Author Archives: Polypsyches

About Polypsyches

I write, regardless of medium or genre, but mostly I manage a complex combined Science-Fiction/Fantasy Universe--in other words, I'm building Geek Heaven. With some other stuff on the side.

Food that Runs Away

It can be hard work being the dominant species on a planet, but once you get it down, it can be very rewarding. The Onmed of Alabarch had, without a doubt, been the dominant life-form on Alabarch for several eons now—long enough that it could be said they had become terribly lazy.

Once, they had prowled. Long ago, they had been explorers of nature stretching their tendrils out into the world in search of new and interesting sources of nutrients. But ever since they had discovered their airborne pseudopheromone, which we will call The Drug, their entire existence had become an endlessly repetitive process of producing it.

They had laid down their roots in tight-knit groves where they lived out their lives around a dozen or so other trees. Some of the younger—or perhaps only more youthful—ones still sought  to reclaim the sense of adventure that had once been theirs by stretching their bodies and leaf-covered limbs towards the sun high overhead. But the more experienced and practical among them scoffed at the wasted effort. “Those resources,” they argued, “would be better used to help with the production process.”

“But what about the stars?” Youth would answer at times in awe-struck wonder. “What could be going on up there? What if things change? What if there are things we don’t know yet?”

“There is nothing new under the sun,” countered Age, citing their encyclopedic records of the species on their planet who could be influenced and manipulated by the Drug. It was put into effect whenever there were tremors of a particular intensity in the ground. They’d learned how to distinguish between the movements of tectonic plates and the lumbering of large animals millennia ago, which was why they didn’t build groves near fault-lines. But when a large animal came into range, the Drug was released: an airborne pathogen that put animals into a hypnotic state of obsession. Really, what it amounted to was an overwhelming perfume that drew the lumbering beasts towards it with the promise of the sweetest fruits, the juiciest, tenderest meats they could imagine. The smell would lead them to the pool in the middle of the grove, lined with slick loam that would slip on to make them tumble into the vat of enzymes. There, still happy enough to trigger their own production of serotonin and dopamine, keeping them calm and helping them go down faster, they would be dissolved, distributed and finally ingested by the Onmed in their groves.

“There, now,” the Old would then boast, satisfied, “Wasn’t that worth the effort of producing the Drug?”

But Youth was obstinate. “There just has to be more to life than this.”

When enough large animals had tumbled to their doom, the dissemination of The Drug was halted until more was needed. Animals would regain at least some of their senses, but they would stay stupid enough to stick around the area. Enough animals lived and died and pooped in their vicinity that it kept the lesser plants fertile and attracted more. Ecosystems of pasture lands developed to support them so that they never wanted. They always had everything they would need.

Until the Hard Things came.

“What are they?” asked concerned Youth who had never known a time when they weren’t surrounded by paradise, Youth whose imagination had been stifled and atrophied.

But for onc, Age couldn’t answer.

It walked on two feet, which was unusual enough. They tried to snare it with several permutations of The Drug, but the beast ignored them, until it noticed the ecstatic state that the animals were in. If the Onmed could detect radio or even soundwaves or understand language, they might have heard the young astronaut report to her supervisor that she was going to check out something strange.

So many of the surrounding cattle were now lumbering towards the Grove that the Onmed were forced to release the experimental antipheromone to repel them, while simultaneously casting the real Drug wide over their heads in a complicated procedure based almost entirely on a youthful curiosity.

The heavy bipedal beast came closer, but not because she was entranced herself. She found the pool through the row of trees—

“Lieutenant! Report back!”

“I just need to get a closer look Captain…”

But the ground around the pool was slick. She slipped and tumbled. Finally, something new, something exciting. They wondered at the texture and composition.

Something was wrong.

“Lieutenant! Report!”

The substance she’d assumed was water was far more acidic, but it still wasn’t enough to eat through the spacesuit she was wearing to protect against just this sort of situation.

“What is it?” asked the Onmed in one voice. “Why does it have no taste? Why can’t we digest it?” Worse, bits of the outer layer were starting to crumble off, but, indigestible, they clogged the receptors.

And now, her struggles with the liquid had troubled the substance enough that it was splashing up out of the pool and splattering onto nearby trees, causing damage, causing… pain.

The Onmed had made a mistake in luring the beast.

Finally, a companion of hers reached her with a rope and helped to drag her out. “Come on,” he said, “Your suit looks terrible. Let’s get you off this planet and back to safety.”

But safety was no longer an option for the Onmed of Alabarch. Strangers were coming, they were falling from the stars. Soon they would come with weapons they couldn’t even imagine and the society they’d built for themselves, their very species, would be doomed. How could they be expected to defend themselves? It had been centuries since any of them had bothered to move.


Falling Away

As far as she was concerned, she went onto the bridge that day because she wanted it to be over. She wanted to just not have to worry about any of that other bullshit again.

Other people would have their thoughts, their conclusions, their opinions and ideas. They would call her selfish. That was okay. She was okay with that. Those people were not her.

The water was calm. Gentle waves that she could barely hear over the occasional car that passed her by while she walked. She wondered what they might have thought of her. She wondered if any of them suspected.

She didn’t see anyone else on the bridge when she actually jumped. She was expecting vertigo. She was expecting the lurch and rush of air—she was counting on it. If you’re gonna go, right?

What she wasn’t expecting was for the whole world to tear open like space was being ripped apart. She wasn’t expecting the dead of night to literally turn into noon-light on the equator.

Suddenly, up was down and down was up, and that much she’d been expecting… but not like this. Now she felt herself actually falling upwards, momentum sending her into the air, then that lurch again… and then she rolled out onto the sand.

Why was there sand? She wasn’t anywhere near a beach. Where was she?

What if it wasn’t the end, like she’d hoped? What if she had to keep goddamn going down this goddamn road that pretended to be life? Couldn’t she goddamn rest already? It was a long time before she picked herself up. It wasn’t the hunger or thirst, it wasn’t even the threat of sunburn, or the desire for answers. Was it? No. She was just bored again. Incongruously.

Absently, she thought about looking for ways to kill herself.

All there was, was sand, though. Could she choke on sand? Was that a thing? She wasn’t sure it would work and even if it did, it wouldn’t be anything like the triumphant cascade through the air that she’d promised herself.

Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She spun, ready to clock whoever it was, whoever was responsible. But there was no one there. Just empty space and… she looked down.

A water bottle. It had a hastily-scrawled note on it: “Drink this.”

No shit, Sherlock.

She turned the note over. In parentheses: “(I promise it’s not poison).”

“You know,” she said out loud, “I’d almost prefer it if it was.”

Another tap on her shoulder. Another note. It said: “Then I promise it is. Just drink the damn thing.”

She did feel better after she drank it.

It didn’t take her long to be tired enough to fall asleep. She thought that whoever it was who was sending her notes might have molested her in her sleep. She was used to that. But when she woke up, she realized her wallet was gone. She hadn’t even realized she’d brought it along, but once she noticed it—was this some elaborate mugging? It’s not like she even kept money there…

He’s trying to get to know you, said a voice inside her.

He’s trying to help you forget who you are, said another.

She woke up in the desert, but later that day, she took a step and lurched into a different place. A forest. She was guessing… Appalachia? But it could’ve been New Zealand or the dark side of Oz for all she knew.

It took her several minutes of the cynical version of wonder before it even occurred to her to start looking around again for ways she could kill herself. A forest was a lot more conducive. Sharp, hard rocks. Running water. Tall trees. But by then… I don’t know, she thought. She was too curious.

She wondered what he must’ve put in the water.

“What are you doing to me?” she asked no one in particular.

“What are you trying to accomplish? Is it just about trying to keep me from killing myself? Why me? Why do you care? Who the fuck are you?”

Then one day (she wasn’t sure how long she’d been in the woods) she took a step and realized she was in a park. It was the park just down the street from where she’d lived.

And her dad was there with a black eye and a broken arm. She tried to feel pity for him. She really tried.

He looked up at her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry, baby.”

No. “Why?” she asked. “Sorry what you did to me, or sorry you got beat up?”

He looked down. Looked away.

“I don’t need your apology,” she finally said, the realization dawning on her. “I don’t need you at all.”

And she walked away without looking back.


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.”

“Why?”

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
quakes
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.

LYDIA: Why?

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?

DARRYL: Yes.

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?

DARRYL: Yeah.

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.

LYDIA: No?

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?

TONY: No…

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.

LAURA: Why?

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.

LAURA: OK.

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!


“Creep”

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.

Fuck.

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—“