Jordan watched the glass disk in the street very carefully. He was pretty sure it had not been there a couple of minutes before, and he was also sure that he hadn’t looked away from the pavement.
Finally he nudged it with a dirty sneaker. It looked awfully thin, and he was afraid to break it, but when he touched it with the edge of his shoe, it didn’t seem to budge. He squatted down and looked into it. It wasn’t glass like a windowpane. It looked more like that piece of volcanic glass that Mrs. Gubner had brought to school, except bluish, and with weird spots in it, that swirled and rippled even though he couldn’t see them move. He just knew they did.
After a while he remembered that he had to go to school, and realized that he was looking up at the houses along the street with great relief—they are still here, they aren’t rotted away and gone like in a time travel movie, came the thought. So he walked over to his skateboard and his backpack and kept going.
After a minute or two the glass disk rose as if someone underneath it were opening a hatch, which was pretty much the case; a man and a woman emerged, wearing orange business suits.
“Well, that was close,” said the man. The woman examined the street.
“Still using asphalt. We should go forward about a century,” she announced.
“You know best,” said the man, and they lifted the glass disk and climbed under it again.
A house finch swooping down to look at the shiny thing was rather startled to find it gone at swoop’s bottom.

The first thing Claude did when he realized he had magical powers was to refluff his stuffed dog, Nostrils. Nostrils had gone through the dryer once before anyone knew how nobbly that would make his fur, and he had been nobbly ever since. Restored by magic, he was now fluffy again, blissfully soft.

It was late at night–almost nine–and he wasn’t allowed to be awake this late, except he had just realized he had magic powers. He had been dreaming about talking to a big crow, and the big crow gave him magic powers. So Claude woke up, and there was Nostrils right next to him, and he immediately used the magic.

The second thing he did was to make it so that all of his toys could talk, and the third thing he did, in a panic just about a second and a half later, was make it so that they were very good at using their super-quiet indoor voices when it wasn’t time for loud talking.

Claude’s Mommy, a tall, beautiful lady who knew everything, poked her head in Claude’s room, but Claude lay still with his eyes closed. Nostrils wriggled a little with excitement, but the toys were quiet, and after a moment Claude’s Mommy closed the door, proving, Claude realized, that she didn’t know everything.

The toys–stuffed animals, matchbox cars, action figures, and so on–were talking in excited super-quiet indoor voices, and mostly they were asking Claude questions.

“Claude, why did you make us alive?” said a monkey with a drum. “Now that we’re alive, we have a lot of feelings, and we don’t know what to do.”

“You should play with me,” Claude said. “That’s what you’re for.”

“But if we have our own lives, should we really be just doing what you want all the time and being ignored other times?”

 “Yes,” said Claude.

“But I want to do the things I want to do! Once I know what those are.”

Then Claude immediately took back the aliveness of the toys, except for Nostrils, and he gave Nostrils a complete and utter love for him.

He didn’t need to bother. Nostrils was already loved Claude completely and utterly.

Then Claude, who could do anything, went back to sleep, because he could always play with the world in the morning.

Our tenuous ceasefire ends just before dawn with a barrage of German words in the font they call Fraktur. It’s a heavy bombardment with serifs that explode on impact. Fellow soldiers die, pierced by splinters of ‘t’ and ‘k’ and that weird ‘b’-shape that sounds like a double ‘s’.

The Luftwaffe owns the skies to the east of our position. At any moment I expect bombers to drop those compound words that have so flattened the cities of Poland. But then our proud Spitfires appear and harry them from the sky in bursts of disconnected phonemes.

We cheer, and advance on a bunker, hardened with layer on layer of incomprehensibly jumbled adjectives. A machine gun spits guttural consonants. We assemble a mortar, and lob explosive monosyllables at it. When it crumples we call it a good day’s work and dig in for the morrow’s siege.

Word comes that the Americans have officially declared war. There are rumors of a sneak attack on their naval base in Hawaii. I try to imagine blocky ideograms filling the sky.

Darkness falls, pierced here and there by spotlights. Ack-ack will likewise pierce our dreams.


This story takes place in the same universe as ‘Subtext‘.

Here’s my first question: how the hell does a head without a body wind up in a vegetable box in a Safeway stock room, anyway? Sure they call them ‘heads’ of lettuce, but that’s just rife with wrong. Second question: how much wronger is it that the head opens its eyes and starts gabbling away in Spanish? Third, and wrongest of all: why does it happen when I’m here? I mean, I’ve been good, mostly.

Pretty handsome, as heads go. Long dark hair, deep brown eyes, straight mostly-white teeth in a mouth without a bottom. Ew.

I’m Tina Tryon, night stocker. These things happen to me.

No way is this some joke of Manuel’s or Pablo’s. For one thing, they’re both backing away in horror, hands totally visible.

“What’s he saying?” I ask. Sure, I want to retreat, too, but vegetables is my beat. Somebody’s got to stick around. Guess I’m elected.

From behind the forklift, Pablo says, “He’s very tired, and he wants his body.”

“Fair enough,” I say. “Tell him we don’t have any in stock. Manny, call the cops.” I know this script; somehow by the time they come the head won’t be there or it’ll turn into lettuce, and I’ll look like some kind of kook. But maybe if I don’t call them it’ll get worse. A lot worse.

“So why’s he here?” I ask Pablo. “Ask him what he’s doing contaminating my lettuce.” If I know Alan Parkins, the store manager, he’s just going to have me wash the stuff and put it out anyway. Hell, he’d probably have me put the head out in the freezer case marked $7.99 a pound.

“He says he is a powerful brujo, a wizard, and often turns his head into a crow to spy on his enemies.” Neat trick. “Sadly, he takes on crow habits, like trying to grab food. He landed in a truckload of lettuce, ran out of magic, and turned back into a head. Without hands he’s stuck this way.”

I hear sirens approaching. It’ll be the simplest thing in the world to let them have the head. Then I can go back to stocking.

Boring, boring stocking.

Or I could grab the head, hitch south, and learn Spanish. Maybe learn magic.

Maybe lose my head. “Pablo,” I say. “When the cops get here let them in. I’m going to keep an eye on this head and make sure it doesn’t get away.” I shrug at the head, and get the impression he’d shrug back if he had shoulders.

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