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July 31, 2008

Sweet Baby Honey

Is that a rustling among the cobwebs at Cabal central? Unfamiliar footfalls in our dusty corridors? It is, in fact, a new Cabalist approaching, the first of several who'll be joining us in coming weeks.

Please welcome Jason Fischer, who debuts today with something a bit on the dark side. You can learn a bit more about him from the members link above. (One quick errata, Jason's blurb link at left didn't come out quite right, so please find information about a forthcoming anthology appearance for him here.)

And now, over to Jason...

Shen wants to eat me.

He’s feeding me again, and this time he’s spooning the honey all over me, all over us. A month ago he started serving me a thick mead, but it’s just honey now, it’s all that I eat and drink.

When I die, he’s going to put me in a box. He’s shown it to me, it’s even got my name on a metal plate and a blank spot where that final date will be engraved. There’s a row of wax-lined clay coffins in his cellar, kept under temperature control. I was jealous of these others at first, but Shen convinced me that I was different, special.

We’re going to have a baby.

He’s careful as we make love, rolling around in the sweet sticky goop. I’m somewhere in my second trimester, but trust me when I say it’s easy to lose time in this house.
Honey. It’s all I can taste, all I can smell. I never used to like the stuff, but now I suck greedily at the spoon, lick it from his skin, stuff my hands into the jar like Winnie the Pooh.

He let me taste one of the others once, a girl called Gwendoline. She died with a smile on her face in 1908. He cracked open the wax seal, pushed the lid to one side. She was suspended in three feet of honey, her flesh withered and crystallised. The smell was something between honey and a strong fortified wine.

‘Try,’ he said gently, and I snapped off her little toe. Without hesitation I put it into my mouth, and there it rested like the Host itself, melting and suffusing my mouth with immortality and joy.
‘Enough,’ Shen told me. ‘Any more and you’ll hurt the baby.’

One day soon I will stop moving, and as my organs all begin to shut down he will gently place me into my coffin. Shen will kiss my forehead, rub my bulging tummy, and begin to pour in the honey. I’m torn that I’ll never get to hold our baby, but when he eats his way out of my womb in a hundred years time, he will have the same golden-brown skin that his daddy has, and the same prospects.

Then father and son will eat me together, our first and only meal as a family.


July 30, 2008

The Pathless Garden

Hemmed in on three sides by the blank walls of buildings and on the fourth by an unbroken fence, the garden is never less than perfect. In spring, there are hyacinths and daffodils, in summer lilies and geraniums, and in autumn chrysanthemums and violas. In winter, nothing grows there.

There are no entrances, no paths.

And no weeds.

Mark, my husband, says the garden was put there for us and the other thirty or so families in our apartment building across the street. He says God put it there, and that angels hover over it, weeding and sowing. It might, he says, even be the Garden of Eden.

Mark says a lot of things.

And when I ask where the apple tree is, he just scowls.

Winter comes, and still no one enters the garden. The flowers drop their petals. Overnight, all the empty stalks disappear. The garden is a flat expanse of dirt ready for spring.

Mark frets about it. I wait for fresh color to enter the world. On Valentines Day he brings me a silk rose. Our fight that evening is over something inconsequential, something tiny. Something that means everything. He leaves.

It's not the first time he has left me, but he doesn't return. A month later a tender sapling sprouts in the center of the pathless garden. I watch to see what fruit it will bear.

July 29, 2008

Past Due

Tito always meant to return the demon. Thing is, it was so darn useful when Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door. Plus, the demon did the laundry and other chores while Tito was at work. Everything was fine and dandy until he got the overdue notice.

"Holy sh*t! This can't be right! This is the first notice I received, and it says I already owe a fine of 1.5 souls. I don't have 1.5 souls." He rubbed his bare scalp with one hand and shook the offending postcard in the demon's face with the other.

The demon sneered. "Bureaucrats. Emasculated worms. I'll take care of this."

A month later, Tito got a second postcard. 2.0 souls, and the case was being referred to a collection agency called "The Sole Source."

"I thought you took care of it," he screamed. The demon was vacuuming the drapes.


"Collection agency! And turn off the damn vacuum!" He was almost as red as the demon.

The demon took the postcard. "Oooo! They must really have something on you. These guys don't pick up every sorry hellbound Tom, Dick, or Harriet."

Tito was pacing back and forth. "I haven't done anything. Not really. We need to take care of this before they get here."

"Too late," the demon said. The picture window exploded inward, shards of glass flashing and tinkling as they hurtled across the room. Four or five creatures hopped in. They were about the size of adult men, covered with patchy fur and what looked like scabs. Their wings were feathered. Their teeth were huge and brows low.

Tito put up his hands. "Look, this is all a misunderstanding. Here's the demon. You can just take him now."

"And how do we get our commission then?" the monkey asked.

"I never got the first notice," Tito quavered. "Can't this bill be resubmitted?"

"Sure," the monkey growled. "But that has to be done in hell."

"Tell you what," Tito said. "Why don't I send my servant here down to wait in line and get this straightened out. When the final decision is made, just let me know and I'll pay whatever I owe." There must be even more red tape in hell than above ground. Most likely he'd be dead before the infernal bureaucrats figured out what to do with him.

Today was Saturday. He was going to get stinking drunk tonight, and repent tomorrow. There was a Catholic church just around the corner.

The end

July 28, 2008


When the first saucer landed the little green men didn’t say “take us to your leaders,” but “which way is Hollywood?” I suspected an ulterior motive, but couldn’t figure out what. I couldn’t believe they had come to make it big time on the silver screen but then again I was one of those people who thought the movie Titanic would be a flop. Now my youngest daughter has posters of greenie heartthrobs all over her room. And I can’t turn on the T.V. or open a paper without seeing a smiling green mug.

Hollywood’s leading men were out of work and outspoken against the “green invasion”. Tom Cruise was short, like them, and had that same insincere smile, an act, a friendly veneer that I always thought hid something, some secret. So I thought if his complaints weren’t so sad they’d be funny. Throngs of young men were coloring their skin green and wearing their hair done up in a kind of cone to mimic the Martians’ domed heads. Tall guys had it rough for once.

Apparently the Martian’s hadn’t heard of monogamy. The tabloids were full of their exploits but even that couldn’t quell the frenzy.

The awards circuit that year was full of little green men in shades and Yves Saint Lauren suits with tall starlets on their arms. My eldest girl brought home a boy done up in that stupid green body powder. Even my wife tried to get me to admit the green men were so cute and stylish. We fought over why I wouldn’t consider changing my hairstyle.

Some greenie band held a concert at the new Shea Stadium. It was like Beatlemania all over again, times a thousand. But still I wondered, why?

Until the next day when an Armada of saucers arrived. One over each of our cities. The invasion I had always feared had come. But not how I thought.

“Daughters of Earth,” the Martian ambassador announced on every channel on every station, “the sons of Mars have arrived and they all need brides.”

- END-

July 25, 2008


That summer, the fad was gamelan orchestras -- steam-driven gamelan orchestras. You heard them clanging in corners of beer gardens half the night. You couldn't take a walk the next morning without passing crank-wound tabletop models tinkling in sidewalk cafes and their circular melodies would chase around the inside of your skull the rest of the day.

Joe the Wrench knew what was next and vowed he'd be the first to get where the fad was going. His first girlfriend's father was Balinese; he'd whistled some of those unshakable tunes. And he'd told them stories of what that music had accompanied. So Joe rolled his barrel of tools to the burned-out terrace where a beer garden had been, and set to work on the remnants of the gamelan engine.

He brought in scraps of a walking machine in vogue two summer's back. He lugged discarded, discolored hides from the tannery, struck deals with the least mad of the sidewalk chalk artists and the least reclusive of the seamtresses' guildswomen. He hung canvas, strung lines of the thinnest, strongest cord he could find, and stockpiled cylinders of light-lime.

Word got around. His ex-girlfriend's father started dropping by late afternoons. He said he was glad she'd married that bank clerk fellow who kept getting promoted -- no offense, he admired Joe's energy, and his skill, but he sometimes doubted his direction. The doubts weren't strong enough that he wouldn't hang around to see how it all turned out.

He told stories and Joe listened as he assembled, as his machine rose and sprawled along the beer garden's back wall. He told the old stories he'd seen performed, seas and years away, performances he barely remembered, four decades gone. Weddings and battles and games of dice and castles of fire. Demons and monkey-princes. Joe the Wrench nodded, posed occasional questions, spent evenings listening while he punched miles of spliced-together piano roll.

Then opening night: Joe stoking the engine, leveling pressure, lighting the lights and loosing the catches. From charred benches, the audience watched shadows stream across backlit canvas, puppet silhouettes driven as much by the music as by gears and steam.

Demon weddings. The histories of fire-monkey dynasties. Games of dice.

His ex-girlfriend's father stared, smile wide, eyes sad. "That's wonderful," he said. "That's not the way it was at all."

July 24, 2008

An Abruptness of Gulls

The rain-slicked cobblestones.
The pleasure girl, and what she saw.
The pallid man and his burden.
The unwelcome attentions of hired guns.
A dock, and what was moored there.
A cabin, and what was hurled there.

A father and his grief.
The bloodhound and a soiled dress.
The alley's end.
And what was found there.

An abruptness of gulls.
The sameness of days.
A rocking of swells.
An eternity in the dark cabin.

A dockside tavern and a looseness of tongues.
An open palm and the readiness of coin.
A ship, most excellent and speedy.
A pursuit and the hope of rescue.

A port, the shining sand, a singing in the trees.
The tendrils that writhe.
Calls that echo and reply.
The narrow and winding path.
A bicep gripped by a tall man's hand.
An ancient rune-carven stone.
An intonation of Words.
A flowering of crimson.
The opening of a Door.

The silence of leaves underfoot.
An imposition of tendrils.
The virtues of tempered steel.
The silence in a clearing.
Some consequences of tardiness.
A buzzing of flies.
The stickiness of that which remains.
A gathering interest of crows.

The end

For Fritz Leiber

July 23, 2008

They Came a Lot to Camelot

For Mark Ferrari

Barely teenagers on their first expedition to Avalon, the three of them--Gwen, Lance and Mark--sought adventure. They paddled for three hours over Lochness Lake when a sea monster raised their rowboat aloft and, lurchingly, transported them. They clung to the gunwales, trying not to upset the boat’s precarious balance. “Land ho!” the three cried gleefully as the monster lowered them into the bay of a deserted isle.

They thanked the monster, which bowed as though accepting their gratitude graciously. Then it pulled up some seaweed and chewed like a cow, eyeing the tiny upright monkeys with bored indifference as seawater dribbled down its jaw.

However, they weren’t in Avalon but Camelot. That wasn’t the worst of it. Not only was Camelot a deserted desert isle, but a Bedouin must also have erected a discount-camel emporium, decorating it with sagging party balloons and brightly colored if tattered banners that quipped “Camelot’s Camel Lot!” The Bedouin then, due no doubt to disappointing sales in the British Isles, abandoned the lot.

The gaunt camels--still bound by the neck to stakes--periodically bent, sniffed and nibbled the sand in search of nourishment. Gwen, Lance and Mark tugged up handfuls of seaweed from the lake bottom and fed the camels. They built a makeshift water distillery, filled it, and watered the camels, each of which slurped eagerly and sloppily.

The camels and the trio became fast friends, despite the camels’ reluctance to give the trio a tour of the island. After camping the night on the beach beside the camels, Gwen, Lance, and Mark took turns rowing the camels, one by one, ashore. When at last they’d completed their arduous task--the camels bestowing love-bites to show their appreciation--the trio decided it would be best to find the camels caring homes (Mark suggested bottom-dwelling sea scavengers--a suggestion more desired than acted upon).

After selling them as guard dogs, Mark, Gwen and Lance made a bundle, which afforded them Avalon expeditions out the wazoo. Despite forty years of trying, however, they never did find Avalon.

They’ve still got time.

July 22, 2008

Gap of Dreams

When the human race grew up a bit and got more sense, and matters on Earth were better in hand, we had a chance to look further about the place, just as we had always wanted to:—and when the time was right, making the proper ships was easier than we thought. So we flickered about in the deeps of space like fireflies in a North American summer night, and sometimes we found an answering flicker. The Sudantii were one of these. (It's not their own name for themselves, which we don't have the scent glands to pronounce, but one given them by an Irish romantic with bad spelling.)

We taught them a lot, whether we meant to or not: how to grow pumpkins, which do extremely well on their world, in some places growing big enough to be good houses; how to make whiskey, which they like best as a perfume. They taught us a lot, whether they meant to or not: how to grow detachable tails; how to grow detachable tales, which, like the wagging kind, may be reconnected elsewhere. From them, we learned not to hurry. From us, they learned to dream. Neither people yet knows how (our children might).

The Sudantii set aside whole evenings for dreaming.

"It is art," they said.

"It is a manner of excavating terrors, yet safely," they said.

"It's fun," their elders said.

"But we like the gap of dreams best," one friend told us.

"What’s that?" One of us asked.

"Have you not practiced this art many thousands of years?"

"Yes, but perhaps we use different words."

"The gap of dreams, it is the place you walk to just before waking. You come to it and all the dreams are still around you, releasing their perfumes, and you think you're in them still, but a voice is scenting, 'You are in a dream.' And you drift to the surface. And you wake."

They told us how some of them had begun to practice lengthening that moment. They have Gappers now, who came back from that place with answers, questions—even recipes. We have begun to gap, too.

Ah, the gaps! The lurch before planetfall. The breath before you lead your lover into your new pumpkin. The space after the equal sign in an equation. The moment you smell whiskey perfume, before you lean back and count the stars like fireflies.

July 21, 2008


I arrived at Cumberland Head around midnight, but the ferry there runs through the night. After I queued up, a man pulled into the lane beside me, towing a motorboat on a trailer.

He smoked a cigarette while we waited, watching the illuminated bulk of the ferry loom at us out of the darkness.

Ten minutes later, safely parked on the lower deck of the Evans-Wadhams-Wolcott, I locked the car and mounted the metal steps to the upper deck, where you could see. The wind was strong and damp, but the weather was too mild to be uncomfortable, and I stood looking out as we moved into the darkness, my hair streaming back.

We moved into the night like fox into a dark wood. The only substantial light that night came from far ahead and to the right, thin towers lit in pink and yellow and orange. It was another ferry, I thought. It was a refinery. It was a fairy city. It was a UFO, hovering just above the surface of the water, everyone there watching us, seeing something familiar in the moving lights.

On the deck below I saw the man who'd brought his boat on the boat. He stood, not smoking, far forward down there in the darkness where no cars were parked. I wondered what he was letting go of.

It wasn't until the ferry began to turn that I saw what the lights really were: the ferry landing on Grand Isle, where we were headed. It's a short crossing--fifteen minutes, maybe. But I wasn't sure the darkness was done with me, or the wind. I went down onto the lower deck, moving with some urgency I would have had trouble explaining, keeping clear of the other man, watching the lights ahead of us wax as we slid over the black water. The lights grew until I thought they could swallow me, and it seemed like it was only a moment before it was time to go back to the car, my black Toyota, waiting silently on the deck.

The lights filled the air around me. The wind lifted, pushed, streamed, pulled, carried.

* * *

The cars in the back eventually had to go around the black Toyota, but Mark Dunfee, who was bringing the boat he used to think he wanted more than anything in the world to a buyer at Lake Memphremagog, stayed behind to search with the crew. The car was locked, and there was definitely no one in there. There was no one in the faux-wood paneled cabin on the upper deck, no one on the highest deck where only crew were allowed. Mark kept straining his ear to hear splashing, cries.

They had to leave the black Toyota on the Evans-Wadhams-Wolcott for three more trips back and forth until the police sent a tow truck for it. Mark waited as they took it away, not smoking, though he wanted to.

When the tow truck was gone and the ferry had left for Cumberland Head yet again, there was no excuse to stay. He climbed into his truck and drove away in the darkness, wondering.

July 18, 2008

The Three Gifts

Once upon a time, there was a sick king nobody could fix. His officials put a reward online: $1 million, a Ford F250 pickup, and dinner with his daughter.

A ways out of town lived three brothers, all probably handsome.

"We ought to try for this reward," said the eldest. "We can't afford Mom’s medicine."

That very day they climbed into their beat-up Pinto. It broke down just outside the royal city. They rested their feet at a diner, where the eldest brother spent his last dollar on a tip for the waitress, whose son was doing his homework at the next table.

When they got to the palace, the guard told them they would have to fill out forms 1040-SC, F-250, and of course the usual SSA-3369-BK, before they could come in.

"But the king may be dying," said the second brother. He kept on until she went for the Platoon Captain, who went for the Undersecretary for Paraguay, who went for the Quality Assurance Manager, and so on, ‘til a young woman came down.

"I'm the Chief Security Officer," she said. "What's up?"

"We've come to heal the king," said the second brother.

She looked at him hard, then said, "Follow me."

When they got to the royal bedchamber, she said, "Now what?"

The youngest brother spoke up. "We hadn't thought that far. But we did read a lot in the Pinto. We have some ideas."

"You've got gall," said the Chief.

"Doesn’t he?" Said the second brother.

The Chief walked up to the bed and put her hand on the king’s forehead. He opened one eye, then the other.

"You have healed the king," she said to them. "You see, he is the kingdom. And he was sick for lack of what you have.

... I was the waitress you gave your last dollar to," she told the eldest. "You bring compassion.

"... I was the guard whose forms you wouldn't fill out," she told the second brother. "You bring persistence.

"... and of course, I was the Chief Security Officer you told you were making this up," she told the youngest. "You bring guts.

"But I want to take you to dinner, Second Brother."

The second brother went out with her. The eldest dated the Undersecretary, and the youngest got the pickup. Their mom and the king got better, and all is well in the kingdom.

July 17, 2008

Brothers of the Ravenous Regret

Four score and seven years ago, four and twenty black birds brought forth a cawing to our backyard’s Chinese elms. The birds supplanted the colored leaves that had fallen and left the trees barren. Some of the birds drooped by their legs, upside down like primates--almost as if the birds had been tied to the limbs with a bit of twine. They--both birds and trees--were so frightful in appearance that we remained indoors. No matter, the incessant caws pierced our house’s thin bay windows.

The twins, side by side on seats that Father had built for them, did not open their mouths to speak or eat for days. The living-room grandfather clock donged the hour, which they--as we later learned--did not count. The twins moved only to shift in their seats, sigh, or perform what looked like a secret handshake.

We worried over this and coffee around the kitchen table while Aunt Effie baked some of her famous monkey bread. But even this failed to entice them. We had to console her because Aunt Effie blamed herself--as we, more often than not, were all wont to do.

On the third day of fasting, we keyed up a doctor--the latest model, which included a built-in fMRI. While it examined the twins, we got out the shotgun and fired at the roosting black birds to get them to move on. The birds merely swirled into the sky and settled back down into the elms. A few merely swung back and forth, dangling by their legs.

When we returned, the doctor had left a fMRI-recording of our twins’ thoughts: “Our existence is little more than to devour, oxidize, drowse and defecate. Why bother?”

We tried to reason with our brothers, but they could not yet understand English.

July 16, 2008

My Very Best Friend

Chelsea always had everything first. Antigravity car. First one in town. Clone. Her twin force-grown two years before they were available outside of Korea. Alien pet (that didn't look like a beach ball with chicken feet). So what if it had to be put down after eating a Dairy Queen? She had the record. Lost her virginity first, after downloading the entire Kama Sutra into her frontal lobe. Valedictorian of our middle-school graduating class. Me? I did just about everything last. My claim to fame was being Chelsea's only real friend. I felt so bad for her. She did all of these cool things, but no one really liked her. Some of them pretended to, but I knew, and she knew. It was my idea for her to be the first to have lesbian sex. Of course the plan was that she would have it with me, and so I would be first also. Karin never really liked Chelsea. She just did it to be first. I babysat Chelsea's twin little brothers. I hardly charged anything; I just wanted to be in her house. She usually wasn't there, so I went in her room. I wore some of her things. The boys would never tell. I unlocked the Internet controls for them. I hacked her computer, broke into her secret diary, found what she wrote about everyone. She said a lot. She wrote a lot about me. And the next day, when Chelsea got in her anti-gravity car to go to high school? The controller must have frozen up, because it shot straight up in the air, flipped over, and then shot straight down, at top speed! It was terrible! I ran over. But when I got there I could see there was nothing I could do. And when the rescue AIs arrived, there was nothing they could do either. It seems Chelsea had been carrying some high-grade nano with her. That stuff is illegal! Especially in school, but some people don't always obey the rules. The nano pack somehow got activated by the crash and there was nothing left of Chelsea's brain to scan.

I get along much better with her clone. She's nicer than Chelsea was, and she has more than one friend. But I'm her very best friend. I always have been.

the end

July 15, 2008

After Babel

After the Confusion and the Scattering, Gether son of Aram remained a farmer in the plains of Shinar in spite of the hardships:

* First, there was always having to mime everything because, no matter how loudly you shouted, no one understood anything you said.

* Then, there was the soil. The earth had been stripped to bedrock to make bricks for the tower, so Gether and his sons plowed narrow bands of silt either side of the river.

* Now that Nimrod had scarpered off to found other cities, there was no royal treasury to disburse subsidies to those farming in the tower's shadow.

* Also, when Nimrod had been around, mighty hunter he was, lions had been scarce. Now it was Gether's goats who were scarce.

* Finally (and this annoyed Gether so much that he tugged the curl right out of his beard) the tower was full of noisy ghosts who chattered all the time in that language that had once seemed as natural to Gether as thought, but was now as unintelligible as the hooting of baboons -- and far more depressing. What with the lions, however, the tower was the only place to live.

Gether called his sons together, and they debated over cups of weak wine. The more they drank, the harder it was to interpret each others' miming. He tried to convince them that it was time to round up the last couple goats and move to Ninevah, and they finally seemed to get it. They packed up their belongings at met Gether at dawn.

To his chagrin, they didn't follow him out, but began climbing the vast spiral stair that led around the outside of the tower. He hurried after them through the overgrown remnants of the hanging gardens. His sons' gestures made no more sense than their words.

They climbed. As they approached the summit, he readied himself for a smiting from above. When his sons picked up discarded tools, he seized his beard with both hands in panic.

One son whacked bricks loose from the topmost wall; the other shoveled them over the edge. Still no smiting, and the too-near sun seemed to beat a little less harshly on Gether's head.

One of his sons said something nearly intelligible, and Gether picked up a pry-bar to help with the deconstruction.

After that, the ghosts made a little more sense every day.

July 14, 2008

One Bright Morning

"Say, mister, you sure are going fast in that thing."

"My God--get out of here, kid!"

"Whatcha got there, a rocket pack? You invent it?"

"No, don't touch that! Keep away!"

"Aw, you don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not a ghost or anything like that. I'm a angel!"

"I can see that."

"I wasn't always a angel, though. I was a kid once. You got kids?"

"Angels are a separate kind of beings. They're not people."

"Some of 'em. Not me, though! I died in 1938. Fell in the creek and banged my face on a rock and whaddaya know, next thing I'm a angel! Lost my two front teeth, too. See?"

"Stop getting so close! You touch the wrong knob and I'll drop a mile straight down. Can you just go home? I have to talk to God. Things aren't going right down there. I don't think this is how it's supposed to be."

The kid-angel swooped in little spirals around the man as the rocket pack blasted the man up through the blue glare and toward the golden glimmer he could already glimpse far above him.

"I don't know," the kid said. "Maybe that's not such a good idea. Cantcha talk to him from down there?"

"I tried that."

"What are ya, a preacher? Ya look like a preacher."

"I am."

"But yer an inventor, too?"

"Get away from that! Shoo! Didn't you hear me? You could kill me fiddling with that!"

"Sorry. I just never seen anything like this. I'm mighty interested! What's this do?"

When the kid-angel touched a switch, the rocket pack sputtered and died. The man screamed as he tumbled backward, down toward the clouds, his arms outstretched and a pleading expression on his face. The kid-angel fluttered in place.

When the rocket pack man was gone, the kid-angel wiped his nose on his sleeve, which had gotten runny from all the crying. Finally he looked upward and flipped his wings once, sending him shooting toward Heaven. He wouldn't be needed again for another 63 years, Saint Peter had said. He'd be able to spend the rest of the time playing and talking and swimming and singing hosannas and whatever he liked. In Heaven, even. And he could go say sorry to that man when the fella arrived in a few minutes.

But it was still a crummy job.

July 11, 2008


I was born here. My parents came from Earth, stolen before the stars aligned, so they just have one head and two arms apiece. Most humans here are slaves, but I have a good job. I get regular meals and have my own sleeping place under the grub shed. I'm a milkmaid. I milk the grubs. They look sort of like dholes, but they are white and their faces are tiny. Twice a day I milk the ichor that comes out from nipples on each body segment. Of course their nipples are not like mine, and they don't have breasts either. Their little faces are so cute, with round black lips and rows and rows of needlelike teeth, noses that are just patterns of holes, and eyes so shiny and black they look like seeds. The ichor stinks. It reminds me of the smell from the pit where they threw disobedient slaves until there were so many rat scorpions they had to call in the Horde.

I have my own bed. Sugar mushrooms grow under there, and I eat them early in the morning before anyone else finds them. They are so good. Also, slaves sleep outside the fence and every morning some of them come in covered with bites, or the oozing blisters made by the rat-scorpion stings. Most of the slaves don't live as long as I have already. I'm grown up now, I am 14. That's old enough to be a bride of He Who Is Not Named. I hope that this year his priest will choose me. If I carried the Son, I would not have to work as a milkmaid. I would tell everyone else what to do, and inspect them at their work, for the first two trimesters. After that, they would have to bring me whatever I wanted. If I carried the Son I would keep them busy finding things that don't grow here. Things only found on Earth, and nowhere since the alignment. I hope I would not want the same things Kerry wanted. Before the end she was asking for live lizards, the entrails of virgins and other disgusting stuff. And none of it made a difference. She split open and was all hollow, just like the rest.

The end

July 10, 2008

Example Sentences

Another Sunday promenade in spite of the heat, and Lill's collar rubbed rascant lines in the skin behind her ears.

By the frost-stained fountain, amid the clatter of the icicle chimes, she heard him before she saw him, and he was saying, "Nevermind what he charges, he tensioned up the hopplag and the gears haven't slipped since." He had a striped coat, green-tinted googles, and an asymmetrical grin.

She turned to see him astride a blue metal ornithoptopede, chatting with another rider. He tipped his hat as she passed and she resolved to find some pretext for conversation on her next circuit of the slippery tile-walk. But he and his friend were gone by the time she returned. That thurtling in the treetops might have been them.

She got herself a cup of herb-flecked ice so she could loiter and watch. She chipped away with the tiny wooden spoon the vendor had given her. It was stoce. She hated stoce. She ate the whole thing, but he didn't come back.

She walked home the long way, and found grim amusement in the most neglected corner of the sculpture garden, where the statues of a quartet of primly-posed town fathers were draped with an exuberance of flowering ullivaria. She thought she saw cracks in the stone under the tendrils' coils.

Back home, she cut silhouettes out of cheap fetzbalk, sigils that would represent the day's events when she pasted them in her diary.

When the light grew too dim for the fine cutting, she laid the book aside. Out the window, the sky above the courtyard was as widensh as she felt.

July 9, 2008

From An Ancient Tablet, With Successive Historical Notations (Translated)

With the last gleam of the wolf's eye[14] will fall the night[1].

[1] Robert of Tours speaks of this fragment being borne from the tomb of king Vraghur II of the Cirroghs, born in the 714th year before Our Lord, whose armor was carved into the likeness of a wolf[7], a prophecy of the fall of the Cirroghs at the proud king's passing.[2] (Jacques Etablant, 1310)

[2] Though the fragment be Cirroghic[3], no death of kings did it fortell but the death of us all, in the Plague[4] God hath wrought upon us, the weak and the strong alike. So show the French their putrid ignorance. (John of Hampdenmontfordshire, 1351)

[3] Be it Cirroghic? And who the Cirroghs, pray?[5] Though long extolled as paragons of ferocity, the learned man in modern days misdoubts that ever such men walked the earth.[6] (Albert Burlowe, 1605)

[4] Good John, were thou but mistaken of the nature of the thing, yet thou art mistaken only of the year! Thus God doth visit on us finally the last and worst plague, and we perish like (illegible) (author unknown, London, 1666)

[5] The Cirroghs were a race of bean farmers residing in the valley of Dziban, though they were not known to write with the Old Dazibanic script in which the table is inscribed. Yet they did exist! (Caleb Blackford, 1884)

[6] Oh? Then why is it that Vraghur II's breastplate recently surfaced during excavations in Dziban?[8] (Blackford, 1884)

[7] But there was no wolf on it, so we doubt this tablet to have referred to Vraghur II[9]. (Blackford, 1884)

[8] Never mind. The breastplate, it appears, was a hoax. (Blackford, 1886)

[9] An excellent conclusion, as the Cirroghs were slaughtered to the last man[10] in the reign of Vraghur I. (Wolfgang Krunt, 1928)

[10] A 1952 excavation reveals evidence of surviving Cirroghs in Albania, however.[11] (Dr. Janice Pitui, 1973)

[11] Which doesn't prove[12] it's Cirroghic. (Dr. Walter Mordartur, 1974)

[12] Nothing in science is proven[13], as the occasional buffoon may forget (Pitui, 1974)

[13] But we talked about it a lot and decided it probably wasn't Cirroghic anyway (Dr. Janice Pitui-Mordartur, 1976)

[14] A mistranslation; recently reviewed and retranslated as "With the last gleam of the sunset, will fall the night." Appears to be an ancient snippet of amateur poetry. (Andre Hampden Etablant, 2017)

July 8, 2008

Tyrone Wilson's Metropolis

Tyrone Wilson grew up across the street from Metropolis--the details still snap like a Polaroid fished from a closet shoebox... vivid until you finger it.

Metropolis was trifling--as far as metropolises go--but its sundry skyscrapers impressed: jade-colored glass, clunky obtuse obsidian distortions, steel needles stitching heaven and earth, arches sculpted from dark marble and granite ledges topped by grimacing gargoyles.

Before the school bus arrived, Ty knelt in the bromegrass and peered through the glass-domed metro down at the traffic bustle. He liked the warehouse heavy equipment operators because that’s what he wanted to do when he grew up: lift heavy stuff men couldn’t budge.

On cold mornings when the machinery refused to turn over, Ty made sympathetic chugs by flapping his lips, and the engines started right up. Though Metropolis largely did not notice him, an operator gazed up and thanked Ty, which delighted him immensely.

Once a mother pushed a double stroller across a curvy road and, with her parka hood up, didn’t see the oncoming furniture truck. Ty shoved it into a stack of pomegranate crates and panes of green glass lining the sidewalk. At the whining steel, snapping wood and shattered glass, the mother whirled in the middle of the lane to gape.

For days, she counted beads.

Because she reminded him of Mother--warming formula, microwaving Spaghetti-Os, changing old diapers for new--Ty kept watch, saving her life again when her toddler turned on the old gas stove without the pilot light on. But the mother never learned of this and soon forgot the furniture truck.

The truck driver did not. He cussed out whatever inflicted this upon him. His life savings were tied up in that truck--not to mention his responsibility for the furniture, now lacquered kindling. The driver, it turned out, was a frustrated writer; and the incident ignited his muse. The book, detailing how a superior being must be inferior in a screwed-up world, became a bestseller. This wouldn’t have troubled Ty if the mother, whom he’d saved, hadn’t nodded agreement with the book. If everyone quit believing in superior beings, it reasoned, they would cease to exist; the universe would make sense.

That seemed as good as any way to ask Ty to leave.


Years later, whenever he met someone from his old neighborhood, he’d hedge around the crazy question. No one remembered Metropolis. Only a weedy parking lot where people dumped their defective appliances. Which made more sense when he thought about it.

July 7, 2008

Iri's Work

Exhibit 1.a: The lines are a millimetre deep and three times as wide, and milky white compared to the pine-brown skin surrounding them. They line up like pale railings against a wall.

The placard underneath the image says that the woman painted is twenty-two.

Paper lanterns hung outside the gallery’s high windows, shedding patches of their colour -- blue and yellow, red and seaweed-green -- onto Turme’s white dress. She stood with her back to the lanterns, staring at the row of foot-wide paintings.

The pale lines matched so neatly those on her own thighs.

Exhibit 2.a: Look closely to see the lines, barely darker than the skin. Look closely to see how they cross the small breast, how they stretch between side and nipple.

The placard underneath says that the woman painted is nineteen.

Turme remembered the reviews: A gallery of that which is hidden away -- for good reason! and What next, will artists paint the deformed and claim to be showing beauty?

“These are beautiful paintings,” she said.

“There’s a trend among artists to conceal the marks left by natural growth,” the gallery’s owner replied. “Iri, the artist, feels that concealment is un-necessary.”

She wanted to raise a hand and run her fingers over the paintings. Would they dip like the marks on her thighs? The paint looked textured enough for it.

When had she last seen artwork so honest?

Exhibit 2.c: Dark lines curve over soft skin, like half-bracelets, on the side of the girl. They point to the small of her back. They point to the lowest part of her stomach.

“I’ve been to six galleries today,” Turme said, “and seen a lot of paintings of nudes with flawless skin like glass from the Suresh Quarter. The ones with blue and green hair were interesting, I suppose. This, however...” She looked along the wall, at arms and legs, breasts and stomachs, covered in pale and dark lines.

“Would you like to meet Iri?” the gallery’s owner asked.

“I suppose I should, as I intend to sponsor his work.”

July 4, 2008

Highway 0

You enter the tunnel heading north out of Oklahoma City. They wanted it in an area without seismic activity. The incline is barely noticeable at first, a grade gentler than Highway 70 coming down off the Rockies from Denver. The road you're on gently curves to the right. You're on a spiral to the center of the Earth.

Delicate reliefs of local fossils decorate the walls. All are from the Permian Era or earlier. Only the western third of Oklahoma was above water when dinosaurs ruled. What you see is early amphibians and insects, enlarged enough to be visible at seventy miles an hour. After the reliefs come a history of the oil industry, from Spindletop on.

At first the traffic is heavy. Lots of people come to drive down the first leg of the six lane highway. The Earth's crust here is only about thirty miles thick, so it's a morning drive to get down to the mantle where there's a shopping mall, a rest area, and the turnaround to ascend back to the surface.

You're not here for entertainment. Pulling into a Texaco, you fill up and head for the neon arrow pointing down. Here there are only two lanes in each direction. The cars emerging from the tunnel look worn and dusty.

There are thermometers spaced every hundred miles tracking the temperature increase as you descend. They start at 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. The rock outside is viscous, flowing sullenly under enormous pressure.

The grade here is twenty-five percent, so you're driving four miles to descend one mile. This is the long slog, seventy-two hundred miles to the outer core. Gas stations, restaurants, and motels break the monotony. Hilton opened a hotel at the halfway marker, but sold it to Motel 6 soon after the opening of the highway.

The lights here are spaced farther apart, red-shifted as the highway's architects took advantage of the surrounding radiance. They get brighter when you enter the outer core, where molten nickel and iron glow. Gravity loosens its hold as you travel deeper, the car drifts until magnetic guides grip it and carry it down, where the thermometer reads nine thousand degrees.

And here you are, at the Hub, the Earth's core. From here highways arc up to Australia, to China, and to France. But you won't ascend. You'll stay here, find a job, and live out your days. You give the car to some other penitent ready to rejoin the world above.

July 3, 2008

The Path Out Back Behind the New House

Tired accountant
His excitable yella dog
Path behind the house
Half-collapsed garden shed
Very dark hole overhung with blackberry bushes
Dropped stone
Several seconds
Many more seconds
Thirty-eight yards of wire fencing
Enclosed yard
Safe dog

July 2, 2008

One Green Hill

A picture (a blue sky, a green hill) was found among her belongings.

She was the first of the first generation to die. The generation who knew Earth as home, not as story. The picture became the goal and they began to build the hill.

There was a poetic rightness to it, a commemoration, a remembering together. Their remains, turned to soil, building a patch of nature in the heart of the GreatShip’s endless metal and glass. For those who followed after, everything, always, was recycled.

The hill was their past and future, until they reached their destination, and then there was a planet with green hills by the million. There was talk of transporting the hill down to the surface, to a park in the middle of the first settlement. By now, however, the hill was its own ecosystem, a living thing that wouldn't survive uprooting and transport.

So they went down without it, and it became a stop on the historical tours. Then history took a turn -- disease, strife, struggle against a not-yet-domesticated alien world. A forgetting followed by a slow return. Societies re-formed, cities rebuilt, sciences reverse-engineered from artifacts.

When they were ready, they went up, into the sky, to the Star that Never Moves. They found an entire ship, larger than their largest city, empty and apparently devoted to sustaining a mound of soil covered in grass that didn't look nearly blue enough.

July 1, 2008

Not Even for Hazelnut Sauce

Diarmud the Druidess knew she was dying, but she went to the feast anyway, partly because she was Chief Druidess, and partly because she knew there would be salmon with hazelnut sauce. She couldn't help Seeing the menu beforehand.

After the salmon there was a cold boar salad, and then venison with apple-and-lemon jelly, the lemons having come all the way from Hispania; just as she was served her Druid’s portion, a dragonfly flew in the door and landed on her arm, a blue-green jewel to match any a chieftain might give. She looked down at it and said, “Well; is it time?” And in front of everyone she blew her soul out onto its back and flew away.

She always liked the moment when one shed one’s old bones, returning all one’s flesh and treasure and hopes and fears to the world—there was always the chance one would forget everything, too, and sometimes she did, but not this time, as they flew out over the marshes spangled with sunset water. When she landed in a dragonfly egg she snuggled down for a nice gestation.

She spent all the days of summer skating over the broad stretches of water, flying low to count the circling ripples—

Until a salmon gulped her.

Presently she let the pull of her ichor draw her out of the marsh, into the living river, down to the sea of journeys...

Until a seal pulled her into the thirsty air.

'Now to get used to fur, fins, and shouting at your neighbor just to be heard,' she thought. A seal's life is good, though, even if one isn't a selkie, and her wisdom became known among all the barking tribes of the coast.

Not too wise, though. A seal hunter was wiser. So she grew from a babe to a boy, bearing the spots and omens that marked her for a Druid’s training, and comely enough for court.

But when she got to the door of the hall, she stood there for a minute, remembering the yards and yards of poetry, the vigils in black caves, the all-night meetings in groves, and a single, blue-green jewel of a dragonfly; and she rubbed the oak threshold with her hand, said, "Not this again, not even for hazelnut sauce!"—and walked back down the hill and out into the world.