I got a letter from Grandma today. She’s making butterflies on commission. The cafeteria is free, she says, but she can buy great ethnic food with the money she earns. She likes Jamaican meat pies. She says the ones she gets now are much better than those we used to buy in Toronto. She thinks they are more traditional. I said it stands to reason.

I told her about you. She doesn’t really understand the Internet. I explained it is like a combination of writing letters and making telephone calls. Then she said she worried I was spending too much money on it.

I told her money can’t buy me love. But then I reminded her I just pay a flat fee every month. She was cool with you being so much younger. When she was coming up it was commonplace for women to marry much older men. Of course, then, they often had no choice in the matter. I didn’t tell her you were bi, but I did say we hoped to meet someday.

She said she saw Elvis last week. He was singing at some kind of impromptu outdoor performance. I don’t understand how they plan those without cell phones. Anyway, she said he sang Stairway to Heaven. Wish I’d been there. Not really, but I would have loved to see that concert.

It’s so nice they can write us now. Heaven isn’t what she expected, but she says her cousin Thelma shouldn’t call it a sweatshop. Grandma worked in one before the Depression. The real one. She made shirts. Up there, they don’t have to work at all, and of course they don’t sweat. It’s just that they need money if they want luxuries. I guess it’s His way of making sure souls maintain a good work ethic even after death. Or maybe he just needs the help. She said she’s made a lot of black swallowtails, so the next time you see one, it could be one of hers.

No, she could not get His autograph for you. All three of Them are working, like, 24/7. I know you were joking, but I asked anyway. The best she could do was Voltaire. She said he is easy to talk to, if you know French. I believe he thinks she’s hot.

To answer your other question, you definitely should write your sister. Even though it’s been years, I bet she misses you as much as you’ve missed her. Why wait?

The End

A kilometer outside the fortress of the Green Empress, a small white rabbit huddled naked against a dirty concrete shed cracked with age and bombardment, clutching in her small arms a smaller version of herself, her shivering baby, the only one left alive after the incessant aerial bombings of the Dragonflies over the past four weeks.

The skies were the ever-slate of the Land of Grey Dusk, but the Dragonflies’ explosive ordnance threw up smoke incarnadine and lavender. Overhead, the massive insects droned, searching out any remaining warrens or burrows not yet obliterated by their patrols. The rabbit squeezed her eyes shut and held her little one tight as she dared, her entire body ajitter, anticipating the descending whistle of the ball of light and noise that would destroy her completely.

But instead she heard, “Psst! Over here!”

She eased up her right eyelid and saw a young girl poking her head out of a doorway in the shed, a doorway the rabbit was certain had not been there before. Within was dimness, but the rabbit skittered over and leapt inside onto a dirt floor. The girl slammed the door and the rabbit laid eyes on the motley assortment gathered there in the faint light: a tortoise, a cat, and two person-shaped things with spears.

“We’re looking for the Green Empress,” the girl was saying. “Can you tell us how to find her?”

“Do you mean to kill her?” asked the rabbit.

“What? No! I just need her to send me back home. Why would you want to kill her?”

“She did the same to my lifemate and my dozens of children. To her we’re pests to be exterminated.” Her one remaining bunny shivered and wept silently in her arms.

“Is that so?” said the girl, her facial features set hard and angry. “Well then, I have yet one more thing to discuss with her.”

“And then afterward you will kill her?”

The girl bent down and gently touched the rabbit on the arm. “No. I don’t believe in killing. It wouldn’t bring back your family. But I will make her stop her extermination, and there will be recompense for the survivors, you can be assured of this.”

The rabbit said not in a word in reply, but held out her precious baby to the strange girl, who took her. The rabbit closed her eyes again to concentrate, and despite her exhaustion both physical and mental, she touched her forepaws to the dirt floor and began to dig.

(This piece was inspired visually by Lisa Snellings’ evocative eponymous painting, and aurally by Linkin Park’s “Krwlng (Mike Shinoda ft. Aaron Lewis).”)

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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
07: Wind and Harmony

A swordswoman hiking up a ravine toward the besieged city of M. heard a bird’s song. Not even the whole song, just a string of notes, falling quickly down then rising slowly up. It stuck in her head the whole march, through the silence when they couldn’t even whisper, and then she found herself singing it under her breath to the beat of the battle’s parry and lunge. When they’d won and the city was free and the wine was plentiful, she sang it until she was hoarse, and her comrades sang with her.

By the next time they were hired into battle, the song had found words and an air of bravado. A song of attack and a song of victory. Twenty years later, when her war-band had become an army and then an empire, the tune slowed to an anthem, gathering about itself trumpet-glints and timpani-shadows, on the morning of her coronation.

In the border-expanding years of the second empress’s reign, it was sung by schoolchildren and marched to in parades that seemed to happen twice a week or more.

When rebellion years sent the fourth empress into hiding, it was sung softly, almost prayer-like, behind drawn curtains late at night.

When the twin empresses eleven and twelve commissioned fleets of exploration, the song was transcribed for hundreds of foreign instruments in a score of unfamiliar scales.

When twenty-third empress abdicated by disappearing into the noonday crowd on the grand plaza, it attained a melancholy grandeur, sung in snatches as a kind of password — until the fifth regent banned it in the course of an anti-royalist purge.

And when, several tens of thousands years later, an explorer from shores more distant than the empire’s furthest borders picked up a music box that had just enough twist left in its springs to play the song (nearly as much of it as the barbarian swordswoman had heard that distant afternoon), it tingled in the explorer’s tentacles and lingered in her peripheral brain’s deeper nodes all the way back up to the comfort of the limit ship. With the rest of her planetside experiences, she loaded it into the memory pool. Next time they slipped through a particle/wave inversion, the ship loaded it to the wider aether. Then the song quavered to life in trillions of minds on a thousand worlds and, this time, it would not be forgotten.

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Pandora had not known then what we today take for granted:  Our houses are watching us:  from the center hole in the ceiling fan, to the constellations of faces and creatures inhabiting spackles in the painted ceiling, to the creatures frolicking among the knots in the wooden paneling.  So it was that Pandora was taken completely off-guard by the house’s incisive observations.

Pandora returned from the gym after a half-hour on the stair-master, which somehow felt like her work at Widget Manufacturing, Inc.  She stripped to her Underoos and struck muscle-man poses in front of her bedroom mirror.  She pinched her gut and slapped her jiggly thighs.  “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fattest in the mall?”

“Is that a rhetorical question, or do you really want an answer?”

Being self-conscious of her body and her silly underwear, it wasn’t the best of times to hear a strange voice in her bedroom.  “Who said that?”

“Rhetorical, then.  My father always said I couldn’t keep my reflections to myself.”



“What were you saying?”

“Simply that you have a body-image problem.  Just accept yourself.”

Pandora stared into her reflection and nodded at it, slightly.  She wrapped herself in a fluffy pink robe and stepped into the bathroom.  She undressed in the shower, washed, and wrapped her body in a towel before standing in front of the bathroom mirror.  “So,” she asked, “you think I have a body-image problem?”

The mirror snorted.  “That’s one way to put it.  All you do is primp and preen: Is my hair perfect?  How’s this shade of lipstick?  Vanity, vanity.  I’ve never known anyone so damn self-absorbed.”

Shell-shocked, Pandora stared at her steamy reflection.  Then she walked stiffly into the bedroom and laid herself across the bed, face planted in a pillow.  After a good cry, she draped her towel across the bedroom mirror, dressed in her pajamas, and lay with the covers up to her chin.  She tried to read, she tried to sleep, but her eyes kept leaking.

“Excuse me, Pandora.  I couldn’t help noticing your distress.”

“Who said that?”

“Me.  The ceiling fan.  Look, I know I shouldn’t interfere, but those mirrors don’t see you for who you really are.”

“Thank you.”  Pandora smiled up at her ceiling through bleary eyes.  “It’s nice to know I have a fan.”

“Sure.  Your problem is laziness: All you ever do is lie around.”

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