Nuclear Debate

"Honey, I swear to you, I am this close to having everyone just die right now!"

Sandy's phone nearly trembled with the force of her husband's voice coming through the line. She had married him to be his lover and his friend, but being his counselor was too much sometimes. Especially now, she thought as she fingered the envelope marked "TEST RESULTS" nervously with one hand and rubbed her swollen belly with the other.

"That's... that's nice, honey. What did they do to you?"

She heard a loud sigh from the other end. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing that we've asked them to, and we don't ask much. Just that the world's countries disarm themselves, but they get off on pointing guns at each other. Do you know how much that irritates us?"

Sandy was not many things, least of all a diplomat. "No, not really. But I got something in the mail today."

"Really? Is it my bonus for saving the world's ass once again?" His job as the head of the World Nuclear Council brought with it immense responsibility, pressure from all sides, and a massive chronic migraine. She could tell one was coming on right now.

"It's about the baby. You might want to sit down."

"How can I sit down? The world's about to destroy itself and I'm its only hope, again. What is it?"

Sandy took a deep breath. "Remember that Mexican weightlifter on the cruise?"

She heard nothing, then a gulp. "I can't take this." Then the loud klaxon of a big red button being pushed and a dial tone. She looked at the receiver, hung it on its hook slowly, gasped in realization, and collapsed against the wall crying, waiting for the sky, the same sky she made love under, to burn with fury.

Storm Flag Flying

Red. Don’t go in the water. Danger. Sharks. Jellyfish. Riptides. Storms. Waves. No lifeguard. Red flag, stay away.

Samuel knew the rules, and he decided to ignore them. For the first and last time in his life, he wanted to control himself. He’d been born in water, and now he wished to die in it.

Birthing pools had been popular when his mother was pregnant. Always one for the unusual, she embraced the trend with only a midwife’s assistance. It was an unpleasant experience for her, a long and painful labor, for which she blamed the midwife. Her following three children were born on solid land. So Samuel, fittingly a Pisces, was always her “little water baby”.

He’d run with that most of his life. He was the most laid-back of the siblings, a quiet teenager, and a gentle man after college. He “went with the flow” gracefully and nearly never lost his temper nor let things get under his skin.

In fact, he was often too gentle and laid back. His opinions were often formed for him, bored into him like water eats holes in a rock. Samuel rarely thought for himself. His environment tempered him—he failed to master it.

So he made up his mind, firmly and completely, for once. His reasons were typical, money, job, girls. No overwhelming reasons, but reasons, and they were his.

So he waded out to the deserted sandbar, wind and salt stinging his face. Then, covered in gooseflesh, he took a deep breath and plunged out further into the storm, where there was no place to rest again.

In his final moments, Samuel was tossed around to face the shoreline. The last thing he saw as the thrashing waves lovingly embraced him was the storm flag flying.

Evening Attire

The trees hang heavy with magnolia and tulips in this semi-tropical city. In May they have the Spring Cotillion. We're skeptical. This ain't no CBGB's. We prefer a ruder music. Our dancing is artless collision and conflict. We chafe at the prospect of forced etiquette, and "cotillion" just reeks of popularity contests and desire denied. We like to dress up, though.

I wear a white tie ensemble, and my Chuck Taylors. Black and white high-tops are "formal" All Stars, aren't they? Your little black dress with the dyeable bridesmaid shoes dyed black, probably wasn't what they had in mind when they said "evening attire" for a ball, but we're just going for the free booze, right?

The dancing is in the Great Hall, under the chandelier. We hang in the second-floor gallery, drinking champagne with strawberries. On the hardwood a few skilled dancers spin in epicycles, circling the room like Ptolemy's planets in their orbits, with perfect hair and impeccable evening attire.

After several cases of champagne have effervesced in plastic flutes, I acknowledge my place on your dance card. The professor playing the piano, red-faced and sweating profusely, pounds out a Viennese Waltz at a frenetic tempo of 180 beats per minute, faster then you or I can move our feet, though we try. The ever-young, ever-immoral dance hypnotizes us. Our spinning and whirling smears the world beyond us to a flux, with one still point at the center: you.

Imperial Gesture

Damn them all! I'll be a good ruler, but will they care? They see only my age, overlooking my princely accomplishments. I've heard half the court muttering about blocking the succession.

Hemingway II was a drunk; did they care? Staggered down the red carpet right into rehab, and they cheered. Everyone knew Victor was a woman under his cloak, yet they kept mum. Accolades flowed like nectar for weeks after his ascension proclamation of his adoption of an heir from the gutter.

What did they expect from Buttrick the First? Puerility, and they'd see it regardless what I did. The Empire was awash in bread; why not add a circus?

I swore the royal tailor to secrecy. I could see his inner protest — Lengthen the arms, let out the waist, these I can do, but… — but discretion prevented it reaching his tongue.

Despite the traditional noon, I directed a nighttime coronation, under the full moon. Flouting the aristocracy more, I did not enter the amphitheatre with them but arose from the field, smiling to one and all as the crowd parted around me and I made my way up the steps.

Just short of the throne, I pivoted to face my people and bowed with my well-practiced flourish, my cloak coming to rest around my neck and shoulders, the roar of the crowd drowning out the shocked gasps from the peerage assembled behind me.

September Secret

"I don't want to tell you", softly - but firmly - she said.

"But now I know there's something to know."

"That was my first mistake. I'm not going to make a second. It's better this way."

"But... but that means I'll always wonder, always know there's something there keeping us apart"

"There always has been. You never worried about it before. What's changed?"

"It's different now. Don't you see that?"

"Not for me."

"So you knew from the beginning. Don't you realise you've misled me, hurt me?"

"If I told you, you'd understand why I mustn't tell you. Trust me."

"I want to, but you've abused my trust by not telling me."

"I don't want things to change now, there's no reason. Just...      leave it."

"I can't. If you won't tell me, we are less than we were. I can't reconnect with you without this."

"You can force me, you know. I'm only human. Try hard enough, phrase it in the right way, and I'll tell you. What we have means more to me than not telling you. But...


"But you too will have destroyed something. You will have pulled a sacred chord to find out, and the chords can't handle the strain; they break. You'll get what you want to know, but you won't rebuild our bond, you'll destroy it. Especially as when you find out, you'll agree I shouldn't have told you."

"But where do we go from here?"

"Nowhere. You won't be satisfied unless I tell you, and neither of us will ever forgive ourselves if I do."

Silence, and I listened to the clock, counting the dull ticks until I got to ninety-nine.


"I'll let myself out", I said, and walked away into the autumn night.

Fifty Six in a Row

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It was late at night, the day before the big announcement - time travel, finally, we'd made it, beaten the other side to it, too. I was minding the equipment. Had a few drinks. Started thinking about that old question "if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you?" And there I was, with a working time machine. Who would know? So I did it. Went back to 1939, snuck into his bedroom, beat the fucker's brains out as he slept. Job done.

Of course, you can't just mess with history like that. There are repercussions, butterfly effects - a frog farts in Australia, a house collapses in Arizona. Everything got messed up. One look at the newspaper told me that. I had to fix it. But I couldn't just go back and stop myself killing Hitler - the machine couldn't allow two of me in the same place at once. I had to put history right. Went to the dermatology lab, changed my face, broke into a costume store, rushed back to 1939, invaded Poland. As Hitler. I had to stay, of course, right up to 1945. Had to do some bad, bad things. You've read the history books. Broke my heart, nearly drove me mad. But I did it. Came back seconds after I left. The perfect crime.

That fixed some stuff, but not everything. See, I'd made other stops on the way back from killing Hitler that first time. Took out some other "undesirables", as they say. That all had to be fixed. Manson, Bundy, Stalin - fifty six in a row, all murderers, serial killers, psychos. I had to do all their crimes, disguised as them, to fix everything.

It was a long night.

Crazy Ensign

Tar eyes locked on the chalk at early past noon. She floated him a pass but he knew better. It was love across the board. She was a closer on the bit and he was driving. Dame with knobby knees and skirt up to there so's he could see all the way to Phillipino China. See-through frilly filly skirt with a flowered print. Walking away was a plus in this salty charade. He'd find her tonight when he got out of these casual whites. They'd run then, they would.

Carousel winding down as his brunette baby bay popped a perfect bubble dismounting that harlequin playhorse. She'd changed dresses but not her underwear. Nine months shipbound with nothing but men had made his nose a device preternatural. Cotton candy overtures and freshly pressed dress blues had her on the boardwalk by nine. Walking beside. Hands dangling close, thinking of double slip knots and worse.

"You have girlfriends over there?" The maiden asked it without flattening out, so he was harnessed. He eased but felt the bit. His skittish nature made him say, "Hell, yeah!" with the bravado of conquesting heroes the planet over, living and dead. Not a one of those yellow girls went without their salary for the night, but they all got together in that split second of harmonious disjunction, as if conjured up by some ancient spirit of love wasted, and caused his front runner to nose breathe audibly. No blinkers were hiding this blunder.

She was crowding him, but it was a disqualification right then and there. He was distanced but he didn't find out for another two hours and twenty bucks for dinner.

Autumn Glitter

I lost him in the forest because of Autumn Glitter - when the leaves are amber and red and the golden light of the late evening sun sparkles through the trees. I was dazzled by it and lost him.

As I was looking for him, the path forked. Which way did he go? I read somewhere that you’re more likely to take the right path if you’re right handed – but maybe he knew that too.

“Greetings,” said a fairy, who had suddenly appeared. He was about two feet tall, with a sharp silver beard and large, iridescent wings.

Must have been that kind of forest. I shrugged.

“Hello, have you seen someone pass this way?” I asked.

“Yes!” he cried.

“Well, did you see which way he went?”

“Yes!” He was smiling at me now. I took this to mean that he was a Good Fairy.

“Well, which way did he go?”

“I will tell you which way he went - but be warned, my answer may be a lie: he took the left path.”

“It may be a lie? So in other words it’s still either left or right?”

The fairy said nothing.

“That’s not helpful at all! How can I get you to give me a straight answer?”

“My answer remains the same. Unless… you have a golden horseshoe, worn once on the hoof of a unicorn.”

I smiled, and put my hand into my pocket. The fairy’s eyes widened and his face grew eager. Presumably the horseshoe was as important to him as the little thief I was chasing for stealing my merchandise.

I fixed my eyes onto his shiny wings.

“I don’t,” I replied. “But… I do have a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.”

Turned out, I didn’t need the golden horseshoe after all.

Royal Spy

Ellery read the note.

Our royal spy has been compromised.
Is there no honor among thieves?

He handed it back to the Duchess. "When did you last hear from Charles?"

"Monday. Something’s happened, Ellery!"

"Calm down. Where’s his appointment book?"

He flipped to the last entry:

2:15 Lunch with Queen
3:30 Business meeting
4:20 Meet with K—

"Lunch with Her Highness. Interesting."

"I thought perhaps —"

Ellery raised an eyebrow.

"Nothing. I’m worried!" He opened the directory. Three Ks: Matthew Keating, Brewster Kingsbury, Steve Kissinger.

"The Duke vanishes, and you suspect one of us?"

"Precisely. His last contact likely knows his whereabouts. Which one of you did he meet?"


"Fine. How did you know the Duke?"

Kingsbury, a military man, spoke. "We attended university together. I’ve done some business with him since then, socialized a bit."

Next was Keating, a shrewdish man. "I am his accountant. I only see him twice a year."

Finally Kissinger, the American. "I used to work for the Duke."

"Used to?"

"Quit to join a law firm in Portsmouth. Haven’t seen the man since I left."

Ellery pulled out the incriminating note.

"One of you wrote this. The Duke was meeting with someone to discuss payment. Some spying business. Didn’t bring enough, I guess. Untraceable, only the culprit left a telltale clue. British convention spells 'honor' h-o-n-o-u-r. The note spells it the American way. Grab him, sergeant!"

Kissinger pled innocent all the way to the paddywagon.

"Good work, Inspector; you’re fast on your feet."


As Ellery got in his car, he checked his trunk again: money and body, safely packed. Double crossing bastard. C’est la vie. That honor thing was genius ...

"Inspector Queen? The Duchess is on the phone."

"Tell her I’m on my way."

Now to get rid of that appointment book ...

Forbidden Apple

"Evening Mark."

Mark's boss Mr. Roberts stood in the locker room, dressed in the Pleasanton SecureCo uniform, ready to leave. "The cleaners have left, so it's just you and the ghosts now."

Mark had been doing the dark o'clock shift at this computer company in Cupertino for the past two years, a job he thorougly enjoyed. Although he didn't know much about computers, he loved playing the video games on them that his cousin Keith supplied him with.

"The elevators are still being fixed. You'll have to climb the stairwell on your two o'clock check."
"Sure. Good night sir."

Then he was alone.

Mark wasted no time. He took the round on the first floor and locked himself into the "Release Lab" where all the coolest computers were. "Thank you Keith" he whispered while slipping the new golden disc into one of the silvery laptops.

"Drag this icon somewhere to install Soldier of Fortune III", the computer said, and Mark did. For three hours he was John Mullins, ass-kicking good guy working for The Man.

"Aww shit!" It was suddenly way past 2 am, his raison d'être. Mark yanked the CD out and hurried towards the elevators.

"Morning Louise!"
"Morning Mr. Jobs!"
"What's with all the people here?"

"Oh, poor man. A security guard fell into one of the elevator shafts last night. He was lucky to survive." Louise replied.

Mr. Jobs had no time for lucky security guards, because today was the day the new PowerBook G7s were being shipped off to production. He was going to be very busy.

"So what's the word Kevin?"

Steve was worried. Reviewers could make or break his entire company. He'd spent too much time worrying about litigation lately. The G7s were the final ace up his sleeve.

"They love it Mr. Jobs, especially the game bundle."
"What game bundle?"
"Soldier of Fortune III. Whoever came up with that in marketing is in for a nice fat christmas bonus."

With Anticipation

With anticipation, Simon boarded flight 2332, New York to Paris, and not for the first time, but for the tenth. By now he knew the pattern, the routine that the flight crew followed. He was as prepared as was possible for such a mission. An hour after takeoff, at an altitude of 32,000 feet, flight attendant Nancy Sommers asked Simon, "Something to drink, Sir?"

"Certainly, the usual."

Ms. Sommers winked, and carried on.

Two and a half hours into the flight, over a darkened Atlantic Ocean, Simon rose from his seat on the aisle, opened the overhead bin and removed his backpack. Ten rows from the rear galley, Simon headed for the lavatory. As he passed through the now empty galley, he pulled the curtain in front of the exit door, so as to create a space for concealment. Once in the restroom, he checked the contents of his pack, assuring himself that no damage had been done. Looking in the mirror, straightening his tie, he could practically see his heart pounding through his shirt, but this was no time for second guessing decisions already made.

Two hours forty eight minutes into a flight across an all encompassing sea, Simon cracked open the lavatory door, and while attendants were busy serving meals, he slid behind the previously drawn curtain. Except for the buffeting of the plane by the currents of the wind, time seemed frozen.

She was back now, Ms. Sommers, right on schedule. It was now or never. Before the other attendants arrived; Simon quickly dropped to the floor, rolled under the curtain and while a startled Nancy Sommers almost screamed, with precision packed in profound practice, Simon unzipped his pack, balanced himself on one knee, removed the roses and pleaded, Darling, marry me?


Louise meticulously avoided doctors. Her avoidance was strictly sexual, of course. Being a psychologist at a NY recruiting agency regularly involved job dealings with doctors. At bedtime she was choosier, though.

As a Jewish girl, Louise by definition had a Jewish mother. But hers was the proverbial one. "Take care of your looks and marry a doctor," Louise had heard throughout her childhood. "No need for pretty girls to go to college." Louise had to work herself through college, soon suffused with sexual aversion towards eligible doctors.

Hereafter she would blithely bed virile victims from all walks of life - from A-rtisans to Z-ookeepers. But never ever had a doctor crossed her busy bedroom threshold.

"Except for now," she said in a troubled tone to Astri, a slightly bimboish-looking creature in its late twenties. They had been brooding for some time at the Waldorf Astoria bar, sipping green tea. "To get turned on by a doctor! With my background."

Following some pensive scrotum-scratching, under the strictly striped satin skirt, Astri baritoned: "Why, useless in bed, or something? Try me, then!"

"I don't know. I'm just going to find out. See you later!" Louise hurriedly picked up her purse, grabbing a cab to his place. As expected, Harry O'Harley, MD, was already waiting by his door, smiling awkwardly in plain erotic anticipation.

It took her fifteen minutes to ascertain that her inchoate turn-on had been out of place. He had left her completely cold.

So she left him even colder in return, instrumentally aided by his brown leather belt. He had been a rather nice-looking doctor, if you disregarded the present bluish tint on his face, she thought, looking appreciatively at the inert body on the bed. But then newly strangled people look that way, she knew.

Ten Most Wanted

Ribbons, skipping-rope, toffee-apple, cuddles, chocolate, bike, kitten, dress, stability, love.

I wanted them all so bad


They flew, bright flags at the ends of braids: red, yellow, blue. My ribbons were supposed to be green, my favourite colour. Then Momma cut my hair. She said I look real cute.


Momma cut me some clothes-line. It wasn’t the same thing at all. I never played with it.


Standing by the merry-go-round, music ringing in my ears, I saw them -- juicy and sticky all at the same time. My hand tightened round my collection quarter, but Momma’d told me God saw everything.


Momma was weeping when I burst through the door, blood running down my leg. She gave me a half-hug, anyway.


She tried mixing cocoa and syrup, but it was never rich enough. There’d been no real chocolate since daddy left. I told her I wished I lived with him. She bit her lip to stop it trembling.


Mom handed me pen and paper. “Write to your father. Maybe he’ll listen to you,“ she said, in a taut, tired voice.
She wouldn’t let me keep even one. I woke up and they were gone – I was sure she’d drowned them. I ignored her for days. Later I discovered she’d found homes for all of them.


I danced in silk, turned ivory with age – grandma’s wedding gown, transformed by hours of painstaking needlework, sometime after midnight. Mom said it wasn’t near as lovely as me.
I sat by her bed, watching her struggle for breath. I wasn’t ready to lose her, but she slipped away anyway.
She said I’d be fine. Here in your arms, I know she was right. I find a smile, somewhere behind the tears, and kiss her goodbye.

Lunar Sovereign

I catch the coin spinning lazily in the air, slap it to my wrist. Mare Tranquillatus shines up in iridium and aluminum.


We take giant leaps, toes touching the corridor floor. You are more nimble than I, your Martian ancestry making you more coordinated in one-quarter G than I. Everything seems a shade too heavy. The architects of this project had good reasons, of course, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Winning the coin toss means we'll watch the launch from the planetside lounge. You were hoping to have your eyes on our destination.

We settle into our couches and play a last game of go, snapping stones down with the sharpness and authority of words in a lover's quarrel. You decimate me, encircle me, erase my liberties.

The lids close gently. Through the transparent plastic I see the ruined Earth below. As the needle descends and fills me with ice, I wonder what I will see when I awaken.

I hold the coin to my heart, crater side down, H.I.M. Arthur's face staring benignly with me at my destiny.

End Transmission

Orion-class starship Arthur Rex left lunar orbit on June 27, 2059, carrying a crew of 18 humans, 4 cyborgs, and 982 sleepers from Luna, Mars, Europa, and the Belt. We will be launching further ships in the emigration fleet at six month intervals. Sign up now! A new life awaits you, a thousand years from now.

This message brought to you by the Coalition For The Preservation Of Solar Cultures.

Maple Syrple

Leaving for my nursing shift at the town hospital, I saw new tubing for the sugarbush out beside the barn. Merde alors! Earle had agreed to let the sugarbush recover from two dry seasons. Qu'est-ce qui s'est passé?

I met him at the sugar shack door. He was ready. "Maggie, I don't care if I kill the whole damn bush. Gonna suck 'em dry. We're selling the farm, orchard an' all, when sugar weather's done. Let 'em make that new suburb out here."

"You cannot do that!" I said. This was my family's patrimony, had been for generations. It would have been Jean-Marc's if he had not died on the ice, but he did. That left only me. And Earle.

Earle got angry, like he often did. "It's my land. I'll do what I want."

"This is our farm," I told him. "And these are my trees. I will not agree."

I hadn't talked back to Earle in years. He hit me, much harder than usual. He knocked me down in the mud outside the shack and hit me twice more. "Stupid pepsi bitch!" he shouted. "Think I married you for looks?" Then he went back inside.

Earle never heard me come home that night, with the needle. He took most of a week to die, out there in the shack. I kept saline dripping into him to replace his fluids. He died slowly, just like my trees.

* * *

"And what happened to the blood?" asked the detective. The answer was due back soon from the lab, anyway.

"Earle's Maple Syrple!" I laughed. "Grade A Dark Amber."

The detective shuddered. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number from his notepad. "Monroe? Yeah. Better get moving on that recall…."

This writeup temporarily removed for publication in Cover of Darkness, which should be out May 1, 2007.

War Emblem

Grandpa was so Southern he could make the sink drain swirl backwards. He drank coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and gin in the evening. He worshipped God first and the Volunteers second, and considered the Smoky Mountains to be the cultural capital of the world.

“Grandpa,” I said, looking at a yellowing photograph on the coffee table, “who are they?”

The greatest men in the world,” he said, with a smile on his old, bald, wrinkled face. “Those were the men who I fought with, way back when I was young.” He pointed to a uniformed man at the bottom of the picture. “See? That’s me.”

“He doesn’t look like you.”

Grandpa laughed. “Lemme tell you something… they were all very brave, those fellas. This one here,” he pointed out, “Jack, when he was hurt, we all carried him through the snow. And then one’a them Germans came running out of the trees, shooting away, and we all ran, and I nearly peed my pants. But Jack, he pulled out his pistol and bagged him right in the knee. Didn’t even get on his feet.”

I jumped back on the sofa. “Wow!”

“It was a scary place,” Grandpa said, “but they were brave men. We saved each other more times than I can remember.” He sipped his foul little glass of gin, and then pushed himself to his feet. “Lemme show you something.”

He brought a little wooden box down from a shelf full of knickknacks, and opened it.

“A star?”

“A Silver Star,” he said. “It’s for the bravest of the brave: forgetting yourself to remember others.”

The medal was pinned to his jacket as he lay, watching heaven from the safety of his box. It was then that I knew how right he was.


"It's just a shock, you know?"

Mr.Hamilton was looking at the floor as he talked.

"I mean you get up in the morning, drink your coffee, go to work and you come home and then....." his voice trailed off.

I knew not to interrupt. Mr.Hamilton paused for minute, then went on:

"I mean, I come home and there's stuff thrown all over the place and I go in the kitchen and she's ...she's.........there."

I kept writing, but once in a while I looked over at him to give him the impression I was paying attention. We'd been at my desk for half an hour at that point and I was writing up a report on a hit and run accident from the day before. He probably thought I was keeping track of what he was saying, but somebody had already taken his statement. That wasn't my job.

"It's awful, just awful. It's the kind of thing that shouldn't happen to your worst enemy, you know? The worst thing in the world to find somebody like that......."
He made a choking kind of noise and I thought he was going to throw up so I pushed my chair away from my desk and looked for the nearest trashcan.
"No, no, I'm's just...I'm ok. But, do you think I could have some more coffee?"
Mr.Hamilton raised his two handcuffed wrists toward me with the blood stained styrofoam cup in his right hand.

Sure, I told him, waving the hands away, but what say we get you a new cup?
He nodded his head yes, lowered his hands, and went back to talking.

Rock of Gibraltar

The ship rolls on white-topped waves. Mist caresses the rocks ahead, like an old lover both comfortable and passionate. I am in love with this place. I will never leave again, and I am glad.

"Ya ready, Cap'n?" Impudent as always. I shouldn't have taken him on, but we were short a man, then... it is irrelevant, now.

"As ever, Mr. Moore. And you? Prepared?"

"'Course." His voice wavers slightly; just enough for me to notice. I suppose he regrets.

The rough sea and the mist call to mind battle, officers in smart blue and the blast of cannons and splintered wood streaking through the air and into the dark water. The sea accepts all sacrifices. I have a sudden urge to run to the prow and throw myself in, to surrender to the crash of the waves and the inevitably shocking collision of body and wooden vessel. The sea has always affected me this way. All my life I have resisted the urge to leap blithely into the wide arms of the deep.

"Nothing pers'nal, Cap'n. Honest if ya hadn' been who ya is, id've never thought a', y'know, this..."

"No hard feelings, Mr. Moore." We are silent together for a few minutes, and he walks away. We are nearly to shore; he is going to guide the ship into port. He is a good navigator. He is a good man. She and the crew are in good hands.

I relax against the mast and enjoy the scenery. The wind has picked up, and it cuts into every exposed slice of my form. I am more content than I have been in what seems like an age. This strait and its rocks and mist and wind are warm blankets to a cold soul.

Tonight, in Gibraltar, I die.

—    Slew City Citadel    —

You can only get to the Slew City Citadel by steam locomotive. The train races through the night, burning, carrying carloads of the hopeful. Showers of sparks flash from the rails and the cinders glow and twist like the luminescent leaves of fall, and they can see you from the ramparts as you approach through the darkness.

From the train, you can see the City only as a towering darkness that expands slowly, eating the stars and the blue-black of the sky, that shrinks the moon to a half, then to a quarter, then to nothing. The Citadel becomes the sky, and the hopeful know they're getting close as they speed through the sprawling mass of dwellings surrounding the massive walls.

Why do we want to get to the Citadel of Slew City? You can hear echoes of the reason in our voices:

"Only He can make it right..."

"He must surely be a reasonable man..."

"...need..."   "...pain..."   "...war..."

"...the Others hate us..."   "...they are not human..."

The train howls into the darker darkness of a tunnel, emerging inside the walls, on elevated tracks beneath which soldiers maneuver, spears and guns and helmets glinting in the moonlight like the faint hope in the eyes of the riders. Ahead you will see new walls, higher than before.

"It is only necessary..."   "...for our own safety..."

The hopeful are going for an audience in the Citadel, the City's inner sanctum. With them, you pass through another set of fortifications as the City folds out beneath you.

"...we seek audience with the Powerful..."

You pull into a station, and with the riders wash off the train into a press of humanity—ten, fifty trains all unloading pilgrims onto the same platform. Through more barriers, checkpoints, you queue...

"...we seek audience with Power..."

Runaway Mary

Runaway Mary ran into the rain.
She dashed and she darted and never delayed.
The wet and the water got out of the way, and
Runaway Mary still ran.

Runaway Mary ran into the park.
She scampered and scrambled and tore it apart.
Joggers were jacknifed, children were fraught, and
Runaway Mary still ran.

Runaway Mary ran into the heat.
She bolted and barreled on two burning feet.
The desert was sour, the mirages were sweet, and
Runaway Mary still ran.

Runaway Mary ran into the lake.
She glugged and she gurgled but wouldn't abate.
The seaweed was clawing, the waves splashed her fate, but
Runaway Mary still ran.

Runaway Mary ran into the snow.
She slid and she slided through drift and through blow.
A blizzard took an eye and Frost claimed a toe, but
Runaway Mary still ran.

Runaway Mary ran into the street.

*Why poetry and not prose, you ask? Because dannye told me I should do this and I wrote down the name of my horse and forgot about it and I'm a moron and arcanamundi said to post it anyway.

Key to the Moon

"Are you mad? It's gotta be 10 below out there. For God's sake, take a warm jacket, you'll freeze!"

Amy didn't hear him as she walked out the door. There was nothing but desire - to get out of this stuffy hut, to escape the clinging heat of too hot electric heating.

The door snapped closed behind her, and she felt like she'd entered a different world. Breathing deeply, feeling the exhilaration of near frozen air hitting her lungs. Exhaling, walking through the fog she had created.

The mist twisted and contorted with her passage. The transformation was complete.

Amy's eyes scanned the skies anxiously, hoping she hadn't left too late. Seeing nothing but millions of stars, the tension finally left her completely. Snow crunched underneath her feet, as she began to walk towards the low hills which were blocking her view of the horizon. Picture perfect normally - now, simply in the way.

An hour after she left, he began to worry. Soon afterwards, he was angry. It was exhausting walking through the snow, and he was comfortable here.

Reaching the hilltop, the tiniest sliver of the moon was cresting the horizon, impossibly large to her eyes. Amy began her journey.

Two hours later in his jacket, a torch illuminating the ground. Torn between worry and fury. Every step he took revealed nothing, every shout returned unheard.

Daybreak, and the search party set out. The first footprints they found, on top of the hill, were impossibly large. As they followed the line stretching towards the horizon, they got smaller. None understood how, or why, but soon they were no larger than a childs.

Eventually, they disappeared completely.

None of them would ever see the fog of one last breath, hours past. Hanging for an eternity, before finally drifting away.

Summer Colony

That year, July was cancelled for Bougainville.

The inmates of the local 'mental hospital' were taken out for a walk, the sun being good for their 'health'.

#83004C (diagnosis: paranoia) was particularly attentive. The electroshock reduced his will to nothing, but somehow heightened his senses. He noticed the dust cloud on the horizon before anyone else did.

Hundreds of them bore down upon the unsuspecting town. They carried flags and rifles, and took over the buildings in the name of their cause.

They occupied the houses, each in own room, and sang at night. Sometimes #83004C would leave the complex at night and sit under their windows, listening to them sing. This was easy--the guards were there too.

Worn out and bedraggled was the invaders' appearance, but illuminated, as if they'd heard some heavenly tune that made them want to dance forever. Something about them repelled the residents; they preferred to hide out in the Nebraska Agriculture Co. grain silo all through July, plotting the overthrow of the newcomers.

One of the wanderers told parables of Zeno. Another taught tightrope walking. The sky greyed angrily.

#83004C knew 'they' were still watching him, but he no longer cared. He was free. A melody kept playing in his head. It drove him down Main Street and pointed his government-issue slippers in the direction of the cornfields.

The first dawnlight of August illuminated an empty town square, the townspeople huddled under the eaves of the hall in the morning cold. On the barren plaza a sunray hit a wooden rifle, paint, string and all, and smiled.

Nobody missed just another number.

Lion Tamer

Lion must never know superiority. Never let fear scent your skin, flash behind eyes. When Daniel discovers he is stronger, he will attack.”

As Nicolai speaks I climb the wooden fence of the alley. I’ve been infatuated from my new flat all morning by this man and cat pacing, glaring, padding around a dirt cell.

Lion never you as equal, only not as threat.” Placing down his chair, extending the whip, “Care to try?”

Inside the wooden barricade, I smell the tawny brute. Nicolai unlocks the gate, always an eye on Daniel. At the wave of his hand I enter. His assuredness, it’s of little wonder he has no fear of Daniel.

Holding the chair tightly, walking through the cage, Daniel sunbathing twenty feet away, I am a Goodall, ignored by an animal so near. Whip trailing through dirt, I absentmindedly let the tip lick the air. Daniel silently and quickly rises.

“Patient work, dancing with lion. Ask him roll over. Always listen. Daniel speaks little, but has high signal-to-noise ratio,” Nicolai’s mouth curls into a smile.

Cracking the whip, I get Daniel’s full attention. He lunges with his right paw, which I catch with the chair. Spinning the whip, snapping at dirt, I tell him to roll over, hoping he doesn’t understand the fear in my voice. Hoping Nicolai has a pistol otherwise.

Amused, Daniel flops down, rolling away like a wrestler. He stops on all fours and belly, tail flipping back-and-forth, swatting flies.

“Good. Maybe tomorrow we teach real tricks, without chair.”

I smile, taking eyes off Daniel just so long he pounces. Heavy paws pinning my torso, I’m aware only of warmth. Warmth in my groin as I pee. Warmth on my face as Daniel licks me. The warmth of Nicolai’s wicked laugh washing through my ears.

Mandy's Gold
for Connor

"Hot cherry and cool mint?" The spiky-haired decorator's polished nails flipped over a page of paint samples. "Scarlet and blue-violet? Hot cherry and ice blue -- I love that combination."

Mandy leaned forward eagerly. "What about midnight blue and rain?"

The decorator clapped her hands and drew in a long breath. "I love your style!"

Mandy's hands shook a little. He had always dreamed of being on an interior design show and soaking a house with color, turning it from fieldmouse to coachman in two short days. The show's host leaned in conspiratorially. "I've always wanted to do something in Tuscan blue and gold," she whispered. "Like a burnished... like an antiqued, weathered kind of gold to balance out the refinement of that delicate blue."

"Oh, that sounds pretty," Mandy sighed. "What does Tuscan blue look like?"

"Why are you talking to yourself?" His mother set a glass of milk down on the kitchen table, spattering a few drops across his watercolor. "Don't do that. It makes you look crazy."

Her small son looked away, putting the paintbrush down as far from himself as he could and grabbing the milk. Her eyes followed the delicate motion of his wrist, and she frowned. "I don't know why you have to use those watercolors, anyway. Your father got you a perfectly nice, bright set of markers for your birthday."

He leaned forward a little, over the dappled shadings of lavender and blue. "They're not all gone yet." He wet his paintbrush again, rubbed it carefully around the last tracings of yellow paint.

"That tawny gold tone you've made is beautiful with berry," he heard the decorator murmur. "We'll take that gold and put it to work for us, maybe with a little bit of a rosy hue. We'll call it Mandy's gold."

Empire Maker.

Samgal wiped his sword on the grass and his brow with his sleeve. He eyed the severed chieftain’s head at his feet, a macabre ‘trophy’ of the victory.

The enemy was despondently huddled together surrounded by warriors awaiting the orders to kill them and gather the women and children.

Samgal sighed, the ache of his body gnawed, the sword a leaden weight, the ambition a roaring torrent. “It all comes down to this,” his father had said “Leave an enemy standing and they will cut you down.”

It was not an enemy that had killed him, but a close advisor. An usurper in the night with quick poison.

The death of enemies laid the burden of slaves and extra land to till at the feet of the new chieftain. A burden that would cost his ambition dearly.

His second in command approached, “Are you sure about this?”

“No, but this is the only way to make it happen, the land we have is not enough!” Samgal sheathed his sword and strode across the mud and blood.

Samgal dismissed his guarding warriors, “Tend to our foes fallen the same as ours, make haste before the moon rises.”

The prisoners gasped, the victorious should burn his enemy’s dead, barring them from the warrior’s rites.

"My foes, I Samgal, hereby give you a choice. Take up arms with me and unite our clans under the one banner or join your sword brothers in the barrow.”

A warrior spoke, “Why join with you?”

“Because you will become part of the great story of the beginning of an empire that will become the greatest the world has seen.” Samgal’s voice rang out over the field. The warriors fell on bent knee and Samgal knew that his empire had come one mighty step closer.

Moon Ballad

I am the man in the moon, no trick of the light or confluence of geology but the one set to watch over and guide you. Since time immemorial I have observed your distant blue home, continents drifting like the ephemeral clouds while greens pass to brown and back again. I watched your predecessors and now I watch you as constellations of brightness mark your passage over the land.

To your ancestors I was the bringer of visions, she who heralded the passing of the seasons and the return of the long cold night. They sang to me and danced for me, long after I last illuminated the wild hunt or guided the weary home to a warm embrace. But you put away your dreams and cast out your dreamers in search of more tangible truths.

Becalmed upon seas Galileo named so eloquently I endured observation and expedition. Came in peace for all your kind but still claimed what is mine for your own. Left tracks in the dust settled for centuries and took souvenirs that told you this grey rock was just the same as yours. Missed the lessons of the man in the moon, that this is what could become of you.

When so few can hear my song or behold my eternal promise it is time for me to leave once more. I am taking back my dreamers, the lunatics, geniuses and fools. Every tidal current and sleepy waking smile is lost to you forever. I leave you to my luminous sister with her simple truths and lures. Lost in the silence until I am loved and needed again, I can watch and guide no more.

Clear Mandate

Dear Uncle Phillip,

It is finally autumn here and the rains of summer have stopped. The ground is still damp but the skies are beautiful this time of year. The giant cumulonimbus cauliflowers at the coattails of the storms threatened to draw me off in their pillowy blooms yesterday afternoon and I can’t say I would have been disappointed if they did.

You were right; I quit my job on Friday. My calendar this week says “Fall Begins” and that’s kind of how I feel, like Lucifer, but at the same time I feel like singing; singing just for myself. When I hiked to Alpental two wet summers ago, there was a deep deserted lake with a rocky shoreline and I just sat on a boulder and tried to coax Rebroff, Bocelli, Pavarotti out of my larynx but they didn’t want to cooperate, damn prima donnas.

The sun has crept over the hills and is melting the clouds and I won’t be able to write much longer. I’m certain you already suspected this but please tell my parents that I am leaving. I know you dislike talking to your brother but please let him know I don’t blame him.

It’s time to go; I’ll miss you all. The sun is calling to me.

Voodoo Lily

I still remember the smell of it. That's really the one thing that stays with me.

It was in a place uptown, a few days ago. The door was ajar, and most of the lights were on the floor in piles of broken glass. I saw people on the floor, dead from whatever struck them as a good idea. I could hear the soft scream of a man setting himself on fire, all the while facing the darkest corner of the room, with a huge smile on his face. Like he was doing something magnificent, something to be praised.

Another person, I think it was a woman, had cut her face so that the lines of blood formed a mask around her eyes and mouth. She had her hands raised, as if giving this carnal sacrifice to God or Whatever. She staggered to the corner the flaming man was facing, hands raised, mouthing a prayer, or a curse, or maybe a plea. She fell before she got too far.

The smell reached me then. Sweet-rot, like corpses buried under fall leaves. Something you smell when you’re walking through a forest and you know something is after you. The smell of the fanged thing under the latticed porch.

And then, I saw Her.

She was the One sitting in the corner. Her hand slithered out of the dark to wrap two fingers around the stem of a glass of absinthe, garnished with a lily. That hand was covered with swirling blue tattoos, and it was glorious, that hand.

Her name was Lily, and we were Hers. We always were.

She was perfect.

And I wanted Her.

mystery giver

. .. . ... . . . . . .. . . . . . .. .. .. . . .. . .. . . . ... . . . .. .... .

Begin with a statement of negation. The first indicator of an identity constructed on is nots, has beens, and never wases. All quiet, one moment, preview reel of the end. Continue with rich ruminations punctuated by alliterative combination-effect entities; use them to the advantage of communicating something beyond the words themselves, use them to paint tonal pictures of total sensory derangement and despair and like that.

Don’t lose track of the point though, invisible as it may be. The path of meaning hunts your words, can look them in the eye and always knows when the words are lying. The path of meaning radiates from the page or recitation, disguises itself in sound waves or visual spectra, and holds conversation with the recipient of knowledge. It’s always knowledge that must be passed, in some form.

If you are caught in a trap, do what you must to get out but within the parameters of the trap. If the trap has no parameters, then you are already free.

Detailed half-images are better than bland pictures in totality. Time is not your enemy. It is also not your friend. Best to lighten your load of duality almost completely, not so much that you believe entirely one way or the other, recursive loop dot star dot star dot star.

You can drip feed a daydream, or you could rise to ride to the crest of time.

But you know all this. You always end with something positive, try to wrap it all up as neat as possible. Go back over, and delete the names, remove the accusations, and put the grin back in. But who’s smiling now? Is it me, or is it you?

Your eyes are like comet sparkles of diamond ice on two thin slices of bread. Mine ache.

. .. . ... . . . . . .. . . . . . .. .. .. . . .. . .. . . . ... . . . .. .... .

Be Gentle

‘Be Gentle’ I had asked,,,,,

Her fingers moved with a spider like grace as she flew her edit through my words. Hacking, slashing like a broad sword, the artery of a Red ball point, spraying like aerosol color against the broken tail light of my write up.

It was always like this, intense, wondering what she would find next. Even from the first moment she saw my request she was already laughing inside. I would find no quarter in this battle of wits, no shelter from the storm of her wicked goddess like power to cut me up syllable by syllable.

I had made the request knowing it was futile. Knowing that all along that I was in fact asking for the opposite. Begging for the pain and the pushing, insisting that she shove me into the fire so that I might grow to be the phoenix. I had in fact, wanted the pain.

She passed through me like flames and I cried at the blissfully sweet agony. At the bloody remains of my perceived glory, knowing full well that she would cull my way to greatness. That she would be foundation upon which I would become truly beautiful. She saw all, or so she would have me believe. Heh, editors, tough crowd, neh?.

She had answered my question simply,,,,

Gentle Schmentle

For the Equestriana Contest

Six Perfections

New York is a crazy world, she thinks, handing the money to the man at the video counter. It’s another reasonless Friday night under unflattering sodium lights in windy concrete caverns.

The man at the video counter thinks she’s pathetic, but she doesn’t care. Summer’s nearly over and bees are buzzing round what passes for flowers. Old ladies are crossing slow against lights. People are. They just keep living like everyone else so why can’t she?

Someone tells her to try making happy lists. Compartmentalize is the only word forty years of experience can think of. How about denial? Disallowance?

How about it. Anything goes.

Masturbation. Panties on, forcing it with no lubrication. It’s scratchy, but kills ten fast-flying minutes.

Beer bread. Her hands are sticky because she has no spoon and must thrust her hands into the wet, frothy mound. Lots of dots appear where the tears fall in.

One phone call. Hello, how are you? I’m fine. I understand. We all have things to do. Love you, too, momma.

Chores. The farmer has hours of chores and she has nearly none. That’s called progress. She dusts an hourglass that’s part of a collection.

Ruminate. Possible names for children that will never be. Her uterus resembles a large dried apple, brown and wrinkled.

The movie. A celluloid romance starring plastic people with exteriors that indicate lush, fertile, inviting inner beauty. Like heroin, or nicotine.

Time moves too slowly and too quickly. The list gets longer and longer, falling off the edges of the paper and onto her hands and arms until she is paper then mulch then hardwood. She can’t move, but her vision rolls back catching the transition from sallow pink to a deep chocolate brown, finely textured before she’s blind. Wind rustles the branches. Bees buzz.

Noches de Rosa

"Oh, for Christ's sake!"

Will thumped the steering wheel and groaned as the car jerked to a halt. He reached for his cellphone. No signal. Looking around, he wasn't surprised. Why had he relocated to this desolate, godforsaken place anyway?

Flickering pink neon in the distance caught his eye. Pulling his coat around him to keep out the chilly Kansas night air, he set out to find a phone.

Faded fuchsia letters hung precariously from their rusty nails. He could just make out Noches de Rosa. Great. A strip joint.

Tattered pink shades on the wall lights gave a rosy glow, but otherwise the atmosphere was subdued, even depressing. The mumblings of poker players, all sixty if they were a day, accompanied the faint strains of La Vie en Rose. He headed for the bar and ordered a whisky. It seemed like that kind of place.

Two hours later and still no sign of the breakdown truck. Rosa was good company though, telling him how her grandmother set up this 'gentleman's club', as she liked to call it. She'd worked in the bar since her mum became too ill to cope. She was bright and beautiful. It hurt to see her trapped here.

They sat together on the back porch and watched the sun come up.

"Come on, I'll drive you home."

The doorbell woke Will. He gently lifted Rosa's head from his lap and padded downstairs.

"All fixed. Fan belt. We tried to call. That number's out of order." He seemed uncomfortable. "Old Joe says as how they knocked down that joint soon after Grandma Rosa died. Fifteen years ago, at least."

Will put some coffee on and looked at the stirring figure on the sofa.

"You don't have to work tonight."

"I know," she smiled.

thanks to the story muse at i saw it first here.

Most Feared

When a co-worker was hospitalized for meningitis one Monday, the office sucked in a collective breath. As the director of the local health department gave out information that same afternoon, I coughed. Bad cold. Eyes darted my way.

Quarantined me likes the silence the remainder of the week.

Only feeling slightly better by that Wednesday night, I travel to Atlanta to attend the sushi party of a close friend. She was adament I go despite my illness. She has me choose the music. My stuffy head and cough fits seemed to be put at bay as charming women filled her candlelit house.

At one point I offer my meningitis tale and realize mid-regale that at that moment I felt genuinely comfortable with these fellow party attendees. Part of the group. This is not usual.

This is more rare than meningitis taking a holiday in Fiji and sending me a postcard.

“It’s lovely here. Wish you could be my host at the island bonfire tonight. Lots of love, ’Gitis.”

But I would be the first to leave. The stars, clear white sapphires, gleamed with all their potent star sinew as I drove home. The moon wasn’t full but I knew it was still keeping the tides in check. And me.

An eventuality most feared— death— it looks so acceptable in the face of the moon on such a night. It is a hush, a blink- we think it is loud but death is immune to the Doppler effect.

“Death is a beautiful car parked only
to be stolen on a street lined with trees
whose branches are like the intestines
of an emerald

I was glad I went to the party. I needed to be touched without physical touch.

the landlady stood
execrating and final,
sending me to hell,
waving her fat, sweaty arms
and screaming
screaming for rent
because the world had failed us
        Charles Bukowski


WHEN WE RENTED HALF a home in September, some part of me rebelled. It was the upper-half of a duplex, full of eccentric diagonals and slanted ceilings, and yeah it felt something like home. But the long-bearded landlord, Peters, his eyes desperate and wild, well he wasn't right.

"A two-bedroom?" he'd said.

"Just one," said Angie, giving me a look. "For now."

She loved the motherfucker. The house, I mean.

"I don't know," I said. "It's something wrong with his eyes. Some people you know you can out-talk, but they make you nervous anyway."

"Why Mr. Weeks," she said in mock-enlightenment, "you are an arrogant prick."

"Christ," I said. "Just saying it's a good idea to decide who you're comfortable owing."

Peters himself lived three houses down, on the corner.

THE FIRST TIME THE rent was overdue, a week late, there he was at 10 am.

"Shit," I said, "You're right. I'm sorry." His hands worked at one-another as I wrote him out a check.

Later, Angie, counting her tips, said "You what?"

"Bearded asshole, asshole, asshole," I said.

WHEN THE POLICECAR LIGHTS flash-flicker-flashed outside Peters' house last week we were two months into him.

Oh, I knew it. "Vindicated," I said, and Angie said, "No, you mean vindictive."


Imagine. His sad little criminal eyes, darting, darting, darting as he's questioned. Windows into the soul.

As Angie poured me a drink I asked how long she thought we had. "Months," she said, "at least."

She lay down next to me, gazing out into the street, explaining how she made the call.

Two Item Limit

He just had a pack of cigarettes, and a pack of gum, and a hangover. The lights made his head pound, and the gridlocked checkout aisles stretched parallel like telephone poles to the horizon.

Two Item Limit, said the one next to him. No line.

He watched the Winstons and Wrigleys Doublemint shift down the conveyor belt, inch by inch, past -- wait, there didn't seem to be anything on the shelves -- and then his gaze met the cashier's bangs, which were black, and then her glasses, which were also black. "Hey," she said.

"Just this. Thanks." He fished out his credit card and put his hands back in his pockets. The elevator music did an appropriate little flourish.

"We don't take American Express." His back was to her now, and he turned around.

"That's a Visa."

"Yeah. We don't take American Express either." She pointed to a sign on the counter: We Accept: Bank of Whales, Enema Gold, Sgt. Bob's Family Credit-O-Rama, Diner's Club.


"You know, by England." She was behind the regester again, typing and chewing gum.

"Uh, yeah." He shifted uncertainly and thumbed through his wallet for a ten.

She grabbed the bill, bagged the items in one fluid movement -- "six twenty eight" -- then handed back his change, and he started the long walk out; the door was maybe fifty feet, and the parking lot beyond invisible behind paperboard but sunny -- or, no, wasn't it night now? -- and something made him turn.

"Why a two item limit, anyway?"

"Hey, don't ask me, I don't work here." Helpless smile.

The chords were unhooked by now; she took the cash register under her arm and followed him out the door.

Delta Princess

Crouched on the window ledge, he looks intently upon the device, whose purpose is to monitor the electrical activity in the room. Patiently, he waits until the activity oscillates between the frequencies of 1 and 8 hertz.

Below, a light flashes furiously on a watch worn by a shadow.

The shadow speaks to others who appear out of thin air, "Brethren, it is time. All are asleep in the house." These ghosts are ninjas, the most feared assassins from feudal Japanese lore. Often unseen and unheard... until it is too late.

Like ravens called to do a dark master's bidding, they descend upon the house, and for the briefest moment it is shrouded in complete darkness.

Once in the room they neutralize those who would raise the alarm, then the focus of attention is on the doll-like figure that sleeps blissfully, unaware of the mortal danger that she is in.

But all does not go to plan, for soon they are surrounded by armed guards.

Many ninjas from the Broken Path clan would die that night, hoping in vain than one would escape with the bounty. The air soon fills with the scent of blood and gunpowder.

The remaining three present their leader with the prize: the Delta Princess. He is pleased with their efforts, her ransom will be a just reward for the high price that they have paid tonight.

A light flashes furiously from the child's belly before a fireball consumes the last four members of the Broken Path clan.

Betrayal is at hand, for earlier a mysterious phone call was made to the inhabitants of the house. A codeword was uttered.


Bold Arrangement

Archer saw the stars for what they were, gaseous balls of fusion orbiting the galactic core at such a great distance that it barely seemed finite. Gillian regarded the planets the same way, almost, while noting that they were close enough to study productively from our own. Neither felt themselves even the most distant heirs to that ancient racial memory of prediction and connection via bodies in the sky.

Thus, Gillian saw little reason to have been feeling so anxious since her twenty-eighth birthday, studying Saturn's chemistry while it occupied the same position as it had at her birth. Little reason to wonder what kind of mother she would make while the spectrograph plotted its trace, to worry about her future as the great telescope ticked and turned in the thin June air.

The shift after hers was booked by Archer that night, forced to take graveyard after the board wasted his time with another rewrite. He came in early in case she hadn't shown, but met her there instead. They spoke of journals and tenure and the 'scope and the sky.

Archer calibrated the telescope to photograph Deschubba and cluster M80 nearby, proof along with a photo from fifty years ago that it had moved a bit more than expected, proof that gravity needed another theoretical tweak. He photographed the head of Scorpius, his own sign, a fact which never even registered.

She stayed after her shift while the last few graphs printed, and after they finished as well. He walked her out of the observatory at six a.m., hand in hand. She woke up next to his warmth at three the next day. Against any sceptical insight either of them might make, the night's bold arrangement of stars and that of every one before it had brought them together.

For the nerd I love.

Educated Risk

They have a disease there is no name for in a place the rain seldom sees: a dry African plain where men hunt for food with dirty rifles and spears fashioned from tree limbs hardened in flame.

She examines the victims one by one and the brim of her straw hat presses against the childrens' heads when she lifts them, nearly lifeless, into her arms.

The desert inferno is an irrelevant annoyance. She has not had water in hours.

"My son won't eat," says a man in broken English. A strong French accent: "Help my son."

"Qui. Je comprens," the American says. I snap the picture: the tall blonde researcher holding open the child's eye, peering into it. Now she palpates the chest. Now she looks into the ears.

"My son," says the man, in tears as she hands him back the limp body. She waves past him for the next one. He is sobbing as he staggers away.

"What is it?" I say, loading a fresh roll.

"If I knew that, we wouldn't be here," she says, stethoscope against the chest of a young African girl.

She pronounces,"This child is dead." The parents know. They had to do something.

I snap the picture.

"Do you know what's happening here?" she says. "I take samples. In a year, maybe I come back with a vaccine. But these children will all die."

"Is that the value of life? If you don't know what causes the disease--"

She stops and stares to make me understand.

"Go help bury the dead. Come to me if you get the shakes. I'll need a sample."

I open the aperture. Set a faster shutter speed so the picture won't blur.

Refuse to Bend

Pulled from the muddy depths, by sobbing and grief-maddened cries.

Thousands weep on the banks. Pressed to the waters edge, tears falling into the reflection of the watching moon.

I blow in and through them like a wind.

I go in amongst them all, the loud and the shaking, the collapsed and the silent.

I see in them what I’ve been called for.

I seek the mind responsible and find it asleep.
Riding the wind to his side I paint his dreams. His river, red under my shadow, every cistern, barrel and water trough filled with blood as I pass.

He cries out, waking in sweat and gasping, he gulps from the chalice, realizing too late his dream was real.

Every night after, I’m in his dreams. I make my request and show what I’ll bring if he refuses.

Each night he curses me and dares me come.

In his flesh he is the same as the others. He has no relief from the frogs, the lice torment him til he tears out his beard, and the flies that swarm and bite him cause scabs that crack and ooze whenever he moves.

Yet there is something else in him. Something hard and sharp that does not allow him to give in.

I kill his livestock, destroy his crops with hail, bury his city in sandstorms.

His people come for him as a mob. Hiding his children, he goes to face the crowd.
They see him and falter. None move against him. They plead with him and leave. But his actions have betrayed him, showing me my answer.

That night I let him sleep.

At dawn, I lay the cold body of his firstborn upon him.

Inside him

a noise like a sword



Secret of Mecca

Mecca leaves his house every morning at seven thirty to complete his sundry tasks. The secondaries change from day, but his primary is always I Must Not Let Them Know. This morning he is last in line at the fish market with five pounds of soft shell crab in his hand and his prime directive is still buzzing away inside his brain. He hears it like a click. Clicks are better than klaxons. He is trading watches with the churchyard keeper. He is getting a tune-up. Whale watching. Spontaneous tapping on the elevator wall. He is writing out pi to its 167th decimal on the door of a stall in the bathroom of a major mall department store. Lobby. He executes his missions deftly and always remains conscious that he, even he, could be exposed.

He is on his bike and coasting freely down a steep city hill when calamity occurs and all he has time to do before he hits a car door being opened in front of him is calculate his trajectory and point of impact and think, "Oh boy physics." And does he fly over the convertible door! He scrapes along the tarmacadam and hears his dread warning bell: hull integrity compromised, hydraulics leaking, danger danger danger danger danger danger danger danger.

But he sees no one notices. Humdrum and apathy. Fear of litigation. Bleeding clear fluid, wires snapping, he picks himself up, gets on his bike, readjusts his handlebars, checks for traffic, and leaves.

At night when he gets home, he dresses his wounds and then turns off. At peace at last.

Danseuse du Soir

The sky is grey now, the lake patters, the air is thicker though brighter within the wood. Folk of the day go home; only a few stay to see the night emerge.

She dances them. The descending light, the deepening gloom, the spectral lichen on the blackened boles, she dances them to life. The swans, she dances, the maidens she arouses; those who awake at night come to hunt, and she greets them with fear, with guile, with fluttering delight.

She dances the beginning of hopes and the end of dreams. Her brother's heart, and her prince's heart, and all our hearts are scattered at her feet. Her father's spells and her mother's care, her budding breast, her dying breath, flung into the evening like stars, burn into us. We shall remember the tales she embodies, old and new.

Now in our urban ugliness and beauty we see her in the middle, somewhat elevated, as she jerks and juts and bares herself, as she collapses and flees and wonders and begs for release. In her burnished madness she speaks, she speaks of lands of long ago.

All things, all beauties, she dances them all, for our delectation, for a single evening's pledge of time, the hours to be taken away forever. Time flees, the evening ends; the dancer stands before us, garlanded and smiling. And she gives us what she has danced: imperishable as the flame of the stars.

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