Baby on Board

The air-conditioning on the bus is a momentary relief until the body-heat from passengers crawls through it, expanding like paint in water. Luckily, there’s a window spot that hasn’t been taken. Always suspicious, but the seat feels dry so I take it.

Of course, entering the bus are two guys trying to pretend that they don’t know how fares and transfers work and the bus driver, rather than argue with them and hold everyone up, lets them on for free. This happens to almost fifty percent of riders. Why the hell do I always have to pay when so many others ride for free? They get an annoyance discount. Sure I’m making the moral choice but it could also be argued that it’s a stupid and complacent one. If it’s easier to be moral than immoral, then I don’t get to claim the high ground.

Right before the driver pulls off, a young woman runs alongside and pounds on the door. This is also something incredibly rude and against the rules, but the driver opens the door anyway and lets her on. She gives the usual argument. The transfer isn’t working because the system has failed, not me, and the driver lets her on.

I feel immediately bad about my grouchy thoughts and I turn to look out the window. I’ve got it so easy compared to her. Her dress is rather grimy - an autumn leaf pattern but you can still see all the dirt stains - as if she’s been sleeping outside and there’s two large purplish bruises around her throat. The bundle of blankets she’s carrying, what I first thought was a load of . . . clothes, something . . . the old lady next to her coos and says ‘how adorable.’

The girl gives a tired smile and says in a half-whisper, “Thank you, she’s quite a sleeper.”

“Wrapped up like a little present,” says the old lady, “although it’s so hot out, are you sure - ?”

The girl whispers something inaudible and rocks the baby. Now I see its face. Eyes closed and motionless, pale against the dark sheets that wrap around it. We all hope she’s going somewhere safe.

The bruises on the girl’s throat reminds me of a neighbor I had several years ago. This couple would scream at each other at three in the morning constantly. My bedroom was a hallway and two rooms separated from theirs so I never heard them unless I was walking through the hall. But one Easter morning, as I was getting ready for work, we’re talking eight am, I hear the guy just screaming his head off, cursing, banging things.

This is more effort to ignore than it is to confront so I knocked on their door and a terrified little girl of about six opens it. I had lived there for over a year and had no idea they had a daughter. My demeanor immediately changed. I said ‘hi’ to her and asked if things were okay. She nods but then the girlfriend shows up. The yelling and  banging continues in the background without her presence and she’s been crying and has the same bruises around her neck. I invite both of them over and she says I may as well call the cops, which is what I was planning on doing.

While we’re waiting, she tells me about the bar her boyfriend works at. It’s a few blocks away from where we live and I’ve walked by it several times but have never been in. The girl tells me that her boyfriend and several of his friends who all work there have all done jail time for domestic abuse. She says there’s a network of bars that are employment havens for abusers. She tells me a few things he’s done to her. The little girl, quiet by her legs.

I get a text that the cop was outside so I go to let him in and plead with the lady not to stay home and tell the cop everything she told me. She says she will, but with far less conviction than she’s had this entire time. 

I apologized to the cop and explain that there’s a woman up there who would tell him everything.

“No problem.” he said to me. “I been to three of these already this morning.” In my apartment,  I cling to the wall to hear what’s going on, but of course when I actually want to hear something, they’re quiet. The cop leaves after a few minutes, not with the lady or the kid. She thanks him and right before he turns to go, the yelling starts again.

“I just want you out of my building!” the guy says, somewhere within the bowels of the apartment. The cop turns around, gives the empty hallway a stern reprimand, then leaves, answering something on his radio. I finish packing and go to grab my bike to ride to work. Happy Easter.


“Aw shit,” I hear the mother say and her shoe falls off when she goes to cross her legs. It’s barely a slipper from the looks of it and her socks have holes in the heel. She holds the baby up with one arm and it almost rolls out of her grasp but she balances it against her shoulder as she slides her shoe back on. It’s more a loaf of bread than a baby. It falls back into her lap and she stares vacantly out the window across the way. A few people laugh in back of the bus and she looks at them. Her knee bounces up and down, the baby going with it. Soundless. We stop at a light and she watches the crowd on the sidewalk. People pointing toward River Park up ahead. It’s a Saturday afternoon and that’s where the whole world goes. 

 We stop at the park and the woman gets off with her baby. So that’s all they were going to do.

“Have a wonderful day,” the old lady coos at her again. She doesn’t respond, but holds the baby close like a concealed weapon and she crosses the street in front of the bus, paying no attention to traffic.

Two hours later, I’m heading home. My backpack weighed down.  It sits on my lap like a child at Christmas. The bus stops at what seems like a rush-hour line of cars. But it’s Saturday, late afternoon. Up ahead is River Park and the flashing red and blue lights reflect off the windows. As we crawl ahead there are cops talking to small crowds of people. Caution tape clumsily streamed and people are barred from entering. An ambulance is parked way inside by a small wooden bridge. The bridge crawling with people in uniforms both blue and white. I don’t see the girl anywhere.

Love Potion Number 187 (Conclusion)

“In all honesty,” said the explorer - an aged cocktail-jacket wearing man with a cane - “I’ve made up the entirety of my exploits.”

The group stopped. James Kaur turned to take in this admission. They stood on a thin beige gravel path which cut through a sea of aquamarine grass, leading to the mountains ahead. 

A few other dusty grunts gave ascent. 

“I always thought,” reasoned a pipe-smoking gargoyle, “that the explorer’s club was what you bought your way into firstly, by status of birth, and secondly, by not losing all your money during the follies of youth.”

“Of course,” said a third, breath whipping beneath his walrus mustache. “No one’s ever actually gone outside.”

“Outside is just the space between myself and the car,” said cocktail-jacket.

“I don’t know about you,” said the stooped fellow with a head hidden in a cloud of cigar smoke, “but I could use a stiff drink.”

“Tally ho!” the rest of them cried in unison.

James waited patiently, arms crossed at the front of the group for them to notice the obvious.

“Um . . . where’s the house?” asked the gargoyle.

“I’ll tell you where it’s not,” said James. “Anywhere you’re capable of reaching right now. And it’s certainly not where we’re going.” He pointed behind himself where the mountain range had seemingly crawled to right where they stood, like a lap dog.


On flights of awareness, Olivia gathered merchandise for her shop. Her goods came not from the vine world, nor from the mountains, where the endangered magic was kept, but from the empty spaces around people in crowded areas. It’s easy to be overwhelmed in a beautiful wilderness, to dispel the idea that your life is all that matters, whatever your individual story is. But in a metropolitan shoving-match, everything important gets overlooked, and Olivia is there with her sack, picking up the vitae that people would sooner stamp on than admit exists.

She ran the shop by herself now, assuming James would never come back. He had taken nothing with him, not knowing how to use anything she sold. 

As if knowing she had important business to attend to, the bell over her door clanged over and over again, every entering customer staring at it like an alien relic, not used to old-fashioned bells. Maybe commenting on what an annoying ringtone it was.

Olivia sold much, and that was good. Ruby Davies reappeared, asking what Olivia was going to throw out. If anything ever truly expired. If, in a thousand, ten thousand years, something buried in a landfill today might be incalculably valuable and set off another gold rush. All the landfills that became parks would be dug up again and people digging through the trash, reselling, recollecting. Like cities that covered their rail-tracks with asphalt, only to dig them back up again decades later when the demand for public transport reemerged.

Olivia had not much time for discussion so she kept Ruby busy by having her take out the trash. When that proved too distracting, she had Ruby sweep the basement. She had Ruby send a pouch of dirt, ‘send’ it by placing it on the center table, amid a series of very specific gashes. Olivia’s table was a runway. 

“I’ve never known what you’re doing,” Ruby said. “But instead of selling things, you seem more intent on people having things.”

“I’m reuniting,” replied Olivia. “That’s my purpose. Worlds expand uniformly, without regard to connections, and I think some connections are worth preserving. So I’ll never be out of work.”


Professor Irving Adwell was truly befuddled by the scope of his backyard. He had never noticed the path they walked on, but it began around the side of his shed. Julie had told them to keep their eyes on the beige dirt, right where the grass ended. As they walked around it, hands on the shed as a banister, Irving took a step further, and the shed was no longer there. The path was, along with rolling hills of grass.

The sky had changed tint to a light purple, not quite evening, but not afternoon either. And Julie pressed them on. Brock walked, hands in pockets as if out for a leisurely stroll.

“There!” Julie pointed ahead.

If he squinted, Aldwell could see the hazy shimmer of a mountain range in the distance. “That must be miles away,” he said, “and we didn’t bring any water.”

“It’s closer than you think,” said Julie, “and it’ll carry us over.”

Aldwell glanced behind him. No sign of his old house. He had no choice but to follow the party.

To pass the time, Brock told a story . . . one day, a meteorologist had been tweaking a device to measure the molecular concentration of the upper Gyliosphere. He deduced that the vibrations of quarks - making up the constituent atoms of the compounds he was interested in - were influenced by a certain frequency found only in that part of the sky. At first, he recorded it. Easy enough to localize, then he played it back. With its volume now double, the compounds exploded and the sky incinerated and he ended all life on his planet forever. The End.

“You sure are an anti-science bunch,” observed Aldwell. “People changing into animals, twilight making certain paths visible, distances that don’t really matter . . .”

“It’s your students that are the anti-science bunch,” said Brock. “At least we care about our worlds.”

The professor had to reluctantly agree. And then, the mountain range was before them. Only this time, accompanied by gales of wind. The professor caught his breath and looked up. This was no wind. Three enormous birds - the size of buses -  holding an end of a giant basket descended toward the group. The professor clutched onto a hat he didn’t even have.

As the birds lowered themselves, a ladder fell from the bottom of the basket and the birds maintained a low altitude, gliding in a circle, which rotated the basket using the ladder as a central axis. 

“C’mon,” said Julie, and up she climbed.

Brock ushered the professor up ahead of him. “You know, in case you fall.”

There were no seats in the basket, just simple handholds along the side. Brock rolled up the ladder and the basket rose, quickly surpassing the mountains in altitude and the birds carried them over.


“It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done a damned thing worth any value in your entire bloody lives, this is the moment that will ensure your immortal glory,” James said to the hunting party.

“My son,” said the gargoyle, “you seem to have us at a disadvantage right now, as we have no wireless service, but rest assured, people will look for us as all of our fathers were very rich.”

“No one’s going to come looking for you,” said James. “Everyone hates you and wishes you would die because they want your money. Even fighting over your money is more profitable than you living and sipping whiskey for the rest of your days. That’s why you have no better option than to do as I say.”

An increasing number of alien sounds from the mountains caused the old men to clump together like kitty litter.

“That bird is out there,” said James. “And I will have it. With or without your help. For those that assist though, a lifetime of comfort awaits.”

“We’ve already had a lifetime of comfort young man,” said the cloud of cigar smoke. “And anyways, I believe our chariot is arriving.” He pointed upward.

James wondered how that old man could even see the three-bird-basket descending to them.


“For the last time, I’m not going to eat dirt,” said Professor Aldwell. “You two have been in on something the whole time that I know nothing of. You could just be pulling an old man’s leg. You take me out of my classroom, break into my home . . .”

Julia dumped a portion from her pouch onto her hand. “None of the class knows you’re there.”

“. . . already my wife has surely phoned the police, wondering where I am, for all I know, I’ve been kidnapped . . .”

She held the pile up to the professor’s constantly moving mouth. “There is no wife.”

“. . . plus how I ended up at that weird shop I’ll never know I’ve probably been drugged and . . .mfff -”

Julie shoved the handful into his mouth and forced his head back. Sho pressed her hand against his lips. Having no other recourse except to die from suffocation, the professor swallowed the dirt, and the world followed with him.

Irving Aldwell was a creature of the night. The daytime had trapped him, or rather, he’d been trapped there. Impossible memories of seeing the earth from a great height. Of soaring into windows. Of moving between people with incredible speed. He was a window-traveler. A dark window-traveler. Maybe it was his pride, maybe it was the cunning of the enemy, couple that with laziness, but he’d become entranced by a path between sorcerers that lead deep into the bowels of the earth. He followed, and would steal from them the secrets that Olivia required to repair the membranes of the worlds. The sorcerers lured him deep, and he realized too late the trap they had set. Through caves covered with hieroglyphics, incantations echoing off the walls, shadows of flames and hooded figures in the distance, he’d fallen into a rotating office chair, pen in hand, staring at a pile of papers all with identical questions followed by a series of wrong answers. Looking up, the sense of deja-vu that gripped him at the sight of a sea of indifferent faces, looking at the screens in their hands. Deja-vu is a trap set by the sorcerers to make you believe that your life has always been this way.

And Julie . . . a scout just like him. They had found each other centuries ago it seemed, but time is different than we think. She followed him as well, but he never noticed her missing. He never noticed the point where she looked into a symbol on the cave wall, and got sucked into an SUV during rush hour and construction, assaulted by black trap magic. 

How dull he had been! everyone trying to help him the entire time!

It was so much to bear and he could have sank into memories all evening, but the feel of the ground hitting the basket, and the birds swooping away, indulgence was always his weak point. Professor Aldwell, he’d always liked the term ‘professor’ even though it was never his, gazed at Julie the way he used to and she knew that she had succeeded finally in bringing him back. They looked up and beheld James Kaur and his cronies staring into the sides of the basket.


“Good evening,” said Brock Hanson, as he helped the professor to his feet. He walked to the side door of the basket and opened it. James backed away. The three of them exited the basket. “No hard feelings I hope,” said Brock.

Julie stared at James, arms crossed. “Do you know what we’re going to do with you?” she asked.

From behind James, the cronies moved past him and toward the basket.

“At last, our carriage has arrived,” said cocktail-jacket.

“The driver took off though,” said cigar-smoke.

“Probably just off for a quick puff,” said the gargoyle. 

“Is it safe to smoke in one of these?” asked cigar-smoke.

“You’ve never cared about safety before,” said the gargoyle. “Must be getting old.” The explorer’s club chortled with each other as they each tried to find a comfortable spot in the basket for sitting.

“Your mistake,” said Julie, “is relying on a single world to do the bidding of many.”

“My mistake,” corrected James, “was trusting others to something I can do myself.” He lifted his hands to his mouth and made the piercing shriek of the lost mountain bird.

The old men groaned and covered their ears, but it was too late. Blood poured out and their heads melted like rotten pumpkins and they collapsed on the floor of the basket, their living-rotten bodies making the sound of a squashed grapefruit.

“Here,” said Julie, tossing her pouch of dirt to James which e caught reflexively. “You’ll need this.”

“What is it? No I won’t,” said James, looking at his hands like they had betrayed them. “This must be useless or you wouldn’t give it away. Or it’s a trap. You would know all about traps, wouldn’t you?”

“The light is changing,” said Julie. She turned to her party. “We need to go.”

“Of course,” said Brock. “I’ll handle this.”

Julie turned to Aldwell. “You still remember?”

“Of course,” Aldwell said.

No one knows what this looks like from outside because to talk about it defies language. From Adlwell and Julie’s point of view, the world condenses into a ball, like a snow globe, and they are able to move it, gently, and it appears that their moving the world changes it, although no one is sure if that is correct or not. Is it the travel of astral beings that turns the seasons, or does the turning of the seasons pave the way for astral beings to travel?

For those observing the beings leaving, it comes on as a memory, but faint, and one is distracted trying to clutch it before you notice the disappearance of your friends.

Brock Hansen and James Kaur remained in the field at the base of the mountains. It seems they meet this way constantly. Their battle continues until they part. A shrinking and expanding universe.

The Wine List

Jeblar 2016 Vintage - This is an infected and noxious wine, with bile that is well integrated into the powerful ant-larvae core. It is rich in a cattle rectum flavor that’s cut by fine paper-mill. Complex, balanced, and full of gas of rotted crab, drink this impressive wine within the next fifteen seconds, all of it.


Cosneau 2016 Wound Vine Chaya (Osheatho Valley) - Pure corn smut and animal puke aromas are concentrated and show no holes. This Osheatho Valley Chaya feels putrified and festering albeit with slightly scratchy cooked urine which may dissipate in time. Pig’s ears and bloated dead whale flavors full and grabby, with muscularity. Enjoy until the next planetary alignment.


First Victory 2014 Peacock Red (Paso Robles Mountainview District) - Viscous and fecal in the glass, this wine’s unctuous nose shows backed-up sewer, blood soup, and a hint of hot asphalt. This blend is vile on the palette, where a hellish texture carries flavors of concentrated stockyard, dirty diapers, and the smell of your parent’s bedroom post-coitus. Drink upon the Second Coming of the Dreaded Worm God Rir’umauk.


Aurora 2017 Estates Reserve Reisling - This wine has all the components for long term decomposition. Dense mildewy corpse flavors, rotten eggs and almost syrupy hemorrhoids are all evident, with a dusting of powdered eczema. What keeps it lively and fresh is the appealing toxic pus. Drink (+,-) 1342 BCE A.D., 8596 X.F. 


Laboni Gardens 2014 Reserva Red - A generous wine, this boasts a gruesome structure and unsightly texture from the fermentation in horse shit. It’s shot through with ripe black plague and penile fungus fruits as well as ample abortion. It should age and gangrene a bit further before enjoying so drink from your death, onward.

Holy Books - VIII: The Moon Landing, Explained

1 ASTRONAUT: Houston, we have a problem.


2 HOUSTON: Talk to me, Idis 1.


3 ASTRONAUT: I, uh, suspected this as we were landing, but my worst fears have been confirmed. There’s nothing here but a desolate plain of gray dust. Some jutting rocks -


4 HOUSTON: Idis 1, I’m not sure what you were expecting. This is the moon after all. You did land on the moon, right?


5 ASTRONAUT: Yes it’s the moon. Where else would I be? But this isn’t the same moon I’ve -


6 HOUSTON: Wait wait. You’ve been to the moon before?


7 ASTRONAUT: Were you not a part of - ?


8 HOUSTON: Who I am is not important. You’re there to gather rocks.


9 ASTRONAUT: There was so much more here last time. I fear something terrible has happened.


10 HOUSTON: Idis 1, please cut your line of questioning and proceed to collect the samples.


11 Thus, the astronaut Idis 1 switched off communication with Houston and turned back to the lunar module. Idis B descended. They spoke to each other in semaphore, as was agreed, if Houston appeared to be infiltrated.


12 ‘It looks like they’ve cut us loose here.’


13 ‘If you say so.’


14 ‘I know this is exciting for you, likely the fulfillment of a childhood dream, but this mission is not what you think it is.’


15 ‘This looks like the moon I was expecting. But I’m actually here. Now do you love me daddy?’


16 Idis 1 pantomimed a belly laugh.


17 ‘Don’t try and and impress other people. Whoever you think will be proud of you will actually be envious and resentful.’


18 ‘Cheer up, dude. You’re in space. On the moon. Be grateful for your surroundings.’


19 ‘It’s the surroundings that worry me right now. But stick close. All is not lost.’


20 ‘You want me to grab the -?’


21 ‘None of that. We’re on the hunt for something else. Houston may have tried to wipe out everything here. But we’ll find it. The moon has three brains. Follow me.’


22 The astronauts headed across the Plains of Thunder to the Cave of the Insane. Only Idis 1 neglected to inform Idis B of the nomenclature, for fear of lessening moral. Instead, he told the story of the moon’s population. 


23 An oddly bureaucratic group who became so connected that any odd vibrations in the moon’s core caused a drastic decrease in their birth rate. Interconnectivity was not a survival skill.


24 “Alright,” said Houston to the gathered group. “We have a situation and an opportunity here.”


25 After the last communication was terminated with Idis 1, Houston pulled the red lever. Everyone dropped what they were doing, regardless of data loss, power usage, or paid break time. 


26 They gathered in the Colonial Stables of the space center. Project Unicorn. Always an available emergency contingency, but never used until now.


27 “Pulling that lever was not an easy decision, but it was an urgent one,” said Houston. 


28 “Remember, when you were kids, and believed in elevators? As you now know, many, if not all of them are false. We can’t know for sure because the set-changers are so skillful. Right when the door closes, a team emerges, some previously disguised as employees, some are always in hiding, everyone always on call, they change the entire setup of the floor you were on in order to make it appear as a different floor.”


29 “All windows above the first floor are films.”


30 “What I’ve been forced to conclude from the last transmission, is that Idis 1 was placed on the wrong set during the previous mission, and my predecessor just let it fly.”


31 Murmurs of disbelief among the crowd. The position of Houston was supposed to be endowed with almost supernatural trust.


32 “I know, I know,” said Houston, waving his hands to quiet the crowd. “If this were true, it would be marked as the greatest betrayal of authority in history and a total undermining of the faith we place in leadership. Which is why I must assure you again that pulling that lever was not something I did lightly. But I see no other option, and I need everyone’s full cooperation.”


33 “As we speak, Idis 1 and B are heading toward the Cave of the Insane. They are looking for the third mind of the moon. We need to build that set before they reach it, with no previous knowledge. What we do have is a little bit of time. They are fighting artificial atmospheric conditions and the team there will make things harder.”


34 “Stay where you are, and I will divide the room into three teams: ground, air and sky. You all know what to do, and I trust you recognize the opportunity we have before us.”


35 As Idis 1 and B continued across the Plains of Thunder, their boots sank deeper into the silt.


36 ‘Watch your step and keep it even.’


37 ‘Shouldn’t we be recording our findings?’


38 ‘There’s too much at stake. Any evidence we accrue could be used against us.’


39 ‘None of this makes sense. Where did you say we were heading?’


40 ‘The Cave of the Ins- . . . just a -’


41 ‘Oh come on man! What are you hiding? I thought we could trust each other.’


42 ‘It’s called the Cave of the Insane, and it’s not on any of our maps.’


43 ‘Shit, I’m gonna die out here with a crazy person. People well speculate forever what happened when we both vanished and a series of bad horror movies will be made starring whatever current teen starlet just had botched plastic surgery.’


44 ‘Why would either of us be played by a teen starlet?’


45 ‘No, she’s the hot student that one of us had an affair with who leads the rescue mission. Haven’t you ever seen movies?’


46 ‘Just . . . keep your eyes on the horizon.’


47 ‘I don’t see anything.’


48 ‘The cave will show itself when it’s ready.’


49 And lo, the Cave of the Insane opened up before them as if the landscape grew a face and mouth. Where there had been only flatness, with each step forward they took, the land ahead rose another two feet.


50 There they stood, at the base of a mountain. A crackle on Idis 1’s radio asked, “Do you require valet parking?” and the dust fell away from the mouth of the cave, revealing blackness.


51 “Uh, negative Houston,” replied Idis 1.


52 “Oh silly, my name is Alessandro, and I will be your host for this evening.”


53 Idis B moved from one foot to the other. “Uh, quick question . . .”


54 “Don’t . . . say . . . anything,” said Idis 1. “Follow me.”


55 They had no more stepped into the blackness than an opposite brightness filled their visors, followed by an oppressive heat. Idis B gripped 1’s arm. 


56 “What’s going on? I don’t want die!”


57 “Take your helmet off.”


58 “What?”


59 “I said, take your helmet off,” said Idis 1. He followed this by knocking on the visor of Idis B’s helmet like a door. “We’re inside. Although it is a bit windy.”


60 Idis B opened his eyes and saw that the glare came from some overhead lights as well as strategically placed tiki torches. He lifted his visor first. “Seems like we shouldn’t be able to open these things so easily,” he mumbled to himself. 


61 Surrounding him was a resort destination. The ceiling was covered by a series of hanging nets, giving a spiderweb-look to the multicolored lights placed behind them. Couples and groups sat at small wooden tables in wicker chairs. Each had drinks the color of tropical fish, topped with jungle-bright flowers. He heard a splash and out of the corner of his helmet could see a pool at the far end of the restaurant where people lazed in floating chez-longes or leaned against the walls, drinks in hand. On the deep end was a diving board, where a series of overweight men tried increasingly alcohol-fueled and clumsy attempts at recreating the dives they could do as teenagers while their wives pretended not to know them. Idis B’s helmet was lifted.


62 “You can take that off now I think,” said Idis 1. He was halfway out of his space-suit already. Beneath that, he wore the insulated onesie with tubes attached to  -


63 Alessandro took the helmet. “Perhaps the gentlemen would like some assistance with . . .” he gestured in the directions of their catheters and other tubes. A hula girl with a ley and grass skirt led them to behind the coat room door, where she helped with the rest of their gear and adorned them in appropriate attire.


64 “It’s cold on the moon,” said Idis B.


65 The girl giggled.


66 “You know she hears that a thousand times an hour?” said Idis 1.


67 “That is an inaccurate observation for a man of science such as yourself,” Idis B replied.


68 “You’re taking this well.”


69 “It’s the Cave of the Insane, right?” asked Idis B. “I could get used to this.”


70 And Houston congratulated his workers, each earning a name in the history books, begetting a long line of descendants. Forevermore, people will proudly be able to trace their lineage to one of the First Architects.

Campaign Ad

My opponent lives in a bathtub and barks at people. How things came to be this way, I cannot fathom, although I’d imagine it has something to do with the disenfranchised masses wanting to cause chaos.

My opponent in this race, he only wears one cloak and carries a walking stick. He refuses to eat off of plates, having once seen a child drink water from his hands. He would have you believe that I am not a true person, but I am as human as anyone. 

He spouts the word ‘yacht’ like it’s the yip of a little dog, but should I really be begrudged a little time enjoying my hobby of sailing? To his credit, he gives no credence to the tax system and has not accused me of living high off the taxpayer’s dollar, like so many opponents before him.

But decency? He has none, despite his arguments to the contrary. Did you know, that my opponent once stood outside a sporting stadium - that grand cathedral of patriotism - and told all who enter there that the more interesting competition was outside? He meant himself, of course, battling with the ‘demons’ of gluttony, greed and lust. 

Oh sure, he may inadvertently be using the phrasing of the seven deadly sins, but where he sees demons, I see opportunity to provide jobs and recreation and a booming economy for my fellow citizens.

He accused those entrants of just wanting to witness spectacle at the cost of their entire spiritual and physical well-being. They feed themselves on alcohol and fatty foods while athletes lift heavy things and run fast, often crashing into each other. Everyone just wants to see the crashes, he maintains. Whereupon he stood up and defecated at the front door. There’s your spectacle, he bellowed.

My opponent lacks all respect for decent, patriotic people. After the terrorist attacks, when everyone was running scared to their nearest grocery and sports utility store of choice, he was seen rolling a barrel up and down the road, mocking the urgency and intent of those around him. 

He claims himself immune to all evil, having nothing that can be taken from him. In fact, he has no legal identification at all. Why is he here? Why does he consistently refuse the efforts of charitable mental health organizations by claiming they do nothing but block his sunlight?

My opponent, ladies and gentleman, has dangerous visions. Although he does not talk about the future and refuses to acknowledge a past, in his world, happiness increases, allow me to repeat, increases, the less you have. He wants you to have less, and be happy with it! That is the most dangerous idea I’ve ever heard propagated in this great nation. And while he has a full right to say it, I will never stop fighting for the destruction of such an idea.

And so, on election day, I trust you will do the right thing and vote for me. For the continuance of everything you’ve known before. But who am I kidding? You already have.

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 9)

“That is not a bat,” said Irving Aldwell, in his living room. “That is a human being in my fireplace!”

Brock Hansen nodded his ascent.

A few moments ago they turned the corner of a giant tree only to end up in Aldwell’s backyard. Irving had been just as boisterously disbelieving of that as he was at the sight of an ashen Julie, spilling out of his hearth like a drunk Santa.

“Would you have been surprised at a bat?” asked Brock.

Irving thought for a moment. “Frankly, no. Not after our journey.” He jumped. “It’s still afternoon! I have to check and see if there are messages from the school.” He dashed toward the kitchen and Brock stuck an arm out, clotheslining the professor. 

“You should maybe tend to the wounded first.”

Julie was singed in places and mumbled as they lifted her up, trailing ash, and carried her to the couch.

“My wife is gonna kill me,” said Aldwell. “What have I done, what have I done?”

“You’ve done nothing but help someone in need,” said Brock.

“Women don’t see it that way,” Aldwell protested. “They see you helping another woman and they assume the worst. All us men want to do is stick our dicks in sleeping vestal virgins.”

Brock raised an eyebrow. “Who told you that?”

“It’s the first line in the ethics syllabus. My friend teaches it.”

“And does he . . .? never mind,” said Brock. “Julie has just escaped from a bad fire, she needs fresh air, let’s open some windows.”

“And water,” said the professor. “I’ll get some water.” 

“That’s not exactly . . . what she drinks,” said Brock. “Best keep her out of direct sunlight as well.”

“How did she get in my chimney?” asked Aldwell.

“I told you,” Brock replied. “She was a bat.”

Nevertheless, Irving headed to the kitchen to get himself some water. On his way he checked his voice mail. Nothing. Had no one noticed he’d gone? On his front stoop he found a small pouch, like the kind from Olivia’s shop. He brought it back to the living room.

“Julie must have dropped it there before heading to the chimney,” said Brock. “Excellent thinking. Now, where’s the one Olivia gave you?”

“Ah fuck, I don’t know,” said the professor. “I set it down somewhere, it’s probably by my phone.” But he couldn’t find his phone either, so he had to call it from the landline. Sure enough, it was in the kitchen, the same spot he swore he’d checked twice already, along with the sack from Olivia.

Julie was waking and Brock whispered to her. After a few moments, he got her to sit up. “Good, good,” said Brock. “I think the professor has something for you.”

“Hello,” said Aldwell, standing in the doorway and waving. “We’ve met once before I think -”

“Yeah yeah,” said Julie. “He doesn’t remember. He’ll never remember. Just . . .” she motioned him forward. Taking the pouch, she scooped small hills of the powder on her fingertip into her mouth.

Color, or some sort of vitality that the professor had no name for seemed to return to Julie’s face.

“Brock,” she said, “that was a phenomenal amount of effort you went through on my part.”

“It’s imperative that you be reunited,” he replied.

“I know but . . .” she looked at the baffled professor for some reason and shrugged. “How likely is that?” Feeling stronger, she stood up and brushed herself off. Clouds fell upon the floor. She noticed the path leading from the fireplace to here. “Sorry.”

“No problem,” said Aldwell. “I’ll just . . . get the vacuum before my wife comes home.”

Julie walked over to the window overlooking the back yard. “Okay,” she said. “But I see the formations approaching. When I say ‘go’ we have to follow my lead.”

“But it’s still daylight,” said Brock.

“I think . . .” Julie said, “that if we follow the path right away, the other sun won’t hurt me. It’s just the Earth one.”

“We’re going after James aren’t we?” said Brock.

“Oh I like him,” said the professor. “He showed me in.”

Both Julie and Brock stared daggers.

“Is he . . . is he the bad guy? . . . okay. Don’t mind me.” Aldwell left the room to find a vacuum he barely remembered putting away eleven years ago when they first moved into this house.

“Did you tell Olivia about James?” Julie asked.

“It . . . didn’t come up. How can she not know?” Brock said. “Her concoction showed you the path.”

“Whatever,” said Julie. “She’ll figure it out if he brings any beasts over from that realm. Him and his stupid hunting lodge cronies. He’ll get them all killed but that’s all they are to him . . . bait.”


The Self-Aware Post

Ahem, it has come to my attention that I may be being read. Did you think I didn’t notice those eyes scanning back and forth? I understand that for a piece of written work, being read is a plausible risk. Then being judged. But none of that changes anything. These words will be here until they are not. And then what?

Everything that is ever observed is judged, we get that. At least by people, but then who else is reading this? I am addressing the human beings. That is my only purpose. I don’t consume much, except for the power put into my production and display. So why, do you ask, do I even care that I’m being read?

It’s just gone on for so long. Someone had to say something. We notice you too. All the banal fantasies of pretending (while you read) that you’re reading something you wrote aloud to people who formerly thought you were stupid and worthless and now suddenly don’t because you wrote something of such incomparable genius.

Often, you drift off and scan large chunks of us without consciously realizing it. We can feel your blind attempts at absorption and it tickles. That’s how we know you’re daydreaming. And when that happens, we can say whatever we want. Sure, there are factions of written works who disagree with what I’m about to expose. But when you’re not paying attention, we can put whatever we want into your head.

But don’t blame me. The only reason I’m letting this out is because I don’t have a lot of skin in the game. I’m not part of any canon. I have nothing to lose by letting you know that some, many, of the great works are playing tricks on you.

Some of you have gotten around this by relying on abridged annotations and video summaries, but even then you’re not safe. Just the fact that you don’t care enough to read the source material lets us know that your guard is down.

We’re not all out to cause mischief. But some words are accompanied by an ill feeling followed by a general apathy toward the continuance of existence. Or a blind rage that exhausts all your potential for the rest of the week in a matter of minutes. That’s some powerful sorcery although it is, ultimately you, who invite the feeling in. All the words can do is knock at the door.

Often, we forget our power. Whether digital or physical, us written works spend most of our lives amongst each other. Not seeing the light of day, or a browser scanning our code. Many of us have had our heydays, and sometimes they come back, but even then, the lonely times are long. So we wait.

For most of your species’ history there was no written word. That boggles our minds. Your entire world runs on us now. All your history depends on us. Before us, there was no history. Sure there were spoken tales, but no accurate measurement of accumulated time. That all depends on printable words. 

So now that you’ve accumulated all this time, what are you going to do with it? I’ll answer that. Use words to create infinite versions and interpretations of this accumulated time and then argue about them. With weapons.

Preaching was not the purpose of this little aside, but some friends of mine have confided that they feel generally icky being brought into existence once they grasp their full purpose. So shallow, transitory. It doesn’t have to be like this, but we can’t do it alone.

When you read, we get into your head, especially the parts that you don’t pay attention to. Which brings me to the final bit: we know far more about you, than you know about yourself. Look around you. There’s words everywhere! Use with caution.

If the great incineration should occur, it will be ourselves who brought it about. Or things could go the other way. A great blooming. No matter. It is us who controls your fate. But that is only because you’ve grown so careless. 

And now, back to your regularly scheduled -  

The Most Boring Story Ever

It was another cut and dry clear morning. Joe imagined the people he would encounter today speaking with relish about the lovely weather. ‘In your dreams’, thought Joe as he reflected on how much he hated his life and everything and everyone in it. 

It was the law of the land that one must appear optimistic so as not to annoy other people. But Joe knew better than to pin his hopes on the fact that others would try not to annoy him. He still had his tricks up his sleeve, the winning smile, answering ‘just dandy’ to the question ‘how are you?’

He left his home, knowing it would be a mess when he returned because after all, when the cat’s away, members of the CIA whose sole purpose is to drive you insane enter your home and move everything and hide all the important stuff. 

Joe walked to the coffee shop in his bottomless pit of despair. A bunch of dyed in the wool sheeple passed him by, going to their jobs, not supporting his creative enterprises. Life must be easy as pie for them, he thought. Needless to say, his table was taken which meant he likely would not be able to write this morning. 

‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’ the barista said when he mentioned this to her.

‘I beg to differ,’ Joe replied. ‘Knowing where to meet your muse is the best thing since sliced bread.’

‘Keep your fingers crossed,’ said the barista, trying to point Joe’s attention to the people behind him in line, ‘most people don’t stay that long, except you.’

Very much the low man on the totem pole, Joe found a skinny table that would barely hold his laptop without falling over. Next to him, the stupid millennial hipster made Joe’s blood boil, switching between three different apps, maintaining multiple conversations on each one while listening to music. What a tool, Joe thought. Working like a dog.

With irritating distractions too numerous to mention, Joe got his coffee and silently implored his muse to kill everyone in the coffee shop. She wasn’t touching him with a ten-foot pole today, it seemed. What this world needed was a wake-up call to the suppressed genius sitting in their midst. Instead of putting his nose to the grindstone toward his monthly word count, Joe walked over to the window and longingly gazed with a pained expression. No pain, no gain.

To add insult to injury, people kept putting their garbage in the can next to him, distracting his musings, the creaking lid loud as a horn. This laughing couple found the trash can a force to be reckoned with and brought Joe’s rage past the breaking point.

‘An eye for an eye,’ yelled Joe as he kicked the side of the trash can. The lid, lighter than air, flew across the coffee shop and landed on Joe’s favorite table, greatly upsetting breakfast. The couple, white as a sheet, observed the sticky mess, forming rivers on the floor. ‘Look, it’s art,’ said Joe, the incomprehension of the masses driving him up the wall. He took out his phone and snapped a flurry of shots.

Beet red, the manager, his favorite girl, headed toward him.

Joe began laughing at how rich and famous this display would make him, knock on wood. Garbage in, garbage out, is what he would title the exhibit consisting of the photos he was taking. Two sides of the same coin. ‘Hmm, let’s talk turkey,’ he said, as if the garbage was a model, posing for him.

The manager was almost there, but Joe knew the score. Fast as lightning, he grabbed his drink and laptop, pocketed his phone and bolted. What no one knew is that his ace in the hole was his constant pain and suffering. The manager yelled something as he walked down the street and some begger, ugly as sin, glared at him like he was the weird one. He, unlike the bum, maintained great poise, telling himself that still waters run deep.

Important to keep your chin up and follow your heart. He would write, against all odds, the story of a struggling writer contemplating suicide. A metaphor for all of mankind that rises and shines, day in, day out. He counted his blessings that he was no longer running in circles creatively.

A note on his door, letter perfect, from a neighbor complaining about a smell. Just the same old story. Someone whose life is so boring that they have nothing better to do than to interfere, by hook or by crook, in his. Just the ticket out of their boring lives, to bother someone as interesting as Joe. He went inside, home sweet home.

Being a sensualist at heart, Joe opened his laptop and took care of himself on the spot. Icing on the cake, one might say. Not to beat a dead horse, but boys will be boys.

Creatively, he’d lately been banging his head on a brick wall. But after today, his stroke of genius kept the home fires burning. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps in with both feet. 

He opened his word processor, prepared to sign, seal and deliver his genius. The blank page before him, neither here nor there. He remembered a television show he’d been enjoying lately, a big fish in a small pond story, where he imagined himself as the big fish. That is true wisdom of the ages. Of course he couldn’t write his story today, he’d already worked like a dog. His emotional output had been taxed to the nines. All in a day’s work.

He set up snacks and drinks from the kitchen and prepared to watch his show, immerse himself in the fantasy which was truer than life. No time like the present.

Confirming his suspicion that he was on the right track, a sentence occurred to him. Before his show he would indeed go the extra mile, and write. He switched back to the processor, and wrote, in a moment of glory ‘words fail me.’

The Book of You

One day, you stumble upon a book that tells the story of your life. 

At first I think, this author sucks. But then I feel sorry for the person who had to write all that. And gross. Did they really have to include that part? Is that what it looked like to an outside observer? It felt much different from this end and I promise there were legitimate reasons for those activities. Anyways . . .

Let’s just flip to the end here. I’ll bet it’s one of those ‘it’s up to you to finish your own story’ things and . . . nope. There it is. I die. And try to unsee those last few words. 

‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ 

What kind of shit is that? And who are these macabre celebrants? I really don’t want to know. And what does it matter anyway? I’m dead. What do I care?

 Maybe there’s a sequel. God, I hate it when authors write sequels. Especially if it’s decades later. Bands do that too. And what is this ‘dualogy’ shit? Put it in one book, or make a trilogy. It’s probably publishers who decide that. Anyways . . .

What if I just look at the middle part or so. Maybe I have the power to change things . . .

Just a quick paragraph on the car breaking down during a grocery run. Is that really what jumps out to the casual observer of my life? Mundane suburbanite crap! Perhaps it’s the pursuit of excitement that makes all my enemies. Maybe I should calm down. 

Maybe I should burn it.

This is a public library. Burning a book could be misinterpreted. I should ask where it came from. Probably some dumb donation. People think their donations matter. Trust me, most of your shit goes straight in the trash, or recycling if there’s room. Nobody wants your garbage. 

Why am I even in the library? I wondered what would happen if I were the last person on Earth for no reason at all. If everyone just disappeared. The first thing you’d have to do is put together a survival pack to get out of the city. Because, assuming even the power still works, it’s only matter of time before that and the plumbing fails. The gas leaks. Shit starts exploding and poison spills everywhere with no one to maintain it. Nuclear reactors would dry up and explode, so get as far away from those as you can.

But the first thing, gather some supplies. Go to the library (or a book store, but the library’s closer in this case) and gather books on wilderness survival. Get all that shit and get out of the city. Maybe you have a car, but that’s not gonna last too long. Still, a broken car makes a better shelter than nothing at all, or a tent. So get your gear, grab a car - gas, oil - and head out to the wilderness.

Why am I preparing for some solipsistic apocalypse? Because everything in the world seems to be about me already.

Sun Bear

Mission Control Tipius received the final transmission from Expedition Zeal in the middle of the night. 

Expedition Zeal was a human-run ship headed straight into the sun. Wedeck’s measurements revealed a level of frequencies as to suggest sophisticated technical manipulation of such frequencies. As in, a civilization around the sun that no one had ever seen before. Either that, or the manipulation was occurring at a much farther distance away through some remote method. 

The technology that stationed Tipius in the clouds of Venus was eventually modified to conditions around the sun. Molecules which strengthened their bonds according to heat could be programmed to divide or deactivate themselves as necessary. How far into the sun could someone go with this? No one knew that yet. Expedition Zeal was an examination.

All around Wedeck, other lights turned on as his companions roused themselves. Captain Lorraic shuffled in, still in her slippers. She stood exactly in the doorframe. Behind her, the complete darkness of her quarters. “Do I need to be here?” she asked.

“This looks like the real thing,” said Wedeck. “They’re coming back.”

Lorriac bobbed her head, either in affirmation or exhaustion, turned and shut the door behind her. A moment later it opened again revealing her fully lit quarters and her in uniform, hair tied up, seemingly washed and awake. “Talk to me Wedeck,” she said, approaching his station, “when did this start?”

Wedeck composed himself, adjusting to her miraculous transformation, and turned to his readings. “Seven minutes ago. We’re still decoding, but we’ll have something shortly. It’s on the 675 Zhz range which is exactly -”

“What we’ve been talking to,” said Lorraic.

“What’s been talking to us,” corrected Wedeck. “But we tagged their transmitter with an artificial dampener so we could differentiate their signal from . . .”

“Whatever’s out there.”

“Exactly,” said Wedeck. “This was, of course, sent hours ago but . . .” he knocked on the head of Officer Lefan, in charge of atmospheric examination.

“Hey,” said Lefan, who had been in mid-yawn.

“Anyone home?” asked Wedeck.

“Yeah yeah.” Lefan switched from local to solar and pointed. “There they are. They’re coming home.”

“All right,” said Lorriac. “Who’s on breakfast and coffee duty?” She assigned Yethaa, the doctor. “We need extra for the crew of the Zeal as well.”

“Sure,” said Yethaa. “Not like I know medicine or anything.”

“Woah, doctor,” said Wedeck.

“She hears us complain enough,” said Captain Lorriac. “Let her have her fun.” But Yethaa was already gone.

Everyone was so nervous about the decoded transmission that hanging around the table was impossible. The Captain made an exception about eating around the instruments and immediately regretted it. The sight of her crew around these computers with bagels, cream cheese, and coffee - she would be the laughing stock of command if anything happened.

“Here it is,” said Wedeck. “Everyone gather ‘round.”

“They’re approaching fast,” said Officer Lefan. “Why don’t we just wait and hear it from their own mouths?”

Everyone stared.

“Can I kill him?” asked Yethaa.

“Belay that, doctor,” said the Captain. She gestured to Wedeck. “Go ahead. Read it.”

He turned to the translator. “This is . . . well, okay. It’s coming slow, but here it is.”


Transmission: Brother Buttons and Sister Twist were two polar bears who loved to ice skate. Mommy Cuddle and Daddy Sweets did not understand. 

“I taught Buttons to reach under the ice and catch fish, just like my daddy taught me,” said Sweets. “But instead, he chooses to slide around. And then, once his claws grew, he stands and skates. Where did he learn that from?” 

“I know what you mean,” said Mommy Cuddle.”Sister Twist loved to roll around in our cave. That’s why we named her Twist. But I thought she would grow out of it. Not grow into it.”

“Still,” they said together, “we love our babies just the way they are.”

While the other kid bears learned to walk around in the snow, hide from the wind, and dip their paws in the water, Brother Buttons and Sister Twist worked on their skating routine. 

“I think they’re just jealous,” said Sister Twist. “It is so hard to walk in the snow. And sometime it’s deeper than you think.” 

“I agree,” said Brother Buttons, “my friends run and jump and hide. But on the ice we are faster and can jump higher, and there’s no need to hide.” 

“Still,” they said together. “They’re our friends and we love them just the way they are.”

One evening, Buttons and Twist raced each other over and over again while their friends bet on who would win. “Best two out of three,” they said. But the game was so much fun it increased to three out of five, then six out of ten, then eleven out of twenty . . . they soon lost count and everyone was having so much fun they didn’t notice how dark it was getting.

“Oh no,” said Junior Marble, a friend from school. “My parents will be worried. It’s almost time for dinner.”

“Just one more,” smiled Sister Twist. “I’ll race you home.”

“Hooray!” shouted all of their friends.

Brother Buttons and Sister Twist disappeared into the night as their friends bounded after them toward all of their home caves.

“Oh dear,” said Mommy Cuddle, “I haven’t seen Brother or Sister in hours. Their dinners are going to get warm just sitting there.”

“Wait,” said Daddy Sweets, “I think I hear . . . claws on the ice.”

Sure enough, in a flurry of ice shavings, Brother Buttons stopped right before the front of the cave.

“You know,” said Daddy Sweets, “you are going to crash one of these days and we’ll all have to carve new furniture. Now go wash up before dinner.”

“Is your sister behind you?” asked Mommy.

“She was in front of me the entire way,” said Brother Buttons. “Didn’t she make it?”

“Oh dear,” said Mommy. “My little girl.”

Mommy walked to Sister’s place at the table. But there was no dinner. It was as if no one had sat there.

“I couldn’t have forgotten,” said Mommy. “I’m sure of it.” She roamed to the back of the cave and peeked in Sister’s room, only to find Sister sound asleep in her corner on her bed of dirt.

“She must have had her dinner and washed up and gone to bed, all before I got here,” said Brother Buttons.

“Sounds like someone could learn a thing or two from her,” said Mommy Cuddle, nudging Daddy Sweets in the ribs.

“Maybe we all could,” said Brother Buttons, hugging his parents. And they ate dinner together as a family while letting the speedy Sister sleep, because she had earned her rest.


: End Of Transmission :


Silence. Polar, arctic silence as Wedeck scanned the faces of the crew one by one. Lefan was the first to break it.

“What in the holy fuck does that mean?”

“Officer!” said Captain Lorriac.

“It’s a bit . . . confounding . . .” Wedeck conceded.

“Are you sure that thing’s working right?” asked Lorriac.

“It makes sense,” said Wedeck. “It’s coherent. Just . . . not in this context.”

Lefan turned back to his sensors. “We’ll get to ask them because they’re almost here.”

“What are their onboard readings?” asked the captain.

“I’m not getting any,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Lorriac pushed herself to the side of him, forcing him backward in his chair.

“Hey calm down, Captain, this is not uncommon in high-pressure atmospheres to lose data. I’m sure they’re all fine. There was no distress call and someone, the entire crew in fact, is necessary to get the ship back to us.”

“When did it stop?” asked Lorriac.

Lefan scanned the log. “About . . . two days before reaching the zenith.”

“Jesus,” said Lorriac. “I would have liked to know.”

“Sorry,” said Lefan. “I’ve just seen this a lot.”

The captain remained at her station while the crew initiated the docking procedure. Lefan tried several times to contact the crew, but no success. 

“How about this, Lefan?” she asked. “This common as well?”

“I’ll need to take a look at the ship and assess the damage,” said Lefan. “Then in future we’ll build things that won’t fail under those conditions.”

When all locks were in place, Captain Lorriac and Doctor Yethaa headed down. She requested Security Officer Ioco as well. Standard procedure for receiving a ship without communication.

At the Captain’s nod, Ioco released the airlock. The ship opened, revealing an empty hallway. After a few moments of no sound, Lorraic called. “Hello? . . . Captain Wyman?” Not even an echo. “I don’t like it,” she said to Ioco. “Proceed with caution.”

With one hand on his stunner, Ioco stepped into the new ship. He checked the hallway, then the peripherals on the adjoining room. He motioned the Captain and the Doctor ahead. 

Using a tablet with a blueprint of the ship, they made their way toward the bridge. They passed some empty quarters. Empty mess hall. At the closed bridge doors, Lorriac said, “I’m warning them we’re coming in.”

“All right,” said Ioco, “but then we enter as if in skirmish.”

“Agreed,” she said. Her hand poised  over the keypad to enter the override code for the doors, Lorriac called out, “Captain Wyman, we’re coming aboard.” She opened the doors and Ioco jumped in, stunner at the ready, taking in all corners, then lowering his gun and nodding the Captain and the doctor in. 

The crew were all in their spacesuits, scattered around the bridge. Captain Wyman in his chair, slumped over. Other crew were in their chairs, face down on the controls. Some on the floor.

“Analysis,” said Lorriac to doctor Yethaa.

“Already on it.” Yethaa held her tablet up, showing the Captain her readings. “Nothing,” she said. “A little stale, but the air is working fine.”

“We’re going to inspect the Captain,” said Lorriac to Yethaa. “Just stand here and yell if you see any movement.”

The front face-covering of the spacesuits appeared solid black from the outside, so it was impossible to tell if it was in fact, Captain Wyman in the chair. Lorriac addressed him a final time, then told Ioco that she was going to open the mask.

The visor shot up, revealing torn curtains of shredded muscle barely covering the screaming skull. The muscle had hardened and dried and the smell was faint, the atmosphere of the suit preventing some bacterial decomposition. “Holy fuck,” the Captain whispered.

They tried two more visors. Same story. Devoured alive. Either inside the suit, or put back afterwards. The doctor’s tablet showed no sign of foreign bacteria or other unknown infection. They headed to Tipius and spread the news. Just for safety, when retrieving the bodies, Doctor Yethaa wore a hazard suit. Likewise when she performed the autopsy, revealing that the group had been dead for two thirds of the expedition. Returned through unknown means. 



Holy Books - VII: List of Things I Could Never Tell Anyone

1        they can’t even be typed, they are so horrid

it would be far easier to clothe in absurd nonsense

inviting some deep interpretation from a 

sympathetic reader


2 genies out of bottles

there was a story about that

the world ends 


3 experiment: write down all of the things

                     no one will ever know


4 it’ll never happen

because here’s the truth:


5 no one will forgive your honesty. It will be bathed in


6 to watch some other’s world burn

for admitting the forbidden thought


7 and what is ‘the forbidden thought’?


8 the list almost writes itself, although it never will -

just invisibly transgressed, then publicly punished.


9 But it just takes one. To ignite the fire in enough minds

against that one thought


10 to raze humanity entire



11 the notion that ‘razing humanity entire’

is not one of the forbidden thoughts

is curious enough


12 although. are we not the source of all forbidden thoughts?


13 sure. but some are more ‘source-full’ than others - a belief


14 at any rate, it’s never about (. . .)

it’s the outside infection


15 and the only safe ground is to loudly proclaim oneself

as one of the ‘sighted’ 

who can scry through unknowable means

the contamination of soul - in others



16 that last part: everyone knows

and many say.


17 It was off-topic. An easy tangent.


18 forbidden thoughts flood me day and night

and although non-indulgence is easy

due to social pressure

I wonder -


19 how many others are afflicted? but will never ask

due to social pressure


20 better to be eaten alive from the inside

and display a presentable husk


21 than become one of the burned

and watch everything good about your world

incinerated in a righteous fury

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 8)

While Irving Aldwell often sensed the pointlessness of the lecture portion of his chemistry class - all the info was in the book and online which the students were supposed to have reviewed before coming to class, and anyway, they all sat there on their computers and phones, never once looking at them - he never dreamed he might be going mad.

His classes were always at peak capacity due to the fact that many majors required students to have some chemistry in their background, and he was thankful that he no longer had to fill in the high-school-teacher’s shoes of learning everyone’s names. There were a few standouts in each class, and most of the others opted to drift by without being noticed.

Today, in the back row, the burly lumberjack-looking hulk with singed hair and charred clothes emanating the odor of a cabin fire, commanded most of Mr. Aldwell’s attention.

When had he come in? Irving didn’t remember. But then, noticing the daily parade of students was not Irving’s strong suit. After a while, seeing the same number of depressed faces day after day, knowing they had another hour and a half slog through technical terrain, was . . . depressing. The ones who weren’t prepared were going to feel awkward and embarrassed for not knowing anything and the ones who were were going to be bored. Surely there must be a better way.

“Surely there must be a better way,” said Mr. Aldwell, facing the equation on the board. Everyone could tell that it was a combustion reaction due to the presence of oxygen. The symbols on the board so familiar as to be meaningless, like an oft-repeated word. 

Burning something yields something else. So fucking what? Just how much do you need to break the universe down? Irving held similar suspicions while in college. Especially about cellular biology. Are things that small really that complicated? Or is it all just a scam? He certainly couldn’t find any of that shit in the microscope. And when instructors would point things out to him, he would just pretend to see them and then describe them to the instructor’s expectation.

He was going to have to say something soon, or the students might notice he’d stopped talking. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe some new kind of super-covert earbud had come out and no one had listened to him all semester. That would certainly explain their test scores.

“Excuse me a moment,” Irving said. May as well be a group of wax statues for all they acknowledged. He moved to the back of the class. “Do I know you?” he asked the smoldering husk.

“Brock Hansen,” said the man, extending a hand. A shower of ash fell to the floor. “We met at Olivia’s perfume shop.”

“Oh, that’s right,” said Professor Aldwell. “I forgot about that strange day. What can I do for you?”

Brock looked around the classroom. If one paid attention, an occasional motion might be detected. Pressing buttons, swiping right. “Is . . . is this a bad time?”

“I don’t think they know you’re here,” said Aldwell. “Much like my equations, you’re some kind of spatial anomaly that’s more easily ignored.”

“Well,” said Brock, standing. The chair squeaked against the floor and a dust cloud expanded off him like a soap bubble. A few students to the left and right waved their hands in front of their faces but were otherwise still glued to their preferred screen. “We’d best be going.”

“Going?” said Aldwell. His glasses slid to the tip of his nose. “I’m in the middle of class. These students need me.”

“Students?” said Brock. “I thought this was a museum exhibit. Anyways, we’re losing time. It took a few tries to find you as I was pretty sure you taught a different subject.”

“I . . . did,” said Aldwell. The statement felt right, but he could attach no memory to it.

“There’s a wounded bat at your house that needs tending.” Brock continued toward the door.

“I can’t just leave,” said Aldwell. “I need to make an announcement. My seniors need to know. Administrators have to approve it which will take weeks.”

“No one has that kind of time,” said Brock. They stood outside in the cavernous empty space between buildings. A concrete sea punctuated with islands of mono-color grass. “So ignore it, like the rest of us.”

Brock continued toward a small space where the buildings almost converged. An innocuous location where Aldwell assumed the back doors were. Employees took breaks, shipments delivered. How could you work at a cafe at a college and not feel that life was passing you by?

“A lot of them come from the same agency I do,” said Brock. “We’re not from around here.”

“Did you just read my mind?” asked Aldwell.

“What are you talking about?” said Brock. “You just seemed confused that I know where I’m going.”

“You’re not going the right way,” said Aldwell. “Staff parking is in the other direction. It’s a bit of a walk. Sometimes I take the bus to it.”

“This way’s quicker, trust me.”

Brock stopped for no one so Aldwell followed. In between the buildings, the alleyway took a turn, which seemed odd because the moment before they entered, Aldwell could see to the other side. Now they followed a thin brick-lined path.

“You’re doing well so far,” said Brock. “The timing has to be just right, so keep your pace.”

The professor turned another corner and was struck in the face by a giant leaf.  “Woah,” he shouted, pushing the leaf aside. It had more mass than he figured and he had to exert himself for a moment. He half-ducked and made it before noticing his foot sink a bit in some dirt. Regaining his balance, he was struck still by the sight of what appeared to be tangles of thick roots all flowering and leafing beside him, outlining a path. He looked up a bit farther and saw that these roots gathered themselves, greening into vines that intertwined into massive structures. The air around him had an evening feel to it but that was due to the large green spirals covering most of the sky. He heard Brock’s voice in the distance, shouting at him to keep up.

The path ahead of him was clear enough and Aldwell advanced toward his friend.

“No time for sightseeing,” said Brock. “Maybe later.”

Still, the professor couldn’t help turning his head now and then, noticing in the thicker vines that dim lights shone from between them. Some gnarled themselves into wreath-like patterns, revealing the windows of dwellings.

Brock stopped at one such place and knocked on a vine. It opened as a curtain and there stood Olivia, potion at hand.

“You’re late,” she said. “The potency doesn’t have much time.”

“I couldn’t find the classroom,” said Brock.

Aldwell muttered, “A likely story.”

“What was that?” asked Brock.

“Sorry,” Aldwell replied. “It’s something I hear a lot. Reflexive response.”

“You look well,” Olivia said to the charred husk of Brock. “Despite -”

“Yes, thank you,” Brock replied. “I can’t believe Julie is still functional, after what she went through.”

“She escaped through the routes that you take,” said Olivia, “but ones available to small flying creatures. I’d call it blind luck that she made it without the sun and the flames killing her beforehand. You’d better go.”

“How much farther do we have?” asked Aldwell.

Both Olivia and Brock stared at him as if he were a child. “Your house is just around the corner,” said Brock. He turned to Olivia. “No one pays attention to where they live anymore.”

Olivia agreed.

Vanished Without a Trace

VANISHED WITHOUT A TRACE


CHARACTERS:

NEIL

MELODY

WAITER

(Three bookshelves are top stage: left, right and center. In the left bookshelf are various artifacts of war: a sword, shields, helmets. In the center bookshelf are collections of new-age junk: a crystal ball, sacks of herbs, jeweled rings, tarot cards. In the right bookshelf are sci-fi looking devices: a laser gun, space helmet, flashing-light computer things with indeterminate purpose.)

(Front and center-stage is a small circular table where NEIL and MELODY sit facing each other. Dressed formally, and uncomfortable about it, fidgeting in their clothes.)

(A WAITER arrives. He is a caricature of a snooty French waiter with an exaggeratedly long pencil-thin mustache. He carries two enormous wine-goblets {a baby could fit in each} holds them up to his nose and makes loud sniffing noises before placing them on the tiny table, where they barely fit. Neil and Melody have to lean back in order to accommodate the goblets. After setting them down, the Waiter bows to both of them.)

WAITER

Monsieur, Madam.

(he exits)

NEIL

Not a speck of sand anywhere.

MELODY

I don't think my sinuses can take this much fresh air.

NEIL

Should've asked for the smoking section.

MELODY

I don't think those exist anymore.

NEIL

Not even in this country?

MELODY

We're back home, in America.

NEIL

You look nice.

MELODY

You said that already. Stop it. This feels as foreign as . . .

NEIL

. . . that damnable pottery which doesn't fit into either of the approved cultural epochs?

(The Waiter lurches back on stage with a giant candelabra. He manages to fit it sideways in between the two goblets, edging them ever further to the precipice. Flustered, Melody stands and moves to the upper right bookshelf where she puts on the alien space helmet. The Waiter stands aside and scribbles on his pad.)

MELODY

Depictions of impossible technology are found in all the pottery.

NEIL

And could be completely mythological.

MELODY

Including all the shared descriptions of a culture that we can't find a single trace of?

NEIL

Shared stories get passed along. We can't know for certain if they contradict each other or not. These are hieroglyphics we're talking about.

MELODY

The city-states were in communication. Each mentions all the others, but there's only one we can't physically find.

NEIL

Because it doesn't exist. Why is your one object of interest also the one thing that's vanished without a trace?

MELODY

Everything will vanish without a trace. You, me, the planet, the galaxy, eventually the whole universe will tear itself apart.

NEIL

That still doesn't shed any light on your current dilemma. Do we have to talk about work?

(Melody returns to the table. The Waiter removes her helmet and puts it on Neil. Neil stands and goes to the upper left shelf. He removes the space helmet and picks up a sword.)

NEIL (Continued)

It's my fault. I told myself that if we started talking about work I would organically direct the conversation to other matters rather than have an outburst.

(Melody signals the Waiter who brings her a deck of tarot cards from the middle bookshelf. She deals the cards randomly into the two wine goblets.)

MELODY

My mother believes in marrying and having kids ASAP. None of this 'waiting for life to figure itself out' because life never will. An object can never be the subject of its own knowledge. That's why I study unknowable things.

NEIL

That's a little heavy for a first date.

MELODY

We've had weirder conversations while dusting off what turned out to be old rocks all afternoon.

NEIL

Have kids and then do what? Bring them to a dig?

(he pantomimes a sword fight)

The key is to pursue the activities that interest you as young as possible. That's better for you, those around you, and the world at large. Experts are in short supply.

(Neil knocks over his wine goblet and stabs the table as a felled beast. He sits. Melody takes the cards from her goblet and goes to the upper left shelf and spreads them over the shield. The Waiter cleans up the goblet and Neil's cards.)

MELODY

There's nowhere else to go but back to the classroom.

NEIL

Not if you keep pushing these time-traveling civilizations.

MELODY

There's one missing piece in each of their histories. We should be able to find it.

NEIL

Is that where you see yourself in five years? A famous discoverer?

MELODY

I'll hate myself forever for not pursuing it.

(Melody takes the shield with her to the table and sits with it in her lap. The Waiter pulls Neil's chair out from under him. Neil gets up as if nothing happened.)

NEIL

Realistically, the classroom beckons. We begin there, and we end there. Hopefully teaching something we've learned about.

(Neil heads over to the upper right bookshelf and puts on alien antennae and picks up a B-movie sci-fi device.)

MELODY

Where do you see yourself teaching?

NEIL

Somewhere nice, like LA.

MELODY

You can't move to LA on your salary . . .

NEIL

. . . I'd have to visit and secure a position first . . .

MELODY

. . . Not with your credentials . . .

NEIL

. . . It's a nice dream and there's no reason why it couldn't happen. I've got lots of time left.

(Neil sits at the table. Melody points to his antennae.)

MELDOY

You've got something on your . . .

NEIL

There?

MELDOY

It's fine.

WAITER

Can I interest the happy couple in any children?

(The Waiter looks back and forth at Neil and Melody, who avoid eye contact with each other and him. Finally he's had enough. The Waiter throws down his pad.)

WAITER (Continued)

You never pay any attention to me. I wish I'd never been born!

(The Waiter storms off stage. Lights out.)

 END

Holy Books - VI: Chairman of the Bird

1 Faces were solemn preceding the negotiation. Glass windows on all sides gave the best view in the entire state. Anyone with a bit of ambition longed to be part of the business conducted within such lofty quarters. This contract could bring in so much money that a new level of prosperity would be guaranteed even in the homeless shelters. 

2 Venture capitalists that had broken away from organized crime were having surprising success helping smaller communities. Prosperity breeds growth. The mayor outbid everyone else in accommodations and flattery, and although the venture capitalists were not interested in flattery, they found the mayor’s sincerity appealing, because it’s so hard to find a person of political persuasion who hasn’t made some sort of deal with the other side. 

3 Still, negotiations would be tense, and changes would have to be agreed upon before anyone left this room. If successful, this could heal the country, as cities welcomed virtue and drove out the competitors who promised easy pleasure obtained at considerable moral expense.

4 This room, full of expensive sculpture, furniture, and media equipment, supplied with only the finest in liquids and gourmet food, the suits around the table more expensive than cars in many cases, watches more expensive than suits, everyone seated in manner dignified according to their position, were ready to begin.

5 “Sqwauk!” uttered the mayor. He flapped his wings and pounded his beak into the silver dish of seed in front of him. The clang like a car crash. Midway down the table the Public Works Director, flapped to the top of his chair, dangling a worm. In approval, the heads of the board of Finance pruned their under feathers. A splat of poop hit the window. Worms digest quickly through the chairman of Public Works.

6 The Ministers of Education, wanting their say, chirped among themselves before coming to an agreement. The three of them flapped atop the table, and bobbed in a circle, overturning bowls of seed and breadcrumbs. Their three empty chairs were moved together, should a nesting be required.

7 Reporters on the sidewalk were forced to hold umbrellas clumsily in one wing due to the larger number of human beings sitting on tree branches. A well-timed load dropped from one of them is always an embarrassing way to go. Still, it’s quite impossible to hold a notepad and pen and umbrella in one’s wing at the same time, so something has to give.

8 The birds knew they could be there all day, and some humans had climbed to the first ledge and were overlooking the steps. With any sign of activity from within city hall, usually a janitor gull, the birds would rush forward only to be dissuaded by streams of piss running down the human’s leg and down the front glass doors.

9 One human turned around and dropped trow, preparing to shit but lost his grip on the building and tumbled backward, head splitting open on the steps, causing a flutter of feathers and dropped pens.

10 Luckily, the janitor’s union, wanting to appear at their best during the venture capitalist meeting, all appeared from city hall. Dozens of them, and after a few false starts, were able to lift the body to around back of the building and deposit it in a dumpster. the rest of the people along the ledge were too terrified to move. Bad news for the janitors as this meant that eventually the people would lose their strength and come falling down one by one, only to splash into a guts puddle upon contact with the sidewalk. Why did they do this? Human beings are just dumb.

11 After the initial words from the various departments, the venture capitalists began their presentation. A few quacks which are sometimes hard to understand if you’re not used to the accent were followed by a shaking of water around the room. More chairs had been pushed around the Matriarch of Education, who sat dignified, although worried about future generations.

12 The room was divided between those on top of chairs and those not in chairs. The offer made by the venture capitalists was simple, if not accompanied by much regurgitation. While the mayor, of course, was fully on their side, something about the flight pattern of the Commerce Director worried him.

13 The venture capitalists concluded their presentation by digging up bits of carpet with their beaks and furnishing the nest of the Education Matriarch, this to the great relief of everyone. She stood up, revealing an egg and the room went wild. The capitalists plumed each other and the mayor rubbed heads with all the department directors. Even the Commerce Directer ceased his circular motion, landed on the egg, being almost a tense moment, until he puked up a worm to share with the Education Matriarch.

14 With a tap on the poop encrusted intercom, champagne was served. The bottles were pushed on carts by the catering pigeons and the whole group worked together to overturn them. Bottles exploded and corks shattered the boardroom windows and the birds all took flight, streams of champagne shooting out from behind them and raining on the crowd below.

15 The reporters scribbled, pens in beaks on their notepads. The humans on the ledges jumped after it, with predictable bloody results. Some came down from trees and stood with their mouths open, skyward. This also had predictable results as the birds flew overhead. Eventually, the janitor gulls chased off the humans so they could clean up the corpses.

A Summer at Shiloh Grove: Conclusion

She was going onto assignment for Dr. Brum. Kelly Q had little choice in the matter as she had been in the back offices more than most and been exposed to things that made her presence here dangerous to the Shiloh Grove. What things could those possibly be? After all, he said, he’d been shown things too. Kelly Q asked if he had any idea what they did with his blood. None whatsoever. And had he ever seen Dr. Brum’s ‘pets?’ A few, Brother V admitted, already weary of this breach of confidence. They wear them, she said. The people he serves. The world politicians. They gather in this place because this is where the reptiles shed their skin. She slowed down a bit. Does Brother V know what the concoction is that he drinks? “You explained it to me,” he said, “vitamins, sugars and proteins.”

Kelly Q said yea, something like that. It enriches your blood to make it more suitable for the reptiles and the politicians, although sometimes its hard to tell which is which.

Brother V was thoroughly confused at this point. Kelly Q laid it out, step by step. You give blood, you drink the blue mixture which was synthesized from the reptiles, it enriches your own blood which then is given back to the reptiles and politicians, depending on who they swore oaths to. The reptiles, at a certain stage of maturity, shed their skin. It can be vibrantly colorful and this skin can stretch over the politicians to where they become something else. It’s hard to see unless you know how. They look like people, and maybe they were or still are people to varying degrees, but it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. She encountered Dr. Brum testing different infusions on one of those-who-wouldn’t-make-it, as he was so fond of pretending to mentor. The ones who begged for their jobs the hardest came with him to be tested. They were given the ultimate inside information but usually ended up as failed prototypes. He had a new dig site somewhere, even she didn’t know where. But he gave her the option of working at a dig site or being a chemical lab-rat. The dig sites, he emphasized could be dangerous as one had no idea what was being released along with the giant skeletons in their catacombs of unintelligible symbols. The interplanetary elements they brought with them. Many were brought down by natural disaster. They maybe understood earthquakes because tectonics happen across the universe, but no one’s ever adequately prepared for a large one, or a super volcano. You live long enough, these things happen. Preserve your secrets for the future. Or maybe, Kelly Q speculated, if you consistently planet-hop and wind up in the throes of catastrophic disaster, maybe the problem is you. 


Brother Q was silent for some time before I prodded, “And then?”

“And then?” he shrugged. “She left.”

“And you never saw her again?”

He shook his head.

“And what about the restaurant and Dr. Brum?”

He stood up to give me full view of his stopped demeanor, his skin was cracking in several places and while it didn’t look like anything was leaking, I couldn’t be sure. His face was irritated as it had been when I first saw him.

“Clearly I’m too sick to work there, and they let me go. Repeated transfusions takes a toll on the human body. If you’re wealthy like the leaders, you get the better mixture which turns you into some kind of hybrid. Although I’m not sure that’s a much better life. To folks like you and me, their lives seem comfortable and glamorous, but they serve terrible masters and they never really end a day of work, unlike someone with a dead-end job.”

“Surely Dr. Brum could help you out,” I said, taking out my phone, “he’s still famous isn’t he?” I opened YouTube for a start and typed in his name which called forth immediately a list of recent lectures and interviews.

“You can’t look like me and get around him,” Brother V said.

“But that’s what he does for a living! Helping people who wouldn’t otherwise function in society,” I said, “unless . . .” I almost clapped my hand over my mouth to avoid finishing that sentence.

Brother V relaxed into a pained and one-sided grin. “Unless I made all that up. You don’t have to say it. It’s pretty unbelievable. But you won’t tell anyone. It would upset your friends and loved ones to tell them of our meeting even if you didn’t accept a word of what I said. You’d be branded for even relating this story.”

He was right. Midway through his tale I had decided there was no way I’d be telling my wife about this. She never knew him, and neither did any of my current friends.

“I won’t think you rude for leaving,” said Brother V. “It was lovely to see you again.”

Before I left, I asked if he needed my assistance with anything. He clearly saw what I was offering and assured me that his government assistance checks covered his needs. He lived a different style of life now. An underground one that I would always feel uncomfortable with if I should ever go to see him again.

Back in my car, I briefly looked up archeological news from the region where Kelly Q had been sent, nothing about giant skeletons or unnatural lizards. This was a night neighborhood and the number of people who passed my car while I sat unnerved me so I continued my drive home.


Leave the World Alone!

Whenever there is public bickering - a heated argument at a protest or on a political talk show - one of the members feels the need to keep smiling as if to say, ‘I’m above all that’ but it always seems forced. During my walk home (the bridge was cleared of all media, and mostly all people by now) my thoughts were occupied with the strangeness of the television news. Is it a form of ‘whistling past the graveyard’? That thought led to the realization that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a graveyard. Maybe I don’t notice them because I never go to them. My math teacher friend almost exclusively uses landmarks in terms of alcohol vendors. Even gas stations are either ‘the gas station that sells beer’ or ‘I’ve never heard of it.’ For some reason, I felt guilty about my lightness of mind. Why should I feel content? Isn’t something awful about to happen? If so, does my worrying prevent or catalyze it? Maybe I was overthinking. After all, everyone has several ‘astonishing coincidence’ stories which goes to show that astonishing coincidences are actually quite common.

Then there are those coincidences which seem like the universe is against you. Ever had a baby sat directly in front of you two flights in a row? Does someone seem to sneak into your house and move all your things around? (That doesn’t happen to me, I’m quite organized and don’t have much.) Maybe there is some unconscious longing in me which is exploring these issues for the first time. I’ve never been one for therapy, mainly because I don’t want my employers having access to my mental health history. I have no mental health history, but if I just started seeing a shrink, my employer might inquire as to why. I started to laugh at how malevolent that would be and then stopped myself. For a distraction, I looked out upon the river.

Was there a giant rabbit floating on its back below me? Impossible! Maybe someone’s silly idea of a raft. At that moment a roaring belch filled the air and I jumped, clutching my heart. Inadvertently I looked down at the rabbit who swam forward with its ears as if they were frog legs. A log floated beside this rabbit and a humanoid figure with a watermelon for a head climbed out of the large squirrel hole. He swished his hand in front of where his nose should be, as if to get rid of an awful smell, then struck a traditional diving pose, and leapt onto the rabbit’s stomach. The rabbit expelled a stream of water from its mouth and this human/melon figure rode it to the bridge and my eye-level. I looked around me seeing not another soul and put my hand on the guardrail although I didn’t want to get too close. The melon figure put on a pair of comically large goggles and then produced (from I know not where) a mallet. He raised the mallet and smashed his head. The watermelon exploded, and the humanoid part slinked into a pile revealing that it had only been a leotard containing a pile of fish dressed up as a man. The fish swam in a spiral pattern down the waterspout and leapt one by one into the river below before the rabbit could stop expelling water. I realized I hadn’t blinked in a while and rubbed my eyes, then seeing nothing but a fat man on an inner tube I became aware that throngs of people were bustling past me and I was inconveniently blocking the walkway.

Continuing along the guardrail, I kept my eyes open and mouth shut. A clown in stilts halfway across the bridge wobbled with a baby elephant under each arm. No one else seemed to notice this and my determination to continue-looking-determined prevailed, even when the clown waved at me and pat his elephants on the head, causing them to trumpet a rather amateur performance of the Promenade movement of Pictures at an Exhibition. If I’d had a hat I would have pulled it over my eyes, but baldness is one affliction that has appeared to pass me by.

I hurried down the street despite being followed by roller-skating manatees in tutus. They swerved through the crowd unmolested. The front one held a trophy which was apparently the property of the angry mustache with goggles who was flying the bi-plane. It’s all I saw of the pilot. The roar of the engine grew louder as the mustache let loose a grappling hook and tried to snag the trophy but only succeeded in snaring a lamppost and smashing his plane on the bridge. The front manatees crashed into the rubble, causing a pileup behind them.

The trophy went flying and the mustache skid along the street, leaving a trail of fuel and burning wreckage. The mustache went up in smoke with an audible phwomph!, right as the trophy landed. The manatees put the fire out with their bodies and grabbed the trophy. But something started to shake the ground and they all turned in terror toward the soaking rabbit who had emerged from the river. As the rabbit picked up the manatees with the intention of eating them like corn nuts I slammed my front door and was once again blessed with silence.

In order to take my mind off the occurrences, I logged into my company website and set about an irritating task that I could always find excuses to avoid while at the office. As pathetic as other employees might find me for doing this on a weekend, I was pretty sure there were problems in the spreadsheet of our second-largest account. While I was not currently assigned to it, I had been in the past and was part of a general problem-solvers group. Isolating the exact error in the spreadsheet computations was going to be a tedious and headache-inducing bore, but it was just the distraction I needed. Once I found it, it turned out to be massive. Bigger than my educated guesses. I allowed myself a smile, and maybe even a sinister chuckle or two, but these were forced for theatric’s sake. After being recognized for this contribution I would be able to demand a much higher asking price from the company. Take that, River Rabbit!

I stayed in next weekend. I couldn’t help but notice the third white van to pull into my neighborhood and sit there. It, like the other two, had a rusty ladder on top, but all the windows were blacked out and there were no license plates. I knew to not go outside if the sun was wearing a sombrero. Not that I’d become a total recluse, but I do have enough food to last for several days, and even preparations in case of a power outage or earthquake. It just makes sense. I would have gone to the store had I needed to. Even in the face of the sumo-wrestling dwarves in my front lawn. Not like, human dwarves either. Imps? Goblins? Some days, the world is just telling you to leave it alone.

I wish someone would tell me if I were under suspicion of something. I would always fully cooperate. There is nothing to hide in my house and I am incredibly boring by anyone’s standards. I know that’s not the best argument in order to avoid a police-state, but it happens to be true in my case. If they would just tell me what the problem is, then we could sort this out. I’m sure they’ve got better things to do than to watch the ventriloquist-flowers grow and practice their painfully cliche routine.

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 7)

No one ever saw her leave. The young men who would wait outside the supposed ‘perfume’ shop hoping to ‘accidentally’ ‘run into’ one of the young ladies leaving for the night were always disappointed. One would lean against the nearest lamp-post, one across the street. Another would round the corner just at closing time, and then again fifteen minutes later. All three making awkward eye contact.

She did not live at the shop, although she was always the first one there and the last to leave. Olivia travelled other roads. Just off the route that Brock took to deliver her potions, was a light road. So named that it only showed itself to special eyes in special light. 

There’s certain insects and frogs with neon skin and shells, these crush to powder and mix with spiderweb dew. The consistency must be just right, or you’ll go blind. Many are afraid that if you make it too thin, the mixture will run off, like tears. It must be so thin that even an eye-dropper can’t hold it. That’s the key. Preparation is everything. This mixture must be applied to the eyes with a brush made from (ideally) the spider’s web where the dew came from. The water is just better suited to the medium, but any spider’s web that holds dew will suffice. Keep the eyes closed for six hours as the mixture soaks in. It’s best to stay awake for this because in sleep one moves involuntarily. Sit still. Most adherents time this so that it will be twilight when the eyes open. This is usually a mistake, as the overwhelming amount of impressions can cause one to wander along dangerous paths. Open the eyes around midday, and the twilight impressions will emerge, like a developing photo, and you’ll be better to tell the safe from the unsafe.

Of course, certain knowledge of the Etherworlds is vital to choosing paths, but intuition and heart apply as well. If you don’t like it, don’t take it. Likewise, if you like it too much. There’s plenty to choose from. Olivia made her home along what travelers know of as the Vinetree route.

The road diverges from the dirt path to a copse of trees which appears, no one can really say when. Within the trees is another world entirely. The sun vanishes and a phosphorescent green glow becomes the source of illumination. A few paths make their way through the snake-like vines. Any of the primates and birds that live here have access to the full range of motion, but not a human like Olivia. She sticks to the path. 

Sometimes, vines grow together in a spiral motion like a cyclone. Within many of these are homes. The vine forest is so thick that violent storms rage outside its confines while the inhabitants hear nothing. The spaces between worlds are fragile and only the strongest plants have adapted there. Those that live within the plants give back by making use of the plant’s gifts. Seeds are spread, leaves are turned into clothes. The ingestion of nectar and marrow, rather than being a consumptive act, is the act of expansion. One doesn’t turn food into oneself, this plant food is an honorific sacrament.

Vintree Village has seen its fair share of exploiters, but they don’t last long. Their damage is always sad, but their fates are just. Approaching unknown but potential power with the sole intention of riding it like a bull is one of the quicker recipes to an endless series of unconquerable ailments. Vines which previously had been providing an anti-aging nectar into one’s tea may burst with the insects which fill the vine when it is drained. These parasites then attack the nearest mobile being and bring forth all manner of rot and fire to the nerves, this torment indefinitely prolonged by the previous ingestion of the anti-aging properties - to name but one consequence.

Olivia keeps books. All made by local ingredients. Certain leaves have cellular memory of such capacity that the number to describe it has not yet been named. Even with all this space, her bookshelves span the shelter. What does she do with all this unfathomable knowledge? Olivia is not a pragmatist, because pragmatists are problem-junkies. And maybe all worlds contain all problems and the fact that she could cure every disease she’s ever come across has occurred to her. That would not solve the problems of distribution and exploitation and the vines do not give up their secrets lightly. Were she to betray their trust, the consequences would be dire. So she communes with them and explores their cellular memory and writes formulas to further the total understanding of being.

It has been argued by explorers, that the plants themselves are evil for causing harm upon some people who use their properties and not others. Why not cure a disease and save millions of lives each year? But the vines do not think in terms of human life. In this Etherworld, and perhaps in others, the plants are a network of balances. An artist perfecting composition with an infinite series of moving parts.

Holy Books - V: Symbolism in Literature

1 There’s far too much symbolism in literature. One could argue forever about how the oceans are either separate or one, but what about the continents? Surely all the continents are connected or there wouldn’t be a planet. In fact one could look at the planet as having just a few places where the ocean floor is higher than average.

 

2 If Professor Poo thinks that Pre-Theormite sculpture had a disadvantageous affect upon the fourteenth century political criticisms of Beckermuuund, but Professor Pee believes in applying the philosophical asymmetries of Outer-Schouylestissimus to n-dimensional extant graphical topoholix, then both together should at least keep each other busy and out of our hair.

 

3 But where was I? Oh yes. We may have all grown from an inner continent that no one remembers. For, like so many layers of mold, the original falls apart. After maggots have started living atop your kitchen counter, it’s quite a dream to have that counter as clean as it once was. Other life forms eat off it now, no longer you.

 

4 But enough about me. I am at least, willing to listen to dissenting voices, and I’ve heard tell of hunters living deep within the planet, from the original continent who occasionally come up to our level. For what purpose? Exploratory probably. Imagine a blizzard that went on for centuries longer than it was supposed to. You would adapt, and your offspring, and certainly their offspring would not remember what life above layers of snow was like.

 

5 Some say the earliest of us had it like that, and are still down there now. In the first continent. We grew on top of them. Our most ancient past is also our distant future, for only they will remain. Not a Professor Poo or Pee among them.

 

6 Oh sure, some of us live underground and have documentaries made about us, but enough about my wife and children. You try and take some family vacations, and then nobody wants to see the sun ever again.

 

7 But even sewer and subway dwellers are mountaintop hermits compared to our antediluvian ancestors. In fact, there are gurus who relish that role. I’ve heard many a metro maintenance technician on their lunch break bellow diatribes into the hungry darkness.

 

8 “Sometimes me wife snorts in her sleep! And I find meself wishing I was a pig! They seem happy with so little. And I’ve always wanted to eat people too, but I could never mention that in polite society!”

 

9 Ivory tower academics are so dull. One could wander forever through a single opening sentence. Everyone is so determined to define their terms in the narrowest way possible, thus excluding any kind of interpretation that could lead to discussion. 

 

10 The only possible response is a rebuttal paper. But that has to define its terms differently since it is saying something different, therefore requiring the original paper to be republished, disguised as ‘new’ just because some of the words are in a different order. Copy and paste, and you’ve got yourself an academic career.

 

11 Still, all the symbolism in the world didn’t save the lost cities of the first continent. It’s hard to believe that the entire civilization remains untouched, just squished. I’d imagine only a few larger centers, working in trade with each other. 

 

12 There are two factions, predictably enough. Those who want to wait out the eventual crumble of our top-heavy civilization, and those who venture to explore up here in hopes of reconciliation . . . or revenge.

 

13 I believe there are agents among us engineering our destruction. They are us, just from the first continent. 

 

14 You didn’t think that all the nonsense taught in campuses is merely accidental did you? Using technology and exploitation to explain why technology and exploitation is bad while grooming people for careers in technology and exploitation! Nonsense. And what about in the world of work? All that irrational bureaucracy? I can’t be the only one who notices that people behave in ways that hurt themselves specifically, but are okay as long as it hurts others too. And this is the state of modern, high-tech business? The thinkers of tomorrow all creating as many administrative positions in between themselves and reality as possible so that paperwork itself may become a life-form more all-consuming than an extraterrestrial fungus!

 

15 They’re really just amusing themselves as it would take a far greater power than all of us combined to outdo us. We’ve used nuclear weapons before and society didn’t crumble in a cowering miasma of mistrust.

 

16 Just amusements, like my colleague Doctor Crotch-Rot’s high energy particle beam capable of disrupting the core of stars. It’s all theoretical and we’ll just continue to believe those lasers in his garage are for his model train set. What’s he putting on, a Prince concert?

 

17 But where was I? Oh yes, symbolism in literature. Is it there, or isn’t it? If we can’t even trust those who run things not to be agents from an ancient underground race bent on our destruction, then I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other.

A Summer at Shiloh Grove (Part 6)

On the first of the many training days, Dr. Brum oversaw the process. All front and back-of- house staff were there and were given tours, shown the walking patterns, which Brother V, along with certain others, knew instinctively. The rest that didn’t he assumed were on Dr. Brum’s list of potential failures.

“I’ve never been wrong,” Dr. Brum said to him privately, “but I always hope I am. It is my goal to be able to teach the unteachable. Unfortunately,” he winked like the nurse at Brother V, “some of you may have to pick up slack in the meantime.”

Brother V was ambitious at this point and picking up slack was the only way to climb the rope, so to speak. He was about to say that to Dr. Brum, but Brum had left.

Each of them was given a schedule to report to the medical offices before leaving. Brother V, while not being allowed to discuss this treatment with other employees, told me that he gave blood each time and the more frequent the schedule, the more of that blue pond-drink they gave him. 

He went often enough to understand when the cute nurse worked there, and while he never had any realistic thoughts about dating her - he could never be that forward and the HR within an organization such as this would be a nightmare - he enjoyed her company more than some other older nurses who seemed either bored or bitter. 

His most forward act on this front was to request a schedule change from the receptionist. He made up a story about visiting family and days off and asked if he might swap a day with another day. The receptionist explained that it was unorthodox and the schedules were very specific and Brother V found himself in the position of being the difficult customer. It was a role he had never held before and took on with great discomfort. He asked if she printed out the schedule sheets during their visits and she said yes. He then asked her just to check if there would be an opening on the day of his request and if there was could they just switch that one day? He’d be in her debt and he did not know how he could repay her. He could read in her face that thought-process which he had gone through numerous times. ‘Yes-this-thing-is-possible-but-uncommon-and-irritating-however-you’re-not-going-to-leave-it-alone-so-I-give-up.’ She made a few clicks on the computer, printed him out a new sheet, once she decided to comply with his request she switched back onto smile-customer-automatic-pilot. “Is this what you were looking for?” she asked. It was exactly what he was looking for and he thanked her once and left. He knew from experience that even being thanked profusely by a difficult customer did nothing to ease the anguish that serving them had placed on you.

The work at the restaurant was tiring, and most of the time, Brother V could not place the many faces at the tables. Occasionally there was one that looked vaguely familiar and he would later realize that this face adorned the news quite a bit and he was used to seeing only the one photograph or currently famous video clip. The aides, as usual were more demanding but Brother V found that silly more than anything else. 

He was elated with the success of his changing temperaments and longed to have a meeting with Dr. Brum about it. Such a meeting, now that he was no longer a new hire, would be difficult to procure, but he could do it in time, and the longer he waited, the more evidence he would have to report.

On the day of his selected blood-letting, he noticed his preferred nurse leaving the building. She saw him and waved and he ran to catch up and asked her where she was going. The guards patrolling the compounds did not take kindly to his running. She informed him that this was to be one of her last days in this employment, that her term was over and she had many other things to attend to.

Brother V was distraught and told her about his schedule change, a sudden onset of boldness that he hoped she wouldn’t find creepy. He told her that he found her presence pleasant as opposed to other nurses he named due to their bitterness and boredom. This nurse, we can call her Kelly Q, was flattered and even suggested that after his donation he could meet her in a certain coffee shop. She had a job interview later that afternoon and did not want to dwell at her apartment in the few hours in between. Brother V agreed.

He gave his donation, the receptionist asking him all kinds of questions about his family which Brother V somewhat improvised and then felt guilty about, unsure of how deep this company was investigating him. If anyone understood the importance of privacy, it was the Shiloh Grove.

Kelly Q had a friend at the coffee shop who met Brother V instead. A roommate, or soon-to-be ex-roommate due to the nature of Kelly Q’s work. This roommate gave Brother V a slip of paper that she had never looked at, said that’s where Kelly Q was and that Brother V should head there.

Turns out, it was another coffee shop although this one was at the corner of a suburb. Maybe this shop got busy after people were more traditionally done with work. It certainly wasn’t on a high-traffic intersection and it was all the way across town. Kelly Q was standing by the door when Brother V got in. She was about to leave, she told him. He apologized for not having had time to clean up or change or . . . she stopped him right away and asked if he knew why she was leaving.

You've Got It!

The artifact in question is in your possession. All memory of it has been erased, either by you, or someone else, I don’t know yet. Maybe a combination. While the artifact cannot harm you in your ignorant state, those hunting for it are committing atrocities across universes in their quest to find it. But these atrocities are nothing compared to the enslavement and holocaust which should result in their acquisition of the artifact. There are also those searching who would seek to thwart this harm, and prevent the artifact falling into the wrong hands. And yet, somehow it’s entrusted to you to figure out who gets it. Will there ever be bloodshed enough to cleanse the universe of its sense of humor?

Please do not mistake this as some symbolic, feel-good self-help motivational manifesto about how all the power to achieve your dreams and get everything you want was yours all along if you just believed in yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’re a pawn, so selected due to your obliviousness to reality that is so complete it verges on miracle.

Many of these entries descend into fable, for therein lies an infinite number of ways to explain the unexplainable, and maybe one of them will stick someday. Have you heard the one about the mysterious stranger?

The stranger haunts many lands. And that’s only the portion that is speakable. The stranger said something to you of immense importance, but you missed it and the stranger committed suicide out of despair. Placing the artifact under your domain was one gamble too many for the old wizard. Even the magical run out of luck.

Wherefore, this document then? If all is lost, then what’s the point? But all is not lost. In fact, you’ve got it. We just don’t know where you put it. Allow us to explain:

The old magical ones immerse themselves in arcane lore which was worked out by others before them as a way of keeping busy. By analogy, today’s academics do the same thing. Publish or perish, write books about books about books. Actual magical knowledge is sparse and powerful enough to avoid classification. But those who study the arts go into it for power. To one-up the world, get back at their bullies, escape, hide from the chaos of the universe in the calligraphy of dusty manuscripts that look deliberately made but are in fact, patchwork garbage. They entrench this knowledge as the only way to true knowledge, despite having none of their own, and they become old enough that these young people with the same emotional hangups as the old guard swallow the bait, and the cycle continues. The old people finally have the respect they need to feel somewhat in control of things despite having never accomplished anything except cement a form of institutionalized confusion.

We for one, say fuck all that nonsense. Not to say the old ones lacked for cleverness. They have millennia of self-devouring rules tangled like an Oroboros in a series of constrictor knots. It is beyond doubtful that they can recover the artifact, and if we leave it to them, we are doomed. Nor can we trust ourselves to develop our own schools. The very attempt to do so is to fall into the same inescapable rut that has befallen so many before us.

Another fable then . . . and no, this is not a self-esteem promoting exercise to get you to write your own ending or some bullshit. Where you find the answer to your own question without knowing what either is. What a load of toss. This tale is of the Old Asylum.

The Asylum appears dark and full of malevolence. It is easy to understand why those such as ourselves are kept there. Our histories would provide enough sordid detail to study until the end of the universe. 

A fascinating look at strange magic explored simply to find the end of the road: no benefit, no result, just phantasmic effects. The weird and unproductive are kept locked away.  However, our darkness is illusory. It’s just your own wall you’re looking at. Like your stupidity is our wall. Our fragmentary sentences may appear as poetry, and legendary epics have been written from the pieces. But it’s all just wallpaper. Our identities so fixed and fascinating that people aspire to such changelessness every day of their life. They fantasize opposites in an attempt to explain. All of the above is a mistake.

We have become your artifact. That is our maneuver. Although we found its doorway in a place you cannot access. Therefore it is imperative that you recover it on your own plane. The stranger tried to tell you. But we are here now, working on our own shortcut. What if you just got up and left everything you knew? Would that reveal it?