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June 30, 2009

Socially Acceptable

You walk into the room and fifteen seconds later my heart melts. It's not beauty, though I can see from thousands of tagged pics that you look equally striking in a bikini or black dinner dress. Not wealth, even if a quick glance at your credit score, club memberships, vids of sliding seductively from a tan Bentley show you are doing quite well. Not family or education or place of birth. Exotic pedigrees are icing.

I love you for your friends.

I'd been here ten minutes and it already felt like a waste of time. A quick glance around the room showed a bland sea of black and white faces. They knew me, but I didn't know them. A few I knew popped up pastel, info scrolling above their heads so I could quickly de-prioritize them. Laylines gave me connections and circles of interactions. Mostly blah. A few interesting people glowed warmly, colorful, inviting, but there were no clear connections. No one to introduce us.

I was about to say fuck it and head to a green tech party in the valley for farmed sushi and organic hemp beer when you lit the room with your brilliant glow, a beacon that scattered bright lines to the few luminaries present. All heads snapped around, and you posed for adulation. Everyone streamed vids to prove they were there, and you soaked it all up, beaming. I waited long enough to verify your identity, then simply stared.

The color of the room changes, and people look between us. Finally, you see me. When we lock eyes the lines between us arch over the crowd, entwining into one glowing band.

As I walk toward you the room flows around us, almost slow-mo, choreographed. A cinematic moment frozen in time that signals true love. People talk about connections, but how many have really experienced it? I pity generations who came before, trusting fleeting moments to chance, technology a distant and erratic dream. Why miss anything at all?

Your smile is reserved as I reach you. You're so connected it makes me want you immediately. I want to party with sultans and crown princes, vacation on artificial islands, in underwater hotels, bridge cultural divides and branch out to the power centers of the Middle East. You want to connect with tech movers and shakers, current gods of new realities. We bring each other closer by degrees.

I reach out my hand and you do the same. We don't have to speak. You learned everything about me in the time it took to cross the room. Ranch in Marin, stock portfolio, meetings in the White House rose garden, enviable friends list. Your smile widens to an inviting and wordless "I accept."

Our first date is tomorrow. We'll go to the most exclusive venue, so don't worry; no one undesirable will get in. We'll have an automated guest list.

So you can bring your friends.

June 29, 2009

Young Love, a tragedy

(NOTE: If this were a movie it would probably be rated R)

"She's from the edge of the field. The last row by the Fence!" Adam hissed.

"So?" Colin sneered, but he knew what Adam meant. Crystal could be, probably was, of mixed blood. Her mother looked like pure maize, but Crystal's father could've been a grass, wheat, quinoa; anything, really. Any plant that could insinuate its pollen into Crystal's mother's private places could have jumped genomes, crossed chromosomes, done the dirty deed and fathered hybrids, hybrids that looked normal, but their own children would be ... monsters. They might look like anything.

Colin knew this, but he forgot it all when he looked at her sturdy stem, her graceful leaves with their adorable tips, ever so slightly curved to left or right, her roots, beautiful in their symmetry. Love might not be stronger than prejudice, but lust sure was. What he wouldn't do to get his pollen into her warm moist receptacles. A little pollen squirted out at the thought of the verdant Crystal and her divine form, and a breeze carried it to the fence and over.

Colin blushed to his roots. Had anyone seen? It seemed no one had. Whew! He was the only one who knew, and he would forget his inadvertent emission as soon as possible.


Delilah stretched her blossoms to catch the pollen ejaculated by the fine young maize plant she'd been ogling from the outboard side of the path. He must have been watching her. She had seen him staring at the flowers outside the Garden, and she was the most ... inviting. She had pursed her petals at him, and had made him come with a gesture. How cool was that?!

Pollen grains drifted into several of Delilah's flowers. They adhered, and their tubes began to grow. It was like nothing she'd ever felt before.

Soon Delilah's ovaries swelled, gravid with chimerae. The seeds set, were fertile, and landed in due time on good, black soil. Alas, by the time they sprouted the following spring Delilah had moved on through the circle of life. She was nought but a withered brown nub. Colin had been harvested by a combine, and his aborted progeny were distributed among a few dozen cans of corn.

The end

*Yes, plant sex is weird and inventive. Successful reproduction between members of different species is just the beginning. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_(biology)#Hybrid_plants.

June 26, 2009

There Was No Friday

This story did not appear on Friday, June 26th. In a sense, it never appeared.

For me I bet it was about the same as it was for you ... I went to bed on Thursday, but woke up on Saturday. It wasn't a Rip Van Winkle kind of thing: Friday was just missing. Specifically, someone had taken it.

This wasn't the kind of problem we usually dealt with at the Department of Time Misallocation. It was a relaxed job, usually, punctuated with coffee breaks and donuts. Every day we'd get a few cases of stolen moments, someone would lose an evening to drinking, and every fall there was always a flood of hapless dorks who didn't remember what they had done with the hour of Daylight Savings Time they had saved in spring. It was never anything serious. Time isn't really lost, after all: it's just used. A little cognitive restructuring generally takes care of everything.

But this was different, because in that week there was no Friday. Someone had diverted the entire day, so paychecks had been missed, schedules had been ruptured, and millions of senior citizens were stuck with an extra day's worth of prescription pills they didn't know what to do with. It was a horrible theft, a breathtaking theft, an inexplicable and uninvestigatable impossibility. We spent months on it, actually, and between the feverish work pace and the lack of donuts, most of us lost between two and eight pounds. That was all the good that ever came out of it, though. When we closed the case for good a year after the fact, we'd gotten no closer than we'd been that mind-slapping Saturday morning.

If that had been all, if it had been one crazy incident, we could have put it behind us--but we know it will happen again. We don't know when, or who, or how, but someone's shown the way, and now everyone's thinking about it: what they would do with it, an entire day to themselves, stolen and available for use at any time. It was like hiding a djinni in a backpack, like folding a summer meadow into the closet in the spare room. It was a little like eating the sun. What could you do with a stolen, unblemished day? Or more to the point: what couldn't you?

June 25, 2009

Bone and Breath

They lured me here with promises of marriage. The best of men, the greatest of warriors was to be my husband.

We left my brother and sisters behind, taking the lightest chariot, the fastest horses, my mother and I. Chrysothemis and Elektra wept, covering their face with grief at our parting, but I saw their eyes, rich and dark with envy. My sisters swallowed down the bitter aloes of my marriage to Achilles, of my being chosen for such an honour.

How could we have known? Any of us, stupid girls. Stupid children. Even our mother was deceived.

We came to Aulis where Artemis had stilled the ships, all because my father had hunted sacred deer in the grove. Achilles waited, ardent, he himself taken in by my father’s promises.

Agamemnon sold me not for a bride-price but for a breath of wind.

I stepped from the chariot, all white and gold, the loveliest bride a man could hope for (if he could not have bright Helen to wife). My skin was pale, hair shining ringlets, eyes blue as the Aegean, my body ready for my bridegroom’s bond.

Father led me past Achilles, spoke to me quietly, told me it was my duty. He led me to the altar where Calchas stood, dagger in hand; where kindling had been laid in wait to carry the sacrifice upwards. Achilles wailed, a child deprived of his new toy, but he conceded soon enough to promises of greater treasure. Of his pick of the Trojan women.

My mother howled and I wondered for a moment if perhaps Hera might come to her aid. Might smite them down, all these men who thought it fair and just to cut short my life. Clytemnestra would not forgive and her vengeance would be terrible, but no more than my father deserved.

They speak of me as immortal. They say the goddess took pity on me and flew me away to Tauris, leaving a white hind in my place. They say a man there loved me, gave me children. That I had a long life far from here.

They lie. No god-blood in my veins. I was but flesh and blood, bone and breath and the blade was cold against my throat. I am another unhappy shade left to walk the dust of this earth.

June 24, 2009

Brains You Cannot Have

This story is the second in the Disco Zombie series.

The girl in the glittery black halter top shouted something.

"WHAT?" shouted Barry over the music. If you could even call it "music": it was nothing but thumping and shouted rhymes. When did that become music? Barry would have killed to hear a good falsetto harmony--maybe some Bee Gees. Then again, he had already killed three times that night.

"I SAID, GREAT COSTUME!" she said, nodding and pointing at him. "DISCO ZOMBIE! I LOVE IT!" Then she shouted something else he couldn't quite catch.


"I SAID, ARE YOU GOING TO EAT MY BRAINS?" She laughed, throwing her head back, letting her hair ripple down over her shoulders--but carelessly, like she didn't even notice.

For answer, Barry shoved her behind the speakers and pressed her against the wall with his body. The thumping and shouting was still audible, but it was more distant, directed out and away from them.

"Wow, you're strong," she said. "You gonna kiss me? Take off the mask."

Barry didn't have a mask to take off, so instead he grabbed her head and squeezed with his fingers to crack her skull open the way he had cracked the other three skulls. Nothing. The others had been like eggs: this was like trying to crack a bowling ball.

"What are you doing?" she said. "God, why does it always have to be the weirdos?" Then she stretched her mouth wide to show two bone-white fangs and plunged them into his throat. She came back up, gagging, seconds later.

"Is that formadahyde?" she choked. "I haven't tasted anything that bad in ages." She made uncomfortable motions with her tongue. "So that makes you what, a real zombie?" She looked him over. "You preserved pretty well, all things considered."

"Do you remember Disco?" Barry said.

"I remember Disco, the Mashed Potato, the Charleston ... back in the 1720's there was this hornpipe craze like you wouldn't believe. But yeah, disco was something special."

"We should dance."

"I want to eat first. Hey! You know, if you and I go in together, it's like a two-for-one special."

"You don't like the brains?"

She made a face.

They shared a personal injury lawyer in a back alley and went for a walk under the moon. Later, she invited Barry back to her coffin, and at dawn they fell asleep there, dreaming of the black, gaping pit of infinite time.

June 23, 2009


Raven-haired from the womb, Anan Muss was a swimmer, circling the same lane eleven months out of twelve for a dozen years. The pool chlorine bleached his hair. After high school, he quit. The hair on his head went back to its natural color while his eyebrows remained a bleached sandy blonde. His classmates asked why he dyed his hair, or had he received gene therapy to look more like Lizard Breath? His brothers thought his eyebrows were turning gray.

Was it Anan’s imagination, or were his eyes now covered in scales? Perhaps the increased number of Lizard Breath spottings made him nervous. What at first seemed simple petty arson was now looking more complicated and sinister.

Anan Muss jogged long distances, slowly. He plodded through quiet, unpopulated industrial districts to soothe his mind. In case thieves happened by, Anan left his wallet at home, giving no one any reason to molest him. One night, after three years of jogging the same route, Anan was arrested. The cops escorted him around town, to an officer who didn’t think Anan was the suspect since the suspect wore different clothes and was of a different species—if not phylum. The friend of the suspect did not recognize Anan (nor did Anan recognize the friend). However, since Anan did not have a wallet on him, ergo, he must be the arch-criminal, Lizard Breath, who exhaled methane gas and set it ablaze with his cigarette lighter. When DNA samples came back negative, the cops let Anan go, with reluctance. As Anan waved goodbye, he found two pits where his ears had been. Where had he last seen his ears, the cops wanted to know.

From vending machines, Anan picked up a newspaper at a café and, like everyone perversely fascinated by the criminal element, bought a cigarette lighter. Idly, he flicked the flint lighting mechanism. It took more dexterity than he had supposed. He spread the newspaper before at one of the tables under the glare of the sun. The misdeeds of Lizard Breath were now ubiquitous as well as notorious. Entire buildings had gone up in flames. Criminal profilers suspected a syndicate. Anan raised his head from the newspaper accounts of Lizard Breath to contemplate why someone would do such a thing. A woman slapped him for scoping her out. He belched and lit his breath on fire.

June 22, 2009

Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)

"Good morning, dear lady," said the fish. "Today is the day I will die."

Mrs Singh stood dumbfounded in the kitchen of her food stall. The fish, a grand red snapper with pointy teeth and auspicious markings, lazily trod water in its aquarium above the sink. It had brought Mrs Singh good luck since persuading her to spare its life three years ago. Her pescatarian menu consisted of curries and veg, and business had soared with the fish's presence. It had also provided a strange companionship after her husband had died and her children had moved away. This announcement terrified her with its consequences.

"Why would you say this, fish?"

"Because it is true. I have lived a long life, in part thanks to you, but it will come to an end later today."

"What if I buy you a new tank? Or a pond in which you can freely swim?"

"It will not matter, auntie. I will still die."

"I could change your food, buy the expensive flakes from Thailand."

"It still would not change the fact that I will die."

"Is there anything can be done?"

"I am afraid not. It is the way of things. But I do ask for one kindness in return for the years of wealth I have brought you."

"Anything, fish."

"Cook me as you would any of my brothers, and then consume me yourself."

"Very well."

And so later that day, after Mrs Singh had served her last customer, the fish quietly stopped moving and floated upside down in its tank. Mrs Singh descaled the snapper, gutted it, and cooked it in fiery curry along with fingers of okra and slices of eggplant.

With the first bite, she experienced a heightening of all her senses. With the second, she gained understanding of the speech of plants. With the third she perceived the sticky strings of the vast LifeWeb that connects all living beings. With the fourth, the knowledge that her new perceptions would fade by tomorrow.

Mrs Singh wept for the fish's gift, eating every last bit of flesh until her wise friend was completely gone.

Creative Commons License

June 19, 2009

Basilisk Tracks

At first I thought they were tire tracks, evidence of a child’s bike criss crossing the beach in all directions. But when Michaela said, no they must be basilisk tracks look at the way they stop right at the holes by the boardwalk, I knew she was right.

I didn’t think there were basilisks here, not on this island, certainly not on the beach. Must be young ones I guessed. If it wasn’t such a misty, damp morning and if we hadn’t gone down right when we had to claim a spot for our chairs we would have missed them. Like wind passing through trees maybe this was as close as we could hope to come without turning to stone. It was too dangerous to try and see adult ones at the acropolis. It had been a blissful few weeks on the islands with Michaela and we’d seen Roc’s nests and winged horses and even the tail end of a hydra fleeing into the marsh.

“They should put signs up to be careful at night,” I said.

“Oh, Francois, that would ruin the charm, might as well put in a Starbucks then.”

“Just want to be careful,” I said.

“I want to see them,” Michaela said. “Sleep with me, here on the beach. Tonight. Without protective lenses. It will be so beautiful.”

Poor beautiful Michaela. Never careful. How could she be when everything was about the moment, about the beauty, nothing coming second to it feeling right. I could see us locked in a sweaty tangle, surrounded by young basilisks creeping in the dark as we made love. I bet to her the risk of having our moment of bliss frozen in time, locked in stone forever sounded romantic. It did, but would I turn to stone for her?

“What are you thinking?” she asked.


“I don’t believe you,” she said.

If she ever left me, I’d miss her sweet gentle voice the most, I think. Everything I see in her is in that sound- her kindness, her visionary eye, and her passion for beauty. I can hear her now telling me she wants to plant Barcelonan moonflowers in my garden. And to be there with me decades later when they bloomed.

I thought of us hand in hand watching the bats at the seaside caves at dusk, taking her son to see the tame hippogriffs at the zoo, our days hunting for phoenix nests on the wild shores. Beautiful days. Pure and true and full of love. I hoped they would be enough.

- END-

June 18, 2009

The Beak-Faced Girl

It was a dare, a bet, an act of bravado, a moment to become a legend to haunt the locker rooms--for immortality he kissed the beak-faced girl.

It was a dare, a bet, another way to embarrass her, to expose her as an outsider, and yet it was all she could expect, the best she could expect, and for that the beak-faced girl let him kiss her.

His soft lips met the hard contours of her yellow mouth, his wide red tongue flickered against her thin black one. And in that moment of close-pressed teenage years she spread her wings and they lifted from the ground and he saw her for the first time true, in her own space, her own place, her own setting, and amongst the clouds she was beautiful.

The hard contours of her beak met his soft pink mouth. She spread her wings at the contact. She hoisted him aloft, she felt full, she felt beautiful. And she opened her eyes, and she saw him, small frail sack of meat thing. And in her horror at his sight she let go and he fell down, down to earth.

June 16, 2009

This Is Not a Love Song

“Ours is
a love that
swills the black
milk of twist

the SF Poet Anan Muss had transom-entangled to his lover. Responding to its fifteen seconds of fame, critics responded: “What lovesick, cornball hack hasn’t thought-twittered something to that effect?”

The difference here being that Anan’s object of affection was none other than the lovely Dionysia, recently loosed from a marriage contract to King Ash--he who decimated planetary kingdoms remotely with a tap of his pinky fingernail-chip. As one of Dionysia’s comrade lovers of the arts, Anan once had the displeasure of meeting King Ash--obesely lounging on a mountain of oversized cushions amidst a cacophony of incense. King Ash sneered at Anan as the power-jaded king sneered at all of Dionysia’s thinly disguised “art-loving” friends to mask their night-emission desires.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Anan Muss never intentionally found a loophole in their marriage contract. In fact, being rather outmoded in sex transactions, he sought ways to patch the contract for Dionysia. Nonetheless, when Dionysia uncovered Ash’s harem secreted into a pit beneath the mountain of cushions, his first target was none other than Anan Muss. One tap of his royal pinky: Slitters zipped across the rolling desert on autobikes, arc-blades slapping their mighty thighs.

Trip-lights warned Anan of the intruders, which gave him time to scramble-translate himself to Jac-sun V, a sparsely populated planet full of jutting buttes, tumbleweeds, and sand--a land where few of the sane would choose to stay. Anan wrote Dionysia to come live with him in the wilds--a world where their swelling love could engorge the empty spaces. After sufficient time to show that she and she alone was in control, Dionysia wrote back, “You’ve got to be shitting,” and chose a sycophant, the intrepid Captain Skylark, who gave her extravagant if impoverishing gifts, but who had the physique of one who had valiantly survived a famine and now lived to eat at USA Steak Buffets.

To this day, Anan translates copies of himself back to the home planet--in the vain hope that she might find her way to love him--only to watch his copy get diced by a slitter’s arc-blade on pirated vid-feed.

Anan refuses to write sad SF love sonnets since truth and justice triumphed in the end. No one likes to spoil a happy climax.

Close to the Cure

Jill tried to peel off the notice, but it seemed to be part of the door itself. She glanced back down the corridor. Te'laksu was not in sight. She thumbed the ID pad and went in.

"What's wrong!" Shep jumped off the couch and crossed the small room in a moment. His body felt good, really good, but Jill disengaged after a few seconds and held him back by the shoulders.

"I'm so happy to see you?"

"You haven't been out." Her lip trembled.

Shep pushed past her. When he came back in he was fighting tears.

"I tried to get it off, too," she said, sighing.

"I didn't hear anyone! I wouldn't have let anyone touch our door." He paced back and forth, shoulders tense and head down. "They don't have any right! We're legal!"

Jill pulled him to her. She shut her eyes and ran her fingers up and down through the short soft fur on his back. "Nothing to do with you, Babe. Nothing at all. I got laid off. The T'lakash don't need as many human subjects now they're so close to finding the cause of the Anger Syndrome. They don't need me." He bared his teeth.

"Well, I do! We'll have to move. Where will we go? Your Aunt Kitty doesn't like me."

"That's vac," she snapped. "We'll think of something."

The door slid open to reveal a biped whose arms formed a ring just above the middle of his torso. Each arm bore 6 blunt tentacles. His face looked like the ventral surface of an octopus.

"Te'laksu!" Shep barked.

"Your human has been rendered superfluous," the government agent hissed.

"I can find another job!" Jill shouted, wrapping her arms around herself. Shep ... growled, no other word for it. He stepped in front of her and stood almost nose-to-nose with the Subadministrator.

She couldn't see Te'laksu well, but he made a sudden movement and Shep lunged. They went down, grappling in the doorway, but soon Shep rose to his feet, magenta fluid dripping from his chin. The T'lakashun sprawled in a growing magenta pool.

"Oh Shep!"

He spat something out and hung his head. She scowled, but couldn't stay angry.

"Have to call Kitty now," she said. Shep dragged the body into the room. The door slid shut.


June 15, 2009


‘Miss Millikan?’

I can barely hear the woman for the noise in the background at her end. ‘Yes?’

‘It’s Nurse Seraph at Sacred Heart. It’s your grandmother.’

I feel the cold hollow in my stomach, where a vacuum forms. ‘Has she?’

‘Not yet, but you need to come down. The others are here and there’s a bit of a problem.’

‘What sort of a problem?’

‘You’ll see.’

The hospital isn’t far. I go on foot. The automatic doors are opening and closing erratically. Ghosts move back and forth just inside. I take a deep breath and walk through them. They’re cold and my clothes feel damp.

At the desk, a large nurse is trying to calm down a crowd of old ladies. She sees me, looks relieved. ‘Miss Millikan?’

I nod.

‘Thank God. She’s responsible for this.’ She gestures at the spectres. I recognise a couple from sepia-tinted family photos. Uncle Seth looks better dead than alive.

‘She’s just a little old lady,’ I lie.

‘She’s panicking my patients!’

‘Okay, okay.’

A great line of spirits keeps exiting Vina’s room, while she lies on the bed, comatose. My cousins stand around. Tansy sidles up to me, yellow eyes sly. ‘It’s coming out.’

Petyr says, ‘The Inheritance. It’s dissipating.’

Vala, Arthur, Jezebel and Elizabeth agree.

‘Well?’ I ask. ‘I don’t want it.’

‘We all have to be here for one to take it,’ sneers Arthur.

I stare down at the woman who raised us as harshly as she could. We grew up worse than hyenas; no love, no kindness. I don’t like them any more than I like her. I tell myself I don’t want her inheritance.

‘Take it, then, one of you,’ I say.

They look at each other, then Petyr reaches and my arm, seemingly of its own accord, shoots out and beats him. I clamp thumb and forefinger around her nostrils, and cup the other hand across her mouth and hold down tight.

She doesn’t struggle much. The silver wisps rise from her body slowly, then coalesce into a great silver arrow that shoots into my stomach and knocks me across the room. I cough silver smoke as I sit up.

All the ghosts troop back into the room and politely wait for me to stand. When I do, each steps into me and settles inside the repository of my body. I am the new well of souls.

June 12, 2009

The Angle of Death

As the ice cream truck slammed to a halt just past my crumpled, flattened body, I was pulled up out of myself by something thin and sharp. I found myself floating just above the ground, looking down at the busted collection of formerly fairly-well-cared-for-organs that was me, and floating next to me were a couple of segments converging into a single being. This being wore a black robe and held a scythe.

"What the hell?" I said.

"I am the Angle of Death," it said. "Please come with me."

"Isn't there supposed to be an angel?"

"Even God makes the occasional typo," the angle said--a little snappishly, if you ask me. "And since 'angle' is a perfectly valid word, the spellchecker missed it completely."

"I'm just surprised, is all."

"Why is it always this conversation?" said the angle. "Why can't it ever be about substantive things? The nature of being, the brevity yet incredible richness of life, the strangeness of a coherent consciousness surviving death when it's entire physical mechanism has ceased to operate ... these would be worthy subjects. Yet instead, everyone chooses to spend the first moments of their own personal postexistential eternity criticizing God's typing!"

"I'm sorry," I said. "So, how does this work?"

"It's very simple," the angle said. "Just follow me." And he began drifting along the ground. I felt tugged after him and surrendered myself to the feeling so that I drifted with him, still trying to get over being greeted in death by a geometrical figure.

The buildings grew blurry and irrelevant, and soon we were crossing a trackless landscape of misty light and shadow. From this rose up a wide open gate. The angle gestured, and I drifted through. Then the angle whipped out a key, slammed the gate shut, and locked me in. A disturbing, sulfury smell began to permeate my nose.

"I bet you thought no one knew about your weapons smuggling, didn't you?" the angle said smugly. "Well, we certainly did! It's Hell for you!" It laughed horribly. My feet began to feel uncomfortably hot. I gripped the bars of the gate, shaking them.

"Curse you, angle of death!" I yelled. And I realized that I had been distracted by the seemingly whimsical error of his nature, probably exactly as intended.

As I was dragged down into flames, I was at least comforted a little that God didn't make mistakes after all.

June 11, 2009

Blood Price

I carry in the pocket of my coat a pack of bills. Vampire currency: one hundred thousand-pint notes.

For the last month, I've eaten garlic by the clove, raw or baked; garlic fritters; garlic pies; garlic slices on salads of garlic leaves. I've washed it all down with a garlic distillation so astringent my lips have permanently puckered back from my teeth.

Which is fine; now everyone can see by the smallness of my incisors what I am and what I am not.

A watcher meets me at the gate. His cloak is billowing as there's wind, even though the humid air is absolutely still.

"What's a smiler like you want in here?" he says.

"Tribute to pay." He flinches at my breath. "In the House of Eight Hands."

"Lucky them," says the vampire. "Be quick about it, and be gone."

I follow the streets I've memorized from maps. They only let each of us visit once. The crowd parts, and I reach the palace of the Eight Hands clan in under five minutes.

As I walk through the door, the wood-detector beeps half-heartedly. A guard slouches over and waves a wand up and down. She turns her face away, either because of the amulets all over my clothes or the cloud of garlic scent, and glances up only when the wand shrills at the level of my heart.

I pull out the wad of bills.

"Paper," I say. "Made of wood. I can leave them outside, if you'd rather..."

"Funny," she says. "Go."

I do, down corridors of scarlet and black marble to the throne room.

I don't rush through the formal statement of thanks for another year of oppressive safekeeping, for not draining too many of us too much too often. I savor the time while I still have a purpose, before I'm another retired pariah shunned by living and undead.

The Night Queen takes the cash, smells it, counts it.

I back away.

I bow low and drop the splinter I'd carried with the money. It joins a hundred years' of past couriers' splinters in the hollow between two loose flagstones. In another hundred, a smiler will sneak into the palace with a tube of glue. The next year, a stake will be waiting under the flagstones, and the queen and all her clan will turn to dust.

Something else to think about now I'm retired.

June 10, 2009

Extracted from Godmother Python's Bestiary of Wonderful Flowers

Regional Myths Surrounding the Giant Bellflower.

- The Sunken City: The people of Sesin Town, on Crescent Bay, speak wistfully of the music of lost Mirnaville. Here bellflowers adorned the city crest, and children played in the public gardens in their melodious shade. History verifies that on Saint Sembert's day, a flood from the sea rose and engulfed the city; folklore alone claims that, in calm weather, the wind carries its chiming from under the waves, bearing it up to the sunlit gardens of Sesin Town, where no bellflowers grow.

- The Cruel Father: A tale local to the Abernath Forest tells of a man who, having allowed his children to starve, was condemned to serve consecutive seven-year terms as a robin, an ocean-going monster (variously described as a dragon, horse, or sea-goat: the Abernath Forest is landlocked), and the clapper-tongue of a bellflower. This, it is said, explains why the father's voice may be heard mingling with those of his children in the Abernath's lugubrious vespertine chorus. (While this account is usually considered folkloric, some historians of jurisprudence claim to be able to fit it into the Abernath’s ancestral systems of justice.)

- The Gardener’s Beautiful Daughter: On the Yayang Plateau, the heads of Cithera, a highly respected Botanical Clan, cherish an account of their ancestor the Cleya of Cithera, who was tasked by the Yayang Censorate with producing a bellflower purer
of tone than any yet bred. To protect her mother from the consequences of failure, the Cleya’s oldest daughter, after consulting with the Sepeng Oracle, mixed her own blood with the soil. Though debate surrounds the mechanism of the spell, the Yayang bellflower is an undeniably clear-voiced plant, whose ochre markings are (moreover, on occasion) reported to spell surprising words.

- The Three Sisters: In the Culleham Moors their house may still be seen. These women -- variously described, according to the storyteller, as having been lovely or plain, reclusive or magnetic, and brilliant or cracked -- were unable to get anyone to publish their books. Thus they practiced a form of wild moors magic that is said to have transformed them into either ravens, bellflowers, or men. According to the latter version, the sisters took new names, married, and lived acclaimed and productive lives. According to either of the first two variants, they still dwell on the Culleham Moors, abiding near their former home and confiding their stories to the wind.

June 9, 2009

the emily dickinson hour

I'm studying the telltales on one of my hovering cameras when Daisy O'Neill touches me lightly on the forearm. "Will I get copies of what you're recording?"

"The whole world will," I say. It's in the contract when you're chosen by the Pastime Foundation to have your mind squirted back for a ridealong with some historical figure.

"Not just what you choose to release to the net," says Daisy. "I'd like copies of all of your feeds." She's a cinematographer. A brilliant one, according to the Foundation nabobs.

I nod. "I'll give you the online password."

Technicians move about doing techie things. A switch here, a knob there, and Daisy's ready to make the leap from her skull into a poet a century and a half gone.

There's something about the elasticity of spacetime that means we can only rip it enough to send somebody back a few times a year, and only for about an hour. The Foundation awards trips to those it deems worthy. Recipients pick from a list of historical figures for whom we've found DNA.

Who did Daisy choose? Not Orson Welles, not Hitchcock, Griffith, or Godard. She speaks of 'negative space' in Dickinson's poetry, of 'slant rhymes' and an obsession with death. "Did you know," she says, "that every poem of hers contained a body, a bed, or a coffin?"

This scene will go into the final cut.

"I memorized all of them," she says. "I try to convert them to images." She looks away from me, and it is in that instant that the lead technician throws his final switch. Her body is turned off while Daisy's mind wings its way back to some time between 1830 and 1886. We can fine-tune it no more; she will have her hour some time during Emily Dickinson's life. May it not be when the poet is asleep or in her mother's womb.

The techs bustle about, keeping Daisy's body breathing, monitoring their esoteric equipment, never paying her more attention than any other machine in the room. Only I and my cameras are watching when her eyes open earlier than expected. She sits up, shedding monitor pads.

"Hello Daisy," I say. "Welcome back."

"Daisy?" She stares around at the machinery, the institutionally drab walls. "The daisy follows soft the sun."

June 8, 2009

The Queen's Eyepatch

It was said of the queen’s eyepatch that beaver-bees wove it, meshing the finest and most pliant twigs -- more like hair than kindling -- and fastening them into that characteristic square with honey.

It was said, occasionally, that a man with an ocean in his belly removed it from a fish’s jaw and delivered it by rainfall into the queen’s private orchid garden.

It was said by many in the city that a lone merchant appeared out of the desert, bearing a stilted house on her back, and from it withdrew all manner of artifacts in the palatial square to woo the young, half-blind queen. The eyepatch, golden-white and strung on minute beads of jade -- so small that only close examination revealed that it was not a soft green thread -- secured the merchant’s place in the young queen’s bed. Their heirs fluttered out on ruby wings.

One disgruntled suitor commonly muttered that the rear side of the eyepatch, when pressed to the queen’s empty socket, each day showed a different breathtaking panorama from the merchant’s wandering years. In this way the merchant secretly taunted her lover. That barbed foreigner!

The merchant’s name was Lixhi and her eyes, amber-orange, reminded everyone of her unknown origins.

The city loved its queen nonetheless. Eventually, the sensible men said, she would stop knitting ruby bird-girls with her womb and take a man to bed, producing the regular four-limbed boy-children of the land. The merchant-woman would wander again.

It was said that if the queen removed the eyepatch, the merchant-woman would forget their heady lovemaking.

It was said that the queen made it herself, from the wonders gifted to her temple, to woo the exotic visitor unloading fine merchandise in the palatial square.

To speed this along, an attendant was bribed.

The scissors snipped, the string snapped, the tiny jade beads rattled into cracks on the floor. The empty socket, exposed, made the queen cry. She hated the feel of air against it.

“Men are idiots,” the merchant-woman said, kissing that ruined hole, after shouting at guards to capture the fleeing attendant. “I’ll make you a new one, if you want? I found beads made of parrot beaks, fabrics made of seal-silk.”

“And I’ll make a boy-heir for them: seven-winged and beaked, jade-feathered, in love with tigers,” the queen said, embracing her lover. “Can you imagine their faces when we all step out tomorrow?”

June 5, 2009

The Last Man

The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knot on the door.

Hmm ... too passive.

The last man on earth sat alone in a room. It all seemed so REAL!


The last man on earth sat alone in a room.

Too depressing. Nihilist? Realistic?

The last man on earth sat alone in a room, regretting his sex change. Waiting for the second-to-last man to return from foraging? Let's see, meditating before going to meet the last woman on earth. And wishing he'd not had a vasectomy.

Too obvious.

The last man on earth sat alone in a room. And used his last piece of paper.



June 4, 2009

Brisneyland by Night – Part Four

Most folk, Normal or Weyrd, are law-abiding. But there’s a market for everything: some tables demand the tenderest of flesh. It was a particular taste indulged in by the very few, a leftover from the past. Someone had to source and butcher that flesh.

Kinderfresser. All those fairytales and it turns out my father was the monster.

He got sloppy and didn’t take the hunt far enough from home. Grigor lasted precisely how long you think a child killer would in prison. The people he’d been supplying just faded into the background without trace, and the flow of child disappearances seemed to stop for a long, long time – at least, those connected to Brisneyland’s Weyrd.

Now, though, something was changing and there was a new product out there. Not child flesh, but something almost as bad. Wine made from children's tears.

‘How many kids now?’ I asked.

‘About forty in the last few months.’

They were being sucked dry of all the tears they might ever cry, taking their ability to feel joy, compassion, pain, their ability to care, and ultimately their lives. Those tears were bottled and offered for sale very quietly by someone who disappeared too easily. All we had were stories from Weyrd who’d heard it from a friend of a friend – and a lot of missing children.

‘I’ll seek what I can find about that house,’ said Bella.

‘Houses generally don’t get registered under "super villain".’

I was exhausted. I’d been awake for a long time.

‘Bela, I have to sleep. I’ve got nothing left.’

He nodded and rose, then he pushed me towards my bedroom. I lay down and felt him pulling my shoes off. There was a gentle kiss in the middle of my forehead and I thought I heard the front door snick shut, but wasn’t sure.

The knocking woke me. I felt sick and groggy. Swearing about Ziggi and drivers in general, I stumbled to the door.

There was a distinct lack of Ziggi. Lizzie’s mother stood there, pale and shaky against the late afternoon.

‘Mel. What?’ I managed. She looked at me with desperate hope and I just knew I was going to disappoint her.

‘Is Lizzie here? She said she was coming over to read with you.’

Little bugger.

Her voice rose, seeing my blank expression. ‘Is Lizzie here?!’

June 3, 2009

Disco Zombie

Barry woke up feeling claustrophobic and irritable in a pitch black, stuffy place where something stank. Above him, something hard was in his way, and in annoyance Barry punched it. He was surprised and pleased when his hand smashed through easily, and surprised and pissed when dirt poured through the hole onto him. Aggravated, Barry bashed and clawed his way up through what was left of the hard thing and through the dirt above it until he broke through into an open space. It felt like forcing himself out of a birth canal.

He found himself outside in a misting rain and some hazy moonlight, and now that he was calming down, he began to notice strange things--like the fact that he had just clawed his way up from underground when the last thing he'd been aware of was passing out after doing too much coke at the disco, and that his gold pantsuit was rotted nearly to rags, and that he had forgotten to breathe and it didn't seem to be bothering him.

"Good morning, disco zombie!" someone called out, and Barry turned to see a skinny woman standing nearby, the ground around her scattered with heavy books and with candles that flickered under the protective shadow of a beach umbrella.

Barry took a step toward her, a strange, salty smell drawing him forward. Brains.

She stood up, snicking out a knife. "Hold on there," she said. "I need you to do me a favor." She held up a little baggie, and even through the bag he could smell that it was coke--which was funny, because when he was alive, coke hadn't smelled like anything.

"You knew I'd care more about the coke than the brains," Barry croaked.

"I made a point of using a legendary addict," she said. "It's how I'm going to control you. You play nice, or no coke."

He thought about it for a moment, stepped forward, and cracked open her skull with his fingers. The knife jerked into his chest and probably damaged something, but whatever it was, it didn't seem to be something he needed.

The brains were perfect: warm and savory. Afterward, Barry did the coke and wondered what the favor would have been. Then he went out to look for a disco.

June 2, 2009

Running on Aether

Once it was fun to courier packages through Orphir’s confluxes of alien architecture. This was a city of shadows and politics. But things are changing—now the knives emerge from the shadows, and tonight they point at me.

The assassins emerge from an Aethergate. A hole in reality opens and they dash forward from another where, another plane. The slash at me, my package. I see a keyhole tattooed on one palm. The Order of the Silver Key. A few hours ago I would have called them the most enlightened of the cabals skulking around the back halls of power. But things are changing in Orphir.

I make for the roofs, climbing something that may be a drain pipe or a feeding tube for a piece of sentient stonework. My feet pound over slate and silica.

My lead narrows and I descend to the streets, crashing down fire escape stairs. One assassin has flanked me. He slashes with his knife as I dance backwards. His blade catches the package, unseals it.

It goes without saying that I do not know what I carry. You do not open the package. That is the rule. But now the package is opened, and a blue-bladed aether knife falls free, spilling from its scabbard. It spits and crackles in the night.

I catch it before it hits the floor, slash the assassin’s knees. He screams and falls.

I run, they pursue and corner me in Flex Plaza. Five aethergates--one on each side of the space. I eye them, expecting fresh assailants. The assassins close. I lash out, and my blade severs theirs. Steel hits the floor. I slash again, hands join the blades. Three drop. One—holding back—remains. He run for a gate and vanishes. I smile.

Then the gate behind me opens and the assassin steps through. He has navigated the space between realities in a blinking. He is Aetherblessed, and I am screwed.

I run, but he’s always before me, stepping out of one gate, then another, outstripping all the speed of my feet. Eventually I am exhausted, cannot run from his approach, only wheeze.

The blow doesn’t come.

“This is not death,” he says. “This is rebirth. This is recruitment.” He holds out a hand, a silver keyhole tattooed there.

I pause then accept the hand. It feels right. Feels smart. After all, things are changing in Oriphir.

June 1, 2009


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Boost!: Because You're Not Done Yet!


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