Monthly Archives: November 2017

Agalon at the Threshold

There wasn’t a room there when Agalon woke up.
When he opened his eyes, surrounded by darkness and time,
he had to build the antechamber by himself
with his own two hands
out of the shards of his own past.

There was his wedding to his wife;
There, his earliest memory of his father showing him the Tree;|
the doorway was the time he had watched the Dragons with envy;
and there, tucked away in a corner in the back,
that was his brother pushing him into the Darkness.

It was a long time before the Gatherer came for him.
“Who are you?” she asked without words.
“I was banished here,” said the man at the Threshold,
and he explained himself. “Do you know the way back?
I want to return to my family. Can you help me?”
“Back?” the Gatherer did not understand. “Help?”

The shards were still all around them,
pieces of a broken past
pieces of a puzzle.
“I may be able to bring you back,” said Nesnas.
“But first you must help me.”
“Anything,” said the newcomer.
“You must help me gather all the shards,” she said.
“Gather them all up, every one.
We must fit them together.”

And Agalon looked around him.
He looked at the shards of time and saw they were still falling.
He saw the Gatherer meticulously piece together
a single moment
of a single day
in the ocean of eternity.

“And should others come,” said Nesnas,
“while we’re here working,
do greet them in this nice little house.
Put them to work, too. We will need the assistance.”

“Sweet Child o’ Mine”

My little brother Billy is younger than Ellie, my niece. I know, I know: weirder things have happened. But it’s still one of those things that always turns heads when it comes out.

“This one-and-a-half-year-old toddling at your feet is Ellie and the infant in the crib is her uncle Billy.” It just sounds weird, doesn’t it? It sounds… off.

But from the moment Billy was born, Ellie was protective of him. I guess that’s the way older sisters are supposed to be? Mine just treated me like a doll and I wasn’t having it. And as for my brother… But Billy and Ellie were inseparable. Are inseparable. Will be.

At adoption agencies, they do their absolute best to keep siblings together. They move mountains. Siblings bond—whether we like to admit it or not—almost as much as children and parents.

“When are we gonna talk about you moving out?” Mom asks my brother one day. It’s after dinner and the kids are in the other room. My step-dad’s there, too: Billy’s father.

The question takes Jasper by storm. I actually can’t remember if I was there, too, or just saw it in a vision, but it surprised me, too. It wasn’t something that I’d ever thought about. I think Jasper had the idea, too, that this was a permanent thing. He’d converted his own bedroom into something like a Master Love Nest we all pretended Lucy wasn’t living out of, too, by the end of our senior year. The kids had Aly’s old room for a nursery, but I’d be off to college soon and one could have mine. I didn’t see what the problem was.

“We’re just looking for a time-line right now,” said our stepdad. “It doesn’t have to be now, but we just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page about our future. Your future.”

“My future’s right here,” Jasper said. “Ellie. She’s my future.”

He didn’t mention Lucy. You can imagine there are reasons for that, but that’s not important now. What mattered was her.

“We just thought you and Ellie might want some privacy,” Mom explained, still treating him with kids’ gloves.”


Were they talking around the subject of Lucy?

“It’s just, if you’re wanting to start a family—“

“Do you want me out of here?”

Our mother feigns surprise. It’s not that the question is unexpected, it’s just coming so early in the conversation.

“It’s not that we don’t want you—“

“Ellie is fine here,” says Jasper. “And if Ellie’s fine, I’m fine. Are you fine?”

Our parents looked at each other.

“What do you want me to do, pay rent?” Jasper said. “I already buy most of the groceries—“

“Rent would be nice, actually,” Mom mused. “That is, I mean, we could use some help with the mortgage? The Property Tax?”

I was gonna be out of there soon. I didn’t need to be a part of this conversation. But it quickly became clear this was gonna be one of those weird multigenerational households that Americans pretend are newfangled even though every society everywhere has had them. Mom with her husband; son with his girlfriend; his daughter and her son growing up together like it’s just the two of them. Just those two…

They’ll fix up the house so unrecognizable when I visit after college. They’ll grow old together—or maybe they’ll part ways when Ellie moves out. Or maybe Ellie will keep the house. This doesn’t have to be a source of stress.

The Goblin at the Twin Oaks Bank

Why do you want a loan?

I’m asking, because he’ll ask. It’s kind of his job. They need to keep track of these things, make sure that what they’re giving—sorry, lending—money to isn’t illegal; but more importantly, to try to make sure that this loan will stimulate the economy in some way.

You want to buy a home? Great. Homes bought stimulate the housing market. You want to start a business? Keep the money flowing! Employ others? Even better! Buy a car—buy a motorcycle—Here! Here’s a credit card! Go nuts!

But why do you need this loan?

I’m asking, because he won’t. I’m asking, because I want you to think.

How will you pay the loan back?

This is the question he doesn’t want you to worry about. If your trust fund, like the Nigerian Princess’s, is going to open up in another six weeks, he might not be interested. His interest won’t be high.

When you come to him the first time, he will smile and he will bow. He will tell you that you are in good hands and extoll his own beneficence and mercy.

When you come to him the second time, he will frown and he will tap his long, thin fingers on the hard, oak desk. You no longer hold his interest—or worse: you’ve been keeping up on the interest, but not the principal, and what good are interests if the principles are lost?

Maybe you’ll be lucky—maybe your business will take off. Maybe you’ll get a job worthy of all those years of study. You’ll buy your house cheap—but then again, probably not.

You probably had to sell your house cheap, and still owe his bank back interest. Your school wasn’t worth the money down and you’ve been found wanting and waiting tables for scraps of approval. Your business didn’t take off because no one can afford your services because everyone owes money to him.

And in the vault of the Twin Oaks bank, the Goblin climbs his golden mountain to the top, content to know your money’s safe with him.

Because, after all, who could ever spend that much money?

The Sand Castle

It isn’t what you think.
A five-year-old girl with pigtails
wearing a bright blue sundress with big,
bright flowers on it, immodestly
lifting the hem of it up
so that anyone can see her frilly green panties.

What do five-year-olds usually do in a sandbox?
They dig.
They make piles.
They bury themselves and each other.
She’s piling it pretty high,
like she’s building a mountain.

But it doesn’t look like a mountain for long.
Or a pile of sand.
It rises in a single uniform cylinder,
well polished,
and soon has a turret on top,
and she starts working on a second one.

She is building a castle.
That’s normal, isn’t it?
Kids build castles in the sand,
castles with turrets and windows
you can almost see the kings and queens through.
They have contests on the coast,
prettiest one gets the prize.
(How is the sand sticking together?)

Something strange is going on here.
Who is this little girl?
Is this your daughter?
Where is the sand coming from?
She has got to be scraping the bottom of the box.

“Five minute warning, Cathy.”

The castle is huge now.
Almost twice as big as she is.
How long has she been working on it?
The sand it’s taken to build it draws from every
crevice, leaving bare wood and dead grass beneath.
The wind brushing the walls makes currents in the sand
(How does it hold its shape)
as though there are things, living things, moving within…

“You almost done, sweetie?”

“The queen is looking for her pet hamster, but she can’t find one, because the castle is so big!”

“That’s great, Cathy. You ready to go home?”

Maybe we should take a picture before we go
Nobody is going to believe this.

But before there’s a phone in a hand to snap it,
Cathy reaches up and flicks the tip off one of the highest towers.
It’s such a swift,
such a casual gesture,
and yet so all-consuming.
So brutal.

That first little puff of sand shoots off the tower-top
like a lightning-strike
causing an avalanche.
The tower crumbles.
Chunks fall from the parapet.
The shockwave of destruction expands
in an entropic ripple.

A moment of panic.
Your daughter is in the middle of this.
Your daughter is right next to this castle as it
and falls.

Why isn’t she crying? You are.
So much beauty, with just the flick of a finger.
Instead, she’s giggling, like it was a three-tiered house of cards
or an intricate domino-design,
only built to be demolished.
And wasn’t it?
Wasn’t it just a castle in the sand?

“What’d you do that for?”

“Castle go boom, crash, krmbrshtpfl!”

“But it was so pretty! Why’d you take it down?”

The question seems to disturb her deeply.
“You said we’re leaving.”

“But why did you take it down?”

Her lip quivers in confusion. “Can we take a sandcastle home?!?”

“Well, no, we can’t, Cathy, but you could’ve left it
for someone else to play with.”

“Why would they want to play with my sandcastle?”

Because it was the awesomest sandcastle that had ever been built!

“All the sand was gone,” Cathy protests.

“Wouldn’t they want to make their own sandcastle?”

You don’t know why this question feels you with an existential dread.

The Theory of Consent

DARRYL: Can you believe Mason Goddard?

LYDIA: Nope.

DARRYL: That guy is a maniac! A maniac!

LYDIA: Are you comfortable?

DARRYL: My stomach is. My head still isn’t sure what’s going on.

LYDIA: How much did you drink?

DARRYL: I’m gonna go with… yes.

LYDIA: Gotcha.

DARRYL: You didn’t drink, did you?

LYDIA: Seventeen, remember?

DARRYL: Oh, like that’s ever really stopped anyone.

LYDIA: I don’t approve of drinking.

DARRYL: Well, excuse the hell out of me.

LYDIA: No, you’re fine. I just don’t approve of me drinking. You’re actually kind of funny when you’re drunk.

DARRYL: As opposed to when I’m sober?

LYDIA: No, you’re funny when you’re sober, too.

DARRYL: Funny, how?

LYDIA: Funny-looking. I’m just kidding.

DARRYL: Hold on, why are you here?

LYDIA: You asked me to come up.

DARRYL: I don’t remember asking you to come up.

LYDIA: Well… you kept talking. Never said goodbye. And I had to make sure you weren’t going to kill yourself on those stairs. Where are your roommates?

DARRYL: I don’t care. Jeffrey’s probably off saving the world or something, and Adrian’s… probably off being Adrian.

LYDIA: Are they likely to interrupt us?

DARRYL: What are you doing?

LYDIA: Seducing you. Why? What does it look like I’m doing?

DARRYL: Se…ducing me? Which is not… a thing that you should be doing… No, no, wait, stop.


DARRYL: Because you’re seventeen.

LYDIA: North Carolina law states that seventeen-year-olds are allowed to give consent as long as the other party is within five years of their age. I checked.

DARRYL: With who?

LYDIA: … Mason Goddard?

DARRYL: You expect a theatre director to be versed in the intricacies of sex law? Fuck, I just said sex in front of the horny seventeen-year-old.

LYDIA: You’re afraid that’s going to make me more horny?


LYDIA: You’re probably right. It’s probably just that you said sex in front of me, that makes me want to have sex with you, and not the fact that you’re an older male who is not just a sexy dork–

DARRYL: There’s no such thing as a sexy dork–

LYDIA: You don’t get to make that call!

DARRYL: Sorry.

LYDIA: Not just a sexy dork, but one who is kind and respectful and knows Shakespeare better than a lot of the so-called experts in our outdoor-Shakespeare community–

DARRYL: Well, I don’t know about that–

LYDIA: Shut up! I’m speaking. I will tell drunk person when drunk person is allowed to speak again. Now where was I?

DARRYL: Shakespeare?

LYDIA: Right. Because Shakespeare has never, in the history of the world, made a woman swoon and want to have sex with a man that she isn’t supposed to want to have sex with, for whatever reason.

DARRYL: Women aren’t supposed to want to have sex anyway. That’s why “wanton” is derogatational.

LYDIA: Are you aware that you’re talking like Dogberry in Much Ado?

DARRYL: I am an ass.

LYDIA: You’re drunk, I don’t think you get to make that call, either–

DARRYL: Hold on, did you just say you were trying to seduce me? Wait–you kissed me!

LYDIA: Yes, I did.

DARRYL: Are you taking advantage of me?

LYDIA: Isn’t that what you want me to do?

DARRYL: I know I’m drunk, but that still sounded like a loaded question.

LYDIA: You know, for a drunk man, you seem disappointingly un-horny.

DARRYL: That’s because the person trying to seduce me is a seventeen-year-old.

LYDIA: Well, that was unkind.

DARRYL: You’re supposed to be a unkind to seventeen-year-olds who are seducing you. Anything else could give them the wrong idea.

LYDIA: What if she already has the wrong idea?

DARRYL: … I don’t know what that means, I’m drunk and we’re talking too fast.

LYDIA: Then maybe we should stop talking.

DARRYL: Do you have any idea how unethical you’re being?

LYDIA: Seducing a drunk man?


LYDIA: I’m seventeen, I don’t know any better.

DARRYL: Well, I do.

LYDIA: No, you don’t. You’re drunk.

DARRYL: That’s not how it works. Stop it!

LYDIA: No one’s going to press charges. I talked to Patrick.

DARRYL: Your uncle?

LYDIA: He’s my legal guardian. He wouldn’t press charges. Parental consent.

DARRYL: I don’t think that’s… that’s still not…

LYDIA: Do you want to have sex with me? Do you?



DARRYL: No, I don’t want to have sex with you.

LYDIA: Why not?!

DARRYL: Because you’re fat. And ugly. And morally reprehansitive.

LYDIA: I’m sorry, Darryl, but you’re just not that good of an actor.

DARRYL: Get out of my house, Lydia.

LYDIA: You don’t want me to go–

DARRYL: Get out of my house! Thank you for the ride, but you… need to leave now.

LYDIA: Or what?

DARRYL: Or I’ll call the police.

LYDIA: Where’s your phone?

DARRYL: Dammit–Lydia, what did you do with my phone?

LYDIA: You’ll get it back after you have sex with me.

DARRYL: You’re full of shit, it’s right here–Hey!

LYDIA: You’ll get it back after you have sex with me.

DARRYL: Is that really how you want to do this?

LYDIA: Do you really want to keep saying no? Come on, Darryl. I want you.

DARRYL: Stop it.

LYDIA: I want you to be my first.

DARRYL: Oh, God! Oh, fuck, Lydia, if you hadn’t’ve said that!

LYDIA: Does that turn you on?

DARRYL: No, it doesn’t! Listen to me. You don’t want your first time to be with someone who’s drunk, and you also don’t want your first time to be with someone who doesn’t care about you as much as you care about him.

LYDIA: Are you saying you don’t care about me?

DARRYL: Does it look like I care about you as much as you care about me? See, right there, you had to think about it. Which means you’re not really sure, ‘cause I’m drunk and I can still confuse you, ‘cause I’m–‘cause I got ninja skills and stuff.

LYDIA: Shouldn’t it be my decision, though? Shouldn’t I be the one who makes decisions about my own body? Shouldn’t that mean that I’m the one who gets to decide when I’m ready, and who I want to be ready with?

DARRYL: It is your decision. But you need the other guy’s consent, too. And I’m drunk. And you’re still seventeen, and I’m… I’m saying no.

LYDIA: Why does that only make me want to fuck you more?

DARRYL: Because you’re seventeen, and you’re horny, and you’re… smart enough to want the right guy, even if, I don’t know, I guess seventeen-year-olds only like the nice guy when he’s older or something, I’m not sure how that works.

LYDIA: We want someone more mature.

DARRYL: Yeah, sure. You’re still not leaving.

LYDIA: I want to kiss you one more time.

DARRYL: No, you don’t. You want me to kiss you.

LYDIA: I won’t tell anybody–

DARRYL: They’re theatre folks, they already know.

LYDIA: Thank you. So, um… you think maybe sometime when you’re not so drunk. And I’m not so seventeen…

DARRYL: Neither one of us should be making any promises right now. But sure, drunk as I am… If I wasn’t so drunk, and you weren’t so seventeen… I was lying when I said you were ugly.

LYDIA: I know.

DARRYL: And I’m sorry about that.

LYDIA: It’s okay. One more kiss. Thank you.

Not (Quite) the Girl You’re Looking For

They both looked like spies, but from completely different eras.

The one at the end, the one who was already seated, looked out of place to begin with. He was wearing a tie, which stuck out like a gangrenous limb in this small-town diner, and behind him was an incongruous coatrack upon which hung his 1940s bowler or whatever the hell it was called.

The other one? He looked scary. He looked Eastern European, like a Russian mob enforcer from a nineties action movie when they didn’t know what was really happening behind what was left of the Iron Curtain. He was large and awkward, but more awkward about being in the South than about being in a diner.

Ironic, since both of them were natives.

Welcome to Trinity’s Field, NC.

Ceridwen Entwhistle, who was also a native (but didn’t like to admit it) knew her targets from before. They had been ageless fixtures even when she was a child, which made sense, since–she now knew–both of them happened to be Elves. She had never yet had the pleasure of speaking with them, but she knew them by sight. Everyone did. And everyone knew that they were connected. They just didn’t talk about it.

The one at the end saw her and looked like he was going to stand up, but the other one was in the way, so all he did was straighten himself up in his seat and smooth down his tie. The big one looked at him, acknowledging, but didn’t actually “give him a look”, as such.

Ceri slid into the seat across from them. “Is this seat taken?” she asked.

“So you are the one,” said the one with the tie.

“We were expecting someone…” the big one thought about it.

“Older,” the other supplied.

“Yes, older,” said the big one, in the same silky serial-killer voice that didn’t work with his Russian mob exterior.

“I’m plenty old enough,” said the twenty-six-year-old agent of the Order of the Oak, who had seen more in the last eight years than most people saw in ten lifetimes.

“We do not doubt it,” said the big one.

Not caring which game they were trying to play, Ceri cut to the chase. “Where’s the girl?” she demanded.

The twitch that betrayed their surprise at her candor was almost imperceptible, but she caught it. They didn’t like her game, but now there was no getting out of playing it. Unless, of course, they switched games again.

“The girl?” said the one with the tie.

“The girl…” The big one had a more pensive tone.

“Remind us a moment,” said the first, “Which girl is this that you’re looking for–”

“Carly Elgin,” said Ceri. “Carly Mae Elgin, of 456 East Pine Street. Last seen in the company of Rowan Galveston. An Elf.”

They looked pensive, now.

Fine, she thought. I guess I’ll have to play by their rules, first.

Fucking Elves.

“Which one of you is Lester Charleston?” Ceri finally took the bait. “And which is Charles Leicester?” She said it like “Lester”, like the British.

“Lee-sester,” they corrected her.

She frowned. “Is that seriously how it’s pronounced?”

They shrugged, as though they were the same person. “Some people say it one way,” said the tie, and the big one, “Some people say it the other way.” And the tie again: “We argue either way.”

“So which is which?”

They both shrugged.

It was odd how, the more she looked at them, the less she could distinguish between the two. Each individually looked completely different from the other, but their movements were so attuned to one another that it became difficult to think of them as two different people. Two different Elves, she corrected herself.

“Where’s the girl?” If they weren’t even going to play by their own rules, why should she? “We know that you have her; why? Elves don’t take human children, it hasn’t been in their programming for thousands of years. Why now?”

“You are correct,” said the one; and the other, “We do not take human children.”

“We know that you have her!”

She said this loud enough that some few people in the diner turned their heads towards her, so she muttered a quick Telepathy-bolstered incantation of Lethe to bring bliss back to their ignorance.

“We know that you have her,” she repeated in softer tones.

“Carly Mae Elgin is with us,” one of them confirmed.

And there it was!

Just like that?

“I thought you said you didn’t take human children,” Ceri reminded them.

But their response was completely impassive. They didn’t say a word. They didn’t have to. They just sat there and let her figure it out.

“Carly Elgin is…” But no, that was absurd.

“Her birth records were falsified,” said the big one.

“Her birth mother, this Janice Seymour?” said the tie.

And the other, “She never existed.”

“But that’s not–” Well, but of course it was, and Ceri could see the way that it was possible, the way that it could happen, even before they interrupted.

They told the story so seemlessly, it was like they were one person. “An egg was stolen from the Willow Grove fourteen years ago. In it was a female gene-sequenced to be a mate for our Rowan. But there was a crash while the egg was en route. The rituals had not been completed. The egg was not fully programmed. This was why the child was able to be raised ignorant of her true heritage by the man who had found her.”

“Nigel Elgin,” Ceri supplied.

They let this sink in for a moment.

“We will not return the human child,” they said with a single voice.

“There is no human child to return,” said the big one.

“Carly Elgin has at last been returned to us,” said the one with the tie.

And there was nothing Ceri could do now to change that.

When You Do Ask a Girl Out

LAURA: Hey, honey. School good?

TONY: Awesome.

LAURA: You okay?

TONY: I’m fine.

LAURA: Are you sure?

TONY: Yes, I’m sure.

LAURA: Well, I’m not.

TONY: You’re not fine?

LAURA: Not sure.

TONY: What’s wrong?

LAURA: Not sure you’re fine. What’s up?

TONY: Oh my God, Mom.

LAURA: She have a name?

TONY: Oh my God!

LAURA: That’s a weird name for a girl. It is a girl? I’m assuming.

TONY: Jesus Christ!

LAURA: Now that would be a whole other story, if you’d changed your mind about that guy!

TONY: Yes, it’s a girl! Holy shit! Jeez, Mom!

LAURA: Language.

TONY: I don’t want to talk about it.

LAURA: Yeah, you do. She know you like her?

TONY: I don’t know.

LAURA: Could be worse. You friends?

TONY: I hope not.

LAURA: OK, now that is the wrong attitude to have.

TONY: Look, I don’t want to be that guy, you know, that guy that she goes to for friendship instead of…

LAURA: Instead of what?

TONY: You know…

LAURA: Look, I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t girls out there who like a bit of danger. But the best relationships, the kind of relationships like your dad and I had? We were friends first.

TONY: What if I don’t want what you and Dad had?

LAURA: Oh, are you gonna tell me that you’re only interested in this girl for her body?

TONY: I don’t know.

LAURA: I know that’s not what you want.

TONY: It’s just that.. we are friends.

LAURA: That’s good. It’s a good start.

TONY: So what if she doesn’t want to be more than that?

LAURA: Well, what if she doesn’t?

TONY: I don’t know what I’d…

LAURA: What you’d what? Are you good with being, with staying, just friends? If not—

TONY: I’m… No. I’m good with that.

LAURA: Are you sure?

TONY: I want her. But… I don’t know, OK?

LAURA: Have you talked to her about it?


LAURA: That might be a good place to start.

TONY: I know.

LAURA: So why don’t you do it?

TONY: Oh, for fuck sake, Mom—

LAURA: Language!

TONY: First you ambush me when I don’t want to talk about this stuff—

LAURA: You have to talk about this stuff.

TONY: I was figuring it out! Look, I don’t want you judging me, that’s why I didn’t come to you!

LAURA: How am I judging you?

TONY: I want to have sex! OK?

LAURA: You’re too young to be having sex…

TONY: See? That’s what I’m talking about!

LAURA: But I wasn’t—

TONY: I didn’t say I was planning to have sex any time soon—

LAURA: But that’s what you—You know what? Maybe you’re right, maybe I don’t want to—

TONY: Oh, no. Oh, no you don’t! You don’t get to open a can of worms like this and then not eat every single one! You wanted to do this? Let’s do this!

LAURA: So you want to have sex with this girl.

TONY: Yes.


TONY: Why… do I want to have sex?

LAURA: With her?

TONY: Because I want to have sex. And I like her.

LAURA: Do you like her because you want to have sex with her?

TONY: What did I just say, mother? I. Like. Her.


TONY: Again with the judging!

LAURA: I’m not judging you!

TONY: Oh, and again with the tone! You know what? Forget it, this was a bad idea—

LAURA: Tony! Wait. I’m sorry. Can we start over?

TONY: From where?

LAURA: There’s this girl that you like?

TONY: Yeah.

LAURA: What’s her name?

TONY: I’m not gonna tell you her name. Not yet.

LAURA: Have you asked her out?

TONY: Not yet. But I think I’m going to.

LAURA: Good.

TONY: Mom?

LAURA: Yeah?

TONY: Do you have any… tips? On how to ask a girl out? Or even, like, where to take her on a date?

LAURA: Oh, honey. Do I ever!


I don’t want to write about Mickey.

I’m not even sure why I have to. It’s not like he was ever that important to me, or to Angst and the people involved with it. He wasn’t really even that important to the Elk. To call him “just” the drummer wouldn’t be fair to drummers: they are an important part of a rock band. But it is fair to him, because… well, that’s kind of all he was.

OK, so he was friends with Kyle. They went way back. I guess maybe I’m writing about Mickey not so much because of the effect that he had on us, but because what they had on him. They left.

They both left; all three of them, if you include Aly, who he had kind of a low-key crush on, because of course he did.

That broke him, I guess. Being left alone. And he never really recovered. I mean, not that he was doing that bad, he was just… stuck.

When they all got back, though, it was even worse. It was worse, because even though they were back, it wasn’t the same, it couldn’t be the same.

“Hey, Mickey,” Kyle said when he called.

“Oh my God? Are you back? My mom told me you were back, are you back?”

“I’m back and I’m not planning on leaving again any time soon.”

“Oh my God oh my God oh my God, this is so cool—are we getting the band back together again?”

“Well, I don’t know if I’ll…”

“No, seriously, though, it’ll be great!”

He started practicing again. He was really bad after like three, four years without touching the drum set. The drums themselves were pretty bad, too. “I don’t know what you expected,” his mom told him when he complained.

He felt like he’d let the band down.

“It’s okay,” Kyle told him. “I haven’t really played that much guitar, myself, in the meantime. Gotten a bit rusty.” But then his friend badgered him into playing for a bit, and he was lying. He still had the voice of an angel and he still had the technique of a Golden God. What the fuck, man?

When Tommy got back, he didn’t even look up Mickey. Mickey didn’t even know he was back until he ran into him at the grocery store. And when he did, Tommy gave him a blank look, like it took him a second to even realize that the person he was looking at was someone he knew, someone who knew him, intimately, from way back in the day.

Have I changed that much? thought Mickey. But no, no, he realized. He hadn’t changed at all. He was still every bit as pathetic as he had been in high school.

Never mind that Tommy had been off to war. Never mind that he was lost in thoughts of his own. Mickey wasn’t able to use explanations of Tommy’s inner life to excuse his own condition.

I need to un-fuck my life. Fuck it down, rather than up. Things’ll be better that way. 

Seeing Aly again, though, was the worst.

Aly had been back in town for a while. It was just that we lived in a different enough part of town that he never saw her. Until one day when he came to his restaurant. It turned out that she’d been there before—she’d been there when he’d been there, he just hadn’t seen her from the back. But this time, he happened to come through on his way to the bathroom and he saw her with some guy.

She was there on a date.


This really upset him, and he spent his time on the john working himself all up over it. Who did she think she was, bringing him here?

Who did he think she was?

Who did he think he was?

He waved at her when he got out of the bathroom (extra careful to wash his hands real well) but she looked confused. Distracted. Distracted by the conversation she was having with this boyfriend? Or by him? Did she not recognize him, either?

It was hard for Mickey to wrap his brain around how much he had changed physically since high school, how much hairier he’d gotten in particular. And fatter. He’d always been chubby, but he was wider now and between that and the beard, it was hard for some people to find his facial features.

The boy Aly was talking to was not, of course, her boyfriend. It was her long-lost half-brother she’d recently reconnected with. But of course Mickey didn’t know that, couldn’t know that. He only knew that Aly was there, at his restaurant where he worked, with a guy and that that guy was neither of the guys he had once been in a band with, and that hurt him.

He kept wanting to go out there and talk to her, try to reconnect, but he knew he would only be interrupting and he didn’t want to interrupt. Some of his kitchen mates had to ask if he was okay and of course he wasn’t okay, but what the hell was he going to say to them? Come off like a whiner? Like a loser?

Well, why shouldn’t he? He was a loser, after all, wasn’t he?

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that was the beginning of the end for Mickey. I can’t see all of the pieces. I guess in a way Mickey was the embodiment of Angst, making up problems for himself that weren’t there. Making up problems for himself and then obsessing about them until they consumed his existence. Turning them inward, turning a lack of confidence into a void where self-worth is supposed to be, and that sucked every emotion, every feeling of goodnessinto a place where it couldn’t escape to soothe the rest of him.

“Mickey?” It was two days later his mother couldn’t find him in his room. “Mickey, are you here?” She went looking for him in the rest of the house, in the living room and kitchen. “Mickey, there’s a phone call for you. I think it’s one of your friends.”

She opened the door to the garage. “Mickey, are you—“


Etelka de Marco was bored with Brussels. She had done her last two years of high school there and stayed and gone to Vesalius mainly because of a boy, but all there really was at Vesalius was Politics and International Relations and stuff that pretended not to be Business. She’d had enough of that shit.

“I just want to travel,” she told all her friends.

“Just stay in Brussels,” said Xin Borg, her best friend. “It’s not that different from traveling—you meet all kinds of people—“

“We must have different definitions of ‘all kinds of people’, Xin, because Vesalius is filled with rich brats from all over the world and Brussels at large is full of Belgians—“

“There are all kinds of Moroccans, though! And Turks! And—“

“I wanna go to Africa, though. South America, India, Taiwan. Papua New Guinea! Fucking Tuvalu and shit—“

“What would you even do in Tuvalu?”

“Well, how will I ever know if I don’t go there?”

The idea was to become an Anthropologist, even if only an amateur anthropologist. She wanted to understand people. No, that wasn’t it, it wasn’t just about understanding, she wanted to discover them. She wanted to expand her own horizons by learning about the scope of human awareness and culture. What were the things a person could believe? It wasn’t just about truth. It was about possibility and it was about context.

It was in Uruguay on a joint project with the US Peace Corps that Etelka met Caleb Robard. She honestly never thought she would fall for an American. She had thought better of herself, but here she was. “Etelka,” he said, slurring the first syllable and swallowing the l in a way she suddenly found adorable. “What kinda name is that?”

“My mother is Hungarian,” she said, “and my father’s Italian.”

“You must get a lot of that back in Europe, huh?”

“You’d be surprised how little, I think. People like us are the exception. Most people still don’t seem to have the wanderlust to leave their hometown even for a day trip.”

“Could be it’s expensive, too,” he pointed out.

It was this awareness that made her genuinely like him, in addition to just wanting to jump his bones.

“I thought you were skipping the U.S.,” said Xin when they Skyped. “Aren’t they, like, imperialist pigs?”

“See, we think that,” Etelka explained, “we assume that, but what if it’s just a different way of thinking? I have to know what drives that. I can’t call myself a searcher for truth if I just write them off as careless xenophobes!”

She was, yes, following a boy to his home country. Letting him guide her, telling herself it was something that she would do anyway.

“Are they everything you hoped they’d be and more?” asked Xin when next they spoke, and every time thereafter, with decreasing enthusiasm.

“I don’t know what it is,” said Etelka. “I don’t know how a whole country can be so oblivious to the outside world. So resentful I mean, it’s like they forget I’m a foreigner and they say something about some other country—one that I’ve been to, for crying out loud—and then they roll their eyes and make fun of me!”

“Well, you are kind of rich,” Xin pointed out.

“Me being rich is not an excuse for them to be assholes.”

“It’s a big place, though,” said Xin, “Maybe you should go to Seattle? Or New York? Not LA. Actually, I hear good things about Asheville—“

“No, it’s okay. I think it’s time.”


“Time for me to come back to Brussels. You know, it’s funny, I left ‘cause I wanted to see the whole world, but I think it left a hole inside. I wouldn’t trade my travels for the world, but I’m starting to think I need to come home to ever be whole again.”

Emotion Sickness

Darryl was one of the first people Rachel met when she got to UNC-Trinity. She liked him. He was cute. Kind of a dork, but in a way she could appreciate. She’d made some bad choices already by then when it came to men and she was hoping to change her ways, maybe get it right this time.

Darryl didn’t seem to take to her immediately, though. He was more interested in this petite virgin, Michelle, who seemed like the shoe-in for the ingénue-protagoniste of their college saga. But was she interested in him? Nah. Darryl was the kind of guy who found a girl out of his league to be friends with and pine over.

She needed to save him from himself.

It was charity, really.

Rachel told herself she wasn’t going to use it anymore, but she actually had a superpower and her high school fan-club (which had consisted of her gay best friend and her frenemy Susan) assured her that it was the scariest, most powerful and most dangerous superpower there was—even if it was the most subtle and hardest to detect. Rachel had the ability to psychically manipulate other people’s emotions. If you were having a bad day, she could turn on the sunshine and make you infectious with glee. If you were too happy with yourself, she could activate your sadness and drown you in self-doubt.

It was horrible, of course. There had been a learning curve, because she knew she was a horrible person for using it and she had to deal with that, but when she found out the guy Susan had been sleeping with was becoming abusive, she had to do something, right? So she took away her love and her lust and replaced them with anger and a very rational fear.

She wasn’t sure how this power she had worked, or where it had come from or anything, but she conceptualized it as a color wheel of six basic emotions. The primary colors were Love (blue), Hate (red) and Fear (for the yellow-bellies). The secondary colors were trickier, but she figured that Grief (Green) was founded on Love and the Fear of losing it; Lust or Passion (purple) turned Love into a kind of Rage; which left Joy as a combination of Hate and Fear, which only makes sense if you really stretch things (but orange is the color of stupid people, so that makes it okay).

With these six basic emotions, she was able to get people to do pretty much anything she wanted them to do, as long as she activated them at the right times. So making this Darryl kid fall in love with her? Easy..

Not that easy, of course, though. It was a process. She couldn’t get him to fall out of love with Michelle (not that “love” necessarily had anything to do with it) but what she could do was push the Purple more to the Red end of the spectrum when he was around her, maybe sprinkle some Green in any time she went Orange.

It was weird, though, because Darryl still kept hanging out with Michelle, no matter how angry she made him. It was like there was something else compelling him towards her.

So she put herself in play, perhaps a bit sooner than she should have or otherwise would. She put herself in play as an antidote to Darryl’s unrequited feelings for Michelle, and she encouraged him to take her advances seriously.

But she underestimated Darryl. She underestimated what we are forced by the limitations of language to refer to as Darryl’s rational mind. The part of him that longed for Michelle wasn’t just physical or even emotional. She challenged him intellectually on a level few other people ever had, and shared his interests in ways few others could.

When he started to feel an attraction to Rachel, he knew it was irrational. He knew it was his body telling him to want sex, his heart (as it were) longing for amorous attentions, but Rachel couldn’t fulfill the roles that Michelle was taking up. She couldn’t, wasn’t even equipped for it.

So the more Rachel changed Darryl’s heart, the more conflict Darryl felt. He wanted to like Michelle, but he felt some strange irrational anger towards her at the strangest times. Was he really that shallow? He knew she didn’t want him—it didn’t stop him from wanting her, but it allowed him to cope with it. Was he really turning into that crazed, psychotic asshole misogynist taking out his own insecurities on the girl who wants to be his friend?

And then there was Rachel. He could tell she wanted him—he couldn’t imagine why, but he wasn’t blind. He just had to ask himself, How would that work? OK, she wanted to sleep with him, but then what? Did she want to be his girlfriend? Having someone willing to warm his bed did appeal to the baser facets of Darryl’s sensibilities, but no matter how many simulations he ran, he couldn’t make any of these numbers add up to a long-term sustainable connection. So he resisted. No matter what parts of him pumped his gas, he forced himself to stay in neutral around her.

He was sad (green) when she wasn’t around, passionate (purple, never completely blue) when she was, jealous (bright, blinding red) when she was with someone else, happy when she spoke (the orange of the stupid people) and all the while he was desperately frightened (yellow) of himself, of his yellow-bellied cowardice in dealing with the whole situation.

Finally, Rachel asked him “Why don’t you want me?” She was drunk at the time, they were at a thing, and he was drunk, too; when Darryl is drunk, he waxes poetic: “Because I don’t understand you. You’re this huge, terrifying force and there is absolutely no reason why I should want you.”

“So you think I’m fat?” she slurred.

This confused him.

“You do, you think I’m fat! I’m a fat whore manipulizing other people and their—“

“I don’t think I’m fat!”

“Well fuck you, then, because I am fucking fat! I’m fat and I’m horrible person!”

This made him feel worse. She knew because she was upping the Green in his aura. He made a move towards her and for a brief moment, she thought maybe she’d won, maybe this would be it.

But instead of taking her into his arms and smothering her insecurities with kisses and then guiding her to the bed, he just wrapped his arms around her and held her.

“It’s okay,” he told her. “You’ll find someone. There are plenty of reasons to like you, your fire, your personality. Those reasons just aren’t mine.”

It isn’t fair, she thought. Why does he have to be so nice?

But he was right, so she dismantled what she’d done to his aura.

By then, she had more important things to use her powers for anyway.