Satan came to supper last night. There’s nothing peculiar about that, or in his usual feeble stab at getting me and the missus to make a deal. Once we get past what he calls ‘the formalities’ he’s a pretty good guest. We take what we can get–ain’t many people around here we care to have to supper.
Philippa starts with the soup, rabbit with leeks. There’s only a hint of hare from the rabbit I shot last week, but it’s rich enough. Satan smacks his lips. “That’s fine, just fine. You added rosemary, didn’t you?”
“You know,” he says. “I couldn’t help noticing your herb garden is, well, let’s say small. I could furnish you with considerably more space. I could offer, oh, that patch over there.” He gestures out the window at Mount Buffalo-Runs-Over-Cliff silhouetted against the evening clouds.
We laugh it off as always. We’ve got enough growing space for the two, sometimes three, of us.
Over fried chicken and corn on the cob we dissect local politics, rightly guessing which ninety percent of the school board is in Satan’s pocket. He does surprise us by saying that Ferd Tucker down to the feed store is on the side of the angels. Ferd talks so all-fired religious we just take it for granted he’s going straight to Hell, do not pass Go.
Philippa brings out the cherry cobbler. The Devil tries to compliment her on it, but she tells him it’s from Winn-Dixie. We talk on about one thing and another over cigars on the porch, until he brings up the usual subject just as the last flicker of light winked out in the west.
“Join me,” he says. “I like ruling down under, but I’d rather take over up top.” He looks to the sky, but it’s not the first stars of the night he’s looking at. He’s looking at Heaven, torn six ways from Sunday.
Rebellions make refugees. God’s got plenty of angels and Satan’s got his, but there’s plenty more besides.
I shake my head. That’s all it takes.
Like I said, ‘the formalities’. Once we get past them he’s okay.
Satan spreads those beautiful wings of his. I spread my own to see him home.
This is Edd’s 50th story for The Daily Cabal.
Yeah, D’miss and I, we own exoarcheology. We translated a newly discovered example of Precursor writing, which we found etched onto a billion-year-old polished stone standing upright at the geographic center of a rubble-strewn plain. Mauger the rubble, the place was flat as a pancake. Must have been an important spot. Now? Sole remaining trace of life on a long-dead world. The stone, with its inscription, the only fabricated object within lightyears. The Precursors were the oldest interstellar civilization; their ruins range in age from 1.8 to 0.9 gigayears. The few known examples of their writing had been enough for Odaro to crack the code – to translate. Yeah, that Odaro. Not just a writer and singer. I know; his translations haven’t been published yet. Heard rumors at the last Interstellar Archeological Congress. We tried to contact him after IAC, but he blew us off. At first he said he’d try to squeeze us in, but then he said he was too busy, when he’d merely glanced at a photo of the stone. After that, even his autoclerk wouldn’t respond to messages. So we fixed his ass. The AI Klondyke hacked his linguistic database. With its help we tackled the new inscription ourselves. The translation was surprisingly easy to come up with, though we’re not sure what to make of it. Here’s what we’ve got so far.
Some flowers have color, others do too,
food additives have flavor, and I love you.
So the oldest known poem is … doggerel, of an all-too-familiar sort.
Santa checked his list a second time. Cargo on board, ship sealed, launch tube filled with water, pressure equalized. He was off.
As it cleared the sea surface, Santa’s sleigh sprouted wings. Powerful engines coughed to life and plasma kissed the frigid Arctic water.
“Look ma! It’s a flying fish!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Santa Claus! ” “Hush, children. Chew your blubber.”
Acceleration pegged, he’s fast. Damn fast. Actually, they call him the streak. You gotta admire his physique.
Santa fired up the Chronotron when he hit cruising altitude. Psychedelic colors out the wazoo. His sleigh fugued. S l e i g h s. T o y s t o o.
2048 Santas disbursed toys with manic speed. But for every stocking filled, 1.17 babies gave out their first cries.
10,000 elves worked for Polar Enterprises. World population growth had forced Santa into an “arms” race he could not win. Corners were cut.
“DaAaaAaD! Santa left me a game console carved from a bar of soap!” “Wadja expect for free?”
Presents rattled down the chimney. “Ho ho ho” blue-shifted into the supersonic shattered windows and the fish tank. “Sorry,” drifted down.
Genevieve tore open the white package, ensanguined in the red-litten den.”You shouldn’t have!” Whips and cuffs: just what she’d asked for.
Unidentified blip, fighters scrambled, just after pilots smoked surprise holiday presents.
The jet fighters, their hash-powered pilots drifting in and out of consciousness, lost the rocket in a mysterious polar fog.
Plunging into the Arctic Ocean as dawn broke, Santa had one last gift in the back. Mrs. Claus did look good in Victoria’s Secret. Ho ho ho!
I look down from my high window, forgetting the brush in my hand, because the night is that beautiful. The rain drifts like smoke. The round paper lanterns, not yet put out by the water, gambol in the wind, and the leaves pattern and re-pattern against the light.
We had lanterns just like these at my fifteenth birthday party. (Was it that long ago?—Now the servants hurry out to take them down in the swinging dark. This storm couldn’t put out a fire, should the roofs catch.) At my party, my father waited until the moon warned us it was rising. Then he lifted my sake cup out of my hand and said, “Now we must go, Kaida.”
We walked up the hill to our shrine. Two of our strongest bodyguards had to pry open the doors, for they had not been opened since my father was fifteen. The hinges squealed and growled.
We lit the lamps on the altar, and left incense sticks burning in the old drifts of ash. In the dim light I saw the clean, deep gashes in the wooden floor.
“You must blow out the lamps when I go,” he reminded me.
“Yes, Father,” I said.
So he left me. I blew out the lamps and waited in the dark, among the columns like trees.
By the time the moon was up I had no doubt—if I ever had—of my paternity.
I have to say, I was magnificent. My fingers and toes lengthened into perfect claws; my white skin burst into shining white scales; I coiled and uncoiled, sliding over myself, and when I roared, I brought rain to the fields: with my new dragon ears I could hear the clouds gathering in the night.
Tonight, I can hear the fields shouting greetings to the rain. After the moon rises behind the clouds I will shed my smaller form for a while, climbing up into the flying dark, coiling and uncoiling, telling our valley its name, and hearing it tell me mine.
Even though I’d spent my whole life knowing this might well be my inheritance, I still felt frightened that first night, waiting in the dark, wondering if the first telltale shimmer and strength would come. It takes time, to grow into the dragon woman one can be.