Cover art © Thom Davidsohn
- Tiger, Tiger by Liz Williams
- Milk and Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
- Moon Does Run by Edd Vick
- The Duel by Tobias Buckell
- How to Get Rid of Your Monster: A Series of Usenet Postings by Scott William Carter
- Quitting Dreams by Matthew Cheney & Jeffrey Ford
- A Punctuated Romance by Mary Turzillo
- Last Bus by Jennifer Pelland
- Sometimes I Get Lost by Steve Rasnic Tem
- Nine Billion and Counting by John B. Rosenman
- Bar Golem by Sonya Taaffe
- The Geode by Marly Youmans
- Sweetness and Light by Nicole Kimberling
- The World’s Edge by Christina Sng
- Miss Cossie’s Pies by Christina Sng
- The Inkmaker’s Wife by Catherynne M. Valente
- Anatomy of a Yes by Catherynne M. Valente
The seas rose last night,
Washing away cities and continents.
The world perished below us
As we, ignorant of civilization’s
Frenetic activities, went along
Our daily lives, tending to
Our small garden and family
Of five, high up in the mountains.
Come dusk, the seas whispered
To me: the end of days has come.
But I ignore them – I live outside
Of time, far beyond the reaches
Of society’s clutches – it was
Our choice: my family.
Martha is reading an ancient novel,
Charlotte playing with a ball of wool,
Sam and Kaku sitting perched
By the window, dreaming of rats
They’d caught, in their yesteryear.
And I, watching the world, by our door.
The seas will reach us in time,
Martha says, and we too, will be
Washed away with the world.
But I shake my head and look down
Into our water world. There isn’t
Enough water to flood us.
But then the day comes when
Civilization comes around,
Carrying boatloads of survivors
Claiming our ground. Martha
And I take our small family
Into one of our old dinghys
And sail off to the world’s edge
Where we belong
Miss Cossie made pie every day she lived.
Some days she made one, others two or five.
It really depended on how many visitors she had
To feed that week.
When she died, everyone alive missed her pies
Till the day the excavators came to knock down
Her home, and found the bones of the missing
From the day she was born.
They lie over every square of grass-strewn floor,
like pans set out to catch the rain from a poorly-thatched roof.
China pots with blue rims, milk pitchers, gravy-boats,
silver tureens and fingerbowls, coffee-cups, mason jars,
saucepans and green-necked wine bottles, painted kettles, even
my grandmother’s gold-speckled urn,
her ashes having long been packed into a tea-box
and tucked away in a drawer—he promised to replace them,
as soon as there was room enough—
all brimming with ink like smoke
drifting in under the door,
the black of it hypnotic, the color
of dead pupils.
In wire baskets, he brings the week’s cuttlefish
squirming wetly, their skin frantic,
flushing the pattern of the mesh,
trying to disappear—but their soft faces
flutter under the wooden hammer, and in despair,
in death-convulse, sepia slavers from their flesh
into a clay bowl. He cuts the little sac away
with my cheese-knife, and the meat
will boil for stew.
Gall-nuts float in a jar which was once full
of flaxseed oil, their metallic stink like burned bread,
scraped iron drifts in the clear water of the washbasin.
Near the door, a silver bowl, scrubbed with sand,
is gorged with a perfect red he has tended
all winter—the shade of cranberries
and hymeneal ruin. It looks sacred,
a lustral font, and I have longed to anoint
my body there. Et spiritus sancti, et spiritus,
et spiritus sancti.
When he puts his hands to my waist, in the midst
of all this captured rain, he leaves streaks of black,
of brown, of green and blue. His fingernails are glutted with it,
his hair stiff with dyes. I am marked like a
tigress, striped, savaged. Slashes of squid-brume
criss-cross my throat like migrations,
and my navel catches its share of sweat-pigment
beading on his brow. I am
the leaves of a book; my bones join the spine of
a pre-history, glyphs of mammoth
and plesiosaur, of spermatozoa and sun-worship.
His groans wordlessly; his hands smell of walnut-leech.
Naked, I am written—but the ink is not his,
nor the marrow-alphabet. The cuttlefish trace
their glottals onto the cave-walls of my ribs,
bubbling out of his pores, his teeth, his lips.
I lie eager beneath their ululating mouths,
and he does not guess at our salt-blotted cuneiform.
Over the Edda of my morning-skin I fasten
a yellow cotton dress, a leather belt, a clean apron.
The bowl of scarlet ink receives the light,
slicing through two panes of window-glass,
like a flayed heart.
I don’t know how to compete with her—
the one who came
I was born into the wasteland of her absence,
and elephants have never forgiven me.
I am a stepmother here. The peacocks and leopards
snub me, their black eyes had grown accustomed
to reflecting her narrow face, her swarthy, thorn-stitched hair.
I have tried to explain to the musk-ox
why my mouth is pink, why my hair smells of hyacinth
and not cacao-beans.
He snorts; his breath is hot and wet on my cheek.
Even you—I can hear it,
when you swing my legs over your shoulders
under the baobabs, the shape of her name
behind mine. You grin, brush
a strand of hair from my eyes—
ask if I wouldn’t like to go down to the river
and streak it black with fragrant mud.
Only the snake would talk to me. The cottonmouth,
his tongue dart-quick. Only he
did not ask after her, how she fared,
if she would like him to bring her berries
or the corpses of mice.
He told me my hair was pretty.
How was I to refuse?
I was made only to say yes.
Yes, my husband, I want to be kissed.
Yes, you are strong enough to push me
into the clay and the loam.
Yes, I want to grow fat with sons.
Yes, I am dazzled by you, like a lizard
baking her belly in the sun.
Yes, I want an apple—it is so shiny, after all,
and so red.
I am a clockwork woman ticking away—
yes, yes, yes.
She was sewn into the sand for a no,
the skulls of her leather-winged babies
dashed against the mesas.
Even a newborn knows the rhadamanthine law:
this tongue may only taste the skin-crisp of assent.
And now, scrambling in the gorse-brush,
squatting in our grass hut,
I whisper over the swollen belly I have earned,
words the jackdaw taught me,
the prayer you urge me to send up,
to keep her by the beach of crushed bones
that borders the Red Sea:
Senoy, Sansenoy, Semangelof.
Among my thousand yes-syllables,
the names of angels float. But
silent as owls, I wish that she would come,
with her ash-hair streaming,
she who alone is clean of apple-grime
and teach me the immaculate word
that bought her black wings
and a far-off desert.
“I would like,” she said, letting the fan fall toward the floor, “either the tail of a tiger, or that of a peacock. I haven’t decided yet. What do you think, Bernard?”
Bernard, perched on the velvet edge of the chaise longue, shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know, Vivienne. A peacock’s tail might be a little—impractical, surely?” He blushed. Vivienne smiled. “What, you mean when I wish to take a bath, perhaps?” Bernard blushed even harder at this improper remark and her smile widened. The boy was so easy to embarrass. But he was also right. Feathers, when wet, were unalluring and she did not want to go to the trouble of mange. But a tiger’s tail—now that could be kept easily out of the way, perhaps coiled in a special waterproof bag. That new fabric those scientists had recently brought out . . . macintosh, was it? That might do very well.
She was not my child—and yet.
From the day I walked beneath the fluttering red flags and bronze-cragged portcullis, frightened as a tree before the axe, this infant was put into my arms, pushed against my breast, her shock of black hair a gleam against my trembling skin. I was so young then—child bride on my child throne, threaded up in violet and gold, gowns meant for another, gowns which, even laced their tightest, could not produce the womanly form of their last owner. I sat, velvet and silk puddling around my hips, sliding off my slim shoulders, with a baby sprawled on my lap, and the hall was empty as a nunnery. I was a wet nurse, married into this Teutonic mausoleum because I had been wicked, yes, because I had borne a dead daughter, I had squeezed a little pale corpse from my body as though I were nothing but a fat coffin, and buried it in the snow-hardened fields.
First the Series Seven Customs Administrator shot a current spike through its voicebox, starting a small fire that scorched the front of its cylindrical head. It used a crowbar to put dents in the steel of its chest. It pulled out the cotterpins and lowered its torso out of the universal joint that allowed it to travel at will around the vast warehouse suspended from an overhead lattice of tracks. On its internal batteries then, it twisted two of its arms out of true between a pair of tractors, then ejected its other one.
Content with its work, the robot shorted out the circuit to its eyes, darkening them. It lay on its back and activated a private subroutine. A jolt of pleasure ran through the copper traceries of its electronic brain, bringing satisfaction and a sensation of warmth.
Contentment. Warmth. Tapping its remaining fingers against the concrete floor beneath it, it opened the door to memory.
It is a chilly February morning in 1807 in the room Toad and the schoolchildren are all looking into. Outside of 1807, the glass reflects the eager young faces, chaperones silently taking headcounts and ‘shushing’ the troublemakers. Toad watches the group. One pigtailed young specimen presses his nose against the one-way window and looks down.
“Hey look!” The boy with pigtails says. “I can see something.”
Three soldiers with muskets slung to their sides trudge through the muddy road. Behind them the hamlet of Wakefield is slowly appearing through an artificial mist. The soldiers have captured a furtive figure that has been trying to dart off the road. Now he walks between them, shoulders slumped.
Toad adjusts the white powdered wig over his dreadlocks and taps the microphone hidden behind the silk scarf draped around his double-breasted lapel.
Subject: How to Get Rid of Your Monster: Identification
Date: 2006-09-13 03:53:06 PST
Though signs are all about you, you will probably ignore them at first. You will try to convince yourself that you left the light on in the dining room, that you really did eat the other half of the pastrami sandwich you left in the refrigerator, or that the metallic scraping you hear when you lay in bed is not, as it sounds, a knife being sharpened. Like me, you have probably endured some recent emotional turmoil which clouds your judgment. Before you can get rid of your monster, indeed before you can even become fully aware of its presence, you must first triumph over whatever it is that disturbs you.
I met Paul Cleary because I was addicted to his dreams. I wanted to meet the man who had ruined my life.
To be more precise: I wanted to meet Paul Cleary so I could kill him. With the last bits of money I had, I hired a detective to sniff out his address, then I bought a pistol from a kid on a street in the Bronx at dusk on July 4 (fireworks had already begun to burst through the smoggy horizon’s last light), and I stuck the gun into a plastic bag, hailed a taxi, and headed toward Central Park West.
Let me end the suspense right now. Paul Cleary died last week from heart failure, so, obviously, my attempt on his life fifteen years ago was not a success, and this isn’t some hardboiled murder story or last-minute confession. Addicts don’t have the best judgment in the world, and if I had stopped for a moment to think about it, I would have realized that lots of people probably wanted to kill Paul Cleary, and plenty of such people had probably tried to do so at one point or another, and so his continued existence might, perhaps, suggest a certain amount of security around him.
As Miss Cedilla Octothorp, pretty as a serif, sat reading one afternoon, in stamped her father, Colonel Colon Octothorp.
“Daughter,” he said, “It is time you lost your hyphen.”
“But father,” she objected, “I want to finish my degree.”
“Nonsense,” said he. “The only thesis you need concern yourself with is becoming a parenthesis.”
“Please, Daddy, the minute I see the type face I can love, I promise to choose a husband.”
“Not necessary,” replied Colon. “Long ago I arranged with my old friend General Interrobang that you would marry his son Ampersand, a Roman aristocrat on his mother’s side. Your first child will of course be named after me. By this time next year I hope you’ll be the happy mother to a fine young semi-Colon.”
She stands in front of the tidy brick house and gazes up the sloped, neatly-mown lawn at it. This is the place. The last stop. She walks up the front sidewalk, takes the narrow flagstone path around to the side of the house, heads into the little roofed-in area between the house and the garage, and starts searching. There it is, right under the mailbox in the nook leading to the side door. The little faded yellow egg sticker.
She sits down and waits. The bus should be by soon.
She wonders how the bus is going to make it into this little space—a small walkway between the side door and the garage, the washer and dryer taking up half the available room. She wonders how the driver will see her, tucked away under the mailbox like she is. But those thoughts immediately slide back out of her head. The bus will come soon. This is the stop. The egg sticker is there. The driver will see her. This is the last bus. Soon, she’ll be home.
The woman in the photograph has no name. I have no story for what she is to me. I want to say she starts her day with “A,” first in the alphabet, and that she is first in my heart. “You’re just the best,” I say to her shimmering image, as if encouragement will grow eyes that see out of that paper portrait and soft lips that speak, identifying herself, available for more.
She may be alive or she may be dead. There is no difference inside my happy skull.
The day (morning? afternoon?) is cold. I reach out to wrap my children around me. I try to be careful, but some always fall away. I can hear them tumble, even with my eyes closed and hands clamped over my ears.
It is so sad to see an unfamiliar face in the mirror. I have fallen into someone else’s life, and now I must teach him how to cry.
Once there was a woman who loved her husband madly. In the rare moments when she managed to look at the situation objectively, she always reached the same conclusion: she loved Alexander precisely because he was so perfect. On these occasions, she felt her love grow even more, reaching an intensity she had never thought possible. It sounded silly, but Alexander truly was the heroic knight who had saved her from the dragon of middle-class boredom and mediocrity. He was her champion, her paragon of all possible virtues, and she was blessed beyond words to have been chosen as his wife.
The years passed, each more perfect than the last. Their love flourished as did Alexander’s career. If he seemed preoccupied sometimes, well, that was because her husband had important decisions to make. Perhaps he was contemplating acquiring another company, or even—as more and more people urged him lately—to run for the Senate.
The taste of the letters sealed on your tongue, where your teeth tamped down a chalk stillness of breath, stung me like honey—sweet enough for sharp, but I licked a bitter wisdom from your lips. Warm as red tile baked in the sun, the plates of your chest slid tectonic beneath my palms. Your fingers that caressed my hair as timidly as a flame you might fumble out snared me as surely as one fair strand caught in the crevices of heartline and lifeline. But under my fingertips, that dust-crack delta branched over your palm in no traceries of birth and death, no fortune folded for the telling: only the crease and callus of work and tireless days.
When my daughter Sophie was in first grade, she was taken by a sudden desire for a geode. My mother, who always fulfilled wishes and needs in the way of books, clothes, and the realm of knowledge, gave her one for Christmas. It was a fine specimen, cut and polished to show off the interior. As in a piece of citrus fruit, the rind hid a world of magical beauty. The outer covering, though the color of cinnamon, was unpleasing to the touch. Within the stone, amethyst crystals smoldered. A pale lavender ring was the soil from which they sprang; they darkened toward the tips, and the heart of the small cave was steeped in an intense purple.
One afternoon an elderly neighbor stopped in and exclaimed over the geode, which my daughter had asked me to put on the mantelpiece in a place of honor. A miniature pewter fairy she’d set inside the hollow perched precariously on the points of the crystals. Mrs. Verbena was charmed, and she told me a story.
Every Sunday, Melissa walked with her Grandma Nagelschneider to the First Presbyterian Church three blocks from home. Since they had to cross Main Street to get there, the church was officially on the other side of town, and two blocks further than she would normally be allowed. Vacant storefronts yawned open between Grandma’s house and church. Melissa recoiled from the dirty glass, peeling linoleum flooring, empty clothes racks, and spiders. In a plains town like Vance, buildings were never demolished, only abandoned. Then other things moved in.
As she walked along, Melissa tried not to step on any sidewalk cracks and avoided the bull’s head sticker vines that grew up from between them. The concrete was hot, especially through the thin soles of her sandals.
Grandma wore her orange pantsuit and held Melissa’s hand. Aunt Shirley and Aunt Darlene walked ahead of them, criticizing the Calvinists who drove their Cadillacs to church.