Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fiction: Dinner for Two

Alphonse stared at the menu. He couldn't remember being this nervous before.

It wasn't the fact that the restaurant was the swanky type, and it wasn't the fact that the minotaur was dressed head-to-hoof in the requisite tuxedo. It wasn't even the possibility that he was new to this "blind date" thing — Alphonse had, after all, met up with plenty of female strangers in restaurants that were just as expensive. There was just... something else in the air this time.

He wolfed down the single glass of water that the waiter had left for him. At the rate he was going, he was going to empty his wallet on the ice cubes alone.

She was late, of course. It was a constant quality in all the women he had ever known — they seemed to like making him wait. In truth, Alphonse didn't mind this all that much; he liked to think that they were taking their time for something special (and Alphonse had certainly seen a lot of special things). Of course, it also went the other way around — the minotaur could never see a breakup coming if it walked right up to him and took him by... well, the horns, so to speak.

And there he was, as a result: single, nervous, and a little impatient.

A waiter refilled his glass from a filigreed pitcher. Alphonse snapped it up from the moment it was out of the man's hands. He was starting to feel a little better now. A little better, a little less nervous, and...

...Well, he had to go to the bathroom. But she wasn't likely to arrive something during the next five minutes, was she?


Odessa thought that the maitre'd had probably been a handsome man in his youth, the way he smiled as he ushered her to her table. Old age had given him a sort of distinguished look; she wondered if he was married.

Her date had reserved a nice table. It wasn't shunted off into one corner of the room, like many of her other dates had preferred, but neither was it thrust into the center under the glare of the chandelier lights. There was only one thing it was missing, though, and that was the presence of a dinner companion.

There was an open menu on one of the place settings, as well as a glass of ice water that had been messily finished. Odessa swept back her ophidian hair, and curled up in her golden coils a bit; she always did that whenever she needed to think.

Was he already here? Did he just walk off to check on something? Did he make a quick exit because he somehow spotted her approach and didn't like what he saw? Odessa was the kind of gorgon whose mind filled with questions so easily that they left room for little else. Times like these, she wished that she had a paper bag to breathe with.

Eventually she sat down as best as she could. She was going to have to hope that he didn't run out on her. A waiter with a filigreed pitcher was kind enough to bring her a menu; she skimmed its contents while the faceless man poured ice and water into her glass.

She wondered if he was as handsome as the maitre'd had been in his youth. Her friend had mentioned that he was about twentyish, in bull years; Odessa didn't notice the subtle hint at first. She put the menu down for an instant, adjusted the straps of her dress for a while, and then returned to the selections. Nothing, however, could distract her from the sensation of butterflies in her stomach... or the incessant hissing of her hair.


Alphonse emerged from the recesses of the restaurant feeling a lot better. He had spent a good five minutes staring at his own face in the mirror, polishing what looked like a dirt smudge on his right horn. His hair had also looked slightly mussed from the time he had arrived (he needed to adjust some of his cowlicks, ha ha), but otherwise he saw nothing that wouldn't convince any sensible young lady that he was anything but a charming young minotaur. It had been a very satisfying talk, and he was still telling himself this as he returned to his table.

There was a lady there.

Even at this distance, she was remarkably good-looking. Pale white skin revealed itself under the trappings of a royal blue dress held only by a couple of flimsy-looking shoulder straps and a lot of imagination. Her hair undulated softly under the muted lights, and her skinlike mask shone slightly as she perused a menu that some waiter had given her. Alphonse could practically feel his self-resolve dribble out of his ears and onto the carpet.

After a while, he asked himself why he was still standing there. After a few deep breaths (and some rigorous adjustment of his bow-tie), he crossed over to the table.

She looked up just as he arrived at his seat. The way her eyes widened, Alphonse would have thought that she had never seen a seven-foot-tall minotaur before.

"Hi," Alphonse said, completely invalidating the original greeting that he had in mind. "Odessa?"

"Yes," the gorgon said. "Are you Alphonse?"

"Yes," Alphonse said. He made no move to sit down at first, as though this was a breach of etiquette that he hadn't considered. "I'm sorry," he said, "have you been waiting long?"

"No, no," Odessa said. "Not at all. Ah..."


"You might like to sit down, Alphonse."

Now, this was far more direct than he had expected. Alphonse liked that in a woman. "Why is that?" the minotaur asked.

Odessa smiled. "Because your fly is open," she said.


She watched, amused, as he fumbled with his own clothes just before sitting down. Her mind was screaming that she shouldn't have embarrassed him like that. If she had only just kept completely quiet, and if she had only just acted nonchalant about the whole thing, well... well... well... he would have had that zipper open for the rest of the evening.

Odessa didn't like thinking about that zipper. It was bad enough that she caught herself staring at his crotch the moment he walked up, but there were some things that she had heard about minotaurs, and those were things that her Carrie-Bradshaw-like group of girlfriends would gossip about in private and never discuss in public. She was glad that his embarrassment had covered things up rather nicely.

She opened her mouth to speak, saw that he was opening his mouth to speak, and stopped abruptly. He stopped at exactly the same time.

She opened her mouth to speak again, only to run into the exact same gesture from him, and both of them graciously remained silent so that the other could speak.

This was silly, Odessa thought, and decided to push forward.

"Well, I..." she said.

"I must..." he said at the same time.

Both of them began laughing. Alphonse's laugh was warm and rich, although the tall man kept it low enough to as not to bother any of the other guests. Odessa swallowed carefully, as though to calm herself after such a strange introduction, and sipped from her glass.

"So," Alphonse said, placing two muscular arms on the table. "Shall we order first?"

"Yes," she said, amazed at how easily he had recovered from the zipper debacle.

The waiter with the filigreed pitcher was just waiting nearby for such an occasion; the restaurant was a careful choice, and prized for its service. Odessa gazed at the selections on her menu; she was certain that she already had one of the dishes in mind, but she suddenly could not remember what it was that she wanted.

"Would you like to order first?" she asked Alphonse.

"You can go ahead," Alphonse said, smiling.

"Mmm... I... well, I just don't know."

"Do you have anything special today?" Alphonse asked the waiter.

There was a short, pregnant pause as their servitor brought up a few suggestions. The fillet of sea bass was excellent that evening, having been flown in direct from Chile. There was a famed concoction of pasta, capers, and goat cheese in a special sauce, and an excellent shrimp salad which Odessa remembered as having been mentioned in the local newspapers. She noted with great impression that the waiter completely avoided any mention of beef, much less steak or spare ribs; they were sensitive to their customers that way.

She asked for the sea bass. Alphonse eagerly ordered the shrimp salad, and she wondered what that implied about his own personality.

"So, Alphonse," she began, "how do you know Medea?"

"Your friend?" Alphonse asked. "Well... one of my college friends, Jason, used to go out with her."

"Ah, so you knew Jason in college?"

"He was my roommate, actually. Did they ever get together?"

"Who?" Odessa asked. "Jason and Medea?"

"Yeah," Alphonse said. "You know... Jason and Medea? I mean... the old myths?"

"Oh," Odessa said, as the light came on in her mind. Now that he mentioned it, that was an odd coincidence. She was going to have to ask Medea sometime.

"So," Alphonse said, in the manner of every other blind date that Odessa had met, "tell me about yourself, Odessa."

She smiled her most winsome smile at him. "You first," she said.


"Well... I grew up around here," Alphonse said. "You know the old story. Local kid gets off the city streets, goes to university on scholarship, comes back for a high-paying job in a high-paying industry. My parents weren't well off, but they gave me the best they had."

As far as Alphonse could tell, she looked interested in more details. For the minotaur, that was a good sign.

"I've been a stockbroker for the last four years, I think — in JP Meyer and Associates; we made it to the Fortune 500 last year. We take up four floors at the east Stock Exchange building downtown, although I'm not sure if you pass by there all that often."

"That's the one with the gargoyles, isn't it?" Odessa asked.


"The one with the four gargoyles on the seventh-floor cornerpieces. I've met the eagle-headed one, you know. He's quite talkative."

"Oh. Ah, well," Alphonse said, searching for the words. "I didn't really think they'd be interested in talking. I mean, they've been there since the building went up."

Odessa laughed. "You can get a lot of things from people around here," she said. "How long have you been in stocks again?"

Alphonse suddenly felt as though he was under an interrogation lamp. "Well... ah... four years," he said. "It's a rough ride sometimes."

"Oh, I know what you mean," his gorgon companion said. "My friend Charyn, one of her aunts sunk her life's savings into a charter house two years ago. Just last month, she found out that the investments went bad and the company was so deep in debt that they couldn't dig themselves out with a spoon. You can imagine how that turned out."

Alphonse glanced at her snakelike locks, wondering what happened whenever things didn't turn out well with Odessa.

"Do you have any brothers? Sisters?" Odessa asked.

"Just one brother," Alphonse said, laughing. "He's in Greenland."

"Greenland? That's a strange place."

"Yeah, I know. He's part of a scientific team over there — they're studying the native seal population. He's been there six months now, and we're not expecting him back until July."

"July?" Odessa asked. "That's a long time."

"He wanted it to be nice and warm over here by the time he got back," Alphonse laughed. He hoped that he wasn't putting her off with the story.

"I suppose that that's sensible," Odessa admitted.

They were interrupted by the arrival of their food by this time. The sea bass turned out to be a finely-crafted gourmet affair, with white sauce amid a generous bed of parsley. Alphonse's salad was a little more mundane in terms of appearances, but the restaurant had graciously served a larger-than0usual bowl in clear anticipation of the minotaur's appetite.

"Looks good," Odessa said. Alphonse immediately got the impression that she wasn't much of a food person.

"That's enough about me, though," the minotaur said. "What about you, Odessa? What's your story?"


She was certain that the butterflies in her stomach had reached their breaking point by now. This was the moment that she dreaded.

Some people had this utter talent for telling their life's stories to random strangers at the restaurant table, and Alphonse was apparently one of those people. Odessa was a private person at heart; she couldn't imagine how anyone could possibly find her background interesting in any way, much less ask about it without falling asleep in the process. It was enough to spoil the sea bass, at least.

"I, ah... it's hard for me to say," Odessa said.

Across the table, Alphonse picked up a fork. "I'll be patient," he said, smiling.

Odessa concluded that she would never be able to resist that smile of his. "Well... I'm not from around here, really. I flew in from the old country back when I was little more than a hatchling."

"And that's..."

"Nikos," Odessa said. "It's a little island off the coast of Cyprus. I don't remember anything about the place, except for the fact that it had a lot of grapevines."

"Okay," the minotaur said, with a bit of lettuce already halfway to his mouth. "My mother had some experience with grapevines."

"She was from the old country?"

"No," Alphonse said. "But her mother was, and I think that some of the old learnings just passed on, even though we don't have anything to do with grapevines and wineries nowadays."

"I think that the old country still shows up, even though a lot of us have scattered around the world already. I mean, I've met a couple of chimera on tour in Egypt, and I've even seen a district set aside for the harpies in Calcutta."

"And there's Yennera, too."


"The pop singer," Alphonse said. "She's a siren."

"Oh, oh... now I remember," Odessa said. "Yes, that's right. Medea knows her, too... she has an autographed photo on her workdesk."

"Egypt, India... you seem to travel a lot."

"Oh," Odessa said, swallowing a slice of her sea bass. "I'm, ah... an architectural consultant."

Alphonse raised an eyebrow. "That's interesting," he said.

"Is it?" Odessa asked, wondering if he really understood what she just said. She leaned across the table. "Tell me, then... what does an architectural consultant do?"

Alphonse paused, a bit of lettuce sticking out of the corner of his mouth. He swallowed. "I assumed that you work with architects. Maybe... you give them suggestions on their designs, and help organize the construction?"

Odessa sighed. He was as good as she thought he was.

"Something like that, yes. I specialize in nouveau design — you know, buildings that don't look like normal buildings."

"Like that bird's-nest stadium in Beijing," Alphonse said.

"Exactly," Odessa smiled. "That was one of mine."

"Did you come up with the design for it?"

"No," Odessa said, "so you can insult it as much as you want, if you don't like it." She winked at him.

Alphonse laughed. "I don't like it," the minotaur said, "but then again, I don't know what good architecture is supposed to look like from the outside. Just give me a set of blueprints, a way to get through a structure from beginning to end, and I'm fine with that."

"Oh, and while I was in the region," Odessa said, "that was where I got my mask."

"Your mask?"

The gorgon demurely pointed to the white skinlike mask that was bonded to her face. "I bought it in a souvenir shop in Singapore a couple of weeks afterward," she said. "The material is new, so it doesn't have the same glare that a lot of the old metal masks used to have. And it's plastic-based, so it won't break like the ceramic ones do. What's more, it molds itself to your skin, so you get to see me smile."

"Well, it looks great on you."

"Thank you," Odessa said, flashing the same winsome smile that she had mentioned.

"I confess that sometimes I wonder what you look like underneath," Alphonse said. "I mean, I see gorgons every now and then, and they're all wearing masks of a sort."

"We have to wear them, of course. I mean, otherwise..."

"Oh, I'm not saying that you shouldn't wear them," Alphonse said, "I'm just saying that I wonder what you look like underneath."

Odessa laughed. "You'd be taking a lot of risk," she said.

"Not as risky as my stocks," Alphonse said, and they both laughed.


They lingered at the end of the meal, Alphonse with his coffee and Odessa with her Earl Grey tea. The bill was covered and paid for, and both now eyed each other gamely.

"So," Alphonse said, "do you have a ride home, Odessa?"

"I live just three blocks away," she said. "I was just thinking of making my way back directly."

"I can walk you if you'd like," Alphonse said. "I'm parked nearby anyway, and I know the garage manager, so he won't get me towed."

"That would be nice," Odessa smiled.

Ten minutes later, she was on the minotaur's arm as they exited the restaurant and onto the city streets. He was certainly seven feet tall (or somewhere in that area), but Odessa was used to having largish companions and merely adjusted her coils in order to compensate. The two of them walked down the evening, one taking step by step with cloven hooves and the other slithering down the concrete and asphalt.

They laughed about more than a few things, about how absurd it was that Alphonse's brother would go halfway around the world to study baby seals, or about the strangest designs that Odessa had ever seen for habitable structures. They laughed about stone, and they laughed about passages. They laughed about the zipper debacle earlier that evening (for even Alphonse had to admit that this was funny), and they laughed about how nervous they were that the evening was going to turn out anything but good.

Finally they reached Odessa's apartments, which turned out to be a two-story building of significant size divided into a series of quarters, each with their own entrance. The gorgon slithered up to one of the wrought-iron gates, reached over and unlocked it from the inside, and then returned to place her hand on the minotaur's arm.

"Just walk me to the steps," she said, and Alphonse obliged.

When they had reached the front porch, Odessa felt around in her purse for a key, then unlocked her front door. With the date finally at an end, she turned back to her companion.

"I had a nice evening," she said, smiling at him.

He smiled back, doing the best that he could with his dark countenance. "So did I."

"Okay," she said, wondering what else to say. Odessa knew that she wasn't very good at these sorts of things. After a while, she finally gave up trying to figure out the next thing to do, and just moved closer.

"What are you doing?" Alphonse asked, curious.

Odessa flexed the lower half of her body, enough to allow her to reach the minotaur's height. "This," she said, and kissed him.

He held one hand to his cheek, surprised at what had just transpired, and then grinned.

She passed through the doorway, enough so that he could spot nothing except for the outline of her shadow on the pastel wallpaper inside. Then, just as he was about to leave, she gently reached one arm out, and beckoned him to come in.

By this point, Alphonse had nothing more than a goofy smirk on his bovine face. This was turning out to be a more interesting night than expected. He had a feeling that he was definitely going to enjoy this.

He stepped through the doorway, and closed the heavy wooden door behind him.

Above, the night sky glistened with stars.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fiction: Observer's Sight

There was a corpse sprawled in the center of the courtyard, its skin pale with the dust of snow, its dark black hair tangled in a terrible mass underneath its head. Rivulets of red ran ragged from the corners of its eyes and mouth, long frozen into a dirty patch of blood beneath the body. Were it not for the lightless eyes, the exsanguinated skin, or the unlikelihood of the scene, Keldar would have thought that the victim merely wished to enjoy the splendors of winter.

"She's dead," Bruni observed.

Keldar knelt next to the body, his boots rasping against the new-fallen snow at his feet. "Really, now," he said. "How could you tell?"

It would have been a humored response under more pleasant circumstances, but these were rather far from pleasant circumstances. Here was a dead noblewoman — and not just any noblewoman, but a cousin of the crown prince — lying in the courtyard of the royal estate, staring up at the sky as though it gave some clue to her murderer.

Bruni pulled her robes a little tighter around herself. "Your sarcasm is lost upon me," she said.

"It was a mere trifle," Keldar said. The big man pulled a dagger from its oiled sheath, making a whistling sound as it cut through the air. He prodded the body once or twice on the shoulder, pressed the blade against the skin of the dead woman's neck, and then held its mirrored edge against the side of her nostrils. When he received no response, he stuck the weapon into the dirt beside him.

"She's dead," he concluded.

"I just said that, did I not?" Bruni asked.

"Yes, but now we're sure. You can't very well go fishing in people's heads if they haven't departed this mortal coil just yet."

She laid one surprisingly firm hand on his shoulder then, and he immediately got the message. Bruni was subtle that way; it was almost as though she was brushing him aside, and he dutifully moved out of the way.

Bruni knelt, not minding her robes as they brushed upon the snow, and gently placed both hands on the sides of the corpse's head. She shook her hair free of her white hood, and closed her eyes. There was a short pause, then a long pause, and then a strange celestial music that filled the air. Keldar could feel the hairs rising on the back of his neck.

Finally, she opened her eyes. She shook her head once, as though to free it from the mind of the woman who had so recently become deceased.

Keldar helped her stand up. "See anything interesting?" he asked.

"Not much," Bruni said. "She has not been dead long, perhaps an hour or less. I could not glean much from her eyes. She never saw her attacker, Keldar — I only saw the same courtyard of white that she saw, then felt the sharpest of pains across her back. Afterwards it seemed as though she simply lost the strength to stand, and fell forward onto the snow."

Keldar leaned over the body. "Which means that someone rolled her over," he said. "Probably to make sure she was dead."

The magistrate took hold of one cold arm, then heaved the unresponsive mass of flesh onto a face-down position. From there, the two investigators could clearly see the stab wounds on the back of her dress. As Bruni demurely stepped out of the way, Keldar counted four such entrance wounds.

"That explains all the blood," Keldar mused. "Whoever did this had a grudge, but not to the point where he was willing to keep hacking at a corpse. Most likely our lady here went down with far less stabs than was expected, after which the perpetrator had to check and see if she was really dead."

Bruni only pulled her hood back over her face. "Perhaps," she said.

Keldar raised an eyebrow. "It's called 'logic'," he said. "You might want to try that sometime."

"You are the magistrate, Keldar. I am merely a Searcher, one who tells you what the dead see."

Keldar sighed. "While I do appreciate what assistance the dead can give me, Bruni," he said, "there's a lot more to the task than just reading the situation."

"Then tell me, Keldar... what is next for us?"

"I'm told that the lady had a daughter," Keldar said, scratching the side of his head. "I'm sure that she would have some interesting information for us."


"I know nothing, Lord Keldar," she said.

Keldar frowned. Here she was, a girl of about seventeen or eighteen harvests, with long blonde hair that contrasted sharply against her mother's raven-black locks. He remembered the tangles of dark hair against the white blanket of snow in the courtyard, and tried to place her there.

"You didn't see or hear anything?" Keldar asked.

"No," the daughter said. "I was inside for the whole morning, dusting the bedchambers as she had ordered me to do."

Keldar glanced at Bruni, who hovered near the door. She looked peaceful there, with her long white gown and the hood that she drew up just short of her eyes. The daughter knew perfectly well that she was a Searcher, one of many who was assigned to the city magistrates, for he had mentioned it to her in no uncertain terms.

That was exactly why he found her suspicious. She was constantly looking over his shoulder and glancing at his white-clad companion, far more often than any other ordinary person would do.

The daughter was conducting herself remarkably well for a suspect under Keldar's scrutiny. She answered his questions in a calm and clear voice, she had a convenient reason to be somewhere else for the entire morning, and she was in a position where the servants were certain that she was at least somewhere within the manor house.

"I know that you can't do that," the daughter said.

Keldar turned his attention back to the girl. "Do what?" he asked.

"Get her to read my mind."

Keldar gave her a puzzled look, and then sighed after a while. It was a remarkably peasant superstition, the way they thought that the Searchers could do such things. Some of the people he had interviewed had assumed that Bruni could fly, grow claws, or do other things that only existed within the realms of the fantastic. Keldar was more than a little surprised to see this sort of opinion in the daughter of a noblewoman, least of all a niece of the crown prince.

"I assure you, good lady," Bruni said quietly, "that I will not do such a thing."

"Well, then, how do I know that you're not reading my thoughts right now?" the daughter asked, angrily pointing at her.

"Such an act requires a ritual," Bruni said. "And under these circumstances, the ritual is altogether against the teachings of my goddess."

Keldar groaned inside. He had been counting on the intimidation factor to pry a few more words out of the obstinate daughter. Now that plan had been torn to shreds by his partner's honesty.

"You swear?" the daughter asked.

"By my heart, my mind, and my soul," Bruni answered.

"Good," Keldar said, taking the girl's arm and pulling it aside. "Now I—"

He stopped all of a sudden, seeing the pained expression on her face.

"Are you all right?" he asked her.

"Yes," she hissed. "Yes," she said again, after a few moments.

Keldar gently took the girl's arm, then slowly pulled back the sleeve to reveal a short series of bruises there, most along the edges of her wrist. For another moment, nobody could speak.

"That's interesting," Keldar said. The short period of silence afterwards was punctuated by the sound of his sword being drawn.

The girl staggered back at the sight of the naked blade. "What?" she asked.

"My dear," Keldar said, "I am sorry to tell you that you are under arrest."

"Me? Why me?" the daughter asked.

"Because you killed your mother," Keldar said, as though that was the most obvious thing in the world. Behind him, Bruni cleared her throat calmly, and began walking around the room.

"But... you have no proof!"

"The bruises make for good motive," Keldar said. "You mother wasn't an overly nice woman, as I'm certain the servants will be able to tell. She was pulling you around, forcing you to do things that you didn't want to do. I'm not certain about the details there, but I'm certain that the story will check out."

"So?" the girl asked. "Everybody knew that my mother wasn't a good person! She was a saintly one whenever she went to the temple quarter, but she was a shrill witch in the privacy of our house! But that's no proof!"

"No," Keldar said, "although I find myself wondering how you could have been dusting the bedchambers with those bruises around your good hand."

And suddenly there was silence. By now, Bruni had crossed the room to remain behind the noblewoman's daughter, cutting off her escape there.

"I assumed that your mother collapsed from either the third or the fourth time that you stabbed her in the back," Keldar explained, "and that was why she bled herself dry in the courtyard outside. But then I realized that you could have just as easily stopped your assault once she was face-down in the snow, because your arm would have probably been hurting like the devil by then."

"You don't know that!" the daughter cried out.

"I expect that we will, eventually," Keldar said. "The murder weapon would be more than useful at this point, but I'm certain that you didn't have much time to hide it in the last hour. A careful search of the grounds should turn it up."

"You don't even know if I was outside!"

At that, Keldar pointed at the hem of the unfortunate girl's dress. It was of the long and folded sort, the kind which brushed against the floor as she moved... and it was wet.

"There's a lot of snow outside," Keldar said, in response to the horrified expression on her face.

The girl turned, expecting to find a convenient exit behind her, only to realize that Bruni was already there. The Searcher had one hand outstretched, palm splayed towards her, and the noblewoman's daughter almost comically walked into the surface of her pale skin.

There was a slight period of silence, a moment where the hairs on the back of Keldar's neck suddenly stood on end once again... and the daughter slumped unconscious to the floor of the room.

Keldar sheathed his sword, at which Bruni gave him a critical look.

"You did not have to use your weapon," she said.

"It worked, though," he admitted.

"And," Bruni added, "you did not have to be so dramatic."

"Look at it this way," Keldar said. "At least she now knows that not all of the things they say about you are mere superstition."


Keldar stepped out of the gates of the royal estates and sniffed at the air. It was going to snow again, he was sure, and it was going to happen within the next few hours or so.

Beside him, Bruni pulled her robes a little tighter around herself. Keldar glanced at her.

"Aren't you ever warm?" he asked.

"Are you never quiet?" she asked back.

He opened his mouth to answer her, snapped it shut, and then opened it again without saying anything. Then he laughed.

Bruni gave him a curious look. "Was that funny?" she asked.

"No, no... it was just..." Keldar laughed, and shook his head.

"I fear that I shall never understand you, Keldar. You may not serve the goddess as my sisters and I do, but you seem to have more than a few of her natural gifts."

"I just have a task to do, Bruni. It teaches me everything that I need to learn."

"And shall I learn these lessons as well?" Bruni asked.

Keldar smiled. "As long as you know how to observe, and how to listen well, then I can teach you what you learn."

They walked on for a bit. Suddenly Bruni laughed, and although it was a gleeful, honest laugh, it surprised the magistrate enough for his hair to stand on end even without benefit of magic.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"I thought I would try it out," Bruni said. "It is... quite exhilarating, is it not?"

Keldar smiled. "You learn fast," he said.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fiction: The Temporal Connection

Evanston signed his name with a flourish. "That's all, Mr. Morgan," he said.

"That's 'Jason'," Morgan replied. "There's no need for formalities here, Daniel. I ask that of each and every one of my partners."

Evanston sighed nevertheless, remembering all of the previous failed attempts. "I'm sorry, Mr. Mor... Jason," he said. "Sometimes the pressure just gets to me."

"I assure you that I don't squeeze too hard," Morgan laughed. "Ten years is plenty of time, especially considering the advances that you have already made. You've passed all of my conditions with sterling results."

"Usually I don't even get past the first interview," Evanston admitted.

"Well... you don't exactly bring the most serious of studies to the table."

"You mean my temporal manipulation theories?" Evanston asked. "I always thought that it was an interesting science... a hard science, given what I've developed so far."

Morgan sat back. "You can blame the media," he said. "You can blame the fundamentalists, and you can blame the science fiction writers. Regardless of what you call it, they'll see it as 'time travel' and push you down to street level. It's difficult for people to take the subject seriously."

"Yes, well... this is a very generous grant, sir."

"Please," Morgan said, holding up a hand. "I can spare the money. If your experiments succeed the way I expect of them, then the effort will be absolutely priceless."

"I'm glad that you see it that way, sir."

"Good," Morgan said. "Of course, I must also insist that your research be kept a carefully-guarded secret. If the technology does exist that will allow us to travel in time, then the knowledge must be controlled."

"Oh, indeed. There's no telling what might happen if someone were to use it for... less than noble... purposes."

Morgan smiled. "I was thinking more of the possible financial loss, Evanston. All that effort expended, just to have my own rivals crawling over it."

"Ah. Well... I suppose that the financial impact would be considerable."

"But you do make an excellent point," Morgan said, brushing well-manicured nails against the rim of a nearby drinking glass. "You mentioned it yourself during one of your presentations. The first impression that I have is that time travel seems to be the scientific equivalent of a late-night drunken binge."

"That's a rather... graphic way of putting it, I think. But yes, I mentioned a hypothesis of temporal fluidity."

"You have me at a disadvantage."

"Imagine that you had access to time travel in the present," the scientist described. "And now imagine that you travel a hundred years in the past, only to kill the first person you see. What happens then?"

"I would imagine that he would be dead."

"But with this person dead, then his children would hypothetically never exist! And those childrens' children would never exist. And so on, so forth, down to the third and the fourth generations. You would be wiping out an entire family tree!"

"And you mentioned that this was a theory of..."

"Temporal fluidity," Mizuichi answered. "Change something in the past, and you return to find the present irrevocably altered. There will be quite a few pundits who will contest the notion of changing what we know as a 'fixed' timeline."

"We can always set rules," Morgan said. "I find restrictions to be rather refreshing. Governing bodies can be set up, perhaps by-laws concerning the use of any of your developments once they come about."

"But that won't solve the problem. Sooner or later, somebody's going to do it."

Morgan gave him a skeptical look. "So what would you propose that we do?"

"That is why I fully agree with your security recommendations. The research — and eventually, the technology — must be kept fully hidden from the world. We can attain the capability, but it must be used carefully, not floated around like some child's toy."

"Much like a nuclear missile," Morgan observed quietly.

"A nuclear missile," Mizuichi corrected, "that will eradicate certain elements of our world as surely and as swiftly as the very force of creation itself. We wouldn't even realize that these elements wouldn't exist anymore."


Mizuichi looked up. "You don't seem to be perturbed."

"Oh, I am, Mizuichi-san. I just learned that I granted two billion dollars in credit to fund an entity that I can never show to the rest of the world," Morgan laughed.

"But the results of the effort will be priceless."

"Yes," Morgan said, behind folded hands. "Priceless to the point of worthlessness."

"I am sorry if you see it that way," Mizuichi said. "But the truth is there. There are powerful hypotheses in the mixture, forces of which the unscrupulous could easily take advantage."


Mizuichi hesitated, watching the expression on his sponsor's face. "If you wish," he finally said, "we may rescind the contract right now. I am sorry that you had to learn the risks of my proposal in this way."

"No," Morgan said, gently placing one slim hand on the topmost sheet of paper.

"But I thought..."

"There are dangers involved, yes. You've made the risks perfectly clear. And I am certainly disappointed at the lack of obvious financial gains," Morgan said, crossing her legs. "However, I must admit that I am curious to see if you would be successful, Mizuichi-san. I place the greatest of trust in your consortium."

"I do not have much at my disposal, unfortunately. A small mechanics laboratory, perhaps some slight security precautions..."

"Two billion dollars will buy what you need, Mizuichi-san. And if even that does not turn out to be enough, you may ask for a check."

"That is... quite generous."

"I like to indulge my curiosity sometimes."

Mizuichi stood, giving a formal bow just before taking up his coat and hat to leave. "I promise you that I shall do my best to succeed. You won't regret your decision, Miss Morgan."

"That's 'Jacqueline'," Morgan smiled. "There's no need for formalities here, Mizuichi-san. I ask that of each and every one of my partners."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fiction: Forecast

Author's Note: While not technically a lost story, this is an extremely old work dating all the way back to 2001. It was originally written as a script for a short comic, but it remained readable as a short story for the longest time while I experimented with other plotlines. I spent two hours editing this into some semblance of a "normal" short fiction layout just for this occasion, however, and I hope that the result still has some of the impact of the original piece.

Fifteen minutes later, the sudden shower of rain finally wears itself out. It is now little more than a light drizzle, and pedestrians and commuters begin to populate the sidewalks again.

A medium-sized man trudges through the growing crowds on the street. He wears a heavy coat, complemented by a battered old hat and small, circular spectacles. The overcast sky obscures most of his face, bathing it in the shadows of the clouds.

The man’s destination — a nearby alleyway — looms ahead. He enters it carefully, looking around to see if anyone notices his entrance. No one does.

He walks further into the alleyway, stopping only to make sure that the narrow path between buildings is completely deserted. He squints up into the overcast sky.

He's always hated doing this.

He looks around one more time, then walks towards the middle of the alley. A large puddle of water waits there for him; the naked soil around it has congealed into its muddy consistency.

He smiles, showing a perfect set of gleaming white teeth. In a word, this is perfect.

The man leans over into a crouching position. He maneuvers himself to a large patch of mud just beside the puddle of water and sticks a finger into the dirty mess. There is an expression of determination on his shadowed face.

Slowly, he traces a four-pointed star-like figure in the mud. After a while, the words form, unbidden, in his mind.

"Izshek Ramah Tenaam," he says. He finishes drawing the sigil and leans back slightly to a more comfortable position. "Sar’e Saakam Narit’ak," he whispers, completing the chant.

Then he waits, but only for a few seconds.

There is a sudden deep-throated rumbling sound, and for a moment the ground trembles. Then a three-dimensional face slowly rises out of the mud and the four-pointed star. It groans and quivers as the mud molds itself to its form. Then its eyes shoot open, reflecting tears of dry water and caked filth... and it speaks.

"Who summons me?"

The man removes his hat. "My old friend Earth," he says. "How are you?"

"Get to the point," Earth says, in characteristic bluntness.

"I come to bring you tidings from my small circle," the man says, "and I wish to ask for news of the elements."

"I have little time for your tidings," Earth says impatiently, its face-form threatening to move back into the sparse soil. "What is it that you want?"

The man takes a deep breath. The question was formed in the deepest recesses of the morning, and it has remained in his mind ever since.

"I ask about our most recent clime," he says, "and why the elements have so twisted their acts against their own word."

"The elements do what they want to do," Earth rumbles. "It is not for you to command us, old man."

The man sighs. Earth is the easiest among the elements to contact, but it is stern and unbending. Now it refuses to be of any help at all. But perhaps...

"I ask, then," the man says, "if your brethren are open to discussion."

There is a short pause before Earth speaks. "You know the rules, human," Earth says. "Send them your tidings, and your damned wishes."

"I shall, then."

The man watches as the face-form sinks back into the mud, leaving only a reasonably flat surface with the four-pointed star etched in grooves. He wipes it away.

The man shifts position, turning towards the puddle of water itself. He stares at at his reflection for a moment, watching the mirror image gaze back at him with a patience borne of convex glass. Then he dips both hands in the dirty rainwater and begins drawing a four-pointed star at the bottom of the puddle.

"Let Water rise," he says, "and heed my words. Izshek Rabahm Ut’a. Eramai Ashatem Rionyi."

The surface of the water begins to ripple. The man pulls his dirty hands out, tucks one into his right coat pocket, pulls out a white handkerchief, and wipes.

In seconds, the ripple has stopped. The man's reflection in the water is gone. He smiles.

"I bid you greeting," he says, "and I offer admiration for your recent work."

Water ripples slightly. The man knows that it does not speak, but that it listens well instead.

"I purchased a request seven turnings ago," he says. "I asked that Fire and Earth be given free sway over this area for a few days."

Water ceases its rippling and becomes perfectly still. There is a pause, and then an image appears in the puddle. The image shows the man, in the same coat and hat, bending over a bucket of water on top of a building. He inspects it critically, as though making certain that not one detail is out of place.

"You remember, then," he says, "but not my request. I gave by Cae-Won’s law, and by law you must return my favor."

Water ripples once again. The rippling is more pronounced this time, perhaps even violent.

"You know the rules," the man says.

Water froths and churns for a while. Eventually, however, it finds itself unable to meet the man’s fixed gaze. It pauses, and then holds still.

The reflection in the surface of the puddle shifts. Now an image of the city cloaked in warm sunlight appears. The man smiles.

"So we do understand each other," he says.

Water ripples again. Then the ripples begin to slowly even out, drawing themselves one after the other, until the man can see his own reflection in the water once again.

He stands up and stretches, working out the atrophy in his legs. The rituals are complete, and the elements satisfied. The man straightens his hat and coat, perhaps takes a few steps with the intention of walking away.

And then he stops, suspicion plainly written on his face. This was certainly too easy.

He considers this for a moment, weighing equal measures of time and influence against each other. Then he comes to a decision, and brushes the lost minutes aside.

There is a collection of empty wooden crates leaning against a forgotten dumpster a few meters away from the puddle. Their presence is quite convenient, and he reaches their repository with a small number of steps.

With effort, he tears one of the crates apart into small, narrow pieces of wood. Sweat tumbles down his brow. His hat falls off, and we can see that he is almost bald, with only a few gray hairs remaining upon a face that is creased with wrinkles.

He deliberately scatters the pieces of wood along the alley floor. The shape of the four-pointed star is a familiar sight.

For the first time, he hesitates. Then he shakes his head, reaches into his coat, and pulls out a small silver flask — a gift from some old friends who have long since departed. With an expression of distaste, he begins pouring the contents of the bottle over the sigil marked in wooden scraps.

Finally, the man tucks the bottle away, and pulls out a cigarette lighter. The flame catches easily, and he jumps back a moment before the flames can sear his hand.

The sigil now burns warm and white, and he waits. And as he waits, he picks up his hat from where it has fallen, and clamps it back onto his bald head.

"Arak’or Ghakkar Kerob’bas," he says, almost as an afterthought. "Kharesh Shirak Nor."

The flames rise for a moment, turning various shades of red and yellow-green. Then the entire patch of earth — sigil and all — bursts into flame. The man is unfazed.

"What the hell do you want?" a harsh voice suddenly asks, echoing through the man's mind.

"I need to speak with you," the man says.

"Don’t waste your spit," Fire says. "You already are."

The man straightens himself again, staring deep into the heart of the flame. "I have a request," he says.

"Don’t come begging to me for help," Fire says. "I’m not your slave."

There is a pause as the man considers his situation. A single thought comes to his mind.

"A sacrifice," he says.


"A sacrifice."

For a moment, he can feel the flames smile.

"You catch on quickly," Fire says.

"Not much," the man says. This was... unexpected.

There is a short pause as he feels something in his right coat pocket, and then he smiles. His hand emerges, pulling out the sodden handkerchief; on it, bits of mud and dirt still hang askew.

"I have cloth," the man says.

"Cloth is good."

"It’s still a little wet."

A sound comes out of the flames, as though it licks its lips in anticipation.

"Give it here," Fire says.

In one smooth motion, the man throws the handkerchief into the flames. There is a sizzling sound as the cloth dries quickly. Then there is a slow and subtle crackling sound, as it is slowly consumed.

There is a short pause.

"So what do you want, old man?"

The man hesitates only for a moment before answering. "I come only to tell you that you must take the place that Water has vacated."

Fire lowers its flames, as if considering his words.

"That I gain dominance for the next turnings?" Fire asks.


The flames rise up in a gesture of contemplation.

"If you had told me that earlier," Fire finally says, "I wouldn’t have asked for the sacrifice."

There is another short pause.

"Yes?" the man asks.

Fire waits expectantly.

After a long silence, the man relents. "All right," he says, "It’s on the house."

"You’re one of the good ones, old man."

Slowly, the flames die down. Soon there is nothing left but the man and a number of chunks of blackened and smoldering wood.

He bends over and picks one up. It crumbles slightly, leaving a sooty residue on his hands. He wipes this on a fold of his trousers, remembering to buy another handkerchief on his way back.

Now he reaches into his other pocket. There is something else there, a scrap of paper from the local laundry, folded and forgotten since the last time the coat was cleaned.

With a small scrap of blackened wood, he begins writing on the torn piece of paper. The four-pointed star is a familiar sight, as he raises the tiny drawing into the air.

"Saimet Tei’sho Olyah," he says. "Geshinon Sanam’et To’ri."

For a moment, nothing happens.

"I know you're there," the man whispers.

He waits another minute. There is no response.

"All right," the man says, lowering his hand slightly, "the game is over. I guess I’ll keep this after all."

A sudden gust of wind obscures the smile blossoming on his face. The wind begins to gather around him, pulling his long gray coat every which way. He clamps his other hand tightly on top of his hat, determined not to lose it like so many others long ago.

"You didn't have to do that," Wind says. "Really now we haven’t seen you in ages not for a long time we always liked your gifts when did you get so old why haven't you called us lately why doesn't anybody else talk to us why?"

The man lets go of the slip of paper. It tumbles through the air and disappears into the distance.

"A toy!" Wind shrills. "We like toys it's mine I saw it first go get your own toy we like paper so much paper paper so much watch me do this—"

The man clears his throat. There is a pause as Wind gathers around him once again.

"What?" Wind asks. "Did we do something wrong did we do something right do you need help we like playing we can call up a nice gale or maybe a hurricane did you like the rain we like the rain fun fun fun rain wish it could rain every day so we have lots of toys and play and dance and smile and secrets and laugh have you watc—"

"Quiet!" the man says, firmly.

There is a short pause.

"We don't like you," Wind says. "You have a temper today people always have tempers they never wait till we finish what we have to say but we never finish what we have to say but you just need to wait for us you never know when we say something important but everything we say is important sometimes you don't listen why do you want to speak with us anyway never trust a human why did—"

Amid the constant chatter of Wind, the man finally speaks.

"I only come to ask a favor," he says.

"Name it," Wind says, a gaggle of voices at once.

"I ask that you concede to Fire and Earth for the next turnings," the man says, and waits for the reaction.

Wind suddenly grows silent.

"What?" Wind eventually asks. "Why how could you ask such a thing we were having so much fun you know we and Water have such good times together except he doesn’t talk much or she because we don't know whichever the case may be but maybe—"

"You can always go somewhere else," the man points out.

"Away? Are you serious it would mean starting over or a new beginning or a change of pace—"

"That’s it," the man interrupts. "A change of pace. You need a change of pace. I mean... you've been here for a few days already. I'm sure that you're bored now. If you stay here, you’ll just get even more get bored."

"Ooooh," Wind says. "You're right of course you're right you're the most sensible human we've ever met we only say that because you bribed us with a toy it was a nice toy some paper nice paper more paper do you have any more paper please please?"

"No," the man says.


"But I bet you could find some wherever you go."

Wind considers this for a while. "That is a good point. a very good point an indubitable point we can move now we should move now change of pace and place you were very convincing we like you more you should give us more paper we must be going we can find paper somewhere like you said so ciao sayonara bye bye bye bye bye..."

The voices of Wind begin to fade, and the strong breezes surrounding the alley slowly return to calm. The man sighs.

He pauses for a moment, looking at everything. Nothing has seen him. No one has seen him. Now he turns, and walks back to the mouth of the alley.

He joins the crowds there as dusk begins to fall. No one notices as he walks faceless among them.


The man walks through a door marked “Stage” on the sixteenth floor of a downtown building. The room within is filled with a flurry of human activity.

"Step up the lights," a voice says. "We go to segment four in five."

"Cut in t-minus five, then. Where’s Waller? Waller?"

"Loose switch on Camera three… watch your step. Camera two in position."

"Green screen A-OK. Camera one ready."

The man walks over to a nearby coat rack and removes his hat and coat. There is a formal gray suit underneath, and a black tie that belies his distinguished appearance. He adjusts the tiny glasses on the bridge of his nose.

"Four minutes," a voice says. "Four minutes."

"Where’s make-up? Well, get them over here now!"

"Ben Waller? Ben Waller?"

"Here," the man calls, in response to his own name. Almost immediately, he is surrounded by a flurry of voices.

"Thank God! Where the hell were you? You go…"

"Three minutes, people! Three minutes!"

"Make-up! Where in God’s sake is make-up?"

He feels someone straighten his suit. Another pair of hands pushes him into a seat, starts combs his hair. Another someone begins to apply make-up with a soft brush.

"Where have you been? Did you get the report?"

"Yes," the man says.

"From the bureau?"

"You could say that," the man says, deliberately elusive.

"Two minutes!" a voice calls.

"Look, Ben, we don’t have much time. Where is it?"

"In my head," the man says.

"You memorized it?"

"You could say that," the man says, smiling.

A convenient pair of hands helps him stand up. The man adjusts his spectacles again, watches as another helper dusts his suit free of lint. He begins walking towards a small stage with a green background.

"It had better be more accurate than the report we got last week," a voice complains.

"I know," the man says, completely and implacably serious.

"One minute!"

The man stands in front of the green screen, making final adjustments to his suit and glasses. He glances at a bank of TV screens to the right of the stage, and a similar bank of screens to the left of the stage, both hovering just outside the camera’s view.

"Quiet on the set!" a voice calls, and silence blankets the studio.

"Counting… six… five… four… three…"

The last few seconds emerge against the same backdrop of silence. A light on one of the cameras comes on.

The man smiles his friendliest expression, staring into the lens before him. Glancing left and glancing right, with the voices of the supernatural in his mind, he speaks.

"Thank you, Bob. Now, despite a battery of rain from the elements this week, tomorrow’s forecast is bright and sunny…"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fiction: Progenitor

"Hnnnn," he said, fastening the last bolt into place.

It remained motionless, a reflection of flesh and metal under white sheets. The doctor envied it, that it would sleep so soundly while leaving the master to his own nightmares. Now he feared that it would awaken in less than an hour, that it would live a life of far greater fulfillment than his own dreams.

Victor wondered what its first words would be. Should he expect the word "father", for instance? The madman was certainly his father, of course, but never in the mere reproductive manner of the world. No, he was his father in terms of opened graves and stolen skin, and these blasphemies coagulated like sweat into a stark feeling of inadequacy.

Father, indeed. Perhaps "tormentor" would have been the better word.

Now was not the time for such thoughts. The storm was coming tonight, as his instruments had foretold. The platform had been readied, the massive coils primed and charged with the aura of mystic electricity. Poor Igor had spent the previous night shivering in the darkness, as he had wired the lightning rods that would channel the power into his creation.

But it was too late; doubt had crept into the doctor's heart. He took one long, deep look into the creature's face, prayed that he would one day see the spark of life into the dead black eyes, and hoped to all the gods of Science that he had not made a terrible mistake. The words, regardless of resolve, rang hollow in his mind.

Perhaps it would not call him "father". Perhaps it would call him "master", as Igor did. Perhaps it would one day rise up, tear free of the wires and electrodes that surrounded it, and curse its very existence. And then, once its anger was spent and the cold hard world had crashed down upon its childlike senses, it would immolate itself in a fiery end.

"God made man in his image," Victor whispered under his breath, "and in the image of God he made him."

Between the endless scars that crisscrossed his creation's face, the bolts and the rivets that attached jointed bone, and the grayness of decayed flesh, the doctor could only stare at the harsh reflection that science had visited upon him.

Perhaps it would call him "god". Victor wondered if godhood was his goal from the very start. What else would have convinced him to make a man, to pull life from the heavens and send it thundering into a stolen heart? And there, in the depths of his rotten stomach, the question burned: What, then, if he did make a man? Would it have made a difference?

The storm roared in the distance, and he just stood there, staring into a face that he had stitched himself. It was suddenly too repulsive for him to bear, and he drew the white sheets up.

The sound of bowlegged footsteps caught his attention, and he turned to regard his deviant assistant.

"Master," Igor said, in a voice that was silent with awe, "all is ready."

The thunder sounded again behind him, as though it relished the wait. Victor took a deep, shuddering breath.

"It will call me many things," the doctor finally observed.


"It will call me many things. Father. Tormentor. Master. God."

"Yes, master," Igor said, uncertain.

"I will be all these and more," Victor said, as the lightning flashed. "Bring up the platform, and prime the mechanisms. It is time."

Igor stumped off, only too willing to do his master's work. Victor walked across the room as the wind picked up. His threadbare coat danced around his feet as the storm began to howl its seductive pleasure. There was a massive switch there, a trigger that would bring about change. Perhaps a beginning, perhaps an end.

The lightning was close now. He counted half a second before the thunder sounded in his ears.

Perhaps it would call him "father", no matter how unworthy Victor felt. But no... perhaps it would simply burn under the gaze of the white heavens, that the celestial being would disallow the crime that the mad doctor was about to commit. It could never be said that the universe was without such mercy.

But now there was the scent of ozone, the merest, briefest moment before the lightning struck. Victor roared something into the night, something that was lost in the crackle and the spout of energies, and would never be heard for the rest of their existence.

His hand clamped upon the switch. Two seconds now, and visions of fatherhood floated through his dreary mind.

One second now, and he wondered if he was making a mistake.

Then there was nothing but the surge of electricity, and the faint traces of movement under the calumny of white sheets.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fiction: Suicidal Tendencies


Picture this.

You're standing in front of the mirror in your otherwise overcrowded bathroom. There's six inches of water in the bathtub. The tiles are all grimy. The cockroaches are having a party in the toilet bowl. The towels are hanging out of the laundry hamper like demented tongues. The faucets spray cold water all over your hands, refusing to raise the temperature unless you do the favor of prostrating yourself before the pipes. It's that sort of day.

It is a good day to die.

Oh, you've been thinking about this for a while now. No one's going to miss you, you figure. After all, you're just another straight joe in the middle of a mashed-up world that can't even spell your name right on the death certificate. So... goodbye, life. Goodbye, dreams. Goodbye, cruel world, and don't let the door catch you on the way out.

You smile. Sometimes it's funny that way.

You stick one finger in your teeth, rub the enamel a few times before you decide that you need a good brushing. You haven't even so much as squeezed the toothpaste tube for a few days, seeing that you've been spending all that time pouring various brands of rotgut down your throat, smoking every single Cuban you can afford, and bedding every vaguely-interesting young woman who even so much as looked at you sideways. Now your bloodshot eyes are telling you that you've had enough, your teeth are telling you that your time is up, and you can't help but agree.

Your toothbrush sticks out of the little shaving mug at the corner of the sink. You pick it up.

It's not a toothbrush now. It's a long, thin rod of blue plastic and pig bristles. It's four years old and partially bald. If anything, it's a little piece of trash that's just as likely to give you more tooth decay than it would prevent it. Throwing away your little blue friend over here would make your living facilities a whole lot cleaner on average.

You bend it between your hands, ignoring its faint squeals of indignation. It snaps almost too easily, and you chuck the pieces into the sink.

Now there's the question of whether or not you need to shave.

You stare into the mirror again, paying close attention to the five o'clock shadow that forms beside your sallow cheeks and under the cracked surface of your lips. It's almost like you were cursed -- why is it that you need to suffer the ability to cut yourself each day with a tiny piece of sharp metal? Shaving cuts are the worst things known to man. They never bleed enough to kill you right where you stand, which is a whole damn shame.


You can do whatever you want, you know. You can choose not to care about what the rest of the world thinks. Heck, you can give the whole sluttyshimmygoforbangbang world the finger, and it probably wouldn't even notice. You go, world. You rock. You do your thing, and I'll do mine.

Well, that decision was easy. Everything's suddenly really easy. It's like the little hooded skeleton is smiling at you, the way he smiles whenever he points at the clock.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

You realize that you're late, and at the same time, you wonder why you bother having a schedule to keep.

There's a little plastic container inside the medicine cabinet. It's a stupid orange color, which means that you can't miss it no matter how much of an imbecile you are, which is convenient for the world at large. There's an utterly, utterly useless warning pasted on the side of the container, which makes you laugh because in about two minutes, you're about to make sure that its contents are most definitely not used for medical purposes.

Ha, ha. That's right. You eat the world now, why don't you. Swallow the world whole, like about thirty drunken pills from a little orange container.

You almost choke on the first one, and you spend the next five solid minutes a slave to your own reflex action. It's stuck near the top of your throat, which means that your eyes are watering and you're gasping for air and you're making huge chicken noises trying to get it out, get it out, get it out right now.

Finally you Heimlich it out, and it flies through the air and lands right in the middle of the toilet bowl. The cockroaches won't like you for the next few days.

You find this extremely funny. Who'd have thought that you needed just one, just one! capsule to put you out of your misery. And you know what's funnier? You were actually trying to save your own stupid life for the last few minutes, right down to the realization that you could have just fallen to the floor and let your throat do its ugly, visceral, feral dance all the way down to your lungs.

You stare into the toilet bowl. You could pick that capsule up and do the whole lambada thing all over again, you know.

You glance at the orange container in your hand, maybe read the warning on its side about once or twice. Heck with it; you scatter its contents into the toilet, watching them float around and around the bowl like little itty-bitty pieces of somebody's Monday vomit.

You flush. Down, down, down they go.

Suddenly you feel real tired, like the whole effort of thinking just sapped the life out of you. You stretch in the middle of your tiny bathroom, feeling the rotted wooden ceiling just dangle out of your hairy arms' reach, feeling every single crack and crevice of the tiles underneath your feet. You feel like going to bed, but for a good long while you think it's going to look like somebody sent you up to your room without supper. You didn't even get to see your life flash before your eyes.

Heh. You've still got that wallet right next to your bed, though. And you've still got that roll of bills that you weren't able to use up last night, not even when you paid your way into that bar, beat up that Guido in the middle of the dance floor, and paid the bouncers a little consolation fee so that they wouldn't throw you out on your face. That was a dream of a drink, it was... or maybe seventeen.

You feel like having another Cuban. There's a little fine goods store a few yards down the street, on the corner of the next block. There's a pretty girl who smiles at you from behind the counter, and you can spend whole days wondering what she thinks at night.

You stare into the mirror again, and grind your teeth about once or twice. They're being yellow today, and even though no one will probably notice even from five feet away in good light, you figure that maybe you should do a bit of cleaning before you go.

You can smell that cigar now. It wouldn't hurt to have another smoke, you think. It wouldn't hurt to have another drink. It wouldn't hurt to have another warm body in the same bed, on the same white sheets, under the same blanket as you.

You draw a little water out of the faucets, and use it to slick back your hair. Suddenly you look good again, and you smile.

Life, after all, is for those who live.

The next time the world eats you, you can just eat it right back.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fiction: Just Think of the Children

It seemed as though she was dressed head to toe in some strange diaphanous substance, the way it clung to her slender curves and unfolded in pristine ruffles. The sequins, of course, were another matter entirely -- she had added a few touches of them here and there, which only accentuated the overall sparkliness of her disposition. People stared at her as she walked.

The maitre'd, however, did not stare. Instead, he merely raised a critical eyebrow at her choice of outfit, then motioned for her to follow him. He led the way through tables and diners and dishes, motioned to a couple of waiters who had been chosen for this very occasion, and opened the door to reveal one of the private rooms in the back.

The room wasn't very well-lighted. Even though all the lights were burning at full intensity, fully half the place remained shrouded in black. She sighed, wondering why her dinner companions had not arrived yet, and then took a seat in the brighter part of the room. Her curious fingers immediately found their way to the utensils at hand -- chopsticks were much like wands, now that she thought about it -- and she resolved to be the one making the reservations the next time.

"Been here before?" a voice asked.

She looked up, surprised at the sound. At first she saw nothing, that she was completely alone in her private dining area. Then, as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she found that she could see a vaguely human-sized outline sitting across the table from her. It was tall and spindle-thin, looking quite awkward in its seat at the table, although she could not quite make out its face.

"Priscilla," the voice said.

Her eyes narrowed. "Leon."

"It's good to see you again, Priscilla," Leon said. "I hope you'll forgive me if I don't get up from my spot."

Of course, she thought. One could never trust the bogeymen to dance.

"I've ordered some tea," Leon said. "They make excellent barley tea here. You can never get any good barley tea nowadays."

"Personally," Priscilla said, "I would prefer a Diet Coke. With a shot of rum in it, if that's available. But that would be inappropriate for the circumstances."

"Yes, my dear. That would be quite inappropriate."

Even listening to him grated on her nerves. She wanted nothing more than to cross the table and knock him upside the head with her wand, but she couldn't do that. Not here, at least, and not now. Not even for what he did with the children.

"And how is my favorite member of the fae?" he asked.

"Better," she said, leaning back and straightening her skirt. "Our internal investment funds have finally stabilized."


"Yes. They should now be perfectly balanced against our population projections. You do know how it is, Leon, what when one has to deal with more and more children every year."

"Of course," Leon said, coldly. "Really, Priscilla. You say that as though I'm not an expert in my chosen profession."

"And what do you know about children, dear?" Priscilla asked. She really felt like hitting him now.

"More than your kind does," Leon said. "Our archivists keep a running file on each and every one of our subjects, after all. We know their names, parents, and friends. We know their likes and their dislikes. We know their dreams and their nightmares... especially their nightmares."

"You breed their fears," Priscilla said, dismissing everything away with a wave of her hand.

"We assuage them," Leon pointed out. "You know as well as I that fears are part of the process of growing up. Our work is merely... a lesson, of sorts. School after school, if you would like to see it that way." Leon trailed off in a laugh.

"I hardly find it funny."

"No," Leon said, "you wouldn't. Some of my kids have grown up to become some of the most well-adjusted adults I know. Doctors. Psychologists. Counselors. These are results that you certainly don't get with... money."

Priscilla slapped both hands across the table. "Now you're going too far, Leon," she hissed.

"Much as the pot said to the kettle, fae."

"You think that it's easy, given what we do?" Priscilla asked. "We teach children a modicum of trust, the value of patience, the satisfaction that comes of rewards! And we don't do it by scaring them half to death in the middle of the night!"

"Pffft," Leon said. "That's a fine way to describe an arrangement where you pay money for their teeth."

"We do not pay money for their teeth!"

"Oh, yes you do," Leon said, his shadow growing more menacing by the second. "Or at the very least, I don't see you tap-dancing on their heads at night. I've seen you reach down under their pillows for the teeth! I've seen you hide the coins in the folds!"

"And I've seen you skulking away in the closets," Priscilla said. "The last time I did, I heard you sniggering. You scare them, you know! You scare those very same children who I try to calm down!"

"Well, at the very least, I don't run them right into the biggest scam on earth!"

Priscilla drew herself up. "Oh, you don't want to go there, Leon," she said.

"You have no idea what those 'children' of yours do with the coins, now do you? They buy things. Mostly sticky, and mostly sweet. Ever wonder where those teeth in your collection come from? Only the most naive of us would possibly expect them to go into investments at such an age!"

"Those children have gone through a great deal of pain!"

"They only lost a tooth!"

"You keep them trapped in their beds at night, too scared even to go to the bathroom!"

"You know perfectly well that all they have to do is go to sleep!"

"They don't know that they're supposed to go to sleep! All they see is some big black boogeyman jumping out of the closet trying to frighten them into submission!"

"Well, what were they expecting? That some sparkly blue tooth fairy was going to come around and wish their fears away?"

They both suddenly came to a stop, breathing heavily. Priscilla's dress looked slightly wilted from all the sweat. Leon's form wavered to and fro, mixing with the shadows on the floor.

As one, they both cleared their throats and sat down.

"We're from two different worlds, you and I," Leon said.

"Now don't you start that again," Priscilla warned.

Leon raised one spindly hand, as though to call his companion on her bluff. He lowered it again, however, once she turned the full force of her glare upon his corner of the room.

Both of them sat in silence for a while.

After a long time, Priscilla spoke. "You said you ordered some tea?"

"Yes," Leon said, folding his hands. "It's late. Perhaps I should call a waiter."

"Don't bother," Priscilla said, waving it off. "Frankly, I'd just like to have dinner started so that we can get out of here. Weren't there supposed to be three of us?"

"You must forgive him," Leon said. "He is traveling quite a ways."

"I don't care if he lived next door," Priscilla said. "He's late. He's always fashionably late."

"You never know," Leon said, with all the patience of shadow.

There were sounds of a commotion at the front of the restaurant. Both occupants turned their attention to the sliding doors, watched as the human outlines there played tricks on their imaginations.

"You think that's him?" Priscilla asked.

"He's a popular sort," Leon said. "That's definitely him."

The doors finally opened, and their companion for the evening strolled in. "You can start with the main course," he told the maitre'd, "and do make certain that we are not disturbed." Then, closing the door, he turned to Leon and Priscilla with a wide smile.

"You're late," Priscilla accused. "Weren't you supposed to be the most efficient of the three of us?"

The third man laughed. "A man in my position," he said, "can afford to be fashionably late. Ho ho ho."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fiction: The Monk and the Tiger

Two monks, a master and a student, once walked along the riverbank not far from their monastery. They spoke of many things: They spoke of the scent of the woods, the whispers of the wind and the murmur of the waters. They spoke of the many matters of the world, the depths of the karmic cycle, and the question of how a man could reach enlightenment.

And somewhere in the middle of their talk, a tiger pushed itself out of the underbrush, in quite an unexpected fashion. It growled at them, and crouched as though ready to spring at any moment.

The student froze, completely terrified at the sight. But the master remained calm, and, addressing the tiger like a trusted associate, inquired about its well-being.

"Good day to you, friend tiger," he said. "What brings you here on such a fine morning?"

The tiger remained tense, and fixed its glare upon the older man in saffron robes. "I have hungered for two days," it said, "and I wish nothing more than fresh meat. It is fortunate that I come upon you now, two humans in one meal, so that I may feast."

At this the student shuddered, and clung to his master's robes as though he could offer them succor. The master, meanwhile, was unfazed by the tiger's reply.

"Indeed, friend tiger," he said. "I would not dream of interrupting your hunt, as destiny must hold pause for the prey that you deserve. Watch well, my student, for the karmic cycle tells us that even our friend tiger holds a soul, albeit one that has become a slave to its whims."

The tiger laughed at the monk's words. "Soul or no soul," it said, "such a thing does not matter. What need does a tiger have for enlightenment?"

"You may as well ask why you feel hunger, friend tiger," the master answered. "For while your body hungers for meat, your soul hungers for relief. You wish only to consume us because your body compels you to do so. Surely you were a man in one of your previous lives, a man whose existence was ruled solely by his passions and desires, that you would find yourself in this predicament."

"And what if I were once a man?" the tiger asked, suspiciously. "How would that change matters now, with both of you within reach of my claws?"

"Why," the master said, "if you were a man, then we should do our best to enlighten you. Our brothers live in a monastery not too far from here. If you are only aware enough to renounce the hunger that grows in your belly, then we would gladly accept you among our kind. Perhaps even one day we would be able to help you free your soul."

Now, the tiger was no fool. It could see the monk for what he was, fearful and cowardly and willing to say anything to spare his own life. Yet there was a certain attraction in the human's words, although the tiger had no use for enlightenment at all. In truth, the tiger was more interested at the prospect of entering the humans' monastery, that it would find many humans living all in one place, that it would be able to hunt and kill as many as it desired.

"Your words make sense," the tiger said. "What, then, if I renounce my hunger, that you may bring me among your kind to teach?" At this, it relaxed into a more comfortable position, knowing that it could still chase and bring down either of the two humans if they chose to escape.
"You are wise indeed, friend tiger," the master said, "and I am overjoyed at your acceptance of my lessons. I will send my student ahead, then, for the monastery must be notified of your coming, that we may prepare a welcome for our new brother."

"Yes," the tiger growled, "but your student, and only your student. You shall walk with me, old man, for it would be far too easy for me to trust you at this time."

"Nor I you," the master said. At this, he turned to his student and, whispering a few choice words into the young man's ear, sent him off in the direction of the monastery.

"Will you walk with me, friend tiger?" the master asked.

The tiger nodded. It found itself suspicious of the monk, and was fully expecting the human to give a great cry and then plunge into the underbrush in an effort to flee. But the master was an old man, certainly beyond his finest years, and after a few minutes of walking, the tiger concluded that the human was simply too weak to put up any resistance. The tiger then put his thoughts to the feast that awaited him, and let his tongue loll out so that his companion could not see him salivate.

Soon the cover of the trees parted, and the gates of the monastery came into view. The master could see his student standing before the open gates, and two lines of saffron-robed brothers ordered on each side of the garden path, ready to welcome their new arrival. Beyond them stood the entrance to the monastery's main building, the great doors open to the unknown shadows deep inside.

"You speak true," the tiger observed, in a slavering fashion.

"Indeed," the master said, stopping before his student at the gate. "You are our brother now, friend tiger. I welcome you to your new home."

At this the tiger leapt forward, loping down the garden path, between the two lines of monks, and into the monastery entrance. It expected to see more humans there, perhaps docile and unsuspecting of its intent. It would have its share of meat then, enough to satisfy it for a lifetime or more.

But as it passed through the doorway, it felt the unfamiliar sensation of a strand of rope around its neck. And before it knew what had happened, the man at the other end of the stick had tightened it to the point where it could no longer break free. The tiger snarled at this, and roared and fought and raked its claws across empty air... but the monks had been duly warned of its presence some time before, and when the remaining brothers came in from their stance along the garden path, there was no longer any escape.

And as all this took place, the master and his student were content to watch from the safety of the monastery gate.

"Master," the young man finally said after a while, "I am uncertain."

"Yes?" the master asked.

"When we were along the riverbank, you mentioned that the tiger had a soul within. You mentioned that perhaps it was a man, just like us."

"Mmmm," the master said. "So I did."

"Was that true, master?"

The old monk looked upon the monastery doorway with tired eyes. He watched as the tiger, now thoroughly and utterly defeated, was led into a cage from which it would never emerge. He watched as the cage was dragged across the floor with little regard for its unfortunate occupant. He watched as it regarded him with a cold, perhaps vengeful expression, so intent it was upon the trickery that had been visited upon it.

"I told our friend tiger that it was human," the master finally said.

"And regretfully... it was."


Monday, November 10, 2008

Fiction: Bittersweet

Author's Note: This is one of my lost stories, originally written sometime in July 2005 and hidden away for the last three years. I know of only one other person who has read this, and I figured that it would be nice to finally take it down from its shelf and dust it off. I choose to present this as it was originally written -- with the exception of a few grammatical edits -- if only because it's interesting to see how my writing style has changed over the past few years...

When she first met him, he was already made of chocolate.

She grasped his hand in introduction, and to her delight it was smooth and warm with the muddy copper of milk and cocoa. She breathed his wonderful scent, and almost fainted in pleasure when he smiled at her and said, "Hi."

She nibbled at the edges of his fingers, mostly because she couldn't help herself. They were as deliciously sweet as she expected them to be.

But that was when she noticed all of the others. She was not the only one who liked the taste, after all. There were many of them, nibbling at the skin of his arms, the folds of his shirt, even the tips of his hair. One girl had a jealous vise-like grip on the small of his back, and snapped at her when she came too close.

She backed away and stared at the fawning, adoring crowd. There seemed to be no way to get to him at all. But it was not easy for her to forget the sweet, luscious taste, and she would not allow herself to retreat so quickly again.


They met once more, and it was a sudden, unscripted meeting borne of pure coincidence. He smiled at her, she smiled at him, and this time she had him all to herself.

But she was too shy to do anything but nibble at the edges of his fingers, and laugh at the words he said... even though she wasn't really listening. He was chocolate, dark and light and bittersweet and kind, and in moments she had already lost herself in the taste.

They talked -- and she nibbled -- for about an hour, maybe two, before he had to leave. She almost wished that she could tear some scraps from his arm and take them home, but she knew that it wouldn't be the same. She knew that it would neither be as dark, nor as sweet.

As he rose from his seat, she clutched at his arm hoping for one last bite. But that was when she noticed the marks of teeth upon the small of his back.

She slumped in her chair, and said a forlorn goodbye. She could not get the taste of chocolate out of her mind, and it would fill her dreams with the anticipation of the next meeting.


He called. She was happy.

Visions of chocolate danced in her head.


While they sat, he glanced at the stars and named each of the constellations one by one. She ran her mouth along the length of his arm, entranced by the scent and the taste.

He glinted of dark silver in the moonlight, and underneath the stars she discovered caramel underneath the skin she had been nibbling. It tasted glassy and sweet, much as she expected it to taste, and she reeled with the unexpected blessing.

He knew her then, and she knew the caramel that flowed in streams beneath his chocolate skin. And she was happy with him, underneath the stars.


His chest was brown-black and bittersweet, as was dark chocolate. She placed a single hand upon his waist as she nibbled. The scent was stronger there, and it filled her ears with the sound of his strong voice.

The caramel there was thinner and more watery, yet it still tasted as bittersweet as his confectioneried skin. And as she continued sampling the creases and the folds of chocolate, her hands reached the small of his back...

...And stopped for a moment. Then she paid it no mind, smiled, and continued to nibble.

She did not feel a single mark there.

She knew that he was hers, and hers alone.


They were inseperable now: He of chocolate, and she who loved chocolate.

Every day she continued to nibble at him. His chocolate skin, and his caramel veins. She gave him her presence and she took his candied sweetness, both in kind.

It was on the morning of the fifth month when she finally found his heart, and she was happy. It was his utter, inner self, and it gave much the same sweet smell that she had grown accustomed to love.

She closed her eyes, and began to nibble. And nibble. And nibble some more.

And then her eyes suddenly flew open, and she staggered back. He smiled at her, but it was a different smile, a glare of stark whiteness against the endless features of chocolate brown. She fell to her knees and retched violently, spilling the nibbled pieces of his heart upon the ruined floor.

Where his chocolate skin had been bittersweet, his heart was another matter entirely. She shuddered at her revulsion, and denied that it was what she came to be.

Slowly she picked herself up and reached for his heart once again. But even before she touched it, her fingers began to tremble, and eventually she had to sit down.


He was still made of chocolate, and the next day the heart was whole and unmarked as though nothing had happened. But she no longer dreamt of chocolate, and instead stared into the inky, bittersweet blackness whenever she slept.

She envied the women who gathered about him now. They yet savored the scent of his chocolate skin and nibbled at his irresistible fingers, while she would taste the saccharine sweetness of his arm and immediately feel a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. He smiled, and the smile itself was so sweet that she wondered how much chocolate he really was.

She saw only one girl at the back of the crowd, one girl who stared back at her with a look that belied the purest of understanding. The look was much farther from jealousy than before.

They did not speak, but they stared into each others' eyes and knew.

She was not the only one who had tasted him for what he was.


She shrank underneath his gaze, and the sight of his pulsing heart made her nauseous. So nauseous, perhaps, that she could only drag herself into a corner to get away from the smell.

At first she had felt the same sweetness of chocolate as before, and she had started nibbling. But the more she nibbled, the closer she got to his heart. And the closer she got to his heart, the more the thought soured the taste in her mouth and almost left her weeping where she stood.

He screamed that he did not know her then, and she did not know him. But she knew his heart all too well now, and the guise of his chocolate shell.

And she wept, remembering the bittersweet days, the days of sweet caramel and the short nibbled whispers. She remembered the sweetness of chocolate, dark and light, and could not comprehend the being that faced her now.


She could still imagine his scent then, late at night. It was sickly-sweet, and it knew the smoothness and warmth of his skin. Much as she did once.

She used to dream visions of chocolate. But now she awoke from the memories of his sweetness, from the knowledge of dark and light, from the time before she finally found what lay beneath.

She then dreamt of his pulsing, beating heart. And she shuddered at how truly hidden it was.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fiction: Ground Floor, Please

I talk to elevators, sir.


Yes, sir. I'm perfectly aware that I get a lot of reactions like that, just like the one you're giving me right now. It startles people at first, and then they usually smile for a bit, probably wondering if there's a joke in here somewhere. But I assure you, sir, that there's no joke here. I talk to elevators.

Yes, I am completely and certifiably sane.

One of your employees called to avail of my services. He mentioned that you were the best person to talk to, because I imagine that you're the man who makes the decisions and signs the approval forms. I hope you don't mind if I don't mention his name, sir -- I've found that my profession can be a little... off-putting... at times.

Your employee has taken the liberty of giving me a complete summary of the problem, so I only ask that you give me a few minutes to explain. I guarantee that I won't take up too much of your time today, sir. I will try to put things as gently as possible.

Thank you, sir.

I have been told that your company has been encountering problems with the elevators in this building. This, I imagine, has been very frustrating for you, seeing that your company actually installs and maintains the elevators themselves. The idea of a company not being able to provide support for its own products produces quite a negative image, I have to admit. Although I've been informed that there have been no accidents yet, I fear that it is only a matter of time before one takes place.

I noticed that your building houses a bank of six elevators, sir -- three on the western side and three on the eastern side. The three western elevators are built to access everywhere from the second floor to the twelfth floor, whereas the eastern express elevators service the fourteenth to the twenty-sixth floors. Your building does not officially have a thirteenth floor, but it is actually available as a mezzanine, and accessible via the fire exits.

How do I know that, sir? Your elevators told me. They're curious about why they never get to stop there, after all.


Fair enough, sir. Most of my clients usually don't believe me during our first consultation.

I took one of the eastern elevators up to this office, sir, and the first thing I noted was a marked instability in its movement. This was the one that was farthest left among its bank -- let's call it Elevator One -- and I can infer that its condition has degraded significantly in the last few months. Have your technicians been finding problems with its hydraulics system, sir? That would be the most likely root cause.

I see, sir. I'm glad to find that your teams have noticed the same thing.

No, I imagine that they haven't been able to fix it yet. I believe that this is not a technical error -- I feel that it is more likely due to the fact that your Elevator One is overworked. I'm informed that you have a standing policy of shutting down all but two elevators in the evenings; I would guess that this is the one of the two that is left to work at night.

Yes, sir... that's correct. Your teams can run reasonability checks on the hydraulics as much as they want, but the plain fact is that your Elevator One is overworked. That affects their psychology, in a way. This one feels rather tired at the moment, and a little bitter at the fact that the other elevators get to sleep at night.


That's a good question, sir, and I'm glad to see that you're getting into the spirit of things. Yes, I detected a certain amount of fatigue in the other elevator, the one on the western bank that you leave on overnight. However, because this elevator services only the lower floors, it does not feel the same pressure that Elevator One does. The fact that your western counterpart -- let's call this Elevator Two, for reference -- has certain late-night habits only adds to the situation.

Yes, this is the elevator where the sound system is not working. The explanation is quite simple, sir -- the fact that it stays up late at night has given it the impression that it wants to be very quiet around the other elevators. As a result, it simply cuts out the sound and often forgets to put it back on. That would also explain why your technicians have not been able to find anything wrong with it.


I'm glad to see that you have a sense of humor, sir. I assure you, however, that everything I say is completely serious.

You wouldn't want to pick up that phone, sir. Apart from me, you don't have any other choice. You've been trying to get these problems fixed for the last six months without any effect at all. At any rate... what harm would my advice do? I do not ask for exorbitant fees or expensive repairs, only that certain policies be changed to allow for the welfare of your elevators.

The choice is yours, sir.


Good. Thank you, sir.

Now, I've covered two of your elevators so far -- Elevator One on the eastern bank, and Elevator Two on the western bank. These are the two elevators that you leave on in the late evenings while the others sleep. I've mentioned that one of them feels overworked, while the other one feels an uncertain tendency to be quiet around the others.

The other two express elevators on the eastern side -- let's call them Three and Four -- have their own issues as well. Three is the central elevator, which has been mentioned to me as the most reliable of the six. However, Three has encountered quite a few incidences recently where passengers have reported a slight trembling sensation inside.

Again, the cause of this issue is quite obvious -- Elevator Three is nervous. It has found itself elevated (so to speak) to a certain standard due to the others' performances, and is unsure about its own capabilities. It does its job well, I assume, but I can also see that your technical teams have been able to find the source of the 'wobble'. The good news is that you do not have to resolve this issue directly -- Elevator Three's performance will most likely stabilize once the others are brought into line.

Now, Elevator Four... well, Elevator Four is a unique case. To put it simply, Elevator Four is in love.

Yes, sir... they can certainly feel love, or at least something reasonably close to it. Working in the same quarters as other elevators usually fosters a certain familiarity. In this case, your eastern Elevator Four has become infatuated with the central elevator on the western side -- let's call it Five, to avoid confusion.

Five, unfortunately, is not an express elevator, which means that Elevator Four almost never sees the object of its affections throughout the course of each day. This is why Elevator Four has a tendency to ignore floors -- I can only assume that it constantly wishes to return to the ground floor in order to catch a glimpse of its beloved. I feel that this practice may become a habit with time, so I would suggest that your Elevator Four be given a brief one-hour "break" within the course of each day. It would probably suffice for now, but in the event that the problems persist, I would advise that you call me in to observe further.


Yes, that's right -- I'm aware that Elevator Five has a habit of stopping between floors. However, sir, this is not a psychological problem. My guess is that the pressure pump in the main hydraulic engine is not working properly. Your maintenance team will just need to double-check that, and replace it if necessary.

Now, as for your last elevator, Elevator Six... Elevator Six happens to be a special case. Your employee made specific mention of it, and I've already heard the stories where it falls between floors.


Two people, sir?


I see. I wouldn't be surprised that they would resign, after what they went through with that elevator. At least they were from other companies in the building.

Your Elevator Six has developed a certain mean streak, I'm afraid. I don't think it likes its task. I am almost certain that it remains the most antisocial of the six. Has it ever dropped floors while there are groups of people inside the cab?


I see. Yes, that confirms it. All the incidences involve times when only a single person was inside. This is a very bad indication, sir. Elevator Six basically holds a certain malice now -- it's not going to harm people directly, but it's going to scare someone whenever it gets the chance.

Why? Because it's gotten lazier in the past couple of months. I'm not certain as to why this is the case... there are some things about elevator psychology that cannot be adequately explained.

Yes, I would recommend that you shut it down for a while. That should help give it some form of perspective; give it the impression that it has a job to do, that the job has to be done properly or else... and it will eventually give in. You just have to know how to deal with these machines, sir.

All in all, sir, I would simply advise that you consider rationing the operation times of your elevators. There are a lot of people in the building who work late, is that correct? Yes -- I noticed the call center on the nineteenth floor as well. However, the fact is that most of the changes in your elevators' behavior can be traced to their overuse.

I would suggest that, first of all, you distribute the overnight duties between elevators. This will ensure that Elevator One is able to get some rest, as well as allow Elevator Two to make better use of its time late at night.

In addition, I would recommend that you shut down one or two of the elevators in the middle of the day, perhaps during non-peak hours. This will allow them a second opportunity to rest. Any loss in service may be offset by the use of the stairs, I think.

Finally, I would keep Elevator Six shut down for the meantime. In this case, I would prefer that I maintain regular visits here in order to assess the change in its attitude. I believe that your Elevator Six can be made to run smoothly again, but it is important to know when that time can begin.

Yes, I have a calling card. Let me just write my mobile phone number on the back.

There we are. Thank you, sir.


I am available for consultations during normal work hours -- normally I make my rounds from about one to four in the afternoon, but I will be available for appointments in the morning. I normally only charge clients who wish to retain my services.

For this case, sir... well, let's just call this some free advice. Try my recommendations first, and let me know if they're effective. In any case, I can just pass by during my free time to see how your elevators are faring.

No need to do that, sir. I can show myself out.

Do be careful with your elevators, sir. They do have minds of their own, after all.