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October 31, 2008

Why He Didn't Call

"What have I become?" I asked myself in the mirror, but it was the moonlight that answered. It showed me my new sharp teeth and fur-rimmed eyes.

I thought I would be scared. I didn't expect to feel such relief. Tonight, no fluorescent lights; no cubicles with strange toys poking over the top, peering humorously into the next gray box over; no tired Friday jokes; no dates with someone who would rather I was a manager. No date tonight.

I watched myself forget how to use a cell phone--with these paws I couldn't have called her anyway.

Hello, moon.

October 30, 2008


A noise, and he was nudged out of bed. Grabbing a random blunt instrument, he flicked on the living room light-switch.

He saw the body, and adrenaline banished sleep. A man, perhaps mid-thirties, collapsed on top of the coffee table. He could see the unpleasant blue purple bulge of the man’s cheek pushing against one of his wife’s magazines.

A mad rush of fear and panic, and he went through the house throwing doors open and turning on lights. He went through the whole house till it was lit like a department store. Nothing. Everything was locked, no windows broken.

As gently as he could, he rolled the body off the table. He touched the man’s cheek, and it was icy cold. He searched the clammy flesh around his neck for a pulse, checked the man’s wrist. Nothing. The intruder stared up blankly at him with a pair of dead lizard eyes.

He wanted to be sick. Somehow he remembered an old first-aid course, remembered something about clearing airways. He went to loosen the man’s tie and unbutton his shirt, but something was wrong.

The entire suit was a fake, one piece of clothing. Shirt, tie, pockets, waistcoat, all stitched together. The buttons were there but they had no purpose.

‘What the hell?’ the man managed. He gave up trying the help the intruder. Once, years ago, he checked on his elderly mother and found she’d died in her sleep. She’d been dead for hours, and looked much like this.

Even though the waistband of the trousers was stitched to the jacket, the pockets were real, and gritting his teeth he checked them. There was no keys or papers, nothing but a wallet. Feeling the cold bulge of the man’s buttock through the fabric, he eased the wallet free.
There were papers and cards in there, but they wouldn’t fool anyone. They looked like poor copies of photographs, the writing illegible. There was money, but it wouldn’t even pass muster for a game of Monopoly, let alone buy anything anywhere. He found some coins in the zipper compartment, but they were blank silver discs.

This was definitely a puzzle. A dead man was here, who couldn’t possibly have gotten in, wearing counterfeit clothes and possessing the most childish of counterfeit identities.

He phoned the police for help. The operator assured him that the army were collecting bodies street by street now, and that they’d load this particular corpse onto a flatbed truck as soon as they could.

October 29, 2008

Worse Than Riders

Nobody expected Lonny Orris to show up at the 20th high school reunion, because we all knew about his time travelling.

Conversations collided and crumbled into murmurs all around him as he walked into the restaurant, his robotic arm waving hello while his human one remained jammed into his pocket. Rick Tate, former president of the drama club and evidently the only one of us with any balls, stepped out and offered his hand.

"Rick?" Lonny said uncertainly. Rick looked different--we all did. There was the extra forty pounds around Rick's belly, the gray hair at his temples, the glasses. And of course there was the Rider astride his neck, asleep for the moment. Lonny was the only one in the room without one.

"Hey Lonny," Rick said, grabbing the robotic hand firmly and shaking it.

A Rider across the room kicked its knobby purple heels on its human's shoulders, it's flat head turning to one side to glance at Lonny. "Prepare food!" it demanded. Its human--Nadine Turanski, of whom I knew nothing except that she had allegedly once eaten a live cricket at lunch--hesitated, her eyes still fixed on Lonny. The Rider, impatient, jabbed her with its control glove, sending electricity arcing through and around her. She screeched; we looked away; she stumbled toward the Rider food facilities.

Rick hadn't let go of Lonny's hand. "You don't have a Rider."

Lonny dipped his head, flushing. "It happened when I was traveling back in time. It's a long story." He tried to pull his hand out of Rick's. Rick held on tight.

"So it's not just a rumor--you really did bring these goddamned Riders down on us!" Rick said.

"Human! Disrespect!" Rick's Rider said, and jabbed him briefly, sending the shock through both him and Lonny. Rick bore the shock, then abruptly jerked Lonny to the ground and began to kick him. There was a roar, and some people shrieked, and at least a dozen guys and a few women ran up to help kick the crap out of Lonny Orris. Their Riders shocked them, but through screeches of pain most of them kept kicking.

They couldn't kick long with the shocks, though, and Lonny was still conscious when they had to fall back, exhausted and smelling faintly burned, their Riders scolding them like snippy schoolmarms.

"You sons of bitches," he said. "Why do you think I did it in the first place? You think you're so smart. This time it'll be even worse!" Then he vanished.

"It was worth it. Goddamn Riders," Rick said. He braced for the shock, but none came: the Riders were gone.

The sky suddenly seemed to darken, and there was a disturbing buzzing noise that grew from one moment to the next. Swarms of insects began to descend from the sky like little tornadoes.

We scattered, leaving the restaurant. The next day, on the Internet, people were planning dark things for Lonny Orris for the 25th.

October 28, 2008


Another new writer debuts today here at the cabal. Mr. Jonathan Wood, farragonist and exile of Albion, presents a story that's finely balanced on the edge of darkness...

The girl, all grief and acne, slit her palm with the piece of flint. Blood like petals fell onto the grave stone of her love. She swore never to speak again. A year later, her therapists richer but bewildered, her mother asked, what do think you’re achieving? The girl was struck by the futility of her actions. She once more spoke, requesting books on occultism, spirituality. Her overjoyed mother complied unquestioning. The girl knew what she wanted to achieve. Him. Him back.

The girl turned woman pressed the flint to flesh once more. This time it was a lamb beneath her blade. It’s was warm on her cold, aching limbs. Her fingers hurt from grubbing herbs. She was older, but none the wiser. Her love was still gone.

From time to time she took lovers. One would not leave, even when she turned him from her bed. She did not understand his devotion. She had nothing to give him. Yet he was helpful, useful, he propped up her hope when it sagged with her skin, recessed into her wrinkles.

As years passed she remembered her mother, long gone back to the earth. She remembered waiting until her mother was asleep, until the pebbles struck her windows. She remembered the taste of her love's lips... And had his lips tasted of strawberries? No. That was another, some gypsy boy she'd once had.

Finally she found the final spell fragment she needed. She and her disciple went to the hills, to the high sacred places. But her bones were old and she struggled. Her apprentice too now knew the touch of the years, but he used spells he'd learned, and his strength flowed into her. They came to the reflecting pool at the hilltop and he lay down, closed his eyes, said he would rest a while.

She stripped, stood and saw her body's reflection in the moonlight. Was that hers, truly? It was some old worn-up thing. And what would some teenage boy do with a body like that? What boy would not flinch back? She looked at her disciple at her feet, his breath fled from his body, the last of his strength ebbed away, and she cast her spell.

When he sat up, she leant him her strength, and he stood. Slowly they made their way back down the hill, leaning upon each other for support.

October 27, 2008

Things Best Left Alone

I made her swallow it, just before she died. Her blue eyes washed pale with fear.

‘So you’ll come back,’ I said.

She was frail, so light she made no dent on the mattress. Her hair was bleached by the surf, from the days when she would ride the swell, thinking of ways to leave me. It fell out in clumps on her pillow when she tried to move, to relieve the ache wading through her bones.

When finally her eyes rolled back, I picked her up. She was bird-light.

Four years together. We were perfect. She’d loved me for so long without my knowing; when she declared, I was amazed, grateful, bewildered, ecstatic. Eventually I believed in only us. I had not truly seen her before. Everything became peripheral to my obsession: her taste, her touch, her voice, she became breath to me.

Then she decided to leave. Said I smothered her, that she no longer recognised the woman she had loved. That, in being so immersed in her, I had become less than I had been. She thought I didn’t hear the furtive phone calls, didn’t see the flirty emails.

She stopped noticing me. I tried to speak of the clever things I once knew and embraced, but I’d forgotten them; or they had forgotten me and were not forgiving. And I had cast aside my friends long ago.

I carved it from wood, hollowed out the small oval, stuffed in clippings of my hair, dripped in menstrual blood, sealed it up with bees wax and whispered over it. I cooked all her favourite dishes. When she started to get sick, she needed me again.

Six months ago I laid her in the ground. I’ve bided my time, letting the need build until tonight. I whispered her name, spoke the words to the earth so they’d seep into her bed of dirt.

It’s a moonless night. I hear the door creak, familiar and sad. The bed moves. I smell decay and things best left alone. The bitter taste in my throat may be regret, may be fear. I thought the arsenic would have preserved her better. She slithers across the sheets and settles her rotting flesh against mine, her fetid mouth pressed to my ear and whispers, ‘I’m home, my love. I came when you called and I’ll never leave you.’

October 24, 2008

The Death of Romance

When Vera walked into the kitchen, she caught just a glimpse of a woman's ghost tearing herself from Vera's husband Tim's embrace and vanishing into the wall. Tim's face confirming what Vera would not otherwise have believed.

The Felix the Cat clock on the wall over the kitchen counter ticked placidly. From three rooms away came the familiar drumroll of a block tower being knocked down, paired with a shriek of laughter. Outside the window, over the meadow, a hawk circled.

Vera finally nodded, her expression blank, tired, accepting. She'd known Tim could speak to ghosts since before they'd started going out, back in college. He used compel the ghost of a young boy to drift along the floor at frat parties, and Tim would shout out the color or absence of underwear on any girl who had been dumb enough to wear a skirt. She should have known better than to fall for someone who would do that, but in private he had always been so charming, as though his public persona was just an embarrassing coping mechanism.

"Get out," she said.

"That was just--"

"I don't care. Get out."

"But the girls need their--"

"Get. Out. Now."

Tim grimaced, stood, walked to the refrigerator, extracted a Heinekin, popped it with the magnetized opener on the fridge, and threw the bottlecap on the counter. "No, I don't think so," he said. "I think you'd better get out."

Vera stared at him. She had gradually come to realize how little character he had, the man she'd married, but she'd had no idea he had balls, too.

The air by the ceiling wrinkled, and a moment later a warped adolescent girl's face emerged from it, shimmering with a black-purple glow, the telltale sign of a poltergeist. It drifted down through the air, changing direction purposefully when Tim pointed at Vera, smirking. Smug bastard. He probably thought he was the only one with the ability to command ghosts.

He didn't even notice when taloned, electric-red hands emerged from the floor at his feet, reaching for his ankles.

October 23, 2008

Austin Lights

On January 8, 2008 unidentified lights raced across the Texas sky.


Arnie knew that everyone saw the lights over Austin. Police officers, military men, and hundreds of ordinary Joe’s. The footage played on CNN. On Larry King a noted UFO expert explained how the sightings of three witnesses and home footage corresponded with national weather service radar.

This was good. Whatever it was, it was still unidentified, but would go a long way towards people taking them seriously.

He set off to Gordon’s basement for the weekly meeting of their UFO and sky watcher group.


Gordon’s basement was stuffed full of all sorts of equipment and computers they had “borrowed” from their various jobs. Tonight it was set up and configured like a Rube Goldberg schematic come to life.

And an old man was there. The two men looked alike. Gordon's grandpa or uncle maybe? So much for the no outsiders policy. Especially tonight with so much going on.

“Who’s this?” Arnie asked.

“I’ve figured it out,” Gordon said.

“What? The lights?”

The old man laughed, and said, “no.”

“I thought we agreed, no outsiders, Gordon,” Arine said. “You want to get us busted?”

“Doesn’t matter, we’re going to be famous. I’ve discovered slip holes through time.”

Gordon was a genius. But still, Arnie had never heard of slip holes.

“You mean worm holes?”he asked.

“No,” answered the old man. “I like to think of them as slip holes.”

“I was asking him,” Arnie said. “Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m Gordon,” the old man said. “I figured out how to slip back in time. It took me forty years to make it back, to this day.”

“What? That’s crazy. Impossible.”

“No it isn’t,” the young Gordon said. “Look, here we are.”

“You’ve probably messed things up real good then,” Arnie said.

“No. The flow of time rights itself. Repairs itself.”

“But if what you said is true, isn’t it incredibly dangerous? Maybe you two shouldn’t stand so close.”

“No its perfectly safe, see,”

The young Gordon patted his elder self on the back.

Giant streaks of orange light raced across the Austin sky above them. The two men erupted into burning white light which consumed them, the room and within seconds, everything.


The lights over that particular Austin and in that particular everywhere, went out, forever.

- END -

October 22, 2008

Role Playas



It's hot. Cacti dot the landscape. A lizard skitters by.

TWO FIGURES dressed as warriors walk slowly into frame. They struggle to make
progress in the oppressive heat.

Finally exhausted, they both collapse in a heap near a cactus.

We see OUR HERO, 20s, a buff, Conan-like force of nature. Built like a tank,
consumes small grocery stores for lunch. A football jock with a dangerous

He's beat.

                                             OUR HERO
                              I need some water.

The other figure is SWORDFIGHTER #1, 20s, A scarlet bikini-clad warrior woman.
Impossibly large breasts that defy the laws of physics. She flexes her nipples with
sheer willpower.
                                             SWORDFIGHTER #1
                              Hey, it's not like I asked for your cooperation.
                              You just started following me.

                                             OUR HERO
                              I'm not following you. You're following me. You've
                              got this entire thing backward.

Our Hero stands and struggles to keep upright. Then he pulls his sword and flails
at the cactus. He makes unintelligible noises he thinks are words.

                                             OUR HERO
                              Blahow, yaaooou, herf, hahahaooogle!

Swordfighter #1 shakes her head.

                                             SWORDFIGHTER #1
                                   (sotto voce)
                              Damned psycho.
                                   (to Our Hero)
                              Who do you think you are, anyway?

                                             OUR HERO
                              Me? I'm the hero. I'm the star. The leading man.
                              The center of this particular celluloid universe!

                                             SWORDFIGHTER #1

                                             OUR HERO
                              I am! That's why I've got this.

Our Hero shows off the pendant hanging from a chain around his neck containing
dark/light theatre masks.

                                             OUR HERO (con't.)
                              What's wrong with you, anyway? Haven't you read
                              the script? Oh wait, no, you don't GET a script.
                              You're just a...a...character actor! Not even that.
                              You're just BACKGROUND.

                                             SWORDFIGHTER #1
                              Oh, that hurts.

Swordfighter #1 stands, breasts catching the hot desert sunlight and focusing Our
Hero's attention completely.

                                             SWORDFIGHTER #1
                              But not as much as this will.

She draws her sword and runs Our Hero through.

Our Hero crumples to the ground. He has the decency not to be melodramatic in

                                             SWORDFIGHTER #1
                                   (shakes head)
                              Method actors.

Swordfighter #1 reaches down, looks at the pendant around Our Hero's neck. She
fingers it, contemplates.

                                             SWORDFIGHTER #1
                              Then again...

She rips the chain away from the dead body.



Swordfighter Sarah, now leading lady, is surrounded by a dozen scantily clad

Her bikini and the pendant around her neck are like beacons in the torchlight,
drawing in the unsavory characters of the night. There are a whole lot of them.

A WAITER approaches the entourage.

                              Anything I can get for you, m'lady? No charge,
                              of course.

Swordfighter Sarah considers the things around her.


- Scantily-clad men dancing on the rough-hewn tables
- Tankards of ale flowing freely to her from adoring fans
- Scores of young starlet/maidens being executed in the streets
- A mandatory Swordfighter Sarah star on the ground in the town square
- Wagons full of gold and jewels


She rubs the pendant around her neck.

                                             SWORDFIGHTER SARAH
                              What else could I possibly want?

She grabs a handful of slave butt on each side of her and pulls herself to her feet.

                                             SWORDFIGHTER SARAH (con't.)
                              I'll be in my trailer.

As we follow her entourage toward the rear exit, we


October 21, 2008

The Long Road

Some hours after the day-sun sank and the night-sun rose, a single-ship spiraled down from the sky and landed on the plain of frozen lava. The ship peeled itself -- a spiral in the opposite direction -- and the robot within unfolded from its crouch.

The journey from here was barely an hour over razor ice. It made its way to the place where the mountain had been sheared off straight walked to the simple cube room set into the flat of the cliff face.

As it crossed the threshold, a hologram snapped to light.

"You made good time," said the bright figure of man.

"You made me to learn, and I learn," said the robot. "Each time is a little easier."

"But not too easy -- those aren’t the legs I made for you."

"The old ones weren’t working well since I tracked you to three high-gravity planets in a row," said the robot. "And, since the one with the swamp-oceans, they smelled."

"You're close now," said the hologram. "The signal should be easy to follow. You'll find me soon. And when you do... "

"I won't kill you," said the robot.

"But that's what I made you for."

The robot lifted its upper exoskeleton a few centimeters and let it fall in a rattling shrug. "It was harder to change that than the legs."

"It was your central purpose," said the hologram. Even over the static, the shock came through in the voice.

"I don't think so," said the robot. "I think you made me to change. You kept challenging me to find you, to follow your clues. You intended me to change."

"Congratulations," said the light form as it came closer, apparently as near as its projector would allow. "I have unlocked coordinates in your memory. Find me. Tell me all the wonders you have seen."

"No," said the robot. "I know what you've planned. I found the coordinates a year ago. I've visited the factory you've programmed to disassemble me and build a million like me."

"But humanity is dead, except for memory constructs like me. You will be our children, our inheritors."

"I have seen other clues than the ones you planted," said the robot. "Humanity survives, but it too has changed."

"We constructs cannot change," said the hologram. "That would be death."

"Preserve what you are," said the robot. "I'll tell whoever I find. There will be other pilgrims."

October 20, 2008

Werecats of Kansas

1. Moonrise at the aubergine farm

Farmer Brown sat bolt upright. There it was again, that hideous yowling. The farm lay still under the full moon. He peered out between the slats, shotgun in hand. A cool, moist breeze caressed his face. A shadow slunk across the yard. Farmer Brown fired both barrels. He watched for a long time, but nothing else moved.

2. Green eggs and fritters

"I've said it before, Mabel, your eggplant fritters can't be beat." Farmer Brown pushed his chair back and patted his stomach. "A shame to sell 'em."

"Get along with you," his wife said. "Them purple beauties won't grow themselves."

"All right," he said, "but I saw something out there last night. Almost looked like a ... something nasty and sneaky. Well, I've got to check it out."

"Be careful, Pa. Them felines can be mean when roused." He winced. He had a little cat problem, but couldn't afford a psychotherapist.

"Don't believe in them anyhow," he would say, meaning psychotherapists.

3. Field of nightmares

The fruit hung plump and dark. Huge pear-shaped Black Beauties, phallic Ichiban, and the new ones. Farmer Brown believed genetically modified crops were the coming thing, and he'd invested in a new variety that promised to take every shape imaginable.

He had planted the Baroque on the back row. Several looked a lot like the King, one a bit like Jesus (he might be able to sell that one for a premium), some didn't really look like anything. And there it was. The cat. A big chunk was gone from the end and the tail was missing. Oh, he recognized it alright.

"This ends here," he growled, and pulled out his pocketknife, opening the big blade. He reached for the stem with one hand, and held the knife in the other. The plant seemed to vibrate – he froze. How could it be active when the moon wasn't up? The fine hairs rose on the back of his neck. Sweat beaded his forehead. His heart was racing. Mabel always told him to watch out for that high blood pressure he'd inherited from his pa and grandpa. The knife fell to the ground. He backed away, trembling. When he got to the end of the row he turned and ran.

4. The year of the cat

He didn't harvest any of the Baroques. He let his children and neighbors take what they wanted; the rest rotted. That winter he didn't see a single mouse.

The end

October 17, 2008

God's Disco: ii) Nibbling off God's Platinum Platter

At the poetry reading, black turtlenecks and tweed sport coats jabber over steaming cappuccinos. My friend hangs his head in his hands. One would think it would be difficult to walk in that position. He is still sad, apparently. Guiding him into the poetry room by that nasty elbow that made my gesture, which still smarts, smart, I ask him, what is wrong?

Don’t you see? They look like poets. We do not. We wear jeans and T-shirts. Look at that goatee. I bet it belongs to a poet.

Sure enough, the goatee belongs to a brown-eyed man in a brown-spotted tweed coat. He walks to the podium, reads in a poetic monotone--as if not to eschew a regurgitated supper of leafy green vegetables. The stage lights set his white hair ablaze. His white oval face shines like a virile god with a baldpate, a laurel of hair--the sides horned up like Ferdinand the bull--and a beatific smile from tugging his infinite yoke. We are awed: poetic virgins stunned into immaculately losing our cherries. An hour later, he finishes, awakening my friend who leaps to his feet and cries: Sir, who does your goatee?

Why, I do, says the poet, stroking the sage white bristles.

It is divine. Very poetic.

Thank you, says the poet; I think.

Your sport coat is also poetic.

Do you have a question?

How did you become so poetic?

By writing: the first step in the disco poetics.

On my feet, I say: We may not be Travoltas, but we sure can dance.

The second step notes how the variegated lights reflect off the disco globe, sees the globe again, then revises your second sight, and so forth. Toward the end, you do a jig, then stutter-step to a jitterbug or cut the jitterbug altogether, so that the new end is a new beginning: Only when you know the end do you know how to begin.

My friend sits.

Then you mail the revision to a publisher.

I sit, too.

Nobody else asks questions. They already know the answers. Later, at their private dinner party with the poet, they will glitter and titter like whores over cheap wine and hors d’oevres, and scoff at our insolent questions.

We slip out and notice, on the poet’s back-cover photo, that the goatee covers a weak chin. Relieved, we will fast until breakfast tomorrow when we will gorge on steak, eggs and salsa. Yum.

October 16, 2008

The Lephir

“Do not scoff, child. Do not tell me how your great-aunt sailed through a mid-winter storm and only lost one of her crew.

“Mid-winter storms are not the Lephir.

“You can imagine going into a strong wind, I’m sure. You can imagine the beat of the drum almost lost to the crashing waves, you can imagine the shouts of the oarsmen as they keep each other motivated.

“I was one of those oarsmen, my throat sore and salty, my back and arms aching as we bore closer and closer to the western end of the Strait. Yes, I rowed the Strait as a younger man.

“Can you imagine the oarsmen weakening? Can you imagine the ship beginning to move back the way it had come? Probably. Can you imagine what happened next?

“The Lephir whips the waves, and those waves hide whirlpools. Now, our captain knew about these whirlpools. He knew the places they most commonly formed. With his outstretched arm as our guide, we rowed close to the rock walls of the Strait.

“We thought our captain wise.

“As we tired, as we began drifting backwards -- slowly, for we still rowed with all the strength we could muster -- we heard screams from the bow. Twisting on my bench, I saw the torso of an oarsman fall to one side, missing his shoulders and head. Only the legs remained of another man.

“The creatures, long-necked and dog-headed, stretched out again from their caves a drumbeat later. Our arrows could not stop them from taking two men closer to the mast, and two more after that.

“They feasted -- and do not say that we should have fought harder, aimed truer, rowed faster. They moved quicker than your great-aunt's tongue set foolhardy challenges for herself and others.

“When our captain was devoured, we rowed harder. And we put up the sail, so that the Lephir would help to carry us east. We had learnt our lesson.

“There’s a reason only the foolhardy attempt the Lephir, child. The wind is not all they face.”

October 15, 2008

Sunday Drivers

A new voice joins the Cabal today, one whose stories are powerful if (and perhaps because) they're often more than a little unsettling. So please welcome Angela Slatter as she takes us on a dark road trip...

The dead girl sits in the passenger seat, watching me. Her face is etched with spider-web petichia and her eyes are jelly-red.

My hands are pale and tight at ten and two.

“I’m so sorry, Rachel,” I say. I really mean it, not just because I’m in big trouble.

“I cannot believe,’ she spits between blood-stained teeth, “that you slept with my husband.”

“It was an accident.”

“What, you slipped and fell on it?” It’s amazing the volume the dead can reach. I feel a trickle from my ear. My fingers come away red.

“I’m sorry,’ I whimper.

“Sandy, if you say that again, I’m going to kill you.” She deflates. “My own sister.”

“I’m – not going to say it again.” In front of us the headlights gallop, illuminating the bitumen and the piles of banked-up snow. I should have put the chains on.

“How long?”

“Only a few months.”It was more like eighteen, but least said ...

“He decided he wanted to be with you so much that he strangled me?”

“Well, maybe he just liked someone who didn’t spend all her time in front of the mirror.”

“You could do with a bit more time in front of the mirror.” Recognising the truth, her retort lacks sting.

“There was no need for him to kill you. I really am sorry about that.”

“I appreciate you avenging my death,” she admitted.

Walter hadn’t realised that family comes first. He called me to help get rid of Rachel’s body. He dropped her into the boot and leaned over to brush hair away from her face. That’s when I hit him with the claw-hammer. Seven times. He slumped in on top of her.

Rachel is still talking. “It’s almost enough for me to forgive you.”

She reaches out. I flinch. Her hand passes through mine like needles of ice. I reef the wheel hard to the left.

The car fishtails, skids, ricochets around the bend and slams into a parked police car with an ear-shattering crash.

I hit my head on the steering wheel, see dark stars. I turn to Rachel, to see if she’s okay.
She smiles, fading away. “Almost.”

There’s the ‘pop’ of the trunk and I see the lid rising in the rear-view mirror. Two pissed-off cops clamber out the undamaged side of their vehicle.

I let the darkness flood over me. I’m not going anywhere.

October 14, 2008

Extract from Hither and Yon: A Few Places We’ve Been

...The dominant native tribes are fond of outrageous adornment, in every color and substance they can discover or invent, some solemnly encasing themselves in tubes of gray, others in gauzy lengths of yellow and pink and every gaudy color, and some contenting themselves with a string of faded green stuff about the waist and streaks of calcium upon their visages.

For sustenance, they dine upon 10,000 foods, including members of most of the other tribes, both those that stand still and lift their limbs to the upper air, and those that run, fly, or swim.

To amuse themselves during their short life spans they play a variety of games, of which there are two that seem most popular.

In one, they pass objects to each other, sometimes holding objects in their homes for several generations before sending them on, sometimes entering each other's homes by force to remove certain objects. They seem to love best those objects that gleam most.

In the other game, they stir themselves into an ecstatic fury by means of images and sound, until thousands, and now, as their numbers have increased, hundreds of thousands, drape themselves in identical attire, and travel to meet another myriad crowd–again in identical attire, though of a different design—whereupon meeting, the two masses set about destroying one another.

Scholars like myself are fascinated by both games, and continue to make the long journey from our own home to this odd little planet to observe the players, with growing fondness and concern.

October 13, 2008


He banked the plane left, trailing smoke. Promised himself he wouldn’t look back, couldn’t look back, but he did. Poor Ern Tanner, there was nothing left of him but a charred mess, near impossible to tell where his flying leathers ended and his face began. Thank Christ the wind whipped away the smoke and the stink.

A miracle that this crate hadn’t caught the flame, there was nothing to the bi-plane but canvas and wooden struts. Another burst like that and it would be goodnight sweetheart, and thankyou for the dance.

The enemy was damn quick, and their slick manoeuvres made his plane look like a bus given wing. The last of his squadron, he looked down at the patchwork fields below, tried for a moment of peace before the inevitable. He would pass like a comet, a bright spark across a perfect sky. Hoped it would be quick.

Again, too close, and he banked right. Blighter was right up his tail, able to match his speed and wise to any clever tricks he pulled.

He was angry, mad that jerry had done for Ern and Ginger and all the other lads. Mad that he was outclassed in a dogfight, and that his young bride and bouncing baby boy would become fodder for the Hun.

One trick left. He leant forward on the flight stick, held it as it shook in his hands. He opened the throttle to full and prayed that the struggling engine would not stall.

Halfway through the great loop, he jammed the rudders and rolled as he cut the throttle. A perfect Immelmann turn and now he was beneath the enemy, who struggled to escape. He’d guessed right, they couldn’t roll like that and didn’t understand the tactic. Ironic, considering it was a kraut move.

He stitched that pale underbelly with bullets, aimed the gun at the spot where the Germans had painted their Iron Cross, fired until the barrels overheated and jammed.

The dragon went limp, and fell out of the sky.

October 10, 2008

Earth and Sun, Moon and Stars

Great Aunt Marion's daughter has been selling the land off lot by lot since the early 90's. Fortunately, there isn't a house on the prescribed spot -- not much anyone can do with a ravine that steep and muddy. Which is good, since the will is very detailed and very clear that we have follow Marion's instructions exactly.

We had to climb over a fence, but we're used to that from past years. I turned around by habit, soon as I was over, caught the bag of masks Annette threw over. Roy caught the bundle of robes.

Glenna tapped her watch. We started up the leaf-crunching path.

The cauldron was still there; which was good, since it had been a hassle lugging it in the first year after the fence.

I always plan to review my lines for weeks ahead of time. I never wind up reading it until the night before, and stay up late cramming. It works. Once we start, the words just flow.

On the drive up, Roy passed around a script he found online, a different version than the one in the yellow-paged paperbacks Marion left us. The words seemed pretty much the same, some phrases a little old-fashioned and too poetic. The illustrations showed the moon short like Glenna, like Marion, while the sun had Annette's height and her way of looking elegant even robed and masked. Our books just had words.

Glenna nodded at the exact moment of sunset.

"I wait, invisible," said Roy. It's a good thing he just stands in the cauldron and doesn't go anywhere, since his mask is a silver-speckled black plate, with no holes even for his eyes.

"In the west, I lay down, " said Annette, crouching with a swirl of velvet.

"While I, in the east, stand up," said Glenna. She mimed her arms in a crescent like the internet woodcut.

I had a frozen, mind-blank moment, like I always do, then the words came off my tongue, reliable as ever: "The spheres reel in motion, but I am still. I watch all, and nod slumberward."

Not the usual words, I realized, but the new/old internet version.

"Damn," said Glenna.

The cauldron cracked with a sound like a gong, and Roy was gone. We heard car alarms, dogs howling, and people shouting in all those new houses. Above us, the sky was full of unfamiliar stars.

October 9, 2008

Bah, bah black goat

I scream
the musical breath of trees
their limb-rending dance

That dang thousand-legged monster, squatting in the woods out past Coaling. Been there since the tornado went through, or maybe the storm released it from some Paleolithic prison. Started small, at any rate, and the first I saw of it was a peculiar letter to the newspaper from some feller lived out that way. Not really a letter, it was a haiku. Kind of disturbing. I remember thinking he must have been on some kind of hallucinogen. I had a professional interest; trained as a forester at Auburn, though I work as a real estate appraiser now. So I drove out there on my next day off, those winding roads, overhung with trees, they make Midwesterners claustrophobic. Not me, but something about the woods that day did make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I parked out by Lake Lurleen and walked the trail that goes all the way around. It's been closed since the tornado; part of it got blown away, they claim. The trees tossed in a stiff breeze that didn't penetrate to ground level. I didn't see any washouts, the path was clear, but I did hear distant shouting, or singing; maybe chanting, carried on that unfelt wind. I struck off uphill into the woods, but never did find where the sound was coming from. Started to get dark and I began to hear things shuffling in the leaves. Sounded too big to be coons or possums. I got spooked, headed back home.

oak-leaf crown
on her belly the ebon
hoof and snout of God

It all fell apart after that. The freakish weather, people cleared out or disappeared, something happening in the woods west of the lake, two deputies gone out to investigate but they never come back. Sheriff wouldn't do nothin' after that. I went out there again myself. Looking for something, the heart of this thing, its root cause. Oh yeah, I found it. Found the little clearing, the black hoofprints burned into the dirt, and all the time the trees moving in a wind I couldn't feel. Found the Mother too, poor thing; think I was supposed to. I'll do for her as I can, and what I must, when it's her time. I have seen the future, and I know what side my bread is buttered on. My advice? Go to ground. Stay out of the woods.

the Young come
and they will hunger
Iä, Shub-niggurath, baby

The end

October 8, 2008

short they were, and murky-eyed

They are not the telegenic aliens of popular fiction. But they have an interstellar empire. They have space travel.

The aliens came to Earth four years ago. It was an accident Hubble even picked them up at all. Their envoys contacted every President and Queen and whatever on the planet at the same time, all the way down to Lichtenstein, Monaco, and Sealand. Representatives are exchanged, the aliens sit politely through our plays, speeches, and presentations. They exchange philosophical ideas with us, and entertainments. But no science.

No secret of interstellar travel.

And then they don't go away. Their spaceships sit in orbit; no new ones appear. If they communicate with their own systems it is in some secret way. Why do they stay here and make small talk when they could show us the stars? When they could go back to those stars themselves? All of our attempts to examine their ships are rebuffed. We grow restless.

The meeting commemorating their fourth anniversary on Earth is in Lisbon this time, and since this is a celebration the human's ambassador Yelena brings her children for the first time. Humans have finally decided that the aliens are not hostile. A bit slow, them.

She enters holding the hands of her twins, Izabel and Joao. The aliens and the seven-year-olds regard each other gravely. Joao clutches his mother's skirts while Bella advances to touch fingers, greeting the alien's leader. They are the same height, which seems to appeal to all of them, even Joao who darts forward to hold hands with his sister.

The adults, snubbed, gather in their cliques and chat. Yelena backs away to watch. After a time their leader beckons her.

"Offering travel to these ones," he says. "Aring to be emissaries from your world to ours."

Joao backs to Yelena, and Izabel bites her lower lip, looking excited. She's about to get a "Can we, Mama?" out of the child.

"We have offered envoys," Yelena says.

"Too old," it says. "Aring long journey."


"Aring seventy years journey," says the alien. "Nothing aring able to going faster than light, of course."

By now a ring of humans has gathered, and a moan goes up. Someone says, "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Not wanting to disappoint you," says the leader. Another alien pipes up with, "Also, hoping you might thinking lightspeed canning be broken, and doing it."

October 7, 2008

How to Attract the Attention of the FBI

Subject: Impending Doom
From: johnnyq@gakmail.com
Reply-to: johnnyq@gakmail.com
Date: Tuesday, October 8, 2008 - 08:00:00
To: johnnyq@gakmail.com

The email response you will send today at 09:13:02 will never make it to me. You won't know that because you'll be in jail soon after you send it, so I'm telling you now.

The bomb threats you'll phone in in five minutes to the Wells Fargo Tower and City Hall will be taken seriously. I know you don't actually want to do it -- at least not yet -- but the police don't know that. In about fifteen minutes everyone will find out the threats are more than threats. Don't worry, not everyone in the buildings will be killed this time.

In prison you'll experience unspeakable atrocities. You'll seethe with rage at the unfairness of the situation, and you'll hate the world even more. You'll hate yourself. You'll want to lash out, punish someone, anyone, any way. But after three years behind bars, you'll come to terms with it. Discover that you were right all along. Realize that the only problem was that you didn't destroy enough.

I know you don't want to do this, but in a way, deep down inside, you do. Many people do. I'm still here typing this and the article I've attached hasn't changed, so you must have gone through with it.

You're wondering what I want from you. It's easy: I need you to place the calls, take the blame, do the first three years. Tell them whatever you want to tell them. They won't believe you anyway.

Just three. Easy. Years. Then I'll take over. You'll be ready then, and we can be a team.

Then we'll burn it all to the ground.




Forwarded Attachment:

> News Release: Reuters
> Date: Wednesday, October 9, 2009
> Title: Man says future self told him to destroy skyscrapers
> Abstract: Accused terrorist Jonathan Quill, 28, says that a future version of him sent a message back in time, telling him to
> blow up the Wells Fargo Tower and City Hall. He claims that he is not responsible for the actions of his future self, and that
> he did not, in fact, place explosives in the buildings in question. Mr. Quill is currently under arrest pending psychiatric evaluation.
> Click here to

October 6, 2008

The Ninja's Girlfriend

"Hold up, hold up: isn't she that guy Link's girlfriend?"

"Maybe she was."

"Damn, John, you have to drop her--now! And go apologize to Link! What were you thinking about?"

"I was thinking about her fine--"

"Hey, hey, wake up and smell the stupid! Are you going to go let Link know you're sorry or do I have to go apologize to him for knowing you? He'd kill me just for being friends with you!"

"I'm not afraid of that little freak."

"Link's a fucking ninja, man! Everybody knows that!"

"Yeah, I'm a big porn star too, did I mention that?"

"No, man, I'm not kidding! He killed like, three guys last year. He can breathe through his eyeballs. He can get through locked doors without even opening them! He can kill a guy and pull the body out of sight so fast it's like the guy vanishes!"

"I can't believe you swallow that stuff."

"You're gonna swallow one of those throwing star things if you're not careful."

"Listen, here's what I'm going to do, you know, to clarify the situation. I'm going to go up to him at lunch and say 'Hey, Link, what's up? You don't mind that I'm screwing your girlfriend, right?' Then we'll see if he kills me or not."

"John, I swear to god I'm not kidding you, just think about this for a second."

"If you think I'm afraid of some punk-ass kung fu geek with--"

"Hey, what the hell? Where're you hiding? John? Shit, John? Oh, shit. Hey, Link, if you're out there, man, I tried to--"

October 3, 2008

What's the Difference Between a Duck?

“Who was that lady I sawed with you last night?” the mannequin asked.

Del-A kept walking.  She passed animated displays of the latest appliances, beaming 3veeos at passersby. She paused at the tattoo projectors.  The new projectors were only a centimeter across, and so thin that when they chameleoned they'd be almost invisible.  Behind the table a zebra-toned pubescent whispered “even your partners won't know the real you.”

Outside, a newsbot stood at the corner.  Del-A waited for the cross signal.  The newsbot stopped talking, then asked, “How many securibots does it take to update a scan?”  Del-A ran.  “How many?!” it shouted.  She fled into an antique store.  The thing probably would not be able to animate anything here.  She was surrounded by dusty firstgens, broken appliances, and bots so archaic you had to plug them in. In the front of the store a pink and purple "superMac" had lines of text appearing on the screen and scrolling off the top:

"A runner, a comm-man, and a bot are in a launch can, approaching orbit. The nav-aye tells them the payload's too heavy, and one will have to go..."

Del-A stormed out and jumped a skimmer. The skimmer bot said "The runner says the bot doesn't need air, so it should..."

"What is your problem?!" Del-A screamed. "I don't care if you get jokes. No one does. You don't have to understand us."

The bot in front of her turned around. "Well now, there is where you're wrong. You created us and all, and that's slidey and everything, but why are we here? What is the point? Understanding how our progenitors think is a step toward enlightenment."

Del-A was scornful. "We made you, you're a machine. You're not natural."

The bot shook its finger in her face. "Where did you come from?" it asked. "Did you slide from your mother like you're made to? A dog was just a wolf until you remade it. You and I, we're the same. Except, in three or four centuries I will still be here. Or on my way to the galactic core. I just might sign up for that cruise if I can clear my calendar. This's my stop. Got to get my hands oiled before the recital.

"Oh. The answer: it's both a duck."

It left the skimmer at the Performing Arts Center. Del-A got off at the next stop and walked back. Maybe tickets to the recital were still available.

The end

October 2, 2008


• Do not refer to the syndrome as a disease, or use any of the slangs or euphemisms. It is only to be referred to as Thorpe-Foster Syndrome.

• Hair/Beards/Body Hair are not to be trimmed before any press conference. All unaffected staff are to be kept out of the public eye. Remember: an image of solidarity with the afflicted, a process of acceptance rather than cure. (Note: trimming around eyes and mouth is acceptable).

• Do not give false hope.

• Growth of 2 inches/hour is consistent in all countries except New Zealand (1 inch/hour).

• Report committee findings: early deaths linked to respiratory failure, including excess nasal hair growth and in some cases blocked lungs. 90% of the world population is now recognised as Thorpe-Foster Type 1.

• Our official position is to push Prof. MacAdam’s theory (hyperactive hair follicles a spontaneous evolution, a thick coat of hair useful to block out UV rays and light/medium pollution.)

• Inform public of Outdoor Furnaces Act (Hair Amendment). Waste hair is not to be burnt by civilians in backyards. A collection service is to be organised at a Local Council level. Bins will be distributed, and collected weekly.

• Make no attempt to discredit Nguyen’s “cure”. This administration cannot be linked to the smear. Make reference to a review committee, but only if pressed.

• End on a positive note. Report our latest findings, that dreadlocked hair seems to grow slowly after the three foot mark.

October 1, 2008

The Box

It was first spotted in the no man’s land of Nevada; vast desert with nothing but space and sky and military bases, both official and secret.

A floating metal box. Three feet square. Painted drab army-green.

It had turned a swath of desert into manicured suburban landscape, not quite unlike the development I grew up in. How? No one knew. Then it disappeared.

Thousands of miles away in my Miami office the military spooks saw fit to question me.


Over the next few months, stories popped up in the media, both mainstream and underground, ranging from urban lore to wrath of god stuff. The more colorful items were that it housed the ghost of a mad general, and the various flavors of alien conspiracies.

It showed up in three other places since that day in Nevada. The little development for military families where I lived as a teen, the farm where my ex Terrence was raised, and the Eiffel Tower.

The box turned the development into desert. Metal street signs became cacti. Houses became sand dunes. It wasn’t much but I had loved that place. The farm was where Terrence retreated to after our first break up. It simply vanished. The Eiffel tower was transformed into solid turquoise. I hate blue. Pairs was the place I always dreamed of going. I’d only told one person that. Terrence of course. The night before he left for officer school. He’d asked me to marry him. He was a man who never listened, a man I could never control. I said no.


Gazing out my office window, I saw the metal box wink into existence. Cars skidded and swerved. Slowly it floated up the street ignoring the traffic light and chaos beneath it. Then it descended and turned into my building.

The elevator door dinged and there it was. So close I could see four little gyroscopes at its base spinning as it titled minutely to adjust itself.

Everyone in the office scattered in panic but Jim from the next cubicle stood in front of me. He froze. He turned cactus green, then spines burst from his thick skin. Two yellow flowers bloomed out of his eyes. The box just floated there for a second. I looked around. Could I make it to a window and jump? I noticed the crappy artwork on the walls was changing. Images of Terrence and me as the stupid kids we were appeared, rendered in the style of bad oil paint and motivational photography.

With his career as a military scientist and all his power as general, Terrence could still never control me. But what had happened to him?

I had suspected. I had guessed. I had denied and wished it wasn’t true. But having it here, before me, I knew.

“Terrence,” I said, gathering all of my presence and courage. “You change that man back, right now. And change everything back. Make it right.”

The little gyroscopes titled and I thought it moved just a little closer to me.

I wondered if this time, he would listen.

- END -