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The Husi Writing Fun Challenge Anthology

VIEWS: 23 PAGES: 232

  • pg 1

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           the writers of
           Hulver’s Site

           with illustrations by


           edited by


           and 256


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                    Da mn W rite!
                    Ed       and
                    & the Sex
                    people Pot
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                    The individual stories in this collection are licensed under
                     the Creative Commons Attribution–Noncommercial–
                    No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

                               To view a copy of this license, visit:
                                        or send a letter to:
                                       Creative Commons
                                        171 Second Street
                                             Suite 300
                                     San Francisco CA 94105

                                     First paperback edition
                                          February 2008

WFC Book 1.indb 4                                                                  12/31/07 5:35:36 PM

           WFC 1: Ed Hulver and the Little People
           The Challenge                                         3
           Diaspora                                              5
           Songs of the Redeemed                                11
           How the Little Ones Died                             15
           The Man in the 20th-Century House                    17
           Ed Lives                                             23
           A Shot in the Dark                                   26
           The Mirrored Menagerie of Adventurous Pixilates      30
           Dear Master                                          34
           George and the Fairy                                 39
           Doubled Dupicity                                     42
           Winner: Has Anyone Seen Kelly?                       47

WFC Book 1.indb 5                                                       12/31/07 5:35:36 PM
                    WFC2: Damn Write!
                    The Challenge                               57
                    The Color of Rain                           59
                    Voices                                      64
                    The Wedding Guest                           69
                    To Be Established                           71
                      yicky yacky
                    Reception                                   74
                    Happy Anniversary                           79
                    The Idea Double-Sized Annual Spectacular    83
                    Europa, Signing Off                         90
                    Walking                                     95
                    And You Never Ask Directions, Either        97
                      The Fool
                    It’s Not Somebody Who’s Seen the Light      98
                    The Colony                                 101
                    Come Again                                 103
                    Winner: The Eighth Wonder                  109


WFC Book 1.indb 6                                                    12/31/07 5:35:37 PM
           WFC3: Death and Rebirth
           The Challenge                    117
           Danny & Jules                    119
           She Said                         122
           September Dreaming               125
           John 3, 1–5                      129
           One-Twenty                       136
           Winner: Egg                      141
               2 plus 3 equals 5

           WFC4: Sex
           The Challenge                    149
           Universal Fantasy                151
           Well-Intentioned Modesty         154
           A Harsh Mistress                 157
           Counting Down                    162
           Tela                             165
           Three Words                      168
               2 plus 3 equals 5


WFC Book 1.indb 7                                 12/31/07 5:35:37 PM
                    November, 1978                174
                    Love Letter                   180
                    Always a Virgin               183
                    The Party Is On               186
                    Winner: Grocery List          191
                    Winner: Mont Blanc            194

                    WFC5: Pot Luck
                    The Challenge                 201
                    The Snow Cake                 203
                    Dream Logic                   207
                    What Do You Want?             210
                    Sushi Time                    213
                    The Leaving Agent             215
                    Winner: Con Queso             219


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                             WFC 1

                    & the

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           Ed Hulver and the Little People: Stories
           By ana (Sat Apr 08, 2006 at 03:10:36 PM EST)

           In which the author calls the First Ever Husi Writing Fun Chal-

           Perhaps the most curious thing about this anthology is that
           the title is wrong in almost every detail. Yes, there are little
           people, but not The Little People. There are stories, to be sure,
           but, well, they’re rather peculiar. They’re extremely peculiar,
           each in its own peculiar way.

           At no time since the legendary appearance of leprechauns in
           CheeseburgerBrown’s groundbreaking tale “The Rule of Glit-
           tering Veal” has there been such a refreshing take on small
           speaking peoples, mythological and otherwise. This reviewer
           was reduced to a heap of giggling protoplasm by the recurring
           character of Ed Hulver, differently imagined in each story, but
           there with cameo appearance after cameo appearance as the
           irritating co-worker in the next cubicle, the DBA with a pas-
           sion for SQL and a heart of gold, the guy who opens his car
           door into traffic, the victim of a grisly murder, the disembodied
           voice on a repeating loop from a distress beacon — you get the

WFC Book 1.indb 3                                                              12/31/07 5:35:38 PM
                    Each riveting story clocks in under 2000 words, making the
                    collection an ideal way to pass those otherwise idle moments
                   in one’s day. The entertainment value was high, originality
                    remarkable, intelligence crackling. Overall rating: #BC90B0,
                    would read again. I look forward to the next such collection.

                    That’s right, folks, this here’s the announcement of the first-
                    evar Hulver’s Site Writing Fun Challenge. Write the stories in
                    the collection reviewed above the fold. Rules:

                    •   Stories may be of any fiction genre, but must incorpo-
                        rate the theme of “The Little People” in some form and a
                        character named Ed Hulver. Creative interpretations up to,
                        including, and beyond those described above are encour-

                    •   Stories may have no more than 2000 words. There is no
                        lower limit.

                    •   Submissions will be anonymous and should be uploaded to
                        256k.org as text or html files. Files should contain the title
                        and the text of the story; please do not include your name
                        or Husi username.

                    •   Deadline for submissions is May 7, 2006, at 5pm Eastern
                        Daylight Time == 2100 GMT, at which time judging will
                        begin, by poll in another diary here on HuSi.

                    So sharpen your pencils, stoke your spell checkers, and WRITE
                    THE FUCK OUT!

                    If I’ve misrepresented what 256’s upload site can do, I’m sure he’ll
                    clarify in a comment. Thanks also to Kellnerin, for sharpening up the
                    review and the rules.

WFC Book 1.indb 4                                                                    12/31/07 5:35:38 PM

           I never knew Ed Hulver that well. I was friends with his little brother,
           Frank, so he had always seemed a bit of a distant figure to me. As we
           had grown up, I never really got the chance to get to know him, as by the
           time he would have considered me worth talking to, he was leaving for
           university, and by the time he was back, I was leaving myself.
              Nevertheless, I had a kind of nodding relationship with him. If I saw
           him in the pub, I’d buy him a drink. But it was his brother who was re-
           ally my friend, so when I got a call from Ed, asking if he could talk to
           me about Frank, I was a bit taken aback.
              You see, Frank Hulver had died six months earlier.

           I’d lost touch with Frank a little when we’d gone to different universi-
           ties. Oh, we kept in touch in the holidays, but we had new, and cur-
           rently more exciting, friends to keep in touch with. I guess it’s always
           the way — you don’t want to be tied to your home anymore, but you get
           a bit free with the knife as you cut those ties away. It made hearing he
           had died that little bit worse, because, in my own selfish way, I started
           to wonder if maybe it was because I hadn’t kept in touch; maybe I could
           have stopped all this.
              No one really knew why Frank died. The cause of death was clear —
           he was found in his student flat, starved, emaciated, and dead. But the
           confusing part was why he was starved. He wasn’t trapped, had no other
           injuries, and in fact there was food in the flat. There were suspicions of
           suicide, but it takes a special kind of willpower and bloody-mindedness

WFC Book 1.indb 5                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:38 PM

                    to kill yourself with starvation. Besides, he had been seen in the weeks
                    and days proceeding his death eating heartily with friends, though he
                   did look thin and pale.
                       Eventually they decided he must have had some sort of digestive sys-
                    tem failure, but I think it was more a guess than a fact.

                    I met Ed in a pub. I’d chosen it as neutral ground. But when I saw him
                    approaching, I was glad for another reason: Ed looked like he needed a
                    very large drink. I sent him to the nook I had commandeered, and went
                    to the bar.
                       Looking at Ed, I was reminded of Frank. They both were, or in Frank’s
                    case had been, stocky. Ed wasn’t fat, but he wasn’t exactly lean, either. I
                    shook my head as I brought the whisky over to him. It was still almost
                    unbelievable that Frank had just wasted away.
                       I sat opposite Ed across the small, dingy pub table. He was obviously
                    distracted and jittery. In the short time I’d been at the bar, he had me-
                    thodically shredded one of the beermats, sprinkling its remains into the
                    ash tray. He was starting on a second already.
                       “Look, Ed, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to speak to you at the fu-
                    neral. You know I liked Frank, and I was really sorry to hear of his . . .”
                       Ed looked up, sharply. “Go on, say it,” he said. “Say you’re sorry he
                    died.” His eyes blazed as he looked at me, rocking me back in my seat.
                       “Well, I am.”
                       He kept staring at me.
                       “Look, I don’t know if I can be of help to you. Perhaps some sort of
                    counselling to help you . . .” I trailed off as Ed started to smirk.
                       “You don’t know the half of it. I could cope with him dying, but
                    this . . .”
                       I looked aghast at Ed. “Ed, you have to face it, you have to under-
                    stand. Frank’s gone, he’s . . .”
                       “NO! He hasn’t! That’s the problem!”
                       At this outburst, half the pub turned to look at us, before getting back
                    to the business of drinking.
                       “What do you mean, Ed?” I was worried. The last thing I wanted was
                    a scene with a bereaved man.
                       “Look,” he said, leaning forward and lowering his voice, “there’s some
                    things I need to explain to you. When Frank died, the police called me
                    in to formally identify the body. It was horrible, really horrible. You

WFC Book 1.indb 6                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:38 PM

           know what he was like, he was built like me. But when I saw him . . .”
              Ed was looking right through me, replaying the scene in his mind,
           his eyes troubled.                                                                            
              “He was barely there. He was jut skin and bones, lying on that
           slab . . .”
              Ed shook himself slightly.
              “But there was more. When the police realised it wasn’t murder, I had
           to go and clear out his belongings from his flat. Under his bed, there was
           a tape recorder. This was in it.”
              At this, Ed produced an old-style Walkman from his coat and pulled
           a cassette from inside, before slotting it back in.
              “Look, Ed, if Frank liked to record, well, you know, I don’t . . .”
              “What? Oh, don’t be an idiot. He was recording a message. He did it
           just before he . . . well. Look, just listen.”
              He shoved the Walkman across the table. I recoiled slightly. Did I
           really want to hear this? But Ed’s eyes were boring into me. I couldn’t
           refuse. I picked up the earphones, settled them in my ear, and pressed
           play. And Frank spoke.

           “. . . can never figure out if this thing is on . . . let me see . . . Ah!
                “Right. I should be talking to Ed. I’ve listed you on the next-of-kin
           form at university, because I want you to hear this, not our parents.
           Trust me on this. If you’re playing this where they can hear, stop the
           tape now!
                “Ok, then. I have finally figured out I am going to, well, not be around
           much longer. So, I’m going to try to explain what has been going on. Are
           you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
                “It all started a couple of months ago. I’d been playing rugby . . . hey,
           did I tell you I was picked for the university third team? That’s pretty
           good going, you know. Er, anyway, I had been playing rugby, and my calf
           had been raked in a ruck. Hurt like hell at the time, but I cleaned it up
           and put a bandage on, and figured that would be the last of it. I forgot
           about it for a couple of hours, but then my leg really started to throb.
           Stabbing pains, too.
                “So I took the bandage off. I guessed I’d managed to get it infected,
           but it didn’t look like it. There was some blood oozing out, but it was
           clean, and fresh. The problem was that my calf was swelling up under-
           neath. I had no idea why at the time. I cleaned it, put the bandage back

WFC Book 1.indb 7                                                                           12/31/07 5:35:39 PM

                    on, took some aspirin, and tried to forget about it.
                       “But by the next day, it was worse. I hobbled back to the sports centre
                   and visited the medic. He looked puzzled at the rather sizeable lump
                    forming on my leg too, but he just smeared it with antiseptic cream and
                    redressed it, telling me it was just an infection. I didn’t bother going
                       “It was probably a good thing I didn’t. By that night, I was in agony.
                    I’d had enough, and decided I needed to lance this lump. So I went out
                    and bought some razor blades . . . Hey, do you know how hard it is to get
                    the old-style razor blades these days?
                       “Um, anyway, I sat down in my bedroom, and plunged the blade into
                    the lump. Well, to be honest I wussed out. I only managed to nick it.
                    Unfortunately, that was enough. As I sat and cursed, the pain got worse.
                    I looked down, and . . .
                       “Now, look, Ed, I don’t want you getting the wrong idea here. I’m not
                    nuts, I’m really not. But I swear to you, I looked down at this cut, and it
                    was getting bigger. It was getting bigger because . . . because there was a
                    tiny hand reaching through it. From the inside.
                       “Yes, I know. It’s crazy. But this was happening.
                       “This tiny hand was joined by another, and together they pulled the
                    cut wider, until a tousled-haired head joined them. And then . . . it looked
                    up at me, and it winked. I swear, it winked at me, clambered out of my
                    leg, and legged it across the floor. It went behind the wardrobe and no
                    matter how I tried, I could not find it.
                       “Yeah, ok, I know. This is cuckoo. But it happened.
                       “As you can imagine, I was a bit subdued the next day. I mean, I
                    couldn’t tell anyone, straitjackets just don’t suit me. I figured that was it,
                    I didn’t need to tell anyone, it was over. Yeah, right.
                       “It happened again. But this time there were two of them. And it kept
                       “I didn’t notice at first, but I was losing weight. I kept eating, you
                    know what my appetite is like, and if anything it got bigger. But the
                    weight was falling off me.
                       “I finally realised, yes, I know I’m a bit slow, you try thinking clearly
                    when bloody pixies or whatever are coming out your leg, I finally re-
                    alised that the weight wasn’t falling off me, it was clambering out and
                    running behind the wardrobe.
                       “And so here I am. I’m dying, I think. My vision is messed up, and my

WFC Book 1.indb 8                                                                             12/31/07 5:35:39 PM

           hearing too. I keep seeing things that aren’t there, hearing things that
           aren’t there. I guess it’s the malnutrition. I don’t know what to do. I just
           had to . . .                                                                                   
              “Oh God, my leg . . .There’s another one . . . Aaaaaaah! Jesus, it hurts.
              “It’s looking at me. Probably confused because I’m lying down, it
           doesn’t know how to get off the bed . . . No, there it goes. Jumped off and
           scampered away.
              “Hell, I feel weak. I’ll just put this down a moment . . . clunk
              “So tired . . . Aaaaaaaaah! Another one . . . I can’t . . .”

           I looked up at Ed. “But, this can’t be . . . real. It can’t be.”
              “Don’t stop now. It’s not finished.”

           The tape runs silently for a while. Then, just audible, there is a strange
           kind of keening. Then a voice, a tiny voice, starts to speak.
             “Oh my God. I understand . . .”
             The voice is joined by others, many others, all the same.
             “I finally understand. The hallucinations . . .”

           The tape clicked off, and I looked up at Ed, horrified.
              “But . . . My God. This is insane! This isn’t possible!”
              “I know. I thought it was because he was dying, he just lost it, but . . .
           Well, like I said, I had to go and clear out his flat. When I got his stuff
           back to my place, they . . . came out of hiding. It’s true. And . . . Well, see
           for yourself.”
              With that, Ed reached, gently, into his coat again. And he brought
           out three tiny figures.
              “They’re not all here, of course, I couldn’t bring all of them.”
              Ed’s voice droned on, but I didn’t catch any of it. I was staring at the
           figures, all identical, four inches high, with scraps of material for clothes.
           Looking at me.
              Then, they spoke, as one, a high pitched reedy voice.
              “Hi. I finally understood. The hallucinations were . . . well, I was seeing
           what I see, here, all these different tiny me’s. I’m . . . We’re Frank Hulver,
           and I am the little people!”
              I looked up at Ed, terrified, unable to process this, unable to cope. I
           was going into shock, deep, deep shock.
              “But . . . What . . .”

WFC Book 1.indb 9                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:39 PM

                        “I know. But I had to tell you. I had to talk to you, and Frank said I
                     should trust you.”
10                      “What . . . Why me? Why did you have to tell me?”
                        “Well, I need someone to look after Frank.”
                        “But you’re his brother! You can do that! I want nothing to do with
                        “I would! I have been . . . but, well . . . I have this lump on my leg . . .”

WFC Book 1.indb 10                                                                               12/31/07 5:35:40 PM
                                Songs of the Redeemed

           My parents conceived and birthed me in the usual fashion for pla-
           cental mammals, and I grew to betray that heritage; when you complain
           of the northwest chilliness, you may blame me for overshooting my
           mark. Photosynthesis does not come easily to those of us with iron in
           our veins, and this is why I pay my greenhouse debt in the House of
           Prochlorococcus. We get along well; we really are quite closely related.
              The House of Prochlorococcus is my geodesic home, an accidental
           homage to the sixty-atom carbon molecule. Prochlorococcus and I live
           inside, and sometimes I prop a pane open to grab more greenhouse
              Though nobody aspires for their children to be the servant of their
           inferiors, we are all in a respiratory sense the slaves of those who can
           photosynthesize. I am both keeper and dependent, and Prochlorococcus
           is the breadwinner of the household. The glucose-winner, actually, for
           nothing is so sweet as sugar, plucked carbon by carbon from the elec-
           tronically reluctant air. I sail our half-submerged polymer globe north
           and south seasonally, catching the edges of tropical storms bereft of
           lands on which to run aground. We follow the temperature bands for
           optimal carbon fixation, chasing someone else’s dreams of planetary
              Ithulba is a plane of water, its population a raft of polygonal amphibi-
           ous eggs blowing across it. Each of us is a refugee from civilisation tend-
           ing a precious desalinated photosynthetic pool.
                                               * * *

WFC Book 1.indb 11                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:40 PM

                     We are not terraformers; we are reformers. I was a student when the
                     Atmospheric Cascade last cycled, or at least when the reply arrived:
12                   the farthest star had finally received transmissions from the Ithmolai
                     nuclear disaster. The fashion for labor-intensive biogenic modification
                     expanded into the new vacuum of the planet-habitability industry, and
                     the Reclamation Project recruited croppers from all over. My family lost
                     to Nai Ed Molai, I signed up and didn’t care where the RP sent me.
                        Now I live on Ithulba, primordial home of our people and site of
                     the Reclamation Project’s first planetary-scale biogenic reclamation op-
                     eration. Ithulba, current home of pond scum and social misfits floating
                     around in plastic snow globes. The RP makes it sound much better in
                     the advertising material:
                            Ithmolai has shown the ultimate folly of Cascade methods:
                            the absence of consciousness from the physical process itself
                            allows the dangerous illusion of impartiality. Only by being
                            and living with the habitability efforts can we oversee and
                            control every aspect of the process. Join RP as we improve
                            the worlds through the sweat of our brow.
                        I don’t chant when I aerate Prochlorococcus, although a lot of my co-
                     croppers do. It makes for a pleasant, if muffled, chorus on the occasions
                     when we hit the same current.
                        When my assignment came, I thought it meant I was due to be
                     executed and composted for one of the earlier reclamation projects. I
                     breakfasted on dessert and reported in a very broken-in tunic. For most
                     of us, “Ithulba” was a colloquialism for “before you’re conceived”; our
                     aeration chants are the songs of the redeemed.
                        The planet would be habitable with a few kilotonnes of topsoil on a
                     raft; it would make a decent cash-crop farm. But someone thinks this
                     might really be Ithulba, and they cannot tell until the bellies of the
                     continents stand from the water’s salty surface again. They need people
                     as crazy and as dead as me to drain the ocean by rebuilding the ice caps,
                     vaster than empires and more slow.

                     Prochlorococcus is angry sometimes. We colonised this world, drowned
                     it, abandoned it for other worlds, and now we have tinkered with her
                     inner genetic world so that we could recolonise this one. We have both
                     denigrated her purpose and elevated her to new photosynthetic heights.

WFC Book 1.indb 12                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:40 PM
                                                                Songs of the Redeemed

           You left this world, she says. There was no time for anything I was or
           loved to evolve ways to survive. No mermaids singing, each to each; your
           ancestors fled or drowned, and dragged me along. Every lovely green                        13
           thing drenched in saline, drinking out its life water; every swaying sea
           plant under more layers of water than it could gather sunlight through.
              Something may yet survive in the deep, but it has a sulfur metabolism
           or worse; the atmospheric oxygen didn’t change between our ship’s de-
           parture and arrival, which was a few hundred years in planetary time.

           Maybe I should put in for a respite. Maybe when I got back, some real
           time would have passed locally, the oceans would have dropped some
           fractional measurement, and single-celled organisms wouldn’t talk to
           me. But no matter if I’m losing it; Prochlorococcus is right: even after
           the lands have risen, the Ithulba found will never be the Ithulba of my
           people’s collective unconscious. Besides, my grasp of reality is irrelevant,
           as long as I can still optimise photosynthesis.
              There’s actually nothing stopping us croppers from hooking our pho-
           tocells together and joining up permanently, or from hooking up our-
           selves, or from hitching out of here on the next supply ship. Nothing
           except for a parareligious (or hell, overtly religious) fervency, and the
           knowledge that the worlds we left were well and truly gone in the di-
           lation of time when the 0.5c transport started up its drive. Who goes
           streaking across time and space to settle down and start a family?
              It’s a big planet; maybe someone is building that cash-crop raft and
           an anchor with a very long chain. But whatever each of us has now,
           we would leave behind again if we took any extrasystem jaunts. The
           sentient-being condition has always been such that your life collapses
           behind you if you neglect it, but time dilation exponentiates the situa-
           tion. If you want a lasting effect, you have to dive deep instead of going
           skipping around the systems.

           My story is the same story each of us has: faith in redemption, through
           the works of our hands and the spirit of our colleagues. In one sense,
           it doesn’t matter whether or not this is Ithulba; in another, it so very
           much does. This work would have merit and poetic justice on any world
           flooded by the rising tides of our greenhouse folly, but it would not be
           coming home.
              Our stories since the transport landed are all the same: we have all

WFC Book 1.indb 13                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:40 PM

                     lain on the tops of our photocells under the raining sky; we have all felt
                     the horizon, so close and so vast; we have all contemplated the irony of
1                   us imitating the chloroplast on a grand scale. We are the same in the
                     way that the air and water are homogenous; each of us takes a different
                     random walk to a similar destination. Our paths — our pasts — don’t
                     matter. People who think their pasts matter don’t jump onto ships with
                     speeds that approach a decent fraction of c. And of course the past mat-
                     ters, or we wouldn’t be trying to drain Ithulba, but our personal pasts
                     are meaningless individually. We are the bank, the wash of sand, the
                     ocean, the little people. We are each an evolutionary dead end, except
                     for whoever might be building that habitat raft; we only make a dif-
                     ference when we throw our lots in together, shoulder to the climate
                     change. We are here now, ostensibly for the survival of our species as
                     it spreads back to the ruined planets, but mostly because the same way
                     that every child in every system wants to grow up and find Ithulba, each
                     of us wanted to believe in something, in each other, in something bigger
                     than ourselves.
                        There are worse forms of self-delusion. It’s a slow suicide, but most of
                     them are. Sometimes it’s better not to think too hard.

                     The scientists who will excavate Ithulba’s lands are not yet born in my
                     time, and the vast open oceans I know will be gone forever. The Ithulba
                     that is now — the Ithulba that is now my home — will be gone, and
                     they will sing the world’s old name in their songs again: Nai Ed Hulver,
                     home of wished-for memories.

WFC Book 1.indb 14                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:41 PM
                           How the Little Ones Died

           The thing about Ed is his eyes. They stare. When I am away from
           him, I swear to God I won’t let him do it again, but there he is in front
           of me, those eyes boring into me, and I find my will crumbling again.
              “Yes, Mr. Hulver. Yes, yes, of course. Right away.”
              And then I’m off again, to do the unspeakable.
              I could end it. I could end it easily. A shot to the head, and he’d be
           dead. Lying on the floor, bleeding. I think of it often. I convince myself
           that I will do it. I approach the field with a hand on my pistol in my
           pocket and I think . . . now! But he turns, and those eyes, those eyes
           refuse to let me move as he says:
              “Are they dead?”
              Yes, yes they are. I killed them because I could not kill Ed. Sometimes
           I hate the little bastards. Because I can’t kill him, I kill them. Stomping,
           crushing, destroying their little homes as they scurry out begging, plead-
           ing for their lives. “Take our gold! Take our gold!” I’m not here for your
           gold, I’m here for you, and you will pay the price for my weakness.
              What they did to him, I do not know. I know nothing about him ex-
           cept the eyes that compel me. Did they trick him out of money? Loved
           ones? A life? I do not know. I only know that he found me, the one, the
           only one he tells me, the one that can see them and find their homes.
           The one immune to their glamour. The only one who can destroy them.
              That should give me power over Ed Hulver, but it does not. Instead,
           it is my weakness. It is what led him to me, and what forces me to kill
           them. And I do, again and again. I hate them for making me kill and I

WFC Book 1.indb 15                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:41 PM

                     use that hate to kill them.
                        It is all I see when I sleep. The little ones running. The eyes star-
1                   ing. My hands and feet, like another man’s, stomping and crushing and
                     shooting, against my will, I think, I hope. I had a life, once. Now I just
                     kill and kill and then go to him to find where I must kill again.
                        Gold they want to give me. Gold. I cannot use gold. Gold gives me
                     no power over him. It gives me no power to be free. A shiny metal to
                     sit in my safe while I go to face those eyes to tell him no, no, they aren’t
                     dead. There is nothing he could do to me, and yet I cannot do that.
                        I cannot do that and I do not know why. Why? Why did I not laugh
                     at him when he came to me, a weak little man, shorter than me and
                     going to fat. He sat down at my table and just looked at me. Looked
                     at me until I asked what, what he wanted, and he said, “I know you see
                     them. I want you to kill them. Kill them and come to me in the field
                     with the cows tomorrow. Tell me how they died.” And I looked at him,
                     this strange man sitting down across from me and my mind told me to
                     laugh, laugh at this little weak man that asked me to do this for him. But
                     the eyes bored into me and that mind choked and gasped under their
                     glare as I said, “Yes, yes of course. I will. I will do that.”
                        I did it for him and I came to him in that field with the cows and told
                     him how they had run and died and he said to me with no inflection
                     in his voice, “Tomorrow you will go to Birmingham and do the same.”
                     And so I did and so more died and so have the last ten months gone.
                        I go to meet Mr. Hulver in the field. I see him and I take the pistol
                     from my pocket. I take the pistol from my pocket and fire. I fire into
                     his eyes and watch him fall. One, two. I fire into his eyes and watch him
                     fall, bleeding and dead.
                        And I wake up.
                        And I go to meet Mr. Hulver, to tell him how the little ones died.

WFC Book 1.indb 16                                                                           12/31/07 5:35:41 PM
                                          The Man in the
                                     20th-Century House

           “Stop. What was that?”
              “I said, I know it’s your birthday tomorrow and I’m sorry but I didn’t
           get you anything.” Lexa kept walking at a brisk pace.
              Nom dismissed her words with an flick of his hand. “No. I said, Stop;
              She turned and stared at him. He was standing stock-still. After a
           minute she asked, “What are —”
              “Shhh. Come back here a sec.”
              She hesitated, then took the few steps back toward him.
              “No, no. Walk like you did just now. Go back over there, then come
           back as if you were going to keep on going past me.”
              “Lexa.” She did as he said, and on the last two steps before she passed
           Nom, he was sure the sound of her heel striking the ground resonated
           more than it should have. “Hear that?”
              “What, the walking?”
              “The ground.”
              “I dunno, what’s it supposed to sound like?”
              “Not like this. I know my yard.”
              “Every inch of it?”
              He got down on his haunches. “Apparently not.”

           Phenom Anderson had been a piece of wishful thinking, but it wasn’t
           that much of a stretch. Left to their own devices, his parents would

WFC Book 1.indb 17                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:41 PM

                     probably never have opted for gene refinement — his mother in par-
                     ticular hadn’t been at all sure about the idea — but a group of friends
1                   had pitched in for a gift certificate, and his father had said it would be
                     a shame to let it go to waste. They’d gone with the package popularly
                     known as the 2V, short for double varsity. But the Andersons hadn’t
                     counted on Jen-e-Teck being overwhelmed by the winter holiday rush,
                     or an exhausted technician dozing off at the wrong moment during a
                     routine splice.
                        All things considered, Phenom had been fortunate. By some miracle
                     he suffered no serious adverse effects from his mangled DNA, although
                     far from being the picture of rugged athleticism, he barely cleared six
                     foot — and that was when he favored his left leg, which was half an inch
                     longer than his right and caused him to walk with a slight limp. His par-
                     ents won a malpractice suit against Jen-e-Teck and were awarded a gen-
                     erous settlement, enabling them to move into a sparkling new house of
                     violent glass. It was the cutting edge in home security at the time: mutu-
                     ally assured destruction for the private residence. After a training period
                     during which the house got to know its masters, if it detected anything
                     amiss the entire building would explode, the shards of itself becoming
                     lethal to any would-be intruders. “Best money I never spent,” his father
                     had been known to call their ill-fated brush with genetic manipulation.
                        On Phenom’s eighteenth birthday (though by then he was already
                     going by Nom), the three of them packed a picnic and spent the day at a
                     park by the river. It had been one of those luminous days; the light came
                     off the water just right, making it appear to glow like acacia honey. By
                     the time they got home it was almost dusk, and as his parents walked
                     hand in hand up to the front door, Nom lingered for a moment taking
                     in the shifting colors of the sky.
                        When the house blew, he had been reaching to take the picnic basket
                     out of the car and escaped the full force of the blast. Later, it was dis-
                     covered that a brief blackout while they were away had partially reset
                     the house defense system and it had reacted aggressively to his parents’
                     approach. The utility swore that power was only out for a minute, but
                     one minute of failure was all it took. Had it been much longer, the house
                     would probably have shut down completely, or rebooted back into train-
                     ing mode. Nom was knocked backward; the car’s windows shattered
                     but — being made of the normal passive glass — inflicted relatively few
                     injuries. That’s not right, he remembered the thought flashing across his

WFC Book 1.indb 18                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:41 PM
                                                 The Man in the 20th-Century House

           mind as he fell and brightly colored fragments cascaded all around him,
           catching the last light of the day like the insides of a kaleidoscope. It’s
           my birthday. It can’t be right.                                                           1

           It came as no surprise to Lexa, who grew up next door to the Andersons,
           when Nom ended up becoming a cultural historian. After grad school
           he landed the job of resident caretaker of an old house from the twen-
           tieth century, set on acres of its own land outside of town. These days he
           was more resident than caretaker. Some thought he was drawn to the
           Hulver Estate because it was suited to someone of his size — he didn’t
           have to watch his head when walking through doors — but really, Nom
           just wanted to live in a house that didn’t try to think for itself.
              He wasn’t sure how he felt about the hidden door on the grounds,
           literally in the ground, he had just discovered.
              Lexa stood patiently watching him pace in a clockwise circle. Her ti-
           tanium hair fanned out in the wind under her broad-brimmed hat. She
           looked like a seven-foot dandelion whose fuzz was about to fly away in
           the breeze. At last Nom stopped pacing and looked at her.
              “What do you think?”
              “I think if you keep this up the sun’s going to set in a couple hours.”
           She shook her head to keep her blowing hair out of her face.
              “But the hole in the ground.”
              She met his gaze. “Ed Hulver?”
              One of the many legends surrounding the Estate told of an eccentric
           brother of one of the Hulver patriarchs who had disappeared under
           mysterious circumstances. The family records made little mention of
           him after his childhood and none after his early thirties. When his name
           did show up, “paranoid” was a word often connected with it. “Obsession”
           was another. Later, the clan gradually died out, or its members all moved
           away, and the house was abandoned until it was adopted by the histori-
           cal society.
              “You think he went underground?”
              “That’s what the stories say, isn’t it?”
              “Not literally. It’s a figure of speech.”
              Lexa shrugged. “So what do you think it is? In your expert caretaker
              He stared at the spot on the ground. “Ed Hulver.”
                                                * * *

WFC Book 1.indb 19                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:42 PM

                     They went back the following morning with tools, got the door open,
                     and climbed down the ladder that led into the ground. Nom jumped
20                   from the bottom rung onto the floor and turned on his flashlight. It
                     was a room the size of his bedroom in the house. His flashlight swept
                     across walls of a uniform late-twentieth-century industrial grey, lined
                     with shelves on two sides. “It’s some kind of emergency shelter. Bigger
                     than I expected.”
                        Lexa stepped off the ladder and looked around for herself. “It’s not
                     that big.” Standing on the floor, she could reach up and place her hand
                     flat on the ceiling.
                        Nom was inspecting the shelves next to him; they were stacked sev-
                     eral layers deep with supplies. “Look at all this food.”
                        Lexa picked up a can. “You call this food?” She held it out, showing
                     the label.
                        “People used to eat peanuts.”
                        “People who wanted to die?”
                        “Look.” He pointed the flashlight at the logo on the can. “Why the
                     top hat and cane, do you think? ’Cause the bogeyman likes to look good
                     for a night on the town? Oooh, scary.” He shook the can in her face.
                        She took the can and put it back on the shelf. “Well that smile’s pretty
                     creepy. Hey, if this is a shelter, where are you supposed to sleep?”
                        “Good question.” There was no furniture of any kind. Nom worked
                     his way along the bare walls, looking for anything that might fold out
                     to a bed or even a seat.
                        Lexa started on the wall farthest from the house. “Maybe it’s in the
                     next room,” she said after a minute. “There’s a door here.”
                        Nom crossed over to where she was standing, put his hand on the
                     doorknob and tried it cautiously. It was a little stiff, but it turned. He
                     glanced at Lexa. She looked back at him and flicked her eyes to the door
                     as if to say, “what else are we here for?”
                        He pushed the door open gently, and it flew right out of his hands,
                     banging against the wall on the other side. “What the hell?” a shout
                     echoed from the other side. Out of reflex, Nom leaped into the hallway
                     to grab the door and slam it shut, but not before the voice cried, “Hey!”
                        “Does this thing lock?”
                        “Not that I can see.”
                        “Great.” Nom shined the flashlight at the ladder, but there was no
                     time for them to get all the way up. He backed away from the door,

WFC Book 1.indb 20                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:42 PM
                                                The Man in the 20th-Century House

           pulling Lexa with him, but that was the extent of his plan.
              “Maybe they’re friendly?”
              “Maybe.” But Nom was seized with the certainty that nothing good                     21
           was about to happen. “Lexa, get back up the ladder. Take the rungs two
           at a time. Close the door behind you.”
              “But —”
              Nom silenced her with a glare.
              “Happy birthday, Nom.”

           When at last the voice reached the door, it was angry. Nom tensed,
           standing at the base of the ladder, gripping the flashlight in one hand.
              “Who the Hell are you?” The door banged open again and the voice
           roared as its owner stormed through, then flinched away from the light.
           In his astonishment, Nom let the hand holding the light fall to his side.
           The figure was only four feet tall, four-six at the most.
              “Nom Anderson.” His voice felt thick. Cold air seemed to flood in
           from the hallway. The stranger had backed though the door again but
           was still watching him. “Are you — Ed Hulver?” Nom asked, though he
           knew that wasn’t possible.
              “What d’you know about Ed Hulver?”
              “Nothing, just . . . I’m the caretaker at the Estate.”
              “How did you get in here?” the voice snarled, but the sound of Lexa
           slamming the door above answered the question. Without the sunlight,
           the only illumination came from the small circle cast by Nom’s flash-
           light, which chose this moment to flicker and die.
              “Story of my fucking life,” Nom muttered.
              Emboldened, the stranger advanced. “What was that? You trying to
           let the birds in?”
              “No, what . . .” Nom felt eyes taking him in inch by inch.
              “You came from up there. How did you survive?”
              “I —” I was lucky, Nom thought. I was getting the picnic basket. It
           was twenty-two years ago. But then he realized the stranger knew noth-
           ing about that day.
              “Survive what?”
              There was no answer. He heard footsteps pacing the room for what
           seemed like minutes. Nom couldn’t stand it anymore. “How long have
           you been down here? Why all these stockpiles of food —” a thought

WFC Book 1.indb 21                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:42 PM

                     occurred to him “— that are barely even touched? You’ve got a metric
                     Warhol of soup here —”
22                      “That?” A can struck Nom in the chest. “It’s chicken, isn’t it?”
                        Nom couldn’t read the label in the dark, but he did seem to remember
                     a lot of cream of chicken. “So?”
                        “The flu! Fucking Bird Flu! And peanuts —” another can, larger and
                     more squat, was flung at Nom “— some sadistic motherfucker stocked
                     this place. How do you survive a worldwide pandemic in a shelter where
                     all the food is poison? Eh? Well I figured it out. I figured it out and I’ve
                     lived for over a hundred years.” The man was worked up in a frenzy.
                        Nom’s eyes were almost adjusted to the dark. “So, you’re —”
                        A hand grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him to his
                     knees. “Ed Hulver. And I will outlive you all.”
                        The flash of teeth was the last thing Nom saw. As he lay bleeding on
                     the floor, he remembered the sound of Lexa’s voice wishing him a happy
                     birthday. It just figures, he thought before he blacked out for good, to-
                     day would be the day I run into a midget vampire.

WFC Book 1.indb 22                                                                           12/31/07 5:35:42 PM
                                                               Ed Lives

           Ed Hulver awoke to the dog licking his face as the sun shone through
           the broken windows. The bed itself was dishevelled and bloodstained.
           Ed didn’t know who the dog was — it looked like some mutt — but ei-
           ther way it was happy to see him. Ed also had no recollection of how he
           found himself in this room. He had dim memories of stumbling around
           in a darkened, foggy state; not drunk, but permanently dizzy, like his
           senses didn’t work fully.
              He gave the dog a pat on the head, to which the dog wagged his tail
           rapidly before running out of the room barking. Ed pulled the blood-
           stained rags of the remaining curtains back and felt the strong sun
           stream in on his face. It felt good to be alive.

WFC Book 1.indb 23                                                                   12/31/07 5:35:43 PM

                     Ed looked at his arms; they were bloodstained and one of his fingers was
                     obviously broken, sticking out at an impossible angle. He could taste the
2                   acidic texture of congealed blood on his lips as well. There was no way all
                     this was normal. The dog was barking away madly by this time and Ed
                     turned to see a the shadowed hulk of a human. Its stature was restricted
                     — bent over, even. The figure lurched forward and stopped.
                        Ed and this figure stared each other down, each not sure what to
                     make of the other.
                        At this point Ed realised he was looking at a zombie and reacted
                     with violent terror, picking up the nearest blunt object and smashing the
                     zombie over the head with all his might. The zombie collapsed in a heap
                     on the floor, immobile from the blow.
                        The skin of the zombie had the same hue as Ed’s skin, though Ed
                     could see that his chest was picking up colour, moving from a palish
                     blue to whitish pink. Like Ed was coming back to life. Coming back
                     from the dead even . . . Ed wondered to himself if it was possible for
                     zombies to return from the dead to the world of the living?
                        Could it?
                        No way?
                            groan . . . brains . . . groan
                            brains . . . groan . . . brains
                     Ed had definite memories of being dead, even being a zombie. He could
                     feel in the fog of his memory the excitement and lust of eating human
                     flesh. So how had he come back from the dead? Did hell get some va-
                     cancies and his soul came back, or was it something physical?
                        The dog was barking furiously again and Ed grabbed the lamp that
                     had been useful as a blunt weapon with the previous zombie. Another
                     shadowed figure stood in the doorway; this time it wasn’t stooping and
                     didn’t look remotely zombielike. A cheerful female midlands voice
                     drifted across the room:
                        “So yer oop and aroond then?”
                        The voice continued:
                        “Sorry aboot the mix up with the zoombeh, soomtimes they escape.”
                        The woman rolled her eyes.
                        “Causes all sorts of prooblems with the fooreman.”
                        Ed was a bit shocked and his vocal chords and mouth weren’t work-

WFC Book 1.indb 24                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:43 PM
                                                                            Ed Lives

           ing like a live person’s would. They sort of opened and shut without any
           sound coming out.
              “It’s all right loov. The resurrected are always a bit doopey at first.”               25
              “Come on then, I’ll get yoo a cup o’ cha and soom food. You moost
           be starving?”
              Ed was. Obviously being a zombie was not very nourishing. He fol-
           lowed the woman down the stairs to what looked like an epileptic’s
           kitchen — stuff was strewn everywhere — but there was no denying the
           smell of warm crumpets, baked scones, and fried black sausages.
              A sizzling skillet of black sausages was dumped down in front of
              “Ecky thoomp!” he said happily.
              “Nothing. Just something I recall from before I was a zombie.”
              “So how was I resurrected? I mean how did I get from being a human
           to a zombie and back to human again?” Ed asked.
              “Yoo becoom a zoombie by being et. Yoo become a hooman again by
           etting brains, if yoo et enoof of them.”
              Ed was surprised but the logic made a Hollywood kind of Romero
           sense. But if you had to eat human brains as a zombie to become a hu-
           man again, where did the brains come from? How did you manage to
           do it without depleting the stocks of humanity further?
              Ed asked.
              The reply?
              “We raise midgets to feed to the zoombies that are going to be resur-
           rected. Strapping lad like yoorself was chosen to be resurrected so you
           cood be overseer of the midget farm.”
              The hairs on Ed’s neck rose and his eyes widened in irrational fear.
              “Midgets? But I am scared of midgets!”

WFC Book 1.indb 25                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:43 PM
                     A Shot in the Dark

                     Ed Hulver woke up one night with stabbing pains in his toes. The
                     bedroom was dimly lit by streetlights, and at the foot of the bed he saw
                     the most adorable little people, about six inches high, with ruddy faces
                     and bright white teeth. Their chubby little hands grasped tiny forks and
                     knives, and they glittered in the dark as the little people stabbed Ed’s
                     toes and sliced off little bits, greedily stuffing them in their mouths, with
                     small drops of Ed’s blood running down their chins.
                         Ed sat upright and screamed. “He’s awake, let’s go!” The little people
                     jumped off the bed and scurried under the dresser while Ed fumbled for
                     the light on the nightstand.
                         “Ed honey, what’s wrong,” murmured Betty. She then sat up, too.
                     “Your feet, they’re bleeding, they’re getting blood all over the blankets!”
                     Indeed, Ed’s toes were bleeding, leaving smears of blood all over the
                     sheets and blankets.
                         The next day Ed hobbled to his doctor’s office. It was painful remov-
                     ing the Band-Aids stuck on the ends of his toes, and the gloves and face
                     mask the doctor and nurse wore didn’t help. “Just a shot in the dark, but
                     it’s looking like a staph infection, commonly called flesh-eating bacteria.
                     Let me give you a script for some new antibiotics, and I’ll send in tissue
                     samples for analysis. Call the office in a week if you’re not better.” All
                     in all, only two hours from the time he started filling out forms to the
                     time he left with a script. Ed figured he was better off not mentioning
                     the little people.

WFC Book 1.indb 26                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:43 PM
                                                                   A Shot in the Dark

             Ed slept better that night, and better the next night, and the next. His
           toes started to heal.
           Ed Hulver woke up one night with stabbing pains in his toes. “Hmmm,
           he’s unusually piquant today, do I taste clindamycin?” “I believe you do,
           ooh, could you cut off that tasty slice for me?” Through slitted eyes, Ed
           saw the little people clustered around his toes. Ed also saw his MCSE
           study guide sitting on the nightstand. Slowly he reached for it, and when
           he had it, he bolted upright. “Go, go, go!”
              Ed threw the heavy book at the little people, hitting one square in the
           back before it could get safely under the dresser. It lay there, the arms
           sticking out from under the book, until Ed saw four little arms reach out
           from underneath the dresser, grab the flattened little person, and pull
           him under. So, they could be hurt.
              “So what exactly do you need a handgun for?” The clerk had a helpful
           tone, as if asking for a handgun was the most reasonable thing in the
           world, and not an act of a desperate man.
              “Personal protection and dealing with some little varmints around
           the house.”
              The clerk set a small, dull metal revolver on top of the counter. “This
           one is a modestly priced revolver, .38 caliber so it’s not too hard on the
           novice, with enough power to stop most intruders and varmints.” He
           placed a few boxes of bullets on the counter and took out one from each
           box. He held up a dimpled one. “Use this one against intruders.” He
           held up one looking like a time-release cold pill. “Use this one againsts
           varmints; it’s a shot shell that spreads like a shotgun.” He held up a nor-
           mal bullet. “Use this one for practice; you should practice a few times.
           Now, I need your license and credit card, and you have to fill out this
              Ed looked at the form. He had led a life free from trouble with the
           law, so there were no convictions, and since he hadn’t told anyone about
           the little people, he wasn’t technically diagnosed with a mental illness.
           Easy enough to fill out.
              “Okay Mr. Hulver, you checked out. Sign this slip and you’re a gun
           owner. Take this card to the address on it, it’s a friend’s shooting gallery
           so you can practice a little.”
              It was three in the afternoon when Ed got home; Betty was still at

WFC Book 1.indb 27                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:43 PM

                     work. He had time to clean the pistol like the guy at the gallery showed
                     him, and stick it under his pillow, loaded with shot shells. It smelled
2                   slightly of oily metal. Then a hot shower; he stank of gunpowder, and
                     his arms were sore. Shooting a gun certainly wasn’t like it was in the

                     Ed Hulver woke up with stabbing pains in his toes. “Cut that piece
                     loose for Harry here — his arms and legs aren’t doing so well,” said the
                     leader of the little people, one hand holding a small piece of Ed’s toe.
                     Ed kept his eyes nearly closed and, ever so slowly, slid his hand under
                     the pillow. He grabbed the revolver and turned the safety off. Slowly,
                     slowly he brought it from under the pillow, aiming as best he could for
                     the leader.
                        The gun firing in the small bedroom was a lot louder than it being
                     fired in a large shooting gallery, with ear protectors on. Ed’s ears were
                     ringing but he didn’t care, as he saw the leader of the little people fly
                     back, his cherubic face turned into hamburger. Ed fired at the next little
                     person; he hit his foot too, but he was getting used to that pain.
                        Betty woke up and started screaming. She looked at Ed, looked at his
                     gun, and stumbled out of bed, running out of the bedroom.
                        The little people started running for the dresser, save for one — Harry
                     perhaps — who was splayed on top of Ed’s foot, his tiny arms and legs
                     encased in white casts. He turned his head to look at Ed, his eyes gleam-
                     ing red, and then turned back and bit Ed’s toe. He was Ed’s next target
                     and Ed’s gun finished the job the MCSE book started.
                        The rest of the little people had scurried under the dresser. Ed stood
                     up, his feet in extreme pain, and staggered to the dresser. A quick shove
                     toppled it, sending Betty’s jewelry and face creams flying, and Ed saw
                     the little people weaseling their way through a loose floorboard. The last
                     one was Ed’s next target, and then Ed emptied his gun into the floor-
                     board. Betty’s screaming became more rhythmic, and the streetlights
                     started flashing.

                     “Who’s the new nut, Demetrius?” An orderly was taking a break outside
                     room 103.
                       “Some guy who had that flesh-eating bacteria, it was eating up his feet.
                     The pain drove him so nuts, he started shooting his feet. Of course,

WFC Book 1.indb 28                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:44 PM
                                                              A Shot in the Dark

           that only spread the germs, the docs had to cut off his feet. Crazy.”
           Demetrius emptied the trash in Ed’s room and pushed his cart down to
           the next one. The orderly resumed mopping.                                          2
             Ed Hulver woke up one night with stabbing pains in his stumps.

WFC Book 1.indb 29                                                                 12/31/07 5:35:44 PM
                     The Mirrored Menagerie of
                     Adventurous Pixilates

                     We are thrill seekers, we are the Pixilates.
                        We have been on the Red River for what seems like days now. As yet,
                     no one has come up with a plan exciting enough to get us off the river.
                     It is vast and surrounds us on all sides. Our problem as it stands now,
                     is that each minute, each second that goes by means we are that much
                     closer to an attack from the White Pirates.
                        To our great surprise, the White Pirates have yet to show up. If for
                     some reason they do, we all know it will be certain death or a carnival of
                     errors — on their part. They can be tricked. But only for a while.
                        We see the signs of where they’ve been such as the day we passed
                     through the Great Covering and barely escaped. We could have left
                     then but the docking was dried, caked, crusty and very nearly sealed.
                        When we are through with the Exit, I am going to get drunk.
                        “Mate! The strategy meeting is in two minutes, don’t forget!” the peg-
                     legged Idiot yells.

                     Yes, this would be a crucial meeting. The women love them and contrib-
                     ute the best ideas. They will watch our backs and advise us according to
                     whatever plan we decide on. The excitement of the Exit (usually from
                     the Great Covering) makes us think better and clearer in the ensuing
                       “We all agree that we don’t want to leave through the Dark Mud Flats
                     and possibly get impacted there, right?” says Matie, seeking assurance.
                       We all agree with that statement. The Dark Mud Flats have a stench

WFC Book 1.indb 30                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:44 PM
                                    The Mirrored Menagerie of Adventurous Pixilates

           that is almost unbearable. However, as some of us have pointed out, the
           safety there is alluring. The White Pirates never go there, at least not
           the ones that are still alive. Nothing there is living or wholesome. What                   31
           little is living, is not something anyone wants to think about too much.
           It is a wasteland. Going there for the Exit is a last resort.
              “We also agree not to exit through the Yellow Estuary either, agreed?”
           The Oracle says while she jabs my ribs.
              She always reminds us of the one time we, in grave desperation, tried
           exiting via the Yellow Estuary. It very nearly cost us everything. We
           almost drowned there.
              “We could try exiting at the Large Forest near the Great Covering,”
           a crew member suggests.
              True enough and the landing most likely would be a great deal softer.
           Problem is, however, none of us thinks we have enough time to wait
           for a tree to fall that opens a portal. We have dallied around here long
           enough and too many scouts have spotted us.
              “I have an idea that we could try,” the Oracle says thoughtfully.
              “Of the many times as we have passed very close to the Great
           Covering, I have noticed aberrations, irregularities in the Covering,”
           said the Oracle.
              “I have a strong suspicion that if we can find the largest irregularity
           there, in the area of the Twin Lighthouses, our Exit would be swift and
           quick.” she said.
              The idea is like a brilliant white light. It lights everything up in our
              “Let’s get to work on our plan and then execute,” I say.
              Everyone agrees and we get started.

           Some areas are cluttered and crowded with Red Barges carrying food
           and supplies. But travel at those times is swift, very swift. It is only when
           we get close to the Covering that movement, though less crowded, is
           much slower and more treacherous. It is fortunate that the Red Barges
           are usually empty at those spots. All we need to do when we get there is
           to pass under the last bridge to get to one of the Irregularities.
              In our case, it is one large Irregularity. It will depend on perfect tim-
           ing. If we can get close enough to the base of it, then we might be able
           to pull this off. We are excited by the idea. What ingenious ideas the
           Oracle comes up with. She always comes through. Now if we can only

WFC Book 1.indb 31                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:44 PM

                     pull it off fast enough. Why didn’t we think of it sooner?
                        We are located near the Filtering Plant. It is necessary now for me
32                   and my fellow Pixilates to map our route and calculate our time. The
                     timing is very crucial. We also know the risks. Even though we can fight
                     off and slow down the White Pirates with the best of them, we also
                     realize they can be our doom. Time is running short.
                        The Oracle oversees the plans and commits them to memory along
                     with the other memories she has stored. In time of emergency, she puts
                     together her vast knowledge and wealth of creativity to guide us away
                     from peril.
                        “First we’ll need to get in the correct chamber of the Valve. This
                     should shoot us upward, and get us closer to the Twin Lighthouses.”
                        Her perceptions are instinctive. The Oracle also points out that if we
                     get in the wrong chamber of the Valve, the Back Surge will take us in
                     an undesirable direction. So we strap down and are off within a matter
                     of seconds.
                        We know that once we are in the right chamber of the Valve, time
                     becomes critical as we get closer to the Twin Lighthouses. We will have
                     to rely on our steering abilities at that point.
                        With only a matter of seconds left to arrive at the big Irregularity,
                     navigation becomes critical. In the distance hordes of White Pirates
                     are gathering, and in each of us our hearts are pounding. Once in the
                     narrows close to the base of our Exit point we must then wait for the
                     External Forces and then if we are lucky enough, we will be free.
                        We fight off a number of White Pirates one at a time. They are soft
                     and mushy. The Pirates are not fully organized yet for a full assault. But
                     we know they will be soon enough. We travel for a short time under the
                     Great Covering and come to rest at the base of the Irregularity between
                     the Twin Lighthouses, waiting.
                        Having not waited long, we feel a massive surge that we have been
                     waiting for. We have left the branch of the Red River and are now inside
                     the Irregularity. It’s now only a matter of time. Another massive surge
                     occurs and we are certain the next one will eject us to freedom once
                     again, as it always does.
                        I am startled by a great straining sound far off in the distance. This
                     is followed by an immense pressure buildup all around us and we brace
                     ourselves against what will be a massive expulsive eruption of the
                     Irregularity that is certain to occur.

WFC Book 1.indb 32                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:45 PM
                                   The Mirrored Menagerie of Adventurous Pixilates

             And then . . . KABLOOY!!
             We find ourselves flying through the air and in a nanosecond we are
           smashed against a gigantic Mirror covered in Ejecta.                                     33

           “Goddamn it! That zit hurt like hell! Shit!” Ed Hulver grimaced as he
           reached for the hydrogen peroxide to clean the wounded pimple. It was
           just enough time for the stunned Pixilates to gather what little wits they
           had and scurry off to find another victim for their thrills.

WFC Book 1.indb 33                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:45 PM
                     Dear Master

                     Dear Master,
                        I regret to inform you that my mission to kill Tom Cruise has failed.
                        Operations began on schedule and agents were seeded at the casting
                     auditions for Dreamworks Pictures’ War of the Worlds 2: Man’s Revenge
                     for which the call sheet specified numerous sapiens sapiens of small
                     stature. Three agents including myself were hired for the production.
                     (All relevant receipts have been forwarded to accounting.)
                        Subsequent intelligence revealed nine production days during which
                     our agents would be on location with the target in Arizona’s Painted
                     Desert. Simulations and drills began immediately and were carried on
                     for the five weeks before the shoot.
                        One week before the shoot, cast rehearsals began on the studio lot.
                     Our team encountered problems right away. One of the sapiens sapiens
                     midget actresses turned out to be friendlier than our protocols normally
                     allow, and one of our agents was drawn into a carnal situation.
                        As you well know, our kind are burdened to fart golden coins upon
                     climaxing sexually. This came as a surprise to the midget, who screamed.
                     The trailer was then disturbed by her husband, a sapiens sapiens dwarf
                     with a significant enthusiasm for the second amendment. A double
                     hostage situation ensued during which the interloping spouse forced
                     at gunpoint our agent and the midget to couple repeatedly in hopes of
                     becoming rich off their love.
                        The LAPD shot all three of them.
                        At this time I called an emergency briefing and it was agreed that

WFC Book 1.indb 34                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:45 PM
                                                                       Dear Master

           Agent Fairlocks and I would move against the target at the first op-
           portunity. That opportunity presented itself upon the first day shooting
           on location, when the target entered the luncheon wagon for his private                 35
              Agent Fairlocks erected a boundary circle using the standard charms
           while I penetrated the lock with an equal parts mixture of pixie dust and
           enchanted cloves. We came through the door simultaneously and drew
           our weapons, but before we had released our first volley the target pro-
           pelled a stack of cafeteria trays at us using his Hubbardian telekinetic
           powers. Agent Fairlocks was incapacitated.
              “This ends here, Cruise!” I shouted, discharging my weapon.
              He dodged the bolt, but awkwardly, since both of the units who com-
           prise the target’s body had been feasting: the upper operative through
           Cruise’s oral cavity and the lower operative through his opened fly. They
           lost balance upon hitting the floor and I could discern the upper opera-
           tive’s feet pushing out through Cruise’s abdomen.
              “You two fools have betrayed our people, and ignored our every am-
           nesty,” I said. “The time has come to pay the piper.”
              “I am a man!” countered the target viciously. “And I can have security
           in here within two seconds. Do you hear me? Two seconds. The only
           reason I hesitate is because I would hate to see you sabotage everything
           just to get back at me. Go on — get out of here. You have a war to
              “My war is right here, Cruise,” I whispered. “Do your worst.”
              I knew that if I could separate the target into his two component
           parts I would be able to take on each operative singly. I pursued this
           strategy with vigour, but Cruise’s Hubbardian powers proved too much
           for me. I was tossed from one end of the luncheon trailer to the other
           like a ragdoll. I knew my mission had failed and I resolved to make my
              Just then the door smacked open to reveal a lone figure in a security
           uniform. I was not fooled, however, even for an instant. I knew that it
           was none other than Edward X. Hulver.
              “Hulver!” I hissed in unintentional unison with the target.
              “This ends here,” promised Hulver darkly.
              “I’ve already said that part,” I said.
              “Shut up.”
              The target stepped forward with confidence, the beady eyes of the

WFC Book 1.indb 35                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:45 PM

                     lower operative peeking out through Cruise’s open fly. “You have no red
                     hair,” said the upper operative, “and this is not your concern.”
3                      “The world’s welfare is my concern,” replied Hulver crisply, weary but
                     sharp eyes flicking between us. “Not by choice, to be sure, but it’s mine
                     none the less.”
                        “You can’t stop this,” said the lower operative in a pants-muffled voice
                     from waist-height. “This is bigger than you.”
                        Hulver chuckled and settled into a fighting stance. “My kung-fu says
                     otherwise you leprechaun piece of shit.”
                        The duel was mighty, the fighters bouncing and flying all over the in-
                     terior of the trailer in a flurry of boxing fists and fierce kicks. I regained
                     sufficient strength to hide behind an overturned table, peeking out be-
                     tween the legs of a chair, waiting for my opening.
                        Hulver managed to pin the target down in a corner, his face red from
                     exersion. “Separate them!” I cried. “Separate them now!”
                        Hulver turned to look at me quizzically and the target took advantage
                     of his momentary distraction: the lower operative extended his head
                     from Cruise’s pelvis and bit Hulver in the delicates. Hulver howled and
                     flopped backward.
                        I ran out from cover with the separation incantation on my lips, but
                     was stopped by a forceful push of invisible energy from the target’s fin-
                     gertips. Hulver watched me mutely, his face still scrunched up in agony.
                     “We must work together!” I implored him.
                        “I’ll never cooperate with one of your kind,” he swore, getting to his
                     feet. “Stay out of my way.”
                        Hulver was not prepared for the target’s final assault, however. The
                     target wrestled his e-Meter from his belt and engaged it. A beam shot
                     out of the end and opened up a time vortex near the coffee station. The
                     interior of the trailer was suddenly rocked with violent winds as the
                     present boiled away through the clenched edges of the glowing tem-
                     poral anus.
                        “No-o-o-o-o-o!” I screamed, but it was too late. Hulver was sucked
                     into the vortex, which then disappeared with a flash of blue light. “Fuck!”
                     I commented.
                        “Fuck indeed,” chuckled the target as he ambled slowly toward me.
                     “Fuck all the way to Faerytown.”
                        He savaged me with both fists, pinning me against the wall as he
                     pummelled my kidneys with martial precision. Then, in the midst of his

WFC Book 1.indb 36                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:45 PM
                                                                        Dear Master

           tossing me around the room a bit, I managed to prepare and release my
           incantation. With a flourish I delivered it and the target broke apart.
              The upper operative landed in a steam tray of pasta and the lower                      3
           operative, tangled in Cruise’s pants, rolled across the floor and lodged
           beneath a table. Separated, their strength was a tenth of what it had
           been. No longer bearing the shape of a sapiens sapiens, his Hubbardian
           powers abandoned him.
              “Ha!” I yelled in triumph. “How the mighty have fallen. Judas may
           forgive you but I, sirs, cannot.”
              I cracked my knuckles and prepared to aim an unforgivable curse at
           the upper operative. “Avada —”
              Just then Steven Spielberg burst into the trailer. In a mad dash to
           preserve his camouflage the upper operative jumped upon the shoulders
           of the lower operative and pulled a loose flap of Cruise’s facial skin over
           his head. “Steven!”
              “What’s going on here? Your call was ten minutes ago,” said Spielberg.
           “What happened to you, Tom? God.” He cupped his hands and shouted
           out of the trailer: “Can we get make-up in here?”
              A flotilla of make-up girls and loose-jointed hairstylists pushed into
           the trailer behind Spielberg. George Lucas wandered in with a cup of
           coffee, some of which had spilled on his flannel shirt. “Has anybody got
           a napkin?”
              “Not now, George,” snapped Spielberg. “We have a situation here.
           Tom looks like shit.”
              “He doesn’t look so bad.”
              “Half his face is hanging off!”
              Lucas shrugged. “We can fix it in post.”
              Spielberg groaned. “Get the fuck out of here, George. Seriously. Just
           get the fuck out.”
              “Tou-chy!” commented Lucas as he wandered away.
              The target allowed himself to be worked over by the stylists. Then he
           remembered about me and cast about until he spotted me crouching
           on a pile of broken chairs. “Him,” he glowered, pointing. “He said I was
              Spielberg turned to me. “You’re fired.”
              I was escorted off the location by security and allowed to make a
           telephone call to see if I could get a taxi to pick me up in the middle of
           the Painted Desert. I gave up after a few unsuccessful attempts and re-

WFC Book 1.indb 37                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:46 PM

                     solved to walk home to Ireland. “Fucking Ewoks,” spat one of the secu-
                     rity guards at my back, so I put an unmentionable curse on his testicles.
3                   I could hear him howling for miles.
                        And so now I make my report to you, Master, and await whatever
                     punishment you see fit to visit upon me and my family for this failure.
                     Words cannot convey my regret and my shame. The Hubbardians re-
                     main at large, and no doubt their store of mystic knowledge has been
                     swelled by stolen intelligence from the two betrayers known to the sa-
                     piens sapiens world as Tom Cruise.
                        I remove now my jingly hat and lay it aside, my head as naked and red
                     as a baby’s. I have laid down my belt of charms, for I no longer deserve
                     to carry them. So too my sacred cock-ring, and my ceremonial nipple
                        I stand before you naked and beaten, my ass still sore from Tom
                     Cruise’s violent ministrations.

                     Your faithful servant,

WFC Book 1.indb 38                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:46 PM
                                     George and the Fairy

           George slowly rose to his feet, which felt decidedly unsteady be-
           neath him. Was it the alcohol? Or was it the large knife wound to the
           gut? He wasn’t sure, but either way his feet weren’t going where he
           wanted them to — he collapsed down again.
              He reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone. Sarah, he thought.
           Sarah will help me. Shakily he found her number; the phone rang three
           times before she picked it up!
              “George I’ve told you it’s over, don’t phone me again — click” came the
           reply before he even had the chance to speak!
              Bloody caller ID, he thought. He redialed but was just met with a
           beeping sound; Sarah had taken the phone off the hook, she didn’t want
           to speak to George again, ever, and certainly not during ER!
              999, his fingers dialed.
              “Police, Ambulance or Fire Brigade?” a voice asked.
              “I need an ambulance, I’ve been stabbed, I’m in Orson’s Park, near the
           fountain.” No reply came. George looked at his phone: nothing but a
           blank screen. He turned it on. The phone briefly lit up only to turn itself
           immediately off. No way of knowing how much of the message had got
           through. George did the only thing he could think of and shouted for
           help exactly two and a half times before passing out.
              The next thing George was aware of was a voice. “Oi, lazy bones, open
           your eyes!”
              A remarkably well-feeling George looked up. Standing in front of
           him was a woman barely three inches high. She was dressed in a nurses

WFC Book 1.indb 39                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:46 PM

                     uniform — not a real practical nurse’s uniform, but the kind you’d find
                     hanging in the window of a sex shop or in some dodgy 70’s comedy.
0                      “Like the outfit?” she quizzed. “I thought it was somewhat
                        “Are you an angel?” asked George.
                        Penelope Rosedweller rolled her eyes. What a clichéd race these hu-
                     mans were. “I,” she said indignantly, “am a Flower-maiden, what you
                     humans would call a Fairy.” She did a little twirl and her nurses uniform
                     disappeared and was replaced instead by a flowery tutu and wings. Not
                     real wings, but the kind a child would wear to a fancy dress party! “See?”
                     she said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
                        “Oh and before you ask,” Penelope preempted, “this is not a dream,
                     and I’m more than happy to pinch you.” She clicked her fingers and
                     George clutched his gut as all the pain from his stab wound came mo-
                     mentarily rushing back.
                        “Anyhow, we could spend all night chatting, or I could save your life!
                     Which is it to be?” the fairy questioned rhetorically. “Thought so. Now
                     my magic isn’t strong enough to do much more than mask the pain for
                     a bit. You’re still bleeding and if you don’t get to the hospital you’re still
                     going to die. I reckon your best hope is if I keep the pain away as long
                     as possible and you try and make your way to St Peter’s.”
                        St. Peter Royal Infirmary was only a quarter of a mile a way or so
                     across the park. George knew it well. It was only a couple of streets away
                     from his flat and was where his girlfriend (or was that ex-girlfriend?)
                     worked. His mind briefly flitted back to the argument they had had
                     earlier. OK, so it was her birthday — anyone can forget a birthday can’t
                     they? Admittedly, rolling in drunk after one too many post-work drinks
                     probably wasn’t the best move but she’d forgive him, he was sure she
                        “Excuse me, Mr. Daydreamer,” the fairy piped up, ”do you want to
                     hang around here, or do you want to live past twenty-seven?!? Now get
                     a move on! My magic’s already beginning to fade.”
                        George got up and started towards the hospital lights; it would be
                     quicker across the long grass. He often used the park as a shortcut,
                     though Sarah had always told him it was unsafe to be there after dark.
                     Her friend Cindy had been mugged by one of the council estate kids
                     last autumn. “Wonder if was the same one,” George thought as he hur-
                     ried along.

WFC Book 1.indb 40                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:46 PM
                                                                George and the Fairy

              George had gone fifty meters or so but the pain was beginning to
           return now. He was doing his best to blank it out — I’ve got to make it, he
           thought to himself as he dug in and went as fast as he could towards the                  1
           hospitals bright lights. Then from behind him he heard a familiar neee
           naww sound. It was an ambulance! They were going to the fountain. The
           Operator had heard him!
              George turned to make his way back to the fountain, but suddenly
           the pain shot through his stomach again. He fell to his knees and then
           keeled over. He tried to cry out for help but he was too weak to let out
           more than the barest whisper. By the fountain he could see the ambu-
           lance and the paramedics looking at the ground and then talking into
           their radios, but he knew that they wouldn’t be able to see him out here
           in the dark, away from the path’s lights.
              Things were staring to get darker, yet George could still see the fairy
           clearly as she walked slowly up to him, she wasn’t dressed as a fairy any-
           more or even a nurse but was dressed in somber black.
              “I’m sorry, George,” she said. “I know it was terribly mean to trick
           you like that, but I do hope in your next life you’ll remember: When
           you take a drunken shortcut through the park, not to take a piss on the
           flowerbeds!” Then she joined everything else in fading to nothingness.
              Half an hour later, paramedic Ed Hulver stood over the body of
           George Bakerfield. “I just don’t understand,” he told his colleague. “How
           could someone who lost that much blood have made it all the way over

WFC Book 1.indb 41                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:46 PM
                     Doubled Duplicity

                     “Hul? Hul honey? Are you all right?”
                        Mimi stared, her big dark eyes more prominent than ever as she ex-
                     amined her husband’s blank face for any sign of life. It had been more
                     than half an hour since the gang had pulled him out of the surf and
                     across the beach to the driftwood fire burning fitfully in the gusting
                     wind at the base of the chalk cliff.
                        “Ed? Eddy! C’mon buddy! Are you in there?” Peter shook Ed’s shoul-
                     ders. He licked the sea salt off his lips and glanced worriedly at Mimi
                     then back at Ed. There was nothing there. Limp limbs under the still
                     damp wetsuit and closed eyes under the wispy blond forelock. Nothing
                     indicated any sign of life except for the far too shallow, far too irregular
                     rise and fall of Hulver’s abdomen.

                     Ed took a long pull from the pint glass in front of him. He glanced at
                     his wristwatch. “Damn!” he thought. “How the hell am I going to ex-
                     plain this to the wife?” It had been a long day. Interviews, lunch, more
                     interviews, and then that . . . he shuddered and took another quick pull.
                     “Damn! Damn damn damn damn damn!”
                        If only he hadn’t decided to take a shortcut down that alley. Then none
                     of this would have happened. What would he tell Meg? “Sorry honey. I
                     think I was assaulted by gnomes in an alley and I think they’re trying to
                     take control of my body. Can you get me to a doctor?” Yeah. That’d go
                     over real well. The opening in his back felt strangely cold. He wondered
                     if anyone could see its outline through his light shirt and jacket.

WFC Book 1.indb 42                                                                           12/31/07 5:35:47 PM
                                                                 Doubled Duplicity

                                            * * *
           Matt played compulsively with his cell phone, repeatedly flipping it
           open and closed. He looked at the display inside each time but by now                   3
           was seeing nothing there. With his other hand he stroked his beard.
           “You sure you don’t want me to call for an ambulance?” he asked again.
           “I’ve got a signal here.”
              “No. No. Not yet.” Mimi stroked Ed’s forehead, smoothing out
           his hair as she stared at his face. “Wake up! Wake up damn you!” she
           screamed to herself. She continued to gently stroke his forehead.
              “Look. He’s not going to come out of whatever it is. We gotta do
              “We know Boz. But Mimi isn’t ready to just dump him into a health
           care system that they can’t afford and that’ll probably just spit him out
           as a high risk anyway. It’s gotta be something he picked up when we
           were in the water. You work up his left side and I’ll work up his right.
           C’mon. Let’s go!”
              “OK. I’m with you.” Boz and Dana knelt down by Hulver’s feet and
           slowly, gingerly, worked their hands over his feet and ankles.
              “Watch for spines. It could have been coral — or a jelly fish.”
              “Yeah, yeah. I know. Just take your time. Here, what’s this? Eh, just
           a patched hole.” They worked slowly up the calves over the knees and
           started up the thighs.

           He pushed the unfinished pint away, grabbed his bag, and headed out
           the door. The streets were still bright with low, harsh late afternoon
           sunlight. He turned squinting to the west down the street toward the
           train station. Everything around him reeked of normalcy: people hurry-
           ing home from work singly or in small groups; other groups, loud and
           happy, heading to pubs; couples walking to dinner arm in arm; others
           heading to the station in a rush just like him. Everything normal but
           him. He glanced at his watch again. The last train would leave in eight
           minutes. He picked up his pace.

           Mimi hadn’t moved from where she knelt over Hulver’s head. Claire
           slipped up behind her and whispered in her ear as she hugged Mimi’s
           shoulders. “Don’t you think it’s time? I mean, everyone else is getting
           desperate. We’ve got to let them in on it soon.”
              “No.” Mimi shook her head, still staring at Hulver’s face. She whis-

WFC Book 1.indb 43                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:47 PM

                     pered back, “No. Never. We’d lose everything we’ve worked for.” The
                     two women leaned back in unison as Boz and Dana worked up Ed’s
                       “Soon! We’ve got to make it happen soon!” Claire hissed in Mimi’s
                     ear as the other two worked back down Ed’s arms.

                     Without looking or caring, Ed flopped down in a seat in the middle of
                     the last carriage, others still piling in behind him as the doors hissed
                     shut. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and breathed a deep sigh.
                     Done. Forty-five minutes of quiet with no worries, then a five minute
                     walk home, and then finally he would try to figure out what was going
                     wrong inside.
                       “Whut wi’ you? You won o’ dem? Eh? Won o’ dem you are!” The filthy
                     grey bum sitting across from him half-stood, his whiskered face red and
                     twisted in anger. He screamed at Hulver, “Why? Why why why why
                     why? Basta’d! Get yersel’ gone! YAHHHH! Away fr’m me! Go!” The
                     carriage filled with the smell of liquor and foul body odor as the bum
                     continued to yell. Other passengers looked nervously away. “Evil thing!”
                     The bum plucked at the sleeve of the nearest passenger who pulled away,
                     pretending that no one and nothing was there. “You! You! Can’t ya’ see?
                     He’s one o’ dem! He needs. He needs. He needs kill’n! Kill’n him he
                     needs!” The train pulled out of the station. Forty-five minutes.

                     “Well, if he was bit by something, I can’t figure out where.” Boz sat
                     back on his heels as he squatted over Hulver. There was even less move-
                     ment in Hulver’s breathing than there had been just a few minutes ago.
                     “We’ve got to get him to a doctor. Matt! Pete! How’re we gonna haul
                     him up this cliff? We’ve only got the one rope.”
                        “No. I’ve got another up top in the truck” said Matt. “I’ll climb up,
                     tie it off and drop it back down. What we really need to do is figure out
                     how to support him on the haul up.”
                        “We can tie some wetsuits together into a sling of sorts and then tie
                     him into it.” Boz started stripping down to his swim trunks. “Come on
                     girls, we need the wet suits and I think right now standing out in a cold
                     breeze here in your bikinis is less important than seeing if Ed is dead
                     or alive.”
                        Matt topped the edge of the chalk cliff and looked at the distant
                     downs while he caught his breath. A few hundred yards away a dog sat.

WFC Book 1.indb 44                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:48 PM
                                                                    Doubled Duplicity

           It stayed unnervingly still, staring steadily at him as if it was waiting for
           some sign from him. Matt muttered, “Stupid dog! Too bad I don’t have
           my Sigarms handy.” He yelled, “Buzz off you fucking mutt! Go on or I’ll                     5
           eat your fucking heart, you bastard!” Getting no response from the dog,
           he turned away and fumbled in his shorts for the keys to the truck.

           The bum suddenly turned on Ed. “Die baa’saad! Here! See da’ proof!
           Ev’l he is!” He leapt across the carriage with his arms stretched up high.
           He landed with his arms hooked over Hulver’s shoulder and head.
           Grunting and kicking, he slid down Hulver’s back and pulled madly at
           the jacket and shirt. The other passengers watched, frozen in surprise.
           The jacket slid to the floor and the shirt ripped down from the collar.
           The bum shoved his grimy hand into the hole. “See! Ya’ see! ‘E should
           be dead anyway! No! Evil! Kill ‘im! Kill ‘im wi’ me!” He pulled his hand
           out and started pummeling Hulver on the head and back. “Evil I tell ya’!
           Godless, zombie ‘e is! If ‘e’s not kill’d dare’ll be more! Ye’ must. Help.
           ‘stroy ‘im!”
              Ed staggered forward, trying to get to the door at the end of the car.
           As he made it past the first passengers, they reached out and held him.
           “Thank God! They’ll stop this nut!” Then a fresh fist came down. Harder
           and faster than the bum’s.

           “Please Mimi! Let us tie him up in this!” Peter tried to pull her away by
           grabbing one shoulder, Boz pushing in next to him.
             “No! No! Leave him be! Just wait! He’ll be fine.” Mimi curled for-
           ward, covering Hulver’s head and shoulders with her own.
             “No he won’t be! We’ve got to get him out now!” Peter yanked hard
           and Mimi rolled to the side and then forward, falling across Hulver’s

           Hulver stumbled to the floor, the crowd around him growing. He could
           not understand what had happened to the formerly passive people on
           the train. He instinctively curled up into a fetal position, leaving the
           hole in his back more exposed than ever. Others touched it, saw how
           impossible it was. The mob began to yell. The blows became kicks.
           Harder than ever. He began to lose consciousness. Then, rolling over
           and looking up, he saw the folded umbrella stroller coming at his head,
           the woman swinging it still holding her baby in her other arm.

WFC Book 1.indb 45                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:48 PM

                                                       * * *
                     In a sudden convulsive burst, he started breathing. Deep choking
                   breaths. Coughing, spitting up bile. Mimi rolled off him, down past his
                     hips, and he sat up, still gasping and coughing. “What the hell! Where
                     the fuck am I?”
                        “You passed out in the surf when we came in from snorkeling.” Claire
                     stood, oddly calm, her arms crossed tightly. “We thought you’d been at-
                     tacked by something. We thought we’d lost you.” Mimi stared at Claire
                     then looked back at Hulver. If anyone had taken the time to notice, her
                     face showed disappointment instead of relief. She said nothing.
                        Hulver squatted, then gradually stood, his breathing becoming nor-
                     mal almost immediately. “Well, whatever it was, it seems to be over for
                     now. But man! Did I have a wild dream! Too bad I can’t remember what
                     it was.”
                        “OK, now that you’re back with us, let’s get you the hell out of here,”
                     the Boz muttered as he refashioned the sling into a shoulder harness.
                        “Quite a surprise you pulled for us there!” chuckled Pete, giddy with
                     relief. “Let’s get you up and checked by a doctor. At least there’s no rea-
                     son to make a mad dash to a hospital now.”
                        “Yes, quite a surprise.” Claire looked knowingly at Mimi again. “I
                     wonder if we’ll have any more.”

WFC Book 1.indb 46                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:48 PM
                              Has Anyone Seen Kelly?

           I was standing still, I think, but I was so drunk that I stumbled a bit.
           Since I wasn’t moving, it must have looked like a shudder.
              “I know,” said Ed. “But that’s it.”
              He gestured to a small man. The man was about three feet tall. He
           was naked. A black metal collar was clamped around his neck. It was
           fastened with a dull bike lock the color of tarnished brass. From the col-
           lar, a heavy black chain ran to a thick eyelet built into the basement wall.
           The eyelet was between the white plastic utility sink and the dryer.
              The small man didn’t look at us. He was staring at some spot that, if you
           traced his line of sight, would have put you somewhere near the pinball
           machine in the far northwest corner of the basement, though a glassy
           sheen in the man’s eyes told me that he wasn’t looking at anything.
              Ed’s basement was what a realtor might call semi-finished. It had
           irregular scraps of carpet laid here and there. There was a pinball ma-
           chine, a nice stereo, a pool table, a poster with a tropical bird informing
           all interested that a certain stout beer was a strength tonic, and several
           wooden skeletal frames of walls that needed drywall but, years after Ed
           had settled, were never going to be completed.
              “Don’t get too close. He can’t cross that,” Ed pointed to a circle of
           some white powder with small flecks of black in it. Until Ed pointed it
           out, I hadn’t noticed it. Ed looked at me and then did a little stumble of
           his own. He was drunk too.
              “Salt,” he said, slurring the word.

WFC Book 1.indb 47                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:48 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 48   12/31/07 5:35:48 PM
                                                           Has Anyone Seen Kelly?

                                             * * *
           Ed Hulver used to work with me. We’d been thick as thieves back then.
           One day he announced he’d given two weeks notice. I asked him where                    
           he was jumping ship to. He answered: “Nowhere.” He’d laughed and
           said, “I’m going to do absolutely fucking nothing.”
              We’d meant to keep in touch and we even had drinks twice at this
           dive around the corner from the office. He’d shown up in a Beemer the
           first time. A limited edition Jag the second. When I asked him what he
           was doing he’d answer, “Absolutely fucking nothing.”
              More than three years after he quit, more than a year since the ever-
           shrinking flow of personal information had dried up and evaporated
           completely, I got an email from Ed. He wanted to go for drinks. We
           could knock back a pint at the old standby. I said sure.
              I half expected him to roll up in a solid gold Bentley. It was a red
           Hummer. He bought round after round, exchanged old jokes, and
           tipped the bartender generously.
              I looked down at my watch and got ready to make my excuses. I was
           so wrecked, I had to squint to focus on my watch’s face.
              “Don’t go yet,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “I’ve got a
           favor to ask.”
              “S’ok. But you do me a favor first.”
              “What are you doing these days? Why are you so fucking rich?”
              He smiled. The hand on my shoulder made two quick patting ges-
           tures. “Our favors are connected. That’s how good friends we are. See?”
              That’s when Ed asked me to watch his leprechaun.

           “It’ll only be for a couple of months. You can stay in the house. Drink
           my liquor. And we’ll pay.”
              “I don’t know,” I said. “Ed, this is crazy. You’ve got some fucking
           midget chained up in your basement!”
              The small man scratched his hairy chest absently. He was bald with
           thick rug of red hair on the rest of his body.
              “He’s not human. He’s one of the wee folk.”
              “He’s fucking I don’t know how many years in jail and now you’ve
           made me an accessory or accomplice or something. Let’s let him go and
           I’ll . . .”

WFC Book 1.indb 49                                                                    12/31/07 5:35:49 PM

                        “Listen,” said Ed. “This is what I’ve been doing. This is how I’m rich.
                     He’s it. He’s the money tap.”
50                      “Don’t say this. Seriously, don’t,” I said. “You’ve got a pot of gold up-
                     stairs in the guest bedroom.”
                        “Not quite. He doesn’t have a pot of gold so much as he leads me to
                     gold. When I ask him, he has to say where some is hid. Though it is
                     always a riddle and once or twice he’s tried to lead me into a trap. He’s
                     quiet now, but he’s a mean fucker.” Ed turned to the silent, naked man.
                     “Isn’t that right you bitter little shit? Fine. Don’t answer. It was rhetorical
                     anyway.” Ed turned back to me. “He’s been angry since I caught him.”
                        “Where did you kidnap this man from?”
                        “Caught. The verb is caught. He was digging up a patch of the
                     Wilbershire 7th.”
                        “You caught him on a country club golf course?”
                        “Sure. This guy’s local. Speaks English. I think these guys show up
                     wherever there’s micks around. They’re a manifestation of the luck of
                        “You’re not Irish.”
                        “But my wife is. I married into it.” Ed said. Suddenly he broke eye
                     contact and looked back at his prisoner. I caught the little man’s head
                     snap back to its original position. He’d been watching us. “What the
                     fuck are you looking at?” Ed shouted.

                     He told me that the leprechaun ate mostly meat. They gave him un-
                     cooked hotdogs, mainly, but he didn’t seem particular so long as it was
                        He ate once a day.
                        He didn’t need to be taken out. They’d originally left a kitty litter
                     box down there for him, but as far as they could tell, he never pissed or
                        The iron chain kept him docile. They weren’t sure whether contact
                     with iron actually hurt him or simply bound him. It wasn’t clear. But
                     whatever, he couldn’t fuck with it so I shouldn’t fuck with it.
                        And keep an eye on the salt ring.
                        He didn’t seem talkative of late, but that was a good thing. “When he
                     talks, it’s always in half truths. He’s always trying to gain some edge on
                     you, freak you out. Best to just not talk to him,” Ed said.

WFC Book 1.indb 50                                                                              12/31/07 5:35:49 PM
                                                                  Has Anyone Seen Kelly?

                                            * * *
           The first night I spent in the house, I found a yellow Post-it note on the
           fridge:                                                                                     51
                     Si —
                         Don’t talk to him!

           The first week went by fine. Once I walked down there to find him
           standing up instead of sitting in his normal position. The shock nearly
           made me drop the open can of Vienna sausages I was going to toss him.
           Other than that one surprise, it was actually a bit dull. I’d taken to talk-
           ing to him absently, like one would a pet. He never talked back and I
           was certain the proscription referred to conversation, not me talking to
           myself in his presence, which is what it really was.
              He never ate in front of me. He never spoke. Though I could some-
           times hear his chain drag around at night — a disconcerting sound — I
           never saw him move. I just threw him his food, checked the salt circle,
           reapplying liberally as needed, and left him in the basement.

           The trouble started on Tuesday of week two. Around one in the morn-
           ing, he started to sing.
                     She walked the town from Herald Square to 42nd Street,
                     The traffic stalled as she cried to the copper on the beat.
                     Has anyone seen Kelly? K E double L Y.
                     Have you seen him smile?
               It was a horrible voice. Like a thousand year old drunkard, a voice
           filled with the shit luck of a million busted promises, decades of starva-
           tion, lifetimes of hate and resignation.

           I ran to the basement. As I flung open the door, he stopped. I stamped
           down the stairs. He was seated, quiet, that nowhere stare.
              “Don’t do that, okay? Your singing voice is shit.”

           I walked back upstairs. A half hour later, I’d calmed again to the point
           that I was drifting back to sleep. Then, him again:

WFC Book 1.indb 51                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:49 PM

                            Has anyone seen Kelly? K E double L Y.
                            Have you seen him smile?
52                          Sure his hair is red. His eyes are blue.
                            And he’s Irish through and through.
                        I shot out of bed. Again, he fell silent as I reached the basement door.
                     I came down the steps, grabbed a pool cue, and made as if to strike the
                     tiny man. He didn’t look at me. I held the cue above my head.
                        “Shut the fuck up!”
                        “What are you going to do,” he said.
                        I felt the strength drain from my arms.
                        “You can kill the money tap?” He still didn’t look at me.
                        “Just shut up, okay? I need to sleep.”
                        He didn’t answer. I put the cue back down on the table. As I walked
                     up the stairs, I could feel his gaze bore into the back of my head.
                        That horrible voice, all guilt and hate and heartbreak and greed: “I
                     don’t sleep much myself. You could say I don’t sleep at all.”

                     Every night, starting at one:
                            She climbed up on the bandstand
                            In hopes she might be seen.
                            Five hundred Kellys left the ranks
                            To answer to her pleain’.
                            Has anyone seen Kelly? K E double L Y.
                        Every damn night. Sometimes I shouted back. Sometimes I ran down
                     stairs. Once I tried to gag him, but he rushed me the second I crossed
                     the salt circle. The little bastard tried to bite my fingers off.

                     Come Friday, I’d had enough. With the little shit wailing downstairs,
                     I got dressed and left the house. I started my car and started off to the
                     city. I didn’t care where.
                        I reached the city in about forty-five minutes. I had no destination,
                     so I cruised the Bottom and LoDo. I blasted the radio, as if the volume
                     of the cycle of 70s stadium rock could wash out the scratching, gnawing
                     voice of the little man from my head.
                        Circling the still-busy streets, looking for a friendly looking bar, it

WFC Book 1.indb 52                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:49 PM
                                                              Has Anyone Seen Kelly?

           occurred to me: That clever bastard was trying to run me out of the
              I made an illegal U-ie on the Westside, nearly running down a group                     53
           of staggering college kids, and sped back to Ed’s house.

           I opened the door to Ed’s house and stood in the darkened entryway. I
           didn’t hear him singing. The place was dead quiet. The lights were out. I
           walked slowly downstairs. I turned on the lights.
              He was there, sitting quietly, in his circle of salt. The chain was still
           around his neck. He said nothing. He didn’t turn to look at me.

           Relieved, I walked upstairs. I went to the kitchen to get some ice for a
           drink. In the middle of the kitchen floor was an empty sardine tin.

           “Look at me,” I said. “We’re talking. Now.”
              I saw a fresh cut on his right hand. The blood was the color and thick-
           ness of tree sap.
              I held one of Ed’s golf clubs in my right hand. A nine-iron. In my left
           hand, a mesh shopping bag. Ed and his wife didn’t like to waste trees.
           Very conscientious.
              “You can get out.”
              He said nothing.
              “What do I have to do so you’ll wait until I leave? ‘Cause you’re going
           to kill whoever’s here, aren’t you?”
              “I could kill you first.”
              I put down the shopping bag. I took out some salt. I carefully poured
           the container out in a circle. I made several orbits, just pouring out
           salt. After I was done, I picked up the shopping bag and overturned its
           contents, several tins of tuna fish, deviled ham, spam, into his circular
              “I’m done,” I said. “What happens between you and Ed is between
           you and Ed. But I’ll be keeping this club with me, until I leave.”

           I drove away. I never heard from Ed again. We were thick as thieves
           once. But that was years ago.

WFC Book 1.indb 53                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:49 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 54   12/31/07 5:35:50 PM
                                WFC 2

                     Da m nW rite!

WFC Book 1.indb 55                   12/31/07 5:35:50 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 56   12/31/07 5:35:50 PM
           WFC2: Damn Write!
           By CRwM (Mon May 29, 2006 at 02:49:08 PM EST)

           In a world they didn’t create, several unknown writers will
           learn the most chilling lesson of all . . .

           Theantix Fun Challenge LLC, in conjunction with the acronym
           CRwM, presents the second Hulver Site Writing Fun Chal-

           Here are the rules:

           Submissions may be of any fiction genre. All submissions must
           be 2,000 words or fewer in length. There is no lower limit.

           All stories must be set in a “post-apocalypse” setting. The
           “post” is key here. Whatever ended all things good and true
           and fabulous, it needs to have already happened. Otherwise,
           we leave it up to you. There is, however, one condition, which
           we call Theantix Sanction: No “George Bush ended the world”
           stories. It is too easy, too unoriginal, and anyway, we said it
           needed to be fiction. Just don’t do it.

           Like last time, submissions will be anonymous. Files should
           contain the title of the story and the text of the story. Do not
           include your name or Husi username.

WFC Book 1.indb 57                                                            12/31/07 5:35:50 PM
                     The upload site is up and running. Just follow this magic freakin’
                     link or type in the following address: http://256k.org/wfc2

                     To make things more interesting, we are cutting back the time
                     limit. All submissions are due no later than 5:00 pm Eastern
                     Daylight, June 12th. Now we separate the boys from the
                     men, and the girls from the women, and the girls from the
                     boys, and the men from the girls, and the women from the
                     boys . . . seriously people, keep your hands to yourself! What’s
                     wrong with you people? You should be focused on your writing
                     and not engaging in all this hanky-panky.
                     Judging will be conducted by poll shortly after the window for
                     submissions has closed.

                     Before I sign off here, I’d like to extend a special thanks to 256
                     for hosting the upload site. He’s a prince to do this for us.

                     Now you’ve got your theme and you know the rules — what the
                     hell are you still reading this for? Get writing!

WFC Book 1.indb 58                                                                 12/31/07 5:35:50 PM
                                     The Color of Rain

           Nana is always saying how things didn’t used to be how they are
           now, things like, “Rain wasn’t this color, before.” She says that a lot.
              I’ll nod, or make some noise like I agree if she can’t see me. I never
           point out that rain doesn’t have any color. It’s black. One time I asked
           her, “What color was the rain, then?”
              “Rainbow colored,” she said after a moment. “All the different col-
           ors.” That didn’t make any sense to me but she had that look, the one
           that means she’s far away, thinking of something else, something that
           I’ve never seen and probably never will. She never did explain properly.
           Every time I ask she answers something different, never straightfor-
           ward, and I wonder if she really remembers. Another time it was, “The
           color of tears. We used to say that rain was God’s tears.”
              Evan’s no use for explaining. He’s old enough to remember the way
           things were, but he doesn’t talk about it. Or about anything. When he
           first showed up he was sick with fever, stayed in bed for days, but even
           after he got better and started helping out around the house, he never
           said a word. He understands us fine when we talk — he’s no dummy, he
           just doesn’t speak.
              Nana said he must have lost his voice, that it can happen when people
           get sick, or hurt. I know that’s not exactly true, not about Evan anyway.
           Once I heard a noise in the night that wasn’t the rain, and when I went
           into the other room, it was Evan. He was curled on his cot with his arms
           up covering his face, making a moaning sound, not real words. It went
           on and on, getting louder and softer like waves. I wanted to stay and

WFC Book 1.indb 59                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:50 PM

                     listen, or even get closer, but I didn’t dare let Nana catch me.
                        Lying in my bed that night, I kept thinking about his voice. So he
                     still had it, it wasn’t lost, but maybe he forgot how to use it. I wondered
                     what he might tell me about the world before, if he could. I always feel
                     like Nana — and Evan too — know more than I ever can. They have
                     these worlds inside them that I can never touch or understand the way
                     they do.
                        Let me try to explain. I was yea high when I first came to live with
                     Nana, but it’s more like a fact that I’ve learned than something I just
                     know. It’s on the doorway of the kitchen, a faint black line that Nana
                     made, she said, when she first found me. She’s done it ever since, I know.
                     Every once in a while she has me stand on that spot and she makes
                     another mark. But I don’t remember the very first time. I see the line on
                     the wall with the others, and suppose it must be true.
                        Except one day I thought: it could all just be a story. Where I came
                     from, rainbow tears, disappearing voices . . . like the fairy tales that Nana
                     admitted weren’t real. And I made up my own stories. I’d listen to
                     the sound of the rain falling on the roof every night and imagine it
                     washed the dark out of the sky, so that when we woke up in the morn-
                     ing everything’d be bright again. I wondered, if Evan had stories to
                     tell, would they match Nana’s or not? Or maybe mine? But I knew the
                     stories Nana told about the way things used to be were important to her,
                     and even if I didn’t really understand, she wanted them to be important
                     to me, too, more than something made up. So I never said anything to
                     her about what I imagined.
                        Kept it to myself, something of my own world inside.

                     There was something wrong the moment I woke up. Quiet. No rain.
                     Sun shining through the window. Nana would never let me sleep this
                     late unless I was sick, and if I was, she wouldn’t leave me alone either.
                     She’d be taking care of me.
                        I walked into the main room. No Evan, though he’s usually out of the
                     house before I’m up. Nana’s door was closed, but before I got to open it I
                     heard a noise outside. Through the window I saw Evan running toward
                     the house, carrying something. I opened the door just as he got there
                        “Ka, Ka-Katrin.” I thought he was coughing at first. I was so sur-
                     prised to hear him speak, and that the first word he ever said was my

WFC Book 1.indb 60                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:50 PM
                                                                      The Color of Rain

           name, I froze for a moment. Then he did start coughing. He collapsed
           on his knees and lay the bundle in his arms on the ground in front of
           our door. Nana.
              “Is she okay? What happened, where?” She felt cold. I stared at Evan.
           Tell me. I know you can, you have to tell me.
              He sat on the ground, trying to get his breath back. He looked at
           Nana, then at me, raised a hand in the direction he came from and let
           it drop. He turned back to Nana. Wouldn’t leave her. He put his head
           in his hands and started shaking it back and forth no, no but the sound
           coming out of his mouth was the moaning I once heard.
              “We should get her inside. She . . . We have to.” I opened the doors
           as he carried her into her room and laid her on her bed. Her eyes were
           closed. I tucked a sheet under her chin, wondered if she’d ever gotten
           any sleep last night. She just needs rest, she’ll be fine . . .
              Evan was sitting in the main room, holding a cup, mostly empty,
           staring at what was left in it. I wanted to say, I knew about your voice, you
           always had it. But what came out of my mouth was, “You have dreams
           at night.” He looked up at me. “Nightmares.”
              His eyes dropped back to his cup. Just a flick of his eyes but I un-
           derstood. I poured myself some water and sat next to him. One of the
           fingers on his left hand was twitching. He had a metal ring around
           that finger that kept hitting the side of the cup, tink tink tink. Then he
           stopped and leaned back in his chair, and I could see tears running down
           his face.
              I drank some of my water. “Nana told me, rain used to be the color of
           tears. But she said a lot of things. About rainbows, all different colors.
           Didn’t really make sense. I had this idea, when I was little. I never told
           anyone. That rain was the night turning into water and falling out of the
           sky. So in the morning there’s light again. But I know Nana would say,
           that’s just a silly . . .”
              “I —” Even though I wanted to make him talk it still startled me to
           hear him. “I ha-ad the same, thought.” His voice was thin, like a sheet so
           worn you can almost see through it. He drank the rest of his cup.
              Was he serious? It was just something I made up . . .“It’s real? It’s
           true?” He tilted his head a little, no. Stories are just stories, after all. I
           turned my cup around, making ripples on the water. “Nothing is the way
           it should be, is it?”
              He rocked his empty cup back and forth on the table, then pushed it

WFC Book 1.indb 61                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:51 PM

                     away. “I dream. Go backwards in time. Everything,” he looked around
                     the room, gestured with a hand in a big swirling motion, the whole world
                     that you’ve ever known, “I see it, undone, can’t stop it, I’m falling. Until.
                     That moment . . .”
                        Nana has the same block. There’s things that even she can’t talk about.
                     “Everything changed. The whole world, Nana said, no one ever knew
                     until . . .”
                        But Evan was shaking his head. He took his cup and turned it upside
                     down, put a plate on top of it, then a bowl. He started picking things
                     up from all over the room, piled it all up on the table, higher than my
                     head, pieces sticking out on all sides. Then he took my cup, balanced it
                     on the very top, and let go. “Look.” He touched the plate near the bot-
                     tom, turned it just a little. For a second everything turned with it, and
                     then it all started to slip, and fell apart. Rainwater spilled out of my cup
                     all over. “Simple.”
                        I jumped up from my chair. “Why . . .”
                        “No why! Happens, some day. Has to happen.” He turned and walked
                     to the front door. “They didn’t know? They didn’t look.”

                     In the dark I heard Evan through the wall, in the room that used to
                     be Nana’s. I got so used to the rhythms of his dreams, it fades into the
                     background like the rain, but I heard it even in my sleep. Something dif-
                     ferent. A murmur like talking, getting louder then softer again. He does
                     sometimes talk now, but never as much as Nana did. I asked him once
                     why he never spoke for all that time, and he answered, “Same reason
                     you never said anything about the rain. It didn’t make sense, you said.
                     Nothing makes sense. Why talk about it?”
                        I quietly got out of bed and went into the other room. I stood outside
                     Nana’s door for a while before opening it slowly. I don’t often see Evan
                     sleeping, he’s always up before I am. He was curled up again, like he was
                     trying to protect himself, and he was saying something but I couldn’t
                     hear what it was. Then there was one word, “Hazel.” He repeated it
                     again and again, “Hazel, Hazel.”
                        At breakfast that morning I asked, “Do you always have the same
                     dream? Is it always about Hazel?”
                        He looked at me and then away again, the same flick of the eyes I saw
                     the last time I brought up his dreams. We sat silently for a few moments,
                     Evan holding his left hand in his right, touching the ring on his finger.

WFC Book 1.indb 62                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:51 PM
                                                                     The Color of Rain

           “Two years before it happened, the day everyone remembers. There was
           an accident, she was . . . I lost her. In my dream, it’s not the day that the
           world changed that I dread. It’s what happened before, the way it was.
           It was clear that the world as we understood it was always going to end,
           we just never knew when it was coming. But my world ended two years
           earlier, and I still think about it, I keep coming back to it.”
              “Like Nana and her rain.”
              He gave a small, sad smile. “Like the rain. Hazel and I, we had a
           daughter. That day when everything . . .” I nodded, though he wasn’t
           looking at me, “I thought I lost her too.”
              “You thought?”
              “I may be crazy, Katrin.” He says it with the emphasis on the trin,
           instead of on the Kat like Nana did. “But you look so much like her.
           Like my . . . like Hazel.”
              He looked straight at me, the way I used to do to him, when I wished
           so hard that he would say something. “Well . . . if nothing makes sense
           anyway, maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re crazy.” Maybe each of us is
           what the other needs. Stories may just be stories, but that doesn’t mean
           they’re not important.
              We heard a loud cracking that came from outside, and then a familiar
           sound. “Is that rain?” Evan nodded. “But it’s daytime . . .”
              He got up and took my hand. “Come and see. It used to be like this,
           before.” It wasn’t bright out, but it wasn’t exactly dark. When it stopped
           we went outside, and I followed Evan, walking around the house.
              I looked where he was pointing and there was an arc in the sky, made
           of all the different colors.

WFC Book 1.indb 63                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:51 PM

                     At night, while Lena sleeps, the ghosts call to me. They scream my
                     name in anger; they call out to me in pain. They beg me to relent, fawn-
                     ing upon me with their supplications as I struggle to ignore them. Some
                     nights their voices ring so heavily in the wind, or drip so loudly in the
                     humid air, that I cannot sleep. Other nights I focus on the dying embers
                     of our campfire, begging the spirit of Fire to entrance my mind and shut
                     out the voices, and he grants me that boon, and sleep finds me.
                        I say nothing of the voices to Lena. She would be frightened and She
                     would not understand my explanations. And in my love for Her, I would
                     tell Her everything and thereby lose Her, as I have lost everything else
                     in my life. I cannot allow that; She is all I have left, the only tenuous
                     string holding me together, the sole barrier staving off despair.
                        We have little time, She and I. Little time to enjoy the warmth of
                     each other’s bodies, little time to enjoy the beautiful emptiness of the
                     world. Every sunrise, every breath of wind in our hair, every warm after-
                     noon basking in sunlight must be savored. I cling to these moments like
                     a child grasping a giant lollipop — the beauty of the world, the feeling
                     of it pressing in against my skin, are like a drug to me.
                        I fear what is coming. That fear gnaws at me, filling me with doubt
                     and leeching from me what hope remained after God abandoned me. I
                     wake each morning wondering if today will be the day I am taken from
                     Her. Every moment we spend in idleness, I wonder if that moment will
                     be the one I regret at the end; how many minutes of tomorrow are we

WFC Book 1.indb 64                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:51 PM

            losing to this minute of today?
              Lena does not share my fear and my urgency, and at times they make
           Her cross. Why shouldn’t they? If She wants to swim in a creek for an
           afternoon or spend a week exploring the ruins of a great library, She
           should have those luxuries, and I would be a churl to deny them. But I
           can find no rest; when the world is silent I fear that all creatures have
           been scared off by those who hunt me, and when the world is not silent
           I am certain that all the noise represents the chattering of spies, telling
           them where to find me.
              Still, She can bring a smile to my lips and a flutter of joy to my heart,
           and so I do not push the issue, though I fear we will both rue it when the
           time comes, and our lonely peripatetic wandering is punctuated with
           long sojourns in the places which excite Her. I draw the line at one thing
           only: I will not set foot in a church or a mosque or a synagogue. I hold
           nothing but revulsion for those monuments to the twisted God who
           cruelly used me and then discarded me.
              We argued about it at first. Lena had never been overly religious as
           a child; Her parents taught Her that God was a myth and Man the
           measure of all things. But, like many raised secular, the onset of tragedy
           had changed Her mind; there are no atheists in foxholes, it used to be
           said, and there were precious few during the days of the death of man.
           “Shouldn’t we give thanks to God that we are still alive?” She would
           ask when we passed by a church. My angry denials that any thanks
           were owed to the bringer of the Plague wore Her down more than they
           convinced Her.
              Nor could they have, for I did not believe them myself, and lack of
           conviction is easily communicated even through the noise of over-
           whelming anger. But I cannot tell Her the real reasons I hate God.
              God chose me. He came to me when I was a teenager. I saw Him in
           dreams, at first, but after a while I began to see Him when I was awake.
           He would talk to me, father to child. He told me He loved me. He
           praised me when I did well in school and castigated me when I jacked
           off to my father’s Playboy. He told me He had a great destiny in store for
           me, if I would only do as He told me, and that my name and my service
           to Him would be remembered by mankind for all eternity.
              How can I explain what a wonderful experience that was? I was
           intoxicated, overjoyed. God himself was speaking to me, laying out a

WFC Book 1.indb 65                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:51 PM

                     future in which I was crucial: a future in which I would be remembered
                     as much as Jesus himself. I bristled with pride, though I was careful not
                     to show it to others — the talent for deception which allows me to live
                     with Lena was well developed, even then. I worked hard at school and
                     even harder to purge myself of the sin of lust, because I could not bear
                     the thought that if God were disappointed in me, He might withdraw
                     His love and withdraw my destiny. I lived for nothing else.
                        God told me to go into biology, and so I did. He gave me a wife and
                     we had children together and we were happy. He directed my career,
                     putting me always in places where I was successful, so that by age thirty-
                     five I was one of the most famous genetic engineers in the world. We
                     started a company together, my wife and God and I, and it was success-
                     ful; by age forty, the blogs and the press had dubbed me “the Bill Gates
                     of genetic engineering.”
                        Then, one day, He came to me and told me to quit. Quit my job as
                     the head of the largest genetic engineering company in the world, walk
                     out of management, and go back to being a code monkey. I was horri-
                     fied; how could I give up my life? I told Him He was insane. He told
                     me that this had been His plan all along and that I must do as He said.
                     I begged Him not to make me do it; He said He would no more take
                     this cup from me than He had taken Jesus’ cup from Him. I swore in
                     anger, I swore in pain; I uttered every blasphemy I could have imagined
                     but in the end I gave in.
                        It was the worst mistake I ever made. God could not have done worse
                     to me in anger at my rejection than He did in reward of my acceptance.
                     He brought me to the lab and showed me, piece by piece, how to as-
                     semble the genetic code of the creature He wanted me to create. He did
                     not explain what He was doing and I was too blind to see it. He played
                     me well.
                        I released the bacteria culture into a banana tree as He asked. He
                     thanked me profusely, told me I had done a good job and was well wor-
                     thy of His love. Then He grew quiet and the sky grew dark around Him
                     and I became frightened. After a while, He asked me if I thought He
                     should have let Abraham kill Ishmael and when I stood there, uncom-
                     prehending and uncertain how to answer, He grew angry.
                        He asked me if I knew what I had done and I said that I had obeyed
                     my God. Then He laughed, bitterly, and explained to me what He had

WFC Book 1.indb 66                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:52 PM

           used me to do. The horror must have shown in my eyes, for He snarled
           at me, telling me that I had no right to question Him, and disappeared.
           I have not seen Him since.
              Eight days later the deaths began. My family were among the first
           to go; the plague took them less than thirty-six hours from their first
           coughing fits. Within two weeks, everybody was gone. Everyone but
           me; God had spared me from the ravages of His plague, choosing in-
           stead to torture me with guilt at the memory of what He had caused
           me to do.
              For months I suffered, wandering aimlessly from town to town. I
           was well and truly alone. God did not visit me — not that I would have
           wanted Him to — and there were no other people that I could see; the
           plague had done its work well. Every town I passed, every rusting car or
           abandoned house called out to me, telling me the stories of the people I
           had killed. I wept until I could weep no more. I screamed until my voice
           fell silent. There was nothing I could do.
              The ghosts were louder then, more insistent than they are today, and
           they haunted me in the day as well as the night. It was one of the ghosts
           who reminded me of God’s promise: I would be famous, I would be
           remembered. Remembered by whom? the ghost taunted me, and I real-
           ized then the fear which has driven me ever since. Somebody must have
           survived. The plague could not have been universally fatal; no plague
           ever is. The survivors will regroup and God will keep His promise to me
           by telling them my name, and they will come for me. They will come to
           enact vengeance, to repay the deaths of their parents, their children, and
           their friends.
              Was it a kindness of that ghost to remind me of things I should never
           have forgotten? Or is the certainty of impending doom itself a torture,
           inflicted upon me by ghosts as the only revenge within their grasp? I
           wonder this sometimes, at night, when trying to drown out their voices,
           just as I wonder if the joy I’ve found in Lena is also an insidious tor-
           ture. I have no answers. Outside of Lena, I have nothing but guilt and
           anger and pain. I wish that God had never found me. I wish that I were
              In the morning, Lena will wake me with a smile and we will be
           happy for a while. The wind will blow on my skin and I will be happy
           to be alive and be uplifted by the beauty of the world. I will savor every

WFC Book 1.indb 67                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:52 PM

                     moment of Her company as a guilty pleasure, snatched away while the
                     executioner is looking elsewhere.
                        Because I know they are looking for me. One day the executioner will
                     find me and I will deserve what he brings. I will go willingly, on that day.
                     I only hope they spare Lena when they take me.


WFC Book 1.indb 68                                                                           12/31/07 5:35:52 PM
                                The Wedding Guest

           I saw a bird circling the other day. I couldn’t be sure as I’ve never
           seen one, but it did look big enough to be an albatross. It flew away to
           the south, which is where I think the sea is. Hard to tell these days. Do
           albatrosses ever fly over land?
              It was just after that when I stumbled across a lumbering horde. I
           ducked out of sight but they must have spotted me. I got lucky and
           managed to flee over a river and destroy the bridge behind me. “Never
           burn your bridges, you never know when you’ll want to go back,” I was
           told back in the days when people still had jobs. Although I don’t think
           the dispensers of that advice had lumbering zombie hordes on their
           minds when they gave it. I stood on the other side and watched their
           lurching spasmodic movements as they fell into the water, sinking like
              The silence is getting to me. Why is it that never a sound passes
           their lips? They move in silence, never making a sound after their birth
           groan. That’s bad enough though. That groan they make when they first
           stumble back to life.
              I was next to one once, in the beginning. Just after the initial excava-
           tion when we found the ship entombed in silt at the bottom of the bay.
           Trying to excavate the ship while it was still underwater had proven
           too dangerous. There had been four deaths of support crew who were
           helping to remove the silt from the bow section. Initially they were un-
           explained, but we know the reason now of course. The reason why those
           men had just died in their tracks.

WFC Book 1.indb 69                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:52 PM

                        So after that attempt was abandoned, a container had been built
                     around the whole ship and the water pumped out. It was a massive task
                     and the construction crew was equally massive. I remember the day well.
                     There had been a massive cheer from the entire workforce as the first
                     ribs of the dead ship had poked through the top of the sea. The sprin-
                     klers had switched on to stop the hulk drying out and the rest of the
                     water had been pumped out. Everybody had taken their turn to have a
                     look at the ship. Everyone except me: I don’t do well in crowds. I’d just
                     watched it on the monitor screens.
                        The water had been gone three days before the alarm was raised. It
                     started with the imported workers. They’d returned to their homes af-
                     ter three months on site, and one by one had just died as the sun went
                        Initially disease was suspected and all the remaining site people were
                     quarantined. Not that it did any good. The deaths spread. Anybody
                     who’d touched somebody was themselves a marked man. At sundown
                     three days after the touch, they’d be dead, and then anybody they’d
                     touched, and anybody they’d touched.
                        So it went on. Six and a half billion people, with neither sign nor
                     groan. Lifeless lumps one and all.
                        Except me. Me with my obsessive compulsive fear of touch. Oh I’m
                     sure there must be others, or must have been others. Locked away or
                     living alone with no contact. Over a matter of weeks with nobody left to
                     contact. There must still be some, tucked away on an island somewhere.
                     The sort of place where hippies go “back to the land.”
                        And then they started to come back. I’m not sure what was worse.
                     Being next to somebody when they dropped down dead, wondering if
                     you’d be next. Or being next to a body when it came back to life — the
                     unearthly groan is enough to drive you mad.
                        Anyway, mustn’t grumble. There’s plenty to eat, and as long as you’re
                     sensible the animated dead aren’t much of a threat. I should get a boat
                     really. Ironically the one place you’re safe is out on the sea. That’s where
                     I’m heading now. I’m going to track down that guy who told me about
                     the boat in the first place. The one who told me the tale about the sea-
                     faring dead. And when I find him, I’m going to beat him to death with
                     a sea bird.
                        The fucker.

WFC Book 1.indb 70                                                                           12/31/07 5:35:52 PM
                                      To Be Established
                                                                         yicky yacky

           “That was an absolutely delightful apocalypse, Peg. Thank you so
           much for inviting us,” effused Hilda, gently wiping some crumbs of
           lemon cake from her lower lip with a lace napkin.
              “Hear, hear!” nodded Gregor, tapping his brandy glass with a runcible
           spoon for emphasis.
              “I must confess: It was much better than I was expecting, although I
           fear we must all approach these displays with far more commitment and
           application if one of us is ever to outdo Gianni’s last soirée.”
              “Now then, May; I thought Margaret’s display was first class,” coun-
           tered Gianni. “Very innovative.”
              “Thank you, Gianni,” said Margaret, “and thank you too, May. That’s
           as complimentary as I’ve ever heard you get.”
              May shrugged nonchalantly. She wouldn’t be too troubled if Margaret
           took it as a compliment, but wanted to make it clear that further en-
           couragement was not going to be forthcoming.
              “The sticky thing about apocalypses,” Margaret declared with no
           small amount of concern, “is that they’re now so hard to do with any
           degree of originality.”
              She took a sip of her Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, letting it roll
           around her mouth to savour its texture. It was, after all, the last bottle
           in existence.
              “Would it be fair to say, Margaret, that I noticed some of my own
           signature motifs in the wonderful collapse to which we have just borne

WFC Book 1.indb 71                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:52 PM
                     yicky yacky

                        “Oh, indeed so, Gianni. Let the record show that my work of the last
                     few aeons has been entirely the result of your tutelage. I paid particular
                     attention to, and felt a strong resonance with, the idea of collapse from
                     within. Any fool can throw an asteroid at them, after all.”
                        “Ah. But. To me, it is not so much the idea of internal collapse itself;
                     more that internal collapse represents the best medium for ensuring
                     minimal involvement. Crashing an asteroid, unleashing a virus, deto-
                     nating a star — these are so direct as to be artlessly crude. The placement
                     of a letter or a salvo of whispers in the ears of the right individuals are
                     so much more satisfying — as these acts are within the abilities of the
                     targets themselves. The art becomes not so much a gratuitous demon-
                     stration of what you can do, but rather an exploration of how little is
                        “Nothing wrong with a good explosion in my book. Bang! Take it,
                     you bastards! You shouldn’t be so keen to dismiss the basics, Gianni,”
                     said Gregor, helping himself to another scone.
                        “It is not so much that I shun the rudiments,” replied Gianni, rub-
                     bing his ring finger across the bridge of his nose, “more that many others
                     have mastered them to the degree that I feel able simply to spectate, and
                     explore other, less well-known devices in my own work.”
                        “In truth, Gianni,” confessed Margaret, “I must admit that I had to
                     interfere more than could be considered elegant. They were in grave
                     danger of going prematurely, before you would have arrived. I had to
                     hold them back a shade.”
                        “I appreciate your candour,” nodded Gianni understandingly. “I’ve
                     had to do the same myself on occasion. Do you remember Aleph?”
                        “Yes. That was forced somewhat. It can often be necessary with vol-
                     atile targets. Have you decided what to do with those remaining? It
                     might be interesting to see what results, considering they haven’t fallen
                     as far as they could. Many will survive.”
                        “Of course. It was my wish that many would, precisely to allow me to
                     make that choice.”
                        “Crush the vermin, that’s what I say; but play with them first. How
                     about letting them survive and stabilize for a few rotations, before
                     smashing them with a nice, big comet?” asked Gregor.
                        “Gregor, really,” admonished Hilda. “You really can be quite brutish.”

WFC Book 1.indb 72                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:53 PM
                                                                To Be Established

              “Didn’t you prune them back once before?” asked May, attempting to
           look disinterested.
              “Three major prunes, a number of minor,” replied Margaret. “Of
           course, there were some genuine disasters along the way. By no means
           was it all me.”
              Margaret peered over her shoulder to ascertain the relevant
              “OK. That’s close enough,” she decided. “I now declare this apoca-
           lypse officially over.”
              “Bugger. That lemon cake was most desirable. I’ll miss it,” said
              “It’s over, Gregor; you no longer have to keep using this barbarous
              “’Shla sh’vim. Toule cerre slav’van tas merla,” said Gregor as they
              They laughed. At least, it sounded like laughter . . .

WFC Book 1.indb 73                                                                  12/31/07 5:35:53 PM

                     Ss’tan wiped the lichen across her sister’s face, leaving another par-
                     allel orange line. Ss’tap smiled, with her eyes closed.
                        “You must be making me hideous. I can hear you giggling.”
                        “Can not.” Ss’tan ignored Ss’tap’s needling to apply a dark green line
                     to her cheek. “Besides, the Downslopers probably like their women ugly.
                     Maybe I should paint on a second head . . .”
                        “That’s enough,” said Aunty Ke, her fingers tapping authoritatively
                     on the leather carpet of the hearth room. “Enough of that, and enough
                     paint too. We all know Sh’je is a strapping young man, with a strong jaw.
                     Better that she marries him than one of the cousins that chase you down
                     the hallways, Ss’tan.”
                        Ss’tan’s mouth opened in mute outrage, and her hand moved to
                     launch a cutting reply about Ke’s glances at the cousins, but her aunt
                     talked straight over the top without giving her a chance.
                        “Ss’tap, stand up. Turn around, and let us have a last look at the girl
                     who leaves us.”
                        A patter of appreciation went around the women in the hearth room,
                     as the lamplight flickered over Ss’tap’s nude body. She was indeed a
                     beauty: her unusually round body, padded with the rotund birthright of
                     a tribal princess, was also unusually symmetrical. Her left eye drooped a
                     little lazily, but it was masked tonight by the dark paint marked in long
                     curving lines all the way from her feet, across her torsoed skin, up to her
                     face. She shone with joy, and pride, and a little smugness. She was nearly
                     four and a half feet tall.

WFC Book 1.indb 74                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:53 PM

              The women dressed her again in her best hide, smiling and chatter-
           ing, and before long one of the tribe’s boys arrived as messenger from
           the chief.
              “Ss’tap, your husband is here! Come and meet him!” the boy Hmf ’ke
           yelled, his hands slapping hard together.
              “Very good, Hmf ’ke,” replied Aunty Ke. “We will be there soon.” She
           picked up Ss’tap’s head binding in both hands, as everyone else began
           to stand up.
              Hmf ’ke ran over to Ss’tan and whispered. “Ss’tan, they are nearly
           ready upstairs, but your brother has gone missing. We’ve looked all over
           the cave for him, but you know how he can wander off. The Chief asked
           you to look. He said if anyone would know where to look, you would.”
              Ss’tan must have frowned in anger, because he added, “Don’t be angry.
           He’s just a little slow is all.”
              “You’re slow,” Ss’tan snapped back. “He’s broken.” She squeezed past
           the women already milling into the passageway, and ran upslope. The
           passage zigzagged in a familiar way, past the subclan and maidboy caves,
           empty today with everyone caught up in the wedding. She knew her
           stupid little brother would be in the top cave, making mouth-noises at
           the goats. Everyone knew where he was. Her father was just sending her
           looking to save face.
              She stopped for a moment, her fist clenched around the handle of
           the bone knife on her belt. She had to go to the whispering edge of
           The Loudness, with the pigs and the shit, while her stupid fat sister was
           fawned on by two tribes of men! Everyone else knew that Heaven pun-
           ished the mouth. Every babe learnt to cry with their hands, every child
           learnt that mouth-talkers go outside to Hell, to come back as animals
           and make pathetic mewling sounds amongst themselves. She pulled her
           knitted beanie down to sloppily cover her ears. She should go mad just
           to spite them.
              From behind her came a plaintive slapping cry of “Wait up.” Ss’tan
           could hear Hmf ’ke’s hands yelling as he ran to catch her. “Wait up!” He
           was pretty close, so she dashed off again, up past the passages to the
           midden and mushroom caves, up towards the sunlight and the sound.
           She slapped her hands in reply.
              “Fuck off.”
              “But the Chief told me to follow you . . .” came his whining response.
              She stopped; she had reached the entrance to the goat cave. Ss’tan’s

WFC Book 1.indb 75                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:53 PM

                     entire village wasn’t very large: it was at most forty metres tall, with
                     caves and tunnels crossing and cutting deeper into a massive mountain.
                     The entrance to the goat cave was sunlit and the goats were corralled in
                     with a stone wall topped by a wooden gate. At the corner of the entrance
                     hung a wooden tube, the loudtube, as long and thick as a man’s forearm,
                     and a battered bell crudely made of old, rusty metal. Ss’tan squinted as
                     she picked up the hollow loudtube. As she tapped her fingers on it the
                     words echoed through the cave.
                        “Je’tan, you stupid baby brat, stop making your sinful noises at your
                     stupid goat friends and come here!”
                        Ss’tan could here the whispering from here, even through her beanie.
                     Not Je’tan, the whispering Outside. The Loudness.
                        The goats bleated and Ss’tan could hear boots across the straw cover-
                     ing the cave floor. Hmf ’ke ran up to her and was about to yell, but Ss’tan
                     cut him off and gestured silently above the loudtube.
                        “Listen to the goats,” she said. “They’re spooked by something, but
                     Je’tan would usually calm them down.”
                        Ss’tan climbed the two stone steps up to the gate and untied the latch,
                     swinging the gate away from her. In the centre of the cave, twenty me-
                     tres away, her brother’s body lay on the ground in a puddle of blood, the
                     back of his skull crushed. A few goats milled around him — some were
                     clearly gone, and the outside gate swung open. Holding back a wail, she
                     jumped down and ran over to him. Ss’tan had seen goats butchered; it
                     was pretty obvious he was dead.
                        She heard Hmf ’ke jump into the cave and looked back to him. Next
                     to him, lined against the back wall, were five or so men with axes and
                     clubs. Under their fur caps, their ears were tightly bound with a long
                     strip of fabric, as for someone going Outside.
                        One of the Downslopers was walking over to grab her. The rest turned
                     on Hmf ’ke, crunching blows hitting him in the body and the head.
                        Ss’tan backed away from the Downsloper, unsure. His axe was in his
                     belt and he reached out with his left hand and grabbed her head, getting
                     a handful of beanie and greasy hair. He then swung at her head with his
                     meaty right fist, but she ducked away more strongly than he expected
                     and he only clipped her head. His left hand came away holding the
                     beanie, and crouched at his knee, Ss’tan grabbed at her knife. She threw
                     herself upwards, knife thrusting at his belly, and as she pushed hard with

WFC Book 1.indb 76                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:53 PM

           her legs it drove deep into her enemy’s chest. She let go of the knife and
           ran, her hand red with blood.
              She ran for the open gate to the outside. As the Downslopers realised
           what had happened, Ss’tan scrambled over the stone wall and into the
              Her head was filled with noise. Animal noises, grunts, squeals, bel-
           lows, and bleating, but made by people, a thousand thousand people
           inside her ears. Chatter and screaming and whistles and nonsense and
           there was no one nearby. Blue sky hung above white-topped mountains.
           Ss’tan ran into an alpine meadow of grass and flowers, gulping sweet
           clear air into her lungs, and barely held back from whimpering.
              She ran down the steep slope towards the bottom entrance. She could
           hear the wailing. She tried to cover her ears and slid down some scree.
           It was getting louder, how could it get louder? She slapped her hand on
           the loudtube, pleading the unseen people to stop.
              A stone axe flew past her head: the Downslopers reached the Outside.
           Ss’tan barely noticed. A thousand thousand voices started singing in her
           head. She screamed and wailed like an infant; for a moment it seemed
           to wane, only to return moments later, louder still. Another axe grazed
           her arm, but she was at the main entrance.
              She tore through the seven curtains, fur and leather, one foot apart.
           She ran through to the main hall. Could the voices be waning? She
           could still hear the whispering. Shut up shut up shut up shut up, her
           footsteps said.
              She fell into the main hall. The tribe were ranged around, her sister
           Ss’tap seated with Sh’je and the other Downsloper men. She looked
           towards her father, wearing the threadbare bearskin of the Old Chief,
           and said a single word: “Betrayal.”

           And the shaman recited at the funerals:

                     “And Heaven saw that Man spoke with his mouth, and was
                       clever, and arrogant.
                     And Man talked with his fellow, and built a tower, even unto
                     And Man changed the very essence of his life, and the life of the
                       animals on Earth
                     And he filled the air with insects, and voices which displeased

WFC Book 1.indb 77                                                                              12/31/07 5:35:53 PM

                            Heaven and Earth.
                         So the Earth struck down his towers, and Heaven struck down
                            men as they walked under the Sun
                         And Heaven sent voices to torment the arrogant
                         And Earth and Heaven said to the righteous: Go to the high
                            places we have made, and worship there
                         Go into the deep places of Earth, and live there.
                         No longer shall the sons of man live between Heaven and
                         Live in the Earth, and speak not with your mouths, lest
                            Heaven torment you
                         Speak not, and you shall be taken into Heaven, in silence, and
                            be at peace.

                         So spake our Fathers and Heaven. Let that which is of the
                            Earth return to the Earth; that which belongs to Heaven
                            shall return to Heaven.”

                     And they released all of the naked bodies, painted with lichen, into the

WFC Book 1.indb 78                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:53 PM
                                  Happy Anniversary

           Fewer than two thousand words, based on average word length,
           and I waste them on meta-commentary and modifiers — but compact is
           for cars and not last testaments.
              It always comes down to a woman. A girl, really, still eighteen and
           seductive like a strung-out pixie, her close-cropped locks, then black but
           originally blonde, and large teary eyes hooked me from day one, which,
           not to be confused with Day Zero, took place in a brutalist narrow-
           windowed fluorescent-lit room of learning, I behind the podium, she at
           a desk, one eye blue around the edges, and when I inquired after the ring
           of the bell she assured me the newly inserted silver ring near her right
           brow rather than an ex or ex-to-be was to blame.
              Four months later as the term turned terminal and the seasons meta-
           morphosed from white to green and the days from short to long she
           attended office hours, declared her problematic attraction, and two eve-
           nings later after digital and analog conversations entangled her digits
           with mine, transformed shy glances into soft stares, and exchanged her
           gift of tongues until the sun rose again, she exited for the first time, and
           I discreetly carried her watch, left behind under the bed, to class, in my
           pocket to hide the shame.
              Within the week grades were submitted and this submission, among
           others, allowed us to come out at the same time that others went away,
           and while nights were spent in a second-hand single bed, movies, rides
           through the country, and hand-in-hand walks down the streets of mid-
           dle America happened free of guilt or burden.

WFC Book 1.indb 79                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:54 PM

                        The differences were the attraction . . . the taboo of old-young, teacher-
                     student amplified by the convictions of a lifelong atheist matched with
                     a born-again fiery personality — one raised by a Sunday school–teacher
                     mother and Christian rock concerts in every Midwestern city — whereas
                     what drew her to me was that she only dated men more intelligent than
                     she, that I was all she wanted, and soon we talked of children and their
                     names, of futures beyond the academy, of me abroad, of her teaching or
                     volunteering in Africa, or traveling through Europe, and for the first
                     time in my life I felt I had found the one. But she had found me. Several
                     weeks in she invited me to a family gathering, I met the mother — whose
                     presence convinced me that her daughter would age gracefully — and
                     the siblings, the father and step-mother and many others, and though
                     they loved me, she was careful not to mention my heathen ways, and
                     especially not my pro-choice perspective, one that would alienate her
                     mother most of all. All of our early encounters were mediated by layers
                     of latex; no fetus would not make it to term and neither of us thought
                     ourselves ready for parenthood. One sweaty night with the air condi-
                     tioning roaring she rolled away, propped herself on an elbow, and said,
                     “Sometimes being with you almost makes me vomit.” And so we could
                     not discuss that difference without risking the end.
                        In August the new term approached and her new apartment and
                     new roommates were even closer. Her birthday came on the first of the
                     month and we celebrated alone. I volunteered to help with the moving
                     procedure but no answer to my phone call reached my ear. Two days
                     stretched to three, then to four, and on the fifth my relief at hearing her
                     voice as I picked up the receiver was tempered by the quite rational, “I
                     do not think we should see each other again.”
                        The semester began and our care at avoiding contact went beyond
                     admirable to pathological, until one day, months in, a colleague let slip
                     in passing that she had not been to class in weeks, and since by this time
                     we had resumed speaking, for hearts on both sides had been mended
                     and we both had rebounded with short-term solutions aware of their
                     pure functionality, we corresponded and I learned of her departure not
                     only from the course, but from the program and the university, and of a
                     future plan to move southwest to a relative who had a job available, albeit
                     one of the factory and scarred, calloused hand variety. Yet another win-
                     ter and an anniversary; on that first day mid-January I scanned the faces

WFC Book 1.indb 80                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:54 PM
                                                                   Happy Anniversary

           and sighed both in relief and despair. I was my last day of teaching.
              I awoke midweek on Day Zero alone around midday and only heard
           of the apocalypse, as it were, when she called, the last call I received, and
           I knew intuitively that I had to go to her, find her, help her . . . She was
           simply my object, direct and indirect, of affection and love, even these
           months later, and when the rest of the world quite literally came to a
           practical end I had nothing else upon which to focus. Instead of through
           the snow along streets to a self-contained campus I set out south by
           southwest along highways, at first clogged with cars scattering like a
           flock of pigeons at the slightest sign of danger, but as the hours became
           days and those around me — first one of every four, then one of three,
           one of two, two of three, three of four, and more — fell forever silent,
           first in fever then frozen in the fields of white left, right, up, down,
           ahead, and behind, the chaos of cars became a graveyard, and soon it
           was impossible even to find a gallon of fuel, for every vehicle had burned
           itself out, as had so many cities and towns, and where once smoked
           chimneys and factories now smoldered cracked brick buildings and the
           wood track-housing of suburbia. Church bells rang, but rang hollow
           and lonely, and as I continued south I transformed, became hollow, be-
           came chiseled, and became filled, though with a winter emptiness that
           only spring could expunge, and it was still weeks away, though by then I
           had lost track of the days and even weeks. Somehow I did not fall ill.
              As I crossed the river into Mexico I passed a long-abandoned gas
           station, and from it the static of radio washed over me, the first techno-
           logical sound I had heard for many days or nights. The voices, English,
           assured us — yes, there was an us — that there was no apocalypse, there
           was no end, that all would be rebuilt, and we were told where to regroup.
           We had been decimated, they told us, but they were wrong.
              At most one tenth had survived, and here, in camps, where around
           pitiful fires huddled not masses but stick figures, heads down, anything
           that could burn was burned; the winter storms were vast, the plague like
           no other, and the hazy grays and greens in the day sky told many that
           something had impacted, even if on the other side of the world. How or
           why we did not know, not then, not now.
              Not now, for in a camp now I sit, ill, feverish, and alone with this
           electronic device, filling up the last of its storage capacity before I seal
           it away, seal it away for you. In that last Day Zero phone call she told

WFC Book 1.indb 81                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:54 PM

                     me of you, that you were coming, and I knew that whatever struck her
                     down — you would be immune, her sacrifice would lend you those an-
                     tibodies — and that while for me she was a revelation, you would be the
                     first child of the apocalypse. I knew your mother, I called her Kathleen,
                     and like her you will be beautiful.


WFC Book 1.indb 82                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:54 PM
                         The Idea Double-Sized
                           Annual Spectacular

           PAGE ONE (six panels)

           Panel 1. The news offices of the Metroville Herald. Rows of empty desks.
           There is a desk in the foreground. On it, there’s a half-eaten doughnut
           centered on a paper napkin and a full coffee cup. There’s a cardboard ring
           around the paper cup, with the image of a costumed man. The man has
           a large “I” on his chest. He’s got blond hair and a square jaw. There’s a
           comic book–style word balloon to the left of the man’s head. “Caution:”
           he says. “I’m immune to the effects of heat, but you’ll need to be careful.
           Get The Idea? Stay safe.” In the background, a woman approaches the
           desk. She’s wearing business formal. We cannot see her face.

           There will never be a new poem.

           Panel 2. The same room, same desk. The woman is closer. Her clothes are
           stylish but, perhaps, trying too hard. She worries that she’s no longer the
           youngest woman at the Herald. Her stories still regularly grab inches on
           the front page. Front page, above the fold.
              But there are some new kids on staff. They manage to grab inches
           without The Idea. She worries, more and more each time she files a
           story, that her success is really just the reflected glory of The Idea.
              Could she grab the front page without him? If there were no more

WFC Book 1.indb 83                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:54 PM

                     alien invasions, if the Society of Crime stopped trying to destroy
                     Metroville, or Dr. Malevolent no longer needed human victims for his
                     experiments, if The Idea hung up the cape, where would she be?
                        These thoughts might furrow her brow with worry, but we don’t know
                     because her face is still off panel.

                     Panel 3. The woman grabs the coffee cup and . . .

                     Panel 4. . . . lifts it up to her face. It’s the face of Herald star reporter Gina
                     Garland. She smells the coffee.
                     Panel 5. She holds the coffee cup away from her face and lightly sub-
                     merges her index finger in the coffee.

                     Three weeks ago, somebody wrote the last letter that will ever profess a
                     new love. It will never happen again. We missed it.

                     Panel 6. She stares at the blankly confident face of The Idea on the heat

                     GARLAND (thought):
                     It’s still hot. But this cup of coffee has been on White’s desk for . . .

                     PAGE TWO (four panels)

                     Panel 1. The Idea sits next to the Deathdealer. They are sitting on the
                     curb in front of the First Metroville Bank. The Deathdealer is tossing
                     cards from his infamous Deck of Death into his top hat, which rests
                     on the ground a few feet in front of him. Mostly he makes it, but a few
                     cards have landed on the street next to his hat.

                     THE IDEA:
                     We could fight anyway? Mix it up a bit.

                     No, I just . . . It isn’t there. Not anymore.

WFC Book 1.indb 84                                                                                 12/31/07 5:35:54 PM
                                           The Idea Double-Sized Annual Spectacular

           Panel 2. They sit quietly.

           Hit the dirt. Kiss sand. Bellies down.

           Panel 3. The Idea bends slightly to look at the ground he’s sitting on.

           THE IDEA:
           You’re smart. Never using a cape.

           The Guerrilla Gorilla, Sonic Doom, Jailbreaker, all of them. They say
           they’re not even going to try to break out of jail. They just don’t want to.
           Guerrilla Gorilla said he couldn’t bring himself to want it.

           Panel 4. Deathdealer holds up one of his cards and examines the design
           on the back: ornate cross-hatching, a delicate spiderweb design radiat-
           ing from an almost absurdly Victorian-looking magician figure. A guy
           in Kansas custom-makes them for the Deathdealer. The supervillain has
           never noticed before, but the cards are actually quite beautiful.
              The Idea looks down the block, as if there is something interesting
           there, but he knows, even with eyes that can see insects crawling across
           the surfaces of as-yet-unnamed planets light years away, that he won’t
           see a thing.

           THE IDEA:

           Yeah . . . What’s wrong with the cape? It looked good when you were

           THE IDEA:
           Yeah, but I’m always sitting on it and it gets filthy . . . How can the
           Jailbreaker not want to break out of jail?

WFC Book 1.indb 85                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:55 PM

                     PAGE THREE (six panels)

                     Panel 1. Ace reporter Gina Garland sits on the edge of the desk of her
                     editor-in-chief, the heavy-set, balding Herald Scott. Scott stands at a
                     window, looking out on the city.

                     There will never be a new book. There will never be a new movie.

                     There were hundreds of them back then. Generic guys, no names, all
                     looked the same.

                     Panel 2. Explosion as three soldiers fall into a crater created by a previ-
                     ous blast. It is during the war. North Africa, Europe. It was never clear.
                     They were wherever the war needed them to be to tell the war through
                     them. French farm houses next to seemingly endless deserts. Russian
                     partisans burning tsarist-era portraits for warmth. An empty helmet.
                     An American nurse’s smile. It was a war of instances. Short stories.


                     “Sarge got us to a foxhole in time.”

                     SARGE: Bury them buttons!

                     “Sarge had a thousand ways to say hit the dirt. Scratch dirt. Flatten.
                     Face to the dust.”

                     Panel 3. All three huddle on the edge of the crater.

                     Not again. Stay in the panels. Stay in the panels.

WFC Book 1.indb 86                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:55 PM
                                           The Idea Double-Sized Annual Spectacular

           “I thought the guy had lost it.”

           Panel 4. Sarge grabs the generic soldier by the collar of his fatigues. It
           is the sort of things sergeants are supposed to do, but one look at this
           guy and Sarge can tell. The war makes these guys for the sole purpose
           of catching bloody death. Some monstrous and vile creature that secrets
           its own food, eats its own shit — war births these nameless and faceless
           men so it can devour them.

           Keep it together, soldier. Keep it together.

           Panel 5. Close-up on Sarge’s face. A look of shock.

           Soldier, why aren’t you still dead?

           Panel 6. Gina still sits on Scott’s desk. Scott puffs on a pipe.

           There will never be a new joke.

           PAGE FOUR (splash panel)

           The Idea stands on top of a skyscraper; the city stretches out behind
           him. He’s holding his cape in his hands, inspecting it.

           THE IDEA (thought):
           I’ve got eyes that can see the fracture lines clouds make when they col-
           lide with one another, and I can’t tell if this is paint or ketchup. Or
           blood, maybe.

           THE IDEA (thought):
           How could it be blood? Have I ever bled?

           People will read the same stories, over and over again.

WFC Book 1.indb 87                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:55 PM

                     PAGE FIVE (six panels)

                     Panel 1. Daniel White, mild-mannered reporter for the Metroville
                     Herald and alter-ego of The Idea sits at his desk. His clothes are neat,
                     too neat. Oddly finicky in an adult man. The sort of cleanliness that
                     spiteful widows use as the excuse for their bitterness or lonely compul-
                     sive shut-ins pretend is a sign of anchorite-like moral purity.
                        Gina Garland sits on his desk. She hangs her legs off the side. Force
                     of habit. Her legs are still shapely, but she isn’t young any more and
                     the entire posture, while still being physically arousing, immediately re-
                     minds the reader that she’s too old to pretend to this naïve sensuality. It
                     has gone from a gesture of seemingly innocent seductiveness to the de-
                     fault pose of a tired schemer. She’s holding the coffee cup from page 1.

                     The Deconstructivor says he noticed it after the first month passed —
                     no fires, no alien invasions, no girlfriends in refrigerators. It was a clear
                     cycle. Every month, there was a disaster. Then The Idea came and saved
                     us all. It was set. Simple and complete and fatal as a mouse trap.

                     No. It was different. There was. There were. I had things still. Things I
                     had to say.

                     Panel 2. Close-up of White’s glasses; Gina is reflected there. She’s stand-
                     ing now and placing the coffee cup on White’s desk.

                     There will be no more confessions. Is this Hell? Or absolution?

                     Panel 3. White stands up quickly, sending his chair tumbling to the
                     ground. He grabs Gina by both shoulders. He seems panicked and an-
                     gry, but not at her. All his senses fail him; he can’t fight it.

                     Gina, dammit. It is done. All of it. And all it did was show us that we
                     never lived. This will be the same thing. A trap. Little square cages.

WFC Book 1.indb 88                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:55 PM
                                           The Idea Double-Sized Annual Spectacular

           Panel 4. Gina turns her face away from White. There’s a single track
           of tear down her face. To The Idea, a tear is a monstrous thing. He
           can see the thick, membranelike outline. The blue tint of tears is, The
           Idea knows, a mad illusion. The tear is a moving white nothingness that
           strips away the colors of the world revealing a strange pattern of dark
           and light blue dots. It is as if the material of tears stretched infinitely
           behind the seen, waiting for some human’s sorrow to unlock it.
              Then there’s the meaty crashing, the rending and slopping sound tears
           make as they cascade down the rough landscape of scars and wrinkles
           that make up the human face.
              There are moments when the strange defender of mankind, this ad-
           opted alien son, looks at the human face and thinks to himself that he is
           glad he’s not human. Though the idea was not his,* it is why he adopted
           the name The Idea. The real is, in its particulars, somewhat repulsive to

           * For the full fantastic fable of The Idea’s marvelous moniker, see ish.
           #23 — Ed.

           Panel 5. White’s arms drop to his side. In the foreground, his shape is a
           rough, dark outline. Gina, in the background and detailed, holds herself.
           Maybe she’s rubbing her arms where White, perhaps with a bit too
           much super strength, squeezed. Maybe she just needs the sensation of
           being held. The coffee cup sits on the desk between them.

           There’s things I wanted to tell you. Does it feel like you can’t breathe
           anymore? I guess these things don’t matter.

           Panel 6. Close up of the cartoonish The Idea on the coffee cup heat

           “Gina, this changes nothing. Life is a story. And stories cannot be told
           except when we’re safely locked behind four sturdy walls.”

WFC Book 1.indb 89                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:55 PM
                     Europa, Signing Off

                     One day the radio wasn’t working. It happens sometimes, but he
                     could remember the scrambling around the previous week, running di-
                     agnostics when there had been a part failure. Everything had turned
                     out fine then. He was annoyed, because he’d planned on hanging out
                     with Myrna after his lessons were over, but now he’d have to spend
                     the afternoon at the comshack with his mother and his Aunt Georgia,
                        He didn’t really get it, but people seemed to be rather upset with the
                     news from Home. Something was going on, but populations in the bil-
                     lions that he was reading about in his history class just didn’t register.
                     There were 621 people on the planet, and that was that. 622 if Susie had
                     her baby; he hadn’t heard anything for a couple days. He used to amuse
                     himself after lights-out, reciting all their names. But people had seemed
                     shocked and depressed about something, and found time to commiser-
                     ate with the Crones, the grandmothers who’d been born back Home.
                        So, between obligatory grumbles, Stan sat down at the computer
                     screen and began poring through log files. Nothing odd here, except
                     that one morning (well, it would have been morning, topside, but no-
                     body ever went topside, except to fix the transmitter), Europa came out
                     of eclipse, and hey, no signal. Not even a carrier wave. The station had
                     waited twenty minutes for the line of sight to clear the noise that was
                     the massive Jovian magnetosphere a bit further, tried again, and still
                        There’s the entry recomputing the position of Home. And the survey

WFC Book 1.indb 90                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:55 PM
                                                                  Europa, Signing Off

           to get its bearings. Sun, check. Jupiter’s dayside limb, check. Listen for a
           bit, check. Still nothing. Hm.
              Stan thought for a bit, paged through the book, found the address for
           the Mars colony, and typed that in. He watched while the computation
           and then the survey executed without a problem. There was a signal
           coming in from Mars when the antenna locked on. Lots of static and
           then the word, unmistakable: “scorch.”
              He fumbled with the recorder, hit the start button, and ignored the
           rest of the message while he looked at the little level indicators. He
           didn’t want to screw up this recording. His mom would want to hear it.
              “Mom?” he keyed into the microphone.
              Almost simultaneously, five female voices came over the speaker.
           “Yes?” “What is it?” “I’m here, honey.” etc.
              Stan laughed. “Would Laurel McInerney please contact the com-
           shack?” Seemed everybody was somebody’s mom around here. Even
           most of his lesson mates. But not him. Not yet, at least. He was still a
           bit hazy on the details.
              “Be there in a second,” came his mother’s voice. “I’m in ponics.”
           Oh, right. They were expanding the hydroponics lab, digging another
           chamber, so that’s where the engineering talent would be if you needed
              He’d tried explaining to his mother that a second had a rather precise
           meaning, not just any length of time from a few minutes to a few hours.
           He’d tried using “in a sec” when asked how long he’d be out in the eve-
           ning, and brought the ire of his mother and aunts on his head. “I think
           I have a signal,” Stan told the intercom.
              There was some clucking in appreciation on the ’com. “But it’s from
           Mars, I think,” he said. His voice broke up on the last couple syllables.
           He hated that, not being sure of his voice or of his facts. Myrna al-
           ways seemed to know. She did her homework, for one thing, where Stan
           tended to rely on native intelligence to make something up. And that
           voice. He walked into doorways sometimes, just listening to the sound
           of her voice.
              Two people walked into the comshack together. His mother, who
           was now several inches shorter than he. Like most of the colonists, she
           had been pregnant off and on most of his life, giving him a succession
           of younger sisters, spaced neatly two years apart. This would be her last,
           most likely, since he was well into his mid-teens. Populating the place

WFC Book 1.indb 91                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:55 PM

                     was important. He was reaching that age at which a kid’s mother took
                     her aside and explained things, and she’d end up pregnant not long after.
                     His formal lessons were nearly finished; just calculus to test now.
                        And Myrna. Dear Myrna. She was about about his age but, he
                     thought, smarter, and certainly prettier. His mom wanted information,
                     but first he had to smile into Myrna’s eyes, inhale her scent, relax his
                     knotted muscles, and just be, in her presence.
                        He lost interest, but could hear muffled voices coming through the
                     static. It didn’t sound good, whatever it was.
                        “Interesting,” said Stan’s mom. Just the kind of thing an engineer
                     would say.
                        “C’mon,” Stan said to Myrna. He’d had his fill of “interesting.”
                        “Where are we going?” said Myrna.
                        Stan was about to make something up when Bill rounded the corner,
                     whistling. Stan didn’t really like Bill very much, but he had to admit
                     that Bill had attractive notions of what was an acceptable afternoon’s
                        “What’s up?” asked Bill.
                        “Rape and pillage,” said Stan. He smirked. New words he’d learned
                     from last week’s searches of the cultural databases from Home.
                        “Sounds fun,” said Bill.
                        Myrna was rapidly losing interest. She liked Bill even less than Stan
                     did. Stan wondered why he seemed to be a different person when Bill
                     was watching. So he trotted out his one bit of special knowledge, in
                     hopes of interesting the other two.
                        “I think the Home folks have finally blown each other up,” he said.
                        “No more Web-search care packages for you,” said Bill.
                        “Oh, my God!” said Myrna. “So that’s what they’re all glum about.”
                     She crossed herself, and then blushed.
                        “Pretty much, yeah,” said Stan, ignoring Myrna’s outburst. Tactfully,
                     he hoped. “And, pretty soon, no more nothing.”
                        “Oh, yeah,” said Myrna. “There’s, what, three more supply ships in
                     transit, and then we’re on our own if they don’t get things sorted out by
                        “Even if they do, it’ll be years before another one.”
                        They pondered mortality, each in her own way.
                        “Rape and pillage,” said Bill. “I’m up for it.”
                                                        * * *

WFC Book 1.indb 92                                                                        12/31/07 5:35:56 PM
                                                                   Europa, Signing Off

           “So what are you gonna do to us?” Stan asked his grandmother. Stan
           thought the scene was rather like the courtrooms he’d seen in the vids
           from Home. Bill was a bit banged up and Myrna seemed, what was the
           word? Pleased with herself, perhaps.
              “What am I going to do?” asked the old crone. “Nothing. But it’s be-
           come clear we, as a colony, need to do something. Just because you two
           are bigger than anybody else, doesn’t give you the right . . .”
              But Bill cut her off. “What’s this Right you’re talking about?”
              “Don’t interrupt,” said Susan.
              “Well, excuse me, madam archbishop.” There was something of a leer
           on his face. Stan thought that, despite her age and experience, his grand-
           mother was quite worth looking at. So while he could see where the leer
           was coming from, he wouldn’t dare do such a thing. “But it seems like
           your authority base just vaporized itself,” Bill was saying.
              “My point, and I do have one,” said the crone, straightening to her
           full height, and looking up at Bill, “is that we’ll all die if this goes on. I
           know you don’t care much, but I do. God does.”
              “And you’re his personal representative or something,” said Bill. Stan
           wanted to punch him or something.
              “As a matter of fact, that’s exactly right.” She looked him in the eye.
              Bill blinked. “We’ll all die anyway,” Bill mumbled, in the general di-
           rection of his shoes.
              “True,” said Susan. “But not necessarily today, or next year, or without
              Bill laughed at her. “Hardly without issue, O Grandmother of the
           Multitude,” he snorted.
              When Stan growled a bit under his breath, Susan stopped him with
           a look.
              “Look, you guys were the leading edge of a grand experiment, turn-
           ing this society of women back into something more like human society
           at Home: male and female created He them. In the first stages of the
           colony, we needed all the wombs we could get, so the founders were all
           female, and our children were all female. And over ninety percent of
           your generation as well. But we had to start sometime. And we knew,
           the founders, and the brain trust at Home, there’d be trouble when you
           guys started developing.”
              “Looks like you got it.” This was the first thing Myrna had said since
           they were caught.

WFC Book 1.indb 93                                                                          12/31/07 5:35:56 PM

                        “You crones all signed up for this. We didn’t,” said Stan. He was still
                     a bit confused by all she’d said.
                        “It’s true. And we were counting on counsel from Rome, when this
                     day came.” She sighed. “But that’s not going to happen, any time soon.
                     If Rome is even still there, they have their hands full of their own prob-
                     lems now.” After staring unfocused at the air between them for a while,
                     she slumped a bit, and continued in a lower voice. “I never should have
                     let them make me a bishop. I’m an engineer. I make engines and power.
                     I’m not so good at the social engineering.”
                        “I think you’ve done fine,” said Myrna. There was a tear in her eye.
                        “Have I? Then why are you here, waiting for me to punish you? It’s
                     my fault, really.”
                        Stan found it was hard to argue with his grandmother when she was
                     being The Bishop.
                        “Anyway. Life goes on, at least it does here. We’ll keep on keeping on,
                     learn to do without what we aren’t getting from Home anymore. And
                     come up with some way of dealing with hoodlums, I guess. We may yet
                     all freeze in the dark, sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, there’s work
                     to do, and you’re going to do it,” she said, gathering way. “Supervised,
                     of course,” she added after a bit of thought. “Wouldn’t do to have you
                     sabotaging something important.”
                        Stan made himself a mental note to ask the Web to define that word,
                     before remembering the Web was no more. He shuddered. The universe
                     suddenly seemed cold, and it wasn’t because they were buried in ice in
                     the outer reaches of space.

WFC Book 1.indb 94                                                                         12/31/07 5:35:56 PM

           House is beautiful. The best was when snow cleared and the moon
           shined its blue light down on us, the beams reflecting and refracting,
           making House light up like a cold flame dancing in the walls. I don’t see
           it so much. The moon shines down on us less these days, and I’m not
           often around to watch it.
              I grew up in House. As did my wives. As did my husbands. And my
           sisters, and brothers, and children, and grandchildren. But we all get old,
           especially around the time we lose track of the grandchildren. I’m not
           sure how many now; last week I thought Evvy was pregnant, but turns
           out she had hers months ago.
              Evvy was my youngest. My last. I knew it when I first felt her weight
           in my belly and the pain in my back. It took me some time to get over
           that girl, and as soon as I did, I started Walking.
              My feet hurt. My hands got cold. I’d shut my eyes and wish that I was
           dead rather than in the tunnels. I think I kept going because it was all
           I knew how to do. A bear found me near the surface on my third Walk.
           Thought I was dead, and I don’t think I minded too much. I’d raised my
           girls right; they treated their men good — House grew bigger every year.
           They would remember my name when I didn’t come back.
              I damn near laid down for that bear.
              That something inside that kept me Walking didn’t lay down, though.
           I was on my knees, Evvy in my eyes with House shining around her
           when my hand flew out and smashed that bear with my stick. You get
           them in the eyes, don’t matter which, and they go down, stay down.

WFC Book 1.indb 95                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:56 PM

                         Beautiful fur, though. House ate happy when I dragged that beast
                     down, and I got myself some warm mittens.
                         Whole point of the Walk, bringing in those bears. Sometimes they’re
                     funny, can’t eat the meat, but they still have fur. You let them go, it’s a
                     risk, can’t let them get in too close to the kids. My first man left for his
                     Walk after my fifth girl. I’m not sure he could have stood by me for
                     another one. Never gave him the chance to bounce a son on his knee.
                     He’s still coming back in, I hear talk, but I don’t see him anymore. Don’t
                     come by many in the tunnels.
                         This was my last Walk. I knew it when I felt the weight in my feet
                     and the pain in my hips. When you Walk you follow the tunnels you
                     know. They take you around House, bring you back. Last Walk, you take
                     a new tunnel.
                         I found one that led up near the surface. Climbed two days before I
                     could hear the wind. The sound was even louder than my knees creak-
                     ing. I heard one vicious snap, thought my leg was broken. Wind got
                     louder. I looked up and found the jag above my head like the sky open-
                     ing up: a big crack in the sky.
                         Then it did, and I ran. The ice fell down, piled with the snow, and I ran
                     until the wind was quiet again. I stopped when I realized I’d dropped
                     my stick. The part of me that kept going turned around to try and find
                     it. The going was slow; despite the added cold of the crack in the sky, my
                     knees were burning.

                     But you know this part, don’t you? You watched me find the stick at the
                     base of the snow pile leading to the surface, and watched me climb up
                     that pile, almost using all my strength. You thought I was dying as I lay
                     in the snow, wind tearing across my face and clouds scuttling above me.
                     You didn’t think that I could swing my stick when you stood over me
                        All I wish now is to see House shine again, maybe to have the life left
                     in me to drag your carcass back for one more meal.

WFC Book 1.indb 96                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:56 PM
                                 And You Never Ask
                                  Directions, Either
                                                                          The Fool

           Duane clenched his jaw tight rather than say a word as Edna primly
           folded the map and returned it to the rental car’s glove compartment.
           A vein in his forehead throbbed in time with the blink of the left-turn
           signal, which had been flashing for the past half hour, unseen. Still the
           silence stretched between them.
              They drove slowly past the burning ruins of a gas station, past a bus
           stop adorned with colorful bits of charred fabric and hair. The soft hiss
           of static on the radio was barely distinguishable from the crackle of the
           flames outside. A sudden clatter made Duane jump in alarm, but it was
           only Edna fishing a box of Tic Tacs out of her purse.
              Able to contain himself no longer, Duane shouted, “Damnit, woman!
           Say something!”
              Edna shook a bit as she turned toward him, and her voice was over-
           bright and brittle as she said, “Well, I told you not to go pressing but-
           tons in strange automobiles.”

WFC Book 1.indb 97                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:56 PM
                     It’s Not Somebody
                     Who’s Seen the Light

                     There is remarkably little dirt, even compared to before. Nothing
                     like I might have expected from an Apocalypse, if I’d ever thought be-
                     yond scenarios in movies or Australian children’s TV dramas where the
                     kids end up living in gangs in the mall and making sure to look after the
                     younger ones. (Who really thinks much about that kind of thing any-
                     way?) But then it had been a remarkably quick and clean Apocalypse,
                     though that isn’t the full story. We’d always wanted to know everything,
                     from which C-list celebrity is dropping their knickers for which ex-
                     footballer to just what is in the other ninety-six percent of the universe
                     and what is the deal with antimatter anyway. I guess we were making
                     too much noise because something opened the door and let in the light
                     and now there is no need for curiosity. Everyone is rapt in knowledge.
                     Except me, of course. I’m the one dark stain in this brilliant new world.
                     I didn’t even know what had happened for months.
                        I felt something like static electricity when it happened. I didn’t recog-
                     nise the significance at first but I’ve been feeling it ever since if I stay
                     in one place too long. It feels like whatever is out there wants to burn
                     into me too. It tingles at my edges and then increases to pain if I stick
                     around more than a day or so. So I keep moving. There are a few more
                     reasons for that. Anyway, apart from that initial reaction, at first I hadn’t
                     realised anything was different. On the train home, I’d noticed the usual
                     preoccupied faces that pretend to be contemplating anything but you,
                     the person opposite, while you do the same back. It wasn’t until it was
                     my stop that I’d gotten the idea that people were failing to see me. Yeah,

WFC Book 1.indb 98                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:57 PM
                                              It’s Not Somebody Who’s Seen the Light

           I know that is a pretty weak description but that is how it looked to me.
           I’d been rooting through my bag for my ticket to swipe out of the sta-
           tion and walked into the back of a guy in a suit. I’d winced and prepared
           for him to turn and glare, apologise for being in the wrong place, or even
           swear at me. It should be obvious by now that that didn’t happen.
              Everyone appeared to continue as if this were normal except me. I
           lasted half an hour in the office being creeped out by nobody talking to
           each other before walking out. No bad jokes, lost tempers, or gossip and
           scandal. I started to test the limits of what was wrong. I tried shouting
           in people’s ears, tugging at their coats, deliberately trying to walk into
           them, even taking a cake from a woman’s plate in a café. They would just
           shrug me off without acknowledgement or not even register my pres-
           ence. They didn’t pay much attention to each other either. I saw a child
           fall and skin her knee but she didn’t even whimper and nobody picked
           her up. I went to a pub in the hope that maybe there people would let
           go a bit, but after only a moment of watching disconnected men and
           women mechanically lift pints to their lips and swallow, the very same
           abstract commuter look on their faces, I ran out and sat on the edge of
           the pavement, shaking. Any pedestrians just walked around me as if I
           were street furniture. I even followed one of my neighbours as he went
           into his house. I stood there as he and his family ate their dinner in
           passive silence until eventually the children went to bed and the parents
           went upstairs, got into bed with each other and had silent, mechanical
           sex. I threw up on their bedroom floor. That’s another reason I don’t stay
           in one place. I can’t stand to see too much of the others’ non-lives.
              The final reason is the most important one. I’ve found I can bring
           people back. The first time, it was someone I knew. An ex, in fact. By
           that point, I’d worked out how to survive. It is pretty easy to steal food
           and clothes when nobody pays you any attention. It is just as easy to
           sleep in their spare rooms, borrow their clothes, and use their shower
           if you can get over the guilt of stealing and the unsettling sensation of
           sharing space with animated mannequins, so I was clean, well fed, and
           had plenty of leisure time. Maybe I should have thought that enough
           of a utopia for me too. Night by night I was working my way through
           a block of luxury apartments down by the river bank, watching other
           people’s DVDs and reading their books and magazines while they were
           out. It turns out one of them was where Simon lived. I hadn’t kept in
           contact with him since the break-up. Tempestuous doesn’t begin to de-

WFC Book 1.indb 99                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:57 PM

                  scribe our relationship at its best and our parting was less than amicable,
                  so watching him enter his living room and not even see me made my
                  stomach turn to ice.
                     It was some form of grief that made me stay, made me watch him
                  undress, climb into bed, and pull the covers up to his chin. With his eyes
                  closed and his chest slowly rising and falling, I could remember back to
                  when I used to watch him as he slept, angry with him for whatever we
                  had just fought about. It was something between nostalgia and loneli-
                  ness that made me lean over and gently touch his lips with mine. They
                  were cold and dry and as unresponsive as if he were dead. It felt like a
                  final betrayal but instead of standing up and walking out, I clutched his
                  hair and bit down on his bottom lip as if I could somehow wake him.
                  Well, whether it was anger and love, or just blood and spit, he did open
                  his eyes and at the same time a sharp, painful shock knocked me to
                  the floor. When I picked myself up onto my elbows, I could see Simon
                  curled up into a ball, rocking gently back and forth. He turned to me,
                  eyes harsh with pain and pleaded with me to let him have the knowl-
                  edge back. I only stuck around a day or two after that. I couldn’t stay
                  and watch Simon as he babbled and refused to leave the bed, to wash
                  or to eat.
                     I can’t bring everyone back. Sometimes nothing happens at all. I
                  think maybe I don’t feel enough for those ones. Sometimes they are
                  only back for a moment or two before they turn away, preoccupied. I
                  have some bruises from the ones that fight back, but these are the ones
                  that help me continue. Too many are like Simon. They make me doubt
                  I am doing the right thing. I leave them all and move on to spread my
                  message. I like to believe that in time, maybe some of them will follow
                  me and understand. To each of them, at the moment of their return, I
                  give my name.

WFC Book 1.indb 100                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:57 PM
                                                         The Colony

           Life was never that different on the colony. Wasn’t. Isn’t. Fuck. I
           don’t know. At least I don’t think it was. I was never on Earth before the
           end of the world. I was born here. I’ll die here.
              It’s been two years since satellite imagery first showed the third planet
           from Sol abruptly become the first asteroid belt from Sol. We still don’t
           know how or why, though we’re pretty sure the rest of humanity died
           screaming. Today the last shipments that’ll ever arrive got here.
              At the end of the second grade I had to be able to regurgitate how
           many light years away Earth was from the colony. For my high school
           exit exam I had to use that and enough basic calculus and relativity to
           derive how slowly the ships were moving, how much the crew would
           have aged relative to their family back on Earth, and how many fries
           I’d have served to my successful classmates’ children by the time they
           arrived if I didn’t go on to college. Today I’ve forgotten all that shit and
           couldn’t care less.
              In college I let myself go into debt buying a piece of paper and study-
           ing more math and physics and the occasional mind-broadening litera-
           ture elective where I could read about Dracula or Erzebet Bathory so
           that I could spend most of my days saying “Would you like cream and
           sugar?” instead of “Would you like fries with that?”— but I digress. It
           doesn’t matter. What matters is the following capsule summary of ev-
           erything I picked up from my Introductory Interplanetary Economics
              The Earth needs oil. They used all theirs up. Once they realized this,

WFC Book 1.indb 101                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:57 PM

                  they set out to colonize an oil-rich planet however-many-light-years-I-
                  could-have-told-you-in-grade-two away.
                     The colony has lots of oil. It has just about everything else that it
                  needs to sustain life except for one thing: iron. I don’t know why. I’m not
                  an astrophysicist. I’m a coffee slinger.
                     I do know that the colony and Earth grew into a kind of mutually
                  beneficial free-trade intergalactic symbiosis. We gave them oil. They
                  gave us iron, mostly in the form of supplements. In exchange they get
                  the natural gas they need to be lazy, short-sighted assholes and destroy
                  their planet, we get the iron we need to have enough energy to extract
                  that natural gas and to not die.
                     Get. Got, I guess. Two years, and I still get my tenses confused.
                     Today the last shipment arrived, but I’ve had two years to think and
                  prepare, and I’ve spent the last one practicing.
                     Tonight I have a first date. It’ll be just like all the other first dates
                  I’ve been on lately. I’ll wine her and dine her and seduce her back to my
                  place where we’ll cuddle up around a fire and I’ll kiss her on the lips and
                  nibble on her ear and bite her on the neck.
                     And in the morning I’ll still have a shadow and cast a reflection in
                  the mirror. I won’t be immortal, but if everything works out I’ll at least
                  be the last man alive.

WFC Book 1.indb 102                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:57 PM
                                                     Come Again

           I had just come home from work and had flipped on the TV to watch
           one of my favorite programs when it was interrupted by an address from
           the President in the Oval Office. The details he had to provide were
           scarce but the few certainties he had to offer were horrifying. A series
           of attacks on major U.S. cities had been reported. Biological agents,
           possibly viruses, had been released. The incubation period was unknown
           so the day the viruses were released was also unknown. No one had
           claimed responsibility yet. Citizens were encouraged to stay indoors and
           to travel only when necessary. Hospitals in some cities had already be-
           gun to fill up with the dead and dying. No end in sight, no idea of how
           bad it would get. This was all I needed to know. Without even turning
           off the TV I was out the door.
              I immediately threw myself into what I was certain would be a night-
           mare of runaway consumerism: I drove to the grocery store and I knew
           exactly what I wanted. First of all, I wanted canned food of every variety.
           Next, I needed bottled water or canned soda or anything drinkable that
           won’t spoil. Finally, any other food I can grab that won’t go bad and
           won’t take water to prepare.
              On a normal, non–national emergency, non-Armageddon, type of
           day, I can get to the store in five minutes. This time it probably didn’t
           take much longer, but I was in a panic and don’t remember much of the
           drive. Much to my surprise, there weren’t many people on the road nor
           were there many cars in the parking lot. In fact, the store looked like it
           would on any early evening on any day of the work week. Had people

WFC Book 1.indb 103                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:57 PM

                  stayed to watch the rest of the broadcast? Was the president still ad-
                  dressing the nation? Or had people heeded his advice to stay indoors?
                     As I approached the automatic doors I grabbed a shopping cart and
                  from the nearby “seasonal” display of gardening implements, I picked out
                  a nice, shiny new shovel with a good solid Hickory shaft. Then I quickly
                  picked up everything I wanted. Four 24-bottle packs of the cheapest
                  drinking water. Probably fifty cans of veggies, soup, and canned pasta.
                  Then I grabbed chips, salsa, crackers, cookies, nuts and trail mix, break-
                  fast cereal, and some other items.
                     As I was going about my shopping, I initially noticed nothing out of
                  the ordinary in my fellow consumers. However, by the time I had made
                  my way to the far side of the store, things started to change. There was
                  more noise and there were far more alert-looking, fast-moving stock
                  boys than I had ever seen. I knew that panic had begun to set in but I
                  had everything I wanted and could leave. Then, because I’m such a junky
                  for the stuff, I decided I had to have coffee. Even though it may take
                  more water to prepare than it ever could be worth, I had to have it. I
                  even had a coffee pot with my camping gear in the garage so I wouldnít
                  need to rely on electricity to make my favorite morning brew.
                     I was at the edge of the store on the aisle with the pet food. I needed
                  to move four aisles toward the center where the coffee was. I thought I
                  would encounter some problems but nothing major, since I didn’t need
                  to pass by the aisles with canned food or water. When I looked up and
                  began to focus on the linoleum that lay before me, I could see that it was
                  going to be worse than I thought. Stock boys had begun to wheel pallets
                  of canned food and bottled water, still shrink-wrapped, into seemingly
                  random spots in the wide aisle that ran down the center of the store.
                     As I approached a pallet that held bottled water, I saw only three
                  or four shoppers grabbing cases in their arms. Then, when I was a few
                  paces away, a cry came from several aisles away: “They’re out of water!
                  Oh my God, theyíre out of water!” I began to shout back that there was
                  more water but all I got out was a “No!” that trailed off towards the end
                  when someone slammed right into the side of my cart in a mad scram-
                  ble to get to the pallet. Somehow the cart didn’t overturn — a stroke of
                  luck, maybe. I briefly considered that the water already on my cart was
                  in danger but it was in the oft-overlooked beneath-the-cart zone, and
                  I had my shovel.
                     In less than thirty seconds, the pallet was empty. There was a mad

WFC Book 1.indb 104                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:57 PM
                                                                          Come Again

           stream of people from every direction grabbing cases of water with both
           hands. Several of the packages had burst open and individual bottles
           were being grabbed for, fought over, and stuffed into pockets. I decided
           it was best to back off a little to keep out of the way. Soon, there was
           nothing but a barren wooden pallet and I was able to move on. In no
           time at all I had two family-size cans of pre-ground coffee tucked into
           the cart and I was ready to leave.
              On my way to the front I passed a pallet that had held canned tuna.
           I glanced over to see an overweight woman in stretch pants with a bat-
           tered loaf of white bread in one hand as she stared blankly at it and
           cooed to herself, “It’s all gone. I can’t believe it’s all gone.” There were
           several more picked-clean pallets along the way. The floors were a mess
           of shredded shrink wrap, torn cardboard and abandoned merchandise.
              As I made my way to the front of the store I could see people stand-
           ing anxiously in line and eyeing their fellow shoppers warily as they
           clutched items to their chests. About a third of the registers were closed.
           One or two pallets had made their way to the front of the store and as
           people streamed in, finding no more baskets and no room for shopping
           carts, they grabbed as much as they could carry and tried to find a queue
           to wait in.
              I was near an abandoned register when I noticed some people emerg-
           ing from an office on my left. It was a pair of cops and a cashier. It was
           soon apparent that they intended to open the register I was right in
           front of. I shoved my cart right up to the conveyor belt and watched
           them approach. The cashier looked like she was someone’s mother. She
           trembled with fear and was choking back sobs as she walked between
           the two cops, her cash drawer shaking in her hands. She was staring at
           the floor as she stepped behind the register.
              Fumbling with her keys and with buttons on the register, she was
           sobbing “Oh my dear Lord! Oh my dear . . .” The officers split up then,
           one of them pacing slowly off. The one officer that remained got my
              “Sir!” he shouted at me.
              “Yes?” I replied.
              “We’re not gonna have any trouble with you, are we?”
              “No sir,” I replied. “This is gonna go real smooth.”
              The cashier soon had her register in order and was looking at me,
           her mouth trembling. I leaned forward. “What’s your name, ma’am?” I

WFC Book 1.indb 105                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:58 PM

                  asked in the calmest voice I could. Her apron, in the company’s trade-
                  mark colors, was missing a name tag.
                     “Sh-Sh-Shirley,” was her reply.
                     “Ok, listen, Shirley. We’re going to get through this. You’re gonna get
                  home all nice and safe. But right now you have an important job to do.
                  Just do the best, fastest job you can and let the officer here deal with the
                  crowd. OK?”
                     She took one deep breath, looked me in the eyes, and whispered,
                     “Yeah, let me handle ’em,” the officer said, his hand at the pistol on
                  his hip.
                     With amazing agility and speed, Shirley began to scan my items. I
                  hoisted things onto the conveyor belt as fast as I could and then moved
                  my cart to the end of the conveyor to bag the smaller things and shove
                  the rest back in the cart. A line of people had queued up behind me
                  in the meantime. At the front of the line was a man clutching a bag
                  of charcoal in one hand and trying to balance a case of cola and a few
                  dented cans of potted meat in the other. He was cagey; his glance was
                  darting rapidly from the people around him to the officer, to the park-
                  ing lot outside.
                     As Shirley scanned the last few items and I shoved them into my cart,
                  the guy in line behind me spoke up: “Hey, man, you got all that water!
                  Why don’cha put some back an’ let me have it?”
                     “No. I can’t do that,” I replied.
                     “Come on man, I gotta have some water!”
                     “Look,” I said, “there’s a lot more water. This is a huge grocery store
                  and this thing is just starting.”
                     He replied in a more shrill tone this time. “But, but, I don’t got it
                  now! I can’t get outta line and shit!” With that, he dropped his supplies
                  and leaped toward me, pinning me against the shopping cart. I quickly
                  brought the shovel handle across my chest, grabbed it in both hands,
                  and pressed it against his throat. His hands were out in front of him,
                  on either side of my body. He grabbed the wire mesh of the shopping
                     “Hey!” screamed the officer. His gun was now drawn and pointed at
                  the man’s face.
                     The desperate shopper began to sputter for breath as I continued to
                  put pressure on his throat with the shovel handle. In a few moments, he

WFC Book 1.indb 106                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:58 PM
                                                                        Come Again

           let go of my cart and staggered backwards, gasping for breath.
              The man was sitting on the floor, recovering as I paid for my
              “Hey, Shirley,” I said as I began to leave, “remember, it’s going to be
           OK. You’re doing a great job.”
              She replied, more out of habit than anything, “Sh-sure. Come


WFC Book 1.indb 107                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:58 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 108   12/31/07 5:35:58 PM
                                The Eighth Wonder

           To get from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus to the Temple of
           Artemis, the man rides a 12-speed bicycle. For three days, he pedals
           into a light breeze up and down the hills of an ancient Hittite kingdom.
           Along the way, he meets no one. His eyes scan the road for potholes.
           His mind races ahead to a place he’s never been. He’s imagining rough
           marble against his hand. Crossing the Menderes River, he startles geese.
           They swarm, confused, then rise. He shifts up a gear and chases them
           across the sky.
              When he stops he fishes a tiny tin from his backpack, and applies
           grease — sparingly — to gear and chain and sprocket. Then he rubs his
           hands clean in a puddle and takes a sip of water from a clear plastic
              At the site of the Temple of Artemis, he sits in the dirt under a cloud-
           less sky and eats a small bag of salted rice.

           In the late afternoon, a woman approaches. While she’s still a way off,
           he raises his hand. She waves back. Her hair is gathered under a pat-
           terned scarf. She has a gaunt, angled appearance like they all do. All of
           the survivors.
              “ You’re the first person I’ve seen for weeks.”
              He smiles up at her but no reply comes out. He’s starting to forget
           the rules of small talk.

WFC Book 1.indb 109                                                                      12/31/07 5:35:58 PM

                     “Sit down. Please.” He points towards the dirt.
                     “Are you travelling alone?”
                     “Nice bike.”
                     “Thank you. I try to keep it in good order.”
                     “Where are you headed?”
                     The man takes a deep breath then lets it out. “Here. I’ve just arrived.”
                     She gives him a puzzled look.
                     “Have you heard of the Temple of Artemis?”
                     “This is it. See those pieces of marble over there? That was part of the
                  original structure.”
                     “Those rocks? You came here just for that?”
                     “Yes and no. I just wanted to stand in the place where it was. I’m do-
                  ing them all.”
                     “All what?”
                     “The seven wonders. The seven wonders of the world.”
                     “I thought that was like Mount Everest and such.”
                     “They’re the natural wonders. These are the original ones, before it
                  become commonplace for men to make lists of wonderful things.”
                     “Well I think you’re too late. This one’s dissolved.”
                     “No, it was destroyed deliberately. A couple of thousand years ago.”
                     “Well there was this Greek guy, he wanted to be famous, so he thinks,
                  well if I destroy the Temple of Artemis, everyone will remember me as
                  the guy that destroyed a famous temple.”
                     “What was his name?”
                     “I don’t remember. The important thing is, I remember the Temple
                  of Artemis. If I remember it, and tell other people, like you, then it still
                  exists. Do you see?”
                     “Sort of. So are you saying when there’s no one left who remembers this
                  temple, then blip! That’s it. It never existed.”
                     “I guess … I am saying that. Yes. That is what I’m saying.”
                     “That doesn’t make sense!? It’s gone already. It’s been gone for two thou-
                  sand years.”
                     “No it’s not. If I close my eyes, I can see it.”
                     “ You don’t need to close your eyes to see beautiful things. They’re right here
                  in the world now. Everywhere!”

WFC Book 1.indb 110                                                                            12/31/07 5:35:58 PM
                                                                             The Eighth Wonder

              “How can you say that? After everything that’s happened?”
              “I’ve been travelling. I’ve seen all kinds of things.”
              “What kinds of things?”
              “Well there is a railway station in Madrid. I think everybody should see
           that. Obviously no trains go there any more, but there’s something . . . It no
           longer looks man-made. The trees inside have just kept growing and grow-
           ing and they’ve punched their way through the glass ceiling, it’s like they’re
           reaching for God.”
              “That’s a great mental image.”
              “But that’s not all! The real prize is when you go inside. It’s part décor and
           part habitat. It’s like they’ve joined forces and invented a new thing. There’s
           no word to describe it. The benches have been strangled by vines, so it looks like
           they’re made entirely out of leaves. The tree roots have grabbed hold of the floor
           and buckled the mosaics. If you walk amongst them, ruptured angels peek out
           at you. And you can hear all these tiny creatures rustling about . . . birdsong
           echoing off the walls. It’s like, there’s this . . . dappled light . . . is that the word?
           It just sort of shines in on everything, but gently . . . you just have to see it. I
           saw a man just stop in the entranceway and cry openly for several minutes. I
           got a feeling watching him, like looking at it all was healing him, in a way.
           Does that make sense?”
              “It makes perfect sense. Watching your face while you were telling me
           about it, I feel healed too.”
              “Don’t be silly.”
              “I’m serious.”
              “So will you go there?”
              “I don’t understand? This is something wonderful, and you can go and see
           it now. It’s not like you’ve got anywhere else to go. What is there to see here?
           Just dirt and weeds? Right now we’re just standing in some nothing place
           where something used to be.”
              “I guess that’s why I’m here. I feel like that’s all we’ve got left.”
              “So where do you go from here?”
              “I want to visit all seven. I’ve got two to go. I’m saving the Great
           Pyramid until last.”
              “Because it’s still there.”
              “The railway station in Madrid is still there.”
              “I know. In fact, you know what? You’ve talked me into it! Maybe

WFC Book 1.indb 111                                                                                     12/31/07 5:35:58 PM

                  I will go and see it. After the pyramid of course. I’ll call it the eighth
                      “Well I’m calling it the first wonder. It’s the first one I saw. You haven’t
                  answered me though. What’s next for you?”
                      “The Lighthouse of Alexandria.”
                      “That one sounds nice! Let me guess — there is no lighthouse now?”
                      “Of course there is. Close your eyes . . . Can you can see it.”
                      “ Yes.”
                      “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
                      “ Yes.”
                      “Describe it to me.”
                      “Why not?”
                      “Because you’ve obviously been thinking about it for a long time. I don’t
                  want to break your picture of it.”
                      “Fair enough. Where will you go next?”
                      “There’s a factory in Ankara that made car batteries — before. A farmer
                  in Izmir says there’s a man there at that factory who knows about electric-
                  ity. He’s used the batteries to get some things working. Survivors are going
                  to that place where the factory is, and they’re staying there. Of course there’s
                  not many, but it’s a start. He said in some of the buildings, they have electric
                      “I have candles.”
                      “He said they have heating too.”
                      “For how long?”
                      “There’s smart people that understand how these things work, and if more
                  people come . . .”
                      “If more people come, what? Do they have a plan? What will they
                  do next?”
                      “I don’t know.”
                      The sun sinks low and they stare at the lengthening shadows made
                  by grass and rocks. The woman picks up a piece of broken marble, and
                  pushes its weathered surface into one palm and then the other.
                      “What are you doing?”
                      “I’m trying to make a memory of this place. Not for what it was. But what
                  it is right now. It’s quite beautiful, when you really look.”
                      They gather sticks and make a fire. Then they put all their food in one
                  spot and consider the possibilities. Later, they move close together on

WFC Book 1.indb 112                                                                           12/31/07 5:35:59 PM
                                                                   The Eighth Wonder

           a blanket and look up into the night. Under a new moon, they invent
           names for constellations.
              “I’m calling that one the Temple of Artemis?”
              “Because it’s so bright, if I close my eyes, I can still see it.”
              “Me too.”
              “I wish it really was called that! How can we make it so that it’s called
           that forever?”
              “I think we just did.”


WFC Book 1.indb 113                                                                       12/31/07 5:35:59 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 114   12/31/07 5:35:59 PM
                                WFC 3

WFC Book 1.indb 115                 12/31/07 5:35:59 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 116   12/31/07 5:35:59 PM
           By fleece (Wed Aug 02, 2006 at 06:28:28 AM EST)

           is here!

           For those new to the concept, this is yet another Husi Writing
           Fun Challenge. The third in fact. As teh winar of the last one
           I get the job of hosting this one. I want YOU to host the next
           one! (Yes YOU!)

           Details over the fold: —

           I know I’m supposed to supposed to use lots of exclamation
           marks and get the energy levels up, but I’m in a just-the-
           facts-ma’am kind of mood, so that’s all you get (long day at
           work plus red wine makes me lazy).

           A previous poll told me that most people think the following
           constraints are best:

           Word length: 2000 max
           Closing Date: 12 Noon, 24th August GMT
           Theme: Death and Rebirth
           Upload site: http://256k.org/wfc3

           That’s it! Go for it. Why death and rebirth? I don’t know really.
           The backstory is a guy I was in a band with years ago repaired

WFC Book 1.indb 117                                                            12/31/07 5:35:59 PM
                  a wrecked guitar, then he got those stick-on letters from the
                  newsagent and rubbed its name onto the front — “Death &
                  Rebirth.” The phrase just sort of floats to the front of my sub-
                  conscious now and then . . .

                  And no, I don’t have a pre-canned idea for this theme yet. I’m
                  as lost as you are . . .

                  There’s any number of ways this theme can be interpreted, so
                  no excuses!

                  3-2-1 GO!


WFC Book 1.indb 118                                                           12/31/07 5:35:59 PM
                                              danny & jules                  Merekat

           Danny carefully stacked the cups into the dishwasher tray. An
           even number of them fitted along the side so he made sure to angle the
           handles at precisely forty-five degrees to the right. That was part of the
           Rule for Cups. Danny was always careful to follow the rules about num-
           bers because he knew bad things would happen if he didn’t take proper
           care. He knew other people didn’t know about the rules and couldn’t
           see what was obvious to him but he didn’t mind that they thought him
           crazy as long as they let him do what was needed.
              The worst of the evening rush was over now, which meant that the
           floor staff would have some time to chat with him at the hatch where
           they dropped the dirty plates and bowls for him to wash. Most of them
           didn’t say much. They thought he was slow or stupid because of the
           meticulous care he always took over his work and would barely meet
           his eye. Jules was different. She’d started two weeks before and on her
           first day had greeted him with a smile. Since then, she’d taken time to
           exchange a few words with him every time she dropped off more dirty
           crockery. Had Danny seen that film on TV last night? What did he
           think of the soup today? Ordinary, mundane conversation, but Danny
           yearned for each brief exchange.
              When the sign on the restaurant door turned to closed shortly before
           midnight, the atmosphere inside changed. Shouted jokes heard over the
           clatter of chairs being put up on the tables relieved the tension of being
           in the public eye all day. Pots, pans, and grill tops began to appear in the
           washing-up queue. Danny sighed and searched the pile for another tea-

WFC Book 1.indb 119                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:00 PM

                  spoon. He couldn’t put the dishwasher on with only eleven teaspoons in
                  that section. The rule said twelve. He could hear the sound of the floor
                  cleaner out in the main restaurant and knew again that he would be
                  over an hour later than everyone else in finishing. Deciding it wouldn’t
                  be cheating, Danny fished among the clean cutlery and found a spoon
                  to add to the total before sliding the tray under the washer and pulling
                  down the hood.
                     Just as he turned to put the frying pans into the wash, odd numbers
                  with handles to the left, even to the right, the kitchen door opened.
                  Danny turned, expecting it to be the manager coming to tell him to
                  hurry up as he wasn’t paid for anything after 2AM but instead it was
                  Jules. She had changed out of her uniform into jeans and a black t-shirt
                  which fitted her tightly. Danny could see the top of a tattoo peeking out
                  just above the level of her jeans.
                     “We’re going to get some beers. Do you want to come along?”
                     “Can’t.” Danny nodded towards the outstanding washing.
                     Jules chewed her bottom lip a moment, then threw her bag into a
                  corner and grabbed an apron.
                     “Shove over. I’ll help.”
120                  It took them about a quarter of an hour to finish up, Jules stacking
                  the dishwasher, Danny furtively making sure the number rules were fol-
                  lowed, with a correction here and there before running them through.
                  Danny was nearly breathless with her nearness and treasured every mo-
                  ment of it.
                     They joined the others at the late bar partway into a round. Jules was
                  greeted cheerfully when they arrived but faces changed to politely sup-
                  pressed surprise when they saw Danny following her to the table. He
                  turned to Jules, wanting to make some excuse about it being later than
                  he thought and that he should leave but she stuck a bottle into his hand
                  and smiled so he took a deep breath and a mouthful of beer and sat
                  down. By last orders he was still there, beer bottles carefully arranged
                  into an equal-sided triangle on the table. The flash of lights that indi-
                  cated closing time jolted him into realising how late it was and he took
                  his leave and stood up to go. Jules asked him to hang on a moment and
                  walked out the door with him.
                     “Could you walk with me to the taxi rank?” she asked. It was out of
                  his way and he felt dizzy and nauseous but Danny would have swal-
                  lowed his tongue rather than say no. When she linked her arm in his, he

WFC Book 1.indb 120                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:00 PM
                                                                     Danny & Jules

           felt it was worth it. They swerved around drunks together and stopped
           for a while to watch a guy do the limbo under a flaming pole. Danny
           tried as best he could to stand on the right sequence of paving but he
           didn’t normally drink and didn’t want to let go of Jules so he couldn’t
           be sure that he had managed it. He wanted to fret more about that but
           couldn’t seem to bring himself to care. When they finally got to the rank
           and queued, he pretended he would wait for the next cab and let Jules
           take the one that had just arrived, for which she rewarded him with a
           spontaneous kiss on the lips.
              See you tomorrow, she mouthed from behind the car window.

           Danny woke up the next morning with his head pounding and a terrible
           taste in his mouth. His eyes felt gummed together and it was painful to
           open them. When he did, there was nothing there. Cold hit the pit of
           his stomach. It had happened again. He’d missed something or gotten
           a rule wrong and it was all gone. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath
           and began to recite the fundamental rules. Last time he’d managed to go
           further than before. This time he was sure that he could make a world
           where he and Jules would be together.

WFC Book 1.indb 121                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:00 PM
                  she said

                  “Fuck me like your life depended on it.”
                     She said. There should be a “she said” there. It’s important.
                     I did my best. I wasn’t always able to do the things she said, but there
                  was never a question of not trying.
                     Later — not much later mind you — me spent and lying atop a shadow
                  of my own sweat, her lighting a cigarette (I hated that she smoked, but
                  what could I say? Then, I mean), she said:
                     “Do you think we’re immortal?”
                     No. In the long run I chase a bottle of sleeping pills with a bottle of
                  twelve-peso mescal for no better reason than not having anything else
                  to do (but what better, really?) and you blow your head off with that
                  Smith and Wesson (that you get off on pretending you don’t get off on
                  having) after learning you have lung cancer. It doesn’t take a reader of
                  entrails to see the by-their-own-hand mark on us. So we’d better hope
                  we’ve no immortal soul; I can’t think of a god-spinner out there that
                  looks too terrible kind on suicides. Not since that comet anyway, and
                  I’m pretty sure it’s another couple of thousand years before that boat
                  comes in again.
                     But she doesn’t ask me questions to hear what I think, so I said:
                     “I don’t know. What do you think?”
                     And she said:
                     “I think we’re meant to be.”
                     That was new. Meant by who? Who is it that she thinks intends these
                  things? I suspect that, after the layers are peeled off, the only one doing

WFC Book 1.indb 122                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:00 PM
                                                                              She Said

           any meaning here is her. I made the “go on, I’m listening” noise. And
           she said:
               “Where are you? Is this body you? Are you here?” And she grabbed
           my limp cock for emphasis. “No. None of this is you. I can’t touch you
           because you aren’t the same sort of thing as this bed, as a hamburger, as
           any of this fucking stuff. You aren’t even the few functioning neurons
           still firing in your pickled brain.”
               And she said:
               “You and I, buddy, are just bunches of data. Sure, we’re data tied up
           in a mess of meaty neurons. Now. But there’s no manifest reason it has
           to stay that way.”
               Science fiction. She never went to college. I don’t think she even fin-
           ished high school. Hell, I don’t know if she finished elementary. But
           she loved to read. She read with a deadly drive and an unshakable half-
           understanding. She particularly loved to read my books, knowing that I
           had read less than half of more than half of them. Information theory,
           modern philosophy, cognitive science, too much bad science fiction and
           not enough good; she pulled it from my shelves while I was at class
           or work and tore through it all with equal vigour. And sometimes she
           needed to be reminded that there were still some things I understood                      123
           better than she did. And so I said:
               “Science fiction.”
               She sneered at me and said:
               “Now maybe, but not always. There are plenty of things that may
           never be possible. But this isn’t time travel, this isn’t even space travel.
           There’s only so much room inside our heads for bits. And it’s only a
           matter of time before we can pull those bits out of there and put them
           somewhere safer. Don’t you see, for as long as people have existed, death
           has been the one great certainty. But death isn’t a necessary part of us;
           it’s just a cruel trick of DNA.”
               And then from nowhere she was holding the S & W. She never did
           have a good understanding of the rules of polite discourse. I knew full
           well that the reason I was so fascinated by her was that she scared the
           shit out of me, but there is such a thing as taking things too far. And so
           I said:
               “Put that fucking thing away!”
               She didn’t. Instead she pointed it at me and said:
               “If I put a bullet through your head, it’s game over. You had a good

WFC Book 1.indb 123                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:01 PM

                  run, but that’s it. Flash in the pan, a few ups and downs, and then you’re
                  gone and all that’s left is a soiled piece of meat in a ratty bed. No rhyme.
                  No reason. Tell me, what sense does that make?”
                      And I said:
                      “Who says it has to make sense? It’s the only hand anyone’s ever been
                  dealt. You live your life and then . . . and then nothing. But that’s the clos-
                  est we can get to meaning. If we weren’t constantly being towards death,
                  there would be no weight to anything.”
                      That was a mistake. She hit me across the head with the pistol. It hurt
                  more than I would have imagined. And, as I felt my temple for blood,
                  she said:
                      “Fuck you and fuck Heidegger! Self-pitying bullshit dressed up in
                  fancy clothes. Everyone keeps dropping dead, and you’re all so scared to
                  look it in the face, that you drape a few five-dollar words and German
                  philosophers over it and call it noble. Fuck that.”
                      And she said:
                      “It’s coming; we’re on the cusp. A hundred years. No more than a
                  hundred and fifty and then, one day, it just stops. Can you imagine?
                  People just stop dying. Take away your fucking being-towards-death
124               and start being-towards-being. The children of the future will look back
                  on today and everything that came before it as an ongoing holocaust too
                  horrible to imagine.”
                      And she said:
                      “Just think. We may be the last generation to ever die.”
                      And she still had that gun pointed at me, so I said:
                      Absolutely nothing.
                      And she said:
                      “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. We’re not going to make
                  it, you and I. But our children might.”
                      She reached for my dick again. With her left hand, gun still cocked
                  in the right. And she said:
                      “I stopped taking my pill five weeks ago.”
                      And she said:
                      “Now fuck me. Your life depends on it.”
                      And it’s only really been about fifteen minutes. I never have been that
                  fast on the rebound. But as sick and terrified as I feel, I have to admit:
                      She knows how to turn me on.

WFC Book 1.indb 124                                                                          12/31/07 5:36:01 PM
                      september dreaming                                       blixco

           Can someone explain this dream I had? In it I was walking along
           the street, looking sort of down and out, collar up and headphones
           plugged in. Right then when the sound hit me, I was just finished listen-
           ing to a friend of mine singing Ave Maria and I was wondering: What
           happened to Maria?
              The details get a little fuzzy. Dreams are like that: you try to grasp
           one thing, you get the shifting reality, the funhouse mirror effects. I’d
           just looked down into the gutter and the sound hit me. Something had
           drawn my eyes down there. A kitten? Perhaps a kitten. There’s nothing
           I hate more than seeing kittens on these streets, cabs all crazy, bicycles
           flying by, no one paying any attention to the ground. No one looks down
           there unless confronted with another set of eyes.
              So in this dream, there’s me looking down, Ave Maria in my head,
           my thoughts on the morning coffee that would be waiting for me. I was
           running late, sure; I was often late. My job, see, they’re OK with me be-
           ing late. In this dream, I was a file clerk for files that could wait to be
           filed. Does that make sense? It was a government gig, this dream job.
           Usually the files would be needed by someone again before I could refile
           them, and there was this whole long process involved with accessing file
           storage and getting things in and out of the Cage, so I’d sit on files for
           a week or so. The Cage creeped me out. That’s what we called our vault,
           because it was actually a cage (with a chain link roof!) inside of a larger
           metal shell inside of a fortified room.
              So in my dream, there I was thinking: Maria? Thinking: coffee. Marcie,

WFC Book 1.indb 125                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:01 PM

                  she buys me a coffee every morning because she knows I’m good for it,
                  I always pay her back, and it’s on her way anyhow. I’m thinking: kitten
                  (maybe it was) and seeing in my mind’s eye or maybe in the dream this
                  kitten’s hardscrabble life on the street level. Then the sound hit me.
                     It was like . . . I can’t tell you what it was like. You know dreams, they
                  have these gigantic things happen that defy reality. This sound, the only
                  thing I can compare it to is imaginary, OK? Imagine a dump truck filled
                  with scrap metal and glass and stuff, imagine that gets dropped on an-
                  other dump truck from a distance of a hundred feet. That’s what entered
                  my mind, nudging the kitten aside, was: Hey, someone had a pretty bad
                  accident. Trucks colliding; I could already tell it was bad and maybe it
                  would get news. I’d be able to say, Yeah, I heard that truck fall off of that
                  bridge and hit another truck. But no bridges nearby, and there’d been
                  this real loud noise leading up to it. Indistinct what with Maria. My
                  headphones, see, were in the middle of Ave Maria’s end and the start of
                  something by Soundgarden I think.
                     There’d been this real loud noise that I and the thoughts of my kitten
                  had completely disregarded as a combination of routine and ridiculous.
                  A familiar noise but far too loud and wailing for attention to be really
126               real. It was like hearing a doorbell but with The Who amplifying it, that
                  sort of effect: I know that sound, but wow was that loud, so loud it was
                     Then the sound of the dump trucks colliding.
                     Then I’m sort of looking up because the people around me . . . I never
                  notice people except in dreams. In dreams I zoom right in on them.
                  People around you in a city, they flow like water in a river. My brother
                  back on the farm told me, “Sissy,” he said (every country sister is nick-
                  named Sissy, just like every brother is called Bubba), “don’t look people
                  in the eye in the city.” And he’d never tell me why, but I figured it out.
                  It’s because it is exhausting. It is exhausting to see that much, enter that
                  many lives. Be a part of that much, they take a little of you, too. So I
                  never saw people, except in dreams.
                     In this dream, I noticed all these people suddenly looking up and
                  sort of talking to themselves or to each other and pointing, the yelling
                  or cursing or silent gaping panic. And I noticed something else: trash.
                  Paper. So I looked up.
                     And here’s the strangest part of the dream, where it took a real nasty
                  nightmare turn. Why all the detail is lost. I looked up and saw an air-

WFC Book 1.indb 126                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:01 PM
                                                                      September Dreaming

           plane sticking out of a building, then disappearing inside it. Just, wham
           flash gone.
               Now that sound again, but this time I knew it was this airplane sound,
           and I realized that whooshing noise before the other dump truck crash
           had been a jet plane engine noise, but loud and stupid close. I looked
           up shielding my eyes from the morning sunlight, what there was of it
           through the buildings, and there was paper falling, and, well, it was my
           dream, so it makes no sense except in my dream, there were people sil-
           houetted against the sky. Placed there out of nowhere.
               I knew they were people. I couldn’t see details or anything like that,
           but I could just tell. In my dream, the way they fell was different than
           something without life. They looked impossible against the sky. Paper
           and furniture and debris all looked . . . OK, it’s supposed to fall down. But
           people aren’t, so they look all wrong, gangly or suddenly streamlined,
           like a bird gutshot, suddenly caught by the blast, wings skewed by the
           wind. I saw one, I followed it . . . him . . . her . . . whatever, all the way down
           with my eyes. I thought: That must be scary.
               To be falling so fast and fragile. And it must be so strange! I re-
           member thinking that on some level it must be a relief maybe to know
           when you’re going to die. Like, it’s happening right now, so no worries.                         127
           Nothing else matters anymore, you’re just . . . Dream logic, you know?
           Doesn’t have to make sense.
               Anyhow, people are running both toward the buildings and away
           from them, and I work right there in the building, and my coffee and
           Marcie are both better off if I am around because I am good at decisions
           and fast thinking, plus I know CPR. See how dreams work? Like sud-
           denly I’m Wonder Woman.
               This dream goes all dreamy then, blurry and sort of gray as the sky
           fills with ash and smoke and cops and firemen try to keep people away.
           I see ghosts walking trailing the ash of the dead. I see parts of people, I
           walk right over them because it’s just a dream. If it were real, I’d be in a
           ball on the ground, trust me.
               And I get to the site and I start to try to go in to get Marcie but a
           group of people keep me away, take me to a building where I help who-
           ever I can. In the dream, I do this for hours and hours as the sky gets
           angry and black and the buildings crumble and the ground never feels
           the same afterward.
               And the sky looks all wrong. Stumps of amputated steel marking my

WFC Book 1.indb 127                                                                              12/31/07 5:36:01 PM

                  friends and neighbors. The dream is short on detail but long on feeling;
                  I cried and cried and was exhausted with all the eyes I met, all the fear
                  and confusion. Not knowing is the big pain. Who did this? And I used
                  all my tricks to wake up: I bit the inside of my cheeks and I pinched my
                  arms and slapped myself.
                     A fireman with tears and ash and fear and great heaving sobs throws
                  his arms around me at the aid station. In my dream it has only been
                  minutes since the plane hit, but the buildings are down and it is evening
                  and I am tired; my right arm is bandaged because I cut it on something.
                  The fireman smells of paper smoke and campfires and Icy Hot. I hug
                  him with my whole body, press into him, cry into his chest and his tears
                  run down into my hair and from my head down the sides of my face,
                  leaving trails in the ash covering my skin. We stand like this, the sound
                  of him breathing in great gasps and sobs until his breathing matches
                  mine, until we both calm down and look up and see sky again, and we
                  all wake up.


WFC Book 1.indb 128                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:02 PM
                                                       john 3, 1–5      BlueOregon

           In circles less public than private and spheres of influence obscure
           rather than subject to the light of inquiry, many consider Todd Mortimer
           the greatest mind of his age: a mathematical, musical, and technological
           genius whose output, shared with but a select few whenever he arrives
           in civilized ports and calls upon the children or colleagues of acquain-
           tances past, inspires others to publish previously unknown manuscripts,
           propose delicately intuitive proofs to nearly forgotten puzzles, and pose
           new questions about old problems. A salon in Rio, a post-conference
           reception in Boston, and sauna near Helsinki count among the most
           recent sightings.
              Renee seeks him out in the first class section of what had once been
           the true Orient Express, en route from Istanbul to Vienna, from Turkish
           coffee to Viennese coffee culture.
              “A man walks into a bar.”
              The pale blond man dressed in a dark slender suit and wearing styl-
           ish, round-lensed sunglasses puts down his knife and fork. “What sort
           of bar?”
              “Doesn’t matter.”
              “Does to me. Dive bar, cocktail bar, sports bar?” He smiles a narrow
           smile stretched across a gaunt face.
              “It’s just the setup, followed by escalation, repetition, and finally, a
           reveal. The type of bar does not matter.”
              “Tell it again.”

WFC Book 1.indb 129                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:02 PM

                     “A guy walks into a bar. He orders a beer.” She sits across from him and
                  unwraps the silk scarf from her head and neck, revealing chestnut hair
                  and unblemished tanned skin. Strong and practical yet spidery fingers
                  scurry through purse contents, retrieving a narrow and finely worked
                  mahogany box, which she pushes across the beige plastic table until it
                  rests beside his salad-laden plate. “You should eat more seafood.”
                     “I do not care for fish.” He opens the box, lifts out the pen, and ac-
                  cepts the gift with a nod.
                     “Salmon, sardines . . . filled with omega-3. Brain food.”
                     “Small talk, chit-chat, food and drink. Aren’t you going to say hello?”
                     “Hello. Nice to see you — it has been . . . a while.”
                     “That it has. Wasn’t the last time also Vienna?”
                     “Different circumstances, no?” She turns her chair, crosses her legs,
                  and leans back, elegant yet relaxed in a way befitting an elderly matron,
                  not such a young looking woman. “You are not an easy man to find, you
                     “I like to stay on the move. Things have become . . . more difficult . . . in
                  recent years. Biometric passports, digital cameras everywhere, increas-
                  ing video surveillance, interlinked databases. Too many links, the mere
130               mass of data suggesting structure, even syntax, and primitive semantics
                  emerging from that. And you know, I once proposed, well, gave some
                  suggestions, let us say, about the panopticon — at the time it was about
                  prison reform. They never built it, you know, but it was such a fascinat-
                  ing idea. That is not why you are here, about such an old idea.”
                     “This is new, me seeking you out — I always had the fixed address,
                  you were on the move, traveling, learning, interfering, but as you said,
                  enough data out there, and a few inferences could be made. I want your
                  data, your learning.” A waiter arrives; she orders; both their faces soften
                  as the conversation turns casual from calculated. In time the InterCity
                  enters the suburbs and then the city, slowing as it passes first gardens,
                  then blocks of apartments, on its way to the West Bahnhof. “Come with
                  me?” she asks as the train halts, and instead of continuing on his way
                  to Paris, Todd joins Renee in what had been Augustine’s outpost along
                  the Danube, one of many places along the border between Rome and
                  the barbarians. “You’re looking anemic, you know. You need more iron
                  in your diet, more red meat.”
                     “You providing the flesh?”

WFC Book 1.indb 130                                                                          12/31/07 5:36:02 PM
                                                                             John 3, 1–5

              For the first time a smile, soft and expressed through the eyes, comes
           to her face. “Thought you’d never ask.”

           The ceiling plaster bubbles and forms a ring of nipples; in the
           center blossoms a smoky glass fixture behind which sleep three bulbs.
           Against the far wall hangs not a mirror but a hastily painted reproduc-
           tion of a famous still life, stripped of the allegorical and symbolic codes
           of the Dutch original, in which in the shadows swarmed flies around
           overripe fruit, molding bread, and rotting vegetables. Morning sunlight
           filtered through gauzy white curtains casts a web of light and dark across
           the antique wood floor, the bed, and the bare and intertwined limbs of
           slumbering bodies.
               “There is no going back.” Renee sweeps strings of hair from her eyes
           and rolls onto her back, observing the ceiling breasts.
               “They tell the tale of the fall from grace, of the first man and first
           woman expelled from the garden. They never found a way to return, but
           they told their children, who told theirs, and on down the line. And so
           they had to travel around the world, seeking to reenter paradise via the
           back door.”                                                                                 131
               “I’ve decided to have a child.”
               “This is news.” His astonishment shows.
               “Five years ago I met a man.”
               “That part is not new.”
               “He and I are not alike, less so than you and I, but for the first time
           in ages I found myself falling in love. We moved in together, then pur-
           chased a house, contemplated marriage, but I knew he wanted a family
           and from the beginning he knew that I did not. I did not tell him that
           I couldn’t, only that I wouldn’t, and soon I found myself with an actual
           Pill prescription from my doctor to continue the ruse, and curious about
           the effects I took them.”
               “It has to end.”
               “In tears. True. It must, that I know, but I wanted it to last longer, and
           he felt that if it lasted long enough the mythical biological clock would
           tick, that I would change my mind. Then the unexpected happened.”
           She props herself on her right elbow and explores his textured torso
           with a finger. “Those hormone pills did effect me, less physiologically

WFC Book 1.indb 131                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:02 PM

                  and more emotionally, and I had an urge to conceive.”
                     “Hadn’t you tried and failed before?”
                     “I knew so much less about my body then. But now, I knew I had no
                  viable eggs, so donors. The first implant lasted a few weeks, the second
                  a bit longer, but the third made it nearly to term before being stillborn
                  and deformed in a way I do not wish to describe.” Renee shudders and
                  pulls away, rolls out of bed, strolls to the window, and sits in silhouette.
                  “Mark — that was his name — he suggested adoption, but the illusion
                  was broken and I left.”
                     “And this is why you sought me out?” Todd stands behind her at the
                  window. “Comfort? Familiarity?”
                     “Your help.” They both reflect; their interactions are always so stilted.

                  “And your first memory?” Renee sits beside him on the transatlantic
                  flight, staring out the window at the clouds, at the breaks and the deep
                  pillars of white that stretch longingly toward the ocean below. “Ever
                  since we learned to fly,” she sighs, “clouds lost their magic.”
                     “Winter, perhaps age two or three.” Unlike Renee he avoids the bright
132               reflected morning light and focuses on the device in his hands, on which
                  he continues to tinker. “And the fire. The house burning. Those of us
                  who lived fled, or perhaps the reverse.”
                     “Is that why for so long you visited death upon others?” Her voice is
                  more curiosity than accusation, informed by a century of psychotherapy
                  and trauma as diagnostic paradigm. She looks up; he looks down.
                     “You mean the boats and rats?”
                     “For example. When I first heard of the fire in London, I thought of
                  you as well.”
                     “That fire was not mine. As for the plague, for years I told myself it
                  was a prank that escalated, that I simply lost control. I got sick, too, you
                  know. The fever, the black swelling.”
                     “But you got better.”
                     “We always did, always do. But I did not want to; I hoped that per-
                  haps that time it would be final, that I would not get up again.”
                     “I always hated the pain, not the dying itself,” she whispers.
                     “The drowning —”
                     “— and washing ashore, unable to breathe until I cough up enough
                  water but feeling the tightness in my chest the entire time.”

WFC Book 1.indb 132                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:03 PM
                                                                            John 3, 1–5

              “And fire —”
              “— I think that could end it all, but each time I tried it, each time,
           and there were many, I screamed, howled, even as I melted, and pulled
           away, threw myself to the ground to put out the flames, and wept once
           I again had tears.”
              “And you could not share it, for until you healed no one could or
           would set eyes upon you, and after you healed there were no scars, no
           history or evidence?”
              “I think that is why I stopped trying to end it all, why I settled into a
           series of comfortable lifestyles.” She relates this and tales of her earlier
           trips from Istanbul to Vienna, to Venice, to Florence, the trafficking of
           scrolls and scholars. “It was so long after the boat incident, you real-
           ize, but in part it was in response to you, to undo the damage you did,
           but, I suppose, also an attempt on my part to live, even if it had to be
              They fall back into silence. A meal — in beef, chicken, and vegetarian
           varieties — is served; glasses of water, wine, and soft drinks are distrib-
           uted and then collected; a movie, edited for content, plays. Passengers
           stumble aft to the lavatories; turbulence leads to the lighting of fasten-
           seatbelt lights; more beverages are served and another movie follows                      133
           the first.
              “Every time I come back, I remember it, the first moments of con-
           sciousness, of reawakening, but I do not remember the first time, my
           birth. I want to remember that.”

           In San Francisco they leave the airport and begin a search for
              “I know that he is not the first, but of those of us we know, he is the
           oldest, isn’t he?”
              “He endures it the best, but learned to keep himself apart, which is
           why you need my help, isn’t it?”
              “Finding him, yes. And because of what we had. I never forgot that,
           and I do not blame you.” They travel by car, down the coast. She drives
           but he provides the directions.
              “If we had not undergone the change, we would not be here to discuss
           it now —”
              “— but we could have been together; we could have had our own

WFC Book 1.indb 133                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:03 PM

                  children. And they could have had children, down the line.”
                     “Looking for the back door to paradise, you mean?”
                     “It’s a modern conceit of mine. I did not think in such a way back
                  then; I needed Milton and Kleist; I needed Latin to die and vulgar lan-
                  guages to flourish.” They stop at a roadside vegetable market near Half-
                  Moon Bay, then further south in a forested park, and then later near
                  Monterey. “Joshua had children, I think, but from before the change. I
                  think he used to visit them, keep track of them over the centuries.”
                     “My flesh rots.” There is a sudden bitterness in her voice. “I think of
                  it as a pear, an overripe giant pear in a sweltering room, a cellar, musty,
                  grimy, mottled skin cracking, lush flesh leaking, bugs over me, inside
                  me. The human body is so full of parasites, intestinal bacteria, the tape
                  worms, the yeast, the fungus under nails, and these things fail to take
                  hold, and my meat they cannot eat. I am barren to them. My cells still
                  divide and do not suffer from telomere shortening; I produce undif-
                  ferentiated stem cells that regenerate damaged organs and appendages;
                  and my immune system defeats all infections. I am a living cancer.”
                  Renee’s fingers grasp the wheel; her knuckles whiten. “I did not ask for
                  this undeath.”
134                  With Joshua, Renee hopes, they can combine his knowledge of the
                  human body with Todd’s technological genius. “I have to do this, you
                  know. It surprises me that you, that Joshua, that any of us are still sane.
                  It’s not all biochemical, not all cells and altered DNA. There are the
                  plaques, shale-like buildups in the brain, the prion disorders my white
                  cells cannot defeat, that my stem cells cannot regenerate.” Her recitation
                  of diseases to which even immortality does not provide immunity fades
                  as the miles go by. “We become real zombies.”
                     Halfway down the coast near Cambria they find the man, a mixture
                  of hermit, sculptor, and guru, lean but muscular, bearded but groomed.
                  Nudes fill his home overlooking the surf, but in the basement bubble
                  beakers. “The famous still life paintings,” he explains, “come from an age
                  when most still believed in spontaneous generation, of life from mere
                  material. Only later did we learn that not only was that nonsense, but
                  that every living cell is a daughter cell, its mother a daughter, and so
                  on, back through time to those original prokaryotes. We still have not
                  become creators of life from nothing.”
                     For all his lifetimes spent in study of the human form, Joshua informs
                  Renee with soft regret, even with the newest technology he cannot re-

WFC Book 1.indb 134                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:03 PM
                                                                          John 3, 1–5

           make her human. His tubes produce only proteins, his sculptures never
           move on their own, yet gears in Todd’s mind spin in harmony and plans
           take form. “The mind matters,” he mutters, “and even when old cells die,
           skin is shed, as long as the mind remains we think of ourselves as our

           When Renee’s body dies they reduce it to ashes and observe it for
           weeks, and only when after this time no sign of life emerges from the
           grey dust does Todd fully disassemble the wires, electrodes, and circuitry
           that had connected her nervous system to that of a fetus growing in the
           womb of a young woman named Lily, a friend of Joshua’s, though Todd
           safeguards the design in case he, too, chooses a new life. Joshua knows
           that his own time has not yet come. Lily separates from her boyfriend
           but chooses to keep the child, and she returns home to her mother in
           that old Pennsylvania steel town. Todd leaves for Paris and returns to
           the nomadic life.
              Lily’s mother throws a baby shower, inviting neighbors and friends,
           and shortly thereafter Lily experiences contractions two and a half min-
           utes apart, though she has weeks left before the due date. When her                     135
           water breaks her family rushes her to the hospital for an early delivery.
              Hours later, reawakened, Renee experiences her rebirth.

WFC Book 1.indb 135                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:03 PM

                  In Dublin you can get a cappuccino two minutes from anywhere,
                  says the girl on the travel show. I bet you can get a blowjob two minutes
                  from anywhere also, in old Dublin town. But this is the lifestyle slot,
                  so they don’t mention anything that might leave a sour taste in your
                  mouth. That’s why she’s standing in front of the General Post Office
                  talking about coffee, and not about what happened there in April 1916.
                     If you’re standing halfway along O’Connell street in Dublin, you’re
                  never more than two minutes away from a bullet-hole.

                  The last place I ever took Sally to lunch was Barnacle Bill’s seafood
                  restaurant. I ordered for both of us, and handed over $12.75 in exchange
                  for a folded piece of plastic that shows your table number. Sally liked
                  being outside, so we sat in the al fresco area overlooking the carpark. I
                  got the battered fish with oven fries, and a blob of tartar sauce squeezed
                  into a scallop shell. Sally got the seafood platter and ate the whole lot
                  with her fingers, including the salad. Then she lit a smoke and waited
                  for me to catch up.
                     On this day we were on our way to pick up an orphaned Irish setter.
                  Sally was part of a group of people who care way too much. The thing
                  they did was look after pets whose owners had died, until they found
                  them a new home. What this meant for me was that I shared a house
                  with neurotic cats and dogs in various stages of mourning. I was always
                  coming home to a new and interesting problem. Like an obese angora
                  rabbit with low self-esteem and a thousand-mile stare; or some grieving

WFC Book 1.indb 136                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:03 PM

           poodle stuck in Stage 1: Denial, howling into dark cupboards and the
           spaces under beds.
              We found the Irish setter in good spirits, despite the fact that she was
           heavily pregnant and had just spent two days locked in a two-bedroom
           flat with a dead man. For the trip home, Sally wound the windows down
           an inch or so, so the setter could take in all the smells of small-town
           Saturday. This it did with a frantic intensity, back and forth across the
           seat, trying to put its nose out of every window at once.
              “Five minutes,” I said, “is all the time you’ll need in Dublin to get a
           coffee and a blowjob.”
              Sally opened her mouth wide and tried to look surprised, because she
           knew that’s what I like her to do when I’m telling these stories.
              Then she laughed.
              And feigned a shocked expression.
              And lit her smoke.
              And glanced into the back seat.
              All at the same time.
              Then something terrible happened.

              Sometimes you ask a question and it leads to more questions. My                       137
           neighbour Kevin is a documentary filmmaker. You may have seen his
           stuff on TV. While he’s asking freedom fighters if they think they’ll
           ever see their families again, I’ll be feeding his cat and emptying his
           letterbox. To get good footage, he’ll eat, sleep, and bathe with them for
           a week. He’ll get inside their lives. Then when they’re used to him be-
           ing around, they’ll put down their M-16s and brush their hair and tell
           the camera about the day their wife was raped and shot by government
           troops. The next day he’ll come home and spend a slow Saturday pick-
           ing weeds out of his lawn and making the edges neat with a spade.
              I ask him how he does it. How he walks away from all that madness
           and just slides back into suburbia.
              “If I wasn’t cleaning the gutters and mowing the lawns, I couldn’t do
           what I do for a living. After I’ve been away I have to get my mind clear.
           This is what I do to reset myself.”
              “What do you mean?” I push.
              He pulls off his gardening gloves and scratches his neck.
              “Do you remember the tsunami? At Christmas.”
              “Sure. The Boxing day thing.”

WFC Book 1.indb 137                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:04 PM

                     “Well, we were travelling on foot with some people from the Red
                  Cross. We’d hiked into this village in West Sumatra, and there was
                  this young girl just standing there watching us approach. She’s sepa-
                  rated from us by piles of household furniture. Chairs, mattresses, tables.
                  Things you just shouldn’t see out in the street. It was quite a surreal mo-
                  ment. Anyway, one of the Red Cross nurses walks up and asks the girl,
                  where are her parents. The girl raises her arm and points, and there they
                  are. Just arms and legs just sticking up out of the mud. Without a word,
                  my sound guy puts down his boom mic and walks for a day and a half
                  out of the jungle. Then he hops on a plane and goes home. That was it
                  for him. When I got back I went to see him. He was totally destroyed.
                  He just couldn’t reset any more. I think in the end he was defeated by
                  his own humanity.”

                  When I was seven, our cat crawled into my sister’s unmade bed and spat
                  out four greasy, writhing kittens into a wet bloodstain on the sheet. It
                  was both disgusting and amazing, watching her licking them all over,
                  her tongue poking an uncomfortably long way out of her mouth. The
                  amazing part was that she knew exactly what to do, like she was born
138               to do it. The kittens rocked back against the rhythm of her licking, like
                  they were born to do that too. All of them dancing in unison to a beat
                  no one else could hear.
                     Watching the Irish setter give birth wasn’t like that. When I woke up,
                  she was lying next to me on the road, and they were just sort of leaking
                  out of her. She kept trying to sit up but her back legs didn’t seem to be
                  working. I couldn’t make my legs work either. After a while she stopped
                  trying, and I reached across and put a hand on her until she lay still.

                  Standing barefoot at the tideline, I skip a tennis ball across the hard
                  sand towards the dunes. Tess pelts into a wide, pre-emptive arc behind
                  it, catching it effortlessly mid-bounce. I tire of it before she does and sit
                  down in the sand, waiting for her to pad over and drop next to me.
                      Waiting for the sky to grow orange.
                      Waiting for the gulls to say something wise.
                      Waiting for I don’t know what.
                      Stage five maybe.
                      Tess is getting too big for my lap but when she’s tired she’ll try to
                  sit on me anyway. So now I’m wondering how strange we must look. A

WFC Book 1.indb 138                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:04 PM

           lanky man with a buzz cut sitting on a beach, with a gangly Irish setter
           squeezing onto his lap.
              What happens to us next is that the tide reaches up and spills cold
           water into the hollow that we’ve made in the sand. This surprises me
           and I don’t know why. I probably should have seen it coming. Things
           can only ebb and flow for so long before something breaks the rhythm.
           The sun goes up and down. A dog runs east and west across the back
           seat of a Holden Astra, trying to smell the whole world moments before
           it disappears.
              Two minutes later, an impossibly small Irish setter wakes up on a cold
              Breathing in. Breathing out.


WFC Book 1.indb 139                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:04 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 140   12/31/07 5:36:04 PM
                                                                   2 plus 3 equals 5

           “I wish you would not ask me that.”
              “Ask what?”
              “How I feel.”
              “I didn’t ask you that.”
              “How are you?” she mimicked, her voice taking a nasty tone.
              He sighed, and he hated sighing, hated what it said about how he
           felt. “It’s what people say. They say, ‘Hi. How are you?’ You could try it
              She glared at him from her cage. “Am I people?”
              He couldn’t answer without looking at her. She was something out of
           a fantasy artist’s dream, with curves, red skin, golden hair, and feathers
           around her eyes, circling her breasts, and making a metallic-looking nest
           of down between her legs. He couldn’t even think about the patterns
           of gold and shining orange down her back, they were so beautiful. She
           stood over four feet high.
              He jerked his eyes back up to hers, gold circles around dark pupils
           stretched wide in the dim light.
              She laughed then, a raucous noise that no human throat could
              “I don’t know,” he said, and sighed again. Why couldn’t the big ques-
           tions like this stay on Star Trek? What does it mean to be human? Is
           Commander Data a person or a toaster? “What do you think you are?”
              “Caged. Stared at,” she spat.
              She had reason for her ire. He flopped into the old vinyl chair, split

WFC Book 1.indb 141                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:05 PM
                  2 plus 3 equals 5

                  and battered, but still more comfortable than anything picked up from
                  a street half a decade ago had a right to be. “I can put on the TV.”
                     “I have no desire to watch fat people lose weight.”
                     “I’m not sure they’re people,” he joked, but regretted it at the look on
                  her face. “How about a movie?”
                     “Things in space that blow up? I think not.”
                     “What do you want?”
                     “Heroic tales! Love and betrayal!”
                     “Not soap operas again,” he said. “Besides, they’re not on right now.”
                     “You have that device. You could tell it to play pictures out of time.”
                     He looked at the TiVo, and back at her. She had the strangest as-
                  sumptions about how things worked. “I never programmed it to record
                  soap operas.”
                     “It does only what you say? Will it not obey me?”
                     “It’s a machine,” he shrugged. “It will obey you fine if you get the
                  remote and know how to program it. Considering what you did to my
                  iPod, I’m not letting you near it.”
                     He bent his head down and pinched the bridge of his nose. Every
                  variation of it seemed like a good idea at the time played through his head.
142               “Note to self,” he thought. “Do not pick up glowing golden eggs found
                  in the remains of a large bird nest.” He had incubated the egg under a
                  lamp and fed the fledgling on lit matches and raisins. Somewhere it had
                  imprinted on him and changed its form, growing into the humanized
                  hybrid glaring at him now.
                     It had been a very strange week. He caged her on Wednesday, after
                  she bit him with a beak that belonged on a full-sized eagle. After that,
                  she had begun to lengthen and curve, her feet reshaping from talons to
                  toes, but skinned in a hide like bird’s feet. By that point, matches were
                  not enough for her to eat.
                     He got up and stepped out from the basement to the patio, where the
                  grill held charcoal for her dinner. It was getting more use than it had all
                  summer. He picked a few pieces up with the tongs and put them in the
                  fire bucket to take back inside.
                     “You hungry?”
                     “All ways,” she said, or at least that was how he heard it, in two dis-
                  tinct words. He watched to make sure she would stay back from the
                  door and put the bucket down on an asbestos pad. She took a piece of
                  charcoal and her mouth opened too wide for her tiny face. He heard the

WFC Book 1.indb 142                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:05 PM

           coal break between her teeth, and then her complaint. “You let it get too
              “Do you want anything else? Trail mix? Snickers?”
              “For dessert, a Snickers, I think. It satisfies.”
              “You can’t believe everything you see in commercials. They’re de-
           signed to make you want things.”
              “Sometimes commercials tell the truth,” she shrugged, and picked up
           another coal with her fingers. “I want chocolate, peanuts and caramel.”
              “Okay, okay.” He heard a knock on the back door. “Wait a second, and
           please keep quiet.” He grabbed a sheet and threw it over her cage before
           opening the door.
              Dan stood there; the normality of his usual polo shirt and chinos was
           almost shocking. “If you’re going to grill something, I think you better
           do it now,” Dan said. “The coals are more than ready.”
              “Yeah, thanks.” He stood aside to let Dan in, not able to think of a
           way to keep him out.
              “Kind of early for barbecue. I’m not interrupting something?”
              He wished he’d said he had a date. He hadn’t slept well in the last
           week, and was thinking slowly. “No.”
              “What’s over there? Your latest invention?” Dan reached for the                       143
           draped sheet.
              “Don’t!” At Dan’s questioning expression he added, “It bites. I, uh, I’m
           looking after someone’s parrot.”
              Dan pulled the sheet up, keeping his hands away from the bars. They
           could see only her hunched back, and he was sure Dan would mistake
           her for a bird.
              “Wow, that’s a big one. Is it asleep?”
              “I hope so. It’s been keeping me up at night. Can you just, y’know,
           please?” He made a vague guesture that he hoped meant to drop the
              “Polly want a cracker?” Dan said before he let the sheet fall.
              From the cage her voice said, “No.”
              Dan looked at him, eyebrows raised. “Wow. Well, I was in the neigh-
           borhood. We missed you at the HuSi-meet. Everything okay?”
              “Yeah. It’s just, well, she’s taken up a lot of my attention,” he said,
           gesturing at the cage.
              “Yeah, I’ve heard that about parrots. Is something burning in here?”
              “Must be the charcoal outside,” he said.

WFC Book 1.indb 143                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:05 PM
                  2 plus 3 equals 5

                     “Yeah,” Dan said. “So?”
                     “So I’m beat and not feeling social.” He felt like a jerk, but he didn’t
                  know how else to get Dan to leave.
                     “All right, then. How long will you have the bird?”
                     “I’m not sure,” he said, and sighed again.
                     A screech issued from the cage, a bird noise laced with human anger.
                  He couldn’t risk Dan’s curiosity.
                     “I have to deal with the bird, and it doesn’t do too well with
                     Dan gave him a funny look, then wiped it off his face before giving a
                  neutral, “Sure. Let’s get a beer some time.”
                     “Sure thing. See you.”
                     “Watch those coals,” Dan said on the way out.
                     He closed the door and pulled the sheet from the cage.
                     “Sorry about that.”
                     “Sorry about that,” she repeated, and the avian coloring ran thick in
                  her voice.
                     They looked at each other and he blushed under her stare. She had
                  caught him late last night, sitting on the stairs where he thought she
144               wouldn’t notice. Jacking off to fantasies of her was not satisfying when
                  the real thing was nearby. He had snuck down as quiet as he could,
                  nursed his hard-on through his pajama pants until he was sure she was
                  still asleep, then stroked himself while looking at her red-gold curves.
                  She slept stretched, her feet curling more than any human’s, but not as
                  much as a bird’s. He imagined how the feathers between her legs would
                  feel under his hand, around the base of his dick, how the slight spur at
                  her heel would dig into his thighs.
                     She had not been asleep, and she had not been amused.
                     “Let me go.” She interrupted his remembered embarrassment with
                  a statement that sounded straight, uninflected, lacking the emotional
                  screeching and the detailed threats that had kept him up until very early
                  in the morning.
                     “I can’t.” He sighed. “You said you’d kill me.”
                     “I won’t if you let me go.”
                     “Where would you go? What would you do? You’re here and like
                  this because of me. If I’d left your egg in the woods, you’d just be a bird.
                  You can’t fly, and you can’t exactly pass for human and have a normal
                  life.” He knew his anger was misdirected, but he didn’t know what else

WFC Book 1.indb 144                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:05 PM

           to do.
              She looked away, and as he watched, she aged. In twenty seconds she
           had become thin and wizened, her feathers falling to the floor of the
           cage. He realized what was happening, and backed toward the door, but
           she was too fast.

           He heard the explosion behind him, stopped the car, and got out to
           watch the ball of smoke rise, raining debris. “Holy shit.” He reached
           instinctively for his cell phone and dialed 911.
              He stayed through the arrival of the fire trucks and the rescue units,
           posting pictures from his camera phone to the Hole and updating the
           rest of their online community about what had happened. He told them,
           and the police, that he thought maybe it had been an accident with
           the grill. The online responses mostly came in single words and short
           phrases, all some variation of “Oh shit.”
              The next day he drove to the house, unable to let go. Walking around
           the edge of the charred wood and melted electronics, he noticed some-
           thing gleaming. He picked his way through wreckage and cleared off
           the soot. It looked like a large egg, and as he put his hand down to pick
           it up, it moved.                                                                        145
              He grabbed it then, and carried it back to his car. He had a box in his
           trunk and some towels left from a trip to the beach, and he made a nest
           for it, the soft gold at odds with the garish colors of the towels.
              He took it home, intending to rig a lamp to incubate the egg, but the
           police were waiting for him. An unmarked car pulled in behind him,
           and he realized it had tailed him home from the house.
              “Daniel Barton MacIntyre?”
              “We’d like to ask you a few questions about the fire yesterday.”
              They found his answers unsatisfying and implied that his fascination
           with the scene of the fire had unhealthy implications. He refused to
           open the trunk of his car, part of him unable to understand why. Despite
           his protestations of innocence, they took him in to the police station
           and called a city tow truck to bring in the car.
              It was warm in the trunk of the car. The egg rocked.

WFC Book 1.indb 145                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:06 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 146   12/31/07 5:36:06 PM
                       WFC 4

WFC Book 1.indb 147         12/31/07 5:36:06 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 148   12/31/07 5:36:06 PM
           WFC4: Sex
           By 2 plus 3 equals 5 (Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 10:49:16 PM EST)

           Since I won the last one, I s’pose I have to host the party.

           Word length: 2000 max
           Closing Date: 27 October, all around the world
           Theme: Sex
           Upload site: Thanks to 256, it’s at http://256k.org/wfc4/

           Is this the opportunity to write that ammoniacal/J1mmy HuSi/
           K5 cross over slash fiction you’ve always wanted to write? Can
           you now post your Webwench/Merekat fantasy, or write the
           NC-17 version of StackyMcRacky and clock’s first time?


           Rule number 1: Real people are Right Out. I have no sense
           of humor about this and will ask 256 to delete such stories.
           Whether he does so is up to him.

           The purpose of this rule is to avoid things like ammoniacal/J1mmy
           crossover slash, or the other examples in the intro. It makes you look
           stupid. Or maybe it just annoys me. I won’t know if you change the
           names to protect the guiltyinnocent, and besides, a whole shitload of
           “fiction” of any kind would be Right Out if writers couldn’t borrow for
           characters from people they knew.

WFC Book 1.indb 149                                                                  12/31/07 5:36:06 PM
                  Rule number 2: If your story has explicit descriptions of sex,
                  put NSFW in the upload title.

                  Rule number 3: Uploading closes when I realize it’s no longer
                  October 27, and I ask 256 to please shut down the upload link,
                  and he gets around to it.

                  Why sex? Because debacle said the use of masturbation in my
                  story was a little gratuitous. Because I thought “She Said” was
                  better than “Egg.”

                  What am I looking for? Stories about the aftermath of sex, the
                  meaning of sex, what the desire for sex makes us do. About
                  how to talk about sex, or not. About not having sex.

                  Go write. You have time before NaNo to finish and then to read
                  and vote.


WFC Book 1.indb 150                                                          12/31/07 5:36:07 PM
                                       Universal Fantasy                      aethucyn

           He stepped out onto the balcony. Every apartment in the complex
           had one; it was a major selling point. Having your own balcony must
           be one of those universal fantasies, a replacement for the white picket
           fence. He’d never used his for anything but smoking. No chairs or
           against-regulation barbecues. Just the ashtray. There was no romance to
           it. Even when Jean joined him, they’d never kiss because she’d complain
           of his cigarette breath.
               He lit his Camel, and tried not to think of Jean. He was no more
           successful this time than any other. She was out of town for two weeks.
           Her dance troupe had been hired to do a scene in a movie. They were an
           amateur group, at most performing at local festivals and talent shows.
           But somebody recorded them one night and put it up on the inter-
           net, where they were discovered by an up-and-coming director. He flew
           them out to LA to perform in a scene.
               Garrett was as excited and pleased as Jean was. He assured her that
           while he’d miss her, he thought it was a great opportunity. It wasn’t
           until she was gone that the misgivings started. He tried calling her on
           Monday but she didn’t answer the cell. No problem, she was probably
           on set, maybe dancing at that very moment. He smiled at the thought.
           He’d first met her dancing at a club and was mesmerized by her. She
           loved dancing more than anything in the world and had started taking
           lessons when she was five.
               “I thought I’d have a career in ballet. That is until these —” she pushed
           her breasts together and up, “— showed up.”

WFC Book 1.indb 151                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:07 PM

                     His sympathy was only half-hearted at best.
                     Now, though, he imagined her dancing in front of that director. The
                  swaying of her body that had first drawn Garrett to her. The look on her
                  face that he’d failed to duplicate, even in their most passionate sessions.
                  Then, he’d think of the director deciding that maybe she should dance
                  alone. Maybe he didn’t even need a dancing scene, but had just been
                  enamored of her, had to draw her to him. He’d take her to dinner. She’d
                  be flattered. A small town dancer with a Hollywood director. Universal
                     He stubbed out his cigarette and immediately lit another. That was
                  the scenario that he couldn’t help but imagine all week. It kept creeping
                  into his thoughts at work on Tuesday. He missed his exit on his way
                  home on Wednesday. Thursday, the feeling of dread made him toss out
                  his lunch after a couple bites. Finally, Friday morning, he awoke from a
                  dream version of it. Her legs wrapped around the director’s waist while
                  he grunted into her. And then she turned her head to look at Garrett
                  where he stood watching and unable to tear his gaze away. Then she
                     He awoke angry and far more aroused than he was comfortable with.
                  He knew that he had to purge himself of the dream. All day long, he
                  tried to figure out a way to do it. He could fly out there for the weekend.
                  Surprise her. It would be sweet. Maybe he’d even propose. She’d like
                  that; knowing how much he’d missed her. It wouldn’t be like checking
                  up on her. It would just be . . .
                     No, that wasn’t going to do.
                     By the end of the day, he’d come to realize that the only thing worse
                  than not trusting her would be if she knew that he didn’t trust her. No
152               trip to California. Instead, he made a trip to the bar. His plan was that if
                  he was overflowing with alcohol, there’d be no space in him for anything
                  else. He knew it wasn’t a good plan, but after two drinks, he had already
                  redefined good.
                     It was close to eleven when the woman entered the bar. Most every-
                  body was dressed in casual shirts and jeans, and thus everybody’s eyes
                  followed her across the room to where she sat down next to Garrett. She
                  wore a red cocktail dress that displayed everything to good effect. She
                  ordered a shot of vodka, tossed it back, and nodded at the bartender for
                  another. When she’d finished that one as well, Garrett offered to buy

WFC Book 1.indb 152                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:07 PM
                                                                    Universal Fantasy

           her next. She favored him with a smile that let him know that he wasn’t
           entirely wasting his time.
              “A gentleman?” she asked.
              Garrett shrugged. “Not really.”
              “Good. A gentleman would be insufficient for my needs this eve-
           ning.” She gave his knee a squeeze. Universal fantasy.
              In Garrett’s car, she informed him that this would be a one-time
           thing. Don’t expect to see her again, ’cause really, she didn’t do this sort
           of thing. Her fiancé had just broken their engagement to be with an-
           other woman.
              “And you want to hurt him?”
              “How would this hurt him? No, I just want to forget him, at least
           for a little while.” For a moment, she looked stricken, like she’d said too
           much. Then she leaned over and licked Garrett’s neck. They didn’t speak
           the rest of the ride.

           Now he stared down at the quiet courtyard. It was late, and even the
           shouts of the college boys had receded into the past. He was only wear-
           ing a pair of boxers and his legs were covered with goose-pimples.
              “One more,” he decided, and lit yet another cigarette.
              The woman stepped out beside him. She helped herself to his pack
           and leaned in close to light her cigarette off of his. She took a drag and
           blew it out, enveloping herself in the haze. Her eyes glanced over him
           with disinterest, as if she didn’t even recognize the man she’d been fuck-
           ing a short time ago.
              “I thought you were asleep,” he noted.
              “Just dozing.”
              He nodded. “Feeling any better?”                                                       153
              “Not really. You?”
              They stood there side by side, staring at the sky and wondering when
           the night would end.

WFC Book 1.indb 153                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:07 PM
                  Well-Intentioned Modesty

                  It was clearly time. The various dependents, critters, and homeless
                  waifs they’d taken in over the years had found their feet and voted with
                  them, going on to their rewards, callings, or just deserts. So the place,
                  though still inhabited by the increasingly decrepit proprietors of yore,
                  already felt empty — at once silent and filled with echoes.
                     She found a place for them where there’d be other people around to
                  help if they needed it, and began the long sad task of sorting, packing,
                  and discarding a lifetime of memories.
                     “Oh, my.” She sat on the edge of their bed, her knees suddenly weak-
                  ened. “D’you remember this?” she asked.
                     It was hard to remember that those very focused, deep brown eyes no
                  longer saw anything. It’s a wonderful thing to be so well loved that one’s
                  partner doesn’t need to see in order to know.
                     She answered the quizzical look. “I had it on the first time we met.”
                     “I remember.” That smile. “Well, part of you had it on.” She loved
                  being teased, loved that he knew that about her. Everyone else was way
                  too respectful.
                     “You made it yourself, didn’t you?” he asked.
                     “On the sewing machine my mother gave me for graduation. I won-
                  der if she thought I’d put aside all that ‘doctor stuff ’ and be domestic or
                     He laughed. “Against hope,” he said. “Engineering is in your blood.”
                     “Yeah.” She moved to the mirror, holding the dress up in front of her.

WFC Book 1.indb 154                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:08 PM
                                                              Well-Intentioned Modesty

           Then, with a glance at the chair in which he sat, she flipped her everyday
           dress over her head and replaced it with the bib-front wraparound.
              “I do love seeing you naked,” he said.
              “In your dreams,” she laughed.
              “It never did fit very well,” he said.
              “No. Though if I’d thought about it as an engineer, it might have.”
              He snickered gently. She loved the variety of expressiveness in his
           laughter. “Then where would we be?” he asked.
              “Not here, for sure,” she said. “And, well, I rather fancied the model
           on the outside of the pattern,” she admitted, thankful that he could no
           longer see her blush.
              He was smiling.

           The bib looked like it might be uncomfortably narrow . . .
              She watched his eyes roll off her face to her shoulders, bare but for a
           tie under her hair.
              . . . so she cut it four inches wider . . .
              His eyes rolled down the shapely spine she turned toward him.
              . . . which meant that the neck strap (which moved not at all), due to the
           tensions and forces involved . . .
              Up again and forward over her shoulder, and then, like an ice cube
           her brother had once put down her shirt, dropped into her exposed
              . . . bent the top of the bib several precious inches away from her sternum.
              A kind of deliciously chilly thrill of exhibitionism, through well-
           intentioned modesty.

           She lifted him up, danced him across the bedroom, turned to push her                         155
           bare back against his chest, and taking his hand, put it where his eye
           would never go again.
             The other hand remembered where the tie was at her waist. It re-
           membered where her breasts had been, then.
             She found that they remembered him, too. This last time in a bed-
           room of their own. Perhaps the new apartment would be like her apart-
           ment, all those years before.
             She laughed aloud, at how clumsy that had been, too overcome with
           the hurry of the moment to take time to think of the geometry prob-

WFC Book 1.indb 155                                                                          12/31/07 5:36:08 PM

                  lems, of coefficients of friction. Or, she supposed, for the poet, how
                  hard it is to build a line in tens, or find the rhymes that sonnets would
                  demand. Need, transcending the physical details.
                     Creative ambiguity. You’d think, being naked and all, that it would
                  matter, all the physicality. But no. Not, at least, until it came time to un-
                  pile, remember which appendages were whose, which garments fit the
                  strangely, and temporarily, separated bodies. Always temporary.
                     She closed his eyes, folded the dress and placed it very gently atop the
                  discard pile, found jeans and a t-shirt, and went in search of a telephone.
                  As she listened to it ringing, one sob told of the end of always.


WFC Book 1.indb 156                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:08 PM
                                         A Harsh Mistress                     toxicfur

           “What’s this?”
              I look up, startled and guilty. I mean, she knows I watch porn, but
           I’ve never actually been caught in the act, and God knows I’ve never
           watched porn with her. It’s just too weird. I glance behind me and try
           to figure a subtle way of moving a pillow from the couch to my lap, just
           so she’ll stop staring at my crotch. I settle for drawing my knees up, as
           close to my chin as they’ll go.
              “I . . . Carrie.” I clear my throat. “I mean — weren’t you supposed to be
           coming back tomorrow?” Which is worse, shutting off the video or just
           letting it run like nothing is . . . odd?
              “You’re blushing.” She’s smirking. I blush harder. “Whatcha
              “Oh.” I fumble for the remote and grope for the power button.
           “Nothing, really.”
              She sits on the floor beside me, taking off her shoes and squeezing
           the antique shag carpeting with her bare toes. Our shoulders brush, and
           I fight the desire to move away from her.
              “C’mon, Josh, turn it back on.” I’ve never been able to ignore a direct
           order. The DVD menu pops up, asking if I want to continue or begin
              “Well?” I ask. “The beginning?”
              “Sure. Do you mind?” She rubs the top of my bare foot and I flinch. I
           can’t help it. She doesn’t seem to notice, and winds her fingers between
           my toes.

WFC Book 1.indb 157                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:08 PM

                     “Nah, it’s fine. I’d just started.”
                     She smirks again and glances at my lap. “I can see.”
                     Any blood that had been making its way to my groin backtracks and
                  heads to my face, so I stretch my legs back out in front of me, moving my
                  feet out of her reach. The movie restarts with the obligatory bah-chicka-
                  bowow music, backed by ominous synthesized drums. A full moon fills
                  the screen, and Carrie giggles at the visual pun. A 1940s newsreel–style
                  title spins into view, almost invisible where the white text crosses the
                  pale yellow moon.
                     “Hee,” she says. “Heinlein porn.”
                     “Not really.” I’m getting defensive. “They just took the title. And the
                  moon as a setting. That’s all. It doesn’t have anything to do with over-
                  throwing an evil government.”
                     “I thought you’d just started it.” She gives me a look that means to be
                  teasing but seems leering.
                     “Just what I got from the back of the DVD.”
                     The camera zooms in on a woman with short dark hair, wearing a
                  tunic and thigh-high boots. She carries a whip. She is improbably tall
                  and muscular. “I didn’t know you had an SM kink.”
                     “I don’t.” I speak too fast and try to take a breath. “I just got this be-
                  cause Eric recommended it when we went to Good Vibrations. I was
                  just there to look for your birthday gift. I thought it would be funny.”
                     She puts her hand on my thigh and rubs, a little too high. I want to
                  leave. Maybe I want her to leave. What I really want is for her to have
                  stayed away the extra day, like she’d said she would. Then none of this
                  would be happening. I’d be watching aliens, explosions, and porn cen-
                  tering around a muscular woman with a whip. All at once.
158                  The character on the screen is talking, and I’m not sure whether to
                  pay attention or try to tune the whole thing out. She cracks her whip at
                  a blonde man, tanned to a deep bronze, on his knees.
                     “Please, Princess Lolicia. It was an accident,” the man whimpers.
                  “Forgive me.”
                     The Princess cracks the whip again. “Traehearn, you have displeased
                  me. You have disappointed me with your carelessness. The floor must be
                     Traehearn removes his loincloth — the only piece of cloth in evi-
                  dence — and scrubs the invisible mess on the spotless tile floor.
                     “Ok, wait,” Carrie says. She grabs the remote from my lap and pauses

WFC Book 1.indb 158                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:08 PM
                                                                     A Harsh Mistress

           the movie with the man’s frighteningly large cock centered and slightly
           out of focus. “I know that whips will crack on the moon. The speed of
           sound won’t be significantly different, if the air molecules are approxi-
           mately in the same ratios as on earth. But watch this dude. He’s moving
           along like his knees hurt. On the moon, he’d weigh one-sixth of what he
           would on earth. He should be gliding along. Did they actually read the
           book before they made this movie? They should know that.”
              I stay very still and quiet. This is not going even a little well. Carrie
           pokes play and leaves her thumb on the pause button. The man makes
           his way toward the Princess on his hands and knees, head down, focus-
           ing on his task. The Princess brings the whip down on his back with the
           awkwardness of someone not being paid nearly enough.
              “She’s stoned,” says Carrie. “Look. A real top would’ve laid a straight
           line on his back. That’s just sloppy.”
              My cock shrinks another couple of millimeters. Carrie continues to
           rub my thigh. I think of going to bed, claiming that I’m tired. Carrie
           would see through my ruse. I would be not punished but mocked for
           disappointing her.
              The scene shifts abruptly. A black frame, as if there had once been a
           commercial break, provides the transition. A slim, dark-haired man on
           a dais protests Princess Lolicia’s iron rule to a large, cheering group. The
           group cheers, and I cringe, expecting an orgy to erupt.
              “See! It is Heinlein porn,” Carrie says.
              “Eric didn’t say anything about this part,” I mutter.
              “Looks like they could’ve used better sound production,” Carrie con-
           tinues. “Shit, GarageBand could’ve done better.”
              “GarageBand didn’t exist when this movie was made,” I say. I stretch
           and move slightly away. Carrie lays her head in my lap.                                   159
              “And they probably couldn’t have afforded it on their budget,” she
           says into my leg.
              The dark-haired man leaves the dais and wildly searches for someone,
           spinning people toward him at random.
              “It’s a cast of tens,” Carrie says. “I know I’ve seen that one red-haired
           woman three times already.”
              Finally, he finds who he’s looking for — the blonde man from the first
           scene. “Traehearn. You must help me,” he says. “We mustn’t live under
           this tyranny any longer. You’re my only hope.”
              “They’ll never take . . . our freeeedom!” Carrie cries. I bite back my

WFC Book 1.indb 159                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:09 PM

                  shut the fuck up, not wanting to hear the inevitable double entendre. I
                  shift under the weight of her head. Her shoulder digs into my leg even
                     The dark man touches Traehearn’s back and examines the smear of
                  blood on his fingers. He brings it to his lips. “Why must you put your-
                  self in these situations?”
                     “It’s for you, Gavril. But we mustn’t be seen together.”
                     “Come with me.”
                     Carrie takes my hand and pulls it to her head. I absently pet her hair.
                  It’s my favorite part of her body. Soft.
                     The two men are in a small room, floating. Well, suspended from
                  wires that are almost invisible.
                     “Ok, that’s just wrong.” Carrie sits up and finds the pause button just
                  as Gavril smoothly unties Traehearn’s loincloth. “Why, on the moon,
                  would there be a room with no gravity? And why would they go to a
                  room with no gravity to fuck? This plot makes no sense.”
                     “It’s porn. It’s not supposed to make sense.” I hold my breath. Carrie
                  pokes play and jams the remote against my crotch. I grunt and Carrie
                  mutters an apology. Traehearn’s loincloth floats away and he yanks down
                  Gavril’s pants.
                     Carrie presses pause again. She’s agitated enough that she can’t sit
                  still. Traehearn’s frozen head is level with Gavril’s erect cock. Carrie
                  turns to look at me. Her face is set to Physics 101 lecture. “Even more
                  wrong. Let’s say there’s no gravity here, ok? That’s why they’re floating.
                  Stipulate that?” I nod, playing the dutiful student. “So, they have no
                  gravity. The whipped guy — what’s his name —”
                     “Traehearn,” I say. She ignores me.
160                  “— pulls the other guy’s pants toward the floor. It’s not down. There’s
                  no down in zero G. In this case, Newton’s third law of motion states
                  that with no gravity, the other guy is going to go toward the floor in the
                  direction of the force, and the whipped guy will go shooting toward the
                  ceiling. Equal and opposite force. And the pants will stay attached. Sex
                  in zero gravity is just stupid. No way around Newton’s third law.”
                     “Do you just want to turn it off?” I plead. I now longer care about her
                     “No, this is fun.”
                     My penis is a dead bit of bloodless flesh between my legs. Please.
                     Traehearn takes Gavril’s dark penis into his mouth, making a show of

WFC Book 1.indb 160                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:09 PM
                                                                      A Harsh Mistress

           stretching his mouth around the girth and of working his tongue along
           its head, tracing its slit, slowly working down its shaft. It glistens. The
           expression on Gavril’s face tells me Traehearn knows what he’s doing.
              “This is hot,” Carrie says. She lays her head back in my lap and moves
           my hand to her breast. I squeeze it gently, tentatively. She pushes the
           pause button again. “Did you know this was gay porn?”
              “It’s omnisexual porn. It’s not gay porn.”
              “It’s hot. I can’t believe you bought this, though.”
              “Eric . . .” I say. I think better of saying anything. Gavril’s come splat-
           ters on Traehearn’s face, and the camera zooms in, just a little too late.
           They throw back their heads in mirrored ecstasy. The door opens behind
           them, and they float gently to the ground. The Princess is silhouetted in
           the doorway. She cracks her whip.
              “She’s still stoned,” Carrie mutters. The Princess strides in, shoulders
           thrown back, leather tunic pulling tightly against her breasts.
              “In one-sixth gravity,” Carrie says, “her boobs wouldn’t sag that
              The Princess motions behind her and two other men arrive, flanking
           her. “They must be punished,” she says, gesturing with her whip.
              “Just relax,” one of the new men stage-whispers to the dark hero.
           “We’re on your side. We will overthrow her. We will be free.”
              “Here’s the orgy,” Carrie says. “I thought it would happen back at the
           speech.” The Princess joins the foursome, apparently overwhelmed by
           the display of testosterone. Carrie is quiet and traces the inseam of my
           pants with her thumb. I may as well be watching a prostate exam on The
           Learning Channel.
              Carrie presses pause again and rubs my hand against her breast. “This
           may be ‘omnisexual’ porn,” she says. “But it’s definitely not made for                      161
           straight men.”
              “I’m a straight man,” I protest. “We don’t all want —”
              She reaches into the flap on my pajama bottoms. Her watch catches
           and she twists it loose, roughly shoving my legs apart. Her fingernails
           dig into my skin.
              “Prove it.”

WFC Book 1.indb 161                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:09 PM
                  Counting Down

                  I was never afraid of death until the day I got out of prison.
                     A year less a day of my life had been swallowed up Inside. Three
                  hundred and sixty-four bloated days. A stretch of endless time filled
                  with cigarettes, stupid prattling, and rereading of the same tired, beaten
                  books. An eternity of depression and degradation punctuated only by
                  unpredictable senseless brutality and, twice, sudden relocation to an-
                  other distant and slightly more luxurious cage.
                     And then suddenly it was over and my mom was waiting for me in
                  the same brown station wagon I remembered from Before. Not for me,
                  being fetched from the gates by old lovers or hombres. And she was
                  smiling and waving and there was a paper bag in the passenger seat full
                  of chocolate and books and a bottle of wine and a dozen little gifts care-
                  fully selected to let me know that she knew who I was. She didn’t quite,
                  but it was close enough to be touching. As I climbed in and pulled the
                  door shut behind me, it creaked slightly as it had ever since I got in that
                  accident when I was sixteen. And then it hit me. One year. Infinity. And
                  it was over. That was when I got the fear of death. That moment when I
                  realized that all finite lengths of time are equal.

                  “Three months,” she says. I look up at her from where I am stretched
                  out starfish on the floor, trying to touch every naked inch of me to the
                  hardwood. She sits perched half-lotus on the green armchair we found
                  on the curb. Her black hair limply frames her as she leans forward to
                  peer down at me, blonde roots just starting to betray her.

WFC Book 1.indb 162                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:09 PM
                                                                      Counting Down

              I say nothing.
              She’ll be gone three months. I know she wants me to say that it’s not
           that long. She wants me to tell her it will be gone in a flash. But at the
           same time she wants me to fear it. Just a little.
              But I’ve drifted back to that time Inside. I try to pretend that it’s not
           all there is to me, the filter through which the rest of me must pass,
           second to second. And it’s not. Not in the way you might think. I served
           my time. I survived. I didn’t grow hard and I didn’t lose myself. But I lost
           time. I lost more than a year less a day. I lost it all.
              I’m thinking about the last morning. The three hundred and sixty-
           fourth time I lined up for breakfast. I remember thinking: This is it. The
           last breakfast line. Never again do I have to do this.
              And now I’m thinking about that transcendental fuck, not ten min-
           utes in the past. And I’m wondering: Was that it? The last time I cum
           inside her. Will I never do this again?
              I say nothing.
              Three months is a long time. Three months is nothing at all. I believe
           these things. I should say them, but I couldn’t make them come out
           right. Not the way she wants to hear them. I couldn’t manage the an-
           ticipation of pain overshadowed by unreasonable hope. Whenever I talk
           about time, my voice drips death.
              “Do you think we’ll make it?” she asks.
              Finite time has captured me. There will always be a last time. And
           you’ll never know it.
              I say nothing.
              Her plane leaves in four hours. And even as I was fucking her, I
           was thinking: Is this it? The last thrust. The last groan. The last sweaty
           collapse.                                                                                 163
              Can you imagine how that takes the joy out of it?
              “Say something!” she says.
              If I close my eyes and open them, one second will have passed. I’ll
           close my eyes and open them and it will be a year. Just wait. That’s all
           there is to it. Just wait.
              I say nothing.
              “Fuck you,” she says.
              She pulls on her clothes in silence, stealing moments to glare at me.
           As her sweater goes down, my mind notes it. Right there, I think, the
           last glimpse of her nipple?

WFC Book 1.indb 163                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:09 PM

                     She grabs her bag and storms down the stairs. I count her footfalls.
                  Fourteen. And then, the last time she takes those stairs?
                     Has that not even occurred to her? One more thing done for the last
                  time. One more experience closed off. One more of death’s little book-
                  keepings. She slams the door. For the last time.
                     And quietly I say: “Three months is a long time. Three months is
                  nothing at all.”


WFC Book 1.indb 164                                                                  12/31/07 5:36:10 PM

           My name is Tela and tonight I will dance, as I did last night, as I
           plan to do tomorrow. The infectious beat of the drummers captures me
           completely, as it did last night, as it will tomorrow. The strings of the
           low oud, and higher pitched saz, the sharp ringing percussion of the
           riqq, and breathy whine of the ney, all weave a mysterious counterpoint
           and melody. The bonfire is burning bright and the musicians are already
           playing as I take off my shoes.
              I am not alone on the floor. I am surrounded by other women, my
           friends, my sisters, my teachers, my mothers all encased in the magic
           of dance. Occasionally we will coyly engage each other, mirroring one
           another’s movements, laughing in the whimsy. Snapping, smiling, with
           zills ringing, we dance together and then separate. Working our way
           across carpet-covered sand, surrounding the fire, and beneath the open
           sky, we dance. Even though we all dance together, in the end we are
           each alone in a crowd of color and movement, each alone with her own
           dance, each casting her own spell on the watchers.
              The heavy beads at my throat sway with the isolations of my chest,
           my hips circle slowly, then quicker. Intricate steps follow the pattern
           of the carpet below my feet as I dance. My hands caress the night, as
           the breeze and moonlight caress me in return. I give myself over to the
           strictly controlled motions that the complex rhythm rolling out of the
           dumbek demands. The music whispers to me and makes promises to me
           in the night, nibbling at my ear as I undulate and shimmy.
              A deep sultry heat grows inside me as silk swirls around my ankles,

WFC Book 1.indb 165                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:10 PM

                  coins and bells jingle and ring. One hip flutters as nothing else moves.
                  I maintain this as long as possible, drawing the eye, promising untold
                  delight and love, then I shift my weight to the other hip with the sud-
                  denness of a gunshot, moving on as though I never cared at all. The
                  dance is cruel and compassionate but most of all the dance is power. The
                  audience is mine to control; their eyes, minds, hearts are mine. I take
                  them through the gamut of love and sorrow with a toss of my head; they
                  follow my every step, my every whim, all with a thick undercurrent of
                  lust and wanting. The distance between us intimate, but unassailable, a
                  gulf too wide to cross, an agony too sweet to heal.
                     This is life, love, death, and sorrow. Here there is no fear. Here there
                  is no doubt. Here music, motion, and the night define me. This is every-
                  thing; here I am safe. I am wanton and shy. I am blatant and subdued. I
                  am flirty and unattainable. I am sex. I am joy. I am regret. I am passion.
                  I am unrequited love. I am war. I am maiden, mother, whore, and crone.
                  Every emotion a woman is capable of is made flesh, is made movement
                  in the dance.
                     I weep and laugh. The audience follows.
                     I dance until the musicians can go on no longer. I am drenched and
                  exhausted from the exercise and emotions; the heat grows and con-
                  sumes me. My hands touch my neck and tangle in my dark hair, the
                  music, the moonlight, the dance has had its way with me.
                     Alone in my tent I carefully put away the chunky beaded necklaces,
                  the brass and pewter bracelets and rings. All are so warm from my skin
                  as they go into their individual cases, soon they will grow cold while
                  the fever of my body continues. I untie the heavy dancer’s belt. Fifteen
                  pounds of coins and bells, a dancer’s instrument, clang to the floor in a
166               surprisingly unmusical fashion. The scarves, skirts, and dresses pile up
                  on the floor filling the air with sandalwood and musk. The cold night air
                  is a shock against the warmth of my nude form and causes a delicious
                  chill all the way to my toes.
                     In the distance a lone zurna player continues, lost in the spell of his
                  horn. A few slow, drawn-out movements in the dark follow his solitary
                  melody. My hands trace figure eights on my naked thighs as I continue
                  to move with him. The music trails off and I fall into my bed drained.
                  The only sound is the rustle of my flesh against the blankets. I sleep,
                  languishing in the torpid sweet longing the dance leaves behind.
                     Tomorrow when I wake I will be sixteen. I have never been kissed,

WFC Book 1.indb 166                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:10 PM

           or known a lover’s touch. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like,
           and I’ll draw my fingers slowly over my lower lip to enjoy the tingling
           sensation. I always close my eyes and savor the thought, then discard it
           with a laugh. The women say I intimidate the boys and men, with the
           power I command during the dance, and this pleases me. I have never
           met anyone that brings the heat like the dance does. How can mortal
           lips kiss me the way the music does? How can human hands compare to
           hands of the moonlit night? How could sex ever compare to dance?


WFC Book 1.indb 167                                                                   12/31/07 5:36:11 PM
                  Three Words
                  2 plus 3 equals 5

                  “I love you,” she said, her mouth close enough to my dick that I could
                  feel air moving as she spoke, carrying sound and excess carbon dioxide.
                  It was the first time she’d said it. It’s the kind of thing you expect to hear
                  whispered in your ear, not breathed on your glans.
                     I knew my lines. I was supposed to say that I loved her, too, and
                  then her mouth would descend, and all the porn words like hot and wet
                  would apply. She was good at it. I knew that already, and did not like
                  to think about what that meant about the number or type of her past
                  relationships, or what it said about me that I wondered.
                     But if I’d said the words I love you, too all they would have meant was
                  Please, suck my dick.
                     My silence was answer enough. She moved away and sat back on
                  her heels between my legs. “You weren’t ready for that,” she said as she
                  pushed her hair back from her face.
                     I hated her for a second, but then she reached forward and laid her
                  palm flat, pressing my hard-on into my stomach before wrapping her
                  hand around it and stroking, trailing fingers with painted nails, then
                  rubbing hard and doing nothing predictable and everything that might
                  possibly feel good. I closed my eyes. I could live without a blow job if
                  she gave me this.
                     Her hand stopped and I managed not to whine.
                     “Mmm?” She wanted an answer.
                     “I wasn’t ready for that,” I said. She’d been right, as usual.
                     “Do you believe me?”

WFC Book 1.indb 168                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:11 PM
                                                                            Three Words

              “How can I know how you feel?” I knew I hadn’t kept the that was
           a stupid question tone out of my voice. Her eyes widened and she didn’t
           seem hurt, but I was programmed to apologize.
              “Why are you sorry?” She trailed her fingers down my thigh then sat
           back again.
              “I didn’t mean to sound, I don’t know . . .”
              “I’m not annoyed. I’m just —” I had no idea how to finish that
              She looked down my body, stopping at where my dick bobbed, frus-
           trated. “I think I know what you are right now.” She got off the bed and
           stepped across the room to where her clothes lay draped on my desk
              I sat up and covered myself with the sheet. “It’s not just that. Seriously,
           I mean. I just —”
              “Yes, I heard that part.” She pulled on her shirt, then combed her hair
           with her fingers. It fell perfectly back into place. She tilted her head a
           little, like every stuck-up girl I’d known in high school, like she was
           too good for my room, or for me. I’d never seen the look on her before,
           though I had expected it in the bar that first time, when I went to talk
           to her on a bet. I thought she’d shoot me down, but she had laughed
           at my joke and been so easy to talk with. She didn’t fit the manicure
              I stood up and led her back to the bed. She sat down at the edge and
           I knelt in front of her, reaching up to touch her face, tracing around
           her brown eyes. They still looked distant. “You want me to lie to you?”
           I asked.
              “No.” She shook her head against my palm.                                                169
              “If I’d said I loved you, too, what would you think? Would you believe
              She shrugged my hand away with a toss of her head. I placed it on her
           thigh, on the outside, then trailed my fingers down to her knee.
              “Sex isn’t love.”
              “I didn’t mean it like that.”
              “I believe you,” I said, but I wasn’t sure. “Do you want to go, or stay?” I
           trailed my fingers up her thighs, teasing. It wasn’t fair play; I knew what
           she liked. “Or see what’s on TV?”
              She laughed and reached for a kiss, then lay back, parting her legs. It

WFC Book 1.indb 169                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:11 PM
                  2 plus 3 equals 5

                  was all the answer I needed. I lowered my face and gave her what she
                  wanted, and then some. I didn’t get off until after she fell asleep and I
                  jacked myself in the bathroom.

                  “So. Judith?” Dan asked.
                    “What about her,” I said.
                    “You guys, you know, doing it?”
                    “Do people still ask that?”
                    Dan shrugged. “She any good?”
                    I ignored the question and threw a dart, missed. “Would you lie to
                  get a blow job?”
                    “Hell, yes.”
                    “To someone you liked?”
                    “Trickier. Depends on the lie.”
                    “She used the L word.” I threw again. Missed again.
                    “Cool. Can I watch?”
                    “Not lesbian, asshole. The other L word.”
                    There was a pause as he processed. “Oh.”
                    “Yeah.” The last throw went where I wanted, and I walked up to pull
                  my darts from the cork and write my score.
                    Dan stepped up. “She yanking your chain or think she means it?”
                    “I don’t know. It’s only been a month.”
                    “Six weeks.”
                    “How do you know that?”
                    “It was the last game of the World Series. That was six weeks ago,”
                  Dan said, letting fly with his dart. I was going to lose this one. “You
                  hooked up then.”
170                 “Okay, but six weeks? Love?”
                    “That’s not what you said about that chick with the porn star name.”
                    “Jenna? Don’t remind me about Jenna.”
                    Dan threw again, made his target. “You went crazy-go-nuts over
                    “She was intense.”
                    “She was psycho. Is it true the psycho chicks are the best in bed?”
                    “I don’t know.” Judith was good, maybe better than Jenna, but she
                  didn’t seem psycho.
                    “So did you lie to her?”

WFC Book 1.indb 170                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:11 PM
                                                                          Three Words

              “Pussy. What self-respecting guy wouldn’t lie to get a blow job?”
              “You’re a pig, Dan, you know that?”
              “Yep. You realize this is the first time you’ve talked about her, right?
           No raving, no complaining. You just mention her like she’s a fact of
              “You’re comfortable with her. She’s hot. What’s not to like?”
              “The problem is love.”
              “Like, love, whatever. You seem happier. Best bet I ever won.”
              Dan being insightful was weird. “Could you please go back to being
           a pig?”
              “Sure.” Dan took a long drink of his beer and said, “I’d do her, and I’d
           lie to her for a blow job.”

           “I’m sorry I said it.”
              “Don’t be. It’s okay.”
              “So what now?”
              All I wanted to do was to stand up and look out the window, gather
           my thoughts, and then not talk about it, but we were in a restaurant, a
           nice one, with apology or anniversary meal prices. There was nowhere
           to run.
              “I never told you about Jenna.”
              “Who’s that?”
              “My psycho ex-girlfriend.”
              “Okay.” She waited with her eyebrows raised. That was one thing I
           liked about her, that she could wait for me to answer.
              I looked around the restaurant, anywhere but at her face. “I don’t want
           to talk about her because, blah, blah, damaged by a past relationship,                   171
           yadda, yadda.”
              I looked at her, and kept looking at her, and in this light she was
           more than just pretty, she was beautiful. That was the scary part. Jenna
           had been model pretty and every other guy saw it, too. “Trust issues,”
           was all I said.
              “She fucked around on you.”
              The crude word hit my chest and I sat back. Judith had never cursed
           in my presence. “Yeah.”
              “You don’t think I have issues of my own?”

WFC Book 1.indb 171                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:11 PM
                  2 plus 3 equals 5

                     I closed my eyes for a moment, then reached for my wine. It didn’t
                  taste very good.
                     “Why do you think you love me? You’re damn near perfect, and I’m . . .
                  I’m just me.”
                     “I like you,” she said. “You’re funny and kind, and I’m not perfect. I
                  just try to pretend I am.”
                     “Huh?” This was not going anywhere I expected.
                     “All this?” she said, holding up her hands with the polished nails, then
                  running her fingers through her hair, “this is armor.” Her hair swung
                  back into place, and even I knew it was a good hair cut, an expensive
                  hair cut.
                     “Armor? Protecting yourself from what?”
                     I had a flash of inspiration. “So you told me you loved me to push me
                     “Maybe. It usually works that way.”
                     “And you can’t be straightforward and just break it off because . . . ?”
                  She didn’t fill in the blank. I wasn’t sure if this was girl logic or some-
                  thing else. “Help me out here.”
                     “Blah, blah, damaged goods, yadda, yadda.” Her tone was matter of
                  fact and I couldn’t tell if she was mocking me. “Thanks for dinner,” she
                  said. “Thanks for everything. I’ll get a cab.” She reached for her purse.
                     “Wait. You keep trying to leave, and I won’t stop you, I won’t call you,
                  it can be over. Just tell me one thing. Truth or dare. Give me a straight
                  answer or you buy dinner.”
                     She looked suspicious. “What?”
                     “Why the armor, why the crack about being damaged goods?”
172                  She smiled. “Bzzt. That’s two questions.”
                     “Let me rephrase. What’s the damage you think you have to cover up
                  with armor?”
                     She looked at the dish with three colored salts in it, pressing her
                  finger into the black crystals, then lifting it, tasting it, her painted nail
                  between her lips.
                     “My uncle,” she started, then took a breath. “From the time I was
                  twelve until I was sixteen. He made sure I liked it and wanted to come
                  back for more. I don’t talk about it any more because I used to talk about
                  it too much, and no one believed me, and now it feels like that kind of
                  thing has been used in books so much that talking about it seems like

WFC Book 1.indb 172                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:12 PM
                                                                           Three Words

           I’m trying to just be cool, like when I dated girls back in college.”
              There was nothing I could say to that, but something like “Oh” or
           “I’m sorry” must have come out of my mouth, because she was looking
           at me as if I were a complete dork.
              “They call it attachment issues. I like sex. Sex with you is fun, but it’s
           about the time when a guy expects a girl to get attached, so I push but-
           tons until they push me away. It’s easier.” She tasted the red salt. “Jenna?”
           she asked.
              “I wanted to marry her. We lived together. She came home with pe-
           nis breath.” It did not come out the way I would want to say it to my
           girlfriend, if she was still my girlfriend, but instead of looking offended,
           Judith laughed.
              “I’m sorry. I’m not laughing about what she did. I’m laughing because
           only you would put it that way.”

           Her nails were short and unpainted now. She looked at the ring I had
           slipped on her finger, letting the carbon matrix catch the light. “There’s
           no happily ever after, you know.”
              “I know.” I reached my hand between her legs and let my fingers slide.
           She gave a short moan and leaned down, then waited, teasing me with
           her breath. I couldn’t stand it. “Suck me, please.”
              “I love you, too,” she said, and she laughed, air blowing across the
           head of my dick.


WFC Book 1.indb 173                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:12 PM
                  November, 1978

                  “More well known is the cannibalism of female primates. Primates, as you
                  know, are large omnivorous mammals. When primates mate in nature, the
                  male cautiously creeps up on the female, mounts her, and copulates. If the
                  female gets the chance, she will eat him. Most often she begins by biting into
                  his head. Loss of the head does not seem to throw the male off its sexual stride.
                  Indeed, since the head is the seat of some inhibitory nerve centres, it is pos-
                  sible that the male’s sexual performance is improved. This is an added benefit.
                  The primary one is that she obtains a good meal.” Regina Dawkins, The
                  Altruistic Gene (1976)

                  November 17, 1978
                  He was Mr. Peterson when he arrived, and he would demand that
                  it never go further than that. Anything more than Mr. Peterson would
                  hurt later, he’d explain.
                     Cole had been raking leaves when Mr. Peterson’s taxi pulled up. It
                  wasn’t easy. The rake’s handle was longer than Cole was tall. He stopped,
                  stood up straight and adjusted the bright red knit cap Aunt Greta had
                  made him. He held the rake parallel to his body, teeth up, like a small
                  soldier holding up a military banner.
                     Mr. Peterson nearly stumbled out of the cab. His upper body lunged
                  out of the rear passenger door, knocking a small briefcase out of the
                  cab and onto the unpaved, dirt-and-rock shoulder next to the mail-
                  box. It looked as if he might come tumbling out completely. His right
                  arm shoot forward, his fingers spread as if clutching at some invisible

WFC Book 1.indb 174                                                                            12/31/07 5:36:12 PM
                                                                     November, 1978

           handhold. The left arm, obscured from Cole’s vision and still within the
           cab, must have grabbed hold of something because Mr. Peterson’s body
           came to a swift, jerking stop. His upper body then vanished back into
           the cab. Slowly, two stubby legs, wrapped in suit pants and terminating
           in shiny black leather shoes, emerged from the cab. As the legs emerged,
           the pants slid up slightly, revealing a small strip of formal socks and
           an expanse of pale white leg flesh. Then out came the body again. Mr.
           Peterson was wearing a suit, no jacket, a white button-up, and a bright,
           wide green tie with a paisley pattern on it. He sat on the edge of the cab
           seat and gracelessly fished his wallet out of his back pocket. He counted
           out some bills and paid the driver. Then, with a lurch, he stood up and
           exited the cab. It looked to Cole as if the cab had spat Mr. Peterson out.
           Mr. Peterson turned and reached back into the cab, extracting a small
           travel bag and a long gray trench coat. He stooped to pick up the fallen
           brief case as the cab rolled off.
              Mr. Peterson walked across the yard. His footsteps crunched the dead
           leaves left about by Cole’s indifferent raking.
              He reached the small, cleared circle of fading green and extended his
           hand to Cole. “You must be Cole?”
              “You take a cab all the way from the city?”
              “I’ve never been in a cab,” said Cole.
              “Take me inside?” Mr. Peterson asked.
              Cole’s mother opened the door before he and Mr. Peterson made it
           up the front steps. Over his mother’s shoulder, Cole could make out
           the eager faces of three of his five aunts. His mother was reserved. She
           leaned out the door and let Mr. Peterson kiss her on the right cheek.
           She then held out her hand, plump from pre-mating breeding stores.                      175
           Mr. Peterson took her hand and, with more dexterity than Cole would
           have given him credit for, interlaced his fingers with her thickened dig-
           its, lowered their hands to his side, and stepped into the home with one
           smooth motion.
              Once he was inside, the aunts collective began to shower him with
           greetings. Aunt Iris offered to take his bags upstairs. Mr. Peterson
           thanked her and handed her his travel bag. She inquired about the
           briefcase, but Mr. Peterson said he’d keep it.
              “It isn’t for me,” he said. “It is Cole’s.”
              Standing outside, still holding the rake like some ragged banner, Cole

WFC Book 1.indb 175                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:12 PM

                  shot a glance at the briefcase. The legacy gifts. He thought about Ricky
                  Fischer down the street. Ricky’s little sister’s father had left Ricky a de-
                  activated grenade that he’d taken off the body of a VC soldier in 1968.
                  It was widely held to be the single greatest legacy gift ever. Though
                  Mr. Peterson, his clumsy pear-shaped body wrapped in business-class
                  respectability, promised a considerably lamer gift. He looked like a pen
                  set and a book of daily “deep thoughts,” or some other completely bogus
                  gifts. No man ever looked less like a VC grenade.

                  “The first area of conflict that can be resolved is the relation of genes to culture.
                  Many social scientists see no value in sociobiology because they are persuaded
                  that variation among cultures has no genetic basis. Their premise is right,
                  their conclusion wrong. We can do well to remember Madame de Staël’s dic-
                  tum that those who wish to study humans should stand close, while those who
                  wish to study humanity should look from afar.” Alyssa Wilson, Sociobiology

                  November 20, 1978
                  “Aunt Vera, will I have to eat too?”
                     “No. Your mother only wants it to be her and Mr. Peterson.”
                     “This kid in school, Joe Annunziata, well he said that his whole fam-
                  ily was there. All his aunts, and his sisters. And even the boys.”
                     “Even the boys?” asked Cole’s aunt.
                     “That’s what he said.”
                     “Well every family is different,” she said. There was something in
                  Aunt Vera’s tone that suggested she thought this was a disappointing
176               but unavoidable and impersonal fact, like the rudeness of cities or the
                  chill of early winter. Vera, thin and kind, always a bit melancholy, had
                  never put on breeding stores. She had never mated. Cole knew that it
                  was important to Vera and the rest of her sisters, but he did not un-
                  derstand the particular. As with all young boys, only solvable mysteries
                  held any allure for Cole. When it became clear that nobody was going
                  to explain his aunt’s infertility, Cole’s curiosity cooled and the mystery
                  of his aunt’s incapacity to breed hardened into a dead truth. She couldn’t
                  have babies and that was all there was to know. Still, though Cole never
                  considered it, the fact that Aunt Vera was never to fully participate in
                  the rituals of motherhood was, perhaps, the reason for her unmediated

WFC Book 1.indb 176                                                                               12/31/07 5:36:12 PM
                                                                       November, 1978

           kindness. Of all his aunts, she was the closest to him.
               “Are you going to eat?” Cole asked. They were seated at the kitchen
           table. Cole was coloring in a Star Wars coloring book. A female space
           pirate was smuggling a young prince out of the clutches of some robotic
           looking women. Vera was content that Cole understood it all and that
           was enough of an engagement for her.
               “No. Not this time,” she answered. She took a sip of her coffee. “It was
           different with your father.”
               Cole did not look up from his book. He held the broken bit of wax
           crayon in his hand, some reddish purple color.
               “We were all there then. It was the first mating for any of us and it
           was . . . special, I guess. Your mother had special clothing made. She was
           so plump, so ripe with stores. She looked radiant.” Vera was now talk-
           ing to herself. “The second one, they say it just isn’t as important. You’ve
           done it once. Right? Cole. Cole. Look at me.”
               Cole looked up from the book, but he did not set down his crayon.
               “Do you want to be there? I could ask your mother if it is okay.”
               Cole shrugged. “Guess not.”
               “You sure?”
               He returned to his coloring book. The Empress was not pleased.
               Later that day, Vera would take him to get a haircut. While waiting in
           a row of uncomfortable chairs, ignoring the magazines whose cartoons
           he never got anyways, Cole noticed that one of the women getting her
           hair done was pregnant. She overflowed the chair, gorged with food, fat
           with child, stuffed with her mate. She wore glasses and a loose-fitting,
           short-sleeve blue dress. Her arm was so thick that dimples had formed
           at her elbows and there was a crease in the flesh of her wrist. It looked
           like a doll’s wrist, a seam or break in the otherwise smooth plastic to al-               177
           low for articulation. Cole wondered what his mother would look like.
               He started crying. It started as a minor sob. Cole tried hard to stifle
           it. He didn’t want his Aunt Vera or the crowd of creepily solicitous hair
           stylists to see him crying. But the moment Vera asked him what was
           wrong, it was as if she had opened a floodgate. His sobs rose instantly
           to a piercing wail.
               Vera, equally scared, frustrated, and confused, pulled him from the
           shop. He did not get his hair cut until three weeks later.
               Years later, when trying to explain the significance of that nameless,
           anonymous woman to a young boy named Peter, he would say that the

WFC Book 1.indb 177                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:13 PM

                  folds of skin at her wrist made him realize for the very first time that he
                  would someday be somebody’s father.

                  “Sexual cannibalism with active male complicity should be favored in many
                  groups, but it has rarely evolved. Ask why we don’t see it where it should oc-
                  cur.” Sara Gould, “Only the Paws Remain” (1978)

                  November 21, 1978
                  Mr. Peterson and Cole taped up several sheets of clear plastic all
                  over what his mother referred to as the sewing room. It was a tiny room
                  of the upstairs hall. Though it contained a sewing machine, it had be-
                  come a modest museum of domestic items too precious to throw out,
                  but too useless to justify their presence in a major room of the house.
                     Because Mr. Peterson needed the sheets to reach higher than Cole
                  could stretch, Cole was given the job of tearing off strips of painter’s
                  tape and handing them to Mr. Peterson whenever he requested a piece.
                  The tape was a pale blue on the sticky side and a bright, intense blue
                  on the reverse. The bright blue side had an almost pebbly texture, like
                  lizard skin.
                     “Your Aunt Jeanine says your friend got a grenade for his legacy.”
                     Cole wasn’t sure if it was a question.
                     “That sounds amazing.”
                     “I guess,” said Cole. “It was heavier than it looks. I thought it would
                  be like a baseball or something, because you have to throw it. But it was
                  heavier than it looks.”
                     “Give me a piece of tape. Thanks. Do you have soldiers? Toy
178               soldiers?”
                     “No. My mom and my aunts won’t let me have war toys.”
                     Mr. Peterson’s back was towards Cole. He made a sort of grunt. Even
                  at Cole’s age, he understood it was criticism that couldn’t be held against
                  him as it was not actually words of dissent.
                     “They say war toys program kids to go die in wars that old women
                  start, or something like that,” Cole said. “I’m allowed Star Wars guys,
                  and they have guns and stuff. I have some toy pirates too. I guess they
                  have guns. And swords.”
                     “I hope you like your legacy gift,” Mr. Peterson said. “It was given to
                  me by my little brother’s father.”

WFC Book 1.indb 178                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:13 PM
                                                                       November, 1978

              Mr. Peterson hung up the plastic with a deliberate purposefulness
           that was too intense to be called slow. He’d stretch the plastic to its full
           length and place a piece of tape at the top. Careful, but unhesitating
           motions. He never struggled to unstick the tape from the plastic, never
           started over. He worked with a calm so deeply ingrained that it was un-
           surprising and comfortable. When a piece of tape was where it should
           be, Mr. Peterson flattened it out by sliding the heel of his palm across
           the tape. Cole thought that this is what all fathers must be like.


WFC Book 1.indb 179                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:13 PM
                  Love Letter

                  Filled with longing, I sit at my desk. Remembering, I let my mind
                  wander into my past, into our past, and I replay the times we spent to-
                  gether. Sometimes, I revise it a little, erase any tiny flaw or offence we
                  caused each other, and play it again with no awkward pauses or inter-
                  ruptions to the flow of passion. Sometimes I linger over each second,
                  treasuring the dull or uncomfortable moments as much as the pleasant.
                  It is enough just to think about you. To let myself slip back into you.
                     But I am here, at my desk, and you are now far away, in another city,
                  in another province. You have taken your radical opinions, your intense
                  ambitions, your softness and loud laughter to a new place, you have
                  earned a spot in a masters program at a radical, intense university in a
                  city of culture and distinction. I know you will be able to make waves
                  there, to learn, to flourish, to excel.
                     You will set yourself new goals, you will meet new challenges. You
                  will astound and thrill and enamour new lovers and new mentors, you
                  will be enthralled and wooed and introduced to new friends and new
                     And I want to make you come back to me. I want to keep you here with
                  me. I almost wish I had not been able to encourage you and strengthen
                  you so successfully, for now I am without your words and your embrace.
                  But I know, and I want you to know that I would not really have it any
                  other way. So I sit, filled with bittersweet longing here at my desk, and
                  I write you a love letter.

WFC Book 1.indb 180                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:14 PM
                                                                               Love Letter

              My darling lover,
              When I get sad, I daydream of you.
              I am reluctant to report that lately I am thinking of you lots. Not
           because the thoughts are too explicit for me to admit, or too naughty,
           not because the thoughts are too chaste, or only half realized or yet to
           be brought to their fullness. Not because they might seem too silly, too
           trite, and vanilla in their banal everydayness. These thoughts are not
           thoughts of things I am unwilling or unable to admit to.
              I think delicious thoughts of you. I dream of your soft flesh, the feel
           of you, the touch of you. The darkness in your hair and eyes, the brown
           warmth of your skin, the feeling of you beside me, in my arms, lying
           next to me. The way you would stroll boldly from bedroom to bath,
           the way you stand and hold your arms and sway your hips. The sound
           of your voice, the sound of your breath, they way you sigh and laugh.
           All your little endearments, unique characteristics, every quirk, every
           mannerism. All your cerebral wit and humour, your verbose way of talk-
           ing sometimes. Thoughts remembering all of your secret inner self that
           I have glimpsed. Thoughts of seeing you, talking to you, listening to
           you, watching you, reminiscing upon finding some object you left, some
           small shed piece of you. All your curves and strength, your way of hav-
           ing knowledge of me. Your ability to lust and love and adore me in a
           way that I can delight to luxuriate in since it is a reflection of my lust
           for you; you mirror and transmit and illuminate and return. A perfect
           desirable reaction to all of my love and affection that I cherish and want
           to show to you.
              I am thinking about you lots, and it’s because I’m feeling like that
           proverbial glass isn’t half full. It’s not that it is half empty, recently it ap-
           pears to be totally fucking empty, or brimming full of really gross stuff                      181
           or that the glass would be way better if I could smash it into a million
           billion sharp glittering shards and drink straight from the bottle.
              I’m getting better at coping, and I feel happy, and I can feel delight,
           and I do feel comfortable and secure. But when I start to feel crummy,
           or just not OK, the stretch of emotional road running between less than
           fine and totally inconsolably and desperately hurt and overwhelmingly
           melancholy seems to be a steep short drop. OK remains an even plateau,
           the heights of pleasure are easily reached and often travelled. But when
           things start to get tough, frustrating, or annoying, or when someone

WFC Book 1.indb 181                                                                            12/31/07 5:36:14 PM

                  hurts my feelings or pisses me off it takes only a small additional nega-
                  tive tug to reduce me to tears.
                     I am in a short time returned to fine, and then it’s a quick jaunt to
                  happiness and well being. But I keep getting challenged with shit from
                  life, and I’m hiding under my security sheet in the corner. For only a
                  short time, since my mind drifts easily and frequently into thoughts of
                     I am myself both the damsel in distress and the knight in shining
                  armour. And as such, you are my complementary princess and daunt-
                  less hero. I plan a journey into your heated embraces. I will flee to your
                     I will see you soon. I love you.
                     I reread it again and again, make it perfect. I send it. I begin to check
                  train and bus schedules, I begin to plan a way to end the longing, if only
                  for a weekend. I begin to try and conceal how much I miss you, to try
                  and hide the way I hurt and yearn. Ah, you know me too well for any
                  of those games. All that there is for me to do now is visit. And yearn,
                  and write, and daydream. For though your education has taken you on a
                  path away from me, our love is wonderful and our passions still hot. We
                  will sit up late into the night giggling and telling secret tales of our new
                  lovers to each other. We will spend a little more time together, before we
                  part ways again. I will write to you, and you will write to me.


WFC Book 1.indb 182                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:14 PM
                                             Always a Virgin             StarRunner

           She sat on the park bench with her sweater tightly wrapped around
           her in the cool fall air. There were couples walking by holding hands,
           their eyes seeing nothing else but each other. She also saw other cou-
           ples sitting on park benches wrapped in each other’s arms, holding
           each other as if they were the only ones in the world, oblivious to those
           around them.
              Rosita took a tissue out of her pocket and wiped a tear from her eyes.
           It was times like this, that she felt lost and alone. She was getting on in
           years and felt she would never have the beauty of love, the soft touch
           of another’s warm embrace keeping her from the raw winds of change.
           Yes, she felt so alone.
              Closing her eyes and turning back the sands of time, Rosita was once
           again a young girl. She lived in a little white house with her parents and
           sister. She enjoyed school and would learn everything she could. She
           wanted to succeed in her life and she knew that she needed an educa-
           tion to do so.
              Rosita had returned to her high school graduation prom. She was
           dressed in a lovely blue gown that enhanced her light blue eyes. Being
           escorted by the most handsome boy in her graduating class, she was in
           heaven. She couldn’t believe Barry had asked her to attend the prom
           with him, as she had hardly known him.
              The evening was lovely. They had danced every dance and the final
           waltz was playing. Snuggling close together, she was now feeling very
           warm and comfortable. She did not want this evening to end.

WFC Book 1.indb 183                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:14 PM

                     But end it did. Following the prom, Barry escorted Rosita back to her
                  home. He thanked her for going with him and gave her a quick kiss on
                  the cheek. He turned and walked to his car, waving to her.
                     She had somehow felt let down, knowing there were after-prom par-
                  ties going on and she was not invited to attend any of them. Rosita
                  entered the house and went straight to her room where she took off her
                  prom dress and sat on the edge of her bed. The tears started to flow. She
                  wondered if the news of her being a virgin and not an “easy” girl had
                  gotten around and Barry had heard them. It really didn’t matter at this
                  time. She was not giving in to anyone until she was married. This was
                  her rule and no one would make her break it.
                     Rosita, still on the park bench, opened her eyes and wondered where
                  she would be now if she had given in to the guys in high school. What
                  would she be doing? Would she be married with children? Would she
                  have someone to love her? These questions would never be answered.
                     In her next thoughts, she had just completed her graduate degree in
                  university. She now had her degree in nursing and was ready to help
                  those in need. Graduating from her program, Rosita had the highest
                  marks of all and was proud of the work she had accomplished. She still
                  did not have a boyfriend and had not had a date for what seemed like
                     Rosita had so far dedicated her life to her education. As her parents
                  used to tell her, “There is no telling when you might need to count on
                  yourself for income. You need a good income to do that.” At that time,
                  she had agreed with them, but now, she wasn’t sure.
                     While Rosita was sitting on the park bench, the wind started to howl.
                  She took a scarf out of her pocket and wrapped it around her head.
184               She did not want to return to her lonely apartment. She wanted to see
                  people — people talking and sharing, people loving each other.
                     Following university, Rosita took a position at a remote health cen-
                  ter in a small village in the north. There were four female nurses and
                  one male doctor working at the center. They worked well together and
                  were kept very busy. Time off consisted of a few hours of catching up
                  on much-needed sleep, writing letters home and basic chores. Rosita’s
                  father had passed away while she was in university so she would drop
                  her mom a quick line and play cards with the staff member who had the
                  same time off. Often, it was the doctor, Bill.
                     While Rosita was thinking about the doctor, her tears started once

WFC Book 1.indb 184                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:14 PM
                                                                     Always a Virgin

           again. They felt like little rivulets of ice flowing down her cheek. Her
           thoughts returned to Bill.
              He had come to the health center shortly after Rosita had arrived. He
           was tall, dark and very handsome. He had the most sensitive brown eyes,
           almost like a deer caught in headlights. Charming, quiet-spoken and
           very gentle, he gained Rosita’s trust easily. They had spent many hours
           together on their time off.
              As time went on, Rosita became very close to Bill. She had thought
           that maybe, just maybe, he would be the one who would make a differ-
           ence in her life.
              Rosita and Bill spent all their spare time together. They laughed,
           talked, and shared their dreams. Bill never once made a move towards
           her, except to kiss her or hold her in his arms. She really wanted to make
           love to him but remembered her promise to save herself until marriage.
           Bill was aware of this promise also.
              Rosita was due to leave a month before Bill’s contract was up. It was
           a sad goodbye, but they had made plans to meet up once he left the
           center. Rosita went home to stay with her mom until Bill completed his
              After Rosita had been home for a month, her mom became very ill
           then passed away. She had so much wanted to have Bill by her side but
           that was not to be. Bill was never heard from since she left the center.
           Rosita found out days later that he had married one of the other nurses
           who worked at the center. Rosita was devastated and vowed never to
           lose her heart again.
              And now, sitting on a park bench, in her mid sixties and still a virgin,
           she wondered if she had made the right choices in her life. She felt she
           had not, and got up from the bench and walked away from the lovers                       185
           walking in the cool moonlight. She disappeared into the cool fog of
           night, never to be seen again.

WFC Book 1.indb 185                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:15 PM
                  The Party Is On

                  The party had been planned on the flight home from the conven-
                  tion. Buddy, the general manager of Hometown Motors, had insisted
                  that one be held at his home to celebrate a successful business deal that
                  had recently been negotiated. This was his way of thanking the staff for
                  their hard work.
                     Two weeks later, all was ready for the big party. The sangria was made
                  to Buddy’s specifications and the band was warming up. Guests had
                  started to arrive. But Buddy was concerned that his star salesman Gary
                  and his wife Doreen would not come to the party, as Doreen was not
                  much for parties.
                     He definitely wanted Doreen to show up as he had a small party
                  planned just for her and did not want these plans to go awry.
                     As Buddy reached for the phone to call Gary, the doorbell rang and
                  in walked Doreen. She told him that Gary would not be able to make it,
                  as he was not feeling well. Buddy was very happy with this news. Now
                  the party could begin in earnest.
                     Gruff hands went around her waist and a wine-heavy breath seared
                  her neck as Buddy kissed her. She pulled away from him and Buddy
                  just laughed. His laugh reminded her of a bowling ball bouncing down
                  the stairs. She tried to smile and act as his kiss had been fun — but it
                  hadn’t been. She thought of him as a drunken pig as his rubbery lips
                  and sudden grasp made her feel ill. She only tolerated him because he
                  was Gary’s boss.
                     Doreen slowly moved away from Buddy. She found the bar and

WFC Book 1.indb 186                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:15 PM
                                                                      The Party Is On

           waited impatiently for a drink. She wanted lots to drink in fact, to dull
           the building pressure she had in her head and her loins.
              Doreen had come to this party with one thing in mind. She knew
           Gary had been out with an old flame last night and she wanted to pay
           him back by going to this party and finding someone to have sex with.
              The bartender handed her a drink and she asked what it was. He re-
           plied that it was a Spanish wine. He never told her what else had been
           poured into the sangria.
              Doreen had three glasses of the wine and was beginning to feel a
           lot better. She knew that the sangria was more than a fruit punch and
           thought it was delicious.
              The music that was playing was a slow, romantic waltz. Buddy asked
           Doreen if she would like to dance. She then found herself being whisked
           to the middle of the polished wood floor. The violins and muted horns
           wafted to her ears, soothing her.
              Hot damn, the scheming manager thought, trying to be in control of
           his trembling passion, things are going better than I thought. The way
           things are going, maybe I can speed up the action — have to go at it just
           right, though — just right!
              He held the slightly high young wife tighter, his total willpower be-
           ing taxed to stop his penis from becoming hard and pressing against her
           undulating belly.
              Buddy had almost creamed his pants on the spot, ogling her tight
           buttocks and ripe, jutting breasts and the smooth expanse of her thigh
           and leg. It made him quiver with desire to really possess this proud little
           beauty, to bore his cock deep into her vagina.
              First this dance, then another few drinks of sangria, and Doreen was
           beginning to stumble a bit and her tongue was getting tied around her                    187
           words. It was, as Buddy thought, time to drop the bombshell.
              “Doreen, I heard about Gary having an affair with an old flame.”
              Stunned, Doreen stared at him before stumbling out onto the patio.
           Buddy followed her and let her know that he understood how she felt.
              “Stop it, stop it!” Doreen wailed, putting her hands over her ears. “I
           can’t stand it anymore.”
              “I’m your friend, Doreen, and believe me, I can help you. Let’s go and
           sit in my station wagon where it’s warmer. We can talk there. You go
           ahead, I will meet you there after I go and get us a drink.”
              The minute Doreen was out of sight, Buddy began the second part of

WFC Book 1.indb 187                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:15 PM

                  his plan. He hurried to the division manager Jerry. “Do you remember
                  when you bet me a hundred dollars that I would never make it into
                  Doreen’s pants? Well, tonight I’m going to collect on that bet.”
                     Jerry laughed and said, “Add another hundred if you can get me a
                  crack at her too. In fact, you set it up that I can fuck her and I’ll increase
                  your salary also.” Buddy agreed and left to pick up a bottle of sangria to
                  take back to Doreen.
                     Buddy walked out toward the car where Doreen was waiting. Now
                  all he had to do was play his cards right. After they got into the front
                  seat of the car, he handed her the bottle and told her to take a sip as that
                  would help.
                     After a few more sips, he asked her if she would like to lie down in
                  the back to take a rest, to which she replied, “Yes.” She then crawled to
                  the back of the station wagon and stretched out. Her dress had slipped
                  up around her waist showing her panties. She made no move to pull it
                     Buddy sucked in his breath as he saw the thinly covered pubic mound
                  become exposed. He then went back to be with her.
                     He stroked the very inebriated young wife’s golden hair. She could
                  feel an odd twitching in her belly and for some crazy reason, she sensed
                  her nipples now hardening. He then put his arm around her shoulder,
                  caressing her gently.
                     Doreen did not move away from his hands. She was feeling very
                  comfortable and safe. She could almost feel Gary’s lips on hers, could
                  most feel his lips moving down her belly and between her legs. Right
                  now, she felt her husband Gary was there and not Buddy.
                     Buddy slowly moved his hand from her shoulders to her breast, rub-
188               bing the globe tenderly. He then moved from her breast to her bare
                  thigh. Then higher and higher, touching the silk encased mound of her
                  vagina. He then pushed the secreting crotchband of her panties aside
                  and slipped his middle finger into the wet, trembling passage of Doreen’s
                  suddenly hotly burning young pussy.
                     The distraught and nearly comatose from alcohol wife squirmed up
                  tighter as the contact of his finger touched her naked flesh.
                     He hovered over her limply splayed legs, removing his finger from
                  her wet, trembling pussy. She helped him to take off her panties. When
                  her softly hair-lined pussy came into moonlit view, Buddy gazed sala-
                  ciously at it, his mouth watering at the beautiful sight.

WFC Book 1.indb 188                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:15 PM
                                                                      The Party Is On

              Buddy drove his head savagely downward, unable to resist lusting
           emotions, and his lips mashed onto her vaginal lips, his tongue part-
           ing the softly curling pubic hair and slipping teasingly down the pink
           rimmed valley. Doreen shuddered and spread her legs wider, allowing
           him further room.
              Buddy could wait no longer. He held his long lust-hardened cock
           at the open mouth of her moist palpitating pussy and then he levered
           forward, sending his sensitive hungry cock sliding hotly, deliciously far
           up into her quivering young belly.
              He’s inside me, he’s inside me! Doreen thought vaguely, her mind
           and soul shattered by the liquor and the wretchedness of her emotions.
           I must stop him, but how can I when I can’t stop myself!
              Buddy’s long hard cock flashed up and down in her tight cuntal
           passage, his body heaving in demonical force as he drew his sperm-
           heavy cock nearly out of the clasping sheath of the mesmerized young
           Doreen’s pussy, then plunging down again until his aching, bloated
           testicles slapped ruthlessly against her naked inner thighs. He was so
           intent on the release of his orgasm, that he never noticed the shadow
           which was pressed against the rear window.
              Jerry had hurried to the window. Great balls of fire, he’s doing it! He’s
           fucking the hell out of sweet innocent Doreen.
              Something had to give, and it did! Buddy cried out, “Oh shit! I’m to
           cum! AAAHHHH.” His body froze in mid-stroke, then hurtled down-
           ward again in an insane fury as his climax struck and his semen spewed
           out of his balls like lava from a volcano.
              Doreen saw a flash of light as the overhead light went on and clenched
           her eyes shut to block it out. She felt Buddy’s deflating cock slip from
           her ravaged vagina. She could sense the sucking withdrawal between                        189
           her legs.
              The pain that existed in Doreen’s mind was that of unsatisfied desire.
           She writhed on the mat with one hand straying to her hair-lined slit.
           She dug into herself greedily, trying to reach the impossible depths the
           vanquished cock had a moment before.
              Her fingers were removed and she cried out at the quick brutal im-
           palement, surprised by its thickness. Her whole body twitched and
           writhed uncontrollably as she groaned then yelled out, welcoming the
           punishing instrument sinking ever deeper into her pussy. She felt pain
           for a short moment, then the greedy walls of her vagina clasped around

WFC Book 1.indb 189                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:15 PM

                  the fleshy cudgel hungrily, slithering its length to the hilt. Spurned on,
                  he dug deeper into the girl, forcing her legs yet further back, doubling
                  her in half, fucking her like a pile-driving machine out of control.
                     Jerry screamed and Doreen felt the hot waves of his sperm shooting
                  into her dilated cunt, mixing with the sperm Buddy had throbbed into
                  her before.
                     The burning walls of her vagina clasped and unclasped desperately
                  like a starving mouth. She opened her mouth to scream — and her own
                  orgasm struck.
                     There in the back of the station wagon, being fucked half to death,
                  Doreen was totally reduced to a churning mass of sensual jelly in that
                  instant. Great flashes of pinwheel lights and pleasure so acute that it
                  bordered on pain consumed every fibre of her being.
                     She collapsed then, her firm young body drained of everything, her
                  limbs loosely spread on the back floor mat.
                     They put her panties back on and moved her to the front seat. Buddy
                  and Jerry rejoined the party . . .


WFC Book 1.indb 190                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:15 PM
                                                      Grocery List       persimmon

           To get:
                 • eggs
                 • chicken (which should come first?)
                 • oatmeal
                 • butter
                 • kale
                 • carrots
                 • stamps
                 • batteries
                 • cereal
                 • diapers
                 • world enough, and time
              When did the chasm between us grow so deep I couldn’t reach across
           the bed? I study the blanket crinkled between your shoulder and hip
           and I wish I were there. Anywhere. Together with you, instead of just
           existing in the same house.
              I go jerk off in the machine room, so I won’t wake you shaking the
           bed. I click around for some standard naked chicks. But I think about
           you too, and the desire, that’s for you. The porn is so I won’t have to bug
           you, because I’m pretty sure what the answer would be.
              Things I miss:
                 • tickling your thigh with my chin stubble
                 • your knees on my shoulders
                 • your very pensive expression when you’re squeezing just so

WFC Book 1.indb 191                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:16 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 192   12/31/07 5:36:16 PM
                                                                          Grocery List

                  • the way you throw your head back and arch your back
                  • your flushed, sweaty grinning face with your hair all disarrayed
              Things that were cool when we had them, but I don’t miss all that
                  • perky tits
                  • erection on demand
                  • tight asses
                  • sexy underwear
              I know I got old, fat, and bald, and I don’t do dishes enough. But I
           still love you.
              And I know you’re tired and you feel fat and your tits are chewed so
           much you don’t want me within a meter of them. Your new job is harder
           than my old job. But you’re still so fucking hot.
              I used to be able to give you something no one else could. Anyone
           can do laundry and wash dishes. And I will, I will, but I don’t get a thrill
           out of it. I suspect you would kick me out if I actually did get a thrill
           from it.
              What I really, really miss:
                  • you, happy
                  • me, happy
                  • being able to make things better
              I’ll be here, on the other side of the bed.


WFC Book 1.indb 193                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:16 PM
                  Mont Blanc

                       1 lb. chestnuts, shelled and peeled
                       1/2 lb. caster sugar
                       4 oz. heavy cream

                       Cover chestnuts in water and simmer for about an hour until
                       perfectly tender. Strain and mash chestnuts with the sugar and a
                       pinch of salt. Put mixture through a ricer so it forms a cone-shaped
                       mound on a large plate. Chill. Top with whipped cream just before

                  The first time Aaron ever tasted my Mont Blanc was Christmas
                  at my parents’ house the year we met, and if you ask me, it’s part of the
                  reason we’re still together today.

                  In my family, celebration equals food and food equals celebration, ac-
                  cording to very specific and incontrovertible laws. Christmas is Beef
                  Wellington, roasted potatoes, and asparagus. It is brioche dough pre-
                  pared the night before, the smell of sauteed mushrooms, and obscene
                  amounts of melted butter. But if the Wellington and everything that
                  goes with it is my mother’s domain, dessert belongs entirely to me, and
                  it is always creme caramel.
                      Except for that time.
                      Inspiration struck the week before, a faint memory stirred up in the

WFC Book 1.indb 194                                                                           12/31/07 5:36:16 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 195   12/31/07 5:36:16 PM

                  grocery store in front of a huge display of chestnuts. I scooped up a bag-
                  ful to bring home with me and the first words I said to my mother when
                  I got there were, “Do you still have the recipe for that chestnut thing?”
                     “Come here and give me a kiss,” was her reply. “I got the eggs for
                  your creme caramel,” she added as she took out a folder from her recipe
                     “I’ll make them tomorrow.”
                     “Here. Mont Blanc.” She held out the recipe, but her attention was
                  drawn to the gap of the kitchen door, through which she could see
                  Aaron, talking with my father in the foyer and no doubt wondering
                  where I’d wandered off to. She turned back to face me. “Are you sure
                  about this?”
                     “Why wouldn’t I be sure?” I put the bag of chestnuts on the counter,
                  gave her a peck on the cheek, and took the piece of paper. “Do you have
                  caster sugar?”

                  We haven’t spent the holidays with my parents for years, not since Aaron
                  and I moved into a house of our own with a kitchen whose counter
                  space rivals that of the house I grew up in. My mother has even ceased
                  to prepare feasts for the occasion, or any other occasion. No real rea-
                  son, she says, she’s just done with making elaborate meals. Now I’m the
                  keeper of her cookbook, the heavy — and heavily abused — one with the
                  cream-colored jacket and eroded spine, the one that held all the holiday
                  traditions of my childhood between its covers. Tucked between pages
                  94 and 95, in the middle of the three-page recipe for Boeuf en Croute,
                  or Beef Wellington, is the recipe that she handed me that Christmas for
                  Mont Blanc, which is always, always dessert.
196                  The instructions are brief, written on a sheet of paper with the name
                  Felicia McWilliams embossed at the top. I’ve never heard my parents
                  mention Mrs. McWilliams, but from the unfussy block letters that she
                  chose for her name, I imagine she was a practical kind of person. Most
                  people might not think copying a recipe is the best use of their 100%
                  cotton stationery, but I’m glad there was one person who felt that it was
                  worth it. Each time I unfold it and the creases open up like hinges to
                  reveal her neat handwriting, I send a silent thanks to Felicia, wherever
                  she is.
                     On Christmas Day Aaron splits logs out back and then prepares the
                  fireplace while I score Xs on the bottom of each chestnut. He once

WFC Book 1.indb 196                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:16 PM
                                                                          Mont Blanc

           remarked that we must be the only house not roasting our chestnuts
           over the fire, but this to me is the only thing that makes sense to do
           with them. Throw in boiling water till the shells split, scoop them out
           with a slotted spoon in order to peel them, and extract all traces of the
           slightly fuzzy skin that lies beneath, using a myriad of pointed tools to
           get between all the crevices.
              The act of chopping firewood, according to Aaron, the repetitive act
           puts him in a Zen-like state of mind, so he says. I can’t say the same for
           when I’m shelling chestnuts. It’s slow, meticulous work to reveal the
           delicate flesh within, but it’s not just the scalding water or the splinters
           of shell under my fingernails keeping me from being present in the

           When I served it that first time, I think my brother allowed that the
           Mont Blanc was an okay substitute for his favorite dessert. I remem-
           ber more clearly the look on Aaron’s face, and the exclamation that
           came from his lips after the first bite, somewhere between “Wow,” and
              Later that night Aaron pulled me out onto the porch and, making
           sure we were out of sight of the sliding door, he pulled me in for a kiss.
           He ran his tongue along my teeth as if licking a spoon clean. “You taste
           like dessert.” I could hear his smile in the dark, and feel his warmth in
           the December night. “If your parents weren’t here . . .” he began, and fin-
           ished that sentence two days later when we got back to my apartment,
           without using too many more words.

           As shelled chestnuts start to pile up in the bowl, I feel the hope, uncer-
           tainty, anticipation, and desire of all those years ago build up inside me                197
           again, mixed with the knowledge of how everything has unfolded since,
           and a deep sense of optimism about what may still lie in store. It’s as if
           every day of our lives together is happening all at once, and I’m creating
           it too, and even if it’s not exactly easy I know it is going be incredible.

           After I’ve slipped the Mont Blanc into the refrigerator to cool, I be-
           gin rolling out the brioche dough and for the first time I find myself
           wondering about where this part of the tradition came from. Did my
           mother inherit it, the way I did? Or maybe there was a time, before I
           was born, when she decided to engage in this complex alchemy of butter

WFC Book 1.indb 197                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:16 PM

                  and flour and eggs, of beef and mushrooms, full of expectation though
                  unsure of how it would all turn out. And while Madeira sauce may not
                  be an essential ingredient of Love, at least for two people in the world,
                  that’s what it tastes like.
                     It seems strange that we’ve never talked about this before, my mother
                  and I, but then I remember her look when she handed me the recipe and
                  asked, “Are you sure?” At the time, I thought she was asking if I was re-
                  ally up to shelling a pound of chestnuts by hand, but of course she knew
                  I could handle that part.

                  The two of us lying in bed, skin to skin. Aaron is the hottest thing in the
                  house — on the planet — in the whole of my universe. Our lips meet; he
                  tastes like chestnuts, and a little bit of cream. Like love.
                     “Did you like it?” I ask.
                     I take his hand and place it on my belly that is rounded with more
                  than just the weight of a good holiday meal. “Good,” I say, “because we
                  may not get a chance to have it again until this one is old enough to
                  shell chestnuts.” I see his left eyebrow twitch just the tiniest bit, and I
                  laugh before I turn out the light.


WFC Book 1.indb 198                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:17 PM

                             WFC 5

WFC Book 1.indb 199              12/31/07 5:36:17 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 200   12/31/07 5:36:17 PM
           WFC: Pot Luck — An Invitation
           By Kellnerin (Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 07:01:08 PM EST)

           It’s Husi’s first culino-literary party, hosted by persimmon and
           Kellnerin — all are welcome — bring a story for others to sam-

           Details with upload site and recipe below.

           Last time, persimmon brought the groceries and Kellnerin
           made the dish. For this round, we’ve provided the recipe and
           encourage everyone to whip up a little something for us all to

                  Recipe for Writing Fun Challenge 5 Entry

                  The following yields one (1) short story suitable for
                  reading at home or while bored at work, and is sim-
                  plicity itself to make. These stories keep well and are
                  perfect for unexpected visitors to your Web site.

WFC Book 1.indb 201                                                           12/31/07 5:36:17 PM
1 attention-catching title
750–1250 assorted words, including:

                                 nouns and pronouns
 adverbs, to taste
 interjections (optional)
1 very bad, unacknowledged pun
punctuation and line breaks as needed

                      In an empty file, combine words to form a narrative
                      relating to the theme of food. If using a .txt file, take
                      care that lines do not spill over the edge of the screen.
                      Garnish with pun and place title at top. Serve by upload
                      to the WFC5 site* no later than Monday, January 22,
                      24:00 GMT.** Can be made up to ten days in advance;
                      best when served anonymously.

                      Note: Pay special attention to ingredient proportions.
                      For best results, sift words well. Acknowledgement of
                      pun will spoil flavour. Recipe does not double; use se-
                      quential batches to produce larger quantities.

                  We look forward to savoring everyone’s creations a week from
                  Monday — now get cooking!


                  * Tip o’ the hat to 256 for hosting once again.
                  ** In the US and Canada: 4:00 p.m. Pacific, 7:00 p.m.
                  Eastern. You GMT+ folks do your own damn math, but your
                  deadline’s officially on Tuesday.

WFC Book 1.indb 202                                                               12/31/07 5:36:17 PM
                                                 The Snow Cake

           My mother, a baker with a handsome shop on the ground floor of
           the former Kornhausmarkt, was the first to build a snow cake.
              This was a year after The Winter — not so long after the first snow
           that she couldn’t have made a normal cake with flour and eggs and
           whatever else it was that went into a cake before the snow.
              I remember The Winter. It started as a thick fall of feather-like flakes.
           By the end of the week, the whole town was blanketed. I remember my
           father, an official in the Chamber of Labor, and Herr Kilma, a minor
           bureaucrat from the burgomaster’s office, talking about how the snow
           was falling everywhere around the world. My father shook his head. He
           acted as if the weather were a minor, but acutely embarrassing public
           faux pas from somebody too important to censure or correct.
              I once, after four months of steady, slow, and gentle but relentless
           snowfall, heard my father refer to it as God’s blunder. He was reacting
           to the news that the burgomaster and the citizens’ council had elected
           to stop plowing and shoveling the snow. Instead, it was decided, tunnels
           would be dug throughout town.
              I don’t remember how deep it was then. Friedrich, the pastor’s boy,
           and I once tried to tunnel to the surface, but we grew bored and stopped.
           Friedrich announced there was no surface. The snow was infinitely deep.
           This was untrue. The Committee for Public Health regularly dug air
           tunnels to the surface. I knew this, but Friedrich’s certainty was still
              It was Herr Kilma who told my father about the snow cake. The

WFC Book 1.indb 203                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:18 PM

                  burgomaster’s office thought it was some sort of satire in particularly
                  bad taste. By this time, several traditional foods were no longer available.
                  The snow had killed off many farm animals and destroyed vast sections
                  of crops. To put on public display food made of snow, especially some-
                  thing as frivolous as a dessert cake, when the snow was snatching food
                  from the mouths of good citizens? It was too much. No official action,
                  of course, would be taken. The burgomaster was not in the habit of med-
                  dling in commercial affairs. Something, however, had to be done.
                     My father left the house and walked through our tunnel to the main
                  branch. I followed closely behind. We waited in tense silence for a down-
                  town bound lamplighter. When the lamplighter did arrive, we joined his
                  long train of pedestrians without comment.
                     When we reached mother’s shop, my father made me stay outside.
                  I watched them through the storefront window as they fought. The
                  cake, which was on display in the very same window, was magnificent.
                  It was several layers high and decorated with intricate leaves and flow-
                  ers. I could even make out where the frosting knife had made strokes.
                  It looked like any other cake in the shop window. Only, being made of
                  snow, this cake was a solid, monotonous, pure white.
                     My father left the shop alone. Mother would not be coming home
                  with us. She would, he explained, be staying at the shop.
                     The next morning, while walking to the main branch, heading to
                  school, I came across my father talking to a small group of men. They
                  expressed dismay and shock over the turn of events. My father tried to
                  dismiss my mother’s open rebellion as a particularly cold and distasteful
                  joke, but a freak occurrence that would not last long. As I approached
                  the men, all fell silent. My father wished me a good day at school. He
                  added, as a deliberate afterthought, that I should come directly home. I
                  was not, he said, to go to mother’s bakery.
                     On the way home, I stopped by mother’s shop, but I dared not enter.
                  I stood in front of the shop window. My mother was talking with a
                  customer, a young lamplighter-in-training named Anton Makart. My
                  mother saw me through the window and waved to me. I waved back.
                  Then she made a gesture for me to wait, but I did not wait and ran
                  down the main branch towards home. I did not wait for a lamplighter
204               and got lost. It was nearly 20 minutes before a random lamplighter,
                  several tired-looking businessmen trudging behind him, came upon me
                  huddled in the darkness.

WFC Book 1.indb 204                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:18 PM
                                                                    The Snow Cake

              A week later, my mother had still not returned home. Friedrich told
           me that my mother’s cake had been joined by several tarts and vari-
           ous snow pastries. Nor were my mother’s baked goods the only snow
           foods that could now be found in the central market. The fishmon-
           ger had reopened his shop and now offered a bewildering variety of
           sea creatures, many species of which could only be found in the vast
           waters of the fishman’s own imagination. Grocers began offering fresh
           fruits, including varieties that had been unknown in our town before
           The Winter. Ministers from the burgomaster’s office and various rep-
           resentatives from a plethora of committees and chambers and depart-
           ments frowned, denounced, and made appalled statements on behalf of
           the good citizens. Rational, healthy, logical systems of food production
           and rationing were in place. This mania for snow foods would come to
           no good end. Still, governmental powers were loath to intervene in what
           was widely perceived as a manner of commerce best left to shop owners
           and their customers.
              I was told the snow food was delicious. I never tasted it. My father
           forbade it.
              The authorities maintained this posture of disgusted non-involvement
           until Anton Makart, the happy young lamplighter-in-training, sculpted
           himself a snow dog. It was a small mongrel, playful and mischievous.
           Only its monochromatic whiteness and its utter silence gave away that
           it was made of frigid matter. Like the falling snow from which it was
           made, the dog was incapable of making a sound.
              Considered a blasphemous mockery, the small dog provoked the al-
           ready uneasy authorities into action. Police officers were dispatched to
           every home bearing a copy of the burgomaster’s emergency legislation.
           The new law forbade the creation of new snow sculptures. Existing snow
           sculptures would have to be destroyed within three weeks. The creation
           of simulacrum inanimate objects carried a steep fine. The creation of
           fake life was punishable by a lengthy jail sentence.
              Herr Makart fled the town. It was believed that he fled with his dog
           to prevent its destruction. Slowly, the fantastic snow items disappeared
           from shop windows. The miraculous cold creations were replaced by the
           warm, cruelly solid matter of the real. By the end of the second week,
           it seemed as if life had returned to the way it was before my mother                  205
           constructed the snow cake.
              One day before the end of the third week, the town awoke to a hor-

WFC Book 1.indb 205                                                                   12/31/07 5:36:18 PM

                  rifying development. Several of the town’s citizens, merchants, and even
                  government officials were gone. In their place were snow people. Pale,
                  icy, these cold creatures walked out into the streets and performed their
                  original’s jobs. They waved to citizens their originals knew. At the end
                  of the day, they walked to their original’s homes. All this they did as
                  silently as Makart’s dog. As quiet as snow.
                     My mother was among the replaced vanished. But her cold replace-
                  ment, like the warm-blooded original, never returned home.
                     There was a second emergency ordinance. This one legalized the
                  destruction of the snowy replacements by relatives of the originals —
                  though, as far as I know, nobody ever destroyed a snow relative.


WFC Book 1.indb 206                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:18 PM
                                                         Dream Logic

           Dream logic isn’t story logic, writes Neil Gaiman, and he’s right. But,
           sometimes, dream logic supersedes story logic, infests real-life logic.
             I wake from the dream shaken. My mother stands in my kitchen,
           wearing her best Sunday dress from ten years ago, blue with shoul-
           der pads and decorative gold buttons. She looks young. She is thin and
           healthy. She tells me that I’m out of iced tea. Later, she explains she
           can’t bear caring for my grandfather. She will be staying with me for a
           few days.
             I wake and cannot escape the dream logic. Its shape winds its way
           through my gut and settles somewhere around my heart. I feel guilty
           that there is no iced tea in the refrigerator.

           The ingredients are in my glass mixing bowl, a Martha Stewart special
           I bought at K-Mart nearly ten years ago. I hesitate, then pick up the
           phone and call.
              “Hello?” She sounds, I don’t know, like she didn’t read the caller ID
           before she picked up.
              “Hey, Mama,” I say. I hold my breath.
              “Hey, shug! What’s goin’ on?”
              “I need a recipe,” I tell her, all in a rush. I peer into the bowl, the raw
           egg floating on top of the onions and red peppers and canned salmon.
           “You remember those salmon patties you used to make? I was going to
           make those tonight, but I couldn’t remember how you did them.”
              “You have a can of salmon?” She asks. She pronounces the L — salll-

WFC Book 1.indb 207                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:18 PM

                  mon. “Take it out of the can, and kind of mash it up with a fork.”
                     “Yeah, I did that, and picked the bones out.”
                     “You don’t need to pick the bones out. They’re soft. Plus, they’re good
                  for you.”
                     “Well, I already did that.”
                     “Add an egg. Cut up an onion and add that.”
                     “Okay. I also cut up some red pepper,” I say. “And some garlic.”
                     “That sounds good. Well, you can put whatever you want,” she tells
                  me. “Grandmama always added a little ketchup. Then add flour, I can’t
                  tell you how much, just enough.”
                     “So it sticks together.”
                     “Right. Then make it into patties and fry them until they’re golden
                  brown on, I don’t know, medium heat, I guess.”
                     “Okay.” I pause, as if I’m doing something to the bowl.
                     “I was worried something was wrong,” she says. “It’s not Wednesday.”
                  She knows, outside of story logic or real-life logic, that there is some-
                  thing fishy about my calling on a Sunday.
                     “How are you doing?” I say, finally.
                     “I’m doing fine.”
                     “How’s Granddaddy?”
                     “He’s doing okay. Still crazy. They’ll have a room for him soon,
                     “Good. I dreamed you showed up here, unannounced, saying you just
                  couldn’t take him anymore.”
                     “Well, I might run away from home any day now.” Her sarcasm makes
                  her sound healthier than she is.
                     “That’s fine, anytime. Just give me a little warning, OK?” I tell her I
                  love her and we hang up.

                  The salmon patties taste like my childhood. My brother is in his high
                  chair, smearing fish and ketchup across his face. I am ten years old and
                  my mother is young and healthy, smoking a Winston and wiping my
                  brother’s face. He squirms away and squeals. I pick at my salmon and
                  construct a small tower of green peas.
                    “I hate peas,” I whine.
208                 “Clean your plate,” she says. She doesn’t look at me, and I think about
                  dropping the peas, one by one, on the floor. I fear she’ll make me eat
                  them off the floor if I waste food, though, so I knock down the tower

WFC Book 1.indb 208                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:19 PM
                                                                       Dream Logic

           and carefully build a fort around the remainder of my salmon. I use
           ketchup as mortar. I’m proud of my creation and I can’t help but call her
           attention to it.
              She uses my middle name and I’m suddenly ashamed. My brother
           begins to sob in anger and exhaustion, and I eat my peas as quickly as
           possible. I don’t chew them, washing each mouthful down with sweet-
           ened iced tea.
              Mama uses my middle name again. “You’re going to get choked.” She
           glares at me and I blush.

           I eat my salmon patties and my baby lima beans and watch football on
           television. I see my brother. I hear my mother’s voice and she’s younger
           than I am now. My mother stands in my kitchen, dressed in her finest
           dress, wondering why I don’t have iced tea. I feel her death. Dream logic
           is not story logic. It is far more powerful.


WFC Book 1.indb 209                                                                    12/31/07 5:36:19 PM
                  What Do You Want?

                  “What do you want for dinner?”
                     The question opened a chasm before him. Far below, he could see
                  the various nationalities of the world fighting each other for his atten-
                  tion. A Greek man smashed plates. A German barmaid hoisted two
                  overflowing mugs of beer. A Chinese waiter bowed to him with respect,
                  only to be mowed down by a Japanese samurai. Not to be outdone, an
                  American cowboy pulled out a six-shooter and simultaneously fired and
                  held up a plate of baby-back ribs. An Israeli and an Arab seemed to be
                  playing tug-a-war with a falafel pita, both claiming that their people
                  had created it through divine inspiration from their God. John stepped
                  back from the edge before the cannibals made their appearance.
                     “I don’t know, what do you want, dear?”
                     Sarah gave him a look that made it clear that she’d asked him first,
                  and thus she was absolved from having to field it herself.
                     For some reason, John had thought that once he was married, this
                  would no longer be an issue. As if the joining of the two of them in the
                  eyes of the State, God, and Man would mean such intimate knowledge
                  of each other that they need never again wonder what to eat. He had no
                  reason to think that this would be so. His parents had certainly spent
                  enough time pondering the same question. Of course, he’d never seen it
                  as a kid, not until he was in high school. So he’d assumed that it was just
                  a symptom, the first stage in what culminated in their divorce after he’d
                  entered college. He glanced at Sarah, who had picked up a magazine as

WFC Book 1.indb 210                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:19 PM
                                                                  What Do You Want?

           if to show that she could wait for him to make up his mind. The two of
           them weren’t in imminent danger of splitting up, were they?
               “What did we have for dinner last night?”
               “I made lasagna.”
               “Oh yeah, that was really good.”
               On their third date, John made them chicken cordon bleu using a
           hot plate and a toaster oven. The meal was not without its problems, but
           still Sarah was impressed by his ambition, by the sheer effort he went
           through trying to impress her. They ate on the bed in his dorm room.
           Sarah ate like a pig and then, realizing he was too chicken to make the
           first move, made it herself. Later, she awarded him a ribbon for his feats
           in bed.
               “So, no Italian,” he stated.
               “It’s a start.”
               They visited John’s mother to announce they were engaged. After din-
           ner, his mom hustled John and her second husband out of the kitchen.
           He later learned that over the task of cleaning up, his mother had passed
           along the recipes for his favorite dishes to his wife-to-be. Most of them
           had ceased to appeal to his tastes, but with some slight modification,
           Sarah had discovered that meat loaf was still his ultimate comfort food,
           and more than once he’d come home from a lousy day to find it already
           baking in the oven.
               “What was the name of that Indian restaurant?” he asked.
               “Gandhi. They’re all named Gandhi.”
               “That’s not true.”
               “I don’t feel like Indian anyway.”
               Even though Sarah didn’t keep kosher, at their wedding they served
           fish so that none of her relatives would complain. It was a salmon with
           mustard-dill sauce; a pasta dish was also served. Neither was to John’s
           father’s liking; he left early before the burger place closed. Sarah’s grand-
           mother also secretly complained to him.
               “The only time I can sneak a pork chop is when someone in the fam-
           ily marries a goyim,” she confided.
               Most people’s complaints were shelved when it was revealed that in-
           stead of a traditional wedding cake, they were serving cheesecake with
           fresh strawberries. True to his word, John didn’t push the dessert into                    211
           Sarah’s face.

WFC Book 1.indb 211                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:19 PM

                      “We could call Bob and Marsha . . .”
                      “And say what? Tell us what to have for dinner.”
                      When he lost his job, they argued for hours. She’d been thinking of
                  leaving her job and now she was stuck there until he found something
                  new. He was angry about it and lashed back at her. The chicken pot pie
                  was forgotten in the oven, until the smoke started pouring out. They
                  didn’t even agree on what to have instead, John eating peanut butter and
                  jelly, while Sarah fixed a small salad.
                      “Maybe we should eat in. We should cook up that ground beef before
                  it turns.”
                      “It already did. I was going to make stuffed peppers yesterday. Had to
                  make the lasagna instead.”
                      “There’s ground beef in stuffed peppers?”
                      “What did you think I stuffed them with?”
                      “Never really thought about it.”
                      After he had his wisdom teeth removed, Sarah fed him Jell-O for two
                  days. As he pointed out, his mouth hurt, but his arms weren’t broken,
                  but she insisted upon on feeding it to him spoonful by loving spoonful.
                  When she was sick a few weeks later, he tried to repay the act using
                  chicken noodle soup. After a near scalding, she made him promise to
                  never try that again.
                      “That was a really good lasagna, yesterday,” he said a little wistfully.
                      “There are leftovers. Would that be okay for you?”
                      “Yeah, I think so.”
                      She gave him a kiss before heading to the kitchen. Soon, he could
                  smell the aroma of tomato sauce cooking; she always warmed up extra
                  with leftovers. In a moment, he’d get up to set the table and open a
                  bottle of wine. They’d eat, talk, maybe get a little drunk, and cuddle up
                  in bed together.
                      “Start thinking about what you want tomorrow,” Sarah called out.


WFC Book 1.indb 212                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:19 PM
                                                             Sushi Time

           There she sits, on a bus seat just across from him. For some reason he
           can’t keep his eyes off her. She is a beautiful girl after all, but that’s not
           what keeps his attention. It’s her eyes that fascinate him the most. They
           are amber in colour, but when the sun reflects just right the iris turns
           from a dark amber to a yellowish gold that can only be read in Egyptian
           Mythology. He watches patiently as the slightest movement of her head
           or of the bus can easily take the gold away with no promise that it will
           ever return; his heart is beating so strong that it feels like it is ready to
           jump out any minute or stop beating all together.
              He knows that soon the bus will stop where she will depart and that
           will be the end of that. Maybe there’s a way to see her again. He thinks
           of just saying hi, but he’s unable to — he’s speechless, how can you talk
           to something you can only imagine in your dreams? But he has to think
           of something — he frantically grabs a piece of paper out of his back-
           pack and scribbles a note on it. Then he starts folding it every which
           way — corner to corner, a half into another half, diagonal sides to each
           other — and finally he holds in his hand a bunny made of paper. She’s
           starting to get up; it’s her stop coming up. She notices him staring at
           her; he stretches out his arm and holds the origami in front of her. She
           looks shocked by the gesture but takes the origami not fully realizing
           what it is. They depart looking at each other through the window of the
           bus as it speeds away.
              It’s 8pm; he’s at a Sushi restaurant called Sushi Time located on Bloor
           St. It’s one of his favourite restaurants. The place has good lunch specials

WFC Book 1.indb 213                                                                         12/31/07 5:36:19 PM

                  which suited him just fine when he was attending college a couple years
                  back, not too far away. But he’s here now for a different reason, not to fill
                  his belly but instead in hopes to see her at least once more. The scribbles
                  contained a simple note: “Meet me at Sushi Time at 8pm today.” But
                  eight’s slowly passing by and she’s no where to been seen. He usually
                  gets the ski box which contains tempura, fried sweet potatoes, sushi
                  (two of California type, two of red tuna and two of salmon), a small
                  side salad, and the main piece, a teriyaki salmon. This night calls for
                  something else, though — she’s nowhere to been seen and it’s getting
                  to him — sake and lots of it; a roll of spicy negihama; a yellowtail with
                  spicy sauce, cucumber, and green onion. The spicy negihama is hard to
                  swallow with it’s initial sweetness but extremely bitter aftertaste.
                     The saki and negihama are consumed with nothing left on the plate.
                  He checks his watch; it’s forty after eight and no sign of her. He asks the
                  couple sitting next to him, “Do you have the time?” with the hopes that
                  maybe his watch is just wrong. The man replies “Twenty to nine.” And
                  he loses any hope he had left; it’s time for him to go. If she would have
                  come she would have surely been here by now. He pays his bill and
                  leaves the waiter a generous tip. He sees a streetcar coming up and gets
                  on it, pays his ticket, and heads to the back to find a seat. Unknown to
                  him it’s the same street car she just got off to get to the restaurant. She
                  didn’t notice him scribbling the note on the paper and didn’t think of
                  unfolding the origami until the thought crossed her mind after eight
                  o’clock. She looks through the window of Sushi Time to try to find
                  him, but it’s past the arranged time and he’s nowhere to be found. She
                  walks inside to see if maybe she just doesn’t see him through window;
                  she looks at each darkened corner where he might be hidden but none
                  contain him.
                     She leaves the restaurant without getting anything; his presence isn’t
                  there and she’s not a fan of sushi. Part of the reason she was late was that
                  she also didn’t know where the restaurant was located. She catches the
                  next streetcar and heads home, looks at the piece of paper, and wonders
                  if it may have been better not to have unfolded the paper. At least she
                  would still have the bunny instead of a flat piece of paper.


WFC Book 1.indb 214                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:20 PM
                                          The Leaving Agent

           Maxwell Harris stood teutonically tall, straight, and sublime
           but for a scar down his left cheek and black eyes that did not admit to a
           difference between pupil and iris. When he entered the bakery the bell
           rang as the door disturbed its rest. He cleaned his snow-encrusted boots
           upon the fading mat, pulled the scarf from around his face and throat,
           and let his gaze move right to left across the glass case before settling
           upon what he without fail called the sweetest pastry in the shop. To
           counter the familiarity and silliness I stared into the mirror daily and
           taught myself to blush.
               I knew I would join him after dinner not when I replied yes to his in-
           vitation but when at the bar — where shadows were the norm and pock-
           ets of light hid in the corners — after our second bottle I expounded
           upon why I loved baking. “Don’t you want more?” he inquired. “With
           your intelligence and drive . . .” but, I insisted, when I handled the dough,
           pounded it, pushed and pulled and tore it, kneaded it and tested my
           endurance, avoiding finishing too quickly, adding the right amount of
           yeast, forming it into loaves between rising periods, finally putting the
           buns in the oven, then I was ecstatic. “It’s the perfect mixture of the
           ground seed of a grass with a single-cell fungus, add water, let chemistry
           and physics build a strong gluten matrix, and to think that in some cults
           it is treated as flesh!” I continued, more to myself than to him; he was no
           longer staring into my eyes.

WFC Book 1.indb 215                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:20 PM

                     “You look just like her,” dad always said, the only thing he told me
                  that has stayed in my memory. “Her eyes, her hair, that thing you do
                  with your hands and lips when you talk.” The look on his face was ad-
                  miration and pride mixed with something else, a contaminated, remem-
                  bered longing, and the discomfort it produced only subsided when he
                  vanished and I found myself with a foster family known more for ex-
                  plicit rather than subtle pain.
                     Maxwell’s eyes were not dissimilar. “It’s impossible to find the perfect
                  woman,” he had proclaimed over our first glass. Without sugar, yeast
                  starves; they are just two dry ingredients. We dipped bread into olive

                  “Onions,” I explained on a couch in Maxwell’s house, “like garlic and
                  their cousins have two stages. In one, seeds produce a bulb, and in the
                  other, these stalks surrounded by leaf tissue and gifted with a shallow
                  root structure sprout a stem that then leads to a blossom and more seeds.
                  We plant seeds to get bulbs, and bulbs to get seeds. Imagine if people
                  did that!” He did not reply, so I left out tales of photosynthetic snails
                  that, upon consuming algae, absorb but do not break down chloroplasts,
                  instead using them to supplement their food supply. Or the bacteria and
                  worms whose neurological influence upon the host organism leads to
                  behavior modification that benefits the parasite by improving the odds
                  of it being passed on up the food chain. But it was always a multi-part
                  cycle, I wanted to exclaim; what if these organisms merged, became
                  something new, not hybrid or chimera or mule, but a self-sustaining
                  new being.
                     “No,” I replied to the question whispered in my ear, “this isn’t my
                  normal foreplay, just trivia from my years as a gardener.” He snoozed. It
                  was afterplay. The members of the onion family contain sulphur com-
                  pounds, I continued only to myself, different in each species, which lead
                  to the smell, the bite, the tears in the eye, but they contain a compound
                  that, when heated, transforms, and the result is many times sweeter than
                     Gardening had preceded my stint as a mechanic and while I fanta-
216               sized about gene splicing and those laboratory endeavors far beyond
                  my educational level, I settled for grafting, tying together cuts of dif-
                  ferent plants to one root system, a process entirely responsible for the

WFC Book 1.indb 216                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:20 PM
                                                                   The Leaving Agent

           world’s wines — the sweeter European grapes but the hardier New
           World roots — and in my free time at the nursery I nurtured many pot-
           ted beauties that through natural means would never have blossomed.
              As I awoke from a nap to multiple touches, inquiries, and intrusions
           he assured, “I am not a sex fiend though. I’m just a mammal.” Nodding
           in feigned understanding I smiled and, somewhat more enthusiastically,
              Oxytocin, “quick birth,” a mammalian neurotransmitter and hor-
           mone, released after distension of the cervix, after stimulation of the
           nipples, and during orgasm in both sexes, is involved in social recogni-
           tion and bonding. Whether cause or effect, it is a wonder, but still only
           one of many non- and misunderstood chemicals. “I need you,” he stated,
           his fingers pinching knots near my neck, the flats of his hands pushing
           the flesh of my back, and then the gripping of my shoulders and pulling
           back. My skin became satiny under his caress.

           “I shouldn’t have slept with you, that was a mean thing to do.” As
           he slept I had looked in his mouth and seen the perfectly aligned rows
           of teeth. Now we sat across a circular table from one another, I with a
           top-fermented ale, he a lager.
              “I mean, it was nice and all, but it wasn’t polite.” His pores were small
           and tight, clean. Neither blemish nor birthmark nor mole marred his
           face, back, chest, or arms. His lips turned downward, the neck made ten-
           sion visible, his right hand shook as he lowered the glass, and I pushed
           a napkin across to him. Beer pooled on the wood.
              “I didn’t know what I wanted or what I was doing.” Normally one
           cannot know the result until implantation, so I stayed for weeks to be
              I came to Maxwell by way of the bakery and the bakery by way of
           Donato, bespectacled, beaproned, balding, and wearer of a drooping
           white mustache under which I knew his lips moved but I never saw the
           mechanism, hidden as it was behind that walrus-like facade. He built,
           repaired, and rescued clocks — the older the better — his friends, he said,
           and I somehow felt he had been raised among a tribe of Frankensteinian
           automatons, clockwork men who tick tick ticked the day away in perfect                    217
           time and harmony, a music of the spheres made manifest. And I felt
           at home. From the bakery he purchased hard rolls every morning and

WFC Book 1.indb 217                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:20 PM

                  so when I left I wasn’t really saying good-bye. I saw him still; perhaps
                  Maxwell, too.
                     “Sorry about the whole thing. You seem great, I’m just not the type,
                  I guess. I’d probably have let you down anyway.” Maxwell’s eyes were
                  moistened. “Relationships may just be too much pressure for me in the
                  end. I tend to freak out and flee into the bushes.” I stayed with Donato
                  three years after leaving the garage, where I had learned large-scale pre-
                  cision; with the old man and his never trembling hands I came to ap-
                  preciate those things barely visible to the eye. Yet in the end I knew I
                  had to leave again; with him, with the mechanics, and with the plants I
                  discovered technical magic but still nothing new.
                     “You know how I keep my apartment really, really clean? I like my life
                  to be like that, and when you involve other people things just get messy.”
                  The banter and excuses did not cheer him. I pushed back the chair and
                  walked to the door. Happy hour was ending.


WFC Book 1.indb 218                                                                     12/31/07 5:36:20 PM
                                                            Con Queso

           In certain parts of Mexico you can still board the distrito bus with
           a razor sharp machete hanging at your belt and a fighting cock, legs
           bound for his own safety, glaring balefully out from the cage in your
           arms and — so long as you pay your peso cinquenta — no one will bother
           you. The lady with the three loose chickens might shoot you a dirty glare
           as her birds get excited, but that’s it. There’s a shortage in this world
           of places where you can ride public transportation with an arm-length
              And despite the evil eye I recall being thankful for the woman with
           the gallinas, for they certainly hadn’t escaped the attention of my rooster,
           El Hombrito Malo. And I subscribed to the old belief that warriors
           needed to be occasionally reminded what they were fighting for.
              Perhaps it says something of me that I remember Hombrito better
           than most women that have come and gone in my life. Clearly I recall
           his hard-bitten no-nonsense demeanour, accentuated by the scar tis-
           sue where I had carefully removed and cauterized his comb and wattle
           when he was just a cockerel. Yes, that little red-and-black bird was one
           bad motherfucker. He existed only to kick ass and to rub his asshole
           against the assholes of hens in the disturbing copulative dance of ani-
           mals without external genitalia. No existential angst for Hombrito; his
           razon de ser was as plain as day.
              A military checkpoint stopped us in the mountains. While the bus
           driver spoke with a couple of Kalishnikov teenagers, an enterprising
           abuela came on board with a tray of gorditas.

WFC Book 1.indb 219                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:20 PM
WFC Book 1.indb 220   12/31/07 5:36:21 PM
                                                                           Con Queso

              “¡Comida!” she called. “¡Coma mis gorditas y vivira siempre!”
              I gave her two pesos. She did not thank me; instead, she put her face
           entirely too close to Hombrito’s cage and said softly: “Buena suerte,
              She waited a moment, as though expecting a response. When none
           was forthcoming she continued down the bus shouting: “¡Gorditas! ¡Ya
              I did. It was delicious. The taste of the queso Oaxaca was still linger-
           ing when the bus pulled into the tiny mountain pueblo that was my
              It was a desperately hot day, but the pit was nonetheless swarming by
           the time I arrived. In fact, the spectators numbered at least double the
           population of the village on an ordinary day. Perhaps my mind was still
           on the gordita when I first scanned the crowd, for I do not recall notic-
           ing the delectably curvy senorita among them at that time. Such things
           do not usually escape my attention. Food is one of the few things that
           can have that effect on me.
              I do remember being found by Guillermo, his massive paw bearing
           down on my shoulder from behind. I’ve only ever met one man with
           such volcanic hands and so, without needing to turn, I spoke: “Heya
              “Hombrito!” he called out joyfully. I waited patiently for respectively
           the toughest fighting bird and the toughest Mexicano I have ever known
           to finish exchanging their holas and que ondas.
              Finally: “Guy! Good to fawkeeng see you again, cabron. Quite a
           crowd today, no?”
              I agreed that it was indeed quite a crowd. I further allowed that it was
           a big day for Hombrito and that the sun was probably going to cook us
           all alive.
              It took only a glance to locate Los Machingos. They were gathered
           around the tailgate of a ludicrous bomba pickup with a Gatling gun air-
           brushed on the hood. In the bed a dozen cocks lay bound and hooded.
           I spat to clear the taste of bile from my mouth. Hijos del putas. Pendejos
           like Los Machingos were a taint on the entire institution of the cock-
           fight. I will never understand how one man can raise more than one bird
           at a time and still hold his head high.                                                  221
              Guillermo knew me well enough to sense my agitation and its cause.
           “Forget those cholos, man. Today isn’t about them. Today is about

WFC Book 1.indb 221                                                                      12/31/07 5:36:21 PM

                  Hombrito. Come on little man, let’s get you out of that fawkeeng
                     The moment he was loosed, Hombrito clawed the dusty mountain
                  dirt once, twice, and then crowed like the King of the Firmament. That
                  did not go over well with the birds in the back of the bomba. They
                  cocked their disgracefully hooded heads this way and that, twitching for
                  the fight, but packed together like common laying hens. In its way that
                  was one of the worst things about Los Machingos; I couldn’t even take
                  proper joy in El Hombrito Malo’s potent menace.
                     Still, he was a thing to behold. He tossed his head, red feathers glint-
                  ing in the dry sun, stretched his wings and qui-qui-ri-quied once again.
                  Willie laughed a double-barrel laugh and bent down low, his affection
                  tinged with a certain practical wariness (for Hombrito would take a
                  swipe every now and then to remind us that — though he may love
                  us — we hadn’t tamed him). Willie tossed the bird a small piece of queso
                  Manchego. Hombrito gobbled it hungrily.
                     “He eats cheese?” came an earnest voice from behind us, tinged with
                  a provincial French accent.
                     Turning then I saw what I had missed earlier. She was perhaps five
                  feet tall, and most of that was hips and breasts spilling out of jean shorts
                  and a tank top. The Aztec sun had bronzed skin that perhaps tended
                  to light olive, and over smile-bunched cheeks looked out eyes of the
                  most genuine green. In all it was the last thing I expected to see at a
                     And I must have paused, for she stumbled appealingly and forced
                  out: “il ethtath a comer quetho?”
                     “Yes,” I said, “he loves it.”
                     Willie laughed again and agreed: “He is one loco little
                     As if to punctuate, Hombrito pecked hard at my boot. I reached
                  down, scooped him up in a practised legs-and-neck grip, and presented
                  him: “My lady, meet the renowned Hombrito Malo.”
                     “Pleasure to meet you, Hombrito,” she spoke deferentially. “My name
                  is Mia. You don’t look so terribly malo to me.”
                     “Don’t let him fool you,” I said, dodging my head to the left to avoid
222               an irritated buffeting of the wings. “He rolls out the charm for the seno-
                  ritas. Hombrito’s the maloest thing going.”
                     She laughed perfectly, with an unselfconscious bubbling.

WFC Book 1.indb 222                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:21 PM
                                                                            Con Queso

              I handed Hombrito off to Willie then and addressed Mia more som-
           brely: “Now Mia, I have to ask, are you here with somebody? Because
           I mean, I’m glad to meet you, but what’s-a-nice-girl-like-you and all
              She knotted her brow enchantingly: “I was just passing through in
           my rental”— she nodded towards a green Cabriolet — “and stopped to
           see what the crowd was about. It’s not actually dangerous is it?”
              “Well,” I said, “I’m not going to play it up like this is an adventure
           story. There’s not going to be a gunfight or anything. Mostly just gam-
           bling and shouting. Still, it can get a little rough sometimes. And a lady
           like you could end up getting a lot of unwanted attention from folks like
           me and Willie.”
              “Hey,” Willie cut in, “there ain’t no chiquita ever didn’t want attention
           from Guillermo De Lono.”
              I grinned: “My point, exactly.”
              She winked at me; it was a what-happens-in-Mexico-stays-in-
           Mexico wink.
              “I’ll be careful,” she said and turned to walk away. I like to think that,
           despite all my rough edges, I’m enough of a class act not to leer. But I
           learned then that that was, in fact, a conceit.
              Still, quickly my attention returned to Hombrito. The time was draw-
           ing near. All frivolous thoughts fled my mind as Guillermo and I bore
           our champion to the pit. As soon as Hombrito caught sight of his ad-
           versary, it was all we could do to restrain him. There was gawking and
           jostling and shouting of bets. I could not have said where amongst the
           chaos was Mia. Time seemed to drag to a halt as Hombrito and I faced
           off across the pit against some Machingon cholo and his maltreated
           cock. But finally the arbitro signalled release and in a flurry of talons and
           feathers the fight began.
              I’ve always hated the fight. I’ve hated every fight I’ve been in, but
           somehow it’s worse to watch than it is to be in the very heat of it swing-
           ing. The adrenaline floods your system and without release it poisons
           you. Honestly, I cannot remember how exactly it transpired. But when
           the dust cleared and the roar dimmed, Hombrito lay bleeding and the
           Machingon bird still stood.
              When I reached the centre of the pit, it was immediately clear that                     223
           Hombrito wouldn’t live to fight another day. I crouched at his side and
           shared a few words which will remain forever between him and I.

WFC Book 1.indb 223                                                                        12/31/07 5:36:21 PM

                     And then I loosed my machete and saw El Hombrito Malo off. He
                  died like a king rather than as a dog on the factory floor — the last,
                  perhaps, of his kind.
                     And it should have ended there. Willie and I would have shared a
                  bottle of rum to his memory and we would leave cockfighting behind
                  for a time, perhaps forever.
                     But some people can’t recognise a sacred moment when they see
                     “¿Gritando para su gallina jota?” laughed the feckless Machingon.
                     I can’t say I really considered my actions. I don’t think I ever actually
                  decided to chop my blade into his ankle. But there are times when deci-
                  siveness can preempt decision. I regret it only because his blood did not
                  deserve to mingle with Hombrito’s.
                     I stood, Hombrito’s body in my left hand, bloody machete in my right.
                  The crowd parted instantly as Los Machingos mobilised. But Willie,
                  bless him, produced a hand cannon from nowhere and covered them.
                     We backed away slowly. One of them went for a shotgun in the bed
                  of the bomba but Willie put a shot over their heads and yelled: “¡No
                  chingues, culo!”
                     But there was nowhere for us to go. Nowhere for us to go until I
                  heard from behind us: “No gunfight?”
                     Willie shot out one of the bomba’s tires. He is a man full of exactly
                  the kind of surprises you want in friends. We vaulted into the back seat
                  of the Cabriolet and left the chaos and pain behind us. Whatever else
                  may be said of Mia, let no-one ever say she can’t drive.
                     And that night the three of us bid Hombrito a final goodbye. Con
                  queso Manchego.


WFC Book 1.indb 224                                                                       12/31/07 5:36:21 PM

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