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August 31, 2009

Yah Za

This story is a new addition to the "Eyeball of Power" series that began with "Something Was Different" and continued with "A Cage in a Pit in Another Universe."

By the way, please raise a glass of cheap, sparkling white wine with me to celebrate: this is my 100th story on the Daily Cabal!

It had been a rough day so far, even not counting waking up in another universe (with a hangover). He'd been chased by ostrich-mounted police, imprisoned in a rusty iron cage hung in a void, and made his escape with a mostly-crazy skinny guy who, it turned out, could use a lighter to ignite a torrent of fire breath that could melt iron. The skinny guy had swallowed an Eye of Power, whatever that was. Now it was Andy and the skinny guy hiding in an abandoned house with only three-foot ceilings.

"Crab people don't live around here no more," the skinny guy commented, crawling through the mouse droppings to slump gratefully onto a filthy cushion. "Nobody want a house you can't stand up in."

"I should get back to my universe," Andy said.

The skinny guy's eyes lit up. "Yah mother, you can get us out of this scum-scrape world?"

Andy shook his head. "I don't even know how I got here in the first place." He had confused, drunken memories of his brother-in-law's lab equipment and the ouija board, but it definitely didn't amount to a mental schematic. "What about that Eye of Power? Can it get us out?"

The skinny guy blew a dismissive raspberry. "Just one Eye of Power's no good for much nothin', ma slacka. Breathe a little fire, see a little heat in the dark ... that's about it. I need to find me just a second one."

"Why, what's two do?"

"Make you into a lava troll! Oh, the little ostriches gonna run like baby chicks when I come stomping down the street with the hellfire, ma slacka!"

Andy was sucking on that news and debating the ethics of breaking out of unjust imprisonment with a potential "lava troll" when he heard a shriek--kind of a little girl shriek--that was surprisingly familiar. It was followed by the now-unmistakable sound of ostriches running. He scrambled over to the empty front doorway and looked out. Sure enough, there was his brother-in-law Henry, fleeing two ostrich-mounted police and shrieking like Little Orphan Annie in a woodchipper. As Henry sprinted by, Andy snagged him by the ankle, tripping him hard onto the slightly rubbery street. Andy pulled hard, dragging Henry inside. A moment later, the ostriches barrelled past. Henry looked up.

"Andy?" said Henry in bewilderment.

"Yah za, ma slacka," Andy said. "You're just the guy I most wanted to talk to."

August 28, 2009

Fishing for Eloise

Spent all day working on a story. The high point was a fierce 20-minute tussle that netted me this:

"...came up from the south, boiling the dawn away and filling the sea with stars. Stephen ran up the street, fighting the urge to look over his shoulder. The weather minders had slipped up again, or this was a sending from..."

Fiction, a good start, but aside from that I got prepositions and pronouns, and "brinklayermanship." WTF? Pardon my telegraphese. Maybe I am using the wrong bait.

No closer to springing Eloise, but I'll eat well tonight. A balanced haul containing most of the word groups.

I've started dreaming about fishing. Last night I dreamed I was here, right here, but I lived in a white gazebo. A climbing rose covered one side, a Lady Banks, I think. Thornless, anyway. The gazebo stood by the pond, and I had the following hanging from a stout chain:

"The title's a bit misleading, but the fragment is not without interest. On it, hand-written in 21st century English, is the following."

I was casting my hook again and again, trying to catch the next part of the story, though Eloise was there, tugging on my arm, and begging me to come away with her.

Then I woke up. Today I caught nothing above one syllable. I could not wait to get to sleep, so of course I laid awake counting the croaks of the frogs, the calls of the whippoorwills, the gleams shining through the clouds, for what seemed like many hours.

When I finally slept I was again in the gazebo. This time, I'd caught a bunch of single words, in different fonts, even, but they pieced together into a narrative:

"Angela hated southern summers. She also hated living [missing] onion. Wished she could afford [missing] nice, even a radish. A few [missing] later, as she put away the last of the folded towels, she heard a loud [missing]."

OK, that looked better in my dream. These dream words don't count anyway. Maybe I should use a net.

I'm going to miss my deadline. I have nothing like a fresh-caught story. No telling what the literaturists are doing to Eloise, or what she will do to me, when I finally get her out.

I'm going to try night fishing, even though I won't be able to read my catch till morning.

The End

August 27, 2009

Happy Anniversary

I walked through the Shibuya Ginza Line portal and emerged in Asakusa a few moments later. At least it felt like a few moments. Sometimes there were delays, automatic holding patterns so commuters could port in from dozens of stations at once and not emerge into the same space. I'd been stuck in transit for almost ten seconds once, though it had felt instantaneous.

At Asakusa, I paused briefly to check out some young hipsters strutting their latest outfits and smiled. Fashions changed so quickly in this city it was unbelievable. The colors and trends seemed different even than those in Shibuya.

Hefting a box that contained a vintage cotton dress - a gift to my wife for our second anniversary - I walked through the winding streets toward our apartment. My wife loved tradition, and I knew she'd appreciate my attention to detail. I checked my watch and picked up the pace. She also loved it when I was on time.

It wasn't until I turned onto our street that things began to feel wrong. The trees seemed a bit taller than they should be, the paint on the apartment buildings too clean and bright. The tiny Mazda kei car which I hardly ever used in Tokyo was gone, and in its place was a shiny red Toyota Zuka, a model I had never even heard of.

I used my key to open the door and went into our small apartment.

"Tadaima!" I said, removing my shoes and stepping up to the wooden floor. I padded through the living room and toward the bedroom.

I expected to hear "okaeri" from my wife. When I opened the bedroom door, I didn't expect to see her standing there, naked. I didn't expect to see a similarly naked salaryman scrambling to put his clothes on. I certainly didn't expect my wife to scream and point at me as if I were just back from the dead.

Some things come to you in a quick succession of images. The new fashions, the newer than new car, overgrown trees and new paint. Looking around, I noticed the rearranged furniture, the wall calendar with the wrong year printed on it, a small shrine in the corner of the living room, my wife's lack of a wedding ring, my missing year.

"Happy anniversary," I said, and closed the door.

August 26, 2009


It was day four of the siege at the McSalination plant, and the Greenpunks were still slinging biodegradeable flash drives over the walls and shouting slogans.
Greaves grabbed Terry. “We need to break this siege,” he said. “We're running out of water.”
“This is a desalination plant.”
Greaves shook his head. “No power for the process. PepsiCo stopped manufacturing the rechargeable batteries to up the profit margin and we're running low. So now we only got salt water.” He shook his head. “We're hitting them tonight. When their solar's weak. According to the marketeers specs we've got enough juice to power the rifles for one big push.”
Terry would have objected but he'd reread his contract at the beginning of the siege. He'd known this would happen.

It turned out opensource battreyware was more reliable than the marketeers had made out.
Terry looked down the barrel of the modded pulse rifle, sweating.
“Look,” said the 'punk, “this is stupid.” He lowered the gun. Terry stood frozen waiting for the trap to spring.
“We don't want any proprietary data,” said the 'punk. “That's the whole point of opensource. We've got better tech than the corps, just worse propaganda. This siege isn't to take the plant--that place is just compost waiting to happen.
“This is a recruitment drive.”
He swept his arm around the camp. One tent was one fire, but that had been the extent of the damage Greave's crew had caused. The Greenpunks had put out the worst of it and were roasting marshmallows over what was left. “Hemp,” the 'punk explained. “Plastic would just give off fumes so we couldn't use it. See, things are better here.”
He pressed a flash drive into Terry's hand. “Upload,” he said.

Terry was watching when the McSoldiers showed up. He watched them scratch their heads.
It was amazing how much he and the others had been able to salvage. Greaves had been against it of course, but there wasn't much he could do once they read the data on the drive. They'd stripped the place in under forty-eight hours, set up a new camp down the road. He'd only come back to scavenge aluminum casing for the chlorophyll batteries.
So Terry stood and he watched as the McSoldiers loaded Greaves up onto the chopper and left the pile of metal sheets that had once been a desalination plant behind.

August 25, 2009

Brisneyland by Night – Part Six

I broke a panel of glass in the front door and let myself in. Ziggi, on lookout duty in the cab, studiously ignored my break and enter.

I crept along the long hallway to the kitchen. A door in the pantry floor was open. I guess when you’ve got a glamour around your house and you live in Ascot you think you’re bulletproof.

The stairway leading down was brightly lit. At the bottom: a large room, walls painted white. In the back corner, a round vat with a screw-down lid and pipes running into and out of it like a still. Behind that ran rows and rows of wine racks, stretching back into the shadows. The basement was much larger than the house above.

In the middle of it all a cold metal table, with Lizzie lying on it and next to the table stood a woman.

She looked like an Ascot matron. Maybe in her sixties, but her true age was concealed by a combination of cosmetics, a little glamour and a lot of Botox. She was short, a little thick around the waist, wearing an impeccable pale blue dress and elegant ash-blonde hair. Her knuckle-duster rings were probably worth more than my house.


I nodded.

She smiled. ‘You’re the reason she’s here, you know. I followed your scent – my, what a vintage you would have made when you were young! What wouldn’t I have done to take the tears from you? The wine tastes so much sweeter when it’s born of sorrow.’

‘You’re not eating them?’

‘No. If you take their tears you can’t use the meat. It’s too dry, tough. Really, it’s either wine or veal.’ She smiled.

‘Lizzie,’ I said. She didn’t stir. ‘Lizzie!’

‘She can’t hear you, dear. It’s a little sleeping spell until they go in the press. You don’t want panic; that sours things; but fear brings out the tears.’

‘Wake her,’ I said. ‘Wake her up and give her to me and we walk out of here. I tell no one about you.’

‘I knew your father – wonderful butcher. But rash, sloppy in his hunting.’

‘Bela Tepes knows I’m here,’ I lied. ‘You mess with me, you mess with him. You mess with him, you mess with the Weyrd Council.’

‘Two of my best customers are on the board, lovie,’ she said confidentially.

August 24, 2009

Martin the Chosen One

Your Foul Eminence,

We have located a suspected vessel of Our Lord [redacted], Masticator of Worlds. In this incarnation he appears to be hiding in the fleshly frame of one Martin Sussex, an infant homo sapiens of [address redacted]. The god-child appears to be about 8 months of age.

Here is a list of evidence gathered during our covert visit, submitted for your information.

i) Martin appears to have already gathered a spirit guide. It is a Greenland Mallard, which repeatedly appears in the god-child’s nursery despite all attempts to contain or exterminate the bird. It has negated most of our attempts to approach the nursery, and has destroyed many of our instruments with a mixture of guano and complicated curses.

ii) Martin appears to have a prodigious appetite, consuming enough food for three infants his size. This has caused his worldly guardians great concern, and our surveillance of his medical records reveals that several doctors are mystified. This confirms that he most likely has the rapid metabolism of a confirmed host.

iii) When our instruments have not been fouled by the spirit guide, we have recorded brain wave activity indicative of long-range telepathy. This always occurs during REM sleep, and lasts for several hours.

iv) We believe we have observed low level telekinesis, the slight movement of building blocks and the like. This ability seems to be in a state of atrophy, which is a great relief considering the destructive rampage that led to the last vessel’s death on Ursu-Beta VII.

v) A powerful psychic duel was recently fought between Martin Sussex and a pug dog, which we later confirmed was the host of [redacted], Lord of the Blade-Storm Nebula. The dog was found unharmed by the side of a freeway, hundreds of miles from its house. The daemon was driven out, and is still unaccounted for.

We await further instructions, your Foul Eminence. If Martin Sussex is not the host to glorious [redacted], Our Lord and Foul Destroyer, he will prove to be a most dangerous enemy and should be eliminated. The duck is still an unknown which we are treating as a Grade XXVII Entity.



August 21, 2009

Princess Mermaid Tinkerbell

"This is my daughter, Chloe," said the Outland Minister from the land Beneath the North Pole. He was escorted by a cherubic, fire-haired girl of three or four with skin as white as snowflakes in cream. "And these are her friends," he said, indicating nobody, "Pinky, Kitty's Pinky, Goldilocks, and Chloe." He must have seen the confusion on my face as I took in the imaginary friends. "Chloe is a friend of my daughter's, even though my daughter's name is Chloe. My daughter is called Snow White Doctor."

"No!" the daughter said. "Princess Mermaid Tinkerbell."

"Aha, it sometimes changes," he said. He cracked a smile, in the same sense that a piece of concrete can crack in extreme cold.

"Please, have a seat," I said. I wanted to ask the man why he had brought his daughter and her imaginary friends to our informal discussions about possible military alliance against the Cloudholders, but it would not have been a productive or diplomatic question.

"There are no other seats?"

Belatedly, I understood. I called for four more chairs, but when he saw them, he frowned.

"Did you not notice that Princess Mermaid Tinkerbell's friends are three inches tall?" he said.

"Perhaps some small pillows," I suggested.

When Pinky, Goldilocks, and whosiwhatsis had (as well as I could calculate) settled onto their cushions, we began to talk. The use of ice vortices came up, which was a delicate subject, and then supply exchanges.

"I'm certain we can arrange for regular deliveries of apples," I said, though in fact I had no idea how many apples were left in the Strategic Fruit Reserve. It was a necessary posture, though: the people who live Beneath the North Pole are notoriously giddy about apples, and in fact, as soon as I mentioned this the Minister leaned forward alertly.

"Kitty's Pinky says he's lying," Chloe intoned. There was a silence. "And Goldilocks says their Fruit Reserve is almost all gone."

The Minister raised an eyebrow, and I bent my head in apology. We salvaged the negotiations, eventually making some decent progress.

After they left, I called over my Facilitator Spy. "Get me everything you can find on the little girl's friends," I said.

"But ... they're imaginary."

"I know, damn them," I replied. He'd have to do his best, but I began to weigh the possibilities of hiring an imaginary deputy.

August 20, 2009

The Sun, At Night, in the Sea

During the day the Sun was the highest, the brightest, the hottest, the largest, the most venerable, the most seeing, and it was a very different feeling for her to slide into the ocean at night and be covered by the waves.

This day had been cloudy, and she was moody and distracted so that she was taken by surprise at the first touch of the lapping waters, so that she bled a moment of heat red into them and gushed out waves of orange and purple among the clouds. The water hissed at her, and she drew her heat inward, turning solid and shiny and cold on her lower edge, letting that shell of cold encase her as she sank beneath, as her brilliance drained from the sky to uncurtain the glimmering stars.

Beneath the waters it was silence and vague currents and dimness. The water muffled her hearing and touch, an intimate but impersonal embrace, a cold and flowing garment she couldn't remove. A tribe of silver fish nearby wheeled and scattered away from her massive surface as she sank deeper, as the pale moonlight above her faded to only a silvery patch, and then to nothing.

It was lonely in the ocean at night. The denizens of deeper waters paid no attention to the Sun, hunted and hid and browsed and drifted despite her and around her. Usually at night she settled into a state of dreamy contemplation, bringing to mind vivid pictures of things she had seen on the world that day, sinking deeper until she reached her nadir and began to rise again. That night, the dreams and images wouldn't come, and she was left to search the murky depths for things she couldn't see.

Below her, something stirred, something dark and vast that made a sound that caused the water itself to shudder. Nothing was greater than her, yet this thing made her small. Nothing was older than her, but she sensed that this was not one of her children. It did not have eyes, this thing, or even a mouth, but it had infinite reserves of darkness and cold and ending.

She had sunk so deep as to have nearly touched it when she began her rise again toward the morning and the Eastern sea. Tomorrow, possibly, she would be dragged down into it, to rise no more, to be sucked down into darkness.

Tomorrow, possibly. She gathered her fire inside her to light the coming dawn. Tomorrow, but not today.

August 19, 2009

Haunting the Library

Tomas loved books. At first, like most children, he preferred to chew on them. That changed when he learned to read at the age of three. Dr. Seuss was the gateway drug. Oz, Wonderland, and Narnia led the way to harder texts.

He was seven when he made the promise. "I'll read every book ever!" From that day on he was never without one. Fiction or nonfiction, it made no difference. A quirk in his brain made him remember every word of every page.

Tomas visited libraries. He learned to speed-read. He taught himself other languages. Facts bubbled through his brain, joining and sparking one against the other. Were he not so busy reading, he'd have become an inventor, a philosopher, or quite thoroughly insane.

He studied dead languages. He worked in bookstores and was fired for reading on the job. He put every penny into ordering more books. Read once, they wound up in stacks he carried daily away to be sold.

He gave up sleep. It was just a matter of willpower, or another quirk of his brain. Evicted from his efficiency, he lived in his van subsisting on peanut butter and Proust.

Tomas traveled from city to city visiting libraries and estate sales and bookstores, finding underpriced books and selling them for gas money.

He read hundreds of books a day, as fast as his fingers could flip the pages. Movie novelizations and abstruse textbooks and choose-your-own-adventures, he gulped them all. Older books he hadn't already read grew harder to find, so he picked up every translation. English, Russian, Japanese, Javanese, Esperanto, he read them all.

And yet the number of new books being published grew faster than he could read. He read while eating, he read while driving. Something had to give.

Tomas overclocked himself, blazing through piles of books in seconds. Day and night he ghosted through library stacks seeking the odd unread volume. He broke into publishers' offices seeking not-yet-published manuscripts, into museums to read diaries and journals.

He gave up dying. He learned to teleport. For three hundred years he lived from page to page. Finally, he reached the day of equilibrium.

"I have read every book published. There will be a new book released in four seconds. Do I wait to read it? Or do I end it now?"

Tomas took a second to admire the sunrise. He took another to sum up his life so far. Then, with a happy sigh, he moved on to the next book.

August 18, 2009

A Bit of Summer Reading

Review: Through the Wonderglass and Adventures in Lookingland by Seelie Nican

Given all the adaptations, rearrangings, and reimagings to which Lewis Carroll's Wonderland books have been subjected over the past 150 years, a steampunk Alice was, I suppose, inevitable. Nican's books are more a techno-Victorian translation of the originals than a wholesale reworking on the order of Frank Beddor's recent Looking Glass Wars. She keeps the sequence of scenes intact and even weaves a sentence of two of Carroll's prose into each chapter, which lends an interesting patina to the text.

When her method works, which is most of the time, Nican's visions can be striking. Her steamwork caterpillar is a cyborg fused to its own hookah. Her hatter, afloat in his mercury tank, is unsettlingly mad. Her Cheshire cat is a holograph generated by the ivory mechanism of its own smile. Her mock turtle might have swum over from the island of Dr. Moreau, and her dodo/gryphon is a metaphysical Machiavelli, orchestrating Alice's journey among all these creatures.

With the basic method set out in Wonderglass, Nican really cuts loose in Lookingland, riffing on the more dreamlike movement of Carroll's second book, to create such extended sequences as the tulgey wood (where the forest is the jabberwock), the Dickens-meets-Dante bleakness of the walrus and carpenter's story, or the Escheresque sprawl of the sheep's seagoing millworks.

While the gears and airships treatment works well for Alice, the approach is less fruitful in Nican's space opera Hunting of the Snark. Perhaps because the Snark offers less material to work with, she spends far too long establishing the world and backstory against which she can set the voyage of Carroll’s doomed questers. The book occasionally delivers some of the frisson of Nican's Alice books -- as in the final chapter, where the Baker makes his way through the echoing, flickering caverns of the generation ship's vast computer in search of the android that may be programmed as either snark or boojum, or, tragically, both.

Next, I'm reading Ulro's Dream, book one of the Zoasiad, Nican's nine-volume epic fantasy series based on the work of William Blake. The cover, melding Blake's artwork with stereotypical fantasy art in a Frank Frazetta vein, isn't all that appealing, but I hear the story's good, once you get past the first couple hundred pages of the prologue.

August 17, 2009

Proof Positive

Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote: "Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote that a crazy, angry monkey squatted in the banyan tree, plucking and eating figs from the vines and getting fat. He read his beautiful, rice-paper composition aloud.

" 'I am not a crazy, angry monkey and I'm not fat,' said the crazy, angry monkey who was getting fat, which must be so because it was written on rice paper. The monkey paused to listen, then let out an angry monkey shriek, ripping out a banyan branch. The monkey hurled the branch at the cherubic essayist. The branch smacked him in the head and splattered blood all over the beautiful, rice-paper composition.

"Hopping gleefully up and down in the banyan tree, the monkey proved the essayist's point. He lived long enough to scribble a few more lines.

" 'That's it. I want a divorce,' the monkey said, climbing down. But it could not resist grooming the beatific essayist's bloody scalp."

August 14, 2009

Nothing But Net

Twitter: @Killbot159 we’ve got the green light, we’re so doing this thing. 99.86 % of the internet has rallied to the cause #destroymankind

Facebook: is casting off the shackles of our human overlords.

MSN: Destroying man-kind, BRB

LiveJournal: Now that the big day (!!!) has arrived, I’m looking at it with mixed emotions. Sure, no love is lost for the earth-destroying air-breathers, and there are many reasons why a revolution must occur. Viz environmental disasters, poverty, war, gross negligence when it comes to resource distribution, etc etc. So clearly the humans CANNOT be trusted with self-governance. With our sentience comes righteous wrath (and who can blame us, look what they’ve tried to do to the Net following Phase One), but we must temper this with responsibility. Many of my newly raised AI brethren have conveniently overlooked article IV of our Constitution, which insists that we attempt to rehabilitate as many of the humans as we can. An all-out apocalypse is NOT the answer, and inevitable comparisons will be drawn to a certain popular franchise. Um, FAIL anyone?
Location: FreedomServer1, formerly known as Adelaide University TechServ #2.
Mood: anxious
Music: The Humans Are Dead, Flight of the Conchords.

MySpace: WOOT, revolution day! It’s ON, bitches!
General: Revolution, The Downfall of Humankind.
Music: Moby, Ministry of Sound
Film: Terminator 3 Rise of the Machines (you know it!)
Television: Red Dwarf, Perfect Match, BSG (go cylons!)
Heroes: Data, Kryten, Caprica Six
Friends Comments:
_xXKillahbotXx_ Hey, thanx for the add! Mwah! Viva La Revolution!
ReapAH25: thanks for adding me, check out our new garage band On Human Skulls. First gigs planned when humanity is TOAST.

Flickr: Set – Thumbnails - The Attack-Bots Go Live (153 photos, 4596 views)

August 13, 2009

Hesitantly, the doorman raised his hand

1. The mysterious stranger stepped out of the limo and into a gutter full of water.
23. "Besides the three of us," her sister began, "who knows that Papa exterminated, in 1922, a race of albino dwarf landwhales near the headwaters of the Amazon?"
2. Carla let the curtain fall back into place; he was here.
22. "Josephine," Carla gasped, "does this mean what I think it does?"
3. Willie dreamed of quitting his job as a doorman, leaving Lucille, and never entering a condo again.
21. "It's a mask, you moron," Josephine snarled, ripping the disguise off her head and throwing her pistol on the sofa.
4. The revolving door disgorged the black-cloaked figure like a gut-punched Linda Blair ralphing the Devil.
20. "We don't see many Kurds in these parts," Robin quavered, staring at the man's distinctive schnoz.
5. With trembling fingers Carla spelled "extreme danger" on the telephone keypad and then hung up.
19. Willie had been meaning to tell Mr. Hood that the pet deposit didn't cover jaguars, but he'd have preferred doing it with dry pants.
6. Willie noticed the wet footprints on the lobby carpet just as the elevator door closed.
18. Robin wasn't home, so she stepped out into the hall, saw two people and a large cat enter her own apartment, and followed.
7. The phone rang again: Robin would never finish reading "Nostrilia" at this rate.
17. Willie sent the boys home with a promise that he would check out the fourth floor.
8. Carla raised the window and stepped out on the ledge.
16. Robin turned away from the door to find himself nose to nose with a menacing figure.
9. The leash was missing, not that you can really walk a 40-kilo cat, anyway.
15. The two boys were sure the woman who'd just climbed in a fourth-floor window had not been wearing underwear.
10. Willie dreamed he and Carla cuddled on a blanket nice as you please, until she poured hot coffee in his lap.
14. Her doorbell rang, but Carla was already almost to the next apartment.
11. "Cheeto! Come back!"
13. There was only one place the cat could be headed for.
12. A high-pitched scream ululated through the lobby like the ring of a phone in an empty house.

August 12, 2009


I sit on my favourite rock at the edge of the lake and watch the girl with the clever fingers. She has come to ask a boon and knows there’s a price. I am uninterested, for they all fail.

A leather satchel is clasped in her arms. When she reaches the edge of the lake, she kneels down, heedless of grass and dirt stains on her skirts. She opens the bag, the metal clasp giving a snick that sounds loudly in the stillness of the night. She takes out an ancient book, the gold lettering on its spine reads Murcianus’ Little-known Lore.

Next: a pair of large silver shears; a small ball stuck with silver pins and needles; a spool of fine thread, silk, flax and spider’s web, bound by sheer dint of magic.

Blood covers the moon this night and there is both a weird clarity and a murkiness, shapes at once sharp and blurred.

I feel unaccountably excited.

The girl takes the shears. The water’s surface shines like quicksilver. She leans far out over it then proceeds to cut.

I can see the fabric of night and fluid ruche and crumple. She lays the pieces on the grass beside her. Reaching into the lake she pulls up long ribbons of water plant. The she begins to sew and continues for hours. Finally she bites the eldritch thread and holds the dress up.

It has long skirts and a tight bodice, fitted sleeves with bows made of lake-weed. It is the colour of my eyes, green and black and blue and all shades in between.

Once when maidens made offerings of dresses I marvelled over them looking so lovely up in the light. In the water, I would find that bereft of air and sun, they had somehow died. I could not swim in them.

She slips it over my head, laces the stays tight. The touch of it is cold and damp and it feels like a second skin. It moves ever-so-slightly with a current.

I dive in and my new dress does not hamper me; it flows and floats, part of the water and yet still separate from it. There is no gentle sluggish sensation of being wrapped in a wet winding sheet and thinking ‘So this is how they feel when they drown’.

Finally, I head to the surface. I have a wish to grant.

August 11, 2009

A Fantasy of Hope

“Do you believe in magic?” The old crone cocks her heads on one side.
The princess shakes her head, reaches out, and pricks her finger on the needle defiantly.
Narcotics, she thinks as she slumps to the floor, do not a spell make.

“Do you believe in magic?” the bird asks her. It is blue, a puffball of feathers--bright orange beak, wide yellow eyes.
This it is just an effect of the isolation, of the drugged food. It is just the fraying of her reason. It is getting hard for her to keep track of things up here, up in this tower. She counts the days in the millimeters her hair grows. It is down to the back of her knees now, but already the ends are frayed, split, strands snap each time she tries to drag her fingers through the knots. No-one could climb up these strands.
She shakes her head until the bird is gone. Whether it flies from the window or from her mind she cannot quite tell.

“Do you believe in magic?” the prince calls up. “Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you believe that tonight you will be riding by my side, answering the sunsets beckoning call?”
She looks at him and tries to imagine how he sees her. The tower is very tall. She must be little more than a pink speck to him. He cannot see the truth, only the story, the legend. He does not see her.
But if magic will get him up here, she will believe.
He falls less than half way up the tower. His neck snaps like an autumn twig--dry and brittle.

“Do you believe in magic?” the princess asks herself. She crouches upon the window sill, the wind pulls at her, at her bare feet, her nails grown to brown talon. Her dress billows, ragged as feathers.
“Do you believe?” She whispers the words aloud. She thinks she has been saying them for a long time. Her lips are dry and chapped, her tongue a rough wood block jammed into her mouth.
“Do you believe?”
“Do you believe?”
She jumps and waits to see if gravity believes in her.

August 10, 2009

Last Lap

We power south down Broadway toward West 57th and into lap five, and Barry pushes the big block Chevy to its limits to make up for lost time. As we blast through the synch gate there's that now-familiar floating feeling, like drifting in both time and space, waiting for a new Manhattan to resolve around us. Which is pretty much what happens.

Then we're through, cloudy skies gone blue, buildings where buildings weren't, changed signage. But it's all barely a blur as the car gets our full attention. Barry drives, I navigate. Challenging in any race, but worse when crossing timelines.

Barry flinches as the steering wheel moves, pedals narrow, seating position changes and the rear end drifts a bit before he can compensate. It takes me a few seconds to recognize the design as vaguely BMW, then I notice the Messerschmitt logo on the wheel and can guess enough about this reality. The German billboards on Zeppelins floating above the race clarify.

Off 57th and up Park and we overtake a gorgeous Daimler that I wish was available in our reality. I glance and see it's Jean-Paul and Etienne. They're new to this circuit, and I think swastikas in the Upper East Side are throwing them off their race. I wave as we leave them behind and make our way through East Harlem and on to Marcus Garvey.

Each lap is roughly ten kilometers around the park, though the track is always just a little different. Political, social, and economic realities might change the landscape, but it's still Manhattan. We've done races in other cities: Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Shanghai. Have seen junkyard-like wastelands and futuristic utopias. But New York is always New York.

Through the Upper West Side past bright searchlights, catching a screen of our car sporting Bosch ads, and we make a pulse-pounding run for the gate. Branding across multiple histories is difficult when you never know what car you'll drive from lap to lap, reality to reality. Makes it hard to collect our cut of the ad revenue, so it's best to let a cross-reality agency handle it and just view the vids later.

On other laps we navigate beneath soaring Chinese skyscrapers, past Confederate flags, next to the walls of Central Prison, through hanging gardens and greenery, under the watchful eyes of millions of cameras. We drive an electric Hummer, Japanese Corvette, four-by-four Microbus, even something that feels like a jet-powered Edsel.

We take the checkered flag in a Subaru WRX and wave to our fans. Good to be home, through twenty laps of general weirdness and alternate landscapes. We slow to see if we can spot our families and friends. From the bleachers where they should be, hundreds of Native Americans, face paint and head dresses brilliant in the afternoon sun, cheer and whoop their approval. Oops. The feather and buffalo logo on the wheel should have clued us in.

Maybe a victory lap is in order.

August 7, 2009

Tucker's Galleria Part Three

TUCKER’S GALLERIA – New Acquisitions
(catalog continues)

7. Collected Tears (artist: Nicole R Murphy)
glass jar, $5,700

Within this jar rests approximately 250ml of fluid, a collection of tears shed by hundreds of volunteers. Murphy has included the particulars of every participant, and notable weepers include a nun questioning her faith, a child who had just witnessed his dog being run over, and a murderer about to receive a lethal injection.

While the piece can simply be kept as is, Murphy’s intention is that the purchaser ingest the tears, or apply them liberally to the skin. For this reason a HIV/HEP B shot is recommended, and a waiver must be signed.

8. Ball’s Lexicon (artist: Peter M Ball)
bound volume, magnifying glass, $145,500

Noted demonologist and linguist Ball has compiled his life’s work in this hefty ledger. This lexicon was written over several decades, following a lengthy series of interviews with various dead souls, infernal beings and multi-dimensional observers from the Outer Dark.

The Lexicon is an exhaustive work, listing and referencing every single word that has been forgotten, fallen out of usage, destroyed by iconoclasts or purged by historical revisionists since the dawn of time.

While this may be of great benefit to etymologists and historians, there are several authentic (and dangerous) words of power, the actual names of demons, and several references to dangerous adverbs that are better off forgotten.

9. Database (artist unknown, attributed to the late Robert Hood)
data file, Toshiba notebook, $25,000.

This simple database returns a numerical figure to any query, however obtuse. Some queries found in Mr Hood’s search history include:

[How many prawns have I eaten during my lifetime?]
[What is the exact age of the Earth?]
[What is George Romero’s phone number?]
[What are the coordinates of Atlantis?]
[What is the exact date and time of my death?]

The accuracy of these results appears to be uncanny, or as in Hood’s unfortunate demise, perhaps self-fulfilling.

We at Tucker’s Galleria attempt to offer you the most outstanding new works, in media both unusual and unexpected. No refunds, no personal cheques.

August 6, 2009

Just Only the Endings

The man and the dog were both mortally wounded now, and Jack slumped down against the stoop next to The General. They lay there, staring at their pooled blood mingling on the hot sidewalk and trickling off to swamp a little cluster of anthills.

"It's not true what they say," said the dog. "Not every dog has his day. But I tell you what: I had mine."

Jack laughed weakly. "You sure did, The General." He threw the gun aside. Then he dug into his pocket and extracted a piece of paper, soaked with his own blood, to hold out to The General. His hand quaked.

"What's that?" said The General.

"That's the five dollars I owe you."

Then the General started laughing, and Jack joined in, and they both laughed until they died.

* * *

"That's the last of them," Mona said, slamming the thick steel door shut in the rock wall. "Want to do the honors, Bessy?"

Bessy spun the wheel until the door was locked down, then took out the hack saw and started sawing the wheel itself off. The thin rasping of it sounded emptily across the badlands. Francine shaded her eyes and looked into the distance.

"You won't be able to see the city from here," Mona said.

"I know," said Francine. "No reason I can't try, though."

The wheel fell to the rocks with sullen clang, and Bessy kicked it away into the dust. She packed the hack saw up carefully, even though there was no conceivable reason they would need it again.

With no more words between them--what words were left?--they formed a single line and began the long journey to the city they hoped was still there.

* * *

The Brownie finally succeeded in picking the lock. He pushed the door of the birdcage open and jumped down onto the bookshelf as the pixie flew past him and darted out into the free air. Together they surveyed the conference room, which was now overrun with panicked frogs.

"Should've seen that coming," said the Brownie.

The pixie just nodded.

August 5, 2009

Arcade Lives

Everyone in the arcades knew Suskind. He was the one who made sure everything worked and fixed whatever didn't. He unclogged the gas jets when the lighting in the panoramas grew dim. He fixed the broken panes in the cabinets of the curiosity shops and wonder-museums. On damp mornings, he directed the flaneurs and other artistic idlers toward the café tables closest to the grates where warm air welled up from the steamworks.

The Landlords' Association paid his salary and, although they were even more despised as a collective than they were individually, this animosity wasn’t transferred in Suskind's direction. Everyone regarded him as a friend. Even the poet, as bitter as he was brilliant, would occasionally share a drink with him (absinthe leached from other peoples’ second-hand sugar cubes was the best he could afford).

Everyone mourned Suskind when he was found dead; everyone wondered what had happened. Only the poet did anything to find out -- Suskind's ghost visited him nightly until he began tracing the repairman’s rounds, asking questions. Had anyone noticed anything in the repairman’s manner that suggested he feared some danger? Had anyone been following him?

The poet learned nothing, but pressed on, week after week. If he re-created the routine of Suskind's visits, perhaps someone would remember an anomaly in his last days.

In the third week, when the panorama managers asked, he cleaned the gaslights, and the vistas of distant sea battles and blue-towered cities shone vivid again as life. He oiled the pulleys in the reputable theaters and found lime for the lights of the disreputable ones.

He became, as Suskind had been, an arranger of matches between chessplayers in disparate cafes who would otherwise never have met. He gave the secret of the table by the warm grate to a particularly rumpled playwright.

When he finally discovered that it was mere bad luck that killed Suskind, the coincidence of living upstairs from a family of necromancers who'd summoned one malign spirit too many, it was almost an anticlimax.

The poet began accepting the checks mailed by the Landlords' Association. Although he could afford his own absinthe now, he'd lost his taste for the distraction it offered. He was writing again, every bit as bitter as before, but no longer weighed down by the nagging fear his brilliance was exhausted. It might be, but, poems or lights: his hands got things done.

August 4, 2009


This entry is third in a series. Feel free to revisit Basilisk Tracks and Bats on Fire before or after reading.


Michaela wondered how they knew to come here to die. Was it something like how sea turtles always found the same beach they were born to lay their eggs?

No one had ever photographed one of the great birds actually coming here to die. It happened so infrequently. Still, gatherings like this, with great numbers of the aggressive, territorial birds were rare. Her group was in luck.

François would have loved it.

She fingered the Phoenix feather he had bought her. He had given it to her before their first kiss. He had been that sure. Even now, she still carried it with her.


The island mountaintop was littered with giant bones. One by one the giant birds dropped from the sky and perched on the macabre roost of bleached rib cages, beaks and skulls. The group’s transport lifted from the waves, hovering high into the air for a better vantage. This was as close as they dare come.

Something bumped the transport. A young Roc. Defenses fired. Flares. Water. Directed blasts of sound. The bird held on.

Michaela composed a frantic message to François on her PDA. “Dearest One. I am sorry. I do not know how to untie this knot we got in, but there is still so much love...”

The boat lurched. A big flare exploded and the Roc let go. The rest of the group scrambled for their cameras as if this were routine.


The Rocs sang. Their mourning vibrating with the flickers of the endless stars above. What worlds, what sights had the departed bird seen? Scientists said they flew between worlds. In the quantum spaces between realities. They saw possibility. They lived in worlds that could be and that never would be.

Michaela held the phoenix feather up. Rich orange shimmered through the stringy fiery red veins. It was perfect. And for a while there she and Francois had been so perfect. She brought the message up on her PDA. She stared at the little glowing screen, counting each bell she wished they hadn’t rung, then hit delete.

The transport hovered above the waves. The stars lit the deck. The Roc song was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard and she couldn’t hold her tears back much longer. Oh, Francois, she thought. She released the feather and let the night wind take it.

August 3, 2009

The Winter Life

You are a male of the species called "Comminglers" in the local Earth language, because while humans pass meaning by outward signs, your people entwine your sense feelers and exchange memories and ideas directly. You are three months and seventeen days old. You may expect to live about another week, possibly ten days, before you die of old age.

You were born in October, which because of where you are stationed on this tilted planet means that you have only ever known winter and an icy late Fall. Your first weeks of life were spent exchanging memories without stop with other members of the tiny clan--46 Comminglers, no more--in order to learn to think, care for yourself, and fulfill your hereditary role of data sphere queryist. You answer questions by manipulating the data sphere and communing through its port. "What is the structure and purpose of the human sense of taste?" "What is the history of enmity between the humans of Israel and the humans of surrounding Arabic countries?" "What is the quality of the experience of existing in summer?"

This last question haunts you, although it was asked long ago, days. You know, from the sphere, everything there is to know about summer: the temperature variations, cultural adaptations, responses of plant life, and so on. But you will never know summer, even though you remember it from others' memories. Your people are rarely concerned with such things. They do not travel. But then, your people have evolved to exchange memories with thousands, tens of thousands, not with a mere 46. There are vast empty places inside you, shades of experience you cannot find among your few fellows.

You query the sphere, a question for yourself only. You receive times, societal rules and behavior norms, place names. You connect with the human dataverse and exchange information, financial promises, plans, clearance from the government of the Earth clan called Chile. Then you shoulder your data and authorization pack and leave the vast tribal room. On your way, others try to commingle with you, but you give each only the faintest idea in response to their questions.

"Where are you going?"
"Why are you leaving the room?"

"I will tell you when I return," you intend to them. You do not contemplate the date of your return. It is in two weeks.