He was standing at attention, but staring down at the floor, lost in thought. He hadn’t heard his name.

The General repeated, “Lieutenant Asche.”


“I’m told that you were the only member of your unit to reach your objective, and single-handedly destroyed it. You must be very proud.” She turned to take the medal box from her aide-de-camp.

“I suppose so, Ma’am.”

“You suppose so?” She looked amused as she pulled the award from its box, smoothed out the ribbon, prepared to hang it around his neck. “Why wouldn’t you be proud?”

He opened his mouth, paused, said nothing.

“Out with it, Lieutenant.”

“It was… the target was a crèche, General. A Woolie crèche.” He couldn’t meet her eyes as he spoke. “No military value at all. Just… babies.”

“Woolies gestate twice as fast as humans, did you know that, Lieutenant Asche? And they’re four times as likely to bear multiples.” She stepped a bit closer, placed the ribbon over his head and around his neck, speaking quietly. “If we’re going to win this thing, we’ve got to do what’s necessary. It’s a numbers game, Lieutenant.”

She winked, stepped back, saluted him smartly, moved on to the next soldier.

Just Maybe Worth It

She runs things, the whole Lows from the Hook all the way down to the Five Ways. Her boys, man, they called the Faces ‘cept they ‘aint got none, all masks and shit, all covered up, so nobody can know ‘em to the Eyes.

You ask her for something, you best know what it is you want, and what you willing to give up for it, because she can make it hurt, even just for fun, just to prove she can, or she can give it free just as easy, just to prove she can.

There been dudes who say they’ve had her, but they don’t last long. Either they lie and she punish them or she just don’t leave no exes. So brother, don’t bark up that tree, know what I’m saying? She throw you out, you hit every branch on the way down, you don’t get up after.


I can’t believe you, she said. I can’t believe you did this to me. To us.

It had been early evening, then, the sun low on the horizon surrounded by streaks of red and orange as if to frame her anger with a complementary background, the light glinting off her ring as it sailed from her hand out into the featureless water. Now, it was early morning, days later, almost a week; the rented yacht long gone, replaced by a dinghy with an outboard four-stroke motor.

I’m sorry, okay? I over-reacted. I should have trusted you. Her voice was chastened, humbled, pleading. What do we do?

He leapt from the boat into the water, no mask or tanks, head down and eyes open, trying to find that lost glint against the deep blue darkness.

It’s still down there… somewhere down there is my ring. She took his hand. Please, John?

Drink Up, Dreamers

“It’s halfway up the landing legs now.”

She stared out the viewport. The only part of the colony still visible, ironically, was the flattened metal bulb of the water tower. All the gravel paths, the prefab housing, the crops, the animal pens… “We landed on a hill.”

“Yes we did. But it’s halfway up the legs anyway. About four four more feet and it’s at the bottom of the engine cones. If we’re going to lift off it’s gotta be now.”

“How much fuel do we have loaded? How far can we—”

“There’s enough for the computer to get us to the high ground to the East. After that… dunno.” He got a faraway look in his eye. “We’d have to dry out and repair the ISPP unit. Tanks should still be good, unless they get damaged by debris while they’re underwater. Then it’s a matter of getting the fuel to the new landing site. We’d have to mount the spare tank on one of the caterpillar chassis. Lot of work.”

She rubbed her eyes. “Let’s get everyone strapped in.”

“Burt and Maise are still unaccounted for, we—”

“If they’re still alive, they’ll see us. Strap in. We’re taking off.”

Cry When It’s Over

Hide from the dead people. Keep hiding, even when they’re close. Run only when you have to. Always have an escape plan. Look for ways you can go because you’re little that they can’t because they’re big: gaps in fences, holes in walls, windows left partway open.

If you get cornered, slide down the storm drain and wait for night. Move away through the drain without splashing. Come out somewhere else.

Eat when you can, even if you’re not hungry. Food goes bad. If it smells bad, don’t eat it. Stuff that’s bad for you lasts longer. Drink when you can, even if you’re not thirsty. Don’t drink dirty water, sip the dew from the big leaves in the mornings.

Don’t cry. You make noise when you cry, you close your eyes when you cry, and your eyes can never be closed. Look around, be aware, know what’s coming. Survive.

Forced Entry

“I said we were safer, not safe.”

Fleet pulled at the restraints, gave up, leaned his head back so that it was in contact with hers. “You’re supposed to be able to warn me about this sort of thing, Mandy.”

“This one wasn’t specific,” she protested. “I just saw the chairs, back to back, empty, like when they brought us in. Anyway, Dreamland One didn’t predict it either, so be mad at him.”

“He’ll just say ‘insufficient input’, and tell us to be more careful.”

“How long do you think they’re going to make us wait?”

“No idea.”

“I only ask because I have to pee.”

“Listen, I told you not to drink that whole—”

A metal door creaked open, and an older gentleman in an impeccable Italian suit sauntered in. “I hope you’re comfortable.”

“Is that sarcasm or irony? I can never keep straight which is which. What do you think, honey?”

Mandy shrugged. “I’d bet it’s irony, but it’s been a long time since English class.”

“You two are made for each other. The very souls of wit. But let me tell you what happens now.” The man walked slowly around and leaned over in front of Fleet, so that they were face-to-face. “Now is when you tell me how to penetrate Dreamland’s defenses. Now is…” motes of dust were beginning to fall past his glasses, between their faces; he looked up.

“That’s actually not what’s going to happen. Your ceiling is about to fall apart.”

“That’ll crush you as well, you won’t—”

“I’m not doing it. That’s way more juice than I have. That’s Rapture.” Fleet smiled. “Anyway, it won’t collapse, it’s just going to turn to dust little by little, until we’re hip-deep in it, and then she’s going to come down inside to kill you.”

Do You Still Feel The Pain

“Daniel?” She called down the hallway, then walked down it peering through doorways until she found him. “Daniel, I’ve made dinner. Do you want some?”

“I’m having fish.”

“Have you caught anything yet?”

“No but I will.”

It was rushed out, as if to head off any questioning of his eventual success. “Well, that’s fine, but maybe you could come eat something to tide you over until they start biting?”

“Don’t want to miss any. Don’t want to.”

“All right, suit yourself.” She paused. “Can I at least bring you a plate?”

He didn’t respond; he jiggled the rod and watched the disturbed water bounce around the bowl. She walked back to the kitchen, took his plate from the table, began spooning little garlic potatoes onto it, one by one, eventually moving on to the green beans. By the time she reached for the salad tongs, she was fighting tears.

The Old Brookville Store

“I swear to you, as sure as I’m standing here, it’s still there.” The man’s finger rested on the map, halfway down a side road none of them knew. “Little mom-and-pop grocery, even has a pump around the side. Used to fill up there sometimes when my wife forgot to get gas—”

“And it hasn’t been hit?”

“Only the locals really know it’s there. And they’re all dead,” he sputtered out a nervous laugh, “or undead.”

“Why aren’t you holed up in there right now, if it’s so well-stocked?”

“It’s a fishbowl.” His eyes darted around, found no comprehension on their faces. “Glass front. I’ve seen them push in big windows like that, shatter ‘em just on pressure alone.”

“All right.”

“Anyway, I’m alone. No gun. I can’t fight, all I can do is run. If there’s one in there, or more than one, what would I do about it? But you fellas, you—”

“Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re waiting here, handcuffed. A couple of my guys are going to recon the place. If everything checks out, you get to stay, and you get a share of the haul. If you’re lying — and I mean, about anything — you’re dead.”

Doll Parts

It had one arm which hung limp and useless, swinging without purpose as the thing shuffled across the blacktop. What had become of the other arm couldn’t be known, not anymore.

“They look worse lately.”

“It’s been hot.”

It tripped on something, a rut or a groundhog hole or a tangle of weeds, and fell face-first to the ground. A person would have paused, waiting to feel for injury; the zombie felt nothing, and thus immediately began twisting and writhing to try to find a way back to its feet.

“Would you shoot it already?”

“Can’t get a clear line. Wait a bit.”

After a few minutes, it managed to turn over onto its back, then bend at the waist until it was sitting upright.


“Happy now?”

“Ecstatic. Let’s go look.”

They stood over the zombie’s remains, half the forehead now missing. The skin was leathery and tight where it had been exposed to the sun, but under the collar they could see horrific bug-eaten rot.

“They can’t last much longer. They’ll be falling apart by winter.”


“What ‘maybe’? Human body can’t walk around forever when it’s dead.”

“People are still dying, all over. Starvation. Cancer.”

“Aww, hell.”

Rhonda’s First Epiphone

“Legs like that, you oughta be a dancer,” he drawled, a leery grin pasted on his face. Of course he didn’t mean a ballet dancer or a ballroom dancer or any kind of dancer outside of the ‘gentlemen’s club’ out on State Route 4. He downed another shot of Jack straight from the bottle and fumbled with the guitar, trying and failing to find a chord he’d hazily stumbled across a half hour ago.

“Gee, thanks, mister.” Her momma had taught her to be polite, at least on the outside. She smiled and nodded and kept just out of grabbing range until he passed out on one of the motel beds, pants unbuckled but still on, trucker cap over his face.

It was a nice guitar, and he hadn’t earned it. He’d be mad, come looking for it, but he’d never find her; he’d never really looked at her face.


“She’s done it again.”


“Go look in the sun room. Just you look.”

He poked his head through the doors, froze. Eventually he managed to say, “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?”



“Go talk to her. Right now. I’ve had enough. It has to stop.”

He trudged up the stairs, knocked softly on the door with the red ribbons on the knob and the pencil-marks measuring height on the molding. “Honey?”

A worried oval of a face appeared as the door opened a crack. “…Yes?”

“Remember when we talked about summoning?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“And how you shouldn’t do it unless Mommy or I was around?”

“Yes, Daddy. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

“Okay, sweetie. Have a nice afternoon.”

“Thank you Daddy.” The door closed.

He trudged back downstairs to find Martha, arms folded. She began, “John…”

“Well, at least it’s not a tiger.”

Founder’s Day

There hadn’t been a water delivery yet that day; the general consensus among the old men sitting in the shade in front of the meeting house was that there likely wouldn’t be a water delivery at all.

“The Vylid started their weekend early.”

“The Vylid started drinking early.”

“Don’t take much.”

Callo walked down the dusty path towards the Wind, just to be sure there wasn’t a tanker crawling its way alone the snakelike road that led to the plateau. He was staring down at it when he felt Lise at his elbow.

“We have some left.” She whispered it, conspiratorially. “Not much. Mother has been rationing us for two weeks, just in case. She said this might happen.”

“You mother doesn’t like—”

“I’ll share mine.” Her fingers wrapped around his forearm, slid down to his palm.

“There’s so much water,” he said wistfully, “right down there.” Past the Wind, past the foothills and the Vylid town and the beach, was the vast ocean: Buol territory.

“Salt water. Can’t drink that.”

“I made a solar still. It—”

“What’s that?”

“Turns saltwater to fresh. Works by sunlight.”

Her fingers gripped his hand tightly. “We’re not allowed down there.”

“We need water.”

Bury Me In The Sea Of Tranquility

“All strapped in?” The stewardess smiled a plastic smile, convincing enough for any run-of-the mill passenger, her hands in a holding pattern halfway to his shoulders.

“Not sure, sorry...” He gestured at the array of restraints, gave a wan shrug.

“First time going into orbit? Let me…” She’d done it a thousand times, a million, she’d probably done it in free-fall behind her back while holding a cup of coffee; it took seconds. “There, now.”

“Thank you, miss.”

The smile warmed. “Buzz if you need anything, I’ll come back once the burns are done.” She gave him a gentle pat on his upper chest, more like a daughter than a stranger. “You’re going to love it.” She made her way back though the cabin.

A businessman across the aisle whispered, “I think she likes you.”

He snorted. They’d made him sign waivers, a man his age. “Just afraid I’ll croak.”

Répondez s'il vous plaît

Music echoed in the concrete hall, tinny, distant, cold and otherworldly. It was music he didn’t recognize, had never heard. He kept walking, but a thousand tiny hairs on the back of his neck strained to remain behind.


You’re not invited to the party!” The voice was shrill, tauntingly sing-song, coming from an indeterminate direction.

He stopped, waited, startled and frozen. “Uh… who’s there?”

“I’m the birthday girl and you’re not on the list!”

He moved forward down the hall and around a corner, finding a stairway waiting to be climbed and a door waiting to be pushed open.

“Stay out!”

He opened it and stepped through, finding the tableau she’d laid out: party games, a refreshments table, and even — after a fashion — guests. She was standing next to the record player, an old multicolored children’s affair.

She said, “Well, now that you’re here, I suppose you can stay.”

Bun Lyfe

It’s been three years, and I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that there’s no undoing what we did that night; that I’ll never look in the mirror and see my old human face again.

That book — the Lagomorphicon — not a day goes by that I don’t wish I’d never opened it, never joked about ‘doin’ it bunny-style’, never blithely read those Latin words aloud. But what’s done is done.

Some people accepted me, and the ones who didn’t… well, they’re not part of my life anymore. I have a new job. It’s not teaching, but Principal Ward was right: the kids never would have taken me seriously. Just last week, some neighborhood teenagers yelled, “Hey, Watership Down! Think fast!” and threw carrots at me as they passed.

I stood my ground, but they just walked on. I wish I had been strong enough not to eat the carrots.


“How long now?” Mays didn’t wear a watch, with screens on every wall and ELLE to kick him out of bed before every shift.

Three hours overdue,” came her voice, from all speakers including his subcutaneous earbud. “We have sent numerous hails in the clear on all bands: no response. Company policy is—”

“I know what company policy is.” He flipped the primer switches up, and started the intermix injectors running.

Rebbo, at his shoulder, rumbled: “Where will you begin searching?”

“They were coming from Fwalbach. At least that’s what Dixie said: they had a big-money contract from Fwalbach to Zunnis, that’s why they could afford to meet us here.”

We are to wait a further two hours in the absence of a distress signal,” Elle said. “I have contacted Corporate, and they are monitoring the situation. Search action will likely be approved, in two—”

“We’re going now.” Mays pushed the ship’s nose over to point at the pale blue gas giant’s horizon and lit the reaction drive.

The Company—”

“Dixie rescued us before that moon broke up under us. We owe her.”

The fine may approach the entirety of your share in—”


Just in his earbud: “…I agree.”

Sculpture Of The Italian Renaissance

Are you ready?!” She whispered it, taking each of us by the hand, eyes twinkling and darting and flaring.

Brendan looked at me and I at him: one of us would marry her, years from now, and the other would be quietly, respectfully disappointed. I nodded, lying, aware that any moment could be the moment where she chooses, deep down, perhaps herself unaware that it had happened. Brendan nodded as well, perhaps for the same reasons.

We were politely asked to leave. The security guard wasn’t angry at all. He seemed entirely unsurprised to find the three of us tearing through the museum at top speed, and could not have been more bored with the speech he gave us about decorum and proper respect and this and that and go on, now, off with you.

Brendan blew him a kiss from the doorway. She’ll pick him, I just know it.

Off The Grid

“You there!”

She kept walking, not at a hurried pace but a purposeful one, shoulders hunched, head down against the cold and the drizzle and the overhead scanners.

You there! Stop!”

She heard the jangle and clop of security running behind her, knew she could not avoid them, turned, waited for them to catch up.

Two, always two. The smaller, less out of breath, said: “You didn’t register. When you went through the checkpoint, it didn’t—”

“My chip is malfunctioning. I have a note.” She fished out the forged note, hoped it was still convincing enough, hoped that they stopped her more out of boredom than thoroughgoing professionalism.

The big one huffed and glanced around and hiked up his pants; the smaller one read. “You need to get it repaired.”

“I already have the appointment scheduled. There’s a backlog—”

“Isn’t there always,” he muttered. “On your way now.”

“Thank you.”


There was a screeching, and a crashing of thunder, and a keening wail the likes of which Yan had never heard; still, his feet remained firmly planted while the terrified porters ran and jumped and tumbled down the hillside in an attempt to escape. He shouted into the swirling portal, “I hear you, Master, but I don’t understand. I fear you are in distress, but—”

“Oh, he is very much in distress.”

He turned to look. A girl had appeared, young, dressed in a bride’s robes, hair tied up in flowers and vines. Agreste. He shared the porters’ terror now, but there was no sense in running; the die was cast. “What have you done?”

“What I did, I did long ago, Priest of Troyal. He cannot be brought back in this way. All it grants him is pain.”

“Why…” There was another screech, short and knife-sharp. “…Why should I believe you?”

“You hear his pain. If you are truly faithful, you even feel it. The closer he gets, the more he is crushed.” She shuddered. “My brother’s punishment for opposing me was banishment, not this. Close the rift.”

Yan looked back into the swirling maw. “But…”

“For his sake.”


I only took one.

They said take half. Cut it with a paring knife, a sharp one, so that you don’t lose bits, put half under your tongue, put half in a baggie. I didn’t have a paring knife, who has a fucking paring knife? Your mom has a paring knife. I took it whole.

I didn’t want to deal with everybody else’s freakouts and bullshit revelations and unfortunate nudity. I took a walk. There was a path that goes along the fence and then down through the seawall to the beach. The evening sand was kind to my bare feet and the waves were politely hushed as they loitered near the shoreline.

I thought, I’ll watch the sunset. It’ll be pretty. That’ll be a good trip. But then the gulls were all over the beach, and then in my hair, and then in my head.

Just do half, motherfuckers.

In Cloudkey Town I Met A Girl

“I am a Princess.” She stared at him in shocked incredulity, as if his failure to recognize her station and act accordingly was entirely without precedent. “My father is your King.”

“I have no King. Down below…” He turned, gestured to the ascent balloon tethered at the edge of the floating city. “Down there we choose our rulers from amongst ourselves by a vote.”

“Barbaric.” She shook her head as if to dislodge an unwelcome thought from her mind; then she paused, regarding him, and continued with a more welcoming if haughty tone. “But you may approach.”

He grinned. “Gladly.”


“Can you tell me your name?”

A mile away, the old hospital was burning, casting a column of black smoke into the sky to drift across the town and over the highway and then the river in its inexorable progress downwind.

“Are you hungry? Would you like a cheeseburger? Mack, draw some petty cash, go get her a cheeseburger, will you? And some fries.”

It had been closed for years, abandoned, surrounded by high fences with padlocked gates and ‘no trespassing’ signs.

“How did you get in there? Were you by yourself? Did you used to be a resident? …Is there someone we should call?”

There was a patient bracelet on her wrist, but they hadn’t been able to get close enough to read it. She sat with her knees to her chest, her feet up on the seat of the police station chair.

“How long were you in there?”

You Can Hold A Moment In Your Hand


“Mmm.” She didn’t look up from her dog-eared paperback.

“How long have we been here?”

“What? Oh, dunno. Two hours?”

“No, how long have we been on vacation?”

“We left the day after Bridget’s wedding. You wanted to—”

“Yes, yes, but how long ago was that?” He shook his head. “I don’t know what day it is anymore. Maybe a month? Have we been here a month?”

“Don’t be silly.”

“I think it’s been at least a month. Maybe more. No phones allowed, no internet. They were supposed to tell us when it was check-out day…”

“You’re being ridiculous, it hasn’t been a month.”

“You don’t think so?” He grabbed the novel from her. “How many times have you read this? How many? What’s on page—” He flipped the book open to a later page than she’d been on “—page 342?”

“Emmeline kisses Randall, and then runs up the stairs just as the train comes. He doesn’t know whether to follow because—”

“What about page 76?”

“…It’s a description of Randall’s garage, and then the car, the blue Packard he rebuilt with his father. Then—”

“Page 402?”

“Emmeline and… Peter, what are you on about? Honestly. Can I have my book back?”

He tossed it to her. “You’ve got it memorized. You’ve got the restaurant menu memorized. I know all the waiters’ names—”

“You know all the waitresses’ names.”

“Fine, but I know them all.  I know their boyfriends’ names, or their husbands’. I know their kids’ names. I know Mei doesn’t like pineapple, she just pretends to in front of the customers. I know Cora is a dance teacher on the side. I know all the porters, too. Jean, we were only supposed to be here five days, and then back. What’s going on?”

“Do you really want to go?”

“No, but—”

“Then leave it. Look at the sunset over the water, isn’t that beautiful? Now let me read my book.” It was a different book, suddenly, with a different girl with differently-colored flowing hair and a different man wearing a police uniform instead of a bomber jacket. She opened it to the first pristine page.

He felt a cold chill. “Jean, are we not supposed to go home? You can tell me. I won’t say anything.”

“Peter, drop it. I’m not getting back on that plane and neither are you.”

“Jean… did something happen with the plane?”

The Lady Of The Lake

“She’s back.”

They turned to look at the source of the breathless words: a boy, standing in the doorway, one of those who had taken to sitting on the hillside and watching the water all afternoon as soon as their chores were done.

“Go on, son, go bother someone who—”

“Don’t believe me; but she’s there.” The boy turned and ran back towards the bank.

Tired old men and their tired sons exchanged shrugs and raised eyebrows. One got up, not afraid to look the fool, and then another, just for the hell of it, and then another, because he had nothing better to do.

They assembled on the bank and watched the woman in the water. Some called to her; one started to wade in, but was quickly pulled back by his friends.

“You don’t want any part of her,” he was sternly told, “lest you lose your soul”


“It’s almost Milton time,” says Gracie, and she’s already pulling on her shoes and her coat and looking in vain for her mittens; Paul is watching cartoons, and seems unconcerned, and has to be coaxed away.

It costs $5 plus the four-block walk, but Daddy pays. Most of the others won’t play kids, but Milton will play anyone of any age once, calls it ‘fishing’; he plays Paul once a week, and usually wins. Usually.

I didn’t play well as him, maybe ‘til I was twenty-five, maybe thirty. And I ain’t gettin’ no better. He’ll beat me often as not, he gets to driving age.”

Daddy asked Milton once if he’d like to come for dinner. Milton looked at him like he was crazy. Paul shakes Milton’s hand after every game, very grown-up, because that’s what you do when you’re part of that club and Paul is part of that club. Gracie watches the game, sometimes, especially if Paul is winning, but is sometimes distracted away by pigeons or dog-walkers. Daddy watches the game always.

On the walk back, Paul will talk about the game, if it’s close; if he wins, it’s a breathless torrent of excited recapitulation. If he loses badly, he doesn’t talk about it until bed-time, and then only in low, humble whispers from the under safety of his comforter, as Daddy listens and nods and pats him on the shoulder.

Sunday afternoons, spring, through summer and fall, and to the first snowfall at least, maybe longer.

Cribs: Serial Killers Edition

“..and this is Helen. Helen was a nurse, she lived alone. She had a shrill voice, very grating. I put ‘Die Meistersinger’ on the record player and turned it up as loud as it would go and then I cut her throat in the kitchen. Very nice tile in the kitchen. Sort of a Persian blue.

“Bill here came to the house selling Electrolux vacuums. Nothing spectacular about Bill. I asked him in for a demo and then strangled him with the vacuum power cord. Not sure why they never came looking for him.

“Next is Dr. Garcia. I went to him for my eye twitch and he told me I needed more potassium. Bananas. Worked like a charm. I locked him in the basement and then piped exhaust fumes from the Packard down there.

“Let’s see, who’s next? Oh, yes: my Miranda. Lovely Miranda. Miranda’s where the magic happens.”


The door hung open, swinging by inches with the breeze. By the look of the shelves visible from the doorway, the place had been picked clean months ago. She pulled the door open with an extended creak, pushed the stopper down with her toe, and waited.

Nothing appeared. She scanned the street behind her: also empty. Haven’t eaten for three days. She switched on her flashlight, stepped in.

There was nothing left: not a can of beans, not a jar of preserves, not a twinkie. No jerky in the racks by the register, no bottled water stacked in the back.

She staggered outside and sat on the curb, unfolded her map and laid it on the asphalt with small polished rocks holding down the corners. She crossed off the empty market with a dying sharpie, and then circled another: two towns over, an all-day walk that would leave her in danger of passing out.

Or a twenty-minute drive. There were four cars within view, one with a door open. They’d probably all be out of gas. It never hurts to check.

One had a key dangling from the ignition. She hesitated before turning it, because it would ruin the quiet.

FDIC Insured

She’s the kind of professional thief you hire to break into your place to see if it’s possible to break into your place. She’s trustworthy to exactly the extent that she keeps her promises to the letter, and no further. She comes highly recommended by all the right people.

“I paid a lot of money for this vault. I’m told it’s impregnable.”

She smiled. “Anything that can be entered legitimately can be entered criminally.”


“You have my quote in front of you.”

We paid. She smiled, walked out, and we never saw her again. A week went by, and we started making phone calls: where is she, why no contact, how can we get our money back?

It wasn’t until I opened my personal lockbox — virtually a vault-within-a-vault — and found the note she’d left, that I realized she’d been and gone.

Needs work, it said. There weren’t any details.

Returned Unopened

My Dear Harry,

I hope this letter finds you well. I have heard from Etheline — her young man is in Cairo with Alexander’s staff — that the fighting around Tobruk is heavy. Please don’t take unnecessary risks and remember that you have people waiting for you at home, chief among them Stewart who is certain that you shall marry me and thus finally provide the big brother he clearly deserves instead of merely the terribly disappointing sister who can’t even manage to throw a ball properly.

I have been moved up to shift lead at the plant, so I am even busier than before. Your mother brings me cakes at least once a week, and Penny comes across from the shop to have lunch most days unless they are too busy. She is becoming a good friend and I cannot wait to have her for a sister.

Please do tell me if there is anything more I can send. I am knitting more heavy socks and a smart blue cap which is almost done. Penny has some things for you too, and Stewart has with great gravitas — and, I think, selflessness — donated some of his hard candy.

I must go as my break is over, so this short letter will have to do for today. I will sit under the crooked Alder at the bottom of the hill tomorrow and write you a longer one, so long as the air-raid sirens cooperate.

Love always and waiting patiently,
Your Annabelle.

Just Another Spaceport Bar

I came to the sticks of Ecuador to get away from civilization; I opened a little bar out in the middle of nowhere and adjusted to scratching out a subsistence living where things were simpler.

Then they built the spaceport.

I get it: you want it somewhere near the equator, in a politically stable country, in a politically stable region. I understand the economics and the politics and even, just barely, the physics.

But now I have to keep hundreds of things in stock that none of the locals would ever order, and that’s just for the transient humans. The stuff the aliens order is expensive, often revolting, and in some cases even poisonous or toxic to my staff. I have to keep a special cooler just for the live reebt the Plogonree order, and I have to keep a net handy if they happen to get loose from the table before the Plogs can stun them for cooking. One of them bit Sheila once. And then there’s the per-booth climate control, and the translation computer rental fees. It’s a headache on any number of levels. And the insurance

Maybe going back to Wall Street lawyering would reduce my stress.

Dress Form

Where are we going? Not back to the store…

“No, of course not. Never. Don’t give it a second’s thought.” She pulled out her ipod, began scrolling through entries, looking for something calming and familiar.

What will they say when you go back tomorrow without me?

“I quit. And anyway, they don’t know I took you, they think I threw you in the dumpster. I told Maurice—”

They think you what?

“Relax. I told Maurice you were broken and hid you in the loading dock, and then put out another mannequin. Maurice didn’t seem to care.” She shook her head.

Typical Maurice.

“You’ll like it at my house. There are friends for you, and lots of clothes — I made them all myself — and no kids to knock you over or look up your skirt or anything.”

I’m so glad; I can’t wait. And you didn’t even have to kill anyone.

Artist’s Model Needed

Phone numbers typed on little slips of paper torn from the bottom of flyers thumbtacked to bulletin boards have never once, in all my life, failed me.

Things I did not say to Gloria: “You have a grandma name, what’s that about?”; “You remind me of Katy Perry, especially in the chest.”; “Is this whole art class thing just a way to get people naked so you can get laid without going to frat parties?”; “Can I bring my boyfriend next time, this whole thing is weirding him out?”

She painted me four times over the course of two months. She didn’t take reference pictures and then paint from that. I sat for her, long afternoons bathed in light spilling in through the high-set studio windows. She introduced me to her teacher while I was wrapped in a sheet, which he affected not to notice.

After the third time, she took me for coffee. “I have to stop painting you. I’m attracted sexually and it’s distracting me from the work.”

We agreed that it was best to stop the sessions. We made small talk and finished our coffee and went our separate ways. She showed up at my dorm room five hours later and knocked on it and when I let her in, she kissed me without saying anything.

We dated for six months. She painted me one more time, after that night, but it wasn’t the same; she wasn’t painting me anymore, she was painting this version of me that she loved and fucked and argued and made up with.

I’ve shown my husband those paintings. The last one, the fourth one, is his favorite, I think because that’s the wife in his head. I can’t stand it, myself; I like the third one, because it’s all about unrealized longing.

‘Murican Gods

It was a tall beer, tall and thin, with very little head to it. His sister had been like that, though she had been paler, generally speaking. He nodded thanks at the bartender, who had already turned to resume his conversation with a regular, a tubby man in his 50’s with a boxer’s nose and ears.

I could know everything about them, both of them, if I switched it on. I could change everything about them. I could rewrite their DNA like a programmer editing code, turn them into Van Goghs or Einsteins or whoever I like, teetotalers both, serial killers either, whatever would be the most entertaining. I’ve done it a million times. “Boring.”

“What’s that?” The bartender called over, thinking he might be ordering something else.

“Nothing. Sorry; talking to myself.”

“That’s the first sign, buddy,” the boxer joked. He raised his own glass, a mug full of Budweiser, probably.


His sister had tried for the Crown, and paid for it. He’d gone into forced retirement, it having been explained that he’d been a bit too neutral even given the circumstances. They hadn’t hobbled him, at least. There was still trust there, of a sort.

“Another, please.”

Saving Marco

He’s been in there for years. His years, not ours: for us, it’s been decades. The old place has been detached, adrift and out of phase for so long that time has slowed like a wheel slipped from its gears.

But we can get him out, I know how. I know where the house is right now, I know where it’s going to be in a week and in a month.  I know how many degrees of list and the rate the spin is increasing. The math wasn’t that hard. It’ll just be a matter of building the platform in the right spot and practicing.

He’ll have to be paying attention. It’s the one variable I can’t control. He’ll have to see the rope come through the window, he’ll have to realize what’s happening, and grab it. Maybe we should use something more visible.

I need help: are you in?


She waited for someone who lived there — someone with a key — to appear at the corner; she timed her walking to arrive at the steps just as they did. She was carrying a grocery bag so that they would, being polite, hold the door for her instead of forcing her to use her own, which of course didn’t exist.

Four floors up by the stairs, because her benefactor had headed for the elevator. She left the bag and its contents on the last landing and slipped through the fire door into the hallway.

She didn’t have to knock on the door; it opened to reveal an old woman, and beyond her, a child playing on the floor in front of an old tube television. “It’s not time yet.”

“That’s not up to you.” She brushed past the old woman and knelt next to the playing child. “Caroline?”

“Go ‘way.”

“You need to come with me.”

“Go ‘way.” The child looked up. “I’ll burn you if you don’t.”

She smiled. “I don’t burn, Caroline. I’m like you; I burn other things. I can teach you to—”

“Don’t wanna.”


The air jumped, and flame began playing across the ceiling. “Don’t wanna.”

Targeted Therapy

“You have cancer.” She said it as if commenting on the weather, like he had something stuck in his teeth, like it was nothing.

He searched her face, trying to place it. She must work at Doctor Macuray’s office. “Excuse me?”

“It works, you know: chemo.” She crossed her legs, unwrapped her box-lunch sandwich, dropped crumbs for the braver pigeons. “It almost kills you, but only almost. They’re much better now than they used to be, of course.”

“Do I know you?”

She looked at him like he was crazy. “No, of course not. But I know you. I don’t do this for just anyone.”

He’d decided she was crazy, that she’d read his mail or something. He mentally catalogued her features for later description to the police. “Do what?”

“You’ll go into remission. You already have, actually. So stop worrying.” She got up and walked away.

What just happened?

Contract Killer

“Is that the sword?”

It had been dug out from between fallen layers of a ruined castle, a solid week of labor by twenty men at great expense. When it was uncovered, they called him down, knowing better than to touch it themselves. It felt warm to the touch, then, even through his gloves, and it still did now. “It is, your Majesty.”

“May I?”

It was an uncomfortable moment for Karol, but he knew it to be a test. He drew the blade, rested it across the backs of his hands, and knelt; the king stepped down and leaned in, close enough to trace the filigree with his eyes. He knows the legend, he knows better than to take it.

“Beautiful. Beautiful and deadly. I won’t touch it, of course.” The King stood up, tall, and smiled. “I have known women like that.” The joke was answered by laughter from the assembled courtiers, a little too loud, lasting a little too long.

Karol sheathed the sword and stood, silent.

“How many dragon heads do you think, in all?”

“No one knows. Including the Old Grey Worm-King, at least five.”

“And with ours, six.”

“If I live, yes, your Majesty.”

See The World

I used to run away constantly. Like, constantly. Like, once a week. Usually my parents would find me within an hour, they knew all the places I would head for; I was a predictable kid, I guess. They’d check the park at the end of the street, the ice cream shop at the bottom of the hill, the big pink house where I thought a princess lived (it was a retired accountant. Once she let me in and made me tea and called my parents to come pick me up.)

Once I made it all the way down to the beach. That time I’d been missing for four hours, Mom had called the cops, it was a whole thing. Apparently I’d caught a city bus even though I had no money and was in bare feet and a tutu, although I don’t remember it. I even made the nightly news.

An Uneasy Peace

It doesn’t fear the harpoon, not physically. It’s the symbolism of it. It’s a totem, like a cross to a vampire, a reminder of power that could be brought to bear again, if needed.

The misshapen head will rise out of the swells and your heart will scream, one lurch and I am in its maw. But it will keep its distance, waves breaking against its back, waiting, listening.

If you sing, if you sing well and loud and true, it will return to the depths having had its fill, and our ships will pass in safety for another year.

Doors Closing

Lumb blinked in, looked around, blinked out. Arnauld would be seconds behind him, less if it was young Arnauld, with young Arnauld’s reflexes and adrenaline production. Two blinks ago he’d seen a forest, daytime, probably morning from the dewy sheen on the leaves. Then a concrete corridor, lit by bare incandescent bulbs spaced too far apart. This last time, a beach at dusk, the sun low on the horizon, a low tide teasing the sand. Then…

A busy subway platform, just behind a pillar, just as the train arrived. Bingo. Lumb slipped into the throng and then the train, traded his hat for one lifted from an exiting passenger’s coat pocket, reversed his jacket from exterior-blue to liner-red.

Arnauld would know within seconds that he hadn’t blinked again, but by then Lumb would be one face in ten thousand, somewhere on the train or on the platform or hurrying up the steps onto the city street. He’d have to—


Arnauld sat behind him, holding a newspaper. Under the paper, there’d be a gun, and Arnauld’s Blinky, and a Bracelet slaved to the Blinky. “I’ve disabled yours, so don’t bother.” He handed the Bracelet forward.

“…I almost got away.”



“We do it here.”

He stared at her, waiting for something to occur to him, something to say, a way to convince her to change her mind; nothing came. Eventually, he answered, “We can go on a little ways, maybe to—”

“No.” She already had her backpack off her shoulders and resting on the crumbled brick. “We do it here. You want all the forty-five ammo, right?”

He watched her dig out two boxes of bullets; he hadn’t taken his pack off yet. “Kit…”

“I should have all the nine millimeter,” she continued, placing the ammunition boxes on a brick and ignoring his lack of answer, “and the smaller knife. All the food we can divide equally.”

He shrugged off his backpack and sat down, waited.

“Howard, we’re doing this. I’m sorry.” Kit shook her head, sighed. “No, I’m not sorry. We’re doing this here, now, while there’s still enough light left for us to get some distance between us before the sun goes down. And you’re not going to track me, you’re not going to play out some sort of fantasy where you follow me to keep me safe and leap out just in time to save the day. I don’t need that. I don’t want that. We’re done.”

He stared at the floor.

“We’re done. Do you understand? We’re—”


“Do you?”

“Yeah.” He wished away the panicky feeling roiling his stomach, the flush of heat around his ears, but they didn’t go. He breathed as normally as he could, an act of will. He fished a half-empty box of nine millimeter out of a side pocket. He managed, “You’re getting the short end on the ammo.”

“I don’t care. I’ll find more.” They exchanged boxes without their eyes meeting. “And the food? Matches?”

“You’ve already got half the matches. There were only the two books. And the food…” He peered into his backpack. “… I dunno. Take what you want.” He zipped it up, pushed it towards her with a shaky hand and then a foot.

“I won’t cheat you.” She said, as she started rummaging through his pack, as if he needed convincing.

“I trust you.”

She shook her head, made a sound of disgust that was a knife to the back of neck. “You shouldn’t trust anyone. There are terrible people out there—”

“That’s why you should stay with... why we should stay together. Just as partners, that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that.”

“It’s done, Howard. I want you to walk away. I want you to walk away and not look back, because that’s what I’m going to do.” Kit finished stuffing cans into her bag, zipped it up, tossed it over her shoulder. “I really mean it. I don’t want to have to shoot you, Howard. I don’t want to; but I will.” She stepped through the breach in the wall and was gone.

She’ll do it, too. He waited, a long time, and then set out in the other direction.

Coming This Summer To A Theater Near You


The Producer blinked. “You have one minute.”

Bernie grinned. “Right. We install projectors in high-traffic areas, foot and vehicle both. You walk through a scene from the movie, you drive through. Or maybe something simpler, like the poster image. Wouldn’t be that hard for the boys to—”

“Liability issues?”

“How do you mean?”

The Producer scoffed. “You haven’t run it by the lawyers yet? Come on, Bernie. Some Flyover Queen in a Honda gets distracted, runs over two orphan kids and a nun? And their dog? We end up getting shellacked.”

Bernie nodded, let a beat pass. “But if the lawyers can shield us from that sort of liability? Wrap it all in a shell corporation or some sh—”

“Bernie, if nobody can sue us, I love it. If they can, and they do, and we have to settle, or if we lose? It’s coming out of your retirement.”

Manchester United

It was a filthy city, squalid and cramped, too thoroughly caked with soot to ever be washed clean by only the rain; but if the downpour ever did last long enough to do the job, the buildings would likely fall apart as the grime was all that held them together. This was the town into which I was birthed.

She was, on the other hand, to the manor most definitely born. The closest she likely came to hardship was waiting a bit too long for a servant to appear after the bell was rung.

And yet here we are, together.

Free Shrimp Cocktail

Rickover looked down at his cards, trying to concentrate through the discomfort of the heat, trying to remember the last couple hands, trying to count cards. “Hit me.”

The demon snapped another card off the top of the deck and deposited it in front of Rickover, hissing, “Jack, bust. That’s another thousand years you owe me.”

Rickover didn’t swear at his bad luck; that would just have cost him more time. “Deal again.”

“My pleasure.” The demon dealt each of them a card face-up, and then likewise one face-down. “The dealer shows an ace; want to buy insurance?”

“How much?”

“Up to five hundred years.”


The demon looked at his hole card, and then turned over a Queen. “Blackjack.”

“Oh, of course.”

“Are you suggesting that I’m cheating, Mister Rickover?” The demon leaned in, steam coming from its nostrils. “I’m not the one at this table who cheats, am I?”


With a grin, the demon dealt again. After looking at the card, its toothsome grin expanded. “Rickover shows a pair of tens. Want to split?”


“Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this.” The demon turned to grab an enormous blade from the wall. “Now, hold very still.”

In Five Easy Lessons

He’s one of my guys. They come in because a wife or a girlfriend drags them kicking and screaming, but then it’s like, hey, this is fun, I’m really enjoying myself, and they stick around, even after the wife or girlfriend is out of the picture, or lost interest, or whatever. I mean, sometimes they keep coming because they have a thing for me, or for Becky or Wil, but since we’re super-careful about boundaries it’s never a problem.

Carlo is a problem; he’s not being a problem, like, he’s a perfect gentleman and everything.  He signed up because the V.A. doctor recommended it as part of his rehab, and he’s got that whole military I-will-finish-what-I-started thing, so he’s stuck around, maybe three months so far?

But I’m done, I’ve got it bad. All I want to do is finish a twirl and fall into his lap and kiss him.

A View To A Kill

“What do you see?”

Her voice was strained. “I see a girl. I see… she’s dancing, she’s wearing a formal dress like she’s at the prom.”

“Wrong time of year for—”

“I can’t tell when this is happening yet.” Her head tilted, her eyes crinkled as if she was listening for a distant sound. “It’s too warped to be the past. I think… I think she’s still alive. It feels like this is future.”

“Where?” If she was still alive, they could still do something. “See if you—”

“Oh God… he’s there; she just saw him. John, it’s happening now.”

Build Your Own Slam

“How much?” He had his wallet in his hand, as gauche and bourgeois and endearingly pathetic as they always were.

She shrugged. “Depends on what you want.”

“I want to believe it.”

She stared at him, hand on hip. She blew a bubble, let it pop, sucked the gum back in and resumed chewing. “More specific.” She said it like a mechanic trying to get someone to describe a ping sound coming from somewhere behind them in the car, but only on the highway, and only when it’s cold.

“Not… I don’t need you to pretend that I turn you on. I know I don’t. I just need to believe you like me. You know? That you’re here because you like me.”

“We call that ‘the girlfriend experience’. You want the whole thing, it takes a while…” She looked at the cheap hotel clock-radio and then off into space for a moment. “Say, eight hundred dollars.”

“I’ll have to go to a machine—”

“It’s fine. I’ll have to run home to change clothes, anyway.”

“Why?” He’d already stood up, started putting on his coat. “Just wondering.”

“Your girlfriend doesn’t dress like a hooker. And we’re going to stop for pancakes.”

All Of The Above

Have you ever heard thousands of people screaming under water? Some of them constantly, some in fits and starts, some only in rare burst-pipe spasms of terror and despair?

I’m pretty sure this is Hell. Some version of it anyway, from some religion or sect of one I’ve never studied. I couldn’t tell you what exactly it was I did to put me here. I stole a few things, nothing big… I mean, we all do, right? I cheated on Helen three times, one-night stands. I didn’t even try to avoid that cat I ran over on the way home from the Strokes concert. I looked up a fifteen-year-old girl’s skirt at a picnic once and fantasized about it for years afterward. Take your pick?

It could be something I didn’t even know was a sin; maybe to get out of here I have to figure out what it was.

A Matter Of Tastes

She looked over her shoulder, straining to see her own back in mirror. “Are there any marks? Any redness left at all?”

“No, Mistress.”

She turned her head away from the reflection, was silent for a time. The air was cool against her bare skin, replacing the vague warmth that had itself replaced the sharp sting. Eventually she reached around to slowly zip up the dress.

“May I ask…”

“What, Sophie?”

“Why do you let him whip you like that? Even though he leaves no marks? Why do—”

“I don’t let him do it, Sophie; I make him do it.”

Dead Men Tell No Tales

She finished the incantation, lowered her hands onto her lap, and opened her eyes. The night was still, cool, awash with moonlight and oddly silent. “Anytime you’re ready, Ernest.”

There was a stirring among the leaves and twigs and mushroom-dotted decay, just in front of her, at the base of the tree. A bony hand appeared, and then another; the top of a skull forced its way from the soil as if birthed by the forest.

“Come on, now.” She looked at her watch. “Come on. Don’t have all night, now.”

It took ten minutes for the skeletal remains of Ernest Weathersby to reassemble. When it was done, it stood motionless, empty eyesockets fixed on her.

“Now. Tell me who killed you.”

The skull turned to the side, to the other side, back to her. The jaw opened, stayed open; there was no sound.

“You’ve no lungs, no lips or tongue. You can’t talk. But you can draw in the dirt, yes? You can scratch out a name. When I’m done with them, when they’ve served my purpose, then I’ll give you your revenge. Understand?”

A bleached kneecap came down, and then the tip of a phalange.

“…Your daughter, Ernest?”

The Orphan

“Before we go up there, there are a few ground rules.” It was a well-rehearsed speech, like an air steward’s safety briefing. “The chain stays on. You don’t put your hand or fingers through the opening, even if he does. You don’t stand close enough where he can reach you or your clothing. You don’t hand anything to him. He’ll ask for candy, for example, if you have any, if you’ll give him some. Do you?”

“No, I don’t carry—”

“Good. Bad for your teeth. Now as far as the interview itself goes—”

“I’m sorry, is all of this really necessary? He’s ten. He can’t weigh more than seventy pounds...”

She stopped halfway up the stairs, turned, glowered down at him. “Mister Easeley, the boy you are about to meet is not just a child. Not a ‘troubled’ child, not a ‘sick’ child. He’s something else. Something very, very dangerous.”

Zora’s Friend

“You’ll come for the weekend?”

He collapsed the newspaper onto a plate specked with bits of egg and bacon and crumbs from burned toast. “Oh, God, Perry, this again? You know I don’t like those people.”

“My friends,” she corrected, “They’re my friends. Jeanie and Red and Bundy and Zora—”

“Oh, she’s the worst of all of them. ‘Zora’. The woman’s name is Wendy. Wendy. But that’s too ‘bourgeois’ for her, so she picked a new name off the side of a carnival wagon.”

“She did no such thing.”

“I have work.” He raised the paper, shook it out, snapped it tight, found his place.

She sipped her tea, glared at the wall of newsprint. “You used to like them. You used to like our weekends. You used to come out at night and close bars with me and dance in the street and make too much noise. You used to pick up the check without making everyone feel bad.”

“Listen…” He put down the paper, neatly this time.

“You used to let me come before you did. You used to—”


“—be a boyfriend. Then I let you become a husband, and now you’re just a big fucking drag.”

Otis, Stuck Between Five and Four

“How long has it been?”

There was a rustle, and then the girl’s face and shoulders were briefly illuminated by the glow of a smartphone screen. “Three hours.” In the dark, she continued, “Still no signal.”

“I’ve only ever gotten one bar in this building, and that was in the lobby.” I give up, I can’t remember her name.  “I feel like I know you from somewhere. I mean, besides the elevator.”


“It’s your voice. There’s something familiar about—”

“You hit on me at the law firm’s Christmas party. The one on twelve? You crashed it with that guy in red glasses—”

“Pierce. Accounting.”

“—yeah, and some of us from the nonprofits on ten got invited.” She snorted. “I guess they were short on women.”

“Aren’t we all. Anyway, sorry about that.”

“Oh, you weren’t an asshole about it. I told you I was gay and you were like, ‘oh, okay, cool’. We talked politics for a minute and then Pierce dragged you off.”

“Do you always say you’re gay when random guys hit on—”

“I’m actually gay.”

“Oh, okay. Cool.”

“See? You said it again.”

“Well, it’s my go-to phrase, I guess.”

“It’s really working for you.”


The Honeymoon

“Catch me!” She ran, shoes slapping on the wet pavement, sending up fountains of water from puddles not avoided. I followed, trying to stay dry under an umbrella protesting against the wind, counting in my head my remaining dry pairs of socks, apologizing with my eyes to those sensible commuters our noisy spectacle passed on the sidewalk.

On an emptier street, she paused under an awning, pulled me close, stole a kiss. I would have lectured her, before, about catching cold; but not now, not anymore.

I followed her through the rain towards our waiting hotel and a nervous bed.