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November 28, 2008

The Janus Trick: Door #25

Jason says: This is the first entry of an ongoing chronicle, as trusted to me by a nameless individual who has rediscovered the Janus Trick. As far as I can tell, these episodic narratives are the only record of his journeys through the Significant Doors...

Door #25
It’s the back door, the one made of chipboard with the bottom half covered in muddy puppy scratches. You reach up and twist the handle, an indoor fitting covered in paint and salvaged by Poppa. Very carefully, you step into the kitchen. Always with the right foot first. Those who use the left foot never end up where they mean to go.

Nanna only has a few grey hairs, not the silver patchy locks that you last saw her with. She’s made your favourite, scones with jam and cream. You sit at the grown-up table, now as then, even though your feet don’t touch the ground. You’re in sandals and shorts, scabby knees and a little knitted vest, but you’ve got the knowing of ages in your head, the wisdom of times yet to come.

But what good the knowing of computers, when the only ones about are the size of refrigerators? What good the understanding that two towers will fall, or what the market will do over the next twenty years or so? Some of the information is slipping, and it may be sometime till this brain grows and accepts these knowings.

You try to tell Nanna about the Janus Trick, and she humours you. She’s got the impression you’re talking about one of your cartoons, or maybe a comic book. When you mention the imminent passing of Roscoe the fox terrier, she gets a dark look. The scones are gone, and there is nothing but banishment to bed.

You sit on the edge of the overstuffed bed for ages, watching the sliver of afternoon light creep across the high-ceilings. You’re running your hands with wonder all over the stuffed frog she sewed for you, the one wearing the bull-fighter outfit. It’s still some years before the arthritis will take away all her little enjoyments; her knitting, sewing, flute-playing.

She comes in later, and makes you say the Our Father and Hail Mary before tucking you into bed. She says “Holy Ghost” which sounded funny at the time because at school they made you say “Holy Spirit”. With the added weight of years this makes you cry a little, because Nanna was the last person you ever heard saying it that way.

November 27, 2008


“Can he play the bass guitar?” John asked.

“No, but look at him,” George said.

William Shears Campbell looked at the two rock stars. He never thought winning the look-alike contest would have led to this.

“What happened?” Billy Shears asked. “Why is everyone talking as if I’m not here?”

“We can teach him bass guitar,” George said. “He even does sound a lot like Paul, thats a good start.”

“Just a little bit of the ol’ under the knife to make it perfect and he’ll look just like him.”

“No one must ever know,” George said. “Ever. No clues. No backwards secret messages.”

“Don’t worry,” John said with a mischevious smile.

“Give it go then,” John said. “Sing a line with me-”

“Why?” Billy asked. “I only won a look-alike contest. They said there would be a prize.”

“He really doesn’t know,” said George.

The two rock stars turned to face the young man.

“There was an accident,” John said. “He hadn’t noticed that the lights had changed. Wednesday morning at five a.m. as the day began, I buried Paul.”

“That’s crazy,” Billy said.

“Is it?” John said. “I say the world is crazy, but all the more reason why the show must go on. Welcome to the band, Billy. Paul is dead, miss him, miss him.”


* Comemorating the recent 40th anniversary of The White Album.

November 26, 2008

Our Lady Underground

The scuffed-linoleum halls of cabal central echo with one more set of approaching footfalls. One last set, at least for the time being. Another new author steps forward today. Susannah Mandel's mark in the world of words has, so far, been largely nonfictional, but she's also quite adept in the fictional mode, as we're sure you'll discover when she takes us beneath the surface of things in today's story...

Our Lady Underground is a mystery of the earth. She lies in chthonic dignity under the hill at the center of the island, awaiting her oblations.

Obediently the inhabitants lay their offerings on her monument. Usually, they send the young people to do it. In winter, that means cold; in spring, they slog up muddy paths lugging the baskets. But one has not the right to pick and choose. Our Lady demands her rituals all the year round.

Everyone understands what Our Lady provides in return. In the shallows off the coast, she holds back the waves from surging and flattening the fishing villages. She keeps the cliffs from sliding down and burying the harbor. She grips the soil tight in her powerful arms, preventing it from bucking like a terrified lamb, overturning cradles and trapping young mothers under their tumbled roofs.

What does Our Lady look like? No one knows. There are no effigies on her monument, no pictures on the tiles sunk into earth at the tidelines. Rumors exist of secret cliff-side carvings; of an image cut in chalk on a hidden hill. By the fireside, the nannies tell stories about Our Lady in battle, rising, in vast and terrible beauty, to defend her faithful people against Our Lady of the Landslide, Our Lady of the Earthquake, Our Lady of the Tidal Wave.

(But the young people murmur mutinously, to each other: Has Our Lady ever stirred from under her hill? Does she even know how to stand up? To walk? Fight? Dance?)

Though they live by the sea, this island's inhabitants bury their dead. The words of the traditional funeral homily, passed down through centuries, imply less a rapturous moment of reunion with Our Lady than a slow growing: a knitting together, as with the roots of trees. The nannies and old men sink into deep calmness, as they approach their eventual rendezvous. Children, whispering in the night, thrill each other with horror.

But the young people conduct their own investigations of Our Lady Underground, up on the hillside's winding streets, in the basement nightclubs that bear her name. Among the shadows and pulsing music, they seek to answer each other's questions: about what lies underneath; about where to find the secret hill; about what their elders have always thought to be so dangerous in the rising, shuddering and crashing of avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, waves.

November 25, 2008

43 Futures

The principle of the thing was simple: establish linked universe chambers with 43 randomly-selected possible futures and vow to show up at the place and time where the device would be activated so as to make contact with the present from all 43 different possible realities. In this way, Garrett could communicate with 43 of his future selves, figure out which future was most advantageous for him, and use a device he had just invented to force the entire universe to follow that particular path.

If only, he thought regretfully, he weren't such a self-involved, megalomaniacal liar. He wouldn't be able to trust anything any of his selves said to him, since each of him would be trying to influence the present him to choose their reality in order to prevent their existence being erased. But he could work around that.

Late on a rainy spring evening he flipped the switch, and only 7 Garretts appeared in the phone-booth sized chambers arranged around him (out of which none could step without becoming unmoored from his own stream of probability). Having less than 78 minutes for questioning, Garrett tried to ignore the implications of so many of him not making it to the rendezvous and instead concentrated on questions.

"Where's everyone else?" said Garrets number 29 and 14.

"Immaterial," said 5. "If they had advantages to offer, they'd be showing them. Look at these pictures of my girlfriend."

"The you from your best future will be concise," said 40.

"Number 40 looks pale. Some kind of disease?" said 12.

2 said nothing, but smiled and began piling up stacks of money from a case at his feet.

Garrett stepped up and examined each self intently in turn, alert for signs of illness or stress on the one hand or health and satisfaction on the other. When he got to 35, he stopped.

"You haven't said anything," he told 35, who was hiding a hand behind his back.

35 nodded. "I'll say this: if you were a better man, you'd abandon this idea of changing the path of the entire universe to suit yourself."

Garrett shrugged. "If I were a better man, you'd be a better man," he said.

"Whereas the reverse is not necessarily true," said 35, and he took out the revolver he had been hiding and shot Garrett three times in the head. Garrett collapsed as his seven analogs flickered out of existence.

Garrett was found dead in the midst of an incomprehensible apparatus the next day. For lack of a better explanation, the death was ultimately written off as a suicide.

November 24, 2008

Something to Get Used To

Jenny first found out on that night deep at the bottom of October.

She came home from trick-or-treating early. Her parents were skipping back and forth between bad Halloween movies, laughing, taking turns when the doorbell rang. Jenny was coming down the hall with a glass of milk when she heard her mother talking to a solitary kid.

"Trick," the kid said, in a voice too old for somebody so small, and Jenny dropped the glass to get to her mom.

On the doorstep the kid stood smiling, while her mother's head and torso disappeared into the bag in his hands.

Over his head she could see Mrs. Stevens from up the street, standing by the gate with five kids who were waiting their turn. She watched herself think, "this is like so embarrassing," while she stopped herself from screaming.

She never knew how she knew what to do: raise her hands, snap them downwards, shout the word she didn't know at the top of her lungs, then turn and race to grab the hall mirror off its hook. She hobbled back with it while the kid stared at her and her mother's legs kicked over the top of his bag. She braced it against the door and yelled out the next strange word that would force him to look at himself.

He looked. She never saw what looked back at him, but it was enough, apparently. He exploded in a shower of autumn leaves and moldy Tootsie Rolls. Her mother sprawled across the steps with the bag on her head. She pulled it off and blinked.

The kids at the gate stared. Mrs. Stevens stepped from behind them, gently placing on hand on each head and saying, "forget," in a voice that carried in the suddenly quiet air.

"Pretty good," she said. "Although I always carry a hand mirror. Cheaper," she added, nodding towards the hall mirror. Looking down, Jenny saw it was cracked clean across.

They both looked at her mother, who stared at Jenny.

"You should burn that bag," said Mrs. Stevens.

"OK," said her mother, dropping it. She added, "my mother-in-law tried to tell me about this."

"That's OK. Nobody ever believes it. Then they hit adolescence, and—boom! She can come study with me, if you want. In exchange for yard work or something."

"As long as she doesn't miss soccer practice," said her mother.

"We can work around that," said Mrs. Stevens.

Jenny sat down on the step. In the hall she could still see the shattered glass and milk on the floor.

"This will take getting used to," she thought.

November 21, 2008

Sea of Crises

On the news, the replay: L5 station exploding again, ring after ring opening into flame.

Behind me, Ivan threw clothes into a bag. In the doorway, Jill looked down the stairs her friend Sue had just run down.

Ivan shouldered me toward the door and nudged Jill through it.

From the empty apartment, we heard official confirmation: the moon had started targeting earthside cities.

The car met us as at the ground floor. The people from the fourth floor were loading their kids and an antique lamp into their van. Waving, we glided away fast.

We asked; the car told us the moon would rise in twenty-three minutes.

We were OK, we figured, as long as we stayed away from cities. No reason to think this, except then we could do something. As if surfacing from the deepening night, the evening's first star appeared.

Ivan thought we should turn the radio on, hear the latest. Sue said no use getting all hyped on information.

We left the radio off.

Hours, the three of us rode, tense on the over-upholstered seats. The car gave us the random wander we'd asked for-- industrial park cul-de-sacs, interstate frontage roads and ruler-straight deep-country state highways. Past fire-gutted grain elevators, through all-night truck stop diner/adult bookstore/discount firework shack minimall parking lots, down aisles of tall old elms where the leaves were thick enough overhead we relaxed a bit, and realized how tired we felt. Then we remembered the miracle of infrared and the blaze our engine must be making to distant watchers, leaves or no leaves.

By three, we were numb to worry. Ivan and I said OK when Jill suggested hacking one of the surveillance bands. We watched with watchers' eyes: everything alien, milk-colored, sharp-shadowed. A farmhouse our earthly eyes could barely make out framed four dim embers in what we guessed was the kitchen. Mother, father, child, gathered around the newsfeed. The fourth heat source-- a coffee-maker? And not far off, three smudges in the blurry lozenge of a car. We climbed around and traded seats, watching the screen to see if it really was us.

It was.

That spooked us. We turned off the screen, dimmed the controls, listened to wind-hiss and tire-hum.

If the moon sets and we're still here to see it, we told each other, we'll pull over and get some sleep.

November 20, 2008

Comedy is Hard

Good morning, hero!

Welcome to the Portland Safe Zone surface gate. Before you depart, please read the following briefing.

From the answers on your induction questionnaire, we've provided you with a skill-appropriate survival backpack.

In the backpack you'll find the following items:

- 1 HK USP-C 9mm compact semi-automatic pistol, matte
- 2 magazines, 13 round capacity, empty
- 1 box 9mm Parabellum ammunition, 50 ct.
- 1 combat knife with compass
- 1 baggy jumpsuit, white
- 1 red nose, round
- 1 wig, hot pink
- 1 tube greasepaint
- 1 pair shoes, size 17
- 1 package balloons, 50 ct.
- 1 roll duct tape, silver
- 1 roll bailing wire
- New Oregon currency notes, 100 credits

Your survival profile indicates that you will want to get clear of the city as soon as possible. The city is a very serious place, full of decaying structures, unfriendly vegetation, and oversize rodents. There is nothing for you there.

The outskirts of town will likely provide you with pockets of civilization in need of entertainment and/or protection.

Some dangers that lurk in the suburbs include (but are not limited to):

- Armed raiding parties
- Slave traders
- Mutated Californians
- Traveling vacuum cleaner salesmen

Use your skills and provided items well against these challenges, as the downtrodden people of these settlements will be depending on you for inspiration.

Beyond the suburbs, we really don't know what sorts of things you'll find out there. In fact, we think you're a little bit crazy for wanting to go outside at all. It's warm in here. And dry. And safe. And well-stocked.

But that's OK. It's your life. We understand that some people need more than safety to feel alive. That's why you're a hero. We need heroes in these dark times. Even crazy ones. Especially crazy ones.

Just be careful. Don't take any unnecessary risks in the name of heroism. Or comedy. Come back to us with your skull and sense of humor intact.

Good luck saving the world. Knock 'em dead!

November 19, 2008

Jimi and the Djinn

Today the Cabal welcomes Jason Erik Lundberg, writer, publisher, teacher, and veteran creator of very short fiction. Jason brings us the following tale out of the haze of the past...

On a balmy evening in March 1967, Jimi Hendrix stepped into the British Museum. An off-night on his relentless UK tour, and needing some time to escape from his bandmates and hangers-on, he decided on culture for a change. After an hour of wandering, he came across an exhibit of Southeast Asian sculpture and pottery. He was drawn to a glass container the size of a vase, frosted and etched with runes and symbols. It pulsed gently with mesmerizing blue light, an effect he put down to the shrooms he'd been given by Pete Townshend earlier in the day. Totally alone in the gallery, and so he lifted the glass container off of its display pedestal. It was warm.

"Man, I bet I could make a righteous bong out of this thing," he said, before it jumped from his fingers and crashed to the floor, shattering into a hundred thousand shards and releasing the djinn trapped inside. The creature roiled up into a confusion of blue smoke, and roughly assembled itself into the shape of a man with glowing red eyes.

"My thanks," the djinn said, its accented voice rumbling out from the center of the smoke. "I have been imprisoned for a very long time."


"Yes, first by a Malayan witch-doctor who tapped into my power for use in her bomoh potions and thaumaturgical spells. And then by the wife of a naval captain who used me to adorn her dining table."

"Oh, hey, no problem. So do I get three wishes or something?"

"No. But I will offer you two pieces of advice."

"Lay it on me, baby."

"Be wary of your dependence on chemical entheogens."

"The LSD? Don't know about that, but we'll see. What's number two?"

"They will love you for your music, but they'll remember you for your fire."

One of the djinn's eyes closed as if in a wink, and then the cloud of smoke dissipated into nothing.

Later that month, Jimi played the London Astoria Club, and at the end of his set, lit his guitar on fire. He summoned the flames up with his fingers, as if drawing a primal spirit out of his instrument, and burned his hands when they got too close. At the hospital, Jeff Beck asked why he'd done it.

"Just freeing the smoke, man."

"You going to do it again?"

"Shit, yeah. Practice makes perfect."

Creative Commons License

November 18, 2008

The Hole in Chestnut Street

The hole got bigger after we went to bed. That must have been what happened to Mom. She always comes home late after going out with Mr. Sanders and she's usually high when she gets in. I had put a traffic cone in front of the hole, but it must have fallen in.

In the morning the old orange couch was gone and Mom's recliner was hanging over the edge. Jase pushed it in. I told him he was a butthead.

"We can't stay here, Jase. At the present rate of expansion we'll be cut off from the kitchen by afternoon and we won't be able to reach the bathroom after tonight. It is not going to be okay to just go on the floor."

The baby just sat down and cried. He said I was much meaner than Mom and he wished I was the one who fell down the hole. Well excuse me! Who was it got into the Professor's books and recited some of the spells? He was just lucky he hadn't summoned a three-headed demon covered with warts and with flaming lava eyes. So then he cried some more. Completely unproductive.

Then, he wanted to go after Mom. I explained the hole could only be closed from here and then he said we can't close it because Mom would be trapped inside. So I explained, again, there is no inside. The hole is like a door. The other side is just another place. Mom is there, and she's doing just fine. She would be better at getting back by herself than we would at finding her. I don't know the first thing about how to find her. Okay, I do know the first thing. We need something of hers, like some hair from her hairbrush. If she wasn't so freaking OCD there might be hair on her hairbrush. As it is, I'm not sure there's any trace of her in this house at all.

So that's not an option. I grabbed the book, we packed a picnic basket, and got out. Right before we left I measured the hole again and it's expanding exponentially. By Wednesday morning Chestnut Street will be gone. Sorry. Remember, it's Jase's fault. In the meantime, I'm getting far enough away so I'll have time to see if there's anything in the book about closing a hole. This is so annoying. Now I'll never finish my project for Thaumaturgy.

The End

November 17, 2008

Miners' Dialect

NOTE: This piece may or may not contain objectionable language unsuitable for children, fine ladies, and other persons of delicate sensibilities.

Harald and his translator Gothica stood up when the Mining Belt envoy entered the room. The envoy was still wearing his atmosphere suit, a tarnished-looking garment that looked like metallic longjohns. Harald waited for the envoy to speak first, through Gothica.

"Yahhh, mother-flicking candleraper."

"Good morning," Gothica translated.

Surely that couldn't be the miner's dialect, Harald thought. But then, communication had been all but cut off between earth and the asteroid miners for a hundred and twenty years, so only expatriates like Gothica would have any idea what the dialect was like.

"Good morning!" Harald finally managed. The envoy nodded: apparently he understood Default English, even if he wasn't willing to speak it. He sat down heavily in the conference seat, and the display lit up with the treaty document. Harald sat cautiously opposite him.

"Tha dox, it's faint-stinkin crap, yahh shove it up yer beefhole," the envoy said.

"He has some minor concerns about the proposed treaty," Gothica said.

"What kind of--"

"Cork yer rodsucker, ya windae-licker!" the envoy cut in. "Allshate stick yer lucre-baiting, stick yer muddamned stufftops, yer goatspucklickket grandma."

"If he may get right to the point," Gothica translated, "it's primarily the interest rates and production caps that concern him."

Harald fumbled with his reader control and brought up the applicable sections.

The envoy nodded at Gothica. "Like ta cram ya splat and ream ya, tartess," the envoy said.

Gothica nodded back. "Like ta chop yer marblesack, ya bungtaster." She smiled at Harald. "Just pleasantries," she said.

"The concern, uh, the concern we have with your original proposal for interest rates ..." Harald began. The envoy took out a data probe and began to pick his teeth. Harald tried not to stare without looking like he was trying not to stare. "... um, for interest rates, is that it doesn't account for changes in the base rate, so of course we're suggesting a variable structure."

"Spill yer shate anna blood and lickket yer merd yer dam ainsel, ya anna yer spewin girlbrat," said the envoy.

"Interesting," Gothica translated.

Harald looked from Gothica and back to the envoy, his face blank. "Will you excuse me for a moment?" he said finally, and left the room. They could hear him running in the hallway before the door irised shut.

For a moment there was complete silence, until Gothica, who had been turning a little red, couldn't hold herself back and made a little snorting noise. Within a moment both she and the envoy were laughing so hard that tears ran down their faces.

Several minutes later, the envoy wiped tears from his face and blew his nose on a clean nanohandkerchief. "Do you think it's working?"

"Even if it isn't," said Gothica, "it was worth it to see the expression on his face!"

This brought on more laughter, which took a few minutes to wind down.

"Screw you, whore," the envoy said affectionately.

Gothica just smiled. She knew he loved her, but she liked when he said so anyway.

November 14, 2008

Please Present Your Octopus

"Excuse me?" Tara said to the man at the door. The scholarship recipients' dinner was a much more high-toned affair than she was used to, but she was pretty sure she wasn't so working class that she wouldn't know about something like an octopus requirement.

"Please present your octopus," the man repeated, smiling. "Beige snowballs, transit applicants to the steaming room." He looked at Tara. She looked back, giving him the same look she had given her boyfriend Chad when she'd found out all of her underwear was missing (which was another story--it turned out to be an innocent misunderstanding).

The man at the door glanced behind him at the laughing philanthropists, the small crowd circling the bickering poli sci professors, the grad students hunched over the buffet, cramming fingerfoods into napkins to tuck away in pocket or purse. His smile faltered.

"Olives center my modesty," he said dismissively, waving her into the room. Tara didn’t budge. She noticed the man's eyebrows were beginning to smoke, very faintly. His face took on a hugely pained, desperate look, and he turned to walk away, but Tara grabbed him by the arm.

"What are you in there?" she said. "You're a leftover, aren't you?"

"Pungently," he pleaded, pulling away from her. She gripped his arm with both hands, certain now that some of the aliens had stayed behind in some kind of disguise. They couldn't have simply come to earth, broadcast their messages, and left forever--especially when no one had even been able to figure out what their messages had said.

Inside the building a tray of dishes crashed, and she turned her head for a split second, distracted by the accident. Her quarry took that moment to jerk away from her with all his strength, though Tara held onto the arm with a death grip. There was a snapping sound as the arm broke loose. By the time she looked back, the "man" had sprinted away at unbelievable speed across the lawn of Founders Hall. The armhole of his "human" torso where the arm had torn away revealed just a glimpse of a much smaller, green arm inside. He vaulted a hedge and was gone.

"Tara Gonyea?" someone called from inside. It was growing dark, she realized, and she wasn't visible to anyone in the warmly-lit hall. She hesitated, then tucked the arm out of sight behind a row of rosebushes. That night, she would hide somewhere nearby and see if the man came back to look.

November 13, 2008

Fragment of a Catalogue

This fragment of a catalogue, found in the ruins of the Great Antarctican Library, is one of the few remnants of a sophisticated civilisation. It provides a tantalising glimpse of the records and narratives maintained by this extinct society, though the titles are nonsensical at best.

It's speculated that the natural disaster that destroyed their civilisation was artificial in its origins, and there is nothing but the creation myths of the primitive survivors and what archeology we have unearthed to piece this mystery together.

• The God-Pill and Atheism's Response
• The Rise and Fall of the African Empire
• From Cattle Kings to Yeast Paupers: The Australian Hubris
• Masonic Ascendancy Vol X: A Sublight Voyage on the Hiram Abif
• Waite's Compleat Hystory of Nanoetech
• The Stephen King Legacy
• To the Gods, A Torch
• The Necessity of Legislated Xenophobia
• Liberty's End: Decimation of the American Rearguard Action.
• Off-World Capitulation, and the Effects on Political Left and Right
• Of NATO's Redundancy, and the Formation of WES-HEM
• Wasters: A Chronicle of 21C Follies and Vagaries
• Safety Concerns Regarding Breugem's Global Tectonic Generator

November 12, 2008


I guess it's fitting that it happens at the corner of Church and State. Sometimes the universe adopts the laws of man. Sometimes the stuff you carry around with you makes its way out into the world and affects others, too. Sometimes it's that big.

I see her there just as I walk near the intersection. Even though her hair's pulled back, covered, and she no longer wears makeup, I recognize her. I remember wavy black curls and burgundy lips, huge gleaming white teeth everyone always said made her look so predatory, so wild. I remember seeing her for the first time, after my inaugural address, aiming those teeth at me while I mopped sweat from my brow and cameras clicked around me.

"I was good, wasn't I?" I would have said. I would have tooted my own horn, but she beat me to it.

"You were incredible," she'd said. "What else can you do?"

"What else do you want?" I'd said.

"If you can do anything half as well as you can speak, I'll be yours forever," she'd said.

It was a whirlwind romance to say the least. When it reached full gale-force, and things were whipping around and around, it was like a vortex that sucked everything and everyone else in. Like the pictures you see of a piece of straw driven through a telephone pole by a tornado. I'd used that image on my campaign posters. Hit fast, hit strong, I'd said. But anything hurts when it hits you that fast, that strong. You don't always recover from it.

Something opened up between us then.

Or stayed open. The vortex of all that passion, all those promises. Maybe it comes down to creating a pit of expectations that are so big the whole world couldn't fill in the hole. Or maybe, when it comes down to it, I couldn't really do anything half as well as I could speak.

I thought leaving her wasn't a big deal. It didn't hurt. Seeing her now I remember it didn't hurt because I never actually did it; she left me. She went off to find herself, to find something bigger than herself. I wasn't nearly enough.

Now I can't get too close without causing a bigger rift. There, downtown, only blocks from the Capitol building, only blocks from St. Luke's Cathedral, the street signs loom large and press down on me. She turns her body toward me and all that energy we both have bottled up, all the remorse and hurt and longing, will lash out and tear the street, the city, the world, the universe apart. Me in my grey power suit and her in her black and white habit. The contrast is day and night. The universe notices. The law is the law, and the universe won't let anyone off on a technicality. One of us has to go.

The ground opens up and I slip away into the unknown.

November 11, 2008


Pale and weak, I wake.

Another night of failure.

For a while, I said it wasn’t my fault. Nathaniel was too sensitive. Then guilt, that hollow sensation in your heart, in the invisible chamber where feelings reside, seeped in. I thought there would be an echo if someone knocked on me.

Nathaniel ran when he found me with Ben. I remember the devastation in his eyes, like he'd cracked inside. He didn’t come back. Eventually I was certain he was dead.

I had to apologise. I needed the doorway between the living and the dead. So I took to the streets.

The vamps live among the junkies and hookers. They don’t draw attention but everyone knows they’re there. Some go to turn, some for the thrill. Others go because the vamps stand one foot on either side of the doorway.

It’s hard to find one who will take you right to the edge. A death brings the cops. You need someone who doesn’t care.

I don’t want to turn. I just need to get closer.

I drink juice straight from the bottle. I wolf down stale danishes: sugar and carbs keep me going. Coffee would make me vibrate.

Outside, the sun is turning dark orange, sinking low. I leave the apartment. Last night’s suckhead only made me pass out. He wouldn’t risk it, but said there was someone who might. A new vamp, bereft of feeling.

The alley is a crack between two buildings. I take a deep breath and enter.

Water pools on the asphalt; moisture seeps down walls. A forgotten dumpster is wedged at the dead-end. It stinks of rotten food.

What do I say? The previous vamps knew what I wanted. Here I feel stupid. Noise, movement behind me; I turn.

Tall, big, the hood of the sweatshirt pulled well down over the face. I swallow.

‘What do you want?’ A low voice, rough with ill use.

‘I want the doorway.’


‘To ... apologise.’

He pauses, nods, pushes me against the dumpster. My neck is already dotted with wounds. He drinks deep and quick.

I slip out of my body, see the doorway. I call 'Nathaniel', but there’s no answer. I call again, but no one comes.

I drop back into my flesh. He’s taking too much. I hit out, dislodge the hood.

Devastated blue eyes flash; my blood bubbles. Soon it is dark.

November 10, 2008

A Change in Government

There was a little stir among the people in the longhouse when Seven Fights came in; "they didn't expect you," whispered her brother with approval. As if propelled by the murmuring air, a solarbot swished over to her and blinked its one eye suspiciously, then revolved and shot upward and away into the blackened roof beams.

"Did that thing just moon me?" She whispered back.

"It's decided you're safe." He chuckled. "The council's about to find out different."

He led her to a place against the southern wall, where the other speakers waited. Someone passed a plate full of corn scones, croissants, sesame balls, and five other kinds of snacks she couldn’t name. A French delegation was speaking, so she had to keep her eyes and ears on the Onandaga translator.

"White guys are all the same," she heard someone mutter behind her. "The only way to keep a treaty with them is to make sure you have enough ammunition."

"And vaccine," somebody whispered back at him. An old woman turned her head, slowly, and they both went quiet.

After the French were finished, the Speaker slammed his staff down and looked at her, and she realized with a shock that that was all the introduction she was going to get. She stood up and walked to the center of the dirt floor.

"Grandmothers and grandfathers," she began, facing the elders sitting against the East wall, her throat dry. "Guests of the Seventeen Nations," she added, turning to the delegations from Paris, Beijing, Cairo, and Harare. "Fellow sachems of the Haudenosaunee—" she went on, before her voice was drowned in the roar of surprise that had accompanied the words "fellow sachems." They hadn't heard, then. She waited until they fell silent.

"I come before you as the newly chosen Sachem of the United Tribes of the Southwestern Deserts. Among my people, it has always been considered strange that the women of the League choose the leaders but are not the leaders. Therefore they have sent me, in token of this time of change."

This time the roar in the longhouse seemed to take on a variety of textures—the roughness of anger, the high pitch of delight, all mixed together. She stood still, looking straight into the eyes of one grandmother who sat against the wall, gazing at her and smiling faintly. "This is how it starts," she thought.

November 7, 2008

When Veggies Go Bad

Ellen peeked out between the leaves, then sighed. A small herd of juvenile cauliflowers milled around in a clearing. Most had strips of of black fabric tied around their stalks – apparently this was a gathering of some kind of vegetative cult. One hopped up on a stump and the rest quieted down. As the leader began to speak, Ellen started to sidle around to the north side, closest to the road.

About halfway there she stepped on a brittle worm. The head cauliflower thrust a floret towards her, screamed gibberish at the top of its lungs, and jumped up and down frenziedly. Its followers ran at her, their lateral florets rotating menacingly.

Holy compost! She recognized this behavior. These weren't delinquent young cauliflowers, they were albino midget ninja broccoli stalks in full flower. She turned and ran.

10 minutes later she burst through the door of the cooperative pipefitters workshop. "Get the cheese sauce, Ma! We got a full scale invasion on our hands." No need to say what was invading.

Micha paled, put a hand out to steady herself. The CPW was scarcely equipped to deal with this.

"Ellen. Run. Head for the river."


The crudities swept everything before them to the bank of the Jack.

Michon wiped her brow and squinted at the further bank. "My whole livelihood's tied up in the CPW, Phil," she growled, "this better work." He squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry, Ma," Ellen said, 'we got 'em right where we want 'em."

As if that were a signal, the maddened vegetable hordes poured into the water and began swimming strongly across the current. A rocket shot up from the river terrace, exploding high above.

Upriver, the floodgates opened.

Soon, the defenders could hear the broccoli chittering maniacally, the leaders scarcely 20 m from the riverbank, their spears weaving figure eights in the golden sun. Where was the flood?

A whitish tint swept downstream and the cries of the broccoli took on a note of alarm. The vegetables, one by one, stopped swimming. They floated inert in the suddenly sluggish river, and the defenders waded out from the bank, spearing the broccoli and gorging themselves on their erstwhile enemies.

Later, lethargy born of stress and an excess of dairy products washed over them. They reclined on the grass.

Phil sucked his fingers. "Monterey does it again."

Ellen smacked her lips. "Ma? Could we grow some? Little ones?"

November 6, 2008

Covetous Moon

Luna glowered at Sol and all the other stars in the universe, and she wished to be like them. They were big and they were bright. They were immense fires burning in space.

And what was she? She was a mirror. She was rock and dust, and she reflected the light of the sun. All she did was circle the Earth, going round and round. The suns, they warmed their planets, and anchored their systems. Space bent around them.

What could she do? Besides sulk, which she admitted was one of her strongest skills. She had no fusion furnace at her core to burn hydrogen and helium. She was not nearly so massive as even the puniest of suns. Luna made barely a dent in spacetime.

Then she must do the best with what she had.

Things flashed by. After study she discovered these were rocks covered in ice, ellipsing their way from the outer clouds. After many trials she learned to focus her gravity on them, drawing them nearer pass by pass. Many slipped her influence to plunge sunward or away into interstellar space or to the planet below; one monstrous planetesimal even sending the Earth into a hazy ice age that destroyed most of the small animals living there.

And slowly, one by one, the rocks smashed into Luna.

She coordinated a thousand thousand of them, arranging it so they would all strike her over a short amount of time. It took millions of circuits of Sol, but she was proud of her accomplishment. Soon enough she would be massive, and her fires would ignite and grow.

More tiny animals flourished on the face of the Earth. They sent her emissaries, riding flimsy metal across the tiny space that separated host from moon. To each of them she whispered her secret.

"Soon. Soon I shall be a sun."

November 5, 2008

He Carried Manuscripts in Curious Languages

On the shore of an island made entirely of sand, I met a man waiting for the same ship as I. We stood on the jetty and, to the rhythmic wash of waves against wood, we talked.

I told him of my desire to see the world’s most curious places. “That is why I am waiting for the ship,” I told him. “The island it journeys to is meant to be quite remarkable: trees bearing garnets and sapphires as fruit, parrots with beaks on their feet, people born with metal rings growing from their ears.”

“I have heard that their people speak and write a language known only by them.” As he spoke, he shifted the two baskets on a pole that he rested across his shoulders.

“What do you carry in those? Your clothes?”

“Some. But most of their weight is made up of manuscripts.”

“What are they about?”

He smiled, then -- a curve of his lips and a crease of his eyes that made him beautiful. “One manuscript is a collection of poems about the rain. Another is a bestiary. A third, as small as my hand, is a story of travelling through time; a fourth is a collection of floral paintings with mutterings about astronomy on the petals. As for the other then, I do not know. I cannot read their scripts.”

“Why do you carry them?” I asked, fascinated.

“I am rich and bored. I bought them at auction, and now I travel to isolated or unique places in the hope that they will be able to read the texts for me. When they can, oh, it is the most marvelous thing.”

The ship arrived then, with its dark green sails and only one cabin.

He was a curiosity, and it was a night’s sailing to the island. I showed him the tattoos curling around my broad brown nipples and he demonstrated the feel of a foreskin-piercing inside both of my lower orifices.

Afterwards, I asked him to let me see his manuscripts. “I am from a far-away place. Perhaps I can read one.”

I could, and I read it to him: a geography lesson of islands that grew from the sea like sores.

He thanked me, and pleaded with me to travel with him for a while, but I declined. I do not like to stay long with curiosities -- they too quickly become normal.

November 4, 2008

Other Duties as Assigned

Leon, Leon. Don't think we're surprised--we knew you were a thief when we hired you. That's obvious: it's why we hired you. We thought if we gave you enough of a challenge, you’d stay straight.

What? It wasn't enough, reverse pick-pocketing the objects we gave you into the pockets and purses of the marks we chose? What's surprising is that you stole so much.

I mean, what were you going to do with all that stuff? A book of matches. A compass whose every direction is south. A wind-up toy mouse. A rose made out of silk, with a different phone number stitched on each petal. What does any of it mean to you?

It can't ever mean as much as it would to the dreamers. I mean, having something bubble up from their subconscious, heavy with psychological baggage that they can feel but could never explain, and then to have that just show up in their waking life. Show up like it's something they've had all along and just forgot; that's got to be something.

Even if you don't believe the brochure the sisterhood gives us when we're hired, all that stuff about thinning the wall between the waking world and dreaming, you've got to admit, it's pretty cool. When the fabricator opens, the steam clears, and you see what’s in there, and you wonder what it is, what it means--yeah, I said I could understand the stealing. But the project is so much cooler. We can all agree with the sisters on that. You agreed, too, when you signed their contract.

The contract you broke.

So I'm here to remind you about the fine print of said contract. If you want to be a thief, that's what we'll use you for. No, you don't get to take the dream objects back. No, no, no--pinching pocketbooks isn't how we fund this operation.

Where are you going? Where do you think? The twilight realms. The unconscious.

How do you think we get the dream objects in the first place? Someone's got to feed them into the unfabricator on that side so the fabricator on this side can work.

Someone's got to steal the things in the first place. Right at the moment of waking.

Their waking--the target's. Not yours. Did you read the contract at all, Leon?

You won't be waking.

November 3, 2008

Jana's World


* Jana made the world she used her grandmother's favorite bowl.

* Carson unlocked his office door he knew right away something was wrong.

* Some of the mixture slopped onto the floor, Jana wiped it up with a rag.

* Carson saw the mixing bowl he noticed right away that it was dirty.

* She put the pan in the oven Jana saw the dishrag burning with an enduring flame.

* Carson touched the bowl he heard a symphony of dissonance. He saw it too. And smelt

* Jana emptied the trash she put the can out by the curb.

* Carson wiped his hands on his sweater he felt light-headed.

* Jana heard the timer go off she was on the phone.

* Carson started typing he seemed to be all thumbs.

* Jana took the pan out the world was a little crispy around the edges.

* Carson looked out the window everything seemed to be getting dark. Except at the
horizon, where it was even darker.

* Jana turned the world onto a board she set it out to cool.

* Carson looked up from the computer he smelled a peculiar odor.

* Jana looked around she could not find the mixing bowl.

* Carson made to leave he wondered what was for supper. And whether it had been burned.

* Jana saw the time she ordered takeout.

* Carson got home his dinner was waiting, made just the way he liked it.

After supper

* Jana remembered the world.

* A crow had snatched it from the window sill.

* Carson was disappointed there was no dessert.

The end