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.