Wednesday, February 29, 2012

311/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Snow Days" by Real Estate

Those were days of freedom, when mothers didn't know where their children were or what they got up to and didn't care, before video games and stranger danger closed down the wide world to us. Breathing was like snorting pin needles, and the sharp cold seeped into our layers of clothes, but we were impervious, playing out on the ocean ice, oblivious to the threat that the ground beneath us could calve away from shore and float off into the gulf stream.

We constructed opposing forts, stocked with slushy snowballs, and the building and stocking took up the bulk of our time--the war between us was an afterthought. Being pelted in the face with ice wasn't nearly as fun as the anticipation and planning. All our brinkmanship took place in a bay between the suspension bridge and the railyard; a forgotten and undeveloped scab of beach flanked by scraggly trees suffering from too many summers of acid rain and carbon monoxide.

As winter wore on and began to fade, the ice became more waterlogged and spider-veined. Our pantlegs were soaked through by the time we got home to slurp of victory hot chocolates. The days out got cloudier and grimmer with the warmth and we knew the battlefield would be gone soon.

And one day, one of us punched through the soft ice. There were screams and arm waving, and we ran to him, sliding on our knees, with red cheeks, and pulled him out. We laid him on his back and we all laughed, and death wasn't on our young minds. A boot was lost to the sea that slapped the underside of the ice. We walked home, with our friend leaning on our shoulders and hopping on one foot. Our casualty in the war. And we knew that it was over and never to be had again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

310/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Do Ya" by Electric Light Orchestra

In the darkened room, Jacob slumped over the desk, his face lit by the incandescence of the two wide editing screens. His chin was in his hand and there was a sheen of saliva around his mouth. He fought to keep his eyelids open as he wheeled to and fro through the footage. Then the room flooded with light, and Jacob shut his eyes tight to the painful stimulus.

"How's it going?" asked the silhouette in the doorway.

"Urgh," Jacob managed to get out.

"That good huh?"

"Shut the door!"

The light slowly faded. Jacob rubbed his eyes.

"Do you want me to add something new, Karen?"

"I think we're fine for now," said Karen.

"Oh. Every time you come in here you bring some new tape from the campaign trail. I mean, does she ever take a break? She must do a dozen events in a day."

"Not quite that many." Karen sat down in the swivel chair next to Jacob. "But really, how's it going?"

"I've got the fifteen second spot done," said Jacob. He handed Karen a DVDROM. "I think that's the right one."

"You need some rest."

"No kidding. I'm exhausted. And I've got the phrase Luna Diaz for Congress marching through my head like a mantra. I feel like I might never get it out."

"There's seven months left in the campaign," said Karen.

"Ugh," moaned Jacob. He pressed is palms to his eye sockets.

"You know, you are volunteering. You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"No. It's fine. I'm just cranky. I want her to win. I mean, the alternatives are just...grim."

"I wouldn't go that far," chuckled Karen.

"But does she have to go to each little special interest groups function? She treats them all the same--"

"That's the point," said Karen in a motherly tone. "If you're cynical you'll see it as pandering, and if you're optimistic, you'll see it as egalitarian."

Jacob sat and thought about it for a moment.

"I guess I'm not much of an optimist at that point."

Karen clapped him on the back and stood up.

"I'll leave you to your work. You might want to shield your eyes. Oh, and the reason I disturbed you is to tell you that Luna will be by the offices in a few minutes. I know you haven't met her yet, so this would be a good opportunity--"

There were voices outside the door. Karen opened it a crack and peered out.

"She's here! Come on," said Karen.

Jacob got up reluctantly and Karen ushered him out the door and into the blinding light. Luna had just arrived, and wore a baby blue pant suit. Jacob recognized it from some earlier events and mentally ticked off confirmation that she rotated outfits on a ten day schedule.

Luna shook the hands of each of the smiling volunteers. She took a moment to speak to each personally, and never stopped smiling. Jacob rolled his eyes. That's not going to work on me, he thought. Shortly she came to Karen and Jacob and Karen introduced him to her.

"Thank you so much," said Luna, and she extended her hand towards Jacob. Her smile crinkled around her eyes.

"Uh..." muttered Jacob. His hand was instantly both sweaty and cold. He examined her long, straight, black hair, as he smelled the scent of her shampoo. The powder blue weave of her blazer caught his eye. "I like your suit," he whispered.

Luna raised her eyebrows. Karen suppressed a giggle. Jacob flashed Luna a crooked smile and brushed his bangs from his forehead.

"Yes, I do too," she said. She retracted her hand, and pressed the other against his hand. "Thanks again."

She moved along to another volunteer and Jacob gained sudden interest in the berber carpeting. Karen leaned into him.

"It's okay," she whispered.

"No. No it's not." Jacob shook his head vigorously. "That was so not okay."

When Luna was gone and off to her next appointment, Jacob ducked back into the editing room and sat under the desk in the dark. He brought his legs to his chest and pressed his hot face against his knees. Karen crept in after a few minutes and sat down cross-legged beside him.

"You know what she said?" she asked.

Jacob moaned.

"She was flattered that you were so starstruck," said Karen.

"I swore I'd never let that happen to me."

"She said I should give you a raise."

"I'm a volunteer."

"I know. That's a little unfortunate. But it's the thought that counts, right?" Karen put her arm around his shoulder. "On the bright side, because there's always a bright side, at least you didn't blurt it out."

Monday, February 27, 2012

309/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Respect" by Aretha Franklin

The office was untouched by sunlight, perhaps for a decade or more, and stank of food gone to rot while pollen and dust swirled in the air. Margaret held the edge of her tattered scarf over her mouth and nose and watched the banker for a response. He sat picking his castorine teeth and did not look at either her or the application that laid beneath his greasy fingers.

"Mmmm," said the banker, licking the last vestiges of barbecue sauce from around his lips. Margaret cringed. The banker belched.

"Could you--" started Margaret.

"All in good time," he said. "Ma'am," he added as an afterthought.

He eased back in his chair and unbuttoned his pants. He closed his eyes contentedly and Margaret was worried he would start to snore. She shifted noisily in the chair, which wasn't hard to do because it was ancient and riddled with termite passages and at great risk of collapsing. She thought it was fortunate that she was so slender and malnourished.

"You need a loan, do you?" he asked without opening your eyes.

"Yes," said Margaret, "I do."

"You've come to the right place for loans," he said.

"Yes, I know." Where else do you go for loans she thought.

"I don't need to look at this application, my dear, to know that I must deny you any kind of loan."


"It is your kind of course," he sat up and stared at her with wet, red-rimmed beady eyes. "I cannot lend to your kind under any circumstances. I'm sorry you went through the bother of filling out the application. Such a waste of paper."

He picked up the piece of paper, crumpled it, then wiped his fingers and his mouth with it before tossing it at the overflowing waste basket beside his desk.

"My kind..." said Margaret.

"Yes, ma'am, your kind. The poor. Such a bad investment. Such meager and slow returns. Too little interest. Granted, there are bankers, predatory bankers, that will lend to anyone, and they will squeeze your kind," he balled up his fists, put them before himself, then pretended to wring them out, "for everything. I do not run that sort of establishment."

"But you're the only banker in town--"

"Exactly! The other bankers all folded up and moved away. It's not good business lending to the poor."

"But how do you stay in business?" asked Margaret. "Everyone in town is poor."

"Old deeds. There is old money here. Hidden from your kind. There are things at work in this town, and have been for decades, that you have not a whiff of, do you hear? I shouldn't have even told you, but I feel sorry for you."

"All I want to do is fix up my house so I can start a cafe out the back porch."

"Hmmm. A bonafide capitalist." The banker leaned back in his chair again and squinted his eyes at her. "There are regulations, there are health codes, and how are you going to get customers in this poor town?"

"Everyone likes my food," said Margaret.

"And that's your ambition?" He put his thumb to his lips and tapped at his mouth twitchily.

"For now, yes," said Margaret. "I would not like to worry about each new day and where my meals will come from."

"And what do you do now, for money?"

"I mow the cemetery in the summer. I care for my elderly neighbor, and she gives me a few dollars a month."

The banker began to laugh so heartily that his cheeks turned red.

"Is that so funny?" asked Margaret indignantly. She lowered her scarf. "It is better than many!"

"So it is!" said the banker as he wiped his eyes. "But let me give you a piece of friendly advice," he turned suddenly serious, "leave this town. Get as far away as you can--"

"I was born here!"

"That may be, ma'am, but it's not the good place it used to be. The trees have grown fat and tall and crowded out the streets and houses. It is an unnatural, ludicrous, and inexplicable thing, and its spreading, and if you have any sense you will leave."

Neither, for a moment, spoke.

"If you believe that, why don't you leave?" asked Margaret.

The banker snorted out through his nose.

"Now don't go prying," he said slyly.

"I just want to know why a man won't follow his own advice."

"You amused me ma'am, and I feel guilty for it, but our time is at an end."

He gestured towards the door. Margaret did not stir from her seat.

"There is money in the trees," said Margaret.

"Money, as they say, does not grow on trees," said the banker.

"You don't lend money to people because that's not your job here. You're just protecting some interested party, and you've stopped up the financial plumbing of this town, haven't you?" Margaret stood and shook a bony finger at him.

"What a colorful metaphor my dear! But like I said, you would do best to leave--"

"My people have lived in this town for over a century, and you will not be the one to drive me--"

Margaret clutched her throat as her eyes bulged. The banker looked on, mildly concerned. She coughed and hacked and up came spots of blood. She threw out her hands and bend over the desk--stringy, bloody mucous flowed out, and then she gave one last large cough and out came a tiny green sprout. She laid it on the desk and sat back in the rickety chair, suddenly exhausted.

The banker looked at the sprout with disgust.

"It's gotten into you as well," said the banker. "Maybe it is too late for you to leave."

"It's just the pollen getting into my lungs," said Margaret. "It happens to everyone around here. It's not like I'm going to turn into a tree." She paused, then looked at him with concern. "Am I?"

The banker looked at her with pity, then opened his desk drawer. He pulled out a large ledger that was covered in dust, placed in on the desk, and opened the over in a gray puff.

"How much do you think you will need?" he asked.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

308/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Sunblocks" by Ratatat

"What do you think it is?"

I waited for professor Darvnell's reaction but he just stared quietly at the fossils in the drawer I had pulled out. He poked at one, the piece of jawbone, with a pen then quickly resheathed the pen in his inside coat pocket.

"Close it up," he said. There was irration in his voice.

I closed the drawer with shhink. He looked at me sternly, then walked back down the aisle of fossil storage cases.

"Professor? What is your opinion?"

He turned and looked at me, then turned back and kept walking.

"Forget about it. Don't pursue it," he said. Then he pushed through the double doors at the end of the room and was gone.

I looked at the closed cabinet. Why would he say something like that? Surely this was an important find, and why nobody ever made note of it before was a mystery. I slid the drawer open again and examined the pieces, picking them up in gloved hands.

They were recovered sometime in the 1890s, in the Amazon basin, and dated to five hundred thousand years ago--they were undoubtedly anachronistic for a human skeleton. There was the jawbone with the notched canine. The scapula with bore holes, the rib fragments, the tibia, and the assorted metatarsals. Then there was the vertebra made of metal. Even stranger. There were no casting or tool marks.

I took the vertebra out of the drawer and slipped it into my pocket then closed the drawer shut again. I walked back to my office on the other side of the department. Everyone was on they're way out the door, eager for the long weekend to begin. I shared an office with a paleobotanist. He was cleaning our mutual coffee pot and humming to himself as I sat down at my desk. I fondled  the vertebra in my pocket.

"It's a nice evening," he said to me smiling.

"Sure. You going home?"

He sighed and looked at a stack of papers on his desk.

"I've got grading," he said.

I was getting impatient.

"Take them home," I said. "Enjoy the evening, then grade them tomorrow."

"My wife doesn't like it when I bring work home," he said, then sat heavily at his desk.

"Come on," I said. "Wouldn't she rather have you there than here?"

"No, haha," he laughed. Good grief.

"What class is it?" I asked. "Maybe I can help you out."

"I don't want to owe you," he said. "You're up to something."


"In that case, I don't want to get involved. It never ends well."

He stood and packed up the stack of papers and gave me a dirty look. Finally. Sometimes it was good to have a mousey office mate. When he was gone I locked the door and got out my tools. I placed the vertebra on the workbench behind my desk. I waited a few minutes longer to allow more stragglers to leave the building, and watched out the window to make sure the parking lot was empty before plugging in the saw.

If Darvnell said to forget about the find, that meant that no one would notice what I was about to do for a very long time. I held the vertebra steady and sliced into it. The work went quickly, as I suspected it would--since the piece was so light. I cut it in half down the midline then turned off the saw. I pulled apart the halves, and inside was the crisscross lattice that was nearly identical to bone. There was no way this was manufactured. It was grown.

I sliced off a tiny sliver, then put it under my microscope. The structure may have looked like bone at first look, but magnified, it was clearly geometrical. It looked to be an alloy of aluminum, iron, and probably a few other things. I'm not a chemical engineer so I don't really know. As I left the specimen under the light, I noticed that it began to change. It was imperceptible at first, but some of the struts started to move, changing their length, then the ones near the top squashed themselves. All I could think of was that they were doing it to absorb the light.

Then I made the big mistake. I took off one of my gloves and touched the sliver with a bare finger. It stuck to me like velcro. I immediately tried to pull it off, but it started to press into my skin. There were little droplets of blood, and this seemed to encourage it. I panicked and thrashed about the room trying to get it off and out of me, but within a minute it was gone, completely inside my finger. I felt nauseated.

I put my glove back on and packed up the halves of the vertebra and any shard of it that the saw had left behind. I ferried them back to the other side of the department and put them back in the drawer. Then I went and sat in my car, now the only one in the parking lot.

I started to shiver, and my finger started to swell. There was a dark bruise where the metal came into me. I tried not to think about it, and drove home. I spent the weekend in bed. All my bones ached, and there was no over the counter pain killer that could get rid of it. My mouth tasted sour and brushing did nothing to help. I made it to my Monday afternoon class, but could do nothing but give a pop quiz. The pain persisted for another week, and then, it was gone. Forever. I felt fantastic.

"You look better," said my office made.

"I am," I said. "You wouldn't believe."

"Huh," he said skeptically.

I grinned.

A few days later Darvnell called me into his office. I thought it might be about the new grant money being parcelled out but it wasn't.

"You've changed," he said.

"I have," I said, smiling.

"I know what you did," he said.

"What did I do?" I looked at him with innocent puppy eyes.

He stood and came around to my side of his desk.

"You're going to learn the magnitude of what you've done," he said. "Give me your hand."

"What for?"

"Give me your hand." He held out his.

I reluctantly put mine in his and then--it was electric, and we were connected. My hand fused with his and there was a slick layer of blood squeezed out from between our hands, but more than that, I could see what he could see. I could hear through his ears. I could access his memories, and he mine. I pulled my hand away, and pink threads of flesh stretched between us, but it wasn't painful. We separated completely, and the connection was gone.

He walked back to his side of the desk and took a tissue from a lower drawer. He pressed it to his bleeding hand then gave me one to do the same.


"I don't know precisely what it is," said Darvnell, "but you're not the first person who was curious about it."


"There are twelve of us so far," he said. "And you can't die now. Not from natural causes, and not from trauma. You'll have to live your life carefully. I'll introduce you to the others soon. We have quarterly meetings. We discuss theories and such."

"What, a little secret society..."

"Sort of. You can't...pass this on. Think of what could happen if it got into the wrong hands. We'd all be part of an immortal hive organism in no time."

"You can't be serious. Why not just destroy it?"

"I can't be. So we let it be, and put it a place where forgotten things go. It's worked reasonably well so far."

"It's a dangerous strategy. And I can't help but think you want people to stumble across it--"

"The right people."

I stood up, nodding. My throat felt a little dry. So. Immortality among a group of dusty academics. How dull. I left Darvnell's office and made plans for a very long vacation.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

307/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Wannamama" by Pop Levi

Pio awoke clinging to a pine tree. He shivered from the cold and the dew that saturated his thick coat of midnight blue fur. He unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth and swallowed the bitter taste of sleeping through the night.

"Where is mother?" he said aloud.

The tree stood in stoney silence and did not respond. Pio looked down through the needles and towards the ground. He saw for the first time how long and thin his legs were. He pulled his shiny black claws from the bark and slowly inched his way down to the ground.

"Where is mother?" he asked again when he reached the ground.

The ground refused to answer as well. Pio began to feel the first tremors of fear. He wrapped his long arms around himself. A deer came into view and started to scratch its thigh on a rotting log. Pio loped towards it, and found that it barely came to his knee. When he stood right next to it, the deer suddenly stopped scratching, its leg still raised awkwardly. It flicked an ear and then an eye in his direction without moving any other part of itself.

"Where is mother?" Pio asked the deer.

The deer flinched, and then a moment later leapt over the log, into the ferny undergrowth and soon disappeared completely. Pio frowned. Then he saw a worn path in the forest and decided to follow it. He covered the ground quickly, but the branches of the trees that hung over the path kept getting in his eyes and he had to swat them away. He was getting scared and frustrated.

Then he heard voices. He stopped, hopeful. He saw two humans walking towards him on the path. They carried sticks and wore orange and they were speaking and laughing. Pio's heart leapt at the sight of them. He ran towards them, crashed through the bush. The men stopped suddenly and raised their sticks.

"What the hell is that!?" one of the screamed.

"Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!" replied the other.

They lifted their sticks and fired. The blasts hit Pio in his paunchy abdomen and he fell to his knees, clutching his middle. Then men fired again, and Pio vomited up inky black blood. He fell forward with a thunderous crash.

The men stared at him, panting and breathless.

"What is it?" whispered one.

"Is it dead?" whispered the other.

"It looks like..."

"A big muppet?" finished the other.

They were both silent and frozen in their steps for a moment.

"Maybe it's from another planet."

"Why couldn't we have come across Sasquatch or something? Why...this?"

Pio moved his hand towards them and the men jumped back.

"Where is mother?" asked Pio.

"That's...that's the baby? Whoooh."

"And we just killed it. That's not good. Not good at all."

"Yeah. Let's...let's go."

The two men turned and ran back down the path until they were out of sight.

Pio started to cry big inky tears.

"Where are you?" he said quietly, but the forest did not reply.

Friday, February 24, 2012

306/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "You You You You You" by The 6ths and Katharine Whalen

"But I love him mom!" screamed Bella with tears streaming down her purple face.

"You're grounded!" screamed her mother back and rolling onto the balls of her feet to do it. "You're not allowed back on the internet until you have some rational sense!"

"You can't separate us forever! I'm going to marry him!" Bella spat out the words, then ran for the staircase, thumped up to her bedroom, slammed the door, then made sure to wail extra loud so her pain would be heard by her parents.

"When did things come to this?" asked her father. He stood in the kitchen doorway with a bowl of melted ice cream in one hand and a poised spoon in the other.

"I don't know what we did wrong," said her mother, suddenly sobbing. She sat on the arm of the sofa and slumped, her eyes faraway.

"Tiffany, it'll pass," he said. He walked to her and put his arm around her shoulders.

"I can't believe you're not angry about this, Brad," said Tiffany, sniffling.

"Well, she can't get pregnant," he said.

Tiffany scoffed loudly.

"You know, it could be worse," he continued.

"She wants to marry him! That's not even possible!"

"Why not?" asked Brad.

Tiffany shoved his arm off her shoulder and glared at him.

"Are you serious?"

"I'm just saying, maybe it doesn't matter."

"Of course it matters! How can he possibly love her back? How can they have a life together, or children?"

"They could have children like him," said Brad.

"Oh, hell no! I'm not gonna have any virtual grandbabies!"

"Well maybe it's not your choice to make--"

"She's seventeen," said Tiffany sternly. "It's not her choice either. When she's through with college then it's her choice, but until then, absolutely I have a say!"


"My child is not going to marry any virtual person in any simulation, I don't care how real the simulation is and I don't care what famous actor that virtual person looks and acts like."


"No. My foot is down. See this?" She stomp. "Foot. Floor. Down. Final. Shhhhppp!"

Brad looked at his wife for a moment.

"Okay," he said, then slurped up a spoonful of melted ice cream.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

305/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "The Mating Game" by Bitter:Sweet

The night was cool as agent Knight slipped into the harbor at Vladivostok. He ducked under the surface and tested his rebreather, then pushed down through the murky ocean, his wrist computer beeping out the location of the submarine. He found it quickly, touching it gently so as not to be heard from the inside, then followed the curve of the black hull down to the underside of the ship.

He inched along and found the emergency access hatch. He spun the screw wheel and pulled violently down on the door to counteract the outside pressure. The door released and water flooded up into the cabin inside as the pressure equalized. He pulled himself up and inside, then pulled the hatch closed again.

"We meet again, Mr. Knight. Hands on your head and turn around."

Knight smiled and slowly raised his hands, placing them on his head.

"Miss Friday Bloodworth, isn't it?"

He turned around slowly. An athletic woman in a black bikini and wet hair held a gun pointed at him. Knight grinned.

"Sorry about the mess," he said, glancing down at the pooled water.

"Which one?" asked Bloodworth with a snarl. "The hotel in Cairo where you killed five of my men--"

"They were trying to kill me first," said Knight.

"--Or the casino in Las Vegas where you killed twelve?"

"I was just trying to enjoy a card game."

"You enjoyed yourself too much."

"Well, would you like to find out just how much I can enjoy myself?"

Bloodworth rolled her eyes then stepped over the hatch and quickly frisked Knight. She found a knife and threw it to the floor.

"Guns don't work very well underwater," said Knight.

"Take off your gear," she said, stepping back. He did.

"Now move. Aft."

Knight turned around and started down the hallway. The submarine was refitted but sleek--the luxurious personal vehicle of a wealthy eccentric, and Knight hoped to meet him promptly.

"In here," said Bloodworth when they reached a portal. Knight pushed down on the lever and opened the door. They stepped through into a large room with a thick white carpet, a round bed, and a massive cherry desk decorated with gold leaf. Behind the desk was the back of a chair that faced a bank of plasma screens that monitored a variety of global news feeds.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I found Mr. Knight prowling around."

The chair slowly revolved around. Seated in it was tall, thin woman who wore nothing but a black silk dressing gown.

"Aaah," she said.

Agent Knight furrowed his brow.

"Who are you?" he asked, confused.

"Me?" she laughed. "You know me as The Spider, Mr. Knight. A slightly unfair moniker, but I don't really mind. Were you expecting someone else?"

"You're The Spider?" he asked, more to himself than to her.

"Yes," she said. "You thought I would be a man, didn't you?" She laughed again. "Well Mr. Knight, this is the twenty-first century. You shouldn't be so surprised."

She nodded to Bloodworth and she shoved Knight in the back and he moved closer to the desk.

"You've come for the codes, haven't you Mr. Knight?"

Knight said nothing, but clenched his jaw tight. The Spider continued.

"You can't have them you know. You shouldn't have stuck your nose in other people's business."

"It's my job," he said.

"So it is." She smiled. "For Her Majesty, am I right?"

Knight again held his silence. The Spider stood up from her chair and sat on the edge of the desk.

"The British government can take a number. There are plenty of governments that are willing to pay me handsomely for the codes, and yet you have the audacity to try to steal them? You know, this doesn't have to be hard."

"An auction..." said Knight.

"That's new information to you?" asked The Spider. "Your reputation has you being more intelligent than you apparently are. I'm disappointed. Tie him up."

Bloodworth retrieved a length of cord from a cabinet then forced Knight into a chair and tied his hands behind the back of it.

"If the British aren't interested in buying the codes, maybe they will be interested in buying you." She returned to watching the news feeds.

"I think you're bluffing," said Knight. "You really don't have anything."

The Spider turned around and smirked at him.

"Really now," she chuckled. "I suppose you want to see them?"

"Yes," said Knight.

The Spider laughed until she started to tear up.

"Oh, Mr. Knight, you are quite amusing."

"Aurum rex," said Knight.

The Spider immediately became serious.

"What do you know about that?" she asked pointedly.

Knight smiled. Bloodworth gave him a perplexed look.

"Now it's for me to say that you're bluffing."

"The codes for my silence on the matter," said Knight.

The Spider looked at Bloodworth, crossed her arms and exhaled abruptly.

"I don't think you're in a position to negotiate--"

"February 12th 1999..." said Knight.

The Spider widened her eyes.

"...The Lincoln Memorial in Washington--"

"Enough!" shouted The Spider.

"The codes."

The Spider gritted her teeth and glared at Knight, then walked over to a wall, pressed a panel and pulled out a hidden shelve with a lockbox.

"What are you doing?" asked Bloodworth. "We can just kill him to keep him silent!"

"No! If he knows, the British government knows. It's not worth it."


"Are you questioning me, Friday?"

Bloodworth looked over at Knight, then back to The Spider.

"No...but I really can't stand him. Can't we kill him anyway?"

The Spider smirked.

"That's not very civil."

"We're international criminals. I don't think there's very high expectations of us."

"Well, maybe I'll let you play with him a bit before we let him go."

The Spider punched in a keycode and the box opened up. She took out a white paper envelope. She brought it over to Knight and stood in front of him. She carefully opened the envelope and took out a slim sheet of steel that was punched through with an arrangement of tiny pinholes. She held it up for him to see.

"I never bluff," said The Spider.

"But I do," said Bloodworth. She squeezed the trigger and shot The Spider in the head. Instantly dead, she fell to the floor in a heap, her face with a shocked expression.

"You're full of surprises," said Knight as he looked at her in astonishment.

Bloodworth bent down and picked up the steel card then put it into a hidden pocket in her bikini bottoms.

"You're tiresome," said Bloodworth.

"Who do you work for?" asked Knight.

"You think I'm just going to tell you?" she said, winking at him.

"It was worth a shot," he said.

"Let's just say we're not enemies," she padded towards the door and leaned her head against it to listen for footsteps. "You should be able to get out of that knot in under a minute."

"Thanks," said Knight. "But I was hoping you could stay." He nodded towards the bed.

Bloodworth rolled her eyes again.

"You're not getting the codes," she said, before slipping out the door with the gun in front of her.

"That's not what I meant," he said to himself when she was gone, then sighed heavily. "Damn."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

304/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Two Weeks" by Grizzly Bear

Rain dripped down the inside walls of the house in the quiet of early morning. Insects stirred in the softened wood beneath the buckling paint and wallpaper. A closet that used to contain a wedding dress encased in plastic now was home to a family of raccoons, curled up together, sheltering from the constant wet.

Outside, a cool breeze blew, a precursor to a storm. A pair of deer ate the wildflowers that grew at the edge of the porch. In summers past a woolly black dog would lay along the boards on his side, avoiding the sun. A child once dumped a full tray of ice cubes on him as he lay panting. He lifted his head slightly to give the child a dirty look but then laid his head down again and enjoyed the cold deliquescence.

The house creaked as the wind increased. The bats inside the roof clustered closer together and had fitful sleep. Their droppings were piled on a plastic tub that contained half the bones of middle-aged man who was never resident in the house until after he died.

Sea water washed into the yard from the oncoming storm surge. It pooled into the sunken area above the old septic tank. The weakened earth broke apart. A shard of old lacquered wood bobbed up and floated in a slow outwardly turning spiral.

The rough edge of the storm made landfall. The trees swayed and splintered--a trunk cracked, rupturing up the center from the root and half of it split away and plunged into the roof of the house. The shingles slid and terrified bats flew and the deadened weight of the tree pushed through three floors. What glass wasn't already broken from decades of neglect shivered and fissured and eructed outward, splaying to bits in the storm.

The storm continued to lash away and the rotted wooden softened bones of the house gave out. The walls fell and the house became a pile. The tub in the attic rolled out into the yard and lost its lid. The brown bones inside spilled into the septic tank hole where they had been hastily excavated from, and sunk into the mud where they came to rest next to the grave of their other half and in a way, remade the man who originally built the house, centuries ago, with his own hands.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

303/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Cherry Blossom Girl" by AIR

The doll came in a shiny pink cardboard box that Thalia unwrapped at her fifth birthday party. Children on a sugar high were running around and screeching, and her parents looked at her, seeking a reaction. The doll stared back at her with painted eyes and a wide toothy grin. Its head was too big for its body which was made of pliant plastic. It was dressed in a mesh tutu.

"Her name is Cherie. She's a ballerina. Just like you," said Thalia's mother.

"She's a doll," said Thalia.

"Yes," said her father. His smile was fading as he saw none appear on Thalia's.

"I don't like dolls," said Thalia. She put the box down on the sofa next to her and picked up the next present, which, happily, was a video game. Her father shrugged and her mother sighed.

Later that night, when all the guests had gone home, Thalia brought the box up to her room and tossed it into the back of the closet. She buried it well underneath stuffed toys and a layer of winter clothes. Her mother went up a few minutes later to read her a story, and when that was over, Thalia laid in bed thinking of the day and what it meant to be a year older, but in reality only a day older, and stared at her nightlight that was shaped like a glowworm. Activity downstairs slowly quieted down and Thalia felt her eyes get heavy.

The closet door creaked.

Thalia squeezed her eyes shut and brought the covers up around her face.

There were two footsteps.

Thalia curled up into the fetal position and tried to will herself to look like just another innocuous pillow.

"Thalia," said a singsong voice.

Thalia squeezed her fists tight and held her breath.

"I got out of my box," said the singsong voice. Then it giggled.

Thalia opened her eyes wide and jumped up, clutching the blankets so that they balled up in front of her. She didn't see anything at first.

"Silly girl," said the voice.

Then Thalia saw it. It was six feet tall, with unnaturally long, slender legs. Its head tottered at the top, with dead painted eyes. Its mouth was a gaping gash filled with thin long teeth. The tutu was voluminous.

Thalia screamed.

"Dance with me," giggled the ballerina, raising herself up onto her toes and turning in a circle.

"Are you going to eat me?!"

"Dance with me Thalia!" repeated the ballerina.

There were fast footsteps on the stairs. Thalia violently threw her blanks at the ballerina and managed to cover its large head. Thalia jumped down from her bed as the ballerina stumbled and fell. Thalia ran into the legs of her mother.

"You just had a nightmare," said her mother groggily.

Thalia screamed again and pointed at the writhing mound on the floor. Her mother screamed. There were more footsteps on the stairs.

"John! John!" screamed Thalia's mother.

Her father leapt up the stairs two at a time and saw the ballerina on the floor.

"What the--oh my god, oh my god!"

He picked up Thalia and rushed her downstairs. Her mother followed close behind, then found her old softball bat in the hall closet, ran back up stairs and beat the ballerina until it stopped moving.

She pulled back the blankets. The ballerina's plastic head was split open and there was nothing inside. Sweating and shaking, she walked backwards to the top of the stairs, keeping her eyes on the ballerina.

"John?" she asked loudly down the stairwell.

"Yeah?" he replied.

"Is there a city ordinance against burning plastic in the back yard, do you know?"

"Probably," he replied.

"Damn," said Thalia's mother. "Thalia sweetie?"

"Uh huh," stammered Thalia as she clutched herself close to her father's chest.

"I don't like dolls either," replied her mother.

Monday, February 20, 2012

302/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "End of Line" by Daft Punk from the TRON: Legacy soundtrack

The doctor's office was painted a disconcerting shade of gray, like storm clouds on a summer day, or wet pigeon feathers. It didn't help that the room was cold. Annika was fully dressed and sitting on the exam bed facing doctor Ivory who stood and smiled back at her. Annika was disconcerted by that smile. He kept varying it ever so slightly, as if thoughts were racing through his head that wanted to be spoken aloud but some greater part of him felt the need to censor those thoughts.

"So..." prompted Annika.

"Ah yes. It doesn't hurt. The procedure. It doesn't hurt. It does take a while." He spoke seriously but then the smile was back.

"Okay," said Annika. "What now?"

"You're in good health of course, so you will be able to proceed. With the procedure. You can leave your things here--you're not wearing any metal are you? Jewellery?"


Doctor Ivory ushered her through the door and down the hall. It wasn't a clinic or a hospital, but a lab in a university. Annika thought the money from participating in the study would help with the rising cost of tuition. They turned a corner and went through a set of fire doors. There were hazardous materials signs on some of the doors in the hallway. Annika felt a slight twinge that so much radioactive material was being housed in this wing. Doctor Ivory glanced back at her a few times with that unending smile. She forced a smile back at him.

"Here we are." He led her through a thankfully unmarked door into a room crammed with computers and cobbled-together equipment. There were also several lab assistants eating lunch and chatting. They went silent when they saw Annika.

"Fresh meat?" asked one of them, a man about twenty-five.

"Yes," said doctor Ivory.

"I'm not meat," Annika protested.

"Oh, no of course not!" said Ivory. "We treat everyone with the utmost care. It's just a bit of fun."

"Sorry," said the assistant.

"Are you ready?" asked another assistant, a woman who looked to be in her fifties.

"I guess," said Annika. "What do you need me to do?"

"She hasn't been completely briefed," said Ivory.

"That's your job," said the woman.

Doctor Ivory shrugged then quickly left the room.

"He always ends up making me do it," said the woman. "Fine." She turned to Annika. "You at least know that you're going to have your brain mapped. We're going to put you in the mapper--"

"Basically a modified fMRI machine," interjected the younger assistant.

"Yes. And that should be fine unless you're a bit claustrophobic, which you're not are you?"

"No, not really I guess," said Annika.

"Good. This next part tends to creep people out, but it's actually very harmless. might have a small amount of memory loss, but it's not detrimental, it's just to your short term memory. It's not like we're erasing anything."

All the lab assistants chuckled at the joke but Annika stared at them and thought about just leaving.

"What we do is induce a seizure."

"It's low level."

"Yes, there will be no damage."

"A seizure?" asked Annika, very worried. "You mean I'm going to flop around?"

"Not that kind of seizure."

"No, you will be physically safe."

"We're going to apply a low current to your brain to prep it--"

"What?" asked Annika.

"It's safe."

"Totally safe. And then you will be stimulated with audio and visual inputs."

"This is done to active certain areas of the brain. Sort of to drill down."

"The whole process is a little like taking a barium marker when you're getting your digestive system mapped. Does that make sense?"

Annika stared back at the assistants.

"Okay, I guess," she said resignedly.

Five hours later she woke up in the wet pigeon room on the exam bed. Doctor Ivory was seated opposite her with his long legs crossed. He was tapping on a laptop. When he saw that she was stirring he reassumed the smile.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"I'm a bit dizzy," said Annika. "Did I faint or something? When do we start this procedure thingy?"

"Oh, you're done. I figured you might have some memory loss. It took more current than predicted to stimulate the seizure. You have a thick skull."

"You mean I'm done?"

"Yes," said doctor Ivory, his smile widening briefly as if he was contemplating an internal joke.

"No," said Annika skeptically. "Was I in the control group or something?"

"I can't answer that," said doctor Ivory.

Annika sat up completely.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

Doctor Ivory let his smile fade.

"What's wrong?" asked Annika.

"Nothing," he replied. "You just don't like my smile."

"No would you know that?"

"You're a very practical person. Not often swayed by your emotions. That's useful."

Annika watched him. The smile was completely gone now, but he wasn't menacing. There was a part of him that made her feel like she was looking into a mirror.

"Doctor Ivory, what do you do with the maps once you have them?"

"They go into a database," he said. "We study them. Compare them."

"You use them, don't you."

"And you're analytical." His smile returned. "Yes. It can be hard to hide sometimes, especially when the imprint is fresh."

Annika took in a sharp breath.

"You've transferred my brain to yours? How does that work?"

"That's not it. Your map is overlayed on my brain. The pathways. I don't share your memories or anything. Just the parts of your personality that I've found useful."

Annika slipped off the bed and stood. The dizziness was gone.

"That can't be ethical," she said.

"No, it's not. But the procedure is not harmful to you. And you have been paid."

The pigeon gray pressed in on her and she felt colder; her fingertips tingled.

"Sure," she said, nodding. "Sure."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

301/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Intermission" by Senator & The New Republic

"I'm angry," said Mrs. Moon as I asked her to sit down. We were in my office in the police department.

"Would you like coffee or anything?" I asked.

"No," she said. "I'd like to have a smoke."

"There's no smoking in the building Mrs. Moon."

"That's fine," she said, "but you have a window. I'm going to open it, and I'm going to have a smoke."

I didn't want to fight her. She'd just been through a trauma and I needed to get her statement. I got up and opened the window for her. She thanked me then pulled out a joint and lit it up.

"Mrs. Moon--"

"It's medicinal," she barked at me. "I'm sorry. I'm angry. I'm so angry."

I let her take a few drags and made myself unnecessarily busy straightening some of the paper piles on my desk before I  started.

"Why don't you tell me how you know the victims."

"I'm their neighbor," she said glaring at me. "I would think that would be obvious."

"Of course. But why don't you--"

"I couldn't believe it when they moved in. Don't interrupt me, because you need to know the whole story. David just got back from his envoy mission. He wanted out, wanted to retire, and his family owned the house next to mine, so that's where they moved. Now I was really uncomfortable with, her, it--I keep thinking of it as a her now but it's not--I thought at first they were just roommates. They were very careful in public and never showed any sort of special affection towards each other, which of course you can't. Maybe in the future people will be different, but there's no way now. You understand. But I did see things, hear things, it happens when you are neighbors, and of course, I was particularly curious because it is strange and unusual for one of them to live among us, and I knew, I knew they were a couple, and that's when I became really uncomfortable."

She rattled off the words then paused and looked out the window, taking another long drag from the joint before dropping the butt out the window and into the bushes below.

"Could you--"

"I said don't interrupt." She glared at me again, then adjusted her cardigan more tightly around her shoulders. "I was appalled. It was shocking. I was at a loss for words. What do you even call it when a human and an alien become lovers? How can they be equal? It was like Catherine the Great and her horse. They can't have children together, and how can they possibly be attracted to one another? I think they look hideously ugly and they must think the same of us. They're not even from this planet and don't have quite the same chemistry. It was an abomination. Unnatural. I didn't want to think about what they did together. I teach school children. I can't live next to something like that."

She turned to face me fully and put her hands on my desk. She leaned forward.

"I went over there one day, when I was completely fed up. David answered the door. He was nice. I slapped him. I was so, so, very angry. He didn't do anything to me, he didn't ask me why I did it, he just looked at me sadly because he knew exactly why. I didn't have words for that. I couldn't get anything out. So I slapped him again, and then I went home.

"I thought about what I'd done and felt sick about it. Here I am teaching kids to be kind to each other and to share and all that stuff, and I couldn't do it myself. Sure, I was sickened by their behavior and just the strangeness of it all, but I couldn't figure out how it actually affected me in any way.

"A couple of months later I saw David in the grocery store alone. She--it couldn't come along because the grocery store, and a lot of places won't let them in. They have signs now, have you seen them?"

I nodded.

"Well I saw him and I went up to him and I apologized. I walked away quickly. I sort of didn't believe that I'd done it, and I didn't want to be seen doing it, but it just sort of happened.

"The next day, which was a Saturday, he knocked on my door. I opened it and there he was smiling. And he said 'thank you'. And he had an apple pie with him and he wanted to give it to me. I felt guilty. I'd been shitty to him and all I did was give a crappy apology and he wanted to reward me with a homemade pie. I invited him in and we ate the pie together. I asked him about his mission, because I was curious of course. At the time he'd left he was one of about five hundred people who'd made the trip out of the solar system. And he told me about what it was like on the ship and what it was like to travel been spatial dimensions and how he felt sick most of the way, and then he talked about seeing their planet for the first time."

Mrs. Moon stopped abruptly, swallowed hard, and began to tear up.

"He said...he said it was the most dazzling thing he'd ever seen. They approached in their final landing from the night side. The lights of hundreds of thousands of ships could be seen. The cities were laid out in patterns, and he later found out, he said, that they in every endeavor they incorporated art and mathematics. And he said he knew right then, that we had so much to learn from them, not that we weren't inherently equal to them--and they didn't see us as lower then them, lucky for us--but they were more advanced. I wish I could have seen that. I mean I've seen the photographs and the videos like everyone else, but to be there to see it yourself...well."

She looked out the window again and tapped her fingers on the armrest of the chair.

"So we ate the pie, which was amazing, and I thanked him. Then he said that she--it made it. We've really got to get a more appropriate pronoun for them. It turns out that it wanted to know and do everything that humans experienced. I'm sure they could do everything better than us.

"He left, and I felt a little better, I mean, I felt more comfortable and I wasn't thinking so much about how it was all abnormal and unnatural. Not that my feelings matter so much in the end. David and I smiled in passing a lot, but then one day, after walking home from the school and think about things, I just went up to his house and knocked on the door. I didn't know what I was going to say. It was like my feet just made me go there.

"David answered the door and he looked exhausted. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he'd been getting a lot of phone calls, at all hours. There were threats in the mail--who uses the mail for anything anymore? And a lot of hate email.

"Turns out there was an article written up on a site about immigrants from there, not that there are many, I mean, they're mostly scientists here to share their technology with us. There's still that theory that they're all just a first wave trying to suss us out before a full scale invasion. That's nonsense of course. Why would they want our planet? They've got all their problems solved on theirs.

"Anyway, the journalist wanted to get a balanced view on the matter and found David, I mean he did hold a very high up position on the mission, and so she contacted him and asked him about what it was like living with one of them. He didn't say anything about being a couple, but I guess the way he talked about her--it I mean, it was sort of easy to see though.

"David said he regretted ever giving that interview. He had been careful to be quiet, but of course the conspiracy theories are ridiculous and he wanted to help allay people's thoughts about the matter.

"I did read the article a few days later and I really think it did more to foment the whole problem than reduce it. Best to ignore the crazies right? Anyway that day when I went to his house, that's the day that I met her--er, it. I felt like I was intruding, but they were both welcoming. Nobody really talks to them. It turned out that his family disowned him, except for his sister, but she would only talk to him, not to it.

"They communicate by a sort of sign language, as I'm sure you know, and David was really expert in it. I was impressed. I felt strange speaking to it, but it knew what I was saying. It had to sign back over to David and he would tell me what it said. David was upset but it took it more in stride. I guess it was expected, all the hate, but I stopped feeling embarrassed and guilty for myself specifically and started feeling guilty and embarrassed for our whole civilization.

"We ended up having a nice conversation, and I began thinking of it as a person--of course I'll never get over how they look, but I felt like it was a real being with its own personality, and very intelligent, very polite. I can see why David liked it. Can you imagine how much he actually loved it? He knew the risks and he did it anyway. There's something admirable in that.

"It was the next day that they came. Never in my life had I seen an actual mob before, I mean, one that wasn't on the news. They protested outside his house and I was afraid to leave mine. It happened so quickly when they broke in and dragged them out. They beat her--it first and made him watch. And I ran out of my house and tried to say something, but I got punched in the face and knocked down, as you can see. And David was crying. He was looking at me, reaching for me and crying. He looked like a child. And I couldn't help him. They stripped him down and held him down and castrated him. He was bleeding all over the place. And they beat him some more. And that's how he died.

We were silent for a few minutes. She was crying silently.

"I'm angry about it. I'm angry the police took their time."

She glared at me.

"I can't say I'm sorry," I said.

"No. You wouldn't," she said.

"There is right and wrong," I said. "A man has died, and that is wrong. A man lived in sin with an alien creature, and that is wrong. I understand you don't share my view, and that is your right, but I can't help but feel that justice has already been served."

Mrs. Moon stood up. She was clearly livid.

"I hope you have all you need for my statement," she said.


"Don't interrupt me," she said through gritted teeth. "I'm leaving now, and not just this office. I'm going away on the next mission. I don't have it arranged yet, I have just decided this, but I'm determined to go. I'm going to see those great glittering cities. I never in my life thought I would step foot on another planet, but I will do it. I will find its family and I will tell them exactly what happened. I will tell them about David. And they will know that he was one of the best of us. I want them to know exactly who we are and what we are capable of, and heaven help you all. I will not be coming back."

She left then, with a stiff stride. I did not stop her. We don't need her kind.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

300/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Down In the Valley" by The Head and the Heart

The wheels were still spinning on the overturned Firebird when Walker woke up. Blood dripped down to the ceiling of the car from his forehead. He squeezed his eyes open and shut a few times, trying to focus on the purple twilight horizon. He unbuckled himself and slid down. He extracted his legs from the steering column and crawled out the open window. His ribs pained him sharply and he stumbled himself upright. His head pounded and he looked at the deer trapped partly under the car. Its skull was bashed on a rock and its tongue hung out.

"Shit," he said. "Poor fucker."

He turned and looked at the desolate highway. There were no cars but several deer stood on the other side of the road staring at him. He felt a wave of guilt.

Walker kneeled down and extracted his bag from the car. He threw it on the ground and unzipped it. He took out a fresh bottle and opened it. He sniffed at the neck then took a swig. He sat down in the dirt and drank some more, then watched the purple sky darken. He splashed some of the fluid onto his hand and applied it to his forehead. He winced with pain. He looked up and saw that venus was out, then drank some more.

He capped the bottle again and stood up shakily. The world around him blurred. He put the bottle in the bag and zipped it up again. He put it on his back and headed to the road. He looked both ways and thought about continuing on in the way he had been going, then he looked down the road in the opposite direction. He clutched his sore ribs and moaned softly, thinking that maybe it was time for a change, time for a reset.

He stepped out into the road and crossed to the center line. He stood there a moment, looking at the yellow as it began to glow. He thought it looked oddly beautiful, happy even. He continued on to the other lane. The driver of the approaching car slammed on the brakes and the horn simultaneously but his reflexes were dulled with alcohol and he hit Walker at the knees, sending him sprawling. The driver stopped with Walker halfway under the chassis. He stumbled out to take a look and saw that Walker was dead.

"Shit," said the driver. "Poor fucker."

Friday, February 17, 2012

299/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Hyper Music" by Muse

Under the tortured sky that rained ash and ember stood the army of Phaisto, sick, starved, exhausted, but advancing on the citadel of Kastri, now set to ruin by the Eleuthan hordes, a species that crawled from the cracks that were a result of an earthquake in the nearby mountains a decade ago. The blood of the citizens trapped and captured in the citadel now ran down the hillside and under the feet of the volunteer soliders, their elephants, and the war machines they pulled inch by inch up the treacherous incline.

Phaistos himself was an imposing man, seven feet tall and wide with muscle. He had himself tattooed his forehead with the image of thorns, one thorn for each family member in the citadel. He never laughed with his men, and walked the entire way to the citadel by foot instead of on an elephant. He wore no tunic but instead, a necklace made of the fingers of the Eleuthan he had personally killed.

He stood by a war machine, his men watching intently even in their tiredness. He swung his axe up then came down on the rope, splitting it. The bucket whipped up and flung its contents, the flaming heads of a hundred Eleuthan towards the citadel. He watched the trajectory and was satisfied when they sailed over the walls. He moved on to the next war machine and repeated the action because he was the only one in the army with the strength to cut the ropes.

Behind Phaistos was the tent occupied by his advisors. They watched him as warily but also with as much admiration as any of the soldiers he commanded.

"What is your prediction, Heron?" asked Cyrillus, former general of the army and friend of Phaistos' deceased father.

Heron was the highest court pyromancer. He squeezed fat from the skin of a slain Eleuthan onto a small fire set in pebbles in a brazier and the flames licked up higher. He took in the smell while Cyrillus waited and tapped his fingers by his sides. The third man in the tent was Zephron, the governor of the region who was lucky enough to be away in the capital visiting one of his mistresses when the Eleuthan invaded the citadel. He was a rounded man, used to the finest luxuries afforded him by his position, and was not comfortable with either the business of war or of religion.

"Heron," prompted Cyrillus. "Do you have an answer?"

"It is a careful art," said Heron quietly.

"Yes of course," said Cyrillus sharply. He sighed heavily and went back to watching Phaistos through the gap in the tent entrance.

"He will vanquish the Eluethan completely," said Zephron. "That much is certain. You can see how he commands the men. To repel a supernatural force so quickly...he will be long remembered, and may even ascend to godhood upon his death...should that ever happen."

Cyrillus turned his gaze to the governor.

"You should be more careful with your tongue," said Cyrillus.

"Oh, I rightly share your fear of the man," said Zephron, his eyes sparkling. He poured himself a glass of wine and drank half of it in one gulp.

Cyrillus looked over at Heron, who was still engrossed in reading the flames.

"I admire his courage," said Cyrillus.

"Of course you do," said Zephron.

"Heron, what do you say of the battle?" asked Cyrillus.

"There will be five days more of the seige," said Heron. "Few if none will remain alive in the citadel, and those that do will be infected with the sickness of the Eleuthan. They must be killed and released to the heavens by flame."

Cyrillus nodded, thinking the tactic was a mercy. He thought it lucky that most of the soldiers had escaped it themselves, but then the sickness was only contracted if an Eleuthan managed to ravage your body but let you live, for the sport of it.

"What else?" asked Cyrillus.

"The Eleuthan will all die," said Heron.

"We must ensure it," said Zephron, "and seal up the mountain cracks."

"We must make sacrifices to the mountain," said Heron sternly, glaring at Zephron.

"I apologize for overstepping my...jurisdiction," said Zephron. "But wouldn't it be prudent to cut off the Eleuthan's access to us?"

"The mountain must breathe!" exclaimed Heron indignantly. "The fires inside require air, as all fires do. The gods would not forgive us if we let the mountain die by strangling its lungs!"

Zephron stared at Heron, not sure how to respond.

"I only meant it as a practical matter--"

"You should adhere to what you do best," said Heron, his cheeks reddening, "and leave spiritual matters to spiritual men."

"Are you implying that--"

"Heron," said Cyrillus, "what of Phaistos himself?"

"He will win the battle," said Heron.

"You know what I mean," said Cyrillus.

"You want to know if he will take the throne," said Zephron.

"He will have the will of the people with him if, I should say when he wins this battle."

"And you worry that he will turn his forces towards the capital," said Zephron.

"Yes," said Cyrillus after a moment's pause. He looked at Heron. "I only worry for the men. They need rest."

Zephron warily glanced over at Heron. The man was an unknown quantity, since his allegiance was to his order and to the gods.

"The gods have favored Phaistos so far," said Heron. "It is always possible that they should change their mind, but the words the flames speak do not allow me to read that far into the future."

"I am only concerned with returning the citadel of Kastri to its former glory. Any war in another region is not my primary concern."

"Your citadel will be affected--" said Cyrillus quickly.

"Of course. I only said it is not my primary concern," said Zephron.

Cyrillus walked over to Zephron and spoke into his ear.

"Hate burns in Phaistos' heart," he said in a whisper. "Hate born of loss. He enjoys killing and he will not stop even if peace is attainable. He is a creature of war and is not fit to be our ruler."

"You are jealous he took your army from you--"

Cyrillus grabbed Zephron's arm by the elbow and twisted it back so that Zephron had to kneel at the pain.

"Watch your words," hissed Cyrillus.

"This is unseamly conduct," said Heron. "Desist."

Cyrillus let go and Zephron stood. He straightened his tunic and finished off his cup of wine.

"My apologizies," said Zephron. He bowed to both Cyrillus and Heron in turn, then left the tent.

"I am sorry," said Cyrillus to Heron. Heron nodded.

"The winds of the future can always change, if a man takes action," said Heron. The two men looked at each other in a still silence. "I'll leave you with that thought."

Heron bowed and left the tent as well. Cyrillus stood again at the entrance and watched him leave for the mess, then turned to watch Phaistos' large form striding across the battle field, shouting orders. Cyrillus felt his nervousness leave his body as a course of action made itself apparent to him.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

298/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "When I Said I Would" by Whitney Duncan

The Aimak women were busy cooking, faces uncovered, when Macs came back in. Joni was standing guard among the women, not protected others from them, but them from the men who were still learning their place in the settlement. Macs had a grin on his face, the one that made Joni uneasy. The women furtively glanced up at him. He nodded to her and she nodded back, then he patted the dust off his uniform and one of the elderly women fussed over it, reprimanding him loudly in her language for getting the floor dirty. He smiled and cupped his hand to her chin then kissed her fully. She froze and Joni looked away. When he was finished he strode to the table in the middle of the room and the old woman cast her gaze down, silent about his muddy boots.

"Productive?" asked Joni nonchalantly.

"Mmmm," murmured Macs.

"Macs, we've got to talk," said Joni. She shifted the weight of the gun in her arm.

"Not now, friend," said Macs sighing. He bent down and began to unlace his boots.

"They don't know enough English--"

"I said not now." He didn't look up from his boots.

Joni rolled her eyes. The men outside cheered suddenly over some news on the radio.

"Must be more pullouts," said Joni. "I know everyone else says not but they're going to use drones to find us now."

"Shut up," said Macs.

"Someone's got to say it," said Joni.

Macs burst up and lunged towards Joni and his hands were an inch from her throat before he stopped short and his angry face became immediately calm. Too used to this pattern of outburst she didn't blink.

"Do you trust me?" he asked in a silky voice.

"I trust your vision," said Joni.

Macs slapped her across the face. Joni looked away briefly and calmed herself, then looked back at him as impassively as she could muster. The other women in the room went completely still.

"Do you trust me," he asked again in the same voice.

"You're asking the wrong question," said Joni.

A shadow crossed Macs' face then he relaxed again.

"You always thought you were clever," he said.

"No," said Joni, "but I'm trying to be practical. I supported you, immediately when you said you wanted to found the community based on love, pure love, fraternal love free of the constraints of religion and tradition. The things that you said, about the ethics of us being in this place and fighting that war, it just struck me. My loyalty is to that idea, but if yours isn't, and maybe it never was, then I can't trust you. Do you understand that?"

Macs took in her words for a few moments, showing no emotion, then moved so that his nose touched hers and stared angrily at her. Joni felt her skin shiver but she didn't move back.

"Get out of my face Macs. I'm trying to help you. There are hundreds of lives at stake here, and the balance of their lives hangs on your actions along. I'm no longer convinced that you always know the right action."

He pressed the heel of his boot hard into the toes of hers, right where the reinforced toe ended and the weak leather upper started. Joni winced.

"You will do as you are told," he said.

The old woman stood up and spat on the floor, then let loose a stream of what Joni could only assume was Aimak invective. Macs pulled the gun from Joni and squeezed off a round, hitting the old woman in the face and striking her down dead. Joni pulled it back and punched him in the throat. The other women leapt up screaming and ran for the door. Joni kneed him in the groin and punched him again in the face. She was acting automatically--her soldier training kicking in. He was on the floor and she rammed the butt of the gun repeatedly down in the side of his face until he went still.

Joni stood up panting. She looked around the room; she was alone except for the body of the dead woman. The door was wide open, letting the winter air suck all the cooking heat from the room. The men were outside staring in at her, Aimak and escaped soldiers alike, with their guns pointed at her.

She put the gun down on the table and put her hands up and walked to the doorway.

"He was insane," she said. They stared back at her in silence. The wind whistled through the branches of the bare tree in front of the house. "The troops will be out of here in a few weeks. That means if the enemy forces don't find us first, they'll just bomb us. We're too expensive to look for and take in. You have to see that." She looked across the multitude of faces. She was deeply afraid but forced herself to quell its expression. "You love him, I know that--"

"Who will lead us?" asked a soldier with long hair named Harrison. He was one of the first to join Macs' conspiracy. "He gave us everything--"

"I will," said Joni. "I can't give you the things that he did, you'll have to do some of that for yourselves, but I can lead you. Macs should us all the way in the beginning and all we have to do is follow it. His vision...became shrouded. There was a darkness in him, negative thoughts..." Joni began to sputter. She took in a deep breath. "We must take the goodness that he began and protect it. And so, we need to change our tactics so that we can convert the enemies that come to us, rather than fight them, because we don't have the resources to fight two sets of enemies.

"We love you," said Harrison. He stepped forward. "You are our sister after all. And it would take a blind man not to see that Macs was blighted by darkness. I will let you lead me."

The wind lulled for a moment and Joni felt intense relief. Harrison walked up through the others and stood in front of her. He kissed her on the mouth, the ritual that was reserved only for Macs. He stood back and saluted her. She nodded back.

One of the Aimak women came up to her, the daughter of the woman Macs had killed, and she kissed Joni. The other Aimak women followed in turn, then each of the men. Joni felt like melting into the ground after it was over. She wondered if she shouldn't have just run back to the base months ago when she first had her doubts. She looked back at the two bodies and sighed.

They burned Macs and the elderly woman together and pushed the remains into a ditch. They were not spoken of again.

Macbook issues resolved

I finally got my Macbook debricked, although the hard drive is still rather suspect. So that means I need to get back into the groove of writing stories! (Scroll down for 205, which I just posted). In other news, I entered a short story contest for the first time. I expect a rejection (I really have no idea what to expect actually). I've never formally competed before. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

297/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop

The earth under the farmhouse was cool in the summer and Sal and Dory hid out there, lying on their backs staring up at the underside of kitchen floorboards and being watchful of Daddy's feet as he stumbled around the front yard chasing the nameless dog that came to beg for scraps and harass the cats.

"You can't do that!" hissed Dory.

"Yes you can. You don't know anything," whispered Sal. She shifted her arm up and stretched her back. "All you gotta do is tuck its head under its wing."

"That's bullshit," said Dory. "How's that supposed to work?"

"You watch your language," said Sal half-heartedly. She was secretly proud that her younger sister had taken so readily to swearing in recent months, but she also wanted to lord over her in the absence of their mother. "That's how they go to sleep."

"They just do that to block out the light so they can sleep. Don't they?"

"Maybe they do," said Sal. "But it still works if you do it for them."

Dory considered it.

"There's no way that's true," she concluded.

"Think what you want. I don't care," said Sal. "I'm getting out of here soon."


"Sure. I'll be sixteen soon. I might be able to go off to the war."

"As what? You don't know anything about nursing."

"As a journalist. Maybe. You know, go to the front with a notebook and talk to soldiers, take photographs--"

"You're an idiot!" Dory punched Sal in the ribs.

"Ow, shhhh!" spat Sal. "Daddy will hear you!"

"If he finds out we're here and gets angry then maybe you could interview him!" Dory giggled.

"You think this is a joke. Thanks. I'm telling you though, I'm sure as hell not staying in Nebraska my entire life, not like mother did. First chance I get I'm setting out on the highway and getting away from here and half a world away might not even be enough for me."

"Yeah," sighed Dory. "I know what you mean, but to go to war? Why something that could get you killed? Why not just Omaha or Des Moines?"

Sal flipped over onto her hip, scraping her shoulder against the head an exposed nail. She clutched the wound and gritted her teeth.

"You don't get it," she said grimacing. "I want to do something, not just live a life!"

They were quiet for a spell and listened to the chatter of the starlings that liked to perch in a row on the eavestrough. Daddy had given up on the dog and had climbed up on the old tractor and was sitting and drinking and moaning to himself.

"It doesn't have to be war," said Sal. "I mean, it's big and it's all the paper and the radio ever talk about. It could be anything really. Like I could climb those mountains in Argentina with a caravan of llamas--"

"Argentina?" asked Dory. "It has mountains?"

"Course it does." Sal squinted at her. "Or Hollywood. I could go out and be one of those people who move lights around."

"If you're going to the trouble to go out to Hollywood, why would you be an actress or something instead?"

"I don't have any sex appeal," said Sal. "All the actresses and actors have to have sex appeal."

"How do you know if you have it?"

"If boys whistle at you."

"You don't really know any boys."

"I don't want to be an actress! I just think it would be interesting to be there and soak up the limelight like a sponge just by being near it."

Dory contemplated this.

"War would be more interesting. You said you wanted to do something. Getting shot at while interviewing some grunt in a trench is more doing something than moving lights around--"

"Yes, okay, that's a poor example."

Daddy started sobbing audibly on the tractor.

"God," said Dory, staring over at him. "I wish he wouldn't make so much noise."

"No one's around," said Sal.

"It's not like mother was even nice to him," said Dory. "Men aren't supposed to cry. I don't want a husband who cries. Jesus."

Suddenly he screamed at the dog who was sleeping on his side under the shade of the tractor. The dog sat up and growled at him. Daddy threw the bottle at the dog and screamed some more. With its tail between its legs it slunk off towards the house. Daddy fell off the tractor and started chasing it.

"Daddy will see us!"

"Get!" said Sal pushing Dory in the opposite direction.

Dory squirmed to the other side but Sal caught her arm again on the nail and she screamed. Daddy stopped.

"Girls?" he asked. "Girls! What are you doing under there? You got chores to do! I can't keep this farm going by myself! You get of there do you here me?!"

Dory ran out the other side and towards the field. Sal pushed through like a soldier crawling on his belly under barbed wire. She made it out and started running. Dory hid behind the shed, unseen by Daddy. She motioned for Sal to join her, but Sal kept running. She ran all the way across the field, the dog followed her a bit then dropped off, panting in the heat and staring at her then back at Daddy who'd come round the house by then.

"Sal!" he screamed. "You whore!"

Sal kept running and leapt onto the pavement of the road that led to the highway. She silently thanked President Truman for all his personal efforts in paving rural roads. She didn't even think about which way to go as her heart pounded in her chest, and went east and away from the prospect of shifting lights around on movie sets. She did not look back--not at the farm, not at Dory, not at Daddy, not at the nameless dog.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

296/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Le chant des coquelicots" by Amelie-les-crayons

You can get it over the counter now. It comes in a red box with stylized poppies on it as if it's whispering to you that what you'll experience is equivalent to striding carefree through a springtime field. The last time I went in to get some, the clerk at the checkout counter touched my hand as I slid the box over to her to scan.

"I can help you with that," she said. She was mousey with big eyes and the downtrodden look of someone who's worked retail for too long. She may have been flirting with me, I don't know. It wasn't on my mind. Plus she was short. And a woman. Not like any of that stuff matters now.

I spend a lot of time gazing at the ceiling with my arm over my chest. It's not that it puts you into a stupor, my thoughts are always as clear and prolific as any other time...they are just more focused, more neutral. When I'm on it, I feel like my neurons are rearranging themselves into circuits.

"You've been coming in early," said my boss one day at work when I first started taking it. He's a tall man (not that I'm into that) with wide shoulders and carefully combed hair. I'm not sure how smart he actually is--he delegates well, which means either he has no clue what goes on in the office, or he's an excellent sluggard and should have my admiration, but he's too bland an individual for me to bestow that honor to him.

"Is that a problem?" I said.

"No. No. You're just seem to be working harder."

"Can I get a raise?" He walked right into that one. Minus one for the intelligence.

He laughed nervously before fistbumping the wall of my cubicle and shuffling off and I thought about maybe reapplying my new found focus to pursuits other than work.

I took up painting. I had the free time now, so what the hell. At first I tried to copy famous works, but everything I made was objectively awful. I learned though. I spent about six hours everyday painting, so I learned quickly. Canvases were expensive so I painted over earlier things. I even bought a few atrocious paintings from the secondhand store--the sorts of things that depicted sad clowns and barns lit by sunsets--and painted over those since they were cheaper than fresh canvases. I really should have just done everything digitally, but I think I needed the physicality of it. The smell. The presence of the canvases piling up around my apartment and sort of filling in the spaces.

When it got to the point where I had paths between the piles, and I was taking one red box of pills a day, I stopped painting. I was just completely calm and incapable of boredom. I no longer needed to amuse myself. What started as a way to drown out the sorrow, mask it, morphed into a occupation with stillness in every sense of the word. Sitting still, laying still and staring at the ceiling, not even counting the bumps and divots and imperfections, and feeling how my mind was still. Apparently people used to meditate for decades to achieve that within you/without you nirvana.

It wasn't fun though, not that fun mattered.

I sold all the paintings online, in efficient, concise auctions--not that I made back the money I put into just the paints but that wasn't the point. The piles needed to go. They got in the way of the stillness. Then I sold my furniture, everything except the mattress. For awhile I had the urge to rip up the carpet and sell that too but I was afraid of the unfinished flooring underneath and how it would affect my stillness.

And then one day when it was raining hard and I was laying face down on the mattress just listening, I realized the stillness was the sorrow. There had been no real escape after all.

So I called.

"I'm sorry," I said into my cell phone.

There was a silence.

"Where have you been?" came the reply.

"At home. At work," I said. Then I added, "with some frequent trips to the pharmacy."

There was a sigh. She knew what I was hinting at.

"You've got to get off that stuff. There's been some studies in Sweden and--"

"Yes, I know. It should be banned."

"Is this why you've been--"

"No," I interrupted. "I was just...guilty."

"Are you on it now?"

"Yes," I said.

"I'm sorry you had to go through all that, all the aftermath," she said. "But you have to know I don't forgive you for what you did."

"I know."

"I guess that's it then," she said after a pause. "That's all I ever wanted to say."

"Okay," I said.

We hung up. I sat and stared at the empty red box beside me as the rain quelled to a quiet drizzle and the need for stillness didn't seem so urgent.

Monday, February 13, 2012

295/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Back to Black" by Amy Winehouse

"I can't stop," said the girl with green eyes.

"Guards!" screamed Eva.

The room was plushly furnished, with stacks of priceless paintings piled in the corners, and lit with a roaring fire to fend off the winter night. The girl and the woman faced off, both terrified. The girl cradled a machine gun in one hand and a grenade in the other with the pin pulled; her thumb held down the lever.

"They can't hear you," said the girl, shaking.

"Who are you?" asked Eva, clutching the back of an overstuffed leather chair.

"I am the eyes of millions," said the girl.


The girl took another step forward.

"I keep dying," said the girl. "Over and over and over and then there is black and then I start over and live again...the same life, played out a little differently each time, and each time I remember the lives before...and my deaths."

"I don't understand!" Eva cried.

"I remember. I remember!" screamed the girl. She calmed herself. "There were times that I survived the gas chamber, times that I lived in America and saw things you will never get the chance to see...marvellous things, times where I lived to a hundred or more, but I always died again no matter what. And mostly I died here in this war, naked behind barbed wire, in the mud, in the cold, in this winter. And there were always the memories of the people who died here with me at the hands of people like you. At the hands of your..." The girl couldn't speak the words caught in her throat.

Eva launched herself at the girl but the girl was quick and swung the gun around, squeezing out a single round that hit Eva in the stomach. Eva slumped, groaning, and sank to her knees. The girl stood over her.

"It took me several tries to figure out how to escape from the ghetto. The first problem was that I had to wait until my body was old enough to move around on my own. And then I had to find you, to get to you. I tried killing him, but it wasn't satisfying. It didn't matter in the end, because he was merely removed, freed from feeling anything, and it all just started over again. But if I kill you, it will hurt him in a way that his own death couldn't. If I torture you, he might feel it."

"He doesn't feel anything...ever," sobbed Eva. "Not what you want him to feel."

"Everyone feels sadness," said the girl, "when something close to them is ripped away."

"Not him," said Eva, falling to the carpet. Her sweater was beginning to soak through with blood.

"Well, we'll see."

"What about you? This won't relieve your own sadness. This will do nothing."

"I haven't been sad for a long time. For many lives. There is only anger left. Maybe when that goes, and there is nothing left, maybe then I'll finally die. But probably not. As I said, I'm the eyes of millions...but I'm incapable of just watching."

The girl kneeled down next to Eva, put down the gun and stroked the hair on her head. Then she lifted her thumb from the lever.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

294/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "SambaDa Batucada" by SambaDa

It was an honor to live inside the temple of Gidebato. Cynric, tall and lean, wore the mantelletta of a third year acolyte, which was always getting in the way of climbing ladders and crawling through tight corridors as he made repairs to the infrastructure of the temple. It was said to be, in ancient times, a luminous place and a conductor of thoughts, but now the lights were constantly winking in and out as the wires leading to them rusted away with the constant flow of drip water from the humidity trapped inside. But as much as the endless chore of repairing wires annoyed him, Cynric found the solitude, the gentle patter of water droplets, and the too frequent mild electrical shocks, to be a salve from the regular business of the temple: the singing, the praying, the kneeling, the reading, and most of all, having to listen to the abbots in their constant high-pitched debates over doctrine.

"Thank you for coming, brother Cynric," said Bishop Tristan.

They were in Tristan's office, a small, sparsely decorated space walled with the same dull metal that made up the infrastructure in the underbelly of the temple. The bishop sat behind a black desk and Cynric kneeled on a raised cushion. Cynric hadn't had much personal dealings with him, but the bishop seemed to be the sort of man who made himself feel familiar to anyone in his company. Cynric thought him to be a transparent, functional bureaucrat.

Cynric bowed his head in deference to the higher ranked man.

"I have news to tell you, though you'll wonder why," said Tristan smiling curtly. "We have a new donative, from among our number of agapetae. Does that interest you?"

"That's usually where they come from," said Cynric.

"And indeed, there is nothing unusual in that. But our records show that you know her. That you have known her." The bishop tilted his head down to emphasize the forbidden nature of what he implied.

"Olympia," said Cynric.

"Does that not rouse any emotion in you?" asked Tristan. "To know that she wishes to sacrifice herself to Gidebato?"

Cynric lowered his head.

"It is her choice. Her body. Her mind. It was always ever her choice."

Tristan stood and eased his way in front of the desk. He reached out and put a hand on Tristan's shoulder.

"It is not a sin to love," said the bishop. "The sin is in the method of expression."

"Anything that you think may or may not have happened, happened before I pledged myself to the temple--"

"But not her. Not her pledge."

Tristan squeezed Cynric's shoulder then let his hand fall.

"No, not hers," said Cynric.

The bishop crossed his arms in front of himself and smiled warmly.

"She has asked for you to perform the ritual."

Cynric lost his breath and his face was a fleeting picture of torment. He leaned forward and gripped the cushion and gasped.

"Not me..." he said, his voice barely audible.

"I know this will be your first time performing the ritual. And she was your...intimate friend. But I have questioned her thoroughly, and I am convinced that she is determined to make the sacrifice out of pure love. She worked hard and has purged all negative thought from her mind. She is as ready as any donative has ever been."

Cynric nodded and straightened up.

"Perhaps," said the bishop, "it will help you if you tell me about her."

"What?" said Cynric, astonished.

"These walls are silent," chuckled the bishop, "and you do not need to go into any of the more...material details, but it might help you accept this honor if you recall who she is, to you, and why she would ask for you specifically."

"I'm not sure I can," said Cynric. His eyes were welling up. "I am lacking. I'm not sure I will ever ascend to the priesthood. The will for it is not in me. I came to the temple because I was desperate. She...she always wanted to commit herself fully to Gidebato. I was the distraction from that path. When she left me and began to pay her penance, I was lost. At least in the temple we would be under the same roof, even if we never spoke to each other again. And so you see I am weak. I do not devote myself to Gidebato. Not in the way."

"You aren't as weak as you think. It takes a strong man to confess a weakness. Why do you think that she asked for you?"

"I think you already know the answer," said Cynric.

"The answer is not important for me, it is important for you and I think you should speak it."

"The passage from life to afterlife is said to be painful," said Cynric. "Disorienting. Frightful. I suppose I might be able to bring her some calm in her passage. For her it would be a kindness."

"And for you?"


"And what about it will hurt you?"

Cynric looked at the ceiling, with tears beginning to stream down his face.

"She will be gone forever," said Cynric.

The bishop's face immediately hardened.

"Then you have doubts about Gidebato itself."

"I have never been sure about the nature of the afterlife." Cynric met the bishop's hard gaze with equal intensity. "We have old books and ancient documents and manuals on how to operate Gidebato, but none of it ever quite made sense to me. In the most ancient sources, those closest to the origin of Gidebato, there is description of sacrifice, but the experience of the donatives in afterlife is never mentioned, and we have no idea they actually live on!"

"That is faith brother," said Tristan sternly. "You are correct, in a sense. You will not ascend to the priesthood until you are able to purge these doubts. But it is not a sin to have them. You must work to develop your faith." He stood to his full height. "I think it will benefit your journey to faith to perform the ritual. And you will do so."

Cynric was dismissed and he spent the next few hours curled up in a wet access corridor several stories below the bishop's chamber. He stared at the streams of water snaking down the walls and felt cold inside.

At the hour of the sacrifice, Cynric was dressed by several attendants in heavy ceremonial robes, in a small room off the main nave of Gidebato. Several hundred agapetae began to pound metal drums to work up the passion of the congregation. That was Olympia's cue to enter the nave. Cynric felt his throat go instantly dry. The drums stopped and the congregation errupted in deafening cheers. That was his cue. Cynric donned the mozzetta and put up the hood.

The doors into the nave were opened and the cheering subsided. Cynric looked at the carpet before him, away from the leering attention of the crowds, and most especially any sight of Olympia at the altar. The priests began to chant. Cynric allowed his feet to move him forward, and after an infinitesimally short minute he arrived at the altar. The priests finished their chant and Cynric pushed back his hood and looked up.

There she was, standing in diaphanous white robes in front of the terminus, smiling at him. She held her hands out towards him. He accepted her hands, cool and soft, and somehow already devoid of the life he remembered there being in them. She pulled him up onto the dais. He glanced at the menacing terminus, an erect torus that he always thought looked like a judging, all-seeing eye.

"I am ready," she said.

"I am not," whispered Cynric. "Please do not do this."

Olympia smiled deeply but furrowed her brow.

"You must help me," she said. "Yours is the last face I want to see. I want to take that with me into Gidebato."

Cynric whimpered slightly.

"No, please, it's not me. I would do this for another, but not you." It was a lie. He would not do it for anyone but he thought the wording might convince her that she was special. That her life was still worth living.

Olympia's smile faded.

"In this moment, let us not fight. The matter has been decided."

She put his hands on her shoulders and drew him closer to the terminus. Two agapetae attendants rose to the dais and positioned her precisely in the terminus.

"I can't," said Cynric. He felt the sense of feeling leave his fingertips and then his hands.

"Do not be afraid," said Olympia. "It has been my life's desire to guide our people through the stars. To plot courses, and to think in numbers. In this act you will help me achieve all that I've ever wanted. So push."

The attendants left the dais and Cynric with breath shallow, stood alone in front of Olympia. He wanted to run, to leave, to be the coward and the outcast, but there was a spark of anger growing in him and there was no room for it to go.

He pushed.

The terminus accepted her head. He heard her skull crack as the needle went in and he watched the life leave her eyes. The terminus revved up, and he could feel the hairs on his arm raise up with the electricity in the air. She smiled one last time and the congregation began to sing a hymn.

"She is still with us," said Bishop Tristan. It was a week after the ritual and he and Cynric met again, but this time it was in Cynric's cell which was filled with documents and sundry tools, and the walls were plastered with wiring diagrams. Cynric laid on his back in his cot and Tristan leaned against the door.

"Do you really think that?" asked Cynric. His voice was raspy. He had refused to eat or drink more than a few grams each day. It was just enough to give him a taste, a taunt, and not enough to keep him on his feet.

"I do," said Tristan. "But more than that, I know. She is all around us now." He put his hand against the wall. "She is infused in Gidebato, in these very walls."

Cynric narrowed his eyes at Tristan.

"And by what mechanism does that happen? How can a person exist in a wall? I mean, if you really want to think about it."

"You are angry," said Tristan.

"It is not a sin to be angry," said Cynric.

"No, it is not. But be careful how you express it." Tristan looked at the different walls in the room. "It is written that the world itself is a vessel. It is a container for all living things. When an organism dies, it goes back to that container and becomes a part of it. And people are special. Through the terminus we may preserve our minds and become one with the mind of the world, and become more than just material for the container--"

"You know, it's just words to me at this point. It doesn't have any meaning and I'm no closer to approaching faith than I ever was, and now I no longer care."

Tristan sat down on the cot next to Cynric's feet. He folded his hands atop his knees.

"This will pass," said Tristan. "This anger."

"The anger in me will never pass," said Cynric. "Maybe there's a chance I could go back to the routine of just repairing things. Maybe I can recede from all other duties. But the anger will always be there. I hate myself for ever having loved."

"It is when we are at our most vulnerable. To give love. There is faith in that."

"It most certainly wasn't towards Gidebato! How is it faith?"

"Not all faith is religious."

Cynric glared at Tristan then turned on his side and faced the wall. Tristan patted Cynric's feet then stood. He opened the door and stood in the frame.

"I will leave you here to make your decision: to keep your commitment to your order or to leave." Cynric didn't respond and the bishop looked down at his feet before leaving Cynric alone.

Cynric pressed his hand against the wall and felt its cold solidity and wondered if, just maybe, Olympia was in there somewhere, somehow.