Universal Mood Moderator

In Ethel’s opinion, it is the breathing of oxygen that has driven people insane. It keeps them in a perpetual state of delusion and hallucination. At times she has convinced someone to try and kick the habit, but the withdrawal pains are immediate and severe, and most soon give up.

For those who persevere, the withdrawal can be fatal.

Ethel is grateful that she has never breathed any oxygen. She breathes nitrogen and argon. Better that way.

You’re an asshole-

Is what Ethel would like to say. Ethel is always having these thoughts. Oxygen moderates mood. Because she doesn’t take it, she’s cranky.

You’re the most beautiful creature there’s ever been-

Is what Ethel would like to say. Ethel is always having these thoughts. Oxygen moderates mood. Because she doesn’t take it, she’s giddy.

She can’t say any of it, because she can’t talk. Ethel is mute. She was born that way. So she writes on plastic, “Give up oxygen, free your mind, see the world for what is. A place of unbearably beautiful murderous monsters. Except their noses aren’t beautiful. Noses are weird.”

She leaves these notes scattered around, but you can’t read them. They’re written in braille. It’s not that she’s blind. She can see. But she only knows how to write in braille. She posts her messages outside bathroom doors, and the blind read them with their fingertips.

“Give up oxygen, free your mind, see the world for what it is. A place of unbearably beautiful murderous monsters. Except their noses aren’t beautiful. Noses are weird.” The blind read these messages, and go into the restrooms, and defecate.

This is as Ethel prefers.

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to too two Tuesday

“Today’s Tuesday, isn’t it. Today’s Tuesday, isn’t.” He screamed in her ear, spittle hitting her cheek. “Isn’t it!”
“It is,” she admitted.
“To too two Tuesday. Tutus.”
She was wearing a frilly pink tutu. She hadn’t been before.
“Haha! To too two Tuesday.” He had to stop to think. “Toot!”
She tooted.
“Haha! To too two Tuesday-”
“Tomorrow,” she interjected.
“Tomorrow,” he agreed, then clapped a hand over his mouth, but it was too late. “OMG It’s Wednesday, isn’t it?”
She said, “Wend winds Wednesday, Window Dressing.”
“But the n’s are wrong!” he cried. But they weren’t. He was window dressing.

 

this one is so odd. i don’t even know.
hit me up on twitter @thewritten_man

I’ve been hermitage enough

I must believe in an afterlife, because at the ripe old age of 25, I’m terrified of burial. Of death also, but it doesn’t not generate the same rigid spined terror that burial does.

Here are a few paragraphs I wrote a few years ago, an excerpt from a book titled “The Gray Man Comes,” which I shall likely never finish.

There was in the ground a deep rectangle with concrete sides and bottom. It was much deeper than 6 feet, 15 perhaps. Before it were chairs, and next to it the heavy wooden coffin and flowers lay. I did not understand what it was. At first when I saw the pit I thought it must be the grave, but the graves I’d seen in movies were dug in dirt, not sided with concrete, and when the coffin was laid in, the pile of dirt left from digging the hole was shoveled atop it, the grass one day to overgrow it. Still, I could not think what else it might be, so I asked my father where the dirt to bury grandmother was, and he told me, distracted by other things as he did, that there was no dirt, that the vault would be sealed by a steel top, lowered by a small crane, one of the large yellow ones I associated with construction, after the coffin had been lowered in the same manner. Later, when we were gone, a machine would push in dirt over it, and Mexicans would lay sod.
    I understood, and stared in horror at the grave. I tugged on my father’s sleeve and whispered, “Do not put me in one of those things, someday. Do not lock me away in concrete and burnished wood, so that I will never be a part of the world again. Do not make my molecules forever dead.”
    It was, I admit, a poor thing to say at another’s funeral, and I whispered it loudly enough for several to hear and turn and look, but I cannot describe the magnitude of my terror then, a terror that has grown, at the imprisoning vault of man-made white stone, a rectangular marble tomb of strange crafting, within a sarcophagus of copper lined wood, preserved from bugs and microbes, to be found by some latter day archaeologist, ancient corpse #0997 of 10,000, as they investigate the burial practices of the ancient superstitious, embalmed flesh still clinging to my bones like odoriferous dried meat, to be taken and studied for clues about ancient American culture, that dead empire with its glass obelisks, corpse #997, forever dead, still as dead as a thousand years ago at the moment of my death, sealed in a hermetic chamber in the bowels of a new epoch’s museum, always, always dead for another thousand years more of curious grad students looking over corpse #997, though it is not very interesting. Perhaps one day I might be burned or left to be decomposed so that at long last my molecules might rejoin with the world, the grass to grow from me, animals to eat me and me to become a part of them, my moisture to enter others and pass through their bowels and tear ducts and sweat glands and lips, bits and pieces making bits and pieces of ovum and sperm and embryo, the atoms of my neurons to form parts of the neurons of others, at last myself alive again and sentient again, finally freed from the concrete prison after two thousand years of unjustified confinement.
    Or perhaps it would never end. Perhaps there would be no latter day archaeologist interested in Sunny Glades cemetery, and I would remain dead and unmoving in my concrete prison till the day the sun at last burned the earth to a cinder, till the day the universe ended in ice or fire, never to be living again, waiting for the end of all things to at last free my remains from the bondage of gray and bones.

That is how I felt as I typed those words at the community college library, (I remember which table I was sitting at) and I still feel that way. I don’t imagine that I am something other than my body, but suppose I’m not anything less than it either. I imagine when I die, that corpse will still be me, but just dead, and I do not think that death should take my away from the hustle and bustle of life.

And there’s an odd thing, because I do not hustle and bustle. It is good that there is school and work, as if there weren’t I’d only ever leave the house to walk the dog and go shopping. I like shopping, but otherwise I am perfectly content to hole up all day in a room that smells ever more like a coffin.

In life I am homebody (hermit! my mother says) but in death I hope to become a drifter. Here are a few lines from a Neil Gaiman short story called Pages from a Journal, which is about a drifter.

“When you die,” says a dark haired woman at the next table, “they can make you into diamonds now. It’s scientific. That’s how I want to be remembered. I want to shine.”

This is true. There are several companies. It has become a small industry, bedeviled by occasional charges of fraud. Sometimes the CZ diamond you get is not compressed by carbon from the corpse of your grandmother, but compressed from coal, or somesuch. But I imagine it is done properly, and I am put, shiny and sparkling, a many faceted prism, into a relative’s hand, and the relative has it set into a ring. The ring passes eventually down to a great-granddaughter, who has no idea why Jonathan Lovelace, 04/30/1990-06/16/2087 is engraved on the inside of the band.

Because I am myself, I imagine that the ring bears my spirit, and begins to advise her, at first in a helpful, avuncular way, but progressing into possession, living vicariously through her and making evil demands such as, “No, we shall not go the party. We shall sit quietly at home reading a good book, wishing that the cat would snuggle us more.” Eventually, with the help of a lapsed Catholic Priest who has since become a jeweler, she removes and destroys the demonic ring.

Perhaps I’ll write that story one day. Writing it would likely make me like even less the idea of being bound into a diamond. I want to be free. I want my atoms to get about town. I’ve been hermitage enough.

40 Pounds of Flesh

My Grandmother said she wouldn’t trade me for any other grandson in the world, so I wrote this.

40 Pounds of Flesh

    The swap meet is on the corner of 13th and Lincoln. Weeds grow waist high through cracks in the asphalt, and the sign reads, “La Familial.” You’ve seen it.
     A mother bargains with a father, each with a son, for a son.
    “He’s a sissy,” says the father, holding his boy.
    The mother, holding hers, says, “How are his grades?”
    He shows her the report cards, and she nods. “What’s your favorite thing to do?” she asks the boy.
    He looks fearfully at his father, who nods.
    Hesitantly, “I like building model robots.”
    “Is he sensitive?” asks the mother.
    “Very,” says the father, regretfully. Then asks the other boy, “You play football?”
    “Hockey.” The man’s expression darkens, so boy B adds. “Checking is a lot like tackling. I could switch.”
    “You cry when you watch cartoons or see a bird die?”
    “No. That’s gay.”
    Boy A wants to know if he can attend band camp and science camp in the same summer. His prospective mother says he can go to computer camp too.
    The parents shake, and both boys say, “Yipee!”
    Wife A trades stolid dependable husband for ravishing, romantic layabout. Or perhaps the husbands trade the wives; it’s often hard to tell. A nicer grandma is traded for one who has more in her IRA and bakes better cookies. A politician looks for children who will be duller and look better standing behind him, and finds a ready supply.
    Mother A tries to trade daughters with Mother B. Her daughter would be the superior if she hadn’t dropped her on the head as a child, but that’s how the fortune cookie crumbles. Mother A has to throw in a hundred thousand dollars and her hair to swing the deal.
    Parts are often exchanged. A teen swaps his long arms to a jock for the jock’s clear skin. Both leave happy. Among the teenage girls there’s a steady back and forth of looks for intelligence, but the sum of it is always smaller at the end of the day, as the store takes its cut. Various talents can be bought wholesale at the counter for the low low price of one pound of flesh.
    Did your mother seem so very different one day? Did your brother came back with a new lease on life? Did the damn dog suddenly learn to behave? Ha, Ha Ha ha, ha. People don’t change. They just get changed out.

Magnetic Moment

spinny

I have a legendarily poor sense of direction. Get lost in my own room if there weren’t signs posted. Hope I got stuff right.

 

All at once, a lot of people fell over. Having fallen, they slid a little, or rather, it felt like the ground slid under them.

There were a lot of yells of earthquake, because it seemed slightly more like that than anything else other than being attacked by a treadmill. Knick-knacks slid sedately off shelves, but after a minute of nothing coming apart and not much rumbling, citizens stepped out of the doorways they’d been braced in, and very carefully, looked outside, where they saw everyone else doing the same thing. Then they mostly got on twitter and tweeted about it.

It quickly went around that they were all being pushed gently west. The general explanation was that this was either really cool or really annoying, depending on your perspective on life.

Logs, people, cats and rocks were pushed. Trees, statues, ground squirrels, pillars, and anything else embedded in the earth were not pushed. A vine went viral in which a man nailed his shoe to the floor and ceased to be pushed. A million people tried it and found it worked, but, depending on how substantial the shoes were, two nails might be needed.

Because NASA was looking up, they were the first ones to know what was happening. (The first one to guess was a closet designer staggering through the frozen food aisle at a Mumbai Walmart, but guessing isn’t knowing.) What NASA knew was that the earth spins at a little over 1000 miles an hour at the equator, and progressively less as you make your way to the poles, but now it wasn’t spinning so fast. Houston was losing 3 miles per hour of velocity every second, or about the walking speed of an average grandfather. It was hard to get a more accurate measure. The (de)acceleration was dissatisfyingly jerky.

In Singapore, the velocity lost every second was more like the walking pace of a fit grandpa who still plays tennis over the weekend.

You might think the 24 hour news cycle was born for just such a moment, but they weren’t nearly fast enough. Wolf Blitzer was reduced to reading Neil Degrasse Tyson’s twitter feed aloud on air.

He read that if the earth was indeed losing about 3 miles an hour every second, that was 180 miles an hour every minute. Thus it would take a little under 6 minutes, from start to finish, for the earth to stop spinning entirely, and the event had already been going 90 seconds before Mr. Tyson started tweeting.

If the earth were tidal locked, it would complete exactly one rotation for each orbit, such that the same side would constantly face the center. That side would bake like the top layer of your Aunt’s sausage strata, and the other side would freeze like a streaker in Antarctica. Endless day on one side of the planet, endless night on the other, and endless twilight at the borders.

Or, if the planet stopped spinning entirely, there would still be days, but they’d be the same length as a year. It would be a bit like life at the poles, where there’s day for half the year and night for the other half.

Either way, it would probably spell the end for human civilization. Given that the only people who’d thought seriously about such climate models were astrophysicists, Mr. Tyson found his expertise more relevant to current events than ever before.

A few scientists hurriedly set up video conferences with the news, mumbling things about magnetic fields and new physics and being very confused right now, while the ‘Scientists’ brought in to argue with them shouted things about Quantum Fields and new physics and not being confused at all.

It was not the rating bonanza the cable news shows hoped it would be, as nearly everyone who watched the news did so so that they could livetweet it. Millions of people took videos of the sun which showed it wasn’t moving through the sky as quickly as normal.

The sun was setting over the American west coast. People stood (balancing carefully) on the hoods of their cars, or on balconies, to watch.

As the earth turned slower and slower, the sun set more and more slowly. There was a lot of talk among west coasters that it wouldn’t be so bad if the earth tidal locked with the sun right at the horizon. That would be very pretty, and, in the estimation of many of the gawkers, neither too hot nor too cold. California, however, as one of the few habitable places left, might become even more crowded than it already way. But this was not to be.

The sun dipped below the waves, and night fell over America.

Except Hawaii and Alaska of course.

The sun dipped below the waves, and night fell over the continental United States.

All at once, a lot of people fell over, which was especially tough for those of them standing on cars. Having fallen, they didn’t slide much. They’d done this once already, except now, instead of feeling pushed west, they felt pushed east by the earth, which seemed to be moving at about the speed of your average Grandpa, or, in Singapore, at the speed of a fit grandpa who still plays tennis over the weekend.

A closet designer refreshing twitter in Mumbai was the first to guess what was happening, but half the world was just an instant behind. The earth was spinning, not west to east, but east to west, spinning every second about 3 miles per hour faster than the second before. Californian’s who‘d just seen the world’s longest sunset, got to see the world’s longest sunrise directly afterward. Not that it was very much longer.

It was about six minutes before the acceleration stopped, the earth spinning as fast as before, just in the opposite direction. There wasn’t much difference. Whatever it was had taken care of the satellites. For the sake of preserving believability, I won’t even mention what happened to the moon.

The only real difference was that the sun now came up in the west and set in the east, which made Lord of the Rings, and anything else which used the sun setting as a key metaphor, odd to re-read.

There were a lot of news articles and press conferences, and an abundance of snark. Certain U.S. senators spoke of natural cycles, and others of the wrath of God, but NASA couldn’t guess anything but that the aliens had had a good laugh.

Personally, I think the whole thing was, in some inscrutable way, an accident, a glitch in the gum and popsicle stick system, the thin gauze that is the orderly universe peeling back for a moment to reveal the madness beneath.

Cthulhu, in short.

Blue of the Prism 1: Still Air

woman blue too pretty

 

Writing this was like bathing in a wetsuit. Usually, an “if-then” scenario occurs to me. That’s the fabled moment of inspiration. So I write the story it creates. But I was thinking that all my stories are maudlin, and I would like to write a happy story. So, without any inspiration, I took a few happy elements and manufactured them into a silly story. I’ve even less idea than usual of whether it’s good or not. It was very hard. Enjoy.

She was blue as a smurf and didn’t know why. She’d woken up that way. The first thing she did was take a picture and post it on instagram. The second thing she did was google “turning blue disease.” There were some surprisingly blue people, but apparently it took awhile to turn blue, whereas she’d been white as ever just last night.

She sang “Blue, blue electric blue is my room,” to herself in front of the mirror. She put on clothing and extra makeup, figuring to double down on flamboyance, and went with her yoga mat to the park. Several people said hello, and she posed for photos with two tourists from Germany, then a group of 30 16 year olds from China. They didn’t seem to understand that she wasn’t a character.

When she got to the park, several minutes late, the yoga instructor:
blinked
stared
blinked again
and told her she was late and should take her place.

MC rolled out her mat beneath the drooping willow. Margaret asked why she was blue, and she said she’d wanted to be.

She’d originally started yoga so she could complain about it, and also to maybe a lose a little weight, but lately she was enjoying it, which disturbed her.

She was on her belly, pulling on her legs so her feet would go over her back to face the sun, then over her shoulder to face the earth, when she noticed a mushroom cap moving though the grass.

She wondered if a beetle had got hold of it. It popped clear up out of the grass, several inches in the air, balanced as a hat on the head of a little man not more than six inches high, still waist deep in the grass. He would’ve been handsome if he’d been taller and better dressed.

He reached into the grass and pulled up a tiny old woman (not more than four inches high) with a cane, a mustache, and bottlecap hat.

The tiny old woman said, “Bluer than a Harlem saxophonist. Bluer than tennis courts. Bluer than the flames at the bottom of a burner. Sure enough, that’s the chosen of blue.”

MC disguised her scream as an “ow, ow, my thighs,” and let those thighs unbend a little. When she looked again, the tiny people hadn’t gone away.

“Hallo!” said the man. “I’m Fulvevis, pleasure to greet you.”

She nodded politely.

“Mightn’t we gab in private?” said little Fulvevis.

She glanced around. No one else was noticing. She whispered, “If it’s important enough to interrupt yoga, it can wait till yoga’s over,” and supposed that whatever chemical had turned her blue was also giving her hallucinations. She did not remember anything odd happening last night. It had been a very normal night. She hadn’t drunk anything stranger than a can of V8 juice with hazelnut syrup in it.

The little man sat, everything but his mushroom vanishing in the grass.

The little old woman walked to MC’s mat, saying “nuck nuck nuck.” She hit the foam mat several times with her cane, tore off a sliver, and stuck it in her mouth. She chewed slowly, swallowed, said, “Pree good,” and took a bigger sliver of mat.

MC transitioned into the pose that culminated in her groveling like a wet noodle faced with a fork.

Yoga ended. The old woman, having eaten a hole in the mat big as her own chest, hid beneath the mat as the other hardcore stretchers came over to ask MC why she was blue. She said it had been for a joke, and she hadn’t realized the dye wouldn’t wash right off.

She rolled up her mat, forcing the tiny old woman to scuttle behind a fallen piece of bark. MC waved goodbye to her fellow yogaites, and hissed to the bark. “Are you fairies?

“No, faeries. I’m Baba Yaba.”

MC stepped off the grass onto a rock, then onto a protruding root, and settled on the other side of the tree, facing the duck pond. Out of sight. The little man reappeared.

“Yo,” she said, feeling faint.

“Yo,” said Fulvevis.

The ground, or a lot of it, leapt up, shouting “Yo.”

There must have been at least 50 of them, an indiscriminate mixture of males, females, and twigs. They all had hats, except the twigs, who had bad hair days.

One of the twigs came forward sporting a perfectly sized conductor’s baton, and the rest bunched into a choir. The twig waved the baton and they sang:

We represent the Lolly pop Guild,
The Lolly pop Guild,
The Lolly pop Guild
And in the name of the Lolly pop Guild,
We wish to welcome you to Munchkinland.
We welcome you to Munchkinland, Tra la la la la la la

like in the Wizard of Oz, except they were all off key in different ways, and half of them stumbled over the lyrics.

The mushroom hatted man shouted, “bravo,” so MC felt obligated to clap slightly. The choir members blushed, and seemed very pleased with themselves, apparently not caring that they were faeries, not munchkins. As MC remembered, Munchkins were much bigger, like hobbits with slicked back hair.

The mushroom hatted man, who seemed to be the leader, cleared his throat and said, “Chosen of blue, we seek your holp. The wind cup has got hold of my barnum, so now drinks the wind. If we don’t blow it outside out, there won’t be any wind left to tilly the water, stir the grass, or badger the birds. Not even a breeze.”

“What?”

The tiny old woman Baba Yaba booked it around the corner of the tree, and huffed and puffed till she had her breath back. “The wind cup is a magic hat, aye, and, with it turned like tis, there tisn’t any wind, and without wind, everything will fade. In our time of need, the Spirit of Blue has come upon you, that you might save us. Faerie magic, old and deep. I know not why Blue has selected you, but she never is wrong.”

There wasn’t any wind. MC hadn’t noticed that, but it was true, not the slightest breeze. She decided she was dreaming. That should’ve occurred to her earlier, but dreams were like that.

She was near the edge of the park, and looked across the street. Branches swaying, and a banner for a farmer’s market, flapping in the wind. There’s still plenty of wind on 2nd Street,” MC said.

Well surely, that’s 2nd street. A horrible long walk from the park. We don’t ever go there.”

So the curse hasn’t affected it yet?”

“It shan’t ever. It’s 2nd street.”

MC stopped. “So it’s not the whole world that will lose wind.”

He gaped. “That would be an awful big wind cup. And no Barnum has lungs like that.”

“It’s just the park?”
“Not the complete park. That would be a frightful sized windcup. And no barnum has lungs so hugic. Probably not to the gleedz at the feet of the duck pond. Reed folk scratch there, we never go there, very foreign and uncomfortable, though likely nice enough to them. And probably not entirely to the tennis courts at the west end. Perhaps a ten-steppe up the path that goes onto the hill. But it’ll hit the treevir and the lawn and the botanical walk, and the jogging blevd, and our half of the duck pond, sure enough. There won’t be any wind, and things will start to die. They won’t die complete—the sprinklers and the gardeners will foil that—but the life enough for faerie folk will be gone, and we’ll nomadiate, trudging up the path up the hill, making a new home in the gleedz, or scratching out a sad living in the empty Elms on Sycamore Street. Not here, in the bonny park, where our ancestors have been generations past figuring.”

“And how long will there not be any wind?” said MC.

“A horrible long time,” said Fulvevis. “Weeks even.”

She was relieved. It was nothing serious, just the silly little fairies with their mushroom caps and bad choirs, forced to flee like third world refugees.

Just the silly little fairies with their mushroom caps and bad choirs, forced to flee like third world refugees.

“But surpassing as pivvy even that,” said Fulvevis, “we have to get the barnum back.”

She wondered what a barnum was, but didn’t ask, because she saw a three-ring binder spinning through the air.

She stood up. The wind whistled through Aunt Bee’s stationary shop and lounge, casting hundreds of sheets of scented paper into the air, most light blue or yellow, with flowery borders.

Yagh,” said Baba Yaba. “Gusts and turbulences at the walls. It’ll be angry.

There was a sound. She thought it was a crying cat at first. They sound so like babies.

“The barnum,” said Baba Yaba, “follow the shrieks.”

She wondered if barnum’s were banshees. “I’m not sure I want to find it.” No need to make her dream a nightmare.

Baba Yaba said, “If you don’t help us, you’ll stay blue.”

“What do you want me to do?”

The faeries ran, but their legs were so short MC had to mosey to not get ahead of them. They followed their ears to the rose garden, dodging behind bushes or diving to the ground a few times as people walked past and looked strangely at her.

She went into the rose garden. No one was there, and nothing stirred. Bees clung lazily to flowers that did not sway. It was a little hard to breathe, like the air didn’t want to be indrawn.

“We have to stop,” said Baba Yaba faintly, and MC saw most of the faeries had already quit, lying on the ground and breathing heavily.

“You go on,” said Baba Yaba.

Fulvevis took several deep breaths, like a swimmer preparing to go twice along the bottom of a pool. He ran forward, making it several feet before turning around. He collapsed halfway back, so MC picked him up and placed him with the others. He twitched like a drowning man placed on dry land, and Baba Yaba fussed over him.

The air grew hotter as she went in, she supposed because it couldn’t move aside to let the warmth of the sun escape. The flowers were wilting. A rose petal fell and took a long time to reach the ground, but it didn’t glide. It came from a blue rose.

The shrieking quieted. It reminded her of when she was seven and the trip to Legoland was canceled, so she cried and wailed till she was all cried out, and tears and snot and stress had crept into her stomach, upsetting it. This sounded like the final snivels as she’d sniveled herself to sleep.

She followed the snivels to a rose bush half without leaves. They’d fallen into a clump at the base. She knelt and brushed the leaves aside, revealing the unhappy barnum beneath.

A barnum wasn’t a villain, some sort of tiny goblin or wight, but a faerie child, maybe two inches tall. Just starting to run, just starting to speak, just old enough to put on a hat that wasn’t hers.

The wind cup was a hat, too big for the child. It looked like an inside out whistle, or one of the giant stones oddly carved by the desert wind. She reached for it, but her hand went around, like a cursor on a computer screen when the mouse isn’t quite working. She tried again, to no success, and supposed she’d better call upon the power of blue, but had no idea how.

What was it Sailor Moon did? “Blue Prism Power Make-Up!” But nothing happened. Was it supposed be wake-up?

She sat cross-legged, stymied. The faeries child pulled a rose petal over itself, sniffling, trying to sleep.

She sang much better than the faeries had.

Little girl blue
Come blow your horn
The sheep’s in the meadow
The cow’s in the corn
Where is that girl
who looks after the sheep?
Under the haystack,
fast asleep
will you wake her?
Oh no, not I
For if I do,
she will surely cry.
Little girl blue
I love you.

The little faerie poked her head out from under the petal, sniveling ceased, but clearly ready to resume. MC sang it again, and the child tottered toward her.

MC didn’t notice, but every rose in the garden had turned blue.

She came right to MC’s knee halfway through the third time, and MC picked her up and cuddled her to her cheek. MC tried to take the hat off, but it didn’t come. She was afraid to pull hard, because the child was so tiny her head might pop off without much force.

She blew into the hat, and tugged a little. She put her mouth to the reed of the inside out whistle hat, and sang the rhyme again. With a sound like suction breaking, it popped off into her hand.

So easy, but dreams were like that.

She set the child on her lap and tried to crush the hat, but it was like trying to crush a marble. She squeezed it in her fist, cutting it off from air entirely, and Baba Yaba said, “Well done!”

Fulvevis ran up and took the child from her lap, and tossed her in the air. “My darling, but butte, my nim-nim odelay barnumerous munchkin, you’re alright.”

Baba Yaba said, “Present me that wind cup.”

She did.

Baba Yaba hit it twice with her cane, and it popped outside-out. It looked like a black referee’s whistle, but with a hollow on the bottom, so it could fit on a head. Baba Yaba knocked the mushroom cap off Fulvevis, and stuck the whistle on.

“There,” said Baba Yaba, “the barnum took hold of daddy’s cap, but now it’s all set right.”

Fulvevis took a moment from pinching his daughter’s cheeks to say, “We’ll bobben you again, should ever we’ve need.”

“How long ago was the last time you had need?”

“Oh, a horrible long time past. Weeks, perhaps.”

MC thought, as recurring dreams went, this wasn’t the worst. “I’m still blue,” she said. “how long will I be blue?”
“Such a while,” said Baba Yaba. “Even as long from now as this O’clock tomorrow, you’ll still look at least seasick.”

None of the faeries seemed to care anymore. It was almost as if they’d forgotten her, and forgotten that anything bad had happened. So she walked home, checking the schedule on her phone. She was still bright blue, had several errands to run, and though it was half past noon and she was hungry for lunch, she still hadn’t woken from her dream.

The Age Eater: Fatherly Love

 

I don’t know why this story is pinned to the homepage. I can’t figure out how to change it. It’s fine. But perhaps you’d rather read Copy Me MineThank You For Being Swallowed, or The Definitive Guide to Ambulated Reading.

 

The man was only 58, but the doctors had given him six months to live two months ago. Cancer.

Chianti listened to the sound of his respirator, sitting in the wheelchair there in the big empty room in the big empty house. Just them, the shortly dying man, and one of his servants. She couldn’t think of him as old at all—she was much older, even if she was also a nine year old girl, and Jake was so old he used archeology textbooks to jog his memory.

“Age Eater,” said the man, “I’ve heard of you. Want to make me young again? Give me a second chance.”

Jake took him in. So did Chianti. She saw things normal people couldn’t, but not so much as Jake.

Jake said, “What do you think, Chianti? Everyone deserves a second chance.”

“Maybe, but it wouldn’t be safe to those around him. The world shouldn’t have to live through him twice.”

Jake ruffled her hair, to let her know it had been a good answer. “My apprentice makes a good answer. You knew when you called me that I wouldn’t give you that.”

The man lifted a finger, and the servant took a gun from his jacket and pointed it at Chianti. Jake didn’t move, but said, “it won’t fire.” The servant pulled the trigger at the floor, and the gun didn’t fire. The gunpowder had turned into what it used to be.

Chianti hadn’t noticed. She was thinking about Jake calling her his apprentice. He’d never done that before. He’d taught her some tricks, but she wasn’t an age eater. A fox might raise a bear, might even teach it fox like things, but it could never turn the bear into a fox.

She looked again at the shortly dying man, and saw more. “You knew before you called what Jake would say. Is this about your daughter?” Chianti hadn’t reached puberty yet, but she remembered having daughters, distantly, as if in a dream.

“What’s wrong with her?” said Jake.

Headlights flashed through the window.

“I had three children. Ever since Adam died, Lance and Monica won’t talk to each other. But they’ll run the company when I’m gone. They need to get along. Whatever they hate each over, take it from them. Eat it up till it’s gone from the world.”

Jake said, “I won’t promise that I can fix it. I won’t promise to do what you say. I won’t promise to do anything. But if I do do something, and you agree to it, the price will be all the years of your life.”

The shortly dying man laughed. “And what is that to me? Take it.”

The door slammed open. A beautiful, full-chested women of about 30, wearing a smart business suit and yelling, “Kenny, you dying again? Who are these people?”

Jake said, “I might be called a thief, a charlatan, or a counselor,” he stroked his chin as if considering, but Chianti had heard him give this answer before, “but the most accurate appelation is lawyer.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not re-writing the will again, are you Kenny? I earned it. All Lance did was be born with a dick.” She briefly pressed her fingers, not quite threateningly, not quite tenderly, to the breathing tubes that ran up his nose.

The dying man said, “My daughter, Monica.”

Jake said, “I’m an aribitrator. I say lawyer, because it’s about the law. I say psychologist, because it’s about people and reconciliation. I say charlatan because arbitration is nothing but smoke, mirrors, and those things which are real only because we believe they are. I say thief, because I’m paid for that flim flamery. What do you do?”

“I’m the CFO. Why do you have a child?”

Chianti introduced herself. “A pleasure to meet you, I’m Chianti. Uncle Jake didn’t have anyone to leave me with when the client called unexpectedly.”

She didn’t think the women even heard the last part. “What is this about, Kenny? What are we arbitrating?”

“The future of the company. The future of you and Lance.”

There was a timorous knock on the door. “Dad. You wanted to see me.”
“Come in, Lance.”

“Is Monica there? That looks like her car in the drive.”

“Yes, come in.”

He opened the door slowly. He was younger than Monica. His eyes darted around, but shied away from his sister.

Jake said, “So you’re Lance. The babe of the family. Pull up a chair, everyone in an intimate little circle. Except you,” he said to the servant. “You should call it a night. Go home. This is private.”

Kenny nodded to him, and he left, closing the door softly behind himself. Chianti wondered what he did during the day. Probably not dusting the banisters. His uniform didn’t quite fit.

The chairs were faded green leather, and she could feel the springs. Lance sat, staring at her, no doubt wondering what a child was doing in his dad’s sickroom, but not asking.

Kenny said. “You are my children. You will inherit my company and rule it in partnership. Monica, as the CFO, and you, Lance, taking over for me as CEO.”

“That is bullshit. Lance couldn’t run a popsicle stand.”

Lance fiddled with his fingers. “I could run a popsicle stand. But Monica would be better suited to being CEO. I don’t even know the company really. I could work in human resources.”

Monica said, “You’re not working anywhere in the company. Screw-it-up Lance with his invisible boo-boos. Kenny, we’d agreed, and now you’re not just bringing him in, you’re putting him over me?”

Lance snuck a drag from his inhaler.

“He needs it. He’s my son, so he has it in him, he needs a responsibility like this to drag it out of him. I’m depending on you to help out your little brother, like a good sister should.”

Lance put in that he wasn’t becoming CEO, but if he did, he wouldn’t need her help, but neither seemed to notice. Kenny said other companies would want to see a man across the table. Monica said they’d love to see a weakling. Kenny said she shouldn’t talk about her brother like that.

Jake said, “Look, I don’t give a shit. I mean, it’s my job, but it’s late, I skipped dinner, my niece is here—we were supposed to be going to LegoLand tomorrow, but now I doubt we will. So let’s hold hands, do some new age meditation crap, maybe cry a little, and call it a night. Pick it back up tomorrow. That sound alright?”

Kenny said that was alright, except there wasn’t to be any crying. Monica rolled her eyes, submitting that she was used to new age meditation crap from corporate retreats. Lance fiddled with his fingers.

“Then please, close your eyes and bow your heads.” They did.

“We go back, not through the years, but through memory, to the day when Lance died, the medical records tell me, of a heart attack. Tragic and unexpected at such a young age.” Their breathing slowed, deepened, like being put under by a hypnotist, but quicker. “What did you sit on? What color was the wall? What temperature was the air?”

He whispered in her ear, “Take it away, Chianti.”

“But I’m only nine!”

“You’ve been nine long enough. Time to grow up a little.”

Jake always said that going into the dream would be the first trick in the book if there were a book. It was just transient ruminations on life experiences—hallucinations of their aging.

They are in a club. The music is too loud, the lights flash, and the walls keep shifting into bookcases full of formal green and brown books, some with leather covers The spines of the books are dusted, but there is dust on top, because the housekeeper didn’t bother with that. Chianti thinks it is Kenny’s study intruding into the club.

Jake takes her hand, so she won’t lose him, and she leads him through the crowd.

She sees Kenny, the shortly dying man, looking much younger and fitter. She sees Lance, and he looks younger too—maybe 15. She guesses he hadn’t really been that young. His right shoulder is one fire. There’s Monica, looking exactly as she does in present reality, and a man between them all, shifting in form, because he is not a dreamer, but a man dreamt of by three different people, who dream him all different ways.

Kenny dreams him as his own self come again, but a little taller, a little brighter. Monica dreams him with a long forked tongue. Lance dreams him as a 19 year old with sharp ears and devil-may-care grin that promises fun and trouble. A dark angel to be worshipped and resented in equal measure.

Kenny sits with his arm around his favored son and lectures Lance. “And ya still haven’t found a woman?”

“Adam hasn’t either.”

“Adam is hopping through them all. That’s fine. Look.” He gestured to the dancers. “Plenty of nice women out there. Find one you like, then take her and make her yours. Adam’ll take you along next time, show you how it’s done. Maybe make a man of you yet, heavens knows I’ve half given up.”

It’s odd they’re saying that, because Adam is dying. His head swells like the bratty girl in Willy Wonka, who turns into a blueberry, except his head is more purple than blue. It pops, blueberry juice splashing into Monica’s Appletini, some spattering off the pink umbrella stuck in the drink. She sips it.

Adam’s trachea rises like a ridged periscope from the stump of his neck, looks around with one beaming eye, and pokes fun at Lance. “Any time, Icky Wuggers, I’ll bring you along.”

The dream shivered. A talking trachea is not a sight any nine year old likes to see, however long ago her birth date might be.

It’s enough of a shiver for Kenny to note that there’s a nightmaric snake where his son’s head should be. “Are you okay, Adam?”

“Oh, fine dad.” His second hand holds a syringe to his first arm, and his third hand lifts a drink to his trachea. The plunger plunges. The shot goes down. “Never better.”

Chianti realizes Jake isn’t with her. Probably he hasn’t been for a while. That’s the problem with going into other’s dreams. They’re dreamlike for her too.

The trachea wilts like a dandelion in winter. Kenny tries to help him, but he can’t, because he’s in his office. He screams at his other children to help. Monica sips her Appletini, and Lance prances helplessly around as the fire spreads from his shoulder to his neck.

She came out of the dream a moment before they did, in time to see Jake re-taking his seat, slipping something into his pocket, and saying, “But I hear it wasn’t any heart attack. I hear he OD’d.”

And the three of them were wide awake, without knowing they’d ever nodded off.

Kenny said, “Where the bloody hell did you find that out?”

“Really, Mr. Drake? You expected me to solve a problem surrounding a death without even knowing the cause of the death? As for how, you’ve hired me precisely because I have ways. How often did Adam do drugs.”

“He fooled around some. Adam didn’t back down. If someone else dared him at a party, he’d do it, maybe.”

“Lance, how often did Kenny fool around with drugs?”

Lance looked away from his father. “All the time. All sorts. He’d snort, he’d smoke, he’d inject, but he never had any problems. He never got addicted. It wasn’t something he did by himself. He did it at parties, clubs. A social drug user, not someone looking for a cheap high in back allies. It wasn’t the experience, it just amplified the experience. That’s what he said anyway. He’d talk about it sometimes. Make fun of me for not being able to do it the same way.”

“So he was an experienced drug user, and unusually in control. Not someone likely to kill himself by accident.”

Lance said, “Maybe not, but if you play with fire often enough, eventually you’ll get burned, no matter how experienced you are.”

“The family ordered a toxicology report, then supressed the results. What were they? I can find out eventually, tomorrow or the next day, but it’s easier if you just tell me.”

Kenny said, “I did not hire you to sort through our dirty laundry.”

“You damn well did. You hired me to sort through the problem between your children, a problem inextricably linked to Adam, and to you. Whatever you may have heard, I am not a miracle worker. I can’t make a problem go away without addressing its root. But enough, I need to pee. Lance, could you show me the facilities.” He stood up.

Lance said, “Ah, yeah, sure.”

“I need to go too,” said Chianti, because she thought this was a chance for them to talk in private.

Lance led the way. As they left the room Jake called back to Kenny and Monica, “While I’m gone you think about how cooperative you want to be.”

The hallway floor was wood, with a thick, expensive but now faded carpet running down the middle.

Jake gestured to her. She shrugged, and he patted his shoulder.

Oh, yeah. “Mr. Lance, is your shoulder okay?”

He slowed and turned. “My shoulder?”

“It seemed like it hurt you.”

“I have a nerve condition.”

“What’s it called.”

“Uh, it’s just shoulder pain. This is the restroom.” He pointed to the door. “See you in a bit.” He left down a different hallway.”

Chianti said, “Where did you go while I had them in the dream?”

“The safe in Kenny’s office, where I found, among other things, the toxicology report. Men like him are predictable.” He took a folded piece of paper out of his pocket, three words in his own handwriting jotted on it. “Adam had three drugs in his bloodstream when he died. Alcohol, no surpise. Cocaine, not much of a surprise. But the third was ketamine. Ketamine. It’s prescribed for asthma sometimes—I’m sure you noticed Lance sucking an inhaler earlier—but mostly it’s a painkiller. A powerful one. Ketamine is a also a common recreational drug, though not quite in the normal sense. Do you know what recreational activity ketamine is used for?”

She said she didn’t.

“It’s a few years before you’ll need to.”

Chianti said, “I do actually have to use the restroom.”

When she came out, he was looking at his phone. “It’s been too long since I’ve been to med-school. CRPS. Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. They actually have a name for it now. Used to be if you came to the doctor complaining of mysterious pain with no discernable cause, they told you it was in your head and stop worrying about it. It’s correct of course, but it took a dastardly long time for it occur to some bright light that saying it’s in the the afflicted’s head is just a round-about way of saying it’s centered on the nervous center. They prescribe painkillers for it now. Sometimes, they prescribe ketamine.”

They went back to the room. Kenny and Monica were still there.

He sat next to Monica, speaking quietly so Kenny wouldn’t hear. “It must’ve been a wrench when your brother died so young.”

“Yes. In some ways I expected it—he’d always messed around with drugs. But still, when it happened, I didn’t really expect it.”

“Then the family business was all on you. That must’ve been rough.”

“Not really. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“And CFO now at such a young age. I hear the board tapped you for it without pressure from your father. You must be good.” He smiled.

Her voice went higher, and she fussed with her hair. “Of course.” They leaned closer as they talked.

Chianti watched. It was always like this with Jake. It might be skill. It might be the gravitas of accumulated millenia. But she guessed it was magic, which hardly seemed fair. She was pretty, so Jake would be hoping, before the night was out, to slip into a back room with her and get a quick roll.

“Where is Lance?” said Chianti. “I’m surprised he’s not back yet.”

Monica checked her watch. “It has been a bit. Not skipping out on us is he?”

“That boy…” muttered Kenny.

Jake jolted to his feet, face gone pale. “Lance still lives in this house, right?”

“Yes,” said Monica.

“Let’s all go to his room. Right now, quickly, quickly.” He loaded Kenny’s oxygen tank on Kenny’s lap, atop lap blanket. “Hold that. Monica, lead the way.”

She must have caught his concern, because she’d gone pale too, and walked quickly out, Jake pushing Kenny’s wheelchair so fast that Chianti had to run to keep up.

Monica said, “This is it.” She pounded on the door. “Lance!” She tried the knob. “It’s locked.”

Jake reached past her and opened the door.

Monica would’ve asked how he’d done that if she hadn’t seen her little brother lying on the floor. She ran to him, but Jake pushed her aside and felt the man’s pulse, then put his cheek over his mouth. Chianti knew that was for show. Jake could feel at a touch.

He said, “Call 911,” and started CPR.

Monica called 911, stumbling over her words at times, yelling for them to hurry.

There were two pill bottles next to Lance. Chianti rolled them over with her foot. “Looks like he took high doses of ketamine and oxycontin. Then she noticed the note on the table:

I slipped ketmine in his drink. It was just supposed to be a prank. I didn’t think it would kill him. Ketamine doesn’t. The mix must have been bad with whatever else he was on. I’m sorry. I was jealous.

Kenny screamed when he read the note. He threw whatever was handy at Lance, and Jake kneeling over him. He screamed that the paramedics should be told not to come.

The paramedics came, and left with Lance, and made no promises.

They went back to the room.

Kenny said, “Good riddance to bad rubbish. I wondered about him, I suspected, but always told myself he didn’t have the guts. But that’s just like the coward, to do it with poison. You didn’t resolve things the way I liked, but you smoked the bastard out clear enough. And to think I was going to make him CEO.”

Jake said, “Mhmm. Want a drink?”

“Yes.”

“Yes please.” said Monica.

He brought them glasses of whiskey from behind the counter. They tossed the liqour back.

“The problem,” said Jake, “is that while I think someone slipped ketamine in Adam’s drink, I don’t think it was Lance that did it.”

“What? He confessed.”

“Not the same thing. Monica, did Adam ever borrow any of his little brother’s Ketamine?”

She answered cautiously. “Sometimes.”

“Why would Adam take a painkiller?”

Monica said, “Some people like to get high off it. It’s a bit like PCP.”

Jake said “Yes, but it’s popular for another recreational activity—date rape. The nasty thing about ketamine as a date rape drug is the victim stays conscious. She—or he, it happens—is instead immobilized. Usually not completely, but enough that she can’t resist. She can see her attacker, but the hallucinatory effects of ketamine make her memories confusing and unrealiable. It has other side effects, which are unpleasant for the rapist. Sweating, convulsions, vomiting. A turn off. The causes of its popularity are first, that it’s widely avialable, and second, that some rapists prefer their victims to be conscious.”

“So?” said Kenny.

“So Adam was a chip off the old block. Didn’t you say, “if you want her, take her and make her yours?” That is how you wooed your wife, is it not? I’ve no doubt the strategy still works at times, with the right sort of woman. And in your day, when many people at least still pretended to think virginity at the wedding was a serious matter… Well, as I always say, begin as you intend to finish. If you’re going to have an abusive relationship, why not start out that way? Eh, Kenny.”

The shortly dying man had turned red as a beet. Veins pulsed in his emaciated head. He’d tried to scream at Jake halfway through, but Jake always, always, had time to finish his monologues.

“What do you know? We loved each other, and she wanted me, she-”

“Yes, I’m sure it was like an old Bond film. You kissed her till she started kissing back. You even believe that. I know better than any what an unreliable monster memory is. More changeable than mountain weather. More pliable than a woman who had ketamine slipped in her Appletini.”

He turned to Monica. “It was an Appletini, wasn’t it. No, don’t start. I have my ways.”

Kenny said, “What are you going on about? Shut up and leave.”

“Not till I fulfill my contract. Refuse me at the end if you like, but you can’t refuse me this, because you can’t move very well. Not with the ketamine I put in your drinks. Lie still, and hallucinate with me.”

It was as if the drug had been waiting for his cue. Their heads lolled, their bodies twitched, and Chianti and Jake joined them in a dark backroom of the club. Lance and trachea headed Adam were there, along with Adam’s boys, who were pointing out to him the woman asleep on the floor. Kenny watched from the back of the room, not really there.

Adam sighed and put a hand where his temple would’ve been. “Dipshits, this is my sister.”

His boys laughed and apologized. Said they’d hardly ever seen his sister before, and the light was poor. She could wait it out here under their guardianship, or they could pack her in a car and drive her home.

Adam nodded along at first, but his tracheal smile turned lopsided. “Nah. Just do it like normal.”

“Seriously?” they said.

“Yeah.”

Lance argued—“are you insane Adam? You’ve fallen off the end of the world here.”

But it only decided Adam. “Have you not noticed how stuck up she’s been lately? She needs being taken down a peg. For her own good of course. Guys, whatchya waiting for?”

Lance tried to stop them, but Adam put him in a headlock, which he didn’t really try to fight.

Chianti couldn’t see it happening. That was a fuzzy space in the hallucination, at least for her. She felt Jake making sure it was so. He didn’t want her seeing explicit content.

Jake whispered in Kenny’s ears, but Chianti heard the whispering over the roar of the club. “Don’t make such a face. He’s only doing what you taught him. You were right, you know. One of your sons had a smidgen more natural worth than the other. It wasn’t the one you mourned.”

Eventually—it hardly took a moment in the hallucination, but she knew it was an eventually—they asked Adam whether he’d like to have a go.

“Nah,” said the trachea. “She’s my sister.”

Just before they left Chianti saw, that in Monica’s ketamine induced hallucinations, Adam had loomed over her, looking like a man with a trachea for a head, and said, “That’ll teach ya.”

Chianti wondered whether Jake making sure she couldn’t see it had done any good.

Jake said, “and a few days later, Monica decided to get back at him. She wasn’t planning to kill, but I doubt she was disappointed. What a happy family. But what’s done once isn’t done forever. Monica, would you like it to go away? People often think trauma is ennobling, but mostly, trauma is just traumatic.”

Kenny groaned, “take it!” his speech slurred by the ketamine. He sweated. He writhed as best he could.

Jake said to Chianti, “What do you think?”

Chianti said, “Take it from her. Give it to him. He deserves it.”

Jake flicked her ear and gestured.

She looked at Monica, understanding after a moment, but still not really understanding. “You want to keep it?”

“Of course. It’s me.”

She took Kenny’s hand. She felt the shame. She felt the way he wanted to have never existed at all. Kenny hid himself beneath his lap blanket. She realized it wasn’t his daughter he wanted operated on.

Jake said, “You made him who he was—a new version of you. So in a way, it was you who did it. In that way, the shame you feel is his as well.”
“Take it away.” he moaned from beneath the blanket.

“If we take this moment from you, you won’t have it, and you won’t ever be able to get it back. Do you really want to die without it? Just tell her. This can be solved without my intervention, with no magic but the gentle mysteries of word. Speak to her. Tell her you love her. Tell her you’re sorrier than any poet could describe. Tell her you would bear this heavy regret for all the years of your life, even if those years were a thousand more.”

But he only hid deeper in the blanket and said, “I don’t want it. Take it away.”

Jake nodded, so Chianti tugged at a chest hair. A shadow rose around the hair, and she tugged at it. It came out, into her hand. A reddish brown lump, streaked with snot green, constantly tyring to hide inside its self.

It was heavy. She shrank in her seat. Her breathing quickened, till she wished for a paper bag to breathe into. But Jake grabbed her shoulder, and the burden lightened. She gave it to Monica. It glopped onto her hand, and disapeared into her knuckles. The woman’s eyes rolled back. She wasn’t fainted, but in a fugue.

There was silence. Jake removed his hand. Chianti downed a glass of ice water.

Kenny removed the blanket from his face. “What are you crying for?”He pointed accusingly at Monica, who struggled to focus on his finger.

“Kenny, I-”

“Kenny this, Kenny that. I’m your father for Christsakes. Show me a little respect. You may be a girl, but you’re still a Havelstock, and Havelstocks don’t cry. I don’t care what you’re crying for, just stop.”

Jake said, “She’s crying because she took Adam’s chance to learn what you’ve just forgot. She knows now what murder means.”

“Murder? My daughter wouldn’t cry over murder. I called you here to fix her, not make her even more of a-”

He put a hand to Kenny’s chest. “I’m not some mechanic. We had an agreement, and, whether you know it or not, my side has been fulfilled. Here is yours.” He pressed down a little, and breathed in all the years of Kenny’s life.

Later, the doctor would say to Monica that it wasn’t old for senility to strike swiftly, like a thief in the night, but the thief was called a strokes. Even later, the mortician would comment to himself how smooth the body was, and how light, as if it had been emptied of everything and was simply a shell, though all the pieces were undoubtedly still there.

Before they left, Jake put his number in Monica’s phone. Partially in case the police made any trouble, but also, Chianti was sure, because he was still hoping for that roll.

They held hands on the long walk back to the car, going slowly, because Jake was stuffed. His belly was swollen, and there were crow’s feet around his eyes.

Chianti said, “Was that really okay?”

“Better than okay. You did a very good job.”

That wasn’t what she asked, and she knew he knew it, and knew he knew that she knew.

“An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. I have a present for you.”

She didn’t want it. But she stopped, closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and opened her mouth wide as it would go.

Jake tilted his head down and opened his mouth, wide as it would go. Like a mama bird feeding its chick. Something passed between.

Chianti swallowed and shivered. She felt cold. She felt full of shrewdness and human accounting. A close understanding of corporate tax laws, of how to bully what she wanted from people who didn’t want to give it to her, and never give them back what they deserved. She was ten years old, with puberty fast on its way.

She hugged her chest, telling herself that not even Jake could raise a bear into a fox, and almost being sure of it.