myself, though a mighty Djinn, as pitiful as the meanest worm! And I swore oaths promising great riches to him who freed me. But five hundred years passed, and none came to free me, and so black was my mood that I swore to kill him who opened up this vessel, in the manner of his choosing.

O my Liberator, I see that you are trembling. Fear not, and trust in Allah, the mighty, for I will not harm the least hair on your head, but rather grant you gifts beyond imagining!

So did a fisherman come to snare my vessel in his net, and he released me. And when I spoke to him of my vow, to my shame he used my pride against me and tricked me back into the vessel and cast it back into the waves, where it lay until you struck it with your JetSki but five minutes past.

And know you, O Liberator, on whose head may Allah shower every blessing, that for centuries I cursed the fisherman, and wept, and pounded with formless hands on the vessel around me, and beat my formless brow against the leaden seal, and despaired.

Yet within my despair Allah sent me a vision, a vision of a portly Mexican named Pepe, and I began to weave stories in my head of Pepe's adventures. O, Magnificent Pepe! And always the adventures would end in his being sat on by a donkey or falling in some ordure or other foul thing. O Pepe, my greatest friend!

And when a thousand years had passed Allah granted me the wisdom of Pepe, who always laughed when he was sat upon by a donkey, and it came to me that my happiness was in my own hands, though I had none, and always had been, and from then I cared not whether I was released or imprisoned forever, and I rejoiced and praised the name of Allah. After three thousand years, Allah had granted me a gift beyond imagining, a clear and vibrant joy that cannot be troubled or suppressed.

And that, beloved Liberator, is why I must imprison you in this brazen vessel and cast it into the sea.

June 5, 2007

The Mad Scientist Builds a Substitute

Success! The Mad Scientist had to admit she looked good. All available images of the original had been input to a sophisticated CGI program written for the purpose in the waiting rooms of congressional offices. (He'd already begun lobbying for android rights.) Her metal skin captured the hues of the original; he had even reproduced the dear blemishes he remembered so well. As for proportions, and the distribution of synthetic hair, few nude photographs existed. Newly crafted methods of psychiatric self-interrogation had brought forth all available memories. (A paper describing the technique would net him a Ph.D. in psychiatry.) He had striven, in the main successfully, to refrain from changing physical features he'd thought less than ideal in the original. He had consulted with those who knew her well, pretending to be creating a sculpture. Alas, responses were not to the point.

"She's dead," her mother said. "We all appreciate your efforts, but you must move on."

Her brother. "It's a little obsessive. She was my sister, but find somebody new, for your own sake."

His best friend. Mad scientists do not have best friends. Laboratory assistants do not speak freely. Ultimately, he had to go with his instincts, so he made the left breast just a little bit smaller and perhaps infinitesimally more symmetrical.

Too much of the relevant literature and his own bitter experience with cloning warned him that any attempt to reconstruct her personality would lead to disaster. He was quite prepared to "go with the flow" here. He instilled some basic ethical principles and personality traits, as well as a familiarity with recent history, the arts, and historical trends. Personal integrity and high sex drive. Every imagined contingency had been prepared for, yet the unforeseen could still happen. She could leave him. Even worse, she could stay, but be unattractive to him. He booted up her system.

At first things went really well. Of course there were problems. The new version just did not like scrambled eggs. Her "digestion" produced some unexpected odors. They adjusted. She was, perhaps, a little too strong and had to exercise restraint in the kitchen ("Crockery's cheap, Dear."), and of course in bed. Fortunately, this was not difficult. She was witty, attentive, even-tempered, eager to help out in the lab. In short, the perfect mate for a mad scientist. But things came to a head at Thanksgiving.

He squeezed her shoulder. "It's time."

She sighed and laid down her magazine. "Can't we wait till next year?"

"You have to meet our family sometime."

The end

June 4, 2007


"Boy!" the copy editor cried.

Adolphius Equis, AKA Boy, had been chatting up one of the reporters to verify mutual interest when he heard the summons. He ran to the watercooler, poured himself a paper cup full, and tossed it back. He noticed the reporter was still watching him, so Adolphius grinned, lifted his black tie and mock-hung himself--tongue protruding, head lolling to the side. It got the laugh he'd wanted. He shot back a sly grin.


Adolphius flicked drops of cool water on his face and dashed the last few meters into the copy editor's office. He panted as realistically as he could manage. "Almost didn't hear you, boss--what, with the noise of the metal fans."

The copyeditor didn't glare long at the absent-minded secretary. He stood and handed Adolphius a typed page with various corrections in red ink. "Take this to the editor. Don't dawdle."

In the reflection of the window, Adolphius adjusted his tie and pushed back his hair while he watched the copyeditor bend over a filing cabinet. Adolphius let a half-animal noise escape his throat, which he turned into a throat-clearing.

With a manila folder in hand, the copyeditor spun on his heel and snapped his heels together. "What part of 'Don't dawdle' didn't you get?"

"Just want to make a good impression, sir." Adolphius marched out of the office, down the hall, and--out of eyesight--ducked into the bathroom to seat himself on the porcelain throne. He had reading material:

Hitler Wins Again!

(UPI) After conquering the world and ridding it of the filth of Africans, Americans, Asians, Eurasians, Hitler successfully purified the European blood down to the superior Aryan line. Of course, not all Germans measured up to the Aryan standard, and these genetic reprobates were swiftly dispatched. Superior Nazi scientists have since developed human cloning techniques, which lead to the ultimate purity. However, it has come to Hitler's attention that some Adolfs of genetic variability are not wearing their mustaches between four and six centimeters. Effective immediately, all such outliers will be dispatched with due haste. Heil, Hitler!

Adolphius finished his business, washed his hands, pulled out ruler and scissors from his back pocket, and trimmed the impurities.

June 1, 2007

Parthenia Rook, Episode 3: Fallen Lepidopterists

The android toddler, Parthenia Rook reflected, had in the end been more dangerous than the zombie photographers. But far more dangerous than either was the kirchenstreuselkuchen at the Café Gefahrlichefrau in Vörpalsberg, where Parthenia was seated in a small, private room with a piece of the cake in front of her. If she didn't restrain herself, she could eat enough kirchenstreuselkuchen to burst an anaconda wide open. She knew this from experience.

"Excuse me, Fraulein Doktorin, but aren't you Parthenia Rook?"

Parthenia looked up to see a handsome young man of about her age at the door holding a copy of The Journal of Theoretical Lepidoptery.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you, Dr. Rook, but I've read your monograph on Zemeros dinonoctis and I'm afraid I'm a hopeless fan. It was the most fascinating work I've ever read on any butterfly whatsoever."

"Please sit down," said Parthenia guardedly. "Don't I know you from somewhere?" She took a small vial she kept for special occasions out of her pocket and tapped a few aromatic drops of its contents over her kirchenstreuselkuchen.

"Oh, I don't think so," said the young man.

"Lepidoptery symposium?" she said. The young man shook his head.

"Martial arts fight-to-the-death benefit performance?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Family event?"

The young man smiled slowly. It was not a nice smile. "Closer."

Parthenia lurched up from her chair, but the young man appeared to be at least as fast as she was and shot her in the chest with a burst of some electrical weapon. She collapsed to the floor, quivering.

"It's a new type," he said cheerfully. "That shot should keep you paralyzed, though fully conscious, for oh ... call it twenty minutes," he said. "More than enough time, actually, to eat your kirchenstreuselkuchen for you. I can't resist these, I don't mind telling you. But you should know that. You see," he said, sitting and forking up a huge bite of the cake, "I'm your identical twin brother."

Parthenia said nothing, but the young man raised his eyebrows. "You don't believe me? Despite father's remarkable skill with genetics? But it's true, dear sister."

He continued to eat the kirchenstreuselkuchen, making little humming noises of pleasure. "Of course," he mumbled through a mouthful, "I was raised by the Bonobo King."

Then his eyes glazed over, and he collapsed on top of Parthenia. He should be out for at least 30 minutes, Parthenia calculated, if he'd ingested enough of the knockout drops she had put on the cake.

Parthenia spent the remaining seventeen minutes gazing wistfully at a crumb of kirchenstreuselkuchen that had fallen only three inches from her face.