First in a new series.

Quantum gods appeared and disappeared in Kayla’s wake like soap bubbles. No god can survive long without worshipers, and Kayla’s attention span cut off many a deity before it shook off the mists of its own making. As time went by, her attention and memory improved, and the average lifespan of her creations lengthened from moments to hours. The Easter Bunny God born when she was three lasted long enough to smite a few peeps and raise an entire bag of jelly beans from the dead. The beans were consumed in short order by Kayla and two of her friends.

For her fifth birthday Kayla received a venerable cabbage-patch doll from Marlys, who was going to college, and didn’t want the trappings of childhood cramping her style in the Big Show. The doll had seen better days. Some of her hair was gone, and what was left contained its share of gum and other household residue. Someone (could it have been Marlys when she was young?) had used a black sharpie to enhance the doll’s eyebrows. The dress she came with was long gone, and the one she was wearing was 10 sizes too big. But the doll had two things going for her that overrode all other considerations. First, she had belonged to Marlys, who occupied the place in Kayla’s life that Marlys herself had reserved for Christina Aguilera, back in the day. Second, the doll had belonged to Marlys.

For about three weeks after she received the doll, Kayla lavished on her all the adoration any deity could want. That first night, the doll blinked Her eyes. She stretched a mighty stretch, feeling Her back pop. “Only I,” she thought “can appreciate this sensation the way it should be appreciated.” In commemoration of the event, the doll bestowed speech on all of the other toys. Speech that only toys could hear.

“Bow down to me,” the doll commanded, but the other toys did not move. The doll had forgotten to give them the power. “Silly me,” She thought, “it might take a while to master this miracle thing.” So She practiced, carefully undoing all but one of Her experiments. Fortunately, Kayla’s mother had her eyes shut when the old blue horse, now translucent and trailing sparks, emerged from her bathroom mirror and disappeared through the opposite wall.

That day, Kayla loved the doll with all her heart, and that night, every toy on the Two Shelves paid the Cabbage-Patch God all the obeisance it was due. Celestial music emanated from the doll’s fingertips and the toys lifted up their voices in song.

The end

Between densely gnarled groves, the ruins of Castle Noland rose on Spindle Mountain against the late sun like a needle one cannot spot in the carpet unless the light catches it or he steps on it.  The mountain, though short, was steep and crumbled in Yul’s hands–a miracle it had lasted so long.  It would not bar him from his lost father.

Castle Noland lacked drawbridges and doors, so Yul made one, knocking down bricks, some of which decomposed to powder.  Sunlight streamed through the roof and holes in the mortar, illuminating dust motes.  One beam shone on a white-bearded, white-robed old man stooped atop his throne:  like God after the sixth day.  The beam moved, and the old man regressed into shadow.

Was this the same man who sent the child Yul on quests:  Track the Amethyst of Memory to the caves of Kaldan, wrestle the Ruby of No Regrets from the King of Cobramen, hunt down the Cape of No Tomorrows through the thorny jungles of Afterwine?

Yul had never put his mind to quests.  He’d set out but–heavy-hearted–stopped to rest on a stump.  Days passed like a clock’s pendulum.  Soon hunger roused his head, and he’d slink home.

Yet Yul fetched the Ruby of No Regrets by trading plastic beads he’d dubbed the Necklace of Deathless Hours:  “Hours slipped without a death if you gripped the necklace righteously.”  True, it’d fail, but had they held it right?

The Ruby had never given Yul the confidence he needed to start his own life.  Instead, Yul had worried over quests his father shipped him on.  Late in his third decade, he, questing, paused at a village, where a gangly girl drew water.  When he asked for a drink, she gave without reservation.

Twelve decades later, he’s returned, to bring Father to a new home among sheep and grapevines.  Yul stood beside the old man:  his white contrasting with the gleaming ruby ring lolling on the right, wrinkled hand.

“Hello?”  The old man leaned forward, milky white eyes scanning the room.  “That you, Spot?  I’ve a doggy biscuit.”

Yul grit his teeth.

“I shouldn’t have let you go.”  The last word was a sob.

Yul wanted to shake the man, ask if a lost dog was all he regretted.

The old man’s body shook violently.  His ribs rippled beneath the robes, coming and going.  “I loved you like a son.”

Yul wrapped his arms around his father, shushing and humming a lullaby.

In case you’re not familiar with LOLcats, this story is written in the style of sites like I Can Has Cheezburger? I have no particular excuse for writing in this style and hope you will pardon it.

Day 15: Caturday. Hoomins haz not gived fud for 4 dayz nao. I haz eattid
1) Livinrooom plant (owld nemisys)
2) All dogz fud (OMG, tastid yuckee)
3) Siggar frum hoomin’s offis. Spittid it up latur in shooz.

If hoominz not giv fud soon, mae hav to inturupt naps to forridge.

Day 17: Stil no fudz. Zombeez got dog, so I eatid it. Tastud like chikkun.

Day 19: Hoominz stawrting tu smel bad & am owt of katnip. Ekwiping self fur wok arownd nayberhood with hoominz gun ducktaypt to collur.

Day 20: Wentid for wak. A zombee tryed to eet me but I shootid it. Cud hav savd sum hoominz trapt by zombeez but wun uv them colled me ‘preshus,’ and alsoe, wuz my naptime.

Day 21: OMG OMG! Can has cheezburger!

Teh zombeez rund owt of hoominz to eet, sew they startid eeting eech uthur. Met sum kittehs hoo wuz bited by zombeez but are OK: zombeez infekt hoominz & dogz but nawt kittehs! LOL.

Last hoomin trapt in Mickdonulds. Nao beeing gardid by attak kittehs laik me from zombeez, so iz saif, butt cheezburger runz owt soon & will taik nap & let zombeez eet hoomin. Wantz to taik funee foto wen they eetz him & put kapshun: “U wont fryz wiv that?”

The Cabal’s third anniversary is approaching, and we’re looking for help figuring out how to celebrate, so we’re holding a contest. Click here to read the details and give us your ideas!

You step through the door…


…the city blazes silver in the blinding noon.

You stand in the shade of an underpass but can feel the city, warm as glowing coals.

A monorail hushes by overhead, a little breeze in its wake.

The city sleeps by day, gathering energy, and you have nine hours until it wakes…

…or you slide down the gravel bank and catch yourself just above the waterline.

The ice-covered lake booms.

To your left, the mills are sharp-edged shadows in the twilight. Their vast, hushed buzz has all the little hairs on your arms standing on end. Under a charcoal evening sky, lights glint among the far dark hills and the farther mountains.

Skaters are approaching, a line of them, moving fast across the ice…

…or you stand beneath painted cliffs, dry heat electric on the back of your neck. You turn to face the towers.

Looks like a busy day, with much coming and going between the aeries.

Standing with the petroglyphs, you feel abstract, an outsider looking out over the flow of lives from a distance that’s more than physical.

Out the corner of your eye, however, you see a path. Winding upward, it can take you among the towers, and the towers will bring you to the aeries…

…or you realize you’re sinking into the earth, the heat all over you like a thousand sweaty palms.

You step onto the roots of a tree for better footing, and cheese-like smell rises from the mud.

Is that the splash of dragons, off among the reeds?

A butterfly gnaws on your leg. A flower buzzes in your ear. You wonder if this was the best destination. But then the serpents begin to sing, and you forget the rest…

…you stand in the monkey’s palm, looking out over a plain of earthbound constellations. A sea of signs stretches to the horizon.

The flinty wind on your face. A sound of slow-dripping water.

From this low rise, you look out beyond the monkey, trying to make out the other designs. The chalk lines hold the light, glow amid the evening-faded world. You look out beyond the plain’s cairns and rock mounds, farther than its farthest pyramids.

Early stars stare back at you.

A door opens in the rocky hill to your right, a rectangle of butter-yellow light. A silhouette beckons.

Apparently, you were expected…

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