« August 2009 | Main | July 2010 »

September 30, 2009

Ups and Downs

He knows Hell is at the bottom and Heaven is at the top, but those are simplified concepts and don't really tell him much about quality of afterlife.

So he stands on an up escalator cause that's the sort of life he's lived so far. It's not like he's always been going up, but he's done a solid job overall. Paid taxes, used exact change, tipped generously, put the seat down. Important stuff.

The escalators stretch far into the distance, up to his right, down to his left, endless across the vastness around him. Some faster, some slower. People in different stages. The rhythmic clicks and squeaks of life flow around him.

He glances at the faces of the people going up faster than him, almost eager to get there.

This story isn't about them.

It's not about his parents who went separate ways when he was young, not about the few friends he had in high school. It's always about where he is in his own story, even if most people ignore their own paths and read themselves in the trajectories of others.

He knows his story is about the only girl he loved, the one he should have married, the kids he should have had with her, the Karmann Ghia he never should have traded for a Suburban. But mostly it's about the girl.

He's always known he would see her again, and he finally chose to put himself on the right path to make it happen.

This is the middle. The point to embark or disembark. There's a lot to be said for being able to change direction at any time, any place, but there's even more to be said for doing it, for recognizing the reality of your situation and taking a chance when it could be your last.

She comes into view in an instant. No warning. It's always like this. Radiant and beautiful and everything he remembers, extra years be damned. She's moving downward a bit faster than he expects, but you can't have everything.

He knows it's not like the escalator's going to stop for him. It's like Mitch Hedberg's joke about an escalator never breaking, just becoming stairs. But even Mitch made it off the ride in one direction or the other and he's not telling jokes anymore.

She passes him, turns, sees him too, and in that instant he knows this is his one chance. It's six in one, half a dozen in the other, blah blah fucking blah. He knows the choice he's supposed to make. But it's his story.

So he jumps the railing and runs down after her.

September 29, 2009


The phase ships drifted overhead, immense and slow as clouds -- rusty clouds, Last Empire surplus that had spent a few decades rotting in a parking orbit around one of the further ring-moons -- and flocks of drones flew around, among, and between them.

Coming down from the viewing platform, I missed the last stair. One or more of the ships must have needed its gravity tuned. My feet pedaled around a couple times before I found the ground. The auction wasn't going well.

"That's minor," said my Aunt Artemisia. Her voice echoed over the salt flat in waves as the translators for each group of bidders caught up. "They cleared a thorough inspection by registered engineers. Nothing's wrong that'll cost much to fix."

I could tell that from the way that the Zhrrkians had sheathed their foreclaws they weren't planning to scratch any bids on their translator pads, and the ecto-projections from the 11th dimension were barely bubbling in their jars, so they didn’t look ready to jump into the bidding fray either.

The phase ships were essentially big hovering rocks, triumphs of solid-state engineering and utter failures of livability. Aunt A. had to drop the starting bid twice, and the price moved sluggishly from there.

"Do I hear nine billion?" Her enthusiasm was "Eight?"

But the auction kept rolling; every time it seemed like someone had won by a few credits, another bid came in. More often than not, the keep-alive bids seemed to come in on the screens hooked to the transdimensional relays. But they seemed to come in just a little too quickly; there should have been more of a lag.

"Fifteen?" said Aunt Artemisia. "Fourteen-five?"

I monitored the input, waited for another lull, another last minute save. It happened twice more before I could trace it, another time before I believed the results: it was the drones. The drones we'd rented along with the auction platform, the salt flats and the airspace above.

I looked up. They weren't just randomly flocking around the ships, transmitting images. They were looking for something, following some kind of ridges or cracks that hadn't been in the inspector's report.

I wondered for a moment why they'd been stalling -- surely the weren't trying to run up the price. Then the first of the phase ships hatched, and the drones helped the vast glowing thing within to emerge into the universe. From then on, we all had far more interesting things to wonder about.

September 28, 2009

Promotional Poster

Did your daughter take on the school bully?
Did she lose?
Did she win?
Does she borrow your fabricators without asking?
Do you find yourself scanning the tops of trees with your binocs when it’s time to call her in for dinner?
Was her favorite birthday present a Helvetian army knife?
Does she overload the solar watching kung fu movies?
Has she already crashed her second bike?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, Women’s Battle College needs your daughter. Send her without delay. Scholarships available.

Women’s Battle College, Dun Scaitha, Isle of Skye, UK. ::wbcuk::app

September 25, 2009

Love Lost

Jake had been here before. He had held Susan's hand just like this, right here. More than deja vu--certainty. They crossed the marble floor to examine the cherubim statue, each foot falling in the anticipated place. He knew what Susan was going to say.
“I think we should see other people.”
Wait. That wasn't right.
He turned to look at her, but she was gone.

Jake had been here before. He and Susan had shared margaritas on this roof deck before. He was talking about minimalism, about what shit it was, and then he realized--they weren't seeing each other any more. But she was holding his hand...
A man was looking at them. Jake couldn't make out his face. Shadowed. He walked up to them, took Susan's hand.
“I think you should see other people,” he said.

Jake had been here before. But Susan had been right there, right next to him, suggesting a gondola ride. Her absence was palpable, as if a bubble had just popped.
He pressed a hand to his temples. A migraine was building. He looked up and, there, looking at him: a man--face shadowed. He was unfamiliar here but Jake recognized him. He pushed into the crowds but the man was gone.

Jake stood in his apartment. Here, familiarity made sense. Except there had been photos of Susan, hadn't there? He went to her closet. Her clothes were gone. In the kitchen half the fridge was empty. Half its contents erased.
A sound from the living room. He got there in time to see a man's familiar figure slipping out of the door. He is not quick enough in his pursuit.

Jake stood in a shopping mall. He did not recognize this place. Why would he be in a shopping mall? Why would he have roses in his hand? He had no memory of buying them.
The migraine was intense now, rising like a tidal wave. Blackness rising behind his eyes.

Jake came round on the psi-surgeon's couch. There was a sharp pain behind his brows.
“The headache should fade in ten minutes or so,” the surgeon said, removing steel apparatus. “It's perfectly normal.” He sat back from Jake, out of the light, his face lost in shadow.
And despite the pain, Jake smiled. A success. Susan, the relationship, everything, it was already fading. Already it was just a dream.

September 24, 2009

Take it on the Lime

I had yet to sell our giant fruit anywhere. Of course the distributors were all in bed with Big Agra or frightened by anti-GM loons. In desperation, I'd taken this road trip. I'd naively expected a warmer reception from these prosaic midwesterners. The old man shook his head, scowling. He took his hand from the pocket of his frayed and patched overalls to point a thick finger at my sample stock.

"It ain't natural," he said, "for fruit t'be that big. No telling what kinda poison GM bugs are runnin' around inside 'em. Besides, how could I USE a lime that big?" I didn't try to argue.

Kumquats the size of grapefruit, limes the size of melons, etc., and tasty as could be. But I couldn't sell them. I took myself back to the truck. I was about out of options. Prolonging this road trip seemed pointless, but I headed east towards North Snyder. The type face on the map suggested no great population center, but since selling my fruit was like trying to sell gold-plated dog poop, what did it matter?

To keep my mind off my troubles I watched for old stone fence posts, my truck trailing a plume of dust like an activist's middle finger. After about 30 minutes I emerged from a small stream valley. About to shift gears, I noticed a party in full swing in front of a large farmhouse up ahead on the right. ZZ Top's "Cheap sunglasses" was being covered reasonably well by a live band, and as I drew closer I could see plenty of beverages being put to good use. What did I have to lose? I swung sharp right and pulled into the driveway. A heavyset man with a huge mustache and white cowboy hat strolled over to the truck, holding a bottle of Corona.

"You lost, stranger?" There must have been close to a hundred people partying in his front yard. A couple of cows watched from the other side of the fence.

"No sir," I said "I don't think I am." I nodded at his beer. "Could you use some limes? Free samples." By this time, a small weatherbeaten woman had joined us, smiling broadly.

"What's up, Al?" she asked. The farmer looked at me, then at my truckload of melon-sized limes. He nodded.

"Seems this nice young man thought our get-together was potluck."

This low-tech viral marketing might work yet, I thought, muscling a lime out of the truck. It was party time.

The end

September 23, 2009

A Complex Elektra

When my sister did not return, I secretly rejoiced.

Clytemnestra came back from Aulis hollow-eyed and silent. She did not speak for many days – her charioteer told my remaining siblings and I what had happened. How our father had sacrificed Iphigenia to buy the wind to give his ships sail. There had been no wedding, no Achilles to husband, no bright future for my oldest sister.

Mother retreated inside herself, refused to eat. For a while I thought she might die, but it showed yet again that I neither knew nor understood she who’d bred me. She fed her anger and grief, and plotted. She practised with the great axe that had been a wedding gift from her own father. In my father’s stead she ruled Mycenae and took her husband’s cousin to her bed.

Upon his return, Agamemnon breathed the air of his own home for the briefest of times before being slaughtered as he lay in a bath. No matter what the gossip says, it was she who wielded the axe, not her lover.

My brother, Orestes, fled; my sister, Chrysothemis, happily remained. I stayed, too, silently disapproving, haunted by dreams and visitations. I knew Agamemnon had not loved me, but I thought if I honoured him in death, his shade might see and bear witness to my devotion.

I helped Orestes hide, wavering fool. When I took food and clean clothes, I spoke of how our mother had offended the very gods. I wore him down, I think, as he grew weary of the isolation, of living in fear, of being deprived of his inheritance. He finally agreed and everything I had planned and set in place was ready. I smuggled him into the palace dressed as a beggar and hid him in my room until day turned into the bruised plum of evening. At last, I handed him the axe our mother had used. Even though she’d cleaned it of our father’s blood, still I could see the haze of red on the bright blade.

And I watched my brother walk from the room, waited for the scream. When those came, I nodded to the creatures no one else had seen, waiting on the windowsill. The Furies, silhouetted against the horizon and the wine-dark sea, defiled the skyline. They crowed happily to have their meat.

September 22, 2009

Where are the Dreams of My Youth?

The future visits me in the night.

I often wake disturbed by dreams of carriages that move without steeds, tiny actors who perform dramas in small boxes, metal ships that sail the skies. Doctors fail to curb these dreams, spiritual advisors condemn but do not curtail them. Engineers are the worst, they ask me to examine more closely these apparati, to endeavour to divine their inner workings.

What am I, I ask them. A working man?

It haunts me that it could be reality that I dream. Am I a man of my time and place dreaming of such wonders, or am I some denizen of this far future who in reveries thinks himself me? I remember, when I was in short pants, a dream where I thought myself a bear cub dreaming he was a boy. It seems more decent to dream retrograde, as men have always done.

I age, I grow weary of my constrained life. It would be wonderful to ride away in these marvelous conveyances and see foreign climes. I instruct my valet to waken me at a random time of his choosing every night. I wake, I put pen to paper and record my observations. Sometimes I am jolted awake before I am even completely asleep, sometimes I awake naturally and am vaguely amused to see my man approach.

And sometimes, I am awakened by one or another of my thirty alarm clocks. They are each set to a different time and I pick one at random to switch on after turning off the light.

Most mornings I wake in the middle of a dream. These dreams always feature ballrooms, fancy dress parties, cantering through manicured formal gardens. Everyone is cultured, conversing in their screenplay-perfect lines.

I shuffle through my third-story walkup, wondering whose dreams I have. When I was four I dreamed that I was a dolphin who dreamed he was a little boy, and spoke only in a bubbly made-up language for the rest of the day. It could be that I am an aristocrat dreaming of myself in this lousy existence. I just need to wake up in the right life.

And so I set my alarms, and dream away the nights, imagining other days in another guise, and wake again to this humdrum life of perpetual hunts and balls.

September 21, 2009

More on the Mallard Guardian of Martin Sussex

More On The Mallard Guardian of Martin Sussex

Your Foul Eminence, we have uncovered more information on the Grade XXVII Entity that is currently guarding Martin Sussex.

a) When Martin Sussex (infant homosapiens, suspected host of the Masticator of Worlds) was first identified as a potential god-skin, a consortium of extra-dimensional nay-sayers sent a team of assassins into the child’s nursery. They consisted of a crow, a pair of greyhounds, and a King Brown snake. While they succeeded in devouring Martin in the first instance, the duck made his first appearance in the wake of this bloody feast. By means unknown this self-appointed guardian not only destroyed the assassins, but negated their existence by three generations. This not only saved the child, but changed the course of the Jharbeth XIV dynasty and caused the collapse of the New Zealand economy.
b) The parents of Martin Sussex were no longer dead, but were very concerned at the continual appearance of a Greenland Mallard in their child’s nursery. It would reappear in the room whenever removed, despite all of their efforts to exclude the creature. Apart from cleaning up its excrement, the parents have given up and carefully avoid discussion of “that goddamned duck”.
c) The guardian has been extremely vigilant, devouring all of our spies and fouling our instruments beyond repair. It appears to be operating on several planes of existence simultaneously, and has firmly repelled attempts to place time stasis on Martin, attempts to harm his parents, and one attempt to destroy the Earth itself. It does seem partial to licorice all-sorts, but has rejected the poisoned ones. We are considering placing a Keaurtian Snaffler in the toilet cistern, as the duck frequently drinks from it.

More as we learn it,

Field Agents X and Y.

September 18, 2009


Today's story continues from the Boon of the Monkey God

The Chinese government told me the shrines simply did not exist. But here, thousands of miles away from Costa Rica I stare into the passionate eyes of the Monkey King himself, a solemn figure carved from obsidian stone. This avatar is so different than the bright, brazen, childlike images illustrating the ancient tales. So different than the earthly, visceral persona associated with the mysterious mythological figure I had come here seeking. The statue embodied the “King” aspect of the Monkey King. Old and solemn with wisdom and introspection brimming behind his mischievous but tired countenance. I hoped I could reach this side of him. The fate of two souls and an entire country depended upon it.


I pay the monk and share four bottles of wine with him and begin to think I would get no more than his kind entertaining presence, sketches of Chinese characters, and proclamations in broken English.

“Life Okay !”

“Life no drive you ! You drive life !”

Then he stands. His limbs contort, ape-like and he dances across the floor like a simian in the trees. The Monkey King was in him!

“Last year you granted a boon,” I say. “The wish of two souls desiring to be alone with the monkeys.”

Thanks to the Monkey King, Costa Rica was now empty of humans and higher thought, except for the two wish makers. Any person venturing there instantly devolved to their base instincts and lower selves.

“They only wished to leave the heavens behind. In a world free of sutras. Free of the shackles of reason,” says the Monkey King.

“I beseech you to end it.”

“What makes you think I can?”

“The stories say you are a creature of both earth and the heavens..”

“It was they who made it happen, so it must be they who must end. it. I can allow you to keep your mind if you go. But you must convince them.”

The monk sits, a bedraggled monarch on a throne. The smokey air swirls and an oval forms before the statue. A portal.

Through the haze I see the lush tropical Costa Rica on the other side. The Monkey King has given me a path.

Smelling the jungle I want to leave reason behind. Was I here to rescue the children and to save the country or to give in to the boon myself?

The monk promised safe passage, but I sense I might really absolve myself of the reason of the heavens like all those who came before me if I walk through.

I lift my foot. Is it wisdom or mischief I see in the old monk's eyes? I can’t tell.

- END-

September 17, 2009

Princess Tulip Ariel Jade*

* One of my daughters briefly changed her name to this.

Tulip Ariel Jade, called by her subjects “Sue,” had been sent to bed without her supper. Again.

“And it's totally not fair,” she said to herself, flopping down as hard as she could on the bed. The covers puffed up at the sides with satisfying vigor. So she did it again. And again, and again, and again, till a voice said "Stop!"

Lying across the bed, sheet rippled and ridged around her, Tulip froze. Silence settled over the room. Then she thought she heard a very soft scrape. She wriggled forward and flopped her head down to look under the bed, upside down, hair puddling on the floor and dust in her nose.

Dust bunnies. A Brat doll she'd been missing. And little people, all dressed up, dancing like in the old movies Mom liked. Dancing to no music.

The ladies wore frilly dresses that made bells around their legs, mostly in pastel colors. The men wore black suits that went well with the dresses. The people were all about 3 inches tall. They ignored her while she watched them, her face prickling as the blood pooled in her head. Finally she had had enough.

"Hey!" They kept on dancing. "I'm learning to dance," she said. "Ballet. Ms Michiko is very nice. She's from Houston."

Just then Tulip fell off the bed. "That didn't hurt," she announced. One of the ladies beckoned to her and smiled. Tulip had been wanting to join them, so she ran under the bed. The lady was just a little taller than Tulip.

"My name is Lady Parimore," the dancer said. "And you?" She raised one eyebrow (Tulip had once tried for a week to learn how to do that).

"Tulip Ariel Jade!" she said, with relish. No one would contradict her here.

They let her join the dance. One of the gentlemen didn't have a partner, and he taught her the steps. He was very handsome and just her height, with black hair, green eyes, and a smile on one side of his mouth, like Uncle Rudy. He said his name was Mr. Pin. He wore a black suit, a ruffled white shirt, and a pink bowtie that matched her dress. The other men's bowties matched their partners' dresses too. And now there was music. She flew through dance after dance. It was wonderful.

At last the dancing was over. Mr. Pin whispered in her ear: "Come with us."


He nodded.

"But what about my things?"

"You'll have new things, even better ones," said Lady Parimore.

"Will I be a princess?"

"Oh, yes," Mr. Pin said.


September 16, 2009

Following Directions

A sequel to yesterday's "Directions." (You'll probably want to ready that story first.)

No problem with the first few. Goat path and royal city road were easy enough; the old woman was a little suspicious, but I helped get her cart out of the ditch and got the flower.

The trouble was the highwaymen. When they "robbed me of everything," everything included the directions. Which they read. Then Octothorp, the leader of the highwaymen, had one of his henchfolk run back for my goat and planted the old woman's flower.

We were climbing before it finished growing. Since I was the one it kicked least, I got to carry the goat. We must have been ahead of schedule, since the dragon didn't show up for nearly an hour. It took quite a bit of terrified running before we wound up upwind of it.

When we finally got a snootfull of goat dander wafting the right direction, the first sneeze incinerated half the highway men, and, by the time the fourth sneeze shook the coins loose and sent the dragon shivering and sniffling away, only Octothorp and I remained.

We looked at the heaps of coins, re-read the instructions, looked back at the coins (the heavy, heavy coins), and then at each other. It was clear neither of us had remembered to save a couple petals from the "old woman's" flower. No magical wings for us.

"Maybe the stalk we climbed has bloomed," I said. We could see the vast stem in the distance, the only non-cloud thing in sight.

When we got there, having dragged as much gold as we (and the goat) could carry, the plant was wilting. The petals were too floppy to sustain flight, the stem that was our only remaining way home was rapidly shriveling.

"I've worked too hard for too many years to give up now I'm finally a success," said Octothorp.

"There's nothing here," I said.

"Someone built that cloud-castle," he pointed to the direction sheet. "Take what you want, and I'll still have more than enough to make a new start. Been meaning to settle down..."

I filled my pockets, slung the goat over my shoulder, and started for home.

Things went well for me from then on -- pockets full of gold are as good as the best directions. Some days when the sun slips, glittering, behind the clouds, I wonder how Octothorp is doing, and whether he ever reached his destination or his destiny.

September 15, 2009


A. The front door of your hovel

1. Take the goat path down the mountain . . . . . . . 240 steps

2. Follow the royal city road . . . . . . . 12 stadia

3. Continue to the spot where an old woman who isn’t really an old woman will need your assistance . . . . . . . 8.53 stadia

4. Continue to the spot where highwaymen will rob you of everything but the magic flower the old woman gave you, which they'll snatch from your button hole and trample into the mud . . . . . . . 6.1 stadia

5. Climb until you're exhausted from shimmying up the stalk of the giant plant that grew from the flower . . . . . . . 0.27 stadia

6. Run across the fields of the cloudland, away from the dragon, into the fog-cave . . . . . . . 763 steps

7. Stumble through the cave passages . . . . . . . 94 steps

8. Veer left at the first fork . . . . . . . 32 steps

9. Veer right at the second fork . . . . . . . 82 steps

10. Emerge into sunlight, and wander the upper cumulus plateau . . . . . . . 102 steps (approx.)

11. Run to that wispy castle-like structure up ahead (the tracking ability of dragons is generally underestimated) . . . . . . . 289 steps

12. Up the stairs to the drawbridge lever . . . . . . . 11 steps

13. Up many more stairs to the top of the tower, since dragons are more solid than cloud-drawbridges . . . . . . . 200 steps

14. Run in panicked circles, searching your pockets for anything with which to defend yourself, and discovering only petals from the old woman's flower . . . . . . . 54 steps

15. Soar back to your mountainside hovel, on the magical wings into which the petals bloom . . . . . . . 24.3 stadia

16. Run, this time in a panicked straight line, right through your goat pen. (Dragons: no slouch at the soaring thing themselves.) . . . . . . . 289 steps

17. Cower, while great whooshes of fire explode everywhere . . . . . . . 0 steps

18. Crawl out from under the crispy goat. . . . . . . 2 steps

19. Cavort, in the heaps of gold doubloons. (Who knew dragons' scales were actually layers of hoarded coins? Or that they were so allergic to goats?) (Apparently fairytalemaps.google.com did.) . . . . . . . 330 steps

B. Your destiny.

September 14, 2009


I don’t want to go in.

He’s there now, didn’t hesitate. It’s his home though he’s been away for long years. I warned him, or tried to but who listens to me?

I saw his wife in the shadows just before she stepped through the door, and in that moment she seemed a huge, swarming shape. Then she moved forward, into sunlight and she shone.

Not as beautiful as her sister, but no one is. Tall, broad-shouldered, jaw strong, forehead wide, cheekbones high. Clytemnestra is handsome rather than lovely. She moves with deceptive slowness, but there are muscles evident beneath her rich robes. She’s a warrior queen and has not let herself run to fat. Her hair, red-gold in the sun burns like liquid copper.

The smile she gives Agamemnon is frozen; she speaks soft words of welcome and he is deceived. When she looks at me she sees no Trojan princess, merely a slave, hair lank and oily, back and shoulders hunched as if deprived of wings and ashamed of their nakedness.

‘Don’t go inside,’ I whispered to my master, my owner, my thief. In spite of it all, I did not want him to walk all unawares into his fate, for his end means mine. But he gave me an annoyed glare, sick unto death of my constant warnings and plaints, of the sharp dreams that have broken my sleep (and thus his) these past months as we travelled to Argos. He has no patience. He is sick of my madness.

He took his wife’s welcome as his due and went in to the bath she had prepared for him. Clytemnestra watched me and nodded slowly before she turned and followed him. I waited, held my breath, counted the beats until I heard him scream, heard the wet sound of a great axe burying itself in muscle and flesh, releasing blood into the air. She waits inside now; another man by her side.

I have seen this for so many days. Fate cannot be avoided. I am a Trojan princess. I step down from the chariot, swallowing hard. I put my foot on the first step and mount the portico. My end lies here.

September 11, 2009

Exit Stage

I was talking shit about old folks up until the point when I realized I was one.

Things like this don't come gradually like you think. They come all at once, a shock, a crash, like everything in the world suddenly stops working the way it's supposed to and you're left to figure it out all over again, alone, no instructions, one good eye and way too little light to make sense of anything. This old age thing sucks. Ask anyone.

Only everyone I know's always been young.

%Wiki says you gotta get a will together% says the blinking display in front of my eye. Can't tell who sent it, but gotta be one of my boys, the ones who come around every day and take me to play. Only today they're not taking me anywhere.

~Will you come and help me?~ I wait for an answer, but thirty seconds, nothing comes.

There's these blips and beeps in the back of my mind and I can't focus on it, can't quite tell what it means. The constant stream of information that usually flows across my vision and ties me to the world is strangely silent. I wonder if I imagined it all along. And what the hell is this persistent beeping?

I look around, try to focus. Peeling wallpaper, faded floral prints, dusty windows. The glow of streetlamps through the glass. Dull radiation from the ruins of the nearby metropolis. Maybe just daylight. It all looked much better through the guise of augmentation. But everything fades with time.

%Wiki says you should probably take the easy way out%

~What's easy?~

Deep down, I sort of know. Understand the things my boys say. Even if sometimes they say things I don't quite believe about the world, as if I've been out of it so long it isn't my place anymore. Not like I changed anything myself, cured cancer, invented flying cars, brought peace. But the world changed anyway. Always does.

You start questioning things and you don't even know for sure if your boys are boys. Could be forty-year-old lesbians from Iowa, all you know. Who's to say? And who's to care?

%What would you like to do today?% One more query.

When I don't answer, the query or my own thoughts, when I shut the connection, look around at the remains of the room, distant-and-long-ago, I can see clearly for the first time.

Unplugging is the most difficult thing. It's quiet, sort of peaceful. Ticking of a clock, far-off honking horn. The world slowly floods in, and I can't say it's unpleasant.

We define ourselves by our exits.

September 10, 2009

The Ballad of Octavia and Mr Head

It’s a beautiful thing.

Some people have a hole in themselves. Mr Head had a hole in himself. It was in his face. People found it off-putting. Women found it off-putting. They could not stare lovingly into his eyes. He had no eyes. He had a hole. They could not stare lovingly into a hole. Rather they tended to scream and run away.

This made Mr Head lonely. Loneliness made him cruel. He was especially cruel to cats. Cats tended to try and crawl up his leg and go to sleep in his hole.

Octavia had a hole in herself. It was in her soul. She had no soul. She had a vacant parking lot where her soul should be. She was cruel to many things. Cats included.

One day Mr Head met Octavia.

Octavia did not scream. She did not run away. Instead she reached out a hand and plucked the cat that was sleeping peacefully in the hole in Mr Head. She opened her mouth and vast tentacles reached out from between lipstick-stained teeth and wrapped around the cat. The tentacles were purple. With a screech the cat was sucked inside.

Suddenly Mr Head felt full. Tentatively, heart quivering, he reached out his hand. Octavia reached out with hers. Barely daring to believe, Mr Head took Octavia’s hand.

Then she ate him.

And she felt full.

It’s a beautiful thing.

September 9, 2009

The Lonesome Cowboy’s Lost Lament

His grandfather had sung this song, late at night, in his workshop, when he was too absorbed in his work to know that Thomas was there, too focused even to know he was singing. The lyrics had to do with the moon, a heart (broken or breaking), and a cowboy.

Thomas forgot the song for decades, until he heard a noisy near-punk cover version late at night on a college radio station while driving cross-country. Just half the last refrain before the music descended into squeals and static which was either the station slipping out of range or some kind of Sonic Youthy outro. Enough to hook him, put the song back in his head -- or the hole of forgetting where the song would have been.

He tried hypnotism, hours in sensory deprivation tanks; nothing helped. A friend of friend with a knack for finding things shared some advice.

"In the old days," she said, "there was a memory-art where you imagined a mansion and arranged what you wanted to remember by the rooms and the objects in them. These days, memory is collective and external -- libraries, the internet... like that. Memories are still places, but they're real and they’re out there. If you're willing to drive far enough, you can remember anything."

She had a car he could borrow, and he left that night, phoning in to work from a truck stop the next morning to request a leave of absence. The car, a Ford Galaxie with shot shocks, ran on words. Thomas had to pull over every so often, flip through the one-volume Oxford English Dictionary on the passenger seat to a random word, and read the tiny print aloud. The word faded from the page and the memories of everyone within 50 miles. In a couple miles, the word would be back and the needle back on E, and he'd have to do it again.

He drove: a month, two. He did find it, eventually, spotting it out the corner of his eye as he turned into yet another motel parking lot. Congealed moonlight shapes spiraled in the air over a pile of roadside gravel. Thomas could remember every verse, every quaver of his grandfather's hum-yodeled refrains, and his heart unbroke.

He got back in the car, found the flashlight and magnifying glass, and fueled up to begin the drive home.

September 8, 2009


Awareness came when something sharp descended, scratched out two neat slashes to serve as eyes, and opened a mouth beneath these. He took his first look at the world, ponderous, lazy-lidded. She hovered over him, a toothless giant backlit by weak firelight, one eye black and mean, the other a rheumy sea of cataracts.

She pinched his face and made a nub of a nose, massaged his cheeks into ears and then he could hear; the coughing of someone very sick, a pair of dogs snarling over a bone, the low talk of the man-folk. Worried murmurings over the stink of their sputtering cook-fire.

He looked up at the hag, confused. She gripped him in the vice of her fingers, and he blinked before the sour rot of her breath as she whispered over him.

‘Finding-Man of clay and bone,
Find the lostling,
Bring her home.’

Then a curtain of hides was drawn aside, and he took in the stars, the bright curve of the moon, the soft curve of the hills beneath these soft lights. Then everything wheeled and span, and he realised his creator had cast him from the rude hut, flung him out into the night.

He drank the moonlight into his damp clay skin, until he found life and movement in his stubby limbs. He brushed off the pine-needles and stones as best he could, and stood. He walked deep into a dark wood, the black trees looming above the straggle of huts and lean-tos. The clay man wondered at the fragility of the man-folks, wondered why the forest did not snuff out their foul little settlement.

He followed the rough paths of that benighted place, followed ways that were long forgotten and almost reclaimed by nature. He heard the faintest of whimpers, more like a lost animal than a child, and found the tiny girl-child nestled in the twisted roots of a tree, terrified and chill to the touch.

She took his hand without a word. He led her back through that dark place, past wild animals that would have snapped her up but stared warily at her clay chaperone. They stole through the camps of rough men, who slumbered on as the girl stepped over their sprawled limbs and scattered refuse. Finally, the child found herself on the threshold of her home, blinking and confused as her family descended upon her, tearful and scolding.

The clay man was gone.

When the little girl was herself an old lady, she told the story to her own little ones, of being lost in the old woods, of the perfect little boy who found her and brought her home.

‘He glowed in the moonlight,’ she said, a distant smile on her crusty old lips. ‘And he had such beautiful eyes.’


September 7, 2009

I Crush Everything

I like when I lie far enough beneath the top of the ocean that the sun is a wavering mote. The currents stir around me, and I listen to the whales until I hear the creaking of one of the Little Boxes and rush up to find it.

The Little Boxes are not alive, but they move. They have tall white plumes or wings on top and skate over the water, floating like birds but moving much faster. They are usually brown, and pointed at the front, and little creatures run squeaking over them. The largest of the boxes is only a third my length. I want to know what they are, whether they're plants or shells or something special unto themselves, so when I find them, I break them apart.

When I break them, the little squeaking creatures fall into the water and disappear. Inside the boxes, I find different things. Sometimes the boxes contain more boxes, sometimes bales of stuff that draws in water and sinks in a sodden mass. Sometimes there are pieces of heavy yellow stuff that gleams for a moment before it plummets to the Depths.

Today I hear the creaking and rush up to wrap the thing in my coils. I peel it apart carefully with my jaws. One of the little creatures stays with the box this time, shaking its tiny limbs and squeaking at me. I take my time and don't bother it. It turns a tiny black tube at me, and then there is a noise like thunder, and my side stings as though I've been bitten. Flinching, I accidentally break the box, and the little creature is crushed. I stare at the broken pieces, some sinking and some floating away. There is the little creature, floating in a little, spreading red cloud. It hurt me on purpose, but without biting--instead, with thunder. How can a creature bite with thunder? I push back through my memories, to the many inexplicable things these little creatures do, and the knowledge comes over me like a cold current that despite their tinyness, these creatures think--think thoughts I could never imagine or piece together. I nudge the one in the red cloud. The water catches it, and it sinks.

Suddenly the ever-shifting surface of the sea, which had always seemed friendly to me, seems empty, and I'm struck with loneliness.

September 4, 2009

From "Caipho and Erasmus": Act II, Scene i.

[Enter CAIPHO, with GAMALFIEL [the cat].]

Gamalfiel, tell me, what shall I do?
Two days gone by, and I've not made reply
to that last message of Erasmus'.
I doubt not but he wonders why I stay,
and why my answer cometh not.

[She sets down GAMALFIEL upon the bed. GAMALFIEL goes to the pillow
and makes as if to sleep.]

Great good you are to me, you lazy thing!
Sleep then. And I'll kindle the terminal,
and see if there is fresh word from Camille,
some new report to help me understand
what I had best to do.
you don't know how I envy you your rest!
My nights have been broken with misery
since Wednesday. Oh, if only love
were not such agony! If only trust
could be made sure! If only I could know
that Erasmus is true. But no; I've lacked
all surety since Camille made report
that he was texting Andrea while I
was at Grandma's in Margate.
                      Well, let us see
if there's fresh news tonight. Come, come -- turn on!

[Divers noises and the COMPUTER grows light.]

Ah, here’s word from Camille. What does she say?

[She reads.]

Alas! More further proofs -- if I had need --
of his deceitfulness. Oh, who would be
a woman? Who would have a tender heart,
and see it broken by man's perfidy?
Especially a young girl, and a heart,
so tender, and so pretty, as mine is
and as I am. Gamalfiel, it's hard!

[The COMPUTER shaking, as if in a wind.]

What's this? Erasmus wants to chat with me?
Who would have thought that he would be online!
I will not speak with him, I'll tell him no,
I'll set him to "Ignore."

[LIGHTS as of a storm. ERASMUS appears standing on the floor rug, in
green light, as a HOLOGRAM. Gamalfiel, wakened, looks on.]

Erasmus! But how come you here? I tried --

I overrode your chat-room block. You know
I have your password.

'Tis true -- I forgot.

What's all this nonsense, Caipho? Am I blocked
from chatting with you? I, your boyfriend! Why?
And why no answer to my messages?

Hear him complain, as if ‘twere he’d been wronged!
And why not chat with Andrea, if you
need company?

Andrea? What mean you?

I mean only that I've heard from Camille
what you were up to while I was away.
I should have known before I gave my heart
to thee! Alas, poor Caipho!

This is naught.
You know Camille has never liked me.

I won't hear my friend slandered to my face
by a poor gormless craven who’ll deny
the truth he stands accused with!

Aye, I'll go!
I won't stay here and be abused by you;
I see I have no chance against Camille.
Answer my email if you like, Caipho,
but till you're reasonable, rave alone!

[He disappears. The green light vanishes.]

And he is gone.
Oh, who would be a girl? Gamalfiel,
my heart is breaking! Let me spend my tears
on your soft fuzzy chest!

[She throws herself upon the bed and embraces GAMALFIEL. GAMALFIEL meows.]

'Tis true, my friend, but that kind word you say
cannot ease my regret. Alack the day!
My heart governs my head: I love him still,
despite the wise persuasions of Camille.

[Exeunt ambo.]

September 3, 2009

The Crying of Kopitiam 419

Were I human, you would label me a terrorist.

We first slipped into your societies, insinuating ourselves into every facet of your lives. Disguised as innocuously as our technology would allow, we became a ubiquitous sight, invisible amongst the crowds. For many of you, we turned into your constant companions; we weren't always around when you wanted us to be, but we showed up sooner or later, and you loved us for our proclivities.

So ingrained were we that you could not do without us. Almost 10,000 years have now passed, and we have appeared in your artwork, your literature, your public consciousness. At our glorious height, we were even worshipped, although this was not to last. Sharp in tooth and claw, but eventually relegated to common house pets.

Our stories tell of a vast empire of the stars, stretching from one corner of the sky to the other, and of our forced exile on this rock dominated by hairless apes. After hearing all my life of our greatness, I could take it no longer. We were once a mighty species, and I saw a return to this destiny. Others accused me of insanity, megalomania, delusions of grandeur, but my message spread, and others of my kind flocked to the cause.

Our initial target: Singapore, a country interconnected with the rest of the developed world, but small, manageable. The first step in a global takeover. My brethren gathered in hawker centres, void decks, and public parks to disseminate our ideology. Organization proved difficult, but my tawny lieutenants kept the underlings in line through threat of force.

It was all coming together. One week before the execution of our master plan, all the operatives in their proper places, and then disaster: the Compulsory Sterilization Law was put into effect. Gathered up from all our favorite places, we were involuntarily put to the knife.

Do you know what such mass desexing does to morale? Everyone was off licking their wounds instead of carrying out the plan. A catastrophe.

Afterwards I slunk to Kopitiam 419, my stomping grounds, head down, lightning-crooked tail between my legs, and amongst the evening diners and stalls selling popiah, fish head curry, claypot rice, and mushroom noodles, I yowled. I cried a song of mourning, of defeat, of sorrow, of subjugation. A song of the the subaltern, faces forever stamped upon by the boots of our oppressors.

Creative Commons License

September 2, 2009

Deepening Dream Space

At a two-story, two-door Tudor house, a police car screeches. The policemen motion to a lithe little girl lit up in the backyard. She’d fallen asleep playing at the foot of her treehouse--a corrugated cylinder of metal. She skips toward the searching lights and wailing sirens. Her skin is wrinkled like a prune.

“Space,” the girl, leaning through the open window, tells the cops, “makes...”

The cops can get a warrant if she wants to play hardball.

She does. She takes them to her bedroom to show off the old-time transistor radio: “...time for music...”

They aren’t listening. They rake through diaries and crumpled pages of half-baked ideas seeking answers to mysteries hiding in plain sight between lines.

“...after, before, beside bedside...” She opens her toy chest and hands one a pony with its flaming red tail, the other a battered Strawberry Shortcake. “...words to make...” She spreads her arms wide, wrapping up a short tune off Broadway. “...room!”

Neither cop claps though they’d like to clap her in chains.

Before they can arrest her, she dodges their slow arms and dashes to the yard out back. She slams the treehouse door behind her with a clang. The officers cannot budge the door, cannot find a handle or a keyhole. The treehouse rumbles. They back away to watch the overturned ice cream cone ascend. Behind it blooms iced flowers curling into petals of black cherry.

September 1, 2009

Your REAL Partner

Dedication: Happy 79th Birthday, Dad!

Warning: Sexual situations.

Photocopies are not the same!

You don't need special glasses!

Paternity Insurance available!

"Scratch-and-sniff 4D porn so realistic you need to install anti-viral wetware and shower after."
--Interaction Week

"This sim is so good I left my real partner so I'd have more time to play."
--D.S., Bangkok

"I had a problem with the sim, but paternity insurance covered everything. Thanks, Simugazm™!"
--R.T., Athens*

*R.T.'s 1024 "children" now live happy, fulfilling lives in I Can't Believe It's Not Reality™.


"It's all over the news sites this morning. I just saw it on aljazeera.net and even bbc.com. How could you!?" Bruce threw down his Allf?n™. and clenched his fists. His face made his revulsion plain.

"You're such a cliché! It's just like a, like a sexvid. You really liked 'A mule, 4 boys, and the Sistine Chapel,' remember? You loved it, especially that bit with the big candlesticks. I didn't like it, but I watched it with you." Rick reached for Bruce, but his hand stopped a few cm shy of his partner's shoulder.

"That old thing is only 2D. It didn't reach out and stroke me!"

"Sim isn't real, that's why they call it sim."

"They all have the same birthday, you know. Good luck paying for a Kb of presents, all different, each October," Bruce snapped. He drummed his fingers on the credenza. He looked out the window. The sky was so blue today it reminded him of the sky in the ice-age sim at the Smithsonian. He felt an arm around his shoulders. He liked Athens, but there were plenty of other nice cities.

"I know you're thinking about leaving," Rick said. "Don't. We can work it out. It was an accident, no, a mistake. I didn't think all the artifacts, uh, kids would be generated. No one ever thinks it's going to happen to them, until, you know." He moved around to face Bruce. "Look. We'll go to that new Malaysian restaurant by the park, then take a long walk. I think the poppies are near their peak. We can forget this ever happened."

Bruce looked out the window again. "No, I don't think so." He paused. A zeppelin glided past in front of the towers, moving in stately silence. "Let's play it together. And come October, I'll help you choose the presents."

The End