Plugs

Remember, first of all, that this is no ordinary city. The wind has teeth and they bite exposed flesh — cover up, plan your route to minimise time spent outdoors, accept the inevitability that the clever wind will find its way to your wrists and cheeks.

The main attraction is the prison, a construction of stone and exquisitely painted wood that funnels the wind into a series of passageways. A century ago, prisoners were chained there, tormented for as long as their crime — or the need for information — dictated. Now, tourists gasp at the chain-stumps and shriek when the wind sneaks up their sleeves.

It is a unique experience. No visit is complete without at least an hour there.

Opinions are divided on whether you should do this first of all, or save it until last so that the rest of your stay is not as painful. However, this latter option means you might have accumulated too much pain from the preceding days and find the prison almost as torturous as its inmates did.
We recommend seeing it first. Overleaf, see a map showing the safest passageways, as agreed upon by our team of independent travellers.

Other major sights include the moaning bridge, the museum, the art gallery (the often surreal depictions of the wind on the second floor are excellent) and, of course, the palace.

Much of the former rulers’ home is in ruin, after the uprising of 1904 and the end of the city-state’s independence, but the preserved parts are worth viewing: throne hall, with spectacular granite thrones; various tiled floors; enough intact walls to give an impression of the shape; and, most eerie of all things in this city, fallen pieces of the wooden roof. Bite-grooves from centuries of wind flowing over the palace are boldly visible. No other buildings are made of wood in these times.

A favourite cultural experience is the basement club, where the city’s youth remove their armoured clothing and dance. Their pale skin, sluiced with the clever wind’s marks, is unsettlingly beautiful: their wrists, ankles and faces seem the epicentres of strange white and red jewellery. A few visitors consider the dancers’ ages, usually in the 20s, and wonder at the appearance of their grandparents.

It is a mostly cheap city, although we recommend paying extra for a thoroughly insulated hotel. Evzen Hotel is good. The following restaurants are especially fine: Damek’s, Vaclav Grillhouse, The Wind-Sliced Rabbit.

Some risk-takers skimp on clothing, to “experience the true city”. Do not copy them.

On the reedy banks of the River Floyd, the Fellowship of the Little Girl came across a middle-aged man in a rumpled blue suit arguing with a large sinuous dragon. The man was the first human Anya had seen in the Land of Grey Dusk, and so she led her party over to the squabblers.

“But it’s not so far,” the man was saying. “Why are you being so stubborn?”

“On account of this,” the dragon hissed and lightly poked at the man’s paunchy stomach. “You have gotten heavy, Jackie, too big for me. You’ll likely break my back were I to take you to Harmony.”

“John, not Jackie,” said the man, “and this is water weight.”

“Hello,” said Anya. The arguing duo stopped and turned to look at her. The eyes of both the man and the dragon were identical, a blazing green.

“Yes?” said the dragon.

“Hi, my name is Anya,” said Anya.

“John,” said the man, “and Feng here is too lazy to give me a ride to the Land of He.”

“Huh?”

“No, not ‘Huh,’ ‘He,’” said Feng the dragon. “Your pronunciation is atrocious. ‘He’ is Chinese for Harmony, the land that is my home. Jackie used to visit me when he was much younger, and play, and bring me gifts, but then he grew up and had no more time for his dragon.”

“Can you blame me?” said the man. “It happens to everyone. I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“Yes. Here, grown up, and much too fat.”

Before the man could launch another retort, Anya said, “Friend Dragon, you look to be strong enough to carry John wherever he needs to go, but you still feel hurt and abandoned. John, you want to reconnect with your lost friend, but your pride is getting in the way of true intimacy. It seems to me that if you both admit to your feelings, you could stop arguing and both be happy.”

“Hmm,” said Feng the dragon. “She’s right, you know.”

“Yeah, I suppose.” John kicked at the reeds. “I’m sorry I left you all those years ago.”

“And I’m sorry I called you fat.” The dragon lowered itself to the ground. “You ready to go?”

John smiled and climbed aboard. As the dragon was about to depart, Anya said, “Wait!”

“Yes?”

“Can you give me a ride too? I’m trying to reach home.”

“Oh no, my dear girl, I don’t travel to the world above anymore. You will need to consult the Green Empress for passage back to that place.”

Feng the dragon squatted down and then launched itself into the air, twisting and twirling and ribboning through the skies, its passenger whooping and yawping all the while, both man and dragon now reunited in joy.

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Previously:
01: Mini Buddha Jump Over the Wall
02: The World, Under
03: Androcles Again
04: Look Into My Eyes, You’re Under
05: Shiftless, Hopeless
06: Cricetinae’s Paroxysm

Note: This story, while it stands alone, belongs to the Anan Muss series.

Anan Muss was careful, but not so careful he didn’t make mistakes (after all, a legion of King Ash’s slitters once sliced arc-blades at his head on every quantum-entanglement port).   Anan’s caution primarily meant it took longer to do simple tasks–as if his brain had rocketed to light-speed, slowing down his relative time.  Washing, ironing, and folding laundry usually cost him a weekend, even with robots. Cleaning his apartment required a week’s vacation.

Love was trickier.  He took his time in courtship:  a month to muster the courage to ask women to the aquarium theater, to talk intimately and walk the hanging orchid gardens, yet another month to kiss beneath bridges by the canals, and a year later to fall helplessly in love.  The year after that might have been marriage, he supposed, but women rarely waited long enough for him to ask them out.

Luckily, the second-generation AI ladies appeared in Japan.  All the shy lads wanted one.  By design, quantities were low, demand high.  One would have cost his year’s accounting salary.

So Anan mail-ordered one of those borderline real phonies made in China.  His fingers trembled as he unwrapped her.  Her skin–a soft, off-ivory–accentuated her raven-black hair.  His heart wanted to gallop away, but he reined it in.  She accepted his hand and stepped out of the box, “Am I not beautiful?”

Caught off-guard, yet ever poetic, Anan sought the right words:  “Yes…. I mean, no…. I mean, you are beautiful.”

“Love me, and I will be whomever you want.”

“Being yourself is enough although contents may settle, like cereal in a box.”

“And you will be whomever I want you to be.”

“Sure.  Within the limits of my present brain pattern.”

She laid plans of their future together.  He said he hoped she would have patient understanding, be someone he could share words with, someone who’d sharpen him gently, someone who would challenge and accept challenge.  “That’s exactly who I am,” she said, mentioning her unparalleled poetic sensibility.

As he painted her a porcelain love poem, he spoke of this inane idea he’d had of dating women virtually–not for love per se, but to understand women better.

He handed her his poem:

Laxity in

love milks

the black


swell of

twisted minutes

into hours

She shattered the porcelain and stalked away.  “I have no time for words.”

“She’s right.”  Anan sifted through the broken chips.  “It’s not much of a love poem.”

Making Divinity

The Cabbage-Patch God

The Dolls’ Crusade

*A Natural Attraction

A Remarkable Reaction

The Cabbage-Patch God decided to extend Her dominion over humans in order to protect Her future. Gods only exist as long as they have worshipers, and She was afraid that Her plush and painted congregation on the toy shelves didn’t count. Her only human worshiper was Kayla, Her creator. Friday night two of Kayla’s friends were sleeping over. This was a perfect opportunity to win the adoration of Britney and Whitney.

When the doorbell rang, Kayla ran down the stairs, shrieking with delight. She did not carry the Cabbage-Patch God with her, as she had done constantly for the past two weeks. The God felt a pang of worry. It might already be too late.

The three girls burst into the room, clattering past the Cabbage-Patch God where she lay slumped against the wall at the foot of the bed. The girls huddled in front of the desk, and the God could not see what they were looking at.

“He’s SO cute!” Whitney exclaimed, almost dancing in place. There was a faint click.

Britney giggled. “Look at this one! I love his floppy little ears.” More clicks.

Kayla squealed and leaned forward, pointing at something. “This is the cutest puppy ever! I love it SO much!”

The God suddenly felt nauseated and a pulse of weakness passed through Her. She squeezed Her eyes shut and gestured. Giant snowflakes in pastel pink and blue materialized above the girls and began to fall silently. The girls continued to laugh and talk excitedly. They didn’t notice the colored snowflakes because the flakes, which formed just below the ceiling, popped out of existence a few inches above the girls’ heads. The flurry’s intensity diminished. The flakes faded to white, shrank, and finally ceased altogether.

The God rubbed Her eyes vigorously. She needed to do better than that. The Cabbage-Patch God clenched Her fists, gathering Her powers. Let the girls ignore a full-size pink elephant! The wall beside Kayla’s bed acquired a pinkish hue. An irregular bulge suggested tusks, a trunk, and a broad forehead. Kayla’s mother called from downstairs.

“Girls! Lunch time.”

The wall snapped back to vertical and returned to a color that Sherwin-Williams had called “Ivory.”

“I’m starved!” Whitney shouted, and all three ran laughing from the room.

Kayla’s room was silent. The computer monitor on the desk showed a photograph of a dog, which wagged its tail and almost looked ready to jump right out of the screen. Elsewhere in the room, nothing moved.

The End

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