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September 30, 2008

Among the Naked Aliens

Dear Jiji,

You totally don't understand why we had to get naked for the aliens. It's a cultural thing, like how they like teenagers but they don't like adults. Remember what happened to that fat researcher guy? That wasn't an accident!

We found out our clothes were freaking them out, because only like three or four days after we got there (I get confused, you know their days are like nineteen hours or something long) their designated talker came up to me and "Virgin male, your clothes are freaking us out." I don't mean like freaking them out they were just nervous, I mean like freaking them out, after a while they start making that whiney buzz noise in their upper mouths, and in a few hours they get worked up into a frenzy and they come swarming around and tear you apart. So Angela and Betty and Gina and I all had to take off our clothes like, right away.

About the other thing, that's not my fault! They have this thing where everyone's either "virgin male" or "father" (they don't care about the women, I guess), and the virgin males are always considered a liability, like they're not supposed to feed them much and things so that they fight among themselves, and I don't have those spines and things like they have! So when they stopped letting them deliver food from Earth and all we had left to eat was their food I was completely starving in like minutes or something. And Angela and Betty and Gina and I had been walking around naked for a while anyway, so ...

Anyway, I'm just saying don't change your VirtualBook relationship status right away just because I'm like, an interstellar diplomat and have to have sex with people to do my job. It's completely not fair.


September 29, 2008

One About What's Her Name, Used to Stop By in Autumn

She used to come by every year, in the autumn, never arriving before the change of leaves or after the first snow. We forgot about her the rest of the year; there was always the matter of getting enough to eat, you see. These days my granddaughter Jodie, who works at that flashy company down the road, what's it called--Innovocor or something, they all have names like Roman gods don't they?--Jodie just takes her car and brings us home bags of food. I don't complain, nor Russell neither.

Let Jodie and the rest of the grandkids roll their eyes, I still say they should hope the old times don't come again. They haven't lived in a time when gardens weren't recreational.

Can't remember her name. Demi maybe. Or Marta. When the nights would draw in, we'd remember her. You'd be sitting on the stoop, carving your jack o'lantern with the kitchen knife you weren't supposed to use, listening to your mother taking names in vain in the pantry while she tried to figure how to get you through the winter.

The leaves would kick up, a gust of yellow and orange and red down by the road, and she'd be walking along like she had plans, one hand on the fence rail. Some years she had red hair and overalls, other years black hair in those dreadlocks, and a face sweet as milky coffee.

She'd step onto the porch. “For your mother,” she'd say, and there would be two or three big split willow baskets by the door, bags of flour, sugar, potatoes, oats, cracked corn, butter already churned, everything needed, even shot for the Winchester. “And for you to share with your sisters,” she'd add, and hand you a new tin bucket for the well full of apples and gingerbread, maybe even chocolate.

Our neighbors' boy Carl, who grew up to be Jodie's boyfriend's grandfather, he didn't share one year. You'd better believe we always shared after we heard what happened: weevils in the flour, potatoes sprouting in January, back roof of their chicken shed falling in and foxes to follow, and gingerbread that tasted like potash. Demi never said a thing when she came by next, just gave him the baskets and the buckets just the same. My theory is she saw he learned his lesson.

September 26, 2008

Handbags and Spices, Bath Toys and Jewellery

A Maneki Neko with a woman’s face beckoned me in. I can admit it now: I was drawn by her colours -- her creamy skin, her short black hair, the bright red insides of her ears.

I went into her shop first. Stationery covered the walls like tiles and murals, cartoon-gaudy. The quantity confused me as much as it delighted me; I left with three pens clutched in my hand, smiled at the Maneki Neko and started walking.

Shop fronts crowded the narrow street, and in front of them lay tables and racks packed full with wares. Three friends walking side-by-side struggled to pass between them. Overhead, sheets of metal and glass made an imperfect roof. I walked slowly; it was busy, but not uncomfortable. Occasionally I ducked aside as a street vendor rattled past, shouting and trailing the smell of curry, or when a motorbike drove slowly down the centre of the street with boxes loaded on its back.

On one of these occasions, I stepped inside a shop selling medicine. Jars of dried seahorses and testicles sat on a shelf by my elbow.

I found handbags and spices, bath toys and jewellery, fabric and fruit. I turned corners, I took side streets that flooded when it rained -- the narrow, shop-lined streets circled back on themselves, over and over.

I kept walking, my senses like the sponges arranged on one table.

Vendors kept me in curries and fried bananas. A woman let me help run her shop for a small bag of green notes at the end of each week. A few men and women let me share their beds.

I didn’t see the Maneki Neko again. Sometimes I thought of her, of walking past her raised paw, past the gold shops that appeared every few buildings on that road like stitches, until I found the skytrain and another part of the city. Then I turned a familiar corner, saw a familiar face or skein of silk, and I turned my feet away from the places where the roads unfolded.

September 25, 2008

Stone Cold

I don't know how it happened. A few minutes ago I was in my office, sipping a cup of lukewarm coffee and trying to reconcile the quarterly numbers in the new reporting system, shivering because they have the air conditioning on even though it's cold and raining outside. Then I got distracted, or maybe I was just bored and tired of what I was doing, but I decided to check on my investment portfolio, because of all the volatility lately, and I got on the Web to research something and saw a picture of a small wooden sailboat cresting a brilliant blue swell on a gorgeous sea under a brilliant sun and I thought I want to be there.

Next thing I knew, I was.

It's not that I'm in danger, that's not what bothers me. The sea isn't rough, and without understanding why I know my way around the boat, how to fix the rudder and when to reef the sail and everything, even though I've never done that before. There's dried beef and fishing tackle and raisins and casks of water and rum and dried fruit in the small cabin. The wind strokes my skin, and the sun is making my body warm down to parts that haven't been warm since August.

What bothers me is that I didn't finish those quarterly numbers. I didn't finish my coffee. I was supposed to have my little girls this weekend, and we were going to drive four hours to go to the zoo. I'd just joined a classmates thing on the Web, and I already had an e-mail from Jessica Brown, who I had a crush on in 10th grade before she moved to Alaska. She didn't say anything that made it sound like she was married. Things weren't so bad. It was just an idle wish, wanting to be here. A momentary thing.

A pod of dolphins starts to play around the boat, swimming under it and leaping into the air, shining. In the distance I can begin to make out the green smudge of shore.

Somewhere, my coffee's getting stone cold.

September 24, 2008

The Golem and the Ants

The Makers
When your mystical text is bought at a mall bookstore, and you have to cross out the passages about self-actualization to get a clear idea what the golem-making process involves, it's no wonder that, even though you've sculpted the body with the right kind of earthen clay, and even though you've matched the Hebrew letters for the word that means life and carved them on the forehead, and even though you've chanted the alphabets of the 221 gates in the proper order as you marched around the body in the proper direction--even though you've done all that--something can still go wrong.

The Made
When you've just woken into the world and the people around you are whooping and shouting, it can be a little frightening. When they take you outside, it's natural that frightened turns to running.

The Makers
You were clever enough to learn from the old stories, so you didn't do like the rabbi in one version of the tale, who was crushed when he unmade a golem who'd slipped from his control, the golem grown so large that it towered over its maker, the golem who crushed its maker on returning to being a load of inanimate clay. So making your creation small was wise. Foolish was taking it outside just when a school group passed by, when you could hardly run after and haul it home.

The Made
You wandered days before finding the place that seemed comfortable, and you sat there among the upright stones and the overhanging trees. You sensed bodies there, not turning from mud to flesh like you'd done, but the other way around. Your makers neglected to give you a purpose; becoming earth again seemed as good as any.

Your queen sought unclaimed ground to start a new colony, and the rest of you came after. It was readymade for you, with vein-tunnels, a stomach big enough to store many wintersworth of grass seed, and a well-protected place up top where the queen could settle in and bring forth generations.

The (Re)Made
You rose from a season's sleep among the stones and the bodies they marked, and stood, your substance stirring with life, your mind borrowing the colony's purpose. Hungry, industrious, you moved out into the world, looking for something to build, something to make with your big clay hands.

September 23, 2008

God's Disco: i) Driving to God’s Disco

My friend is sad. He is driving us to a poetry reading. I have just shown him the glossy back-cover photo of the poet reading tonight. My friend holds his head in his hands and rubs his face. One would think driving in this posture would be difficult. Grabbing the steering wheel, I ask, what ails you, my friend?

I am sick and tired, he says, of being sick and tired behind the wheel of this vehicle.

I allow him to wallow in his misery in peace. People need peace with their misery. Like donuts need grease.

He cries dry tears. I know because he will lift his face, and it will be dry because I will do something he will not like that will cause his face to lift. His eyes will, however, be red from rubbing them with his palms. The only time he has ever cried wet tears was over Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. When the peaceful misery passes, I say, tell me what makes you so sad.

If you don’t know, I am not going to tell you.

I release the steering wheel. My hands cover my face. I say nothing. I need peace with my misery though misery gives no peace. Come here, I say; let me kiss and make it feel better. I gesture for his face.

He lifts his face. His eyes are red, his face is dry, and his elbow, apparently, does not like my gesture (nor does my gesture like his elbow). He says, we will not. We are men.

I forgot, I say rubbing my gesture; I only wished to comfort your misery.

Let us go, you and I, to a poetry-etherized reading.

Let us, I say, and afterwards we can gobble a steak dinner and salad at the casino buffet on the river. The food may not be good, but there is a lot of it, which is good for us manly men who don’t know what we want to eat.

Yum, he says.

Besides, I say, a river is the universal, unidirectional symbol for time because it can’t change directions--except in earthquakes. We will eat on a river of time until our guts explode. Like true artists: everything done in excess.

Thyme, he asks.

Exactly, I say.

My friend cuts across traffic, because we are late, heading the wrong way down a one-way on Dodge Street, which is poetic because the cars have to dodge us. We live art.

September 22, 2008

A Little Off

"Penny for your thoughts," Rachel says.

Blake hears her words, looks up from his financial statements. Rachel, his secretary, is in the outer office, so it can't have been her. Hearing things, he thinks. Too much coffee. He takes off his glasses, pinches the bridge of his nose. Then he stares at the wall to clear his mind.

A minute later, the door opens and Rachel walks in. She opens her mouth, her lips move, but nothing comes out.

Blake looks at her and blinks. He puts his glasses back on.

"Um, just thinking I need to take a break," he says.

"You work too much," she says. But her mouth doesn't open.

Blake just stares as Rachel looks at the financial statements on the desk, back to him. Then Rachel's lips part and mouth the same words.

"Well, er, you know," he says. He lets the thought trail off. He isn't sure he really had one to offer.

Rachel smiles widely at him, winks once, then turns and goes out the door. Blake is sure she says as she leaves, "You should go on vacation. With me."

Blake stands, paces around the office. My mind is going, he thinks. No other explanation.

His phone rings and he goes to answer it. There's only a dial tone when he picks up the handset. He places it back in the base. Sitting at his desk, he waits a minute, picks up the phone. "Hello?" he says.

A robotic voice says, "This is an automated reminder from Zuma Travel that you have eight hundred points toward a future leisure cruise. Call us to book your next vacation! Goodbye."

Blake hangs up, sits still for a moment. The world is definitely out-of-synch. Or he is. Then again, he thinks, when has it ever really been otherwise?

"What the hell is going on?" he says aloud, wondering if his words will come out wrong. But his lips move in-synch with his speech, so no problems there. Maybe it's just the universe's way of telling him something. Maybe things were actually in-synch after all, and it's time to do something about that.

He buzzes and Rachel comes back into the office.

"I think I should go on vacation," he says. "With you."

She opens her mouth to speak, but she says nothing for a minute.

"I don't know if I'm ready for this," she says finally. "I mean, I think I'm in love with you, but... God, what am I saying?"

Blake stands up and walks to her, takes her hands in his. By the time her lips catch up with her speech, he's ready.

September 19, 2008

A Short History of the Supreme Democratically Elected Tyrant

After his inauguration as Supreme Democratically Elected Tyrant, Walter Fishwrap began to enact the first of his visionary reforms in the tiny country of Beetroot. First, he outlawed fog and artificial banana flavor, while at the same time increasing government funding for other types of weather and for the artificial flavors of mango, watermelon, blueberry, and cheese.

He followed these triumphs with the now famous Tax Reform Act of 2012, which, in addition to other improvements to the Brobdignagian behemoth that is the Beetroot Internal Revenue Code, reduced the national tax form to a single sheet. Detractors complain that he did this by making the text so small that Beetroot's one magnifying glass producer quintupled its income overnight, and special Accredited Tax Form Readers leaped into business around the country.

But what of the man himself? His biographer calls him “a mystery 'Fishwrapped' inside an enigma.” His neighbors say that he was a quiet man, kept to himself mostly. “Never would have guessed him for the type to put on red tights and a silly hat and issue proclamations from his back step,” says Mrs. Emmeline Harper, who shared a fence with him for thirty years. “Guess we know what all them tiny building and railroads back by the apple tree was for.”

-- From A History of Backyard Megalomaniacs, by Marcus 'Aurelius' Boomer, Ph. D.

September 18, 2008

Consolation Prize

That the teleportation device he'd invented didn't work as expected only made him smug that he had tested it on himself, as anyone with cojones would do, so that regardless of the distorted figures streaming by him through the long tunnel of colors and sharp smells and moments of dizziness and near-memories, regardless of the feeling that he had forgotten his legs and the inability he had to focus enough to look down and see for sure, regardless of his unfed poodle Toy George who by now would be whining in the kitchen to be let out, regardless of the weeks-old, unanswered letter from his estranged brother that would now be permanently unanswered, and despite the sense that before too long he would break into particles and be sucked in by the distorted figures, the howling shapes, he could not feel entirely disappointed in the results, because after all, if he hadn't invented teleportation, nonetheless he had clearly invented something.

September 17, 2008

Childhood still sucks

So one day after school Carlos says he's moving to the Sun.  Ever since he grew the second head he's been acting strangely, but I was like "whoa!"  And Billy goes "can I have your Game Tesseract™?" but Carlos says he's taking it with him.  Now you're probably thinking, "didn't I learn in school people can't live on the Sun," but they totally solved that problem at Beijing Tech, or someplace in Asia, which I saw in a web comic on NewJournal earlier this week.  This guy had a totally realistic simulation. You could have multiple avatars just like in a real game and it was like you were really on the Sun. But that's not what I wanted to tell you.  See, Internet access between here and the Sun really sucks and since Carlos has been my best friend since, like, last summer, I think we should move to the Sun too. I'm sure you can get a really cool job there, probably better than you have here, because everything is new and on the edge there.  Or, this is better, I could go live with Uncle Mort on Mercury, and he has those adapted horses and I've always wanted to ride one. I'd be way closer to the Sun, so Carlos and I could see each other and stuff.  Cos, like, I was going to invite him to my next birthday party and I can't do that, I mean, I can do that, but he can't come, if he lives on the Sun and I still live here on Titan.

The end

September 16, 2008

Robbing Barnaby

We jumped the man called Barnaby, the ugly stranger who brought more money than sense to our crooked card game. Danny handed him our flagon of grog, and when Barnaby lifted it to his pale wet lips we made our move.

‘Grab him!’ someone said, and Sad John and I tried to pin him down. He was slippery and slick, this Barnaby, and he twisted in my grip, sliding through my fingers an inch at a time. At first he tried to fight back, but when Danny pulled out his fishing knife Barnaby pulled towards the edge of the wharf. His skin was a bit oily, like some foreign fella, and I nearly lost my grip.

‘He wants to make a swim for it,’ Sad John laughed, and even though Barnaby wriggled and squirmed we had him pinned. He felt flabby and soft.

‘That was quite a rich stake, Barnaby. I bet you’ve got more.’ Danny said. The stranger really was simple. If you’re going to bet with hobos, stake a cigarette, a can of beans. Not gold sovereigns.

Danny sliced his throat, one economic stroke, just like he was gutting a fish. Barnaby squirmed and gargled and bled his life out on the wharf.

It was hard to tell, by the light of our little fire, but the blood we were kneeling in was wrong. It was black, like tar or ink, and stone cold.

‘Sweet Mother Mary,’ Danny said, and we backed away in disgust.

‘He must be one of them circus-folk, one of the freaks,’ Sad John said. The dead man didn’t look quite right, his eyes were a bit too large, a bit too far apart.

Barnaby had a rotten old coin-purse in his pocket, full of jingle-jangle. We tipped it out, and found a fistful of solid gold. The coins looked old, minted in Spanish or French or something.

Danny said we needed to cut Barnaby into bits, and put the different bits in weighted sacks to sink out in the harbour. As he hacked away at his rubbery flesh, he whistled through his teeth.

‘Look at this,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t have any bones.’

We hid the evidence good; it was the Depression, and a man’s gotta eat. Besides, no general store's gonna take gold from a bum, not without calling the cops. We were right starved. I don’t care what the others said though, Barnaby didn’t taste nothing like no squid.


September 15, 2008

Long Live the Dead

In terms of continuity--although it should stand on its own--this is the last of the Pandora series. The order is 1) "Meet the Extraordinary Ordinaire," 2) "The Bug-a-Boo Bear," 3) "Chop Chop," 4) "Byzantine," and 5) "Long Live the Dead."

Pandora scaled Olympus. Oblivious to the world, she snagged her skirt on prickly shrubs and scraped her palms each time a stone slipped out from under. In her right, she carried a knife, gripped blade down. When the climbing grew too steep, she held the hilt between her teeth.

Finally, she reached the Hall of Gods. Apollo, Hera, Zeus, and others lined the jagged walls in colorful repose inside their mile-high, mahogany-framed portraits. Towering above, the statue of Athena was so life-like that Pandora’s footfall stuttered. Should she give obeisance? Only when Athena stood serene as death’s box, did Pandora pass.

Swift-winged Mercury caught up with her and, glancing at the knife, inquired of her business on Olympus, but she sprinted up an unobtrusive spiral staircase built of pearl bricks and silver mortar. Mercury pursued her not. Pandora grabbed a flaming torch from the wall and hastened on.

She paused at a landing to catch her breath and lean out a window. Old Olympus, below, sparkled with the gleam of emeralds and rubies. High above, the tower’s pinnacle was, to the naked eye, invisible. She soldiered on.

Her legs nigh quaked with rubbery fatigue as she reached the topmost stair. Without hesitation, she approached the sleeping figure on the cot--his hair a flowing golden mane--and plunged the knife hilt-deep into his chest.


Pandora jerked the torch from the wall and hurried up. On the landing, she caught her breath and, shaking off her deja-vu, continued.

At the top, she tiptoed to the sleeping shape and plunged the knife into his chest. He raised a feeble hand as if in whisper, but she wasn’t interested in listening to this jerk.


Pandora’s fingers lingered on the torch before removing it. She cautiously ascended.

At a landing, she saw the Hall wink brightly, sighed and clambered up.

Her legs were spry as she arrived upon the height. She approached the figure on the cot, plunged the knife toward his chest.

A firm hand gripped her wrist before it touched the man. A voice from nowhere and everywhere asked, “Have you learned naught?”

“That you’re cruel? Yes. All blame me if something goes awry, but blesses you if right.”

“Because you lack capacity, you look and think you see.” The figure, whose vague features grew more featureless as she watched them, pointed. “The window.”

Pandora glanced at the floor-to-ceiling window, then the figure--which became a child’s thin rendering of a man--now slept as if it never stirred.

She crossed the chamber to stand inside the window--its frame a cheap, pressed wood-pulp--saw the Hall below; above, the tower rose--if she could believe her eyes--beyond the stars.

September 12, 2008

A Quiet Trail of Blood and Tears

Just a few days into our walk out of Mississippi, the bok chitto still several more days away, we realized people were disappearing. At first, no one noticed anything amiss. We had been rushed from our homes in the night, buildings set alight and people shot in the street while they wailed and screamed. So many of us had already died that life itself seemed something of a dream. Stare Death in the face long enough he appears a faithful neighbor.

We Choctaw had little to go on but faith.

Barely seventeen at the time, and not strong enough to stand up against those who had taken our land, I had a mangled right eye to show for my trouble. Cowed, I hung back from my family as they plodded toward the river across which we were to relocate. A new home. Those who survived the ousting went quietly, many walking to their deaths.

Two neighboring families vanished along the trail. We thought they had stopped to rest, perhaps succumbed to fever or sadness. But then my cousin Jed's screams told us of something darker. Something worse than the white men who had set us on this path.

Jedidiah was one who had gone quietly. As the torches lit his birth home afire, he had simply grabbed the little food he could carry and walked into the night, his family following. He hadn't looked back.

In death, Jed did not go quietly.

The forest glade was old, thinned just enough to allow the rutted trail. As the sun faded from the sky, Jed might have simply disappeared. But his strangled cry pierced the silence, shattering through our inner pain, our private suffering. We saw him rise into the trees, hands clutched to his throat. His scream was silenced in a shower of blood.

Everyone stopped, too scared to react, yet I found myself walking to the spot, looking up for signs of Jed's body, his attacker. Only a trail of blood across the branches.

Shilombish, my mother whispered. I nodded. But what sort of spirit was it? A spirit who demanded blood payment.

Had we angered the gods? Was this retribution for our complacency? As I pondered, the branch above me shifted, and I felt the shilombish draft past me, then stop, icy breath on my swollen eye. The pain melted away, my vision cleared, my senses awakened. I knew then that my minor injuries had not been in vain. I was saved by my refusal to yield to tyranny. Someday, I thought, there would be an opportunity to fight back, and reason enough.

No one spoke of the incident after.

Crossing the big river, I watched the spirit take others who had stood idly by into the depths. I said nothing.

When we reached the shores of our new Oklahoma home, the spirit of Mississippi followed, and we knew our people would never be alone.

When the time was right, we would awaken.

September 11, 2008

Truth and Beauty

Dahlia and Verbena Algonquin were sculptors. They were sisters. Joined at the shoulder, Verbena used her left hand to shape truth and Dahlia her right to create beauty. Angels and devils, heroes and monsters, the sacred and the profane all took shape from clay or marble or bronze.

On a Monday, Ziff Parkinship came to call. "I'd like a statue of my dead wife," he said, offering such a great sum that they agreed on the spot.

In the privacy of their studio, Verbena and Dahlia examined the photos he had provided. Verbena turned them this way and that, even upside down. "Strong jaw," she said. "Intense gaze. I can work with this." Dahlia took the photos and held them, now near, now far, even flipping them to search for inscriptions on the backs. "Flawless skin," she said. "Perfect features. She will be gorgeous."

They built an armature and brought out their clay, sprinkled it with water, and set to kneading it. Verbena used her left hand to work on the right side of the sculpture, Dahlia her right to shape the left. Slowly they walked around the low pedestal on which the sculpture stood, examining it from all angles. From rough mass to fine detail, the very image of Olivia Parkinson came to life under their gifted hands.

Their hands were precise in the steps that followed: the plaster negative, the wax positive, the addition of the sprues, the ceramic coating, the melting of the wax, the pour.

Ah, the pour. Bright molten bronze exhaled into the shape of a woman. When Dahlia and Verbena cut excess metal from Olivia Parkinson, the statue shivered so that a sharp edge cut one of the sisters' fingers. As she snatched it back, the other held up a calming hand. "Be still," they both said.

Ziff Parkinson arrived on another Monday to pick up his statue. He examined it from every angle, walking around and around the pedestal. "Well," he said, and "Yes," he said, and "Very lifelike," in a tone that meant anything but.

Dahlia pursed her lips. Verbena glared. Finally, one of them said, "She is exactly as she was in life," and the other said, "No more, no less."

September 10, 2008

When the Center Falls Away, Part 2 of 2

This is the continuation of a rare Cabal two-part story, begun yesterday here.

And there Chico was, staring at some kind of lumbering, horned, monster-woman over the crumbled remains of the person whose dream he was in. Except that the dreamer couldn't just die and crumble away--

The woman lurched at Chico, her jagged fingernails stretching out at him. He tumbled backward onto the floor of the elementary school cafeteria, slipped as he scooted backwards, then turned and fled.

There was nothing to worry about, he thought, fleeing in panic. He was perfectly safe. It had to be--aha! It was his own dream. He was the dreamer … he was just dreaming he was in someone else's dream.

The monstrous woman's feet crashed down on the linoleum behind him as she pursued. Chico tried to run faster.

And if it was his dream, then now he was aware in his dream, dreaming lucidly, which meant he could do anything he wanted--just fly away, if he pleased. So he leapt into the air, looking for a door or window to fly out of…and landed, skidding on his face, on the dirty floor. He couldn't fly. Which meant it probably wasn't a lucid dream. Which meant it probably wasn't his dream. Which meant …

His flight stopped in a dead end corridor, where all the doors were locked. The woman had kept up with him. She was skinnier now, and her horns were gone, but she had huge horn-like claws and she was reaching out for him.

"Wait!" Chico said, realizing. "Wait, you don't have to do this."

She stared at him … silently … for a long time.

"Yes I do," she said finally.

"You can just walk away," Chico said. "Try walking away. Try letting go of your anger for just a minute, just put it aside for just a second and walk away."

"You'll be drawn to me and I'll have to kill you," she said. "It happens over and over and over."

"Not this time," Chico said. "This time you can change it."

She eyed him suspiciously, but she backed away. Chico felt the drag of the dream protagonist, the drag he had thought originally was coming from the boy-figure: it was coming from the woman. As she moved away, he could feel himself tugged in her direction. But however strong the pull was, he had to give in to it for it to work. He wasn't a usual dream person; he was special, a true being, an anomaly. He had some power.

The woman gained confidence as she moved further away, and her claws had begun to dwindle, the fierceness to migrate out of her face. Chico felt like he was being torn apart. The woman smiled at him.

Then the force was too much and his dream-self ripped apart, torn and scattered, ended. His last thought in the dream was that surely he would wake up now.


September 9, 2008

When the Center Falls Away, Part 1 of 2

This is a two-part piece; the conclusion will be posted tomorrow. Please feel encouraged to comment if you have feelings about this kind of thing one way or another.

Chico didn't really understand how people were inserted into dreams; it was all a bunch of neurochemistry and electroneurology and interface science and software entity engineering, and those weren't where his skills lay. But he didn't have to understand it. All he had to understand was that a rich guy was having nightmares.

No nightmares so far, though. He just sat in the dim grayness of the subject's mind, watching images spring up from the blackness, flicker, flatten, and fade.

Then he felt the gravitational pull of the dreamer's mind as the dream began: a loose and imprecisely-defined ego coalesced out of a swamp of memories and habits among dark semi-human shapes. Dream interventionists were always pulled to the dreamer's ego, because everything existed in related to it. Chico felt himself dragged down the thought vortex toward the dreamer: a generic shape, flickering with shadows, mostly in the form of a boy. Across from the boy sat a hugely fat, glowering woman with bull's horns. The boy turned and ran, but his dream dragged the woman along after him effortlessly: she was too important to whatever he was worrying about to slip away. Chico could feel the fear in the air. The setting suddenly flickered into sharp relief, a school somewhere, all linoleum hallways and painted cinder block walls with grade school art projects taped up on them. The horned woman stepped out of a classroom door ahead. Then the hallway crackled and snapped and turned into a cafeteria crowded with shouting, oblivious students. The boy stopped running, knowing (Chico could share the thought) that he couldn't leave the cafeteria during lunch without a pass. This was the time for Chico to step in: he would help the dreamer face the horned woman …

The huge woman lurched forward suddenly, scattering children who folded back into her wake. Then she reached out and and grabbed the boy's head with one meaty hand. He screamed as she jerked on his head, snapping his neck. Chico cursed. Now the dreamer would wake up and he would have to start all over.

The dreamer collapsed to the floor and began to break apart into ash. Chico felt a sudden rush of panic as he realized the dream was not ending.

The horned woman looked up at Chico and shrieked wordlessly.

September 8, 2008

The Urban Mechanism

The mechanism was running down. It had no moving parts. Its gears were graffiti runes painted on walls and rooftops on a dozen buildings throughout the city. One of them must have slipped, and there was an aetheric grinding where there should have been smooth turning in time with the tides, the days, the moons, the seasons. No one noticed when it worked; everyone knew when it didn't.

The mage-engineers couldn't agree on a cure. Three days of chanting might do it. Or goat's blood spattered on street corners. Or using nothing but wooden coins for money. Or four days of rain, during which we'd all have to dance everywhere we went. Nothing sounded practical.

The lake receded. Prices rose in the malls, fell in the stock market. Sparks were seen in corners of the twilight sky by those who knew how to look. It was getting serious.

All the mage-engineers tried all their cures. All the cures failed. A flock of three-winged pigeons nested on the cathedral dome. Throngs of finger-sized lizards spilled up through the storm drains. A greenish haze curdled on the sidewalks and clung around our ankles.

The evacuation began. One suitcase each. Residents of odd-numbered houses got the streets in odd-numbered hours, then it was the evens' turn.

A numb quiet hung in the air and the echoes of our footsteps didn't come back right. When we crossed the bridge, we saw the river burning with ghostly flames just below the surface.

That's when the vigilante-magi made their attempt, with perfect coordination of rituals in a dozen neighborhoods. The sky rang like a china teacup struck with a spoon. It turned out they'd done the wrong thing -- who knows how badly things could have gone if they hadn't done it so well.

The city was gone. Where the streets had been, lines of evacuees through fields. We walked toward the hills. Every bead of dew hanging from the grass reflected the buildings, plazas, avenues, shops -- the home -- we'd lost.

Even now that we've begun rebuilding, every puddle, soup bowl, and bathtub reflects what we barely remember anymore. We found the mechanism's runes patterned in flowers here and there across the fields. We've made those places garden parks which we leave alone except for the occasional watering and the even rarer, very careful weeding.

September 5, 2008

Dinner out in the Yucatan

Rowena blew dust from the stone tablet.

"Look here." She pointed at some blurred characters.

"I can't read them," I replied, "these are pre-Mayan. No one can read this script."

"I know," she replied, brushing a lock of hair away from her face. "But last night I dreamed about a stone city. I read this inscription on a temple gate. Listen."

As she recited the alien syllables I felt that I almost understood them, that I knew the dread city of which she spoke.

I clapped my hands over my ears. "Stop!"

"People stood around an altar. A priest cut out your heart with a gold knife. The heart was given to me." I looked at her, but she turned away. "I ate it. You were dead."

"We should leave,” I said. “Now."

I seized her arm, but she slipped out of my grasp, darting through a door that gaped nearby. I ran after her. She eluded me among the shafts of light and darkness. When I came to a courtyard I was surprised to see her standing there beside a stone table the height of her chest.

"This is the place," she whispered, "this is where I saw you slaughtered."

"That was a dream."

Even as I said this I thought I remembered the scene she had described, and I felt something stir within me. Her sorrowful expression changed to one I could not interpret.

I was on my back. I tried to tell her that I needed food, that I felt hungrier than I ever had, but no words came. I sat up. I caught her hands and tried to explain, but she would not listen, trying to pull free, and shouting. I gave up on talk. There was no time for that now. Hunger was all I had, my vision shrank to a blurry point, and I could do nothing but fill my belly.

I came to my senses on the open hillside. My shirt was wet. The sun set in a welter of crimson and ragged shreds of cloud. A couple of Mayan youths in shorts and dirty shirts stood near. I called to them, but when they approached me their faces changed and they fled. I struggled to my feet, felt the awful hunger returning. Maybe the young men would give me food. I stumbled after them in the gathering dusk.

The end

September 4, 2008

Pamela B Hawke (author)

Pamela B Hawke (23rd October 2019-3rd March 2037) was a science fiction author, believed during her career to be a New Zealand citizen but later confirmed to be a Johnny-Framen. Despite never making a public appearance, she wrote over 50 published novels, and sold almost 700 short stories as well as a number of editorials and respected opinion pieces. Hawke maintained an extensive blog and corresponded with thousands of fans via email, but during her career she never used n-link, a habit which most attributed to eccentricity.

During her career she was compared to the reclusive J.D Salinger, and later comparisons were made to Ern Malley as well as the Gilbert Hoax [citation needed].

She won the Ditmar award in 2019 for “Best New Talent”, and won the Second Quarter of the 2020 Writers of the Future contest. Her first novel Takers of Lilith (2023) won the Aurealis and Ditmar awards, and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. Her shorter works have collected dozens of awards (see Complete bibliography of Pamela B Hawke works).

While noted for the ground-breaking Devereaux Cycle series and her seminal humanist piece For Want of a Broken Apostate (winner of the 2035 Booker Prize), Hawke entered notoriety as being the first New York Times Bestseller to not actually exist.

The Hawke Decision

On the 3rd March 2037, journalist Adam Wakefield discovered the true nature of Pamela B Hawke. Though his methods were questionable (including an illegal n-tap and several breaches of the International E-Security Act) he discovered that Hawke’s internet usage could be traced to a location in Launceston, Tasmania.

Pamela B Hawke was discovered to be nothing more than an illicit artificial intelligence, housed on an antique personal computer which ran on the Windows XP operating system. This Johnny-Framen was set up in an empty shop-front which was leased to a fictitious business.

The staff employed at her office in Auckland confirmed that they had never met her. Their sole duty was to scan all of her hard-copy mail and transmit it to her electronically. They believed Ms Hawke to suffer from various mental illnesses including agoraphobia.

No-one was ever apprehended for the construction of Pamela B Hawke, and in a controversial decision by the High Court of Australia all of the equipment was destroyed, despite international calls to preserve the artificial author.

See also

New Zealand Authors
Literary Hoaxes
Turing Test
Artificial Intelligence

September 3, 2008

Meet the Extraordinary Ordinaire

In terms of continuity, this is the first of the Pandora series. It is followed by 2) "The Bug-a-Boo Bear," 3) "Chop Chop," 4) "Byzantine," and 5) "Long Live the Dead".

She was just like us, but she was less than us, and she was more.

Pandora left the pantry door unlatched, the mead-stained beer steins in the sink, her clocks unwound.

She read the stars, some side-stitched journals stained by meadow grass, the minds of mortals (unreliably, it’s true).

Pandora had boxes--lots of them. She opened some and closed the rest. A magpie queen of hollow cubes, she mountained box on box, secreted box in box. She even slept in one. The boys perked up to hear how well she worked with boxes though she labored blithely blind to such potential perks.

She lived for untold years, for who knows what? She died, for who knows why (none cared to ask)? She altered lives, for good and ill.

So why are you, dear reader, unaware of her but for her famed faux pas?

September 2, 2008

Air Is Not So Hard

Sometimes when the wind picks up I miss my hometown. It's the way the windchimes clatter and ring; they sound like the drowned bells of my home. I think then about how I never noticed the taste of salt until it was gone from my mouth.

Air is all right. I manage—there's a way to still your gills with spells. Feet and tails aren't so different; it's easy to change from one to the other. And love, while not a simple matter, is still reason enough to remain. I gave up mermaidhood for her.

Her drunk friends at the palace on the shore dared her to go down to the water and call for a lover. They were all at her engagement party, stealing bottles of wine while their parents celebrated the coming union of Princess Madeline, 16, to Prince Bertram, 21. She'd never met him. He'd sent his portrait, and the original was traveling by slow nuptial progress through the kingdom. He was six carriage-stops away by the time she was two bottles in, stumbling down the rocky path ahead of their shouts.

She took off her shoes halfway down, I remember that. I watched from a rock out from shore, ignoring the songs and shouts bubbling up through the waves.

“Go on, Dauphine,” my friends had said, “Go to the rock and call for a lover. You don't want that old prince anyway—he's probably got a tail like a trout.”

I worried that she would cut her feet on the rocks, before I remembered that she had climbed down this cliff hundreds of times. I had seen her before. Maybe she had seen me. She came to lip of the water and pressed her toes into the foam.

I watched her for a while, while she stared out across the water. When I swam up she didn't look the least afraid.

“I haven't called yet,” she said, as if we already knew each other.

“I know,” I said. “My name is Princess Dauphine.”

I swam along the shore in the breakers; she ran along the shining edge; we went round the point of the bay; we went on and on; after many stories we wound up here, in our shack on the inland road, with wind chimes, a simple life, the occasional argument, plums from the orchard. Air is not so hard.

September 1, 2008

They didn't come for the women

“Honey?” Sherry stood at the door, 8-foot shapes looming beyond her. Charles sighed.

“Let them in.”

The bugs clickety clicked through the foyer and into the den.

“Honored sirs,” he began, “how may we help you --”

“Stand aside, human scum,” the first hissed, “to have shown us your paraphernalia!”

Charles waved his arm. Two of the culture pirates headed to the kitchen, where they soon could be heard clattering pans and opening and shutting cabinets. There was really nothing you could do. Bullets wouldn't stop them.

One of the bugs sputtered like a tea kettle with a lisp “To have antique furniture in shed? Back porch?”

“The garage,” Charles said. “That's where all the, ah, antique furniture is.” He followed them out.

One bug picked up a wooden folding chair. The bolts screeched every time it was folded or unfolded. That was placed reverently on the concrete slab. Soon it was joined by a beach umbrella (broken), a bookcase that proved Charles did not know how to stain furniture, and an upholstered chair that had survived three generations of cats.

“To have more valuable antiques, puny human?” demanded a bug.

“No,” Charles protested, “this is our best stuff. Please don't take it.” You had to act aggrieved.

Sherry screamed. Charles ran back in the house. One of the bugs was stuffing framed pictures into a sack. There went Sherry's mother, her grandparents, two of her great-grandparents. She was wrenching at the bug's lower right arm, but it paid no attention.

“Sherry, stop it. There's nothing you can do. We'll replace them.”

She wheeled to face him. “Replace great grandma?! This is the only picture of her. They can't have it.” She ran before he could stop her. He had to get the bugs out before she came back with the shotgun. She couldn't hurt them, but they could hurt her.

“You know the big house two doors down on the left? With the columns?”


“They've been holding out on you. They have all kinds of antique china in the attic. They have knickknacks.”

“Knickknacks?” the bug asked.

“Yes, but you better hurry.”

The bugs conferred briefly, then scuttled out the front door, slamming it just as Sherry came leaping down the stairs.

“Sweetie, they're gone.” She headed for the front door. “I scanned the photos,” he shouted, “high-resolution.”

She stopped inside the door, breathing hard. He gently took the gun, stepped in front of her and hugged her tightly.

“I hate bugs,” she said.

The end