Beanstalk to the End of the World

Helix apologized for the end of the world first thing in the morning. Of course he knew something had to be done about it, and of course he felt badly about it, but also, he also wanted to watch the M*A*S*H* marathon on 227 without having to think about the imminent end of civilization as it was generally known. In the back of his head, he was aware that there was something pitiful about seven hours of M*A*S*H* on a Saturday night, a pitiful that was compounded by Helix’s tumbling black curls, his easy laugh, and his apocalyptic smile. There was no doubt that he could have been doing anything or anyone on any Saturday night, and instead: M*A*S*H*.

Mostly, he wanted to someone to ask him what he was doing, so that he could tell them. But no one called, and so he was left with M*A*S*H* and looming Armageddon until dawn.

Trillium didn’t accept his apology. (Trillium was not really her name. Actually, Helix was not really his name either. The names of gods are impossible for humans to spell, much less pronounce. Our lips and voice boxes aren’t made for it. Curiously enough, the lips and voice boxes of the Madagascar Aye-Aye, a specialized lemur that retrieves grubs from trees by means of an elongated middle finger, are made for it, but no one asks them). Trillium told Helix that she’d been thinking, and she had this theory that Helix had only triggered the end of the world to get attention.

“That’s ridiculous,” Helix replied. He was in his pajamas. Not pajamas like you or I wear, but the original paijama, from West Asia. He’d paired the trousers with a hideous bright blue calf-length sherwani that he liked because a mortal had once told him it brought out the blue in his eyes. His eyes were no longer blue, but the memory of the flattery remained.

Trillium, on the other end of the phone, said, “You’re like a puppy. Even negative attention will please you.” keep reading…

Beast

This is a story.

This is a story about two girls who lived alone with their mother on the end of a road at the edge of a forest. It was not a tame forest. The trees grew too close together for walking and by summer, the ground between the trunks was fast set with violent green thorns, rotted branches, and aborted saplings. It was not a pretty forest. There were too many trees in too small of space, all hedged in by foul-scented locust trees at the edges. The locusts were new. Tall and skinny, with leaves only at the top, like a broom, they grew ten and fifteen feet in a year and quickly hid anything the forest had to recommend it.

mouth suicide

But the two girls were lovely: Rose and Lark-Louise were their names. You wouldn’t have thought they were sisters to look at them. I thought they were merely friends when I first met them, or possibly cousins. Twice removed, if cousins. They were that different. People expected Lark-Louise to be the wild one by her name, but she was slow and quiet as ripples in a pond. Dark-haired Rose was the fiend. The thorns in the forest had nothing on her for sharpness. Both of the sisters lived alone with their mother — I said that, didn’t I? — in a rambler at the edge of the trees. The house had four beds in it. Two twin beds in a shared room for the girls, an air mattress in the basement, and a queen bed that used to hold two. I know all this because I’ve slept in two of those beds. There was no father because a beast ate him. The girls don’t know, but he was trying to cut down the locusts behind the house to make the forest less ugly. It was easy for the beast to reach him from the snarl of thorns. When Rose and Lark-Louise’s mother found him, their father had a twelve foot spear run through him long-wise, and one of the beast’s pronged feet buried into his chest. Their father had managed to cut it off, you see, but the foot was still alive and angry and digging.

The beast was the most frightening thing you could imagine. keep reading…

The Emperor’s Son

“Is there even the grossest possibility this process could be more efficient?” I asked. “I’m supposed to be in about fourteen different places right now.”

The bearded tech assistant gave a little laugh. “Well,” he said, “If I don’t do this right, you will be in fourteen different places.”

It was the laugh that annoyed me, actually. It wasn’t a laugh that indicated any particular deference or uncertainty. It was a — dare I say it? — yes, chuckle. It was the sort of gentle chuckle that bearded young men tended to give when they were around other bearded young men of the same social status and educational background. It was a chuckle that said we all know what’s going on here, man, and it’s that we’re getting the shaft by fate, so let’s have a beer and let it work itself out.

Only I was not a similarly statused bearded young man. I was August Mowbray, son of Justice Mowbray, who, for all intents and purposes, was the closest thing to fate this assistant would ever touch. And I had, as I mentioned before, fourteen other places to be besides this gymnasium-sized greenhouse full of corn. The entire room smelled like chemicals, modified soil, and, beneath it all, possibly, plants.

“I would laugh,” I said, “But the intricacies of elevator humor escape me.”

“Elevator!” the assistant said. “If this was just an elevator, you’d be out of here and I’d be kicking back, man.”

Using every bit of my personal fortitude, I managed to avoid wincing at the word ‘man.’ “Enlighten me.” My father has an incredible fondness for technology and gadgets and, as County Principal, he was always looking for new ways to implement them in his benevolent rule. As his son, he’s exhorted me to show some interest.

This was me, showing interest.

The bearded tech assistant chuckled again. I could see it, the word, ‘chuckle.’ He said, “This greenhouse is forty-seven miles away from the building you came from. When you got into that ‘elevator’ back in the library, your molecules were dis-assembled, transmitted across the hi-4 wires your dad was so nice to lay out here to Meadville, and then put back together in the same configuration that you like ‘em in. Then the doors opened and you got out to look at some corn.”
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Manhattan Swans

It was always the same in Manhattan. At sun-up, the traffic shuddered and the subways choked and the sidewalks seethed and everyone became animals.

My brothers were swans, because my step-mother said it was so, and no one disagrees with her, because she has all the money.

swan by FurLined

“You’ve ruined them,” I cried to her as soon as she had done it. When I said ‘them,’ really, I meant little Philip, the youngest of my seven older brothers. Even though he was a year older than me, I thought of him as my baby brother. He still collected insects from the back yard and chalked funny pictures on the old brick wall around the garden.

My cellophane stepmother had sighed and rolled her eyes from where one mahoghany-haired friend grew from a chair to where another friend in a brocade vest melted into a cushion. She said, “The dramatics are a bit much, aren’t they, Julie? There are worse things than swans.”

They didn’t have to be animals at all, though. They could’ve stayed boys forever. I knew she only preferred them as swans because she didn’t like them as boys, because all she’d ever known was swans, because my father was too dead to stop her. I screamed this at her while tiny lines appeared around the edge of her mouth, and then, the next morning, I ran away to New York. All my brothers flew after me. Julian, the eldest and most swan-like, every line of him an arc, found me crying in the subway on the first evening.

“Poor Julie,” he said, helping me up. He was wearing a tweed vest and looked very dapper with his frame of Broadway posters and graffiti. “This is where homeless people sleep.”

I tried not to sound pitiful, but I did anyway. “I am homeless.” keep reading…

King Me and King Me Again

Ordinarily, the sorts of notices you get by mail these days are quite boring and non-urgent, easily ignored, so you’ll forgive me when I admit that we didn’t open up the letter about Edmund for a week. It had a county return address, which usually meant that we’d forgotten to pay a bit of property tax or that —surprise!— all dogs need to be registered or risk being put down if found wandering about or possibly something truly, incredibly riveting like our voter registration cards.

It does not usually mean that you have a relative being released from a high security prison in a few weeks and that you need to collect them, please, in order for the conditions of their parole to be maintained. The correspondence inside usually doesn’t go on, then, to explain that the said relative committed the crime several hundred years before and has only now become eligible for parole. And even if it does say that, it doesn’t go on to explain that eight-hundred-year-old criminals are only permitted to go free if lodging with direct family members for the duration of their parole.

But that was what the county return address meant on this letter. Inside the envelope bearing the country return address was another, slightly more battered envelope with a royal air mail stamp on it, and it was in this envelope that we learned that Edmund was meant to come stay with us for a year until his secondary hearing by the District Court of Secondary Instances.

I had never heard of the District Court of Secondary Instances, but I’d never been to England, either, so what did I know?

Eight hundred years.

The letter did not explain exactly how he was still alive. Also notably absent was a description of his crime.

It would not be convenient to take Edmund in. We were not a very rich family. My father sold some sort of imaging software to doctors’ offices, which meant that he was away from home as often as he was home. My mother was a manager for a Dollar Tree. My younger brother was in college, studying to be a drunk. And I was a useless daughter who still lived at home, dating only her journal entries and sleeping only with her masters in English.

But my mother —surprise!— was as unable to turn Edmund away as she’d been to tell me to move out. So Edmund got on a plane and Harry (rarely sober little brother) and I got sent to the airport to pick him up. I had said I could go myself, because my Mazda barely fits two people, much less three, but my mother said that Edmund was a criminal, after all, and she would hate for my first sexual experience, at age 26, to be rape by a 800-year-old man.

My mother is hilarious like that.

Edmund flew into BWI, in Baltimore, and after parking the Mazda in one of the seven spheres of hell available there, Harry and I headed into the terminal. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting Edmund to look like. I anticipated a beard, at the very least. We were all pretty foggy on what was happening in British history in the twelfth century, which was when Edmund supposedly committed his crime. Twelfth century. Was that . . . Anglo-Saxon England? Vikings? Beards seemed like a safe bet. Beards seemed historical.

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Midnight Crimes

What happens is this. I dream about him, not the first dream of the night, but the second or the third, after I’ve turned over a few times. He is not always the same, but I know it is him anyway. I dream he holds my wrists, his thumbs pressed into my veins, and he squeezes so tightly that I can feel his thumbs on my heart and I wake up because my chest is about to explode.

attic window

My new apartment came to me fully furnished. It was branded as a minimalistic European getaway. The landlord has used this general catch all phrase as an excuse to kit the apartment out with $200 of IKEA furnishings and a single abstract painting. The first afternoon I was there, I spent an hour looking at that painting, because there was nothing else to look at, unless you count the notably sleek knobs on the three kitchenette cabinets. It’s just an orange line over a red line, framed in a thin black plastic frame that says either you’re a cheap college student or a minimalist European genius.

And that night he is in my dreams. The first night, it is the fingers on the wrists, but he comes back the next night, and it’s something different. I had thought I had left him behind at the previous apartment, the previous city. But here he is, and I tell myself I’m asleep, I’m asleep, I’m asleep, even as he hangs me with a dog tie-out in what looks like this new apartment. He pulls one hand over the other, the tether pulled tight over a hook in the ceiling. This hook is how I know I’m dreaming, because I would’ve remembered a hook. It would’ve given me something else beside the painting to look at.

But it feels real as I press my hands to my throat, feeling the skin crush beneath the rope. I can’t breathe I can’t breathe

In the morning, I check my skin for bruises. I won’t admit to anyone that I do this. Like any minimalistic European genius, I have access to Wikipedia, and so I know all of the easily found facts about night terrors and sleep paralysis and panic attacks. I know that my lucid dreaming is a function of this miraculous mass of wrinkly brain inside my skull. But still, I look. I am so very afraid that one morning, I’ll find evidence of these midnight crimes. keep reading…

The Thinker

Melli’s voice was the first thing I heard in the morning.

“Billy.” On the phone, Melli sounded less than thrilled. She said, “True or false: we got married last night?”

Above me, my bedroom ceiling was cracked precipitously. One day I would re-plaster it. Once I figured out where to get plaster. Was that the hardware store? Was that the sort of place plaster came from? Maybe I could order it online. I realized I had no idea how much mass a ceiling’s worth of plaster occupied. In my head it was similar to a pint of ice cream, but possibly it was more like an oil drum. I hated paying for shipping.

“Billy!” Melli sounded a bit angrier this time. “Focus! Did you marry me last night?”

Lifting my hand from the mattress, I brought it close enough to my face that the fingers came into focus. A plain gold band rested comfortably on my left ring finger. There was also a smeared stamp on the back of my hand to allow me admission into the larger rides in the county fair.

“It’s possible,” I admitted. “I’m wearing a ring. Are you wearing a ring?”

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Spot the Travesty

When the car stopped, Memphis held out his hand to help me out.

The thing is, we’ve never been that sort of friends. Ellie, my best friend, she’s a touching friend. She punches my shoulder and hugs my head. She jostles Dylan when they ride the bus together and holds hands with her sister when they shop. When she first met my mother, they hugged.

But Memphis and I are not that sort of friends. In fact, I’m not sure we are friends at all.

When he held his hand out to me, it took me a long moment to take it. It happened three times, is why it took so long. Once in my head, me reaching out out to grip his palm. Twice in my head, me shaking my chin and getting my own self out of the car. Third time, in reality.

I took his hand. He was wearing his brown t-shirt that shows off his shoulders and the knotted bracelets that show off his arms, and when he took my hand, the bracelets slid down and touched my thumb.

I’ve been the violinist for Spot the Travesty! for three years. That makes them my whole world. What that makes me to Memphis, I’m not sure. What that makes me to the rest of the world is the travesty, easily spotted — a senior high girl in a band made up of twenty-somethings.

When Memphis took my hand, he gripped it like I was drowning, then pulled me out of the car so fast that our bodies were propelled together. It had just begun to rain and so his shirt was speckled darkly. It was light enough that it looked like an intentional pattern on his brown shirt, marbled and flecked like a wild bird’s egg. Behind me, the other car door’s slammed as the rest of the band climbed out.

He was the only one who wanted to add me to the band all those years before. I’d been fourteen, the gangly sister of one of his friends. Back then, in my memories, I’m two people: the amiable girl with violin cricked beneath my chin and the raging beast that stomped her thin brown limbs off to sulk behind the van parked in the driveway. There was nothing in between, back then. I was either a musical prodigy or a pending tantrum. Memphis called me in to play along with one of Travesty’s songs. She brings us up a level, he’d said. She’d make most of our pub gigs illegal, replied Brown, my brother. It had been a fight, then, the first of many, the first about me and gigs and whether that should be a major bridge on the lead guitar or a minor interlude with the keyboard.

Brown told me: do not talk to anybody at gigs. You’re going to get some guy arrested.

Pulled from the car, pulled to Memphis, my ribs pressed into his ribs. We were balanced on the very edge of the curb and I had my violin case in one hand and he kept ahold of my arm in the other so that I didn’t stumble. As rain dusted over my face, so light that it felt very dry instead of very wet, I could feel my heart beat tripping unsteadily, surging and slowing, trying to keep pace with his. His other hand caught my arm, and I felt how tight his fingers were against my skin.

As the only girl member of Spot the Travesty! and often the only sober member to boot, I got hit on a lot. Either guys didn’t realize that I was under eighteen or they didn’t care. But I loved the band, the snarling, simmering, fracturing band, and there was no way I was going to risk getting thrown out of the band because of something so stupid. At first, with the other band members watching me pensively, I shook my head and looked at my feet. The year after that, I added a laugh after the head shake. By this year, I’d learned to toss their numbers jotted on receipts in their faces and plant my hands on my hips. I told them all no. No one was getting in trouble because of me.

When Memphis helped me out of the car, he didn’t let go of my arm. I started past him, but he still had me caught. He turned with me, his face pressed into my shoulder, and I felt the burst of his warm breath through my sleeve, the press of his mouth against the bend of my elbow. Though it was nothing at all, his breath through my sleeve was indecent. It put his mouth on my mouth, his hand curved round the back of my neck, my fingers pressed against his cheekbones. But of course, no, it was just his breath on my sleeve and my face turned away from him, making it nothing at all. I could sense Brown’s gaze on me from the car.

I tell myself, now, it is only a year until I am eighteen. I tell myself, a year is not that long. Just twelve months of gigs, just fifty-two Friday nights, just three-hundred-and-sixty-five two a.m. in the mornings thinking of Memphis and his brown t-shirt. I tell myself that I’ve known him since I was fourteen, the kid sister of his friend, and he doesn’t even see me that way. I tell myself that I am creating something that doesn’t exist.

When the car stopped, Memphis held out his hand to help me out.

The thing is, we’ve never been that kind of friends.

Moving

Nothing in Evan’s life moved, not even the rocks. He came from York, a seventeen hour drive if you drove the speed limit, which he did. York was a place of matching curved driveways leading to houses identical in shape if not in size, neighborhoods like hands where each finger lay perfectly against the last. It was a clean place, York, and productive. The early risers there built online industries and internet storefronts and digital marketplaces, all of them apocryphal until the power cord was plugged in.

Evan left York his first year of college. He didn’t tell anyone that he wouldn’t be back. It was either a Monday or a Wednesday or a Friday at nine a.m. when he stood up in class and abandoned his notes on his desk. He’d gotten in his car and kept driving until the road signs looked different. It took him fifteen hours, long after his home town radio station had turned to static. Then he got out by the side of the road and walked into the trees to pee, and he’d driven another two hours to Elevation. In those two hours after the road signs turned from green to blue he’d sped, then, for the first time in his life. We don’t really enforce the speed limit, but he didn’t know that.

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Blue Door District

Day 134 - Blue Doors

I have it.

I finally have it, after all this time, and its presence buoys me with a confidence like the one a man gets when he has a dollar bill in his pocket. There is no man in the world rich enough not to be lifted up by the feeling of paper bills folded over each other, stuffed into a wallet, so much more tangible than a credit card’s fickle plastic body.

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