Category Archives: Shories

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.

“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?

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.


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—“

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.

Truth, Faith and Joy

Truth Goodkind was born with a superpower. She could see the truth around a person. To her, the truth followed people around and kept them honest. She had this ability all her life and it took her a while to realize that she was the only one who had it.

“There is no Santa Claus!” she insisted, once she was old enough to talk about it. “You’re going to put the presents out with Daddy! You’re not Santa Claus!”

It was why she never wanted to sit on Santa’s lap as a child, either.

Truth’s younger sister Faith was different.

If Faith ever had a superpower, it must have been that she believed in herself. And when she believed in herself, she could do anything.

Of course, it’s hard to know for sure how much Faith might have achieved, even as a child, because every step of the way, she had her older sister Truth looming over her shoulder behind her.

“Faith!” Truth bellowed when she found her sister on top of the house. “What are you doing? Get down from there!”

“I’m going to fly!” Faith called down to her.

“No, you’re not!” Truth yelled back without thinking. “There’s no such thing as flying, you’ll go splat like an egg or a kitchen plate!”

But even as Truth said this, something she knew to be true, she noticed Faith’s truth hovering around her. Faith’s truth confirmed her actions. As she said it, the truth was that Faith could fly. She would fly. And yet, once her sister Truth had spoken to her, the truth that followed her around changed.

Truth watched it change before her very eyes.

“Remember,” her parents always told her, “don’t ever tell your younger sisters about Santa Claus.”

The lie distressed her, but when she looked at her sisters, all of them, she saw the lie of Santa Claus become truth.

“Mommy,” Faith asked one day, “Tell me about God?”

Truth knew by now that her parents were atheists, so she listened intently. Her father watched her, too, which told her this was one of those times she should keep the truth quiet.

And as her mother told her little sister the theory of the existence of God, of what God represented in the Christian worldview and others, she saw that her mother’s truth never wavered, but Faith’s started to deepen, started to expand and include all other types of possibilities.

“But you lied to her!” Truth scolded her mother. “You don’t believe any of that God crap!”

“That doesn’t mean she’s not allowed to. I want Faith to make up her own mind on this issue, Truth. We don’t know. We don’t. We just believe.”

Of course, the price for the rest of them was that Faith became absolutely insufferable. She read the Bible cover to cover and treated it as though it were… well, the Bible.

“Rather than a poorly written piece of ancient literature,” Truth complained to her parents. “And now she’s harping on the littlest things, stupid things, and telling the rest of us that we’re going to hell!”

So the parents talked to Faith. “You know, sweetie,” their mother said, “not everyone believes in God. Or hell. Or sin. A lot of pepole think the Bible is just an ancient text.”

But Faith didn’t care about all of that. She knew what she knew and what she knew was what she believed. And what she believed was her truth.

Then there was Joy. Joy was the youngest of the Goodkind sisters. If Joy had a superpower, it was to always see the good in people and bring it out, no matter how long it took. There are those who say that this is the most important power of them all.

“Why do you keep correcting people?” she asked Truth one day while coloring.

“Because they’re wrong!

“But they’re happy,” Joy pointed out. “Don’t you want them to be happy?”

“No,” said Truth. “I want them to be right.”

“But what does it matter what they think?”

But it did matter. Maybe not for most people, but int he case of Faith Goodkind, it certainly did. Because Truth was starting to think (based on evidence carefully gathered and curated) that if Faith was left to believe in a Christian God, then given enough time—given enough faith—she might be able to make that God real.

“And why would that be a bad thing?”

“Because,” Truth rounded on her obstinate middle sister, “the Christian God has been responsible for some terrible atrocities. Can we start with the plagues? Or wait—maybe go back farther, all the way back to the Garden! Or the Flood? And don’t start with your ‘Oh, but that was before Jesus’ crap—I know for a fact that you’ve read Revelations! And just look at his followers! The Crusades? The Witch Trials? The Inquisition?”

Everything that Truth said to Faith was hurtful at that time. But Truth wasn’t the only one speaking to her.

“What is it that you actually like about God?” asked Joy.

Faith thought about that for a while and decided, “What I like most is the idea of forgiveness. People spend too much time obsessing about Sin, about the Fire and Brimstone of it all. What I like about God is His capacity to forgive. Not just the little things, but the big ones, too. Anything, literally anything, can be forgiven. And He teaches us how.”

“As long as you agree to worship him,” Truth muttered from the corner.

“Maybe,” Faith conceded. “But if there was such a God, one who was willing to forgive unconditionally… Wouldn’t you want to worship that?”

“Butterflies and Hurricanes”

I don’t know that I can say that Declan “thrived” (throve?) after Raven left, but I might say that he blossomed. I could even say “hatched”. He broke out of the cocoon he’d woven for himself with his girlfriend those first couple years in college.

“We should start a band,” he said to his friend Jeffrey. Jeffrey had been in a band in high school, too, overseas in Brussels, of all places. “Anus de Manus” was the band’s name and they were, as he put it after watching Declan’s videos, “even more terrible than your Fear-band.”

“Angst,” Declan corrected him.

“Angst is Dutch for fear,” Jeffrey pointed out. And now, building on that, he added, “I think maybe it’s time you moved past that Fear.”

Jeffrey had an “actual classical education” in guitar, whcih was an unexpectedly huge adjustment for Declan.

“Why are you holding your guitar like that?” Declan asked.

Jeffrey had it propped on his right leg, which looked super awkward and put the guitar at an almost vertical angle, more like a cello. “It’s so I can reach further,” Jeffrey explained. “Or at least, that’s what my instructor used to tell me when she jabbed my thumb with a pencil.”

“You’re supposed to have your thumb there, though.”

“Not where I’m from.”

It was a weird adjustment, too, when it came to sound. “I want to add some violin,” Jeffrey said out of the blue. They weren’t even recording yet. “Guitar is too… There are too many memories for me.”

When school started up again—their junior year in college—they actually picked up a couple of freshmen.

“Don’t you think we need a name now?” asked Martin J. Quindlen.

“Butterflies and Hurricanes,” said Talthybius Jones.

“Sounds more like a name for an album,” said Jeffrey.

The name they decided on, ultimately, was Gorgasm and the Astral Vices.

“Why?” asked almost every girl Declan found himself sleeping with that semester.

“Well, our lead singer, Rachel, has a beautiful voice, so it was gonna be Astral Voices, ‘cause we’re going for something really, like, cosmic and ethereal, but then we got into this thing, the rest of us, about Greek mythology, and went waitaminutewaitaminute, and I can’t remember how, but we went from ‘Gorgon’ to ‘Gorgasm’ and decided that ‘Vices’ was more appropriate than ‘Voices’ then. I don’t know. We’re kinda metal? We’re kinda weird?”

Jeffrey didn’t make it the whole year with them. He was majoring in Physics and it became too much of a time commitment, but he did help set them up with a guy who ended up being their agent: Magnus Murgatroyd.

“That’s the most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard,” said Talthybius Jones.

“I gotta say, guys,” said Magnus upon meeting them, “your stuff, I really found it quite uh… quite moving.”

“Thanks,” said Martin J. Quindlen. “We do practice a lot.” Then Tally hit him. “Ow?”

“You kids got plans for the summer?”

Who needed Acid Monsoon, anyway? Who needed established platform and fanbase?

“Now,” Magnus told them, told Declan personally, closer to crunch time, “there are one or two things…”

There needed to be something in Declan’s look, you see. “We gotta kinda rough you up, audiences expect something kinda, I don’t know, a little bit rougher, a little bit gruffer, you know what I’m saying?”

“No,” Declan said. “It seems to me the audience wants a voice. My voice—or at least, my lyrics, my songs, my playing. They’ll want to know who this person is who’s making this music. Not the plastic thing the agents and record companies mold.”

“Listen, kid—“ He tries to make it sound conspiratorial when he says it, but he’s still kind of a dick. His message here was how people want things, people are predictable, and he was the one with all the answers.

Is that who I want to be? he finds himself asking.

Then he gets a text from Raven.

It’s been a while. Raven doesn’t feel a whole lot of need to come back. Not like she has family here. Not really. Just Declan and he doesn’t count because they broke up.

Does he regret that? Of course he regrets it. You know he does, because theirs is the big love story, the epic showdown. They’re the ones here who bleed for each other. He loves her. He would be in love with her, too, if they hadn’t kicked each other out.

“Playing in Trinity,” she says. “You should come. I’ll comp you.”

Did she not know that he wasn’t going to be in Trin’s Field that week?”

“I’ll be in Alabama,” he texts back.


“Yeah, didn’t you know?” He explains his new situation.

“Oh, wow,” she texts back. Thirty seconds pass. “Congratulations!”


How could he not have told her? How could they be so out of touch?

The next summer, they end up at a festival together. “You should totally open for us!” she says, then catches herself. “Unless that would be weird?”

“I’m sure the guys’d be thrilled,” he says, wondering if he is.

He assumes that she’s sleeping with at least one of her bandmates.

Not that he hasn’t slept with Rachel a time or two… He wonders why that feels different, reminds himself that wondering isn’t going to make the feeling go away. He needs to just be okay with it. He takes a cold shower, forces himself to think about it, to normalize it. She’s moved on.

“Hey, man.”

By now, Declan is out of the shower and wrapped in a towel. He wasn’t expecting to see Caspar June right there, his ex’s boss and whatever else, but he shouldn’t be as bewildered as he is. It’s not as if they haven’t met before.

“Do you feel awkward around me?” Caspar asks, and of course Declan does—especially after that question. “Can I ask you—is it because of the fame thing, or is it because of Raven?”

Declan doesn’t even need to answer. He knows it. Caspar knows it.

“Listen, I like you,” Caspar says. “I like your music. I think you’ve come really far. I’d like to see you go further. But there’s something that you gotta understand about the Game.”

Somehow, thinking of marketing and imagery as a game with an opponent was not somethign that had ever occurred to Declan. It helped. It reminded him of the campaign he’d run back in high school to get into Raven’s good graces.

“You don’t have to be that person,” Caspar said, “You don’t have to war the mask or the hat 24/7, even out in public. But you gotta treat the camera like a stage, certain people, especially journalists and producers, but even your own agent, they aren’t people and they are not your friends. They are your audience. Your audience wants a character. And a character is the opposite of a person.”

That was the most useful information anyone had ever given him about being an artist.

“Parallel Universe”

I’m in trouble.

I fucked up this time.


Is that one word or two? I guess if it’s one word, it can be an adjective, but two? “Big time?”

Fuck me.

“Big time.”

I’m pregnant.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I know that it’s not supposed to happen because I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen anything like it. In fact, I’m pretty sure just with a cursory glance into the stuff that I know is going to happen to me in the next couple of years, that this completely contradicts everything I know about how my life’s supposed to be.

And I mean, come on, even beyond that, come on now, you know me. By now you must know who I am. Is this my story? Is this who I am? Who I…

I mean, I did… do this. I consented. I had sex. This wasn’t something that was done to me, it was a mistake I made, I was complicit. I had sex. With one of my best friends. We haven’t really talked since, not about… I don’t know if it was bad, if I… Maybe that’s…

Or maybe I was right about Trevor.

“I’m pregnant.”

I practice saying it in the mirror—a lot—before I finally work up the courage. It stops him dead in his tracks. He looks like he’s never going to smile again. Like there are too many other emotions he has to sort through first before he can get back to happiness.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, after I tell him. “You don’t have to do anything, I just—“

“How can you say that?”

“I’m taking care of it.”

He is genuinely confused and I realize too late there are too many ways that sentence can be read. Which way is he reading it? Which way does he want it to be read?

It doesn’t matter, I remind myself. He’s not the one who’s pregnant.

“Are you gay?” I ask him. Because maybe that’s a factor. I don’t know why it would be—no, that’s a lie. I can think up a million reasons, only half of them silly and a quarter more stupid, but that still doesn’t make the rest relevant. Not to me. Not here. Not now.

He looks at me and I can see him going through so much. I can see rejection, how he’s offended that I’d even think that—again/still—after what we’d done. But then underneath that, I can see… I don’t even know. It’s too complicated and I’m not a gay man—or any kind of man—myself. I can’t really fathom, psychic or not, what he’d be feeling now if he is gay. Or, for that matter, if he isn’t. But what I think I see is like a fear of what I’ll think of him and then underneath that, some sense of relief that he maybe just doesn’t have to hide it anymore.

“It’s okay,” I told him. “It’s okay if you are, and if you aren’t…”

He lunges forward. He kisses me.

It should be raining right now. Scenes like this belong in the rain.

I don’t even want to tell my mom. I mean, seriously, think about it. I’d be her third child to go through this. The hat trick. The fucking hat.

But Trevor doesn’t want me to have the abortion.

“You don’t have to come with me,” I tell him.

“Why did you have to tell me?” he asks. “I mean, if you knew that—that this was what…”

“Did it ever occur to you I needed someone to talk to? Who else is there? Lucy? Isabella? I only had you.”

But Trevor and I have very different ideas about how our life would be, how our kid’s life would be. To him, it’s so clear, it’s like a golden path, so shiny he doesn’t notice the mists at the edges. But I have seen the future. Almost a third of my life, I have lived there. It isn’t a path, it’s a maze and there are so many ways to get lost in it.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to have a child someday, to make all those mistakes, but I’m not ready. I’m not there. And I don’t think she is, either. I don’t know that it’s a she, of course. I can see her, like I said. It’s just easier to think of her, of the person she’d be, as me. Who would I be? How would my life go?

She could kill me. She’s not even a person yet, but already she’s a threat. They don’t teach you to think of reproduction as an extreme sport, but god fucking dammit. I know. I’ve seen it. I was in the fucking room and I’m not ready. I’m not ready for something that I can’t see.

He’s cold on the drive back. I think someday he might forgive me. I think so. Or get over it, at least. Or at least move on. I think. I hope. But I don’t know.

Was this supposed to happen? Was any of it supposed to happen? Did I make a mistake? Is everything… is everything going to change now?

Was any of it ever actually fucking real?