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Monthly Archives: May 2017

When the Sun Exploded

I had a dream that I died.

I think it was a car-crash or something. I remember glass breaking, looking out a broken window at a fire raging near the gas-tank. I remember hearing a sound so loud I couldn’t hear it at all, a light so bright I didn’t even have to walk down the tunnel.

But that was not the worst dream I ever had.

The worst dream I ever had came about two weeks later. I was talking to someone (in the dream) one of my writing gurus, the man who had written one of my favorite films of all time, whom I had met a few months earlier at a screenwriting conference.

I was telling the man a story about battles in space, a sci-fi arc I’d been working on, and he kept telling me to raise the stakes. So I imagined Nicholas Scatterhull escaping on his ship from a planet crumbling through seismic instability–the end of the world.

No. Not a dying planet. A dying star, gasping its last and taking the entire system down with it.

Perhaps not a single star, but a cluster in the galaxy’s center, like in Larry Niven, all supernova’d at once, and wiping out the galaxy.

I was talking to my guru about this when suddenly–that white light again, the end of the tunnel, swallowing me up, and my dying thought realizing that this time, it wasn’t just me. The light itself was dying. And it was taking everything with it.

Voyager hasn’t even left our solar system yet. We are alone in the dark, and know of no one who can help us. No one who might even know about us. This means that, in any given situation, no matter how dire, the single worst thing that can ever happen, the worst case scenario, is the destruction of our sun.

It would take just over eight minutes to reach us, and assuming the blast comes at the speed of light, we will never know.

It would destroy not only every human life, but every human endeavor. Every memory, every monument, every accomplishment put forth by every single living being in the history of the planet, would be extinguished.

I wrote this at a time before we knew (for sure) that the Mayan Apocalypse wasn’t going to destroy the world on December 21st, 2012. If you are reading this, the world has not ended yet, even now.

If you are reading this, the sun still shines, no brighter than it did the day before.

The waves still crash against the rocks, clawing at the moon.

People die, but are also born.

People fight, but make love as well.

And their endeavors are remembered. They are meaningful.

If you are reading this, there is still hope.

If the sun has not exploded, whatever is bothering you, whatever has made you upset, is not the worst thing that could have happened.

It is not the end of the world.

You can be sad. I will understand, and not hold it against you. But it is still possible to be happy.

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The Wolf’s Clothing

Once upon a time, there was a little Lamb who liked to play by herself, away from the flock. The Sheep who were her parents—and especially the Ram who was her father—kept warning her about Wolves, but she never listened.

One day, while she was hopping around near the forest, a Wolf did come out to her. “Hey, there, little Lamb,” said the Wolf. “You want someone to play with?”

But the Lamb was too clever for him. “I don’t need anyone to play with!” she said, “and least of all you, because you’re a Wolf!” And she boo’d and baa’d and stuck her tongue out, then hopped and skipped away, leaving the Wolf in the dust. “Well, now that was pretty rude,” said the Wolf, and no sooner had he said so than he heard someone laughing behind him. Upon closer investigation, it turned out to be an Older Wolf.

“Boy, you really are something,” said the Older Wolf. “expecting some lamb to fall for that old trick when she’s obviously smarter than you.”

“But I’m a Wolf!” said the younger one. “Wolves have to eat, don’t they?”

“Times change,” the Older Wolf explained. “You can’t pull that kind of wool over little lambs’ eyes anymore. You need something a little bit thicker.” And with that, he produced a cloak made out of sheeps’ woll and handed it over to the younger Wolf. “Nowadays,” said the older one, “to catch a decent Lamb, you gotta be a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.”

Meanwhile, the little Lamb ran home and found her father. When she finally saw him, she cried out “Daddy! Daddy! I saw him! I saw a wolf!”

“You saw a wolf?” said her father. “Well, what did he do?”

“He asked me to come and play with him,” said the Lamb. “But I said no and I ran the other way.”

“Good for you,” said her father. “That’s exactly how we act around wolves!”

But the Wolf had this new plan to work on, now, so he put on his Sheep’s Clothing and hovered at the edge of the woods.

“No, no, no,” said the Older Wolf. “You’re a sheep now! Go into the flock with the other sheep!”

So the bumbling Wolf in the wool stumbled over to the flock of Sheep, who baa’d and bleated at him in greeting. His mouth was watering, but he didn’t do anything because he remembered exactly what the Older Wolf had told him: “This time, you’re only out there to watch them,” he’d said. “Just learn what they’re all about. Trust me, it’ll help you in the long run.”

While he was out there, he saw the little Lamb he had met earlier and she didn’t recognize him. “Hello, sir,” she said. “My, my, what an awful lot of wool you have!”

The better to reel you in and eat you, thought the Wolf, but he didn’t say it because he knew that would blow his cover. “Thanks,” he said instead, then trying not to show how angry he was at the little Lamb for how she’d treated him before, he returned, “that’s not a bad coat yourself.”

“Thanks,” said the little Lamb, beaming that this cute, only slightly older sheep had actually given her a compliment.

But she was distracted by an all-too-familiar voice. “That’s my father calling,” she said. “I’d better go. I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

I’m not a stranger, the sinister Wolf thought as she left. You’ve met me before. Or rather, I’ve met you…

So the Lamb’s father called her away, saying he had a Nice Young Ram to introduce her to, saying he was the Cleverest Nice Young Sheep in the whole flock, but the little Lamb thought only of the Mysterious Sheep with the thick wool coat that reminded her so much of her grandfather’s.

That night, the little Lamb continued to think about the Mysterious older Sheep she’d met, about how big and dark and handsome he had seemed, and all the old adventurousness she’d lost when she’d met that Wolf, came tumbling back.

Meanwhile, the Wolf went back to the forest after his excursion to brag to the Older Wolf. “That—went—splendidly!” said the Wolf in Sheeps’ Clothing.

“Tell me about it,” the Older Wolf invited.

“Oh, I met that damn Lamb again,” moaned the Wolf. “The one who spurned me! I gave her a piece of my mind and I’ll give her the rest of my belly, come morning.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” said the Older Wolf. “Have you no sense of style or art? The fun of it is in the hunt, man, not the kill!”

The Wolf wasn’t quite sure how to take that. But he thought about it and decided that maybe he should relish how this impudent Lamb who had once been so cruel to him was now fawning over him in his disguise as a sheep.

So, the next morning, he returned and found the Lamb again in her flock and they spoke and he listened and laughed at her jokes until it was time for her to go. And when she went, she was glowing at this Ram who liked her and he was gloating that the Lamb didn’t know.

And this went on, day after day after day, over and over they would talk until one day, the Wolf’s belly started to rumble and he realized how long it had been since he’d had a decent meal. Perhaps it was time, he thought.

So he lured the little Lamb away. “I want to go on an adventure,” he said. “I want to leave the flock and march right up to the edge of the woods, where no one will see us.”

“And what would we do there?” asked the little Lamb.

“Well,” said the Wolf, “I’ve heard they have the crispest, greenest you have ever tasted, right at the edge of the woods!”

“They do! They do!” cried the little Lamb. “I’ve even tasted it myself! You’re right, we should totally go! We should go right now! Wood grass! Yaay!”

And as the Lamb leapt off into the forest, the Wolf found himself sincerely smiling after her.

At the edge of the woods, the Lamb started crunching away happily at the blades of grass that grew there, while behind her the Wolf started licking his teeth.

But that was when the Wolf started to notice that his mouth wasn’t watering any more when he looked at the little Lamb and he realized that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t really want to eat her all that much anymore.

“What’s wrong?” asked the little Lamb. “Why aren’t you eating?”

“I’m not hungry anymore,” the Wolf lied. “Come on, let’s go back to the flock.”

That night, when the Wolf went back to the forest, his mentor was waiting there again. “So,” said the older wolf, “You’re probably thinking right now that your chase is close to over.”

“No,” said the Wolf. “I’ve given up the hunt for little Lambs.”

“Oh,” said the Older Wolf, “don’t tell me you’ve fallen for your prey. I thought you were better than that.”

“I found,” said the Wolf, “when it came to it, that I just couldn’t do it. She meant too much to me for me to settle on dinner. So I let her go.”

“Well, what will you do now, then?”

The Wolf thought for a moment until his growling stomach answered him. “I’ll go into the woods,” he said, “and hunt Rabbits. They’re easy enough to catch.”

And, without another word, the Wolf threw off his sheep’s clothing and dashed off into the forest.

That was when the Cleverest Nice Young Ram took off his Wolf’s Clothing and sighed: “Well, at least he’ll leave us alone now. That’s all I was after.” And he went home to win the heart of a little Lamb.

And they lived happily ever after.


Possession with Intent

It’s 5 AM and her mother and brother are both still asleep, not knowing that the girl has been up all night. The witching hour has past and this girl has done plenty of witching, as witching goes. Though she doesn’t quite understand herself how much. Until she starts screaming.

Her mother knows exactly what’s going on—or thinks she does. She doesn’t want to know it, she doesn’t want to accept that something like that could be happening to her own daughter, but there’s something about the screams that feels unnatural. Inhuman. Something terrifying.

Dios mio, she thinks, let it not be true! Please tell me my daughter has not been dealing with forces she does not understand. 

Dealing with forces that we don’t understand is the only way we can possibly learn new things. Her brother understands this. He’s only fourteen—two years younger than the girl screaming him into consciousness—but he’s already somewhat of a scientist. If he were better off economically, a gringo in a better part of town, at a better school where they believed in him, he would probably be at M.I.T. by now. But he lives in the ghetto and looks like a Mexican thug. There are forces that he “couldn’t possibly understand” like white supremacy and whatever nationalism tells people to send a natural born citizen “back” to his mother’s Guatemala or his father’s Bolivia. But not understanding these forces doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to deal with them—hell, dealing with them is how he understands them better.

Little does he know that’s exactly why his sister has been dealing with me.

It’s not just the bed that she’s thrashing on. She’s not levitating—not yet. She isn’t able (yet) to crawl up the walls and on the ceiling, but she’s spasming, thrashing around. She fell off the bed and crashed into the desk. Then she fell to the floor, but she bounced and by the time her mother bursts into the room—Dios mio—she’s rolling around on the wall.

“What’s happening?” her mother asks, “What’s wrong, little angel girl?”

The brother appears in the doorway behind her before she can cover his eyes and push him out. She doesn’t want the boy seeing this, his own sister in such a state! Who knows what she could do? She’d be tearing off her nightgown soon enough!

But the boy has seen enough to know what’s happening (he thinks).

“She’s having a seizure, mamá. We need to call a hospital! An ambulance!”

“A hospital?” his mother scoffs. “What do they know of such things?” Mamá calls a priest. For some reason, she can’t get a hold of Padre Ramón at her own church, but she happens to know some people. Finally, after an hour (after she had secured her daughter by tying her down with sheets), she gets hold of Father Mosby from the Irish Church, and he believes her because he is a man of Faith and he tells her he will be there within half an hour.

“Half an hour, angelita! Don’t worry! This will be over soon!”

Half an hour. I’ve already been inside the girl for twice that—half this time again? I don’t know if I can bear it.

There’s supposed to be a vetting process for these things. We’re supposed to be matched.

A young girl requests the aid of an Angel of the Lady, she wants us to suffuse her. She wants us to build a temple on her Soul.

At least, that’s the theory. But that other God has convinced too many of them that Our Lady is the devil’s dam.

Too much of this girl’s Soul is soaked in concrete. I should have been prepared for this. We should have known her background, should have been briefed, and now the operation is bungled and this girl is paying the price: a Demon, an Angel cut off from her Mother-God, is too big for a Soul that doesn’t accept her. I am tearing her apart and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

“Where is the child?” the Priest at the door asks after his promised half hour is up.

By now, the power she’s been channeling from me is pouring out.

Things even her genius brother can’t explain are happening in this apartment. Flickering lights. Discoloration in the walls. Random Psychokinesis. Black, blood-like ooze spilling from the drains. His sister levitating as the horror transpiring on her Soul starts to break out on her face, her skin and even the structure of her bones.

I’m killing her. I want to tell her I’m sorry, but my screams come in a language she couldn’t possibly understand, which is why she’s killing me, too. Some ironic justice.

It will be over soon. The Priest will kill me, probably by summoning an Angel of his own to push me out, one that her Figments will accept to make them calm down. She will be free and my suffering will be over. I take comfort in that. I will have failed my mission and I will probably be unraveled completely, fragments of my being used by Celestials and Conceptuals to build new principles and Messengers for them.

But this poor girl, this poor “little angel” her mother keeps calling her, will know herself better.

“You have a rosary?” the Priest asks the mother. She hands it to him. “Good. And I will need water to bless. A bucket, if you have it. As much as possible. And lock the boy in his room. He should not be made to bear witness.”

The woman nods because she is a woman of Faith and does as she is told, over the objections of her son who is even now beginning to restructure his understanding of the world in light of new events. A true scientist. He will go far.

“You will knock and await my answer before entering,” is his last command to her before he closes the door and ends up alone in the room with the girl I’m inhabiting.

“Alone at last,” he tells me. But he says it in a language so ancient no ordinary Earthling could possibly know it, and I realize my mistake in trusting human priesthood.

I recognize him now.

“I don’t know why you lot even bother,” he scolds me. “No one wants you on this planet anymore. So you end up like this.” He casts a spell to calm the girl, but it’s one that keeps me trapped here. “Do you have any idea how long exorcisms have been known to take place here? How much this woman would sacrifice to keep the devil out of her child?” He smiles and it scares me more than lifetimes trapped in here. “Do you have any idea how few of the subjects survive?”

The girl’s blood runs cold through me.

He leans down and whispers into her ear: “We are going to have fun tonight, you and I…”


Leagues Away

BLAIR: So are you going to homecoming?

HANNAH: I don’t know yet.

BLAIR: No one’s asked you?

HANNAH: I don’t know if I even want them to. It’s lame, right?

BLAIR: It’s not so bad if you got someone to go with. And I guess even if you don’t… I don’t know. Lots of folks’ll be there, right?

HANNAH: But you’re taking Rose, right?

BLAIR: Yeah.

HANNAH: How’s that going?

BLAIR: Good. Why? How else would it be going?

HANNAH: You mean other than the fact that she’s not the one you wanted?

BLAIR: She’s the one I’m with, though. Look—Sandy, she was never an option.

HANNAH: Did you even try? Did you even go there?

BLAIR: What the fuck makes you think I didn’t go there?

HANNAH: I just… don’t understand why…

BLAIR: What?

HANNAH: Why any girl in her right mind would not want to date you. You’re still friends with her, right? Sandy?

BLAIR: Yeah.

HANNAH: Is she, like, a lesbian?

BLAIR: No.

HANNAH: Are you sure?

BLAIR: It’s like she’s… I don’t know, sometimes it’s just… it’s like she’s just above it all. You know?

HANNAH: Above what?

BLAIR: All of it. Relationships, sex. It’s like she’s been there and…

HANNAH: Did you ever make a move?

BLAIR: I wouldn’t even know how. And you know, the more I think about it…

HANNAH: What?

BLAIR: I’m not even sure that I really… want… her. Sandy.

HANNAH: You have been pining over her all year, so, like–

BLAIR: I have not–

HANNAH: Uh, yeah, actually, you have.

BLAIR: It’s just, do you ever… I mean, I don’t know, ‘cause you’re a girl–

HANNAH: Oh, really? I’m a girl?

BLAIR: I mean, you know what I mean–

HANNAH: No, I don’t think I do. Enlighten me.

BLAIR: Guys have… you know… fantasies.

HANNAH: About sex?

BLAIR: Yeah.

HANNAH: Hold on, do you seriously think that I don’t fantasize about sex?

BLAIR: … Well…

HANNAH: Oh, honey.

BLAIR: I mean, okay, yeah, I guess there is that–

HANNAH: Is this going somewhere?

BLAIR: When I fantasize… I mean, I’ve tried, but… I just can’t seem to fantasize about her. She’s all… it’s like she’s…

HANNAH: Out of your league?

BLAIR: It’s like she’s on a whole other planet. Like she’s a different species that isn’t even compatible.

HANNAH: I know what that feels like…

BLAIR: But anyway, there’s Rose.

HANNAH: Right.

BLAIR: So you want me to help find you a date? For homecoming?

HANNAH: No.

BLAIR: You sure?
HANNAH: No.

BLAIR: Think I could get Alex to—

HANNAH: Ew. No. Thanks, though.

BLAIR: Anyway, thanks for the talk.

HANNAH: You’re welcome. For the talk. Hey, Blair?

BLAIR: Hm?

HANNAH: Tell Rose I said hi, OK?

BLAIR: OK.

HANNAH: OK.


“Are You Experienced?”

All the Llywelyn children reacted differently to our father leaving. I thank whatever power I have that I didn’t have the immediate reaction to go out and get pregnant like my sister did. I could have. And wouldn’t that have been a story. But it wasn’t my way. Out of all of us, I guess I had the healthiest reaction, locking myself in my room for days and weeks, reading and trying to come to grips with the new reality.

My brother has never had my introspection.

Both my older siblings always needed outside validation of some kind or other. They needed people to talk to, friends that they could pretend they were close with. Problem was, they also didn’t know how to actually talk about it. Aly got herself pregnant.

Jasper started doing drugs.

I might be over-simplifying here, for the sake of the narrative as I saw it. To be honest, Jasper’s kind of always been the kind of kid who would grow up to do drugs. You didn’t have to be psychic. You could just tell. I’m sorry to put it like that, but there’s a certain kind of prankster-jokester mesh that you just know is going to be trouble—first and foremost for himself.

Part of me wishes I could blame Tommy for this one, too. It would make my life so much easier if it was just one guy fucking up all of my characters, you know? But Tommy wasn’t anywhere nearby, wasn’t even part of the equation.

The guy who chained my brother to the gateway was a guy called Pete, and Jasper never saw him again, ‘cept maybe in passing. He was passing through. Not sure why. Their age. He shared his joint with them. That’s the fundamental difference between smoking cigarettes and smoking pot. Smokers ask “You got a light?” or even “You got a cigarette?” Pot-smokers ask “Hey, man, you wanna smoke up?” and then they exhale and usually cough, in my experience.

He’d already smoked a bit—tobacco is the real gateway drug. How many junkies are there out there who didn’t start on nicotine? That’s the one that teaches you about chemical dependency. But pot was the kicker for him. Not because of the fictitious addiction, but because of the danger of it. What would happen if he got caught.

Marijuana is easy to justify. There aren’t a lot of physical drawbacks—can’t OD, not “physically addictive, whatever that means, and studies show it might actually cure cancer. Not to mention a cultural message of “it’s not like other drugs” that competes with legal definitions.

But once you’re on that path…

I know that my brother wouldn’t have gone any farther if our dad hadn’t bailed. I know it ‘cause I’ve seen it, sort of, but more importantly, I know because I know Declan. I know their relationship. I know that Declan, underneath his carefully cultivated fuck-you-I’m-a-rockstar exterior, is highly disciplined. He would’ve rolled his eyes and peer-pressured him out of it. And Jasper would’ve gone with that, too; he respected Declan, his opinion of him was important. That’s probably why he didn’t tell him what he was doing, that he was “experimenting” with trying to “open his mind, man!”

Declan found out anyway, of course. People who do drugs tend to get stupid—sometimes hilariously so, but sometimes it’s inconvenient for your band-mates when they have to wait for you for two hours, trying to practice around your shitty “lead” guitar and wondering if this means you’ll be like this when you start booking gigs (if you ever start booking gigs, at this rate) and then when you do finally stumble in, blood-shot, bleary, almost bloated, you act like it’s no big deal.

“You’re on drugs,” my brother’s friend tells him, and when he’s through tryikng to deny it, Declan lies and says “Well, I just wish you’d invited me.” But maybe it isn’t a lie, because Declan does wish that Jasper had come to him, had trusted him as a friend (let him talk him out of it), even if there wasn’t anything else that he could do other than just, I don’t know, listen. The usual. Like they were just shootin’ the shit.

Declan would do drugs eventually, of course, he was a rock-star, but when he did, he would do it for about the same reasons that Kyle did when he did them, which turned out to be the same reasons why my brother thought and pretended he was doing them.

He needed to experiment. He had to know, he figured. How the fuck can you ever expect to be a great artist if you don’t know, if you haven’t experienced, if you haven’t been

“Don’t do it, man,” Jasper would tell his friend, then, too late, after he’d already taken it. “Don’t go down that road,” and he would remind him of the intervention Declan and the others had to throw for him, finally, keeping it secret from our mom.

“I’m okay,” Declan will tell him, addressing the neon snake snatching at fireflies with its tongue, across the room. “This isn’t like that, this is…”

I’ve never done drugs, myself. Not any of the ones that matter, anyway.

I’ve never had to. Not knowing people like these.


The Sacking of Sidon

Larissa could not be said to have a happy life. She would not say herself that she lived an unhappy life (because that would be disrespectful), but she would not disagree with the assessment.

The same could be said of any of the women of Sidon. Husbands came home drunk and abusive, sons went off to war and never returned, even if they did survive. And fathers–fathers wanted nothing to do with their daughters, who were only, after all, a burden. Wasn’t it enough if they sold them to a good husband?

And Larissa’s was no different. When she was younger, she had loved a boy, Iphicles, a shepherd boy, who had been kind to her. But under pressure from his friends–other boys, as always–his kindness had turned. And he hadn’t come back from the wars.

So far, Larissa had resisted all male advances, at least where marriage was concerned. Her father was good enough to leave her Hymen’s final choice. Her virginity, on the other hand–well, she was a servant girl, after all, and one could only expect so much, she sighed, from the nobler men in the way of propriety.

Then, one day, a Trojan ship landed in the harbor. It was just on its way back from Sparta on some sort of ritual quest and bore one of the Trojan princes, Alexander (although, for some reason, he preferred to be called “Paris”). He was a dashing young man, ever so polite and deferent (at least on the surface of things). But Larissa reminded herself in his presence that all men were the same.

Still, it was hard not to notice the way he acted around the woman who was with him on his arm. Her name was not given out publically, so she was referred to as “The Greek Woman”; yet even without a name, she had an aura of power no one in all of Sidon had ever seen, at least not in a woman. Not just in her beauty, but in the way that she carried herself. In the way that she acted with such confidence, so like a man, and still always wearing that look of adoration in beholding her Prince.

There were whispers in the hallways. This wasn’t just any Greek woman this Alexander, or Paris, had carried off. He had stolen Helena of Sparta from Menelaos–there would be war, it was certain! There was an air of excitement, then, about the city and the hall, though nothing was uttered near the honored guests directly. Would the Spartan King come for his bride? Would he meet them there? No, no, the older people assured the young, war would not come to Sidon—the Greeks had been waiting for years for an excuse to sack Troy, this “Paris” had just been stupid enough to give them one.

But then, on the second night when they were feasted once more by Sidon’s king, the question of hospitality was broached. How could they truly welcome a woman into their house if they did not know her name?

It was at that moment that fate took an awful turn. Once Helena confessed that she had indeed left her husband, every man in Sidon rose in anger, hurling accusations, some at the Trojan Prince, but not nearly as many as were hurled at the woman herself for having abandoned the man whom the very Gods had chosen to thrust upon her.

Helena deftly dodged their every ridiculous insult, giving a passionate speech herself on the whys and the wherefores and arguing time and time again that women should be allowed to choose their own fate for themselves, not to mention the man who shared their bed.

But the men of Sidon would have none of it. These men were proud. Though their women had begun to think, to possibly even become inspired, their men had stopped thinking and so gave their actions over to their stomachs, which had been turning over and over at the very thought of letting their wives make these kinds of decisions.

They rose up in anger, encroaching upon her, but the men of Troy, with Paris their leader, stood in their way to protect the new prize. And the women of Sidon were confused, their sisterly affection warring with their better sense when it came to their husbands. So, in utter dismay, Larissa watched with her Sidonian sisters as each and every son of Sidon fell to a Trojan sword. At the end, Paris stood in the banquet hall, a fleeting glint of remorse preceding a sigh of relief as he turned to the women and smiled. “Now you are free,” he told them. “Just as my Helen is free from her terrible husband’s yoke, so you are all free of the oppression these men have laid on you for your entire lives.”

There was a moment of silence, tense, when hardly one of them could breathe, and then a deafening roar of pain and rage, of pulled hair and torn clothing, from the mouths of every woman of Sidon. Some had the strength to hurl themselves head-first into the sea, or off the battlements onto the jagged rocks, dashing their brains out, screaming the names of their husbands and brothers and fathers and sons.

Paris stood in confusion and looked back at Helena in her shock. “I don’t understand,” he complained. “These men were horrible to you. They treated you worse than cattle, worse even than Menelaos treated Helena here. How can you not be happy now that you’re free of them?”

“You fool!” cried Larissa in response. “It doesn’t matter how they treated us; whatever they did, we loved them. They were our husbands, our fathers, our brothers, our sons. We had to love them. No matter what they did to us, their crimes could not compare to yours. No matter how we hated them, we will always hate you more for taking them from us.”


Different

Ronan Carroll did not understand the concept of race. He watched these old movies—or movies about olden times—and he thought Wow, people really were so stupid back then, treating black characters as less than human or segregation as normal. It was an atrocity.

Ronan Carroll was, of course, white.

It was a while before Ronan actually encountered what he could undeniably classify as racist behavior in his own time and place. He was growing up in a part of the United States with less than two percent African American population. Growing up he didn’t really have any close friends who were black and frankly, he was embarrassed about that. When he did meet black people, he would try to be friends with them—he would even go out of his way to. But to no avail. Personality clash, presumably. He just hadn’t met the right black person.

Come to think of it, it eventually occurred to him, I have kind of similar problems when it comes to women. Not that he didn’t have friends who were women—actually most of the people he considered friends were women—but none of those women wanted to be any more than friends. Which is fine, he tried to tell himself, but secretly he resented their absence from that part of his life.

“I’ve actually been thinking of going gay,” he once said to the one gay friend that he managed to have, a guy named Brodie. “Doing you think I could pull that off? I mean, I know that it’s not a choice and all that, can’t choose who you love, right? But I mean, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder…” Sometimes, actually, he wondered if his gay friend Brodie might not actually have a crush on him, which would be flattering, he thought. But he didn’t want to ask in case it got awkward.

The problem was, he didn’t really have any friends who were straight white men, either. Straight white men scared him, to be perfectly honest. Actually, black men scared him, too, but for the same reason: they were men. And men like to play games. Hungry, angry little power games using testosterone playing cards where the loser ends up looking like a loser and he always ended up losing because he never even knew he was playing until it was too late. This was why most of his friends were women. Women probably play games, too, he thought in moments of honesty, but with them, I can’t even tell if I do lose. Aside, of course, from maintaining his chastity.

This was actually why he was relieved when he found out about Brodie. He had been nervous around Brodie, he realized, because of the way he looked, like a big, burly, hairy bouncer who eats raw chicken whole and chicken-liver’d wusses’ livers by the pound before heading off to the steel-mill in the morning. But then at a cast party, Brodie brought along his boyfriend (who was black, as it turned out, but not quite as friendly with Ronan) and suddenly, Ronan’s entire image of him changed. This wasn’t the kind of guy who would crack his knuckles, beat his brow and shame you—well, that part maybe, but only if he deserved it. This was the kind of guy Ronan could go out and have a drink with and have a good, not-antagonizing time.

But that was all over now. They hadn’t talked in months. Brodie told his friends Ronan had just gotten too clingy, too needy. “Straight guys,” he said, shaking his head. “They just don’t know when to stop!”

Which was why Ronan was sitting here in the food court at the mall. He needed more friends—a more diverse set of friends—so he had put an ad out on craigslist and a few other places asking people who were off the Straight, White, American, Able-Bodied Male-beaten path to hang out for some speed-friending. It was so stupid. He even knew it was stupid, but he liked doing stupid things. And, being a Straight White American Able-Bodied Male himself, he had the luxury of doing so with impunity whenever his Straight White American Able-Bodied Male heart desired.

He didn’t actually expect anyone to show up. Actually, he was actively hoping no one would show up, if only to prove to him just how stupid he actually was for doing this. More Straight, White, American, Able-Bodied Males needed to be proven stupid like that—for him it was a matter of pride.

But someone did show up.

Tabby Williams was pretty much exactly what he was hoping for. She was so different from him, it was crazy. She was a fifty-year-old black lesbian who worked at a dry-cleaning service—not doing the dry-cleaning, just the customer service part—and then it turns out her son who she had when she was sixteen is in jail, which is a cliché, if you think about it, but statistically maybe isn’t it also pretty much on the nose?

Secretly, Ronan had to admit he was a little disappointed this black woman wasn’t also secretly trans, but then before he could even stop and count his chickens, another new friend stopped by with a smile. This was a young woman who looked Asian and also looked like she was possibly new to being a woman. “Hi,” she said (Careful you don’t misgender her, Ronan thought.) “Sorry I’m late, I just came straight from Temple.”

Temple? As in Synagogue? This was a Jewish Asian Trans-woman?

Jackpot.

She introduced herself with a name that sounded hard to pronounce and impossible to remember, or vice versa, “But you can just call me Kimmy, everybody else does.”

Kim? So she was Korean? Nice. “Well, welcome,” said Ronan, and introduced Tabby and himself, whereupon he gave a brief run-down of Tabby’s background.

“Now hold on,” Tabby interrupted him before he got to the part about the son in prison, “I just gotta ask, what’s your gimmick, boy?”

Ronan remembered something about black people and the word “boy”… Oh, that’s right, you’re not allowed to call them that, That’s okay, then. “Well,” he answered, “like I said in the ad, I’m just trying to get to know more people who are different from me.”

“Why?”

Ronan took a deep breath. How far into this should he go? How quickly? He decided to dive in: “I don’t like straight white American men. Cis-men,” he caught himself, for Kimmy’s benefit. “I’m trying to diversify.”

“So that’s all I am to you?” said Tabby. “Just a token black lesbian?”

“You’re not a token,” he assured her, “I’m just trying to figure out how other people think.”

“Other people?”

Ronan sensed a trap. He had said something wrong—although he wasn’t sure of any other way to phrase it.

“Listen up, white boy,” said Tabby, “if the only reason you want to be friends with me is ‘cause I’m black, then, what’s the difference ‘tween that and hating me for being who I am? It’s still reducing my black ass to a buncha damn lables.”

Ronan felt confident there was a flaw in this logic somewhere, but was too flabbergasted just now to figure out just exactly what it was. He began, “I’m just trying to—“ Open a door, is what he’d wanted to say, but his target audience was already getting up out of her rickety-cheap mall-food chair.

“You know what,” she said, “I don’t need this shit. Read some damn Crenshaw and get back to me, you know what? White boy!”

Ronan wasn’t sure why the woman was upset. What had he done wrong? As she walked away, he turned to Kimmy, who seemed equally dumbfounded.

This, at least, proved to be a fairly promising budding friendship. They talked until the food-court runners kicked them out, covering topics from K-pop (about which Ronan knew nothing) to classical mythology (about which Kimmy knew very little) before settling on the old standard of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“We should do this again sometime,” Ronan said on their way out to the parking lot.

“Well, why do we have to stop?” asked Kimmy. “I live just five minutes down the road.” She pointed off towards the general direction of the university.

Ronan started to get the distinct impression she was hitting on him, and this brought on an avalanche of questions on propriety. It honestly hadn’t occurred to him before that a trans-woman interested in men might some day take a liking to him, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about the prospect. He knew—or thought he knew—how he should feel, that it didn’t matter, that she was still a woman regardless of what she’d been assigned at birth, and yet he couldn’t stop his thoughts from drifting to the perhaps-suddenly-relevant question of anatomy, which he knew was not an appropriate question, but if the person was making advances, did the rules change? Until finally, he realized Kimmy had never actually introduced herself as trans, so now he was wondering if he was, in the end, misgendering, or something.

“It’s okay to say no,” said Kimmy, as thought she’d been half-expecting it.

“Oh, of course,” said Ronan. “Um… But, like, no, we should definitely, um, we should definitely do this again. Soon, I’ll, uh, do I have your…”

They exchanged numbers and he did eventually text her, he just realized he had some soul-searching and some research to do first, if he really wanted to make his life different.