Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “The Devonshire Arms” is available online at Clarkesworld.

Angela Slatter’s story ‘Frozen’ will appear in the December 09 issue of Doorways Magazine, and ‘The Girl with No Hands’ will appear in the next issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Jason Erik Lundberg‘s fiction is forthcoming from Subterranean Magazine and Polyphony 7.

Jonathan Wood’s story “Notes on the Dissection of an Imaginary Beetle” from Electric Velocipede 15/16 is available online.

The Viennese Nights’ Entertainment

by Rudi Dornemann

The story was, when the siege failed and the Turks retreated from the walls of Vienna, they left behind sacks of coffee that became the basis for the city’s coffee houses. A couple decades later, the most popular coffee houses traded on the exotic mystique of the beverage’s origins, with sumptuously cushioned benches surrounding mother-of-pearl inlaid tables and a room full of gurgling hookahs at the back. During the coldest months, they added storytellers to draw customers. The most popular were Iskander, at the Bachmann’s, and Mahmood, at the Royal Crest.

They were brothers — twins — and not actually Turkish, but Vienna-born sons of an Egyptian merchant. They’re best remembered for the story duel of January, 1702.

It began when Mahmood whiled away a sleety Monday evening with an impromptu tale involving three dwarves, a hippogriff, and a sieve that turned sand to gold. Iskander retold the story for the next day’s dinner crowd, with a fourth dwarf and the hippogriff changing to a gryphon. The sieve, now, turned sand to silver and silver to gold.

On Wednesday, Mahmood’s version of the story had six dwarves and a two-headed serpent in addition to the gryphon. The dwarves were royalty, three brothers and three sisters, and there was a grand wedding at the end. The sieve turned sand to silver to gold, etc., but it also turned gold back to sand.

Thursday, Iskander had a dozen dwarves wind up in a grander wedding after adventures involving a gryphon, a hydra, and a tortoise that had extra heads where its feet should have been. The sieve turned wind to the sweetest music. The story took all day to recount.

On Friday, the brothers prayed together at noontime and dined together in their father’s house at evening.

On Saturday morning, Mahmood began telling interlocking stories of a dozen dwarvish warrior-kings and the gryphons, rocs, sphinxes, orophants, hamadryads, and other wondrous creatures. Before he even got to the sieve, his brother began telling his version on the other side of the city, elaborating each thread of the story with feats more daring and creatures more wondrous. They continued non-stop, neither pausing to sleep, sustained by ever-stronger coffee and rolls nibbled between sentences. By midweek, the brothers dreamt aloud of giants, ghosts, djinni, clever maidens, untrustworthy tailors…

Their listeners shuttled between coffeeshops, wondering how the story — for the two tales wove now into one — would end. The brothers seemed to finish each others’ sentences, even though they were half a mile apart, telling of miserly stepfathers, unlucky grandmothers, spiderwebs wide as oceans, volcanoes spewing rubies, flocks of mechanical birds, winter queens…

Their listeners stumbled, half-sleepwalking, from one to the other, lost in worlds of summer kings, immortal mask-makers, courageous dwarves in hippogriff-hide cloaks, indigo gryphons weeping for unrequited love, sieves that sifted light from darkness, coffee from plain water, truth from coffeeshop tales…

…and woke in a city blank with new snow to find they’d each dreamt a different ending.

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4 Responses to “The Viennese Nights’ Entertainment”

  1. David Says:

    October 15th, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Very entertaining. I like the joint story & especially the end. It’s lovely. Unrequited, not unrequieted.

  2. Rudi Says:

    October 16th, 2009 at 2:00 am


    I’ll fix that.

  3. Dotty Reed Says:

    October 18th, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Wow! Quite a riveting journey. Keep up the writing! As always, I am so proud of you!

  4. Rudi Says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 1:22 am