Plugs

I grew up in a tenement that looked out on the back of the minotaur’s head. The statue was older than the city and taller than any building in it. Our tenement is nearly as tall, not nearly as old, and in far worse repair.

The statue gaze out across the plain of salt, which the scholars say was a sea that dried up years ago, and my siblings and I gaze with it into the hazy horizon.

The scholars don’t know who’d built the statue, or why, but everyone else says it’s a marker to guide travelers over the salt plain. However, everyone, including the scholars, agrees the plain is impossible to cross–too vast, too empty of landmarks. With all the wind-stirred dust, you can’t navigate by stars; by day, you could barely guess where the sun is.

My brothers and sisters and I do go out onto the plain at daybreak and dusk, when the twilight seeps into everything, and we might be walking on a flat of sky. It’s the one advantage we’ve got in the salt quarter. The old city has history; the river districts have trade and communication with distant lands; and the elite quarter has the evening cool of the mountains. A half hour at either end of the day to explore an empty blue world doesn’t seem like much in comparison.

We find our way back by the broken silhouettes of the mountains, and the prongs of the minotaur’s horns above them. One night, we found a man collapsed at the base of the minotaur statue, covered in salt dust. Under the white coating, we saw his glasses and boots were the blue of twilight on the plain.

We went for a healer and returned to find the man gone. The scholars and city guard told us he was a lunatic who’d wandered out onto the plain. We didn’t believe them; we knew the impossible when we saw it.

They built his pyre on our rooftop–our building was closest, and they didn’t want to move him far, which made us even more suspicious. We knew secret ways, so we crept up and stole his boots and glasses.

We argued all night and drew lots. In the predawn twilight, the glasses show me trails on the plain. I set my foot on one to see where the boots will take me…

Note: passing reference to nudity.

Fillmore was stuck again, and the slug was due any minute. Stupid dog! Elle pulled on her boots and gloves and stepped off the curb, squelching into a good 10 cm of slime. Stepping carefully, she made her way out to where the beagle was completely plastered with mucus. Elle suppressed a shudder. How could this be better than diesel? (Whatever that was.) This was why she usually walked to school on the pedarch. She heard the slug’s horn sound two short blasts. It was a block away.

“Come on, dummy,” she said, reaching for Fillmore’s collar. How could he hang his head and squirm away at the same time? The collar slipped out of her hand. Fillmore turned over to expose his belly. He knew she was angry. “It’s ok,” she shouted, “just come on!” Elle grabbed the collar again and dragged him to his feet. A loud “WHOOT!” blasted from the air horn on top of the slug’s head. Fillmore gave a panicked lunge and Elle bellyflopped into the goop. The slug was braking, but sliding right for her, slime making a bow wave half a meter high at its front. She shut her eyes and mouth, curled into a ball. Imagine doing this for fun, like some gangbangers did.

She was airborne.

Somebody was washing her face. “Enough, already!” She put up her hands and pain shot through her left elbow. She screamed.

“Get that dog away from her,” someone said.

Elle opened her eyes. She was lying on her back, ringed by strangers, thoroughly slimed. Fillmore was howling somewhere nearby. Her arm was broken. “Leggo my dog,” she mumbled. A moment later Fill was nosing and licking her face. He bumped her left arm and her vision went out for a moment.

Or so it seemed, but when she opened her eyes again she was clean, in a hospital bed, and a cast covered most of her arm. Her mother stared at her from an armchair in front of the window. She took a deep breath.

Elle winced.

“What were you thinking, young lady?” Mother began. Ma probably meant well, but she didn’t stop. Finally, Elle couldn’t take any more.

“Ma! I wanted to get in the Rollers. It’s part of the initiation. You know, slime rolling? Now I just have to get the tats.” She pointed at her chest. “What do you think—a bug-eyed purple monster right here? It would match my thong beach suit.”

As a way to shut her mother up this was spectacularly unsuccessful.

end

Another new cabalist joins us today, Jen Larsen, whose work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Flytrap, and Nimrod International Journal, among other places. Fittingly enough, her first story at the cabal begins with a beginning…


When I was born, my mother tore me open from neck to gut and peeled my  skin away. My slick and bloody pelt hung from her fingers, and I was  left pink and screaming raw. I was born a seal, and she stripped that  from me. My father, in the next room, waited and paced. Terrified. Full of resolve. Or stupid hope.

Survival is a pure and animal instinct.

#

My father had loved God until he saw my mother. On the deck of Staten Island Ferry, he gripped the rails and focused on the pale skin of his knuckles, the iron smell of the sea. My mother’s face broke like a closed fist through the surface of the water. When she opened her eyes he thought, blacker than the waves. She rested a small white hand on the hull and looked at him with a smile that stripped him bare. She knew all the terrible things he had ever thought, and ever would. His heart broke because she wasn’t real. His heart broke because she was more real than anything he had believed in.

#

My mother smoothed my pelt down over her knees, and settled me in her arms. Salt water and blood dripped through the bedclothes, and the iron smell of the sea. She called to my father, her voice like the riptide, and he was helpless.

I looked like him. Shock of ginger hair and a knob of a nose. I made tiny fists like he did when he stood in front of his congregation, spread out as far as the horizon, dipping back over the curve of the earth, their faces as remote as the bottom of the ocean. I was quiet in my mother’s arms, so pink and so new. A lighthouse flare of desperate hope. He still believed in Original Sin. He still believed.

My mother said, “Come closer.” She smiled at him with sharp white teeth.

He took a step, and another. He came close enough to touch me. He put out a delicate finger to brush along the arch of my eyebrow. And when I opened my eyes he saw that they were as black as the space around the navigable stars, and he was lost.

Jill tried to peel off the notice, but it seemed to be part of the door itself. She glanced back down the corridor. Te’laksu was not in sight. She thumbed the ID pad and went in.
“What’s wrong!” Shep jumped off the couch and crossed the small room in a moment. His body felt good, really good, but Jill disengaged after a few seconds and held him back by the shoulders.
“I’m so happy to see you?”
“You haven’t been out.” Her lip trembled.
Shep pushed past her. When he came back in he was fighting tears.
“I tried to get it off, too,” she said, sighing.
“I didn’t hear anyone! I wouldn’t have let anyone touch our door.” He paced back and forth, shoulders tense and head down. “They don’t have any right! We’re legal!”
Jill pulled him to her. She shut her eyes and ran her fingers up and down through the short soft fur on his back. “Nothing to do with you, Babe. Nothing at all. I got laid off. The T’lakash don’t need as many human subjects now they’re so close to finding the cause of the Anger Syndrome. They don’t need me.” He bared his teeth.
“Well, I do! We’ll have to move. Where will we go? Your Aunt Kitty doesn’t like me.”
“That’s vac,” she snapped. “We’ll think of something.”
The door slid open to reveal a biped whose arms formed a ring just above the middle of his torso. Each arm bore 6 blunt tentacles. His face looked like the ventral surface of an octopus.
“Te’laksu!” Shep barked.
“Your human has been rendered superfluous,” the government agent hissed.
“I can find another job!” Jill shouted, wrapping her arms around herself. Shep … growled, no other word for it. He stepped in front of her and stood almost nose-to-nose with the Subadministrator.
She couldn’t see Te’laksu well, but he made a sudden movement and Shep lunged. They went down, grappling in the doorway, but soon Shep rose to his feet, magenta fluid dripping from his chin. The T’lakashun sprawled in a growing magenta pool.
“Oh Shep!”
He spat something out and hung his head. She scowled, but couldn’t stay angry.
“Have to call Kitty now,” she said. Shep dragged the body into the room. The door slid shut.
End

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