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May 29, 2009

Paper Cow

X had never considered the possibility that his origami constructions might spring to life. Through all his years of paper-folding, his early fascination with the Asian craft blooming into obsession, the endless competitions, the early arthritis, the impassable barrier between his talent and his imagination, through all of this his miniature creatures remained inert, frozen in the act of running, or slithering, or pecking. But tonight, his most recent fauna, birthed from printer bond, stirred.

"We know what you have done," said the paper cow, its hide revealing the left eye and nostril of a 13-year-old boy from Kuala Lumpur. The corner of the boy's eye was raised, suggesting a big smile. His skin was dark and rough, as if he had spent every waking moment in the scorching Malaysian sun.

"We know," said the paper crane, its creases half-obscuring the face of a seven-year-old girl from Semarang. Though X could not see her face, he knew it in his mind, could remember the gap made by the missing front teeth as she had grinned up at him, taking his hand and trusting him as if her own kin.

"We know," said the lumbering paper gorilla, made from the obituary notice of two ten-year-old twin boys from Penang. Their screams, too, had been identical.

More and more of the dead-tree atrocities, the collected evidence of X's crimes, printed from internet news stories and charity sites and then shaped into bats and elephants and frogs and tigers and pandas and a hundred other animals, rustled toward X, slow as the undead, each whispering, "We know." An army of his perversities, his many sins, each folded animal a reminder of a life held, touched, taken.

"Stop," X said. "I am sorry. Please stop."

"We cannot stop," said the paper cow, commander of this zoological army, edging ever closer to its creator. "You have made us so very thin and so very sharp."

And then all of the origami animals moved as one.

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May 28, 2009

Refining Fire

The city burned with slow fire. The burn line moved about a block an hour, tongues of flame dancing with underwater grace. As soon they heard about it on their police band receivers, members of the Phoenix League began getting the word out by phone tree, blog, and Twitter. In half an hour, everyone who wanted to know was on their way to a railroad yard a couple hundred yards from the line.

I didn't want to know. Even if the fire worked the way the Phoenixers said it did -- and all the studies said it didn't -- I was happy the way I was.

Nobody else felt the same way, though. My teachers always said I was unfocused; my friends said I was too cautious; my dad said I was shy; my mom said I was too proud to ask for help; my girlfriend said I was too sensitive to what other people thought.

The lot of them must have planned it months ago. There was no way to know when the fire would start, or where, or which direction it would spread. So they must have had everything ready: the chloroform, the duct tape, the handcuffs. (It may have just been the wooziness, but I didn't know Aunt Harriet could drive like that.)

They handcuffed me to a chain link fence in the railway yard, gave me a speech about how this might seem cruel but I'd thank them later, and hugged me. All of them. Even my cousin Burt who's in the Marines. Then they left me.

The Phoenix-folks walked around, set up folding chairs, chatted -- from the stories they swapped, it was clear most of them had done this a few times.

"It doesn't hurt, exactly," said a heavyset fellow in a suit. "Third time's the charm," he said. "I know I can be even better."

He and all the others were disappointed when the wind changed and the fire went somewhere else.

An hour went by. Two. I wished my family had left me my iPod.

The Phoenix-leaguers were starting to pack, some in tears, when the van drove up, Aunt Harriet still at the wheel.

They had me out of there in seconds.

"I don't know what we were thinking," said dad.

"I love you just the way you are," said Fiona, and everyone else's eyes said the same.

I could still feel the fire-heat in their hands.

May 27, 2009

Read Heron

William Mouver wrote of the Jacobean poet Thomas Heron, "As a cause of weeping, wonder, excitement, fascination, and utter envy, there has never been nor likely will ever be any poetry in the English language to rival his. That his arresting understanding of women and the beguiling romance of his words brought him as dull a wife as Judith Bullmer is frankly amazing. His writing is justly accounted the very paragon of manly love."

Just three days after penning these lines, Mouver was dragged out of his home by an angry mob and kicked to death for seducing a blind twelve-year-old girl literally during her parents' funeral the previous week. Since he was 43 at the time, this makes Mouver the longest-lived Heron scholar to date.

By way of examples, barrister and Heron obsessive Sean McGargan died in a library fire he set to foil a rival scholar. John Hume-Border, author of the masterful but never-completed Thomas Heron and His Times, was shot fleeing the scene of a "badger game" swindle on his 35th birthday. Documentary filmmaker Yeon Kun Kim died of a drug overdose while shooting what he claimed was an "explosively revelatory" account of Heron's life, and the footage he acquired was somehow lost while his estate was being settled. No fewer than twenty-nine graduate students are known to have committed suicide and/or died in vehicular accidents (one notable example involving both a speedboat and a helicopter) while working on Heron-related thesis papers. Most recently, noted biographer and poet Andrea Land was found dead for no apparent reason in her home office, clutching a piece of paper on which were scrawled the words "Heron 'Lament,' start 4th letter then 5th etc."

"Lament" could only refer to "The Physician's Lament," Heron's brilliant, bittersweet, and beloved long form poem of 1619, and somewhat to the surprise of everyone, reading the fourth letter of the first line and following it with the fifth letter of the next line (and so on, with a reversal of direction when the end of a line is reached) produced the message "My husband doth account this verse his ouwn, with wits that ne'er thought of love have knowne."

Professional and amateur scholars alike scoured Heron's oeuvre for other messages, and found at least six other genuine examples (plus any number of examples that were more wishful thinking than artful writing) scattered throughout the later, most celebrated work attributed to Heron. All of which established that the actual author of Thomas Heron's poems was inarguably Judith Bullmer Heron, making Thomas a fraud and Judith one of the most celebrated artists of all time, lesbian or otherwise.

Manly love is said to be still recovering.

May 26, 2009

Oh yeah, THAT chicken

"Get off the counter!" The chicken fluttered onto the dining-room table. I shooed it toward the outside door, but it flew back to the pass-thru. It pecked at the formica. Then it looked at me.

"These pastel boomerangs are so 50's."

"Shut up!" I pulled the cleaver off the magnet bar beside the sink. Me and the chicken, we had a history.

"Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" it asked.

"I think so," I replied, "but you need two witnesses for a legal will, and we're alone here."

An echidna wearing a magenta cape leaped from behind the fridge. "That's where you're wrong!" it shrieked.

I jumped. I hadn't expected the echidna. But then, nobody does. I advanced on the chicken, keeping one eye on the echidna, which made menacing gestures with its forepaws. The wind was picking up, and there was a lot of trash in the air. Wind? Indoors? The anteater laughed crazily.

"Kinda slow on the uptake," the chicken remarked. "Your housekeeping leaves a lot to be desired," it added. "And your leap was more a stumble" it said to the echidna. At this point paper was knee deep on the kitchen floor and I couldn't get into the dining room. I backed out into the hall and went around the other way. However, the dining room doorway was stuffed to the top with shredded paper. I could hear the chicken ranting about clashing paint colors and crooked paintings.

I went outside to call 911.

Darrell Crosby answered. We went to high school together. He married Melissa Echols, a girl I'd had a crush on for years. But I didn't hold it against him. Not considering how things turned out. I mean, I knew she was an animal lover, but that girl went way too far. There should've been a law. Heck, there used to be a law. Bottom line, I knew Darrell would be on my side.

"I'd love to help you, Ted. You know how I feel about them. But my hands are tied as long as they don't hurt anyone. They didn't hurt you, did they," he asked hopefully.

"Couple paper cuts. But they're occupying my house! At least my dining room. Am I supposed to eat standing up?"

"What part of 'I can't freaking arrest them' don't you get?"

"You won't do anything."

"Can't." He hung up.

I hate these stupid animal superheroes, but I hate Critical Chicken the most.


May 25, 2009

Aeaea Street

They ran on all fours, pausing only to sniff the air and howl.

Sometimes they were men, sometimes wolves, always grey though, always hungry. The moon lit their way as they slipped like shadows along the streets. Sometimes they got distracted by trash cans ripe with enticing rot, but the other pulled them on, so they didn’t stop for long. Nipper, Gnasher, Grinder and Bob.

They had her scent, warm on the cool night air.

Some way after 5th Avenue they caught the sound of footsteps, the click of her heels on the pavement. Familiar and strange, enticing. They followed, kept her in sight, but hung back and stayed in the deep shadows the tall buildings dropped in their wake. She moved from the expensive cantons of the city to the less well-kempt, and finally crossed that invisible barrier into the place where slumlords held sway.

Whenever she passed beneath a streetlamp, they could see the red hair and pale skin she flaunted. Long-legged and slim, she was graceful and unaware. The building she approached was dilapidated, seeming to decay before the eye.

A man sat on the stoop, huddled, wrapped in stinking garments as if the stench might keep the cold away. She smiled and he looked at her, surprised. The woman did not belong.

‘Soup,’ she said, handing him a thermos she’d fished out of her coat pocket. ‘That will warm the back of your soul.’

He sniffed at the opening suspiciously. Rich, meaty odours wafted up and made him salivate. He’d have preferred booze, but figured he’d take whatever he could. Lifting the container in toast to her, he took a mouthful. It was delicious and he made short work of the contents.

The pack crept close. Surely she could hear rush of their breathing, but she gave no sign. One of them gathered his strength and sprang.

She ducked and the wolf sailed over her head.

‘Gnasher!’ Her voice was stern. ‘All of you. Sit!’

All four of them sat shamefaced at her feet and whimpered. Each one gave a contented sigh when she scratched behind their ears.

‘That’s better.’ They pressed themselves against her legs, vying for attention. ‘Now, say hello to your brother.’

On the stoop, a sleek wolf sprawled, looking bewildered. He gave a burp and a rich meaty scent thickened the air.

‘Come, Ulysses. Time for home.’

May 22, 2009

The Diamond Finger

Every day the man Nonthook washed the feet of the gods on their way up Mount Krailat: a task that brought him merit, a respectable income, and the daily jokes of the gods. They knocked on his head as they passed, thunk-thunk, and now Nonthook was bald in the centre of his scalp despite being only twenty-eight years old.

The day that his wife murmured about meeting an attractive young rice farmer, Nonthook stomped up Mount Krailat to the god Issuan and made his complaint.

“Changing their ways is not within my power,” the god said sadly, “but I can offer you a gift in compensation.”

Nonthook thought for a moment, then smiled. “I will have a diamond index finger that kills instantly on touch.”


The gods knocked on Nonthook's head, one after the other, and dropped like flies.


“He broke the terms of the gift,” Issuan said to a gathering of the remaining gods.

“You might have expected that,” one murmured, but was ignored. Who expects a man to kill gods when he promised to kill mosquitoes and fish? No other man had shown similar stupidity. The other gods shared suggested punishments among one another like a bowl of spicy chicken cooked in a banana leaf. Finally the god Nurai made one they agreed upon.


Nonthook’s diamond finger had brought him great pleasure, killing gods on the mountainside, but hadn’t returned his youthful looks or his wife’s attentions. So on the night of a great festival, when a beautiful young woman approached and asked if he might dance, Nonthook smiled broadly and took her hand. The young woman led him through a series of dance features: a woman stringing flowers for a garland, a deer wandering in the forest, the goddess lighting swords of light, the banana leaves in the wind, the naga twisting its tail--

At this phase, she pointed her index finger at her knee.

Absorbed in the dance, Nonthook pointed the diamond finger at his own knee.

He died like a god.

May 21, 2009

In Human Resources

As we filed into the eighth floor conference room, I could feel our consensus as though it were bathtub water lapping at all our ankles. True, a phone interview wasn't the same as an in-person interview, but we all felt Gary Horder was a shoo-in. The problems that had plagued our engineering department for most of the last decade would be over with a guy like Gary in charge. I dropped into my accustomed chair just as the door creaked open.

"Gary," I said, standing up and extending my hand. "Glad to ..."

He opened the door, and I stopped. Gary Horder was four feet high, with wide, pointy ears, green skin, and protruding eyes like an undersea fish. He wore a gray wool suit and a bright blue tie with a golf ball tie pin.

"Glad to see you could make it," I managed, turning the extended hand into a vague wave toward the empty chair at the end of the table, which he ignored. I sat back down, crossing my legs and folding my arms over my chest.

Gary looked around at the lot of us. "Is something wrong?" he said. The little goblin bastard. He knew exactly what was wrong.

"I had no idea you were a ..." blurted Denise, the engineering VP, but she caught herself. "... golfer." Burt, my assistant, started singing one of those damned forest ditties under his breath, a nervous habit. I quelled him with a glare. Burt was supposed to have screened this guy, God damn it.

The problem was, I had already shown Horder's work to the Big Guy, and he was expecting me to hire a genius engineer. He wouldn't care about Horder's ... issue. He'd just hold me to the fire if I didn't sign the little toad.

"So, no window office," I said flatly.

"Something in the basement would be nice," he said.

"We'll be in touch," I said. He bowed and left.

"In three hundred twenty years in the Personnel department ..." I said "No, forget it. Burt, you're fired. Go back to the fucking forest where you belong. 'Never hire from the woods,' my old man used to say. I should have listened."

Burt shot me a poisonous look and skulked out, leaving nothing but High Elves in the conference room. I ignored the others and sat staring at the wall, thinking wistfully two hundred years ahead to my retirement.

May 20, 2009

The Old Switcheroo

According to the pulps, when you want to raid a wizard's tower you just strap on a broadsword and a loincloth and go at it. Truth is you need a permit with fifteen signatures. Still the government spooks give me enough talismans I make Mr T look restrained. Hopefully they'll get me further than the permit, which only buys me a stunned doorman and a ride in the penthouse elevator.

Now a tower wouldn't be complete without a damsel in distress--April Wilcox, heiress of the Wilcox sock empire. Vesu Telquist made all six feet five of her disappear at his show tonight and has yet to make her reappear.

Mundane security's at the door. So I drop them with rubber bullets. The permit might have worked but this feels more satisfying. There's so many talisman's round my neck I don't which one defeats locks, so in the end I just kick in the door.

I clear the living room and the kitchen, then I open the bedroom door and almost gag--blood and shit spread over the room. The body's in the bed. What's left of it. Head's gone. Belly's open and the guts lie in circles on crimson sheets. Sick bastard.

I'm right on top of it when I realize it's too short. April Wilcox is an Amazon with a brunette dye job. This is a shrimp with excessive leg hair.

She comes out of the wardrobe with a knife and goes for the talisman's at my throat. Apparently her scrying let her know what was being sent to get her back. Vesu didn't see it coming. Neither did I. We tustle and break. Just in case I'm still thinking of rescuing her, she opens her mouth a breathes fire at me. Some joke about a hot date occurs to me and I'm so ashamed I almost let her roast me. As it is my jacket's on fire before I find the right talisman. We go at it then, she flinging elemental forces at me, me getting pummeled and my hands caught in ancient chains.

Eventually she and I both get sick of it. She tries fire again and I take the hit. That gives me time to line up the shot, and her blood mixes with Vesu's. I have the talisman ready in my pocket from the first attack but most of my clothes are ash by the time I summon the water to douse me.

I leave the mess for the spooks to clean up and ride down the elevator pulling off the remains of my shirt. I look at what's left in the mirrored walls. And on top of it all it turns out a loin cloth isn't a good look for me anyway.

May 19, 2009

Data Note: A recently recovered Principalian stasis object

Author: Network ArEG

A small [12K] damaged data file, proton-coded using a simple variant of Sless26's Algorithm, was found in a stasis module of Principalian age. This was the only surviving item in the module. The code format was previously unknown, but maximum-parsimony analysis suggests it is close to the root of Sless26, rather than a derived form. A transcript of the file's contents follows.


"The Kielbasa Machete," by Sycamore Hudson, is a deceptively simple novel of sophont trafficking on a decaying L-point habitat. Reference to traditional human food and agricultural implements in the book's title is meant to convey the persistence of cultural artifacts from one society to its successors. The author, an historically referenced construct, was instantiated by IBQ a.u., which first incorporated in the Sol system.

In this, its 6th novel, Hudson continues exploring the world of the Relevancy, a time now more than 3 centuries past. We return to Canis Miner, the mineral-extraction a.u. staffed primarily by uplifted canids. The protagonist of "Riding the GM" returns, but as an elder statesbeing. Helena Malamute-Wong is a VP of CM. The protagonist of TKM is Loh Neptune, a tool designer from the Oort Republic.

Neptune has lost his backup to a bolide that perforated a vault belonging to the First Memory Bank of Centaurus. All he knows about himself comes from the last 2 years. He broke up with his life partner, a felid (!), on their anniversary. Why? He doesn't know. His quest to recover the romantic ruin that is his life leads him to the most dangerous sections of the habitat, and plunges him into the midst of a shadow economy fueled by ruthless exploitation. Ultimately, he stumbles onto evidence for a plot aimed at the heart of the Relevancy itself, and makes himself a target for every trafficker and kidnap-for-hire ring in the system. And so on.

A good read, TKM is lacking in accuracy: Hudson has bent history in service of plot. For instance, Neptune uncovers evidence of a zygote robbery that included the last 9 frozen humans. These zygotes, if they ever existed, would have been destroyed long before the even1Sq366,#

--end of file--

Analysis of this document has just begun, but it may be a part of the Organic Litsum, thought to have been lost in the Second Nanobreak. Analytical results will be presented at the next Conflex.


May 18, 2009

May 18th’s “Under the Weather”: Record Reviews From a Warmer World

Riddle Sieve, Rain Shadow
Both cooler and darker than Sunshower, the omnipresent party hit of two summers past, Rain Shadow marks a return to their roots for the Birmingham-based moodmizzle group. This understated rubba speaks to the kind of afternoon when everything just feels too scorching and awful, even with the Lens on at full, and you think you’d like to sit under a Traditional English Drizzle to have a bit of a mope. (We’ve never seen a real Drizzle either, but we’ve all heard your Grandpa go on.) At 2B/W, the Wind Scale rating is low enough that you can play it outdoors in a clearance zone as small as 3x3x3m -- no need to check with the neighbours! Knowing the band, though, expect a creepy surprise or two to manifest out of the fog.

Nymph Load, Warm Occlusion
The ladies (and one gent) of NL are at it again, this time putting out a wet and sensuous late-summer experience. Plenty of cheap but sultry exoticism here, with a tinkly backing and high humidity index bringing the smells and bells of that South Asian monsoon holiday you never got around to taking. Probably best enjoyed in the Weather Room; at 3M/XX you could take it outside without drowning the zinnias, but the Moist Succubi are better in private. (We know, no subtlety at all, but what would a Nymph Load jam be without them?)

The Thousand Natural Shocks, Intertropical Convergence Zone
This one’ll be a biggie. The long-awaited magnum opus from the established masters of symphonic-system mayhem, the ICZ promises to wreak chaos, equatorial-style, in cloud ballrooms across the nation when it finally debuts this weekend. We could tell you all about it, since we’ve already ridden it out, but we don’t like to dangle our privilege. So we’ll just say that you’re going to love it. Violently, tornadically, hurricane-force. Pull any strings you need to get into a riding party: this is one you can’t play at home without shorting the systems and probably your lungs. (That 19V rating is there for a reason.) Bring your waterproof, and hold on to your skin…


May 15, 2009

Notes from the Food-Court Apocalypse

Some theories
Vaccinations? CDC Clinic in the mall carpark on Day 0.
Danny from Rico's went for a shot before the outbreak, did not return.
Emergency personnel not responding. Perhaps they were amongst the first to go under?
Habit is everything...broken routines lead to extreme pack violence.
Crazy metabolism? The infected need to eat every hour or so. Some cannibalism observed.
Power and water intermittent, but still connected.

The teenaged staff performed quite well with no sleep. Things turned ugly when the sliced pickles ran out on day 3. The infected were not convinced that these cheeseburgers were authentic, and swarmed the shop en masse. Gustav had a revolver stashed behind the slushie machine and took out three eaters before they tore him apart

The shop was completely destroyed, and the mob nearly got through the rear entrance before we jammed it shut with a pallet of cooking oil. This was nearly a complete disaster, and we agreed that the rear walkway needs to remain barricaded at all times.

Lasted until day 5. Rico hid several razor blades and broken glass in his baked potatoes, but as his customers typically wandered away to eat their meals he remained undetected. An old man ate his food right at the counter, and his screams of pain coupled with the blood streaming down his chin brought the mob running. Rico vaulted the counter and tried to run for it, but he was brought down outside of Bannon’s Sportsware.

The shop was spared, and with the lights off we were able to carefully remove fresh ingredients. These were divided evenly between the remaining stalls.

Pasta Prince
Apart from running out of fresh cream for his fettucini carbonara, Lou did remarkably well. He stirred a fatal dose of rat poison into all of his dishes, and put more spices into the sauce to disguise the taste. Ironically this was his undoing, as an infected woman accused him of adding too much salt. He managed to kill her with a skillet but this attracted the attention of the other eaters.

We weren’t able to remove the barricade in time, and we heard them beating him to death against the back door. Shop completely destroyed on day 6.

Mei attempted to inflict severe food poisoning on the infected. She dropped the temperature on all her food-warmers, and switched off the refrigerator on day 2. By day 4 all of her meat had started to turn, and some of the eaters were later observed with intestinal distress, several defecating openly in the atrium.

She came under attack by an infected with the wits to recall where he’d got the food from. He leapt over the counter, naked and covered in his own filth. Mei wriggled through the rear entrance and triggered the barricade (several heavy sacks of rice).

Mei has been helping as a runner, and she is light enough to travel through the air-ducts. We hope that she can help us to search for weapons, food, or an escape route. As the mall seems to be an epicentre for this outbreak, escape is highly unlikely.

Joseph Fuller,
Proprietor of Sandwich Kings,
Day 9.

May 14, 2009

Swine Flew

Shrieking, the hog plummeted toward the earth, its wings drawn close. At the last moment it flared them like a great cloak, choking its forward speed to little more than hovering as it tore its prey from the grass. The helpless victim mewled as the hog bore it into the sky, but like all hogs, this one had no pity for the scurrying denizens of the dirt and the grass. It bore its twitching meal to a cliffside, where it alighted and summarily snapped the furry thing's neck before tearing into it with its sharp--


Readers, please excuse me. I'm very sorry to interrupt the story like this, but apparently there's something that's so important ...

Oh … seriously? I was sure it ... but really? Then OK, I guess.

No, it's entirely my fault. I'm the writer. Really, I appreciate the feedback.

Readers, I'm back now. Very sorry about that. And in the above, um, the word "hog" should read "hawk."

May 13, 2009

The Third Side

This is the third story in the Elephant Corners sequence, after "At the Elephant Corners" and "In Search of Elephant Corners."

Sylvie sat in a marble rowboat in the middle of a pool in one of the teaching basements, trying to read the future from ripple patterns of thrown pebbles.

Katerina watched from the wooden shore.

"I don't know," said Sylvie. Every splash looked the same. She wished she could go back to reading clouds, coins, or chicken bones.

Even down here, Sylvie thought she heard the ghost rumble of her stolen motorbike vibrating the stone. She forced herself to sit still, to stare at the water. Katerina called her stubborn.

"Something about a book?" Sylvie said.

"Something," said Katerina with that almost-secret smile that meant she'd seen everything Sylvie had missed, that made Sylvie want to run up the stairs and out the elephant-leg door and never come back.

Sylvie had learned a dozen methods of future-finding. She knew she'd only learned the beginnings of each, that there were dozens more she hadn't even started.

Each method was a different vantage point, according to the old man whose breath smelled of figs, who taught her a couple afternoons a week. The way a scene looks different depending where you stand, different readings give you different perspectives.

"When the thief was alive," said Katerina, "he wanted something from you, from us. Now all that's left of him is wanting."

"What did he, does he want?" said Sylvie.

"The thief was an adept in the origami arenas on Phiros, the floating island. There is a divination akin to dueling-origami. It might tell you."

They went upstairs. The fig-man gave Sylvie a crisp square of paper. The basics were easy to learn.

She folded through the night, until the paper was soft as cloth, seeking what her teachers called the third side of the page. That was where the answer would be written.

She folded while the sun crossed the sky. She noticed the skin of her palms stung with papercuts; all the folding hadn't blunted the edges. She looked, and by candlelight -- was it night again? the second, or the third? -- she could make out runes in the clusters of cuts, not quite like what she'd learned to read in chicken bones or the angles where clouds met. She knew it was the answer. She knew she couldn't decipher it. Maybe that was what she was meant to learn.

She found Katerina on the second-floor sofas.

"Please read my palms," said Sylvie.

Katerina's smile was an open secret.

May 12, 2009

Missing Death’s Bad Beer

Author's note: this story is a Gothy present for my fabulous stepdaughter, Rain Lochner. Happy birthday, Rain! Hope you like it.

The trouble with playing poker with Death is that he has no tells. He carefully guards his reputation for total unpredictability.

"There's a woman," said Thomas. "She’s got red hair and a smile like sun on a porch."

"Are you going to go goopy?" Intoned Death.

"I don't think so."

"You're going to go goopy."

"I'm not going to go goopy," Thomas grumbled. "See you and raise you 20 bucks."

"Nobody pays the ferry man anymore," Death complained, feeling around for his wallet, a present from Thomas. It showed Death riding a Harley, because the artist couldn't know that Death rode a ‘52 Vincent Black Lightning.

"She's not for you anyway," Death added, slapping the bills down.

"How do you know?"

Death waited for him to find the answer on his own.

"Oh," said Thomas finally. "When?"

"Tomorrow, in the bar. Jealous ex-boyfriend," said Death, flicking a maggot off his wrist.

Thomas felt sick (not from the maggots—he was used to them). He looked at his hand: nine of hearts and jack of spades.

"What if I broke the rule?"

Death had one rule, and that was money bets only.

"You could do that," said Death. "But I'm looking at a pretty good hand."

"And we probably wouldn't hang out again," said Thomas.

"There is that," said Death. "Probably."

"I would miss Thursday nights."

"Bad beer," grinned Death, who always brought it.

"Maggots in the peanuts," smiled Thomas. He added, "I'm sorry."

Death said, "I told you you’d go goopy," and placed the bet on the table: a small glittering shape that smelled of thunderstorms. Thomas held his breath while Death dealt the first card.

When a box of chocolates skated down the long counter to her, Nina wondered if Rob was trying a cute way of getting around the restraining order. But when she looked up the row of startled regulars, only Thomas looked back. He came down the bar.

"These from you, Thomas?"

"Yes ma'am."

"What for?"

"Because I'm lucky you’re alive," he said. "Want to go out after work?"

She didn't say she'd honestly never thought about him that way before, or that she had an odd feeling she might be looking at a man who would go the distance for her, or that she had an even odder one that she would start a new life if she said yes. She just said yes.

May 11, 2009

In Search of Elephant Corners

The thief’s shade was trying to follow Slyvie back to Elephant Corners. Again. She heard the phantom whine of her motorbike’s engine though it was nowhere to be seen on the street crowded with the bustle of day sellers closing shop and patrons gathering for the night market.

She’d been studying under the elder fortunetellers for weeks. The half-day search on her motorbike to find the four elephant shaped buildings she called home seemed so far away.

“Why did it take me so long to find my way here?” Slyvie had asked, before her daily walk to the market to fetch fresh chicken bones for the divination cups. “We are almost in the center of the city, right in plain sight. For anyone to see or follow.”

“Ganesha is the remover of obstacles,” the fortune woman called Katerina had answered then affectionately patted an elephant figurine that looked much like the sculpted face of the building.

Had it been Ganesha who removed the obstacles preventing her from finding the Fortune Tellers? Ganesha who guided the thief who stole her motorbike? It wasn’t Ganesha following her now. She could feel the thief’s yearning. Not just for her. To find Elephant Corners.

The accident that had claimed him had been meant for her. It involved a blown tire. A refugee from the city of Phiros, an old hero of the Origami circuit. Chickens. A lot of them. And a contraband shipment of vampire vine.

The shade followed her most evenings. And was always thwarted by one fortuitous distraction or another. One time by a raucous trio of escaped chickens. Another by a pretty lady muttering charms under her lacy veil. Yet another by a tiny rainstorm moving almost purposefully through the stairway alleys.

But today was the day of dragon-kites and tombstones, (at least according to the calendar of Sylvie’s ancestral home), the day spirits will rise and walk in flesh of the unwary if given a chance.

The shade slowly but steadily pursued her through the market streets and winding alleys. To Sylvie’s dismay no distractions appeared to hinder it.

Sylvie ducked into a side street hoping to lose it with speed but the egress was blocked by an ostrich caravan. She gulped trying to gather the courage to run back out and past the invisible, menacing presence. The sputter-pop of her lost motorbike was almost upon her.

“Just go away !” she cried, afraid the shade would touch her and ride her body back to Elephant Corners.

The motorbike sounds retreated. The shade had moved to a piece of glow-taffy on the cobblestones. Sylvie spied another piece at the entrance to the next alley. A trail? She was in luck the shade followed and Sylvie ran home.

“Why,” Slyvie asked Katerina once she was safely behind the door-leg of the blue elephant. “How did I escape? Why can no one find Elephant Corners when it is in plain sight?”

“Ganesha protects this place,” she answered. “Today you learned he is also the placer of proper obstacles.”

Sylvie thought about it. The shade had wanted something. From her. From Elephant Corners. The fortune tellers must have had a reason to prevent her death in the bike crash.

Maybe if she continued her studies she’d be able to find the answer in patterns of the past or divine its shape from the ripples it sent into the ever-changing future.


May 8, 2009


I hear a ship’s bell at night, no matter how I block my ears. It’s loud as a crying soul. I hear the rush of the sea, too, though this house is landlocked but for the pond and the well. It’s all connected, I guess, the water of the world.

We used to live on the coast, once, my family and I, in a cottage by the sea. Simple and sweet until Daffyd came and asked me to walk out with him.

I’d slip into the night, holding the lantern he’d given me. Upon reaching the meeting place I’d slide the cover across the flame three times, no more, no less, so he knew to come from his cottage on the cliffs. I did not know I was sending signals to men and ships alike.

I thought it courting, and I suppose it was, but he was an efficient man, wanting to achieve as many things as possible. Courting me and doing business at the same time appealed to him.

I did not notice for the longest time, while I was infatuated. I did not question his gifts: expensive jewellery and silk dresses sometimes still damp, smelling of salt. While I had his warmth beside me, his face between my hands, and his lips sweet against mine, I did not look out to the wine-dark sea and see ships drawn onto the rocks.

But one night the wind dropped and I heard the bell and turned my head. I saw the ship go aground, watched while smugglers waded into the water. He laboured above me, sweated and swore he loved me while I saw people clubbed like seals.

I pushed him away. He smiled and laughed as he dressed. ‘You can’t tell anyone, sweet accomplice. None will believe you did not know.’

I sat up, feeling cold beneath my skin. I felt around for my dress but found instead the lantern. He stood at the edge of the cliff, back to me, assured of my compliance. The lantern flew surprisingly lightly.

And then there was just the great candle of him, tall and screaming, running off the edge of the cliff. He plummeted like a falling star until the waters embraced him and took him down to meet those he’d sent before.

His voice is lost to the years, but the bell’s will not leave me alone.

May 7, 2009

Brisneyland by Night – Part Three

Ziggi dropped me home. I handed him a wad of the notes Bela had given me. Somehow it didn’t feel like my money. ‘Same time tonight.’

He nodded; drove off. I limped up the path. The jasmine was thick on the front fence, overpoweringly sweet.

‘Verity? Can you get my ball?’ Between the fence palings a small hand appeared.

I picked up the ball. ‘Birthday present?’

‘Uh-huh. But I like yours best.’ I’d given her a book of fairytales – the proper ones, where little children are eaten by wolves with no hope of rescue. Her mother had frowned, but Lizzie ate the stories up.

I dropped the ball over the fence.

‘Thanks, Verity. Can I come over?’

‘Not today, my friend. Maybe on the weekend.’


Inside, the hot air almost smothered me, so I quickly opened all the windows. The breeze did its thing and soon the place was bearable. I sat in one of the faded green chairs on the back deck and waited.

I stretched my leg out and rested it on the top of the table. I looked at the jacaranda tree in the backyard and nodded to the extremely fat kookaburra perched on one of its limbs. A movement caught at the edge of my vision.

‘It’s rude not to knock. It’s also rude to keep my house key since we broke up.’

Bela sat. ‘Someone might need to help you.’

‘Your kind of help, I can do without.’

‘And a big hello to you, too.’ He nodded at my leg. ‘Sore? I can fix it, you know.’

I touched his face. ‘Your price is too high.’

‘So, answers?’

‘Plenty of ideas. No answers.’

‘Why am I paying you?’

‘No idea.’ I told him about last night’s tour.

He sighed. ‘There hasn’t been activity like this since your father.’

I closed my eyes.

There’s a market for everything.

My mother was Normal and gone before I knew her. My father was Weyrd. For a long time I didn’t know there was a difference. The everyday things were salt in corners to soak up curses; bake blood into the bread to keep ghosts away; sweep towards your front door, chanting for wealth.

My father. Twenty years ago he was jailed as a kidnapper and killer, but that didn’t even begin to touch the skin of what he was.

Kinderfresser. Child-eater. Butcher to the Weyrd.

May 6, 2009

Fish Food

Quite frankly, I'm getting sick of this Lovecraft shit.

It started with these marine biologists and their new species of octopus. Two weeks later all the staff at London zoo look like over-sized scampi and are sacrificing the tourists to elder gods.

My government-sanctioned holy bullets do bugger all. Apparently shrimp-scientists are secular. So I leg it and take refuge in a cleaning closet near the chimp enclosure, which I admit isn't very James Bond of me. Still, I come across an aerosol can in there, and two seconds later I'm out of there with my lighter flambé-ing a couple of the bastards. Zookeepers dissolve into masses of thrashing tentacles. Enough to put me off shrimp cocktails for the rest of my life.

Lighter in hand I manage to torch a path to the aquarium, but when I get a look at the bugger residing there, I don't think Pledge and a Zippo are going to cut it. It's about the size of a double decker, all jelly-like flesh and claws reaching for me. The glass of the aquarium shatters and I'm swept out with the water.

When I catch my breath it's tottering massively towards me through the ruins of the building. Gas tanks blow. Everything in the aviary squawking at once.

I leg it again.

See the trouble with Lovecraft is he only really gives you running gibbering into the night as an option, and I've got plans this Friday...

I smack into the wall of the polar bear enclosure and that's when, along with the concrete, the idea hits me. The thing behind me is getting close as I blow the lock of the enclosure. We're talking meters. I'm through the door and then it's smashing down the wall. I'm roll clear and come up staring into eight white faces. Not happy either. You wake up polar bears, you better do it nicely.

After that I let nature take its course. The elder god is a big bugger, but its still just an overgrown fish to these guys. Some mundanes can take care of themselves. Still sushi's gonna be off the menu for a while now too.

May 5, 2009

This is not a Story about Greed

Six days ago I rubbed the lamp Jenna brought back from the East. I knew what I was doing. She would tell me at night of the experiments they were running on it and the other munitions left over from the Mana Wars.

Five days ago the Djinn brought me every magical lamp he could find. A few, he says, are hidden even from his senses. Each contained one of his brothers or sisters. He was eager to serve once I explained my goal to him. His laugh was a subsonic rumble.

Four days ago my first aide and two others finished sculpting the Moon into Jenna's headstone. To say there is panic would be an understatement. I am being sought.

Three days ago my agents fought a new magical war with the world's remaining mages and magical beings. Battles raged across the globe from the stroke of one midnight to the stroke of the next.

Two days ago we counted our dead. A Djinn can grieve as powerfully as any man or woman.

Yesterday my remaining survivors caused the seas to rise. They melted the glaciers and blew up a rain that will last the weeks it will take to drown a world.

Today I stand on the now-airless Moon in a clever suit of Djinn-design. I look up at a world shrouded in white, clouded from pole to pole.

The surface of the Moon rumbles faintly through my suit's boots. It is, I imagine, the rumble of laughter. Tomorrows there will be, but tomorrows without Atlantis.

May 4, 2009


Pursedog doesn't like you. Forget that he belongs to Kitty, your semi-long-term girlfriend, or that you've run into her apartment to retrieve the little yapping piece of accoutrement because she asked you to.

Forget that you paid for the diminutive bag of fur. He hates you and there's nothing you can do to change it.

Pursedog knows your innermost secrets. Somehow the little fucker always walks in at the worst times like:

- Using Kitty's toothbrush to clean the toilet bowl
- Practicing solo forms of tantric yoga you found online
- Whacking to pics of Martha Stewart and/or George Wendt

He knows more about Kitty than you do. There are things a girl just won't tell her somewhat significant other, but she'll damn well tell her dog. Especially Pursedog. You know why? Because he listens.

Pursedog was grown to be a woman's best friend, zipper running tail to ears, insides warm, cushioned, welcoming. He holds mobile phones, apartment keys, identification, emergency makeup. Maybe an extra tin of mints or deodorant. Occasionally, you suspect, a dildo. You've seen him vibrating on his back on a restaurant floor in obvious elation, and you're pretty sure why.

Pursedog is smarter than you. And he knows it.

He sends snaps to Kitty's phone if he catches you not washing your hands when you leave the bathroom. He posts videos of you masturbating to a popular web forum. You're reasonably famous there.

Under Kitty's bed, there’s Pursedog, growling an ominous warning. He backs up and his eyes glow red to augment his pervert alarm. You always set off his defenses, raise his hackles. His zipper clasps tight, double-locks. You reach in and snag Pursedog by the scruff of the neck, avoiding his snapping jaws. It’s unclear why Kitty wants protection from perverts when she's dating one.

He's freewheeling in the air, trying to bite your hand when it hits you. You're being replaced. Kitty's too chickenshit to tell you. Instead, she's taken up with a modded pooch, locked her important things away from you.

You've already been replaced. And you paid for your own replacement.

Pursedog thinks you're a dumbass, and he's right.

"Look," you say. "At least tell me what I did wrong?"

Pursedog stops struggling, like he's contemplating your question. Like he cares. You consider setting the four-legged hellbeast down, forgiving him for taking your place. You could walk away without a parting shot at Kitty and never even look back. Bow out gracefully. You loosen your grip, and like a coiled spring the little rat spins around and clamps his teeth into your hand.

You drop-kick the little bastard out the window.

May 1, 2009


When their wandering robot probes stumbled on Earth, with its ancient, burnt seabeds, its flattened forests, its cracked continents, they rapidly uncovered evidence of the long-dead human civilization, buried under three million years of rubble and dust, and they despaired that though they finally had found evidence of other intelligent creatures in the universe, they had missed meeting us by (in astronomical terms) only moments and would never have the chance to exchange so much as a word of greeting, as our race was clearly and inarguably now extinct.

But ... they were wrong.