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Every day the man Nonthook washed the feet of the gods on their way up Mount Krailat: a task that brought him merit, a respectable income, and the daily jokes of the gods. They knocked on his head as they passed, thunk-thunk, and now Nonthook was bald in the centre of his scalp despite being only twenty-eight years old.§
The day that his wife murmured about meeting an attractive young rice farmer, Nonthook stomped up Mount Krailat to the god Issuan and made his complaint.
“Changing their ways is not within my power,” the god said sadly, “but I can offer you a gift in compensation.”
Nonthook thought for a moment, then smiled. “I will have a diamond index finger that kills instantly on touch.”
The gods knocked on Nonthook’s head, one after the other, and dropped like flies.
“He broke the terms of the gift,” Issuan said to a gathering of the remaining gods.
“You might have expected that,” one murmured, but was ignored. Who expects a man to kill gods when he promised to kill mosquitoes and fish? No other man had shown similar stupidity. The other gods shared suggested punishments among one another like a bowl of spicy chicken cooked in a banana leaf. Finally the god Nurai made one they agreed upon.
Nonthook’s diamond finger had brought him great pleasure, killing gods on the mountainside, but hadn’t returned his youthful looks or his wife’s attentions. So on the night of a great festival, when a beautiful young woman approached and asked if he might dance, Nonthook smiled broadly and took her hand. The young woman led him through a series of dance features: a woman stringing flowers for a garland, a deer wandering in the forest, the goddess lighting swords of light, the banana leaves in the wind, the naga twisting its tail–
At this phase, she pointed her index finger at her knee.
Absorbed in the dance, Nonthook pointed the diamond finger at his own knee.
He died like a god.
Here’s a quick message from cabal central: we’ll be undergoing some site maintenance this weekend, so the site may be down for some or all of the period from Friday to early next week. Thanks for bearing with us.
And now, on to Ken’s story.
Johnny knew it was a bad sign when the jukebot switched to country music without his keying in so much as a chit. It rolled past his table, turned a suspicious cam on him for the briefest moment, then cut off its trance-punk-disco mix in the middle of a three-chord flourish. Did he really look that desperate?
He took another swig of beer when a voice whispered in his head that, yes, he looked like he’d slept in his clothes again, like he’d just been dumped by his longtime GF for a multitude of clichés, like he’d lost his job to a young tool just out of college working for half the salary. All this was true, and that made the bot’s choice of Vince Gill whining about his lost lover all the more depressing.
The voice said, “Order another beer,” so he did. The waitbot brought a pitcher.
Halfway through the next beer, she sat down. Retrogal, hair all big and splayed out, just how he liked it. Jeans that looked like they were made from real cotton, so tight they seemed painted on rather than worn. George Jones, long-dead but somehow still relevant, warbled from the bot about Corvettes and two-dollar pistols.
“Hi,” she said. The waitbot put a glass in front of her and Johnny filled it. “I just love this beer,” she said. “Don’t you?”
“Speaks to me,” Johnny said. His words were slurred. “Tells me stuff.”
She finished half the glass in one go, then nodded like that was the most profound thing anyone had ever said to her. Of course, Johnny reminded himself, this was a bar, and it might well have been.
“Feeling lost,” he said.
“She dumped you, huh?”
“That’s not the half of it,” he said. “Wait, how did you…”
“Beer talking,” she said.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. He tried to say something else, but failed.
“I can help you get it back,” she said.
“Get it back?”
“What you lost,” she said.
He thought about that long and hard, as only someone drunk on nano-enhanced beer could do. He thought all the way through Kenny Chesney talking about not knowing what he’d do if he lost it.
She smiled at him and put on some lipstick that glowed like electrified maraschinos.
That settled it. Johnny downed his Nanoweizen, poured another glass from the pitcher, and ordered a round for the house.
Smart beer, dumb retrogal, the promise of redemption. Maybe not a solution, but a damn fine distraction. What the hell.
When “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” started playing, he knew he’d made the right choice.
He’d take her home, open up a bottle of Patrón, and turn on some rock and roll.
The hangover would be worth it.
The ministers are back, but they haven’t burnt anyone yet. Momma locked me up in my room so I wouldn’t get into fights with “those minister boys”, but Susan helped me out through the window and we went godhunting.
The ministers have shut down the Swindler’s market and taken old Beth to cus-to-dy (she’s the only one they could catch, ministers can’t run much). It’s sad about poor Beth but Momma says she was getting too old anyway.
Since the market is closed our mothers can’t sell the gods and we get to eat all the brains we want.
So, we caught a god up by the creek and I went eenie, meany, miny, med and Susan won, so she ate it. Then we caught another one and I ate it. We were playing all quiet and not bothering anyone, dear diary, so everything that happened afterwards wasn’t our fault. We were sharing the third (see, like good girls) when this minister boy pops up from behind the rocks and starts yelling and calling us cannibals.
“I didn’t call you no names!” I told him, but he kept at it, shouting that we were eating our baby-brothers.
“Oh, so now little gods are our baby-brothers,” said Susan. “And how would you know?”
The stupid minister boy started crying. “Because I remember. From when I was little.”
Well, I tell you, dear diary, we had enough of that nonsense. I took a rock and threw it at him, just to shut him up, but my aim is too good, even when I don’t pretend it to be and it hit him square on the mouth.
He blubbered like a little god, even though he was only bleeding a little and threatened to call the Inquisitives. And that’s when Susan punched him in the gut and we took off.
I slipped back into the room and Momma never knew that I was gone.
And that was that.
I sure hope that minister boy doesn’t tattle.