Wishes fluttered around us with the snow. I held out my hands, cup-curved, and tried to catch one. Throughout the square, men, women and children did the same–hoping they would catch their own, which was the best luck of all, or that theirs would fall into the hands of someone who would understand, someone who would say Yes and grant it.
I had little to wish for this year. My son grew strong, my husband’s back had recovered and when the ground thawed he would return to our spice fields. War had not come to our province in five years. Perhaps I should have wished for my sister to fall pregnant again with a baby that would not die only days out of the womb; but no, that was her wish to make.
War would come and go regardless of wishes. We all knew that.
Looking down at my snow-flecked and spice-stained hands–red and orange and yellow between the grooves in my palms, and the colours would not fade no matter how hard I scrubbed–I saw a wish. Black letters in the curves and dots of our script covered the paper-scrap.
A final kiss, before I depart for Aratavi.
My hand shook, a little.
I imagined the person who might have stood in line earlier in the day, waiting to write his or her wish so that it could be scattered by our town’s priest. Knowing that soon the journey to Aratavi must be begun–a journey to search for the remains of a loved one. People went to Aratavi during peace-time for no other reason. And in the marshes and pools, rife with the stream-women and algae-men who had killed so many of us, many found only their own grave.
Yes, I thought.
I rubbed paprika on my lips.
One by one, I kissed every person in the square. I left red marks in my wake. That way, I knew who I had yet to step up to, smiling kindly before I pressed my lips against their cheek, their brow.
An hour after the priest scattered our wishes, the bell tolled again, signifying that the previous year had transitioned into the current. I had kissed every man, woman and child.
I would never know whose wish landed in my hands. There was the man who touched my hair, briefly, before I moved on; the woman who whispered Thank you when I kissed the fist-shaped bruise on her chin; the man who wept silently through the hour. Perhaps it was one of them, but perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. I granted the wish.
And my own wish, also: Happiness, in whatever dose possible.
Between densely gnarled groves, the ruins of Castle Noland rose on Spindle Mountain against the late sun like a needle one cannot spot in the grass unless the light catches it or he treads upon it. The mountain, though stunted, was steep and crumbled in Yul’s hands–a miracle it had lasted. It would not bar him from his lost father.
Castle Noland lacked drawbridges and doors, so Yul made one, knocking down bricks, some of which decomposed to powder. Sunlight streamed through the roof and holes in the mortar, illuminating dust motes. One beam shone on a white-bearded, white-robed old man stooped atop his throne: like God after the sixth day. The beam moved, and the old man regressed into shadow.
Was this the same man who sent the child Yul on quests: Track the Amethyst of Memory to the caves of Kaldan, wrestle the Ruby of No Regrets from the King of Cobramen, hunt down the Cape of No Tomorrows through the thorny jungles of Afterwine?
Yul had never put his mind to quests. He’d set out but–heavy-hearted–stopped to rest on a stump. Days passed like a clock’s pendulum. Soon hunger roused his head, and he’d slink home.
Yet Yul fetched the Ruby of No Regrets by trading plastic beads he’d dubbed the Necklace of Deathless Dawns: “Death slipped by if you gripped the necklace righteously.” True, it’d fail, but had they held it right?
The Ruby had never ceded Yul the confidence needed to begin his own life. Instead, Yul had worried over quests his father shipped him on. Late in his third decade, he, still questing, paused at a village where the Miller’s daughter drew well water. When asked for a draft, she gave without reservation.
Twelve decades later, he’s returned, to bring Father to a new home among sheep and grapevines. Yul stood beside the old man: his white contrasting with the gleaming ruby ring lolling on the right, wrinkled hand.
“Hello?” The old man leaned forward, milky white eyes scanning the room. “That you, Spot? I’ve a doggy biscuit.”
Yul gritted his teeth.
“I shouldn’t have let you go.” That last word was a sob.
Yul wanted to shake the man, ask if a lost dog was all he regretted.
The old man’s body shook violently. His ribs rippled beneath robes, coming and going. “I loved you like a son.”
Yul wrapped his arms around his father, shushing and humming a lullaby.
Viruses, trojans, malware, spoofing websites–for the unsuspecting websurfer, the online world was fraught with dangers enough as it was, and now there’s the threat of goblins. There have been plenty of articles online lately with background information (who knew that so many leprechauns were so heavily leveraged or that the changeling futures market would tank so precipitously and have such a ripple effect throughout the economies of the fairy realms?) or tips for spotting an infestation (a flickering greenish glow behind your keyboard; your cooling fan begins to sound like it’s muttering in some consonant-rich unearthly language) but practical advice for solving the problem has been noticeably scarce. In the spirit of good net citizenship, we at the Daily Cabal offer some strategies we’ve found effective:
The oldest of anti-fairfolk remedies is still one of the most reliable. Many online retailers carry rusty iron USB flash drives, some with charmed silver circuit boards–which may or may not increase their potency. Take care, however, not to search on “thumb drives” when browsing the magitech online stores that carry such things, or you may wind up with something made from an actual thumb, on a principle similar to the black magic Hand of Glory. While these do wonders for extending battery life, they do nothing for your goblin problem, and may imperil your immortal soul.
Just as it’s helpful to introduce ladybugs to a garden to control aphids, introducing hot-button political or religious issues to one’s blog can attract trolls, which will in turn cause most goblins to flee in panic. Unfortunately, your normal readership may flee in a similar manner, and you may need to purchase some alpha predator plug-in to return the natural balance, such as BaLrOGger.
Elves love the New Agey Irish songstress; goblins hate elves. Therefore, a continuous loop of Enya MP3s can be highly effective, at least in the short term. Some goblins develop a resistance, in which case you may notice your Enya collection transmogrifying first into some female-fronted Nordic opera metal band (e.g. Nightwish) before sliding all the way into superblackened death metal with song titles that will summon unspeakable horrors out of the abyss and onto your hard drive. In these situations, administer controlled doses of Loreena McKennitt or, in extreme circumstances, Björk, who, as is commonly known, actually is an elf.
Our story today is a classic piece of flash from Howard Phillips Lovecraft, starting what we hope will be a tradition of every now and then mixing our spanking new stories with much less spanking, older pieces. We apologize for the confusing byline, a technical issue we hope to get sorted out before very long, as we do not relish the idea of Mr. Lovecraft becoming wrathful with us from beyond the grave.
In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinly, tearing a path for its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree. And within the depths of the valley, where the light reaches not, move forms not meant to be beheld. Rank is the herbage on each slope, where evil vines and creeping plants crawl amidst the stones of ruined palaces, twining tightly about broken columns and strange monoliths, and heaving up marble pavements laid by forgotten hands. And in trees that grow gigantic in crumbling courtyards leap little apes, while in and out of deep treasure-vaults writhe poison serpents and scaly things without a name. Vast are the stones which sleep beneath coverlets of dank moss, and mighty were the walls from which they fell. For all time did their builders erect them, and in sooth they yet serve nobly, for beneath them the grey toad makes his habitation.
At the very bottom of the valley lies the river Than, whose waters are slimy and filled with weeds. From hidden springs it rises, and to subterranean grottoes it flows, so that the Daemon of the Valley knows not why its waters are red, nor whither they are bound.
The Genie that haunts the moonbeams spake to the Daemon of the Valley, saying, “I am old, and forget much. Tell me the deeds and aspect and name of them who built these things of Stone.” And the Daemon replied, “I am Memory, and am wise in lore of the past, but I too am old. These beings were like the waters of the river Than, not to be understood. Their deeds I recall not, for they were but of the moment. Their aspect I recall dimly, it was like to that of the little apes in the trees. Their name I recall clearly, for it rhymed with that of the river. These beings of yesterday were called Man.”
So the Genie flew back to the thin horned moon, and the Daemon looked intently at a little ape in a tree that grew in a crumbling courtyard.