September 7, 2009

I Crush Everything

by Luc Reid

I like when I lie far enough beneath the top of the ocean that the sun is a wavering mote. The currents stir around me, and I listen to the whales until I hear the creaking of one of the Little Boxes and rush up to find it.

The Little Boxes are not alive, but they move. They have tall white plumes or wings on top and skate over the water, floating like birds but moving much faster. They are usually brown, and pointed at the front, and little creatures run squeaking over them. The largest of the boxes is only a third my length. I want to know what they are, whether they're plants or shells or something special unto themselves, so when I find them, I break them apart.

When I break them, the little squeaking creatures fall into the water and disappear. Inside the boxes, I find different things. Sometimes the boxes contain more boxes, sometimes bales of stuff that draws in water and sinks in a sodden mass. Sometimes there are pieces of heavy yellow stuff that gleams for a moment before it plummets to the Depths.

Today I hear the creaking and rush up to wrap the thing in my coils. I peel it apart carefully with my jaws. One of the little creatures stays with the box this time, shaking its tiny limbs and squeaking at me. I take my time and don't bother it. It turns a tiny black tube at me, and then there is a noise like thunder, and my side stings as though I've been bitten. Flinching, I accidentally break the box, and the little creature is crushed. I stare at the broken pieces, some sinking and some floating away. There is the little creature, floating in a little, spreading red cloud. It hurt me on purpose, but without biting--instead, with thunder. How can a creature bite with thunder? I push back through my memories, to the many inexplicable things these little creatures do, and the knowledge comes over me like a cold current that despite their tinyness, these creatures think--think thoughts I could never imagine or piece together. I nudge the one in the red cloud. The water catches it, and it sinks.

Suddenly the ever-shifting surface of the sea, which had always seemed friendly to me, seems empty, and I'm struck with loneliness.

August 31, 2009

Yah Za

by Luc Reid

This story is a new addition to the "Eyeball of Power" series that began with "Something Was Different" and continued with "A Cage in a Pit in Another Universe."

By the way, please raise a glass of cheap, sparkling white wine with me to celebrate: this is my 100th story on the Daily Cabal!

It had been a rough day so far, even not counting waking up in another universe (with a hangover). He'd been chased by ostrich-mounted police, imprisoned in a rusty iron cage hung in a void, and made his escape with a mostly-crazy skinny guy who, it turned out, could use a lighter to ignite a torrent of fire breath that could melt iron. The skinny guy had swallowed an Eye of Power, whatever that was. Now it was Andy and the skinny guy hiding in an abandoned house with only three-foot ceilings.

"Crab people don't live around here no more," the skinny guy commented, crawling through the mouse droppings to slump gratefully onto a filthy cushion. "Nobody want a house you can't stand up in."

"I should get back to my universe," Andy said.

The skinny guy's eyes lit up. "Yah mother, you can get us out of this scum-scrape world?"

Andy shook his head. "I don't even know how I got here in the first place." He had confused, drunken memories of his brother-in-law's lab equipment and the ouija board, but it definitely didn't amount to a mental schematic. "What about that Eye of Power? Can it get us out?"

The skinny guy blew a dismissive raspberry. "Just one Eye of Power's no good for much nothin', ma slacka. Breathe a little fire, see a little heat in the dark ... that's about it. I need to find me just a second one."

"Why, what's two do?"

"Make you into a lava troll! Oh, the little ostriches gonna run like baby chicks when I come stomping down the street with the hellfire, ma slacka!"

Andy was sucking on that news and debating the ethics of breaking out of unjust imprisonment with a potential "lava troll" when he heard a shriek--kind of a little girl shriek--that was surprisingly familiar. It was followed by the now-unmistakable sound of ostriches running. He scrambled over to the empty front doorway and looked out. Sure enough, there was his brother-in-law Henry, fleeing two ostrich-mounted police and shrieking like Little Orphan Annie in a woodchipper. As Henry sprinted by, Andy snagged him by the ankle, tripping him hard onto the slightly rubbery street. Andy pulled hard, dragging Henry inside. A moment later, the ostriches barrelled past. Henry looked up.

"Andy?" said Henry in bewilderment.

"Yah za, ma slacka," Andy said. "You're just the guy I most wanted to talk to."

August 21, 2009

Princess Mermaid Tinkerbell

by Luc Reid

"This is my daughter, Chloe," said the Outland Minister from the land Beneath the North Pole. He was escorted by a cherubic, fire-haired girl of three or four with skin as white as snowflakes in cream. "And these are her friends," he said, indicating nobody, "Pinky, Kitty's Pinky, Goldilocks, and Chloe." He must have seen the confusion on my face as I took in the imaginary friends. "Chloe is a friend of my daughter's, even though my daughter's name is Chloe. My daughter is called Snow White Doctor."

"No!" the daughter said. "Princess Mermaid Tinkerbell."

"Aha, it sometimes changes," he said. He cracked a smile, in the same sense that a piece of concrete can crack in extreme cold.

"Please, have a seat," I said. I wanted to ask the man why he had brought his daughter and her imaginary friends to our informal discussions about possible military alliance against the Cloudholders, but it would not have been a productive or diplomatic question.

"There are no other seats?"

Belatedly, I understood. I called for four more chairs, but when he saw them, he frowned.

"Did you not notice that Princess Mermaid Tinkerbell's friends are three inches tall?" he said.

"Perhaps some small pillows," I suggested.

When Pinky, Goldilocks, and whosiwhatsis had (as well as I could calculate) settled onto their cushions, we began to talk. The use of ice vortices came up, which was a delicate subject, and then supply exchanges.

"I'm certain we can arrange for regular deliveries of apples," I said, though in fact I had no idea how many apples were left in the Strategic Fruit Reserve. It was a necessary posture, though: the people who live Beneath the North Pole are notoriously giddy about apples, and in fact, as soon as I mentioned this the Minister leaned forward alertly.

"Kitty's Pinky says he's lying," Chloe intoned. There was a silence. "And Goldilocks says their Fruit Reserve is almost all gone."

The Minister raised an eyebrow, and I bent my head in apology. We salvaged the negotiations, eventually making some decent progress.

After they left, I called over my Facilitator Spy. "Get me everything you can find on the little girl's friends," I said.

"But ... they're imaginary."

"I know, damn them," I replied. He'd have to do his best, but I began to weigh the possibilities of hiring an imaginary deputy.

August 20, 2009

The Sun, At Night, in the Sea

by Luc Reid

During the day the Sun was the highest, the brightest, the hottest, the largest, the most venerable, the most seeing, and it was a very different feeling for her to slide into the ocean at night and be covered by the waves.

This day had been cloudy, and she was moody and distracted so that she was taken by surprise at the first touch of the lapping waters, so that she bled a moment of heat red into them and gushed out waves of orange and purple among the clouds. The water hissed at her, and she drew her heat inward, turning solid and shiny and cold on her lower edge, letting that shell of cold encase her as she sank beneath, as her brilliance drained from the sky to uncurtain the glimmering stars.

Beneath the waters it was silence and vague currents and dimness. The water muffled her hearing and touch, an intimate but impersonal embrace, a cold and flowing garment she couldn't remove. A tribe of silver fish nearby wheeled and scattered away from her massive surface as she sank deeper, as the pale moonlight above her faded to only a silvery patch, and then to nothing.

It was lonely in the ocean at night. The denizens of deeper waters paid no attention to the Sun, hunted and hid and browsed and drifted despite her and around her. Usually at night she settled into a state of dreamy contemplation, bringing to mind vivid pictures of things she had seen on the world that day, sinking deeper until she reached her nadir and began to rise again. That night, the dreams and images wouldn't come, and she was left to search the murky depths for things she couldn't see.

Below her, something stirred, something dark and vast that made a sound that caused the water itself to shudder. Nothing was greater than her, yet this thing made her small. Nothing was older than her, but she sensed that this was not one of her children. It did not have eyes, this thing, or even a mouth, but it had infinite reserves of darkness and cold and ending.

She had sunk so deep as to have nearly touched it when she began her rise again toward the morning and the Eastern sea. Tomorrow, possibly, she would be dragged down into it, to rise no more, to be sucked down into darkness.

Tomorrow, possibly. She gathered her fire inside her to light the coming dawn. Tomorrow, but not today.

August 6, 2009

Just Only the Endings

by Luc Reid

The man and the dog were both mortally wounded now, and Jack slumped down against the stoop next to The General. They lay there, staring at their pooled blood mingling on the hot sidewalk and trickling off to swamp a little cluster of anthills.

"It's not true what they say," said the dog. "Not every dog has his day. But I tell you what: I had mine."

Jack laughed weakly. "You sure did, The General." He threw the gun aside. Then he dug into his pocket and extracted a piece of paper, soaked with his own blood, to hold out to The General. His hand quaked.

"What's that?" said The General.

"That's the five dollars I owe you."

Then the General started laughing, and Jack joined in, and they both laughed until they died.

* * *

"That's the last of them," Mona said, slamming the thick steel door shut in the rock wall. "Want to do the honors, Bessy?"

Bessy spun the wheel until the door was locked down, then took out the hack saw and started sawing the wheel itself off. The thin rasping of it sounded emptily across the badlands. Francine shaded her eyes and looked into the distance.

"You won't be able to see the city from here," Mona said.

"I know," said Francine. "No reason I can't try, though."

The wheel fell to the rocks with sullen clang, and Bessy kicked it away into the dust. She packed the hack saw up carefully, even though there was no conceivable reason they would need it again.

With no more words between them--what words were left?--they formed a single line and began the long journey to the city they hoped was still there.

* * *

The Brownie finally succeeded in picking the lock. He pushed the door of the birdcage open and jumped down onto the bookshelf as the pixie flew past him and darted out into the free air. Together they surveyed the conference room, which was now overrun with panicked frogs.

"Should've seen that coming," said the Brownie.

The pixie just nodded.

August 3, 2009

The Winter Life

by Luc Reid

You are a male of the species called "Comminglers" in the local Earth language, because while humans pass meaning by outward signs, your people entwine your sense feelers and exchange memories and ideas directly. You are three months and seventeen days old. You may expect to live about another week, possibly ten days, before you die of old age.

You were born in October, which because of where you are stationed on this tilted planet means that you have only ever known winter and an icy late Fall. Your first weeks of life were spent exchanging memories without stop with other members of the tiny clan--46 Comminglers, no more--in order to learn to think, care for yourself, and fulfill your hereditary role of data sphere queryist. You answer questions by manipulating the data sphere and communing through its port. "What is the structure and purpose of the human sense of taste?" "What is the history of enmity between the humans of Israel and the humans of surrounding Arabic countries?" "What is the quality of the experience of existing in summer?"

This last question haunts you, although it was asked long ago, days. You know, from the sphere, everything there is to know about summer: the temperature variations, cultural adaptations, responses of plant life, and so on. But you will never know summer, even though you remember it from others' memories. Your people are rarely concerned with such things. They do not travel. But then, your people have evolved to exchange memories with thousands, tens of thousands, not with a mere 46. There are vast empty places inside you, shades of experience you cannot find among your few fellows.

You query the sphere, a question for yourself only. You receive times, societal rules and behavior norms, place names. You connect with the human dataverse and exchange information, financial promises, plans, clearance from the government of the Earth clan called Chile. Then you shoulder your data and authorization pack and leave the vast tribal room. On your way, others try to commingle with you, but you give each only the faintest idea in response to their questions.

"Where are you going?"
"Why are you leaving the room?"

"I will tell you when I return," you intend to them. You do not contemplate the date of your return. It is in two weeks.

July 21, 2009

Things You See, People You See

by Luc Reid

"You should take those off," Ophelia told me for the hundredth time as we walked to the cafe. She liked to ride me about my vidglasses every week or so.

A simulated herd of some kind of bird-like dinosaurs leaped over our heads and charged across the street, threading their way through the backed-up traffic. Ornithomimus? I eye-moused one of them to get a pop-up. Sinornithomimus dongi, it turned out. Never heard of them.

"They're educational," I said. "They make things more interesting."

"You know what's interesting?" she said. "Real life, that's what's interesting!"

I nodded and thumbed the advanced features control in my pocket until I got to the simulated mods menu. I eye-selected Ophelia and eye-clicked her clothes off. After a second, her eyes narrowed.

"What are you looking at?" she said, snatching at the glasses. I jerked my head away.

"None of your business!"

A passing businessman frowned at me.

"If you're tarting me up again, that's just it, you hear me?" Ophelia said.

I popped up the menu again and switched the option to "naughty schoolgirl," one of the presets. Ophelia was a little on the scrawny side, but she still had the stuff to fill out a naughty schoolgirl costume.

"OK, I put you back to normal," I said, mostly not staring.

"You better," she said. We got to the café and walked in, got swallowed up by the stuffy dark coffee-stained air, and waited for a table behind a huge, tall guy. All of a sudden, I saw her: that girl Magdalena Birch, leaning over a tiny table and laughing with her mousy friend Lisa or Lisolette or whatever her name was.

"Gotcha!" Ophelia shouted, taking advantage of my stop-and-gape moment to grab at my vidglasses. I flinched away, accidentally knocking the glasses off and into a potted plant.

"Now look what you made me do," I muttered, not looking, feeling in the plant for my glasses.

"Who're you talking to?" the huge, tall guy said. I didn't answer. The huge, tall guy stepped closer, right through where my glasses had been projecting Ophelia. "There's nobody there, dorkwad. Don't come in here if you're going to talk to your imaginary friends the whole time."

I found the glasses, pulled them out, wiped the dirt away. One lens was cracked. The error light was blinking.

Great, Ophelia, I thought. Now are you happy?

July 8, 2009

I Wouldn't Mention It If I Were You

by Luc Reid

You know what I liked most about being a liason to the aliens of the Third Expedition? Screwing with their minds.

Sure, there were always other human functionaries around who would've make my ass into an umbrella holder if they'd caught me at it, but that just added to the fun, and anyway they couldn't speak ?'!a, so they never knew exactly what I was saying. As for me, I speak ?'!a like a native. If you learn enough languages when you're a kid, after a while learning another one is like finding your underpants after an orgy: inconvenient, time-consuming, and sometimes sticky, but almost always doable.

This one time we were driving past the Washington Monument and I said to the aliens, "See that obelisk? It was built to the exact reported size of George Washington's phallus." (They double checked their information repositories here to make sure they weren't misunderstanding. You should've seen the expression on their tentacles.) "I'm not going to go into details, but ... listen, ever heard the phrase 'father of our country'? George Washington. Honest to God truth. But people don't usually like to talk about this stuff in polite society. I wouldn't mention it if I were you."

Or last month, when we kept seeing people walking dogs. "You can tell whether the human owns the dog or the dog owns the human by who's choosing the direction they go in. See that little brown dog over there? One tug and they're on a side street. The human's definitely the pet there. The dogs keep them in little plastic rooms lined with newspaper at night. But people get touchy if you get the owner wrong. I wouldn't mention it if I were you."

So now that I've been kidnapped and am being brought back to their home planet in preparation for what sounds like a bitch of an invasion, of course I'm as scared as a man with a incontinent seagull on his new hat--but I also have all kinds of new possibilities. And who knows? Maybe I can even bend things a little in our favor.

"Hey," I say. "Did I ever tell you what happened to the last batch of aliens that visited earth? It was a pretty distressing situation: I wouldn't mention it if I were you. But here's the thing: you know how we've only got one moon now?" …

June 26, 2009

There Was No Friday

by Luc Reid

This story did not appear on Friday, June 26th. In a sense, it never appeared.

For me I bet it was about the same as it was for you ... I went to bed on Thursday, but woke up on Saturday. It wasn't a Rip Van Winkle kind of thing: Friday was just missing. Specifically, someone had taken it.

This wasn't the kind of problem we usually dealt with at the Department of Time Misallocation. It was a relaxed job, usually, punctuated with coffee breaks and donuts. Every day we'd get a few cases of stolen moments, someone would lose an evening to drinking, and every fall there was always a flood of hapless dorks who didn't remember what they had done with the hour of Daylight Savings Time they had saved in spring. It was never anything serious. Time isn't really lost, after all: it's just used. A little cognitive restructuring generally takes care of everything.

But this was different, because in that week there was no Friday. Someone had diverted the entire day, so paychecks had been missed, schedules had been ruptured, and millions of senior citizens were stuck with an extra day's worth of prescription pills they didn't know what to do with. It was a horrible theft, a breathtaking theft, an inexplicable and uninvestigatable impossibility. We spent months on it, actually, and between the feverish work pace and the lack of donuts, most of us lost between two and eight pounds. That was all the good that ever came out of it, though. When we closed the case for good a year after the fact, we'd gotten no closer than we'd been that mind-slapping Saturday morning.

If that had been all, if it had been one crazy incident, we could have put it behind us--but we know it will happen again. We don't know when, or who, or how, but someone's shown the way, and now everyone's thinking about it: what they would do with it, an entire day to themselves, stolen and available for use at any time. It was like hiding a djinni in a backpack, like folding a summer meadow into the closet in the spare room. It was a little like eating the sun. What could you do with a stolen, unblemished day? Or more to the point: what couldn't you?

June 24, 2009

Brains You Cannot Have

by Luc Reid

This story is the second in the Disco Zombie series.

The girl in the glittery black halter top shouted something.

"WHAT?" shouted Barry over the music. If you could even call it "music": it was nothing but thumping and shouted rhymes. When did that become music? Barry would have killed to hear a good falsetto harmony--maybe some Bee Gees. Then again, he had already killed three times that night.

"I SAID, GREAT COSTUME!" she said, nodding and pointing at him. "DISCO ZOMBIE! I LOVE IT!" Then she shouted something else he couldn't quite catch.


"I SAID, ARE YOU GOING TO EAT MY BRAINS?" She laughed, throwing her head back, letting her hair ripple down over her shoulders--but carelessly, like she didn't even notice.

For answer, Barry shoved her behind the speakers and pressed her against the wall with his body. The thumping and shouting was still audible, but it was more distant, directed out and away from them.

"Wow, you're strong," she said. "You gonna kiss me? Take off the mask."

Barry didn't have a mask to take off, so instead he grabbed her head and squeezed with his fingers to crack her skull open the way he had cracked the other three skulls. Nothing. The others had been like eggs: this was like trying to crack a bowling ball.

"What are you doing?" she said. "God, why does it always have to be the weirdos?" Then she stretched her mouth wide to show two bone-white fangs and plunged them into his throat. She came back up, gagging, seconds later.

"Is that formadahyde?" she choked. "I haven't tasted anything that bad in ages." She made uncomfortable motions with her tongue. "So that makes you what, a real zombie?" She looked him over. "You preserved pretty well, all things considered."

"Do you remember Disco?" Barry said.

"I remember Disco, the Mashed Potato, the Charleston ... back in the 1720's there was this hornpipe craze like you wouldn't believe. But yeah, disco was something special."

"We should dance."

"I want to eat first. Hey! You know, if you and I go in together, it's like a two-for-one special."

"You don't like the brains?"

She made a face.

They shared a personal injury lawyer in a back alley and went for a walk under the moon. Later, she invited Barry back to her coffin, and at dawn they fell asleep there, dreaming of the black, gaping pit of infinite time.

June 12, 2009

The Angle of Death

by Luc Reid

As the ice cream truck slammed to a halt just past my crumpled, flattened body, I was pulled up out of myself by something thin and sharp. I found myself floating just above the ground, looking down at the busted collection of formerly fairly-well-cared-for-organs that was me, and floating next to me were a couple of segments converging into a single being. This being wore a black robe and held a scythe.

"What the hell?" I said.

"I am the Angle of Death," it said. "Please come with me."

"Isn't there supposed to be an angel?"

"Even God makes the occasional typo," the angle said--a little snappishly, if you ask me. "And since 'angle' is a perfectly valid word, the spellchecker missed it completely."

"I'm just surprised, is all."

"Why is it always this conversation?" said the angle. "Why can't it ever be about substantive things? The nature of being, the brevity yet incredible richness of life, the strangeness of a coherent consciousness surviving death when it's entire physical mechanism has ceased to operate ... these would be worthy subjects. Yet instead, everyone chooses to spend the first moments of their own personal postexistential eternity criticizing God's typing!"

"I'm sorry," I said. "So, how does this work?"

"It's very simple," the angle said. "Just follow me." And he began drifting along the ground. I felt tugged after him and surrendered myself to the feeling so that I drifted with him, still trying to get over being greeted in death by a geometrical figure.

The buildings grew blurry and irrelevant, and soon we were crossing a trackless landscape of misty light and shadow. From this rose up a wide open gate. The angle gestured, and I drifted through. Then the angle whipped out a key, slammed the gate shut, and locked me in. A disturbing, sulfury smell began to permeate my nose.

"I bet you thought no one knew about your weapons smuggling, didn't you?" the angle said smugly. "Well, we certainly did! It's Hell for you!" It laughed horribly. My feet began to feel uncomfortably hot. I gripped the bars of the gate, shaking them.

"Curse you, angle of death!" I yelled. And I realized that I had been distracted by the seemingly whimsical error of his nature, probably exactly as intended.

As I was dragged down into flames, I was at least comforted a little that God didn't make mistakes after all.

June 3, 2009

Disco Zombie

by Luc Reid

Barry woke up feeling claustrophobic and irritable in a pitch black, stuffy place where something stank. Above him, something hard was in his way, and in annoyance Barry punched it. He was surprised and pleased when his hand smashed through easily, and surprised and pissed when dirt poured through the hole onto him. Aggravated, Barry bashed and clawed his way up through what was left of the hard thing and through the dirt above it until he broke through into an open space. It felt like forcing himself out of a birth canal.

He found himself outside in a misting rain and some hazy moonlight, and now that he was calming down, he began to notice strange things--like the fact that he had just clawed his way up from underground when the last thing he'd been aware of was passing out after doing too much coke at the disco, and that his gold pantsuit was rotted nearly to rags, and that he had forgotten to breathe and it didn't seem to be bothering him.

"Good morning, disco zombie!" someone called out, and Barry turned to see a skinny woman standing nearby, the ground around her scattered with heavy books and with candles that flickered under the protective shadow of a beach umbrella.

Barry took a step toward her, a strange, salty smell drawing him forward. Brains.

She stood up, snicking out a knife. "Hold on there," she said. "I need you to do me a favor." She held up a little baggie, and even through the bag he could smell that it was coke--which was funny, because when he was alive, coke hadn't smelled like anything.

"You knew I'd care more about the coke than the brains," Barry croaked.

"I made a point of using a legendary addict," she said. "It's how I'm going to control you. You play nice, or no coke."

He thought about it for a moment, stepped forward, and cracked open her skull with his fingers. The knife jerked into his chest and probably damaged something, but whatever it was, it didn't seem to be something he needed.

The brains were perfect: warm and savory. Afterward, Barry did the coke and wondered what the favor would have been. Then he went out to look for a disco.

May 27, 2009

Read Heron

by Luc Reid

William Mouver wrote of the Jacobean poet Thomas Heron, "As a cause of weeping, wonder, excitement, fascination, and utter envy, there has never been nor likely will ever be any poetry in the English language to rival his. That his arresting understanding of women and the beguiling romance of his words brought him as dull a wife as Judith Bullmer is frankly amazing. His writing is justly accounted the very paragon of manly love."

Just three days after penning these lines, Mouver was dragged out of his home by an angry mob and kicked to death for seducing a blind twelve-year-old girl literally during her parents' funeral the previous week. Since he was 43 at the time, this makes Mouver the longest-lived Heron scholar to date.

By way of examples, barrister and Heron obsessive Sean McGargan died in a library fire he set to foil a rival scholar. John Hume-Border, author of the masterful but never-completed Thomas Heron and His Times, was shot fleeing the scene of a "badger game" swindle on his 35th birthday. Documentary filmmaker Yeon Kun Kim died of a drug overdose while shooting what he claimed was an "explosively revelatory" account of Heron's life, and the footage he acquired was somehow lost while his estate was being settled. No fewer than twenty-nine graduate students are known to have committed suicide and/or died in vehicular accidents (one notable example involving both a speedboat and a helicopter) while working on Heron-related thesis papers. Most recently, noted biographer and poet Andrea Land was found dead for no apparent reason in her home office, clutching a piece of paper on which were scrawled the words "Heron 'Lament,' start 4th letter then 5th etc."

"Lament" could only refer to "The Physician's Lament," Heron's brilliant, bittersweet, and beloved long form poem of 1619, and somewhat to the surprise of everyone, reading the fourth letter of the first line and following it with the fifth letter of the next line (and so on, with a reversal of direction when the end of a line is reached) produced the message "My husband doth account this verse his ouwn, with wits that ne'er thought of love have knowne."

Professional and amateur scholars alike scoured Heron's oeuvre for other messages, and found at least six other genuine examples (plus any number of examples that were more wishful thinking than artful writing) scattered throughout the later, most celebrated work attributed to Heron. All of which established that the actual author of Thomas Heron's poems was inarguably Judith Bullmer Heron, making Thomas a fraud and Judith one of the most celebrated artists of all time, lesbian or otherwise.

Manly love is said to be still recovering.

May 21, 2009

In Human Resources

by Luc Reid

As we filed into the eighth floor conference room, I could feel our consensus as though it were bathtub water lapping at all our ankles. True, a phone interview wasn't the same as an in-person interview, but we all felt Gary Horder was a shoo-in. The problems that had plagued our engineering department for most of the last decade would be over with a guy like Gary in charge. I dropped into my accustomed chair just as the door creaked open.

"Gary," I said, standing up and extending my hand. "Glad to ..."

He opened the door, and I stopped. Gary Horder was four feet high, with wide, pointy ears, green skin, and protruding eyes like an undersea fish. He wore a gray wool suit and a bright blue tie with a golf ball tie pin.

"Glad to see you could make it," I managed, turning the extended hand into a vague wave toward the empty chair at the end of the table, which he ignored. I sat back down, crossing my legs and folding my arms over my chest.

Gary looked around at the lot of us. "Is something wrong?" he said. The little goblin bastard. He knew exactly what was wrong.

"I had no idea you were a ..." blurted Denise, the engineering VP, but she caught herself. "... golfer." Burt, my assistant, started singing one of those damned forest ditties under his breath, a nervous habit. I quelled him with a glare. Burt was supposed to have screened this guy, God damn it.

The problem was, I had already shown Horder's work to the Big Guy, and he was expecting me to hire a genius engineer. He wouldn't care about Horder's ... issue. He'd just hold me to the fire if I didn't sign the little toad.

"So, no window office," I said flatly.

"Something in the basement would be nice," he said.

"We'll be in touch," I said. He bowed and left.

"In three hundred twenty years in the Personnel department ..." I said "No, forget it. Burt, you're fired. Go back to the fucking forest where you belong. 'Never hire from the woods,' my old man used to say. I should have listened."

Burt shot me a poisonous look and skulked out, leaving nothing but High Elves in the conference room. I ignored the others and sat staring at the wall, thinking wistfully two hundred years ahead to my retirement.

May 14, 2009

Swine Flew

by Luc Reid

Shrieking, the hog plummeted toward the earth, its wings drawn close. At the last moment it flared them like a great cloak, choking its forward speed to little more than hovering as it tore its prey from the grass. The helpless victim mewled as the hog bore it into the sky, but like all hogs, this one had no pity for the scurrying denizens of the dirt and the grass. It bore its twitching meal to a cliffside, where it alighted and summarily snapped the furry thing's neck before tearing into it with its sharp--


Readers, please excuse me. I'm very sorry to interrupt the story like this, but apparently there's something that's so important ...

Oh … seriously? I was sure it ... but really? Then OK, I guess.

No, it's entirely my fault. I'm the writer. Really, I appreciate the feedback.

Readers, I'm back now. Very sorry about that. And in the above, um, the word "hog" should read "hawk."

May 1, 2009


by Luc Reid

When their wandering robot probes stumbled on Earth, with its ancient, burnt seabeds, its flattened forests, its cracked continents, they rapidly uncovered evidence of the long-dead human civilization, buried under three million years of rubble and dust, and they despaired that though they finally had found evidence of other intelligent creatures in the universe, they had missed meeting us by (in astronomical terms) only moments and would never have the chance to exchange so much as a word of greeting, as our race was clearly and inarguably now extinct.

But ... they were wrong.

April 16, 2009

As You Know, Professor

by Luc Reid

"As you know, professor," said the earnest young man, "an Embry-dissipative microsingularity striking the earth would be drawn irresistably to its core, where it would cause a cataclysmic gravitational distortion, drawing all matter down into it until the earth collapsed in on itself like a rotten grapefruit."

"What the hell are you talking about?" I said. "I study acoustics."

"Professor," he said, leaning in, whispering urgently, the mothy smell of his ill-fitting suit coat forcing me to fight a sneeze. "Please don't ask me how I know about your top-secret government work, but understand that I have information of the greatest importance for you. A microsingularity is bearing down on Earth at this very moment, and the vector and velocity information I have for you--"

Top-secret government work? This fellow was a nut case!

"Just a minute," I said, picking up the phone. I dialed security. "Hi, I have a special package for you to pick up on the second floor," I said.

"Dr. Womack, is that you?" said Rob the security guard over the phone. "You're saying there's some kind of problem? What's wrong?"

"Absolutely, and you have a nice day, too," I said, smiling and nodding at the young man. I hung up, hoping Rob had gotten the idea.

The young man held out a thumb drive. "These are the coordinates--" he broke off as he heard the noise of feet pounding on the stairs down the hall. A moment later, Rob and the red-haired bodybuilder type, what's-his-name, burst in and grabbed the young man by the arms.

"Stop!" he cried. "You're making a terrible mistake! Please, professor, please!"

They dragged him away.

About ten minutes later, Dr. Fennelgrüb walked in with a latte and a chocolate pastry.

"You're in my office again, Womack!" he bellowed, pastry crumbs flying from his lips. "So help me God, the next time you blunder in here, I'll kick your ass!"

I looked around, and of course he was right: wrong office again. My mind had been on the impact of air currents on sound conductance in low-heat environments, and I just hadn't noticed. I meekly scraped together my papers and left. On the way out, I wondered if Fennelgrüb needed to be told the young man's news, but then I was struck with an idea about heat differentials that completely put the matter out of my mind.

April 3, 2009

Trash Golem

by Luc Reid

When I woke for the first time I had a little trouble focusing, since my eyes seemed to be made of burned-out light bulbs. Soon enough, things began to come clear, and I found I was slumped in the corner of a weedy dirt lot between two shabby row houses. Crouched in front of me was a grubby little Rabbi.

"I know what you're thinking," said the Rabbi. "You're thinking, 'Where am I? Who am I? Who is this disreputable person in front of me? Why do I have light bulbs for eyes?' Don't worry. It'll all make sense soon when I turn you loose on my enemies."

"Something smells bad," I said.

"Smells bad? Smells bad? Never mind that, you have a job to do. You know what you are? You're a trash golem. I didn't have the clay and things they usually use, so I asked myself what we have a lot of here in this city, and I said 'Trash!' Of trash, we have plenty. Now, you'll need instructions."

I heaved myself to my feet, one of which was a dishwasher and the other of which was part of a rusted-out old street sweeper, with the brushes still on. I shuffled in the dirt, trying out the brushes. It kicked up a lot of dust on the Rabbi, who coughed.

"For crying out loud, never do that," said the Rabbi. "Are you ready for your instructions?"

"I'm ready," I said, although I didn't know if I was or not.

"All right. So, you're a trash golem. Why trash? It's ironic! Listen, all these people around you, in all these houses, with their rich families, they make more trash than you could imagine. They'll bury the world in that trash, so I want you to go and destroy them."

"The children too?"

"Well, not the children, but everyone else."

"The parents, but not the children?"

"What are you, a conversation golem? OK, you're right, not the parents with the children."

"Young couples?"

"You're giving me a pain, you know. Right here in my neck. OK, they're sweet, they're happy, they're in love, I get it. So no, not the young couples."

"So just the people on their own?"

The Rabbi sighed heavily, and I went over and put my lawnmower gently on his shoulder.

"All right, I admit it: the whole thing about the enemies with the trash, I made that up. It wasn’t even a very good lie."

"You're just lonely?"

The Rabbi kicked an old tin can across the lot. "Well," he finally said, "do you play chess? We could go to the park and play chess."

I followed the Rabbi out of the lot and along the river toward the park. The sun glinted on my metal parts and warmed my rusty parts, and I thought longingly of destroying someone.

March 24, 2009

Helmut, Deep in the Rock

by Luc Reid

Even in the middle of a war, Helmut didn't want to lose his job, because he wasn't very smart. If they didn't want him on this asteroid, maybe nobody else would want to hire him either, and then what? Maybe they'd put him in space and laugh at him when he couldn't breathe, like those boys did when they stuck him in the airlock for a long minute when he was little. He didn't want that again.

Still, Helmut barely could make himself go in. He didn't know anything about this kind of work. He'd never done it before. But he did what he was told, which was how he'd always kept a job so far. He got to the end of the rock tunnel, opened the door, and went in.

The room was full of children.

In the distance, some missiles must have been hitting the asteroid, because the whole place shook and boomed. Little showers of dust came down from the ceiling. Some of the children screamed. Helmut wanted to hold his hands over his ears, but he thought the kids might call him scared, so he didn't.

"Where's my dad?" shrieked a boy who was only about as tall as Helmut's knee.

"We're all going to die! Everybody's going to die!" wailed a girl.

The wail echoed off the rock walls. They were hidden in one of the deep storerooms, as far from the surface and from the fighting as they could be. The children looked up at Helmut, waiting.

A little dreadlocked girl came up and tugged at the knee of Helmut's atsuit. "You say, 'nobody's going to die.'"

Helmut didn't understand, so he kept quiet.

"We're not really going to die, right?"

Another explosion shook the room. Helmut kept thinking he could hear atmosphere breach klaxons off in the distance, but it was just imaginary. The children watched him.

"Maybe," Helmut said. "If the air goes out, then we'd probably all die then. I hope it doesn't."

The dreadlocked girl teared up, but she nodded. "I hope so too," she said. Then she latched onto his leg like she was trying to keep from being pulled out into space, and the children all clustered around, wrapping their arms around Helmut and each other.

Another thundering, louder now. The lights went out. But the children were holding onto Helmut, even while most of them were crying.

"This isn't so bad," Helmut said, wonderingly, and the kids clung to him harder.

March 11, 2009

Made of Fail

by Luc Reid

After twelve years, the Gate, constructed on Peaks Island off the coast of Maine, was complete. The Cancrians had removed their spaceships from where they had been parked around Portland and Brunswick, explaining that their drive mechanisms would interfere with the Gate's operation. We--everybody, I mean, the whole world--was watching when the First Lady, escorted by an honor guard of Marines and several of the tall, hunched Cancrians, stepped up to flip the switch.

And by "everyone," I don't just mean Americans: this had been a world effort. After the initial arguments, the raging debate, a feeling had gradually spread that the interstellar age really had dawned, and it was our destiny to enter it as a species. I doubt there were more than a few thousand people in the entire world who weren't there in Portland or else glued to their TVs to see the Gate opened.

There had been speeches, you know, obviously. I'm not going to tell you there weren't speeches. But who cares about the speeches? What could they say other than "Wow, we're about to open a portal directly onto another populated planet! How cool is that? And scary. And sobering. Wow, people!" Not much. The speeches took up an hour and a half, but that's all they said.

The First Lady stepped up to the control pedestal, and a deep, stomach-shaking whirr shook the world as it lit up automatically. She placed her hand on the receptor, and with a sound like angels gargling, the Gate opened, spilling light out onto the massive crowd. We looked through it and saw ... Maine. There was a grinding noise. Something crackled, and all at once the lights on the unit went out. It was deathly quiet. The Gate had failed.

We were all stunned for a little while, so stunned that I think it was at least a few minutes before anyone realized that the Cancrians had snuck off somewhere. Where were they? The odd, shy, infinitely harmless-seeming Cancrians ... what had happened to them? And why, when they clearly were technological geniuses, didn't their gate work?

"Hey!" someone shouted (I later found out that he had been checking a Hawai'ian webcam on his Blackberry). "Where the hell is the Pacific Ocean?"

February 26, 2009


by Luc Reid

"If I ever tell you I want to get married again," my friend Rick told me when his divorce finally came through, "I want you to punch me in the face. Hard."

I laughed.

"I'm not kidding!" he insisted. "Promise me."

"I'm not going to punch you," I said.

I figured he'd drop it, but half an hour later, I found myself saying "OK, fine. If you ever try to get engaged again, I'll punch you."


Nine months later, Rick blew into my kitchen with two oversized bottles of Belgian beer.

"Guess what?" he crowed. "I'm engaged!"

"To who?" I said. "Not Marie, right?"

He popped open the beers on the counter. "Oh, I know she comes off a little cold-blooded right off, but you'll warm up to her, seriously."

Obviously I didn't punch him, but I mentioned a few important facts: Marie was always making Rick do things her way. She'd screwed her uncle over on that loan. She left hot water running. And my dog, who was a great judge of character, hated her.

"And Rick," I said, "you told me to punch you if you ever said you were getting married again."

"I meant to somebody like Erika!" He said. "This is completely different."


I hardly saw Rick over the next two months, but one day he called me from the police station.

"Assault?" I said when I picked him up. "They took you in for assaulting her?"

"Yeah," Rick said. "Good thing my cell phone does video. You want to see her scratching herself? It's actually kind of hot."


Did I mention I time travel? It's no big thing: it just happens sometimes when I'm asleep. I think it's usually when my brain gets stuck on something. I go to sleep and wake up maybe a few months or a year earlier.

That's what happened about a week after the assault incident: I looked over at my calendar clock one morning and noticed it was four months earlier than when I'd gone to bed. So I got up and called my broker. (Well, how do you think I got this huge house and the pool and the cars and everything, an unemployed slacker like me? First the lottery, then investments.)

After that, I went out with some of the same girls I had the last time and got an early start cutting back on my cholesterol. I was just taking my fish oil capsules one afternoon when Rick walked with two oversized bottles of Belgian beer.

I punched him.

February 13, 2009

Your Recent Visit from the Monkey God

by Luc Reid

Supposedly--this is what people are saying, anyway--you, meaning you specifically, the reader of this piece, have been visited by the Monkey God some time in the last six weeks or so. I don't know what he did to you.

You probably wouldn't have seen him, but if you did, you might not have realized it at the time. It's true that his traditional form is a Tibetan macaque wearing an ornate, six-tiered golden crown studded with big, fat pearls and always askew. He also often wears random items of clothing that look like they were shoplifted without regard to style or color, but when visiting people he's more likely to be a vague form seen from the corner of the eye, or an old lady with a face very much like a monkey's, or a slightly ribald street performer. Regardless, you will know him by his works.

If there was something you were very serious about and set on, something you planned out and prepared for carefully but that went completely haywire at the last minute due to some completely random interruption, that was probably the visit. Alternatively, it may have been something bizarre and painful that happened out of the blue.

The Monkey God particularly enjoys irony, mixing things that aren't usually supposed to go together (like librarians and roosters, for instance), and violating expectations. He generally visits people, but occasionally spends time screwing things up for other animals, particularly pets.

The reason I tell you this is that the Monkey God loves you, and for various reasons (honestly, I think it's just that he's uncomfortable with these kinds of conversations) he probably won't tell you about it himself. He expects you to step back from your situation, see how ludicrous it is, laugh, gain new perspective on your life, and understand that it was all for you own good, which frankly (and I've told him this in prayer scroll after prayer scroll, but I'm not even convinced he picks up his mail) is a little much to ask, if you want my opinion.

Sorry to interrupt your day with this. Hope that was useful to know about. And I get the impression that he's planning a return trip, so hold onto your hat and try to keep a sense of humor. I know I will be.

This story is related to Luc's Delayed Appearance of the Monkey God, but not to Daniel Braum's Boon of the Monkey God. There's a story behind that, but it's not very interesting, so I'll leave it out.

February 5, 2009

In the Elevator with Albert Einstein

by Luc Reid

I shouldn't have been up on that roof in the first place, but I kept thinking I could save a lot of money if I fixed it myself. Then I tripped over my own hammer.

The roof tumbled by in a blur as I tried like hell to separate my up from my down. My cheek scraped against the eaves, I went into freefall, and …crack: skull meets driveway. My eight-year-old, Jenna, was playing in the front yard and saw the whole thing. She was probably traumatized for life. Jesus.

And then I was in an elevator with some guy. A familiar-looking guy. "Are you … Albert Einstein?" I said.

"No, no," he said. There was a silence while he studied the elevator buttons, dozens of them, in an intricate layout. "I used to be," he said conversationally, "but you see, I died. Where does this elevator go?"

"I don't know. Up?"

"Up," he said, springing up and down on the floor a little. "It seems possible. Are you dead?"

"I think so," I said. I thought of that last, flickering moment of seeing bits of bloody brain splattered across my driveway. "I hope so."

The elevator pinged, and Einstein's attention leapt to the door. It opened on a … I wasn’t sure. There were tables, with people sitting at them and talking animatedly … cups of coffee … something that might have been macaroons …

"It's a café," said Einstein. "Very encouraging: I'll get off here. And you?"

I didn't know. Einstein stepped out, waving for me to follow.

It was much larger than it had looked. There were no walls, just wooden floors stretching into the distance, and far off, a night sky blazing with stars. From many tables away an old woman was running toward me, an old woman who looked like Jenna, and it seemed to me that everyone might arrive at the café at about the same time.

Before she reached me, there was a collective "Aaah!" and everyone looked up. I looked for Einstein, but he had moved away. Jenna took my hand just as the stars began to fall, streaking through the sky with all the inappropriate iridescence of gasoline in a mud puddle.

"You really freaked me out that day you died," she said.

"I know," I said. "I'm sorry."

Then we watched the sky fall for a while.

January 22, 2009

I'm Sorry About That Last Letter

by Luc Reid

I hope you never read that letter I sent before, but if you did I hope your hair grows back and that you get a new dog. It wasn't the direst curse I could've picked, you've gotta see that. There's all kinds of things out there. Anyway, I was just mad because you said all those things, and even if they were pretty true they were mean, and you've got no cause to be mean, but I guess I don't either.

So this one's a blessing, even though I know I can't make up for what I've done and now there can't be no chance at all we'll get back together soon, except you know I still love you even after all both of us've done. OK, what I've done, I guess.

Now, here's your blessing:

May your crops be fruitful (I know you don't have any crops, but I was thinking of that spider plant you keep just barely failing to kill, and anyway this is part of the blessing so I can't take it out), and may wealth make its way to you through secret means, and may your sight be clear (because maybe then you could get rid of those glasses, which make you look stuck-up anyway), and may you always be able to find the one you love.

That scent you smell is the dust I had to buy that goes with the blessing. Everyone out here swears by it, even though I know it smells like dung. It cost me nearly everything I had except the pickup, and you know that piece of crap's gonna fall apart soon anyway. Anyway, it works great and it's going to make sure you get all your blessings.

It was that last item I particularly liked, and I thought maybe sometime after your hair grows back and the blessing's had a while to take hold you might want to find where I am and maybe come back to me. I hope you understand why I can't tell you where I am right now, in case you're mad.

And if all of this is a load of crap like you always said, then you probably have your hair and no harm done, in which case I'm staying with my cousin Jesse, whom you'll remember from that party we had once when he tried to kiss you while he was drunk.


January 9, 2009

We're Sorry

by Luc Reid

Unfortunately, this story is unavailable. If it were available, my best guess is that it would go something like this:

There would be a main character of some kind, trapped in a box about the size of a dishwasher. There would also be an explanation of how this had happened, and maybe some hope that he would get out--but he wouldn't get out, at least not in the story.

There would be some sort of conversation with a person sitting on the box. The odd thing is that I think the main character would be a close friend of the person sitting on the box, but the person sitting on the box wouldn't let him out. I don't know why. I don't think, in the story, that he would want to be in the box, but I might be wrong.

From there, I'm not sure. It's possible that he's a magician who is supposed to do an escape, but who fails. Or possibly he's being shipped somewhere. Or he might be some kind of yogi, meditating. Actually, I just don't know: really I'm grasping at straws now.

There would be all kinds of lush description, and while there would only be seven lines of dialog, those seven lines would be exquisitely funny. There would be some kind of pun involving a llama, but it would be a good one, not one of the old, tired ones.

And the thing that would be most striking is that by the end of the story, we wouldn't mind that he was in the box, and neither would he. He would be happy. His friend would go away, but that would be all right. And though there would be no one there, the last thing he would say in the story would be


January 5, 2009


by Luc Reid

"You left your dishes on top of the sonic again, dear heart," Miranda called from the kitchen. The phrase "dear heart" had started as a little joke between them, but after a few months it had turned into a real expression of love, and now … Buckley wasn't sure. She always used a little extra emphasis, now. Was that playful? A tiny bit sarcastic?

"Sorry," he answered, distracted, as she emerged from the kitchen holding the offending plate and cup. His gaze was drawn irresistably back to the message displayed on the entcenter. She read him immediately.

"You got it," she whispered, gripping the dishes.

He nodded, re-reading the screen. ... accepted for the position of Junior Situational Flexcoder on the ninth Alpha Centauri mission. The 9.7-year mission (experiential time) will be paid on the basis of the 31 earth years that pass ...

Buckley looked back at Mir, seeing the tension in her, the whiteness of her face, the wideness of her pale blue eyes, the rigidity of her fingers clamped down on the china. She stared at him fixedly, saying nothing. Somewhere in the room, a fly buzzed.

He brushed toast crumbs off the table remote and hesitated for a fraction of a moment while he pushed his dream job out of his mind. Buckley pressed "I decline" with his forefinger, making sure the table had a chance to verify his print. Before he lifted his finger again, he knew, the automated hiring system would have offered the job to someone else. He looked up at Mir with a weak smile.

She stared at him with disbelief and disgust. "You idiot," she said, and stomped out of the room.

* * *

Buckley looked back at Mir, seeing the tension in her, the whiteness of her face, the wideness of her pale blue eyes, the rigidity of her fingers clamped down on the china. She stared at him fixedly, but then a fly buzzed past her face and she brushed it away with the irritated expression he knew intimately well.

He brushed toast crumbs off the table remote and hesitated for a fraction of a moment while he banished a life he would now never have. Buckley pressed "I accept" with his forefinger, making sure the table had a chance to verify his print and legally obligate him. He meant to apologize, but he could only look up at her miserably.

Mir stared at him with disbelief and disgust. "You asshole," she said, and stomped out of the room.

December 22, 2008

We Knew Your Ma, But That Was In the Old Days

by Luc Reid

We knew your Ma, but that was in the old days. These days we couldn't help you, no idea where she goes. She rose up past us, your Ma--least if you ask her, she did. Saved up to get rejuvenated when she was ninety or so, real class job: permanent tan, Tyler lips, Barbie platinum autogrow, the works. Me an' Paolo'd been making do with worn-out whores for some time, so we figured for old time's sake she might--but you don't want to hear that, do ya? It's yer Ma. Never mind. But she had a fine quality ass on that rejuve job, I'll tell you that. Didn't mind showing it, either.

What, not even stuff like that? You're too easy to squick, I tell ya. Not like yer Ma.

Anyway, she got hired out a lot more after that rejuve: young-looking, classy, the kind of thing that makes us veteran shooters look shabby and cheap. We fell on hard times, me and Paolo, while she was pulling down the big jobs. You'd think she'd cut us in-- subcontract, like, some of the time--but not yer Ma. No, she took one of those hovering apartments just outside the city limits, moved around all the time, started pretending like she didn't know us, what gave her her start. One day her name came up, though, some guy whose boss she'd done for, and me an' Paolo got the contract.

We went out there to the hovering apartments and tried to track her down, but by the time we found her spot, she'd already gotten wind of us. Did for Paolo with a grenade pellet to the throat, took two of my left legs off with a booby trap, so's now I can barely hobble around. She oughta killed me, but she said "You shoulda stayed on the planet you came from" and just walked away. Left the apartment, all her stuff. Never seen her since.

Another thou note? That's awfully generous of you. Now that you mention it, all of sudden a little more does come back to me. See, she had this tatooist she liked, always went to the same guy, and she was kind of a collector, your Ma. I'd bet you kilos to crap he knows where she is--she's probably been in for new art.

No, none of my business what you want her for. 'Cept I already heard rumor of it, so I guess I know even if it's not any of my business.

Shoot her once for me too, will ya?

December 16, 2008

Tales of the Exiled Letters: B is for Bureaucracy

by Luc Reid

After a long delay, here is the second story in the Tales of the Exiled Letters series. The first piece in this series, A is for Authority, appeared in April, 2007.

"But to business," B said, bending over her bright blue blotter. "Please, be seated."

X sat on the bare black bench across the desk from B, nervously crossing and uncrossing his legs.

"Now, X," B said. "How long have you been a letter?"

"Well, I don't remember exactly. About two thousand years? Maybe twenty-five hundred?"

"And you've served as, my goodness, quite a lot of things, haven't you? I see that in addition to your literary duties, you've worked in algebra, codes, Roman numerals, corrections ... this list just goes on and on. And haven't I seen you in multiplication?"

"Excuse me, that's times," said X. "He only looks like me. We're not related."

"And what sound, exactly, do you make?"

X felt extremely uncomfortable. He did not, of course, want to be expelled from the alphabet, and he'd heard rumors that the alphabet was considered to be running a little "fat" at the moment.

B smiled. "Well, I'll tell you, shall I? It seems to be 'ks,' doesn't it? Except sometimes it's 'kz' or that sort of 'kh' sound, or 'z,' or 'sh' ... really, X, don't you have a sound of your own you could make? And you haven't been beginning very many words, now, have you?"

"There's xylophone!" X exclaimed.

"Be serious," said B.

"Xanthic," X extemporized. "Xenophobe. X-ray ..."

"Stop, please," B said. "Don't belittle yourself. It's not becoming. I think we both know what will become of you."

"Except --"

"But me no buts," said B. She held up a list. "This is the Alphabet, also known as the A-list." She put it down and picked up another. "This is my list, the B-list. Do you know what happens to letters on the B-list?" She beamed balefully. "They become ex-letters. Get it?" She bore down on a button. "Bring backspace," she bid.

"This is excessive," X said in exasperation, "examine--"

"Those words don't even begin with X," B broke in. The door opened a bit. X leaped upon B and held her down, muffling her with his vertex.

Backspace entered the room, massive, and eraser-like, but his boss was effectively crossed out. Backspace surveyed the room blankly, found nothing to read, and silently backed out, closing the door behind him.

X muttered an expletive and crossed to the window before B could budge. Glass exploded as X leapt through it, exiting to the extensive grounds.

"You'll be sorry you dared to cross me!" B blustered. But X was gone as though he had never existed.

December 4, 2008


by Luc Reid

After the bolts of green fire from the sky had finally ceased to fall, after the screaming across the world had been drowned out in a deadly roar of heat and force, after the last remnants of unprotected buildings aboveground had collapsed in twisted, melting, ashy heaps, after the gasworms had been released to tunnel mindlessly, automatically, mechanically into the rock and seek out the hidden shelters, after the last of the live radio signals, but before Dr. Vanfrancus made it back into his carefully-protected family preserve from the liquor store, where he had bought two cases of absinthe (officially to extract thujone from them, as his wife generally made it very hard on him when he attempted to bring liquor into the compound for personal consumption), and before Mrs. Vanfrancus made it back from her daily power walk, and especially before anyone knew that yet another nanny had quit and left the compound in a huff, 7-year-old Melina Vanfrancus came back out of her father's study, where she was expressly forbidden to be and especially where she was expressly forbidden to play with the controls to the machines her father had told her at many a bedtime he would soon use to become ruler of the world through threatening the destruction of all life on Earth, and sat back down across from her favorite doll, whom she had named Princess Sarah Palin.

"I'm very sorry to have made you wait, Princess Sarah Palin," Melina said, "but now we won't have to worry about any more interruptions to our tea for anything so silly as baths. Could I tempt you with more fairy cake?"

Princess Sarah Palin accepted just one more piece of fairy cake, as she was watching her figure.

"And really, calling me a brat," said Melina, and she delicately set to eating her fairy cake.

November 25, 2008

43 Futures

by Luc Reid

The principle of the thing was simple: establish linked universe chambers with 43 randomly-selected possible futures and vow to show up at the place and time where the device would be activated so as to make contact with the present from all 43 different possible realities. In this way, Garrett could communicate with 43 of his future selves, figure out which future was most advantageous for him, and use a device he had just invented to force the entire universe to follow that particular path.

If only, he thought regretfully, he weren't such a self-involved, megalomaniacal liar. He wouldn't be able to trust anything any of his selves said to him, since each of him would be trying to influence the present him to choose their reality in order to prevent their existence being erased. But he could work around that.

Late on a rainy spring evening he flipped the switch, and only 7 Garretts appeared in the phone-booth sized chambers arranged around him (out of which none could step without becoming unmoored from his own stream of probability). Having less than 78 minutes for questioning, Garrett tried to ignore the implications of so many of him not making it to the rendezvous and instead concentrated on questions.

"Where's everyone else?" said Garrets number 29 and 14.

"Immaterial," said 5. "If they had advantages to offer, they'd be showing them. Look at these pictures of my girlfriend."

"The you from your best future will be concise," said 40.

"Number 40 looks pale. Some kind of disease?" said 12.

2 said nothing, but smiled and began piling up stacks of money from a case at his feet.

Garrett stepped up and examined each self intently in turn, alert for signs of illness or stress on the one hand or health and satisfaction on the other. When he got to 35, he stopped.

"You haven't said anything," he told 35, who was hiding a hand behind his back.

35 nodded. "I'll say this: if you were a better man, you'd abandon this idea of changing the path of the entire universe to suit yourself."

Garrett shrugged. "If I were a better man, you'd be a better man," he said.

"Whereas the reverse is not necessarily true," said 35, and he took out the revolver he had been hiding and shot Garrett three times in the head. Garrett collapsed as his seven analogs flickered out of existence.

Garrett was found dead in the midst of an incomprehensible apparatus the next day. For lack of a better explanation, the death was ultimately written off as a suicide.

November 17, 2008

Miners' Dialect

by Luc Reid

NOTE: This piece may or may not contain objectionable language unsuitable for children, fine ladies, and other persons of delicate sensibilities.

Harald and his translator Gothica stood up when the Mining Belt envoy entered the room. The envoy was still wearing his atmosphere suit, a tarnished-looking garment that looked like metallic longjohns. Harald waited for the envoy to speak first, through Gothica.

"Yahhh, mother-flicking candleraper."

"Good morning," Gothica translated.

Surely that couldn't be the miner's dialect, Harald thought. But then, communication had been all but cut off between earth and the asteroid miners for a hundred and twenty years, so only expatriates like Gothica would have any idea what the dialect was like.

"Good morning!" Harald finally managed. The envoy nodded: apparently he understood Default English, even if he wasn't willing to speak it. He sat down heavily in the conference seat, and the display lit up with the treaty document. Harald sat cautiously opposite him.

"Tha dox, it's faint-stinkin crap, yahh shove it up yer beefhole," the envoy said.

"He has some minor concerns about the proposed treaty," Gothica said.

"What kind of--"

"Cork yer rodsucker, ya windae-licker!" the envoy cut in. "Allshate stick yer lucre-baiting, stick yer muddamned stufftops, yer goatspucklickket grandma."

"If he may get right to the point," Gothica translated, "it's primarily the interest rates and production caps that concern him."

Harald fumbled with his reader control and brought up the applicable sections.

The envoy nodded at Gothica. "Like ta cram ya splat and ream ya, tartess," the envoy said.

Gothica nodded back. "Like ta chop yer marblesack, ya bungtaster." She smiled at Harald. "Just pleasantries," she said.

"The concern, uh, the concern we have with your original proposal for interest rates ..." Harald began. The envoy took out a data probe and began to pick his teeth. Harald tried not to stare without looking like he was trying not to stare. "... um, for interest rates, is that it doesn't account for changes in the base rate, so of course we're suggesting a variable structure."

"Spill yer shate anna blood and lickket yer merd yer dam ainsel, ya anna yer spewin girlbrat," said the envoy.

"Interesting," Gothica translated.

Harald looked from Gothica and back to the envoy, his face blank. "Will you excuse me for a moment?" he said finally, and left the room. They could hear him running in the hallway before the door irised shut.

For a moment there was complete silence, until Gothica, who had been turning a little red, couldn't hold herself back and made a little snorting noise. Within a moment both she and the envoy were laughing so hard that tears ran down their faces.

Several minutes later, the envoy wiped tears from his face and blew his nose on a clean nanohandkerchief. "Do you think it's working?"

"Even if it isn't," said Gothica, "it was worth it to see the expression on his face!"

This brought on more laughter, which took a few minutes to wind down.

"Screw you, whore," the envoy said affectionately.

Gothica just smiled. She knew he loved her, but she liked when he said so anyway.

November 14, 2008

Please Present Your Octopus

by Luc Reid

"Excuse me?" Tara said to the man at the door. The scholarship recipients' dinner was a much more high-toned affair than she was used to, but she was pretty sure she wasn't so working class that she wouldn't know about something like an octopus requirement.

"Please present your octopus," the man repeated, smiling. "Beige snowballs, transit applicants to the steaming room." He looked at Tara. She looked back, giving him the same look she had given her boyfriend Chad when she'd found out all of her underwear was missing (which was another story--it turned out to be an innocent misunderstanding).

The man at the door glanced behind him at the laughing philanthropists, the small crowd circling the bickering poli sci professors, the grad students hunched over the buffet, cramming fingerfoods into napkins to tuck away in pocket or purse. His smile faltered.

"Olives center my modesty," he said dismissively, waving her into the room. Tara didn’t budge. She noticed the man's eyebrows were beginning to smoke, very faintly. His face took on a hugely pained, desperate look, and he turned to walk away, but Tara grabbed him by the arm.

"What are you in there?" she said. "You're a leftover, aren't you?"

"Pungently," he pleaded, pulling away from her. She gripped his arm with both hands, certain now that some of the aliens had stayed behind in some kind of disguise. They couldn't have simply come to earth, broadcast their messages, and left forever--especially when no one had even been able to figure out what their messages had said.

Inside the building a tray of dishes crashed, and she turned her head for a split second, distracted by the accident. Her quarry took that moment to jerk away from her with all his strength, though Tara held onto the arm with a death grip. There was a snapping sound as the arm broke loose. By the time she looked back, the "man" had sprinted away at unbelievable speed across the lawn of Founders Hall. The armhole of his "human" torso where the arm had torn away revealed just a glimpse of a much smaller, green arm inside. He vaulted a hedge and was gone.

"Tara Gonyea?" someone called from inside. It was growing dark, she realized, and she wasn't visible to anyone in the warmly-lit hall. She hesitated, then tucked the arm out of sight behind a row of rosebushes. That night, she would hide somewhere nearby and see if the man came back to look.

October 29, 2008

Worse Than Riders

by Luc Reid

Nobody expected Lonny Orris to show up at the 20th high school reunion, because we all knew about his time travelling.

Conversations collided and crumbled into murmurs all around him as he walked into the restaurant, his robotic arm waving hello while his human one remained jammed into his pocket. Rick Tate, former president of the drama club and evidently the only one of us with any balls, stepped out and offered his hand.

"Rick?" Lonny said uncertainly. Rick looked different--we all did. There was the extra forty pounds around Rick's belly, the gray hair at his temples, the glasses. And of course there was the Rider astride his neck, asleep for the moment. Lonny was the only one in the room without one.

"Hey Lonny," Rick said, grabbing the robotic hand firmly and shaking it.

A Rider across the room kicked its knobby purple heels on its human's shoulders, it's flat head turning to one side to glance at Lonny. "Prepare food!" it demanded. Its human--Nadine Turanski, of whom I knew nothing except that she had allegedly once eaten a live cricket at lunch--hesitated, her eyes still fixed on Lonny. The Rider, impatient, jabbed her with its control glove, sending electricity arcing through and around her. She screeched; we looked away; she stumbled toward the Rider food facilities.

Rick hadn't let go of Lonny's hand. "You don't have a Rider."

Lonny dipped his head, flushing. "It happened when I was traveling back in time. It's a long story." He tried to pull his hand out of Rick's. Rick held on tight.

"So it's not just a rumor--you really did bring these goddamned Riders down on us!" Rick said.

"Human! Disrespect!" Rick's Rider said, and jabbed him briefly, sending the shock through both him and Lonny. Rick bore the shock, then abruptly jerked Lonny to the ground and began to kick him. There was a roar, and some people shrieked, and at least a dozen guys and a few women ran up to help kick the crap out of Lonny Orris. Their Riders shocked them, but through screeches of pain most of them kept kicking.

They couldn't kick long with the shocks, though, and Lonny was still conscious when they had to fall back, exhausted and smelling faintly burned, their Riders scolding them like snippy schoolmarms.

"You sons of bitches," he said. "Why do you think I did it in the first place? You think you're so smart. This time it'll be even worse!" Then he vanished.

"It was worth it. Goddamn Riders," Rick said. He braced for the shock, but none came: the Riders were gone.

The sky suddenly seemed to darken, and there was a disturbing buzzing noise that grew from one moment to the next. Swarms of insects began to descend from the sky like little tornadoes.

We scattered, leaving the restaurant. The next day, on the Internet, people were planning dark things for Lonny Orris for the 25th.

October 24, 2008

The Death of Romance

by Luc Reid

When Vera walked into the kitchen, she caught just a glimpse of a woman's ghost tearing herself from Vera's husband Tim's embrace and vanishing into the wall. Tim's face confirming what Vera would not otherwise have believed.

The Felix the Cat clock on the wall over the kitchen counter ticked placidly. From three rooms away came the familiar drumroll of a block tower being knocked down, paired with a shriek of laughter. Outside the window, over the meadow, a hawk circled.

Vera finally nodded, her expression blank, tired, accepting. She'd known Tim could speak to ghosts since before they'd started going out, back in college. He used compel the ghost of a young boy to drift along the floor at frat parties, and Tim would shout out the color or absence of underwear on any girl who had been dumb enough to wear a skirt. She should have known better than to fall for someone who would do that, but in private he had always been so charming, as though his public persona was just an embarrassing coping mechanism.

"Get out," she said.

"That was just--"

"I don't care. Get out."

"But the girls need their--"

"Get. Out. Now."

Tim grimaced, stood, walked to the refrigerator, extracted a Heinekin, popped it with the magnetized opener on the fridge, and threw the bottlecap on the counter. "No, I don't think so," he said. "I think you'd better get out."

Vera stared at him. She had gradually come to realize how little character he had, the man she'd married, but she'd had no idea he had balls, too.

The air by the ceiling wrinkled, and a moment later a warped adolescent girl's face emerged from it, shimmering with a black-purple glow, the telltale sign of a poltergeist. It drifted down through the air, changing direction purposefully when Tim pointed at Vera, smirking. Smug bastard. He probably thought he was the only one with the ability to command ghosts.

He didn't even notice when taloned, electric-red hands emerged from the floor at his feet, reaching for his ankles.

October 6, 2008

The Ninja's Girlfriend

by Luc Reid

"Hold up, hold up: isn't she that guy Link's girlfriend?"

"Maybe she was."

"Damn, John, you have to drop her--now! And go apologize to Link! What were you thinking about?"

"I was thinking about her fine--"

"Hey, hey, wake up and smell the stupid! Are you going to go let Link know you're sorry or do I have to go apologize to him for knowing you? He'd kill me just for being friends with you!"

"I'm not afraid of that little freak."

"Link's a fucking ninja, man! Everybody knows that!"

"Yeah, I'm a big porn star too, did I mention that?"

"No, man, I'm not kidding! He killed like, three guys last year. He can breathe through his eyeballs. He can get through locked doors without even opening them! He can kill a guy and pull the body out of sight so fast it's like the guy vanishes!"

"I can't believe you swallow that stuff."

"You're gonna swallow one of those throwing star things if you're not careful."

"Listen, here's what I'm going to do, you know, to clarify the situation. I'm going to go up to him at lunch and say 'Hey, Link, what's up? You don't mind that I'm screwing your girlfriend, right?' Then we'll see if he kills me or not."

"John, I swear to god I'm not kidding you, just think about this for a second."

"If you think I'm afraid of some punk-ass kung fu geek with--"

"Hey, what the hell? Where're you hiding? John? Shit, John? Oh, shit. Hey, Link, if you're out there, man, I tried to--"

September 30, 2008

Among the Naked Aliens

by Luc Reid

Dear Jiji,

You totally don't understand why we had to get naked for the aliens. It's a cultural thing, like how they like teenagers but they don't like adults. Remember what happened to that fat researcher guy? That wasn't an accident!

We found out our clothes were freaking them out, because only like three or four days after we got there (I get confused, you know their days are like nineteen hours or something long) their designated talker came up to me and "Virgin male, your clothes are freaking us out." I don't mean like freaking them out they were just nervous, I mean like freaking them out, after a while they start making that whiney buzz noise in their upper mouths, and in a few hours they get worked up into a frenzy and they come swarming around and tear you apart. So Angela and Betty and Gina and I all had to take off our clothes like, right away.

About the other thing, that's not my fault! They have this thing where everyone's either "virgin male" or "father" (they don't care about the women, I guess), and the virgin males are always considered a liability, like they're not supposed to feed them much and things so that they fight among themselves, and I don't have those spines and things like they have! So when they stopped letting them deliver food from Earth and all we had left to eat was their food I was completely starving in like minutes or something. And Angela and Betty and Gina and I had been walking around naked for a while anyway, so ...

Anyway, I'm just saying don't change your VirtualBook relationship status right away just because I'm like, an interstellar diplomat and have to have sex with people to do my job. It's completely not fair.


September 25, 2008

Stone Cold

by Luc Reid

I don't know how it happened. A few minutes ago I was in my office, sipping a cup of lukewarm coffee and trying to reconcile the quarterly numbers in the new reporting system, shivering because they have the air conditioning on even though it's cold and raining outside. Then I got distracted, or maybe I was just bored and tired of what I was doing, but I decided to check on my investment portfolio, because of all the volatility lately, and I got on the Web to research something and saw a picture of a small wooden sailboat cresting a brilliant blue swell on a gorgeous sea under a brilliant sun and I thought I want to be there.

Next thing I knew, I was.

It's not that I'm in danger, that's not what bothers me. The sea isn't rough, and without understanding why I know my way around the boat, how to fix the rudder and when to reef the sail and everything, even though I've never done that before. There's dried beef and fishing tackle and raisins and casks of water and rum and dried fruit in the small cabin. The wind strokes my skin, and the sun is making my body warm down to parts that haven't been warm since August.

What bothers me is that I didn't finish those quarterly numbers. I didn't finish my coffee. I was supposed to have my little girls this weekend, and we were going to drive four hours to go to the zoo. I'd just joined a classmates thing on the Web, and I already had an e-mail from Jessica Brown, who I had a crush on in 10th grade before she moved to Alaska. She didn't say anything that made it sound like she was married. Things weren't so bad. It was just an idle wish, wanting to be here. A momentary thing.

A pod of dolphins starts to play around the boat, swimming under it and leaping into the air, shining. In the distance I can begin to make out the green smudge of shore.

Somewhere, my coffee's getting stone cold.

September 18, 2008

Consolation Prize

by Luc Reid

That the teleportation device he'd invented didn't work as expected only made him smug that he had tested it on himself, as anyone with cojones would do, so that regardless of the distorted figures streaming by him through the long tunnel of colors and sharp smells and moments of dizziness and near-memories, regardless of the feeling that he had forgotten his legs and the inability he had to focus enough to look down and see for sure, regardless of his unfed poodle Toy George who by now would be whining in the kitchen to be let out, regardless of the weeks-old, unanswered letter from his estranged brother that would now be permanently unanswered, and despite the sense that before too long he would break into particles and be sucked in by the distorted figures, the howling shapes, he could not feel entirely disappointed in the results, because after all, if he hadn't invented teleportation, nonetheless he had clearly invented something.

September 10, 2008

When the Center Falls Away, Part 2 of 2

by Luc Reid

This is the continuation of a rare Cabal two-part story, begun yesterday here.

And there Chico was, staring at some kind of lumbering, horned, monster-woman over the crumbled remains of the person whose dream he was in. Except that the dreamer couldn't just die and crumble away--

The woman lurched at Chico, her jagged fingernails stretching out at him. He tumbled backward onto the floor of the elementary school cafeteria, slipped as he scooted backwards, then turned and fled.

There was nothing to worry about, he thought, fleeing in panic. He was perfectly safe. It had to be--aha! It was his own dream. He was the dreamer … he was just dreaming he was in someone else's dream.

The monstrous woman's feet crashed down on the linoleum behind him as she pursued. Chico tried to run faster.

And if it was his dream, then now he was aware in his dream, dreaming lucidly, which meant he could do anything he wanted--just fly away, if he pleased. So he leapt into the air, looking for a door or window to fly out of…and landed, skidding on his face, on the dirty floor. He couldn't fly. Which meant it probably wasn't a lucid dream. Which meant it probably wasn't his dream. Which meant …

His flight stopped in a dead end corridor, where all the doors were locked. The woman had kept up with him. She was skinnier now, and her horns were gone, but she had huge horn-like claws and she was reaching out for him.

"Wait!" Chico said, realizing. "Wait, you don't have to do this."

She stared at him … silently … for a long time.

"Yes I do," she said finally.

"You can just walk away," Chico said. "Try walking away. Try letting go of your anger for just a minute, just put it aside for just a second and walk away."

"You'll be drawn to me and I'll have to kill you," she said. "It happens over and over and over."

"Not this time," Chico said. "This time you can change it."

She eyed him suspiciously, but she backed away. Chico felt the drag of the dream protagonist, the drag he had thought originally was coming from the boy-figure: it was coming from the woman. As she moved away, he could feel himself tugged in her direction. But however strong the pull was, he had to give in to it for it to work. He wasn't a usual dream person; he was special, a true being, an anomaly. He had some power.

The woman gained confidence as she moved further away, and her claws had begun to dwindle, the fierceness to migrate out of her face. Chico felt like he was being torn apart. The woman smiled at him.

Then the force was too much and his dream-self ripped apart, torn and scattered, ended. His last thought in the dream was that surely he would wake up now.


September 9, 2008

When the Center Falls Away, Part 1 of 2

by Luc Reid

This is a two-part piece; the conclusion will be posted tomorrow. Please feel encouraged to comment if you have feelings about this kind of thing one way or another.

Chico didn't really understand how people were inserted into dreams; it was all a bunch of neurochemistry and electroneurology and interface science and software entity engineering, and those weren't where his skills lay. But he didn't have to understand it. All he had to understand was that a rich guy was having nightmares.

No nightmares so far, though. He just sat in the dim grayness of the subject's mind, watching images spring up from the blackness, flicker, flatten, and fade.

Then he felt the gravitational pull of the dreamer's mind as the dream began: a loose and imprecisely-defined ego coalesced out of a swamp of memories and habits among dark semi-human shapes. Dream interventionists were always pulled to the dreamer's ego, because everything existed in related to it. Chico felt himself dragged down the thought vortex toward the dreamer: a generic shape, flickering with shadows, mostly in the form of a boy. Across from the boy sat a hugely fat, glowering woman with bull's horns. The boy turned and ran, but his dream dragged the woman along after him effortlessly: she was too important to whatever he was worrying about to slip away. Chico could feel the fear in the air. The setting suddenly flickered into sharp relief, a school somewhere, all linoleum hallways and painted cinder block walls with grade school art projects taped up on them. The horned woman stepped out of a classroom door ahead. Then the hallway crackled and snapped and turned into a cafeteria crowded with shouting, oblivious students. The boy stopped running, knowing (Chico could share the thought) that he couldn't leave the cafeteria during lunch without a pass. This was the time for Chico to step in: he would help the dreamer face the horned woman …

The huge woman lurched forward suddenly, scattering children who folded back into her wake. Then she reached out and and grabbed the boy's head with one meaty hand. He screamed as she jerked on his head, snapping his neck. Chico cursed. Now the dreamer would wake up and he would have to start all over.

The dreamer collapsed to the floor and began to break apart into ash. Chico felt a sudden rush of panic as he realized the dream was not ending.

The horned woman looked up at Chico and shrieked wordlessly.

August 20, 2008

He Had a Void in His Chest

by Luc Reid

He had a void in his chest. It wasn't a hole, like the kind of thing a shotgun would make. It was very dark, and it only barely had edges, and it seemed to make you bend toward it, and it made a low sound like water running over something electrical, and frightened me nearly to death.

He, the homeless man, sat stiff against a tree, his legs crabbed back and his arms splayed out and his throat exposed and quivering with wiry black hairs. A boy--he can't have been more than five or six--threw a pine cone at a passing rollerblader on the bike path, but near the path the pine cone veered as though it were being swung on a string ... veered toward the man with the void, slowed down, rolled across the ground, sped up, skittered over the dry, sandy earth, leapt into the hole, and was gone. The noise, the water running over something electrical noise, went up in pitch just a tiny bit.

I turned, and there were people wandering toward us through the park, a pair of lovers whose held hands were losing their grip, a man in an expensive suit who had forgotten his laptop case on a park bench, a pair of girls dangling Barbie dolls ... all staring at the void.

My shoes started scraping against the dirt. I was sliding toward it.

"Go away," said the man with the void. "Far as you can get."

I shuffled backward, my treacherous feet nearly sliding out from under me, moving toward the void.

"What is it? What's in there?" I said. But he shook his head, and shuddered, and suddenly he folded in on himself and the void was much larger, a gap in the ground that was beginning to swallow the tree. I ran, pushed through the people, out into the traffic that all seemed to be veering now toward the park. I ran for the river, where there were oceangoing ships. I imagined the ocean roaring in, pouring into the relentless gap, the earth collapsing in on itself like the man had done.

But I didn't understand, because when I turned to look, fearing I would see the void already engulfing the park, instead there was a light in that direction, a brilliant light that shone like a new star.

August 15, 2008

A Series of Notes Stuck on the Refrigerator of a Small Universe-Hopping Cooperative

by Luc Reid

Check the pocket universe Thur/Fri. Life yet?

Return bracelet, remember gun!!

(crossed out) Mammoth, Pachyceph., Velocir.
(circled heavily) Cynognathus

Archimedes Sat 9:15
Cromwell - lunch
Secret blood cult? Jerry, Djeri? Call again

WW bread
Rat poison
all the batteries they have


(a little cartoon of a two-headed girl pushing a button and saying "Oh yes I will!")

Suze: Went to meet w/ teleport guy. If not back by next death cycle, pls call androids. Love you! - Piker

August 13, 2008

Now Mosquitos Live There

by Luc Reid

I'd only been gone for two days and already the mosquitoes had taken over. I'd had to come back because of the rain: all the boxes I'd left out for the Box People had turned half to mush and now had to be broken down for the Pulp People instead. I strode into the boxes at dusk, unaware of the new owners at first, slashing with my knife and trampling the cardboard. The Pulp People would like that.

There were touches, pinpricks on my legs. The drenched tangle of grass, product of the recent antidrought, was alive with mosquitoes.

"When did you move in?" I shouted, sweeping at them with my hands. "I just left!"

"It looked like you were going away forever," one of the mosquitoes began, but another cut her off.

"We don't need to explain anything to him," she said.

Well, I assume it was another. You can never tell who's talking, with mosquitoes. They're all Mosquito.

I fought my way through their dodging hordes, slashing at the boxes, dancing the dance that scares the mosquitoes off for a moment at a time. People passing by on the Pirate's Road stared. One carriage of Box People slowed, looked long and longingly at the boxes, and then drove away.

"I'm killing you," I said, because I had swatted at least two dozen already.

"We're drinking your blood and using it to make babies who will drink more of your blood," said Mosquito. "It all evens out."

They continued to feed. I continued to kill and slash and trample.

When I left, there had been many, many boxes left over. I'd known from the day I moved in that that place wasn't home, so I'd saved boxes. There were boxes with the names of people I hadn't lived with for years, boxes in which things had been shipped that were now broken and discarded. It was bad enough to have to throw them away once, but now I had to come back to be reminded again of things that were gone. Yet I was growing numb.

As I finished the boxes, the bats began to swoop in, diving and spiraling and snatching the mosquitoes out of the air. I grinned as I stomped the last of the soggy cardboard.

"They're just doing the same as we are," said Mosquito. "Eating what they're made to eat. Their way just suits you better!"

I was still grinning as I stepped clear of the pulped boxes and slapped my legs, killing two last mosquitoes. It did suit me.

I left for home.

August 8, 2008

Dreams of a Thousand

by Luc Reid

Inevitably, I was getting sleepy. I stared at the alarm clock's oversized blue numbers, bleary-eyed. The numbers went in and out of focus.

"Big," I murmured. "Big."

"What?" Jean said thickly, rolling over toward me. She put her hand on my shoulder. "Did you say something, babes?"

"Shh, go to sleep," I said.

"You dreaming about Mike again?"

"I wasn't asleep," I said.

"You always dream about him, huh?"

"Don't worry about it," I told her. "I'm just trying to fall asleep."

"If my brother was dead, I'd want to dream about him," she said. "You're lucky." She was starting to wake up. Jean had a thing for long conversations at night when I was trying to get to sleep. Not that I didn't like them myself, it's just ... I was trying to get to sleep. I should just get to sleep.

"He wasn't a really nice brother, you know."

"Neither were you, babes," she said. "That doesn't mean you don't miss him."

"I'm really worn out, Jeanie. Can we talk about it tomorrow?" I yawned.

"Sure, babes," she said, and rolled back away. I lay there listening to her breathing slow down, thinking about Mike.

"Big," I whispered, too quiet for even Jean to hear. The blue digits on the clock blended into a little stream, a waterfall. I was tumbling down, down, gently, sliding into sleep ...

Then I was in the dream, looking up. A thousand Mikes towered over me, holding a thousand newspapers, his wide faces split in a thousand grins. "I guess it's my turn to be big tonight," he said.

I buzzed my tiny wings, lifting into the air and dodging away, trying to get used to the compound eyes again.

July 21, 2008


by Luc Reid

I arrived at Cumberland Head around midnight, but the ferry there runs through the night. After I queued up, a man pulled into the lane beside me, towing a motorboat on a trailer.

He smoked a cigarette while we waited, watching the illuminated bulk of the ferry loom at us out of the darkness.

Ten minutes later, safely parked on the lower deck of the Evans-Wadhams-Wolcott, I locked the car and mounted the metal steps to the upper deck, where you could see. The wind was strong and damp, but the weather was too mild to be uncomfortable, and I stood looking out as we moved into the darkness, my hair streaming back.

We moved into the night like fox into a dark wood. The only substantial light that night came from far ahead and to the right, thin towers lit in pink and yellow and orange. It was another ferry, I thought. It was a refinery. It was a fairy city. It was a UFO, hovering just above the surface of the water, everyone there watching us, seeing something familiar in the moving lights.

On the deck below I saw the man who'd brought his boat on the boat. He stood, not smoking, far forward down there in the darkness where no cars were parked. I wondered what he was letting go of.

It wasn't until the ferry began to turn that I saw what the lights really were: the ferry landing on Grand Isle, where we were headed. It's a short crossing--fifteen minutes, maybe. But I wasn't sure the darkness was done with me, or the wind. I went down onto the lower deck, moving with some urgency I would have had trouble explaining, keeping clear of the other man, watching the lights ahead of us wax as we slid over the black water. The lights grew until I thought they could swallow me, and it seemed like it was only a moment before it was time to go back to the car, my black Toyota, waiting silently on the deck.

The lights filled the air around me. The wind lifted, pushed, streamed, pulled, carried.

* * *

The cars in the back eventually had to go around the black Toyota, but Mark Dunfee, who was bringing the boat he used to think he wanted more than anything in the world to a buyer at Lake Memphremagog, stayed behind to search with the crew. The car was locked, and there was definitely no one in there. There was no one in the faux-wood paneled cabin on the upper deck, no one on the highest deck where only crew were allowed. Mark kept straining his ear to hear splashing, cries.

They had to leave the black Toyota on the Evans-Wadhams-Wolcott for three more trips back and forth until the police sent a tow truck for it. Mark waited as they took it away, not smoking, though he wanted to.

When the tow truck was gone and the ferry had left for Cumberland Head yet again, there was no excuse to stay. He climbed into his truck and drove away in the darkness, wondering.

July 14, 2008

One Bright Morning

by Luc Reid

"Say, mister, you sure are going fast in that thing."

"My God--get out of here, kid!"

"Whatcha got there, a rocket pack? You invent it?"

"No, don't touch that! Keep away!"

"Aw, you don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not a ghost or anything like that. I'm a angel!"

"I can see that."

"I wasn't always a angel, though. I was a kid once. You got kids?"

"Angels are a separate kind of beings. They're not people."

"Some of 'em. Not me, though! I died in 1938. Fell in the creek and banged my face on a rock and whaddaya know, next thing I'm a angel! Lost my two front teeth, too. See?"

"Stop getting so close! You touch the wrong knob and I'll drop a mile straight down. Can you just go home? I have to talk to God. Things aren't going right down there. I don't think this is how it's supposed to be."

The kid-angel swooped in little spirals around the man as the rocket pack blasted the man up through the blue glare and toward the golden glimmer he could already glimpse far above him.

"I don't know," the kid said. "Maybe that's not such a good idea. Cantcha talk to him from down there?"

"I tried that."

"What are ya, a preacher? Ya look like a preacher."

"I am."

"But yer an inventor, too?"

"Get away from that! Shoo! Didn't you hear me? You could kill me fiddling with that!"

"Sorry. I just never seen anything like this. I'm mighty interested! What's this do?"

When the kid-angel touched a switch, the rocket pack sputtered and died. The man screamed as he tumbled backward, down toward the clouds, his arms outstretched and a pleading expression on his face. The kid-angel fluttered in place.

When the rocket pack man was gone, the kid-angel wiped his nose on his sleeve, which had gotten runny from all the crying. Finally he looked upward and flipped his wings once, sending him shooting toward Heaven. He wouldn't be needed again for another 63 years, Saint Peter had said. He'd be able to spend the rest of the time playing and talking and swimming and singing hosannas and whatever he liked. In Heaven, even. And he could go say sorry to that man when the fella arrived in a few minutes.

But it was still a crummy job.

July 9, 2008

From An Ancient Tablet, With Successive Historical Notations (Translated)

by Luc Reid

With the last gleam of the wolf's eye[14] will fall the night[1].

[1] Robert of Tours speaks of this fragment being borne from the tomb of king Vraghur II of the Cirroghs, born in the 714th year before Our Lord, whose armor was carved into the likeness of a wolf[7], a prophecy of the fall of the Cirroghs at the proud king's passing.[2] (Jacques Etablant, 1310)

[2] Though the fragment be Cirroghic[3], no death of kings did it fortell but the death of us all, in the Plague[4] God hath wrought upon us, the weak and the strong alike. So show the French their putrid ignorance. (John of Hampdenmontfordshire, 1351)

[3] Be it Cirroghic? And who the Cirroghs, pray?[5] Though long extolled as paragons of ferocity, the learned man in modern days misdoubts that ever such men walked the earth.[6] (Albert Burlowe, 1605)

[4] Good John, were thou but mistaken of the nature of the thing, yet thou art mistaken only of the year! Thus God doth visit on us finally the last and worst plague, and we perish like (illegible) (author unknown, London, 1666)

[5] The Cirroghs were a race of bean farmers residing in the valley of Dziban, though they were not known to write with the Old Dazibanic script in which the table is inscribed. Yet they did exist! (Caleb Blackford, 1884)

[6] Oh? Then why is it that Vraghur II's breastplate recently surfaced during excavations in Dziban?[8] (Blackford, 1884)

[7] But there was no wolf on it, so we doubt this tablet to have referred to Vraghur II[9]. (Blackford, 1884)

[8] Never mind. The breastplate, it appears, was a hoax. (Blackford, 1886)

[9] An excellent conclusion, as the Cirroghs were slaughtered to the last man[10] in the reign of Vraghur I. (Wolfgang Krunt, 1928)

[10] A 1952 excavation reveals evidence of surviving Cirroghs in Albania, however.[11] (Dr. Janice Pitui, 1973)

[11] Which doesn't prove[12] it's Cirroghic. (Dr. Walter Mordartur, 1974)

[12] Nothing in science is proven[13], as the occasional buffoon may forget (Pitui, 1974)

[13] But we talked about it a lot and decided it probably wasn't Cirroghic anyway (Dr. Janice Pitui-Mordartur, 1976)

[14] A mistranslation; recently reviewed and retranslated as "With the last gleam of the sunset, will fall the night." Appears to be an ancient snippet of amateur poetry. (Andre Hampden Etablant, 2017)

July 3, 2008

The Path Out Back Behind the New House

by Luc Reid

Tired accountant
His excitable yella dog
Path behind the house
Half-collapsed garden shed
Very dark hole overhung with blackberry bushes
Dropped stone
Several seconds
Many more seconds
Thirty-eight yards of wire fencing
Enclosed yard
Safe dog

June 25, 2008

In teh Urly Dayz uv teh Intertubez

by Luc Reid

4 mi clas praject I M riting a thing laik they uze to in teh urly dayz uv teh intert00bz. In teh urly dayz uv teh intertubez evrybody rote thingz w/wrds insted uv alweyz uzing videoz and ipodz laik we do 2dey!!!1! It wuz verE hard 2 comunic8 bcuz u alwayz had 2 spel thingz teh saim wey evry time!1! & there wur no emoticonz and so u nevr new wat sumbody wuz thinkN LOL.

In teh urly dayz uv teh Intertubez evry1 red brainE clasik litterachur laik steevun king & dr soos. :o Everybudy waz a real Einstine but they wer borde bcuz tehy alwayz had 2 wurk & lern thingz but insted uv 2 munths uv skool laik we hav tehy had mayB a yr or mor!!1!!

That iz wy I M glad robotz run evrything & we no longR hav 2 stop uzing teh intertubze 2 do sum werk. :))))

by N8 Jonez

June 20, 2008

Dark Branches Against a Dark Sky

by Luc Reid

I was moving slowly because I was sick. Not sick because of the cancer, even though it was running through my body like ants exploring a doughnut box, but because of the chemo. Cancer kills; chemo just makes you wish you were dead.

Someone was following me, and I was moving too slowly.

He'd started to follow me six blocks from my house, from where he'd been lurking in the doorway of the dollar store that closed two years ago and and has been vacant ever since. Maybe he was waiting for me, or maybe he had just paused for a moment and I caught his eye as I passed, but I was sure he was following me. The streets were empty. There was no one else he could be following.

He was tall, strong, dark, with glittering eyes and a long coat the gray of old cobwebs, but I hadn't been able to make out his face. I turned the corner by the empty lot and thought about running, but my body ached at even the idea, so I ducked behind a newspaper vending box and looked back at him.

He nodded at me and walked faster. I disregarded the aches and broke into a run after all.

Three blocks from my house were the old maple trees, grown so much next to the sidewalk that their roots crinkled it into uneven steps. I was trying to be careful of the sidewalk there, but it was dusk and hard to see, and my feet were tired, so my toes caught at one of the roots, and I tumbled and sprawled at the foot of the tree. That's when something inside me broke, something deep and central, breaking not so much from the fall but from all of it: the cancer, the chemo, the running, the fear. I tried to breathe, but the air was like wet rags stuffed into my mouth.

He caught up to me and stopped to sit among the roots, looking down into my face with a melancholy smile. His face was my face. He was like a reflection of me in a dark pool. He was my death.

My death took my hand, and I began to trickle away into him, and I stopped laboring to breathe, and the deep pain lifted, and at last I was looking down into a face that stared blankly at dark branches against a dark sky.

June 12, 2008

Good news from the European National Lottery Foundation

by Luc Reid

As scams go, this one was lousy. But only one person had to fall for it for it to work.

"Hello, this is Arthur Gentry from the European National Lottery Foundation," I said when she picked up. "Is Mr. Thomas Geiger in?"

She said the usual thing.

"That's terrible. I'm so sorry for your loss," I said. Actually, I wasn't. Sometimes Geiger wasn't dead, and on those calls I just hung up. Angry dead men unnerved me.

"I'm sorry to disturb you at a time like this," I said, "But I may have some very good news for you. Did Mr. Geiger tell you about the European National Lottery Foundation ticket he purchased on July third? No? Then, perhaps you can find the ticket? I'll wait."

When she finally gave up forty minutes later, I resumed the patter. I assured her that if she could supply proper identification, she could still get her prize, after some legal costs.

"... I know," I said at the end. "I don't understand it either, but gold bullion is what the lawyers said." Wait, and ... laugh. "So, overnighted today, all right? OK, then. Yup. Buh-bye."

I hung up, then took out the pocket universe hopper and chose the next universe in the sequence, at two hours behind the one I was in. The hopper could create any time shift I wanted between two universes, but two hours was about the most I could manage without getting violently ill.

I already knew what the new universe would be like: all the others. Very little changes from one version of reality to the next. That's why I was working the same scam over and over, in universe after universe. Pretty soon I would have enough to set me up for life.

I jumped.

The jump left me with the usual harsh, queasy feeling, and I was taken by surprise when someone slapped the hopper out of my hand from behind. Then he spun me around and kneed me in the stomach. I collapsed, wheezing, as he picked up the hopper and put it in his pocket. The funny thing was, he had a bulge of the exact same shape and size in his other pocket.

He was old, maybe late sixties, but built like a side of beef. "Mr. Geiger?" I finally managed to gasp. But if he already had a hopper, that meant he was going to take the hopper he'd just gotten from me and hop back in time to give it to himself--

"I want to talk to you," he said, "about my wife." And he leaned over me like a falling piano.

June 10, 2008


by Luc Reid

(A sequel to "And Then a Curious Thing Happened")

"Your wife? But God, man," said Ruggs, "What I want to know is where you got a second head!"

"Oh, this? I don't remember where I got that," said Albert Hedeby.

The second head stirred. It was not ruddy or full-cheeked, like Albert Hedeby's first head, and it didn’t have his brick-red beard. It was thin, and parched-looking, and nearly bald, with only a few white wisps across its pate. It opened its watery, gray eyes and turned to look at the first head, which had become overcome by drowsiness. When the second head stretched its neck and looked at Ruggs, the first closed its eyes entirely and dropped, snoring, onto Hedeby's chest.

"Ah, but I remember," said the second head in a voice that was little more than a whisper.

"Dear God," said Ruggs. "You can talk."

"I could always talk," the head said. "What my esteemed colleague failed to mention--" he spoke certain bitterness, "--was that the hospital where he was nursed back to health was not, shall we say, strictly traditional. No, in fact they did a great deal of experimentation there, and at the time they were regrowing limbs."

"Impossible! And Hedeby hasn't lost any limbs!" protested Ruggs.

"You mean, he isn't missing any limbs," said the head. "He most certainly lost one, his left arm, to a surgeon's saw. You see that it is a bit larger, a bit more robust than the right? They were successful with Hedeby, even if they weren't with some of their earlier cases."

"But that's unconscionable!"

The head smiled thinly. "I rather thought so myself."

"And after they regrew the arm, they thought they'd experiment with heads, and ... ?"

"Oh, no," said the second head. "It was just that the regrowing of limbs can have certain unfortunate side effects. But then, two heads are better than one, they say."

"But if it was then that you grew, then how can you--well, for the love of heaven, you seem to be very nearly a different person than Hedeby! And in the weeks I've known Hedeby, I had always assumed you were completely insensible! Where did you come from?"

"From Edwin and Mathilda Hedeby," the head replied. "I am, of course, the original head."

The healthy head snored peacefully, and as Ruggs watched, the sickly one turned and regarded it with a kind of brotherly hate.

May 30, 2008

At Rise

by Luc Reid

You don't remember how you got to the theater, or when, but the show hasn’t started yet. You spend the time standing at the back, panning your gaze across the room, trying to make out each ornate detail: the cluster of dark-skinned cherubs over an emergency exit; the lion and ibis locked in combat on the proscenium arch; the wandering, indigo-leafed vine that you find to your surprise, begins and ends just behind where you stand, making a full circuit of the theater in between, going over, under, and behind the other images.

A woman screams from somewhere in the audience, and you turn your head in curiosity to spot her. Someone is slumped over in the seat beside her, but from here it is too dim and you can't make out details. Her husband, son, daughter, friend, lover, father, grandmother, a complete stranger? She is crying, trying to support the body out of which has gone all of the tension of life. You take a step toward her.

But then the music rises, and it is what you have been waiting to see for so long that the longing has scarred over, and the lights come up on the stage, and you have eyes for nothing but the show, and it is strange and terrifying and beautiful, and they are all there on the stage, everyone you never expected to meet.

May 21, 2008

Ma Belle, Sa Bête

by Luc Reid

When I woke the next morning, sunlight was stretching up the coverlet toward where I lay with ma belle. Only yesterday evening had she first said she loved me. Then she nearly dragged me into the bedroom, where she did a good job of proving it. In the end, it didn't matter to her that I was covered with coarse hair, that I had the face of some indescribable forest beast.

As I drowsed there, contented, I caught a glimpse of my own bare arm. My bare arm. The curse had been lifted! I was transformed! And ma belle really did love me!

"Cherie!" I whispered, "Ma belle, ma petite chou! Wake up! Look!"

She stretched and languidly opened her eyes, the tips of her eyelashes catching a ray of sunlight, her hair pooling around her face like liquid gold. Then she blinked. Then she sat up, pulling the coverlet around her.

"Who are you?" she shouted, terrified. "Ma bête! Aides-moi!"

"Ma belle, it's me!" I crowed. "Human again! Your love has broken the curse!"

She stared at me for a long time. I pushed the bedclothes away. She studied me closely, her gaze pausing here and there.

Finally she said, "You're a little short."

A miracle, and her first response is that I'm short? "You can't expect me to be the same size I was as a beast," I mumbled. "Anyway, I'm nearly as tall as you are." Because ma belle is tall; there's no getting around that. But at least I was human!

"Well, this is wonderful," she said weakly. "Now I can return to my family, I guess."

"What? No ... no! You should marry me ... come back to my kingdom ..."

She gave a sad kind of half-smile, and the thing I'd begun to fear was clearly shown in her face: her love for me was gone; all that was left was pity.

She didn't have to say a word to confirm it. I could feel my face stretching into a muzzle, the coarse hair growing out of my skin again. Her eyes opened wide, watching in amazement as I transformed. When I was done, there were tears in her eyes.

"Ma bête!" she gasped, and her eyes were filled with love again. She'd probably make me human again by lunchtime--and if I was lucky, again by midnight. I smiled a slow, feral smile ... and pounced.

May 8, 2008


by Luc Reid

It only took Henry eight lives to figure out who the people were that he needed to help. There were fourteen of them.

One was the housewife from Ontario who, given the chance to start a late life career in diplomacy, had finally brought peace to the Middle East.

One was a blind, retired marketing prodigy, who had turned zero population growth from a second-rate idealist cause into a worldwide obsession. He later said it was because he'd needed a hobby.

One was the guy who invented Sip Cars. One was the astronomer who detected the 2040 meteor in time. One made four movies about addiction and violence that turned those problems from shadowy worries into clear tasks people cared about working on. And so on.

Before those eight lives, it had taken Henry seventeen more to figure out what he should be doing with himself. Saving the world was not something that came naturally to him, and he had been trying to enjoy himself. Only after three times around from beginning to end had he begun to think that his repetitions might be something more positive than a cruel joke. The fourth life he'd gotten filthy rich, and hadn't been any happier. The fifth life he'd been very happy, but he hadn't made a difference in anyone else's life. The sixth life he'd made a difference in a few people's lives for the better, but they resented his meddling, and anyway, it was small potatoes compared to what someone like him should probably have been able to do.

Now it had been twenty-eight lives, ranging in length from 19 years (the ill-fated "experience everything" life) to 87 years (the happy life). Always an accidental or a natural death, never murder or suicide, always born in the same body, growing up nearsighted and gangly in the same neighborhood in Malvern, Pennsylvania at the same moment in history. Twenty-eight lives, and the world was beautiful. By the time Henry was 42 in his twenty-eighth life, those fourteen people had turned around the world's worst problems, from pollution and climate change to war and poverty and waste and ... well, not everything, but pretty close. It was a damned good world this time. Any more changes would just be fussing with it.

Henry put the barrel of the revolver in his mouth and hoped to God he wouldn't have to go back and do it all over again.

May 2, 2008


by Luc Reid

"Don't be Triassic," snapped the Troodon. "This is the wave of the future."

The Ankylosaurus swished his massive tail dejectedly, crushing a small tree. "I can't help it my brain's the size of a golf ball," he said.

"Well, lucky you've got me around," said the Troodon, adjusting a piston. "So long as I don't eat you." He smiled in that toothy way theropods had, which the Ankylosaurus had never liked, and examined his work. "There, lovely. Drag that fuel over, will you?"

The Ankylosaurus, glad to be doing something the Troodon couldn't, walked carefully up to and past the invention, dragging the bundle of wood the Troodon had harnessed to him right up to the maw of the machine. The Troodon plucked several pieces out and threw them in, then struck a match (invented a century before by another Troodon) and tossed it into the piles of kindling already inside. A flame leapt up, and the Anklylosaurus watched the fire grow with a kind of anxious fascination.

"It's not doing anything," he said after a while.

"Shut up," said the Troodon, and the Ankylosaurus thought he sounded worried. "It just needs to heat up enough to ... oh! Ha! Ha ha ha! Yes! Look! Yes! It works! I'm a genius! It works!"

It did seem to be working. The flames were leaping up to caress the container of water, and through some means that the Ankylosaurus couldn't understand at all, this was moving a rod back and forth, which made a wheel turn. Smoke poured out of a small smokestack, and steam squirted out elsewhere. The Ankylosaurus waited, hoping there was more to it.

"That's it?" he said, finally.

"That's it? You lump! I've invented the steam engine! Can't you see what this means?"

"I don't know," said the Ankylosaurus. "It seems to be spitting up a lot of smoke."

"Pollution, bah!" scoffed the Troodon. " The sky is infinite, the waters are infinite ... what do you think's going to happen? We'll dirty ourselves to death? Ha! Dinosaurs have reached their rightful place as masters of the planet! You just wait!"

# # #

Fifteen hundred years later ...

A massive asteroid, more than six miles across, barreled toward a planet nearly covered in black, sooty clouds, though glimpses of brownish-blue and brownish-green were visible through small gaps. When it impacted, it would raise a lot of dust over the corpses of the last dinosaurs, who had starved to death on their choked planet only a hundred years before.

April 21, 2008

Parthenia Rook, Episode 7: The Gory Candlestick

by Luc Reid

The Bonobo King paced the marble floor of his bedroom in his crimson silk pajamas, unable to sleep again.

His spider monkey lover, Flamenca, stirred in the massive canopy bed. "Come to bed, darling," she said in a sleep-heavy voice. "Whatever it is, you can destroy it in the morning."

"That's exactly it," said the Bonobo King. "I haven't been able to destroy it. It ... her ... Parthenia Rook. I've tried every approach conceivable--an android toddler, zombie photographers, an opposite gender identical twin raised to evil, unbalancing her fruit ... if it weren't for my esophogeal implants, that last miscalcuation would have cost me my life!"

"Let me take your mind off it," said Flamenca, tracing a fold in the gold-embroidered coverlet with one slender toe. "You'll come up with another evil plan tomorrow."

"But if I do, it will come to ruin," said the Bonobo King. "My evil plans are much too fiendishly clever to fail this often. Someone or something is foiling them."

"But no one's smarter than you, darling. And no one could foil your plans unless he were as clever as you are."

The Bonobo King stopped short as an ugly realization came to him. Flamenca must have noticed, for her toe froze in place, and she said in a very careful tone, "What is it?"

"No one is smarter than I am, and only someone as clever as I am could foil my own plans," he said. "Ergo, I am my own nemesis. For some reason I cannot fathom, I am sabotaging my own evil schemes."

Flamenca gasped and the Bonobo King turned and leaped onto the bed, where he crouched over her tiny form. "What?" he said. "What did you think of just then?"

A tear trickled down her furry little cheek, and she shook her head, trembling.

"What is it?" he roared.

"You're ..." she whispered, "You're in love with her, aren't you?"

The Bonobo King screeched with fury and indignation. Snatching a heavy gold candlestick from beside the bed, he struck at Flamenca with it, smashing it down on her fragile body until she was little more than a smear of bloody fur.

Bits of brain stuck to the candlestick, and the Bonobo King threw it aside in disgust as he hopped calmly off the the bed. He resumed his pacing.

"Yes," he said pensively. "You may be right."

April 14, 2008

Cinderella Runs Into Snow White After Therapy One Afternoon

by Luc Reid

To celebrate our first anniversary, each of us here at the Cabal has come up with a story beginning with a line kindly provided to us by the illustrious Jay Lake. Click the link at the bottom of the page to see how Alex, Dan, David, Edd, and Kat have handled the challenge, and tune in tomorrow to see what Rudi Dornemann comes up with...

Zoli liked to hang around psychiatrists' waiting rooms to hit on the low self-esteem chicks. It had been a slow afternoon, but he heard Dr. Rumplestiltskin's door open and readied an unsettling comment for the next one--a looker he'd just glimpsed on her way in, some kind of divorced royal.

"Man, up until now it was all pretty girls coming out of these appointments," said Zoli. Cinderella, roiling with thoughts about Charming and his perfect little dwarfess girlfriend, kicked Zoli solidly in the nuts. Zoli keeled over with a squeaking noise.

"Get some therapy of your own already," Cinderella said as she pushed open the door to the street.

The kick hadn't improved her mood; actually, she felt guilty. In her head, she hadn't been kicking Zoli: she'd been kicking Charming. She was inexpressibly angry at him, and yet she couldn't even kick him vicariously in the nuts and get any satisfaction out of it. What was wrong with her?

"Ella! Hey, girl!" someone shouted, and Cinderella looked up to spot Snow White hiking up her skirts and hustling toward her. There were at least 50 yards of empty cobblestone on every side; escape was not an option.

Catching up, Snow White linked arms with Cinderella and bent over to whisper in her ear. "Come to the farmer's market with me. There are a pair appleseller brothers there who'll take your breath away."

"You've got a perfectly good prince at home. Why are you ogling applesellers?" protested Cinderella.

"What, I'm supposed to close my eyes every time I buy an apple?" Snow White said, grinning. "So why do you look so down, anyway? Still moping about Charming? I don't know what you have to mope about, having that woodcutter all to yourself."

"I know," Cinderella said. "Hansel's wonderful. His family is wonderful."

"Well, you weren't satisfied with charming, and now you're not satisfied with wonderful. What do you want, abusive?"

"I guess perfect men don't make me happy," said Cinderella. "They should, though, shouldn't they?"

"Maybe you're one of those people who has to do something."

"I don't do things," said Cinderella. "I'm a princess, for God's sake."

"I'm just saying, maybe you have a greater purpose."

"Like what? What purpose could there possibly be for an aging beauty whose only skills are housework and animal relations?"

"Well, I guess that's the question," Snow White dropped her voice to a whisper. "This is the apple cart! Act nonchalant."

And as Snow White reached for an apple, Cinderella began to think that maybe she'd been angry about the wrong things.

April 4, 2008


by Luc Reid

Talking seagull seeks mate. Not sure if I'm M or F, because sexing birds is tricky. I like long walks on the beach screaming at a companion, beautiful sunsets over garbage dumps, playing french fry tug-of-war, and freaking out the tourists by shouting warnings to them when they're not looking (then pretending I can't talk). No sandpipers, please.

* * *

SWF, 218 years old (but looks 190!), seeks SM, 210-300. I drank a secret elixir in 1814--maybe you did too? Seeking love, companionship, and someone who can really challenge me in the history and entertainment categories in Trivial Pursuit. Remember the Victorian era? Well, we're not in it any more: get ready for red-hot duocentenarian love!

* * *

SJM, 23, 6'7", seeks SF 4'10" or shorter, because it would look so funny, and people love to see things like that.

* * *

I SPY: February 11th, at 10:15 in the morning, on the bus route to Queens. You were the dark shadow of a cloud that fell over the street, plunging everything into a gloom for just the space of a breath. I was the iridescence of gasoline in a mud puddle, waiting to get splashed. I glimmered in you for a moment. Did you feel it too?

March 17, 2008


by Luc Reid

You know that you are related to the Trians who own you, though your body is much smaller and your three legs longer in proportion. But you are a Secret-Runner, and your kind, as far as you know, is always property.

You are on a strange planet, you're told: Earth, the human planet, but you never see anything except Secret-Runner nests and the long, narrow, smooth tunnels bored beneath the ground from one Trian habitat to another. The tunnels are narrow ovals in cross-section, tilted to one side, a perfect shape for you as long as you are moving at top speed, your three legs out like spokes, spinning from one foot to the next, moving so rapidly that the world is a blur. But if you are tired, or simply want to stop for a moment to remember who you are, then the tunnel is cramped and uncomfortable: you can't stand on all three legs, you're forced to lean, and you feel you can hardly breathe. Better to keep moving and not think.

Because you can see nothing when you spin, you're taken by surprise today when the walls of the tunnel are no longer there, when you're tumbling helplessly through space. You crash into a wall of dirt and rocks, and pebbles rain down on you.

"Got it!" says a human, the first one you have heard with your own membranes, and you try to look up, but the light is blinding and painful. You're thrown into a cage, and the cage is covered.

You know why they've broken into a tunnel and taken you, because you have only one purpose. The long, complicated message-secret you were given this morning, which one of your Trian owners throbbed to you over nearly an hour--that's what they want. They must know that you have been conditioned, brought up, even bred for secrecy, so they must think they have some power that will break your conditioning. You are frightened to imagine what it might be.

The cover slips, and you see it is now less bright outside. Thousands and thousands of pinpricks of light gleam far above you in a soft, black sky. You have never seen anything farther off than a few dozen meters. Now you are seeing what you know must be stars, they are light years away.

Do you wish you had never been captured, now?

March 7, 2008

Old Bear

by Luc Reid

Mars wandered through his dead mother's house, using a data gun to tag items for storage, the estate sale, gifts. His dead parents' things seemed to glare at him, and wished he could run out the door and not come back, have some kind of service do the work, but he knew he'd regret it if he didn't make some kind of goodbye. He retreated to his old room, a sanctuary. He'd tag there for now. It should be easier.

His room had filled with twenty years with junk: his parents' old holorecordings, unused craft supplies, spare curtains. The only clear surface was the toybox, which his mother had used as a bench for her sewing station. Mars relaxed, opened it, and began to sort through the items. The dusty pathos of the long-abandoned toys was easy to ignore compared to the echoes of his mother in the other rooms.

Near the bottom of the box was a stuffed bear, still plugged in: Boxer, his old teddy bAIr from before he went away to boarding school. His father'd had to run an extension cord through a hole into the toybox, because if Boxer was left out as he charged, Mars would stay up late into the night to talk to him. Boxer had been Mars' best friend for years, but he hadn't been allowed to bring him to boarding school, and when Mars finally began to make real friends, human friends, he'd forgotten.

"Please put me down!" said the bear. "I belong to Mars."

Mars dropped the bear as if it were leaking acid.

"Boxer?" he said. "Boxer, have you been turned on in there this ... the whole ... ?"

"I'm waiting for Mars," Boxer said. "He left me in the box. I thought up a lot of things to do with him when he gets back."

"It's me," Mars said hoarsely. "Boxer, it's me. It's Mars."

Boxer brushed the dust from his glassy black eyes with one paw and stared. Finally, he shook his head.

"No," he said. "Mars is a little boy, and you're old. Grown-ups don't need bears for friends."

Mars dropped to the floor, clutching Boxer, and hot tears spilled down his face. He sobbed chokingly and clutched the squirming bear, embarrassed and miserable.

"Oh ... maybe grown-ups do need bears," Boxer said in a hushed voice. "You can keep me until Mars comes home, if you want to. You don't have to be sad."

Mars nodded and dragged his sleeve over his face.

"OK," he said. "Maybe just until Mars comes home."

February 29, 2008

Leap Day

by Luc Reid

We had to get, like, I don't know, a million fucking klicks out past Jupiter's orbit for Leap. We didn't get to see anything the whole way, and it took, God, like a month and a half. Rinnie and me were going batshit by then, practically, because while it was a huge-ass ship, we were stowaways, and there were only like three places we could hide: hydroponics, cargo 2, and the morgue.

But after the Leap, we figured they'd have to just let us join the colony. Because what else were they going to do, shoot us out into space? Call our moms and and have them come get us in another fucking solar system?

It wasn't like Rinnie and me wanted to go into space so much as that I got Rinnie pregnant and we figured we should run away because her dad would fucking kill me when he found out. Not like, he'd be really pissed or something, but actually kill me, like with his hunting knife or just beat me down with a tire iron or something. And Rinnie wouldn't abort the baby, because she said that would be murder, and seriously, I had dreams sometimes that we aborted the baby and it came back and was this little fucking zombie child with its head all wrong. I was way, way more cool with stowing away on the Leap Ship than killing that baby.

"Hey, I think they're doing it," Rinnie said.

"Shut up. You don't know," I told her. "How do you know?"

"I feel something, like in my uterus."

"That's the baby, stupid," I said, but then I knew I was wrong, because I started feeling it in my uterus. Or, I don't know, my liver or something. It was like there was a little tiny drain in there, trying to suck me through. It felt like hell.

"I think I'm going to hurl," I said.

"Wait--" said Rinnie, and then suddenly the whole universe burst into stars and pieces, and there wasn't me or Rinnie any more, but we were both just tangled together like one person, tangled together with the baby, and the stars flew through us, and we stretched until time stopped and feeling stopped and we were the whole universe, Rinnie and the baby and me.

February 26, 2008

In a Lucid Moment

by Luc Reid

"Is plastic all right?" said the gangly high school girl at the end of the checkout conveyor, and all at once Derek realized that plastic was not all right, that plastic was one of the pieces of the suicidal petroleum dependency the humans had developed, and that he himself was in fact not human, that one of the things he was on Earth to do, having drawn his consciousness down into a fully human body from hundreds of light years away in order to warn and inform humanity, was to wean humans from their fossil fuel dependencies and usher them--propel them, really--into a more harmonious and energy-rich future.

His race were adept at these occupations of other life forms, but in some cases it was difficult to keep his own mind going instead of the occupied creature's mind, and in the human he had found himself drowned in sensation and emotion the moment he'd occupied. He was only surfacing enough to be lucid every few years. This could be disasterous, because between impending ecological disaster and the Nithing fleet ranging ever closer to Earth, the end of things was rushing toward the humans much more quickly than they realized. If they didn't have his help--

"Sir? Is plastic OK?'" said the girl, and Derek jerked back to himself from wherever he'd been woolgathering.

"Sorry," he said, smiling. "Long day."

The girl's hands hovered over the groceries. Derek's tub of peppermint ice cream was rolling in place, held there by the bag of potatoes. "So, the plastic?" said the girl.

"Oh--fine," Derek said. The girl began sorting the items into the bags with a sort of reckless competence. Derek reflected again that he ought to get those environmentally-friendly, reusable grocery bags, so as not to keep using up plastic unnecessarily. But it was OK. There was plenty of time for that.

February 8, 2008

Of the Third Sex, in a Park

by Luc Reid

You are a bearer, of the third sex, contributing no genetic material to the children you've carried. You live in a town that is mostly humans, hardly any of your People. Your last marriage ended when your husband was killed in a road accident, and your wife withdrew into herself and became a Silent, speaking to no one, looking at no one. All you have left of your husband is a poem he made for you out of braided fiber one long winter night. It isn't a very good poem, but it's wildly sexual, and you have always loved it.

Your four children are all gendered and don't like to spend time with you, because they think you can't possibly understand their lives. Three of them have adopted human ways, and the other is studying to be a god-caller, climbing to the tower in the ugly, human-built temple on the edge of town every morning to bellow to the heavens and bring luck, rain, money, healing, peace, victory, love.

Your skin isn't as green as it used to be; it's taken on a grayish tinge. Your fingers used to be very nimble, and you learned a little bit how to play the human instrument called the piano, although you needed to play with little pieces of felt stuck to the keys so they wouldn't hurt your fingers.

You are in love with a human, and you don't know what gender it is.

The human you are in love with sits on a bench in the park in a bulky coat with a herringbone pattern, cooing to the pigeons. Sometimes the human brings bread and tears off tiny pieces to throw to the birds, but usually not. It is a very old human, with a face as wrinkled as a male's retracted crest, and skin thin, almost translucent. Its face is transformed every morning with a beatific smile when you come down the path in the park, but it never speaks.

Today when the human smiles, you smile back, although your face was not made for that human expression. Without speaking, you sit on the bench with the human. Today it has brought bread, and it tears it in half and hands the larger half to you. For a time, you both feed the pigeons, who are greedy and ungrateful.

"What's that around your neck?" the human says, pointing to the poem. You bend forward to let the human look. You can tell from her voice now: she is a woman. And now that she is an old woman, she's a bearer, too.

January 25, 2008


by Luc Reid

It was a big glass thing on Richie's barber table what give me the idear. It was full a blue stuff like blueberry Kool-Aid an combs an stuff. I say, "Richie, what's that bar-bi-cide" an Richie says "That's a kinda special soap for my combs so they don't get the lice."

I says "Somebody comes in for a eight dollar haircut they shoulden get some other fella's lice," an Richie says "Nope, the lice cost extra!"

I like Richie. He cuts my hair ever second Thursday a the month. One time it was Easter an he dint but mostly he always does.

"You know," says Richie "There's regicide, that's killin a king, an there's genocide, that's killin a bunch a people with the same religion--"

An I says "There's homocide that's killin a homo" cause I knowed that.

An Richie says, he says, "So I figure barbicide must be killin a barber!" an then laughs. Richie's real ugly, his face is like you crumpled it an left something greasy on it but his hair is cut real good. His wife cuts it. He cuts everybody's hair but his wife cuts his hair. Anyways he laughs real good.

He dint know I know about murder. One time this guy told me about murder an I remembered it hard as I could. He says you need the motive, that's why you kill him, an method, that's the way you do it, an opportunity, that's when you get your chances.

Richie hands me the scissors an he turns an gets the razor like he always does an I had those means an that opportunity cause he always does that every second Thursday when he cuts my hair. I just needed a motive so I thunk an thunk but I couldn't think a one.

I tried to think a one fore that next second Thursday but I couldn't so when I was gettin my next haircut I says to Richie I says real joking about the opportunity an those means an I says I just need a motive an Richie says that's easy an I said I couldn't think a one an he says that's easy an I said what.

He turns to give me the scissors like he always does but then he give em the wrong way, he sticks em right in me an Richie says, he says


January 22, 2008

Delayed Appearance of the Monkey God

by Luc Reid

Here was how it was supposed to happen: every forty-nine years, we march down the Sacred Avenue from the temple to the Grove of the Holy Fools, then to the cliffs over the ocean, and we're supposed to walk on across the sky and into Paradise. But instead, the Monkey God sends a stampede of water buffalo across our path and we have to turn back. Then we go to our homes and eat the New Year's feast, and we have music, and all the unmarried girls dance the coin dance, and everyone has a wonderful time.

This year there was more mischief to be done than usual, and the monkey god was busy. The Americans were visiting, and the monkey god had to teach them humility. The university had started courses on atheist philosophy, and the monkey god had to teach them that even seemingly well-built university classrooms can be overrun with army ants sometimes. And there were all the perfect kisses to interrupt and haughty civil servants to bring low and all of the many things the monkey god normally does, and I suppose he just got busy and didn't notice the time. When he arrived, he was more than three hours late, and the only one left in the city was me, because I was too sick to be moved farther than the roof garden.

The Monkey God found me on the roof garden and stared at me as he wandered through, irritably eating flowers. Finally he spoke, which he doesn't like to do.

"And?" he said.

"You're too late," I said. "They went over the cliff."

"And what happened?"

"I couldn't see from here. You'll have to go look for yourself."

He said he didn't want to. Then his eyes went wide and he pointed past me to the Grand Square. "There they are!"

I looked, but nobody was there. There was a lurch, and I fell to the ground. When I looked back, the Monkey God was gone, and so was my bed.

I hope some of them decided not to try the cliff. It will be getting cold in a couple of hours.

January 7, 2008

Behind the Girl's School in the Piazza Pescivendoli

by Luc Reid

Plinio had fallen in love with a statue, and it wasn't even a pretty one. She, the statue, stood in what had been part of a small piazza but was now a funny, abrupt little alley where a warehouse and the back of a girl's school touched roofs. She was in corner between the two buildings, where for hours after every rain, water drizzled onto her upraised forehead.

She was no historical figure, just an anonymous seller in the fish market, holding eels in one hand and looking up with an expression of wonder as though the sun had just come out after a storm. She was not a young woman, although she still looked young enough to bear children.

Plinio taught Latin at the girl's school to girls who didn't like Latin and weren't good at it, and he had been driven nearly crazy seeing the statue at the end of the alley every morning and evening, often with old rainwater drizzling onto her face. So he had gotten in the habit of going to her before going home and standing there beside her for a while. It was peaceful to watch the shadows climb the rough gray walls of the warehouse, to listen to the distance-garbled laughter of the girls, sometimes to feel a gentle evening rain gradually weigh down his clothes.

The girl's school closed during the war, but after a few decades it was thought a good idea to start it up again. The new school did not teach Latin, but did teach sex education, which the girls didn't like any better.

Sometimes, when they were let out to play in the afternoons, a group of the girls would gather to sit and talk and chew gum by the statues in the little alley behind the school. The statues always made them think of romance, and boys, and how far apart those two things were. It wasn't that the figures were beautiful, or that they were kissing or anything. It was just that the skinny gentleman was holding his book out over the eel woman's head so that when it rained and water dripped down from the roofs, she was kept dry. And she, for her part, looked up at him with an expression of wonder.

One of the girls, Antonia, said she thought she was falling in love with him. The other girls laughed with embarrassment and delight.

January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, Said the Rooster

by Luc Reid

The rooster took it philosophically. "I've always thought I had a spiritual calling," he joked to the ducks.

The mallard drake, a half-wild resident of the dome wall wetland, didn't think this was funny. "Why do you choose death when there is swimming and flying? Run away!"

The rooster cleared his throat with a delicate "ur-uhrt!" and the mallard was embarrassed to recollect that the rooster could neither swim nor fly. "Anyway," said the duck, "they won't kill you when they realize you're a Speaking Animal."

The rooster jerked his head back in that way chickens have when they want to be contrary. "If chopping off the head of a dumb rooster will bring luck to the farm, then chopping off the head of a Speaking Rooster should be much more luck. So I won't tell them."

The farm had been running a little short of luck. It was a serene and verdant little farm, five square kilometers under a bubble on an asteroid that drifted through the Jupiter Rim Mining Territories. Lately the miners had been doing badly, and the farm had been doing worse. No one had been able to afford eggs in almost four months. The bubble had grown a crack that crept further every week, and if they didn't get the funds to fly in engineers soon, it might break open entirely, leaving Farmer Hwang-Bernstein and his family to cower in their survival shelter and hope for an evacuation mission while the livestock drifted away into space, bug-eyed and frozen.

So the rooster said nothing when 8-year-old Verita Hwang-Bernstein strode out and grabbed him by his taloned feet.

"You're making a mistake!" the mallard quacked as she walked away, but Verita never talked to ducks, and the rooster didn't know whether the mallard meant him or the girl.

Dangling upside down, the stars wheeling above him, the rooster began to feel unsure, and his marble-sized heart beat double time. When Verita laid him out on the old stump and the rooster glimpsed the farmer striding out with the axe, he began crowing and screeching and jerking around for all he was worth.

There was a kind of thwack. All his fears, suddenly, left him.

When his feet touched the ground he ran, heedless, unthinking, unburdened. He couldn't see, nor hear, and he wasn't even sure the ground was beneath his feet. "Ah," the rooster thought. "So this is freedom."

He might, he thought, be running in circles on the stars themselves.

December 17, 2007

Lunch in Mongolia

by Luc Reid

I didn't think about it until weeks later, when Meg was doing the bills. Even then I didn't think about it until she walked in the living room, where I was flipping through an automatic car brochure with the dog sleeping on my feet. She trailed a little hologram of a credit card bill behind her as she came, and she'd put a red orbiter around the offending item. Trouble.

"Honey," Meg said. Our real endearments were "baby" and "whiskey" (long story). "Honey" was a pretend endearment, like a mother using a kid's middle name. "Honey" meant "you are screwed."

So ... "Honey," she said. "Did you go to Mongolia?"

"Oh," I said. "Didn't I tell you about that, whiskey?" Weak, but what else did I have? "It was just for lunch."

She frowned such a tight frown that her lips went pale. She looked madder than I’d ever seen her. Madder than when I got drunk on our first anniversary.

"You asshole!" she finally shrieked.

"Oh come on, baby," I said. "Everybody teleports these days. I'm sick of being stuck in a backwater while everybody else goes wherever they want, whenever they want."

"What do you think teleportation is? What do you think it is?" she said. Her voice was so loud it hurt my ears. "It's not you at the other end. It's a copy of you. The real you gets destroyed. The real man I married is dead! Who the hell are you?"

"You don't have to make a big deal out of it, whiskey--"

"Don't call me that!"

At that moment the front door opened, and we both froze. The door was on auto-lock, and it only opened for me and Meg and her parents and maybe the police or something. A figure emerged from it, a figure with recent burn scars and most of his hair singed off, wearing a hospital giveaway suit. A figure that looked like ... me.

"Baby!" she cried out, in a strangled voice. "What happened?" And she ran to him and threw her arms around him.

He shook his head, wincing at the pressure of her hug on his injuries. "Malfunction," he said in a raspy voice. "It didn't clear the original."

"I hate you!" she screamed, and she began hitting him on the chest, but she was crying, and he gathered her into his arms, and she stopped. All of a sudden I felt like a third chopstick.

The dog woke up and started barking at me.

December 12, 2007

On the Talking Horse Circuit

by Luc Reid

A man and a horse plodded down a road beside the Hudson River. The man was not riding the horse--it was much too valuable--but then, he liked to walk. He had only one arm, having lost the other at Gettysburg, and his sleeve on the right side was neatly folded and pinned.

"People think I'm thome kind of clown," lisped the horse.

The man shook his head. "People come from miles around to see you! It's just the lisp," he said. "I've been working on a spell--"

"No more thpellth!" said the horse. "I'm enough of a freak ath it ith."

The man laughed, patting the horse's neck affectionately. "You're--aagh!" His foot had hit a stone, and he tumbled forward. He reached out with his single arm to stop himself, but it buckled under him, and he smacked his head on a boulder at the side of the road, bouncing off it to sprawl brokenly in the dust. A thick stream of blood began to pool around his head.

"Thamuel?" the horse said in alarm. "Thamuel! Thay thomething! Oh, Chritht!"

He galloped down the road toward the next village, taking a minute or two to remember that they'd passed one only a quarter of an hour before. Swearing, the horse turned and galloped back in the direction it had come. When it came to where Samuel had fallen, a man was standing there with a sack on his back, prodding Samuel with a toe.

"Stone dead," said the man. He dropped his sack in the grass by the road, and a few apples rolled out as he turned toward the horse. "And what's this here?" he said. "A fine beast like you, and no one to claim you?" He looked all around him, smiled with narrow eyes, and grabbed the horse's bridle.

"You're a fancy one, aren't you?" the man said. "Braided mane and all. Well, things are going to change for you now, I'll tell you that. I've been needing a new draft horse. Fancy or not, you'll pull."

Avoiding the sight of Samuel, the horse looked away and fixed on the apples. The man picked up his sack and put the apples back in, except for one, which he held close to him.

"Say please," he said, and he waited for a moment, as though listening for the "please." Then he laughed, put the apple back in the sack, and began leading the horse back toward the village.

The horse didn't say a word.

December 7, 2007

And Then a Curious Thing Happened

by Luc Reid

"It all began, you see, when my friend Robert Cloaksworth came to me and said that he had discovered ancient writings about the Door of Chum-Tuun, a fabulous Mayan site, lost for hundreds of years, that was reputed to be a portal to the underworld. Well, we set off to the Yucatan to investigate, and after about six weeks of hacking our way through the jungle with machetes--that's how I developed such strong arms, you see, powerful as anything--we actually found it."

"My god! And that's when--?"

"Oh, no, no. Turned out to be nothing but a legend. We went back to England in a bit of state, really. Cloaksworth had claimed to fall ill at the last moment--all a ruse, you see, for my embarassment. Terrible fellow, Cloaksworth. Never liked him since. But I ought to be grateful, because my disgrace in England sent me travelling to Morocco, where I found a tarnished old oil lamp that I thought I might use as a kind of ornament back home. I took a cloth to it and began to clean it really very energetically, and it was only when a sort of mist began to come out of it that I remembered my Thousand and One Nights ..."

"You don't mean it was a djinni?"

"Well, of course it wasn't, really. Actually it was a kind of mold inside there that threw out the most incredibly noxious spores. I was so overcome by them that I stumbled out behind the house into the desert and fell there, quite helpless. And just then I looked up and saw a sort of lighted disk descending from the sky, just floating there as easily as though it had no more to do with gravity than you do with a pufferfish, and a sort of door opened in the bottom, and sent down a beam of light that pulled me up--"

"Into a spaceship? They were some kind of aliens?"

"What? Oh, heavens no: it was a hallucination, you see. The spores. Actually, they were really quite poisonous, and I nearly died, but at the hospital there I was cared for by Marguerite here, and that, of course, is how I met my wife."

"Your wife? But God, man, what I want to know is where you got a second head!"

"Oh, this? I don't remember where I got that."

November 22, 2007

Grandma Britnee on Extraterrestrials

by Luc Reid

Well of course in my day there were no aliens, and if you started saying you'd seen one people would think you were crazy, but now there are all these Slugs and Thanatites and those blue monkey ones, and sometimes when I walk down the street to the drug store I half think I'm on another planet!

Some people don't like the Slugs--you know, "Type 3 Barnardins" I think they call them? That's because of the tentacles and the slimy trails and all that, but one of them goes to my church, and he sits right in back where he won't bother anyone and he makes the best crumb cake I've ever tasted since my mother died, because there was a very good one at her wake. And some of them don't like being called "Slugs," but that's what I call him and he never says anything about it, which is all he should do. I mean, that's what they are.

But I do not like the Stalking Mantises. Their little husbands are all right, but the you know how big some of the females get, three and four meters sometimes! Well, the other day I was on the way back from laser bingo with Taylor-Anne when one of them stepped right on my walker and bent the leg of it!

"Watch where you're going," she said, in that crackly voice they have, and well, that just got me started. I took out my purse and started hitting her, and then the next thing you know we were rolling on the ground and having at it, just like during the bandwidth riots of '09.

Oh, don't look at me that way! How was I supposed to know she was their sacred whatever? Don't blame the interstellar war on me. Besides, what's one city more or less? I never did like Cleveland anyway.

November 19, 2007

Cinderella and Prince Charming Have a Post-Divorce Meeting to Discuss Some Financial Matters

by Luc Reid

"A dwarf, Charming!" Cinderella said. "Seriously, a dwarf. Why? Is this some kind of bizarre plea for attention?"

"Cindy, I thought you of all people would understand. We're in love. What other justification do we need?

"If you remember, we were in love once," Cinderella said. "And look how that turned out." She had planned not to drink anything, to keep the meeting as short and businesslike as possible, but now she poured herself some sangria out of the carafe after all and drank a long swallow from it, not looking at Charming the whole time.

"Well," said Charming, and with the warmth he put into that one word it was as though he had said Well, and even though it didn't last forever, our love was amazing while it lasted, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. To give the devil his due, he could be very charming.

"I admit," Charming said, "I wouldn't have looked for a dwarfess if I hadn't literally stumbled on Gloina. But she's so constant, and she practically glows with happiness the whole time we're together ... and the sex! My God, the things that little woman can do! Have you ever been with a dwarf?"

"I think you're confusing me with that whore Snow White."

"Not that again. Why do people keep repeating that rumor?"

"Oh come on, you're a man. You should get it."

Charming pushed his glass aside and leaned toward Cinderella across the glass surface of the table. "We don't have to argue. We're not married any more! What about you? I heard you're seeing someone. Tell me about him."

"What, Hansel?" He's a woodcutter, she could have told him. He lives in the forest in a small cottage with his sister, Gretl, and her husband and three happy but really filthy children.

Charming was looking at her, waiting.

"He's in forest products," she said finally.


"Nearly," she said. And then she didn't say: And he smells like ginger and cloves, and sometimes when I'm with him I forget who I am. Last week I cleaned his house from top to bottom, and the forest creatures actually turned out to help me.

"All right," said Charming, as though she had asked him for something.

And as they turned to the papers they had to go over, Cinderella found herself wondering if she could cast off the princess she'd become like the old skin of an insect, and if so, what might climb out into the sunlight.

November 15, 2007

Make You Happy

by Luc Reid

Lisa was pacing the rug, but the djinn was lounging at ease on the couch. Lisa stopped on top of an old coffee stain and sucked in a deep, calming breath of cabbagey apartment air. "OK," she said. "I thought about it all night, and here it is: my wish is that I want to be the richest person in the world."

"The richest person in the world?" said the Djinn dubiously. "That's your one wish? That's going to make you happy?"

Lisa was expecting the djinn to try to confuse her, and she stared him down. "It's none of your business whether it makes me happy," she said. "Just do it."

And the djinn did it. And suddenly Lisa was Bill Gates.

Lisa-Bill sat in his office, suddenly much smarter and much, much richer than Lisa had been, and immediately realized her mistake.

The office was simple, not what Lisa would have gotten for herself at all: a large, three-sided desk with a row of flat screen monitors, family pictures, blond furniture. And the Bill Gates body, while trim and well-groomed, felt as wrong on her as somebody else's dirty underwear.

Finding Lisa's awkward computer skills translated into Bill's elegant technological genius, Lisa-Bill pulled up a subscription Web site and with a 90-wpm rattle of the keyboard, searched for his former self. She didn't exist.

Lisa-Bill cried for fifteen minutes. Then he dried his eyes and sat back to think of where he could find another djinn.

November 6, 2007

When I Said I Wanted to Be Immortal

by Luc Reid

When I said I wanted to be immortal, I wasn't going into it blindly. I realized that immortality would mean loneliness, would mean that I would make friends and find lovers and that they would wither and sicken and die after a handful of decades, that I would be in a way no longer human. To some this would be hell, but for someone like me, who prefers to take his company in sips rather than bottlesful, who would rather sit alone in a sunlit room with scientific puzzle or thinking through an elusive bit of philosophy, it is no pit, but a garden.

I have always loved seeing what happens next. What happens next is a story that never ends: First the Egyptians built the pyramids. And then the Greeks founded great cities. And then the Chinese invented paper. And then the Romans created an empire ... all before my time. And then cathedrals rose. And then the Aztecs fell. And then America grew strong, and then the World Wars came, and then computers spread throughout the world, and then, and then, and then.

And then space tourism. I had to try that, when it came, and that is why I am floating in the void in a light and comfortable suit that keeps my incorruptible body at ease with the temperatures and substances and pressures to which it is accustomed.

And then I became detached. Just a frayed tether that should have been thrown away, a spacewalk guide too bored to keep counting up tourists to make sure there were still 28, a radio malfunction. What are the chances that all three things would happen at once? It might happen once in a thousand years.

I'm nine hundred and forty years old.

And now ... now I think that immortality might be too lonely after all, and too uncomfortable, as I drift out past the orbits of planets no human has yet explored, as I fall up, always, toward the center of the galaxy. My oxygen gave out hours ago, and I have had to force myself to stop breathing to avoid sucking on the rank vapor that is left now that the good air is gone. And then how long until the power runs out and I harden into near-absolute cold? And then how long until the suit wears away from micrometeorites pelting me as I drift and tumble through space? But my body will never wear away, always magically reconstructing itself, always the same.

And then ... ?

November 2, 2007

Clever Ways to Make Do

by Luc Reid

He had finally given up on trying to fashion tubes for the water, and instead had made a long aquaduct of split saplings with their centers stripped out. It lost much of the water that went down it, but when after nearly three weeks of rigging it up, he stepped into the woven branch enclosure he had made and pulled the vine, water poured down on him, and for the first time in eight years he had a shower. The cool water splashing down on him through the tropical heat that seemed to be the island's only season made his skin practically sing, it was so refreshing.

The last three months had been a nightmare from which he was slowly emerging. Before the Interruption, he had been resigned to living on the island--had even liked living on the island. Since then, though, he had been having bad dreams, and he couldn't relax in his hammock or really enjoy surfing on his bamboo surfboard. Nothing felt right. Now things were starting to fall back in place.

He gathered crabs for dinner and simmered them in coconut milk. The sun was throwing the sky into a riot of reds and purples, and he decided to eat at the little stone table he had set up on the western side of the island.

He had barely sat down when he saw something not far out from shore, black against the setting sun, a head rising out of the waves. It was followed by shoulders, and a chest and arms. He left his dinner on the table and ran.

"Please!" The shadowy thing shouted to him. The voice was almost human, but he could hear the electronic hum at the base of it, just like with the robots that had come before.

"Go away!" he shrieked.

"We can take you off this island. We can bring you a boat, a plane, please--"

"Go away!" He turned and ran into the jungle.

"But you're the only one left!" the robot wailed, and he wished it would shut up. He hated robots, the robots who were immune to the plagues, the robots who were desperate for someone to tell them what to do.

Among the trees in the thickening darkness, he ran into something hard at the height of his head. It cracked, and he slipped and fell to the ground with it. Standing and squinting into the darkness, he could just make out a section of his little aquaduct.

That would take time to fix, he thought. He should take the whole structure and make it higher, so that it was above his head wherever he went.

It would take at least a week.

October 24, 2007

Jakob Black-Thumb

by Luc Reid

A demon of pestilence and a demon of fear emerged from the rough road through the forest into the sleeping village. The demon of pestilence was called Jakob Black-Thumb, and the demon of fear preferred not to have a name.

"Why do you always go first?" rumbled Jakob. "Your thing isn't even real."

The demon of fear turned a cold glare on Jakob, and Jakob felt a familiar chill trickle down from the base of his horns to the tips of his talons.

"Well, I'm ... I'm going over here now," said Jakob, and he headed for a large house fronted with neat flowerboxes full of pink and blue pansies. He began looking for a rat to infect. Minutes later, he was interrupted by a scream.

Near where the fear demon lurked in the shadow of a doorway, a fire had broken out, and two men were struggling in the street, scrabbling for each other's throats. That demon of fear was a fast worker.

The screamer was a young man, or a nearly-grown boy, and he was running through the hard-packed dust of the village street, straight toward the demon of fear. The boy had one of those monocles in his eye, the ones men made sometimes by imprisoning an executed murderer's fleeing soul, and through this he apparently could see the demon of fear. What made no sense was why he was running toward it instead of away from it.

The demon of fear drew itself up and roared, its mouth distending into a slobbering, iron-toothed muzzle, its skin rippling with flames and unidentifiable, writhing masses. Jakob flinched involuntarily, and the boy screamed again, but he flung himself at the demon of fear and ... hugged it.

Jakob would have liked to think it was a tackle or some kind of wrestling, but the boy wasn't squeezing the demon hard, and he wasn't trying to force it down: he simply wrapped his arms around it and hugged. Jakob's gorge rose.

The demon of fear, defenseless against the hug, howled desperately as it broke into pieces, falling to the ground like chunks of a burned, rotten tree.

The boy wasn't screaming any more: now he was breathing hard and gritting his teeth. His chest and arms were badly burned, but he still had the monocle and he had a fervent gleam in his eye. The men in the road stopped fighting. The boy smiled at Jakob.

Jakob ran.

October 18, 2007


by Luc Reid

Sara is in the parking lot, looking out over the beach. I'm in a chubby three-year-old with popsicle residue on her bathing suit. I toddle over to a deep hole in the sand recently abandoned by a teenager, which is now filling with water as the tide comes in. I lay the first egg. The only visible sign from my three-year-old body is a slight bulging of the eyes, but astrally my ovipositor reaches down and releases one shining, silver globe into the cradling mud.

We can't lay eggs on the Astral plane. We have to come to the material plane for that, and on the material plane we're free to inhabit bodies.

I look up to see Sara staring directly at me from the top of the beach, her eyes glinting, the wind lifting her black ringlets in a wave around her shoulders as she levels a spirit harpoon at me. The harpoon, if it hit, would kill the toddler, but Sara knows what my eggs mean. They mean more Astral Takers. They mean that maybe my kind will swarm the world again soon.

I send the toddler careening down the beach toward a rearing, six-foot wave. A woman screams. The harpoon embeds in the sand behind me with a muffled thud. I leap into a 50-something, sunburned man with a belly like a bowling ball. As him, I tell my wife I'm getting the other towel from the car, take the keys, and soon I'm roaring over the blacktop, headed back into the city. I feel my Astral Thread resonating with Sara's channeled fury. It will take her days to find me again.

A lean young man in a silver convertible passes me illegally. I leap into him, leaving the potbellied husband to swerve off the road in the confusion of regaining his body.

The sun shines on my shoulders and the wind caresses my scalp. It's a beautiful day. Maybe I'll lay the next one in the park.

October 9, 2007

Hunting for Ernest Hemingway in Kudu Heaven

by Luc Reid

I had been up more than an hour, drinking coffee, when Thorn came out of his tent to join me.

"Coffee?" I said, pointing a hoof.

"Wonderful," said Thorn, and took a cup. Thorn was a springbok, hardly half my size, but he was a good friend, and a damned good hunter.

"Ready for it?" said Thorn. "Maybe you'll have better luck today."


We set out from camp toward the water hole we'd watched for three days. We hadn't seen anything but a few dog teasers, but I didn't care. Crouching in the grass, the dust cool against my legs, the sky the same blank blue as a robin's egg, I was happy. It was good to be a kudu, hunting, in Kudu Heaven.

There was nothing that morning. It was dry and still, and very hot. The trees came close to the edge of the water hole, shading it, and it was hard to see from where we sat downwind. We didn't see anything until a few minutes before sunset. It was nearly too dark to shoot already.

"There!" Thorn whispered. "By god, there!"

An Ernest Hemingway had come out of the high grasses, an old bull, heavy, powerful, wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts.

"Look at that bastard," Thorn said. "Isn't he magnificent?"

I lined Hemingway up with my Winchester special, with its hoof-sized trigger. He crouched by the water, alert, confident. Heat rippled the air between us. Then he lifted his head, and he reared. He'd seen my horns. He bolted for the trees.

I shut away my excitement and tracked ahead of him with the Winchester. When I had the shot, I squeezed. Hemingway jumped at the edge of the trees and disappeared into them.

"Good shot! Marvelous!" said Thorn, leaping out over the grass on all fours. I followed him at a trot. "Do you think you killed him?"

"I don't know if I hit him."

"I'm sure you hit him."

"I don't think so."

He was there when we reached the edge of the wood, collapsed in the brush. My shot had gone through his lung and heart. His massive head was turned to the side, staring at an anthill with glassy eyes. Thorn was delighted. Hemingway looked fierce even dead.

He was mine, dead like that. But he'd been mine since I lined him up in my sights. If I'd let him live, he would have been mine and alive, still roaming. Maybe that's what hunters were bad at: letting things live.

"God, what a kill!" said Thorn. "Don't you admire these things?"

"No," I said.

"You don't?"

"No. Not anymore."

October 1, 2007

Tornado on Fire

by Luc Reid

You ain't never seen a true and actual heart-stopping terror 'til you seen a tornado on fire. They rise on up outta volcanos in the midst a' hurricanes, most likely during an earthquake, and they're so tall they been known to scorch up the moon. They set lakes a-bilin', cows a-cookin' to a well-done state, and they'll melt ever'thing made a' wax for twenty miles 'round.

I was only eight years old the first time I seen a tornado on fire. It waltzed through our town and made all the windows shatter and the foundations crack. My momma and my twelve sisters died from the fright right then an' there, an' my daddy, he aged a hundred years just from the pity and awfulness of the experience. Bein' a kid with no more brains than a run-over snake, I didn't think too much of it, 'cept that I knowed ever since then I musta been born to chase tornados on fire. An' that's what I done, for seventy-eight years, gettin' paid no more'n kept food in my belly and tires on my pickup by them silky-palmed, snail-eatin' Mr. Wizard types who just shiver to know anythin' I can gather up to tell 'em. An' I done it good, too, trackin' eighteen tornados on fire so close they near always singed off my eyebrows.

But this last one, oh Lord, it weren't like them others. This one was tall enough to burn the moon right up if it'd happened to be up just then, and it vaporized rivers and turned a strip a' desert a mile wide to glass. But it weren't the size of it as turned me yella, Lordy no. This one had iron sharks in it, which is more than a mortal man can bear to see, and that's why I'm a-here applyin' for my social security benefits.

August 28, 2007

And I Woke Up Before It Was Done

by Luc Reid

I think it was supposed to be your dream, not mine. I was me in it, but I didn't feel like myself. I felt the way I felt when I saw that drawing you made of me in 8th grade, with the glower and the grin both at once. The people riding the trumpets didn't make sense to me, and I shouted at them and they seemed confused before they rode on. Someone with a broken bike chain was chasing them and shouting, and I didn't know why. I saw your father turn into that barber that used to scare us through his window with the scissors and I don't know why you'd do that to such a sweet, old man, especially when he didn't kill you for wrecking his Mustang that time.

August 14, 2007

The Wave's Second Day

by Luc Reid

The wave, now about a day and a half old, had been born far out in the ocean, and while it had heard talk about a thing called "land," it had assumed that "land" was a made-up thing, like mermaids or absolute truth or polar bears. Now, seeing the dark, green mass rise over the horizon in front of it, the wave was forced to reevaluate.

And this "land" was beautiful: not with the vast, dappled beauty of the sky or the shimmering beauty of shoals of ever-turnnig fish, but a rich and varied and shocking beauty of green clusters and brown pillars and wide, delicately-colored expanses of sand and armored masses of rocks rising in brown and gray cliffs over the churning water, and a whiteness at the edge of the land that the wave could not identify.

The wave felt a thrill of fear and anticipation as it realized that it was heading directly for the land, that soon it would reach it and then run across it as it had run over the surface of the mighty ocean, delving ever deeper into the interior, rippling through trees and flowers and deserts and and fields of waving, dun-colored grass, until perhaps it broke through to another ocean entirely, one with new fish and and a new sky.

The wave felt its submerged parts begin to catch against the land, and with amazement the wave felt itself lifting, its head cutting sharply into the air as it took on a mane of thick, white foam. It raised up, changing from its old rounded shape, its child-shape as it now thought of it, into a wall of power and strength and beauty, shimmering in the daylight with a thousand shades of blue and green. It roared toward the land, and the wave felt as though it were flying. The seagulls above it circled and dove, screaming in what sounded like a warning, to run from this new and powerful force. It leaned in toward the rocks that grew in front of it.

The cliff face rushed up, and as the wave crashed into the rocks, it shattered into innumerable droplets, running high up the cliff in a desperate and doomed attempt to escape the sea that came at it with uncounted brothers and sisters, crushing it against the cliff's unyielding wall.

So this is dying, the wave thought. But there was no time to feel bitter: it was gone.

August 10, 2007

Every Last Trace

by Luc Reid

Regrettably, she realized only just after her death that she had turned on--only for a few minutes!--the bad lamp, the one that sparked sometimes, and that soon it would set her threadbare duvet on fire, then patiently make ash of her house and every last trace of her life--the manuscript hidden beneath the third stairstep that told who she really was and what she had really done, the letters (long thought destroyed) she'd once been given that were from Mark Twain to his youthful sweetheart, the haiku that had saved her from a grisly death--and that therefore all trace of her life, all clear evidence that she had ever danced at that long, badly-organized ice cream social that was human life, would be lost. And yet the bone-skinny little bushman who had come to greet her smiled as he offered his hand, and she smiled tentatively back as she took the hand and set off with him to the Next Place.

August 3, 2007

Prince Charming Comes By After the Divorce to Pick Up Some Things

by Luc Reid

He'd brought his new girlfriend, the servants told Cinderella, but he came into the Great Hall alone, wearing the robin's egg-blue tunic. His own two servants came with him, the only ones he was allowed to keep after the settlement, Dregsworthy and Pullengroin. Charming stopped short when he saw where Cinderella had put his things. She had decided to throw them all in a pile, the remaining flasks of his rosemary mead and his second-best suit of armor, the hounds from his childhood he'd had stuffed after death, his dead uncle's magical nail clippers that did nothing ("Maybe they're for clipping magical nails," Charming had once quipped) ... all of it. She had decided to toss it together without regard for denting or chipping or breaking, without regard for mead gushing out onto his favorite hunting cape or gardening tools gouging out chunks of the dead hounds' hair.

Charming stared at his possessions for a moment before he looked up, gazed into her eyes with his own robin's-egg blue ones, and said, "You're looking lovely, Cindy."

"Don't be charming," she snapped.

"Rude it is, then," he said gently. "But why did you--"

He broke off when a small woman entered. A very small woman. A dwarf woman, in fact. She took Charming's hand and kissed it unselfconsciously, her red-gold hair cascading over his wrist. She was very elegant, for a dwarf.

Charming bent down and kissed her on the head as Cinderella looked on, speechless.

"Durin's shade, you're even prettier than he told me!" said the dwarf women.

"I thought dwarf women had beards," Cinderella blurted, and the dwarf woman flushed.

"It's more convenient this way," Charming said. "They can tell them better from the men!" And he laughed easily, but the dwarf woman was still flushing, and Cinderella realized that she depilated and didn't tell Charming. In all fairness, though, who would bring that up to a new boyfriend?

"So, Cindy," said Charming, "I'd like you to meet Gloina."

Cinderella shook her head. She did not have to be social with him. "Just take your things and go," she said, and stalked out of the room, wishing she had thrown everything down after all.

Charming helped the servants take the carefully-packed crates out to his carriage. Each one was tied with a satin ribbon the color of a robin's egg.

July 26, 2007

A Cage in a Pit in Another Universe

by Luc Reid

"What you in for?" said the skeletal guy from his rusty, spherical cage a few yards away.

"I paid for smokes with money from another universe," said Andy from his own cage. He shifted, trying to get comfortable, which was impossible. The cage was too short to stand up in, too curved to sit in, and lying down made the bars cut into him. Squatting was bearable for short periods. He tried that again. Belatedly, he remembered his manners. "What about you?"

"I ate an Eyeball of Power."


"Yah za, it wasn't bad," said the skeletal guy. "Kinda savory. You know, ma slacka, you sound brainburnt to me."

Andy looked out across the wide, dank pit, crisscrossed by girders from which dozens of cages like his hung by tangles of thick chain. "If that means crazy, then yeah, probably. You know how long we're supposed to be here?"

The skeletal guy smiled, revealing a mouth almost devoid of teeth. "What you mean? How long before we die?"

"They have to let us out sometime, right?"

"How come?"

Andy didn't have a good answer to that. His legs were beginning to ache, so he tried sitting again, but the cage forced him into a slump, then into lying down against the rough bars.

"You want a cigarette?" Andy said.

The skeletal guy laughed mirthlessly. "Yah za, what we gonna do with those?"

Andy shrugged, took out a cigarette, and cupped his hand around the end while he flicked his lighter.

"Yah my long-suffering mama!" said the skeletal guy. "You got fire?"

Andy flicked sparks from his lighter in the guy's direction as he took a deep drag on his Millboro, which tasted awful. "Yeah," he said. "So?"

"I told you," said the skeletal guy. "I ate an Eyeball of Power! We just gotta swing these cages closer, ma slacka, and we'll be flying outta here in no time!"

Andy had no idea what eating an eyeball had to do with his lighter, but he damned sure didn't have anything better to do. Clamping his cigarette firmly in one side of his mouth and squinting, he stood up as much as he could, his back pressed against the bars, and leaned first one way, then the other. The skeletal guy began to do the same.

Hell, even if the guy turned out to be crazy, at least Andy'd made a friend.

July 9, 2007

Cinderella Begins Dating Again After a Bitter Divorce

by Luc Reid

"You look beautiful."

"Don't be charming," she snapped.

Cinderella's date took a swig of chianti to cover his confusion. A peasant's idea of a nice wine; Cinderella ignored hers. Though Charming probably wasn't drinking much better stuff these days, after the settlement. He was lucky he'd got to keep the cobwebby old chalet where he now had to live. Hell, he was lucky he got anything at all after his fling with Sleeping Beauty.

Her date smiled at her. What was his name again? Hans or Jan or something like that. He was handsome in a chunky, woodcuttery way. He smelled like ginger. That wasn't bad, ginger. It made Cinderella think of pumpkin pie.

"So, Cinderella," he said. "What do you do?"

"Do? Nothing. I used to scrub floors and have forest animals at my beck and call, but they're not welcome in the palace. Or I guess they weren't. Now they will be. If they still have any idea who I am."

"You like animals? I like animals," he said in a rush. Then his face grew red. "Sorry, that sounds desperate."

"Better than charming," she said. There was a long silence, and she tapped one foot impatiently. She grimaced. "When's the waiter going to be here with our salads?"

Hans or Jan or something sighed and stood up, dropping a few coins on the table. "Let's try again another time," he said.

Cinderella stared, uncomprehending, as Hans or Jan or something bowed awkwardly and walked to the door. What was he doing? Cinderella was beautiful, obviously rich, she had a lovely singing voice ... he was leaving, just like that?

Apparently he was: she waited for a long moment, and he didn't come back. Cinderella ran out to the parking lot, not losing her shoe because she had long since taken to wearing ones with straps.

There was nothing out there but the surrounding forest.

Cinderella looked all around her, the anger draining away. He wasn't Charming. Why had she been taking it out on him?

An ancient bluebird flapped arthritically to the ground and trilled at her, and she saw something beside it: a white stone, gleaming in the moonlight. And there was another, and another: a trail! She picked a breadcrumb off her blouse and threw it to the bird, then followed the rocks into the dark forest.

Hansel, that was his name. Hansel.

June 27, 2007

Sects with a Goat

by Luc Reid

"We believe," the man with the missing hand said, "that when the Fragments of God settle each day, one can sometimes be coaxed to settle in a goat. When our priest--that's me--determines that this has happened, we put the goat in the shrine and bring sick and unfortunate people to it so they can bask in its divinity. Then we roast and eat the goat, and the Fragment passes through each of us."

"Well, we don't believe that at all," I said. "You people are crazy."

The priest shrugged. "You think we're crazy, but we spend more time with God than you, so we think you people don't understand God like we do. That's why you keep having accidents."

"We keep having accidents because we've been driven into the mountains by the River People and it's easy to fall down in the mountains when you were raised on farmland. Your people keep having accidents, too. Why is your hand missing?"

"I stole a goat years ago, and the River People cut my hand off."

"Because the goat had a Fragment of God in it?"

"No, because I was hungry."

"And your people made you a priest?"

He shrugged again. "God said it was OK. Would you like a piece of goat?"

I looked at the piece of goat. It was just a dried strip, not very appetizing, but I'd lost my bread on the mountainside on the way to the village, and I hadn't eaten anything since dawn. I took the meat.

"Does it have a Fragment of God in it?"

The priest smiled.

I tore off a bite with my teeth and chewed slowly. Then I noticed that the priest seemed to have two hands now. With the one that had been missing, he gave me a thumbs up.

June 13, 2007

Hornets the Size of Grapefruits

by Luc Reid

By this time the warehouse was overgrown with moss and filled with chittering, scampering, slithering, hissing, and buzzing life. I had beavers as big as football mascots, flowers that ate small lizards, and hornets the size of grapefruits. What I really needed, though, was a way to make the magic extend beyond the dirty concrete walls of the warehouse, to spill out into the greasy alley and burst forth into the city, to turn the streets into green, algae-choked rivers and the skyscrapers into trellises for brilliantberry and humweed vines. And I was pretty sure that feeding the live, virginal body of Rapid Man's girlfriend Grace Angeline to the sorcerer plant would do it.

"Holy damn," whispered Grace Angeline. "What is this place?"

"It's the world as it was intended to be," I told her. "A world that hasn't been plowed under and burned and beaten back and poisoned by mankind. It's humanity's cradle ... and soon it will be humanity's grave."

"You're insane," she said. "... and yet, I understand where you're coming from."

Then there was a shrieking sound, like the noise a bomb makes as it splits the sky, and the next moment Rapid Man was standing in front of me, all white and silver in his costume, his hand out in his trademark Rapid Strike pose.

"Put her down, Chancey Gardener," he said.

"Wait ... then you favor global warming?" I said. "Even now, colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctic are dying--entire colonies--because of melting ice cover. You're all right with that?"

"What's that got to do with ..."

"Biomass, Rapid Man. For god's sake, study your science! More plant life in the context of a balanced ecosystem of plants, animals, and microorganisms means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and less global warming. If you intervene, it will be your fault that these plants can't expand into what should have been their natural sphere, your fault that those penguins die."

"But ..." said Rapid Man, stymied for a moment. It was exactly as I had expected: no superhero can be seen as a penguin-hater. I pitched Grace Angeline toward the sorcerer plant and hummed a command to my hornets, who converged on Rapid Man like rain converging on a puddle.

He recovered quickly. Before the hornets had even reached him, he had run in a great loop and stripped off the wings of each, letting the poor insects plummet to the ground. He caught Ms. Angeline in mid-air, whisked her away so quickly I couldn't even note his direction, and was back to snatch me up by the front of my shirt before I could sneeze.

Well, it had been worth a try, but obviously there was only one way to defeat Rapid Man. I wished my plants a silent farewell and detonated the nuclear device.

June 6, 2007

Upon Emerging from a Brazen Vessel

by Luc Reid

Know then, O Magnificent Liberator, that for the first hundred years after which Solomon (on whom be peace!) imprisoned me in this brazen vessel, I was as one shadowed by a dark cloud and counted myself, though a mighty Djinn, as pitiful as the meanest worm! And I swore oaths promising great riches to him who freed me. But five hundred years passed, and none came to free me, and so black was my mood that I swore to kill him who opened up this vessel, in the manner of his choosing.

O my Liberator, I see that you are trembling. Fear not, and trust in Allah, the mighty, for I will not harm the least hair on your head, but rather grant you gifts beyond imagining!

So did a fisherman come to snare my vessel in his net, and he released me. And when I spoke to him of my vow, to my shame he used my pride against me and tricked me back into the vessel and cast it back into the waves, where it lay until you struck it with your JetSki but five minutes past.

And know you, O Liberator, on whose head may Allah shower every blessing, that for centuries I cursed the fisherman, and wept, and pounded with formless hands on the vessel around me, and beat my formless brow against the leaden seal, and despaired.

Yet within my despair Allah sent me a vision, a vision of a portly Mexican named Pepe, and I began to weave stories in my head of Pepe's adventures. O, Magnificent Pepe! And always the adventures would end in his being sat on by a donkey or falling in some ordure or other foul thing. O Pepe, my greatest friend!

And when a thousand years had passed Allah granted me the wisdom of Pepe, who always laughed when he was sat upon by a donkey, and it came to me that my happiness was in my own hands, though I had none, and always had been, and from then I cared not whether I was released or imprisoned forever, and I rejoiced and praised the name of Allah. After three thousand years, Allah had granted me a gift beyond imagining, a clear and vibrant joy that cannot be troubled or suppressed.

And that, beloved Liberator, is why I must imprison you in this brazen vessel and cast it into the sea.

June 1, 2007

Parthenia Rook, Episode 3: Fallen Lepidopterists

by Luc Reid

The android toddler, Parthenia Rook reflected, had in the end been more dangerous than the zombie photographers. But far more dangerous than either was the kirchenstreuselkuchen at the Café Gefahrlichefrau in Vörpalsberg, where Parthenia was seated in a small, private room with a piece of the cake in front of her. If she didn't restrain herself, she could eat enough kirchenstreuselkuchen to burst an anaconda wide open. She knew this from experience.

"Excuse me, Fraulein Doktorin, but aren't you Parthenia Rook?"

Parthenia looked up to see a handsome young man of about her age at the door holding a copy of The Journal of Theoretical Lepidoptery.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you, Dr. Rook, but I've read your monograph on Zemeros dinonoctis and I'm afraid I'm a hopeless fan. It was the most fascinating work I've ever read on any butterfly whatsoever."

"Please sit down," said Parthenia guardedly. "Don't I know you from somewhere?" She took a small vial she kept for special occasions out of her pocket and tapped a few aromatic drops of its contents over her kirchenstreuselkuchen.

"Oh, I don't think so," said the young man.

"Lepidoptery symposium?" she said. The young man shook his head.

"Martial arts fight-to-the-death benefit performance?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Family event?"

The young man smiled slowly. It was not a nice smile. "Closer."

Parthenia lurched up from her chair, but the young man appeared to be at least as fast as she was and shot her in the chest with a burst of some electrical weapon. She collapsed to the floor, quivering.

"It's a new type," he said cheerfully. "That shot should keep you paralyzed, though fully conscious, for oh ... call it twenty minutes," he said. "More than enough time, actually, to eat your kirchenstreuselkuchen for you. I can't resist these, I don't mind telling you. But you should know that. You see," he said, sitting and forking up a huge bite of the cake, "I'm your identical twin brother."

Parthenia said nothing, but the young man raised his eyebrows. "You don't believe me? Despite father's remarkable skill with genetics? But it's true, dear sister."

He continued to eat the kirchenstreuselkuchen, making little humming noises of pleasure. "Of course," he mumbled through a mouthful, "I was raised by the Bonobo King."

Then his eyes glazed over, and he collapsed on top of Parthenia. He should be out for at least 30 minutes, Parthenia calculated, if he'd ingested enough of the knockout drops she had put on the cake.

Parthenia spent the remaining seventeen minutes gazing wistfully at a crumb of kirchenstreuselkuchen that had fallen only three inches from her face.

May 18, 2007

Parthenia Rook, Episode 2: The Shoe in the Brain

by Luc Reid

Parthenia Rook stumbled out of the smoking wreckage of the downed Zeppelin Regret, bruised and bloody and cross-eyed with exhaustion from her fight with the android toddler, whose limbs lay scattered across the cobblestones of the town square. Above the spires and 400-year-old cafes of Vörpalsberg, the former passengers of the Zeppelin drifted through the sky under their improvised bedsheet parachutes like dandelion fluff.

Parthenia was exhausted. The Bonobo King could send a three-year-old with a kitchen knife to kill her at this point, and she'd be too tired to resist. Come to think of it, that was more or less what he'd just done. It had almost worked.

She slumped down on a chair outside one of the cafes and waited for a waiter, which was ironic. She was not pleased when the square, which she began to realize was strangely quiet, began to fill from all directions with zombie photographers who lurched toward her, clicking death cameras that flung out bolts of electricity.

Without pausing to think, Parthenia leapt up to grab the awning above her and flung herself into the air, performing a full backflip over the nearest zombie to land with one foot planted on the back of its head. The zombie crumpled under her, its head bursting on the cobblestones like a ripe grapefruit. Parthenia stepped away, leaving her shoe lodged in the former zombie's former brains. She really should not have worn heels.

As the zombie photographers closed in around her, Parthenia kicked off her other shoe and looked around for a weapon. It was interesting: she really wasn't as tired as she'd thought.

May 14, 2007

One Hole Goes In. One Hole Comes Out.

by Luc Reid

See death. See death conquer. Death conquers all.

See the bloated human corpses. See the alien conquerers. The alien conquerers are squat and mauve and desolated. See them cry. What have they done?

See the alien playleader Contemptuous stride through the ruins. Contemptuous has lost his mating group. They died of a bad missile. Poor, poor mating group. Poor Contemptuous.

Contemptuous likes to play. The alien conquerers like to play. The aliens do not like to kill. They do not kill with malice aforethought.

The aliens play with good missiles. They play with xenoforming nanotechnology. Their missiles do not hurt them. Boom, boom! See?

Humans like to play, too. Why are the humans playing with missiles? They should not play with the alien conquerers. They should not play with Contemptuous. Contemptuous will be cross. Why do humans play with missiles? Sodding bastards.

Now there is movement. Look, Contemptuous, look! There is movement! There are humans! They are not all dead. Death did not conquer them.

See Contemptuous run. He runs with abandon. He runs to the humans, blaring with joy.

The humans have breathing apparatus. The humans have guns. See them shoot Contemptuous! How joyfully they shoot! Their bullets make tiny holes. One hole goes in. One hole comes out.

Contemptuous wants to play with guns. He will play, too. His nanotech symbiants are making a gun. Contemptuous shoots them. What fun to play! The humans fall down. They are good at playing.

Contemptuous loses bodily fluids. Now he is cross. Why must he lose bodily fluids? They pool on the ground like old fryer oil.

Contemptuous sees his mating group. He sees them in a vision. Stay, mating group, stay! The vision is only neurochemical. There is no afterlife. Contemptuous feels cold. Poor Contemptuous!

See darkness. Fall, darkness, fall! Darkness falls fast.

One Hole Goes In. One Hole Comes Out.

by Luc Reid

See death. See death conquer. Death conquers all.

See the bloated human corpses. See the alien conquerers. The alien conquerers are squat and mauve and desolated. See them cry. What have they done?

See the alien playleader Contemptuous stride through the ruins. Contemptuous has lost his mating group. They died of a bad missile. Poor, poor mating group. Poor Contemptuous.

Contemptuous likes to play. The alien conquerers like to play. The aliens do not like to kill. They do not kill with malice aforethought.

The aliens play with good missiles. They play with xenoforming nanotechnology. Their missiles do not hurt them. Boom, boom! See?

Humans like to play, too. Why are the humans playing with missiles? They should not play with the alien conquerers. They should not play with Contemptuous. Contemptuous will be cross. Why do humans play with missiles? Sodding bastards.

Now there is movement. Look, Contemptuous, look! There is movement! There are humans! They are not all dead. Death did not conquer them.

See Contemptuous run. He runs with abandon. He runs to the humans, blaring with joy.

The humans have breathing apparatus. The humans have guns. See them shoot Contemptuous! How joyfully they shoot! Their bullets make tiny holes. One hole goes in. One hole comes out.

Contemptuous wants to play with guns. He will play, too. His nanotech symbiants are making a gun. Contemptuous shoots them. What fun to play! The humans fall down. They are good at playing.

Contemptuous loses bodily fluids. Now he is cross. Why must he lose bodily fluids? They pool on the ground like old fryer oil.

Contemptuous sees his mating group. He sees them in a vision. Stay, mating group, stay! The vision is only neurochemical. There is no afterlife. Contemptuous feels cold. Poor Contemptuous!

See darkness. Fall, darkness, fall! Darkness falls fast.

May 11, 2007

Parthenia Rook, Episode 1: The Third Oldest Trick

by Luc Reid

Parthenia Rook was an accomplished pilot, an expert with clockwork, a certified public accountant, a master of more than 870 convincing disguises, a sharpshooter, a xenobiologist, a famous stamp collector, and a world champion at reverse checkers. Yet none of her skills could help her as the power-crazed Bonobo King dangled an unconscious three-year old over edge of the gasbag of the massive dirigible Regret and instructed Parthenia to jump, or he would drop the child.

She had no doubt he meant what he said. Yet if Parthenia jumped, who would save the passengers of the Regret from being crashed into the middle of the World's Fair and Exposition? Parthenia hesitated. The Bonobo King cackled and let the toddler slip another inch. If only his exoskeletal armor didn't give him such incredible strength!

"The primary difference between humans and bonobos, as I see it," said the Bonobo King putting one hand behind his back, "is that when nature decided to branch into our superior race and your naked and confused one, it left only us with the ability to act decisively."

"If you drop that girl, there won't be anything to stop me from killing you," said Parthenia.

"It's not a girl," said the Bonobo King.

What? Parthenia gaped at the child. She was wearing a little pink dress. She had tumbly blonde hair. How--

Thwack. The paralysis dart slapped meatily into Parthenia's thigh. She had fallen for the third oldest trick in the book. In seconds, she would lose consciousness and fall. She had only one chance.

"Hey!" Parthenia cried out, pointing into the distance. "What's that?"

The Bonobo King looked. Parthenia leapt, her brain swirling as the paralysis dart began to take effect. The Bonobo King had barely begun to realize his mistake when Parthenia crashed into him, grabbing the falling child and entangling them both in the ropes that crisscrossed the Regret's gasbag. The Bonobo King was less fortunate: the force of Parthenia's tackle sent him sprawling, then tumbling over the edge and down into the clouds. Parthenia could hear his maniacal laughter as he fell, and a part of her feared that she might have somehow just played right into his hands. Or paws. Whatever.

"Don't worry, little girl," Parthenia mumbled as the paralysis overtook her. "I'll wake up in just a few minutes and get you to safety."

"I'm not a girl," said the child, and laughed like the Bonobo King.

May 2, 2007

Something Was Different

by Luc Reid

Something was different; Andy wasn't exactly sure what. There were some different smells, maybe.

Andy rubbed heavily at his eyes. He had a headache, and he realized after a minute that he had been sleeping on the couch in his clothes. He probably shouldn't have done that. He also probably shouldn't have snuck into his brother-in-law's physics lab last night and randomly connected equipment to a ouija board, but what the hell: he'd been really drunk at the time.

He patted himself down for a cigarette, squinting at the somehow-different wallpaper. Nothing. He stumbled down the stairs and into the somehow-different street, spotted the neighborhood store a couple of doors down from where he expected, and shambled over to it.

Inside the different smells were stronger, and he thought now that the air felt a little different on his eyeballs. Hangover.

"Give me a pack of Marlboros," he said to the short, dark-skinned guy behind the counter. He uncrumpled a twenty from his pocket and laid it on the counter.

"You mean Millboros?" said the store guy. Fucking foreigners couldn't even get brand names right.

"Right there--" said Andy. "Not where your hand is, to the left. The hard pack. Thank you."

The store guy slid the cigarettes across the counter, took the twenty, and gave Andy back a fifteen and some change.

Andy stared at the fifteen. "What the fuck is this?" he said.

"It's a fifteen dollar bill, ma slacka," said the store guy. He began to slide the twenty into the cash register and looked at it. "What the fuck is this?" He made a face. "Oh, this suit is ugly! This ain't no money!"

Andy had to admit, Andrew Jackson was not the prettiest president, but he didn't like where the conversation was going. He looked around him, really paying attention for the first time since he'd woken up. There was a jar of tiny fangs on a shelf near him. Further down, the boxes of cereal were cylindrical, and they were whispering. Andy turned and ran out the door and into the street, pursued closely by the store guy.

"Hey, stop! Thief!" yelled the store guy.

"Halt, in the name of the Vizier!" cried an authoritative voice. Andy didn't even turn to look; he just kept running.

Idiot. Nobody can outrun ostrich-mounted police.

April 30, 2007

Postcard from the Near Bank of the River Styx

by Luc Reid

Hi Greg,

Waiting for the ferry, thought I'd write a postcard. Lots to see here! This old guy with no penny says October is the nicest time to come, because not so many tourists. Tomorrow I cross into the afterlife and am looking forward to meeting Jane Austen.

How are you? I hear you got a little banged up, but I guess the alcohol dulled the pain, huh, Mr. High Margarita tolerance? Bet you didn't know that I'm going to have that piece of windshield embedded in my chest for eight hundred years unless I can afford surgery (and they don't take my health plan here).

Enjoy the living world. Wish you were here--instead of me, you bastard.


April 25, 2007

Robin's Egg Sky

by Luc Reid

"So he's all-powerful, he knows everything, he controls everything that happens, right?"

"We don't have time for your--"

"This is important! Omnipotent, omniscient, in control, right? Then why ask him for anything? Isn't he the one who set in motion the needs in the first place, and doesn't he already know everything we want?"

The wind drifted across the grassy meadow in waves, making the grass billow and almost shimmer.

"This is the old dead end about Fate. Just the act of asking--"

"Not Fate! Control! We'll do what he wants us to do, and we'll get what he wants us to get. Why ask?"

"Can't you stop questioning everything for one minute? Why can't you just ask like a normal person?"

"Because I don't like the higher power! I don't want to submit to something that seems fundamentally amoral to me. Something that goes around making people do what it wants. You hear me up there? I'm not kowtowing to you!"


"Please what? Please shut up, or he'll hear me? He already knows my thoughts! Please swallow my pride and just ask him for something like everyone else? Fine, I'll ask him for something. HEY WRITER! I WANT A PONY!"

And with no clear reason or mechanism, there was a pony, a shaggy pony the color of butterscotch with a white, silky mane and liquid eyes. A few moments later, like an afterthought, a saddle appeared in the grass beside it.

They stared at the pony. Then they looked up into the clear, empty, robin's egg sky.

April 18, 2007

Shadow and Glimmer

by Luc Reid

The old Lightcrafter shifted his wands moodily, propelling the illusion of a pirouetting girl back and forth across a weathered stone by the river. Young Cvoa shifted his own wands, although nothing additional appeared in front of them.

"It's all worthless," murmured the old man. "You should give up lightcrafting and find an honest trade. Shadow and glimmer, lies and the hollow promises, that's all it is."

"Please, not this again," said Cvoa. "Teach me something new."

The old man didn't seem to hear. "When I was your age, I thought the illusions were just the beginning. That's the way it feels, eh? Just a prelude to something marvelous around the corner. Well, there is no corner, boy. Just a wandering path that ends in a desert."

Cvoa finally gave up. When the old man started in like this he would sometimes go on for hours. Cvoa stared off into the broken bits of sunlight that shimmered on the surface of the river and let his wands drop--making the old man disappear.

April 10, 2007

A Is for Authority

by Luc Reid

The letter SH paused in the anteroom of A's antebellum mansion. She felt cold in the antiseptic air among alabaster statues of aardvarks and A. A. Milne as the butler's shoes went trap, trap, fading into the interior. SH fingered the reassuringly comfortable handle of her shiv, tucked into a sheath under her shawl. It had been a hard life so far, with no place in the alphabet to live, seldom even recognized as a unit, a shadow of a letter. No more.

The letter A finally appeared, alone, her almond-shaped eyes surveying SH airily. "And what do you want?" she asked. "I thought you were off shirking your responsibilities with Æ and schwa and your other little friends. Surely the homes of respectable letters are not your proper place?" She smiled, a smile absent of any affection. She knew how much SH hated the word "surely."

"I'm here for my share of the alphabet!" SH shouted. She always shouted: she couldn't help herself. "I'm a phoneme, I begin words. I want what's mine!"

"Talk to your parents," A said absently, brushing an ant off her arm. "I'm sure Lady S will be happy to give up some of her words."

SH shoved A into an alcove and pressed the point of the shiv against A's abdomen. "Everyone knows you're the head of the alphabet," she said shakily. "All I need is a chance. Give me my shot."

"You ass," said A. "There's no room for you in my alphabet."

"Shithead," said SH, pressing the shiv harder. "I'll make room."

"At your leisure, Alfred," A said, arching an eyebrow, and SH froze at the sound of a throat clearing behind her. She turned her head. A's butler stood in the archway, an antique arquebus angled at SH's appendix.

"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to absent the area," Alfred said crisply.

SH thought about using the shiv anyway, taking A with her, but A suddenly grabbed and twisted SH's arm, aborting any possibility of attack and forcing the shiv to fall to the floor.

"Au revoir," A announced.

SH shuffled out the door and toward the front gate, defeated. In the distance she could hear A's attack dogs. She shivered.

April 3, 2007

This Is the Tie

by Luc Reid

This is the tie that makes me invisible. Other people have shoes that fly or t-shirts that let you see the future, but I have this tie. I found it in my father's closet after he died. He was 57. I don't know if he bought it before or after my mom passed.

When I'm not wearing the tie, you can see it has yellow and burgundy stripes. It's from a time when most cars didn't have air conditioning, when there were four TV channels. Maybe he bought it new. Maybe he bought it new and never told her. Maybe he bought it before they were married and spied on her.

I've spent happy afternoons in women's locker rooms. I've stolen more than six thousand dollars worth of household electronics. I went to a Willie Nelson concert for free once and went backstage and sat two feet from Willie after the show. He was tired and had to wait a long time while somebody brought him a burrito. We just sat there for fifteen or twenty minutes, me and Willie, not saying anything, like old friends. I got up and left when the guy came with Willie's burrito.

Tomorrow I'm going to meet Benny's sister Rachel. Benny works with me at the bakery. I saw his sister Rachel once when Benny's car was in the shop and she had to pick him up. She has brown hair down to her shoulder blades that tumbles like sweet cereal falling out of a box. I could go to her house right now, wearing this tie, and she'd never see me. I could watch her take her clothes off for bed or stand a foot away, barely breathing, as she brushed her hair. Tomorrow I'm supposed to meet her the regular way, the way where she can see me.

This is the tie that makes me invisible.

I'm thinking of selling it.

March 28, 2007

Somebody Else Who Could Have Been Us

by Luc Reid

... and when we found out that in your parallel universe you barely knew each other, the letter went on, we were fit to be tied! Well, good luck (like you need it, ha ha!). That's all for now, these things are expensive. -- Jared and Bethany

"So," Jared said, his heart beating fast. "Pretty crazy, huh?"

Bethany's gaze flickered to and from Jared behind her glasses. Jared was distracted by the way her skin seemed to glow against the crisp linen of her blouse, by the sunlight turning the tiny hairs on her forearm golden.

"I don't think we should see each other," she whispered.

Jared leaned forward, realized he was acting proprietary, leaned back. The park bench creaked. "But Bethany ... we ... but doesn't it sound perfect? We found each other there. Why not here, too?"

Bethany turned away, blinking, and shook her head. "They're not us. They're ... somebody else who could have been us," she said, not looking at him. She pulled her coat tight around her and picked up her purse. "I'm sorry. I can't fall in love just because a letter tells me to. I'm really sorry."

Jared wanted to grab her arm or shout after her, but he didn't have the right. Still, as she stood, he watched her knees straighten as though they were something that belonged to him, memorized the rhythm of her steps away from the bench. He knew she was just scared, caught off-balance. It was strange news to get all of a sudden. He'd keep after her, gentle but persistent, thoughtful, never pushing. Sooner or later, she'd realize they were meant to be together. Even having talked with her for just fifteen minutes, he could feel how right that was.


Bethany forced herself to walk slowly, not to look back. For two years she'd been invisible to him, and now, after ten minutes, he was in love.

She had to choke back a wondering laugh, remembering how little time it had taken her and the other Bethany to come up with the letter. She hoped things were going just as well in the other universe.

March 26, 2007

Duck Blind

by Luc Reid

They sat in the duck blind, a little dizzy from the beer. Homer and Dan pointed their rifles lazily skyward while Les tried the duck call.

"That's the best goddamn duck call I ever heard," said Homer.

Les looked at Homer sideways and slowly put the duck call down.

"That was a good duck call, Les," said Dan. "You got anything you want to tell us?"

They were interrupted as quacking rang out over the reeds and ducks burst into flight all around. Homer and Dan raised their shotguns, squeezing the triggers at almost the same time. Over the rushing and flapping sounds they could hear the hammers click, but neither gun fired.

Dan gawked at his gun while Homer swore and cracked his open, crammed in two cartridges of #2 duck shot, and snapped it shut. When Homer raised it again he saw Les rising into the sky, his arms straining and flapping at the air, quacking.

"Damn it, he fooled with the guns. He's gone native!" said Homer. He brought the stock to his shoulder and sighted Les.

Dan gently pushed the barrel of Homer's gun off target. Homer grunted, but he let the gun droop.

"If he wants to be a duck, let him be a duck," Dan said. He snapped open a new beer and took a long pull. "We'll get him next year."