It was the old, old story, he felt: handsome stranger comes to town, walks in on a feast complete with pretty (and pretty interested) girls, has a great time—and wakes up a night later about to be brutally sacrificed in order to save the village from a terrible drought.

“Seen it a thousand times,” he said out loud, trying to get more comfortable in his bonds.

“No you haven’t,” he answered himself. “Before this, you’d never walked more than three days from home.”

The priest came, carrying a horn. He sat down next to the stone.

“Sunrise soon,” he said, turning to look at the stranger.

“I’m aware of it,” agreed the stranger.

The priest lifted the horn. “We give the sacrifice a forgetting drink, if he wishes.”

“No, thank you,” said the stranger after a while.

The priest shrugged.

“I’ve had all night to wonder,” said the stranger. “What is the point? What is the point of killing a perfectly healthy young man who would be much more useful fathering strong children and fighting off wolves and catamounts?”

“Hopefully you’ve already done the first thing. Feast, remember?” Said the priest, raising the horn.

“Not much of it,” replied the stranger, smiling though he had begun to shake.

“Things are bad,” said the priest. “You saw.”

“I did,” said the stranger, remembering how thin the women had been, how easily tired.

“It’s how we’ve always done it,” said the priest. There was a sound like a gourd dropping. The priest sighed.

The sigh went on for too long; the priest folded over. A young woman stood over him, the butt of her hunting knife in her hand.

“Not anymore, not anymore,” she chanted while she cut the stranger’s bonds.

Two more women stepped from the edge of the grove. They looked at the priest, nodded at her.

“The sacrifice went well,” said one.

“No! Not a sacrifice!” snapped the young woman.

“Joke,” said the other, waving her hands.

“Time to go,” the young woman said, holding out his belt and kit.

He looked once over his shoulder, to see the two women gently lifting the priest; the woman tugged his hand over the hill. On the other side, the sun was rising.

“That is the most fine and beautiful sight I have ever seen,” he said to her. She smiled at him. “Like every one we get,” she agreed.

Dear Diary:
The Ministers have left and they didn’t kill anyone this time, but
Momma is pregnant and it shows. The neighbours don’t stop talking
about it. Even Susan’s mother told her not to play with me (she’s
still my friend though).
When we went for groceries a woman said:
“You would’ve thought she’d had enough with the first one, that devil
daughter of hers.” She wasn’t quiet either, she wanted us to hear.
“Well, I don’t think they’re much trouble to her, not if they come out
as easily as they go in,” said the woman next to her. I know that
lady. She lives just down the block.
I pulled Mamma’s sleeve and whispered that I’d knock them if she’d let
me, but she hushed me up and we kept shopping.
Old Beth was the only one in that store who was good to us and gave us
a fig and a godliver each. She’s been all quiet since the Ministers released her from
cus-to-dy, but she says she can’t forget how Momma got her out.
When we left the store, Momma said:
“Don’t pay them no mind. If it weren’t for me, the Ministers would’ve
burned us all at the stake. You just remember that, baby.”
Dear Diary,
The whole town turned up at our doorstep. I didn’t want her to open
the door, but Momma said she wanted to “get it over with”.
They took her away. They had pitchforks and knives, but she went
quietly. I shouted and kicked, but Old Beth grabbed me and held me
She returned at dawn, bald. Dear Diary, they’d cut off her hair! It
was all long and black and so beautiful you wouldn’t believe.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’ll grow back, darling. It grew back when I
had you.” Momma was crying. Don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry before.
What did the townspeople want her hair for? Whatever it was, they’re
going to pay.

We went to the black hole at the center of the galaxy last summer? And it was sooooo boring. The windows, excuse me, view screens, were opaque because of a “flare.” The food was yuck, and they didn’t have Squirt Jelly. This is supposed to be the center of the galaxy, millions of civilizations, and they don’t even have Squirt Jelly!?

Okay, I’m getting to the educational part. You’re gonna love it.

There was this girl… cat… lizard… thing and she was as bored as me. We started hanging together. I had some games she’d never heard of. So we talked and played games and got lost on purpose so we wouldn’t have to listen to any more brain-killing lectures. Turns out she is a little older than we are. I’m not sure how old, but if a Lakhtia is like a year I guess she’s about 200. We’d be old enough to do everything if we were 200, and they don’t let her do anything. Anyway, she is working on this genetic engineering project for school and she actually hadn’t started and it was due the day she got back. So she decided to take some of my genetic material. I won’t tell you how she got it! Okay, okay. I will, but I better wait until after class. She’s going to combine mine with some of hers to make a new organism. She figured she’d get top marks, because no one else would have human genetic material where she comes from. And, like, her parent is a Planetary Security Administrator and keeps her locked up. This trip was the first time she had gotten to leave her home planet since she was, like, a baby. That was more than 150 years ago. He, or it, or whatever only let her go this time because it was required for graduation. And she has to marry this old cat-lizard that’s over a thousand years old. That’s why she is never allowed to go anywhere by herself. And when they found us there was a big argument. Some of the cat-lizards were pointing stuff at me and she looked scared and stood in front of me, like they were going to shoot me. Right. And cause an interstellar incident! Finally they took her away. We were there two more days, but it was really boring.

Chad, that is very rude. I did not interrupt your presentation about the steel whales, which didn’t even make sense, by the way. Anyway, I don’t care if the sky is turning purple, you can wait until I


Up until now, I’ve walked out to the crash site about once a month.  I’ve gone there most nights in my dreams, too. I know this is crazy, but I can still feel her. She’s so pissed off it fills my head. I don’t blame her.

Lately I’ve been thinking the only thing that will satisfy her is the ultimate sacrifice.

Last night, like usual in the dreams, everything was the same as ten years ago, from the glass on the ground to the voice in my head saying, “your old life’s over.”

(At the time I thought someone’d said that out loud, but there was no-one there yet: only me and that poor stranger lying on her side, who would never speak again.)

In the dream people drove right past. My wife went by.

I wanted to call out to her, because she’s the kind of woman who would stop for much less. I can tell she’s about to ask me for a divorce. She says I still tell her in my sleep, “it was an accident.”

In the dream that poor stranger never moves. Yet I always go to feel her pulse, just like I did.

Last night, she moved.

She turned her head slowly, and fixed her wide-open eyes on me.

“You have to,” she grated out, and tried again. “You have to. Let me go.”

Her head rolled back. I woke up.

I lay there a long time, cold sweat on my back. Then I slipped out of bed and got dressed and shaved until my cheeks hurt and left a note for my wife and started walking.

By the time I got there the sun was coming up. Nobody living was there to see a man talking to the trees by the side of the road.

“I am so very, very sorry I was so damned dumb,” I said. “I didn’t realize I was keeping you here. Man, that must have pissed you off.”

I waited, I didn’t know for what.

“I get it now: my penance isn’t suicide or coming here forever.”

The trees shook in a breeze that didn’t touch anything else. I saw it. I stood and waited until I felt her go. Then I went home to see if my wife’d let me put my arms round her and listen hard to her, even if she didn’t say anything at all.

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