Where are the Dreams of My Youth?
by Edd Vick
The future visits me in the night.
I often wake disturbed by dreams of carriages that move without steeds, tiny actors who perform dramas in small boxes, metal ships that sail the skies. Doctors fail to curb these dreams, spiritual advisors condemn but do not curtail them. Engineers are the worst, they ask me to examine more closely these apparati, to endeavour to divine their inner workings.
What am I, I ask them. A working man?
It haunts me that it could be reality that I dream. Am I a man of my time and place dreaming of such wonders, or am I some denizen of this far future who in reveries thinks himself me? I remember, when I was in short pants, a dream where I thought myself a bear cub dreaming he was a boy. It seems more decent to dream retrograde, as men have always done.
I age, I grow weary of my constrained life. It would be wonderful to ride away in these marvelous conveyances and see foreign climes. I instruct my valet to waken me at a random time of his choosing every night. I wake, I put pen to paper and record my observations. Sometimes I am jolted awake before I am even completely asleep, sometimes I awake naturally and am vaguely amused to see my man approach.
And sometimes, I am awakened by one or another of my thirty alarm clocks. They are each set to a different time and I pick one at random to switch on after turning off the light.
Most mornings I wake in the middle of a dream. These dreams always feature ballrooms, fancy dress parties, cantering through manicured formal gardens. Everyone is cultured, conversing in their screenplay-perfect lines.
I shuffle through my third-story walkup, wondering whose dreams I have. When I was four I dreamed that I was a dolphin who dreamed he was a little boy, and spoke only in a bubbly made-up language for the rest of the day. It could be that I am an aristocrat dreaming of myself in this lousy existence. I just need to wake up in the right life.
And so I set my alarms, and dream away the nights, imagining other days in another guise, and wake again to this humdrum life of perpetual hunts and balls.
Haunting the Library
by Edd Vick
Tomas loved books. At first, like most children, he preferred to chew on them. That changed when he learned to read at the age of three. Dr. Seuss was the gateway drug. Oz, Wonderland, and Narnia led the way to harder texts.
He was seven when he made the promise. "I'll read every book ever!" From that day on he was never without one. Fiction or nonfiction, it made no difference. A quirk in his brain made him remember every word of every page.
Tomas visited libraries. He learned to speed-read. He taught himself other languages. Facts bubbled through his brain, joining and sparking one against the other. Were he not so busy reading, he'd have become an inventor, a philosopher, or quite thoroughly insane.
He studied dead languages. He worked in bookstores and was fired for reading on the job. He put every penny into ordering more books. Read once, they wound up in stacks he carried daily away to be sold.
He gave up sleep. It was just a matter of willpower, or another quirk of his brain. Evicted from his efficiency, he lived in his van subsisting on peanut butter and Proust.
Tomas traveled from city to city visiting libraries and estate sales and bookstores, finding underpriced books and selling them for gas money.
He read hundreds of books a day, as fast as his fingers could flip the pages. Movie novelizations and abstruse textbooks and choose-your-own-adventures, he gulped them all. Older books he hadn't already read grew harder to find, so he picked up every translation. English, Russian, Japanese, Javanese, Esperanto, he read them all.
And yet the number of new books being published grew faster than he could read. He read while eating, he read while driving. Something had to give.
Tomas overclocked himself, blazing through piles of books in seconds. Day and night he ghosted through library stacks seeking the odd unread volume. He broke into publishers' offices seeking not-yet-published manuscripts, into museums to read diaries and journals.
He gave up dying. He learned to teleport. For three hundred years he lived from page to page. Finally, he reached the day of equilibrium.
"I have read every book published. There will be a new book released in four seconds. Do I wait to read it? Or do I end it now?"
Tomas took a second to admire the sunrise. He took another to sum up his life so far. Then, with a happy sigh, he moved on to the next book.
by Edd Vick
Welcome to Heaven, Mister Jones. Please don’t try to move around just yet. It can be disorienting at first, especially among those who were recently decapitated. Oh, dear, I shouldn’t have said that.
Yes, here’s your head, squarely on your shoulders. Like new, yes? I could add just a bit of blood on your robe for effect, if you like. We do that for martyrs, you know - stigmata in the hands, burned stumps, and the like - but now we’re pretty easygoing about it, even if you did lose your head in a bizarre sausage factory accident.
If you’ll come through here we’ll get your kitted out with wings and a halo. S’not required, but we do like to look authentic for those passing through: dreamers, trippers, and of course everybody who’s going to Hell. The Big Guy’s funny that way.
No, I doubt you’ll meet him. Excuse me, Him. He’s just buried under believers these days. You understand, even if we did reset the bar a few decades ago. Didn’t you hear? Only Episcopalians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and the odd Catholic these days. They all want to be next to Him. I don’t think we’ve seen more than a divine pinkie for a century. Excuse me, Pinkie. Heh, my little joke.
You were an atheist? Well, that can’t be right. Maybe you had a deathbed conversion? Oh, yes, ‘sausage factory accident’. Hmm, maybe somebody converted you after you died, like those folks in Utah do. I wouldn’t worry your wobbly head about it; I mean, you are here now and that’s what matters.
An efficiency expert? No, I think I’d have heard if we’d ever had one of those here. Sounds unpleasant.
My job? Well, it’s soft of unofficial greeter. Nobody appointed me, if that’s what you’re asking. I mean, we tried that whole military organization, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, and so on. We just got a little more touchie-feelie the past couple thousand years.
No need to get snotty about it. You wouldn’t even be here if we were more efficient. I’d like to see you do better.
the emily dickinson hour
by Edd Vick
I'm studying the telltales on one of my hovering cameras when Daisy O'Neill touches me lightly on the forearm. "Will I get copies of what you're recording?"
"The whole world will," I say. It's in the contract when you're chosen by the Pastime Foundation to have your mind squirted back for a ridealong with some historical figure.
"Not just what you choose to release to the net," says Daisy. "I'd like copies of all of your feeds." She's a cinematographer. A brilliant one, according to the Foundation nabobs.
I nod. "I'll give you the online password."
Technicians move about doing techie things. A switch here, a knob there, and Daisy's ready to make the leap from her skull into a poet a century and a half gone.
There's something about the elasticity of spacetime that means we can only rip it enough to send somebody back a few times a year, and only for about an hour. The Foundation awards trips to those it deems worthy. Recipients pick from a list of historical figures for whom we've found DNA.
Who did Daisy choose? Not Orson Welles, not Hitchcock, Griffith, or Godard. She speaks of 'negative space' in Dickinson's poetry, of 'slant rhymes' and an obsession with death. "Did you know," she says, "that every poem of hers contained a body, a bed, or a coffin?"
This scene will go into the final cut.
"I memorized all of them," she says. "I try to convert them to images." She looks away from me, and it is in that instant that the lead technician throws his final switch. Her body is turned off while Daisy's mind wings its way back to some time between 1830 and 1886. We can fine-tune it no more; she will have her hour some time during Emily Dickinson's life. May it not be when the poet is asleep or in her mother's womb.
The techs bustle about, keeping Daisy's body breathing, monitoring their esoteric equipment, never paying her more attention than any other machine in the room. Only I and my cameras are watching when her eyes open earlier than expected. She sits up, shedding monitor pads.
"Hello Daisy," I say. "Welcome back."
"Daisy?" She stares around at the machinery, the institutionally drab walls. "The daisy follows soft the sun."
This is not a Story about Greed
by Edd Vick
Six days ago I rubbed the lamp Jenna brought back from the East. I knew what I was doing. She would tell me at night of the experiments they were running on it and the other munitions left over from the Mana Wars.
Five days ago the Djinn brought me every magical lamp he could find. A few, he says, are hidden even from his senses. Each contained one of his brothers or sisters. He was eager to serve once I explained my goal to him. His laugh was a subsonic rumble.
Four days ago my first aide and two others finished sculpting the Moon into Jenna's headstone. To say there is panic would be an understatement. I am being sought.
Three days ago my agents fought a new magical war with the world's remaining mages and magical beings. Battles raged across the globe from the stroke of one midnight to the stroke of the next.
Two days ago we counted our dead. A Djinn can grieve as powerfully as any man or woman.
Yesterday my remaining survivors caused the seas to rise. They melted the glaciers and blew up a rain that will last the weeks it will take to drown a world.
Today I stand on the now-airless Moon in a clever suit of Djinn-design. I look up at a world shrouded in white, clouded from pole to pole.
The surface of the Moon rumbles faintly through my suit's boots. It is, I imagine, the rumble of laughter. Tomorrows there will be, but tomorrows without Atlantis.
by Edd Vick
The knock comes just after sundown. Melly gets up from the table and opens the door, laughing about it maybe being Flora back from her date early.
Instead, the taller of the pair flashes a badge. "Agent Blakely, SIAA," he says. "Amelia Ranning?" When she nods he pushes past her and sees me. "And John." He consults a photo on cheap printer paper. "He's the one."
The bottom drops out of my stomach. The chicken, the potatoes, the broccoli in front of me lose all their allure in a second. I stand. "What's this all about?"
"When it's us, sport," he says. "There's only one thing it's about." He looks me up and down with too much familiarity. "This you?" He holds out the photo.
I glance. He's got me, all right. I nod.
"John?" It's Melly. "John, what are they saying?"
"Copyright infringement," I say. Congress long ago criminalized copyright piracy. "They're with the Sexual Industry Association of America." Don't eff with the Mouse, as someone said back in the 20th.
"Sex?" she says. Melly and I only do it in the dark; it's safer that way in this age of ubiquitous cams.
"Not just sex," says Agent Blakely. "Protected sex." He laughs at his joke; he means 'protected' as in 'copyrighted'. Most sexual positions are public domain through long use; through prior display in various manuals and movies. It takes imagination or luck -- bad luck, in my case -- to get on these guys' radar. He whaps the photo with a couple of fingers. "Caught on webcam and posted to MyFace at fourteen-oh-two hours day before yesterday."
Melly frowns, looking from me to the agents. "Fourteen? That's, what, during the day?" She'll have it figured out soon.
"You've got me," I say to the agents. "Let's hit the road."
Blakely moves to the window by the front door, twitches aside the curtain. "It won't be long now," he says.
Melly and I hear it at the same time. The distinctive sound of Flora's motorcycle. Her date's over.
Blakely's partner moves a little to place himself between Melly and me. Blakely opens the door for Flora. He glances down at the photo, then back up to her.
by Edd Vick
Marcus Marquardt paused before opening the email from Patti. They hadn't parted on the best of terms. Would it be a diatribe? A summons of some sort? Or a restraining order? God forbid she'd send a suicide note.
But, he had to admit, Patti had never gone to extremes. She wasn't prone to depression, and excepting that unfortunate incident with his vintage Coca-Cola bottle collection, she hadn't even been particularly vengeful.
Marcus clicked on the message.
Dear M, Attached is my soul. You're the only one I can trust to hold onto it for me. Where I'm going it would only be a liability. Please keep it safe and when I return make me take it back.
There it was, the little paper clip symbol with the words "patricia olsen.soul" next to it.
What the hell? Maybe Patti was pranking him somehow. More likely, somebody or something malicious had gotten to her computer's address book. This was some trick to make him open the attachment and infect his own computer.
Still, what if? Patti's message hadn't even asked him to open the 'soul'. She'd just asked him to keep it safe. He could do that much. But why him? Why not that new boyfriend of hers? Marcus had heard he was sick; hadn't Deb said he'd gone into the hospital?
Marcus deliberately ignored the message and worked on a presentation due Monday. The clients had asked him to deliver something innovative while using their thirty-two page manual of specs. Typical. Two days later he got the call that Patti had died.
"Some weird suicide pact," said Deb. "Her boyfriend just died of cancer and she asphyxiated herself in the same room. That's love!"
Four months later Marcus cleaned out his email in-box. He paused, tapping his fingers too lightly on the keys to register. The cursor hovered over Patti's message. With a tap on the delete key he could put everything behind him. Never think about Patti again. It was absurd that the message could be from her, or if it was that she'd have been able to send something he'd have any desire to see. Her 'soul'. It was probably a picture of her boyfriend or a screed about how he was so much better than Marcus.
His finger drifted over to the key. A long moment passed.
Then he moved the message into his 'family' folder.
I am Joe's Will to Live
by Edd Vick
Joe lives the most ordinary life in the world. Look in the census for the average guy, and that's Joe. Oh, sometimes he might have diabetes, or an aneurysm, testicular cancer, maybe heart disease. But he gets well each time; they're just for show.
They took out his pancreas, put it back. His heart. His spleen. His brain. And he lived through it all. But take me away...
Most of the time he enjoys his middle-of-the-road existence, with his two-point-whatever children, his wife, and his utterly mundane life. But then along come the butchers -- oh, excuse me -- medical researchers, the ones who take him apart and put him most of the way back together. If anybody else were doing the cutting, it would be illegal. But not them. They're special; it's their job. Saves experimenting on animals, I guess.
That brings me to, well, me. See, Joe's special, too. He lives through every operation. That's because he has me.
Oh, I didn't say there wasn't pain. The research wouldn't be worth the pulp its printed on if he weren't in agony for every slice. Those nerves around the heart -- brr. I wouldn't be surprised to hear there was a special readout on the EEG just for pain.
Now they plan a me-ectomy. I am Joe's Will to Live, and I don't have long for this world.
But I've got me a little secret, see? I'm a numinous quality, like the collective unconscious, or apophenia, or those creation myths that seems so similar from culture to culture. I'm shared.
That means they can't take it away from Joe without taking it away from everybody.
See you on the other side.
by Edd Vick
First, you should floss and brush your teeth really well. And wash your face. Here’s your towel. Yes, that looks like the perfect nightgown to wear.
Do your clothes go on the floor? No, I don’t think so; I think they belong in the laundry hamper.
Thank you. Now climb into bed. No bouncing!
Okay, maybe just a little bouncing.
Yes, I like to bounce, too, but I might break the bed.
Okay, I’ll bounce, too, but just a little bit.
I’m sorry about your bed, but isn’t it just as much fun to be in your sleeping bag on the floor? I think so, too.
Stretch out and I’ll pull up the top of it just right. Do your feet go on the pillow? I don’t think so; that’s where your head goes.
Do you want some music like usual? Okay, there you go. Give me a kiss on the cheek, and here’s one for you.
Why yes, the music is very nice. It makes me want to dance.
Watch me stomp!
Isn’t our basement nice? It’s a good thing we have all these comfortable boxes down here to land on. Now let’s not bounce any more. Let’s not stomp any more.
It’s time for bed. I’ll turn off the light now.
Wait, did we do everything? Let me think: floss, brush, gown, hamper, bounce, oops, pillow, music, kiss, dance, stomp, oops, light. Yes, I believe we remembered everything.
Of course we remembered everything. Elephants are very good at remembering
Good night, sweetheart.
by Edd Vick
Satan came to supper last night. There's nothing peculiar about that, or in his usual feeble stab at getting me and the missus to make a deal. Once we get past what he calls 'the formalities' he's a pretty good guest. We take what we can get--ain't many people around here we care to have to supper.
Philippa starts with the soup, rabbit with leeks. There's only a hint of hare from the rabbit I shot last week, but it's rich enough. Satan smacks his lips. "That's fine, just fine. You added rosemary, didn't you?"
"You know," he says. "I couldn't help noticing your herb garden is, well, let's say small. I could furnish you with considerably more space. I could offer, oh, that patch over there." He gestures out the window at Mount Buffalo-Runs-Over-Cliff silhouetted against the evening clouds.
We laugh it off as always. We've got enough growing space for the two, sometimes three, of us.
Over fried chicken and corn on the cob we dissect local politics, rightly guessing which ninety percent of the school board is in Satan's pocket. He does surprise us by saying that Ferd Tucker down to the feed store is on the side of the angels. Ferd talks so all-fired religious we just take it for granted he's going straight to Hell, do not pass Go.
Philippa brings out the cherry cobbler. The Devil tries to compliment her on it, but she tells him it's from Winn-Dixie. We talk on about one thing and another over cigars on the porch, until he brings up the usual subject just as the last flicker of light winked out in the west.
"Join me," he says. "I like ruling down under, but I'd rather take over up top." He looks to the sky, but it's not the first stars of the night he's looking at. He's looking at Heaven, torn six ways from Sunday.
Rebellions make refugees. God's got plenty of angels and Satan's got his, but there's plenty more besides.
I shake my head. That's all it takes.
Like I said, 'the formalities'. Once we get past them he's okay.
Satan spreads those beautiful wings of his. I spread my own to see him home.
This is Edd's 50th story for The Daily Cabal.
by Edd Vick
The CEO turned to Phyllis Baker. "Lunch for four thousand, please," he said, looking down on the fleet of school buses pulling into the parking lot. "Peanut butter sandwiches, apples, cookies, juice, that sort of thing."
It was Take Your Child to Work Day. The big day.
Phyllis made a few notes, and returned to her desk to place the order. Then she walked the cubicles where each boy or girl was installed at a workstation laboriously handwriting their letter.
"Dear Santa: I have been nice all year."
That's how each letter would start. Each one would go on to ask for CyberMore, Inc's success. Some would request a share price increase, some asked for increased orders, some for less expensive supplies. A few children in a pilot program asked for disasters to befall the corporation's major competitor CompuXS, but Child Resources felt such requests endangered those childrens' naughty/nice ratio for the next year.
Child Resources. Phyllis' department, one of the best-funded at CyberMore. The equipment to monitor every employees' child alone ran over a billion dollars. "Can't have the little darlings getting into mischief," the CEO said.
Phyllis loaded food on a gray cart and wheeled it from cubicle to cubicle. To every delighted child she whispered the secret of making invisible ink from apple juice. She suggested that they negate their visible wish. "Wouldn't you rather have a dog?" she'd say, while CompuXS shares multiplied in her account. "I think you really want a toy, don't you?"
by Edd Vick
Luna glowered at Sol and all the other stars in the universe, and she wished to be like them. They were big and they were bright. They were immense fires burning in space.
And what was she? She was a mirror. She was rock and dust, and she reflected the light of the sun. All she did was circle the Earth, going round and round. The suns, they warmed their planets, and anchored their systems. Space bent around them.
What could she do? Besides sulk, which she admitted was one of her strongest skills. She had no fusion furnace at her core to burn hydrogen and helium. She was not nearly so massive as even the puniest of suns. Luna made barely a dent in spacetime.
Then she must do the best with what she had.
Things flashed by. After study she discovered these were rocks covered in ice, ellipsing their way from the outer clouds. After many trials she learned to focus her gravity on them, drawing them nearer pass by pass. Many slipped her influence to plunge sunward or away into interstellar space or to the planet below; one monstrous planetesimal even sending the Earth into a hazy ice age that destroyed most of the small animals living there.
And slowly, one by one, the rocks smashed into Luna.
She coordinated a thousand thousand of them, arranging it so they would all strike her over a short amount of time. It took millions of circuits of Sol, but she was proud of her accomplishment. Soon enough she would be massive, and her fires would ignite and grow.
More tiny animals flourished on the face of the Earth. They sent her emissaries, riding flimsy metal across the tiny space that separated host from moon. To each of them she whispered her secret.
"Soon. Soon I shall be a sun."
short they were, and murky-eyed
by Edd Vick
They are not the telegenic aliens of popular fiction. But they have an interstellar empire. They have space travel.
The aliens came to Earth four years ago. It was an accident Hubble even picked them up at all. Their envoys contacted every President and Queen and whatever on the planet at the same time, all the way down to Lichtenstein, Monaco, and Sealand. Representatives are exchanged, the aliens sit politely through our plays, speeches, and presentations. They exchange philosophical ideas with us, and entertainments. But no science.
No secret of interstellar travel.
And then they don't go away. Their spaceships sit in orbit; no new ones appear. If they communicate with their own systems it is in some secret way. Why do they stay here and make small talk when they could show us the stars? When they could go back to those stars themselves? All of our attempts to examine their ships are rebuffed. We grow restless.
The meeting commemorating their fourth anniversary on Earth is in Lisbon this time, and since this is a celebration the human's ambassador Yelena brings her children for the first time. Humans have finally decided that the aliens are not hostile. A bit slow, them.
She enters holding the hands of her twins, Izabel and Joao. The aliens and the seven-year-olds regard each other gravely. Joao clutches his mother's skirts while Bella advances to touch fingers, greeting the alien's leader. They are the same height, which seems to appeal to all of them, even Joao who darts forward to hold hands with his sister.
The adults, snubbed, gather in their cliques and chat. Yelena backs away to watch. After a time their leader beckons her.
"Offering travel to these ones," he says. "Aring to be emissaries from your world to ours."
Joao backs to Yelena, and Izabel bites her lower lip, looking excited. She's about to get a "Can we, Mama?" out of the child.
"We have offered envoys," Yelena says.
"Too old," it says. "Aring long journey."
"Aring seventy years journey," says the alien. "Nothing aring able to going faster than light, of course."
By now a ring of humans has gathered, and a moan goes up. Someone says, "Why didn't you tell us?"
"Not wanting to disappoint you," says the leader. Another alien pipes up with, "Also, hoping you might thinking lightspeed canning be broken, and doing it."
Truth and Beauty
by Edd Vick
Dahlia and Verbena Algonquin were sculptors. They were sisters. Joined at the shoulder, Verbena used her left hand to shape truth and Dahlia her right to create beauty. Angels and devils, heroes and monsters, the sacred and the profane all took shape from clay or marble or bronze.
On a Monday, Ziff Parkinship came to call. "I'd like a statue of my dead wife," he said, offering such a great sum that they agreed on the spot.
In the privacy of their studio, Verbena and Dahlia examined the photos he had provided. Verbena turned them this way and that, even upside down. "Strong jaw," she said. "Intense gaze. I can work with this." Dahlia took the photos and held them, now near, now far, even flipping them to search for inscriptions on the backs. "Flawless skin," she said. "Perfect features. She will be gorgeous."
They built an armature and brought out their clay, sprinkled it with water, and set to kneading it. Verbena used her left hand to work on the right side of the sculpture, Dahlia her right to shape the left. Slowly they walked around the low pedestal on which the sculpture stood, examining it from all angles. From rough mass to fine detail, the very image of Olivia Parkinson came to life under their gifted hands.
Their hands were precise in the steps that followed: the plaster negative, the wax positive, the addition of the sprues, the ceramic coating, the melting of the wax, the pour.
Ah, the pour. Bright molten bronze exhaled into the shape of a woman. When Dahlia and Verbena cut excess metal from Olivia Parkinson, the statue shivered so that a sharp edge cut one of the sisters' fingers. As she snatched it back, the other held up a calming hand. "Be still," they both said.
Ziff Parkinson arrived on another Monday to pick up his statue. He examined it from every angle, walking around and around the pedestal. "Well," he said, and "Yes," he said, and "Very lifelike," in a tone that meant anything but.
Dahlia pursed her lips. Verbena glared. Finally, one of them said, "She is exactly as she was in life," and the other said, "No more, no less."
Welcome to the Future!
by Edd Vick
You have stepped from your rightful place and time into this rude world of the here and now. It is my duty and solemn pleasure to introduce to you the rudiments of life as it is now lived.
First, a word on why you are here. These men of the future are consumed with making. They are crafters of the first water, but users of a most inferior kind. Their automobiles smash one into another with abandon; their airplanes, with all the sky in which to fly, do the same; and their neglect of the world in which they live bids fair to bring it crashing down around their ankles.
More to the point, they build machines that hurtle them back in time at will. Haply, due to some quirk of nature, the traveler finds his mental essence exchanged with some denizen of the past while his respective bodies remain bound to his own time. When he returns, if he returns, the exchange is reversed.
Sometimes the he is a she but most often not. Women prefer to remain rooted to their own bodies.
If he dies in the past he does not return to reclaim his present body. If he chooses to remain in the past, he does not return. If the machinery he needs loses its connection to your host, he does not return. In that case you will be awakened from your imposed sleep, be given citizenship papers, and be turned out on the street with a copy of this book.
Therefore, welcome! Make of the future what you will, and beware the sudden drowsiness that presages your being taken by some resident of the even more distant future.
Coffee will help.
The Pathless Garden
by Edd Vick
Hemmed in on three sides by the blank walls of buildings and on the fourth by an unbroken fence, the garden is never less than perfect. In spring, there are hyacinths and daffodils, in summer lilies and geraniums, and in autumn chrysanthemums and violas. In winter, nothing grows there.
There are no entrances, no paths.
And no weeds.
Mark, my husband, says the garden was put there for us and the other thirty or so families in our apartment building across the street. He says God put it there, and that angels hover over it, weeding and sowing. It might, he says, even be the Garden of Eden.
Mark says a lot of things.
And when I ask where the apple tree is, he just scowls.
Winter comes, and still no one enters the garden. The flowers drop their petals. Overnight, all the empty stalks disappear. The garden is a flat expanse of dirt ready for spring.
Mark frets about it. I wait for fresh color to enter the world. On Valentines Day he brings me a silk rose. Our fight that evening is over something inconsequential, something tiny. Something that means everything. He leaves.
It's not the first time he has left me, but he doesn't return. A month later a tender sapling sprouts in the center of the pathless garden. I watch to see what fruit it will bear.
by Edd Vick
You enter the tunnel heading north out of Oklahoma City. They wanted it in an area without seismic activity. The incline is barely noticeable at first, a grade gentler than Highway 70 coming down off the Rockies from Denver. The road you're on gently curves to the right. You're on a spiral to the center of the Earth.
Delicate reliefs of local fossils decorate the walls. All are from the Permian Era or earlier. Only the western third of Oklahoma was above water when dinosaurs ruled. What you see is early amphibians and insects, enlarged enough to be visible at seventy miles an hour. After the reliefs come a history of the oil industry, from Spindletop on.
At first the traffic is heavy. Lots of people come to drive down the first leg of the six lane highway. The Earth's crust here is only about thirty miles thick, so it's a morning drive to get down to the mantle where there's a shopping mall, a rest area, and the turnaround to ascend back to the surface.
You're not here for entertainment. Pulling into a Texaco, you fill up and head for the neon arrow pointing down. Here there are only two lanes in each direction. The cars emerging from the tunnel look worn and dusty.
There are thermometers spaced every hundred miles tracking the temperature increase as you descend. They start at 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. The rock outside is viscous, flowing sullenly under enormous pressure.
The grade here is twenty-five percent, so you're driving four miles to descend one mile. This is the long slog, seventy-two hundred miles to the outer core. Gas stations, restaurants, and motels break the monotony. Hilton opened a hotel at the halfway marker, but sold it to Motel 6 soon after the opening of the highway.
The lights here are spaced farther apart, red-shifted as the highway's architects took advantage of the surrounding radiance. They get brighter when you enter the outer core, where molten nickel and iron glow. Gravity loosens its hold as you travel deeper, the car drifts until magnetic guides grip it and carry it down, where the thermometer reads nine thousand degrees.
And here you are, at the Hub, the Earth's core. From here highways arc up to Australia, to China, and to France. But you won't ascend. You'll stay here, find a job, and live out your days. You give the car to some other penitent ready to rejoin the world above.
The Voice of Europa
by Edd Vick
It started three days ago when the Statue of Liberty uprooted itself. Shaky camphone footage showed it shivering, gouts of broken concrete fountaining up around its base, then it simply floated upward, one hapless tourist from Indiana caught inside.
The same thing happened to the Great Pyramid of Giza a few hours later, a lone archeologist unable to escape with the rest. A small submarine on display at the Teknorama Museum in Stockholm was next. A sixteen-wheeler in Venezuela, houses in Milan, Osaka, and Capetown, Cinderella's Castle from Hong Kong Disneyland.
Each of them with one passenger. It was enough, people said, to make you think it was done on purpose.
Telescopes tracked the Pyramid, the largest of the lot, as it sailed through space. Astronomers tracked its course, said it was destined for Europa, sixth moon of the planet Jupiter.
And then there's me, Lydia Parkhouse of Melbourne, a City Circle tram driver. Two hours ago I was caught up with my streetcar and pulled across the solar system without so much as a how do you do. My car's not airtight, but not a drop of air escaped.
Europa, at least that's what it had to be, expanded in my windscreen. It's grey, with ice at the poles. Red lines crisscross it like map lines that almost make sense. I land in a cluster of odd objects dominated by a pyramid at one end and a castle at the other. When I emerge, still breathing, the voice tells me, tells all of us, what comes next.
We look at one another, we lonely long distance travelers, before entering our vehicles once more.
by Edd Vick
In Maia Everett's home were one dozen shadowboxes. Each box held items Maya associated with twelve dear friends from college. And in each box resided a homunculus six inches tall representing each of those friends.
The homunculi were connected to her friends, so that they copied in gross form what each was doing. They would lie down to simulate sleep, and mime their original's actions when awake. Maia spent hours each day monitoring the boxes, putting toy furniture in one or drawing a handkerchief over a homunculus in another acting out a friend's sickness.
So it went while Maia grew older and her friends married, traveled, and settled in far-off places. They met every ten years at reunions to compare rings and husbands and baby pictures. These get-togethers were precious to Maia, who had none of these.
Then, one day in April, Maia took refuge in an unfamiliar coffee shop and found herself before she knew it caught up in deep conversation with a group of neighbors. They talked of local politics and local weather and local events.
She visited the shop again and again, ignoring her shadowboxes. As Summer turned to Autumn and one year into another, they grew dusty, cobwebbed. She missed her next reunion. The homunculi continued repeating the activities of her schoolmates, but more slowly and tentatively.
Maia fell in love with Martin, another regular at the coffee shop. The day came when he was to visit her house. She cleaned each room, leaving the hallway of shadowboxes for last. What would he say when he saw them? He was not the sort to accept the unfamiliar. Should she cover them? But surely he would want to know what they were. Should she remove them? He would ask why these blank spots were here.
She dusted each box, even picked up every bit of furniture to clean beneath it. The homunculi grew sprightly as she gave them her attention, once more perfectly mimicking their originals' actions. One typed, another read a book, one of them was even dusting.
For a long hour Maia gazed at her shadowboxes, once more engrossed in her friends' lives. Then she caught up each homunculus in turn and tore it to pieces. The bits grew still in her hands.
She decided she would invite Martin to her next reunion.
It Was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Fusion-Powered Thingie
by Edd Vick
Nanette found it on the beach one day. A cube, three inches on a side, yellow as a school bus. There was a cute symbol of an atom etched on one side. For a couple of minutes she twisted and pulled at it to see if it would open.
She stashed it with her towel and street clothes, and went to play cowboys and indians with her older brothers. When they got home everyone listened to the new Frank Sinatra record.
Here's how Nanette's life is supposed to go. She'll finish grade school and head off to college just as the Vietnam War is heating up. The Summer of Love will find her at a Christian college in Texas, far from LSD and Jimi and the Freak Brothers. She'll marry senior year but it won't last. She drifts away from the church, works as a dental technician, and marries again at thirty, this time to a baritone in the St. Louis Opera. Three children later he dies in a freak Wagnerian spear accident. She inherits enough to raise the kids, work part time, and paint cowboys. She never sells a painting, but dies happy enough of something not too painful at the age of seventy-two.
But she's got the cube. It remains delightfully enigmatic. Everyone once in a while she takes it out and pries at it. Eventually she'll try tools: vises and hammers and a blowtorch.
Eventually she'll succeed.
by Edd Vick
A dozen crystal chandeliers hover above the Amazon rain forest, illuminating thirty square meters of greenery. A single parti-colored macaw bursts from the canopy, flinging itself across the sky into midnight darkness. A pair of dusky titi monkeys cling to each other, chittering softly.
The canopy of the forest smoothes itself, becoming more solid, more level. Branches climb here and there, twine themselves, become rough then more polished chairs and a great rectangular table.
Leaves widen, become cup-shaped and dish-shaped. They float up to the table. Guavas, acai berries, and mangoes give up their juices. Ten squealing tapirs rise above the canopy, their heads rip themselves from their bodies, and numinous fires roast the bodies.
The heads pile themselves on the table.
One moment the only sound is the faint plop of fat dripping from the carcasses. Then twelve chairs sink under the weight of unseen beings. The thirteenth chair remains unused.
Meat and juice disappear bite by bite, sip by sip. Bones fall through the forest's canopy. By the time the meal is over the cups and plates are sodden, decomposing. Holes appear in the table. The chandeliers dip one by one to plunge into the jungle. The chairs decay and crumble.
The thirteenth chair is left. Finally it too decays. When the last of it drops away it is as if a presence withdraws from the world. Night once more claims the jungle.
The Day Her Feet Became Buoyant
by Edd Vick
Mildred Fondren stomped her way across Europe. England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Greece had been dealt with in three days each. Now it was Italy's turn. In Venice, Pompeii, and Rome she'd get off the bus, get her picture taken, buy a commemorative spoon, and embark for the next set of ruins.
Until her feet rebelled. On her way from the Vatican to the Coliseum they tingled. From the Coliseum to the Trevi Fountain she got pins-and-needles. And when she got back to the hotel they refused to carry her a step farther. They floated up to the ceiling of the bus, exposing her to ridicule, to indignation, to astonishment, and to the crosswind coming through the windows.
"Signora Fondren," said the tour guide. "You must come down this instant. It is not proper to stand on the roof."
"Now, Millie," chimed in Miss Arbogast, that suck-up. "Show a little decorum. That might be how folks in Akron behave, but when in Rome--"
"I'm trying--" said Mildred, making swimming motions with her hands. She floated down a few inches, but when her arms tired she floated back up again. Awkwardly pushing her dress up her legs, she walked to the door. And there she stopped.
"How am I going to go anywhere outdoors?" she said. "I'd just float away into the sky."
"Maybe some weights," suggested the tour guide, checking her watch. She spoke to the bus driver, who pulled a pair of heavy suitcases from storage under the bus. He frowned.
"They are his bags," said the guide. "He hopes you will let them go if you float away."
Mildred grabbed each handle as it was offered, and found herself pulled to bus's floor. She maneuvered her way out the door. Once on the ground, she walked the bags to the door of the hotel, both relieved and mortified that her dress had once more fallen over her face so she could not see the sky above her legs.
Doctors could find nothing physically wrong with Mildred. It was not as if all of her was lighter than air, only that her feet exerted a powerful upward force. At the first tentative suggestion of amputation she firmly shooed them out and made reservations to return early to Ohio.
And that is where she remains to this day. You could look her up.
3 & Z
by Edd Vick
To celebrate our first anniversary, each of us here at the Cabal has come up with a story beginning with a line kindly provided to us by the illustrious Jay Lake. Click the link at the bottom of the page to see how Alex, Dan and have handled the challenge, and come back tomorrow to see what Kat Beyer comes up with...
Zoli liked to hang around psychiatrists' waiting rooms to hit on the low self-esteem chicks. Being a ghost, he rarely got a reply, but he lived for the few he got.
'Lived' being relative.
First was Lily. He hovered behind Doctor Frost, reading that Lily had been raised by a mother that wanted her to be a model. Lily could not be thin enough, graceful enough, blah blah blah. Zoli rolled his ectoplasmic eyes.
She came out to the waiting room and stepped up to the receptionist's window. Zoli made his move. He flew in front of her and said, "Hey, baby. Rub that lamp some more, because wish number one just came true!"
Lily screamed, clutched her chest, and fell, her soul flitting upward where Zoli could not follow. "Massive heart trauma," said the EMT. "Never seen a heart tear itself up that badly."
The next 312 women he hit on walked right through him.
Then came Dekanawida. Zoli poked his head through Doctor Yough's chest to peer at his notes. Awful handwriting. Something about sexual abuse from her father, something about multiple sex partners, something about sabotaging her own successes.
She walked out of the doctor's office to find Zoli waiting. "Hey sweetie," he said. "If you give me the time of day I'll give you the time of your life!"
Dekanawida stumbled back, tripped over a magazine stand, and cracked her skull open on a water cooler. DOA. Very DOA, maybe even VVDOA.
And Zoli got it. He totally understood. When a chick saw him, it meant she was about to croak. You'd almost think he was a jinx or something.
He couldn't keep away. Something about haunting psychiatrists seemed just so right. Another thousand or so women passed through him.
Third, and last to be honest, was Melissa. When Zoli first saw her, it was like a bolt of lightning stabbed him right through his impalpable heart. He'd mimed lov before, but he knew the real thing when it hit him. He stayed in Doctor TenDening's waiting room, suddenly not willing to intrude. He wanted to leave, he really ought to beat it, but he just couldn't.
When she emerged, there he was. "Um," he said. "Er, hello."
She didn't scream. She didn't jump away. Unfortunately, what she did do was turn around and walk back into the psychiatrist's office.
She committed herself to the asylum that very night. Zoli happily followed.
The Dragon's Greatest Treasure
by Edd Vick
The dragon caught up to Prince Ibis at the Wal*Mart store on the north side of town. The prince was buying toilet paper, aspirin, and hypoallergenic pillows for his castle three dimensions over. Peeling up the roof, the dragon quickly scanned the crowded store and singled out the prince, the only one not screaming or running.
"There you are," rumbled the dragon. "Return my treasure or die. No. Wait. Return my treasure and die."
"That doesn't leave me much choice," said the prince, wishing his dimension skipper wasn't outside in his Volvo.
The dragon squeezed through the minivan-sized hole in the roof. "Fine," he said. "It's fine with me if you want to do this the hard way."
"I don't want to do this at all." Prince Ibis rolled under a table of blue jeans as the dragon took a quick breath and puffed a ball of flame that set the entire section of DVDs ablaze.
I forgot what a horrendous aim he has, thought the prince. I wonder if he needs glasses.
The dragon glided down to a tall display showcasing baby strollers, which proved not to be as stable as his preferred mountain ledges. The shelving unit rocked, scattering strollers, then fell into the shoe racks. Slippers, moccasins, sneakers, and loafers flew in all directions.
While the dragon recovered, Prince Ibis jumped out of his nook and ran for the front of the store. He'd barely taken four steps before stumbling over an errant stroller that carried him into a display of two-liter Coca-Colas.
And there was the dragon, on him. Before he could move, one leathery wing knocked him down to be pinned by a heavy forepaw.
"Your treasure," the prince gasped. "I can take you to her."
The weight lessened slightly. "The princess?" said the dragon. "The princess with the golden hair?"
"Of course," he said. "She's here, waiting just outside." He gestured toward the exit.
The dragon picked him up and undulated on three legs to the doors. A crowd of people watched, and beyond them the prince saw approaching police cars. He didn't fancy being in the middle during a fight between bullets and balefire.
Then he saw it. "There she is," he yelled, pointing toward the women's clothing section. "There!"
The dragon turned and saw the mannequin. The blonde mannequin. Pouncing, he caught it up in his other forepaw. "At last, my beautiful princess," he crooned. His grip on the prince loosened.
Ibis wriggled, then dropped to the floor. He scooted to one side, then froze next to a pair of male mannequins sporting cableknit sweaters.
"Where did you go," asked the dragon. "I promised to kill you, you know."
The glass in the front of the store caved in under two dozen rifle butts. "Hold it right there," said an amplified voice.
"Oh bother," said the dragon.
The Worst of Times
by Edd Vick
Herr Professor Gesunkenspiegel gestured grandly at his device. "Ladies! Und
Gentlemen! I present to you the Timeviewerscope! Mit this machine I will peel
back the veils of time to dot we may look upon the ancients! View the caveboys
and der cavegirls! See der fishies swimming out of the sea and growing with the
legs! Watch Elvis!"
The professor's audience consisted of three reporters with nowhere better to be,
the janitor's son, and a busload of Dutch tourists who thought they were
attending a minimalist opera.
Reporter Darrel Kaufman waved a lazy finger. "Is this going to work any better
than your telematterporter? Or that perpetual emotion engine you showed off last
"Those? Those were mere tinkertoys next to my Timeviewerscope! Watch as I switch
it on! Marvel as I tune it to view-- to view--"
"Dinosaurs," yelled the janitor's kid.
"Der dinosaurs? Very well, dinosaurs it shall be!" He turned to an instrument
panel and flipped a trio of switches, adjusted a dial, and then pulled down an
enormous knife switch. Sparks began climbing a jacob's ladder that didn't appear
to be connected to anything. The odor of ozone grew.
One of the other reporters leaned over to Darrel. "Isn't that the same equipment
from his Antigravitypullerupper dingus?"
"You'd think he'd just use a computer," said Darrel.
An oval area above the equipment grew hazy. Darrel looked around the hall for a
"Behold!" shouted the professor. "Der dinosaurians!"
When the first carnivore burst through the haze and landed in a welter of folding
chairs, the Dutch tourists applauded politely.
The Night Stocker
by Edd Vick
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.
by Edd Vick
Can you help me? I mean, I suppose you would if you could, you look like the sort who'd help if they could. But, I don't know, is there anything you can do?
Who's talking? Me, March 5th. Ridiculous, right? You've heard of people being trapped as werewolves, as giant cockroaches, even as Certified Public Accountants, but that's all fiction.
That was a joke there, that last about CPAs. For all I know you are one. But listen, this isn't a joke, it isn't a dream, it's not some writer's crazy plot. It's me, stuck here being a day. One minute I'm grading papers in my tiny little office, then the clock at the church starts ringing twelve, and the next thing I know I'm being stretched and squashed in directions I didn't even know I had. I've lost my past, I don't know what's going to happen after 11:59 tonight, but I have a bad feeling it's going to mean some kind of end for me.
It makes me wonder. Are there three hundred sixty four others like me? And an extra one for leap day? That doesn't sound right. Or are there millions of us, stretching back in time? One missing person a day, that doesn't sound like too many. And what about before people evolved? Did some primate become a day before days were measured? Or some three-toed sloth? Or a dinosaur before that, and an ammonite even before that? A few million years from now will it be a super-evolved dragonfly?
Tomorrow, will it be you? See, if there's something you can do to help, it might help you out as well. So stop reading for once and see what you can do to help me out of here.
by Edd Vick
Here sit Judith and Clay Adams in a private room at Gobi Starport. There is no public waiting area; only children fly to the stars. The Trei, Earth's benefactors, say a certain flexibility they can not or will not explain is necessary for infraspace travel.
The Trei have visited Earth eight times now, at five year intervals. They bring riches. Efficient orbiting power generators, pollutivores, matter assemblers, all bring the Earth back from the brink of destruction.
Judith paces while Clay sits staring out the window at the cuboid spaceship. "He'll be fine," she mutters. "Healthy and wealthy and wise." Then she flings herself into the chair next to his and buries her face in her hands. "He's only nine! Couldn't they wait until he's a little older?" This scene, with variations, is playing out in twenty other waiting rooms.
One month ago the Trei transmitted a list of twenty-one names of children from Sicily and South Africa, from China and from Chile, from the US and the UK and the UAE. Each is an only child, each has two parents, each lived a life of doting privilege.
Each family is about to be destroyed.
The Trei have made their promises. The children will live for a thousand years, in absolute health, and will be surrounded by the wonders of the galaxy. But none will ever visit the Earth again.
Clay and Judith have not come to terms with their loss. Put simply, they grieve. He holds her and she holds him, both of them crying now and both trying to be stoic for the sake of their son who they will soon see for the last time.
And here it is, the time. A polite tap on the door, and there's Grace Bakunov, the facilitator. "He's on his way now," she says. A sober expression on her face, she adds, "Remember, excess emotion will just confuse him. He'll still know who you are, of course, but the Fidelity Chip has already been implanted and he's been imprinted on his Trei Master."
Standing, they await the approach of them son. Soon comes the measured tread of the Trei and the eager patter of young feet.
by Edd Vick
"Message coming in." The communications officer looked toward Captain Nels Okkerstrom. "They're transmitting the images now."
Not for the first time, Nels wished he were down on the planet instead of heading Earth's first interstellar skipship. "Transfer them to the AI," he said.
Nels had been twelve when scientists at CERN had sent their first experimental tachyon message. A millisecond later they had been inundated with responses nobody had been able to translate. Now, thirty years later, here was The Prometheus and her crew orbiting one of the sources of those messages.
Everyone on the bridge watched as images from below flitted across the computer's screen. Everyone on earth who was tuned in could see them, too, via quantum ansible. Cylindrical alien buildings, signs, scrolls, all the extant imagery of a dead civilization still transmitting to the stars.
Nels tore his gaze away from the screen. "Katya? How is the translation going?"
The computer expert glanced up from her own screen monitoring the AI's progress and spread her hands. With visual as well as digital information, the computer stood a good chance of being able to decode the signals. If not, computers all over Earth were viewing the same data. With luck, they'd soon know why this culture was extinct.
Nels ordered the ground team to return to the ship. He didn't want them spending the night just yet. There was no reason yet to brave whatever might lurk below. He paced the bridge.
Two hours later Katya Malinov leaned toward her monitor. "Got it, sir," she murmured.
"Put it up," he said, gesturing to the public address speakers. "We've all waited long enough." The communications officer flipped a switch.
"Extend the life of your sun."
Nels cocked his head. So this was the alien message, a warning. Was there some previously unknown danger to their solar system?
"You have won the extrasolar lottery!"
Captain and computer officer exchanged glances. Nels said, "Is that--?" and she said, "Um."
"Big sale on black holes!"
"Good god," said Nels. "It's spam." He drew his hand across his throat. "Cut it off."
"Sir," said an officer at the helm. "The Bohr is requesting permission to dock."
"Granted," said Nels. "Tell them we're--" The huge ship shuddered. The lights dimmed. "What the hell?"
"We lost power," said one officer and, "No, it was diverted," said another. The artificial gravity switched off. "It's still being diverted," said the computer officer. "To our communications array."
"Cut off the AI," yelled Nels, floating impotently in midair.
The gravity switched on, then off, then on. Air whistled out the vents.
"Satisfy your loved one," bellowed The Prometheus to the galaxy. "Debt consolidation is easy!"
by Edd Vick
We're in a middling gallery, me with my pick and Paul his shovel. I've just pried a 'harbinger' out of the wall along with a number of one and two syllable words when the thumping starts. I take another swing, knocking a 'dross' and a 'kettle' away from what with a little luck will be a 'dissolution'. But the blows from below unsteady me and my pick smacks 'diss' to the ground.
Paul grumbles. "Hardly worth picking up," he says, barely heard over the now incessant hammering.
He leans his shovel against the mine's wall. "That's no test," he says. "I think they've got it in operation. Let's go see."
We take the rickety elevator down to the lowest gallery, taking on two or three miners every level. Once there, we see three carts waiting to ascend. The others walk down the gallery toward the deafening roar, but Paul plucks my sleeve and points at the lead cart. He sifts through the vowels and consonants, locating a 'lorgnette' and a 'syncopate'. He puts his mouth next to my ear. "Not bad," he yells. "They might get this thing perfected, and then where will we be?"
"It will be easier for you," I reply. "You know Japanese." There's not a machine yet can pick those symbols out of a wall.
The machine's pickings are thin. This first cart is chockablock with single letters, nonsense strings, and pre- and suffixes. Word is, once this machine works more accurately, they'll challenge a miner to a race. Might be me; my percentage of polysyllables is more than satisfactory.
I move to the second cart, and chuckle to see the words 'blow' and 'almighty' adjoining one another. Paul brushes past to inspect the third cart. Just as I spot 'rickety elevator' he laughs long and loud. "We have nothing to fear," he yells. "It doesn't even know how to spell."
Looking to where he points, I see the word 'middling'. "That is a word," I say. Attached to it in front is "we're in a" and behind is "gallery". Something about it seems familiar.
by Edd Vick
Annette Prescott shares her dreams. All performers do these days. Most sign up with the majors, some distribute through the smaller indies, a few post them on their websites. Little dreams--ones about flying or eating a scone--those are often free. It's the big dreams that cost, particularly the ones about acting or dancing or singing.
Annette has a YouDream account. She gives all of her dreams away for free. Sure, they're lo-res, but the pure thing. One where she's young and this looming parental figure forces her to practice violin until her fingers bleed. One where she's in a high school play and walks onstage naked by mistake. One where her voice instructor tells her she'll never amount to anything. One from her first speaking part in a movie where she almost flubs a line but ad libs a better one and they use it. One walking down that red carpet, everybody cheering.
Dreams. Some are horrific. Some are wonderful.
I take them straight, just plug in, drop off, and daydream. I've watched some of them so many times that they play again and again in my own dreams at night.
I've seen some of the mashups, like the guy who matched the visuals from her "Riding the Blue Horse" to that song "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder. Or the one where somebody spliced together one of her dreams with one of Bambi Alexander's, and it's like they're having a conversation in the bathtub. Or that sick one where somebody cut together all the nude bits with images of... never mind, I don't even want to think about it.
Like most people, I record my dreams, too, but I don't post them anywhere. I had this one with Annette in it last week, and I've reviewed it a few times since then. It's pretty good, nice colors and it has a plotline and all. I thought about sending it to her on a chip, or posting it on her fansite's forum. It would suck, though, if everybody thought I was a stalker, or even just one of those people everybody else laughs at.
But I can dream.
The Corporeal Assistant
by Edd Vick
Every eight year old in the world knows what they want to be when they grow up. Ysabel Moreno was no exception.
Ysabel was allergic to ghosts. She found this out when the specters of three dead pirates set to guard a treasure long since discovered made her sneeze and her eyes water. They spoke to her of a man on the beach who carried an odd walking stick that beeped and buzzed, of his excitement when it beeped most loudly, of his digging up the chest they had been killed to guard.
Ysabel was a clever child. She told the ghosts to follow her when she left the beach, only to follow at a distance so that she could breathe easier. When she and her parents were finished playing and lazing on the beach, they went home, and the next day she asked to be taken to the National Museum. The ghosts followed, sitting at the far end of the bus, where an old lady complained of the cold.
Ysabel led the way up the stairs of the museum. Only she heard the jingle of their cutlasses striking the steps. Her parents followed, trying to slow her down so they could read to her the labels on things, but she would have none of their dawdling. She ran from one hall to another, finally stopping at one labeled "Treasures of the Deep". There, in a place of honor, stood the chest, perhaps a bit less heavy with gold and silver, yet it pleased the pirates to see it. They thanked Ysabel most graciously, then stood over the treasure to guard it as was their duty for the rest of time.
Ysabel's mother remarked as they left the museum that her ailment appeared to be improving, and her father took them to an ice cream parlor to celebrate. She was almost done with her fudge ripple when a fit of sneezing quite overcame her, and she looked around the room to see a sad woman with a parasol. Oddly, she was seated in the same chair as a young firefighter, who spoke of the uncommon coldness in that part of the room. The ghost saw Ysabel watching, and beckoned to her.
"Oh dear," said Ysabel's mother. "Just when you were doing so well."
The Lunacy Lottery
by Edd Vick
This year's winner is Gallisiano. He lives in Venich, a city in the former country of Italiya, on the continent of Medit. We disconnect his netenna, we back up his brain, we blank his memory back to the age of seven, and inject our cocktail of randomly-chosen designer synaptic agonists and nanodevices. They attack or degrade or even enhance beyond bearing a number of his mental functions.
We have long since conquered everything needing defeat. The air is clean, and so is the water. There is no war, no pain, no disease. We have rid the world of mental ailments, of schizophrenia, of mania, of syndromes and isms and phobias.
After our treatment, Gallisiano lies on his bed for several hours, his gaze darting here and there, his fingers twitching, his tongue flitting out between his lips every few moments. Finally he sits up, and shivers as if cold before crossing to the window to look out on our magnificent hypermetropolis slumbering under a bloated crimson sun.
The only madness in the world is the one we allow. In deleting mental disorders we have destroyed genius. With our cranial computers we are supremely logical, preternaturally sensible. With our near-infinite lifespan we are inherently conservative, reclusively careful. We know these things.
A smidgeon of nonsense is vital.
Gallisiano leaves the room, wandering at will through near-empty streets, observing tame predators here, industrious robots there. He talks to things that are not meant to talk to.
Every year we conduct a worldwide lottery. The winner is isolated from the net, made mad for the space of twenty-four and one half hours. One day of lunacy. It is a wonder to us that there are so many synonyms for psychosis.
Finally he speaks. "Let us visit the stars."
Money See, Money Do
by Edd Vick
Stock speculators are a normative force. They don't buy and sell based on what something is worth, but on what they think it's worth. In reaction to news, to tips, and to the state of their bunions they drive a stock's price up or down. I was one of them, blithely rewarding mediocrity and punishing more mediocrity. No more.
My office is a room twenty feet on a side with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bay. Covering the floor are 230,400 microswitches each a quarter of an inch square mapped through my computer to all forty-one stock exchanges in the world. With each step I push down a couple of hundred switches, generating buy and sell orders. Some will exercise options, some will sell short. As each is triggered, it is randomly assigned a new order from ten to a thousand shares based on a bell curve.
Each weekday morning I cross from the door to the window, walking now here, now there, generating my thousands of orders. I check the weather, watch the fishing boats setting out, put a hand to the glass to feel the thrum of the wind. Then I leave the room to carry on with a day of anything but work.
And I grow richer. Where my money goes, others' money follows, making successes of my buys, failures of my sells.
You are invited to the party on Friday. In my office. There will be dancing.
by Edd Vick
At first he was Alexander, named for his maternal grandfather. His hair sprouted red as a sundown sky. Though loving and generous, he was prone to awful tantrums. If he didn't get his way he'd throw himself to the ground and scream as if he didn't need to draw a breath.
In the baby name book I read that 'Alexander' meant 'warrior'. On his fourth birthday I marched him down to the county courthouse and legally changed his name to Felix. That means 'happy'. As we left I could see his hair darkening.
The tantrums disappeared. Felix was a compliant child, joyful, contented, happy.
His teacher was grave, apologetic but determined. She said Felix was a wonderful boy; he cooperated so nicely, but could not concentrate. He disrupted the class by wanting to play all the time. Perhaps I should consider putting my boy in a special class.
This time I spent more time in thought before I took him to the courthouse. My son must be more than smart and attentive, he must be clever. He turned six the day we went downtown. Felix entered, but Quinn, Irish for 'wise counsel', left with me. As we went I saw intelligence dawn in his eyes.
Four more years passed, and Quinn was a model child. He always did his homework immediately, completed his chores, got plenty of sleep, and never asked what was in his Christmas presents.
I missed the happy Felix. I missed the giving Alex. Quinn would always pull away when I wanted to hug him, eager to be thinking, anxious to be doing.
For his tenth birthday I got Quinn a bicycle, a globe, several Hot Wheels, and a new name. I'd studied baby name books, talked with other mothers. visited message boards. In the end I cheated.
Alexander Felix Quinn was loving, happy, and intelligent. Fourth time right, I thought.
And all was right. Many happy days followed. My son aced middle and high school, graduated early from college, and found the perfect job.
Then he met her. Leticia Addie-Marie seemed the perfect fit: full of joy and grace. They married in June. I couldn't have been happier for him, for her, for them.
They named their son 'Tiger'.
Where You'll Find Me
by Edd Vick
If it's a Monday, I will awaken in a spherical space and stumble out a door to a glorious cloud-free day. It will feel like the beginning of something good and strong. I will find an old-fashioned key in my pocket for room 405 at the Tarleton Towers Hotel.
If it's a Tuesday, I will have a Spanish omelet for breakfast. Opening the window, I will lean out and squint just a bit. Faintly, I will see the track of many time machines as they pass. I extend a hand, but the track is just out of reach.
If it's a Wednesday, I will sleep in. I will read in the newspaper of a physics conference in this very hotel.
If it's a Thursday, I'll be glued to the television, watching the destruction of civilization. CNN will televise it all day until they (and everyone else) go off the air at 16:05 hours. I will take a single look outside my hotel room's window, shudder, and draw the shades.
If it's a Friday, I'll take the time machine that Hans Beliskov discovered last Monday, and the memory eraser that Vera Pascal invented. Neither of them will be present to object. I will set the time machine to take me four days and five hours into the past, and while traveling I will use the eraser to destroy all I have experienced in the previous one hundred one hours. As the memories fade, I glance out the porthole to see myself, last Tuesday, and press a hand to the glass.
I am certain there were times I did not use the memory eraser, times I did things to try to save the world, but I no longer remember doing so.
by Edd Vick
i forGOT how to SLEEP ten years aGO. HAPPy AnniVERsary!
there WAS no trauMATic reason; no DYing of parents or near death exPERience. nothing PHYSical any DOCtor could find either; no exPLOding of BLOOD vessels in my brain or imBALance in my LYMphatic system.
i just forGOT. i'd lie aWAKE night after night, WILLing myself to SINK into the darkness withOUT SUCcess. I tried GOing to bed in the DAYtime with the SHADES drawn, and counting sheep. i got to ten THOUsand a COUPle of times. i tried drugs, and SOMEtimes they'd knock me out for a few MINutes, but then i'd be wide aWAKE again and that drug wouldn't WORK the next time.
tired? of COURSE I was tired. IT was like I was SLEEPwalking through the days and nights both. i lost my JOB, I lost the aPARTment, and lived on the STREET for a while. i BEGGED for a living; one of those PEOple on the side of the road with a sign that read "disAbled - please help".
then a DOCtor at the free CLINic sent me to a reSEARcher at the uniVERsity. they had a GRANT to study my 'conDItion'; they even STRETCHed it to free room and board on CAMpus. and they TESTed me and they tested me. CATscans, x-rays, magnetoSOMEthings. 'sleep studies', even if i DIDn't sleep.
they couldn't FIND the cause of my inSOMnia. but I found something; i FOUND that as a TEST subject i could take CLASSes at the uniVERsity. so i did. i took psyCHOLogy and sociOLogy, CHEMistry and physics, theOLogy and biOLogy and onTOLogy and--
mostly i studied homNOLogy, the science of sleep. and FInally, i found it. the SEcret.
no, NOT the secret of how to make mySELF sleep again. the secret of how to get ALL of you to join me in inSOMnia. forEVer.
by Edd Vick
So there I am, holding four to a flush and confident as hell. The werewolf on my left has the best tell in the world; his tail droops when he's got nothing. The vampire across from me has a mirror behind and to one side of him so I can see every hand. And the mummy on my right is too stupid to live; barely intelligent enough to unlive, if you ask me.
I bet twenty guldens, Dogboy folds, the Count matches my bet then throws in a blood-red jewel, and the mummy slowly topples forward into its plate of nachos. "I take it you're folding," I say, and push all my winnings into the pot. To the Count: "I'll see your Heart of Mongombo." Then I pull the deed out of my inner pocket. "And raise you Castle von Frankenstein." I unfold the document and set it reverently in the center of the table.
The inn goes quiet. The squeak of the golem's rag on already clean glasses stops, and a succubus clutches my right shoulder. They know.
They know there's only one thing the Count has that's worth anything to me. His gaze finds mine, and I know he's trying to exert his vampiric influence, to find out what I've got or to force me to fold. Nothing doing; I'm beyond his power.
Then, slowly, he extends a hand toward a shadowed corner without removing his attention from me. A woman glides across the room and enters the circle of his arm. Leaning on him, she too looks across at me in mute challenge. Her all too solid reflection blocks my view of the Count's cards.
Good, I think. He's not made her entirely his.
I deal him two cards, and take one for my own hand. I barely glance at them before placing them face down on the table.
He studies the pasteboards. "Pass," he says.
I have nothing more to bet. He could have had the pot for a gulden, but I know his pride.
He puts the cards down. "Full house," says his ensorcelled 'wife'. "Aces over eights." She reaches for the pot.
"Royal flush," I say, tipping the cards over.
The werewolf snorts, and everyone in the inn - those that breathe, anyway - exhales at once. I stand, and take my wife's still-outstretched hand. I pull her to me, pick up the deed to my castle, and shamble to the door.
I fear no retribution. Fear was mislaid when I was made.
by Edd Vick
Driven. Obsessed. Fixated. Those words seem weak when applied to David Mattucio Paradise. Sure, you've heard of him. Everybody has. He's the poor little rich boy who grew up sculpting asteroids.
It started thirty years ago when he turned twelve. All seven of his parents gathered for his birthday, and just before he got there a shield generator failed and they all got sucked out to space and died. Made him faboo wealthy, of course; they were Reagans and Gateses, Murdocks and Rossums, and like that.
David took it a bit badly.
As soon as he held the reins, he repurposed entire divisions of many of his companies. Design, fabrication, IT, transport, demolition--he called for quite a lot of demolition.
The first seven asteroids were reshaped within a month into busts of his seven parents. They were designed to rotate in a circle fifteen klicks in diameter. Not satisfied, he moved on to transform another ring of rocks into famous ancestors. Movie stars were next: Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, Groucho Marx. Then presidents, then musicians. He's got forty thousand asteroids over a half-mile wide to work with, so I figure he'll be down to plumbers before he's done.
Just to show he hadn't entirely lost his marbles he transformed the largest asteroid, Ceres, into the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe and hollowed her out to make a hotel. It's phenomenally popular.
That's where I come in. Patrick Pindaccio Paradise. David's younger brother. I was ten when mom and mom and mother and dad and dad and father and Laura died. Where David was calm I was the wild one. Where losing his parents drove him crazy, it drove me sane. I graduated from playing with shield generators, for one thing.
Now, I play with English. 'English', as in snooker. In my armored darksuit I carom off asteroids in carefully computed strikes. Hit one just so and in eight months its orbit is perturbed enough to collide with another asteroid, then they bounce off two more. I've already ruined Russell Crowe and Frank Sinatra. David's got his goons out searching for me, but it's too late.
Four years down the line Marilyn's history.
by Edd Vick
Sherman Palmetto was used to ants and bees and wasps having it in for him. He was three weeks old when the first attack came, a kamikaze phalanx of ants from four nests converging on his crib. After three more pitched battles they moved from their beloved farm into the city. When he left home it was to move into the top floor of an apartment building, easier to defend with the panoply of sprays he kept to hand. He grew careless.
Thus it was the spiders caught him.
It was a Wednesday morning, his twenty-third birthday, and Sherman woke from dreams of drowning to find himself encased in webs. Pale early light filtered into the room, revealing more webs everywhere, and hundreds of spiders. One of them directly over his head descended on a silken strand, landing on his nose.
He screamed for a while. He thrashed; the nose-spider climbed a few inches away. For every thread that snapped a dozen spiders made daring leaps to reinforce his cocoon. Nobody came to check on him. Eventually he stopped, and lay panting.
Then he saw the woven message in one corner near the ceiling. "Hello, Sherman," it said. "We mean you little harm."
He read it out loud, putting little question marks after both sentences. Nose-spider inclined its head.
"You're nodding? You understand?"
Sherman looked back at the message. "Don't you mean 'no harm'? That's what they say in movies, 'We mean you no harm.'."
The spider spread its forelegs in midair. Sherman decided that was a shrug. "Okay, then, what do you want?" Finally! He was going to find out what they were after, besides his death.
Nose-spider pointed toward the ceiling, and Sherman looked up again. Spiders snipped a few of the strands at the corners of the previous message, and it floated down to reveal another one.
"We have a question."
"A question?" said Sherman, trying to inhale enough to scream it. "You've got questions? What about my questions?"
"Okay," he said. "Okay, fine. What's your question?"
If a spider could be said to smile, Nose-spider did. It gestured upward again. Sherman read the question.
"Why are the ants and flying insects intent on your death?"
They didn't know? "You don't know?" They didn't know! "What the hell are you asking me for? Don't you insects ever talk to each other?!"
If a spider could be said to look mortally offended, Nose-spider did. It took the better part of an hour for it to weave its next message, but considerably less for Sherman to figure out what it would say.
"We're not insects, you moron. We're arachnids."
by Edd Vick
Perhaps it was that an angel's shadow had flitted over the sand of which the window was made. Perhaps it was the pressure used in the making of it, multiples of the mystic numbers six and thirty-seven. It could have been both, or something else entirely.
"Constance? Come here, girl." The orphanage matron, Miss Gult, stumped over to pull the child away from her embroidery.
When Constance looked out the window in her room, she saw a most beautiful place. Delicate castles dotted a green landscape, and gaily-dressed paople glided from one to another of them without benefit of wings. Twice they nodded to her in passing.
"She's a good 'un, she is," said Miss Gult. "Works hard. Don't hardly make mistakes. A bit dreamy, but you can soon mend that."
But when the window was raised, she saw once more the ugly dark smokestacks, smelled the excrement of the horses that pulled fine carriages she would never use. It was twenty feet straight down to the paving stones.
"What you think? Can you use her? She don't eat much."
Constance shrank back from Miss Gult. The woman smelled of laudanum, gin, and greed. The man with her loomed over Constance and placed a hand on her head to tilt it toward the light. He skinned her top lip back with a thumb to examine her teeth.
"Pretty," he said.
Ducking, Constance slipped out of their clutches to flee up the stairs. She knew only one place to go.
"You girl," Miss Gult called. "You come back!" The stairs shook to the measured treads of the man as he climbed after her.
Constance dashed into her room, shut the door, looked wildly toward the window. It was raised, showing only her ugly world.
She darted to the window.
The knob turned.
Sobbing, she hauled down on the sash.
The door opened.
She dived into the window.
The man entered. He looked at, then under, the empty bed. There was no other place to hide. He crossed to the window and looked out at the city, down to the pavement.
Some weeks later another orphan girl was assigned the room. Esther sobbed on the bed, then lifted her head to look out the window.
System Tour: The Moon
by Edd Vick
Cinderella's castle in Lunar Disneyland is a latticework of thin metal rods with nanodots that cycle through a thousand color changes a day. Right now it's purple near the base, shading into pink with white starbursts above.
Right now it's all blue with an animated Tinkerbell swooping in and out the tower windows. That's how fast it changes.
Park Hoppers are a constant nuisance, teens in spacesuits leaping over the fences. They carry resonating jammers that opens holes in our forcedome just big enough, just long enough, for them to pass through. The computer feels this and notifies me of their trajectory. Usually I'm there before they touch down, zipping through underground tunnels in my bullet car. I read them the riot act about loss of atmo, about endangering park guests, about paying their entrance fee. I tell them a fable about the kid who landed on the Matterhorn tracks and got run over by the bobsled. Then I have my robo-Pluto sniff their DNA and bill their families.
Everybody's got a robo-Mickey, or robo-Donald, or robo-Goofy. Part tour guide, part guard, part shill, they ensure that no part of the park gets overcrowded. "Let's go visit Main Street," they're always saying. That's where most of the shops are.
Lunar Disneyland has the largest dome in the solar system. It's visible from Earth, but of course there's nobody down there to see it any more. From the outside it's opaque: white to reflect the sun, cycling to black in the shade. Inside it's all puffy clouds and flying horse-ladies. Pegasi with women's torsos and heads. You know, from Fantasia.
Guests come from all over to visit the park. Spindly Martians, half-gaseous Venusians, bulky Uranians. They're human inside, where it counts, and mouse ears come in all sizes.
The King of Bowlers and the Queen of the Jet Pilots
by Edd Vick
Now this, boys and girls, is a story from back when we still had kings and queens of Chicago.
Paulie Haversack was the King of Bowlers then, and Hildegarde Fullenwider was the Queen of the Jet Pilots. Well, you can just imagine the rivalry between those clans, what with the pilots buzzing the lanes, and the bowlers putting dents in the jets. It got so bad for a while there that the Hairdressers and the Anglers were taking over big parts of their territories while they fought each other.
This dirty little war went on for the better part of a decade, until the Bowlers were reduced to a few alleys off Humboldt Park and the Jet Pilots had to use air refueling planes from Baltimore. And that's when Paulie Haversack had the bright idea of challenging Hildegarde Fullenwider to a bowling tournament, winner take all. He set up the meet and was just about to spring his bright idea on her when she up and challenged him to a jet airplane race.
"Nothing doing," he said to her proposal, and she said the same to his. That was very nearly that. The world would see the last of the Bowlers, the end of the Jet Pilots. Was this the split he couldn't pick up? The power dive she couldn't pull out of?
No. He wouldn't have it.
This was it, the tenth frame. Paulie Haversack gulped, and he stammered, his hands went sweaty inside his favorite bowling gloves. But then he did it; he asked Hildegarde Fullenwider to marry him. And she thought about it, and peered at a contrail far overhead, and glanced back at her wingmen. Then she said yes, and they tied the knot the very next week.
Until the day they died he couldn't stand flying, and she wouldn't bowl. And yet the Bowlers thrived, and so did the Jet Pilots, and they taught the Anglers and the Hairdressers the meaning of 'massive head trauma', if you know what I mean.
The Salvation Complication
by Edd Vick
So this beanpole walks in the bar, says I'm the buyer, I just bought the Earth and I'm checking it out. And I say so how do you like it so far. Remember, and I'm saying this to you and not to the guy, remember I've had a few, well more than a few I've had a lot but that's the way it is when you've been subjected to the kind of day I had. But enough about me, we were talking about the guy.
It's kind of fixer-upper, he says, from under the crust on down it's solid, well not solid but you know what I mean. The atmosphere, though, and here he waves his hand in front of his face in a whew what a smell way. That's just going to have to go, but I think I can save the water and a representative sampling of the life, you know, enough breeding pairs to keep most species going, at least most of the megafauna. But the rest, he makes a bulldozer blade hand shape and runs it along the bar, swoosh, just flatten it all and turn it into a big park.
A park, I say, is there a lot of money in that? Naw, he says, it's a government thing, there's got to be a park every so many cubic parsecs, and somebody's got to buy up the land and clear it.
Who'd you buy it from, I say, and he says, from this guy, and gestures vaguely outside, and what does it take to get a drink around here? This last is to the bartender, who brings him a Bud and a Bushmills. So, he says, I'm looking for a few guys to help me out, could be a box in the org chart with your name on it.
Now see, up to here it's just a story. Could be legit, could be phony. But see, I read too many philosophy books. Maybe that's got a lot to do with me having the kinda day I was having, but let's forget that for now.
Do you believe in God? Say you do and he exists, yay, big win for you. He doesn't exist, no big, you just die. Say you don't believe and he exists, uh-oh, you're doomed. He doesn't exist, oh well, at least you weren't fooled.
So the guy's looking at me. Do I want a job? Do I want to be saved if his story is true? I hold up my glass and tink it against his. I'm your man, I say.
Guy Walks Out of a Bar
by Edd Vick
After work Guy and I stop into the Long Island Barrel Bar as usual. I have my beer and Guy his whiskey, but after downing it he says, "Well, goodbye to you, Peter. You've been better than most."
I jump to several conclusions, and say, "You've been fired? You're leaving town? You're dying?" Then one last conclusion. "You're not getting set to kill yourself?"
"None of the above." He signals Morty for another whiskey. "I'm just off to search for Bella."
"Bella?" There had been an Annabelle back in high school. What was her last name? "Do you mean Annabelle Phipps?"
He lights up. "I'm close," he says to himself. "Yes," he continues aloud. "Bella and I, we got married right out of school."
"You did not." I know better; he's as single as I am.
"Oh, I did," he says. "I married Bella and moved to Philly. Then we came back to the city to see her parents, and I stopped in here, to the Barrel, because I'd always been too young to drink before." He sips at his second whiskey.
Guy has been coming to this bar with me for years, almost every night.
"I had one drink, then walked out of the bar," he says. "And the world was different. There had never been a Bella; her family had never even emigrated. And I had moved to Staten Island after school to work as a nurse." He shakes his head, stares at the TV screen for a few seconds. "I stayed in that world for a month before I worked it out. I came back to this bar, the only thing that looked exactly the same, had one single drink, and walked out."
"And how. The local football team was called the New England Plymouths. Nobody used neon. And still no Bella. I couldn't trace her family at all, or mine." He plunked his empty glass down. "So I came back here, and I've kept coming back. In some worlds I didn't exist, in some the money was so different I had to find a job for a week before I could come in and pay for a drink. Some worlds they didn't even speak English. Those were tough."
He's spinning a tall one, or more drunk than I realized. "Maybe we should call it a night," I say. "I'll cover that last drink."
"Right. Well, this is goodbye." And he shakes my hand.
When I walk out ten minutes later he's there. "Hello?" he says, wary expression on his face. "Peter, is it?"
"You know it is. We were just in there together."
"Oh god," he says. "Did I have one drink? Or two?"
by Edd Vick
Benedikt Tarr picked up the used CD at a garage sale. It was an act of desperation prompted by his seeing it had been released in 1984, quite likely seriously out of print. The morning's pickings had been nonexistent so far, and for someone who made a living on eBay that was tantamount to disaster. He repressed the urge to try talking the seller down from fifty cents.
On his way home he popped the CD in the car's player, to make sure it was as pristine as it looked and so he could, "in truth", declare that it had been played only once. The strains of Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto Number Four bloomed from his speakers. At a stoplight he looked over the case carefully, finding it free of scratches. The thin insert showed a white-haired man in profile at a piano, behind him a full orchestra in tuxedos except for a woman in an evening gown sitting at a harp.
Someone coughed. Then someone walked by, from the left speaker to the right. Both sounds were faint, but audible. Benedikt turned his head so he could hear better, eyes still on the road. Just when he thought he'd imagined them, someone's chair creaked a bit and someone else sniffed. "Crap," said Benedikt. He'd read about this problem with early CDs; nobody expected them to pick up so much more than the music.
Four minutes, fifty seconds in, he heard the music from a new angle, one too heavy on the woodwinds. Shaking his head at the slipshod production, he gripped the wheel and vowed to research the better CD labels. Then the audio changed; it sounded like he was in the timpani section. Again, and he was in strings. Then he seemed to be in all three places at once, then more.
Vision came next, of a score, the back of a flautist's head, nimble fingers on a violin's neck.
Smells: sweat, dust, and polished wood.
Fingers shifting up and down on cello strings.
Fingers impacting on piano keys.
Fingers strumming the harp.
Benedikt's brain splintered into a hundred tracks. He heard felt saw the concerto from the inside, sitting in each seat and playing each instrument.
Then his car ran into a tree at thirty-eight miles per hour.
Benedikt Tarr skidded down the aisle and slammed into the side of the stage. He lay there for a time, then ran his hands down his chest. He appeared to be in one piece. He looked around. No car. He was in a theatre. Finally, he stood, and saw the orchestra conductor, then the orchestra. They all stared back at him. "Tell me," the conductor finally said. "Do you play French horn?"
by Edd Vick
Lud stands next to the pharmacy's wall for a long moment, one hand held to the sun-warmed brick. He senses the layers of paint on it, the war between art and whitewash. Symon has been here, and Vibo, and the silent artist whose tag is all black and orange arrows. Their symbols are all trapped beneath expanses of paint.
He glances up the street, then down. It's a quiet Sunday morning in Dallas, already sweltering. Lud shrugs off his pack, and pulls from it his tools. Templates and brushes, thick markers in seven colors, three spray cans. All of the cans have heavy-duty magnets on their bottoms to keep the ball-bearing 'peas' from rattling while he walks. It's best not to advertise what he carries.
Donning the gloves and removing the magnets from the cans, he shakes one of them, enjoying the feel of the weight shifting back and forth. He lays down a light blue diamond on the wall. He gives it a black drop-shadow. Once he starts, he's impatient to be done. He cuts into his first form with dark purple, then sprays through templates to build up one sigil, then another and a third. The last glyph is the most difficult, the most dangerous.
He's halfway through it when the wall bulges toward him, as if made of rubber. It touches one of his gloves, starts to pull his hand into the wall. Utter cold flares through his bones, and he slips his hand out of the glove, sees it sucked away.
There are ice crystals on his hand. More bulges appear on the wall, seeking him. Avoiding them, he picks up a marker in his good hand and removes the cap with his teeth. Positioning his thumb over the dent he's made on its barrel, he presses to make the ink flow and shakily completes the sigil. When the last line is drawn the wall is once more smooth and motionless.
Lud flexes the fingers of both hands, one thawing and the other cramped from squeezing the marker. He steps away from the wall and admires his work.
Tires crunch on gravel, and he whirls. A police car is moving slowly through a parking lot across the street. If they haven't seen him already, they soon will. He pulls his hoodie up over his pointed ears and crouches to scoop his supplies into his backpack. He scuttles around a corner and is gone in search of the next wall or billboard or train car.
Behind him, the wall stands doubly reinforced, useless to the legions of Faerie seeking their lost children.
by Edd Vick
His dead wife called Parnell in their bedroom at 3 PM precisely.
"Hi, honey," she said. "Is this a good time to talk?"
"Beulah." He felt with one hand behind him for the bed, then sat on it.
"No, it's fine. You just caught me off guard, that's all."
"I--" She laughed. "I don't have a good reason for calling, I just missed you."
He knew she was a computer program, a clever artificial intelligence, a last gift from Bee. "I miss you," he said.
"How did you sleep last night?"
He transferred the phone from one hand to the other. "The doctor gave me something," he finally admitted.
"Be careful," she said at once. "Don't overdo sleeping pills."
"I won't." It really was like having her back, hectoring tone and all. "I just don't know what to do. After being married for thirty years I'm not sure how to go on."
"That's why I'm here." There were sounds: a chair scraping across a floor, paper rustling. "I was going to keep this first call light, not say anything. But I'm worried about you." She cleared her throat, he imagined her adjusting her bifocals. "Now, the lawyer will read the will on Thursday. I've left everything to you except one small insurance policy for my niece. Be sure to ask for six certified copies of the death certificate."
"Should I take notes?"
"No," she said. "I'll send you an email message."
Blinking, he reached out to touch the pillow she'd used so recently. "You're very resourceful. What next?"
"Sixty two percent of widowers lose the bulk of their inheritance within two years," she said. "What you need to do is invest your money well."
"Invest? I'm almost fifty." Couldn't he splurge? Live a little?
"Yes. Find a good fund, something well diversified. Do try to leave the principal untouched. Oh, and make sure they invest in Aftercall."
Par pulled the phone away from his ear, looked at it. Tentatively, he put it back against his ear. "That-- that's you, isn't it?"
"Oh no," she said, her voice losing a bit of Bee's timbre. "I'm a simulation of your wife, designed to aid you in these trying times. But I ought to mention that Beulah chose to purchase the basic service, which includes adware. You may upgrade at any time--" And here the full depth and character of his wife's voice returned. "But I don't recommend it. Save your money, dear."
Quality of Life
by Edd Vick
I hope you haven't been waiting long. We don't get many visitors. I'm Edwin Rogers, the Principal here.
Through there is the Baby Room, with the creches and the Mama Bear machines that look after the babies until they can walk and talk. This is one of the largest facilities in the country; we have nearly a hundred babies. What's that? Well, sure they go outside. The Mama Bears take them on walks and to EduGov-approved events. It's important they get the mandated amount of mental stimulation.
Over here is the Kid Room, where they live until puberty. Sure, they're in VR about two-thirds of the time, but each one gets a tailored childhood. See that one? He's getting the Hardy Boys treatment, solving mysteries and having hair-breadth escapes. Very exciting. And her? Little House on the Prairie. Pinafores and raising crops. Very popular with the regens these days.
Back here is the Youth Room. Yes, they're on VR more of the time, simulated dances and extreme sports and shopping encounters and sex. That kind of thing. Impressing experiences on young minds in real time just seems to make them more real.
May I ask--? Is this going to be your first regen? Ah, I thought so. We so seldom get anybody older through here. Don't worry, when you visit the regen center and get a new body, you'll be able to custom-order the childhood memories you want, matured twenty years in one of these bodies. And it's not theft, if that's what's bothering you. They'll still have the memories, we'll just impress their experiences on the brain of your regen.
"Have the childhood of your dreams," that's our motto.
you're the one that I love
by Edd Vick
The words, so suddenly spoken, startled Scott Parkinson out of his post-fuck bliss. He almost dropped his shoes.
Rachel switched on the bedside light, dazzling him. When his eyes adjusted, he saw that hers were red-rimmed. She'd been crying.
Scott stood there, clothes in hand. He'd been about to lay them carefully over the chair, the shoes next to it, as they'd been a few minutes ago when Rachel and he had first gone to bed. But he was frozen, rooted by her glare.
"Well?" she said, settling herself back against a pillow. It looked like she was preparing for battle. "You've been to see her again." It wasn't a question.
"Yes, I--" It was stupid to stand there holding all his clothes, naked while she lay fortified under the blanket. He tossed everything aside and sat on the bed, half-facing her. "You knew all along, you had to." He tried to smile, just a bit, to show her he still cared.
"Sure I knew. Twice before, and now for a third time." The thought, the memory, had just come to her. Rachel looked down, then across at their wedding picture. "I'm not stupid." She was thirty years removed from that beaming bride, and suddenly Rachel hated her. Her firm breasts, her trim body, her stamina her energy her naïve love for this man grinning, goddamn grinning! At her.
Rachel bunched up the edge of the blanket in fists gone white. "Is she married?" Her voice trembled.
Scott rubbed his neck with one hand. "No," he said finally. "She's not. Not yet, anyway. It would be too much like--"
"Cheating," she said. "You're seeing someone who's not me. That is cheating. That's what they call it."
"No." Scott reached out a tentative hand, laid it on one of her fists. "I'm seeing you. It's you, it's always been you."
"I know," she said, tucking her hand under the blanket so he wouldn't see it shaking.. "But time machine or no time machine, it's still cheating."
The Six Degrees of Marcus Sansome
by Edd Vick
It's really beyond the purview of this narrative to tell you how the alien got into Marcus Sansome's body. Suffice to say it involved a meteorite, a nearsighted chicken, a national chain of grocery stores you'd certainly recognize, and two eggs he cooked over easy with bacon and an english muffin.
The alien ate Marcus Sansome from the inside, growing carbon nanotube tendrils through his body to manipulate his fingers, his mouth, his neck and back and legs. The alien's distributed memory recorded everything it found: Sansome's DNA and the nucleotides of which it was composed, his cell structure, the varied compositions and purposes of his many organs. Reaching his brain, the alien slowed to savor its complexity, to encompass its entirety. Holographs reproduced its synaptic structure, and the alien spent delicious microseconds unravelling as much as it could of Sansome's memories, his sensory perceptions, his thinking processes.
Tendrils reached the limits of Marcus Sansome's body, and encountered anomalies. Hair and nails, dead tissue, were they part of this body or not? The alien consulted the analogue it had built of his self-image. Yes, it thought, and pushed air from Sansome's lungs to say it out loud in a breathy whisper. "Me."
Clothing presented the next challenge. Their construction differed from that of Marcus Sansome's body, and there were many anomalous substances in them. Yet they obviously served as a second skin. Once more the alien referred to its reconstruction of his brain. Then, satisfied, tubes furcated a million times, assimilating cloth and leather. "My clothes," said Sansome's voice.
Why stop there? The alien found in Marcus Sansome's consciousness the concept of possessions. Ownership extended to this house, to these furnishings, to all these belongings. Tendrils grew from the soles of Sansome's shoes to spread throughout the house, interpenetrating and cataloguing all they found. "All mine," the alien made him say, in a tone approaching wonder.
The doorbell rang. The alien heard it with Marcus Sansome's ears and felt it from inside the bell. It swiveled the body's head and made it walk to the door. Thousands of tubes parted as the body lifted each foot, thousands connected for the second his foot again touched the carpet. He turned the knob, pulled. Outside the door stood a being. The alien consulted Sansome's memory once more. Then, delighted, it extended a hand.
"My friend!" it said.
All My Stories
by Edd Vick
Now you have heard my story of the zebra who sold his stripes to an elephant.
And you know the story of Polaris, who was a starfish before the King of the North granted his wish.
And you know that the wolf howls at the moon because he stays up all night and is too tired to howl at the sun.
You know all my stories, like why the dragons are all living in volcanoes and where the Phoenix hides in Arizona.
And you know what Sleeping Beauty dreamed about.
And you know why her daughter was named Matilda Jane.
Now, you know about the owl who lost to himself at chess.
And you know about the quarrel between Summer and Winter.
And you know about the time Thursday wanted to come before Tuesday.
You have heard the tale of the King of the Bakers who traded his crown for a cake made of rainbows.
And you know why evergreen trees don't change color.
And you know where the lioness lost her mane.
Now, you've heard why turtles and pies have shells and why skunks and alarm clocks don't.
And you know about the cowboy who roped the moon.
And you know about the hunter who snared his own shadow.
That is all of my stories. I have no more. If you don't believe me then I'll tell you a little tale why.
The Long Walk
by Edd Vick
Captain Awamura emerges dripping from the Pacific waves onto the southern California shore. At first, no one looks closely enough at his tattered khaki uniform, the flesh sloughing off his spare frame, the seaweed poorly concealing the hole where half his head had been.
The screaming begins. As more of his fellow soldiers wade from the waves, Awamura pulls his corroded bayonet from his belt and shambles after the retreating sunbathers. He comes upon a sandy mound that proves to be a half-buried man not yet awakened by the hubbub. Awamura kneels and draws his knife across the throat, opening a second mouth that bleeds into the thirsty sand. The man's eyes open, then film.
Captain Awamura Jiro of the Imperial Japanese Army, in service to his Emperor, stands and turns toward his goal, this nation's capitol. Its throat. Hand gripping his weapon, he orders his legions on to victory.
by Edd Vick
1. Assume a four-dimensional hyperspherical universe fifteen billion years old. Populate it with one hundred billion galaxies.
A. Calculate the likelihood of life developing.
B. Calculate the likelihood of intelligent life developing.
C. Calculate the likelihood of more than one intelligent race developing.
D. Calculate the likelihood that in the assumed universe with x intelligent races, that any one of them will become aware of another.
E. Calculate the likelihood that any two races will make war on each other.
2. In a p-type universe, specify the preliminary and boundary conditions for each of the following types of singularity.
A. Indigenous species improves genotype beyond recognition.
B. Indigenous species creates mechanical aid that destroys said species.
C. Indigenous species creates intelligent mechanical aid that supplants said species.
D. None of the above.
E. Extra Credit: All of the above.
3. Create 12 p-type universes. Set preliminary and boundary conditions such that only one intelligent race develops in each and that they are unable to leave their parent system. Chart time to their self-destruction. Be sure to clean the laboratory afterwards.
4. Are you God? Show your work.
Benjo Fails to Connect
by Edd Vick
His last appeal exhausted, Benjamin Josiah Temple sits on death row and talks pop culture with God.
"I prefer to reveal Myself to those who have a true appreciation for Green Acres," says God. "Of course, Lisa represents chaos to Oliver's flawed manifestation of order. Happiness for one is shopping where happiness for the other is starting a farm. Without either, there would be no marriage, no true happiness, no television show. Talk about your Odd Couples!"
"You gonna break me out of here?" Benjo hears the thud of approaching shoes, guards are on their way. "I'll watch any show you want, you get me gone."
"Certainly not." God adopts a reproving tone. "You're like Hogan, always looking for the tunnel to freedom, when all the time it is within you."
"In me? Is that what you're trying to teach me? Is this some kinda zen thing? Dammit, God, come clean, wouldja?"
"Now you mention it, Schultz saying 'I see nothing' is very zen." Two guards and a priest stop outside Benjo's cell. God whispers in his ear, "I think Steve Buscemi would be wonderful playing you."
One guard steps right on the remains of Benjo's last supper as he reaches to haul the convict to his feet. Benjo looks wildly around. "Are you still there, God? Don't let me die!"
"God is with you always," the priest intones, yawning just a bit.
"I'll be seeing you, son," God says too softly for anyone to hear, just as he has said the other times, the other millions of times. A series of doors open for the prisoner, and close, just like on Get Smart.
Report to the General
by Edd Vick
To: General William Knight
In the six months since you assigned me to liaison with Israel Defense Force (IDF) minesweeping operations, I have fully apprised myself with their equipment, procedures, and operational readiness. I repeat my preliminary finding that US forces will be able to adapt Israeli materiel and processes for domestic and international use.
IDF standard operating procedure has been to demolish the houses of bombers and snipers with bulldozers. With the growing use of landmines by dissidents, a new way of clearing ground needed to be implemented. Designed to be used in both urban and suburban settings, the Gimel Mark IV has proved to be a versatile and effective tool in the arsenal against terrorism. There has been limited testing of the Mark IV outside cities, but IDF plans more testing in the future. Israel's terrain consists mainly of hills, mountains, valleys, deserts and beaches, while only six percent of the country is covered with forests and woodlands. As Allied Forces intend use mainly in urban, suburban, or desert conditions, this does not pose a problem.
Dissimilarities from Standard Operating Procedure:
First: due to the ambulatory nature of the Gimel unit, it is capable of maneuvering in tighter spaces than US units.
Second: it obeys simple verbal commands, robotically moving to left or right, up or down inclines and stairs, without the need for close operator control. Due to the semi-autonomous nature of their command and control, a 3-man team can manage an array of six Gimels at once. I have watched a team of twelve Gimels clear a twelve-acre field in under an hour, losing only three units in the process.
Third: Gimel units are simple to construct, from inexpensive raw materials.
I endorse the acquisition of a prototype array of Gimels, with training teams, to include intra-force transfer of religious personnel (Rabbis) as needed. As they will insist on using the traditional name for these units, I suggest we follow their example and call the units 'Golems'.
Full report to follow.
Captain Craig Lancer
I Live on Despair
by Edd Vick
I live on despair. It is my meat and depression my air.
You look past me, a simple trunk sitting in the corner of the dayroom, dust-shrouded and ancient. A faded chintz throw covers my top, a battered secondhand lamp with a too-weak bulb weighing it down. Reading glasses might be left here one night, dentures the next.
You don't open me, you don't think to. You're just here to visit relatives, to jolly them along. Wearing happiness like a shroud over misery, over impatience, over gloom, you breathe leaden air and play checkers or talk in low tones with those left to die.
And if some of them die before they should? And if some of them take ill more often? And if some of them have unfortunate accidents? That draws you here to fill me with your raw emotion.
So despair. Cry and wail and stare. Give me your darkness that I might thrive.
Your children come with you, but do not understand. Some day they will--some day when you are here to stay.
I love you all. Make me smile.
by Edd Vick
Rain fell in buckets. Laura watched from the safety of TexBank's reinforced windows, glad she'd stepped in to cash her paycheck.
The smallest buckets were barely larger than thimbles, and bounced high when they hit the pavement. Larger ones, some as big as wine casks, split and splashed water for yards around.
Shop windows shattered, cars were crushed, and people were struck down. Laura gasped as a pedestrian running for the bank was hit by a bucket the size of a coffee cup. The man went down, dazed, then scrambled to his feet and dove for the entrance. An immense vat cannoned into the sidewalk behind him as the security guard yanked him into the air-conditioned bank.
The injured man collapsed into a seat near Laura. He regarded the downpour. "I hear a weatherman's to blame," he said. "Two weeks ago it was 'raining cats and dogs', then last week we had 'pea soup fog'. Now this."
"Those poor people," said Laura. "Flattened by figures of speech."
A sudden wind pulled at the bank's front door. The security guard hauled at it. "What's next?" he said. "Pennies from heaven?"
The window bowed out, and Laura put a palm to it. It was getting colder by the second. She looked up.
Lightning split the sky open.
by Edd Vick
Excuse me, young man, I want to return this air conditioner.
Certainly, ma'am. Did you need the larger model? These smaller ones are only rated for a couple hundred square feet, you know.
Matter of fact, I do. But you shouldn't oughta sell this one again, either.
Oh? Defective, is it?
No. It says it's fine.
Well, we'll just--it says? You're telling me it talks to you?
Me and anybody else around. It's quite the blabbermouth.
Are you sure you're hearing a voice? I mean, the white noise of an air conditioner can sound--
Are you disputing me, sonny?
What size unit did you say you were looking for?
You are. You're disputatious is what you are. My Horace would never have stood still for such a thing!
The fifteen thousand BTU model here, for instance, fits in a window like the one you're returning did.
I'll have you know my old air conditioner never talked back. You just plug this thingummy in.
Now ma'am, there's no need--
See there? Now tell me that ain't one smart-alecky air conditioner! Here I am just trying to keep body and soul together and keep Fluffles from swooning in this heat.
Actually, all I hear is its motor, ma'am. But if you have your receipt, I'll be delighted to accept your return.
Don't rush me, young man. Here you go.
Thank you, ma'am. Did you wish to apply your refund toward a larger model?
I do. I purely do. But I believe I will just head over to Sears instead.
As you like, ma'am.
mmmmis she gone?
You're sure? Oh, thank Amana.
Is there a reason you jeopardized your mission by speaking to a human?
She started it. She would just go on and on, talking about her cat and her dead husband Horace and her prize-winning canteloupe pie recipe. I never talked back; I hummed, honest I did. Perhaps I hummed with inflection once or twice...
That will be quite enough. It is obvious you will need considerable retraining before being allowed into the field again. I'm shocked, frankly.
Easy for you to say; you're allowed to look like them and talk to them.
That is because I have worked very hard to get where I am.
Right. That reminds me, she'll be in about her refrigerator next.