September 28, 2009

Promotional Poster

by Kat Beyer

Did your daughter take on the school bully?
Did she lose?
Did she win?
Does she borrow your fabricators without asking?
Do you find yourself scanning the tops of trees with your binocs when it’s time to call her in for dinner?
Was her favorite birthday present a Helvetian army knife?
Does she overload the solar watching kung fu movies?
Has she already crashed her second bike?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, Women’s Battle College needs your daughter. Send her without delay. Scholarships available.

Women’s Battle College, Dun Scaitha, Isle of Skye, UK. ::wbcuk::app

May 12, 2009

Missing Death’s Bad Beer

by Kat Beyer

Author's note: this story is a Gothy present for my fabulous stepdaughter, Rain Lochner. Happy birthday, Rain! Hope you like it.

The trouble with playing poker with Death is that he has no tells. He carefully guards his reputation for total unpredictability.

"There's a woman," said Thomas. "She’s got red hair and a smile like sun on a porch."

"Are you going to go goopy?" Intoned Death.

"I don't think so."

"You're going to go goopy."

"I'm not going to go goopy," Thomas grumbled. "See you and raise you 20 bucks."

"Nobody pays the ferry man anymore," Death complained, feeling around for his wallet, a present from Thomas. It showed Death riding a Harley, because the artist couldn't know that Death rode a ‘52 Vincent Black Lightning.

"She's not for you anyway," Death added, slapping the bills down.

"How do you know?"

Death waited for him to find the answer on his own.

"Oh," said Thomas finally. "When?"

"Tomorrow, in the bar. Jealous ex-boyfriend," said Death, flicking a maggot off his wrist.

Thomas felt sick (not from the maggots—he was used to them). He looked at his hand: nine of hearts and jack of spades.

"What if I broke the rule?"

Death had one rule, and that was money bets only.

"You could do that," said Death. "But I'm looking at a pretty good hand."

"And we probably wouldn't hang out again," said Thomas.

"There is that," said Death. "Probably."

"I would miss Thursday nights."

"Bad beer," grinned Death, who always brought it.

"Maggots in the peanuts," smiled Thomas. He added, "I'm sorry."

Death said, "I told you you’d go goopy," and placed the bet on the table: a small glittering shape that smelled of thunderstorms. Thomas held his breath while Death dealt the first card.

When a box of chocolates skated down the long counter to her, Nina wondered if Rob was trying a cute way of getting around the restraining order. But when she looked up the row of startled regulars, only Thomas looked back. He came down the bar.

"These from you, Thomas?"

"Yes ma'am."

"What for?"

"Because I'm lucky you’re alive," he said. "Want to go out after work?"

She didn't say she'd honestly never thought about him that way before, or that she had an odd feeling she might be looking at a man who would go the distance for her, or that she had an even odder one that she would start a new life if she said yes. She just said yes.

April 27, 2009

The New Job

by Kat Beyer

"You've never been up to my apartment before, have you?" Matilda asked, unlocking the modern lock on the door with a worn brass key. Juliet followed the old woman into the sunniest apartment she'd ever seen. The windows stood wide open. Juliet, from her place across the street, often saw Matilda leave without bothering to close them, a mad choice in a neighborhood full of dealers and thieves, let alone Juliet’s two baseball-crazed sons. Matilda just pitched the balls back.

A bird flew in, chirping at Matilda.

"Thank you," said Matilda; Juliet realized she was speaking to the bird. It flew off. "You can put the groceries on the counter," Matilda said to Juliet. "Thank you for lending a hand. I’ve gone and gotten old."

Juliet found herself staring at the countertop. She could see coiled shells in it, and, impossibly, tiny spirals of writing.

"Are those fossils?" she asked, and Matilda nodded. "And the writing... What language is that?"

"Hah! I knew I was right," said Matilda.

"What do you mean?" asked Juliet.

"I’ve been watching you. I'm retiring, my dear," said the old woman, "and I've chosen you to take over."

"Take over what?" Juliet stared.

"The world," said Matilda, laughing. "Sorry, my awful joke."

She gestured at the rug in the living room and suddenly Juliet could see that it was the ocean, with the chairs and couches as continents riding on it, clouds tugging and forming in the sunlight pouring in from the window.

"It all takes a while to figure out, like the writing on the counter," Matilda went on briskly. "My advice is to get your kids launched before you try anything serious. There are some books around the house, and a few rules, but it’s all pretty much learn as you go."

"Learn what as I go?" asked Juliet.

"Being God," said Matilda.

Juliet only stared.

Matilda smiled and asked, "Who did you think was in charge?"

"I don't know," said Juliet, adding, "And if I don't want to?"

"Believe me, there are days when you don't want to. It's like being a parent," sighed Matilda. "But once you’ve been chosen, that’s that. I’m quite sure I’ve chosen a worthy successor."

She chucked Juliet under the chin.

"It's a compliment," she prompted.

"Thank you," Juliet replied. Matilda laughed, pressed the worn brass key into her hand, and walked out the door.

April 17, 2009

The Mottled Disk

by Kat Beyer

Jordan watched the glass disk in the street very carefully. He was pretty sure it had not been there a couple of minutes before, and he was also sure that he hadn’t looked away from the pavement.

Finally he nudged it with a dirty sneaker. It looked awfully thin, and he was afraid to break it, but when he touched it with the edge of his shoe, it didn’t seem to budge. He squatted down and looked into it. It wasn’t glass like a windowpane. It looked more like that piece of volcanic glass that Mrs. Gubner had brought to school, except bluish, and with weird spots in it, that swirled and rippled even though he couldn’t see them move. He just knew they did.

After a while he remembered that he had to go to school, and realized that he was looking up at the houses along the street with great relief—they are still here, they aren’t rotted away and gone like in a time travel movie, came the thought. So he walked over to his skateboard and his backpack and kept going.

After a minute or two the glass disk rose as if someone underneath it were opening a hatch, which was pretty much the case; a man and a woman emerged, wearing orange business suits.

“Well, that was close,” said the man. The woman examined the street.

“Still using asphalt. We should go forward about a century,” she announced.

“You know best,” said the man, and they lifted the glass disk and climbed under it again.

A house finch swooping down to look at the shiny thing was rather startled to find it gone at swoop’s bottom.

April 2, 2009

An Incident at the Mars Debates

by Kat Beyer

Captain Daneham met his wife in the following way.

He was at the House of Commons, watching the Mars debates; he’d gone alone, and the Shadow Minister for Space was wittering away about fuel sources, as if all that hadn't been sorted ages ago.

Two girls in moonsuits were standing nearby, and, unable to pay attention to the old windbag any longer, he watched them instead. They were whispering and laughing softly. The tall one was what he would call Junoesque, a regular Amazon, who wore her stars and bars as if born in a rocket, while her friend had close-cropped red curls, a naughty pixie face, and a shockingly careless way of wearing her uniform—sleeves rolled up and unpolished boots. When she turned his way he saw the Mechanics’ 101st patch on her chest pocket and understood. Posy bunch of know-it-alls, they were, but too good at their job by half.

He watched them, and they watched him, while down among the green leather seats of Parliament history was made.

Then came the quick, sturdy tap of boot heels, and a flash of brown leather, followed by the flick of a blue-black ponytail.

"Sorry we’re late—got held up," said the girl with the ponytail. "Miss anything?"

"Only old al-Rashid going on and on," said Juno, and the redhead laughed. "Where’s Sarah?"

"In the loo, she’ll be along in a minute. Literally, we got held up. Four lads and two guns in an alley."

"No!" Juno stared.

"Good heavens. Are they all right?" Asked the redhead.

Ponytail laughed; he could hear the adrenalin draining from her.

"One won't walk again, I'm afraid. The others are probably still up the station explaining things. You know what she's like."

Captain Daneham couldn't help but stare himself. And then she came around the corner, brown hair with a touch of red in it, checking her purse, looking up at her friends with the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen, as if she wondered what all the fuss was about.

He couldn't help himself. He stepped forward, saying, "I beg your pardon, but I couldn't help overhearing..."

The rest of his stumbling speech was drowned in the sound of shouts and roars from the benches below, the noise of history—but he did manage to get out for a drink with them afterwards, once colonization was decided upon.

March 18, 2009

Send in the Truth Smellers

by Kat Beyer

The two ships hung in the open silence of space as if they were already depicted in a tapestry: the Gaian ship glittering with fretwork and enamel and the perlescent oval of the Free and Independent Peaceful Coalition of Jupiter's Moons. The Negotiators’ Bubble between them emptied; the negotiators had called it a day (because that was easier than calling it a biorhythmic activity episode).

"Here they come," said the Fire Keeper as the Gaian team came up the gangway. "Hope your weird plan worked."

"Me too," said the Senecan Sachem, holding out a glass of water to the Speaker.

"No deal yet," she shrugged, and took a long drink.

"Any complaints about the – additions – to your team?"

"They thought we were weird bringing teenagers with us, but figured it was just a cultural thing."

Behind her the three youngest members of her team traded their ceremonial robes for tattered jeans and buckskin shirts.

"What did you think of the Jupiter people?" said the Speaker, turning to them.

"I don't know," said the youngest teenager, and then stood with his mouth open.

The tallest boy shook his head and asked, "Can I say it however?" looking only at the Speaker.

"Just don't swear in front of the grandfathers."

"Okay. Frankly, they were kind of full of it."

The third teenager nodded gravely, carefully restarting each of her seven holotoos.

"They talk like my mom," she said. "You know, like they learned it out of a blog on how to get what you want without ever really asking for it or whatever."

The Sachem looked toward the treaty analysts.

"You have anything for us yet, Hannah? Adsila?"

"The kids are basically right. It looks really nice on the surface, but it’s a load of... things you shouldn't say in front of the grandfathers."

After dinner, in private, the Sachem said to the Fire Keeper, "I was right, wasn't I?"

He got a grunt.

"I got the idea when my youngest grandson got upset about something. Those kids are really on alert any time an adult is hypocritical. It's perfect. They look harmless – at least with the robes on – like what the Speaker said – a Cultural Thing."

"They're so eloquent, too," said the Fire Keeper.

"Oh, shut up. I want to give them some name nobody will bother to translate. What's Onandaga for 'truth smeller?'"

March 2, 2009

Skye Makes a Bargain

by Kat Beyer

Cuhulain learnt the salmon’s leap from her; great Aife fought her. She pitched her camp on an island off of Alba, giving it her name: Skye. When the women came, crying, “Teach us!” she taught.

One evening she stood on the headland with her back to the School of Battles. She heard the wings behind her, then smelled the stink. She didn’t turn around. Even goddesses ought to have manners, not just show up.

“A bargain, Skye,” croaked the goddess, so she turned.

“Good evening, your Ladyship,” she said. The Lady of Battles engulfed the school behind her in shadow.

“A bargain, Skye.”

“I have already made our bargain, your Ruthlessness,” she said, “when first I stuck a sword in a gut. To you I go in the end, serving a life for each life taken. I know it.”

“Not that bargain. One for your students, each one who picks up a sword under your eye, and those that will call your name in times to come.”

Skye knew that the Lady of Battles had the Light of Foresight and often forgot whether she saw today, yesterday, or the hundred thousandth tomorrow.

“They’ll remember you, they will,” said the Lady of Battles. “And my hand guides your sword, my wing stretches over your students. A bargain, Skye!” she crowed.

‘Always bargains,’ thought Skye. ‘Gods can never say, here, have limitless power, or endless life, or a good poop, whatever, and leave it.’

“What bargain, your Stinkiness?”

“A girl dedicated to me every generation!”

‘No need to screech,’ thought Skye. ‘Screeching, always.’

“And if I don’t agree?”

“Your school to wither, your teachings to fail those taught!”

And that, thought Skye, was the heart of it—gods don’t really bargain at all. Give up teaching? Give up showing women the strength in their sword arm? She thought how always one girl stood fiercer, more ruthless than the rest, not afraid to summon the terrible carrion Lady by saying her real name three times.

The sun had set on Alba.

“I’ll make the bargain,” sighed Skye. “You’ll know her. In each generation taught on this land, one will go to you, your Ravenity.”

Nowadays the School has only one stone arch and a name, the Fortress of Shadows. They say a girl still finds herself there, sometimes. They say Joan of Arc came once, and Queen Elizabeth. They say many things, whatever.

February 17, 2009

Naginata and Jumble Sales

by Kat Beyer

"As for the whole question of women fightin’, Major, I told ‘em I wouldn’t have it in my regiment. Ridiculous bringin’ up the whole question in the first place. Take this new school on Skye—" said Captain Markby to Major Daneham.

"Old school, sir. Reopened after two thousand years, sir,” put in Lieutenant Jennings.

"Thank you, Jennings. I believe I was speaking to the Major?"

"Sorry, sir."

"No, do go on, Lieutenant. I hadn't heard that they had finally got funding," said Major Daneham.

"They didn't, sir."

"Beg pardon?"

"They didn't, sir. They raised it themselves."

"What, through jumble sales and coffee mornings?" joked the Major.

"Something like that, sir. Over fifteen hundred of them, in three years. They had bake sales, as well. Got rather famous for something called the Amazon Roll, actually."

"Good heavens. Organized bunch of—ladies, what?"

"Yes, sir. I believe they gave weapons demonstrations as well."

"Marksmanship, that sort of thing?"

"Yes, sir. And weapons of historical interest, such as the naginata, and the claymore, sir."

"Really?" said the Major, and wished he hadn't, because Lieutenant Jennings' eyes had lit up, and Major Daneham could tell he was about to start jabbering about weaponry. The Captain came to the rescue accidentally.

"Yes, yes, yes, but the point is, the point is!—I'm sure you'll call me an old-fashioned man, but whether you like the numbers or not, got to face ‘em. When some dashed starburst has done for the computers and you're out there in the field, face-to-face with the enemy and half your armor blown off, give me a man's superior strength any day. Women, bless ‘em, well—damme it, I'm a traditionalist. ‘Her Place is in Space’ and all that. I mean to say, when I want a colony on Mars, nobody better for it than a lady! Taught my own daughter how to shoot so she could go to the Moon and serve in the police, didn't I? And as for rocket design—! But when some dashed chap is telling me I can’t have Australia back, give me a regiment of men, thank you very much."

Major Daneham noticed with relief that it was five o'clock and high time for him to pick up his wife from tae kwon do. He walked the Lieutenant out with the coffee cups, saying, "Can't change old habits all in one go, you know."

February 3, 2009

Math for Witches

by Kat Beyer

1. Agnes and Hilda live on opposite sides of a village. Both must bicycle for 15 minutes to reach the village. They decide to meet for coffee in the village square at 20 minutes after moonrise. Neither has batteries for their bicycle lamps. Agnes decides to use her broom, while Hilda applies flying ointment. The moon is in Aquarius and neither of them has to pass over a standing stone or stone ring. At what time will each of them have to leave in order to arrive on time?

2. When Hilda does not arrive, Agnes decides to fly to Hilda’s cottage. Three minutes outside the village a gust of wind blows her off course over a stone ring. How long will she take to arrive? Assume a standard nine-stone late Neolithic ring.

3. Hilda has applied the wrong ointment: a Thrice-Speed Love Oil, which has brought a minotaur out of the ethers. She does not want to have relations with a minotaur, but he presses her and she must defend herself. She seizes a sheet of paper and sets him the following problem:

i is my interest in sleeping with a minotaur. Solve for i.



4. While the minotaur is working on this problem, Agnes arrives. Hilda greets her, apologizes, and explains the situation. Agnes replies that since Hilda is never late, she knew that something must be wrong, and apologizes in turn for getting lost in the otherworld. They sit and drink tea while the minotaur continues to struggle. Agnes decides the minotaur is cute (if dumb), and, since you, dear student, have already solved the problem for him, she takes him home to her house. If the minotaur weighs as much as 399 apples picked in the sign of Gemini, and Agnes can carry a gross of these on her broom, can she give the minotaur a ride, or must he walk?

Extra credit: if she used a disassembly spell how many flights would she have to make to carry all of him to her house?


1. This is a trick question. If the moon is in Aquarius, the flying ointment will hardly lift Hilda off the ground. She should use her broomstick.

2. 37 minutes, if she eats or drinks nothing offered her.

3. i=0, as Hilda’s attitude suggests.

4. No, he must walk.

Extra credit: three trips.

January 27, 2009

The Tungsten Lama’s Weekly Webinar

by Kat Beyer

Good morning! At least, it is morning where I am. We begin. In last week's lesson we learned that the space-time continuum is shaped like a pretzel, and that we are merely the salty bits. This week we shall consider the secret of reincarnation.

It isn't a secret. Indeed, it's pretty banal; and, like all my other lessons, you can learn it right where you are.

So where are you? Are you in this present earthly life: avoiding working, perhaps; or hoping your baby won't wake before you finish today's lesson; or in a café, trying to remember why you ordered green tea and a pretzel; or in the catacombs, reading this in a text message sent by one of your fellow revolutionaries?

Or are you in the afterlife: reading this in the demon-infested examination room for souls that is the Bardo; or hearing this on the breeze as you sit under an apple tree in the Summer Country; or chancing on this in Hell, for I believe—correct me if I am wrong—that Hell has Internet access these days, though very slow; or in a lecture hall on Purgatory Mount; or listening to shabti-servant read this aloud in the Duat as you help Amen-Ra dress for dinner?

In all these places the secret is close at hand. For the secret, my dear students, is:—boredom.

Yes, boredom! For when the day comes that you are sick of apples in the Summer Country, or tired of Amen-Ra’s diva hissy fits, or you decide you're not going to let one more demon roast your privates, on that day you will start searching for the backdoor to the afterlife. You will find it. You will step through that door and go into a womb.

So. If you are in this present earthly life, where you occasionally order the wrong thing, the chances are that you have a soul that thirsts to know more than the taste of paradise or the suffering of hell—a soul that is easily bored.

All the souls around you long for more, too.

So chew on that along with your apple or your Purga-Pretzel (I understand that in Purgatory, all pretzels are rubbery). Let me know what you think, for I too am longing. Thank you for the honor of teaching you, and I hope to see you next week.

January 2, 2009

New Year’s Clouds

by Kat Beyer

New Year’s Eve on Ganymede: we still celebrated it on Earth’s Julian time. Paulie would always make sure the link was good, so we could watch Big Ben, and then the Ball in New York, and the Firepod in San Francisco.

“Pretentious dirtniks,” Paulie would say, sniffing as the Pod burst over the Bay. He still says it. He’s never thought much of anyone who didn’t have the guts to leave Earth’s gravity.

“You smoke Lucky Strikes, though,” Ming pointed out to him on our second New Year’s.

“Yes, they use up too much oxygen. Strains the manufacturing rig,” I added, because it was time someone brought this up.

“Never a big one for small pleasures, our Stefania,” Paulie sniped, and took a long drag on his cigarette; he knew by then his sexist quips wouldn’t draw any anthrax from me. I had been through naut training before the lawsuits. “Anyway, we’re not going to have to worry about that much in a minute, right?”

He was probably right, damn him. We had chosen Hawai’i’s New Year, in honor of our chief scientist, Dr. Hana, even though—actually because—she hadn’t made it through planetfall. Sometimes it takes someone. Maybe like the gods of a new land demand a sacrifice. That’s superstitious, I know. I wondered, just the same, what Ganymede’s gods (if any) would make of what we were about to do.

We had seated the first canister and the master switch by her grave.

“If this works can I turn the manufacturing rig into a barbecue?” asked Paulie, stubbing out his cigarette at 11:06, Hawai’i time.

“If it doesn’t work,” said Ming, taking our suits down from their hooks, “it will turn all of us into barbecue.”

Paulie shrugged and looked at me. Everybody knew I had the final say, by then.

“Sure. But let’s wait a bit, first,” I said.

By 11:45 we were suited and through the doors, having learned from past mistakes to allow plenty of time for them. We felt pretty silly standing by the master switch for a quarter of an hour, but somehow it still seemed right.

At midnight we all laid hands on the switch together.

“For Dr. Hana,” said Paulie, suddenly solemn.

“For Dr. Hana,” repeated Ming and I.

We pressed the switch.

We weren’t barbecue.

After a while, when the sky started to form above us, each canister adding to the atmospheric mix, Paulie said, “You know what I’m looking forward to?”

“Smoking outside?” asked Ming.

“No. Well, yes. But no.”

“What, then?” I asked, when he kept on staring upwards.


“Happy New Year, Paulie,” I said.

December 9, 2008


by Kat Beyer

You may think that the days when you could meet the gods on the road are gone. I'm here to tell you they're not. Pan is only as far away as the next bar, for one thing.

Got a light? Thanks. Okay, so.

Best place to meet any of ‘em is in a nightclub. You’ve already seen ‘em, you just don’t know it. Aphrodite, she’s that utterly luminous girl at the far end of the bar whose number your friend never succeeded in getting; Zeus is the guy who snuck up behind and grabbed you by the, um, chest. It took an awful lot of people to pry him loose, didn’t it? And you’re still not sure that you actually wanted their help, are you?

Never forget that they are gods. Mortals meeting with that which is vaster and wilder than themselves should count themselves lucky to get out alive.

For example. I dated Apollo once. Two years of finding broken lyre strings by feel, meaning when I stepped on their sharp ends on the bedroom floor. I wouldn’t part with a single shining midnight, but I wouldn’t go back either. Broke up with him, actually. No, I did. He struck me blind for a year; not an easy divinity to dump, believe me. Very glad it was only a year. And that there were no kids.

Don’t try to get them to use birth control, they’re hopeless in that department. Like I said, wilder. Like mountains, trouble, the flask someone passes you at the bonfire. And forget about fidelity. It’s a word clearly invented after their time, know what I mean?

And yet I’m still addicted. The one I have always wanted to meet is Shiva, actually. Saw him at a show. Talk about limitless potential…for the girl, I mean. I’d be okay with explaining to my kid why their skin is blue, wouldn’t you?

November 24, 2008

Something to Get Used To

by Kat Beyer

Jenny first found out on that night deep at the bottom of October.

She came home from trick-or-treating early. Her parents were skipping back and forth between bad Halloween movies, laughing, taking turns when the doorbell rang. Jenny was coming down the hall with a glass of milk when she heard her mother talking to a solitary kid.

"Trick," the kid said, in a voice too old for somebody so small, and Jenny dropped the glass to get to her mom.

On the doorstep the kid stood smiling, while her mother's head and torso disappeared into the bag in his hands.

Over his head she could see Mrs. Stevens from up the street, standing by the gate with five kids who were waiting their turn. She watched herself think, "this is like so embarrassing," while she stopped herself from screaming.

She never knew how she knew what to do: raise her hands, snap them downwards, shout the word she didn't know at the top of her lungs, then turn and race to grab the hall mirror off its hook. She hobbled back with it while the kid stared at her and her mother's legs kicked over the top of his bag. She braced it against the door and yelled out the next strange word that would force him to look at himself.

He looked. She never saw what looked back at him, but it was enough, apparently. He exploded in a shower of autumn leaves and moldy Tootsie Rolls. Her mother sprawled across the steps with the bag on her head. She pulled it off and blinked.

The kids at the gate stared. Mrs. Stevens stepped from behind them, gently placing on hand on each head and saying, "forget," in a voice that carried in the suddenly quiet air.

"Pretty good," she said. "Although I always carry a hand mirror. Cheaper," she added, nodding towards the hall mirror. Looking down, Jenny saw it was cracked clean across.

They both looked at her mother, who stared at Jenny.

"You should burn that bag," said Mrs. Stevens.

"OK," said her mother, dropping it. She added, "my mother-in-law tried to tell me about this."

"That's OK. Nobody ever believes it. Then they hit adolescence, and—boom! She can come study with me, if you want. In exchange for yard work or something."

"As long as she doesn't miss soccer practice," said her mother.

"We can work around that," said Mrs. Stevens.

Jenny sat down on the step. In the hall she could still see the shattered glass and milk on the floor.

"This will take getting used to," she thought.

November 10, 2008

A Change in Government

by Kat Beyer

There was a little stir among the people in the longhouse when Seven Fights came in; "they didn't expect you," whispered her brother with approval. As if propelled by the murmuring air, a solarbot swished over to her and blinked its one eye suspiciously, then revolved and shot upward and away into the blackened roof beams.

"Did that thing just moon me?" She whispered back.

"It's decided you're safe." He chuckled. "The council's about to find out different."

He led her to a place against the southern wall, where the other speakers waited. Someone passed a plate full of corn scones, croissants, sesame balls, and five other kinds of snacks she couldn’t name. A French delegation was speaking, so she had to keep her eyes and ears on the Onandaga translator.

"White guys are all the same," she heard someone mutter behind her. "The only way to keep a treaty with them is to make sure you have enough ammunition."

"And vaccine," somebody whispered back at him. An old woman turned her head, slowly, and they both went quiet.

After the French were finished, the Speaker slammed his staff down and looked at her, and she realized with a shock that that was all the introduction she was going to get. She stood up and walked to the center of the dirt floor.

"Grandmothers and grandfathers," she began, facing the elders sitting against the East wall, her throat dry. "Guests of the Seventeen Nations," she added, turning to the delegations from Paris, Beijing, Cairo, and Harare. "Fellow sachems of the Haudenosaunee—" she went on, before her voice was drowned in the roar of surprise that had accompanied the words "fellow sachems." They hadn't heard, then. She waited until they fell silent.

"I come before you as the newly chosen Sachem of the United Tribes of the Southwestern Deserts. Among my people, it has always been considered strange that the women of the League choose the leaders but are not the leaders. Therefore they have sent me, in token of this time of change."

This time the roar in the longhouse seemed to take on a variety of textures—the roughness of anger, the high pitch of delight, all mixed together. She stood still, looking straight into the eyes of one grandmother who sat against the wall, gazing at her and smiling faintly. "This is how it starts," she thought.

October 31, 2008

Why He Didn't Call

by Kat Beyer

"What have I become?" I asked myself in the mirror, but it was the moonlight that answered. It showed me my new sharp teeth and fur-rimmed eyes.

I thought I would be scared. I didn't expect to feel such relief. Tonight, no fluorescent lights; no cubicles with strange toys poking over the top, peering humorously into the next gray box over; no tired Friday jokes; no dates with someone who would rather I was a manager. No date tonight.

I watched myself forget how to use a cell phone--with these paws I couldn't have called her anyway.

Hello, moon.

October 14, 2008

Extract from Hither and Yon: A Few Places We’ve Been

by Kat Beyer

...The dominant native tribes are fond of outrageous adornment, in every color and substance they can discover or invent, some solemnly encasing themselves in tubes of gray, others in gauzy lengths of yellow and pink and every gaudy color, and some contenting themselves with a string of faded green stuff about the waist and streaks of calcium upon their visages.

For sustenance, they dine upon 10,000 foods, including members of most of the other tribes, both those that stand still and lift their limbs to the upper air, and those that run, fly, or swim.

To amuse themselves during their short life spans they play a variety of games, of which there are two that seem most popular.

In one, they pass objects to each other, sometimes holding objects in their homes for several generations before sending them on, sometimes entering each other's homes by force to remove certain objects. They seem to love best those objects that gleam most.

In the other game, they stir themselves into an ecstatic fury by means of images and sound, until thousands, and now, as their numbers have increased, hundreds of thousands, drape themselves in identical attire, and travel to meet another myriad crowd–again in identical attire, though of a different design—whereupon meeting, the two masses set about destroying one another.

Scholars like myself are fascinated by both games, and continue to make the long journey from our own home to this odd little planet to observe the players, with growing fondness and concern.

September 29, 2008

One About What's Her Name, Used to Stop By in Autumn

by Kat Beyer

She used to come by every year, in the autumn, never arriving before the change of leaves or after the first snow. We forgot about her the rest of the year; there was always the matter of getting enough to eat, you see. These days my granddaughter Jodie, who works at that flashy company down the road, what's it called--Innovocor or something, they all have names like Roman gods don't they?--Jodie just takes her car and brings us home bags of food. I don't complain, nor Russell neither.

Let Jodie and the rest of the grandkids roll their eyes, I still say they should hope the old times don't come again. They haven't lived in a time when gardens weren't recreational.

Can't remember her name. Demi maybe. Or Marta. When the nights would draw in, we'd remember her. You'd be sitting on the stoop, carving your jack o'lantern with the kitchen knife you weren't supposed to use, listening to your mother taking names in vain in the pantry while she tried to figure how to get you through the winter.

The leaves would kick up, a gust of yellow and orange and red down by the road, and she'd be walking along like she had plans, one hand on the fence rail. Some years she had red hair and overalls, other years black hair in those dreadlocks, and a face sweet as milky coffee.

She'd step onto the porch. “For your mother,” she'd say, and there would be two or three big split willow baskets by the door, bags of flour, sugar, potatoes, oats, cracked corn, butter already churned, everything needed, even shot for the Winchester. “And for you to share with your sisters,” she'd add, and hand you a new tin bucket for the well full of apples and gingerbread, maybe even chocolate.

Our neighbors' boy Carl, who grew up to be Jodie's boyfriend's grandfather, he didn't share one year. You'd better believe we always shared after we heard what happened: weevils in the flour, potatoes sprouting in January, back roof of their chicken shed falling in and foxes to follow, and gingerbread that tasted like potash. Demi never said a thing when she came by next, just gave him the baskets and the buckets just the same. My theory is she saw he learned his lesson.

September 19, 2008

A Short History of the Supreme Democratically Elected Tyrant

by Kat Beyer

After his inauguration as Supreme Democratically Elected Tyrant, Walter Fishwrap began to enact the first of his visionary reforms in the tiny country of Beetroot. First, he outlawed fog and artificial banana flavor, while at the same time increasing government funding for other types of weather and for the artificial flavors of mango, watermelon, blueberry, and cheese.

He followed these triumphs with the now famous Tax Reform Act of 2012, which, in addition to other improvements to the Brobdignagian behemoth that is the Beetroot Internal Revenue Code, reduced the national tax form to a single sheet. Detractors complain that he did this by making the text so small that Beetroot's one magnifying glass producer quintupled its income overnight, and special Accredited Tax Form Readers leaped into business around the country.

But what of the man himself? His biographer calls him “a mystery 'Fishwrapped' inside an enigma.” His neighbors say that he was a quiet man, kept to himself mostly. “Never would have guessed him for the type to put on red tights and a silly hat and issue proclamations from his back step,” says Mrs. Emmeline Harper, who shared a fence with him for thirty years. “Guess we know what all them tiny building and railroads back by the apple tree was for.”

-- From A History of Backyard Megalomaniacs, by Marcus 'Aurelius' Boomer, Ph. D.

September 2, 2008

Air Is Not So Hard

by Kat Beyer

Sometimes when the wind picks up I miss my hometown. It's the way the windchimes clatter and ring; they sound like the drowned bells of my home. I think then about how I never noticed the taste of salt until it was gone from my mouth.

Air is all right. I manage—there's a way to still your gills with spells. Feet and tails aren't so different; it's easy to change from one to the other. And love, while not a simple matter, is still reason enough to remain. I gave up mermaidhood for her.

Her drunk friends at the palace on the shore dared her to go down to the water and call for a lover. They were all at her engagement party, stealing bottles of wine while their parents celebrated the coming union of Princess Madeline, 16, to Prince Bertram, 21. She'd never met him. He'd sent his portrait, and the original was traveling by slow nuptial progress through the kingdom. He was six carriage-stops away by the time she was two bottles in, stumbling down the rocky path ahead of their shouts.

She took off her shoes halfway down, I remember that. I watched from a rock out from shore, ignoring the songs and shouts bubbling up through the waves.

“Go on, Dauphine,” my friends had said, “Go to the rock and call for a lover. You don't want that old prince anyway—he's probably got a tail like a trout.”

I worried that she would cut her feet on the rocks, before I remembered that she had climbed down this cliff hundreds of times. I had seen her before. Maybe she had seen me. She came to lip of the water and pressed her toes into the foam.

I watched her for a while, while she stared out across the water. When I swam up she didn't look the least afraid.

“I haven't called yet,” she said, as if we already knew each other.

“I know,” I said. “My name is Princess Dauphine.”

I swam along the shore in the breakers; she ran along the shining edge; we went round the point of the bay; we went on and on; after many stories we wound up here, in our shack on the inland road, with wind chimes, a simple life, the occasional argument, plums from the orchard. Air is not so hard.

August 21, 2008

Sound in Space

by Kat Beyer

The Scrabble-playing lawyer, Senshu, (every colony ship should have one—it's amazing how many skills someone like that brings to a new planet) said he'd been fighting with the head chef at the time. What about? Asked the judge. A dictionary entry, the lawyer replied.

The head chef, Montague, said, yeah, that's where he was, too, and anyway while it was certainly his 10-inch steel Martian-made the murderer used, he shouldn't be a suspect, because he'd have had better sense than to use one of his own knives. And anyway he'd have cleaned it afterward. Not like the prep cook. Why didn't they ask her?

Of course I did it, said the prep cook. I'm crazy. Got a card says it. And she pulled out, not a standard colonial Form F-120 (a.k.a. “Crazy-page”), but a dirty napkin with numbers written on it. The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation, pending charges. But she was one of those get-to-the-bottom-of-it type judges. Jupiter just bristles with them. Anyone wanting quick verdicts should leave the solar system.

I got called up after the prep cook. I told them that I was where the log book said I was, on the bridge, doing the trajectory numbers like a good little subnavigator. Anyway, Jared, I'm sorry, “the deceased,” and I were pretty much finished by the time we came aboard. No, no hard feelings. I started seeing Monty—the head chef—about 1020 hours into flight.

Monty's ex Sarah, who'd never liked me, said she thought I'd taken a break from the bridge about the time she'd heard Jared's life-support hit the landing dock.

At about 0600 hours? Asked the judge.

Yes, she said, and pointed out she'd already testified to that.

The landing dock on the outside of the ship?

Yes, she said, that's where landing docks usually are. Otherwise other ships can't land, y'know.

The judge ignored her sarcasm, and charged her.

August 6, 2008

The Diplomat Teaches Oneness

by Kat Beyer

The Diplomat and I sat with some thieves in their hot, stuffy cave. They watched us, unable to believe that we were who we said we were: the Gaia diplomat and his novice, traveling alone, and carrying or wearing all that we owned—clothes and begging bowls. Their eyes said, “how can you make us rich?”

We sat there while they tried to take our measure. At least there was a cat. That's another good animal from Gaia. It let me scratch its ears, having already taken my measure.

I hadn't wanted to go with the thieves, when there was still time to choose. The Diplomat had said, “they are part of us, we are part of them, we are all one with everything else,” adding, “whether we like it or not.”

Sometimes I thought the Diplomat was a naïve idiot.

“Rathand will take you some place while we talk it over,” said somebody who thought he was the Chief Thief.

So we sat outside in the cold, blessed air. Rathand let us sit against a big tree. He sat down facing us, his sword across his lap.

In the middle of asking Rathand about his family, the Diplomat paused as though he were listening. Then he stood up.

“We will be going now,” he said. “Though I would have liked to hear about your mother. Please don't use your sword, it would be bad for you.”

Rathand looked down at his blade in surprise, then lowered it.

“You could come with us,” offered the Diplomat.

Rathand stayed, however, when we walked straight into the brush.

“I hope that boy is all right,” said the Diplomat when the shouting started far off, “but he had to make up his own mind. They were going to kill us, you see. Hang our bodies by the road to frighten people.”

I stared at him.

“I have had practice not fearing death,” he went on. “But I'm busy, and besides, you are here. So I thought we should leave.”

“How did you know what they were going to do?”

He looked at me, blinked, and grinned. “Haven't you been listening? We are one with all creatures. When you know that, it is easy to hear what you are thinking in your other heads.”

Many footsteps later, though, he admitted he had preferred listening as the cat.

July 22, 2008

Gap of Dreams

by Kat Beyer

When the human race grew up a bit and got more sense, and matters on Earth were better in hand, we had a chance to look further about the place, just as we had always wanted to:—and when the time was right, making the proper ships was easier than we thought. So we flickered about in the deeps of space like fireflies in a North American summer night, and sometimes we found an answering flicker. The Sudantii were one of these. (It's not their own name for themselves, which we don't have the scent glands to pronounce, but one given them by an Irish romantic with bad spelling.)

We taught them a lot, whether we meant to or not: how to grow pumpkins, which do extremely well on their world, in some places growing big enough to be good houses; how to make whiskey, which they like best as a perfume. They taught us a lot, whether they meant to or not: how to grow detachable tails; how to grow detachable tales, which, like the wagging kind, may be reconnected elsewhere. From them, we learned not to hurry. From us, they learned to dream. Neither people yet knows how (our children might).

The Sudantii set aside whole evenings for dreaming.

"It is art," they said.

"It is a manner of excavating terrors, yet safely," they said.

"It's fun," their elders said.

"But we like the gap of dreams best," one friend told us.

"What’s that?" One of us asked.

"Have you not practiced this art many thousands of years?"

"Yes, but perhaps we use different words."

"The gap of dreams, it is the place you walk to just before waking. You come to it and all the dreams are still around you, releasing their perfumes, and you think you're in them still, but a voice is scenting, 'You are in a dream.' And you drift to the surface. And you wake."

They told us how some of them had begun to practice lengthening that moment. They have Gappers now, who came back from that place with answers, questions—even recipes. We have begun to gap, too.

Ah, the gaps! The lurch before planetfall. The breath before you lead your lover into your new pumpkin. The space after the equal sign in an equation. The moment you smell whiskey perfume, before you lean back and count the stars like fireflies.

July 18, 2008

The Three Gifts

by Kat Beyer

Once upon a time, there was a sick king nobody could fix. His officials put a reward online: $1 million, a Ford F250 pickup, and dinner with his daughter.

A ways out of town lived three brothers, all probably handsome.

"We ought to try for this reward," said the eldest. "We can't afford Mom’s medicine."

That very day they climbed into their beat-up Pinto. It broke down just outside the royal city. They rested their feet at a diner, where the eldest brother spent his last dollar on a tip for the waitress, whose son was doing his homework at the next table.

When they got to the palace, the guard told them they would have to fill out forms 1040-SC, F-250, and of course the usual SSA-3369-BK, before they could come in.

"But the king may be dying," said the second brother. He kept on until she went for the Platoon Captain, who went for the Undersecretary for Paraguay, who went for the Quality Assurance Manager, and so on, ‘til a young woman came down.

"I'm the Chief Security Officer," she said. "What's up?"

"We've come to heal the king," said the second brother.

She looked at him hard, then said, "Follow me."

When they got to the royal bedchamber, she said, "Now what?"

The youngest brother spoke up. "We hadn't thought that far. But we did read a lot in the Pinto. We have some ideas."

"You've got gall," said the Chief.

"Doesn’t he?" Said the second brother.

The Chief walked up to the bed and put her hand on the king’s forehead. He opened one eye, then the other.

"You have healed the king," she said to them. "You see, he is the kingdom. And he was sick for lack of what you have.

... I was the waitress you gave your last dollar to," she told the eldest. "You bring compassion.

"... I was the guard whose forms you wouldn't fill out," she told the second brother. "You bring persistence.

"... and of course, I was the Chief Security Officer you told you were making this up," she told the youngest. "You bring guts.

"But I want to take you to dinner, Second Brother."

The second brother went out with her. The eldest dated the Undersecretary, and the youngest got the pickup. Their mom and the king got better, and all is well in the kingdom.

July 1, 2008

Not Even for Hazelnut Sauce

by Kat Beyer

Diarmud the Druidess knew she was dying, but she went to the feast anyway, partly because she was Chief Druidess, and partly because she knew there would be salmon with hazelnut sauce. She couldn't help Seeing the menu beforehand.

After the salmon there was a cold boar salad, and then venison with apple-and-lemon jelly, the lemons having come all the way from Hispania; just as she was served her Druid’s portion, a dragonfly flew in the door and landed on her arm, a blue-green jewel to match any a chieftain might give. She looked down at it and said, “Well; is it time?” And in front of everyone she blew her soul out onto its back and flew away.

She always liked the moment when one shed one’s old bones, returning all one’s flesh and treasure and hopes and fears to the world—there was always the chance one would forget everything, too, and sometimes she did, but not this time, as they flew out over the marshes spangled with sunset water. When she landed in a dragonfly egg she snuggled down for a nice gestation.

She spent all the days of summer skating over the broad stretches of water, flying low to count the circling ripples—

Until a salmon gulped her.

Presently she let the pull of her ichor draw her out of the marsh, into the living river, down to the sea of journeys...

Until a seal pulled her into the thirsty air.

'Now to get used to fur, fins, and shouting at your neighbor just to be heard,' she thought. A seal's life is good, though, even if one isn't a selkie, and her wisdom became known among all the barking tribes of the coast.

Not too wise, though. A seal hunter was wiser. So she grew from a babe to a boy, bearing the spots and omens that marked her for a Druid’s training, and comely enough for court.

But when she got to the door of the hall, she stood there for a minute, remembering the yards and yards of poetry, the vigils in black caves, the all-night meetings in groves, and a single, blue-green jewel of a dragonfly; and she rubbed the oak threshold with her hand, said, "Not this again, not even for hazelnut sauce!"—and walked back down the hill and out into the world.

June 27, 2008

A Lucky Day for Lapis Lazuli

by Kat Beyer

The Queen of Egypt sat on the steps of her House, watching her father's boat start across the sky. She thought she could almost see the oars flash.

Maybe she would have them take out the barge today. The river would rise soon, they would move the household, and it would be pyramids, pyramids, pyramids all summer, with letters from her husband Pharoah, off in Libya, saying, "How goes my monument?"—before he asked after his children.

She thought about the golden treasure of barley sinking level by level in the granaries; she heard the servants in the night, when she walked and rocked her youngest son in her arms. She liked to carry him herself. She felt they had not succeeded with her other sons, who had a "How goes my monument?" look to them.

The High Priestess of her sister Bastet came down the steps, bowed, and sat at her feet, resting one hand on her sandal.

"Do you remember," said the Queen, "when we used to get up this early to run around the garden?"

"I remember," said the Priestess.

"What is this day lucky for?"

"It is lucky for conceiving a great ruler," said the Priestess.

"One who will keep the granaries full, listen to his people, stay home where he won’t waste young men who ought to be farming and fathering…and who—this is important—won't bother with a great fat pile of rock more than he has to?"

The Priestess turned to look at her and smiled.

"It’s worth a try."

"With my husband far away."

"The gods might step in."

In the hot afternoon, while her younger children ran around the garden and her older ones drank beer and designed chariots, the Queen climbed the wall and set her goblet down. A falcon hunted over the eastern wing of the palace. She watched it circle and backwing. She looked beyond, where her father's boat continued slowly, above the flashing river. Then the falcon flapped above her, gilded eye turned to hers, wings fanning her face—there and gone. Something fell with a splash into her goblet.

"If you’ve crapped in my beer, I’ll go get my bow," she told the vanished falcon. But instead a seed of lapis lazuli blinked in the depths. She looked at it and raised her cup, saying, "Bring me a good Pharoah," before she drank it down.

May 28, 2008

Found on a Scrap of Paper Inside a Library Book (an Anthology of Persian Poets)

by Kat Beyer

Here you go—worked well Tuesday—best of luck:

2 cups pastry flour
1 teaspoon sulfur dioxide
Complete works of Aristotle
Complete set of clothing for a size 10, shoe size 8 (women’s)
1 liter whiskey
3 tablespoons butter
1 fresh egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ tablespoon blackberry jam

Soak Aristotle in whiskey. When words are well dissolved, remove books. Mix dry ingredients in separate bowl, leaving clothes aside. Heat whiskey, butter, and blackberry jam in a saucepan until reduced to a cup of liquid. Allow to cool. Politely mix in egg, vanilla. Do not under any circumstances beat. Preheat oven to 360°. Stir in dry ingredients carefully with clean glass stirring rod. Bake in soufflé pan for one hour. Leave to cool in deserted clearing under light of waxing half moon. Return at sunrise with clothing. Be cautious, respectful. Do not expect to succeed with her.

-single malt whiskey works best, very little wit otherwise.
-recipe unavoidably produces redheads, regardless of ethnicity, unless you leave out “On Dreams,” in which case a bland personality results.
-Aristotle most effective text for recipe—ironic, considering how little he liked women.
-use Simone de Beauvoir if you wish to produce man. Results butch but sweet.

May 23, 2008

(Not Just) Knee Deep

by Kat Beyer

Everything happened exactly as the night porter had described. A whirlwind erupted out of the marble floor, clawed hands ripping out of it. They caught the light of this world awfully clearly.

We behaved like sensible, fearless exorcists and ran full tilt for the door. Outside, the heat of Istanbul brought us up short.

"At least the tourist season is almost over," sighed the director.

I answered, "No exorcist worth their bell stays to be killed. Now I think we have the measure of it. If you will excuse us."

I too began to have doubts after the second day, though. Octavia plowed through manuscript after Byzantine manuscript, searching out references to whirlwind demons haunting Hagia Sophia. But I didn't want a reference, I wanted a solution, and I didn't think medieval people had found one, though they had had much more experience with demons than modern ones have.

Iskender, Octavia's husband, just shrugged and made us more Turkish coffee. He does ghosts, not demons.

Me? I did my meditations, sought out the spirit messengers, read everything I could find in English, Italian, and my newly learnt Greek and Arabic, scribbled frantic notes to the sound of my pirated tapes. The neighborhood bootlegger specialized in funk and disco, stuff I'd never wanted to listen to back home. Here, I was getting an education.

The third day, high on caffeine, P Funk, and medieval Greek, I had a brainstorm.

"Let's just try it," I said to Octavia in the cab back to Hagia Sophia.

"You're mad," she said.

"Yes, yes—I know! But let's just try it," I repeated.

"I'm standing behind you. And let's keep the director out of this."

So we stood there, or rather I stood there, in the center of that grand and ancient marble paving, with a beat-up boombox. I waited for the whirlwind to begin. It swirled out of the stone right on time. I saw the claws flick and flash.

I knelt and pressed "play."

George Clinton did what I couldn't do. The whirling claws couldn't take the rhythm. They spun faster, flung out further.

"You're feeding it!" Cried Octavia.

"I don't think so," I said.

Suddenly the demons gave it up to the funk. There was a gorgeous explosion of dust. Then silence.

I still haven't figured out why it worked. Perhaps they didn't have anything like that way back when.

May 19, 2008

Emilio's Case

by Kat Beyer

The case is slightly longer than a man's hand—call it a man's hand and two knuckles—bound in black leather, with enameled iron fittings. It could be tucked in the pocket of a well-tailored jacket.

Near the catch, someone long ago stamped and gilded the name G. G. Della Torre. Above it are other names, some stamped and gilded, some cut carefully into the leather, some painted in white ink in the script of other days: G. L. Della Torre, Martegno D. T., Stefano Strozzi Della Torre, and more, a long column of names, and at the bottom of the list, close to the hinges, in an elegant gilded script, Emilio Roberto Della Torre.

The back of the case has a deep scar in the leather, and there are singe marks near the hinges, so with a bit of Milanese history we can guess what the case is for, but only when it's open can we be sure. Only then do they show themselves, neatly stowed each in their compartments: Bell, book, and candle.

The book is singed like the case. The pages are of good hemp paper, edges finger-dirty with the ages. Many hands have written recipes and rituals for contending with all that humankind can raise from the depths, with notes in the margins, and notes on the notes. "Ineffective variant of early Byzantine exorcism." "Works well on lost spirits."

The bell is small and brass and battered, but gives a sweet sound, a little-sister laugh that mocks the big sister church bells of the city. It's easy to imagine how a demon might rise to the surface at the sound of such a bell; anyone would.

The candle is a stub of yellow beeswax. A box of matches from Ristorante Nobu, the good sushi place in via Manzoni, is wedged in next to it.

The case holds a few other items, like 13 silver nails, each individually strapped to the wood, an excellent fountain pen, and a grocery list written in a grandmother's hand—"500g of grana, eggs, butter, olive al forno, tickets to La Scala for next Friday, Nonno’s razors, stamps"—this last obviously tucked in by a busy grandson, this Emilio.

But let us put the case away, back in the drawer in his desk; we are not ready to face what he faces.

May 9, 2008

Unexpected Results from Swedish Furniture

by Kat Beyer

Mason wanted to get the kids' room finished, so, determined that the best thing to do was get some cute furniture, he carried me off to IKEA, hoping that that chair with the leaf hanging over it would be there, as well as a free table at the cafeteria so we could have meatballs and lingonberry juice.

We didn't bring the kids, because we knew that then we would go way over budget on pillows shaped like hedgehogs, tiny lamps that changed colors, etc.—not because we can't say no to our children, or because they might throw tantrums, because they don't much—really!—but because Teresa, in particular, has a way of sitting down on a pillow shaped like a hedgehog that makes it impossible not to want to repeat such an experience of total adorabilosity in our own home.

It's horrible, I know, but it could be so much worse.

Instead, I sat down on the pillow shaped like a hedgehog, Mason laughed (I love having a husband who laughs when I mean to be funny), and everything went dark.

I woke up in the manager's office with Mason trying to revive me with lingonberry juice, the lights in his spiky hair flickering into focus. I said, "I've always thought that haircut was too metrosexual," and almost went out again. He squeezed my hand.

"Thank goodness you're all right," said the manager. "We could give you the pillow," she added to Mason. "I'm sorry. It's just that it would be so bad for business if you came back."

"Well excuse me, aren't adults allowed to sit on hedgehog pillows?" I said, trying to sit up.

Mason squeezed my hand tighter and said, "Of course they are, monkey. The trouble is that they don't usually start rolling their head and prophesying when they do it."


"You don't remember anything?"


"I must have arrived while you were in full swing," said the manager kindly.

"Yes," Mason told me, "you pretty much gave a full synopsis of the next decade."

"It was the bit about our stocks that got to me, I admit," said the manager. "Although it was nice to know who's going to win the election."

They gave us the pillow. I'm looking at it right now, trying to decide what to do next (we've already agreed not to let Teresa sit on it).

April 24, 2008


by Kat Beyer

The younger typesetters told stories about Samuel: how he had once set the Canon of the Witches in one night, and how when the oil in the lamps had run out, he had gone on in the dark, with only his sure fingers to guide him. Or how when Gundrid of Maesbury lost her temper and turned the mayor into a field vole, then ordered tiny books to be printed for the poor woman by way of apology, Samuel had hired dormice to cast the type, but had composited every page himself, with tweezers and an immense magnifying glass.

Even so, Bridget warned him before she shut up shop. "Sir," she said, "hadn’t it better wait till tomorrow? I mean... when we are all here? So it's a bit—safer?"

The others thought she was brave to say that. He shook his head.

"It's wanted Frida’s Day," he said.

So he opened the book when all the locks were locked, and turned from page to page, both hands working on their own, pulling vowels and consonants, ligatures and punctuation from the case. Under his hands the words of the spell formed themselves in the formes. This job they would have to print blindfolded. But even if he set it in the dark, he still had to shape the words, taking care that they did not shape him. He recited verses from the Canon, interleaving them with the lines he set, like protective leading.

He’d left one window open to let the spring air in, the air of a perfect evening, just free of a soft rain, the cherry tree outside the window covered in blossoms so sweet they seemed to scent the moonlight.

I, H, A, V, E, B, E…

When the words took him he knew. They felt like the touch of his master on his shoulder. He almost expected to hear Old Jack's voice, saying, "Well done, Samuel." Then he knew it was too late. Fear bit him.

It will feel heavy as lead, he thought. Binding as a forme, oily as ink.

But it didn't. It felt light as the words in his mind, soft as the lead between his fingers. It felt fine and funny, like setting text for field voles.

I have become. Let my wings open. Let it always be spring, and I in it, he thought. I did my best.

April 11, 2008

Straight Out to Yurtville

by Kat Beyer

To celebrate our first anniversary, each of us here at the Cabal has written a story beginning with a line kindly provided to us by Jay Lake. Click the link at the bottom of the page to see the stories Alex, Dan, David, and Edd have come up with, and check back Monday to see what Luc Reid does...

Zoli liked to hang around psychiatrists' waiting rooms to hit on the low self-esteem chicks. The waiting room on the Pacific zeppelin was the best, because every time the airship lurched the chick would fall into him and many pleasant sensations would result, usually up in her cabin after her session was over.

And then, landing in Tokyo, taking her cell number, and skipping town for Ulan Bator while the piece of paper with her number on it got washed down a gutter with the cherry blossoms in the Asakusa district. He always went to the temple before he left town. A couple of prayers to Her Holiness Kannon were a good idea: somebody had to have mercy on him, and the Goddess of Mercy was best qualified, right? Light a couple of incense sticks and head straight for Yurtville, the last place some clingy chick would look.

Zeppelin Freak Number 23 was pretty hot for a low self-esteem chick. She slouched like a professional, which made it easier to see down her shirt, although she had a face worth looking at too, an Ethiopian princess thing going on, even if she didn't take care of her skin--pockmarks on her chin and cheeks screamed "I hate me!" Perfect. Sarcastic and sad, even in bed. He found himself trying to cheer her up when he should've been getting off. She almost didn't give him her phone number.

"You won't call," she said.

"Yes I will," he lied, kissing her on the cheek.

Three incense sticks and two airships later, he settled into his guest yurt, thinking about Genghis Khan, who would never have screwed chicks who hated themselves. But old Genghis wouldn't have had a problem getting laid. Zoli drank too much airag and stayed up late playing dice with his landlord (also named Genghis).

In the night she stood over him, shoulders back this time, face like an Ethiopian queen this time, pockmarks royal instead of ugly, and she struck him about the face with the long sleeves of her kimono.

"You said you would call, and you didn't!" She roared in a voice meant for velvet compassion. He got a boner even in terror.

"And then you had the gall," she continued, leaning close, "the appalling gall, to light three sticks of incense at my shrine and pray to me for mercy? You're an idiot."

March 24, 2008

How Captain Mojo Struck the Wrong Note

by Kat Beyer

Powered almost entirely by whiskey and attitude, Captain Mojo’s ship "Chastity’s Bottom" sailed its way across the sky in search of trouble and rock 'n roll—but more importantly, in search of her.

The crew had sold all the cannon for hammocks and guitars. The First Lieutenant gave herself the nickname "Ten-Shot Hammond," the Second Lieutenant called himself "Six-string Butler," and everybody called the Third Lieutenant names that could not be printed in the presence of gentlemen—or ladies, for that matter.

They swept through the air, and the other travelers of the skies feared them, especially when they started to play.

"Tell us where she is," they would shout across the range of clouds, "or we will start a fifty-minute guitar solo!"

So folk in their air boats would lie rather than listen.

"She’s in the City of Rain!"

"She’s dead!"

"She’s joined a band and they’re on tour in the Twelve Currents!"

"She never wants to talk to you again, she hates you, and she wants all her sheet music back!"

"Who the heck are you looking for? Who is she?!"

Only fools asked this question: Captain Mojo would answer them in song, before he burst into tears and hurled empty whiskey bottles across the abyss between ships; he would tell them of her red, red hair, and her glow-in-the-dark tattoo, and her smile like a thunderhead looking for a fight.

The last whiskey bottle flung, he would always end by leaning his elbows on the gunwale and sobbing, "If you see her, tell her I meant it as a compliment!"

March 18, 2008

Beetle Mercy

by Kat Beyer

My mother was Suzanne Miller, the woman who used to win prizes for her vegetables at our county fair every single year, even the years she didn't enter.

"How do you do that?" Asked Maureen next door. "It must be witchcraft."

Of course this was true. But if every magic has a signature, my mother's was in loopy, if exact, handwriting, the kind of handwriting that tells the reader that here is a person who used to put hearts instead of dots over her "i's."

She used to turn beetles into birds for the day, then turn them back in the evening. When we saw her doing it she would say to us, "I think they need a change of scene."

"Suzanne," our father would say, and somehow fit whole ranges of reproach and love and weariness and desire into her name, notes which I can only hear now, when I'm grown up, and remember the exact sound of his voice.

When they took her up to the hospital and we followed in the car, our father saying softly, "Suzanne," to himself and the wheel every now and then, we knew something would happen, even if we only felt the knowledge under a blanket of tears.

When we saw her sitting up in the the hospital bed we knew but we didn't want to know. Our father looked at her and took her hand, and she said, "not long now," terribly sad for his sake, and he said, "I know." She took us each in her arms and tried hard to squeeze the breath out of us the way she used to when we came home from long trips, but she was already too weak. And she kissed our father the same way he said her name.

"Suzanne," he said once more.

"A change of scene," she said seriously, and then she wasn't there. I guess we must've all blinked at once, not to see her go. The sheets settled back where she'd been.

When we got home the house finches over the door had finished building their nest, and my brother crawled out on the roof and counted three eggs.

"One of them will be her," he said, very sure.

March 12, 2008

The Hardest Step

by Kat Beyer

I should have known when we took the ship too easily. "She's cursed," one of the prisoners told me smugly. I looked at her where she hung still in the water. "You board," said my Captain.

I hauled myself aboard, sweating in the tropic night, wondering why I couldn't smell gunpowder—but then, few shots had been fired. We had won by the trick of having more guns than they, and they could not have known that we were nearly out of balls and powder both.

I took a step towards the aft deck and jumped in the air when a voice spoke beneath my feet.

"Where do you come from?"

"Fr-from the sea," said I.

"And claim this ship?"

"I d-do," I answered, choosing that that would be the last time my voice shook.

The voice laughed with a creak and boom below decks.

"Then take the wheel."

"I will," I said.

The first step was not the hardest. The night pressed in on me suddenly, squeezing the breath out of me, tight as a corset, thick as August in Tortuga.

But I bore it. I had before. The air parted again.

The second step was not the hardest. A riptide of blood covered the deck, washing me to the knees, while out of it rose every man I had killed in battle, clutching their wounds, looking at me with eyes that stared into my future and saw my end. I smelled the stench of iron in their bloodsoaked clothes.

I faced them all a second time. The tide receded, taking them with it.

The third step was the hardest. The lights from the other ship went out, the water stood empty, then surging waves shook the whole sea and I saw the ship I stood upon, and I myself, sailing down into a terrible maw with teeth of foam that would surely take me—alone, all alone.

But I kept my sea legs. I had earned them. The lights blinked back over the still water.

"Take your ship, girl," said the voice.

"Not so loud," I said.

I took the wheel, and called across the water that the ship was mine, could I have a crew?

"You've got balls, I'll give you that," laughed the Captain. "Very well, I will send you a crew if you will sail under me."

"For a while," I called back. "Long enough."

February 18, 2008

Fair Warning

by Kat Beyer

We still haven't found the grave of Alexander, but we believe that the Ark of the Covenant lies guarded in an Ethiopian church, and we have three possibilities for the location of Atlantis. My colleagues and I spend a great deal of time and grant money just turning down back roads on hunches.

For example, I once stopped in a village for gas and coffee at a place where one rather smelled like the other. In the course of a long smoke, while we waited for the owner's cousin's son to come fix the gas pump (you have to be willing to smoke and wait long hours if you want to get far in this profession), the owner told me about a cup at his cousin's house, a cup no one must drink from.

"Most people die," he said between drags.

"They just drink from it and die?" I asked.

"Just die. Like that. But not everyone. Every now and then somebody drinks from it, again and again, and that person lives a long time, long enough to get sick of living."

"No really? Has it got poison in it? Why don't they just destroy it?"

"Can't. Old Joseph, when he brought it, he said, 'Take care of this.' Well, we give what is asked for, here, in this place."

I decided to test this.

"May... may I see it?"

He took me up to his cousin's house, where we were graciously shown into the garden, and where I saw the Grail in its little homemade shrine, set into the wall against the hillside.

Now, I have tenure and a reputation to keep up, and I did not want to violate my host's hospitality, so I waited a week before I came back to steal the Grail.

When I climbed into the night garden, the shrine stood empty, except for a polite note in a copperplate hand that read: "Old Joseph warned us that people would try to take this, even fight over it. So we leave it in the open, because we've learned that that is the best way we can protect it. If you don't want to die, please do us the courtesy of telling this story, but never say the name of our village or give any particulars that might help someone else find us. Thank you, and have a good night."

February 6, 2008

The Lady or the Tide

by Kat Beyer

If I give it back to her, she will walk all the way down the shining valley to the sea. She will step into the water and never return, if I give it back.

She might not. But I think I know. I've heard the stories at closing time down the pub (no one tells them at the start of the night, before the dark and the rain). It might be modern times, we might park a Range Rover where my grandfather kept his cart, but I know—I'm not such a modern educated man that I can't feel this truth under my skin and hers—it's what drew me to her, after all.

And I will be left here, to mind our children until they mind themselves, mind themselves away to college and London no doubt, and I am left to grow old sitting in the same patch of sun my father sat in, pining and looking down the valley to the sea.

But if I never say anything, and I leave it hid in the thatch where I first put it, I will have kept a secret from her, my own wife, my heart outside myself.

I once thought to put it in a deposit box at the bank. People in the stories always leave things like this about to be found, it seems. I wanted to be wiser and safer. But the thatch seemed the right place. There is no explaining it, I suppose.

If I never say anything, I will know what she does not. It will be like the secrets some other men in here keep, about women in Oban or Glasgow. The wives who do not know make my heart ache. But then, some of the husbands don't know either: they make my heart ache too.

I couldn't have that kind of secret—how could I love anyone else but her? No house has been warmer, no children brighter eyed and sounder hearted. Sometimes with her, one glass of wine seems to last all summer.

She's away today with the children, up the coast, and I'm standing here, looking down the valley to the water, holding this sealskin in my hand, waiting for the sea and my own heart to return the answer.

January 21, 2008

The tree on the shore

by Kat Beyer

A prince put an apple on the orchard wall by the river. He told the apple, "Wait here until I get back."

He didn't come back. A bird ate the apple and dropped a seed on the riverbank, where it did what seeds do best.

The third king of the Two Lands camped under the apple tree, on his way to a campaign in the East.

The Emperor of All Between the Rivers rode under the apple tree. He took one heavy, yellow apple in his heavy, ringed hand, and kept riding.

The twelfth Queen of the Three Oceans hung a target from the apple tree. The Queen hit the target, but an assassin had better aim.

A boat came down the river. A young woman stepped out of it and came to the dying tree.

She bowed to it.

"Thank you for waiting," she said. She picked the last apple and ate it, swallowing one seed. She waited until she was sure. Then she said, "When you are born, we will come back here and plant a tree."

January 10, 2008

Hugo Dreadnought in Love

by Kat Beyer

Hugo Dreadnought loved Captain Harriet Sanguine for three reasons:

1. She hated war.
2. She was too damned smart for her own good.
3. She forgot her stylus behind her ear at least once a day.

He thought the trouble had started during the Battle of Trafalgar Loop, when the good ship Protector had assisted the Navy. Later everyone had said, heroic service, above and beyond, etc., but veterans knew it for a darting, shark-and-sardines dogfight, with enormous carriers and tiny junks chasing each other into the dark.

While the enemy ships were still a distant glittering line, First Engineer and Helm had asked him and Second Helm to plot six courses for every maneuver. First Engineer had explained, "If our course isn't working, you see, we simply must have more than one way out. And as soon as we adjust, you must start all over again. Six more. Good study."

Helm had added, "Yes, and you might save our lives."

So Hugo and Toyohara Chikayoshi, Second Helm, had strapped themselves to the navigation table so that no blast or fall would dislodge them. They taped bits of paper beside screens and made notes with Navy issue ballpoints, knowing that at any minute they could lose power. They did, twice. The second time, in the silence on the bridge, Hugo realized something must be very wrong and, yanking free of the straps, dove down the hatch to the engine room. He saw what he hadn't wanted to see, and came back to Second Helm, saying, "We've lost them." First Engineer relayed the news up to Captain Sanguine where she sat in the dark. Up ahead, a ship was struck and her face was lit up in the glowing flash, serene and sad.

"Can you cover it, Dreadnought?" she asked.

"I can," he had replied with all his heart, and had spent the rest of the battle dodging back and forth between the engines below, while calculating breathlessly into his headset every time Second Helm needed him.

He and Toyohara had come out of it feeling like brother and sister. Then the Captain had come picking her way through the Engine Room and set a hand on his shoulder and said, "Well done." She'd stopped then, frowning, and felt above her ear.

"Must've lost it in all the fuss," she'd muttered, and kept on with her tour of the ship.

December 24, 2007

Seen through Feathers

by Kat Beyer

Every now and then the Scottish winter yields up one halcyon day, and our little university town is packed from ancient wall to ancient wall with holiday-makers. I had to work round hundreds of strollers and brisk grannies with ice cream cones just to turn in my essay.

I decided to skip lecture and go walking on the cliffs. I packed a flask of tea, a sandwich, and a jumper ('sweater' to my fellow Americans) in case winter changed its mind.

I got to my favorite picnic place, a hollow in the sandstone high above the waves, and had my tea and sandwich. I left the crumbs off to one side for the birds, which is why I didn't expect what happened next.

There were ravens all around me all at once, with black feathers and scholarly eyes and sharp, sharp beaks, flapping and calling out and there was no way out of them except over the cliff. I didn't even have time to cover my eyes. I thought the kind of stupid thoughts one thinks at times like these, like, "Why ravens instead of seagulls?"

The sun flashed through their wings, through the barbs of their feathers. And then I remembered about my ex-boyfriend, about our last shouting match--and then about my parents' last shouting match--and then about the mean things said at my grandmother's funeral--and then all the sorrows and all the angers together, as insistent as the waves below.

I felt something tapping at me, like someone trying to wake me up, and realized it was a beak. A raven was very gently pulling something out of me in the midst of all the flapping and all the noise. Then another and another went to work, still cawing and calling.

Then they were gone, flapping away with all the sorrows and all the angers in their beaks. I had nothing but the open air.

I couldn't believe it, so I sat there a long time. At last I took the cliff path to the next town over, needing to think. A woman met me on the path, her wild hair very dark, and said, "Well done. That was the first bit. Now you're ready for the next;--" and walked on, before I could tell whether she meant the path or the birds or something else entirely.

December 14, 2007

The Diplomat Complains about Rice

by Kat Beyer

The Diplomat didn't like rice. He told me why in the first village we stopped at, the first village that didn't know my village had exiled me, and that didn't call him "Gaia rat,"--the first village that feasted us instead.

He said that rice reminded him of growing up in the monastery back on Gaia. He was adopted into the monastery like many other hungry boys. There was little else to eat but rice.

"Earth was having some population problems," he said, which was odd, because by now I knew that he called each thing what it was, and what had happened on Gaia had been a disaster. Maybe my village had feared that he brought the disaster with him.

"The rice was never very good. It always had maggots in it."

I love rice, one of the few foods from Gaia that we like here. It's an honor-food. But I hate maggots. Now I could understand.

"We were desperate for the protein, so that was not so bad."

I didn't understand again.

"Except for the boiling," he went on. "I hated taking those little lives. It wasn't their fault that they looked exactly like rice grains."

He turned his bowl round in his hands.

"They reminded me of the soldiers always marching through. Soldiers like those little lives, caught up in a rice bag that wasn't their fault."

He paused.

"My metaphor is not good. Of course rice is a living thing as well. But for me eating rice is like eating grief."

He had never complained about anything before. At last I ventured, "Then why, Elder, are you eating it now?"

Together we looked down the rice in our bowls, the honor-food of the feast.

"Surely they would make you another dish if they understood?" I pressed.

"On the other hand," he said, "Maybe I need to learn to eat grief. Maybe I could do with more patience. Besides, they are only trying to be thoughtful. I wish to be a good guest."

I wish to be a good guest. I have spun those words around and around in my mind many times since. Sometimes I wonder if I was exiled for being a bad guest in my own home, perhaps being ungrateful when I was fed something I didn't like.

"The maggots and the memories aren't their fault," he added.

December 5, 2007

A Mostly True Fairy Tale

by Kat Beyer

In the days when SUVs were small as doormice and organic vegetables were ugly, there lived a girl who could talk to machines. She had them bring her treasures: cappuccinos and camping stoves, software and silks. She taught them to make lovely things to sell that vanished the next day. But one day the machines came to her.

"Everything you make is gone the next day," they told her. "And none of it helps other people. If you do not change this, your powers will disappear."

Naturally she didn’t listen. So she lost her powers: no more silks and stoves. She sat alone in the dark, for she could not even speak to the machine that made the light.

One day someone knocked on the door. "Come in," she said. In the doorway stood an old lady.

"I can’t stop long," said the old lady. "Others to see about. Here,” and she held out a jewelry case.

The girl opened it and saw a necklace of strange letters. She asked the old lady, "What do I do with this?"

"You'll either work it out, and get out of here, or you won't and you won't," said the old lady, and left.

The girl thought this was really too much. First she cried, then she yelled.

Much later she took out the necklace again. She could only feel the letters in the dark. There were no "A's" or "B's" -- not so much as a "Q." They didn't even feel like kana, or akshara, or anything like that.

Studying a long time, she found one letter that always spoke to her of birds, and another of mercy, and another of sunrise, and she learned that she could rearrange them without breaking the necklace, making letter-pictures that shifted and grew in the dark and did not disappear the next day.

One day she made a letter-picture that turned the light on.

After she got over her shock she noticed the door handle. It felt good to turn it.

Outside, the air was bright and smelled of coffee.

The girl lives out in the world now. Her letter-pictures pay off people's debt and froth cappuccinos and do many other wonders besides. Machines and people like to come and visit her. If you have seen the old lady lately, maybe you could let her know the girl would like very much to thank her.

November 29, 2007

Captain Sanguine Solves A Problem

by Kat Beyer

A laser torpedo passed most accurately over the bow of the ship and sped on into open space. It did not even leave behind a burn mark on the forward solars: a warning shot.

"A soupcon to starboard, Helm," said Captain Sanguine, setting her teacup aside.

"Aye aye, Captain."

"They seem a bit piqued."

"Aye, Madam Captain."

"Can't think why."

"Perhaps they don't like the Law, Madam Captain," ventured the Second Engineer. (His name was Hugo Dreadnought and he had been admitted to Sheriff’s Corps because he was the son of Samuel Dreadnought, Lord Peabody, Duke of Jupiter and Io. Even so, he was a fine engineer--just didn't fancy being shot at.)

"Perhaps. Kindly hail them, First Communications."

"Aye aye, Captain."

The screen before them flickered, and then a particularly ugly Martian appeared, glowing green with annoyance.

"Good evening, Madam Captain," he gurgled when he caught sight of her. "I am Commander Wig Mxwibbleit of the good ship Dopplekibble. And you are?"

"Captain Harriet Sanguine of the good ship Protector. Good evening. What can I do for you, sir?"

The Martian glowed more fiercely.

"You can stop this demmed nonsense, Madam, that’s what you can do!" he gurgled. "All this stamping through my precinct as if you had jurisdiction, which you most certainly do not! What do you mean by it, madam?"

Captain Sanguine raised her eyebrows. As Helm said to the Engineers later, "I quite understand what you're saying -- we are the Law, and he ought to have recognized us right off. But when both parties have whacking great guns, it's awfully important to preserve good manners."

On the silent bridge, Captain Sanguine looked at Commander Mxwibbleit and everyone waited. At last, she sighed.

"The First Lord will insist on having the Sheriff's arms painted too small to read. Perhaps you would care to examine them more closely? I will have them sent you."

Commander Mxwibbleit stopped glowing at once.

"Ah. No need, no need. My mistake. Quite understood. Safe voyage, Madam Captain."

"Thank you," replied Captain Sanguine. "But do let us know if you need our assistance," she added.

"Of course, Madam Captain. I do beg your pardon. Safe voyage."

He faded cautiously from the screen.

Engineer Dreadnought muttered, "Ought to have him flogged."

"I heard that, Engineer Dreadnought. Short rations for speaking ill of a superior officer," said Captain Sanguine, picking up her teacup.

November 12, 2007

The Diplomat Teaches Leaving

by Kat Beyer

I was exiled, for I would not kill the Diplomat. He had arrived at our village on foot, with robe and begging bowl and a faded badge from the government of the planet Gaia. I had tried to kill him, and had learned that I would rather admire him instead. "Gaia rat," they called him, and me, "helper of the Gaia rat." But when I told them of his mysterious powers, how he had disarmed me by--talk? My own tears?--and how he had outlived our strongest poison, none of them were brave enough to kill him themselves.

"Go," they said to me, my father, my mother, everyone I loved; "where?" I asked, and they said, "We do not care, for you are like the corpse of a stranger now," and for a moment I felt my flesh crawl with chill, as if each cell in me were really falling still.

I said, "Then I will go with the Diplomat, and be twice dead to you." Just as I turned away I caught a small movement of my father's hand and knew then that they did care, that their whole hearts ached with love and anger.

I went to the orchard. I saw from the Diplomat's face that he did not need to be told what had happened, but I told him anyway, while we walked. When I was finished we had reached the edge of home. I did not want to look back, but he said, "Will you be my student?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then look back," he said, and added simply, "You must carry this place with you."

I looked. I saw the cluster of bumps that were my people's houses, sitting together like loaves at a feast; the glint of the solar stills and the oil press beside them; the hatcheries and the sheep-yard (not all things from Gaia were bad, were they?--I asked my people in my mind); the low stream running through the valley bottom, the orchards, the quiet flags on the hill--hanging flat today, though no doubt tomorrow they would carry a message to the other villages: "A son is dead."

The Diplomat brushed my wrist with his rough thumb. We turned and walked down the hill.

October 29, 2007

The Ham Sandwich of Destiny

by Kat Beyer

The day the evil shaman came to the café, Matt could feel her before she walked in the door. The coffee beans were nervous. Being a good shaman himself he began to place protections on the counter—but then she was there, and there was nothing to be done—she was after his soul. Already she was clouding his senses. There was no time. There was no thought. He spotted a croque Monsieur on the order counter. In one breath he sent his soul into the layers of ham and cheese. He could grab it in a moment. She would never suspect.

He turned to face her. They dueled silently. Perhaps no one suspected, not even the Socialist reading the Wall Street Journal.

"Can I help you?" He asked, while searching the Over-Soul for her name.

"Double decaf nonfat latte, please," she replied (definitely an evil shaman). It's too late for you to seek my name, you fool!

"For here or to go?" I will never let you have my soul! Who orders decaf espresso?

"For here, I think," she said, smiling. Me! I’m evil! And you are too weak—I will find it and feed upon it!

"Great. That'll be up in just a minute at the counter over there." NEVER!

But suddenly he felt teeth sinking into him. He whirled around, her change still in his hand, and saw a girl sitting by the creamer counter. He was too late! She had taken the first bite of the sandwich that held his soul. He stared at her until she looked up, and then found himself swimming in the Over-Soul of her eyes.

"Never mind, I'll get it to go,” said the shaman behind him. He didn't want to stop looking at the girl, but he dragged himself around to face his nemesis. Foiled, but not for long, said her eyes.

"Change the decaf latte to go!" He called to the barista, who called back, "On it!"

He handed her her change, putting a small curse on the dime as he did so.

"Thanks," she said.

Matt walked out from behind the counter and sat down across from the girl with the sandwich. At the door, the shaman laughed.

October 19, 2007

The Diplomat

by Kat Beyer

I had to kill the Diplomat. The elders said so, and nobody argues with them. He agreed to have breakfast with me.

I took him to the orchard, and he helped me make a fire pit. He talked about his home planet, Gaia, but he called her "Earth." I said I thought that was a plain name for such a beautiful-looking planet. "I like it," he said, "plain, yes, but there's a lot going on under the surface there—like here," he added, and patted the earth beside him with one wrinkled brown hand.

After I served him, I slipped my knife out. They said they chose me because I was the best rat hunter. The first ships from Gaia brought rats with them, and we lost a lot of harvests. "Gaia rat," they called him. I thought rats never looked so peaceful.

"But won't his people come with big ships and guns?" I had asked my father (not an elder yet—OK to argue).

My father said, "He came on foot. No big ships. Just a little old guy in a robe. His badge is faded, and the plastic on his communicator is yellowed. What do you think?"

I looked at the Diplomat peacefully eating. A film of grief started to form over my eyes but I wiped it away.

He looked at me and smiled.

"You were going to stab me with that, weren’t you,” he said.

I saw I had wiped my eyes with the back of my knife hand. I stared the blade.

After a moment I said sadly, “It’s still too late.”

He looked down at his bowl, then up at me. "Ah?” he asked, holding it up.

I nodded. His grin seemed to embrace me.

"I forgive you for killing me," he said.

I did not wipe the film away this time, and I buried my face in my hands and howled.

After a moment he tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up, rubbing my eyes.

"My dear friend," he said, laughing, "Did you think I prepared for this journey without defending myself? Did you think I had no protections?"

"I know you disarmed me somehow," I said hoarsely.

"Well learned. And if you want to poison a human, galangal doesn't really work. We use it in cooking.”

That's when I laughed too.

September 25, 2007

Aunt Mary's Place

by Kat Beyer

My aunt left me a house. Well--I was the third cousin in line, anyway. The first two didn't manage to spend a whole night alone in the place, which is what she asked them to do in her will.

Of course the house is on the edge of town on a high hill, and of course it is surrounded by gnarled trees that need pruning. I walked up slowly, feeling more forty-five than ever, and thought to myself, 'This place isn't any more gloomy than it was when I was a kid.' But I'd come in the afternoon on purpose. Not smart arriving at dusk.

The caretaker had left me a dinner in the fridge, and I ate it out on the front porch. It was that first day in September when you know summer is gone for good, and the wind gets tricksy and just a little bit mean.

I had this odd idea that if I turned on her ancient television set I would see her face, so since no one was around to catch me being a superstitious idiot I read a book instead. I went to bed early, 8:30 by my wristwatch (of course all the house clocks were stopped by other superstitious idiots).

At nine I thought I heard my name: "Rooobert? Rooooobert?" But it turned out it was just the door creaking open in the wind.

At eleven I woke up with a start. Someone was grunting, "Who's there? Who's there?" in the corner. Shaking, I turned on the light, and saw a bullfrog that had somehow made its way into the house. I took a pretty glass bowl from the nightstand, scooped the fellow up, and took him outside. "A tad late in the season for you, little guy?" I said as I liberated him.

At the stroke of midnight my aunt flew out of the shadows, hair streaming, eyes starting out of her skull, shrieking these dreadful words:

"I didn't bake that pie so you could leave half your slice on the plate, boy!"

I was so scared I sat up and started laughing out of sheer terror. "Shi—Jes—holy tomato, Aunt Mary, why the he—heck did you have to come at me like that?!"

She stared at me, and believe me a ghost with eyes half out of her sockets can stare.

"Anyway, I finished all my pie tonight," I added reproachfully.

I guess this was what she wanted, because her hair calmed down and she sat on the edge of the bed. I waited, still really shook up. Finally, she said, "So, was my sister Lucy happy with the silver, or did she want the house too?"

"Oh, no, though she was mad Matt didn't stay the whole night."

"He was fun. Didn't stay to argue about pie, for sure."

We spent the rest of the night catching up on gossip since the funeral.

She still shows up sometimes. It annoyed my wife at first, and she's a good-natured woman as a rule. But the kids think it's cool.

August 31, 2007

The Water Lily House

by Kat Beyer

The Waterlily House at Kew closes in November, and, nearly always, I am the last visitor there. Then I wait--without noticing I'm waiting--through the entire chilly, bone-wet English winter for it to open again. The Waterlily House doesn't float on the surface of my mind through December, January, February and March, not at all. Only, sometimes, when I'm having a cup of milky tea at home after a long day at work, I will feel the steam on my eyelids when I lean over it, and think of the House.

Through those months I think, without meaning to think, of one lily in particular. It's the sacred lily of the Nile, and it has translucent blue petals and a yellow heart. I wonder where that cup of color goes in the dark months. I think it sinks into the roots buried in the mud at the bottom of its pool. Does it sleep in winter, or is it always standing ready to return, or both?

In April the lilies and I both return. I take the first Saturday I can, even if I was up late with my mates the night before, and if April is being a bit chilly I wrap up against her, but always in layers, starting with my favorite dress and with a jumper and a jacket and a scarf. In April the Waterlily House is still silent. I stand inside the door and take off the scarf, jacket, and jumper, and walk through the silent steaming air. I fill my lungs with the smell of green tropics.

I come back again and again, waiting until the Nile lily blooms. I've begun to realize that the day it blooms, and all the days that its blue and yellow petals are open to the air, are the only days I feel truly calm in the whole year, the only days when I make sense to myself. I wish I knew why.

This year, while I gazed on the open flower for the first time this spring, I heard a sound like the ringing of tiny tambourine bells. The next weekend it was trumpets, and I thought I saw the water flash with hot sunlight.

I once overheard my mother saying to my father, "I miss the temples. I miss the silence on the river. So much noise--cars are so noisy!" I think one day soon I will have an answer. In the meantime, I stand before the lily, my jumpers and scarves on my arm, and stare into that translucent cup of blue and gold.

August 8, 2007


by Kat Beyer

On my planet, "Monkeypants" is not just a loving nickname. We have these tiny monkeys that will just crawl right up into your pants. I'm not kidding! Listen, really. Mature adult females are about as long as your forefinger, tail included, and mature adult males are just slightly longer and have bigger shoulders.

The babies are maybe about as big as a knuckle by the time they are allowed to leave the pocket, and if you have got pant monkeys breeding in your trousers, you are in big trouble, because the babies will scamper around a lot and play with each other like crazy, and you will spend the whole day jumping around and barking. And let me tell you, if you happen to be a member of the Pan-Planetary Parliament and you're trying to give an important speech on upper canopy financing and about three tens of baby monkeys start playing "Chase the Martian" up your inseams, well, let's just say that the top fifth of your forests might not see much chlorophyll funding that day.

And there's nothing like having to jump up and down squeaking and jittering while trying to give a serious government speech to ruin your credibility. Although, fortunately, the voters in my quindrant thought it was hilarious and sweet.

You can't kill them to get rid of them, for sure. That would be awful anyway. They are so cute, with their big googly eyes and their soft, soft fur. If you pet them (carefully, with one finger) they spread out flat in the palm of your paw and you can feel their tiny heartbeat tickling against your pads. My friend Nicholas from Earth says that all mammals call to each other, and when I look down at my tiny relations running all over my imported Levis, I can only agree.

July 30, 2007

The Walnut Tree (from a Farmer in South Carolina)

by Kat Beyer

My mother never minded that I didn't believe in ghosts. She patiently told me about each one on our farm, from the old man that walked with her and pointed to the ripest carrots and beets, to the woman who giggled in the rafters when the rain was coming. Some were long-dead friends and relations, others helpful strangers. According to her there were even two twins who guarded all the chickens and ducks. They came by one October night after the war was over, and stayed, and no fox or raccoon ever got one of our birds again. My mother left the twins two bowls of cereal every full moon.

"Easiest time for them to see my gifts," she explained, "their eyesight isn't so good."

She taught me what each ghost liked and went on letting me laugh and tease and shake my head.

Stopped laughing about a year after she passed away. Saw the old man for the first time the summer after she went, and he walked the rows with me in the dusk. I apologized for not leaving out his pipe tobacco as she had instructed, but he just smiled and shook his head as if he understood. She always said he never spoke.

A few nights later I asked him, just before I hoisted the basket to my shoulder and went to fetch the kids, would Mama come back too, to help? And he smiled and pointed at an old walnut tree and nodded. Right now I think she's traveling the world, but I'll look for her to settle there when she's ready.

July 24, 2007

Instruction Manual

by Kat Beyer

Operating instructions

1. There are none.
2. Please remember not to try to steer it. Thank you.

Basic care

1. Leave it alone as much as possible.
2. Enjoy it.
3. Try not to use too much of it at once.
4. We strongly recommend that you do not produce radioactive or toxic waste, as this voids the warranty on protein codes.
5. Do not touch the wings of the butterflies, as it damages their scales. Thank you.

Emergency care

1. Study it very carefully.
2. Figure out which parts you did not leave alone.
3. You can panic, but please remember that that is a function of your glands. We advise an initial stage of panic followed by considered, careful action.

Tech support

You can call us at 1-800-277-1324. But it won't do any good. If you've messed things up, we certainly won't be able to figure them out.

Ted asks that you call us if you like the flamingos.

Parts list

Too numerous, particularly the moving parts, which are also changing all the time, therefore we feel it is not worth producing and revising a set list. But before you start using it, check to be sure these principal parts are intact:

1. Warm core.
2. Hard crust.
3. Watery surface.
4. Shell of air.
5. Local star (ensure correct distance, between 147m-153m km).

We hope you have found this manual useful. If not, we recommend that you re-examine your product more carefully, because it's damn complicated, and we still haven't figured out what it's for, even though we like it a lot.

July 3, 2007

The End of the Mission

by Kat Beyer

I was sitting on the front porch of my guesthouse, waiting for the mothership to come, enjoying the hot evening, when out of the grass they rose, one by one, little whirring beings with lanterns in their bottoms: blinking on; blinking off; blinking on. A local alien had told me the day before that this blinking was the way these little lantern-beings spoke of love.

I was still pondering this when the great beam blinked on and pulled me up into my mothership, among all my friends and cousins, "home sweet home" as the aliens say, and a surprise party for the end of the mission besides. Somebody had even hand-programmed a holograph saying "Happy End of Mission!" The cycling on it was wrong so it blinked on, blinked off, blinked on.

June 22, 2007

From a bartender in the East Village

by Kat Beyer

I used to live under the ocean. I was there for about a week. The rent's okay, the girls are cute even if they have fins, but there's no coffee. I had gotten into that poem by T. S. Eliot, you know, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." So I moved. But it's not all it's cracked up to be. The thing about lobsters and other ragged claw types is, they're not very intellectual. You're better off talking to the starfish.

June 12, 2007

Five ducats

by Kat Beyer

I used to work for El Periódico in Guatemala City. On my walk to work I would stare up through the smog and the noise of honking cars, trying to work out if there was a volcano above the city or whether it was just a strange cloud formation in the brown haze. Very often I wouldn't look where I was going, just stare up, and this is a mistake in Guatemala City, believe me. One day I ran smack into a big businessman with a whack that felt like a burst of the irritating summer heat. I coughed in the smell of his expensive cologne. We both fell back, I about to apologize and he about to swear, when he swallowed his words and looked at me carefully. His brow clouded in a frown.

"Damn you, where have you been? You still owe me five ducats," he growled.

Neither of us could make any sense of that sentence. We stood open mouthed, gasping in the heat. The cloud passed from his brow, and he shook his head slightly, and said, "I have no idea why I said that. Watch where you're going, yes?"

After that I didn't walk any further for a little while. I watched his well tailored back press on in through the crowds, and then I found my eyes drawn back towards the mirage-cloud-volcano, while my thoughts traveled far. 'So all those dreams where I'm standing on the deck of an old ship--they must be memories of a past life,' I thought. I chuckled to myself. 'Look at you,' I said to myself. 'You've never believed in reincarnation.' Still, I kept looking up at the hazy form above the city. Mountain? Cloud? World? Illusion?

May 22, 2007

The Boring Seed

by Kat Beyer

My uncle gave me a thunderstorm seed for my 14th birthday. I had just unwrapped three PS games (none of the cool ones, Mom didn't want the violence to rot my moral fiber, whatever) and a Judy Blume book from my misguided Aunt Cheryl (hello, I'm a boy! What was she thinking?!). I picked up a tiny box next, and when I read Uncle Tom's name in the card, I felt a jolt of disappointment: this was the uncle who had given me a power drill the year before, and frankly I was expecting something, well, bigger.

But I smiled my fake polite smile, which I have had plenty of chance to practice with six aunts and uncles and not enough kids to dilute their attention, and unwrapped the box.

At the exact moment that I opened the lid and saw the plain gray seed, about the same size as a cherry pit, my uncle said, "I know it looks kind of boring."

"Yeah," I said, relieved.

"Well, don't be fooled when something comes in a boring package. Don't touch it!"

I pulled my finger back.

"What is it?" I asked, automatically putting the box in Aunt Cheryl's hand when she reached for it.

Each aunt examined it, nodding solemnly before she passed it to the next, and I could tell everyone else knew it was.

"Something for the future," he said mysteriously. "Plant it when you want something exciting to happen, but only when you're really serious, not when you just feel bored. Plant it before a hot date," he smiled.

"Tom," said Aunt Cheryl in a scolding voice, but I saw her cheek twitch before she could hide her smile. He ignored her the same way I ignore my sister sometimes.

"Don't you think he's a little young...?" My mother asked him in the kitchen later, when she thought I was outside playing with my youngest uncle.

"Oh, I don't know. You guys have already got him thinking about Yale," he said, laughing.

I forgot about the thunderstorm seed until the night before my junior prom. I had a special date for the prom: a girl I hadn't noticed at the start of the year, mostly because she sat at the front of the class with the other brains. But one day in February, when school couldn't have been any grayer, she made a joke and I fell out of my seat laughing.

And so, in that spring when prom dresses and acceptance letters bloomed, on a nervous night after I had picked up my tuxedo, I planted the seed.

All I can say is, bless Uncle Tom. He never told me where he got it from.

April 20, 2007

Overheard in the courtyard of a very ancient apartment block in Cairo

by Kat Beyer

"Hassan, change your sister back right this minute. I mean it."

"But Mama,--"

"Hassan Ibn Sina, change your sister back or I will make you sorry you ever came out of the womb, so help me Almighty. Don't give me that look."

"But Mama, she likes being a butterfly."

"I don't care whether she wants to be a butterfly for the rest of her life. You change her back this instant, do you hear? She can be a butterfly all she wants when she's old enough to do it herself. For now, she has to be a little girl and eat her supper. And you, you will not get any supper at all if you do not do as I say. What, do you want me to change you too? Because I guarantee you, I'm angry enough right now, I'll change you into a dog turd in the street."

March 26, 2007

Told to Me by a Woman in the Air India Lounge at London Heathrow

by Kat Beyer

I once loved a man who changed into a tiger by day. It didn't work out. Among other things... well, there is no way to put it delicately... Tigers, you may know, get quite a bit of carrion caught in the sheaths of their claws, and even as a man he could never quite rid his nails of the stink of sambhur-flesh. But I shall always remember the way the moon, shining through the lattice, made stripes across his back as he crept over the bed.