The bar was packed. Everyone was there. The band on the carousel dais played my favorite Talking Heads song, the name of which escapes me (it goes bop-bop, bopbopbop–but then a lot of songs here do). And me, I was sandwiched between my two favorite people, Julius and Endiku–arms slung over shoulders, beer from mugs sloshed on sandals, bodies swayed, voices bellowed at the top of our lungs yet somehow still in tune. To be perfectly honest, my two favorite people are usually whomever I’m sandwiched between. Also, to be perfectly honest, my favorite song is usually whatever’s playing. The ambrosia, however delectable, tasted flat. It needed more hops. I’d been hesitant to complain to the management.

During the bridge, the lyrics of which we never seem to know though Endiku kept singing off-key anyway (which the walls of heaven somehow resonate into a kind of harmony), Homer dashed to my side. “Did you hear?” Before I could shake my head, Homer had babbled on breathlessly, “Sure-footed Mercury said that knobby-kneed Pandora entered heaven with a Bowie knife, then vanished after he spoke to her.”

Julius and I guffawed. Long-winded Homer was forever making up stories. “Yeah, right,” I managed after catching my breath. With the back of my hand, I wiped away tears of laughter.

Endiku, off in his own world, catching sight of my tears, wrapped both arms around me. “Everything’s fine now, David: We’re in heaven.”

“You guys, burn me up.” Short-tempered Homer stormed off to find a more appreciative audience.

Time is difficult to measure in a place like this, but it couldn’t have been long before our corporeal forms began to rise, pirouette, and swirl about the hall like–well–Lincoln Logs in a toilet, getting faster and faster until our bodies slammed against the walls and tapestries that dematerialized as soon as we struck, our bones snapping on impact.

And then I was ordering another ambrosia, arms slung over the shoulders of my two favorite people. “Now be honest with me, fellas,” I asked the guys concentrating hard on not holding my sibilance for too long. “What’s the last interesting thing that’s happened up here?”

Endiku gave me a funny look. “You think nothing interesting happens because you already know so much.”
“Damn straight.”

Note from the author: Although my girlfriend does read my mind sometimes, this story is not about either one of us. Occasional mind-reading is fun and exciting; it’s only constant mind-reading that’s a problem.

“That’s sweet that you like me better,” Marcia said, reading my thoughts as a jogger passed us, “but you’re right: she has a nicer ass.”

It was great that Marcia always told me what was on her mind. I found it harder to like hearing what was on my mind. Which, unfortunately, she knew. It was also impossible to surprise her.

“But I don’t need surprises,” she said as I was thinking about the problem one Sunday morning during a walk in postage stamp park two blocks from our apartment. “Believe me, I get enough surprises just hearing what people think. The old guy at the Korner Mart yesterday: he wanted to smear–”

“Look, ducks,” I said. It was true, there were actually two ducks today in the bathtub-sized pond in the middle of the tiny park. Of course, I was just changing the subject.

“Sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t bring things like that up.”

 As usual, she ignored what I said and responded to what I thought. It wasn’t even a matter of privacy: it was a matter of being able to conduct a relationship instead of having my instincts conduct it for me. For just a while, I wanted her out of my head. And she’d probably just overheard that thought, proving the importance of my point. God, I seriously needed to break up with her.

Marcia looked at me disgustedly. “Fine,” she said. “You … just … fine!”

She strode off in the direction we’d come. She was probably starting to cry already, and knowing that I knew that probably was making her cry even harder.

“Hey, get back here!” I shouted after her.

She turned, but shook her head furiously. Her tears glimmered on her cheeks. “I know what you think,” she said.

“Thinking isn’t the same as deciding,” I said, walking toward her. “If you’re going to hear everything I think, fine, but some of that stuff is crap.”

“It’s not crap!” she said. “You thought–”

I pictured crap, a big steaming pile of it. She snorted with laughter that she was trying not to have and made an I’m-really-amused-but-I’m-trying-to-be-angry face.

“Come on, Houdini,” I went up and took her hand. “You didn’t even look at the ducks.”

The ducks had flown away when we went back to the pond, but I remembered what they had looked like for us both, and that was almost as good.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the sixth chapter of an ongoing flash serial, “Connected.”  Search for the tag “Connected” to find other chapters.  Subscribe to the Daily Cabal RSS feed for a new chapter every week or two.

Morello holds his son’s hand.  Two months Caul was in the coma now, since he was disconnected from his tribe.  A month since AI counselors talked Morello out of retribution.  He feels his wife’s grief through the wires like a toothache.  Feels a hundred sympathetic thoughts.  His tribe.  Caul’s.

He leaves his meatsack holding Caul’s hand.  His mind leaves one tribe for another.  Morello to Detective Morello.  The hum of police work thrums in his bones.

Abruptly: all hands on deck.  A steelsack depot hacked.  Rogue minds piloting sleek silver bodies.

Morello’s ‘sack is close.  He slams back into his flesh, starts running.  He sees steelsacks  tumbling past.  Hundreds clogging the street.  Too many to stop.

He pulls up security drone vid feeds.  Everywhere.  They’re coming from everywhere.  Converging on a residential block.

And then the army stops.  Its first wave collapses.  And he has seen these lifeless bodies before.  These mindless bodies.  Disconnected.  All around the buildings they pile up.  Wave after wave of bodies.  A demarcation zone of disconnection.

A steel body waits there for him.  Morello readies his firearm.  The steelsack holds out an arm.

“We have found them,” it says.  A familiar voice.  He tries to place it.  “They took your son.  But we cannot get closer.  They exist in the gaps of our knowledge, where we cannot go.  We can only point the way, but you must walk the path.”

“Who?” he asks.  “Who are you?”


Morello doesn’t understand.  But then the steelsack sweeps aside his firewalls and he sees.  A new tribe.  His own.  Every steelsack steered by a copy of himself.

“The AI.  The counselors.  They copied you.”

Illegal digital copies of himself.  Sackless.  All working for the retribution he isn’t.  Unable to act in meatspace unless connected.  And here they lie.  Disconnected.  Over and over.  Like Caul.  Over and over.

He thinks of violence and a thousand carefully programmed reprimands spring into his mind.  This is giving in.  This is dangerous.  Revenge is not the basis of a sound society.

He looks at his hand.  It remembers the feel of Caul’s palm.  Skin-to-skin.  His pistol is in it now.  Society disapproves.  But he does not care about society now.  He cares about his own.  His tribe.  Caul’s tibe.  So Morello climbs the wall.  And Morello opens fire.

This is the fairy tale your mother wouldn’t tell you. This is the fairy tale the brothers Grimm found too horrifying to ink on pure white parchment. Through the years only the meanest mothers passed it down to their most iniquitous children to frighten them into submission (and wetting their beds) in the darkest, coldest hours of bleak German winters when the bloated moon cast shadows of swaying tree limbs into the children’s bedroom–the gnarled fingers of a witch lingering just outside and tapping at the window.

This is the fairy tale that survived on the back flyleaf of dusty library tomes hiding Grimm’s worst fairy tales that an unfortunate listener had to pen in order to purge herself of the nightmares that still stalked her into adulthood or in order to burden new generations with his own childhood afflictions. This is the fairy tale, rumor spreads, that the fabled old wives share with a hearty cackle as they squat around a boiling black cauldron deep in the thickest thorny bramble and poison-oak woods.

This fairy tale is typed here only to purge the world. Legend tells that if the story were told to the world at once, evil would flee from the land and leap back into Pandora’s lock box. And so, paradoxically, I wound the world to save its soul from the stain of this story:

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