Plugs

I was nine, and my parents were watching a special news bulletin on TV late in the afternoon on a grindingly hot summer day. The aliens, who’d been just floating in the sky for more than eight months, ignoring every attempt to contact them and unhurt by any weapon we tried, had finally acted. They had dropped little red seeds from the sky that landed and ripped terrible gashes in the earth, hundreds of meters deep, razing houses and slashing roads and cutting rivers. They’d already done it in dozens of places: South Africa, Pakistan, Norway, Canada, Bolivia, France, Russia, New Zealand.

Out on the street, very faintly, I heard the rambling tinkle of the ice cream truck. I begged with my parents, waited the excruciating time it took for Dad to get his wallet, snatched the two quarters, ran, had to be called back to say “Thank you,” ran again, and caught up with the ice cream truck just at the end of the street, where Walter Biscayne was receiving not one, but two drumstick cones.

I remember it vividly. The sky was a scorched blue. The heat over the new-paved street wavered, as if we were all knee-deep in water. An oak tree three houses away was yellowing even though it was late July: probably it had some kind of blight or something. A housefly was sitting on Walter Biscayne’s shoulder, but he didn’t even notice.

Walter collected his cones. I ran to the window.

“Ice cream sandwich, please,” I said.

“Sorry, we’re out,” said the ice cream guy. And then I heard the blast, a torrential ripping noise. It knocked me into the truck and blew the little truck right over on its side. A horrible cracking sound came up from the ground. My forehead was bleeding. When the noise went away, I sat up and looked around me.

The ground had been torn open in a deep, gaping rent as long as half a dozen ocean liners end to end. Dust rained down from the sky. Four houses on our street were completely gone, obliterated. The only thing left of my house–or my parents–was a broken piece of the slide from the back yard. The crack stopped just short of Walter’s house.

So yes, despite everything they’ve done for us since, despite the fact that they never erased New York or crushed the Eiffel Tower, I still think the aliens need to be exterminated.

Is that enough to get me into your goddamned little resistance, or do I need to get some scalps first?

  1. When the woman in the red coat offers you bread, accept.
  2. When trying to outrun a monster, consider turning to ask it what it wants, as often this is a simple item such as a clean handkerchief, a pomander, or even an answer to a question, like, for example, “Why am I chasing you?” The author, once chased by a giant crab, discovered upon inquiry that it was feeling quite sorry for itself, as no one had given it a present for its birthday.
  3. Always listen to animals bearing messages, especially those in loud waistcoats.
  4. Just about any person, creature, vegetable, item of furniture, or machine can represent your father or mother, particularly if you got landed with an obnoxious or useless specimen of parenthood; the important thing is take a firm line with your subconscious and not allow any “therapy dreams” to become boring.
  5. If you haven’t flown in your dreams, you are missing quite a treat; ask someone for lessons. Trustworthy teachers: dragons of proven character; women who live in caves full of candles; and, provided their hearts are visible and whole, people who are already flying.

They lured me here with promises of marriage. The best of men, the greatest of warriors was to be my husband.

We left my brother and sisters behind, taking the lightest chariot, the fastest horses, my mother and I. Chrysothemis and Elektra wept, covering their face with grief at our parting, but I saw their eyes, rich and dark with envy. My sisters swallowed down the bitter aloes of my marriage to Achilles, of my being chosen for such an honour.

How could we have known? Any of us, stupid girls. Stupid children. Even our mother was deceived.

We came to Aulis where Artemis had stilled the ships, all because my father had hunted sacred deer in the grove. Achilles waited, ardent, he himself taken in by my father’s promises.

Agamemnon sold me not for a bride-price but for a breath of wind.

I stepped from the chariot, all white and gold, the loveliest bride a man could hope for (if he could not have bright Helen to wife). My skin was pale, hair shining ringlets, eyes blue as the Aegean, my body ready for my bridegroom’s bond.

Father led me past Achilles, spoke to me quietly, told me it was my duty. He led me to the altar where Calchas stood, dagger in hand; where kindling had been laid in wait to carry the sacrifice upwards. Achilles wailed, a child deprived of his new toy, but he conceded soon enough to promises of greater treasure. Of his pick of the Trojan women.

My mother howled and I wondered for a moment if perhaps Hera might come to her aid. Might smite them down, all these men who thought it fair and just to cut short my life. Clytemnestra would not forgive and her vengeance would be terrible, but no more than my father deserved.

They speak of me as immortal. They say the goddess took pity on me and flew me away to Tauris, leaving a white hind in my place. They say a man there loved me, gave me children. That I had a long life far from here.

They lie. No god-blood in my veins. I was but flesh and blood, bone and breath and the blade was cold against my throat. I am another unhappy shade left to walk the dust of this earth.

A holographic movie poster levitated, advertised The Meltdown, made half of New York simmer and boil.  Lyssa Vanmaher observed from an outdoor café, sipping a double double espresso  She flickered through the response statistics on her contact lenses. If she asked Jasper not to get the viral upload? “94% chance he’d still go.”  If she told Jasper she’d marry him? “67% chance he’d still go.” If she knocked him out with a tire iron, stuffed him in her trunk…? “89% chance he’d escape and still go.”  Bastard!

“Who are you mumbling about?”  Jasper leaned into her space, kissed her nose from across the wrought-iron table.  He grinned.

“Inconsiderate jerks.”

He draped his coat over the back of his chair and seated himself with a whuff, which made Lyssa tingle irrationally.  Jasper stretched his hands toward hers, open.  “Marry me?”

Lyssa flicked a tableside button, canceling out sound waves from entering or leaving their table.  She opened her mouth, closed it again.  She said, “What’s the point.”

“We’re in love.”  He held his hands out a beat longer before withdrawing.  “I’m in love.”

“Eventually, I wouldn’t be married to you.  You wouldn’t be you.”

“Can’t step into the same river twice.”

“Drop the clichés.”  Her face relaxed.  “Help me get something out of my trunk.”

“We’ve talked this to death.  If you won’t marry, a date. Before I go.”

Lyssa swept back her hair.

“A kiss?”

NY continued to bubble, bubble, and toil.

“A hug?”  Jasper stood, scraping the chair’s iron legs across the cement.  His fingers arched upon the table like flying buttresses. Lyssa froze as his forearms bulged with a whiff of violence.

Jasper shrugged into his coat, drank her in, left.

Alyssa’s lens monitor belatedly informed her: His body language boded not violence but impotence.  It never ceased to amaze her how differently men and women viewed the same events.   She stood, she sat.  New York’s boiling cauldron semi-hypnotized her.  How did one violently cook a thing for weeks?  There had to be a loop.  Nothing goes on forever.  Once she spotted the loop and broke the illusion, she could go.

Night fell.  Waiters rolled up, asked if she would like a refill. They took it out of her credit chip.

The sun arose.  The loop didn’t appear.  Maybe it followed the pattern of entropy.  Everything decays, comes to an end, breaks down.  She’d just wait for that to happen.

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