Saturday, December 27, 2003

Today’s Word: Pseudo

At the onset, Ron could still kneel with Betty in the morning and at night, their hands linked, as he intoned a prayer -- usually some form of a memorized list of thanksgiving and wants which had evolved over thirty years of married life. But the day came when she no longer understood, when she didn't recognize him, and less the God to whom he prayed. She was angry. Worse, she didn't understand why she was angry. It was the cognitive part of her brain, diminishing so quickly now, railing against a world that was becoming increasingly dark and hectic.

And so Ron prayed by her wheelchair, taking her hand when she would allow it, folding his own hands when she wouldn't. His prayers evolved wildly, like flourishing life attempting every odd combination in a furious battle to adapt and survive. He prayed for her sanity, for her mind whole and pure, and later, for her ease, for peace to her sudden fears and sporadic lucidity, which was really just a view of Betty trapped in a room without an exit, only a small window that opened every so often.

By the end, by the time Betty was an infant in mind and function, Ron no longer prayed. It had come on quickly, this disbelief, this feeling of loss for a love that was here in form but gone in spirit. At first he prayed on, fighting the complex emotions, feeling one minute filled with the light of heaven, and the next guilty that he doubted such power had ever existed, or if it had, that it was gone from the world like the dinosaurs.

He spoon fed her, and changed her diapers when the mash she ate came out the other end, not much changed from the start of its trip, and thought of the mind without the soul, a fragile, beautiful thing, so full of flaw and perfection, so keen one year and dull the next. If there had ever been a soul to Betty, if she had ever been anything more than a better functioning set of synapses, then that thing, that Betty of yesteryear and eternity was fled, leaving the poorest flesh in its wake, as if its leaving had somehow damaged its vessel without killing the shell completely.

The complexity of his own mind was almost too much to bear. Ron cursed his inability to have done with God, to call him a snipe, a jackalope, a Santa Claus without the red suit. . . but he couldn't do it. Some part of his brain -- his damned fully functional brain -- refused to let go, to God or Betty. And so he filled his days with silent prayers, curses, and labors; servant to a vegetable wife and a pseudo God.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Today’s Word: Christmas Shift

Christmas came to the southeastern littoral chain, accompanied by the requisite tinsel, traffic, and general gorge of gifts and food. This year, mother saved her ribbon rations, and tied three yellow ones about the boles of our palm trees. We bought biodegradable Barbie for Jesse, with a skin cancer Ken that mother just had to get. I got nothing, of course; it wasn't my year. "Government allotments only stretch so far, Bill," says mother every other year. It doesn't bother me much anymore, but Jesse still cries on her off years.

Next year, the Christmas Shift swings Yuletide into early Autumn for our island chain, pushing the global gift demand forty degrees following the ecliptic. Of course, it's best not to plan that far out. Next month, Christmas falls along the Atlantic seaboard, and we have to use the gift allotment for my cousins in North Carolina.

Someday, if I do well on the Bureau tests, perhaps I can get a job that travels; I'll follow Christmas round the world, chasing the glut and enterprise.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Today’s Word: Pertinacious

We completed out Christmas shopping by maintaining, as a parental unit, a pertinacious spirit of holiday cheer, and bloodthirsty will to obtain.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Today’s Word: Gluttony

Gluttony usually lies in a convenient place, like the kitchen junk drawer or the second freezer shelf; yes, right there behind the frozen peas and atop the fudge popsicles. But this time of year it garners an especial place upon the holiday table, round the myriad desserts camouflaged under their opaque cake tops. We swallow it down, mixed well with guilt and satisfaction, dismissing it with words like resolution and extra treadmill. Some years we leave it, stuffing the word back in the drawer, back in the freezer till next holiday (hotdogs and steaks on the Fourth perhaps). Other years it stays with us, hanging on, becoming that band of soft flesh hugging out middles, jiggling when we laugh and when we cry.

Why can't we put it down?
Today’s Word: Yankee

Excerpt: South Carolina State Funded Genealogical Research Initiative
Date: December 22, 1983
Location: Robinson Retirement Home
Cassette Series: IJ83 - JR34
Subjet: Lonzo W. Simms
Age: 87

*NOTE: Interview Disgarded*

Interviewer: Mr. Simms, can you tell us a bit about your memories of Christmas. We're most interested in how the season has changed since your youth.

Mr. Simms: What you want to know?

Interviewer: Let's start with Santa Claus. How has the image of Santa Claus changed from the time when you were a child?

Mr. Simms: I never cottoned to Claus, sir.

Interviewer: Oh? Why is that, Mr. Simms.

Mr. Simms: (In hushed voice) Don't you know where that man's from, son?

Interviewer: (Pause) The North Pole?

Mr. Simms: Yep. Yankee.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Today’s Word: Inhospitable

Shiloh stood on the rocky outcropping, overlooking the canyon below, its cliffs and jagged stones cast in deep relief by the setting sun. A warm breeze off the desert ruffled his fur, but he ignored it. His mind was far away.

"The Pack trusts you, Shiloh," said Skie. She nuzzled his flank with her cold wet nose.

He didn't look at her, but his stance changed; an almost imperceptible movement, a slight relaxation of the muscles in his back.

"I can smell their fear," said Shiloh.

"You've led us through worse situations, my love. We will survive this one. I trust you. You'll find water soon." Skie settled herself on her haunches, her long tongue moving out with the beat of her lungs.

Shiloh did not sit. He looked back to the scrag brush near the canyon mouth where his pack lounged. It had been their only protection from the blazing sun and heat during the long, dry day. Ahead, further west, the terrain looked even more inhospitable.

For the first time in his long seven years of life, Shiloh was lost.

"If I could only catch scent of the herd," he said. "We could follow them to water, catch out their weak for food. Where are they, Skie?"

Shiloh's life mate moved forward and rested her white-furred head on his back. She had never seen this mood in him. It was frightening, painful.

After some moments listening to the restless wind and the sound of their joined hearts, Shiloh turned to the pack.

"On your feet, wolves. Night is falling, it is our time!"

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Today’s Word: Apocryphal

Jay always said he was simply apocryphal, that his stories would one day make him rich. Me? I just thought he was a liar.

Today’s Word: Solace

Fine spun Sarah Sue's gait
Like solace in summer bright
Like chamois on wet skin
Like hoarfrost on Santa's beard
Fine done Sarah's Sue's freight
Like stevedore a ship at height
Like sheen on diving shark fin
Like golden colors down smeared
Fine spun Sarah Sue's gait

Friday, December 12, 2003

Today’s Word: Sangfroid

Stehn Kin had the temerity to rush headlong into a sea of Mahnmowers. His sword flashed and clanged, turning would-be death blows with the merest of effort, and lobbing off heads and limbs like stone cutting through water. His sangfroid in the midst of such tumultuous battle was either borne of undaunted adventurous spirit or the large quantities of corn mash liquor he had consumed prior to battle.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Today’s Word: Anomie

The mid twenty-first century saw an anomie of the middle class as conservatism and moral integrity weakened like pillars under the crushing arms of a long-haired Samson. Three generations -- these later deemed by scholars as the weakest links in the human evolutionary chain to date -- caused the downfall of western culture through a slow erosion of respect for law, moral fiber, and empathy for the human condition. Generations X,Y, and Alpha tore our country apart with murder, fornication, and lasciviousness.

That is why, during the latter half of the century, DOCTRINE was created. We are a global organization, with government oversight committees on every ruling body in the world. Our infrastructure of neural-path GOALMASTER™ supervision nodes now spans the breadth of humanity, unobtrusively preventing immoral behavior the world over. Because of DOCTRINE, global GDP has skyrocketed by nearly three hundred percent compared to market averages just fifty years ago. Crime is at lower levels than the 1950's, even in the former United States of America.

Now that you have reached the legal age of twelve, you have been fitted with your first set of neural-path GOALMASTER™ supervision nodes. From this point on, you will enjoy a whole new world of information access, as well as global GPS positioning twenty-four hours a day. You will even be able to ask for directions or answers to taxing moral dilemmas. A DOCTRINE agent is always just a PHONE THOUGHT™ away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Today’s Word: Hooey

The patent officer shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"That's a bunch of hooey, Mr. Einstein," he said.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Today's Word: Trash

Faster than light travel is easy, just not anywhere near a solar system. Those spinning circles of space trash litter perfectly fine vacuum with so much junk, it's impossible to build up any real speed at all.

-- david j.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Today’s Word: Paragliding

Ruma sat in staring awe of her old friend, Airia. Five years had changed the girl -- no woman -- so much, that Ruma wondered if it were possible the two could be the same. And that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? The two were the same; the girl then, the woman now.

"And so we sit here, but we are also sitting in that little restaurant in Paris we loved so much, and we're paragliding back in Hawaii when we were teenagers, and we're talking on the phone about Crast Williams while trying on outfits for the winter ball. . . all of it, now, then and when," said Airia.

Ruma shook her head. "I still don't understand, not really. You're saying that time is perspective, cognition. That only our consciousness places us here and now, when really we are spread out over all the time of our lives like --" Ruma searched for the right words, "-- like jam on toast."

Airia chuckled. "Something like that. But it's less to do with perception than acceptance. We are here, because at some point in our time -- during lives which may be much longer than we realize -- we made a choice to invest ourselves in what we call the present. But that doesn't preclude the fact that we were alive a moment ago, and we are still alive a moment ago, a year, a decade, so on. We still live in those times. The echo of our presence is not diminished by the passing of time. We are, were, and will be."


Airia flashed that old smile that said she had some secret to tell.


Sunday, December 07, 2003


He is seventh of the seven slipping souls -- seven for the candles of Christ. Once, on a silvery morn, when the air was crisp and the day new, he walked with the Nazarene; with the One whose eyes are like unto fire and out of whose mouth pours a double edged sword. By that divine hand he was chosen of the seven, though not to walk without end.

He has seen heaven. He has been caught up to the third gate and spoken with the enlightened beings there. But each time he has returned, as he was foreordained to return, to gain and grow anew like water moving from the cloud to the sea; to the sea and back to the cloud.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Today’s Word: Tabula Rasa

I refuse to think myself learned for fear of hubris beyond reason.

Three and sixty years I have studied at the feet of that greatest of all teachers, life. It has shown me wondrous beauty and heart wrenching fear. I have tasted dragon's egg soup, battled legions of undead, and known deep and true love with the right person. But even now, when, though I cannot yet feel death drawing near, I know it lurks just in the next vale, I realize I am tabula rasa; fetal in a sea of knowledge and enlightenment -- immersed in waters I cannot taste, touch or feel.
Today’s Word: Sybaritic

Sybaritic machinations were my spirit's undoing.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Today’s Word: Zapotec

A former Aztecan priest unpopular for his promotion of the "not so virgin" sacrifices.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Today’s Word: Parenthesis

We tried to break up the long parenthesis of dull travel hours with games like license spotter and I spy. It didn't help. At last we decided grandma's house was just too far and we abandoned the trip for a short jaunt to Mexico where we bought booze and over-the-counter prescription drugs.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Today’s Word: Ribald

Lunacy put him in the asylum. And it was lunacy that kept him out of the prison. But it was his wit that made him a star among crazies; his flair for ribald tales, made up on the spot, and usually concerning one nurse or the other.

He had them in his room, at lights out, when Piggo was snorting and snuffing in his sleep. He had them on the roof, explaining that the nurses brought him there for privacy. He even had them in Dr. Krautzer's office, right on the faux oak desk, in the middle of the day, while everyone else was busy downing pills and building papier-mâché models of the Whitehouse.

Who was going to dispute him? The crazies? They were suffering from lunacy. Just like him.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Today’s Word: Oeuvre

Hands shaking from cold and palsy, Rod held the crinkled pages over his small campfire, hesitated a moment, then dropped them into the flames. The fire sputtered a moment, as if, like the rest of the world, it would choke on the oeuvre of Rod's life. But then it began to catch up, lapping at the dirty pages like a dog at his dinner plate. Little stars rose from the fire, circling as they flew on the cold east wind, carrying with them the words of a man's lifetime. Rod waved at them, as tears streaked the grease and road grime on his cheeks.

"So much for stardom," he whispered, as the words left him, burning away to ash in the night sky.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Today’s Word: Lupine

At the last we were forced to use the belay, cleats, and ice hammers to claw our way to the penultimate summit. Snow lay on the mountain like a soft down of feathers upon a goose's neck. The air was bitter cold and thin. Just the effort of breathing made my head dizzy and muzzled.

We struck our anchors in a shelf of rock crusted over with ice and strung our ropes. Then it was time for rest.

John and I took our ease, not yet soaking in the realization that we had conquered a titan, but rather taking our somnolence after so many days of pure labor at mere survival.

The moon rose while we lay on our backs, nearer the stars than any two men still connected to terra firma. It was huge, silver, almost fearsome in its grandeur. It peered down as we peered up, as if contemplating a leap to our summit; a fall to match our peerless climb. Had I the breath I would have beckoned, and grasped it in my weak arms like a lover.

The first howl broke a near perfection of silence, save the wind which we had learned to tune out days ago. This sound was not the incessant skirl of artic winds pulling at us like the fingers of angry gods. It was sharper, more mournful, and, without question, alive.

A form, vaguely lupine, though far too large to be a wolf – more a small pony – rose up on a nearby outcropping, its body silhouetted by the giant moon. Red eyes gleamed at us, though from what light source I cannot say. The thing lifted its head and howled once again, the sound making me plug my ears involuntarily.

I was first on the ropes; first and only as it turned out. As I slid downward, feeling the nylon play in my gloved hands, I heard John screaming and the distinct sound of gortex ripping, mixed with bestial growls, then the wet sound of something large feeding.

I haven't returned to Mount Bryson, not even to the foot. Something there has a taste for man, and I'll not tempt it again.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Today’s Word: Orpine

The Bitus wall runs north and south along the lower edge of what once had been the kingdom of Trenhes. It is a crumbling thing now, gray and weatherworn. Ghosts frequent its quiet watch over the Everslands. Their calls to arms and screams of both fury and fear rasp on the cold wind that has torn at the wall for centuries. No living man walks these sentinel's paths. The Khans and Rews long ago bullied themselves to extinction, battling for dominance over this land of marginal crops and seldom beheld sun. Now only the orpine grows along the wall; a living thing growing within the gray palm of death itself.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Today’s Word: Opine

Joyous were the folk of Opine. For winter had come, sluggish and cold after a long summer of good rain and laughter. Harvests were gathered, stored, or sold.

Long nights came and with them the bright moon which gave light to the rituals of Opine, dark-towered by the mountain.

Fires burned high and solemn as the darkness gathered thick. Men, women, and children circled, shedding their earthly facades, taking on them the Hell Mark; gray skins writhing under lank, dead hair long to their feet.

Winter was come, and with it the joy of death.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Today’s Word: Chopine

Maren Mees Martel knew her place at court. It was to the right of her paramour, Baron Halfen von Blassuer, Lord Protector of the Three Fangs, a small triple peninsula on the farthest western edge of King Card's empire, Braycen. The Three Fangs would have been far too insignificant to warrant the Baron's position in court had it not been for a large deposit of both iron ore and gold on the middle peninsula, which extended twenty seven royal miles into the Tambien Sea. And so it was that young Maren had attached herself to the much older man, trading favors as befit her title as courtesan, and quickly earning her a place by his side everyday at court. It was an auspicious position, and much talked about by Maren's betters, but she loved the attention. Being a whore at heart, she found it easy to ignore the content of rumors about her, choosing instead to enjoy being talked about in some of the finest mansions in the capital.

But little did Maren Mees Martel know that it was not her sexual positions in the Baron's bed at night, nor her powerful position by his side during the day which brought her such infamy; it was her position of standing a foot over even the tallest men at court. For no one had told poor Maren that the tree-style riser of a chopine had been last year's fashion for the elite, only to be replaced this season by low-heeled jackboots and soft silken slippers of modest sole.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Today’s Word: Supine

I would say that the ocean spewed us forth onto the beach like Jonah from the whale's mouth, but that is not true. More it taunted us like a spoiled, evil child, moving our aged rowboat inland, only to suck it away at the last moment, heedless of our frantic paddling and shouts of anger and loss. By the time low tide arrived the sun was nearing the eastern horizon, tickling the clouds blue, and separating the near dark from the distant dark. Only then, haggard beyond sensibility of either thought or movement, we four men pulled ourselves ashore and lay supine in the cool sand, staring up at a field of stars which seemed to recoil from our view. Hunger and exhaustion battled within my breast, neither willing to subside for a more opportune time. And by the look of my shipmates (ex-shipmates, we had lost our ship) they were suffering every bit as much as I. But we were alive, and for the first time in four days we were on land.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Today’s Word: Repine

I stand in the aisle choosing out the cheapest package of size four diapers I can find; anything under ten bucks will have to do. A little girl with long, platinum blonde hair swings her dirty bare legs from the kid's seat in her mom's shopping cart next to me. She's a scrawny thing – the girl – with wiry arms and a dirty face. I hear her babbling to her mother, who pays her little attention, and note that her accent is thick as molasses. She's asking for a toy she saw two aisles back; something glittery and pink.

Two checkout lines are running when I arrive with my box of Rice Krispies, gallon of milk, and diapers. I choose the aisle with just two people rather than four waiting to pay for their sundries. These two are mother and daughter. They share the same bulging waistlines and thick, brown sideburns that grope down to their jawlines. On the black conveyer belt lay their purchases: eight bags of porkrhines, a box of Klondike bars, Sauerkraut in a twenty-four ounce glass jar, and a box of ten Slim Jims double packed with finger-sized columns of yellow cheese. I have time to count all this because the mother is asking our clerk how to win a free turkey from the store. The clerk, a pretty black woman whose nametag says Crystal, has to explain that you don't win the turkeys, you buy them ahead of time and they will be baked and ready on Thanksgiving Day.

She's patient with these overweight white women, even though it's late and probably near the end of her shift. Crystal doesn't repine the situation by sighing loudly or rolling her eyes. She seems to expect this state of affairs, glumly answering as her hands pack away their valve-clogging treats.

They leave and Crystal tallies my items. Fourteen dollars and change for this little bit. I notice Crystal doesn't touch the keyboard when she taps in numbers. Her nails, perfectly painted in a French manicure, won't allow it. The clack, clack of her fingernails on the register keys is somehow satisfying and yet defiant, as if to say, "this is a real job, just listen to the sound of these keys, just like the computers in your office."

I pay with cash; the last twenty dollars that were in our checking account until lunch time this evening. Now we're broke and facing another week before payday with just one gallon of milk and one package of supermarket brand diapers. All this regardless of the fact I work in an office. It comes to nothing.

I think about the prejudice of work as the glass doors swoosh open before me. Outside smells like a woodworking garage, but I know it's just a trick of the night. In reality, the smell has wafted down from the pulpwood mill about three miles east. Somewhere along the way, the stench has meant up with something better to produce a scent, if not altogether pleasant, at least more breathable than the rancid fart air that usually belches from the mill.

Driving home I listen to the last ten minutes of a radio program about UFO conspiracy. An intelligent sounding guest explains how there is no God; human beings are an experiment of a more highly evolved species. In fact, we are called "containers" or "vessels" by our progenitors, but no one knows why exactly. Our history has been essentially "reset" at least sixty-five times over millennia untold whenever we started down a path the aliens didn't like.

The show goes on like that, and I listen intently for a few miles. Then my mind begins to wander as it is wont to do. Idly, I wonder what the cost of such a project would have been for the aliens. Did they have to raise taxes for it? Did the older aliens demand a prescription drug plan out of the deal? I also wonder how we're doing. I worry that we might be corrected again.

Maybe next go around diapers won't cost so much.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Today’s Word: Schrodinger's Cat

A scruffy black and white of indiscriminate breed with one ear nearly gnawed to the nub and a lazy eye. This cat is a time traveler, but not in the way you imagine. He slinks around the now and now – the right and left of three dimensions, following divergent paths that multiply with unimaginable rapidity, spreading and merging forever to form a kind of grand litter box for our fine tom.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Today’s Word: Interlard

As I exited the automatic sliding doors a plume of warm air followed me into the night, enveloping me, if only for an instant, before the cold November night dared touch my bare face. And I thought, in that moment and for several more after the cold had claimed me, how this similitude of vitality and safety, was no more true than crocodile tears when closely examined – just more scummy bottom feeder water, leaking off a heartless beast's eye. For no warmth could come out that building save a kind of mechanical heat; the breath of machines, cooking their numbers endlessly in dim corridors where children will never laugh. It was at that moment I knew my heart was somehow interlarded from the place – as separate as heaven from earth.

I would never belong. I would never return
Today’s Word: Conestoga Wagon

Cyber Bubba was not stupid. Country yes. Stupid no. He rode the waves of the metasphere the way his forbearers rode Conestoga wagons across the plains and back again. From the soft confines his Phage-Chair®, Bubba had access to vast riches of information; from the exact weight of a Green-banded glass frog to the latest centerfold layout for Ms. April. Cyber Bubba had it all.

The only thing he was missing, the only thing that would make life on the metasphere complete – well, Bubba could never find. He searched, he invested time and even money, but the one golden thing eluded him. So Bubba made it himself.

New in the spring of 2031, try Cyber Bubba's ultra-realistic Deer Hunt Beer Fest!!

Cyber Bubba was rich.
Cyber Bubba was happy.
Cyber Bubba scored a nine point cyber buck.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


Today’s Word: Portent

Grrr, robins and gladiolas
Grrr, rabbits in their holes
Grrr, jackals on the prowl
Grrr, smoke in the east and all portents of man
Grrr, the pride diminishes
Grrr, the cubs suckle not

Monday, November 17, 2003

Today’s Word: Bifurcate

We had that strong connection when we were young, that sense of rightness whenever we got together, which was most every afternoon. He loved action cartoons and I MTV, so we divided our time with the tube between the two. Summer days we spent biking (he was never embarrassed to ride with a girl) and I surprised him by being able to keep up.

But time passes in packets: bundles of years and moments stuffed into nondescript brown boxes and mailed to us from God. Millions of little seconds came between us – the actions of those seconds. Making love at seventeen was probably the most telling. That act alone bifurcated our lives like a cement walk down the middle of a perfect green lawn.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Flashers is on hiatus until Sunday the 16th while I work feverishly to meet a deadline.

-- david j.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Today’s Word: Doyen

The Doyen of the Twelve hunkered down with his disciples, his nose pressed firm against the trench wall. Other men scrabbled along the concave floor, breaking loose tiny avalanches of scree, but the captains got them stopped quickly.

"How far off are the medusas?" asked the Doyen of his first councilor, a large man named Tonce.

"Spotter says three miles east, but the wind is blowing in from that direction, my lord."

The Doyen nodded, still facing the dirt. The giant, jellyfish-like medusas could cover that amount of ground in minutes, especially if the wind favored them. With their kilometers long tentacles, the beasts could almost reach that far so long as they sensed prey milling about on the ground.

He was running a risk, giving his disciples this mission. If they failed, if something went horribly wrong, the entire Twelve could be consumed by diaphanous sacks of hydrogen. And, worse, Lanta would be lost.

"How many are there, Tonce?" asked the Doyen.

"Spotter says three, your grace."

The Doyen nodded. "Pour the tar and set the fires. Don't wait for my command, start shooting the moment you believe they're in range."

"Yes, your grace."

Tonce rolled to his right and called for the captains. One of the younger disciples – probably seventeen if a year – let out a gasp and everyone's eyes, even Tonce's and the remaining members of the Twelve, turned to see the first medusa rising over their trench to the east.

Its tentacles hung down lazily, as if it were careless what lay below on the green earth. But this misconception was dispelled quickly when one of the massive tendrils snared a cow from a nearby pasture. The hysterical bovine screamed as stinging buds pierced its flesh, deadening the muscles in a mater of seconds, silencing the thing's cries to a horrid gurggle. In a moment the cow was lost from view, as the massive arm rose upward, lifting it to the medusa's waiting mouth some two kilometers overhead. A shower of blood and one leg with hoof still attached, rained down into the pasture.

"No time to gape, men!" cried the Doyen, rousing his disciples to arms.

One of the captains sparked dry hay to flame, which he in turn used to set a moat of tar afire.

Young disciples – deacons in the Faith – carried the arbalest missiles to the tar moat, setting their tips to the fire, then returned them to the machines which only captains were allowed to operate.

The Doyen saw scores of flame arrows fired from longbows and crossbows rise from the trench seeking to damage the medusa, but he had little hope for their success. It was impossible for them to climb high enough to hit the thing's body and the tentacles were virtually impervious to any attack known to man.

His only hope was the arbalest.

Tonce gave the order and a captain triggered the huge machine to fire. Its arrow flew away faster than any bird the Doyen had ever seen take wing. Its flaming head did not go out, rather it seemed to burn more brightly as it rose away from the trench.

The huge flame arrow was only halfway through its climb when the medusa's tentacle started to move.

"Oh, God," whispered the Doyen, as the now tiny missile bounced off the side of that massive limb. Three other tentacles, each the width of a large tower, rose over the trench wall, and swung inside. Disciples screamed as they were carried away to a gapping maw in the clouds.

Tonce ran forward, and took the Doyen by the sleeve of his damask shirt.

"We must shelter in the cave, your grace. You mustn't die in this place, while Lanta is still under siege."

Reluctantly, the Doyen followed his first councilor through the trench to a cave of thick stone that opened into it.

Tonce collapsed on the loose rock at his master's feet.

"I have failed you," he said, his deep voice hoarse with emotion. "The Twelve are lost, all but me, and I am dead in my failure."

The Doyen placed a hand on Tonce's shoulder.

"They are not dead, my loyal disciple."

Cheers erupted over the sound of fear and pain outside, followed by a heavy thud and the sound of something massive burning.

"They have taken one from the sky," said the Doyen, looking out the cave mouth, though there was nothing to see besides the first bend of trench. "Soon we shall have airships to match the Ogema, and then Lanta shall be ours."

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Today’s Word: Amity

Amity among our nations led to enmity among our people.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Today’s Word: Avatar

The heart. What a strange organ man has chosen as the avatar of his love. Of all the organs held within his frame, this one is the most inconstant. Ever does it vary in speed and intensity, squeezing a man's blood through channels and tributaries it shall never know; working in darkness, thrusting and pumping till he dies, like an unfaithful lover quit of its paramour.

And yet, without this inconstancy, this strangeness of mood and secretive touch, our lives would not be. With the stoic blandness of a jaded prostitute our hearts caress our blood; taking in the cold, the depleted, and sending it out anew, refreshed and whole. Unlike the compassion of love, but strong and sure as that emotion's ties, do our hearts bend to their tasks, like seamstresses about the cloth.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Today’s Word: Traduce

It was a slip, as most indiscretions are. Tyler's promise broke upon the rocks of his friends' ears, like a tiny wooden vessel shredded against a stony cleft. As soon as the words left his gullet, words that traduced his own wife before mixed company, his ears began to burn and his stomach grew tight. He hadn't meant to say it. He hadn't opened his mouth with the intention of calling his wife a nag; she wasn't a nag. But the guys were being guys, speaking about their wives as if they had no feelings for them; as if these very women didn't make their lives complete. And maybe, for a few of them, that was true. Maybe their wives were nagging, self-righteous, bossy, women with no sense of purpose beyond ruling their husbands. But not Meagan. Meagan was his sweetheart, his reason for working this thankless job when all other reasons had ceased to matter. She was the mother of his children, and his dearest friend.

When he came through the door with a dozen roses and a copy of her favorite movie on DVD, Meagan was taken aback. Real tears came to her eyes and she wouldn't stop hugging him. Even when told her why, told her that he had called her a nag for the stupid reason of peer pressure, she only shrugged and accepted his apology with grace.

"How can you forgive me so easily, when I promised I'd never disparage you before anyone?" asked Tyler.

"Because that's what best friends do," said Meagan.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Today’s Word: Voluminous

Sometimes the vagaries of war were such that the Queen retreated to her winter home in Briston, where the cold, foggy air and voluminous snow could invigorate her spirits. But in the year of '73, when the Archduke of Imprenes, Lord Terrinval, sacked the lady's capital of Breninvair, and took her country at the tip of sword and flame of torch, the Queen retreated to her winter home with every intention of finding death upon the columned terrace.

What she found was Lord Terrinval himself, and he certainly didn't LOOK like death, in his dashing black military waistcoat, pure white hose, tricorne cap, and three flashing golden suns upon each shoulder – representations of his rank as supreme commander of the Overan armies. Nor did this man dressed in black carry a shearing scythe. Instead, Lord Terrinval came bearing a ring and a crown – a crown that matched her own.

After the years of her youth had bled away, and with her womanhood sitting upon her brow and bosom like a mantle of burnished brass, the Queen finally knew what it was to be conquered.

It was love.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Today’s Word: Internecine

The tribal lords of the Falcon Reefs might well have dominated the eastern shores of Virs, perhaps as far as the third city of Mot-her, but their clans were ever at war one against the other. Of the six most powerful families, the Chur-Hol were the dominant, and their clan alone, numbering in the thousands, may well have ruled the reefs from Hurn Spine to Bu-Hag, save for their internecine struggles which sapped the clans' strength until they were little more than fodder for the invading Stampon.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Today's Word: Vapid

Boring minds lead vapid lives.

Friday, October 31, 2003


Today’s Word: Wraith

Alec might never have noticed the man if it hadn't been for a jet breaking the sonic barrier at just that moment. He looked up, searching the southern sky, and found a man sitting atop the nearest light pole.

The man sat, bracing his elbows on his knees, his face on his fists. Dark hair obscured his eyes. He was dressed in black boots, blue jeans, a black sweater and leather jacket.

"Are you alright, sir?" asked Alec.

The man didn't move or speak.


The stranger raised his head and Alec saw that he had no eyes, just empty sockets.

"Oh, God," said Alec, and took a step back.

The man leapt from his high perch, his black hair flying out behind him, his face contorting into something inhuman. He was coming straight towards Alec.

His mouth opened (far too wide for that of a normal man), revealing several rows of teeth like tiny white spikes. A cry like lightning ripping the clouds issued from his lips, outstripping the jet sound, and even the blast of bass coming from the college kids' apartment half a block away.

Alec had only enough time to cringe. In the final second before the wraith reached him, he mentally berated himself for being a sissy, but his brain had made its choice. So there he stood, elbows close to his body, left knee lifted to protect his crotch in case of collision, his eyes shut now – as much to avoid seeing that horrible face as for protection.

A cold wind, glacial, artic, passed (through) over him. Goose flesh crawled across his skin like a billion ants on the march. He uttered a sound, not unlike that of a six year old girl crying, and fell heavily on the macadam.

Alec wasn't certain how long he lay there with the cold, rough road as his bed. It might have been hours. But it seemed like a very short time to him.

"What's wrong with you boy?" asked Mr. Garven, Alec's down the street neighbor.

"I bet he saw old High Pole Pete," said Mr. Garven's son Hirum, who stood next to his father. Their matching fat faces blocked Alec's field of vision.

"Shut-up that nonsense, and help me get this boy back to his momma's place," said Mr. Garven.

They lifted Alec up and he walked between them, leaning heavily on the son.

"You saw a man on the pole back there?" asked Hirum.

Alec nodded. He didn't trust his voice just yet.

"That's old Pete alright. Just don’t talk to him next time. He'll leave you alone."

It was a moot point. Alec would never trick-or-treat near that pole again.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Today’s Word: Cataract

Pol did a spec-check on his biosuit – all indicators green or tinged orange, perfectly within parameters. The newest Gen-Gamma suits could run red on all systems and still maintain a human for up to thirty six hours on regenerated air, and automatic morph doses, injected through the over-body webbing.

"T-minus fifteen seconds to infusion," said the computer.

Pol said a silent, fast prayer, crossed himself and raised his PrT. The muzzle spun round to rocket propelled grenade topped with pump-action shotgun.

The starboard deck plating curved outward, ripping with an ear-spitting scream, and exposing components of the ship's interior to planetary atmosphere for the first time ever.

Several million spiders clamored inside, too fast for Pol to spot which ones had finally managed to breach the hull of a ship that could withstand a formed nuclear missile. Their hairy, scrabbling bodies, merged in his field of vision like a cataract spilling over a precipice.

Pol began shooting, spinning his weapon's select system through each redundant cycle as one failed from overheating or sheer depletion.

He was still firing when the spiders hit him like a tide, rushing over him, ripping at his biosuit with black beaks on their undersides. He felt the first break through on his right thigh, but others followed quickly – on his shoulders, arms, belly. The suit did its level best to compensate, sealing the breaches almost as soon as they were made, pumping morph through Pol's body like liquid peace. But the poison was already awash in his bloodstream. He could feel it mingling with the morph, pushing his mind from detached euphoria one moment, to waves of sweating nausea the next.

He died.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Today’s Word: Handsel

Summers bring the low-country boys. Ever has it been since I can remember; even to the knowledge of my ole'pa.

They come in guerilla brigades, bearing rifles and long-blades. They want our backs, our hands, our women.

Defiance is legend. There is the tale of the Summer of Bone: a dry summer of fire and blood, real memory only to my ole'pa's ole'pa. Seven hundred of our boys marched out on Pyler's field armed with axes, hoes, and shovels. The lowboys cut them down like deadwood, dropping row upon row before our farmers could even get close to their solid lines.

But this summer will be different. For eight years we've worked the smiths, while every summer the low-boys came, robbed and left. Now we have rifles of our own: lean, cruel sticks of wood and metal. We've drilled ourselves into an outfit, marking well the way low-boy units work.

We'll pay them the first blood for blood in a new pact: a summer's oath of retribution. But we won't stop there – we're going south, to the flat lands. This first stab is merely a handsel. The real payment we'll mete come winter.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Today’s Word: Exposure

The sirelings had separated themselves from the pack, declaring a new order, divergent from that of their fathers. Many times the moon chased the sun across the gray sky and still the fathers knew naught of their offspring. Did the young hunt the great Mosulumps in the mountain valleys, tearing at the beasts' muscled legs like beavers felling trees? Did the sirelings drink from the great river that flowed cold and clear out of the east, off the mountain called Stone Fang?

No. All the sirelings were long dead. Without the fathers to teach them how to suck the sap from the Autumnreds, or how to cut stone to sharp edges, or how to carry the sacred embers from one sleep-round to the next, the sirelings quickly perished. Some died from exposure; the night winds are cold on the western steppes. Some were carried away, screaming, by protobears or saberlynxes. And a few, the final five in truth, leapt off the highest cliff of Stone Fang, crying out the names of their fathers as they fell.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Today’s Word: Arbiter

Sweet child of winter coming
Your fragile hands clasp kisses fleeting
Green eyes view a world;
Little less new by the day

Sweet boy of fate's charming
Your laugh is mother's calling
Sweep not away with that thin arm;
Youth time's given you anew

My son
My arbiter

Friday, October 24, 2003

Today’s Word: Leitmotif

Knights charging into the cave – most times on horseback, but oft afoot – had become passé; a leitmotif in a bard's melodrama. Up they came, following the bone road, flying pennants and bearing shields with finely crafted sigils. Their names were a study in the old families: Corvidae, Mott, Tullard, and Skirllot.

Each came, bearing forth sword or axe or hammer, calling for death even as youth burned his breast.

Stynaserian, queen of the mount called Bryson's Peak, red dragon without equal in size and strength, dispatched the knights the way a man might dispatch a steer; careful not to damage the sweet flesh contained within the steel shell. Sometimes she roasted them inside their armor, and sometimes she liked her meat rare. But never did Styn refuse a meal that walked into her cave.

When the young man, wearing no armor and bearing no weapons, strode unerringly into her midst, the great dragon was taken aback.

"Who are you?" she asked, for curiosity at this human's audacity got the better of her insatiable hunger.

"I am no one of import," said the boy.

"What name do you bear?" asked the dragon.

"I am a Smith."

"Is that a noble name?"

"No. I am a smith by trade, as my father was before me. Our name is no more noble than the metals we work." The boy began to shiver, and a fresh glean of sweat broke out on his face. That was to be expected, he was, after all, in the presence of a red dragon.

"And why do you walk boldly into my lair without shield or sword or armor?"

"I am come to ask you to leave our lands and never return."

The dragon laughed, a mighty sound that shook the mountain peaks. Surely this boy was the village fool. Stynaserian snapped her head forward and gobbled up the young man in two large bites and one swallow.

Little did the queen know that the young Smith had, just before entering the cave, swallowed enough arsenic to kill several large horses. And, while Styn possessed more weight and girth even than several large horses, she was quite ill and unable to defend herself when, three hours later, eight knights arrived at her cave and slew her where she lay in her own bile.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Today’s Word: Nebbish

In January they met. And though the world was white with ice and winter's chill, their souls were warmed by love's new glow.

May found them planning. As flowers bloomed and children played, they dreamed of summer's bliss; a cloudless wedding day.

In August she broke his heart. The sun, an angry yellow blob overhead, burned the lawns brown and drove the children inside, seeking refuge in conditioned air.

October came and went. He remained in his little apartment, eating raimen, and denying his nebbish mood.

In January they met.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Word: Genius

Broward was a genius. All the tests said so. From the time he could first read and fill in little bubbles he was subjected to a myriad of them: SAT, ACT, BRT, AFOQT, URET, SHOT, etc. He aced them all.

Broward spoke fluent French, Spanish, and C++. He constructed origami swans and built models of DNA out of headless matches. His favorite show was NOVA, his favorite author was Hawking. In his spare time he built HAMM radios and studied RNA construction on his home computer. Broward was a genius.

Then one day, while Broward lay in his bed, contemplating terminal velocity as it relates to gravity wells and relativistic speed, a thought occurred in the seventeen-year-old's overpowered brain. He needed a girlfriend.

All projects, some of them bearing ramifications on a global scale, ceased as Broward turned his formidable intellect towards the pursuit of women. Years passed as he devoted himself to his subject, investing hundreds of hours in field research.

And when he felt the time was right, that he'd discovered all he might ever learn, Broward published his work – not in a periodical such at the NEJM, nor even the prestigious SAMJ, but in a world renown tome used by men on every inhabited continent of the earth: The Genius's Guide to Getting Laid.

Saturday, October 18, 2003


Today’s Word: Vetted

Legist Spirrow placed the page down on his courtroom desk and turned slowly back to the defendant, allowing the Arbiter to view his profile for several seconds, a trick he'd discovered early in his career.

"So you admit to saying the words?" asked Spirrow once he was turned to fully face the defendant.

"No sir, I never said those words. They are fiction, from one of my novels," said Martin Endycyn, his voice even, patient.

Spirrow advanced on the ornate examination box where the author sat. He placed his hands on either corner and leaned close to Endycyn.

"They are your words, you wrote them."

"I wrote them, but they are not my words. They are the words of a character named Amerik Statson.

"And how did you produce the words for this 'character'?"

"With pen and ink."

"So YOU wrote the words -- you penned them on a sheaf of parchment."

"Yes," said Endycyn. After each answer he pursed his lips. He didn't want to talk. That was good. It told Spirrow he was moving the right direction.

"And I suppose you vetted the work after it was finished?"

"I always edit my writing closely before I let anyone read it."

"So you had a chance to make changes?"


"Why didn't you change the character Statson's words? Why didn't you cut out the portions you knew would be offensive to every member of this government from the lowliest farmer to the Empyrean Minister himself?"

Endycyn's body shook, and Spirrow saw that it was anger burning within him that caused the tremors. The author's hands clenched and released and clenched again in his lap.

Finally he said, "I wrote them because no one else in this world has the stomach to do it. No one is willing to say the system is flawed, the Minister is an Emperor, and not a very good one. No one stands up for basic human liberties."

The Arbiter slammed his gavel down with three heavy thuds, breaking the author's momentum.

"Heresy," he said, "You've spoken it in my court, just as you wrote it in your book. One hundred years hard labor, no chance for reprieve!" The old Arbiter slammed his gavel one last time and constables came to escort Endycyn from the courtroom.

"Liberty and freedom cannot be destroyed!" screamed the author as he was dragged through a rear door.

Spirrow, who stood at his desk organizing papers to fit in his attaché case, looked up when the author screamed.

"I'm sorry, but your wrong," he said under his breath, "those two died long ago."

Friday, October 17, 2003

Today’s Word: Prey

Rose Carver followed the slime trail with her pen laser, noting with some satisfaction that, mixed with the greasy yellow film, was a large amount of blood.

The air grew colder as Rose descended and the cave walls pressed closer. She keyed the Survsuit controls on her right wrist and felt the skintight armor warm immediately. From somewhere up ahead, out of pure darkness, came the sound of something hard scraping the rock floor. Rose increased her pace, and caught her prey not one minute later.

The man -- no, he was more insect now than anything -- continued pulling himself along, five of his lower, scorpion-like legs dragging lifelessly behind him. With striated human arms, muscles bulging to the capacity of their surrounding skin, Scorpman pulled his dead lower half. The sound was like sandpaper over rock.

"Keven, stop," said Rose, but there was little force behind it. This. . . creature had once been her lover; the first man in years she had truly cared for beyond a night of passion. But he was also her target now. He was marked.

Keven raised his human torso and looked round at her the way a man might turn to stare at an interesting bird passing over. His eyes were white, completely without pupils.

"Are you blind?" she asked him.

"Blunt as ever, Rose?" said Kevin in a voice that could no longer be classified human.

"Why would I change?"

"You wouldn't," said Kev, "but as you can see, I've changed quite a bit since last we met."

"Not for the better."

"For the best." Kevin turned back to his labors and started dragging himself across the cave floor.

"I have orders to kill you," said Rose, her voice low as sagebrush.

"But you won't. You love –"

Kevin's head exploded into a mist of red that splattered the stone walls for fifty feet down the tunnel. His half-human, half-insect body ceased all movement after about twenty seconds. Rose reholstered her screamgun, used her Survsuit's camera to take eight 2D and two 3D pictures of the kill, then stood, staring at the corpse for a moment.

"Sorry sweetie," she whispered to the night-black tunnel, "it seems I did change a bit."


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Today’s Word: Platitude

"Please don't kill me," said the execusoft, "take what you want, but don't kill me."

"Spare me your sad platitudes," said Carla. She flicked the barrel of her scream gun, indicating the exec's breast pocket. "Just hand me your globeaccount card and I'll be on my way."

The thin, parch-white man's eyes jittered about the alleyway like marbles rolling into a gutter.

"Look, ain't nobody coming for you. Smart people don't walk down this way, just overpaid upper-middle-class tightshirts like you, who think they can beat lunch traffic over to ninety-third street. So gimme the card and lets both get on with our lives."

"You sound reasonably intelligent for a hoodlum," said the execsoft, watching Carla's eyes intently to see if he had said too much. In the meantime, he slid his wallet out the breast pocket of his euro-style jacket.

"Yeah, it doesn't take a reasonably intelligent girl long to figure out there's two ways of making money in the slums of old New York." Carla cocked her head to the side and said, "I chose the safer of the two."

The exec held out his wallet and she took it with her free hand, quick as sunlight.

"Why don't you get a real job?" he asked, a lick of peevishness slipping into his voice, making it sound years (decades) younger.

"Oh, I've got a real job, this is my at home business. Glad to have served you, have a fine day."

Carla sprayed the dirty asphalt between the execsoft's feet with bullets and he ran back down the way he'd come. She didn't bother to leave the area, no one would report the shots, and even if they did the cops would never respond, not for small arms fire. She opened the wallet, stared for three seconds, then said, "Hmm, a fellow businessman."

The carpilot's license inside belonged to one Mrs. Evelyn G. Portson, aged fifty-three. The woman's globeaccount card was still there, but had probably been reported by now. You only had a good fifteen minutes before the accounts were closed and marked with tracers. Using that card would be like calling NYPD and saying, "I stole a wallet, come pick me up at Sach's!"

Disgusted, Carla tossed the wallet into a nearby puddle, returned her automatic to the concealed holster in her jacket and started back toward the bookstore where she worked swingshift.

"Damn competition," she whispered into the wind as she turned the corner and headed for work.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Today’s Word: Cerebration

The entire brain was in celebration over its first cerebration.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Today’s Word: Ambit

John had crossed this bluff twice in three days of riding a two mile interlocking circuit. Not once had he seen the castle; not until this morn.

It was an ugly thing, having been constructed of some black stone unnatural to this land. Dead vines clung to its walls, writhing about it like skeletal fingers. From the single high tower a pennant flew. It was tattered and sun-bleached, but John could see the sigil on its broad surface: a raven winging over a field of light blue; the crest of family Corvidae. Corvidae the cursed.

The huge front gate was closed, but John found a postern door banging its frame in the stiff breeze. He unsaddled his horse and tied her to the steel gate, then entered the castle.

He had expected a tunnel, darkness, perhaps even bone-numbing cold, but the door opened directly into the castle's ample bailey. Sunlight splintered on the leaves of a towering oak and the needles of several ancient pines. The air smelled of turf and root and old rock. This place was definitely not the gods-bleeding terror John had heard about in all the tales. He only hoped the treasure rooms beneath the main floor were not old smiths' tales like the horrible giants that supposedly guarded the gate. John turned his feet toward the main hall, striding with confidence.

So much confidence that when the oak grabbed him about the middle, pinning his arms at his sides, John took several wild steps in the air before he fully realized he was no long land bound. He rose up and up, into the furthest reaches of the old tree's canopy. When finally he stopped, John saw that there were many bodies hid up among the oak's highest branches. Across the way he could see a near equal amount hanging within the pines. Most were rotted to skeletons, the bulk of their bones long dropped away to the ground, but several were quite fresh. One dead man, very close to John, still had eyes in his head, though birds had pecked away much of his cheeks and upper lip. His grinning teeth were a disgusting mix of brown and yellow.

John struggled against the thick branches wrapped round his body, trying to shift his right hand to the hilt of his sword. But as he struggled, more branches snaked upward, binding his legs so tightly that his knees and ankles ached from the pressure. Air squeezed out of his lungs in an audible sigh, and his fingers and head felt bloated with blood.

In the old tree's full ambit, there was no chance for breath or life, but that both should be snuffed like flame and warmth.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Today’s Word: Religionist

The senatorial debate was lively for the first time in several hundred years. All four hundred and eighty six representatives were present, most via Dystrem network phones, though several hundred had made the trip to Government House in Sussex. One by one the well-dressed men and women from around the solar system took their turns addressing the full senate. When all the allotted minutes had been filled, the Judicial Oversight Committee convened a record-long session of forty five minutes. When they returned to the senate floor, stoic as old-earth religionists, the eyes of an entire civilization were on Joan Elizabeth Poulenstein, Speaker for the Committee.

"It is with utmost respect to our honorable counterparts on the opposing side of this issue, that we offer our most sincere regret; but the Committee has decided by a vote of twenty one to fourteen for the complete annihilation of all non-sentient life on planet earth, making way for the further development of technological advances of the human race. Earth shall become what it was always destined to become in this senator's mind, a seed ship. One no longer bearing the garden of vegetable and bestial life of ancient days, but a new garden of man's knowledge and those technologies he creates in his own image. In time, my fellow citizens, I think you shall see that it is good."

Friday, October 10, 2003

Today’s Word: Sneeze

"Honey, is something wrong?" asked Emily. "What's that look for?" She stared at him, her eyes widening. "If this is about that dress I bought, you can just swallow that pinched look on your face. I needed it; I haven't had a new formal since we were dating, and the ball is coming up. You know I can't go to the ball in one of my Sunday dresses, they're all fuzzy on the seat and hips. Scott, if you keep looking like that I'm going to think something's wrong. Speak to me. Are you okay? You aren't choking are you? No? Good. But you're still giving me that look. Oh! You're not mad about that pocket change? Scott Henry Braden, if you give me trouble about a measly twenty dollars, I'm not speaking to you for a month! I didn't have a lunch, and you always pack your own, it's not like you ever use that money. I mean I know it's for emergencies, but I'll put it back in your wallet just as soon as –"

Scott doubled over with the greatest sneeze of his life.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Today’s Word: Adumbrate

Perhaps, with better trained eyes, we might have seen how our daughter's capricious moods at the age of two adumbrated the flighty life she would lead.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Today’s Word: Nonplus

"Vagabonds like us used to ride freight trains through the south and across the west," said Harry. "They didn't have to foot it like we do now."

"I bet that was the best," said Ben, as he finished turning up the sleeves on his plaid shirt. The Oklahoma sun was hot today.

The two men continued along the dirt single track they'd been following since dawn. Down the next hill it curved and crossed a small brook. Someone had been nice enough to place several stepping stones in the water.

When they reached the edge, Harry stopped Ben with a hand and said, "Look at there."

Ben followed his partner's gaze to a large black bear sitting on its ample rear end against a tall pine. The bear was asleep, and snoring loudly.

"Watch this," said Ben, and before the older man could stop him, he scooped up a rock from the bank and threw it at the bear. His aim was true.

The rock hit the bear on the tip of the nose. It uttered a loud grunt, and shook its furry head, then dropped to all fours. Its eyes fell on Harry and Ben.

"Don't move," whispered Harry.

The bear stared at them for a moment, nonplussed, it would seem, then reared up on its hind legs and said, "What the hell did you do that for?"

In unison, both men turned and bolted back the way they'd come.

The black bear chuckled softly as it turned toward its home at the Reynolds's Genetic Engineering facility.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Today’s Word: Denizen

"The killer left a tread stain in the victim's blood," said Havishar. "From that print we were able to establish that his shoes were a rare brand made in France called Panches. Have you a pair of Panches, Mr. Whitelaw?"

Whitelaw swallowed and his small eyes jittered off Havishar's face to the ceiling and then to the floor.

"Mr. Whitelaw?"

"I do."

Whitelaw's wife put the back of one hand to her mouth, her breath catching in her long throat.

"You didn't have to tell them, Eldon. We should call Mr. Trebbledown immediately –"

"Hush, Cynthia," said Whitelaw, not unkindly, but with enough force to silence her.

"May we see said shoes, Mr. Whitelaw?" asked Havishar.

Whitelaw turned and motioned to a maid, who had been eavesdropping at the kitchen entryway, to go and get the shoes. Havishar intercepted them when the girl returned.

"Are these bloodstains, Mr. Whitelaw?" asked Havishar, inspecting the shoes' soles.

Whitelaw stared at the black grand piano behind Havishar.

"Yes, it is blood."

"And what reason can you give us for having blood on the tracks of your shoes, Mr. Whitelaw?"

"I am a denizen of the night, Inspector Havishar." The small man seemed to grow as he said this, his slouching back rising straight. "I tried to stop that murder, but I was too late this time, I couldn't save that poor young man."

Havishar motioned to the beatcops and they took Whitelaw in hand. The small man made no move to resist.

"You're making a horrid mistake, Inspector."

Havishar dropped the expensive shoes to his side.

"If this is a mistake, then I have made it countless times before, and I shall make it countless times after."

Sunday, October 05, 2003


Word: Equipoise

I am braced by the sound of the wheel turning, its jangle hammering on the soft early autumn air. With my hands pressed hard into the pockets of my plaid coat, I watch the wheel, spinning in the harsh glare of upright floodlights. It is a monster, filled with monsters, and so it makes a monstrous sound.

Sometime in late summer, no one bothered to mark the date, the fair rolled into town. Center of the freak show stage, the exotic dancers' tent (shaped like a huge, red turban), and the hall of a thousand screams, a group of well-tanned and dirty laborers constructed a massive wheel. It was silver; thick aluminum, about the width of my arm, and the perfect length to accommodate a fifty gallon drum -- the kind you see bums using to contain campfires in the city.

The fair never began. Oh, there was an opening night, but no one rode the carousel, or the bumper cars, or even the flax sack slide which had always been so popular with the children. Everyone was drawn to the wheel; young, old, and hammered. The mayor was there with his wife and kids. Satchel Browne from the firehouse stood nearby. Several boys from the coal mine slouched in a black-stained gaggle near the floodlights.

A geek appeared at the great wheel's base. I say appeared, because he was not and then he was; a lank, thin man in a top hat and tails, his long white hair heavy on his spare shoulders.

"A goodly crowd we have tonight," he said, without benefit of megaphone or loudspeaker. But we all heard him. "My name is Marcus Paid, and this is the wheel of Equipoise."

"How's it work?" asked the Mayor.

Paid smiled – his teeth were crooked, yellow things – and said, "Step close Mr. Mayor, and let me show you."

"Have we met?" said the fat man.

Marcus Paid ignored him.

Two young men, both clad in overalls and nothing else, rolled a fifty gallon drum into the light. It was military green and looked heavy.

"The lid, if you would be so kind, Enos," said Paid.

Enos, the larger of the two men, prised the lid off with a crowbar. Every eye in town was on that drum.
"The wheel isn't a taker, it's a giver," said Paid, addressing the crowd, his eyes like two black spheres in his head.

He lifted a dress out of the drum, and I heard several women near me suck in their breaths. It looked to be silk, or perhaps moleskin, in the gathering darkness. It was purple and gold, its sleeves pricked with pearls, and its long skirts adorned with pleats.

"It was a favored thing, this dress," said Paid, showing those hideous teeth once more. "But the woman who owned this pretty ornament was a sad creature indeed. She had no want of material things, but her heart was empty as a well gone dry. Much like many of you."

Paid's last words hung on the air -- or perhaps on our ears -- creeping round our collective thoughts. And the longer he was silent, the more I knew he was right.

"This dress was her pride. It was the mark of her station -- her place above the masses. While she dined in solemn luxury, her neighbors starved. The day she gave this dress to the wheel, was the day she found true happiness. Now she is light. Now she is the same."

"Sir, I'll have you know we don't allow scams in our town. You may take us for rubes, but we have the might of law on our side," said the Mayor, trying to bluster over Paid's incontrovertible words.

"Give me your ring, Mayor. Put it in the drum. If you don't feel immediately lightened of your high station; if you don't realize in that very instant that we are all the same, then I'll return the ring to you. I'm promising you communion with your fellow man. Or do you think yourself so great compared to the common folk that you won't share in their plight?"

I wasn't sure what "plight" Paid meant, but I felt it all the same. The Mayor was being a stuffed pants bill grubber.

The crowd started to murmur, and the Mayor looked nervous.

"Alright," he said, pulling a thick gold ring off his thick short finger. We all knew that it was an academy ring, but I can't remember which academy. No one does, not even the mayor.

He dropped the ring in the drum and the young men sealed it up with the dress under the watchful eyes of Marcus Paid.

When they hoisted the drum onto the wheel I could hear other things, some metal, some paper, rattling inside. Even then I didn't wonder what those things were. It didn't matter.

With braided horse rope they secured the drum to the inside of the wheel's arching form. When it was done, Marcus Paid pulled a lever on the wheel's base, and the behemoth began to spin.

It was a slow thing, moving the little drum the way an elephant might move a tick on its sagging belly. We watched as the drum rolled up one side, across the upper curve (so like a slate sky), down the other side, and then back near to our humble place on the earth.

When the drum was even again, when it lay with its bottom facing our Mayor, Paid touched his arm and said, "Do you want the ring back, Morty?"

"No, sir," said the Mayor, his voice not so much sound as air seeping from his guts. He whispered something, but none of us could hear.

Paid leaned close, then turned, smiling at the crowd. "He wants to go home and get his bowling ball for the wheel."

We cheered. Our mayor had conquered his vice. It wasn't something anyone said; nothing we discussed later that night over coffee and cake. It just was.

And so the town lined up. Paid had no end of fifty gallon drums, and the wheel seemed like a voracious beast ready to eat up our pride like maggots on infection.

That night I was number thirty in line. I put my lucky quarter and a twenty dollar bill of no significance into an off-white drum. I've never had much to speak of, but money has always been my vice.

Days and weeks have come and gone. The fair is still in town, though it was scheduled to move out just two weeks after it arrived. Everyday we gather at the wheel, watching it turn afternoon into night into morning. It's finally filling up, as our good townsfolk empty out their prideful lives into the wheel's ready circle.

Yesterday the Ingles put their daughter, Maryanne, into a yellow drum. She was sleeping. A beautiful girl, that Maryanne; her parents' greatest pride. I remember my own mother commenting once how she wished she'd had a little girl so pretty, with long golden hair, dimples, and striking blue eyes. Maryanne cried for quite a few hours, but she's stopped now. I guess those drums are airtight.


Friday, October 03, 2003

Today’s Word: Nepotism

King Card, restored to his throne, practiced a peculiar form of nepotism. He executed every member of his formal court in three mass ceremonies, hanging them alongside the barbarians whom they had served. After the court was near empty, Card chose from among his brotherhood of servants, those men and even a handful of women, with whom he had labored as a common slave for over five years.

For his war general Card chose an old smith, named Biles. As Earl of Coin, the king tapped a prison guard who had oft beat him at games of Hungry Knight, and Topper King.

Many were the King's choices, and great were his rewards for those that had remained faithful even through the bitter years.

But one person, whose rank was never increased beyond his former station, was the castle cook. When asked why the loyal cook had not received a royal commission, Card was heard to answer, "Holart? He's the best cook in the five kingdoms, I'd be a dullard to remove him."

When news of this reached Holart it so pleased the cook that he threw out the poisoned tarts he'd prepared for Card's dinner, and roasted a fatted lamb.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Today's Word: Pretend

Sometimes, when I'm watching football, and I see opposite team players talking on the field, I like to pretend they are saying nice things like, "Man, I love this game!" and "Evie says you should come over for dinner after the game since you're in town." I actively avoid reading their lips.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Today's Word: Ascribe

He took her by the shoulders and pushed her away, gently, but with firm pressure.
"What is it?" asked Pam, a look of honest worry drawing down the corners of her eyes and mouth.
"We haven't been intimate in three and a half months, and you come in kissing me like that? What the hell does that mean?"
"What, you're keeping score now?"
He dropped his hands to his sides and stared at her. "Men do that."
"Do men also ascribe intimacy to love, Darryl? Is that all that means anything to them?"
"No, Pam, that isn't all, but a marriage can't be devoid of it. And believe it or not, some women like sex. Some couples do it more than once a month."
"I have other things on my mind."
"Everything but us."
She smirked and said, "I'm the woman, I'm supposed to be saying these things."
"You're right, you should."

Friday, September 26, 2003

Today's Word: Toothsome

On the road to St. Petersburg Michel was stopped by a white light spilling from heaven. His horse, normally an even tempered beast, reared, throwing the young man from his saddle. It galloped away into a nearby orchard as the light filled Michel's world.

He raised and hand and uttered a cry as the light became too much to bear. Then it was gone, and the late summer evening was as before.

When Michel looked, a woman stood before him. She wore a white dress, skirted at the thigh, with a top that covered only her left breast. This toothsome vixen looked into Michel's eyes and smiled.

"Who are you? Are you a goddess?" asked the stunned man.

The woman laughed.

"No, honey. I'm Gladys Charella, from Atlanta. Isn't this Athens? Where's the Parthenon?"

"I don't understand you, goddess. What language do you speak?"

"That stupid travel agent," said Gladys. "She didn't even give me a reverse translator. And this sure isn't Greece." She fiddled with a strange bracelet on her wrist. "BF'ing Russia! That's the last time I use Tara's Temporal Tours. I knew I should have listened to my sister. She said, 'Gladys, go see Christ born, you'll have wonderful time,' but no, I had to see the orgies."

The strange goddess stamped her foot and tinkered with her bracelet again. The heavenly light returned for a moment, and just as suddenly, was gone.

Michel kneeled in the dirt to pray that God might reveal the meaning of this vision.

Twenty five years later, as Arch Bishop of Her Holiness the Blessed Madonna Church, Michel still kneeled at the alter everyday to pray for revelation about that long ago vision. For some reason, the meaning never came.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Today’s Word: Deus Ex Machina

Simon Kidd stared up from the bottom of the fifty foot pit. His arch nemesis, Clive Reginald, smiled down at him, and even lifted his wine glass in salute. Kidd might have saluted back (with one finger at least), but his hands and feet were bound by chains to the stone floor.

"It has been a wonderful chase, old chap," said Clive, "but I'm afraid the ride is over." He signaled, and foaming white water began gushing from four large vents set in the rock wall.

Kidd searched his surroundings for any tool he might use on the chains. Nothing. Reginald's bodyguards had taken his semi-automatic pistol, laser earring, sterling silver bracelet with mini electric hacksaw, and even his faux gold tooth with the diamond edged cutting surface. After all his many escapes, in every corner of the world, it looked like Kidd was finally going to come up short.

A tiny pop, like the sound of a very small firework, echoed from the roof. Reginald looked up just in time to receive a boot to the teeth. He reeled backwards and out of Kidd's view. A figure, dressed head to heel in black, landed in a squat at the pit's edge. A couple of Reginald's flunkies tried to accost (him?), but the figure dealt with them handily.

With the fluid movements of a skilled dancer, the black figure dove into the pit, which was now filled almost to Kidd's waist with water. The black figure broke the water's surface, and his head connected instantly with the stone floor, breaking his neck with an audible crack.

Kidd sighed. So much for Deus ex machina.
"I don't know what she sees in him," said Shondra.
"Girl, have you looked at that man? He's gorgeous," said Tina.
"It takes more than wind to sail a ship, honey. You should know that your own self."
"I heard that boy's got more money than Mr. Monopoly. He drives that yellow Corvette you seen parked out in the teacher's lot."
"We all teaching here," said Shondra, "how he got more money than us?"
"I don't know, but he got it."
"Well, I heard he got kicked out the last school 'cause he was making it with one of the seniors, but couldn't nobody prove it so they fired his ass."
"Girl, that just lip. That man is fine, and if she don't make the hook up, I'm gonna be all over that like cream on jello."
Shondra smacked her lips. "You take it, shorty. I done heard too much 'bout that brother."

Monday, September 22, 2003

Today’s Word: Autocrat

The Galactic Prime Minister loved nothing more than getting away from the tedium of her duties to lock herself in the kitchen and produce exotic cuisine of every variety. This led to her husband coining the phrase, "The autocrat's place is in the kitchen."

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Today’s Word: Expressive

The email read, ". . . and they lived happily ever after".
Anastasia stared at those words, her heart fluttering in her chest like pigeon wings. The subject line was blank, and the return address was a scramble of letters and numbers.

Gregory hadn't sent it. He wouldn't recognize those words, set in that pattern. He was at work, but he only called when he needed lunch brought out and he had never written her an email. No, this wasn't Greg. This was someone else, someone expressive; someone that knew life began after those words, not before them.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Today’s Word: Interrogation

Green light dug into Horner's guts like greedy fingers pressing into a ripe fruit. The old man gasped. A shot like this was the worse kind. It was standard technique for Empyrean interrogation. The laser caused horrible pain and deadly damage, but at the same time it cut through flesh, it cauterized the wounds. The internal damage would be sufficient to end a man's life, but it was a slow, painful road to death.

The six pence tumbled from Horner's hand, striking the stone floor with the age-old sound of dropped coins. They fell askew of where they had been when Linus retrieved their alter-selves. And for an instant Horner thought maybe something was changing; maybe this go round would be the last.

But then Linus, with the sleek gun still drawn, bent and lined the six pence up with his free hand. Horner squinted his eyes against the tears threatening to overflow onto his cheeks.

"Before I leave, tell me why you left the Ministry," said Linus. "You've obviously had extensive reconstructive surgery, you even had a brain flush. Can you remember what was so terrible that you'd relinquish the entire world?"

Horner kept his eyes closed, but said, "I ordered the Children's Massacre."

"That's a myth. It never happened. It was made up by Capitalist sympathizers and paid-off historians."

"I was there. I gave the order." Pain seized Horner's guts like a thousand strong hands ripping his insides apart. He gasped and shuddered.

"Then I won't give the order," said Linus, oblivious to Horner's pain.

"You will. It's the only way to retain power. You'll give the order and it will color your days and haunt your nights until you become mad. And even then you'll see the faces of all those children, unarmed, arms locked and voices raised, singing your destruction. You'll order them dead and in that moment you'll condemn yourself to become me."

Linus stood silent for a moment. Horner felt that any second he would raise the scream gun once again to lance his alter-self to death. But the younger man finally turned back to the time machine and triggered its hatch to open.

As the hatch closed to the sound of compressed air, Linus said, "Things will go differently this time."

"I hope so," said Horner.

There was no thunderous sound to accompany the time machine's departure. The stone room brightened for several seconds, whiting out the Sphere's overlay, then the darkness returned, and the room sounded empty.

Horner rose slowly, painstakingly to his feet. He wouldn't die here. No one in the Ministry, especially the computer nodes of the Sphere, would deem his body worth retrieving from the cave. Horner Jensen, once known as Linus Turring, First Minister of the Empyrean Empire, refused to lose his dignity with his life.

He stumbled out the way he'd come. When he neared the cave entrance, Horner turned off the Sphere overlay and strode out into the light of day. The sun was bright and warm, the air sweet.

"Next time," whispered Horner and then fell, dead among the blackberries.


Friday, September 19, 2003

Today’s Word: Farce

The cave wavered, orange and blue vision overlays smearing into a torrent of color. Both men staggered this time. Horner caught a tenuous hold on the cave wall just as the nausea returned ten fold. He bent and vomited on the floor, the hot liquid splattering on his shoes. In the corner of his eye he saw Linus fall flat, his back arching with every heave of his stomach. He too vomited into the dirt.

Vision returned as the Sphere-enhanced overlay righted itself, seeming to congeal into a clear picture.

"We're fast approaching the crux," said Linus, as he rose to his feet.

Horner was not so quick to recover. He leaned on the cold, moist stone, panting for breath. His knees were throbbing; threatening to seize up. Damn the Empyrean Ministry and their healthcare rules. They could cure his arthritis as easily as a child changing the battery in his favorite toy. But a lowly consulate linguist did not warrant that kind of expense. He could bear a bit of pain for the "good of the people", according to his doctor.

"You're making a huge mistake. Don't go this time. Don't repeat it," said Horner, once his breath had returned to him.

"Don't leave the Ministry this time. Then you won't find yourself an old man in a cold, dank cave, facing an insurmountable task."

Horner stood and drew six pence from his pants pocket. Neither man could see it through the Sphere's overlay, but they were shiny as if new. He had polished them every night for more than thirty-five years.

"You kept them," said Linus.

"As proof -- and as a reminder."

"I don't need proof. I believe you are me. You've just made a mistake; a mistake I don't intend to repeat."

"I'm sure I said the same thing when I was on your end of this farce."

"But you were wrong, which means you were weak. I am not weak."

Linus pulled the scream gun from his coat pocket and squeezed the trigger.

To be continued

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Today’s Word: Enamored

Linus bent and retrieved the six pence from the cave floor. He slipped them into his pocket.

"We're coming to a crux, you and I," said Linus.

"In more ways than even we realize, I'm certain."

Linus continued facing away from Horner. His arms hung loosely, but Horner could see that the right was very near his coat pocket.

"I'm going to get in that machine," said Linus.

"You mustn't."

"Why? What do you know that I don't?" Linus finally turned to face his alter-self.

"I know that you – that we are the first Empyrean Minister." The memory seemed to come with the words, the way happy feelings sometimes come with a smile; not before, not after, but with. "I never traveled back. I –"

" – lived on."

A wave of nausea took them both. Linus weathered the bout easily, only uttering a small grunt as his hand moved to his stomach. Horner doubled over and nearly vomited. He held his breath and swallowed as his own stomach cramped hard enough to make his eyes water.

When he could open his mouth again he said, "Time brought us here. We're chasing the same prey from opposite ends of a field. You see it springing towards you; I see it leaping away."

"We are Linus Turring. The Linus Turring. Can that be so bad?"

"What of the wars, the ethnic cleansing?" asked Horner.

"Necessary. Completely necessary for society's forward progression."

He was YOUTH. Horner could see that now. Linus was the product of a society so enamored with its own prowess it couldn't look upon itself with any true insight. His entire life he had been told he was the best, the brightest, and all those different from himself were worthless.

YOUTH was worse than brain flush. It was brain fix.

To be continued

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Today’s Word: Persona

Linus stared at Old Horner. For the briefest of moments, Horner thought his younger self might reach for the scream gun, but the moment passed, and Linus didn't move.

"You're my outcome," said Linus.


"What do you want?"

"I must stop you."

"I've been dreaming about this machine for twenty-seven years. Every moment of my adult life I've spent searching for it, knowing that one day time would bring me close enough to grasp it, and you want to stop me?"

"I must," said Horner. He didn't think he could stop Linus, not physically. But like his younger self, he refused to believe time had brought him here to no avail.

Linus turned towards the machine.

"How did you travel back to this time?"

"I don't know. I or someone else, flushed my memory about thirty-five years ago. I had a persona, a wife, kids. I didn't know anything was amiss until you were born. That's when the flashes began. The –"


"Yes, the dreams."

To be continued

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Today’s Word: Momentous

The cave opened into an oblong space not much wider than the tunnel spilling into it. Uneven rock sloped toward the center, seeming to urge old Horner on, but he stopped at the entrance to this natural room. He might have crouched, but his knees would have never borne the torment and he had no doubt both his alter-self and Mance were using night vision overlays like his own.

The two younger men stood in the center of the space, circling slowly around an oval-shaped structure that seemed too black in Horner's enhanced vision. He recognized it at once. The time machine that had pervaded his dreams for decades.

Young Horner stopped moving and bent to inspect a patch of raw earth where lay six pence lined up on the floor. They looked like tiny black moons aligned on some momentous day of signs and wonders.

"Just as I said, eh, Linus?"

Linus, that was his name. That was Horner's first name, the name before the flush. Linus Turring – same as the first Empyrean Minister. Of course there was nothing special about that. Millions of young men were named after the First Minister. Some families had even changed their surnames to Turring during the First Reign. Horner was half convinced that was the case for his own family.

"I just transferred the funds to your account," said Linus. "You may leave me."

"And miss what happens next? I want to see you use this here thing."

Linus stood. He was a tall man, not muscular, but slim and lithe. Horner couldn't see the expression on his younger self's face, but he recognized the body, the movement of that body.

Linus drew a scream gun from a pocket in his short coat. He gave Mance no warning; no parting words. He simply pulled the trigger, sending a cone of emerald green light across the cave. Mance took the brunt of the laser fire in the chest. He uttered a harsh cry, staggered back, and fell, boneless, to the earth.

Linus pocketed the gun and turned back to the time machine.

"Do you know how to open the hatch?" asked Horner.

Linus did not start, but turned slowly to face his alter-self.

"I know, but how is that? Can a man remember forward?" he asked, his voice level as a blanket of snow on a field.

Horner took three steps towards the center of the room to stand before his young self.

"I'm finding that a man can remember in many different directions."

To be continued

Monday, September 15, 2003

Today’s Word: Spelunking

Horner stood in the cave entrance for several seconds, querying the Sphere for an optical vision overlay. Of course the semi-sentient nodes, of which there were several million between Horner's brain and the Sphere core, had to check his complete background, analyze his current position and situation, and gage the seriousness of his query before there was any response. There wasn't much to find. Since his brain flush over thirty-five years ago, Horner had been working as a foreign language scribe in the New Chicago consulate. He had, at some point before the flush, shunted Arabic, German, French, and Hebrew, none of which were affected by the flushing process. Some people couldn't learn a language through shunt, but others, like Horner, seemed to have a brain designed for synapse remapping.

The cave flickered twice, then revealed itself in clear shades of orange. The nodes had found nothing in either Horner's past or present to deny him four hours of spelunking. A small display in the far periphery of his vision counted down the time.

There was no delay in Horner's night vision, though he knew that the input from his eyes was being directly inputted to the Sphere, digitally enhanced to provide night vision, and then shunted directly into Horner's brain. It seemed like there should be a delay, but there wasn't. Perhaps not everything about the Empyrean Ministry was bad.

He picked his way carefully, aware that if he should fall and break an ankle or hip, he might well starve to death before the nodes found reason to send help. Everything was about superior use of resources in the Empyrean Ministry. And saving an old fart from his own stupidity did not fall into that category.

The cave narrowed, widened, and then forked left and center. Horner, relying on the insistent tug of time with its aggravating bursts of insight and depressing doldrums of nothingness, followed the center course. He moved quietly for a man of his age; a man who had spent too many years warming a cushioned chair before a computer. The only sound louder than his soft foot strikes, was the sound of an old man wheezing through lungs more accustomed to the rarified air of office buildings and courthouses than dank underground tunnels. Maybe if things went wrong this time, he could remember to work out in the next go round.

To be continued

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Today’s Word: Faux

Mance and Horner's alter-self entered a copse of trees in the center of the park. No trace of this area remained in old Horner's mind – time's folds of memory were like analog waves, reaching him only at peaks and valleys, with gaps in between. He had to go on faith – time was leaving him blind.

He rushed through the tangle of vines, leaves and thick branches, chasing the younger men like a beat cop, pre-Empyrean style. But within the space of several minutes the younger men were far ahead, and Horner lost sight of them.

He wouldn't turn back, even if he never found them. He'd die in this faux forest in the middle of New Chicago if that's what it took. Either way, he would have another chance, and another; as many as it took to end this.

A thicket of blackberry bushes darkened a rocky outcropping just ahead. Almost by rote, as if he'd repeated this action a thousand times before, Horner's feet took him to that spot. Ignoring the thorns, he brushed a great swath of briars from the rock face, revealing a cave opening.

"Time be not a fool, my young seed," said Horner.

He entered the cave.

To be continued

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Today’s Word: Marionette

Horner hid behind a tree as his much younger twin and Mance stood conversing on the field of green. Joggers passed by, pounding out their mandatory three miles a day, while couples on soft-colored spreads shared low fat cream cheese and fruit. None of them knew their lives were being doomed to the Empyrean's rule once again (perhaps for the second time, perhaps the billionth). And none, it would seem, could feel the near-overwhelming waves of nausea clawing at Horner's insides. He felt like a marionette whose strings were being pulled sharply back, as if to pull him away from something.
"Time won't be fooled," said Horner, in a low voice.
His alter-self and Mance started away, and Horner followed.

To be Continued

Friday, September 05, 2003

Today’s Word: Spark

Horner rejoined the river of men and women, pushing himself not only to find Mance, but to stay ahead of the impatient Gen-Alphas. The effort paid off. He spotted Mance crossing the block towards the city park, seeming to be in no hurry to make his appointment, thank God.
Horner entered the park gates about forty-five seconds after his target. He spotted Mance crossing the wooden bridge over the duck pond, shambling slowly in the general direction of the wide, green meadow known as Prisen field.
Some flash of memory, so rare after a complete neural flush years and years ago, sparked in Horner's old mind. It was here; here that his divergent twin had met, will meet, Mance – on the green.

To be Continued

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Today’s Word: Bawdy

Horner took the corner and found himself in a river of teeming humanity. He moved with the crowd, fearing to stop, fearing to be pushed over and trampled by gray-suited women wearing winter colors, or bawdy teenagers slickvests and sporting spiked haircuts to better expose their cerebral-shunts and auditory stims. He edged into the lee of an old fashioned stoop, and attempted to look over the heads of the crowd, but it was a fruitless effort. Most of these were Gen-Alphas: pride of the Empyrean Ministry. Their lithe frames were far too tall for a pre-Alpha to look over. Horner looked back the way he came, but didn't see Mance. He was losing time; he was losing Mance. Quickly, he reentered the throng, pushing his tired old legs to keep pace with the young, the strong, the impatient.
Horner blinked, querying the Sphere for a downtown map and the current time. 1353. His self was literally moments away in time and probably only blocks in distance. He'd waited over forty years for this day. He wouldn't let it slip through his fingers again.

To be Continued

Monday, September 01, 2003

Today’s Word: Bedraggled

Horner leaned on the wall next to the phone. Freddie's, the city's most popular open-air bar and grill, was busy this afternoon. Waitresses and busboys scampered about, clearing away dirty silverware and wheeling in tray-carts full of steaks, hotdogs, and onion rings. It was hard to hear the man speaking on the phone over all that racket, especially with the People's Voice and Eye shunted directly into Horner's auditory nerves, but the lives of millions depended on this conversation, he had to hear.
"Yeah, it was just like you said, nothing but six pence and a time machine," said the man on the phone. He was a large man, unshaven, and wearing a bedraggled brown sport coat that ended at his beltline.
Horner leaned on his cane and inched closer, willing the voices broadcast into his skull to shut-up if only for an instant.
"Nah, I didn't touch nothing," said the man. "Looked like mine were the first footprints ever made in the place. I'll show ya to it, but it'll cost. Two million marks. Nuh-uh. Either you pay in marks -- two million, no less -- or in Droos. I'd say at least twenty pounds, I haven't checked the street value lately. Fine. Two thirty tomorrow."
The man, whom Horner knew to be a low-life private investigator, sometimes bounty hunter, sometimes cat burglar, was named Vincent Mance. Mance hung up the phone and turned to leave. Horner shuffled along behind, mixing with the crowd as they turned onto a busy street, just in case Mance got suspicious, though Horner doubted he'd ever suspect a gimpy sixty-seven year old in shabby corduroy as a tail.
Mance made a right off the main sidewalks into a narrow alley that connected Tenbourough with Maxlie street. Ancient, flaking posters of the Empyrean Minister lined the damp bricks, and sagging clotheslines hung between the buildings like loose rigging on giant sail craft. Mance was the only man in the alley. Horner stood at the entrance, watching his quarry walk steadily away. He couldn't lose him like this. He couldn't let humanity suffer the purge yet again.
Horner stepped into the shadows, his heel-strike echoing off moist brick and dusty glass. The sound of it was like a nuclear blast in his ears, and for a foul, stinking moment he thought Mance might turn around and see him. But the other man never missed a stride. He reached the opposite end of the alleyway by the time Horner was only halfway through, leaving the elderly man to trot after him as best he could with his arthritic knees.

To Be Continued