I’m sitting in the center of a darkened room, but sunlight leaks through the dust at the base of long curtains that cover the far-flung windows. The wooden floor is creaking faintly as the building is pummeled by a windstorm I can hear only faintly. My eyes are closed. I’m listening for birds, but all I can hear is the muffled, desperate surging of the wind and the creaking of the floor.


The birds are hiding: in the rafters, behind objects, under the floor. I don’t know why I’m in this place any more, I’ve been here so long, thinking of so little except for the birds. Since I don’t remember what I’m here for, I don’t remember what I’d do even if I heard one.


Then I remember: I’d capture it, and the rest would come to me.


I let go of the thought of capturing a bird, let it tear away and blow off like a drying sheet not well-pinned to its clothesline. I try to let the wind blow through my mind. I’m trying to let go of everything, to not worry about the things that I’ll need to do when the time comes, when I catch one bird–if I can catch it.


The floor feels cool and stiff under me. There’s a faint breeze from above, and I don’t know if it’s a ceiling fan or some remnant of the wind that has made its way inside.


Here and there around me are rolls of carpet, boxes of neatly-stacked books with cardboard covers, piles of old candle ends, letters half rotted away with time, a bed covered with dusty silk sheets, an old view camera, a music stand.


I forget the music stand first, wipe it away, then the bed, the letter … and the rest is already gone, melted away until my mind is pure and focused only on the moment. The birds won’t come near if they hear thoughts. I will be nothing for a little while.






How will I know when to stop being nothing? Shh, you’ll know, I tell myself.





I open my eyes, at peace, ready. In the darkness around me I hear the rustling of five hundred wings. Tiny, dark eyes glimmer with flecks of sunlight that have made the journey from the feet of the curtains. I am surrounded.

Taffy had done 18 months for hijacking one of Peter Piper’s trucks. Stole 16 tons of pickled peppers (Why?! Who knows?). But Piper had a good alibi. He’d been home with his wife, eating pumpkin pie and playing cards with a couple of neighbors. So who killed a two-bit hood by ripping his throat out, dousing him with slime, and dumping him in Sir Reginald Thimble’s flower bed? A similar murder in Dressmakers St. put me on the right track My client was a member of the notorious Tailor Gang At last everything was piecing itself together in my head.


Sir Reginald’s front door was open. Running up the steps I slipped and landed hard. A trail of goo came up the drive and went through the door. I followed, and almost tripped over the butler. Crushed flat.

Three well-dressed victims had been smoking in a room off the main hall,.my client among them. Blood was everywhere. I stepped back out. A snail the size of a Volkswagen was coming up fast from the back of the house. I pulled a salt shaker out of my pocket and raised it high. The snail stopped in its trail.

“So it is down to me and it is down to you, Deadbolt,” the snail gurgled. I was surprised to hear a mollusk quoting “The Princess Bride.” Usually they go in for live theater when they seek entertainment.

“One question,” I said. It dipped an eye stalk “Why? Did the Tailors pay you to hit the Welshman? And if they did, why start killing them? You’re a pro, not a garden-variety psycho.”

“You humanoids are all crooked. They put the hit on the little thief cos he was stupid enough to rip them off. Only an idiot steals from a syndicate.”

“You won’t get an argument from me,” I said, “but what about the Tailors? Doing your civic duty?”

“Thread-biters didn’t pay me.” It sounded outraged. “I let that get out, that people can push in my eyestalks, and I won’t be eating.”

“Three square salads a day where you’re going now,” I said, “you can thank me later.” Meanwhile, I had unscrewed the lid of the saltshaker. It would last until the cops got here with a couple of 5 pound sacks.

The end



“Peter Piper”

“Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater”

“The tailors and the snail”

“Come home immediately,” her husband said. “Jennette?” The speaker crackled and spit like frying bacon, and she flinched involuntarily. She imagined his voice landing like bright sparks on her skin, raising welts.

She pressed her thumb down hard on the microphone’s trigger, and leaned forward, raising her voice. She cleared her throat. “It was an accident,” she said. “Nobody meant for this to happen.” The head of research and development had assured her it was perfectly safe—and wouldn’t she like to tell her children someday she had participated in groundbreaking research? Time travel was just a matter of plucking the chords of the musical universe and setting sail on the vibration, picking at the tapestry of space and time with a sharp needle and threading yourself through its eye, like merging with the infinite. The head of research went on like that when he was drunk. He was difficult to deal with in the best of circumstances, unbearable at these launch parties. But that was her job, and she always did her job.

Jennette said, “Enough, enough.” She wobbled forward and slid into the seat—it was like an armored dune buggy, greasy with the fingerprints of the team. They never ate in the cafeteria, and she had sent so many memos. Her life was memos and notes and messages left behind—a hair on her pillow case, a lipstick smudge on his briefs. It could have been her own. She tried not to be suspicious. How childish would that be? She had almost done it, though. She stood in her scientists’ lab, and wanted to hand over that long, blonde hair. She almost wanted to know. But then it wouldn’t have been an accident. Then the end of her whole life would have been her own fault.

Champagne buzzed in her head, and she leaned forward to look at the dials. She punched a button, and then another and another. The head of research lurched forward, but the door slammed shut, and the whole world burned away. She was lost in black space. She had merged with the infinite. She closed her eyes and felt a sense of—yes, it was relief. Until the microphone switched on. “Immediately,” he said, his voice all around her. She cleared her throat. “It was an accident,” she said. “Nobody meant for this to happen.” She closed her eyes. “No,” she said.

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.


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