a year in stories::thirty five

I’ve decided this is the last story I’ll write for Short Story month. Number twenty on the month, which is pretty solid, I’d say. I’m pretty happy with most of the stories I’ve written this month and think I mostly avoided failure. I wouldn’t recommend anyone try to write a short story a day for any amount of time, but I’m happy with the result. I basically have a short story collection just from this month.

Anyrate, I originally hoped to reach twenty and that’s where I am. Taking tomorrow off and then I leave for a week long vacation to go see the most beautiful woman I know, to play on a beach, to love in the south.

There were other things I meant to say but I can’t remember.

Oddly, this has been a mix of feeling very accomplished and feeling stagnant. There are a lot of writing projects I wanted to get done this month but they all took a backseat to this. And since short stories are so singular, it feels like I’ve been running in place all month.

So it goes.

Anyrate, this story is about Love in the Time of Cholera.

But not really.

It’s about talking to animals.

Oh, to be another!

 

When she spoke to the birds they spoke back: One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.

She cocked her head to the side, Didn’t you steal that from someone?

He stole it from us, they said.

From the autumnal trees she pulled colors and made a necklace of leaves. The birds sang her praise and she danced with them trilling along after her.

 

My paws are hollow, she said to the cat wrapped round the back of her neck, its tail’s constant movement brushing against her hair.

Paws can’t be hollow.

Mine are, she looked at them, front and back.

The cat yawned.

The girl kept staring at her hands, turning them over and over.

 

I hear she talks to animals.

I hear she does worse than that.

What could be worse than that?

You’re young yet, but you’ll know soon enough.

Some say she floats. In ecstasy.

Such shamefulness! If her mother lived–

If her mother lived is right! To think, a daughter like that–

Don’t go blaming the dead for dying.

No, never!

 

Why do you stay out here, said the boy.

To play with my friends.

Why don’t you come to the town?

She stepped back and the forest became silent, The ground is too hard.

The boy smiled and took a step towards her, Ground is meant to be hard. Elsewise we couldn’t built houses or make tools.

Weapons, she said, her eyes wide.

Well, sure. Weapons are tools as well.

I prefer to stay out here, she said.

The boy walked towards her and she walked backwards, keeping her distance. He said: they say you’re a witch. Did you know that? his smile spread showing tiny grey teeth.

What’s a witch?

Someone who does magic.

What’s magic?

He stopped and threw his head back in laughter. When he wiped the tears from his eyes he opened his mouth to speak but the girl was gone and the sound of the forest returned with the screeching song of insects everywhere.

 

When the storehouse burnt down in the lightning storm the people began wailing, How will we pay off the brigands? How will we satiate the Nobles? How will we live?

They fought and they screamed, blaming the absence of a Priestess, the absence of a proper temple, the scourge of gods both mighty and small. They blamed licentiousness, gluttony, abstinence, drunkenness, the eating of meat, the eating of vegetables, the moon and the sun. And when all was blamed by every hand, they turned their fingers in one direction.

 

The beetle crawled over the skin of her palm and walked right to the edge so she turned her hand over and it kept walking all the way to the edge of the back of her hand and she turned it over till it walked across her palm. For many minutes she watched the beetle walk and get nowhere, laughing to herself at first, and then later nearly in tears.

What’s the matter, said the badger.

She tossed the beetle into the air where it spread its wings and buzzed away. She said: I was thinking about how nothing lasts. How you can spend your whole life in action only to discover you’ve done nothing.

The badger scratched its head, You’re too wise for a badger and maybe too wise for a girl your age. Better not to think so much.

I can’t help it.

Look at the leaves and the sun. Look at the moon and the grass. Look at the stars. Look at the trees. None of these things will last forever but none of them worry about eternity. Just live. Live and be happy.

The girl smiled and crouched down to pet the badger, who brushed her palm away and snarled, rushing off and away.

There she is! said a voice from behind her, one she had heard before. When she turned there were humans. So many humans.

She ran and they chased and though the animals and trees and even the grass tried to aid her escape, the humans caught her and dragged her back to the town, kicking and screaming.

 

As the fire faded there were only the Elders left to watch embers burn to ash.

What shall we do now?

I don’t know.

The brigands will still come.

I know.

The Nobles will still want tribute.

I know.

What will you tell them?

I don’t know.

Did we do the right thing?

No one shall ever know of what happened today.


When the Nobles came for their tribute, they took all that was left for the town and left them to starve. When the brigands came for food and women, they discovered the story of the little girl. When the boy was done telling them of all that happened, the brigands killed everyone in the town and burnt it down. They returned after the winter rains and planted trees where once the town rested and in the middle of the trees they sculpted a statue of a girl with a necklace of leaves.

a year in stories::thirty four

I once heard someone say that science fiction is predictive. This story probably deserves to be fleshed out more, which I’ll do on the rewrite, probably, but I think it works as is.

Look up geoengineering.

Things we never said

 

I didn’t say I told you so when the earth died screaming. No one did.

Maybe someone did. Some asshole at the edge of some ocean turned too acidic to enter telling his grandkids that he knew this would happen right before he dives in and sort of melts away as his family screams and cries. But probably no one would do such a thing. Or maybe whole nations of them did.

Men probably. We’re dramatic that way. Everything’s about finality and getting the last act in before the curtains close.

But we keep on living on. Trying to survive in the world we murdered.

The sun doesn’t shine the way it used to. Not since we sent sulfur into the upper atmosphere to shield us from the sun and its heat. It was meant to slow down or maybe stop global warming. That’s what they said anyway. The Great Powers. They didn’t ask us, the rest of the world, when they filled the atmosphere with the death of the planet.

Oddly enough, the sunrises and sunsets never looked so beautiful. The blue of the sky was a hazed blue but the sun turned gorgeous. Oranges and greens and purples and somehow new shades of black that never yet existed here. The only thing I don’t miss about the old world is the sun. Strange to say that now but I believe it’s true.

I remember the day they launched disaster into the sky. A rocket aimed at nothing racing away from the world we stood on and when it disappeared from our sight so far away and then even farther and farther until we were all staring into the sun waiting for something to happen. And then it exploded into a dark net that slowly wrapped around the atmosphere.

A shield.

Everyone knew it would work but we also knew it might be impossible to take it back down.

Like all the words I said to you. All the ones I can’t anymore.

When the monsoons didn’t come things got out of control. I guess most of us didn’t know that we needed that water or Southeast would become a desolate wasteland from a neverending drought. I remember your cracked lips. And since the sunshield didn’t stop carbon emissions the ocean just got more and more acidic. They tried to reverse it by seeding iron and kicking up plankton growth to suck it out of the atmosphere but the rate at which that worked was negligible with the increased use of fossil fuels.

People believed what was told them: the world was saved. Why not continue life as we had?

None of us in Southeast did. But the Great Powers didn’t care about us. They weaponised the climate and all we lost was everything.

You were so thin and frail. Your hair and teeth falling out.

All those distended stomachs of all those children. You tried to help though you rotted where you couldn’t sleep.

Then we little powers turned on the Great ones and the bombs began dropping. With the drought and starvation and the blight of the water, they retaliated as a last desperate show of force in a dying world. Of course, the Great Powers responded and much of the world disappeared.

You were gone by then. You never saw all of this. You died. A long time ago.

But I carried you through. I thought maybe there’d be hope in this new technology. If we could revive the world, why not you? If we could give all of us a new life, why not you?

Why not you?

We laid our hope on a sinking ship.

Even though so many knew this would happen. They predicted it. But the promise was so strong. So shining and bright.

And you were so deathly.

You never got to see your child born, but you never saw him born dead either.

I watched you die, and then the world died, and now we’re just wandering on a desert that was once the ocean, the hazed black light of the sun scarring the sky.

a year in stories::thirty three

I was reading about Rasputin today and today’s story is about him but it’s inspired by him and parts of it are just stolen from his life, or from the myth of his life. I’ve discovered this is sort of where a lot of my fiction is coming from this year: I learn about someone, but only in broadstrokes, and then I rewrite their life as I imagine it was, or should have been. Like my novel about Roberto Bolano that isn’t about him or my novel about Justin Beiber that’s also about Hitler or my novel about Wittgenstein that’s also not about him. None of those are finished and only one of them’s actually started, but I’m hoping to get them all done this year, though the Bolano one may not be done for several years, since it’s going to be about 400k words long.

Anyrate, our government has declared a permanent war on terror where the entire world is the battlefield and the executive branch can do whatever it wants without even having a discussion with congress or the public so that’s cool. Oh, too, they’re spying on the press, which is also cool. The Nobel Peace laureate president who promised transparency is maybe the worst president for transparency in decades. Somehow he’s even worse than his horrible predecessor.

Who’d’ve thunk it?

But, anyrate–story:

The Mystic

 

Poisoned, shot, drowned, buried, and he sat up even as we burnt his remains. The Capital erased, the Revolution over, we dug him up. We dug him up to burn him again to make sure he stayed dead this time. During the Revolution and the subsequent Civil War, reports had surfaced all over the State that he had been spotted. Seen healing the dying or leading insurgents, Nitupsar appeared over and over again. What did it mean that he was leading revolts and troops and continuing to serve the gods in the ways he did? A heretic and madman, only Nitupsar could return from Death to fight another day. Spread lies and chaos in a land torn apart by it. And then, that day, the Capital was there and then the Light and then it was gone. In an instant the entire city disappeared leaving only an immense crater where once stood the center of civilisation! All kinds of reports surfaced and people were saying any number of things. After all, this was a Civil War following a Revolution! There were so many factions competing for power that it’s hard to say exactly who did what or how or why. But one thing just about everyone agreed on is that they saw him there. Praying the way he did. This tall dark figure praying at the circumference of the city and then the Light and then nothing but the tall dark figure walking away and disappearing into our memories. I may just be a simple man but it doesn’t take a politico to know that Nitupsar would want revenge for his murder, and he was crazy enough and wild enough to take it out on the whole State in this manner. And when all the dust of the Revolution and War settled, we dug him up. His body remained there but it hadn’t decomposed the way it should’ve over two years underground, so we burnt him. I was there. I watched it. No one knew what would happen so first we bound him in chains as we pulled him from his grave, then built a pyre around him. I remember the glow of the flame, the roar it made, can still feel its heat against my skin as it reached three meters into the darkness of the night. There through the flames we saw him sit up, the chains binding his limbs but he managed to face us. His mouth open and roaring at us to unchain him. Then his eyes appeared as two flames deep in caverns and a third appeared where the hole in his forehead was. Terrified, people began running while others stayed. I stayed, but not from bravery. I was frozen. Caught in his stare. He watched me and I watched him and then it seemed as if I was alone and he laughed. He laughed until the flame was embers and he was ash.

 

He was a simple man. A holy man. Grew up on a mountain deep in the north, past the wilderness and wild in a small town at the edge of the world. As a youth he was quiet but like many who live off in a land of nowhere, he fell to drinking. The drinking led to various other excesses he would become famous for later in life, but he was a harmless man all the same. When yet young, perhaps seventeen, he met a Monk of the Mountain and disappeared for two years. When he returned he was changed. He no longer drank or ate meat and began spreading good deeds. Simple things. Healing the sick and the poor, helping with the flocks and the crops. Many were afraid of him when he returned. None who meet the Monks return living but here he was. The tall dark boy then a tall dark man. The only real change was he became kinder and softer, his hair longer, and his beard grew in. After that the wild suited him best and he rarely slept beneath shelter. The birds and the wolves is what they used to say. He belonged to us but he preferred the birds and the wolves. That is, until he married and his reputation began spreading. The man who returned from the Mountain! He became a sensation by the time he was twenty five, even way across the wilderness. News of him came to the Capital, or so they say. And that’s where he went. That’s where all his troubles came from. You know how it is for a man to be different than all other men. Hard enough in a small place like this, but at least we knew him! In the Capital his every word and action became suspect. He slept with the poor and cleaned their pain and for this he was a heretic. It didn’t help him, though, that those who took most to him were wealthy women who spent their husband’s and father’s money on him. What he did with the money, none really know. Barefoot and unkempt ever since he returned from the Mountain, the Capital didn’t change him. But he changed it. Boy did he ever change it. He continues to change it even still, all these years dead. His shadow looms over the crater it became and the Council that now rules. A spectre on all they do. No one says so, but that’s why they moved the Capital and why they left the old one in desolation. It’s why they killed him three times in the same night.

 

First we poisoned him. That was the easy part. We told him my wife was having a dinner party and so he came along with us. He was talkative and cheerfully oblivious. He never knew I knew what he did with my wife. With all of our wives at his orgiastic ceremonies. The Ecstatic Monk they called him. He preached that we needed to save ourselves from the corruption of the physical world. The only way to reach the level of the gods was through leaving the body behind, and this happened when Death took us. He said the way to leave the body while yet living was to give into its demands for pleasure, and in doing so reclaiming your mastery over it. Or something. He may have even known we all knew about his little cult. So in love with himself and full of his own nonsense, he never considered anyone would want to do him harm or even that people could disbelieve him. Anyway, he thought we loved him. He was drunk, as always. We gave him wine laced with cyanide but after four glasses he only got drunker. Telling jokes and laughing at them, he wanted to know when the women were coming. The women. Our wives and daughters. We fed him cupcakes full of arsenic and after three all he said was that their sweetness didn’t agree with his stomach. So we shot him. FIrst he was merely shocked, then he grew violently angry so we shot him again, and then again, but he came at us, beating O– with his fists until they were covered with blood. We pulled him away and I shot the Mystic right in the forehead. His head jolted back and then drooped forward, his eyes still on me even as the back of his head colored my walls. His jaw fell open and his eyes disappeared in shadow and he began cursing, wiping the blood from his eyes as he launched into me. His hands round my neck, he screamed curses upon me and my progeny until K– and L– beat him into submission. Sputtering on the floor, his face caved in, blood pouring from his shattered skull, he still breathed. And so we took him to the river. It was winter then and we threw him in. After all that, he died from the drowning. We buried him two meters down in case his tenacity lasted through Death but he stayed dead this time. The peasants burnt his remains several years later and cast his ashes in concrete and buried it back in his grave. There’s a temple there now in his honor. Such is the folly of the postrevolutionary world. All the villains become heroes and all the heroes become villains. He became a god and I rot here in this cell for the crimes of a State now buried with that deranged madman, Nitupsar.


He had the ear of the emperor and, if the rumors were true, the heart, and perhaps more, of the empress. It’s funny how time turns on people. He was a debauched fool who climbed his way artlessly and haphazardly into the good graces of a superstitious and dying ruling class where he was hated almost universally. After his Death he was feared everywhere. Now, in this new world we’ve built, his teachings have found new life and his theology of the soul spread over the State. For all the rumors about him during his life and potential reign, the one that lasted after all the violence of the Civil War was his opposition to violence of any kind and his generosity to the poor and infirmed. He may have been a heretic and a charlatan and a lascivious drunkard but he also made true reform in the final days of the empire. Of course, that’s if you believe what they said back then. The emperor was failing, the empire was crumbling from constant Revolution, and he stopped our participation in the international war, began a policy of reparation, and even began to free the press and the economy. Nitupsar, the Mystic. The Reformer. The Ecstatic Monk. The Man from the Mountain. The Undying. That’s what they call themselves, his followers, as if to negate the laws of life. The Undying are still only a fringe cult but in a couple generations they may be the theology of the State. If this State lasts that long. It’s a fragile thing, a tenuous peace and collaboration between the many sects, but it’s all we have for now. When it falls, perhaps we’ll simply be known as the Undying Land and Nitupsar will be our godking! It may seem unlikely now, but stranger things will happen as they have always happened. It’s often the weakest and most unlikely that succeed and the cult of the Undying grows rapidly and they’re politically motivated. Their pacifism is especially popular with youths and women, for it’s a woman’s theology. It always was, and it’s why they hated him. He spoke to their women and turned them away from their patriarchal control. Perhaps that will be his legacy: the Matriarchy of the Undying. It’s almost beautiful to think about.

a year in stories::thirty two

Going to a lake for the weekend so no story tomorrow and maybe not on Sunday either. Seventeen straight days of stories is pretty good though, yeah?

My Revolutionary

 

The bombs went off but only one mattered, and the Capitol disappeared, evaporated in the blast, the bright erasing light. What followed was chaos and darkness for days and then the lights came back but the chaos stayed for a few more weeks. Not chaos like looting but chaos like soldiers killing citizens in the streets because everyone who made orders went out with the light. The bomb.

He was the leader of the opposition. Tall and gaunt with a thick red beard hanging over his chest and just wisps of blonde curls over his scalp. He got attention when he stood up to O– and called him a pusillanimous bastard for the bomb. Lots of talking followed that. Or, not so much talking, but monologues. They speak that way here, even still. It’s not necessarily civil but everyone gets a chance to talk, though that was sort of an empty rule before he came around and just demanded it by talking over everyone. Boisterous and emphatic, they called him a true believer in the Cause and that Cause was liberty. Not for the few or even the many but for all. He made us all ashamed that first day we noticed him.

See, the bomb. About half of us were in on it or knew it was coming, though we continued to preach nonviolence and civil disobedience and disruption and direct action. But what could be more direct than annihilating the Capitol? The meeting that day was to discuss what had happened but to make no apologies. O– was careful in that. He exclaimed loudly what happened and how it happened and then implicated all of us in his conspiracy. He told us some of our sisters had died in order to make this dream reality and that we are all members of the same sorority. The Cause.

But then he stood up raging and it was as if a whirlwind swept through the room. He threw chairs and he appeared to grow as he spoke, his shadow spreading over all of us, indicting everyone present, and especially O– and all who knew of his plot, his conspiracy.

By the next day he was the unofficial leader. A term he deflected constantly, saying there were no individuals that guide history, only the swell and motion of human endeavors.

After we all began to follow him, even those of us who took part in the bomb, he became even more energetic. Crowds formed around him in the chaos of sectarian violence and they stopped. They listened. Through the howls of violence and the shrieks of gunshots and the bellows of bombs they listened to him and he made them believe in peace, togetherness, and freedom.

I came to him nights and found him a different man. So gaunt because he never slept or ate. He survived on books read in the half light of our wrecked country caused by our violence. His voice was soft and gentle, his eyes hooded, and his mouth hung open or his lips sucked between his teeth. His delicate touch and coarse beard, the shadows spread everywhere, the sweat covering us.

I love your beard, I said.

Women need to take a bigger role, he said turning away, writing in his journal.

What do you write?

The future.

SIx months later we were underground. He told us that the revolution continued.

We believed him.

They hooded us in the middle of a rally. Who knows how many died that day. For a week, we were held in silence, alone, in the dark.

When I saw him again he was beardless, his chin so thin and pointy, cuts on his bony cheeks.

What have they done, I said and O– laughed, said: You should’ve heard him as they cropped him.

I told them, he said, my revolutionary: I told them I only grew my beard because revolutionaries have beards.

We laughed till there were tears in our eyes.

And now the guns are in our eyes. They asked us if we wanted cigarettes and then he spoke for the last time in this life, but his journals will be found and this new military occupation will fail. His last words before our heads erupt in Death:

Smoking’s bad for you and the environment.

a year in stories::thirty one

All day in my head today. You, impossible you. In just eight days, together again, and then two weeks from then and living again.

I keep not talking about important things on here because I’m writing these stories every day and I’ve never been very good at updating about everyday things, but maybe the most important court case in history was decided about a week ago. The former US backed Guatemalan dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, has been tried and convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first time a former head of state has been convicted of this in civil court by their own country. It’s enormous, a victory thirty years in the making by the survivors of families who died in these crimes. Decades, they were ignored, and now: justice. This also implicates the current Guatemalan president as well as the Reagan administration, which means possibly hundreds of former US high ranking government officials could be tried in Guatemalan court. They have that right, and while it’s unlikely that the US will allow anything like that to happen, it’s still a beautiful possibility. To know that these war criminals will possibly face justice for their crimes–I mean, I don’t even know what to say.

And then I heard today that Republicans want to impeach Barack Obama over something probably frivolous. However, I do think he should be impeached and tried as a war criminal. And if we start with him, we need to keep going, to both Bushes, to Clinton, to so many others. Especially Kissinger. Oh, to be alive in a time when heads of state can be convicted for their crimes!

Anyrate, all that aside: this story is about a skeleton and a painter.

Playcrack the Sky

 

She was a painter and she lived alone in a house made of bones on a lonely shore made of teeth in an empty bay shaped like a hook of a forgotten sea of the shallow ocean pressed against the Waste. The painter took the canvas made of wood cut from trees behind her house made of bones and brought it to the shore made of teeth and there she set it down and looked at the sky and saw it was clear and she took the paint made from berries colored blue and with the paint colored the canvas to match the sky and when she turned to the sky and saw it was blue she smiled and when she turned to the canvas and saw the same blue she kept smiling. She put down the paint and took teeth in her fist and she ground the teeth into dust and took the water from the forgotten sea and made enamel paste and spread this paste on her knuckles on her fist and then sat down on the teeth of the beach of the bay of the sea to let it all dry. The paste caked on her fist and then solidified in the sun’s baking heat and with the other hand she buried her hand in the teeth colored reds and whites and yellows and blacks and beneath the teeth she found more bones and the bones were a hand that grabbed her as she grabbed it and yanking and pulling she ripped the bones from the beach of teeth and with the hand came an arm and with the arm came a ribs and skull and spine and legs and feet. The skeleton stood and stared at her and tilted its head to one side but the painter walked away from the skeleton and back to the painting now dry and the sky still blue and the painting still matching. She brought the fist before her face then turned to the skeleton and then to the painting and she thrust her fist caked in hardened enamel paste into the painting and the painting broke apart and the wood splitting and the canvas tearing and then came the sound.

The sound came like rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr and then like kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk and the skeleton watched the sky break and tear and shatter to bits while the blackness of space fluttered through the holes in sky blowing the ripped fabric of sky as waves against a shore that was not there. The skeleton turned to the painter and saw that she laughed but heard nothing for a skeleton cannot hear but the skeleton cocked its head again as the painter laughed or screamed in glee and then she took teeth from the beach of teeth and chipped at the hardened paste on her fist until her fingers were freed and then the painter turned to the skeleton and mimicked its posture and moved her mouth but the skeleton shrugged which she took for answer and she waved it to follow as she walked away from the beach from the bay from the sea of the edge of the ocean pressed on the farside of the Waste. In the house made of bones she sat on a chair made of bones beside a table made of bones and the skeleton studied the room but said nothing for skeletons cannot speak but watched the painter who did speak for painters can speak and she spoke a long time and first her face appeared smiles and joy but as she talked the smiles and joy faded and there was pain on her face and the ache of loneliness and as the sorrow filled her face the skeleton watched her climb into a bed made of bones with only the blackness of space to light the room through the windows made of bones where breezes from far away from the beach from the sea from the ocean from the Waste blew to cool the fever of her art of shatter. And then the painter became invisible in the darkness for the skeleton could not see and perhaps she slept but the skeleton remained still until the light of the sun and the light of space mingled and filled the house made of bones and the skeleton walked around and studied the bones and the skulls and before the painter woke the skeleton chewed her to Death for a skeleton cannot eat.

a year in stories::thirty

Still in love with you. Always in love with you. Hearing your voice in my ear, talking about computers, about futures.

This is a story inspired by a recently famous image.

Myth of Ancient Love

 

Bones. Bones. Tiny little bones. Lovely little bones. And all this sand. Sand. Everywhere the sand, and bones. Little lovely bones and ugly giant skulls. Skulls so large they fit inside. Bones so small they are barely there at all. Dusting away the sand, the dust, the swelter. The sun. Glaring. Mummies appeared. Humans of rot. Giants of loss. This place was once an ocean says the man, the discoverer. This place is now a desert says the son, the surveyor. This place was once a disaster says the woman, the seer. Before the desert and before the ocean this place was a horror says the seer and the seer turns her seeing head up to the shining star. The sun. The swelter. Sweat. In the distance the landscape shifts. The desert breathes and its breath is dry and caustic. Air shifts. Shimmers. Pulsates in the distance. Close at hand. Swelter. They find more and more mummies and the girl, the counter counts them. The workers dig and the discoverer tells them not to ruin the scene. The mummified faces gnash in fear from a thousand thousand years ago. The mummies are small. Too small. They fit in the mouths of the giants. The giant skulls swallow the mummies. The mummies fit by fives in the mouths of the skulls of the giants. This place was disaster says the surveyor in a whisper. The seer nods and puts her hand on the surveyor’s shoulder. This place is a mausoleum of their terror says the seer. Her eyes deepset and shadowed. Her cheeks fleshy. Her neck thick. Her hands thick. Her fingers dance, thickly. She is thick and she sweats. Her reek is caught in her flesh and the surveyor moves from her. The workers work, digging. The discoverer drinks water. Pulls back his hat. Bald. He is bald and his bald head shines baldly against the sun’s shine. A wraith the worker says to the other worker as they dig and watch the discoverer. They dig and the discoverer disappears in the silhouette of the sun becoming thinner and thinner till he is nothing. Nowhere. Not there. Only his voice and the voice says stop. Stop says the discoverer and he slides down the hole. Past mummies small. Past mummies large. Towards mummies. The discoverer takes the brush from his belt and brushes. He brushes at a finger and the finger becomes a hand. The hand is on a surface. A back. The back of another. The seer and surveyor do not move and the workers yawn but the discoverer works. Brushes. He brushes and the hand leads to an arm and the back leads to another hand and another arm. The discoverer brushes, discovering. The scene reveals itself brush by brush. Wind blows and the brush battles the shift of sand. Wind. The surveyor takes his brush and brushes. The workers brush too. Only the seer watches, seeing. The horizon runs from the sun. All goes dark. The desert colds, blackens. The workers turn on lights, flashlights. The seer sees from the light of stars. The constellations writ large and deep on the sky. Etched against eternity says the seer but no one hears. They brush. They all brush and what was once a finger reveals itself. It is a mummy holding another mummy. A last embrace. Against disaster says the surveyor. They held each other through Death says the discoverer and looks at the seer, the wife. The wife watches the stars but they do not move. She turns to the discoverer and smiles.

 

The news spread of the lovers from the old world, the dead and buried world, the world revealed again. The stories followed of who they were, where they were, how they loved each other, infinitely, even through Death and back into life. They traveled the world, the lovers from the ancient world, and the stories of their lives, of their Deaths spread, built large and thrown across oceans and mountains and deserts.

 

The ancient lovers embracing through cataclysm while giants marauded their land.


A poem, for love. For life.

a year in stories::twenty nine

The last story I wrote about the devil was better, I think.

I had a brilliant string of ideas that led me down a path to make my alternate history novel where Hitler wins the war so so so good. I really can’t wait to write it, though I’ve obligations all over the place to get out of the way first. I might try to serialise it next year instead. Sort of do what I’m doing this year, with the 52 stories, but instead do a novel in however many parts it takes.

Anyrate, those are thoughts for later. The lovely Chelsea’s finished with school now, moving up here in exactly one month, and all the world is green, bright, shining. This year together but apart has been beautiful but hard and I can’t wait for it to end, with us in each other’s arms.

But, yes: story–

The Devil’s Tears

 

Waking up to ash and sweat, the Devil’s kiss still on my lips. An empty room without you, cold against bareskin though the sun floods in. What will this all be when I’m old, grey, dead? The depression of your body remains, waits for you to fall back in, hold me above you as you scorch beneath me, between me. I’ve felt the waves of your tongue diving through my shores as mountains caught sunlight beyond the glass and birds rode winds through cherry trees out of blossom. It was here, so far from home, that I found you and myself.

These Pacific shores, a sea claimed by two countries, but owned by neither. Who owns the sea? the sky? the grass and the air?

The leaves blew through the park and the trees swayed and your touch became a swirling cyclone condensed in air, taking the cloud for your face. My eyes back to you between my thighs, the grass caressing, and bugs in flight. We weren’t the only ones in heat that day, the birds chasing back and forth above us, careful to not disturb or be disturbed.

I had another then. Do you remember? I belonged to him, I thought. Was promised to him for summer. He was to be my master and I his wife to pump out children who would love me the way I wanted to love him. They would be my solace in a marriage unhappy but secure.

And then there was you.

The Devil. Bursting with raucous energy and throwing sensations in all directions. They struck my skin then slithered through the pores and dissipated into my bloodstream and from that first moment I saw you the torment began. Your face in the sky, carved out of mountains that surround this city I’ve been in so much longer than I planned. I came here to escape but what I found was a life I never wanted but would never give up. A life with you.

Always gone by morning, woken early by the wall of glass and the sun’s lingering blistering fingers.

I’ve kissed the Devil’s lips, held him in my arms as the boy I was promised to screamed over the airwaves of a phone lying still across the floor. I tasted your skin, burning hot electric shock. I’ve held you inside and all around and promised myself to always be yours.

But then you go away and I’m left with only the breeze, the memories of your touch, the smoldering of the night before as seasons collapse into one another, crashing against the shore of the life I saw for myself so long before.

I’ve tasted the Devil’s tears and they were not sweet. I promised to never leave you and you promised to follow me anywhere, everywhere, but now, here, on this last morning of sunlight on these Pacific shores, you left only the traces of your love and I taste it still.

Your tears and your burn. Your love and my loss.

a year in stories::twenty eight

Just eleven more days and I’m with you, dreaming of you.

Sleep and dreams are the obsession of all of us and this story’s about dreaming and revolution.

 

Dancing together, Dreaming alone

 

He became a subject of curiosity, my brother. It took us a long time to realise what it was that was so different about him but when we did all I felt was sad.

I noticed it first, of course.

Every night, dancing through dreams, the whole town brought to the collective dream of humanity. All who sleep and dream at the same time do so together and we used to weave in and out of one another’s consciousness. In dreams we all speak the same language and when we slept we could meet people from thousands of miles away. We were friends, if only in dreams. Even lovers. I fell in love for the first time with an Armenian. He looked familiar, as if I had seen him somewhere before, but Armenia’s so far from here. I’ve been watching you, he said, For a long time. With that he took my hands and we slid through the oceans and trampled on clouds of a seismic mind at the rind of reality. Wrapping stratus around us, he took me, lovingly. From there it became ritual until one night we flew past one another and into the arms of others.

It’s only a dream, after all.

My brother was our miracle. We’re only allowed one child per family and somehow he sneaked through so many years after me. After mom was too old to conceive and dad was too bored to try. But he came through. It was taken as nothing, so far from the capitol. He wasn’t the only second born but he was the only one in our family and probably the only accidental one in the town. Many gave extra births as a slight act of defiance or out of laziness, but my parents were law abiding and believed in the Cause.

It wasn’t until he got older and none of us could find him in the dream. I searched often and sometimes I still regret even telling anyone about his absence. No one would’ve noticed. Maybe we’d all still be dreaming together if I had just stayed quiet.

But those were other days.

He was nowhere in the dream so the next night I waited until everyone went to sleep. I forced myself to stay awake even as my body tried to plunge into the dream. Mom and dad leapt out the window and into the moonlight but I didn’t hear my brother. Out the window, the thin veneer of dream shrouded what happened beyond but my throat went dry and my hands shook knowing I was missing it. Waiting until I could wait no longer, which wasn’t very long. I was and am an impatient person. But I ran to my brother’s room and opened the door, expecting to see him doing who knows what when he should be asleep and dreaming, but I found him there, in bed. Sleeping.

He slept but he didn’t move. He stayed right where he was. Stationary. To be honest, it was hard to look at him like that. It felt so wrong. Revolting. I would have rather caught him masturbating than caught him as he was, sleeping so still. I walked over to his bed and touched him, just to make sure he still lived. I swallowed hard, my head heavy and my thoughts stampeding, and I shook him awake.

He just opened his eyes and asked me what I was doing.

I cried. Threw my arms around him and just cried. I cried so hard and so long that before I knew it I was dancing out in the sky with the rest of the world sleeping. The memory of my brother stuck in bed dragged me back to earth, though. There was no happiness that night. No wondrous dream of beauty filled with dancing and lovemaking.

Only the impossible weight of my brother’s affliction.

And then I told my mom who told my dad and the next night we all waited till he slept, the music of dreams drifting through the windows. When we opened his door mom vomited and dad’s looked furious. He didn’t do anything rash, just held my mom and took her back to bed. Within minutes they were out there, dreaming. But I sat by my brother through that night, learning to not hate him for his difference.

Mom and dad never mentioned it and they barely even looked at my brother after that but I stayed with him through the nights. I grew accustomed to watching him so still and silent and danceless. I imagined he still dreamt but he did it alone, in a still and quiet place.

He always danced alone.

I cried often watching him. The thought of all that he was missing just tore me down. To know my own little miracle brother was missing maybe the most important part of human experience–it was simply too much.

Most people didn’t notice my brother’s absence because they had never seen him dreaming but everyone noticed mine and that brought them to find my brother sleeping so still and dreaming alone.

Well, I suppose I don’t need to fill in all the blanks between those days and these. We’ve all lived through them together. After discovering my brother it turned out I could no longer dream in unison, being exposed so long and so frequently to his disease. My parents started to slip into solitary sleep more and more, though they always dreamt together. At least until the day my dad died.

Everyone said it was the grief but I think it’s because he hanged himself.

One by one and then by the hundred we all stopped dreaming until the disease spread over the whole earth. In two years we lost our connection to one another. Most people stopped being able to sleep. I didn’t know you could die from lack of sleep but thousands and then millions did.

They blamed my brother, of course. Then they blamed my parents for having a second child. They said he was a curse or cursed.

They tried to kill him, and me and my mom with him. The last time I saw our hometown was running from our house in flames, dragging my mom and brother with me. We’re sort of on the run now, though no one really knows what we look like. Everywhere we go there are stories of the boy who killed the dream. The Capitol’s put out bounties and decrees and all kinds of things but much of that stopped after the Godhead died and then the Hands and Feet fell to fighting over the Mouth and the Eyes.

Everything’s pretty chaotic, in part because everyone’s so tired all the time.

He’s still pretty young, my brother. I don’t think he even knows what’s happened.

He looks so peaceful, dreaming alone.

a year in stories::twenty seven

Happy mother’s day, mothers.

Eulogy

 

My mother flew kites made of wolves grown in the backyard garden.

In my youth, those foggy days between infancy and childhood, when I first ruffled the fur of a wolf, pulled on its ear. It was the first time I knew what danger meant. Those tiny jaws snapped at me and my mother pulled me away, blood streaming from my hand, caught in the updraft of air where it clotted before my eyes. She kissed the spot where the finger went missing and it sealed. Danger and loss taught me trust and love and I’ve never regretted the loss of a finger for that moment of discovery, when love became more than a word I repeated whenever mother was around. Love became an act.

The wolves grew in the garden. When first their heads sprouted it was all snaps and shrill howls. It’s true what they say about wolves and the moon. Every full moon in the springs of my youth were filled with those high pitched howls, their heads reared back, ears pressed to their skulls, releasing whatever it was inside them into the air to mix with moonlight.

My mother taught me to love the wolves but also to respect them. No longer did I rush to pet them but waited until their forepaws sprouted limply from their stalk. It was then they were calmest, most affectionate. They spent much of their days staring at their new paws, licking the soil away and learning to move.

I named them for a long time though my mother told me not to. She never wanted me to get attached to the season’s crop, but I couldn’t help myself. Those wolf cubs growing in the backyard, their eyes lit up to see me, struggling in their stalk for my touch, to lick my skin. To walk through the garden in summer was to feel the furry love of a new pack. Homegrown and organic, my mother didn’t believe in treating them for insects or pumping hormones into them, but let them grow with nothing but water and sun until their bodies developed enough for meat. There were always rabbits and so the wolves never went wanting.

Where’s daddy, I said for the first time after I had started school, just a year or two after I lost my first finger.

She inhaled long through her nose while watering the wolves, all their little mouths holding themselves open to drink, lapping at the soil and one another’s jaws. Putting down the watering can, wiping the soil that wasn’t there from her hands and pants, she sat at the edge of the wolfgarden and beckoned me to her. I sat on her lap, held in her arms, and we watched the tiny wolf sprouts, so newly bloomed they could only whimper back and forth, wriggling their ears.

Your daddy, she said, was the finest man I ever known. Was him first who sewed wolves into the earth and taught me how to handle them so. He was a mythic sort. You know mythic?

I shook my head but kept my eyes on the wolves.

Mythic’s like a story from long ago. Like cartoons but older. Your daddy was the type of man who did things meant for cartoons. Was him who built this land stone by stone, blade of grass by blade of grass. Was him who dragged gravity to this place, pulled down the sun to shine upon us, wrangled the moon to watch over us. Partly that’s why things float so.

To remind me she grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it in the air. I watched it turn from a scattered cloud to a cyclone whirling upward and then it compressed into a stone, began falling, and burst to life as a dragonfly, its fiery wings blazing off and away.

Even that’s your daddy’s doing. World we used to live in was too boring for him. There was so much life to be had that only lived in dreams so he burrowed on into his own head and pulled all this place out. Your daddy was a Dreamer and all of us believed hard enough in his dream to make all this real. You’ll learn when you’re grown and a daddy yourself what it means to live life elsewhere.

Where’s daddy now?

She exhaled against my neck, cold. She said, Your daddy dreamed so hard I don’t think he knew rightly what it was he was doing. He sewed these wolves into the earth but never treated them with the just amount of respect. Like you lost your finger, so your daddy lost his life to these wolves. It’s not just wolves here in this garden, but the bones and memories of your daddy. It’s him who watches you through their eyes and sings to you with their voices. Every kiss you get from them is a kiss from him.

But they bit me.

That’s right. They’re still wolves and now your daddy’s one of them. He’s teaching you not to be like him in all ways. And now I bet you know better, huh? Never gonna mess with them wiley pups before they’re alive long enough to understand their place as a plant.

Much of what she told me then didn’t make sense till a few years ago when I went to college across the Gap for a semester. It was a jarring experience, to say the least. One I’d rather not think about.

But what I remember most about my mother was the way she took the skin of the fully grown wolves and made them into kites. I had wolf sheets, wolf shirts, wolf coats, wolf everything, but it was the kites that brought me the most joy. They flew so beautifully in the air and if you knew how to fly them just right, you could get them howling. A thousand wolves howling at the winter moon every year as they drifted in air.

My mother was no saint and there were times when I wished that my mother could’ve been any other woman besides the lady of the wolves, but how I remember her best are all those wolfkites held by us kids beneath that cold winter moon on the shortest day of the year.

a year in stories::twenty six

These days roll away like mountain rivers.

Give me a life, she said

 

It was summer but it was winter: cold winds blew and crops grew too few. They blamed her, the villagers. She heard it when she walked through the market or the forest. Words blaming her, calling her magic a curse from the gods, a curse for them all. Others blaming her for not using it to change the weather, make the sun shine brighter, the winds blow warmer, the crops grow stronger. The days were long but cold and they came to her cottage and complained to her wife. Her wife made excuses for her, saying she did all she could and that she had foreseen a generous change in the weather. She listened to her wife lie, to the door close and latch, to the screams that followed when the villagers were sure to be far away.

What use is your magic? We’re in a crisis and many may starve and you, what can you do? You tend the fields like a peasant but none of your croptalk makes them grow. What good is it? Why not just be done of it and live a normal life. Do something useful. Learn a true skill.

Like a merchant, she said, her head down, floating dust between her hands, forming it into a miniature cyclone.

Stop that, her wife slapped her hands and the dust flitted away by the change in air. Her wife then took her hands, the ones she slapped, in her own, You have the head for it. You could bring trade here. Food and the like. We could start a guild between the neighboring villages and maybe even trade with the City.

She held her wife’s hands, squeezed, then let them go.

 

She talked to the trappers and farmers, those with livestock to spare, which were few. She talked about traders who came from far and wide but rarely this far north. The men listened, arms folded, faces stern, but as she continued, talking of bridging the gap between the neighboring villages and even the city, their body’s softened. When she finished talking the sun had arced across the sky and the men simply nodded and said they would think about it.

Every day of that week, she journeyed from town to town and gave the same talk to men similar in disposition and demeanor, but by the end they had all nodded and said they would consider it.

Her days filled this way, leaving before her wife rose and returning when he wife slept, she walked half in a dream, borrowing the horse of a friend to make the journeys. As she rode from town to town she listened to the birds who sang of long gone years of short winters and long summers. Her horse said little and when it did speak it was unkind. She caught leaves from trees and juggled them in the air around her, her face relaxed, slack, but gaunt, eyes darkened by scant sleep. There were days when children followed her for a few miles begging her to show them some magic. She would look at the sun, measure its place in the sky, and stop, tell them only a quick one. Sometimes she brought birds to her, who landed on her head or shoulder, or squirrels came and stole the coin from the pocket of one of the children who had one, or she drew up the sand to make a golem, only a few inches tall, who danced until one of the children touched it, at which point it collapsed back into a pile earth.

Invariably, she was late to every meeting as one trick turned into three or ten. In this way her work of one week became the work of three and then five.

She returned home at the end of the fifth week, she found her wife asleep, a candle yet burning on the sidetable. From the doorway she watched her wife sleep, tracing the curve of her shoulder, the shapes of her face. Memorising every inch of skin she saw, the way she lay so peaceful beside the flickering flame. Watching her wife, she took the flame from the candle. It danced across the room to her, flickering through the air. She held it in her hands and closed her eyes, diving into the memory of the flame, seeing the reflections of her wife’s light caught by the flame. She watched as her wife lay down alone, cold, but smiling: happy. Tears welled in her as she froze the image, the memory, and stared at that smile.

When she opened her eyes, she closed her hands together, the flame gone. She lay beside her wife beneath the blanket and pulled her close, feeling the warmth of her sleeping body. She smiled, then it cracked, and she whimpered silently beside her wife in the darkness.

 

You’ve saved us, the man, old gnarled by years, said while drinking thin amber ale.

She sipped water, There are time when I wish I could get away from here. Go off into the forest and start again. Make a little farm with a sheep or two, maybe a cow and a few cats. I think I’d be happy.

We all want to escape, he said, That’s part of living: wishing it were different. But you know what they say: where there’s a village, there’s a wizard. You’d never be able to stay away. Your kind are drawn to us.

People remember so little, even you, dear friend. You came here as still a child and there were others here before you, so perhaps you’re not to blame.

He drank long from his ale, nodded to the barkeep for another, Blame for what?

She leaned on her elbows, shoulders slumped, Not like that, she shook her head, But it’s not wizards who come to you, but you who build villages and cities around wizards.

Maybe the hen and the egg you’re playing.

I wish it were so, she tilted her glass in a circular motion watching the water climb up the glass then roll back down, always even. She said, But I remember. I came here long ago. Long before you were yet born, if you can believe that.

I do, he said and took the new glass from the barkeep, nodding in thanks.

I came here to be alone, away from the City. It’s different being a wizard there. Everyone loves and respects you, but there is also a deep fear and suspicion. We are unwanted everywhere even as we are desired everywhere.

You all do dress, talk, and act funny.

She snorted, a slight smile, There’s that, but there’s more. Your memories are short and the only wizards you care for are the court wizards. Those whose names become songs, who live in grand houses, in palaces. The rest of us squabble and fight for the merest attention from the smallest audience. More often than not, we sit amongst ourselves, playing magic to impress one another, growing more and more abstract and disconnected from what reality demands.

Aye, there’s much of magic and wizard talk that sounds, to be frank, ridiculous.

It is ridiculous, her voice quiet, far away, she drank the rest of the water and ordered a wine. That’s why I left, she said. I came out here to reconnect with the earth. My magic was never one of abstraction or flair. My magic is of craft. I can make it so your nails will never loose or your boat will never sink, or your fire will stay through the rains and the cold, but I can’t put on grand displays that attract fame or fortune. There are many who can, and some who have the subtle magic that seeps in and all around you. It’s only those with a combination of the two that make it. But I’m a simple woman imbued with magic that few care about. And so when the weather comes disagreeable I suffer through it as all others do. There are wizards who change the weather and the City remains always beautiful there, but a true wizard must find balance. If you change the weather in one place from rain to sun, that rain must go somewhere, and often it comes here, to the outskirts, where wizards like me live. She drank the glass of wine all at once and ordered a bottle.

He eyed her drinking, Friend, don’t give to sorrow. It doesn’t suit a wizard to be drunk and sad.

Nothing suits a wizard, she said. I can change the weather, you know. I can do a great many things. I can make the crops grow, even.

He looked around, Keep your voice down if you’re going to speak so. There’s some around who hate you for not doing so. The only thing that keeps them at bay is believing that they’re stuck with a weak and useless wizard.

They are, her voice was light, agreeable, but her face crashed hopeless into the words. My wife hates me for this magic. And I could do these things they ask but it only turns away disaster. They don’t understand. If you suck all the few nutrients from the soil this year to make it through the cold there will be nothing next year to grow, even if the weather is kind. I could turn the weather away but then somewhere else winter would never end and then next year it would crash back harder and even this brief cold summer would be lost to us. The world is in a tight balance and to kick it off kilter the way they do in the City is to sew disaster elsewhere.

He drank his ale nodding. Placing a hand on her shoulder, You’re doing it right, friend. They’ll love you again, next year. When weather improves.

No, she said, That’s not how people are. All faults are blamed on wizards and all rights are blamed on the gods. My wife has forbid my magic. She pushed me to this trading. A merchant.

And you succeeded. They do love you for that.

She waved her hand, The trappers and farmers have soaked up all that gratitude, and they can have it. What my wife doesn’t realise, what no one realises, is what magic means to a wizard. She drained her glass, filled it again. A wizard can’t simply not do magic. It courses through us like water through a river and to deny it is to deny ourselves. To forsake the deepest and most beautiful and most true part of ourselves. I try not to blame her. I love her and she loves me. And she’s so young. I often think we wizards live too long to understand you or for you to understand us. She looked at him for the first time in many minutes.

It’ll get better. She’s just frustrated. We all are. It’s hard for me to hear that you could make this all better with a bit of those ancient words strung together.

She nodded, I know. I’m sorry to burden you with the worries of a wizard. Your lives are too short for these weights.

We’re friends, he squeezed her shoulder, massaging the tension there. We’ve been friends a long time, and if part of repaying all you’ve given me is that I need to listen to you whilst drunk and sad, then I say I’ve made the best deal of my life.

She smiled weakly, You’re a kind man. A good man.

Blushing, he took back his hand from her shoulder.

Do you think I should?

Should what?

Give up magic.

He drained his glass, wiped his mouth, and exhaled loudly. I’m just a man. A simple man who raises a few pigs and hares when I can. I grow what I can and do what I can to make a life. Who am I to say what a wizard should and shouldn’t do.

She opened her mouth and he held up his hand.

I’ll tell you, though. Because we’re friends, and because you don’t ignore the questions of wizards. You need to make her happy, your wife, but you need to be happy too. If it’s always one but not the other, then that’s no life. That’s no love.

I can’t simply give up magic. It’s like trying to give up seeing color. It’s in me. It is me. It’s why I live long, see deep, speak, breathe. It’s all that–

I know that, he raised his hand again, I know all that. But ever since you’ve married her, you’ve bound your life to hers. Your lives are now one, and that’s no easy coupling to crash apart. It may be all that you believe you are, but she’s a great part of who you are. You’ve told me many times since you two came together that she’s the only one. The only one in, what? Two centuries? The only one in all that time to cause you to stop and give yourself to love. You gave yourself to the village and always have, but this was the only time you’ve been happy. Now, don’t say anything to that. You told me those things, and a wizard never lies. You told me that too, and I believe it still, even if you don’t, even if a wizard can tell the truth in such a way that it sounds like a lie. You love that girl of yours and so you’ll do what you have to. She’ll understand what you need to do. It’s a hard time, these summer months without summer. She loves you, deeply. She will stay, magic or no, but consider what she’s asking and why she’s demanding a wizard, of all things.

Thank you, friend. She stood, pushed the half bottle of wine in his direction and left the tavern.

 

Her wife sewed by candelight and she stole the light from the candle, closed it in her palm.

Sighing, her wife stood, What in the–

In an instant she was across the room, holding her wife, their lips pressed against one another. Her wife struggled for a moment, then threw her arms round her.