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September 28, 2007

It Began with the Rhinos

Professor Zodiac didn't mean to reanimate the entire zoo cemetery. He merely needed a couple of dead rhinoceri.

The reanimation, fueled with the pulp of countless PETA tracts, went off without a hitch. At least until the elephants. They broke through the soil, spraying dirt clods everywhere, and posing against the sky.

"Did I order elephants?" The raised eyebrow. Chunk shook his head vehemently and hung his head. He had always loved circus elephants.

"No, Master."

But then the tapir, the jaguarundi, the koala and the meerkat, the gazelle and even the stately giraffe, broke free of the ground and began staggering about, milky-eyed and trembling. Professor Zodiac launched all of them, the hippopotamus, the red panda, the giant tortoise, and even the penguins against the Witch's stronghold.

The liches turned out to have capabilities that they could only have dreamed of in their former lives, if they could have dreamed of additional abilities. The hippos could tunnel through wet earth. Pocket gophers could teleport, although only into and out of pockets. The penguins could fly. They were like giant flying fish, whizzing over the walls of the Witch's castle, crashing through windows, or bouncing off embrasures when they tried to go through arrow slits. Soon, the professor was inside. He confronted the Witch in her audience chamber.

"I want what's rightfully mine," he said. "I need the potions from my laboratory."

"You mean MY laboratory," she snapped. "It was only your laboratory until I caught you performing late-night experiments with that leggy intern from the University. I have moved the facility to an isolated tower in the Arctic Ocean. The tower is too smooth and too tall for climbing, and is surrounded by hundreds of miles of sea ice. You will never get in. I'll be wearing the laboratory smock in the family from now on."

"But I have to finish her transformation," he protested. "Now she is neither fish nor fowl, when she could be both." The Witch snorted. "Should've thought of that while her pants were still on."


Eventually, the professor's army returned to the graveyard and he departed. Afterwards, he pulled his assistant aside.


"Yes, Master?"

"This is not the end."

"No, Master."

He leaned down to whisper in the hunchback's ear. "We can do this. I have a foolproof plan. But we'll need more penguins."

September 27, 2007

Pelican Boy

Come and see, ladies and gents, come and see, the one and only, the wonderful, the fantaaastic Pelican Boy!

You may think you've seen it all, having crossed the Galaxy. You may think nothing can surprise you, after riding the novas, but this, Mr. and Mrs. Alien, my young alienettes, is stranger than quantum physics. Don't pass it up. The Eiffel Tower is swell, but this, my purple friends, is the dark side of Old Terra. Come and see, come and see: the Human Freak Show!

Pelican Boy started slow, watching the tip grow. He displayed the silver balls, about the size of golf balls and juggled them around as a warm-up. Ostentatiously, he slipped one into his mouth and directed it to the pouch of flesh that Nature had given him as his livelihood. The purplies gasped when they saw his neck bulge.

He smiled; this town was no doniker. The clems were positively bursting to hand over their platinum. Pelican Boy kept the balls going up and down, swallowing them and bringing them back up, showing the audience what he could do with his pelican neck. After fifteen balls, he could hardly breathe, but the marks were ecstatic. There was no doubt they'd shell out to see the whole show.

He ignored their purple faces, which always made him squeamish and their gasps of sympathy, and strained his pouch to the max. The aliens were horrified, and loving it. Human degradation, that's what they'd crossed the galaxy to see.

Come closer, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you a secret. Mr. and Mrs. Alien, young Mss. Alien, alienboy and alienette, this is not for the faint of heart. What you'll see today, will curdle your blood. Please sign the discharge before you come on in.

Come on, come on, don't push. There's show enough for everyone.

Dear aliens, dear friends, you won't see this in your home planet. This, my friends, is not tolerated in your advanced civilizations. Watch the Pelican Boy swallow nails and bring them back up!

Could we cure him, ladies, gents? Could we snip away his pouch and give him a normal life? Of course we can't: this is showbiz! Come, ladies and gents, come watch the Human Freak Show!

September 26, 2007

Parthenia Rook, episode VI: The World's Fair

For previous episodes in Parthenia Rook, see the archive.

Parthenia, in her shiny leather pants and pineapple sunglasses for a disguise, scanned the crowds for signs of a barefoot chimpanzee in an Italian suit made out of chitin. The digital displays that flowed down the sides of her sunglasses assured her no zombie photographers slouched in the vicinity.

An anonymous tip had warned that the Bonobo King would "arrive today to rain on the world's parade," and Parthenia believed it. The Bonobo King always emailed his anonymous threats in assonance.

However, there was no hint of clouds in the pale sky above Vörpalsberg. Only the bittersweet scent of coffee wafted up from the four hundred cafes--reminding her of wasted kirchenstreuselkuchen.

Her stomach rumbled at the loss. No, it wasn't her stomach, or else her stomach was making the silverware rattle and the dishes clatter. Earthquake? Probably more like the overgrown earthworms that Dr. Mandril had genetically engineered to attack Manhattan.

That's when Parthenia saw the swift-moving cloud, the tail end of which twinkled like stars on a humid night. Parthenia turned her sunglasses to the dark mass, to allow the pineapples (actually, radar dishes with astounding pick-up) a chance to bounce and receive beams off the disturbance, but Dr. Mandril must have either devised a cloaking device or come up with something more sinister.

A plague of locusts? Not the Bonobo King's style.

A gust of wind jostled the crowd. They looked up. That's when Parthenia felt a lump in her throat. Dr. Mandril had engineered a Zemeros giganticus. A giant butterfly. Gorgeous. Parthenia stood paralyzed with awe.

But the twinkling that trailed the butterfly snapped her out of her reverie. Their plan was for Parthenia, the world-famous lepidotrist, to fall so in love that she wouldn't protect the world from the Bonobo King and his minions. It might have worked if the Bonobo King's zombies, harnessed in anti-grav devices, didn't have to photograph the fair before wrecking ruin. Parthenia Rook tapped her platform heels to jet--Kung Fu fists first--into the butterfly's maw.

September 25, 2007

Aunt Mary's Place

My aunt left me a house. Well--I was the third cousin in line, anyway. The first two didn't manage to spend a whole night alone in the place, which is what she asked them to do in her will.

Of course the house is on the edge of town on a high hill, and of course it is surrounded by gnarled trees that need pruning. I walked up slowly, feeling more forty-five than ever, and thought to myself, 'This place isn't any more gloomy than it was when I was a kid.' But I'd come in the afternoon on purpose. Not smart arriving at dusk.

The caretaker had left me a dinner in the fridge, and I ate it out on the front porch. It was that first day in September when you know summer is gone for good, and the wind gets tricksy and just a little bit mean.

I had this odd idea that if I turned on her ancient television set I would see her face, so since no one was around to catch me being a superstitious idiot I read a book instead. I went to bed early, 8:30 by my wristwatch (of course all the house clocks were stopped by other superstitious idiots).

At nine I thought I heard my name: "Rooobert? Rooooobert?" But it turned out it was just the door creaking open in the wind.

At eleven I woke up with a start. Someone was grunting, "Who's there? Who's there?" in the corner. Shaking, I turned on the light, and saw a bullfrog that had somehow made its way into the house. I took a pretty glass bowl from the nightstand, scooped the fellow up, and took him outside. "A tad late in the season for you, little guy?" I said as I liberated him.

At the stroke of midnight my aunt flew out of the shadows, hair streaming, eyes starting out of her skull, shrieking these dreadful words:

"I didn't bake that pie so you could leave half your slice on the plate, boy!"

I was so scared I sat up and started laughing out of sheer terror. "Shi—Jes—holy tomato, Aunt Mary, why the he—heck did you have to come at me like that?!"

She stared at me, and believe me a ghost with eyes half out of her sockets can stare.

"Anyway, I finished all my pie tonight," I added reproachfully.

I guess this was what she wanted, because her hair calmed down and she sat on the edge of the bed. I waited, still really shook up. Finally, she said, "So, was my sister Lucy happy with the silver, or did she want the house too?"

"Oh, no, though she was mad Matt didn't stay the whole night."

"He was fun. Didn't stay to argue about pie, for sure."

We spent the rest of the night catching up on gossip since the funeral.

She still shows up sometimes. It annoyed my wife at first, and she's a good-natured woman as a rule. But the kids think it's cool.

September 24, 2007

Bad Charlotte

Sherman Palmetto was used to ants and bees and wasps having it in for him. He was three weeks old when the first attack came, a kamikaze phalanx of ants from four nests converging on his crib. After three more pitched battles they moved from their beloved farm into the city. When he left home it was to move into the top floor of an apartment building, easier to defend with the panoply of sprays he kept to hand. He grew careless.

Thus it was the spiders caught him.

It was a Wednesday morning, his twenty-third birthday, and Sherman woke from dreams of drowning to find himself encased in webs. Pale early light filtered into the room, revealing more webs everywhere, and hundreds of spiders. One of them directly over his head descended on a silken strand, landing on his nose.

He screamed for a while. He thrashed; the nose-spider climbed a few inches away. For every thread that snapped a dozen spiders made daring leaps to reinforce his cocoon. Nobody came to check on him. Eventually he stopped, and lay panting.

Then he saw the woven message in one corner near the ceiling. "Hello, Sherman," it said. "We mean you little harm."

He read it out loud, putting little question marks after both sentences. Nose-spider inclined its head.

"You're nodding? You understand?"

Another nod.

Sherman looked back at the message. "Don't you mean 'no harm'? That's what they say in movies, 'We mean you no harm.'."

The spider spread its forelegs in midair. Sherman decided that was a shrug. "Okay, then, what do you want?" Finally! He was going to find out what they were after, besides his death.

Nose-spider pointed toward the ceiling, and Sherman looked up again. Spiders snipped a few of the strands at the corners of the previous message, and it floated down to reveal another one.

"We have a question."

"A question?" said Sherman, trying to inhale enough to scream it. "You've got questions? What about my questions?"

Another shrug.

"Okay," he said. "Okay, fine. What's your question?"

If a spider could be said to smile, Nose-spider did. It gestured upward again. Sherman read the question.

"Why are the ants and flying insects intent on your death?"

They didn't know? "You don't know?" They didn't know! "What the hell are you asking me for? Don't you insects ever talk to each other?!"

If a spider could be said to look mortally offended, Nose-spider did. It took the better part of an hour for it to weave its next message, but considerably less for Sherman to figure out what it would say.

"We're not insects, you moron. We're arachnids."

September 21, 2007

To Each His Own Hell

Merridot sipped his absinthe and wondered if this was Hell. It certainly had that flavour to it, high on depravity, low on pleasure, high on desire, low on release... But it lacked a certain evilness about it and the eternal torment... well, sitting at a bar drinking couldn't be called eternal damnation, now could it? The other option, that this was Heaven, was too silly to contemplate. Surely, Heaven wasn't this seedy.

He had almost made it as a painter. Merridot was sure that if he had only lived long enough, he could have been more famous than Monet.


"Drivel away, drivel away," the little devil muttered as he tried to force Merridot and his stinking art further down the Cosmic Drain. The little devil didn't like his job. It embarrassed him that when relatives came to visit, they would always find him next to the sewer. A friend from college had once asked him why he didn't quit and beg his way into Heaven, but evil was so much more seductive. The little devil would take an entry job in Evil over a senior position in Good, any day of the month. Good boys went to Heaven. Bad boys went everywhere (or at least down the drain).


"Say, if this is Hell, it ain't quite so bad," said the cabaret girl.

Merridot stared at her thighs and agreed with her. If this was hell, it wasn't quite so bad at all. Only problem was that the Sewer Drift (the expansion of the universe that occurs in a diabolic sewer) kept pushing them apart. Merridot opined that if he could only grab the girl's legs, he'd be in Heaven.


"No respect for Hell," thought the little devil as he pushed Merridot further away from the girl. "What could you expect? Bad artists..." and here the devil shoved with a lot more might than he was paid for. "I'll teach you, you little creep."

Merridot watched the girl drift away. Of course, if he was going to be an artist, he couldn't let women distract him. It was all for the better, he thought. He took another drink and kept scribbling.

From the void where Lucifer falls for all eternity, came a voice: "Idiot, people make their own hell!"

Merridot continued drawing. He was sure he'd imagined it.

September 20, 2007


The new reality show, "Your Life," received an unprecedented five billion viewers--all hyperwired to be seated among the stadium's studio audience. Cameras panned the virtual viewers as the red velvet curtains rustled slowly away to reveal an empty stage.

A few hands clapped tentatively.

September 19, 2007

A Few Words Concerning B.

Many of our co-workers think B. is reserved, even shy. In fact, he is, as I have recently discovered, talkative, even garrulous. He was, however, raised by elephants, so his chattiness is entirely subsonic.

This explains why cups of coffee placed on his desk ripple, and why some days his lunch consists of nothing but those bright orange circus peanuts. His days look like a endless series of receiving production statistics, turning the stats into pie charts, and the pie charts into slideshows he then presents to long tables full of drowsing executives. In fact, B. is continuously gossiping with every elephant in every zoo, circus, and wildlife park in the eastern half of the continent.

There's a lot to hear, and a lot to say: likes and dislikes in food and housing, work conditions; childhood memories of the savanna; humorous anecdotes about the foibles of one's keepers; long-simmering spats and feuds; equally enduring friendships; the spats, feuds, and friendships of others; the thousand aggravations and entertainments of the week; dreams of a better future.

I only know this through luck: we happened to walk to the T stop together one night last week, and, as we walked through the tile-walled corridor and out into the sweat-humid tunnel, his eyes fell on the National Geographic being read by a commuter who'd been early and lucky enough to get a bench.

There, in the middle of a story on poaching and ivory trade, a glossy two-page scene of slaughter. Someone he knew, apparently.

His initial trumpet of shock and rage drowned out the laughter of the high school kids clustered near us on the platform, the busker's Casiotone, the newseller's talk radio. A moment later, when the highschool kids, the busker, and I could hear nothing but blaring Limbaugh, B.'s cries of sorrow shook the pits of our stomachs and shattered every window on the E train.

September 18, 2007


Perhaps it was that an angel's shadow had flitted over the sand of which the window was made. Perhaps it was the pressure used in the making of it, multiples of the mystic numbers six and thirty-seven. It could have been both, or something else entirely.

"Constance? Come here, girl." The orphanage matron, Miss Gult, stumped over to pull the child away from her embroidery.

When Constance looked out the window in her room, she saw a most beautiful place. Delicate castles dotted a green landscape, and gaily-dressed paople glided from one to another of them without benefit of wings. Twice they nodded to her in passing.

"She's a good 'un, she is," said Miss Gult. "Works hard. Don't hardly make mistakes. A bit dreamy, but you can soon mend that."

But when the window was raised, she saw once more the ugly dark smokestacks, smelled the excrement of the horses that pulled fine carriages she would never use. It was twenty feet straight down to the paving stones.

"What you think? Can you use her? She don't eat much."

Constance shrank back from Miss Gult. The woman smelled of laudanum, gin, and greed. The man with her loomed over Constance and placed a hand on her head to tilt it toward the light. He skinned her top lip back with a thumb to examine her teeth.

"Pretty," he said.

Ducking, Constance slipped out of their clutches to flee up the stairs. She knew only one place to go.

"You girl," Miss Gult called. "You come back!" The stairs shook to the measured treads of the man as he climbed after her.

Constance dashed into her room, shut the door, looked wildly toward the window. It was raised, showing only her ugly world.

Footsteps approached.

She darted to the window.

The knob turned.

Sobbing, she hauled down on the sash.

The door opened.

She dived into the window.

The man entered. He looked at, then under, the empty bed. There was no other place to hide. He crossed to the window and looked out at the city, down to the pavement.

No body.

Some weeks later another orphan girl was assigned the room. Esther sobbed on the bed, then lifted her head to look out the window.

She smiled.

September 17, 2007

The Man With Two Thumbs

So this guy with two thumbs walks into a bar, and the bartender says "Hey! You can't bring those things in here!"

Well, the first thumb says this is discrimination and it starts talking about class-action lawsuits and picketing and late-night visits from the middle finger and pretty soon it gets cited for disorderly conduct and hauled off to jail.

Meanwhile, the second thumb waits behind the bar in an alley with a couple of cans of gasoline and a book of matches from The Nether Digit, a nightclub on the other side of town, not just a nightclub, but a toe club, a place where you can have any toes you want all night long, two at once, even, if you're surefooted enough, in those padded booths with the tasteful crimson and burgundy curtains. And while the thumb is waiting for the last patrons to leave the bar, shrouded menacingly in a grease-stained overcoat, a big shaggy dog trots up and eats it.

September 14, 2007


Grimmy's fingertips nervously tapped the keyboard on his first day as a communications specialist. Mr. Boss put his mind at rest by spreading his arms to take in the small blue cubicle space, nearly knocking down one partition. "See? It's simple. Nag until they give, so you have no twinge of conscience if you press the disconnect."

Grimmy adjusted his headset to give his hands something to do other than tap the keyboard. "Oh, sir. I have no twinge of conscious about asking money for charities."

"Great! Then you're ready for your first call." Boss had spread his arms wide again, which made Grimmy blink a few times until he suspected the Boss' gesture was a symbol for what the company did: gave people second and third chances to be generous souls.

Grimmy hit the call button. A man answered, "Hello?" and his name appeared onscreen. "Hello, Mr. Walters. Every year, thousands of children die due to faulty deflector shields. You and your beautiful children may be next, resulting in death, deformity, or agonizingly painful disease. All proceeds from your donation to the deflector shield repairman's bilge are tax-destructible."

"I'm sorry," said the voice that was purported to be Mr. Walters', "but I don't give over the vidphone. Put me on your do-not-call list."

Boss whispered into the ear of Grimmy, who might have otherwise remained frozen in unbelief. Grimmy repeated the whisper: "What amount can we put you down for?"

"We must have a bad connection. I said I don't give over the vid. You don't even display your face. How can I scan it to know if you're legitimate?"

"Trust me. We're too legit to quit. What amount can we put you down for?"

"Maybe you're hard of hearing. I'll trust you to put me on your do-not-call list. Thanks!"

The dial tone buzzed in Grimmy's ear. His eyelashes restrained brimming tears. Why would the man's heart be so hard after Grimmy had been so earnest and eager? His finger hovered over the disconnect button that glowed, "Lower deflector shields in this man's neighborhood."

"It's okay." Boss squeezed Grimmy's shoulder. "Last week, this same soulless bastard forced me to press the 'Straight to Hell' button when he refused to donate to the religious fund for demon-possessed toe-fungus in West Africa."

September 13, 2007


You can almost see, under the cover of decades of vines, the tower, its brickwork inset with tiles decorated with a pattern of vines. The tower, whose stair treads sag with a creak under every footstep. The tower built precisely on the migration route so that, from the top, on certain late summer evenings as determined by consultation of multiple star charts, you can, if you lie flat on your back on the boards that are both musty and splintery (remember to bring a blanket to lie on, preferably a thick one) you can see the dragons flying overhead.

It's always a moonless night when they pass by, so you see them mainly as vast silhouettes. You feel the muggy heat of the breeze that's their wake, and see the occasional underbelly-embedded jewel streak by like a shooting star as it catches the light of a distant town.

After you watch a while, the dragons may seem to be almost close enough to touch, as if they're skimming along under a sky as low as the ceiling back in your home.

No matter how tempted you are, do not stretch out your hand. Do not try to touch the dragons. The rushing friction of the gem-crusted underbelly will burn. The sky will tremble as if with heat lightning. The claws, when they catch you, will nearly crush the breath from you.

Worst, when you return, dropped back a year later, on the same roof (you'd better hope it's been an easy winter and spring while you're gone, or the tower might have crumbled to rubble), you won't be able to find words to describe the wonders and terrors you've seen: the fiery fields that blaze on the moon's dark half, the vast and silent cold of the migration ways, the draconian cave-citadels that drift among the furthest comets. No one will believe your stories, and no one will heed your warnings -- if you do find words for them, they will do more to intrigue than to dissuade, and future summers will bring new crops of freshly-returned travelers. At least they'll believe you then.

September 7, 2007

System Tour: The Moon

Cinderella's castle in Lunar Disneyland is a latticework of thin metal rods with nanodots that cycle through a thousand color changes a day. Right now it's purple near the base, shading into pink with white starbursts above.

Right now it's all blue with an animated Tinkerbell swooping in and out the tower windows. That's how fast it changes.

Park Hoppers are a constant nuisance, teens in spacesuits leaping over the fences. They carry resonating jammers that opens holes in our forcedome just big enough, just long enough, for them to pass through. The computer feels this and notifies me of their trajectory. Usually I'm there before they touch down, zipping through underground tunnels in my bullet car. I read them the riot act about loss of atmo, about endangering park guests, about paying their entrance fee. I tell them a fable about the kid who landed on the Matterhorn tracks and got run over by the bobsled. Then I have my robo-Pluto sniff their DNA and bill their families.

Everybody's got a robo-Mickey, or robo-Donald, or robo-Goofy. Part tour guide, part guard, part shill, they ensure that no part of the park gets overcrowded. "Let's go visit Main Street," they're always saying. That's where most of the shops are.

Lunar Disneyland has the largest dome in the solar system. It's visible from Earth, but of course there's nobody down there to see it any more. From the outside it's opaque: white to reflect the sun, cycling to black in the shade. Inside it's all puffy clouds and flying horse-ladies. Pegasi with women's torsos and heads. You know, from Fantasia.

Guests come from all over to visit the park. Spindly Martians, half-gaseous Venusians, bulky Uranians. They're human inside, where it counts, and mouse ears come in all sizes.

September 6, 2007

Street People

"Ow!" That hurt. The sun is just touching the façades on the west side of the street, and the crowds are still light. The first heel in the nose is the closest I'm gonna get to a cup of coffee this morning. Although I can hope someone will trip and spill some in my mouth.

"Excuse me. I didn't notice you." A high-pitched voice. Either a child or a woman.

"Are you blind?! The whole sidewalk is covered with us." Okay, that may have been a little harsh, especially if I'm talking to a child. Yep, I hear sniffling. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm just a little stressed. It's been 13 years since I had any coffee." Or anything else.

I guess the kid moved on. So now I'm feeling guilty, even as people walk all over me. Something light hits my cheek. A biscuit wrapper, from the scent. I can't reach it with my tongue. Traffic's picking up and more and more people step on me. I try not to make noise. Attention is usually bad. I eavesdrop. This is my only source of daytime amusement.

"I said 'Honey, you don't know.' He really thought I would, on the first..."

"...bell peppers. That should do it. Don't forget tonight..."

"...gonna eat all that? Cos if you're full..."


Smell, taste, hearing, pain. I believe they disable vision because that would give us too much pleasure. Some think it's done out of kindness. Eyes are so vulnerable.


Night's better. Sometimes a lonely person will stop to chat, even feed me. One time, a woman let me suck her nipple. I think she was a whore, but hey, I take what I can get. She didn't come back.

Some of my night visitors are not so nice. They urinate in my mouth, smear dog poop on my nose, you get the idea. This kind of behavior is the reason we are put here. People are quite cruel, if not very inventive, and the State can pretend it doesn't know.


Once a month or so my ex-wife comes by. She doesn't feel sorry for me; she comes to abuse me. I didn't know that girl was under age. Or that she had a weak heart. Anyway, I'll be out in 12 years. Sharon may have moved several times by then, even changed her name, but I'll find her.

September 5, 2007

Save Me!

Before Ted was born, a fortune-teller told his mother, he'd be the luckiest of men.

Ted must have heard her because, ever since then, he displayed an absolute faith in humanity. When the doctor failed to determine Ted's relative position to his mother's pelvis by palpation, he ordered an x-ray (it was the 90s) which showed him sprawled like a parachuter, face down, head firmly lodged against his mother's liver, back arched impossibly and feel pushing at his mother's lower left ribs.

He probably expected his mother to give birth to him in this position and even love him after the ordeal.

Other babies are pretty good at making a fuss when they're sick, but not Ted. He had total confidence in his mother's ability to tell hunger from pneumonia and indeed, she got pretty good at it after years of running after her child with a thermometer, catching him in her arms when he jumped out of a tree, hiding his bike after he'd crashed twice and, in general, rescuing him so effectively that Ted reached adulthood without breaking a single bone or ending up in the hospital even once.

He was born lucky, he knew, but that didn't save him from depression.

It was three in the morning. The barbiturates hadn't been easy to get, but he knew someone who knew someone. Even in that he was lucky.

Ted downed the pills with a shot of whiskey and cradled the bottle in his arm, hoping he wouldn't pass out until he had enjoyed a few more swigs. The phone rang and the answering machine went off.

"Ted, darling, what a stupid thing to do," came his mother's harried voice. "I'm sending the ambulance over, I've told them about the key you keep under the mat, so why don't you do everyone a favor and go to the bathroom to puke? It'll save them a lot of trouble."

"Why do I feel so bad? I'm supposed to be so lucky."

"I think it's obvious you are lucky. Anyone else would have been dead by now. You are a lucky man, Ted, and I seem to be your good luck charm."

September 4, 2007

Why I Won't Go Back to the Sea

I was hauling traps out of Boothbay Harbor when we met. Love at first sight! I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world -- me and one of the ocean's beautiful daughters. Her eyes were black and bright as a seal's. Her hair was long, but as tangled as kelp, and sometimes, when we rocked in my little boat and watched the evening, she would let me help comb it.

The ocean has many daughters, each of them beautiful, each of them different, as different as one wave is from the next. And, as with waves, the difference isn't one that reveals itself quickly to human eyes. So it was that I smiled at one of my beloved's sisters, and another seashell-whispered sweet nothings in my ear. The sea soon turned to jealous tempest all the way from Kennebunk to Presque Isle.

When their father had had enough of this, he sent the ninth sister -- a head taller than the others, brawny, magical, and cursed. She hoisted me on her shoulders and hauled me leagues and leagues inland. ("Abilene 278 mi." reads the sign against which she left my boat leaning.)

But I'm far from alone here. Upon my arrival, the rest of the townsfolk came out of the houses they've built from their own beached craft. They stoked up an enormous fire and helped me to cook the catch I had in my hold. As I sat down with them to the largest lobster bake the county had ever seen, I saw my own heartbreak reflected in the faces of my new neighbors, mellowed by years for some, still achingly fresh for others. I knew right then that I'd found a home among the lovelorn bachelors of Surf and Turf, Texas.