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February 27, 2009

The Demonologist's Love Song

The blood spills across the floor. Butcher-bought, it smells of the slaughterhouse, the pheromones of animal fear. I sketch the pentagram, light the candles. In the center I place the small vellum package. Stitched shut with the veins of things long gone. I whisper the words. And she comes.

She uncoils from blood. She--the color of porcelain and teeth gone sour on the taste of worship staled. Blood long dried and flaking. She uncoils, spreading herself, unfolding bones intestine strung. Flesh for blind eyes.

She was loved once. She was worshiped. They sacrificed to her. Young things. Loved things. Needed things. Such was their love for her it overcame familial ties, overcame the essentials of life. She was essential, her favor, her desire, her love. Oh how they contorted for her.

She uncoils me, undoes me. My soul is a blood-sodden homage to her formless stench of brothels and bloodbaths.

And then, like every lover, she was one day jilted. A new love came and she was cast aside. No longer was she brought gifts, signs of tenderness, twitching warm things. No longer was the dance blood-stained and wild for her pleasure. And she grew angry, and her former lovers grew afraid, and she was locked away,

She uncoils and stitches burst, things sewn to be sealed evermore, undone in this moment of sacrilege and sanctity

Slither, my love. Become. Undo yourself, and reknit fever dreams and sex stains into your multiplying skins--tattooed and beautiful.

Rising, rising,
to me out of
pentagrams and-

She uncoils herself, bidden hither from nether. I give to her. Blood, and body, and soul. I give her love, and it wracks my body like a quake. Bone shattering, blood-spilling. And in this moment of broken-finger beckoning she emerges, unfolds, uncoils and gratefully she worships me.

February 26, 2009


"If I ever tell you I want to get married again," my friend Rick told me when his divorce finally came through, "I want you to punch me in the face. Hard."

I laughed.

"I'm not kidding!" he insisted. "Promise me."

"I'm not going to punch you," I said.

I figured he'd drop it, but half an hour later, I found myself saying "OK, fine. If you ever try to get engaged again, I'll punch you."


Nine months later, Rick blew into my kitchen with two oversized bottles of Belgian beer.

"Guess what?" he crowed. "I'm engaged!"

"To who?" I said. "Not Marie, right?"

He popped open the beers on the counter. "Oh, I know she comes off a little cold-blooded right off, but you'll warm up to her, seriously."

Obviously I didn't punch him, but I mentioned a few important facts: Marie was always making Rick do things her way. She'd screwed her uncle over on that loan. She left hot water running. And my dog, who was a great judge of character, hated her.

"And Rick," I said, "you told me to punch you if you ever said you were getting married again."

"I meant to somebody like Erika!" He said. "This is completely different."


I hardly saw Rick over the next two months, but one day he called me from the police station.

"Assault?" I said when I picked him up. "They took you in for assaulting her?"

"Yeah," Rick said. "Good thing my cell phone does video. You want to see her scratching herself? It's actually kind of hot."


Did I mention I time travel? It's no big thing: it just happens sometimes when I'm asleep. I think it's usually when my brain gets stuck on something. I go to sleep and wake up maybe a few months or a year earlier.

That's what happened about a week after the assault incident: I looked over at my calendar clock one morning and noticed it was four months earlier than when I'd gone to bed. So I got up and called my broker. (Well, how do you think I got this huge house and the pool and the cars and everything, an unemployed slacker like me? First the lottery, then investments.)

After that, I went out with some of the same girls I had the last time and got an early start cutting back on my cholesterol. I was just taking my fish oil capsules one afternoon when Rick walked with two oversized bottles of Belgian beer.

I punched him.

February 25, 2009

Lion City Daikaiju

That night, Singapore's landmarks declared war: the Merlion lurched off its concrete pedestal and flooded the riverfront with its eternally gushing masticatory fountain, catching untold numbers of tourists unawares, forced to leave behind their $20 mixed drinks and plates of tapas; the Raffles Hotel, in all its colonial splendor, leapfrogged across the downtown area, knocking over bank buildings and squashing flat petrol tankers and cars plastered with adverts; the twin metallic durians of the Esplanade curled into spiny balls of hedgehog lethality, and rolled over and through every upscale mall they could find, taking especial care to utterly demolish the shopping district on Orchard Road; the National Library took flight and glided to the MediaCorp building, dropping barrages of encyclopedias and folios onto transmissions towers and backup generators, destroying the link between the viewing public and the badly acted and written serial dramas that filled the broadcast airwaves; the twin statues of the country's patron saint, Sir Stamford Raffles, one dark bronze and one white polymarble, lay seige to every construction crane in evidence, leaping nimbly from structure to structure, leaving bright yellow wreckage in their wake.

Who was to blame, the people cried, why has this happened, could it be Jemaah Islamiyah and that terrorist who escaped, or was it resurgent aggression from Japan, or could it be an intelligent group-mind of dengue-carrying mosquitos, or revenge-seeking Americans with outrage and the image of a public caning in their minds, why oh why is this happening to us, and the people fled in terror, at this revolt by the reminders of the nation's greatness, as those selfsame landmarks reduced to rubble every symbol of progress, sign of homogenized inclusion with the globalized world, and showing of shallow flash and glam over depth and culture and tradition, and when the sun rose over the tropical island the next morning it was all over, the assault had stopped, the landmarks as still and inert as their previous states, the country no longer globally competitive, but the people did not despair, because as they buried and cremated their dead and began the rebuilding process, they remembered that they had endured the British occupiers, and the tyranny of the Japanese military, and they had arisen to become a global corporate power, and that they would now reinvent themselves into something new and bright and shining, a jewel of the future world, a unique visage of identity.

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February 24, 2009

For Two Years

It is said that when Captain Widal recovered from his mysterious disease, he would not talk to anyone about what had happened. But he was a kinder man. ... He never married, though he was seen once or twice with a beautiful young woman whose name was never known. ... Neither did he ever wear short sleeves in public.

- Widal: A History


I put spices on your tongue for two years, night after night. I folded my fingers into yours and I pulled the sheets over us.
And you did not blink.
You did not notice -- even when I pulled up your shirt, just a little, to the elbows.

Captain, Captain, I am writing on your body.

You did not notice, night after night.

We met in a café in the narrowest street, but you do not remember me. You sat at the table and ordered hot water with a lemon squeezed into it, and I poured it for you with hands that you took into yours, saying, “My mother’s looked better when we exhumed her. Girl, do you eat?”
“Sometimes,” I replied.
“Take this,” you said, “and eat more often.”

I brought flowers to your window, day after day. I sat with my harp in my lap and I played for you.

When you collapsed in front of a small group of townsfolk, none carried you away. None remained in the street to check your pulse, but me.
You fell asleep, my mother later said.
An enchantment, my father said, and good riddance.

I brushed your hair. I polished your buttons. I gave my parents all the money I made with your coin and I bought what I needed to care for you.

I took your coin to the races and I brought back handfuls of gold.

And you did not blink for two years.

February 23, 2009

The Fruit of the Baskervilles

A tangerine is lurking in the stairwell. Steven snatches the mail out of the box mounted on the wall and dashes up to his room. He fumbles trying to unlock the door. The tangerine is hopping up the stairs: thump, thump, thump! It's coming closer and closer; sweat's beading on his brow. Finally, the key goes in. He lunges into the room and slams the door. His heart pounds. He leans his ear against the door. The hall is silent, but he knows the truth. The fruit is out there.

The sun sets. A murmur of avocados in the street below. With nightfall it becomes a killing grove. No one goes out after dark anymore. The table: bare. Steven has tried to work, but between the noise from the street and the silence from the hall, he can't concentrate. Nothing on TV but a special about Carmen Miranda and some horror flick called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. He goes to bed, lying rigid on the sheets, staring at the ceiling.

The sun also rises. Steven hasn't slept, but it's morning and he has to go to work. He needs a diversion, checks out the kitchen counter. Nothing there but a banana cowering in the bottom of a basket. What about the fridge? A slice of pizza so old all the life's gone out of it, some horseradish bottled in Elizabethan times, and, in the crisper, something purple and feisty, quivering for a fight. "You'll do."

Steven rips the door open. His messenger bag's over his shoulder and the grape stem is pinched between thumb and forefinger.

"Where are you, you little monsters?" he calls. There is no response. He pads silently to the stairs, starts down. When he rounds the corner he sees them at the bottom, rolling back and forth like cars revving up for a race. He raises his hand to show what he is holding, descends a few more steps. The tangerines freeze, then some of them start to edge back uncertainly. A few turn and roll under the credenza.

Steven laughs brittlely. "Who let the grapes out!?"

He releases the bunch.

The end

February 20, 2009

In Ur Tubez

The would-be invaders of Earth fell victim to gross miscalculation. Vast technological development for a full scale attack nullified by last minute language research.

Bad intelligence. Nothing more.

The fleet's pilot ship punched through the atmosphere and zeroed in on Silicon Valley. They found empty parking spaces outside the Googleplex, and set down across two of them.

The ramp descended and Admiral Lulz, flanked by a dozen armed elite soldiers, stepped out onto the tarmac, next to an extremely large Honda Fit. Another miscalculation: Lulz had expected Earth vehicles to be smaller.

Humans, gargantuan in size, streamed out of Google, rushed to the ship. In moments, Twitter was abuzz with blurry iPhone photos of the craft and its diminutive crew.

"Look," said one woman. "They're so cute!"

Lulz couldn't understand the words. "WTF?" he said.

"ZOMG! Big ppl iz big!" Commander 2ch said.

"Shud tlk 2 thm," Lulz said.

"And they make cute little squeaking noises," the woman said.

The soldiers set up a holoscreen so the humans could view their words.

"Oh hai," typed Lulz. "I cn haz talk wif ur leedr?"

The people read the text, then began to giggle. Lulz realized he was being taunted.

There was a foolproof way to get them to give in. He cracked his knuckles then typed, "All your base are belong to us!" He grinned maniacally. The soldiers leveled their blasters at the crowd of people.

Another woman leaned down and hugged two of the soldiers. Stunned, they dropped their weapons and squirmed. "Aren't you just precious," she said.

2ch was furious. "Hw cn thy do tht? R troops r l33t!" he said.

"Attack!" Lulz said.

They fired their weapons, resulting in clicks and one embarrassing pop and fizzle. The soldiers stared in silence at the lack of death and carnage.

One Google guy leaned down and picked up a blaster. "Doesn't work? " he said. "Need better QA, guys." He turned to the woman who was now tickling the two small soldiers.

"What a wasted trip," he said. "Maybe they should have just texted us."

He turned around and walked back toward the building. The others followed.

"4 teh Lulz!" 2ch said, and rushed the retreating humans.

Google guy turned around and pointed the blaster at 2ch. "LOL Wut?" he said, and 2ch screeched and retreated in fear. The man, laughing, headed back to work.

Lulz facepalmed, then returned, dejected, to the ship. His soldiers, useless without functioning weapons, followed.

The ship rose above the Bay Area and rejoined the fleet. For several days they monitored the intarweb, trying to decipher societies more complex than anticipated.

Reports of the incident in Mountain View flooded in. Many were scared. Some were fascinated by the prospect of new technology and otherworldly life. Some religious fanatics claimed the beginning and/or end of the world.

Mostly, people just thought the cute little aliens were funny as hell.

People uploaded remixed videos and Flash animations to YouTube and NicoNico Douga, Weezer planned to include the footage in their latest music video, and a Korean schoolboy figured out how to make a functional alien blaster in his parents' basement from the pics and specs Google guy uploaded.

Humiliated, Lulz pulled up the universal browser, located his destination, and clicked the "I'm feeling lucky" button to take them home.

February 19, 2009


‘Take this. You’ll hear God,’ she said, and without pause he licked the bitter tab from her salty palm, then took another against her protests. And another.

Now she was saying something to him, but all he could hear was a metallic crashing sound every time she opened her lips, every syllable discordant, alien. It was just like a set of house keys thrown against a counter-top, and as she got agitated and clutched at his shoulders, shaking him, her voice became a hundred keys, a thousand.

Sonic, chronic Sonic, he thought, and tried to tell her that he was still off-tap, that rather than fading away, the audible hallucinations were getting stronger.

But even as his mouth moved, even as he formed the words, she looked at him, puzzled. He tried again, but whatever was coming out of his mouth made as much sense as what was coming into his ears.

We have our new Babel, he thought, and tried to pass on this wisdom with his stupid useless tongue.

Her Labrador was barking at him, yipping with excitement, but all that came out was the rolling laughter of a man. He pushed her aside, and nearly tripping over the leaping dog he got through the door and out into the night.

The squeal of the hinges was a wet licking sound, the door’s slam a phlegmatic cough. As he ran wildly along the sidewalk, feet pounding and sliding beneath him, each footstep was the ringing of a bicycle bell.

He went slower, but the ringing became drawn out, emphasised. If he ran, the rings were brisk, shrill. The lesser of two evils.

The cars went by, the city echoing with the snarling of these great cats. A zippy little hatch shot past with the yowling of a feral tom, while a fish-tailing muscle-car throbbed with a lion’s menace, an angry don’t-you-touch-my-kill warning roar.

Shortly after was an ambulance, the cacophony of its sirens the shrill cries of a terrified baby, and then two babies, and then more. It was time to get away from the roads.

The Sonic was stronger now, getting stronger by the second when the drug should have worn off hours ago. Had he taken too much?

Would he ever hear normal sounds again?

He already knew the answer.

Crying, driven to tears and madness (his own wretched sobbing translating into the sounds of breaking glass), he ran his bicycle-bell steps, stopping up his ears for all the good that did. After hours of this permanent disconnect from the world of rational sound, he went to the infamous Leap. These never-ending alien tongues drove him to the cliff’s edge, alone and trapped. Standing there, toe-tips on the edge of a steep eternity, a strong wind swept up to buffet him from the cold black sea.

He stood there in rapture as the roaring wind became clarity and language, and for the rest of his short life he had a direct and profound conversation with God.


February 18, 2009

On Not Giving Back the Devil’s Hat

In Monday's story, Susannah brought us a cutting from Goodwife Python's Bestiary of Wonderful Flowers that contained the line, "Do not give [the devil] back his hat."

I second this exhortation because, from firsthand experience, I know how true it is.

A few years ago, I worked as coat check clerk at a Nephelim bar in the theater district, back when it was still more of a semi-abandoned warehouse district. We had a list of rules, written by the owner in red Sharpie on pizza box cardboard, and not giving the devil his hat was number 5.

It was like a practical joke or a running gag between the boss and the fallen one. We had a whole lead-lined room in the basement full of hats, each on its own Styrofoam head, all under a continual mist of holy water. Each -- cowboy hat, bowler, knit black watch cap, velvet beret -- had two little holes for the horns, but even without that, you would have known. The heaviness in the pit of your stomach would have told you.

The thing about the hats is that they concealed something even more powerfully troubling: the devil's haircut. That’s right, like the Beck song -- where other cultures have proverbs, we distill wisdom for future generations in pop culture. It was different every time, sculpted hair-by-hair with some infernal product, each 'do an unforgettable, mind-burning sigil, like crop circles or mandalas whose meaning you never wanted to know. But I digress.

It all went well enough until the day the devil didn't just roll his eyes at the excuse du jour.

"Yeah. Fine. Never mind about the hat," he said. "I know better than to wear anything decent here. But," he dropped his voice to a conspiratorial pitch Eve might have recognized, "there's a feather in the brim, and I'd like that back."

There wasn't anything on the cardboard about feathers, and the boss said to treat him like anyone else (except the hat thing), so I headed downstairs. The foam heads howled; the sprinklers misted what looked and smelled like blood. The only hat with a feather was the fedora I grabbed.

"Thanks," said the devil. "Last one." He twitched his shoulders. "Souvenir of the wings that were."

A tip smoldered on the counter, generous enough -- once the gold congealed again -- but I quit. When the devil starts noticing you, however positively, it's time to look for more anonymous work. Please, forget you heard any of this. Just remember the hats.

February 17, 2009

Naginata and Jumble Sales

"As for the whole question of women fightin’, Major, I told ‘em I wouldn’t have it in my regiment. Ridiculous bringin’ up the whole question in the first place. Take this new school on Skye—" said Captain Markby to Major Daneham.

"Old school, sir. Reopened after two thousand years, sir,” put in Lieutenant Jennings.

"Thank you, Jennings. I believe I was speaking to the Major?"

"Sorry, sir."

"No, do go on, Lieutenant. I hadn't heard that they had finally got funding," said Major Daneham.

"They didn't, sir."

"Beg pardon?"

"They didn't, sir. They raised it themselves."

"What, through jumble sales and coffee mornings?" joked the Major.

"Something like that, sir. Over fifteen hundred of them, in three years. They had bake sales, as well. Got rather famous for something called the Amazon Roll, actually."

"Good heavens. Organized bunch of—ladies, what?"

"Yes, sir. I believe they gave weapons demonstrations as well."

"Marksmanship, that sort of thing?"

"Yes, sir. And weapons of historical interest, such as the naginata, and the claymore, sir."

"Really?" said the Major, and wished he hadn't, because Lieutenant Jennings' eyes had lit up, and Major Daneham could tell he was about to start jabbering about weaponry. The Captain came to the rescue accidentally.

"Yes, yes, yes, but the point is, the point is!—I'm sure you'll call me an old-fashioned man, but whether you like the numbers or not, got to face ‘em. When some dashed starburst has done for the computers and you're out there in the field, face-to-face with the enemy and half your armor blown off, give me a man's superior strength any day. Women, bless ‘em, well—damme it, I'm a traditionalist. ‘Her Place is in Space’ and all that. I mean to say, when I want a colony on Mars, nobody better for it than a lady! Taught my own daughter how to shoot so she could go to the Moon and serve in the police, didn't I? And as for rocket design—! But when some dashed chap is telling me I can’t have Australia back, give me a regiment of men, thank you very much."

Major Daneham noticed with relief that it was five o'clock and high time for him to pick up his wife from tae kwon do. He walked the Lieutenant out with the coffee cups, saying, "Can't change old habits all in one go, you know."

February 16, 2009

Excerpts from Goodwife Python's Bestiary of Wonderful Flowers

Sixth Ed., Vols. A-C.

Aconitum (Aconite). Also known as monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard's bane, women's bane, or Devil's helmet.

An unassuming cousin of the buttercup, aconite thrives in mountain meadows and is much sought after by herbalists for its defensive properties. As its nicknames suggest, it is viewed as effective in warding off the dangers of a) wolves; b) leopards[1]; and c) women -- thus its popularity among monks.

As with all mountain flowers, aconite may be less potent at lower altitudes. If it fails against a woman, the wielder can resort to force-feeding her the virulently poisonous root. This method is of questionable effectiveness against leopards or wolves.

Aconite is contraindicated in confrontations with the Devil. Do not give him back his hat.

[1] Or possibly giraffes. The Latin tractates are unclear on this point, and practical experiments have yielded inconclusive -- if interesting -- results.

Alopecurus (Foxtail).

Foxtails thrive in many climates, from the semidesert plains of North Africa (A. fennecus, notable for its large ears) up to the Arctic tundra (A. thulensis, which is buff-colored throughout the short summer months but produces white spikelets in winter).

Alopecurus is a gregarious grass, and travels in large packs, hunting by night. During the day it digs a burrow for resting, presenting in the tail-upward position for which it is known. Although not normally aggressive toward humans, Alopecurus will bite if disturbed. Therefore pulling it up is not recommended, unless provision has been made to anesthetize it first.

Creamcups (Platystemon californicus).

This New World poppy is densest on the American west coast, especially on the littoral between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Traditionally, the flower is harvested for its thick, rich juice, which can be added to coffee (north of the Oregon border), used in cooking, or whipped.

Recent report has it that new uses for the creamcup have developed in the California pornography industry, but Goodwife Python has no further details on this. (Much to her regret. She welcomes updated information, and video, via the usual channels.)

February 13, 2009

Your Recent Visit from the Monkey God

Supposedly--this is what people are saying, anyway--you, meaning you specifically, the reader of this piece, have been visited by the Monkey God some time in the last six weeks or so. I don't know what he did to you.

You probably wouldn't have seen him, but if you did, you might not have realized it at the time. It's true that his traditional form is a Tibetan macaque wearing an ornate, six-tiered golden crown studded with big, fat pearls and always askew. He also often wears random items of clothing that look like they were shoplifted without regard to style or color, but when visiting people he's more likely to be a vague form seen from the corner of the eye, or an old lady with a face very much like a monkey's, or a slightly ribald street performer. Regardless, you will know him by his works.

If there was something you were very serious about and set on, something you planned out and prepared for carefully but that went completely haywire at the last minute due to some completely random interruption, that was probably the visit. Alternatively, it may have been something bizarre and painful that happened out of the blue.

The Monkey God particularly enjoys irony, mixing things that aren't usually supposed to go together (like librarians and roosters, for instance), and violating expectations. He generally visits people, but occasionally spends time screwing things up for other animals, particularly pets.

The reason I tell you this is that the Monkey God loves you, and for various reasons (honestly, I think it's just that he's uncomfortable with these kinds of conversations) he probably won't tell you about it himself. He expects you to step back from your situation, see how ludicrous it is, laugh, gain new perspective on your life, and understand that it was all for you own good, which frankly (and I've told him this in prayer scroll after prayer scroll, but I'm not even convinced he picks up his mail) is a little much to ask, if you want my opinion.

Sorry to interrupt your day with this. Hope that was useful to know about. And I get the impression that he's planning a return trip, so hold onto your hat and try to keep a sense of humor. I know I will be.

This story is related to Luc's Delayed Appearance of the Monkey God, but not to Daniel Braum's Boon of the Monkey God. There's a story behind that, but it's not very interesting, so I'll leave it out.

February 12, 2009

The Truant's Tale

"You walked away," said the tracker, putting his big boots and skinny ankles up on the desk. "Broke your apprentice contract with just months to go."

"Yep," said Eyve Aerial. "So?"

"So, I want to know why. So does the Central Square Sorceress. She says you were her best student."

"What's it matter? You found me. You're going to take me back."

He waved his hand like a leaf fluttering down. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

She figured this was some game he was playing; she wasn't sure she had the patience to see what it was.

"I’m good at knowing why people do what they do. That tells me what they're going to do next." He stared at something on the toe of his shoe. "With you, I never figured out why, so your what-nexts never made sense. So it took six months instead of six days to catch you."

"Time flies," said Eyve Aerial, "You know, tempus fugit..."

A year later, she came back. The timeslip spell had faded enough that he'd stood up. Another three months, he’d reached the door. He blinked his eyes slowly as sunset; he probably wouldn't understand her if she spoke and she hadn’t found an answer yet anyway.

Another year, and Eyve Aerial, returned to the scaffolding-palace that was the Central Square Sorceress' headquarters, made amends, did her penance, and resumed her journeywomanship.

The tracker showed up one morning, trailing cobwebs as he strode across the creaking plywood.

"Maybe you don't know why you left anymore than I do," he said, the drawl in his voice showing he was still a bit behind time. "Maybe that's why you came back. To figure it out."

"I knew exactly why," she said. "When I figured out that the nightmares were premonitions, that I was supposed to become some grand metropolitan wizardess who did all kinds of good things, but couldn't stop this one last, huge evil thing from happening."

"So why risk resuming your studies?" he said. "What's different?"

"You," said Eyve Aerial. "If I'm going to be powerful enough to do the things I've seen, I should be able to keep myself from getting into impossible situations, unless some part of me wants to fail." She tossed the tracker a gold coin. "I'm hiring you to spot that part of me, to know why it wants to destroy everything before it does."

Eyve Aerial's appeared a few times before, in The Courier's Tale, The Apprentice's Tale, and The Sorceress's Tale.

February 11, 2009


DISCLAIMER: The story below uses the names of real celebrities. If you think any of the events portrayed even vaguely resemble real events, please contact me—I have a magic lamp to sell you.

Eventually they found me. The media. I figured they would sooner or later, what with everything that had been going on. So I explained to them about the lamp, and about the genie and the three wishes. And I explained about how my first impulse had been to wish for the general selfish things that everyone thinks of, but then how I'd thought about it a bit and done what I think most people would really do if they'd been in that situation.

First I wished for lasting world peace.

Second, I wished for the eradication of all diseases and ailments.

"What about the third wish?" asked Dan Rather, who seemed to be the ringleader.

"I haven't decided what to do with it yet," I said. Which was true.

Things got rather ugly after that.

Matt Lauer started smashing my stuff with a baseball bat he'd brought. Crash. Crash. Crash.

"You better wish it back, you bastard!" Keith Olberman shouted.

Bill O'Reilly was sobbing into his hands, just repeating "I'm doing pet detective segments," over and over.

"Wish it back!" They took up the chant, started advancing on me. "Wish it back!"

"You have any idea what you've done to my ratings?" Larry King had a knife.

In retrospect, of course, I should have turned them all into chickens or something, made them feel inner peace. I don't know exactly, something. But I panicked. Katie Couric had a very vicious looking cleaver and kept letting out short yelps. And, yeah, I panicked. And I put it all back.

So that's how that all went down, and how things all got messed up so bad again. Of course, nobody in the news is letting me get my story out, which is why I'm putting it here. I guess I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I guess I wanted someone to know.

February 10, 2009


They buried me beneath the foundation, watered the earth with my blood and all my decaying fluids.

They built a hill-fort over me. I held it firm for many years, kept its walls strong against all enemies, protected all those who bore my blood. Listened to them lead lives denied to me. Their time ran out eventually and it didn’t matter how bravely I held the walls. The elements took their toll; roofs fell in, walls tilted out of true, stones tumbled.

The earth shifted as the years rolled by. The hill flattened, levelled out, my bones moved with it, my bones and the fine dust particles that had been my clothing and my skin. I let the walls crumble, let the hill sink down; sank down with it myself. There was nothing, no one to care about; no one to protect, no blood calling to mine, no family.

The land lay fallow for a long time, cattle grazed above me, foxes barked, badgers dug, grass grew, died, grew again. A farmhouse was built. The sounds of children startled me out of sleep, making my bones dance with forgotten joy. I loved the foundation once more, reached upward, threaded myself through the floors, walls, stretched my soul across the ceiling, wrapped the home.

Three hundred years passed, six families sheltered inside, each personalising, making it home. After the last left (the children grew and flew, the parents stayed until they could no longer negotiate the crooked stairs), the farmhouse lay empty until a new family came: a father, two sad children and a new wife, a not-quite-mother.

I heard the noises of a family uncomfortable with each other, trying, learning, failing to find steps to a dance none of them knew; how to be together. How to be happy.

The new wife cries a lot, wallows in self-pity. She doesn’t know how to live. Her tears seep through the boards into the earth, are sucked down to the place where the last of me lies. I whisper to her as she lies on the cool flags of the kitchen and listens. Soon enough I will rise, making my way upwards as particles of dust; I will settle on her skin, sink into her as I once sank into the earth. I will make her family a foundation upon which they can rely.

February 9, 2009

I am Joe's Will to Live

Joe lives the most ordinary life in the world. Look in the census for the average guy, and that's Joe. Oh, sometimes he might have diabetes, or an aneurysm, testicular cancer, maybe heart disease. But he gets well each time; they're just for show.

They took out his pancreas, put it back. His heart. His spleen. His brain. And he lived through it all. But take me away...

Most of the time he enjoys his middle-of-the-road existence, with his two-point-whatever children, his wife, and his utterly mundane life. But then along come the butchers -- oh, excuse me -- medical researchers, the ones who take him apart and put him most of the way back together. If anybody else were doing the cutting, it would be illegal. But not them. They're special; it's their job. Saves experimenting on animals, I guess.

That brings me to, well, me. See, Joe's special, too. He lives through every operation. That's because he has me.

Oh, I didn't say there wasn't pain. The research wouldn't be worth the pulp its printed on if he weren't in agony for every slice. Those nerves around the heart -- brr. I wouldn't be surprised to hear there was a special readout on the EEG just for pain.

Now they plan a me-ectomy. I am Joe's Will to Live, and I don't have long for this world.

But I've got me a little secret, see? I'm a numinous quality, like the collective unconscious, or apophenia, or those creation myths that seems so similar from culture to culture. I'm shared.

That means they can't take it away from Joe without taking it away from everybody.

See you on the other side.

February 6, 2009


There is only one pushcart.  I'm sure you've noticed that around meal times the service slows down.  I don't mean the line gets long, although it does.  I mean that when you are at the front of the line and you ask Jimmy or whatever the name is for a chili foot-long or cheese fries he takes a while to respond.  There is hesitation, there may be blank stares, there may be lapses of memory.  All of these are indications of lack of bandwidth. This never happens if you want a double cheeseburger with all the trimmings at 8:26 p.m. That's a slack time.

I see you don't believe me. Take this paper.  Don't look at it! Give it to any pushcart operator: he won't be able to look away. See, this is important. The pushcart...  Okay, _pushcarts_.  I believe the "pushcarts" represent the vanguard of an invasion force.  I don't know whether their role is surveillance, sleeper cell, or what. But why would they hide if they didn't mean us harm?


Maybe so, but if we are experimental subjects and the pushcart represents some intergalactic psychology department, yes, I do object.  I want them out of my brain and off my planet..

So here's the plan.  Tomorrow, hand this to any pushcart operator.  Then see what happens.  You'll know if it works.


Go ahead, give it to her.  You want me to do it?  Alright, alright, give it here.  Howdy Ma'am, I want to buy a hot dog.  But first, would you take a look at this please?  Thank you.

[Whispers] yes, I know she's reading it.  She's still reading. No, maybe you're right.  She is just standing there, immobile. That's what I told you would happen.

So the pushcart has flickered out.  Probably all of them have disappeared, except for the single real one.  No, I don't see anything else that's changed.  Well, except that all the buildings have disappeared.  And the trees, the pavement, and the sky.

Don't be such a baby.  You still have me, and this regular hexagonal grid on the floor.  And the face. Look up.  Big eyes, enlarged cranium, it's the standard tabloid alien.  Who knew they were real? It doesn't do any good to panic. I was wrong: the pushcarts weren't the only fakes.  So sue me. Hey, at least we still have each other.


February 5, 2009

In the Elevator with Albert Einstein

I shouldn't have been up on that roof in the first place, but I kept thinking I could save a lot of money if I fixed it myself. Then I tripped over my own hammer.

The roof tumbled by in a blur as I tried like hell to separate my up from my down. My cheek scraped against the eaves, I went into freefall, and …crack: skull meets driveway. My eight-year-old, Jenna, was playing in the front yard and saw the whole thing. She was probably traumatized for life. Jesus.

And then I was in an elevator with some guy. A familiar-looking guy. "Are you … Albert Einstein?" I said.

"No, no," he said. There was a silence while he studied the elevator buttons, dozens of them, in an intricate layout. "I used to be," he said conversationally, "but you see, I died. Where does this elevator go?"

"I don't know. Up?"

"Up," he said, springing up and down on the floor a little. "It seems possible. Are you dead?"

"I think so," I said. I thought of that last, flickering moment of seeing bits of bloody brain splattered across my driveway. "I hope so."

The elevator pinged, and Einstein's attention leapt to the door. It opened on a … I wasn’t sure. There were tables, with people sitting at them and talking animatedly … cups of coffee … something that might have been macaroons …

"It's a café," said Einstein. "Very encouraging: I'll get off here. And you?"

I didn't know. Einstein stepped out, waving for me to follow.

It was much larger than it had looked. There were no walls, just wooden floors stretching into the distance, and far off, a night sky blazing with stars. From many tables away an old woman was running toward me, an old woman who looked like Jenna, and it seemed to me that everyone might arrive at the café at about the same time.

Before she reached me, there was a collective "Aaah!" and everyone looked up. I looked for Einstein, but he had moved away. Jenna took my hand just as the stars began to fall, streaking through the sky with all the inappropriate iridescence of gasoline in a mud puddle.

"You really freaked me out that day you died," she said.

"I know," I said. "I'm sorry."

Then we watched the sky fall for a while.

February 4, 2009

Hollywood Goddess

When she told him it was a long-term commitment, he assumed it was like any relationship, a simple "I love you" once a day, flowers on important occasions, spooning in the afterglow of sex. He didn't like to be tied down, had many lovers, many flings, always something on the side, often on the side of that. Man about town, frequenting the brothels and the nightclubs of Hollywood. But when your lover is immortal, she doesn't play by the same rules. A wannabe starlet off the bus from Grand Rapids she was not.

He said yes because he liked a challenge. She was a fucking goddess.

The sex was awesome, but the relationship made him needy. He didn't expect to be jealous, didn't expect to pine when she didn't answer her cell.

"I want to hang out," Aphrodite said, a noisy party in the background. "I'm just busy."

"You said that last week," he said.

"Sorry, sweetie. Gotta mingle and schmooze. Call ya. Kiss."

She hung up and he pulled to the side of the road. He pounded the steering wheel. He hadn't counted on the role reversal, being one of many lovers, being cast aside. He drove to his favorite bar and tried to pick up chicks, but his heart wasn't in it.

When she blew him off at a Bel-Air party the next week like he was some regular schmuck, he lost it. He interviewed a dozen hitmen before deciding to off her himself.

He wound up Laurel Canyon and parked his Bentley outside her Mt. Olympus split level.

In her bedroom, amid moans and giggles, he wasn't surprised to see her naked, cestus on the floor, body entangled with two well-endowed men who modeled for romance novel covers. Only Aphrodite noticed him walk in.

"Hey sweetie," she said. "What are you doing here?”

"I think I should ask you the same."

"I think it's obvious. You could join us."

"I don't think so. Not my scene."

"Careful," Fabio 1 said. "She'll cut your pecker off."

"Oh hush," said Fabio 2. "That was someone else in her family, wasn't it?"

She didn't seem scared when he slid the submachine gun from his jacket and leveled it at her, just a flash of anger and a moment of realization. He held the trigger until the mag was empty.

This immortal, just like the men in her bed, was not immune to gunfire. He knew she would return, in another form, at another time, and it would happen all over again. Right now, the feeling of taking her out in a spray of bullets and blood was spectacular. He felt free.

He left the house, set on hitting up all the spots on Sunset and fucking every girl he could find.

Ares, the god of war, didn't like to be tied down.

February 3, 2009

Math for Witches

1. Agnes and Hilda live on opposite sides of a village. Both must bicycle for 15 minutes to reach the village. They decide to meet for coffee in the village square at 20 minutes after moonrise. Neither has batteries for their bicycle lamps. Agnes decides to use her broom, while Hilda applies flying ointment. The moon is in Aquarius and neither of them has to pass over a standing stone or stone ring. At what time will each of them have to leave in order to arrive on time?

2. When Hilda does not arrive, Agnes decides to fly to Hilda’s cottage. Three minutes outside the village a gust of wind blows her off course over a stone ring. How long will she take to arrive? Assume a standard nine-stone late Neolithic ring.

3. Hilda has applied the wrong ointment: a Thrice-Speed Love Oil, which has brought a minotaur out of the ethers. She does not want to have relations with a minotaur, but he presses her and she must defend herself. She seizes a sheet of paper and sets him the following problem:

i is my interest in sleeping with a minotaur. Solve for i.



4. While the minotaur is working on this problem, Agnes arrives. Hilda greets her, apologizes, and explains the situation. Agnes replies that since Hilda is never late, she knew that something must be wrong, and apologizes in turn for getting lost in the otherworld. They sit and drink tea while the minotaur continues to struggle. Agnes decides the minotaur is cute (if dumb), and, since you, dear student, have already solved the problem for him, she takes him home to her house. If the minotaur weighs as much as 399 apples picked in the sign of Gemini, and Agnes can carry a gross of these on her broom, can she give the minotaur a ride, or must he walk?

Extra credit: if she used a disassembly spell how many flights would she have to make to carry all of him to her house?


1. This is a trick question. If the moon is in Aquarius, the flying ointment will hardly lift Hilda off the ground. She should use her broomstick.

2. 37 minutes, if she eats or drinks nothing offered her.

3. i=0, as Hilda’s attitude suggests.

4. No, he must walk.

Extra credit: three trips.

February 2, 2009

Bottled and Un-bottled

Five bottles on a shelf, they sang songs to me on a cold winter’s night: songs of lips against snow, of roots, of tusks and of gold and of all that piled in the room, spoils of my father’s travels. They always found a way into his pockets, those oddments.

And I, their un-bottled sister, was their ear.

And I, their ten-fingered sister, stood on tiptoes in the kitchen to take dried peach slices from the wooden boxes, to take cardamom and cloves from the dispenser. I stood in front of the shelves and dropped my fruits and spices into the bottles.

They murmured thanks, every one.

Eyes and mouths and four finned limbs grew from them in haphazard ways, puzzle ways, and I watched them as if they would move just-so in their bottles and make a neat pattern.

“Have you seen fish in the water?” one whispered -- or was it two? I couldn’t follow all their mouths.

I tilted my head to the right, looking at the dried blowfish behind one of the bottles.

They swam around it in the toilet bowl, pressing their lips to it -- like fingers, I thought, to learn how it felt -- and they swam down when I flushed, down through the pipes that curled like my hair, down to the underground rivers.

I’d stolen my father’s oddments before. If he noticed, it was only to see an empty space on his shelf for another travel-token, another spade-shaped coin or intricately carved statue of a mermaid.

A week after I emptied the five bottles, he filled them with shells and sand from a black beach in the Aegean.

And I, growing older, saw the five un-bottled boys on warm nights when I walked alone by the river.