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We’re changing things up a bit this week, giving you updates on cabalists you haven’t seen here in a while mixed with some microfiction pieces that are even more micro than our usual fiction. Click here to read today’s update, or just click “previous story” further down this page.

Where are they now: Jeremy Tolbert

Actually, even though Jeremy isn’t actively writing stories for the Daily Cabal, he’s never really left–the site design and behind-the-scenes architecture is all his doing, and he still helps keep things going.

Jeremy is pretty much a renaissance man: writer, photographer, web site designer, creator of cool new hybrids of all of the above (see his steampunk magnum opus Dr. Julius T. Roundbottom: Scientist & Philosopher–early bits of which appeared here at the Cabal).

Alexander wasn’t sure when he became aware of the ephemeralist. At first, he’d only heard the name, thought it was maybe an email discussion group (the ephemera list). But he noticed more and more mentions and eventually found it.

The trick was leaving all the vowels out after the first “e” as if the word were already going away. Whoever Twittered and retweeted under the name covered all kinds of transitory happenings–locations and specials of the newest food trucks, gps coordinates of pop-up restaurants, schedules of subway flash mob dance troops, Saturday night invitation-only book auctions in the empty apartments, street corner moment-museums…

For a while, it was enough to read about them, but actually tracking one down seemed intimidatingly hip for Alexander. His job involved turning weekly statistics into multi-color charts for a multinational more or less in the financial services industry and he coveted the trendier existence in the marketing and advertising departments two floors up.

Then he stumbled across a food truck that had been mentioned the day before, and he was hooked. It was as if that Chinese steamed bun filled with spicy Ethiopian stew was something he’d always craved but never imagined existed. His still devoted his days to surrounding pie charts with haloes of callout lines, but evenings and weekends he explored cuisines, places, events, micro-societies that wouldn’t exist in a week, in a day, in an hour, that might have already ended.

On the subway, after watching midnight PechaKucha projected 50-feet tall on an abandoned building, he dozed for a moment, and woke to find his iPhone displaying ephemeralist’s Twitter page. He looked again–he wasn’t viewing, he was logged in with a new tweet just started. It read “The next.”

He looked around–the ephemeralist must be here, pranking him. The girl in the hoodie and earbuds not meeting anyone’s eyes? The middle-aged hospital scrub-wearer with spiky frosted hair? The ponytail guy reading Stieg Larsson?

He had a quest, and began scanning his fellow attendees for any repeat visitors. Easy enough–she always wore the same sweatshirt.

“You’re him!” he said, plunking down in the next seat on the train.

Beside him sat Mr. frosted hair, eyes closed, snoring lightly.

“Sure,” she said. “I’m infected, same as you.”

Out the corner of his eye, he saw the man in scrubs was texting in his sleep–something about a moment-museum…

Masker

I don’t remember the stairs down, or grabbing my coat, or going out to them, but I’m part of the procession now. Masked and singing, we walk in a line through the snow. We sing the song that I’ve been hearing in my head since I first put on the mask a few weeks ago, the words that came clearer as the solstice approached.

Repeated for hours, the words become nonsense, then seem to mean something else. Out of the corners of my eyes I see, among the trees on either side, menacing shaggy figures, moving effigies, a dance circling around us as we go. But there are no tracks in the snow but my own and the drummer’s. The wind blowing the drummer’s clothes shows he’s skeleton thin. He grins with all his teeth.

I keep singing, even though I don’t know how much sound makes it past my scarf, which is pulled up over my freezing nose, my eyes are tearing from the ghost-wind, and there are frozen clumps of tears along bottom of my mask. If I don’t keep singing, I know they’ll find me in a snowbank when the spring melt comes, and I wonder if that’s who the rest of the marchers are–recipients of the mask, who sang and marched until the winter overcame them, and can’t help but come back.

The cold becomes a prickling pain, a burning, becomes heat, and the bleached world we march through might as well be a moonlit desert. I can’t stop my feet from moving in time to the beat of the drum. I can’t stop singing the words that seem to be pulled out of me in an unending thread. And I’m running because I can see the sun’s glow, and I keep running, because the procession will end when it’s up, but the sun gets halfway over the horizon, then I swear it’s going down again, and there are hills, each valley a pocket of night, but we charge up the next incline hoping the sun will be higher, and I can’t tell, it should be up by now, I keep running, and then, at the crest of one hill, it’s the moon, not the sun, and I don’t know how many hours we still have to go. My feet are stumps of ice.

The drummer drums. I march.

The drummer grins. I sing.

It was said of the queen’s eyepatch that beaver-bees wove it, meshing the finest and most pliant twigs — more like hair than kindling — and fastening them into that characteristic square with honey.

It was said, occasionally, that a man with an ocean in his belly removed it from a fish’s jaw and delivered it by rainfall into the queen’s private orchid garden.

It was said by many in the city that a lone merchant appeared out of the desert, bearing a stilted house on her back, and from it withdrew all manner of artifacts in the palatial square to woo the young, half-blind queen. The eyepatch, golden-white and strung on minute beads of jade — so small that only close examination revealed that it was not a soft green thread — secured the merchant’s place in the young queen’s bed. Their heirs fluttered out on ruby wings.

One disgruntled suitor commonly muttered that the rear side of the eyepatch, when pressed to the queen’s empty socket, each day showed a different breathtaking panorama from the merchant’s wandering years. In this way the merchant secretly taunted her lover. That barbed foreigner!

The merchant’s name was Lixhi and her eyes, amber-orange, reminded everyone of her unknown origins.
The city loved its queen nonetheless. Eventually, the sensible men said, she would stop knitting ruby bird-girls with her womb and take a man to bed, producing the regular four-limbed boy-children of the land. The merchant-woman would wander again.

It was said that if the queen removed the eyepatch, the merchant-woman would forget their heady lovemaking.

It was said that the queen made it herself, from the wonders gifted to her temple, to woo the exotic visitor unloading fine merchandise in the palatial square.

To speed this along, an attendant was bribed.

The scissors snipped, the string snapped, the tiny jade beads rattled into cracks on the floor. The empty socket, exposed, made the queen cry. She hated the feel of air against it.

“Men are idiots,” the merchant-woman said, kissing that ruined hole, after shouting at guards to capture the fleeing attendant. “I’ll make you a new one, if you want? I found beads made of parrot beaks, fabrics made of seal-silk.”

“And I’ll make a boy-heir for them: seven-winged and beaked, jade-feathered, in love with tigers,” the queen said, embracing her lover. “Can you imagine their faces when we all step out tomorrow?”

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