Monthly Archives: October 2017


“What’s wrong with inventing new things?”

Galena Trinidad had had quite enough of her sister’s nonsense. “If I want to make something, that should be my right, I should be able to do it.”

“But why are you doing it?” asked Astrella Trinidad.

“Because it’s fun!” Galena insisted. “Am I not even supposed to have fun?”

The invention really was quite stupid. It did something that a hundred other things—including human hands—could already do, so it really didn’t add any contribution to human experience.

“But it’s cool!” Galena insisted.

And it was, she supposed. The whirligigs and the doo-dads spinning created a sense that, even if the result was as banal as peeling a hard-boiled egg, Science was happening!

“But I don’t get it!” Astrella confessed. She couldn’t quite articulate what she thought was wrong with it. Later on, though, when she learned about environmental issues and about waste problems, it all started to become clearer to her.

“It’s wasteful,” she finally concluded. Galena had invented something “new”, an automatic tooth-brushing machine that would brush your teeth for you while you were watching TV or reading or taking a bath (“Because it’s also water-proof! See?”)

“Now you’re just inventing things for the sake of inventing them!” Astrella protested. “Who’s going to buy these things?”

That was a question she probably shouldn’t have asked. By the time they were fourteen, Galena already had two patents for every year she’d been alive and five more pending, with seven of them already having caught the attention of multinational corporations.

“You’re kidding me, right?” said Astrella. “You think these so-called inventions are going to help your company? Make operations more efficient?”

“Oh, of course not,” said the multinationals. “We’re going to market them as curiosities. We’re going to mass-produce them, sell at least five million units of each.”

“And who’s actually going to buy them?”

Again, the wrong question. “Everyone will buy them. Everyone will want one. We have ways of making people want things.”

The right question would have been, “Who the hell is going to use them?”

Of the five million units of her automatic bubble-blowing machine for kids’ bubble-blowers, all but seven hundred (which were damaged either in production or transport) were sold. Of the ones that were sold, though, only half were ever used, and only a single thousand (one out of almost 5000, total) were used more than once.

“See?” Galena said, looking at the sales figures. “People really like my products!”

Astrella, meanwhile, devoted her efforts and career towards creating and encouraging new ways to cut down on waste not just by reducing it industrially, but through recycling techniques and experimental uses of algae to digest plastic and even rusted metals back into inert or even bio-degradable substances.

Everyone who knew the sisters agreed that Galena was the happier of the two. (She was certainly the richer.) But history will remember Astrella Trinidad as the woman who saved the world from the terror of encroaching humanity.

Reclaiming Romance



MICHELLE: There you are.

DARRYL: You looking for me?

MICHELLE: Um. Yes, actually.

DARRYL: Shoot.

MICHELLE: Are you busy? I mean, am I…

DARRYL: Interrupting?

MICHELLE: Am I going to be too distracting?

DARRYL: That depends. What do you need?

MICHELLE: I just… I wanted to talk to you about…


MICHELLE: I heard you have a girlfriend.

DARRYL: Did you. And where did you hear that?

MICHELLE: Does it matter who I heard it from?

DARRYL: Was it Amber?

MICHELLE: No, actually.

DARRYL: Was it Jeffrey?

MICHELLE: It was Rachel. Rachel told me that you have a girlfriend.

DARRYL: OK. Not sure how Rachel knows, but what else did she tell you?

MICHELLE: Is it true she’s only fifteen?

DARRYL: What??

MICHELLE: Oh, good. So she’s not?

DARRYL: No! She’s seventeen.


DARRYL: What? What?

MICHELLE: I’m just… I’m worried about you.


MICHELLE: Seriously?

DARRYL: Seriously. ‘Cause I can think of a lot of reasons why a person might be worried, and I want to know which one you think applies.

MICHELLE: She’s seventeen.

DARRYL: I noticed. And?

MICHELLE: And you’re not.

DARRYL: I am aware.

MICHELLE: So… it’s illegal.

DARRYL: First of all, the laws are different in North Carolina.

MICHELLE: I’m sorry—what?

DARRYL: Yep. Look it up. North Carolina age of consent is sixteen.

MICHELLE: You have got to be kidding me.


MICHELLE: And you think that—


MICHELLE: You think that makes it okay?

DARRYL: Why is this upsetting to you?

MICHELLE: Because you’re my friend!

DARRYL: I’m not in any danger. I’m not doing anything illegal. I’m not going to be getting into trouble. Not even with her parents. They like me. So.


DARRYL: What? You think it’s sketchy?

MICHELLE: I didn’t say that!

DARRYL: You didn’t have to.

MICHELLE: Is it… is it that girl from this summer?

DARRYL: Lydia. Yes.

MICHELLE: How do you… How do you feel about her?

DARRYL: I like her a lot.

MICHELLE: That’s good. Look, I didn’t mean to—

DARRYL: I’m not having sex with her.


DARRYL: We are dating. We are not having sex.

MICHELLE: Why not?

DARRYL: Seriously?

MICHELLE: I’m just, I’m sorry, I’m just not sure, you know, what to do with, where to put that, you know?

DARRYL: Why do you, of all people, have to put it anywhere?

MICHELLE: Why did you even bring it up?

DARRYL: Because you seemed… concerned.



MICHELLE: I… I don’t know, I guess just ‘cause I didn’t realize—how is it sixteen? How is that even—

DARRYL: I don’t know. I wasn’t consulted.

MICHELLE: But you’re good, though? You’re fine with…

DARRYL: What? Not having sex? Why would that bother me? I wasn’t having sex when I didn’t have a girlfriend. At least now, well… I have a girlfriend.

MICHELLE: Who’s seventeen.

DARRYL: You keep coming back to that.

MICHELLE: Isn’t it weird?

DARRYL: Yes. Which is why I haven’t been advertising it.


DARRYL: Look. I like her. A lot. We’re… compatible.

MICHELLE: Compatible?

DARRYL: Yes. She lets me be…

MICHELLE: Yourself?

DARRYL: Romantic. I can… gaze at her and have it not be weird, she’ll even reward me with a smile if she catches me at it. I can bring her flowers. I can write her really bad poems and recite them to her. I can smell her hair and listen to her breathing while she’s asleep and… she won’t judge me for it. Hell, she won’t even mock me.

MICHELLE: And you don’t think it’s—

DARRYL: Yes. I do. But when it’s just me and her, that doesn’t matter.

MICHELLE: But isn’t it like… I mean, she’s only seventeen!

DARRYL: Go on.

MICHELLE: Those things are supposed to come off as romantic when you’re seventeen!

DARRYL: Are they? That’s weird. No one seemed to think that when I was seventeen. Least of all you—

MICHELLE: You know what I mean—

DARRYL: Yes, I do know what you mean: what you mean is that those things are only creepy when they’re coming from someone that you aren’t in love with. And then you’re implying—or at least it sounds like you’re implying—that the only reason she’s in love with me is because she’s only seventeen. Well, thank you for that. As though that wasn’t exactly the ledge I’ve been trying to talk myself down from. But whatever this is, I am enjoying it. I am. And if you were really my friend, you would let me enjoy it.

MICHELLE: That’s not fair.

DARRYL: Isn’t it? Have you ever actually seen me happy?

MICHELLE: Haven’t I?

DARRYL: What do you think?

MICHELLE: You have been avoiding me, haven’t you?

DARRYL: Is that how it feels to you? Because I haven’t been seeking you out?

MICHELLE: So you were still…

DARRYL: In love with you? Yes. I mean, you know, take that word “love” with as much salt as you need to make it palatable. But yeah, I was. I have been.

MICHELLE: But why didn’t you—

DARRYL: I did!


DARRYL: Did I ever tell you I wasn’t? That I’d gotten over it? Did I ever tell you I’d stopped? What, you just thoguht you would say “Let’s be friends instead” and I’d stop having feelings for you? Just because you didn’t reciprocate—in what world would that mean I’d… There is only one cure for a broken heart, Michelle. It can’t be fixed. It has to be replaced.

MICHELLE: So you’re… saying that I broke your heart, and now this Lydia girl’s brought you a new one?

DARRYL: Until she breaks that one, too. She’s too good for me, I have no illusions about that.

MICHELLE: You’re pretty good, though. All right, well. Um. Good luck, I guess.

DARRYL: Michelle?


DARRYL: Thank you. For your concern.

The Sportsball Metaphor

In the two-party system of American politics, we like to think of everything as though it’s a team sport. The goal is the presidency and the ball, which must be handled with such specific care, is the electorate.

But much as this might be a good model for how things are (how they are presented) it is a terrible representation of how things ought to be.

So imagine this instead: the players are the politicians (in a true democracy, this should mean that the electorate gets to play, too) and the ball is an issue. Take, for example, because it’s so controversial, abortion. One goal is allowing it, the other is making it punishable. (Prevention is, of course, a whole other ballgame.)

What team you are on depends entirely on how you feel about that particular issue.

But that is not the only ball in play. Say there is another ball—the first was a basketball, this one’s for soccer—only this one represents building a wall between our country and the one next door. One goal represents building it, the other represents doing something more useful with our cash.

The problem is, though, the teams aren’t necessarily the same. One person who hates abortion might crave a wall, but another might be disadvantaged because of it. A third might have no opinion at all—if passed the ball, she might shrug it off and pretend she’s not playing. The same is true of the other side, because there is nothing about these two bills that suggests the one flows from the other, besides a pernicious fiction that one set of priorities is “good” as a whole and the other is “evil”.

We’ve been trying to yoke all of the goals together by party and now we are surprised that more and more players hate our two-party system and are refusing to vote.

Working for God

I wrote this to send to a magazine where they give you the first line of a story and you have to tell the rest. I thought this was intriguing, so I tried it out. It didn’t go anywhere, but my parents liked it and it gave me a cool character to work with.  So here he is.

Working for God is never easy. You’d think that people like me would have it easier, you know, being able to talk to the guy, but it turns out, the whole “God works in mysterious ways” thing, that’s really just code for “God likes to fuck with you, no matter how close to him you are.”

Most Prophets have “Hallelujah” as God’s own personal ringtone on their cell-phones. Not the one from Händel’s Messiah, though, no, most of them have that other one by Leonard Cohen, which it turns out is actually about some guy finally getting to sleep with his girlfriend or something. When I heard that, I thought that just wasn’t the right song for God. So now, anytime I hear “Baby Got Back” playing full volume at the back of my head, I know that the biggest butt in the Universe is dialing up every cell in my body trying to talk to me.

“What’s up, big guy?”

“You watching the game?” asks God.

“No,” I lie. “I was just uh… reading the Bible.”

“Put that shit down. It’s antiquated. Haven’t I told you about the new edition coming out? That old crap doesn’t include anything about not wearing white after Labor Day.”

“Sorry, big guy.”

“Anyway, I got a job for you.”


“You’re gonna love it.”

“Uh-oh.” Didn’t like the sound of that.

“I need you to go to the old abandoned school on Patton.”


“You’ll know what to do.”

I should’ve known better than to question.

“What?” says God. “You’re just gonna leave it at that?”

“That’s usually all I get.”

“I’ll give you a hint: playdate.”

I did not like the sound of that, either.

But I went over to the abandoned schoolyard because, hey, what are you gonna do, right? God blitzes you over the Psychic Weave and tells you to jump, you jump. Hell, that’s what the Weave was built for, to get us closer to God. Right?

What the hell am I doing in this abandoned school-ground?

I was expecting to see, like, oh, I don’t know, broken-down swings and slides and jungle-gyms. Turns out this used to be a high school. I never knew that. Hell, place has been shut down long as I can remember, right?

It’s got everything, though. It’s got classrooms, it’s got a cafeteria, a gym.

It’s got a football field.

You’d be surprised the creepy shit you could find at a football field late at night, especially one that’s been abandoned for upwards of thirty years. And especially if you go looking for it under the stands. It’s not just the used condoms your parents very well could have used, or the bums who break in there. You look around long enough, there are cigarette butts, candy wrappers, dead hookers, robot parts, you wouldn’t believe. Not to mention little bits of shoelace.

Little bits of shoelace. There’s this thing that happens to you when you’re on a mission from God: see, some people pick up a shoelace and go “hey, why the fuck am I holding a lousy little piece of shoelace? Ew.” Whereas I, in my Prophetic capacity, look at what essentially is a useless piece of glorified string between my fingers and suddenly I know that what I’m looking for is that way. That’s right, it’s that way, behind the half-a-tricycle, hiding over in those shadows over there, which I cleverly realize means it has to be really small, so it’s probably a kid.

I don’t like games. You’ll learn this about me. “All right,” I say. “Show’s over. Mission from God. Come out and assume the position.” But instead of falling to her knees and supplicating and repenting like a good little kid, this kid starts to speak from the shadows.

“And on the third day,” says the kid, “the oceans shall rise up against the whale. The meek shall once again inherit the Earth. And a little child shall lead them.”

Talk about mixing up Biblical verses. “What are you, kidding me?”

Something starts to stir. And from the way all the other shadows are moving, I can tell they’re scared of what that little girl can do. Kid says: “Your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you.”

I say: “Come on, kid, let’s go.”

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

And that’s when I figure out why papa bear sent me. Suddenly, every cigarette butt and half-digested teddy bear lifts up off the ground and starts coming after me. No child is capable of wielding telekinesis strong enough for something like that. Hell, kid that small shouldn’t be able to lift it at all. I couldn’t even lift all that and I’ve been studying this stuff since I was ten. What I could do, though, once it’s coming at me, is deflect it all away.

And that, in case you were wondering, is my own and not a gift from God. At least not in the sense that he was helping me cheat.

But now I knew for sure what was going on. See, half-remembered Bible verses and broken TS Eliot is all good and well, but shit flying at your head can mean only one thing: a Rogue Angel. The Psychic Weave equivalent of an Internet virus had hacked its way into this girl’s mind and now it was using her to manipulate reality. Great. This was just what I needed on my day off. Way to go, God.

There are certain words you can use, most of them are, like, Hebrew sounding, that can make things behave the way they’re supposed to. Well, I use one of them and, sure enough, everything drops to the ground. And the girl starts crying.

“Finita la commedia,” I said. Which I knew was either the Italian for “the comedy is over” or a really funny-looking Mexican dish. I finally have the sense to take out my flashlight and shine it in her face. She’s all huddled up in the corner right where she was supposed to be and looks as though she was dressed for church on Sunday, but of course it’s Thursday now under an abandoned football stadium so she’s looking pretty grim. And there’s also the little matter of her being still possessed by a demon.

All right, I’ll bite, I say to myself. “Hey, there,” I say, in my softest little voice for talking to little girls. (I don’t like kids. You’ll learn this about me.) “Hey, don’t cry, little girl. Everything’s gonna be OK.” OK, I’m starting to creep myself out.

I inch my way over to her, pretending, of course, that I’m being real careful for her feelings because I don’t want her freaking out when really, I’m just waiting for that thing inside her to come out and play. “You don’t have to be scared, little girl. Come to daddy—“ Yes, that is in fact what I said. I don’t like kids. I’m not used to them. “Come on now, that’s it, come on, you can do it, just look at me—“

And about six inches from my fingertips, the beast comes alive, glowing out of her eyes, and starts biting. Fortunately, I was ready and I hit her with the Psychic Disruptor in my other hand before she could do anything else. Psychic Disruptor, by the way, is a kind of low-level taser that makes the brain forget to go online for just long enough that things like this get confused and can’t find them for a bit. What makes the PD so attractive to Exorcists, though, is the fact that it’s shaped kind of like a cross. I know that’s what I like about it.

The girl’s eyes get just a little bit dimmer and start to get really confused. She says something in a language I don’t recognize, which is weird, because most languages that are spoken anywhere on the planet should be on the Weave. I hate it when the tech’s not up-to-date. Anyway, she looks really confused and helpless and, shit, I don’t know, like a kid? Like a kid who’s scared? So I do what you’re supposed to do, you know, I take her in my arms and try my best to shush her even though I really don’t like hugging, that’s something you’ll learn about me.

So then bitch tries to bite my ear off.

Serves me right for trying to buddy-up to some post-possessed brat under an abandoned football stadium. What was I thinking?

“He will rise!” she started screeching. “The time has come! He will rise and bring about the reckoning at last!”

“Oh, could you be any more cheesy?”

I’ve had it up to here with this Demonic idiocy. I wrench her off my chest, put my hands either side of her head, stare deep into her eyes and dive right in.

What generally happens then is that you end up in an empty room together with the person who’s possessed and the demon who’s holding them captive. Possessee, last time I did this, was strapped to a chair in the middle of the room and the Possessor was made to look like his third grade teacher.

That’s not the case right now. The inside of this girl’s head is a cathedral.

The demon in question stands at the altar, and see here’s where things start to get surreal, because this particular demon looks like an angel.

Something is seriously wrong with this girl.

So the angel, thinking he’s important just because he’s the center of attention and all standing on the altar and all that, starts preaching, starts saying that same “on the third day” crap he had the little girl saying earlier.

“Yeah, yeah, save it,” I tell him, and draw out my fiery sword. No, it’s not that I’m particularly special. Really, anyone can have a fiery sword if they’re inside a little girl’s head. Especially if they’re there to save her.

Which reminds me. Uh. Where, exactly, is that little girl?

“Hey, ugly,” I call out to the most beautiful creature in the room. “Where’s the brat? What’d you do to her?”

Instead of an answer, smoke starts to come out of the angel’s mouth.

“Is that a fact?” I said. “Well, maybe I should just go in and get her.” See, because there’s fairy tale weird and then there’s inside a little kid’s head weird.

I leap through the air at the altar, double somersaulting, flaming sword in hand, and slash at the demon, but he, being what he is, flies up into the air.

Oh, that’s how you’re playing it, is it? Well, all right then. So I sprout some wings of my own, bitch, that’s right, come and get it.

Flaming arrows? Piece of cake. The doves of peace I happen to have in my back pocket will swallow them whole. Cannons? Bazookas? I’ll ride in on a heat seeking missile and take them out. “There’s nothing you have that I haven’t seen,” I explain to the Angel/Demon. “Anything you do, you do with God’s permission and I’m His guy. You got that?”

We’re in the dome, now. Every Cathedral has a dome—why is that? Demon-boy perches himself on the inside of the curve and casually turns himself into a Dragon.

A Dragon? Seriously? I turn myself into St. Michael. What he’s gained in size, he’s lost in dexterity, so I ride in under his belly and put my flaming sword to work carving up a way for the little girl to get out. Dragon screams, I keep cutting. Dragon rubs his belly, my wings get in the way. Dragon tries to clutch at my wings, electric shocks push him back.

And I’m into the stomach and, what the crap, there’s a whole other Cathedral.

Well, you know what they say: when life gives you lemons, you suck it up and eat them. I dive right in and I guess now I’m in the Demon’s head? And there’s the little girl, sleeping on the altar.

Except this girl’s not that little. She’s gotta be about, what, eighteen? I’m gonna go with seventeen just to be on the safe side, how about that? And she’s hot. At least in the sense that flames have suddenly sprouted out, either side of the coffin. (As well they should around seventeen-year-old girls trapped in ten-year-old bodies.) The girl opens her eyes and looks around her, starts screaming for help, sees me.

I reach for my handy-dandy fire extinguisher.

Why is this not working anymore?

And where are my wings?

Oh, well, I tell myself. Guess I’ll just have to do this the old-fashioned way.

Still clutching my sword, I cut the chord of a banister like a saw in an old swashbuckler movie about Pirates or something and come swinging in, only to end up with my feet on the edge of the altar and my ass on the fire. Shit.

“Kid!” I yell over the flames, “Hey, kid, grab onto me, will you?” I’ll give her this, kid ain’t stupid. She grabs on and I let go of the altar and swing back. We land right on top of the pews and go tumbling.

I start to straighten myself out. “You mind telling me,” I say, since it’s the most important thing that comes to mind, “why you look so much older in here?”

She doesn’t answer. Probably because we’re interrupted by a full swat team, all of them with their guns trained on us. This just went from weird to worse. And me stuck here without the ability to shape-change or anything. Why’d this girl have to be so damn complicated?

The whole swat team all folds together into the same body and turns into the original angel. He, still not understanding that he’s not impressing anyone, says “There are none can stop the reckoning.”

For a moment, I just look at him. Then I look down at the sword I’ve still got in my hand. I’m so sick of this idiot, I just bury the sword in his chest. End of story.

Kid keeps looking at me. “You see,” I explain to her, “Just gotta show these demons who’s boss.”

We come out of it back under the stadium. Thank God that kid’s herself again.

Then it hits me: now I’m stuck with this kid.

I knew working for God couldn’t be that easy.

“Welcome back,” I say casually. She looks around. I suddenly remember she was speaking some gibberish earlier, might not actually understand me. So I put my hand to my mouth, hoping she’ll get the message that I want to know if she’d like a bite to eat. She’s still too out of it, though. Can’t say I blame her. Even for a demon, that was a tricky one.

I find myself wondering, as I’m leading her out of the school, what exactly makes her put a Cathedral on the inside of her head. I wonder what makes her so important to God that he sent me to get her. But most importantly, I try to figure out what the hell God meant when he told me this was a “playdate”? Kids aren’t any fun.


Raven didn’t just drop out of school. Not right away, at least. She actually enjoyed some of the classes she was taking that semester, and Acid Monsoon needed to ride out the contract they had with Lucrezia Romanov.

“But then you’re leaving?” Declan asked.

“Wouldn’t you?” she countered.

“No. Actually, I wouldn’t. I would stay in college, get my degree and then—“

“College can wait. You know it can. I mean, come on, how many twenty-five-year-olds have you had class with since you got here? I can always come back, but you know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity thing.”

The worst part was, he did know it. This was Acid Monsoon. The bigtime. And they wanted his girlfriend. It would catapult her to fame. And then? Then she could take him with her.

But no, he’d remind himself. That’s not how these things work. She’s going to run off to fame and fortune and leave me pining here in the dust.

“Baby, no,” she’d reassure him. “How could I leave you? You’re the one who found me. You were the first person to really, you know, understand me.”

He knew now, though, that that just wasn’t true. He didn’t understand her nearly as well as he thought—as she thought—that he did.

And that really freaked him out.

But what freaked him out even more was the jealousy. He was in love with this woman, but rather than being jealous of all those men she’d be hanging around, who’d be hanging aorund her, it was her he was jealous of.

“Of course you are,” said his new friend Jeffrey from college. Jeffrey was kind of a smart-ass, calculating and detached. “She is getting what you want, what you’ve always wanted. What she wouldn’t have wanted, if it wasn’t for you.”

“Are we going to break up?“ It was a question that he didn’t want to ask her; he felt weak asking it of her, like he’d lost something, like he was giving up on the relationship.

But he felt even worse when she answered so casually that yes, of course she would stay with him—they would make long distance work because they loved each other.

It made him feel worse because it made him realize he didn’t trust their relationship, he didn’t have faith in it the way she did. Why did he think that? Did he not trust her, or did he not trust himself? Either way, what did that say about him?

“I’m sure a long-distance relationship could work out,” said Jeffrey when he confided in him again.

“Have you tried it?”

“I’ve never really had occasion.”

“It just makes me feel…” That was really all he had to say, yet he felt like saying more.

“I know,” Jeffrey consoled him.

“Why does it have to be this way?” was Raven’s question to him. “I mean, why does this even…”

“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you why, because I’m not even really sure myself, but I don’t feel comfortable with this. I don’t feel comfortable and goddammit, it is… it’s tearing me apart. I feel weak and I feel… ashamed.”

This, by the way, was around about the time that Declan wrote what would become the #1 hit “Tears on Weekdays”.

“Listen to me,” Raven told her boyfriend. “I am not goign to cheat on you out there. OK? I love you. I have always loved you. Distance? All that gets in the way of is sex. I can handle that, I can handle… not having sex for a while. Can you?”

He couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t (or thought it, anyway) but still he smiled at her and kissed her and agreed. Better to lie now and risk fucking up later than to just give up, right?

To be fair, it took three months for Declan to break down and sleep with this girl Michelle they went to school with. That was five days longer than it took Raven to throw herself at Caspar June—not that the one had to do with the other. They were both young and bad at communicating, so they both felt awful afterwards.

But they both recovered and moved on.

Dead Man Walking

This is a story about a young man who doesn’t seem to know that he’s a zombie. The weird thing about it is, no one else seems to realize he’s a zombie, either. They think he’s just another bum. After all, thre are always plenty of those walking around Asheville, right? And they all have a tendency towards drunken stumbling, don’t they? So why not?

He stumbles into a bunch of people this way.

When he stumbles into Lee Stevens when he’s on his date with Leigh Stephens, Lee finds himself helping his new fiancée fend off this smelly attacker and, faced with her heaving bosom in the aftermath, promptly proposes to her.

When he stumbles into the shop run part-time by Frank Keppler, he finds Frank abjectly defending himself against Otis Ratson and the two hold a brief truce to chase away the smelly intruder, but afterwards Otis promptly turns on Frank again to accuse him of letting riffraff into his shop.

Some people do think there’s something rather odd about the man, like Hannah Andersen, whose mother, upon detecting the smelly miscreant, tried to distract her away and told her not to stare at the nice man.

Hubert Poste, while walking his usual mail-route, noticed the smelly bumbler, but only as an obstacle to be avoided on his way around the bend, so didn’t take note of him.

But Paul Ericsson sure thought it was peculiar. He was driving the hearse back from the crematorium when the smelly jaywalker stumbled out right in front of his car. As he watched it pass without looking at him, Paul muttered absently “Dead people ought to stay in the ground!”

In the middle of town, next to the phallic symbol known as the Vance monument, the Reverend Toby Richards pro-claimed and de-claimed at the top of his lungs how we should re-claim our faith in the cross of Our Lord and the smelly attendant no doubt fascinated by this wondrous display of limb-tossing, stood rapt before him, the only traveler to do so. Therefore Rev. Richards did take a passing interest in the boy. He was, after all, clearly of the faith.

But after some time, Rev. Richards observed that others who might very well join his new smelly acolyte were discouraged from doing so, no doubt by his ill-favored look. So, he took the young man around the shoulders and, ignoring how the mouth seemed to edge towards his throat, whispered surreptitiously, that his faith was clearly strong enough, he should go find his own flock.

Elizabeth Keppler, meanwhile, was walking around with her boyfriend, George D’Arcy, and, upon seeing the smelly traveler approaching, used him as a metaphor for the decrepit nature of their own relationship.

When the smelly subject of so much–and yet so litte–controversy passed by in front of the Flying Frog, he caught the eye of Professor Blackford Appleton-Mecklenburg III, a local Anthropologist, who likewise used him as a metaphor, but he rather preferred to apply him to the decay of modern society as he sat conversing with a star pupil of his.

As inevitably must happen in a fairly small town like Asheville, though, he did finally run into someone he knew. Johnny Carnage had met the smelly young party-goer at a private event some months before and recognized him, but didn’t remember his name.

“Yo, dude,” he said, but received no response. “Hey, shit-face, weren’t you at that thing? Hey, man, you got any weed?”

But the smelly young junkie just stumbled on unabated and Johnny Carnage realized that he was probably too smashed to function.

That was when it occurred to him that he didn’t want to be that way, he didn’t want to be That guy who didn’t answer when you called because he was too blitzed, so he left with this enlightenment and had forgotten it by the time he arrived at his dealer’s house, whither he had been bound.

Finally, though, having been unable to feed himself all day and thus consumed with hunger, the young man who still did not fully realize his condition, partly because he lacked the brain to realize, fell to the ground, panting, at which point Zoe Harding walked out of Rosetta’s Kitchen and saw her boyfriend on the sidewalk. “Zack?” she cried. “Oh, my God, Zack, are you OK?”

“Awarangragar,” moaned Zack.

“Oh my God, look at you. What happened to you?” She knelt down to inspect him and saw the open wound still flowing with a trickle of blood from his wrist. “Oh my God,” she repeated herself. “We’ve got to get you to a hospital, come on!”

“Arrawa!” said Zack, and Zoe lifted him up, but no sooner had she cast his arm over her neck that Zack found his mouth pressed against the side of it and in a blinding flash of insight, the smelly dead man finally understood why he was walking. At first, Zoe probably thought he was playfully nuzzling. But then he broke the skin.

And then there were two to stumble and be smelly.

What We Know (and What We Don’t) about How the World Works

Our understanding of the world is based our perceptions of it, based on the physical evidence perceived with our senses. Beyond that, we also rely a lot on hearsay about things that accepted science has ascertained, whatever the method to procure it may be.

When you’re reading a story, the conventional expectation is that the events that happen inside the story are going to follow the same rules that are found in the actual world. If they do not, if things are allowed to happen within the story that are not allowed in the actual world (or vice versa, though that is rare) then the story in question is deemed “speculative” for the purpose of communicating with the audience.

We think of speculative fiction as having two distinct traditions and, to a certain extent, we are correct in this assumption. On the one hand, we have “Science Fiction” and on the other we have “Fantasy”. Both present things that do not happen in the world as we know it. But only one of them sets out with the express intent to show things that cannot happen.

The idea behind Science Fiction is expressly to present things that, according to science as we understand it now, could happen (or, in the case of the subgenre of Alternative History, could have happened, had historical circumstances been different). In fact, there have been cases in which a technology originally introduced as science fictional has become a reality; the most famous example is probably Jules Verne, with his submarines and moon rockets.

When someone sets out to write a work of Fantasy, though, there is no expectation of this. While it is possible that Dragons, in some way or other, might have existed at some point in Earth’s past, it would be a stretch to assume any connection between the kind of sympathetic magic often depicted in works of Fantasy, and the actual world we inhabit of agreed-upon science.

I once brought a script I’d written to a conference and showed it to an agent. The script was set in a world in which dragons and robots coexisted, and even—in an extended scene I am especially proud of—fought against each other. I had had some interest from other people who begged off on the basis that the script would be too expensive, but this particular agent said that she didn’t get it. “You’ve got dragons, you’ve got robots,” she decreed. “You don’t mix those. Audiences get confused.”

The idea that Science Fiction and Fantasy can’t coexist in the same story, is based on the theory that the traditions are incompatible. In essence, she was saying that when an audience departs from reality, they can go into one of two worlds, one of which is Science Fictional, the other Fantastical.

But the reality is that both Fantasy and Science Fiction are both extensions of reality. You’re always going to start off from something resembling our world in some way, shape or form. But Science Fiction is expressly not meant to be a different reality with different rules—it is a reality that obeys laws that we don’t have yet. This makes it an extension of our actual world.

Fantasy, on the other hand, is a contradiction of our actual world, presenting as it does things that cannot happen—could not, even in a Science Fictional set-up. So if Fantasy is going to contradict our world anyway, why not have the world it contradicts be a world that features science that we haven’t found yet. Magic (being defined here as anything Fantastical that doesn’t exist in the actual world) is an addition to reality on top of whatever Fictional Science has been provided.

And then of course we oughtn’t forget the fact that Dragons vs. Robots is just objectively cool. What audience in their right mind would turn that down, no matter what the supposed “contradictions”?

“The Battle Rages On”

Thomas Murphy went to war. He didn’t like being called “Tommy” after that. Truth be told, he never really liked being called “Tommy”, especially since “Tommy Murphy” sounds kinda lame, but he tolerated “Tom”. Tom Murphy.

Well, he didn’t die. I know you’ve been holding your breath for that one, so I’ll take pity on you. He survived, he even came back all in one piece. Physically, at least. But he’d seen things.

Even before his brother went off to college, when he’d get furloughed and get to come back, when he’d get leave, Declan could tell that he was different. More serious. More chiseled. Didn’t take the nonsense.

“Hello?” he would answer the phone, instead of his usual “Hey, man.”

“Hey, man,” Mickey answered, “What’s up? It’s Mickey, don’t know if you remember or if you recognized my voice.”

“What’s up, Mickey?” “What’s up?” Not “‘Sup?” or even “Hey, man.”

“Hey, man, I just wanted to talk to you. You wanna maybe come over and hang?”

“Well, I’m busy right now.”

“Yeah, no, it’s cool, just let me know.”

Truth be told, the new no-nonsense Tommy scared Mickey out of his mind.

“You ever hear from Kyle?” Declan asked him.

“I don’t talk to Kyle,” said Thomas Murphy.

“Is it ‘cause of what happened?”

“I just don’t talk to him. You know? I got better things to do now than listen to him go on about… I don’t know. All his college bullshit.”

That was while he was in, though, while Corporal Murphy was in the army and Kyle Niedermeyer was off “doing his own thing” in college, turning himself into a molder of young minds.

But now they were both back.

“Tommy,” Kyle said when his old friend showed up at his door one day. He was wearing a shirt, in case the unexpected visitor happened to be a student or something, but it wasn’t much of one.

Corporal Murphy didn’t correct his friend’s pronunciation. “Hello, Kyle.” The “Sir” was silent.

“How you been, man? Jeez, it musta been, like…”

“Lotta years.”


“Four? I guess.”

“Since graduation.”

There were only so many words in the English language.

“You wanna come inside?”

“No, I can’t stay,” Tommy lied.


“Have you heard anything from Aly?”

Kyle frowned, scratched his head. “I don’t know, not in a while, I guess. Why? You try talking to Jasper, maybe? He probably knows how to get hold of her.”

“No, no, that’s all right.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come inside?”

Corporal Murphy was fidgeting. It was making Kyle nervous. A little.

“Do you still play?” asked the soldier.

“A bit,” said Kyle. “Not like I used to.”

“You ever think about…”

“What? About getting the band back together?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know if the world can handle more of the Elk, man.”

For the first time since he got here, Tommy cracks a smile, almost like he’s himself again, but no.

“Listen, man, if you wanna talk to her—“

“I wanna talk to you.”


Pause. “I just don’t know how.”

“You think maybe you could start by coming inside?”

A hesitation.

“Hey. Tommy.”

“It’s Tom.”

“Tom. If you’ve got something to say…”

“No, forget it, man. Just forget it.”

But there are some things you just don’t forget.

A Natural Disaster

It was always going to be this way.

You knew it from the moment you first laid your eyes on her.

You knew it when she turned her eyes on you,
even as she smiled.

It couldn’t be what you thought it was.

Still you fell in love.

You let yourself.

You had to.

There wasn’t any other way.

You let yourself believe there was something, anything.

Something you wanted.

Someone who wanted you.

And now there’s the rain.

It crashes down to earth as you slap your hand.

“No, no, don’t think about her.”

You let it sink it, let it seep through your clothes to your skin,
making you sicker.

You sneeze and try to hide it, but it’s like thunder.

There’s flooding in the city.

You wade through salty pools.

Might as well be swimming.

Might as well drown.

But there she is, safe inside on the other side of the window.

Does she even feel the rain?

Does she even see it? Hear it?

Maybe it’s best that the rain be kept away from her.

Just carry the stormcloud over yourself.

This is your storm.

You knew it was coming from the start,
and still you stayed.

Why make her suffer through it?

Pronouns and Antinouns

Toebal Riek understood the idea of sunlight. Even though he had been constructed inside a laboratory far enough inside the Castle that he never got to see it, he knew what it was because he was programmed with a basic understanding of how the world works—at least according to the Benecorts.

“What pronouns should we use for Toeriek?” asked one of the scientists while constructing him. The language they were speaking was an offshoot of pre-Cortian in which all nouns were given a grammatical gender, either masculine or feminine. No neuter option.

“Probably best to assign him male,” said the lead scientist. “We don’t want our machines getting the idea that they can produce new life.”

And so, Toeriek was raised on the impression, given the masculine pronouns used for him, that he was biologically male. Despite the fact that he was actually a sexless robot.

But now, Toeriek was free and enjoying the outside world. Female sunlight fell on the male leaves that grew from the female branches of male trees that thrust male roots into the ground, which was usually female, unless it consisted of barren rock or any kind of artificial flooring. Male animals flitted through the underbrush (most animals were assumed to be male unless the beast’s gender was known, except predators, who were always treated as female, usually even if they did have male parts), while birds (a completely different class of nouns) each of which Toeriek would have called “she” if he’d been leaning towards English, flew through the male air while male droppings fell from their female excretion organs. It was all very wonderful.

Until his gaze fell upon something he could not classify.

Human beings, in his pre-Cortian language, were classified as female—being the world’s most effective predators—unless they exhibited identifiably masculine behaviors. This has produced some hilarious circumstances among translators in both directions, as it means many women will be treated as male for language purposes if they are seen to throw a punch, wear certain kinds of clothing or interrupt their interlocutors to make the same point in different words; and men would often be treated as women if they kept quiet or were vegetarians.

So it confused Toeriek when he came upon a young human in the woods whom he could not immediately classify. The human was short and somewhat stout, had short hair, smooth skin, a touch of fur growing on arms and legs, but not enough to be conclusive, and she carried herself (again, as a predator, assume it is female) with an unsettling combination of grace and swagger.

“Hello,” said the human. Somewhat awkwardly.

On the basis of that word, Toeriek decided the human must be an English speaker. This was good, because English was one of the languages Toeriek happened to have stored in his memory banks.

That being said, all of Toeriek’s interactive and humanizing programming was written in his pre-Cortian offshoot and thus, even if his English did come out flawless, he would still only be translating into it.

“I say,” Toeriek said by way of greeting, “what an attractive afternoon we are having this day.”

He could tell immediately ased on the confusing human’s facial ticks that his vocabulary might be problematic.

He feigned clearing his throat, then ventured, “Might I inquire as to your sexual organs?”

“Oh, God,” the human replied. Toeriek dutifully ran this response through his data-banks, but while both “O” and “God” were listed as possible pseudonyms for sexual organs, the respective entries were in opposite categories.

Toeriek decided on a more subtle approach. “What is your name?”

“I’m sorry,” said the human, “I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but are you a robot?”

“Robot” was listed in the data-banks as an only moderately offensive word for what Toeriek was. “I am an android,” Toeriek enunciated. “Now, what is your name?”

“Brooklyn Bailey,” the human said. “Why do you ask?”

“I really must classify you,” answered Toeriek. But neither of the names did any good. The name “Bailey” seemed to possibly have a tendency to be feminine, though not exclusively, but even so, it was presented in the position of a family name, which offered no help. And Brooklyn seemed to be the name of a place. This wasn’t working.

“Oh my God,” Brooklyn Bailey repeated. “You’re a robot and even you think you’re entitled to know what’s in my pants?”

“I must know,” Toeriek verified, “my tongue depends on it.”

“Ew!” cried Brooklyn Bailey, and Toeriek could tell the human was exhibiting indications of disgust. Though he did not know what he had said wrong, he seized the opportunity to gain more ground.

“I am sorry to disgust you,” he began. “Please, does your sexual aversion stem more from homophobia or from a rational distrust of what appear to you to be male advances?”

Language, he finally pieced together. Not tongue, “language”. 

He explained the slip of the tongue, but the human was still not satisfied.

“Jesus Christ!” said Brooklyn Bailey, “What does it matter what gender I am!”

Toeriek calmly explained his linguistic predicament.

Brooklyn let out a groan which Toeriek felt went on far too long to be entirely natural. “Fine. Look, I don’t care what you call me in your language, I don’t speak your language; if your language defaults to female, fine, whatever, I guess that makes up for all the Earth languages defaulting to masculine, but I speak English, so when you’re speaking in English, to me or to anyone else you’re talking to if you’re talking to anyone else without me—which would be kinda creepy anyway, because I don’t know you, but here we are—you refer to me as they. OK? They/their/them, those are my pronouns.”

Toeriek stored this in his memory banks, which meant that from now on, he would refer to Brooklyn Bailey only by their preferred pronouns.

“Thank them,” Toeriek said to Brooklyn Bailey. “Do they want me to leave now? I am enjoying their conversation.”

Brooklyn Bailey rolled their eyes and sighed, then proceeded to re-explain second person with the patience of a gender-neutral saint.