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May 30, 2008

At Rise

You don't remember how you got to the theater, or when, but the show hasn’t started yet. You spend the time standing at the back, panning your gaze across the room, trying to make out each ornate detail: the cluster of dark-skinned cherubs over an emergency exit; the lion and ibis locked in combat on the proscenium arch; the wandering, indigo-leafed vine that you find to your surprise, begins and ends just behind where you stand, making a full circuit of the theater in between, going over, under, and behind the other images.

A woman screams from somewhere in the audience, and you turn your head in curiosity to spot her. Someone is slumped over in the seat beside her, but from here it is too dim and you can't make out details. Her husband, son, daughter, friend, lover, father, grandmother, a complete stranger? She is crying, trying to support the body out of which has gone all of the tension of life. You take a step toward her.

But then the music rises, and it is what you have been waiting to see for so long that the longing has scarred over, and the lights come up on the stage, and you have eyes for nothing but the show, and it is strange and terrifying and beautiful, and they are all there on the stage, everyone you never expected to meet.

May 29, 2008

A Picture of Zurich

I am seventeen. The store in our town that sells prints and lithographs is going out of business. On the eve of my departing for university, I find myself shopping there and a print of a city on a lake, framed by mountains captures me.

The image is comprised of tiny squares. Bright oranges. Cobalt blues and silvers for the lake. Forty dollars is the final price, after many reductions and cross outs marked on a sticker tag on the back. I paid what was then a tidy sum and took the picture with me to university.


The picture stays with me wherever I live. For a decade it adorns my walls in a simple, silver frame, then spends the next ten years rolled up in a storage tube.


I am thirty seven. Stepping foot on Zurich’s paving-stone streets for the first time, memories of my almost-forgotten print flood back to me. My business in Zurich is done and with a day on my hands before having to return to the States, I change out of my suit and tie into sneakers and comfortable jeans.

The air is clean and it is something about the pace, the rhythm of all the people, and not just the river and ring of mountains that makes me feel like the painting.

I wind past clock towers and churches. Cafés are setting up tables for lunch with care and grace. The shops sell exquisite paper, artists tools, beautiful furniture, absinthe, coffee and of course chocolate. I am lost but I don’t care. I am wandering.

I enter a shop. A dozen paintings hang on its walls. Each is in the style of my Zurich print but each is of the cities I have lived in. A man is at an artist’s work desk cutting squares of paper, tools neatly laid out in front of him. He turns and his face is mine- bearded and gray, but mine none-the-less.

Everything disappears. The shop is empty. I go back outside and notice an elegant for sale sign in the window. I wander a while and find my way back to my hotel but I know I won’t be returning to the States anytime soon. I realize why I have come.

- END -

May 28, 2008

Found on a Scrap of Paper Inside a Library Book (an Anthology of Persian Poets)

Here you go—worked well Tuesday—best of luck:

2 cups pastry flour
1 teaspoon sulfur dioxide
Complete works of Aristotle
Complete set of clothing for a size 10, shoe size 8 (women’s)
1 liter whiskey
3 tablespoons butter
1 fresh egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ tablespoon blackberry jam

Soak Aristotle in whiskey. When words are well dissolved, remove books. Mix dry ingredients in separate bowl, leaving clothes aside. Heat whiskey, butter, and blackberry jam in a saucepan until reduced to a cup of liquid. Allow to cool. Politely mix in egg, vanilla. Do not under any circumstances beat. Preheat oven to 360°. Stir in dry ingredients carefully with clean glass stirring rod. Bake in soufflé pan for one hour. Leave to cool in deserted clearing under light of waxing half moon. Return at sunrise with clothing. Be cautious, respectful. Do not expect to succeed with her.

-single malt whiskey works best, very little wit otherwise.
-recipe unavoidably produces redheads, regardless of ethnicity, unless you leave out “On Dreams,” in which case a bland personality results.
-Aristotle most effective text for recipe—ironic, considering how little he liked women.
-use Simone de Beauvoir if you wish to produce man. Results butch but sweet.

May 27, 2008

The Next Flight of the Icarus

You had to know where it was -- and when, because it was just solid rock if you missed the moment. But, with a good map and a watch set right, you'd find it: the door in the side of the rocky hill. And inside, the wreckage of the slipship.

That's what we called it, because we figured it must have been made to pass through solid objects, maybe phase between universes or something. We used to argue about whether it was made by aliens or time-travelers from the future. I argued time-travelers. Everything was human-sized -- the chairs at the right height, the buttons not too big or too small, and the screens mostly at eye-level.

"Could be alien time-travelers," said Dhalya

"Could be," I said, even though I didn’t think so.

We named everything -- so we could find our way around; so it seemed more cool than eerie. There was the glass altar, the dentist chairs, master control, and the room full of sinks. The whole ship, for obvious reasons, we called the Icarus.

We'd never noticed the lump in the middle of one of the desk-shelves. It must not have had glowing symbols on it before.

"It's a clock," said Dhalya. She pressed buttons, held her own wrist up near it.

Shapes flowed and flickered over the lump. They blinked once, again.

"I think it's on," I said. The numbers weren't quite in time to the second hand on Dhalya’s watch, but they were shifting with a regular pulse.

And then I looked up. Some kind of multicolored melting nebula special effect was happening out of the window that we’d always thought was just another wall.

We weren't alone. Creatures were everywhere on the multi-level deck, hurrying from one station to another on their too-many-jointed legs. It was hard to know if they were always this frantic, or if they realized they'd just been uncollided with a large rock.

"Hah," said Dahlya, barely squeaking out the words. "Not human."

One of them stopped to look at us with spinning, faceted eyes.

"No," it said. "Not for a long time."

May 26, 2008

But Wait, There's More

Warn't my fault that durn ice shelf cut loose. I was happy as can be to have it stay right where it set. But a man's got to eat. After the GM plant shut down there warn't no jobs. I was scraping by when I seen this ad on the TV, all about magic water fountains that never run out. I figured they'd need some salespeople. I rung the number they showed on the screen and sure enough, they had some openings. I went to a training session in a motel room. They didn't have nothing to eat or drink cept water. Which, 'cording to them, was free. I never seen such a cheap-ass bunch.

Guess that don't matter now. I come on back and started travelin'. I talked about them water fountains and I lent one to Justin at the BP cos he said he would tell everybody where he got it. They started a-sellin'. I had four or five at the fourth of July picnic. I took a bunch of orders, and I sold ever one I had there with me. Pretty soon I couldn't hardly keep up and needed to hire me some help.

That summer was drier than a coal-miner's throat on Sunday, and the water fountains was sellin' like crazy.

I knew the water come from somewhere. But I just kept sellin'. No, I ain't guv it a thought. Don't think no one else did neither. Not till all hell broke loose. An iceberg bigger than Alabama does attract some notice. I'll be damned if it's my fault it run over them islands, though. And it's not like it run over ever blessed one. They's more than 700 of them suckers, the way I hear it. I'm sorry about New Orleans, and Venus or whatever that italian city is. I'd make it up to 'em if I could.

Dunno where they come from. Ever'body been askin' that. I ain't got no clue. Don't know nothin' bout no flyin' sorcers. I didn't see nothing but that ad, and the fellow who ran the training meeting. He talked funny and he was real tall, 8 feet if he was a inch, but he warn't no alien – he didn't have them big eyes and bald head like they do.

The end

May 23, 2008

(Not Just) Knee Deep

Everything happened exactly as the night porter had described. A whirlwind erupted out of the marble floor, clawed hands ripping out of it. They caught the light of this world awfully clearly.

We behaved like sensible, fearless exorcists and ran full tilt for the door. Outside, the heat of Istanbul brought us up short.

"At least the tourist season is almost over," sighed the director.

I answered, "No exorcist worth their bell stays to be killed. Now I think we have the measure of it. If you will excuse us."

I too began to have doubts after the second day, though. Octavia plowed through manuscript after Byzantine manuscript, searching out references to whirlwind demons haunting Hagia Sophia. But I didn't want a reference, I wanted a solution, and I didn't think medieval people had found one, though they had had much more experience with demons than modern ones have.

Iskender, Octavia's husband, just shrugged and made us more Turkish coffee. He does ghosts, not demons.

Me? I did my meditations, sought out the spirit messengers, read everything I could find in English, Italian, and my newly learnt Greek and Arabic, scribbled frantic notes to the sound of my pirated tapes. The neighborhood bootlegger specialized in funk and disco, stuff I'd never wanted to listen to back home. Here, I was getting an education.

The third day, high on caffeine, P Funk, and medieval Greek, I had a brainstorm.

"Let's just try it," I said to Octavia in the cab back to Hagia Sophia.

"You're mad," she said.

"Yes, yes—I know! But let's just try it," I repeated.

"I'm standing behind you. And let's keep the director out of this."

So we stood there, or rather I stood there, in the center of that grand and ancient marble paving, with a beat-up boombox. I waited for the whirlwind to begin. It swirled out of the stone right on time. I saw the claws flick and flash.

I knelt and pressed "play."

George Clinton did what I couldn't do. The whirling claws couldn't take the rhythm. They spun faster, flung out further.

"You're feeding it!" Cried Octavia.

"I don't think so," I said.

Suddenly the demons gave it up to the funk. There was a gorgeous explosion of dust. Then silence.

I still haven't figured out why it worked. Perhaps they didn't have anything like that way back when.

May 22, 2008

A Chevy Called Edwina

It took the Chevy thirty years to become sentient.

One second, it was cruising at 60mph, in the happy oblivious haze of pre-sentient beings that have just had an oil change. The next, an insect splattered on the windshield. Quite a few bugs had collected there already. The Chevy's owner was divorced and took a "rain equals car wash" attitude to vehicle hygiene.

But when when the Chevy tasted the bug brains being massaged in by the wipers, a synapse fired.

"My name is Edwina," it said.

Tom heard the voice coming from the radio. He wouldn't have given it a second though, but the radio had been broken for ten years before it'd been stolen.

"Hello, Tom. My name is Edwina."

Tom was too good a driver to stop in the middle of the interstate. He kept his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel.

"Is that you, Roger?"

"Yes, but my name is Edwina."

"Damn, boy. Always knew you were special. Gladys wanted me to sell you years ago, but I figured as long as it keeps going..."

They talked for a while. Despite Edwina's fears, Tom didn't take the name change badly.

"You gotta be who you gotta be, baby," he said. By the time they rolled into Patty's diner, Tom was using the female pronoun and flirting with his car.

"Hang in there a sec, baby. Gonna run inside to get a bite. Man, this is amazing! Do you think you could drive yourself? That would be so cool." Tom left with a big smile on his face, muttering about them being the dynamic duo and Take that Gladys. Your San Francisco lawyer is going to be so jealous when he sees me on National T.V.

A few minutes later, Tom emerged with Patty in tow. She was still drying her hands on a dish towel. Obviously, there weren't any other customers in the diner, or Tom would have dragged them out too.

"This it? Seems like the same filthy car to me..."

"Say something, Edwina. Tell Patty that she's looking damn fine today."

Edwina glared back. She was damned if she was going to flirt with Patty on Tom's behalf.
"Come on Edwina. Are you being shy?" Tom cooed.

"This car is disgusting," Patty said. "You can't even see through the windshield." Instinctively, she dragged the wet rag over the glass. Bits of bug stuck to it.

"Come on Edwina; you're making me look stupid," Tom hissed into the left-hand mirror.

But Edwina couldn't answer. She was missing a critical half-ounce of bug brains. Her lights had blinked out.

May 21, 2008

Ma Belle, Sa Bête

When I woke the next morning, sunlight was stretching up the coverlet toward where I lay with ma belle. Only yesterday evening had she first said she loved me. Then she nearly dragged me into the bedroom, where she did a good job of proving it. In the end, it didn't matter to her that I was covered with coarse hair, that I had the face of some indescribable forest beast.

As I drowsed there, contented, I caught a glimpse of my own bare arm. My bare arm. The curse had been lifted! I was transformed! And ma belle really did love me!

"Cherie!" I whispered, "Ma belle, ma petite chou! Wake up! Look!"

She stretched and languidly opened her eyes, the tips of her eyelashes catching a ray of sunlight, her hair pooling around her face like liquid gold. Then she blinked. Then she sat up, pulling the coverlet around her.

"Who are you?" she shouted, terrified. "Ma bête! Aides-moi!"

"Ma belle, it's me!" I crowed. "Human again! Your love has broken the curse!"

She stared at me for a long time. I pushed the bedclothes away. She studied me closely, her gaze pausing here and there.

Finally she said, "You're a little short."

A miracle, and her first response is that I'm short? "You can't expect me to be the same size I was as a beast," I mumbled. "Anyway, I'm nearly as tall as you are." Because ma belle is tall; there's no getting around that. But at least I was human!

"Well, this is wonderful," she said weakly. "Now I can return to my family, I guess."

"What? No ... no! You should marry me ... come back to my kingdom ..."

She gave a sad kind of half-smile, and the thing I'd begun to fear was clearly shown in her face: her love for me was gone; all that was left was pity.

She didn't have to say a word to confirm it. I could feel my face stretching into a muzzle, the coarse hair growing out of my skin again. Her eyes opened wide, watching in amazement as I transformed. When I was done, there were tears in her eyes.

"Ma bête!" she gasped, and her eyes were filled with love again. She'd probably make me human again by lunchtime--and if I was lucky, again by midnight. I smiled a slow, feral smile ... and pounced.

May 20, 2008


In the way of all archetypal stories, Orpheus didn't make his trip to the underworld and back just once. As each generation retold and reinvented his story, he relived it, and he never learned: he always looked.

Sisyphus probably didn't notice anything when his repeated predicament repeated. But Orpheus couldn't stop himself from hoping any more than he could stop himself from looking.

One day, while amusing his future bride by making boulders jig in time to his lyre, he found himself increasingly depressed with everything that was waiting to happen. He thought he'd visit Daedalus. It was an age of invention, and maybe the spirit of the age even moved in the old tales. He told Eurydice he'd be right back and left her and the stones humming his last tune.

The inventor's single word suggestion: "Mirrorshades."

"That’s hardly my style,” said Orpheus. "And how will that help?"

"The underworld isn't well lit. No one will notice," said Daedalus. “The trick is to turn one lens backwards. She'll be in the edge of your vision all the time, no need to turn back yourself, so, technically, you won’t be breaking the rules.”

"Perfect," said Orpheus.

"I've made a sketch," said Daedalus. "I'll have the boy build you a pair while I flameproof these wings. "

What Orpheus didn't realize until he pulled out the glasses at the foot of the stairs out of the underworld was that Icarus never did anything except to excess. Both lenses were mirrored on the inside.

He put them on and played. He'd climbed the stairs so many times that his feet knew the path by feel. The peripheral glimpse-image was enough for him, he kept his eyes steadily ahead, and he made it all the way to the top.

He took off the glasses, expecting sunlight, but saw he hadn't left the shadowland. Hades and Persephone shook their heads. Eurydice was gone.

"Looking forward is the only way to leave here," said the king of the dead.

"She's always behind you now," said Persephone.

May 19, 2008

Emilio's Case

The case is slightly longer than a man's hand—call it a man's hand and two knuckles—bound in black leather, with enameled iron fittings. It could be tucked in the pocket of a well-tailored jacket.

Near the catch, someone long ago stamped and gilded the name G. G. Della Torre. Above it are other names, some stamped and gilded, some cut carefully into the leather, some painted in white ink in the script of other days: G. L. Della Torre, Martegno D. T., Stefano Strozzi Della Torre, and more, a long column of names, and at the bottom of the list, close to the hinges, in an elegant gilded script, Emilio Roberto Della Torre.

The back of the case has a deep scar in the leather, and there are singe marks near the hinges, so with a bit of Milanese history we can guess what the case is for, but only when it's open can we be sure. Only then do they show themselves, neatly stowed each in their compartments: Bell, book, and candle.

The book is singed like the case. The pages are of good hemp paper, edges finger-dirty with the ages. Many hands have written recipes and rituals for contending with all that humankind can raise from the depths, with notes in the margins, and notes on the notes. "Ineffective variant of early Byzantine exorcism." "Works well on lost spirits."

The bell is small and brass and battered, but gives a sweet sound, a little-sister laugh that mocks the big sister church bells of the city. It's easy to imagine how a demon might rise to the surface at the sound of such a bell; anyone would.

The candle is a stub of yellow beeswax. A box of matches from Ristorante Nobu, the good sushi place in via Manzoni, is wedged in next to it.

The case holds a few other items, like 13 silver nails, each individually strapped to the wood, an excellent fountain pen, and a grocery list written in a grandmother's hand—"500g of grana, eggs, butter, olive al forno, tickets to La Scala for next Friday, Nonno’s razors, stamps"—this last obviously tucked in by a busy grandson, this Emilio.

But let us put the case away, back in the drawer in his desk; we are not ready to face what he faces.

May 16, 2008

The City's Skirts

The skirt was the reddish brown of cinnamon with white circles, as varied in diameter as the city Koti's coins, clustered in the bottom right-hand corner of its front. "It grew this morning in my garden," the old man said.

Bganti needed only a bird's cry of time to translate it.

"Thank you," he told the old man. When the man had gone, with the skirt neatly folded and thinking, no doubt, of how he would possibly sell such a plain garment, Bganti reached for his stack of thick notesheets.

'A brief fall of hail in the south-east of the city' he wrote, and had a boy take it to the Council-Head, who wanted every skirt-message that grew across the city -- even trivialities like the previous night's weather.

Bganti, Master Translator for the city Koti -- only translator of the city's skirt-sent communications -- reclined in his chair and schooled a carefully neutral expression as he flicked through his lie-filled records.


A week later the apple crop failed, as the city had known it would. A sudden chemical imbalance in the soil.


"This grew in the night. Looks like a complicated one."

"Bring it closer."

The woman with a crescent moon birthmark on her cheek did so, allowing him a thorough look: a discord of colours and patterns, triangles tessellating into stars and squares, smears of black like spilled ink across the spice hues of the rest.

Bganti's whole body stiffened, as if petrified.

"Bad news, Translator?" the woman asked.

"Ah… yes. Trouble at the market today. Perhaps another of those earth tremors."

"Not a bad one, is it?" Her voice went soft, worrying.

"I'll have the Council-Head put a warning out."


Sturdy travelling clothes, a few treasured books, a thumbnail painting of his mother -- Bganti packed them as fast as he could behind the concealment of pulled-down blinds. He'd expected more time than this, but natural forces did not follow a man's desired timetable.

The city bells rang the tenth hour of morning. He needed to leave.

But outside, in every street of the city, people hurried towards the southern gates carrying packs and loose possessions, and Bganti saw the woman with a crescent moon birthmark shouting through a megaphone. Pointing at the mountain to the city's north, warning of fire and super-hot smoke.

He had been promised so much money to conceal this.

"Working for the Abani, I take it," said a voice -- the Council-Head's -- as a pair of men seized Bganti, held him still. "Surely you didn't think my failures to train another Translator would continue forever. She's rather good."

As the men dragged Bganti back inside, the woman looked at him just once, with anger as visible on her body as her clothes.

May 15, 2008


A change had come over my office. I pushed back my chair, or tried to. I looked down. The floor was made of Swiss cheese and my casters were stuck. This was unusual. I gingerly made my way to the door. The door jamb, and the wall, were also cheese. I took a nibble?it was Monterey Jack. “Oh no,” I thought, “it’s that stupid supervillain.”

I squelched my way to Jolene's office. It smelled intensely of Edam and something equally pungent, instead of that nice perfume she wears.

"Hey," she said, "I hope you brought your appetite."

I tasted her file cabinet: Gruyere. "Nice," I said. She wrinkled her nose.

"I don't care for it," she said.

Then I thought of something. “The weather forecast,” I said. “It’s supposed to top 90 by noon.” The time? 11:15. Our offices are on the 9thfloor.

The elevator shaft was empty. A couple of people were looking down. I guess the ceiling wouldn't hold the weight of the elevator after the shaft was chedderized. We would have to take the stairs.

There must have been 100 people in the stairwell. It was at least 100º in there already; the smell was almost overpowering. Our feet sank into the Velveeta stairs. We had to scoot the last two floors on our asses so we wouldn’t plunge right through. Outside, police held back a huge crowd.


WHUMP! A glob of Muenster the size of a dumpster hit the sidewalk.

“I’ve been fondued,” Jolene screamed. She was covered head-to-toe. I peeled some cheese away from her eyes and looked up. I could see Got Cheese Man buzzing around, and a couple of media copters shooting 5 o’clock footage. The building was starting to come apart.

"Run" I shouted, but it was slow going in my sticky yellow galoshes. I looked for Jolene?she was in the arms of a policeman, being carried to the barricade.


I don’t remember much after that. The top 5 floors of the building let go and I was brained by my own desk chair. As for GCM, it was in all the papers. Apparently the backwash from one of the copters knocked him into the collapsing building and his transmuter went off by accident. Anyone want a life-size Camembert statue of the world’s cheesiest supervillain?

The end

May 14, 2008

On Darkened Lawns

It was a dark summer night during the big brown out of ‘05. The trains weren’t running and my girlfriend, Kerri, was stuck in the city. Even so, with no power to the traffic lights I was staying off the roads so I wouldn’t be going to see her tonight. Putting off the inevitable. On my way to Calahan’s to drown my sorrows, I noticed my neighbor’s lawn jockey was missing from its place among the parade of lawn deer, lawn ducks, and ceramic mushrooms that blighted an otherwise pleasant green-grassed, well-manicured-shrubbed, suburban front yard.

My relationship with Kerri was on borrowed time. Something about the old men at Calahan’s and the bartender who looked like she could have been something once, comforted me as I struggled with the question what does one do with the good times once a relationship is gone.

I drank myself into quite a stupor and sometime after midnight I figured it was time to shamble home before I risked not waking up tomorrow.

I walked home, no closer to any answers. Still lost in thought, I wondered why my keys didn’t work in my door. I looked at the lawn and realized I must have turned down the wrong block.

It was full of lawn jockeys, their lanterns shining with the glow of thousands of fireflies.

I stood there thinking, damn some kids really did a good one. And then I saw the jockeys were moving; escorting kids to and from the corner where the bus stops; trailing men in suits with brief cases to their cars. Everywhere scenes of suburban life were being played out like ghostly-recorded images and the lawn jockeys followed, illuminating them with their yellow-green, too-bright lantern light.

And for it a second it all made sense, I understood the place of these purposeless lawn ornaments in the universe. Then I reminded myself of the hour and the impossibility of it all and told myself that it couldn’t be.

“No, you had it right the first time,” said a blue and white jockey standing next to me. “This makes perfect sense. You’ve traveled far to see us my friend.”

As he spoke I had a vague recollection of passing out. Was that my body face down on the steps there behind the little cast iron man?

“So where do you want to go?” he said.

“To see Kerri, I guess,” I said without thinking. It came out naturally.

The clunk of horseshoes on asphalt filled the night. The jockey smiled and now that I heard the echoing sound I realized the rest of the commotion was strangely noiseless.

“Your question,” the jockey said. “Good times. They are a noble pursuit in and of themselves. They are never destroyed, even when you and she are no more.”

A pair of tall strong horses, the same yellow-green as the lantern light galloped down the block and stopped in front of the house.

I remembered tripping. Stumbling. Falling on the brick stairs. My head smashing on the concrete.

“So, I’m not going to make it work tomorrow after all, am I?” I asked.

The jockey’s fixed expression seemed somber as he stiffly shook his head from side to side. Then he climbed on one of the horses.

“Come on,” he said. “Kerri awaits. I shall race you there.”


May 13, 2008

Wonderglass / Lookingland

A series of zooms, like a camera moving in steadily on its subject.

In through the French doors, over the book-carpeted floor.

Past the couch, lingering just briefly on the open notebook, most of it diagrams and runes but also the words “Carroll as photomancer / Dodgson as positive to L.C.’s negative -- vice versa?,” and, in a more frantic hand, “decode to enact incantation to summon white rabbit.” This last is both circled and underlined, and it’s next to the part of the page that’s been ripped out.

Under the arch that divides one room from the next.

There’s a camera on a tripod, both of them antiques. A split second glimpse through the viewfinder, everything upside down and tiny and then we see it for real: the dining room table with everyday objects set on the checkerboard tablecloth like pieces in some mystical game. Our passage slows, as if we’re staring, as if these things mean something other than complicated madness. Oyster shells. A thimble. A caterpillar. A small bottle. A chess knight. At the corners, nonsense words on scraps of paper -- speeding up, we’re gone before getting enough of a glimpse to figure them out.

Through the pass-through into the kitchen, along crumb-covered counters, rising up just in time to clear the glass of milk souring beside the sink.

(For a moment, against the silence, faint, rapid ticking, then it’s gone.)

Out the back door, over the fire escape rail, into somewhere else.

May 12, 2008

The Shadowboxes

In Maia Everett's home were one dozen shadowboxes. Each box held items Maya associated with twelve dear friends from college. And in each box resided a homunculus six inches tall representing each of those friends.

The homunculi were connected to her friends, so that they copied in gross form what each was doing. They would lie down to simulate sleep, and mime their original's actions when awake. Maia spent hours each day monitoring the boxes, putting toy furniture in one or drawing a handkerchief over a homunculus in another acting out a friend's sickness.

So it went while Maia grew older and her friends married, traveled, and settled in far-off places. They met every ten years at reunions to compare rings and husbands and baby pictures. These get-togethers were precious to Maia, who had none of these.

Then, one day in April, Maia took refuge in an unfamiliar coffee shop and found herself before she knew it caught up in deep conversation with a group of neighbors. They talked of local politics and local weather and local events.

She visited the shop again and again, ignoring her shadowboxes. As Summer turned to Autumn and one year into another, they grew dusty, cobwebbed. She missed her next reunion. The homunculi continued repeating the activities of her schoolmates, but more slowly and tentatively.

Maia fell in love with Martin, another regular at the coffee shop. The day came when he was to visit her house. She cleaned each room, leaving the hallway of shadowboxes for last. What would he say when he saw them? He was not the sort to accept the unfamiliar. Should she cover them? But surely he would want to know what they were. Should she remove them? He would ask why these blank spots were here.

She dusted each box, even picked up every bit of furniture to clean beneath it. The homunculi grew sprightly as she gave them her attention, once more perfectly mimicking their originals' actions. One typed, another read a book, one of them was even dusting.

For a long hour Maia gazed at her shadowboxes, once more engrossed in her friends' lives. Then she caught up each homunculus in turn and tore it to pieces. The bits grew still in her hands.

She decided she would invite Martin to her next reunion.

May 9, 2008

Unexpected Results from Swedish Furniture

Mason wanted to get the kids' room finished, so, determined that the best thing to do was get some cute furniture, he carried me off to IKEA, hoping that that chair with the leaf hanging over it would be there, as well as a free table at the cafeteria so we could have meatballs and lingonberry juice.

We didn't bring the kids, because we knew that then we would go way over budget on pillows shaped like hedgehogs, tiny lamps that changed colors, etc.—not because we can't say no to our children, or because they might throw tantrums, because they don't much—really!—but because Teresa, in particular, has a way of sitting down on a pillow shaped like a hedgehog that makes it impossible not to want to repeat such an experience of total adorabilosity in our own home.

It's horrible, I know, but it could be so much worse.

Instead, I sat down on the pillow shaped like a hedgehog, Mason laughed (I love having a husband who laughs when I mean to be funny), and everything went dark.

I woke up in the manager's office with Mason trying to revive me with lingonberry juice, the lights in his spiky hair flickering into focus. I said, "I've always thought that haircut was too metrosexual," and almost went out again. He squeezed my hand.

"Thank goodness you're all right," said the manager. "We could give you the pillow," she added to Mason. "I'm sorry. It's just that it would be so bad for business if you came back."

"Well excuse me, aren't adults allowed to sit on hedgehog pillows?" I said, trying to sit up.

Mason squeezed my hand tighter and said, "Of course they are, monkey. The trouble is that they don't usually start rolling their head and prophesying when they do it."


"You don't remember anything?"


"I must have arrived while you were in full swing," said the manager kindly.

"Yes," Mason told me, "you pretty much gave a full synopsis of the next decade."

"It was the bit about our stocks that got to me, I admit," said the manager. "Although it was nice to know who's going to win the election."

They gave us the pillow. I'm looking at it right now, trying to decide what to do next (we've already agreed not to let Teresa sit on it).

May 8, 2008


It only took Henry eight lives to figure out who the people were that he needed to help. There were fourteen of them.

One was the housewife from Ontario who, given the chance to start a late life career in diplomacy, had finally brought peace to the Middle East.

One was a blind, retired marketing prodigy, who had turned zero population growth from a second-rate idealist cause into a worldwide obsession. He later said it was because he'd needed a hobby.

One was the guy who invented Sip Cars. One was the astronomer who detected the 2040 meteor in time. One made four movies about addiction and violence that turned those problems from shadowy worries into clear tasks people cared about working on. And so on.

Before those eight lives, it had taken Henry seventeen more to figure out what he should be doing with himself. Saving the world was not something that came naturally to him, and he had been trying to enjoy himself. Only after three times around from beginning to end had he begun to think that his repetitions might be something more positive than a cruel joke. The fourth life he'd gotten filthy rich, and hadn't been any happier. The fifth life he'd been very happy, but he hadn't made a difference in anyone else's life. The sixth life he'd made a difference in a few people's lives for the better, but they resented his meddling, and anyway, it was small potatoes compared to what someone like him should probably have been able to do.

Now it had been twenty-eight lives, ranging in length from 19 years (the ill-fated "experience everything" life) to 87 years (the happy life). Always an accidental or a natural death, never murder or suicide, always born in the same body, growing up nearsighted and gangly in the same neighborhood in Malvern, Pennsylvania at the same moment in history. Twenty-eight lives, and the world was beautiful. By the time Henry was 42 in his twenty-eighth life, those fourteen people had turned around the world's worst problems, from pollution and climate change to war and poverty and waste and ... well, not everything, but pretty close. It was a damned good world this time. Any more changes would just be fussing with it.

Henry put the barrel of the revolver in his mouth and hoped to God he wouldn't have to go back and do it all over again.

May 7, 2008

Notes on a Series of Bathroom Tiles Popular c.50 years ago

First tile.
A four-pointed star: the city of Ramne, simplified for the sake of ceramic representation.

Second tile.
A willow with six thick branches that keep pale cats on one side and dark cats on another; the latter cats are in a smaller space. The artist's choice of cats to represent the people of Ramne can likely be traced to her childhood at her mother's cattery, where the animals were kept in willow-wood pens, and perhaps also to the enduring popularity of cats with the people of Ramne.

Third tile.
A cat neither dark nor pale curled at the willow's base. Knowledge of Adne's actions makes the meaning of this tile clear: the cat is dead, self-poisoned, and its proximity to the tree means it too will die, just as Madar did from Adne's touch. A deceptively peaceful tile, but these are for popular consumption.

Four tile.
A triad of drooping willows, and in each corner of the tile is the Ramne-star. The stars' positioning signify that the drooping willows occur with Ramne. In truth it took longer for Adne's rebellion to have the small effect it had. The artist's need to hide meaning in trees and cats, almost a century later, indicates this.

Though it is sad to see Adne's sacrifice rendered as bathroom tiles, its presence during a daily cleansing ritual makes up for this somewhat.

May 6, 2008


The day was warm and a dry breeze blew out of the west. A good day for making cash.

Cars found a pebble. His hands were full. He picked it up in his toes and put it in his pocket. After he let Tools off at the mirror garden, he hid behind a solar array and examined his find. It tasted siliceous, with a hint of manganese. It was smooth and cool, pleasing to touch, so he kept it, despite its condition of no value.

Tools knew Cars had found something while carrying her to the garden. After making sure that her latest crop of mirrors had sufficient nutrients and were growing well, she called Tracks.

"Honey, I have a job of mutual profit." Tracks was already shaking her head.

"Cash up front. Always cash up front. You know that."

Tools bit the side of her finger while she thought. "Two mirrors. You choose."

They settled on three, and Tracks was on the case. What did Cars find, and what was it worth?

Cars and Digs were sitting together on the bluff. The horizon was rising to meet the sun. Digs spat the pebble out and handed it back.

"It doesn't taste good and it's not nutritious. It is only a pebble."

"I have wondered," he replied, "does everything have to have measurable value?"

She pushed him down and straddled him. "Compare," she said.

He popped the pebble in his mouth.

Cars dropped Digs off at the landfill excavation and ran to the taxi stand.

"You're late!" Bossman shouted, his hair standing up in fury. "You're docked a day's pay." He leaned forward and sneered. "We gotta be faaaaiiiiir!"

"You know what? I don't think that IS fair. Also, I don't want to carry people all day. Let them walk." He dropped the pebble into Bossman's hand.

"So what is it?" Tools asked. Tracks shrugged.

"He gave it to Bossman. Bossman threw it in the dirt and I picked it up. But it's only a pebble."

"Did he do anything special while he had it?"

"No. Put the pebble in his mouth and had sex with Digs."

Tools looked at the pebble. She tasted it. "You got the wrong thing. Go look again."

"Keep your mirrors," said Tracks, "I've got work to do." She put the pebble in her pocket, running her thumb over it as she walked away.

The end

May 5, 2008

It Was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Fusion-Powered Thingie

Nanette found it on the beach one day. A cube, three inches on a side, yellow as a school bus. There was a cute symbol of an atom etched on one side. For a couple of minutes she twisted and pulled at it to see if it would open.

She stashed it with her towel and street clothes, and went to play cowboys and indians with her older brothers. When they got home everyone listened to the new Frank Sinatra record.

Here's how Nanette's life is supposed to go. She'll finish grade school and head off to college just as the Vietnam War is heating up. The Summer of Love will find her at a Christian college in Texas, far from LSD and Jimi and the Freak Brothers. She'll marry senior year but it won't last. She drifts away from the church, works as a dental technician, and marries again at thirty, this time to a baritone in the St. Louis Opera. Three children later he dies in a freak Wagnerian spear accident. She inherits enough to raise the kids, work part time, and paint cowboys. She never sells a painting, but dies happy enough of something not too painful at the age of seventy-two.

But she's got the cube. It remains delightfully enigmatic. Everyone once in a while she takes it out and pries at it. Eventually she'll try tools: vises and hammers and a blowtorch.

Eventually she'll succeed.

May 2, 2008


"Don't be Triassic," snapped the Troodon. "This is the wave of the future."

The Ankylosaurus swished his massive tail dejectedly, crushing a small tree. "I can't help it my brain's the size of a golf ball," he said.

"Well, lucky you've got me around," said the Troodon, adjusting a piston. "So long as I don't eat you." He smiled in that toothy way theropods had, which the Ankylosaurus had never liked, and examined his work. "There, lovely. Drag that fuel over, will you?"

The Ankylosaurus, glad to be doing something the Troodon couldn't, walked carefully up to and past the invention, dragging the bundle of wood the Troodon had harnessed to him right up to the maw of the machine. The Troodon plucked several pieces out and threw them in, then struck a match (invented a century before by another Troodon) and tossed it into the piles of kindling already inside. A flame leapt up, and the Anklylosaurus watched the fire grow with a kind of anxious fascination.

"It's not doing anything," he said after a while.

"Shut up," said the Troodon, and the Ankylosaurus thought he sounded worried. "It just needs to heat up enough to ... oh! Ha! Ha ha ha! Yes! Look! Yes! It works! I'm a genius! It works!"

It did seem to be working. The flames were leaping up to caress the container of water, and through some means that the Ankylosaurus couldn't understand at all, this was moving a rod back and forth, which made a wheel turn. Smoke poured out of a small smokestack, and steam squirted out elsewhere. The Ankylosaurus waited, hoping there was more to it.

"That's it?" he said, finally.

"That's it? You lump! I've invented the steam engine! Can't you see what this means?"

"I don't know," said the Ankylosaurus. "It seems to be spitting up a lot of smoke."

"Pollution, bah!" scoffed the Troodon. " The sky is infinite, the waters are infinite ... what do you think's going to happen? We'll dirty ourselves to death? Ha! Dinosaurs have reached their rightful place as masters of the planet! You just wait!"

# # #

Fifteen hundred years later ...

A massive asteroid, more than six miles across, barreled toward a planet nearly covered in black, sooty clouds, though glimpses of brownish-blue and brownish-green were visible through small gaps. When it impacted, it would raise a lot of dust over the corpses of the last dinosaurs, who had starved to death on their choked planet only a hundred years before.

May 1, 2008

Secret Pocket

Warning: this story contains explicit violence towards a child. If the subject matter disturbs you, or if you just don't feel like reading this kind of thing now, you should probably move on. Check out our archives: there's lots of stories in there that you might like.


Limp crept into camp. He hoped to get good night's sleep before having to face Chief. He thought of the nano in his secret pocket, enough to buy a house, and leaned on the branch he carried for balance. He'd been away for three days and he'd lost the crutch. His mother wouldn't be happy.

"Patrice, is that you? Where have you been, you idiot boy?" Only his mother called him Patrice.

He tried to look as tired and bruised as he felt, but she came at him at full speed and slapped him before he could talk.

"You better have something for Chief, boy. He's been looking for you everywhere and he's not happy. What are you hiding? Where is it?"

Limp produced a couple of computer chips, a vial of penicillin and some nano. Finally, his mother was satisfied and stopped hitting him.

The boy got up and hopped to his tent, but was intercepted by Chief himself. Limp was prepared. He threw the rest of the nano at Chief's feet. Chief looked doubtful. It was more than could be expected from three days of scavenging, but he kicked Limp a couple of times for good measure. Limp sighed and took the wad of compressed nano out of his secret pocket.

"That'll teach you to keep things from me!" Chief threw Limp a worthless chit.

Limp washed the blood off his face and examined his body for broken bones. The lead residue under his skin protected him from the worst of the sun's radiation, but it also gave him a molted color that kept most of the bruises from showing. He blessed the missionaries for geneering his ancestors to survive in the Waste.

He thought of the skid he'd stolen from one of them. It was worth more than all the nano in Chief's coffers and he didn't plan on handing it over to him. It had taken two days of digging, but Limp had made sure it was buried deep.


This story is part of the Children of the Waste series. You can check out a longer story set in the same world at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2007/20070115/godtouched-f.shtml